Categories
Power Dynamics

Out-of-touch Euro-phobic Elites

I love Europe, its peoples, its cuisines, its landscapes, its architecture, its music, its literature, its languages and its philosophers. Call me a nostalgic but I don't want the French to become German, the Germans to become English, the English to become Polish, the Italians to be Swedish or the Swedes to become Moroccan. I'm quite happy with the French being French and the Swedes being Swedish, just as long they do not impose their ways on everyone else. Now if the Swedes acquire a taste for Italian or Catalan cuisine, while the Portuguese hire Danish engineers to teach them how to build wind turbines, that's also fine by me. I think we could all learn a good deal from each other, as long as we can choose which bits of other people's culture and technology to adopt.

I truly, though rather naively, wish the best aspects of European culture could have been exported to the rest of the world through more peaceful and reciprocally beneficial means. Some European countries have held vast empires in other continents, often supplanting much of the indigenous population. The 19th and 20th centuries also saw some very dark chapters in European history, as rival imperial powers fought murderous wars to impose their economic and cultural supremacy. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all these disparate peoples could come together in a new club to resolve their differences and build a new shared future. The European Union would seem to have been created with the best of intentions, until you take a closer look at which vested interests its remote leadership really defends.

The Italians consider heaven to be a place where lovers are Italian, cooks are French, mechanics are German, police officers are English and it is all coordinated by the Swiss. By contrast hell is a place where lovers are Swiss, cooks are English, mechanics are French, police officers are German and the Italians coordinate it all. If we set aside national stereotypes, the European Union is beginning to resemble this satirical version of hell, except Europe's new rulers don't really like Europeans, at least not those who choose to stay in their own country and prefer their own national or regional culture.

Today Labour's mysterious shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, gave us an insight into the thinking of policymakers by claiming borders between countries will become irrelevant by the end of the century.

That gives us just 84 years to solve all the planet's social, environmental and economic imbalances, something we've been unable to accomplish since the agrarian revolution ten to fifteen thousand years ago. Without borders and local governments in some way accountable to their citizens, people will inevitably just follow the money and relocate to the most prosperous regions. This would turn the whole world into a giant version of London, but with much greater extremes of rich and poor. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party merely offers a more naive and idealistic version of the Blairite dream of one-world government via intermediary stages like the misnamed European Union. They may pretend to oppose bombing or support a radical redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, but they are much more concerned with opposing any attempts to regain greater national sovereignty. As British steelworkers see their jobs outsourced to China and unemployed young Britons face growing competition from a never-ending stream of cheap migrant labour, Jeremy Corbyn chose to spend last weekend with migrants at the infamous Calais Jungle asylum seeker camp. In urging the government to accept more refugees, Jeremy Corbyn enjoyed the support of the BBC (who hosted Songs of Praise there in August last year), the Guardian, Independent, numerous NGOs such as George Soros' Open Society Foundation, David Miliband (now working for Rescue International, a refugee charity) and incredibly, Tony Blair, who as we know is a mere spokesperson for global banking and energy cartels.

Whether your tribal sympathies lie with the notional left or right, across Europe's diverse national communities one trend is clearly coming to the fore. Political elites, whether left or right, are ideologically committed to a process of gradual global convergence and will pursue these objectives irrespective of their electors' wishes. Some policies seem quite benign, e.g. promoting English language teaching to help youngsters compete in a global economy (though often undermining national languages). Other policies are often welcomed by progressive campaigners, e.g. enacting gender equality laws or enforcing new environmental and safety regulations, but lack any real grassroots support. However, some policies may attract wide-scale opposition and thus need to be carefully managed or simply explained as a necessary compromise for membership of the European Union. Millions of Southern Europeans working in small family-run cottage industries have found themselves out-competed as national governments have been forced to remove protectionist tariffs for traditional products. It comes as little surprise the two avowedly globalist British trade commissioners, Leon Brittan and Peter Mandelson, negotiated free trade deals on behalf of the European Union. They may have belonged to the British Conservative and Labour parties, but their policies did not serve the long-term interests of either British or continental European workers, but rather those of banks and multinational companies traded on the London Stock Exchange.

A quick perusal of the Guardian newspaper's job section soon reveals a plethora of relatively well-paid vacancies for transnational organisations (charities, NGOs, large corporations, consultancies, legal firms etc.) concerned with global governance, a concept which trumps traditional territorial institutions. One seriously has to wonder why so many well-funded NGOs actively promote mass migration as a solution to all known social, economic and environmental problems. To wit, if people flee destabilised war-torn regions, rather than oppose those responsible for funding rival militias or expose the sheer mendacity of our corporate media over the true causes of these conflicts, global progressives will just urge us to welcome more refugees and blame recalcitrant local leaders for all bloodshed. Over the last 20 years we've witnessed successive bogeymen in the guise of Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Muammar Gadafi and more recently Bashar Assad. Whether these leaders were really as bad as our mainstream made out is immaterial as their power pales in comparison with that of the world largest banks and commercial concerns. They were all very local phenomena involved in complex regional conflicts, whose outcome inevitably empowered global institutions and led to more displacement of local communities.

Back in 1975 my father, a card-carrying member of the Labour party, campaigned for Britain to leave the European Economic Community joining many others of on the left of Labour movement from Tony Benn to Barbara Castle and Peter Shore. I seem to recall trade unions advocating import controls and supporting the Buy British campaign. Now the other politically active members of my extended family are all steadfastly pro-EU as are the leaderships of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Cameronite wing of the un-Conservative Party. Many on the left mistakenly view the EU as a progressive force for good on issues such as workers' rights and environmental protection. They suggest the only reason anyone could be opposed to the EU is because they hate Europe, are intolerant of migrants and want to leave poor UK residents at the mercy of a nasty Tory government intent on undoing everything good the EU has ever done. The EU is certainly fairly good at marketing its projects and achievements. I regularly see placards by car parks, historical buildings and playgrounds proclaiming the role of EU grants in their construction or restoration. Countless NGOs and research institutes also depend on EU grants. So not only do we let the EU decide how to spend our money, but much of it serves to promote the EU itself.

One would naively imagine the EU reflects the wishes of different European countries, some sort of compromise between the needs of Italian textile manufacturers, French wine growers, German carmakers, Polish coal miners, Spanish farmers and British media workers. Alas it's nothing of the sort. European regulations have prevented governments from defending the interests of their own electors and forced them to open up markets and even public tenders to all and sundry. The main beneficiaries of the EU are large corporations who need a dynamic, malleable and mobile workforce and an expanding consumer market. Moreover, Europe's elites do not even trust other Europeans. They seem hell-bent on managing a massive movement of people both within and from outside the current borders of the EU as well as expanding their megastate to Turkey and the Ukraine. If you love Europe, you should oppose unaccountable superstates. As the EU's dream of culturally homogenised brave new world order evaporates, we should build a new alliance of independent peoples, trading fairly where it makes sense, sharing ideas and technology, but also never forgetting the little native people who thrive in culturally cohesive communities.

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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Left vs Right: The Yin and Yang of political analysis

Left vs Right: The Yin and Yang of political analysis

As idealist teenager I always wanted to side with the notional left on everything. The left represented progress towards a better tomorrow freed of human suffering, prejudice, inequality and exploitation, a panacea in which all human beings could enjoy life to the full in a giant communal garden of Eden. The right, on the other hand, represented the forces of reactionary conservatism emotionally tied to the establishment and traditions that prevented progress to a fairer world. I could summarise my naive adolescent appraisal of the left versus right dichotomy as a simple battle between good and bad. The left stood for altruistic goodness and the right for selfish evil. If only life were so simple? However, this simplistic characterisation of left and right still holds true for many youthful political pundits. If you want to discredit a political stance, it often suffices to call it rightwing, end of debate.

The real distinction between left and right transcends broader political questions such as the balance between state control and private enterprise or the relative merits of equality and healthy competition. A left-winger, at heart is just a wishful thinking idealist who believes social and technological progress will enable us all to enjoy a very high standard of living, if only the greedy rich could share more of their wealth. Right-wingers on the other hand are simply pragmatists. They do not necessarily mean to harm anyone else, just they believe we can only really take care of ourselves and our family and should owe greater allegiance to our national community than our species as a whole. While left-wingers view humanity as an organic network that will converge on a new progressive agenda, right-wingers view people as a complex web of competing individuals and in-groups with different interests and indeed different strengths and weaknesses.

Fifty years ago in the midst of the Cold War, it may well have seemed that the notional left, at least in Western Europe and North America, challenged a notionally right-wing establishment. Conservative parties would tend to favour private enterprise, family values and civic pride, while the left called for greater state control, more social welfare and international solidarity. In reality most Western governments, whether nominally left or right of centre, pursued business-friendly social interventionism, often confusingly called social democracy, to engineer high living standards, a growing consumer economy and relative social cohesion. National debates would be framed in terms of progress versus traditionalism, personal freedom versus social intervention or democracy versus tyranny. However, both the left and right had plenty of skeletons in their proverbial cupboards. While the libertarian right could point to godless dictatorships behind the Iron Curtain, the radical left could expose national capitalism's complicity in supporting not only Mussolini and Hitler, but also dictatorships in Spain (1937-75), Portugal (1933 to 1974), Greece (1967 to 1974) or Chile (1973 to 1990). Whichever way, authoritarian regimes of the notional left and right, had the blood of tens of millions on their hands. Moreover, these regimes often enjoyed the full support and collaboration of governments in supposedly democratic countries. Meanwhile much of the European radical left sought either to distance themselves from the Stalinist Soviet Union and Maoist China or downplay their authoritarian excesses. Yet repressive regimes of all hues tended to favour collectivist rights and responsibilities over personal freedoms.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries the notional left would champion the self-determination of subjugated peoples, whether in Ireland, India or the African colonies. Imperialism remained largely associated with the right, except when dealing with regions and peoples attempting to free themselves from a rival imperialist power. As the Spanish and Portuguese empires waned, the British, French and later American could spread their more technologically advanced liberal mercantilist culture, often supporting local forces of national liberation. As the Ottoman Empire declined, the French, British and Italians filled the vacuum as progressive purveyors of Western civilisation, a concept which would later morph into freedom and democracy. The left's view on self-determination began to change with the birth of the Soviet Union. While previously the left had always favoured the self-determination of all peoples in the age of expansionist empires, socialists became more interested in international solidarity and in defending what many saw as a workers' state, whether deformed or not. Yet many of the struggles, from which quasi-socialist regimes emerged, started as wars of national liberation from foreign oppressors.

Nothing epitomises the modern left more than its oxymoronic obsession with equality and diversity. Surely, the more diverse we are, the less equal we are too, except in the loose sense of equality of opportunities, rights and responsibilities. A hunter-gatherer community will never be equal to a globally integrated complex society reliant on advanced technology and an extreme division of labour. That doesn't mean hunter-gatherers are in any way intellectually inferior, just they use their intelligence in a different way. Hunter-gatherers conceive wealth in terms of their ability to enjoy the bounties of nature, not as their ability to use abstract financial funds to allocate strategic resources for their personal benefit. Yet traditional ways of life that evolved over thousands of years are rapidly giving way to a globally integrated high-tech mono-culture. The more we talk of diversity, the less we have. As fewer and fewer people survive as subsistence farmers or hunter-gatherers (the latter being an endangered way of life), most of humanity now depends on the financial economy. Globalisation has unmasked a massive, and indeed growing, disparity between the financially rich and poor, concealed only by generous welfare in wealthier countries and lower costs of living in some low-wage regions. Equality and diversity initiatives really have little to do with either equality or diversity, but merely managing global convergence as people from different social and cultural backgrounds come into contact with each other.

