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« Wake me up when it's over | Main | COP this »
Monday
Oct262015

The Evolution of Everything

For reading matter on my half-term trip away, I took Matt Ridley's latest book The Evolution of Everything. At nearly 400 pages long it's not a short book, but it turned out to be not nearly long enough to keep me occupied and by the middle of the week I had finished it.

There's only one word to describe it: subversive.

It's subversive of pretty much everything - religion, politics, technology, statism, central banking, education, culture. You name it and it's subverted by the book's central hypothesis. This is the idea that while we seek proximal, top-down explanations for change, in truth bottom-up forces are more powerful, more sustained, and more often than not are the true causes.

So on the subject of societal change we read:

In society, people are the victims and even the immediate agents of change, but more often than not the causes are elsewhere – they are emergent, collective, inexorable forces.

One example is that of the general who leads his army to victory, with no credit given to the malaria that killed off the opposing army. Politicians and activists obsess over aid payments and plans for poor countries, while the people there quietly evolve their way to a better life.

The hard of understanding are struggling with this. There was a typically execrable review in the Guardian which asked "What about the exercise of power?", an argument that almost completely missed the point made in the quote above (which appears on page 5 of the book, leaving one with the impression that the Guardian's reviewer didn't get further than the blurb).

Similarly, science-y people on Twitter have been vehemently arguing that Ridley is wrong to suggest that government can't make technological breakthroughs, which is a futile point to make since Ridley argues no such thing. His case is, as throughout the book, that evolutionary progress is much more important than big breakthroughs and that top-down, planned approaches have less impact than unplanned tinkering.

So with this book, Ridley sets the philosophical cat well and truly among the pigeons, and those who make their living in the world of top-down plans are up in arms.

You can see why I call it subversive. Read on.

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Reader Comments (59)

Your 'read on' link is bust.

Oct 26, 2015 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered Commentermorebeerplease

Fixed!

Oct 26, 2015 at 9:55 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

There is a discussion about some of the book's claims on Slashdot: "Does Government Science Funding Drive Innovation?"

The discussion presents some strong arguments against those parts of the book.

Oct 26, 2015 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered Commenterlivejoy

Seat of the pants, neoliberal extremism. Solid as a Rock, Mr Riddley.

Oct 26, 2015 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

With friends like Matt Ridley, Christopher Monckton, Nigel Lawson and the Heritage Foundation, the global warming sceptic movement has literally no need of enemies to make it look ridiculous.

Oct 26, 2015 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

esmiff
Is he wrong or is it just that you don't like what he says? Like refuting that a socialist command economy is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Or just that the name 'Ridley' makes you lose a sense of proportion?
Sorry, smiffy, but your inability to see anything by Ridley without making some snide comment about him simply casts doubt on all your other arguments as well.
Sensible though a lot of them are!

Oct 26, 2015 at 10:44 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Ridley's Believe it or Not.

Oct 26, 2015 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

Sounds like an excellent book! I will definitely be ordering a copy, but the Amazon site is a bit confusing about it.

There is a hardcover edition with a different cover to the one you show above, dated 24 Sep 2015 with the same title, and available now for £12.80. There is also an audio download for £12.24 with the same date, and a Kindle version for £11.99.

An audio version promoted with the above red cover is available from 3 November, for £31.18. A hardcover book with that cover is described as currently unavailable.

Oct 26, 2015 at 10:54 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Sounds an interesting read.

I do think that leaders' plans are given too much credit for successes of all kinds. Yes, government science and innovation plays a part but it's the public that makes things take off. Communism took off because the people wanted a revolution, it just took them decades to realise that the west had had a revolution too but one we liked far better and was thus sustainable.

eg I've always taken the view that computers didn't really take off until domestic software piracy happened. While computers remained the domain of scientists and wealthy businesses, they changed very slowly. But with the advent of games and word processors that people could share (illegaly), people suddenly wanted more legitimate stuff too. Who would have wanted a computer if you'd have had to pay for all the software you've used? But once you had better software, you needed better hardware. If you had the hardware, why not try the newest software? Despte a lot of piracy, most of us have bought a lot of stuff too. BOOM. Turns out that software is the unltimate consumable.

