Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Truth and Consequences

Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, having already skewered one unscrupulous industry of gyp-merchants packaging revolting ingredients for a gullible public, inadvertently lifts a lid on another - violent deep greens - in Saturday's Guardian. He writes on Edward Abbey, author of the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, about a group of environmental activists who decide to launch a "counter-industrial revolution" to pulverise the "megalo-maniacal megamachine" of American capitalism, which would have co-incided nicely with the aims of the Soviet Union at that time. The extract, with its fetishistic and loving detail on the paraphanalia of terrorism and destruction, put me in mind of the tone and story structure of The Turner Diaries, the first ever neo-Nazi airport novel, which allegedly inspired the Oklahoma City bombing.

However, it seems Abbey had something in common with environmentalists such as the late Sir James Goldsmith:
"Abbey was married five times, slept with countless young co-eds, and had five children, despite a fervent belief in zero population growth. Though a proud anarchist, he spent most of his life employed by federal agencies and state universities. An outspoken opponent of gas-guzzling, air-polluting automobiles, he drove a red Cadillac convertible and enjoyed tossing empty beer cans out of the car."
Yes, indeed.

I'm writing very little these times. I just got a review copy of Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist[sic] which I am reading at pace of knots before I talk with him this coming Friday. Second, I have a big presentation to do and sitting in front of a computer trying to flesh out my thoughts for the blog is no relaxation after spending twelve hours doing the same thing for work. Even worse, most of the blogs I regularly visit seem to be writing very little during the summer heat.

More Connections

Whatever about Isaac Asimov, how's this for a coincidence? From The Turner Diaries:
Then came the great Houston bombings of September 11 and 12, 1992. In two earthshaking days there were 14 major bombings, which left more than 4,000 persons dead and much of Houston's industrial and shipping facilities smoldering wreckage. The action began when a fully loaded munitions ship, carrying aerial bombs to Israel, detonated in the crowded Houston ship channel in the pre-dawn hours of September 11. That ship took four others to the bottom of the channel with her, thoroughly blocking it, and also set fire to an enormous refinery nearby. Within an hour eight other massive explosions had occurred along the ship channel, putting the nation's second-busiest port out of business for more than four months.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Behind Enemy Lines

Pretty much everyone except for the non-stop blogging machine Dan Drezner seems to have slowed down a good bit in the summer heat. So bored was I that I went to sign up to lurk on the mailing list run by George Monbiot, hoping to grab snippets to quote mockingly here.

In the first few days, I certainly wasn't dissappointed. In a thread responding to the great sage's jeremiad against off-road vehicles, one correspondent writes, to my great hilarity:
I suggest that the military in the US and UK follow France's example and keep a low profile and adopt alternative energy sources for defending their people and resource[s], though preferably not nuclear perhaps solar powered tanks, wind powered frigates and hydro powered laser guns.
It seems certain themes in French defence policy refuse to die.

Useful as non-fossil energy energy might be in avoiding global warming, a casual acquaitance with military history tells me that tank battles have been known to happen in winter, at night and in poor weather, as in the clash at 73 Easting during Desert Storm. Neither would wind-powered frigates be much use in defending la Patrie, judging by the outcome at Trafalgar. Hydro-powered lazer guns would be cool (although I understand that hydropower isn't carbon neutral, owing to the methane produced by decaying plants in their resevoirs), although it would probably limit the area that could be protected by any new "son of star wars" system to protecting Hoover dam and it's tourist information centre from stray North Korean missiles.

I wonder, what future awaits the submarine-based French nuclear deterrent...

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Turning Up the Thermostat

Dan Drezner picks up the CFR report on climate policy by David Victor I wrote about last night. Also, after a delay of about three months, I finally made a comment on a post on the subject of climate science by Frank, whom I suspect may be looking forward to commissions to design vast new sea walls for the County Louth coast.

As Drezner points out (I'm not on first name terms with the Professor, even in this blog), and I should have in my posting, while the research has paid off in greater efficiency for damage cost estimates, the confidence intervals for the forecast warming resulting from increased CO2 have become even wider; the IPCC forecasts range from 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C. The climate science is getting better, but the predictions are very uncertain. Assuming a degree of risk aversion towards potentially large losses that society pays in other applications (Dr William Cline explicitly modeled this for his Copenhagen Consensus paper using the Value At Risk methodology. This is used in banking to for managing derivatives portfolios by setting limits on losses assuming that the estimated volatility of returns produces an outcome in the bottom 5% or 1% of the possible outcomes.

It may not be unreasonable to spend modestly on information about this problem. Certainly, oil as a fuel isn't without its undesirable externalities - collateral pollution, insecurity of supply, the "resource curse" crippling the development of many producer countries - and developing alternatives like clean coal, more natural gas, wind or solar seems attractive.

Another resource I found extremely informative is the panel discussion at the Cato Institute last year, with contributions from Cline and other heavyweights on the cost/benefit issues and other presentations on the questions of the state of the science and the appropriate decision-making frameworks.

Cynic I may be, and free-marketer I definitely am, but I'm not going to go into an unaccustomed paranoid funk a la Naomi Klein and fret over a sinister cabal of geographers supposedly manipulating our governments, markets and courts towards their own nefarious ends.

Reading the IPCC material, which while not completely neo-classical in its approach, to put a strong emphasis on world trade, market-driven pricing and economic growth that some more left-wing climate campaigners seem to find distateful in other contexts.

Oiling the Wheels of Debate

Last month, I read most of the recent books by Ken Deffeyes and Paul Roberts on oil depletion. Deffeyes, an academic geologist, isn't a good a writer as Roberts the Harpers journalist, but he does KNOW the technical details. However, he explained Hubbert's bell curve application using a single Pennsylvalia anthracite mine; It might be worth getting the original paper by Hubbert sometime, as I don't know exactly how the method worked.

All of these peak oil forecasts I've read have the weakness that, whatever the strength of their geology, they assume an oversimple linkage between the peak and the end of the world as we know it, whereas various resource, metal and energy transitions in the past have been largely smooth replacements over 10-50 year cycles.

I've read somewhere that every time it's used it forecasts a peak in the near future, which accords with the overly pessimistic forecasts made in the past and proven wrong.

