Shorter BBC: Chief Drug Adviser sacked for truth telling

Long BBC:

Drug adviser sacked for comments

Woman smoking

 

Proff Nutt criticised the reclassification of cannabis

The UK’s chief drugs adviser has been sacked by home secretary Alan Johnson after criticising government policies.

Professor David Nutt had been critical of the decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B from Class C.

He accused ministers of devaluing and distorting evidence and said the drugs classification system was being used in a “political way”.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which he headed, is the UK’s official drugs advisory body.

Shorter BBC: Chief Drug Adviser sacked for telling the truth. And we don’t want the truth anywhere near our drugs policy, now do we?

Even shorter BBC: Chief Drug Adviser sacked for being better at his job than the home secretary was at hers.

If this is true then it is a slap in the face for anyone who thinks that policy should be based on evidence.

It seems experts are now expected to give the evidence they are asked for and to say “Thank you, sir. Can I have another?” when their evidence is ignored and they are rudely slapped down.

Help Please: I’m thinking of doing a masters

Hello out there. How are you all? Well? Excellent, glad to hear it! Now onto me.

I’m stupendously bored working in customer service, it really is dull. So I am developing an exit strategy: studying for a Masters in 2010! I’d do it part time and in 2012 I’ll probably become an Olympic Sprinter. I have it all planned out.

In all seriousness, for the moment, it looks like the course I would most like to study is this one in Global History from LSE.

Paper Course number and title
1a EH481 Economic Change in Global History: Approaches and Analysis (Half Unit, Michaelmas term)
1b EH479 Dissertation in Global History (10,000 words)  (Half Unit)
2 Either:EH482 Pre-modern Paths of Growth: East and West compared, c.1000-1800Or:

EH483 The Development and Integration of the World Economy in the 19th and 20th centuries

3 One of the following (if not taken under paper 2):EH482 Pre-modern Paths of Growth: East and West compared, c.1000-1800
EH483 The Development and Integration of the World Economy in the 19th and 20th centuries
HY423 Empire, Colonisation and Globalization
HY437 ‘Global Oceans’: Empires, Ideas and Migrations 1750-1914
4 Either, one full unit from (i) (if not already taken under paper 2 or 3 (above) OR, two half-units – one from (ii) and one from (iii) below: (i) Full unit course: EH446 Economic Development of East and Southeast Asia
EH462 Latin American Development in the Twentieth Century: From Liberalism to Neo-Liberalism
EH482 Pre-modern Paths of Growth: East and West compared, c.1000-1800
EH483 The Development and Integration of the World Economy in the 19th and 20th centuries(ii) Half-units to be taken in Michaelmas Term:

EH412 Research Topics in Economic History: Economic Globalization: Long-term Trends and Consequences
EH413 African Economic Development in Historical Perspective
EH417 Political Economy of Late Industrialisation (n/a 09/10)
EH447 Great Depressions in Economic History

 EH467 Epidemics: Epidemic Disease in History, 1348-2000
EU461 Economic History of Southeastern Europe and the Middle East, 1820-1945

 (iii) Half-units to be taken in Lent Term:

EH404 India and the World Economy
EH408 International Migration, 1500-2000: From Slavery to Asylum (n/a 09/10)
EH412 Research Topics in Economic History: The Development of International Financial Institutions and Markets
EH418 Research Issues in African Economic Development* (n/a 09/10)
EH423 Japan and Korea as Developing Countries
EH466 Labour and Work in Preindustrial Europe
EH485 Scientific, Technical and Useful Knowledge from Song China to the Industrial Revolution (n/a 09/10)
EH486 Shipping and Sea Power in Asian Waters, c.1600-1860 (n/a 09/10)
EH487 International Economic Institutions since World War I 
EU438 Turkey: Political Economy and European Integration  

Freaking awesome syllabus (my favourites in bold). And the location is perfect for me to develop one of those really London centric biases all the best blogs have…

But, what’s it like? Anyone out there done that course at LSE? Or a similar course elsewhere? Or any course at LSE? Any courses in London to recommend?

Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

UPDATE: Psst, Giles. Was this the course you did? If so, whats it like (via comments)?

Why I love and loathe The Economist

Sometimes I read The Economist and I start smiling from ear to ear. Although they’re the enemy, there isn’t really another newspaper of that quality and depth out there.

For example, they’ve been giving away copies to attract readers and the leading article supplied is this one on How to Stop the Drugs War. Distributed in The Times, The Observer and elsewhere, for free, the economist argues to legalise drugs, tax them, regulate them but to ultimately let people control their own lives. Sadly, a somewhat out there proposition these days, and one I whole heartedly agree with.

In this weeks edition I was no less pleased to see this exchange in the letters section.

SIR – Philip Bowring’s account of the Far Eastern Economic Review’s encounter with the Singapore government is inaccurate (Letters, October 17th). In 1987 the government restricted the circulation of the Review after it had engaged in Singapore’s domestic politics. But an advertisement-free version was distributed widely at bookshops and supermarkets, and sold more than 1,000 copies. In March 1988 the Review applied to produce a similar version. The government agreed, subject to a ceiling of 2,000 copies, but the Review refused its offer. Would this have happened in Maoist China and North Korea?

Michael Eng Cheng Teo
High commissioner for Singapore
London

SIR – You will be tempted to give the Singapore government the last word on its censorship strategy—as its “right of reply” policy demands—but this will neutralise the criticism of Mr Bowring and others. Readers will simply assume you agree with the government. Assuming you don’t, please print this alongside its next rebuttal, to expose this subtle yet powerful manipulation of the press.

Duncan M. Butlin
Chichester, West Sussex

However, sometimes The Economist gets it badly wrong. It sometimes carriers some very measured and well thought out journalism and reporting, but it sometimes merely carries right-wing propaganda. I don’t know what I was expecting from an article reviewing two books on Ayn Rand, but I definitely wasn’t expecting outright falsehood and lies.

Her insight in “Atlas Shrugged”—that society cannot thrive unless it is willing to give freedom to its entrepreneurs and innovators—has proved to be prescient. Even if John Galt is under threat once again in the West, he is back in business in China and India.

Take a look at the below figures taken from the World Bank‘s Business Planning website. I’m not so sure Mr Galt would enjoy the orient all that much after all. The Economist seems to think he would, funny old world.

