We don’t need Robin Hood, funny though…

Here is a brain tickler: How best to even out wealth inequality in the UK? In a letter posted in yesterday’s Guardian, spurred on by an article written by one Polly Toynbee, several high-profile folks champion the idea of a fairer tax system, a process which might just save those swingeing cuts from the public sector. The think-tank Compass have also issued a report detailing what a fairer tax system might look like, with an 8-point plan of measures that include

1. 50% Income Tax band at £100,000 2.3
2. Uncap NICs and make payable on investment income 9.1
3. Minimum income tax bands 14.9
4. Reintroduce 10p basic rate -10.5
5. Higher Council Tax bands 1.7
6. Abolish tax havens for ‘non doms’ 10.0
7. Financial transaction tax 4.2
8. Cost cutting measures e.g. Trident, ID cards, 15.1
£46.8 bn

(The full report is available to download here)

This, as well as the high pay commission (also of Compass), are attempts to look from a different agenda to the current one in the UK, of curbing both wealth excess and huge great gaps, including details on fair taxation of small businesses and the existence of non-domiciles, elements so crucial to an egalitarian society.

Orthodox opinion on maintaining a rich country and providing for the needy before the crash was to allow the finance system relative freedom to do as they wish (although some bankers, namely Sir David Walker, “a former Morgan Stanley grandee ” now refuse the freedom to name his millionaire staff and cap excessive bonuses, as one article in the Guardian today suggests). Risk, for example, was once convincingly (I say with my tongue in my cheek) argued by some to be both necessary and beneficial to the rest of the economy, but now across the political spectrum opinions have changed. Banks, still, however, are not the site of challenges to wealth inequality.

Certainly the results yesterday testify as much, that overdraft charges are legitimate simply serve to show that arbitrary figures (“in some cases fining £25 a month, plus £25 each time the overdraft increases, plus £35 for every bounced payment” says Dan Roberts of the Guardian) match up with gaps between rich and poor. To suggest, as the Telegraph did yesterday, that bank charges are the impetus needed for utilising freedom of choice, and in this sense are a benefit to free systems, is absurd beyond belief.

Further, to justify the banks win as a way to maintain free banking for those who would never go into the red is lunacy. The notion that banks should dip in as they wish without having to justify their behaviour to the Office of Fair Trading, is the only way for individuals to keep current accounts without paying to open and maintain them, makes my skin crawl so much, it’s any wonder I’m not a walking, ever-decreasing mantle of evaporating red curd (and this was opined in a piece in today’s Guardian, not some rightist rag of filth).

To believe that the way finance capital is organised today is anywhere near the hallmark of freedom and equality, humours the realistically minded as much as German banker who robbed from rich accounts to provide for poor clients should humour the sane. To be sure, this is the only Robin Hood anywhere near the appropriate buttons (she avoided jail luckily), who is using distributionist methods for the poor. Methods of distributionism are nothing new for the rich, and in fact the overdraft charge is the very prop used to keep these customers happy. As Dan Roberts so elequently put, “all big banks openly and routinely use this [charge] to subsidise the cost of providing banking services for better-off clients [and it] flies in the face of natural justice”. What happens if there is a particularly low period of charge productivity, how then do these banks keep their high earner clients happy? Who knows? Who even wants to guess?

But should it really take this illegal action to spur on an agenda of change? No. Then when, and from whom? What does our compass say?

The Jewish Invention

“Beware of scholars with agendas”, David Aaronovitch begins his polemical review (“We’re an invention? Prove it“, David Aaronovitch, November 19, 2009) of comments made by historian Tony Judt, regarding Shlomo Sand’s book The Invention of the Jewish People. Noteworthy advice at best, but not necessarily good advice, for I would modify it to being aware of scholars with bad agendas. Looking further at the gaps of Jewish historiography has not always been the preserve of people with agendas seeking to damage or tar Jews.

Sigmund Freud, of all people, once remarked that Moses, being an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten, and not, as is erroneously assumed, his being originally Hebrew, meant that in many ways the accepted version of Jewish history had to be revised. As such, in a letter he told Arnold Zweig “Moses created the Jews” and, in his last substantial book Moses and Monotheism stated that “it was not God who chose the Jews … but Moses”.

