Friday, October 13, 2006

Iraq and the Chain-Store Paradox of Power

A Chain-Store paradox is the game theory result for an incumbent firm has a series of branches in different towns. In each of these towns there is a potential competitor. If this competitor chooses to enter the market the incumbent can either opt to behave cooperatively or behave aggresively, for example by attempting to start a price war with the entrant. The incumbent is best off if the potential competitor does not enter his market but if they do then he will be better off cooperating rather than behaving aggresively.

This scenario can play out only one way if all the parties are behaving rationally. The entrants all, via backwards induction, know that if they enter it will not be in the interests of the incumbent to challenge them. As a result, they will all enter. The only way for the incumbent to win is if he can establish credibly that he is irrational; establish that he will behave aggresively in response to market entry regardless of the result in that particular case. If this can be established then the potential entrants will stay away from his markets and he will be far better off.

Connecting this to the dynamics of geo-political power is easily done through a historical example: The Byzantine Empire faced threats from various Turkish border warlords to its borders who gradually chipped away at its territory. It possessed a powerful Imperial Army which had crushed its enemies in the past but did not deploy it on any significant scale to stop the rot. Each of the individual warlords would advance a little and, given that the Byzantine military power was occupied in other conflicts and a waning force, it would never be rational of the Empire to stop them. In the end it lost its Anatolian breadbasket and, when the conquerors came for Constantinople, was such a depleted force that it could not resist its enemies.

The Iraq war could have been the perfect chance to establish the credibility that we would destroy those who behave as our enemies. While the ten year gap between the major abuses of the Saddam regime and its destruction may have infuriated those who opposed the war they only increased its value as a deterrent as it established that even if you thought you could avoid American retribution in the short term you would always have to fear it as a sword of Damocles waiting to punish you for your temerity. This would have given the most lunatic of dictators pause when considering whether to infringe upon the interests of the US in the future; they usually possess something of an instict for self-preservation. Equally, it should have appeared clear from the frequent newsreports filed while wearing chemical warfare gear that the coalition of the willing was even willing to charge down weapons of mass destruction.

The Iraq War has clearly not had a deterrent effect. If it had Iran and North Korea wouldn't be playing us for fools as they now are. What went wrong?

I do not think that it was actually the most obvious failing, the human cost of chaos and violence in Iraq today, that was most important. It is of great humanitarian interest whether we can make the state of Iraq work but is probably not terribly relevant to our national interest. The idea that we would be loved for our actions in Iraq was never particularly credible; even when Iraqis were dancing on statues of their reviled dictator we were still considered out of line. That the 9/11 bombers were recruited by shocking them with offences committed against Muslims in Bosnia, where the US and Europe fought on their side, should be enough to demonstrate that these sentiments are fickle; whether we are feared is more important than whether we are loved.

Equally, Iraq has not militarily weakened us enough to make future action impossible and those who say that it has are being narrow minded. If we were to want to invade Iran tomorrow we could certainly find the troops, we could even take them from Iraq with the damage being to the people of Iraq rather than ourselves. While Iran might be able to raise hell in Iraq in response to our attack again this would hurt the humanitarian situation in Iraq which could be separated from our own interests if we were hard headed.

I think the greater problem that has emerged from Iraq, and postwar incompetence, is that it exhausted the political will for military action. Michael Gove, one of the most articulate and hawkish voices in contemporary British politics, has admitted that this is true for the UK and for all the bluster about keeping the option of military action on the table I think it is probably true of the US too. The main effect of post war chaos has been to further diminish the political will to act in future crises. I may be proved wrong on Iran, particularly with a new US president without the stink of the troubles in Iraq on his clothing. However, even if we do wind up taking action in that case it must now be clear to everyone, including our enemies, that the West as a whole, and not just Old Europe, has an extremely limited will to defend its interests relative to its military and economic might.

As such, while we might have hoped that Iraq would demonstrate our strength in fact it demonstrated our weakness.

This is unfortunate as Western power is emphatically a good thing for human progress. Those who focus on the misdeeds of the West in deposing Latin American socialists or funding vicious Arabs to fight the Soviet Empire miss the bigger picture of what Western power means. Western power is what defends that body of countries, making up a decent proportion of the worlds population nowadays, who have escaped the cycle of political power as an extension of murderous family politics, established economies which can protect their people from Malthusian crisis and widen their people's horizons with education and pervasive information. Getting rich and stable without the strength of the West to keep order just makes you a better target, the unfortunate fate of Kuwait. That some states get caught in the crossfire of our struggles with our enemies is regrettable but does not make that struggle less worthwhile.

