They’ve written an article here claiming that “Middle Britain’s tax rates ‘could rise to 83%'”.

I don’t know about you, but anyone earning over £40,000 isn’t middle class, they’re upper middle at the very least. Average individual earnings are around £26,000. If you’re earning that, you’re middle class. I’m not interested in anyone who squawks about class not being entirely defined by what you earn, because it simply is. Guardian journalists clearly can’t accept that they’re much better off than the majority of the population, and so are complaining about the Government making the better off suffer too. Let’s remember, the readjustment of the 40% rate to include more people – the subject of this article – is entirely about raising the lowest rate of tax to reduce the effective burden on the poorest. It’s as progressive (in the technical sense) as you like.

This article, therefore, is an example of wanton hypocrisy on the part of the Guardian. However, it’s not surprising – studies have repeatedly shown that whatever people earn, they think their earnings are ‘average’.

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Towards Unreason

January 27, 2011

An interesting debate amongst the intellectual arm of the left-wing blogosphere was kick-started on Norman Geras’ blog on January 1st, in reaction to some Guardian stupidity. It concerned democracy, what that term represents, and the relative capacity of voters to engage with it.

I’d like to stick my oar in briefly on the latter subject, because quite apart from ‘democracy’ being banded about a bit too much, ‘rational’ has to be one of the most abused words in the philosophical lexicon. The assumptions hidden in the phrase ‘the rational approach’ can be alternatively used to bemoan commoners’ inability to understand what libertarians think is obviously the best way of arranging things, and justify the repression of individual irrationality that constitutes socialism.

I don’t want to dive into that arena, but I would like to make a small point about rationality. Typically, we would define some acting irrationally as acting against their best interests. The example given in the democracy debate is of people changing their vote to the incumbent if their football team wins; the extra support this gives to the status quo in the mind of the football fan being enough to determine their democratic choice. This admits of no analysis of policy or character to determine which representative would best suit their interests. This would appear, at the outset, to be irrational.

However, there’s a hidden assumption when making such a judgement about rational choices, which is that thought – analysis, calculation, learning and so on – is free. It has no cost. That it’s always the right option to spend thought on determining the best possible outcome for oneself of a given range of options.

The problem is – and here I suspect a natural bias of very clever people comes into play – is that thought is not free. It costs time, and it costs energy. And it will cost more of both of those if your brain happens to be relatively inefficient at whatever task you set it. I’m sure the extremely clever amongst us barely notice the picocalories they burn while thinking, but those of who have to drag up each and every notion from the Stygian abyss of the limbic system most certainly do.

There are goods associated with voting that are not dependent on your choice, including demonstrating your social responsibility, taking part in the community, and indicating that you care about the outcome of an election affecting your nation. It is not irrational to want to receive those goods while not being willing to spend the resources necessary to determine the best outcome for oneself. In order to make one’s decision in those circumstances one could rely on proxy factors which require less effort to access, including the suitability of the status quo for oneself. The latter would be influenced by the outcome of a football game, even though that outcome is incidental to the election. To do so would not be irrational, but rather a sensible use of resources – assuming the range of outcomes for that election was such that failure to select the best course had relatively little impact.

Democracy, therefore, does not produce the best government per se, but the best government for a given expenditure of resource against a given range of outcomes. Therefore, I can quite confidently predict that as the differences between the main parties narrow, you’ll get progressively worse government, because (a) less is at stake, and (b) as a result it becomes less worthwhile to analyse the outcome when determining your voting choice. This doesn’t mean that democracy itself is at fault, merely that our establishment is rather letting us down.

An amusing symmetry

January 26, 2011

Hot on the heels of Telegraph ‘blogger’ James Delingpole’s meltdown on Horizon, the Telegraph has taken aim at another bugbear of the pro-science folk: the potential for an asteroid to smash into the Earth and extinguish almost all life. Apparently, we’re all getting our knickers in a twist over nothing, because such an asteroid would ‘create opportunities for life’. This is an argument right up there with ‘Carbon Dioxide is plant food’ in the MISSING THE FUCKING POINT scales.

I look forward to the future division of the debate into the pro-meteor defence and anti-meteor defence camps. You see, Government spending to prevent the extinction of all life remains Government spending, and libertarians just can’t have that. I wonder if the Koch Brothers will sponsor an anti-Nasa thinktank in the near future; heaven knows they’re already opposed to little things like satellite data.

