Alas, I have this novel to work on. :p 2,000 words on Dragon Pearl today! (I'm doing revisions, but I had to rip out a few chapters that weren't working and replace them with all-new ones, always thrilling.)
Alas, I have this novel to work on. :p 2,000 words on Dragon Pearl today! (I'm doing revisions, but I had to rip out a few chapters that weren't working and replace them with all-new ones, always thrilling.)
This is an interesting little development, Walmart is using Uber drivers to deliver to customers, thereby exploiting network effects in that battle with Amazon. The point being that Amazon has most definitely spent a great deal of money in creating its own delivery network and to match that Walmart would have to do the same. However, they’ve also already spent a great deal in creating the store network, something akin to Amazon’s distribution centres. So, why not hang on to someone else’s network to cover that last few miles–thus Uber. It’s also great for Uber and its drivers, it increases the utilisation of that network and thus increases its value once again:
A Walmart spokeswoman told TheStreet in an email on Monday that its online grocery service is in six markets. In San Jose, Calif., and Denver, Walmart has its own fleet of drivers to deliver groceries; in Phoenix, Tampa and now Orlando and Dallas, it uses Uber drivers. Walmart, operating 4,100 stores, also gives customers the option of ordering groceries online and picking them up at one of its 900 participating locations.
As with so much of the modern economy this is all about networks. We all use Facebook because everyone uses Facebook. If it had the traffic of Google Hangouts then, well, it would have the traffic of Google Hangouts then.
The big-box retailer, which is the largest grocery seller in the United States, is dropping off groceries via Uber in Orlando and Dallas, starting this week.
“We’re all about finding new ways for you to check ‘grocery shopping’ off your list a little faster – including making home delivery an option,” Mike Turner, Walmart’s vice president of e-commerce operations, wrote in a post on the company’s blog. “Hopefully, this expanded offering, and more like it, will speed up the shopping experience and give you back something just as precious as money – time.”
On the other hand, everyone uses Google’s ad services because everyone else does. That near all advertisers use it at least a bit means that any site will also use it at least just a bit. Therefore any new advertiser will as all sites are there, any new site will as all advertisers are there. That’s not 100% true of course, but close enough as a description of why network effects work.
As you prepare for another chaotic day tomorrow, I hope you’ll feel confident knowing that we’re all about finding new ways for you to check “grocery shopping” off your list a little faster – including making home delivery an option.
Last year, we began testing grocery delivery through crowd-sourced services like Uber. Here’s what we’ve learned: customers like you love the convenience of a delivery option.
That’s Walmart themselves talking about the joy of it all. Here’s another little bit of it:
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounter operates its own grocery delivery system in San Jose, California, and Denver. It also has curbside grocery pick up service for online shoppers at more than 900 of its stores.
And now for the 30,000 feet view. This is indeed all about networks. Amazon has a great delivery network, the network to provide fresh food into that isn’t so great. The Whole Foods takeover is seen as providing that at least in some readings of the situation. Walmart has all those stores out there which provide, pre-that Whole Foods thing, what Amazon doesn’t have. But Walmart doesn’t have that delivery network to cover those last few miles.
We can see each of these companies, at that 30,000 ft view, trying to complete their networks. And that thing about networks is that they are subject to network effects. One of which is that the faster you build it the more valuable each part of it becomes more quickly. As we can see Walmart is trying to build that delivery network in one market. But, you’ve got to find the drivers, they’ve got to have the right sort of vehicle, it all takes time.
At which point we’ve that other network out there, Uber, which has already done pretty much all that work. They have all of the cars and drivers and they’d love to have something more to push through that network. At which point we can see the obvious deal. Combine the two networks so that in one leap the system is complete and more valuable on both sides. Uber can now attract more drivers as there’s more work on offer. Walmart can deliver from their stores without having to build their own network.
Sure, we’re going to have to see how this works out but network economics do say that faster one is built the more valuable it is. So, why shouldn’t Walmart use that Uber network already extant?
As with every time something happens that might lead to American workers lifting their noses from the grindstone we have an estimate of what the productivity loss is going to be. Recode are the people who have this at least partially correct here, it’s just a–very decent–piece of PR for the firm which released the estimate. The actual economic effect of this is going to be something, surely, but it won’t be $700 million, nor even the more precisely estimated $694 million. Quite apart from anything else they’re using the wrong number to estimate productivity.
My colleague Stacey Leasca has the calculation method here:
To come to its economic conclusion, the Chicago-based firm found the most recent American Time Use Survey, which stated that 82.8% of employed people worked on an average weekday.
Then, the firm found that 14.8% of the employed workers work a shift other than a day shift, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Finally, it used the average hourly wage data for the number of full-time employed workers aged 16 and over, which is $23.86, to calculate total loss.
This is what leads to this estimate:
Eclipse fever could cost employers $694 million nationwide, and $28 million in Chicago, from lost productivity, according to a Challenger calculation. That estimate assumes everyone working during the eclipse takes 20 minutes off to watch, and doesn’t account for the time spent debriefing with colleagues after.
Recode gets much of this correct:
Equally important: As Jack Shafer wrote for Slate, all the way back in 2006 (Challenger Gray has been at this for a long time!), Challenger Gray’s methodology assumes that workers are working every minute that they’re at work. And that diversions like March Madness and eclipses are the only time they lift their gaze from their workstations.
Much more likely: Time Americans spend watching buzzer beaters and eclipses is time they would have spent screwing around on Facebook, or whatever.
As anyone who has ever spent any time at all on this side of the newspaper/reader pixel divide will tell you traffic is hugely higher during working hours than any other time of the day or night. People just aren’t working flat out while at their desks. But rather more importantly for us economic pedants what is being measured there isn’t productivity at all.
Productivity is a measure of how much output for how much input. We can, and occasionally do, measure the productivity of anything but our more normal usage is the productivity of labour. That’s how many hours of labour in versus how much value of output out. What’s being measured here is the value of the labour not being put in, which simply isn’t productivity at all.
Hmm, actually, that is how we measure the productivity of government bureaucrats in fact. We have no way of measuring the value of the output of bureaucrats so we don’t even try. We just say that the value of the output is whatever the cost of having it is. This does lead to some confusions, as if we raise bureaucrats’ hourly pay that states that productivity has risen. Same hours going in, but the output is valued more highly–obviously an absurd conclusion but there it is, that is what we do.
