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One cultural change since the 80s has been the tendency for innovators to systematically use large firms as launchpads. In other words, they don't tinker in the garage so much as develop a skunkworks within the corporate host and then decamp on the promise of VC funding and an eventual IPO. Back in the day, the instinct was to stay and convince rather than go solo as soon as an idea was monetisable. This may reflect a growing corporate inability or uninterest in exploiting new ideas that springs from shareholder value, though the tendency to get employees to sign restrictive covenants on IP rights suggests otherwise, so perhaps it is more a reflection of the decline in corporate loyalty and the rise of promiscuous employment (the flip-side of precarity). Of course, these are more effects than causes. The underlying dynamic is probably the shift from physical to intellectual capital - i.e. less plant, more patents. The problem is that this may also be masking an accelerated shift from productive to distributive activities, which would explain sluggish productivity. An example of the distributive trend is the growth of talking shops and vapid consultancy - something that Liam Byrne seems well versed in.
Not only will we struggle to compete with Romania and Bulgaria on labour costs, but we will struggle to outbid Ireland on corporation tax and Luxembourg on tax avoidance. The rational approach would be to identify the UK's intrinsic strengths and then exploit them to the max. Those strengths were: a) being in the single market but not the Eurozone, b) providing a business environment that was culturally and institutionally midway between the US and Europe, and c) having a number of centres of expertise in services that can be leveraged globally (finance, law, consultancy, media etc). We've bollixed the first of these for the sake of a dubious sovereignty and a reduction in immigration that will underwhelm its supporters. The second is now looking more fragile under a Trump administration (a trade war between the US and EU would hit the UK harder than either of the protagonists). That pretty much leaves the last, which is why the "Singapore model" is at least coherent. The problem is that it means relying even more on London, so the Brexit heartlands can expect further neglect. Supply-side socialism might be the better approach, but politically this will struggle against a Tory party increasingly focused on the Home Counties and looking to the LibDems and UKIP (and the Blairite remnants) to fragment opposition votes. It also means the Tories will probably be increasingly sanguine about both Scottish independence (the Scots may ironically be pushed before they jump) and Northern Ireland moving closer to Dublin. It may be a good time to re-read Tom Nairn.
@Gary Taylor, The BBC analysis you have used is from 2007, which was not only a single year a decade ago but an atypical year in terms of contributions. To avoid (ahem) cherry-picking, you need to look at the trend over time. Here is a Danish analysis for the 2006 to 2014 period. You can clearly see the anomaly of 2007: This next analysis (see page 2) shows the trend between the 4 largest contributors graphically: In other words, my original statement above - that the UK has "usually paid less in absolute terms than Germany, France and Italy" - is correct. Of course, there are many ways in which the numbers can be represented (hence the analyses vary), to suit all arguments, but the key political truth is that the UK has always had a "good deal". This is actually a cause for some resentment among the EU27, which you can see in the way that the European Parliament presents the numbers, making explicit that the UK rebate is calculated per country, not in aggregate - i.e. France, Italy et al pay for the UK to be a member; the rebate isn't a back-hander from Brussels. I'm not sure that many Brexiteers understand the psychology of this (see the title of this post) and how it will impact negotiations. See:
Toggle Commented 4 days ago on On Brexit solipsism at Stumbling and Mumbling
@MJW, Exiting the single market does not put an end to cherry-picking. That remains very much alive in respect of the customs union. We must either cherry-pick to preserve advantageous elements or we must start with a blank slate. The former would likely be by sector, so some UK industries will lose out, while the latter would require a comprehensive trade deal that we'd have little chance of negotiating inside 2 years. The EU27 are expecting cherry-picking. The UK has long been a net contributor to the EU, but it has usually paid less in absolute terms than Germany, France and Italy. As a percentage of gross national income (GNI), the UK is actually one of the lowest net contributors, thanks to the famous rebate. Similarly, on a per capita basis, we have traditionally paid in less than the likes of The Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark. It's academic now, but the idea that the EU is financially dependent on the UK is simply wrong. If it could absorb new net beneficiaries in Eastern Europe, it can accommodate the loss of the