Left Outside

How swift or certain justice in Syria?

In criminal justice it is well understood that swiftness and certainty of punishment is more important than severity. Our strategy in Syria is giving us the worst of all worlds: swift but unpredictable and severe but counterproductive we are making the world and Syria more dangerous.

While lots of people are scared of another Iraq, the prospect seems to be receding. Cameron is taking a resolution to the UN with wording similar to that in UNSC 1973, authorising all necessary means to protect civilians, but the will to war doesn’t seem so strong as in 2003. Famous last words, as they say.

Instead Cameron, Hollande and Obama are all emphasising that it is necessary, perhaps sufficient, to strike hard and decisively to punish Assad to prevent future chemical weapons attacks. Even if this has little effect on the Syrian civil war itself it will underline the red line around chemical weapons use in this, and other conflicts. The argument is weak and sounds as though it’s been cobbled together in a hope it sounds coherent to justify a policy their gut feels is right.

Hundreds of people were killed last week in Ghouta by chemical weapons. It is too hard to say whether they were deployed with Assad’s direct say so but it looks very likely they were deployed by the government. It could have been a rogue commander or something more cynical ordered by Assad himself. The public still don’t know for certain, the UN have not officially reported, but Obama, Hollande and Cameron seem convinced. They may be party to incontrovertible evidence, but we have not seen it. In fact, from what we’ve seen the case for extraordinary action doesn’t seem strong enough, given the potential downsides.

Ghouta is the most deadly gas attack of the Syrian civil war, but it’s probably not the only one. There have allegedly been ghastly gas attacks going back to at least 2012, some of which may have been perpetrated by rebel forces. If we have seen “just” another gas attack, the red line crossed  must be very wide. Beyond Syria and looking back a few years, we see other, presumably lesser, chemical weapons being deployed without warranting death from above. The argument that Assad requires punishment, hard, certain and now is not very strong as a deterrent. I want him punished too, but not at all costs. White Phosphorus has been deployed by Israel in Gaza and by the US in Iraq. It may be that White Phosphorus is a lesser chemical weapon.

But that just leads us to the question: what’s so special about chemical weapons? They are horrific, but so is war. If we’re drawing arbitrary red lines around weapons of mass destruction, one that surrounds Ghouta, Halabja and Hiroshima isn’t logically more coherent than one which includes Gaza, Faluja and Nagasaki. It’s killing that’s terrible, a red line that includes Tahrir Square and the Pearl Roundabout would be better than one targeting some states targeting some citizens with some classes of weapons.

This is a roundabout way of saying that a limited and punitive intervention won’t work on it’s own terms.

If it punishes Assad enough to tip the balance of power definitely away from him he will become more desperate and may become more brutal in his campaign. He may eschew chemical weapons, but it doesn’t mean civilian casualties won’t escalate.  If it punishes Assad enough other states may look at their chemical weapons stockpiles and think: “what are my chances?” A rational actor would certainly revise their strategy, but they wouldn’t necessarily presume they can never use chemical weapons. Simply that they need to keep the UN further away; or ensure a higher kill rate to minimise witnesses; or keep its usage to small doses to maintain deniability; or to use one class of chemicals but dispose of the sarin; or… and so on.

A rules based international realm is a safer one, predictability and boredom are excellent things for humanity to aspire to. The reaction to the Ghouta massacre shows that our leaders aren’t heartless, but it also shows they aren’t governed by rules. In criminal justice the certainty of punishment matters more than its severity, if the international community want to set a precedent it’s too late. Firing cruise missiles at the bad guy feels like a just, rules based strategy, but it is not.

In criminal justice ensuring that punishment follows swiftly and predictably after a crime is more effective than sporadic but severe punishments. Swift doesn’t necessarily have to mean immediate, just without unnecessary delay. We are getting all of this wrong. The middle of a civil war is not the best time to mete out “precision” justice or “surgical” slaps on the risk. The logic behind the imperative to punish war crimes is a sound one, but the execution has been abysmal and won’t have the desired consequences.

Finally: Chris makes the good point that there are people in a better position to make this call than me, I’ve references this above. I don’t have enough information on what’s happening in Syria, what happened in Ghouta, what might happen if we bomb this or that to come to a truly an informed opinion. Three things make me disbelieve our leaders. One, my anti-authoritarian streak. Two, the paucity and inconsistency of the arguments that have been made, as I’ve described above. Three, I just don’t trust them anymore. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, I, uh, won’t get fooled again.

And another thing: I’m aware the Russians and Iranians and Hezbollah et al are intervening there even if the west is not. I see that as evidence we should not enter a quagmire as much as I see it as evidence we should.

One more thing: I haven’t spoken about mission creep or the temptation of committing ground troops or the potential civilian casualties of any western punishment of Assad, or my favoured alternative; supporting refugees, because this isn’t the place. I suppose I will get to each of those if and when necessary.


Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Politics, , , , , , , ,

Sack them all

The IMF slashed its forecast for the UK economy this year from growth of 0.2 per cent to a contraction of 0.4 per cent. The fund now expects growth of 1.1 per cent next year, down from an estimate of 1.4 per cent.

Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, King. This is their fault. Sack them.

Filed under: Economics, , , ,

Regardless of morale, the beatings will continue

If they think the Tories are being mean, wait until they have to meet the electorate again.

Filed under: Politics, , , ,

No, non, nein, όχι: Not good enough

I’ve heard some push back that we shouldn’t blame the Tories for this…

…or this…

…because we are facing a global recession because of this lot…


As Britmouse points out – in ever more virulent, desperate appeals to sanity – we have had exactly the recovery you would expect if aggregate demand had been very weak. Under Brown nominal demand grew only 1.3% a year versus a 5% trend growth rate. Under  Cameron and chuckles Osborne nominal demand has grown at a still anaemic 2.8% a year.

The Bank of England is in charge of demand in this country and it has used the Eurozone pursue a disinflationary policy which has seen inflation collapse even more quickly than the Bank expected. The Bank of England could do more, and they underline this fact at their regular meetings, but they are choosing not to do more.

So in a way yes, the weak recovery is a result of the Eurozone, but only because the Bank of England and central government have used the crisis to depress demand growth. Rather than push against the crisis with more expansionary policy the Bank has used these deflationary tailwinds to keep unemployment elevated and prices subdued.

The policy which is producing weak growth is also producing low bond yields. The low interest rates Cameron is paying is a vote of no confidence in his government from the bond market, they don’t believe growth will return for a very, very long time.

Something is rotten in the city, the Bank of England is not democratically accountable, people do not understand its remit well or the damage it is doing in the name of price stability. This is why the London Stock Exchange gets occupied, not Threadneedle street.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, Politics, , , , , ,

Stiff upper lip chaps!

It could be worse, couldn’t it?

Oh, no sorry, my bad. In fact, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Filed under: Economics, Politics, , , ,

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition should officially and unequivocally object, to everything, even good ideas, loudly and often

I don’t think Labour really know that the game has changed. We will have an election in 2015 and there is very little chance of one before that. The move to fixed term parliaments means that Ed Miliband et al find themselves in a totally different position to someone like Cameron circa 2005 or Blair in 1994.

In 2005 Cameron suspected the next election wouldn’t be for five years – and he turned out to be right. But he nearly had to fight an election in 2007 against a newly inaugurated Brown. This is something he had to expect and prepare for from the day he was elected Tory Leader, because we all knew some sort of hand over from Blair to Brown was imminent and that this may have been followed by an election.

This meant that Cameron spent a lot time and effort trying to appear electable, trying to appear “in-touch” by visiting the arctic, liberal by hugging hoodies and as a better heir to Blair than Brown could ever be. All this was essential when Labour could have called an ambush election at any point.

Tean Miliband seems to be employing a similar tactic. Liam Byrne is fighting to appear tough on benefits claimants, Ed Balls is trying to sound more fiscally conservative, even Diane Abbott is doing her best to swiftly cover up her gaffes. The commetariat are also playing along, they want to know if he is too ugly to be prime minister etc. Cameron moved left while Ed is moving right.

All of this is stupid. As Sunny has been documenting, not only is nuance from Labour Wonks confusing the public, those who aren’t confused couldn’t care less anyway. I have a better plan for Ed, to be in operation for the next three years or so, or at least until a year before the election date. Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition should officially and unequivocally object, to everything, even good ideas, loudly and often.

First of all, this is essential to good governance. A noisy opposition ensures that a Government has to advance the strongest arguments for its policies and ensure the sharpest execution for fear of being lambasted. If all Tory mistakes are leapt on with gay abandon then the Tories will make sure they screw up less. Remember the incorrect list of schools Gove released last year? That is what happens when people are not terrified of screwing up.

Even where this policy would be a trap it is good policy. For example, Miliband will gain almost no votes by opposing capping benefits at £26,000, but he won’t lose any votes either because, and this is important, nobody is voting until 2015.

Any damage supporting bad policies or opposing bad policy while in opposition can be shrugged off because the opposition won’t have done anything because they can’t. Wrong calls can be disowned and vote winning stances embraced as manifesto fodder. A manifesto which won’t need to be published until 2015 because, I repeat, that is when the next election will be. Plus, by being the voice of opposition Labour would be able to build an activist base which will be important in getting out the vote and campaigning come election time.

By playing the old game, where an opposition has to be constantly on the alert for an election Labour are strengthening the Tories, and doing damage to people’s lives. They need to shape up and realise the rules have changed.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

Cameron’s dreadful case for national pride

This is just wonderfully revealing from Cameron today:

Whatever the obstacles to growth today, we still boast some of the best universities in the world, the most favourable timezone in the world, and the world’s first language.

