Coolhearts in a Sickening World
Doomed by Selfishness?, Beautiful Parliamentarianism?, Or What Else?, Making Votes Count, Covid-19 Failures, Storm After Storm, Climate Denialists, Weather Is Not Humane, Undeniable Bad Weather, The Cost of Salvation, Protect Those Poor Little Billionaires?, China Keeps Politics In Command, China’s Lax Leninism, Rising From Mao and 1949, Hong Kong Tragedy, India and China, India: The Cows Come Home, “Don’t Say I’ve Failed Just Because I’ve Failed”, The Mythistan Road Traffic Death Squad, Feed-the-Rich But With Moderation?, A Mindless Flock of Very Rich Persons, Flocking Futures, A Global Incoherence, Looking Backwards, Rural Socialism in Britain and the USA, New Tories, Failed Conservatives, Electoralism, Not Democracy, Poverty, Doomed, Doomed and Doomed Again, Being Anonymous in a Global Nightclub, My Forecasts, Businesslike Minds, Feed Off Of The World!, Legacies, Escaping Your Neighbours, Coolheart Liberation, Friendly Cave-People?, Falsifying History, Fear of Scientific Solutions, Geometry in the Oldest Known Temple, Glad To Be Statist, Soviet Failures, Back To The Soil?, India At Risk, Our Sickening World, Older Errors, USA Sickens Worse, Global Riots, Zoom to the Future Now, Why I Write
Doomed by Selfishness?
Rich people are vastly wealthier than they were in the 1980s. But this is barely an issue in Western politics.
The rich and the media they control are very keen to make young people think that their problems are down to the Baby Boomer generation wasting the wealth of the world.
The problem is not Baby Boomers. It is the small number of War Babies and Baby Boomers who popularised New Right ideas that were marginal or discredited during their childhoods.
And the majority of Baby Boomers who were fooled by the New Right’s false promises. Influenced by what I call Coolheart ideas.
‘Being cool’ was floated as an ideal, after the naïve optimism of 1960s radicalism bumped into some harsh realities.
‘Being cool’ can sound very clever.
‘Coolheart’ sounds like an insult. And is meant as such.
Being calm and detached is sometimes a virtue, but not always.
Being cool about suffering and injustice is always an offence.
Most of my generation still have good intentions. But those in charge would not last long if they were not authentic Coolhearts.
Coolhearts are happy to rob from the poor and give to the rich, which has happened since the 1980s. They encourage mistrust of the state, but their actions show that they fully understand how necessary it is.
And the wrong turning in the West followed on from a failure of the left-wing influences that had been shaping the West from the 1940s.
Had Moscow in the 1950s and 1960s followed the same path that Chinese Leninism did after Mao, the New Right would never have emerged. Moderate Socialism would have become the norm.
Instead the increasingly negative Soviet example blighted socialism wherever it had influence.
But now we have the example of People’s China as a fast-growing authoritarian system with Leninism still the official creed. A place where the rulers can think decades ahead. Or react fast to a crisis, as has happened with Covid-19.
And where the vast majority trust their rulers to look after their real interests. To restrain selfish minorities who might otherwise deadlock the political system. Keep within limits the rivalries that might hurt everyone.
But the current Western view of China is bitterly hostile, because China has no tolerance of opposition politics. No chance of the existing rulers being voted out and being replaced by people who have never held power before.
They are called enemies of democracy. Yet elsewhere in the world, similar systems flourish with a legal opposition that might theoretically take power:
- In Singapore, the People’s Action Party has ruled since 1959.
- In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party ruled from 1955 to 1993, and then from 1994 down to the present day.
- In Germany, the Christian Democrats have ruled from 1949 to 1969, 1982 to 1998 and continuously from 2005.
- In Italy, the Christian Democrats ruled in a series of unstable coalitions from 1946 to 1994 – years of vast advance for Italy.
- In France, the open and liberal system of the 4th Republic failed. France advanced under De Gaul’s much more authoritarian 5th Republic.
In both Italy and France, this popular authoritarian system broke down. And the voters who caused it don’t much like the results of their own actions.
How many people would say that politics improved in Italy or France when the older dominant party lost control?
Most on the left are appalled by the decline there of left-wing parties and the rise of the Populist Right.
Likewise India and Turkey.
So why does no one in the West see merits in Chinese politics as they are?
Hostility to China results from intense media campaigns that began when it became clear that China was overtaking the USA as the world’s most influential and economically powerful nation.
As recently as 2017, Uighur violence within China was freely reported in the Western Press. As was Uighur involvement with extremist versions of Islam oppressing regular Muslims, and also non-Muslim minorities in Iraq and Syria. I’ve done a blog on this, “It’s Not Free Speech If I Don’t Like It!”, starting from sudden hate campaigns against inoffensive Chinese fantasy and science fiction.
To me, it is obvious manipulation for bad ends.
Yet with most of them having lost faith in Leninism, most on the left would never dare say China was doing fine with the system it has. Or that the break-up of the older semi-open systems in the rest of the world was sometimes not a good thing after all.
But it is an observable fact that voters often dislike the results of their own actions. And that spontaneous and unorganised movements for ‘good government’ almost always fail.
In Problems 43: The Tragic Failures of Spontaneous Politics, I detailed why it was unrealistic to hope that people would get a government that they liked, simply by being free to vote for a party of their choice.
And that the hope of spontaneous politics solving it all is even less realistic.
I argued that we can enjoy a mild and friendly system in Western Europe, only because of a consensus that was stamped into the society over many generations by highly illiberal methods.
In this article, I will look specifically at things that have gone wrong.
I recently saw a sharp criticism of Western ways on the al-Jazeera website:
“Does the world still need the West?
“The sun is setting on the West’s time as the self-appointed democracy police of the world…
“For several centuries, the countries of Western Europe and North America, led primarily by the UK and its colonial spawn, the US, have dominated the globe in economic, military and cultural terms. The West has made and remade the world as it saw fit and projected itself as the pinnacle of human achievement. ‘The developed world’ it has vaingloriously referred to itself as, a model of enlightenment for the rest of “underdeveloped” humanity to follow. And the world it built was meant to reinforce this hierarchy.
“Of course, much of the narrative of enlightenment was little more than myth – a convenient fable to cover up the brutal profiteering off the oppression and exploitation of other human beings and destruction of their societies. Still, sitting on the porch of its mansion watching over its global plantation, having grown fat off the wealth it had taken from others, the West came to believe its own rhetoric of racial and moral superiority.
“However, the last four years have done much to draw back the curtain on the hypocrisy that has always lain under the pontification. Countries that just a few years ago were proclaiming the end of history and their triumph as beacons of democracy, liberalism and capitalism – nations that traversed the globe preaching the gospel of good governance, accountability and transparent government to the less fortunate denizens of corrupt, third-world banana republics – have themselves succumbed to the lure of authoritarian, right-wing populism. Gone are the heady days when they sought to enforce democracy through manufactured wars and devastating economic sanctions. Today, democracy seems just as endangered in the US (and in the UK) as it ever was in Kenya and elsewhere.”
Good as far as it goes. But the author seems not to question the core belief that democracy must be some variant of multi-party direct elections. That the entire population must take part in choosing top-level parliamentary representatives, and perhaps also a directly elected President.
In another article. which is about elections in Kenya, that same man expresses disappointment and surprise about what followed when voters “ended the 40-year dominance of the independence party KANU”. For him, “Kenyan democracy was on an unstoppable march” in 2002, but then it led on to violence in 2007. “The country convulsed in election-related blood-letting that officially left at least 1,300 dead and myriads more injured, raped and displaced.”
It was unstoppable. Except it did stop, and turned very nasty.
His solution is more of the system that visibly failed to work.
There is a fault in reality. Please do not adjust your mind.
Back in the 1960s, when transistors hadn’t fully replaced valves, the BBC would commonly put out the message ‘‘There is a fault in transmission, please do not adjust your set’, when it was their fault. But if you didn’t get the message, you needed to fiddle with the controls.
Something we no longer need, with more advanced technology.
But in politics, people’s minds get locked onto particular systems regardless of evidence.
Without knowing much about Kenya, I would have expected violence when delicately-balanced politics was upset. Electoral politics easily leads to political parties that specialise in talking up the needs and hopes of one of several rival ethnic groups. Exactly that led to war in Ireland – Protestants in 1914 were threatening armed revolt rather than accept Home Rule with a Roman Catholic majority. And voting flowed easily into war in Sri Lanka, and before that in what was originally East Pakistan and is now Bangladesh.
And even without such divisions, it is not that great a system. And certainly not the only form of democracy.
In Latin-Christian Europe, democracy evolved out of a much older system of Parliamentarianism, plus hazy memories of both the Roman Senate and the relatively democratic Popular Assemblies of Greece and Rome.
The Roman example was misleading. Rome’s Senate shared power with two elected Consuls until the Emperors got control. The rich controlled elections, and even the various Popular Assemblies were not democratic by modern standards.
Parliaments were a mediaeval European invention, based on older traditions, including Guilds. They were not democratic, with votes limited to maybe the better-off seventh of the society. One-seventh of the voters – and of course all male – was certainly the system in Britain after its 1832 Reform.
Nor were Parliaments originally intended to rule. Mostly the government was controlled by a monarch, and in the Republic of Venice there was a non-hereditary Duke (Doge) who was chosen by a complex and indirect system.
Many Parliaments got removed or sidelined in the 17th and 18th centuries, in the name of efficient government. And it wasn’t that unpopular. Charles the First managed to rule for 11 years without the English Parliament, until he got involved in an avoidable war with Scotland.
Britain in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 established that the Monarch could not rule without broad support from Parliament. But it was not at all a democratic system. Monarchs remained dominant, until an accident of birth let that power drain away during the long rule of Victoria, who came to the throne as a teenager with little understanding of politics. With a habit of not contesting Parliament’s power.
France after failing to co-exist with the Monarch after the first stages of the French Revolution did try full democracy – men only, of course. It anyway failed and Napoleon’s autocratic rule was preferred.
Something similar happened with their Second Republic. It lasted from the 1848 Revolution till the 1851 coup. Its elected president – popular with the people but not with parliamentarians – made himself Emperor Napoleon III. And when he fell, the Third Republic only survived because pro-Monarchy voters were split between ‘Orleanists’ and ‘Legitimists’.
Or What Else?
Parliaments never have been good at expressing the popular will. And where there is no strong tradition of parliamentary rule, such systems mostly also fail to provide Good Government.
And both Britain and the USA hang onto the traditional ‘first past the post’ elections which suppress small parties and produce large parties easily manipulated in the interest of the rich.
In the rest of the world, systems with rival parties allow some form of Proportional Representation. They have a range of rival parties, expressing differences that get suppressed within the two big parties in Britain and the USA. And where there are not strong ethnic or religious differences to be exploited, it works better.
For Britain, I’d like to start again with a new system that kept legitimacy by using the language of the old. Have 500 MPs, but elected as follows:
Each individual would get three votes, one each for the three sectors. Or alternatively they could cast 2, 1 and 0 for whichever sector they favoured, or 3, 0, 0.
I’d see vocational ties as counting for more. I’d suppose that MPs elected by IT workers would be much closer to my views than most of those we have. Likewise those for restaurant staff, transport workers etc. The retired could vote either for their former trade or for an MP for the Retired. Those who spent at least three years in more than one trade could choose. And the unemployed could also choose an Unemployed bloc or else whatever they used to do.
When I blogged about this, someone e-mailed that this was Corporatism, which had been a fascist idea.
Actually Corporatism is a much older idea. Mostly a left-wing idea, but the Catholic Church also favoured it as a traditionalist alternative to pure capitalism. Mussolini claimed to have created it for Italy, but it was mostly window-dressing. The Nazis ignored it completely
Making Votes Count
But why stop there? People feel their vote counts for nothing, and mostly it does. Most voters live in safe seats, and know that their vote won’t matter much. I myself always vote, but only in 2019 was there a close contest where I lived.
Parliaments originally existed in societies that had few voters, and strong local identities. Constituencies were based on cities and counties, which in a less mobile age did have their own viewpoint. And mostly elected men from that region. (Only in the late 19th century did the idea of including women become significant.)
The original idea of two MPs per constituency was scrapped, for no very clear reason.
What we have now is increasingly irrational.
My own history involved voting first in Cambridgeshire, where rural and agricultural votes dominated. Then in a chunk of Islington and a chunk of Hackney, both solid Labour. (And both in North London, for those who don’t know.) Then I moved to get a job in Peterborough, at that time Tory. But I found a home in a strongly Labour district of Peterborough called Fletton, and it was mysteriously drowned in the rural and Tory constituency of North West Cambridgeshire. There was speculation at the time that this was done to save Peterborough as a seat for leading Tory Brian Mawhinney, who had held it since 1979. In the event he switched to North West Cambridgeshire, while Peterborough went Labour in 1997 as part of Blair’s first victory. Has swung between parties ever since.
I moved to Coventry when I retired, and have since voted as part of Coventry North West. Securely Labour under a mature white male candidate, and won by just over 200 votes in 2019, when the candidate was a young black woman. Taiwo Owatemi was a pharmacist in the NHS before becoming an MP, which I’d see as a superior background – but that is just my view.
If we’d had a split system and had I had the option where to cast those votes, I would have cast all three of my votes within the Vocational sector, Information Technology, assuming I kept rights after retiring.
My own vote would count for little, but it would have been far more meaningful.
We would not have had Thatcher.
Nor Blair’s New Labour.
Something like Corbyn’s version of Labour would have a large chunk of the seats, and might well be ruing in coalition with more centrist groups.
If I could totally re-design the system, I’d also change it so that each MP cast as many votes in Parliament as they had voters supporting them at the most recent election. Replace the mediaeval system of physically passing through a lobby. Each MP would have a dedicated electronic device that would cast his or her vote and a simple computer to add them up.
Almost all of the 32,014,110 individuals who voted in 2019 would see their vote counting for something with every single vote in parliament. No vote would be wasted unless it was for a party too small to get even 1% of the vote and a single party-list MP. (Or you could make it 5%, if you wanted to avoid too many very tiny parties.)
Had it existed for the last three elections, Geoffrey Robinson from 2015 would have cast 18,557 votes on any issue, less than many MPs. 26,894 from 2017, when Corbyn boosted Labour among the young and still kept the Brexiteers. Taiwo Owatemi would now be casting 20,918 votes. Meantime the 20,710 votes for the Tory from 2019 would not be lost, but would have been added to a pool of votes shared equally between all Tories elected on the Party list.
Except one could be confident that far more individuals would have bothered to vote, had they known that their individual vote would definitely count for something.
But that’s just how Britain might be improved. I doubt that any variant on the Westminster system would have fared well in Iraq. Or would have saved the repeated efforts at a Western-style system in China from 1912 to 1949. Or would work well if they tried it now.
For most people, freedom to insult the rulers is less important than the freedoms that come from living under some sort of effective government.
The whole claim that the West “spreads democracy” is foolish. It has imposed a system that produces weak government. Or does where there is not the mass of supporting culture that the West evolved over centuries. Needed coercion to impose, until most people had internalised it.
It has aided the wealth of the rich and the exploitation of the poor. And while some of those who have pushed it are sincere, I doubt that the real power-brokers were ever deceived.
“Virus Hits Europe Harder Than China. Is That the Price of an Open Society?
“The epidemic is now bigger in Europe, where governments aren’t used to giving harsh orders, and citizens aren’t used to following them…
“To some extent, experts say, Europeans are paying a price for living in open, affluent democracies, where people are used to free movement, easy travel and independent decision-making, and where governments worry about public opinion. Governments aren’t used to giving harsh orders, and citizens aren’t used to following them.
“But China acted with a severity and breadth that stunned the West, making unpopular moves and accepting deep economic damage as the price of containing the disease. It closed off tens of millions of people, prohibiting them from leaving their cities and even their homes, except to get food and medical care, and it imposed lesser restrictions on hundreds of millions, shutting down whole industries in the process.”
That was said back in March. There were people in the USA who knew what to do, but they were not listened to:
“A week after the first coronavirus case had been identified in the United States, and six long weeks before President Trump finally took aggressive action to confront the danger the nation was facing — a pandemic that is now forecast to take tens of thousands of American lives — Dr. Mecher was urging the upper ranks of the nation’s public health bureaucracy to wake up and prepare for the possibility of far more drastic action…
“His was hardly a lone voice. Throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government — from top White House advisers to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies — identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action.
“The president, though, was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly, focusing instead on controlling the message, protecting gains in the economy and batting away warnings from senior officials. It was a problem, he said, that had come out of nowhere and could not have been foreseen…
“Unfolding as it did in the wake of his impeachment by the House and in the midst of his Senate trial, Mr. Trump’s response was colored by his suspicion of and disdain for what he viewed as the ‘Deep State’ — the very people in his government whose expertise and long experience might have guided him more quickly toward steps that would slow the virus, and likely save lives.”
China wiped out the virus within its borders – new cases are all imported.
So did New Zealand, where government is mild and people trust each other.
Other places failed, including the USA, India and most of Latin America. They failed to keep control. The USA currently has the greatest number of reported cases and the greatest number of deaths. It also has a much larger population than most other victims, but stands 2nd in cases per million and 7th in deaths per million according to one source. 3rd by cases behind the Czechs and Belgians and 6th by deaths, by another.
Britain has also done badly: 5th in deaths per million, and with Boris Johnson continuously bungling. And it’s no accident:
“Our politics isn’t designed to protect the public from Covid-19
“The politics of denial, first honed in the tobacco industry, has serious consequences for a floundering Johnson government
“The worst possible people are in charge at the worst possible time. In the UK, the US and Australia, the politics of the governing parties have been built on the dismissal and denial of risk. Just as these politics have delayed the necessary responses to climate breakdown, ecological collapse, air and water pollution, obesity and consumer debt, so they appear to have delayed the effective containment of Covid-19.”
That’s George Monbiot, a believer in Spontaneous Politics.
For me, the whole problem is a mistrust of government. It began with a wish to relax rules about sex, which worked. And on illegal drugs, which in my view did not. But hostility to government became general, rather than thought about on a case-by-case basis.
The militant left sabotaged Labour Party ideas of translating freedom into workable economics with Incomes Policy and Workers Control. I was part of the minority who saw these as the next stage of socialism.
To the great surprise of the militants, their 1970s success opened the way for Thatcher and Reagan to sell ‘Free Markets’ as the path to freedom.
I did recently see one mainstream commentator saying some of this:
“How Liberals Opened the Door to Libertarian Economics
“Milton Friedman’s free-market ideas found favor in a free-love era and helped redirect the country toward the right. The aftershocks of his radical arguments are still being felt today.”
Storm After Storm
2020 would have been a terrible year even without Covid-19.
In July, I blogged about floods and hurricanes in East Asia that caused deaths and broke records, but which Western media mostly ignored. Talk of globalisation has not so far led to a genuine global consciousness.
In September, I collected some recent weather disasters as a blog.
There has been plenty more bad news since then:
“Worldwide, last month was the warmest September on record, topping a record set just a year before…
“It was also the hottest September on record for Europe. Northern Siberia, Western Australia, the Middle East and parts of South America similarly recorded above-average temperatures.
“The announcement, by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, an intergovernmental agency supported by the European Union, capped nine months of devastating wildfires and followed the most active Atlantic hurricane season since 2005.”
Summer in California is winter in Australia, and vice versa. Australia’s major fires peaked in December–January. Then it was California’s turn.
Trump, naturally, was evasive. He said there was mismanagement of forests, which was true. But not that the main error was the understandable human wish to stop all fires. In California, this broke the natural cycle. The forests have accumulated terrifyingly large amounts of dead wood.
Most of Trump’s voters would be confused by a simple truth like that.
But more weather outside of the older norms must be expected:
“Extreme weather: October downpour sees UK’s wettest day on record”.
“The most widespread drought in the continental United States since 2013 covers more than 45 percent of the Lower 48 states, federal scientists said.”
But it is not just drought, floods and fires. For hurricanes, the USA broke another record in early October:
“Hurricane Delta makes landfall in storm-battered Louisiana…
“This is the 10th named storm to make US landfall so far this year, breaking a record that has stood since 1916.”
The custom has been that names for North Atlantic storms begin with the letter A and use 21 letters of the Latin alphabet. Q, U, X, Y and Z are excluded, having few common names for English-speakers. And originally they all got female names. Women found this unfair, so from 1979 the names alternated between female and male.
The 2005 season had 27 named storms. Names of the first six Greek letters were used, beginning with Alpha and extending to Zeta. (It is a different ordering from our Latin-derived alphabet, which itself is not quite what the Classical Romans used.)
With the hurricane season probably over, 2020 has 30 named storms, extending to Iota. Workable but awkward. Maybe they should begin 2021 with storms Amy and Adam, then Betty and Brian, etc. 42 names, which should last for a while in a fast-changing world. A world where most weather news is bad news, and existing records keep being broken.
Proper action to avoid the looming crisis has been delayed for decades. Blocked by a loosely-organised but powerful community of rich right-wing manipulators. Blocked by greedy rich people concerned just with their own short-term profits.
Overall, they have persuaded ordinary voters to do the following:
- Let the rich in Britain and the USA take most of the new wealth created since 1980.
- Disbelieve Climate Change.
- Disbelieve many of the health measures needed to suppress Covid-19.
Sadly, some on the left share beliefs 2 and 3. And they often say far too little about the unfair sharing of wealth. But it should be clear who is pulling the strings:
“The anti-lockdown scientists’ cause would be more persuasive if it weren’t so half-baked…
“A ski resort once crowned ‘the best small town in America’ may seem an unlikely venue for three scientists to issue an edict about the global response to a pandemic. But Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is the home of the libertarian thinktank the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), which this month hosted a meeting to discuss ‘the global emergency created by the unprecedented use of state compulsion’.”
Nothing unprecedented. Much more drastic forms of compulsion have happened, especially in war. And back in 1980, Deng Xiaoping’s one-child policy genuinely was an unprecedented use of state compulsion. But Western protests were mild. Of course at that time, they supposed that Deng was going to deliver to them a weak obedient China as an endless supply of cheap labour. This was a foolish expectation, but the New Right frequently are fools outside of their rather small areas of expertise. They think it pointless to plan – I explain later about the ‘Plan X’ mentality.