UK. EU contributions are the ticket price for access to the single market etc and the wider economic benefits this brings. The redistribution between contributors and beneficiaries is incidental and marginal overall (about 1% of EU-wide GNI). The UK's seat on the UN Security Council has never been representative of the EU because the UK's policy has been to position itself as equidistant between the US and Europe. It is the French who have traditionally sought to informally represent the EU on the UNSC (though even they are prey to chauvinism on occasion). The EU loses nothing here. The majority of free movement occurs on the continent, not across the Channel, for pretty obvious reasons of geography. If Poland was seeking to "export its unemployment" it would do so to Germany, not the UK. The end of free movement to Britain is only going to be an issue if we deny visas to skilled workers and students (and the objections will come mainly from domestic business) or if we mass-expel existing residents (unlikely). This is going to be close to a non-event for the EU27. English is an advantage for skilled jobs, not low-paid ones like picking beets, and because it is the corporate lingua franca skilled Brits can find work in Berlin (or San Francisco) as easily as French people who speak English can find work in London. There may be an asymmetry of supply (lots of monolingual Brits), but this is offset by a reverse asymmetry of demand (lots of global jobs that require English).
Toggle Commented 5 days ago on On Brexit solipsism at Stumbling and Mumbling
The paradox of May's revolutionary fervour is explained by the aim of restoring a glorious past (so she's more Whig than Tory). Given that Brexit is a "phantastic object", a sober consideration of the practical difficulties or a cautious estimate of the potential isn't likely to get a hearing, as yer man Rogers found. More worrying is the disconnect between expectation and reality, the characteristic of the patsy, which was evident in the moon-faced glee of Michael Gove faced with a notorious shyster telling him "Yeah, we can do you a great deal". The UK doesn't just lack experienced trade negotiators, too many of its politicians lack an understanding of our own history. The myth at the heart of Britain's concept of free trade is the idea that our historic partners were just that: partners who freely entered into mutually-beneficial deals rather than mostly subordinates coerced into asymmetric relationships. Philip Hammond (who doesn't appear to be an idiot) has realised that we'll only get what we can secure by force, hence the threat of regulatory arbitrage. I get the sense that the government is divided between happy-clappy free trade loons and empire nostalgists on one side, and pragmatists and the London interest on the other, the latter advocating a cynical Singapore strategy that will condemn the Brexit-voting heartlands to further decline. Brexit is going to be well 'ard.
Toggle Commented 6 days ago on On Brexit over-optimism at Stumbling and Mumbling
Michael O'Connor also made the point that a disproportionate increase in poorer households can paradoxically result in narrowing inequality between the top and bottom quintiles, essentially because the top 5th expands to include more households that were previously in the 4th. See: What we should also ask of statistics is why they are presented in a particular way, given that this is potentially subject to ideological bias - e.g. the occlusion of the top 1% by using quintiles instead of centiles.
There is obvious truth in this, but you're in danger of creating a false dichotomy in which leavers are overwhelmingly driven by issues of identity while remainers are uniformly pragmatic technocrats. Some leavers (and potentially a pivotal minority) were thinking in consequential terms, and not necessarily without reason (e.g. those concerned about the fishing industry), while there was no shortage of remainers for whom the EU was an intrinsic good bound up with a cosmopolitan and modernist identity. In that sense, the current remain campaign in-all-but-name makes strategic sense, i.e. targeting consequentialist leave voters while assuming that identitarian remainers aren't going to desert the cause. This may make it look like a dialogue of the deaf, but a focus on the "pivotal minority" is consistent with long-term British political practice.
The idea of the economy as an alien force is hardly that recent. It goes back to Smith's "invisible hand" and Ricardo's "iron laws", not to mention Marx's teleology, and is part and parcel of Enlightenment thinking and the broader issue of scientism. This is a problem of demand as much as supply. In other words (and despite the claims of 2016), we actually over-value expertise, which is why Martin Lewis is so popular. The vanity of some economists plays a part, but the distinction between them and dentists comes down to a difference in our expectations. An improvement requires not just a change in behaviour among economists but a change in attitude among the public (or at least the media). We need to stop asking What will happen? and ask Why might anything happen? I'm not holding my breath.
