Gordon Brown is the worst sort of Hypocrite

#Bigotgate needs no introduction. That Brown labelled a voter a bigot behind her back seems to confirm all the public’s worst impressions of the man. He is two faced, which is bad enough, but worse he is scared to stand up for himself when confronted. But that is not all. Even worse for him Brown labelled a woman a bigot because she asked a relatively innocuous question about immigration; well, innocuous by the standards of most discussions on the subject.

On the above hypocrisies Brown is guilty as charged. But frankly speaking Paul has things right, Gordon Brown is a hypocrite, but only as far as any other politician ever has been. There’s no chance Cameron or Clegg haven’t vented at their back room staff after a difficult confrontation; what matters to this news cycle is that Brown was caught.

But there’s no reason to focus on that aspect of this when there’s something all the more revealing that has come to the fore. Focussing on Brown’s initial hypocrisy misses what is actually important.

Brown has worked for 13 years seeing immigration controls tighten. For everyone bar Europeans this country is far harder to enter now than it has been since the 1940s. We have had 5 immigration Acts from this administration, each one more restrictive than the last, asylum claims have sunk massively and are currently running at around 30,000 a year (of which roughly half are rejected either initially or after failing an appeal).

We have detention centres for children like Yarls Wood. Oh sorry, detaining children not tough enough? How about we beat some women too? Worried about Asylum Seekers swamping in? Okay we’ll ban them from working. Fucking scrounging Asylum Seekers, why don’t they get a job? Huh?! Hey look over there! The immigrants are eating swans again. Kick them out!

These are the policies that Brown has announced, backed and funded. This is what people like Gillian Duffy have demanded from 13 years of a Laboir Government.

What is bad is not that Gordon Brown called this woman a bigot. What is fucking disgraceful is that Gordon Brown has been following policies which he himself thought were bigoted. Brown is a bastard because for 13 fucking years he has been promoting policies designed to appeal to those he describes as “bigots” and he knew what he was doing was wrong the entire time.

Scotsman is grumpy” John Q Publican explains pithily. Of course to an extent he is correct but cynicism can blind you to the bigger issues. The only person who has come close to understanding what Brown did wrong is Thomas Byrne. Brown must deep down agrees with Alex Massie that opening Britain’s borders to Europe was “one of the best, even noble, things this government has done,” it fits our free trading history.

Rather than face up to this he has endorsed policies and soundbites which he admits were “bigoted”. He is damned out of his own mouth.

UPDATE: I’m angry. But I have a feeling Justin is even more angry – Recommended Reading.

Playing Football in North Korea

I recently finished reading The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan. It is an account of life in a North Korean gulag. It’s not incredibly current, especially as his time in the gulag finished in 1987, and the book was first published in France a decade ago. But in a country that seems to be plodding along at the pace of an ox drawn cart, and that has suffered a great famine in that time, it offers a relatively insightful glance into a world that very few people have gained access to. Excepting suspicious footage of the Gulag in which the memoirs speak of which surfaced on Japanese TV in the past few years, it is something which very few people have been granted access to.
 

I could put together a several thousand page rant about the Korean Worker’s Party, the ‘Dear’ and ‘Great’ leaders, and the bleak situation which North Korean citizens have had to endure as a result,. It’s something that many people have done before, and with limited fresh information coming out of North Korea, runs the risk of recycling the words of previous commentators. So in an effort to keep this post somewhat topical (whilst avoiding all the election hype) I saw a specific section which I thought I could work with regarding the treatment of a former North Korean national sporting hero.
 
As you may well be aware, the North Korean national football team has qualified for the World Cup finals in South Africa this summer. A feat that they only achieved one time previously when the tournament was held in England (as a Scot I won’t dwell on the final outcome that particular year!). Considering that even less was known about the nation then than now, and that prior to the tournament, no Asian team had ever got past the first round (again, a sensitive issue to a Scot…) very little was expected of the team. Something that was reflected in the 1000/1 odds that were granted to the lowly Koreans prior to the tournament. After a steady, if unremarkable first couple of matches, their final group match against Italy at Ayresome Park in Middlesboro was a decider for qualification to the next phase. Lining up against one of the top seeds and, at the time, joint most successful team in world football with two previous tournament wins, most had resigned them to defeat. They surpassed everyone’s expectations with a victory to take them to the quarter final where they lined up against Portugal with the mighty Eusebio. After 22 minutes, they went 3-0 up, before conceding five and killing off what would have surely been one of the greatest ever success stories in World Cup history.
 
Understandably, following their incredible victory, the team went on a bit of a celebratory binge, which was then used as a reason to blame for their eventual exit from the tournament. After seeing pictures of the team celebrating, the Pyongyang authorities deemed their actions “bourgeois, reactionary, corrupted by imperialism and bad ideas” and the whole team, upon arrival back in North Korea were punished with a stint in the hard labour camps. Kang Chol-Hwan talks of meeting one of the stars of this team, Park Seung-Jin 12 years later, still serving after reacting badly to the punishment which included treatment which stretched as far as a 3 month stint in the utterly barbaric “sweatbox.” This, Kang describes as a Papillon-esque small shack where prisoners are forced onto their hands and knees. Where the prisoner’s heels are pressed so tightly into their body that the buttocks turn solid black with bruising. Barely enough food is provided to survive whilst in this prison, and the tortured are forced to pounce upon cockroaches and centipedes in order to survive. Prisoners are not permitted to talk – the only gestures allowed were to raise your right hand if you wanted to be sick, or left hand if you had to relieve yourself from the other end. If the prisoner made a noise, the guards would relentlessly beat them. If there was any other movement the guard would beat them. That is of course, unless they favoured other punishments such as being forced to crouch over a septic tank with the prisoner’s hands tied behind their back and their face forced downwards.
 
