Peter Higgs, the Subatomic Particle, and the Scottish Connection

Two months ago, on May 4, we posted an article titled ¨The Scottish Connection: ¨Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and Andrew Carnegie”.

A view of the Large Hadron Collider) in its tunnel at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland.

Today, at a press conference in Geneva it was announced:

Scientists at Europe’s CERN research centre have found a new subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe, which appears to be the boson imagined and named half a century ago by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs…

Two independent studies of data produced by smashing proton particles together at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider produced a convergent near-certainty on the existence of the new particle. (Reuters).

Very remarkably, Dr. Peter Higgs (83), an England native, the physicist who provided the theoretical foundation (essentially a mathematical approach) upon which this recent experiment is based, is currently an Emeritus professor of the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Higgs conducted in Edinburgh (in the early 60s) most of the research leading to the work in the Large Hadron Collider that has experimentally established the existence of a Higgs-like boson.

Most scientists agree that Higgs particle is the last undiscovered piece of the Standard Model that describes the fundamental composition of the universe. The model is to physics what the theory of evolution is to biology. For that reason, some commentators have labeled the Higgs boson as the “God particle”, for its role in turning the Big Bang into a living universe.

Another monumental contribution to mankind stemming from Scotland!


How Value Grows with Intentional Positive Globalization

There’s an old saying that goes something like this, “What cannot be measured cannot be improved.” This is a very simple statement with profound implications for our personal lives. It is also true in business and economics. Without accurate, reliable measurements of whatever we do, we have no frame of reference from which we can grow and improve.

positive globalizationMoreover, this is particularly important to improving human lives across the world. If any society truly wants to improve, the first step is to place itself within context. The leaders of that society – business leaders as well as policymakers – must know with certainty the relative position their country holds against other nations. Once a baseline or benchmark has been established, proper and reasonable goals, objectives and strategies can be developed to address our social issues and improve them.

Interestingly, at the end of the day, there’s no grand science behind making change and improving human life. The problem is this. It’s easy to sit and wait for human crises, then react and respond to them. It is a whole new way of living to be intentional, see opportunity and initiate change.

But opportunity rarely finds us. We must seek it out. When opportunity presents itself, fear keeps us from being intentional. But Seth Godin says that “you have everything you need to build something far bigger than yourself.”

To help you find those trends and opportunities we have compiled four indices you can use:

With this information, value grows with the intentional. And, as you engage, you’ll find others will feel the need to belong. Fascinating how human behavior is, right? They will want to be led, to join you, to contribute. “We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas,” says Seth Godin, “and we can’t resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new.”

Your job is to make change.

The Fundamental Importance of Connecting the Dots

Knowledge is power—that is an unquestionable truth. On one hand, the whole world is totally immersed inside the information age, the knowledge era. The tools to successfully navigate it have already been developed and are both relatively accessible and extremely powerful. At the same time, the world is also fully immersed in an age of intensive and accelerated globalization. If these two elements are combined, the solution is within the problem itself. There is no way to overstate the importance of appropriately connecting the dots, tying up loose ends in order to achieve success in any human activity. This is a universal truth that knows no exceptions. It is such a simple truth that it is both humiliatingly simple and painfully obvious. However, judging by the enormous delays observed in most countries, it is clear that:

  • We live on an inconceivable level of unconsciousness.
  • There is a great lack of motivation to learn and an aberrant lack of interest in progressing. or alternatively…
  • There is a genuine desire of progress, but we do not know how.

Personally, I feel that it is a combination of points three and one, in that order. Human and social capabilities are immense, so long as they are coordinated take advantage of them. There are more than enough capabilities to fulfill and take advantage of life’s many challenges, as well as medium- and long-range goals and needs. No one invented everything, and everyone can and should learn from everyone. The world’s best success stories at all levels are awash in highly effective learning from others. It is the
only well-known route to progress. Thomas Edison summed it up superbly: “Genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.”

Effective imitation is a true path to progress. Furthermore, it is an essential path to explore in order to excel at all levels. Every country that has successfully developed has broadly used learning by imitation. Probably the best examples are the Asian economies, from the Four Tigers in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, to China during the last three decades. Also, during Spain’s rapid development of the eighties, nineties, and a significant part of the first decade of the new millennium, it essentially reached the level of the rest of developed Europe. Spain emulated and reformatted itself into a close replica of the developed European countries, thus narrowing the gap with them. Chile has been undergoing a similar process during the past three decades with splendid results. As the popular proverb goes, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel.

