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Madsen Pirie

Madsen Pirie

Articles by Madsen Pirie

Happy Brexit Day

25 days ago

As we celebrate the UK regaining its independence today, we think back to the time when the seeds of that event were sown. In 1975 people voted eagerly to remain part of the European Economic Community we had joined in January 1972. The accession of Jacques Delors in 1985 to be President of the European Commission made it clear that the real agenda was the creation of a United States of Europe. Delors, an unelected civil servant, demanded to be treated as a head of state when he visited foreign countries. Speaking at the UK’s Trade Union Congress in 1988, he in effect bid for the support of fellow Socialists by promising that the leftwing policies the UK people would not vote for could be imposed from a European level. Regulations and controls would come from afar to foster centralization

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Rhode Island’s wage and price controls

December 31, 2019

On December 31st, 1776, Rhode Island introduced wage and price controls. They limited the wages of carpenters to 70 cents a day, and those of tailors to 42 cents a day. These were price ceilings, and it was illegal to set wages or prices higher than the government stipulated levels. The law fixed maximum prices for items “necessary for existence.” 7s 6d was the maximum for a bushel of wheat, and fourpence-halfpenny a pound for “fresh port, well-fatted, and of a good quality.” A gallon of New England rum could be sold for no more than 3s 10d, 10d a pound for butter, 8s for a pair of shoes, and 30s for a barrel of blubber. Other states joined in the “Providence Convention” that sought relief from “the exorbitant prices of goods.” Delegates from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut

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Robert Mugabe’s paper money

December 30, 2019

Robert Mugabe, who had been a terrorist, became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980, and on December 30th, 1987, became the country’s President by pushing through a constitutional amendment. The new post made him head of state as well as head of government. He was also commander-in-chief of its armed forces, and could stay on indefinitely as President, and declare martial law and dissolve Parliament if the mood took him.His policies were disastrous for his country. He favoured his own tribe and stirred up violence against others. He encouraged blacks to seize white-owned farms by violence. Many so seized ceased to produce, and food production declined, causing famines. The economy collapsed. By 2000, living standards were below those when he took office in 1980. Wages were down, and

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Ronald Coase studied real markets

December 29, 2019

Ronald Coase, winner of the 1991 Nobel Economics Prize, was born on December 29th, 1910. As is the way of most Nobel economists, he lived a long time, and died in 2013, aged 102. He studied under Arnold Plant at the LSE, and went on to become part of the Chicago School, where he co-edited the influential Journal of Law and Economics.He gained acclaim by examining why it is that business firms develop as they do, identifying the transaction costs of entering and operating in the market as a key factor determining their size and nature. In a ground-breaking paper, “The Problem of Social Cost,” he dealt with the problems of externalities, and suggested these might be handled by assigning property rights. This approach has been applied to dealing with problems of over-exploiting common

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The Gulag Archipelago

December 28, 2019

On December 28th, 1973, was first published one of the most powerful and influential books of the 20th Century. "The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an account of life in the Soviet forced labour camps, in which Solzhenitsyn himself had been incarcerated. The term GULAG is an acronym for the Russian initials of the Main Directorate of Camps. The camps were like an archipelago of islands, scattered in the vast ocean of Soviet territory, many in the harsh climate of the Siberian wilderness.Solzhenitsyn’s book narrates the history of the forced labour camps from when they were first introduced by Lenin in 1918. He traces through the various purges and show trials that swelled the number of inmates into the millions. Some of it is from

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When Spain became a democracy post-Franco

December 27, 2019

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was a cause célèbre for left-wingers in the West. Some, like Orwell, fought with the International Brigade for the Republican side, fighting against the Nationalist armies led by General Francisco Franco. After the Francoist victory in 1939, Franco ruled as a dictator until his death in 1975. He kept Spain neutral in World War II, despite expectations that he would join the fascist powers, Germany and Italy. In 1969, Franco designated Prince Juan Carlos, the grandson of Spain’s last king, as his chosen successor, skipping a generation. The plan was to restore Spain’s status as a constitutional monarchy when Franco died. It was a delicate balancing act for six years as Juan Carlos prepared to succeed. The civil war was still fresh in many minds, with many

