Cave Paintings and Elementary Science

This is a travel story of sorts of travel through time, to an extent. Be patient.

Directly to the west of Marseille, the second largest city in France are a series of beautiful, narrow coves, like fjords, situated in a sort of desert. They are called “calanques” in French. They are accessible only by sea or through a long walk on hot rocky ground. Although they constitute a separate world, the calanques are close to Marseille, as the crow flies. They used to be a major fishing resource for the city. You can be sure they were never forgotten during the 2600 years of the city’s existence. Also, the city was founded by Greeks and thus, it always had a literate population, one that kept records.

Marseille and its environs are where SCUBA was invented, the first practical solution to the problem of men breathing underwater. Accordingly, the calanques were always and thoroughly explored after 1950. In 1985, one of the co-inventors of SCUBA discovered a deep cave in one of the calanques. He couldn’t resist temptation and swam into it until he reached a large room emerging above the water level. I mean a cave where he could stand and breathe regular air. The explorer’s name was Cosquer.

Cosquer visited several times without saying a word about his discovery. Soon, he observed dozens of beautiful wall paintings belonging to two distinct periods on the upper walls of his cave. The art of the first period was mostly hand imprints or stencils. The art of the second, distinct period, comprised 170-plus beautiful animals including many horses, ibex and others mammals, also fish, seals and other sea creatures. Archeologists think the painting of the first period were done about in about 25,000 BC, those of the latter period date back to about 18,000 BC, they believe.

Today, the entrance to the cave is about 125 feet below sea level. We know that paleolithic men did not have SCUBA. They simply walked into the cave for their own reasons, with their own purposes in mind. Thus, the sea level was at least 125 feet lower then than it is today. The people of Marseille never saw the cave. They would have written about it. There would be records. They would not have forgotten it. They simply did not know of its existence during the past 2600 years or so, since the foundation of their city.

Sometime in the past 20,000 years, the sea rose 125 feet or more. That’s an amplitude several times greater than any of the direst predictions of the official United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the next century. The IPCC squarely blames a future ocean rise (one that has not been observed at all, yet) on abnormal emission of several gases, especially CO2. These abnormal emissions in turn, the IPCC affirms, are traceable to human activities such as driving cars and producing many useful things by burning fossil fuels.

It seems to me that basic good science requires that causal analysis begin with a baseline. In this case, it would mean something like this: In the absence of any burning of fossil fuels, the ocean rose 125 feet sometimes during the past 20,000 years. Let’s see if we can find evidence of the ocean rising above and beyond this order of magnitude since humanity began burning fossil fuels in large quantities.

The conclusion will likely be that nothing out of the ordinary happened. Hence, fossil fuel emissions are probably irrelevant to this particular issue. (This leaves open the possibility that such emissions are odious for some other reason. I mean CO2 is plant food. Too much CO2 may promote weed growth in our fields and gardens.)

The ocean is not currently rising and if it is, the existence of the Cosquer cave suggests that it’s rising to a minuscule degree. Let’s keep things in perspective. Let’s discard openly and loudly every part of the building of a complex hypothesis that does not work. Those who don’t take these obvious cleansing measures simply have a lot of explaining to do. They should not be allowed to wrap themselves in the mantle of science while violating Science 101 principles.

One of the conceits of the Warmist movement (re-branded “Climate Change” something or other) is that you don’t have a right to an opinion unless you possess a doctorate in Atmospheric Science. By this dictate, anybody who has to keep a job, raise children, or pay a mortgage is out of the discussion. This is the typical posturing of intellectual totalitarianism. Note what’s missing in the story above: It says nothing about what did cause the ocean to rise between 18,000 years ago and today. It’s enough to know that whatever it was, it was not the massive burning of fossil fuels. And, if factors other than burning fossil fuels explain large rises in sea level, they should first be applied to a tiny rises in sea rises before other explanations are tried. That’s just good practice.

The Cousquer cave story is now complete as is. Yes, that simple.

Elective Affinities in Institutional Design, 1951

[Note: this is a piece by Michalis Trepis, who you might recognize from the now-defunct NOL experiment “Be Our Guest.” Michalis is a newly-minted Notewriter, and this is the first of many more such pieces to come. -BC]

The Treasury and the Federal Reserve System have reached full accord with respect to debt-management and monetary policies to be pursued in furthering their common purpose to assure the successful financing of the Government’s requirements and, at the same time, to minimize monetization of the public debt.