According to Smil's Energy at the Crossroads, Hubbert himself predicted a global peak between 1993 and 2000. The CIA came out with a prediction in 1979 at the height of the Iranian revolution saying that "[global] output must fall within a decade ahead". BP forecast the peak in production of crude outside the USSR by 1985. The IEA WEO 2001 report highlights (pp.52-53) how 1983 forecasts of North Sea production peaking later that decade at under 4 million barrels per day, compared with observed production in 1999 near to 7 million. Also, the USGS estimates seem to be revised upwards into the region of the upper 5% of their previous forecasts.

Robert Kaufmann, a Boston U energy economist and IPCC Working Group One member, insists that Hubbert's model needs to be supplemented with other variables, including the oil price, production costs and cartel power of the Texas Railroad Commission. Otherwise, its success in forecasting the peak in American oil production was just dumb luck and attempts to apply it globally futile.

Also today, Charles Hymans pointed me to a good paper by the USGS summarising the reserves debate.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Can You Count on Krugman?

I've long been a fan of Princeton economist and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman.  I've been reading his international economics textbook, which inspired me to go back to his earlier work I loved - Peddling Prosperity, Pop Internationalism and the Slate columns especially. 

I had a conversation with Michael Fuchs about him last week,  so I went to check out some of his recent writing.  Four years ago, I used to read his NYT columns religiously, but at some point they fell off my radar screen when the ratio of analytical signal to partisan noise got too high, sometime around the end of 2000. 

One of the things that caught my eye was his piece attacking the credentials of Brian Arthur as the pioneer of studying increasing returns in economics and the follow-up debate.  I read a fair bit of Arthur's work as an undergrad.  The Belfast native is probably among Ireland's few internationally-prominent economists, along with John Sutton and Kevin O'Rourke.  Both these factors reinforce the strong defence that Ken Arrow and others mount to what seems to be an extremely petty personal attack by Krugman.  

Today's column, plugging the new remake of The Manchurian Candidatewas probably the poorest thing I've ever seen him publish.  It doesn't rise above the Michael Moore level in its reasoning, or above any bar room conversation. 

Reading Foreign Affairs

I only rarely buy Foreign Affairs, as at nearly eight quid a pop, it's as expensive as most paperback books. This month, I just had to give in though.

Eliot Cohen weighs in with his analysis of America as empire "History and the Hyperpower", which says more in fourteen pages than Niall Ferguson does in 300-odd, and is worth a post in its own right. I was also pleasantly surprised to see long reviews of three books on Xinjiang, China restive Central Asian province, Reinhard Gehlen, the West German spy chief and an article by John Browne, chairman of BP on clmate policy.

"A middlebrow journals"?? Pretentious? Moi? Among the ads were a lot from academic publishers, including a breathless plug for the WTO World Trade Report (looks fascinating), and a new book on climate policy by their expert, Stanford Professor David Victor, available in full online at It's comprehensive, completely accessible and very persuasive in putting the arguments for the do-nothing, moderate limitation and panic-button policies. I'll blog more on it when I've finished, but I think that this is THE book to read on the subject.

Speaking of environmental matters, Frank McGahon has been entertaining us all by making farting noises in the church of ecological correctness with a recent post as Samizdata.

I'm also reading three books at the moment: One World, Philippe Legrain's defence of globalisation against its media-friendly enemies Klein, Grey, Monbiot and Herz. It's not as engaging or well-sourced as Martin Wolf's, but it's well worth a read nonetheless. The jacket photo, also available on his site, depicts the author with a fierce scowl, as if he were a sneaker factory manager seeing some labourer falling into a vat of molten plastic on company time.

I just finished most of the 200 or so pages relevant to fossil fuels in the International Energy Agency's 2001 World Energy Outlook.

Finally, I also just wrapped up Robert Gilpin's The Challenge of Global Capitalism, which told me a lot about the international trade and monetary systems and their history that I hadn't learned during my more technical training in economics and only been dimly aware of as a banker following the news.

I've so much to write about, including about half a dozen book reviews - but so little time. Now that my reader figures seem to be reaching a fairly respectable twenty a day, I feel have some kind of audience to satisfy.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Will Europe Arm China?

The topic of China's international relations has made a rare appearance in the Irish blogosphere. A new addition to the neo-con cause, Gavin writes dissapprovingly of the prospect of EU states lifting the post-June 4th ban on arms sales to the People's Republic, referrering to an IHT op-ed by Reginald Dale, a journalist in residence at the Hoover Institution. Dick O'Brien echoes this humanitarian theme.

As a way of interpreting the relations between states, the oldest, and to my mind the most firmly-grounded approach, is that of the realist school. Thucydides gives an account of of the dialogue between the leading citizens of Melos and the Athenians, who give them the choice between capitulation and annihilation. With a pithyness that would make Dick Cheney blanch, it captures the essence of the philosophy perfectly:
For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they canand the weak suffer what they must.
To turn granite prose into journalese: The international system is made of states, who are sovereign in action and answer to no higher moral authority. Only occasionally are called to account by some hegemonic power, as Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia have been. States have absolved millions of veterans of the sins of killing and destruction in a way that no church could. "International law" is often invoked as a moral standard, but, to borrow a phrase from the Gangs of New York, there's more international law in the average US Marine's bayonet than in any piece of paper the UN ever wrote.

To my mind, this is one of the touchstones of the difference between the mindset of conservatives like me or Frank McGahon and these two liberal men of letters. The bleaker view of the world seems to be a very uncommon idea in Ireland: The lion might one day lie down with the lamb and eat straw like oxen, but in the meantime the Irish lamb hopes that vegetarianism catches on.

Will the arms deal happen? I'd venture a guess that it probably will, for a number of reasons.

To begin with, the Chinese are masters at allowing foreigners to delude themselves as to the potential of the prospects for their market, as a whole string of hyped trade missions and failed joint-ventures shows. The Europeans show no signs of learning from the fairly dismal experiences of many, many businesspeople from Marco Polo onwards, who've gone to China and come back with nothing but their anecdotes about being fed scorpions, donkeys and deers' penises (the tip is the greatest delicacy, I'm told).

Also, the drivers here seems to be the French, who are likely to have regretted angering Beijing a decade ago by selling Mirage jets to Taiwan. With his history of selling anything to willing buyers, including nuclear reactors, ballistic missiles and himself, Jacques Chirac is unlikely to turn down the opportunity for some ready cash. Linkages may be especially important, the obvious ones might be orders for Airbus in a market in which Boeing has a stranglehold on civil aviation.

