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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.
@Al, "Technocracy is like Communism, it's never been tried". Systems of rule are defined by tendencies, not by certification. What matters is what a government does, not what "team" it claims to support. For example, most postwar European governments implemented a mix of socialist and capitalist policies. The political struggle was over the balance between the two. Technocracy is less about the substance of policy (should it be pro-social or pro-market?) and more about style: who should have authority and how should policy be formulated and implemented? (On the former, technocracy often blends into epistocracy - the rule of the qualified expert - which you yourself seem to be suggesting.) In that regard, all states are technocratic to a degree. That technocratic governance is often ineffective because of incompetence or vested interests does not make it any less technocratic. For example, what matters about the IMF is its authority, not its success rate.
Toggle Commented Apr 26, 2018 on Commitment & analysis at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Handy Mike, "the vicious rabble of Momentum", "groupthink" Marvellous stuff.
Toggle Commented Apr 26, 2018 on Commitment & analysis at Stumbling and Mumbling
I think this is a problem more of the media than politicians. The civil servants who advise ministers on policy options are hardly strangers to risk assessments, and many ministers have backgrounds in which risk management was routine. The problem is that ministers will often discount those risks. Sometimes this is because they are in the grip of a "belief", like Blair over Iraq, but more often it is because they anticipate short-term favourable media coverage and long-term negative impacts that someone else will have to deal with. Notably, this attitude tends to be worse among politicians who are former journalists, e.g. Gove and Johnson. The problem with the media is its structural bias in favour of novelty. It refuses to learn from past mistakes, is highly selective in its use of history, and always believes that "this time will be different". That applies as much to austerity as to the current clamour for intervention in Syria. You're right that Labour should have taken the charge of antisemitism more seriously, but not because of the risk of it being normalised (which is unlikely), but because of its potential to be weaponised (which was much more likely). In other words, they weren't cynical enough.
@Dipper, Just to be clear, Toby Young (yes, that one) is a co-author of the paper you cite. An "expert reaction" can be found here: I particularly liked this: "It is also worth noting that we have almost no understanding of the mechanism by which genetics affects educational attainment. We do know that genetic contributions to educational years overlaps with a vast number of other traits, ranging from height to obesity, bipolar disorder to rheumatoid arthritis, depression to snoring. In short, I don’t think this paper advances our understanding of the role of selective schools or the biological mechanisms that can impact on educational attainment."
Toggle Commented Apr 1, 2018 on Irrelevant IQ research at Stumbling and Mumbling
Also worth noting that the reified country has long been associated with the non-urban and therefore with Tory dominance. Our weapons are meant to protect Constable's Haywain (as in Peter Kennard's satirical montage), not an inner-city tower block.
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2018 on "The country" at Stumbling and Mumbling
The problem with the marketplace for ideas is that no amount of public rejection will cause the producers of bad ideas to exit the market. This is partly because of Metatone's point, that technology has reduced the cost of production and distribution, but also because the powerful and wealthy have always been able to amplify their ideas or write-off their losses. Arguably, and despite the structural bias, this is as it should be because an idea that is universally regarded as bad may simply be ahead of its time. Obscurity is the right result because it leaves open the possibility of future revival. For this reason, I'd agree that the "policing" of bad ideas is a social responsibility, whether that is formal (e.g. laws against incitement) or informal (e.g. protest and censure), and that we should resist the drift towards privatised censorship. In that context, the kerfuffle over Mary Beard was illuminating. The majority of the feedback she got was legitimate censure, while the abuse was little different to what she received years ago from A A Gill from his privileged position in the press. The words may have been harsher, but it was still just "mean speak". As a chaotic, uncoordinated process, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Just as the marketplace rejected Beard's attitude, so it also promoted censure over abuse, despite her attempts to focus on the latter. This is probably as good as we can expect to get, so the claims of "bullying" against Beard were, to my mind, inaccurate (if one kid in the playground punches you, this doesn't mean the whole class assaulted you in a "joint enterprise") as well as being a rather transparent attempt to delegitimise public censure by crying witch-hunt. PS: Ralph/David F, student unions are private member organisations that are legally distinct from universities. Many "unions" in the public eye are also distinct from student unions. For example, the Oxford Union is independent of the OUSU and not affiliated to the NUS, which is why it can host speakers in breach of the NUS No Platform policy and thus prompt both student protests and outraged newspaper columns about the assault on free speech. Universities do not restrict the hire of their facilities based on the opinions of students. They are not publicly owned (they are self-governing institutions that receive public funding as well as private fees) and hosting speakers typically generates revenue, not a cost. They have no special obligation towards the "upholding of free speech" because of the state funding of education.
