Newsnotes 2012 09

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

Real Capitalism and Transcendental Mammonism

Permissive Economics [Financial Deregulation]

The Night-Watchman State [Failures of the New Right]

Leninism – explaining its rise and fall

Chinese Inequalities [an historic view]

Bad Girls Aren’t Horrified By Sex

Assange and Definitions of Rape

Ayn Rand –the Woman Who Cursed Love


Olympic Glory [London Olympics]


Real Capitalism and Transcendental Mammonism

The true explanation of capitalism’s success can be found in the Communist Manifesto. You have to extract it from a mass of separate observations, some of which are exaggerated or wrong. But Marx was the first to notice that the harmonious vision of Adam Smith had nothing to do with actual capitalism. That it was a deeply radical process, despite being operated by individuals who are mostly very conservative.

To be more exact, capitalism is operated by individuals who are mostly very conservative, except when something radically new will make money for them. And unlike the older ruling classes, they are deeply unwilling to make any sacrifices to preserve small property and existing relationships.

Marx drew attention to the tendency of money and capitalist production to disrupt the society that it occurred within. This may have been a standard complaint about money from almost the first appearance of money: we find it in the Hebrew scriptures, certainly. But Marx also recognised the truth in the other side of the argument, the pro-money wing of radicalism that pointed to economic benefits. He combined these views with the general Progressive view of history to conclude that capitalism was helpfully demolishing the old order and paving the way for a Proletarian / Communist future.

In 1848, the European norm was what was later called ‘Distributionism’. Small property based on individual families. Even most larger companies were often ‘family firms’, run by a small group related by blood and marriage. Marx was making a grand speculation in supposing that big corporate entities would take over – but he was right. And he was also right in supposing that ordinary employees of such entities would start asserting themselves. Would question why enterprises that depended on many people’s work needed to be privately owned for the profit of just a few.

Where Marx misread the trend of history was in his dislike of both state power and the mass of constitutional safeguards that both the ruling class and the bourgeoisie had erected around this growing state power. His vision seems to have been of a very small number of individuals overseeing a society run by the majority for the majority. Such a system would need no particular safeguards.

Marx had a point when he sneered at ‘Parliamentary Cretinism’ and pointed out how often the ruling class and the bourgeoisie broke their own rules. But he simply ignored the possibility that ‘proletarian government’ might become tyrannical. Did not mention the risk that in a socialist system, people in authority might abuse power for purely personal advantage.

Marx also missed the possibility that existing states might notice the same trends he drew attention to and take measures to survive. Restrict Free Trade to build up national industries, and also foster a sense of a common national interest of all classes in one nation-state against all classes in another nation-state – which is what Britain had actually done in its own rise. Or that the state might see extensive welfare as a sensible answer to the disruptions caused by new industries.

The existence of a capitalist sector also ensures that new technologies get turned into useful products, with existing industries overturned in the process. That was the big problem with the Soviet Union – having built an efficient industrial machine in the 1930s, the people who ran the machine were reluctant to change. A Mixed Economy – the system the West ran in a whole-hearted fashion from the 1940s to 1970s and also encouraged in non-Communist East Asia – lets enough of economy run unplanned to allow for new emergences.

Capitalism includes what Marx called the Anarchy of Production, which is much the same thing as the current idea of ‘Creative Destruction’. But if you can’t get rid of large bureaucratic state structures – and no modern society has actually managed to do this – then a balancing area of anarchic economics is needed. But it needn’t be large, and cannot safely be unleashed to go wherever it will. In particular the financial sector must be kept safe and boring, because it is all too easy for people who trade money for money to get sucked into a pattern of speculation, gambling and outright fraud.

If someone influential had set out such a view back in the 1970s, this would have provided a logic to the Mixed Economy and suggested that it was basically sound, though certainly open to sensible reforms. We had it to a degree in BICO, along with the notion of Workers Control. But we had little influence and Workers Control was blocked by a mix of working-class conservatism and the loud-voiced and ineffective politics of Trotskyism.

Separate from Trotskyism but an influential Marxist voice was Ralph Miliband, father of David and Ed. He shared with the New Right the view that the modern state was some sort of bizarre perversion that had grown up for no good reason and badly needed to be curbed. But in its left-wing form, this sort of politics led to nothing very coherent. Almost every specific idea the Left had required a bigger and more interventionist state, which they had to argue for by devious logic from a world-view that said that the state should be much smaller. The mainstream of the Moderate Left was left confused and way open to the seemingly coherent logic of the New Right.

