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Working people have little free time because the better sort are terrified at what they might do with it. The Devil finds work for idle hands, etc. Declining productivity is a contradiction of capitalism. Technology has increased productivity but class relations prevent us evenly remitting that in reduced hours. The consequence is bluecollar unemployment and whitecollar makework and waste (Doc at the Radar Station is observing a real phenomenon).
Toggle Commented 5 days ago on Keynes' error at Stumbling and Mumbling
The correlation of high hours and high-status jobs reflects the courtier principle: you must maximise the time you are in the presence of power. It's also worth remembering that a lot of the "work" is actually disguised leisure/consumption (London is still full of daytime restaurants, bars and member clubs). The comparison of living standards needs to isolate the cost of necessities, chiefly food, shelter and clothing (pre-NHS healthcare was not a "necessity" because you could take the risk of not saving or taking out insurance). The falling cost of food and clothing since the 30s, together with wider commodity deflation, has resulted in more income being diverted into housing. The irony of Keynes's vision is that it has been achieved not by grandchildren but by grandparents - i.e. those with paid-off mortgages, who were able to fatten up private pension funds in the 90s/00s, and are now able to "live wisely and agreeably and well" due to the wonders of science and compound interest. The future is never evenly distributed.
Toggle Commented 7 days ago on Keynes' error at Stumbling and Mumbling
The idea that all local authorities should adopt "best practice" is a bit like the insistence that all schools should be "above average". The better-run organisations, whether in the public or private sector, look for good practice (absolute standards), not best (the distraction of competition and relative ranking). They recognise that superior results will often be the product of particular circumstances, so the "best" cannot be universalised (for example, sharing backoffice functions is often logistically easier for urban councils than rural). They are sensitive to context and the diversity of needs: what's best for Oxfordshire is not necessarily what's best for Southwark, which is why there are 433 councils instead of just 1. They also recognise that good practice is dynamic, not only because of changing external factors but because adoption demotes it from good to standard ("registers" quickly ossify into audit checklists). A lot of "best practice" is simply taking advantage of temporary opportunities in respect of central government and EU grants.
Toggle Commented Nov 13, 2015 on "Best practice" at Stumbling and Mumbling
By definition, those within the groupthink bubble find it difficult to envisage anything outside of it. As an Oxford PPE graduate yourself, Chris, you might be said to lack perspective. Like Sparks (and a lot of other people in this country), what I find striking are the similarities between Cohen, Widdicombe, Milne and Cameron, not the differences: the paradigm of politics as a form of privileged debate (rather reinforced by Hoggart's anecdote); the aversion to theory (or anything French, for that matter) and the promotion of "common sense"; the tedious and hackneyed ancestor-worship (from Burke to Orwell); the maudlin nationalism and obsession with sovereignty (common ground between Cohen and Milne) etc, et-bloody-cetera. PS: I believe "Bill Stone" was an invention of Hoggart's. Either that or his lack of an Oxford PPE marginalised him to the point of historical invisibility.
Toggle Commented Nov 10, 2015 on Elites vs representation at Stumbling and Mumbling
The best we can tell our children is: "become rentiers". While some juniors doctors will emigrate or strike, others will realise that they are set to inherit a BtL portfolio from their babyboomer parents and can downshift in a few years time. History teaches us that society does not in fact need to "offer much to even the brightest and most hard-working of its young people". So long as a handful of "success stories" can be promoted, the social order can be maintained: ambitious kids recognise that social mobility is declining but assume that they will be among the exceptions; the unmabitious have already given up. The revolutionary moment is when general expectations are rising, not falling. As social mobility ossifies, and as people worry about hanging on to what they've got, the status quo becomes easier to defend.
It's worth remembering that neoliberalism (of which Blairism is clearly a flavour) owes much to Marxism in its theory, if not its praxis, notably the teleological belief in progress and the idea that capitalism is the wellspring of modernity. Where it diverges is in its ahistoricity (which is the product of post-modernism rather than Austrian economics), which leads to both its annihilation of the past and its inability to envisage a future other than an endless present. This is why its apologists are not speaking the same language as social democrats such as Krugman. Basically, the Blairites are stuck, hence their increasing bewilderment. Contrary to the propaganda, most lefties are cynics (in the original Greek sense of the word) rather than dreamers. Blairites in contrast believe in fairy stories. WMD wasn't the half of it.
