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From Arse To Elbow
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It was obvious that the Milburn Commission would produce little more than hand-wringing when the government spokesbots took to referring to him as their "social mobility Tsar" without the faintest trace of irony.
The idea that MPs should be on a median wage reflects a desire that they be representative of their constituents (i.e. having the same financial constraints) as much as it is an assessment of their social worth. The problem with this is that a truly representative chamber would have MPs on widely differing pay rates, reflecting actual income inequality, possibly including disabled members on £2 an hour. My point is that if we want MPs to be representative, their pay is probably one of the lesser issues to worry about.
@DFTM, the diversity of MPs is a product of institutional factors, such as the selection process, de facto career paths (unions, SPADs etc), and networking (including nepotism). It isn't the result of pay rates. The introduction of MPs pay in 1911 (by a Liberal government dependent on Labour support) was a direct result of the Osborne judgement of 1909 that blocked union subsidies to Labour MPs, and was thus an attack on working-class representation. Prior to this, MPs were essentially men of independent means or those who could combine the morning-averse House with a career in the City or law courts. Paying MPs on an informal basis dates back to the Medieval era. It went out of fashion with the Glorious Revolution, which left many MPs in the 18th century dependent on rich sponsors (and not just those in rotten boroughs). It is interesting to note how the views of a contemporary, Samuel Pepys, compare and contrast with Lansman's critique: "... the bane of the Parliament hath been the leaving off of the old custom of the places allowing wages to those that served them in Parliament, by which they chose men that understood their business and would attend it, and they could expect an account from, which now they cannot."
All the House of Lords requires is abolition. No reform, no tinkering, no replacement.
Lansman is arguing for strict representation (daily reporting, reselection, recall) and an ostentatious hairshirt (capped salaries, no pay for councillors). This shows a fear of sophistication and a contempt for the idea that politics requires particular skills. It is ironic to see someone on the left arguing against decent salaries for politicians given the importance of this to the development of democracy in the UK. Poorly-paid representatives would be even more vulnerable to corruption. Logically, sortition (like jury service) would provide the widest range of experience for our MPs, but selection by lot rather than election is unlikely to be considered democratic by most people, despite its ancient pedigree, and the gain in terms of breadth will be (by definition) marginal. Lansman is echoing the received wisdom of our day, that "People hate politicians of all parties because they see them as self-serving careerists not ordinary people with principles they share". But that image has been carefully cultivated by specific interests in society, both overt (the media denigration) and covert (the neoliberal insistence that everyone should be a "self-serving careerist"). Perhaps we hate MPs because they are more like us than we care to admit.
Surely the substantive point in all this is Freud's willingness to consider a public subsidy for business at a time when public subsidies for the disabled are being cut?
Toggle Commented 7 days ago on Why Freud's wrong at Stumbling and Mumbling
The original Hippocratic oath was mainly concerned with caste loyalty and demarcation, rather than ethics. The "virtuous" reading is a later, nineteenth-century interpretation, meant to distinguish a growing middle-class profession from the "selfish" oath-taking of trades unionists and Chartists. I'm sure Hunt is well aware of this background.
The fundamental reification is the idea of res publica, whether articulated as a nation or a commonwealth. People who don't buy into this, who believe their ethical obligations stop at themselves or their immediate family, are much less likely to vote. A paradox of the popular attitude towards immigration is that it is a pro-social impulse: a belief that we should be concerned about what others are experiencing. Basing your assessment wholly on your own experience would produce a more rational result (immigration is no big thing), but as a consequence of selfishness.
