Tuesday, December 22, 2009

16: Episode N: "2009 Seasons Greetings"

Hi. It's me again ...

Doesn't time fly when you are enjoying yourself. 2009 with all its trials and tribulations slipped by in an instant and once again I find myself levering this slot into my 'must-do before Christmas' list. Some of you will already realise that 60yr ago in Bradford Yorkshire a miracle happened that quite literally changed my life ... a little boy was born that turned out to be me. It is interesting to look back and see how much the world has changed since then, but in keeping with all older people (which now statistically must include me), telling it without a rose-coloured hue is difficult.

These are my first memories and though I remember them quite clearly, they live in a different world. You know, like that place you went to on holiday; it is still there, but somehow it's not real any more. Or the impossibility of imaging in an audience in the nude, despite the fact that you know what nude people look like! (This is supposed to be the way of not feeling nervous when presenting ... Its weakness; if you are able to do it, then you would also become aware of yourself presenting in the nude!)

So this little boy was born in a back-to-back terrace house in industrial Bradford. His dad was a bus driver, his mum a book keeping clerk. They were warmed by an open coal fire, there was basic food on the table they had the clothes they needed. The WC was 25 yds away in the back yard; and bath night was a weekly event in a tin bath in front of the fire, with hand-me-down water. They didn't covet more, so I guess they were happy. The boy wasn't aware when electric lights arrived in 1950, though the old gas-lamp fittings stayed on the ceiling like indoor brass TV aerials as long as he lived there. But he was aware four years later when technology in the form of a 9" Bush TV arrived with all the neighbours in tow, for Queen Elizabeth's Coronation ... she was our Queen, whatever that meant! [1]

At the time his Gran lived in a little village in Wales, LLanfallteg (try pronouncing that when you are sober!). Just 100ys long and in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The village had a station a steam train and level crossing. The station master let the children pull the levers and open the gates. They played in the road, eating crusts smothered with Marmite. They chased the butterflies in sunny meadows by the river. There were chickens in the yard, Gran cooked on a Open Range and the lighting was an oil-lamp. They took a candle to bed and the feather mattress was the combined shape of everybody that had ever slept on/in it. There was ice inside the windows in winter and the boy got so cold that his hands and feet hurt when they were warmed. He got bored, but had to be "seen but not heard". The privy, of the long-drop variety, was in the nearby vegetable garden. The highest technology here, a water tap inside the house; the old pump still standing outside ... idyllic.

Yet it is hard to imagine I ever really lived in a world that didn't have the technology that now pervades almost every aspect of our lives. Look around you now and see what you can see which has not been Engineered? And how much of this could you (literally) live without? [2] It seems it is human nature to only pay attention to things which constitute a threat, and to under value everything else. Technology, Parents, The World, Life ... just are.[3] Not surprising that my mind (and I guess yours) puts earlier memories into different time/location/situation/event packages and treats them like Episodes. Each based around the same character (me in my case); the chain of Episodes making up a life ... Just like a Soap!

So I'm pleased to say as 2009 draws toward a close, that my story is still running and the main characters are still in place. My 2009 had many Episodes, some with happy endings and some without. There are few scars and a few more grey hairs; but to compensate a few more dazzling revelations and deeper understandings. It's been a roller-coaster, and the swings had their roundabouts. I can confirm that as I learn more, I know less [4] ... And the world has becoming more understandable to me; Yet I am frustrated in my inability to share this insight with you ... So you're just going to have to wait ;-)

But I am deeply honoured to share this moment of time/space with you. The billions of years and countless generations of my forefathers and mothers who managed to avoid predators and deprivations long enough to meet one another, mate, and bring up their offspring to perpetuate my line. They may have been less than perfect parents (and a lot were less than human!), but they survived and together contrived to put me here so I could make my very own Episodes involving you ... Isn't it wonderful.

So it is also good to pause once in a while and think of them. A winter celebration at the start of a new year a good opportunity to celebrate birth and life, and the cradle in which our experience is bound. Raise your glass, or just take a moment, whichever seems appropriate ... "To Parents Past"

Of course, cynics might say I was just using the opportunity to test my email address book ...