@Blissex, Re migration flows, you have consider three things: numbers relative to home population; that congregation can make immigrant groups invisible to much of a country; and that dispersion across multiple destination countries can do likewise. For example: Slovenia is very small (and Slovenes are routinely mistaken for other nationalities); a 1/4 of the Portuguese in the UK live around Vauxhall and Stockwell; and about 4% of the Greek population have emigrated since 2008 but to a lot of different countries (many with existing congregations), e.g. the US, UK, Germany and Australia. Taiwan is a special case because of its relationship with the mainland, but Korea has seen plenty of emigration historically, notably to America and Japan. The UK Korean community is another example of "congregational invisibility", with many to be found in New Malden (betwee Wimbledon and Kingston). After 1989, lots of East Germans "emigrated" to what was the old West Germany. To say that they have remained in (a unified) Germany rather misses the point. As for the Russians, many of them have emigrated but they've preferred to go to Germany (often backfilling "Ossis") and former Soviet republics. Relatively few have made it as far as Kensington. The point is that we are living in an era of unprecedented mass movement (into cities as much as between countries). This is a global phenomenon caused by rising living standards, falling transport costs and the tendency of technology (which includes learning English) to make skills more transferrable. This process isn't a deliberate conspiracy by capitalists, so much as the working of capital itself, so it cannot be arrested by policy or bought off by Western investment.
@Blissex, Re "the best way to stop economic immigration is to invest in the source countries creating local jobs there". The evidence (not anecdata) suggests the opposite. Investing in a developing economy improves the skills of local workers, making them more marketable abroad, and simultaneously raises incomes, giving skilled workers the wherewithal to mirate to developed economies with higher wages. Re "why do they risk their life to cross the Channel to come to the UK? After all France is a rich, safe country like the UK, with similar or better low-end wages". Because France has a national ID card scheme and without an ID ('sans papiers') it is very difficult to get a job in the formal economy (perversely, this explains why the French black economy is larger than that of the UK). On top of this, the UK has weakly enforced laws. The 'right to work' checks by corporates are often outsourced to recruitment agencies who have a conflict of interest, while SMEs often lack the interest and/or skills to properly check. The UK has a reputation as being a relatively easy place to find work (or start a business). Ironically, this "truth" has been amplified over the years by media tales of the state being a "soft touch" and incompetent at securing our borders.
Bloodworth is engaged in constructing a strawman consistent with media norms (hence the nerve-jangling use of "bien pensant"). I doubt there are many liberals who claim that immigration "is all sunshine and rainbows", even if they do reason that the aggregate benefits outweigh the costs. You'll note he also criticises McCluskey and Coyne of "demagogic electioneering" for "responding to the prevailing mood among Unite members", ignoring that antipathy towards immigrant labour among union members has a long history. There's more continuity here than change. Bloodworth's piece is just another example of the modish "facts versus feelings" false dichotomy. The flip-side is the belief that members of the "traditional" working class are immune to evidence or reason, and peculiarly vulnerable to the charms of Paul Nuttall, essentially because they are thick. No surprise to see Rob Ford cheering from the sidelines.
@Parus major, Chesterton wasn't a Christian, he was a Catholic (and a famous lover of paradoxes). I would echo Chris's pointer to the title of Weber's famous work. The belief that capitalism instrinsically serves the "work of God" comes from Protestantism. Catholic doctrine tends more towards corporatism - the integration of capitalism within a "natural order" - which in turn reflects history: Protestantism as a disruptive force and post-Reformation Catholicism as a conservative one
Toggle Commented Dec 22, 2016 on Against busyness at Stumbling and Mumbling
I suspect your appeal will be in vain. The timidity and lack of interest displayed by journalists and economists is due to structural changes more than a "disposition to admire": the growth of the financial sector, the decline of academic tenure, the consolidation of the national media in London (and the upper-middle class), the slow death of local journalism, the substitution of PR for specialist reporting etc, etc. Appeals to get their boots dirty will no doubt touch a chord with many metropolitan journalists and economists - it being the season of reflection and new resolutions, after all - but this will no more arrest the current direction of travel than Crisis at Christmas solves homelessness.
