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British Conservatives forget their own history

February 27 2013 Leave a comment

Andrew Lilico is a true believer in the logic of austerity and took to the Conservative Home blog recently to argue for bigger, faster cuts.

He was kind enough to respond to my comment and I’ve posted the exchange below.

oblivia: No, no, no. And no.

Lilico reckons Britain could face the same fate as Ireland and Spain. “It is not a “’purely theoretical’ concern,” he assures us.

Err, did I miss the UK joining the euro? If not, then Lilico is talking nonsense. It’s a “purely theoretical” concern that Britain will be forced by the Germans to take the same medicine as Ireland and Spain.

As long as we have our own currency, it’s impossible that we could run out of money and have to go begging to Europe for a bailout. Doesn’t Lilico know this? Is he deliberately cultivating groundless fears or just being ignorant?

It’s bizarre that people who railed against giving up the pound now behave as though we joined the euro anyway. What’s the point of currency sovereignty if you don’t take advantage of the huge power it gives us? We could have spent the past couple of years sprinting past the rest of Europe, but instead we’ve just joined them.

Hard to think of anything stupider.

Lilico: Yeah, yeah, cos countries that print their own currencies *never* have sovereign debt crises, do they? How could anyone have thought that the UK in 1976 had a gilts crisis, or that Angola is anything other than AAA today. And *obviously* the Irish recession and bank failures came *after* the ECB intervened, not before – how could I have been so silly as to think things had occurred in the opposite order.

I am no longer able to be polite about this utterly ridiculous meme that has spread that countries that print their own currencies can never have sovereign bond problems. It’s garbage.

oblivia: There are indeed parallels between Britain in 1976 and the PIIGS in 2009 — they were beholden to others. Britain was dependent on funding from the IMF, while Ireland and Spain had devolved monetary policy under the euro.

News flash: We are no longer indebted to the IMF and we didn’t join the euro. These aren’t accidents. They were the product of deliberate Conservative efforts to protect our independence.

Now you argue that this independence is an illusion. Forget all the arguments of the past, you say, we are in just as much peril today as we were in 1976. Be afraid.

I say this is nonsense.

ps Andrew Lilico is a director and principal at Europe Economics, a consultancy specialising in economic regulation, competition policy and the application of economics to public and business policy issues. You can find him on Twitter as @AndrewLilico, though you do so entirely at your own risk.

pps Martin Wolf also has a good piece in today’s FT that slays a few austerity dragons and makes the point that the problems in the PIIGS were caused by the ECB’s ill-advised austerity (which was forced on them after they gave up their independence to join the euro): “Eurozone countries’ debt crises resulted from European Central Bank policy failures. Because of its refusal to act as lender of last resort to governments, they suffered liquidity risk – borrowing costs rose because buyers of bonds lacked confidence they would be able to resell easily at all times. That, not insolvency, was the immediate peril.”

Alex Jones meltdown

January 8 2013 1 comment

Alex Jones on Piers Morgan. Brilliant. He even conducts part of the interview in a mock English accent.

“There are no metal sharks in the water!!”

“Suicide pills!!”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-tsHlDviuA%5D

No healthcare, no gun control, no problem

December 18 2012 Leave a comment

Conservatives are an infuriating bunch. In the wake of the school shooting in Connecticut, the usual cast of blowhards have trotted out the same old defences of the gun lobby.

‘The killer was a crazed madman who could’ve killed just as many people with a sharpened guava. Making “responsible gun owners” complete a tiresome background check isn’t the answer — we need to protect society from madmen.’

This might be an almost-reasonable argument if the same people weren’t also rabidly in favour of dismantling Obamacare. Are they really that insincere? Or will we now hear voices on the right asking whether it would be sensible for the government to provide better care to the mentally ill?

I doubt it. That would be socialism, right?

Fox has even posted a lengthy article from Keith Ablow, its in-house psychiatrist, who does a remarkable job of detailing all the many problems with the mental healthcare system, including the callous behaviour of insurers, while avoiding any mention of Obamacare — or any solutions at all.