It is also possible that the idea of fewer Chinese in the world appealed to them. Anti-Chinese sentiment is common in the USA, openly expressed in otherwise light-hearted entertainments as recently as the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie. The racist term ‘Chink’ persists. And looking back, there is a shockingly racist short story by the sometimes-socialist Jack London. The Unparalleled Invasion takes a positive view of exterminating the entire population of China with germ warfare, and resettling China with the White Race. Itself not so far from what was done in Jack London’s California to its Native Americans: the last and uncompromising phase of general genocide.
Making an exception for Deng’s one-child policy is just one instance of general dishonesty.
But overall, New Right politics depends on keeping the state weak and unpopular.
I’ve called it Feed-the-Rich, since supposed libertarian beliefs are never applied when the rich face immediate loss or danger. On longer-term threats, they seem to have been conceited and stuck to a line that was certain to be proved wrong:
“David Koch Was the Ultimate Climate Change Denier…
“Construction on the Koch political machine began in the 1970s, after Charles Koch took over the family company. He and David began funding and orchestrating a political project to restrain government power in the United States through lobbying, think tanks and political donations. The effort accelerated in the 1990s after a Senate committee, following a long investigation, accused Koch Industries of stealing oil from Native American reservations where the company was operating. That experience convinced David and Charles Koch that they needed to have a stronger presence in Washington to fend off their critics…
“This machine has been employed to great effect to ensure that no government action is taken to control greenhouse gas emissions. In the early 1990s, President George H. W. Bush made it clear that he would support a treaty to limit carbon emissions. The Republicans even had a market-based solution to tackle the problem, a system called ‘cap and trade’ that put a price on pollution and allowed companies to buy and sell the right to pollute. Cap and trade had been used to great effect to reduce power plant pollution and acid rain. But in 1991, the Cato Institute, a Koch-funded think tank, held a seminar in Washington called ‘Global Environmental Crises: Science or Politics?’ This was part of a decades-long effort to cast doubt about the reality of climate change.”
There are also small numbers of extremists who expect and might even hope for a total collapse. See themselves as sheltering from it and emerging to build a better world with all of those they dislike conveniently gone.
I have to wonder about how many people might be believing this without admitting it in public.
And are fools if they do. When new cultures emerged from previous collapses, they were more often the values of the humble and poor. Most notably Christianity after the Roman Empire fell apart.
Weather Is Not Humane
Facts have an unfortunate habit of remaining facts. Do so even when Very Important People tell those facts to go away and stop bothering them. Or even when they can get hold of a few Exhibitionist Experts who will pose grandly by denying what has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Very Important People mostly misunderstand it, because in the political, business and cultural spheres, many apparent facts are indeed subject to change by power and will. That is their own experience, mostly. So they think it must always be so.
As well as High Culture and Popular Culture, there is an Operative Culture that defines who we are. The things we find natural, and are surprised to find different in other societies. And this really can be shaped into what the powerful demand. It has happened throughout human history. One might even say that it is the most important part of human history – though mostly not the most admirable.
Language is part of it, and persistent in a way most humans habits are not.
In Britain, written history tells of how Romans conquered most of Celtic Britain. Saxons replaced Romanised Celts in what became England, and also Lowland Scotland. Norse almost replaced Saxons. Normans then conquered England, but with Saxon elements re-emerging in time.
Things were even more complex on the fringes of Britain. I recently chanced across an article describing ‘The Viking wipeout of language and culture on the isle of Skye’.
“Norse didn’t only import their architectural and burial customs, but also their language. The oldest datable place names on Skye are all Norse.
“The replacement of place names from Celtic to Norse without any real trace of pre-existing names is something unprecedented . I can’t think of any other examples.
“In England, when the Anglo-Saxons colonised, they retained a lot of the Roman place names. In North America, the colonists retained a lot of the Native American place names.
“But for some reason on Skye , the pre-Norse place names have been replaced by Norse.”
I’d speculate that there was an attempt to emphasise Norse identity and purge names that sounded alien, during the centuries before Skye was absorbed into the Gaelic clan system.
Even stranger is the western end of the Scottish Lowlands: a region called Galloway. Like most of Britain – but perhaps not the Far North – its culture was once that of the Brythonic Celts, whose language survives mostly in Wales. It was then settled by Saxons, and a royal grave from this period has recently been found. It was then the Saxon Shore, but was later conquered by Norse-Gaelic people from the partial merger of Norse settled in Ireland and became known as Galloway. Its people came to speak the very different Celtic language of Ireland, which also took over the Scottish Highlands. They kept independence for a long time by shifting between the Scottish and English kings, before Scotland swallowed them. And were treated as a distinct Scottish people when Scottish resistance was rallied after Edward 1st tried to merge Scotland with England. And Galwegian Gaelic seems to have lasted longer than Gaelic in other parts of Lowland Scotland.
That’s how history goes. Language is a vital part of Operative Culture, but also something that can be controlled by human will. Or by the will of the powerful, balanced against quiet subversion by the women of the conquered, where these are the majority. The Germanic conquerors of what had been Gaul probably did not bring many of their own women, taking women who spoke the Vulgar Latin that the Romans had imposed. This ‘mother tongue’ managed to survive and become French, along with other Romance dialects that were later largely suppressed. Things were different in what had been Roman Britain, where it seems entire Germanic communities moved. There is a remarkable lack of Celtic words in Old English (Anglo-Saxon.) Anything of Celtic origin arrived later on.
Place-names commonly stick. England kept many Celtic names for hills and rivers, and Roman names of probable Celtic origin for cities and towns. And Britain as a whole also has a scattering of mysterious place-names identified as pre-Celtic, from languages that have otherwise vanished without trace.
Or mostly without trace. There was a small Welsh kingdom called Ewyas, a pre-Celtic name. Happening to meet a Berber-speaker at the house of a friend, I asked him what if anything the name meant, and he said ‘the dawn’. Which makes sense: Ewyas is on the eastern fringes of the Wales that survived the Saxon invasion, and might also have been an eastern fringe or dawn-direction for settlers moving up along the Atlantic coast. Unknown settlers brought basic agriculture to Neolithic Britain, long before Celtic warriors with chariots and bronze weapons arrived as part of an Indo-European wave that probably began in what is now South Russia.
The Norse on Skye changed everything except the name of the island itself, which may be Celtic or something older. The name of an entire country is usually set by outsiders. Thus Greeks speaking English call themselves Greeks and not Hellenes. Chinese do not insist that they are REALLY citizens of Zhongguo.
But all that is about relations between humans. Some newly-independent countries have restored older names – Ceylon to Sri Lanka, Burma to Myanmar, and almost everywhere in Black Africa. That we still have the Republic of South Africa and not Azania is because Nelson Mandela made a compromise with the long-settled White population. Azania is a Greek name for Africa, which makes it neutral between the various black language-groups of the region. But might well have been seen as denying the legitimacy of a white population that had often been there for centuries.
Business people learn about human relations – accounts by insiders always concentrate on these and focus much less on the economic abstractions that the New Right claim as fundamental. They have also evolved a series of new business cultures: cultures superior to the Fordism that Lenin and Stalin took as their model.
They mostly don’t know science, and don’t realise that human civilisation is a bubble in a universe that is indifferent to them.
Nature rambles and the moon don’t care – and this is of course an atheist and materialist view.
You do of course find mystical views that deny both Science and God. And some, more scientific, that still believes that human will can bend the physical laws of the universe. Subatomic physics might seem to say this – but how could one explain all of the unexpected and unwanted things that were also discovered?
At one moment in the 20th century, it seemed that electrons, protons and neutrons were a splendid explanation for everything we saw in the normal world. But the maths suggested more, and more particles turned up. Some like the positron had been predicted. Others were utterly unexpected.
Muons are part of the natural world. They are created by high-speed cosmic particles hitting the atmosphere, creating pions that almost instantly turn into muons. Every minute, about 10,000 muons reach every square meter of the earth’s surface. They mostly pass through us harmlessly. But they should not have existed, according to what the experts believed at the time.
Pions were predicted, and were to be named Mesons if they turned up. Muons were mistaken for them, and for a time the experts spoke of mu-mesons and pi-mesons. But muons turned out to be bizarre and unwanted versions of the familiar electron. A heavier version of the electron, and somehow related to the 4th type of quark that confused the original neat model of three quarks making up protons and neutrons and a confusing mix of similar particles. They and one of the three original quarks turned out to be part of an unwanted Second Generation of particles. And there is even a third generation of such things. But notions of a fourth generation are currently seen as not matching the observed universe.
I saw this as a ‘shatter point’ for subjectivist views, and did a detailed explanation in a long essay called The Muon and the Green Great Dragon. This included the story of one exasperated physicist saying ‘Who ordered that?’ when the muon’s oddness was confirmed. Treating it as if it were some oddity like a dish of fried rabbits-ears arriving at the table of a group of British or US friends having a celebration in a Chinese restaurant. Chinese eat them, but enough Europeans keep rabbits as pets for them to be absent from most menus, Chinese or otherwise.
A restaurant broadly delivers what its customers want. The universe is not a restaurant. The Earth’s biosphere is not a restaurant.
Short-sighted pollution including carbon dioxide is changing the weather in ways we never wanted. But it is an unthinking mix of gas, clouds and water. It is what it is, regardless of our wishes.
Undeniable Bad Weather
“Exxon has misled Americans on climate change for decades. Here’s how to fight back…
“The fossil fuel industry has known about the role of its products in global warming for 60 years. Exxon’s own scientists warned their managers 40 years ago of ‘potentially catastrophic events’. Yet rather than alerting the public or taking action, these companies have spent the past few decades pouring millions of dollars into disinformation campaigns designed to delay action. All the while, the science is clear that climate-catalyzed damages have worsened, storms have intensified, and droughts and heatwaves have become more frequent and severe, while forests have been damaged and wildfires have burned through the country.
“By polluting the information landscape, these companies misrepresented the safety of their product and denied the public their right to be accurately informed.
“Big oil is not the only industry to do so. Big tobacco is a famous case, but asbestos and lead industries have done it too. These days, campaigns by soda companies to contest sugar science and by the NFL to distort the science on concussions use similar tactics. The campaigns all run a similar playbook: they cite fake experts, place impossible demands on the science, cherry-pick data, impugn the integrity of individual scientists and the scientific process, and appeal to conspiracy theories. They leave the public with the perpetual impression that there are lots of unresolved questions, and that scientists are not to be trusted.
“Research has confirmed that disinformation works, which is, of course, why special interests fund it. So it is crucial to expose disinformation for what it is, so that the public doesn’t fall prey to the next industrial-scale propaganda effort…
“And then there’s the classic tactic of citing fake experts to cast doubt on the expert consensus on human-caused global warming. The most prominent example is an internet petition of 31,000 dissenting ‘experts’ who think humans aren’t disrupting the climate. However, over 99% of the signatories have no expertise in climate research – it’s populated with graduates of programs in computer science, veterinary science, and mechanical engineering, as well as dead people and pop stars, but very few with climate expertise. In actual fact, 97% or more of domain experts agree on the fundamental fact that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet.”
Labour must emphasise that the Tory government are not serious about spending money to fight Climate Change. Tory MPs are rich enough not to be personally at risk. And repeatedly try to dump responsibilities and become still richer.
The actual elite can escape most of the damage.
But ordinary people sometimes show a silly resentment against those cleverer than they are, even though thinkers cost them very little, and often bring great benefits.
Many of them also admire the rich, not noticing that their wealth is often undeserved and always accumulated from people like them.
Join with the rich in taking no notice of those offensive unwanted facts that the experts keep coming up with. One BBC Science Editor commentated:
“Climate change: UK’s 10 warmest years all occurred since 2002…
“2014 remains the warmest year in a temperature sequence now dating back to 1884.
“Despite last summer’s blistering heat, 2018 only places as the seventh warmest year on record – as the statistic is based on temperatures all year round.
“When it comes to the coldest years, the most recent in the top 10 was in 1963…
“I’m old enough to remember the last of Britain’s top 10 cold winters – back in 1963 – and everyone’s becoming more familiar with the warmer conditions of recent years.”
It does not help that Britain’s Labour Party since Blair has mostly combined aggressive social liberalism with neglect of ordinary or poor people who are not part of some minority they are seeking to help to show their liberal virtues.
Yet facts remain facts.
Subjective values do dominate human relationships. You can aggressively push transgender rights. Or choose to treat transgender people politely but deny that trans woman are really woman. Or be nasty to them. Or burn them at the stake as an Offence Against God, as once happened. Those are your free human choices over things that humans can control. But being angry about the weather does not help. Not unless your anger prompts you towards doing something useful.
Pre-Industrial civilisations were dominated by a genuine belief that personal conduct defined as immoral could cause bad weather. You find this not just among the uneducated, but also among the most sophisticated. Such as the grand codification of Roman Law under emperor Justinian:
“Justinian codified laws against LGBTIQ people that still inform civil laws today. He also advocated for intolerance based on the threat of God collectively punishing states that permitted homosexuality…
“Natural disasters plagued Justinian’s reign. Noxious fumes in the air, probably caused by far-off volcanoes, blocked the sun causing crop failure and famine. An outbreak of Bubonic plague killed tens of millions of people and an earthquake caused a devastating tsunami in the Mediterranean.
“So like some crazed modern-day evangelist, Justinian outlawed not only homosexual acts but also toleration of such. No more ‘turning a blind eye’ and no room for a philosophy of ‘live and let live’.
“‘For because of such crimes, there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences…. If… we overlook such impious and forbidden conduct, we may provoke the good God to anger and bring ruin upon all.’”
In the modern world, you could not imagine a newspaper headline like “Justice Minister Blames Rising Crime on the Infernal Lord Lucifer.” In the English-speaking world, serious belief among the elite in Supernatural Evil had a late outbreak in the Salem Witch Trials, and was afterwards quietly rejected.
But the ghost of the notion is still there. May be loudly asserted by the less educated. And such feelings are cynically manipulated by right-wingers keen to defend the high incomes of the rich. The unfair share of wealth that they have been taking from the 1980s.
The Cost of Salvation
Returning the 1% to the more modest share of wealth that they had before the 1980s would free up enough wealth to save the planet. The bulk of extra payment for skills and hard work go to the Next Nine, whose income need not be shrunk at all.
“These U.N. Climate Scientists Think They Can Halt Global Warming for $300 Billion. Here’s How.”
300,000,000,000 is a lot of money. But the 2019 United States federal budget was 4,407,000,000,000, and the individual states do a lot of the public spending that would be in a unitary government budget in most countries.
Military spending by the USA was 1,917,000,000,000 for 2019 – more than six times the estimated cost of saving the future. And no one would expect the USA to spend all of it: just a fair share from one of the richest societies on the planet.
The wealth of the world as a whole is estimated at more than 80,000,000,000,000 dollars in cash terms, or maybe 130,000,000,000,000 dollars if you consider the lower cost of goods and services in poorer countries.
So it’s not that we can’t afford it. Or that anyone other than the super-rich need find it a big subtraction from their current income.
Much less drastic than what the world has already done to contain Covid-19.
Yet 300 billion is still a gigantic lump of power in the world. No one individual is so rich – currently Jeff Bezos leads with $113 billion, while Bill Gates has a mere $98 billion. Families rate slightly higher – the Walton family (Walmart) have $225.2 billion and the Mars family (sweets) $126.5 billion. (And the Rothschild family, contrary to Far Right fantasies, have long since ceased to be a major force. Were never on a level with the Fuggers, Rockefellers or the noisy anti-Semite Henry Ford.)
The money is there, but those controlling it don’t like being told how to spend it by what was initially a very small and eccentric Green movement.
Refused to take notice when the bulk of the experts shifted in the 1990s and said that dire warnings of Climate Change were broadly correct.
Selfish interests are also involved:
“Russia announces plan to ‘use the advantages’ of climate change…
“Possible ‘positive’ effects are decreased energy use in cold regions, expanding agricultural areas and navigational opportunities in the Arctic Ocean.”
Russia is a major source of the gas we should probably stop burning. And while they will take damage from climate shifts, a lot of this is stuff that can no longer be stopped. Whereas a warmer world will make their vast cold northern territories much more valuable.
And within the West, it seems that many of the rich are expecting disaster but concentrating on their own survival:
“Billionaires Should Reform. Instead, They’re Preparing for Apocalypse…
“It’s not the total amount of abundance in the system that promotes goodwill, but the sense that whatever is available is being distributed justly. The ultra-wealthy 500 families, who own 80% of the world’s assets, are so worried about the impoverished classes staging an uprising — either now or after a disaster — that they feel they must continue to build up cash, land, supplies, and security.
“They hire futurists and climatologists to develop strategies for different scenarios and then purchase property in Vancouver, New Zealand, or Minneapolis — regions predicted to be least affected by rising sea levels, social unrest, or terror strikes. Others are investing in vast underground shelters, advanced security systems, and indoor hydroponics in order to withstand a siege from the unruly world. The most energetic billionaires are busy developing aerospace and terraforming technologies for an emergency escape to a planet as yet unspoiled by their own extractive investment practices.”
Protect Those Poor Little Billionaires?
A slew of promises were made by the New Right, when they rose in the 1980s:
- A smaller state.
- Less state intrusion into private matters.
- Lower taxes.
- More rewards for hard work.
- Faster economic growth.
- Social harmony.
- A peaceful world where Human Rights are respected.
- The rich to be respected as Wealth Creators.
The first seven of these have blatantly not been met. But this was never said by the Clinton-Blair tendency in the Centre-Left.
They should have said that the compromise commonly known as Keynesianism was broadly correct. That attacks on it have damaged the economy. But having mostly come from the unrealistic leftism of the 1970s, they kept the belief that Capitalism and Socialism were two utterly different things. Concluded that Socialism had failed, and that it would be wise to quietly revert to pre-socialist radicalism.
An immense foolishness. But the behaviour of most Labour MPs and of Sir Keir Starmer makes sense if they are still locked into this belief.
‘Capitalism’ depends on a strong state. Without it you get overrun by gangsters and warlords. But the exact rules make all the difference.
Rules applied from the 1940s to 1980s gave the West fast economic growth, and kept the very rich in check. Thatcher and Reagan changed that, and in the USA in particular the gains in wealth have gone mostly to the super-rich.
Not that it was ever particularly just. Rewards for the most successful have always been excessive.
“People such as Biden want you to think billionaires are just very rich people who earned their fortunes through hard work. This is laughable. Nobody becomes a billionaire through hard work alone; there’s a statistic floating around social media that if you made $5,000 a day every day, starting in 1492, when Columbus arrived in America, you would still have less money than Jeff Bezos, who is worth a net $110bn post-divorce.”
Most of the super-rich have had luck as well as cleverness and hard work. I’ve done a detailed study: Outliers – 101 Candidates To Be Bill Gates. He and the other software billionaires were just a little ahead of a whole swarm of gifted individuals who could have created something much like they made.
But the public were fooled, and mostly still are.
A few years back, I was saying that the ordinary right-wing voters were being treated like docile idiots. And had not yet shown that this was a mistake.
With Trump, Brexit etc. they are no longer docile. But are still baffled and still blame the wrong people.
They dreams have been derailed. They have no sensible idea how to fix them.
Isaac Asimov, who began as a working scientist and was a gifted populariser of science, once said:
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”
Ordinary people don’t lose from other people being cleverer or more learned. But since they themselves are unlikely to become cleverer or more learned, they can be made jealous.
The ultra-rich mostly profit from taking wealth that should have gone to ordinary people. But those ordinary people fantasise about becoming rich, and do not resent it. Remain docile no matter how shamelessly the rich grab more:
“In 2019, 19 people became billionaires. Four of the members joined as a result of death or divorce, including Julia Koch and Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife Mackenzie Bezos.
“New members now also include more and more women. In the last five years, the number of female billionaires has grown by 46 percent, that is more than the number of male billionaires in the same period (39 percent). There are now 233 female billionaires in the world, a steep growth from 160 in 2013.”
A global problem, but worst in the USA:
“The Billionaires Are Getting Nervous
“Bill Gates and others warn that higher taxes would lead to lower growth. They have their facts backward.
“When Bill Gates founded Microsoft in 1975, the top marginal tax rate on personal income was 70 percent, tax rates on capital gains and corporate income were significantly higher than at present, and the estate tax was a much more formidable levy. None of that dissuaded Mr. Gates from pouring himself into his business, nor discouraged his investors from pouring in their money.
“Yet he is now the latest affluent American to warn that Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan for much higher taxes on the rich would be bad not just for the wealthy but for the rest of America, too…
“The wealthiest Americans are paying a much smaller share of income in taxes than they did a half-century ago. In 1961, Americans with the highest incomes paid an average of 51.5 percent of that income in federal, state and local taxes. Half a century later, in 2011, Americans with the highest incomes paid just 33.2 percent of their income in taxes.”
The game of ‘saving money’ mostly shuffles wealth rather than creating it. And most of it ends up with a few greedy and unscrupulous characters.
Bill Gates has at least produced good products, many of which I use myself. A lot of the new wealth is Parasitic Finance. Parasitic, because the claim that it would lead to better investing has proved false.
The stronger 1% grab wealth from the weaker 90%. And a lot of the actual talent is found in the Next Nine, who have not gained or lost much.
There is no truth in the argument that what’s being rewarded is more work.
Simple observation should tell you that the extremely rich 1% have no advantages over the well-off 9%, except for luck.
Also commonly a lack of scruples.
And are much more likely to have had rich parents.
China Keeps Politics In Command
To think straight about Xi’s China, you need to be aware that Mao’s China was growing faster than either the USA or Britain.
East Asia had done even better, as had West Germany and Italy and Japan. But that had been thanks to massive US aid. Also tolerance of deviations from Classical Capitalism that went beyond British and US versions of the Mixed Economy.
Western Europe and the USA let these former foes take over markets for televisions, video tapes and video disks using practices that would now be denounced as Crony Capitalism.
They and not the Anglo core were the lure for Mao’s China to break with Mao’s system. Which had not failed, but had been overtaken by the pro-US nations of East Asia.
I’ve done a detailed study, Mao’s Economic Success. Why Western books never give overall growth for 1949-1976.
I made use of the standard work for long-term global growth. The World Economy: Historical Statistics by Angus Maddison. Published in 2004 by the OECD Development Centre, and generally accepted as much the best source.
I’ve not seen anyone claim the figures are significantly wrong. Minor tweaks are suggested by some experts. But nothing that would undermine the hard data that shows that Mao was a considerable economic success.
Yet somehow every Western expert ‘knows’ that Mao’s China was a disaster. ‘Knows’ that post-Mao China was rescued by kindly Western capitalists. And then cannot understand why China does not act in line with this ‘truth’.
