Adam Smith: the documentary

For some reason it’s always been impossible to find a good radio or TV documentary on Adam Smith (1723-1790) and his famous work The Wealth of Nations. But now Johan Norberg has completed a fine one, first broadcast in spring 2016. Part one is The Real Adam Smith: Morality and Markets in which Norberg outlines Smith’s life, historical context and the wider role his ideas played in his own era. Part two is The Real Adam Smith: Ideas That Changed The World – 250 years of progress and this explores how Smith’s ideas have influenced “the very things we see going on today”.

adam-smith-glasgowPicture: My Photoshop composite of two Wikipedia pictures, since I couldn’t find any I liked. A bust of Smith in the theatre at Kirkaldy, and an engraving of the Glasgow skyline and cathedral of the 1690s. Feel free to use it freely for your pro-Smith content.

Together the two programmes make a quality and up-to-date 100-minute documentary, both on YouTube. If you like what you see, you can buy a HD copy from The Real Adam Smith website. The film’s website also has background content such as a timeline and more.

Sadly a search of Google News and its archive suggests a complete indifference to The Real Adam Smith on the part of the mainstream media. A search there for “Real Adam Smith” yields only a single press release, from March 2016. Although the CATO website suggests that the documentary did quietly have a screening on PBS in America (the U.S. equivalent to the BBC) in early August.

What of our BBC? Predictably a search on the BBC for “Adam Smith” economics in programmes yields socialist Labour M.P. Tristram Hunt on “The Free Market” (45 minutes, “unavailable”); some link-bait titled “Adam Smith – Secret Socialist?”; and a discussion from the (historically very far-left) sociologist Laurie Taylor as part of his “Thinking Allowed” (“content cannot be played”). Such is the BBC left-think that we have to put up with here in the UK. There is one exception, though it doesn’t appear on the search results. It’s the BBC Radio 4 “In Our Time” on The Wealth of Nations an excellent 45-minute round-table format that is usually mostly free of leftist slantings.

Thanks goodness for the Internet.

No snap election

More excellent economic news here in the UK, which further justifies the rational optimism of those who voted to Leave the EU. I do hope that Mrs May doesn’t now ruin it all by calling a snap General Election. Here’s why…

1) the country and the economy, just about settling down again after Leave, just doesn’t want another damn vote.
2) it would be viewed as a ‘referendum on the referendum’.
3) defeating an enfeebled old Marxist and his extreme-left henchmen would not be a worthy victory, in the eyes of the British people.
4) if there’s even the slightest risk that Labour could somehow win (perhaps by a sudden coup and quick-change in leader: “Hi UK, I’m Tristram Hunt!”)… well, the possibility is too dreadful to contemplate.
5) it would entail yet another cabinet reshuffle after victory, as a few people would be bound to loose their seats.
6) in certain constituencies, large numbers of voters are overseas or otherwise on holiday, including many students who are only registered-to-vote in their university city. A snap August vote could be portrayed as ‘cheating’.

Also, BBC News is still vile and not yet anywhere near to being neutral, let alone ‘on side’. Just look at how bitterly they skewed today’s economic news headlines on their UK News web page around noon, such that at a glance one would think it was 100% bad news for the government.

Get on with a proper full Brexit, and make it work. Don’t chance it.

It’s crash, crash, crash after Brexit…

Oh no, the post-Brexit crash has arrived! UK employment levels crash through the previous 2005 record-high. Average earnings crash through 2% growth, to reach an annual 2.3%. The FTSE 250’s stocks crash upwards, past all the temporary Brexit losses. Firms and nations crash down the door of Downing St., eager to arrange trade deals and new HQs in the UK. PM May boldly channels the spirit of Mrs Thatcher in her first PM Questions in Parliament, and seriously crashes the opposition’s hopes.

Allister Heath’s excellent “Britain needs a ‘can-do’ attitude revolution, with solutions rather than whining” in today’s Telegraph elegantly sums up the rationally optimistic spirit that’s now needed…

“All groups in society have a responsibility to take part in this project to rebuild Britain for a post-Brexit 21st century. Entrepreneurs and firms need to propose the reforms they believe are required to allow our economy to prosper outside of the EU: we need to hear solutions, not whining, from business. The same is true of other professionals, from university administrators to architects to the police forces, as well as from the charitable sector. Britain needs a “can‑do” revolution, with as many positive ideas as possible from all quarters and perspectives. The question is no longer whether or not to Brexit – it’s how to make it work as well as possible for the whole country.”

How to avoid crime news in the UK – you can’t

Do online newspapers need a separate page and category for “crime”? That would enable people to browse the real news without being bombarded with lurid negativity, and thus reduce the overall level of pessimism. In the long-term it might even boost social cohesion.

