Eyes Wide Shut

I read a report in the Wall Street Journal in April about a Tesla car crashing into a tree in Texas, killing the two occupants. Sadly, fatal car accidents are all too common. Striking however was the reported time of four hours that it took emergency crews to finally put out the fire that engulfed the car. Apparently, the batteries used in the car are hard to extinguish once ablaze; or at least they keep on reigniting after the job is seemingly done. The car was also equipped with so-called ‘Autopilot’ and, reportedly, neither of the occupants was behind the wheel at the time of the crash. Now, to be fair to Tesla, Autopilot does not quite mean autonomous; it is just a step on the way.

There is a lot of hype about autonomous vehicles. No doubt they will have their place in well-contained situations. Australian mining companies lead the way in using them on-site to shift material from one spot to another. There are trials afoot, including on dedicated lanes on public highways across North America and Europe. Imagine. Millions of cars and heavy trucks tearing down highways, through towns and suburban streets without drivers. What could possibly go wrong?

Call me a techno-skeptic. I can’t see anyone being clever enough to devise a system to safely control millions of speeding intersecting vehicles while orchestrating appropriate responses to untoward situations. To wit, avoiding or not avoiding, and how, that dog wandering into the road. And I’m still trying to figure out how motorcycles and push bikes fit in.

Fahrvergnügen?

Of course, there’s always artificial intelligence (AI) to come to the rescue. Nothing is beyond AI apparently. Elon Musk himself, along with other far-sighted people, including the late Stephen Hawking, is on record as believing that it might even subdue us and take over the world. Self-driving cars would be a doddle. However, I remain unconvinced.

In any case, it doesn’t matter because autonomous vehicles, so far as I can tell, will live or die in the marketplace. It a question of whether lots of people who like driving will take to them. Whether bolder trials will end in too many crashes for comfort. Whether algorithms can ever be devised to replace human judgement in handling the myriad of different, and subtly different, situations arising on the road. That story will eventually be told by technology and market forces acting together.

Electric cars belong to a different storyline altogether. Their development is inorganic. It’s artificial. It can’t be quelled by antibodies -- in this case by economic realities. Bad things can happen and will go unpunished.

Pound for pound, electric cars are more expensive to make than are petrol or diesel cars. They are heavier and impart more kinetic energy when they crash; they create a bigger fire hazard. They will require massive amounts of electricity overnight when the sun isn’t shining and the wind is often still. They depend on the extraction of rare earths which, by all accounts, is a dirty business for the environment and which increases dependency on communist China, the overwhelmingly dominant producer. They require massively expensive, power draining, ubiquitous roadside charging infrastructure. Then there’s the challenge of disposing, year after year, of millions upon millions of toxic defunct batteries.

And, pray tell, what to do during those extreme-weather events (threatened by John Kerry et al as the doleful wages of anthropogenic climate change) when a community’s electricity supply has been snuffed out by one of those weather events and families whose cars have flat batteries are advised to flee the area? Back to horses?

Make hay while the sun shines, comrade.

To reiterate, none of this would matter a jot, if governments were not forcing the issue and taxpayers were not picking up the tab and thus hiding the costs and damage that would ordinarily be revealed and quickly punished by the marketplace. At this stage only about 0.5 percent of vehicles on the road are electric and most of those are hybrids. That leaves just about ninety-ninety percent to go. There is no way of knowing how far-reaching and irreparably damaging making such a wholesale changeover will be. And, if that’s an unknown, put it together with growing dependency on electricity generated by wind and solar. Unknown unknowns.

No one has this secret knowledge of the future. Nor do markets. But markets, ever alert, tend to weed out bad ideas not too long after they germinate. In other words, we seldom find out how bad things could get. The marvel of markets is that we don’t have to think too hard about what to produce and how to produce it. That’s a good job, because we don’t have sufficient knowledge. It’s a pretence of knowledge, as Hayek put it, to think that we do.

Communism is built on a pretence of knowledge. The means and makeup of production are directed from above. That things turn out badly is no surprise.

Proud papa of the Trabant.

The response of western governments to ‘climate change’ is essentially taken from the communist playbook. Transport and energy are at the core of modern economies. Determining how they will evolve by government edict is not fiddling around the edges. It is bound to end in tears. And those tears will inevitably go beyond economics to every facet of life.

It’s hard to imagine, if it were not happening. The ways of fuelling transport and generating electricity being foisted on us would never have powered the industrial revolutions which have led to today’s prosperity. And, to make matters worse, if that is at all possible, none of it will cool the planet.

When 'Inclusive' Capitalism Becomes Socialism

Capitalism is not the answer to human suffering. At the same time, it is the only economic system which allows individual freedom to flourish; it produces unrivalled prosperity; and, as Michael Novak perceptively says in the 1991 edition of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, “it is the most practical hope of the world’s poor: no magic wand, but the best hope.”