But fear not: “Within the week, I will post the rough framework of such a plan here on FoxNews.com,” he promises. Isn’t it odd that one of Fox’s in-house doctors hasn’t given any thought to healthcare reform and can’t reel off a few ideas in response to a national tragedy? Perhaps Roger Ailes has to read it first.

In the absence of any solutions, Ablow repeats all the conservative talking points (or they were just pasted in by a Fox staffer, it’s hard to tell). Just one example:

When you hear well-meaning politicians or community leaders talk about gun control as a solution to school shootings, remember that Adam Lanza was mentally ill (in a way that I would label as “violently ill”) in a nation that has no real mental health care system at all, that he used firearms that were legally obtained by his mother and that he could just as easily have used other means to inflict horrible casualties.

We have no time for misplaced efforts.

 

Though apparently we do have a time to wait a week for Ablow to get his thoughts together.

It’s a shame he isn’t more candid, because his description of the problems is certainly a damning indictment of the current system, as is this article. It’s a mother’s story of coping (or failing to cope) with a violent, mentally ill son.

I love my son. But he terrifies me.

We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.

At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.

When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

Contrast that will Bill O’Reilly’s take:

billo talking point 20121217

Guns don’t kill…

December 17 2012 Leave a comment

…but they sure help people who want to.

handgun control

Categories: politics, war & peace Tags:

The sad demise of unions

December 17 2012 Leave a comment
The 1984 miners' strike in Britain, which signalled the beginning of the end

The 1984 miners’ strike signalled the beginning of the end for organised labour in the UK

The passage of a right-to-work law in Michigan has stirred up controversy in the US, but for all the wrong reasons.

Frankly, I’ve never really understood the modern labour movement. The typical rationale for unions is to constrain the power of greedy capital owners by giving workers the power to bargain collectively. Without this power, it is too easy for owners to exploit the workers.

People tend to accept this idea without much thinking, but it is a completely inaccurate description for most unions in the world — and pretty much all of the prominent ones. For the most part, today’s unions comprise civil servants negotiating with taxpayers. Nurses, teachers, police officers, firemen.

As valuable as these jobs certainly are, I don’t understand why they need the ability to organise. The government is not the same as a private employer. It is already accountable to the people through the ballot, so I see no reason for civil servants to be given bargaining power in negotiations with a democratically elected government. There is no imbalance to redress, and any attempts to do so involve shifting power from an accountable body to an unaccountable one.

These civil servants are the least at-risk category of workers in the country, at least in terms of exploitation by their employer, but their domination of the labour movement drowns out the voices of real workers.

Stroppy civil servants also give workers a bad name. Most of the union scare stories that make it into the media involve public-sector workers — teachers who can’t be fired, firemen on six-figure salaries, cops with lavish pensions and entire communities bankrupted by the burden of paying out all this pork.

As far as I can tell, public-sector unions exist for no other reason than to bankroll political parties — the Democrats in the US, Labour in the UK. As such, they have forced workers into a hyper-partisan position and, quite understandably, have led Republicans and Conservatives to undermine their power by weakening collective bargaining rights.

This happened in the 1980s in the UK, but is only now happening in the US.

The specific issue in the right-to-work debate is similar to what are called closed shops in the UK — the right of a union to force all workers to pay dues (or, in the UK, to force them to join the union as a condition of employment). The idea behind this is that all workers benefit from collective bargaining, so all should pay the cost of it. (Union dues are typically just a few bucks a month.)

I doubt forced dues would be nearly so controversial if unions weren’t such big political donors, and I doubt that unions would be such big donors if they weren’t dominated by government employees.

In the UK, it was almost entirely public-sector workers who brought about the downfall of the unions. Their endless strikes were utterly pointless and stupid. Government workers don’t have a right to veto government policy just because they don’t like it. If that were the case it would be impossible for the government to ever get anything done.

