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It's worth recalling that the phrase "a bias against understanding" was introduced by John Birt in the mid-70s, essentially to promote the new-kid-on-the-block LWT at the expense of the BBC. Ironically, its lasting impact was in persuading the Beeb to poach Birt in the 80s. On his eventual appointment as DG, one of his chief initiatives was the investment in rolling 24-hour news coverage. This was meant to provide the time to drill into issues and provide greater context. In practice, it simply created an empty space that was increasingly filled by think-tanks keen to provide "balance" and by the recycling of print media stories. Birt was probably sincere about the need for greater depth in current affairs (he produced the Frost-Nixon interviews, after all), but he seemed to have no real empathy for investigative reporters. I don't want to lay all the blame at his door, but there was a noticeable and detrimental change in the quality of the BBC's journalism that occurred on his watch. In many ways, the BBC's current failings are a reflection of a wider change in the media landscape. The symbiotic relationship with newspapers in particular has meant that as the latter have degraded, valuing opinion and lifestyle bollocks over reportage, so the Beeb has declined as well.
@cjcjc, Marx's essay is a response to an earlier work by Martin Bauer called The Jewish Question. In other words, Marx wrote "[Thoughts] On 'The Jewish Question' [of Martin Bauer]". There is a long-standing dispute as to whether Marx was antisemitic (even a "self-hating Jew") or simply employing sarcasm and irony (as he frequently did in his writings). Given that his criticism of Bauer was actually a defence of German Jews, the case is not-proven. Even Jonathan Sacks, the UK's Chief Rabbi, has said that applying the term "antisemitic" to Marx is anachronistic, as he was simply using the common language and stereotypes of the time, which just goes to show that the layers of irony are infinite.
Toggle Commented Sep 6, 2018 on Against moral crusades at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Dipper, but John McDonnell already has.
Small businesses may well have planning horizons no greater than reporting periods, and they may also defer investment if they fund it out of free cash or operating profit, but I'd be very surprised to find this going on in a larger business, let alone a listed company. Large-scale investments are usually funded by debt and have no short-term impact on earnings. As the charge of short-termism is typically levelled at big businesses, I'd suggest something else is going on here. The term is typically used by politicians (and think-tanks like the IPPR) as a synonym for an antipathy towards planning, with the inference that this should be coordinated. For financial journalists, it usually acts as a euphemism for executive looting. For executives, it is a ready defence against market expectations. I doubt that short-termism, in the sense of a habitual and widely-shared attitude, really exists. It's just rhetoric.
The IPPR report certainly marks a step-change away from the usual technocratic pabulum, and its focus on genuine tax reform is significant, but I suspect in this it is merely reflecting the shift in public opinion over recent years, and no doubt anticipating Labour's programme. It is (for the left) essentially comforting rather than challenging, and even a bit nostalgic (e.g. the fetishisation of exports and R&D is reminiscent of David Edgerton's histories). That said, it's recognition of the importance of power in the economic sphere is welcome, though it has perhaps pulled its punches by not extending that analysis to the social sphere (e.g. education, the professions, the media etc).
In dismissing many on the left's adoption of the Palestinian cause as the desire for a moral crusade, and thus "narcissistic self-righteousness", I think you are assuming that such choices ought to be either virtuous (and therefore morally consistent, hence your point about equivalent examples of human rights abuse) or pragmatic (if a solution isn't feasible, don't bother). But this ignores politics. The reason why particular foreign abuses achieve prominence is that they reflect domestic concerns. To take an example from the other end of the political spectrum, the horror of Burke and others at the French Revolution (whose toll of victims was slight by historical standards) had more to do with the fear of domestic threats to property and hierarchy than sympathy for the Ancien Regime. Likewise, the British left's focus on Spain in the 1930s was amplified by disgust at the British government's policy of non-interference (in practice tacit support for Franco) that reflected the "hands-off" approach to economic and social policy during the depression. Marching with the International Brigade was a logical corollary of marching from Jarrow. To take a more recent example, the anti-Apartheid movement grew noticeably stronger in the 80s in the UK precisely because it was a proxy for resisting Thatcher. So, why Palestine? I suspect the answer is that for many on the left it provides an image of institutionalised inequality and selective state brutality that looks like a wider harbinger of life under a nationalist right. The febrile atmosphere that surrounds the issue is probably due to two things: the realisation that Israel has no intention of allowing a viable two-state solution, and the growing opposition to structural inequality in British society. PS: I've often found the "more Methodism than Marx" line amusing given that old Karl wrote on the superstructural role of religion. Moral crusades aren't eccentric or random choices. They reflect the contending forces within society and thus the material base.