Not content, some very rich people, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope, among others, want capitalism to do more. Enter “inclusive capitalism” and its more recent stablemate “stakeholder capitalism.”

It was May 2014. A conference called “Making Capitalism More Inclusive” was held in London. Inclusive capitalism is a concept developed in 2012 by the Henry Jackson Society - a British think tank of classical-liberal persuasion. It started well enough with the principal objective being to engender more ethical behaviour in business practices. The excesses surrounding the recession of 2009/10 were fresh in mind. Unfortunately, it has gone rapidly downhill since.

The aforementioned conference was opened by Prince Charles and featured Bill Clinton, Christine Lagarde, Mark Carney and Lawrence Summers. Hardly a conservative or classical liberal in sight. Three conferences have followed: in London in June 2015, in New York in October 2016 and back in London in March 2018. Presumably, Covid has prevented holding a more recent conference. No matter. Those behind inclusive capitalism co-opted the Pope to keep the pot simmering.

Money makes the world go 'round.

As the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) puts it, Pope Francis has become the “moral guide to inclusive capitalism.” ‘The Council for Inclusive Capitalism (the Council), with the Vatican onboard, was launched on December 8 last year. Earlier in the year, in May, The Great Reset was unveiled at Davos. “Stakeholder capitalism” became the watchword; encompassing the same grand idea as inclusive capitalism.

So, to my theme: What’s it all about or, in other words, what do ‘they’ want; and why is the whole thing a crock or, more politely, misconceived?

This is Mark Carney, the then Governor of the Bank of England, at the 2014 conference to which I referred: “Inclusive capitalism is fundamentally about delivering a basic social contract comprised of relative equality of outcomes, equality of opportunity, and fairness across generations.” Hard to believe coming from a central banker? He’s Canadian.

This is easier to believe. Justin Welby, participating in the 2015 conference, outlining his aspirations for capitalism: “A generosity of spirit that doesn’t always seek the greatest return…that meets the needs of the poor and the excluded and the suffering.”

To add waffle to waffle, the Council’s mission is to “harness the private sector to create a more inclusive, sustainable and trusted economic system.” Understandably, sustainability is featured. After all, the Pope urges us to listen to “the cry of the earth.” Hmm? Smacking too much of paganism? Perish the thought.

Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, expanded on the term stakeholder capitalism in February this year. He identified two primary stakeholders. One is the planet (no, not kidding); the other is everyone, wherever they live. The respective wellbeing of both stakeholders is the objective. Though, Schwab notes, “people are social animals and their absolute well-being is less important than their relative well-being.” Got that. You and your neighbour each having ten dollars is better than him having fifteen and you only twelve.

How the idea of levelling down translates to those participating at Davos and at inclusive capitalism forums is beyond me. Note this description in UCA News of those calling the shots at inclusive capitalism: “a group of individuals and institutions with more than $10.5 trillion in assets and companies with a combined market capitalization of more than $2 trillion.” They are the woke big end of town. A race apart from the small and medium-sized businesses which make up the bulk of market economies. Their self-appointed mission: to rescue the world by reimagining capitalism.

They are discomforted by the prevailing state of affairs. They want a world within which all existing species survive and thrive, the oceans cease rising, the earth cools and each and every person everywhere enjoys a liveable income and state of the art medical attention.

Leaving aside a slight qualm I have about the earth cooling; the aims are fine. I sometimes daydream about winning a lottery. That fantasy is fine too. To take saving the poor and saving planet earth in turn.

Capitalism makes much of the world prosperous. Part of that is entrepreneurs and businesses striving to earn profits by vigorously competing with each other. Part is prices guiding resources into their best commercial use while informing and rationing demand. Part is not ensuring fair outcomes. Capitalism cannot be moulded into a generous outreach to the poor and disadvantaged. It simply won’t work. It is an idea contradictory at its core.

It's easy if you try. Scary, too.

As for lifting those in poor countries out of poverty, how about advising them to adopt Judeo-Christian institutions and values; the institutions and values that have underpinned economic progress in western countries and in other countries which have tried them. Call them what you like, of course, to make them universally palatable.

I will guess. That advice will never come out of Davos or the Council. Yet, when all is said and done, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, property rights, free speech and freedom from fear, the absence of systematic nepotism, cronyism and corruption and, vitally, mutual trust, tell the tale of progress; not pie-in-the-sky reimagining of capitalism.

From the unattainable to the unachievable describes the segue from saving the poor to saving the planet. Here’s a thought. What is the ideal state of the planet? Roaming ruminants, sans people, perhaps. Short of that green-dream nirvana wouldn’t it be nice, for example, to get CO2 down to pre-industrial levels? Or would it?

