Quote of the Day
”The grinding of the intellect is for most people as painful as a dentist’s drill.”
- Leonard Woolf
More painful, I’d say.
Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news
Tuba Skinny | Jubilee Stomp | New Orleans, 2018
Nobody sleeps at the back when this ensemble is on song.
Thanks to Ian Cole for suggesting them.
Long Read of the Day
Living in a World Without Stars
According to Schwab, the global elite is indeed conspiring at Davos, but it is conspiring in the name of justice, equality, and environmental health. In short, he argues that people like himself and the wealthy organizations that flock to his Davos confab each year should be trusted to right not only their own ships but all ships, in the name of a social conscience they have always possessed even if they haven’t always succeeded in showing it. Most surprisingly, given that we’re talking about Davos, Schwab suggests that “the ostentatious display of wealth will no longer be acceptable.” So no surprise if more Honda Civics and fewer Mercedes pull up to the curb at Davos.
Slack-jawed incredulity is required here, but it is probably strongest not among capitalism’s critics, people like me, but among the elite. The business elite enjoy Davos not for the preaching they hear from Schwab or from celebrities like Bono, Elton John, and Sharon Stone, but for the unique opportunity it provides for networking and deal making. The idea that they should give authority back to governments, reform labor relations, and put the needs of the environment before the need for profit will happen…in a pig’s eye.
After all, why should they change in the ways that Schwab says stakeholder capitalism requires? And why should anyone think capitalism needs to be saved from itself? This is not the Great Depression. There was no Black Tuesday and no execs dropped from the fifteenth floor, worthless stock certificates fluttering behind.
The question is, therefore: Since the pandemic has been so incredibly profitable for the wealthy, why would they want to change anything? After all,
They have hated the New Deal for eighty years, and they have been buying up politicians to chip away at it, beginning with Ronald Reagan’s attacks on big government and the welfare state. What makes anyone think that capitalism is going to do an about-face after the past forty years of clawing back New Deal concessions? Why would they do that willingly, especially now? That being the case, well might we wonder just how much climate change and social unrest they will tolerate before they change their ways. My suspicion is that they’ll tolerate a lot, especially if stock markets continue to tell them that everything’s jake. They have no motive for following Schwab and every profit motive for not following him.
You get the idea? Highly recommended.
It Looks Like a Vespa, Rides Like a Vespa, but Doesn’t Smell Like a Vespa
An Irish mechanic in London has developed a kit to transform classic (but polluting) Italian scooters into zero-emission machines.
This story made my day.
Among the iconic designs of Italy’s vibrant postwar period, few capture the essence of La Dolce Vita like Vespas and Lambrettas, the free-spirited motor scooters that brought mobility to the masses and became beloved across Italy, and subsequently, the world.
While the two companies still make scooters, those early models — whose whining two-stroke engines spew plumes of aromatic smoke — are by far the most sought by collectors, some commanding up to $30,000.
Niall McCart, an Irishman from the city of Armagh, got his first Vespa at 16. De rigueur for a youth swept up in Britain’s early-1980s Mod revival, the Vespa was eminently practical as well.
So he built a business, Retrospective Scooters, around refurbishing and selling vintage Vespas.
But … (there’s always a but in these stories).
As his business grew, so did restrictions on older vehicles. The European Union’s first Low Emission Zones were established in 1996. London has one such zone, as well as an extra-stringent Ultra Low Emission Zone, in the city centre. To drive inside it, owners of polluting scooters must pay a daily fee of £12.50 pounds, with a heavy fine for failure to pay.
McCart spotted an opportunity: retrofitting vintage Vespas with an electric drivetrain. Better still: make and sell retrofitting kits. His firm, Retrospective Scooters, now sells kits for five types of vintage Vespas and Lambrettas. The kits cost £3,445 and include a 64-volt, 28-amp-hour battery that can take a scooter to a top speed of 50 mph and go 30-35 miles on a charge.
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