The heirs to the great European and American working classes, who in large part made today's world possible through skill and dedication, have either had to adapt to a volatile service economy or have been made redundant through automation and/or outsourcing. By keeping large swathes of the population dependent on welfare, the social democratic left has mainly succeeded in keeping the consumer economy alive while slowly but surely thwarting the willpower and self-motivation of millions in the growing underclass trapped on benefits. How could the heirs of the once-proud labour movement defend a system that not only demotivates the lower classes, but wrecks family life and requires a massive social surveillance apparatus to maintain some degree of social order. Fatherlessness alone costs taxpayers hundreds of millions through additional welfare support needs and lack of ambition in teenage boys. Yet the trendy left sees the demise of the traditional two-parent family as a sign of progress, because it allegedly empowers women and homosexuals to break free from heterosexual patriarchy. Yet in promoting this brave new world, the lifestyle left have broken with thousands of years of cultural evolution across many diverse societies. Rather than adapting the traditional roles of men and women in line with technological and social change, the doctrinaire left seeks to eradicate all functional differences. As a result in many Western countries, young men have become great demotivated underachievers, while women have an advantage in a plethora of non-productive people-oriented roles, such as social workers, project managers or recruiters. While female emancipation has been enabled by technology developed mainly by men, it has effectively turned most women into wage slaves and undervalued their traditional role as mothers.

All too often many of the forces that pose on the left advocate policies that suit the needs of power-hungry transnational corporations much more than those of ordinary women or men. Meanwhile the globalist left pretends to oppose the excesses of global capitalism, such as environmental depredation, grotesque overindulgence or mind-bending hyper-consumerism. Yet these are mere side effects of a system that creates insatiable demand for elusive opulence.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Imagine there’s no countries…

Utopia or dystopia

Reflections on Global Convergence

As an idealist teenager John Lennon's Imagine became my anthem. I yearned for a future devoid of the seemingly pointless nationalist rivalry and imperialism that had fuelled two world wars and enslaved millions in the colonial era. I dreamed innocently of a world where different peoples would learn from each other, share their experiences and cultures altruistically and fairly. Yet as I travelled around Europe, South America, Southern Africa and India, another reality emerged. Far from converging on a new environmentally sustainable and egalitarian world order with genuine cultural exchange, the world was converging rapidly on a new model of hyper-consumerism based on the North American dream. As the increasingly globalised world media, albeit localised in a multitude of idioms, spread awareness of the 2-car suburban family with all mod cons, traditional alternatives lost their appeal. Suddenly everyone wanted a washing machine, fridge, car, TV and holidays in the sun. Anything less might now be viewed as some kind of denial of human rights. If you enjoy these luxuries you may reasonably wonder why you should deny them to those who through no fault of their own were born in a low-wage country, where with a lower purchasing power people may not afford all the gizmos of early 21st century life that many of us take for granted. This begs the question, can we ratchet up global consumption to sustain 8 billion people (the world population is forecast to peak at between 10 and 11 billion sometime mid century) with a Western European lifestyle? That would require 4 billion motor vehicles, millions more miles of multilane highways and high-speed railways, a huge rise in air traffic, and four to five-fold rise in electricity consumption, even taking into account improvements in energy efficiency. Even if we could convert our entire car fleet to electric power, we'd still need billions of tonnes of steel, aluminium and plastics as well as copious supplies of lithium for mission-critical batteries. Yet some wishful thinkers would rather believe the only reason we have not yet refined technology to accommodate 10 billion happy consumers in perfect harmony with our ecosystem is because of a combination of evil capitalism, repressive regimes and remnant border controls that prevent people from escaping third world hell holes.

An apparently well-meaning group of left-branded activists have recently staged protests under the No Borders banner in Calais. As their name suggests they want the complete abolition of border controls. If corporations can operate globally without restrictions, then why can't human beings? Their demands stand in stark contrast to widespread opposition among millions of ordinary Europeans to growing levels of immigration. Then Germany's business-friendly government announced they would accept as many as 800,000 refugees (and other migrants) this year. As migrants continued to flow through Southern and Eastern Europe to reach the more generous welfare states of Sweden, Germany and the UK, incessant media pressure mounted for more countries to take their fair share. The stage is set for the perfect storm in the next phase of globalisation, as ethnically diverse groups of natives and newcomers compete to gain access to higher pay and living standards. Newcomers fail to understand why they cannot enjoy the fruits of what is by any measure a globally integrated economy, while natives all too often remain not just sceptical of the alleged benefits of mass immigration, but see their wages compressed as the practical cost of living keeps rising.

Global Village

For the sake of argument let us just indulge the universalist fantasy, prevalent in much of the allegedly green left, that as we are all human beings in an increasingly interconnected world, we may as well just abolish all borders and let people move freely wherever they see fit.

If your ideal society is some sort of post-modern metrosexual vegetarian hippie commune where everyone shares a worldview broadly based on the 1969 Woodstock festival but with state-of-the-art smartphones and designer-label fashion accessories resembling a typical London advertising agency, borders would be pointless. Everyone would share the same godless politically correct mindset, speak the same language, watch the same movies and worship one or more global brands, a jetsetting, peace-loving generation eager to explore the world. Except they'd all be fairly rich and would only travel to embellish their facebook profile and boost their CV.

I agree borders are a major inconvenience for globetrotters. I've had a few unpleasant exchanges with border guards myself. In 1990 I was refused entry into Argentina on a British passport while my Italian partner was welcome to enter the country visa-free. After waiting 2 hours, I was granted a temporary 10 day visa. In 1999 I had my backpack humiliatingly ransacked (exposing two rolls of film in the process) by a Kalashnikov-wielding Namibian border guard. In the early 80s I can recall being detained by a Dutch border guard because my garishly dyed hair and earring did not match my 2 year-old passport photo. But by far the most awkward border crossings I endured were between West and East Berlin. On one occasion I sported a red SWP fist badge. The East German border guard was not amused as I explained it stood for International Socialism and then discovered a crumpled copy of the magazine of the SWP's tiny West German sister organisation. Just 6 years later jubilant crowds knocked the infamous Berlin Wall down. Later as the Schengen Zone expanded to include Poland and Baltic states, one could travel from Portugal through Spain, France, Germany and Poland without ever having one's documents checked. Just 30 years ago longstanding communities were torn apart by arbitrary borders imposed by superpowers. Now not only is Europe largely borderless, but the ruling elites plan to open the continent's doors to millions of economic migrants and refugees. Many cities and suburbs have already been transformed from mildly cosmopolitan urban districts that still reflected the cultural traditions of their provincial hinterlands to microcosms of a rapidly converging global village of diverse transient communities. Cities have come to resemble airport terminals populated by a motley crew of international commuters frequenting localised variants of the same global brand stores and restaurants.

I should admit a selfish personal interest in maintaining regional cultural diversity. For me part of the joy of visiting another locale is to experience different customs, ways of life, philosophical outlooks, expressions of humanity, belief systems, cuisines and languages. I admit such differences are not always convenient. I once had trouble ordering a meal with a monoglot Czech waitress in the pre-Internet era before I had a chance to buy a phrase book. During a four week exchange with an Indian family on the outskirts of Delhi my stomach took two weeks to adapt to Uttar Pradesh cooking, bucket showers and squat toilets. I was the only non-Indian in the neighbourhood. Now these differences are either commoditised as regionally branded dishes and fashion accessories available worldwide or are submerged by a global lifestyle. Cultural diversity in Europe's metropolises is just a temporary illusion as different ethnic communities adapt to a bland new superculture, often at odds with most of the world's traditional cultures.

However, many radical universalists view real cultural diversity as an anachronism. We may celebrate our differences and share recipes, but national cultures may soon become mere historical artefacts of interest largely to ethnologists, preserved only in vestigial formats for tourists, a little like Maori Dances of Life performed at New Zealand's All Blacks national rugby team matches or quaint signs in Manx or Cornish, now defunct languages resurrected only by local enthusiasts.

Global Fantasy

So what would happen if all border checks disappeared? 30 years ago most people in Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia would have simply been too poor to take advantage of their new travel freedoms. Even today many would rather stay within their native communities than risk uncertainty in foreign lands. Yet the world today is a radically different place as hundreds of millions have already abandoned their ancestral rural homelands for large conurbations. Moreover, we live in an unprecedented era of instant telecommunication, peak population and, more disturbingly, peak consumption. Never have so many wanted to consume so much and so rapidly. So now with the consumerist genie of out of the proverbial bottle, it seems only logical for millions more young people to migrate to where the best economic opportunities present themselves. I've experienced this myself as an IT contractor. “Would you move to Dubai as an Oracle database administratorâ€, enquires an IT recruiter, “Surely many locals would like such an opportunity†I reply. It seems all countries experience both high youth unemployment and a skills shortage.

As long as migration is controlled, substantial differences can remain in welfare provision, workers' rights, environmental protection, tax regimes and salaries. The UK's population has risen by nearly 7 million in just 15 years, its fastest rate ever since the early 19th century, almost entirely due to record levels of net migration. Yet seven million extra human beings are a mere drop in the ocean compared to 6 billion human beings who do not yet enjoy Western European living standards. Some have argued the free movement of labour enshrined in the 1993 Maastricht Treaty worked well when the EU only had 15 member states with fairly comparable living standards. However, without overriding economic motives, inter-EU migration remained relatively balanced. By contrast when countries have huge differences in wealth, migratory flows tend to become unbalanced. We see that both within countries and internationally. For much of the 20th century the British Isles saw a steady drift of best and brightest from the North of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to the Southeast of England. Likewise Southern Italians would migrate to the industrial North. However, governments would intervene to redress the imbalance. In the 1990s many Northern Italians grew tired of subsidising the South and supported the Lega Nord, who wanted to secede from the rest of Italy. Little did they know that their taxes would soon not only subsidise Sicily, Campania and Calabria, but much of Eastern Europe and a growing influx of migrants from Africa and Middle East too.

Life as an Emigré

Fed up with life at home, I migrated myself to Italy at a time when just as many Italians were in the UK. I belonged to a tiny minority that felt a little disillusioned with British cultural decadence in the mid 80s and relished the opportunity to learn Italian, a different outlook on life and new ways of doing things. Cultural change catches your attention much more when you return to a place after a lengthy interlude. After 13 years away from the UK, I returned in 1997 feeling rather alienated, but for the first few years I failed to grasp the true scale of cultural change as we moved to the relative backwater of Fife, Scotland, but within easy commuting distance of more cosmopolitan Edinburgh. Only when I moved back down to London in 2006 did I begin to realise that the gradual cultural changes of my youth had given way to a new era of rapid global cultural convergence. Whereas once I would worry that 90% of movies in Italian cinemas were American or continental Europeans unduly worshipped English rockstars, the England that I knew as a child was fast fading into a distant recent past. Its capital city has become a global hub unhinged from its geo-cultural setting. Indeed while I may have once worried that Spanish waiters would reply to my Spanish in English, I would often struggle to make myself understood in the heart of England's capital. What we are witnessing is not, as I previously thought, Anglo-American cultural imperialism (as Robert Phillipson theorised in his seminal book on Linguistic Imperialism), but full-blown Global imperialism. This may sound oxymoronic. How can the world colonise itself, but a global superculture is rapidly superimposing itself on all autochthonous cultures everywhere.

