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@nicholas, "No-where does it say in the the recent Labour Party manifesto that private dwellings should be confiscated by the state, yet this is what Corbyn has just advocated in the wake of the Grenfell fire, when there is no need for such draconian action, and people can be put up in the nearest Premier Inn". Shit happens. We don't expect any party manifesto to include an exhaustive list of all possible contingencies. We expect the government of the day to respond. If, as an advocate of direct democracy, you insist on securing a popular mandate for such action, you should be campaigning now for a fresh general election, or at least a re-run of the local council elections in Kensington & Chelsea. Corbyn has not proposed confiscation (which is permanent) but requisition (which is temporary). It is usually better to prioritise the requisitioning of public property, such as school sports halls, over private dwellings for obvious logistical reasons. Corbyn's "escalation" on this occasion was clearly prompted by two factors: the scale of the disaster and thus the number of people suddenly made homeless (far in excess of the capacity of nearby hotels), and the attenuation of public services in the borough. In a free market, a supplier is not under any obligation to sell to a particular consumer or to do so at a particular price, so Premier Inn could not be relied upon unless you think we should over-ride the rights of the company's shareholders to dispose of their property as they see fit by turfing out all other guests and insisting they house all the homeless. The irony is that the effective disappearance of the local council, and its inability to provide humanitarian aid to its own residents, is more akin to Venezuela than anything Labour has proposed.
Toggle Commented 7 days ago on Selecting for Corbynism at Stumbling and Mumbling
The natural selection model is useful, but one refinement we have to consider for politics is the range of options presented to the electorate. Come an election, there is often only a realistic choice of two and we don't tend to get a situation in which one "wins" for good, like Homo Sapiens edging out the Neanderthals. I don't say this to advocate proportional representation or multi-round voting, but to note that the selection of options in a first-past-the-post system means that most politics - in the sense of actually testing and refining policies - happens within party structures. This suggests that a structural reason for Corbyn's popularity is the reintroduction (or re-emphasis) of popular, participatory democracy within the party. Toby Young's £5 membership fee may have been more emblematic than he realised.
Toggle Commented Jun 20, 2017 on Selecting for Corbynism at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Tom Papworth, The home-ownership rate has been in decline for over a decade now. The converse of this is an increase in the number of people renting, which either means more landlords or larger holdings. Either way, there is a landlord interest that is thriving and the Tories appear more concerned with it than with home-owners.
Toggle Commented Jun 16, 2017 on The landlords' party at Stumbling and Mumbling
Douglas Fraser in the first comment takes a traditional reactionary position: "The more that the politically uninvolved are encouraged to vote, the less well informed will be the outcome" (the term "uninvolved" is a 21st century euphemism for "ignorant", which in turn was a 20th century euphemism for the older idea of "interest" - i.e. only property-owners could exercise good judgement in public affairs). One way that this elitist position has been reconciled with democracy is through the idea that while the individual voter may be an idiot (them obviously, not us), they possess a collective wisdom when massed through the ballot box. There were plenty of pundits this week who talked of the sophistication of the electorate's singular answer (not a few of whom previously bemoaned the blunt instrument of the referendum), as if we'd cunningly calculated the optimum vote split in advance. While this can easily be dismissed as mystical nonsense, it's worth noting that more respectable versions of this thinking underpin ideas such as complex emergence, the general intellect and Hayek's system of prices, not to mention the more risible "wisdom of crowds". Hayek's eulogy of prices is apposite to the pundit process: "The most significant fact about this system is the economy of knowledge with which it operates, or how little the individual participants need to know in order to be able to take the right action. In abbreviated form, by a kind of symbol, only the most essential information is passed on and passed on only to those concerned". Opinion polls and focus groups (and tightly-managed debates like Question Time) are an attempt to turn complex opinions into symbols, and thereby to abbreviate democracy. What was notable about the many and various "humble pie" articles (and book-eating) this week was the admission of error - I have failed to correctly interpret the signal, or I have misjudged Corbyn - but there was little appetite for more democracy, despite the polls (sic) suggesting we'd be more than happy to have another go at the ballot box.
Toggle Commented Jun 15, 2017 on Political pundits' biases at Stumbling and Mumbling
On the material interests vs preferences point, perhaps Mayism is about preserving existing gains rather than further enrichment, hence the focus on symbolism rather than practical policy. Much of the language of "fairness" and looking after the interests of "ordinary" people in the manifesto reeks of ressentiment. Perhaps the Mayite is an instinctive anti-capitalist (anti-EU) who was bought off by fictitious capital in the form of property. In other words, a lukewarm Thatcherite for whom the past is now more significant than the future. Home ownership has been in decline for well over a decade now and a sense of loss has been pervasive in political discourse since 2000: a loss of probity (Iraq), a loss of standards (expenses), a loss of loyalty (Labour "deserters"), a loss of opportunity (social mobility) etc. This culminated in the festishisation of control in last year's referendum. The sensitivity over the "dementia tax" is surely not simply about the state expropriating property wealth but about the threat of impending loss. The Tory party is not merely decadent and conflicted in its class interests, it is shackled to a generation that faces electoral decline.