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The end of the Soviet Union

December 26, 2019

December 26th, 1991, was a bright day for mankind. It was on that day, 28 years ago, that the Supreme Soviet officially dissolved the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War. The Soviets had always taken the view that Communism would succeed across the world because of historically inevitability, as outlined by Karl Marx. However, they were quite ready to help history along with as much armed force and brutality as it might take. It reached the ultimate in armed force with the Brezhnev Doctrine, which declared that any country attempting to move away from Marxism-Leninism would be invaded by Soviet forces to override the will of its peoples. The Soviets did indeed suppress popular uprisings in Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The problem for the Soviet Union was that Socialism

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Understanding Newton’s universe

December 25, 2019

Galileo died in Italy on January, 1642, and on December 25th of that same year, Isaac Newton was born in Lincolnshire, England. He became one of the most influential and distinguished scientists of all time. Remembered for physics, mathematics and astronomy, he also worked on alchemy and theology. He was a bridge between the mediaeval and modern worlds.Newton’s main contribution was to show that the workings of the world could be understood in terms of rational laws, and the same laws that explained the behaviour of objects on Earth also regulated the most distant part of the heavens. Where people had separated existence into two domains, the Earth and the Heavens, Newton showed that they were one. He wondered why apples separated from trees always moved in the same direction, towards the

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Apollo 8 in lunar orbit

December 24, 2019

NASA made its bravest move in December 1968. On the very first manned flight of the Saturn V rocket, NASA sent it to the moon. Previous orbital flights had been in low Earth orbit, "like a fly walking on the surface of an apple." Now Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders became the first humans to leave Earth orbit and fly to the Moon. On December 24th, 1968, they entered lunar orbit and became the first humans to orbit another world. They were also the first humans to see the whole Earth from space, like a blue and white marble, while viewers back on Earth thrilled to the spectacle of their home planet as a small globe in the blackness of space. The mission was dangerous. They had no lunar module with them, and were totally dependent on the engine of the service module

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Richard Arkwright, industrial pioneer

December 23, 2019

Richard Arkwright, described as the "father of the modern industrial factory system," was born on December 23rd, 1732. Without formal schooling, he was taught to read and write by his cousin, then apprenticed to a barber. He was inventive from the beginning, creasing a new waterproof dye for the then-fashionable wigs. He created a spinning frame to mechanize the thread-making by using wood and metal cylinders to replace people’s fingers. It was initially powered by horses, and with a partner, Arkwright started up a horse-drawn factory at Nottingham. He took on investors from the stocking industry to set up the world’s first water-powered textile mill at Cromford, employing 200 people to perform both carding and spinning. His new carding machine made thin, strong cotton thread to feed what

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First flight of the Blackbird

December 22, 2019

In great secrecy on December 22nd, 1964, one of the most awesome planes ever built was rolled out at Air Force Plant 42 in California, and took its first flight. On that very first flight it achieved a speed of Mach 3.4. This was the SR-71 Blackbird, a plane that played an honoured role in the Cold WarWars are often started through uncertainty, when a potential aggressor is uncertain of the response. This makes intelligence extremely important; you need to know your enemy’s capabilities. Behind the Iron Curtain NATO needed to assess the USSR’s capabilities, and what aggressive potential it had. The US initially used the U2 spy plane, but it was becoming vulnerable to interception by missiles, and a successor was needed.Kelly Johnson at Lockheed’s "Skunk Works," created the SR-71. Its shape

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Benjamin Disraeli, a strange Prime Minister

December 21, 2019

On December 21st, 1804, was born a man destined to become one of Britain’s strangest Prime Ministers. This was Benjamin Disraeli. His background was ordinary, middle class, though he later romanticized it. Born and raised initially Jewish, his father renounced Judaism after a dispute with his synagogue, converted to Christianity, and had all four of his children baptized as Anglicans when young Benjamin was 12. This opened up the possibility of a political career, since Jews could not at that time take the Christian oath of allegiance without converting, at least nominally. In his 20th year, Disraeli changed the spelling of his name from D’Israeli to Disraeli.As an MP, Disraeli was extrovert, even flashy. At times he wore white kid gloves with rings outside them. He was drawn to glamour

