Our recession versus the Dark Ages in Britain

Last week there was an interesting article in the FT linking the current state of the global economy to what happened in Britain in the year 410.  In that year Rome was sacked, no one could be bothered to defend Britain any longer and the barbarians descended upon lowland Britain.  What followed is an interesting pointer to our possible future.  At that time Britain benefited from a sophisticated Roman economy.  There was coinage in 3 metals – gold, silver & copper that drove the economy as well as a well established trade infrastructure bringing goods from all over Europe into Britain.  In the first decade of the 5th century new coins ceased to reach Britain, local attempts to produce a new version failed, so from around 420AD, Britain’s economy functioned without coin for nearly 300 years.  Core manufacturing declined and failed and at the level of pure functional articles such as iron pots and wheel spun earthen ware pottery, disappeared altogether from Britain.  The only pots remaining were shaped by hand and fired not in kilns but on open fires.  The impact on Britain was enormous.  Roman Britain had a dense network  of towns, ranging from large ones like London & Cirencester to small commercial centres that had grown up along the roads and waterways.  By 450 most of these had either disappeared or were well on their way to extinction.  It was only in the 8th century with the (re)emergence of trading towns such as London and Saxon Southampton, that urban life began to return to Britain.

For two to three hundred years the economy of Britain reverted to levels not experienced since the Roman invasion in 43 AD.  It was the speed of the crash that is the lesson.  In southern Britain before the Roman invasion there was a reasonably sophisticated economy with locally produced silver coins, wheel turned pottery vessels and the beginning of settlements recognised as towns, but the local expertise disappeared as the more sophisticated Roman trade and economy took over.  It wasnt until 1000 or 1100 AD that Britain crawled back to levels of economic complexity that they had enjoyed in Roman times.

Why does this matter to us?  The speed and the scale of the collapse in Britain was because of the sophistication of the Roman trade and economic system.  All the goods enjoyed for basic well-being were often made by specialist producers many miles away and these producers relied on widespread markets and distribution systems to sustain their specialised production.  In the 5th century all of this collapsed leaving a population without the goods that they wanted and without the skills and infrastructure needed to produce them locally.  The more complex the economy is the more fragile it is.  Consider that in our economy, most of the goods are largely produced on the other side of the world and our main medium of economic exchange is mostly electronic and more importantly sometimes based on ‘smoke and mirrors’.

If our global economy ever truly collapses the consequences will make 5th century Britain look like a picnic.


Aliens abduct 3,846 Americans per week!

I read with passing interest yesterday that an estimated 4 million Americans believe that they have been abducted by aliens.  Whilst you tend to think, ‘is that all and did that include George W’? you also have to pause and think about what that really means.  So if you consider the last 20 years as an example.  In that time, there has been 1,040 calendar weeks. This would mean that the aliens are snatching up 3,846 Americans a week!  Taking this a bit further, you begin to wonder what the fuck would they want with 3,846 people per week.  I think there are only SO many experiments that you would want to carry out to determine what you are dealing with and you would think that the aliens fascination with the average intelligence (or lack thereof) of the subjects would become somewhat jaded after the first week or so.  Then there are questions such as – is it the same aliens or different species?, do they specialise in looking for subjects with breast implants?, has McDonalds considered opening a franchaise there?, do the aliens need to get them back in time for church on Sunday?  So many questions…………………..

Be very careful driving in Belgium!!

This is wonderful.  Here is an excerpt of an article published on the China Daily newspaper website today.  The article is titled “Why I am afraid of driving” and details the correspondents fears of driving in Bejing.  However within the article is the following:

It’s true countries with higher GDP will invest more in road safety and their motorists will have greater risk aversion. But wealth is not everything, because other factors, such as corruption, also play a part in driver behavior.

For example, Belgium has been found to have a much worse traffic-death rate than equally rich Netherlands, because it is “more corrupt and corruption reduces respect for the law.”

Snow plus traffic = :-((

Just read that this morning, along with the first snow there was 600 kms of traffic jams here in The Netherlands.  In some places in Friesland it was 1.5 mtrs deep on the roads – LOL.  It was so bad that the police and rescue services couldn’t actually reach the accidents.  You question why people would even bother trying.  I guess they had to make the choice of braving the weather or staying home for the day with their respectives, so choose the easier option – brave the weather!

Did you know it requires 7 years study to become incompetent?

Just lately I have found out that if you want to become truely incompetent in The Netherlands, then you have to study for 7 years to achieve this state.  Thats correct, study to become a ‘Huisart’ which is a General Doctor.  The selection criteria is ruthless, you have to be at the top of everything, the pressure to pass is considerable and then at the end of it all you are completely useless. 

Let me explain.  As a culture the Dutch have a very ‘non-interventionist’ approach to medical care.  This means that unless your penis has been severed, your head has exploded or you have visible leprosy, do not go to your local doctor.  The reason is that the Dutch have convinced themselves that they have discovered the worlds first ‘cure all’ miracle drug – Panadol.  That is the stock standard advice for EVERYTHING.  Go away, take panadol and if you are still not feeling well in 3 weeks, come back.  If this approach wasn’t so serious (read – often fatal), it would be a good joke.  The thing is that the joke is on the Dutch because they don’t know or expect anything else, but as an expat who has actually enjoyed professional health care in other countries it is horrifying.

Here is the most recent real example.  I was with some friends recently, where a family member had just come back from a trip to Uganda.  He developed a very high fever (above 40 degrees) which stayed at that level.  Went to the huisart and – yep you guessed it – Panadol.  The fact that the person had just come back from Uganda was an irrelevant detail.  After suffering for a week the family took him to hospital, insisted he was put on a drip and they discovered that he was so sick with Malaria that they asked him if he would like them to call a priest!!  Fortunately everything got sorted out and he survived but so many people die in this country through genuine medical incompetence. 

I guess it is no surprise that in the last listing posted by WHO, the Netherlands came at number 17 – (9 below Oman).   The only upside to that statistic was that it was still higher than the UK!