Friday, December 29, 2006

"Being Muslim: A Groundwork Guide" by Haroon Siddiqui

I often find that reading or arguing with an opinion I completely disagree with can be as conducive to clear thinking on my own beliefs as reading a persuasive account of my own views. This book was something of a whitewash of Muslim behaviour while overexaggerating the West's influence when he accepted that things do go wrong in the Muslim world. A recurring example of this was the almost total responsibility for Saudi Arabia given to the United States. There are rather too many important mistakes in this book for a comprehensive fisking to be helpful so I'll describe some common misdirections instead. I'll also leave out the discussion of Islam's older history as it takes a long time to analyse and is less important than the parts about the present and recent events.

His style somewhat grates as it is very heavy on rhetorical questions. This tends to be used to cover up for rather tenuous assertions. The first example to hand, he takes the statement which does, indeed, preface some articles my moderate Muslims "I am a Muslim but I am not a fundamentalist Muslim" and follows it with "(Do Christians say "I am a Christian but I am not an evangelical Christian?")". The answer to this question is that, in discussions where they defend the majority Christians as moderates, many do say just that. These rhetorical questions are not designed to be genuinely thought about but to encourage outrage and they are rarely helpful.

He also blows some, rather trivial, Western criticisms of Islam, such as that Mohammed's marriage to an underaged wife was immoral, way out of proportion into a caricature of obsession. If this obsession does exist in the Western media I have not seen it and the only time I have seen the issue of Mohammad's marriage come up is in connection with the discussion about Mohammed following the Danish Cartoons crisis as people try to build a balanced picture of the man being discussed.

His biggest error though was in his assessment of what was going wrong in the Western engagement with European Muslims. His contention was that the main Muslim grievance was Western foreign policy and that the demonstrations over the Satanic Verses and the Danish Cartoon crisis were largely legitimate responses to a serious offence.

His response to the threats and violence over the Satanic Verses and Danish Cartoons was the fatuous line that I've heard before from an associate of Hizb ut Tahrir. He argues that it is legitimate to argue that freedom of speech does have limits. This is correct but he does nothing beyond arguing that they involve a mischaracterisation of Muhammed to argue that either the Satanic Verses or the Danish Cartoons were beyond a sensible limit. A common bar to that limit is the encouragement of violence which neither offence can be construed as doing. His other strategy was to argue that these are exceptional cases but this is also not true as South Park's censorship and the other Dutch cases which sparked Jyllands-Posten to act attest.

Equally, the bigger problem wasn't that the Muslim demonstrators were wrong but that there were far too many Muslims threatening violence in an attempt to get their way in policy. If the extent of free speech is decided not by rational debate and democratic choice then speech is not free and an awful incentive is set up to use this threat more regularly. This is an existential threat to free speech. It is a particular problem for public policy, and distinct from other violations of free speech such as holocaust denial laws, because it cannot be challenged through democratic means which means it can only be confronted through defiance, as Jyllands-Posten attempted, or through draconian security measures.

A similar critique applies to his judgement that much Muslim discontent is due to foreign policy. Disagreeing with foreign policy is fine but a community becomes dangerous when it cannot accept that the decision on foreign policy by the country they live in belongs to its government. Equally, it is unfortunate that the Muslim population takes any attack on someone who is a Muslim as an attack upon themselves. Saddam attacked Muslims as much as Milosevic did so why, the quality of execution of the war aside, is an attempt to remove him, which would prevent him doing this further, any less pro-Muslim than our actions in Kosovo or Bosnia which, he believes were received gratefully?

I also challenge his assertion that all was well before the Iraq war apart from Israel-Palestine. We know that many of the 9/11 bombers were recruited with stories of abuses in Bosnia despite that being a war the US was on the "Muslim" side of; this would not appear to be a response to genuine foreign policy grievances with the West. The vigil post-9/11 in Tehran which he mentions is also far from representative as many in 'Muslim lands' celebrated the attacks.

Finally, we come to the Quranic link to violence which he argues does not exist as the verses often quoted are, when read in context, only supportive of violence if the faith is under attack. The problem is that too many Muslims have a very low bar to seeing things as an attack upon their faith. If a cartoon showing Muhammad in a compromising position or a war against a majority Muslim nation, unfortunate in its leaders, abroad are attacks on a Muslim's faith then the religion clearly does become a deeply violent one.

This leaves the most serious problem with Muslims in the West being that an intense and often misguided sensitivity to attacks on the faith leaves many Muslims vulnerable to an understanding that the Quran's calls to violence are applicable in the West today. This then feeds, in a minority, into a lack of respect for democratic and peaceful process which liberal societies have a very hard time dealing with even if the offending minority is only small in number. In order to defend democratic decision making any liberal society which is not lucky enough to have sufficient voices in the media and politicians willing to risk violence will require draconian security measures which may still fail to provide security despite their strength. Unfortunately, the Muslim attitude which makes such security measures necessary is supported by their implementation as measures like racial profiling are seen as further attacks.

This problem is incredibly serious and unless the Muslim community can get over the siege mentality Siddiqui's book may, I fear, have contributed to in some small measure then Muslims in the West will continue to be associated with a massive threat to democratic stability and there will be more of the policies coming from Western governments, aimed at forcing the pace of integration or ensuring security, which Siddiqui so loathes.

Toronto vs. Vancouver

Yesterday I flew from Toronto to Vancouver for the World Universities Debating Championships. Since then I've become a finalist in the Master's competition (a separate mini-competition for judges); the final is next Tuesday. Till then I'm judging which might leave me a bit more time for blogging.

I enjoyed Toronto. There's a lot to do. However, just like Berlin I was somewhat left wondering what the point of the city was, at least from a visitors point of view. But for having friends there I'm not sure I'd have gone any time soon and I'm not sure what would drag me back. It operates somewhat like a sanitised New York and I am pretty certain guarantees a superb quality of life for its residents, felt very safe and was clean and good looking but had a shortage of what makes a city really interesting; to me at least. It seemed rather too new.

Vancouver is absolutely beautiful. Set against the mountains with a lower skyline than many North American cities but design that seems far more settled. I don't think I have ever seen the Pacific before (my trip to China was only to Beijing and I was in the middle of Russia) but I am told this is what a West Coast city feels like. It has some European character to it which makes it an interesting contrast to New York, Philadelphia, DC or the other East Coast cities. It is probably closest to Boston. We went to an Italian restaurant today which combined North American ease with European quality and distinctiveness. I would recommend it, Savory Coast on Robson Street if anyone should find themselves in the city any time soon.

My only real reservation over Vancouver is that I'm told to expect hippies. This may cause my current good temper to fray.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I went to see a basketball game yesterday (the Toronto Raptors beating the Golden State Warriors) and, of all things, was struck by how middle class the whole affair was. The cheering was quiet and subdued. Every time there was a break there was entertainment of some kind (from competitions to the cheerleaders). About half the audience were families. I was actually asked to prove my age to buy a beer (I'm twenty three but look about forty). The game even had a soundtrack; a DJ connected to the soundsystem was somewhere among the crowd.

The comparison with football crowds in the UK, even today, who have swearing, angry chants and maintain a vague sense of tribalistic threat was stark. In football you are constantly reminded that the effeminacy of the stars and occasional delicacy of the game is a veil for a sport whose roots and fan base are still primarily the unvarnished working class. These reminders did not seem to be present at the game I saw yesterday.

I think I enjoy watching football more. We had good seats and the game was high scoring and fluid but, for all the efforts to build things up, there wasn't the overwhelming sense of event which comes with a football match.

I'd like to see how American Football stacks up, unfortunately the Canadian league's season recently ended, to see if it is much different. In particular, I'm told college football is an incredible spectator experience.

Apologies once again for posting so slowly. Come the 5th of January I'll be back in the UK and able to blog regularly again.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Was Allende a sheep in sheep's clothing?

In the comments section to an earlier post Dave has described Allende as essentially similar to Clement Attlee. By way of rebuttal I offer this Time magazine reportage from a year before the coup that a friend pointed me to; things then got a lot worse (there is more after the link):

After almost two years in power —the anniversary will be on Nov. 3 —Allende presides over an increasingly angry country that is sinking ever deeper into economic quicksand. Everything from beef to butter and matches to auto parts is in short supply. Inflation has spiraled 63.5% during the past eight months; in August alone, the inflation rate was 22.7%, and the price of food soared an estimated 60%. The reason: in an effort to buy political support, the government increased the money supply by 115% last year, and is doing the same in 1972. The black-market rate for escudos has now reached 300 to the dollar, more than six times the official rate. Chile's foreign exchange reserves have been used up, and its nationalized copper mines have been cut off from traditional lines of international bank credit. The economy limps along through deficit financing and aid from Communist countries.

