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Posts Tagged ‘economy’

Miliband Wordsearch

In Economy, Events, Home Affairs, Ideology, Party politics on January 10, 2012 at 2:56 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox – @polar_ii

Here’s a ‘wordgram’ from Guido Fawkes of Ed Miliband’s set piece on the economy. The bigger the word, the more times Miliband said it. What words are missing that should be there?

1) Squeezed Middle

Yes, Miliband’s definition of ‘middle’, which encompasses 95% of the population, is probably a bit off. But the idea has legs. Most people (unsurprisingly) consider themselves average in terms of income, so talking about ‘the squeezed middle’ enables a large number of people to identify with Labour’s message. Since most people (according to polling) think the cuts are unfair, this idea is one that Labour can make easy headway in pursuing. Miliband has particular reason to pursue it because it was his initial idea.

2) Producer v Predator

Again, a Miliband theme which has some potential. People are clearly in favour of companies that ‘contribute’ to the economy and against those that ‘strip’ it. Again, let’s ignore difficulties in defining which companies are goodies and which baddies; it’s an idea that people makes people say “Ed’s on my side” and “Ed want an economically and morally healthy economy”. No gold in this speech however, as ‘Kremlinology’ (one mention during Q&A) gets a look in ahead of ‘predator’ (no mentions).

3) Vision

The word doesn’t need to be ‘vision’; it could equally be ‘goal’ or ‘future’ or ‘plan’ or even ‘hope’. Miliband does have some good points on the ‘fairness’ theme, but these will ultimately not carry home when the public thinks the cuts are necessary (see link above) and Labour is not really offering a detailed plan, nor offering a vision of where the future of the country lies. The lack of vision is the most important factor, I think, in why the Labour party seems so ethereal. It is concerned more about the future of Labour than the future of the country. This is particularly brought home by a recent BBC headline: Miliband has ‘a clear plan for the Labour Party‘ – he is focussed on the party not on the country. It’s not an inspiring or winning strategy.

Miliband needs to risk something beyond the bland, managerial pitch (the words here are certainly managerially bland) and go for a full-on idealistic vision. At this stage, it doesn’t matter that the rhetoric – whether on Squeezed Middle, Producer v Predator or a vision statement – doesn’t quite correlate with specific policies or even reality. Ed Miliband needs to do more than capture our attention. He needs to capture our imagination.

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The Big Society, the market, and society: why deficit reduction might actually be a good thing

In Economy, Events, Ideology on July 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm

David Weber

I must admit that I originally intended this to be a full response to James Bartholomeusz’s recent article on working class politics and welfare reform. However, while reflecting on his various arguments, my response to his comment underneath the article quickly became feature length, and an article in its own right:

The problem is, [the Big Society] dovetails a little too nicely with the market fundamentalism that got us into this mess, and the tough deficit reduction plan which has ostensibly been forced upon the government against its will. [emphasis added] Read the rest of this entry »

You Can’t Have Freedom Without Law

In Law And Order on September 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm

By Stephen Wan

Part of September’s Law and Order Series

A powerful military, and a powerful police force, are necessary preconditions for any free society, to prevent anarchistic chaos.

"On The Edge"When it comes to discussing how important the law and government is to human society, the first thing to do is to head off criticisms from anarchists, who claim that all government is necessarily a restriction of freedom, and that a government is both morally wrong and practically inferior to a stateless society.

Let’s blow out the main assumption that anarchists make – that humans are morally perfect, or perfectible given the right circumstances. As any liberal mugged by reality will tell you, human beings inevitably tend towards doing the wrong, not the right, unless there is some sort of harsh restriction or penalty put on doing the wrong things. That kind of punishment can only come from a government which has the sole, legitimate right to use violence and coercion to keep people in line. Simple things like peer pressure will not be enough, as some anarchists may claim, to keep the strong from taking advantage over the weak.

