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@George Carty The instrumentalism went the other way. Authoritarian regimes during the Cold War were keen to paint their opponents as thoroughgoing Marxists in order to secure US support. Allende headed a broad left coalition in Chile that included a number of non-Marxist parties, and he required support by the centrist Christian Democrats to become president in 1970. His government pursued policies within the mainstream of postwar social democracy, but with the addition of land redistribution. The Apartheid regime in South Africa exaggerated the influence of the Communist Party on the ANC. To that end, it even sought to marginalise more "nationalist" opposition groups like the PAC and BCM in media coverage. As events after 1994 proved, the SACP was a paper tiger.
@William McIlhagga As even genuine libertarians like Bryan Caplan admit, the set of right-wingers who are not authoritarians is vanishingly small, and they have no meaningful influence on public debate or policy.
Unless you believe that intelligence is unevenly distributed among the nations, we should expect to see the same dynamic (smart enough to understand business and smart enough to get out of it) in all countries, so this doesn't explain the particular record of the UK. Also, reversing the parallel, why doesn't "football mad" England, with its many leagues and distinctive "passion", produce many more excellent coaches than other countries? It is also surely questionable to claim that the poor performance of British industry is down to a relative dearth of the right sort of CEOs. This is perilously close to "holding out for a hero". I've long been dubious about Wiener's theory of gentrification (i.e. that anti-commerce aristo values infected the bourgeoisie), not least because it looks like a post hoc ergo propter hoc reading. In the 70s there were plenty who claimed the success of Japanese industry was down to Bushido.
Because foreign affairs don't usually impact on us directly, their political value is as a series of moral tales, with all the dangers of cartoonish simplification this implies (Nick Cohen is guilty of the same sin he condemns in the left). They also offer the opportunity to "offshore" domestic antagonism and thereby indulge in the sort of emotional language that would look odd in a dispute over tax policy (see the Home Affairs select committee). These two factors together made foreign affairs catnip for the emerging popular press of the late-19th century, and little has changed since then. Neville Chamberlain's famous quote - "a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing" - was not so much callous as evidence of a Victorian frame of mind, before liberal interventionism became hegemonic. I was amused to read this in The Guardian's report on the Home Affairs guff: "The committee acknowledged that there was “no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour party than any other political party”. Nevertheless, it is withering about the Labour leader’s response to antisemitic attacks on his own MPs, and his understanding of modern forms of racism".
"And if you’d upset your neighbours or were a bit eccentric, you’d be condemned to almost unendurable solitude". More like burnt as a witch.
Toggle Commented Oct 14, 2016 on Capitalism & loneliness at Stumbling and Mumbling
Of course, literature sometimes suffers from physics envy as well, e.g. Charlie Stross's Accelerando. Part of the attraction of Banks's Culture series is the evident fun he has in assuming a can opener.
Toggle Commented Oct 13, 2016 on Economics as literature at Stumbling and Mumbling
The "last man who knew everything" trope is not a reflection of human mental capacity or the sum of human knowledge but the technology of publishing, i.e. the relatively small number of books available up to the late-18th century. Eurocentrism and censorship played a part in this, but the chief cause was simply the cost of printing, which led Enlightenment thinkers like Diderot to believe that the sum of knowledge could be contained in a mere 28 volumes (the original Encyclopedie). The key change was the invention of lithography in 1796, which enabled higher-volume (and therefore cheaper) printing. Subsequent 19th century refinements - the adoption of metal plates, steam-power and rotary drums - further increased print volumes (so more books were in circulation) and reduced the cost of a print-run (so more works were published). The growth of adult literacy over the course of the 19th century was partly a result of demand (i.e. more jobs needed an ability to read and write) but also partly a product of opportunity, most famously in the growth of the popular press. This in turn provided a key justification for democracy: people were better-informed and so capable of exercising judgement. When we denigrate the media today, we are often echoing anti-democratic arguments from the late Victorian era. When we claim that the demos lacks the competence to govern, we are echoing the anti-democratic arguments of Plato. In reality, the sum of knowledge needed for a democracy to function is no different today than it was in 1900, 1776 or the 5th century BC.
Toggle Commented Oct 7, 2016 on The democracy problem at Stumbling and Mumbling
The democracy problem that has been brewing for 40 years has been the practical curtailment of representative democracy in the West. The chief driver of this has been the institutional encroachment of the market, from supranational bodies down to local authorities. The decline in respect for the political class is due more to a belief that our elected representatives are powerless than that they are corrupt. The EU vote was influenced not only by the belief that "Europe" was symbolic of this decline, but by the realisation that a referendum was a rare opportunity for direct democracy (it's worth wondering to what extent the "excitement" around the Scottish independence vote fed into this). Michael Gove may be an idiot, but his jibe at "experts" resonated. Any theory of politics that doesn't address this encroachment by the market is just rearranging the deckchairs.