Allende blames the U.S. for many of Chile's problems, particularly the drying up of Santiago's credit lines. But most international banks consider Chile a poor risk. To help keep its economy afloat, Chile has deferred payment on its foreign debt of some $2.5 billion, including more than $1 billion to the U.S.

At the same time Chileans have been hit by an inflation of violence. A carabinero (national policeman) was killed in a clash between pro-and anti-Allende forces in Conception in August, and a 17-year-old student died when a tear-gas grenade exploded in his face during a Santiago street brawl last month. As the violence increases, political parties have begun to organize for street warfare. The Communist Party has set up "self-defense committees" throughout Santiago. The Socialists talk of establishing "antifascist brigades." On the other side, a youthful group of extreme rightists called Patria y Libertad talks vaguely of an organization of "shock troops" to combat leftists.

Pinochet did truly awful things but, if we are to choose between bad and worse, between him and Allende Pinochet was clearly the better option. We do, in the developed West, have the luxury of refusing to choose either tyrant but this is not an option that was open to Chile.

Another very interesting point, somewhat related, is made by Alykhan about the developed world functioning as a testing ground for capitalist policies first in Chile (where Reagan and Thatcher followed) and now, perhaps, in Eastern Europe with the flat tax. It makes some sense given these countries have less to lose, more to gain and fewer long entrenched institutions. It also fits with the pattern of the debate over the flat tax here with people citing the Eastern European example so frequently in support of the flat tax.

Leaving LSE

Yesterday I had the presentation ceremony for my Master's and it felt like quite a composed goodbye to an institution I was a part of for four years. The LSE has changed me a lot and broadened my perspective massively. However, I think it now probably is time to move on, to find a new institutional home which can hopefully keep me as engaged as I was at LSE (not always with my studies) while perhaps providing a more professional environment which I have often thrived in.

Two interesting things to note from the ceremony. First, Robert Mundell received an honorary doctorate from the LSE on the grounds of his achievements in economics (a Nobel Prize and more) and his connection to the school (he wrote his thesis at the LSE). During the speech Danny Quah mentioned Mundell's appearances on Letterman. So far this is the only one I can dig up:

Plus this, not video but the same basic idea:

"If you missed last night's Late Show with David Letterman, you missed Robert A. Mundell, 1999 Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, read "Top Ten Ways My Life Has Changed Since Winning The Nobel Prize":

Top Ten Ways My Life Has Changed Since Winning The Nobel Prize

10. Can end almost any argument by asking, "And did you ever win a Nobel Prize?"

9. Whenever I bring it to Applebee's restaurant, I get a free plate of riblets heading my way

8. When I enter a room, I shout, "Nobel Prize winner in the hizzouse!"

7. At most 7-11s, I can get service even if I choose not to wear shoes or a shirt

6. Instead of saying, "Kiss my ass" to guys who cut me off in traffic, I now say, "Kiss my Nobel Prize-winning ass"

5. I've been banned from casinos in seven states

4. When I call K-Rock to request Aerosmith, they play Aerosmith

3. Any meaningless crap I say, the next day it's in the Wall Street Journal

2. Another Friday, another P. Diddy party

1. In Stockholm, I get more tail than Frank Sinatra"

Finally, on a slightly more serious note, my uncle was at the graduation ceremony and wasn't impressed by Howard Davies' plea to screw with league tables:

"Should any market surveyor approach you to ask your salary, please put down the highest figure you can bring yourself to put, he told them. No-one will ever check.

'I thought the LSE was a hotbed for radical socialist thought,' I said to my right-wing nephew after the show. I'd spent all these years fearing he was misplaced.

'What happened?'

'That all went out with the sixties,' he replied.

Before his current job , Howard Davies was head of the Financial Services Agency, the UK's single financial regulator. Previously he was Deputy Governor of the Bank of England after three years as Director General of the Confederation of British Industry. 1987 to 1992 saw him as Controller of the Audit Commission. His whole official role has been one of enforcing financial probity. His rallying call to his graduating students is that no-one will even check, go out and lie on behalf of your School, because the amount you earn is what it's all about. In this week of 8.8 billion pounds of bonuses paid in the city, maybe he's simply jealous - and I suppose that in advocating lying he was at least being honest about his true values - but how sad, pitiful and desperate it all truly is."

I'm afraid Martin has gotten a little overanxious about the particular quote. Davies spent some time earlier describing how little he thought of league tables and, more generally, those who think of education primarily as a contributor to economic welfare rather than the search for truth. The joke was intended to be a snipe at league tables and how easily they can be manipulated.

On the more general theme of the death of radicalism at the LSE I think it is important to note the second half of the "It went out with the 60s" answer, which Martin doesn't quote, which was that the influx of international students killed it. Having over half the students be from outside the UK with far less interest in UK domestic politics and high, international, fees to justify in their post university earning power made a return to the radical protest movement of the sixties impossible.

Note that this means that the LSE has traded radicalism for cosmopolitanism. This is, perhaps, a trade Martin might find rather more noble than exchanging radicalism for City bonuses.

Request for Recommendations

The reason I'm posting so little, as mentioned before, is that I'm getting ready to leave for Canada and am getting my affairs in order before leaving.

To prepare for my trip I went looking for books in the big Piccadilly Waterstone's (my local bookstore in one of the bizarre consequences of living where I do) and couldn't find the books I was looking for (the "American Ceaser" biography of Douglass MacArthur and Fritz Stern's "Einstein's German World). I picked up Jasper Becker's book on North Korea as his work on China is so utterly definitive but could use some more ideas, perhaps a novel or some more political history/thinking (nothing too dry before anyone gets academic on me).

I have four flights of upwards of five hours so will need more to read and none of the books I have in my "waiting to be read" list seem suitable. As I am leaving on Saturday recommendations before then would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Washington Post on Pinochet

The Washington Post makes the case I was trying to make on Pinochet with admirable clarity. Both the horror of his regime and its achievements are properly accounted for and the comparison with Castro is an important one.

By way of contrast, Fidel Castro -- Mr. Pinochet's nemesis and a hero to many in Latin America and beyond -- will leave behind an economically ruined and freedomless country with his approaching death. Mr. Castro also killed and exiled thousands. But even when it became obvious that his communist economic system had impoverished his country, he refused to abandon that system: He spent the last years of his rule reversing a partial liberalization. To the end he also imprisoned or persecuted anyone who suggested Cubans could benefit from freedom of speech or the right to vote.

Monday, December 11, 2006

On Pinochet

By far the best and most balanced obituary of Pinochet was in the Telegraph.

I think that Pinochet is interesting because he is a rare right wing example of a phenomenon the left faces quite rarely; a man putting foward very satisfying politics via the mechanism of killing many of his own people by extra legal means. While right wing leaders have backed tyrants in foreign countries they rarely see them as much more than least bad options in the face of other tyrants who combine their tyranny with some infringement of our own national interests.

By comparison, Pinochet certainly left a great many good things behind him. A free market economy which delivered the most successful development in Latin America, a democratic country as he was one of the few to give up power peacefully following a narrow defeat in a plebiscite and his foreign policy which was of great importance to the United Kingdom's interests in particular. Under Allende the country was an utter mess and had little prospect of the improvement which it saw under Pinochet.

Equally, many of those he killed almost certainly did have little respect for Chilean democracy themselves and were, in the sense he described it, at war with him. However, he did kill them and there were, certainly, many killed merely guilty of speaking the truth about the ugliness of his regime. Also, although this is less serious, he did fall prey to the corrupting influence of such great power.

This brings questions of utilitarianism versus liberalism into focus. The greatest happiness of the greatest number was certainly well served by Pinochet yet for this to happen some people did have to suffer and die and democracy was delayed. Ironically, although they won't admit it and will cling to some foolish pretence that Pinochet didn't make the lives of most Chileans far better, this is far more of a problem for the left who are rather more attached to utilitarianism. As for the right the answer should be simple: if faced between the choice of him or a left wing tyrant he would have been the better choice, he was an evil man who did truly evil things but he left Chile in a better condition than it was when he first ascended to power. There seems no need to simplify beyond this.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"Right"/"Left" Wing Culture

Gracchii is, I think, correct that the 18 Doughty Street discussion of left and right wing culture was a little simplistic but may have overstated his case in arguing that the content of our culture is not negatively affected by the dominance of left wingers in the arts.

He is clearly right to knock down the notion of culture as either "left" or "right" wing. Most culture is neither left nor right wing but composed of stories and emotional themes which either side can make a case based upon.