However, it is, to a certain extent, dependent upon a bluff. Comfortable Western societies have the military power and the expertise but they lack the demographic growth and have too much to lose to defend the international order through force of arms alone; they will not lightly sacrifice the comfort of a peace time economy. Convincing our enemies that opposing us is not worth the risk is what allows us to avoid serious guns versus butter questions.

That bluff has now been exposed and is being called by Iran and North Korea. While we have the military power to remove just about any regime on Earth in a month we lack the will to exert that power. Now, thanks to the war in Iraq, everyone knows it.

Sion Simon

Monty flags up an interesting interview with Sion Simon about his 'satire' of webcameron.

He filled this Sky interview with repeated terms like"self evidently" clearly designed to avoid any need to engage his, hardly overworked but unfit for purpose, brain in the challenge of rational thought. Webcameron is quite an expansive, and clearly expensive, web effort and it does not seem remotely "self evident" that it is not a serious attempt to use the medium. When Sion Simon says "self evident" what he actually means is that he has no ability to independently reason but has decided that he dislikes Tories so all they do must, "self evidently", be bad.

It was as if someone had accussed him of being illiterate and he was trying to respond with some big words he found in the dictionary; "egregious". Also, his reaction to the argument that a sketch with his David Cameron-alike pimping his wife was a little distasteful and crude had all the hallmarks of a man who had prepared his stupid answer in advance. He got angry and asked the interviewer to "let [him] finish" repeatedly when she wasn't being remotely overbearing. This anger was supposed to be because he was about to explain his position but, when given the chance, he didn't explain anything but instead just stated his position and then attacked his critics with a lame ad hominem.

The original video is just not funny. Its the cringeworthy effort of a limited imagination.

This man is clearly an utter tit. These people are imposed on the British people by the Labour party in disturbing numbers. What kind of selection procedure could allow such a man, and others like him, through to sit in Parliament?

I suspect he came from student politics. I certainly met enough people of such limited faculties on the student left. Thanks to their majority status at university, where a lot of people first start to think seriously about politics, they can avoid opposing viewpoints and the idiots are never exposed in debate. They never have the trial by fire right wingers face from constantly having to engage with our opponents. This leaves us accustomed to thinking about our beliefs and defending them with more persuasive rhetoric than repeating "self evident" and "egregious" till the person you are talking to gives up.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More thoughts on North Korea: Expanded Deterrence versus Air Strikes

Last night I wrote a lengthy piece about North Korea, how we got where we are and assessing the different possible ways we might respond from Missile Defence to Economic Sanctions. Since then a friend has suggested another possibility, a credible way to live with a North Korean nuke; this is expanded deterrence. In this post I'm going to first discuss why I do not think this will work and then move on to put some detail on how I think airstrikes are likely to play out.

The idea of expanded deterrence, set out in this brilliant American Academy article which also highlights just how plausible nuclear terrorism is, is that we expand our capabilities in nuclear forensics so that we can hold Iran or North Korea to account if they supply weapons to those who then use them against us. The problem I have with this is that I'm inclined to believe that if a terrorist nuked us and we were less than 100% sure it was a North Korean weapon or took longer than a few weeks or months to establish it was North Korean we might well not nuke North Korea.

Forensics would need to be not just good but rock solid. It would also probably need to be instant. Retaliating to incoming enemy missiles in a Cold War style confrontation is credible because it is done in the heat of the moment before the missiles hit or while they are hitting. However, could we decide to blow up every North Korean in the cold light of day without the slightest pretence it would prevent those we lost dying or bring them back? It would be morally monstrous.

That is the essence of deterrence; you need to establish your own irrationality (the acronym MAD was appropriate). That irrationality is credible during the heat of a nuclear war but not so credible some time after a strike. Of course it is entirely plausible we would react but I think there is too much doubt and I don't know how we can remove that doubt and make deterrence credible.

A state which we cannot credibly deter possessing nuclear weapons is as close to an absolutely unnacceptable strategic result as can be imagined. So, if expanded deterrence is not an appropriate policy, along with others like economic sanctions as I set out last night, how will air strikes play out?

