The Bear’s Lair: Boris would have banned steam engines

British prime minister Boris Johnson announced this week that he would make it illegal to sell petrol or diesel-driven automobiles from 2030, pushing the British into a fleet of electric cars. He proclaimed this would lead to a “green industrial revolution.” Fat chance! If Boris had been around in the 1780s, he would have had equally good “environmental” reasons for banning steam engines – and would thereby have snuffed out the real Industrial Revolution. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: The Trump Presidential Library should be HUGE!

As President Trump seems likely to leave office in January, the historically minded of us should reflect on his legacy. In the short-term, maybe until 2200, his reputation will doubtless be smeared. It took 250 years for King Charles II to get his due from historians, and Lord Liverpool, almost 200 years later, still has not received it. After 2200, however, Trump should be seen as a good President and a very consequential one. Even before that date, he deserves the largest and doubtless most visited of Presidential libraries. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: The economics of plague

Boris Johnson’s decision to lock down England again until December 2, is economically and scientifically bizarre. It is based on advice from the faulty mathematicians at Imperial College, who proved to be hopelessly in error when the COVID-19 pandemic first arrived in March. It will damage the British economy, and probably kill more people than it saves. We seem to have completely lost the calm efficiency with which we faced plague outbreaks in 1665. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Back to the politics of Henry Fox

Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland (1705-74) made £400,000, equivalent to about $100 million today, from the office of Paymaster of the Forces during the Seven Years War. Shortly after his departure, British politics was cleaned up, so that fifty years later statesmen such as Lord Liverpool lost money on 15 years as Prime Minister. In the United States, Presidents such as McKinley, Coolidge, FDR and Truman remained relatively poor men. Yet the post-presidential career of Bill Clinton and now the allegations about Joe Biden suggest that U.S. politics may be reverting to the Henry Fox standard. It is worth looking at what that implies for the quality of government and the people who go into it. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Trump beats Biden or a Bushie.

Calvin Coolidge is not running. Nor is Lord Liverpool, though his ability to win four successive general elections in his own time suggests he could do so now, with only modest policy adjustments. When deciding whom to vote for, we must measure the available candidates, not against perfection, but against the opposition candidate and those their parties might have chosen. Looked at that way, Donald Trump beats a Bush, a Rubio or a Romney hands down, let alone Joe Biden. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Philip II’s lessons for America

For the 244 years of the United States’ independent existence, few would have thought that the country had anything to learn from the ultimate Old World monarchical autocracy, Philip II’s Spain (he ruled 1556-98). Yet as politicians debate the merits of yet another public spending “stimulus” on top of a $3 trillion 2020 deficit, Philip II’s four debt defaults in 42 years of rule come uncomfortably into view. Philip II’s overspending wrecked the power and wealth of Spain, the greatest superpower of its day. No question, his unhappy rule has lessons for the United States today. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: The emerging global one-party state

Twenty years ago, I was strongly in favor of globalization. I recognized the theoretical benefits it could bring and believed that poor countries could get richer while rich countries and their inhabitants did not get poorer. Alas, I favored a globalization that we did not get, and that maybe does not exist. Politics, as always, messes up the process; once you take account of politics, it becomes clear that extreme globalization must be fought tooth and nail. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: The use and abuse of Supreme Courts

Every economic textbook trumpets the need for the rule of law and will tell you that one major reason for many Third World countries’ poverty is their uncertain legal system and bribery-susceptible judges. Yet to have a rule of law, we need a court system to enforce the law and general agreement on what the law says. Since words can have multiple meanings which change over time, Supreme Courts of some sort or another have been instituted in many countries to interpret them. That is where the trouble starts. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Treason of the billionaires

This summer has seen a rush of billionaires and their companies donating to left-wing causes, or even giving extraordinary amounts of money to the Joe Biden campaign to defeat President Donald Trump. That is their right, of course. But I find it extraordinary that a majority of the world’s ultra-rich are supporting people whose policies would destroy the system by which they rose. It is worth thinking about why they do it. Continue reading

The Bear’s Lair: Springtime for Artificial Hitler

A Harvard Business School presentation on artificial intelligence by Professors Karim Lakhani and Marco Iansiti this week was fascinating but creepy. While the technology is empowering numerous new businesses, most of those businesses seem to be in China. Gradually, as the capabilities of artificial intelligence combined with Big Data sank in, I came to a chilling realization that in the wrong hands, the technology may be very dangerous indeed. We had better make sure our defenses are raised against this possibility. Continue reading