Interesting timing for Freud’s assertions. Just before writing his book on Moses, Freud had been visited by Nazi guards in his house in Vienna, to rob him of his wealth, and send a token warning of Freud’s continued safety in occupied territory. For Freud, such events might typically persuade Jews into unquestionably buying into all hitherto established histories, as an overcompensatory mode of solidarity. But Freud chose not to do this, he instead uncovered a history that both sought to undermine the Nazi’s attitudes towards Jews (for everything they knew was wrong), and in turn sealed another chapter in the long and rich history of Jewish people.

Beware of scholars, but if the agenda is to undercut anti-Semitic attitudes, fire away.

There was no liberal intervention

Reports in today’s Telegraph clarify what every opponant of the war in Iraq knew all along:

The reports disclose that:

Tony Blair, the former prime minister, misled MPs and the public throughout 2002 over the timing of Britain’s military planning.

The Foreign Office unit to plan for postwar Iraq was set up only in late February, 2003, three weeks before the war started.

The plans “contained no detail once Baghdad had fallen”, causing a “notable loss of momentum” which was exploited by insurgents.

Don’t be fooled, the future is state regulation

In my opinion, that famous neo-Hegelian thinker Francis Fukuyama – the man responsible for the predication in the late eighties/early nineties that at the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end-of-history had loomed upon us, and it had shown free-market capitalism to be the victor over socialism – has gone from being a thinker of history, to an illustration of how exactly history has panned out. Allow me to explain.

In the work for which he is best known The End of History and the Last Man (1992), Fukuyama argued that the endpoint of man’s social and cultural evolution has been realised in liberal, free-market democracy, conflicting with other more popular Hegelian thinkers, most notably Karl Marx who asserted that ‘the end of pre-history’ would be the triumph of communism over capitalism.

Fukuyama was considered a key neoconservative thinker ever since the 1992 publication, and was often held by laissez-faire thinkers and businessmen as a source of justification for the pursuit of capital, as well as the primary reference for understanding why revolutionary fronts failed.

This was the opinion that Fukuyama held – in print – until 2003, when he released his book Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, in which he realised the potentially dangerous cost of allowing the pharmaceutical industry a totally free charter to operate, without regulation from either the state or a non-departmental public body (or quango, as they are known colloquially).

Fukuyama cites in the book examples including the issuing of psychotropic drugs to children with behavioural problems, concluding that often corporations have dubious motives in creating and selling them. Ritalin, Fukuyama opines, is one such drug, created in order to cap a child’s instincts, stating that it ‘‘is prescribed largely for young boys who do not want to sit still in class because nature never designed them to behave that way’’ (p. 52). The state, of course, is not devoid of blame here, but attention should be paid to the power of the drugs lobby, especially in the United States, where most of Fukuyama’s attention is focused on.

The future would look even bleaker were biotechnology to be unregulated. Fukuyama worries that Human Genetics has the potential to be used as a tool for misuse, especially in the field of genetic engineering, where opinions on what is considered ‘normal’ be saved, and what is considered ‘abnormal’ be destroyed at the genetic root. Destroying disease would be an obvious benefit, but opinions on so-called racial, sexual, and biological normality in general would cause real tension. Furthermore, genetic engineering, unless curbed and utilised in some way, could be the play thing of the rich, thereby creating the potential of a wealthy “superior breed” – or as one philosopher has stated, a master race with the capabilities of “instigating a new class warfare”.

It is for this reason that once hardcore free-marketer Fukuyama has become concerned with who be trusted to decide the utility value of biotechnological advancements.

More recently Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws QC, chair of the Human Genetics Commission, in her lecture at Gresham College, noted that the argument of the day is not whether genetics be regulated or not, but rather how genetics be regulated?

The same argument, I would argue, goes for the economy in general today. The question, since the crash, should not be whether or not regulation should be set up overseeing the banking system, but rather how this regulation should operate. The Tories’ argument against Alistair Darling’s new plans to give the Financial Services Authority (FSA) new powers ‘to tear up contracts that would result in payments being made that would cause instability’ is that the FSA already has these powers. But the Tories want to scrap the FSA. It doesn’t take a genius to spot the inharmonious position George Osborne has taken of both wanting to come down hard on the City, but opposing the existing regulatory body of the financial system. If he were genuine about his concern for big bonuses (which he obviously isn’t) he would want to expand the FSA, and ask questions as to why they haven’t done more to seek out capitalist greed.