As in the case of the recent criticism by Chirac of America's role in fighting AIDS globally, the temptation to annoy the Americans, regardless of the justice of their case or the consequences will probably prove irresistable.

I don't have any illusions about the effect of human rights as a restraint on foreign policy. One reason that I tend to approve more of American foreign policy in general is that in Asia it is the major outside force for improving human rights, while Europe remains weak and divided in its policy, in spite of its greater economic involvement. In part, this is because Americans usually have little stomach for the explicit realism in the form of a Kissinger. Mainly though, I think the US learned how good a weapon human rights activism is in undermining domestic and international support for repressive regeimes, first in Europe with the Helsinki accords, and now in China.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Conversation, Sushi, Chocolate....and Globalisation

24 July Update 1: Wrong book title - duh!

Tuesday night saw me at the impressive Westminster premises of the Institution of Civil Engineers to hear the FT's economic columnist Martin Wolf, who was giving the IEA's Hayek memorial lecture to coincide with the launch of his new book Why Globalisation Works.

I went along with Victor, and the writer and technologist Michael Fuchs, who I had first met at a panel on the politics of the net at the NotCon technology conference last month.

Economics groupies could thrill to the presence of Sunil Wadhani, Ruth Leas, Paul Ormerod and Roger Bootle among others. The mix of academics, political types and journalists were soberly-clad, not like the sprinkling of hedge fund types in their jackets, jeans and funky shirts. One guest was celebrity disgraced politicianNeil Hamilton (How about an unrestricted market for buying MPs?), looking dapper in a pink bow tie and white linen suit.

Wolf spoke for about fifty minutes, more or less repeating verbatim one of the chapters of his book, addressing his oration mainly to the notes before him on the podium.

I'd largely agree with Niall Ferguson's review. I've not read the whole book, only selectively browsed for those places he takes on George Monbiot.

The three of us hung around drinking and grabbing many of the excellent nibbles provided in the banquet hall of the Institution, whose barrel roof was decorated, in the sytle of the Sistine chapel, with a mural of a huge Union Jack and an RAF biplane. We went for dinner, and afterwards to Borders, where an a capella duet sang along loudly to their headphones in the record department.

Overall, it was definitely a very good night, one which I will try to repeat.

Oil and Iraq - Part One

Obscure (well obscure to the likes of me, but then I don't troll around Indymedia and Peak Oil websites) Marxist philosopher George Caffentzis has published an article that was introduced to the oil project's discussion mailing list by Mute editor Josie Berry, arguing that desire to enforce "neo-liberal" policies on oil exporters together with a "military-Keynesianism" for the American workforce is behind the war on terror and invasion of Iraq. I'm happy to fire some rhetorical cruise missiles at it, which I'll do at some more civilised hour. Suffice to say, he might have a nice turn of phrase, but as with Klein, Monbiot and others of this genre (although unlike them, he is supposed to be a trained academic researcher), some observations of the real world challenge his conclusions. Until tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Fuelling the Debate

I wrote previously on the theory that oil and gas, conventionally labelled as fossil fuels, don't have their origins in plant and animal matter.
Samizdata had a post on the subject today, with the comments quickly filling up with their usual high standard of debate and information. The links posted included one to a paper for the US Geological Survey by Thomas Gold, which I've skimmed. Although my chemistry is a bit rusty, the theory seems believable. There was also an American Assoc of Petroleum Geologists magazine article.

Michael MacGuiness pointed me to, which hosts the work of J. F. Kenney, a leading modern proponent of the theory.

Perhaps Tony and Michael will have more to say.

Niall Ferguson at the Institute of Economic Affairs

Niall Ferguson

I went to see the lecture by Niall Ferguson organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs with Victor last month. Owing to huge demand, the meeting was held in a hall belonging to the Church of England, which seemed appropriate, given the topic advertised "Economics, Religion and the End of Europe".

It wasn't about Muslim immigration, as I had expected, but a re-examination of Max Weber's thesis on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. His recent review in the Daily Telegraph of Timothy Garton Ash's new book encapsulated his point quite well:
" both economic and cultural respects, Americans and Europeans really have grown apart in the past 20 years. The US is still shot through with the Protestant work ethic; it is a God-fearing, workaholic society. Europe has a post-Christian leisure preference; by comparison, it is Godless and work-shy. And Americans are also far more unabashedly patriotic than Europeans."
His thrust was generally that of an economic and cultural conservative, as the Americans would understand it, explaining it in terms of his own upbringing in the traditional Scottish virtues of work and ambition.

He's a skilled lecturer, with an ease and fluency on the lectern that's rare to see. He includes "journalism" among his hobbies in "Who's Who". A key part of his technique, in print and in person, is to startle. A recent article in the Daily Telegraph that compared American policy-makers to sufferers from Asperger's Syndrome was brilliantly stiched together. His speaking tone wavers up and down in a u-pattern familiar from his TV performances.

He's a commentator with plenty to say and many figures to back it up. He cited much of the academic economic literature. However, I'm still not sure if he's really master of the data and the economic theory behind it; he seems to have misquoted two figures, The $45 trillion estimate for implicit US Federal government debt by Smetters, which he has written on elsewhere came out as $75 trillion. Then, he rendered first quarter US GDP growth as 5% instead of 4.4%, as I had commented before.

He interpreted Weber's thesis to mean that the vaguely defined Protestantism made acquisition respectable, but not consumption.

Victor didn't like the title of his previous book - thinking that empire is too much of a concession to the criticism of the left. I would think the same, but the real Achilles heel in my mind is that the "white man's burden" is a heavy cross for America's economy to bear, geared as it is towards exploiting technology and serving consumers, so that the returns to capital are much, much greater at home than abroad, as the evidence of where Americans want to work and macro data showing how high the returns to capital investment are in America shows.

Key statistics underlying his argument included hours worked in the US, which are much greater at about 2000 per year, compared to the European figures showing hours steadily converging on Italy's unvarying 1500 hours. Labour force participation and potential growth, assuming the fuller employment of labour, are also better for the American economy.

As in his book, which I commented on below, he points out that bond issues are now larger in Euros than in Dollars . I guessed at the time that this meant "international" i.e. the Eurobonds and globals traded outside any domestic markets rather than all bonds, and the BIS data seems to indicate that investors outside their home market prefer Dollar debt.