– Joint announcement by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Chairman of the Board of Governors, and of the Federal Open Market Committee, of the Federal Reserve System, issued for release on Mar. 4, 1951

The Allied High Commission appreciates that these responsibilities [for the central bank] could not, without serious inconvenience, be given up so long as no legislation has been enacted establishing a competent Federal authority to assume them.

– Letter from the Allied High Commission to Chancellor Adenauer, Dated Mar. 6, 1951


A Financial Fable by Carl Barks, a short story starring Donald Duck and his duck-relatives, was published in Mar. 1951. It featured concepts like supply/ demand, money shocks, inflation and the ethics of productive labor, from a rather neoclassical perspective. Read today, it seems out of synch with the postwar paradigm of a subordinated monetary policy to the activist state and, more generally, with what came to be known as the Golden Age. As you have already probably noticed, this March also marks the 70th anniversary of two more instances against the currents of the time. It was back then that two main traditions of central bank independence – based on political consensus and judicial (“Chevron”) deference in the case of US, based on written law and judicial review in the case of Eurozone (read: Germany) – were (re)rooted. In the following lines, I offer an outline focused on institutional interplay, instead of then usual dramatis personae

The first instance is the well-known Treasury – FED Accord. Its importance warrants a mention in nearly every institutional discussion of modern central bank independence. The FED implemented an interest rates peg – kind of capping the yield curve – in 1942, to accommodate public debt management during World War II. The details were complicated, but we can still think of it as a convenient arrangement for the Executive. The policy continued into the early 50s, with the inflationary backdrop of the Korean War leading to tensions between a demanding Executive and an increasingly resistant central bank. Shortly after the dispute became more pronounced, reaching the media, the two institutions achieved a compromise. The austere paragraph cited above ended the interest rates peg and prompted a shift of thinking within – and without – the central bank, on monetary policy and its independence of fiscal needs.

The second one is definitely more obscure, and as such deserves a little more detail. The Bank deutscher Länder (BdL) was established in 1948, in the Allied territory of occupied Germany. It integrated central banking institutions, old and new, in a decentralized fashion á la US FED. Its creation underpinned the – generally successful – double reform of that year (a currency conversion with a simultaneous abolition of price controls), which reignited free market forces (and also initiated the de facto separation of the country). The Allied Banking Commission (ABC) supervised the BdL and retained the sole right to issue direct instructions, a choice more practical than doctrinal or ideological. As the ABC gradually allowed a greater leeway to the central bank, while fending off even indirect German political interventions, the resulting institutional setting provided for a relatively independent BdL. 

In late 1950, the Occupational Authority wanted out and an orderly transfer of powers required legislation from the Federal Government. Things deadlocked around the draft of the central bank law, the degrees of centralization and independence being the thorniest issues. The letter cited above, arriving after a few months of inertia, was the catalyst for action. The renewed negotiations concluded with the “Interim Law” of 10 Aug. 1951. The reformed BdL was made independent of instructions from the Federal Government, while at the same time assuming an obligation to support government’s general economic policy – without prejudice to its monetary duties. 

This institutional arrangement was akin to what the BdL itself had pushed for, a de jure formalization of its already de facto status. Keep in mind that the central bank enjoyed a head start in terms of reputation and experience versus the Federal Government, after all. But it can also be traced to the position articulated by the free market-oriented majority in the German quasi-governmental bodies back in 1948, a unique blend of explicit independence from/ cooperation with the government. The 1951 law effectively set the blueprint for the final central bank law, the Bundesbank Act of 1957. The underlying liberal creed echoed in the written report of the Chairman of the Committee for Money and Credit of the parliament:

The security of the currency… is the highest precondition for the retention of a market economy, and hence in the final analysis that of a free constitution for society and the state… [T]he note-issuing bank must be independent of these [political bodies] and subject only to the law.

The Financial Fable was the only story featuring Disney’s characters that made it to an important history of comics book, published in 1971. Around that time, the postwar consensus on macroeconomic stabilization policy was reaching its peak. A rethinking was already underway on the tools and goals of monetary policy, taking it away from the still garbled understanding of the period. It took another decade or so for both sides of the Atlantic to recalibrate their respective monetary policies. The accompanying modern central bank independence, with its foundations set in 1951, became a more salient – and popular – aspect a bit later.

