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A journey through China's economic crisis

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Paul Mason | 12:50 UK time, Tuesday, 16 June 2009

My two films on the impact of China's economic crisis have been postponed slightly due to the situation in Iran. The plan is, as long as we are not seeing a 1990 Romania-style live feed from the IRNA studios in Tehran, to run the first report tomorrow.

Look out for it. I travel from the deep west of China to the industrial heartland of Inner Mongolia, meeting poor peasants, bikers and a very unfriendly Communist Party official who took exception to local residents in Shizuishan complaining about pollution levels that make them vomit.

In the meantime, see some of my stills and essays about the trip here. And watch my Money Programme special on short-time working in British manufacturing, tonight at 2200, on BBC2, or catch the second of the China trip reports on BBC World News America, if you are in the USA.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Paul
    Also, take a look at the Bank of England Q2 Bulletin. In answer to the question as to whether QE is working there is a resoundingly confident ' dont know'! Bearing in mind we are now 66.859 billion into the programme...They say " There is considerable uncertainty about the strength and timing of the effects.Standard economic models are of limited use in these unusual circumstances and the empirical evidence is extremely limited." They appear unable to assess what sellers of gilts may or may not do with the liquidity provided. They worry about the banks stifling the effect because of their balance sheet troubles, capital pressures and long term funding issues. What they give us no angle on is whether gilts sellers reinvest QE in to new HM DMO gilt issuance. Remembering that budget forecasts have translated QE into a direct boost to nominal GDP, this is very worrying and deserving of attention.

  • Comment number 2.

    Correction - we are not 66.859 billion into the programme ( in May), we are 86.5 billion ( ?6.23 % of nominal annual GDP growth) into the programme at 12 June.

  • Comment number 3.

    Never mind their economic crisis - we are importing their internet policy !

    How long before 'Digital Britain' decrees that to protect corporate interests and the status quo a 'Great Firewall of Britain' must be built to keep us all safe from harm, and from finding out the failures of our public services and the rapacious greed of the corporations ??

  • Comment number 4.

    It is not just manufacturing on short time working, I work for a civil engineering consultancy on short time working and I am aware of many others doing the same. The raw unemployment figures are only part of the emerging story.

    If you can get one of your backroom analysists (or sharpen a pencil yourself) I think it would be an interesting statistic to pro-rata in the number of people on short time working into the quoted unemployment figures to get a more accurate picture of the true change in employment i.e. for every 5 people working 4 day contracts reduced from 5 day contracts (like me) add 1 more onto the unemployment figures.

    I can only imagine it is becoming increasingly pervasive throughtout the employment sector as a whole and is masking the true 'unemployment' rate...except for the government sector of course.

  • Comment number 5.

    A couple of years ago somebody (I think it was a German engineer) sent me a short JPEG movie of a Chinese man actually sitting inside the tool of a 10/20 tonne steel press machine! I think the press was pressing out one half of a steel fuel tank aproximately every 5 seconds. The Chinese man was acting as a 'human robot' by taking out the pressed steel part after one pass, then placing a new steel blank into the press for the next one.

    One false move...and he would have either been killed or seriously maimed!

    Do we really want to compete against that?

    Humaun rights has a whole different meaning in China...couldn't we send Cherie Blair out there fast to sort them Chinese out?!?

  • Comment number 6.


    Please, keep the Blairs, Peter Mandelson and the gang of political elites to yourself. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, you guys are certainly no expert at interfering with other country's business.

    Btw, can you post the video link? I would like to see the hero who was allegedly trading his life for...1 dollar an hour.

  • Comment number 7.

    I've been watching your reports from China on BBC America. Fascinating in themselves but I was intrigued by your accent. As an ex pat living in San Fran I pride myself on being able to detect a Bolton accent! but there seemed to be a bit of Scots hiding in there too(?) Imagine my surprise when I looked you up on Wikipedia. I went to Bolton School - several of my friends were at Thornleigh - and then I went to Sheffield university - it gets better - where I did a music degree (1977). I now compose music and teach in the San Fran area!

    Small world!

  • Comment number 8.

    So driving a sidecar combination, wearing army surplus combats, and drinking warm guinness earns you adoration of beautiful women and envy of fashionable society ? No recession, little rainfall and if you've got £1000 you are rich ?

    Why come back to UK !

    Sure there's a wiff of chlorine in the air, but to someone who spent their childhood in the lee of Scunthorpe steelworks and Immingham refineries it sounds like Nirvana.

  • Comment number 9.

    #7, Having spent my computer-game-playing years being dragged from Newcastle to the tropical lake district I thought I had Paul picked as a Cumbrian. Would never have picked Bolton. But then I've never been. Next on the holiday list.

  • Comment number 10.

    Paul, the first China film was fantastic- 20 minutes of fabulous, eye-opening TV. I can't wait for the next part. What fine, lovely people you found to talk to!

  • Comment number 11.

    Interesting last night. So, when Stephanie heralds the Eastern savings glut as the driver of economic imbalance in the world , you are neatly explaining how it evolves. And its not pretty.

  • Comment number 12.

    Pheww ... at least one BBC blog that hasn't been invaded by an internet stalker called JadedJean!

    You are absolutely spot-on about the short time working thing. SO MANY people are now in this situation. It has distorted the umemployment figures, which in reality are much higher than officially stated.

    My guess is that the devastating impact of this on falling tax receipts and rising debt are only just starting to be noticed.

  • Comment number 13.

    Good work Paul and your stuff for the money program in/on West Mids small business and impact on workers lives.

    Nos12 Pheww
    Yeah its why I stopped posting.

  • Comment number 14.

    11 ShireBlogger

    Even more interesting than the Eastern savings glut is that China is
    also printing money to stop their currency from rising.

    Is this what they are buying our debt with?

    So off we go with loads and loads more liquidity pouring back
    in at a time when it needs to be gradually taken out.

    The outcome becomes even more complicated so who would really be able to work out the right model for this and calculate the end result?

    What we are seeing is another illusion that things are improving and a lot of deluded politicians who want to believe it.

  • Comment number 15.

    Why do you indulge in the idea that the European and American style economy, spending and spending on borrowed money, is good for Chinese or anyone at all?
    "Save now for the hardship and the future generations" is common sense. I guest this is the difference in culture.

  • Comment number 16.

    6. At 02:57am on 17 Jun 2009, mademoiselle_h

    Here's the link to the video...

  • Comment number 17.

    Your lungs may not have enjoyed being there, but I did enjoy your report on Shizuishan City... and frankly thought such places no longer really existed in modern industrial China. So, you are obviously hearing from an optimist, but one who also has some experience in this area. As such, from everything your camera was showing, I strongly suspect there is relatively inexpensive technology that would rapidly ameliorate many of the airborne pollution sources shown. Hence, in your travels to Western China did you encounter any environmental, industrial, or government officials (we know you met the police, and at least someone from the local Communist Party!) with responsibility for what is currently happening in Shizuishan City? Further, if so, could you kindly share any of their contact details. With luck, we can catch a few flies, monoxide, and Chlorine emissions with honey... by preventing them in the first place, before they enter everyone's breathing air.

    Sincerest Thanks

  • Comment number 18.