The effect of imitation is extremely powerful. This is why it is essential to replicate anything and everything that is useful and constructive. And that is a most crucial aspect: it is critical to be able to distinguish right from wrong. Unfortunately, human nature picks up bad habits much more easily than good ones.

Imitation is the fundamental learning pattern from birth; that is how we learn to walk, talk, and ride a bicycle. It should not be surprising that this manner of behavior and learning goes on in a permanent basis, not just in infancy as a temporary pattern. However, what cannot be justified is that we adults do not seem to accept it easily. What a great opportunity missed!

And it isn’t only learning that operates that way. All human knowledge, no matter the area, essentially works in the same pattern. One example is electricity. Electricity was not invented by anyone. It was discovered and immediately began to be examined and analyzed by a myriad of scientists and researchers. One of the most picturesque and remarkable pioneers in these efforts was the self-taught Benjamin Franklin.

The same thing happens with the rest of physics and math. They deal, as does all human knowledge with existing relationships and structures. Humans have discovered, detected, studied, and analyzed them, developing and furthering our knowledge afterward. This is the only way to build up, to document, to apply, and most importantly, to transfer knowledge to future generations.

Social, political, economic, financial, and business areas are no different from the reasoning-and-learning pattern just described. Therefore, effectively tying those loose ends is of utmost importance. There is no way to overstate the importance of doing so adequately.

Contemporary Political Systems And Their Multiple Limitations

It seems to be taken for granted, all over the world –particularly in Western society, that all things equal, democracy is by and large the best political system ever conceived. Theoretically, it makes a lot of sense to look for governments essentially oriented to the population’s needs and aspirations. Alas, a highly effective and  functional way to materialize that idealistic concept is still very far from being a reality.

Throughout history, when very poor checks-and-balances systems have been in place, there have been too many excesses and devastating consequences. There are no exceptions to this.

Winston Churchill famously stated: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Thus, there doesn’t seem to be a better alternative outside of democracy. However, there are sufficient and conspicuous virtuous exceptions outside the democratic model that merit taking a look at them. By analyzing those virtuous exceptions, some important findings can be reached. Thus, revisiting this topic is a must. Let’s start first with a recent governmental exception.

Italy

As an unintended consequence of the ongoing European debt crisis, the Troika (the European Union, its Central Bank and the IMF) were left with practically no other option than to exert very heavy pressure upon the Italian government and appoint a previously agreed upon new prime minister. This compelling move from November 2011, was based on the evident incompetence both, of the Italian political system itself, as well as Berlusconi’s,  the former prime minister. Mr. Mario Monti, the newly appointed interim PM, will be in power for a period of 16 months –until the 2013 general elections. Monti also chose to personally take the Finance Minister position, given the extreme adverse circumstances in which he took power. Mario Monti was recalled from the presidency of prestigious Milan’s Bocconi University and sometimes consulted as a foremost expert on European matters. Mr. Monti has declared to have no political ambitions, and has been consistently declined to be a candidate to form a new government in 2013.

How can the Monti government be graded, until now. A resounding success, within the deplorable circumstances that he had been facing since day one. The major irony here is that Mario Monti, a technocrat, appointed as PM, outside of the typical population’s voting mechanism, has proved to be a roaring success. In sharp contrast, Silvio Berlusconi, one of the wealthiest businessmen in that country,  gained the PM seat through the formal party channels, with disastrous results. Berlusconi represents many of the worst vices and excesses possible, inept and highly corrupt.

In the Corporate World

The late Steve Jobs was not exactly a role model for corporate governance, as far as arriving at a decision by consensus. In short, he was an autocrat … but a very bright and effective autocrat!

By not behaving according to orthodoxy, given his exceptional capabilities, Steve Jobs was able to pull ahead of the rest of the industry in an astonishing way. It is now legendary that Jobs didn’t trust market surveys … instead relying almost exclusively on his personal instincts. Under normal circumstances, autocracy and being a lone wolf  is totally contrary to best practices; in Jobs case’s, however,  a great deal of his extreme effectiveness was based on unorthodoxy.

In Summary

There is plenty of room for lessons to be learned about governance, both at the public and corporate levels. The two exceptional instances briefly discussed, as well as many others, lend themselves very well as case studies.

There is ample room for improvement to adjust most models to be more responsive to meritocracy. The ancient Greek sages had a very clear objective about governance: ideally, the wisest and the fittest are the ones to govern.

A proper understanding of globalization and its positive effects is a most coveted asset for successfully navigating the global village waters. Governance is, undoubtedly –in all ways shapes and forms–, one of the paramount areas of progress for humanity. Under the “The ABCs to a Global Social Revolution” tab in this web page, there is a very specific, ambitious and provocative initiative in this regard.