So other than to give you an unpleasant account of torture methods used in North Korea, what has this post told you? North Korea is isolated from the outside world. Even the route of escape which Kang eventually took – past relatively lax border guards in China has been limited with the construction of concrete walls and barbed wire lining the border to stop escapees. The lack of information regular citizens have of the outside world is startling. The internet is but a fantasy to all but an elite few. Tuning in to South Korean radio is punishable with a spell in the gulags. The country has the lowest rated free media in the world. The very few tourists allowed in the country are scowled at by the North Koreans, who believe them to be a threat to their great nation. The population of North Korea genuinely believes that their “Great Leader” saved them from the American Imperialists who invaded their country. They also believe that they are the most successful and most fortunate nation in the world. The thought of them losing in the World Cup (which, lets face it, looking at their group is incredibly likely!) is inconceivable to the 180,000 odd who can pack into their Rŭngrado May First Stadium in Pyongyang, which I recently learned is the largest stadium in the world.
 
The World Cup for me and many other people worldwide is a hugely anticipated sporting spectacle. It’s a chance to watch the best in the world compete in the world’s most popular sport. But naturally it brings political implications. I just hope that people pay a bit more attention to this North Korean team. I fear for these players who will almost certainly never live up to their nations impossible expectations. Whilst many casual observers may expect the team to return home to a heroes welcome regardless of the results, the reality may be far starker. So let’s hope, that in 43 days (and counting) when the tournament commences, that the team won’t be ‘corrupted’ in the free, western world and be accused of actions that are “bourgeois, reactionary and corrupted by imperialism and bad ideas.” Let’s hope that the media steer clear of arousing unwanted political controversy which would have extremely far reaching implications, and let’s hope that the logic and lunacy of Kim Jong-Il doesn’t stop these players enjoying their well-earned spot in the limelight amongst some of the world’s sporting elite.

That new IMF report…

I’m liking it.

Matthew Yglesias points me towards the IMF blog [1] which has some more explanation on their Financial Activities Tax.

A FAT is just a tax on the sum of the profits and remuneration paid by financial institutions. That sounds simple, and, in essence, it is. But why an extra tax on financial institutions? Here, I’m afraid, things get a bit nerdy. So brace up for what is coming.

Profits plus all remuneration is value added. So a tax of this kind would be a kind of Value-Added Tax or VAT. And that could make sense because current VATs don’t work well for financial services, which are largely VAT-exempt. This means that a FAT of this kind could make the tax treatment of the financial sector more like that other sectors and so help offset a tendency for the financial sector, purely for tax reasons, to be too large—or too fat.

Now suppose that the base included only remuneration above some high level, and only profits above a ‘normal’ rate of return. Then the base of the FAT may not be a bad proxy for taxes on ‘rents’—return in excess of competitive levels—earned in the sector. Some might find taxing that excess fair.

Or one might include only profits above some level well above normal. Taxing away some of these high returns in good times may help correct for any tendency to excessive risk-taking implied by financial institutions not attaching enough weight to outcomes in bad times (whether because of limited liability, or because they think themselves too big to fail).

A tax on rents? Sounds good to me. It sounds like it would reduce the size of the financial sector too which would be good in a number of ways.

  1. Smaller financial firms would mean a smaller systemic risk of crises.
  2. A less powerful financial lobby twisting the state’s arm.
  3. Finance would stop attracting intelligent people to extract rents who could instead do something productive.
  4. Many crises spring from the financial sector so shrinking it should help diminish the frequency and severity of these.

What happened to the IMF in the last 10 years? It seems like they may have actually learned from some of their mistakes.

[1] Yes, they’re using the theme I used to use for this blog. The IMF, apparently quite frugal.

Happy Birthday: Left Outside is 1

This day in 2009 I wrote my first blog post.

https://leftoutside.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/newleftoutside.jpg

297 posts, 1,150 comments and over 50,000 hits later and I am still going.

I wasn’t sure if I’d last this long when I’ve started but I am happy I am still going, I’ve got no plans to stop any time soon.

Thank you to everyone who has stopped by, commented, linked to me, argued with me or encouraged me over the last year. I hope our next year together is even better than the last.

Why we need to scrap Trident

Trident is a waste of time and money. Its only real use is as a phallic symbol to wave across the English Channel and Atlantic.

Nuclear Weapons grew out of the Second World War, Nuclear strategy grew out of the Cold War. They are an expensive anachronism and I argue a militarily useless one at that.

Although never “just another weapon” the huge fear of Nuclear weapons we now sensibly have grew out of the Cold War and the prospects of an intentionally but unwanted global holocaust.

When the decision was taken to drop the Bomb on Hiroshima it was hoped to be something to hasten the capitulation of Japan. It was intended to wreck havoc and frighten the population and the administration into accepting surrender. However, the threat was of further bombings, such as that at Nagasaki, it was not of an existential crisis for the state and people of Japan, which is what a Nuclear strike today would imply.

The fact that they were then still not a normal weapon is evidenced by the fact that there really was a race between the Axis and the Allies to develop it; they knew it bestows a huge strategic advantage. However, the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki illustrates not that Truman was genocidal maniac, but that Nuclear Weapons did not inspire the horror they now do.