    #14 virtualsilverlady

    I'm no currency boffin - are you sure they are printing money to avoid appreciation? Couldnt they be following Bernanke's lead to avoid their own deflation.The yuan / dollar peg is a story all on its own. One day the Chinese will decouple from the good old reserve currency but only when they work out how to sell their dollar assets without a massive loss/upsetting their big customer and find a better alternative or float.I perceive the Chinese to be very cautious and astute. The dance, meanwhile, carries on cos China and US are buddies linked at the hip - just my view. What would be good for all is for Chinese home demand to open up and tick up and drive our exports. Meanwhile, we take the medicine with the Chinese as our bank manager maintaing the overdraft.The only model I see is 'interdependence'.

  • Comment number 19.

    #12 TheNewPonzi and #13 streetphotobeing

    Sorry to be the bringer of bad news...but JJ's a regular on this blog.

    I quite like most of JJ's a weird sort of way.

    On a plus point though...barriesingleton regularly posts on here...and he's sublime!

  • Comment number 20.

    I was not sure if I was watching Paul Mason or Paul Merton at some points last night. Captivating, charming, amusing and on occasion hard hitting too.

    looking forward to watching you hit the Beijing nightclub scene tonight, puts your earlier posts talking about beds with cigarette burns in and staying in rooms you pay for by the hour into context..your not fooling me you had a great time..admit it..and what is more as a TV licence fee payer I dont begrudge you a moment of it.

    On a more mundane matter i am with #12 on the unemployment figures, i am sure the greater than predicted deficiets is in part due to the real unemployment level being hugely understated. If you do a bit of research and have a stab at what it really is, taking into account short time working, then plug that into AD's already wonky budget, borrowing predictions and banks balance sheets you may find a bit of a scoop.

    You will have to be quite robust about researching how many people this is affecting but if you want to have a back of a fag packet go, from my personal experience here in the real world I would say short time working is probably affecting somewhere between 1 in 30 or 40 of the working population in some form.

    There are approx 33 million employed then that means an extra 170,000 to 250,000 full time jobs (approx) have been lost that are not reported in the figures (about a 10% under reporting say).

    Feel about right in terms of short fall in tax receipts someone?

    How does that effect budget predictions?

  • Comment number 21.

    #16 BankSlickerminustheR

    What a great collection of feel-good clips on Chinese factories amidst a world recession! I wonder what conditions your grandparents and great grandparents were working under, while Britain was rising to the industrial power centre of the world? Did they get expensive machines to dig their coal, and robotic arms to replace manual hands in labour-intensive manufacturing industries (like making pot pans in the video)? Oh no! They all sat in their comfy chair, having regular coffee breaks every few hours as well as air conditioning in the summer. It is called workers protection schemes under human rights, you stupid!

  • Comment number 22.

    #21 mademoiselle_h grandmother worked very hard in a dirty factory on a lathe making gun shells! I think the gun shells were used on British gun boats during the Opium Wars.

    By the way...Paul, your Chinese meal (on Newsnight tonight) looked very nice!... mademoiselle_h...did you sit at the same table with Paul?

  • Comment number 23.

    Thank you Paul, your China report was exceptionally interesting.
    Newsnight was excellent last night, my respect for Dr Vince Cable grows every time I listen to him.

  • Comment number 24.


    Yes barrie is word sublime but the love-in with JJ is subprime.

  • Comment number 25.

    Good piece last night on China. Will foreign companies be allowed to bid for Chinese infrastructure contracts like the ones you mentioned - new rail links Baotou to Beiging eg

  • Comment number 26.

    oh ya !

    atleast they are not forcing the person to work in that circumstances,

    people work by will and they are forced by there needs and indeed why not ?

    atleast not like british who invade other people and than steal things

    and try to preach human rights.

    what a shame !

  • Comment number 27.

    Hi Paul,
    I am a Chinese, and I watched the two parts of the movie about your journey through China. The movie is very interesting because it really shows me partly about how the foreigner view about China. But frankly speaking, I think the title of the movie and and content do not match: the title saies about "the economic crisis" while the content focus mainly on westen-China normal people's lives, the environmental sounding and so on. (BTW, I am from southeast of China, and the Chinese living style that you showed in the movie is also new for me). We all know that the main part of Chinese economics comes from the east of China, and so the main impact about the economic cries on China should also be from the east. The western part of China, with its well-known lowest population and the least developed, is reasonable to be likely affect by the global economic influence. Also, some of the problems that you mention, like the communism, the pollution in China already exist long ago before the cries and I really do not see where is any link between them.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hello to all who have posted. I will try to pick up some themes:
    #27 I decided to start in the west because the story is never told. What you saw is my agenda (economic crisis) colliding with reality (poverty and eco-crisis)
    #food: the food on the train was the best of the entire trip: chicken stew with potatoes. Hotpot is too overwhelming. BTW Chinese long distance trains beat Indian longdistance trains on all measures by about 50 years of development, but are about equal on food quality in "soft" class
    #Shizuishan: frustratingly I did not have time to investigate the SZS situation. But please help me out here. Send me your email and help me to get to the bottom of what's in those clouds
    #Bolton: I am from Leigh, Greater Manchester. Not Bolton or Cumbria. I went to school in Bolton but grew up in Leigh.

  • Comment number 29.

    Thank you Paul for the two films on the impact of China's economic crisis.
    I am Chinese and have been living in the U.K. for the past five years, currently studying economics. I only wish those two films can be watched by my friends back home in Shanghai.

  • Comment number 30.

    This by Oliver Blanchard ( IMF ) adds perspective :

    Will increased Chinese consumer consumption, with a resulting expansion of middle classes meet political resistance ?

  • Comment number 31.

    Thank you very much Paul for an insightful film. Some of them are new even to me. I am chinese from eastern part of china.

    Chinese people sometime are not very open-minded. Even people from east having difficulty to understand the people from the west.

    This film gives a glinpse of several aspect of chinese society. I think it is very good. I finally can see BBC quality in it. Keep it up and thank you again for doing such a great film about china, my homeland.

  • Comment number 32.


    Have been enjoying your reports from China. Nice camerawork too.

    Good to see that some in the BBC still have a sense of world issues.

    Ron Taylor.

  • Comment number 33.

    Just to note, live translation is never easy. Some of the Chinese interviews are lost in translation. For instance, when you asked a member of the desert motorcycle club,'what's the attraction'. His answer should be translated as 'power, freedom, democracy,uniting and happiness.'

  • Comment number 34.

    Growth is as much a curse as a blessing.

    Paul, the films on China were truly facinating, but they show that China has bought into the Chicago school of infinite economic growth (i.e. by viewing the strategic long game as stimulating domestic demand to rival the West).

    The orthodox economic canon cannot distinguish between growth and development (true / constructive progress). Measures such as GDP obscure the real distinction. To quote from Eric Zencey:

    "Daly and his coauthor Joshua Farley, in Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications, make a distinction between economic growth and economic development. They use the term growth to describe economic change that requires an economy to increase its uptake of matter and energy (and its emissions of degraded matter and energy). Economic development, though, comes about through changes and improvements in the use of a steady, unchanging stream of throughput. Development comes about as a result of improved efficiency, or through change in the ways the throughput is used."

    China has bought the whole Chicago school premise that: Debt stimulates demand, demand creates consumption, consumption pulls production.