The reality was that Deng could bargain hard, because China already had a perfectly satisfactory system of industrial production. Agriculture he could and did change without help from foreigners. And he and his heirs have always kept the land publicly owned. Family farms do not own the land they use, and so the more successful farmers cannot turn into small landlords in the traditional Chinese manner. And everyone from a village can ask for land to farm, if they lose their city job. They do not become landless and helpless, as would happen in India etc.
If Chinese agriculture is not the Hard-Line Collectivism that Mao briefly created, it is also not capitalism.
People are baffled that Kissinger was ‘soft’ on China. He was not soft: he was well-informed. His critics have swallowed their own side’s propaganda.
Kissinger could go along with bombing Cambodia, because it was easily foreseeable that the poor Cambodians would never be able to hold the USA accountable. And he had a view of politics that justified cold and greedy calculations.
And could safely assume that the rest of the political class were no more moral: just less clear-thinking. Western writers almost always treat the Khmer Rouge as if they happened for no clear reason. They could not discuss their rise from a tiny fringe group without making it clear that it was the fault of the USA, who organised a right-wing coup against the popular neutralist monarchy. But they can use their normal fog-and-darkness methods. They can never mention the topic, and hope that most readers never look into deeper causes.
A ‘Cambodian Lives Mattered’ movement within the USA would be worthwhile, bringing to light massive US guilt. Including abandoning most of the Cambodians they had once made use of, when their Vietnam War was clearly lost. A US offer of massive humanitarian aid to the new regime in return for moderation might have saved many lives. But genuine morality seldom happens in US foreign policy. It is entirely possible that some of them figured that a disaster for a left-wing regime would be useful in the on-going Cold War, which in the 1970s the USA seemed to be losing.
Abusing Cambodia was safe for the USA. Keeping China as a foe was not.
China was a growing power. And Kissinger may have noticed the remarkable fact that Mao could throw the entire society into turmoil in the Cultural Revolution without a single known movement emerging in the People’s Republic that wished to be seen as anti-Mao. Even in Hong Kong, then under British control, the only initiatives were pro-Mao.
China could always make life hard for the USA. So it was sensible to end the abnormal hostility that had existed from 1949 till the early 1970s. End the silly pretence that right-wing exiles on tiny Taiwan were the real China, and entitled to China’s UN seat.
Nixon oversaw a lot of it, with Kissinger as his super-diplomat.
Nixon had fabricated a lot of the anti-Communist hysteria, in the early days of the Cold War. Was smart enough to avoid most of the odium that discredited Joe McCarthy. And knew the difference between truth and profitable lies, which I don’t think Trump ever did.
It is often said ‘only Nixon could go to China’.
What gets overlooked is that probably only Mao could have received him without enormous popular protest. It is possible that even Mao had trouble: one of many theories of the fall of Mao’s one-time heir Lin Biao is that he refused to change.
So Mao and Nixon made a deal, with the awkward matter of Taiwan set aside.
Mao allowed some opening-up. Deng took it much further, but always aware of the risks of tinkering with what had been a very successful system.
But for years, Western ‘experts’ were certain that China was going to copy their ways, even when those ways were visibly working badly.
We also find that people write entire books about Mao’s supposed failure over food, without bothering to notice that Mao’s policies greatly expanded food production as well as population. And that the crisis of 1959-61 produced a death-rate no worse than the norm for some poor countries in that era.
That’s crediting them with being honest fools. They may also have seen such data, which is hard to avoid if you go looking for the raw facts. Hypothetically they might have seen but decided to suppress the off-message facts, which is a known malpractice that the New Right have done more often than most. Trump’s surreal politics are only a slight extension.
But the bottom line is that Chinese life expectancy grew faster than that in India, Indonesia or similar countries.
Back in March, the magazine Spectator did report the overall gain:
“How Mao’s medicine made modern China…
“By the 1970s, China delivered improvements to life expectancy, infant mortality and rates of infectious disease widely regarded as remarkable, with a pace that far exceeded its rates of economic growth and those of similarly developed nations.
“Where other populations may have buckled under the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution – putting aside the damage of day-to-day Maoist economics – China’s health outcomes stand as a rough indicator unto itself, with broad independence from purely socioeconomic measures. China’s life expectancy between 1950 and 1980 ‘ranks as among the most rapid sustained increases in documented global history’ and presaged the substantial development still to come.
“Once market reforms were enacted in 1978, their success ‘depended heavily’ on the exceptional relative health of its labour force.”
Of course the economics were also successful, given a US boycott and a fear of invasion. And Mao’s system produced an educated workforce that was used to working collectively and could move easily into factory systems. Still, it is good to see a little of the truth getting through.
There is also a scholarly study, An exploration of China’s mortality decline under Mao: A provincial analysis, 1950–80. Check it if you still doubt
But most Western ‘experts’ ignore this. Most ordinary Westerners are led to believe a false history.
There is an old American saying: it isn’t ignorance that makes you a fool, it’s what you know that ain’t so. Very relevant to repeated Western failures over China.
China’s Lax Leninism
The USA’s chance to stop China’s rise must have faded under Obama. But if anyone noticed and protested, I missed it.
I think they all believed that China would ‘normalise’ soon.
Mainland Chinese mostly know better.
“Why the rise of China is a long march…
“Great Power’s Long March Road makes clear that what gives a think tank ‘Chinese characteristics’ is not that it is geographically based in China. It is that it is based in China’s ideas. The book’s introduction is Wang’s reflections on Mao Zedong’s essay ‘On Protracted War.’ The book’s title Great Power’s Long March Road of course relates to the same historical period, the third of the four which Wang identifies during the last two centuries of China: the age of arrogance (1793-1840), the era of defeat (1840-1912), the age of struggle (1912-1949) and the rising era (1949-present).”
Official favour in China has shifted as the West grows both weaker and more aggressive.
“Chinese liberal thinktank forced to close after being declared illegal…
“The Unirule Institute of Economics, one of China’s few remaining outposts of liberal thought, said in a statement on Monday that local authorities had declared the thinktank ‘unregistered and unauthorised.’”
They’d probably call their policies ‘Open Door’. But ‘Open Legs’ would be more the reality.
And the sufferings of post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s showed that in geopolitics, ‘Open Legs’ is not even a formula for wealth. When the West feared defeat in the Cold War, uncertain allies were allowed a lot of dignity and gained a lot of wealth. But thanks to the New Right, most of the benefits now go to a greedy global elite.
Biden seems to agree with Trump that China needs curbing. But denying them US technology is unlikely to work. China launched satellites and tested hydrogen bombs back in Mao’s day. Bought up a lot of cheap Soviet space technology from post-Soviet Russia, but have been using it successfully in a way the Soviet Union could not in its declining years. The last important Soviet success was Mir, the first modular space station. Russia let itself become a dependency of the USA in space, with a lesser share in the US-dominated International Space Station. The USA refused to let China be part of that, but they are doing very nicely on their own.
Russia regenerated its weapons program, and China grows increasingly strong.
If the USA wants to fight on non-military matters, China can also cope:
“China has ordered that all foreign computer equipment and software be removed from government offices and public institutions within three years, the Financial Times reports.
“The government directive is likely to be a blow to US multinational companies such as HP, Dell and Microsoft, and mirrors attempts by Washington to limit the use of Chinese technology, as the trade war between the countries turns into a tech cold war.
“The Trump administration banned US companies from doing business with the Chinese telecoms company Huawei this year and Google, Intel and Qualcomm announced they would freeze cooperation with Huawei.
“By excluding China from western knowhow, the Trump administration has made it clear that the real battle is about which of the two economic superpowers has the technological edge for the next two decades.”
They can mock the USA for its incoherent politics. And feel superior to Britain:
“China will lead new Asian order, ‘Asian century’…
“Brexit has further dragged the UK into a downward spiral. Brexit shows the defect in the UK’s political system. Politicians transfer too much power to the people only to protect the system and fawn on the people for the sake of political interests. This has made Brexit a complete farce and a dilemma.”
In Britain and the USA, education is seen as an appalling burden on wealth-creation. China still believes what we believed before the 1980s – that educating all of the children will benefit everyone in the long run.
And China is ahead of many countries that still accept this:
“15-year-olds from Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang outperformed those from 78 other education systems…
“What makes their achievement even more remarkable is that the level of income of these four Chinese regions is well below the OECD average. The quality of their schools today will feed into the strength of their economies tomorrow.”
It seems true that the very top levels of creativity are not yet well developed. But those are not very hard to add once you have the basics. And maybe have to be cultivated slowly, like a superior lawn or admirable forest.
Apart from Hong Kong, the policy of ‘getting tough’ with China has produced a tough and popular Chinese response that pushes back:
“Whether to celebrate Christmas garnered heated discussion on the Chinese social media platforms, with many asserting that the festival, along with other ‘imported festivals,’ was gradually losing its sheen for Chinese as they formed a clearer picture of Western culture and values.
“Many Chinese also attributed the phenomenon to a surge in Chinese cultural confidence, bolstered by a renewed promotion of a rich and ancient culture.
“Shops and buildings nationwide used to begin to decorate with traditional Christmas elements such as Christmas trees weeks, even months ago.
“But this year , many Chinese who are not Catholic and Christian, asserted that the festival was failing to capture enthusiasm.
“A Tuesday survey launched by a Sina Weibo account with more than 3 million followers asked people how they will spend Christmas, with 2,975 out of 4,434 respondents saying they would spend it on their own, as the festival has nothing to do with them.
“May Yu, an employee at a foreign-invested bank in Beijing, said about 70 percent of her friends on WeChat applied to put a Santa Claus red hat on their profile photos a few weeks before Christmas last year, but this year she hadn’t seen any doing it.”
Rising From Mao and 1949
China as reshaped by Deng used to downplay Mao. But now its leaders have about as much capitalism as they think healthy. Mao is accepted as having done more than just unify the country:
“China’s success an alternative to Western development model…
“Great changes have taken place in terms of economic development in China over the past 70 years. In 1952, China’s GDP stood at 67.9 billion yuan ($9.55 billion); while the figure exceeded 90 trillion yuan ($12.66 trillion) in 2018, an increase of 1,325 times. China has been contributing more than 30 percent of the global economic growth for many years, outperforming any other economy. China has served as the global growth engine and stabilizer, which is a blessing for both Chinese people and human history.
“China’s progress has not only contributed to political and economic changes across the world, but also provided an alternative to the Western development model. It offers another option for countries which want to seek development while at the same time maintaining independence.
“China’s unique path has not only absorbed Western development experiences, but is also based on its own conditions. It’s fair to say it’s a kind of integrated innovation…
“The West trumpets any country can succeed as long as it applies Western values and development model. Yet it has been proved over decades that it is wrong as every country has a different domestic situation and what can work smoothly in the West may not suit countries in other regions.”
And this is occasionally admitted by Britain’s Financial Times, which is there to supply hard facts for business people:
“Lessons from the first 70 years of the People’s Republic of China…
“We can draw four fundamental lessons from China’s experiences.
“First, the importance of improving human capital development and infrastructure. Between 1949 and 1979, life expectancy nearly doubled from 35 to 66; from 1949 to 1982, adult illiteracy rates fell from 80 per cent to 23 per cent; gender equality was achieved in elementary education. Without these, the rapid growth after the 1979 opening and reforms would not have been possible.
“The second lesson is that the main benefit from globalisation is the ability to learn from the best practices worldwide. Interaction with foreign companies has forced Chinese government officials, entrepreneurs and workers to adopt international standards. The economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo were wrong: education rather than profiting from absolute or comparative advantages is the real benefit of free trade.
“The third lesson is less obvious and perhaps most surprising: markets are absolutely key to growth but cannot develop on their own. A well-behaved government must be the midwife. Neoclassical economists such as Milton Friedman need to be re-educated. Chinese officials, especially in local governments, have had huge incentives to support the market. They compete to attract capital and enterprises to boost tax revenue and win promotions.
“The fourth lesson is a painful one learnt from the disasters of the Great Leap Forward and cultural revolution: checks and balances on power within the small group of top decision makers in a democracy is absolutely crucial. (Democracy for the entire population is a different issue.) 
China under Mao was also still a poor country. Rose from extreme poverty in 1949 to moderate success by 1976. Was then still poor compared to its neighbours. But now has a growing global weight:
“In the past 70 years, China’s proportion of major economic and social aggregate indicators in the world has further increased, its international status has been further enhanced, and its global influence has continued to grow, said a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics.
“The report shows that from 1961 to 1978, China’s average annual contribution to global economic growth was 1.1 percent, but from 1979 to 2012, the average annual contribution rate was 15.9 percent, ranking second in the world.
“From 2013 to 2018, the average annual figure climbed to 28.1 percent, ranking first place globally, the report said.
“In 2018, the ratio of China’s contribution to global economic growth was 27.5 percent, 24.4 percentage points higher than in 1978, the report said.”
The BBC in its business sections will also occasionally admit how well China is doing:
“China has more ‘unicorn’ start-ups than the US
“China has the world’s largest number of ‘unicorns,’ privately-held start-up firms valued at more than $1bn (£771m), according to a new report.
“The country has produced 206 unicorns while the US has 203, the China-based Hurun Institute reported.
“Together the two countries are home to more than 80% of the world’s unicorns.
“It comes as Washington and Beijing fight a trade war and jostle to become the world’s technology leader.”
China did grow faster when it dropped Mao’s insistence on social justice and let controlled capitalism return. And naturally this involved corruption:
“Inside a Brazen Scheme to Woo China: Gifts, Golf and a $4,254 Wine…
“Millions of dollars were paid out to Chinese consultants, including a business partner of the premier’s family and a firm that secured a meeting for the bank’s chief executive with the president. And more than 100 relatives of the Communist Party’s ruling elite were hired for jobs at the bank, even though it had deemed many unqualified…
“This was all part of Deutsche Bank’s strategy to become a major player in China, beginning nearly two decades ago when it had virtually no presence there. And it worked. By 2011, the German company would be ranked by Bloomberg as the top bank for managing initial public offerings in China and elsewhere in Asia, outside Japan…
“Josef Ackermann, the bank’s chief executive until 2012, said in an interview with The Times and separately in answers to written questions that he was not familiar with many of the details contained in the documents. But he defended the bank’s broader practices.
“‘This was part of doing business in this country,’ Mr. Ackermann said. ‘At the time, this was the way things were done’…
“Deutsche Bank, the documents show, dispensed hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure meetings for top executives with China’s leadership. An obscure company received $100,000 to arrange a 2002 meeting between Mr. Ackermann and Jiang Zemin, then the country’s president…
“On multiple occasions, according to the documents, Deutsche Bank tried to win business by collaborating with family members of Wen Jiabao, China’s premier from 2003 to 2013. The Wens’ enormous accumulation of wealth was the focus of a 2012 investigation by The Times that found family members had controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion…
“Most of the Chinese government officials entangled in the bank’s activities have since retired, among them Mr. Jiang and Mr. Wen. But two parents of people the bank employed are now members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s pinnacle of power. And the country’s vice president, Wang Qishan, accepted gifts from the bank when he held previous positions, such as mayor of Beijing.”
The stuff that Xi Jinping was given unprecedented power to curb. But without going to extremes: there is a grey area between corruption and normal business. And China is probably the only place where ‘Trickle-Down’ was real. Where the bulk of the society actually gained a lot even as a rich Overclass emerged above them.
It seems nicely in balance. And apart from the tragic case of Hong Kong and the necessary curbs on Islamic extremism in Xinjiang, almost everyone goes along with it.
They can take a scornful and realistic view of George Soros:
“’Defeating China’ is wishful thinking from Soros
“Soros has played an inconsistent role in the financial market and changing society. He is a financial predator who has been influenced by liberal philosophy and market Darwinism. He has not only shown the greediness typical of Wall Street financial capitalists, but has also played the role of ideology defender.
“He is a profiteer on the equity market. He made a profit attacking UK’s currency; he destroyed the value of the Thai baht, triggering the Asian financial crisis; and he profited from the short sale of Japanese yen.
“He is also an unorthodox capitalist dreamer. With his great wealth, he spreads US ideologies and values to the world through his Open Society Foundations. The organization allegedly fueled political changes in countries such as Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. It has also attempted to stir up color revolutions in multiple countries. Soros himself, at the same time, is trying to amplify his individual influence in the world political system.
“George Soros does not always see eye-to-eye with US-style capitalism. However, it is still those nations and forces that defy rules made by the West that Soros cannot put up with the most. A strong and growing China is a typical example of what Soros wants to see the least.”
Hong Kong Tragedy
In the last section I mentioned Xinjiang and Hong Kong as glitches in the orderly rise of more than a billion Chinese citizens.
I’ve done a blog explaining how from 2018, the Western media abruptly stopped talking about well-documented Uyghur involvement in Global Islamic Terrorism, still the West’s biggest fear. To make Beijing’s successful controls seem monstrous, off-message facts must no longer be mentioned.
False stories are apparently being given credibility. Just as the made-up story about savage Iraqis throwing Kuwaiti babies out of incubators served its purpose. Its undisputed exposure as a deliberate lie is now consigned to the attic of Off-Message Facts.
I’ve said all I plan to say about that sad matter.
On the equally sad matter of Hong Kong, I feel the need for some concluding remarks.
Often I feel like Cassandra – always giving warnings and never being heeded. (I have even detailed this, later in this article.)
When ‘Arab Spring’ protests in Syria were heading towards Civil War, I used what tiny bits of influence I had to try to persuade pro-Western elements that a fight with Assad was foolish. That even if Assad was overthrown, the winners would be hard-line Islamists much more alien to their values. Exactly the same outcome as with the Iranian Revolution, and partly and with continuing violence in Iraq.
As far as I know, no one at all was influenced. They boldly leapt into the furnace, and were scorched by it. If still alive, they would now be exiles; or else part of the dwindling remnant that the West has abandoned.
Back in August 2019, I took an interest and decided that the youth of Hong Kong were being urged to ask for something they had no hope of getting.
Crucially, I found they had no significant mainland support:
“Cecilia Zhang is the sort of Chinese person who you might think would be sympathetic to the protesters in Hong Kong. She went to a prestigious American university, gets her news from foreign media and has no plan to move back to the mainland from Hong Kong, where she has worked in the financial industry for the past four years.
“But she says she doesn’t understand why people in Hong Kong continue to take to the streets. In fact, she thinks they should go home.
“‘Hong Kong’s economy is going to be ugly this year after all the strikes,’ she said. ‘Why would you do something that’s not going to benefit you? What can you get out of it?’
“It isn’t a surprise that many people in China oppose the protests against a proposed law that would allow Hong Kong to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China. They see only the news that Beijing’s censors let them see.
“What is surprising is that many Chinese people who know the full story share that opinion.
“Independent polling isn’t allowed in China, so judging public attitudes toward Hong Kong is largely guesswork. But among the educated Chinese I know, the ones who travel and can see the global internet, a large number believe the protesters are wasting their time. They should instead be working to rebuild Hong Kong, they say, a city they see as a one-time beacon of prosperity that is losing its promise.
“Their views suggest a hard Chinese line against Hong Kong that goes beyond propaganda. It shows a fundamental shift in how many people in China see the city — and, by extension, how they see their own country. And it reflects a deeply rooted belief in the success of what many call the China Model: economic growth at the cost of individual rights.”
That attitude even among the small stratum of Westernised Chinese suggests more conflict ahead between Hong Kong and the mainland. It also casts further doubt on the possibility that as China becomes more middle class, its people will inevitably demand more individual rights, forcing the Communist Party to ease its control over society or even to copy Western politics.
I blogged on this, saying Hong Kong Committing Suicide?.
I tried to warn them they had no hope of winning, and would get hurt.
What’s puzzling is that many Western reporters should have known, but I saw none of them issue similar warnings.
Grist to the mill for global anti-Chinese propaganda?
Of course there are also grand promises of refuge for vast numbers of Hong Kong inhabitants who may need it.
Will these be met in countries where there is bitter hostility to immigrants by vital groups of electors?
For certain, Western politicians have a long tradition of ratting on promises that they appear to have made.
I would expect them to just let in small numbers of individuals they find useful.
And not that useful, since the protest movement has now become marginal. Just as the exiles after the 1989 mainland crackdown were embarrassingly bad and are now ignored completely.
I am unimpressed by the decision of most of the remaining anti-Beijing legislators in Hong Kong to resign, after four of them were thrown out. If they think their cause still has short-term prospects, they should hang on and be as awkward as possible. Behave just as the Home Rule Irish acted in the 19th century – but do not forget that this ended with a run of civil wars that could well flare up again even now.
If however they see the struggle as lost until they get significant Mainland support, they should say so openly. Stop their followers getting hurt in futile protests.
India and China
Mr Modi was blamed when India forcefully re-organised the part of Kashmir it has held since independence.
But when there was a border clash with China, the Western media saw it as definitely China’s fault.
First, let’s remember what India did back in August 2019:
“India abruptly ends the last special protection enjoyed by Kashmir…
“The former state of Jammu & Kashmir is composed of three main parts: Hindu-majority Jammu, in the foothills; the arid highlands of Ladakh, which has a large Buddhist population; and a sprawling basin with Srinagar at its centre that is home to ethnic Kashmiris, most of whom are Muslims… In 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent ended, the Hindu maharajah of Jammu & Kashmir hesitated to join either of the new countries, Pakistan and India. Those countries soon went to war over the area. A stalemate ended with India occupying two-thirds of the state, and Pakistan controlling the rest. India and Pakistan have kept on fighting over the region. The most recent eruption of large-scale hostilities was in 1999…
“The ease with which the state was dissolved will spook some of India’s other regional governments. A challenge has already been filed with the Supreme Court. But there is considerable popular support for Mr Modi’s sleight of hand. Even some parties that are normally fiercely opposed to the BJP have backed him.”
I noted at the time that Western complaints missed the point. Not protesting at the Republic of India holding Kashmir, against the probable wishes of a majority of its population.
“No Indian Prime Minister could abandon the chunk of majority-Muslim Kashmir that Nehru secured when India was partitioned.”
At the time, I wondered if the separation of Ladakh was a step towards ending the long-running border dispute with China. It was joined to Kashmir only because a Hindu warlord called Gulab Singh conquered it while part of the Sikh empire. And because the British promoted him from Raja of Jammu to Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. This included Ladakh, but Imperial China objected to a barren desert called the Aksai Chin being added on as part of Ladakh.