Still ... Merry Christmas and Happy New-year ;-)

Au revoir.ian
1: http://ian-phillips.blogspot.com/2009_02_01_archive.html
2: http://ian-phillips.blogspot.com/2009_11_01_archive.html
3: http://ian-phillips.blogspot.com/2008_04_01_archive.html
4: http://ian-phillips.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html

Friday, November 20, 2009

15: Somewhere over the Rainbow

Last month I clocked 60; years that is, not MPH. All of a sudden I have my Bus and Rail Pass, and people offer me their seats ... I still joke, despite my advancing years. But it dawns on me that the reason old-people (choke) reminisce of days gone by is that there are definitely more of them, than days to come. It’s amazing how different things look, when you realise your next Microsoft Project plan may well outlast you.

So at pain of dwelling on good times gone by, I am going to drift back; back to my youth; then back even further ... to 1750 in fact, the inflection point of The Industrial Revolution. I’m guessing that most of you are of scientific persuasion, so what you ever knew about history is quietly gathering dust in a seldom visited annex of your mind. The phrase probably fired a forgotten neuron who’s small spark of interest flared briefly, but was consumed by the glare of your normal mental process. In fact it was a hugely important point in time for all of us, it was the time when Philosophy and Science eventually handed their dominion to the practical science of Engineering.

Cro-Magnon Man (that’s us) has been around for about 30,000 years; but not much went on for most of that time. Around 2,500 years ago societal conditions had reached the point that some people were able to start thinking about stuff other than survival. Mankind had taken the first steps up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, on the road to Self Actualisation ... They didn’t realise the can of worms they were opening! It was the dawn of the age of the Philosophers; their self appointed challenge was the Understanding of Nature and for the next 2,000 years they had the field to themselves. But around 1500ad something changed; a knowledge threshold had been reached, some of the pieces joined-up. Quite suddenly Manipulation of Nature became possible and for the next 250 years Scientists took centre stage demonstrating how indistinguishable from magic a little applied knowledge can be. You have probably worked out by now that The Industrial Revolution was the emergence of Engineers who began the Exploitation of Nature. Encapsulating convenient chunks of Philosophy and Science, into valued and valuable functionality, and delivering it to the masses; the engineer caused the Industrial Revolution; quite literally, giving The Economy fiscal value as he did so ... and as he/she has continued to do ever since.

The text books tell the first steps in the Industrial revolution were the introduction of machines to significantly automate the process of cloth production, displacing the Cottage Industry predecessors. This created huge societal upheaval and the formation of cities, as people started to congregate to where the machines and paid work were located. The canal structure was developed to transport the quantities of food, fuel and materials needed by the factories and cities; and to carry away waste and goods produced. Before that time it had not been practical to have cities, as people had to live close to their food sources. We also know that Dickensian Cities (c1800) were not pleasant places, though conditions in them were undoubtedly an improvement over what existed before, as the Global Population growth rate changed from ~0.1%pa where it had been for all measurable time, to the 2%pa common today. The Raw Birth Rate hadn’t changed; life expectancy had. The cities clustered all kinds of beneficial crafts ... Butcher, Baker and Candle-Stick Maker; but also Surgeons, Midwives and Alchemists (a sub-set of Scientist incidentally).

So in 1750 the world population was 800M, with grounds for believing that the un-industrialised peak would be reached at ~ 1B. The next 100yrs of engineering brought food, clean water, sanitation, improved housing, warmth, transport and basic medicines to the masses ... fighting back natural depredations enabled the population to grow by 50% in that time. Subsequent engineering achievements have kept them at bay, to allowed it to grow to its current 6.7B. It can truly be said that 6 out of 7 people in the world today owe their existence to the continuance of that engineering revolution ... All too soon, it will be 9 out of 10.

... It seems that almost all engineering products benefits somebody’s wellbeing, which improves overall living standards and thus life expectancy. But the threats still wait patiently on the sidelines for engineering to falter: Ebola; Bird Flu; Swine Flu; HIV-Aids; CJD; etc. And for earlier achievements to breakdown: MRSA; Global Warming; Running out of fossil fuels; Breakdown of power, water, sewage and transport infrastructure; etc. Anyone who has built a sand castle knows that once you have gone higher than a few cm, you have to put a lot more sand at the base to gain more height. Engineered solutions are not one-offs that don’t need any more attention, they must be supported and maintained, and their expansion may not be linear ... society ignores this at its peril.