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2018 on The free speech dilemma at Stumbling and Mumbling
If the idea really was to establish a link between individual courses and earnings, then you could have stopped after your first objection. The inescapable delay (which it's hard to imagine could be less than 10 years) means that the price signal could only ever be a faint echo at best and one that would be a weak spur for improvement. After all, why would a lecturer bother to invest their effort if the results won't be seen for a decade and they may well end up moving elsewhere before then? In fact, the mooted extension to the TEF appears to be another opaque "balanced scorecard", incorporating drop-out rates, nebulous "satisfaction" and equally nebulous "prospects" as well as earnings. It's pretty obvious that this will be less than rigorously empirical and that "judgement" will tip the scales (I suspect this is where the OfS may find a role). The purpose of the exercise is clearly ranking, and the reduction of supposedly sophisticated metrics to a gold, silver or bronze label tells us that the political goal is a new tripartite division that will, to no one's surprise, mirror the old: the Russell group, the old redbricks and the polyversities. As these course-level rankings will inevitably be aggregated, one likely consequence of this system would be to discourage gold-star institutions from investing in new, and thus risky, courses that might negatively affect the average in the short-term. This might be to the advantage of bronze-star universities, for whom the only way is up, but I suspect that they will struggle to break the glass ceiling. After all, if everyone gets a gold, there would be no point in the ranking.
Toggle Commented Mar 15, 2018 on What do earnings tell us? at Stumbling and Mumbling
So, after the enemy without and the enemey within, Maragaret Thatcher finally killed the NME. (I'll get my coat)
It isn't entirely clear from Corbyn's speech (for which he can be criticised), so my interpretation could be wrong, but I think the words "import cheap agency labour" refer to the EU Posted Workers Directive. In other words, Corbyn isn't objecting to UK employment agencies who hire migrant labour but to the use of agencies in other EU countries to staff positions within the UK. While the directive ensures that posted workers receive the statutory employment protections of the host country (i.e. where the work is done), it does not require that the employment terms of the job match those that may have been agreed at a sector level domestically between employers and unions. This is where the concern over "undercutting" comes in. I think the idea that Corbyn is claiming that immigration drives down wages is wide of the mark. Insofar as he is positioning, it is in providing reassurance to the unions that any trade deal with the EU negotiated by Labour would address their concerns in this area. This was a speech to the Scottish Labour Party after all, not an interview with the Daily Mail.
The distinction between managerialism and management is largely structural: it relates to where a "manager" sits in an organisation rather than being a stylistic habit or intellectual preference. For example, the Messiah complex assumes a categorical difference between executive and operational management. The former is outward-facing to investors, regulators and financial institutions. It isn't managing the business so much as the business's market relations, and that is a transferable skill because the interfaces don't change much from one business to another. Many publicly-listed firms formalise this by having separate boards: one to handle the externals (this is where the Croziers and Fairheads are to be found) and one to handle the actual running of the business. Just as this structure gives rise to the Messiah complex, so it also promotes top-down targets and metrics as a way of understanding heterogenous businesses from an external perspective. This has an ideological purpose as well. The cascading of managerialist practices within businesses, such as the internal promotion of mission statements and the formal alignment of sub-division goals with strategy, is partly intended to normalise the idea that a business must justify itself to the market. The problem of managerialism then is less one of MBA bullshit or executive promiscuity and more the nature of the business market (i.e. the financial and regulatory market inhabited by all businesses, not a specific sector). Managerialism is a consequence of financialisation.