The other main dispute is over what was once the North-East Frontier Agency and is now the Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh. It has also been called South Tibet and has historic links with Tibet, part of the Chinese Empire for most of the times when it had a coherent central government.
Chinese nationalists almost always claimed both the Aksai Chin and ‘South Tibet’. But in 1962 when Beijing kicked India’s armies out of what was then the North-East Frontier Agency, they must have realised that the population would be hard to assimilate. And it is anyway widely believed that they were keen to drop their claim if India would stop claiming the Aksai Chin.
Nehru had actually published a book with an older British map that did not include ‘South Tibet’ as part of British India. But during China’s weakness, British India had incorporated it. Meantime the Aksai Chin was of so little interest that India was unaware that the Chinese had built a massive road across it until some Indian journalists read about it in a Chinese magazine.
Nehru should have compromised, and did not.
Mr Modi, as a hard-line nationalist, might have chosen to end a dispute that does no good to either side. Give up some desert lands that are useful only to link together Xinjiang and Tibet as outlying regions of China. Do the sort of deal with China that Nixon had done.
But it seems he prefers to quarrel with China and boost Hindu nationalism.
India: The Cows Come Home
Adapting the old English phrase ‘till the cows come home’ is my slightly irreverent way of reminding everyone of Mr Modi’s other offences against the values of the European Enlightenment.
Reverence for cows is part of it, with prejudice against beef eating. McDonald Hamburgers serves various meat dishes in its Indian branches, but beef is not included.
A refusal to eat any meat is common, but much less intense. But this private ethical choice is now being pushed aggressively. Mostly against Muslims, but also against some Hindus:
“Bollywood and the Politics of Meat
“India’s Hindu nationalist turn and the ascendance of Islamophobic politics is reflected in the country’s films…
“With the election of Narendra Modi as the prime minister of India in 2014, I gained an identity that I hadn’t registered earlier: I am a Hindu meat eater…
“Until then, my consumption of meat and fish and eggs felt like something personal and insignificant, like my fondness for the color blue. Now, I realized, it was a defining choice: I am not among the “our” the prime minister spoke of. I was the “they” who consumed meat.
“But Mr. Modi’s ‘they’ is essentially a dog whistle against Muslims, who are seen as meat eaters in vegetarian Hindu India. Data from Indian government sources reveals how patently false this dichotomy is: India’s National Health and Family Survey in 2015-16 showed that around 70 percent of Indian women and around 80 percent of men consume meat, fish or eggs, far more than the population of 14.2 percent Muslims recorded in the last census, of 2011.
“Yet the fault line around meat has shaped a murderous course of events in India particularly around beef, which upper-caste Hindus, who consider cows holy, eschew. Human Rights Watch reported that 44 people were killed between 2015 and 2018 on the suspicion of transporting cows to be sold for meat, 36 of them Muslims. I find myself refraining from eating meat when I travel alone or am in unfamiliar places.”
The most ancient Hindu traditions suggests meat-eating. The desirability of not eating any animals may have been picked up from Buddhism, which dominated India for centuries but declined sharply during the chaos caused by waves of Muslim conquerors.
Older customs usually survive best in mountain regions. That’s where you find most Indian Buddhists, apart from some recent converts. And mountain regions contain at least some of the major communities of Hindu meat eaters:
“World’s ‘largest animal sacrifice’ starts in Nepal after ban ignored…
“Hindu worshippers have begun killing thousands of buffalo in what is reputed to be the world’s biggest animal sacrifice, held every five years in a remote corner of Nepal, despite efforts to end the bloodshed.
“The Gadhimai festival began in the early hours of Tuesday amid tight security, with the ceremonial slaughter of a goat, rat, chicken, pig and a pigeon. A local shaman then offered blood from five points of his body.”
That’s from December 2019, and apparently it was smaller than usual.
But it is Islam that has been the main target:
“The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which was approved this week, applies to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have been persecuted for their faith.
“As well as Hindus, this includes Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis.
“If people from these groups enter India illegally and can prove that they originate from one of the three eligible countries, they can become Indian citizens.
“Muslim rights groups across the country and an opposition political party argue the bill is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Hindutva’, or Hindu nationalism, and part of an agenda to marginalise Muslims.”
“The right is given to Christians — which cynics might suggest is aimed at fending off US criticism — but not Jews, or atheists. The act also ignores members of Muslim sects who do face discrimination in the three neighbouring countries, and Muslim refugees from elsewhere, such as Rohingyas from Myanmar and Uighurs from China.”
People’s China remains much more in line with the ideas and ideals of the 18th century European European Enlightenment. But is much more democratic – opposition is forbidden but in principle everything is by the Will of the People. Still, Voltaire would probably have admired all of the leaders from Deng to Xi in the same way that he admired Frederick the Great.
India is moving in a very different direction, as the original socialism of the Congress Party shares the global decline in both liberalism and Moderate Socialism.
The fruit of New Right efforts, if not exactly what they were hoping for.
Discredit socialism, and be utterly amazed when unpleasant right-wing populism revives.
“Don’t Say I’ve Failed Just Because I’ve Failed”
The standard Western view is as follows:
1) The harshness and violence of Global Leninism was unnecessary.
2) The Left in the West was very much at fault for seeing Soviet practice as justified by events.
3) The huge recovery of elite privileges from the 1980s has nothing to do with the increasing loss of Soviet credibility as an alternative system.
4) The huge recovery of elite privileges was either mysteriously necessary, or mysteriously unavoidable, or at least mysterious.
5) The huge surge in global violence when the Soviet Union ceased to be a balance is mysterious.
6) The marked loss of Western global cultural influence after their 1990s efforts is mysterious.
7) The growth of strongly anti-Western creeds in several civilisations is mysterious.
8) China is to be sneered at for failing on ‘human rights’, rather than praised for keeping alive the Enlightenment values that the West invented in the 18th century.
9) Do not mention that the European Enlightenment was imposed by enlightened autocrats, and without the elements of democracy you find in China. Don’t mention Tartuffe.
10) The exact nature of human rights is mysterious. Puzzlingly, harsh measures by Western governments do not violate them. Or not unless it is a government you don’t like, in which case you denounce them as Fascist even when they exercise the normal rights of governments.
You could sum it up as ‘Don’t Say I’ve Failed Just Because I’ve Failed’.
If you reject harshness that you saw as unnecessary, and things suddenly turn much worse, a sensible reaction would be to admit error.
Sensible, but also requiring a largeness of spirit that today’s liberals hardly ever show.
What you do get is a series of baffled complaints about unwelcome realities:
“How liberalism became ‘the god that failed’ in eastern Europe
“in the spring of 1990 … a 26-year-old American spent several months criss-crossing eastern Europe in hope of unlocking the mystery of its post-communist future and writing a book about the historical transformation unfolding before his eyes. He was no expert, so instead of testing theories, he buttonholed as many people from as many walks of life as possible. The contradictions he encountered were fascinating and puzzling. East Europeans were optimistic but apprehensive. Many of those he interviewed at the time expected to be living like Viennese or Londoners within five years, 10 years at the most. But these hopes were mingled with anxiety and foreboding… ‘People realised suddenly that in the coming years, it would be decided who would be rich and who would be poor; who would have power and who would not; who would be marginalised and who would be at the centre. And who would be able to found dynasties and whose children would suffer.’…
“In the first years after 1989, liberalism was generally associated with the ideals of individual opportunity, freedom to move and to travel, unpunished dissent, access to justice and government responsiveness to public demands. By 2010, the central and eastern European versions of liberalism had been indelibly tainted by two decades of rising social inequality, pervasive corruption and the morally arbitrary redistribution of public property into the hands of small number of people.”
This appeared in The Guardian, and naturally it does not go on to say that the Mixed Economy that Thatcher attacked was a much better idea. This old liberal paper seldom mentions the massive rise in inequality since the 1980s. And when Corbyn tried to do something about inequality, most of its writers were bitterly hostile.
Never said ‘we like inequality for people like us’. But gave credibility to ridiculous claims of rampant anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. There were real cases, but not many and not different from widespread prejudice found elsewhere in Britain.
The paper began life as the Manchester Guardian, the voice of Manchester Liberalism when Manchester did well out of such things. They are not going to change.
The Guardian is useful on matters where classical liberalism puts them at odds with modern realities.
But new thinking is needed.
And it should begin with getting straight what really happened in World War Two, which laid the basis for modern politics. It wasn’t poor little democratic Britain terrified of the gigantic Fascist beast – Germany had weak armed forces in 1933 thanks to the Versailles punishments. The West had several chances to stop him at little cost. The German generals would have removed Hitler had the West been ready to go to war over his remilitarisation of the Rhineland. And again later when he threatened war over his demands on Czechoslovakia. And the actual war still seemed to be between two well-matched sides after the unexpected collapse of Poland. The war that began in September 1939 was even called the Phoney War, up until the German invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940.
Nor was it an anti-Fascist victory won mainly by Britain and the USA. What you see in the media would make you think that. The generations born since the war do increasingly believe that the USA was the main force in the Allied victory. But professional military histories all agree that two-thirds of the fighting against Nazi Germany was done by the Soviet Union.
The shabby truth is that the centre-right in the 1930s were silly bunglers who thought they could use the Fascists to save them from the Communists.
They ended up needing the Communists to save them from the Fascists.
The Mythistan Road Traffic Death Squad
In the last Problems, I included a thought-experiment that fits even better in this issue. So I’ll repeat it, with minor changes:
Imagine adding the nation of ‘Mythistan’ to the real and popular-authoritarian countries of former Soviet Central Asia. Have it dominated by the Church of Reformed Manichaeism and speakers of a Tocharian language, neither of which currently exist in the real world. But might exist in some Alternate World where history went a little differently.
In reaction to the high number of road traffic deaths, the government authorises the Mythistan Road Traffic Death Squad. These stop a random selection of dangerous drivers. If the person is not a doctor, law enforcer, government official or well-connected business person, they are beheaded. Their severed heads are then displayed at petrol stations, as a stark warning to other drivers.
The weird thing is, this would almost certainly work. Or work in the sense that it would save far more lives than it took.
It does fit the Utilitarian rule, ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’.
But it is also blatantly unjust.
In the real world, there will never be a Road Traffic Death Squad. The people with power are much more sympathetic to those who cause accidents than to the typical victim. ‘Pedestrian’ used to be an insult, though this is one of many technocratic attitudes now unpopular. But penalties for road accidents are much milder than those for other forms of violent crime.
I’ll probably cause offense by calling it violent crime. Which is fine by me, since I am factually correct.
But I must make it clear that I’d not wish for such a thing. It illustrates what I’m arguing – harsh measures including some injustice can be very effective. Yet some things are clearly too much a violation of norms to be considered.
There is a classic question: ‘does the end justify the means?’ I would say ‘sometimes.
I wrote a short story about this point. A present-day Briton with centrist attitudes gets transported to Sweden 1915. He has modern technology, and so passes himself off as a ‘hyperborean’ to some rich eccentrics. He then realises that if he predicts enough historic events to get taken seriously as a ‘prescient’, he could tip off the British authorities and prevent the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. But decides not.
He is then consulted about whether it would be a good idea to assassinate Lenin while he passes through Sweden after his famous Sealed Train through Germany. He is aware of how much Lenin will change history. But also notes how alien the social attitudes of 1917 are to what he thinks of as ‘the normal’. So again, he decides not.
He finally gets a chance to stop Hitler in a decidedly unethical way, and he does that. Read the story to find out how.
In another story, which I’m still working on, a woman steals a time machine from a time traveller in 1950. She gets transported back to 1900, but can’t then work it again. So she then starts murdering the future leaders of the Nazi Party. But these are still innocent children, so naturally she feels bad.
I got the basic ideas from a right-wing patriotic-American SF writer called Poul Anderson. A story collection called Guardians of Time includes one minor character who expresses the wish to kill Hitler in his cradle. I’m not sure if the idea began to be discussed from this 1960 book, or with the 1955 short story that he republished in it, or was about before then. It has definitely been discussed widely since, and the ethics seem not to trouble people.
And I also don’t find most people seeing it as a matter of moral absolutes, whatever they claim when the answer suits them.
I’d suppose that up to 1938, a majority in Britain would have disapproved of assassinating Hitler. They often approved of some of what he was doing, and saw him as a defender against Communism. This may have lasted till Pearl Harbour in the USA. A good topic for someone to investigate, concentrating on the mainstream rather than marginal figures.
Hitler became an abomination to the Anglo centre and centre-right, only when he became a threat to their selfish interests Likewise Mussolini. And Franco, who was never against them, was broadly protected till the end.
Blatantly undemocratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are still being protected. They were the main reason for the first Gulf War.
I’ve noticed that people very often say ‘does the end justify the means?’ when confronted with radical and harsh reform ideas that they themselves will gain nothing from. Yet fail to say it or even apparently think it when the harshness would benefit them. That’s not everyone, obviously. But it is common.
Of course if time travel really existed, there would be gentler options. Go to 1912 Vienna and give tips to a rich Jewish investor. Then suggest he sponsor an aspiring artist called Adolph Hitler, ignoring those who call him talentless. Surprisingly, I’ve not seen anyone else suggest that sort of alternative.
I don’t actually believe time travel could be real. But imagined scenarios can illustrate ethical issues very nicely.
In the cases I mentioned, there is both the badness of the ‘means’ and what you actually think about the end. Getting the future leaders of the Irish Easter Rising arrested would save their lives. They’d be likely to be set free at the end of the World War – which mysteriously the British government did for Michael Collins and other followers of the leaders they had shot back in 1916. But it might also mean no Irish Republic, which you might see either as bad or good. Or even as good but not justified by the price paid.
For Lenin, I’d suppose that most right-wingers would say that assassination would have been fine, while the liberal-left would feel squeamish. But if you made it Stalin – who actually returned from exile in Siberia – there would be a shift in views on the supposed moral absolutes. And perhaps also a shift back if you told them that Stalin had no intention of seeking the overthrow of the Provisional Government before Lenin returned. He took the standard Marxist view that the bourgeoise must be left to complete the ‘bourgeoise revolution’.
For Hitler, getting him killed as a grown man who had made his choices would almost always be found fine. Killing him as a child would cause reluctance but might well get majority support.
Apart from those brave souls who opt for pacifism, there is likely to be a spread of answers if you dream up specific choices for the abstract concept ‘does the end justify the means?’ That’s why I would say ‘sometimes’. And suggest that you too should give that answer.
Feed-the-Rich But With Moderation?
You can’t sensibly expect a comfortable life for yourself, if you don’t also secure it for others.
Even if you are just intelligently selfish, you ought to see that.
From the 1980s, selfishness has been arrogant, and not that intelligent on wider matters. I explained earlier how they bungled in the 1990s. How they threw away the chance of remoulding the world on the basis of the values synthesised in the European Enlightenment.
Now they are moving back – but cautiously:
“The bosses of 181 of the US’s biggest companies have changed the official definition of ‘the purpose of a corporation’ from making the most money possible for shareholders to ‘improving our society’ by also looking out for employees, caring for the environment and dealing ethically.
“The radical change to the mantra of corporate America comes after decades of following Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman’s philosophy, which dates from 1970, that ‘the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits’.
“Big business bosses signing up to the change by the influential Business Roundtable (BRT) lobby group include Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon (and the world’s richest person), the Apple boss, Tim Cook, and Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of Wall Street bank JPMorgan.”
“A former corporate lawyer, Jamie Gamble, has a provocative prescription for making U.S. companies run better, Andrew writes in his latest DealBook column: Make ethics rules part of their bylaws — and face shareholder lawsuits for not living up to them…
“He had an epiphany after retiring: Corporate chieftains are ‘legally obligated to act like sociopaths,’ charged with acting in their companies’ best interests alone — which usually means just making money.”
Studies have shown that a significant minority of managers really are sociopaths or psychopaths: selfish and without ethics. See for instance an article called The Disturbing Link Between Psychopathy And Leadership. Most of them will never do anything criminal, but that would be just because they are doing very nicely within the law as it now exists.
Capitalism rewards cash returns, not niceness. So even those not wanting socialism or equality would be wise to curb it.
But from the 1980s, most of the rich have been converts to New Right beliefs. Have become an Overclass that no longer cares:
““Wealthiest 10% cash in as average family income falls..
“Income from property, interest, dividends and other investment income – sometimes called unearned income, as most of it does not come directly from work – rose by more than 40% between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the most recent year for which HMRC figures are available.
“However, the gains were massively concentrated among the top 10% of Britons, whose unearned income doubled from an average of £19,000 each to more than £38,000 – well above the average household income of around £25,000 in 2015-16…
“Meanwhile, average weekly earnings from paid employment fell in real terms between 2010 and 2016, so most people’s jobs were not paying enough to keep up with the cost of living. Benefit cuts worsened the impact on the poorest.
“Reacting to the figures, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: ‘An economic model that rewards wealth creators less than wealth extractors is not sustainable economically or morally.’”
““America’s soaring inequality has a new engine: its regressive tax system. Over the past half century, even as their wealth rose to previously unseen heights, the richest Americans watched their tax rates collapse. Over the same period, as wages stagnated for the working classes, work conditions deteriorated and debts ballooned, their tax rates increased.
“Stop to think this over for a minute: For the first time in the past hundred years, the working class — the 50 percent of Americans with the lowest incomes — today pays higher tax rates than billionaires.”
“Credit Suisse’ annual global wealth report revealed that the number of dollar millionaires across the world grew to nearly 47 million last year and they now own close to half the world’s wealth.
“The United States still leads the world in total number of millionaires. The US added 675,000 new millionaires over the past year, bringing its total to a staggering 18.6 million.
“In France the number is far fewer, albeit the number of millionaires in the country has jumped by 93 percent between 2010 and 2019.
“France now has just over 2 million millionaires.”
The USA has suffered a loss of class consciousness, as has Britain. There are no longer the sharp social divisions that once existed. The elite are much more an Overclass that will recruit small numbers of women and non-whites. An amorphous privileged stratum where those born poor are much less likely to pretend otherwise. Where ‘making money’ is worshiped, and social concerns are weakened:
“The United States is the only advanced industrial nation that doesn’t have national laws guaranteeing paid maternity leave. It is also the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee workers any vacation, paid or unpaid, and the only highly developed country (other than South Korea) that doesn’t guarantee paid sick days. In contrast, the European Union’s 28 nations guarantee workers at least four weeks’ paid vacation.
“Among the three dozen industrial countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the lowest minimum wage as a percentage of the median wage — just 34 percent of the typical wage, compared with 62 percent in France and 54 percent in Britain. It also has the second-highest percentage of low-wage workers among that group, exceeded only by Latvia.
“All this means the United States suffers from what I call ‘anti-worker exceptionalism.’
“Academics debate why American workers are in many ways worse off than their counterparts elsewhere, but there is overriding agreement on one reason: Labor unions are weaker in the United States than in other industrial nations. Just one in 16 private-sector American workers is in a union, largely because corporations are so adept and aggressive at beating back unionization. In no other industrial nation do corporations fight so hard to keep out unions.
“The consequences are enormous, not only for wages and income inequality, but also for our politics and policymaking and for the many Americans who are mistreated at work.
“To be sure, unions have their flaws, from corruption to their history of racial and sex discrimination. Still, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson write of an important, unappreciated feature of unions in ‘Winner-Take-All Politics’: ‘While there are many ‘progressive’ groups in the American universe of organized interests, labor is the only major one focused on the broad economic concerns of those with modest incomes.’
“As workers’ power has waned, many corporations have adopted practices that were far rarer — if not unheard-of — decades ago: hiring hordes of unpaid interns, expecting workers to toil 60 or 70 hours a week, prohibiting employees from suing and instead forcing them into arbitration (which usually favors employers), and hamstringing employees’ mobility by making them sign noncompete clauses.”
And vast numbers of discontented workers voted for Trump, both in 2016 and just now.
A Mindless Flock of Very Rich Persons
Why have ordinary people since the 1980s voted for money to be taken from their wages and their social services and given to the ultra-rich?
Because they thought that they were voting for something quite different.
And because most of the left makes exactly the same anti-capitalist arguments that were made in the 1960s and 1970s. Denounced as ‘capitalist’ a system that had been Mixed Economy since the 1940s. And do not emphasise that it remains Mixed Economy despite the promise to restore Classical Capitalism.
But even when some on the left deliver the correct message, it gets drowned out.
The media are dominated by a voracious global mob of some forty-six million millionaires. Plus a cloud of ambitious people around them hoping to join them, and for the time being very well paid for pro-millionaire opinions.
You could quibble over numbers. 46,000,000 is the figure from a noted Swizz bank called Credit Suisse. A bank that was at the center of multiple international investigation for tax avoidance which culminated in a guilty plea, so they are clearly well-informed. It also shows more than 18 million millionaires in the USA alone: more than 56,000 per million population.
Another definition is ‘High-net-worth individuals’: “holding financial assets (excluding their primary residence) with a value greater than US$1 million.” This excludes the Lesser Rich, and such oddities as ordinary people whose ordinary homes have unexpectedly become valuable in a district the rich favour. Also those who have made or inherited money but choose to live inactively as country gentry.
Numbers are still huge – 17 million. 377,000 just in New York, and 318,000 in London. 142,000 in Beijing.
There are enough of them to make a big impact.
But it’s definitely not a global conspiracy.
Early on in the process, my father Raymond Williams described it as ‘Plan X’. People who can do the same sort of calm unglamorous analysis of capitalism and conventional politics that socialists do – and some are former socialists. But also want the profit motive to run as freely as possible:
“McGuigan however, deftly shows that Williams is not just an archaic figure of history but more than relevant to the contemporary situation, his ‘Plan X’ analysis of the 1980s being uncannily prophetic of the cultural fallout of the intensive global application of neoliberal economics over the last four decades.”
You can find this in his book Towards 2000, published in 1983, five years before his death. It is out of print, but libraries may have it, and you can still get it second-hand from Amazon. And what he says does indeed remain very relevant:
“It used to be taken for granted that the opposing forces were not themselves forward-looking…
“I call this new politics ‘Plan X’. It is indeed a plan, as distinct from the unthinking reproduction of distractions. But … its objective is indeed ‘X’: a willed and deliberate unknown, in which the only defining factor is advantage… What is new in ‘Plan X’ politics is that it has genuinely incorporated a reading of the future, and one which is … deeply pessimistic…
“Plan X people resemble the hardest kinds of revolutionary, who drive through at any cost to their perceived objectives. But the difference of Plan X from revolution is that no transformed society, no new order, no lasting liberation seriously enters into these new calculations, though their rhetoric may be retained.”