The saying 'many hands make light work' Is true in more than on way. Today's youth movements are lacking in vigour because people are clearer about what they want than in the 60s and mostly it's not what the activists are offering. The warmists and their COPs get nowhere because fundamentally nobody wants what they're offering. Those drooling at the thought of governments making draconian CO2 reducing laws are kidding themselves because even if a country made such rules, they are only as strong as the force of people who want those rules. Hands up who wants to repay our 'debt' to the developing world by deliberately ruining ourselves. What? No takers?

Oct 26, 2015 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I've not read the book but it reminds me of something that I encountered working with a large shoe company that was accused of poor treatment of workers by its suppliers. Seems that the shoe company was more worried about other things. Their suppliers would set up in an undeveloped region and start a factory to make shoes. Once the local workforce had developed sufficiently, other manufacturers with higher margin products would show up, followed by even higher end products. After A decade or two, wages would be so high the shoe suppliers had to pick roots and find a new undeveloped region to establish new factories. In reality, the much maligned shoe company were the first rung of the ladder for sustained economic development. Much of the world now fears these manufacturing juggernauts that started out making shoes.

Oct 26, 2015 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterSean

Mike Jackson

This has literally nothing to do with global warming. By promoting economic / political extremism on his blog, Montford makes idiots and incredibly easy targets of all of us. That is my problem with Ridley et al and why I froth at the mouth when he appears.

I also ridiculed Comrade Corbyn not that long ago. It's the same thing in reverse. He makes left wing politics look preposterous.

Oct 26, 2015 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Customer satisfaction surveys prove that 97% of people do not believe the Guardian is a credible source.

Knowing this, the Guardian has a track record of publishing opinions on books, written by people who haven't read the books.

The Guardian has very clear views about what it has decided to be open minded about, and does not want its readers to formulate their own alternative ideas, as this would breach editorial policy.

Oct 26, 2015 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

So he’s obviously wrong about incremental advances being more important than the big State initiatives.
Fortunately no-one was dumb enough to stick with this irrational ideology when it really mattered; cracking the Enigma code, winning the space race, eradicating polio, etc.

But why does he make the error? It’s probably not just free market totalitarianism.

May I suggest that the mistake comes from an incorrect underlying assumption: That progress is linear. As it has been in the computer industry for the last 40 years.
But it wasn’t linear before that. The step from valves to chips was huge.

Progress isn’t linear, it’s disjointed. Small steps here, small refinements there and then a huge leap where a whole new approach kicks in.

The returns on the huge leap forward are the same as a small step. It doesn’t have to be a lot better mousetrap – just a little better. And so no corporation will take the risk of looking for the big change – they’ll be bankrupted by the small changers first. Especially as, if they win, the big change can ruin the rest of their business.

But governments do benefit from the big change. They benefit from the whole economy being more efficient.

That’s why Ridley got confused. He’s only looking at the short-term.
But it’s the big picture that takes us to the Moon.

Oct 26, 2015 at 11:34 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

People who are interested in books proposing unappreciated underlying causes for human social events might do well to consider the classic 'Rats, Lice and History' by Hans Zensser...

Oct 26, 2015 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

esmiff
Andrew's blog was not initially about global warming at all and while it has tended to be that in recent years there has always been the opportunity to discuss wider matters.
Anyway, Ridley's book has relevance to climate as TinyCO2 says in his post above.
I'm afraid that categorising Ridley, Monckton and Lawson as extremist says more about your political views than about theirs. There is nothing extreme about either Ridley or Lawson and Monckton's main problem in the eyes of the activists (and you!) is that he is a Viscount — and therefore by definition an effete chinless wonder.
So, as it happens, is Ridley (a viscount, that is!) but since he has been writing and speaking on a wide range of subjects before he became one, those same activists haven't quite got the same stick to beat him with.
The important question is whether Ridley's writings make any sense. I haven't read this book yet but I find most of what he says is sane and well-argued even where I don't agree with it.
And you're doing precisely what we castigate the Climateers for doing: playing the man instead of the ball. Ad homs are ad homs whichever side of the fence they come from.