Trade Unions also tended to oppose all attempts at Incomes Policy and to insist on Free Collective Bargaining. Which Thatcher was quite ready to grant, only with extra rules that gave employers a massive advantage. The idea of Workers Control was allowed to fade and die, even though there was a time when most business people were resigned to accepting it. All of that perished with a resurgent New Right.

The alternative view could be called “Transcendental Mammonism”. Adam Smith and others would have called it ‘rationalism’, the idea the unrestricted cash-based exchange would lead to the best possible solution. People would act in their own best interests, or else hold back. So everything would work out for the best, and all the government need do was maintain law and order to prevent coercion and threats.

A traffic jam is a fairly simple example of a mass of independent ‘agents’ interacting freely and getting a result that none of them want. It’s actually the norm: only occasionally does unregulated self-interest produce an optimum.

In the real world, people can’t give up the habit of eating. When work is scarce then those with some property can force the rest down to the minimum level for survival, often stripping them of what little property they had in the process. If workers could hibernate for a few years when times were tough, a labour market might self-regulate. The reality in early 19th century Britain is that working people were forced to work long hours for smaller wages, as market forces took hold.

‘Rational Economists’ also assume that all participants in a market can perform instantly judgements that might strain a trained accountant. Or rather, though this is obviously not literally true, there is a helpful Invisible Hand that ensures the right result

Adam Smith also assumed that the cash return that any individual might receive would be a good measure of the amount of real wealth that they had created. It was already known within the developing science of Political Economy that this was not so. Diamonds as gemstones were of no real use: as cutting edges they were marginally useful but not critical. Water was essential, but freely available and so tended to be cheap.

Money is a social creation. A set of agreed social relationships, and also a generalised ‘right to consume’. A capitalist enterprise is out to multiply its share by its operations. This is very different from normal life, where the ‘right to consume’ may be peripheral and people may not even want more,

The New Right view depends on what one might call the “Adam Smith hypothesis”, that an increase in an individual’s money or ‘right to consume’ is identical with increasing the wealth of the nation. This is arrived at by Logomancy, verbal trickery. The term ‘productive’ is applied to whatever is profitable.[1]

The evidence is that profit-equals-wealth is not even a good approximation. When the economic role of the state expanded in the 19th and 20th centuries, this went along with increasingly fast rates of economic growth.

States have an unlimited ‘right to consume’, though whoever is in charge may choose to limit this by laws and regulation that the state chooses to obey. But the ‘right to consume’ can go as far as forced labour of an unwelcome sort, most notable military conscription. The right to send young men off to a war they didn’t care about or didn’t agree with was upheld by both sides in the US Civil War, and retained up to the Vietnam War. It remains legal (though inoperative) in the USA.

A war also gives the government an excuse to throw money at all sorts of projects aimed at turning interesting scientific ideas into products useful for war. Radar developed simultaneously in several states, but the USA with its vast resources did best. It also developed atomic weapons, long speculated about but not thought likely to happen soon.

Both microchips and the internet came out of Cold War projects. The post-war US economy depended heavily on government funding if things that were later transferred to the wider society. President Eisenhower denounced this as a ‘Military-Industrial Complex’, but it was this new social formation that won the Cold War. And has successfully started some new wars to justify continuing spending.

Governments also tended to rely on welfare to keep society calm, while allowing capitalism to slowly undermine their way of life. ‘Distributionism’ became a creed when it ceased to be the unchallenged norm, but it never really got its act together.

After the traumas of the 1930s economic slump and then the Second World War, people played safe for a generation or so. The 1960s changed all that.


Permissive Economics [Financial Deregulation]

Basic banking functions are necessary for a money economy. But banks have shifted their attention to gambling on a grand scale.

People who never gambled or who never risked more than they could easily lose now find that the savings they entrusted have been used for gambling on a grand scale. This includes people who wanted a safe investment for retirement and find that they were steered to something highly unsafe and also profitable to the advisor. ‘Respectability’ vanished and it became a question of ‘My Pay-Cheque Right Or Wrong’. Large bonuses – a brilliant idea if “Transcendental Mammonism” had been true – meant that managers had a strong incentive to overlook corrupt practices and also dubious investments that might look good for long enough to shift the blame to someone else. Or for the manager to depart with a secure few million and no need to worry if their employer collapsed later on. With the removal of the idea of a secure ‘job for life’, the idea of loot-and-move-on became much more attractive.