The rhetoric of the libertarians was small state, low tax and few regulations. It has indeed proved to be rhetoric and not a serious aim. If the leaders maybe believed it, there were plenty more power-brokers behind them who stopped it getting very far.
It is certainly a creed that attracted the older sort of power-broker:
“Plan X is sharp politics and high-risk politics. It is easily presented as a version of masculinity.”
“Elements of Plan X are inherently conspiratorial. But we shall underestimate its dangers if we reduce it to a mere conspiracy. On the contrary, it is the emergence as the open common sense of high-level politics which is really serious… grasping and attempting to control the future.”
Sadly, my father’s insight was not picked up, except by Jim Mcguigan whom I mentioned. But ‘Plan X’ remains a good description of the void at the heart of the Western elite’s understanding. They have no overall idea. They have notions of the world they’d wish to have, but each has personal ambitions that often contradict this.
Put to its defenders, they might say ‘Darwinism’. Random natural selection is fine, since it produced us.
Random natural selection also produced the tapeworm. Among animals, there are actually more gene-lines that produce a parasitic species than a free-living one.
Nor is there any reason to think intelligence is bound to emerge. Mammals seem to have originated at about the same time as the dinosaurs. But it was dinosaurs that won out when the massive Triassic–Jurassic extinction event wiped out most rivals, including relatives of the mammals. Only when dinosaurs were killed by a sudden cosmic accident did mammals come forward. Only after 64 million years did one branch of the apes start moving in the right direction. And it may be that this was a very rare accident.
Rarity of species clever enough to venture into space would certainly explain the absence of any visible intelligent aliens. They may not exist, or we may be so rare that we are viewed as precious and vulnerable and left strictly alone till we mature.
If we mature.
For the observable world, trusting to ‘Plan X’ could have been expected to produce the sort of mess that we actually find. Also a world where People’s China is doing increasingly well, thanks to having very definite ends in view.
In the West, an actual Global Conspiracy would be a positive factor. They would have a coherent aim, which ought to include avoiding a global collapse.
Instead the ruling politicians and thinkers have harmful dogmas: at least the ideologists do. All forms of state spending must be treated as monsters strangling ‘productive industry’. If you have to tolerate a few of these ‘monsters’, you keep them down as far as you can. Cut them back wherever this is possible without immediate disaster.
A lot of the problem with Covid-19 is that health services were cut back as far as possible. Were left with too few reserves for a sudden emergency.
The observable reality is that Western economic growth has slowed from the grand achievements of the 1950s and 1960s. Decade-by-decade performance is maybe worse than the despised 1970s.
It has been an Economic Miracle for the very rich. But they have taken from the bulk of the population, who are worse off than you’d expect them to have been had there been no New Right. Had the 1980s seen a successful restoration of the Mixed Economy without a sudden belief in Classical Capitalism as virtue. If it had seen a continuing large and respected role for the state.
‘Trickle-Down’ was promised back in the 1980s. Stop interfering with wealth creation, and there would be plenty for all of us.
This has very obviously not happened. But most Britons are scared of the idea of restoring the economic controls that Labour and Tory both accepted up until the 1980s.
We are told that this is a limit on freedom.
Society and rule-of-law are limits on freedom. So are the unbreakable customs of tribal societies, for those who have a hankering for such things. Humans simply cannot exist without some way of excluding some possible forms of human behaviour.
The West relaxed rules on sex from the 1960s. We have not abolished them. Polygamy and incest remain illegal, though most people don’t feel strongly. But there has also been a massive strengthening of views about under-age sex, and often a raising of the Age of Consent. And much tougher attitudes about Sexual Harassment, with powerful men going to jail for conduct they’d have once got away with.
A society mostly has rules that the majority feel comfortable with. People can feel perfectly free, if there are no rules against anything they feel they are entitled to do.
But ordinary people don’t see the rich as a threat to their freedom. Blame a lack of good jobs on the government, not on the rich deliberately destroying those jobs to gain more money and power.
Wealth is an unfair share of economic power. Money or the lack of it is a big part of Functional Freedom. The changes from the 1980s give the rich a grossly unfair share of both wealth and Functional Freedom.
The claim that markets would give a fair balance between our different needs has proved untrue. If it is ‘one dollar one vote’, then one individual with millions that they can easily shift will override the wishes of thousands who are just getting by.
And it has proved mindless, failing to deliver the better wealth-creation that the New Right promised.
Shifting industries from the USA to China did not make the USA richer. It made China richer. More exactly, China under Mao had been matching the world average for growth, a fact which Western commentators never specifically deny, but avoid mentioning and concentrate just on errors that also occurred. Deng by allowing capitalism and foreign capital under very tight limits started a period of very fast growth, at the same time as New Right ideas were damaging the previous fast growth of Japan, Italy and West Germany with its later absorption of East Germany.
Growth in wealth in the USA was worse than for the 1950s and 1960s, when profit was not the main goal.
The real gains we’ve made from the 1980s are things that would have been expected had Reagan and Thatcher been genuine conservatives. Had they simply stabilised the successful Mixed Economy system, rather than damaging it in an ideological quest to restore Classical Capitalism. Damaged it with dreams of creating the unworkable night-watchman state system imagined by the libertarians.
The World Wide Web was made possible by Tim Berners-Lee, who was working at a gigantic state-funded project, CERN. A man who is greatly honoured, but made little money out of his vast contribution to the world we know.
CERN was and is devoted mostly to discovering facts about the subatomic world that have no obvious practical use, never mind commercial potential. He developed the web to overcome the problem of physicists from around the world needing to share data, yet still mostly relying on printed material. Hampered because they lacked common machines and any shared presentation software.
The Internet was a convenient basis for the World Wide Web. Something similar had been tried in Britain, supported by first the Post Office and then British Telecom when it separated. I happened to know it fairly well, because my elder brother worked on a system called Prestel. A system which sadly never amounted to much.
A French version called Mintel got further and was providing much of what came later from the World Wide Web.
“From its early days, users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mail box, and chat in a similar way to what is now made possible by the World Wide Web.” 
It was of course French-language at a time when English was confirmed as the first foreign language that most of the world learned. And the core technology of the Internet had strong advantages – including being convenient for pornography without anyone specifically agreeing that this was allowed.
You might think of the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web as similar to the difference between raw eggs and an omelette. The one is potential and the other is realisation. Before the World Wide Web, the Internet was mostly used for ‘chat rooms’: long and inconvenient streams of individual messages. And for e-mail, which is something else again, just as raw eggs may become poached eggs or a component of egg fried rice, rather than an omelette.
The Internet became a functional system thanks to ‘blue-skies’ funding by the US military. Funding for stuff that no one looking for a commercial return would have touched in its early days.
Military research generally follows the socialist principle of ‘production for use, not profit’. This issue gets obscured by the ‘use’ being something that left-wingers generally dislike and right-wingers mostly approve of. But it must also be recognised that ‘production for use, not profit’ was the human norm before the unexpected appearance of Industrial Capitalism. And the capitalists were always looked after and held back from their worse foolishness by a state machine dominated by genuine conservatives.
The Mindless Flock of Very Rich Persons would never have funded the early stages of the Internet or World Wide Web: they moved in only when the state machine had cleared the ground for them. Yet they deeply resent the taxes that make such things possible. And have managed to throw away the vast advantage the USA once had in many areas. Degraded parts of the fine tradition of Boeing, which used to make aircraft that it was proud of. Where the drive to boost the share-price led to the scandal of the Boeing 737 MAX, which was grounded worldwide after 346 people died in two crashes. Meantime the vast fuss over Huawei is because China is genuinely superior in the developing ‘5G’ technology. And it’s not the only case.
Libertarian writers imagine private capital being enormously far-sighted and funding such things through thick and thin and to eventual profitable victory. Easy to imagine, when it is not your money. Where you don’t have the burden of turning a good idea into something ordinary people can use and like. And it’s not even that the imagination was that good. An entertaining but foolish novel called A Fire Upon the Deep was published in 1993. It entirely fails to anticipate how the World Wide Web would have changed everything later on in the 1990s. Vernor Vinge’s galaxy-spanning super-advanced aliens SEND THEIR MESSAGES IN BLOCK CAPITALS. They also have no reliable way of settling if a message is from its claimed source. Things that I believe were true in the early 1990s, but were entirely replaced by more natural methods by 1997, when I got my internet connection. And the author, Vernor Vinge, was and is a dedicated libertarian.
We’ve seen their future. And the stuff that wasn’t common to all modern societies has been stuff that has simply failed to work.
The New Right also greatly reduced the power of the genuine conservatives. This had the predictable result in undermining much that the genuine conservatives had been genuinely conserving. And some of this collapse in conventional morals would have privately pleased most of the libertarians: read the later novels of Robert E. Heinlein to get an idea of what they often had in mind. The novels are far longer and less entertaining than the neat adventures he wrote before 1970. But they are full of very explicit support for ideas that are mostly gently hinted at in his earlier works.
With their normal habit of avoiding Off-Message Facts, the New Right find ingenious ways of avoiding responsibility for whatever aspects of ‘Freedom’ turn out to displease them.
“I did it my way, you’ll do it my way”. Frank Sinatra might have sung this, had someone slipped him a truth-drug before a stage performance. He was certainly a bully when dealing with those without power.
The actual results of New Right politics have been very much in line with what Heinlein would have been wanting. A breakdown of racism. A normalisation of homosexuality. All forms of sex free and mostly for pleasure. The fading into insignificance of Christianity. A breakdown of gender, which he expressed in a 1970 novel which I’d count as marking the big change in his output. I Will Fear No Evil has a very rich old man seeking a brain transplant as his body wears out. He gets the female body of his very sexy secretary, who had quite accidentally been killed by brain-damage by some random villain.
For public consumption, very little of this appeared in the promises of centre-right parties that the New Right took over. Maybe a lot of them were sincere about this. But they have all along needed to convince the genuine conservatives that they would genuinely conserve the things most of their voters wanted. And shift the blame when these values visibly fall apart.
Had Reagan and Thatcher been genuine conservatives, they might have re-balanced the Mixed Economy. In Britain, Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath had wanted to do this by giving Trade Unions more power: But this has almost been written out of standard histories. Many of them histories by those left-wingers who ensured the defeat of all moderate socialist solutions when these were popular.
A genuine conservative outcome could also have been found by curbing Trade Union power but also making the rich respect existing norms. And traditional Anglo cultural values, which both Reagan and Thatcher appeared to believe in, were not then beyond saving.
Both were shallow thinkers. And both were part of a rich elite which at that time hid the private sexual behaviour of a minority of them. And which has been doing very nicely in terms of private wealth out of the undermining of everything that genuine conservatives valued.
Does the now-fallen Soviet Union offer a warning? Brezhnev and his ‘period of stagnation’ is now correctly seen as having doomed the Soviet system. But well into the 1980s, he had many admirers on the left and even a few on the right. Thus Frederick Forsyth’s The Devil’s Alternative has a lightly fictionalised Brezhnev as almost a hero, and also still a menace to the West. It also features Ukrainian nationalists as mindless terrorists and deservedly defeated – how things change!
Maybe by the 2040s, the consensus on Reagan and Thatcher will have shifted and they will be seen as having doomed what they appeared to be restoring.
I’m sure they thought that the economy would boom with low taxes and less regulation, producing something like their major aim. By the time it was obvious that this would not happen, public beliefs had shifted. And with most of the Hard Left having kept belief in the Soviet system long after it became moribund, they kept credibility for far longer than they should.
If the USA and Britain as a whole did not gain, neither society was still really a ‘whole’. The Overclass or Richest 1% had an economic miracle. The Next Nine did about as well as they’d have done without the New Right, and got a lot of the social liberalisation they had been wanting. A baffled 90% of the society was continuously tricked into demanding the wrong things.
The real significance of both the 2016 and 2020 elections in the USA is that Bernie Saunders would probably have won both if he had been the official Democrat candidate. Many who voted for Trump would have voted for Saunders, because he accepted that ‘business as usual’ was not OK. But it seems sadly unlikely that Biden will fix much.
The pro-Capitalists have a point when they say that disconnected individuals following their own selfish interests can produce a coherent result. The classical Invisible Hand.
Coherent, yes. But mostly not what was wanted even by the rich and powerful.
For most of human history, the rich and powerful would close down anything they saw as a threat. China in the 18th century was richer than Britain, which was noted by Adam Smith and is always ignored by those who claim to learn from him. But in China, the instinct was to keep social harmony. In the 19th century, when a new railway in China destroyed the jobs of those who’d carried the goods now sent by rail, the government bought it and closed it down.
In China, everyone strongly believed in a traditional ideology that disliked social innovation, and mostly let tradition override profit-seeking. In Western Europe most intellectuals believed in an Enlightenment that scorned the past. And the messy British civil wars from 1639 to 1688 had seen everyone’s strong beliefs tested and defeated in practical politics. What was left was a cynical ruling class and a disappointed and still-Puritan middle class. Neither were determined enough to stop the sudden growth of Industrial Capitalism, which anyway took place well away from London.
The mindless flock of the rich were allowed to wander as they pleased.
The notion that they would regularly produce harmony ‘as by an invisible hand’ was false. It does happen sometimes, but not often enough to work without guidance by some outside power.
And we find just the same in the natural world.
A harmonious flock can seem much cleverer than it actually is.
When settled as a colony in a safe nesting place, they do not generally look after each other. May even kill each other’s chicks if they catch them alone.
People looked at flocks of birds, and imagined that they must have some collective mind that wisely steered them. But then computer scientists developed ‘boids’ – imaginary creatures that simulated the flocking behaviour of birds. Surprisingly, just an instinct to stick together produced exactly the same behavior as a flock of birds.
It turned out that the flock is mindless, even though the individual birds are often quite smart.
For our flock of Rich Persons, there are some controls. The libertarian notion that the flock could manage without all of the costly apparatus of the state has never been tried by an experienced government that might have to live with the consequences. New Right ideas were allowed free play in Russia under Yeltsin, where they produced poverty and crime and chaos and provoked a sharp retreat under Putin. Never given the same curbs in Ukraine, so Ukraine was poorer than Russia even before the two Orange Revolutions split the country.
Meantime Iraq was overrun by Western armies, because the theorists of the New Right were certain they could make it their shining example of Capitalist Democracy.
Repeated disasters does not teach them very much.
Those who have a reputation for wisdom and deep thought do not merit it.
Mr Soros is nothing like as powerful as most people think he is. And his thoughts are utterly shallow. His books give excellent details of the foolishness of what he calls a panicky herd of rich people. But he also says that on no account should we return to the tighter regulations that lasted from the 1930s to 1970s.
He also gets lost in the old Cretan Liar paradox. This has been summarised as follows:
“Epimenides the Cretan says, ‘that all the Cretans are liars,’ but Epimenides is himself a Cretan; therefore he is himself a liar. But if he is a liar, what he says is untrue, and consequently, the Cretans are veracious; but Epimenides is a Cretan, and therefore what he says is true; saying the Cretans are liars, Epimenides is himself a liar, and what he says is untrue. Thus we may go on alternately proving that Epimenides and the Cretans are truthful and untruthful.”
If all Cretans were liars, no Cretan would admit to being a Cretan. That’s taking the statement to mean that all statements made by Cretans are false. If it merely says that all Cretans are habitual liars, there is no paradox. Habitual liars lie for some definite purpose, while pathological liars tell lies for immediate effect and without reflecting that they will soon be found out. But if a pathological liar admitted to being a pathological liar, we’d see no paradox, because all liars mix their lies with routinely truthful remarks. Saying that all Cretans are habitual liars would be improbable, but not paradoxical. It would be like saying that all Cretans had weak eyes or bad digestion.
The Wiki actually has the same answer, though I had worked it out before I read this:
“If ‘all Cretans are continuous liars’ is actually true, then asking a Cretan if they are honest would always elicit the dishonest answer ‘yes’. So arguably the original proposition is not so much paradoxical as invalid.”
Contributors to the Wiki include some very clever people. The science is almost always reliable. So is the history on topics that the New Right don’t have a strong wish to bias. They seem to be right about Cretan Liars. But most analysis including that by Mr Soros in his efforts as a philosopher gets lost in confusion.
He did have one good idea – have a Marshall Plan for Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed. I can’t see this was unusually smart: simply the common-sense answer of repeating what worked last time to turn former enemies into friends. Having narrowly escaped the mass extermination of most Hungarian Jews, he must have seen how sensible it was to spend money to turn former enemies into friends – West Germany, Italy and Japan. Had he been as powerful as people imagine, a very different world might have emerged. But the dogmatists won out, and Soros had little weight before his later success as a currency speculator.
Mr Soros doesn’t seem bothered by the sufferings of those he does not see as dangerous. He persists in backing a destructive version of globalisation. Perhaps, like Thatcher, he genuinely thinks that ‘there is no alternative’.
In China, meantime, the leaders of the Communist Party take it for granted that they are needed to manage a mindless flock of very rich persons who are useful but dangerous. Deng and Jiang Zemin let them emerge within China and also cautiously let in some foreign specimens. Hu Jintao tried to curb them, and President Xi is doing so, much more strongly. And China continues to flourish, as it has done almost every year since 1949.
As I detailed earlier, the Western habit has been to mention only the bad years for Mao, and only the good years for Deng. And to warn each year that China under Xi is about to suffer disaster. Seldom mentioning last year’s false forecasts when dishing out this year’s doom and gloom.
In East Asia, there is a tradition of keeping flocks of very rich persons under control. People sometimes describe this as Confucianism, but it seems to go wider. Traditionalism with social concern in Japan. In Singapore, Moderate Socialism. Many things, but these are just variants on civilised human possibilities.
Only in the West do you find many who are convinced that life would be horrible unless the local mindless flock of very rich persons is allowed to roam free.
A Global Incoherence
The bulk of the Overclass are white males of Latin-Christian background. Though I doubt many of them believe in anything except money.
‘Latin-Christian’ being my term for both Roman Catholicism and the various Protestant churches and sects. Those like myself who grow up within the system tend to be acutely aware of the differences. But when you learn about the underlying ideas of the rest of the world, you realise just how close they are.
The Overclass that has flourished and blighted us from the 1980s is mostly Latin-Christian. Mostly weakly religious, and sometime deist or atheist. There are more Jews among them than in the general population, but still not that many.
There are also unusually large numbers of Jews in literature, music, maths and most areas of science, though not astronomy. It is a matter of being clever and hard-working. Many are found in the Next Nine, where they generally do good work.
The problem is the Overclass, which is dominated by white males of Latin-Christian background. Jews free from the need to support short-sighted policies by right-wing Israeli governments are already part of the movement of healing as the New Right visibly fail.
But what we have is a corrupt but very clever political system. Plan X, ready to wreck the global system if they cannot keep command of it.
Trump, Boris Johnson etc. play to the ignorant. Act like fools, but are shrewd operators, though with limited vision.
Trump has been leading his people into a cul-de-sac by denying Climate Change.
And the USA and Britain remain New Right strongholds. With Britain in some ways worse. Its elite may figure they can move on if Britain is lost, whereas losing the USA would finish them.
“UK ‘has particularly extreme form of capitalism’…
“Most ownership in the UK is in the hands of a large number of institutional investors, none of which have a significant controlling shareholding in our largest companies. That is quite unlike virtually any other country in the world, including the United States.”
As Britain has developed since Thatcher, the rich are largely independent of British prosperity. They can shift their money and send it overseas if Britain does badly. But they find Britain a convenient base, so long as they don’t pay much tax.
But now protests against this injustice have gone beyond the Hard Left. They are becoming mainstream:
“The World Social Report 2020, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), shows that income inequality has increased in most developed countries, and some middle-income countries – including China, which has the world’s fastest growing economy.”
I’ve already mentioned that China let inequality grow after the intense collectivism of Mao’s rule. That it was the one place where ‘Trickle-Down’ actually happened. And how the Communist Party under Hu Jintao’s leadership decided that the rich needed to be brought back under control, and did so successfully. How Xi has continued this.
There’s a useful website called https://wid.world/ that allows comparisons. I got a chart from them that shows this clearly.
That was what worked for China, which never believed in capitalism but merely permitted it where it seemed useful.
Inequality caused by letting the rich do as they please is something else. Very damaging.
“The study shows that the richest one per cent of the population are the big winners in the changing global economy, increasing their share of income between 1990 and 2015, while at the other end of the scale, the bottom 40 per cent earned less than a quarter of income in all countries surveyed.
“One of the consequences of inequality within societies, notes the report, is slower economic growth. In unequal societies, with wide disparities in areas such as health care and education, people are more likely to remain trapped in poverty, across several generations.
“Between countries, the difference in average incomes is reducing, with China and other Asian nations driving growth in the global economy. Nevertheless, there are still stark differences between the richest and poorest countries and regions: the average income in North America, for example, is 16 times higher than that of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Inequality is a disease of wealth-creation, not its cause or necessary condition. Economies can be floundering and the rich go on accumulating.
And it’s not just the UN that is asserting this:
“IMF boss says raise taxes on the rich to tackle inequality…
“Raising income tax on the wealthy will help close the growing gap between rich and poor and can be done without harming growth, the head of the International Monetary Fund has said.”
Bill Gates, one of the world’s three richest individuals, is demanding what most of the US Democrats and the British Labour Party are currently too scared to suggest:
“‘The wealth gap is growing. The distance between top and bottom incomes in the United States is much greater than it was 50 years ago,’ Gates writes. ‘A few people end up with a great deal — I’ve been disproportionately rewarded for the work I’ve done — while many others who work just as hard struggle to get by.’
“He proposes a wide range of ways to make higher taxes on the rich a reality, many of them ideas he’s suggested before: raising the capital gains tax, raising the estate tax, removing the cap on income subject to Medicare taxes, closing the carried-interest loophole that mostly lets savvy investors pay less in taxes, and taxing large fortunes (he prefers to tax them once they’ve been held for a long time, such as 10 years).”
I’m glad to see him admit he had luck as well as talent and hard work. I’d already figured that out – see my essay Outliers – 101 Candidates To Be Bill Gates. But the New Right could call me jealous. I’ve not seen them try to cope with Bill Gates’s unwelcome stand.
And while his charity work is admirable, it is not the answer:
“Gates is one of the world’s biggest and most effective donors to global health and development. Gates observes — correctly — that the US government operates at a far larger scale than the Gates Foundation, and that even the richest person in the world can’t solve the US’s social problems singlehandedly. ‘If Melinda and I signed over our foundation’s entire endowment to the state of California, it wouldn’t be enough to fund their public schools for even one year,’ he writes.”
