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Monday, 11 December 2017

Bitcoin: the material costs

Bitcoin has no material substance; but it only exist in an environment of massive computer power which deploys energy to give effect to the complex algorithms and mathematical structures that it rests on, and the massive security networks that have been proven breachable at several points on various occasions.

The amount of brainpower that is included in the system and in its use has to be paid, fed and watered; as do all the traders and buyers who have now joined in the bubble. I have also seen massive estimates of the cost of the electric power that had been - and is being - consumed in the process.

The bitcoin bubble will burst: though the notional 'currency' may survive [as the South Sea Company survived the crash that ended that particular bubble]. More importantly, millions of people know a little about blockchain which will almost certainly develop as a massive set of tools of commerce very beneficially: but the costs of constructing and operating any such systems need carefully to be evaluated.

This is a very interesting phenomenon: but the bubble will end in tears for a lot of people.

Now I will return to the work that is preoccupying me at present. I will continue to blog occasionally so that i have a log of the dates on which I post comments.

Friday, 8 December 2017

A Great Day for the Irish

So:
the Irish did win. Mrs May is now committed to defer the dual vetoes of the Dublin government and the DUP. The British have promised, in effect, to remain subject to the EU: indirectly.

Now we can expect to see little Mr Macron trying to grab some thousands of British banking jobs.

The rest is mere detail. Submission to Brussels is assured.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

I Told You: The Irish Change the Question

There will never be a better example of Boris Johnson's unfitness for a responsible job than the Foreign Secretary's recent - disastrous - failure to recognise the importance of the Good Friday Agreement in the context of the Brexit negotiations. The Agreement is a full-scale international treaty, sponsored by the USA and registered with the United Nations. The idea that it could ever be buried in weasel words that slid over the crucial facts - let alone openly abrogated by unilateral decision by the UK [with or without the 'sanction' of a referendum] - shows a degree of lazy, slovenly negligence that is breathtaking.

It will be fascinating what twists and turns are now going to be enacted, in the full blaze of publicity.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Further Disintegration: Mrs May's Government Shambles

I have met Damian Green a few times, mostly in his capacity [when the Tories were in opposition] as a director of his regional water company. I would be very surprised indeed if he wasted his time, or risked his reputation, using an office computer to spend 'many hours' watching soft porn. If his computer was used in that way, by one of the staff in Portcullis House or possibly by an intern, then it is no part of the role of the police to make accusations against Mr Green on national television. The fact that the credibility of the First Secretary is being challenged suggests that there are indeed dark forces at work, with the intention of bringing about the end to the agony of failure of this government.

The precarious state of our national politics is again emphasised by the letter to the Prime Minister [which has, of course, been released to the press] from Nigel Lawson, John Redwood, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others who seem to want the nation to be quite sure of their guilt if the economy hits the disaster to which their demands would drive it.

I find it difficult to concentrate on other issues - of which there are many - when the key elements of national sustenance and security are being knocked away. The people, whether the they voted to stay in or to leave the European Union, deserve a better politics than they are offered at present. The entire political class, including McDonnell and Corbyn no less than Mrs May and the Thatcherite dinosaurs who have just sent her a 'nudge' towards ruin, have forfeited the trust of the electorate; but we are left with no better choice, no alternative that could achieve any degree of visibility to the electorate before March, 2019.

If, in the coming days, there is real news about the economy or our society - or about Economics - I will not be able to restrain myself from blogging about it; otherwise, I shall go off-line for a period and try [yet again] to set out my current understanding in a longer piece of continuous text.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Spectacular Naivete

Jacob Rees-Mogg speaks slowly and clearly. He has a reputation for expressing clear ideas, some of which are out of kilter with contemporary fashion; notably his strictly orthodox Roman Catholic attitudes to homosexuality and the procreation of children. Yesterday lunchtime he excelled himself in a discussion of the Commons committee report on the Brexit situation on the BBC2 show, the daily politics.

He displayed an astonishing degree of ignorance about the realities of contemporary human aspiration and about the nature of world trade. In his view, the mass of the British people want cheap food and cheap clothes; therefore the UK should open its borders to imports from the countries that can supply the cheapest food and the cheapest clothes.