In Britain, many Building Societies with 19th century roots turned themselves into banks, ran into trouble and are now branches of a Spanish company called Santander. Thankfully some had the sense to stay mutual.

Another problem – some British banks cut back on computer staff, meaning that when a midnight crisis occurred, there was no one experienced on hand to avoid a disaster that disrupted people’s lives. They’ve been losing customers to Mutuals, Building Societies that stuck with what they knew.

The regular banks have got such a reputation now that the goblin Gringotts Bank from Harry Potter from could probably win customers. “The least bad bank you could find”? Or “We’re not human, and don’t pretend otherwise”?

The big problem with banking was deregulation, which removing safeguards that had been put there in the 1930s, after the last big financial crash. This began in the 1980s and 90% of the crisis was caused by things that were perfectly legal.

(It would still be a good idea to lock up the bankers and accountants responsible for the other 10%. The financial crooks must have been encouraged by a legal system that found it impossible to convict people guilty of blatant dishonesty. Or gave them sentences so light it was an encouragement to further crime, as with the Phoenix Four. But the major problem arose from stuff that was decriminalised by believers in “Transcendental Mammonism”.

Social conservatives up to the 1970s were rightly suspicious of capitalism and eager to contain it. Some of their measures overlapped with socialism, but a continued hierarchy was assumed. Their viewpoint also varied between ‘we must be fair to the poor’ and ‘we have to give up something to keep the rest”. But this didn’t stop traditional values being undermined in the long run. By the 1980s, they were dispirited and willing to believe promises that the state was the main enemy and that unregulated capitalism would restore the social values they cherished.

Thus perished authentic conservatism in Europe and the USA. It amounts to nothing much now, just a convenient herd of voters who can be led to vote for very different values. The current batch of ‘conservatives’ are anti-social, dysfunctional.

Permissive economics grew along with the relaxation of hierarchies and sexual behaviour. There was even a certain harmony. Many hippies were anti-communist and only a minority were socialists. Those who were socialists were made ineffective by their suspicion of state power. The Green Movement, the Feminists and the Gay Movement tended to ignore the wider ideology when it came to their specific needs, where more state enforcement of their ideas were an obvious need and a large achievement. But on the wider economic issues, confusion reigns.


The Night-Watchman State [Failures of the New Right]

Industrial capitalism in Britain rose alongside the growth of a strong centralised bureaucratic state funded by taxes. Adam Smith chose to treat this as an accident: economic growth had happened despite the state rather than because of it. But every other successful move to an industrial society has also involved a strong and growing state. Many have limited the freedom of action of capitalists and some have outlawed capitalism for a time, while still growing strongly.

Industrial-scale production occurs only within a strong state system. The exchange of goods can happen without the state. People may trade goods produced elsewhere, most notably the Silk Road that stretched across Central Asia, mostly run by nomadic tribalists. Or they can trade the surplus in goods that have to be produced regardless: nomads die without animals to feed them and do a lot of the work. If there is a chance to sell surplus animals, that is a bonus. The same applies for crops, most agriculture is subsistence.

Tribal systems can distribute but are weak in production, with the non-subsistence stuff occurring under the patronage of the chief, the minimal state structure that exists. They can also have a rich cultural life, but the histories of most of those peoples is lost. You could argue that the tribal way of life was better. Maybe it was, but it could not hold its own against other ways of life. Big states absorbed the tribes, but tended to stabilised as rich and sophisticated states depending mostly on agriculture and small-scale handicraft production. China was the height of this, and was in many ways more sophisticated than 19th century Europe. But it also had no change its way of life. And it was also one of the best developed version of the Night-Watchman State, the state that maintains security but does little else.

The phrase was coined by German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle in a 1862 speech in Berlin. He criticized the ‘bourgeois’ liberal ideal of a limited government state, comparing it to a night watchman whose sole duty was preventing theft. The phrase quickly caught on as a description of limited government, even as liberalism began to mean a more interventionist state.

Advocacy of a night-watchman state is known as minarchism. Minarchists argue that the state has no right to use its monopoly on the use of force to interfere with free transactions between people, and see the state’s sole responsibility as ensuring that transactions between private individuals are free. Minarchists generally believe a laissez faire approach to the economy is most likely to lead to economic prosperity.