Nuclear Weapons have got more powerful but the tactics of Nuclear warfare have also moved on from World War Two.

A little historical detail is important in deciding on whether or not the UK needs and should have an independent Nuclear Deterrent. In the 1950s it was thought that Nuclear Weapons could be used in tactical nuclear strikes, or limited nuclear war. This meant only attacking military sites and avoiding major population areas.

For example, during the Cuban Missile crisis it was suggested that Nuclear Weapons could be used against a non-Cuban and faraway Soviet ship. This would show that the US wasn’t afraid to use nuclear weapons but wasn’t aiming at civilians.

This never happened as Kennedy say that it would likely escalate and kill most of those living in the developed world. However, it wasn’t Kennedy that formalised this doctrine, but Eisenhower many years ago who had to silence the baying of his Generals to make use of America’s nuclear advantage.

What Eisenhower saw was that any nuclear strike was bound to escalate as your opponent could never be sure it was just a tactical strike. He made it clear that any nuclear strike would blot out the sun over eastern europe and would be total rather than limited.

A lot of American Generals lambasted him for cutting off the tactics available to the US but cutting off tactics was exactly what Eisenhower wanted. He wanted to make Nuclear war as unthinkable as possible because he knew the options were either no nuclear war or no human race.

This was reaffirmed under Kennedy during various Soviet induced crises when he was advised to attempt various “tactical” nuclear strikes. He did not, and a good thing too. As it is clear from Soviet records and tactics they almost certainly would have overreacted and started WWIII and killed everyone.

The bulk of the Cold War years saw two military behemoths, armed to the teeth, hold fire and (mostly) preserve peace. This was because there was no chance for geopolitical intrigue as only two players mattered. There would be no shift in the balance of power if all the world supported the US against the USSR. On top of this there the new nuclear doctrine implying total nuclear war helped keep the peace. By making war unthinkable, it made peace possible, as I’ve discussed before with reference to North Korea.

What I’m trying to say is that I cannot possibly see a use for Trident or any Nuclear Deterrent as we will never be one side of two-way a stand off as the US or USSR were. Likewise, we will never and can never use nuclear weapons tactically against a nuclear state.

The only remaining option is nuking a non-nuclear state during a period of conventional warfare. This is the only remaining military option and it is one that I would back under no conceivable circumstance. This refers not just to Trident but also to the Lib Dems platitudinous replacement.

Labour have murdered before, but at least they can plausibly say it was a mistake even if they can’t say sorry. But could they do it with eyes wide open?

If our leaders are prepared to murder millions then they should come out and say so. This is the only option remaining and all talk of “long term strategic interest” is poppycock.

This originally appeared as a comment at the blog of John Q Publican, who is thankfully blogging again after an all too long absence.

Lib Dem smackdown watch: Paul Sagar

I have a genuine question regarding Lib Dem immigration proposals. Specifically, that employers can only employ foreign workers who have permits to work in that employer’s particular locality.

Presumably this is to stop legal migrants concentrating their labour in one area. But this seems bizarre: don’t legal migrant workers just go where the jobs are? So isn’t telling them they have to stay in one place going to make labour supply more rigid, and thus the labour market more inefficient? Won’t this counter the economic benefits of migrant workers that Nick Clegg rightly trumpets? Aren’t the Lib Dems being, erm, statist and refusing to let the market do it’s thing – like, y’know, liberals would advocate?

Excellent. As David Hume’s representative on earth Paul provides further commentary relating this to what Hume called ‘Jealousy of Trade’.

Nick Cohen: Nick Clegg is Frodo Baggins

In the final battle of the Lord of the Rings the Dark Lord Sauron realises that he has been looking the wrong way. Hobbits so small he has failed to notice them are preparing to drop the ring of power into Mount Doom. Sauron’s giant red eye swings towards the new danger as “the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare. Then his wrath blazed in consuming flame, but his fear rose like a vast black smoke to choke him. For he knew his deadly peril”.

Not sure how Tolkien got shoe horned into a column about the danger of the Tories ignoring the Lib Dems, but bravo.

Its always a good recession for capitalists

Hat tip to Lenin for this one

THE richest people in Britain have seen a record boom in wealth over the past year. Their fortunes have soared by 30% even though much of the UK is struggling to recover from recession and the near-collapse of the banking system.

It is the largest rise in wealth since the list was first published 21 years ago. Much of the increase is a result of the rebound in stock markets and property values after the government injected hundreds of billions of pounds into banks and the wider economy to stave off collapse.

Philip Beresford, compiler of the list, said: “The rich have come through the recession with flying colours. The stock market is up, the hedge funds are coining it. The rich are doing very nicely.

“The rest of the country is going to have to face public spending cuts, but it has little effect on the rich because they don’t consume public services.”

As a corollary to this the wealthy were hit hard initially by the financial crisis.

Since then of course, stocks and shares have been boosted by Government action like Quantitative Easing which has pushed up the prices of their assets.

Even without all that, recessions do treat the wealthy well when they put (or keep) workers on the back foot.

This reminds me of my company’s AGM last year. We hadn’t had any pay rise last year. Whereas in previous years earning had increased it was reiterated that this year there just wasn’t enough money to go around.

Of course, in a happy turn of events, our boss informed us that the company had made a larger profit this year than last.

And in events which were purely coincidentally, the increase in profits for this year looked to be almost identical to the pay rise we didn’t get.

Fantastic management there, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Squeeze us until the pips squeak and then slap yourself on the back for a job well done.