Narnia Strikes Back

January 25, 2011

Bad news for the Coalition and my own personal economic judgement today, as the economy contracts by 0.5%. It’s a little too easy to blame this on the snowy weather entirely, but it’s worth bearing in mind that one of the biggest factors in this contraction was business services and finance. The impact of the snow on this sector wasn’t necessarily so much about reduced spending because of the snow, but also involved the City boys with nice Home Counties pads not being able to get into work, after SouthEastern shut down much of its service. Delays in trading for perhaps several weeks would necessarily cost the economy millions – it’ll be interesting to see how much of that comes forward into Q1 2011.

It’s worth pointing out that manufacturing continues to increase – I would say that alone implies that the current financial strategy is working. However, if we have two quarters of consecutive contraction, I’ll be proven wrong.

What do the New Economics Foundation and noted libertarian MP Douglas Carswell have in common?

They both want to end the system of fractional reserve banking we use to ensure there’s enough liquidity in the economy to slosh into any investment opportunities that open up.

“…we simply require that banks keep safe the money which customers wish to keep safe, and invest only the money that customers wish to invest.”

Someone should perhaps tell NEF that they already do that; that’s why safety deposit boxes exist. Of course, you have to pay to use them, but why should someone look after your money for free?

This is a follow-up to my recent post on the Coalition’s Grand Strategy of reshaping Britain in such a way as to leave no political space open to their rivals. Here, I’d like to briefly examine one of the ways they plan on doing this – via the planning system.

The Localism Bill does something very interesting to the relationship between the public and private companies when it comes to development. Whereas previously applications for planning permission happened without legal regard to the priorities of people in the extreme locality of a development, now those people will, via Neighbourhood Plans, be able to determine what sort of development is appropriate to that area. Furthermore, neighbourhoods will have the ability to grant planning permission to whatever development they want via Neighbourhood Development Orders. It would therefore seem that, unless one happens to be lucky enough to want to build in an area about which none of its inhabitants care, any developer will be compelled to win the support of local people – a majority of local people, because of the new referendum powers – in order to build.

In the information age, the key to winning public support is openness and honesty – because everything you do is recorded somewhere and is available with a wave of the magic Google. It requires genuinely good works – building community centres, or refurbishing local libraries, and so on – all those projects funded out of Section 106 monies well-known to local campaigners. The scope for this activity will only expand as the requirements vouchsafed by the watching public expand in the wake of the new powers granted in the Localism Bill. Private development companies will be compelled to be good, not through legislation but from compulsion wrought of public opinion.

While they only represent part of the UK’s economy, this forced transparency is mirrored elsewhere – the Fair Trade Movement, Which? and many similar civil society organisations. The increasing glare of public view, abetted by legislation exposing private investment decisions to democratic oversight (which, lefties, is exactly what you’re constantly calling for and is to be found in the Localism Bill), will have a very precise impact. It will be to reduce the ethical premium the public sector has over the private.

It’s fair to say that the public sector is seen as more moral than the private sector – the concept of co-operative work that it’s meant to represent is more ethically appealing than private competition, which historically has been blamed for all manner of ills. What happens to that perception if the private sector begins to hold itself – irrespective of outside intervention – to extremely high ethical standards? There’ll always be exceptions, but the repeated day-to-day exposure of the public to a more ethical private sector will diminish support for a party seen to represent the public sector to the exclusion of private – a fully left-wing Labour party.

With this in mind, I’d like to make a few predictions:

(1) Labour will find it impossible to move further left. Ed Milliband will continue to denounce public sector strike actions, for fear of being out of touch with the popular mood.

(2) The star offenders of the private sector, the banks, will be reined in again – not using taxes, but from some kind of regulatory solution that exposes them to the same force of democratic will as that beginning to come to bear on the development industry. This is the prime policy challenge facing the coalition – if they fail to do this, their overall project of reshaping Britain’s political landscape will also fail, as the private sector will continue to be tarnished by association.

As I said in my previous post, it promises to be an interesting five years.

Very glad to see that Nick Clegg has decided to take my advice. It’s not clear why our strategic aims were not aided by airing differences from the beginning of the coalition, so one is forced to the conclusion that Clegg has finally realised that the pally-pally approach is not going to work. Welcome to where the rest of us were six months ago, Clegg.

Killing Control

January 10, 2011

I’d like to touch on a subtlety in Nick Clegg’s speech last Friday which doesn’t seem to have been picked up elsewhere.

“It is part of our wider project to resettle the relationship between people and government. Our political reforms, decentralisation, changes to public services, rebalancing growth, our focus on social mobility – these are all geared towards shifting power away from its traditional centres.

And it is that fairer dispersal of power that will guarantee British liberties in the long run. We want to empower individuals and communities so comprehensively, so irreversibly, that no future Government will easily be able to behave in ways that are authoritarian or illiberal.