    But, production is, by and large, a trashing of natural resources. So who really benefits, the community as a whole, or the owners of capital who obtain rent (interest) from the loans in the first place?? Follow the money (a.k.a. the paper trail!).

  • Comment number 35.

    Nicely put (again).

    It is extraordinary isnt it, it is so bleedin obvious, the logic of it is irefutible yet coverage and debate time is not based on the quality of the logic of an argument it is based on the incumbent popularity of an argument!

    How are we to progress with a media who behaves in that way!!

    Even the inventors of democracy knew that it was flawed in that in it's purest form (without some form of pure intellectual counterbalance) democracy perpetuates the lowest common denominator view. In that sense through our passion for democracy in its current form we have ended up with the governments and the media we deserve.

    For economics the chicago school is fundamentally flawed but its flaws only become exposed in an economy that is now shifting into a different modus operandi, one of a global economy where we are starting to hit the buffers of resource and environmental limits (peak oil being the classic one which was a contributer to the crash.

    The Chicago schools fundamental flaws are exposed for all to see now yet there is no mainstrem debate on what the next system needs to be, the vast majority of debate in the media is focussed around how to 'fix' the existing economic system.

    Democracy fails when the correct view is a minority view or (in other words)a view which may require an element of sacrifice amongst the people. You have to really understand and beliebve something to vote for a change that will see (initially) your life becoming worse, but which may offer more hope to your children or your children's children.

    I am not even sure that this is the case here, I dont think peoples lives wopuld get significantly worse, even in a transition to a 'throughput' economic system.

    We are a million miles away from the realisation required,it would be nice this time if we could learn the lesson before we get taught one.


  • Comment number 36.

    Why not have a holiday outside your logical boxes ?

  • Comment number 37.

    Lorries taking food to supermarkets drive slowly and cause traffic tailbacks.

    It's the price of economic success.

    The traffic tailbacks lose British business 10% of total GDP per year, as it takes 1 hour for goods and consumers to travel 20 miles.

    The only way for the economy to expand is for road traffic to catch up with the speed of modern efficient production. Due to modern technology, we are now producing goods and services faster than they can be distributed and consumed.

    This is why the economy is contracting.
    It has nothing to do with the quantity or speed of money in circulation.
    It's all down to the traffic jams.

    Cure the traffic jams, and everything else will automatically come right.

  • Comment number 38.


    Externalities are indeed the costs that society bares in order that private individuals benefit. The modern high-priests of economics have been seduced by the trappings of finance. Not only have they failed to accurately price risk (hence the current crisis), but far worse is the failure to account for environmental and resource degradation in their economic "models".

    But don't let the Pigovian tax out of the box!! This is merely an Economic solution to an Economic problem. It leads to property rights being enforced for all of nature's wonders - one step at a time.

    The solution is to accurately account for "natural capital" - the resources that we essentially get for next to nothing from nature: spring water, clean air, coal, oil & gas. The market does not price these correctly or for long term sustainability - it merely facilitates the quickest exploitation of them.

    As for #37 - consumption is the mother of all debt. Why consume that which we do not need, and can ill afford?

  • Comment number 39.

    Tesco is the largest UK food retailer, and recently became the largest non-food retailer.

    The large supermarkets are the only enterprises creating jobs in Britain at present.

    It is estimated that by 2014, around 65% of all British jobs will be in someway connected to the supermarket sector.

    In this context, the travelling speed of Tesco's and Sainsbury's lorries (and the odd Ocado van) is extremely important.

    If the lorries cannot attain more than 40mph in the national speed limit zones, it will eventually trigger a massive collapse of the whole British economy.

  • Comment number 40.


    We surely will become a nation of shopkeepers then!

    It is crucial to remember what underpins the hypermarket model (imported from Walmart in the US, and most ferociously applied by Tesco):

    1) Exert tremendous buying power over suppliers (not good for local providers, and instead leads to outsourcing of manufacture)
    2) Rely on cheap fuel (to ship goods over long distances)

    As if the social consequences of the first point were not dire enough, the sheer economic realities of the second one will hit far harder.

    Forget the dark satanic mills; instead our country will be littered with the pre-fabricated temples of the excessive consumption generation, with neither the means nor the motive for social interaction.

  • Comment number 41.


    If by 2014 65 % of all jobs are connected with those architectually and managerially souless entities known as supermarkets I think I would welcome an economic collapse with open arms!

  • Comment number 42.


    Knowing it does not seem to be the problem, applying what we know seems to be the problem, which brings us back to questioning certain things which have become 'sacred' like how democracy works and many more modern taboos besides.

  • Comment number 43.


    "A democracy is too prone to put its wishbone where its backbone ought to be." Frederick Soddy, 1926.

    He goes on to say:

    "The result has been a mad democratic uprush into the possessing classes without changing by one iota its essentially parasitic character."

  • Comment number 44.

    No.43. Hawkeye_Pierce

    The backbone wishbone mix up reminds me of one of JadedJean's quips on Stiffy Flander's blog (the original comment having been removed during a crack down by the moderators).

    It went something along the lines of:
    "....the liberal consumer society has delivered the luxury goods of obesity, adultery, deteriorating mental health, criminality, family breakdown, vulgarity, drug addiction, infertility, over-indebtedness, noise polution, gambling addiction, gaming addiction, weak at the knees media, and cajun squirrel flavoured crisps........."

  • Comment number 45.


    Great quote that,I have not heard that one before.

    If we agree that democracy in its current form is part of the problem (it feels like treason or something just typing that!). What is the answer?

    Perhaps our fellow Chinese contributers on this blog could point us in the right direction?

    If not..what?

    It is a very fine line is it not.

    Deng Xioaping's visual concept of how he saw capitalism and democracy developing in China was to liken the situation and represent those things as a bird in a cage. Lots of things flow from that analogy to explain the global situation.


    I agree with everything except the cajun squirrel flavoured crisps.

  • Comment number 46.


    Don't worry there are plenty more acerbic comments from Mr Soddy.

    As for the ideal political form, this is not an easy solution, but certainly one that requires more attention than it currently gets. Soddy himself was connected with the Technocracy movement.

    In Plato's Republic the problem with democracy leads to "too much freedom, the people become drunk, and tyranny takes over."

    The courage needs to come from accepting that a benign form of autocracy is indeed feasible, and more importantly is preferable to the sort of tyranny that would result from societial collapse (occurring if we failed to adapt quickly or in the right way).

    First we must recognise that we have been conditioned to maximise self-interest (see The Trap by Curtis), when in fact it is more human to engage in conditional co-operation and strong reciprocity.

    The new economic and political order needs to reflect this, that we are stronger working together than against one-another.

    I myself await the Philosopher King!! (Now where is Barrie Singleton these days?)

  • Comment number 47.

    #45, Nah, I reckon the weird flavours of crisp are about the only thing that "liberal consumer society" can take the rap for. Too much advertising. Well, maybe noise pollution. The rest have been pretty much ubiquitous throughout history wouldn't you say? Plenty of fat adulterous and infertile Romans gambling down the pit. Religion used to tell people "it's the devil making you do it", now Jaded Jean tells us it's liberal consumer society responsible for all our problems. Or perhaps on other days JJ would tell us "it's your genes, stupid ;)". Whatever makes it easier to abdicate responsibility.