Furthermore, if you do happen to live in a stateless society, the vast majority of your life is going to be dedicated to trying to defend your life and property from others who want to take it from you. It would be “brutish, nasty and short” as Hobbes once said. There may, in one sense, be an absence of external restrictions on what you can or cannot do, but there isn’t the ability to enjoy that kind of freedom, because of the dangers posed by other individuals. It’s not just theoretical freedom that people are interested in – it’s the actual ability to enjoy it that matters.

In short, we would be better off with a government – the question is, do we want a stronger government or a minimalist one? Many libertarians argue that a minimalist government is better, one which takes less of a role in the economy and focuses on defence of the country, enforcing contracts, and preventing crime that actively harms others. I would argue that we should prefer a stronger one.

The reasoning behind why we should prefer a strong government as opposed to a weak one is obvious from the onset of our very childhoods. Just think back to school, when you were in the classroom, and had two kinds of teachers – one that could control the class and one that couldn’t. Which one was more effective at teaching the class? I would wager that the stronger, more disciplined teacher was – and it didn’t matter how much more the weaker teacher might know about the subject, the more disciplined one would always be able to impart more knowledge to the class as a whole.

In a similar way, libertarians, as much as they laud market efficiency, fail to acknowledge the biggest inefficiency that exists in every society – crime, and social disorder. And in believing that there should be a small a government as possible, they show a marked contempt for the real, actual causes of crime which lie in socio-economic conditions including inequality, lack of job opportunities, poor education and an absence of strong civic organisations backed by civil support.

That is why the economy, education, equal opportunities and community projects should all be considered law and order issues primarily – budgets should be based on its impact on crime, curriculum set to instil strong moral values. No human society is too far away from complete social disintegration, as New Orleans will quickly show you. A powerful military, and a powerful police force, are necessary preconditions for any free society, to prevent anarchistic chaos.

Was the 20th Century the age of democracy?

In Foreign Affairs on November 6, 2009 at 12:22 am


This essay will start by outlining the reasons for thinking the 20th century was the age of democracy, namely the rapid increase in the number of democracies, due to the failure of alternatives to democracy and increased economic development.  However, this essay will argue that the 20th century was not in fact the age of democracy (on a proper account of what it means to be democratic) due to foreign intervention to crush democracy and, more significantly, a lack of real self-rule in apparently democratic countries.

The statistics suggest that the 20th century was the age of democracy, meaning the century in which democratic governance became predominant.  Professor John Keane points out that “ in the year 1900, when monarchies and empires predominated, there were no states that could be judged as representative democracies by the standard of universal suffrage for competitive multi-party elections. By 1950…. there were 22 democracies accounting for 31 per cent of the world’s population….by the end of the twentieth century…. out of 192 countries, 119 resembled representative democracies (58.2 per cent of the globe’s population), with 85 of these countries (38 per cent of the world’s inhabitants) enjoying forms of political democracy respectful of basic human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law.”  However, the statistics alone do not establish that the 20th century was the age of democracy – that long-term, not easily reversible, historical processes had led to this development – for all the statistics tell us, these countries could have all reverted to being dictatorships by the beginning of the 21st century.  Two factors may suggest that the 20th century was the age of democracy.  Firstly, the 20th century saw the failure of alternatives to democracy.  Absolute monarchy was dealt a serious blow by the failure of the Tsars to govern Russia adequately, for example being humiliated in war against Japan, and being unable to supply sufficient food to urban dwellers during the (again disastrous) First World War.  Fascism and Communism were also (largely) discredited, not least by the mass starvation and repression evident in Communist China and the Soviet Union. Secondly, global economic development rapidly increased.  One estimate puts the increase in global GDP between 1900 and 2000 at 1800%.  Fukuyama argues that there is a correlation between the level of development as measured by per capita GDP and democracy”.  Countries with a per capita GDP of over $6000 are vastly more likely to be democratic: indeed “we’ve seen a number of countries that have industrialized, like South Korea and Taiwan, and right on schedule, when they hit around that $6,000 income level they develop democratic movements… It has something to do with the growth of the middle class – people that own private property have something to lose and therefore want to participate in the political system.”  Thus global economic development, a key feature of 20th century world history, has significantly contributed towards making the 20th century the age of democracy.

