Archive for June, 2007

The Fall of American Manufacturing as chronicled by Chickenman

Friday, June 29th, 2007

There is a blog here in the Ethereal Land called Chickenman that I have not advertised much because I wanted to see if his blog would last. Now that the blog has something like a track record, I thought that I would give it little more exposure.

I think I can safely say that if you have any interest in American manufacturing you should be reading Chickenman faithfully. The subtitle for his blog is Life at Acme Tool Co and he faithfully relays what he sees in American manufacturing. And what the Chicken Man sees is quite enlightening.

His peculiar vantage point is just about perfect for reporting on American manufacturing. He is close enough to floor that he actually talks with the lowborn on a regular basis, and yet high enough up that he glimpses the broader issues that concern management. This unique perspective makes for some interesting reading.

It is also sickening.

To my mind, the observations that the Chickenman makes go a long way to substantiating a long-held belief of mine that MBAs are the biggest cause of the decline of America’s manufacturing. China’s currency manipulation, lower labor cost in third world countries, and legacy costs are all problems that are easily dealt with. But MBAs who are trained in accounting, the manipulation of people’s psychology (called marketing), and various methods of “process improvement” are a plague of biblical proportions.

People who have MBAs generally can’t lead real people or make real things. But they can produce slick presentations and they value other people according to their ability to do the same. Were it not for the fact that some people managed to get off the floor and into management and some managers have good leadership training from the military, we would be in even worse shape.

As it is, American manufacturing is a downward slope that is only made worse by the fact that everyone from CEOs to the average worker wants to blame cheap foreign labor for all their problems. The fact is that quality of managers in American manufacturing is terrible. It should be a national scandal that Toyota puts more power and responsibility in the hands of its American floor workers than your average American-managed factory does.

If you treat your floor labor as just another input that is easily replaceable, you will end up with floor labor that is easily replaceable and adds no value to your company. You can then use that fact to justify moving the factory to another location, but you will find that your prospects still suck.

I think this is one of the reasons that the trades that American manufacturing relies on are in such poor shape. If you don’t value your skilled help, you will not have any.

But that is just my personal rant. Chickenman does not get into such broad topics. He mostly just presents the picture as he sees it and lets you decide what to make of it. So if you want to get an idea of what American manufacturing is like beyond the statistics you read in your business publications, go read his blog.

Demographics and Productivity

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

In a post I that I wrote last week I said (speaking of Edward Hugh’s post on a recent article in The Economist called Suddenly, the old world looks younger)…..

But while I agree with most of what Mr. Hugh says, his post fails to relieve me of the need to write my own post. This is partially because I think Mr. Hugh misses several important flaws in The Economist article that I think should be pointed out. But mostly it is because Mr. Hugh is just too kind to The Economist.

Now I think I have compensated for Mr. Hugh’s over-niceness in my last post. But I never really dealt with any issue in The Economist‘s article that Mr. Hugh had not already tackled in his own overly nice way. As time permits this week, I would like to raise the various issues in The Economist‘s article on demographics that Mr. Hugh did not address in his post. I am not doing this to continue to pile it onto The Economist (I like a good rant, but you can have too much of a good thing), but because I think there are some important points that often get overlooked and The Economist‘s article is a good springboard for talking about them.

Before I continue, I should admit that I exaggerated when I said in my previous post that Mr. Hugh misses several important flaws in The Economist‘s article. He got all of the important flaws. But since there were so many important flaws he probably felt that it would be overkill to deal with some of the more subtle problems that the article had. This is understandable.

But when I am not getting all excited and going off on a rampage, I actually find the subtler sorts of problems to be more interesting than dealing with obvious flaws. So now that I have calmed down a bit, those are the types of problems in The Economist‘s article that I would like to focus on.

For today I would like to focus on this passage in The Economist‘s article….

In the decades after the second world war, rich countries everywhere experienced broadly similar trends. The bonds of traditional family life began to slacken. More women got jobs. People sought enjoyment and satisfaction more and more through individual pursuits, rather than in families. This social transformation, which also occurred in America and East Asia, led to a demographic bonus (a bulge of people in work) and to what might be called the postponement of everything. People left school later, left home later, married later, had children later. They also died later.