Toggle Commented May 21, 2017 on Who benefits from Mayism? at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Jim, IBM was never a monopoly (there were other mainframe suppliers), but it was sufficiently dominant that it could reinvent itself as a software and business business services provider once the "big tin" market was eroded by minis and desktops. The key to this transformation was its established global footprint, i.e. the infrastructure of offices, commercial partnerships and political contacts. In other words, the network effects that benefit incumbents were at work long before social media. While competition was employed rhetorically to open up countries to globalisation, the result was the creation of a new class of multinationals who tended to shift from a vertically integrated model (controlling manufacture, distribution and sales) to a horizontally integrated model (focusing on "core competencies" such as R&D, brand and finance) with most of their operations sub-contracted. Apple is a good example of a business that went from vertical (e.g. insisting that eveything it made should be incompatible with other devices) to horizontal (essentially positioning itself as a luxury goods brand). National competitors, who are often still vertically integrated for political reasons (keep the jobs here etc), are at a scale disadvantage while the cost of entry to new global competitors is now much greater. In other words, globalisation was justified by appeals to competition but it has produced a less competitive environment in many industries. It's possible that Apple will be knocked off its perch one day, but its also possible that it will simply buy-out any emerging threat. That has been the standard MO of most Silicon Valley giants for years (and one reason for the cash piles).
Toggle Commented May 18, 2017 on The end of competition? at Stumbling and Mumbling
Austerity has clearly played a part, in terms of a failure to invest in system upgrades, but the larger error is one of commission rather than omission, namely the decision to reject proprietary systems for commerical off-the-shelf software. This reflected the public sector adoption of supposed private sector best practice ("buy not build") in the 90s and was driven as much by New Labour, after its u-turn on marketisation and embrace of the privatisation of ancillary services, as by the Tories. At the time, this strategy was justified on cost-benefit grounds: it was cheaper than bespoke development, it used proven technologies, it would commodify IT skill needs and thus lower ongoing costs etc. The "legacy mish-mash" problem outlined by Dipper was also a factor: we have an old mainframe "black box" but nobody knows how it works (ironically, a black box is highly secure precisely because there is no malware that targets it). Factors that weren't considered (because the case was usually made by business consultants, not techies) included the risks posed by sunsetting (i.e. inertia leading to unsupported systems, such as XP), data isolation (creating auxiliary systems, e.g. spreadsheets, that aren't backed-up over the network), and malware (more is written for Windows not because it is a less secure OS but because it has a massive installed base). The NHS IT landscape is typical of the public sector but it is also typical of much of the private sector, particularly those businesses where IT strategy has been set by the CFO rather than the CTO. The besetting sin is an obsession with short-term cost control that simply builds up greater costs down the road. The root cause is a naivety over markets and commodification.
Re the Jonathan Freedland piece you linked to, it's odd how people who claim never to read the papers or watch the TV news have somehow managed to form an opinion on Jeremy Corbyn. Freedland put it down to "instinct", which is weak even by his standards. People are obviously interested in the factors that impact on their jobs and public services, but they don't necessarily associate this with "politics", which for many is something to be avoided, like chuggers and Jehovah's Witnesses. This is rational given that politics is designed to be exclusive. Democracy's major problem is falling turnout. Unless you believe that older cohorts more disposed to vote are blessed with the wisdom of age, which doesn't quite tally with the popular explanations of Trump and Brexit, it doesn't look like that trend correlates with growing ignorance. In other words, "I'm not into that stuff" may reflect more than just a lack of knowledge.
@Dipper, The government can already legally limit the number of non-EU migrants in order to encourage UK businesses to invest in training. It has never worked - business always persuades the government to relax the quotas or criteria - yet this has never led to the government suffering anything more than minor embarrassment. The thrust of this post is that the immigration target isn't actually a target at all, in the sense of an indicator of intent, so it is pointless to imagine it could have any effect on behaviour. It is purely symbolic.
There is surely an ideological bias to the choice of an immigration target, over and above its value as a ready-made excuse. It implies that the state can manage national resources but that their efforts are undermined by foreigners and native saboteurs. Sterling used to have much the same symbolic purpose.