Blind faith belief that Scientists will find an answer to all of our problems, whilst ignoring the practical need to sustain its ecology is dangerously naive. Engineering is capable of wonderful things but only if it is fed by new Science, which in turn needs to be fed by new Philosophy (or Physics as it is now known) ... we must all remember this and encourage it where we can. We must also remember that The Economy is a side-effect of Engineering; and those who do party tricks with coins and tumblers are not building The Economy for the many; just re-distributing it to the few.

The same social conditions that enabled the Natural Philosophers 2,500 years ago, also prepared the ground for the Social Philosophers, the Social Scientists and Social Engineers. Undoubtedly facing a much more complex subject, there can be little surprise they haven’t achieved much (yet). So though we live our lives in this highly Engineered Environment, we are still the same Cro-Magnons underneath ...

... Which means a crock of gold trumps logic any day!


PS: I have been writing this Blog for about 18 mth during which time just 7 people have told me they read it (at least once), or have commented on something I wrote. If you would like me to continue to write, drop a line of encouragement to IanP24@yahoo.co.uk (a one-off mail account to prevent spam) and I’ll let you know the outcome in about a month.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

14: The more I learn, the less I know!

I just love the idea that if you step-out the perimeter of an arbitrarily small island with a pair of dividers, you get a larger answer as the size of the dividers get smaller! With tiny dividers the measured perimeter always approaches infinity, regardless of how small the island. Clearly the more closely you look, the more detail there is to be stepped around. It is an experiment that shows you can contain an infinite thing in a finite space [1].

It also tenuously illustrates why there is no relationship between the simplicity of a question and the complexity of an answer. So when I was recently asked what training an engineer needed, I heard the warning bells ringing. What is it that an engineer needs to know?

I suppose I have always been plagued by my own lack of knowledge. But over the years I known many others, whose skills I have always respected, who have said the same. Rumsfeld like [2]; there are things that I do know, and I suppose they help me to understand what it is that I don't. I am drawn to the conclusion that the role of an Engineer is to do what he/she can do, despite his/her lack of specific knowledge. OK, there are lots of things they know they can do; and there are other things they can learn how to do from others who have done it; but there are things they do where their judgement is as good as it gets, and their success is measured by the effectiveness of the result. Engineering is about "Delivering the Goods"; tangible, viable, commercial, economic and producible goods.

So, back to the training question ... Engineers need to know everything in the domain where their skills are likely to be used. And to be innovative in the way they apply that knowledge to delivering what has not been done before! Not surprising that 'we' feel inadequate, as we can never have enough knowledge or experience, to handle everything we are asked to address. And training only highlights how little of what we need to know, we actually do know. I suppose the real quality of an Engineer is measured by the way he/she overcomes their lack of specific knowledge.

Delivering the goods is what an Engineer does that is different to the Scientist. Scientists show that something is possible (eg: Carbon Nano-Tubes, Transistor, Calculus, Splitting the atom, Antibiotics, Liquid Crystals, etc). The Engineer takes that Science and makes a Product out of it. Regularises the concept into a process so that it can be repeated a million times; comprehending and implementing what 'its' potential for use in assemblies or structures. Uses his/her knowledge to know what is possible and then applying his/her skills to achieving it. The Technician tends and runs the machines/processes; keeps the wheels of industry turning. Maximising yield, productivity, quality, consistency, profitability; within the rules established by the Engineers.

Different roles, but what a team ... A Scientific Partnership creating the stuff that makes tomorrow different from today. Quite literally Building the Future!

Who says being an Engineer is not exciting!


1: http://ian-phillips.blogspot.com/2008/02/postponing-inevitable.html
2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtkUO8NpI84

Sunday, July 5, 2009

13: Animating the Inanimate

I've been sitting here for 30B years looking at this stone; I wonder how much longer I'll have to wait for someone to call me on it?

We take the animation of the inanimate very much for granted today, it is after all a measure of the achievement of humanity. But for most of history, materials remained stubbornly inanimate until the female arrived on the scene. Armed with the most amazing creative technology that we do not even begin to understand today, all that changed. Life sprung forth in all its glory ... As I write over 100M human female technicians are tending and maintaining these sophisticated machines as they assembling little animate and sentient human beings; inanimate atom by inanimate atom ... How amazing is that!

