Sunday, 15 October 2017

Brexit Negotiations

    I find stressful, and begin to resent, the shilly-shallying on the Brexit negotiations.   
    Here is a simplifying suggestion.  Britain has offered to honour commitments made during membership.  Barnier wants to know how much that is.  Why not everything that we were paying before the brexit referendum? But during the transition period, we receive all the benefits that we received as a full member before the referendum. (No more closed-door stuff.)
    At least we know how much that was, and that we can afford it; and we know that it is regarded as value for money by 48% of Britons.  
    During the transition period we enter no new commitments, and we pull out, one by one, from the costs and the privileges of membership. The transition ends when the negotiations end. They might take decades.
    Yours sincerely, Ian West
--
Ian West, 9 Thenford road, Middleton Cheney, Banbury, OX17 2NB. (Tel: 01295 713889; mob: 07906 750986)

Friday, 13 October 2017

“Coppola Comment” Comment

“Coppola Comment” Comment

Frances Coppola is always an enjoyable read, enunciating good sense in lucid prose. But she can be teasing, as in her latest blog.

Growth:

     Like organisms, I believe economies can grow until they approach maturity, when they will enter a ‘steady-state’. It is neither possible nor desirable to grow for ever. By the way, GDP cannot be used as a measure of growth unless corrected for devaluation. True growth (in wealth) would have to involve either an increase in population or productivity (per worker), or both.  I cannot see why anyone should want a mature economy to grow.  No sane Briton could want an increase in the population (of Britain), nor an increase in the ratio of concrete to green-space, in Britain.  There will (in Britain) be even less interest in the growth of economies elsewhere in the world. 

Inflation:

     I suppose inflation is (in essence) the willingness of some people (sufficient people) inside a currency zone to pay more for a standard item (or sufficient basket of items).  And I suppose this could happen if the items become more scarce, or if the currency becomes more plentiful. 
     I assume that the conventional aim of 2% inflation depends entirely on politics and psychology; not on economics. People are unwilling to accept a lowering of money wages. If government wishes to lower real wages (for whatever reason), that can be achieved most easily by fixing money wages and waiting for inflation (devaluation). In Japan, with a mature and stable economy, I cannot see why anyone could possibly want inflation, whether in the form of devaluation, or of growth.  (If Japan wanted inflation, I think that could be achieved, with a printing press.) 

Interest Rates:

     From Cowen, I read “Peter Olson and David Wessel write:
‘The natural rate of interest, also called the long-run equilibrium interest rate or neutral real rate, is the rate that would keep the economy operating at full employment and stable inflation’.”  When base interest rate was the only lever the Central Bank could pull, the Olson and Wessel definition probably made some sense; the central bankers spent their time sliding the lever up and down while watching their two indicators of success. Quantitive easing provides another lever for the Central Bank, and doubtless upsets the theory of ‘natural interest rate’.  Even without the complication of quantitative easing, it seems quite possible that the concept of Natural Interest Rate contains internal contradictions: [a] Full employment may not be ‘natural’. [b] Full employment, when achieved, might not be compatible with the interest rate required for stable inflation (unless stable inflation is used to provide a definition of “full employment”).

Coppola clearly knows all that, and in her blog is not so much dismayed, as laughing at the discomfort of the economists who were armed not with basic principles but with rules of thumb.  

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Angina – Some Questions

Angina — Some Questions

     The heart must deliver oxygenated blood to (inter alia) the brain, skeletal muscle and the heart muscle itself. Exercise increases the oxygen requirement of the skeletal muscles, and the heart pumps harder. That increased effort, in its turn, increases the oxygen requirement of the heart muscle. The consensus view is that ‘diseased’ (or atherosclerotic) arteries, partly occluded with cholesterol-rich plaques, require raised blood pressure, so more effort is required from the heart. If the coronary arteries supplying the heart muscle are healthy, blood pressure would rise, and in time ventricular hypertrophy would be evident. But if they are themselves diseased (>69% occluded), the heart muscle becomes inadequately oxygenated when under this increased work load; this ischaemia causes pain — in the myocardium (and referred areas). This predictable, effort-related, chest pain is called stable angina. (A very similar pain can be caused by emotional stress, where the transient cardiac ischaemia is presumably the result of vaso-constriction caused by adrenaline and the ’stress-response’; a significantly different mechanism.)

Cause of Pain
     Note that ischaemia in the brain causes fainting, but not pain. Ischaemia in the legs might be expected to cause pain there, or at the very least weakness but, by some mechanism, the legs keep working and it is the heart muscle (which also keeps working) that experiences pain. The biochemistry causing the pain is still mysterious but may involve adenosine, and possibly ATP [1]. 

Cause of Sclerosis
     If you ask what ‘causes’ the atherosclerotic obstruction the answer given is indistinct. The literature will tell you that the major (modifiable) risk factors for cardiovascular disease are [2]:
  • Blood Cholesterol (LDLch > 3, HDL< 1.0 for men; mmol/L).
  • High fasting Triglyceride:HDL ratio (>2:1)
  • High Blood Pressure (> 140/90 mmHg).
  • Diabetes [or Impaired Glucose Tolerance] (fasting blood glucose >7mM [>6mM]; HbA1c >48 mM [>42 mM])
  • Smoking
  • Obesity (Waist:Hip > 0.9 for men)
  • Inactivity 
  • Excess alcohol
  • Mental (emotional) Stress.
     But Risk Factors do not in general cause anything; they merely correlate, they are markers. Amongst them there may be one 'cause' that causes all the rest. Or the 'causemay still elude detection. It is said that these risk factors interact, either additively, or possibly even synergistically [3]. But they are clearly linked. For example, it is easy to see that narrowed arteries might necessitate raised blood pressure; but it is harder to see how raised blood pressure could directly cause narrowing of arteries; bloating rather. 
     It is hard to see from this list what mechanism really ‘causes’ atherosclerosis. There are two theories; one is called the “reverse cholesterol transport’” hypothesis, the second theory involves lipid oxidation.
     Evidence for the Reverse Cholesterol Transport hypothesis [3] comes from finding that unloaded HDL apoproteins, capable of binding cholesterol, is protective. So also is contriving (by gene-therapy) to raise circulating levels of various of the protein components of HDL such as apoE and apoA [5].
     The Oxidised Lipids hypothesis [4] notes that the oxidation of phospholipids bound in the LDL particle, and especially phospholipids containing arachidonic acid, are inflammatory. In the presence of such oxidized LDL, HDL is found to be anti-inflammatory. What starts the inflammation is not clear, but an early step is entry of monocytes from the blood into the artery wall [5], possibly recruited by oxidised LDL, or by Cholesterol peroxides, which are particularly inflammatory.. The monocytes then become macrophages and generate cytokines from arachidonic acid.  Apolipoprotein B in LDL becomes tagged with a product of lipid oxidation, and is then accumulated by cells in the artery wall. Lipoxygenase-negative mice have “significantly” less atherosclerosis. (Hmm!). However, in humans, vitamin E and other antioxidants have proved clinically ineffective in combating atherogenesis. It seems that the growing plaque can do one of three things: [a] regress, [b]  stabilise, [c] rupture. Even the ruptured plaque can stabilize, but leaving the artery with a restricted lumen [5]. 
     Accounts emphasise different aspects but none are clear on the first step. Does dietary cholesterol get oxidised by oxygen radicals generated in the intimal layer of the artery wall? Nor is it clear why the body generates all this fuss; is the inflammation and the plaque protective?
     Isoprostanes (peroxidized products of arachidonic acid and other polyunsaturated fatty acids that participate in the perception of pain) flag the presence of oxidative stress. They are found in the urine, particularly of smokers. So, smoking correlates with increased oxidative stress, perhaps by blocking the flow of electrons to oxygen, for smoke contains both CO and CN-. 