Why conservatives should care about immigration

Brad DeLong discusses why people alive today have obligations towards those historically disadvantaged by the past actions of their society.

I’m tempted to mock something up like this for my migration series, but I’ll probably stick to empirical things for now. Although he is discussing American affirmative action policies which have been put in place to compensate for slavery and Jim Crow, I think a similar argument could be made for a moral obligation towards migrants in light of the UK’s history of international meddling.

What I also find interesting is that from fundamentally conservative principles, Brad DeLong develops an argument which challenges the way many conservatives act.

Enjoy:

This is the reason that when–back in 2003–Andrew Sullivan called me a:

classic example of the arrogant liberal. He supports affirmative action and believes that individuals in 2003 bear a direct responsibility for those people who enacted slavery and made life a living hell for many black Americans in decades and centuries past…

I rejected Sullivan’s critique. He was simply wrong. I was not and am not an arrogant liberal on these issues. Instead, the arguments that convince me (and that lead me to reject the quitclaim that Henry Louis Gates offers) are not liberal but conservative ones–Burkean ones, to be exact:

A liberal sees society as a result of a social contract implicitly made between all of us alive today: we agree to live by rules and laws that we then have a chance to rethink, remake, and reform. It’s important that this social contract be fair to us. From this perspective, the questions “Why should recent Korean immigrants bear any responsibility for repairing the damage left by the marks of slavery and Jim Crow?” and “Why should African-Americans find their own capabilities and potential accomplishments still limited by the marks of slavery and Jim Crow?” are both very good ones. (Somehow Andrew Sullivan only asks the first, and never thinks to ask the second. But thinking about why would take us far afield.)

I begin from a different point, from the observations that we Americans alive today are all the recipients of an extraordinary and unmerited gift, an inheritance of institutions, principles, and organizations that is without peer anywhere on the world today and that is of inestimable value. We aren’t independent liberal individuals making a social contract in the rational light of Enlightenment Reason. Instead, we are heirs who have received an enormous inheritance from our predecessors. As Burke wrote, we:

claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity–as an estate specially belonging to the people.

It’s not a contract, or if it is a contract it is not one just between those alive today. Again, as Burke puts it, if you are to think of a social contract you have to recognize that it is not:

a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico, or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties…. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

But estates that are inherited come not only with assets, they also come encumbered with debts. If we are to be Americans–if we are to take up the wonderul unmerited gift, accept the marvelous entailed inheritance that is offered to us–we must take up not just the benefits and advantages, but also the debts that America owes from its past actions as well. To do otherwise–to ignore the debts while grabbing the goodies with both hands–is to show that we are not the true heirs of Benjamin Franklin and company. And chief among the debts that America owes from its past actions is the obligation to erase the marks left by slavery and Jim Crow.

Now Andrew Sullivan wants Americans to welsh on the debts and responsibilities that are attached to our marvelous, unmerited inheritance of institutions, principles, and organizations. He wants us to grab the good parts of the inheritance with both hands, and to say that the bad parts are none of our concern–that the slaveholders are dead, the lynchers are dead, and those who fought hard to protect lynchers from the law are dead (although not all of them, and Strom Thurmond only very recently).

Edmund Burke would disagree. He would say, “Are you crazy? There’s a history here!” He would reach back to Montesquieu, and say that if the ruling principle of despotism is fear (it collapses if the subjects no longer fear the despot), and if the ruling principle of monarchy is honor (it collapse if the nobles no longer seek to outdo each other in deeds to win honor, nobility, and the favor of the king), so the ruling principle of a republic must be virtue. What is virtue? Well, linguistically, virtue comes from the Latin “virtus”: “vir” = man, “tus” = -liness: “virtue” = “manliness” [in a proper modern and gender-indeterminate way, of course]*. Practically, a republic requires virtuous citizens: citizens who will take up their responsibilities and shoulder their share of the obligations neecessary for the common good. People who won’t shirk their responsibilities. “If you wish to be part of this great more than two-century partnership that is America,” Burke would say if I had him here right now, “you need to recognize that your inheritance is an entailed inheritance. First, it comes with an obligation not to waste it–an obligation to in your turn pass down to those not yet born a better nation than the one you live in. Second, it comes with debts attached: past deeds of America that were cruel and criminal, the memory of which is still shameful. Just because the particular members of the great partnership who incurred the debts (the three-fifths clause, the legality of the slave trade, the Missouri Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Act, et cetera) are dead doesn’t mean that that the debts aren’t still owed by the great partnership.”

On many issues I am an arrogant liberal. But not this one. On this issue, I’m an arrogant conservative.

Downloading, the chart and the Digital Economy Bill? (2 of 3)

Guest Post by my friend who still does not have a wordpress account.

Earlier I wrote about filesharing and the Digital Economy Bill, but the real concern for me regarding current purchasing patterns in the UK’s music industry is the singles chart they’re producing.

When I broach this subject with most people, they argue that no one should care about the singles chart because no one buys them. Perhaps this was the case previously, but not anymore.

Due to rising download purchases, which outweighed physical singles purchases by 116m to 1.6m from January to October 2009, more singles than albums were bought last year. So for the first time in ages, singles are saying more than albums about what people are willing to spend money on. One look at the singles chart will tell you that this is no good thing…

Musically, it’s largely uninteresting. The melody of Cheryl Cole’s Parachute takes over two minutes to venture beyond Do, Re, Mi, Fah and So, while Hot by Inna sports a one idea repetitiveness that only all-conquering EuroPop can (Top Ten in nine different European countries so far).

