Dear America

Dear America,

Trump is the least of your problems. Sure, he’s a playground bully, petty mafia, or a dirty old man. Take your pick. But he’s not the cause of your troubles. Nor is it the Russians.

Trump didn’t bring fascism to America. That honour belongs to George W. Bush, when you had vindictive war, torture, and indefinite detention. But you were gripped in atavistic fear of 911 so you didn’t notice. The heroes who tried to keep you honest with yourselves in this period are still fugitives in fear of their lives.

You got Trump because you allowed the Republican party to rig districts and buy elections. A few intellectuals made a passionate case to stop this but were ignored. You got Trump because the Democrats, supposedly the good guys, refused to put forward a people’s candidate. Voters looked at the options for who would screw them and went for the more visceral. You’re doing this again.

Your economy doesn’t work. Things are expensive, basics are unaffordable. The middle class lives a life of 24/7 self marketing, fearful or taking vacations and falling behind, or spending too long in a job. Competition doesn’t work. The innovative tech startups of thirty years ago are now monopolies, suppressing or absorbing everyone else. Like half a century ago, you idolize people who go to space but your day to day is an assault of brands and consumerism.

You have a healthcare system that doesn’t work. Your schools don’t work. Transport  doesn’t work, and no Uber is not a reasonable way to provide it. Work doesn’t work, for most people. The gig economy only makes sense because of rampant class divisions. You have no welfare system, and use the army to absorb otherwise bereft young people. Like the Romans.

As a nation “you’re not racist but…” Nobody is foolish enough to claim superiority for whites, but you treat African-Americans as non people. Police is an occupying force. Because you have so many non-people people you can’t conceive of any kind of sharing or collective solutions to problems. Not with them! For fear of the other you curse yourselves to live without public goods.

People pack guns and shoot children in schools, or just each other, and this is somehow normal. The price to pay, apparently, for freedom. Freedom from some imagined socialism or uprising that will never come. Or some supposed existential threat. The existential threat to life on Earth is you and your survivalism. You live in festering, unjustified fear and think yourselves ready to start a revolution, which you don’t do.

Anyway, see you soon!

 

UK election 2019

The election is under way and the UK press is moving earth and water to make sure Labour doesn’t win. That’s predictable. Outside of the Guardian, the press is owned by about three billionaires. Their agenda is 1. That there’s a real “risk” of Labour winning, and 2. That a Labour government would be bad for wealthy interests. I think this level of reaction validates Labour’s policies.

We have a focus on Corbyn, with the ridiculous accusation he’s an anti-Semite. This is either character slander targeted so it’s taboo to defend against; or it’s a statement that Corbyn, unlike previous US/UK leadership, is opposed to Israel’s ethnic cleansing actions in the Middle East. I think it’s the correct moral stance to oppose these actions, and if that makes you an anti-Semite then words have no meaning. There’s no evidence that Corbyn is racist in any way.

Then you have the tactic of vagueness. Johnson is portrayed as strong, clear, and direct. The headlines paint Corbyn as vague, faltering, or lacking a certain something that it takes to be Prime Minister. Notice the disparity of information here. Our side clear, other side bad for vague reasons that we’re not going to talk about. It’s the same tactic whereby the press erased London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, two very capable leaders who dealt with difficult issues (like the 2008 financial crisis) in an exemplary way. But according to the press they were bad. Why? They were bad, dunno, they just didn’t have it. Not credible options. Look elsewhere.

The attack on people suggests that the policies are correct. The Tories are peddling Brexit as an issue of principle, because otherwise who would vote for less public services and privatising the NHS? Labour is calling for socialist reforms in the spirit of Atlee’s post-war government, which pretty much everyone in Britain views positively. Labour’s position is we’ve swung so far to the right that bringing back some of that socialist agenda is what we need. I agree. Even if Labour achieve 10% of their programme, which is about realistic, I think it’ll be a good thing. I say this as a privileged person who works in tech, never needs public services, and buys posh food from the farmer’s market.