This doesn’t correspond to actual history. It is true that you could have a strong state and a static society. Industrial capitalism as it has historically developed also needed a government committed to ‘improvement’ as a virtue, or else as a necessity for matching foreign power. Britain’s 17th century civil wars ended indecisively and in a way that made no sense to believers in the rival creeds. ‘Improvement’ became the shared creed of the ruling class that emerged out of the 1688 compromise. The drift to an ever-larger state was unwelcome but found to be unavoidable.

If government ministers believed in leprechauns, that might not spoil their ability to do their job. But a belief in night-watchman state is different, and tends to disastrous. What’s happened with the New Right going against the trend of history has been quite different from what they promised. The police and army under their rule have more thuggish and alienated from society. (It’s a thugs life in the British Army.) The state has not in fact shrunk, and small property and independent producers have continued to decline.


Leninism – explaining its rise and fall

I’d view capitalism as a social disease, a break-down of traditional concepts of balance. It happened from Tudor times in Britain, with some earlier precedents: an epidemic of cash-based values. Elsewhere, capitalism was mostly endemic in complex societies, but largely under control.

The New Right idea of restoring ‘pure capitalism’ along with a Night-Watchman State is deeply foolish. As an ideology, it allowed the West to rally when it was floundering in the late 1970s. But it had a deeply false understanding of what was going on.

‘Let things drift’ works well when things happen to be flowing in your direction. It so happened that the very novel use of small computers and global networks was best handled by the random growth of small businesses that occasionally ballooned into gigantic corporations. It’s unlikely a system of state planning would have moved so quickly.

There were also two geo-political bonuses for the West: once the USA had accepted People’s China as the legitimate government of China, a limited opening up was a sensible option possibility, which it had not been until the early 1970s. There was an excellent chance of the Chinese Communist Party becoming a more of a conventional and self-serving elite after Mao died, as in fact happened. Went through without the West having any part of it, which probably helped Deng’s people, given the bungles and horrors the USA have created when they were able to get seriously involved.

The second geo-political bonus was a long-term decay of the other main branch of Leninism, the Soviet Union and its allies, which were exhausting themselves in an attempt to realise Lenin’s original vision of a World State that would transcend nationality.

These favourable factors might have applied if some other vision had won out in the late 1970s and early 1970s, rather than the New Right triumph.

The New Right’s argument was that Leninist Communism failed, so all restrictions on capitalism must be wrong. This ignores the fact that the West’s best-ever period for ordinary people was from the 1940s to 1970s, with very considerable curbs. Or that similar controls have applied throughout in post-Mao China, and are in fact more severe than anything that existed in Western Europe.

It also ignores the fact that the Leninist system of forbidding capitalism and doing everything through the state ran well from 1930s to 1950s for USSR, 1950s to 1970s for China. Their theory cannot cope with the fact that economies ran successfully for decades with virtually no capitalism and others run with capitalism very much restricted.

So what really went wrong with Leninism?

My view is that they hit some of the limits of Marxism. Its useful lessons had been absorbed by other creeds. Initially by Mussolini, who was originally a left-wing socialist and who seems always to have viewed himself as a Marxist. If you remember that there used to be many varieties of Marxism other than Lenin’s system, this is not an unreasonable view. Except he had ceased to be an enemy of the ruling class, and the ruling class were able to absorb much from his system and feed it into what’s called the Keynesian system of the 1940s to 1970s.

This system was in no particular economic difficulty in the 1960s or 1970s. What were called crises at the time would seem minor by today’s standards. More than a million out of work in Britain was seen as a disaster: today it would be seen as a distant dream.

But other things were happening. A generation that had grown up secure and prosperous began to doubt the need for the social limits their parents had cherished. There was also a move from hierarchy to networking, made easier by the use of computers, quite contrary to what people were expecting at the time. The shift to personal computing and the internet involved many who had been influenced by hippy values.

That was what happened in the West. In China, Mao with the Cultural Revolution made a serious attempt to realise Marx’s original vision of direct rule by the Proletariat rather than a party machine that claimed to speak in their name. He’d had to limit this, but it was still a viable system with a fast-growing economy in 1976, when he died. Power then passed to those who’d lost some of their authority during the Cultural Revolution, who naturally denounced it as a disaster. But as I detail below, China’s economy was successful by global standards in those years.