Global Justice

As the global juggernaut seems unstoppable, despite our undeniable environmental challenges, let us briefly evaluate the feasibility of this borderless fantasy. If transnational corporations exploit people and resources globally, how can we expect them to subsidise welfare and higher pay only in Europe and North America? Abolishing borders would surely require us to get rid of different tax regimes, salary levels and environmental standards. The European Union is well its on its way to harmonising tax systems and welfare provision across the continent. If a Federalist EU merged with NAFTA, MercoSur and other regional trading blocs, some idealists believe global corporations would pay global taxes to be redistributed fairly to anyone in need wherever they may live. Global justice warriors imagine they can welcome the mass exodus of people from low wage regions and simultaneously defend welfare provision in high-wage regions. They imagine resources are extracted merely to boost corporate profits, but not to meet an insatiable demand for more and more consumer goodies.

Democracy and Human Nature

Lower living standards are not great vote winners, yet as wealthy countries lose their exclusive right to a larger share of global resources, that is precisely what we may soon have to accept.

Should the economies of Northern Europe, North America and Australia (the most popular destinations of the current exodus from developing countries) decline, you can be sure migratory pressure will subside too. However, business elites have found a clever way to grow the economy by promoting a huge oversupply of low-skilled labour servicing the affluent professional classes alongside cheap manufactured goods keeping the consumer classes happy. This growth is both illusory and ultimately counterproductive as it relies on importing more and more waves of compliant workers to replace home-grown workers with higher material expectations. Worse still unbalanced migration in an unequal society tends to erode social cohesion and trust. However much we may pretend to care for the rest of humanity and embrace new cuisines or music, the system induces us act selfishly as self-marketing players in an economic rat race. In this context the prospect of a better paid job in Australia or Norway is simply an opportunity.

Reality Check

Historically, the higher living standards of ordinary workers in wealthier countries like Sweden, Canada, Germany or the UK were built on a high-skilled and dedicated workforce, subservient to a rapacious ruling class eager to gain access to plentiful supplies of raw materials. I very much doubt Britain's industrial revolution would have given the country such a vast technological lead over its main imperialist rivals in the 18th and 19th centuries without immense coal reserves, and shortened lives of hundreds of thousands in miners, powering its shipping and steel industries. Likewise Britain would not have conquered a quarter of the world's landmass without a sizeable navy. UK-based corporations built the nation's subsequent wealth on the back of its mercantile empire with the blood of its native workers and colonial subjects. As industrial automation and outsourcing took hold, people became less aware of the complex processes involved in the production and distribution of their beloved consumer products and began to value them only for their utility and prestige. We take many consumer products for granted and have redefined poverty to mean a relative lack of the kind of devices considered essential for our modern lifestyle. Just 20 years ago, most of us could manage without a mobile phone. Just 60 years ago most Europeans did not have a car. Now anyone unable to afford these technological marvels is considered poor.

Alternative Futures

Global idealists envisage the only way to tackle global inequality is to abolish nation states altogether, so in effect the whole world becomes one country. If we simply enforced a global average on everyone, living standards would plummet in wealthy countries, so global justice warriors believe rapid technological change will enable us to elevate everyone to Scandinavian levels of welfare provision while reducing consumption. They seem to believe solar panel and wind turbine technologies are progressing so fast that massive efficiency gains will enable all 7-8 billion human beings alive today to escape poverty in a nice cuddly tree-hugging eco-friendly way. The problem is while the current phase of intensive globalisation has certainly seen rapid rises in wealth in countries once considered poor and a shift of global power away from Europe and North America to Asia, Africa and South America, it has destabilised whole regions and continued to fuel proxy resource wars. The Euro project, far from creating a level playing field among its member countries, has led to record youth unemployment in much of Southern Europe, unable to compete with cheap imports from the Far East. Meanwhile we see extreme concentrations of profligate wealth in the Middle East, China, India, Africa and Latin America. How can we build a global utopia if Nigerian billionaires squander the proceeds of their country's oil bonanza on Ferraris, private jets and marble palaces? Why should working class Europeans compete with refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East for social housing and healthcare provision, if Arab billionaires build fortress city states that refuse to accept any refugees at all?

I've long argued that mass migration is not the answer, but merely a symptom of a grotesquely unequal world. The only sustainable solution that accords with human nature is to roll back corporate globalisation and build a new multipolar world order of independent countries that live within their means and only trade fairly. We would still pool some sovereignty on global environmental issues and we would still have some balanced migratory exchanges. To me it seems perfectly fair to ban imports reliant on cheap labour or to give preferential treatment to local lads and lasses for local jobs. We must become more aware of global issues, but seek local solutions to our immediate problems.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/2ca5y1qj848

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Categories
Power Dynamics

Managing the Opposition

Jeremy Corbyn looks set to become Labour Leader and may soon trigger a realignment of the variety show called British parliamentary politics. Don't get me wrong, Jeremy Corbyn was one of the few Labour MPs to take a consistent stand against recent military interventions and oppose the government's love affair with global corporations. I'd certainly agree with him on some other other issues such as the re-nationalisation of railways and energy companies, which are natural monopolies. Yet on other issues such as his steadfast opposition to welfare reform and immigration controls, he may tick all the politically correct boxes and win much kudos among the rhetorical left, but fails to present a coherent alternative that can stand a moment's scrutiny. Corbyn's campaign appeals mainly to emotions and widespread rejection of the kind of corporate politics we've seen from all governments since, well err. 1976 when the then Labour government went cap in hand to the IMF to negotiate a bailout.

I still recall the last time the gullible loony left temporarily held sway in Britain's main opposition party after a decisive defeat in the June 1979 General Election that saw Margaret Thatcher's Tories sweep to power. Unlike real alternatives such as ecologism or communitarianism, the loony or trendy left merely offers a wish list of virtuous policies with little consideration to their holistic viability. With massive job losses and a rising cost of living, in early 1982 Michael Foot's Labour Party, committed to the re-nationalisation of privatised industries, unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the EEC, held a healthy lead over the governing Conservatives. Had there been a general election in March 1982, Labour might well have won. I suspect a combination of vested corporate and military interests would have tamed the government's radical agenda. Then in April 1982 Argentina's General Galtieri kindly invaded the Falklands (aka Malvinas) to give the Iron Lady a decisive lead. Michael Foot joined the chorus of engineered public opinion calling a Naval Task Force to liberate 1600 British citizens in windswept islands, some 250 miles from the Argentine coastline (but 10,000 miles from England). The Tory government's monetarist economic policies, far from promoting British workers' interests, furthered those of global corporations who deemed British workers too expensive, too lazy and above all unreliable. It was cheaper for industry to subsidise welfare handouts in the UK than it was to maintain inefficient manufacturing plants. Overnight the public mood changed from one of disaffection with Thatcherite policies to one of nationalistic support for the heroic liberation of some remote Islands, many had never heard of. Four ministers of the former 1974-79 Labour administration left to form the Social Democratic Party in alliance with the Liberal Party. In the end Labour did not do quite as badly as many feared. Michael Foot tried his best to keep Labour grandees such as Dennis Healey and Roy Hattersley (both very much in favour of the EEC, NATO and a nuclear deterrent) on board and tame the more radical elements of the loony left, personified by Tony Benn. Yet with just 27.6% of the popular vote (with a turnout of 72%, so effectively just over 20% of the electorate), Labour sank to its lowest level of popular support since 1918, despite over 3 million unemployed and growing social unrest.

The new Consumer Classes

Labour could not persuade working class voters that their policies were either viable or desirable. Skilled workers no longer wanted to travel by bus from council houses to manual factory jobs with an annual holiday in Blackpool or Clacton, they aspired to enjoy faster cars, home ownership, better-paid office jobs and Mediterranean holidays. Progress for the working classes did not mean lower train fares or more council houses, but the new era of inexpensive consumer gadgets marketed by Maggie's business friends. Under Thatcher, the service sector, especially the toxic financial services industry, blossomed as factories shut and moved abroad. The British working class seemed happy to watch Japanese tellies, drive German cars, buy Italian washing machines and holiday in Spain. Many were left behind, especially a growing underclass of NEETs (Not in Education or Employment) and single mothers. Despite all Thatcher's rhetoric about living within our means and back to basics morality, her premiership saw the further decline of traditional families and the emergence of a hot-air economy where real jobs were increasingly outsourced. Oddly far from downsizing Labour's beloved welfare state, the social security system continued to expand in large part to manage the growing underclasses unable to adapt to the new dynamic but perennially unstable service economy. National governments became powerless to change the fundamental logic of the global market economy. Governments could merely regulate businesses, adjust tax rates, provide infrastructure, incentivise inward investors and ensure some degree of social stability.

The New Left

The political debate no longer focussed on the nature of the global economic system, but how to tame or harness it to our best advantage. Within just a few years the Labour leadership under Neil Kinnock embraced the European Union and gradually dumped commitments for the re-nationalisation of privatised industries or nuclear disarmament. The left turned its focus to social issues. Rather than champion the majority of working class people, the left began to promote the identity politics of various victim groups, whether they were ethnic minorities, single mothers, homosexuals, disability groups and the growing array of disadvantaged individuals who claimed some sort of victim status. Rather than advocate a different model of development, the new left embraced globalisation and planned to regulate corporations to be more environmentally friendly, respect workers' rights and promote their various victim groups in the name of equality and diversity. As the global economy became more tightly interdependent, big business started to co-opt the language of the trendy left. International corporations began to embrace and promote multiculturalism, feminism, LGBT rights and mental health advocacy. All these issues were honed to meet business needs. Multiculturism tended to mean multi-coloured cultural homogenisation. Feminism no longer supported women's rights as women, but coopted women into wage slavery. LGBT rights served not to remove prejudice against sexual minorities, but to change the family as it had emerged in diverse cultures around the world. Mental health advocacy far from making society more tolerant of natural human diversity, imposed a new concept of social normality. Capitalists had not suddenly had an epiphany, with a burning urge to undo all the evils of 500 years of European colonialism and 250 years of industrialisation. Rather their marketing departments had instructed them to embrace the new ethnically diverse and culturally metamorphosing demographics of their expanding consumer markets. Global capitalists genuinely believed their economic model would emancipate not only women, but also the poor of the third world. To do this they needed a new alliance of transnational businesses, governments and non-governmental organisations. Big business now marketed itself as a force for progress and no longer needed to pay lip service to the cultural whims of the old aristocratic and ecclesiastic elites. Indeed, big business much preferred to deal global institutions and bypass national and local governments altogether. They also preferred atomised consumers with new and forever morphing cultural identities to rival national and religious communities with more stable identities, and thus less malleable to the kind of cultural change required in a dynamic consumer society.

Britain's most Radical Government

Just as Thatcher's government was way more radical than Callaghan's more conservative 1970s administration, John Major's cautious stewardship of UK PLC gave way to one of the most disruptive management teams the country may ever see. Rather than undo the Thatcherite revolution, New Labour rebranded it and attracted the support of large swathes of the corporate media. Many Labour supporters welcomed Scottish and Welsh devolution, the minimum wage, working family tax credits and Good Friday Agreement that saw the apparent end to an anachronistic feud between protestants and catholics in Northern Ireland. Though sceptical of Blair from the very outset (I couldn't vote Labour in 1997 because I was still in Italy, but probably would have), I welcomed these developments too. What too few realised was just how fast the world outside was changing and how even these modest reforms in part enabled a much greater transfer of power away from national governments to supranational organisations. Within the context of Federal British Isles, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution make perfect sense, but soon the UK itself would be a mere region of a wider European and eventually Global superstate. The minimum wage seemed long overdue, but soon became the maximum wage of an overheating service economy that generated hundreds of thousands of low-paid jobs. Working family / child tax credits merely incentivised low wages and, paradoxically, family breakups (as families were redefined). Retail inflation remained deceptively low as property prices began to rise much faster than salaries. By 2006 a typical 3 bedroom house in the outskirts of London cost the equivalent of 10 times the average salary and mortgages, not included n retail inflation, became the largest item in most households' budget. Unsurprisingly the Blair era saw a shift towards the private rent sector as millions of young adults could no longer afford to step on the property ladder, while other mischievous home owners became landlords using convenient buy-to-let schemes.

