Politics recap January 2020

Julian Assange is in prison in the UK being tried for extradition to the US on espionage charges. Sweden has dropped its case. But you’re not going to defend Assange, are you, because you learned that “Assange is a rapist”. And who would defend one of them against the all-seeing and benevolent forces of the state? If you think this way, dare I suggest that you’ve been had.

Brexit is happening at the end of this month and nothing will change. No truck queues down south, no shortage of medicines, no mass exodus of business. If Boris Johnson had any sense he would at that point declare victory and extend or go slow with the transition period for as long as possible. It seems the Tories want to press ahead, and I can only assume it’s because some part of British business values deregulation more than the single market. Either way, Brexit is a slow-burn, unwise choice, inconvenient to people like me. It’s not and was never going to be a disaster.

Scottish independence is back in the news, but I don’t think it’s happening. As said Brexit will pass uneventfully and the opportunity to use it politically likewise. I don’t think a referendum would turn out very different than last time, given the uncertainty of exiting both the EU and the UK, having to re-enter the EU and adopting the Euro. I could be persuaded to vote for it but only for cynical immigration reasons. I’d vote for it with my heart if Scotland were to abolish the monarchy and become like Ireland with blue post boxes.

Trump, despite being a pig of a man, has turned out a pretty good president. Being an outsider he recognizes that the time of America offering “protection” around the world, in both senses, is over. Since the 50s the dogma was that spreading capitalism would benefit the US foremost as well as lifting all boats. Now that’s no longer the case and the US needs to adjust to being one of several developed powers, as well as get out of the protection business. For all the alarm in the press, Trump is making the post-superpower transition as peacefully as anyone could have hoped. War in Iran, which many in Washington are thirsty for, keeps failing to materialise. It’s hard to get full facts about Syria, but it’s possible Trump may have killed fewer people than any president since Carter and, although I don’t like him, utilitarian arguments count.

In all likelihood, Trump will get re-elected. Especially if Sanders and Warren fight each other while the press and the middle-class do all they can to nominate a centrist. I think US society is rapidly approaching the point of being beyond repair, and it’s because the so-called progressive elite refuses to check its privilege and accept socialist policies. Beyond repair means the role of the state disintegrates, beyond security, and the US becomes a libertarian -topia. What kind depends on your point of view.

Climate may have been saved in 2019, mainly thanks to Greta Thundberg. We should build the young woman a statue. For the first time there’s wide realization that something has to change, even in the US, and people are vaguely aware that might mean changing their personal habits. Eating less meat and driving less, for example. Maybe accepting the the Earth has seasons and not trying to negate them with air conditioning. Technological change is happening everywhere except the US, where they’re waiting for the prophet Elon Musk. Saving the climate means Bangladesh will be uninhabitable due to floods, and the Arabian peninsula due to heat, but hey we get to survive as a species.

I don’t know much about China, but I’m a more hopeful observer than most. I see them as a threat economically, because they don’t play by the rules and I don’t see them as an evil empire politically. Comparison with the Soviet Union is inept. The Chinese regime, as far as I can tell, prioritises material welfare above all else and that goal is the source of its authoritarianism. I wouldn’t like to live in China, but I think it’s much more benign than a regime based around a strongman or an ideology. The more Chinese society feels economically secure, the more freedom is likely to emerge.

Europe I think is poorly and is unlikely to get a reprieve until 2021 when Merkel, Europe’s most destructive leader since WW2, leaves office. West Europeans need to reflect on the relatively undramatic departure of Britain, discontent and inequality within the block, as well as repairing its relationship with Russia. If the Germans are willing to compromise, Europe could move forward to a federal structure with shared debt, banking, tax and welfare arrangements across the continent. But if the new chancellor continues to block these reforms it’ll be endless crisis management and containment as it is now.

As for me, I intend to get my stupendously named permit “Indefinite Leave to Remain” and figure out what hoops we need to jump through to let my son migrate to Scotland. I think in the long run that means citizenship, and if that could come somehow without a queen I’d have done it already.

UK election 2019 – why the left lost

The left was roundly defeated in Britain’s general election, the one that was supposed to settle the matter of Brexit. The first lesson is clear: Labour should have supported a soft Norway-style Brexit from the beginning. Having a vision for Brexit, and a better one than the Tories, would allow the left to gain the upper hand in the process and hopefully press a better outcome. Instead, a loud middle class refused to accept the result of the referendum and pursued various fantasies: an insulting second referendum, parliamentary obstruction, independent Scotland, and the like. Turns out, Brexit was the people’s mandate for whatever good or bad reasons. The middle class has been out of touch throughout the process and now finally lost.