What happened in the Soviet Union was very different, and with hindsight we can see that it was the doom of the system. The Soviet Union successfully fought off the cultural shifts of the 1960s, most notably with the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The system then was still fully the equal of the West, and the West still believed in Mixed Economy values. If the balance of power in Moscow had been otherwise, things might have gone very differently. But it did not happen.

Of course the disintegration of Leninism was partly based on a failure of history to go as expected. Back in 1917-19, Lenin had overthrown a moderate socialist government and then broken with his Social-Revolutionary allies for what he saw as the necessity of a peace with Germany. He probably misread the situation: the Peace of Brest-Litovsk was made in March 1918 and Germany accepted an unfavourable armistice in November 1918, something it might have had to do sooner if it had had to keep on fighting in Russia. Not greatly bothered by this, Lenin chose to split the world socialist movement, setting up the Third International on the basis of a global Communist movement that would destroy all existing forms and proceed by stages to a Socialist World State.

Lenin in 1919 committed himself to dissolving all existing cultural and political forms and replacing them with something of his own devising, based on the battered remnant of the Tsarist Empire which he now controlled and a weak global network of supporters. The surprise is not that this project ultimately crashed, but that it got as far as it did. And the rest of the world had to absorb many things that were called ‘Bolshie’ in 1919 and are now viewed as standard.

Back in 1919, Lenin had choices and some of them were definitely wrong. He could have said that revolution and authoritarian socialism was appropriate for the disintegrating Tsarist Empire but not elsewhere. He said the opposite and treated other socialists as inherently traitors rather than merely weak and mistaken in face of the crisis of the First World War.

What else could he have done? Writers like George Orwell always have a sneer ready for every possible course of action, and Orwell in fact preferred to think all was doomed and must get worse. Others were more serious, insisting that there was plenty worth fighting for and in fact producing it after the Western-Soviet alliance won World War Two. Insisting that however imperfect the Soviet Union might be, it was the best hope.

The Western-Soviet alliance turned to Cold War because the two sides were still far too different to happily co-exist. And the West’s values then were very different from what they later became The USA helped large parts of Europe’s colonial empires survive right through to the 1970s, when an internal uprising with a large Communist element ended a Portuguese dictatorship that was hanging onto its colonial empire in Africa. Despite being a dictatorship since the 1920s, Portugal was a founder member of NATO and the OECD. Also the European Free Trade Association, Britain’s short-lived alternative to the French-German-Italian Common Market. The USA was wobbly on ending colonialism, and also weak on racism till the 1960s, when they needed Black Africa for UN votes and when they also feared radicalism among Afro-Americans. The Soviet Bloc was also ahead of the West on women’s rights and sexual freedom until maybe the 1970s. So World Communism had lots of justifications. But it never dropped the notion that rival forms of socialism were somehow treasonable and inherent enemies, nor repudiated Lenin’s idea of swallowing the rest of the world and re-shaping it on strictly Leninist lines.

De-Stalinisation made no particular sense: the essentials of a dictatorial system were created by Lenin and endorsed by the other Bolshevik leaders. Stalin’s intensification of this system made sense, given the need to build a massive industrial base and be ready for a likely attack on the Soviet Union, which did in fact happen. A post-Stalin leader could have said “we are secure now and can relax, and we can also recognise the positive achievements from our rivals in socialist and social-democratic parties”. Instead, Khrushchev casts a slur on all past achievements by suggesting that Stalin had been a bungler. He also insisted that Lenin remain sanctified, and clamped down on any sensible discussion of the matter. When Hungary revolted – not an unreasonable reaction to such sudden confusion – he relied on naked military force to resolve the matter.

Expert opinion in the West holds that Khrushchev was wonderfully right in his break with Stalin, despite being mysterious unsuccessful in terms of observable results. And with mysterious symmetry, Deng in China was profoundly wrong in his refusal to repudiate Mao, despite being mysterious successful in terms of observable results.

I’m confident of China’s future. Of all the major powers, it seems the least likely to suffer disaster or political breakdown.

My suggestion also is that the apparent success of the West from the 1980s had been achieved by undermining its cultural roots. And that a very fast collapse might happen, with Europe splitting from the USA and the USA accelerating its own decline as it pursues its ideological obsessions.


Chinese Inequalities [an historic view]

One thing that might save the US hegemony for a couple more decades would be a Chinese collapse. Western experts on China boost the notion, pointing to the growing inequalities of post-Mao China. They also imply – though mostly stop short of actually saying – that Mao’s China was a disaster and not something the Chinese could have stuck with.