Oct 26, 2015 at 11:38 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

M Courtney

"That’s why Ridley got confused. He’s only looking at the short-term. "


Exactly. Ridley is a fundamentally, gambler and a little, rich boy who has a giant safety net. That informs his entire outlook.


I didn't see it, but I can certainly understand the woman on BBC QT who burst into tears because she was losing a few pounds a week. Hurting people like that is evil, even if you think the idea of tax credits was daft in the first place.

I am coming round to the belief that we would be better off without the state, but we can't do it any time soon. Ridley can always go live in his coal mine if it all goes wrong. Normal human beings can't.

Summary, Ridley is an outrageous gift to the other side and promoting him on anti AGW blog is basically masochism.

Oct 26, 2015 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Mike Jackson

The Guardian have been playing the man, not the ball since the start. That is reality.

As for chinless wonders, one of my best friends at Stirling Uni was Peter Grant Gordon, head of the wealthiest family in Scotland. I bought him a beautiful Harley trail bike and drove it back for him (his money obviously) . We ripped up his parent's back garden in Cardross with it. He was an incredibly nice guy. Looks like he still is.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsUAuZ0gmVg

Oct 26, 2015 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

M Courtney: "big state initiatives" work best - and only - where the state acts as an enabler and then stands back. Otherwise, you end up with £100B NHS computer systems; the BMC; British Leyland; pretty much anything with prefix 'British'; etc.

My favourite story of "big state initiative" is what the British Gov thought to do with the new-fangled computers coming along after the war. The biggest brains in the civil service advised that the UK would only need three: one for the Gov; one for Ford Motor Company (!!); and a spare. Of course, they nearly cocked it up when computers took off and the state decided they would run ICL.... As much as multi-nationals come in for some stick, thank God for the likes of IBM and Apple (as much as that chokes me to say - about Apple, that is).

Oct 26, 2015 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Harry Passfield, the mechanism I stated used the computer industry as the example.

Small steps driven by competition is the role of corporations. They are good at that. Regardless of how much better the latest iPhone really is than the last one - it is a little better.

But the big changes come from the actions of the state.
And if a State doesn't take up that responsibility then the State will fall behind (and so will it's corporations).

Oct 26, 2015 at 12:06 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

"This is the idea that while we seek proximal, top-down explanations for change, in truth bottom-up forces are more powerful, more sustained, and more often than not are the true causes."

If this statement is a true précis of what the book is about then Ridley is self evidently wrong. The biggest, most powerful movement in the world is the move to decarbonise the planet. It is top down and not evolved by the little guys but who knows where its ultimate top really is?

Oct 26, 2015 at 12:17 PM | Registered CommenterDung

esmiff
I wasn't implying that you considered Monckton a chinless wonder (though maybe you do) but the received wisdom at places like the Guardian and amongst the leftist illiterati is that anyone with a title must be a rabid Tory and therefore some sort of Hooray Henry and therefore to be dismissed.
It's a neat ploy; saves them having to think which since quite a few of them don't have the equipment is probably just as well.
And just because the Guardian does ad homs, that is not a valid excuse!

Oct 26, 2015 at 12:17 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Matt Ridley understands the matter very well, IMO, though he is not the first.

Kynes - direct, savagely intent Kynes - knew that highly organized research is guaranteed to produce nothing new.
-from "Dune" Appendix I: The Ecology of Dune, by Frank Herbert.

Which didn't mean useful research wasn't organised, simply that those at the top were careful to learn from what happened at the base of the pyramid. That is, [Kynes] learned from the data and didn't insist on imposing his prior beliefs on the data. Quite unlike what seems to be the case in global-warming research and other politicised 'sciences'.

