Is Some Personal Experience More Understandable When Examined on a Larger Canvas?

We start with a personal experience and hope to illuminate it on a larger scale.

In 1965, one of us (RM) was in Munich Germany and reports this anecdote:

I decided one day for no reason to go to the beer hall called the Hofbräuhaus, Am Platzl 9, a Munich landmark and the place where Hitler read out the Nazi program of 25 points in February 1920. This beer hall was a major haunt or stomping ground of the Nazis. I sat quietly at a side table and nursed my Berliner Weisse beer.

An older man staggers past me, dressed in Bavarian lederhosen and for no reason sits across from me and starts making some small talk which I politely reply to. He asks me if I come from Berlin and to save time I say “sort of.”

Suddenly out of nowhere he says to me: “Let me tell you one thing. It all started in 1928.”

I ponder his words but have no idea what he’s getting at in his drunken maundering.

He then adds, “That’s when GM the American car company bought the German company Adam Opel.

He doesn’t explain what his family connection was to this merger and acquisition but one would have to guess someone in his family, himself or his father perhaps, got laid off.

(The preeminent business historian Alfred Chandler of Harvard Business School, who died in 2007, discusses this 1928 business merger in his books, but there’s no detailed description of secondary effects.)

The German uninvited interloper at my table begins to blame the merger on the Jews. I tell him that the car industry in America was itself very antisemitic with Henry Ford being the leader of this paranoia-based hatred. He answers cryptically, “you know what I mean.” His attitude is “don’t confuse me with facts.”

The German goes on and on with this Jew-bashing tirade and I finally get exasperated and say, “you mean people like me” do you?

He becomes whiter than a sheet and seems about to pass out. He gets out of his chair and stumbles and staggers out of the Hofbrauhaus.

I learnt from this experience that this man was probably not some evil madman but more likely “a little man” legitimately scared out of his wits by the global and local permanent instability in the economy at all levels and scales.

In fact, there’s a Hollywood movie, Little Man, What Now? based on the novel by the great German writer Hans Fallada, which depicts a young couple baffled and overwhelmed by the econo-gyrations of their moment in time.

Now we come to the perspectival question (i.e., the MetaIntelligence question): how to see this more clearly with some wider and deeper view?

We glimpse the deeper context in a book by the British historian David Thomson in his excellent England in the Nineteenth Century, 1815-1914, where he describes how industrialization, trade and global trends became entwined. This is for England, not Germany, but could serve as a rough template for all modernizing countries undergoing deep transformations and facing anxiety-stoking unknowns:

The Englishman was now nakedly at the mercy of vast economic changes beyond the control of his own government. he had the vote, and could at elections choose between alternative governments but if none of these governments could provide him with the sense of social and economic security he desired, what was the vote worth?

(David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century, 1815-1914, Penguin Books, 1978, page 190)

Think of the German at the Hofbräuhaus as bewildered (not unjustly) by the “little man, what now?” permanent insecurity problem of the modern industrial world.

It’s probably not instructive to think of him as an evil hater but rather as a person frightened out if his mind, for real reasons. He takes as his symbol for all this insecurity the 1928 Opel acquisition mentioned above. This is an example of going from one person’s (garbled) experience to a wider canvas.

To make this canvas deeper, add the anxiety about science expressed in our science anxiety/Sōseki essay previously.

One then gets an inkling of the modern sense of dread based on various nerve-wracking perceived threats which cannot be laughed off or dismissed.

Essay 106: World Watching: Project Syndicate—New Commentary

from Project Syndicate:

The EU’s EV Greenwash

by Hans-Werner Sinn

EU emissions regulations that went into force earlier this year are clearly designed to push diesel and other internal-combustion-engine automobiles out of the European market to make way for electric vehicles. But are EVs really as climate-friendly and effective as their promoters claim?

MUNICHGermany’s automobile industry is its most important industrial sector. But it is in crisis, and not only because it is suffering the effects of a recession brought on by Volkswagen’s own cheating on emissions standards, which sent consumers elsewhere. The sector is also facing the existential threat of exceedingly strict European Union emissions requirements, which are only seemingly grounded in environmental policy.

The EU clearly overstepped the mark with the carbon dioxide regulation [PDF] that went into effect on April 17, 2019. From 2030 onward, European carmakers must have achieved average vehicle emissions of just 59 grams of CO2 per kilometer, which corresponds to fuel consumption of 2.2 liters of diesel equivalent per 100 kilometers (107 miles per gallon). This simply will not be possible.

As late as 2006, average emissions for new passenger vehicles registered in the EU were around 161 g/km. As cars became smaller and lighter, that figure fell to 118 g/km in 2016. But this average crept back up, owing to an increase in the market share of gasoline engines, which emit more CO2 than diesel engines do. By 2018, the average emissions of newly registered cars had once again climbed to slightly above 120 g/km, which is twice what will be permitted in the long term.

Even the most gifted engineers will not be able to build internal combustion engines (ICEs) that meet the EU’s prescribed standards (unless they force their customers into soapbox cars). But, apparently, that is precisely the point. The EU wants to reduce fleet emissions by forcing a shift to electric vehicles. After all, in its legally binding formula for calculating fleet emissions, it simply assumes that EVs do not emit any CO2 whatsoever.