The chart also stumbles lyrically. Tinie Tempah manages to rhyme ‘fresher’ with ‘Freshers’, Usher’s similes range from ‘like pow pow pow’ to ‘like wow oh wow’, and Rihanna’s issues with her man’s erectile dysfunction are not lyrics you want to unwittingly sing to yourself on the train. Believe me.

The No. 2 single, Scouting for Girls’ This Ain’t a Love Song, fails on both counts. Musically, it’s a Scouting for Girls song, which negates any need for further description, and includes the headfuck line “I’m the man that I’m not”. Quite.

On many tracks, overproduction tries to compensate for lack of substance. McLean’s My Name is another average song given the Auto-Tune treatment to drum up interest, while Telephone by Lady Gaga is filled with redundant bleeps and ringtones to fill out the mix, and Gaga’s vocals are augmented with pitch dives and samples.

I don’t mind Auto-Tune as a sound – Kanye West utilised it inventively on 808s and Heartbreak, and sound-wise, it’s a more sophisticated version of the Talkbox or the Vocoder, used by Daft Punk, ELO, Peter Frampton and Stevie Wonder among others – but it shouldn’t mask uninteresting vocals or songs. Nor should it be used to gain a record contract for anyone so devoid of musical ability that they need it on their speaking voice. Which reminds me, Ke$ha – the talentless cunt – guests on Taio Cruz’s Dirty Picture, in at No. 12.

It’s not that the chart is hopeless. Plan B’s She Said is a skilled mixture of soul and rap, if a little too Ronson/Winehouse-esque, Kelis’ return with Acapella is emphatic and there is the always welcome presence of Paul Weller.

However, the talent that is there is stretched too thinly. Set the Fire to the Third Bar re-enters after originally being released in 2006, while Florence appears twice, with one song reaching its 55th week in the chart and her collaboration with Dizzee Rascal mashing up a previous top ten hit with a song that was already a cover.

Perhaps the track most indicative of where the chart is headed is History Makers by Delirious?, which hit No. 4 two weeks ago on the wave of yet another Facebook and social media campaign.

This movement came in response to the initiative that saw RATM take the Christmas No. 1 spot, with the organisers feeling that screaming fuck a lot didn’t fit in with Christmas’ whole world peace vibe, and that a Christian band would be more suitable this Eastertide.

The song is pleasant enough, but by no means outstanding. Picking the band was also a low priority for the organisers, claiming on their website that “it actually could have been anyone”, providing their music was Christian. Of course, the song didn’t survive a week on the chart – it served its purpose and was immediately discarded.

These campaigns are becoming commonplace. Last week, a rather unsuccessful attempt was made to show support for 6 Music, with Joy Division Oven Gloves by Half Man Half Biscuit reaching No. 56.

The problem is that these initiatives are more concerned with their message than the music they use to promote it. We are doomed to hear more mundane music (Joy Division Oven Gloves aside) as the chart is used to promote personal, religious, and maybe even political interests – perhaps we might see D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better re-released…

All I’m arguing is that the chart shouldn’t be allowed to be so stale. But am I deluded in thinking there’s been a point when the singles chart wasn’t so disposable? It’s never been a stranger to novelties and absolute turkeys, and it’d be naïve to expect quality throughout. However, a comparison with charts from Aprils of previous decades shows room for improvement.

In 2000, the number of quality tracks was admittedly similar to today, with A Song for the Lovers by Richard Ashcroft, Santana’s Smooth and Moby’s Natural Blues standing out, but turning to 1990, we see prime examples of pop done well in Madonna’s Vogue and The Power by Snap!, alongside Step On by the Happy Mondays, Pictures of You by the Cure and Orbital’s Chime.

1980 is also strong and boasts The Jam’s Going Underground, Night Boat to Cairo by Madness, Atomic by Blondie and So Lonely by the Police. And 1970 is perhaps the best of all, including Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum, I Want You Back by the Jackson Five, Instant Karma by the Plastic Ono Band, Leavin’ On A Jet Plane by Peter Paul & Mary, Let It Be by the Beatles, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel, and My Way by Frank Sinatra.

Obviously the comparison is too limited to say all charts of these eras were similar, and you can make your own investigations, but seeing fresh, memorable songs from across genres is encouraging. We’re not lacking quality music currently, but rather a wide demographic of people buying singles.

Therefore, I think the best thing we can do for 6 Music is to revitalise the mainstream by supporting our individual music tastes and losing the “no-one buys singles” attitude.

If Tim Davie’s statements are to be believed, one of the main factors in 6 Music’s cancellation was the lack of listeners, with less than 1 in 50 adults tuning in. What 6 Music needs is not a show of solidarity from the faithful, but new blood to make it financially viable.

By diversifying the mainstream, we can bring people into the subculture as they become curious about different types of music. Through sampling different things on Radio 1 and commercial radio, people will be attracted to 6 Music as an outlet that can give them more of what they like. It’s certainly more sustainable than a Facebook campaign every week.

So why not go and buy a single? And if you really want to feel good, buy it from your local independent record store – as we all know, a record store is for life, not just for Record Store Day.

Bella Gerens, one of my favourite immigrants

So let’s cease the lies, shall we? Forget complaining about racism towards immigrants. Let’s all just admit that the vast majority of British people are xenophobic hypocrites who preach endlessly about social justice but then vote to prop up an immigration system that is manifestly socially unjust. Oh yes, everyone has a right to education, healthcare, a living, blah blah, except immigrants. They can get to fuck. They’re stealing benefits that should be reserved for native Britons. And if they come here and work and pay taxes, then they’re stealing jobs. And if they come here as independently wealthy taxpayers, they’re diluting the culture.