I think that the first step would be to set a deadline of something like a month for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme and allow some form of international monitoring. I would expect them to refuse this request but the month gives us enough time to move a lot of military power, mainly airpower, to the area. I believe that this power is still available to us, it is troops that we are short of. If they back down, as Daniel Freedman expects them to, then we have a fantastic result and have illustrated our resolve without too much human cost. If they do not then we begin strikes.

I am not sure what their targets should be, this article suggests that we can do significant damage to the nuclear programme, but the targets available to us may well be limited. Other than that priority just hit every military or regime target you can find. You will have a similar result to that in Serbia but without an ongoing massacre of Kosovans. Our casualties will most likely be light and the collateral damage need not be too vast. Eventually, North Korea will have to back down or retaliate.

The big danger is that North Korea retaliates with its stock of about 100 missiles which can hit Japan or artillery and scuds that can hit South Korea. This is what makes this option deeply ugly and a least bad. If North Korea retaliates it can do vast damage and an awful lot of people die in what could become a serious bombing of Seoul and Tokyo or even a second Korean War.

However, it is important to note that there is something to be said for having the USAF on hand if it does come to this. If we try something like economic sanctions there is a smaller chance of North Korea risking war but if they do it will take us time to get significant military power in place to defend the South. If we are striking North Korea then we will have a running start in coming to our ally's aid. Sensible military plans should include preparation for the possibility that the need emerges to reorient our military force very quickly. We would wind up using the South Koreans as a kind of Northern Alliance in a reprise of the strategy which won the war, if not the peace, in Afghanistan.

I think that China's response to military strikes will not amount to much. They will not risk economic sanctions against us as they have far more to lose from such disruption than we do. An economic downturn does not endanger our system of government. Equally, if a war does start then, in order to curtail a flow of refugees, it will be in their interests to see it end quickly. All of the great guerilla wars, Vietnam, Iraq relied upon outside support and I do not expect this to be forthcoming in North Korea.

Finally, the human costs of a military option, and its attendant risk of a full scale war, need to be weighed against both the yearly human cost of the death and suffering in the world's last Stalinist state. The other cost of the status quo is the possibility of a violent collapse without our intervention either in response to outside pressure from economic sanctions or from the regime's own opaque inner workings. The expected deaths or expected misery calculation for the risk of a full blown war needs to be balanced against the costs and risks of the status quo.

In conclusion, I accept that there are huge risks to military strikes but I do not believe we can effectively manage the risk of a nuclear North Korea. Military strikes are the most credible response open to us and can be effective. Unfortunately, as I described last night, I do not expect that anything remotely that forceful is coming. I expect that we'll get some form of mild economic sanction and then a lot more prevarication until North Korea gets a workable nuclear bomb. The world will then become a scarier place.

North Korea

There seems to be quite a lot of discussion in the US about who needs to be blamed for the failure to prevent North Korea gaining nuclear weapons. The conservative response is to call Clinton's Agreed Framework a joke and argue that this was the crucial failure; this essentially consists of posting up this picture as often as they can. By contrast, liberals are describing this as a failure of the Bush administration thanks to its abandonment of the Agreed Framework. To my mind the Bush administration was faced with two unpleasant but plausibly effective options; fighting or appeasing. The first would probably involve massive casualties to all concerned or just to the North Korean civilians if it took the form of economic sanctions but would establish a credible cost to defying us. The second could only delay the bomb as Uranium enrichment was still allowed and went against the natural inclinations of a tough talking President but would probably have meant that we would not have had a test yet.

The big problem was that they chose a third option that could never be effective. Talk tough but do nothing. This was a result of other priorities following 9/11, the fact no one would offer a course of action they could claim would be anything but a least bad (there was no 'send a small army and be greeted with flowers' plan) and uncertainty regarding how to balance confronting North Korea with keeping South Korea on side. This is a similar problem to that in Iran but, for better or worse, without European nations who aren't too proud to talk. The line in the New York Sun blog that having them negotiate with Iran was a favour to the European nations is demonstrated as ridiculous if you think about whether allowing Australia to take the North Korean issue would be a favour as well.