I think it's important to remember that the Tories failed to win a majority in 2010 with their pro-austerity platform, and only secured a majority in 2015 because of the LibDem collapse (and, arguably, a timid Labour). At best, they've fooled some of the people some of the time. Since 2015, they have relegated austerity as a concern behind Brexit. This obviously wasn't intended to be a cunning distraction, but that is what it has become.
Toggle Commented Mar 6, 2018 on Getting away with murder at Stumbling and Mumbling
It's an interesting contrast, but I think you're trying a little too hard in describing the Brexiteer position as vague or even implicitly pragmatic. People who are in favour of respecting ground truth and muddling through don't tend to insist on red lines. Indeed, I'd go further and suggest that the EU's formality and legalism has always been partly a fiction used to accommodate ambiguity and flexibility. It couldn't really be otherwise, given that the union is a self-herding group of cats.
Toggle Commented Mar 2, 2018 on Limits of laws at Stumbling and Mumbling
"The big question is why the mega rich supporters of the Telegraph and the Mail etc are so very keen on it". Most of the rich, and in particular the larger capitals, are not in favour of Brexit. That rightwing newspapers are is not simply a reflection of a more Brexit inclined sentiment among the smaller capitals in their readership, or the prejudices of the proprietors, but of the structural nature of the media. This is significant enough to outweigh loyalty to the interests of UK capitalism. Newspapers are language products whose growth historically mirrored the creation of monolingual nation states, so they have a commercial interest in the discourse of nationhood. This means they invest far more in concepts such as sovereignty or native rights, not to mention symbols such as the Crown or the Union Jack, than is objectively justified by either the interests of their readership or their owners. Brexit is the fever dream of a newspaper industry in a slow but terminal decline, exacerbated by the stresses and strains originally outlined by Tom Nairn in 'The Break-Up of Britain'. That no one is sure how to implement it is evidence of the lack of a consensus among UK capitalists. The political challenge is to come up with a settlement that pays lip-service to the idea of leaving the EU while not screwing the economy. The problem is that a settlement that does this while simultaneously preserving the national ideal of our rightwing newspapers isn't possible.
Toggle Commented Mar 2, 2018 on Free speech after Mill at Stumbling and Mumbling
The nature of debate hasn't really changed since Mill's time, even if the characters and the media have. Afua Hirsch's description is a perfect thumbnail of the Victorian Church of England: a long-established monopoly supplier of opinions that enjoyed huge structural advantages. Mill's irrelevance is less to do with a change in circumstances than with his focus on a type of speech that reflected the manners of "posh white men". Modern laws on speech tend to focus on what should not be said because of its social harm (incitement to racial hatred, singing the Horst Wessel song etc), but the "free speech" of popular discourse concerns who has the right to speak (and to dominate speech), which is why an elitist like Mill keeps getting dragged into the debate to support contemporary vested interests. The Internet has been (on balance) a Habermasian force for good because it has widened access to speech. Hoist by their Millian petard, elitists have been obliged to claim that this increased plurality is actually a growth in irrationalism and impropriety, while myths like the filter bubble are promoted to deny the potential for greater dialogic democracy. For that reason, I'd take the suggestion of "innate flaws in human reasoning" with a pinch of salt, not because I don't beieve such flaws exist, but because I doubt they matter that much. Much of what we assume is irrational is simply evidence of framing. For example, it's as easy to construct a questionnaire that leads to conflicting answers as it is for a government to make an agreement with conflicting clauses - see the Irish border.