Toggle Commented Oct 11, 2014 on The reification fallacy at Stumbling and Mumbling
Very few people are thoroughgoing racists because it is hard work to view the world entirely through the prism of ethnicity. You are either defeated by reality or go quietly mad. Immigration is clearly a proxy for anxiety about wider socio-economic change, not the dilution of the race, and thus not a specifically rightist issue. The tendency of the media to yoke immigration to racism is part of an ideological stance that questions the legitimacy of democracy - i.e. the right of the common sort to vote on matters of public policy (the death penalty used to have much the same role). There is a reason why the media prefers to talk about voters deserting the main parties rather than the other way round, and why they emphasise both voter "anger" and the incoherent impossibilism of the anti-establishment opposition. Similarly, noting popular support for the NHS (and describing it as "love"), while regretting the people's ignorance of the necessity of "reform" due to demographic change (which "we" know to be inescapable, apparently), is intended to highilght the essential unreasonableness and emotionalism of the people. Likewise, the hypereality of the economy, and specifically the focus on the fabulous beast that is the deficit, serves the elite belief that the people are incapable of understanding economics and must be taught responsible behaviour through parables lest they vote to loot the public purse. The story of the last 40 years is of the gradual retrenchment of representative democracy. We have been converted from voters to consumers whose preferences are increasingly weighted by property. As Scotland hinted, the left's prospects depend on the degree to which it can become the champion of democracy. What this week's byelections show is that the people haven't yet been persuaded to give up on "the goold old cause".
Toggle Commented Oct 11, 2014 on The Ukip question at Stumbling and Mumbling
Re the media, there isn't a contradiction here. As you have noted (the hyperreality of "the economy"), the aim is to control the language, not to make it coherent or internally consistent. Doublethink (deficit bad, NHS spending good) isn't evidence of brainwashing but of ambient noise that blots out independent thought. Similarly, the history of the rise of neoliberal think-tanks is best thought of not as an attempt to win an argument but merely as an ongoing strategy of drowning out the opposition. It's about market-share: outspend the other lot and fill the media space with pabulum. With time, this strategy even folds back in on itself, hence the vogue for evidence-based policy-making a few years ago (why didn't we think of that before?), and the wall-to-wall bewailing that "no one has any better ideas" after 2008/9.
I think your intellectual admiration for Burke and Oakeshott leads you to assume that ideological projections ("sceptical, melancholy") have an actual reality in practice. Most Tories just aren't that sophisticated. The phrase "capitalism doesn't have the oomph to grow under its own steam, so it needs the state to create and guarantee sources of profits" would stand just as well for Tory policy 120 years ago. Just substitute empire for welfare state. The Tories have always been a fractious alliance of different capitals, all of which practice cronyism. The current realignment has more to do with the fallout of 2008/9, and the attempt to reestablish the power of finance capital, than any dawning awareness of stagnation.
The use of terms such as hubris and narcissism should remind us that the theatre of corporate life remains wedded to ancient tropes of power. One is the tale of the king who is sacrificed to ensure continued fertility. This suggests that in the case of some CEOs, their over-confidence and eventual demise is in part a willed projection of the organisation. In other words, businesses may be subconsciously promoting psychos because they better fit this narrative. In the same way, CFOs often play the part of the wise counsellor, even when they're talking complete nonsense, not least because this image is selected for by headhunters and NEDs.
"'The economy' is a set of symbols which exists in its own right without reference to anything else". Hence the aspiration of economics to the purity of maths. The key insight of hyperreality is one of process: the way that a model can evolve to the point that it "takes leave" of the original reality. This actually has an ancient pedigree in the metaphysical impulse. Hence the aspiration of economics to the status of universal law.
I think the last PM who was widely considered by the press to actually look like a leader prior to his elevation was Anthony Eden.
Not so long ago, I doubt a political commentator would have used the phrase "economic credibility", because they wouldn't have presumed to be able to make an essentially technical assessment. We appear to be back in a world where the BBC's economics coverage has been fully re-politicised. Expect "business confidence" to start moving up the charts. The departures of Stephanie Flanders and Paul Mason now look telling, even more so than the ongoing struggle between Chris Cook and Duncan Weldon on Newsnight.