    If only everyone was more like me there would be no problems. Or perhaps if everyone like me was more like them then there would be nothing to disagree about. That would certainly make everything hunky-dory in the best of all possible autocratic dictatorships.

    It is very human to cooperate and reciprocate, never more in war, when it's good form for lots of cooperating peoples and nations to reciprocally slaughter each other. Perhaps that's why we have to "declare war on cancer", or on drugs, or on climate change in order to try and persuade people anything is worth doing. And there's nothing better to get people cooperating in reciprocally destructive wars than a load of parallell benign autocrats all competing to out-benign each other to ensure the continued cooperation of their loyal and grateful subjects.

    So when will the king return to unite us all and persuade us, in every time zone in every church in every culture in every tongue that we need to work together. To achieve what? Utopia. It has to be utopia. Not a Marxist utopia, nor a Capitalist utopia? How about a Barry Singletonian utopia? Heaven on earth. Or maybe we can just believe in heaven after earth. But which one? Perhaps we all don't have to choose the same one. Just believe in our own, whatever that may be, until the inevitable. So hard to accept, maybe chatting about our own political and societal utopias are how we silence the calling of the void in the distance.

  • Comment number 48.

    No.47. UltraTron

    I find that by posting on here, I use up all my revolutionary energy, and relax into a comfortable apathy. I fear I am just an idle chatterer at heart. By saying and not doing, I enter my own kind of utopia.....

    Regarding co-operation in war, it's interesting to hear the likes of Denis Healey saying the Labour party believed for the first time that a command economy would work because it had worked very well during World War II. However, despite it working well while the country was on a war footing, the British command economy didn't work so well during peace time, with the NHS forced to survive on borrowed money from America. By the late 1970s the question was "is Britain governable at all?". The UK held the much vaunted title of "sick man of Europe", and industrial strike action was all the vogue.

    During the 1970s I remarked to Denis Healey that I planned to work 24 hours a day, to earn enough money to buy a comfortable large sized house similar to one he lived in. He told me I would never be able to buy a house like his, because he would tax me until my pips squeaked. He thought me a right wing tory boy middle class chatterer from a sheltered upbringing, and he said I would never be able to live in a comfortable house like his because he would tax and spend all my hard work from under me.

    Apparently, Mr Healey is now great friends with Mrs Thatcher. They are a Baron and Baroness, respectively.

  • Comment number 49.

    Hi Paul,

    An interesting change of tack by Spencer Dale of the BoE on QEeasing. Apparently, buying second-hand gilts with funny money could now be a good thing by reducing the exchange rate on sterling............ 96 billion in and no word from anyone as to whose gilts are being purchased and what is being done with the liquidity.

  • Comment number 50.


    ''The rest have been pretty much ubiquitous throughout history wouldn't you say?''

    Yes I would agree with that, you also touch on many issues in your post. I only take issue with one thing.

    ''Whatever makes it easier to abdicate responsibility''.

    I think as an individual you only have responsibility if you truely understand your actions will be bad, yet still undertake those actions.

    If I was born in the tribal areas of Pakistan would I be writting this now or would I be riding shotgun in a pickup with a kalashnikov in my hands? Is that my responsibility?

    Does free will actually exist in an individual? This is the premise for all our systems of justice, it assumes that free will does exist.

    However latest research shows that the brain functions that preceed a physical 'willed' action start to happen before the 'conscious' part of your brain is aware of it (by about 0.3s to be precise). So which part of us initiates the action if we are biologically incapable of being consciouly aware of it? Consciousness it appears is like riding 0.3 seconds behind the wave of ...something else....reality perhaps?

    I have often thought we really do need to get to the heart of what we are (as oppose to what we think we are) to resolve our ever emerging global dilemma. It is a philosophical issue at its heart.

    The same old issues play out through history as you suggest, what is unique about this time in history (the paradox is deliberate there by the way)is that those empires of ideology previously could only play out on a regional scale, now they can effect us all, even to the extent of affecting the planet we live on by cause of our efficient technology.

    We do not appear to be mature enough as a species to manage our global responsibility. I dont even think we can blame ourselves for that, it is in part the way we are made. We need to evolve yet we lack the tools and 'hard wired' instincts to manage that ourselves in a civilised way (the only way I might add in my view in case people are wondering where this is going).

    It all points to a replay of that which keeps getting re-played..yet another slow motion fall of the roman empire, a period of turbulance and instability followed by some form of collapse. Except this time our technology and our reach is global.

    But is it our responsibility? Is it within us to change that path or are we 'hard wired' to fail? Or is this 'just another recession' will we move away from fossil fuels gradually plugging the gap with renewables, will rogue nations, once they have a nuclear capability by virtue of its fearsome power and MAD behave responsibly and never use them? Will we manage population better and reduce the risk of a global deadly pandemics.

    I dont know the answers, I am however extremely interested in the questions.

    Heck, I dont even know if I am responsible for writing this..or anything else that I do. Does 'I' even exist?

    The real answer is a philosophical one not a materialistic or managerial one.

  • Comment number 51.

    Jericoa, I think you've posed enough questions there to give people sleepless nights for eternity.

    I've been grappling with the free will question for about 9 years now. And by grappling I mean revolving on the spot and occasionally sobbing. And I have nothing of use after all that time thinking about it.

    Joking aside, I was plunged into a serious rut of depression after reading a book called "Freedom Evolves" a few years back by Daniel Dennett. The basic premise was that although still fundamentally constrained by physical causality, we were "free" to make our own decisions. But it was so unconvincing that it in fact convinced me of the opposite. Which helped precipitate a protracted period of alcoholic nihlism.

    Most of my education was in evolutionary biology and I was embarking on a PhD at the time in some utterly pointless attempt at clarifying the relationship between some butterflies. Very much a rationalist and what some people would describe as a hard determinist, certainly though philosophy was a dirty word unless it was follwed by "of science".

    Anyway, attempting to get to the point, my ideas have changed since then. Especially regarding the value we place on what we call rational thought. The word rational itself is, I think, a problem. People often (myself on a daily basis in the past) call religious people irrational for their beliefs. In fact it is now fashionable to deride any faith position as irrational.

    But if the logical answers to the existential questions give us no comfort, and we were forced to confront our own mortality every cold waking moment, then what? It is evolutionarily "rational" for people to hold faith positions in various falsehoods if it increases their evolutionary fitness. And much to the disgust of people like Richard Dawkins (who I still think is great) all the evidence suggests it (religion) does (increase fitness).

    But religion is a sideshow, I think faith positions in general are fascinating. I used to think the world would be a better place without people basing decisions on faith. But I failed to recognise that my assertion itself was a faith position. There is absolutely no proof that the world would be a btter place, but I believed it would. Just as Marxists have their utopian dreams.

    It is impossible for people to live based on rational thinking alone. If you came to a fork in the road and you were lost, how would you decide, in the absence of any clues as to which way was home, which way to go. "Rationally" it would be impossible to choose, so then a leap of faith becomes the rational choice.

    This ability of people to employ heuristics in decision making could be a crucial factor in why all economic models seem doomed to fail when they are based on the assumption of uniform rational behaviour. Some times the cost of deliberation itself is greater than making a suboptimal reflex decision or faith. What seems like irrationality can sometimes reap massive rewards in terms of evolutionary fitness. Explains roulette. Maybe.

  • Comment number 52.