Ease of doing business in ChinaEase of doing Business in India

Ease of doing business in US

Ease of doing business in UK

Jan Moir first draft: The truth about my views on the tragic death of Stephen Gately

A first draft of a piece to be published in tomorrow’s Daily Mail has recently fallen into my hands. In it Jan Moir has explained her motivations for writing an article on the death of Steven Gately. Of course there are bound to be revisions before it is published but I think it is important it is published now.

Last week, I was 500 words short for my deadline and I thought I’d fill this column about the death of Boyzone star Stephen Gately.

To my glee, it has been widely circulated beyond any normal figures for my mediocre writings. Obviously, a great deal of offence has been taken and I regret any affront caused. This was never my intention, I only wanted to attract readers.

To be the focus of such depth of feeling has been an interesting experience, but I do not complain, well apart from this complaint of course. After all, I am not  –  unlike those close to Stephen Gately  –  mourning for the loss of a much-loved partner, son, family member and close friend. No, I am just sticking the boot in.

To them, I would like to say sorry if I have caused distress by the insensitive timing of the column, published so close to the funeral. How was I to know the timing would be so awful, writing just following his death and handing it over to the sub-editor moments after the results of the post-mortem were revealed (results I ignored).

The point of my article was to suggest that, in my honest opinion, Stephen Gately’s death raised many unanswered questions. What had really gone on? I thought, this is a fun game… Let’s Guess!

After all, Stephen was a role model for the young and if drugs were somehow involved in his death, as news reports suggested, should that not be a matter of public interest? Or at least voyeuristic and parasitic gutter journalism?

We were told that Stephen died of ‘natural causes’ even before toxicology results had been released, of course I care deeply about medical procedure, that is why I referenced the post-mortem so heavily in my recent column.

Absolutely none of this had anything to do with his sexuality. If he had been a heterosexual member of a boy band, I would have written exactly the same article. I hate everyone.

Yet despite this, many have interpreted my words as a ‘bigoted rant’ and suggested that my motive was to insinuate that Stephen died ‘because he was gay’. Of course I don’t think he died because he was gay, it was because he was a promiscuous gay, and a druggy.

Anyone who knows me will vouch that I have never held such poisonous views… or else.

It is worth stressing that the version of events I recounted in my column had already been in the public domain, having been described in detail in several “newspapers.”

What had been reported about that night is that Stephen and his civil partner Andrew Cowles went to a nightclub and brought back a Bulgarian man to their apartment. An immigrant no less, if you know what I mean.

There were also reports of drug-taking. Yes, hey had been to a bar… and drunk! Alcohol! One of the most damaging drugs there is! And some pot, but most sensible people know that’s harmless. Following this, it was reported that Cowles went to the bedroom with the Bulgarian – damn immigrants, coming over here taking our gays – while Stephen remained on the sofa. I have never thought, or suggested, that what happened that night represented a so-called gay lifestyle; this is not how most gay people live.

Rather, I thought it a louche lifestyle; one that raised questions about ‘elf and personal safety.

There have been complaints about my use of the word ‘sleazy’ to describe this incident, but I still maintain that to die on a sofa while your partner is sleeping with someone else in the next room is, indeed, sleazy, no matter who you are or what your sexual orientation might be. But especially if you are gay.

My assertion that there was ‘nothing natural’ about Stephen’s death has been wildly misinterpreted. I wonder how, indeed.

What I meant by ‘nothing natural’ was that the natural duration of his life had been tragically shortened in a way that was shocking and out of the ordinary. So I simply had to write, immidieatly and in grotesque detail about waht I thought had happened.

As for Stephen’s civil partnership, I am on the record as supporting same-sex marriages.

The point of my observation that there was a ‘happy ever after myth’ surrounding such unions was that they can be just as problematic as heterosexual marriages. (No shit sherlock, we can leave it in though, they’ll lap it up – ed)

Indeed, I would stress that there was nothing in my article that could not be applied to a heterosexual couple as well as to a homosexual one.

This brings me back to the bile, the fury, the inflammatory hate mail and the repeated posting of my home address on the internet.

To say it was a hysterical overreaction would be putting it mildly, though clearly much of it was an orchestrated campaign by pressure groups and those with agendas of their own. Like promoting gayness and such.

However, I accept that many people  –  on Twitter and elsewhere  –  were merely expressing their own personal and heartfelt opinions or grievances. This said, I can’t help wondering: is there a compulsion today to see bigotry and social intolerance where none exists by people who are determined to be outraged? Or was it a failure of communication on my part? Its political correctness gone mad. You couldn’t make it up apart form where I did.

Certainly, something terrible went wrong as my column ricocheted through cyberspace, unread by many who complained, yet somehow generally and gleefully accepted into folklore as a homophobic rant.

It lit a spark, then a flame and turned into a roaring ball of hate fire, blazing unchecked and unmediated across the internet. (You sure we can get away with this? – ed)

Yet as the torrent of abuse continued, most of it anonymous – at least when I insult the dead I make sure I put my byline on it – I also had thousands of supportive emails from readers and well-wishers, many of whom described themselves as the silent majority – I never knew I was big in Switerland. The outcry was not as one-sided as many imagine.

Their view, and mine, was that it was perfectly reasonable of me to comment upon the manner of Stephen Gately’s death immediaetly and callously, even if there are those who think that his celebrity and sexuality make him untouchable. I wouldn’t touch him, filthy gayer.

Can it really be that we are becoming a society where no one can dare to question the circumstances or behaviour of a person who happens to be gay without being labelled a homophobe? If so, that is deeply troubling. When Elton dies I’m really worried I won’t be able to make stuff up about kidnapped Eastern European Children.

(We should probably tag something like this on at the end “Finally, I would just like to say that whatever did or did not happen in Majorca, a talented young man died before his time. This, of course, is a matter of regret and sadness for us all.” – ed)

Interesting stuff hey? Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1222246/The-truth-views-tragic-death-Stephen-Gately.html#ixzz0Ui9p5NFE

Give ’em enough rope

The BNP leader Nick Griffin gave a ridiculous performance on Question Time, it seems too soon to really take stock of what happened, but it looked like car crash from where I was watching.

Later on This Week, Diane Abbott mentioned that it may not look so embarrassing outside of multicultural London, but I’m not so sure. Someone pretending it is illegal to explain their views on the Holocaust doesn’t go down well anywhere.

Neither do I think he looked bullied, everyone was just in shock at the nonsense pouring out of his mouth.

The only weak part of the evening was when the evening turned to immigration. Labour, Lib Dems and Conservative MPs all tried to talk tough sat opposite Nasty Nick.

