2019 02 – Newsnotes

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

State Aid: Bad for Everyone Except Me

“A paradox in American public opinion that largely holds true today. Most Americans … were ‘ideologically conservative’ but ‘operationally liberal’ when it came to their beliefs about government. People liked the idea of limited government in the abstract, believing they could and should be able to get along without government’s help. But when you asked them about the specific things government does, it turned out that they liked just about all of them, and thought government should spend as much or more to keep performing those tasks.”[1]

It is a growing selfishness, and 1960s radicalism fed into it.  The Baby Boomer generation saw Freedom for their values as a natural condition.  Governments were viewed as suspicious and wasteful.  But when they had a stake in the matter, only a handful of sincere Libertarians refused what was on offer.  Most wanted the government to enforce rights that they cherished.

Outside of the New Right itself, this has never translated into functional politics.  And there is nothing odd in this.  No sinister conspiracies.  Just the simple fact that when each group just wants itself looked after, the strongest win out.

Saying ‘everyone should be looked after’ works better.  If that ‘everyone’ includes the bulk of the society, you should win.  That’s why older pre-Boomer attitudes succeeded.

But it hurt solidarity when ‘everyone’ ceased to mean ‘everyone white male, plus a little for women and non-whites’.  The excellent Mixed Economy and Welfare systems that the West had from the 1940s to 1970s lost popularity when governments took serious steps to reduce the gap between white males and the rest.

Not many could baldly say ‘I am offended that people I rate as inferior are now equal’.  That was once the open view of the privileged, and many with middling status thought the hierarchy was just and natural.  Liberalism eroded that as an open position, but mostly covered up and did not admit how much had changed.  Only socialists publicised how hard they had to fight to get real concessions.

The winning tactics of the New Right was to persuade the middling that those less fortunate than themselves were either getting more, or had not worked and did not deserve anything.

Without direct lying, a deeply false impression was created.

Most Britons believe Welfare costs more and has much more fraud than is really the case.

They believe that unemployment benefit takes up 41% of welfare: it is actually 3%.

They believe that 27% of unemployment benefit is fraudulent: it is actually 0.7%.[2]

Newspapers ignore the official government figures.  They hype rare instances of real welfare dishonesty, and make it seem like the norm.

They say as little as possible about a small more-than-millionaire elite soaking up a much bigger share of the wealth than they had in the 1950s through 1970s.

They also feed into a deep fear of ‘corporatism’, found even on the left.

Welfare has indeed been eroded.  But at least since the sharp crisis of 1987,[3] the centre-right have been very cautious about actually dismantling the Mixed-Economy or Corporatist system.  The system which actually won them the Cold War:[4] but it had been the success of the Soviet Union from the 1930s to 1950s that had inspired it.

 

Socialist Failure?

Until the 1960s, despite terrible losses in the war, the Soviet Union grew faster than the USA or Britain.  Not as fast as Italy, West Germany and Japan: but those countries embraced state regulation and state subsidy much more whole-heartedly than the USA ever did.

State regulation and state subsidy are favoured by most socialists.  They are needed by everyone else, no matter how right-wing.  They are the norm for all economies that even have a state.

In non-state societies, tribes, custom has a much tighter grip on almost everything that an individual might want to do.

Some socialists are anti-state, and there is a lot of this in Marx and Engels.  The Bolsheviks bumped into the need for state power when they took power in Russia.  They hoped that a spontaneous socialist order would emerge, guided by Soviets as councils openly elected.  But what actually emerged was chaos, and then Civil War backed by the West.  Just to survive, many of the original freedoms were curbed.  And the biggest break was the crushing of the Kronstadt rebellion: done at Lenin’s command and fully supported by Trotsky.  All that Stalin did, followed very logically from that.

And if the Bolsheviks had refused to become authoritarian?  If they had gone down in romantic and heroic defeat, as many other left-wing rebels have done?

