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Dave Timoney
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@Jim, the "culture war" is not being fought on campuses or in schools. It is being fought in the pages of rightwing newspapers and on compliant TV programmes that take their lead from the press. You might also have noticed that the media disproportionately feature rightwing academics, such as Nigel Biggar or Matthew Goodwin, in support of their belief that universities are intolerant or the working class socially conservative. It's a scam.
One of the features of the last 40 years has been the way that progressive causes were advanced by adopting contemporary conservative arguments about personal freedom & market choice, notably in respect of feminism (the right to a career & "having it all") & gay liberation (same-sex marriage & the pink pound). In other words, the culture war has largely been fought by the well-to-do rightist middle class in opposition to the well-to-do rightist middle class. The idea that the culture war centrally involves either the working class or the left as a protagonist is a myth.
I wonder him much of this is folk-memory (i.e. exaggerated in the retelling) of the financial repression (due to high inflation) of the 1970s? Obviously, this would be ironic, given the current circumstances.
The hysteria displayed by the press towards new media is all the evidence you need that it has significantly expanded "freedom of expression". However, while the press in its traditional form may well wither away, there will clearly be an attempt to constrain new media & recreate those structural conditions congenial to the rich. Ultimately, the solution has to address ownership - i.e. prevent other right-wing billionaires from buying up Murdoch's papers but also prevent them dominating new media, as Zuckerberg has. There was a recent article in the Guardian written by software (it wasn't that impressive), in which the twist in the tale was that it was only presentable due to the work of editors. Rather than replacing journalists with AI, what we might benefit from is replacing editors with citizens juries (yes, there are practical difficulties, but bear with me), thereby breaking the influence of owners.
Toggle Commented Sep 10, 2020 on On press freedom at Stumbling and Mumbling
Perhaps all this reveals is that the Tories are fundamentally more conservative than capitalist.
Toggle Commented Sep 2, 2020 on On Marxist Tories at Stumbling and Mumbling
Ironically, given all the guff talked more generally about inscrutable AI, the problem with this particular algorithm is that it was utterly transparent, making the reality of the social relations clear to even a child.
Toggle Commented Aug 18, 2020 on Algorithms & reification at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Blissex, My point is not that the right reject the material altogether but that they approach it in an unempirical way (and this, as I read it, is also Chris's central point). For example, BtL landlords should be in favour of immigration as that increases demand, but many right-leaning ones are not. Wanting to have your cake and eat it is evidence of an unempirical approach to politics (and it's no coincidence that this is the very metaphor employed by Johnson re Brexit). One way this cognitive dissonance at the level of the material is resolved is through metaphysical concepts, such as sovereignty, that are held to be supra-political. I was using "fictitious capital" in the sense defined by Marx: paper claims to wealth that aren't grounded in productive capacity. A materialist would view them as highly speculative and therefore risky (as time has proved). A BtL materialist would recognise that their rent was ultimately determined by the productive economy, and so would be as interested in infrastructure investment as tax cuts.
@Blissex, in the context of Chris's argument, empirical is not a synonym for material. Yes, the right are obsessed with property & the wages/benefits of others, but much of this is "fictitious capital" or other forms of fantasy, not an attempt to address lived experience. Likewise, the right actually spends more time banging on about identity or trans rights, just as Toby Young spends more time complaining about repression. The idea that the left is obsessed with the abstract & utopian is a traditional canard designed to distract from material critique. The point that Chris is making is about the historical shift in conservative philosophy (& liberal, for that matter) from the mundane & positivist to the ideal & metaphysical. Whether that is due to rentierism or intellectual exhaustion, it appears to be a real change.
@Jeremy, "It'd punish them for going to well-performing schools instead." That's a feature, not a bug. Chris is proposing this as a one-off, but clearly one reason why it hasn't been publicly discussed is that such an experiment would likely become permanent by popular (if not media) demand. Were we to use a quota system like Texas, middle class parents would be incentivised to send their kids to the local comp, not to a private school. This will not be discussed because it might mean the end of Eton.
