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From Arse To Elbow
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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.
Re "most people (bar conspiracy theorists) would never argue with a physicist, chemist or engineer (on questions related to these particular fields)". But they should. Scientists are not afraid of argument, which serves to improve their own theories and interpretation of data. In fact, dreaming up alternative explanations, and then testing them, is key to the empirical method. If we never questioned experts, we'd still be assuming that the barber knows best how to cure illness and the priest is an expert on the existence of God. The issue highlighted by Chris is not "why do idiots get air-time" but why do particular idiots get air-time.
Toggle Commented Sep 1, 2014 on False democracy at Stumbling and Mumbling
This looks like silly season filler. Alaska comes top of Nelson's league because it produces lots of oil and has a small population. Florida is mired in poverty (#48) because the coffin-dodgers contribute little to GDP. You'll note he doesn't sub-divide the EU comparators, so Germany squeezes in at #39 when Bavaria (or Lombardy or Isle de France, for that matter) would be much higher. The lowly ranking of the UK obviously owes much to the "imbalance" of the British economy that ideologists like Nelson have worked so far to produce. GDP per capita for the City of London would make an interesting adddition to the list.
Toggle Commented Aug 27, 2014 on UK vs US living standards at Stumbling and Mumbling
Arsenal have a long history of undervalued centre forwards (Lishman, Radford, Smith), which in turn reflects the fans preference for those who play off the "9" (Eastham, Nicholas, Wright) or who start wide (Bastin, Henry). Gooners have been moaning about the position since Ted Drake hung up his boots. Compare and contrast to yesterday's opponents, Everton, a club whose fans fixate on the centre forward (Dean, Latchford, Ferguson and now Lukaku). Just as the fitness and form of the "big fella" is central to the Toffees' narrative, so nagging doubts about the focal point of the attack are a tradition in North London. In other words, criticism of Giroud is as much a cultural construct as the product of cognitive bias.
Re "except for a few would-be male MPs". Is that some transgender ting?
@Ralph, I think the apparent thrust has misled you. Chris's post is best read as a subtle riff on Swift's A Modest Proposal. This is far from being at odds with Herr Doktor. As Edmund Wilson once noted, "Marx is certainly the greatest ironist since Swift, and has a good deal in common with him"; and as Marz himself said, "If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist". For the record, the BNP are not anti-immigration tout court. They are racists and therefore selective in their approach. They have no problem offering asylum to persecuted white farmers from Southern and East Africa.
Toggle Commented Aug 19, 2014 on Optimum deaths at Stumbling and Mumbling
"There are no alternatives but to make our less successful working class schools more like our top middle class schools". But the moment you do that, the middle class schools will evolve new characteristics that are out of reach for the working class schools, so maintaining the gap. They don't spend stupid money on sporting facilities because they genuinely want Team GB to win medals, any more than they teach Latin because they genuinely appreciate Cicero. There is a lot of training that occurs in schools, but surprisingly little education.
Toggle Commented Aug 17, 2014 on Heritability & inequality at Stumbling and Mumbling
Politics2, the focus on personality, long predates modern media: consider Athens and Rome. But these are not real personalities, they are projections that we all (not just journalists) use to incorporate certain ethical and political ideas. The significance of Johnson is not his capering buffoonery, or his Churchill tribute act (though both are important signifiers), but his role as The City's man and thus the shifting balance of power within the Tory party between varieties of capital. That he should have declared himself as a "safe" Eurosceptic, in order to win a constituency nomination, while publishing a report by Gerald Lyons that (quietly) advocates staying in, is politically significant. That we (media folk and civvies alike) articulate this through tales of his hypocrisy, unreliability and boundless ambition is just a way of dramatising the contending forces. It worked for Aristophanes.