But you can begin to see the male frustration here. Whilst also having a creative urge, his abilities are limited by his hand and brain. I postulate the emergence of Science, as the male response to the female domination of creation. By the evidence of his eye, it was possible to animate materials; and after one thousand years of close examination of the properties of materials, and application of these findings, we have attained this lowly point on the road to sexual equality. It is perhaps no surprise that Science is predominantly a male preserve, as they strive to satisfy their creative urge the only way they can.

... And interesting, that that science is generally directed toward the improvement of the human condition; to complement the human-creativity role. Seems we may make a good team after all, though destined to have seriously different mental predispositions on the way to achieving it.


Friday, June 12, 2009

12: David vs Hannibal

Recently encountering the Japanese concept of "The tall Poppy" (something or someone that needs to be cut down to size for no other reason than it stands out) it reminded me of my own early years. Growing up to be 6'1" in a nation of vertically challenged Celts, I was introduced to the children's game they called "The bigger they are; the harder they fall". On the whole I did not find it as amusing as they seemed to. Strange how in this world of equality it is still ok to bring down the big guy; positively applauded if it is a little guy that does it.

So in a pique of ire I searched for few counter examples that I could quote, where a tall or large something had vented its spleen on something smaller, and received global acclaim for doing so ... It wasn't easy!

Undoubtedly the most famous victory of small over large was David and Goliath; but I'm not sure that things were quite that simple. It is true that David had a secret weapon, a sling; which he used to kill one giant ... but that cannot have been the end of story! His success was the use of a one-time secret weapon; the sling. But unless giants had a pretty novel approach to procreation, it is unlikely there were not at least two. So the full match report of the day would probably have read more like this: "The 1:0 lead taken in the opening minutes was soon reversed as the giants, copying David's sling in much larger proportions, used it to great effect inflicting a crushing defeat on the cheeky upstart and his mortal followers!". A crushing victory of Large over Small, that history prefers to remember otherwise.

But there is a lesson: If you have to reveal your secret weapon, make sure your enemy can't copy it easily.

So the rout of Hannibal was a much more impressive [1]. He had a secret weapon, which he did not hide, and he still beat the whole Roman army ... well nearly! For those that don't know the story: There was this guy who with a few hundred soldiers and a couple of elephants, walked from Spain to Italy over the Pyrenees and the Alps, with the declared intent to beat the whole Roman army and conquer Rome ... And technically he did it! Emerging victorious from several major battles with the Romans in Northern Italy, increasingly outnumbered at each, he duly lay siege to Rome itself, whilst waiting approval from his managers (safely at home in Carthage (N Africa)) to deliver the coupe-de-grace. Alas, they declared his methods were 'unprofessional' and refused to let him. As they argued, the Roman Emperor mounted his own 'unprofessional move' directly on Carthage, and Hannibal was recalled to try and sort it out. De-motivated and exhausted, they started to walk back. Of course he died on the journey and his little army was duly dispatched. Demonstrating without question the importance of obtaining management buy-in! But another crushing victory of Large over Small which is remembered otherwise.

But Hannibal's strategy was much more interesting ... Meet under your terms; do the unexpected; repeat.

Surely everyone knows that all is fair in love and war, so how can this have been a strategy? Surely in war you expect the unexpected?

Well back in 200BC battles were much more formal processes ... Communication was limited, so battles had to be fought by arrangement, without it armies would never have even found each other to fight. "We'll meet at dawn on Jacobs field, a week after the full moon". Similarly, because battlefield communications were essentially nonexistent, you trained and formed your armies in conventional ways forcing tactics to be more or less 'text book'. As a result the largest army almost always won, unless you had a very incompetent general. Hannibal with his tiny, relatively immobile, but very noticeable army couldn't keep his advance or mission secret ... But he could and did dictate the places they would meet. On one occasion, he arranged to meet a Professional Roman Legion 10x his size on the other side of an Alpine river. After a brief formal skirmish, Hannibal's army retreated across the river. The armoured Romans sensing a rout, pursued them ... but emerging from the river frozen and half drowned, they were easily dispatched by Hannibal's men.

So today we know that war doesn't follow set rules! Yet our politicians are routinely surprised that smaller 'enemies' no longer present themselves to be pummelled, in accordance with military convention ... Not surprisingly they prefer to fight with T&C more favourable to them, and where high-tec armaments have become so much junk.