The implication is that if an auto company’s production is split evenly between EVs and ICE vehicles that conform to the present average, the 59 g/km target will be just within reach. If a company cannot produce EVs and remains at the current average emissions level, it will have to pay a fine of around €6,000 ($6,600) per car, or otherwise merge with a competitor that can build EVs.

But the EU’s formula is nothing but a huge scam. EVs also emit substantial amounts of CO2, the only difference being that the exhaust is released at a remove—that is, at the power plant. As long as coal– or gas-fired power plants are needed to ensure energy supply during the “dark doldrums” when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, EVs, like ICE vehicles, run partly on hydrocarbons. And even when they are charged with solar– or wind-generated energy, enormous amounts of fossil fuels are used to produce EV batteries in China and elsewhere, offsetting the supposed emissions reduction. As such, the EU’s intervention is not much better than a cut-off device for an emissions control system.

Earlier this year, the physicist Christoph Buchal and I published a research paper [PDF, in German] showing that, in the context of Germany’s energy mix, an EV emits a bit more CO2 than a modern diesel car, even though its battery offers drivers barely more than half the range of a tank of diesel. And shortly thereafter, data published [PDF, in German] by Volkswagen confirmed that its e-Rabbit vehicle emits slightly more CO2 [PDF, in German] than its Rabbit Diesel within the German energy mix. (When based on the overall European energy mix, which includes a huge share of nuclear energy from France, the e-Rabbit fares slightly better than the Rabbit Diesel.)

Adding further evidence, the Austrian think tank Joanneum Research has just published a large-scale study [PDF, in German] commissioned by the Austrian automobile association, ÖAMTC, and its German counterpart, ADAC, that also confirms those findings. According to this study, a mid-sized electric passenger car in Germany must drive 219,000 kilometers before it starts outperforming the corresponding diesel car in terms of CO2 emissions. The problem, of course, is that passenger cars in Europe last for only 180,000 kilometers, on average. Worse, according to Joanneum, EV batteries don’t last long enough to achieve that distance in the first place. Unfortunately, drivers’ anxiety about the cars’ range prompts them to recharge their batteries too often, at every opportunity, and at a high speed, which is bad for durability.

As for EU lawmakers, there are now only two explanations for what is going on: either they didn’t know what they were doing, or they deliberately took Europeans for a ride. Both scenarios suggest that the EU should reverse its interventionist industrial policy, and instead rely on market-based instruments such as a comprehensive emissions trading system.

With Germany’s energy mix, the EU’s regulation on fleet fuel consumption will not do anything to protect the climate. It will, however, destroy jobs, sap growth, and increase the public’s distrust in the EU’s increasingly opaque bureaucracy.

Essay 30: Magic or Sacred Geography as a Kind of Silent Education

Magic and its clone, sacred geography, are all around us and are crucial organizing principles for the way people think. Such emotions are an overlay over all formal education.

For Communists, the grave of Marx in Highgate Cemetery in England is sacred ground.  For some German soldiers after WWII who committed suicide on the steps in Feldherrnhalle (“Field Marshall’s Hall”—a display in Munich in Odeonsplatz of large statues of famous military leaders in German history), these statues and their place in Munich “means” something magical or sacred to them. North Koreans have Paektu Mountain which Kim recently ascended in a ritual addressed to the North Koreans. Think of Camelot or Lourdes.  Think of sites such as the Lincoln Memorial or Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris or “holy sites” in Jerusalem or Mecca.

Think of magical and sacred things like the three imperial regalia in Japan which Emperor Hirohito fixated on at the end of WWII.

How does this kind of thinking permeate our lives in a way that nobody quite sees clearly:

The left in American politics (Bernie Sanders, Jeffrey Sachs, et al) explicitly or implicitly, think of Scandinavian social and economic systems as a kind of “magic geography” (i.e., defects and problems are not “welcomed” in their idealized visions). On the right, there’s a Singapore paradise of the imagination (what magic geography is) whereas Boris Johnson of England sees a “high wage, low tax” investment utopia which serve as a marvelous locale for the founding of both new businesses and new families. In this vision, men found businesses and women found or establish families, so everybody’s happy.

These competing visions can be traced back as far as you like, but we point to 1974 when Hayek (“the right”) and Myrdal (“the left”) shared the Nobel Prize for Economics.

Professor Niall Ferguson, the conservative Harvard (now Stanford) financial historian (you may have seen his The Ascent of Money PBS mini-series), had a program years ago on educational TV where he walked around places in Chile that he presented as a pension “heaven.” Chile is now kind of falling apart with street riots convulsing Santiago. (Ferguson’s ideal Milton Friedman of Chicago was the main advisor of General Pinochet after the 1973 Chilean coup.

What none of these people see is that social reality is complex and highly changeable and that “magicalizing” one place or system (Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chile) won’t work because successes that look solid or eternal are often caused by all kinds of “conjunctural” (i.e., of the moment) factors which don’t last “forever.”

Thus, much less “dogmatism” is called for so that one is not “swept along” by “ideological foolishness.” embedded in “magical geography” or its clone “sacred geography.”