An example from a deeply mainstream novel and film. Memoirs of a Geisha is either a film about gender tyranny and empowerment (there are other possible left wing explanations) or one about the importance of striving over material comfort and safety which seems pretty right wing to me (when she first meets the Chairman nothing changes in her material circumstances but she is happy because she has something to strive for).

Some other examples to show I'm not actually a complete intellectual fraud who wishes he was off reading romance novels: Clockwork Orange is about rejecting state control and that can either be a left wing or a deeply right wing theme. A Brave New World is either a left wing critique of consumerism or a right wing critique of utilitarianism (or a left wing critique of utilitarianism). City of God is either a left wing critique of slums hopelessness or a tale of the horror of lawlessness. I haven't seen it but I'm sure I read somewhere that the Incredibles can be interpreted as a rather scarily right wing story.

Equally, some stories, despite being very political, defy political pigeonholing in either direction. I'm thinking of brilliant works like Gattaca, Fight Club, the Road to Perdition or the Shawshank Redemption.

There are more explicitly left wing films than right wing ones but they aren't the best films and they aren't the most important. Equally, they don't have a monopoly with recent films such as Thank You for Smoking (not even mentioned in 18DS's discussion) and South Park representing the right on TV in the US (how did that not come up?). The British film industry is smaller so it isn't necessarily a greater bias which stops right wing films emerging here.

However, I do not agree with Grachii that there is no legitimate right wing gripe about culture; I just think that it needs to be somewhat more refined. The problem is something I discussed a bit before in a post about comparisons with Korean film. I will focus on the film industry as it is the one I've thought about most and I think is most important to popular culture (television programmes are too short).

British films are either about our emotional side (Love Actually et. al.) or our dingy side (The Full Monty, Vera Drake). While I am aware that there are financial constraints when these constraints are somewhat removed (Harry Potter thanks to foreign money or Stormbreaker thanks to ambition) we make children's films. Why?

What about making films of, or set during, the following? If it takes American money to make them happen it really isn't particularly important.

  • Trafalgar (modern CGI could make this spectacular)

  • The Great War (the war in the Middle East, perhaps?)

  • World War Two

  • Hastings (should counter the idiotic "Saxons are Orcs" message of King Arthur) with a pretty noble story of heroic defeat

  • Gordon of Khartoum

  • The Industrial Revolution

  • The Falklands

Such films could counterbalance the bias in school history classes towards social history, provide Britain with a greater sense of its national story and, if done well, would be spectacular; some measure of looking back is important. Also, I honestly think that this kind of thing interests domestic and international audiences far more than unhappy Northern steel miners for the same reason everything royal still has such a pull for tourists; looking back is popular.

Britain has some spectacular stories in its history but the only way they will continue to provide us with inspiration and identity is if they are presented to new audiences. Unfortunately I honestly don't think that there are scripts floating around about these stories looking for funding and I believe this is something to do with the politics of our creative community. They do not consider such stories worthwhile as they are reminders of Imperial days or military strife which the left does not wish to consider except in the language of personal tragedy.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, they involve looking at a big picture which risks being subjected to the Subaltern studies critique, that history is massively distorted by a focus on the elite, which those educated in the post-modern dominated subjects which feed into creative careers understand as the ultimate evil almost via osmosis.

While creatives worldwide probably lean left I do not think that the left wing elsewhere involves the same disdain for their nation's history and I think in this regard the politics of those in the British artistic community does uniquely limit their contribution and makes us all worse off. The popularity of TV history suggests that Britons are crying out for the stories which connect them to our national subconscious. Britain's cultural community, by not providing these stories, is making the job of forming that common link to our national history far more difficult than it is for other nations.

On another note, I think it is pretty sad that no one really makes British science fiction anymore. British accents still show up occasionally in American science fiction but otherwise we appear to have lost the future even more spectacularly than we have the past.

Also, two films which don't need to be made in Britain but which I think could be absolutely spectacular:

  • A Brave New World - the world really needs to think about its critique of utilitarianism.

  • The defeat of Constantinople - could be visually incredible and deeply moving - a portrait of a beautiful civilisation dying.

Someone fund me to start a production company.

An advanced apology for slow posting...

Sorry for no posts yesterday. I'm preparing to celebrate an early Christmas (as the inhabitants of my flat and my family are all off abroad soon) and my birthday on the tenth. We call it Mattmas; very exciting if slightly sacrilegious. Then on the sixteenth I am off to Canada to spend some time in Toronto followed by the World Universities Debating Championships in Vancouver. I'll be back on the fourth of January but between the sixteenth and then I'll only be able to post intermittently when I can get to a computer.

When I get back I'll hopefully be starting work. That work may well mean I have to stop blogging. This possibility highlights just how utterly beyond the pale Chad Noble is in repeatedly using DK's real name as a weapon. Trying to force someone out of the blogosphere is an ugly, ugly thing to do. The whole point of blogging is that we can have animated discussions and express interesting opinions but this relies upon people playing within a few, rather simple, rules.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mr. Eugenides on Anti-Establishment Conservatism

There are a couple of things I'd like to expand upon from my post on Anti-Establishment Conservatism following Mr. Eugenides' reply.

Firstly, I think it is important to note that while my tone is calm and I no longer consider myself a libertarian (although my differences with libertarianism are primarily about the nation state, security and radicalism rather than gay marriage, abortion etc. on which I am still liberal) I do not consider the biases towards anger and libertarianism in the blogosphere to be a problem. Libertarianism is a great converting, argumentative philosophy and well suited to the blogosphere. Anger is fun and I very much enjoy swearblogger articles. I think a variety of styles is what makes reading blogs worthwhile and if every blog were written like mine I'd give up on it all. Those who condemn the swearbloggers are the same earnest killjoy swarm that makes much political debate offline such a bore.

"Matt’s suggestion is that by defining ourselves as “outsiders” we lose an opportunity to influence the mainstream of right-of-centre British politics, choosing instead to snipe from the sidelines. There’s some truth in this. I don’t label myself as an outsider, though; I don’t follow the example of DK and head for UKIP, because I think there’s some truth in the contention that it’s better to be a small voice in a crowd than a loud one in the wilderness (plus, I think they’re loons). And neither, as I noted earlier, am I a ‘crusader’ (if one is allowed still to use that word); I’m not so pompous as to think that my opinion matters a jot in the wider scheme of things, or that repeatedly calling Jack McConnell a pug-faced moron is going to help galvanise a national consensus against him."

My fear is that, although I do not believe it is something to which Mr. E. has generally succumbed, the blogosphere is beginning to build an assumption that this kind of loner outsider crusading is its proper role. I see evidence for this assumption beginning to take hold in the "is Iain Dale a member of the establishment debate", the description used by 18 Doughty Street and elsewhere. My case is that if we can build or maintain the distinction between being anti-consensus and anti-leftist and being anti-establishment then we will be more persuasive, more conservative and more correct. I think Mr. Eugenides agrees with me on this although he may be right that I overstate the extent of the problem right now.

DK on some of my views on the EU and UKIP

DK, after agreeing with me on UKIPHome, goes over an old post of mine about the EU conspiracy meme. After the UKIPHome-Iain Dale dispute that started things this dialogue is, I hope, evidence that UKIP and Conservative members can have a reasonable debate.

Before I get into my main arguments, while DK is in the mood I'd like to challenge him to rebut this article on the UK political system and the means of influencing it. It is my case for why, even if you would like to leave the EU, the UKIP is not the party with which to achieve that objective. One thing I would add to it if I wrote it again now is that my stance on global warming (adaptation over curbing emissions) is also pretty far from the Conservative Party's mainstream at the moment but I believe the same arguments about contributing to the debate rather than choosing a party which agrees with me stand in this case as well. That article may, perhaps, be more convincing to those who believe I am factually wrong or that my political economy is weak on aspects of the EU debate.

"Unfortunately, I believe Matt to be wrong on this point and there are several reasons for this. First and least important, (do say, Matthew, if I am incorrect here) I would say that Matthew Sinclair, who has just recently completed his MSc in Economic History at the LSE (well done), has had only limited recent contact with the... shall we say... salt-of-the-earth workers. A university is still, by any standards, a somewhat rarified environment. I spent the first six years of my working life amongst printers from Musselburgh, Kirkcaldy, Newtowngrange and other such (prelatively poor) places and amongst people who, whilst very good at their jobs, were not educated particularly well and for whom The Sun and its simplistic messages were the normal daily reading.