Toggle Commented Feb 28, 2018 on Free speech after Mill at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Dipper, Maduro, like Chavez before him, isn't a Marxist but a Bolivarian. His worldview is essentially sovereigntist, which in the circumstances of Venezuela tends towards anti-americanism and autarky. Chavez's leftism was largely confined to limited participative democracy and coops, both of which would find favour with all but the most statist social democrats these days. While the government has become more authoritarian under Maduro, this is well within the norm for Venezuela. Also, bear in mind that the red flag is a pan-left symbol, which was originally adopted by socialists in 1848. There isn't actually a communist flag as such, merely national variants that have appropriated red background. As with SWP banners at rallies, red flags tell you little about the sympathies of speakers.
The issue for many in Mary Beard's words is the assumption that disaster zones inevitably see a breakdown in social norms. In fact, the opposite is usually the case because the majority of the people who have to deal with the consequences of a disaster are the locals themselves, not foreign aid-workers. There tends to be an increase in pro-social activity, notwithstanding opportunistic crime. A recent example of this was last year's floods in Texas. Though some areas were temporarily reduced to a state comparable to Haiti in 2010, and there were some cases of looting over-and-above the salvaging of food and fresh water, what was noticeable were the many stories of people mucking in to help each other out. That a selection effect is at work here is obvious if you compare and contrast the media coverage with the reports on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in 2005. While many have highlighted the casual racism behind Beard's assumption, less attention has been paid to her Hobbesian belief that when the veneer of civilisation (which has been imposed from above) is removed we all revert to bestial nature. It is disappointing to see a scholar of her calibre essentially recycling the myth of the "Dark Ages".
I think it would be more accurate to say that Labour made its peace with contemporary capitalism in the 1980s. The EU was simply one incidence of this shift in attitude, and New Labour was the logical conclusion. In that sense your criticism - that Labour should be using the Custom Union to point up the deficiencies of British capitalism - is sound, but by the same token its reluctance to commit to the CU may suggest that its essentially social democratic critique of capitalism is less profound than advertised (by friend and foe alike).
I think the point about petty claims is that if you admit that there is a line between the acceptable and the unacceptable then you are agreeing that there is an ethical standard superior to "just deserts" and that you have a responsibility to observe it. Outsourcing ethics to the market is psychologically liberating, but only if you commit to the treadmill of constant reinforcement, hence the £2 packet of biscuits.
@Amb, The late pick up story was an experiment run by two research economists across 10 schools in Israel, which was later referenced in Freakonomics. It's important to know that it wasn't the schools' idea and the fine (the price) was not set at a realistic level, i.e. high enough to disincentivise lateness. Their conclusion (apart from the obvious inference that the fine was too low, making it a bargain price for child-care) was that the boundary of the implict contract between school and parent had been shifted by the introduction of the fine. In other words, an interaction hitherto governed by social norms (reciprocity, consideration etc) had been transferred to the realm of commodity exhange. Interestingly, when the fines were dropped at the end of the experiment, the increased number of late pick-ups did not decline, supporting their conclusion about a boundary shift, so it isn't quite right to describe the fine as a quid pro quo for the avoidance of guilt. It is also important to note that the experiment was conducted in fee-paying schools only - i.e. parents were still paying after the bounday shift but apparently then considered teachers staying late as an expansion of the core service. Here's the study:
I think there is a lot to be said for the avoidance theory. Not only did the 30 years between 1979 and 2009 conclusively prove that a more unfettered capitalism was no solution to the UK's problems, but the subsequent turn to austerity proved that the retreat of the state was neither energising nor responsible. The rise of euroscepticism was a further attempt to avoid the issue of the UK's structural weaknesses by conjuring up an enemy without to substitute for the enemy within (New Labour's wrinkle was merely to recast workers from malign to deficient, in classic liberal fashion). As such, austerity was as much a placatory policy directed at Tory ranks as the concession of a referendum. We're living inside a long-running psychodrama that, at root, is about the Conservative Party's ambivalence towards capitalism. That a patrician Tory like Jacob Rees-Mogg is a committed free-trader is not just a historical irony but evidence of this derangement. The one thing we can be confident of is that we're approaching a point of crisis.
Toggle Commented Feb 8, 2018 on Brexiters' blind-spot at Stumbling and Mumbling