Nightcap

  1. Why free speech matters Andrew Doyle, spiked!
  2. Thinking the worst of ourselves Jackson Arn, Hedgehog Review
  3. Feyerabend: Westernization and culture Bill Rein, NOL
  4. Did America have a founding? Jeff Polet, Modern Age

Nightcap

  1. (De)centralized law-making and climate change Josephine van Zeben, SSRN
  2. A defense of maths in economics Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  3. The end of the world John Guzlowski, North American Review
  4. Small business in the urban riots of the 1960s (pdf) Jonathan Bean, TIR

Nightcap

  1. Taiwan as the world’s newest flashpoint Blackwill & Zelikow, War on the Rocks
  2. Witch hunts, economics, and the Holy Roman Empire Johannes Dillinger, Aeon
  3. On deserts Tariq al Haydar, Threepenny Review
  4. System, empire, and state in Chinese IR (pdf) Yongjin Zhang, Review of Int’l Studies

Nightcap

  1. What did John Calvin think about economics? Steven Wedgeworth, Calvinist International
  2. The ethnocultural borderlands of early Maoist China Benno Weiner, Age of Revolutions
  3. Burning books Akram Aylisli (interview), Los Angeles Review of Books
  4. Ivy League English departments and low culture Mark Bauerlein, Modern Age
  5. But Maliki was supported both by Iran and by the United States.” John Jenkins, New Statesman

Nightcap

  1. Cancel Neera Tanden Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  2. Magical thinking and economic growth Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
  3. The Bird Juan Cárdenas, Southwest Review
  4. On cosmopolitan humility and the arrogance of states (pdf) Luis Cabrera, ISPP

Nightcap

  1. A liberal case for seapower? Caverley & Mitchell, WOTR
  2. Catastrophism and cycles Chris Shaw, Libertarian Ideal
  3. The Left’s culture war rebranding Shant Mesrobian, AA
  4. The voice of the Anglo-Saxons NEO, nebraskaenergyobserver

Nightcap

  1. Noise, interests, and democracy Chris Dillow, S&M
  2. Meritocracy and its discontents Wilfred McClay, Hedgehog Review
  3. Something must be done Lee Jones, Disorder of Things
  4. Nuclear power and the environmentalists Scott Sumner, EconLog

Nightcap

  1. In defense of Ted Cruz Thomas Knapp, TGC
  2. The political economy of exit clauses and secession (pdf) Huysmans & Crombez, CPE
  3. A republic of equals and unequals (pdf) John Meadowcraft, Public Choice
  4. An empire of stupidity Nina Herzog, LARB

Nightcap

  1. Sweet Home Hialeah César Baldelomar, Commonweal
  2. The totalitarianism of origins Tal Fortgang, Law & Liberty
  3. Moralism, nationalism, and identity politics Andrew J Cohen, RCL
  4. A practical approach to legal-pluralist anarchism Jason Morgan, JLS

A Near-World Class Model in the African Forest

a story, by Jacques Delacroix

Long story short: In my thirties, I am part of a French crew going to film a commercial in Casamance. That’s the southern and forested part of Senegal, on the west coast of Africa. (It’s close to where the old and successful TV series “Roots” was filmed.) Senegal is a former French colony. French is widely spoken there, including by all formally educated Senegalese. We ride in a short caravan of VW buses from the local biggish city and into the forest. It’s hot. The commercial will be filmed the next day on a river next to the edge of the tropical forest. Where we will stay tonight, and probably the next night, is kept secret.

In the middle of the caravan, there is an older model Peugeot sedan, or maybe, it’s even a Mercedes. It’s the only air-conditioned vehicle in the procession. The star of the future commercial rides in it, in full comfort. She is actually a top model of near-world class fame. The client is a big French company selling informal but fairly chic women’s apparel internationally, kind of pricey apparel. The advertising agency in charge does not have any reason to try and cut corners. It’s gone for the best, or for the very-next-to-best talent in that line of work. The model is a tall, lithe blonde (of course) with a long elegant neck, long legs, long arms, and a torso like a ten-year old boy’s. She has a beautiful face, of course, not like some of my ex-girlfriends, for example, but like something a bit out of this world, ethereal, if you will. She is alone in the car, like royalty.