     Is there a feedback loop here? with the ischaemia causing radicals, which then attack the intima and cause further occlusion? 

REFERENCES:
[1]  Belardinelli & Pelleg ( 2012) Adenosine and Adenine Nucleotides: From Molecular Biology to Integrative ...edited by Luiz Belardinelli, & A. Pelleg
[2]  http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/angina/basics/risk-factors/CON-20031194
[3]  Reverse transport review – https://www.jci.org/articles/view/11538; 
[4]  Navab et al. (2004) The Journal of Lipid Research, 45, 993-1007.
[5]  Oka, (2005) Acta Biochim Pol. 2005; 52(2): 311–319. 

See also: 
Temel, RE & Brown, JM (2015) trends Pharm. Sci. 36, 440–451, July 2015
https://www.healio.com/cardiology/learn-the-heart/cardiology-review/topic-reviews/coronary-artery-disease-stable-angina 
The Joint British Societies third consensus report (JBS3) is published at http://heart.bmj.com/content/100/Suppl_2/ii1
Leach (chatty review) Br J Pain. 2013 Feb; 7(1): 23–30.




Friday, 15 September 2017

The ‘Signed for’ Scam

The ‘Signed for’ Scam

Have you received unsolicited anonymous mail containing — Nothing?

     I recently received a small yellow padded envelope by second class ‘Royal Mail Signed ForTM’ delivery. I was out when it was first delivered and I had the choice of going down to the sorting office in the town some miles away, or requesting that the package be re-delivered on  the next available day. I chose the latter as the least inconvenient; I had only to stay in the house till the package arrived. 

     It was addressed to “The Manager”, but I signed my usual squiggle on the little electronic box the postie held out for me. Inside there was nothing. Figuring that the operation would cost the sender over £1 (including envelope and franking), I began to wonder what the purpose was. I went online to search for similar experiences. 

     One blogger posted the suggestion that the hidden reason was harmless enough, simply that of inflating apparent turnover of online sales to impress clients or competitors. Well, I saluted the ingenuity of both the poster and the blogger, for I had not come up with any cogent explanation of my own (not that I had tried that hard).

     Then I came across the suggestion that the scam is more sinister and works as follows. An innocent online customer buys and pays for an item and is given the ‘tracking number’ (in this case KK461028710GB). The scammer posts an empty package to an arbitrary addressee who innocently signs for the package before opening it and finding it empty. The ‘mark’, waiting in vain for his item, eventually checks with Royal Mail who tell him (to his surprise) that the item has been delivered and shows the irrelevant signature. No redress!  

     The scammer no doubt trusts that the innocent addressee, as he is little affected, will forget the incident. In order to frustrate that expectation I post this here and invite comments. 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Yanis, and DiEM25

Dear Yanis, and DiEM25,

     A year and a half ago, the launching of DiEM filled me with hope, particularly in the context of the British referendum. Since then DiEM25 seems to have slipped off the main stage, which is a pity. I wish I could help it re-find its momentum.
    One way of seeing the problem is when we hear Yanis Varoufakis describe his confrontations with the central powers of the EU. They met, talked, listened. He left. They did nothing. My first analysis was that they did not understand. Indeed, I found it very hard to repeat the argument to myself;  about how it is all Germany's fault, so stubbornly bent on recycling money so that the Greeks can go on buying Mercedes cars. My second analysis is that Yanis does not understand. Oh yes, he understands the  economics; but the crux, the movable fulcrum, the point in the argument against which a popular movement might push and win — has he identified that? 
    Martin West thinks the single currency is a mistake. No single interest rate can suit both Germany and Greece. Put another way: how does it work in the USA, and how can Ecuador and the USA both use the same currency?  I believe there is an understanding in the USA that federal money must be returned to poor states if they are going to be kept in the union. I do not know how. There may, in that complex and subtle constitution, be a degree of political integration that is still missing in Europe. Or is it just the common language? But perhaps we do agree that something needs to be done about the Euro Currency Union.  
     Yanis Varoufakis suggests there is a democratic deficit? Before the Brexit Referendum, that sounded like a promising slogan, but we now see what a mess is made if complex issues are decided by simple people. It is not obvious to me that it is democracy that we lack. I believe it is education.  
     Can Europe be 'cured' by allowing more power to the EU parliament?  I doubt it. Or by curbing the EU civil service? Possibly. But we have to recognize that the origin of the EU depended on the dreams of a very few people; integrated Europe is not the product of a popular dream. Only by imbedding the guiding force in a hidden and inaccessible committee was it possible to get the project of a united and inter-dependent Europe off the ground.  It is true that we pay lip service to democracy, but I doubt we really believe in it, except to rally forces against flagrant corruption. I do not think we are quite there yet; I mean the corruption is not flagrant enough; people are not convinced that revolution would improve their situation. 
     I think the Pro-Europe lobby finds its greatest traction at present by showing that the EU is protecting workers rights, clean beaches, fish-stocks and, by instituting uniform production standards, is allowing economies of scale. These are the tangible and practical benefits of integration. For me, and for a considerable fraction of Europeans, there is some appeal in the thought that United Europe could be (would be) a great power. Britain being part of Europe would allow Britain to effect some control in world affairs.
     Arguably the most depressing sign at present is the resurgence of nationalism. The British seem to think they are special (which may be true), but special in a ‘good’ way; this, to any travelled person is clearly a delusion. 
     Yanis Varoufakis believes that right-minded people will spontaneously support socialism. In Britain, they do not; or they are too few. He suggested that all businesses subvert a fraction of their profits towards the public purse, to illustrate the principle that wealth is generated by a combination of capital and labour**. That suggestion sounds drastic and risky, and unlikely to garner mass public support. (Though admittedly, it is little different from our widely accepted but as widely resented corporation tax.) 
    But thank you DiEM25; please keep the ideas coming.
    Yours sincerely, Ian West

Friday, 25 August 2017

Cholesterol and Statins

(First posted on 2014/02/27 by ianwest2; reposted 2017/08/25)

A year or two ago (Feb, 2014) I heard Professor Ian Young, (Director of the Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast) give the Albert Latner lecture at Newcastle University on “My cholesterol — why is it so high?”. It was a most frustrating affair. Why?
The man presented no chink of doubt, he missed some serious points, and he spoke like a missionary, or a man whose salary is largely augmented by the manufacturers of statins. We must all take statins from infancy up (we were told). He kept saying that a 1mM(*)  drop in total cholesterol causes a 25% lowering of risk of vascular event; but, while his curves showed a steep line of correlation for 40 year olds, it was an almost flat line for 80 years. (So for me there is practically no benefit).

But a more important point: In no case was the vertical axis on any of his graphs ‘General health’; he was only talking about ‘Rate (or risk) of vascular event’. It has been said that "to a hammer, everything looks like a nail", and to a cardiologist the only objective is to lower the risk of a ‘vascular event’. What about the adverse side-effects; the muscle pains, and increased risk of diabetes (both of which Young conceded), Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s (which were mentioned by Stephanie Seneff; https://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/)?

Cholesterol is essential. Ian Young correctly remarked that blocking the synthetic pathway at HMGCoA synthase (which is what statins do), will indeed cause a shortage of cholesterol and lead to scavenging pathways and the relocation of existing cholesterol. If the scavenged cholesterol is from coronary plaques, well-and-good; but what if it is scavenged from brain myelin or muscle cell membranes (as emphasised by Stephanie Seneff)? And what about ubiquinone and dolicol, which are also essential and also on the pathway blocked by statins (as emphasised by Stephanie Seneff )? If there ARE INDEED adverse side effects of statins, it is easy to see why!

So the clinical debate should be about the side effects versus benefits. I heard a paper in a Glasgow Heart meeting in the late 1990s which concluded that for over 40 year olds (or was it over 50?) the OVERALL benefits of statins do not outweigh the OVERALL damage. I was impressed (staggered, indeed) at the failure of the clinical cardiologists to see that thisif true—trumped the undenied fact that statins lower cardiovascular risk.

In 2014, aged 72 but in perfect health, I concluded I was certainly not going to take statins. I did not feel I needed them. And whether or not I should lower blood cholesterol there is something too utterly daft about poisoning myself at great expense in order to achieve that; and simply to switch from a healthy death from a coronary to a lingering death from mental, muscular and neurological decay. If I were under 40 and had familial hypercholesterolaemia (**), I think I would try diet, red-wine, and niacin (e.g. brewer’s yeast) before I tried statins.   

Professor Ian Young talked away about nuts, expensive margarine, salt, exercise, the ‘J’-curve for alcohol, etc. But he conceded that only 10% of our cholesterol comes from diet. So, surely the question is why do we MAKE too much? What regulates the synthetic pathway? [***] Does alcohol in excess of 2 units per day, or smoking, etc, up-regulate the synthetic pathway, or affect the partitioning between pools of cholesterol, e.g. by enhancing oxidative damage? What is the rôle of lipid oxidation (briefly mentioned by Young)?

Young pointed out that HDL-cholesterol is “good”; that low ‘cardiovascular risk’ correlates with higher HDL (in the 1 – 2 mM range, independently of LDL or total Ch.); in fact high HDL-Ch is 10-fold healthier than low HDL-Ch (while low LDL-Ch is only 3 times healthier than high LDL-Ch); the best predictor of heart disease is therefore the ratio LDL/HDL, the next best is HDL, the least good is LDL or total blood cholesterol. So, further good questions would be: what determines partitioning of cholesterol between the various ‘pools’ of cholesterol (HDL, LDL, cell membranes and atherosclerotic plaque, its locus operandi (where it is needed, in muscle and nerve membranes), and its locus morbidus (i.e. coronary plaques where it appears to be deleterious)?  Also, what is the rôle of lipid oxidation in affecting the partitioning? Presumably the HDL particle is picking up and re-locating cholesterol and is wholly good. But it is 'HDL-cholesterol' that is measured, so we do not know if the HDL is largely unloaded or nearly full; the latter giving the impression of plenty of HDL particles, but actually being nearly useless as a scavenger. There is a route for elimination of lipid, lipid-cholesterol-ester and cholesterol which involves liver, bile and gut. Guessing here, and maybe naively, but is it damaged (e.g. oxidized) fat/cholesterol that is eliminated, rather than merely surplus? So, there are plenty of unanswered questions.

Perhaps the coronary plaques are, in a wider sense, beneficial. After all, they protect us against suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and a lingering death! What, in any case, are the evolutionary benefits (to the genes) of surviving beyond the age of 70? The benefits must be very small and may be negative; a little ‘grandparenting’ perhaps, and some dubiously relevant ‘advice’; but does that pay for the food and the space?

(*  mmol total cholesterol per litre blood)
(**  There are many types of familial hypercholesterolaemia; the most common by a factor of 2 is a defective LDL-receptor, which presumably hoicks LDL particles out of the circulation and into some (presumably) removal pathway.) 
(***   My erstwhile colleague Loranne Agius suggested that the ingestion of excess carbohydrate feeds into fat production in the liver which requires cholesterol for its excretion.)


                  PLEASE COMMENT

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

BT help, BT — help!

BT help, BT — help! 

I wonder if readers will think I am paranoid in seeing a possible malfeasance in the following story.

I get a crescendo of letters and emails from my Internet Service Provider (ISP, namely BT) suggesting I upgrade to 'Infinity Broadband'. (I ignore these as the 15 megabit/s download rate is sufficient for my needs). The last email from BT said they would waive the conversion fee of £50 if I decided to upgrade before 23rd June. Then my hub becomes disconnected from the internet for two or three hours on Sunday afternoon, which is distressing because we spent several wasted hours trying to transfer money in Mexico. Then we are connected again, till Monday noon. Then disconnected again during Monday afternoon when the Mexican banks become open (BST+6hrs).  I phone the helpline and a young welsh woman spends some 45 minutes “running tests” all of which come up negative. So BT say there is “no fault” and therefore no way they will replace or upgrade my hub free of charge. 
The only remedies she could offer were (a) to replace at a cost of £50 the hub(1) I currently have and remain on the same monthly contract as at present, or (b) upgrade ‘free' to a new hub(2) and contract at a considerably higher monthly cost, or (c) a mixture of the two whereby I pay £20 to come onto a moderately raised monthly rate. 

I say there certainly is a fault; and the service, for which BT and I are contracted, is failing, with no apology from BT and no mention of compensation. Not only that, but BT has failed to find the fault, and thereby wasted another hour of my time.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The need for Proportional Representation

Is there an honourable case against Proportional Representation?


It struck me recently, that there would have been no need for a referendum if we had had proportional representation (PR) in the House of Commons. So, who is against PR? And why? 
     One prominent Tory MP is recorded as saying: “The principle argument against the present system is that it is not fair – it is not a proportional system. However, proportional representation is a narrow concept. The ‘proportionality’ relates only to the relationship of votes to seats and not to the proportionality of power. Under PR, 10% of the votes are designed to produce 10% of the seats, but not necessarily 10% of the negotiating power in the House of Commons. Indeed, a party with 10% of the seats may be in a position to wield disproportionate negotiating power.”
     She seems to be raising two objections to PR; that it is a “narrow concept”, and that while the votes may be distributed fairly under PR, the power is not. I do not understand the first point, unless it is intended as a summary of the second point. The second point is familiar. Politician on left and right have long been aghast at the thought of centre parties holding “the balance of power” whether under a Tory minority government or a Labour. But surely this is a relatively simple error. 
     Suppose the House of Commons contains 300 Tories, 280 Labour, 30 Lib-Dem. Suppose, on a Tory motion,  Lib-Dem and Labour MPs vote (in a principled way) against, and the motion is therefore defeated. The power that defeated the motion does not reside in the Lib-Dem portion of the opposition, but in all 310 opposers !  The motion is defeated only if there are more MPs against the motion than for; each MP counting for one vote. Surely I have said enough!
     My protesting Tory MP seemed worried that centre parties in a proportional parliament have more power than extreme parties.  But that is also nonsense isn’t it?  No one can seriously advocate disenfranchising the moderate middle merely to give the extremes a chance to govern!  It is a lunatic suggestion. Anyone who is against the moderate voices being in the majority is up against an immutable natural law — the bell-shaped curve of the "Normal Distribution" shows that the majority ARE in the middle. I hope no one will oppose PR on foolish grounds.
     I have heard other objections to PR. Some people (arguing against PR) say, “Look at Italy”. To which I would reply “Look at The Netherlands”.  Perhaps we should consider the possibility that the combined opposition unanimously wanted to vote strategically, playing games with parliament and the whole process of government. But that argument is answered by a number of considerations: such behaviour defeats good government, the perpetrators would be punished at the next election, the same game could eventually be played against them. The concept of parliament, and democracy itself, is based on the assumption that MPs do not play silly games. It is sometimes remarked that the present flip-flop system makes for large majorities and “decisive” government.   But that is surely the DISADVANTAGE of the present system, and by no means its strength? There is little virtue in being decisive if you are going against the wishes of the country; and none if you are plain wrong. When one party holds a large majority for 5 years, legislation is not tested. Furthermore, the backbench and opposition MPs have little to do. Add to that the devastating effect this flip-flop system has on morale in the country; the people cease to vote, for they see that their votes are not counted, and the MPs overuse their privileges. 
     Perhaps we should consider also the problem of stasis; getting stuck on the fence. But this also is to underestimate the good sense of the House? Ocean liners do not routinely run aground for inability to decide whether to pass to the left or right of an obstacle.)
     Proportional Representation is not a new concept. Many (if not most) countries have adopted it. The referendum of May 2011 was not about PR; it was a choice between staying with the present system or changing to the 'Alternative Vote' system which is not proportional, has few advocates, and few users.

     The ‘First Past the Post’ system favours two large parties, and large parties cynically favour it in return. I hope no one will oppose PR on dishonourable grounds. But perhaps I have missed something.

Yours sincerely, Cawstein
(South Northamptonshire.)

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Programme Notes — romantic piano

Nocturne in F minor (Op 48, No. 2) —  Frédéric Chopin  (1810 – 1849)

A nocturne is supposed to be inspired by, or evocative of, the night, or at the very least played at night. Mozart wrote 'notturnos' for mixed wind and strings, but the Nocturne as a short piano piece was more-or-less invented by the Irish pianist/composer John Field (1782 – 1837).  However the form was made his own by Chopin who, between 1830 and 1846, wrote 21 of these characteristically short, moody, pieces. This nocturne was written in 1841 and published the following year. It is marked Andantino.

12 Etude Opus 25   ———   Frédéric Chopin  (1810 – 1849)

Chopin wrote 27 Studies in all; 12 in the opus 10 set published in 1832, and 12 in this set written over a space of 4 years but published in 1837. They are, of course, studies for the establishment of fundamental piano technique, and many piano virtuosi have composed studies for that purpose, but these by Chopin rise far above the majority in artistic merit, and can be seen as compositional studies over and above their technical role. Chopin himself performed this opus 25 set at a concert, greatly impressing Robert Schumann. Except that 2 and 11 are both in A minor, each is in a different key.

++++++++ Interval ++++++++++++

Rhapsody Opus 79/1 —— Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

The two " Klavierstücke " of opus 79 were written in 1879 at the summit of his career. They were dedicated to his musical friend Elisabeth von Herzogenberg (herself a composer), and it was she who suggested the slightly pompous renaming of them as 'Rhapsodies'. This No. 1 Rhapsody is like a compressed sonata; the Agitato outer sections (in 'sonata-form') are in B minor, but they surround a more lyrical section in B major.

Nutcracker Suite — Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)/Mikhail Pletnev

This is a piano transcription made by our contemporary Russian virtuoso pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev (1957 - ) of Tchaikovsky's Suite for Orchestra which lasts 20 minutes. The original ballet of 1892 was based on a story by ETA Hoffmann and is in two acts. In Act 1 the characters are human (adults and children) and the toys are toys; in Act 2 they are fantasy — the toys coming to life. There are 23 sections in the ballet, all with evocative titles like 'Decoration of the Christmas Tree', 'Children's Gallop and Dance of the Parents',  'Waltz of the Snowflakes', in Act 1; while in Act 2 taking place in the Land of the Sweets there are: Chocolate (Spanish dance), Coffee (Arabian dance), Tea (Chinese dance), Waltz of the Flowers,  Pas de deux (Sugar-Plum fairy and her Chavalier),  a Tarantella, the famous Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy, and a Final Waltz and 'Apotheosis'. In Pletnev's version there are 7 pieces:  March, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Tarantella, Intermezzo, Trepak (Russian Dance), Tea (Chinese Dance), Pas de Deux.

Scherzo & March (Love of Three Oranges) Op. 33 tert – Sergei Prokofiev

When Prokofiev was in Chicago in 1921 he was commissioned to write an opera. Fortunately he had a draft libretto for a satirical opera in his bag. Knowing as little English as the Americans had Russian, the opera came out first in a French version – "L'amour des trois oranges". The critics were initially doubtful ("The work is intended, one learns, to poke fun. As far as I am able to discern, it pokes fun chiefly at those who paid money for it."). Prokofiev prepared a 20 minute orchestral suite derived from the music (Styled Opus 33 bis); and from that himself prepared this Scherzo and March for solo piano (Op. 33 tert).

Piano Sonata A minor, Op. 28  ––––  Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953)


Prokofiev composed his first opera when he was 9. His father died in 1910 and with him financial security, but the 19 year old son was already becoming known as a composer, albeit in a very 'modernist', polytonal, discordant, vein.  Prokofiev's 3rd piano sonata was 10 years in the making; it was published in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution (Feb), and Prokofiev's departure for America (May). It is a short (8 min) work in one movement, and illustrates Prokofiev's interest in departing from the norms of the romantic school; in shock, dissonance, harsh clusters of notes, and dynamic surprises. (Apparently, he was throughout his life an excellent chess player.)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Programme Notes: Mozart - Mendelssohn - Bartok

Programme Notes: Mozart - Mendelssohn - Bartok

String Quartet in D, K. 575   —— Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 — 1791) 

i. Allegretto;   ii. Andante;   iii. Menuetto (Allegretto);  iv Allegretto

In April we heard Mozart's Quartet No. 22 in B flat major (K589, Prussian No. 2); today its predecessor, No. 21, the first of the so-called 'Prussian Quartets'. In April 1789, Mozart's wife claiming illness and needing a spa cure (where however she flirted to Mozart's distress), left Mozart desperate for money. Hope came when Prince Lichnowsky, an aristocratic pupil, offered to take him to Berlin and present him to King Friedrich Wilhelm II (himself an amateur cellist). He came back to Vienna intending to write 6 quartets for the King and 6 'easy' piano sonatas for his daughter Princess Frederike. Of the latter, only one was written — Mozart's last piano sonata. Of the quartets, Mozart wrote only 3. Somewhat neglected, these quartets are overshadowed by his earlier 'Haydn' quartets and the later quintets. Some of his contemporaries got the impression that Mozart wrote with a facility bordering on flippancy for he would write out the score without errors while talking to friends, but others insisted that he spent much of the night at the piano, and it was only his extraordinary memory that enabled him to write the fair copy at speed. A distinctive feature of all 3 'Prussian' quartets is the prominent and interesting cello part, intended for the king himself to play. In this, the first of the set, 3 of the 4 movements are marked allegretto ('mildly cheerful' ?). The outer movements are in D major; the andante second movement is in A, the minuet (in D) has a trio section that swithers between D and G.

String Quartet No. 2, (Op. 17)   —— Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945)

i. Moderato;   ii. Allegro molto capriccioso;   iii. Lento

At the age of 21 Bartók, travelling abroad as a virtuoso pianist, was stimulated by Strauss's Zarathustra to try his hand at composition (Kossuth in 1903). In 1904, hearing a nanny sing a folk song he was stimulated to take up the collecting and study of Folk Music as his main preoccupation and life's work, with only occasional diversion into composition: the 1st quartet (1909), an opera Bluebeard's Castle (1911), 2nd quartet (1917), the ballets Wooden Prince (1916), and Miraculous Mandarin (1919). In 1909 the 28 yr old Bartók married 16 yr old Marta. By then, he was living in Budapest as professor of pianoforte at the Royal Academy of Music (where one of his pupils was Sir Georg Solti). The First World War was a relatively peaceful time in Hungary. For Bartók and his colleague, great friend and fellow collector Kodály, it meant that they had to give up their travelling abroad collecting folk songs onto wax cylinders and return to Hungary; turmoil came with Hungary's Soviet revolution after the war. So Bartók spent most of the war simultaneously writing the Wooden Prince and his 2nd quartet; both showing the influence of Debussy. Bartók apparently described the first movement as being in sonata form, the second as "a kind of rondo" and the third as "difficult to define" but possibly a sort of ternary form (Wikipedia). It is not in his 'mature' style, which developed only in the twenties and thirties.

String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, (Op. 13)     Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)

1. Adagio/allegro vivace, 2. Adagio non lento, 3. Intermezzo (allegretto con moto/allegro di molto), 4. Presto


This quartet, composed in 1827 when Mendelssohn was 18 years old, is actually his first, as Opus 12 (though called Quartet No. 1) was written two years later. It astonishes the listener with its assured mastery of the medium, and its bold originality; but then we remember that he wrote his superb String Octet (1825) two years before that. Many musicologists have compared Mendelssohn's opus 13 with Beethoven's late quartets, the last of which, though not performed in public till 1828 was published in September 1827 (Beethoven died March 1827). (See e.g.: http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/mendelssohn-quartet-in-a-minor-op-13.)  While most contemporaries regarded these late Beethoven quartets as flawed, and even 'horrible', the young Mendelssohn must have obtained and studied the score in the weeks before writing his opus 13. An easily conceded but trivial similarity between older and younger master is that the final movement of Beethoven's last quartet (Op. 135) opens with a musical motif under which Beethoven wrote "Muß es sein?" ("Must it be?"), while in the last 5 bars of the opening adagio, adolescent Mendelssohn quoted the "Ist es wahr?" motif from a song he had previously written (of which the words run "Is it true, is it true that you are always waiting for me in the arboured walk?"). But the one utterance is a disturbed, existential question, while the other expresses the uncertainty and excitement of a youthful romantic yearning. So differ also the works.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Programme Notes: Schubert piano works

Four Impromptus, (Op. 90), D. 899    Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

These 4 impromptus were composed in 1827 (a year before Schubert's untimely death), and published the same year; the first half of a set of 8. In that year Schubert composed, besides these exquisite short piano pieces, yet another failed opera (The Count of Gleichen), a superb German Mass, the E flat piano trio and the sombre song cycle "A Winter Journey". A year of great happiness and sadness; a torch bearer at Beethoven's funeral, letters from 3 publishers asking to publish his compositions, a holiday in Upper Austria (said by Hutchings to be "perhaps the most happy time Schubert had ever known outside Vienna, or in it"). The first Impromptu, in C minor, is a set of variations on two themes; both slow. It ends peacefully in the major. The second, in E flat major, is in ternary form, but with a B-like coda (ABAB'). The A section is a moto-perpetuo of running triplets for the right hand; the contrasting B section drops into a minor key and, approaching the return, it intriguingly combines hints of the running triplet figure. The third, a peaceful, lyrical, reassuring piece in G flat major (6 flats), was reissued 30 years later by the same publisher in G major (1 sharp; for amateur players?)  The fourth Impromptu, in A-flat major, is perhaps the most famous of all Schubert's piano compositions. Its opening consists of cascading arpeggios in the right hand, nowadays usually trivialized by being played too fast in an attempt to bring out the left hand melody. It begins transiently in A-flat minor, though this is written as A-flat major with accidentals. It is in ternary form (ABA) with a calmer middle section. Was this set a sonata taken apart? Probably not, as Schubert numbered his next 4 impromptus 5,6,7,8. However, these 4 impromptus played in this order fit nicely together in mood and key.