You could quibble with the implementation of Labour’s policies. For example there’s an idea to force private landlords to accept bids by the tenants to buy the flat (disclosure: I’m a tenant, I considered making a bid already and decided against it). There’s a reasonable argument that such policies might take flats off the rental market or have other unintended consequences. Fair, but places like Germany manage to put a damper on the property market and their society is the better for it. The real threat to affordable housing is price speculation and AirBnB, which no-one seems to complain about.

Then there’s Brexit. I live in Scotland, and the answer to everything is independence. Never mind that the cause of Brexit, the condition that made is possible, is by and large social deprivation in England. The English are overcome by a Thatcherite psychosis, so the story goes, and it’s all “Me, me, me, my house, my career, my aspirations of upward mobility”. Are people thinking of London and the south coastal towns inhabited by stockbrokers? Because I don’t think Yorkshire is like that. If the problem is an angry and left-behind England surely the right thing is to fix it, as Labour intends to do, not to create private solutions and more borders. 

In terms of predictions, I think a Labour-SNP government is likely. By likely I mean in the 50% rather than the 25% bracket, I can’t make precise predictions. Whether it happens is largely down to the intentions of the so-called liberal left. If this group wants a return to social democracy then we’ll have one, and if liberals focus on identity issues or hair splitting EU stances then we won’t. I worry the liberal class is too in love with personal vanity, iPhones, Uber, Deliveroo, and other solipsistic utopias to bring out any social conscience. Yes, I think devices and consumerism matter. They isolate people. Steve Jobs was a villain. I should be the last person to be telling you this.

If the Tories win and Brexit concludes, first I think it’ll be mildly bad – about as bad as Cameron’s austerity. Then we’ll have more problems. I think Scottish independence is also likely but not a given, again in the 50% bracket. Independent Scotland applying to the EU with a border in Berwick I think will be bad for Scotland, and very bad for England. It’ll make everyone’s prospects smaller. Also Scotland won’t remain a rebellious province with a one-party socialist agenda. A conservative faction will form and soon we’ll have a microcosm of the same class divisions that we see in the south.

This amount of political strife and isolation is emotionally exhausting. Back in the day we had socially liberal ideas and our incomes were very far from established. It was easy to find issues to be on the right side of, LGBT for instance. I’m sorry to say these issues are free. They have no cost. Gender, race, and class equality has costs, achieving it is a real inconvenience for the elite. Our present politics tends to ignore large divisions and focus on smaller groups, whether to take the virtuous side or to scapegoat. I think this shift of attention from the broad to the narrow is a shift to the right. Even if you’re on the good side, like a company supporting Pride for genuine reasons, identity politics is too convenient for the establishment.

At least I feel that politics is emotionally isolating and exhausting. I’m too old to calibrate my opinions for the approval of anyone else, not that I ever did. I take in new information and my opinions change, of course, but now I feel I can express them like an old curmudgeonly person. “Curmudgeonly…” I like that word.

More than a % tax

There’s a video going around where Bill Gates refuses to say he’ll vote for Warren over Trump. The implication is that billionaires are greedy. I think that’s too simple a take.
 
If Warren says to Gates: You own $100 Billion in assets so pay $50 Billion in cash, that’s a very destructive way to deal with inequality.
 
If she says: You spent $50 million on a private jet so pay $100 million tax (a 67% rate) that’s much more reasonable.
 
If she makes a plan where listed companies as they grow are forced to deposit a portion of their shares in a public wealth fund, say 40%, that’s also worth discussing.
 
It’s urgent to climb own from the insane levels of inequality in modern capitalism, but to do so requires better tools than scaling up a % tax. I think separating the power to consume (CEO pay, personal wealth) from the power to direct firms and investment is a key component. If you do this right, the better companies and billionaires will be on your side.
 
The Left needs to put out articulate policies, which recently they do, and the media has to cover them. Right now there’s media bias casting the Left’s economic plans as vague or unrealistic. I wonder if Gates will visit Warren so she can personally explain her plan.