However, there is only a limited function to discussing how we got here. A more important question is what we do next. Frum, in a much better article than the one I discussed earlier, gives a three point plan:

1) Speed up the work on missile defence: Alykhan tells me that with layers of different missile defence solutions this can be effective but I'm yet to be convinced. Brecher has a good sceptical view of the state of missile defence. Either way, I think the North Koreans can be confident that we are infinitely less likely to invade if they're threatening to nuke Tokyo so our missile defence, while it could be important for our defence, doesn't mitigate the effects on the region of a nuclear armed North Korea.

2) End economic aid to North Korea: a major reservation I have is over how effective it is likely to be with a regime that we know has starved hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of its people to death before and has neither collapsed nor apparently been sobered by that experience. Also, how important is Western aid? I'm led to believe that most of the aid to the DPRK comes from China. Finally, there is something deeply immoral about economic sanctions; they are the modern form of WWII strategic bombing, designed to hurt your enemies civilians until their leadership surrenders from the heartbreak of it all, and have roughly the same record of failure.

3) Bring East Asian countries into NATO: this sounds like a good idea to make our involvement in any war they initiate in the future assured and thereby make deterrence more credible. However, I doubt it would have the effect Frum argues it would in effectively punishing China. They are opposing North Korea's nuclear programme, the problem is that they are dragging their feet, and are likely to see us taking action to square off with them as unjustified and provocative; this will most likely make them less rather than more co-operative.

One possibility is that the test was either a fake or failed. There are varied accounts of the size of the blast from seismic data and Alykhan sees the rationale to faking it from the perspective of scientists wanting to please the Dear Leader. Regardless of this the nuclear weapon is still some distance from being usable. Most of the Manhattan project, after all, was not about producing a bomb but producing one which could be deployed as a bomb. This makes some form of military action more plausible.

Simon Jenkins is arguing for air strikes as an effective and less destructive response than economic sanctions with a populace that will starve so quickly. I have found his articles strikingly bad recently but his argument here is remarkably cogent when it sticks to North Korea. A big question is whether we can do anything to his missile and nuclear production sites, there has been a lot of study of the feasibility of air strikes against Iran but I know of no such study on North Korea. There is also a possibility Simon Jenkins does not discuss in his article, that North Korea might respond by attacking the South. However, it remains the most credible response which might prevent North Korea becoming a nuclear power and make Iran think twice.

So, at the end of this quick survey of what has happened, is happening and could happen in North Korea I think the most plausible response left is that of airstrikes. However, I do not expect this, or much else, to happen. The failures in the postwar management of Iraq have left further military entanglements politically unfeasible. I expect that both North Korea and Iran will both wind up with nuclear weapons and the West will, in the end, prevaricate and do nothing.

A theme I will develop in a big post at some point is that the chain store paradox of power, deterrence, could have been well served by invading Iraq and demonstrating that we would not stand for those who defy our will and pursue courses of action which threaten the international order. However, our obvious failure in the postwar period has given our populations the false impression that foreign interventions must be Vietnam and made wars impossible at least until there is a new US President who can separate himself from the perception of incompetence hanging over this one. Iran and North Korea understand this and it underlies the rationale behind their nuclear weapons programmes.

To conclude, this crisis came about thanks to a failure to face up to the situation despite loud proclamations of its gravity. The best solution is to end that prevarication and demonstrate that the West is no paper tiger. However, I do not expect this to happen.

David Frum being shallow

- Tax cuts? No.
Announcing tax cuts now while in opposition years from an election? No.
- More public money for government-monopoly health care? Yes.
While I'm not sure about Cameron's policy on the NHS this is a total mischaracterisation. He has said he will fund it properly but has never said anything about the amount of Conservative spending compared to Labour plans.
- Same-sex marriage? Enthusiastically yes.
Sure. Welcome to the 20th century.
- Big supermarkets? Offenders against the environment.
This is an example of a key plank of Cameron's policy prescription?
- Kyoto Accord. Absolutely.
- Terrorism? Close Guantanamo.
Following the line of that noted Communist McCain.
- Illegal immigration? Don't talk about it.
Absolutely. This is something to deal with when forming policy but at the moment Cameron is setting the philosophical direction of his leadership rather than the actual plans. With many years till the next election this is entirely sensible.
- Israel's response to Hezbollah's rocket attacks? Disproportionate.
- George W. Bush? No friend of ours.
That's just not true. Cameron has said that Britain needs to be supportive not slavish in the special relationship. Nothing he has said has suggested Britain should not be a friend of the US.