Yet it was on the international stage that New Labour showed its true colours. Not content with the rebranding of big business as a vehicle of enlightened social change, Blairite spin doctors sought to rebrand military interventionism, which had gotten itself a bit of a bad name during the Vietnam war and post-colonial escapades such as 1956 Franco-British occupation of the Suez Canal. Blair became one of the world's most vocal advocates of a new form of global colonialism, in which an international alliance of progressive countries would intervene against repressive regimes to spread freedom, democracy and free trade. In 1998 a vast majority of Labour MPs, with the support of a large body of public opinion, supported NATO's airstrikes over Kosovo and Serbia. Despite protests from the rebellious fringes (including Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway), the concept of humanitarian wars had been successfully sold, especially as the intervention aimed to save Muslim Kosovars against orthodox Christian Serbs.

While Blair appealed to Britain's lingering patriotism, his entourage didn't really believe in nation states or self-determination at all. Labour had long championed the rights of racial minorities, especially with the influx of immigrants from the British Commonwealth during the 50s, 60s and 70s. However, the indigenous working classes remained sceptical and as most Commonwealth countries gained independence and Britain remodelled itself as a modern West European social democracy, the political consensus shifted towards integration and managed limited migration. Indeed by the early 1980s Britain had negative net migration, which returned to modest migratory surpluses by the late 1980s. By the mid 1990s migratory flows had risen everywhere. The world was on the move, but some destinations were much more appealing than others. Many talented British physicians and engineers preferred better pay in Australia, Saudi Arabia or the United States. State education had also failed to train millions of disadvantaged youngsters for the world of work. While manufacturing had mainly moved abroad, we still needed plumbers, bricklayers, electricians, chefs, nurses, mechanics, carpenters and care assistants. These jobs had failed to capture the imagination of the growing underclass who failed in academic subjects. Indeed employers began to complain about UK school leavers and graduates who lacked even basic literacy and numeracy skills or simply failed to turn up for work. Without any public consultation, New Labour decided first to relax immigration controls (something largely welcomed on the left) and then in 2003 opted not impose transitional work restrictions on the new Eastern members of the European Union. As a result net migration grew from 20-30,000 a year in 1970s, 80s and early 90s to 320,000 a year in 2005. Even this masked the true picture of ethno-cultural transformation, as 650 thousand entered the UK and 330 thousand left with very different groups of people moving either direction. Little has changed since the fall of Gordon Brown's Labour administration in 2010. Under the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, net migration reflected wider global economic imbalances. The UK population has grown from 58.5 million in 1997 to 65 million now, while in the previous 20 years the population had hardly changed (56 million in 1981). Unsurprisingly, we now have a dire housing shortage and need to import an even greater proportion of raw materials and food. Despite growing concern about the scale and sustainability of these rapid population movements among ordinary British workers, the political classes have continued to argue that migration is good for the economy. The Labour Left may rightly oppose gangmasters and low wages, but they still think mass migration is always a good idea or the best way to tackle global inequality. Jeremy Corbyn may be sceptical of the corporate grip on the European Union, but he embraces the free movement of labour. Yet too few on the left admit the chief beneficiaries of the current waves of mass migration is a global corporate elite who really do not like self-determination in any form. Indeed the current Conservative Government would rather cut workers' rights and downscale the welfare state for all, than protect British jobs.

Having your cake and eating it

In life you sometimes have to make choices. You could stay in bed all day watching Youtube videos or get up and go to work. Both choices have their appeals, especially if the state subsidises your worklessness and you can justify your idleness as a consequence of depression or eating disorders. However, most rational observers agree that despite technological advances, effort and diligence should be rewarded. Likewise, we could choose to cut air traffic and save our countryside from the blight of a new airport or we could continue to fly abroad more regularly, but be prepared to allocate more arable land to new airports. If you want more people to enjoy motoring, then we'll need to build more roads.

If you listen to some on the wishful thinking left, you'd seriously think only rabid right-wingers want us to face these dilemmas. Do we reduce carbon emissions or do we let our population rise to boost our economy? The trendy left does not want to face this dilemma. They believe some magic bullet technology will enable us to have the best of both worlds. We can keep growing our economy, welcoming more newcomers, building more houses, improving transport infrastructure, while leaving plenty of countryside, arable land and only trading fairly with the rest of the world. In the minds of the loony left, pollution and limits to growth are right-wing inventions.

So just for a short summary of Jeremy Corbyn's policies.

  1. Boost the money supply to avoid any cuts in welfare.
  2. Oppose immigration controls.
  3. Grow the economy to pay off debt and accommodate a growing population.
  4. Stop hydraulic fracturing.
  5. Reduce nasty pollution.
  6. Re-open closed coal mines.
  7. Stop resource wars.
  8. Tax global corporations
  9. Develop a high skill economy

Few politicians would disagree openly with the last point, though a global labour market place reduces the need to train local workers and corporate moguls would rather keep the masses relatively unskilled. Moreover, our current comprehensive education system and generous welfare state fail to motivate excellence in our underclasses, while middle and upper classes opt for cushy careers or prefer to migrate to sunnier climes. However, the remaining policies are inconsistent. Unless you are prepared to cut total consumption by stabilising the population and cutting per capita consumption you cannot reduce our dependence on resources imported from war-torn countries. Even much green technology increases our dependence on finite resources. Electric cars require lithium batteries and the world most abundant reserves just happen to lie in Central Asia and especially in Afghanistan. You might think trendy lefties want you cycle to work instead and grow vegetables in your back garden, but not if you can claim to have a special medical condition such as obesity or have to drop off your kids on the way to work in an out-of-town business park. A global labour market requires an increasingly mobile and versatile labour force, which in many practical situation necessitates some form of personalised rapid transport. Last but not least, it defies logic that the loony left expects global corporations to subsidise welfare largesse in the UK. Any attempt to impose higher taxes on multinationals will simply prompt them to migrate for tax purposes or pass on the local tax to local consumers as an additional cost of operating in the UK. If we introduced some form of European corporation tax, then multinationals would move their HQ outside the EU and local governments would have even less control over fiscal policy. Indeed the only way to tax multinationals fairly would be to enforce a global fiscal regime backed up by a global military. However, an independent country could ban multinationals with bad records on environmental protection or workers' rights. However, that would fall foul of the WTO,

If these policies do not seem wacky enough, just consider Jeremy's brother, Piers Corbyn, who has been running a 15-year long crusade against the religion of Global Warming. I have little faith in our corporate elites, but the one consistent strand in all mainstream economic thinking is the need for perpetual growth. The issue at stake is not whether the climate is cooling or warming or whether Sunspots play a role in weather cycles (Scotland has just had its coldest summer for over 50 years), but whether massive human activity on an unprecedented scale can destabilise our delicate ecosystem. Yet another dilemma, the loony left refuses to consider. Amazingly Piers seems very supportive of Jeremy's campaign. However, there is one small influential political cult that would entirely endorse a combined Jeremy + Piers Corbyn manifesto, the Spiked-Online brigade of media-savvy intellectuals. At least they are consistent, they are outspoken techno-optimists and climate change deniers.

Whose interests does Corbynmania really serve?

It doesn't take a genius to realise Jeremy Corbyn's policy platform could never be implemented in its entirety. Most policies would be vetoed by supranational bodies like the EU. In some ways I wish Corbyn's dream of plenty for all could be true. I too would like cheap food and well-paid farmworkers, clean cities, abundant wildlife, clean rivers and efficient inexpensive rapid transportation. However, I also detect a centralising and potentially authoritarian statist streak in Corbyn's agenda, not least his talk about mental health and support for more social workers.

Like or not, big business only agrees with two of Corbyn's policies, more migration and economic growth at all costs. If the main opposition party, albeit a rump Labour Party deprived of Blairites, could oppose even the most feeble attempts to regulate unsustainable people trafficking, the government can pose on the middle ground of public opinion while covertly pursuing an unashamedly globalist agenda. That leaves the settled working classes only with another bunch of climate change deniers in UKIP while the greens back a rebranded Labour party.

The other 3 candidates behave like overgrown school students trying hard to impress their politically correct social studies teacher and gain favour with their classmates. I guess Andy Burnham tries to appeal more to his classmates, while Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper want to get full marks for their Labour leadership project. Only Andy Burnham, in a sop to working class voters, has dared to criticize Labour record on mass migration, but this is probably as credible as similar musings from Tory politicians. All support the EU and free movement of Labour. Yvette Cooper even suggested David Miliband's charity, Rescue International, help with the refugee crisis in Calais. Now, why would a staunch Blairite and supporter of Iraq war (which together with other interventions in Aghanistan, Libya and Syria helped create a much bigger refugee crisis in North Africa and Turkey), be so keen to help refugees? It's like selling double-glazing services to someone whose windows you have just smashed. What matters most to global corporations is to keep the range of acceptable public debate on message, which is simply there is no alternative to the curent globalist model of development and any attempt to regain control over the levers of economic power will be ridiculed and sidelined.

If something sounds too good be true, in my experience it probably is. The loony left cannot change the laws of thermodynamics, but it's up to us on the rational left to suggest coherent alternatives to our current economic system.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

The Wealth Illusion

finances 111116 money bags of three currencies

A much publicised factoid, popularised by many left-leaning campaigners for greater equality, shows that the richest 85 people in the world are as wealthy as the poorest half or around 3.5 billion human beings. That would make each multibillionaire a staggering 41 million times richer than your typical Sub-Sarahan African, Indian or Indonesian. I've done the maths and it turns out the combined financial wealth of the top 85 billionnaires is around £1 trillion, at least according to research carried out by Oxfam as reported in the Guardian last year and retweeted endlessly ever since. 1 trillion is a mind-boggingly large number, ten to the power of 12, a million millions or £11 billion each. By contrast the same sum divided by the bottom 3.5 billion world citizens is just £286.

The upshot is to alleviate poverty we just need to redistribute wealth from the top 85 to the bottom 3500 million. However, this simplistic solution is based on the fundamentally flawed logic that financial wealth bears any direct relationship to real wealth and real living standards. Moreover, transferring abstract financial wealth to billions of the world's poor may simply fuel inflation and subjugate more people into a debt-driven monetary economy. £286 is peanuts in Europe, but then so is £572. Intriguingly, financial wealth does not necessarily buy more material resources, but merely exclusivity, privilege and power over others locked into a money economy. As I will explain, the real problem is the overconsumption of much larger minority of the world's citizens and the logic of infinite economic growth. That means if we are to transition to a more sustainable and equitable steady-state economy, we would need to drastically cut consumption and waste in places like Western Europe to let poorer regions enjoy much more of their own natural resources. We would fool ourselves if we believed we could bring about such a change by taxing the very same global corporations and investment bankers who created such grotesque inequalities in the first place.