Immigrants can’t win. And the three fuckers leaders have made that abundantly clear.

If I had the vote, I’d vote for whoever acknowledged that the vast majority of non-European immigrants subsidise your fucking state and come here because they want to be part of British culture.

Bella Gerens, justifiably angry following last night’s debate.

Population density

Here is my first post of many in my series defending immigration. These are designed to slowly become a resource to defend migrants, in print, speech or online.

If you want to contribute a post, or have something already written that I could crosspost or summarise then please let me know in the comments below.

First: Population Density

We are the third most densely populated land in the world.”

It is often claimed that the UK cannot absorb any more immigrants because we already have one of the highest population densities in the world.

This claim is refuted below. The UK has a relatively high population density but it is not one of the highest in the world.

  1. The UK is the 51st most densely populated country or dependency in the World. The top quartile, but nothing terrifying. In fact a quarter of the world’s population live in more cramp quarters than us.
  2. However, that does include some small Islands, dependencies, city states etc. Which it could be argued are unfair to include (although, I’m sure the people living there would think otherwise). So if we take them out we end up with the below list , in descending order of population density.
    1. Bangladesh
    2. The Palestinian territories
    3. Taiwan
    4. South Korea
    5. Netherlands
    6. Lebanon
    7. India
    8. Rwanda
    9. Belgium
    10. Haiti
    11. Japan
    12. Israel
    13. Sri Lanka
    14. Philippines
    15. El Salvador
    16. Burundi
    17. Vietnam
    18. UK

    This puts the UK in 18th place. Again, this is above average but it is not something which appears to warrant the alarmism sometimes expressed.

  3. Another tactic often employed is to refer to England only (for no particular reason that I can work out – I don’t judge all the US on New York, or all of Germany by Saxony). England has a population of 51 million and a land mass of 50,000 square miles and this gives a population density of a little over 1,000 per square mile. Excluding islands, city states, and dependencies, this still places us behind
    1. Bangladesh
    2. The Palestinian territories
    3. Taiwan
    4. South Korea
    5. The Netherlands
    6. England

    This puts England 6th on the world stage in terms of population density. Now it becomes a little clearer why people bemoaning immigration refer to England; it inflates their figures.

So population density does not appear to be a dreadfully important reason to reduce immigration.

“Aha!” say they, “if you only look at population density then you ignore the pressure migrants put on public services!”

“But you brought up population density in the first place,” says you “you’re shifting the goal posts…”

… we will have to get used to shifting goal posts. But the variety and fluidity of the arguments against migrants are one of the reasons I want these defences codified.

More posts to follow.

I’m tired of arguing with people on the internet about immigration

Right people, I’m getting bored of arguing with people on the internet about Immigration.

Its not that I tire of arguing for immigrants and immigrants’ rights, I genuinely care. But I do get tired of the tedious and repetitive arguments, so I think I’m going to create a resource of arguments and rebuttals to save time in the future. Like Skeptical Science but with UK immigration not Climate Change.

I’ll start here, with an argument I had on James Graham‘s blog and I’ll probably note down arguments from else where. There’s more to be done here too.

Anyone with links to posts, comments or resources would be welcome.

After a few weeks or months, we’ll have all the ammunition needed to ctrl+c and ctrl+v our way to victory when ever the anti-migrant types show up – saving time, learning and improving our chances of bringing people on side.

The Tories are defending FPTP

My past pugilistic parter, @ByrneTofferings has attempted to defend Britain’s broken electoral system. I assumed he must have good reason to do so yet sadly the defences he offers are rubbish.

I thought I’d do him the favour of picking a fight.

Thomas, I like you, but you’re an idiot if you think First Past the Post is an electoral system worth defending. There is a lot wrong with our electoral system and I am worried that an affable chap like Thomas would defend it.

His post starts badly with a link to Tom Harris. He explains that we must ignore the calls for electoral reform from those excluded from the current system because those currently excluded will gain something. Thomas Byrne seems to be trying to phrase a defence of FPTP as a brave stand against vested interests. I must admit this is a brave mood, as it is doomed to failure.

Each electoral system has flaws but we should still pick the least worst one.

That many in politics like the current system is not defence enough in itself, not least because systems as complex as ours are likely to suffer from Status Quo Bias. Those that oppose the system from the outside are not to be written off because they may gain from a different system. From a good capitalist like Thomas Byrne I must admit a little concern for his sudden renunciation of the rational self-interested man.

His post acknowledges that our current system has flaws, and that some votes are indeed wasted but argues that a proportional system would create a new unfairness. It is this “new” unfairness that I suppose it is to this that I should address the bulk of my response.

I call it “new” because it is not a new problem with electoral systems at all, but merely something made explicit in proportional systems.

One of the alleged great strengths of FPTP according to Thomas Byrne is that we are given the opportunity to choose a government. Even if a majority of electors do not pick our final administration at least a relatively large number of them are happy with the one we end up with.

When 40% of the electorate gave the Tories 52% of the seats this was fair because that offered by alternative electoral systems would have been worse. Thomas explains what may have happened under a proportional system:

If 40% of electors vote for party A and 20% for party B, a post-election coalition of the two parties does not enjoy the support of 60% of electors. It enjoys the definitive support of nobody, esepcially as since as people like to shout, the parties are so different in Britain. (At least the members do, the public on the other hand…)

In Thomas’s world coalitions represent a subversion of the democratic will of the electorate as even less than the 40% who chose the Tories in 1992 support this new coalition.