Toggle Commented Oct 6, 2016 on The democracy problem at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Dennis Smith, Capital isn't money. That's just a medium of exchange. In Marx's theory, capital is the surplus value of embodied labour. Whether you agree with him or not, that's a precise definition from which other conclusions logically flow, such as what constitutes a "class" in Marxist terminology. Appending the word "capital" to other natural or social phenomena, from a propensity to visit the theatre to bio-diversity, is merely metaphor (though strongly influenced by ideology). It's also worth noting that categorising capital, as Labour has been wont to do with the moralistic "good/bad" dichotomy, is also meaningless as regards Marx's monist theory. One belief that Marxists share with libertarians and self-made capitalists is that capital can be "freely" acquired (whether by exploitation or talent). In contrast, the idea of a social identity as a form of capital presumes personal qualification: we are not all free to acquire it (consider the furore over Rachel Dolezal's self-identification as black). Calling a "cherished identity" "capital" is a category error.
Interesting that the commentary on the fall in sterling / FTSE gain has largely addressed the impact on the balance of payments in terms of the potential for trade. We may be missing the bigger picture. The worsening of the current account since 2011 has primarily been driven by declining foreign investment income. A fall in sterling should improve this in the short-term - i.e. dollar and EU receipts will be worth more in pounds - and this may extend into the medium-term if sterling stays low vs the dollar and euro. The steady decline in transfers (i.e. investment receipts leaving the country) is likely to get worse if a hard Brexit curtails FDI, but this paradoxically means the BoP may improve, essentially because the UK economy contracts and we become more dependent on foreign receipts. "Success", in Tory terms, may mean the country becoming even more of a rentier economy.
I'm baffled how Kraftwerk crept into this, but just for the record, they enjoyed a UK vogue in the early 80s (hits with reissues of Computer Love and The Model) due to post-punk interest in electronic music, particularly that of German mid-70s bands (Neu, Can etc). This bled into New Romanticism (via Bowie) and synth-pop more generally.
While "Thatcherite" isn't pejorative in the Tory Party, "Heathite" usually is, largely because Ted was seen to have failed to adequately preserve domestic privilege (the prime directive) and to have undermined the UK's exceptionalism through courting and joining the EEC. It will be interesting to see which way "Cameroon" develops. My suspicion is that it will be airbrushed from history as a failed experiment, much as "Edenite" was (fun fact: Ted Heath was Eden's Chief Whip during the Suez crisis).
Toggle Commented Sep 30, 2016 on Not trashing Thatcher at Stumbling and Mumbling
"Let’s concede that immigration does undermine social cohesion (something which I doubt). So what? Cohesion is a collectivist ideal which shouldn’t appeal much to free market individualists". This begs the question. For many on the right, a better word than "cohesion" would be "loyalty". Likewise, the Conservative eulogising of the invisible hand since the 70s was always instrumental (the rollback of the state) and very much at variance with traditional Tory thinking about the visibility (and immutability) of the social order. As you suggest, the Conservative Party pragmatically adopted (and has now partially retreated from) neoliberal policies, proving that a commitment to the free market is not foundational. In contrast, the party has never been pro-immigration.
Blairism was always about more than just the one man. What Reeves and Umunna show is that much of the living legacy is Mandelson's elitism and Campbell's instrumentalism, and thus a reliance on discredited practice to compensate for a lack of theory. They're going through the motions, hence the common perception that their comments on immigration are insincere and opportunistic.
Toggle Commented Sep 25, 2016 on What Blairites? at Stumbling and Mumbling
One way of thinking about centrist politics is not that its eclipse is a consequence of people "turning away" from moderation and the middle way (in the sense of becoming disenchanted in light of 2008, Brexit and other calamities) but simply the operation of time: we've become utterly bored by it. Tony Blair benefited from the impression of novelty in the 90s ("you were the future once") due to the popular imaginary of failed socialism and failed Thatcherism, which gave the impression that a "third way" with top notes of technocratic futurism was both historically inevitable and desirable. That vibe is dead (as evidence for the prosecution, I offer David Miliband). The centre's intellectual vacuum owes much to the success of Brown et al in stabilising the neoliberal order in 2008/9. It has become a morbid symptom because the new has not been born. While politics remains hysterically wedded to the past (May's nostalgic authoritarianism, the Labour right's obsession with the 80s), the people have moved on.
Toggle Commented Sep 22, 2016 on The centrist crisis at Stumbling and Mumbling
Tidegate is an example of the reverse halo effect: we gleefully pounce on Carswell's ignorance to justify our belief that he is a fool on other subjects too. The original point by Paul Nightingale to which Carswell was responding (i.e. gravity theory of trade - distance matters as well as size) has been rather lost in the fun. PS: The "Milanovic's elephant" hyperlink in your top blogging list is missing.
I suppose you could argue that the rise and fall of Nokia, and the impact this had on Finland's economy, is an example of a technology shock.
Theresa May's advocacy of grammar schools shows that what she means by social mobility is selection: some may succeed, but not all. Likewise, the proposals for immigration are not that it be stopped altogether but that only those deemed valuable to society be let in. Seen as exercises in discrimination, there is no contradiction. The problem (common to both the 11+ and a points-based immigration system) is the basis of valuation, which for May and others reflects social prejudice, e.g. that doctors are more valuable than toilet cleaners (epidemiology suggests otherwise) or that apeing public school manners improves educational outcomes.
Rather than arguing the case for aggregate efficiency (working class do better, middle class kids do no worse), perhaps the better argument for allocating grammar school places to the worst-performing in an 11+ test is ethical: that we should aim to rectify the educational disadvantages that take effect during the pre-school and primary years. Of course, this is only a thought-experiment because in reality middle class parents would coach their kids to advantageously fail, or would desert the state sector for private schools and lobby for greater tax breaks to subsidise their "choice". The irony is that in times past the state happily spent considerably more per capita on specialist schools that selected only a minority of failures. They were called borstals.
@Dipper, what the Chris Cook data (and other studies) show is that grammar schools actually reduce aggregate performance - i.e. while a minority benefits this is outweighed by the decline for the majority. In the scenario you give, the introduction of selection to one school would lead to a fall in performance across all of the other schools in the area, but this fall would exceed the sorting effect (i.e. putting all the smarter eggs in one basket). The case for grammar schools must be not that a minority will benefit but that the majority will not be any worse off, but this is demonstrably wrong. We did the experiment and the aggregate performance of British schools was improved by the introduction of comprehensives.
@DFTM, Entropy doesn't stop things, it slows them down. Most productivity increases follow a common profile in which a rapid improvement is followed by a slow but steady decline. This is why productivity is best approached as a continuous series of refinements rather than periodic leaps. Capitalism encodes this through commoditisation and inbuilt obsolescence.
Toggle Commented Sep 4, 2016 on On incompetence at Stumbling and Mumbling
I'm not sure incompetence is the right word here. That would suggest an innate inability that might only be obscured by luck. Most trains aren't late, showing that a competent service is possible, whereas you're not going to make it as a top-flight footballer no matter how many you fluke in off your shin. I think what you're really addressing is efficiency. Given the universe's inexorable entropy, efficiency is simply more exceptional than we are prepared to admit. Where standard economics goes wrong is assuming that a system can tend towards efficiency because of inherent incentives. In reality, entropy (decay, dissolution, the path of least resistance) is a stronger force. I suppose one way of thinking about the vogue for stagnation in economic debate is an overdue recognition of entropy.
Toggle Commented Sep 3, 2016 on On incompetence at Stumbling and Mumbling
Looked at in terms of consequentiality, there are three types of lies. There are lies whose net consequence is beneficial: avoiding hurting Aunt Jemima's feelings, or convincing the Germans D-Day would target the Pas de Calais etc. There are lies who net consequence is damaging: allowing your partner to be publicly ridiculed because you didn't warn her that her new dress made her look like Mrs Brown, or Iraqi WMD etc. Corbyn's sit down protest falls into the third, intermediate catagory where it is not clear what the consequences are. That the railways are overcrowded and overpriced is hardly news, so this will not have raised much consciousness. Richard Branson's business interests won't be damaged because he enjoys a monopoly. The idea that Corbyn has single-handedly debased politics is absurd, while the charge of hypocrisy is like a charge of farting: we all do it - grow up. In sum, this is silly season bollocks. The substantive point is that the policies discussed in the leadership contest are largely revivals (nationalise rail, recommit to the NHS, restore student grants etc). As these have all been proven to work, and as the intellectual case against social democracy collapsed in 2008, critics must of necessity resort to the ad hominem. What #traingate reinforces is the trivial and unserious nature of our media.
Toggle Commented Aug 24, 2016 on Truthful lies at Stumbling and Mumbling
This is a widespread feature of contemporary conservative thought - e.g. Paul Ryan's "magical asterisks" - and not just limited to the wilder shores of euroscepticism, though it is difficult to find anyone more on leave from his senses that Daniel Hannan once he gets going. I think a lot of this is down to the infection of conservative thought by futurism (in the sense of imagining a wonderful future), much of which crept in from the libertarian wing in the 80s and 90s. Whereas conservatives have traditionally preferred the past for its sense (however misplaced) of certainty and pragmatic proof, the modern version seems to have imbibed too much third-rate sci-fi.
A more cynical view would be that the objective of many of the right's "reforms" is to diminish, fragment and otherwise dissipate the workforce. Leaving aside for the moment whether that is a counter-productive (i.e. a "crisis of capitalism"), it perhaps helps to explain why the right's critique of the left so often focuses on manipulation of the electorate and the imputation of dishonesty. The current hysteria over antisemitism/misogyny/bullying etc obviously reflects the intellectual vacuum of the right, but it also looks like projection.
Toggle Commented Jul 30, 2016 on Left & right: a common aim at Stumbling and Mumbling