    Sorry for all the typos in the above object lesson in unfocused rambling.

  • Comment number 53.

    With reference to the idea of decadence throughout history.

    "Decadence" means "to decay".

    When faced with the accusation of liberal over-indulgence, Libertarians resort to their usual flight to safety by saying "but it has always been like that".

    For instance, if I were to complain about the increase in pornography or prostitution, Libertarians will reply "but this is nothing new, even the Victorians indulged in pornography and prostitution". The catch phrase of "Victorian hypocrisy" is always talked up by Libertarians, as an excuse for their own bad behaviour. However, everyone knows the Victorians were very tightly laced and did not indulge in the sex industry in a major way, and certainly not anything like today's exploits, as the Victorians were very afraid of catching sexual diseases. Hence the saying "a night with venus followed by a lifetime with mercury", as mercury was used to treat syphilis. Even in the 1930s many young women still thought you could get pregnant from simply kissing a man.

    Whenever there is no fear of the consequences, decadence will inevitably ensue.....

    When looking at history, we see repeated swings from periods of decadence to periods of puritanical behaviour and back again, as society simply reacts against the excesses of the preceding moral code.

  • Comment number 54.


    MrTweedy (#48) "Regarding co-operation in war, it's interesting to hear the likes of Denis Healey saying the Labour party believed for the first time that a command economy would work because it had worked very well during World War II. However, despite it working well while the country was on a war footing, the British command economy didn't work so well during peace time, with the NHS forced to survive on borrowed money from America. By the late 1970s the question was "is Britain governable at all?". The UK held the much vaunted title of "sick man of Europe", and industrial strike action was all the vogue."

    I'd better be brief so as not to attract the Basij.

    The USA had no need to subvert Britain until the Iron Curtain came down. The fact the UK had the temerity to try to establish Socialism in One Country in 1945 effectively sealed its fate for the next 35 years until the USA could put one of their Austrian School anarchists in charge. It's just got better and better ever since. Healey was clearly never a true socialist. As you point out, like so many politicians, he just wanted to 'get on' :-(

    UltraTron (#47) "Or perhaps on other days JJ would tell us "it's your genes, stupid ;)". Whatever makes it easier to abdicate responsibility."

    Indeed, the evidence now strongly suggests it's nearly all genetic expression plus shaping by reinforcement by consequences. We're all pretty stupid when it comes down to it. Ignore Dennett, he doesn't understand Quine or Skinner but considers himself an expert on both - that's why he should be ignored. Read Herrnstein instead - it won't cheer you up, but it might help you accept what is and what must happen in order to change what is.

    I agree with much of the rest that you write above, and I sympathize too. I fear we are headed towards being the innocent victims of forces working to oppose universal anarchism. The little devils know not what they do - they think of themselves as 'the cognitive elite' where in fact they just have slightly gender switched brains and arrested social development :-(

  • Comment number 55.

    Good luck with the search for a foundational philosophy - INMHO it's best just to cheat and just cobble something to suit the task at hand, something Derrida called bricolage ( DIY ! ). However it only works for you and only you, so don't expect anyone to agree with your results.

    Remember though "hell has a special place for those who disregard David Hume "( Bertrand Russell ) Which says something about Russell's own frustrations as a rational atheist.

    It's funny that there seems to be a correlation between personal disposition and what philosophy you settle on. Maybe that's why the Chinese tend toward Confusius.

    In the case of pessimistic, idealist, anti-democrats, then Spengler has already been down the road. So maybe there's no need to repeat it all here.

    Finally the real danger is that a really good, unique,economics blog gets turned into pseuds corner - see Stephanie Flanders Blog, and the moderators firm reaction.

    Be warned, stay on piste.

  • Comment number 56.

  • Comment number 57.

    superiorsnapshot (#55) "INMHO it's best just to cheat and just cobble something to suit the task at hand"

    Epistemological anarchism was set up Feyerbend so Lakatos could expose it as absurd, so Feyerabend said in 'Against Method'. Lakastos died alas.

    See end of #54 - and let's see you define 'really good, unique,economics blog' given what's happened in recent times. Whilst you're at it, have a stab at 'insight' having just lauded the canonical obfuscationist of all time, Derrida.

    You are definitely down for the GULAG. ;-)

  • Comment number 58.


    At least alcoholic nihilism beats the religious kind hands down, although admitedly I have only tried the former.

    Perhaps we should convene a convention for PM blog contributors, can you imagine the conversation!

    We could sustain ourselves with a combination of alcoholic nihilism and cajun squirrel flavoured crisps locked in a room until we had resolved the major financial, political and philosophical issues of our day. We would need to ensure JJ and barriesingleton dont sit together or it could get messy.

    Perhaps PM himself could make a guest appearance for the opening address.

    I would show up anyway.. I wonder how many others would be prepared to uncloak themselves. A radical opinion is easy to have in the anonymity of cyberspace, not so accross a table.

  • Comment number 59.


    At the risk of repeating myself (!) the sustainable model is there to see, in the few tribes we have not yet seen off. And the missing 'moderator' to the runaway-pile of humanity, on this planet - I suggest - is 'Taboo'. We are now through the looking glass and in a world of INVERSE TABOO where all that destabilises the natural order is espoused as de rigueur, while conducive ways and means are eschewed. The centre, not only cannot hold, it has dropped out, and rolled right under the fridge.

    We broke with taboo long ago, and went for 'growth' in everything nihilistic and obscene. Only mature adults can play with fire safely . . . I know of no law that says there is a way back. Ever since that first taboo 'went' we have been turning the planet into garbage - little realising we were converting ourselves, likewise.

  • Comment number 60.

    #46 Hawkeye_Pierce

    He's still alive then!

  • Comment number 61.

    Last one before bed time...

    I visited Chicago week before last. Stood right outside the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank building...even took a picture!...It was an impressive building!...however it also looked very sinister! was a Sunday though and nobody was around.

  • Comment number 62.

    BankSlickerminustheR (#61) "it was a Sunday though and nobody was around."

    Perhaps they'd been transported to Tehran?

  • Comment number 63.

    #59 Barry,

    I'm not sure I'm with you on the existence of the "noble savage" sustainable model. Most tribes living in putitatively natural ecosystems still have a profound effect on things like species composition. Take away humans and the ecosytem would look very different, but then the same is true of elephants and termites, which I guess is your point, that these systems are closed to an extent and sustainable.

    BUT, what I think is interesting is that in almost all cases, impact on the environment is not limited by ethos, but by available technology. Sadly, everything points to the fact that when people (groups) don't take more than they need, it's because they can't, not because of any high ideals. We're all game theorists at heart. And if we're not, we soon fall prey to those who are.

    The exceptions are even more interseting. Saitoyama systems in Japan for instance, exist in almost perfect balance with nature. They are nature. But they are dying out rapidly, all the young in these communities flock to the city. People just want to get laid. We certainly wouldn't be here if they didn't. Sustainability just doesn't look so glamorous.

    I'm guessing that the taboo you are talking about is population control, but please tell me if I've got the wrong end of the stick. China has shown it can be achieved, certainly for those not rich enough to bribe officials, but it is not without problems. For one, generations of only-childs. It also has a nasty tendency to skew gender distribution. There are 120 boys born in China for every 100 girls owing to illicit sex selection. That's going to mean a lot of dissapointed young men looking for a woman's touch. Lot's of dissapointed young men might make lots of angry young men. Especially when jobs are hard to come by.