I’ve accumulated a lot more like this, if you need more evidence.
“Richest 10% enjoy biggest gains in household wealth”.
“The historical case for abolishing billionaires”.
“This 33-year-old economist hasn’t just helped shape one of Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ boldest policies — he’s been changing how you think about wealth, whether you know it or not”.
“To drive out the tax avoiders, the EU must reimburse states that depend on them”.
“World’s Richest Gain $1.2 Trillion in 2019 as Jeff Bezos Retains Crown”.
But what should be decisive is the simple failure to recover from the 2008 crisis. Even before the Covid-19 crisis, Britain was doing badly. The promised economic miracles did not happen for ordinary people:
“As the economy recovered, the Bank of England would gradually remove the colossal amount of monetary stimulus it had been providing by raising the cost of borrowing and selling the bonds it had bought from the private sector under its quantitative easing programme. Stronger growth would lead to higher tax revenues and lower welfare payments, allowing the Treasury to bring the budget deficit back down.
“None of this happened. In fact, nothing much happened at all in the 2010s. The economy did not bounce back, there was never a return to the pre-crisis growth path, official interest rates today are 0.75%, the Bank has never unwound QE and the budget deficit has yet to be eliminated.”
Poverty for the many is not needed for economic progress. There is a nice OECD website that compares different countries. (https://data.oecd.org/inequality/poverty-rate.htm).
Letting the rich grab what they want benefits the rich. And no one else.
Capitalism is a randomly radical force. Its operatives mostly dislike all changes that they do not directly profit from. But squeal like stuck pigs about necessary controls that limit their profits.
Money is a representation of wealth, and sometimes a false one. It is a very imperfect representation of real material wealth, never mind social and emotional needs. Even if capitalism should somehow take care of our social and emotional needs, which is improbable, it would still not be the best way to accumulate real material wealth.
Systems of total state control, as implemented by Stalin and Mao, were superior to Classical Capitalism. But the Mixed Economy, when run well, was superior to either.
Poverty is a burden, pure and simple.
The New Right revived Adam Smith’s dogmatic claim that wealth is only increased by activities that also make a commercial profit.
I’ve done a detailed study showing that the claim rests on nothing. That it is Adam Smith holding a religious opinion about how he thought God ought to be managing the world. And his vision was of course Deist, not Christian.
Commerce and finance emerged when wealth accumulated in the first cities. It may have begun earlier. We find it in agricultural societies that lack cities, and even sometimes among hunter-gatherers. But since none of those societies left written records, we can’t be sure of when it started.
From early on, well before agriculture, we find minerals that are so far from their natural source that humans must have carried them. Amber from the Baltic, lapis lazuli from what’s now Afghanistan etc. Perhaps brought by lone travellers. Perhaps by exchange between near neighbours who then give the novelties to their own more distant neighbours in a long chain of exchanges. Most likely a mix of both.
Sometimes you find clear evidence of people producing far more than they personally needed:
“As early as the 7th millennium BCE, lapis lazuli was mined … in Badakhshan province in northeast Afghanistan.”
Stones have the advantage of surviving to be found by archaeologists. And are often distinctive and clearly from very distant sources.
Quite likely the various peoples also exchanged cloth, feathers, preserved food etc. They may even have done exotic singing and dancing. But these would leave little or no record. And humans before they became metal-users are described as ‘stone-age’ because the stones are there for us to observe. A recently televised re-creation by people who made it a lifelong habit showed them using a vast range of materials other than stone. Materials that you’d expect to perish over the tens of thousands of years since then.
Exchanges of objects across vast distances are commonly described as trade, but could just as well be gift-exchange. From what we know of modern societies at about the same level of material culture, gift-exchange is far more likely.
In gift-exchange, you give freely and usually expect a return. Establishing friendship may be the main point. Even when it is not, there is a pretence that it is.
In trade and sale, the return is agreed before exchange takes place. Friendship need not come into it, though mostly the seller makes a big show of being fond of all their customers.
But in a rural society, you are almost certain to already know those you have dealings with. May well have known them for as long as your two lives have overlapped. So existing customs will bind even those who disbelieve in them.
In cities, everything changes. Most people do not know each other. To get any further, entirely new modes of social organisation were needed.
There seems to have been a lot of experimentation. Gobekli Tepe seems to have been a ritual centre that united thousands of people, none of whom had yet settled down in villages and become peasants. I’ve speculated that it might have been designed as an Initiation Centre to impose approved social values on teenage males who were becoming too large and potentially dangerous to be controlled by simple force. They would have gone into dark confined spaces and seen images of frightening creatures that everyone would also believe to be real. And there might have been versions of the tricks we see today from stage-magicians, to further impress the young men and reduce irregular violence. Any youth clever enough to see through the trickery would mostly also aspire to be part of the controlling group.
And I’d suppose that it was just the males, because the female of the species is usually controlled just by the threat of social exclusion. Tend to be fairly docile even if some of them form a low-status nonconforming band.
I’ve done a general study of this, along with much on later stages of development. How Humans Became Citizens: The invention of agriculture and cities. Part of a general process of clarifying my understanding, in part as an aid to making sense of modern issues. Confirming that both liberals and the New Right were building their ideological houses upon sand: failing to recognise the accidental and unstable nature of things they view as fundamentals.
I also call myself Post-Marxist and Post-Leninist. Those creeds were part of our liberation from older social values that were much more alien. Mostly dominance by rich white males, though they themselves were unnaturally constrained by the customs of the day.
I entirely reject some things I once believed in. Such as the notion of religion as a fraud to keep valiant Free Individual under the control of wicked priests – what you see very entertainingly set out in Philip Pullman’s novel series His Dark Materials, now getting a superior dramatisation on the BBC.
Protestors against religion commonly respect some of the rules that religions have imposed on us. One example: I notice that the TV series is very careful to emphasise that there is nothing sexual between Lyra Silvertongue and Will Parry. Even to the extent of Lyra deliberately not looking at Will when he’s in a bath, even though nothing indecent is visible. In real life Dafne Keen will only be 16 on 4 January 2021. Amir Wilson is already 16, above the age of consent in Britain but below the continental norm for the USA, which tends to set 18 as a global standard.
Such controls are very necessary, and I’d like to make them tougher. I’d like to ban things like Britain’s Sun newspaper showing bare-breasted girls of 16.
Religion played a part in controlling human habits, though imperfectly. Right-wing idiots make a big fuss about the Prophet Muhammed having had an under-age wife, even though Muslim tradition says there was no sex until later. Yet Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of England’s Henry the 7th, was seriously under-age when she was used for one of Western Europe’s typical upper-class arranged marriages:
“At age twelve Margaret married Edmund Tudor, twelve years her senior, on 1 November 1455. The Wars of the Roses had just broken out; Edmund, a Lancastrian, was taken prisoner by Yorkist forces less than a year later. He died of the plague in captivity at Carmarthen on 3 November 1456, leaving a 13-year-old widow who was seven months pregnant with their child.”
She married again but had no more children, so probably her womb was damaged.
Hildegard of the Vinzgau was luckier. She was either the second or the third wife of Charlemagne, who had eighteen children with eight of his ten known wives or concubines. Born in 754, she was either 12 or 13 upon her marriage to Charlemagne. But he may have waited, having many other women and no need to be secretive about it. She was probably over 16 when she bore her first child. She went on to have seven more and was the mother of all of Charlemagne’s legitimate heirs.
Moral rules don’t ‘just come naturally’. They are imposed, but then people forget and think that they can demand ‘Freedom’ without putting limits on what they might mean by it.
‘Freedom of Expression’ is one example. A wide area of freedom of expression is desirable, but must be balanced by the damage that some opinions might do. To illustrate, I did a long study back in 2018 with the ironic title “Anything I don’t like, Isn’t Freedom”. This is what happens in practice in all societies, though they differ much in what they like or will tolerate.
“I imagined a set of books or articles that assuredly would go beyond most people’s idea of the acceptable limits of freedom:
- “You Too Can Be a Suicide Bomber
- “Handy Tips for Muggers and Burglars
- “The Plain Man’s Guide To Committing Rape
- “A Groomer’s Guide to English Schoolgirls
- “How to Poison Your Neighbours Dog
- “How to Drug and Rape Even Big Tough Men
- “Quick Ways to Sabotage Passenger Aircraft
- “Nerve Gases – Their Manufacture and Efficient Deployment
- “How to Assassinate Your Neighbour’s Cat
- “How to Wreck a Marriage While Appearing as a Helpful Friend
- “Carry On Loving When You’ve Got HIV
- “Neat Ways to Sabotage Your Neighbour’s Car
- “101 Ways to Kill Mockingbirds and Other Noisy Pests.
“If you are not English, please substitute your own cherished ethnic identity for the Groomer’s Guide.”
None of these works exist, as far as I know. I’m not sure that all of them are even technically illegal in Britain, but they would certainly be stopped.
Ancient or modern, there always has to be limits.
Some control is usually better than no control. I’ve done a study on that, Religions as Imperfect Human Understanding.
But bad and unjust systems of control are all too likely to flourish.
And devising a good system is tricky.
Ancient Anatolia included an eccentric small town we know as Catalhoeyuek. Since all of the houses are basically equal, it may have been a place that stood against the inequality that was breaking out elsewhere. But they made errors, including treating the local wild cats as nice meat treats, instead of tolerating them to keep down the mice that plagued them.
Catalhoeyuek lasted from 7100 BC to 5700 BC. Between 3300 BC and 1300 BC there was another experiment: the enigmatic Indus Valley Civilisation. Its cities were much more like the evolved norm, and there was probably some inequality, since some houses are visibly better. But nothing that looks like either a temple or a palace. Only small-scale evidence of religious practice, including one that has been claimed as an early representation of the Hindu god Shiva. It might have been a society that had a moderately privileged Next Nine, but suppressed any possible Overclass. And it was certainly peaceful.
This admirable culture was not overthrown by chariot-riding Sanskrit-speaking warriors, as was once believed. Those warriors arrived later from what is now South Russia via what is now Persia. They borrowed a lot from the Indus Valley culture, which had lost its big cities long before. Destroyed probably by a series of droughts.
(Hindu nationalists do claim the Indus Valley culture as Sanskrit-speaking, which is ridiculous, given the evidence that all branches of Indo-European language began far to the west in what is now South Russia. Speakers of the unrelated Dravidian language family also claim it, which is possible but speculative.)
The dominant pattern that emerged in all later civilisations was a threefold division of military, religious and administrative elites. This is recorded clearly when the Sumerians evolved a written language from what probably began as symbols to keep track of taxes and rents in an increasingly complex society.
In these emerging civilisations, the religious and administrative usually overlapped and might merge, in part because it would be the religious who would keep learning and writing alive in hard times. But it is notable that China kept a sharp separation between a Confucian tradition that marginalised worship and various sorts of popular religion. And produced much the best-run civilisation of anything before industrialisation. So well-run before the Opium Wars that it had a grip on most Chinese minds. It needed Mao’s uncompromising radicalism to reduce the power of the past and allow something like modern industrial and scientific values to emerge.
Most Western commentators can’t understand why Mao was uncompromisingly radical – or else decide he was pointlessly evil. And fail to understand why ‘normal’ capitalist and Western values failed to emerge in China. They fail to realise that the two ‘anomalies’ fit neatly together to make a comprehensible truth.
Or else they don’t want to know. Would prefer to see themselves as heroic failures in a doomed civilisation.
But it took a lot of uncompromising radicalism to get Europe’s industrial civilisation started. Both city life and industrialisation were widely viewed as social evils. The first person to imagine a society where most people lived in cities was William Petty. He wrote earlier than Adam Smith, and did more to define and describe the commercial culture that gave rise to Classical Capitalism. But is embarrassingly truthful about the issues. And has an embarrassing involvement in the dispossession of the Catholic Irish after the Cromwellian conquest. Mainstream Anglos don’t want to know. And I have of course done my own study, William Petty & the Birth of English State-Capitalism.
Most people did not expect or want the replacement of rural life by gigantic cities. But actions speak louder than words. The whole drift of modern life pushes us from rural to urban.
Looking more widely, agriculture was just a phase in human existence. Back in 1991, I wrote of this as Hunter-gatherers in a world of machines. We can be very happy in cities, but only if the right social controls are maintained.
A major function of the land outside of cities ought to be to keep a balance in the lives of city dwellers. But we also still need to grow food, and to look after the people who live there.
Doing this is never simple.
Rural Socialism in Britain and the USA
I’ve explained earlier that the New Right get elected by false promises to boost wealth and preserve older social values.
But they also tap into nostalgia for an imperfect but satisfying rural and agricultural life that was once the human norm. Or a norm satisfying for a prosperous minority, and it tends to be those that nostalgic thinkers look back to.
In Britain and the USA, most people were driven off the land by rural capitalism. A remnant were saved by what should be called rural socialism.
It is socialist in the same sense that the New Deal was socialist. Socialist in the sense that Hitler’s welfare and economic policies were socialist – and he anyway described himself as a National Socialist. And socialist in the sense that the economic and welfare drift up to the 1980s was socialist.
An honest Libertarian or New Rightist certainly ought to denounce subsidies for farmers as rural socialism.
If anyone knows of an honest Libertarian or New Rightist, please let me know. I’ve not found any, after reading many of their works.
But of course socialism is an entire package of ideas. An important part of it is an insistence on social equality and care for all.
Hitler accepted a moderate version of socialist economics. The rich were to remain rich and small property was to be cherished, But the state was to dominate, and provide welfare for everyone counted as part of the Master Race. And women were mostly pushed back into their traditional roles, though he would make exceptions for gifted individuals who were useful to his cause. Notably Leni Riefenstahl, brilliant propagandist in Triumph des Willens. (“Triumph of the Will”, though I would sooner call it The Willies Triumphant.) She was one of many right-wing women content to see other women repressed so long as she had her niche.
The New Right were almost the inverse. Equal-Opportunity Exploiters, with the ideologues genuinely rejecting racism. But working with people whose hidden racism they must have been well aware of.
They probably were sincere in wanting to purge the economy of everything socialist. Left aside Farm Subsidies because they needed rural votes. And in Britain, it seems possible that they will reduce or even discard them in the chaos over Brexit.
Regardless, the reality is that subsidies for farmers are rural socialism. Not well-run socialism, indeed. The richer farmers tend to dominate, and tend to make sure that subsidies go to crop output, giving the most help to those who need it least. But it is a system that keeps alive a minority way of life.
And we need the people who actually live on the land to limit and perhaps reverse the damage we are doing to the biosphere. Damage that began with agriculture, of course. But being subsidised, they can be paid to preserve the land rather than destroying it.
The problem is acute in the USA. As I write, the Democrats have far more voters, but it may well be that the Senate will stay Republican for the next two years, and perhaps longer. Two contests in Georgia will decide that early in January, and if the Republicans keep even one they can frustrate most of what Biden hopes to do.
US Senators serve for six years, and one-third of them must stand for re-election every two years, along with all of the members of the House of Representatives.
The Senate gives two votes to each state, regardless of size. This gives a huge advantage to the Republicans, who dominate small and mostly-rural states. For a good account of this, see Fixing American democracy, part 1: The Senate.
The weird thing is, those states receive more government money than those that vote Democrat. The US political elite imported many socialist ideas with their 1930s New Deal and in their post-war boom. This includes a system of agricultural subsidies that keep up farm prices.
It should be called Agricultural Socialism, because it is definitely not Capitalism. But far too many on the left refuse to call anything socialism unless it is part of a complete package that gives them exactly what they dream about.
Many of the Western norms as of 2020 are things that would have been called socialist in 1920. The 1980s promise to restore Classical Capitalism was false. What we have is still a Mixed Economy – a concept that got lost by left-wing super-militants in the 1960s and 1970s. They persuaded everyone that the existing system was Capitalist because it failed to be everything they’d like to see. And what we got is an electorate convinced that socialism always failed. A system where the state does indeed dominate, but does so in the interest of the super-rich.
The Marxist notion that eliminating small production would produce a revolutionary Proletariat was an amazing insight when Marx and Engels made it in 1848. But the rulers were smart enough to take note and adjust. Encourage workers to own their own houses and some of them to become small business people. And also to break up or automate the huge factories that gave workers a sense of being a single community.
Saving useful small businesses from being devoured by unchecked capitalism would be a radical new idea that could regenerate socialism. Win over those currently voting Green, and many more with a vaguely Green outlook.
Just calling farm policies ‘Agricultural Socialism’ would be a good move. And reminding everyone of socialist successes, rather than hoping that your own brand of socialism will not be blamed when you play up the failures and downplay the successes of rival brands of socialism.
New Tories, Failed Conservatives
British politics is a mess, with the wrong people in charge.
Most of its leading lights are shaped by a very strange education system that Britain’s elite devised for themselves. A system that produces selectively twisted individuals able to run a power structure that is now long out of date.
George Monbiot gives a nice account:
“Boarding schools warp our political class – I know because I went to one…
“Like Boris Johnson, I was sent away. These are institutions of fear, cruelty and trauma, and they create terrified bullies…
“In adulthood you are faced with a stark choice: to remain the person this system sought to create, justifying and reproducing its cruelties, or to spend much of your life painfully unlearning what it taught you, and learning to be honest again: to experience your own emotions without denial, to rediscover love and trust. In other words, you must either question almost nothing or question almost everything.
“Though only small numbers of people went through this system, it afflicts the entire nation. Many powerful politicians are drawn from this damaged caste: David Cameron, for example.”
This system was seen as admirable by most of its products, for as long as Britain dominated and seemed to be defining what the future should be. H G Wells, whose own origins were much more ordinary, wrote scientific utopias that were basically the British Empire writ large, and of course English-speaking. Not without undertones of racism, but people all over the world could see it as a future they wanted to be part of.
The failure of the British Empire was largely due to the lower echelons of the elite, who were absolutely determined to preserve the privileges of the White Race, and of Nordics and Protestants within it. Who shut out many peoples who could have helped keep the Empire dominant. Including even the Catholic Irish, seen as unfit to have a Home Rule government, even though Irish Nationalism had always included some Protestants among its leaders.
If your Grand Strategy is based on vanity and ignorance, a high level of competence on smaller matters will not give you victory. Eton produces people who still believe that they are the centre of modern life.
“Boris Johnson is the 20th prime minister to come out of Eton College. The school represents a system in which the elite stay among themselves and fail to see the problems of others. And it is becoming a serious problem for the country.”
These are men who give the impression of competence, even when they are not competent at all. Joined now by women who are just the same. They lost an empire at high cost, mostly suffering and loss by foreigners. But managed to shift the blame.
Today’s Tories have fixed some of what previous generations of Tories got wrong. They have now adjusted to include people among their leaders who had previously been shut out. But only people who share the same out-of-date foolishness:
“Indian migration to Britain took place in two significant waves. The first was in the late 1940s and 50s, when migrants were recruited directly from India by successive governments to fill the labour shortage that resulted from the second world war. They mostly settled in the Midlands and the north-west of England, working in foundries and textile manufacturing. These migrants were heavily involved in building Britain’s antiracist and trade union movements in the 1950s and 60s…
“The second wave of Indian migrants to Britain were the so-called “twice migrants” who arrived from east Africa in the 1960s and 70s, having been expelled or encouraged to leave by the newly independent regimes in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The families of our chancellor, home secretary and attorney general are all part of this latter group.
“So how and why have their descendants become so prominent on the Tory frontbenches? The answer begins in 1895, with the creation of the British East Africa Protectorate. British officials envisioned the protectorate, which occupied roughly the same area as modern-day Kenya, as the ‘America of the Hindu’, a settler-colonial project to be led by Indians on behalf of the British.”
This distinction is very important. But the article misses an earlier wave – elite families from the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century who sent their children for a British education. To secure the British Empire, the non-white elite were encouraged to feed their own children into an earlier and even weirder version of the system that Monbiot complains of.
Britain could seem to flourish by being attached to the USA, which had more flexibility. Kissinger and Nixon in the 1970s laid the basis for the USA’s Cold War victory. (Though Brezhnev certainly contributed, leading a very Russian version of vanity and ignorance.)
In the 1990s, both centre-right and centre-left in the Anglosphere were united in a greedy and amoral Grand Strategy that was extremely likely to fail. I was one of the minority who was flatly against it all along. I was not automatically against anything the government did, unlike most of the Hard Left. I had supported the Falklands War, because the island had no inherent connection with Argentina. Also because it was reasonable to hope for the humiliation of a very nasty right-wing regime. A regime shown to be competent only as US lackies keeping their own people subordinate.
I also saw historic patterns, though not as clearly as I see them now.
Between the two World Wars, the British Empire had a last chance in India. English author E. M. Forster in A Passage to India saw clearly how this was being wasted by the Anglo elite.
A major wastrel was Winston Churchill. He did more than anyone else to prevent India getting Dominion status in the 1930s.
The bulk of the elite before World War Two showed much the same ignorant self-confidence that led the 18th century elite to refuse to share even a little power with similar people in British North America. It mostly gets overlooked that the slogan ‘no taxation without representation’ included a genuine desire to have a few seats in the Westminster Parliament. Adam Smith even included such an idea in The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, when it was much too late. But the New Right, as usual, avoid every significant fact that might make Anglo history look imperfect
The British Empire project failed, killed largely by a suicidal Grand Strategy by much of its elite. People who felt they were so superior that any demand for a modest share in power by Lesser Breeds was impertinent and must be rejected. And most of those bunglers were in the Tory Party.
The British Empire failed, leaving the Wellsian vision orphaned.
Global Leninism could be seen as a second shot at this vision, now centred on Russia. And much too Russia-nationalist, beginning with Stalin’s desperate measures to survive in World War Two, but getting much worse under his successors.
One curious extra – E. M. Forster also showed an insight into the possible failure of a Wellsian utopia in his 1909 short story The Machine Stops.
In 19th century Britain, the intent of the very top of the ruling circles was to create something like the later Roman Empire, where the elite could have any origin if they had absorbed the culture. Many Emperors came from beyond Roman Italy, beginning with Trajan, whose origins were Spanish. And it kept the Empire dominant in the lands around the Mediterranean for rather longer than the British Empire managed.
To be more exact, you could date British dominance of Europe from 1759 to 1940, 181 years. Rome’s dominance from maybe the Second Macedonian War to the first Sack of Rome – more than 600 years. Dozens of other dates might be used, perhaps including the culturally-Greek Eastern Roman Empire. But with certainty, Rome lasted far longer.