Oct 26, 2015 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

M Courtney:

But the big changes come from the actions of the state.
There may well be the odd occasion when this holds true, but you cannot argue that Apple came about because of state intervention - or that going from iPod to iPhone only involved small steps. In fact, Apple saved the jobs of many people in Dow-Corning when Jobs came up with the iPhone: he needed Gorilla glass, which DC couldn't sell. (If only the state had come along and created a market....never going to happen).
In point of fact, when the state decides to take big actions we get windmills and solar farms. That worked well, no?

Oct 26, 2015 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Harry Flashman knew this back in 1848.

.. it shows how great events are decided by trifles.

Scholars, of course, won't have it so. Policies, they say, and the subtly laid schemes of statesmen, are what influence the destinies of nations; the opinions of intellectuals, the writings of philosophers, settle the fate of mankind.

Well, they may do their share, but in my experience the course of history is as often settled by someone's having a belly-ache, or not sleeping well, or a sailor getting drunk, or some aristocratic harlot waggling her backside.

Oct 26, 2015 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Harry Passfield

Apple were a crippled dinosaur that became 100% extinct in 1998. How they went from that to the biggest corporation on earth, supported by major free advertising campaigns by the BBC and the Guardian (including a personal endorsement from editor Rusbridger) is a conundrum for conspiracy theorists to ponder.

The fact that the freedom loving, private, capitalist iphone records your every movement in a secret file is probably irrelevant

Oct 26, 2015 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Tolkien also acknowledged it:

"Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”


― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Oct 26, 2015 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

M Courtney, state intervention works best at mobilising stuff we genuinely want. What it's not good at is working out what we genuinely want and stopping there. Eradicate polio - yes please. Win the war against Hitler - oh yes. Illegal immigration - some want it, some don't but the immigrants want it most. Peaceful trade with Europe - yes please. United States of Europe - hell no.

Governments are also very good at being sidetracked into the 'grand scheme' wherein they try to achieve too many goals and often dillute genuine needs with minor wants. Software projects are a good example. Kids' education is another.

Oct 26, 2015 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Worth remembering that the bulk of the money used in the major drive to (finally) eliminate polio in the first decade of this century came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International.
WHO and Unicef were very late coming to that particular party.

Oct 26, 2015 at 1:54 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

'But the big changes come from the actions of the state. '
Like the first steam engines? At its best, the state creates an environment where creativity can thrive. When it it gets involved in trying to create products that people actually want, the results are rarely useful. Anyone want to bring back British Leyland?

Oct 26, 2015 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

Those rare late nights that happen about every five years, when the votes have been cast but not counted, are a great time to see what politicians really think (as well seeing them as quite likeable and honest human beings). I recall Norman Tebbit opining that politicians actually had very little power to do much good but a lot of power to really cock things up for eveybody else, and that the best they should aim for is to set a sensible and stable background for others to make the good things happen slowly. I was no supporter at the time, but it's a memory that has stuck with me.

Oct 26, 2015 at 2:32 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

The defenders here of state action so quickly forget how often the state blocks, stifles, threatens, or over-regulates innovation. The state is a defender of vested interests. I have read several histories of the industrial revolution, and quite often the British government was actually forbidding new technologies or mandating the use of old ones. It was only the fact that new technologies were so powerful and profitable that they often caved in and accepted them. Sometimes the government went with the new because of war. Except for the military putting out offers for higher precision weapons (e.g. mid-1800s US) which acted as an incentive, there is almost nothing about the industrial revolution that was initiated by government.
As a recent example of stifling, consider the reaction of governments to the sharing economy like Airbnb or Uber. Helping? hahahahha How about the recent oil revolution in the US--did the government help with that? hahahaha again

Oct 26, 2015 at 2:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterCraig Loehle

Newcomen's steam engine is an interesting point.
It was so long ago (with the established water lifting technology of oxen having had little progress for a thousand years) it may not be entirely relevant,.