    It also means at some point a massive elderly population to be supported by relatively very few people of working age. This could be trouble in any circumstances, but in a recession it could be very nasty. Or perhaps just red in tooth and claw.

    I agree that there's no law saying there's a way back, I don't think there is, but then I don't think we've really come forward. 100s of years worth of advances in medicine, technology, agriculture, is only so much window dressing. We are as civilised as we can afford to be.

    #58 Pitch it to Endemol. Could be the next guests for the Big Brother House.

  • Comment number 64.

    "There is a deep-rooted belief in Iran that Britain is always up to something, is never passive and always devious" said Rosemary Hollis, Middle East analyst at City University in London.

    Those words do have a poetic ring to them - "never passive and always devious".

    The devious British.......

  • Comment number 65.

    Mr Tweedy #64

    "L'Angleterre, ah, la perfide Angleterre"

    Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

    We are well practiced.

  • Comment number 66.

    UltraTron (#63) "There are 120 boys born in China for every 100 girls owing to illicit sex selection."

    This needs to be looked into more closely perhaps, especially given the PRC's 1995 'eugenics' legislation (ref. elsewhere). Given the more conservative range of females in terms of cognitive ability (ref. elsewhere), and there being twice the number of males to females with an IQ of 120 (the ratio increases as one moves to the right) the same goes down at IQ = 85, i.e there are twice as many males as females. It would be interesting to see if the 120:100 ratio is uniform throughout the distribution.

  • Comment number 67.

    Erratum (#66) IQ=80

  • Comment number 68.


    Its a bit rich coming from a nation that used secret agents to blow up (badly) that international threat to global stability also known as the greenpeace ship 'rainbow warrior' then wrings its hands of anything that may prove slightly more likely to fight back!!

  • Comment number 69.

    JJ, careful not to conflate IQ with cognitive ability. IQ is certainly important, but is only part of the picture when it comes to intelligence. Being a human calculator doesn't do you much good when it comes to intuiting what other people are thinking or feeling - pretty essential for a social species. I know you probably don't have a lot of patience for people with what you might term as 'feminized brains', but the big swinging dick alphas running the banks/governments seem to have done a pretty good job of selling us all down the river.

  • Comment number 70.


    I stumbled across a television documentary the other day, which claimed China was forced to move towards capitalism, as its command economy was running at a loss amd racking up huge debts, which the Chinese government could no longer afford to fund.

    This proves that Conscientious Consumerism is the only workable economic model for the modern world (not too liberal, not too commanding, but just the right balance of goodness all round)..........

  • Comment number 71.

    No.69. UltraTron

    I once knew a chap with a low IQ who survived World War II.

    This proves that World Wars are not really dangerous and that a low IQ is not a hindrance.

  • Comment number 72.

    UltraTron (#69) 'emotional intelligence' is much over-rated and hopelessly under-measured. So is 'intuition' - which seems to morph into withcraft, angel-reading and other peculiar behaviours post-30 in so many of its practitioners.

    I've attempted to explain rogue bankers' behaviour in terms of low conscientiousness or high prevalence of ASPD/NPD (see Hare). What we in the Liberal-Democracies need, I suggest, is selection (breeding) of higher 'g' and higher 'conscientiousness', yet what we appear to be doing is selecting/breeding for lower 'g' and lower 'conscientiousness'.

    What's required will, alas, never happen so long as we reject 'dictatorship' and continue to deny that this dysgenic trend is a direct consequence of Liberal-Democracy. :-(

  • Comment number 73.

    MrTweedy, speak to the "local residents in Shizuishan complaining about pollution levels that make them vomit" if you think China has got the just the right balance of goodness all round. Not to mention the fact that this balance of goodness could only be achieved with the help of the rabid consumerism of the West buying every disposable washing machine that China could produce. China is an amazing and awe-inspiring place for many reasons, but economic growth pornography isn't one of them.

  • Comment number 74.

    JJ - a dysgenic trend assumes that we started out with higher 'g' and 'conscientousness'. This being true, how do you account for the appearance of liberal democracies in the first place? Why did all those high-g conscientous turkeys vote for christmas?

    I'm not sure breeding is the way mate, just look at the state the kennel club has got itself into. Maybe genetic enhancement and cognitive doping will deliver you your utopia. Kids in America are already increasingly turning to black-market ritalin to make them more 'conscientous' while they study for their finals.

  • Comment number 75.

    No.73. UltraTron

    We're not there yet and the journey still has some distance to travel, but it will all be alright in the end.

    The right balance of goodness will be achieved through some new technology which hasn't yet been invented, but will be invented just in the nick of time.

    The new technology will be free energy, or something.

    While we wait for the new technology to happen, we can pass the time and amuse ourselves by coming on these blogs and moaning and whinging..........

    I'm off now, to see if I can measure how feminised my brain is, as my verbal fluency seems to be on the wane.

  • Comment number 76.


    MrTweedy (#70) Was it produced by the same people who have been bringing us the excellent coverage of the Iranian elections and aftermath?

    The 90 minute BBC-2 special on China's 'Capitalist Revolution' did have its moments.

    "So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a thousand battles without a single loss."

    Sun Tzu

    I wouldn't like to be a fly.

  • Comment number 77.

    UltraTron (#74) "JJ - a dysgenic trend assumes that we started out with higher 'g' and 'conscientousness'. This being true, how do you account for the appearance of liberal democracies in the first place? Why did all those high-g conscientous turkeys vote for christmas?"

    This is pretty easy to answer and I have done many times. Natural Selection used to do eugenics but we interupted it around the time of the demographic transition. We made matter worse by liberating females early in the C20th so the brighter ones sought education and financial indepdendence, which reduced the birth rate in the upper half of the ability curve whilst swelling it in the lower. Result:- dysgenesis (last complete cohort analysis indicated 1/3 graduate females remain childless). I've gone through this many times. If one wants to destroy a culture today, use demographic warfare, e.g. implement Neocon policies like 'education, education, education' as people will vote for it aso long as your persuade them it is not all genetic (hence behavioural genetics is taboo like IQ, race and sex-realism).

    People need to be protected from their own short-term interests and those of others amongst them who are solely self-interested. The Islamic/Stalinist world knows this and so is under constant Neocon pressure. Those who want hegemony preach Liberal-Democracy for others (even those they live amidst) whilst hypocritically practicing eugenics endogamously. It's an ugly group competition business which defines free-market liberal-democracy. They undermine state socialism....... with a deadly vengeance ;-(

    Conscientiousness and making lots of money for oneself are not good bed-fellows, you'll only get socio-economic stability in a socialist state.

  • Comment number 78.

    MrTweedy (#75) "I'm off now, to see if I can measure how feminised my brain is, as my verbal fluency seems to be on the wane."

    Suggestion: Spend more time with Wallace. Cheese should ultimately increase your BMI and concentrate your estrogen levels. The downside will be that you may become less sexually active, get Type II diabetes, risk heart-disease/stroke, become fascinated with angel-reading, crystals, brain-gym, changing people, find yourself spending a lot more time talking to people you don't really like (but not know that till you hang up, and then forget, and call them again) as well as getting very economical with the truth without even realising it. Oh, and at one time of the month you'll very much like being with your partner whilst at another you'll want as little to do with them as possible. Just eat lots more cheese or chocolate at such times (although you may find youself inexplicably losing your sense of direction if you get the timing wrong)!