Second, listening to Farage on the James Whale show a while back, the majority of the people 'phoning in really did not know the extent to which the things that they were complaining about were EU dependent; when they did find out, they were shocked but they were also grateful for the information. And they were angry that they had not known about it, or that they had only heard the connection to the EU through some vague rumour."

It is true that I cannot claim to have had a huge amount to do with salt of the Earth types, I do not claim to be one of the mythical 'common men', although I have certainly spent time in their company. It is plausible that they are irrational, however, my case was that this is not necessarily so and that, perhaps this is the economist in me, the EUSceptics might want to be cautious in leaping too quickly to irrationality. That is why I was trying to make the argument that those who think we should leave the EU should acknowledge that there is a plausible case for staying rather than attempting to convert them to staying in the EU entirely.

This is an Occam's Razor style argument although I understand why it makes less sense to someone who cannot see the plausibility of the argument I am making for why we should stay in the EU.

"Well, unless you are cited on a European Arrest Warrant, of course, which allows you to be arrested and deported from your own country to any EU state on the flimsiest of evidence. We no longer have power over our own lives and our government is unable to defend us; the ECJ trumps all."

I've heard of this a few times before from UKIP members but haven't heard of any cases of it being used/abused. Are there any interesting cases or is it just the potential which is worrying people?

"You may agree with Matt that it is, in fact, a matter of degree and not principle but I would not. Provided we are not aggressors, our treaties with NATO and the UN cannot force us to act against our national interests and they cannot overule the will of our elected representatives; the Directives from the unelected EU Commission can. These directives are backed by the power of the ECJ and the ability to impose swingeing fines upon countries that refuse to implement those Directives."

NATO could force us to intervene to defend Poland from a Russian invasion. This could get us all killed in a nuclear conflagration. While we right wingers might feel fighting the Russians would be the right thing to do the NATO common defence provision is in no way contingent on that defence being in our interests; the existence of the treaty is predicated on the fact it could possibly not be.

The UN story is more complex but it certainly can, in some areas, constrain our policy choices. E.g. immigration is as limited by commitments under the UN as by those under the EU.

"This is a fundamental change of principle because, whilst we may agree that aspects of our national sovereignty may be relinquished we do not know, at the time of negotiating that treaty, exactly what the Clauses are. It is rather similar to signing a contract agreeing to work for someone and leaving the number of hours that you are going to work and how much the employer is going to pay you blank. And then signing the Clause that says: "I agree to be bound by whatever my employer writes in those blank bits, that this contract can never be renegotiated and I have no redress if I am starving to death for lack of money." This is, quite obviously, lunacy."

That seems to rather miss the nature of uncertainty. We did not know what the NATO common defence provisions meant when we signed them. It could have meant getting every single Britain killed by participation in a nuclear war or it could mean the rather less onerous commitments that we face today. That the rules themselves can change is not so important to the question of whether or not our sovereingty is infringed; what is important is the infringement itself, surely?

Plus, we do of course have a redress if things are to get truly desperate that guarantees our ultimate sovereignty and the UKIP is well aware of. We can leave. As we are not losing that option (indeed it was going to be formalised in the constitution I believe) there would seem no need to leave now based on the possibility of a superstate.

I've dealt with the trade question in another post and will return to it at some point, it attracted a lot of attention, so I'll leave that subject for now as it cannot be dealt with quickly.

Interest Rates on hold

As I keep recommending/predicting interest rates have been kept on hold. Although they may rise soon with a booming housing market I think this is more evidence for my general prediction that the rise will be slow with consumer confidence low and the manufacturing recovery still looking fragile.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The "Play it Safe" Pre-Budget

My early impression of the pre-budget report is that it is Gordon Brown expecting to make the transition to Prime Minister almost by default and not wanting to risk any new policies which might endanger that.

As such, we saw a fiscal tightening but only a minor one, 0.2%, which will keep him within his rules but not do a significant amount to improve our fiscal situation now or prepare for the longer term challenges which Feldstein addresses today (he argues that immigration can't solve the problem for us). As such, the FTSE pretty much ignored the budget.

There are new green taxes as they have become the new politically safe way to raise tax without creating nothing but enemies. However, note that these are further changing our competitive position in industries like air travel and any requiring extensive road travel. The changes, even here, are rather expected though and BA's share price has not changed much.

His education and skills moves are a fairly straight line from the last budget and are a fairly unimaginative response to the poor UK productivity performance under Brown's stewardship.

What he didn't do was anything significant about pensions, the NHS, business taxation etc. etc.

He announced increased the funding for catching minimum wage evaders which is a little comic given the Labour Party's recent scandal over their unpaid film student.

I think that the most interesting thing about this budget was what it tells us about Brown and the style we might expect from him as Prime Minister. Possibilities like a snap election seem increasingly implausible from a man who does not appear to be a risk taker when he had the opportunity to do something like cut business tax which might have made Cameron's position colossally difficult. This huge clunking fist is not a nimble one and I am hopeful Cameron can dance around it with ease.

The Lost German Century

"IT WAS IN April 1979 in West Berlin. Raymond Aron and I were walking to an exhibit commemorating the centenary of the births of Einstein, Max von Laue, Otto Hahn, and Lise Meitner. We were passing bombed-out squares and half-decrepit mansions of a once proud capital, our thoughts already at the exhibit, when Aron suddenly stopped at a crossing, turned to me, and said, "It could have been Germany's Century." Aron, French scholar and Jew who had studied in Berlin in the early 1930s and had seen German promise turn to nemesis, mused on what might have been. In the ensuing years I have extended my studies of German scientists, of German creativity and destruction, which I had already begun then. In preparing this work on Einstein's German world for publication twenty years later, I recognize the resonance of the theme that Aron had so casually, so memorably set."


"In the late eighteenth century a cultural renaissance erupted in the German lands; Europeans, in awe of artistic and philosophic achievements, began to speak of Germany as a land of poets and thinkers. Germans themselves referred to that period, roughly 1770-1830, as the Age of Genius, the Geniezeit. (For Germans, the word Genie has a special ring, denoting creative powers of demonic magnitude.) By the mid-nineteenth century in economic terms, after 1871 and unification in political terms, and by the end of the century in scientific-technological terms--Germany was transformed into a country of doers and innovators, of world-renowned natural scientists still steeped in Germany's humanistic culture. The very names of Einstein, Ehrlich, Planck, and Haber--and the extended and sometimes fractious family of scientists among whom they lived and worked--evoke the greatness of this period, expressed as it was also in German culture more broadly defined, when German writers and artists had the intuition of uneasy modernity. This might be called Germany's second Geniezeit, one fraught with danger."

These extracts are taken from the introduction to Fritz Stern's Einstein's German World, a book that I am now absolutely going to hunt down. Read the rest of the chapter and it does serve as a powerful reminder of the breadth of astonishing talent born to Germany at the beginning of the last century.

Germany's unfortunate abandonment of this promising future for the insanity of two great wars and mass murder passed the torch to the United States. America's list of technological and scientific achievements since 1945 has been similarly stunning. Both of these countries, along with others like Britain before them, were overflowing with scientific and cultural achievement which can be hard to explain.

America and Germany had new institutions which offered a practical education and were certainly the source of a great many significant successes; the links between German (Beer's "The emergence of the German dye industry") and US industrial research and development and scientific education has been well documented. Equally, there is some evidence that even the great inventors responded to economic conditions. However, it still seems a stretch to believe that this can be responsible for the outpourings of talent of the sort described in the extracts from Stern's work above.

Another important thing to note is that this kind of intellectual achievement has, as Stern implicity acknowledges, for quite some time been associated with political and economic pre-eminence. Will the new candidates for great power status such as India and China be able to secure for themselves the accompanying intellectual achievement?

They certainly have the brains and their education systems can probably overcome their current limitations. However, the challenge will be to overcome the tendency of scientists to seek the largest concentrations of other scientists (it makes research easier and a lot more fun) and the path dependence this creates leading research to the existing scientific centres of the West. It will probably take political intervention to overcome this handicap but that brings its own problems.

In the end, I still think there is a difficulty for historians trying to establish the source of national greatness. It almost certainly is not uniform, however, what I am trying to establish is that there is an intellectual element to becoming a great power which those looking with awe at the demographic potential of new candidates for great power status should remember.

Scottish people are so funny

After my recent end of the United Kingdom hysteria it's nice to have everything put in some perspective. I have Mr. Eugenides to thank for that perspective with the comparison between the recent Norwegian removal of VAT on stripping and Edinburgh council's move in the opposite direction:

New rules that will ban Edinburgh's lapdancers from baring all have been passed by council chiefs, despite protests from club bosses and sex workers' unions.