But it should be noted that Newcomen did not fund his engine himself. It was funded by the mine-owners who happened to be the aristocracy.

And it was derived from Thomas Savery's work that was funded by the State through a patent on his fire engines.

Then Watt and Boulton made the refinements because the breakthrough had been made.
Steam engines don't disprove the mechanism but they world was so different then I doubt I can claim them as further proof for a universal law of economics.

Oct 26, 2015 at 3:25 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Well I've not read the book and likely never will but there is still a big gap between research and development in the UK The US has investors at all levels but not us. That's why Dyson had to build his factory with his own money and that's why we lose most of our most innovative research, researchers and small-cap companies to the US. There must be a role for government entities to push in order that private enterprise are interested enough to later pull. That was how the internet started. Perhaps with peer-to-peer lending we can remove that hurdle in time but the UK investors for now still wait to see what the US (and now China) does first and then they come in too late with too little. Where is any non-governmental UK investment in new nuclear plant such as SME's? Does that mean it isn't a good idea or just that foreigners must do it first?

Oct 26, 2015 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

".....very little power to do much good but a lot of power to really cock things up..."
You could say the same about generals. But are we really supposed to run an army with just foot-soldiers?

Oct 26, 2015 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

JamesG
Two points:
First, Dyson is not unique. The fact that he built his factory with his own money makes him no different from Salt, or Fry or Cadbury or any other 18th/19th century entrepreneur. Or Sinclair if you want to come more up to date. Or Gates.
Government may well see the benefits and thereafter invest or encourage the development. Or not. Or actively hinder it.

Second, why would anyone but a fool invest in nuclear plant in the current climate? Apart from anything else the regulatory environment is such as to make it virtually impossible and certainly a guaranteed way of tying yourself in knots with no guarantee whatever that you will be allowed to operate long enough to turn a profit.
When government is borrowing incredible sums of money from a foreign power to build an already obsolete white elephant (because that is what in effect they are doing at Hinkley Point) why would any entepreneur even bother to pick up a phone to National Grid and say "I've got one cheaper, better, and quicker to get up and running".

Kinda proves Ridley's point, I would suggest.

Oct 26, 2015 at 3:59 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Slightly O/T - Issues with government interference.

Around 1992, the government did enormous damage to then Scottish post school education system by forcing colleges and (some) universities to do higher level work. To make itself look good. The students weren't there. In some cases, the lecturers couldn't step up. That created a cheating culture that is still here.

We live in a dumbed society, something the government has been in denial of for decades. I knew people with PhDs who taught (Scottish) highers and English 'A' levels. They were hugely dumbed down. I talked to two Paisley university physics lecturers recently who described primary school level stupid students to me.

The consequences are not only stupid, but very low quality individuals in positions of responsibility. I listened to a Junior doctor's spokesman on the Today programme. He was very puffed up, confident, but John Humphries had to stop him 3 times because he made huge logical / factual errors. That shouldn't happen.

Oct 26, 2015 at 5:11 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

I would suggest very poor young doctors as the real reason for the following.

"Complaints to the doctors' regulator the General Medical Council have doubled in five years with patients discussing their treatment on Twitter and Facebook identified as one of the main drivers.


A report complied for the GMC to investigate the reasons behind the large rise in complaints has found that patients are now showing less deference to their doctor and are more willing to contact the regulator.
Complaints from the public to the GMC doubled between 2007 and 2012 to reach around 6,000 it was found.
However only 1,000 of these were fully investigated and only a handful resulted in formal Fitness to Practice hearings.
The study by the Peninsula Medical School at Plymouth University found a combination of factors was behind the increase in complaints.


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/rebecca-smith/10978904/Social-media-driving-rise-in-complaints-to-GMC-report.html

Oct 26, 2015 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

There are many major developments which have been driven by prizes for achieving certain milestones. Aviation and motor cars come to mind; but Harrison and his chronometer probably the best example of a no risk investment by government and private enterprise solving a major problem at a low cost to the government of the day.