Thomas makes a massive mistake here. In comparing the 40% who voted for a Tory Government and the 60% who voted for our AB coalition he ignores the political reality of each situation.

No one is happy with all aspects of any Government which is elected precisely because they are coalitions of disparate groups forced together by political expediency.

The Labour Party is a coalition of Trade Unionists, intellectuals and so on; the Conservative Party is a coalition of Landowners, Business and so on; the Lib Dems are clearly a coalition – coalitions are a result of any democracy, they  are not the result of proportional democracy.

Thomas does (almost) have a (small) point, when you consider Arrow’s impossibility theorem. There is no “middle ground” for parties in a coalition to meet over only a series of compromises.

But I again refer to my own point; it is more open, more accountable and more democratic that these compromises are out in the open rather than in smoky smoke free Party back-rooms.

Democracy works best when decisions are open to scrutiny and proportional systems offer more of that than FPTP does.

Over to you Thomas. You can capitulate now if you like.

_______

[That is the substance of Thomas’s post dealt with but there were two other things I would raise.

  1. Firstly there is the conclusion with reference to a Party List election system. This is an electoral system with little support amongst those supporting electoral reform for reason which I suggest Thomas Byrne probably opposes it too; it hands a huge amount of power to central party bureaucrats. I feel it is a straw man in a post on electoral reform which, although I disagree with, was entirely honest up to that point.
  2. Thomas also argues that “A report carried out by Richard Rose for the Electoral Reform Society found no consistent link between electoral systems and economic performance.” If this is true than that is a relief. If even limited democracy is good for growth then even badly resourced developing countries can aspire to an electoral system which offers them good growth. But in the developed world a great deal matters as much as economics, for example, human rights such a free speech and habeas corpus. Do proportional systems protect these better than FPTP? On this Thomas is silent. There are a great many policy areas which would be better addressed in a proportional system and it appears that economics matters will be addressed no worse.]

IMF proposes two new bank taxes

LONDON, April 20 (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund has proposed two new taxes on banks to fund the cost of any future bailouts, according to a leaked document published on the BBC’s web site on Tuesday.

This seems likely fairly big news to me. There are two taxes being proposed here, to be extended across the globe.

The first is a Financial Stability Contribution.

“The FSC would be paid by all financial institutions, with the levy rate initially flat, but refined over time to reflect institutions’ riskiness and contributions to systemic risk,” the document said.

The second is a tax which is intended to hit both bank’s profits and banker’s bonuses called the Financial Activities Tax.

The funds raised by FAT would be paid into a global reserve. Its purpose would be to raise revenue for potential bailouts and to reduce the incentives to take excessive risks by hitting bonuses.

Personally I quite like the sound of these. There’s a possibility they will reduce the power of banking without significantly reducing the ability of banks to do what they should do:

  1. Trading money now for money later: people who want to save now and spend later can make win-win trades with people who want to spend now and save later.
  2. Risk: people who are unusually averse to risk in general can make win-win trades by trading off some of the risks that they are bearing to people who are unusually tolerant of risk in general.
  3. Insurance: people who are holding a lot of one big risk can reduce the risk of catastrophic loss by paying a great many others to each take a small piece of that risk.
  4. Information: people who have information that prices are going to rise can make win-win deals with people who have information that prices are going to fall–although here the win-win is not for the participants in the trade: for them it is zero-sum, and the winners are those others who observe the market price at which the trades occur.

While promising I also have some concerns. What immediately springs to mind is that there appears to be no explicit mention of a form of deposit insurance on the wholesale money markets. The FSC sounds like one, but it sounds more general and less targeted at stemming panics than I would like.

We insure bank deposits because when banks fail it is possible that contagion will spread to others and to turn into a widespread panic. To prevent this government backing resulting in Moral Hazard we regulate the banks to prevent them taking on too much risk or debt.

Many banks fail across America even when not in the midst of a financial crisis but since the 1930s that rarely results in bank runs or systemic crises. (UPDATE: Krugman’s post is useful on financial reform).

What we saw in our crisis was a mass panic in the wholesale money markets which many banks had come to rely on for funding. A lot of banks were doing banky things without the backing banks have; when they failed there was nothing holding back the floodgates of panic. Panics helps do this to NGDP. This is bad.

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Of course the funds raised by these taxes will be presented as insurance against future failures but there’s nothing explicit there. Although there would be “a” guarantee, when markets are panicked this “a” guarantee might not prove strong enough compared to “the” explicit guarantee of whole sale money market insurance.

These are just musings and I will reserve judgement until I see what Chris, Tim, Giles, Krugman, DeLong, Sumner and the rest of the blogosphere think. Any thoughts?

I also await the inevitable, interesting and highly amusing volte face by many leftists who will now declare that the IMF is no longer an evil capitalist stooge but a glorious ally in our struggle. Sigh.

UPDATE II: I believe I’ve found the report, so in between leafleting for the Lib Dems, writing a post on immigration I’ve been so very slowly putting together and continuing my wine A-Level I can have a more in depth look. It is here.

UPDATE III: Interesting.

