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Dave Timoney
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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.
@Jim, "The State owning the Commanding Heights of the Economy worked so well last time, I can't think why we stopped doing it, what with all the profits the nationalised industries must have been making". The British state has never owned the commanding heights of the economy, in the sense of a monopoly of the most profitable businesses, though it has long has a controlling interests in some, such as BP (since 1914). Most nationalisations in the immediate postwar era focused on badly-run, low-profitability but strategic industries such as coal and steel. Integrated planning and protecting the balance of payments were the chief drivers, not profit. Over time, nationalisation became a "bailout" for under-performing private industry, particularly where the market proved incapable of driving rationalisation (e.g. the car industry). The contemporary focus for nationalisation is less on strategic infrastructure or rationalisation (though both can apply) and more on market failure. In other words, excessive profits and poor service.
The reason for the dreaded vote of confidence in football is that anything less than a 100% endorsement will immediately undermine a manager, which might lead to even worse results in the short term. The dynamic is not unlike a bank run: "At first you go bankrupt slowly, then all at once". So I wouldn't read too much into the Arsenal bosses' comments on Emery. The odds are that his goose is already cooked. Freedland is the more interesting case here, not so much because he sees what he wants to believe, but because he has himself been one of the chief proponents of the idea that Labour is antisemitic. He has actively worked to build the narrative and had been on the case for some years now. Basically, he is high on his own supply.
Toggle Commented Nov 10, 2019 on Seeing what we expect at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Laurence, The claim that "politics is no longer about left and right" has been made repeatedly over the last century. It's a perennial feature of democracy, or more precisely of those who find democracy problematic. It was central to Fascism, to the social market economy, to anti-communism and to every variety of technocracy. The current vogue is to acknowledge that the dimension of economic power still matters (an admission that every attempt to sideline it has failed) but to augment it with another, and supposedly more determinant, dimension in a biaxial model (such as the one you cite). This is typically a dimension of "values" or "culture", which tends to be a mish-mash of cod pyschology (open vs closed) or polemical sociology (anywheres vs somewheres). One fundamental flaw in this approach is that it assumes people's worldviews are both stable and internally consistent, rather than being dynamic, influenced by environmental factors and subject to cognitive dissonance, but this messy reality can be obscured through aggregating data, hence the centrality of opinion polling and supposedly neutral data manipulation in "revealing" this dimension. Treat with caution.
Toggle Commented Nov 8, 2019 on Shoring up capitalism at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Jim, Decarbonising the economy is not an end in itself, any more than making ourselves poorer is. The goal is to avoid global warming causing greater loss. As such, it is a strategy of prevention. Likewise, many advocating remain are arguing that we should prevent an avoidable loss to GDP. Whether you agree with them or not, these positions are perfectly consistent.
Toggle Commented Oct 22, 2019 on Detoxifying Brexit at Stumbling and Mumbling
The irony here is that the monarchy is not just a commodity of the first sort that you describe, despite Harry's understandable beef, but of the second sort. The 17th century saw the rejection of the monarchy as divine and its conversion into a provider of marriageable units to the elite market of absolutism, which functioned from William & Mary down to Victoria's time. In other words, it became an instrument of the state rather than its embodiment. The modern commodification of the royals from the 60s onwards is certainly of the first sort, which dehumanises and degrades, but ultimately the monarchy remains a going concern because of its utility to the state, as we recently saw in the prorogation farce.
Toggle Commented Oct 6, 2019 on On commodification at Stumbling and Mumbling
Though basic income trials to date have been small-scale and sometimes quite deliberately hamstrung, what's notable is how consistent the positive benefits reported by the participants have been in areas such as mental health, career confidence and life satisfaction.
Toggle Commented Sep 17, 2019 on A start, or an end? at Stumbling and Mumbling
@Jim, Labour's policy is to give voters a choice between a soft Brexit and remain. From the perspective of the City, both outcomes would be highly predictable and together they represent economic, if not political, stability going forward. The point of Chris's post is the rationale of the City, not the internal coherence of Labour's position.