The terrible suffering of World War One led to fascism and right-wing movements similar to fascism in most of Europe.  Moderate socialists were sometimes in power in Germany before Hitler.  Also briefly in Britain, and later the Popular Front in France.  But none of them achieved enough to prevent fascism and similar creeds of the Authoritarian Right.  In Poland, the former moderate socialist Pilsudski created just such a regime, and one that was antagonistic to Jews who would not convert to Christianity.

Global Leninism, by compromising on its original hopes, kept alive a left alternative.

Liberalism was not an alternative.  In every country that took part in World War One, the vast bulk of actual liberals had supported starting the war.  So too did every parliamentary Liberal Party that I’m aware of.

Almost all liberals favoured carrying on with the war to the bitter end, with Lloyd George securing British victory and the harsh peace that encouraged another World War.

The left-liberal Provisional Government that the Bolsheviks overthrew did not want peace.  They still hoped to gain Constantinople; a long-running ambition.  If they had been more lucky or successful and had fought on until Germany collapsed, they would probably have got what’s now Istanbul.  Would presumably have driven out most of its Muslims, as had happened in much of the Balkans. The Allies’ planned dismemberment of Asia Minor might have happened.[5]  It failed because Ataturk rallied Turkish Nationalism and defeated an invading Greek army. But with a Russian army sent by an impeccably liberal Russian Republic, it would probably have succeeded.  The entire movement against Western Imperialism would have been weakened, and might have failed.

That’s the true history, but most people in the West don’t know it.  They’ve been sold the idea that the Soviet Union was always a failure and a moral offence, or at least it was once Stalin took over.  That Mao’s China was a failure and was only rescued by Deng adopting ‘capitalism’.  Yet the best available figures show that Mao’s China grew faster than the USA or Britain, while also burdened by a US denial of recognition and Soviet hostility from the 1960s.[6]

050 Russia and the USA - colour

Saying that Soviet Union was imperfect is very different from saying it failed.  Likewise for China, before and after Mao.  And for the Democratic Corporatist system that the US Democrats invented in the 1930s, versions of which have applied almost everywhere from the 1940s.  They are viable and successful systems, and systems that achieved much that socialists had worked for.

Corporatism, treated far too often as a sinister horror, has so far been the only system able to maintain modern civilised life.  It might easily have emerged in a fascist or near-fascist form.  Might have consolidated White Male Privilege for a long time; perhaps for ever.

 

Feed-the-Rich Economics

“They’ll never admit it in public, but many of your bosses want machines to replace you as soon as possible.

“I know this because, for the past week, I’ve been mingling with corporate executives at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. And I’ve noticed that their answers to questions about automation depend very much on who is listening.

“In public, many executives wring their hands over the negative consequences that artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers. They take part in panel discussions about building ‘human-centered A.I.’ for the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ — Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology — and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.

“But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

“All over the world, executives are spending billions of dollars to transform their businesses into lean, digitized, highly automated operations. They crave the fat profit margins automation can deliver, and they see A.I. as a golden ticket to savings, perhaps by letting them whittle departments with thousands of workers down to just a few dozen.”[7]

They get away with it, because most people also fear State Control.  Giant corporations cannot be controlled by well-meaning individuals acting individually, or in small voluntary groups.  If such pressures work at all, they work because of fear of much more effective legislation if the corporations gave nothing.

Nor is violence a good idea.  It happened a lot in the USA, but the rich can always hire better-quality violence.  Hire a gross of thugs if they need them, or ten gross.  That is exactly what Feudalism was about: the rich forming private armies that did their will.  Most of the population fell into a form of limited slavery, and it was freely called slavery at the time.  Adam Smith’s mentor David Hume in his excellent 18th century History of England was clear about this:

“A great part of them were serfs, and lived in a state of absolute slavery or villainage.” [8]

The Magna Carta asserting the rights of ‘Free Men’ did nothing for the non-free majority, nor for women who were largely at the mercy of the whims and wishes of their male relatives.  And this slavery was only re-named Serfdom in the 18th and 19th century, as a cover-up for the Historic England that liberals wanted us to feel proud of.