17. Reduce the probability and the costliness of crises. Measures should reduce the  incentives for financial institutions to become too systemically important to be permitted to fail. This requires, importantly, the adoption of improved and effective resolution regimes—to resolve weak institutions in a prompt and orderly manner, including through a process such as official administration (Box 2). Such regimes are emphatically not for bail outs: the crisis has shown that they are essential to reduce the likelihood that governments will be forced to provide fiscal support to shareholders and unsecured creditors. Moreover, taxes and contributions can supplement regulation in addressing the adverse externalities from financial sector decisions, such as the creation of systemic risks and excessive risk taking.

Box 2 An empowered resolution agency (which may be a function within an existing financial oversight agency) would intervene as soon as there is a determination (usually by the supervisor) that an institution is insolvent or unlikely to be able to continue as a going concern. Upon intervening, the resolution agency would take the failing institution into “official administration” and exercise all rights pertaining to the board of directors and shareholders (including by replacing managers, recognizing losses in equity accounts, and, as necessary, exposing unsecured creditors to loss). The objective would be to stabilize the institution, assess its true state, and contain loss of value. The role of a resolution agency would address the common failing in most countries that for financial institutions (particularly those that are  systemically important) the public interest in financial stability, which often leads to the need for bailout, is not among the interests specified in insolvency legislation.

Liquidity support (which typically is made available to viable institutions) would not be the purpose of a resolution scheme that is meant to deal with solvency problems. A solvent institution that is facing liquidity problems would be expected to apply for liquidity support from the central bank only (not the resolution agency), provided it has adequate collateral. The resolution scheme would allow the intervened institution to continue operating and to honor secured contracts; this would limit the disruption and value destruction of  an ordinary bankruptcy procedure and limit spillovers to other parts of the financial system and the real economy. It would allow time for an orderly resolution, which may involve recapitalization, spin-offs of business lines,  “purchase and assumption” transactions, and the  liquidation of unviable units and business lines.  The objective should be to return the institution’s viable operations rapidly to private ownership and  control.

Working capital would be required in the course of the resolution process, notably for bridge financing. The gross financing needs can be sizable, and could come from fiscal sources, an industry-financed fund, or a combination of the two. If  established, the industry-financed resolution  fund—discussed in Section III.B— would be a first recourse for these cases. In addition, a government back-up line of credit should be available.

The necessity and scope of reforms to current resolution regimes would depend on the present system’s ability to handle quickly and efficiently (without the need for judicial intervention) the restructuring and/or bankruptcy of financial institutions. The resolution regime and deposit guarantee scheme should be closely integrated to
support a holistic approach to failing financial institutions, particularly as there  may be overlaps of stability and the protection of depositors. Moreover, the resolution regime should have application to at least those nonbank
financial institutions that could be systemic, which would bring a new challenge given the differences in balance sheets and regulatory frameworks. In practice, experience with resolution of nonbanks is quite limited and confronts many legal complexities. Moreover, regimes ideally would be compatible across countries.

The United Kingdom has recently established such a Special Resolution Regime for banks (Brieley, 2009). The United States legislation is considering a special resolution regime that could be used for systemically important financial institutions (which would include nonbanks). Related to this work, the IMF (at the request of the G-20) is preparing a paper addressing issues pertaining to cross-border bank resolution.

Contradictory Manifesto Promises: Tories and Marriage

During General Elections a lot of promises are made. In fact, politicians are forever making promises but it is now we give them a chance to bundle their best ones together for us to choose between.

Some are entirely reasonable yet produce an irrational and unjustified backlash. Others make superficial sense but are fundamentally flawed and yet do not receive the attention they need.

For example, Britain has long banned prisoners from voting and this was struck down as illegal in 2005.

The Lib Dems are committed to reviewing this policy as, you know, its illegal and Governments should really try to avoid committing crimes. A sensible policy you say, well ask Labour and they say “Do you want convicted murderers, rapists and paedophiles to be given the vote? The Lid Dems do.”

On the other hand, you have policies that to many look sensible but which fray at the edges once you take a closer look. These two policies are connected but not in the way you will first think.

  1. The Conservatives care about The Family. They care about Marriage too and that is why they want to recognise it through the tax system.
  2. The Conservatives worry about knife crime. They promise that anyone convicted of a knife crime should expect a prison sentence.

Some of you will be thinking: “Yes, of course these policies are connected. Strong families will help tackle this country’s knife crime problem.” But things rarely pan out in such a straight forward manner.

Although I am sure the Tories value marriage as an institution in itself, the other vaunted benefit of this policy is that strong families help tackle anti-social behaviour.

Unfortunately sending men to prison (and there are vastly more men in prison than women) makes the creation and maintenance of a family more difficult and could paradoxically do more to cause crime than prevent it.

A study in the USA found “that a one percentage point increase in the male incarceration rate was associated with a 2.4-point reduction in the proportion of women who ever marry.”

Translated out of statistics that means that the more people you bang up, the more people don’t marry and don’t form stable families (although a marriage is not a necessary or sufficient feature of a stable family) and are more likely to engage in crime and anti-social behaviour.

Imagine a desert island with 20 men and 20 women. Here it is easy to imagine them all forming two queues in order of attractiveness and pairing off. If you remove one man then all this changes and one woman faces a lifetime of spinsterhood.

The last woman must try harder if she is to find a man. This causes disruption because if she is successful it is only by displacing another who takes her place. Every woman has to try harder and every man can relax a little; this is not an atmosphere conducive to stable families but it is a logical conclusion to  “Prison Works”.

The Tories have offered us two policies which appear to compliment one another but in reality they aim for mutually exclusive ends.

Other posts in the Contradictory Manifesto Promises series will follow. Posts on Immigration, Parliamentary oversight, and crime statistics are imminent.