Now let us think about this for a moment. Whenever someone tries to start up a discussion on the negative long term effects of a low birth rate, you are sure to have someone come along who will say “nobody can predict the future, so why do you think you can intelligibly talk about a country’s demographic future” or something to that effect. But as The Economist is admitting in the passage above, demographic change has already happened. The only thing is, the effect of the demographic change has so far been positive.

This raises the question, why has demographic change been beneficial so far? The obvious answer to that question is the one The Economist provides. When you have one generation that has a lot of kids and those kids have far fewer children (on a per person basis) than their parents did, then you will have fewer dependents per working person. Having fewer dependents per working person will mean that there is more economic output in society as a whole. Thus, the whole western world has experienced what The Economist calls a “demographic bonus.”

But I don’t think the obvious answer of fewer dependents per worker tells the whole story of the demographic bonus. I think there is also a productivity boost per worker as the average age of your work force increases. At least, up to a certain point.

After all, research has demonstrated that people are at their most productive in their 40’s. At this age, the degradation of their body has not been sufficient to negate the benefit of their experience. This number is not written in stone. It is quite possible that 50 will become the new 40 in the years to come. In any case, up until a certain point, ageing increases your productivity.

It stands to reason then, that as the average age of your work force goes up; your average productivity is going to go up (at least until a certain point). Therefore, it would seem logical to conclude that at least some of the productivity growth in the western world has been due to the ageing of the workforce, and not investment in capital or technological advancement.

If you have been following what I have been saying, you will understand that the “demographic bonus” is two fold. You have a smaller dependent-to-worker ratio and your workforce is more productive on average than it would be if you had not had a “bulge” in your demographic profile. Combine these two factors together and you have a powerful stimulus to national growth.

Or at least, in theory, these factors account for a powerful stimulus to national growth. I don’t think that this issue has been studied with the rigor that it deserves. But what studies that are out there tend to confirm the theory. For example, this study estimates that the effects of a demographic bulge account for one-third to one-half of the growth experienced in East Asia between 1965 and 1990. And this study is focused on the decrease in the worker to dependent ratio. They don’t even take into account productivity gains associated with an ageing work force.

But even with the lack of studies, almost everyone in the thinking world seems prepared to accept that having fewer children is a big part of the European and Asian success story. Yet very few people in the thinking world are prepared to accept that this bonus will reverse itself and turn into declining productivity growth and an increasing dependent-to-worker ratio. Why is it so hard to accept that the gravy train provided by the demographic bonus is going to stop?

Part of the problem is undoubtedly due to wishful thinking, but another part of this problem is due to insufficient research. We don’t really have a good handle on the economic effects of the demographic changes that have already occurred, much less how those demographics will play out into the future. This is particularly true of the issue of the aging of the workforce and productivity.

This is a particularly important issue. If I am right in suspecting that the increasing average age of the work forces has played a significant role in increasing average productivity, then there are no grounds for optimism in regards to the western world’s economic future.

That statement might seem a little extreme. But consider this: most people who are optimistic about the likely effects of a demographic shortfall are depending on productivity growth continuing at same rate that is has been increasing over the last 40 years. This dependency takes two forms.

First of all, even the most optimistic forecasters acknowledge that the dependency-to-worker ratio is going to go up in the near future. In order to maintain living standards at present levels, those workers are going to need to be far more productive than today’s workers. To reach this goal, productivity increases need to at least match the rate of increase over the last 40 years or so. But if a significant amount of the productivity increases over the last 40 years was related to the aging of the work force, this is not going to happen.

Second, the optimistic forecasters are depending on people to work for far longer than they do today to mitigate the otherwise sharp increase in dependent-to-worker ratios. But in order for this to provide any real relief, the older workers in their 60’s need stay at least as productive as they were in their 40’s. After all, even if increased participation by older workers holds the worker-to-dependent ratio steady (which not even the most optimistic forecasters believe), yet you have declining average productivity, then living standards are going to fall.