John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman, and the Robinson Crusoe Economy

Many writings have led most people to believe that, in essence, Milton Friedman (1912–2006) ideologically antagonized with John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946). This simplistic –and inaccurate– perception would lead us to believe that to solve most economic challenges, Keynes would recommend changes in government expenditures, while Friedman would go with monetary way –modifying the money supply, and interest rates levels– both of them almost exclusively recommending the mentioned changes, in the corresponding direction, up or down. While it is true that those two outstanding economist of the 20th century were mostly known for their research and findings in the mentioned areas, the scope of their vision was well beyond their major area of expertise. Both were very bright economists and, as such, very well versed on the complexities of any economic system. In the final analysis, Keynes’s and Friedman’s way of focusing the economy are actually two different –and indispensable– sides of the same pyramid, and so, are not necessarily antagonistic by definition. Furthermore, in most cases, they complement each other. To avoid sterile debates and confusions, a return to basics is an extremely useful thought pattern for all science and humanities disciplines; economics is no exception.

Simplicity is not incompatible with depth and truth. It is rather unnecessarily complex approaches, that can easily throw us into confusion and error. Unnecessary complexity is often quite harmful; its added value is very questionable. Since many centuries ago, remarkable and famous thinkers have unequivocally leaned on the direction of simplicity. The lofty Leonardo Da Vinci would say, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” And the great Albert Einstein commented, “Everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler.”

Comparing and analyzing any confusing situation with the basic premises often leads us to the right track, clarifying the picture –going back to basics.

The monetary system, unquestionably represents a useful and pragmatic sophistication of thought evolution and social practice. However, analyzing the pre-monetary economy, that is, the barter system, is a very useful exercise because it helps tremendously to clear up doubts and confusion. This type of economy is referred to as the Robinson Crusoe economy: the most basic kind, in its simplest form.

Let us visualize this character’s environment, once his idyllic island was inhabited and several hundred families ended up living there in peaceful, harmonious coexistence. It was a primitive subsistence, yet an organized society and economy. In essence, everything worked similarly to today’s economy regarding the items they produced and the activities they developed. Of course, this kind of economy produced and developed only very basic items and activities: drinking water, food, clothing, housing, harvesting and herb storage, and very elementary  entertainment (such as swimming, running, and having lots of time to enjoy nature). Of utmost importance, they already had specialized labor.

It was, however, an unpretentious, subsistence economy without money. In such society, the economic cycle was closely associated with three key variables:

  1. Demographic variables, the composition of the workforce in particular: the proportion of young people to seniors and children, as well as the proportion of men to women. In the end, too many children and elderly people relative to working adults would cause severe production and service disruptions, because of the imbalance between the work force and its dependents.
  2.  Health risks: for example, epidemics (in both humans and their animals) or pests in their crops.
  3. Natural disasters: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, fires, and so on.

The economic cycle would be virtually nonexistent while none of the above three sets of variables underwent substantial, unfavorable changes. This was a subsistence economy (essentially, an agricultural economy) to the extent that all people of working age (men and women) could work every day (probably including Saturdays and Sundays). Some would fish, hunt, or milk the cows and goats, while others (probably women) would collect or plant fruit and vegetables, make clothes, and so on. Unemployment and contraction of the economy would be unknown in such an economy, as long as none of the adverse factors contained in any of the three groups of variables materialized.

On the island, everyone would understand the need to individually fulfill specific functions, according to the community’s solidarity spirit, needs, and possibilities. It would be an economy that Karl Marx would envy, since everyone would have more or less the same, sharing the resources and products of their labor with the others. In summary, it would be a primitive life in itself but reasonably harmonious, with all the basic necessities covered.

This would be a very stable economy, with close to full, permanent employment. The only possibility of a contraction of economic activity would be due to an adverse development in any of the three previously mentioned groups of variables (or combination thereof).

It stands to reason that, if the contemporary monetary system were managed in a highly efficient and effective manner, in essence, there should not be any other valid reason for contractionary cycles (recessions and depressions), unless any of the 3 previously mentioned groups and variables  (or combination thereof) experienced a sizeable setback. The evidence, however, clearly points we still have a lot to learn before fiscal and monetary management of any economy gets near that the level and excellence required. That is, if and when both fiscal and monetary policies are managed with a high level of effectiveness (around 85 or 90% rate of success) the economic cycle will continue to behave as we have known it for the past centuries.

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