After about an hour, or 25 miles, riding on good dirt roads we, arrive at our place of rest in late afternoon. It’s a magnificent three story building of Moorish style made entirely of dried mud. I will learn later that local people erected it with their bare hands. There are windows on each of its façades that are separated by thick vertical ribs from bottom to top. The windows have no glass panes but each is neatly covered with fine white mosquito netting. There is just one small entrance on the ground floor near where we stop. It takes a while for all of use to file in for checking as one would in a regular hotel and, that gives us time to admire again the building’s dramatic architecture. Inside, there is a normal counter with two clerks taking our names and assigning us mostly each to a small room. There is enough light coming in from the outside for the registrations to proceed normally.

The rooms have no door but the walls are so thick that one would have to contort one’s neck quite a bit to get a good view of the inside of any of them. Each has a wooden table and two chairs. The broad bed is fixed to the wall and made of the same adobe material. There is a thin mattress, two pillows, and cotton blankets on each bed. All those items are sparkling white. Myself, I like it a lot already in that hotel that’s barely a hotel. As the night begins falling, quickly as it does in the tropics, a local teenager barefoot and in shorts coughs politely at the entrance to my room. I invite him in and he lights the oil lamp mounted on the wall and shows me where the matches are, just in case.

Evening preparations are interrupted by a shrill voice protesting in accented French. (The protester is Danish or Swedish; French is not her native language.) Miss Near-World Class Model is complaining because her room is on the third floor and there are no elevators. The producer immediately has her baggage moved to a new room on the second floor. She does not like it there either because there is no view, that floor being beneath the tree branch line. Back to the third floor she goes. Twenty minutes later, begins another vivacious exchange between Miss Near-World Class Model and the producer. I eavesdrop, of course. (Well, I am professional social scientist; what do you think?) It seems they had agreed that she would receive her fee in the form of a round-trip business class ticket Paris-New York. (It’s a common way to avoid some taxes.) Now Miss Near World Class Model demands that the ticket be for the costly supersonic Concord. I, and probably everyone else in the auditory loop, thinks it’s just a tantrum. The Concord shaves something like a little over one hour off that trip. She can’t be in that much of a hurry. She just wants bragging rights. Plus, we are in the middle of Africa, years before cell phones. There is nothing the producer can do right now except, perhaps, perhaps, promise. And that may be the whole point of the argument, before her works begins, in only a few hours.

Quickly, the whole company, around twenty-five of us, is called to dinner. It takes place under the trees, around a nice big wood fire. We all sit on the ground and each of us is handed a miraculously hot, big recipient made of clay (same as the building behind us) filled with a sort of rice porridge with hard-boiled eggs and pieces of hard chicken. There are old French biscuits for dessert. We drink the bottled water and the beer some of us were smart enough to buy while we were going through the town. Everyone is in a good mood and, probably being put in mind of the Boy-Scout camps of their childhood; a few begin singing. Two local young men enter the circle with their small hand drums. Most of the crew joins in and that bunch of white city people from far away have one of the best evenings in their lives, in the Casamance forest.

Everyone is in bed before ten nevertheless. That’s because the first and main scene of the commercial we are there to film is supposed to be caught against a rising sun. Our princess is nowhere to be seen or heard. She is not currently berating anyone. She may be eating cold sandwiches in her lonely room. Except that, around nine, she sends someone to tell the producer she is scared to sleep by herself in her room with no door. He proposes the company of any number of vigorous youthful dudes in the crew, including me. On her declining, he persuades a very young woman, an assistant’s assistant probably, to spend the night with Miss Model.

To be fair, Miss Model’s conduct is neither that surprising nor that awful in context. Put yourself in her position. The wildest place she has ever been is probably a rock club in Copenhagen or in Stockholm. No one around her in the crew can provide the comfort of her native language. She is almost certainly uncomfortable in French, which is not even her second language. (English is more likely.) Is it possible that being suddenly surrounded by black people dredges up primitive racist fears in a female citizen of a country with no colonial African past, and therefore no experiences of proximity to black people? To ask the question is to answer it. Finally, there is the tenacious influence of envy that gnaws at the hearts of simple-hearted girls, beginning in a high school. Miss Model has probably only five or six rivals to whom she compares herself, other tall, lithe, career-oriented young women in the same league as she is: Mary-Ann gets to fly in the Concord; I will die if I have to fly a regular commercial jet!

