Politics &c.

History’s Basically Histrionics… because, to attract attention, we inevitably state it melodramatically.

From Ancient Greek, ‘historía’ (ἱστορία)
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The study of past events.

History is, “the past as it is described in e.g., written documents, and the study thereof. It includes the academic discipline which uses a narrative to examine and analyse a sequence of past events, and ‘objectively’ determine the patterns of cause and effect that determine them.

According to John Jacob Anderson (1821–1906), “history is a narration of the events which have happened among mankind, including an account of the rise and fall of nations, as well as of other great changes which have affected the political and social condition of the human race.” But I like to Joyce’s (1882–1941)sentiments on the subject, —1876. A Manual of General History. “History … is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” You see, we are defined and typecast by history…

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The Union Kingdom & Identity

What does it mean to be British, does anyone even say they’re British? Because inside the U.K. they’d be more likely to say that they’re English or Welsh etc.

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The Union Jack

The Union Jack, or Union Flag, is the national flag of the United Kingdom. The flag also has official status in Canada, by parliamentary resolution, where it is known as the Royal Union Flag. Additionally, it is used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas territories. the United Kingdom contain four ‘kingdoms’: England Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales:

In the 16th century, the flag was known as the British flag or the flag of Britain. The term ‘Union Jack’ possibly dates from Queen Anne’s time (r. 1702-14), but its origin is uncertain. It may come from the ‘jack-et’ of the English or Scottish soldiers, or from the name of James I who originated the first union in 1603. Another alternative is that the name may be derived from a proclamation by Charles II that the Union Flag should be flown only by ships of the Royal Navy as a jack, a small flag at the bowsprit; the term ‘jack’ once meant small.

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BBC Civilizations

Inspired by art historian Kenneth Clark’s documentary series of the 1960s, ‘Civilisations’ this 2018 series explores (again) human creativity and the development of art through the ages.


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History of The European Union


When was the European Union created? And what is its purpose?

The animation explains how and why The European Union (EU) was conceived as well as the major events and key players that helped form the idea from its inception through to obstacles it faces today. The video below charts the history of the European Union and, a transcript is provided below.

The first thing to unify Europe was tectonic shift. Then, when humans finally evolved much of Europe was unified by the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Frankish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire — which was like the Roman Empire but a bit more pious.

In fact the patchwork of separate European states we know today are relatively recent inventions; The United Kingdom only became a United Kingdom in 1707. Modern Belgium and Italy came along later and places like Slovakia and Croatia only popped again up in the 1990s along with Latvia, Estonia and the Spice Girls. But the main step towards re-unifying Europe came after the devastating impact of the two World Wars, which led to all sorts of new international agreements, borders and structures.

After World War 2, Winston Churchill called for the creation of a ‘United States of Europe’ to save it from ‘infinite misery’ and ‘final doom’. The first big step towards this was ‘The Schuman Declaration’ — a declaration declared by French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman and what he declared was that, because coal and steel were so vital for war, those industries in France and Germany should be linked together to make war “not only unthinkable, but materially impossible.” But he said it in French. This led to the European Coal and Steel Community – also joined by Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

…and then the same 6 countries signed the Treaty of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community or EEC… Though later it dropped an E, and became the EC. The community established a common market for the free movement of goods, capital, services and people and was so successful that others wanted in. The UK tried to join in 1963 and 1967, but both times were blocked by France and General de Gaulle who just said “non”.

The UK were finally allowed to join in 1973, along with Denmark and Ireland. And, in 1981, Greece was the word. As the community grew, it evolved – Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Schengen Agreement in 1985, which began the process of removing border controls making the free movement of people that bit freer. They also got branding; picking a flag, an anthem and a motto — and in 1986 Spain and Portugal joined, followed by the freshly re-unified Germany in 1990 once the wall had come down and David Hasslehoff had left.

Then in 1992 – the big one – The Maastricht Treaty – signed by all the members of the European Community – creating the European Union… and also the Euro, even if choosing a name took a bit longer – and despite the UK and Denmark holding tight to their own currencies. In the meantime countries were joining faster than you can say ‘fall of the Soviet Bloc’.

The EU even won the Nobel Peace Prize — though probably fought over who got to keep it. But, when the financial crisis arrived in 2008, the EU were then locked together in a single currency with a massively increased membership — And it was the start of the toughest years yet for the EU, with calls for even more reform. But thanks to EU rules on mobile roaming tariffs, at least those calls are cheaper to make — and there’s certainly not a shortage of countries wanting to join — even while others may be looking for the exit.

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History of Economics

Have you ever shaken an invisible hand? Been flattened by a falling market? Or wondered what took the bend out of Phillips’ curve? The animated video below explains some of the great dilemmas faced by governments trying to run an economy – whether to save or spend, control inflation, regulate trade, fix exchange rates, or just leave everyone to get on with it and not intervene. You’ll learn why Adam Smith put such a high price on free markets, how Keynes found a bold new way to reduce unemployment, and what economists went on to discover about the impact of policy on people’s and businesses’ behaviour – which may not always be entirely rational… Transcripts are below each of the videos.