Toggle Commented Dec 20, 2016 on An appeal for ground truth at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Luis, I know what game theory is, and happily accept its usefulness in appropriate circumstances. I was referring to its vulgarisation, particularly the way in which it is wheeled out to provide supposed insights into "interests", notably in the fields of international relations, commercial negotiation and public choice (which is where it intersects with market thinking). This vulgarisation has recently led to a parodic meme: "Guys, it's time for some game theory".
@Jim, The concept of "the end justifies the means" is widely attributed to Machiavelli, though variations on the theme go back to classical antiquity. It isn't an invention of the left. In contrast, the concept of "the [one] big lie" definitely originates on the right, specifically with Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf. You're being generous in saying that the Leave campaign's other claims were not lies. For example, that control would be returned to parliament, that we wouldn't need to rely on EU trade, that turning away Polish plumbers would allow us to bring in more Bangladeshi curry chefs etc.
Guys, it's time for some game theory. Actually, no, it isn't. It's time for some history. The concept of public service is little more 150 years old in the UK, dating from the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms. This marks the point at which disinterest supersedes the interest of "old corruption". The subsequent growth of municipalism and the welfare state shifted the focus of stewardship from protecting Crown assets against private actors to protecting the people and public goods. What has happened over the last 40 years is the revanche of private interests at the expense of the public, both through the asset-stripping and rent-extraction of public goods and the use of state power to create new markets under private control. Much of the "new corruption", such as nepotism and ministers lobbying on behalf of favoured businesses, is simply a revival of old forms. There hasn't been a change in human nature, let alone a moral decline. In this sense, claims about "narcissism", "tribalism" and "partisanship" are unhelpful as they carry an obvious ideological bias, not to mention the whiff of contempt. What matters is politically-motivated changes to structures, not social decadence. Institutional decay, as Luis puts it, is real, and it is abundantly clear that this is being driven by the encroachment of markets and market-based thinking, which includes irrelevant appeals to game theory. If you elevate markets as a panacea, then you accept a logic in which truth is without intrinsic value and facts are just another commodity. After all, the customer is always right, even when she is wrong.
The implication of the apocryphal Soviet tale is that what matters is managing upwards, i.e. satisfying someone at Gosplan or getting on the right side of the Politburo. So who are the Tories trying to impress? Most foreign students spend their time here in large cities, such as London or Manchester, where the locals tend to be less fussed by immigration and may even be worried by a reduction in student spending. Conversely, small towns that have seen increased immigration from Eastern Europe in recent decades (and voted heavily for Brexit) won't see any change on the ground because of this measure. The obvious conclusion is that the policy is aimed at satisfying the rightwing press through a "headline reduction". In other words, this is not just about the tyranny of targets but about the manufacture of reality. In this sense, cutting foreign student is fit for purpose in a way that the Soviet nails were not. It also shows that the role of bully is not limited to the official state.
Toggle Commented Dec 13, 2016 on Tories' target fetishism at Stumbling and Mumbling
The political problem is that a centrist focus on income redistribution (or even predistribution) only makes sense during a period of decent growth. To adapt Carney's metaphor, it is irrelevant when the tide is out. Beyond the usual bromides about human capital and pump-priming, centrists have no compelling answer to stagnation. There seems little immediate likelihood that they will commit to the redistribution of wealth (i.e. the partial confiscation of assets, a la Piketty), so they remain a (good times) solution in search of a problem. In that sense, the desertion by voters of centrist parties is entirely rational.