Rome, of course, never ‘ruled the world’. They never even repeated Alexander’s achievement in conquering Persia, despite several attempts. And most of the Indian subcontinent paid little attention to Alexander, one of many conquerors to barge into India’s north-west and get bogged down there. And for China, this same area was the Far West, the source of Buddhist scriptures and other items of interest. Lands to the ‘west of west’ were usually ignored.
Britain dominated Europe from 1759, defeating the long challenge from France that peaked under Napoleon. It took longer to get secure control of the Indian subcontinent. It took longer to intrude into most of Africa. China saw no danger from outsiders until its shock defeat in the First Opium War of 1839 to 1842. Only then could the British Empire be said to actually dominate globally – and in less than a century its dominance was gone. After the Fall of France, Nazi Germany could only be defeated by some combination of the British Empire with the Soviet Union or the USA or both. In the event, it seems very unlikely that the USA would have paid the enormous cost of victory if two-thirds of the German army had not been fighting and losing in the Soviet Union.
A less unequal British Empire might have done better.
It failed to copy the best aspect of the Roman Empire, its willingness to include all of its subjects as citizens if they mastered the culture. For though the elite were obsessed by Latin and the heritage of Imperial Rome, they failed to learn the most useful lesson. Seemed not even to notice how foolish this was.
Cloaca Est. (It’s Sewage – and that’s the polite translation.)
And not much improved even now. The Tories have recruited some notable non-whites. But always have to balance this against the White Racist vote.
“Last week, the ‘most Indian cabinet’ in British history realised a long-standing dream of the Tory right: the introduction of a purposely cruel ‘points-based’ immigration system. Finally, as many were quick to point out, we saw the limits of ‘representation politics’ laid bare – the home secretary, Priti Patel, and the three other British Indians appointed to Johnson’s cabinet will only embolden Tory racism.”
Electoralism, Not Democracy
When you have a system of Competitive Politics, the wishes of the people and the choices of the people maybe two very different things.
Parliaments were invented as an orderly way for the privileged to influence the actual rulers. Including the general population came later – it was not till the 1880s that a majority of men in the British Isles had the vote. No women till 1918.
The design is badly suited to popular democracy.
With the rich dominating the media, it is usually possible for them to persuade a hazy centre ground that the rich or the servants of the rich are nice people meriting their votes. That anyone threatening the interests of the rich is either malignant or incompetent. Maybe both.
And liberal-left attitudes don’t help. The broad Anglo view is currently:
1) Human Rights are eternal and unchanging.
2) Anglos are not very much at fault for having thought differently in the past.
3) Everyone other than Anglos are unforgivably at fault, regardless of how badly the Western version of Human Rights may fail.
4) ‘Everyone’ does not include Saudi Arabia or the various rich Gulf States, even though they are much further than any other current regimes from the Western definitions.
Unlike the liberal-left, I see this as a reason for recognising that Human Rights are far from eternal and unchanging. That the key is Human Welfare. And that the West has dishonestly focused on the rights of politicians, journalists and dissidents. Ignored the right to work, education, housing, and health care which were part of the original package.
Also it is Mind Control. All of it, though unfamiliar controls are much easier to notice.
Western thinkers and writers mostly promote a policy of ‘multi-party competitive democracy, regardless of misery and suffering’. But with a few honourable exceptions, it is not applied regardless of their own misery and suffering. Certain values are eternal, but not all of the time.
And it is all fantasy. Knowing history and biology, I’m confident that there is no fixed human nature that gets distorted. Some things are harder to impose than others. But some of those are also the things we most need to do. Discouraging violence among young males is a clear case, but there are many more.
Rousseau famously said ‘man is born free, and is everywhere in chains’. And was completely wrong: we are born blank, but with an inclination to learn from others. Also a need for comfort and support. And actual teaching is always needed.
Even the naturally good child needs guidance. If you told them it was good to kick donkeys, they would kick donkeys. If you told them it was correct to treat people of another colour as separate and inferior, they would be kindly about it but also uphold it. Which may be why the human gene-pool also produces rebels who insist on challenging the rules.
While the Soviet Union was a popular alternative within global politics, the Western elite feared that Communism or Fascism or both might win over the Lower Orders. This, after all, was what happened between the two World Wars.
Mass unemployment was avoided. And women in the West increasingly got access to work and freedoms that the Soviet Union had earlier offered.
But then it became clear that the Soviet block was stagnating. It discredited itself with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
From the 1970s, it also became clear that modern fascists were malignant little bunglers. Even massive non-white immigration got them no more than marginal success. New immigration was limited, but governments also took active measures to enforce racial equality. So Britain and Continental Europe have a much smaller problem than the USA, where useful government action can often be deemed illegal by the courts.
So we had the New Right, preaching the virtues of Capitalism. Assuring us that if the rich were left free to conduct business as the rich saw fit, all would be well.
All is not well.
The problem is worst in the USA, where fantasies about Unlimited Individual Freedom are strongest.
“Basic Income Recipients Spent the Money on ‘Literal Necessities’
“A popular argument levied by opponents of universal basic income (UBI) — an unconditional, periodic payment given to all members of a society — is that recipients will use the money on frivolous purchases.
“But the first data is finally trickling in from a UBI experiment in Stockton, California — and it seems most of the 125 people in the program used the $500 they received each month for food, utility bills, and clothing.” 
Not as bad in the UK, but still bad.
I’m lucky enough to have a decent pension from my job. A scheme closed to most of those younger than me. I also have a separate pension from savings I made when I was working freelance, and by pure chance I picked one of the good schemes.
Many already retired are worse off.
“The proportion of elderly people living in severe poverty in the UK is five times what it was in 1986, the largest increase among western European countries, according to a new study.
“The rise, from 0.9% of the elderly population to around 5%, is attributable to Britain’s state pension system and its ‘low basic payments and means-tested supplements’, says the author of the report, Pension Reforms and Old Age Inequalities in Europe.”
Doomed, Doomed and Doomed Again
Born in 1950, I have lived through several waves of frightening predictions that civilisation as we know it won’t last long.
Nuclear war was the main idea till the 1970s. It was assumed that the leaders of the Superpowers would not have the good sense to avoid a war that must ruin them.
Or it might be global famine. Hunger remains a problem, but mostly caused by political breakdown. The food is there but does not get through. It is not the overall collapse into poverty that was once feared.
For a good laugh, try Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! The Wiki sums it up nicely:
“Set in a future August 1999, the novel explores trends in the proportion of world resources used by the United States and other countries compared to population growth, depicting a world where the global population is seven billion, subject to overcrowding, resource shortages and a crumbling infrastructure. The plot jumps from character to character, recounting the lives of people in various walks of life in New York City, population 35 million.
“The novel was the basis of the 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green, although the film changed much of the plot and theme and introduced cannibalism as a solution to feeding people.”
The book showed the USA having the sort of poverty that India had at the time. Which even India has risen above.
A much better novel is The Lathe of Heaven, by the late Ursula Le Guin. The title is a phrase from an English translation of a Taoist text, and turns out to be a mistranslation. It too has a very overcrowded and impoverished USA, in the first iteration of a world that one of the characters is changing by his dreams.
You also learn towards the end that the story is one of many that anticipated a global nuclear war, usually between the USA and Soviet Union. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series originally had that, set out most clearly in Pebble in the Sky. Decades later, he returned to his Foundation series and joined it to the once-separate robot stories. He changed it so that Earth apparently avoids a major nuclear war. He had thought about the matter and decided that a nuclear war that left some humans alive could not also have the Earth radioactive long after the event. The novel Robots and Empire gives another way for this to have happened.
There is, incidentally, a logical hole in the original series of eight short stories that were republished as three books in the 1950s. Humans are no longer certain where they came from, but Earth is a candidate, we are told in Foundation. Yet in Second Foundation, we learn that humans still use Earth’s day and year. The specific spin and orbit of Earth would be known, and would be unlikely to be exactly matched by any other planet.
There is, incidentally, a logical hole in the original series of eight short stories that were republished as three books in the 1950s. Humans are no longer certain where they came from, but Earth is a candidate, we are told in Foundation. Yet in Second Foundation, we learn that humans still use Earth’s day and year. The specific spin and orbit of Earth would be known, and would be unlikely to be exactly matched by any other planet.
Asimov also had confidence in the future, and seldom predicted the sort of dystopia that is now fashionable. Coolhearts hate any suggestion that the world could be run well and that it is their own muddled Grand Strategy that is the problem.
Predicting disasters is part of the mentality. And is faithfully copied even by writers who fancy themselves as very radical and free-thinking.
When Covid-19 went global, there was sudden publicity for earlier thrillers that took note of warnings from medical professionals that a major pandemic would come sooner or later.
Most of them did not have China as the source, which was sensible. There were and are many more possible sources. Ebola from Black Africa remains a worry.
But all of them took a Coolheart view – modern life is on the brink of breaking down and a pandemic would be uncontrollable.
In the real world, China showed that strict controls would work. And the rest of the world slowly followed, though imperfectly.
Of course Climate Change remains a problem. But one that human civilisation can readily overcome, if we start accepting the need for united action.
Throw out New Right and Coolheart ideas. Apply the sensible rule that an injury to one is an injury to all. And that we all have a duty to care.
Being Anonymous in a Global Nightclub
The Coolheart vision is of detached individuals interacting with minimal social ties. And with as little outside authority as possible.
Back in the late 1990s, I wrote a string of articles denouncing this. First The World as a Global Night-Club:
“When Marshall McLuhan spoke of a ‘global village’, he showed a deep lack of understanding. Modern telecommunications do indeed allow people to communicate as easily as fellow villagers used to do. But people in a single village also know each other, care about each other, have mutual expectations and offer mutual support. The modern norm, where you neither known nor care who lives next to you, would have been unthinkable.
“The modern telecommunicating world is much more like a night-club than a village. People mostly do not know each other, though a few ‘big shots’ are known to all. People also do not have time to care about each other. They are on the alert for tricksters and fraudsters. By and large, people try to use each other. In particular they try to make use of the ‘big shots’, since anyone associated with them gets a bit of extra status.” 
I followed it up with Why I Call It a Global Night-Club, and Money and Gun-Power – Globalisation as it is.
Only much later did I see that the key was the careless use of the word ‘freedom’. Everyone without exception has a notion of acceptable freedoms, and some things they would want prevented. But most would resist summarising it as limits to freedom.
I examined this with the ironic title “‘Anything I don’t like, Isn’t Freedom’”.
Thus with Free Speech, I must be allowed to say anything I like. But you may be justly punished for saying something I don’t like.
It makes no sense as a philosophical principle. And damaged the genuine extensions in acceptable freedoms that most of us approve of. (As do I, mostly.)
The New Right with its worship of rich capitalists was the only workable system that came out of this folly. And did not work well.
It has narrowed the range of functional freedoms for 90% of the population. Creating high unemployment was probably intentional, though the policies were justified as improving economic efficiency. It was very useful for breaking Trade Union power, but economic efficiency in Britain remained bad and the growth in wealth slowed from the 1980s. It remains popular with the very rich, because vastly more of the social wealth now flows to them. And opponents are mostly hampered by naïve notions about what Freedom is.
There are vast panics about Face Recognition, for instance. Technology that might indeed make us more like a Global Village, and safer from theft and criminal violence.
Everyone complains about fraud and troll aggression on the Internet. But almost all of them would resist the simple notion of an Internet Passport, which would vastly reduce it.
It is a sickening world. The world is sick, and you should be sickened by what now happens in it.
But never believe that it cannot be fixed.
I don’t lightly reject expert opinion.
On science, I have found it very reliable. Much better than ‘common-sense’ views, when these differ. Our ‘common-sense’ is based on living in an exceptional place: a bubble of liquid water and free oxygen that has been so for hundreds of millions of years. There are definitely no other such places nearer than the Alpha Centauri system, and whether its candidate planet would be fit for human life remains speculative.
Gravity to hold you down plus a solid surface and resistant air to slow you down are also rare conditions, if much more common than habitable worlds. But also the conditions we live with, so that Aristotle and others assumed that nothing could move without something to push it – or else nothing except God as the Unmoved Mover. It took the genius of Newton to realise that in space, there is usually nothing to slow you down. That an object could remain in a state of uniform motion if no other force acted upon it. And that exactly the same force could govern an apple that fell and a moon that orbited.
Newton did not discover gravity: every toddler learns how it works for us. Claims for pre-Newton discoverers are wrong, as I blogged in an account called Nobody Discovered Gravity. Nor did Einstein show up Newton as wrong. Instead he made the startling and correct assertion that time could be slowed by gravity, accounting for previously baffling errors in predicting the orbit of Mercury.
When science changes its views, it almost always moves even further from common-sense. Thus the stars are far from eternal, and those now close to us will be distant in a million years’ time. We also live in a fairly quiet era in a relatively orderly galaxy
I trust science. If I put forward ideas of my own, I also give the standard view and make it clear that any extra ideas I’ve had are speculative and very possibly wrong.
But on the major movements of the world’s politics and economics, I have often found myself closer to the truth than the people paid to supposedly understand it.
And also paid to flatter the rich.
And with their minds soaked in some version of liberalism, which I see as something much less than the whole truth. Mistaking ‘liberalism’ for ‘niceness’, when niceness is often a camouflage for ruthless and greedy policies by liberal politicians. And where functional niceness often means harshness to offenders.
With a different world-view, learned from others in what is now the Ernest Bevin Society, I have often seen more than the mainstream pundits.
In 1987, I said that riots by Black Britons were not something that doomed the existing order. They were merely a demand to be recognised as Black Britons. Reformist riots.
In 1989, I predicted that the Chinese Communist Party was still strong and might keep power for decades. And observed that Mao remained popular even with the protestors, so that I was not at all surprised when the party leaders reasserted his merits after a temporary low.
I also failed to realise at the time how much was still healthy in China. I saw it later. Knew that it was a fight for survival, and one justified by the later suffering of Russia after it confidently surrendered to Western values.
In 1991, during the anti-Gorbachev coup, I watched live pictures and saw that the authorities were not ready to use violence against crowds of protestors. This was contrary to what ‘expert opinion’ was saying as a commentary on those pictures. No written record, but I had always expected Gorbachev to fail, though not as badly as he did.
I failed for several years to see what a mess Yeltsin was making: others in the Bevin Society saw better. I did see it in time to see Putin’s revival of Russia as a natural product of Western incompetence and greed.
Also the incompetence and greed of the entire anti-Iraq campaign. I was certain that Iraq could only be ruled by someone just as brutal as Saddam. But Western leaders managed to fall below my already-low expectations, summoning up an extremist Islam that had been marginal.
I did have some notion of the future importance of Muqtada al-Sadr. And specifically rejected what I saw as an attempt to frame him for the killing of a pro-Western cleric.
Most years I insisted that China would go on succeeding. And decided that all current Western writing on it was biased by believing in New Right delusions, even when there was a yearning to be leftist.
I also saw Xi’s increasing power as a sensible reaction to growing Western hostility.
I warned Syria’s pro-Western protestors that they were too weak to win, and foolish not to see if Assad was sincere in his offers to compromise.
I warned Hong Kong’s protestors that they were doomed, having seen the occasional Western press report that admitted that hardly anyone in Mainland China sympathised.
I saw China’s reaction to Covid-19 as correct. I continuously complained at the West’s slowness to react.
Back in 1990, I saw the Poll Tax Riots as futile. Asocial Rioters who wanted things fixed by other people at no cost to themselves.
Through the 1990s, I was doing a detailed study of Adam Smith, finding many of his claims to be phoney. This was published in 2000 as Adam Smith: Wealth Without Nations, and no one wanted to know. It happens to be the only major left-wing criticism of Adam Smith available in English: probably the only one in any language. But it has so far been completely ignored by those it would be useful to..
I was and am out of line by insisting that Stalin had known what he was doing and that his rivals and heirs had been bunglers. That his actions followed on from what Lenin created, so that it was foolish to view them as different. And that most of the Hard Left did continuing damage to the cause by an attitude of ‘If I cannot have what I want, I will have naught’.
I assume I am shut out for daring to take this heretical view. Rejected even by people who would agree with most of what I say.
“High-flying Citigroup banker, 31, earning £1 million a year is suspended for ‘stealing sandwiches from the staff canteen’…
“He would not be the first banker to land himself in hot water over allegations of personal misconduct.
“Japan’s Mizuho Bank sacked a London banker in 2016 after he was caught stealing a part worth £5 from a colleague’s bike.
“And in 2014 Jonathan Burrows, a former BlackRock executive, was found to have repeatedly dodged paying train fares for his commute.
“The Financial Conduct Authority banned the ex-fund manager from any future senior roles in the UK finance sector and Mr Burrows ended up paying £43,000 to Southeastern trains to settle the case.”
Part of an attitude of general dishonesty. The belief that we live in a Global Nightclub:
“Syphilis cases at their highest since World War Two”.
Feed Off Of The World!
“Bob Geldof’s firm’s use of tax haven is legal, but the system hurts African nations
“At their closest point, Europe and Africa are just eight miles apart. That’s the inspiration for the name of Sir Bob Geldof’s private equity firm, 8 Miles, set up to channel investment into successful businesses in Africa.
“But we learned last week that 8 Miles’ cash travels considerably further than this on its way from one continent to the other. It has established a cluster of companies in Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, which funds pass through.
“Geldof is an outspoken champion of African countries, and has raised millions of pounds for the continent through Band Aid and other initiatives. That he sees no contradiction in this type of corporate structure shows how depressingly routine the use of jurisdictions like Mauritius has become.
“Mauritius is the tax haven of choice for companies investing in Africa.”
Money needed by the poor has gone to the rich. Tax avoidance is a big part of it. And charities are only a small part of the answer.
“An old programming language is threatening global stability
“It sounds like the name of a rock band from the 1960s but COBOL, which stands for Common Business Oriented Language and was first developed in 1959, is back in the news.
“As reported by CNN, US state governments have raised the prospect of shortage of COBOL programmers to help them tackle the pandemic in the US particularly where it is still widely in use today…
“64 per cent of mainframe-powered organisations were planning to run more than half their mission-critical workloads on the platform, an increase from 57 per cent in 2018.”
‘Mainframes’ are the older sort of computer. Machines that still do much of the work of the world.
I was always a mainframe programmer, never gaining deep knowledge of the microcomputers that have replaced them. And for the first 20 years, COBOL was what I used.
Short-termism meant that a lot of old computer systems were never replaced. With businesses dominated by the need to keep up the share price, managers saw it as wiser to leave the problem to someone else.
Escaping Your Neighbours
“The good old days? Look deeper and the myth of ideal communities fades
“As studies of kinship show, many people were glad to escape the strains of close-knit living…
“Wariness of neighbours and concern for domestic privacy represented defence mechanisms against the coercive, controlling sides of close-knit living… Millions leapt at the opportunity to escape the close-quartered, face-to-face communities of Victorian Britain, where everyone knew each other’s business, as soon as they were able. This was not a rejection of community per se, rather, it represented an attempt to find new ways of living better suited to the modern world. In the process, community became increasingly personal and voluntary, based on genuine affection rather than proximity or need.”
But as I said earlier, everyone wants some limits on freedom. If it is not imposed by your neighbours, you need a public body to plug the gap.
“30 years after communism, eastern Europe divided on democracy’s impact”
“Up to 85% of people approved of the shift in Poland, eastern Germany and the Czech Republic, for example, but fewer than 55% did so in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia. This broadly mirrored very different perceptions of how individual countries had progressed since the momentous events of 1989-91, when a wave of optimism swept Europe as walls and regimes fell, ushering in more open societies and markets, the survey’s authors said.
“Most Poles, Czechs and Lithuanians, and more than 40% of Hungarians and Slovaks, for example, said they felt most people in their countries were better off than 30 years ago; in Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria, more than half felt things were worse.
“Asked how they felt their countries had advanced, central and eastern Europeans were most positive about education (65%), living standards (61%) and national pride (58%). They were less happy about law and order (44%) and family values (41%), and a majority (53%) said healthcare had got worse in the post-communist era.
“But across all the former communist nations surveyed, people were ‘mostly pessimistic about the functioning of the political system, and about specific economic issues like jobs and inequality’, the survey’s authors said.”
Is modern human success based on being friendlier and more helpful than our close relatives?
“When humans started to tame dogs, cats, sheep, and cattle, they may have continued a tradition that started with a completely different animal: us. A new study—citing genetic evidence from a disorder that in some ways mirrors elements of domestication—suggests modern humans domesticated themselves after they split from their extinct relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans, approximately 600,000 years ago…
“Domestication encompasses a whole suite of genetic changes that arise as a species is bred to be friendlier and less aggressive…
“Modern humans are also less aggressive and more cooperative than many of our ancestors. And we, too, exhibit a significant physical change: Though our brains are big, our skulls are smaller, and our brow ridges are less pronounced.”
But how then did we defeat our more aggressive relatives?
One answer is that we were a rare species until we emerged as fully human from the last Ice Age. We were not much in competition with each other.
A second and regrettable answer is our unfortunate ability to kill without being particularly angry. Animals only kill when they are angry, unless they are killing to feed. But one group of humans may calmly decide to kill or drive out another group of human strangers. May combine with some third group of strangers seen as useful to defeat the targeted strangers.
I’d assume that our less domesticated relatives were never calm enough to do this.
And domesticated as we are, we still need the right social structures to avoid violence.
“How the Documents Proving Crimes Committed by the British Empire Were Destroyed…
“The documents, kept in a very well guarded government center, also include information reports on the ‘elimination’ of the enemies of the colonial authorities in Malaysia in the 1950s. Others show that members of the London cabinet were aware of the torture and killing of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, and others show how far the British went to force Diego Garcia residents…
“The files that eventually arrived at Hanslope Park, Buckinghamshire, come from 37 former colonies and total over 200 meters of the archive. But it is clear that most of the documents considered ‘dangerous’ were probably destroyed. Authorities in some colonies, such as Kenya, were told at the time that documents should be destroyed, not brought to the UK, and that no traces of documents or their destruction should remain.”
Some evidence survived. MPs raised the matter at the time, and I am one of many who have written about it.
Bad stuff was done in 20th century Ireland. But much worse when it was a non-white population.
Yet we are told off if we want to mention the faults of the now-vanished British Empire.