Hundreds of years ago we conquered and colonised a load of places and they and their trading partners now speak our language. Also, by historical fluke, we just so happen to sit in between populus Asia and wealthy North America.

So this is what national pride has come to. No celebration of the English Pub, the centre of the community, no longing for days of imperial grandeur, no ideological fervour for christ, cricket and capitalism. Nope, something more like this…

A cosy 25 million bedroom nation with excellent local amenities, a large secluded garden and great transport links. Comes complete with lovely views of France and neighbours who will begrudgingly speak your language.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Migration is not a crime, but the way it’s discussed is criminal

Carl Packman has very nicely leap frogged from my post to a discussion on the limitation the left faces when discussing immigration. Nice enough for him this is now the second post of his which has been cross posted to LibCon, and as usual for posts on immigration it has incited a very “lively” discussion.

However, it is not the just the left which has difficulty discussing immigration. The right does too, because they just can’t help themselves distorting the truth or outright lying.

As I began to discuss here, talk about immigration in this country is tainted by decades, indeed centuries, of prejudiced stereotypes that are difficult to escape. Unfortunately some papers extend so little effort to escape this regrettable history that numerous blogs have been created to monitor them.

A lack of originality, a surplus of bile

Migration is not a crimeWhat I want to create is a crib sheet for any article you see on immigration, migrants, refugees or asylum by looking at the history of that discussion. Our modern debate on migration has not developed out of a vacuum. In fact, we are forced to watch tedious reruns of discussions concerning Huguenots in the 1680s, Irish migrants in the early 19th Century and Eastern Europeans in the late, Jews in the 1930s and West Indians and South Asians in the 1960 and 70s. As Paul Gilroy describes in There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack “the wearisome task of dissecting the rhetoric is not helped by its lack of originality: ‘they’ are taking our jobs and houses, using up local resources and undermining ‘our’ culture and, in return, offering ‘us’ disease and terrorism.” However, dissect it we will, again and again, until they fucking learn.

Any immigration story you read in the above papers will be shaped by the groundless assumptions under which the anti-immigrant polemicist operates. These do not pop out of thin air, they are drawn from the past. Pick an article; I will guarantee that it will contain a combination of the below:

The Disloyal Immigrant

This is perhaps the oldest argument of them all. It certainly dates back to the 17th Century. In Catholic France the Huguenots stood out as Protestants and in 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked and open season was declared on France’s heretics. They left France for more welcoming shores and arrived in England. [1]

They have since been co-opted as the “good immigrants;” those that integrated, brought valuable skills and blended seamlessly with the indigenous Anglo-Saxon-Norman-Norse-Roman-Celtic population. Those opposed to immigration often make disparaging comparisons with the Huguenots. [2]

In fact the Huguenots were subject to much the same treatment that welcomes modern day refugees, sometimes even worse. They could be subject to double the normal parish dues and national taxes. Petitions were organised against them and their daily lives a constant struggle. The Huguenot’s being refugees inhabited the poorest parts of town, and were soon charged with causing poverty. Even seeking it out in order to undercut the indigenous workforce. These most loyal of migrants were in fact treated like criminals.

This was repeated with each subsequent migration. The most interesting comparison can probably be drawn between Muslims and Catholics. In the early 19th Century the Great Reform Act was in the offing and there was much talk of how far suffrage should be extended. One key sticking point was whether Catholics should have the vote or not. The problem was that a Catholic’s ultimate loyalty was to the pope, not parliament; sound familiar?

The Ummah has been cited as a reason to distrust Muslim immigrants, Muslims in general in fact. This makes about as much sense as denying Catholics the vote, but it won’t stop some people parroting this argument. This is because the migrant must prove their loyalty, they are not innocent, they are guilty until proven otherwise. Even if no one knows guilty of exactly what.

Soft Touch Britain

In the late 1990s William Hague accused New Labour of being “too soft” on immigration. This period saw a marked increase in the number of asylum applications received in the UK and was snatched upon by the press that Britain was being targeting for its benefits system and wide open borders. As early as 2001 the BBC were running myth debunking stories. In fact throughout Europe record numbers of Asylum Seekers were being received. The collapse of Yugoslavia will do that

Even as benefits have been slashed, this discussion has not ended. Even as Labour enacted five Acts on migration and asylum this discussion has not moved on. At the worst of the “asylum crisis” the numbers reaching Britain were comparable to Germany, France or Italy. Rather than being a “soft touch” Britain was finally receiving its fair share of refugees.

There are few things which make me feel patriotic, as a Socialist I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you. But one thing that makes me intensely proud of this country is that up until 1905 we had no immigration controls. None. Nada. Zip. The irony for the casual anti-immigrant-armchair-colonialist is that the height of Soft Touch Britain™ coincided with the height of Empire.