Toggle Commented Sep 6, 2019 on Capitalists for Corbyn at Stumbling and Mumbling
*wouldn't wear it.
Toggle Commented Sep 4, 2019 on What theft? at Stumbling and Mumbling
In explaining why the Tories' Right to Buy programme was legit but Labour's new proposal is not, Tim claims that "The government selling government-owned houses at a discount is fine. The government compelling private owners to do likewise is certainly not". This strikes me as specious. If anything is sold at a discount, whether by the government or a private owner, someone is losing out on value. In the case of Thatcher's policy, that was the public purse - i.e. society as a whole. The money spent on RtB discounts was not spent on the NHS or patrol boats in the South Atlantic. Ultimately, the state always has the right (subject to democratic judgement) to discriminate in how the burden of policy falls. Austerity was sold on the idea that "we're all in it together", but it has clearly fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor. Tim would be on firmer ground if he claimed it was unfair that the burden of this loss should fall exclusively on the shoulders of landlords rather than being shared by all citizens. In other words, he could argue for a state subsidy or a bailout of distressed landlords. That he doesn't suggests he knows public opinion would wear it.
Toggle Commented Sep 4, 2019 on What theft? at Stumbling and Mumbling
It's also the case that in treating politics as "theatre" (or "showbusiness for ugly people") the media are defining it as divorced from real life and ultimately inconsequential: if you don't like the current production, there will be another one along shortly. In other words, this frivolous and cynical attitude is essentially saying "Don't worry about it", which ultimately means don't get involved.
Toggle Commented Aug 31, 2019 on The theatre of politics at Stumbling and Mumbling
There's obviously an element of truth in this - there are plenty of comfortably-off gobshites who reckon Corbyn is Lenin reborn - but I suspect that Corbyn's real psychic threat is not in his plans for modest redistribution but in his own modest person. The degree of contempt for Labour leaders has tended to correlate with their imputed class. Those that have posed as men of the people, like Wilson & Brown, have generated more "passionate, visceral hatred" than those, most obviously Blair, who presented as middle class. This is not just snobbery - the charge against Wilson & Brown was one of hypocrisy, after all - but a belief that political leaders should exhibit particular virtues that definitionally exclude the ordinary (w/c virtues are reserved for the rude mechanicals on the backbenches). Despite his own m/c roots, Corbyn presents (sincerely) as an ordinary bloke. This is reinforced by the media's questioning of his competence & their contempt for his modest lifestyle. The message is that he simply isn't the right sort to head a party, let alone a government. I think a lot of modest, ordinary men (particularly those in middle age for whom ambition is all but dead) find Corbyn unsettling precisely because he suggests that rising to the top may not require genius or hard work, but may in fact be largely a matter of luck. This is not to imply that Corbyn doesn't deserve to be PM. He does, and the refusal of his critics to envisage him as such says more about them than it does about him. But it does suggest that a lot of people resent him because his good fortune reflects poorly on their own. In other words, he isn't only a threat to relative wealth & privilege but a reminder that just desserts fails in two directions. You may not have deserved your status, but equally you might have done a lot better with a little more luck.
Toggle Commented Aug 30, 2019 on Origins of Corbynphobia at Stumbling and Mumbling
One factor that led to the state's change in attitude towards labour displacement between Elizabeth I and the early 19th century was the development of empire. This provided an alternative outlet for immiserated workers beyond riot, as well as a convenient oubliette for labour "agitators" such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The parallel with today is the global dispersal of production, which has allowed cheap labour in developing nations to exert downward pressure on wages in developed ones. As wages for that labour in turn start to rise, there is a shift towards investment in increased productivity (e.g. a third of all industrial robots have been deployed in China). Stagnation in the UK is likely to continue until global wages are roughly equalised (allowing for transportation costs etc) at which point productivity will become the focus here once more. In other words, the problem is not so much one of the differential impact of new technology as the way that the labour market has been constructed politically, which is also a direct parallel with the state's activism in the late-18th and early-19th centuries. I've not read Frey's book, but I'd be curious to know whether he cites Karl Polanyi at all.