It’s a power shift even a casual Labour party would struggle to reverse.”

Nice pun at the end, Clegg. I’d like to believe it was a typo rather than a dig at seasonal workers.

Moving on to the content of these two paragraphs, what they indicate is interesting. Clegg is saying that he wants to shift the political centre ground to the point where state control of individuals becomes politically impossible, by means of distributing power out from the centre. A fine liberal aim, I’m sure you’ll agree. What’s missing is the subtext: empowering individuals and communities with the purpose of preventing state control removes significant scope for traditional Labour statism. If the levers of the state are reduced, and rebuilding them becomes electorally unpalatable, then much of the political space for the Labour party disappears. A party based on using the power of the State for moral ends can have little place in a country in which that power is so fragmented that no one political grouping can grasp it all.

It would therefore seem that Clegg’s intention is to use the next four years to reshape Britain in a way which makes the Labour Party irrelevant. This will be interesting to watch.

It’s clear that Ed Milliband has decided to take Coalition accusations of Labour’s economic incompetence head-on. He’s recognised this incompetence (sorry, perceived incompetence) is his party’s biggest challenge. And so, he’s claimed that the Coalition is promulgating a deceit:

“What is this deceit? It is that the deficit was caused by chronic overspending rather than a global financial crisis that resulted in recession and a calamitous collapse in tax revenues. One pound in every five of corporation tax disappeared in 2009-10. Their deceit ignores the evidence from around the world that a global credit crunch caused deficits to rise on every continent. The US and Japan face deficits of the same scale and for the same reason.”

There’s so much deceit in this paragraph that it’s difficult to know where to begin. For example, the argument that there’s only one cause to the deficit is not one that anyone’s making. Secondly, the magnitude of the deficit would be significantly less if Labour had not been running a deficit before the recession. Here’s a graph, courtesy of the ONS, with the deficit on the left and debt on the right:

Even this conceals the true picture, as it’s in percentage rather than absolute terms – and the economy shrunk over this period. The deficit in 2006 was a record £8.7bn, before the financial crisis. By November 2009, this had climbed to £14bn. The growth in percentage terms was more driven by the relative decline of the economy than the Government’s response to the financial crisis. Labour left us in a terrible state to weather the financial storm – and fully deserve their reputation for economic incompetence. Don’t forget that they were predicting in 2006 that by this year we’d have a surplus of £14bn.

I read with some amusement and no few chortles of recognition Paul Sagar’s piece for Liberal Conspiracy on why he’s not renewing his Labour membership. His argument is, broadly, that he doesn’t actually enjoy the experience of grassroots political campaigning – the squirming on the doorstep, the often cretinous colleagues, and the naked tribalism. All of this is simultaneously an absolutely fair representation of grassroots campaigning and a colossal missing of the point.

The interesting part of his argument comes towards the end, when he points out that in order to succeed you actually have to enjoy ‘propagandising, disseminating and tub-thumping for [your] chosen tribe’. This produces politicians whose aim is to play the game; MPs for whom winning is more important than the prize itself.

Anyone involved in politics knows these people. They tend to be ferociously ambitious without having a reason to be so. They’re the sort of people about whom you ask, ‘What are they in politics to achieve?’. They’re also the answer to why lobbying is so successful and so influential.

Say you are one of these ambitious, amoral go-getting types, and that your only real objective is to get elected regardless of what happens afterwards. You want to become an MP, or a councillor, purely for the prestige and not for any particular burning political passion. Your relentless focus on your ambition means that you eventually find yourself in Westminster. What do you do when you’re there? Do you spinelessly toe the party line in hope of sliding into a ministerial position? Of course you do. But what else do you do? Being snivelling toady can’t take up all your time. And, all of a sudden, all these other important people want to meet with you and talk about an issue dear to their hearts – and about which, in your newly elevated state, you can make a difference. So, you do so, and get a celebratory slap on the back and an invite to lavish annual dinner. You haven’t taken any bribes, but you’ve certainly been paid in prestige. That’s why you got into politics, after all.

The ambitious are perfect targets for lobbyists, whose goal is to tickle the self-esteem part of their brain with the intention of getting something out of it. They’re in every party (yes, even the Lib Dems) and they, more than anything else, are the cancer at the heart of our politics. They are the Empty Politicians; those waiting to be filled up with ideas not of their own design by people with money to spend. They are the enemy. They are why you campaign at a grassroots level, to secure the election not simply of your party but of those you actively want to be elected.

Non-politicians often make the mistake of assuming that politicians are all the same. They’re not. And it’s the job of footsoldiers such as Sagar latterly was to work to winnow out the Empty from amongst them.