Challenger is doing something similar here, they’re claiming that the value of the output lost is going to be equal to the wages being paid as an input. That’s just not what–bureaucrats aside–productivity is. Whatever the losses from people watching the eclipse are going to be they’re going to be losses of output and that’s clearly much, much, harder to measure.
We could of course do this another way. US GDP (which is either all incomes, or all production, or all consumption, any of the three) is some $18 trillion a year at present. There are about 250 working days in a year, just to be consistent with the sorta estimations Challenger is using of working days and so on. So, that’s $72 billion a day. The estimate is of $700 million in losses, or some 1% of one day’s output. Or, to a reasonable level of rounding, nothing.
Or we can even do our estimation the correct way. The aim and purpose of having an economy at all is so that the population can maximise their utility. Such maximisation is always individual, it is what said individual belives is personally maximising that matters, nothing else. GDP, any other calculation method of output or productivity, is only a proxy for this. If people watch the eclipse rather than their computer screen this is thus an increase in their perceived utility–it must be, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it. Such an increase in utility increases their wealth in the only manner that matters.
So, sure, maybe there will be some infinitesimal hit to the economy from the eclipse. But that’s a fault of our measurement of the economy, for GDP and all the rest is only a proxy for utility maximisation–that utility people are maximising by watching it.
It went well! We had intermittent clouds in the run-up, but for the first half (closing up to the maximum) we had very good views much of the time, and the clouds weren’t so heavy we couldn’t see. I made a box, but then Krissy’s work handed out eclipse glasses, so we used those instead, and I also used a makeshift filter on my camera to get some pretty good shots. This particular shot came just after maximum, when all of a sudden a lot of clouds rolled in and I could snap a naked shot of the sun without frying my camera. We got 88% of coverage, which is enough for a show. In all, a very fine eclipse, from the deck of my house.
The next eclipse for North America is in 2024, and as it happens, that one will have totality directly over my house. Which is convenient! And before you ask, we’re already booked up. Sorry.
Updated to add: Also, I think I may never get a better eclipse shot than this one. Thank you and good night.
All sorts of mental images came to mind when I first saw a reference to the “JFK Rice Moon speech”. Rather prosaically, however, the “Rice” is a reference to Rice University and the speech itself is anything but prosaic. It’s the speech in which President Kennedy set out the US ambition to put a man on the moon within a decade.
Although the speech is often referenced and a very small extract regularly quoted, the words in the rest of the speech rarely get much attention. Yet it has a very skilfully combined double argument – the visionary and the practical reasons to go to the Moon.
Hence we have both:
Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.”
Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school…
This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year – a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year.
The mixing of the visionary and the pragmatic to such great effect makes the speech one that shows the way for orators of much lesser ability, who may not have the words or style to match JFK but who do face similar challenges with the arguments they wish to present.
As a result, even today it’s still well worth watching the speech in full (it’s less than 20 minutes, and the full text is below):
Here is the full text (courtesy of NASA):
President Pitzer, Mr. Vice President, Governor, Congressman Thomas, Senator Wiley, and Congressman Miller, Mr. Webb, Mr. Bell, scientists, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:
I appreciate your president having made me an honorary visiting professor, and I will assure you that my first lecture will be very brief.
I am delighted to be here, and I’m particularly delighted to be here on this occasion.
We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.
Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite the fact that this Nation¹s own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.
No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man¹s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.
Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.
This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.
So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward–and so will space.
William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.
If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.
Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation.
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.
In the last 24 hours we have seen facilities now being created for the greatest and most complex exploration in man’s history. We have felt the ground shake and the air shattered by the testing of a Saturn C-1 booster rocket, many times as powerful as the Atlas which launched John Glenn, generating power equivalent to 10,000 automobiles with their accelerators on the floor. We have seen the site where the F-1 rocket engines, each one as powerful as all eight engines of the Saturn combined, will be clustered together to make the advanced Saturn missile, assembled in a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral as tall as a 48 story structure, as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of this field.
Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the earth. Some 40 of them were “made in the United States of America” and they were far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.
The Mariner spacecraft now on its way to Venus is the most intricate instrument in the history of space science. The accuracy of that shot is comparable to firing a missile from Cape Canaveral and dropping it in this stadium between the the 40-yard lines.
Transit satellites are helping our ships at sea to steer a safer course. Tiros satellites have given us unprecedented warnings of hurricanes and storms, and will do the same for forest fires and icebergs.
We have had our failures, but so have others, even if they do not admit them. And they may be less public.
To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.
The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school. Technical institutions, such as Rice, will reap the harvest of these gains.
And finally, the space effort itself, while still in its infancy, has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating new demands in investment and skilled personnel, and this city and this State, and this region, will share greatly in this growth. What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space. Houston, your City of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community. During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area, to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.
To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year¹s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year–a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United Stated, for we have given this program a high national priority–even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.
But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.
I’m the one who is doing all the work, so we just want you to stay cool for a minute. [Laughter.]
However, I think we’re going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid. I don’t think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job. And this will be done in the decade of the sixties. It may be done while some of you are still here at school at this college and university. It will be done during the term of office of some of the people who sit here on this platform. But it will be done. And it will be done before the end of this decade.
I am delighted that this university is playing a part in putting a man on the moon as part of a great national effort of the United States of America.
Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.”
Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
This is all spoilers. Like, so much spoilers. Please don’t read on unless you’ve seen Season 7, Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall” of Game of Thrones. If you haven’t seen it then, firstly, what the hell are you doing here? And secondly, go watch it immediately (and read our recap and review while you’re at it here).
Ready? OK. So, what does the Night King want, and what’s he been up to all this time?
Our theory is that everything we saw in Beyond the Wall, and in fact everything that we’ve seen since Hardhome in series 5 and then The Door in series 6, all points towards a unified masterplan from the Night King which he pulled off (almost) flawlessly. The plan being: to steal Dany’s dragons.
Hear us out.
We know that the Night King and Bran have some kind of Voldemort-Harry Potter bond going on (we’ll go into the “Bran is the Night King” theory some other time) and we know that the Night King knows that too as he’s branded Bran (lol) and managed to raid the Three-Eyed Raven’s treehouse in The Door (RIP Hodor… still too soon).