The other driver of innovation is war and the search for better ways to kill people. The final driver for innovation are restrictive regulations and private enterprise working round it. Some motor manufacturers develop more efficient engines others develop clever software both showing ingenuity and innovation without actual taxpayer investment.

On the other hand anything totally controlled by politicians and civil servants invariably ends in tears

Oct 26, 2015 at 8:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

@esmiff Oct 26, 2015 at 11:48 AM

I didn't see it, but I can certainly understand the woman on BBC QT who burst into tears because she was losing a few pounds a week. Hurting people like that is evil, even if you think the idea of tax credits was daft in the first place.

She lied

1. Based on the income figures she provided to the newspapers she will not lose any money from the reforms:

She receives £400 per week from the state - that is £20,800 Tax free = £26,000 Gross pay if working. Plus an undisclosed amount from the children's father(s).

2. Her "nail bar" is a scam to receive more from the state (working tax credits). Her nail bar is the front room of her house - thus, no fixed costs. Yet she claims to make no profit. Conclusion: she has no customers or she charges for materials only and does not sell her labour - not a business with an intention to make a profit. HMRC should now be investigating her.

3. She was probably not a Conservative voter, but a plant - look at the group she was sitting with.

I trust your "understanding" of the woman's crocodile tears has now changed.

Never forget, the left are very good at shouting, manipulating and portraying themselves as victims. Like warmists, the cause is more important than truth.

Oct 26, 2015 at 8:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterPcar

Dung @ 12.17: "The biggest, most powerful movement in the world is the move to decarbonise the planet".
Is it just? Well that project, due for fruition in 85 years may well be moribund before Christmas. Ironically it may indeed come to pass, (what of todays world was or could even have been imagined in 1930?) but it will certainly not from any current "renewable" technology but from nuclear science.
" but who knows where its ultimate top really is? "
You seem to understand that "decarbonisation" is not the objective. It is a deceit and its "power" is therefore illusory.
It is about to be tested by the third worlds desire to industrialise and become rich, or at least, economically secure. Preventing this was always the core objective of the Global Warming Narrative, and has failed. The most powerful movement in the world today is the desire to dig coal.

Oct 26, 2015 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenese2

@M Courtney Oct 26, 2015 at 12:06 PM

Small steps driven by competition is the role of corporations. They are good at that. Regardless of how much better the latest iPhone really is than the last one - it is a little better.

But the big changes come from the actions of the state.
And if a State doesn't take up that responsibility then the State will fall behind (and so will it's corporations).

Government "Big changes" which are invariably wrong

Loss making industries: Network Rail, Leyland, BOAC & BEA, British Rail, GPO pre BT, Steel, Coal - NCB, ......

Pork-belly projects like Brown's RN Carriers being built in Rosyth - required building a new dry-dock and design compromises as no unobstructed exit to sea (Forth Bridges meant islands are height restricted, thus radar range reduced). Large enough dry-docks were present in other yards and those yards also had unobtructed access to sea.

Vanity projects like second Forth Road bridge when a pre-fab tunnel was cheaper and not affected by wind/weather; Edinburgh tram line

White elephants like HS2 and "free" renewable energy.


In general, the more state control there is of countries, the less innovative they are: USSR/Russia, Africa, South America, Asia. In Europe the UK and Holland have historically been the most innovative while Germany, France etc are stifled by their states policies and legal system.

Look at which countries where private sector have innovated/invented most over time: UK and USA


Private "Big changes": Channel Tunnel, North Sea oil, microprocessor, MRI, jet engine, RADAR, aircraft, x-ray, genetics (initially peas), antibiotics, TV/Radio/Telephone/Telegraph, internal combustion engine, shale gas/oil, electricity & gas, oil drilling and refining, std/railway time, London underground, trains & railways, sewage system, industrial revolution, mains potable water, farming revolution - crop rotation, fire brigade, insurance, capital markets, central bank, steel age, iron age, stone age, fire....