The sixty-four-thousand-dollar-question on the economy is the same one as for genetics, how should regulation operate. Francis Fukuyama, having gone from stating unfettered capitalism as historical victor, to realising that the future is in regulation, is the embodiment of that very question. It is no longer necessary to bicker about whether the invisible hand is the attitude to have towards the functioning of society and economics, but, rather, how best the state, and those it represents, should take full control.

Why kick a man when he’s Brown?

That former swappie trotbag Steel got it right this week when he said of Mr. Brown:

So the poor man bumbles along, and if he rings Mrs Janes again, the conversation will probably end with him saying: “I don’t know where to turn,” and her replying: “Mr Brown, please accept my condolences, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in your position right now. I know this was the job you always wanted but there was also the chance it could turn out this way I suppose. Try and stay strong, Mr Brown, you poor poor thing.”

Brown is one to feel sorry for – our top hacks agree – and don’t for a second think that this will bring in the votes. But, I hasten to add, was this the plan?

The Sun thing was dreadful, and brought more scorn to their front door than Brown’s, but today’s attempt at doing something for the best has backfired.

Mr Brown joined Australia in apologising for the shipment of child migrants headed for the old developing colonies, such as Canada and Australia, who were lied to about their families and used as work fodder. But before Brown could take off his happy hat, the Telegraph reports:

Harold Haig, the secretary of the International Child Migrants Association, said he was appalled that the Australian apology has come before any British apology.

“Gordon Brown should hang his head in shame,” he said.

“He is allowing the country that we were deported to to apologise before the country where we were born. It is an absolute disgrace. He should hang his head in shame.

Oh I wonder why he bothers sometimes, it is just the most extraordinary point of blame. Perhaps a little late it is, but what does Haig believe is the motive? Does Brown love child slavery? Brown should not be hanging his head in shame!

Don’t worry about the leader who you feel dreadfully sorry for, pour scorn on those who are happy to kick a man when he’s down – for whatever reason they feel, however unnecessary.

Reasons to be cheerful

Warning: This will be of limited interest to most and does include some idolatry

In an essay I published with the International Journal of Zizek Studies this year, I mentioned plans by an Iranian car manufacturer to market cars based specifically for women. I said:

another event that caught my eye recently on the matter of Iranian plans for
a car designed specially for a woman. The car producer Iran Khodro have made
plans for the vehicles to be feminine in colour, will feature aids to make parking more
efficient and a jack for easier removal of tyres. For this explicit turn of ideology one is
tempted to be outraged at the sexism and patronisation such plans demand from the
western liberal subject. But this subject is offended only by the explicit ideology, not
the car itself for which such designs are already in existence in the western capitalist
world. What is most unpalatable about the plan is the honesty, where western
capitalism would conceal this sort of dogma under the illusion of a totally free choice.

It just so happens that Zizek himself had as his twitter status on the 2nd of November (which, yes, I follow):

Have you heard about an Iranian company’s plan to market a car specifically for women? Volkswagon’s dream has been stolen away from them.

Could it be possible that I myself have informed Zizek of this? I really rather hope so…

The Social-Democratic alter-ego

I’m not too enthusiastic about Power2010. I, like a few others on the left, view these things as merely a way of reinforcing the status quo operation of change, without actually changing anything at all, however, I never miss a good old fashioned, Lamarck-esque meme, so here is my contribution.

I have lately started using the term social-democratic alter-ego seriously. What I’m trying to achieve with this term is a mode of operation for a period of social transition.

Surely every opponent of the way in which capital is organised should have a social-democratic alter-ego for the purposes of the transition phase, but a stand should be taken at the quasi-Leninist position of inequality and capitalism being the impetus needed for social revolution. Having said this, Lenin himself should not be held accountable, for the pursuits of late capitalist protest have engendered what I mean.

Allow me to explain.

