Depending On How It Is Performed Inoculation Is Unpredictable; Also True Of Politics

I enjoy the work of blogger Tom Pride. Today (13th August) he wrote about an article which has appeared on the Conservative Home website.  It was titled ‘How to inoculate your children against Socialism’ written by Westminster City Councillor and member of the Adam Smith Institute,  J.P. Floru. Now I cannot compete with Mr Pride in terms of humorous irreverence so I’m taking a more prosaic and personal approach. For a start, in my post I want to leave aside the issue of socialism as my parents had no wish to inoculate me against anything apart from major infectious diseases (OK, and maybe fascism, but they were caring!). Furthermore, Floru’s post is as much about ‘catching’ right-wing Libertarianism as ‘inoculating’ against Socialism.

In Floru’s post he explains how young people can be inoculated in four ways.  Now, I have experienced each of these four ways so how did things turn out?  Lets start with:

1 Rebellion.

Floru claims that Jacob Rees-Mogg has made the astounding staement that teenagers are naturally rebellious. Thank goodness we have people like Rees-Mogg to tell us such things! Now, Floru does not actually recommend anything to counter this, so presumably he is as enlightened as Rees-Mogg. What did I take politically from my rebellious teenage years.  I grew up in an eastern valley in South Wales where the Labour party had a monopoly on political power. There was a certain arrogance and complacency in their attitude and I did rebel.  But it was against systems that gave absolute power to one group. Contestability and accountability are important to me (fundamental tenets of republicanism) I am equally suspicious of, for example, Conservative dominated administrations.  Look how well Kensington and Chelsea has turned out! Floru has little to say abou contestability. But as inoculation is all about conferring immunity I guess it does not factor highly!

2. Inoculation (the crux)

Floru writes:

Michael Clark, a barrister, believes that children are effectively ‘innoculated’ by their parents. Long before they attend school, children from normal households will have heard the views of their parents. 

Further:

This is not about counter-brainwashing your children into right-wing thinking, but rather making them aware that there is an intelligent argument for it, and that they have a choice.

In my case my father encouraged me to think for myself and he would debate politics with me for hours. Sometimes I agreed with him and and built those into my political thinking! He enjoyed the exchanges and he taught me to think for myself. Floru is correct in that I became aware that Libertarian thinking was based around an intelligent argument.  But this only made me realise that I must be informed and focussed in opposing it!

3 Objective truth (!)

Floru claims.

Free market economics work; socialism doesn’t. Marxism, that invented ideology which never worked anywhere, has a tough sell.

My conclusion?  Free market economics is as invented an ideology as much as socialism and Marxism.  It has its roots in the works of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke (the intelligent arguers!) and is based on a view of late seventeenth century economics. If it was invented then I concluded that it can be (has to be!) changed.  Free market economics is not an innate and immutable  consequence of nature.

Finally

4 Understanding personal economics

Floru writes:

Parents can teach their children the values of work, saving, and financial prudence. Later, the children will realise that the state’s budget is but a macro version of their own. 

 

My parents taught me about personal finance and I have budgeted all my life. But, wealthy people frequently inherit their wealth, start with an an economic or social advantage and live off the proceeds of rents and investments, not their own efforts . But they like to tell us mere mortals about hard work, austerity  and being ‘self actualization’. Inherited wealth is driving ever greater inequality. Secondly, Floru is talking complete and utter rubbish.  A state’s finances are nothing like personal finances and this myth helps promote the austerity confidence trick which is impoverishing millions

So the result? One way or another my parents allowed me to experience these four ‘ways’ and the result is somewhat different to Floru’s desirable outcome. I was inoculated against Floru’s right wing Libertarian ideology, a stance which remains as firm as ever!

 

Tax Cuts, the DUP and the Conservative Party Libertarian Counter-Revolution

Peter Brooks Tories
Source: Peter Brooks from The Times Newspaper

The deal the Conservative Party struck with the Democratic Unionists to retain their Commons majority raised some interesting issues about the Neo-Conservative project. Moreover, viewed in the context of their election campaign confusion over tax cuts the deep Tory fault lines are laid bare.