Toggle Commented Nov 7, 2015 on Blairism vs the left at Stumbling and Mumbling
Of course it's also possible that Collins is simply writing what he gets paid to write, much as Dan Hodges has taken to demanding that civil liberties be curtailed. That the Times venerates the profit-motive is no more surprising than that the Telegraph hankers after repression. The problem with the Blairites has always been the company they kept: they're amplifiers not originators.
I don't imagine Fergie did that because he was disenchanted by Ronaldo's toxic personality. If you want a footballing parallel, you'd have to think about players who "knicked a living" by talking a good game while screwing up when it mattered, e.g. Robbie Savage, or those whose off-the-field toxicity left them vulnerable when their on-field form declined, e.g. John Terry.
Toggle Commented Nov 4, 2015 on Talent or toxicity? at Stumbling and Mumbling
This isn't about intelligence. Both Amis and Hunt are using social identifiers that they are comfortable with, having been privately-schooled and gone to Oxbridge, to signal their dislike/distrust of others who are not like them. This shows a lack of imagination in respect of people from other social strata (hardly surprising in Amis's case, considering his love of working class caricatures), and intellectual laziness that inevitably leads to conservatism (Hunt's cadre-mindset is doubly ironic given the warning of Labour becoming a "sect" and prey to "emoji politics"). The tragic dimension of this is that neither can imagine that they are anything other than default members of the 1%. The truth is that Amis is a minor novelist who will remain junior to his father in the history of English literature, while no one would suggest that Hunt is anywhere near the top 1% of historians. Of course, being put in your place is something that happens to other people.
Toggle Commented Nov 2, 2015 on Intellect in politics at Stumbling and Mumbling
"Faced with this complexity ... people resort to metaphors". This ignores that we don't just pluck metaphors out of thin air. Ideology is, in part, the monopolisation of metaphorical thinking. The fact that the word "economy" comes from the Greek for household management reflects a discipline in which private property is central and indisputable. This isn't random. The good-begets-good heuristic might be better-termed the bad-begets-bad, in that "lay-people's" thinking is probably driven more by negative media coverage than positive. In other words, we associate higher unemployment with higher inflation because both are framed as bads. As we are now in an era in which (modest) inflation must be framed as a good, it will be interesting to see what happens to popular perceptions over the rest of the decade.
@Luis, a cognitive bias is an error of judgement; expressive rationality is a matter of affinity. This (I think) is what Chris means by a category error.
Toggle Commented Oct 28, 2015 on On expressive rationality at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Blissex, Re "Labour's victory", my point was not about the means by which this government defeat came about (the use of LibDem and crossbench peers), or the legitimacy of Labour employing the Lords to this end, but the reaction of the media. Chris's post is about journalist's failure, not the anomaly of the second chamber. If the government is defeated on any of its parliamentary business, the chief benificary by definition is the opposition in the Commons. The amendment that did the damage was tabled by a Labour peer in coordination with the Labour Party leadership, hence John McDonnell's emollient stance ahead of the vote ("we won't rub it in if you u-turn") and his attempt in the aftermath to broaden the discussion on amelioration to include reversing tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. McDonnell has clearly out-manoeuvred Osborne on this occasion, but there has been a determination by most of the media to avoid looking to closely at this, even to the extent of wasting airtime on possible constitutional changes, even though we all know the Tories would never dare sponsor such an initiative for fear of losing control of the process and producing an undesirable outcome.
I think you're letting the media off lightly here by suggesting structural and cognitive failings. They weren't gulled so much as not bovvered. I recall that many did note that the compensatory effects of the NLW etc would be inadequate to offset the tax credit cuts (the maths is pretty simple given that the net goal is reduced public spending), but seemed to be of the view that the Tories could get away with it a) because they had won the election and b) because the opposition was in disarray. In other words, they failed to see how policies that dramatically affected people outside the Westminster bubble could quickly produce trenchant opposition beyond Parliament (The Sun, to give them their due, eventually twigged). The sight of IDS fist-pumping may not have caused consternation among the media, but it certainly turned a lot of stomachs among the wider population. What's interesting about this is that the media's narrative of Labour chaos and ineffectiveness has led them to start acting as if there is no opposition. Witness the coverage of the Lords vote, which barely mentioned that this was a spectacular victory for Labour (whatever your views on the means), hence the distraction of the supposed consitituional crisis.
