Category Archives: History

Three reads for Christmas: Glamour, Cicero’s web and high-tech fiction

I wrote at the end of November that the rise of the selfie marked the death of the audience and the rise of an age committed to universal self-expression and performance. This week, even world leaders have been joining in. Continue reading

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Nelson Mandela: Mourning the father of a rainbow nation

One of my earliest memories is of a primary teacher encouraging my class to pray every day for the release of Nelson Mandela. “Your prayers will pile up like leaves, until their weight forces open his prison.” That would have been in the early 1980s, by which time Mandela had already spent two decades in prison – it took nearly 10 more years, and more prayers than mine, for Mandela to walk free. Continue reading

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Filed under Freedom, History, Politics

Selfie-nomics: The world’s now a stage and we’re all performing

My smartphone has a feature I can’t ever imagine using – it promises to insert my live picture into any snapshot I take by turning on both front and rearfacing cameras at once. But I’m clearly behind the times. Even as I cling to my old-fashioned desire to take photographs of the things that I see, “selfie” – the new nickname for a photographic self-portrait – has been declared Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, following a 17,000 per cent increase in usage year-on-year. Continue reading

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Filed under Economics, History, Human nature, Innovation, Publishing, Technology

Antibiotics are in critical condition: An open culture will help us find alternatives

Here’s a Halloween horror story for you. One of America’s top experts on disease control has just announced that we are now in the post-antibiotic era. Continue reading

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Steampunk Economics and the future of leisure

There’s something repellent about the Conservative Party’s new slogan “For Hardworking People”. I can’t agree with those critics who think it is an empty promise. It reflects the values in which David Cameron believes. It suits the social incentives he is seeking to construct. But while encouraging people to work for their own betterment is unquestionably good, when it comes from the mouth of government it is impossible not to scent cynicism. For hard work is not an end in itself for people – only for a state keen to live off their backs. Continue reading

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Filed under Economics, Freedom, History, Human nature, Liberal education, Politics, Science, Technology

Behind the debt ceiling madness lurks the insanity of an uncontrollable state

The world has gone mad. No, really. If ever there was a time for even the most sanguine of political analysts to throw up their hands in horror, this is it. Despite minor signs of reconciliation, the leaders of the world’s most powerful country are still steering it towards default pell-mell. Continue reading

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Ronald Coase: The unknown UK economist who quietly changed the world

Britain has lost a giant. Ronald Coase, the brilliant economist who shone new light on how and why companies form, died this week at the age of 102. It was too soon: his most influential paper was published half a century ago, but Coase remained sharp to the end, fighting for his countercultural approach. He launched a new journal, Man and the Economy, only last year. Continue reading

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Filed under Economics, History

All hail the boffin burger: The next step in human nutrition

It would be easy to dismiss the serving of the first lab-grown burger as classic silly season fodder. Yet this is one photo opportunity that really may mark a historic moment, even if most seem to be missing its exact importance. In vitro meat is significant not because it increases menu options for a few Western vegetarians but because it may represent the next great step upwards in global nutrition. Continue reading

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We greet our new prince and future King as symbol of our hard-fought liberty

The future’s Georgian. But some people seem to have confused the nation’s celebrations at the birth of His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge with slavish adulation at the feet of royal power. Such claims make for good Twitter polemics, but little historical sense. The British are, after all, blessed with both an ancient monarchy and ancient liberties. The idea that our freedom requires an empty throne is foreign here. Continue reading

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The Greeks have something to teach us about the importance of being idle

BUSINESS and leisure seem like opposites. Ambition’s drive to succeed and achieve has little truck with the pleasures of idleness. With 135 graduates fighting for every opening at investment banks and fund managers, who can afford to be caught with their feet up? Yet leisure is essential, even for the driven. It’s a chance to stand back and train for your next engagement with the enemy. The ancient Greeks understood this, which is why they called leisure skhole – the origin of our English word school – meaning both time held back from the demands of work and a lecture or discussion. Continue reading

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Filed under Finance, Freedom, History, Human nature, Liberal education