In purely monetary terms what can £11 billion buy you? Possibly, more power via shares in leading corporations, an art collection, a few luxury villas, a private jet, a helicopter, a yacht, a team of tax consultants and lawyers, a personal security squad and privileged access to various wheelers and dealers in government and finance. At current prices, no normal human being could consume material goods worth £11 billion. A Ferrari 458 Spider may set you back £200,000, but it's not 10 times better or 10 faster than a more modest VW Golf hatchback. It also consumes a lot more, is harder to park and less versatile for practical purposes. Likewise having 2 cars for personal use does not help you travel twice as far or twice as fast. It merely gives you greater choice, a second option if one car breaks down and takes up twice as much space in your driveway if you're lucky enough to have one. Owning 200 cars would be sheer insanity as few people would have the time to drive and maintain such a large fleet of vehicles. However, owning a car rather than just a bicycle can change your life. There may be no limits to how much someone can waste or how much junk someone can accumulate, but there are limits to how much a human being can personally consume. When a billionaire, like Roman Abramovich, boards his £20 million Mediterranean yacht to entertain guests, he is not consuming the yacht for his exclusive gratification, but allocating some of his wealth to corporate hospitality. Some would also argue the Russian oligarch's maritime extravagance also employs boat builders, sailors, catering and security staff. Nonetheless, Mr Abramovich's wealth certainly leads to a misappropriation of resources.

If we take a wider look at the top 1% of the global population, around 70 million lucky individuals, we see a staggering concentration of both financial and material wealth, worth around £114 trillion in 2013, or just over £1.6 million each. In purely financial terms, that's astronomically more than the bottom 3.5 billion. If you spend much of your life in international airports, corporate get-togethers, scientific and academic conventions, luxury hotels and secluded holiday resorts, this wealthy cosmopolitan elite may well seem the norm, with the remaining 99% a mere backdrop. But does it mean your average global elitist is 6000 times happier, longer living, better nourished, better educated or smarter than your average bottom 50% guy? They do not own 6000 times more real estate or 6000 times more gadgets. Your average Tanzanian (in the bottom quarter on the global financial wealth scale) lives in a small bungalow or thatched house, owns second/third hand mobile phone or may have a bicycle or motorbike, but as long as someone can eat, has access to clean water and shelter and is integrated into a cohesive community, they do not feel the same kind of extreme poverty of many temporary city dwellers in makeshift housing or sleeping under bridges in cardboard boxes. Yet even the poorest city-dwellers have much more money than rural Tanzanians, simply because they have to buy everything. The global rich simply own properties in more exclusive or strategically located neighbourhoods and have access to the latest, usually much more expensive, cutting-edge technology. A small two bedroom flat in Tokyo or New York has a market value much greater than a 1 square kilometre farm in Tanzania capable of sustaining a small community of approximately 300 people, based on the average yield of the 16% of Tanzanian land that is actually arable.

For a few short years, my income rose way above the UK average (just £27 thousand a year), but because I had to rent a flat in London, pay off some debts and allocate around £1200 to maintain two teenage offspring, I saw pitifully little of this income. Indeed I had diminished and hectic lifestyle. Some people earning £100,000 a year in expensive cities are actually worse off than others on a tenth of that sum in much of the rest of the world. A better measure of wealth is purchasing power parity or PPP, but even that discounts all the extra goods and services that people in high-consumption countries feel they need or deem essential to maintain their way of life or compete in the labour market.

Green Billionaires

If you thought the anti-elitist left always backed green policies, while the billionaire-loving right wanted to despoil the planet, think again. A common argument against the extreme concentration of wealth is that the mega-rich do not spend most of their immense financial fortunes on manufactured products. If the same wealth were redistributed to the poor (and this usually means the relatively poor in high-consumption regions), they would spend it on manufactured goods and thus boost the economy. In reality such a release of financial assets would just trigger inflation as demand for consumer products would rise. If a billionaire owns a vast forest, some may naively conclude he is denying the rest of us of land for more farming, housing or parks. In reality he is just a custodian of natural resource that provides us all with oxygenated fresh air, absorbs carbon-dioxide and plays a vital role in our planet's ecosystem. A populist government may seize such land and allocate it to other purposes for short-term social and economic needs, but a wise administration would take a more holistic and farsighted approach. Naturally, as a counter-argument we would argue the billionaire forest owner probably made his fortune through profits from wasteful industrial processes, but only to meet consumer demand.

Who pollutes? Consumers or producers?

If you drive a car and shop at supermarkets, as most Western European adults do, why should you complain if the industrial processes required to maintain your lifestyle trash the planet. If a chemical processing plant contaminates groundwater destroying not just natural ecosystems, but food crops, we instinctively blame its evil capitalist owners rather than a system that creates massive demand for inexpensive petroleum-based products. Environmental regulations inevitably increase costs. These days the dirtiest industrial processes are outsourced to regions with lower levels of environmental protection, who we then blame for failing to adhere to our high standards. We often seem blissfully unaware of the massive levels of habitat destruction created by our addiction to more and cheaper gadgets with a very short operational lifespan.

Consider the humble example of a compact smartphone. In some ways it has the potential to act as a green device by avoiding unnecessary journeys, but in other ways it's very ungreen. All mobile phones require durable lithium batteries, silicon microchips and coltan capacitors as well as specialised plastics and aluminium. Nearly 13 tonnes of water and 18 square metres of land are required to make a smartphone, with two fifths of the water impact due to pollution at the component manufacturing and assembly phases.

What is Poverty?

It used to mean living on the breadline, on the verge of starvation or lacking the bare essentials of human existence. As our needs and relationship with nature have changed, so has the definition of poverty. A car-less citizen of North American suburbia is much more underprivileged than a Nepalese smallholder with just a horse, although the former may still have a greater carbon footprint as nearly everything she consumes has to be shipped from afar. An unemployed North American may feel alienated without the tools required to compete in her world, but her true poverty isn't the temporary lack of a motor vehicle, but her disconnection from the natural world.

Financial wealth is a mere temporary illusion. It can at best buy us only relative advantage in an endless arms race with diminishing returns. Rather than simply blaming the mega-rich, we should look at our own overconsumption. We cannot solve any fundamental social or environmental problems by misallocating concentrated financial wealth on short-term mass consumption which will only exacerbate existing environmental depredation. We should focus on quality of life and experiences rather than financial worth.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Whoever wins the election it will be business as usual

I wish ballot papers had an extra box titled None of the above for I might very well be tempted to use it. None of the parties have a coherent set of policies that can deal with the fundamental stresses and strains of our overheated economy and overburdened environment, but some have policies I can at least sympathise with.

According to conventional wisdom large companies support the Tory Party, but may I suggest a better barometer to gauge which way the wind is blowing. Over the last 40 years successive governments, Labour, Tory and Coalition, have overseen a transfer of power away from local institutions and small businesses to global corporations and supranational institutions. While the media present a dichotomy between a generous Labour Party and a prudent, but stingy, Conservative Party, both have pursued different aspects of the same basic strategy. It may surprise some to hear Tory leaders defend high levels of net migration, advocate the redefinition of marriage, support EU expansion and favour more childcare subsidies rather than shorter working weeks. These are all policies New Labour fully embrace as do many business leaders. They need government to create the conditions in whch they can prosper and expand their commercial empires. So let's look at key election issues through the eyes of the CEO of a large multinational:

Policy Big Business (Leftwing Tories, LibDems) Faux Left (Labour, SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru) Faux Right (Right Tories / UKIP)
Economy More growth, at all costs More growth, but a little more for the poor and platitudes about green growth More growth, but bigger tax breaks for the rich
European Union Love it. Let's Expand the EU to Vladivostok and then join NAFTA Love it. We're all European now. Sceptical
Military We need to secure privileged access to key global resources We may ditch Trident nuclear missiles, but we support a European Defence Force and continued interventions in foreign conflicts. Greens and Left Labour may oppose NATO and some Middle East wars, but still support the concept of interventionism. Let's spend more on killing machines. However, UKIP is sceptcal about recent interventions.
Trident nuclear missile system We should pool our resources with other key global players. Trident belongs to the old US-centred world Left labour, SNP, PL and Green want to ditch Trident. LibDems want to downscale it. We need a nuclear deterrent in a dangerous world. UKIP pretend Trident would somehow be an independent nuclear deterrent.
US-led Military Intervention in trouble zones If it's good for American big business, it's probably good for us, but let's do business with China and India too We may pretend to oppose it. Greens and Left Labour often oppose military intervention, but Labour tends to support it on alleged humanitarian grounds. Ditto. UKIP opposed recent military escapes in Iraq, Libya and Syria, but support NATO.
Energy We need more by all means, conventional, nuclear and renewables. Love renewables, hate pollution. Let's outsource nasty energy sources Climate change and peak oil are false alarms. Let's frack away and get rid of ugly wind turbines.
Immigration Love it. Good for economic growth Wonderful, we are all human beings Let's control immigration, but deregulate trade
Free trade Love it. We need more. Love it, but let's try to regulate multinationals. However, the SNP want to lower corporation taxes to attract inward investment. Love it. Let's have more. Only UKIP claim they would regulate labour mobility and protect some small businesses against global competition.
Public Healhcare We need to grow the health market and sell more medication and services, but we need government to pay for it. Spend, spend, spend until we go broke and blame the Tories for all NHS failings. Spend a bit a less and keep quiet about backdoor privatisation plan, but blame Labour for NHS inefficiency.
Debt Economic growth will pay for it Let's pay off a little Let's pay off a little more
Welfare We need welfare to subsidise mass consumption and regulate social conflicts Let's ask big business to subsidise the poor in rich countries Let's wean people off welfare dependency
More mental healthcare Love it. We need happy and loyal workers and consumers. Love it. We must expand the range of potential victim groups Sceptical
More subsidised childcare We need more female sales supervisors and project managers to drive economic growth and supervise truculent or socially inept male engineers. Let's keep children away from mothers in creches so they can consume our subtle advertising Love it, all for women's rights and blaming working class men for women's problems. Slightly sceptical, but dare not admit it

Now let us briefly consider likely electoral outcomes.

  • Outright conservative win: Big business stays in control, but must tame the traditionalist Eurosceptic faction. LibDems may offer demand and supply support in key votes with a large number of Tory rebels. However, barring a huge surge in support away from UKIP and LibDems, the Tories are unlikely to win a majority of seats except by the slimmest of margins.
  • Tory/LibDem Coalition: This remains the most likely outcome if the LibDems can muster at least 20 seats though it may rely on demand and supply support from Ulster's Democratic Unionist Party
  • Tory / UKIP / DUP Pact: Not going to happen. UKIP is unlikely to gain more than 10 seats, but if it did it would do so at the expense of both Tories and Labour and not really affect the likely balance of power. Many pro-EU tories would defect and join forces with other coalition partners and large corporations would be unlikely to support Britain's exit from the EU.
  • Labour / SNP Pact: While this may alienate traditionalist English voters, big business may just support it in the full knowledge that they will be unable to fulfil their ambitious spending promises.
  • Labour / LibDem Coalition: This is a very likely outcome if Labour can win around 35%+ of the popular and Tories fail to get much more than 32%. With Labour just 20 odd seats short of an overall majority according to UK Polling Report and the LibDems still likely to win 20 odd seats. However, they may just rely on external supply and demand support from Plaid Cymru or SDLP should the new coalition fall short of an overall majority by just a few seats. Labour can drop some of its more ambitious spending plans. An interesting outcome would be if a LibLab coalition fell 10-20 or more seats short of majority and had to reach to accommodation with the SNP. A likely concession would be to ditch Trident.
  • ConLab Coalition: This is not as far-fetched as many observers would like to believe. Big business would rather maintain the façade of a democratic choice between caring Labour and entrepreneurial Conservatives. However, if continued membership of European Union and free labour movement remain critical for large multinationals, they may do anything to prevent UKIP or the Greens from gaining any decisive influence over government. A ConLab coalition would probably see the defection of some leftwing Labour MPs to the Greens or alternative far-left groupings, but the gulf between official Labour and pro-EU Tories is minimal. They agree on defence, the EU, migration and economic growth. While the First Past the Post electoral system will probably enable Labour or the Tories to form a government with some combination of the smaller parties, it may very well happen if the SNP continue to make irresponsible public spending demands on a potential miniority Labour administration with a significantly weakened Liberal Democrat presence, or if global economic meltdown (which would adversely the UK more than most countries) forces the government to make some very unpopular decisions.