Next: Jon and his Dream Team’s plot to venture beyond the wall happened exclusively because of Bran’s vision in the previous episode and the Night King knew that Bran saw them. In fact, he made a point of making sure Bran knew he saw him. Which relates to questions that fans, us included, have ridiculed the show about all season: why didn’t the Night King chase down Bran and Meera after The Door? Why did he make his army of the dead, which is perfectly capably of sprinting (presumably unendingly as they aren’t exactly going to get tired, are they?), very slowly march nowhere in particular? Baring in mind that, since The Door, Bran has managed to travel to Winterfell in a wheelbarrow and Dany has sailed across the actual entire known world, while the Army of the Dead have gone, err, left a little bit. It was all to build up to this, to lure the heroes, and more specifically, the dragons, north.
Notice that the Night King just stood on the hill and watched the Dream Team while they were stranded on the island? He didn’t attack – say, with throwing spears and deadly accuracy – or refreeze the water to help his army across as we know he can do (though the weather sorted that one out). He was waiting for the dragons to turn up! You’d think, as devils made of ice, the White Walkers would be scared shitless of flying dinosaurs literally made of fire but they just stand and wait armed with spears specifically designed to take dragons down. 3 spears in fact! One for each dragon. Notice he didn’t go for Drogon first, the closer, prone target, but instead took a shot at Viserion while the dragon was flying in approach and therefore easier to hit; Drogon was a foregone conclusion for the Night King and his godlike throwing arm so we went for the tougher shot first (though he didn’t account for Dany’s skills as a dragon pilot which is the only way this went badly for him).
We know, or at least very strongly suspect, that the Night King’s goal is to cross the wall and bring the Long Night upon humankind once more, possibly as a continuation of his original purpose (we saw him being “created” by the Children of the Forest last season, presumably as a weapon against the First Men who the children were warring against). The main problem there: crossing the Wall infused with magic designed to keep him out. A lot of people, us included, thought that Bran crossing the Wall with the Night King’s brand would be enough to let them through. But it’s not that straightforward (remember, Benjen said that he couldn’t cross the wall last season and he was WITH Bran, so Bran himself isn’t the game here).
What the brand did gift is some form of psychic bond with Bran, the extent of which we haven’t yet seen. And what does Bran know? Well… pretty much everything thanks to the tree internet! Including the fact that dragons have been reborn in the world. Furthermore, upon returning to Winterfell, Bran discovers that Jon is now with Dany and her dragons which, following this theory, means that the Night King can know too. Now the Night King knows Jon pretty well and has already baited him into a suicide mission to save people before at Hardhome. So what does he do? The exact same thing!
He threatens Eastwatch, slowly, makes sure Bran finds out and relays the message, and then waits for Jon. Anybody else wondering why a splinter force of one White Walker and a few wights were separated? And when Jon killed the White Walker only one wight was very conveniently left standing? I.e. the one piece of gold Jon needed and couldn’t leave behind, the one thing that slowed him down and forced him into a partial retreat requiring aerial support from Dany? Because the Night King planned it that way, all so he could get a hand on Dany’s dragons. Also notice that i) this isn’t the entirety of the Night King’s army (we know from the premiere that he has zombie giants in his employ which aren’t present) and ii) he has preemptively brought the chains he needs with him if any of the felled dragons had sunk into the lake.
None of what happened was an accident: the Night King sent one of his Walkers and group of wights into a gully to draw the Dream Team out; he left one wight alive to weigh them down so they wouldn’t all flee and yet let Gendry out without pursuing him to summon the dragons; a splinter force of his army was then positioned to push the dream-team across the lake and onto the island where they would be stranded and surrounded; then they could wait for the dragons to arrive.
Which brings us back to our earlier point: the Night King needs to cross the Wall but can’t because of the magic. So what can he do instead? Destroy it, bring that thing crashing down! And how’s he going to do that? Well, fire-breathing dragons might do the trick! As we explained in our recap and review for Beyond the Wall, we don’t believe that Viserion has been brought back as a standard wight (as in when the Night King raises the dead in Hardhome). Instead, the Night King re-raised the dragon in the same way he converted Craster’s son in Oathkeeper (series 4, episode 4) with a touch to the head. Viserion is therefore arguably more of a White Walker (White Dragon?) than a standard wight zombie, so we believe that his firebreathing talents will be very much operational.
Ultimately, the only thing that went wrong for the Night King in all of this is that he only got his hands on one of the dragons. For now at least. But regardless, one is all he’ll need to breach the wall – either by flying over it or elsewise destroying a section to let his army through.
One things for sure: it’s going to be dragon versus dragon in series 8. And we don’t think our hearts can handle it.
Read our recap and review for Series 7 , Episode 6 here.
The post Game of Thrones theory: what does the Night King really want? appeared first on Gadgette.
Well damn… where do we even start with this one? The heartbreak is just too real, you guys. As Jorah tells himself at the beginning of yet another loveless day: it’s going to be a rough ride…
We open with a tracking shot of Dany’s tablemap of Westeros with a blazing furnace framed at the top beyond the Wall… reassuring.
Later, she has a cosy fireside chat with Tyrion about how stupid men can be (preach, sister) with Jon and his dream-team off ranging beyond the wall before Tyrion makes everything mega-awkward by quizzing her about succession. She reminds us that she can’t have children (with babies being a recurring theme in this episode) and again questions Tyrion’s loyalties and intentions. She makes a fair point – that she needs to win the throne before worrying about keeping it – though “what comes next?” is an interesting new dimension to be added to the game. It’s a great scene from a character perspective and Emilia Clarke (who’s generally on top form right throughout this episode, praise be) nails Dany’s burgeoning sense of frustration.
Beyond the Wall I
Jon marches on beyond the wall with his merry band of assorted misfits: Beric Dondarrion, a guy who’s died 6 times already; Thoros of Myr, a drunken, dissociated, life-giving priest; Gendry, a royal bastard and gold medal winning rower; Tormund Giantsbane, a barbarian mad-man; Jorah Mormont, an exiled former lord and the officially ordained karmic whipping boy of the entire universe; and Sandor “the Hound” Clegane, a guy who ran out of fucks to give centuries ago.
This is the meat of the matter in this episode and it is excellently well-played. It’s a steady build-up, slow and methodical, with a mounting sense of dread as the troupe of hapless heroes traipse ever further into the bleak, unforgiving icy wilderness. Benioff and Wise are at the peak of their writing game here, chopping the group up into twos and threes for enjoyable bouts of banter and lightning-quick exposition, the highlight of which being the Hound and Tormund’s particularly magical discussion about Brienne. Most significantly however is Jorah and Jon’s discussion about Longclaw – Jorah refuses to take it back, saying it belongs to Jon now and then his children after him. So there’s that baby klaxon again!