Toggle Commented Sep 22, 2014 on "Credibility" at Stumbling and Mumbling
@DJK, re "Large scale, low-skilled immigration (and brain-drain emigration) adversely affect the working classes". Not so. During periods of high demand for low skill labour, native labour tends to disproportionately benefit from the growth in higher-grade opportunities (and skilled apprenticeships) that overall rising demand produces. For example, Irish immigrants filled many of the low-skill roles in British industry during the 19th century. Native labour tended to move up the job hierarchy as a result. Sectarianism (notably in Glasgow and Liverpool) was a means of insitutionalising this economic apartheid - i.e. reserving higher pay roles for native (Protestant) labour. Likewise, Caribbean immigrants who took low-grade jobs in transport and the health service in the 50s and 60s were backfilling native workers who were absorbed into higher-skill technical and clerical roles during a period of economic growth. The "brain drain" is a myth on two counts. The first - what you might call the lump of genius fallacy - holds that we cannot substitute for lost talent. If this were true, it would point to a total failure of education to create opportunities for smart working class kids. Despite what the Daily Mail might claim, eductaional attainment has steadily risen since 1945. The second count is that the "drain" trope ignores the offset of imported talent. The UK has always been a net beneficiary - more in than out - because we are a relatively rich country (so we drain talent from poorer countries) and offer significant soft benefits (learning English, access to the EU etc).
Toggle Commented Sep 22, 2014 on Capitalism & the low-paid at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Whyvert, your option is not unthinkable so much as illogical. If you reduce the labour supply (by whatever means) you also reduce aggregate demand because every worker is also a consumer. This, all other things being equal, will reduce employment and thus push the price of labour down, not up. You could argue that preventing further immigration (i.e. capping population growth) might make labour scarcer and thus drive up its price, but this would only affect higher skill roles where demand is high (e.g. doctors). Low skill jobs would still pay low wages because there remains a surplus of labour (i.e. 2 million unemployed).
Toggle Commented Sep 21, 2014 on Capitalism & the low-paid at Stumbling and Mumbling
You'll get a different answer re Salmond if the question is "Do you trust him as First Minister?" as opposed to "Do you trust him to deliver real independence?". For example, a Panelbase poll in early September scored him 49% to "act in the best interests of Scotland", compared to Cameron on 19% and Miliband on 17%. The salience of the referendum (even if a neutral question is employed) means you're comparing apples and oranges. Similarly, Farage is cute enough to pitch his appeal around delivering a "genuine" referendum on EU exit. Outside of that, most people are well aware of his inconstancy and flakiness. After all, he's happy to make a virtue of it himself. What this suggests is that people are likely to judge the character of others instrumentally, as much as try to assess some persistent quality. For example, Churchill was highly thought of in 1945 but was not trusted to deliver the fruits of victory.
Toggle Commented Sep 18, 2014 on Distrusting politicians at Stumbling and Mumbling
The leading contemporary depictions of the slump and working class life in Britain were sentimental works like 'Love on the Dole', 'The Stars Look Down' and 'How Green was my Valley', rather than the novels or reportage of the old Etonian Orwell. Popular social comment meant Max Miller and George Formby, not the Left Book Club. Similarly, Steinbeck's contemporary popularity depended on his conservatism. 'The Grapes of Wrath' is a 19th century template of rural dispossession and revenge updated with pro-union and New Deal advocacy. 'Of Mice and Men' is a peaen to property (George and Lenny's dream of their own bit of land) and is blithely misogynistic (women were being better served in Hollywood). The quality of popular art in the early 80s owed much to institutional factors, such as the investment in regional arts (Bleasdale, Russell et al) in the preceding decades, and the availability of social security and relatively cheap housing for budding artists. Culturally, the recent recession was reduced to improvised street theatre in the summer of 2011, though there may also have been a passing reference on Mock the Week.
Toggle Commented Sep 15, 2014 on The costs of poshos at Stumbling and Mumbling
Re "There shouldn't, therefore, be an objection in principle to pricing national sentiment". But the examples you give all involve situations where a price can be reasonably calculated: a damaged reputation can unfairly restrict future earning ability; a criminal injury likewise; and (behind the cant about quality of life) the value of a medical treatment is ultimately based on the ROI of repaired labour. In contrast, how would you price nationhood? To rely upon the aggregate estimation of the population is to open yourself to cognitive bias and structural ignorance (I refer you to your earlier comments on financial literacy). It would be no less reasonable to assume that increased national fervour gives rise to a productivity bonus, or that greater community feeling leads to an increase in domestic trade, or that the spirits of our ancestors will benignly watch over us.
