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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
More like Robot Peel.
While the Brexit ultras are unlikely to recant, I'm not so sure about many leave voters. While it's a simplification, the key issues for the bulk of leavers appear to have been immigration and sovereignty. Given that Brexit won't affect non-EU immigration, and may well stimulate it if labour shortages in key sectors persist, I suspect many people will feel short-changed, particularly if there is no dividend in the form of cheaper housing, extra school places and shorter GP queues. As regards sovereignty, there is as little appetite for UK laws being "dictated" in Washington or Beijing as in Brussels, but that is the likely result of new free-trade deals in which we are the weaker party. Just as Brexit hasn't happened yet, neither has Bregret. It wil come, but probably not much before 2030.
@Dipper, A free trade agreement between the UK and RoI would invalidate the latter's membership of the EU Customs Union. This is because goods imported to the UK from a non-EU country tariff-free could then be trans-shipped via Ireland to any other EU country, thus avoiding the common external tariff of the CU. If the UK remained a member of the CU then there would be no need for a UK-RoI FTA, but this would mean accepting EU law in respect of the CU. If the UK doesn't wish to remain in the CU then there will need to be a hard border between the RoI and NI to enforce the CU's common external tariff - i.e. prevent smuggling. Free trade does not mean abandoning tariffs and regulation altogether but conditionally extending them on a reciprocal, usually bilateral basis to another country. This requires laws that must be synchronised in both countries, which is a partial concession of sovereignty by each. The EU Customs Union is simply a multilateral free trade agreement.
Toggle Commented Jan 31, 2018 on Picking your own facts at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Dipper, The Republic of Ireland will suffer from Brexit because of the proximity of the UK, but this loss is outweighed by the gains of its continuing membership of the EU. In other words, mass (the single market) trumps distance (the border with NI) in this instance. "The Brexit argument is not primarily an argument about economics". I think everyone would agree with that, but that is why Brexiteers like Rees-Mogg are undermining their own cause when they try and dismiss gravity models as "comprehensively wrong". An honest position would be to admit that trade will suffer but insist that this will be a price worth paying for non-economic reasons. Trying to claim that Brexit will lead to a boost in trade is beyond cakeism and into the realm of fantasy.
Toggle Commented Jan 31, 2018 on Picking your own facts at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Dipper, As the metaphor implies, in a gravity model the volume of trade is the product of two factors: distance and mass. Because the EU (as a single trading bloc) is much bigger than the UK, we will lose out disproportionately. The loss is not equivalent because of the difference in mass. Likewise, the Republic of Ireland stands to lose more relatve to other EU27 states, such as Greece or Poland, because it is geographically much closer to the UK. This is one reason why it so bothered by the prospect of a hard border (i.e. hindrances to trade) with Northern Ireland. Any increase in the hindrances to UK trade, such as not being full members of the EU Customs Union or Single Market, will lead to a reduction in total trade volumes and values. That, which is the essence of the leaked government report, is a statement of the bleedin' obvious. To compensate for this loss, Brexiteers need to explain not only how we can secure new trade deals with non-EU countries but how the reduction in value on similar volumes (due to the added costs arising from greater distance) can be offset. The point about this week's flap is not Rees-Mogg's dismissal of gravity models but his failure, beyond exhortation, to explain how UK trade can be boosted.
Toggle Commented Jan 30, 2018 on Picking your own facts at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Blissex, Kipling's view was that Englishness was indivisible from empire. His famous line was not only an insistence on the essential role of colonial whites, it was also a criticism of the metropole as lacking in responsibility. In other words, it was not just racist but anti-democratic. Giving the British working class the vote was, in Kipling's eyes, tantamount to betraying the empire.
Toggle Commented Jan 29, 2018 on The Outsider at Stumbling and Mumbling
Kevin Williamson blames the dumb electorate (not for the first time), but in so doing he ignores that the political market, like any other, is constructed. The results may be emergent, and thus not always predictable, but they are heavily influenced. Trump is the culmination of a decades-long strategy by the Republican Party, starting under Nixon, to shift preferences from material interest to group identity (race, religion, culture etc). He may be a Frankenstein monster in many respects, but he is their monster. As such, we should use the word "genius" in its other sense: Trump is the spirit of modern Republicanism.