Ungreen Greens

On the environment, energy and defence, I'd instinctively vote Green. However, short of a world-wide revolution, their 2015 manifesto is not remotely viable. A Green government would simply be powerless to regulate or tax UK-based global corporations much more without effectively biting the hand that feeds them. How could they hope to increase spending on social welfare, health and affordable housing if big businesses simply move their operations abroad significantly reducing their tax base. The Green manifesto is little more than a politically correct wish list. I certainly agree with the Greens on scrapping Trident, banning hydraulic fracturing and phasing out nuclear power, renationalising railways, limiting car usage in busy urban areas and investing more in public transport. I welcome investment in renewable energy and remote working to cut unnecessary travel, but fear without changing our growth-obsessed economic model little will change and wind turbines, solar panels and wave power will fail to allow the continuation of business as usual. All other Green policies, on welfare, migration, taxation, healthcare or education, are based on the assumption of continued economic prosperity enabling us to import the required resources. In ideal world we would not need any immigration controls as a rebalanced world economy would not offer any significant economic motivation for emigration. There would just be a limited and balanced exchange of professionals, academics and tourists. However, in a grotesquely unequal world mass migration is both a symptom and a cause of much socio-economic instability that tends to favour big business much more than ordinary workers. Unlike PC Greens, I'm quite happy to make sacrifices to give my grandchildren a more sustainable future. I want better and fairer healthcare, not more money squandered on mass medication and bureaucracy. I want fairer taxation, but do not want to fund a bloated welfare state on the proceeds of greedy corporations. Indeed I want to tightly regulate big business and promote small local businesses to enable more people to play an active role shaping our technological future. I do not want more retail growth, but would rather pay more for many commodities to ensure fair wages, reduce waste and lengthen the operational lifetime of most goods. None of this can happen while we need to milk banks and global corporations to subsidise welfare dependence while requiring us to import goods from low-wage economies. More important, it will very hard to tackle any of our environmental problems unless we address another consequence of the UK's unsustainable economic growth, namely unsustainable migration-driven population growth. The Greens repeat the oft-recycled claim that immigration drives economic growth, but fail to question whether we need the kind of import-led retail expansion that a greater population in a small country inevitably causes.

Unsustainable economic policies are not only bad for the environment, but also adversely affect the most vulnerable members of society. Let us consider the likely real world consequences of the Green's current manifesto commitments. On the one hand they would impose higher tax on billionaires and large corporations, regulate big business, cut military spending and ban hazardous high-risk energy extraction and generation techniques. Such policies would shrink the economy, which is all well and good, if like me you are more concerned with long-term stability than short-term growth. However, shrinking the economy would require us to cut welfare spending and without strict import controls a downsized would see unemployment soar. Only by relocalising the many industries and services we have outsourced can we achieve full employment, while effectively deflating our economy to a level that we can sustain in the long run.

If the Greens had their way, large corporations would inevitably just transfer their activities to countries with lower taxes, fewer regulations and lower salaries. As a result millions of workers would be jobless at a time when the government would be less able to pay their welfare bill. More important bankers would be less willing to lend money to governments intent on limiting consumer demand and with it corporate profits.

We need to transition away from our reliance on cheap finite fossil fuels and an energy-intensive global economic system towards a more sustainable and regionally localised system. Likewise, if the UK were only concerned with national defence, rather than meddling in other countries' affairs or serving US foreign policy objectives, we could significantly rationalise military spending in line with Japan, Germany, Spain or Italy. Currently, the UK still has the world's fifth highest defence budget (after Saudi Arabia). Yet, we cannot cut energy consumption or scrap the US-controlled Trident nuclear missile system, unless we change our over-reliance on global trade and absurd obsession with economic growth at all costs. The only way a largely service-based economy can grow is to import more resources from the rest of the world. When retail sales fall, growth-obsessed economists start to worry. Services in the form of restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals, marketing offices or social work departments consume resources, largely for transport, building maintenance, equipment and catering. The more we consume, the more rubbish we generate. The more we obsess with hygiene, the more effluent we dump in our sewers. All aspects of our post-modern lives from healthcare to holidays, commuting to grocery shopping consume resources. Life has become almost inconceivable without washing machines, power showers, electric cookers, hairdryers, fast transportation and multimedia communication, all of which rely on elaborate infrastructure and cheap energy.

The Greens are unlikely to gain more than 2 to 3 seats (and may well lose their only seat Brighton), but they may just sway the balance of power in some strategic issues, especially if future electoral reform affords small parties more seats. However, given the key importance of economic growth to vested commercial interests, who also happen to control most of the media, very few of the Green's environmental policies will see the light of day, except perhaps some token cycle lanes in congested urban areas. They may just win local referendums on hydraulic fracturing or new nuclear power plants, but one the corporate media explain without such new sources of energy people may have to forgo the convenience of cheap motoring, air travel and affordable winter heating, the Greens may not win over the general public. However, they may sway votes on other contentious issues on immigration, welfare reform and the European Union, where ironically they may be on the same side as big business.

Coalition Record

Five years on, big business seems very much still in control. The same social trends that started under Thatcher and were rebranded under Labour have continued unabated under the Cameron/Clegg partnership. Fewer young adults can afford a house, the rich/poor gap continues to widen, the country's debt keeps rising and its population is rising at the fastest rate since the end of WW2, largely through unsustainable migratory flows. Despite initial scepticism, the government has not lost its appetite for meddling in other countries' affairs with disastrous military interventions in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Yet if we believe the raw numbers, the economy keeps growing. The Tories can blame the LibDems for their failure to bring down net migration, while the LibDems can blame the Tories for their failure to tackle inequality. Whenever anything goes wrong, the government of the day can simply blame either their predecessors or their coalition partners.

After 13 years of New Labour rule and mounting public and private debt following the 2008 financial meltdown, many greeted the new common sense Coalition with a sigh of relief. Maybe they would not commit British armed forces to foreign military intervention we ill-understand. Maybe they would deal with long-term worklessness and enable young people to learn valuable practical skills. Maybe they would regulate big corporations rather than private citizens. However, beyond the rhetoric we were only dreaming. The so-called ConDem coalition brought us more of the same NewLabourite policies. Even their cuts in public sector spending were moderate compared to much tougher reductions in other European countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal or Greece, all with comparable national debts, but much lower household debts. Despite all the empty talk of fiscal responsibility, the government continued with the previous administration's quantitive easing (QE) and reliance on property speculation and service sector for economic growth.

On the ground Labour have lost much of their traditional working class base to the SNP in Scotland and to UKIP in provincial England. Their core vote is now wishful thinking Guardian Readers, ethnic minorities and welfare dependents. However, as Tower Hamlets and Bradford West show, Labour's rainbow coalition is unlikely to withstand the rise of identity politics in Britain's disparate communities.

Shifting Alliances

Many observers wrongly assume big business simply wants to ally UK PLC with the USA and NATO. The global balance of power is shifting fast away from North America and Western Europe to China, India, Russia and Brazil. China is now the world's industrial superpower, while India's economy will soon overtake the UK. Both will need resources available in Russia, South America and Africa. Big business has always wanted one thing above all, to expand markets and maximise profits for its share-holders. It will forge alliances with any national or regional state organisation likely to further these aims. It sees the European Union as a microcosm of a future borderless New World Order. If the EU expands potentially to Turkey and Western Ukraine, it will lose its original Eurocentrism and encompass a far wider range of cultures and income levels, which will inevitably transform the welfare state from an essential component of socially cohesive society to a mere enabler of greater labour mobility and faster rates of cultural change.

In the evolving world of the early 21st century, large corporations can no longer afford to place all their eggs in one basket and will push regional trading blocks and military alliances to merge and cooperate. Thus the likes of City of London, BP, Shell, Monsanto, Walmart, Sinopec (China), Volkswagen Group, Samsung, Gazprom (Russia) and even Apple and Microsoft ( see full list ) are actually much keener on facilitating global trade than on siding with the US against Russia or China. That's why the LibDems have already indicated they want a cheaper alternative to Trident, but are very keen on the new European Defence Force (to deploy against rebels denying corporate access to key resources).

Reading between the lines

You might think the Greens care most about the environment, the SNP and Plaid Cymru care most about Scotland and Wales and UKIP care most about autonomy from the European Union, but you may soon be very disappointed for none can win the coming general election. Whoever wins, the same corporate forces will be working behind the scenes to ensure big-business-friendly outcomes in a dynamic globalised economy. Listen carefully and consider what policy decisions these small political lobbies may change one way or another. To Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru, continued membership of the European Union seems much more important than the nominal independence of their countries. They have openly stated that any future referendum on the UK's membership of the EU must have the consent of a majority of Welsh and Scots too. The Greens see the EU as a vehicle for cultural and environmental change and imagine joining forces with green movements across Europe to challenge corporate power. All three left-of-centre parties welcome increased immigration and deplore calls for stricter controls to restore greater migratory balance. In short, rather than offer a viable alternative to Labour, the three smaller notionally left-leaning parties present a more radically universalist vision at odds with the conservative views of their electorates. They pander to low-income and welfare-dependent voters through vain promises to oppose all cuts, raise the minimum wage or spend more on healthcare, while expecting someone else, whether taxpayers in other parts of the UK or transnational corporations, to fund their social engineering projects. If you believe the SNP, we can save a bundle by scrapping Trident, approx. 3-4 billion year if we take Greenpeace's estimate of 97 billion over the missile system's 30 year lifespan. With a growing population, the UK will need to invest heavily in healthcare, education, new housing and transport infrastructure, while its armed forces are likely to join ranks with NATO and the new European Defence Agency. As a result, a future Labour/LibDem government may well opt for a much cheaper nuclear deterrent or to scrap Trident altogether. Even voices within the Ministry of Defence oppose Trident renewal. The former head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, the retired Army generals Lord Ramsbotham and Sir Hugh Beach, and Major General Patrick Cordingley signed a letter to The Times that stated:

“Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism. Our independent deterrent has become irrelevant, except in the context of domestic politics.â€

However, scrapping Trident will be a pyrrhic victory if the British Isles remains integrated in a military alliance with the United States and EU in future conflicts such as a potential standoff with Russia over Eastern Ukraine. We could soon see some rapidly shifting alliances as the mainstream Western media up their rhetoric against Russia to swing public opinion in favour of rapid rearmament.

As the debt crisis mounts worldwide, we can soon expect another banking meltdown. This will provide a coalition government with an excellent excuse to scale back some of their spending plans. The NHS may simply become unaffordable. I suspect only a rhetorically leftwing coalition could privatise it, possibly by signing an international treaty for Global Health Insurance system. Expect the rich-poor gap to continue to grow and for larger and larger pockets of the Third World to take root in Western Europe. With the rise of the SNP and Anglo-centric UKIP, the UK will soon become little more than anachronism. A potential left-of-centre LibLabSNP pact may well be short-lived as a precursor to a divided Kingdom integrated with an enlarged EU / NAFTA trading block.

Verdict: The Business Party will win and the electorate will once again be bitterly disappointed as world events eclipse parochial UK politics.