This is not the reality. China had lost ground between 1900 and 1950, the period when China tried to copy the West. China started closing the gap when it rejected Western values and started doing things for itself, with Mao’s Sinified version of Marxism-Leninism as a guide. The table below shows some of the details:[2]

Year GDP Per Head – China Increase on previous Ratio China to UK GDP Per Head – UK Increase on previous Ratio China to India GDP Per Head – India Increase on previous
1900 545 8.24 4,492 1.10 599
1950 439 -19.45 15.85 6,956 54.85 1.41 619 3.34
1955 575 30.98 13.68 7,868 13.11 1.18 676 9.21
1960 673 17.04 12.85 8,645 9.88 1.12 753 11.39
1965 706 4.90 13.81 9,752 12.81 1.09 771 2.39
1970 783 10.91 13.75 10,767 10.41 1.11 868 12.58
1975 874 11.62 13.59 11,874 10.28 1.03 897 3.34
1980 1067 22.08 12.12 12,931 8.90 0.88 934 4.12
1985 1522 42.64 9.31 14,165 9.54 0.71 1079 15.52
1990 1858 22.08 8.84 16,430 15.99 0.70 1309 21.32
1995 2653 42.79 6.59 17,495 6.48 0.58 1538 17.49
2000 3425 29.10 5.79 19,817 13.27 0.56 1919 24.77

Note also that the Republic of India had barely gained from 1900 to 1950, whereas the average Briton was more than 50% better off. Independence brings benefits, and China was not functionally independent before 1949. The ‘nationalist’ government of Chiang Kai-shek didn’t dare end the privileged position of foreigners within China, including warships sailing up Chinese rivers, which lasted until the Chinese People’s Army took on and thoroughly defeated Britain’s Royal Navy on the Yangtze in the famous Amethyst Incident.

Ordinary Chinese honoured Mao because they’d got steadily better off during his rule, apart from a three-year set-back after over-ambitious efforts in the Great Leap Forward. Contrary to the impression you get given, the Cultural Revolution years of 1965 to 1976 saw continuing progress.

China under Mao faced an economic boycott by the USA, plus the possibility of invasion. India meantime was under no such threat and was getting foreign aid. Despite this, India grew less fast than China.

The balance tipped further in the post-Mao era, with China now having full access to the global economy while still able to protect its own industries. Inequality has increased, but the ordinary Chinese might be more impressed by the fact that they are getting richer rather faster than under Mao. It’s the only country in the world where the New Right’s discredited theory of Trickle-Down may actually have been true. It may well have been the case that the ordinary worker did better under Deng’s system than under Mao’s more equal but slower-growing system. (The actual calculation would be a complex one and need expert knowledge. It’s the sort of thing that academic experts on China ought to have done, rather than seeing their job to throw dirt at China and ignore off-message facts.) In any case, a man or woman who is twice as well off as they were 20 years ago is likely to be fairly content and not bothered if someone else is ten times better off.

Of course there has also been talk of curing the equalities and curbing private enterprise and foreign investment, which China perhaps needs less than it used to. We’ll need to see how this works out with the change of leadership scheduled for later this year.


Bad Girls Aren’t Horrified By Sex

There was probably more significance in the death of Helen Gurley Brown, author of a 1962 book called Sex and the Single Girl, than in the death of Neil Armstrong. Armstrong was just the leading human expression of a vast project undertaken by the USA in its most healthy and flourishing period. He was brave, certainly, but no more than any other test pilot. The process could have managed fine without him. Whereas Helen Gurley Brown and others were real pioneers who successfully subverted what was still a very powerful set of traditional values.

Of course it was done evasively and with soft ridicule, summed up in her famous saying “Good Girls Go to Heaven/Bad Girls Go Everywhere.” This was maybe a defect in the whole 1960s protest, people were content to class themselves as ‘bad’ rather than building a new morality.

Which remains to be built. I don’t feel qualified to tell other adults what they should or should not be doing with their own bodies. Nor have I noticed any particular relationship between sexual wideness or narrowness and what I’d see as good human values, honesty and tolerance and generosity. No need to see sex as bad or dirty, but the idea dies hard.


Assange and Definitions of Rape

If the Swedish authorities have solid ground for charging Julian Assange with rape, they should do so. They can talk to him here, if they wish to. What actually has happened makes sense only if it is a trick to get him into Swedish jurisdiction, and then extradite him to the USA.