As an aside, the reasons the middle class has been cheerleading for Europe are not particularly inspiring. Scotland sees the EU as an ally and a better master than England, and if events unfold in that direction Scotland may be disappointed. London is full of ambitious professionals for whom Europe is their oyster. These are selfish reasons that small-town England can’t identify with. If the story was that the EU is a bastion of democracy or inclusivity or the welfare state that would be something to believe in, but the EU has some time ago stopped being for these things. 

Second, the parties of the left should have formed alliances to win seats in the first past the post system. Elections are not opinion polls. They’re procedures to appoint candidates to positions. The right understands this, but on the left we have to thank the LibDems and the Greens for wasting people’s votes. The LibDems actively undermined Labour with their “anyone but Corbyn” campaign, all to facilitate a Tory win. I think the Greens are well-meaning idealists, but also damaging. If you add up the Labour, LibDem, Green, and SNP votes they’d be a majority. I’d like to check seat-by-seat what difference vote splitting made, but remarkably the UK doesn’t publish detailed election data until months later.

The narrative that Labour should have adopted an unambiguous remain stance doesn’t match the facts. Labour lost seats in traditional labour strongholds who voted Leave, while the LibDems and outspoken Remain politicians outside of Scotland did poorly. We can assume that among Labour’s 10 million vote share was a substantial fraction who wanted Leave but just couldn’t bring themselves to vote Tory. If Labour had taken the advice of Guardian columnists to turn Leave into Remain it would have been obliterated. In short Britain voted wrong today but not in the sense that some of us don’t like the outcome. Those who voted Conservative did it right by their choice. The left voted wrong because it doesn’t know how to use the electoral system to achieve collective decisions.

Third, the shift to the left was necessary but should have been done a different way. In the current media climate of sharp messages and limited attention the left ought to focus on 1-2 rallying policies and a unifying vision. Towards the end of the campaign Labour got it right with the message “save our NHS”, but in the run-up it seemed that they were promising more free stuff every week. That comes across as fake or clientelistic, not least in deprived areas where people voted Brexit out of conviction. A left alliance should have run with a clearer platform like “public health, public education, and no time for racism or prejudice of any sort” like the SNP’s successful messaging in Scotland.

The threat of economic intervention spooked people too. It’s necessary to make housing affordable, health and education once again free, and transport a public good. But how to turn these principles into policies in the era of hyper-capitalism? It’s a longer discussion but I think the left needs to focus less on redistribution or protecting things of the past, more on preventing rises of inequality, more investing in the long-term future. Instead of threatening landlords, tax touristification and AirBnB. Nationalizing rail isn’t a terrible idea but it may be more relevant today to electrify road transport and make it free. Scrap universal credit and tuition fees so people don’t start in debt. Offer education and quality of life, instead of undercut wages, as an attraction to businesses.

The last lesson is that the politics of outrage is a losing strategy. The trouble with declaring that things like Brexit or Trump are “unacceptable” is that they get accepted and then you have no leg to stand on. Time and again the left was sure that voters couldn’t possibly support a clown or a bigot, but it didn’t seem to stop them. The right understands, even celebrates, that real people have flaws and accepts them as leaders. Meanwhile the left is busy calling each other out for being behind on LGBT rights, or whatever is the identity issue of the day. The sad fact is elites don’t care. They care about the larger gender, race, and class divisions which affect the economic pie, and they oppress minorities as a form of hostage taking to exhaust and divide us. Don’t play that game. Fight for equal pay and minority rights will automatically follow.

The left will continue to lose elections until it faces up to electoral results it doesn’t like and offers a better alternative. As for the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, I think he did as well as one could expect and that wasn’t good enough. Corbyn was head and shoulders above others in character and ethos, despite the slander against him, but he didn’t command attention or convince the electorate. I’m guessing the magic that Corbyn didn’t have is the backing of his party. Voters sensed he wasn’t in command of his organization and went for the strongman elsewhere. Too bad. We did not deserve Jeremy Corbyn I guess.

Also, turnout was unremarkable. Slightly lower than the last election. So much for this being a last chance to stop Brexit, avert catastrophe, etc. Clearly despite what you and I might think lots of people simply didn’t care. That must be a good thing, because by definition non-voters are easy to please. If you don’t vote it means you’re content with either outcome.

 

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.

GDPR

The GDPR is now the law across Europe. I don’t like it. I think it’s seriously misguided.