Toggle Commented Aug 15, 2020 on Limits of radicalism at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Jim, What did we get out of the Napoleonic War?
Toggle Commented Aug 11, 2020 on A policy failure at Stumbling and Mumbling
The problem with Birbalsingh's argument is that it implies an equivalence between the true and the useful: that confidence might be as rewarding as understanding. But is there any evidence for that? It's easy to find examples of people who have been rewarded through hard work and a refusal to acknowledge the barriers put in their way, but these people are by definition exceptional. But the argument of the anti-racism movement, like the feminist movement, is not that we should recognise excellence wherever it may flower, but that we should provide equal treatment for the dull & the modest. The point about BLM is that it is arguing for systemic change, not for the recognition of the occasional superstar. In contrast, Birbalsingh's argument is actually about the cream rather than any minority. She is motivated by class, not race.
"But then a certain kind of lefty thinks we can have massively high standards of living as a right without anyone doing any actual work." This is pretty good example of the tenacity of the Protestant work ethic. Wealth is cumulative (the Earth is a closed system), which means society has far greater resilience than in the days of Adam Smith ("There is a lot of ruin in a nation"). As the pandemic has proved, we can stand down a large part of the workforce without suffering a major reverse in aggregate wealth. It has also shown that the workers of most value are often the worst paid. Going forward, the point is not to aim for a workless society of lotus-eating & robots, but one in which work & income (& accumulated wealth) is more evenly distributed and environmental & other externalities are reduced. The Protestant work ethic is probably the greatest impediment to achieving that.
Toggle Commented Jun 10, 2020 on Origins of a disaster at Stumbling and Mumbling
Have we ever had mechanisms in politics that filter for errors, beyond the consequences of failure and the ability to kick the bums out? I take the points made in your 2017 post, that there are strong mechanisms that select for mediocrity among politicians, and that these have probably increased over time, but apart from the disappearance of the public intellectual, I don't see any decline in corrective mechanisms. There wasn't a Golden Age.
Toggle Commented May 14, 2020 on How to be wrong at Stumbling and Mumbling
You're being generous (or perhaps ironic) in attributing cenrists' delusions to naivety. Cohen knows perfectly well that the problem is one of systems rather than character, but he has a well-paid gig promoting the opposite belief. Moran has no intention of constraining capitalism, rather she sees UBI as a means of reproducing labour on the cheap while "simplifying" the welfare state, hence she frames it as "a catch-all safety net". The problem with centrists is less their utopianism (though that certainly exists) than their cynicism.
Toggle Commented May 6, 2020 on Technocrats & class at Stumbling and Mumbling
@AJ, The frontline staff who work for the DWP were not hired because they hold particular views on welfare but because they have particular skills. They will moderate the expression of their own views (they need to earn a living), but the inertia you talk about won't come from them (institutional culture tends to be top-down). I'm sure many would be more than happy to operate a more generous, less punitive regime. To reinforce Chris's point, the state is much more powerful than we generally imagine and it could radically change its operations (if not the institutional culture among DWP management) rapidly. After all, we've just seen a Chancellor agree to pay the bulk of the wages of millions of workers while they sit idle, something that was inconceivable a few months ago.
Toggle Commented Apr 30, 2020 on Avoidable unemployment at Stumbling and Mumbling
The danger for Labour is not so much a drift to the centre as a determined attempt to catch-up with the Tories in their shift to a more nationalist register. In other words, they may simply vault the vacuum of centrist ideas and head straight for the right. In this respect the pronouncements of the new Shadow Home Secretary may be more indicative than those of the Shadow Chancellor.
Toggle Commented Apr 12, 2020 on What centre? at Stumbling and Mumbling
We established that the UK had abundant fiscal headspace some years ago when the cost of government borrowing stayed low despite George Osborne's serial failure to meet his own deficit targets. This wasn't some revelation chanced upon by Rishi Sunak. The principle of a UBI can be established in one of two ways: as an upgrade to the existing benefits regime (which is what many are currently urging), or as a transformation of the relationship between capital and labour. The former means that it would be paid for through income and purchase tax, which would encourage parsimony and the continuing division of society into "makers" and "takers"; the latter that it would be paid for by capital, through taxes on accumulated wealth, gains and dividends etc, thereby reducing inequality.