Toggle Commented Sep 5, 2018 on Against moral crusades at Stumbling and Mumbling
I think you are forgetting the extent to which albums in the 70s would be borrowed, even before the advent of cassette recorders made home-taping practical. Likewise, books were often shared in the 18th century, though usually by visiting the owner's house. The change in the political economy of culture has been the disappearance of the hybrid form of ownership amplified by sharing. Now we either own products exclusively or pay for shared experiences (theatre, football etc). While digitisation had radically reduced unit costs and so led to profusion, I don't think the change from a small cultural treasury to a large one has been quite so sharp. Benjamin's point was made almost a century ago.
Toggle Commented Aug 26, 2018 on On wider access to culture at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Jim, you're proposing gerontocracy, which in the current circumstances of young adults facing weak wage growth and unaffordable property costs is hardly likely to make matters better. The problem with Blair and Cameron was not their youth but their privilege.
Toggle Commented Aug 15, 2018 on Our broken politics at Stumbling and Mumbling
You've pre-empted the obvious criticism of your claim by stating that there was never a golden age of politics, but even so: 1. Mass-membership is no guarantee of more thoughtful selection. At its peak in the 50s, the Tory Party routinely selected on the basis of social deference rather than effectiveness, which culminated in the elevation of Lord Home to the leadership. Our contemporary selection issue is the increasingly narrow background of candidates, which is largely due to the emergence of a self-replicating political/media caste. 2. History is kind to over-promoted idiots because it tends to forget them, unless they spectacularly screw up. There were just as many brown-noses and fools in the past. 3. We've had 3 referendums at a UK level in 41 years. While this is more than the period before 1975, we should bear in mind that we've only had universal adult suffrage since 1928 and votes from 18 since 1969. That democracy is becoming slightly more direct/representative is not necessarily a bad thing. 4. Mill's claim for the superiority of debate as a selection mechanism was part of the liberal ideology of the market, and was advanced at a time of limited suffrage. It wasn't an argument for democracy but for bourgeois plurality: the participation of all those who made and managed markets. 5. This is your strongest point in that there appears to have been structural changes in the media that have led to a greater appetite for frauds and gobshites, but I suspect this has less to do with Twitter than the profusion of TV channels that started with cable in the 80s. Also, Irving wasn't really "shut out of the public domain" in the 90s so much as he went out of fashion. His earlier profile must be seen in the context of the Cold War liberal market for ideas (Nazis not so bad, Soviets worse), while he failed to retain interest on the right because he didn't move on from antisemitism to Islamophobia. More deliberative democracy is probably the answer, as you suggest, but the battle for this shouldn't be fought solely in the realm of organised politics but also in the workplace. Choose your battlefield is the best advice.
Toggle Commented Aug 11, 2018 on Our broken politics at Stumbling and Mumbling
One reason why this latest report is interesting is that it is based on individual workers expectations of the likelihood of their own jobs being automated. This means that it contains a degree of tacit knowledge unavailable to studies by academics or business consultancies that tend to proceed from an assessment of the technological potential. In other words, the consequence of low capital investment - outdated equipment, archaic skills and lash-ups instead of replacements - may be increasingly visible on the shop-floor and in the office. I doubt the 6 million workers cited are worried because they watched Westworld, but because they can see how to partially or fully-automate their jobs with relatively simple hardware or software upgrades.
Toggle Commented Aug 6, 2018 on The robot paradox at Stumbling and Mumbling
I've not read the book, so I may be doing Chris Bertram a disservice, but his title begs a broader question by assuming that states can possess "rights" as opposed to merely exercising powers (whether democratically delegated or not). This recasts the historically contingent formation of a state, and the associated process by which its citizenry invest it with power, as a matter of universal principle, which leads to the notion of competing rights - the state vs the individual - and an obvious ideological frame (I'm assuming Bertram is sympathetic to the individual, but then so are libertarians, many of whom have a blind-spot on migration). It also produces a false commensurability. For example, the demand made of various individuals that they should "acknowledge the state of Israel's right to exist". State recognition is a practice of international law. Only another state can recognise a state. For me to recognise the right of the Republic of France to exist is meaningless, both because I'm not a state and international law recognises no "right to exist". Where this becomes relevant to migration is that the issue is presented as a conflict between the individual and the state, even though migration law is determined by state-to-state agreement (or its absence). That migration is actually a matter of trade has become more apparent with Brexit, though the government's belief that it can do a deal with India without increasing visas suggests that acknowledgment of this reality will be deferred as long as possible.