A code of conduct, expected to be introduced next year, will mean dancers will be told to go no further than topless, while private one-on-one dances will also be forbidden. Clubs will be told to install CCTV cameras and be subject to checks by council inspectors.

"Best small country in the world" my arse. Miserable killjoy bastards.

Even a very Christian friend of mine described this as a "ridiculous rule".

I still think that my reasons to lament the demise of the United Kingdom are persuasive but I think they have to be eclipsed, at least for the Scots themselves, by the knowledge of what a miserable little country Scotland would be shorn of its part in the United Kingdom.

It would have the worst of a lot of the UK's serious problems like ill health, the deep fried Mars Bar is the funny side of a serious problem, just like it does now. However, the option to spread the cost of the healthcare this requires across the United Kingdom would no longer be available.

It would have one of the most nannying states in the world, ahead of the curve in banning public smoking, smacking and now stripping. This political culture is already doing its stifling work killing any ethic of tolerance and personal responsibility which might once have inhabited Scotland.

Finally, Scotland would probably impart to its people the poverty of ambition that accompanies any small state without the wit and verve to write its name on the world stage. At the moment a Scot can aspire to the highest office in what is still a country with a mighty military and a globally significant economy and which, regardless of temporal power, will hopefully always have the history and sense of its own importance that engenders a grand ambition. Those with the will to do great and important things but are born in an independent Scotland will be forced to emigrate leaving a nation behind them with a sadly smaller mind. Those who are too loyal to leave will be constrained to the narrow, provincial, concerns that are, with a certain irony, the lot of a nation independent because it could not stand to be a province.

The British Right-Wing Blogosphere: Anti-Establishment Conservatism

I think that the right wing blogosphere and many other elements of the growing conservative movement are, in several ways, unrepresentative of broader British conservative intellectual and popular traditions.

The first difference is one of degree; the blogs are generally more doctrinaire and hold stronger views than your average conservative. This is hardly surprising. For people to take time out of busy lives something has to have stirred them to action and this will usually be an issue they care passionately about. The exceptions are those like Iain Dale for whom blogging must be considered a part of their career and who are often more moderate. This can affect the broader movement as it undoubtedly has for the Democrats in the US where the netroots have boosted the chances of the hopeless through financial donation and moral support and upset the party's efforts to move towards the centre. However, it does not really appear to have affected the Conservatives as MPs do not depend upon independent funding so the possibility of isolating favoured representatives for support is limited. This difference may become important in the future but for now we appear to have avoided being held in place by netroots.

A second difference is that the blogosphere is more libertarian than popular conservatism. This is largely a result of bloggers being younger, on average, than the right wing voter base. Libertarianism is a lot easier to sell to younger people as any survey of right wing students can confirm. It allows you the fun of outflanking the left on social liberalism, has the whiff of rebellion and is more idealistic. Again, this isn't going to change the character of conservative Britain as this imbalance is not new and used to have better institutional support in the form of organisations like the Federation of Conservative Students which proceeded today's Conservative Future and was at one point truly, fearsomely, libertarian.

The final difference is the one that I consider most interesting. Most of those engaged in right wing blogging consider themselves to be anti-establishment. Whether it is holding up Guy Fawkes as an icon or lambasting fuzzy old Iain Dale for being in the establishment pocket there is a common thread of seeing any institutional link as essentially dirty. Even relatively moderate parts of the conservative movement like ConservativeHome and 18 Doughty Street make use of this meme; 18 Doughty Street "aims to be an anti-establishment channel". The source of this rage at an established other seems to be a sense of persecution by certain institutions which are felt to have either been corrupted or poorly conceived such as the BBC and the European Union. Much of this is, of course, entirely correct criticism of institutions in need of destruction or reform; however I can see several reasons to be very careful of getting too attached to the anti-establishment identity.

Firstly, it is necessarily divisive. Being anti-establishment usually means a distrust of large institutions, Rod Dreher's preference for the "Small, Local, Old, and Particular" over the "Big, Global, New, and Abstract". However, for a movement which aims to govern one nation of sixty million people large institutions will be necessary. If contact with and, in particular, compromise in order to form a part of a large organisation is viewed as dirtying and discrediting these large institutions will be seriously weakened. If these institutions are weakened the movement will descend to the unpleasant fate of socialist movements past which could not see past their differences to what they had in common.

Secondly, it is highly indiscriminate. Big business does not deserve as much scepticism as big government. While big business may, from time to time, be corrupted by its occasional access to the power of the state the large corporation itself is a wonderful institution. Large corporations fulfil a hugely important function in being able to handle the scale and risk of research in fields like pharmaceuticals and have been a force for efficiency and high standards elsewhere. An example of where this inability to discriminate between establishments has been harmful is the right wing attacks on Tescos for hurting small shops. The most credible explanation for the decline in small shops is that it emerges from the same cause as the decline in fertility; the time of women becomes more valuable when gender discrimination at work falls and that encourages the greater time efficiency of shopping at a single store; there is no need for an explanation in terms of anti-competitive behaviour. The big effect of the supermarkets has been cheap food as they rip each other to pieces in price competition, Tescos big profit numbers have come largely from increased volume including international success (hallmark of a competitive industry). Big business is just one example of where anti-establishment fervour can lead the right to endanger an important alliance on the basis of a largely emotional dislike.

Finally, and most importantly, being anti-establishment would lose the core of British conservatism in Oakeshott, Burke or (whisper it) Hayek's distrust of radicalism. Our conservatism has always been rooted in a belief that radical schemes to rationally remake society were doomed to failure and unintended consequences thanks to the limits of human knowledge. This goes not just for the decline of traditions like marriage but also for a lot of the institutions that constitute parts of the British establishment. Institutions like the steady judgement of the Lords which views even global warming with its characteristic calm, a much maligned justice system which is, by comparison with international standards, really rather good. A consensus approach to global issues which is instinctively in favour of fine things like free trade, has little patience with childish sniping at the superpower and is willing to risk military intervention on the right side of international disputes. An establishment that was successful in integrating past waves of immigrants through a calm refusal to see the colour of people's skin combined with not forcing the pace. This is not a bad establishment and it embodies the accumulated wisdom of an old and successful nation.

Of course our establishment makes mistakes. It has already taken far too long to adjust to the idea that Islamism cannot be smoothed over in the passive manner that worked for the problems of past groups of immigrants, Thatcher had to rescue it from a chronic lack of ambition and such a pessimism over Britain's post-imperial role in the world may reassert itself if we are not careful. However, these are reasons to change the mind of the establishment, to ensure that modern right wing insights are more thoroughly enshrined in the great British common sense. They are not reasons to define ourselves as outsiders.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lawson on 18 Doughty Street discussing Climate Change

He made a lot of the same points that were in his speech to the Centre for Policy Studies. There wasn't a lot new here but those points are still just as refreshing and persuasive. You can see the interview here.

His style was a fine example of the old Conservative manner. He maintained the most moderate of tones and yet never minced his words. He called the Stern report fraudulent and, when questioned on this, refined it to the kind of fraud that might land a company director in jail without ever sounding irate. This combination of a genial manner and strong words was a pleasant relic of another age now the alternatives are fuzzy friendliness or angry hysteria.

Demos need to grow a spine

From the report:

"The think tank also accused ministers of failing to address "reasonable" grievances, including policy in Iraq and elsewhere."


"It would be naïve in the extreme to imagine that neither government rhetoric or foreign and domestic policy have an effect on the opinions of those in our Muslim communities who might be susceptible to the hateful propaganda of extremists.

We are now entering a phase where the impact of ministerial words and policies, especially on young men in Muslim communities, must be assessed at all times."

So because one group in our society is more prone to violence we should give their voice extra weight? Utter cowardice. Suggesting that the war on Iraq was a bad idea or that the marginalisation of immigrant groups is a problem we should deal with are both entirely legitimate contributions. However, to argue not that a certain action is the right one but that we should make our decisions contingent upon whether we anger particular, violent, groups is both unprincipled and unlikely to be effective; these groups know surrender when they see it and will take it as an opportunity.

If our democratic decisions are dependent upon the goodwill of violent groups within our community this poses an existential threat to our democracy and values. Paying a human and financial cost to defeat such a threat is the lot of a free people in a dangerous world.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The First World War beyond the Trenches

My uncle's research for his biography of J. S. Haldane, which is sounding increasingly wonderful, has led him to these excellent pictures from the First World War (this one is of the Australian Light Horse passing through Bethlehem on their way to Jericho). They are of the war in the Middle East which tends to get forgotten with the understandably strong folk memory of the Western Front trenches. I think that we are often guilty of thinking of the Great War as essentially European and airbrushing out the wider confrontation.