Another possible interpretation is that the election is fundamentally economic but that this is being expressed in terms of sovereignty. There will be some nutters for whom this means blue passports and bendy bananas, but many surely imagine that Brexit can ultimately be made a success in terms of jobs and living standards, even if there is an initially painful adjustment. I recall that support for leave in opinion polls (ahead of the vote) fell significantly when respondents were asked to assume a personal cost. Anecdata suggest that many (and not just pensioners) still think the costs of Brexit will be borne by others: migrants, the "metropolitan elite" etc. PS: "as Jonathan Freedland points out, Corbyn is unpopular even with people who avoid the MSM". Assuming they aren't all subscribers to Progress and Standpoint, how do they form their opinions?
The response to the interview is clearly proportionate to the public perception of Abbott as condescending and pretentious. That might not be wholly fair, but it's the persona she's got. I suspect that had the gaffe been committed by another shadow minister, it would have been milked as evidence of Labour incompetence, but perhaps wouldn't have achieved the same scale in terms of media coverage.
But surely Brexit is a performative insult, so the behaviour of the Tories is consistent with the brief. That's what the 52% (mostly) voted for, and that's what they expect to get: two fingers up to the French, singeing the King of Spain's beard, and an extra line to add to "two world wars and one world cup" to wind-up the Germans. You're assuming that leavers actually want to "win-win" the negotiation, when all they really want to do is fuck-off the EU. In your chess analogy, we are the pigeon: can't be reasoned with and we're going to crap all over the board.
Re people on £70k not feeling rich, I hate to be the sort of monomaniac who has to drag house prices into every discussion on economics, but, you know, house prices.
Toggle Commented Apr 25, 2017 on Beyond redistributive tax at Stumbling and Mumbling
As a long-time Arsenal watcher, you will know that Koscielny is usually the "interventionist" in a centre-back pairing with a "second ball" player such as Mertesacker. Mustafi looks to have been bought as the long-term replacement for Koscielny, but he clearly has yet to master the role. Judgement is very much a matter of experience, hence Koscielny has gradually lowered his card/penalty rate over time. The point is that Mustafi will (probably) learn and become a better player, but this requires him to push the edge of his competence and so court failure in the meantime. In contrast, the lack of consequentiality for pundits means that they never learn, hence the knee-jerk celebration of Trump's airstrike. Politicians do face consequentiality at the ballot box, so I disagree that there is no demand for them to recognise the edge of their competence, but most calculate that only the most egregious personal incompetence will make a difference. This is in no small measure because of pundits' mediation - e.g. Labour right-wingers know they won't be called out for their sabotage.
Toggle Commented Apr 13, 2017 on The edge of competency at Stumbling and Mumbling
Competition between workers is competition for the favour of employers. Stories that emphasise the nonthreatening nature of immigrants have historically been ineffective (consider the residual bigotry towards Jews and the Irish). It would be better to focus on who is actually doing the undercutting. Cui bono?
Toggle Commented Apr 7, 2017 on Immigration mechanisms at Stumbling and Mumbling
And yet ... there is a big difference between a permissive plebiscite ("Should Theresa May be made dictator?") and an indicative plebiscite ("Should we leave the EU?"). The latter ought to leave sufficient latitude of interpretation to allow representative politics back into the picture. The problem today is that the indicative is being finessed into the permissive. Though some will no doubt blame this on the opposition, or the government's fear of the Brexit press, I think a major factor has been the increasingly "dictatorial" nature of the state since the 80s. It's worth remembering that the plebiscite has historically been favoured by liberals and technocrats as much as populists and authoritarians.
Given that 27 other economies were subject to the same EU regulations, and that our domestic red tape is lightly worn, the UK's poor productivity growth relative to our continental competitors is clearly homegrown. The bulk of business "overhead" is endogenous, rather than exogenous. In other words, if bureaucracy is a drag on productivity, that is more likely to be the fault of poor business organisation and systems design rather than the heavy hand of the state, let alone the EU, hence the Torygraph's underwhelming list. Since the 1970s, the right has sought a variety of excuses to deflect attention from the calibre of British industrial management, from unions to the EU. It has successively shot every fox. What new culprit will they come up with to explain under-performance post-Brexit?
Toggle Commented Mar 29, 2017 on Newt troubles at Stumbling and Mumbling
@William Meyer, What would be the minimum qualifying period? If it were a single parliament, then we might find MPs aiming for single-term careers. Why do more if you're set up for life after 5 years? This would incentivise venal opportunists, make them more likely to adhere to centrist policy (to secure initial nomination), and less likely to put in the effort to secure promotion thereafter. If it were a minimum of (say) 3 terms, then this would incentivise MPs to abolish or undermine deselection (which might jeopardise their chances of reaching the finishing line), avoid rebellion and dissent (as this might lead to them losing the party whip), and would further encourage time-servers disinclined to pursue campaigns from the back-benches. Incentives matter, but only if you make them material, as campaign financing "reform" in the US has done. Our problem is not that politicians are easily bribed but that they are predisposed to support the worldview of the rich. As the old ditty about that related creature put it: "You cannot hope to bribe or twist (thank God!) the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there's no occasion to".