Diseased and sex obsessed migrants

Concentrating on health concerns, the language is unequivocal, “asylum seekers raising HIV risks.” The Times also contributed to the press personification of contemporary immigrants as carriers of disease with it’s that demands for HIV checks for all immigrants, to prevent “draining the resources of the NHS.”

Previously it has been Tuberculosis that has been the immigrants disease of “choice.” The update does nothing to hide the worrying trend to target migrants as a carrier of disease and instigator of national decay. Now from above you can tell the asylum seekers are going to give you AIDS. HIV is a scary illness, but a particularly had one too contract if your not going to share syringes or have sex with those infected.

This is of course irrelevant because the one that has been associated with migrants is sex: a very unBritish thing indeed. By threatening the local population with HIV The Mail and The Times very effectively demonise asylum seekers as either promiscuous or drug users or both.

The links to sexualised black and asian immigrants or the Opium dens of past Chinese immigrants are plain to see; and about as well founded. There is a lot of could, may, might in those articles, and very little proof that migrants are infecting the “indigenous” population.

Criminal immigrants

It seems, shortly after loyalty, firmness, cleanliness and sexual inadequacy, the one thing we British pride ourselves on is our law abiding nature. Migrants, if we judge by the hysterical historical record, are anything but law abiding. The same that was true of anti-Jewish agitation in the 1900s is true today; the lies remain the same too.

Likewise, in the 1970s it became “common sense” that criminality was a distinct way of expressing “Black Culture,” whether it was a Rastafarian smoking marijuana or a black youth mugging someone. Although these crimes were certainly committed by members of this “immigrant group,” this was not in any proportion to the dominance that this issue had in the 1970 and 1980s.

The obsession with crime and the durability of its images are a focus for discussions on national decline. More than that, they are a way of articulating a crisis of national confidence totally separate from the crimes and criminals themselves. After all, the tumult of the 1970s and 1980s had little to do with race.

Lump of Labour/Housing/Hospitals/Women Fallacy

Yes the Jews/Irish/Blacks/Asians/Chinese/Asylum Seekers are taking your Job/House/Woman/Healthcare [delete as applicable]. This theme is no doubt familiar to you.

The economics of migration are fairly clear. Even Migration Watch UK and the infamous James Slack admit that migrants benefit the UK’s economy. It is instructive that the worst claim they can create, using the most miserly figures, is of a modest benefit. The NHS would collapse without migrant labour and it would never have started without the tremendous work of West Indian nurses in the 1950s.

Similarly, the Lump of Labour Fallacy is often displayed when people argue that immigrants are “stealing” jobs. The jobs and wealth created by immigrants, from Huguenot Weavers to Jewish Cabinet makers to Bangladeshi caterers, is ignored.

Although the immigrant “stealing” theme is a fairly large one I will only pass over it briefly, it is so common as to be particularly irritating. I would like to conclude this short section with a personal gripe; by asking those arguing that immigration in the last decade has made housing less affordable: How would reducing the numbers of builders, plasters, plumbers and electricians in this country make it easier to build a house?


Perhaps behind all of this is the idea of being “swamped.” Whether on an individual level, like the little old lady in Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, or on a national level, like the paranoia that created this article, swamping is pervasive to discussions of immigration.

Of course over the last couple of thousand years these islands have absorbed millions of migrants, and a sense of continuity  has remained. In the 1680s in a matter of years fully 1% of the population became Huguenot, it sounds like a small number, but far smaller increases cause massive ripples today. These Huguenots have become British.

The same swamping was seen by Powell in the 1960s

Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution. The truth is the opposite. The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still.

…and by Major Evans Gordon of Jews in East London in the 19th Century…

East of Aldgate one walks into a foreign town. [The modern englishman lived] under the constant danger of being driven from his home, pushed out into the streets not by the natural increase of our own population but by the off-scum of Europe

It wasn’t true in the 17th century, nor in the 18th, nor in the 19th, nor in the 20th. The 21st century is certainly no different. But this “swamping” theme will be repeated ad nauseam, unless we challenge it.

Immigrant Bingo

Now we have tackled those basic assumptions we can move onto the language and imagery which is used. These can be used to spot which of the above ignorant preconceptions are the inspiration for the article you are reading. They are like a tell that a poker play just can’t hide. And they also make for an excellent bingo game. Cards at the ready:

Tabloid Bingo

I’m not going to argue that because some of the arguments descend from xenophobic drivel that they are essentially racist; I’m sure sometimes it is just coincidence. What offends me is the acceptance that this is the best way to discuss immigration. That the above assumptions form the basis for any discussion on immigration in our press or parliament would be a colossal national disgrace if things were not worse elsewhere.

This could be a fairly dry essay on the history of our national debate on migration. I have several thousands words written on the subject and just two thousand of the multitude are here. But just illustrating the pattern and repetition of the same tedious lies and distortions is not enough. We need to be able to combat it. This post is meant to provide people with a tick list to check and a way to say, “actually that was bollocks then and it’s bollocks now.”