But even business conflicts are not just fought on agreed grounds and by approved rules, despite the preferences of the larger incumbents ... life's just not like that, is it. Disruptive Technology[2], is after all the result of a smaller operation displacing a larger incumbent, by the innovative application of available knowledge/technique. They chose the battle field and the terms of the engagement. It's not that the incumbent is incapable of doing whatever it is they do, just that their entire-business operation operates to prevent them actually doing it.

Looking more broadly of course you see Businesses, Countries, Institutions and Administrations all exhibiting the same behaviour. Rising to a position of dominance, they soon become convinced of their supremacy and cannot perceive any another way ... Yet time and again they are displaced by those who do! So maybe this behaviour is part of what has made mankind so successful, and why it is so much a part of our psyche.

So as a Tall Poppy I'm just going to have to stay street-wise ... Starting now; there are some Welshmen approaching.


PS: Sorry about the 'gap'. A Sabbatical, followed by writers block.

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Punic_War
2: The Innovator's Dilemma: Christensen.
3: Blog: http://ian-phillips.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

11: What does it take to get out of bed?

It's nice in the groove; you know where you are going. There's a comfortable inevitability about a groove that suits the soul. No need to plan, no need to panic; the future is laid out for you, further down the groove (and not much you can do about it).

So what's your groove? A taste in music; Certain food; A certain man/woman; A life-style; A warm bath; Being British (Chose your own preferences here); Sun; Snow; Bed (in the morning); A route to work ... We have so many they must be a fundamental part of our nature. I guess without them every decision would have to be taken and progress would be at a snail's pace. So you find out what works or where the crowd is going; then you follow the groove. Grooves automate big chunks of life ... so you don't need to think about them.

Like a bicycle and a tram line (you'll have to be quite old in the UK to understand this), grooves capture you when you get close to their alignment, and they don't let go once they have you! That's why it is so difficult to deviate from your groove ... That's why it's so difficult to get out of bed, change your beer, change your partner, or change your job. You may have freedom of action, but can you be bothered to take it?

Grooves work for you: They stop your competitors getting a foot-hold in your market. After all your customer is 'fairly happy with your product', and it will take a 'lot of effort' for him/her to change over.

And grooves work against you: You may see an opportunity to do something differently, but it involves change; and the change, well, just takes too much effort to overcome the inertia.

A groove is a fur lined manacle ... Groovy Baby!

No scientific study would be complete without an equation, so I will not disappoint. After an exhaustive study of human nature the height of a groove wall is 3 x Pi = 9.4248; which for convenience I suggest you consider as 10. Meaning that when the product of the energy of Dissatisfaction (eD) and the energy of Attraction (eA) exceeds 10, then the incumbent is displaced from his/her grove and free to pursue the alternative.

So whilst your competitors product may be 2x better than yours, you can take comfort that your customer will not actually switch until he is 5x dissatisfaction with yours. Cool!

This is "Better the devil you know ..." in an equation!

... But don't get complacent about this. If your competitor offers 1.5x in performance, 1.5x in price, and 1.5x in 'green credentials'; then your customer is getting edgy when he is only experiencing 2x in dissatisfaction from you (6.75x). Just another 1.5x from somewhere and he's off ... and remember it's his units not yours. Your comfort-margin may be significantly less than you think.

And though it works both ways, perversely you have to 'promise' a >10x package to guarantee to attract the attention of a customer who is otherwise perfectly happy with his incumbent supplier.

That does it ... I'm going to stay in bed for ten more minutes.


Friday, March 6, 2009

10: What shall we do with Pandora?

It is now more than 40 yrs since I left school to become an Electronic Engineer. The guy across the road enticed me into his house to see his kit ... he was a Radio Ham and the magic and mystery of radio was entrancing. How did you make and receive this invisible stuff, and how could you use it to convey messages to similar secretive people lurking in their darkened bedrooms around the world? So I took a Government Apprenticeship at a Weaponry Testing Establishment in Wales and was immediately immersed in the practical application of valves, transformers, photo-diodes, tag strips and E12 resistors. Soon the first transistors appeared, then the first integrated circuits. This was my electronics, and it was great ...

The rest is history ... Moore's Law has swept us all on an exciting journey to the 21 century. Electronics stepped tentatively out from the lab and into society, then resumed a headlong gallop to enable the gadgets, entertainment, services, transportation, communications and computation that pervade our lives today. If one technology can be credited with the last 50 or so years of human advancement, then surely Electronics must be it?