Sure there are some policies I'm not sure of in this list but it just isn't a picture of the priorities Cameron is setting out for the Conservative party. Instead of setting up a strawman of Leftie Cameron Frum could have addressed the meat of Cameron's speeches over the conference or since his leadership. He could have discussed whether the personal responsibility agenda was an plausible one, I wonder why he didn't?
"David Cameron's stress on social not, as unsophisticated critics imagine, a leftwards shift from liberty to equality. Cameron is not proposing an extension of state power. He is proposing an extension of social power, a move in favour of the voluntary institutions--the 'social enterprises'--that exist in neighbourhoods themselves."

What does this mean? Who knows. Its incomprehensibility is its point."
Oh, because he can't understand a fairly simple sentence. What is so complex about a move towards voluntary organisations and other social efforts in place of state power as solutions to problems the British public wants to hear their political parties address?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

18 Doughty Street's First Night

I was out debating North Korea and then drinking last night but I have since managed to 'Stream Again' the evening's programming and am very impressed.

The first programme was a little faltering. I wasn't quite convinced that the two speakers really had much to offer on the subjects at hand. Also, I agree with whoever e-mailed in that the palms were a little intrusive; a little pruning might be needed. Still it was nice to see the first evidence of an interview technique which was based on listening to the interviewee rather than showcasing the interviewer's cynicism.

The foreign policy section was excellent. Oliver Kamm proved as brilliant on TV as he always is in writing and the other guests all had something to contribute. I was a little dissapointed that the speaker against neo-conservatism couldn't do a better job explaining the conservative challenge but given the quality of neo-con thought on display he was facing a hard task.

Vox Politix was also good. It wasn't as high minded as the foreign affairs piece or the John Howard interview but still interesting. The one change I would hope for in future is that it feature a little more disagreement. At times it seemed that they would move on, out of some sense of politeness, when they hit issues they seriously disagreed on and Iain would have done well to encourage them to debate.

The interview with John Howard was brilliant. The set up with two speakers commenting after his discussion gave interesting perspectives. It felt like a love-in at first accustomed, as I think we all are now, to the Paxman style but it was informative, made the most of the opportunity of the interview and gave us a great insight into his views. It trusted to a grown up audience to decide what they disagree with for themselves.

The final programme was a nice, informal end to the programming. They remarked that it had been a right wing evening; I hope they don't panic at the right wing balance of this first night. There is nothing wrong with being balanced towards the right wing so long as you remain open minded and engage across the ideological spectrum.

I think it was a hugely promising first night and, if some of the rough edges can be ironed out, points to a great future for the channel.

Are the Conservatives a party? Yes.

Damn your principles! Stick to your party - Benjamin Disraeli
Samizdata has an article by Paul Marks, which I came across through the Kitchen, attempting to describe how the Conservative Party is not really a party at all thanks to its lack of principle. He has two central themes:
  1. Parties are creatures of principle.
  2. The Conservatives are not Eurosceptic and, as such, have no principles.
The first point is misconceived. Parties must have some common ground, some principle, to form themselves around, however, they are clearly not the model one would choose were we interested primarily in maintaining our principles. Only independents can be principled. Anyone who joins a party must necessarily moderate their views if they are to form a common platform.

Parties are, rather, an agent for moderation. Their function is to form people into coalitions of those who are willing to put their similarities ahead of their differences. A fine example is David Davis who is now emphatically supporting the Cameron changes in the Conservative party. This is not because he is some grubby chaser of votes but because his differences with Cameron, over the timeline to the announcement of tax cuts for example, matter less to him than the similarities. This moderation is essential with the need to build popular will behind a legislative programme which will not, and should not, give anyone all of what they want.

Here we move on to the second point. The similarities which keep Davis on board are old Conservative themes: an emphasis on personal responsibility, an assertive, Atlanticist foreign policy, a distrust of state spending as a panacea for social problems, valuing the family and pride in Britain's role in the world. They are the same sorts of common values which also mean that I, having voted for Cameron, would have remained a loyal Conservative had Davis or Fox won the leadership.