Actual ‘industrial serfdom’, featured in some of the dismal SF futures that are now fashionable, seems unlikely.  People have so far been fooled, because their actual social freedoms have expanded.  And because much of the left does not have a clear narrative, but demands Instant Socialism without explaining how much has changed since the 1980s.

The result is millions unemployed, and the rest overworked.  Women in particular do not get the support they need if they want to do both a paid job and raise children:

“They may have had more than a sneaking suspicion that it was the case, but now working mothers have the data to back it up: they are indeed more stressed than other people – 18% more, in fact.

“And that figure rises to 40% for those with two children, according to a major study that analysed 11 key indicators of chronic stress levels.”[9]

Yet the pressure is to make everyone seek paid work, even as the actual jobs disappear.  And likewise the pressure to outsource:

“Trade unions have accused the government of failing to learn lessons from the collapse of Carillion, instead pumping even more money into outsourcing companies, a year on from the firm’s high-profile demise.

“The lifetime value of outsourcing contracts awarded in 2017-18 ‘rocketed’ by 53% from £62bn to £95bn in the past year, according to the GMB union, which pointed to nearly £2bn in contracts awarded to Capita and Interserve despite both issuing profit warnings.

“The GMB said this showed a government ‘hell-bent’ on privatisation, despite the warning signs given by the collapse of Carillion, which managed public sector contracts to provide services such as prison maintenance and school dinners.”[10]

Failed to learn? I’ve always assumed that the top Tories knew better.  That they prefer to go on plundering public wealth for private profit.  Feed-the-Rich, I call it.

The alternative is to see them as honest, but incapable of seeing what is under their noses.  Possible, but less likely.

 

The Last March of Donald Trump

The notion of comparing President Trump to Treebeard the Ent from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is so bizarre that probably no one else has ever thought of it.  Yet it may be the key to understanding actions that are otherwise senseless.

In Tolkien’s book, very different from the Jackson film, the giant tree-spirit gets his people to march on the stronghold of the evil wizard Saruman.  But he does not expect to win:

“Of course, it is likely enough, my friends … that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents.”[11]

Tolkien identified Saruman with Modernism.  Also with those moderate Britons who compromised with Hitler in 1930s, putting into his mouth sentiments similar to theirs.[12]  I’m sure he’d have deeply disapproved of Trump, who has removed a lot of protection for wild nature.  But right-wingers can see themselves as champions of liberty against an oppressive government.  Tolkien has just that in the corruption of the hobbits homeland when they return.  He disapproved of the post-war changes that created the happy secure population who became his first wave of fans.  Likewise people more or less on the left approve of the Hunger Games films, even though they obviously parody the Federal Government and feed into futile anti-state attitudes.

But the main point I am making is that you can see a futile ‘last march’ as something fine and noble.

Trump probably figures he is likely to lose in the long run.  Sees his election as a freak chance, which he will make the best of while it lasts. Possibly hopes his children can join other super-rich in a colony on Mars while Earth falls apart.

Trump also lacks Treebeard’s respect for others. With Saruman defeated and cornered, Treebeard says:

“Still, if I were overcome and all my trees destroyed, I would not come while I had one dark hole left to hide in.’

“’No,’ said Gandalf. ‘But you have not plotted to cover all the world with your trees and choke all other living things.”[13]

Something similar may motivate the Tory Brexiteers. But their shared Anglo culture has been working from the 18th century to impose its values on everyone else, regardless of how much they suffer.

 

A Man, a Plan, an Abomination – Venezuela

The USA strongly backed Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, until the man himself died.  Likewise the long-lasting dictatorship in Portugal, and the Colonels in Greece.[14]  Ceausescu in Romania, Mobutu in Zaire / Congo, Suharto in Indonesia and the Yugoslav Communists, until the end of the Cold War got them reclassified as ‘surplus to requirements’.  Likewise Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and at times even Assad Junior in Syria.