Categories
All in the Mind Computing

The Nice Party Manifesto

As an environmentally friendly, safety-aware, anti-racist, disability-positive, anti- homophobia, feminist, pro-growth, pro-children, pro-happiness party, we oppose all nasty policies that may harm other human beings.

Global minimum salary:

If elected the UK Nice Party will provide everyone in the world with access to an online bank account and transfer 1 bitcoin ( £150) a day to ensure a min. global living standard. Any work will be optional.

Pollution outsourced to Mars:

All industrial activities will move to the Moon and Mars. All resource extraction, manufacturing and shipping processes will be fully automated.

Imagine there were no countries:

We will abolish all border controls and provide free public transport for anyone wishing to move from one region to another.

Free Fertility Treatment:

We will encourage people to have as many children as they like and provide free fertility services for all those unable to conceive naturally.

A Luxury Villa for everyone:

Our automated builders will provide luxury eco-friendly villas for anyone with long or short-term accommodation needs.

Electric Cars for all:

All global citizens over the age of 18 months will be entitled to their own eco- friendly driverless electric car. These cars will automatically recharge to overcome rage anxiety.

Food for all:

We will build gigantic greenhouse satellites to grow practically unlimited supplies of sumptuously juicy health food to meet all tastes.

Sex for all:

We will provide all sexually repressed human beings with free humanoid sex dolls to suit all possible erotic preferences.

Free Gender Surgery and Body Transplants

Anyone dissatisfied with their current gender or body shape will be entitled to free gender realignment surgery or potentially a full body transplant.

No more accidents

We will repeal Isaac Newton's outdated and frankly misanthropic Law of Gravity and replace it a kinder Law of Floating Attraction. Everyone will thus be able to fly, float or walk as they please. Cliff-jumping, sky-diving and skateboarding will be safe leisure pursuits and pigs will be able to fly.

No more sadness

We will add Soma to the water supply to banish all residual forms of sadness or stray critical thoughts.

Caveat

A combined software and hardware upgrade is required to implement the above policies. We will migrate all physical human beings currently on planet earth to cloud servers interfacing with massively multiplayer virtual reality simulation software.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Question Time on Rise of UKIP

How would members of the panel deal with the rise in UKIP support among working class whites?

Dame Penelope Guardian Reader

This may surprise you, but on my mother's side I'm of White English working class extraction myself and have some friends and relatives who still live in white working class communities. A great aunt of mine stills reads the obnoxious Daily Mail and has indeed occasionally raised uninformed concerns about the scale and speed of inward migration to our wonderfully progressive and welcoming island. Like many people in her age group she's prone to mild forms of xenophobia, which can be a very debilitating condition if left untreated.

Recent research by the University of Northwest Tescotown, has shown the same kind of recalcitrant thinking that leads some people of Middle-Eastern descent to sympathise with ISIS may trigger reactionary anti-immigration thoughts in those of white Northwest European descent. In the Enlightened Guardian Readers' Party we believe xenophobia sufferers deserve all the help we can give them. That's why my party is committed to not only increasing spending on mental health, but allocating 20% of the mental health budget to combat the kind of unenlightened thinking that leads people to vote UKIP or join ISIS in the first place. I've heard of a range of therapeutic treatments, including a new generation of Selective Critical Thought Inhibitors and intensive Equality and Diversity Training sessions.

Terry Trendy of UK Uncut
We believe the spread of evil racist views among some sections of our wonderfully diverse community is a direct result of the government's shameful cuts in social welfare and mental health services. We clearly have a massive shortage of qualified and trained multicultural awareness therapists in this country and should relax our absurdly strict immigration controls so we can bring in the right professionals to tackle this endemic disease before it's too late.
Polly Pontificator of Spiked Online
I really don't think we have anything to worry about. The previous two speakers clearly overstate the problem. UKIP support is highest among older indigenous White Anglo-Saxon protestants and is not spreading to the new ethnically diverse and internationally minded younger generations. As long as this dying breed of old-timers is kept amused through repeats of 1970s comedy shows, plenty of booze, bingo and Mediterranean cruises, UKIP will remain a minority sport.
Aaron Aardvark of the Green Monster Raving Loony Party
UKIP supporters are just a bunch of primeval climate-change-denying Jeremy CLarkson fans. We would simply withdraw their driving licences until they pass a mandatory Diversity and Environmental Responsibility Awareness Training test.
Categories
Power Dynamics

Extreme Labour Mobility

Rethinking the Migration Debate

Were we to debate the ethics of racial prejudice, the relative merits of other societies or the wonders of humanity's rich cultural diversity, I would not hesitate for a moment both to stand against all forms of xenophobia and to celebrate true cultural diversity. However, as soon as someone suggests the massive recent rise in migratory flows may cause social destabilisation and alienation, some left-branded rhetoricians play the race card. Sometimes the very mention of the word immigrants rather than the now favoured terms, migrants or international commuters, can trigger instant accusations of racism. The UK is no longer the homeland of the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish, but a dyanmic international social engineering experiment.

The real question is just why the left-leaning cosmopolitan elite are so out of touch with ordinary working class people on the issue of extreme labour mobility and job insecurity. They simply fail to empathise with the very people who until recently they claimed to champion. Interestingly, working class peoples in the most diverse countries all seem to support labour market protection, while the wealthy chattering classes everywhere seem keen to promote labour mobility allowing newcomers to outcompete their local working class. In the first phase of post-WW2 economic growth, from the 1950s to 1980s, the social democratic nation-state model prevailed in most wealthy capitalist countries. The state actively intervened to promote national industries, build skills bases and protect workers against unfair competition from markets with much lower wages. Interestingly, the two Asian industrial superpowers to emerge from the post-WW2 boom, Japan and South Korea, both adopted avowedly protectionist policies at home, while benefiting enormously from European and North American export markets. As Ha-Joon Chang points out in his 2010 book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism: The free market doesn't exist. Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice. A market unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them. How ‘free' a market is cannot be objectively defined. It is a political definition. The usual claim by free-market economists that they are trying to defend the market from politically motivated interference by the government is false. Government is always involved and those free-marketeers are as politically motivated as anyone. Overcoming the myth that there is such a thing as an objectively defined ‘free market' is the first step towards understanding capitalism..

In the same short book Professor Chang describes an inconvenient truth of wealthy regions: Wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else, including any minimum wage legislation. How is the immigration maximum determined? Not by the ‘free' labour market, which, if left alone, will end up replacing 80–90 per cent of native workers with cheaper, and often more productive, immigrants. Immigration is largely settled by politics. So, if you have any residual doubt about the massive role that the government plays in the economy's free market, then pause to reflect that all our wages are, at root, politically determined

Translated into plain English, this means that immigration controls, far from protecting the rich and powerful against the poor, are actually a form of social welfare in an unequal world. Indeed without generous welfare provision, the UK could not first have outsourced most of its manufacturing base, in the Thatcher years, and then allowed an unprecedented influx of unskilled and semi-skilled labour in the New Labour and Tory / Lib Dem coaliation years. Such welfare provision softened the blow when factories closed in 1980s, but also led the emergence of a deskilled new underclass, unable to participate fruitfully in the new service-led economy. Many people are simply not suited to academic, managerial or marketing roles, but are perfectly capable, when given the chance, of doing practical jobs. If an economy does not provide a wide range of employment opportunities for people with different skills and learning profiles, it will exclude a large section of the population.

However, until recently workers in Western Europe, North America and parts of the Pacific Rim (Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand) were relatively privileged as they could enjoy such luxuries as refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, holidays and most notably motor vehicles unavailable to most in the developing world. As late as 1990 this lifestyle was only available to 15% of the world's population. We have since witnessed not just the fall of the Iron Curtain with integration of Eastern and Western Europe, but exponential industrial and consumer growth in the world's two most populous countries, China and India. While back in 1970s some environmentalists feared population growth, itself a by-product of technological progress, represented the biggest environmental challenge, per capita consumption, measured in kilojoules of energy required to sustain a human being, is rising much faster. The critical issue is no longer whether we can feed 10 billion human beings with a modest lifestyle, but whether we can sustain 5 billion cars with all the related infrastructure of motoways and hypermarkets. There is now no logcial reason why a highly educated Indian workforce should not aspire to the same living standards as their European counterparts. While Indian workers still have a huge competitive advantage for the time-being, the rising cost of living, especially in urban areas, may soon change that. As countries open up their markets, the living standards genie pops out of its proverbial bottle. Why should British workers, who today make few goods other countries really need, continue to enjoy higher living standards than Indian, Chinese or African workers, who arguably produce much more of what we need ? Back in 1970s only a tiny minority of Indians were wealthier than typical Western Europeans. Today India's emerging middle class accounts for over 10% of its population or 130 million people, a larger market than Germany or France. The top three wealthiest UK residents all hail from countries, until recently considered poor, Sri and Gopi Hinduja, (Indian: £11.9 billion), Alisher Usmanov (Russian: £10.65 billion), Lakshmi Mittal (Indian: £10.25 billion).

The new global elite has representatives in every geocultural region of the world. Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Brazilian, Mexican and even Nigerian billionaires are now in the same league as their North Amercian, European and Japanese counterparts. Their global enterprises prefer to negotiate either directly with transnational organisations like the European Union (NAFTA, Mercosur, ASEAN etc.) or with small malleable national microstates like Singapore or Luxembourg, especially if they can legally dodge taxes. Not surprisingly the big 4 global professional services firms (Deloite, PwC, Ernst and Young and KPMG) started life as tax consultants helping their coporate clients to evade national taxes, but have recently diversified into lobbying and naked promotion of globalist policies, often hiding behind environmental and humanitarian campaigns. International big business loathes large viable nation states able to protect labour markets, impose higher corporation standards and enforce strict environmental standards. It much prefers regional trading blocs as a stepping stone to a global government. With the Chinese economy destined to overtake the US economy within 10 to 15 years and India destined to surpass the UK within 5 years, we may wonder what kind of welfare and workers' rights a future global government may protect.

Let us briefly consider the logic of free movement of labour, one of the foundation stones of the European Union's 1992 Maastricht Treaty. When first introduced, the gap between the poorest regions of the EU and the richest were not much greater than those within some of the larger members states, e.g. in 1995 Lombardy enjoyed a mean standard of living comparable with that in the Netherlands, Southeast England or Sweden. It just became a little easier for migrants from poorer Italian regions to consider Northern European destinations for temporary relocation rather than apply for guest worker status. However, for cultural reasons, most workers still preferred to move to other regions of their country or linguistic region to being set at a distinct disadvantage. In the 1990s Spain and Italy began to feel the impact of growing migratory pressure from Africa and the Middle East, while the Balkan wars helped boost emigration to Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. As the birth rate fell in most of Europe to below natural replacement level, many academics and business lobbyists began to advocate higher levels of net migration to offset a natural population decline and rejuvenate an ageing population. It seemed as long as most natives continued to enjoy the same career prospects and migration inflows remained manageable, wealthy European countries could absorb more immigrants. However, elsewhere in much of the developing world, we have seen divergent demographic trends with birth-rates still way above replacement level and a steady drift away from traditional rural communities to sprawling megalopolises. For many third world citizens, the transition from a small rural backwater to a teeming 21st century metropolis such as Lagos, Istanbul or Mumbai presents a greater culture shock, than the geographically much longer flight to Frankurt, Chicago or London. Once uprooted from traditions passed down and gradually adapted from generation to generation, it takes only a little leap of faith to risk one's life for a comfortable existence European or American urban setting. Globalisation has not only deskilled relatively well paid of European factory workers, it has driven hundreds of millions off the land to overcrowded cities with limited prospects other than other than begging, theft, drug trafficking or prostitution. The last 20 years have seen three clear trends:

  1. Long-distance travel via air, sea, rail and road has become much more accessible to hundreds of millions in developing countries.
  2. A telecommunications revolution has made it much easier for people not only to stay in touch with friends and relatives anywhere in the world, but to become aware of job opportunities. Communities are no longer constrained by geography.
  3. Trade barriers have almost disappeared, making it very hard for Western European workers to compete with low wage economies in China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam or elsewhere.