With all of this chatting we’re reminded why we like each and every one of these characters so when the cold winds start to rise, and the snow starts to fall, and they see a shadowy figure in the distance, we really feel that sick sense of fear and rising dread. We know that something bad is coming, but nobody ever expects – A MOTHERFUCKING ZOMBEAR.
This thing is terrifying as it tears through a couple of the wildling redshirts and lays siege to the Dream-team, eventually getting its teeth into Thoros after he saves the Hound and ragdolling him all over the damn place. Beric sets the thing on fire with his firesword (oh yeah, they have fireswords now) but Zombear don’t care, Zombear don’t give a fuck, and the tension is sickening as the Hound has a Theon/Reek moment, frozen in fear facing the flaming eldritchian horror, before Jorah finally kills it with a dragonglass dagger to the skull. You assume that’s the end of Thoros but he goes full Revenant and Leo DiCaprios that shit before staggering on with the rest of the survivors. Champion effort.
A little further on and they finally encounter what appears to be a splinter force of the undead army led by a White Walker. The Dream Team go for the surprise attack and Jon comfortably dispatches the White Walker with Longclaw. All of the other wights but one spontaneously die along with it (suspicious… read our theory here) and they capture it – hooray, mission complete! It looks like everything’s going smoothly enough…all the while the episode laughs malevolently in the corner, smiling its Littlefingerest smile.
Suddenly there’s rumbling, then undead screeching, and in the blink of an eye the real army of the dead is upon them. Jon commands Gendry to run back to Eastwatch and get a raven to Dany for support while the rest retreat and find themselves stranded on an island in the middle of a frozen lake, the zombie hoard surrounding them on all sides while the Night King and his beardy bitches watch on.
Gendry sprints the entire way back by nightfall (endlessly rowing for four series gives you killer stamina clearly) before he collapses dramatically at the gate and asks Davos to send the raven.
Arya and Sansa have an awkward chat overlooking the courtyard – Arya tells her sister about how she trained with a bow as a child and their father watched her before confronting Sansa about the letter she found in the last episode. Sansa argues that she was forced to write it but Arya isn’t having any of it, confident in her belief that Sansa has always put herself before her family. Sansa points out she’s pretty much responsible for winning the Battle of the Bastards while Arya was off gallivanting around the world and it becomes painfully clear that, with everything they’ve experienced, there’s now an ocean of difference between the sisters. It’s a strangely stilted and sterile confrontation, particularly from Maisie Williams who’s ordinarily a terrific actress, and if anything it just breaks the pace of the action kicking off elsewhere.
There’s no Bran in this episode because he’s too busy getting jiggy in his tree fort, so we’re next given a scene between Sansa and Littlefinger who keeps stirring the pot with Arya. He seems to suggest that Sansa could use Brienne to rid herself of her Arya problem…but Sansa goes in a different direction in a later scene when she sends Brienne south to King’s Landing (honestly, how many air-miles has she racked up now?) following a summons from Cersei. Quite why Sansa feels the need to listen to Cersei at all is perplexing but at least the show has set up a(nother) reunion for Brienne and Jaime. Furthemore, it’s clear that Cersei isn’t just sitting around waiting for Dany to turn up with her deado and has been busy plotting – will this relate back to the Dragonpit (basically an out-building for dragons that the Targaryens built way back when) that’s been referenced a few times this season?
We’ll find out in the finale, but let’s not forget that the last time Cersei was responsible for multiple characters in one place everything got a little explodey…
The final Winterfell scene is another sibling argument after Arya catches Sansa snooping around her room. She finds Arya’s bag of Scooby-Doo masks – sorry, faces – under her bed (well, where would you keep your bag of faces?) and justifiably asks “what the actual fuck is this??” But Arya’s in full creeper mode as she threatens to take Sansa’s face too. Dude… The scene ends with Arya giving Sansa the catspaw’s dagger (which Littlefinger gave to Bran who gave it to Arya, keep up now).
For every way in which the action beyond the wall is fantastic in this episode, the Winterfell scenes are a big hot mess. We’ve joked before how Game of Thrones is often more than a little soap opera with its character melodrama but these scenes are Hollyoaks level poor. When you have sisters bickering over LITERALLY NOTHING intercut with game-changing narrative beats it seems majestically petty and exceptionally strange from a narrative and pacing perspective. This has to be part of a bigger ploy by Arya to bring down Littlefinger otherwise it just doesn’t make sense. I.e. she threatens Sansa, plays perfectly into Littlefinger’s trap, gives him the show he needs to convince him he’s winning, and then gifts Sansa a weapon – it’s a message: “use this on the real enemy.” We hope anyway, otherwise… ugh.
Dany has received the call for help and mobilises her scaly children, dressed in one of the most impressive costumes the show has ever put together, a thick, fur-lined white winter dress with a strong dragon motif. Costume designer Michelle Clapton has really outdone herself with this and deserves all of the plaudits and rewards she’ll inevitably receive.
Tyrion begs her not to go, saying she’s too important, but she refuses to listen and takes off on Drogon’s back, with Viserion and Rhaegal following close behind.
Beyond the Wall II
The Dream Team have survived the night stuck on their island, though Thoros has passed away from his wounds. He died as he lived – drunk and on fire, surrounded by friends. So far as Game of Thrones deaths go it’s practically a party… ignoring the fact that they’re stranded on Death Island in the middle of Death Lake surrounded on all sides by literal death.
Thoros as the sole (named) Dream Team casualty in the episode seems a tad strange in its singledom. This is Game of Thrones and we were all expecting three of four to snuff it (redshirts notwithstanding) but it does have symbolic depth: there are no do-overs anymore. Thoros was the reset button with his Lord of Light wizardry and his death is a starting bell for the endgame; from here on out if you’re dead, you’re dead (or brought back as an ice zombie). A quick thing to note here that we enjoyed is that Thoros is kind of responsible for everyone else surviving the fight: he saved the Hound from the zombear, meaning the Hound was around to save Tormund from being dragged under the ice, which in turn meant Tormund could save Jorah when he fell off Drogon. In other words, the three guys who haven’t died and been resurrected (like Beric and Jon) are each saved from certain death to live again thanks to Thoros. It’s a subtle narrative touch and gives Thoros’s death a sense of poignancy it might otherwise have lacked.
