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15 August 2018

Summer Holiday Thoughts



It’s still holiday time for me, so I’ve got no more than a couple of random thoughts this week.


First, in this world where sadly sanctions and tariffs seem to be raising their miserable heads with disturbing frequency, who has the upper hand? Right now, President Trump’s USA has ongoing trade issues of one sort or another with - as far as I can tell - Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and North Korea. What do those countries all have in common? Well, despite the fact that some of them do actually hold elections, I think it is fair to say they are not what we would call democratic; in particular, the leader is not subject to the will of an elected representative body, whereas the US president is. I wonder if that gives them an edge in the way they can act and react in the world of trade barriers? What I mean is that those undemocratic leaders can act quickly and unilaterally in reaction to the sanctions/tariffs imposed. What made me think of that was reading that the Turkish president, faced with a potentially calamitous currency crash, announced in recent days that negative comments about the economy or the currency would be treated and punished as treason. In other words, the dictators - for want of a better word - can do whatever they chose with all the powers of the state. So, Russia supplies most of Europe with gas; Iran controls the Straits of Hormuz; China has trillions of dollars of foreign exchange reserves. All these can be mobilised at the drop of the leader’s hat, without any of that pesky democratic consultation going on; it doesn’t really bode well. Trade wars have nasty potential consequences.


The second thought was about value. A painting thought to be by British artist Sir William Nicholson was bought a few years ago for £165000. Now, the leading expert  on Nicholson has announced that she doesn’t believe it is his work. Result? It’s now only worth “a few hundred”. But the painting is still the same, which leads logically to the conclusion that when we buy a work by a well-known artist, what we are actually paying for is the bragging rights of telling the world what we have. The value is in the name of the artist, not in the painting itself. I’ve seen Monet copies which are - to me, and I suspect most of the world - indistinguishable from the originals. So the conclusion must be that what you pay for is the ability to point at the signature……..


Finally, and perhaps more interestingly, a team at Glasgow University believes it has come up with a metal oxide battery which is charged by filling it with hydrogen or water. Details are quiet sketchy, but but the advantages - should the technology be scaleable - are pretty clear to see. It will be interesting to see the development of this one.   

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