I wonder what the overlap in attendance between Davos and the President's Club charity gala is?
Toggle Commented Jan 24, 2018 on The Davos non-paradox at Stumbling and Mumbling
You seem to be arguing that familiarity mitigates contempt, but there is a lot of evidence to the contrary in the case of MPs. Perhaps the key to understanding the Dail Mail's interpretation is simply the number of middle-aged men in senior newspaper roles.
Toggle Commented Jan 11, 2018 on Biased to the powerful at Stumbling and Mumbling
The naive principle of yesterday's weather (that continuity is more probable than not) recognises that most people will fail to change their behaviour: reform is the exception. The issue with Toby Young is not the Bayesian probability of his essential cuntishness, but the absence of evidence that might convince us he has mended his ways. A revealed ex-con in a job interview is required to convince the interviewer that she is a reformed character. Though some of Young's supporters have claimed that his advocacy of free schools and his involvement with the New Schools Network were evidence of a turn towards the serious as well as relevant experience, this failed to convince his critics because he had admitted the former was motivated by self-interest while the latter is a partisan lobby. The problem with Young is not the weight of his past misdemeanours but that most people think he is dishonest, hence no amount of repentance is going to make a difference.
Toggle Commented Jan 10, 2018 on Trapped by history at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Blissex, Re "various engineers tell me that there is a widespread regression in engineering knowledge". That's anecdata, not data. If it were true, we'd have engineers staring dumbfounded at high speed trains wondering where to shovel the coal. In fact, there has been a steady expansion in engineering (and more broadly STEM) graduates as a result of the expansion of higher education since the 90s. "The firt-world engineering communities of practice have been offshored". No they haven't. While manufacturing has declined, it has also undergone a change in composition which means it now employs more qualified engineering practitioners. The work that has typically been off-shored is low-skill fabrication, admin and support services. Dyson is an example of this, with engineering R&D based in the UK and manufacturing in Malaysia. "The third-world engineering communities do exist, but they are driven solely by cost and the opportunity to use less advanced technology". This obviously conflicts with your previous claim. In fact, there are plenty of high-tech engineering communities in the third world because there is a global boom in demand for engineering: think of all that new infrastructure across Asia, Africa and South America. "Part of the reason Hinkley Point is (perhaps) going to be built by french-chinese businesses is that the relevant know has apparently simply being lost in the UK". British-made reactors were based on two designs, first Magnox and then AGR (Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor). Neither were particularly successful (high cost, few exports). Hinkley C is being built by the French and Chinese because they both have experience of EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) technology. We haven't lost the knowledge because we never had it in the first place. We went up a blind alley.
Toggle Commented Dec 14, 2017 on On technological regress at Stumbling and Mumbling
You picked two questionable examples of technological regress. Concorde was never the future. It was always the last gasp of an outdated conception of blue-riband travel reserved for the elite (which lives on in the space travel dreams of Branson and Musk). Progress in aviation has meant democratisation - more people being able to fly - which has required significant technological progress, just not the sort focused on raw speed or "elegance". Postal services started to reduce in frequency in the late 19th century as a result of telegraphy, which captured the market for urgent, high-value messsages. In the 1880s there were typically 6 deliveries a day in most big UK cities (12 a day in Central London). By 1900 this had reduced to 4. The spread of telephones would further reduce deliveries over the 20th century, not because most people had them (only 1/3rd of households had a phone by 1970) but because businesses were early adopters and much of the original mail volume was commercial (i.e. B2B). The spread of email and text messaging has reduced physical mail to largely marketing (i.e. B2C), but it has also reduced the unit profit because volume mailers insist on volume discounts. The commercial challenge for Royal Mail is the fall in the number of (high-margin) stamps sold, not a crisis of productivity. If you think of progress and regress in serial terms (first one, then the other), and if you measure it via the single dimension of frequency, then the postal service has regressed for longer than it has progressed. This is clearly the wrong way to look at it.