He did not mention the need to have countervailing exports of British goods and services to other countries, with which to earn the foreign exchange to buy the cheap imports. he did not seem to have any awareness that the countries - like Bangladesh - that are home to the cheapest clothes manufacture have the least capability to pay for the high-tech exports on which the future of the UK depends.

It is a recurrent theme of this blog that the most advanced country, the USA, will never grant to Britain [or to the EU] truly most-favoured access to their domestic market, because they are anxious to nurture their advanced economic sectors: which is best done by enabling their innovating firms to make big enough profits continue with the research and development programmes. Even before Trump, and certainly after Trump, they will be unashamed to prefer US technology, entertainment, financial services and other highly profitable areas of activity. It is part of the American culture to preserve, protect and defend their own firms and their intellectual property.

As the world's second economy, China is notoriously prone to require firms trading into China to share their intellectual assets with Chinese 'partners'. Japan has been closely chauvinistic throughout its modern economic history, and India is developing on similar lines.

Thus, if Brexit Britain went down the route prescribed by Mr Mogg there would be a monumental and rapidly expanding balance-of-payments deficit.

Even more significant, however, is the implicit ignorance shown by Mogg about the pattern of consumer aspirations that has developed all over the world. Yes, the class of hereditary paupers that was created by the Thatcher regime [and subsequently consolidated as part-salaried welfare dependants producing low levels of output per head under Blair, Brown and Cameron-Clegg-May] does want cheap food and clothing. But they also want smart phones, computer games, access to popular music and sports coverage. A major reason why they want cheap food is to have enough money [and access to credit] to buy the high-end products and services that are most fashionable. Such a living standard is accessible to the poorer members of an advanced-economy common market: it is not available on WTO terms to a rapidly-declining economy that is denied access for its exports to the richest countries in the world.

Mogg has revealed to me the extent to which the extreme Brexiteers live in cloud cuckooland.

Friday, 1 December 2017

The Future of Britain and Ireland; and the Relevance of Donald Trump

Five Tory MPs yesterday labelled themselves even more firmly as people who were willing to risk the economic future of the United Kingdom outside the carapace of the European Economic Area. They also accepted - whether or not they see it in those terms - the possibility of a recurrence of the 'war' waged over centuries by the IRA and its precursors. By refusing to recognise that the only secure way to carry forward the peace accords that have been achieved in Ireland since 1970 is for the UK and Ireland to remain integral to the the Common Market, these people have exposed the entire population of both islands to a very real danger.

I have repeatedly pointed out in this blog that by subsuming enough of the identities of the two states in a community it was made possible for Britain to put huge subsidies into Ireland [via various European funds] that were sufficient eventually to secure the Good Friday Agreement. It would be insanity to reverse that process; and it is fervently to be hoped that by remaining in the same economic space - even without the UK participating in the political European Union - the peace can be maintained. The majority of the Commons committee on Brexit sensibly agreed that the half-baked notions for a sham land border between the Irish Republic and the UK, secured by unachievable and unaffordable IT, would never be satisfactory. Unless the Tory party can formally decouple leaving the European Union from remaining in the European Economic Area, there is no 'cast iron' means of securing an open border in Ireland.

It is - literally - a matter of life or death for the DUP to insist that Northern Ireland is fully part of the UK [for as long as the present peace and constitutional status can be maintained]. They must oppose any half-witted pretence that anything else will do.

The Irish government and its 26 associates in the European Union would be wildly irresponsible not to make this point: and, if necessary, make it the sticking point in the upcoming EU summit. It is a moot point whether Mrs May understands this issue.