The Hound, being the Hound, decides to taunt the undead hoard by throwing rocks at them – but one misses and skids across the now very much re-frozen lake. Well… shit. Now it’s a party and the wights waste no time by sprinting forwards and swarming the island. We aren’t ones to mince words here: this battle is fucking terrifying. There are zombies flying everywhere, it looks like anybody could die at any second, and is there any sequence in GoT history as harrowing as Tormund being swarmed and dragged to his icy doom? (Well yes actually, it came about 10 minutes later…). The Hound saves him, thankfully, and they regroup. Jon has one of his “slo-mo-dramatic-realisation” sequences as the undead close in and then STOP – it’s dragon time.
Dany swoops in and eradicates the wights like so many ants under a magnifying glass. But this isn’t the sort of triumphant dragon raid like we’ve seen in Spoils of War and The Battle of the Bastards – it’s dark, foreboding, melancholic, despairing, hopeless; they’re losing this battle and scrambling to survive and composer Ramin Djawadi shows off how much of a master of the craft he is with his epic score.
Jon being the hopeless martyrphiliac he is goes chopping away to buy the others enough time to climb up on Drogon’s back (and secure their captive wight) but then it’s time for the real heartbreak. With the sort of emotionless calm and poise that Robert Patrick would applaud, the Night King retrieves a vicious looking ice-spear, takes aim, and launches it a good 500 metres at Viserion (don’t fuck with the guy who’s had 8000+ years to practice his throwing arm). His aim is true. And brutal. Practically tearing Viserion apart mid-air. Dragons are fire-made-flesh we’re told, but that doesn’t stop torrents of blood dousing the battlefield below as Viserion crashes into the lake. He sinks to the bottom as Dany watches on, utterly devastated, Drogon and Rhaegal crying for their fallen brother. But there’s no time to mourn. The Night King grabs a second spear and takes aim. Jon tells Dany to get the fuck out of dodge as he’s dragged under the ice. And she takes off, narrowly dodging the Night King’s attack, as Tormund saves Jorah from falling off the dragon (goddamit Jorah, can you stop being so tragic?)
It’s not over yet as we watch with bated breath to see if Jon reemerges from the lake. He does! And then – HOLY SHIT WHAT WAS THAT! Did…did the wolf-head pommel on Longclaw just open its eyes?? It’s most likely a trick of the lighting or from the splash Jon makes pulling himself up – but that’s less fun than madly theorising! It could be that Bran, or at least something, was watching out for Jon (the pommel is made of weirwood after all) which culminates with – Deus Ex Uncle! Just as it looks like Jon is actually doomed this time, good old Uncle Benjen comes racing to the rescue with his flaming chainball flail thing. He gives Jon his horse and sacrifices himself to make sure Jon gets away safely; Jon’s plot armour is a chunky old thing at the moment.
And breathe. Goddamit Game of Thrones. You’ve officially broken us this time.
Everything about this sequence was outstanding – the pacing, the narrative (shut up inner pedant, it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t really make any sense and it’s totally unrealistic that Dany got there so quickly), the CGI, the stunts and the action, the performances, particularly Emilia Clarke when Viserion is downed. Just, bravo, bravo to everyone. We hope you all enjoy your Emmys.
Everyone is pretty fucking miserable – especially Dany as she watches from atop the Wall as Jon returns. Davos gets him out of his frozen clothes and into furs to warm him up, but not before Dany sees the brutal scars Jon earned “For the watch.”
Down on the beach, or “blistering frosty sealine,” the Hound and Tormund acknowledge each other as equals as the Hound packs the wight into a rowboat to bring back to King’s Landing (we’re assuming he isn’t rowing the entire way in his little boat, but by the way the show is going he could make the journey by lunchtime). More significantly however, if the Hound is returning to King’s Landing then CLEGANEBOWL IS ON Y’ALL! Get hyped!
On the boat back to Dragonstone, Jon and Dany have a strong (slightly incestuous) bonding moment. Dany is ravaged by the loss of her child and Jon apologises sincerely. She rebuffs it – now she’s seen the real danger, now she knows the real fight, and she’s willing to join him in it. Jon repays her by saying he’ll bend the knee. This is a powerful moment, excellently portrayed by Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington, and for the first time their blossoming relationship feels less like teenage fan-fiction and more like a narratively and emotionally significant development.
We’re also brought back to the issue of babies and succession as Dany mourns Viserion. We assume Dany can’t have any children because that’s what we’ve been told, but pulling us allll the way back to series 1 when Dany was pregnant with Drogo’s child but inadvertently sacrifices him to save Drogo and becomes barren in the process, the actual words from Mirri Maz Duur are “only death can pay for life.” Well she’s had a death: one of her dragon children is dead, so has she “paid” for a new child?
Beyond the Wall III
Bah, did you think we were going to end on that semi-cheerful note? WHERE HAVE YOU EVEN BEEN?
The Night King has equipped his wights with chains and, slowly but surely, they drag Viserion’s corpse out of the lake where the Night King confirms our worst fears and brings the dragon back as a blue-eyed demon. It’s been hinted at before and it’s made eerily clear here – the wights are no run-of-the-mill Walking Dead zombies. They’re SLAVES. Their ability to sprint when needed, to stand to attention at the lake edge, to overwhelm and swarm, and even form a functioning labour force using the chains, has to be some form of mind control from the Night King. Which makes the White Walkers, and the Night King in particular, a whole new level of malevolent evil.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Night King re-raised Viserion as a White Walker (White Dragon? Someone get Yu-Gi-Oh over here!) with a touch to the face as we saw him doing to Craster’s baby in Oathkeeper in season four, not as a wight as we saw him doing in Hardome with his “Come at me bro” stance. White Walkers are far more resilient to fire than their shambling henchmen, so for those of you who think that Zombie Viserion will either kill itself with it’s own firebreath or alternatively have icebreath, think again.
Significantly, Viserion is now destined to follow the path of his namesake, Dany’s brother Viserys; where he was once Dany’s protector, he’s now her greatest threat. We’d applaud the poetic storytelling of it all if we weren’t still curled up on the floor recovering from emotional annihilation. Finally, while the “three heads has the dragon” theory has gone out of the window somewhat, things are set up nicely now for Jon Targaryen to ride upon the back of Rhaegal, his father Rhaegar’s namesake.