Toggle Commented Aug 7, 2014 on Two politics at Stumbling and Mumbling
The Mas and Moretti experiment is essentially a reconfirmation of "soldiering", which is a form of peer pressure, with top notes of environmental surveillance a la Foucault's Panopticon metaphor. This is all well and good, but it isn't of much relevance to the issue of peer pressure among CEOs and other execs, and how this translates into suboptimal business decisions. A good study of how politics, (neoliberal) ideology, social norms and culture all combine to create institutionalised criminality and herd stupidity is Fintan O'Toole's 'Ship of Fools'. Long story short: people do evil when they think they can get away with it; and when everyone else is bent, you're disadvantaged if you're not.
The "ideal" corporation is one that owns revenue-generating assets, which increasingly means patents (historic human capital) and licences (contemporary political leverage). Fixed capital is no longer the sine qua non, because it is increasingly cheap (in most service businesses it is already commoditised), and globalisation has engineered a glut of labour (initially unskilled, increasingly skilled). The means of production are losing importance to rights of rent-extraction. As corporations have always provided berths for hangers-on, in order to meet tacit social obligations and support networking, the evolution from a Coasian transactionally-efficient model results in many of these parasitical roles being moved into the freelance sector (this has been going on since the late-70s), some willingly and some unwillingly. The recent increase in low-skilled self-employed obscures the secular trend by which well-paid roles (including C-suite) are now outside the boundary of the corporation and thus act to depress EBIT profits (i.e. through increased rent-extraction). It also obscures the degree to which this money is increasingly diverted offshore, thus dodging tax and understating ONS data on income. The hipsters are largely recycling the capital of their parents: well-paid executives who made a mint over the last 30 years.
Toggle Commented Aug 6, 2014 on Decorporatization at Stumbling and Mumbling
Academic economists lost public credibility in 2008 despite being largely blameless for the preceding era's policy (unlike the paid shills of the City and rightwing thinktanks). Similarly, they had a bad rep in the 70s due to stagflation etc. The result was an attempt to cultivate respect by creating a more empirical basis for their discipline (just like scientists), with a heavy emphasis on maths and microfoundations. In other words, attempting to overcome the barriers you note was a contributory factor in the evolution of academic economics as we know it today.
Toggle Commented Aug 4, 2014 on Economists & the public at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Thonton Hall, perhaps you are unfamiliar with the sterling work done by Niall Ferguson in normalising austerity.
Toggle Commented Aug 4, 2014 on What use are academics? at Stumbling and Mumbling
Your reference to idiocy in the original Greek sense is illuminating but slightly inapt. Idiocy implied not merely non-participation in public life but a reluctance to develop the necessary skills of a citizen, which included what we would now call education (art, philosophy etc) as well as the political and the military. It was this lack of training that later led to the word being used to mean ignorant. The structural roots of British academia lie in medieval scholasticism, which placed an emphasis both on learning and retreat from the world. Though religion gave way to reason, and the ideal to the empirical, the remnants of this ideology remain, and still inform criticism of academic economists ("ivory towers" etc). Academic idiocy is thus closer to Candide's gardening. The last 30 years have seen the final extirpation of the structural support for this tradition, exemplified in changes to academic tenure, inspection and "product", as well as in the prevalence of campus security guards, the introduction of student fees and the competition of think-tanks for the donations of the rich. The consequence is that success as an academic is now more likely to be measured in TV documentaries rather than primary reasearch. This means hard cheese for economists in contrast to historians. The Tudors recast as soap opera will always be more attractive than the mechanics of the labour market.
Toggle Commented Aug 3, 2014 on What use are academics? at Stumbling and Mumbling
The Tories became a managerialist party when they became a party, having evolved from a faction via an interest. The precise moment was Robert Peel's Tamworth Manifesto of 1834. The significance of Burke is that he crystallised the thinking of the interest (land, church and monarchy) before the 1832 Reform Act signalled the evolution of parties and thus managerialist politics. Burke's continuing resonance is only partly explained by attempts to root his thinking in philosophy and ethics (Oakeshott and Norman, in their different ways). Equally important is nostalgia for a pre-democractic era and the honesty of "naked interest".
Toggle Commented Aug 1, 2014 on Am I a Tory? at Stumbling and Mumbling