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:

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Private property involves the threat of violence

This guy says so, by reference to that story about a man forcibly taken out of his seat on a flight.

Of course, he is right.

But by the same token taxes are sums of money extracted under threat of violence.  The threat of violence is what lies at the root of state power. There is nothing specifically capitalist about this. Capitalism is the system that puts the state's coercive and violent power in the service of private property. Communism puts the state's coercive and violent power in the service of state-owned (or, if you insist, communally-owned) property. Even if we abolish property of any kind, so long as the state remains, with its monopoly of the legitimate use of violence, whatever ideological system governs the polity is ultimately underpinned by the threat of violence.

The headline is 'Capitalism is Violence'. Yup, but by the same reasoning, even in late capitalist societies, so are all kinds of other things that the writer presumably approves of, such not discriminating on grounds of race, not abusing children and not polluting the environment. If there's a law about it then ultimately there is the power of the state, with all its police, prisons and guns,  to back it up. 'Environmentalism is Violence too'.

Monday, 17 April 2017

I can probably predict what you think about immigration

The Economist tells us that "every 1% increase in the ratio of immigrants to natives in the working-age population leads to a 0.5% fall in wages for the lowest 10% of earners (and a similar rise for the top 10%)".

It is of course ridiculous to say that people believe only what suits their self-interest. But you should not be surprised to see well-off people welcoming immigrants and poorer people resisting them.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

You learn something new every day

If I've given you a quotation then you don't need to click on the link. But if you want to know more then the links are potentially interesting.

1. ... about how awful things are in Venezuela - "over the past year around three-quarters of Venezuelans have lost weight, averaging 8.7kg per person, because of a scarcity of food. No war, foreign or civil, is to blame for this catastrophe. Venezuela did this to itself."

2. ... about that time when Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld ran a universal basic income experiment for Nixon.

3. ... about Norwegian female special forces.

4. ... about panic attacks - "Panic attacks decrease markedly during pregnancy, and disappear entirely during childbirth. This last is really remarkable. People get panic attacks at any conceivable time. When they’re driving, when they’re walking, when they’re tired, when they’re asleep. Just not, apparently, when they’re giving birth. Childbirth is one of the scariest things you can imagine, your body’s getting all sorts of painful sensations it’s never felt before, and it’s a very dangerous period in terms of increased mortality risk. But in terms of panic attack, it’s one of the rare times when you are truly and completely protected." On the other hand, "you’re about a hundred times more likely to develop a new case of panic disorder during the postpartum period than usual."

5. ... about US healthcare - "simply normalising for violent and accidental death puts the USA right to the top of the life expectancy rankings". (So this maybe there is a Peltzman effect - introducing seatbelts allows people to drive in more dangerous ways - at work here: Americans have great healthcare so they take more chances with their diet and guns? Lots of guns in Switzerland too, the second most expensive country for healthcare. The best form of gun control might be making healthcare worse?)

6. ... about why the American alt-right loves the NHS.

7. ... about the historical depth of Polish-British relations - "suffice to say that Canute the Great’s mother Świętosława was Mieszko I’s daughter". Suffice it indeed.

8. ... about Argentine missiles - "Argentina was almost the first country to develop a small, supersonic cruise missile. Way back in 1960." One thing that struck me was that the the plan - from a German with, shall we say, a war history - would have involved using a lot of British hardware.

9. ... about trying to get oneself declared alive in Uttar Pradesh - "As he walked out that day three decades ago, Lal Bihari was already thinking about how to become alive again. But it would take him 17 years, during which time he would kidnap his cousin; add the title of mritak (dead man) to his name; get thrown out of the UP legislative Assembly; contest elections against two prime ministers; demand widow’s pension for his wife; and start an association of dead people. After he finally came ‘alive’ again, he continued exposing this land-grab practice. Says Panchu, a 75-year-old in Adampur village, Azamgarh, “My own son had killed me off. If it had not been for Lal Bihari, I would still be dead.”"

10. ... and about Warren Hastings. This link is really quite something. It is an informative piece telling you what the trial of Warren Hastings was all about. And it is written by an Indian. "The Hastings impeachment was an act of imperial soul- searching unparalleled in history; and no one who wades through its voluminous archives can fail to be impressed. For seven years, British MPs and lords examined and debated in the most minute detail almost every document that had crossed the desk of their Indian Governor- General. Many were inspired by hostility to the East India Company, but there was also genuine concern for the human rights of Indians." Beat that for fair-mindedness! Hastings seems to have been not all bad by modern standards, and he was wrongly accused of things that are bad by modern standards because those things were also bad by the standards of the day. It's a great reminder of that wonderfully exciting period in British political history at the end of the 18th century that gave us, among other exciting intellectual experiments, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and America. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A good news story

Here is the story of Mel Nebhrajani. She has an Asian immigrant background. She started out as a Chancery barrister and is now in the Government Legal Service. The link is to an interview about BAME lawyers, diversity, under-represented groups etc etc. "Heard it all before", you might think, "minority woman starts out in the unwelcoming private sector and is only welcomed in the public sector". But no - this is a very different story. Read more below.