The media response is not so much a case of double standards as a recognition that when a Tory Chancellor turns on the spending taps, the beneficiaries tend to be Tory voters. They don't object to Labour spending qua spending but its incidence. Ditto taxation. Likewise, they were unabashed by the failure of austerity to conform to the nonsense of "expansionary fiscal contraction" because growth was incidental to their aim. Winning the argument on spending is a hollow victory for the left because the argument is framed in terms of the quantity of money not its quality.
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2020 on Winning the argument? at Stumbling and Mumbling
As others have noted, the economics of HS2 are dubious. Arguably, it is an example of Thatcherism's decadence, rather than its rejection, with public money being directed to prop up private construction firms and at a price level dictated by the state's refusal to take the burden of future risk. Likewise, the rejection of the single market is motivated more by Thatcherite delusion - the prospect of global free trade deals - than disappointment. The modest injection of funding for buses is of an ilk: there will be no attempt to bring services back under local authority control despite the "best practice" of London.
Toggle Commented Feb 13, 2020 on Thatcherism's death at Stumbling and Mumbling
One contributory factor may be that the cost of housing services reflects working lifetime income expectation. Increasing longevity and the pushing-back of the state retirement age increases that future income and thus housing costs (this also explains the growth in mortgage terms). Also, the cost of other necessities (i.e. social reproduction), such as food and clothing, has fallen in real terms since the 1970s, leaving more disposable income to be soaked up by housing. That it has been repositioned over this time from a necessity (shelter) to a vehicle of self-actualisation surely isn't coincidental.
Toggle Commented Jan 23, 2020 on The interest rate puzzle at Stumbling and Mumbling
Surely the common interest that "Scrutonians" and free-marketeers share is the primacy of private property.
Toggle Commented Jan 14, 2020 on Two conservatisms at Stumbling and Mumbling
Pointing out that the Conservative Party isn't chock-full of libertarians is a bit like pointing out that most of the PLP aren't socialists.
One thing that strikes me about that article by Emily Maitlis, and the similar tweets issued by Rob Burley whenever the subject of partiality comes up, is how much BBC journalists and editors are still so obviously "institutionalised", despite the decades of production outsourcing. Of course, it is this very institutional pride that is objectionable to Conservative Party, not the insufficiency of the BBC's pro-government or anti-left bias, and the chief reason why the Corporation is now in the cross-hairs.
Toggle Commented Jan 1, 2020 on Yes, the BBC is biased at Stumbling and Mumbling
The presumption behind this post is that Labour has hitherto not had a collective leadership, but the history suggests otherwise. The routine demands for it to be a "broad church" are a recognition that the party leader has rarely enjoyed unfettered power among the PLP, let alone the membership or the wider labour movement. Management by committee has always been Labour's institutional approach and, because of the role of the unions and independent groups like the Fabians, that committee has usually included non-MPs. The relevant questions to ask are: how big is that informal committee, is it contiguous with the formal committee of the NEC, and who does it pointedly exclude? Famous examples were Wilson's kitchen cabinet and Blair's sofa government, though it's also worth noting that Blair effectively ceded much of his own power to placate Brown in what was widely recognised as dual leadership. Corbyn's "inner circle" is very much in that tradition. The problem under Corbyn was not excessive centralisation of power, or even the supposed machinations of Stalinists, but the clear differences of opinion on Brexit that were articulated by a de facto leadership team that included both Starmer and McCluskey.
I'd add that a further problem, intrinsic to the marketplace of ideas metaphor, is the emphasis placed on branding. Much of the media's approach to electoral politics centres on the dynamics of brand loyalty and customer alienation, which serves to crowd out comparative analysis of the offerings.