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2017 on Incentivizing politicians at Stumbling and Mumbling
Perhaps the fundamental assumption of economics - that incentives matter - is right in particular but wrong in general, and simply shouldn't be applied in this context. The idea that politicians must be nudged into doing the right thing demotes agency, and it also assumes we can collectively agree what that "right thing" is. Surely what we want from them is a balance between intrinsic motivation and pragmatism, not more extrinsic incentives that will inevitably produce structural biases. Osborne's career to date suggests a man who doesn't believe in much beyond his own fitness to rule. In other words, his willingness to be subject to the extrinsic incentive of money reflects weak intrinsic motivation. The broader issue here is the neoliberal emphasis on technocracy and the market in human capital (see Tony Blair's praise of Osborne as a "capable guy"). In the case of Davis, I suspect that he has prepared a contingency plan, but he doesn't want to reveal it for two pretty obvious reasons: first, as a signal to the EU27 that the UK doesn't fear a "no deal" outcome; and second, because it would be seized on as a prediction by those opposed to Brexit.
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2017 on Incentivizing politicians at Stumbling and Mumbling
"If people fear the sack, they’ll not invest in job-specific skills but rather in general ones that make them attractive to future employers". --- But more specialised skills are likely to command a higher wage so the reverse might also be true for skilled jobs: workers may seek to maximise training (where possible) if they feel their time in post might be short. "A lack of protection will encourage people to change jobs more often, as it’s better to jump than be pushed". --- The data suggests that employment churn increases when workers feel confident about finding a new job (i.e. employer demand is robust), not when they feel more vulnerable. The tendency of the majority is to sit tight and hope to avoid any cull. "If firms know they can fire at will they’ll devote less effort to screening or training". Maybe, or they may simply extend the probation period, effectively screening on the job. To assume that this approach would be a drag on productivity, you'd have to prove that the base case - costly up-front matching with psychometric bells on - is efficient, but there is little evidence that this is so. The broader point is that employment regulations actually have a relatively small impact on firm performance. Individuals react to changed incentives in different ways and most (not all) companies prefer to maintain their existing operations rather than seek to heavily exploit new regulatory "opportunities". The UK's relatively poor productivity is mainly a reflection on capital composition not the flexibility of labour.
Toggle Commented Mar 15, 2017 on Deregulation fantasies at Stumbling and Mumbling
I am not convinced of Harford's argument, nor your gloss on it, not least because it displays the characteristics of Hirschman's rhetoric of reaction: perversity, futility and jeopardy. The backfire effect may be real, but not every debunking produces a perverse outcome. Ostentatiously calling out the likes of Hopkins and Milo may often be counter-productive virtue-signalling, but suing the one and hoisting the other by his own petard seems to have been of some value recently. Harford's story about Big Tobacco ignores the central "fact": that despite decades of obfuscation, smoking went into steady decline from the moment that the evidence of its link with cancer was published. The facts weren't futile - they simply took a while to impact, which probably reflected generational habits as much as the temporary manufacture of doubt. The implicit jeopardy, in Harford's words, is that "More facts mean more grist to the motivated reasoning mill". In other words, we must avoid inciting the mob with our expertise for fear they go full Fascist. This strikes me as just another example of liberal pearl-clutching. It comes as no surprise that he advocates de haut en bas propaganda: "What we need is a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science". I agree with your central point that we need to change the agenda, but I doubt this would lead to general enlightenment and sweet reason. There were plenty of rightist rentagobs with something to say about stagnation and "the right to manage" in the 70s, suggesting that wherever you shift the argument the reaction will produce new counter-arguments and advocates. That said, anything that marginalises David Goodhart is surely a good thing. PS: @Patrick Kirk, the finding was that 96% of people didn't consume "enough serious news", not that they were politically disengaged. See what they did there?
@Luis, Blackrock are buying: a) goodwill/insurance, in the sense that future chancellors now know where their best interests lie with regard to the specific company; and b) publicity, in the sense that we, like much of the media, are talking about them.
Toggle Commented Mar 10, 2017 on How capitalist power works at Stumbling and Mumbling
There is always a common ideology. For example, PPE assumes that politics, philosophy and economics are complementary (which leads to teaching that seeks to make them so) and also that they are members of a distinct "class" of knowledge. If broader degrees are beneficial, then why not politics, ceramics and physiotherapy?
Toggle Commented Mar 2, 2017 on In defence of PPE at Stumbling and Mumbling
Another way of looking at it is that it was Nick Clegg's fault. The decision to enter coalition with the Tories not only committed the country to austerity but collapsed the LibDem vote in 2015, thereby handing the Tories a majority that in turn led to Cameron ceding the EU referendum to placate his right-wing.