Has the Government position on immigration helped the BNP? It depends if 5 acts in 12 years is not enough for you. It depends if removing all legal entries to the UK for asylum seekers is too soft for you. It depends if you think immigrants paying 37% more in tax than they claim in benefits, as they did last year, counts as scrounging.

Perhaps the Government has helped the BNP, but not in the way they think it has, judging by the answers given tonight.

Luckily Nick Griffin is a moron, no racist can look otherwise. Give the man enough rope and he’ll hang himself, give him enough airtime and he’ll tie himself in knots.

Platform the Bastard, he hasn’t got a chance.

A Memorandum to Libertarians and Socialists: Part Two

I began confronting my detractors yesterday, in my first Memo to Libertarians and Socialists.

This is the second – although probably not final – response to those who attacked my Open Letter and those who were just plain bemused.

Don Paskini and Andreas Paterson: England got rich through hundreds of years of having an empire and didn’t practice what it preached

Don Paskini criticised my characterisation of England, Hong Kong and Singapore as countries which became rich through free market capitalism.

He suggested that I had been to generous to Libertarians, and that the policies and actions of these countries were still miles removed from what Libertarians actually suggest.

That is England as in ‘got rich through hundreds of years of having an empire’, Hong Kong which is run by the Chinese Communist Party and Singapore as in the country which is ranked as being ‘partly free’ by Freedom House and ‘having a mix of authoritarian and democratic elements’ by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

I think Don has badly misunderstood England’s growth, or at least misinterpreted parts of its successes badly.

He is certainly right in some ways. Critics of the current aim to provide 0.7% of national income as aid often talk as though we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. Don is right to challenge this, it was the bootstraps of Ghana, India, Ireland, Latin America and elsewhere on which we hitched a ride.

However, Don has given too much credence to this argument. England’s transformation from a rural European backwater to the Land of Hope and Glory isn’t the free market success story many believe, but it is significantly closer than most other places

As Andreas Paterson argued, Britain didn’t always practice what it preached. From Edward III to Walpole, national leaders had often taken steps to try and push Britain’s industries towards the technological frontier of the time. Edward III banned imports of Woollen cloth to try and encourage domestic production and Walpole introduced regulation on the quality of British products so that foreign competitors could not harm her business.

Even in the 1820s, as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing tariffs remained higher than in Switzerland, Belgium Germany, the US and the Netherlands.

However, in other ways Britain was a very free market country. By the 19th Century, land had been parcelled out nicely by enclosure, and there was a large workforce with no other means to subsistence but its labour. It had a well defined legal system and well protected property rights, compared with other countries of the period.

Very few other places can say this, despite their protestations but free trade was introduced in Britain – if only once it became the undisputed leader in Europe and hence the world. Don is right that Britain did suck in a huge amount of resources from the regions in its orbit, but it is mad to ignore the productive forces which the marketisation of British society had released.

Paul Sagar: Mill would ban smoking in bars

I disagree with Paul here, the smoking ban is fundamentally illiberal in my eyes. Paul argues that:

Er, there’s a long-standing Millian argument that you can ban smoking in pubs because it does hurt other people…

However, the other side of Mill is that no one is forced to take a job. If people do not wish to work in a smoky environment they can take another job.

You will only arrive at the idea that a smoking ban is acceptable in Millian terms if you also figure in arguments that people have to take any job they can get. For example, you can prefigure the existence of a Marxian lumpenproleteriat. Or you can assume that markets are not self-clearing in terms of stick prices or information asymmetries. In either case, you introduce imbalances in Mill’s arguments which mean you cannot appeal to the Harm Principle in this way.

I agree that people are forced to take work under conditions that they may dislike, especially in a recession like we are experiencing now. I see capitalism as inherently cyclical and moreover I see job destructions almost as much a part of booms as busts.

I don’t find the argument convincing in utilitarian terms either, given the damage which can be done to rural and urban communities on the exit of “the local” and the increase in inconvenience for those forced to no longer frequent pubs as they used to.

But I do not think a smoking ban is justifiable on the grounds presented. Smoking licences, perhaps.

Ideally there would be more provisions for those seeking work, so that they could make positive choices, rather than have to take the first job going. As a compromise which I would be comfortable with I would also love a licensing scheme where a number of pubs per county could apply for smoking licences. Staff can be protected – as those who don’t smoke can swap with those that do and vice versa – and people can smoke freely.

And I say all this as a non-smoker who probably prefers pubs now. At least those still open and still busy.

Martin, Bella Gerens and DK: There is no difference between civil and economic freedom. There is only one freedom, the “freedom from X”

This is a difficult area for common ground for Socialists and Libertarians.

While I think we agree there shouldn’t be a difference between the economic and social spheres I think we differ on whether capitalism is simply the expression of natural social relations or some form of perversion.

When I say “[s]o long as you don’t hurt anyone else, do as you like. But for not one second does the evidence suggest this is a good guiding principle when it comes to economics,” I am arguing against capitalist economic relations, this is something which makes discussing this with Libertarians very difficult.

Another root of this fracture tend to stem from our views on value and labour. For Marxists this presents itself in the difference between an items use value and its exchange value. Others are uncomfortable with the idea of a market in Labour.

A Casio watch is a commodity it is produced for sale, truck and barter. Labour is just another word for human activity, which goes with life itself.

…on this specific subject, there is of course much more to come, but that will have to wait.

Prepare for part three, which will include…

Martin, Bella Gerens and DK: There is no difference between civil and economic freedom. There is only one freedom, the “freedom from X” continued…

Chris Dillow (via e-mail) and Bella Gerens: Mixed economies are not the best way to generate wealth and even if they were, so what?

Mr Potarto and DK: Private property must be respected. If I shoplift then I increase my quality of life. If everyone shoplifts, the stores close and we all suffer.

DK: Enclosure is merely an excellent example of “the tragedy of the commons”

Thomas Byrne: Can we not have a “People of the world, unite against the corporations?”

…and probably more of Tim Worstall and I arguing about America.

A Memorandum to Libertarians and Socialists: Part One

My Open Letter has attracted far more responses than I originally expected.

I’ve joined the “elite” group of people who Tim Worstall disagrees with; I’ve had both Mr and Mrs Devil pay their respects; Chris Dillow (via e-mail) does not think it wise to base my arguments for Socialism on what produces growth and I have to concede they all have a point.

Ultimately, I agree with Paul Sagar. He thinks I’m mad to have “picked some people there who bite back hard.” And that’s without Charlotte Gore even writing her response yet. Yikes.

This memo will challenge some of the arguments against me, and clarify where people misunderstand me, and hopefully attract some more ire from the right of the blogosphere.

