The early days of passenger flight

england to australia in 1929

Long service leave is uniquely Australian. After working with the same employer for an extended period of time – it used to be twenty years but has fallen to ten in some places – an employee would receive three months paid leave. It was a nineteenth century innovation and the idea was that it would allow someone the time to visit home, home of course being the UK. The calibration was one month travelling back, one month to visit and then one month to return.

Moving home truly meant something in those days. A lifetime of separation and often having left never to see one’s parents or relations or friends ever again.

The schedule above was for travel from England-to-Australia in 1929 via India. Only eight days it by then took but no one went steerage although by today’s standards no one anywhere would have any kind of an experience similar to what was the best there was back then. This is from a fascinating article, What International Air Travel Was Like in the 1930s picked up at Instapundit. The story is of a different world not all that long ago but immensely remote. The pictures are even more incredible. How quaint we will no doubt look to those peering back at us from the twenty-second century.

It’s only the weather, folks, only the weather

record low temps us 21.11.13 to 28.11.13

This is the story from Drudge and I must say it is bizarrely startling. Over the past week the figures show:

Almost 1000 record low max temps vs 17 record high temps

Records in the last 7 days:

205 snowfall records.
969 Low Max. 203 Low temps.
17 High Temp.
61 High minimum.

What I don’t know, of course, is how unusual it is to be setting temperature records like this at this time of year, but my guess is that this is a very unusual result. Snow in Texas in November does not seem like the norm. Of course since the global warming crowd stopped worrying about global warming and have defined the problem as climate change, this fits right into their narrative but somehow I don’t think they will be pointing this out themselves.

AND JUST FOR GOOD MEASURE: Found this as well which underscores the above. If I read this right, there is more ice this year in the arctic than in any of the previous years, and even if my reading is not perfect, there certainly isn’t less.

polar ice caps nov 2013

Studying the humanities today will make you ignorant

We’re not talking about just anywhere here, we are talking about UCLA. This is a report on a presentation given by Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute about the current state of our culture:

“Until 2011,” she noted, “students majoring in English at UCLA had been required to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton — the cornerstones of English literature.

“Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the ‘Empire,’ UCLA junked these individual author requirements and replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability, and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing.”

As Mac Donald put it, “In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent as to whether an English major had ever read a word of Milton, Chaucer or Shakespeare, but was determined to expose students, according to the course catalogue, to ‘alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race and class.'”

If nothing else, it’s easier on the students and no doubt on the junior staff as well. You will end up knowing bugger all but have strong opinions about it.

The grass is browner on the far side of the fence

I never thought that I would turn into an anti-drugs campaigner but there you are. As a 60s child I was there at the beginning but it amazes me now to reflect that I haven’t been near any of it for more than forty years. And I’m not sorry or a bit regretful.

The one thing I knew from the start was that this stuff has the potential to tear you psychologically apart. If you have some kind of flaw in your mental makeup, drugs will do a demolition job on your mind. Taking drugs is a form of Russian roulette; some make it through all right and others are scarred, and sometimes ruined for life. When I think back on the people I knew whose lives were destroyed by the drugs available at the time, and today they are worse because more powerful, I cannot believe how lax we are about these dangerous chemicals which we do too little to deter people from indulging in.

When someone I know’s younger son turned 16, every birthday present from his son’s friends was alcohol related. Not alcohol itself, but things like glasses and decanters. Now I don’t know how you might have felt but he was relieved. As my colleague pointed out had his son’s friends thought that the most appropriate presents were hash pipes and hookahs then he would have been seriously alarmed. Lots can go wrong with alcohol too but the damage from the drug culture is worse. And even if it’s not, we provide a great many social warnings and make a massive effort to deter people from overindulging in alcohol, and the effort has grown over the years. There is nothing comparable about drugs. With the drug culture, you are on your own. No one warns you about how fantastically dangerous they are.

I got onto this issue because of Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. He smokes crack cocaine but my point was not that it’s OK, my point was that only someone on the conservative side would be pilloried for it. Nigella Lawson admits to having used cocaine and the description of the haze she entered into is quite remarkable. Alan Fels, who is seeking assistance for the mentally ill, had this to say with the drugs problem mentioned almost as an aside when it is probably one of the most important problems at the present time:

He said a ‘scandalous’ example of the problem was a lack of treatment for people who had both mental health and substance problems.

