Is the Brexit a sign of the resurgence of British culture? Spengler thinks it might be.

Along with all the pundits, I underestimated the British–a common enough error, which puts me in the distinguished company of the whole of the mainstream media, the vast majority of hedge funds, not to mention Philip II of Spain, Napoleon, and Hitler. In a May 2 dispatch from England I wrote that the British had lost their appetite for risk, as a modest post-Imperial power with a lot to be modest about. On the contrary, the British took the plunge, and that by itself is a good thing. The outcome of Brexit is uncertain, yet the British chose to bet on it. Betting on uncertain outcomes is the key to success in economics–as well as love, war, art, and life.

Europe is dying of risk-aversion. Its unabated economic misery stems from its refusal to embrace uncertainty. The propensity to bear the burden of uncertainty does not stem from economic policy alone. First and foremost it is a cultural trait. That was the substance of a paper I gave at the Oxford-Martin Centre’s April 25 conference on the Future of Europe, co-sponsored by Columbia University’s Center for Capitalism and Society. The British monthly Standpoint was kind enough to print a version of the paper. Some extracts are below: the entire article can be found here.

Spengler also looks at Israel.

Incentives and disincentives to entrepreneurship surely influence the willingness of individuals to take on uninsurable risk, for example taxation of corporate income and capital gains, bankruptcy laws, patent protection, and the cost of regulation. There is a vast literature on these matters. It is also fair to ask whether there also a cultural propensity for risk-aversion and risk-friendliness? If so, where does it come from and what informs it?

If venture capital investments and startups are a gauge of risk-friendliness, Israel is a unique case: according to KPMG, $3.4 billion was raised by 688 Israeli companies during 2014. That’s about $425 per capita, compared to about $160 per capita in the US and only $20 per capita in Europe. It is noteworthy that Israel’s bureaucracy is among the world’s most stifling, the legacy of its socialist founders. Israel ranks number 53 on the World Bank’s index of ease of doing business (versus six for the UK, seven for the US, eight for Norway and nine for Sweden). Nonetheless, risk-friendly entrepreneurs flourish despite an apparently hostile environment. It is a reasonable conjecture that cultural factors are responsible.

Several years ago a Jewish magazine asked me to report on the success of Israeli classical musicians, whose disproportionate success compares to that of Israeli entrepreneurs. I interviewed many performers, and observed that they threw themselves into their music with the same sense of risk that they must live with in everyday life. All the virtuosos I met had served in the Israeli Army and took their service seriously. At scholarship auditions, it is common to see young musicians performing in uniform. In America and Europe, we tell our most promising students that to have a career they must win a competition, and the way to win competitions is to make the fewest mistakes. In short, we train them to be risk-averse, which is alien to the spirit of their art.

Spengler then goes on to look at the connection between risk taking and war.

Thomas Mann wrote during the First World War: “Reliability, exactitude, discretion; boldness, steadfastness in confronting trials and defeat in contention with the resistance of the material; contempt for that which is called ‘security’ in bourgeois life: All of this is in fact at once military and artistic.”

It also goes with industrial creativity.

He finishes with:

It appears that we cannot have it both ways: cultures that produce large numbers of individuals ready to embrace uninsurable risk also manifest risk-friendliness in all areas of life. The same kind of people who start innovative businesses also go to war, raise families, and endeavour to create art that evinces a sense of existential risk. The Jewish sages of antiquity spoke of the “evil impulse,” or yetzer ha-ra, a term that refers to ambition, assertiveness and sexual desire. A parable in the Talmud says that the rabbis once captured this evil impulse and confined it to a large pot. The next morning no one went to work and not a single egg was laid in all of Israel. The rabbis had to let it go.

Which brings me to my latest project. It is an oldie but goodie. I’m reviving Brining a Little Light To The World ™.

simonvoodoolight

What is it? It is an emergency flashlight. It will run at least 100 hours on two fresh AA cells. My test on the last version ran eight days. In addition when the light is “off” it flashes about every three seconds so you can find it in the dark. It should flash continuously for about 5 years with a fresh set of batteries. So you trade run time for flashing time. I would suggest putting a new set of batteries in the flashlight every two years if you would like at least 60 hours of on time in case of an emergency.

The Flashlight was inspired by the Katrina hurricane when I read about people trapped in flooded basements whose flashlights went dark after a few hours while they were trapped in the basements. This light would keep flashing for comfort. And it would give tens of hours of on time when you needed to look for something. Or try to escape if that is possible.

So what is new with this version? Three things. I found a lower cost power converter chip which converts battery power to the voltage and current needed to run the LED. Once started it will continue running until the batteries are totally drained. In fact it will start up on practically dead batteries. The batteries only need to have .6 volts each to start the light working. A fresh alkaline battery has a voltage of about 1.6 volts.

What is better about the new chip set is that the flashlight blinks slower when the batteries start going dead. As the battery voltage goes below .5 volts each (1.0 volt total) the flashing starts to slow down. When the batteries have near zero life left the blinking slows to seven seconds per flash. The original version just went dead. And even better – if the light is still flashing it will turn on. So you have a definite low battery indicator. The old version just quit when the batteries got low enough.

The second thing that is new is a more efficient LED at lower cost. I decided not to extend the run time with the higher efficiency. Instead I made the light a little brighter.

The third thing that is new is 3D printing. I have gotten an estimate for custom prototypes and design work of $5,000. That would include custom versions of a purse size light at about $400 per printed version. The estimate included 4 or 5 versions to get the design right.

Once the design is done I would need about $15,000 to get 1,000 lights made. That would be a prototype production run. The cost per flashlight gets into the marketable range when the production runs are 100,000 pieces and up. I would sell the prototype run at cost to get customer feedback.

In order to raise the money for the project I’m accepting donations. I am also going to sell flashlights using available cases (Eveready lantern lights) at $50 each including shipping in the US. The trouble is that Eveready no longer makes the old light (it used an incandescent bulb). So I need cases. If you send me an old case I will make you a flashlight for $45. If you send me two cases I will make you one for $40. And for three cases The cost is $35 for a flashlight. I will take up to 6 cases per order and send you a flashlight for $20. I will use those cases to make lights for people who can’t find an old case.

If you are interested you might like Eric’s description of the Voodoo Flashlight. I should add that I have prototyped the new version of the electronics and have installed the new version in a couple of cases I had lying around from my last try.

Interested parties can leave a comment here or contact me by e-mail. My address is on the sidebar at Space-Time Productions. You can also donate to the project at this link. People who donate will be first in line for prototypes from the prototype production run.

And of course if you are an investor I’d be glad to discuss business.