All of these themes were a part of Cameron's keynote speech and the Conservative conference. By contrast, there is no reason to see policy towards the EU as so crucial. There is no way that the Conservatives are necessarily against the notion of engaging internationally; we began as an imperial party. Of course, the style of our engagement has changed but this would seem more a result of the world changing than the party. The EU is far from the only treaty we are signed up to and most of the serious treaties involve some compromise of sovereignty. There are obviously problems with the EU but there are also areas where Cameron has pledged to emphasise British rather than European solutions; moving towards a UK bill of rights to replace the Human Rights Act for example.

I have discussed before how those in favour of EU independence need to acknowledge that it is an issue on which reasonable people can differ. It is important to note that the fairly radical plan I outlined in a post over the weekend for changing Britain's policy could be implemented without leaving the EU; the EU does not dominate our decision making to the extent its opponents alledge. Equally, the line that Britain cannot change the EU for the better as it has been trying since it joined and has failed is unconvincing. It entered in a weak position being a latecomer to a club whose central partnership had already been established. Recently it has done significantly better with the accession of new members constituting not just a nation building success but a boost to the idea of Europe as a looser kind of union.

The ability of the Conservatives to adjust their political approach, as Cameron is, without endangering their coalition is a testament to a strong set of central beliefs in the party not its weakness. We have never proven wrong on matters of principle in the way that the Labour left were in the 1980s over nationalisation. The Conservatives are certainly a party and a great one.

Good old Salman Rushdie

"Speaking as somebody with three sisters and a very largely female Muslim family, there's not a single woman I know in my family or in their friends who would have accepted wearing the veil.

I think the battle against the veil has been a long and continuing battle against the limitation of women, so in that sense I'm completely on [Straw's] side.

He was expressing an important opinion, which is that veils suck, which they do. I think the veil is a way of taking power away from women."

The Guardian reports that Omar Bakri Muhammad has "said Rushdie was an apostate whose life was still in danger."

Despite knowing as well as anyone the danger he could place himself in by speaking against the taboos Islamists enshrine through threats of violence, Salman Rushdie just won't stop speaking out.

I've never read the Satanic Verses, its content doesn't seem important to the debate over whether it is legitimate that the views contained be expressed and I always have a busy reading list, but I think I will now. It seems like a fine time to send a little royalty money Rushdie's way. Also, why has the distasteful Sir Iqbal 'death would be too good' Sacranie been given a knighthood and Rushdie not been similarly honoured? Standing up for your right to free speech when so many others have folded or kept quiet has huge positive externalities and deserves recognition.

Of course, as far as Rushdie himself goes there probably isn't any real need for my strange form of donation or official recognition. Salman Rushdie seems happy despite the risk he faces, the picture the Evening Standard chose to accompany the article gives centre stage to his stunning wife and he is, I believe, quite wealthy. Well deserved.

The Campaign ad too strong for the Republicans

Considering the ads that its candidates have run when an ad is too strong for the Republican party you know it is going to be special. This, via the New York Sun blog, is truly special:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The term Londonistan has become something of a cliché which is misleading to anyone trying to understand the geographical extent of the problem. While London is the prime target the 7/7 bombers came from Leeds and the most recent plot was uncovered in Manchester. The confrontation between our intelligence services and the police and violent Islamic extremists is taking place across the UK.

The less violent version of this clash between mainstream British society and Islamic radicals is also found both in London, with the protests at speeches by the Pope or refusals by police officers to guard the Israeli embassy, and, increasingly, in the rest of the country. What is interesting, and new as far as I know, is that this clash is becoming a serious issue even in bastions of Middle England such as Windsor. From this, fairly small, town there are a couple of big recent cases:

1) Soldiers of the Household Cavalry, returning from Afghanistan, have had bricks thrown through their windows and angry messages written on their property. They also received phone death threats. In the end Army leadership advised them to move elsewhere to avoid causing trouble so near the Windsor Castle home of the Queen. This was quite a big story which reached the national news and the Sun report describes it well.

2) This Sceptered Isle highlights riots between gangs of white and Asian youths in Windsor. The Ascot, Windsor & Eton Express reports that the disturbance began with growing local frustration at the Dairy's use, and clogging, of a residential road. The dispute grew with an application to use part of the venue as an "Islamic education and community centre". Locals do not like the idea as it would further congest a residential area but apparently it has already been converted to that use before the application has gone through.