A friend of mine, Ivan Kennedy, emeritus professor of agriculture at Sydney University, tells me that we are now effectively addicted to higher levels of CO2. He estimates that if CO2 were to return to pre-industrial levels it would reduce the photosynthesis of cereal crops by more than 20 percent. This would likely cause famine, malnutrition and death, particularly among the world’s poorest. Something on which the Pope and Archbishop might cogitate.

WHO Done It?

To say that the World Health Organization badly mishandled the Covid-19 outbreak right from the outset might be the understatement of the century. In the early months of the crisis, as the virus was spreading throughout Wuhan and then China, the WHO consistently downplayed what was happening, praised China for its effective response, declined (at Beijing's behest) to declare a health emergency, and generally repeated CCP talking points about what was actually going on.

This while their inspectors were being denied access to Wuhan itself, to the wet market where the virus apparently first infected humans, and then to patients who were suffering from the virus.

The global response to the virus has been hysterical, but had the WHO not bent over backwards to minimize what was happening in China -- the New York Times reports that every word of the WHO's initial report on the crisis had to be approved by the CCP -- perhaps Covid could have been contained.

The WHO doesn't want this to become the commonly accepted narrative. If it is, taxpayers around the world might begin asking their governments why they contribute to the organization's $4.4 billion annual budget when it clearly only has the interests of one particular country at heart. So, they obfuscate and misdirect.

For the latest example of this, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus -- who is not a doctor -- has released a video statement for this past weekend's International Day of Epidemic Preparedness saying that the present pandemic should remind us how important it is to get ahead of the next public health emergency. He was referring, of course, to climate change.

Here's what the Director-General said:

The pandemic has highlighted the intimate links between the health of humans, animals, and planet... Any efforts to improve human health are doomed unless they address the critical interface between humans and animals, and the existential threat of climate change, that is making our earth less habitable.... [T]his will not be the last pandemic... but with investments in public health, supported by an all-of-government, all-of-society, One Health approach, we can ensure that our children and their children inherit a safer, more resilient, and more sustainable world.

His point in favor of a collectivist approach to such problems is strange since it was his globalist organization working in concert with a communist country with imperial pretentions which caused the crisis in the first place. But the reference to climate change and a "more sustainable world" is meant to distract from the incoherence. This is an appeal to virtue signalers worldwide. How can they stay mad at a man who is so clearly on their side?

Not that the country for which the WHO consistently carries water is known for its environmentalist friendly policies, but liberals pride themselves on embodying F. Scott Fitzgerald's maxim that the mark of "a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time." By that measure, they're off the charts.

You Knew This Was Coming

As we've been saying from the jump, the "global warming" crew adores the Covid-19 manufactured "crisis," primarily because power-mad authorities were able to take an event with only slightly more reality than imminent beachfront property in Nevada and turn it into a full-fledged, economy- and social-trust-destroying assault on the world. If all it took was the flu, for crying out loud, they must be thinking, why didn't we think of something that simple?

The end of the world is already taken, but what about " scientists say it's the end of the world"? And that to appease the angry Climate Gods, we must take the advances the Wuhan virus has brought us and expand upon them?

If global warming is to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as recommended by the Paris Agreement, scientists say efforts to reverse economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic must include climate policy measures, according to a [recent]  study.

COVID-19 has killed several hundred thousand people and sickened millions more, but the lockdowns necessitated by the crisis have had a positive effect on air quality. Research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, however, suggests the pandemic's silver lining is unlikely to last should the world economy's return to business as usual.

Nothing like a "silver lining" to death and economic destruction, I guess. but at least the air quality is better! A small price to pay!

But wait -- the real treat is yet to come:

Even if global lockdowns were extended through the end of the year, without significant economic reforms, the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions achieved during the pandemic will amount to infinitesimal reduction in global warming.

And you know what that means...

"Our paper shows that the actual effect of lockdown on the climate is small," study co-author Harriet Forster said in a news release. "The important thing to recognize is that we've been given a massive opportunity to boost the economy by investing in green industries -- and this can make a huge difference to our future climate," said Forster, who recently graduated from the University of Leeds in Britain.

Because the behavioral shifts triggered by pandemic and resulting economic downturn are temporary, researchers suggest the momentary reduction in emissions will have a minimal impact on climate change. Still, the authors suggest the pandemic has provided global governments a unique opportunity to address climate change long-term.

Researchers suggest that while the pandemic's effects on the climate are temporary, they have offered a glimpse of the progress that could be made with permanent structural reforms.

And you really know what that means:

They never stop, they never sleep, and -- even after their entire economic and political system has collapsed -- they never quit trying to destroy ours as well.