Toggle Commented Sep 11, 2014 on How Scotland should decide at Stumbling and Mumbling
@AAV, the Tories voted against Bevan's design for a centralised NHS, not against the principle of socialised care. They had actually published a white paper advocating a system of universal healthcare funded by the taxpayer in 1944, but envisaged this being managed by local authorities. They were also sympathetic to criticism by the BMA re restrictions on private practice. Bevan bought the doctors off ("stuffed their mouths with gold"), while the Tories quickly became reconciled to the national system due to its popularity. Financial capitalists are less interested in the NHS as a means of maintaining or improving labour productivity (because they don't directly employ that labour) and more interested in the opportunities for financial engineering. The NHS is particularly attractive because of its large asset base (think PFI), the taxpayer guarantee (the cash will keep flowing), and because demography and technology pretty much guarantee rising demand for the next 30+ years and thus sector growth higher than GDP growth.
Toggle Commented Sep 9, 2014 on Two conservatisms at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Keith, conservatism means the preservation of existing inequalities and privileges. To this end, conservative parties will often promote apparently radical policies. For example, the NHS was of great benefit to industrial capitalists during the 2nd half of the 20th century because it "socialised" costs that they would otherwise have been obliged to bear separately and more inefficiently. This is why the Tories were initially supportive of the NHS (with the addition of privileges for the rich). The change towards privatisation partly reflects the decline of industrial capital relative to financial capital in the Conservative Party. You can probably spot the irony of the Yes campaign fetishising the NHS in a deindustrialised Scotland. Add in demographics (Scotland is ageing more rapidly than rUK) and persistently low levels of health in many areas, and it is clear that the belief the NHS will be "saved" north of the border is implausible. Modern Scottish nationalism is not romantic but pragmatic (the SNP buried the blood and soil nonsense with Hugh MacDiarmid), in exactly the same way that union in 1707 was a pragmatic decision by the Scottish elite. In the 18thC they gained access to a mercantile empire; in the 19thC they gained access to industrial technology and the first modern market economy; and in the 20thC they gained access to the welfare state. Most recently they were able to leverage the union to create a massive financial sector. The current turn of the dance is based on a calculation that membership of the EU (and the Eurozone) will ultimately be better than continued union.
Toggle Commented Sep 9, 2014 on Two conservatisms at Stumbling and Mumbling
@SiOB, the point is not that new is good and old is bad, but that you need to critically analyse the desire to rewind the clock. Is it the pessimism of Oakeshoot or the pragmatism of Polanyi? I am a supporter of the welfare state, but I recognise that its current fetishisation on the left (particularly re the NHS) is a form of recuperation - i.e. diverting political anger into a nostalgic commodity. As Gerry Hassan observed of the social democratic tenor of the yes campaign in Scotland, "The case that the welfare state of the 1940s and 1950s is the pinnacle of human ingenuity and the best we can do is profoundly pessimistic".
Toggle Commented Sep 8, 2014 on Two conservatisms at Stumbling and Mumbling
I think it is widely recognised now that the "more social democrat than yow" meme in Scotland hides a profoundly conservative impulse: hanging onto the welfare state as a better yesterday. What's perhaps less recognised is that the union of 1707 was an optimistic project (the continuation of the Scottish elite's attempt to engineer an overseas trade empire) rather than just a pessimistic or pragmatic arrangement (paying off the Darien scheme debts). Much of subsequent Whig teleology originates in the Scottish Enlightenment. Despite SNP rhetoric, what has occured in Scotland since the 80s is the decline of optimism and a search for palliatives (smack, a mythical NHS, a sovereign oil wealth fund). The irony is that this turn to a more Oakeshottian worldview has led to scepticism about the union, rather than a determination to preserve it.
Toggle Commented Sep 8, 2014 on Two conservatisms at Stumbling and Mumbling
Re "profits must grow by expanding the domain in which profits can emerge - hence the corporatizing of state functions". That's plausible, but surely the attraction of the state sector is not merely that it is virgin territory for profits, but that many outsourced services remain de facto monopolies, which allows for larger profit margins than could be achieved in the "open" market.