[1] As an aside, there is a mosque on Brick Lane that used to be a Huguenot church. Later it became a Methodist chapel and later still a Synagogue, before finally becoming the Mosque you find there now. With each new migration migrants find their niché.

[2] In the same way, modern asylum seekers are castigated as being less deserving than the Jews fleeing Nazism, despite this being manifestly untrue.


For the record, philosophically I am for almost total free movement of people. I will outline why at a later date, but for the moment Paul offers quite a good discussion why a Socialist must fight for the rights of migrants. Funnily enough, this Paul does as well arguing against the arbitrary benefits of birth.

However, pragmatically (i.e. what I think can be achieved in the next 10 years) I am for a similar regime for economic migrants as is in place now, and a massive resettlement plan for refugees from all over the world.

This is a piss poor compromise and one I may have to reconsider, but I do think restrictions are inevitable while the world is so dangerous and while people are worried by the unknown. However, one thing I’m not going to compromise on is refugees, I wish the same could be said for this Government.

The best books to consult are Matthew J Gibney’s The Ethics and Politics of Asylum: Liberal Democracy and the Response to Refugees and Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain by Robert Winder. The first is essential reading for those of an academic bent, but Robert Winder provides a good journalistic overview of immigration throughout Britain’s history.

Filed under: History, Migration, The Media, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One World Con: The Conservatives’ ideas on Development are Dangerous

9.2 million children die before the age of five each year. Two million die on the day they are born – and 500,000 women die at childbirth. A third of children in Africa suffer brain damage as a result of malnutrition. 72 million children are missing out on an education. Every day 30,000 children die from easily-preventable diseases. That’s 21 children every minute. 33 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS. There are 11 million AIDS orphans in Africa. Every hour, 300 people become infected with HIV and 225 people die from AIDS…and 25 of these are children.

These bald facts are an insult to our humanity. Every life is precious. Everyone has unique talents and abilities. Every time the candle of life is snuffed out by disease, we all suffer. Every time ignorance triumphs over enlightenment, we are all injured. Every time a child is born into a cycle of poverty, we are all made poorer.

So opens the Conservative Party new Green Paper on International Development, One World Conservatism. These two paragraphs read like an accusation. They are contrasted with the Millennium Development Goals set out by the UN. With the 2015 deadline looming they seem wildly ambitious contrasted with such continued suffering.

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

The Conservatives pledge a new approach to International Development should they win the next election. As this looks almost inevitable, it is important to examine what they propose as it will affect millions of lives.

What’s in the Report?

Contradictions, Choosing Winners and Losers, Gimmicks: “Bhutan’s got Talent”, Turing up in pair of flip-flops offering to build a school, Vouchers, Microfinance, Rejecting Universal Education, Rejecting Universal Healthcare, Fixation on Private Sector Wealth Creation, The Sanctity of Property Rights, Fighting the Wrong Battles, Some good points made it though

Horror stories abound on what was to be in the Tory plans. Although the Conservatives have pledged to dedicate 0.7% of GDP to Aid, it appears that appeals to populism and concessions to the right might have deprived the Department for International Development (DfID) of its autonomy. For example, the idea that an X-Factor style competition could determine where aid is spent is as horrifying as it is nonsensical.


I don’t think it is fair to judge the whole Tory policy on one sound-byte so I have waited to get a copy of the report before posting on it. To be honest, I have to agree with Paul Cotterill that it is “broadly well intentioned.” However, if executed I likewise believe it will do a lot more harm than good.


Paul does an excellent job illustrating the contradictions within the report. They perhaps giving a hint to the internal battles which rage within the Tory party when it comes to International Development. Or maybe Paul’s explanation, that the report is the result of a some junior staffers, Google and a handful of Tory rhetoric, is more likely. The contradictions come thick and fast, and substantially undermine the reports credibility.

Then there’s how work will be funded.

Apparently, funds will be paid in arrears, to make sure the job gets done:  ’We will adopt and champion the promising idea of ‘cash on delivery’ aid’ (p. 18).

Except that it won’t.  On the very same page, provision is made for payment in advance: ‘And we will need to ensure that developing countries are able to finance the up-front investments necessary to achieve the desired outputs’.

That’s clear then.

Choosing Winners and Losers

One of the ways in which the Conservatives claim to be  able to improve on Labour’s DfID is greater efficiency. This means not only an inevitable rhetorical flourish bemoaning Labour’s bloated bureaucracy but also an “[immediate] review [on] which of the 108 countries the Department for International Development currently gives aid to should continue to receive it.”

This should raise eyebrows. The full criteria for this review are not given but their target is clear. Spending $20bn on the Olympics was a step too far.

We will end aid to China, which has sufficient resources to fund its own development.