The above is not going to convince anyone of anything they don’t already believe. But my intention was not to convert anyone to the doom and gloom camp. Rather, I wanted to highlight the need for more research into the effects of the demographic changes that have already taken place. Particularly in the area of the ageing of the work force that has already happened and how that relates to past increases in productivity.

Only when we know what has already happened can we make reasonable predictions about the future.

Spanking the Economist

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

My apologies to Claus Vistesen over at Alpha.Sources. I think I lead him to believe that I was going to write a post focusing on a recent article on demographics in last week’s Economist. And that was what I sat down to write. But when I started writing a long standing grudge against The Economist started coming out. This forced me to cut out a lot of stuff I was going to bring out about The Economist article. When you are over 6 pages you have got to cut your losses.

I have been a subscriber to the British magazine The Economist ever since I got my driver’s license. I can date it that precisely because subscribing to The Economist is one of the first things that I did when I got my first real job. I was not paid much, so the subscription price took up a sizable percentage of my yearly income at the time.

Thankfully, it does not take up the same percentage of my yearly income today. But I am still a subscriber. I have never let my subscription lapse.

With a tale like that, you might think that I am big fan of The Economist. But the truth is that I have a love/hate relationship with The Economist. I love The Economist because of its international coverage. I am not aware of any weekly periodical that even comes close to The Economist as far as international coverage is concerned. I don’t even think that there is a combination of other periodicals that could replace The Economist‘s international coverage.

But The Economist has also taught me why democracy is the least bad of all the bad ways to govern men and they remind me of it every week. That is where the hate comes in.

Now I suppose you all are wondering (a) why I need to be taught that democracy is the least bad way to govern men and (b) why being taught such a thing would leave me with negative feelings for The Economist.

To understand the answer to question (a) you need to understand that I work and live in totally different environment than the majority of my readers. Outside of those who read this blog and know me personally, I don’t think anyone really has much contact with the type of people that I work with.


Songs of Community

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

I know, I know, I owe a post on one of the three subjects that I said I wanted to blog about. And I will have a post on The Economist article on demographics up today or tomorrow (per Mr. Vistesen’s request I decided to do that one first). But Andrew Cusack linked to three u-tube clips that I want to link to on my own site with my own commentary.

Normally I post videos over at The Ethereal Voice. But one of the u-tube clips that Cussack posted has direct relevance to a post I recently wrote on Quebec’s demographics and they are all loosely tied together so I thought I would share them here as well as at the Voice.

This is a clip of the song ‘Dégénération’, by Mes Aïeux (in Québécois French, with English subtitles). According to Cusack this song is wildly popular in Quebec right now. Its relevance to my recent post on Quebec should be obvious and hopefully I don’t need to elaborate on the song for those that have read my post. But one thing I would like to note is the continued references to government jobs in the song. This is no accident. The Government commands an extremely large percentage of GDP in Quebec and it is about the only place to get “good jobs” in Quebec these days.

This next clip is ‘Roots’, by Show of Hands (an English Folk group). It is an angry lament over Britain’s lost culture. The song obviously has something in common with ‘Dégénération’ and musically I actually enjoyed it more. But the primary reason that I am posting this is that I found it interesting how similar the complaint was in these two songs written by people in two different cultures. There seems to be a common despair in the face of modern culture.

It is common for people to dismiss the sentiments expressed in these songs as misguided longing for a golden age that never was. I disagree.

There never was such a thing as a golden age. That I will admit. But modern culture has lost something in the transition to the modern era. We have more material things, but we are losing our social fabric.

I don’t see how anyone can deny that people are not as rooted in their communities as they once were. In fact, the very concept of a community is disappearing. To be a modern person is to be a rootless person. You are not tied to your brothers, cousins, or neighbors. You are free, but you are also rootless.

For some, like the blogger over at Free Exchange, this is a price worth paying. But for others, like Mes Aieux and Show of Hands, this is something to be lamented.

Needless to say, I have more sympathy for the likes of Mes Aieux and Show of Hands then I do for Free Exchange’s view point. But like all things human, a longing for community and the struggle to maintain it can be an ugly thing. That is what Cusack’s clip of the ‘De La Rey’, by Bok van Blerk (in Afrikaans, with English subtitles) reminds me of.