Adam Smith correctly identified the problem as the dead hand of the state.

Oct 26, 2015 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterPcar

No, the 'biggest [...] movement' in the world is not to decarbonise the world, only to fool enough gullible people to believe that that is the objective. And while these people have their eyes off the ball it won't be their carbon they lose but their freedoms.

Oct 26, 2015 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

I have only read Ridley's "Origins of Virtue", which I enjoyed, but is Ridley saying anything in this book he hasn't already said? It seems he is on his theme of the wide applicability of evolution/natural selection and, given that this is a largely bottom-up process, it's hardly a surprise that he finds many instances of change trickling up from the bottom.

On the debate over state initiatives (M Courtney strong on one side, several on the other) I think it's more complicated. Who actually implements big government initiatives? Government is individuals all the way down. It's all very well to write a new law, but who decides whether or not it is enforced? And if they enforce it, is it in exactly the way the writer intended? IOW, a top-down initiative necessarily has a bottom up dependency. Bottom-up initiatives are equally subject to top-down constraints. You never get pure top-down or pure bottom-up. I'd also point out that top-down doesn't have to be government-down.

Looking at where an idea originated is looking at the wrong end of the problem. In an evolutionary sense it is to give too much weight to mutation. Selection is vital and it seems to be the weak point. Having an idea is one thing, persisting with it when it has proven to be bad is another.

Oct 26, 2015 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Swan

A Viscount with wealth gathered and concentrated by the penultimate top-down, hierarchically designed (TDHD) British Empire, advertises a TDHD collection of information (book with table of contents) using a TDHD world wide web, via TDHD worldwide financial system, delivered by a worldwide TDHD shipping system, all to say that TDHD arrangement is a lot of rot.

Making grandiose, false and ludicrous claims for evolution, yes. Self-awareness, not so much

Oct 27, 2015 at 1:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterdean_from_ohio

I was born in Glasgow in 1954 but spent the first twelve years of my life in Clackmannanshire. In 1967 we emigrated to Canada.
I've never wanted to go back to the pre-Thatcher land of the esmiff's and the M Courtney's utopian near dystopia.

Been there, done that.

Oct 27, 2015 at 1:45 AM | Unregistered Commenterclipe

dean_from_ohio,

I guess you must have some axe to grind.

To take one of your examples, How is the Web TDHD? Where is its top? Who decides the names of web pages? At a lower level, who decides where packets go?

Your other examples of TDHD are similarly weak. Even the ultimate TDHD, God, has to allow his creation free will.

Oct 27, 2015 at 2:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Swan

clipe

My politics back then was an anti socialist anarchist. Now it is a very firm 'no idea'. My problem with Ridley is that to people likely to be interested in global warming, he is an object of ridicule. That is it. I actually don't care about his ideas because they seem very old fashioned in their idealistic stance.

I hung around with a bunch of guys from Rugby School in Stirling Uni, 1977/78. The group included major Tories like Hamish Grossart (Glasgow Academy) and Robert Kilgour. I was friendly with Peter Gordon. I am not prejudiced. I worked at Sullome Voe then came back to mix with people at literally the opposite end of the social scale in Ferguslie Park, Paisley.

I wouldn't go back to that pre Thatcher era. It was all too grey and self righteous and serious. Even though Paisley today really is a ghost town and part of the Greater Poundland Empire. There is your answer.

Oct 27, 2015 at 2:51 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Most of the Paisley people I know are from Paisley. Motherwell, the place my mother was sent to during the war years, is now a ghost town according to the socialism as usual Glasgow Herald

No mention of the cost of energy.

My problem with Ridley is that to people likely to be interested in global warming, he is an object of ridicule.

So what?

Oct 27, 2015 at 3:37 AM | Unregistered Commenterclipe

Clipe

'So what?' - Guilt by association.

Oct 27, 2015 at 3:48 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

esmiff

You've lost the plot.

Oct 27, 2015 at 4:10 AM | Unregistered Commenterclipe

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