Toggle Commented Dec 13, 2017 on On technological regress at Stumbling and Mumbling
Jesus's statement, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone", was not a lesson in humility nor a suggestion that we shouldn't rush to judge, but an insistence that man had no right to pass judgements in matters reserved to God. It was an argument from authority that led logically to both papal infallibility and biblical literalism. Our problem is less the decline of religion than the triumphant hegemony of its binary judgmentalism. This can be seen in the way that tolerance, which actually means putting up with something that you may positively dislike, has increasingly come to be framed in terms of a catechism of right beliefs with "calling out" (essentially "bearing witness") providing the means to separate sheep from goats. Without getting all John Grey about it, there is a case to be made that hipster self-righteousness is just the continuation of religion by other means.
Toggle Commented Nov 29, 2017 on On moral self-licensing at Stumbling and Mumbling
@MJW, The green belt is clearly not an impediment to sprawl. After all, if it were, this would have led to steadily increasing densification within cities during the postwar era. In fact, the reverse happened as cities lost populuation to new towns, many of which were created as reservations within the growing green belt area. The high price of London housing has less to do with limited supply than most people imagine. Though the population increased from a low of 6.6m in 1981 to 8.2m in 2011, this merely returned it to its postwar peak of 1951. During the 70s and early-80s, London had loads of squats because there was a lot of empty property. Smaller household sizes have raised the demand for dwellings over the last 30 years, but this was largely offset by brownfield development as old industries moved out (e.g. along the banks of the Thames). Growing current demand for both dwellings and commercial space is now encouraging densification in the capital (the population is expected to hit 9m by 2021), but a lot of that is being achieved by replacing older council estates with newer developments in which social and affordable housing gets squeezed. Londoners in need of social housing can now find themselves offered homes in places as far afield as Hastings. That's not a malign policy of "social cleansing" but a result of the green belt stretching as far as Tunbridge Wells. I don't seriously expect golf courses to be turned into retirement villages. My point was simply that such an improbable strategy had more chance of making a difference than trying to tackle the myth of urban under-utilisation (my serious proposal would be to abolish the green belt along the axial transport corridors to Reading, Luton, Southend and Crawley, where much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place). The emergence of that myth is indicative of a tendency to see the housing problem as the responsibility of urban areas, rather than a collective challenge. The original intent of the green belt was to provide an amenity (a green lung) for city-dwellers, not a cordon sanitaire for the countryside (let alone the actually existing exurbs). Over time, the green belt has become simply a way of creating an artificial boundary between planning regimes, largely to the advantage of landowners.
@MJW, You appear to be suggesting that the Green Belt is an area of high demand, but if that were so, then prices would be higher there than in the city. They're not, which is why a family can sell a 3-bedroom terrace house in Clapham to a couple of hipsters (the Overground will get them to work in Shoreditch in 30 minutes) and buy a detached, 5-bedroom house in Epsom with the proceeds. There may be "intense pressure to lay concrete" in the green belt, but, as you note, this is pressure for limited development (to maximise prices), not for mass-building. Unfortunately, the media representation of this suggests that large parts of the green belt might be concreted over. Given that the London belt is actually 3 times the size of the area it surrounds, this is nonsense. At 5,000 sq km, there is enough space to build as many homes as already exist in the entirety of the UK at current densities: around 27 million. To return to the original point, under-utilisation of housing (as opposed to low densities) is not a major problem in cities, so tax-breaks to encourage downsizing are likely to be ineffective. It might actually make better sense to target tax-breaks in the green belt. It is estimated that developing half the golf courses in the London green belt could provide 1 million new homes. If we prioritised turning them into retirement villages, that might free up a lot of larger homes in the green belt (and with a multiplier effect), which would in turn attract growing families from the city, thereby freeing up more space for the hipsters.
Ian Mulheirn makes a good point about space relative to population, but this ignores the secular change in household composition. Since the 1960s, household sizes have declined due to factors such as fewer births, increased divorce and longevity. If housing supply and population had remained static these last 50 years, we'd still have seen growing prices due to increased demand. Contrary to the media prominence of millenial and immigrant over-crowding, the reality in aggregate is more space per person, but this is less the product of individual selfishness than social change. Re MJW's point: "In areas of high demand private owners sit in family homes after children have flown". The empty nests are disproportionately to be found in the suburbs and small towns, which are not areas of high demand. That, after all, is where the young tend move away from. The trope of the smug 60 year-olds occupying a multi-bedroom Islington townhouse is a myth peddled by those who want to limit building elsewhere, notably encroachment of the green belt (e.g. Simon Jenkins). Ironically, this echoes the old Tory myth (peddled to justify the Poll Tax) of the poor old widow in her family home being clobbered by rates. Where critics like Jenkins have a point is in terms of density. London is notoriously inefficient in this regard compared to cities like Paris, essentially because our typical urban property is 2-3 stories high while theirs is 5-7 stories. The British urban vogue for loft conversions and garden extensions is a sign of planning failure. It's unlikely to happen (not least because the Tube would have to densify as well), but doubling the height of London terraces would go a long way to meeting demand and capping prices. On Blissex's point about transport, the investment in London has not been done to "keep concentrating jobs" in the city but in response to job growth in the centre. A lot of that growth has seen formerly residential areas become increasingly dominated by offices and commerce (e.g. Shoreditch and Old Street), with working class populations pushed further out (e.g. to Tottenham and Enfield). Though national transport policy is often portrayed as a struggle over limited resources between London and the rest, this ignores the struggle in London between servicing the traditional Greater London area (buses, the Tube, the Overground) and the ex-urban commuter belt (HS2, Crossrail).
Re "the builders of the Metropolitan didn’t intend to cut house prices". No, but what they did intend to do was secure a slice of the housing market and capitalise on increased land values. That's why they bought up so much land alongside the rail route, giving rise to Metro-land.
@Acarraro, You are correct that someone will have to buy the pounds so that we can pay the EU in euros, and logically those extra pounds will find their way back into the UK economy unless foreigners wish to hold Sterling as cash (let's assume they don't), but that means foreigners buying export goods and services in the main. This will have an indirect impact on domestic demand, but one that is more than offset by other benefits - e.g. an export boom might lead to increased overtime and thus more domestic spending, but it would also increase GDP, wages and perhaps productivity (because of sector averages). The risk to inflation would largely arise from a fall in the value of Sterling. In theory, that should also help boost exports, though recent experience suggests it is now a weak effect (essentially because the export sector is smaller and its composition less price-sensitive). The political point is that Brexiteers who object to paying the EU anything are the same people who reckon we're all set to become a thriving trading nation once again. Self-interest should suggest that they be generous. The more we pay the EU, the greater the potential demand for exports. That's the logic of QE: put more money into the hands of people who can spend in a beneficial way.
@Phil, I presume your med student mate was referring to the famous Whitehall Study that found it was pool drivers and the like, rather than mandarins, who were most at risk of heart attacks, essentially because they had so little control over their working lives. In other words, the stress of high-powered jobs isn't stress at all, it's just performative anxiety.
Toggle Commented Nov 17, 2017 on The politics of death at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Jim, You're confusing a benefit with a subsidy. This is a classic rhetorical manoeuvre of the right because it suggests that all benefits have a market equivalent and can therefore be provided by the market. A subsidy is only meaningful within a market because it is geared to a price (a characteristic of a subsidy is that it can be formally accounted for as a monetary value). By defining a differential of £17k, you (and Rex before you) are projecting a council flat into the local housing market. But a council flat is by definition not in that market. That it might become so at a future point is irrelevant. To put this in the terms of your other analogy, being provided with a mobility car for free because you have been judged disabled is a benefit. The zero-rating of mobility cars for VAT is a subsidy. They are not the same thing.
Toggle Commented Nov 17, 2017 on The politics of death at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Rex, as Grenfell residents who were tenants of the local authority could not legally realise the market value of their utility, it is as meaningless to talk of it as a "subsidy" as it would be to describe a course of NHS chemotherapy in similar terms.
Toggle Commented Nov 16, 2017 on The politics of death at Stumbling and Mumbling