The pace of social, cultural and technological change has accelerated since the late 1990s. While this rapid rate of innovation has benefited some smart entrepreneurs and technical wizards, it has destabilised the labour market. Many old skills become obsolete overnight, unskilled and semi-skilled workers can be hired and fired more easily and employers can tap into an almost unlimited supply of enthusiastic and ready trained labour from some other region. Poorer regions lose their best and brightest and survive mainly on remittances from richer regions, and the poor in richer regions are out-competed by opportunists from poorer regions. Wealthy professionals in richer regions enjoy more affordable and dependable nannies, gardeners and plumbers, while the indigenous poor are consigned to an intellectual wasteland of welfare handouts, budget supermarkets and mass-marketed junk culture.

Ungreen Greens

Why should your electric kettle be assembled by a Chinese worker earning 20p ( £0.20) an hour rather than by a British worker earning £20 an hour ? It's a good question because the demand for electric kettles for making tea, instant coffee or soup is strongest in the British Isles. Demand in the UK alone is certainly large to warrant more than one kettle factory. Indeed until recently, this quintessentially British invention was a nice little export earner (mainly to Australia and Canada). Not any more, leading British brands, such as Russell Hobbs or Murphy Richards, simply have their designs manufactured in low wage regions. A new generation of Britons is more concerned with brands, price and convenience than supporting local workers. Some may argue that we are so busy providing media, marketing, education and entertainment services to the rest of the world, that it makes sense to help other countries grow their economies by making the things we buy in retail parks or online. Indeed as our manufacturing techniques had changed, it made perfect sense for big business to transition to a new type of high-income service economy. The only flaw in that optimistic analysis is that excluded over 50% of young people who didn't go to university and had been failed by a one-size-fits-all comprehensive education system. Nowadays very few affordable electrical appliances are made in the UK. Hoover pulled out of Cumbernauld in 2003. Only three years later Lexmark closed their laser printer plant in Rosyth. Yet all the while the UK retail sector, with a brief slump in 2008-9, has continued to bloom. People travel more on holiday and buy more gadgets, while the UK population has risen by 5 million since the year 2000. However, the country's carbon emissions have remained static despite ambitious government promises of a 20% reduction by 2010. Yet in reality, the country's true carbon footprint has risen dramatically as we simply consume and import more junk that have to be shipped thousands of miles to reach our warehouses. It may be cheaper to import kettles from Indonesia, Malaysia or Vietnam, but in addition to the pollution created by the manufacturing process, we have the environmental burden of shipping the goods over longer distances. Deceptively lower retail prices have another oft-forgotten side effect. It is now often cheaper to buy a new domestic appliance than attempt to repair an existing one, simply because compatible spare parts have to sourced from remote manufacturers and local retailers lack the skills needed to service parts that are not designed to be easily replaced. If your kettle only costs £20, why spend £20 to replace a faulty thermostat? As a result our landfill sites are replete with discarded appliances with just one faulty component. Globalisation, rather than spreading environmental burdens and maximising efficiency, leads to monumental waste, not only in terms of hyperconsumption (by things we really do not need), but also destroying the prospects of millions of potential workers, out-competed by power-hungry global corporations. If we cared about the environment, we would buy fewer manufactured goods made by well-paid workers with spare parts we can buy in a local hardware store.

A country of Immigrants?

Wishful thinking sociologists proclaim that we have always been a country of immigration. In theory, this statement is true to varying extents of any country outside of Africa's Rift Valley, but should only really apply to countries whose populations are made up mainly of successive waves of recent immigrants such as the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina or Australia. Ironically, such multiethnic countries were also built on large-scale population displacement and genocide. Australian aborigines did not invite Dutch and British colonisers to cope with a temporary skills shortage. In truth, before the expansion of the British Empire, these islands experienced only a trickle of migrants from continental Europe. The Norman invasion added 1-2% to the country's blood pool and Anglo-Saxon incursions possibly as little as 5% (Stephen Oppenheimer, Origins of The British). As late 1990, over 75% of the British population descended from the original settlers who moved to these Isles from various ice age refuges between ten and eight thousand years ago. In the imperial age, especially following the Industrial revolution, Britain became mainly a country of emigration with a few groups such as Huguenots and Russian Jews moving to the UK in the 19th century. Most continental European countries experienced greater migratory flows for simple reasons of geography. From the 1950s, Britain experienced the first large waves of immigration from its former colonies. The country was no longer populated almost exclusively by pale-skinned descendants of Celtic, Germanic and Pictish tribes. As the British had colonised much of Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, Caribbean and Oceania, this seemed only right and proper, especially as a many English, Scots and Welsh continued to emigrate to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. Between 1950 and 1997, net migration fluctuated between -20,000 amd +50,000 a year. The UK's population grew gradually from around 50 million in 1950 to 56 million in 1980, covering the first era of mass immigration from the Commonwealth and the 1960s baby boom. In much of the 1970s and early 1980s Britain experienced negative net migration and a declining birth rate. These changes gave rise to a new multiethnic British identity as newcomers integrated and intermarried with longer-standing Britons, but Britishness itself was in crisis often associated with national supremacist groups like the BNP (British National Party) or National Front. In an increasingly interconnected world, the United Kingdom became an anachronism only temporarily rebranded as Cool Britannia, largely due to the commercial success of UK-based rock bands promoting the country's new multicultural image. Britain attempted to capitalise on its image as the birthplace of the English language and industrial revolution, but became a victim of the successful spread of its two leading cultural and economic exports. Its former engineering and scientific excellence had long been eclipsed first by the USA, Germany and Japan and more recenly by global corporations with no national allegiance. The expansion of an English-like global lingua franca and the enduring reputation of a few leading universities seemed the only consolation prizes from the country's imperial past.

However, UK support for US military interventions and the blurring of cultural boundaries between nation states destroyed a rebranded Yookay. Despite the popularity of the English language, UK entries to the Eurovision Song Contest failed to win the hearts and minds of young audiences elsewhere in Europe, while until the 1990s British Rock stars had gained a godlike status abroad. Younger Brits preferred to identify as English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. By the late 1990s, the economy has depended mainly on abstract financial, education, Since 2000 net migration has varied between 150,000 and 300,000 a year. In 2014 over 625,000 moved to the UK by legal means, and around 330,000 left. Not only only are these figures unbalanced but very different kinds of people are moving in either direction. The problem is not, bloody mmigrants, but a global economic system that is clearly unsustainable and works against the interests of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

Categories
War Crimes

Rewriting History: The Myth of the Good War

Planned Berlin to Baghdad Railway

As we mourn the deaths of millions of young Europeans in a futile dispute between rival empires, British, French, Russian and American leaders perpetuate the myth of a simple battle between good and evil, freedom and tyranny, democracy and dictatorship. Yet without the deep scars left by the blood-stained aftermath of the Great War, much of Europe would probably not have endured revolutionary uprisings, which soon gave rise to much more grotesque expressions of tyranny in the form of Fascism, Stalinism and most catastrophically Nazism. Many younger people could be forgiven for believing Herbert Asquith, Winston Churchill and Lloyd George took the British Empire to war in order to defeat not just Prussian adventurism, but all the horrors later associated with Nazi Germany. Yet the Germany of 1914 was as democratic as Britain or France. Not only did Germany have universal male suffrage before the UK (which excluded not just all women, but also millions of poor men from the electoral franchise), it had the world's largest Social Democratic party and best organised labour movement. Far from being a beacon of social enlightenment, despite its wealth and intellectual talent, the United Kingdom still ruled over hundreds of millions of colonial subjects in the Indian Subcontinent and much of Africa. Openly racialist ideas justified the supremacy of small white minorities and local elites in most colonies. How could one country that had fought a long string of wars in locales as diverse as South Africa, Afghanistan and India lecture another with a much smaller sphere of influence and only a fledgling colonial empire? Just 44 years earlier Britain seemed quite happy for its ally Prussia to humiliate its long-time imperialist rival France, by first seizing Paris and imposing its terms for peace with the transfer of much of Alsace and Lorraine to the newly formed German Empire. Only 55 years earlier in the infamous Battle of Waterloo, the British army under the command of the Duke of Wellington had helped Prussia defeat Napoleon and thus contain Britain's main maritime competitor as well as the dominant continental European power. For much of the 19th century Germany, not France or Russia, had been Britain's main ally on the continent. Britain supported the creation of the new Belgian state out of the southern Netherlands Provinces and French-speaking Walloon region to limit French ambitions more than those of Prussia. Indeed the British Royal Family descended from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. In 1914 King George V's government effectively declared war on his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Standard schoolbook history usually emphasises the assassination of the Habsburgian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which the Austro-Hungarian government blamed on Serbia, a small slavic state rising from the ashes of an Ottoman Empire in rapid decline. Sandwiched between the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, Serbia naturally sought alliances with Russia and France. However, let us not forget France and Britain had temporarily joined forces with the Ottoman Empire to contain an expansionist Russia in the 1853–56 Crimean War.

In the century prior to the outbreak of the 1914-18 Great War, Britain had supported Prussia against expansionist France, France and the Ottoman Empire against expansionist Russia, before letting Prussia curtail the European influence of Napoleon III's resurgent Second French Empire. Why would Britain now side with Russia in its quest to gain a foothold in the Balkans via Serbia over the assassination of a foreign royal. While the German Empire had gained Alsace and Lorraine to the west and chunks of former Poland to the east, the Russian Empire had gobbled up the rest of Poland, the baltic states north of East Prussia and Finland as well as all the former Caucasian and central Asian Soviet republics that gained independence from the Russian Federation in 1991. Germany's main competitor in rapidly industrialising Central and Eastern Europe was Russia, who had in turn formed an alliance with its main competitor, and former occupier to the West, France. Britain, although now eclipsed by Germany and United States as an industrial power, had reached the pinnacle of its imperial power. Did it really matter if Germany settled a few scores with a despotic Russian Empire and once again put France in her rightful place as a medium-sized Western European nation? Could Britain not act as a mere mediator between Russia, the Ottoman Empire, France, Austro-Hungary and Germany. After all, it had both opposed and joined forces with all these empires to suit its imperial interests. As for neutral Belgium, it had just overseen the slaughter of as many as 10 million Africans in the Congo Free State, while over half its European population would sooner reunite with the Netherlands than fight dirty wars in the service of Belgian colonialism.

However, Germany was certainly not blameless. It had been too eager to settle scores and strike preemptively against France via Belgium. Its military leaders sought to expand their geographic reach through their industrial power at a time when most of the world had already been carved up, except for one lucrative region whose recently discovered abundant fossil fuel reserves would enable unprecedented economic expansion later in the century. Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany had begun the construction of a ground-breaking Berlin to Baghdad railway, just as American and British geologists working for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company discovered black oil at Masjid-i-Sulaiman in the mountains of north-western Iran. Not surprisingly, though conquering the Middle East was never mentioned either as a pretext for war, much of Britain's military operations over the following four years took place not in continental Europe at all, but in Mesopotamia.

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For more read: The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain's Rush to War, 1914 by Douglas Newton