Friday, 26 May 2017

The law is too complicated for lawyers

Do you ever think that it is hard to know what you are and aren't allowed to do? Well, even a whole bunch of lawyers can't manage it. This just  popped into my inbox:


Full story here, if you are interested.

(PS. Yes, this is an EU law. No, it probably won't change on Brexit.)

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Violence against Britain

The horrible news of the bombing in Manchester makes me (and many people other people) ask "why?" I mean: why do they do it? And what do they hope to achieve?

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Economist on Labour

The Economist is no fan of May Toryism: she has the opposite of the magazine's socially-liberal, economically-conservative leanings. But it is finding little to like in Labour either, and enjoying itself rather more in doing so. Here are three examples.

1. On the manifesto: "Kaufman recalled that one of the left-wingers in 1983 wanted to get a policy on puppy-farming into the [1983] manifesto, but this was too much detail even for Tony Benn. But there it is, on page 94 of “For the Many, not the Few” [i.e., the 2017 Labour manifesto] —the pledge to “prohibit the third-party sale of puppies.” At least Mr Corbyn’s Labour party will go down fighting for what they believe in." Not interested in puppies? Well, "on page 89 Labour pledges to expand the role of the Grocers Code Adjudicator, while on page 112 the party promises to “protect the right to a nomadic way of life”. All, again, in no particular order. The vital Benedict Cumberbatch/Eddie Redmayne issue, of there being too many toffs in the theatre, appears on page 92." (Actually, it's a good example of Labour's policies being more popular than its leadership. I would like to protect the right to a nomadic way of life too, and they are onto something with the upper-middle classes colonising the arts. But really!)

2. "Labour is not so much an organised political party as a blood-soaked battleground between two warring factions: the far-left faction, led by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, and including acolytes such as Dianne Abbot and Emily Thornberry, and “moderate” Labour. “Moderate” Labour [includes] Yvette Cooper, the moderate wing’s current leader and wife of Gordon Brown’s right-hand man, Ed Balls, Stephen Kinnock, the son of the party’s former leader, Neil Kinnock and Hillary Benn, the son of the left’s former champion, Tony Benn ... [Moderates were hoping that] Yvette Cooper [...] would lead the party and the likes of Mr Kinnock and Mr Benn would act as able lieutenants." (From here.) It was unnecessary to point out that the alternative to the far-left is a group of people who are related, by blood or marriage, to other former Labour politicians. But you can see why they made the point.

3. Last but not least, this headline on a story about Labour's economic programme: "Old McDonnell has a plan. He eyes IOUs".

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Things to read

1. "Conservatives are wrong about everything, except predicting their own place in the culture," says Frederik de Boer here. If you read his piece (and you should) you will see that what he really means to say is that conservatives are right about the facts, but wrong about morality. But they are not just right about facts, but right about facts to do with human nature, and they are more honest in talking about reality as well. Hmm. De Boer is an interesting and fair-minded man of the Left, but (rather like Scott Alexander) his ability to see the qualities of the Right suggests that there is hope for him yet.

2. Meanwhile and also in America, "On average, workers born in 1942 earned as much or more over their careers than workers born in any year since". What about women? "Women have done much better than men. More women have entered the labor force and taken on more prestigious and remunerative careers." That's good, right? "Still, women are making less than men over their working years, and women’s rising earnings have not made up for the decline in men’s incomes for the population as a whole. ... As more women entered the labor force, median household incomes rose even as incomes of individual workers of a given age stagnated, with families using extra workers to bring home more money. But that climb ended in 1999, and since then, median household incomes have fallen, according to the census." More details here. People born in 1999 are just starting to go to university. For their whole life, median household incomes have been declining. And then they meet the people de Boer is talking about. Something has gone wrong.

3. This. It's about Clayton Christensen. It's well worth your time even if (especially if?) you have no idea who he is.

4. French opinion polls were way off. Don't look out for 'shy' Tories or what have you - look out for 'reluctant' ones. Macron had lots of reluctant support. Le Pen was a pretty good example of what they didn't want to vote for. British polls (for what they are worth) may be telling us that Corbyn is our Le Pen: generative of loud support from the few, and widespread but lukewarm opposition from the many.

5. "When asked by a journalist which language he spoke at home, Prince Philip, who is of German-Danish-Russian descent and the nephew of King Constantine I of Greece, replied “What do you mean, ‘at home’?” Born ninety years ago on a kitchen table in Corfu ..." More here, including: "In Paris, Philip lived with his aunt, Princess Marie Bonaparte, a disciple of Freudian psychoanalysis who would soon become France’s leading sexologist. At this point he attended a kindergarten in Jules Verne’s former house, where he was mocked for the brevity of his name. “Of Greece”, he would awkwardly reply when asked what came after “Philip”."