1. The Impossible Trinity //

Nations want it all – currency flows, low interest rates and stable exchange rates. Dream on, nations, you’ve got to choose. Most countries trade with one another – which is usually pretty good for all involved – but it does mean it is a bit harder for each to keep control of its own finances. There are three things that governments are particularly keen on. They like to keep the exchange rate stable so that import and export prices don’t suddenly jump around. They also like to control interest rates so they can keep borrowers happy without upsetting savers. And they like to let money flow in and out of their country without causing too much disruption. But there’s a problem when you try to do all of these at once. Say for example, the Eurozone tries to lower its interest rate to boost investment and reduce unemployment. Money flows out to earn higher interest rates elsewhere. Exchange rates drop, which causes inflation, so the Euro interest rate is forced back up again. You can either fix your exchange rate and let money flow freely across national borders – but have no control over your interest rates. Or control your interest and exchange rates – but then you cannot stop the capital flowing in and out. But, like an overzealous triathlete – you cannot do all three at once.

2. The Principle Of Comparative Advantage

Why do countries sign free trade agreements? it is not just because they get to keep the pens, but to try to take advantage of their comparative advantage. Whether you think economies work best if they’re left alone or that governments need to do something to get them working, the one thing that cannot be controlled is the rest of the world. Fear of foreign competition once led countries to try and produce everything they needed, and impose heavy taxes to keep out foreign goods. However, economist David Ricardo showed that international trade could actually make everyone better off, bringing in one of the first great economic models. He pointed out that, even if a country can produce pretty much everything at the lowest possible cost, with what economists call an ‘absolute advantage, it is still better to focus on the products it can make most efficiently – that sacrifice the least amount of other goods – and let the rest of the world do the same. By specialising, they can then export these surpluses to each other and both end up better off. This is the principle of comparative advantage – and it has persuaded many countries to sign up to free-trade agreements, but unfortunately, it can take a long time for countries to trade their way to prosperity. And because it is now much easier to move to where the money is – it is increasingly not only goods that cross borders, but people – which has somewhat uprooted Ricardo’s theory.

3. The Phillips Curve

Bill Phillips was a crocodile hunter and economist from New Zealand, who spotted that, when employment levels are high, wages rise faster – people have more money to spend, so prices go up and so does inflation. And likewise, when unemployment is high, the lack of money to spend means that inflation goes down. This became known as the Phillips Curve. Governments even set policy by the curve, tolerating the inflation when they spent extra money creating jobs. But they forgot that the workers could also see the effects of the curve. So, when unemployment went down, they expected inflation and demanded higher wages, causing unemployment to go back up, while inflation remained high. Which is what happened in the 1970s when both inflation and unemployment rose. Then in the 1990s unemployment dropped while inflation stayed low, which all rather took the bend out of Phillips’ curve. But at least part of Phillips’ troublesome trade-off lives on: when faster growth and full employment return, you can bet inflation will be along to spoil the party.

4. The Paradox Of Thrift //

Is it better to save or to spend? According to Keynes, if you don’t spend, you’re going to make the economy even worse. Much like a child getting his pocket money, one of the biggest economic questions is still whether it is better to save or spend. Free-marketeers like Hayek and Milton Friedman say that, even in difficult times, it is best to be thrifty and save. Banks then channel the savings into investment, in new plants, skills and techniques that let us produce more. And even if this new technology destroys jobs, wages will drop, and businesses hire more people – so unemployment falls again. Simple. At least in the long run… But then a “live-fast-die-young” kinda chap called John Maynard Keynes cheerfully pointed out that “in the long run we’re all dead”. So, to avoid the misery of unemployment, the government should instead spend money to create jobs. Whereas if the government tightens its belt when people and businesses are doing the same, less is spent, so unemployment gets even worse. That is the paradox of thrift. So instead they should spend now and tax later when everyone’s happy to pay – Though making people happy to pay tax was something even Keynes didn’t solve.

5. The Invisible Hand //

An economy is a tricky thing to control, and governments are always trying to figure out how to do it. Back in 1776 economist Adam Smith shocked everyone by saying that what governments should actually do is just leave people alone to buy and sell freely among themselves. He suggested that if they just leave self-interested traders to compete with one another, markets are guided to positive outcomes ‘as if by an invisible hand’. If someone charges less than you – customers will buy from them instead – so you have to lower the price or offer something better. Wherever enough people demand something, they will be supplied by the market – like spoilt children – only in this case, everyoneʼs happy. Later free-marketeers like Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, argued that this ʻhands offʼ approach actually works better than any kind of central plan. But the problem is, economies can take a long time to reach their ʻequilibriumʼ, and may even stall along the way. And in the meantime people can get a little frustrated, which is why governments usually end up taking things into their own more visible hands instead.

6. Rational Choice Theory//

People are pretty rational. But not quite rational enough for the good of the economy. Of all the things to factor in when running an economy, the most troublesome is people. Now by and large – humans are a rational lot. When the price of something rises people will supply more of it – and buy less of it. If they expect inflation to go up – people will usually ask for higher wages – (though they might not get them) And if they can see interest or exchange rates falling in one country, people with lots of money there will try to move it out, faster than you can say ‘double dip’. And governments often decide their economic policies assuming such rational actions. Which would be great, if it weren’t for the fact that those pesky humans don’t always do what’s best for them. Sometimes they mistakenly think they know all the facts, or maybe the facts are just too complicated And sometimes people just decide to follow the crowd, relying on others to know what they’re doing. When too many cheap mortgages were being sold in 2007 – a lot of people didn’t know what was going on. And a lot of others just followed the crowd. Some lenders may have rationally believed that, when the crunch came, the scale of the problem would force governments to rescue them. Which was true for the banks. If not for all their customers.

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