Number of the Month

May 2016

 Cold steel

That strain again, it had a dying fall.
Twelfth Night

The overwhelming disadvantage of being ruled by people who have never had a proper job is that they have no concept of the organic nature of a business. Much of the wealth of a business is tied up not in only in the balance-sheet and profit-and-loss accounts, but crucially in the know-how of its people. This does not reside in the contributions of the scientists, engineers and managers, which are all subject to documentation, but rather in the minds of the humble technicians, who know the many inevitable detailed problems and how they may be overcome.

Though we returned to the topic at the start of this year, we originally announced the demise of the British steel industry six years ago (see one sentence in Kamikazeconomics). That it was an unconscionable time a-dying is no surprise, as sucking the life-blood out of a business is a slow process. Yet it still came as a bombshell to our masters: not that they would ever have consulted a site such as this one, but if they had, they would have dismissed the observation as overly cynical. Is it better to be naïve and proved wrong than cynical and proved right? The definition of a cynic by the great Ambrose Bierce is:

CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.

Different variations on this theme of zealot-inspired economic suicide promoted by the enemy within appear throughout the declining West. The  watermelon government of the USA, for example, used its democracy-bypass agent, the EPA, to mount a destructive attack on it own coal industry; only to be confounded by the well-established principle that if you artificially make a vital technology too expensive another takes its place.

It is not likely that the believers who have seized control of our major parties will be consumed with guilt over wasting a few billions and blighting the prospects of future generations of their citizens. After all, they are quite content to put lives at risk with their bizarre energy-supply policies on similar junk science grounds. Furthermore in the UK, by launching “Project Fear” in defence of continued EU membership, they betray a belief that Britons have lost not only their ability to reason, but also their nerve.

The present UK Government has largely continued adherence to the Gordon Brown school of economics – it is all right to borrow, tax, spend and waste, as long as you call it “investment”. Yes, dressed up with a bit of “austerity”, but not so as you would notice. The other Brownian principle they adhere to is that it is OK to be reduced to selling the family silver, provided you describe it as “attracting investment”. In the world of spin the illusion is everything; so that hammering at the door is not the bailiffs, but just over-excited, would-be investors.


Carry on milking

Let’s face it: we have lost the war against junk science. Not a day goes by without some grotesquely statistically insignificant claim appearing on the front pages. To comment on all of them would be futile, but the establishment media are not going to abandon such a prolific source of fake drama. An alleged risk reduction of 7% is now described as an exciting finding. But how’s this for a dramatic headline: Going to church kills cancer, reduces risk of heart disease and makes you live longer. Avid junk collectors will immediately detect that Harvard touch. Yes folks, it’s the good old Nurses Health Study, the oldest established crap game in the world. The components of this data dredge must by now be hundreds of activities and circumstance set against hundreds of diseases. There are now probably more combinations of these than the much heralded Trojan Number, the 75,000 participants in the study. If they include data such as church attendance what are they going to omit?

Characteristically, it took the combined efforts of two journalists to turn that Harvard press release into a story, yet exactly the same one made a front page headline on the Telegraph print-version (the online version is often more circumspect). These front page stories, almost without exception, are based on derisory relative risks. Increasingly, however, numerical evaluation of risks and trial sizes are altogether eschewed. The public are being systematically conned on a massive scale. The fact is that scares sell newsprint and, increasingly predominantly, advertising. Meanwhile, the proprietors of the big data dredges and other statistical scams stick to the motto – if you’ve got it, milk it.


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Farage and Co.

I am not a member of UKIP or, indeed, any political party. I was a highly active member of the Conservative Party for decades, but that all ended on the day Stuntman Dave launched his hug-a-husky spectacular. I am, however, cursed with this unnatural expectation that politics should be conducted honestly. Yet UKIP does have a personal significance for me. My last ever public appearance was an invited presentation to a UKIP gathering. On that occasion my voice just about survived to the end. I simply had to face up to the fact that, having been refused replacement therapy for my immune deficiency by the NHS, I had to avoid humanity altogether.

What charming company they were: welcoming, intelligent, educated and reasonable in argument; so unlike the image of them projected by the establishment polling organisations, who like to portray them as ignorant fascist oafs. They are dismissed as insignificant, yet every peccadillo and disagreement is seized upon with a gusto that is not expended on the major parties. Afterwards, I had the pleasure of taking ale in the company of Nigel Farage and the conversation was most enjoyable and informative.

Has any one individual ever been subjected to such a sustained assault by the entire political and media establishment? Even the “official” Vote Leave campaign has devoted more effort to complaining about Farage’s prominence than to its own cause. In this respect Simon Heffer makes short work of the two nonentities, lacking fire in their bellies, who have been appointed to direct the campaign. How can it be a free vote when bureaucrats predetermine who can and who cannot present the case for each side? Is the appointment of such a pair of losers just another example of attempts to rig the referendum, as was Cameron’s carefully timed abuse of taxpayers’ money to distribute that ghastly pamphlet?  Even if it is not a conspiracy, it is exactly the EU-type bureaucracy we are trying to get away from. Forced party alliances, as opposed to people simply coming together in a common cause, are very much an EU concept. It is generally accepted that Vote leave have put up a pretty poor showing. Given that all forecasts are rubbish, it is pure folly to try to match “project fear” with yet more spurious projections.

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 Number of the month:  £350,000,000

This number is the weekly amount that “Vote Leave” claims the UK gives to the EU. It is not just a wrong number; it is a blatantly stupid, counter-productive and campaign-wrecking wrong number. It openly invites the devastating put-down that it has received. Whether its use is an act of treachery or incompetence is unclear, though it is hard to believe that anyone could be that incompetent. The EU bureaucracy has previously exhibited its skill in rigging referendums – “You will keep on voting until you vote the right way: then you will stop!”

The most annoying thing about this one is that the true (net) number of over £160,000,000 (after subtracting the refund and grants) is still large, way beyond reason, and would make the point incontestably.


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