6. On Rod Dreher and Andrew Sullivan on reaction. Andrew Sullivan is becoming interesting again.

7. Did you ever watch "Girls"?

8. You can eat a horse, but you can't eat a robot. Can you eat people?

9. Behavioural economics scepticism.

10. The "mean girls" of philosophy are very very mean.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Bigger fish than Brexit

I will, in due course, explain how and why the EU has been so quick and firm on a hard Brexit. In the meantime, if you have been following the FT series of articles I linked to in my previous post, you will not have been surprised by the news on the radio yesterday morning, based on what the Frankfurter Allgemeine says here (and see the Telegraph here), about Juncker, Merkel and May. It is more of the same. The EU has its ways and it is not prepared to be flexible for the UK's benefit. You may recall the last time the UK had a negotiation with the UK: David Cameron was laughed at for his baseless optimism and didn't get very far. Expect more of the same.

But on to the bigger fish. I have not forgotten that this blog is also your go-to guide to predictions of the forthcoming apocalypse for Western liberalism.

One straw in that ill wind is the current French Presidential election. Ross Douthat (who is utterly sane) asks why one should not vote for Le Pen ("the case for #NeverLePen seems weaker in important ways than the case for #NeverTrump"), and so does Noah Millman.

In any event, apres Macron, le deluge: "Macron will have to (in the quite short span of five years) fundamentally reform heretofore unreformable French society, and do so without any sort of parliamentary majority. Add in the tragic reality that France will probably endure another major terrorist attack or so per year over the next five years, and the far more likely political risk outcome is that, by the end of his term, Macron will not have significantly lifted France’s economic growth numbers, or made the French feel more safe. // That is what Le Pen and the FN are betting on, and frankly, it seems the most likely outcome. She has always been playing for the next French election, not this one." It's hard to see the flaw in that analysis. You know the plot of Soumission? Well ...

And so to bigger things. Europe is committing suicide and we are about to see the fall of the global elite, or perhaps even enter the Age of War and Revolution.

Britain is more fortunate than its neighbours in having Brexit to worry about. As I have said before, the battle of Brexit (what it means? should we really be doing it?) is a battle fought between supporters of Western liberalism. Theresa May and Tony Blair, David Cameron and Boris Johnson - the UK appears constitutionally unable to produce anyone more radical than Jeremy Corbyn or Nigel Farage, neither of whom is at all scary. Look at our General Election: the two main parties fussing about VAT and police numbers. It's the good old days all over again. Compare that with Trump and Le Pen. The fact that it is ultimately a waste of time for the British commentariat to fight the Brexit wars (because we'll get what we're given) is by the by: every day spent arguing that the Single Market is the be-all and end-all of British political life is a day in which liberalism gets a further chance to show that it can resolve the problems of mass population movements and lack of widely-shared economic growth that are otherwise liable to kill it. At the very least, if Britain is still arguing about VAT rates when a big country tries an alternative to liberalism, we will get the chance to see whether the alternative is any better.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Why a Hard Brexit?

You have probably seen things like this piece, from Jonathan Freedland. He starts by asking why it was that the Brexit referendum result did not result in some sort of euro-fudge rather than a real Brexit. Then he asks, "How did May, who campaigned, albeit in lukewarm fashion, for the Remain side in last summer’s referendum, end up pushing for such a hard-core version of Leave?". Having asked those questions, he continues, "Any explanation has to begin with the parlous state of the official opposition to the Conservatives now in power."

That is British self-regard at its highest.  Let's forget about Jeremy Corbyn for once. This sequence of articles from the FT makes it clear that it was the EU that decided on hard Brexit even before the Conservative Party had even decided who was to replace David Cameron:

"... it did not matter who won that leadership election, and what they thought Brexit meant. Senior figures in the EU had quickly adopted a position that they have stuck to since. Brexit was final, there would be no renegotiation, there would be no negotiation without notification, the exit would be “orderly”, the prescribed process was to be followed tightly, full access to the single market required acceptance of the four freedoms, and the EU27 would act in unison. And all this had been stated precisely and openly. [...]  The EU had already formed a view on what Brexit was going to be like for the UK, regardless of what any British government would want. In essence, if not in detail, the basis of Brexit had been set, and Theresa May was not yet even prime minister."

The EU (atypically quickly) decided that the deal on offer was all-or-nothing, i.e. 'hard' Brexit or no Brexit. That was the choice facing May. Even if she had wanted the softest or all possible Brexits, it was not on the table. The referendum result said Brexit; the EU said that meant hard Brexit; and the only question for May was whether to accept the democratically expressed will of the British people or not. She did not choose hard Brexit - it chose her.

Let me put it another way. If you are or were Remainer you are probably sympathetic to the argument that in any negotiation between the UK and the EU it is the EU, as the bigger and more powerful party, that holds the trump cards, and that the UK will just have to take whatever it is that the EU has to offer. Well, take that as an indication that the EU is only offering a hard Brexit.

An interesting question is how and why the EU has been able to - and has decided to - act so quickly and firmly in this matter, when it typically acts more slowly and with much greater room for compromise. Views differ. I may offer mine on another occasion.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

French politics and society

You should read this and this.

Why should you trust me on this? Well, this is what I was doing just before Bastille Day last year: