Friday, 28 April 2017

Projects, Day 5: Montessori school

So I told you the other day I’d give you some idea of some of the things I’ve been working on recently that have kept me away from blogging.

This is a new three-classroom Montessori school in a central Auckland suburb, behind two existing houses used as admin and accommodation ...

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Projects, Day 4: Victoria country weekender

So I told you the other day I’d give you some idea of some of the things I’ve been working on recently that have kept me away from blogging.

This one is a small, inexpensive weekender on a tiny Victorian country street…

16018-Perkins~19 - Picture # 1
16018-Perkins~19 - Picture # 3
16018-Perkins~19 - Picture # 4


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Guest post: ANZAC, a counter-argument


Did you read my piece yesterday about what the ANZAC legends were fighting for on those beaches in southern Turkey all those years ago? Robin Grapefield did, and he penned this guest post in response …

I'm going to pick away at a few things in your analysis [he begins].

(1) "...why were they doing it in Turkey, for Galt’s sakes!?"

I'm afraid that the answer for this is not to be found in a book of general WWI history [in fact, you can – Ed.] . It is found in a study of military logistics, military logic and a larger look at the strategies Britain has used to combat its continental enemies throughout the ages. [In fact however, what the guest post discusses is not really *strategy* but *tactics* – it is in those history books that one does finds the bungled geopolitical strategy that ended up in them being dumped them on those beaches largely to please Russia – Ed.]

There are two maxims of military that anyone seeking to serve needs to understand:

(1) The first is that Army (or Navy or Airforce) will never send you where you want to go nor necessarily where you are trained to go. They will send you where you are needed.
The ANZACs were closer to the scene of a military campaign than British troops in Britain. Timing was thought to be critical and so they were used along with available British and French troops. Shipping an additional British division out from England to replace the 1.5 ANZACs divisional units committed would have taken too long at the average 5-7 knot speed of WWI era cargo/troop ships to say nothing of the number of ships and escorts that would have been required and the havoc that would have played to ongoing operations in France. So, there is your reason for the ANZACs in Gallipoli. Cold, hard, boring, unexciting economics – or as the Army refers to it: logistics. [A cold, hard boring answer that, unfortunately, ignores the actual question, i.e., why were the Allies fighting Turkey at all? What did they hope to gain? – Ed.]

(2) The other maxim is simply this: if the government hands you a rifle, no matter the nature or location of your duty-assignment, if the war lasts long enough you will have to use it (see point 8).
    In other words, if your politicians declare war, then things like Gallipoli, the Somme, Stalingrad, Chosin Penninsula, Khe Sanh, and the battles for Fallujah are ~GOING~ to happen. To paraphrase Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

(2) I want to emphasise something here: Gallipoli occurred because Britain declared war on Turkey and Germany. That was a failure of diplomacy. If we are looking for root causes for military disaster X, Y and Z that is where your blame should go. [And, indeed, that is largely where I aim it too; but the bungling occurs on virtually every level but the soldiers’ – Ed.]

Thus we go back before your narrative begins to observe that the Turks entered the war on the German side because a British Naval commanders (Milne and Troubridge) in 1914 failed to stop the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau from entering the Dardenelles. When those ships arrived in Istanbul, they placed an implied threat over the Turk government that if Turkey didn’t join the Germans, their capital would be shelled. That (along with British diplomatic bungling over two Dreadnoughts being built for Turkey but appropriated by Britain when war was declared) changed the political calculus to the Pro-German side. [In fact, scared of both Germany and Russia, the ‘Young Turks’ who had taken power had no intention of joining the war on any side, to the despair of both Von Sanders – who wrote the Kaiser that he proposed to challenge the various leaders to a duel! – and of Churchill, who wanted to send a flotilla up to Constantinople to sink both boats in order to bring Turkey into the war without them. It was only when Enver Pasha saw German victories against Russia he manouevred them into a declaration. A good account, with recent research, can be found in David Fromkin’s ‘A Peace to End All Peace’ – Ed.]

Had the British done better both diplomatically and with the pursuit of these ships (demonstrating the RN’s legendary naval prowess) then Gallipoli wouldn’t have been necessary. Of course, then we’d be lamenting the first echelon of ANZACs being slaughtered pitilessly on the Somme or Messines or wherever in France – as they were in 1916-1918.

(3) Now in the case of the British Empire there was also a failure of preparation. Britain’s failings (described below) were mirrored in Australia and New Zealand. For neither country was prepared to equip and train their combined 6-division plus assets force anywhere let alone the Middle-East and Europe. Nor were they prepared philosophically to understand what they were committing to. Had someone had the foresight to understand that NZ’s 100,000 military men would suffer 60% casualties between 1914 and 1918 they might have paused before declaring war on Germany.
Britain pre-WWI spent the Lion’s share of its defense budget on the Navy (and NZ/Australian defense plans relied on the RN too much). The Army was left at colonial levels in terms of manning. The regular army stood at 7 volunteer Infantry and 3 Cavalry Divisions with only about 70% strength (numbers prior to the BEF being landed were made up from Reservists). The Territorial force was also present but not trained nor equipped for rapid mobilisation.

The theory was that this Regular force would serve as the Cadre for an army around three to four times its size to be raised and trained in England while Continental armies battled it out. British military agreements with France and Belgium ignored this military compromise and committed the British Regular force to instant deployment. [In fact, intentionally, none of the agreements formed any kind of firm commitment that, if the Asquith Government had so chosen, necessitated any particular action on the part of Britain beyond patrolling the northern coast of France – Ed.] The BEF suffered 90% causalities between Mons and the First Ypres and Kitchener’s New Army and the Territorial force; bereft of the martial knowledge held by those dead men had to relearn the lessons on the Somme and Gallipoli and a dozen other places.

In other words, Britain’s military planners examined the options Britain had based upon its available manpower and economic power and prepared to wage a decisive Naval war with its army to play a peripheral role until it was large enough to take on the Germans in Europe. All while its diplomats committed them to both a decisive Naval campaign (the blockade) and a decisive land-campaign – and right from the opening minutes of the war! [But see my comment above – Ed.]

This is why the British General Officer Corps sucked so badly in WWI, and sucked again in WWII. Lop-sided expansion of the Army combined with a mistaken cultural heritage of selecting its officers from a narrow social class doomed thousands of Empire troops to be slaughtered until the fault could be rectified either by policy or attrition.

This was the sucking hole into which the New Zealand and Australian politicians blindly committed their men. [A good account of which is given in Douglas Newton’sHell-Bent: Australia’s Leap into the Great War’ – Ed.] Later in WWII they would install a “relief-valve” -- insisting that the ANZACs fight together as a homogenous Corps or at least under their own officers and that their governments be consulted before these troops be committed to a campaign.
(4) When fighting a continental enemy (or group of them) the British have ~always~ sought to attack them in the periphery. This is simple military logic dating back to Sun Tsu. Use your strengths (in Britain's case - maritime mobility) on their weak points. Britain has also always sought to us politics to build its own alliances against continental enemies and to break apart those that oppose them. See the Napoleonic wars. The attempt to knock Turkey out of the war early before it could get organised must be understood in this light before people jump on bandwagon of blaming Churchill. [And yet the thinking was more about what Britain could do for Russia, rather than what it could do against Turkey, about whom there was very little military respect, and far too much talk of “soft underbellies” – Ed.]

Had Churchill been strangled at birth, some other Briton would have come up with a plan like this. It’s how Britain fought back when it was a genuine super-power.

(5) I understand that you love to hate Churchill. [To be clear, I think he made the wrong call on virtually every decision in his political life but one, leading too aften for too many to spectacular and far-reaching disaster. But that does not mean what I feel towards him is hatred – Ed.] Remember this. The man is probably the most enigmatic politician of his era. He is interesting and divisive at the same time. [And too often too clearly wrong, one reason he was rejected pre-war by his colleagues, and post-war by British voters – Ed.] Retelling or reanalysing his story sells books now and newspapers then. His patronage doubtless speeded along policies both good (the tank) and bad (Gallipoli), but he wasn’t the PM and nor was he a General in charge of the campaign. For instance: (a) In General Hamilton you had a man who never visited the front. (b) Later in WWII you have two Generals (Mark Clark and Collins) who conspired to dull the usually aggressive nature of the US-Army and condemn the invaders at Anzio to being surrounded and ground down despite achieving (as was the case initially at Gallipoli) nearly complete tactical and strategic surprise.

The fact that the forces employed in both these “Churchillian follies” were not up to the task was a symptom of a disease that I allude to in (3).

Parenthetically the ANZACs were initially supposed to be committed to a supporting attack. The main attack on the toe of the peninsula was entrusted to Regular British and French forces, more numerous than, and (supposedly) more reliable and better trained than the ANZACs. There was a navigational screw up and the ANZAC landing ground was too far North to support the British thrust against the critical town of Krithia and the rest is history.
(6) Had Krithia fallen and the coastal forts been destroyed by the Royal Navy [but it is precisely because the Royal Navy failed in this task that the landings were being undertaken! – Ed.] then the story of Gallipoli might well be viewed like the story of Beda-Fomm. There the Western Desert Force defied over-whelming odds and destroyed an Italian army many times their own size. Sometimes they who dares actually does win. Battles and wars can be won and lost by luck alone. The Battle of Midway turned the US way because a broken catapult failed to launch the very Japanese search plane that was assigned to cover the sector in which the US carrier force was hiding. Seen in this light, if Gallipoli had been undertaken by a force fully assembled, and trained and equipped as a contingency before the naval end-run gambit was attempted, thereby giving away all surprise, then it may very well have succeeded -- had they also been blessed with a leader as decisive as Mustafa Kemal was on the Turkish side.

(7) In that vein, I do wish that pundits would examine the war from the German side in order to learn about how they screwed up. If they did, they might get a better appreciation for what I want to emphasise here in point 7: That is war is unpredictable. For instance, I’m positive that the Germans would (or should) view their 1914 campaign as a ghastly failure. They sacrificed god knows how many men only to be checked first at the Belgian forts, then at Ypres and then repulsed at the Marne. This forced them into a defensive war in the West while they wrestled with the Russians in the East until they resorted to undermining Russia culturally by sending Lenin through their lines to sow confusion and chaos and take Russia out of the war. And while that got them a respite in 1917, it bit them in the arse between 1943 and 1990(ish). Western histories often paint the Germans as more than implacable enemies. They have a tendency to portray them as unerring Gods of War. They had superior armies initially. But the enemy misses opportunities too by both chance and mismanagement – these being called Allied Victories -- further encouraging the impression that a war between major powers can be done “clinically” like a smoothly practiced back-line move in Rugby. It can’t. And to demonstrate why, try playing rugby (substitute whatever civilian – emphasis on civil – physical team pursuit you choose) with a hand-grenade as the ball, the full-back is manning a 105mm howitzer and the half-back equipped with a machine-gun…

(7) So war is unpredictable, chaotic, violent, mindless destruction and death. And when men have not experienced this for several generations, they begin to delude themselves that their generation is the one that has mastered the art of containing or sanitising war. Be it because they have an impenetrable rampart (France before the fall of the Maginot line) or an invincible military force (Germany’s army in WWI and WWII, or Britain’s Navy in WWI) or an impenetrable geographical barrier (America’s Pacific and Atlantic ramparts prior to Pearl Harbor and the U-Boat campaign along its coasts in 1942). This delusion leads people to predict that war will be “Over by Christmas.” How many cemeteries have been filled by that phrase?

(8) The only real way to wage a war IMHO is to do the following: If you want peace, prepare for war. And if, in the last resort, you are forced into war – wage it the way Sherman did when he marched from Atlanta to the Sea: quickly, pitilessly and decisively. Because the longer a war lasts, the more awful it becomes. Many hate Sherman. But by grinding the South into the dust in 1864-’65 he and Grant utterly destroyed the prevailing Zeitgeist of Southern martial superiority and with it any realistic hope that the South would rise again. Setting aside the initiation of the war, the next real pity of WWI was that the Allies stopped in 1918 and didn’t drive a stake through the heart of Prussian militarism in 1919. That doomed the following generation to an even more destructive blood-letting.

(9) You want the final overall answer to your question of why? It is simply this: those who seek out war generally get more than they bargain for. The culture of the time was geared up for war. Well, they got almost all of it that they could handle and more. As to the moral question as to whether they should have gone: that’s a question for them. Something impelled them to volunteer and then fight like demons once they were there. Maybe it was for their mates. Or maybe they made a value judgement between the imperfect British Empire and the proto-fascist(?) leanings of the Kaiser et al. and decided to back the former. I haven’t decided on that one yet. It is difficult to look into the hearts of the dead through their writings and diaries. With this much water under the bridge I wonder if there is anything to gain from the attempt.

Robert Grapefield is a scientist and military historian with an enthusiasm for cricket and a penchant for reverse sweep.


Monday, 24 April 2017

Q: But what were the ANZACs fighting *for*, Grandad?


Today, all the stories from Anzac Cove seem so inevitable. But what were all those ANZAC troops even fighting for – and why were they doing it in Turkey, for Galt’s sakes!? What on earth were they hoping to achieve over there? And why exactly is their sacrifice and botched battle considered part of the “birth” of our two nations?

From the centenary’s Countdown to Anzac Day here at NOT PC comes this blog’s answer to those questions.

* * * *

Did you know that Australian and New Zealand soldiers embarking in November 1914 on ships towards Britain thought they would be fighting for Britain on the Western Front, not fighting in Turkey to gift Constantinople to Russia --against whom for decades New Zealanders and Australians had been defending their shores and ships? Yet that is the reason they embarked – not to beat the Hun, but to save the Czar …

THE MYTHOLOGY OF ANZAC is that the battle at the Dardanelles gave birth to two nations. If that’s true, it is an odd birth, fathered out of failure by way of disaster.

It’s mostly a modern invention, this mythology, and if there’s any truth to it at all then it applies more in Australia than it does in New Zealand, where they have made “the anniversary of a botched battle into virtually the country’s national day.”[1]

It’s truly, truly odd. In what way did a butchered battle give birth to these two nations so far away from the carnage, or from any genuine understanding of what the total waste of human life was for?

It’s true that for the first time, outside the few sports played internationally, NZers and Australians could compare themselves on a world stage and begin to identify (if they could) the sorts of national differences that distinguish one group of people from another. But NZers’ similarities with Britons were still greater than any real differences, and both at war’s beginning and end NZers still identified themselves thereat: Indeed, NZ’s war began with Prime Minister Massey’s abject declaration to parliament “that, if necessity unfortunately arose, New Zealand was prepared to send her utmost quota of help in support of the Empire,”[2] and at war’s end held even tighter to Britain than at war’s start, remaining for decades (especially by contrast with Australia) “a particularly Anglophile part of the Commonwealth.”[3]

So it’s not really clear why this legend even arises, in NZ at any rate.

Even in Australia, the legend has only a short heritage. The publicity poster for Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli, released in 1981, tells a tale of the legend’s birth: “’From a place you have never heard of … comes a story you’ll never forget.”  Take careful note of that phrase “a place you have never heard of” – it describes where the ‘legend’ sat just three-and-one-half decades ago: nowehere. “[It says] a lot about where the Anzac saga had been,” says an Australian author who’s examined this frequently overlooked point, “and equally where it would be going.”[4]

ODDLY ENOUGH, FOR A BATTLE that supposedly gave birth to two nominally independent nations, it was one hatched, devised, planned and bungled entirely without the input of either -- and the participation of the Australian and NZ Army Corps themselves was entirely accidental.

It couldn’t be more appropriate that the reason these two were chosen for the ill-fated mission was born out of battlefield disaster. Unable to break the deadlock on the Western Front and under political pressure to achieve a breakthrough somewhere (even a place no-one had heard of) the war chiefs found a plan drawn up years before that some of them thought might have legs.

Not Kitchener however. Britain’s wartime icon and then war chief Field Marshall Kitchener had declared that in this campaign Britain could afford neither British troops from the Western Front nor the British navy for escort duties, so when Churchill's plans for a naval breakthrough at the place of legend failed as dismally as naval tacticians had predicted, the fortunate happenstance of colonial troops already en route for the Suez escorted by Japanese warships was seized upon.

The resulting irony (among  many) was that, entirely unknown to anyone when they departed, the ANZAC troops were headed to a place they'd never heard of to deliver a city to a natural foe, escorted there by ships of a navy against whose threat (after Japan's stunning victories in the Russo-Japanese war) Australia and New Zealand had huddled even further beneath Britain's defensive skirts.

Perhaps the final irony in this disaster was that Britain cared nothing for those infant nations’ troops, throwing them away in a campaign of unmitigated disaster whose success, if it had even been possible, would have done nothing to shorten the war, and whose drawn-out failure few wanted to acknowledge.

IT WAS ARGUED BY no less than Lloyd George that knocking the Ottomans out of the war would “knock out Germany’s props” and leave its “soft underbelly” exposed. Nothing, really, could have been further from the truth. The campaign undermined whatever reputation remained of both Royal Navy and British military acumen – and if it were costing thousands of young lives on the flat and easily supplied Western Front “to move General Haig’s drinks cabinet a few yards closer to Berlin,”[5] then it swiftly became clear that in the distant and mountainous terrain between Constantinople and Berlin there lay no shortcut. Nonetheless, 1stBaron Maurice Hankey, who as Secretary of Britain’s War Council “carried all before him [in cabinet] with his persuasive memorandum of 28 December 1914”[6] proposing British, Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian troops “occupy” Constantinople. As if it were simply a matter of the the choosing being the doing.

For his part, Churchill, at this early stage of plans being hatched, favoured the “diversion” of landing troops on an island in the Baltic, for which he received the much-deserved disdain of his cabinet colleagues, but when shown Hankey’s memo he jumped quickly on board, “commenting that he himself had advocated an attack at the Dardanelles two months earlier...”[7]

Not that failure of an attack was inevitable. Tragically, and

in retrospect, it seems clear that if the Greek army had marched on Constantinople in early 1915, alongside the British navy, the Ottoman capital would have been defenceless.[8]

It wasn’t to be—mostly because no-one saw any strategic advantage to Britain in occupying what is now Istanbul. Not until a desperate Russian high command pleaded for “a diversionary attack”[9] to help relieve its beleagured troops were plans finally drawn up – but for a naval-only attack on the Dardanelles: Kitchener refused to make troops available, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill boasted they would be unnecessary, and by the time his Royal Navy had blundered around there long enough even the beleagured Bosche worked out something was afoot in the mountainous underbelly of Europe, and encouraged its new Turkish ally to rapidly reinforce the peninsula to repel whatever it was perifdious Albion was cooking up there.

SO BEGAN THE BLUNDERING, even as the first of many ironies began piling on. Because the very reason Russian troops were so beleaguered was an Ottoman attack on the Caucasus that had already been swiftly repelled three months before ANZAC troops landed to give them some relief.

Logically, after crushing the Ottoman invaders that month, the Russians should have told Lord Kitchener that it was no longer necessary for him to launch a diversionary attack on Constantinople in order to relieve it from a Turkish threat that no longer existed. [But this was not how these ‘allies’ operated.]
    Thus began the Dardanelles campaign, which was to so alter the fortunes of Churchill and Kitchener, [Prime Ministers] Asquith and Lloyd George, Britain and the Middle East

And, of course, of Australia and New Zealand, and of the many bold, bright-eyed young men in their respective army corps.

In the end, the attempted occupation was decided upon partly because in any bureaucracy once plans are begun they are very hard to stop, and partly too as an altruistic gift to an “ally” who was the most autocratic in Europe, who had shown no sign of earning British trust -- the price for the sacrifice to be paid for in the blood of those Australian, New Zealand and British young men and their families.

Such is the code of sacrifice under which the decision was made to go.

EVEN WITHOUT THE NEED for a diversion, however, the gift would have meant everything to the backward, autocratic Russian empire for whom the young Anzacs were asked to give their lives.

As an almost landlocked nation Russia had always been desperate for a warm-water port. For virtually the entire 19th century, or at least since Napoleon had passed away, Britain had been manoeuvring in the Mediterranean to keep Russia out (this was after why the Light Brigade were famously and self-sacrificially charging the guns in Sebastapol only a few generations before), and in the Middle East to keep Russia away from India.

As long as Russia was held at arm’s length, the two aims were mutually reinforcing. The trouble began when the two aims were crossed in an increasingly muddled foreign policy by an increasingly distracted British Foreign Minister.

Russia’s desperation for a secure warm-water port had always set it on a collision course with the rest of Europe.

From Russia’s point of view it made eminent sense to search for secure warm-water ports but, as Kuropatkin had warned [Czar] Nicholas in 1900, it ran a great risk: ‘However just our attempts to possess the exit to the Black Sea, to acquire an outlet to the Indian Ocean, and to obtain an outlet to the Pacific, these missions touch so deeply on the interests of almost the entire world that in pursuit of them we must be prepared for a struggle with a coalition of Great Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, China, and Japan.’ Of all Russia’s potential enemies, Britain, with its worldwide empire, seemed to be the most immediately threatening.[11]

During the peace of the 19th century, Russia’s Black Sea ports eventually came into their own commercially. “As Russia became a major exporter, especially in food, the passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean via the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles – known collectively at the time as ‘the Straits’ – became particularly vital; 37 per cent of all its exports and 75 per cent of its crucial grain exports were flowing past Constantinople by 1914.”[12]

But as its treaty with France made clear enough, it wanted these ports for military use as well – extracting France’s agreement that Russian interests should predominate at the east end of the Mediterranean.

Also clear enough from many centuries of Russian-Ottoman enmity was that the Ottoman capital of Constantinople, past which Russian grain, war materiel and battleships must pass, was under threat.

This should, of course, have put Russian plans on a direct and very visible collision course with British interests in Egypt, Malta and the Suez Canal that helped form Britain’s naval strategy of keeping The Med as “a British lake,” and the Ottoman Empire as, if not a friend, then at least a fairly benign neighbour. It should have put it on a collision course, but it didn’t, because Britain also wanted Russian kept away from India.

You see how I said things would get muddled?

Because the new 1905 Liberal government and its new Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, saw nothing in this conflict of interests to slow them down.

One of Grey’s first meetings after he took office in December 1905 was with Benckendorff to assure the Russian ambassador that he wanted an agreement with Russia. In May 1906 Sir Arthur Nicolson arrived as British ambassador in St Petersburg with authority from the Cabinet to sort out with Izvolsky the three main irritants in the relationship: Tibet, Persia and Afghanistan. The locals were not, of course, consulted while their fate was decided thousands of miles away. The negotiations were long and tedious as might be expected between two parties, ‘each of which thought the other was a liar and a thief.’[13]

The agreement worked moderately well in fending off Russian aggression on the North-West Frontier.

It worked appallingly in Europe, where it helped to set off the First World War.

The new British cosiness with Russia was seen by Germany (when combined with the coterminous Russian treaties with France) as a threat to its very existence – Russia, France and Britain forming an “iron ring” it was said that encircled and would eventually strangle them. (A man like Bismarck might perhaps have negotiated away this perceived threat; but Germany had no Bismarcks left, only a child-like Kaiser prone to tantrums. And a man like Gladstone may have recognised how the friendships would be seen by Germany, but Britain had no Gladstones left, just a Foreign Minister utterly out of his depth in a cabinet confused about Britain’s place in this new world).

It turned out this unlikely friendship between erstwhile rivals was the final link in the powder trail leading from Russia’s agreement to back Serbia that was finally ignited by “The Guns of August,” 1914.

It was not to be the only foreign-policy bungle from Sir Edward Grey, whose eleven-year tenure in the job offers few chances to transfer blame to others. It was the longest continuous tenure of any person in that office, and it could not have fallen to a less integrated thinker at a time when the world could not have been more complicated.

His own muddling, and that of his Prime Minister, made all the complications worse.

Because once war began (and you can read elsewhere here about the war’s beginnings) we can draw a straight line from the muddling to the murder on those beaches at the Dardanelles.

ONCE THE PLEADED-FOR “diversionary attack” had begun by naval means, even as the reasons for the pro-Russian diversion had disappeared (Russian troops no longer being so immediately beleagured), Russia quickly saw its chance for someone else to shed blood on their behalf anyway.

Simply assuming the inevitable success of what had begun as an ill-thought-out diversionary attack on his behalf, in March 1915 Czar Nicholas II already began issuing demands of his new Allies, insisting that at the operation’s end “the Allies turn over Constantinople and the Straits—and all adjacent territories—to Russia.” The response illuminate’s the intellectual and moral rot at the heart of the wartime Asquith Administration.

[British Foreign Minister] Grey and [his Prime Minister] Asquith, the leaders of the Liberal administration, were ... disposed to make the concession that Britain’s wartime ally required…
    At the outset of the Ottoman war, the Prime Minister wrote [to his young mistress Venetia Stanley] that ‘Few things wd. give me greater pleasure than to see … Constantinople either become Russian (which I think is its proper destiny) or if that is impossible neutralised…’
    In March 1915, when the issue arose, he wrote of Constantinople and the Straits that ‘It has become quite clear that Russia means to incorporate them in her own Empire,’ and added that ‘Personally I have always been & am in favour of Russia’s claim…’
    Unbeknown to the rest of the Cabinet [and of course to the Anzac troops who were eventually called upon to carry out his strategy], Sir Edward Grey had already committed the country [i.e., Britain] to eventual Russian control of Constantinople, having made promises along these lines to the Russian government [as long ago as] 1908[!]. His view [not supported by his advisers, nor by anything in Russian history before or since] was that if Russia’s legitimate [sic] aspirations were satisfied at the Straits, she would not press claims in Persia, eastern Europe, or elsewhere.

If the British response to the illegimate demand of the Russian Czar could be truthfully characterised as anything, it would be a catastrophic combination of altruism and wishful thinking.

So less than ten years after Asquith’s musings had developed and Grey’s muddled Russian strategy had taken effect, and with Winston’s ships firing ineffectually and the battlefield now fully reinforced, Australian and NZ forces landed in the Dardanelles to carry out their ill-starred mission. The real reason for the mission, not that they knew it: not to open a route to Berlin, which was always impossible, but to take Constantinople for Russia.

TO BE FAIR TO Churchill, who shoulders a large part of history’s blame for the campaign’s failure, he was initially wary at the idea of a naval-only operation, but he and the Asquith Cabinet were swiftly persuaded by the commander of the British naval squadron off the Dardanelles, Admiral Sackville Carden, who cabled back answering Churchill’s early question on the possibility of naval interventions there that “while the Dardanelles could not be ‘rushed’—in other words, could not be seized by a single attack—“they might be forced by extended operations with a larger number of ships.”[15] Churchill jumped on board with a decision he himself had finessed, and the decision was just as swiftly made.[16]

Yet even as Admiralty opinion began turning against the idea of a purely naval venture, and as British naval warships began bombarding the Turkish coast to little effect apart from alerting the Central Poweres of their interest in the area, Kitchener suddenly declared that troops would be used after all: primarily Australian and New Zealand troops who had just arrived in Egypt ready for re-embarkation to Western Europe, who would instead, in Kitchener’s plan, go in “once the navy’s ships had won the battle of the straits.”[17]

That battle was never won. The troops however were sent in anyway.

Turkish guns and Turkish mines in the Straits were sufficient to see off Churchill’s “extended operations.” The eight weeks of failed naval bombardment, beginning February 19, 1915, gave the Turks notice of the attack and time to marshal their defences at the Narrows—as did the glowing British newspaper accounts of the expedition’s assembly and embarkation in Egypt, the lights and the military bands of the vast fleet as it headed noisily through the Aegean, and the reports of parliamentary debates about the coming combined operation. Who needs surprise when sending in colonial troops to fight a third-world opponent. Turkish expert Sir Mark Sykes had pointed out to Churchill in late February that “though [Turkish troops] could be routed by a surprise attack, ‘Turks always grow formidable if given time to think.’”[18]

And so they were, behind defences expertly marshalled by one military genius, the German Liman Von Sanders, and led by the man for whom the battle would launch the legend known as Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey – the only modern country that was actually born out of the battle.[19]

IF YOU THINK THINGS were already muddled enough then hang on to your hats! On 15 March, before either Australian or New Zealand troops had even entered their ships for the operation, fearful Turkish negotiators met with British officials in European Turkey to discuss leaving the war they had never sought in return for the large, but not wounding, sum of four million pounds. This would have delivered everything British strategists had said they wanted to achieve by force of arms, delivered to them not by the blood of thousands but by money that would have been spent anyway on the cost of war. “The negotiations failed because the British government felt unable to give assurances that the Ottoman Empire could retain Constantinople—so deeply were the British now committed to satisfying Russian ambitions.”[20]

If it might be doubted why Australian and New Zealand soldiers were ordered to fight and die on Turkish beaches one month later, the reason by now could not be any clearer: Anzac troops were there to make real the single and long-held ambition against which Britain had fought for centuries

YET IF ATTACKING A place that pre-war British military studies had long ago concluded was “too risky to be undertaken”[21] wasn’t already made difficult enough, the commander of the land operation and his manner of appointment made things only more so.

Sir Ian Hamilton was appointed peremptorily on March 12, barely one month before the landings. Telling the disinterested War Minister “he knew nothing about Turkey,” he was briefed by the War Office “by showing him a map and a plan of attack borrowed from the Greek General Staff.” Despite the overwhelming strategic importance placed on the attack, and the lives of countless men and women being put in harm’s way, “the War Office had not even taken the time or trouble to work out their own [plan]. General Hamilton was sent out with an inaccurate and out-of-date map and little else to guide him.”[22]

On arrival in the theatre he promptly called off the naval operation, delayed the landings for a further three weeks, and agreed to attack only the European side of the straits. Whereupon, when the landings did finally happen – and for the Australian and NZ forces at Ari Burnu they were at the wrong beach – Hamilton decided at the first sign of opposition to dig in rather than move ahead to take up the battlefields’ dominating positions, dooming the expedition to a drawn-out replay of the very Western Front stalemate the campaign had been intended to circumnavigate.

If you feel like resurrecting the phrase “lions led by donkeys,” now might be about the right time.

OF THE BATTLES THEMSELVES AT the Dardanelles, much more is known and very little more needs to be said about the shambles that ensued.

Except perhaps that with Turks dug in on the heights to fire down on Anzac troops entrenched on beaches below, and with no obvious hope for any success in the campaign and the only obvious decision being evacuation, we might wonder why the soldiers were condemned to die there for months on those hills and beacheads?

The answer is that, against limp Cabinet opposition, Churchill and Kitchener simply refused all requests to withdraw –“Churchill because he was never willing to accept defeat, and Kitchener because he believed it would be a disaster for a British[-led] army to be seen to be defeated by a Middle Eastern one.”[23] Especially after the stain of near-defeat by Boer farmers just a decade was still so raw.

So the bloody, murderous shambles on the beaches continued until January, 1916, with no hope at all of success, withing nothing to be gained from victory in any case, and with the death and destruction in the end of 400,000 young lives.

What must those men have thought when they read of Churchill’s speech to his Dundee constituency in June that “the Allies were only “a few miles from victory” at the Dardanelles, “a victory such as the war had not yet seen.”[24]

It never would. It never could.

Instead, it all turned to omnishambles. The only thing in the end about which anyone had anything about which to boast was a successful and well-executed withdrawal.

It was a bloody mess that achieved nothing, that could achieve nothing, purchased at the price of a wholesale sacrifice of young lives that could have meant something. It was a total unmitigated disaster, but at least, now, dear reader, some reason for the whole, sordid shambles might be clearer.

The reason however for commemorating the shambles as the botched “birth” in some way of our nation is very much less so.

This post is part of NOT PC’s #CountdownToAnzacDay. Other posts in the series:


[1] From David Reynolds’s The Long Shadow: The Great War & the Twentieth Century, p. 376, who in his chapter 10 offers perhaps the best explanation for the birth of the mythology.
[2] Quoted in Douglas Newton’s Hell-Bent: Australia's leap into the Great War. Kindle edition, location 1680
[3] From David Reynolds’s The Long Shadow: The Great War & the Twentieth Century, p. 376
[4] Ibid, p. 375
[5] A quip pilfered from Black Adder Goes Forth.
[6] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 127
[7] Ibid, p. 127
[8] Ibid, p. 128
[9] A plea emulated throughout the next war by Stalin, whose constant refrain in the meetings of the “Big Three” was a demand that Roosevelt and Churchill implement “a second front” to relieve the beleaguered Soviets
[10] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 129
[11] From Margaret MacMillan’s book The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War, Kindle edition, location 3496
[12] Ibid, location 3492
[13] Ibid, location 3733
[14] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 138
[15] “As Carden subsequently emphasized in his evidence to the Dardanelles commission, the operative word was ‘might’.” From Robert Rhodes James’s Churchill: A Study in Failure, 19900-1939, p. 66
[16] This may be being more than fair. Robert Rhodes James is one among many in arguing that Churchill cynically manipulated the callow Carden into his opinion, which Churchill himself had maintained without support since at least August 1914. Carden’s undistinguished prior experience was as supervisor of the Malta dockyard, “and one of the [many] puzzles of the operation is why Carden was not replaced when the importance of the naval attack was recognised.” [Rhodes James, p. 65 n. 8] Perhaps because he was so easily manipulated? In any case, at the Dardanelles Commission set up to examine the disaster,  it was seen that authorities cited by Churchill to Carden  as being in total agreement with his opinion were not, and in his own evidence to the Commission,“Churchill agreed that his telegram was framed to provide a favourable answer.” [Dardanelles Commission: Evidence, Q.1264]
[17] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 133
[18] From Martin Gilbert’s Winston S. Churchill: Vol. 3, p. 343
[19] In that sense, Gallipoli represented the birth of three nations, not just two. No wonder the bond at contemporary commemorations at the battlefield is so deep.
[20] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 151
[21] From Martin Gilbert’s Winston S. Churchill: Vol. 3, p. 358
[22] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 156
[23] Ibid, p. 158
[24] From Richard Toye’s Churchill’s Empire, p. 133.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

Projects, Day 3: Bank fitout

So I told you the other day I’d give you some idea of some of the things I’ve been working on recently that have kept me away from blogging.

This one is part of a mostly interior conversion project, converting an elegant mid-century commercial building into a new life as a funky urban pad.

It’s been fun.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Projects, Day 2: Office/Showhome

So I told you yesterday I’d give you some idea of some of the things I’ve been working on recently that have kept me away from blogging.

This one is a small, experimental, stand-alone office and training centre for up to 15 people — that doubles as a show home (which itself is a whole other story) ...

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

“So how come you haven’t been blogging?”

“So how come you haven’t been blogging lately?” a friend asked over the weekend. ”It’s not like there’s nothing to blog about!"

“Too busy,” was the reply. “Too many jobs; too much work to do."

“So how about you show us what you’ve been doing then.” It sounded like a demand — and also like a pretty good idea.

So to help support my alibi, here’s a pic of one of the things I’ve been working on feverishly over recent weeks (I’ll post others over the next few days), about which I can say no more. But a few of you may recognise the general location ...

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Alex Epstein on ‘Why Tyler Cowen Should Really Read Ayn Rand’


Economist Tyler Cowen is well-known, widely respected and generally a very bright brain. And he reckons he rates Ayn Rand. Yet Alex Epstein, who knows his Ayn Rand, points out that he really doesn’t – points out that being brilliant doesn’t guarantee you know whereof you speak – that “mental virtuosity“ (a big thinkum) does not necessarily equal "mental virtue" (a consistent practice of using the best available thinking methods to arrive at the truth).

You see, Cowen rates  Ayn Rand, saying her her main influence on him was the book Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal. But then he damns Ayn Rand, waving straw men in the breeze and saying he was unimpressed by her philosophy from the beginning. “But here’s the interesting part to me,” says Epstein:

Cowen is an economist who claims that Ayn Rand's philosophy is essentially worthless--even though she, in the very book he cites, uses that philosophy to pose fundamental challenges to Cowen's field.
Rand’s book “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal” gives a systematic and devastating critique of the false and unnamed *philosophical* premises underlying all of modern economics (in her time and ours). She argues that a false, collectivist view of morality along with a failure to understand the nature of human rationality have led this field to be a frequent influence in favour of statism and against the productive.
In this critique, whose brilliance makes me feel like a mental midget every time I read it, Rand illustrates by example the virtues of her philosophy: its recognition of the primary of moral standards (e.g., individual lives vs. some collective “society”) and the importance of naming them; its uniquely clear guidelines to concept formation (e.g., Rand defines her concepts with razor precision); just go read the thing and you'll see how good it is.
Yet instead of acknowledging the critique Rand made of his field (let alone answering it) all Cowen seems to remember or acknowledge from the book … is a bastardisation of Rand’s view that we should give producers *justice*)

It’s actually pathetic. Yet so common – someone steps up to the plate saying they have this and this objection to Rand’s philosophy, and at the first swing it’s clear they’re either never digested a single idea she’s said. Here, for example, in quotes Epstein has pulled out of the first essay in her book, ‘What is Capitalism,’ is a veritable pocket digest of everything Cowen would have had to ignore if he were to have honestly overlooked her unique views about his own field:

**** "It is philosophy that defines and establishes the epistemological criteria to guide human knowledge in general and specific sciences in particular. Political economy came into prominence in the nineteenth century, in the era of philosophy’s post-Kantian disintegration, and no one rose to check its premises or to challenge its base.
"Implicitly, uncritically, and by default, political economy accepted as its axioms the fundamental tenets of collectivism. Political economists—including the advocates of capitalism—defined their science as the study of the management or direction or organisation or manipulation of a 'community’s' or a nation’s 'resources.' The nature of these 'resources' was not defined; their communal ownership was taken for granted—and the goal of political economy was assumed to be the study of how to utilise these 'resources' for 'the common good.'"

This view is virtually unquestioned in Cowen’s field, yet he overlooks the challenge.

**** "Political economy was, in effect, a science starting in midstream: it observed that men were producing and trading, it took for granted that they had always done so and always would—it accepted this fact as the given, requiring no further consideration—and it addressed itself to the problem of how to devise the best way for the 'community' to dispose of human effort."

See for example most of modern macro- and microeconomics as practiced by everyone from Cowen on down. Cowen ignores that challenge too.

**** "The American philosophy of the Rights of Man was never grasped fully by European intellectuals. Europe’s predominant idea of emancipation consisted of changing the concept of man as a slave of the absolute state embodied by a king, to the concept of man as a slave of the absolute state embodied by “the people”—i.e., switching from slavery to a tribal chief into slavery to the tribe. A non-tribal view of existence could not penetrate the mentalities that regarded the privilege of ruling material producers by physical force as a badge of nobility."
    "Thus Europe’s thinkers did not notice the fact that during the nineteenth century, the galley slaves had been replaced by the inventors of steamboats, and the village blacksmiths by the owners of blast furnaces, and they went on thinking in such terms (such contradictions in terms) as “wage slavery” or “the antisocial selfishness of industrialists who take so much from society without giving anything in return”—on the unchallenged axiom that wealth is an anonymous, social, tribal product.
    "That notion has not been challenged to this day; it represents the implicit assumption and the base of contemporary political economy."

Still does.

**** "If capitalism is to be understood, it is this tribal premise that has to be checked—and challenged.
    "Mankind is not an entity, an organism, or a coral bush. The entity involved in production and trade is man. It is with the study of man—not of the loose aggregate known as a 'community'—that any science of the humanities has to begin.
    "This issue represents one of the epistemological differences between the humanities and the physical sciences, one of the causes of the former’s well-earned inferiority complex in regard to the latter. A physical science would not permit itself (not yet, at least) to ignore or bypass the nature of its subject. Such an attempt would mean: a science of astronomy that gazed at the sky, but refused to study individual stars, planets, and satellites—or a science of medicine that studied disease, without any knowledge or criterion of health, and took, as its basic subject of study, a hospital as a whole, never focusing on individual patients."

**** "A social system is a set of moral-political-economic principles embodied in a society’s laws, institutions, and government, which determine the relationships, the terms of association, among the men living in a given geographical area. It is obvious that these terms and relationships depend on an identification of man’s nature, that they would be different if they pertain to a society of rational beings or to a colony of ants. It is obvious that they will be radically different if men deal with one another as free, independent individuals, on the premise that every man is an end in himself—or as members of a pack, each regarding the others as the means to his ends and to the ends of 'the pack as a whole.'"

**** "The 'practical' justification of capitalism does not lie in the collectivist claim that it effects 'the best allocation of national resources.' Man is not a 'national resource' and neither is his mind—and without the creative power of man’s intelligence, raw materials remain just so many useless raw materials.
"The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve 'the common good.' It is true that capitalism does—if that catch-phrase has any meaning—but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.”

**** "If one begins by defining the good of individual men, one will accept as proper only a society in which that good is achieved and achievable. But if one begins by accepting 'the common good' as an axiom and regarding individual good as its possible but not necessary consequence (not necessary in any particular case), one ends up with such a gruesome absurdity as Soviet Russia, a country professedly dedicated to “the common good,” where, with the exception of a minuscule clique of rulers, the entire population has existed in subhuman misery for over two generations.
    "What makes the victims and, worse, the observers accept this and other similar historical atrocities, and still cling to the myth of 'the common good'? The answer lies in philosophy—in philosophical theories on the nature of moral values."

All profound and important points; and every one ducked by what amounts to a hack reading.

Epstein concludes:

I think I've proven my point that there is a lot of profound material here--completely original material that no philosopher or economist before Rand came close to approximating. But please read the whole first essay "What is Capitalism?" to grasp her whole argument.

You should.



Thursday, 30 March 2017

Quote of the Day: On multiculturalism

“The reason multiculturalism exists is to pretend that inferior cultures aren’t inferior and that superior cultures aren’t superior. It’s a way to tell nice lies about rotten cultures and rotten lies about great cultures.”

~ Bosch Fawstin


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Upton’s disaster continues to unwind

It now appears “all but confirmed" that the smug git and introducer of the RMA, Simon Upton, will be returning from his 18-year sinecure in Paris hosting OECD banquets to take up a sinecure here as Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment.

This is in the same week that the Productivity Commission points out that "Aucklands housing and infrastructure issues illustrate the central failures of t[he] urban planning system” that Upton introduced and, as Environment Minister, tended unchanged for nine years.

The Commission puts it bluntly, suggesting problems faced in Auckland are like a cancer that has spread to other parts of the country:

“The example of Auckland illustrates some central failures of the current system.”

It sure as hell does.

“Auckland, home to a third of New Zealands people, has been and is still experiencing extremely fast population growth. Aucklanders, armed with the system’s planning tools, have struggled to respond to this pressure either by providing greater density in central parts or by expanding outwards at the city’s boundaries,” it says.
“While some specific interests have benefited, the resulting scarcity has driven a protracted land and house price spiral that has been socially and economically harmful. It has now adversely affected many parts of New Zealand and many New Zealanders.”

Restrictive land-use regulation including policies preventing intensification of historic suburbs surrounding the city centre, poor transport links, and, most of all, funding constraints, have all played a part…

The burden of a significant deterioration in housing affordability over the past 25 years has fallen most heavily on low-income households which are much more likely to be spending more than 30% of their income on housing than high-income households. “On this important criterion, New Zealand cities, particularly Auckland, have not performed well,” the Commission says.

“[A]s the Reserve Bank [has] noted, the underlying driver of higher prices is restrictive land-use regulation that prevents housing supply from responding efficiently to demand.”

Upton headed off to Paris 18 years ago saying he regretted nothing, that nothing “gnawed at his soul” - and this included his oversight (as Minister of Health) of the contaminated blood disaster that may have killed around 20 souls. So we have to wonder whether he even has one.

But he should be asked that question again with the current disaster in mind.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

What’s more important than political change?



In the long run, what’s far more important than any amount of tedious political yammering? What trumps political change?  Answer: what trumps both is a change in the culture -- of which political change is simply a consequence, not a cause.

So further evidence of “a resurgence in masterfully executed, beautiful representational art is a great thing,” says a Facebook friend. Like him, I think this reaction against a century of dumbed-down nihilism “mirrors the budding growth of reason in economics and other areas.”

In an ironic twist of history these traditional artists are perhaps the most radical and marginalised group of artists living today. And yet their numbers are growing.

This is great news.

These are highly skilled painters, sculptors, and draftsmen trained in ateliers or academies who are not embarrassed to utter the word “beautiful” at a time when that word is generally scorned by the contemporary art establishment. You’ll hardly ever see their works in major museums or at major galleries for longer than a short stint. Most of their works are whisked away by private collectors or are sitting in their studios, waiting to be discovered.
    These artists value quality over quantity, sincerity over cynicism, intrinsic value over marketing hype, and the Western tradition of fine art over the avant garde fixation on newness…
    Mostly awkward or humble when they try to describe their own work, they don’t fit into any radical stereotype. Suspicious of labels, they don’t know what to call themselves because they are too immersed in creating visual art to be able to think about words. They have decided to continue the Western tradition of art that has a reverence for mastery and skill and to learn the fundamentals of a visual language that developed over 700 years.

And with today’s postmodern art screaming for attention the more it self-confessedly has less and less to say, it is these young artistic heroes learning so much from the past who truly do represent the artistic future. And perhaps civilisation’s.

Exciting times.



Quote of the Day: On ‘Generation Snowflake’


"There is a nearly-universal contempt for objectivity and serious thinking. Everything is knee-jerk, whimsical. Belief in something – anything – makes it allegedly a metaphysical ‘fact’ to go to war over, on campuses and in the streets.
    “There is virtually no rational discourse on actual facts of reality. The human mind has been cast aside into a junk heap. Social Justice Warriors of anger and fear are ubiquitous.
    "How is this possible?
    “How is it possible that such an extraordinary instrument at human disposal can not only be neglected but held in contempt?
    "Why would humans not use their minds to understand reality and conquer reality – to be happy and productive? How is it possible to have the most powerful instrument in the known universe and then not use it?
    "It’s because thinking is not easy."

~ David Elmore, from his article ‘I Think … Therefore I’m not a Snowflake


Whinlayson’s retreat into animism is a river too far


Attorney General Christopher Whinlayson has declared the Whanganui River to be a legal person, and last week your MPs agreed with him, unanimously passing a law declaring that the Whanganui River has all "the rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person,"

But a river is not a legal person, despite what Christopher Whinlayson publicly professes to think. “Legal persons are of two kinds,” points out Jamie Whyte:

we humans, known in law as "natural persons", and persons that are legal fictions, such as companies and countries. These fictional people solve legal problems that can arise when natural people act in groups.

Two kinds, but with one constituent: human beings possessing agency. Natural persons are actuals persons or their guardians acting on their behalf; legal persons are properly “changing collections of natural people or positions filled by successive individuals” – such as companies, trusts or corporations.

Whinlayson acknowledges that "some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality, but it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies, or incorporated societies." Yet as Whyte points out, it is surely even stranger that an alleged legal mind thinks this is strange.

And even stranger that he thinks granting legal personality to a river is "no stranger."
    Rivers are not changing collections of natural people or positions filled by successive individuals. Nor can rivers be legal persons, whatever Parliament says. What duties might the Whanganui River have? Does it have a duty of care to ensure no one drowns in it? Can the river be sued?
    The underlying rationale can be seen in Finlayson's claim that Whanganui iwi will "have a representative speaking for the river [and] the Crown has a representative speaking for the river, and they are focused on addressing many of the problems the river has had over the last 140 years."

So, asks Whyte, “What can justify this foray into legislative lunacy?” Whyte identifies it as a retreat to animism:

 Mr Finlayson appeals to traditional Maori thinking. ‘In their worldview, “I am the river and the river is me”,’ he has said. ‘Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are.’
    “If this worldview were literally true, then the Whanganui River would be a natural person – or, rather, many natural people: namely, all those Maori with whom it is identical. But it isn't literally true. It is simply a way of expressing a feeling towards the river.
    “A river is not a natural person: our legislators have embarrassed themselves.”

And so they have. This is indeed a “river too far.” But the failure is not just Whinlayson’s et al in parliament. As our guest poster Fred Smith pointed out yesterday, there was once a school of law that recognised a rational method whereby, over 140 years ago, a representative may have legal standing to speak for a body of water, so “addressing many of the problems [it may have] had over the last 140 years." That is: a legal system once embodied in the common law, that once recognised (around 140 years ago) that environmental resources be readily available as ownable private property, giving standing thereby to an actual person to protect his or her property.

The failure of Whinlayson et al to recognise this solution is at least twofold. First of all, in refusing to recognise the practical possibility of owning water, this government has committed itself instead to collective ownership, mysticism and a spiral down into increasing and utter absurdity. That the left is demanding a market solution to water allocation while this our centre-right govt says no is only one tine to this absurdist fork. Whinlayson’s retreat into animism is another.

And second of all, they are part of a now 140-year-old tradition that, in denying property rights in what are instead erroneously considered “environmental resources,” they have destroyed the possibility of rational legal and market solutions to what is actually a very simple problem. (Property rights in streams and rivers for example coupled with common law systems of protection would at a stroke solve the ‘dirty dairying’ problem about which so much is said, but so little achieved. Property rights in flora and fauna and land is the best means of ensuring a genuinely sustainable nation.)

The answer is better thinking about the institutions that protect environmental resources; not the creation of legal absurdities like this.



Monday, 20 March 2017

The state can't protect the environment – markets can



Unfortunately, mainstream ­­economists of the progressive era became enamoured of making economics a quantitative “science” and forgot the role of institutions, argues Fred Smith in this guest post. Thus environmental issues were relegated to the category of “market failure,” and the role of economists to that of commissars of rules and regulations designed to correct these failures. With lawyers and regulatory law invoked instead, the institutions necessary to allow environmental market transactions to solve the problems were simply not allowed to evolve. And today, instead, we are faced with political stoushes over water aquifers and mongrelised “legal fictions” manufactured giving “personhood” to rivers

As Joseph Schumpeter noted, free markets had a good first century. That century was the 1750s to 1850s: A market economy produced massive improvements in the quality of life, and that gained it general legitimacy. But, as he also warned, as wealth increased and this wealth generation became increasingly taken for granted, markets and the prerequisite institutions for markets to exist (specifically property rights) came more and more under attack.

Environment1Markets were good at producing wealth but, if tweaked by political intervention (it was thought), would achieve even more benefits. Progressives in the United States and socialists in Europe both championed political control of markets and, perhaps more strategically, both blocked efforts to allow markets to expand into new areas of concern, leaving these new areas exposed instead to intervention.

Those policies are now being reconsidered, but the one area where many, perhaps most, still believe only government can operate is that of environmental protection. This essay argues that classical liberals should challenge this view and seek to evolve a free market environmental programme based on the expansion of property rights and associated legal protections. There are indeed environmental concerns, but these reflect failures to allow markets and their prerequisite institutions to evolve, rather than “market failures”.

Market Institutions

Economic liberals have long understood that free markets evolve and are dynamic, and the appropriate price/demand terms for today will continually vary as consumer tastes and producer technologies evolve. But classical liberals also understand (although they devote less attention to) the fact that markets don’t operate in a vacuum, but rather are embedded within a necessary institutional framework. That framework entails a system of extensive private property, a rule of law outlining how contracts and liability issues are to be resolved and, finally, a culture that recognizes that voluntary exchange can increase wealth. Environmental issues arise in a situation where one or more of these requisite institutions don’t exist, where voluntary arrangements for resolving them have been denied.

Ludwig Von Mises summarised this position:

It is true that where a considerable part of the costs incurred are external costs from the point of view of the acting individuals or firms, the economic calculation established by them is manifestly defective and their results deceptive. But this is not the outcome of alleged deficiencies inherent in the system of private ownership of the means of production. It is on the contrary a consequence of loopholes left in the system. It could be removed by a reform of the laws concerning liability for damages inflicted and by rescinding the institutional barriers preventing the full operation of private ownership.

Environment2Policy makers have failed to recognise the relevance of such institutions and that time may be required for them to evolve. This neglect stems in part from the fact that these requisite institutions had evolved, in many areas, long before the Industrial Revolution. Those established institutions were stressed by the different challenges arising from the Industrial Revolution.

As the Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase notes, as the Industrial Revolution developed and environmental concerns (sparks from early rail locomotives, river damage from early industrial processes, the need to locate and develop oil resources), institutions did develop. Nuisance law was applied to pollution, and subsurface property rights were established. But then that process was stopped in its tracks.

Legislatures eager to promote economic growth granted railroads and many industrial plants pollution privileges. Subsurface property rights in oil pools and reserves did evolve, but they were not extended to aquifers, groundwater, and other liquid underground resources. And most mainstream environmental resources, such as wildlife, springs and brooks, airsheds and bays, remained as unprotected commons. Normal market processes were blocked from addressing these emerging areas of social concern. Thus, overuse and pollution – not addressed at the margin – were neglected until they grew to critical levels. A similar problem occurred in the failure to recognise the efforts of radio pioneers to homestead the electromagnetic spectrum.

Institutional evolutionary history has received too little attention because for much of history it had happened incrementally, slowly and largely out of view. Some newly discovered resource or some emerging value raised interest in providing or obtaining that resource, but interested parties found the transaction costs of achieving such exchanges excessive. But, viewing the potential of reaching a mutually beneficial wealth-enhancing agreement, the potential buyers and sellers as well as those brokering such transactions, would seek ways to lower these costs – via institutional and/or technological innovations.

The more successful of these innovations would be integrated into the established institutional framework. In effect, over time this would civilise these novel frontier exchanges, extending the market so that it could make “sweet” commerce available there also. The growth of the institutions of liberty would permit the expansion of the market.

Environment3Why didn’t this process occur as environmental values moved into prominence? Why were markets blocked from playing a creative role in nurturing and advancing economic values as they had long done in more traditional economic areas? Why are environmental resources rarely available as ownable private property?

Although the history of early environmental concerns has received little attention, Coase among others has examined how environmental concerns were addressed at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Early forms of pollution – primitive charcoal production that produced noxious smoke, say, or sewerage that dirtied water – would likely irritate downwind or downstream parties. Communal norms would discipline to some degree such “pollution activities” as they threatened the communities’ “proper enjoyment of their property”. But such low levels of pollution, especially in small cultural enclaves, could readily be handled: community pressures could encourage charcoal operations to relocate to more remote woodlands. Homeowners could be shamed into building clay-lined privies.

"Excuse Our Dust, But Grow We Must"

But with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the quantity and nature of materials processed and the quantity of residuals increased. The power of communities to address external and large enterprises weakened; moreover such enterprises brought benefits as well as nuisances.

Yet weak property rights and a liability system dealing with water and air did exist, building blocks for a more robust market in these areas. And efforts were made to adapt them to these new challenges. Coase notes that farmers filed suits against railroads when the sparks from these first-generation locomotives set fire to their crops. Fishing clubs moved to enjoin corporate disposal practices that harmed the fishing in areas where they held rights. And these early “free market environmental actions” had impact – firms did respond and, it appeared, that the Industrial Revolution would consider all values (addressing the challenge posed by Mises).

But, while there were some concerned about environmental values (initially mostly those enjoying those resources or harmed by a firm’s negligence) many, especially socialists in Europe and progressives in America, championed “Progress” – a policy of “Excuse our Dust but Grow We Must!”

Politicians in Britain responded by granting licences to pollute to industries and firms seen as especially important to such growth. Rather than integrating environmental resources into the market economy, they were locked out.

Environment4And, perhaps more importantly, the concept of private property as a valuable institution to disperse power, encourage a variety of experiments, allow diversity in use, Progressives viewed resources as better protected by politics – vast tracts of Australia, North America and New Zealand have been transferred to governments over the last century. Moreover, the process by which newly valued resources slowly gained the status of private property, allowing them to become managed by the market, stopped totally in the late 19th Century. No resource that was not in private hands in 1890 is today.

The shift was sometimes abrupt. The electromagnetic spectrum which became a valuable resource at the turn of that century was initially being homesteaded with rules to separate one bandwidth user from another. Then Congress created the precursor of the Federal Communication Commission to own and manage this valuable resource. Subsurface resources such as minerals, oil and water all gained protection in America in the 19th Century by the innovation and legitimisation of the concept of subsurface mineral rights. Yet aquifers (the most abundant source of potable water) remain common property resources, lacking the institutional benefits of ownership.

Environmental Politics

To reiterate: free market environmentalism argues that current environmental policy took an unfortunate path. Rather than realising that the more worrisome forms of external impacts happened incrementally, that we should encourage a vast array of experiments about how best to reconcile (indeed integrate) environmental concerns with economic ones, the “market failure” model presumes that all environmental issues are inherently political.

Such environmental events happen somewhere and at some time before they happen everywhere and persistently. Thus, some individuals will be affected initially and will seek redress while the impacts are still small. Coase finds that the common law was often receptive to such requests, leading firms to reduce the nuisance: relocation, changing time of operations, acquiring buffer zones or even negotiating with the harmed party to permit future emissions. Firms and impacted parties might well innovate – impacted parties “fencing” themselves off from the nuisance, firms adding settling and treatment ponds, and so forth.

In brief, classical liberals would expect a period of confusion and adaptation as the parties encountering such-extra market costs and benefits evolved means of integrating those costs and benefits into the market structure. These would include extending property rights to the new resource (clarifying the right of owners to prevent this new form of trespass), legitimising new contract instruments that would permit the parties to agree to a risk-sharing arrangement (the plant agrees to hold its effluents below some harmful level and agrees to compensate the property owner if those protections fail), cultural change (recognising that air and water transgressions – transferring one’s residuals on to the properties of others without their permission – is a trespass, a “pollution”).

Environment5Since environmental issues will happen in many areas over time, classical liberals would expect the discovery process to provide a number of competing environmental response strategies and for those which proved most effective to gain dominance in the courts and in practice. Moreover, given the dispersed nature of these initial events, we would expect the initial respondents to be those most adversely affect or those most sensitive to nuisances, or those who value aesthetic more (modern environmentalists). If the culture viewed polluting activities as “necessary”, such individuals might well use their own resources within the restricted institutional framework to protect those environmental resources they valued.

Moreover, since those early events would affect relatively few people there would be less urgency to solve such problems immediately, politically. Over time, as the legal rules and property rights evolved, the nuisance would integrate into the standard market framework.

Endangered Animals

There is much to say about this process but an illustrative example can be drawn by concern over endangered species (and more broadly biodiversity). Efforts to protect such species politically – making such species a ward of the state – have not fared well. Too often the reaction of property owners faced with laws banning them from encroaching (on their own land) on the habitat of such species is: “Shoot, shovel, and shut up.”

That’s a description of how many American landowners have reacted to the burdens of the Endangered Species Act. Those burdens are substantial – finding that an endangered species is using your land as its habitat will preclude any further development or use of the land. The result has been that landowners have an incentive to kill any endangered species they find on their land, remove all traces of it, and keep quiet about it. Can there be a better way?

Classical liberal economics suggests that the answer is yes. The reason why the landowner disposes of the endangered species is not simply because the species imposes a cost, but also because the species has no economic value to him. If we can find a way of providing value to the landowner in having the species on his land, then the incentives towards destructive behaviour will be removed (or at least lessened).

One way to do this would be through ownership of the animal(s). Having a property right in the members of the species inhabiting his land would give the landowner an incentive to protect his property and its habitat. Moreover, the landowner could realise that value by selling his property right to someone else, thereby allowing the landowner to “cash in” his ownership stake.

Environment6The new owner might then pay the landowner to maintain the habitat, thereby providing an income stream associated with the species. Moreover, ownership in wildlife – like ownership in commercial and pet species – encourages the developing of a wide array of supporting institutions: pet stores, veterinary science, licenses, and pet adoption agencies.

To initiate this process one might leave in place the current government ownership of wildlife but create a process that would allow individuals or groups (those having a special interest in that species) to petition to acquire ownership of a suitable population of that species. As in the case of human adoption, the petitioners might have to demonstrate their ability to manage the species and be monitored until that was proven. Different petitioners might experiment with different approaches and, over time, one would expect a wide array of management practices. All this would open the market to Green experiments and innovation just as has long happened in conventional areas.

Every party would benefit from such a market arrangement. The landowner would get a continuing income from land that would otherwise have been worthless, the new owner would get a property right in something he regards as valuable, and the endangered animal gets a chance to live in a maintained habitat. Such a market arrangement of winners is clearly preferable to the current regulatory arrangement, which produces losers.

Even a market arrangement short of outright ownership would be better. For instance, crowdfunding could be used to compensate the landowner for his foregone income from his land. People who value the endangered species could pool their resources to provide this benefit. Again, this would be a market transaction.

‘Externalities’ and the Market Process

The problem is that market solutions like these are currently made very difficult by the nature of environmental regulation. Environmental regulation generally depends on bans, caps, and mandates that restrict the possibility of market transactions. Why should people who value the spotted owl send money to a landowner to protect it when the landowner is theoretically banned from doing anything to harm it or its habitat? They get far more “bang per buck” from funding environmental groups that lobby for more bans, caps, and mandates.

Environment7Regulation evolved this way because the economists of the progressive era viewed environmental degradation as a social cost. Landowners, factory owners, utilities, and so on were viewed as imposing costs on the rest of society and had to be prevented from doing so by legislation.

This imposition of regulatory law derailed the process by which market institutions could have evolved to solve the problem. As Coase revealed in his essay The Problem of Social Cost, such “externalities” are actually the manifestation of differing priorities between people that, if the transaction costs are low enough, could be painlessly resolved by market transactions .

Coase therefore did not support government intervention (at least, not initially or permanently) but rather argued that the potential wealth-creating opportunity would engage entrepreneurs to devise ways of reducing such transaction costs, to realise that wealth. The possibility of transactions creating value for both parties would create the “inventive-incentive” necessary for creating a framework for these transactions to happen.

In particular, proper institutions can lower transaction costs. For example, the rule of law makes transactions more likely, as parties to the transaction can be certain that disputes will be resolved fairly. The institution of property rights provides a vehicle for a whole swathe of transactions. These institutions are essential and evolving prerequisites to markets. This is a central insight of classical liberal economics.

Unfortunately, mainstream ­­economists of the progressive era became enamoured of making economics a quantitative “science” and forgot the role of institutions. Thus environmental issues were relegated to the category of “market failure,” and the role of economists to that of commissars of rules and regulations designed to correct these failures. The institutions necessary to allow environmental market transactions to solve the problems were simply not allowed to evolve.

A Path Forward

In many ways, environmental regulation is the last bastion of central planning. It is remarkable that even as Europe has realised the folly of central planning in so many other economic areas, it has actually doubled down on it in environmental regulation, and has indeed sought to export it to other nations. In this, it has found a willing ally in recent years in the United States, whose environmental policy is also largely a product of progressive era thought.

Environment7In that framework, the role of government should be to stand ready to facilitate proposals to expand and refine property rights and contracts, to ensure that liability laws encourage rational exchanges.

Perhaps the simplest example of this thinking would be to encourage experimentation with subsurface ownership of suitably isolated aquifers. The history of mineral and oil and gas policy suggests the value of linking ownership and natural resources. Does anyone really think that water availability would be a problem if such a policy were in place?

The term “the environment” has become a synonym for “everything” – but central management of everything is foolish. Allowing private parties to pioneer extending the institutions of liberty to environmental areas would begin the exploration and discovery process that has been suppressed for the last century. It is overdue.

A property rights approach would allow those closest to a polluter the right to enjoin that nuisance. The polluter could bargain and compensate to gain operating rights, with penalty fees for accidental discharges. That would create incentives for an array of ameliorative innovations: settling ponds, treatment diversion to other media (via incineration or land disposal).

Moreover, as such policies became widespread, firms would locate in areas where non-industrial uses were rare or where dilution potentials were high. In effect, externalities would be internalized while they were minor, and readily addressed, rather than waiting till there was a crisis.

Fred L. Smith, Jr. is the founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He served as president from 1984 to 2013 and is currently the Director of CEI’s Center for Advancing Capitalism.
His post first appeared at CEI and FEE.