Fear of Scientific Solutions
“Block on GM rice ‘has cost millions of lives and led to child blindness’…
“Golden Rice is a form of normal white rice that has been genetically modified to provide vitamin A to counter blindness and other diseases in children in the developing world. It was developed two decades ago but is still struggling to gain approval in most nations…
“Vitamin A deficiency is practically unknown in the west, where it is found in most foods. For individuals in developing countries, however, vitamin A is a matter of life or death. Lack of it is believed to be responsible for killing more children than HIV, tuberculosis or malaria – around 2,000 deaths a day. On a global scale, about a third of children under five suffer from the condition which can also lead to blindness…
“Greenpeace has insisted over the years that Golden Rice is a hoax and that its development was diverting resources from dealing with general global poverty, which it maintained was the real cause of the planet’s health woes…
“The Cartagena Protocol contains a highly controversial clause known as Principle 15 or, more commonly, the precautionary principle. This states that if a product of modern biotechnology poses a possible risk to human health or the environment, measures should be taken to restrict or prevent its introduction. The doctrine, in the case of Golden Rice, was interpreted as ‘guilty until proven innocent’, says Regis, an attitude entirely out of kilter with the potential of the crop to save millions of lives and halt blindness.”
It’s an attitude I see all over. People want things done their way, and will not accept anything else. One nice instance of good purpose gone wrong is Denethor in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. We have the following exchange:
“‘What then would you have,’ said Gandalf, ‘if your will could have its way?’
“‘I would have things as they were in all the days of my life,’ answered Denethor, ‘and in the days of my longfathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard’s pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated.’”
Much deeper than the absurd Denethor of the Jackson films. He is a good man gone wrong by using unacceptable methods for admirable end. Something very relevant to the modern world.
Tolkien might well have opposed eugenics, and perhaps even Golden Rice. But his books work because the characters within his fairy-stories have feelings and reactions that match what we see in the familiar world.
We see far too much of what we could usefully call ‘Denethorianism’. ‘If I cannot have what I want, I will have naught.’
Geometry in the Oldest Known Temple
“Israeli Archaeologists Find Hidden Pattern at ‘World’s Oldest Temple’ Gobekli Tepe… even more complex than previously thought, and required an amount of planning and resources thought to be impossible for those times. Their study of the three oldest stone enclosures at Göbekli Tepe has revealed a hidden geometric pattern, specifically an equilateral triangle, underlying the entire architectural plan of these structures…
“Using an algorithm, he identified the center points of the three irregular stone circles. Not surprisingly, those points fell roughly mid-way between the pair of central pillars in each enclosure. What was surprising, however, was that those three points could be linked to form a nearly perfect equilateral triangle. Specifically, the vertices are about 25 centimeters away from forming a perfect triangle with sides measuring 19.25 meters each…
“‘The odds that these center points would form an equilateral triangle by chance are very low.’”
I have no trouble believing that hunter-gatherers in a rich environment allowing easy living might form clubs with a fancy understanding of maths. And get these ideas included in a ritual centre that everyone thought worthwhile. They need not have posed as magicians with the ability to grant good or bad luck, as later intellectuals often did, becoming shamen or priests. They might have, or that may have come later when life became more dangerous and competitive.
But is that the only explanation?
Where we do know the history of Ritual Sites, stone structures mostly replace something originally built in wood. So perhaps it was originally three simple wooden posts, in sight of each other and very easy to set as an equilateral triangle. Then distinct traditions arose around each, later expressed in stone.
There is also a lot more of Gobekli Tepe to be dug up. And perhaps similar but even older sites waiting to be found.
Glad To Be Statist
“There’s a question that deserves to be thought about — which we don’t consider often enough. It’s a simple one. Why are Europeans so much happier than Americans? Or, conversely, why are Europeans the happiest people in the world…in human history?
“Some caveats. Sure, I generalize. Not every European is happy. And by happiness I don’t mean simple consumerist pleasure. Nor is every American unhappy.
“And yet the proof’s in the pudding. European societies, by and large, are astoundingly happy places. They’ve been rocked by the tides of extremism, sweeping the globe, sure — nobody is saying they’re perfect or pure, romanticizing or idealizing them. In contrast, Americans are so unhappy that suicide is skyrocketing, depression is soaring, rage is endemic, and the general atmosphere of society veers grimly between a kind of bitter despair and a black nihilism.
“Now, one answer to my question is obvious: social democracy. Europeans enjoy generous public goods — public healthcare, retirement, education, high speed rail, and so forth. And so they don’t live the lives of bruising, battering, endless — and pointless — competition that Americans do. Americans work until their dying days now — the average American dies in debt. Europeans, in contrast, simply gave each other the very things Americans forced one another to compete for — healthcare, retirement, and so on. The stakes in American life are therefore life and death, every single day — lost that job? Bang! You’re dead. European life is gentler — because social democracy is fundamentally more humane.”
The author goes on to mention personal factors, which are valid. Another source tells us that these apply even in the USA::
“Is the bystander effect a myth?
“A study published in the American Psychologist suggests there are more Good Samaritans out there than we might think.
“After studying hundreds of incidents captured on CCTV around the world, the researchers conclude the so-called bystander effect – that people will not usually help a stranger in distress – may not tell the whole story.”
But undermined by notions of Rugged Individualism.
And by the New Right selling an extreme version of Classical Capitalism as the answer to all of our problems:
“Decades of free-market orthodoxy have taken a toll on democracy
“The simultaneous waning of confidence in neoliberalism and in democracy is no coincidence or mere correlation. Neoliberalism has undermined democracy for 40 years.
“The form of globalisation prescribed by neoliberalism left individuals and entire societies unable to control an important part of their own destiny…
“Even in rich countries, ordinary citizens were told: ‘You can’t pursue the policies you want’ – whether adequate social protection, decent wages, progressive taxation, or a well-regulated financial system – ‘because the country will lose competitiveness, jobs will disappear, and you will suffer’.
“In rich and poor countries alike, elites promised that neoliberal policies would lead to faster economic growth and that the benefits would trickle down so that everyone, including the poorest, would be better off.
“Well, after 40 years, the numbers are in: growth has slowed and the fruits of that growth went overwhelmingly to a very few at the top. As wages stagnated and the stock market soared, income and wealth flowed up, rather than trickling down.”
The New Right tactic has been to oppose the state when it threatens the selfish interests of the rich. And to weaken foreign states that are a threat to those interests, or else resist profitable exploitation.
I think that what Saddam Hussein was really punished for was for daring to spend much of Iraq’s oil wealth on a useful welfare system.
Media dominated by the rich encourage excessive reaction to minor corruption for selected targets. Persuade the people that ordinary controls are oppression.
The end result – seen for instance in Italy – is a new order just as corrupt as the old, but now doing more to serve the selfish ends of the rich.
“Lampmann is one of the stars of Soviet Hippies, a film by the Estonian writer and director Terje Toomistu about a lost period in Soviet history. The documentary explores a subculture that was inspired by the west yet distinctly homegrown – existing in a society shaped by communism and watched over by the KGB.
“‘In the west, nobody was arrested simply for having long hair or wearing strange clothes,’ Toomistu explains. The USSR, by contrast, wanted complete control of its citizens’ lives: how people worked, dressed, or even danced. Anyone who rejected the Homo sovieticus model could be in ‘big trouble’, including having their hair forcibly cut.
“The Soviet hippy movement emerged in Moscow and Leningrad around 1966 and 1967, in the early years of Leonid Brezhnev’s rule. The first red hippies were the sons or daughters of the privileged Soviet nomenklatura – well-behaved kids from elite families. They had access to music from the capitalist world and to jeans. By the early 70s, the movement had grown sufficiently big and unruly to alarm the authorities – though it probably only ever numbered a few thousand, Toomistu says. The secret police began tailing the long-haired to school. In June 1971, the hippies were given permission to demonstrate against the Vietnam war outside the US embassy in Moscow.
“This was a trap. The KGB rounded up and arrested demonstrators, with the goal of wiping out hippy culture. Some demonstrators were sent to psychiatric facilities and injected with insulin; others dispatched to the army and camps near the Chinese border. The film re-creates this grim clampdown and uses surveillance photos found in KGB archives in Lithuania.”
The Soviet Union tried and failed to defend what were the older values of the core of the working class.
In the USA, Nixon sounded serious when he used the old concept of a ‘Silent Majority’ against hippy and anti-war sentiments. Did generate a popular ‘hard hats’ movement among some workers. But ruined himself with Watergate, continuously cheating when he had no real need to cheat, which is a common centre-right failing. And from Reagan onwards, they only pretended, and in fact let things drift.
In China, I’ve always felt that the same forces expressed themselves in the Cultural Revolution. Several accounts say that Mao was astonished by the sudden enthusiasm among the young for what had been a small dispute about a play disrespectful of Mao. It was not a purge: Mao had lost control of the party apparatus after his Great Leap Forward went wrong. And it took him a long time to reassert control and actually remove the people he disapproved of.
No doubt the aging former hippies now in the Establishment will reject the comparison. As they see it, “we represented Freedom and the Red Guards were against Freedom”. This follows logically if you see Freedom as an eternal metaphysical entity that just coincidentally coincides closely with the selfish interests of the rich.
Awkwardly, there was a lot of hippy / Maoist overlap at the time. I was one, but I was hardly unusual. A good history of the global movement is badly needed, including its unexpected fellow-travellers. But don’t bother with Julia Lovell’s Maoism: A Global History. It is yet another work spreading fog and darkness over all of the off-message facts.
After Maoism burnt itself out, China’s leaders moved on, but kept control of the forces they had unleashed. Have regulated the Chinese members of the global flock of adventurous rich people, so that the economy continues to flourish.
Back To The Soil?
Many are saying that we need a new culture as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis.
And as we face massive shifts in global weather patterns.
The problems start when you get down to specifics.
And I have no doubt that the idea of human compost funerals will repel many.
It is a new idea, currently legalised in one part of the USA, and probably still forbidden everywhere else.
“This is the vision – in an indoor garden, a honeycomb structure lines the walls, and inside each cell, a human body composts. When it’s done, loved ones take home a pot of soil, not an urn of ash.
“A person’s final resting place could be the foundations of a flowerbed or could feed the roots of a tree…
“Here’s what it means to choose a compost burial…
“Lying in the open, a human body can take months to return to earth…
“Placing the body in a mix of wood chips and similar composting materials, allowing thermophilic – heat-loving – microbes and bacteria to get to work.
“Remains are also heated to 131 F (55 C), killing off contagions so the resulting soil is safe to use – a key part of why many supporters prefer this manner of burial.”
I might opt for it myself, if it ever became legal in Britain.
India At Risk
“India’s Ominous Future: Too Little Water, or Far Too Much…
“The rains are more erratic today. There’s no telling when they might start, nor how late they might stay. This year, India experienced its wettest September in a century; more than 1,600 people were killed by floods; and even by the time traditional harvest festivals rolled around in October, parts of the country remained inundated.
“Even more troubling, extreme rainfall is more common and more extreme. Over the last century, the number of days with very heavy rains has increased, with longer dry spells stretching out in between. Less common are the sure and steady rains that can reliably penetrate the soil. This is ruinous for a country that gets the vast share of its water from the clouds.
“The problem is especially acute across the largely poor central Indian belt that stretches from western Maharashtra State to the Bay of Bengal in the east: Over the last 70 years, extreme rainfall events have increased threefold in the region, according to a recent scientific paper, while total annual rainfall has measurably declined.”
And I’m not hopeful that the world’s largest Parliamentary Democracy will handle it well:
“India top courts tells parties to justify rise in ‘criminal candidates’
“India’s Supreme Court has made it mandatory for political parties to publish the names of any candidates with criminal records, along with a justification for why they were chosen…
“In 2019, 43% of newly-elected MPs had criminal records, up from 34% in 2014…
“Some of the charges are of a minor nature or politically motivated. But there are many who face more serious charges such as theft, assaulting public officials, murder and even rape…
“‘A key factor motivating parties to select candidates with serious criminal records comes down to cold, hard cash,’ says political scientist Milan Vaishnav.
“The rising cost of elections and a shadowy election financing system where parties and candidates under-report collections and expenses means that parties prefer ‘self-financing candidates who do not represent a drain on the finite party coffers but instead contribute ‘rents’ to the party’. Many of these candidates have criminal records.
“There are three million political positions in India’s three-tier democracy; each election requires considerable resources.
“Many parties are like personal fiefs run by dominant personalities and dynasts, and lacking inner-party democracy – conditions, which help ‘opportunistic candidates with deep pockets’.”
Our Sickening World
“It seems clear that what we have come to think of as ‘late capitalism’ — that is, not just the economic system, but all its attendant inequalities, indignities, opportunities and absurdities — has become hostile to reproduction. Around the world, economic, social and environmental conditions function as a diffuse, barely perceptible contraceptive. And yes, it is even happening in Denmark.”
I call it Coolheart. Selfish and detached.
And a return to old errors that grew stronger as the Soviet challenge faded. And as people were given a false story about what the world was like before 1939 or 1914.
“It’s not thanks to capitalism that we’re living longer, but progressive politics…
“They began enclosing the commons and forcing peasants off the land, with the explicit intention of driving down the cost of wages. With subsistence economies destroyed, people had no choice but to work for pennies simply in order to survive. According to the Oxford economists Henry Phelps Brown and Sheila Hopkins, real wages declined by up to 70% from the end of the 15th century all the way through the 17th century. Famines became commonplace and nutrition deteriorated. In England, average life expectancy fell from 43 years in the 1500s to the low 30s in the 1700s.”
I’ve said that we took a wrong turn on economics in the 1980s. But there were errors before that. The Mixed Economy was dominated by Technocratic views that did a lot of damage:
“Even now, 56 years after its release, you don’t need to be a transport buff to know about the Beeching report. Following its publication in March 1963, hundreds of stations and thousands of miles of track were axed. The rail network was slimmed down on the grounds that many lines were underused and uneconomic.
“Beeching came out in the year Harold Wilson made his “white heat of technology” speech. Its premise was that the car was the future and rail the past.
“Cuts had been under way during the 1950s, and the feeling – exemplified by the Ealing comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt – was that railways were a legacy of the 19th century, of a pre-modern age.
“When Wilson became prime minister a year later, there was no attempt to halt the closure programme.
“Yet the history of the past half century shows that Beeching was a colossal mistake. Passenger numbers on trains are now higher than they were pre-1963 even though back then car usage was a lot lower. Beeching, in the words of his report, sought the “selective development and intensive utilisation of a more limited trunk route system” and that is broadly what Britain ended up with.
“But the result has been a network where it is quick and easy to get by rail from Reading to London, and from Watford to London, but time-consuming to get from Reading to Watford. The motorway network reflects the fact that people often live in one town and work in another; the rail network does not.
“But perhaps the most baleful legacy of Beeching has been the way in which it has led to towns and villages – often in the most economically challenged parts of the country – becoming isolated. Beeching contributed to the UK’s geographical divide between thriving big cities and struggling smaller towns. Without Beeching there might not have been a vote for Brexit.”
We now urgently want to get people off the roads. But the damage has been done.
USA Sickens Worse
“How Working-Class Life Is Killing Americans, in Charts…
“When the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton first published their research on ‘deaths of despair’ five years ago, they focused on middle-aged whites. So many white working-class Americans in their 40s and 50s were dying of suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse that the overall mortality rate for the age group was no longer falling – a rare and shocking pattern in a modern society.
“But as Case and Deaton continued digging into the data, it became clear that the grim trends didn’t apply only to middle-aged whites. Up and down the age spectrum, deaths of despair have been surging for people without a four-year college degree…
“Their basic answer is that working-class life in the United States is more difficult than it is in any other high-income country. ‘European countries have faced the same kind of technological change we have, and they’re not seeing the people killing themselves with guns or drugs or alcohol,’ Case says. ‘There is something unique about the way the U.S. is handling this.’
“Inequality has risen more in the United States — and middle-class incomes have stagnated more severely — than in France, Germany, Japan or elsewhere. Large corporations have increased their market share, and labor unions have shriveled, leaving workers with little bargaining power. Outsourcing has become the norm, which means that executives often see low-wage workers not as colleagues but as expenses.
“And the United States suffers from by far the world’s most expensive health-care system. It acts as a tax on workers and drains resources that could otherwise be spent on schools, day care, roads, public transit and more. Despite its unparalleled spending, the American medical system also fails to keep many people healthy.”
And many have responded by voting for Trump. Trump’s main achievement has been more tax give-aways for the very rich.
The USA from the 1980s weaponised popular protest. Learned that the outcome need not be more support for the left.
The result has been riots all over. Initial gains for the centre-right were undermined by a failure to deliver what the rioters had hoped for. And increasingly, people with alien ideas responded in their own ways to the message that the Western media were pumping out.
Even in the USA, where Trump was unwelcome but popular.
And whatever the aim, these protests were mostly futile.
In a real sense, most of the rioters are protesting against themselves. Outraged by their own failure to use the theoretical power of the vote to get a government they actually want.
“Lebanon scraps WhatsApp tax as protests rage”.
“Chile protests: Unrest in Santiago over metro fare increase”.
“Chile protests: Three dead in supermarket fire as clashes continue”.
“Chile protests: Five dead after looters torch garment factory”.
It’s part of the problem that I detailed in Problems 43: Why Spontaneous Politics Mostly Fails. 1960s methods were continued long after they stopped producing good results.
Incoherent politics. All rooted in the error of saying ‘freedom’ instead of ‘areas of freedom that we would like to reform. Not saying ‘our revised views of what should be allowed, what should be encouraged, what should be discouraged and what should be forbidden.’
All bound with the fantasy that ‘we cannot stop freedom’.
They won’t accept inequality, but have been made scared of parties with serious ideas for using state power to end it.
“Elect a government to fix it? No, that’s a government and that’s evil.”
Zoom to the Future Now
Two good things have come out of the Covid-19 crisis.
One is the wearing of facemasks. It would be nice if everyone with a cough or cold continued doing this when we finally get rid of the current highly infectious virus. It has long been a habit in East Asia, and is a good one. It may even be the main reason why the feared winter flu season has so far been moderate.
The other is the spread of Teleconferencing, mostly through simple-to-use Zoom software.
The old idea of a visual telephone was shown in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but in the real world it was never popular. One problem is that it did not reproduce the natural human habit of looking at someone’s eyes when you talk to them. The camera usually sits above the screen, so if you look at where their eyes are on a screen, you come across as having eyes lowered.
The problem is much reduced when you have several people, each with a small picture. Or a large picture just for the person speaking.
I’d also expect rapid improvements. In 1997 I moved from a rather old home computer to one of the better home systems of the day. This included moving pictures shown from disk – but those were the size of a matchbox. And when you used the internet, even regular photos might take minutes to upload.
I now use Streaming services which shows films etc. almost as smoothly as from a disk. And without the need to handle physical disks, which just now get heavily delayed by an overburdened postal service.
I can see things going further still. Maybe a Conference Helmet, showing just your face and with a clever set-up to have the camera working from where you look at someone’s eyes. Even a helmet with soundproofing, so you can use it with other people without disturbing them and with whatever privacy you feel you need.
Why I Write
For years, I have been doing regular monthly Newsnotes for the magazine Labour Affairs. But recently I find I have more to say than the magazine has room for. Hence this long multi-section article.
Recent Newsnotes are available at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairs.com/
Previous Newsnotes are at the Archive website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/. Also https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/. I blog regularly at https://www.quora.com/q/pwgwxusqvnzzrlzm/stats. I tweet at @GwydionMW.
 https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/ – available as a PDF
 https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/covid-19-coronavirus-infographic-datapack/ as at 14th December.
 https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries, excluding states with fewer than 3 million inhabitants.
 https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/It-s-Not-Free-Speech-If-I-Don-t-Like-It. See also https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Xinjiang-and-the-Invention-of-Uyghurs
 Third Time Lucky, https://gwydionmadawc.com/060-my-own-science-fiction/710-stories-under-1000-words/third-time-lucky/
 Towards 2000 by Raymond Williams. Pages 243-5. Chatto & Windus 1983.
 Ibid., p 246.
 Ibid., p 248.
 Raymond Williams: A Short Counter Revolution: Towards 2000, Revisited by Jim Mcguigan.
 The Wiki rates this as the last-but-one of Middle Heinlein. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Heinlein_bibliography#Middle_Heinlein_novels). I disagree – both this and Time Enough for Love are very long and much more explicit about his libertarian views.
 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wars_of_the_Three_Kingdoms
 This is in episode 4 of series 2, “Tower of the Angels”.
 The name should really be accented. But I’ve found that computer systems often turn these into unreadable characters. Most global standards were set by the USA, where they were viewed as unimportant.
 See https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/traditional-china-resisted-modernisation/ and https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/why-chinas-blue-republic-achived-nothing/
 https://email@example.com/fixing-american-democracy-part-1-the-senate-b7402bed90e7 – written in 2018.
 https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/m-articles-by-topic/m99-topic-menus-from-long-revolution-website/998-from-labour-affairs/the-french-revolution-and-its-unstable-politics/25-world-history/the-morality-of-a-gulf-war-nov-1990/ and https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/isolated-labour-affairs-pages-before-2015/reflections-on-the-start-of-the-iraq-war/
 200 BC to 410 AD.
 https://gwydionwilliams.com/newsnotes-historic/newsnotes-to-2009/2004-newsnotes/newsnotes-2004-08/#_Toc417151287 for instance. Also https://gwydionwilliams.com/newsnotes-historic/newsnotes-to-2009/2007-newsnotes/newsnotes-2007-02/#_Toc417754249 and https://gwydionwilliams.com/newsnotes-historic/newsnotes-to-2009/2007-newsnotes/newsnotes-2007-05/#_Toc417756071.
 https://gwydionwilliams.com/newsnotes-historic/2012-newsnotes/newsnotes-2012-12/#_Toc419220658, https://gwydionwilliams.com/newsnotes-historic/2015-newsnotes/newsnotes-2015-10/#_Toc431750247, https://www.quora.com/Is-Assad-evil-Why-or-why-not/answer/Gwydion-Madawc-Williams,
 https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Hong-Kong-Committing-Suicide, also https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Hong-Kong-Opposition-No-Longer-Tolerated
 https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Instant-Panic-Tory-U-turns-over-Covid-19, https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/I-m-Too-Macho-For-That-Virus, https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Trump-and-the-WHO-the-Buck-Stops-Anywhere-But-With-Me, https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Fear-of-Covid-19, https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Rumours-Information-and-Covid-19, https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/China-Viruses-Covid-19-and-Wuhan-400.
 Book V, Chapter 7: The Pyre of Denethor