Olivier Blanchard has argued that the productivity per day worked is as high in France as in America. Ferguson's rejoinder is that wars are not fought on relative productivity, but on absolute levels of wealth as the driver of national power and relative strength.

He knows Germany well, having lived there while writing his doctoral thesis, reporting for the Telegraph during that time. He comments that on recent visits (such as that described by Eamonn Fitzgerald) he observes that Germany now suffers from an extraordinary, almost Spenglerian level of cultural pessimism.

He presented the many problems with taking the Weber thesis as fact, both historically and in the present day.

Protestantism is not credibly defined, although Huntingdon's latest book makes a credible case, he says, that the American creed is fundamentally an Anglo-Saxon Protestant one that subsequent waves of immigrants have internalised. Neither is any pattern visilble in comparing the predominantly Catholic and Protestant countries in Europe today.

Nowadays, the Asians work hardest of all nation. Koreans, at 2500 hours per year, top the league. They are not religously homogenous, although evangelical beliefs are increasingly important.

The punchline: American capitalisim isn't about accumulation, but spending. Personal consumption has gone up over the past twenty-five years to account for 75% of US GDP. Spending rather than saving is the order of the day in government too - with 75 billion dollars [sic] excess present value of spending committments on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare than tax receipts, quoting from Smetters. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that all committments of the Federal Government have to be pared back or the system superceded by privatisation of retirement saving.

On a more personal note, he commented on how locked in a socialist mindset Scotland was. On first travelling to eastern Europe in 1985, Glasgow seemed very similar to Bratislava.

As an aside on his methodology, he cautioned that we shouldn't ignore the religious motivation behind material change. As an example, he related that the exclusion of Irish Catholics in Glasgow led them to create a ruthlessly dominating political machine based on socialist ideas. His own family were largely irreligious as an intellectual rejection of the sectarian blood-letting of Scottish politics. He also mentioned the support of many Jews in Eastern Europe for the communist regiemes installed after the war, presenting Victor Klemperer as one example.

Harvard economist Robert J Barro got a mention also, for his paper on Religion and Economic Growth, showing how fear of hell seems to be correlated with economic growth.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Who'd Have Thought It?

"Peak Oil" activists seem to have identified another willing pawn of the neo-cons.

As if there wasn't enough chicken shit in the chicken salad, apparently the painstaking and even-handed Mícheál Mór is going to make a new movie about "...the oil industry and lack of oil we are going to be faced with"

Monday, July 12, 2004

End of an Empire?

This is what I finally ended up publishing as one of my contributions to the class magazine for my journalism course. The dumbing down was inevitable, but there are the seeds of a good analysis in here among this crude and unsourced review.


Oxford historian Niall Ferguson combines a brilliant academic reputation with sex appeal, after making a splash as the presenter of last year’s six-part Channel Four history documentary on the British Empire. The book, Empire, which he wrote to accompany the series, lays out his case that the British Empire was, on balance, a good thing for the world. It now tops the national paperback bestseller lists. The combative and media-savvy Glaswegian seems have successfully carved a niche for himself as a modern-day Robbie Burns among historians.

Transatlantic relations between Europe and America are at a low, exacerbated by a President who doesn’t speak any European language, even English. Nevertheless, Ferguson seems have set out to generate more controversy with his new book Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. Again, a documentary based on the book will be coming to our screens this month on Channel 4.

He takes up where he left off before, at the time when a combination of near-bankruptcy and international opposition pushed the British into rapid retreat from empire after World War II. Now, he says, America has become the colossus and a good thing too.

While still a student researching his first book, he was a correspondent in Germany for the Daily Telegraph, and the journalist’s skill in crafting an attention-grabbing headline and engaging story has obviously remained with him. He blends economic data and cultural references, ranging from Milton’s poetry to the Terminator movies, into confident prose holds the general reader’s interest while providing enough details to keep the other academics happy. As a ripping yarn, Colossus matches the novels of Stevenson or Scott.

From these threads of politics and economics, he weaves a sophisticated analysis of world history, emphasising how the two interact with each other and the more primordial motives of identity, the drive for power and instinct for violence to drive history. In his 2001 book, The Cash Nexus, he made the case that states that could successfully tax their citizens, keep trust in their currencies and borrow cheaply had a base from which to defend and increase their national power. An obvious example was Britain, which, as he tells in Empire, defeated Napoleon and went on to conquer much of the world. Now, with the USA importing over a billion and half dollars in capital each and every day from the rest of the world, it’s no wonder that it’s eleven trillion dollar a year economy now accounts for about a third of the world total. Its one-time challengers, Russia, Germany and Japan, have stagnated economically and been largely elbowed aside politically.

Economists, it’s often said, are people who wanted to be accountants but couldn’t handle the excitement. Britain’s most celebrated theorist, John Maynard Keynes, as well as setting the course that guided the British economy for three decades after his death in 1946, wrote many passages that are still commonly quoted today. However, in many instances, experts cannot agree on what exactly he was recommending.

In contrast, many American economists learned their trade by using mathematical methods to manage the American military and war economy. John Nash, subject of the book and film A Beautiful Mind, was one of those who created game theory, used for everything from planning nuclear wars to organising mobile phone license auctions. Their influence changed economics from a literary art to a branch of science almost incomprehensible to the non-specialist. Ferguson largely succeeds, with some exceptions where he falls down in his statistical arguments, in bridging this gap between the ivory tower and the practical world of the journalist, politician, and informed public.

Colossus is a more nuanced book than his provocative headlines would suggest and it does not conceal the missteps and disasters. Narrating the rise of American expansion, he covers both noble intentions and what was in many cases, a very ugly reality. These include the ruthlessness and greed driving many interventions in Latin America, the muddle that was reconstruction in Germany and now in Iraq, and national self-deception in Vietnam. America has never really focused any foreign engagement for long, he says, unless combating someone else’s imperialism, as during the forty years of the Cold War.

A key weakness at the heart of the book, much of which is constructed like an opinion piece in a middle-brow journal like Foreign Affairs, is that Ferguson never precisely defines what exactly he means by an American empire. Intervention by the US to guide troubled countries towards democracy, the rule of law and free markets could perhaps be better described as leadership, with other countries bearing most of the non-military burden. In the fondly remembered days before the Bush administration, we imagine that America led the way, first in international consensus building, then by acting through international institutions such as the UN, NATO and the IMF. The gunboat diplomacy of the British Empire, which Ferguson seems to be advocating, has not been on the cards for a long time.