Let’s have a quick look at how bypassing crime news is simply not possible when browsing the news in the UK:


News sources:

* Bing News: One category for UK, filled almost entirely with sensational crime reporting, despite the way that Brexit is swamping the headlines.

* Google News: One category for UK, about half filled with crime reporting.

* BBC News website: One category for UK, crime seemingly not allowed to dominate the small selection of ‘front page’ stories.

* BBC News regional website: On clicking down from the main BBC News to News | England, it’s almost entirely crime reporting. On drilling down further to my local region, it’s almost entirely crime reporting — plus a cheerful video feature on “A Ghoulish Tour of Medieval Punishments”. That’s set readers up nicely, for a wet Tuesday morning.


Major newspapers:

* The Telegraph‘s News | UK category now takes the form of odd sort of rolling Twitter-like timeline, with all the stories jumbled together by time-stamp. One assumes that it’s all robo-controlled and there’s no human curation or policy on weighting of crime stories.

* The Daily Mail is, of course, notorious for its lurid and extensive tabloid coverage of crime in the UK. Online, the Mail is radically different in ordering than its paper version. The News sub-page has banding which acts as a sort of categorisation of stories by type, though. So it is somewhat possible for the expert news-skimmer to skip the most salacious and gruesome crime reporting. Turning off image-loading in one’s browser also helps make the the Mail a better experience. I’m assuming that everyone has an ad-blocker, these days.

* The Independent‘s News | UK page currently seems to be avoiding crime entirely, in favour of anguished moaning about Brexit.

* The Guardian‘s UK News page seems to minimise crime reporting to a few stories. Perhaps that’s one of its appeals to its left readership. Possibly there’s even a political dimension to that, in terms of readers not wishing to peer too closely at the relentless chaos brought about on the ground by their own airy Guardianista ideas.

* The Times is behind a strong paywall.

* The local press is, of course, usually a hotbed of crime reporting. I’ve never seen a local newspaper website that gives Crime its own News page.


Therefore I’d suggest that one of the key things that the UK’s new Culture & Media minister might do is to quietly suggest that Google News and Bing News and the BBC might hive off the crime news to its own page. That would be a very simple move, but an incredibly useful one in terms of promoting social cohesion. By doing this it would allow intelligent people to engage with real local news, rather than having to turn off all news because they just can’t face the constant wall of vile negativity.

African optimism

Boston Consulting Group have carried out a fairly small poll of active consumers in 11 African nations including Morocco and Egypt, which they’re calling the African Consumer Sentiment survey. Africans optimistic about their future, the poll finds, and willing to spend too…

“In 2020, Africa will have twice as many affluent consumers as the UK. … our research shows that African consumers are very optimistic and eager to spend. A wide range of products and services have already found enthusiastic buyers.”

I’ve recently found a fine new African magazine that covers the new architecture that’s rising up on the continent, mostly medium-size and community-scale projects. AD: African Design is an excellent antidote to the mainstream media’s doom-laden view of the continent. Here Africa is a stylish fusion of intense practicality and brimming optimism…

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Leave it out – on the Brexit vote after two weeks

I had an email saying that the Leave campaign has shut up shop. Invites to weekend Brexit fireworks parties are in the in-box. The pessimistic Remain voices are rapidly fading away. What are the Remainers left with now?

* The fabled great petition for a second referendum, packed with millions of dodgy robo-votes from hardly-populated places such as the Vatican and Antarctica. It has been formally rejected by the government.

* Labour’s Parliamentary manoeuvres, which were easily sidestepped last week.

* Richard Branson, who tugs in vain at his beard in a perplexed manner. Then sadly boards the private jet back to his tropical island.

* There are said to be legal challenges, but these are set to go nowhere and will cost someone a small fortune.

* The odd SNP talking-head is still popping up on the media and fuming like a miniature volcano for five minutes. To little effect.

* The occasional lefty newspaper still carries a quixotic poll, suggesting that a 20%-or-so minority want a second referendum. As if we still trusted pollsters. And in the current climate, no-one in their right mind wants to even talk to a pollster, let alone to be honest with one.

* A few fuming Remainers still write to their local papers or gabble on radio phone-ins. Others form sobbing support-groups and have mutual-aid picnics in a damp London park. It’s hardly the stuff of a popular uprising: “What do we want?! Savory Twizzle-Sticks and More Dry Hankies, Comrade!!”

So the Remainers scratch their heads and wonder what happened. Perhaps the most pitiful I read was a leftist who penned a detailed 5,000-word Marx-flavoured statistical analysis of the vote, only for his final paragraph to call for the usual dog-eared half-dozen leftists demands: nationalise transport being but one of them. Seriously, comrade, the call to bring back British Rail is not going to cause the average voter in Stoke-on-Trent to embrace either the extreme-left or the EU superstate.