It turned ugly with reports that the "security guards from the dairy are aggressive and abusive to mums collecting their kids from school. They won't let anyone down Shirley avenue because they say it's their land." Another woman alledges that she was beaten with a lead pipe by men from the Islamic centre and her car smashed up while going to check on her son during disturbances in the area as white and Asian gangs squared off.

There has since been a petrol bombing of the dairy and arrests for public order offences and possession of offensive weapons. Now the police have been given the ability to put dispersal orders in place under anti-social behaviour legislation.

There is a symbolic importance to Windsor. As Britons we are all subjects of the House of Windsor; any confrontation there has tones of Stalingrad. However, it is more important as a sign that the confrontation over the British Muslim community's proper relationship with the rest of Britain is not going to be confined to the Northern Cities and the poorer parts of London.

While the confrontation was taking place there it was closeted away from the middle classes who are most populous in the Home Counties and dominate the British political discourse. Like the case of the taxi driver who would not take a guide dog because it was 'unclean' but got unlucky and had picked a legal officer for the Royal National Institute for the Blind these stories in Windsor make the failure in integration increasingly relevant to the politically important.

There is a growing fear in Britain that 'no-go areas' are developing which the Muslim community claims as its own and can segregate off from the rest of the country. This could probably have worked well for those who want to cut British Muslims off from their fellow citizens had it been limited to the traditional areas in which the British have always benignly neglected immigrant communities such as the East End of London. The problem may have been ignored for some time until it eventually became apparent that the process of steady assimilation was not going as well as it has for previous waves of migrants.

However, tangle with the British middle class on their home ground and there will be a reaction far more quickly. The shape of that reaction has yet to be decided. Hopefully, it won't be internment but there is an increasing chance it will be something stronger than we might have expected a year or so ago.

We're all victims now

Mr. Eugenides points to the Times report of a Civitas study on the number of people who are a part of some kind of victim group (female, gay, ethnic, disabled, elderly). Apparently it is now up to 73%.

I am a part of no victim group. As a part of the white, male, able-boded and straight community I am beginning to feel a little left out. I'm sure someone is discrimating against us.

Actually, how many white, male, able-bodied, straight people do you see working in your average theatre? Disgusting.

There is a Simpsons quote which seems relevant:
"I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

Monday, October 09, 2006

UKIP and 'train set politics'

The UKIP are in something of an internal mess thanks to, as I have noted before, their party containing far too many of those who are not quite up to making it in mainstream politics. A first past the post system is always going to give a major advantage to the biggest parties and this should ensure that compromise happens within the major parties before an election rather than through averaging out the view of voters in negotiation afterwards as is done with messy consequences in countries such as Germany.

If the UKIP's logic that EU membership is an absolute wrong as a violation of our sovereignty is correct, I do not share this view as I'm not sure it is qualitatively different to the UN in this regard, then compromise with a Tory party which does not agree to leave the EU right now is impossible. This would make the UKIP a good idea as a point of principle.

However, as a mechanism to influence the mainstream political balance it is likely to do more harm than good in euronihilist terms. It weakens the relatively eurosceptic position by splitting the vote. It isn't even likely to successfully threaten the Tories into going more eurosceptic as that will be more than balanced out by distancing a large number of those most enthusiastic for leaving the EU from the internal debate within the party.

Their flat tax policy was an exercise in what I like to call 'train set politics'. It is constructed without much regard to transition or implementation as the UKIP is never going to have to put any of this into practice. You can tell this from the distinctly glib response to the threat of a fiscal imbalance. Planning for a deficit thanks to tax changes at a time when there is a looming challenge to fiscal policy from growing numbers of old people is a distinctly poor idea.

If you are going to do train set politics then do it right. Don't start from current spending priorities and then work out what you can cut. It sounds negative and the word cut in particular sounds unpleasant. Start from zero and play God properly. The rest of this article is my best effort, after about an hour or so's hunting down some figures, at a fiscal policy. As such, if there are errors or miscalculations please forgive me.

Alistair Heath's research into the flat tax isn't exactly designed for my purposes but by my calculation from its numbers we have roughly £507.5bn to work with if we were to implement it this year. This sum may change in the future but the basic gist with respect to the rest of the economy will remain the same in the short run. This means significant tax savings for all income levels but particularly for those on lower incomes combined with a significant number of people being taken out of tax altogether (up to a £9000 income). The dynamic effects of this can be expected to lead to a significant increase in revenue quite quickly as such shifts to a low tax economy tend to but I'm not going to rely on that. You could think about that as around £60bn of tax cuts but it is a lot more fun to think of it as £507.5bn to play with. So, how do we spend just under £510bn?