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Flying Tigers in action

December 20, 2019

The American volunteer flyers who fought for China against the Japanese invasion were known as the ‘Flying Tigers.’ They saw their first combat on December 20th, 1941. They had originally thought this would be earlier, but various delays meant that it happened a few days after the US and Japan were officially at war.The Tigers, officially the American Volunteer Group (AVG), were the brainchild of Claire L Chennault, a retired US officer working in China. He’d acted as military advisor to Chiang Kai-shek, then as director of the Chinese Flight School. 100 volunteers were all recruited from US air forces, officially discharged so they could become civilian volunteers to fight with the Chinese. They were employed for “training and instruction” by a civilian military contractor (CAMCO), which

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The Penlee lifeboat disaster

December 19, 2019

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is a private charity, not funded by government, that exists to save lives at sea in UK and Irish waters. It is manned by volunteers, people prepared to set out in heavy seas to rescue people at risk in maritime incidents such as sinkings, collisions, or incapacitated vessels. On December 19th, 1981, one of their lifeboats, the Solomon Browne, a wooden 47-foot boat manned by a crew of 8 was contacted by the coastguard to go to the aid of the Union Star, adrift after its engines had failed in heavy seas. A rescue helicopter sent to assist could not winch people off because the winds were too severe.The volunteer crew tuned up, ready to go, but when 17-year-old Neil Brockman turned up dressed and ready to sail with his father, Nigel Brockman, the

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International Migrants Day

December 18, 2019

On December 18th, 1990, the UN General Assembly passed a Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their family members. Asian nations whose citizens worked in other countries as migrants lobbied for the date to be recognized as International Migrants Day, and in 2000 it was finally designated as such by the UN. It emphasizes and publicizes the contribution of roughly 272 million migrant workers worldwide, stressing their human rights and campaigns for their fundamental freedoms and for their protection. Its concern was for migrants who leave their homes temporarily to work in other countries, usually to send remittances home to support their dependents. People from countries such as Thailand and the Philippines go to work in rich countries, such as those in the

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The Wright stuff

December 17, 2019

It was on December 17th, 1903 that Wilbur and Orville Wright took to the skies in a heavier than air machine at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They were originally into bicycle manufacture and repairs, but were very gifted engineers. They had to design new propellers from scratch, since previous ones had only been used in water. They had to devise a method of steering, and invented a way of warping the wing to alter its presentation to the air. Their flight was for a smaller distance than the wing span of a Boeing 747. But it did the job, and they went in to improve and refine their craft until it pioneered the modern aviation industry. It seems astonishing in retrospect that it was only 65 and a half years later that humans put their footprints on the moon. Such is the accelerating pace of

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Oliver Cromwell, who protected Britain from freedom

December 16, 2019

Oliver Cromwell was declared Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland "and of the dominions thereto belonging" on December 16th, 1653. He had been one of the Parliamentarians opposed to the rule of Charles I, and had distinguished himself as a commander in the civil war that ensued. He had signed, with others, the order to execute King Charles in 1649, and served in the so-called Rump Parliament until he forcefully dissolved it, sending soldiers to overwhelm its independence.Britain had given up its monarchy to be ruled under a military dictatorship. Cromwell thought he was guided by God to implement his will on Earth, and was ready to do so without pity. He was fervently anti-Catholic. Indeed, the Long Parliament he dominated passed an ordinance in 1647

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Eiffel – symbolic engineer

December 15, 2019

Gustav Eiffel, one of the 19th Century’s significant engineers, was born on December 15th, 1832. He became one of the leading figures in France’s Industrial Revolution which, for economic, cultural and political reasons, developed much later than its English counterpart. France was building infrastructure such as railways, and needed creative engineers to build the bridges and viaducts it needed. Eiffel pioneered many innovative design features, including prefabricated bridges that could be transported in sections to remote areas and then assembled with nuts and bolts rather than welding, and thus needing less skilled labour. He built bridges across Europe, showing a talent for combining the aesthetic with what the function required and what the materials allowed.He is most famous for two