Toggle Commented Dec 6, 2016 on Why not centrism? at Stumbling and Mumbling
Re "what happened to the right?" As the revolutionary impetus of the left ran out of steam in the 60s, to be replaced by the tending of one's own garden in the form of identity politics, the right consciously adopted the style and modus operandi of revolution, from the rhetoric of "reform" to the creation of loyal cadres and the long march through the institutions. As part of this programme, it projected the negativity of conservatism ("dinosaurs", "enemies of change" etc) onto the left. This was a repetition of a manoeuvre that has occurred periodically since 1789, and explains why there are conflicting varieties of conservatism. What is distinctive about this turn is that it tends to rely on nationalism as the organising principle, because real economic and social power is off the agenda. Brexit and Trump are both examples of conservativism's failure to resolve the contradictions of 2008. People want change (i.e. revolution), but what conservatives are offering is style over substance.
@Keith, Trump did start off with a "good product" - the regeneration of parts of Manhattan in the 1970s at a time when the city was near-bankrupt - though it was one that required huge tax-breaks, friendly relations with the Mob and labour exploitation. Since then he has taken to licensing the brand: Trump Steaks, Trump Suits etc.
Snake oil can become respectable. Coca Cola, which started out as a patent medicinal tonic, is the most famous example. This transformation was achieved by cutting out the cocaine and ramping up the advertising - the red-suited Santa Claus being the original Xmas mega-ad. The lesson to be drawn from this is that (limited) efficacy is only useful in establishing a toehold in the market. Once you have brand loyalty, you can proceed to degrade the product. I suspect this has been Donald Trump's MO since the 1970s.
@Matt, Line managers are employees too, i.e. working class, because they sell their labour. Ditto consultants, however well-paid. The "boss" is the owner of the capital of the business, which might be an individual or it might be a group of controlling shareholders (i.e. not small-scale investors who have no executive power). The original identitarian politics was the detachment of the non-manual, skilled working class (specifically the growing army of informational trades, such as management and admin, that grew over the course of the 19th century) through identification with the performative gentility and snobbery of the petit-bourgeois (i.e. marginal or wannabe capitalists). Much of this has been inherited by contemporary liberal identity politics - e.g. the obsession with "propriety" and "civility" in social media. I don't think Emma's point is that straight, white people are instinctive Fascists, but that Trump won by mobilising traditional Republican Party supporters in the face of significant voter disaffection from the Democrat Party. In other words, this was a traditional revanche by the coalition of the rich, the petit-bourgeois and those strands of the professional/admin working class who are motivated by cultural distinction (e.g. "keeping the neighbourhood white", opposing same-sex marriage etc).
Toggle Commented Nov 20, 2016 on On class politics at Stumbling and Mumbling
Given that the NHS is obliged to be polite (if negative) about homeopathy, due to high-profile supporters among the anti-expert crowd, I'm not sure it's quite true that the medical profession is wholly "rid" of the problem.
Nice try, but I doubt that Burke can really be reconciled with Marx. The key part of the opening quote is "the general bank and capital of nations and of ages". Burke isn't trusting the species but the accumulated wisdom of earlier generations. As Thomas Paine noted at the time, this is merely another form of tyranny: of the past over the present. Marx's point is that policy must arise from the world "as we find it". This is not merely a gesture towards a positivist worldview, but a recognition that tradition can have no claim: "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind". Mason's postcapitalist hope is just an update on the gravedigger of the bourgeoisie, replacing the industrial proletariat with digital technology and some vague idea that we can hack the gig economy. Just as the concentration of labour was thought to herald the inevitable end of the bourgeoisie, so the diffusion of labour may do the same. Colour me sceptical.
Toggle Commented Nov 13, 2016 on On Burkean Marxism at Stumbling and Mumbling
"Brexit is regrettable, but it has the silver lining of distracting the Tories from doing damage elsewhere". In the short-term, yes. However, the risk is that Brexit might change the political landscape such that policies that were hitherto "out of bounds" become feasible. This is not just a case of exit from the EU meaning that a future government might abolish worker or consumer rights, but that the process itself might create precedents. For example, the likelihood of a referendum on the restoration of the death penalty will surely be higher after 2019. Ultimately, Brexit does mean "taking back control", and that more concentrated power will be used.