Three Piano Pieces, (Op. 90), D. 946   ――   Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Schubert died on 19th November 1828. Between March and the beginning of November he wrote: the C major String Quintet, 3 piano sonatas, 2 piano duets (includning the profound Fantasie dedicated to the young countess Caroline Esterhazy), these 3 Klavierstücke, The Shepherd on the Rock, the Schwannengesang songs, and 3 pieces of church music. It was doubtless the fugal writing of the latter that prompted Schubert to turn up on 4th Nov with friend Lanz on the doorstep of Simon Sechter's house for lessons in counterpoint. He missed the second lesson on 10th, and took to his bed 4 days later, fiddling still with the unsuccessful opera The Count of Gleichen. So, a year that saw written much of his sublimest music. These 3 Klavierstücke, written in May, were published (by Brahms) in 1868. It seems likely that there were to be 4, but it is not clear whether they were to be Impromptus or Moments Musicaux, nor even that they were conceived as a set. They are more complex in structure than the preceding set of impromptus (e.g. the 1st is in what could be called compound ternary form: A,B,A',C, D,E,A,B,A',C), they favour remote keys (e.g. 6 and 7 flats), continuous triplets and repeated semiquavers or tremolo effects; all typical of late Schubert. The first is in E minor and marked Allegro Assai. The second, in E major is Allegretto. The third is an Allegro in C major, in which it sounds as though the left hand is behind the beat, but it is really the right hand that is before the beat.

Sonata in D major, (Op. 53), D. 850   ――   Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

1. Allegro (vivace), 2. Andante (con moto), 3. Scherzo & Trio, 4. Rondo  (Allegro moderato)
After Schubert's despair in 1824, 1825 was a relatively happy year. He was solvent with Esterhazy guilders, and becoming known to publishers and the musical world of Vienna. He spent from May till September in the ravishing countryside of upper Austria with the retired opera singer Vogl who was a native of that area, moving from place to place, singing and charming as they went, welcomed and dined by the local big-wigs, and charmed in their turn by the young ladies. But it was not all sight-seeing and letter-writing, for Schubert composed his Great C major (9th) Symphony, the Walter Scott songs (which include his Ave Maria), and this D major sonata. For the last 3 weeks, paid for by a well-wisher, he and Vogl stayed at the famous health spa of Bad Gastein (therapeutically investigated by Paracelsus 300 years earlier); so this is called the Gasteiner Sonata. Schubert's composer brother Ferdinand, when offering to sell it to Diabelli after Schubert's death, distinguished it as a Grand Sonata; perhaps on account of its length. It is, however, relatively light hearted, and in many passages has an improvisatory feel. The 1st movement is vigorous; the long andante (in A major), dreamy rather than sombre or painful; the scherzo, rousing, with a sharply contrasted sweet trio section; the rondo almost cheeky in the nursery-like simplicity of its recurring theme.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Speed of clouds

Speed of clouds 

Suppose I lie on my back and look vertically up. I can see a cloud passing overhead, and measure the time (t, in seconds) that it takes to change its angle from the vertical by one degree. If I knew the height (h, in metres) of the cloud I could calculate the distance moved by the cloud in the horizontal plane, and thus the speed (v) of the cloud in metres per second. Tan (1º) = 0.01745; so, if the cloud were 100m above me, the 1º would represent 1.745m in t seconds. (Multiply by 2.2369 to get the answer in mph.)  But I do not know the height of the cloud. Here is a possible method for determining both height and speed. 

Object: to determine the height above ground level of the bottom of a cloud layer, and its speed across the land.
Equipment: 2 observers (A & B) at 2 different known locations some 500 - 1000 m apart, 2 mobile phones, 2 astrolabes or sextants, 2 compasses, 2 pencils and paper.
Method: Observer A identifies a cloud (C) of which the shape is sufficiently distinctive to describe uniquely (e.g. "the one shaped like a hen"). He rings B and waits till B has identified the same cloud. Each observer then determines and records the inclination above the horizontal (a) of C and its compass bearing (b).
Calculation: The data is then passed to a 15 year old with a slide rule or "scientific" calculator. He is going to assume that the two compass bearings on the cloud define two vertical planes ACD and BCD that intersect at the cloud and the point D that is the projection of the cloud on the ground. The orientation and length of the line AB between the two observers is known. The point D can be identified by drawing the lines AD and BD on the map. If the observations are repeated after 1, 2, 3, etc minutes the speed and direction of the cloud can be determined. 

The angles CAD and CBD provide two series of estimates of the height of the cloud (distance CD). (Comment: If the terrain is not flat to the horizon in all directions, observers will also need a bucket of water in order to determine a "false horizon" by which to determine the inclination angles; the true inclination will be half the angle between the cloud and its reflection in the bucket.)

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Nostalgia and Brexit

Nostalgia and Brexit

Nostalgia: “The pain of homesickness”
     I love words and was delighted to learn, recently, that the word ’Nostalgia’ means ‘homesickness’. It is a word concocted around 1688 from the Greek ‘nostos’ = returning home, and ‘algos’ = pain (c.f. neuralgia), to describe “severe homesickness treated as a disease; occasionally with fatal outcome”.
     I had an ‘aperçu’ in the middle of the night, as follows. I watched a film in bed, and my last few wakeful minutes conceived a romanticised image of coal miners in 1970 issuing from their mine at the end of the working day; grimy, tired, cheerful and fulfilled. I woke from a dream with the realization that this type of work is a thing of the past; as dated as horse-drawn vehicles. There are in Britain many thousands of people who, in the seventies, would have felt the cheerful exhaustion of manual work but who now find themselves unskilled for the present, and gloomy about the future. From 1800 to 1950 the North of England was the powerhouse of our economy. You could almost say it was the workshop-of-the-world, as they build railways for Argentine, and wove cotton saris for India.
     That glory has gone. They are left with their allotments, leeks and whippets, watching the Eastern Europeans come over to pick our carrots and mend our ball-valves. We have witnessed in a shockingly short time the redundancy of a whole social class. Could that be the real cause of the startling outcome of the Brexit referendum, at least in the north of England?  