Now this song skillfully plays on the sadness of what happened to the Boer woman and children and the braveness of the Boer fighters. Yet I can’t help but remember all the peoples that that the Boers destroyed and all the African villages that the Boers burnt to the ground. And I think that it is fitting that such great devotees of the Old Testament as the Boers should receive an Old Testament punishment for their crimes (and eye for an eye…).

For me, the Boers are a prime example of how a people can deify their sense of community. The Boers had this conception of themselves as a holy people chosen by God which meant that they saw no difference between their desires as a community and the desires of God. For them, the two were one and the same. Like the deification of anything else human, this lead to horrible things. There is no restraint on a society that considers its desires the desires of God.

The Boers are not alone in that failing, and I don’t mean to single them out. It is just that the song ‘De La Rey’ calls to my mind the dangers of venerating your own community and the messianic desires that often accompany that veneration.

But in remembering this danger, we should not forget that man cannot live by bread alone. A society based solely on economic transactions will soon cease to exist. The question is: what is the proper way to fill this human need for community without creating some kind of pagan nationalistic god?

What I would like to be blogging about….

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

For some reason, I seem to be rather low on time over the last couple of weeks. But there are some blog posts/articles floating around out there that I really want to write up a couple of posts on. But those posts are not going to happen tonight due to an extended power outage and the fact that I elected to use that power outage to take a nap. Since my planned posts often get overtaken by events, I thought that I would take a few minutes to at least link to some of the things that I plan to blog about. They are worth reading on their own even if I never get around to saying anything.

First up is a recent article in the Economist on the demographics of Europe. When I got this week’s issue of the Economist it was one of the first things that I read and boy did it make me mad. The article was absolutely disgraceful.

Edward Hugh discusses that article in a lengthy post here. But while I agree with most of what Mr. Hugh says, his post fails to relieve me of the need to write my own post. This is partially because I think Mr. Hugh misses several important flaws in the Economist article that I think should be pointed out. But mostly it is because Mr. Hugh is just too kind to the Economist.

This would not bother me so much if I thought that Mr. Hugh would be equally as kind to Mark Steyn (a target of the Economist article). After all, The Economist article commits all the same sins as Mr. Steyn in terms of how they handle and present data. But Mr. Hugh would never treat an argument by Mr. Steyn as respectfully as he treats the Economist’s article. He even wrote in the comments that Mr. Steyn should be ignored.

I think that this disparity of treatment between Mr. Steyn and equally faulty arguments from the likes of the Economist reflects the fact that Mr. Hugh finds Mr. Steyn’s political views so distasteful.

But this disparity in treatment is precisely why men like Mr. Steyn are so popular. If an august publication like the Economist can get away with such a sloppy and misleading piece of work, why can’t Mr. Steyn? Trashing Mr. Steyn and treating the Economist with kid gloves only makes Mr. Steyn out to be some kind of persecuted hero.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not defending Mr. Steyn. My recent comment over at the Belmont Club was in part directed at people like him. But you impose a double standard at the cost of your own credibility.

But that all should really wait until I am ready to write my own post and go over in detail what is wrong with The Economist article.

Another thing I want to blog about is this post over at Architecture and Morality called Helpless Hands: From Arts and Crafts to Blobitechture. Being in the trades, I naturally have my own opinions on the subject. Besides, I have an evil plot to influence the content of Architecture and Morality. I figure if I offer feed back on every blog post on architecture and ignore every post on politics I might be able to subtlety encourage them to stick to their brief.

If you want to help me along with my evil plot, you all should go over and read the post. Or at least pretend to. Stat counters can’t tell.

And last, but not least, there is this post from Alpha.Source on the changing behavior of Japan’s retail investors. There is nothing particularly special about this post, but Alpha.Source’s continued coverage of this issue over the last couple of months has sparked me to revisit some of my old thoughts on Japan. When I was a teenager (in the 90’s if you must know) I thought a lot about Japan’s situation. I find that the recent changes in the behavior of Japan’s retail investors help confirm (in my own mind) many of the ideas that I had back then.

I have been thinking that I ought to take the time to spell out those ideas. Particularly since those ideas lie at the heart of my differences with Mr. Hugh on demographic profiles and trade surpluses and I ought to give a more considered response to Mr. Hugh’s commentary.

