breaking news from the world of ideas

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 4
December 2019
Debate
08:14

To boldly go? You first, Mr Bezos

The Amazon founder should focus on problems back down on Earth

What is it with billionaire businessmen and private spaceflight ventures? Richard Branson has Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk has SpaceX and Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin.

The latter is the target of an excoriating piece by Paris Marx in Jacobin:

“Bezos is convinced that humanity will fall prey to ‘stasis and rationing’ if we remain on Earth. The Jeff Bezos brand of never-ending growth will require constant population gains, increased energy use, and more resources than our planet can provide — so, into the stars we must go.”
- Paris Marx

Technically this is correct, we can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. So eventually we either need to stop growing or radically expand our horizons.

In the meantime, however, we need to buy ourselves some wiggle room by pursuing greener growth. Jeff Bezos as the boss of Amazon has more influence over the future direction of capitalism than almost anyone else on the planet, so why on Earth wouldn’t he want to focus on that as opposed to messing around with rockets? After all, we’re going to have to head-off catastrophic climate change long before we have the option of high-tailing it to heavens. The order of priorities should be obvious. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Tuesday, 3
December 2019
Reaction
18:27

Communism creeps into America

America's illiberal mood bears a worrying resemblance to another era

Next year promises to be a bumper one for political books, at least on the Right, and in America. Ross Douthat has one out in February, The Decadent Society; before that in January Christopher Caldwell’s The Age of Entitlement looks at the US since the assassination of JFK, while I’m looking forward to the reasoned, nuanced media debate that will follow Charles Murray’s Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class.

I can’t see any tripwires there!

Much later in the year is Rod Dreher’s as-yet-unnamed book, which delves into the psychological resemblance between life under Communism and developments in America since the Great Awokening began. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 3
December 2019
Seen Elsewhere
14:25

Conservatives can be politically correct too

The Right favours groups they would prefer to talk about kindly rather than coarsely

Political correctness is castigated by conservatives and free speech fundamentalists alike as an attempt by lefties to control language. But a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology seems to suggest the Right has groups it would like to protect in the public discourse, just as the Left does. Using coarse language about those preferred groups will affect how a conservatives perceives you, just as it would a liberal — it is just that the groups are different.

The study tested how the use of more or less politically correct terms affected others’ perceptions of a speaker, revealing that those using coarser terms – ‘illegal’ as opposed to ‘undocumented’ immigrants for example – were perceived as being more ‘authentic’, ‘telling it like it is’ but also less warm. That is, people who use politically incorrect language are seen as independent-minded but not very nice people. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 3
December 2019
Explainer
08:24

How to turn higher production into higher wages

A captive labour force might be good for a company, but not the economy

Richard Jones is the physics professor whose paper on transforming the UK economy got the thumbs-up from Dominic Cummings last week.

I wrote a piece about his arguments on Monday, but there was something else in the paper that I didn’t have room for. It’s about the crucial relationship between productivity and wages.

Jones begins with the uncontroversial observation that “the growth of real wages tracks overall productivity growth.” This stands to reason, as the more productive that workers are the more they can command in the market place for their time. It’s surely no coincidence that in a decade of very low productivity growth we’ve also seen wages stagnate. ...  Continue reading

by UnHerd
Monday, 2
December 2019
Seen Elsewhere
16:54

Let’s hear from the Unheard Third

A new BBC programme about non voters has some interesting ideas...

For obvious reasons we felt we had to tune in to Adrian Chiles’ radio 4 programme, ‘The Unheard Third’, in which Chiles explores the reasons why 18 million people – equivalent to a third of the voting population – didn’t vote in the last General Election.

A wide range of issues are discussed, including confusion about the voting system, the flaws in first-past-the-post and how cynicism about today’s politicians is keeping people at home. Perhaps most striking was the discussion about how a decline in tribal loyalties, particularly on the Labour side, has left millions of would-be voters feeling disenfranchised. Here’s John Curtice, who points to New Labour for declining turnout among traditional working class voters… ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Monday, 2
December 2019
Idea
13:57

What Andrew Sullivan taught me about Michael Oakeshott

My latest interviewee has got me excited about an often overlooked British philosopher

Andrew’s Sullivan’s Confession was remarkable in so many ways: his energy, his raw openness, his unquenchable intellectual curiosity. We talked (well, mostly he talked) for nearly two hours. It continued afterwards in the pub over several Jägermeisters.

Even after that I felt compelled to keep exploring the ideas he was developing, not least by looking up the writings of his great intellectual hero, Michael Oakeshott, whose writings were the subject of Sullivan’s PhD. Oakeshott was one of those figures whose name I knew, but not much more than that. That was a terrible oversight. Because reading him over the weekend came as an absolute revelation. ...  Continue reading

by UnHerd
Monday, 2
December 2019
Audio
12:44

Out today: Andrew Sullivan’s confessions

Don't miss the British-American columnist's reflections

You won’t want to miss this one – it’s an intense tour of Andrew Sullivan’s eventful life, taking in Catholicism, the AIDS crisis, reconciling the liberal and conservative instincts — and going to school with Keir Starmer and university with Boris Johnson…

by Ed West
Monday, 2
December 2019
Reaction
11:25

There’s nothing taboo about the Anglo Saxons

The latest controversy over the term 'Anglo-Saxon' ignores their significant history

Of all the tribes running around Europe at the end of the Roman period, no two have had as great a legacy as the Franks and the Angles. The former were so successful that theirs became a generic name for Europeans across the world, so that in the Vietnam War local people would refer to American soldiers as firangi; a century earlier the British in India were called firangi and the Portuguese in China the folangji while Europe is Farangistan in Persian and syphilis was in Arabic al-‘aya al-afranji, the Frankish disease.

The Angles, meanwhile, not only gave their name to one of Europe’s major countries but also to a somewhat related ethnic group in an entirely different continent thousands of miles away. ...  Continue reading