Memo: Part One

First of all, I would like to say that I did tip into hyperbole at times.

When I cite  “the overwhelming body of evidence in favour of Socialism,” even I have to admit I might be overreaching my grasp. In reality, I should claim there is enough evidence for me, and I believe there is enough evidence for most.

I will now confront the arguments levelled against me in no particular order.

Tim Worstall: Free Trade doesn’t matter

I’m sure that isn’t what Tim was intending to argue, but I can’t understand what he said any other way.

I argued that:

America is not a free trade nation and never has been, it is the home and bastion of protectionism. It built up its industries not in competition with Britain, but with intense protection from her output.

Whereas Tim disagrees:

The internal US market was by far the largest free trade area on the planet. The astonishing growth, invention and efficiency of the US economy is not an argument in favour of protectionism at all: it’s a sterling example of the benefits of free trade in action.

Further, it’s a bit of a mistake to think that in the late 19th, early 20th century they were sheltering that huge market behind high tariff barriers. There were indeed high  nominal tariffs, this is true, but they aren’t the only barrier to trade. There are also transport costs to think about. And the technological revolution in shipping from 1860 ish to 1910 meant that, even as tariffs themselves rose, the actual trade barriers (tariffs plus transport costs) fell. (The figures are detailed here.)

So, no, we don’t get to claim the US economy as proof that protectionism works.

To me this seems like an odd argument, trade is free or it is not. Secondly, when it comes to the “largest free trade area on the planet,” the UK had a pretty huge free trade zone too, I would appreciate some more input on exactly how accurate Tim’s characterisation is. Moreover, the UK – at its height – practised free trade as no one else did.

Now Tim argues that Tariffs didn’t matter to America for two reasons. One, that domestic firms were put under enough competitive pressure to innovate and grow without external pressure, due in part to the unique nature of the US. And two, that although tariffs were high, it didn’t really matter, because their effect was ultimately small, so firms were still affected by external competitive pressure.

I hope I haven’t misinterpreted him, but this seems the root of it.

Although accurate figures are hard to come I have some information here on US Tariff rates for the 19th to 20th Century. Considering the US is often vaulted as the capitalist’s capitopia it is interesting to reflect on its chequered history on “free trade.”

Average Tariff Rates on Manufactured Products for the USA (weighted average; in percentages of value)

Year vs. Average Tariff Rate

1820 35-45

1875 40-50

1913 44

1925 37

1931 48

1950 14

As we can see average tariff rates hover around 40% for a century (these figures hide much variation, but outline the general trend), then drop into the 30s in the 1920s before rocketing back up to slightly over the historical average, courtesy or Smoot and Hawley.

Tim argues that decreasing transport costs in the late 1800s meant that tariffs played only a very minor role in the successful catch up of the US.

It is strange that Tim seeks to write off tariffs as not particularly significant, when their existence is perhaps the prime cause for the American Civil War. The Northern industrial states were very keen to maintain their protection, while the Southern agrarian states were dead set against them.

Slavery was the lead cause of succession but it was not the only reason the Union and Confederacy entered into war. The desire of the South to exit the Union in order to escape its tariff regime should not be underestimated. Tariffs indeed had an effect in these years, war is not entered into lightly.

Throughout the 19th century and up until the 1920s America continued to enjoy the strongest rates of growth despite being the most protectionist.

Tim cannot argue that something supposedly so harmful can in fact be utterly benign when reductions in transport costs are accounted for. Not without seriously more evidence.

Also: Doing some digging on Worstall’s blog I found something contradictory, yippee for me.

Another way of looking at it. If boosting trade is indeed so important, then we should be looking at ways to do it in the most efficient manner. Patrick Minford has pointed out that leaving the EU and having free trade would boost the economy by 3%.

This seems somewhat counter to what Tim is arguing about the US. If the relatively large US internal market applied enough pressure to US firms, then surely the massively larger internal market of the EU can do the same for the UK? However, I don’t think you will find this is what Tim would argue.

I’m not arguing in favour of protectionism in general; I can’t really see what the UK doesn’t just unilaterally drop all barriers – or preferable set up a 10 year plan to gradually reduce them all to zero.

However, in certain historical circumstances, such as in the US, specific protectionism can be a really positive economic step. Tim attempts to argue this is obviously untrue and fails utterly.

Jeff: Socialists took all my crack money

We need to talk. Look at this graph.

Total Public Spending as a percentage of GDP 1951 1990

The first bar represents public spending as a percentage of GDP at the end of Socialist Demagogue Clement Atlee’s tenure: 37.98%.

The last bar represents public spending as a percentage of GDP at the end of Capitalist Demagogue Margaret Thatcher’s tenure: 34.92%.

Now I appreciate a man in your position wants all the crack you can get, but these figures should give you some pause for thought.

Neither the left nor the right really wants to take ownership of either of these. Perhaps I could have done more with the resources Atlee had to avoid the slumps on the horizon. And I’m sure Guido Fawkes could have slashed and burned far more effectively than that spendthrift Thatcher.

Sometimes, there isn’t that much difference between the two “extremes” of the British party system.

Memo End: More to come tomorrow

That’s it for tonight, I’m a bit sleepy. Below are the proposition which I will be challenging and a succinct summary of their argument.

I don’t want to challenge straw men, so rest assured I will flesh out your arguments more than I imply in these glib summaries.

Paul Sagar: Mill would ban smoking in bars

Don Paskini and Andreas Paterson: England got rich through hundreds of years of having an empire and didn’t practice what it preached

Martin, Bella Gerens and DK: There is no difference between civil and economic freedom. There is only one freedom, the “freedom from X”

Mr Potarto and DK: Private property must be respected. If I shoplift then I increase my quality of life. If everyone shoplifts, the stores close and we all suffer.

DK: Enclosure is merely an excellent example of “the tragedy of the commons”

Chris Dillow (via e-mail) and Bella Gerens: Mixed economies are not the best way to generate wealth and even if they were, so what?

Further Reading: A Memorandum to Libertarians and Socialists: Part Two

An Open Letter to Libertarians and Socialists

A spectre is haunting the blogosphere – the spectre of Libertarianism.

Nothing would please me more than to give in to its haunting charms. Libertarianism is neat, it is consistent and it is beautiful. Its economics are marvellously simple; a tidy web of self-interested individuals reaching an equilibrium and prospering.

People can exchange what they have earned for what others have created, and through this voluntary exchange everyone ends up even more prosperous than before. Ad infinitum.