If I am lucky, I will get a blog post up on at least one of these subjects before the week is out. The only question is which subject should I tackle first? The one I am most emotionally involved with (the Economist article)? Or the subject that I think will be the easiest to write on (The Architecture and Morality post)? Or the one that I think will take the most work to write out properly (my thoughts on Japan)?

A comment over at the Belmont Club

Monday, June 18th, 2007

I left this comment over at the Belmont Club.


I share Teague’s concerns though I am not sure why he chose this particular post to raise those concerns. Nonetheless, the substance of Teague’s comment is an issue that I would like to see you address in greater detail, because your answer to Teague seems to miss the heart of the issue.

Granted, this generation finds itself having to make moral choices. But I don’ think that those choices are as simple as fighting or surrendering. There are other choices, some of them even worse then surrendering.

Since this blog and its commenters make frequent references to World War II and the moral choices that the generation of that time faced, I think it is worth exploring why the Nazis were accepted by the conservatives of Germany.

After all, the generals and the businessmen of Germany were not natural supporters of the Nazis. In fact, there were a couple of times when the conservative forces in Germany stepped up to the plate and slapped the Nazis down.

What then changed to cause the conservative forces in Germany to partner with the Nazis?

The answer has to do with the threat that the communists posed. During this same period as the rise of the Nazis, the communists were also a growing force on the street. They had their own armed wing in Germany that was in some measures more formidable than the Nazi’s brown shirts. If memory serves me right, there was more than a few armed street clashes between the two groups that the Nazis lost.

Of course the communists in Germany did not restrict themselves to shooting Nazis. In fact, fighting Nazis was not even high on their list of priorities. Like all communist parties of the period, they wanted to remake society and do away with the nation state. Thus their primary targets were the businessmen, the religious, and the aristocratic military officers. For the communists, Nazis were a problem primarily because they competed for the same pool of supporters.

Those with eyes to see at the time understood that the communists represented a very real threat. As the communists had already proved in Russia, and would go on to prove in Spain and countless other countries, their victory meant the massacre of the rich, the religious, and given enough time, the middle class. Faced with the growing power of an ideology that called for their death and the falling apart of the international economic system, many conservatives felt that they had no choice but to take what allies they could get. At least the Fascists did not want to do away with the nation state. And they did not want to kill everyone in the upper classes.

This choice was made all around the western world. Italy had Mussolini, of course, and the French government almost fell to a fascist mob long before Germany was in a position to invade. Churchill had to argue strenuously against his fellow British conservatives who thought that Hitler provided good protection against a communist takeover of Europe. Many prominent conservatives in America admired Hitler or Mussolini.

To use Teague’s language, the fear of communism was causing people to embrace messianic saviors. Why can’t the fear of Islamic terrorism cause the same thing to happen in this day and age? And if it can, should we not fear that outcome as much or more than the actual deaths caused by Islamic terrorism?

I think William Butler Yeats captured the sprit of both the 20’s and 30’s and these present times with his famous poem The Second Coming….

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The line ‘The best lack all convictions, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity’ very nicely captures the problem that we face today as much as it captures the spirit of the 20’s and 30’s. We know what was born out of the 20’s and 30’s. So I have to wonder what is moving towards Bethlehem to be born today?

Yeats was an admirer of Mussolini. Mussolini’s call to stamp out pity must have appealed to him. He embraced the beast of his time.

I fear that many who are on the forefront of worrying about Islamic terrorism and the rise of Islamic power will make the same choice today as Yeats did back then. As I see it, the rise of fascism to power was caused by the decision of the conservative classes to put the preservation of their lives, property, and power over the preservation of what they professed to be their values. And it seems to me that many anti-Islamic types are already making the same choice. It seems to be taken as a given that of course we will do anything under the sun to preserve our lives from this threat.

But those who make the preservation of their own lives the highest moral imperative wind up making man into God. And that is an ugly beast indeed.

Discussion with Edward Hugh and Claus Vistesen over at Demography Matters

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Most of my regular readers probably already know this, but for those who missed it— Clause Vistesen posted an edited version of my post Does an aging demographic structure lead to an export-oriented economy over at Demography Matters.