So why is it suffering an identity crisis? Why are our kids, parents, teachers and politicians so unenthusiastic about it that they barely recognise its existence; let alone accredit it with any value or have any aspirations towards it. Why are they so happy to see policy and regulation exacerbate its very being, and its practitioners de-valued and ridiculed. I'm not talking about the box, but what's inside. Functional objects; TVs, Cars, Planes, Computers, Vending Machines, iPods, Printers, Telephones, Calculators, Cameras, etc, etc, are all valued; but Electronics, the thing that transforms them from so-much inanimate junk, is not.

I have been working for some time to get UK Electronics recognised and valued for its contribution to the Economy, yet meet only moderate success against the glare of today's cure for all ills, IT Snake-Oil [1]. "IT is Technology, and my kids know (all) about IT; so obviously Technology is a done-deal!" This leads inexorably to the conclusion that as successful businesses use IT, the converse is also true ... So installing IT (and indeed, more and faster IT) will make bad business good, and good business better. It's a simple mantra that gives an immediate impression of constructive activity. Further it needs no understanding of the actual business role ... especially useful if it is difficult to understand. It also has the neat twist, of playing technologists off against ourselves, as IT, Software and Hardware engineers fight to maintain their (irrelevant) individuality ... It must look so funny from the outside; if it wasn't so serious of course.

So why is our society and its leaders are so easily mislead when it comes to (electronic) technology? It is quite simply the irrational fear and distrust of the unknown! Arthur C was right when he said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and we know from history how society handles witches (see: burning at the stake) and intellectuals (see: Russian revolution) ... If it's different cast it out, is a very basic instinct which transcends the human and animal world. Pandora is inside the box, keep it closed and we should be ok.

A recent UK poll found (yet again) that Brunel was the UK's most famous engineer, which drove me to wonder if they had run the same poll in 1900 would it have come to the same conclusion? I suspect not! Following my previous reasoning Society only recognises engineers and their technologies when its education rises to the point where the people understand them enough to see them for what they are ... purely the application of properties of matter. So that gives us an idea of the scale of the challenge; the scientific education of today's society has only reached the level of the mechanical systems of Brunel (~1850) and the steam engines of Watt (~1800)!

So the breakthroughs in Genetics, Aeronautics, Medicine, Electricity, Computation and Electronics will continue to be treated like magic, and its practitioners like witch-doctors ... Both despised and distrusted; but tolerated as long as they keep delivering.

On this basis it will be at least a hundred years before today’s scientific (electronic) heroes get the acclaim due ... If the Telephone Sanitizers haven't burned them all at the stake in the meantime.


1: Of course IT isn't really easy; but the easy bits are, and society cannot perceive the difference!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

9: Its a Cart and Horse thing!

Caught in the headlights of recent events, Governments are revealed naked huddling together for warmth; flustering and blustering, and trying to make us look away again. But whilst they have our attention it may be worth looking a little closer ... What exactly are they? What do they do and what should they do? On the face of it, these questions ought to be answered quite easily, but search the web and you'll see they are not.

Here's a selection ...

  • The body with the power to make and/or enforce laws for a country
  • A group who hold the monopoly on the legitimate use of force
  • A method or system of controlling people
  • National body of the people's representatives
... I had the impression that they should be working for us, to coordinate something that we want! Only the last bullet came anywhere near and none were more explicit.

As I recall we had a Civil War in England to resolve this, with Charles I coming to an untimely death 1649 at the hand of Oliver Cromwell. Before that time, the King was undisputed boss; after that the Government agreed to behaves according to written laws, a Constitution ... Sadly we never got round to writing one, so by 1660 Charles II was on the throne, behaving much as dad had done before. So being English, it seems we muddled along from there; getting on with our own business, paying our taxes, and believing that 'they' are looking after our interests ... I guess we got the Government we deserve; how about you?

Written or not, right up there in the constitution after 'human rights' should come 'protection'; the former gets a lot of attention, but I'm not sure the latter gets enough. In earlier days Gun Ships and Troops may well have been the appropriate tool to protect the Nations Economy, but clearly in this globalised world and market they are not.