No other mention of narcotics in the story but the statistic that four in ten Australians will have a mental problem during their lifetime does make it seem like there is quite a bit of evasion of the central problem going on.

There is this story in The Spectator about someone named Trinny Woodall who I never heard of but must be a celebrity in the UK. And this is from her story:

I’d always hated alcohol, but over the next five years I developed a drink problem. I drank a bottle of vodka a night, with cocaine and pills. And I started to get into trouble. Not the kind of trouble that ended in prison, but it ended up with me feeling lonely and isolated. Every night I’d tell myself, ‘This is my last time,’ and the next day I’d end up using again. Then one night when I was 26, three of my very closest friends and I said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll stop.’ I desperately wanted to — the first time in ten years of using that I’d had that feeling. I called up my psychiatrist and told him that I needed to get away.

These are stories the like of which you can read every day about someone famous. But I dwell on the ones who ruined their lives and are no longer a presence at my age level. I used to think of survivors of the drug culture of the 1960s as my generation’s form of war veteran. Some of us came back but others did not.

Narcotics and “recreational” drugs are a poison. There may be some parents who have a joint with their kids but most adults live in mortal fear of their children entering into the dark worlds of drug abuse. Trinny Woodall is just one story out of many. Why we are so light handed about drug abuse I cannot know – I do not believe you can be arrested in Australia for possession of marijuana at the present time, or if you can virtually no one is. That’s not how things ought to be but that is unfortunately how they are going to stay.

The highest quality climate science

At least they met but why the secrecy. This is by Nigel Lawson in the latest edition of The Spectator:

The long-discussed meeting between a group of climate scientists and Fellows of the Royal Society on the one side, and me and some colleagues from my think-tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation on the other, has now at last taken place. It was held behind closed doors in a committee room at the House of Lords, the secrecy — no press present — at the insistence of the Royal Society Fellows, an insistence I find puzzling given the clear public interest in the issue of climate change in general and climate change policy in particular.

The origins go back almost a year, to a lecture by the president of the Royal Society, the biologist Sir Paul Nurse. In it he chose to launch a gratuitous personal attack on me, making a number of palpably false allegations. I wrote to him, pointing out his errors, and he replied — somewhat changing his tune — conceding that ‘it is quite legitimate for both of us to talk about climate change policy, but before doing so we need to have access to the highest quality climate science. I am not sure you are receiving the best advice, and I would be very happy to put you in contact with distinguished active climate research scientists if you think that would be useful.’

So now the highest quality climate science has been provided but we don’t know what it was or how Nigel Lawson replied. All I do know is that Lawson has not changed his mind. But again, why the secrecy?

Is the history of economics economics?

There is a review of my just published Defending the History of Economic Thought on the History of Economics website written by Marie Duggan. She didn’t quite get it but she got much of what matters. But I cannot help myself so have written this response:

I am grateful for Marie Duggan’s timely review of my Defending the History of Economic Thought and while I don’t think she quite conveys the urgency that went into its writing I think she conveys much of what the book is about. But if I may, I would like to supplement what she wrote.

The central question addressed by the book is this: should the history of economic thought be classified as part of economics? That is, when someone is undertaking research into some aspect of HET, is their work part of the study of economics or is it something else?

Here is the supposed parallel. When someone studies the history of physics, they are not classified as physicists. When someone studies the history of chemistry, they are not classified as chemists. So the argument has been, that when someone studies or writes on the history of economics, they are not economists, but are perhaps philosophers of science or historians. Therefore the history of economic thought should be removed from the economics classification and be placed somewhere else amongst the humanities for example.

Does this matter? I posted a note a few months back on the OECD’s redesign of its Frascati Manual which must seem to most people on this site as of absolutely no relevance to them in any way. In the manual at present, economics is classified as a social science while the history of economics is classified as part of the humanities. That is, the two areas are completely distinct with no overlap of any significance. Does that sound right to you? It doesn’t to me.

We here in Australia wrote a submission to the OECD, a submission which was endorsed by a number of other societies. We have in this way established a position that will need to be taken into account by those who are redesigning the manual and which will also provide the basis for a response if the new manual continues with the same structural division found at present.