Edward Hugh (A British born Spanish based economist who specializes in economic effects of demographic change) has posted a couple of comments relating to my post. And Claus Vistesen has one up as well (as I write this that is, I expect more from both of them).

Surprisingly, wordy old me only has one real comment up (plus one “be back latter comment” if you want to be legalistic) as of yet. The lack of lengthy comments from yours truly is due to the unfortunate fact that I find myself rather busy at the moment. In fact, I have work that I need to go do right now that I am holding off to write this.

Hopefully I will write more tomorrow. But that is iffy. I have to get up early and take a truck 100+ miles were I am going to load it up with 50 pieces of butcher block furniture and drive the 100+ miles back and unload it at a couple of different locations. I may not have much mental capacity after that.

All that is just to say if I seem a little slow to respond it is not for lack of interest. Hopefully, I will soon be is position were I can write proper responses to Mr. Hugh and Mr. Vistesen.

A Preface for Ethics and Design

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

One of those weird issues that I devote my thinking time to is the intersection between values and architecture. So I was very excited when I came across a blog called Architecture and Morality (Thank you Marginal Revolution).

Unfortunately, the blog does not live up to its name as much as I would like. Most of their posts seem to be about morality or architecture, but they rarely talk about how the two intersect. But I did not give up on the blog and my patience was rewarded with a recent post by Corbusier called Lesson from Mexico: Cities and Social Trust.

I have wanted to call attention to this post ever since it came out. But every time I sat down to write a post about it, the post would get unwieldy with the weight of my own ideas. When one has thought about how architecture and values intersect as much as I have, one is strongly tempted to use any excuse to get up on a soap box. So today, I am going to see if I can’t finally get away from my inner voices long enough to quote from Lesson from Mexico: Cities and Social Trust and explain why I think Corbusier’s point is important.

Here is the quote…

These kind shortcomings testify to a broader pattern of a lack of social trust in developing nations. One of the essential ingredients to national prosperity is a high level of social trust, allowing an environment where strangers can interact freely with one another, collaborate on joint ventures, provide capital to entrepreneur’s ideas and so on. It is not enough for an elaborate set of laws to be drafted to force strangers to trust each other, it is imperative that respect for another’s property and dignity as a human being be deeply ingrained in a society’s cultural psychology. Such unwritten but consciously internalized safeguards make it possible for drivers not even to contemplate driving over medians or sidewalks, for street-level windows to be unprotected, for people to wander around the city or a store without uniformed personnel minding your business. What’s most important is that social trust makes possible for cities to be more live-able, for life to be a bit easier as we don’t have to worry about our own security. Until that level of social stability is achieved, the rich will wall themselves off from the poor, the poor will remain in their ghettos, and the influence of “bourgeois” values of respect, decency, scholarship and ambition to those who need it most will be stifled. This class isolation retards progress on all fronts, not least in the development of mobile and economically dynamic cities .

Now it is tempting to just dismiss this. If we have thought about it all, we have probably already come to the conclusion that the ethical character of society makes a big difference on how it develops. We also all assume that a country that is not very developed economically speaking will have architecture that will reflect that fact. So at first glance it might seem like the above quote is superficial and obvious.

But if you think about it, I think you will find that the above quote cuts a little deeper then your first impressions lead you to believe.

First of all, the idea that values shape the nature of architecture does not get the attention that it deserves. Most people tend to think of architecture as something that is shaped by technology, economic concerns, and taste. We do not think about architecture as something that reflects our moral values. If the effects of our values on architecture are considered at all, they are considered through the lenses of environmental issues.

Thus, the point in the quote that I took from Lesson from Mexico is rather original in that it looks at how a broad spectrum of values affects architecture. The only reason it seems obvious to us is because we are outsiders looking in. We know how Mexico City could be different because we live in a different cultural.

But I doubt that it seems obvious to people living in Mexico City. They probably think that it is just the way the world is and that there is no other realistic way to build. In the same way, I don’t think most of us are aware of how much our values impact the architecture that is around us.