On some subjects and in certain regions of the world he seems to have little detailed specialist knowledge to offer. In relation to Asia in particular, his sources tend to be limited to a sample of recent books for the general reader.

While defending American actions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, Ferguson believes that eventually, when faced with the dilemma of choosing between military spending to keep order globally and domestic needs for social security and consumer expenditure, the new American empire will soon be dismantled. He writes in the last chapter: "The U.S. government [is] effectively bankrupt...the decline and fall of America's undeclared empire will be due not to terrorists at our gates or to the rogue regimes that sponsor them, but to a financial crisis of the welfare state."

Is this Cassandra right? I don’t believe so, and after reading the source material he refers to, I feel that Ferguson uses some complex statistical data without caveats, in spite of his own lack of economic training. While dismissing the European Union’s potential as a military or political power, he writes that international investors, who heretofore have happily lent their cash to the US, seem to be becoming more attracted to lending in Euros instead.

I looked at his source data on currencies first, made up of the reports issued by the Bank for International Settlements (Quarterly report, Q1 2004, chapter 3, table 3.3) the international club of central banks. It seemed to tell a different story, namely of investors’ preference for their home currency. Since the creation of the Euro in 1999, Europeans have begun issuing bonds mostly in Euros, just as Americans have continued borrowing from the capital markets in dollars. However, everyone else outside the Eurozone still overwhelmingly uses the dollar as the international currency of choice for raising funds and investing.

Ferguson writes on how two economists, one a deputy Treasury Secretary serving under Paul O’Neill, published a report in which they calculated the future obligations of the US government to pay for health care and pensions against the value of likely future tax receipts. They estimated a shortfall of some forty five trillion dollars - that’s $45,000,000,000,000, equivalent to £24.5 trillion or twelve times as much as it would cost to buy every house, flat and other piece of residential property in Britain. At almost four times the size of the US economy, this puts America’s indebtedness on a par with such pillars of the world financial community as Chad, Gambia or Uganda.

Again, his work is not as sophisticated as a detail-orientated analyst might like. In the first place, he fails to point out how the research was sponsored and published by the American Enterprise Institute, a Republican think-tank that gives a home to thinkers such as Newsnight regular and Pentagon “prince of darkness” Richard Perle. The Institute has long advocated the privatisation of welfare and health care and their report advances this agenda.

Neither has the paper gone through the thorough filtering by other experts in the field that academic papers have to endure before publication if they are to be accepted as part of the academic literature.

On reading the small print, I discovered that the projections assume that the budget will, like Willy E Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons, come to the edge of a cliff, and rather than pulling back or falling over, just keep on running into thin air. Although the crisis, if it comes, can be averted by action in the near future, the study counts the cost of current policies as if they never change until 3500AD, a period of fifteen centuries, or about 300 years longer than that from the foundation of Rome to its sacking by barbarian tribes in 410AD.

In contrast, official forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office show that spending will grow rapidly within two decades, triggering either a relatively small crunch, or some reaction to avert it, as has always happened in the past. Americans already 27% of national income every year in taxes (according to the White House Office for Management and the Budget statistics), slightly over half the relatively low level in Britain. Increasing this figure by a proportion of fifty percent in order to balance the budget, while obviously painful, is not likely to bring about an economic collapse.

Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (ISBN 0713997702, 400 pages) is published in hardback in Britain by Penguin/Allen Lane.

Saturday with the Irish Times

For the first time in many moons, I bought the weekend Irish Times yesterday. I found myself at the only paper shop in the city which seems to stock it, in Old Compton Street in the heart of gay London. It's right next to the blacked-out storefront with a closed door used by Janus, which seems to be a well-stocked purveyor of written and audio-visual materials equivalent to Dublin's Veritas, although devoted to sado-masochism rather than religious education.

Perhaps I was thinking of the Irish blogger meeting, which I wasn't able to attend. I was stuck in London, having just come back from a trip on Friday morning, and committed to helping out with the Saturday features journalism class. Needless to say, excluded from this highlight of the social calendar, I went home to read it, sitting alone in a dark and bare room, in a puddle of my own urine (Yes, I am looking for sympathy, and more links -- especially more links!).

As I have written before, I ended up editing one of the two magazines we had to produce as part of the class. The technology, using Apple Macs, was dreadful - I couldn't share files across the network, save onto floppies, access my gmail account or even print reliably. Finally, after producing the damn thing, neither the team nor the lecturer have an electronic copy, after the files I saved yesterday turned out to be irretrievable garbage to my computer.

I learned a few things as editor. The most important is that I think that I'd like to do it for real, so I'm thinking about how I could put together a small little magazine of reviews and opinion.

Bad as the technology was, the personnel issues were calamitous. We had one extremely loud lady, who walked out of our group within an hour, then walked out the other team by the end of the day.

I took what I felt was a well-earned detour on my way home, taking in a burger and a while at Borders reading books by Robert Gilpin, who seems to put Niall Ferguson to shame in his clarity and multitude of perspectives in writing about international political economy.

If nothing else, at least the London College of Printing lived up to it's name, and I managed to print out the whole of the book on the economics of global warming by Nordhaus and Boyer, which I have been reading with intense interest recently.

The paper had really useless column under the Drapier nom-de-plume, suggesting that Aer Lingus is as vital to Ireland's national security as the Naval Service or Air Corp, and so cannot be privatised. I'd argue that, if anything, the airline is MORE important, as it has done far more over the years to keep foreigners out of Ireland than either of the two armed services. Personally, I'd imagine there could still be a good case for allowing privateers, maybe Donegal fishermen once they've exhausted their quotas, to seize Spanish trawlers, drug importers and arms smugglers and share the ship's sale proceeds with the state.

Also on the Defence Forces, retired Colonel Dorcha Lee writes in a tone of lip-smacking glee, as if he were Genghis Khan contemplating a newly-built pyramid of severed human heads, on the success of the Irish representatives on the EU Military Committee.

In the Weekend supplement, we had John McGahern commenting on John Gray's book "Al-Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern". I don't know how prevalent violent Islamic fundamentalism is in Monaghan, but perhaps this is another example of the literati commenting on affairs far outside their experience and competence, as in most of Fintan O'Toole's output.