When pure, Libertarianism is consistent too; drugs are yours, as is sex and smoking indoors, so long as you don’t coerce anyone to get hold of them.

Those “without” go with what charity can provide. Those “with” keep it, because there are no grounds for removing it; you own yourself and what you produce. Because when people are free they produce fabulous wealth those without become less and less numerous, and the burden on charity becomes less and less burdensome.

However, like a rubber sheet loaded with a lead ball, Government distorts and tangles this beautiful web, drawing prosperity towards its own centres of gravity and will eventual tear a hole in it.

The only thing that’s warns me away from this beautiful web is the overwhelming body of evidence in favour of Socialism.

Libertarians

Now that I’ve set up the straw man, it is time to flesh him out so that I can explain what I really mean.

As mentioned at LibCon, some people really don’t get Libertarianism and I don’t want to talk about morons like Roger Helmer – Bella Gerens explains what a real Libertarian is to her. No, it is Charlotte Gore, our humble Devil, Mr Eugenides, Tim Worstall and The Economist that I need to challenge.

First things first

The economics of Libertarianism are not what got us here. The world is fabulously but it isn’t the free market that got us here, it was a hobbled, chained and unfree market.

England, Hong Kong, Singapore. I’ll admit that these are the places which got to where they were mostly by the free market, however each is unique in its own way and has little to teach us.

Germany, America, South Korea – in fact, the rest of the rich world – got to where it is today by ignoring Libertarian fantasies and by embracing some form of blatant non-market intervention. This is where there are lessons for those that really need them.

Germany didn’t lead the second industrial revolution when the state “got out the way.” It became an industrial leader when state created entrepreneurs set up businesses and state sanctioned banks created credit for strategic industries.

America is not a free trade nation and never has been, it is the home and bastion of protectionism. It built up its industries not in competition with Britain, but with intense protection from her output.

South Korea’s firms did not compete against each other under the careful eye of a night-watchman state. These firms were arranged into giant chaebols, they were infected with nepotism and were deep in the pockets of Government, yet it produced one of the great miracles of the 20th Century.

Property Rights

In an argument atypical, perhaps anathema, to some Libertarians Tim Worstall argues that…

…creators have rights over their creations because we want to encourage the next creator to create. Nobody gives a damn how much effort goes into creating something, the labour used or indeed any other resource used. All we actually care about is encouraging more people to create more things: and to do so we reward those who have created.

In essence, Tim’s argument is that intellectual property rights – and by extension, all property rights – need to be protected because they make us all better off. By working backwards from results to the system which yields them, Tim gives us the classic Libertarian argument that respect for property makes us richer.

This argument is well worn, although usually presented in a completely different. For most Libertarians property rights are sacred because what you produce is yours, and what you buy with that is as much yours as if you produced it yourself. Tim inserts the proviso that it is also the best way to get the results we all want.

However it is not nearly this simple, sometimes property rights can get in the way of wealth creation, no simple Libertarian rationale will cure what ails us.

Enclosure involved stealing land from those who owned it in common. Yet it helped kick start the greatest wealth creation in human history.

Ignoring or not granting patents on medication has helped increase the quality of life for millions of Indians, and others around the world. The research into treatments and cures continues.

Directing tax revenue towards strategic industries can be beneficial. When the tax revenue of South Koreans was directed towards the manufacture of Microwaves it was neither an area they specialised in nor one which returned a profit. However, they soon became market leaders and the welfare of all was increased.

Property rights don’t need to be treated as a sacrament, in fact it can be damaging to do so.

Beyond Economics…

… Libertarians are generally right.

  • Huffing on a crack pipe? Your choice, a drug’s illegality only makes it more harmful.
  • Girls Aloud murder porn? Your choice, banning it only drives it underground.
  • Smoking in a pub? Your choice, surely this one doesn’t need an explanation.
  • Want a divorce? I won’t force you into a “cooling down period.”
  • Fancy a pint or ten? Sod it, I’m heading to the bar myself, I’ll get them in.

So long as you don’t hurt anyone else, do as you like. But for not one second does the evidence suggest this is a good guiding principle when it comes to economics.

The evidence around us in  points to a system of economics and a vision of the good society that is markedly differnt from that presented to us by Mises or Hannan.

And the Socialist shall lie down with the Lambertarian

Socialism as I understand it, is the only way to a better material existence and a more free life for all of us. A smaller state can be compatible with Socialism, and social liberalism has long gone hand in hand with the left, Socialism is not anathema to what Libertarians want. So join us.

This is our rallying cry. Bloggers have nothing to lose but the chains of an ideologically consistent viewpoint. They have evidence based policy to win!

EMPIRICALLY MINDED SOCIALISTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Socialists

Mr Eugenides, Devil’s Kitchen, Tim Worstall (you’re a classical liberal, I know, but sadly there’s no CLPUK), Charlotte Gore, Thomas Byrne, Dave Semple, Chris Dillow, Paul Sagar, Paul Cotterill, A Very Public Sociologist, Will Straw, Paul Krugman and Steven Levitt you are my favourite Socialists and Libertarians and this letter is directed towards you. Discuss.

Further Reading: A Memorandum to Libertarians and Socialists: Part One

Even Further Reading: A Memorandum to Libertarians and Socialists: Part Two

Honduras: A very unpopular coup

The polling data – which we make public for the first time here – shows that Hondurans widely (by a margin of 3 to 1) oppose the coup, oppose coup “president” Micheletti by a margin of 3 to 1 and favor the reinstatement of their elected President Manuel Zelaya by a clear majority of 3 to 2.

When Zelaya was first ousted it was commented that he wasn’t particularly popular in the first place, so maybe it wasn’t a BAD coup. This survery – methodological queries  not withstanding – seems to skewer that argument.

On the other hand, some coup supporters would never be so crass. Tim Worstall is happy to call the coup constitutional, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

I mean, if Roberto Micheletti were to put forward a series of logical fallacies arguing from authority, who wouldn’t quote him approvingly? Certainly not someone who spends his day pointing out logical fallacies in other people’s work.

Never mind, at least with the evidence form Narco News it is becoming clear just how unpopular the new Government in Honduras is.

Selected Reading 11/10/09

A belated reply to Giles Wilkes on China

I wrote a piece shortly following the publication of the Tory’s One World Conservatism on how it was full of crap.

The recommendations of this paper were not particularly different from the policies of our current Administration. Of course it continued within the dreadful framework of the post-Washington Consensus (and therein lies the problem).

I divided my discussion into several subtopics for easy navigation, as it ran to some 3,000 words.