Cameron on Trident

Brilliant. Full marks. This is the section which shows he's really got the point:

"Those who argue that the world has changed, so that no deterrent is required, entirely miss the point.

Yes, the world has changed and yes continues to change rapidly.

That is the very case for keeping up our guard.

Just as today’s threat is so different from that predicted 20 years ago, so today we can’t predict the threat we will face in 20 years’ time.

Still less can we predict the threat in 40 to 50 years’ time, when the next generation of submarines actually will still be in service.

There are some who argue that, because the major threat is now rogue states, it is not necessary to have a submarine-based alternative.

But isn’t it the case that the replacement for Trident will cover the period 2025 to 2055, when the nature of the threat is so completely unpredictable?

It may be rogue states.

It may be major powers.

We should have a credible deterrent to both."

This is why arguments like Roy Hattersley's that deterrence is no longer useful miss the point and the only proper criticism is the old CND argument for unilateral disarmament which is, thankfully, no longer in the political mainstream.

The other argument in Hattersley's piece, that the US can do the job, is weak; in International Relations unlike other areas of policy honour matters and leaving our allies to bear the full moral weight of deterrence is dishonourable. It would reduce the perception of Western unity of purpose and action which truly deters enemies who know that the US does not like to act alone.

What I didn't see coming in Cameron's speech was this:

"First, on the number of submarines, will the Prime Minister confirm that it wouldn’t be right to rule out a fourth submarine?

The French deterrent, for example, does require four submarines.

The Prime Minister said the decision will be taken when we know more about the detailed design.

Will he confirm that the decision over the fourth submarine does not actually have to be taken possibly until as late as 2020?"

Exactly the kind of question a Conservative opposition should be raising responding to a Labour Prime Minister making the right decision.


I've added the MyBlogLog reader community and visitor monitoring widgets to this site; this blog's "community" is here. Those of you who are registered with them should now begin to show up. If it annoys me or tells me nothing of interest then it may be removed but for now consider the surveillance society advanced.

Why Rawls is wrong in 20 knots

The Mirabella V is $300,000 per week, can comfortably sleep sixteen plus crew and can absolutely fly.

"Mirabella V now has official certification from Guinness World Records for the tallest mast and largest sail."

I think that this section from Jackart's post makes a surprisingly large point:

"Now Johnny socialist looks at that and thinks "how many hospital beds could be bought with that". or "That could have been spent on the poor/schools/welfare/Nurses [delete as applicable]"

That attitude totally misses the point of being human - where would we be if the Chairman of Avis car rental wasn't able to think "I know. I think I want a boat with a 300ft mast" and then go to the company who makes the Royal Navy's warships and say "Make me a bloody big boat, with sails as big as a footaball field"

Capitalism enables people to make beautiful, magnificent, pointless things like Aston Martins, Ducatis, and the Mirabella V. I may never own one (or any other yacht). I may never even Hire it for a week. But I am glad it exists, and if I see it passing me in a shipping lane I will wave and smile. The people on board will ignore me and turn smugly to their pink gins. I don't care."

It may be possible for someone like Rawls to accept this boat's existence as the cost to the poor of destroying the market mechanism's that allow it may be larger than the benefit to them of redistributing the wealth that allows for it or limiting people's consumption choices. However, the boat cannot be celebrated by anyone, like Rawls, who judges the worthiness of an action primarily by a difference it may make to the fortunes of the worst off in society; it is clearly a collosal waste in that regard.

This is similar to the conundrum which has exercised Nietzsche and several other major thinkers; that art is cruelty. Art as art is necessarily pointless in practical terms. While some art may at times fulfill useful functions this is usually where it overlaps with design or is being used as a tool to communicate some political or practical message. Art itself as the expression of emotions or the creation of something beautiful is profoundly and wonderfully useless. In a more concrete sense most art will have little to no contact with the poor and the idea that its effect will pay its way through some kind of trickle down is rather poorly substantiated.

Think about it this way. While someone, somewhere is starving to death another person is sitting in comfort with the capacity to help them and is instead choosing to paint something that will wind up in a gallery being appreciated by others who are well off. Awful.

The answer is that although art, and collosal luxury yachts, are both cruelties they are both also clearly wonderful. Once you realise this it becomes necessary to rethink an awful lot of morality which cannot make room for wonderful things.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Cameron Project

I voted for Cameron and am still very much convinced that I made the right choice. However, I think that after a busy year I can come to some conclusions about what I like and dislike about the Conservative party under Cameron so far.

What I admire is the nerve that is allowing the party to take the time to really think about policy rather than panicking at the unwarranted cries of "no substance!" While it leaves us short of policy now it should mean that we'll have the policy thoroughly worked out when it counts; at the General Election.

The moves to thoroughly entrench socially liberal politics, such as supporting civil unions, are welcome. There is a very plausible case for a new socially conservative revival in Britain but this should be a positive movement to do things like strengthen the family rather than ugly backlash politics.

Reflecting a broader range of priorities is an excellent idea. Demonstrating that the conservatives can think beyond tax policy and our internal debate on Europe is important to becoming an election winning force again and a victory for conservative thought in general.

However, I have one big criticism of how Cameron is proceeding which is that the groundwork positioning may be dramatically limiting the party's ability to think outside the box once the policy groups have reported and the time comes to form a programme for government. Make a quick list of conclusions that the Conservative party cannot come to thanks to announcements already made and this becomes clear:

1) "Tax cuts are a priority for improving Britain's competitive economic position". While tax cuts might be achieved after the election in the sharing of the proceeds of growth expected amounts cannot be promised or aspired to as a part of a Conservative programme.

2) "The NHS requires significant reorganisation". Making a political priority of "Stop Brown's NHS Cuts" after the chancellor's spending record and highlighting that the problem under Labour may have been too many reorganisations makes promising anything beyond a more stable status quo for the NHS very difficult.

3) "Global warming is going to be a change in circumstances we must adapt to as much as a crisis we can prevent". The party's collective mind is made up and as a result we are getting in trouble working out how we differ from Labour, in particular on annual binding targets.

4) "Relative poverty is not a sensible yardstick with which to assess progress". This has been used as a vague tool to say "we care about poverty" which we definitely should but will have the effect of making us hostile to sensible policies, like Thatcher's, which will involve a transition cost in terms of inequality.

The Cameron project is being diverted from highlighting new issues which the party should be caring and thinking about to deciding certain debates before they are properly had as part of a repositioning that has become rather clumsy.


I took a look at UKIPHome as we have another new home, LibertarianHome, launching and Iain Dale's description made it sound like he'd got in another funny little spat like the old one with EU Referendum. Turns out all it adds up to is a strange, impotent, rage on Chad Noble's part at Iain still being a Tory. This rage has been manifested into some imagined personal dispute.

"Add to that the personal nature of the battle since I revealed Dale's lies over Norfolk Conservatives then you can certainly see why he dislikes me and UKIPHome so much."

Poor baby.

Still, it was worth the effort as it is one of the funniest blogs I've ever read. I can't see a way to get perma-links to individual articles so I'm afraid I'm just going to have to give you quotes. What is strange is that UKIP home isn't really a "home" as it never links to other UKIP writers but is instead a showcase for Noble's analytical brilliance. This makes it quite a read.

Does anyone ever get the impression that David Cameron beat Chad Noble as a child?

"No wonder Cameron is also encouraging people to grow their own vegatables, no-one is going to have any money to actually buy them.

The LibLabCon Westminster elite are so detached from the rest of us, like the Russian bourgeosie before the Russian revolution.

Real anger is building up but they either can't or don't want to address it."

Another classic:

"Support for 'others' is now almost as big as support for the LibDems at a whopping 15%.

People really are turning away from the LibLabCon-sensus Westminster elite.

Surely the honest thing would be for pollsters to start listing UKIP properly instead of lumping it in with 'other'?"

Given most of the "others" are the various nationalist parties I wouldn't recommend it. Then you couldn't enjoy your little "we're not in a tailspin since our racist Messiah left and are going to catch the LibDems any day now" delusion.

Finally, in this short sample, he combines this criticism of road pricing:

"When you consider that people are only using their cars because they have been driven off the trains by the spiralling prices, a scheme to make cars more expensive than the trains will leave thousands of people not able to afford to get to work."

With this call for increased taxation on vehicle fuel a few posts later:


We all know the real answer is charge for CO2 emissions is to add the charge into the price of fuel but those excellent people at SafeSpeed have produced this point by point excellent destruction of the Labour and Tory arguments for such a scheme."