Well, if you managed to read through all of that then power to you, it was a bit a marathon. We’re desperate to hear your thoughts on this and we can’t wait/live in all-encompassing fear of next week’s series finale.
If you fancy a bit more reading material, check out our theory on how everything leading up to and including this episode was all part of the Night King’s evil master plan…
The post Game of Thrones Recap & Review Season 7, Episode 6 – “Beyond the Wall” appeared first on Gadgette.
Paul Krugman doesn’t quite get the connection between tax changes and inequality right I’m afraid. He is correct in that the amount of tax being paid by the rich is about the same, those Federal tax rates on them did dip and then climb again, meaning there’s not been a great deal of difference over the decades. However, the bit he’s missing is that the Reagan tax changes were deliberately engineered in order to increase income inequality. No, really, I’ve been told this directly by Jamie Galbraith, the person who was working on that 1986 change.
The little trick here being that the changes weren’t in fact to change inequality, rather to change inequality as it happens that we measure it.
Yet that’s not something that jumps out from the numbers. Think about taxes on the top 1%. Yes, Reagan and GW Bush cut them; but both Clinton and Obama raised them. The CBO estimates have some funny fluctuations, driven I think by capital gains: big capital gains raise tax receipts without a corresponding rise in measured income, as I understand it. Still, the overall picture is that at the end of the Obama years taxation of the rich was pretty much back where it was pre-Reagan.
And yes, in the sense that Krugman is meaning it, that’s about right. However, in a deeper sense it’s absolutely not like that at all. For the truth is pre-the 80s tax changes a great deal of what a CEO, even other senior executive, received in the benefits from doing the job wasn’t taxable. Wasn’t even recorded as being part of their income. Post those changes pretty much everything a CEO receives as part of doing the job is both recorded as being their income and is also taxed. And this was, as Galbraith has said, one of the major aims of those tax reforms. Drive everything someone receives from their position into both recorded income and the tax net. As such, it’s arguable whether CEO incomes have risen at all. It could be just that they’ve moved from untaxed and non-recorded income into taxed and recorded.
OK, no, I’m not going to make that claim seriously. But I am absolutely going to insist that that is part of it. As I explained earlier:
So, let us think about CEO pay for a bit. Sure, the dollar numbers today are high, but are they higher in real terms than they were a generation or two ago? In terms of what turns up in the wage packet sure they are. But in terms of what a CEO gets as a result of being a CEO perhaps not. My example here is anecdotal, or at least is used to be, drawn from the book Barbarians at the Gate. We hear about the CEO who has the company provide him with a small fleet of aircraft, the company buys him 16 (? I think?) country club memberships around the nation. The bills for those flights to those clubs being picked up by the shareholders.
Today exactly the same things would be counted as taxable income to that CEO: this was not true up until the mid-1980s. And now that such things are taxable income those CEOs are electing to take those perks and privileges as actual cash instead of spending upon their lifestyles. You might think that I’m making a little too much of this but James Galbraith (fils) was in contact a few weeks back making exactly this point. In fact, his work leading up to the 1986 changes in tax law were based on forcing exactly this change. To make those perks that senior executives were getting become part of adjusted gross income and thus taxable. To the point that there’s a jump in those AGIs of executives in the couple of years following that act. This is not regarded as a failure – this was the point and purpose of the legislative change. Instead of their getting the lifestyle one way, as a result of untaxed corporate spending upon them, insist that all such perks are taxable. And their electing to take the same lifestyle as pay, rather than perks, is proof that it actually worked.
Which brings us to the basic story about rising inequality in the US over these decades. There’s been very little movement in inequality among the 99% of us. The upper middle class is about as far away from Joe Sixpack as it’s always been. It’s the 1% that have moved ahead – and within the 1% it’s the 0.1 and even more the 0.001% that have soared. And yes, absolutely, a goodly portion of that has come from the manner in which we have forced CEO and other executive compensation to become transparent. Instead of their getting flights and chauffeured cars they now get cash, which is taxed, with which they can buy their own flights and chauffeured cars. Inequality hasn’t increased from this, it has just become more obvious.
This is not the entire and whole story but it is a goodly part of it. And that part of rising inequality is something which we actually planned to happen, something we changed the rules to bring about.
Again, note, I do not claim that this is all of it. But I will insist that it’s some to a goodly part of the inequality rise, most especially in relation to CEO pay. We deliberately engineered matters so that recorded inequality rose. We did so in order to be able to get those CEO pay packages into the tax net.
Since the stone-axe fell into disuse at the close of the neolithic age, two other arguments of universal application have been added to the rhetorical armoury by the ingenuity of mankind. They are closely akin; and, like the stone-axe, they are addressed to the Political Motive. They are called the Wedge and the Dangerous Precedent. Though they are very familiar, the principles, or rules of inaction, involved in them are seldom stated in full. They are as follows.
The Principle of the Wedge is that you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in the future – expectations which you are afraid you will not have the courage to satisfy. A little reflection will make it evident that the Wedge argument implies the admission that the persons who use it cannot prove that the action is not just. If they could, that would be the sole and sufficient reason for not doing it, and this argument would be superfluous.
The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one …
It will be seen that both the Political Arguments are addressed to the Bugbear of Giving yourself away …
No post election poll has matched the CON election share which itself was seen as a disappointment
It was noticing the photograph above of the Conservative battle bus at the general election that reminded me what a huge gamble the blue team made at the last election by putting everything on Theresa May.
Notice that on the bus the words Conservative or Tory don’t appear. The election was going to be all about Theresa but as it turned out by polling day this was no longer a positive but a significant negative.
This was brought home to me by a recent conversation with a regular non-posting PBer PB and Lib Dem canvasser who was working hard throughout April May and early June for his party. He noted that in April and early May often when they knocked on a Conservative supporter’s door they were likely to get the response that people will be voting for Theresa. It was she that was being named and not her party.
By the end of the campaign the tone was completely different. When voters specifically mentioned the PM the term they used was “her” who they were defiantly not voting for.
Since June 8th the Tories have yet to poll above 42% which is 1.5% below what they achieved at GE17 and markedly below what most final polls were saying.
Given the way the polls were in early May backed up by superb Conservative local election results you can understand why the “Brand Theresa” strategy was evolved. Unfortunately as people got to know her better her personal rating declined and now they are in deep negative territory.
Can she pull it round? That’s hard to say but it doesn’t look good and the widespread assumption is that GE2017 was her first and last as leader.