I therefore wrote the book to explain just how precarious the History of Economic Thought is. The review only discusses our lobbying efforts with the Australian Bureau in 2007. It surprisingly ignores the more important of these lobbying efforts which was with the European Research Council in 2011. In Australia we were able to persuade the ABS not to make the change. In Europe, the change was made. The ERC removed HET from the economics classification. The effort was therefore devoted to asking the ERC to reverse a decision that had already been made which was ultimately successful.

This is from the original ERC decision. The concern referred to – our concern – is that HET would be removed from the economics classification:

“Addressing your concern, “history of economics” is divided between SH1 and SH6 (“The study of the human past: archaeology, history and memory”).”

If you would like to know what happened both before and after that decision, you will have to read the book. But if you think that you, as a historian of economic thought, are an economist undertaking economics work, try explaining that to your head of department when the official classification has you listed as working in an area described as “the study of the human past: archaeology, history and memory” (and in Australia the classification would have been, “History, Archaeology, Religion and Philosophy”). And to the extent that you could get funding for your work, these would be the panels you would need to apply to.

These, moreover, are not battles won. These are battles we remain in the midst of. Right now, even as I write, there is an attempt being made here in Australia to reclassify History of Political Economy from its current position as an A*-journal, which is our highest classification, to B-level, which is our third tier. The Journal of the History of Economic Thought has already gone from an A to B. This is not happenstance, this is deliberate and there are economists who favour this change. But the effect is obvious. There is a restricted academic reward in pursuing the study of HET. Do something else instead. You are wasting your time with these historical studies of dead economists of the past.

The reviewer says that I have invented straw men opponents of HET. Would that were the case. The history of economic thought has enemies. If HET is removed from the economics classification, it won’t be by accident.

The intent of the book was therefore to explain, as I had done in submissions to the ABS and ERC, why historians of economics are intimately involved in the development of economic theory. It’s not a subject undertaken by or read by non-economists. This is a specialist area in which economists write for other economists. We as economists orient ourselves and our theories through its historical development. That’s why the book is unlike any other on the subject. Most discussions on why study HET are about why individual economists might benefit individually. This book is about why economic theory is improved where economists know their subject’s history and where there are historians of economics to bring economists of the past into contemporary debates.

Most importantly, what the reviewer noted was this: “if colleagues or deans start taking potshots at HET (or any subfield that you hold dear), take a deep breath, and read Chapter 5 for some sound tactical advice.” The book is about alerting historians of economic thought to our present dangers and providing just the tactical advice she discusses. We are at the cliff’s edge. This book is written both to alert historians of economics about the dangers we face and to provide some suggestions on how we deal with this very great problem.

And while this is slightly off topic, my own favourite chapter of the book, but the reviewer’s least favourite, was on how to teach the history of economic thought. Where she writes, “Kates suggests a student in HET compare Mankiw’s 2013 textbook with one written a hundred years ago (Taylor 1913)”, my point was not that they be compared – I wouldn’t read Mankiw or any modern text in an HET class – but that students be asked to read actual mainstream introductory texts of previous eras, such as Taylor (1913) or McCullogh (1825) or even Samuelson (1948). If you would like to get an accurate sense of how economists in the past thought about economic issues I cannot think of a better way to do it.

Partisans without a policy

I didn’t like the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government because it did things that I thought were perniciously wrong. And I was pleased to read the Murdoch press because on many of these issues we saw eye to eye.

But it is maddening to read the left wing press today. Do they actually want the things that Labor did? Do they want an open borders policy? Are they happy to see boat people drown to prove some obscure point? Do they want us to spend our way into perennial debt? Are they happy to see money thrown away on one wasteful project after another? Do they want Australia’s relationships with Indonesia and China poisoned in perpetuity?

These people make no sense to me. They are partisans without a policy. They are journalists without judgment. Where do their opinions come from? How do they get to write for newspapers or pontificate at the ABC? Do they think there is a perfect world in the offing if only this, that or the other?

Shallow, ignorant and dangerous. Their aim is to prove that a free press has limits. But a free press also must be disciplined by the market. Let The Age and The SMH do their worst. If there is a market for the junk they write, well on you go. But the ABC, it belongs to all of us and if we no longer want what they offer what is to be done? I can only hope that someone has a plan because it is an organisation out of control.