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the famous self-rebutting Chad Noble. Also, increased petrol tax as a solution to climate change, being a focussing of the entire cost of curbing emissions onto one cause (leaving out air fuel, industrial emissions, power generation) is deeply distorting and hardly a policy for someone wanting to be a part of "the Libertarian Party".

I know that every party has its cranks and there will be others in the UKIP who are more sensible but it does tend to attract a disproportionate share of crackpots.

Adapting vs. Curbing Climate Change #2

Suppose those predicting a serious climate change apocalypse are right. Suppose we're actually right to believe there's a going to be a 5,000,000 degrees centigrade rise in temperatures and we'll all burn rapidly to death because of global warming (or some less 'paraphrased' version).

Now, we can either respond to this by trying, probably in vain, to persuade people to do serious damage to the world economy by trying to combine reductions in energy use with rising living standards in the developing world. We can harm the UK economy by making energy intensive industry more costly in the UK; at the same time increasing the incentives to greater energy use in other countries as competition from the UK is hamstrung. Or we can spend a small portion of that cost, avoid the economic distortion and have a chance at finding new planets as Dr. Hawking recommends.

While there is, of course, technological risk that the investment will not pay off there is equally risk in attempting to curb climate change as we cannot claim to have an accurate picture of the difference marginal changes in the human carbon dioxide emissions will make to climate change; they could wind up being as useless as a mass of stalling interstellar engines. It is even possible we could do harm; if global cooling makes a comeback, all the rage in the 70s, might we wind up rather regretting our rash decision to stop filling the atmosphere with warming gases?

It is also worth noting that if climate change winds up amounting to less than we expect, perhaps because the market would respond rapidly to rising fossil fuel prices and energy intensity fall anyway, then if we've paid for curbs to emissions then we'll have little to show for our efforts. By contrast, if we've spent our money on interstellar travel even if we still have a healthy Earth to play with we'll have plenty to show for our extraterrestrial adventures; new real estate and the like.

Colonising other planets may still be science fiction but so is a climate change apocalypse; the problem deserves the solution.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Adapting vs. Curbing Climate Change #1

David Cameron has endorsed the Slow Food movement. One reason he cited: "And it matters greatly to the environment – not least because of the carbon emissions that come from air-freighting food around the world." The question of the contribution food air-freight makes to carbon dioxide emissions is one I have no real inclination to tackle in this post. Instead, I just think it is important to note that Stern was having an absolute tiz about the effect global warming would have in lowering agricultural production.

The Slow Food movement's doctrine, like that of organic farming, is a response to modern farming methods but these methods weren't created by industry because they thought the idea of filling planes with tomotoes was funny or they had a rather sadistic relationship with certain insects. They are all designed to increase yield. Now, if our problem is declining agricultural land the most plausible response is increasing yields further through technologies, like genetic modification speeding up the old processes of breeding improved plants and lifestock, as these improvements have allowed us to escape Malthusian Traps before.

The idea of trading secure food supplies at their current level and the possibility of further increase in yields as technology continues to improve for the marginal reduction in emissions brought by the Slow Food movement is not sensible.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sometimes it can be hard to take Latin America seriously...

In Mexico they're actually having fistfights in parliament over the disputed Presidential elections:

"Brawls broke out between the two parties, which have both been holding their ground in the assembly for days, bringing in sleeping bags and taking shifts to prevent the other side from seizing more areas."

It is very hard to take Latin American socialism seriously when their politics is so thoroughly silly. Back when the Russians were giving them warheads maybe they could create a stir but now they're the Islamists' comedy accompaniment.

Chavez is another example; the War Nerd on his arms purchase:

"Think about what weapons you'd buy if you were a Leftist, anti-American leader with unlimited oil money to spend, like Chavez. Assume your goal is to bleed the Yankee invaders bad enough to make them think twice about invading you. Take your cue from successful local guerrilla armies like Hezbollah. And assume you're buying from the Russians.

My shopping list would start with surface-to-air missiles, especially light, shoulder-fired weapons that can be dispersed to militias, and (thanks to that good ol' Soviet engineering) even buried in the back yard for a year or two and still fire up first time.


What he did buy with his $3 billion was 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighters and 53 helicopters. Against a US invasion, all that hardware would be an instant writeoff. If you want to beat the US armed forces, you don't buy fighter jets, because they'll just get shot down. More likely, the USAF will turn them into modern art inside their hangars before they even get warmed up. And those 53 choppers, if they ever get into the air, will just be dessert for any US pilots who didn't get the chance to kill your fighter planes. You know how those fighter jocks are, itching to stencil another kill on the fuselage."

Regime change would be like kicking a diseased squirrel baby.

Friedman and Galbraith

Via Catallarchy, via Worstall.

"We met at his favorite restaurant in San Francisco, where I showed him a picture of him standing next to John Kenneth Galbraith, the premier Keynesian and welfare statist of the 20th century. Galbraith towered over the diminutive Friedman. Beneath the picture was a funny line by George Stigler: “All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman.”"

Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Link

Lizzie Fison, a friend from the LSE Conservatives, has started a new blog. Very sound and very brilliant; if she sticks to it she should make quite the blogger.

One to watch and add to your blogrolls.

Atheism versus the Mormoms

This video is very funny. Via Andrew Sullivan.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The End of the United Kingdom

The SNP are set to record significant success in the coming elections, new polls for the Telegraph suggest that a narrow majority of Scots want independence and the same poll suggests that the English have no real attachment to the Union either.

This result can be confirmed by taking an anecdotal sample of opinions on the Union, some from e-mail and some from ConservativeHome's comments:

"I am so happy - now for a richer more confident and prosperous England and no more subsidising workshy Scots bastards. Worse than that Socialist workshy Scots bastards whos contribution to the country since the 1950s has been to make the country worse. All the benefits of intelligent Scots moving south would be achieved without a union in fact more of them would move south and we would benefit even more because we could reduce income or corporation tax further. When Scotland goes I have a bottle of Champagne ready. They dont support us anyway - they support any team but England - glad to once again be in the majority of English people - see Telegraph poll - who say good riddance."

"My personal view is 'Stuff the Scots'. Their ungrateful conntry is full of the socialists that keep this scummy government in power.

So let then go and good riddance."

"God how out of touch you blues really are, time to face the facts and leave the past behind. The union is dying, it has done nothing for England in 300 years, we have been used and abused and NOW is the time for England and her people to stand up and be counted."

While others remain attached to the Union it is pretty clear the way the wind is blowing. Having been told for so long that they were oppressing the Celtic fringe and being increasingly aware of the subsidy sent North and West the English sentiment can be summed up as "good riddance". The Scottish parliament has not made a lasting contribution to undermining a desire for Scottish independence and may well have had the opposite effect in the medium term as Major originally warned.

It seems unlikely that Scottish independence will happen in the near term. The Labour party has too much to lose and can stall a separation by giving Scotland's devolved institutions new powers. However, with English opinion swung against the Union we cannot expect the commitment to prop it up which might have allowed for compromise before. Unless this changes Scotland will, sooner or later, become a state.

It will be a sad day. The best states are not the result of borders being well matched to ethnic or cultural divisions. That the Scots have their own identity does not mean they should necessarily have a separate state. Generally the bar, as in Israel, the Balkans and elsewhere, for not being able to live in existing states is genocide or ethnic cleansing. Successful states like Britain involve all manner of minorities and there seems no reason we cannot live together. There is no coherent case that the Scottish have really been abused within Britain for some centuries.

Equally, I am unimpressed by those English who, in order to reduce the extent their vote is diluted or reclaim some funds spent on the Celtic subsidy now would see their nation torn asunder. Such an argument would be a fine case for the South East and London leaving the Union as the North/South income differential is, I believe, far larger than that for Scotland/England. Surely such narrow, mercenary, concerns are not how a conservative would wish to choose their state?

If conservativism can be defined at all then it is the view that human reason is limited and that faced with tasks as complicated as building a state we would do better to rely on the accumulated knowledge of ages.

To quote Burke:
"We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and ages."

In the United Kingdom we have the state that played a serious part in defeating Napoleon, the Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler and Stalin, built the world's largest empire, abolished slavery, set up the international economy through an early push for free trade, spread institutions and infrastructure around the world in the biggest overseas investment ever and provided a unique environment which incubated the first Industrial Revolution and modern economic growth. Now, it may be that we don't think this was dependent upon the United Kingdom so much as it was on England, luck, coal or some other quality. However, it seems far more plausible that the geographical security and cultural variety of the United Kingdom were a serious asset which there might be unintended consequences to losing.