The loss of status.
     There were two quite different reasons for voting “Leave”; but both can be described as nostalgia for loss of status.
     I doubt the ‘manual working classes’ ever thought themselves to be ‘as good as’ the landowners, or factory owners. But they could justifiably think of themselves as ‘utterly essential’ to society; and even (with justification) as ‘carrying’ the whole of society on their shoulders. Who, after all, sowed, reaped, and milled the corn, who built the houses, mined the coal? Not the vicar, nor the squire nor the school teacher. Nobody needed to feel equal, because everybody knew they were all family. Today we import much of our food, and 65% of our cars (Of the 2.4 million cars sold in UK in 2015, 35% were made here). Unemployment, at 5%, is not that different from the seventies, and is much less than in the eighties. So there are jobs; but it is not men’s work.  A degree of nostalgia for the lost status of ‘the manual worker’ is very understandable.  
     However, I meet many who admit to voting “Leave”, but who never were employed in manual work, and whose jobs are not remotely under threat from abroad. So they do not fall in that category, and are not nostalgic for a vanished personal status.  Nevertheless, I find that they also are yearning for a bygone era. Someone talked of ‘cricket on the green’, someone else wanted to revive trade with the ‘Commonwealth’. I sense, in this second category of leavers, a nostalgia for the time when this country was know (officially and throughout the world) as Great Britain. 
    
Is this the real Brexit mindset — a desire to restore the fifties, and sixties?  
     Those who voted to leave unified Europe may have made some canny calculations about wages, or realized that we are already severely overcrowded on this little island. But I doubt it. There may be incisive reasons for exit. But I do not hear them. Most ‘Leavers’, though now a little subdued, as they begin to realize the giant task ahead, still re-affirm their commitment to leaving. For them, there never was a reason for leaving, just an emotion. 

The Future
     Whatever the terms of Brexit and whatever the rôle of Britain in the next 20 years, it will NOT be as it was in the fifties, sixties and seventies. 



Friday, 31 March 2017

What is Wrong with Macroeconomics

Macro Mess
     People complain that macroeconomics is a confused mess. It is said that macroeconomists disagree among themselves, that the government is pursuing the wrong policies, that the opposition is not mounting an effective opposition. 

     Diane Coyle in 2012 put the case in a well argued lecture (1), and again in a shorter, less formal, way in a passionate blog (2). Jonathan Portes, in his rebuttal blog (3), summarizes Coyle’s case succinctly as:  
a) "although macroeconomists will insist that there are known scientific facts, they do not appear to agree on what these are”,
b)" the discussion among macroeconomists is so shouty”,
c) "all economists need to do far, far better at explaining their work to the general public”.  
Portes partly rebutted each charge, but in doing so seems to concede each, in large part. 

     That was in 2012; but the argument persists. Last month ‘Unlearning Economics’ (4) weighed in against macroeconomists, and last week Simon Wren-Lewis rushed to his own defence in Mainly Macro (5). But now the argument brings in the extra dimension of politics. Both these bloggers assume ‘progressive’ means ‘distributing downwards the benefits of labour’, and is ‘good’, while ‘regressive’ means ‘reinforcing the power of capital’ and  is ‘bad’. 

     It seems rather pompous of me to join this learned debate, but I have a point or two of my own that I want to make. In my own field of expertise I have seen intellectual tribalism, and well understand a reluctance to grapple properly with alternative ways of rationalising the data. “Intellectuals”, my illustrious colleague often said, “seldom  concede; but they do eventually die”. Natural scientists can usually (in time) be shamed into testing their theories against data; arguments can only persist if both theories are able to rationalise the facts. Does this hard filter operate adequately in macroeconomics?

     However, much of the argument is occurring at levels less rational than the purely academic; between politicians, business men, media commentators, bloggers and the average voter. There are hidden agendas, and consequent confusion, not only about the means, but about the objectives of government policy. Are we trying to increase GDP, or actually trying to reduce taxes, trying to decrease unemployment, or secretly trying to increase it (to bring down costs)? Are we seriously trying to bring down the cost of housing when we ourselves have houses and are getting rather rich thereby, or are we trying to increase profit margins in the industry? Are we simply trying to win an election?  Even phrases like ‘fair taxation’ sow confusion, for some will think it means making the relative burden equal across the spectrum of wealth, while others may think it means we all pay the same absolute amount, like the 'poll tax'. 
     
     It alarms the laymen when they see professors of economics disagreeing (6) and calling each other idiots (7).  It is fair to say that the subject matter of the discipline is complex. But most cutting-edge academic work is complex, and effectively closed to the layman. Macroeconomics, however, is additionally hampered by a traditionally cryptic exposition. Keynes was obviously very clever, which enabled him to conceive the most convoluted and arcane pronouncements (8). Imagine the thrill of finding that your academic competitors do not see the relevance of IS-LM. You will need to explain it! (9), but not clearly enough to be understood; you do not mention what I,S,L and M signify, do not explain that the graph is rotated 90º and uses jumbled axes. (c.f. wikipedia, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTr2PVbbpxg). 

     Yet there is a simplicity in macroeconomics, as in most things, if you have a mind simple enough to see it. Suppose government wants businesses to produce more goods and employ more men, so that more people have more money and buy more goods. It urges the Bank to lowers interest rates. The people with money buy, those without money borrow and buy. The businesses borrow and build, take on workers, who in turn can now buy goods. Success! But what if interest rates are already near zero? And still people are not buying. (There is clearly no requirement for cash, no point in building factories, no confidence in the near future.) What does 'Marcoeconomics’ suggest? "Fiscal loosening”, says Krugman; but does he mean increasing government spending, or lowering taxes to leave more money in the people’s pockets, both of which increase public debt? (See Chick and Pettifor, 10). 

Now here comes the real problem. What does government do but cut Government spending, and flood the banks with ‘quantitative easing’. (Hadn’t we just established that it was not money we were short of but ‘demand’, and confidence?) The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, and there is barely a flicker of a recovery. The bosses can invest in new plant! — but there is no point, as there are no customers, no demand.

It is not so much that ‘Macro got it wrong’ as ‘Macro got ignored’. But Macro did get it wrong, twice. It failed to get its point across to those who would have heeded. And in my opinion cutting taxes is not remotely as effective as increasing taxes and increasing government spending; it is merely easier. (See my “Tax and Spend”, 11).  There was no need to scare the public by increasing public debt; and therefore no point in advocating it. Crikey! 