  • Comment number 79.

    Looking for an alternative to Chinese Hotpot ?

    Jaded Bean Salad,

    Recipe 1 : Conflate psychology with epistemology, ignore scepticism as to causal chains.( Half)bake with some iffy eugenics, sprinkle with intolerence and serve luke warm.

    Verdict: Tedious, tasteless and slightly poisonous.

    Best seved with (il)liberal portions of Quine

  • Comment number 80.

    superiorsnapshot (#79) As I've explained elsewhere, epistemology reduces to operant behavioural analysis and management once one gives up on intensionalism and the two dogmas, and causality has nothing to do with science per se, it's just imputation studied by behaviourists as animals' conditoned/shaped operant modus vivendi. Eugenics is good breeding (you like others, could do with some) which Galton, Pearson, Spearman, Fisher and many others (including Keynes) considered necessary in order to compensate for dysgenic fertility and its adverse socio-economic consequences, i.e what we are now witnessing in the Liberal-Democracies.

    You know a few names, but you don't know the empirical facts/trends. Sadly, I do. Look into them.

  • Comment number 81.

    #77 WAAHHHH. I can't work out whether you're being wilfully obtuse, tongue-in-cheek, confused, or just attention seeking. But, just this once I'll take the bait.

    "Natural Selection used to do eugenics". Wrong. Natural selection is value neutral. Traits that increase fitness spread. Eugenics is not value neutral, and involves placing an explicit and subjective value on traits. It is not 'natural' selection, it is selective breeding by whim. Do you work for the kennel club?

    "We made matter worse by liberating females early in the C20th" Oh how careless 'we' were. What could have possessed us? Not sure it was in your hands mate. Pankhurst might have had something to say about it.

    "Result:- dysgenesis (last complete cohort analysis indicated 1/3 graduate females remain childless". Wow, how many in this particular cohort. I assume by complete you mean that all of them are now past the menopause. Dysgenesis? Surely the opposite, clearly media studies doesn't increase your fitness. Dysgenesis is a very subjective term, and as such is totally meaningless in the context you use it in.

    "If one wants to destroy a culture today, use demographic warfare", progress can be a destructive process. What particularly enlightened period would you like us to return to?

    "People need to be protected from their own short-term interests and those of others amongst them who are solely self-interested." By whom? I guess you know what's in the long-term interests of others? Do you have a high IQ JJ? Is that why you would like the rest of the IQ distribution curve to bow and scrape to you and be selectively bred out of existence, so we can all live in a happy world of hyper 'conscientous' JJ clones? Where would you keep the women? Physician, heal thyself. And get a train set or something.

    As for "the Islamic/Stalinist world knows this and so is under constant Neocon pressure". North Korea does look lovely.

  • Comment number 82.

    UltraTron (#81) I wasn't arguing a case with you. I was merely informing you of the empirical facts, and the history. If you don't want to learn, that's fine by me. If you do want to learn, change your tone.

  • Comment number 83.

    my IQ is pretty modest as is my vocabulary and spelling and grasp of grammer(some may have noticed). However this does give me a big advantage in life.

    1) I dont actually unedrstand what JJ is talking about a lot of the time so it does not worry me, I just get the faint sense that if I did understand it I may find it objectionable so iIshrug my shoulders and get on with the stuff I do understand.

    2) As a consequence of my relatively low IQ I am too busy looking after my young family (2 young kids and my wife is asales assistant) to put in the hours of research needed for me to understand what JJ is on I dont...and probably never will..

    In conclusion, with my IQ being more in line with the general populus rather than those who post here (I would say) it is safe to say that what ever JJ says in the socio- economic- political - evolutionary sphere will not make an impact on the world....hes just too clever in a rational sense to make a difference in that field.

    So what use is it?

  • Comment number 84.

    jericoa (#83) "..put in the hours of research needed for me to understand what JJ is on I dont...and probably never will.."

    OK, watch this and appreciate that you are right, people do ignore it because they don't like it, but that does not mean it's not happening. In fact, it goes some way towards explaining why it is happening and will continue to happen.

  • Comment number 85.

    Intensional == Extensional

    MUHAHAHA!! You thought you could escape me! JJ, you are doomed.

  • Comment number 86.

    FrankSz (#85) OK, here it is again. What fails in intensional contexts (such as the 'mentalistic' idioms of propositional attitude e.g. the psychological verbs like I 'believe that', or s/he 'said that') is a) substitutivity of identicals salva veritate and b) existential quantification-in (were the existential quantifier is SOME(x) or AT LEAST ONE(x). Rfernece goes opaque, i.e not transparent. These conditions do not fail in extensional contexts like 5+3=8 and 4+4=8. Extensional languages are critical to science. The intensional is loved by politicians and those who like opining...:-(

    For the practical relevance see any reporting where something else is substituted for what someone else allegedly said. Or listen to people talking about what people allegedly think. Bottom line is they just make stuff up but don't know it because they readily slip into other idioms of propositional attitude, like 'think that' etc.

    Please don't provoke the local basij.

  • Comment number 87.

    JJ, nase mila, moje draha

    Extension - the set of x for which f(x)==true ??

    So you tell me how that is different from the intension, namely f(x). As long as f(x) must be evaluated, it MUST BE EVALUATED BY SOMETHING. Or do you believe in an absolute adjudicator? Those poor consultants at ieee, deliberating for so long without recognising that once they have a machine including or excluding elements in their 'ontology', it is all a subjective and therefore mental matter...

  • Comment number 88.

    FrankSz (#87) No, what you have to explain is why Oedipus wanted to have sex with Jocasta but not with his mother.

  • Comment number 89.

    #88 It is simple

    The meaning of "his mother" (or any other term, symbol, character, picture, sound wave, or other sensory input) depends on the knowledge (ie "state") of the system (eg: brain) processing the input data. In Oedipus's case, "his mother" is "Merope". In your case "his mother" is equivalent to "Jocasta". Oedipus did not want to have sex with "his mother", he wanted to have sex with Jocasta, which are not equivalent to Oedipus.

  • Comment number 90.

    Gordon Bennett

    What it boils down to is this:

    Will the new bridge stay standing or not: yes or no?
    Is the ship seaworthy: yes or no?

    "I believe the bridge will be stable" is not good enough.
    "To the best of my knowledge the ship is seaworthy" is not good enough.

    "I believe the huge debts of households and businesses and the government will not matter as long as they can afford to service the debt" is not good enough.

    Debt is bad - because you are spending tomorrow's earnings today, before you have even earned them. Debt is bad. Don't be fooled by the intensional words "leverage" or "gearing"............

    Extensional is more reliable than intensional.

  • Comment number 91.

    "I believe the bridge will be stable" is not good enough.

    Sorry MrT, but there is no other option. What JJ alludes to, but does not admit to, is that the "extensional" is the collective belief of a committee, who agree to specific terminology. In other words, if you want to know if the bridge will be stable, you call upon an engineering community, and even then you get more than one opinion.

    So no, MrT, it does not boil down to that at all.

    What it boils down to is that everything is a matter of opinion.

  • Comment number 92.