It gives me rights and freedoms that I don’t want or care about. Viscerally as a human I’m not concerned what data others have about me. I don’t presume to know or change it, any more than I could reach into their minds and change their thoughts. If some evil magician gave me that power, I would recoil in horror.

I’m now uselessly informed of every way businesses use data. I can’t read a privacy statement any more. Can you? I can withdraw consent, but the other side can withdraw the service or whatever is their side of the deal. The law doesn’t give me anonymity, or discretion, consumer rights, or anything that I care about.

CCTV is everywhere. The phone company tracks me and my calls are logged. My provider knows where I go on the internet. The law does nothing whatsoever to stop state surveillance. It’s privacy theater.

Abusing the law will be fun. Every time I buy something firms ask for my details. I can immediately serve them a notice to erase the data or face millions in fines. I’m sure it’ll be great for European businesses if everyone does that.

Global firms may decide it’s not worth the risk and cut their services from us. Suddenly I face discrimination because of my citizenship, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Good job!

It’s massive jurisdictional overreach and hugely intrusive to enforce. So is copyright and other “worthy” censorship laws, but we need fewer of these not more.

Terrible legislation. Misguided, and I think miss-sold. The GDPR is last century politics, fighting the STASI, or big bad Google whom citizens don’t want fought on their behalf.

Thoughts for Uncle Sam

Hillary is on the Ballot against Trump. Regardless of who wins, that’s already terrible. The two-party system became a one-party system. There is no choice, no democracy.

Everyone should vote for Hillary, even Republicans. Perhaps Republicans even more so. She’s qualified, she’s strong, she’d be the first woman president.

She’s also hawkish and extremely pro-establishment. That’s probably how the first woman president gets there. This is quite sad. We don’t want the glass ceiling to breed another Angela Merkel or Margaret Thatcher. Can we have Elizabeth Warren instead?

Hillary is also married to Bill. She really is very qualified, but are two of the best equipped people to run the country married to each other? How likely is that? How democratic? About as likely and democratic as the Bush father and son team. We have that in Britain, we call it a royal family.

The good candidate was obviously Sanders and the Democratic party buried him. Probably because he had actual New Deal policies. The interesting election would have been Sanders as an idealist Democrat, Clinton or someone like her as a status-quo Republican. We’ve lost that level of sanity.

Trump is a racist clown. At first when he ran I thought he’d be merely a bad Republican, even more incompetent than Ronald Reagan. Since then he went out of his way to insult everyone and paint himself as a racist, semi-facist, unstable guy totally unfit for the role. His behaviour pretty much compels that no-one vote for him. OK, so don’t vote for him!

I wonder if Trump and the Republican party really are tone-deaf dimwits, or if Trump is a calculated bet to force a one-party system. He goes out of his way to test limits, normalise thuggery, and question freedoms so I think the latter. Trump is not playing to win, he’s bringing about one-party rule, successfully.

What is saddest about Trump is not when he says something outlandishly offensive but when he says something sensible. He says a few sensible things, like let’s not attack Russia. Great idea! Only Trump and Jeffery Sachs (an economist, and adviser to Russia during the transition out of communism) dare say this in public. But because it’s Trump, these points which would make a sensible opposition are tainted and buried.

People say that Trump is how fascism comes to America. Not quite so. It’s how crass hatred and bigotry comes to America. Fascism already came to America with 9/11 and George Bush the son. We already have mass surveillance, extra-judicial indefinite detention, and torture. Snowden and Assange are still exiles. Manning is still in solitary confinement somewhere. Flawed heroes? Loony rebels? How we would think of these people if they were Soviet dissidents.

Fascism and hatred are not the same thing, although they often go together. Fascism is the doctrine of the all knowing, all powerful state that demands full submission from its subjects. Intolerance comes with fascism as part of it’s demand for absolute loyalty. Racism and thuggery are second-rate demons that go along for the ride.

Could Trump win? I don’t know. Unlikely, but a realistic chance. I’d give him about a 25% chance to win. Why so high? Don’t underestimate to what extent the US is about supremacy of white Anglo-Saxon men. In its better moments the US tries to be diverse or inclusive, but you have only to look at black America or the Middle East to see how much it’s still about white supremacy.

Supremacy or even existential survivalism. In the 60s this group would rather blow up all life on Earth than accept an inconvenient political system for a generation or two. Pause to think about that, and then ask can we trust Trump with the nukes? In theory the president is allowed to do wth the nukes as they see fit. I hope that’s not actually so, that sane officers in the US and Russia get to stop the apocalypse.