References:
(1) https://www.bnc.ox.ac.uk/downloads/news/tanner_lecture_2012_text.pdf
(2) http://www.enlightenmenteconomics.com/blog/index.php/2012/06/a-macroeconomist-tells-me-off/
(3) http://www.niesr.ac.uk/blog/macroeconomics-what-it-good-response-diane-coyle#.WNkH0GU0mdE
(4) https://medium.com/@UnlearningEcon/no-criticising-economics-is-not-regressive-43e114777429#.iwfjl01sl
(5) https://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/on-criticising-existence-of-mainstream.html
(6) https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/12/24/dont-blame-macroeconomics-wonkish-and-petty/?_r=0
(7) https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2016/12/25/paul-krugman-gets-his-recessionary-macroeconomics-wrong-again/#5cc30754701e
(8) http://occidentis.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/keynes1.html
(9) https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/is-lmentary/
(10) http://www.debtonation.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Fiscal-Consolidation1.pdf
(11) http://occidentis.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/tax-and-spend.html







Tuesday, 28 March 2017

George and Dragon (1)

George and Dragon (1)
     Sitting by the fire in the George and Dragon with with my new ‘mates’, one mentioned a regular they called ‘Prozac’. I was amused, and wondered aloud at the mood-altering effects of the absent ‘Prozac’. 
     “Yes,” they said, “quite different in temperament from ‘Viagra’. And they call him that to his face. I once heard someone call out to him, as he was leaving, ‘Bye, Viagra’, not realising the effect that would have on diners at the adjacent table, where a lady dropped her fork.”
     "Then there is 'Basher', of course." 
     "I wonder," I mused "if I have seen Basher". "Oh, you would know him if you saw him,  ― but he has been banned from most pubs now." 
     John and Andy go back a bit; both retired, but both graduates of Chelsea College, one in geology, the other in physics. 

     A minute later, when someone mentioned ‘Posh Pete’, I laughed out loud and wondered what they called me behind my back. No hint from Andy, just a wisp of a smile.  I would not object to 'Prof', which I occasionally heard in Thrussington, and regularly heard in The Forge at Ulgham.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Exchange Rates and Balance of Payments

Translation and Comment on:
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS AND THE EXCHANGE RATE

“Summary and conclusion (as posted by FRANK SHOSTAK  on Cobden Centre 13 MARCH2017)
"Contrary to a popular belief, the state of the balance of payments has nothing to do with the determination of exchange rates. The key factor behind the rate of exchange determination is the relative purchasing power of various monies. The trade balance statistics could be however useful in ascertaining the diversion of foreigners’ real wealth from the rest of the world to the US given that the US dollar is the most popular money created out of thin air by the US central bank and the US banking system. As long as the floating exchange rate regime is allowed to function the more severe damage is inflicted onto the process of real wealth generation. One way out of this mess is the introduction of a gold standard.”

Let me try to understand what is being said in the above quotation.  I shall simplify by dropping the first 5 words, as they declare themselves to be irrelevant.  I shall next suggest that the “state of the balance” is “the balance”.  Perhaps “the determination of exchange rates” can be understood to mean “determining exchange rates”. For “monies” I shall write “currencies”.  For his “... rate of exchange determination” perhaps we could try “The key factor determining the exchange rate between two currencies is their relative purchasing power.”   So it seems that Shostak is suggesting:
The balance of payments has nothing to do with determining exchange rates. The key factor determining the exchange rate between two currencies is their relative purchasing power.
I disagree with both statements. I think the Trade Balance is a major factor determining exchange rates (ER), while not the only factor. And I think the link between exchange rates and relative purchasing power is so close as to make it hard to decide which "causes" which. (Does sunset cause the onset of night or vice versa?)

I believe the exchange rate US$:Yen is determined by a number of factors all round the world among which I would include: the desire of the Japanese to acquire dollars, and their desire to sell goods to the USA, and reciprocally the need in the USA for yen, and their need to sell goods to Japan; plus a host of smaller influences like tourism and trade flows with third countries. But there are two other big influence that need to be recognized: capital flows, and reserves. If Japan has a positive trade-balance with the States they will have dollars to: [1] sell, or [2] to invest, or [3] to keep in reserve. If Japan sells their dollars for Yen the exchange rate will be affected (the dollar will devalue). But Japan may be content to keep the dollars as “quasi-gold”, or they may invest in the USA to gain interest.  (Of course, the States may reciprocally hold Yen or invest in Japan.)

The Balance of Trade used to be the main ‘determiner’ of the exchange rate, but now there is (apparently) far money shooting round the world looking for ‘interest’, than looking for ‘goods’. Many countries maintain a trade imbalance for many years, because capital flows and interest rates are not taken into account.

Suppose a basket of mixed goods costs 550 Yen in Japan and 5 US$ in the United States. However, the current ‘exchange rate’ in the money markets is 111 Yen:US$. The “real exchange rate (RER) is calculated by correcting the ratio of the basket-prices by the ratio of the currency-prices to produce a dimentionless number. In theory, with perfect markets and large baskets, the “real exchange rate” is 1.0 ; in our example 550/5 x 1/111 = 0.991. It can be imagined that if the basket contained tuna the ratio of the prices (Japan:USA) might be 650/5, and our view of the “real exchange rate” would be distorted by the Japanese love of tuna. We need a large basket.

RER(Japan:USA)= 650/5 x 1/111 = 1.171.

Likewise, if interest rates were higher in the USA than in Japan the desire to hold US$ could distort the “real exchange rate” the other way. In time, and with perfect markets, the RER should relax towards 1.0

RER(Japan:USA)= 550/5 x 1/121 = 0.909


In short: I think Shostak underrates the role of trade-balance in determining exchange-rates; it remains funtamental, though it is by no means the only factor. For me, the value of his article is that it has forced me to go elsewhere to understand the matter.  I suspect it has only won a place on the Cobden Centre website because of the miraculously irrelevant mention of gold. 

Monday, 20 March 2017

Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party

Leader of the PLP

Dear Christine Shawcroft,
     I heard you on the radio this morning, and I looked up your website. I approve all your attitudes, and applaud your massive efforts in support of those attitudes. But I come to a different conclusion. 
     You were advocating lowering the requirement for MP endorsement for the selection of a future Leader of the Labour Party (LLP). It seems to be a matter of observable fact that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not follow Jeremy Corbyn. And that the Membership will not follow anyone else. So, we are at an impasse.
     Why not scrap completely the requirement for MP endorsement? Let Congress/NEC/Membership/Affiliated unions select a Chairman/President/Leader.  You may see no reason why 229 MPs should frustrate the democratic wishes of the 515,000 Party members, merely on the grounds that they have won a parliamentary election?  
     But the team in Parliament needs to be a team. I would like the PLP to get their act together, and to put their best parliamentarians forward to advocate effective opposition. They need to create the semblance of a Government in Waiting. Let the PLP select their own leader, unanimously — a shadow Prime Minister, if you like.
     If you question the democratic authority of the PLP, bear in mind that 229 MPs represent 229 x  75,000 = 17.2 million constituents; and are therefore voted for by 229 x 37,500 voters; i.e. approximately 8.6 million voters. That makes the Party Membership seem almost irrelevant. 


Yours sincerely, Cawstein