    FrankSz (#89) MrTweedy has astutely observed that civil/structural/mechanical engineers (like all scientists/engineers from doctors to behavioural scientists) benefit from courses in Newtonian Mechanics etc rather than epistemology and rhetoric. What you do not appear to have noticed is that you used yet another intensional context (knowing that) in your reply. Quine and Skinner were incredulous at the rise of Cognitive 'Science' in the 70s and 80s, as this language was what requires excplanation, it can not be used as explanation. Good neuroscientists do not study brain states, they studies functional neuroanatomy, chemistry in conjunction with oter behaviours.

    I've asked you before, do you wnat to learn, or are you going to keep making misakes and claiming it is all a matter of opinion? The latter is anarchism. Much of psychology and neuroscience these days is nonsense because of our neoliberal times. Like economics, it has to be read with care.

  • Comment number 93.


    There are only two outcomes: the bridge will stand or the bridge will fall. It doesn't matter what anyone's "opinion" is.

    The premise is that facts override opinions. The engineers who built the bridge know whether it is stable or not; they deal in absolutes. It is either yes or no. If there is any doubt about the safety of the bridge, the engineers will answer, "no it will not stand". Not many bridges collapse these days.

    Admittedly, it's not always as clean cut as that, as interpretation of the facts does play a very important part, especially in the world of medicine. Therefore, it is extremely important to assemble as many hard facts and hard evidence as possible, in order to make an informed diagnosis.

    In matters of great importance, like medicine or banking, we need more hard facts, and less feelings. The more relevant and reliable the facts and experiences are, the more reliable the resulting interpretation will be.

    Ratings agencies and CDO valuations are unreliable, as there is too much opinion and not enough fact or experience underpinning them......

  • Comment number 94.

    Oh dear jj, looks like FrankSz has deconstructed your arguments.

  • Comment number 95.

    FrankSz (#91) "What JJ alludes to, but does not admit to, is that the "extensional" is the collective belief of a committee, who agree to specific terminology. In other words, if you want to know if the bridge will be stable, you call upon an engineering community, and even then you get more than one opinion."

    Truth does not come down to consensus (see theories of truth, focusing on correspondence of disappearance theory). Look up the other papers to see why, i.e. if you can not grasp it from 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism' (1951).

    One could say that the analytic-synthetic distinction of statements was abandoned in favour of pragamatism, but it's a pragamatism which blurs the line between irrational belief and scientific knowledge only becausue the latter works in the real world by demonstrably making life more predictable/manageable given the current critical mass of evidence. Oe can't easily stop people talking nonsense of course, except in a statist society..... which takes us back to the price of freedom.

    It is the business of detailed research in the sciences to use what we have learned to keep expanding our web of belief at the edges and we do that by testing to destruction and making predictions. It is not a democratic process. One has to master what is known in order to make a contribution, for what should be obvious reasons.

    Some of what I have been posting to these blogs in recent years is material from the edge. Some of that is censored elsewhere for purely political reasons at the general publics' expense. :-(

  • Comment number 96.

    MrTweedy (#93) "Ratings agencies and CDO valuations are unreliable, as there is too much opinion and not enough fact or experience underpinning them......"

    Esxctly. They have merely appropriated the language of risk assessment. We have even seen some of the 'poor' raters admit how they were bullied into providing these meaningless assessments. Outside of a planned economy, inefficient though they may well be, I can not see how the language of economics is more than pseudoscience. Restricting oontrol to that of the money supply is really just testament to how little control there is by design.

    I'd like Paul Mason to report on some of the demographics throughout China. Regional (normative) measures of attainment in maths and science etc. PISA covers oter Eastern countries. I'd also like to see him cover just how much the state still regulates business. I'd like to see this done positively.

  • Comment number 97.


    Nothing you say in that post actually addresses or deals with the topic at hand.

    What you have failed to notice is that a "term" is nothing until it has been recognised by an entity receiving sensory input.

    Let us take Intensional Transitive Verbs as an example:

    "A verb is transitive iff it usually occurs with a direct object, and in such occurrences it is said to occur transitively. Thus ate occurs transitively in I ate the meat and left the vegetables, but not in I ate then left (perhaps it is not the same verb left in these two examples, but it seems to be the same ate).

    A verb is intensional if the verb phrase (VP) it forms with its complement is anomalous in at least one of three ways: (i) interchanging expressions in the complement referring to the same entity can change the truth-value of the sentence embedding the VP; (ii) the VP admits of a special unspecific reading if it contains a quantifier, or a certain type of quantifier; and (iii) the normal existential commitments of names and existential quantifiers in the complement are suspended even when the embedding sentence is negation-free."

    Apart from being mostly useless, this 'rhetoric' conveniently ignores what you also ignore: the problem of identifying if terms are "referring to the same entity." Whether two terms refer to the same entity (eg: morning star,evening star), depends on who is processing the terms, ie who is reading the sentence. You may claim that the morning star and the evening star are the same. It may turn out not to be the case. (This must be so, as 'facts' must be falsifiable) To an advanced community that knows that the morning star and the evening star are not the same, the two terms are not interchangeable because they do not refer to the same entity.

    Regarding the 1st rule above, intensional basically means "sentences whose truth values depends on the actor in the sentence's interpretation of terms". For example, "Lois Lane is looking for Superman" If we substitute "Clark Kent" into "Superman", the sentence is apparently no longer true and therefore intensional. Right? Wrong. Both sentences are true to an outsider who treats Clark Kent and Superman to be equivalent. Only one sentence is true if you are Lois Lane. So depending on who you are, the sentence is either extensional or intensional.

  • Comment number 98.



    I am afraid none of what you said is correct. Assessments such as whether or not a bridge will collapse are always probabilistic. Given that at the lowest of detail our most advanced models of reality are statistical and probabilistic (Quantum mechanics), and that knowledge itself is probabilistic, there is no other option than "opinion" (probability/likelihood)

    If the assessment is carried out by a trained engineer, according to certain norms, techniques, etc., then the engineer is as proxy representing an engineering community, and expressing the opinion of a community.

    What really distinguishes fact from opinion is the repeatability of the observation and the level of agreement in the results. The same applies for terms. If most people call it a bridge, but a few call it a viaduct, then it is more bridge than viaduct.

  • Comment number 99.

    superiorsnapshot (#94) "Oh dear jj, looks like FrankSz has deconstructed your arguments."

    Deconstruction (Derrida) being the egregious term. Read Chapter 6 of Word and Object 1960. The battle for civilization/hegemony extends to academia. Guess where the Neocons aggregate.

    Keep your eye on those TFRs and economies.

  • Comment number 100.

    Errata (#95) Oh dear double typo: - 'pragmatism, but it's a pragmatism'.

    Failure to see the merits of Quine's case for extensionalism is to fail to find an answer to Hume's scepticism (see Popper and Russell on poached eggs), and to take a headlong plunge into irrationalism.

    Those happily making a case for intensionalism please take note, there is no reason to such a case, just anarchism, and ultimately, interminable conflict, criminality, if not psychosis (see Axis II DSM-IV, especially Cluster B) :-(

    That is what prevails today according to the figures I submit. That's Liberal-Democracy, and it's insidiously subversive, hence the Great and Little (Israel) Satan charge. Keep your eye on SCO membership and expansion.


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