Just about 70 million light years away — a stone’s throw, in a cosmic sense — lies the galaxy NGC 2442. It’s a lovely example of a spiral galaxy, with two wide flung arms and lots of stars merrily being born in them.
But it’s also weird. I’ll get to that, because it’s not readily apparent in the first image I want to show you, but it will be as you read on.
The image below was created by astrophotographers Robert Gendler and Robert Colombari. They merged images taken by the space-based Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s ground-based MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla, Chile. What they made is magnificent:
Oh, wow. Look at the detail! You can see the myriad reddish gas clouds forming stars strewn along the length of that one arm, and dark dust lanes obscuring the stars behind them. That bright blue patch is also a site of star birth; the massive, luminous stars born there are blue, and completely outshine the lower mass redder stars, giving that region its hue.
The central region of the galaxy is interesting. It’s not quite spherical, but neither is it elongated into a true bar, a rectangular-shaped volume of stars seen in many galaxies (including our own). I looked it up and, sure enough, NGC 2442 is classified as an SAB galaxy: a spiral that is intermediate between having a bar and not having one.
One thing that is hard to tell from this shot is why NGC 2442 was given its nickname: the Meathook Galaxy. Perhaps this wider-angle view will make that clear:
Aha! That one spiral arm is oddly shaped, curved wickedly. This image doesn’t have the resolution of the Hubble one, so you can’t see the details as well, but that actually helps a bit in seeing large-scale features, like the reddish-pink gas clouds all along that long arm.
Why are they shaped this way? Most likely, NGC 2442 suffered a collision with another galaxy in the past —perhaps 200 million or so years ago — and the gravitational interaction between them drew out the arms like taffy. This is very common in galactic collisions, actually.
Interestingly, you can usually see the culprit intruder galaxy somewhere nearby, and that might be the case here. The fuzzy galaxy to the lower right is called AM 0738-692. Spectra taken of both galaxies show they lie at about the same distance from us, making it very likely the smoking gun. Not only that, but AM 0738 is also distorted-looking, with arms that look very much as if they’ve been pulled out by a recent encounter. Studies of both galaxies indicate that they may fall back together and merge in the next three billion years or so. Mark your calendars.
It’s funny. In galactic collisions, huge gas clouds will slam into each other, collapse, and form stars (that is likely why NGC 2442 has such fecundity, in fact). But stars are very small compared to the distances between them, so the odds of a stellar head-on train wreck are actually pretty small.
That’s a weird thought, but take another look at that Hubble image of NGC 2442. Just below and to the left of the nucleus is another galaxy, a nearly edge-on reddish spiral. You might think that galaxy lies in the foreground, or else we wouldn’t see it. But that’s not the case: It’s clearly in the background, behind NGC 2442, probably much farther away! The big clue is that dark streak going across it to the lower right. You can see that this is a dust streamer in NGC 2442, itself, because it continues on well past the smaller galaxy’s edges. Also, the small galaxy may look red, because we’re seeing it through the dust of NGC 2442; these small grains of metals, carbon, and rocky material tend to scatter away blue light, making objects behind them appear red. It’s similar to why hazy sunsets look red.
But that tells you just how ethereal galaxies are! As mighty — and as solid — as they appear, they are actually mostly empty space, and even close to their cores, they’re translucent. It’s quite common to see background galaxies right through closer ones. That’s also consistent with the stars being so far apart inside them.
I love seeing images of galaxies like this. There’s so much to see! Even an initial inspection can reveal so much, but then when you dig deeper, you find out that there’s a lot more going on than you might initially think. It’s one of the reasons this sort of science is fun.0
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Two articles in Murdoch papers over the last couple of days would have amused me if they weren’t enough to simultaneously reveal the stupidity of News International.
First there was The Sun lauding Patrick Minford. He’s the economist who came out on Thatcher’s side in 1981 to praise the destruction of UK manufacturing.
Jeebus, if the Senior Lecturer at Islington Tech cannot even realise that UK manufacturing today is larger than it was under Thatcher, that manufacturing output rose over her term(s) then really,what hope is there for his poor students?
whilst assuming the UK can afford to give up all existing tariffs without consequence arising.
Err, no, he says there will be consequences, and they’ll be good.
Several readers have complained about my criticism of centrism. “Your idea of centrism is not mine” they say.
To which I say: now you know how I feel when rightists claim that centrally planned economies discredit socialism; they are attacking a conception of socialism which isn’t mine.
I therefore sympathize with those offended centrists. In both cases, we have the same problem. Just as actually-existing socialism doesn’t discredit other notions of socialism, so the flaws in actually-existing centrism don’t discredit other conceptions of centrism.
So, what are these conceptions? Some I’ve seen on Twitter look like silly self-serving assertions that would fail any ideological Turing test - such as the claim that centrists base their views on evidence rather than ideology, for example on the question of how far markets work.
But pretty much everybody claims to base their views upon evidence. The difference between me and actually-existing centrists consists in which evidence we prioritize. For me, the load-bearing facts are that actually-existing capitalism give us too much inequality, oppression and stagnation. For actually-existing centrists such as Labour’s centre-left, the facts have been that the far left has been unelectable.
Equally, there has been too much of a tendency to define centrism by what it’s not rather than by what it is – that it is neither left not right. But as Nick Barlow says, this means it’s “a phrase that’s effectively meaningless, a political buzzword.”
For me, a better centrism would be based upon four principles:
- Cosmopolitanism Centrists should want an open economy with freeish immigration. Support for Brexit stems from this.
- Social liberalism.
- Rawls’ difference principle – in particular that inequalities are tolerable only to the extent that they are “to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.” This, I suspect would distinguish centrists from “neoliberals” who in Sam Bowman’s perhaps elastic conception of the term only “care about the poor.”
- Devolving power. One attractive feature of some radical centrism (and part of the Liberal tradition) is the desire to decentralize. Strengthening local government, attacking corporate monopolies and encouraging coops are all features of this. Perhaps it’s this principle that most sharply distinguishes better centrists from actually-existing centrists of New Labour and the Lib Dems in government.
I would hope that the centrists who took umbrage at my piece would subscribe to these principles.
Which poses the question. Why, then, am I not a centrist?
Partly, the difference is an empirical matter – of how far inequalities actually do benefit the worst off: I suspect they don’t very much. Also, I suspect that centrists don’t sufficiently appreciate the extent to which capitalism and class divisions are barriers to these principles – for example, that capitalist stagnation creates intolerance.