Finally, there is something unutterably, aesthetically, sad about the death of an institution with the history of the United Kingdom. I fail to see how anyone of conservative instincts could not feel heartbroken that in our lives, on our watch, the United Kingdom, the old House of Lords, the Law Lords and Britain without a written constitution may all have died. There are statues of four of the noblemen who imposed the Magna Carta at the corners of the chamber of the House of Lords, still watching over the monarch. One of their descendants is still in the house. After the best part of a millenia these long traditions are being broken.

My New Description

"'I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.'

- H. L. Mencken

An account of arguments I agree and disagee with and of the yield from my own fertile imagination."

I knew that Mencken would have a suitable quotation although I was surprised by how earnest the excerpt I came back with was.

I quite like my own little description although I may reword it some more over the next few days.

Womyn and Free Speech

Alykhan highlights the Carleton University Student's Association bid to ban all anti-abortion ("anti-choice" in Canadian politically correctese) activity on campus. Apparently the Womyn's Centre is pushing this after an anti-abortion group organised a debate, of all things, and this upset campus feminists. The ban's proposer told the local paper "[These women] were upset the debate was happening on campus in a space that they thought they were safe and protected, and that respected their rights and freedoms"

For anyone lucky enough not to have come across the term "womyn" yet it is apparently used by ultra-feminists because "women" suggests they are somehow subsidiary. I think this all highlights how ridiculous feminism can become once the pressure of justifying making a simple campaign against discrimination an intellectual movement begins to tell. To quote Alykhan:

"How utterly shocking, that these fair young ladies are forced to listen to opinions they may disagree with. How ever will they cope and avoid fainting from the trauma?

Read about the silliness here, and ponder whether the feminist infantalization of women is empowering or, well, infantalizing."

Feminist crusades like the Womyn's Centre's absurd drive to ban debate hurts the credibility of the sensible movement to defend legal abortion and fight genuine discrimination. They hurt the chances of women being treated as able to participate in a discourse with men as equals.

Labour and the Unions

The Conservatives yesterday released the following:

"• Almost 90 per cent of Labour's donations now come from the unions, up from 34 per cent in the same period last year and still rising from 74 per cent in the previous quarter.
• In addition, new analysis shows that Labour is £2 million in debt to a trade union bank. The bank is 73 per cent owned by trade unions with senior union officials making up over half the non-exec board."

Labour's finances are now in such a dire state that they are effectively returning to being, at least in financial terms, the political arm of the Union movement.

Blair's big legacy is unlikely to be in international affairs or any particular change to the British state. Instead, it seems most likely that his most important achievement will be the change he made to the Labour party and British politics by ending the long twentieth century class war. Through the Clause IV moment, the rejection of most initiatives to reverse Thatcher's curbing of union power and his appeal to Middle England Blair killed the socialist dream of revenge for the long years of Tory domination and announced the end of class war politics.

Now look at the two parties: The Conservatives leadership is dominated by Old Etonians and Labour are being bankrolled entirely by the Unions. Despite this the parties are managing to maintain an impressive veneer of centrist respectability. The question has to be how long this can last if the unions manage to turn their financial interest into political influence. If it breaks down the potential for fiery class rhetoric is huge and could turn British politics very ugly, very quickly.

This also makes the Union Modernisation Fund, which I wrote about for the Little Red Book of Labour Sleaze, even more morally questionable. If the Labour party is almost entirely dependent upon the Unions then introducing legislation to give them state money is an even less honest idea than when they were only providing a third of Labour's revenue. Francis Maude's statement that this is "very, very direct sleaze. That is buying influence and buying taxpayers' money" has become an even more accurate description of what is going on.

Finally, anything which significantly increases the power of the unions is a very bad thing for the country's future prosperity. Britain's unions were our economic nemesis through most of the twentieth century and it was Thatcher's confrontation of them through the coal strike and privatisations that allowed labour to be shifted to where it was most needed and working practices to be reformed. That Labour's dishonest fundraising in the past is presenting an opportunity for the unions to make a comeback is a true indictment of that party's leadership. Look at their political priorities now and you'll see the potential for economic harm; limits on working hours, extending regulation to agency workers and a tax and spend state.

The Labour party's increased financial dependence upon the unions is a deeply worrying trend for British politics. The Conservatives are absolutely right to raise the alarm.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Matthew Sinclair MSc

I checked the boards today and I have secured an LSE Master's degree in Economic History (Research) with Merit. Huzzah!

Dalrymple on the Suicide of the West

I missed this in September when it was first published but it is brilliant (from the good Dalrymple). It captures brilliantly how the extent of the Islamist threat renders Steynesque caricatures utterly unnecessary.
"This is not a strong position from which to fight people who, by their own admission, hate you and are bent upon your destruction, brought about preferably at your own expense. First, you can't take them seriously; second, you suspect they might in any case be right."

"Both Bawer and Berlinski insist that one great difference between Western Europe and America is the survival of religion in America, which gives Americans a moral backbone (for want of a better term) that Western Europeans do not have. For myself, I am somewhat skeptical of the strength of American religious feeling compared with the breadth of the religious affiliation that they claim. If Americans were to experience a loss of confidence in their country's power, whether objectively justified or not, the crisis of meaning and purpose might strike them too. After all, pusillanimity is not even now confined to Western Europeans, though it is no doubt at its worst among them; the American response to the Danish cartoon crisis was little short of disgraceful, both in the government and the press. Indeed, the French for once were considerably less cowardly."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Apologising for Slavery

Apparently Blair is to stop short of issuing an apology for slavery but will express his regret at our involvement. I think that a note of regret at the awful treatment of the slaves and a UN resolution to honour those who died at the institution's hands are both worthwhile objectives, however, an apology would miss the point over the Empire's role in the slave trade.

Slavery is about as old as humanity. Not just the Greeks and Romans made slaves of each other but also just about every other people on Earth. It was certainly endemic in Africa before Europeans arrived. Those that didn't were usually those where it was not necessary due to the extent to which all were slaves of some tribal chief, king or emperor.

What was unique about the British Empire was that it made a moral decision to abolish slavery, first at home with the immortal line that:
"England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in."
And then abroad: In a venture which was as imperialistic as any annexation Britain used its naval power to do its, considerable, best to enforce an international end to slavery. Paul Stephenson, who sees Blair's move as acknowledging the evils of the Empire, may never realise it but the British Empire in both ending the practice in the quarter of the globe it ruled and making it far more difficult elsewhere the Empire may have been as much a force for less as more slavery over its history.

Of course, all this would be different if there were a group around who had clearly suffered from slavery, questions of relative crimes and achievements would become rather abstract and morally unimpressive in the face of immediate suffering. However, while those who were slaves clearly suffered their descendents tend to have advantages like living in the States and it seems unlikely they are, net, worse off than had their ancestors not been taken as slaves and had remained in Africa. While they are worse off than those of European ancestry in the States this is hardly the correct counterfactual.

An apology for slavery would be innapropriate.

The 35 Hour Week

Well, they've finally found it. The policy groups have finally found an idea that would make me vote Labour were it to be adopted by the Conservatives (via ConservativeHome). Even Iain is getting angry. It is utterly illiberal; plenty of people who work far longer than 35 hours aren't exploited at all. It is based on the logic that more work must mean less happiness which is an awful denial of purpose in our lives. Finally, the economic impacts would be utterly horrendous as it makes British workers unable to put in the extra hours needed in certain very valuable careers; do you think the investment bankers work long hours because they're poor and exploited?

Fortunately, I don't think they will wind up adopting this policy as a poll for the Financial Times back in August (the source for the graph on the left) suggested that a majority of Britons do not think the government should limit working hours. Interestingly, this opinion is even stronger in those countries where it has already been introduced like France and Germany; clearly those who have seen working hour limits find them unpleasant.

What worries me is that Gummer considers this an issue he should let the polls take the lead on: "We have got to know what people think about it. It is one of the issues we are trying to tease out." Why on Earth is this an issue that comes down to opinion polls? Can the Conservative Party not decide anything is a bad idea on their own anymore?

Note, in particular that the question he poses is "Would you be in favour of the introduction of a 35-hour working week?" is different to that the FT poses which is "Should the government have the ability to limit the number of hours a worker can work in a week?"

This is important because a common failure of opinion polls is that people do not take account of opportunity costs; they answer as if in the best of all worlds. For example, they will happily answer yes to more spending on every service and lower taxes. Now, in this case they may answer Gummer's question as if it were "Would you like to have more free time?" I'm sure a great many would; however, they might also not like the costs to that free time of losing income and losing job satisfaction. By contrast, the FTs question focusses on the more important issue of whether they feel that their time in work should be limited by government.

This is a sad day for the Conservative Party.