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Andrei Sakharov

December 14, 2019

We said goodbye to Andrei Sakharov on December 14th, 1989, 30 years ago. He lived just long enough to witness the total collapse of the evil regime he had spent much of his life in opposition to.As a PhD physicist, his primary interest was initially in cosmic rays, but he was assigned to the postwar team that developed the first Soviet atomic bomb. They were able to produce one rapidly because Soviet spies had stolen the technology from the US Manhattan Project. Sakharov researched a possible way of making thermonuclear weapons in a way that was totally original, however, and produced a device radically different from the US Teller-Ulam design. Although the US exploded the first H-bomb, Sakharov’s design for the Soviet Union was in many ways more practical, and gave them a brief lead in

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The last moonwalk

December 13, 2019

It was on December 13th, 1972, that Eugene Ceman and Harrison Schmitt, crew members of Apollo 17, stepped out onto the lunar surface on their final extra-vehicular activity (aka moonwalk). It had been an extraordinary mission, starting with a night launch and including three days on the moon and three trips in the lunar rover, the longest of which saw them 4.7 miles away from the lunar module, at the limit of the range they could have walked back if the rover had failed. They collected more lunar samples than on previous landings, aided by the professional eye of Schmitt, a trained geologist. Before re-entering the module after their final EVA, Gene Cernan uttered the final words spoken on the moon’s surface: “… as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing,

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The hovercraft

December 12, 2019

On December 12th, 1955, Christopher (later Sir Christopher) Cockerel patented the new mode of transport called the hovercraft. It used fans to lift the craft on a cushion of air so it could glide over land or water with minimal surface friction.Cockerel was an inventor with a very original mind. He experimented at home with two concentric tins, one coffee and one cat food, using a hair-dryer to blow air between them. He found that the craft could be stable of air were blown through outlets surrounding a disc or oval shape, and later found that a flexible ‘skirt’ of rubber or similar material increased the efficiency and enabled it to pass over small obstacles without mishap. He tried to win financial backing, but despite numerous demonstrations on Whitehall carpets, the military was

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The Mayflower and Plymouth Rock

December 11, 2019

The story has it that the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in New England on December 11th, 1620. They had landed earlier at Provincetown, but had no authority to found a colony there. Plymouth Colony was settled by Puritan Separatists, known to history as the Pilgrims. An earlier English colony had been founded at Jamestown, but that was largely by entrepreneurs seeking fortune in the New World. The Pilgrims were fleeing persecution, seeking religious freedom.The Mayflower had set sail on September 6th with 102 passengers and 30 crew crammed into a ship just over 100 feet long. In the second month of its voyage it was hit by storm-force gales. It was buffeted, sprang leaks, and saw its main beam crack. While still on the ship, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Contract, to have the

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Signing the Human Rights Convention

December 10, 2019

It was on December 10th, 1948, that the United Nations Convention on Human Rights was signed by 48 countries, with 8 abstaining and none opposed. It was a reaction to the horrors and the atrocities committed during the Second World War. It was felt there needed to be some internationally agreed standard that would protect people from the criminal abuse that had been perpetrated by Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and others.Its 30 articles are not legally binding, though some lawyers have tried to make them so. They are, however, a strong moral force to restrain those inclined to engage in systematic violation of accepted standards of human decency. The US Supreme Court (Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 2004), ruled that the Declaration "does not of its own force impose obligations as a matter of

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Fritz Haber fixed nitrogen

December 9, 2019

Fritz Haber, who was born on December 9th, 1868, made it possible for us to pluck useful stuff out of thin air. Specifically, he developed the chemical process that enables us to turn atmospheric nitrogen and the hydrogen found in natural gas into ammonia and nitrates. He joined the industrialist, Carl Bosch, of BASF to scale this up into an industrial process – the Haber Bosch process – that could manufacture huge quantities of ammonia and nitrates to use for fertilizers and explosives. One of my vivid memories from school chemistry classes was the huge chart on the laboratory wall of the Haber process.The process fed in atmospheric nitrogen combined with methane as a source of hydrogen under high temperatures and pressures using iron-based catalysts. It revolutionized industrial