In earlier blogs I described the abrupt change in the nature and direction of the Conservatives since the accession to the leadership of Theresa May.  In these blogs I pointed to a close meshing of ideologies  between Donald Trump in the United States and Theresa May.  You can read these posts here and here but the essence of my argument is the Conservative abandonment of the pursuit of neo-Libertarianism to a largely Neo-Conservative outlook.

Although the situation is a complex one the difference hinges on the size of the Government.  Neo-Libertarians want to shrink the State and cut taxes, with the austerity policies of David Cameron and George Osborne providing a perfect cover.  Neo-Conservatives, however, favour a much larger state (though not at the citizen level) with higher taxes to support it.  Like the Neo-Libertarians they want the state withdrawn from the business of extendeing personal rights and protections (the Welfare State) and see a big project (Brexit for example) as the best way of mobilising patriotism, maintaining social cohesion and justifying the destruction of those rights.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this

What went wrong? In my posts I pointed to an influential figure in American right wing politics, David Brooks.  A central plank of his idea ifs that you cannot rely on consensus or inclusive politics to drive through a neo-Conservative programme, but instead it must be spearheaded by a closr-knit family (the Trumps) or a strong (and stable!!) individual (supposedly, Theresa May).  To the disappointment of the neo-Cons, in the US Trump is proving too incoherent, unpredictable and ill-disciplined to really make an effective impact.  As we have seen in our UK election, Theresa Mat has proven to be uninspiring, uncharismatic and incompetent. Any similarity between May and a Boudicca/Britannia figure evaporated very swiftly during the campaign and she proved to possess almost no talent to persuade anyone to follow her in a bonfire of rights in exchange for national greatness.

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Of Messiahs and Citadels; Trump and May’s Mistaken Path to Liberty

buildingIn his rise to power Donald Trump articulated the grievances of much of middle America and harnessed those grievances by successfully persuading voters that he alone understood the causes and so possessed the remedies. Meanwhile, in the UK a successful Brexit campaign has greatly strengthened the power of authoritarianism and promoted isolationist tendencies.

Messiahs and Avarice

Historically, a vital factor in the rise of demagogic leaders has been the ability to convince large numbers of people that they, and they alone, knew what was best for them. In some cases they presented a solution to an injustice or oppression which was not perceived by the mass of the people. On attaining power, the execution of a resulting ‘liberation’ plan has been the cause of some of the greatest human tragedies. The holocaust, the liquidation of the Russian Kulaks and the Chinese Cultural Revolution are but three of the best known examples.

This form of populism stems from two main sources. The first is a messianic attempt to extend liberty. A despot may genuinely believe that they are ‘freeing’ the people; that it is his or her unique destiny to enlighten them and lead the way out of oppression.  If this is successful, enormous power is available to the despot to pursue that goal, eliminating dissenting ‘erroneous’ views along the way, while executing the ‘will of the people’.  The great thinker Isaiah Berlin in his 1958 Two Concepts of Liberty stated it this way:

One belief, more than any other, is responsible for the slaughter of individuals on the altars of the great historical ideals -justice or progress or the happiness of future generations, or the sacred mission or emancipation of a nation or race or class, or even liberty itself, which demands the sacrifice of individuals for the freedom of society. This is the belief that somewhere, in the past or in the future, in divine revelation or in the mind of an individual thinker, in the pronouncements of history or science, or in the simple heart of an uncorrupted goodman, there is a final solution.

The second source, which may be related to the first, is a naked attempt to grab status and wealth with no underlying ideological drive.  It remains to be seen to which of the two Donald Trump actually conforms, but it is likely that viewing his governing team as a whole, all possibilities are represented.

Continue reading “Of Messiahs and Citadels; Trump and May’s Mistaken Path to Liberty”

Theatres of Cruelty; TV Entertainment Normalises the Neoliberal Ethos

For many of our fellow citizens the pursuit of neoliberal economics has resulted in atrocious working conditions, low wages, surveillance and an impermanent job on zero hours contracts at the beck and call of employers who can dismiss them with impunity.  While writing a post a few weeks ago about the talent show Let it Shine it occurred to me that this form of TV normalises the neoliberal position in the name of entertainment.

