I am reading Thomas Piketty’s excellent book, Capital in the 21st Century. It deserves to be as influential as Keynes’ General Theory.
I have also been following up some other research into the question of inequality, and have found some interesting work going back to the 1950s by influential economists such as Kaldor and Kuznets. The empirical data seems to be that a relatively low level of inequality is fairly well correlated with growth: see, for example, this IMF Staff Discussion Note by Ostry, Berg and Tsangarides, which was recently cited in a speech by Mark Carney.
Citation-surfing led me to: The Tradeoff Between Inequality and Growth by Jess Benhabib, Professor of Economics at New York University. Benhabib was trying to show that the relationship is non-linear, a result I would expect. But when I read the paper….
That tenured academics are paid good money to produce such rubbish is incredibly depressing. In a social science, there is simply no point in such pages of algebra. So far as I can tell, not one of the variables in the reams of equations can ever be empirically determined. How can these theories ever be tested?
I’m not great at maths, but I know enough to know that it has incredible beauty in its pure abstract depths, the more remarkable because the same abstract language describes reality so accurately. But this “economic modelling” does nothing of the sort. The “agents” to which it refers have no basis in reality. It’s not wrong, mathematically. It’s just pointless. It’s mathematical self-abuse, an abuse of mathematics – and if it’s the sort of theory that’s been used to inform real, public economic policy it’s hardly surprising we’ve made such a mess of things.
The continuing tragedy of Gaza is that the people most affected by it seem to have the wrong ideas about a solution. Periodic ceasefires are imposed from outside, accepted at best grudgingly by both sides. Both democratic bodies (Hamas is democratically-elected in Gaza) enjoy popular support for their policies from their electorate.
But, from here in London, both sides’ tactics seem bizarre, calculated to achieve nothing but perpetuation of the current misery.
I have more sympathy for Hamas than for Israel, not only because of the one-sided tally of deaths; and I do begin to detect an acknowledgement by Israel that it has badly miscalculated global public opinion. Israel now wants a ceasefire not for its own domestic reasons, but to regain some support from the international public. The Guardian has today run an obnoxious advertisement, paid for by Israel, to try and blame Hamas for the many child deaths. While Hamas rockets have not killed a single Israeli or Gazan child, it is telling that Israel feels the need to place the ad. It is losing the propaganda war.
But the Guardian has also run some excellent balanced pieces by Paul Mason, including this one from a few days ago, in which he concludes that, despite everything, Gaza works. Israeli politicians should read this and try to formulate a different strategy, continuing the logic of the withdrawal that was Ariel Sharon’s last significant act (That he was a war criminal, remembering Sabra and Chatila, does not change the fact that he was also a realist who came at the end of his conscious life to move away from the intransigence of Likud). It will be difficult and hugely expensive, but with the right will, there will be huge international support for it. Besieged Gaza, isolated and impoverished, will always be a source of trouble for Israel. The inevitable logic of continuing to besiege Gaza is that Israeli public opinion will move closer and closer to calling for a final solution, the tragic irony of which cannot be lost on anyone with any sense of history. On the other hand, a prosperous and independent Gaza, relying first on massive aid and subsequently on tourism and financial services, will fire far fewer rockets and foment far less anti-Zionism. An independent Gaza is achievable, even with Israel’s twisted internal politics, because there are none of the intractables of settlements and Jerusalem. This implies a three, not two-state solution as the end-game, reflecting in any case the divisions between Fatah and Hamas and removes one complication from the equation. It wouldn’t be my choice (I think that a single, secular state with citizenship decided by birth not blood or faith is the only long-term solution and is the only way to solve the Jerusalem question), but it ought to be Israel’s short- and medium- term strategy.
There is, of course, one huge problem: Hamas is ideologically committed to the destruction of the Jewish state, and Israel cannot therefore deal with it (and vice-versa). Well, Sinn Fein is ideologically committed to a united Ireland but manages to sit in government in a separate Ulster. It’s not directly comparable, but it shows that with the right turn of phrase and mutual incentives, such intransigent ideological blocks can be overcome. Parties can agree to differ, can acknowledge the other side’s view and disagree with it. Money makes a huge difference, but even so it will cost Israel less in aid than besieging Gaza costs in munitions, and the deal can be done this year. This month, even. Face as well as lives can be saved on all sides if:
- Israel accepts Hamas’ demands to lift the siege of Gaza (so Hamas can claim victory at home);
- Hamas undertakes to disarm (so Netanyahu can claim victory at home);
- Israel offers unlimited reconstruction aid, for which international assistance will be forthcoming;
- Gaza becomes an independent Palestinian city-state, with a secular constitution guaranteed by the international community including Israel and Egypt.
September to sign the agreement in principle and start allowing some movement of goods and people. December to complete the lifting of the siege and disarmament. This time next year to celebrate Gazan independence and to mourn the martyrs on both sides.
Most likely story. which we may never find out.
A bunch of rebel casuals gets their hands on the SAM kit their Russian friends had supplied them, for the purposes of shooting down Ukrainian government helicopters and troop planes.