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Eli Whitney

December 8, 2019

A remarkable American who made a profound impact on history was born on December 8th, 1765. This was Eli Whitney, an inventor, engineer and manufacturer. He found fame not only as the inventor of the cotton gin, a device that separated the cotton fibres from the hard seeds, but also as the pioneer of mass manufacture based on putting together interchangeable parts.The new machines of England’s Industrial Revolution needed cotton, but it was very labour-intensive. It took one person a full day to separate one pound of the cotton fibres from the attached seeds by hand. Whitey thought this process might be done by a simple hand-cranked machine, easy to make, operate and repair. Cotton was fed via a hopper onto a revolving cylinder bristling with short wire hooks to snag the fibre. A mesh

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A day that will live in infamy

December 7, 2019

One day after the Japanese attack on the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941, President Roosevelt made a speech to Congress describing it as “a date which will live in infamy.” History has usually shortened and corrected “a date which” to “a day that,” and often abbreviated it simply to “Day of Infamy.”The Japanese attack was made without a declaration of war against a country at peace that had hitherto refrained from entering the Second World War, already raging in Europe and elsewhere. Japanese diplomats in Washington DC were pretending to talk peace even as its carrier fleet sailed towards its target in the Hawaiian Islands.The unprovoked nature of the peacetime attack, compounded by the duplicity of the Japanese, outraged American opinion. Congress declared war

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The ruin of Venezuela

December 6, 2019

Venezuela’s collapse from one of Latin America’s richest countries to one of its poorest began on December 6th, 1998, with the election of Hugo Chavez as its President. Chavez had imbibed Marxist communism as a teenager, and was affected by the FALM communist insurgency in Venezuela, one supported by Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He was by no means a Marxist intellectual, enrolling in the Military Academy to receive expert baseball coaching, but lacked talent, and was remembered as a barely adequate student who graduated near the bottom of his class. With fellow officers, he took part in a failed coup in 1992, but established a popular leftwing political party and won the presidency in 1998 with 56 percent of the vote, having persuaded the country’s outsiders and impoverished groups to unite

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The end of Prohibition

December 5, 2019

America went dry on January 17th, 1920, as the Eighteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, inaugurating Prohibition. Just under 14 years later, on December 5th, 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment was added to the Constitution, repealing the Eighteenth and ending the era of Prohibition.Prohibition was a disaster, in that it was an attempt to force the views of some, led by pious protestants and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, upon the whole of America. The Anti-Saloon League was opposed by many Catholics and German Lutherans, but German Americans had lost prestige during the First World War, and were unable to prevent the victory of the “drys.”Criminal gangs were prepared to supply illicitly what the government had made illegal, and soon dominated the illegal supply of beer

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When a killer smog hit London

December 4, 2019

It began late on December 4th, 1952, and lasted about a week. It was London’s Great Smog, a name that derived from the combination of smoke and fog. Unusually cold weather coupled with an anticyclone and windless conditions created a pall of airborne pollutants that gripped the UK’s capital city for days.Virtually all of London’s several million homes were heated by coal fires, and the coal used was a low-grade, high sulphur variety, since the higher grade ‘hard’ coals such as anthracite were mostly exported. To the smoke from domestic fires was added that of coal-fired power stations, such as those in Battersea, Bankside, Fulham, Greenwich and Kingston upon Thames. The UK’s meteorological office estimated that there were emitted each day of the Great Smog some 1,000 tonnes of smoke

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ASI Forum will change your life — sign up before it’s too late

December 3, 2019

This is important!Saturday, December 7th will not only change your life. It will change the world.That is when the people who will shape tomorrow’s world, including yourself, will see a glimpse of the future.That’s because Saturday is the ASI’s Forum at The Comedy Store in London, where we will explore the ideas for a better future. A world in which young people are well educated so they can achieve success. Flying cars make traffic jams as obsolete as the smog they generated. Young people can afford houses they want to live in.Is this some Corbynist fantasy funded by money grown on trees? No!It is the reality already happening if only more people had eyes to see it.On Saturday you can.Watch how a single tax trick boosts our wealth, how vigilance today will banish the would-be surveillance

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