The USA still supports many undemocratic Arab rulers.  Were embarrassed and inactive when the Saudis were exposed by the Turks after murdering and presumably dismembering a dissident they had lured into their Turkish embassy.

The USA’s whole treatment of Latin America has been even worse.  Including encouraging Panama to secede from Columbia, contrary to the normal policy of opposing secessionists, so that they could have more control over the planned canal.  A project celebrated in a famous palindrome: A Man, a Plan, A Canal – Panama.[15]

The USA has been against left-wing Venezuela from the start, trying to organise coups against properly elected governments.  But stepped up the pressure after National Assembly elections threatened to make the country ungovernable.

Citizens were angry because of hardship, but this had been caused by the world oil price dropping.  Cheap oil, while bad for the planet, does serve the short-term interests of the USA.  And is greatly helped by a friendly Saudi Arabia.

Faced with a serious choice, the electors might have continued to defy the will of the USA, just as they did in Ukraine when they re-elected Viktor Yanukovych in 2010.  That’s probably why they encouraged the opposition in 2014 and provoked Russia into annexing Crimea.  The damage caused by an extremist seizure of power was foreseeable, but it is damage just to Ukraine.[16]  The USA can be fairly sure they will never elect another pro-Russian President, even though they are likely to massively reject the man they most recently elected.

In Venezuela, the rich hate sharing anything with the poor.  They seem intent on wrecking the society or starting a civil war before they allow it:

“The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to ‘crimes against humanity’ under international law.

“Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in ‘economic warfare’ against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans…

“On his fact-finding mission to the country in late 2017, he found internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, but said ‘economic warfare’ practised by the US, EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.”[17]

Would Trump start a war over it?  He has tried to pull free of a wider global role.  But dominating Latin America is a much older policy, and had always worked better.

Snippets[18]

Dams Damned

“Environmentalists said Brazil had failed to learn from the Mariana disaster, in which 375 families lost their homes, and are yet to be rehoused. The three companies … spent more than $1bn on a huge clean-up and relief operation and paid millions of dollars in fines over the disaster. But no individual has been convicted.

“‘This new disaster with a mining waste tailings dam – this time in Brumadinho – is the sad consequence of a lesson not learnt by the Brazilian state and mining companies,’ said Greenpeace Brazil’s campaigns director… ‘Cases like these are not accidents but environmental crimes that should be investigated, punished and repaired.’”[19]

***

[1] https://medium.com/thewashingtonpost/the-shutdown-is-reminding-everyone-of-the-good-things-government-does-39eb33422e23

[2] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/talking-politics-deploying-the-word-welfare-in-an-official-capacity-is-on-the-increase/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Monday_(1987)

[4] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/the-mixed-economy-won-the-cold-war/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Lausanne

[6] https://gwydionwilliams.com/99-problems-magazine/mao-and-china/

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/25/technology/automation-davos-world-economic-forum.html

[8] Entry for ‘Serf’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd CD-ROM edition.

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/jan/27/working-mothers-more-stressed-health

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/15/surge-in-outsourcing-after-carillion-collapse-staggering-unions-say

[11] The Lord of the Rings, Book 3, end of Chapter 4.

[12] As reported by Gandalf: Book 2, Chapter 2.

[13] The Lord of the Rings, Book 3, Chapter 10

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_military_junta_of_1967%E2%80%931974

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palindrome

[16] See https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/2015-magazine/2015-07-magazine/2015-07-ukraine-illegally-removed-its-elected-president/ and https://gwydionwilliams.com/46-globalisation/ukraine-kievs-five-day-war-machine/

[17] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/venezuela-us-sanctions-united-nations-oil-pdvsa-a8748201.html

[18] Previous Newsnotes at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/.  Also https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/.  I blog every month or so at https://gwydionmw.quora.com/, and tweet at @GwydionMW.

[19] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/25/brazil-dam-collapse-news-latest-mining-disaster-brumadinho

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