Archive for the ‘History’ Category

the high risk of nuclear conflict

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

This frightens me.

[The US, according to a draft document seen by the New York Times, is] on the point of revising its defence policy — to allow the use of nuclear weapons … in response to “attempts to destroy wide-reaching infrastructure, like a country’s power grid or communications, that would be most vulnerable to cyberweapons”. ….

[This] demonstrates how seriously the US is now taking the threat of cyber warfare; and is clearly designed to massively increase America’s deterrence capacity.

At the same time, however, the policy shift carries considerable risks. By lowering the bar to the first use of nuclear weapons, it makes nuclear war more thinkable. The dangers of such a move are increased because concerns about nuclear proliferation are mounting — with North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme making rapid progress, and both Pakistan and Russia incorporating the early use of nuclear weapons into their war-fighting plans.

Gideon Rachman, “Nuclear weapons are a risky defence against cyber attacks“, Financial Times, 19 February 2017 (gated paywall).

racial prejudice and contact with minorities

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

I recall reading several studies of the US and UK that show a negative correlation between anti-immigrant prejudice and the proportion of immigrants in a community. A new study of the UK by economists from Tilburg University in The Netherlands and the University of Sydney in Australia contributes to this research, and shows that the effects are persistent. Worryingly, though, persistence is weaker in areas that received less subsequent in-migration.

Here is the authors’ conclusion: (more…)

Donald Trump’s path to the presidency

Friday, January 12th, 2018

[David] Frum, a former speech writer to George W Bush and one of the most articulate “Never Trumpers”, asks how a man like Trump could have reached high office in the first place. One answer is that Trump does possess real skills. Among these is an almost diabolical knack for divining other people’s resentments — perhaps because he is riddled with so many of his own. Trump often tries out different applause lines at rallies and sticks with the ones that resonate. Such market testing appears to work. He has an ability to identify with people who feel slighted. [Michael] Wolff describes how … many years ago, Trump was asked to define “white trash”. He replied: “They’re people just like me, only they’re poor.” …. (more…)

Against the Grain

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Yale University political scientist James C. Scott has published a fascinating, but controversial book titled Against the Grain. It is the second book by him that I have read, and I confess that it disappointed me. It is too libertarian, too biased for my taste. Not until the last chapter (seven) did his thesis become clear. Here are some brief extracts from the introduction and that final chapter where the author clearly explains his main thesis. (more…)

Seeing like a State

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Some years ago Yale political scientist James C. Scott published a book that I read and enjoyed very much, even though it was very libertarian, contrary to my own political philosophy. Here is an excerpt from the book that I posted years ago as a TdJ email:

The state’s goals are minimal, it may not need to know much about the society. Just as a woodsman who takes only an occasional load of firewood from a large forest need have no detailed knowledge of that forest, so a state  whose demands are confined to grabbing a few carts of grain and the odd conscript may not require a very accurate or detailed map of the society. If, however, the state is ambitious–if it wants to extract as much grain and manpower as it can, short of provoking a famine or a rebellion, if it wants to create a literate, skilled, and healthy population, if it wants everyone to speak the same language or worship the same god– then it will have to become both far more knowledgeable and far more intrusive.

James C. Scott, Seeing like a State: how certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed (Yale University Press, 1998), p. 184.

Professor Scott this year published another book that is similar, but more historical, going far back in time. A brief extract from that book follows today as a TdJ blog.

Brexit Britain and Trump’s America

Monday, January 8th, 2018

FT columnist Gideon Rachman writes that Trump’s policies and Brexit, although they initially seemed to be manifestations of similar working class unease in the the US and the UK, “are growing further apart with the passage of time”. (more…)

speed trading in financial markets

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

High-frequency trading (HFT) by computer replaced trades on traditional exchange floors a decade ago, and the speed of trading is fast approaching the speed of light. The increased speed of transactions makes it difficult to make money trading equities and bonds. In addition, financial markets are increasingly vulnerable to flash crashes such as the one experienced in May of 2010.

The following timeline, from a Big Read column in the Financial Times, summarizes the accelerating pace of trading since a telegraph cable was first laid beneath the English Channel in 1851. (Much of the early history is left out, including a successful transatlantic cable, laid in 1866 between England and the USA.) (more…)

the Bitcoin bubble

Monday, December 11th, 2017

The Bitcoin bubble is rather unusual, because it is pure speculation. Prices go up today only because they are expected to go up tomorrow. An FT reader, in an online comment, expressed this very clearly:

Bitcoin is speculation pure and simple because everyone can deduce that it can have no long-term value since new cryptocurrencies can be produced infinitely and at better quality ….


Still, there can be no doubt that at least some bulls are playing in this market. The twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss, who run the digital currency platform Gemini Exchange, last Friday predicted that Bitcoin would rise by 10 to 20 times its current value. Did they say when this might happen, though? My source for this information is the Financial Times, which did not provide a date for their forecast.

For more information, see Philip Stafford and Gregory Meyer, “Prices soar as new bitcoin futures start trading“,, 11 December 2017 (gated paywall).


Daniel Ellsberg at lunch with the FT

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

I enjoyed very much FT columnist Edward Luce’s full interview of Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg’s fear of nuclear holocaust is what most caught my attention, however, most likely because I share his fear. (more…)

the foreign policy of Donald Trump

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Robert Zoellick writes that President Trump’s foreign policy has “five distinctive features” that causes it to differ markedly from that of previous US Presidents. (more…)