This issue was highlighted a few years ago  by Nick Couldry of Goldsmiths College in the context of reality programmes such as Big Brother (you can find a copy of his article here). Couldry calls such programmes a secret theatre of Neoliberalism as the structure of such programmes obscure their links to oppressive labour conditions in the guise of playful entertainment. Couldry points to a number of characteristics of such shows including continual surveillance and subservience to an absolute external authority which are both issues of concern at JD Sports and Sports Direct warehouse workers.  Another feature, team conformity in which dissent is arbitrarily punished is clearly seen in the JD Sports situation. One of the problems faced by agency workers is the way in which their situation engenders a  subservient mindset.  While of a different nature the nature of reality TV formats impose similar psychological conditions.

What about the other genre of reality programme, the talent show?  This, by the way includes Trump’s The Apprentice. Again we can see the factors of neoliberalism in play. The projection of manufactured authenticity is a vital component. the entertainment version of the Asda personnel manager’s insistence on a ‘mile of smiles’, where as Couldry mentions, every smile must nonetheless be a ‘real smile’. Likewise, if the contestant does not live up to expectations they are discarded by viewer votes and the competition rolls relentlessly onwards.

In the context of widespread discontent about the neoliberal pursuit of globalisation, Couldrey makes some a telling comment:

There is no basis for challenging the national vote, any more than we can individually challenge a corporate decision to downsize; the consequences must in both cases be borne individually.

Finally, programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing also demonstrate a feature of neoliberalism quite separate from working conditions, namely alienation and cultural exploitation. Artefacts (in this case dance formats) are appropriated, stripped of emotional content and repackage into a standard entertainment industry format.

So when you next sit down to enjoy a reality programmes, think about how the conditions endured by the competitors are shared by minimum wage and zero hours contract workers.  The difference is that the contestants are there by choice and can decide to walk away ay any time.  For many workers in Britain’s warehouses and supermarkets there is no such relief, fully justifying Couldry’s claim of cruelty.

NHS Targets; Another Dodgy Cold War Weapon for Jeremy Hunt To Use

aabdeAlthough Jeremy Hunt can be accused of many things, dissembling, incompetence and duplicity amongst them, it is my opinion that he actually works very hard.  Unfortunately for us the aim of his efforts have not been improving the National Health Service but in managing the news to deflect the justified criticism of his actions and instead place the whole blame on the staff of the NHS or, incredibly, on us the users of the service  Hunt is not looking for solutions to deep seated NHS difficulties, but rather to make HNS itself look unsalvageable. Here is how he is achieving this goal.

Missed targets are nothing new

This winter the NHS, especially its Accident and Emergency Departments are rarely out of the news. The main focus for the media has been the increasing inability to meet the target to treat 95% of A&E patients within 4 hours.  The scale of the problem was leaked to the BBC last month.  As a result Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested that he may consider relaxing the four hour target.

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Are all UK Republicans Lefties?

It is a frequently held view that, in the UK at least, Republicanism is a concern of socialists and communists. ‘You’re just a bunch of ‘loony lefties’ is an occasional accusation, though I’m never sure whether the accuser is claiming that all ‘lefties’ are ‘loony’ or that only some ‘lefties’ are ‘loony’! Setting that aside, is the accusation correct?

Republicanism Predates Modern Political Notions of  Left and Right

A brief look at the roots of modern Republicanism reveals that this cannot be the case. Influential early Republican thinkers such as Macchiavelli and his colleagues in Renaissance Florence lived during the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries well before the concepts of ‘left’ and ‘right’ were conceived. Later, during the English Civil War of the 1640s many of the Parliamentary forces which opposed the king, Charles Stuart, were led by aristocrats such as the Earls of Manchester and Essex who had no interest whatsoever in sharing either their lands or wealth very widely. Similarly, the aristocrats were joined by the wealthy traders and merchants who viewed the fact that the King possessed the rights to extensive natural resources such as minerals as an obstacle to the development of free trade. Interestingly the modern-day rivalry between the north-east cities of Newcastle and Sunderland dates to this era when miners of the Tyne were given the coal trading franchise by the King at the expense of their Wearside competitors. So at the outbreak of the Civil War, Newcastle was a Royalist stronghold and Sunderland fought for Parliament. It has been argued by CB MacPherson and others that the emergence of Britain as a modern free enterprise mercantile nation could not have occurred without a successful opposition to the monarchy. This was reinforced by the fact that the King claimed the power to raise taxes under certain circumstances independently of Parliament, such as for purposes of warfare.

Continue reading “Are all UK Republicans Lefties?”