They had a review of George Dempsey's book as well, although this was by Trinity lecturer in Ecumenics. He complained that the extensive footnotes break up the flow of the book, and I'd agree. On Iran, he queried Dempsey's defense of US actions in the light of recent documentary evidence. In many examples, such as the effects of depleted uranium, although the evidence strongly supports Dempsey's argument, he doesn't cite it. Taken together, these are by far the biggest faults of the book, which otherwise hits many targets with a minimum of collateral damage.

Sunday, July 11, 2004


Last Monday 5th July was the 50th anniversary of the recording of "That's Alright Momma" at the small storefront on Union Street, Memphis, housing the Sun Studio.

In 2000, stuffed with fried catfish and almost overpowered by the intense heat and humidity (in mid-March!), I took twenty minutes to walk from the Peabody Hotel to the well-preserved studio.

On my way back, I noticed a plaque on a metal pole, standing in a vacant site opposite the studio, on the other side of Union Avenue. According to the inscription, it marked the spot on which Nathan Bedford Forrest, renowned Confederate cavalry general and later founder of the KKK, died in straightened circumstances in 1877.

Unlike Graceland, this wasn't marked on any of the tourist maps for this rebuilt city in the "mid-South", as the local newspapers referred to it.

Thoughts on Michael Moore

Expecting the truth from a Michael Moore film is like hoping to experience power and passion from a Wagner opera performed on an Etch-a-Sketch.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Sinews of War

According to Cicero's famous aphorism, "Nervos belli, pecuniam infinitam", the sinews of war are unlimited money, namely buying and competently distributing the necessities, rather than any strategic genius. Fred Kaplan writes in Slate about a US Army evaluation of the performance of logistics in the Iraq campaign last year.

As every general knows, amateurs talk strategy, whereas professionals talk supply. In the unlikely event that I was conscripted, I'd choose to work on the logistics staff.

It's often mentioned as an either-or by many historians, until Martin van Creveld's ground-breaking book Supplying War came out in 1978. He pointed out that until 1914, most armies were foragers rather than factories, needing to move in order to seize food, fodder for horses and the other supplies they needed. Not even the train changed that, contrary to conventional wisdom on the wars of German unification. Only when trucks became available to move fuel and the massively increased volumes of ammunition and artillery shells did war really become more mobile. Even then, the forward elements of the Anglo-American forces in D-Day outran their supply lines, bringing them to a near halt.

One fine day, we'll read some unforced and sincere words of praise by Kaplan for the Bush administration. In this case, I think that he's way too uneven in his judgment.

First, the operation's logistics were a lot better managed than last time. The troops were moved much more quickly, mainly because of upgraded sea transport capabilities.

Second, the basing was a big problem, with Jordan refusing access, then Turkey going right to wire, leaving one division (4th Infantry, if I recall) having to divert from the Med to Kuwait, well after the first shots were fired.

Third, remember that the pre-positioned ships full of equipment were the brainchild, back in the eighties, of a certain lupine deputy secretary at the Pentagon.

Fourth, this campaign, unlike the drive in the desert last time, had to involve maneuvering through large towns, mountain passes and sand storms. The ultimate challenge was crossing the wide Euphrates rivers large rivers, which when defended, are the worst possible obstacles to an attack. At the time, John Keegan praised the conduct of the war highly.

A few months back I read much of John Coram's biography of Colonel John Boyd, the man who was one of America's top fighter pilots, then went on to design the F-16 and try to teach a reluctant military establishment the value of agility and surprise in warfare.

The unexpected left-hook advance around Kuwait's fortifications in Desert Storm and simultaneous amphibious feint against Kuwait City by the marines, which championed by then defense Secretary Cheney over Colin Powell's "straight up the middle" frontal assault was inspired and loudly advocated by Boyd. This war's sudden stabs into Baghdad seem to have the stamp of late Colonel's thinking as well.

One point of Kaplan's I'm predisposed to accept is the comparative uselessness of the Apache helicopter, especially in comparison with the A-10. Boyd and his team championed the Warthog against an Army reluctant to give up a helicopter tank-killer that it would control operationally and bureaucratically in return for for a fixed-wing aircraft programme that would be the Air Force's baby.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The Ultimate Renewable Energy Source

Update 1: Added last paragraph, cleaned up spelling mistakes

The Economist recently carried the obituary of Dr Thomas Gold, an influential astronomer, known for successfully modeling quasars, and, less successfully, trying to beat back the model that became known, after one of his collaborator's dismissive labels, as the big bang theory.

What, apart from in the loosest conceptual sense, did he have to do the issues facing the energy industries?

Left behind him, as an orphan with uncertain prospects, is his contention that the 18th century theory that oil, gas and coal have their origins in decayed plant and animals is incorrect. Living organisms, he argued, play no role in the formation of the fossil fuels found in the Earth's crust. He pointed out that methane (natural gas) is present in comets and other planets such as on Saturn's moon Titan, where it forms most of the atmosphere. He believed that hydrogen and carbon molecules combine to form hydrocarbons under the conditions of massive pressure and temperature found deep under the Earth's surface.

Vaclav Smil, in Energy at the Crossroads, begs that we consider seriously the possibility that this theory is possibly true. Much of the work on it was done in the old Soviet Union beginning in the nineteen-fifties, where it has been subject to much review and empirical testing. Smil was mostly trained in Prague, so he has a greater knowledge of Russian thinking than other scientists, although Peter Odell, the most optimistic of the prominent oil forecasters also mentions it.

The irony would be that if it were correct, then
...[a]s argued by the inorganic origin theorists of the Former Soviet Union – home of the world’s largest hydrocarbons’ industry. Enormous implications follow from oil and gas being renewable resources. All concerns for “scarcity” would be undermined and future oil and gas supplies at stable or falling costs could be guaranteed.
I wouldn't buy the abiotic theory yet, as it's far from being accepted by consensus scientific opinion. To my mind, it smacks of Lysenko, the uneducated peasant who tried to train wheat to grow in Siberia rather than accept the influence of "bourgeois" genetics. Did the Russians think that capitalist oil was moving inexorably towards crisis, whereas, under the leadership of the party, class-conscious Soviet oil reserves put in extra effort?