Training was a little rushed, especially that bit about really checking the identity of the plane you were firing at.
But it wasn’t on an official flight path. Usually only troop planes here.
Airliner diverted to avoid turbulence/heavy weather.
Rebel commanders seriously pissed off with muppet who was only trying to score another troop plane.
We can blame the Ukrainian Government.
I would be excited by independence, lived I in Scotland. But I hope that I would not vote for it.
Keep the power to influence your own future -
If you vote for independence, it will be the last time you have the power to influence your future at all. As a small nation, you will be bound by the same international trade rules as the large ones, but you won’t be able to afford the lawyers to bend them.
Or cede it to multinational corporations
Instead of Westminster as your colonial master, you’ll have powerful global corporations deciding your laws in backroom deals with your local politicians.
You’ll still have to borrow money from the vampire squid of international finance, but they’ll have even fewer qualms about screwing you than they do about screwing us.
If you keep the pound, Threadneedle Street will still run your monetary system. If you’re not allowed Sterling, you’ll have to keep the Scots Pound at parity with it and the vampire squid will have a ball.
Scotland’s a great country with a great future if it realises that it doesn’t need to be a nation state or to assume the tiresome responsibilities that go with nationhood. If you vote for independence, you’re just giving a bigger trough to your local politicos.
Mr Gove’s declaration that schools will, henceforth, be required to teach British Values shows just how far he has lost the plot. He has always been a libertarian ideologue, and he has removed lots of the citizenship things that Labour put in to the curriculum.
Pundits have been having a lot of fun trying to work out what British Values are; of course, they are whatever you want them to be. If the conservative Muslims of Birmingham succeed, British Values will become Muslim values; and there is nothing wrong with that – if that is how society develops. I hope it doesn’t, because I don’t hold with conservative Muslim values although there are parts of Islamic morality that I like (as well as lot I really dislike).
As it happens, it’s much easier to make a case for French values or American values – because they’re encoded in their history. Freedom, equality and brotherhood – French values in a national motto. But British values? Not so very long ago, the answer would have been simple – British Values are Protestant values. Christian, but certainly not Catholic. Mr Gove is probably thinking a bit along those lines, but he can’t say it. The Protestant enlightenment allowed the free-thinking in which our society and economy developed.
Neither can Mr Gove say secular values, although he almost certainly does mean that. France is proud of laïcité; but secularism this side of the Channel is still seen as a little cranky. It shouldn’t; religious people in particular should embrace secularism as the best guarantee of religious freedom. The opposite of secularism is state-sponsored religion, which isn’t that far from theocracy. I don’t think we can directly compare today’s Church of England to Massachusetts Puritans or the Taleban; but the Church of England under Queen Elizabeth the First wasn’t a nice organisation if you were a Catholic. The difference is one of degree, not of nature, and it was the bad experiences of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that led America’s founding fathers to write the First Amendment. A secular state gives no faith any special privileges, and thus it guarantees all faiths the same treatment.
In a secular society, a woman may wear the hijab, should she choose to do so; but she may not be forced to do so – either by the State or by any other player. That’s a pretty good example of a modern British Value, which most of us would endorse (I’m very uneasy with secular France’s outlawing of the hijab – it strikes me as populist, Islamophobic and illiberal).
But from the punditry and the vox pops of the last few days, another British value has emerged: the idea of good manners. It’s been renamed “respect”, but that’s a horrid weasel word. Good manners matter; as William of Wykeham said, “manners makyth man”.
I will confess that I haven’t read Thomas Piketty’s notorious new book. It is on my long list of things to do. So my comments are based on what I have heard others say about it, rather than a direct read. Nevertheless, I do have things to say.
Certainly, I share with him a general concern about inequality; as I have said, I think too much inequality is bad because of its social effects and because it tends to restrict growth.
However, I disagree with Piketty’s diagnosis of the cause and hence his prescription (a global wealth tax). I don’t think it’s nearly as simple as he makes out and in particular I don’t agree that it’s about a difference between the rates of return on capital and labour. One of the features of twenty-first century capitalism is low capital rents as a result of very high asset prices. Capital assets generate returns for their owners not through income but through capital gains. For ordinary people, savings give a poor return.
My other quibble with Piketty as summarised by the pundits (which may not be borne out following a full reading) is that he hasn’t considered demographics. Globally, rather than regionally, we are coming to the end of a baby boom. Labour costs on a global scale are low because of the bulge in China’s working-age population which will start to contract rapidly over the coming decades as the little princes of the one-child generation leave the workforce. This will shift the balance of power towards labour. We will see a similar process in the West, sooner: our ageing population needs lots of local labour to care for it. We didn’t need local labour to supply our needs in a consumer society – cheap Chinese labour made the stuff we bought – but we will need local labour to empty our bed-pans.
A long way off-topic.
I am astounded at the self-evident incompetence of Western diplomacy here. Since the start of the Kiev protests, the West has not put a foot right.