I don’t know the legal details. But British courts have a way of being awkward when it comes to extraditions. The government has found before that it can’t get them to reliably reject the legal pleas of people whom the government wants to throw out or hand over. It may well be easier in Sweden, which has a different legal tradition.

The whole case seems fishy. Two women are involved. It seems agreed that they consented to sex and in fact may have initiated it. It seems also that Assange misbehaved, or may have misbehaved, buy are denied details and some of the facts don’t add up. George Galloway had a point on that, but was insufficiently sensitive speaking about a sensitive issue. Women have successfully asserted the right to be sexually active on their own terms and still protected from sexual violence. This now includes ‘date rape’, which is reasonable enough but did have to be fought for.

It’s even more complex when sex was initially agreed but then goes beyond what they thought they’d agreed to. Maybe the answer would be to define a separate offence of Sexual Coercion. This would apply when Person A had on at least one occasion consented to sex with Person B, or may even have initiated. But later on, Person B chose to use force or coercion against consent, or without a reasonable belief that the consent still stood. (This would mostly apply to protecting women in heterosexual encounters, but all sorts of possibilities exist, including the occasional female who is stronger than her male partner.)

Such an offense would clarify matters and make it clear that consent for something is not consent to anything. Offences within this law would be mostly viewed as less serious the classic rape, but maybe not if it involved oral or anal sex, which many people would have a profound aversion to.

Proposing such a measure as a Private Members Bill is an option open to Galloway, and could maybe save his reputation.

[As of May 2015, the matter is still undecided.]


Ayn Rand –the Woman Who Cursed Love

As a man whose background is more business that party politics, Matt Romney maybe sees it as more important to define the terms of US politics than to win the Presidential Election. By choosing Tea Party ideologue Paul Ryan as his potential Vice-President, he encourages Obama to stick with his current position of doing not very much to change what he inherited from George Bush Junior.

Paul Ryan is also noted for being an admirer of Ayn Rand, having pushed her books and praised her as the woman who has the answers. He also says he admires Ayn Rand writings but rejects her “objectivist” philosophy. Presumably he’s aware that large numbers of voters are happy with policies that keep them poor and unemployed, but would shun any association with atheism or hostility to religion. Rand’s best-known book Atlas Shrugged ends with a long rant against religion, so it’s hard to believe he hasn’t read this.

Ayn Rand bad-mouths religion, but it’s not clear that she was strictly an atheist. It is a different thing from being anti-religious: some critics have their own personal creed that they view as The Truth. And there have been atheists who view religion as useful for people inferior to themselves.

Randians – or should we call them Ayniuses? – have a vague but loud-mouthed philosophy: “If I believe it, then it must be true”. I’ve read a lot of her stuff and repeatedly she asserts things without evidence. Some of them would normally be classed as subjective, liking one form of art and not another.

The collapse of 2008 was widely blamed on the deregulation that her writings encouraged. Alan Greenspan did a lot of it and was at one time a disciple of hers. Of course the bailout was totally against her philosophy. A dedicated Randian would have let the financial situation sort itself out and not worried about a possible collapse. The same would have applied in 1987, the previous major collapse and potentially much more serious for the West because the Soviet Union was still in being. But it seems as if Randian arguments are used but not believed when it comes to the crunch.

What may be more important is Ayn Rand’s rejection of sympathy as a virtue. She has an extreme form of the creed of fragmented individualism in which all relationships should be based on cash and selfishness. The creed that is killing the USA.



I said at the time that liberals would have been wise to compromise with the Mubarak regime rather than trying to criminalise it. What’s actually happened is a compromise between the army and the Islamists. But since the army don’t stand for much, it is likely the Islamists will dominate.

The notion that the USA should ‘establish democracy’ shows the dangers of sloppy thinking. They should have said, “we are going to compel sovereign states to introduce regular elections with antagonistic parties, in the confident belief that this will produce something that will be seen as delightful by both the USA and the ordinary citizens of the place where we intervened.” And in Egypt, at least, it is looking like the worst misjudgement since the sad case of the Classical-Greek sisters who chopped up and boiled their father in the belief it would make him immortal.

The inconspicuous man who got elected as President of Egypt for the Muslim Brotherhood is showing that he has substance. Mohamed Morsi has for the time being shoved the army into the background, successfully removing some powerful military figures. And he is being sensible enough to compromise, in an overall situation that favours him. Among surviving pro-Western elements, those with power can safely assume that the West would rat on them also if the going got tough. So they are making deals, with the Muslim Brotherhood sensibly letting them go on a respectable basis.