Smil reports that tests on the carbon in hydrocarbons, the C13 isotopes found in organic matter are also present. However, he says that the theory has successfully guided discovery of oil in places where conventional wisdom says it would be improbable.

Iowa Leads the Market

Iowa made John Kerry when he unexpectedly won the caucuses for the nomination there in January. Now is Iowa trying to tell us something equally suprising?

I've been hearing a lot of bad news for George Bush recently, with Iraq turning ugly and then weaker growth in the economy apparent in last Friday's weaker than expected non-farm payrolls.

A New Yorker financial reporter has just published a book, The Wisdom of Crowds to popularise the idea that groups of people often outsmart individuals, roughly what economist types mean when they say that a financial market is efficient, so don't waste money buying anything other than an index-tracker.

I've written on open and market-based systems before, but I was gobsmacked when I saw the prices quoted above on the Iowa Electronic Marketplace: Bush is priced to win with about 55% probability and Kerry 45%. The insider types - journalists, academics and political staffers - putting their supposedly-smart money on the line at the IEM seem to have decided that we face a repeat of 1984, not 2000.

Who's right - the polls or the market? I don't know. It would be interesting to look at this years Democratic nominations as a case-study of the supposed powers of prediction markets, as I suspect that the IEM was as blindsided by Kerry's surge as the media and other supposed experts were.

The Problem Child

Aer Lingus paper towel
That Familiar Lemon Smell

Perhaps the most pathetic of Irish social stereotypes is the hopeless bachelor, ever dependent on his Mammy - even when he's 68 years old - to butter his bread and tie his shoelaces for him. The worst example of this must be Ireland's unloved state airline, Aer Lingus. Trust me, you don't want to go their website. I had to buy a new ticket from the bastards last Christmas because they told me that they - they, not me - had printed it on the wrong paper. Next time I'll get it tattooed on my forehead for their convenience.

Cunning Aer Lingus (Stop that! This is a family blog!) management are apparently trying to launch a management buy-out of the company. With fuel prices soaring and a looming bloodbath in the low-cost market, why would they think this is a good idea?

Given the power of the unions and the jobs it accounts for in key Dublin marginals, I doubt that the airline will be allowed to go under, so in case of bankruptcy, they would be bailed out by the long suffering taxpayer. On the other hand, should the new management shareholders make out like bandits, they get to keep the profits: All reward, no risk.

Irish nationalised industry, meet moral hazard. Or to put it in financial terms of Black-Scholes, management are about to buy a put option written by the Oireachteas and given to them for free.

Some Second Thoughts

I was reading the comments on the Peking Duck's posting about the "bare branches" theory.

Maybe, this theory isn't as strong as it's advocates claim. Sure, the Crusades and other adventures are blamed on surplus males that need to be expended somewhere if they can't reproduce or are more likely to seek violence if they are unattached to and socialised by a wife and children.

On the other hand, is this argument that overpopulation leads to war really that sensible? Modern fighter jets and tanks, all consumed like prawn crackers in any but the most one-sided wars, are very, very expensive, probably $20m per unit at least. That money can buy off dissent. I doubt that Korean-war style mass human wave attacks are on the cards for China's next war.

Second, what about the indirect costs of war - disturbances to trade, commodity markets, financial markets, foreign investment - why risk these, particularly as a developing nation? This was Norman Agnell's argument that integration would prevent war. Unfortunately, he published the book in 1912 or so....

Then, what if you lose the war? Wouldn't you end up like the Argentine junta after the Falklands, hanging off the lampposts for betraying the patriotic hopes of the motherland?

I really don't know. Next time I'm in the library, I'll see what Thomas Homer-Dixon, who seems to have inspired Robert Kaplan's The Coming Anarchy, has to say.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

A War on Women?

Saturday's NY Times reviews a book by two pol sci academics, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population. The title supposedly comes from a Chinese term for men with no prospect of marriage or children. This has turned out to be an increasingly likely prospect. Pre-natal ultrasound scanning and abortion have translated the traditional preference for sons in patriarchal societies into a sex ratio of boys to girls of up to 1.25:1 in China and India. They speculate that when these boys grow up with no prospects of having families to divert and socialise them, that civil unrest and even international conflict become more likely. It sounds almost like my single-sex Christian Brothers secondary school, on a much larger scale.

Almost as an afterthought, the review reports:
Mr. Fish of Berkeley, in his own research into why democracy is so rare in Muslim countries, has examined 150 countries with populations over 500,000 and has concluded that the status of women, more than anything else, explained the strength or weakness of democracy. And the two biggest indicators of female status, he said, were sex ratios and the gap in literacy between men and women. On average, he found that Muslim countries had sex ratios of 102 men for every 100 women, although it can go as high as 125 men for every 100 women in Saudi Arabia, for example."
I looked for UN and other data on this, but the Chinese data didn't show an imbalance much beyond 110% boys/girls in the youngest age cohorts, not much beyond the 107% natural rate. However, I was absolutely shocked when I looked at the data for young adults in Saudi Arabia: According to the US Census bureau,

Age Cohort      Males/Females %

   20-24         139.6

   25-29         168.9

   30-34         162.8

   35-39         158.5

   40-44         133.2

Is demographics is destiny? Sam Huntington pointed out that the youth bulge peaked in Algeria and Iran at the time of their political upheavals in The Clash of Civilisation, then Saudi faces REAL trouble.

How could such a skewed ratio come about? Maybe the women are undercounted if they are kept away from census counters? Perhaps the same social pressure operates as in China, but I'm not sure how that happens when resources are much more available in the oil-financed universal welfare-state.

I read much of one-time CIA agent Bob Baer's book "Sleeping with the Devil", forecasting trouble ahead, in Washington last year. He gave a precis in the Atlantic, which is mirrored here.

Elaborating on my response to John's post, Standard and Poors gives Saudi an "A" foreign currency long-term rating, about the same as Cyprus, the Czech Republic or Estonia, so oil hardly makes them Switzerland with palm trees. Moody's, as usual, is more pessimistic, awarding them a Baa2, not very far away from the speculative universe.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Soccer News

Exciting news just in!

Some crowd have beaten some other shower in Euro 2004.


Friday, July 02, 2004

On The Wings of The Irish Eagle

I read John Fay's blog at Irish Eagle every day, but unfortunately, it, along with all the other blogs on my blogroll, dissappeared in the switch to the new template.