The next morning, everyone is forced to wake up at five. (Can’t miss the sunrise, remember?) Someone has managed to produce some coffee, weak stuff, obviously brewed and boiled in a large pot but hot enough, with milk and sugar. There is also day-old, or two-day old, French bread. Unfortunately, though there are flush toilets at every story – with a big bucket of river water near the commodes – there is no real running water. So, washing off your face demands a harsh decision. You hope you actually packed up towelettes. How do I know it’s river water in the buckets? Well, I am an experienced fisherman.

Some of the crew go directly to the river’s side to check on the physical preparations. The director goes there specifically to greet the twenty or so locals who will be an important part of the video. They must be shivering, wearing only a loincloth – as instructed – before sunrise, standing near the long canoe they will be paddling up river in a short time. Most are postal workers and teachers, and such. (They all have to know French well to be able to follow the director’s instructions. Real paddlers, if they were to be found, probably couldn’t.) Some are receiving last minute initiation to paddling. The storybook – such as it is – is a collection of colonial clichés, of course. Nobody cares then. (It’s the seventies.) The African extras care least of all. They will be earning fat money, paddling five times five minutes, if that, and sitting under a tree shooting the breeze between cuts.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are still near the hotel building; we stand around downing coffee and smoking cigarettes waiting for our marching orders. It’s a bit like being a recruit in the armed forces again: hurry up and wait. Miss Model is nowhere to be seen. No one says anything but I know I am worried. If she had another tantrum and managed to get a ride to town during the night, the whole project is dead. Then, she appears in the dimly lit doorway.

Her hair is impeccably combed and held in place in a style markedly different from yesterday’s. I am guessing this is the hairdo the storybook calls for. She is wearing perfectly pressed white linen pants and a simple yet somehow elegant form-fitting pink t-shirt. I am guessing, again, that those are clothes from the collection we will be advertising in the commercial. She is carrying a squarish box by its handle. A young local woman who might be a hairdresser is waiting for her. (I think she is a hairdresser because, unlike other women in the area, she is not wearing a head scarf and her hair is processed.)

The African woman points to a downed tree trunk with a clean towel set on top. Miss Model sits on it and opens her case without a word. The local woman squats and hold a large mirror to her face. I get drafted to hold a flashlight just so, between her face and the mirror. I watch in amazement Miss Model create a work of art on her face in the semi-penumbra. She uses at least twenty different colors of make-up held in tiny square containers in her square case. I observe that she relies on six different brushes and several crayons in addition to four shades of lipstick. She handles her tiny tools without hesitancy. A few times, she signals to me to adjust the direction of the cone of light. Her other helper, being a woman, seems to know exactly what to do with the mirror. Miss Model soldiers on for forty-five minutes or more. Now, I have often looked at people working but I have never seen such attention to detail or such concentration, such seriousness. There, under a canopy of strange and vaguely threatening trees, in the middle of Africa, and in the darkness, Miss Model gives us all a lesson in perfect, cool professionalism.

Soon, she stands up and mutters a few words of thanks to the mirror lady and, in absent minded fashion, to me. The director has been standing there, watching and saying nothing. He guides her to the river for the opening shot just as the first premises of a rising sun show themselves.

If I forgot that I am talking here about a four-minute commercial destined only to be shown at intermission in French movie theaters, I would say the rest of the day is a triumph. Everyone does his or her job swiftly and intelligently; the parts fall into place with ease. The paddlers get into the spirit of the thing. They forget they are going to have to go back to work in an ironed white shirt tomorrow, or the next day. They produce from deep in their chests the satisfying sound of men pulling hard although they have only gone about fifty yards for each cut. It helps a lot that they have seen the same movies that inspired the storybook.