Toggle Commented Jul 26, 2018 on Not debating immigration at Stumbling and Mumbling
A) “if it’s this much trouble, it must be worth having”. B) “we’ve come so far and paid so much we can’t turn back now”. I doubt there are many leavers who would subscribe to A, but I suspect there are a lot who would subscribe to B. I think the key con for the Brexit ultras is less likely to be "stalling" than "one more heave".
Toggle Commented Jul 23, 2018 on The Brexit con at Stumbling and Mumbling
I think your description of spivvery fits the likes of Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore, but their evident glee at their own behaviour ("the bad boys") and their willingness to inflate tales of their gamesmanship and cynicism (lapped up by gullible journalists like Carole Cadwalldr) suggests a British subculture quite independent of vulgar neoliberalism even if congruent with it. Neoliberalism encourages cons, but cons weren't invented by neoliberalism. I imagine both Banks and Wigmore are as familiar with School for Scoundrels as Boiler Room. More worrying (and more likely to have been material to the referendum result), was Nigel Farage's admission in 2014 that he'd "rather be poorer with fewer migrants", which slightly contradicts your claim that Brexiteers were never honest about the potential cost. Of course, this admission wasn't highlighted during the campaign, but that was more a failure of the media than dissembling on the part of Farage. Given that leave voters today continue to support leave while being more pessimistic about the economy, I don't think the root issue was that they were gullible marks. I think the difference between Thatcher and the Brexiteers was essentially one of class. As a lower middle-class snob who moved to the upper middle-class, Thatcher was too invested in her self-image of respectable virtue to be consciously hypocritical. The "bad boys of Brexit", reflecting much working and lower middle-class opinion, believed that they had "put one over" on the elite. They weren't hypocritical - they meant what they said - but they did misdirect. In contrast, upper class Brexiteers like Johnson and Gove are hypocrites to the bone, essentially because they are invented personae.
It's worth remembering that Carrington's respect for the working class never extended to putting himself forward for democratic election. His long political career was entirely the result of aristocratic patronage.
Toggle Commented Jul 12, 2018 on On class separation at Stumbling and Mumbling
"I sense they would rather defend property than freedom". I think that hits the nail on the head. Just as the social history of Europe produced anarchism, so the particular circumstances of the US (an elite conception of liberty and a belief in the abundance of property) produced libertarianism. It is less a philosophy than a contingent rationalisation of white privilege and the defence of wealth as public virtue. Right-libertarians are more accurately propertarians, while left-libertarians (and the bleeding heart school) are just classical liberals who want to appear edgy.
I think the reference to MacIntyre is interesting in this context as Southgate has clearly been presented by a starstruck media as a man of virtue and thus an examplar of more than just managerial savvy. That said, I think one element of the good fortune he has enjoyed was to become manager after Big Sam.
Surely Johnson meant "fuck big business", not "fuck SMEs"? Given the widespread small business support for Brexit, and the increasing importance of petty rentiers in driving policy, I think what we are seeing is simply the Tory party lurching from the more progressive to the more reactionary capitals. While I think you're right that Labour might well be able to make an objectively better offer to SMEs, that in turn assumes that the latter are able to identify their own best interests. But if they were, they'd probably already be a lot more successful. Too many small business people are either entrenched in their resentment, in which "socialist" is as much of a swear word as "banker", or are delusional enough to believe that "this time next year we'll be millionaires, Rodney".
Broadly, growth is driven by productivity (which in turn is largely driven by technology) and/or population increase. The latter can be organic (a high birth rate), but that tends to undermine productivity (women removed from the labour pool), so the most reliable method to maximise growth is immigration. I've not read Cohen's book, so I don't know whether he mentions this at all, but it strikes me that the issue of growth cannot be addressed in isolation from economic migration. When Nigel Farage confessed he would accept lower growth in return for lower immigration he was, however unconsciously, making a profound point.
On your point about reification, it's worth noting the extent to which "the economy" has been redefined since the 80s away from productive to speculative assets, such as property and shares. This "gamification" inevitably trivialises the topic in the public imagination.
Toggle Commented May 27, 2018 on Does economics matter? at Stumbling and Mumbling
I don't think Austin, like other centrists, is oblivious to capitalist stagnation so much as in complete denial about it. This is why in his attack on Corbyn he defined the social democratic tradition in terms of anticommunism, unionism and support for Israel. The word "economy" doesn't appear once in his piece.