He writes today on the oil market, but I have more to say in response than I can fit in those little boxes Haloscan provides for comments.

I can at best give some pointers, reguritate what I read in the FT and report folklore among the investment banking community in answer to the questions.

Saudi Arabia - the Saudi economy has gone to hell over the past 10+ years due to low oil prices. Sure, long term they have to do something to encourage people to create wealth and not just cash in on the wealth under the sand, but the higher prices we're seeing at the moment will help the Saudis buy some quiet while they deal with the discontented rabble that is swelling the ranks of the Islamic terrorists.

1. Yes, Saudi's an economic hole. The country has huge debts, and the credit rating, last time I looked, was I think BBB-, lower than Mexico or Russia. I think their trade was back in deficit by about 1981 though, and their terms of trade are not getting any better.

Russia - there's no doubt that George Bush's friend's life is made easier by higher oil prices. I wonder if American equanimity in the face of these higher prices explains Putin's revelation about his warning before last year's invasion.

2. Yes, it's doubtful whether, absent oil price rises and the 1998 devaluation, Russia would have grown at all since then.

Iraq - every barrel of oil coming out of Iraq is selling for more than was expected in the budgeting for reconstruction of Iraq. The less that costs, the easier it will be for Bush to cast the policy in a favorable light.

3. Probably. I'll be looking for figures on Iraqi production soon for something I'm writing. The IEA should have figures, so one can probably do good estimates, as I shall shortly. Niall Ferguson's Colossus (I just finished) and the paper by William Nordhaus (I haven't started reading it yet) on the estimates of the cost of the war on the economics of the whole enterprise.

In general though, I'd imagine high petrol prices for US consumers weigh more heavily than improvements in Iraq's economy in the minds of the voters, even if security is good enough in the first place to export any oil out of the country and then to give foreigners the assurance to invest in exploration and production.

China - the Chinese use lots and lots of oil. And, when it comes to production, they use it less efficiently than Americans. So, although the higher oil prices hurt American business, Chinese businesses are hurting more. A little dampening down of the Chinese economy would help keep China from challenging the US anytime soon.

4. China's energy-inefficient and energy-hungry, but coal probably dominates oil in the mix. Also, it is a large producer in its own right, and is only now starting to import. Its economic and security costs for oil would be much better than Japan or the US though, as it's next door to big fields in Russian and Central Asia.

Kyoto - despite what is generally assumed, the Bush Administration has made a lot of noise about Kyoto, but not formally abrogated (is that the right word? & I'm looking for a link that discusses this) the treaty. Higher gas prices will reduce emissions as people simply drive, fly, produce less than they would if oil were $10 per barrel. This development is a bone to throw to the EU, which is not faring all that well with Kyoto compliance itself.

5. I did a few posts on this back in May, still available here and here, I think it was, giving some links. Another is in draft now, but its a criticism of an argument by the syballant Stephen Schreiber of Stanford who steams supremely at sceptics.

Bush said he wouldn't present it to the Senate, who have the power to reject any treaty, if I remember my Robert Caro.

The McCain-Lieberman bill, to introduce a purely domestic system is up for vote in the Senate. I've only come across one story on this, even using Nexis. I think it's widely seen as a filibuster measure against pork for the oil companies. They tried last year and failed by about 65-35 against.

Scott Barrett, who I might be studying under soon, wrote a book on the art of writing environmental treaties and how Kyoto fluffed it.

I don't know the IPCC models well enough, but I would guess that $10 isn't enough to push the real solution, which is the transition to non-carbon energy. There are models of this but I haven't got the originals, only Lomborg's analysis, which I don't trust and don't find practical as a guide, in this area at least.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Copyrights...and wrongs

2 July: Update 1, Added second and last paragraphs, to and to first paragraph

Prospect's collection of articles from the first one hundred issues are available online, put there by some bad element no doubt (but hey, what's more Chinese than copyright theft? Next, I'll be standing on the corner of Chang'An and Wangfujing selling bootlegs for 8 yuan a go!)

They're running a competition to find Britain's top hundred public intellectuals. Maybe they presume too much. I'd put forward the FT, as the best forum for ideas among all the British papers. As well as having the leading figures on both sides of many debates published in the opinion pages, their Saturday magazine is the only publication in Britain that stands alongside the likes of the New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly in combining serious news and cultural analysis with accessible and clever writing.

Among the highlights in the Science and Technology section are an article by Bjorn Lomborg, which goes much further than The Skeptical Environmentalist in accusing the IPCC of promoting a hidden agenda:
...we have to realise what we are arguing about—do we want to deal with global warming in the most efficient way or do we want to use global warming as a means to realise a broader political ambition?
He goes further, and in this is the most explicitly anti-anti-globalisation, to coin a phrase, I've seen from him so far:
To put it another way, what matters most to our children is the success
of the WTO not the IPCC.
Opposing him in a later issue, also reproduced in the archive, is Adair Turner, who has a history destorying global capitalism - he's former head of McKinsey in London and later ran the Confederation of British Industry.

In Turner's view, Lomborg is both effective and justified in demolishing what he calls anti-modern environmentalism:
For some people, concern about the environment is rooted in a worldview of anti-modernist and anti-capitalist pessimism. It is this “anti-modernist” school that Lomborg demolishes. The anti-modernists tend to express environmental concerns in quasi-religious terms, rejecting a homo-centric world view: environmental improvements are not needed to make human life more pleasant, but because they are in some absolute sense right. It displays a deep suspicion of the market economy and of big business and is susceptible to conspiracy theory and scare stories, with selfish actions forever threatening health and the environment. But above all the anti-modernist school is characterised by a belief that the developed world model of ever-growing prosperity is unsustainable and in any case tawdry, and that fundamental reform of modern lifestyles is required to restore balance to the world. This belief makes its adherents highly suspicious of any assertion that mankind has achieved real improvements, not only in material conditions, but also in some aspects of environmental quality. (As Stephen Budiansky pointed out in last month’s Prospect, even scientists such as EO Wilson lean towards this view.)
Some obvious names should spring to the mind of regular readers.

He does pick up on some of my own concerns, especially on the book's chapter on global warming - where the forecasts of plentiful fossil fuel reserves and a fallback in global population aren't quite combatable with assumptions he makes for the global warming scenarios. I'm becoming more frustrated at trying to re-read passages that seem to be gibberish.