So Trump may start WW3 by mistake. Clinton is on track to start a war with Russia deliberately. Obviously between the two Clinton with her slow, choking destruction of the Middle East and controlled escalation of hostilities with Russia is the better choice. I mean obviously! Who would want to go into such misadventures carelessly… But really? This is the choice we get?

What do I care about the US election. We all live in the Anglosphere to some extent, I feel if you’re part of the culture you get an opinion. But more materially as Europeans we’ll pay a large fraction of the cost of what the US does. We’d rather not go to war with Russia, they’re people like us. Also last summer hundreds of thousands of refugees passed through our town escaping the destruction of Syria. They’re people like us too.

When I accuse Clinton of being hawkish, it’s not her. The US as a system is on a war path, courting a war with Russia as well as stepping up destruction of the Middle east. Japan is belligerent on the US side. Russia has been re-arming for a decade, and China is asserting itself too. Some form of war is ahead. Why? Probably a shift from unipolar to multipolar power balance, with the US resisting to give up it’s exceptional role. Also, a war would reset financial markets and allow a new cycle of destruction and growth to begin.

If Trump wins, and doesn’t blow us up, he’ll be very unpleasant and otherwise he’ll be like Reagan. A foolish king, while some neocon think-tank actually runs the show. After the shift to the intolerant right becomes norm, they may even paint his eulogy as a great president.

Meanwhile if Hillary wins we’ll have a one-party centre-right, meaning for the rich, system but women, gay people, and non-pale rich people will be allowed in. Syria and the middle east will continue to be destroyed. We’ll have the long-planned low-intensity war with Russia. We’ll have our stock market crash and rebound. I’d rather have Hillary lead us into a dark storm than Trump, no question, but into a dark storm we go.

Please go out today and vote for her…

The two sensible choices

There are two sensible and realistic choices for solving the Euro crisis. The sensible and realistic choices are:

  • Surplus areas like Germany give deficit areas like Greece free money, indefinitely, or,
  • Weak economies like Greece and Spain leave the Eurozone.

These really are the sensible and realistic choices. You need one of these if you want roughly equal purchasing power across the Eurozone. Otherwise, money will flow from unproductive deficit areas to productive surplus areas, people in surplus countries will get steadily richer, people in deficit countries will get continually poorer, and eventually this will come to a head by revolt or other radical means.

Free money recycles this flow, exchange rates stop it. Economically the first is better because more flow of goods and services and money turns the economy forward and makes everyone consume more in aggregate. The latter choice aims for fairness, sacrificing total volume of trade and industry in the process.

Right now we’re still discussing the free money idea. Free money could be given as tax-and-transfer grants like most states do internally, as endless monetary expansion like the US, or by recurrent debt default and restructuring. The only advantage of the third option is it makes a policy look like an accident.

If free money won’t fly, leaving the Eurozone is the choice. Greece should have left the Eurozone… any time from 2001 till tonight would be good. Cynics would say stay until 2011 while the free money vision of Europe looked ascendant, but certainly Greece should have dropped after that. Greece should leave now.

Dropping out of the currency union has only advantages for the weaker economy. The disadvantages for the stronger economy are that it stops the flow of funds from the poor to the rich and removes demand for their exports. Germany selfishly wants the Euro. Greeks are stupidly attached to it because they equate the Euro with the EU and three decades of progress.

There are also a couple of totally fantastical choices that people might believe would fix the Eurozone, but they won’t work.

  • Economies like Germany and Greece become similarly productive any time soon.
  • Regions fix trade imbalances through fiscal discipline and austerity.

These are myths. It would be great if Greece was a bit more prosperous like Germany and that would take a venture investment ethos, congenial labour relations, an orientation to global markets, nourishing a boutique economy, branding, IP rights, stability and democracy. Well, at least Greece has democracy.

Different economies may become more alike, but they won’t become the same. The Mississippi delta is less productive than Silicon Valley and that’s why the meagre social policies of the US transfer funds indefinitely from rich Californians to poor Louisianan’s. Convergence doesn’t remove the need for transfers, it makes them smaller.

As for austerity, austerity is the null policy. Austerity means to just accept the dynamic of unproductive regions being steadily poorer and productive regions being steadily richer without asking for free money to mitigate it. And fiscal discipline means don’t try the free money by monetary expansion or default routes.

Until 2011 it looked like Europe was going to work like a superstate using free money transfers. This would have been better for all, including Germans. This idea now looks dead. Weak economies should ditch the Eurozone, now.