Ok, I thought you'd like some numbers using the UK as an example. At 60m people, it is almost exactly 1% of the World Population, and we are responsible for 5% of the worlds Gross Domestic Product (GDP)[1]. GDP is the sum of every above-the-table financial traction that occurs in a year; and for the UK in 2006 it was £1.2T (thousand billion) ... the buying and selling evidence of us being a rich country.

The HM Government finances all of its activities by Taxation and Borrowing. Again for 2006, HM Treasury collected from all sources about £450B in taxation (38% of GDP); then borrowed an additional £40B to meet spending plans (We might expect the borrowing in 2008/9 to be very much more!). Quite literally this £490B (The Budget [2]) pays for the infrastructure that we recognise as 'Modern Britain'. As at the Government spends what comes in as it comes in, the Treasury doesn't get chance to put anything 'in the bank' for a rainy day!

... The Treasury figures show that of that £450B tax revenue, more than 80% was collected as taxes on the Person[3] whilst just £60B was collected by direct taxes on the Business[4]. There is no doubt that Business is the 'engine of the Economy', so it seems its contribution to UK GDP is through UK employment ... Each of the UK's 29.1m workers contributing nearly twice his/her salary[5]; which seems improbable until you realise that GDP counts Salary as it is paid to you, then again in pieces as it is taxed/spent!

... As for outgoings the Treasury tells that the biggest spending is on Social protection (£137B/28%), Health (£83B/17%), and Education (£64B/13%). Below that 5 broadly equal categories account for 32%[6], with a 10% "Other" category for the rest.

So you can see that if the UK Economy slows by (for example) 2.5%, that the Tax Revenues will fall by over £10B; If that fall is accompanied by increased unemployment, then the Social Protection costs will rise (I guess by about the same order); And if HMG was planning on 2.5% growth ... We are talking a short-fall of ~£30B, and nothing in the kitty ... Where would you cut Government spending by £30B? Quite literally they have no alternative except to encourage us to spend and borrow lots, so the tax keeps coming in.

If the banking crisis is a short sharp glitch in an otherwise stable economy then it is ok to borrow to smooth it over. But if it is actually a devaluation (ie it was inflated above its rightful value) then borrowing cannot fix it ... Its the difference between deflecting a wave, or holding back the tide?

So what of the future? I'm no economist, but I am mathematically literate. We are helping to develop the world, and raise its standard of living to that of our own. So in an equitable world we cannot expect to maintain that disproportionate share of GDP, and must expect a GDP in proportion to our population, ~1%[7]. The classic answer is that we will be taking a smaller share of a much larger cake, so that share will still be a growth in cash value. But the worlds GDP is only growing at about 3%pa so will only double in 30yrs. So the cake isn't very much bigger, whilst the slice is much smaller. It represents a cut in UK GDP/Budget by a factor of 2.5 on today's values ... That Government will have to deliver the expected services on just 40% of the money; cut its services by 60%; increase taxes by a factor of 2.5; or an acceptable combination of these!

... On the 'bright' side it may take 100yr for the living standards of the world to level; in which case we should be able to hold our economy at today's level. But can we expect world progress to hold-back for that long? People put up with adversity and suppression as long as they are not aware of a better alternative. But education and the internet allows everybody to see what other have ... History is littered with revolutions over less.

So, returning to that question. If a Government takes nothing from the people but delivers the protection they need; then it definitely works for the people. Conversely if the Government does what it wants and takes from the people as much as it can without actually killing them off; then the people are a managed cash-crop.

... I guess the answer lies in where you see 38% taxation on the cost/value scale?


#1: From what I can establish the story is similar in all 'developed economies'.
#2: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/ It seems HM Treasury have taken the spreadsheets off the web, but I have them for 2003 and 2006 if anybody wants them.
#3: Income Tax - 29%, National Insurance - 17%, VAT - 15%, Excise Duties - 8%, Council Tax - 4%, Other (Capital taxes, Stamp duties, Vehicle Excise duties, Interests and Dividends) - 14%.
#4: Corporation Tax - 9%, Rates - 4%.
#5: Actually 1.87 = GDP (£1.2T)/Workers(29.1m) x Average Salary(£23,080) [HM Treasury figures]
#6: Personal Social Services; Transport; Defence; Debt Interest; Industry Agriculture and Employment; Public Order and Safety; Housing and Environment.
#7: This overlooks the growth in ROW vs UK Population, respectively 2%pa and 0%pa.