This may be one of the concessions which the right as wrung out of Cameron’s compassionate conservatives. Ben Brogan seems particularly pleased that aid to China is to be ended. However, it is utterly immoral, given all their prior grandstanding, to end aid to China.

From the IMF Datamapper. Prices shown at contemporary dollar value. In 1990 dollars China's current GDP per capita today stands at $2,172. In 1990 dollars China's GDP per capita in 2006 stood at $1,200

From the IMF Datamapper. Prices shown at contemporary dollar value. In 1990 dollars China's current GDP per capita ($3,622) is $2,172. In 1990 dollars China's GDP per capita in 2006 ($2,021) was $1,200. The relevance of these figures will become obvious below.

China and the Chinese are often treated as a political football. Those wishing to vacillate on Climate Change can use China’s pollution as an excuse to do nothing. It appears that the suffering of the Chinese people in sweatshops, mines and factories is now to be rewarded with a banner which reads “Mission Accomplished.”

Please allow me to put this move into perspective, in 1750 England’s GDP per capita (likewise measured in 1990 dollars) stood at $1,328. In 2006 China’s per capita GDP stood $128 below this. Today, on the brink of the worst global recession in a generation, China’s GDP pet capita is still only half of what the UK had achieved by the end of the 19th Century. The Tories announce that “Every life is precious” but when those live are collectively labelled “the People’s Republic of China” their well-being becomes a necessary sacrifice.

Gimmicks -“Bhutan’s got Talent”

The worst thing in this paper are the Gimmicks. They are not necessarily the most damaging proposals here, but they are a massive waste of resources and time. The MyAid section of the report is likely to be dropped, having been roundly denounced in the press and by charities. But I still feel it is instructive to show what was considered good enough to be included in the official Green Paper. The section is copied verbatim (pp 23-24)

“I think it’s a basic human instinct to want to help. But sometimes you just don’t know where the money’s going.” – Member of the British public

We are determined to strengthen public support for aid by giving individual British taxpayers a greater say over how and where it is spent. We will establish a new MyAid fund, worth £40 million in its first year. Every taxpayer will be able to log on to the MyAid website and view details of ten ongoing DFID-funded aid programmes, and vote for which one they think should receive the extra money. The options will include programmes run directly by DFID, as well as those run by respected NGOs. The Fund will then be distributed between the ten programmes in proportion to how many votes they  receive. For example, if 25 per cent of people vote for the DFID programme in Malawi, that programme would receive 25 per cent of the Fund – £10 million. Everyone who votes will be kept up to date with regular email updates about the progress of ‘their’ project.

We will consult carefully on the technical aspects of the voting system. The projects will be chosen so as to illustrate the range of activities in which DFID and NGOs are involved and the variety of countries they work in. This will increase public understanding of, interest in and support for Britain’s aid programme – and create a clear incentive for DFID to demonstrate and improve the quality and impact of its work. If this idea proves successful, we will scale it up in future years. One option would be to set the level of the fund so that it equals the total amount raised by Comic Relief.

Gimmicks – Turing up in pair of flip-flops offering to build a school…

Worryingly, there are plans to use “part of our growing aid budget to create opportunities for more young people to carry out voluntary work in developing countries as part of our plan for National Citizen Service.”

The developing world has a surplus of people compared to the number of jobs available. Sending middle-class kids to build schools is only depriving the most needy of a job which could help feed their family. The experience will be fantastic for those that go but utterly useless as a development strategy.

Gimmicks – Vouchers

On page 25, the paper suggests the introduction of a voucher scheme similar that suggested for schools in the UK. Individual aid recipients will be given vouchers or cash directly and will be able to choose between various aid agencies and NGOs. This is designed to increase competition and efficiency. It will be a disaster.

In vast swathes of the world there are no aid agencies operating and in other places there are not enough to provide the choice these vouchers imply.

Where these vouchers are introduced there will simply be an increase in internal NGO bureaucracy to process the collection of funding, an increase in the marketing budget to the detriment of real work and a duplication of capacity as various agencies overreach themselves. In short, vouchers are a disaster waiting to happen.

Gimmicks – Microfinance

CoinsTheir plans to introduce Microfinance funding can be welcomed. Microfinance involves lending small unsecured loans to those who could never get credit from a bank, slum dwellers, women and propertyless entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, Microfinance will only ever be a palliative, not a cure for the poverty of the developing world. By focusing on Microfinace the Tories seem to sidestep the problems posed by volatile transnational capital flows which those in developing are confronted with.

As a poverty reducing strategy its results are relatively ambiguous. An article in The Economist goes to lengths to examine the validity of the claim that Microfinance reduces poverty. Of 104 slums in Hydrabad, India, half were given access to Microfinance and half were not. The results are interesting as “there was no effect on average household consumption, at least within a year to 18 months of the experiment.”