Few of the pro-Remain commentators I’ve read seem to grasp much about the very complex and slowly cumulative calculations in the minds of the voters, that eventually led to Leave. So much easier for them to assume the voters were stupid or racists or bamboozled by tricks. Even the political and educational commentators on my local newspaper have shown themselves to have almost no insight into the people of their city. But then it’s always been a very dismal newspaper, especially when it comes to opinion articles. Ironically, I’d say it’s actually the Indian conservative writer Swapan Dasgupta who understands more about the reasons for the Leave vote than just about everyone in the Remain side. And Swapan’s writing from India.

A few Remainers do get somewhere near the mark. Veteran think-tanker Charles Leadbeater got it a bit right in the New Statesman. Perhaps 15% right. Even then, he was furiously pandering to the New Statesman far-left types — twisting what he named “a vote for meaning … a sense of narrative” around, so that it might be re-framed by the left as “a rejection of the market”. His categories of voter are also antiquated and all over the place, and even distinctly class-bound on 1970s lines.

It’s also clear from the general commentary that the British left no longer really listens to or understands the ideas of the right, and no longer really wants to — preferring to conjure up a 1980s-style fantasy-right from its own fevered imagination. Annoying facts like “Staffordshire Police have not recorded a spike in hate crime” (3rd July) are airbrushed away, and a big red “Racist” sticker plastered over the bit of the map that’s labelled ‘Stoke-on-Trent’ (a 69.4% Leave vote).

Leadbeater’s article also laughably called for Labour to lead… “a forward-looking civic nationalism”. But Labour can barely seem to lead the youth to get out of bed. Only 36% of all 18-24 age voters, apparently still one of Labour’s main and ‘natural’ constituencies, could even be bothered to get out to vote. 27% of those that did vote, voted Leave. And now Leadbeater wants to add “nationalism” alongside Labour’s rampant anti-Semitism and rigid identity-politics? I think we all know where a mix of those three leads to, assuming the left can actually find a few teens willing to slip into the fair-trade leather jackboots. Perhaps Adorno’s old label of ‘left-fascist’ will have to be dusted down soon.

The real threat, to a secure and just Brexit, seems likely to come from within. And from two possible directions…

i) What Mrs Thatcher called ‘the Wets’. The foot-dragging and hand-wringing civil service, in a quiet alliance with snidely patrician elements of the Conservatives who found the EU rather to their liking. But thank goodness that some rather more dry Conservatives — like the magnificent Sajid Javid — have shown the courage and optimism to spread their wings and soar with the wind, rather than cower damply against it.

ii) The lack of a healing of divisions within the Conservatives, after the new PM is appointed, and a parallel lack of a vision that can shape a new one-nation inclusive national politics. Both of which are vital for a successful Brexit. Very reluctantly I think Theresa May is the one to be PM, but only if she surrounds herself with superb people who can deeply engage with ordinary people, revive the party’s deeply moribund grassroots, and devise real ways to forge long-term working-class/middle-class alliances. She obviously can’t do that herself, and will also have to be find ways to soften and manage her ‘Cruella De Vil’ media caricature.

One encouraging factor, in terms of healing the country 2016-2020, is that the far-right basically doesn’t exist now in the UK at an organisational level…

“Neither the facts, nor the evidence at hand, point to a rise in the organised far right [in the UK]. Its decline is bordering on terminal: it is smaller and more [organisationally] badly behaved than people would care to imagine.” — Hope not Hate’s research director Matthew Collins, in the left-wing online magazine Left Foot Forward, July 2016.

As far as I can tell from a quick survey of the Web, “smaller” in summer 2016 means: capable of sending out a tweet that puts about 250 thuggish types on the streets for a big Dover-style anti-left demo; gathering around 50 in a pub back-room in London for some kind of annual lecture meeting, and then there are the five nazis-in-a-cellar who appear to run Britain First (successor to the BNP, with apparently almost no membership). That’s it, basically, and the anti-fascist websites suggest that all the tiny grouplets mutually loathe each other. According to bits of a recent podcast interview with two of the UK’s leading extreme rightists talking about Brexit, it seems that even they agree amongst themselves that there’s nothing happening in the UK in terms of a group, let alone a movement. Of course, that won’t stop the Guardian-reading smirking class from trying to feverishly caricature a government of Theresa May / Boris Johnson as some kind of resurrection of Nazi-dom. It’s just what the left does, as an unthinking reflex knee-jerk reaction. One would have thought the left would have learned, by now, that it just doesn’t work.