But perhaps there’s something else. Maybe the difference between me and centrists is tribal one. My cultural referents are leftist ones: I’m happy to sing the Red Flag and even Internationale. My intellectual influences are less Keynes and more Kalecki, Bowles, Roemer and Elster. And perhaps above all, my working class background – retained in my accent – puts a barrier between me and even the most generous centrists. These differences aren’t wholly rational. But as Hume said, “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.” He might have added that anybody who thinks this isn’t true of them is kidding themselves. My response to centrists who claim to be pure evidence-based pragmatists is the same as Dylan's response to the accuation, "Judas!": I don't believe you.
One of the great mantras of our times is that people really, really, would like to pay more in taxes. What is received from government in return is of such huge value that the populace is simply gagging to be able to hand over more of their hard earned cash in return for such bounties, it being only the cruelty and disregard of neoliberalism which prevents them from being able to do so. It is possible to show that this is not so.
In fact, a decade and a bit back, in 2006, I started to show that this was wrong. There is something, over the Pond, called the Gifts to the United States account. Anyone who wishes to can simply send a bit more money to Uncle Sam by sending it there–it gains some $4 million a year or so from memory. So, we could indeed say that US taation is too low therefore. It’s too low by that $4 million which people voluntarily pay extra.
I followed that up with a piece in The Times redoing the numbers for the UK. It took a bit of time to get the figures as they weren’t something that were regularly totted up. In fact, as I recall it, it took near a month and there was a certain mystification as to why anyone would be asking. But the answer was that yes, UK taxes were in fact too low:
LAST YEAR there were five people in Britain who thought that their taxes were too low. No, this isn’t the number of people who have called for higher taxes. Rather, it is those who were so convinced of the righteousness of state spending that they voluntarily sent extra money to the Treasury.
It’s worth pointing out that of those 5, 4 of them were dead.
Others have since then picked up on the idea and we do occasionally see people mentioning that you can indeed pay more if that’s what you wish to do. As with Douglas Carswell monstering Owen Jones who insisted that he did want to pay more tax on his book royalty income except perhaps not just right now:
So far this is all rather more amusing than anything else, but the greater publicity of this ability to pay more has indeed led to more people making those extra voluntary payments. Further, to a more regular reporting of how many do so:
Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that many people want to pay “more tax” to clear the national debt or fund public services has been undermined by official figures.
Figures disclosed by the Government show that just 15 taxpayers made financial gifts worth less than £200,000 to the Government over the past two years.
15 people is of course more than 5.
The Debt Management Office said that £180,393 in 2016/17 and £14,558 in 2015/16 was made in these voluntary payments.
Most of this came from a single bequest of £177,700 in the last financial year. The other donated or bequeathed by the other 14 people were for relatively trivial sums. Someone gave 1p, another gave 3p and a third person handed over £1.84 to the Government.
Although not that much more then if we’re honest about it.
Norway recently made rather more of a noise about it, the government actively advertising the ability to pay more:
Hammered by the opposition for slashing taxes and going on a spending spree with the country’s oil money, the center-right government has hit back with a bold proposal: voluntary contributions.
Launched in June, the initiative has received a lukewarm reception, with the equivalent of just $1,325 in extra revenue being collected so far, according to the Finance Ministry.
An interesting little point to be made about Amazon’s One Click patent, that idea that they and they alone deserve to gain revenue from having worked out how to make an internet payment simply. Not that they particularly did, as with many “inventions” something becomes newly technologically possible and there are many toying with very slightly different implementations of what is now newly possible. Who gets the patent is often enough a matter of who filed first rather than who uniquely created. As Quartz points out for us, this patent expires in 3 week’s time:
The 1-Click patent will expire on September 11, 2017.
Considerable pixels have been murdered to insist that this patent should never have been granted, a view with which I’ve a great deal of sympathy. A business process, even software itself, I regard as more suited to copyright–the exact implementation being what is protected, rather than the more general idea or method–but that’s a slightly different matter. What this does offer is an opportunity to look at why we have patents, copyright or even trademarks at all.
The answer is because markets are not perfect. No, despite my own reputation is a free marketeer of bloodcurdling proportions, it is not true that markets, only markets and nothing but markets, are the correct solution to everything. One obvious example of this is invention and innovation, things which are a subset of what we call public goods. Public goods are not themselves goods consumed by the public, nor are they things good for the public–although obviously they can be both. Instead, they’re in the jargon things which are non-excludable and non-rivalrous.
Take Newton’s equations–once they’ve been discovered and published then we cannot stop someone from using them to plot a route to the Moon. Equally, my using them does not reduce the amount you can use to calculate a Kardashian sashay. They’re available in unlimited supply for anyone who can be bothered to use them–there’s possibly a Kardashian joke there which I can’t quite nail down. Such public goods are of course just fantabulous, they make us all very much richer–again the possibility of a Kardashian joke.
However, we’ve an economic problem here. Newton’s equations took time and effort to work out. But given the public goods nature it’s not possible to charge for having done so. Thus we tend to think that less production of public goods will go on than if there were some method of rewarding those who produce them. With Newton a knighthood, a position as Master of the Mint (a most profitable office, making money often is) and public adulation worked. And of course some public goods are indeed produced by those happy with just a handshake and a glass of celebratory ginger beer. But that general supposition still holds, we’ll not get the socially optimal amount of their production without some more material system of reward.
So, how do we create this system of material reward? For we are indeed saying that invention and innovation are precisely this thing, a public good (or are, perhaps, public goods). It takes great effort–perhaps not so much with one click shopping–to get the first damn example to damn well work. Once the concept has been proven copying it is remarkably easy. Thus if everyone can copy then we think there will be less than that socially optimal amount of effort put into making that first damn example damn well work.
The answer we’ve chosen is patents and copyrights. We can think of others of course, prizes for those who invent perhaps (we tried it and John Harrison had to wait decades for his) or even just to ignore the problem altogether. We grant an exclusive period in which the inventor does indeed get to charge others for using that innovation, that period normally lasting 20 years, copyright lasting somewhat longer. No, it’s not a perfect solution but then very little in economics is. We face a number of trade offs whatever we do, the best that we can do being to try to come to the best balance.
It’s arguable whether Amazon’s 1 Click patent should ever have been granted, on balance perhaps not, but the basic system of patent exclusivity does solve a real world problem that we’ve got to solve in some manner, that of the public goods nature of invention and innovation.