Meanwhile, the British political class has united to excoriate the US President for riding out his ego by quoting from a fringe right-wing political outfit in the UK, The publicity of this episode has apparently caused a rush of interest in the group [which I will avoid naming], including a rush of membership applications. That issue may have caused bad feeling in the egotist in the White House, and has certainly increased the misplaced contempt that the British Grauniadistas express for him; but it is not the most important nor the most relevant point. The election of Trump to the presidency was the consequence of a massively effective populist campaign. Trump promised to 'make America great again' and one of the preferred ways of doing that is to discriminate against imports. The UK is not a massive importer of goods into the US; but the UK is probably still second to the USA in the generation and worldwide diffusion of intellectual property, especially in fields of culture, entertainment and key areas of scientific innovation. Any idea that Britain will be pushed to the front of some queue for special access to US markets is dafter fantasy than the idea that some cosmetic 'solution' will resolve the Irish border question. If the UK economy is not within the European Common Market, it will be out in the cold. It will shrivel, living standards will collapse and any idea of renewing economic growth through investment will be an impossible dream.

We have very little time to 'get real'. The shortest route to sense is to separate the vote to 'leave the European Union' from the Tory minority's obsession that this rolls-in the ideas of leaving the Common Market and the economic area. No second referendum is necessary: just a dose of common sense.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Personality, Effectiveness and the National Interest

The London Stock Exchange has been in the news for precisely the wrong reasons in the past few days. Following the announcement that the very successful, reputedly abrasive, chief executive was  leaving one significant shareholder took a very public stance to assert that the chairman should go and the chief executive should remain. Rumours swirled about clashes of personality, secret payoffs and dirty work at the crossroads. After entertaining the speculative journalists for a couple of weeks it is now announced that both chairman and chief executive are to go: the chief executive soon, the chairman in 2019. The publicity has been unsettling, and the Exchange is now said by some to be a vulnerable takeover target; with the owner of the New York Stock Exchange said to be a keen potential buyer.

There is no doubt that, despite regulatory and chauvinistic forces preventing a proposed merger with the German stock exchange, the chief executive has been very successful, multiplying the share price very significantly: he will no doubt leave with very significant financial reserves to underpin his aim to grow vines.

Over the decades, there have been many examples of chief executives who dominate and build up hugely successful companies; often for them to be ruined within a few years after the great man stands down. One of the most spectacular in my lifetime has been Arnold Weinstock of the English Electric Company. Over the spectrum from domestic appliances to world-class warplanes, this conglomerate company built a steady reputation for business success and thus declaring decent dividends. For most of the couple of decades while Weinstock ruled the company in a highly individual and essentially conservative way, the chair was occupied by the complementary character Lord Nelson of Stafford whose emollient, confident handling of the formal business of the company [including shareholder relations] left the chief executive the space he needed to manage in his own way.

After Weinstock's retirement there came in people who teachers in Business Schools would undoubtedly rate higher than Weinstock on all the measures of formal competence that are emphasised by academic commentators [especially those in third-rate British business schools]. With major reorganisation, changes of name and restructuring, the next generation of managers destroyed the business in a very few years.

What is left of the 'clever end' of the old English Electric Company, the aeronautical facilities in the north-west of England that have survived until now within more recently cobbled-together conglomerates, are being reduced - and are very much under threat of closure - as a consequence of cuts to the defence budget, combined with the increasingly prudish opposition to the sale of aircraft and arms to regimes that purists consider to be oppressive. There is a very present danger that the United Kingdom will soon forfeit any capacity to build military aircraft: while Brexit [if the buffoons have their way] will lead to the slow exclusion of UK manufacturers from Airbus.

Lords Weinstock and Nelson together took a major part in enabling the UK to be at the very forefront of defence technology: and one of the ways in which they helped this process was by including the defence-oriented projects within a larger conglomerate that made significant profits from its consumer electrical goods. Thus the some of the defence contracts, for some of the time,  could be priced at less than full cost because of internal subsidy by the company. This pricing structure also applies to the suppliers of components for the major projects in the defence arena. It is extremely important in France, where the heavily-state-supported viability of the aircraft industry is maintained with constant nudging from the state.

Britain has lost both the Weinstocks and the appetite to enable them to maintain their niche in the "military-industrial complex" which is essential for any state that hopes to be a power in the world [or even in the neighbourhood]. Before the last dregs of the potential to restore the complex have drained away, it behoves the wider public to recognise what we have had, and are so close to losing for ever.