Take for example Naomi Klein’s book No Logo, Nick Cohen repeats in his book What’s Left that even Hollywood is anti-capitalist in the sense that it promotes Klein, Moore, Pilger and all the other half-arsed stuff. But anyone with a little bit of sense can see the problem here. When Starbucks for example went fair trade, raised wages, took it upon themselves to address workers rights this was a victory for Klein, this was a victory for the no logoers.

But it was not necessarily a victory for socialism, as time spent in socialist groups in universities, who spend much time sticking boycott coca cola stickers to drinks machines, will seem to contradict. We seem to have only succeeded in making capitalism better, we now more Soros’, Turners’ and Gates’. This has not changed the logic of capital itself, and as much as this hurts to say, starbucks do not decide the logic of capital, so to choose to be antagonistic towards them, or Cocoa cola, or macdonalds, only seems to contribute to the logic of capital, which is not damaged by using recyclable cups, going fair trade, paying its workers a quid more.

Where this looks like a criticism of certain brands, it’s not. My point here is this, our social-democratic alter-ego should allow for these shifts in ethics, for better conditions are better than worse conditions. And if you, like me, are convinced that the logic of capital is abhorrent, you will not be phased by the efforts to change democracy from within the parameters we have.

I argued elsewhere that revolution cannot exist in the capitalist framework, the socialistic end of history cannot exist where capitalism is the international economic hegemon, thus proving my anti-Stalinist tendencies, so the framework must be changed. This is a long-term project. So to want democracy now, must entail that alter-ego, a temporary transitional phase. But to view your End as a no logoer, that is detrimental to the project, and capitalism is the only benefactor, because lets not forget the main scope of the capitalist project, to nip in the bud ones pursuit of change, if the logic of capital detects a change that doesn’t assault the existing logic of capital, consider the job done. Consider the green revolution, fair trade, even to some extent unionisation. These don’t end capitalism, they demand that capitalism allow for it. And my social-democratic alter-ego likes green, likes fair trade, likes unions, but I’m constantly reminded that these are only transitional phases, not Ends.

The transition from feudal to capital proved that society is not fixed, so we should be clear on what post-transition should look like, by process of elimination. Those reformist challenges that do nothing to endanger the current status quo should be the benchmark with which we judge the outcome of the end of history.

My conclusion is power2010 might be good for ideas, pariticpation methods, and for this I am happy to agree and follow its development. But until the logic of capital is challenged, power will be concentrated to and determined by capitalism.

Now, for the hard part, who do I burden to spread this meme, let me try:

First of all back to Guy of Power 2010

Then Salman at The Third Estate

The boys at Though Cowards Flinch

Mr. H

and lastly the one they call Left Outside

That’ll do…

What to do in Afghanistan

The issue of what to do in Afghanistan is not black and white, there are no simple solutions. Realistically the UK cannot continue to use the plans it is currently applying, the most dignified thing to do is allow a country to make its own mistakes. Further, it is not possible to pick up and go, too much infrastructural reliance is upon us, and in any case, it is not necessary to be pulling the strings of the government of a country for it to take the measures needed to create an army, for the purpose of guarding the Afghan province targeted by Pakistani extremists.

As a reply to the former Former British diplomat Charles Crawford, I wrote the following entry in July. At the time, the hot topic was whether governments should make contact with unpalatable forces in order to ease tension. I was in favour and of the move and admired the Obama administration for championing it. He has now been vindicated of his efforts with the nobel peace prize. The entry was not widely read judging by the stats, and it seems that no new ideas have been brought to the table, and since the meat of the article is something I still stand by I will reprint it.

Kilroy, on question time last night was offensive and laughable (in about equal measure), but he did touch upon something of interest, the conduct of our allies and leaving schedules. I’m not silly enough to believe that the timetable will establish everything we need to know and apprehend – I’m of the Lacanian school (I will send a toy to anyone who gets this reference) – but it will put objectives into perspective, and appease those who claim we have no plan or method in Afghanistan. Not that we need to appease critics, but some critics do have valid questions, and this is one such question: when will the conditions be met for us to leave, and, indeed, what exactly are these conditions?

