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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.
Let us imagine that for the set of the whole population there is a subset that is best qualified to judge a particular public policy matter. As you note, this subset could be quite different for policy A than for policy B. They may in fact be mutually-exclusive. Given that we cannot know in advance what policy matters will arise, any attempt to institutionalise a particular subset as the default will inevitably entrench current prejudices, while the process of institutionalisation will in turn encourage overconfidence. The orthodox theory of representative democracy imagines a legislature whose members are mostly in the lower-left quadrant (with some contingently migrating to the upper-left), but who are ultimately answerable to everyone because we cannot know who the optimum subset is for any particular matter. The current "failure" of democracy arises not from the aggregate ignorance of the set but from the slow drift of representatives from the left to the right - i.e. we have too many MPs who are both ignorant and irrational, and we've suffered successive executives who were overconfident. The latter failing probably has a lot to do with neoliberal's supplanting of both organic conservatism on the right (which encouraged caution) and class politics on the left (which valued the rational over the irrational). The former failing may be a trick of the light - perhaps all social media have done is expose the longstanding low calibre of MPs - but it may also be the consequence of the rise of a politico-media class with narrow life experience and a tendency to confuse soundbites with argument. Far from providing grounds to think that epistocracy might be a good idea, the EU referendum (like Iraq before it) suggests that we court disaster precisely when the epistocrats themselves (i.e. those who self-select as political arbiters) under-value their own ignorance and over-value their own faith. Democracy then is not just a defence against the systemic bias of epistocracy but against institutional decay.
Toggle Commented Nov 6, 2016 on Knowledge vs rationality at Stumbling and Mumbling
Actually, I think everyone would agree that we all have the *right* to drive. The distinction is whether we are qualified to drive, which means an objective test of capability based on commonly-agreed norms. Similarly, an epistocracy does not necessarily impinge on the universal right to vote, any more than the temporary disenfranchisement of prisoners does. What matters is the mechanism. For example, a system that required voters to show a minimum level of knowledge would potentially allow everyone to vote. The problem with most epistocratic schemes is that they seek to reduce the franchise, either through socially biased qualifications (e.g. university degrees) or through random selection (e.g. sortition). I've not read Brennan's book, but to judge by your review (and others) it is little more than a rehash of Plato's ship of fools: a rational "against" that falls apart when it attempts to describe the "for". You'd think the persistent failure over millennia to come up with a compelling case for epistocracy might strike political scientists as a clue. Democracy, as Churchill noted, succeeds because it is least worst. Ultimately, arguments for epistocracy are arguments for the demotion of groups within society, either by outright exclusion or by relative disadvantage (e.g. Mill's idea on supplementary votes). They are inherently resentful and reactionary, which is why they struggle to move from the weary disgust of "against" to the positive articulation of "for". An alternative reading of contemporary affairs is that what you refer to as our "epistocratic institutions" are actually democratic, in that they seek to reflect the interests of groups who feel they were demoted by the EU referendum. The "them vs us" that has arisen since June reflects the way that plebiscites become acts of qualification. Demanding that the vote be restricted to people who wear poppies is no more ridiculous than demanding it be restricted to graduates.
I'm dubious that there has been a deterioration in the British character, both because the degree of change in social matters is generally over-estimated and because there is no such beastie. It's a bit like the nonsense of "British values". In fact, the problem with people like Farage and Evans is that they believe there is such a thing, and it just so happens to coincide with their own characteristics and prejudices. Reactionary bigotry, including contempt for the courts and Parliament, is a fine old British tradition, like riotous assembly. I think explaining this in terms of narcissism and tantrums obscures the genuine (and rational) fury that many people have felt towards the political class since at least 2000. Farage and Evans are simply the noxious froth on a bubbling cauldron. This is a full-blown constitutional crisis in which the Crown (the executive) seeks to subvert Parliament by an appeal to a popular sovereignty that it actually has no intention of honouring. The danger is plebiscitary dictatorship. Serious politics is happening.
Toggle Commented Nov 3, 2016 on "The will of the people" at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Rev Spooner, "Classified data has the potential to affect lives, both directly and in the longer term. That's why classification exists". Classified simply means it is an official record (in Hillary Clinton's case, it's a "business" email sent via a private account) and thus subject to a classification scheme. This doesn't imply anything about a particular message's content or importance. If she sent out for pizza using her work email, that would be classified. You're confusing "official" with "sensitive", which is ironic given Chris's point about the distinction between frequency and impact.
Terms such as "the ruling class" and "the upper classes" have little sociological meaning. We have no idea whether they overwhelmingly vote for progressive politics (or voted for Remain) because we don't track them as such. It seems odd to question the prevalence of racism in society without mentioning the middle classes.
Toggle Commented Oct 26, 2016 on Whose racism? at Stumbling and Mumbling
@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.
Toggle Commented Oct 21, 2016 on The freedom-hating right at Stumbling and Mumbling
@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.
Toggle Commented Oct 21, 2016 on The freedom-hating right at Stumbling and Mumbling
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