For example, most people would probably attribute the US interstate highway system to advancing technology and economic need. In reality though, it is primarily a testament to American values. On a purely economic rational, America would have been better of investing in rail based transportation links.

This post is really not the place for proving the above point. But I would like to point out to the skeptical that private money built the railroads in this country. Yet it took massive amounts of public money to build the highway system that we have now. Those people who assume that the fact that railroads declined in the face of this massive subsidy for highways proves railroads intrinsically less useful economically than highways need to rethink their assumptions.

Moreover, people should not assume that railways would be like they are now if we had poured the kind of capital into them that we put into our highways. Just as highways were quite different that roads that preceded them, so to the rails system would have been quite different if we had made the equivalent investment.

Even if you doubt that realistic case can be made for the economic superiority of robust rail system and a subservient road system as opposed to robust road system with a subservient rail system, you should still be able to see why I say that the highways system is a reflection of American values.

Imagine, if you can, that I am right about the economic superiority of rail. Would that mean the America would abandon the highway system?

I think that anyone who knows the American public realizes that a vast majority of them would pay a heavy price to avoid having rail be a major part of their transport. Economics alone would not be enough to get them use rail unless they had no other realistic choice.

Like I said, the subject of highways vs. rail really needs a separate thread. I don’t want to argue the case for rail in this post. I just want people to think about how Corbusier’s observations on Mexico might apply to the US.

This is admittedly hard to do. It is hard to be self-critical and to think about how our society might be if we had different values. But I think that exploring those issues can lead to valuable insights with benefits beyond architecture.

Hurricane threatens oil production in the Persian Gulf.

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Okay, so technically this is a typhoon not a hurricane. But I could not resist the irony.

People who watch the oil markets have been worrying because they say that one strong Hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico could send gas prices sky high in the US. Now there is a Category 5 typhoon heading towards the Persian Gulf. This is historically unheard off. As you can see from the image down below, it is unlikely to make it far into the gulf, but people are worried about the storm surge.

Projected path of the Storm

This may wind up being no big deal. But I am surprised that this is not being more widely reported. You can click here for a good collection of links and commentary on this storm from the Oil Drum. Be sure the check out the comments section.

But if you just want to look at pictures of the storm, look through this site.

A post in which I defend a rant

Friday, June 1st, 2007

What would happen if I throw the polite hillbilly side of me to the dogs and let my ignorant redneck side run this show?

Judging by what happens every time I write a rant; the number of interesting comments on this web site would triple.

My latest rant to attract attention was called “How George Bush got a cost free trillion dollars for the US economy“. So far, comments on that post are evenly matched between those who are taking issue with the fact that I called George Bush stupid and those who are taking issue with the fact that I called the Chinese leadership stupid.

So for the record, let me say that I don’t hate George Bush and I don’t hate the Chinese leadership. Moreover, both George Bush and the Chinese are far more educated than I will ever be. I fully expect that if you gave the Chinese leadership an I.Q test they would outscore me. I bet the same thing would happen if you compared me to many of the members of Bush’s cabinet (Rice and Paulson at the very least). In short, I should not have used the word stupid because the word implies that those people were personally deficient in the intellectual sense.

But I have a deep conviction that even asses are entitled to their opinion (it’s Biblical, don’t you know) and I happen to think that the financial decisions undertaken by the American/Chinese leadership have been…..umm… “unwise”.

Now I am not going to go into why I think the Bush administration’s financial decisions have been “unwise.” I have already given a partial explanation in the comment section of the original post. Besides, three quarters of the blogosphere hates Bush so much that they would sacrifice their first born child just for privilege of spitting in Bush’s face. That is not a crowd I really want to associate with even if I have been less than impressed by the President’s financial acumen.

But in contrast to Bush, most people seem to think the Chinese leadership is pretty smart. In fact, the more anti-Chinese someone is, the more likely they are to think that the Chinese leadership is smart. Everywhere I go I hear about how those devious Chinese are undermining America and stealing all of America’s jobs.

Given the fact that the majority opinion actually thinks that the Chinese leadership has been making some shrewd economic decisions, I think that I ought to defend my assertion that what Chinese are doing is unwise a little more thoroughly.