~ by raincoatoptimism on July 28, 2009

I wonder if it throws up too many images of compromise, but for some, talking with the enemy is not an option even worth thinking about. Tory Rascal notes that his views on the war in Afghanistan are not popular, but efforts to turn locals against insurgents should be done regardless of popularity, and this can all be achieved without dialogue with the Taliban.

TR has it right that his view is not popular, 58% in a recent poll said that the Taliban could not be defeated militarily, and 52% of voters would support an immediate withdrawal. Certainly the argument that troops cannot be removed straight away, as this would undo all the hitherto hard work, is collapsing – just how long can this argument be defended? Indefinitely?

But as for dialogue, does this have any political punch of late?

Former British diplomat Charles Crawford writes off dialogue with the moderate Taleban as “containment”, which in US military is the position between “appeasement” (compromise through negotiation) and “rollback” (military force to destroy the enemy at its root), usually referred to when talking about US military strategy of carefully watching the expansion of the Soviet Union in the hope that this would relax its tendencies.

The parallel here is that talk with the Taleban would determine how it plans to expand its bases and thus, with patient strategy and examination, curb that expansion at the root.

But Crawford is scornful of this move. He views it as an impossibility of the “moderates” to include the extreme elements into the fixture. For him, this talk is cheap.

But talk in the age of Obama is different from the age of the Cold War or Vietnam (where “containment” was a dominant strategy). For the Obama administration dialogue is a requisite of victory. Such talk of talk was completely absent from the Bush era, there would be no communication with Cuba, North Korea or Iran, these were counterproductive. And it got the US nowhere. Obama can be seen making in-roads over discussions with China, questions have been raised on the touchy subject of a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel due to Obama’s engagement with leading authorities from both sides, and efforts to oversee Iran’s nuclear proliferation have not slowed down the process to determine how much is too much.

But on the last point comes the grey area. Attempts at dialogue in Iran haven’t stopped Ahmadinejad being an antagonist towards the US, but is this point enough to dissuade anybody that dialogue itself is a motive we should do away with? To be sure, the non-talk policy of Bush backfired.

What needs to be clarified is the motivation of dialogue. It should be reinforced that it is not a phase before giving in. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s stepping up the strategy so as to try and see these wars to their full closure.

Certainly what is appealing about US and UK moves to open dialogue is that it will shed light on feasible exit dates. Often in previous years the gap to understanding the realities of unpalatable forces in the Middle East was due to refusal of engagement with those willing to speak, not least promoting blind spots for intelligence, but reiterating the commonly held (and perhaps justifiably so) view that the US and UK were arrogant and unwilling to hear all sides (an image far away from the compassionate one with which we tried to justify the war on terror).

But hearing all sides is not a kop out – it serves foremost to understand the situation better. The war in Iraq was wrong, the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and open engagement, far from giving in, is a concerted attempt to see an end to these unjust conflicts – and soon.

This entry is in response to Charles Crawford’s article Should We Talk To The Taleban? as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment

More market fundamentalism than methodism

I scorned at the plans to take Sir Alan Sugar on as enterprise tsar, I turned my nose up at him getting a peerage, I guessed that it was all glamour, it had nothing to do with Alan the individual, it was all to do with his media personality. A move to be expected at the time of Brown’s reshuffle after a disappointing European election effort, ideas needed to be circulated on how best to woo the prime-time television voting public who perceive labour as little more than a failed spectre, trying to flirt and provide champagne parties for the city, whilst repeating any redundant  rhetorical mantra to keep the usual base as mere voting numbers.

Not enough any more to say that Labour have shot themselves in the foot with taking on Alan, a symbol (or if not a symbol, a reminder) of how much of a political price Labour are paying to remain in the pockets of the city. Not enough because they are no longer shooting themselves in the foot. This is the New Labour project plan in action, they’ve succeeded. It’s not compassionate capitalism, or capitalism with a human face. It’s not even the reluctant understanding that socialism has failed, Labour owes nothing to Marxism, but every day it becomes more market fundamentalism than methodism.