Amazing. 17 comments before anyone mentioned Katie Hopkins. She's losing her touch.
@Boffy, Steel is made through the combination of iron ore, limestone and coke (which is made from the pyrolysis of coal). This produces pig-iron, the initial "dough" for the smelting of steel and alloyed products. Even if you use an electric arc furnace for smelting and alloying, the first stage of the process still requires coal. You are right that British steelmaking "moved up the food-chain" after the 70s, relying more on imported pig-iron from which to produce high-quality steels, but this ultimately depended on high global prices to offset the increased cost of production (there's a direct parallel here with North Sea oil over the same period). Once we got out of the pig-iron business, we were always going to be at the mercy of the global "finishing" market. The real issue with China is not that they are dumping steel but that they have also moved up the food-chain from the production of pig-iron to high-quality steels. If they were only dumping pig-iron, we'd be laughing. My point is that this trajectory was inevitable after the mid-80s. In contrast, other EU countries made a point of preserving their steel industry as a strategic resource, which mean treating the coal industry likewise. For example, 2/3rds of German steel production comes from integrated facilities - i.e. ones that cover the entire process from coking to rolling.
Toggle Commented Oct 23, 2015 on Steel, & austerity denial at Stumbling and Mumbling
It's worth remembering the geography and production process of steel. The disposition of steelworks reflects the fragmented coalfields of the UK. Smelting was traditionally done near the energy source because the transport cost of coal was much higher than ore (due to the relative volume needed to produce coke). When the industry was rationalised from the 70s onwards, it was the inland plants that initially lost out (Corby, Consett, Ravenscraig), while the coastal plants, which generally had greater efficiencies due to size and transport, hung on (Redcar, Scunthorpe, Port Talbot). However, it has been obvious since 1984 that steel-making in the UK was doomed. Without cheap domestic coal, which could only be provided through a large coal industry centred on modern pits, the industry was always going to be on borrowed time. China may be (pace Andy) the final straw, but the roots of this lie in the policy decisions of the first Thatcher administration. In other words, government did once "alter these conditions".
Toggle Commented Oct 20, 2015 on Steel, & austerity denial at Stumbling and Mumbling
@D, ideology is symptomatic not programmatic. In other words, the "hero CEO" trope does not arise from a deliberate strategy to preserve the position of market incumbents but simply reflects the changing nature of the means of production. It is the tendency of the Internet to spawn global monopolies that has given rise to the Zuckerbergs, Musks and Page/Brins. Similarly, the evolution of the business leader as brand (Branson, Trump, Berlusconi, and more bathetically Sugar) cannot be divorced from post-80s financialisation and privatisation. Likewise, the performative obliviousness of the Jobs/Apple cult reflects offshoring and modern supply-chain management.
@D, ideology, such as the entrepreneur and tech genius tropes, does not arise from an attempt to control the means of production (e.g. restricting market entry) but from the characteristics of those means. For example, it is the structural tendency towards global monopolies inherent in the Internet that has given rise to the Zuckerberg syndrome. Similarly, the growth of the media entrepreneur - i.e. someone who sells themselves as a brand, from Branson to Berlusconi - cannot be divorced from the growth of financialisation and privatisation since the 80s. Likewise, the "obliviousness" that is central to the Jobs/Apple cult reflects modern supply-chain management. Ideology is symptomatic, not programmatic.