Divide it the following way:

£60bn - just over double the defence budget so we can have a bigger army, equip it better and will have the military to match our foreign policy ambitions.

£70bn - just over double the public order budget to pay for more prisons, police officers and the resources to properly defend property rights, keep order and protect vulnerable communities from criminality.

£30bn - to cover our debt interest payments... can't be avoided.

£30bn - for a substantial boost to the transport budget which is needed in the short term although should be targetted to fall sharply in the medium term with privatisations of the motorway network and other changes.

£1bn - for democratic institutions.

£20bn - for environmental services (this is currently the housing and environment budget). More research is needed into this item but my guess is it can't be removed.

£30bn - to put into a 'vulnerable people's fund' which could be distributed to those, I would expect a relatively small number in the end, who cannot work and for whom the main benefit below really isn't enough. If that amounts to about 6 million people (10% of the population) they can be allotted around £5,000 (to over double their basic income) each but the true amount would probably be more concentrated (a smaller number of people receiving more). A large part of the initial cost is likely to be pensioners who haven't adjusted to the new system and have not saved at all.

£4441.66 x 60m = £266.5bn to pay £4441.66 to every man, woman and child in the UK. This provides them with a basic income and serves to replace unemployment benefit (under £3200 at the maximum rate), the minimum wage (everyone gets this) and current state spending on services. Living only on the £4441 would not be comfortable as it is not a lot and there will be additional costs such as healthcare which are currently paid by the state which would need to be funded out of that money but being unemployed isn't comfortable in the status quo and is an ugly situation to be in regardless of the material results.

Note that this leaves people paying income tax from a private income of £9000 plus the basic income of £4441; they will pay income tax from a total income of £13441 and up.

You then mandate that people have health insurance of some kind and children have education up to standards set by a regulator. This can be covered for the poor out of their basic income as set out above. If someone is completely unemployed they may be in a slightly tighter spot than they are now after the cost of public services but not by a lot and thanks to the complete absence of a poverty trap (they don't lose benefits when they start earning) any extra money they can earn doing odd jobs can supplement this so fewer will be trapped in complete unemployment by the prospect of losing benefits if they start work.

Such a system would leave the state ensuring that everyone can afford basic services and providing a safety net. It would do as little as possible to weaken incentives to work and increase your income. It would provide the finances to law enforcement and the military to ensure that no one could abuse its citizens and that it could play a full part in ensuring the stability of the wider world. Would be fun wouldn't it?

The UKIP are welcome to copy this and it will serve them better than their current scheme. However, I would suggest to them that the pragmatism and moderation required to engage with the Conservative party, even if they would prefer a stronger ideological flavour than the current leadership, is, perhaps, worth the effort and will allow them to spend their time more productively.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Those Crazy Danes

Dizzy highlights new video which has surfaced of the Danish People's Party's youth wing having a "Draw Mohammed" competition. They may be unpleasant people but at least they're not being cowed into silence like the rest of the us; when even South Park can't show Mohammed there is a problem.

The text from 'Defending Denmark', who posted this clip, is quite funny. A combination of the idea that drawing cartoons of Mohammed automatically means the cartoonists are 'far right' (there are much better grounds to worry about the People's Party) and FREE workshops in constructive communication which sound wrist slittingly bad. The clip Dizzy links to isn't the best so take a look at this one, if you're not too offended by cartoons of Mohammed or the sight of Danes:

The War Nerd on Venezuelan Arms Deals

The War Nerd is arguing here that the arms that Chavez has been buying, chiefly fighter jets, are massively ill suited to fighting a war against the US and are, instead, designed to build up a body of soldiers he considers more loyal. As such, this purchase suggests he fears his own military more than he does ours.

I think this analysis is strong but I think that it underestimates the degree to which Chavez wants fighter jets for no military reason but rather because modern fighter jets are visibly costly and create a clear impression of a man with money to spend. All of the reasons that Brecher cites for fighter jets being impractical strengthen their value as a visible indicator of his wealth and power.


Turns out it was a conference season blip...