This turn may have abandoned the usual base, but did it succeed politically? This needn’t be discussed at length, but the recent smattering of essays and articles (and of course blog entries) about a return to a riotous age, like the poll tax riots, or the riots of Brixton. See for example Dominic Sandbrooks’ essay in the staggers, Alistair Darling can sleep easy without fear for his head, but we are closer to the edge than we may think. The political mob may well have found its temporary accomodation on the internet, but when panic meets flesh, just what will the next 10 years bring?

Again, perhaps not a symbol of, but certainly a reminder that everything New Labour touches turns to shit is Alan Suagr’s recent burst about small businesses losing money being moaners. Like Tony Blair around the time of the Iraq invasion, for my sanity and persistent support for the party I spend more time berating than beloving, I want our unpalatable spokespeople to be guilty, not pompous (I was not alone as an atheist to want Blair to bring more Catholicism to the party, not less). Even if Sugar was the epicentre of loving and kindness, I know it would be bollocks, but if we as a party must employ business gurus, they should be the lying ones, the ones who feel only guilty about their wealth in public, not the ones who stick their fingers up at the poor, but who pretend to care. I’m thinking more Soros than O’Leary.

This is not an isolated incident either, only a few days ago he publicly humiliated a woman who, owing to her husband losing his job, was forced to take benefits to keep their house. After Sugar told her she must come off benefits to spend more time for her business (she could only work 24 hours on the business in order to be eligible for benefits) he then said “If you wish to remain on the benefit system that’s your decision. What am I supposed to do, wave a wand and change the benefits system?” These are not just the words of someone with a history of unprovoked claptrap, but the words of a Government spokesperson. Call me unrepentent, or even too optimistic, but he should be fired.

In February 2005 Sugar predicted that the iPod would be “dead, finished, gone, kaput” by the following Christmas. I’m not as politically dim as to predict anything as stupid, but it won’t stop me hoping that Sugar’s political career goes the same way as his predictions.


Update: And this is what I mean, Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy and co-director of the centre for research and development in higher education at Liverpool Hope University, has written an article today on the Guardian website criticising Lord Mandy’s new framework for higher education, saying:

The second proposal is that business should have a bigger role in determining the university curriculum, in return for making a greater contribution to costs. Leaving aside the question of precisely which firms these will be, this is highly questionable. Designing and delivering a programme of study requires a specific set of aptitudes and skills. It is far from obvious that business has these aptitudes and skills or that it has any better idea of its likely skills requirements in 5 to 10 years’ time than anyone else. As for the idea that business should pay more, one can only refer to Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on second marriages: this represents the triumph of hope over experience.

It’s bad enough that the logic of capital champions infiltration of education, but when our Labour politicians actively promote it, we are in trouble.

The twitterati, facebookworms, and other forms of web hegemony

Nick Cohen said in his column yesterday that:

At the height of the [apparently heartfelt protests against the BBC’s refusal to broadcast an appeal for the victims of the war in Gaza] in January, the BBC Trust had logged more than 22,000 complaints from campaigners who seemed desperate to do what ever they could to get aid to the afflicted. The alleged concern of almost half of them was phoney. At precisely that moment, the number of true altruists who had put their hands in their pockets and contributed to the appeal stood at a mere 13,000.

It made me think of a separate issue, namely that of internet democracy and participation. There is a lot of talk about such a thing on the web, its unique way of grabbing the attention of those who would otherwise have no interest in it, and the problems it may bring up, for example the lacking of proper online public space.

What Cohen’s point seems to be here is that online democracy – showing its colours of late with twitter campaigns of Jan Moir, the Guardian gagging by Barclays etc – is exaggerated. A modest amount are the true architects of protest, and this in turn creates a figure double that of the original as followers, uncommitted numbers in a chain of cause and afflict.

His conclusion steers elsewhere, but an obvious subtext is the worry of internet hegemony – I’m thinking Stephen Fry, now back from his 24hour abandonment of the Tweeterati –  being a new force in democracy. I’m not surprised at new forms of participation being hijacked, but am in hope that the web will create more direct forms of public input, eventually.

Further, I’m not surprised because democracy has hitherto worked on this basis anyway. Real democracy will be achieved when all forms of hegemony are harnessed. But maybe all pariticpationist forms will rely on hegemons? It is for this reason that Cohen’s figure above does not send shivers down my spine, at least no more shivers than do currently reside there.