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

One topic provoked particular criticism from Giles Wilkes of freethinkingeconomist and CentreForum fame.

China-60.svgUnder the heading “Choosing Winners and Losers” I criticised the Conservatives for withdrawing aid from China despite it still being particularly poverty stricken. The offending paragraphs follow 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.

Giles contends that he “smells a rat.” He argues that I am ignoring the clear differences in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) that exist between modern China and Victorian Britain.

I start with Angus Madison’s data.  In “1990 International Geary-Khamis dollars“, he has China’s GDP in 1800 at about $600.  Two centuries of woe, caused by both internal and external factors, as well as the disasters of totalitarianism, mean that it is still around $600 in 1960.

There is SOME growth to 1980, bringing us to $1000, but then the new freedoms growth starts motoring from a change in ideology. By Madison’s data, this puts Chinese GDP in terms of 1990 dollars at over $4000 in 2003 – in line with IMF figures. In terms of Purchasing Power Parity, it has grown even faster, to $8500 – reflecting, no doubt, the strengthening currency – from $248 in 1980.

Purchasing Power Parity probably explains much of what Left Outside has Left Outside his analysis.  It is what counts in this sort of discussion: what matters is how much you can get for your buck, not the state of international markets in tradeable items.

I have to accept that I was playing a little fast and loose with the facts in my last post. Giles excellently underlines what was “Left Outside” of my post, however the point I was trying to briefly outline remains valid. (Hopefully only slightly wounded by my slapdash short hand argument.)

Left Wing Imperialism

However, Giles oversteps the mark when he accuses me of “Left wing Imperialism.” He is wrong to do so on a number of counts, however for brevity I will try to limit to discussion on China’s relative wealth and poverty. More general discussions on aid and global justice along Marxist, Rawlsian and Humanitarian lines will have to wait for another time.

No one is going to argue that China’s per capita GDP is not still very low. Using the IMF’s Data Mapper China’s 2009 per capita PPP GDP at current international dollars is $6,546. As Giles argues this is significantly more than our Victorian forbears, however the structure of China’s society makes this simple fact increasingly difficult to map onto concrete reality.

Firstly, I would like to turn to Dave Osler’s recent post on Soft Sinophilia, mainly because it caught my eye recently, but specifically because it addresses an important element of Chinese society.

The sycophancy of many on the left to China’s dictatorial, murderous, exploitative, repressive and capitalist rulers is peculiarly disturbing. While China’s GDP has soared since 1978 the results have clearly not led to as widespread a rise in living standards as could be expected. Speaking about a contemporary calculation on the rate of exploitation Dave says…

…perhaps the closest equivalent metric in mainstream economics is the overall wages bill for a given country, expressed as a proportion of gross domestic product. This is, crudely, the workers’ share of the social product. Even despite the onslaught of neoliberalism, it typically amounts to around 55% throughout western Europe.

But a recent study by Chang Xiuze, an economist with a National Development and Reform Commission think tank, revealed that the salary component of China’s GDP dropped from 17% in 1980 to just 11% in 2007. In other words, the bosses are taking a dramatically greater cut.

It appears that the Chinese are getting a smaller cut of a bigger pie. Some would argue that this is a good thing if the pie is big enough, I would argue that this is a sign of the failure’s of China’s economic model and this sort of imbalance will lead to massive problems soon.

Furthermore, Giles argues that the health of the Chinese is one of the most obvious ways in which modern China is a better place to live than Victorian Britain. However,  as always in China it is far more complicated than that.

It is mostly agreed that “wealthier is  healthier.” However, evidence from China is doing a great deal to prove that the form of society and social institutions matter a great deal for how much healthier a society gets for its wealth.

In this paper form the New Left Review (gated) evidence is provided that shows that China is getting healthier far more slowly than other comparable countries as they got wealthier. Again, it appears that the Chinese are getting a smaller cut of a bigger pie. I don’t think this is good enough, because evidence exists from other countries that it can be done better.

According to this report from the UN Development Programme 15.9%  of China’s population live on less than $1.25 a day and 36.3% live on less than $2, my preferred metric. This is the sort of Dickensian poverty which can be missed if you insist on looking at the number of skyscrapers going up in Shanghai.

When you insist on looking at the number of skyscrapers you can be so awestruck by the shear scale of the things that you fail to notice that up to half of the commercial property in the city sits empty.

This dislocate is what interests me. China is no nut, but the sledge hammer that is being used to crack this society is massive.

Football

While I concede that Giles makes some excellent points I find his casual dismissal of my argument that “China and the Chinese are often treated as a political football” somewhat bemusing.

First of all, there is the historical context. In 1949 Mao’s forces declared the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. In the West this was not treated as a mere violent change of government. Repeated, again and again, was the idea that “we have lost China.” We was the West and implicit in that statement is that China was ours to lose in the first place. The fall of China became a central plank of anti-Red hysteria throughout the 1950s and onwards.

China’s many economic successes are used to underline how powerful the development consensus of free-markets and free-trade is.  It is responsible for the majority of those lifted out of poverty in the last few decades. Dani Rodrik argues that China’s development path could hardly be further from the consensus of the last 30 years, and he is right. However, when some argue that it is bogus to include China’s growth and poverty reduction when discussing global poverty reduction strategies they are described as trying to stage “Hamlet without the Prince.”

And the Tories. They want to act tough on aid by cutting help to China. Despite  the dubious ground on which they stand for cutting aid to a country with such manifest problems they were applauded by the right of their party. 60 years ago, 6 years ago and 6 months ago, China is used again and again as a political football.

It is only in the minutiae of real life that the suffering of the Chinese working classes can really be assessed. Per Capita Purchasing Power Parity Gross Domestic Product can’t illustrate the 72.5% of workers who have had their wages paid late or not at all; although perhaps it does include the 6%-12% of GDP estimated to be contributed by the sex industry (page 20 of the preview). I’m no prude, but nobody can fail but to be taken aback by the prevalence of sexual exploitation in China.

The fact is that China is still poor, that there are those in desperate need in China and that the CCP will not provide the assistance necessary to help them.

Further posts will explain exactly why I think that the institutions that helped China to succeed so far as a country of cheap, healthy, educated and disciplined workers are being undermined. I will argue further that the very process of marketising their economy and opening up to the world economy that initiated its tremendous growth, is also undermining it.

My preference is for those involved in multitude of protests, strikes and industrial actions that take place in China on a daily basis to wrest power and control back from those exploiting them. But until then I don’t feel supporting a transfer of wealth, institutions and knowledge from the rich world to the poor as left wing imperialism.