Increasing the ease with which the entrepreneurial poor can get access to investment did produce some positive results, but not the sort of change which the Tories seem to expect.

Rejecting Universal Education

It is a truism for the Tories that the state does not have to be the sole provider of education. They plan to extend this logic to their International Development strategy. (p 35)

Unfortunately, given the Tories record of education I have to be sceptical about their intentions. Presented as a method for fighting “special interests” which oppose improvements in educations, it appears that their proposals are more interested in fostering a small well-educated cadre at the expense of a comprehensive universal education system.

The Tories want to help ensure a universal service, but they have turned their back on the state led education and knowledge dispersion which saw the creation of educated working and middle classes in the UK, Korea, Germany and Japan.

Rejecting Universal Education

Red CrossThe similarities between their attitudes towards education and healthcare are obvious. A (un)healthy dose of private investment and a promise that “[w]e will not insist that developing countries follow the exact path that we in Britain have taken – that is a choice for them to make.” (p37)

Evidence of another concession which the right have won from Cameron. The language is clear, there is no way Conservative funds will be used to support a comprehensive health system, not beyond malaria nets and rehydration therapy (although the £500m dedicated to fighting Malaria will produce real results).

Fixation on Private Sector Wealth Creation

It will sound odd to the right but the Private Sector is not the only wealth creator. Moreover, with the partial exception on England, the Government of most now developed Countries played a large and crucial role in their development.

In Germany, when it was attempting to catch up with England, the state directed bank lending towards certain industries. In early 20th century Russia, the Government provided investment funds directly to entrepreneurs to foster development. In Japan the countries first railways were constructed by the state. In general, and despite some lingering disagreements, development in South East Asia must be seen as a success of activist trade, investment and technology policies pursued by the state.

Contrary to popular conception, the later a country is trying to develop, the more vital the role of the state becomes in fostering entrepreneurship, building infrastructure, and managing trade. And there are no policies designed to foster this autonomous activist state in the Tories’ Green Paper.

The Sanctity of Property Rights

The Conservatives pledge to uphold property rights, however, sometimes violating property rights can lead to positive developmental outcomes. To quote Ha Joon-Chang:

Security of property rights cannot be regarded as something good in itself. There are many examples in history in which the preservation of certain property rights has proved harmful for economic development and where the violation of certain existing property rights (and the creation of new ones) was actually beneficial for economic development.

Hence, what mattes for economic development is not simply the nature of all existing property rights regardless of their nature, but which property rights are protected under which conditions. If there are groups who are able to utilize certain existing properties better than their current owners, it may be better for the society not to protect existing property rights, but to create new ones that transfer the properties concerned to the former groups.

For example, violating the property rights to the landed aristocracy in Latin America could provoke a huge increase in income for people who live in rural areas. So too, violating the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies has extended thousand or millions of lives as HIV medication has become more affordable.

Fighting the Wrong Battles

handshakeThis is a dirty little secret. Whisper it: Corrupt countries get rich too. But you couldn’t tell this from the Conservatives’ determination to withdraw all funding from development projects if any corruption is uncovered (p 17).

This is a controversial position. I understand that the views expressed here may one day be quoted out of context so I would at least like to more fully explain before I am attacked. I believe an accountable democratic government is a basic human right, I also believe it is the best form of government for humane development.

However, the historical record of now developed countries like the UK, Japan or South Korea show that an democratically accountable government is not necessary to develop successfully. By concentrating on corruption the Tories are continuing to waste resources and direct attention from the real developmental tasks at hand.

The UK wasn’t a functioning democracy until 1928, when full suffrage was introduced. In Switzerland this stage wasn’t reached until 1971. The development of these countries’ economies certainly suffered as a result, but their successes still give lie to the idea that democracy and development go hand in hand.

As Japan and Korea developed, corruption was common and democracy mainly a sham. The state and private sector worked hand in hand, favours were exchanged for favours and nepotism was rife. However, the ties which this fostered, as corrupt and unfair as they were, produced economic miracles nearly unsurpassed in human history.

Some good points made it though

I do not want to pretend that nothing in this report is good. There are some concrete positive steps proposed which are to be welcomed. For example, “If elected, a new Conservative Government will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income as aid.”

0.7% sounds small, but it can make a massive difference. The efficiency of the methods selected by the Tories leaves a great deal to be desired, but at least part of their programme is moving in the right direction. Likewise, if they are genuine about their commitment to support steps relieving Heavily Indebted Poor Countries of their debt, then that is another really positive step.

However, some other parts of the report contain promises which appear to pay little more than lip service to some very important issues, but if followed through can make a big difference. The section of Arms Control on page 45 is worryingly brief, and proposes an international settlement, rather than positive moves a new administration could instigate immediately. A focus on conflict resolution is fantastic too (p 42) as poverty and global inequality impact on  Britain’s security. This angle will make a ring-fenced DfID budget more palatable to the rest of the Party and may help safeguard a vulnerable department. However, again, I am unsure if the means proposed are going to achieve the ends to avoid conflict.