Miss Model herself responds exceedingly well to the modest requests for minimal acting in the storybook: She is asked to stand prettily in the bow of the long black canoe paddled by twenty half naked black men. She holds one hip slightly and graciously askew the better to display the embroidered back pocket of her pants. She has been told not to smile to avoid drawing attention away from the t-shirt she is modeling. There are several takes. In the end, she acquits herself fabulously. The apparel merchant, the sponsor, will be more than happy. And, I know you are curious about this: The producer was inflexible, Miss Model did not fly to New York and back on the Concord.

Nightcap

  1. The highway to serfdom (pdf) Gus DiZerega, Cosmos + Taxis
  2. Russia’s greatest river Farah Abdessamad, ARB
  3. A marketplace and a temple (h/t Michalis) Michael Kulikowski, LRB
  4. politics are now entirely a consumer-branding exercise” Antonio Garcia-Martinez, TPR

Does federation unite or divide?

I am reading a lot on federation lately, for an article I would like to contribute to Brandon’s special issue of Cosmos + Taxis. I am going back to the debate about federalizing (parts of the) the democratic world which was very lively in the 1930s and 1940s. Reading the texts, for example the best-selling Union Now! (1939) by American journalist Clarence Streit, you can feel the scare for the authoritarian rulers and their nationalistic and militaristic policies. As an anti-dote, Streit proposed the federation of all the grown democracies in the world at that time, 15 in total, spread over the globe. This Union of the North Atlantic had to include a union citizenship, a union defense force, a union customs-free economy, union money and union postal and communications system After the war broke out, Streit published a new version, now calling for a union between Britain and the USA. Needless to say, none of these or other proposals went anywhere. Still some interesting perpetual questions remain.

Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek also wrote on federation during this period, as I described in Classical Liberalism and International Relations Theory (2009). I now went back to their writings, which is a treat. It is nice to have a fresh look, I also have deeper insights now (at least – I think!) than I had about 15 years ago when first encountering these ideas.

One of the divides between Mises and Hayek (which they never openly discussed, as far as I am aware) revolved around the alleged pacifying effect of federations. Mises made the point that joining a federation would lead to a larger loss of sovereignty than was normally conceived in the debate. It was not just about pooling some powers at the federal level. In an interventionist world, Mises argued, the number of policies that are dealt with from the center, or the capitol, continually rise. After all, the call for intervention will be made from all corners of the federation, all the time. This leads to a call for equal treatment, which in turn lead to a larger number of policies and regulations administered from the capitol. Consequently, the member states increasingly lose sovereignty and eventually end up as mere provinces. This would be a new cause of division, especially when the member states of the new federation used to be powerful countries on their own. Hence, a federation divides, not unites. Therefore, he proposed a much more radical solution in his plan for Eastern Europe: no federation but a strict central union (administered by foreigners, in a foreign language he even once suggested) where the members would basically have no say at all over all the important legislation normally associated with sovereignty. The laws and regulations would be limited, ensuring maximum economic and political freedom for the individual citizen.

This blog is not meant to discuss the merits of Mises’ ideas. It solely aims to point at a division between Mises and Hayek. Hayek, and most thinkers on federation with him, Streit included, had different expectations about the political effects of federation. They expected that federation would be a force of unity.  In a federation you arrange the most difficult and divisive policies at the center (for example defense, foreign policy and foreign trade), while leaving all other policies to the constituent parts. This allows room for different policies in those states, while taking away their instruments to start violent conflict. Yes, this would mean less sovereignty, but also less trouble, while the freedom within the federation still ensured as much or as little additional policies as the individual states see fit. Hayek would favor his idea the rest of his life, also proposing it for the Middle East, for example.  

Who was right? That is impossible to say, I think. There are elements of both Misesian and Hayekian arguments in the real-life experiences of federations around the globe. For some it is indeed a good way to pool the core of sovereignty, while remaining as diverse as possible. Although most them do not disintegrate with violent conflict, the increase of all kind of policies at the federal center has certainly happened. However, this is not unique to federations and most importantly, it is not a question of formal legal organization. It is a question of mentality of both politicians and populations. This is another reason to keep fighting ‘the war of ideas’, because ideas have the power to change societies.

Nightcap

  1. Aliens Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
  2. War, Peace, and the State (pdf) Murray Rothbard, The Standard
  3. The new ruling class (h/t Michalis) Helen Andrews, Hedgehog Review
  4. Free speech and socialist dictatorships Sharansky & Troy, Tablet