Toggle Commented May 25, 2018 on Corbyn: the heir to Blair at Stumbling and Mumbling
I think Will Davies has hit the spot with his definition of neoliberalism as "the disenchantment of politics by economics". In other words, neoliberalism is first and foremost a political praxis, not an economic theory. It is about power, hence the continuing importance of the state. This instrumentality echoes Thatcher's insistence that "Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul", which shows that there was more in play in the late-70s and early-80s than simply responding to the "structural crises of the older postwar Keynesian system".
Toggle Commented May 16, 2018 on On neoliberalism at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Nanikore, David Goodhart's claim that he isn't anti-immigrant depends on two things: First, a strawman that equates anti-immigration with racism. "I am not a racist", says Goodhart, "ergo I cannot be anti-immigrant". This leads him to react with outrage when others point to the ethnic dimension of the policy in practice, for example, accusing David Lammy of "racialising" the Windrush issue and Akala (on BBC QT) of a "racial grievance outburst". He refuses to distinguish between intentions and consequences. Second, he is not an advocate of zero immigration but of an instrumental policy that picks and chooses immigrants to suit perceived national need. This includes prioritising the highly-skilled and channeling the low-skilled towards "antisocial hours visas". But though this sounds like a purely economistic approach, it has an obvious class dimension, assuming that "professionals" are easier to integrate and that the native middle class are more tolerant. Goodhart's basic premise is that low-skilled (i.e. working class) immigration is economically and culturally destabilising and therefore people (the native working class, in particular) have legitimate grounds for opposing it. This is hardly an original claim. The spin he gave it in the early 00s was that the welfare state depends on solidarity, which in turn arises from cultural affinity. As many critics at the time pointed out, the solidarity in question actually arises from common class interests, not culture, but class was a dirty word under New Labour. I don't believe Goodhart is a racist, or that he is anti-immigrant in the simple sense of xenophobic, but I do believe he is anti-immigrant in a particular sense. He is a middle class bigot who fetishes an antiquated ideal of the "white working class" and finds the non-white working class uncongenial. In this he is little different to the Victorians who deplored Irish immigrants to the UK as socially destabilising and culturally incompatible.
Toggle Commented May 15, 2018 on On guilt by association at Stumbling and Mumbling
Anti-austerity is not essential to big-staters, nor is support for co-ops essential to anti-semites. Where an idea is tainted by association with bad people, this is because the idea is definitional for those people, not because they incidentally support it for personal or quixotic reasons. For example, the idea that the police or secret services should able to ignore the law in support of a higher authority (a state of exception) is definitional to Fascism, which is why politicians who bemoan democracy and due process can justifiably be accused of Fascist tendencies. On the other hand, Gosplan, the gulags and the Cultural Revolution are not definitional to socialism (let alone Marxism), whatever Handy Mike might think. Socialists en masse are therefore not guilty by association with Lenin, Stalin and Mao. The issue with David Goodhart is his insistence that we should be hostile to illegal immigration (i.e. tough on crime). In fact, good law is dispassionate. When anger becomes policy, mistakes will be made, as various miscarriages of justice proved well before the Windrush scandal. His hyprocrisy arises from his insistence that we can debate immigration coolly (see his recent criticism of David Lammy on this point) while he provides an intellectual justification for a visceral distaste of foreigners. He wants the luxury of indulging rhetorical violence without getting blood on his hands. Daniel Hannan is, as many have pointed out, a fantasist, who was never happier than when he could berate the EU without any prospect of his jeremiads having any effect. He has been hoist by his own idiot petard.
Toggle Commented May 14, 2018 on On guilt by association at Stumbling and Mumbling
Key to this apparent intellectual decline has been the disappearance of the "public intellectual", whose role wasn't merely to challenge the public but to act as a tribune in challenging politicians. However, this was only possible where there was a degree of intellectual equality between the two and a willingness on the part of politicians to engage in serious debate and risk defeat. The paucity of intellectuals in the Commons isn't so much a mirror of society as simply a statement of what is now permissible discourse, which we then see reflected in the editorial choices of Today, Question Time and the news. Our apparent intellectual decline is therefore a result of the "professionalisation" of politics and its attendant war on independent thought. It is worth noting here that a similar "decline" has been witnessed in the USA and France, indeed British anxiety on the subject sounds trivial compared to that of the French. The fundamental problem is that politics has become too powerful in setting the intellectual weather.
Like MJW, I suspect this was briefly a thing (I think Osborne introduced it to the UK political scene as part of his makeover) that has since become a windup among press photographers. Whenever I see it, I instinctivley start humming The Monkees theme tune.