Rather than go running to the USA and asking them to like him, Morsi is restoring independence to Egypt after the failure of a long period of dependence on the USA.:

“Morsi attended the Islamic Cooperation Summit held in Mecca, Saudi Arabia during August 14 and 15, where he shook hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now he has chosen visiting China as his first major bilateral diplomatic activity and will attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Teheran on his way back. Some observers argue that these actions mean that the reality of present-day Egypt has contradicted the high US expectations of the Arab Spring.

“The US has pressed Egyptians to establish a Western-style democratic system since the outbreak of the Arab Spring. But when Morsi, who doesn’t favor the US, was elected as the new president through legal procedures, the US expressed strong disappointment and suspicion, which aroused dissatisfaction of the Egyptian public.

“We cannot say that US aid to Egypt has lost its influence, but one certain thing is that it cannot make the new Egyptian government follow the US lead in domestic and foreign policies any more.

“Morsi’s visit to China is a timely and positive development underscoring China’s important role in the Middle East

“For over a decade, Egypt has been restive under its arrangements with the US and Israel. Not only the man in the street, but also significant elements in political, military, and religious leadership circles, questioned Egypt’s foreign policy.” [3]

“Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi visited China on Monday for the first time with a delegation of seven ministers and 80 businessmen. Egyptians view Morsi’s visit to China with different perspectives as some of them support his talks with the Chinese regarding the application for a loan from the International Monetary Fund while others reject such negotiations.

“Egypt also seeks to benefit from the Chinese experience in production in general and electrical technology. A number of agreements will be signed between both sides. Trade between both countries has hit $9 billion. Morsi plans to forge economic partnerships and bolster tourism between both countries as China has lifted the ban imposed on its citizens wishing to visit Ghardaga, Sharm El Sheikh and Aswan. The volume of Chinese investment in Egypt is $500 million.

“Morsi is also scheduled to visit Iran for the first time at the end of this week to attend the Non-Alignment Summit. This is the first visit by an Egyptian president to Iran in over three decades.”[4]

[I was wrong on this. The army did removed him in the end.]


Olympic Glory [London Olympics]

Britain can still organise things well, when people care. The London Olympics were a chance to show off and done quite nicely. It shows what can be done and is mostly not done.

Politics was always there, of course. When the Sri Lankan President met the Queen, Channel Four News commented “He presides over armed forces accused of human rights violations”. My answer would be, “well so does she”. The British monarchy is very well placed to demand that the Armed Forces stick to the official rules for decent conduct. As far as I know, they have never once done so.

The USA – current World Champion as a violator of human rights – regained the top place in gold medals that they lost in Beijing. China without Home Advantage managed a very credible second. And the USA was very heavily dependent on just two sports, Athletics and Swimming. Out of 104 medals, 29 were in athletics and 31 in swimming. China is still weak in athletics – six medals including one gold – but has a pretty good spread. China’s best successes were in swimming and diving.

In swimming, China has advanced a lot despite the loss of home advantage. In Beijing they got 6 medals, 1 gold. In London it was 10 medals, five gold. One of the USA’s strong areas is under threat, and they do not like it.

In swimming, two young women do unexpectedly well. One Chinese. One Lithuanian. Why does only the Chinese lady get accused? If you look at Shiwen Ye’s overall time in her winning 100 Meters Medley, she was nearly half a minute slower than the men’s medley and about the same margin behind the women’s free-style. A very fast last lap is odd, but may be down to inexperience, pacing herself too cautiously.

That she swam the freestyle leg of her race faster than men’s medley champion Ryan Lochte was made much of, but means little. Lochte was 23 seconds faster than Ye overall. She only swam faster than him in the final stage – freestyle. By Olympic standards, Lochte isn’t a particularly fast free-stylist, which must be why he concentrates on medley.

The modern USA is notable for being the world centre of drug abuse and for being poor losers, never conceding someone else might be honestly better.

Looking more widely, Russia came 4th in golds and 3rd in total medals. India remains insignificant, 6 medals and no golds. Indonesia rates even lower, just 2 medals. Brazil, the next hosts, came out middling with 17 medals and 3 golds.



[1] I’ve detailed this in my book Wealth Without Nations.

[2] Figures from The World Economy: Historical Statistics by Angus Maddison.

[3] []

[4] []

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