Their support for Fair Trade appears like a brief flirtation with a fashionable idea, rather than an ideological or pragmatic commitment. Much like their plans for Microfinance and putting all of DfID on the web. One thing which I hope will not be a gimmick is their commitment to reproductive health and to women’s rights (p 37). Poverty disproportionately affect women and a successful International Development strategy has to be gendered.

There are some genuinely positive steps proposed, but again the worry which I have is how effectively they can be implemented.  For example investment in Infrastructure is vital (p 35). But by insisting it is all contracted out to private companies there is a real danger that the roads will appear but that money will simply be exchanged between a western government and a western firm, without the money reaching the people who need it.

Likewise, the proposal to support both a Green (agricultural) and a Blue (water use) revolution in Africa is one step which could help lift millions out of poverty and dependency. (p34) But despite it being an essential part of a sustainable development strategy, the methods proposed above just do not tally with the expected results.

Perhaps one area where we can rely on the Tories to be ideologically and pragmatically aligned with the developing world, is the reduction of tariffs in the EU (p 30). They know it will get British people cheaper food (this is vital as they will be cutting state expenditure) and will increase the income of developing nations.

A Pernicious lie Takes Centre Stage

This report is a failure. There are more which could be teased out however, I hope that I have provided a more than adequate summary of the shortcomings of this report.

The lie which the Tories use to prop up their policies is that “Capitalism and development was Britain’s gift to the world.” It is ironic that this paper which is so quick to invoke history is so blind to the lessons that might have drawn from it.

Capitalism has led to huge increases in productivity, wealth and living standards. But it is not the free market that has led to countries becoming wealthier. Capitalism has only taken hold and produced this development when it is embedded within a state and society which directs it towards this task.

This is what the Tories have ignored when they focused on Gimmicks, the private sector and popularity contests in their hurriedly written Green Paper. One World Conservatism is a well intentioned but fatally flawed scheme.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, , , , , ,

If this is democracy then I’m Robert Kilroy Silk

Is it just me or is voting incredibly underwhelming? I understand I am expressing a right which people have died for, which people have killed for, which billions lack… and yet I find it all a bit dull. Which leads me to believe that there must be something more to democracy than this crass expression of preference for my overlords.

Green_Party_of_England_and_Wales_logo In this election we are presented with a difficult choice because so many of the Parties involved have become tarnished. On top of this, even some very good Parties like the Greens have some terrible policies, this is not enough to stop me supporting them, but it is enough to cause a pause.

But the main problem is the problem with our system is the disconnect between cause and effect; between my vote and the political settlement ultimately reached.

I don’t want this post to be about voting systems, or the failures of the European Parliament, manifold though they are. This is about a deeper malaise caused by the distance between the parties we vote for and the politics that affects our real life. Labour party membership is at its lowest ebb in a century precisely because they have abandoned the connection which once allowed them to claim they were the party of the people.

I can understand why some people might not vote. The odds of making a difference are incredibly slim, occasionally single votes do decide elections, but these events are so rare that they only highlights how little our vote matters. People are worried about their jobs, about their health, about what it is the EU is actually for, about immigration[1], about deindustrialisation, about sexism, about racism, about a illegal wars and the special relationship.

Politics will not rediscover its flavour with the election of David Cameron, nor will it excite people if by some miracle Gordon Brown hangs on at the General Election. Politics does not need to be enlivening for itself, but if democracy and liberty do not excite people then something is clearly missing.

What is missing is a dedicated campaign to achieve something positive[2]. The campaign 38 degrees is a worthy start, even if it has a crap name, towards building a larger movement, but until that disconnect between little “p” politics and big “p” Politics is bridged voting will remain an underwhelming act.

[1] Whether they are hatemongers like the Mail and Express or citizens concerned for immigrants rights people care about this subject.

[2] The biggest campaign I have seen this election has been the anti-fascist campaign. They have done their research, they have mocked them, they have made videos and they have got people out to vote but it is not a pro-active campaign, it is a reaction.an

Filed under: History, Politics, , , , , , ,

Left Outside by Labour and Shat on by the Press

Welcome to Left Outside.

This is a blog I felt I had to start for two reasons. Firstly, I felt compelled to begin writing because I don’t feel represented by those in power and I don’t think many other people do any more. I admit that The Labour Party betrayed its roots a long time ago but I never believed it would sink so low as it has. Call me naive if you will…

Secondly, I don’t believe that they are being held to account by our moribund media. Their responsibility is to hold up to scrutiny those in power, and those seeking it too (that means you Dave). I believe the press are failing us and there is plentiful evidence to support this here, here, here and elsewhere.

I will endeavour to post as frequently as I can and I hope that I can better the quality of what is currently on offer.

Filed under: Blogging, , , ,

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