An Argument in Favour of the CAP

EU FlagThe Common Agricultural Policy of the EU is one of the largest subsidies in the world “it represent[ed] 48% of the EU’s budget [or] €49.8 billion in 2006.” That is a lot of money in anyone’s book, but when it appears hardly anyone is happy with the outcome generated it starts to look anomalous.

From the right, it is attacked by The Economist, which itself is flanked by the Adam Smith Institute.

[European consumers and taxpayers] will have to continue paying for this wasteful and wicked system. It is terrible for poor-country farmers, who have long suffered from being shut out of rich-world markets, and having rich-world products dumped on them. Now they can hear the gates of fortress Europe clanging shut just when world prices should be triggering an export boom. And it is dreadful news for the hungry poor, because restricting trade in food exacerbates shortages.

Similarly, the left attack the CAP for hurting smaller farmers while handing huge handouts to a handful of larger producers.

In a detailed breakdown of aid payments across the EU in 2000, the EC calculated that 78 per cent of EU farmers receive less that 5000 per year in direct aid. Furthermore, fewer than 2000 of Europe’s 4.5 million farmers between them rake in almost €1bn in direct aid from the CAP. Farm subsidies also vary in scale across Europe. In Portugal, approximately 95 percent of farmers receive less than 5000 each year, compared with 43 per cent in the UK. Moreover, 380 of the UKs landowners and large-scale agricultural businesses glean aid in excess of the 300,000 per farmer ceiling on annual payments proposed in the mid-term review.

By concentrating subsidies in the hands of its richest agricultural landowners, EU agricultural policies are hastening the demise of smallholder agriculture in Europe. (pdf)

Please allow me to take you back a century and a half.

The British Corn Laws were import tariffs designed to protect British agricultural workers and the landed aristocracy. In a way, they worked similarly to the CAP. Their effect was certainly similar, higher domestic prices and a reduced market for the agricultural products of the developing world. Of course at this point the developing world was Western Europe and the USA.

The Economist argues that the CAP is terrible for the contemporary developing world because it artificially deflates the value of their agricultural products and it hinders their access to markets for these products.

Famed free marketeer Richard Cobden may have taken an altogether different view on matters. He was a prominent member in the Anti-Corn Law League and argued voraciously for their abolition so as to lower the cost of food for the British.

But he did not argue for the abolition of the Corn Laws out of a sense of altruism for the poor wronged American, German and French citizenry.

He argued that the continuation of the Corn Laws positively aided the catching up of the developing world with Britain.

The factory system would, in all probability not have taken place in America and Germany. It most certainly could not have flourished, as it has done, both in these states, and in France, Belgium and Switzerland, through the fostering bounties which the higher priced food of the British artisan has offered to he cheaper fed manufacturer of those countries.

Perhaps The Economist is wrong. Perhaps the CAP has the potential to act as an additional stimulus to the developing world to move from agriculture  to higher value added activities like manufacturing.

Perhaps the abolition of the CAP is just another form of free trade imperialism designed to keep the third world in its place, out on the periphery.Well, done, you highlight when you read just like me and this white text has shown up. I’m hoping this post might cause some controvery so I’m hiding a disclaimer here. In my opinion the abolition of the CAP wouldn’t be a piece of free-trade imperialism, nor would it hurt the industrialisation of the developing world. Of course on the other hand its abolition wouldn’t be the panacea some describe it as, as always I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that. (Previously white on white. I’m sick of people thinking I’m a moron unnecessarily. There’ll be enough reasons for the Working Class Tory to hate me without making extra ones up)

BBC: UK economy ‘is growing/is still not growing/is shrinking’

Great reporting form the BBC.

Contrary to expectations, the UK economy did not grow in the third quarter of the year, an influential economic group has predicted.

Gross domestic product (GDP) was unchanged from July to September, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) calculated.

That’s bad news isn’t it? Oh wait a minute.

The NIESR points out that its forecasts tend to be within 0.2 percentage points of the first official estimate from the ONS, which means that it is likely the economy will show either a small amount of growth or decline.

So the story comes down to: “we might be growing, we might not be growing, or we might be doing neither.”

Really enlightening. You may as well read the press release (pdf), at least it has a pretty graph.

Given that at one point the “NIESR incorrectly predicted earlier this year that the downturn ended in March” and in the hope of finding some scoop, I checked the the NIESR figures on their own accuracy.

Annoyingly they are particularly accurate and fair.

The NIESR declare to have an error rate in the region of o.1 to o.2 percent of GDP. Below are figures comparing the quarterly GDP change from the NIESR and the Office for National Statistics.

NIESR        ONS
2008 Q1 +0.7    2008 Q1 +0.8
2008 Q2 -0.1    2008 Q2 -0.1
2008 Q3 -0.7    2008 Q3 -0.7
2008 Q4 -1.8    2008 Q4 -1.8
2009 Q1 -2.5    2009 Q1 -2.4
2009 Q2 -0.6    2009 Q2 -0.8
2009 Q3 0.0    2009 Q3 N/A

At this point this is a non-story but it fits nicely in with the “new” narrative  from the Conservatives’ that “Labour isn’t working”.

This is another example of a story that gets coverage even when it lacks content because it fits within a dominant media narrative.

Labour still isn't working

Still a cunt: Peter Hitchens caught abusing the Holocaust

Yesterday the Irish voted YES to the Lisbon treaty. Septicisle surmises the reaction from the blogosphere [inserted below] but I personally don’t really have an opinion.

On the Irish yes vote to the Lisbon treaty, although some wrote before the result was known,Lenin bemoans the victory for neoliberalism, Bob wonders where this leaves the Tories, as does Jamie, while Nosemonkey critiques the view that having a second vote was undemocratic.

Having studied it at University the only thing I am certain about is that the EU is incredibly boring. So dull I can barely finish this sen…

…where was I? Ah, for the record I am vaguely in favour of supranational institutions but think that the EU is a particularly badly run one. [1] One run in the interests of the few at the expense of the many.

I’m more interested in the thoughts of Peter “if I had come first, it would have been hitchenary not reactionary” Hitchens.

Peter is of course livid that the Irish have voted to adopt the protocols of the Lisbon Treaty. But he decides before attacking the EU, or the treaty, or our own Government, he would attack Jews.EUIRELAND

I don’t think he’s an anti-Semite, Jews are probably one of the few groups towards which he does not regularly pour his vitriol. But this throwaway paragraph really took my breathe away [my emphasis].