However, three arguments will now be levelled against this thesis.  Firstly, that the 20th century has seen significant opposition to the spread of democracy.  America, the self-proclaimed “land of the free”, was involved in the overthrowing of numerous democratically elected leaders.  The election of Salvador Allende was seen as a disaster by Nixon, who promptly authorised $10m to stop Allende coming to power or to unseat him.  Kissinger said of the eventual coup, after which the dictator General Pinochet came to power, that the US “didn’t do it,” but “we helped them…created the conditions as great as possible”.  The CIA also organised a coup to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz in 1954; some human rights activists put the death toll for the resulting unrest at 250,000.

Secondly, there are still vast numbers of people living in powerful countries that are not democracies.  Take the example of China.  The advantages of its undemocratic nature have even been praised by Western commentators, especially as regards the financial crisis; a fiscal stimulus package was quickly passed, without political wrangling of the sort seen in America (at least in public).  Also, the fall of the Soviet Union did not spawn a new breed of democracies: Freedom House’s report on democracy and civil liberties judged that “of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics, seven countries are rated ‘not free’, four are ‘partly free’, and one [Ukraine] is ‘free’ ”.  For example, the main opposition party is banned in Kazakhstan, resulting in President Nursultan Nazarbayev winning the 2006 election with 91% of the vote.  Russia itself is also substantially undemocratic; as Gary Kasparov said in an address to the New York Democracy Forum, there is a “lack of a free press, the persecution of political opposition, and the steady demolition of democratic institutions… Aristotle himself couldn’t find a better definition of “oligarchy” than what we have in the Kremlin today.”

Thirdly – and this is perhaps the most fundamental and important argument – those countries widely acknowledged to be “democratic” are only democratic to a very limited extent.  It seems (to me) that democracy’s great appeal lies in its promise of self-rule: that we can be citizens, not subjects, choosing for ourselves the laws under which we are to live.  The citizen in a democratic state is fully autonomous: “every person, while uniting himself with all…obey[s] only himself and remain[s] as free as before” (Rousseau).  As mentioned in a previous essay, Wolff argued – and I have not yet seen a successful refutation – that both representation and majority-rule ensured that what we call “democracy” does not, cannot, allow citizens to be autonomous.  True democracy – understood as the the political and social arrangement that fulfils that inspiring promise of self-rule – is impossible.  Thus the 20th century cannot be described as the age of democracy.

This definition of democracy does seem rather restrictive.  There is clearly some difference between dictatorship and what is normally described as “democracy”, even granting the constraints of majority-rule and representation.  Can a more inclusive definition, that does grant that a “democratic state” is possible, rescue the thesis that the 20th century is the age of democracy?  It seems not, because existing democracies fall short of even this more limited ideal of democracy.  In America, the poor, the black, the powerless are systematically disenfranchised.  13% of black American men are prohibited from voting because of a felony conviction, which can be as minor as timber larceny.  (Apparently Abraham Lincoln’s great democratic statement, “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent”, only applies to those in the government’s favour.)  In Britain, under FPTP not all votes are worth the same, with political parties aiming at the 200,000 “swing voters” in the mythical “Middle England” whom strategists think are key to victory.  Only 22% of the electorate voted for Labour in 2005; is this not moving dangerously close towards oligopoly?  Furthermore, widening economic inequalities have resulted in an unequal distribution of political power.  For example, the majority of the population are effectively unable to choose the taxation rates it would prefer, due to the threat of capital flight and “brain drain”, as recent discussions over the wisdom of the 50% tax rates showed.

Overall the 20th century was not the age of democracy.  It was a century that saw significant obstacles to democracy, most importantly military intervention by America and widening economic inequality, undermining popular sovereignty.  A further factor not adequately explored in this essay is the impact of globalisation, which has shifted power away from nation-states (democratic or otherwise) to unaccountable supranational organisations to a great extent.  For example, the 1970s in particular saw the IMF and World Bank taking control of many developing countries’ economic and social policies, due to structural adjustment programmes.  Thus perhaps the 20th century is best described as the age of globalisation.