Toggle Commented Oct 17, 2015 on Believing others at Stumbling and Mumbling
The "chopping up" of whitecollar jobs into discrete projects predates the widespread adoption of the Internet, having started in the 1980s in the form of business process reengineering (BPR). Arguably, this just promoted Taylorist "scientific management" from the shop-floor to the office, so it is - pace McAfee and Brynjolfsson - a transformation with a lag of over a century. As an ideological construct, i.e. a justification for an a priori commitment to outsourcing, BPR combined Coasian theory and financialisation with the techniques of the "quality revolution" (SPC, CQI, Six Sigma etc). The latter was intended to provide cover for the former - i.e. an emphasis on quality obscured the focus on cost reduction as the driver of increased profits. BPR modularised clerical work so it could be outsourced. The addition of the Internet allowed outsourcing to be extended to offshoring. It's a two-step. The Internet certainly "reduced the costs of market transactions", but the bigger change was that ICT reduced the skill levels required for many whitecollar jobs and enabled supervision (requiring co-location) to be replaced by software rules. In other words, roles requiring judgement and a second opinion became little more than data-entry. The key dynamic here is the relentless downward pressure on wages, which is ironically impeding capital investment. The "human cloud" is akin to booking a manual car-wash via a smartphone app.
The deterrent to the UK being blackmailed or attacked is not merely possession of nuclear weapons but membership of NATO, which guarantees collective defence. Therefore Trident is really insurance against the possibility that we might be stiffed by the US. The experience of being shafted over dollar loans in the 40s and Suez in the 50s, not to mention the paranoia that seized Harold Wilson after he declined to get involved in Vietnam, suggests that British governments have assumed the probability of being stiffed by the US in the future is quite high, which is reasonable. Given that Trident is a US-manufactured system, and they'll surely have put a backdoor in the software to guard against the Brits going crazy, its value as insurance is moot. After all, if it really were an independent deterrent, we could afford an independent foreign policy. Perhaps Trident is best thought of simply as protection money.
I can't help thinking that if the Piers Gaveston Society really wanted to set a "high cost of joining" they would have used the head of something a little more expensive than a pig (which you can usually get from a butcher for under a tenner), such as an illegally poached royal swan or Cecil the lion. In this post-American Pie era, a dead pig's head (cooked or raw) barely counts as transgressive. Perhaps we've missed the obvious. Given the social background of the members, and the society's fogeyish roots (it was founded in 1977), perhaps this was a perverted re-enactment of a Wodehouse story featuring the Empress of Blandings. PS: In #2 above, I think you meant "buyers" in the 2nd sentence.
Clearly, some of the anticipated media reaction will reflect the peculiarities of British history, notably the dominance of the City. For all the talk of radical change, a UK NIB would probably not be very different in approach to Germany's KfW or France's Caisse de Dépots, both of which have managed to ghet on with the job for a while now. One way of both neutralising the inevitable "men from the ministry" jibe and lessening the structural risks (e.g. too many funds being diverted via the City) would be to revive the Milibandite idea from a couple of years ago of a network of regional banks, but with a mandate for long-term investment as well as short-to-medium-term business support.
Referees avoiding controversy? When will this madness end?
Toggle Commented Sep 21, 2015 on The outcome bias at Stumbling and Mumbling
I think this is less the outcome bias and more the influence of dominant media narratives. I recall when Costa arrived last season he was feted as both "ideal for the English game" (i.e. thuggish) and "ideal for Chelsea" (i.e. manipulative). Journos admiring his gamesmanship is of a piece with their admiration for Mourinho's mind-games. I suspect these narratives do subliminally influence the officials. While Chelsea as a team are assumed to be calculating, leading to repeated warnings, Arsenal have a reputation for petulance, leading to quick cards. While we're pretty average in terms of fouls, our ratio of fouls to yellow cards is low, while we now have the joint record of most reds in EPL history. That Santo Cazorla, eh? Bloody psycho.
Toggle Commented Sep 21, 2015 on The outcome bias at Stumbling and Mumbling
You start by suggesting that leaders have limited impact, and then suggest that parties suffer the same shortcoming: the first because of institutional constraints, the second because of socio-economic constraints. Perhaps what we need is not so much "to question the ideology of leadershipitis" (which has clearly been waning for some time now), but to ask: just how much, and through what mechanisms, parties can change society? In other words, is democratic politics possible under neoliberal constraints? In their different ways, Occupy, Syriza and Corbyn are all asking that same question.
Toggle Commented Sep 15, 2015 on What can leaders do? at Stumbling and Mumbling