The Passport you hold is not British, but European. You are a European citizen. British Embassies are European Embassies – as they already show by flying the EU’s meaningless and tasteless blue and yellow dishcloth.  Shouldn’t somebody have pointed out that in the recent history of the Continent, yellow stars call up only one dismal image, the mass murder of Europe’s Jews.

The jaw dropping ignorance of the man is palpable. The coy manipulation of history is truly sickening.

The holocaust still matters. It is as impossible to understate the horror as it is to visualise the scale of what occurred. And Peter “in fact, just shorten that to Cunt” Hitchens wants to use it to attack the fucking EU?

You might not like the EU, but you do not use the holocaust to attack a fucking flag you don’t think is as good as the Union Flag. That makes you a colossal fucking prick.

Peter Hitchens is one of your common and garden Armchair Imperialists, and I understand his hostility to the EU. Not only that but I can see his target market every time I stumble into an Agricultural Show.

He often claims to be speaking from history – he even approvingly quotes Hugh Gaitskell in this same article – but this vile display of manipulation puts pay to any notion of objectivity or historical insight.

As I’ve written this post I’ve gradually become more and more angry, and have inserted sweary things where once were polite ripostes. Fucking Bastard.

[1] In the EU’s defence, it was one of the first transnational institutions and had to make all the mistakes other learn from.

UPDATE: NoseMonkey has also noticed this ridiculoous article and has rightly pointed out the Peter Hitchens represents exactly what is wrong with Euroskeptics today.

Last Surviving Leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Dies: A Tribute to Marek Endleman

The Ghetto FightsWriter of The Ghetto Fights and the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Marek Endleman has died.

Marek Endleman was a member of the Jewish Resistance Organisation of the Ghetto and a member of the Jewish Socialist Party of Poland, the Bund.

He documented his role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in The Ghetto Fights. The experience of those in the Ghetto was never so faithfully reproduced and tragic passages infuse the text:

Such was the misery by now that people began to die in the streets. Every morning, about 4-5am, funeral carts collected a dozen or more corpses on the streets that had been covered with a sheet of paper and weighed down with a few rocks. Some simply fell in the streets and remained there, others died in their own homes but their families, after having stripped them completely (in order to sell the clothes), dumped the bodies in from of the houses so that burial would be made at the cost of the Jewish Community Council. Cast after card filled with nude corpses would move through the streets. One on top of the other the bony carcasses lay, the heads bobbing up and down and beating against one another or against the wood of the cart on the uneven pavement.

It is impossible to read the text and not wonder how Endleman not only survived but survived with his humanity intact.

In the end of course, Endleman’s time in the Ghetto was not just about tragedy. Great heroism rose out of the terrible conditions and in his book the brave yet futile fight against the Nazis is powerfully captured.

Marek Endleman

A great man has died. More at the BBC and Socialist Unity.

China at 60: Misunderstood

China-60.svgMao’s China has been annihilated. 60 years on from its founding on the 1st October 1949 there is little recognisable about it.

Although some on the left will lament the loss of this slightly more presentable face of state Socialism, this is a cause to celebrate. The Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward are two of the biggest tragedies to hit humanity. The gains which accrued under Mao are too small to outweigh the horror which occurred.

From ardent globalisers to hardline socialists it seems everyone can find something to celebrate in the New China.

Unfortunately the things highlighted by Andy and Tim underline the misunderstanding that surrounds the success of modern China.

But as the scholar and writer Perry Link has observed, it is more accurate to say that the people lifted the Communist party out of poverty – once it had the sense to get out of the people’s way.

This? This good sense in The Guardian?

Tongue-in-cheek, Tim highlights the Guardian’s coverage of China’s 60th and approvingly asks “So when do we start applying it in the UK?

The only problem is that Communist Party hasn’t got out of the way. Or at least not in the way Tim implies.

From the earliest days of agricultural reform to the performance of state owned industries now, the party has very much got in the way. The Chinese have found a recipe that works for them, for the moment.

That Tim wants to score political points from it is telling of the difficulty that the libertarian/classical liberal/free trading right has discussing China.

xin_5021006010642328146348Of course elements of the left are little better at understanding the complexities of modern China.

For some bizarrely reason, Andy Newman of Socialist Unity uses a PRC propaganda photo as evidence of the change in China.

It is certainly worth celebrating the victory which Mao won in 1949, however, to use it as a a reason to stifle legitimate criticism of the regime and its policies is ludicrous.

Both Tim and Andy fall into the same trap that most analysts of China do.

Although most people recognise that China cannot be easily placed on a continuous Left and Right, people still want to label elements of its economy as a left-wing or right-wing policy. I apologise for these caricatures of left and right but they illustrate major failings in some analyses of China.

The leftist penchant for state intervention can be totally inappropriate for China.

China’s agricultural economy was only really successful once peasant farmers once the Household Responsibility System was set up. In this, after selling a set amount of their crop at the low state determined price, peasants were allowed to sell their surplus at market rates. This fermented a boost in productivity not seen since the redistribution of land which followed the establishment of the PRC.

The right have of course been as wrong as the left when it comes to China.

In a developing economy state intervention is essential in creating, extending and maintaining a market. The traditional rightist view that state intervention equals bad does not hold.

It must be made clear that a lack of state involvement is not synonymous with the free market. The withdrawal of the state in China is often applauded, but institutions which were smashed by the retreating party cadres have not been replaced.

In a survey quoted in Hart-Landsberg and Burkitt’s China and Socialism 72.5% of respondents had at some stage had their wages withheld. David Harvey uses this as an explanation for how so much wealth has been accumulated by so few in such a sort amount of time.

In fact, most of the time this is presented as the evidence of how “extreme” capitalism has become in China. But the theft of labour is not part of capitalism. This is evidence of how poorly China has instituted its new economy. Capitalism relies on functioning markets and as Chris Dillow argues, markets can be undersupplied like all public goods.

It is this difficult framework which has made it so difficult for the big L Left Left and big R Right to discuss China. This is why I think the work of Karl Polanyi is so important to understanding China. In the next post I will outline some of Polanyi’s thought and why it is so useful when discussing China.

Dana Ali Update

Dana Ali’s story was cross posted from the Third Estate here some months ago. Since the original piece was run things have improved, however, there is still a long way to go.

Since the successful campaign to secure Dana’s release from Oakington detention centre last month, he has been tagged and living under curfew, unable even to go into his backyard for a cigarette after 8pm…

…read more at The Third Estate.