It was far too loud a cheerleader for the protests to begin with. It has failed to condemn the nationalist ultras who led them. Like Russia, it has put all the West-Ukrainian people under the same heading; Russia describes them as Nazis, the West as democrats. They are probably mostly democratic, but many of the people on the front line were right-wing vigilantes. There is no place in the EU for a nation run by such people.
As soon as the old regime collapsed, the West should have started vocally to agitate for minorities, Russophones and Tartars especially. Self-determination is an important democratic principle, which trumps “territorial integrity”, so the West should have been vocal in pushing for a plebiscite in Crimea. That’s a “yes, but later”, rather than a “no, never” to Putin.
We know Putin was sore at losing his puppet in Kiev. He may well have encouraged the shooting; after all, it worked for him in Grozny. The West’s reaction to this wounded bear? Poke it with a stick!
Kerry, Hague and Ashton feebly echo the paranoia of the former Soviet satellite states who are now their allies. The West can tame the Russian bear, but we will only do so by championing our values rather than taking sides. Putin’s charge of hypocrisy is not without its validity.
Obviously, the present row between Ms Harman and the Mail is all politics.
Predictably, Ms Harman has failed to make the case she should be making about her past; political cowardice is rife.
So let me do it for her.
The Paedophile Information Exchange stood for repugnant views. But I will defend to the death its right to to express them, and that is what NCCL should have done and been doing. People like Hanson, Hose and O’Carroll were far more honest than, say, Stuart Hall or Jimmy Savile.
Paedophilia is now considered the most heinous of crimes. PIE may well, unwittingly, have helped us come to that position. It sought publicity, it made its case as in a free society it had every right to do. And it lost the argument on the merits of the argument. Paedophilia is a perversion and acting on it is criminal.
NCCL was right to support PIE’s right to make its case, and no apology is needed.
The title is in the imperative mood.
I was once a member of the SNP (in 1975, shortly after I first got the vote, and lived in Scotland). The English attitude, always conflating “England” and “Britain” was as condescending and irritating then as it is now.
These days I identify first and foremost as a Londoner with English heritage. I have family links to Scotland and love it dearly, and despite my youthful aspirations I now fervently hope that Scots will vote no in September.
But I’m still not sure that were I living in Scotland I would do so. Independence is an appealing prospect. A Nordic Scotland, fat on oil wealth, pursuing its own destiny free of the Tory lairds….
Let’s start with the non-arguments against independence, and dismiss them. First, the pound. If England doesn’t want a currency union, there’s no way Scotland can make it join one; and for lots of political reasons England doesn’t. But that doesn’t matter. Scotland could do what Ireland did from 1928 to 1979: shadow sterling with its own pound pegged at parity to sterling. It would constrain Scots fiscal policy just as tightly as a currency union and create no problems for the banks – who would behave as if there were a currency union. The only overhead is that Scotland would need actively to manage its currency, and its fiscal policy, and its balance of payments, to maintain parity. In a currency union, it would need to do the same, differently.
Second, the EU. Mr Barroso is in danger of sounding like a travelling Scot – which is to say, repetitive. He is almost certainly wrong.Whether Scotland could inherit its share of UK membership is an issue that will probably be decided by the European courts – and it seems to me that the arguments, which I won’t rehearse, favour Scotland. In any case, the EU needs a solution to the problem of secession by regions of its member states. Would Mr Barroso be making such a fuss if Czechoslovakia split after its accession rather than ten years earlier? Of course not; the EU would have bent over backwards to keep both the Czech Republic and Slovakia in. It is also, of course, just as arguable that the UK’s membership should also stop, because it will be a different nation (The United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) rather than The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which joined in 1973. Barroso has his political agenda, but I think the law, practicality and the politics are against him.
So, two non-arguments filling the headlines dismissed.
As a Londoner, I desperately want Scotland to stay in the UK because of the electoral arithmetic; the reactionary conservatism of most of my countrymen isn’t shared by most of us in London. But that’s a good argument for Scottish independence, because Scots will never again be subject to English Tory laws like the poll tax. No, we few English progressives shouldn’t have to rely on Scots support; we must make our own case and win it.
So why would I, eventually, vote “No” – were I to live in Scotland? Because I think that there are better ways to build a better Scotland than creating a new nation state.
Nation states have had their day, and small nations are mice for big cat corporations to toy with . Ireland is in hock to Apple and Amazon; Scotland will be in hock to Donald Trump and BP, which will become its paymaster.
There are three politicians of the present generation who outshine the rest. They are Alex Salmond, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Their talent and their appeal is obvious, but we should always beware the smooth-talking demagogues. Independence gives Salmond and his friends an even shinier new toy to play with. But these demagogues will quail against the corporations; to deal with these big cats of the modern world you need powerful nations with powerful legal systems and a strong civil service.
Scotland as a place, as an idea, as a nation, will fare better without the political constructs of independence. Independence can’t bring the freedom that Scots want and deserve; the liberty that goes with it is a chimaera. But a newly-confident Scotland, enjoying the fruits of devo-max which will be the inevitable result of a No, can forge a new nation without the bonds of statehood, and so can we Londoners. In fact we’re already doing it, but that’s another story.