The sad result is that real workers, who face real exploitation by real employers, have lost many of their rights. The demise of private-sector unions may also partly explain the widening gap between rich and poor.

Or this is how it all seems to me. I often wonder if there’s something more to it, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this discussed as an issue. It just seems to be accepted that public-sector workers have a right to organise. Perhaps I’m missing something.

Categories: economics, politics Tags: ,

Why don’t the Swiss shoot schoolkids?

December 16 2012 Leave a comment

Loathe him or loathe him, Piers Morgan did a good impersonation of a human being on Friday when his guests suggested that more guns may be the answer to the school shooting in Connecticut. The former gossip columnist nearly exploded with incomprehension.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfuJnUJa5JA%5D

 

In the UK, Morgan rose to prominence at Rupert Murdoch’s flagship tabloid newspaper, The Sun, and is by no means a liberal.

To many of us in Europe, American attitudes to gun ownership are hard to understand. To non-American ears, some of the arguments used by the pro-gun lobby are absurd.

One example I’ve heard repeated recently is that some other countries manage to have high rates of gun ownership without America’s problems. Therefore, the problem is not about how many guns there are, but how you choose to regulate them.

I’m not sure why the gun lobby likes this argument, given that they’re completely opposed to gun control, but there it is.

The argument is also completely wrong, of course.

So, which countries are they talking about? The slightly surprising answer is Israel and Switzerland. Really? The Swiss have a lot of guns? I had no idea. The Israelis… I’m hardly surprised, but I also don’t think Americans would want to live in an Israeli-style society.

But let’s take a closer look at why these countries appear on this list.

The threat facing the average Israeli citizen is orders of magnitude higher than that of the average American, yet the only people allowed to own guns in Israel are those who have reached a certain rank in the military or police. Even then, they’re only allowed handguns and have limited access to ammunition. So, almost all the guns are owned by current or former soldiers or police officers.

The Swiss are a very different bunch to the Israelis, but their gun ownership anomaly is very similar. While Switzerland refuses to take sides in any international conflict (for fear of upsetting the tyrants, dictators and millionaires who hide their swag in its bank vaults) and doesn’t have a standing army, it does require all young men to make themselves available for service in the country’s militia. Those found suitable (ie, fit, healthy and sane) are assigned weapons that they must keep at home. So, almost all the guns are owned by part-time soldiers.

Neither country has anything remotely similar to America’s gun laws, so let’s put this particular myth to bed.

On the origins of Anti-Americanism

December 9 2012 Leave a comment
Psy: Why does he want to kill Americans?

Psy: Why does he want to kill Americans?

Glenn Greenwald has a long rant about anti-Americanism in The Guradian, inspired by reaction to the revelation that Korean comedy-pop sensation Psy once rapped about killing and torturing Americans.

He says that Americans shouldn’t be surprised by such expressions of hatred towards them. He catalogues the crimes America has perpetrated during its war on terror, as well as the ire it has drawn for its support of Israel, and then seems to use this as an explanation, if not a justification, for terrorism.

In response to a story about US forces capturing children on the battlefield in Afghanistan, he has this to say:

Imagine if a foreign army were imprisoning American teenagers on US soil for years without any charges or due process. Would anyone have difficulty understanding why there were extreme levels of hostility and a desire for violence against the country doing that?

Similar arguments arose in the wake of 9/11. Had America brought this on itself? The answer then, as now, is an unequivocal, No.

Rejecting terrorism is not the same as defending the war on terror. Indeed, it’s hard to condemn the US for murdering civilians if you then express sympathy for extremists who are doing exactly the same thing.

More important, Islamic extremists are not fighting for a cause. What was their cause in 2001? What was their cause in Bali?

Greenwald has a few thoughts.

Prior to the 9/11 attack, the US had spent decades propping up and arming the most repressive dictators in the Muslim world with the clear intent to suppress the views of the populations and ensure subservience to US interests. It overthrew or blocked their democratically supported leaders. Its decade-long sanctions regime against Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of people while strengthening Saddam, its former ally, and a top US official coldly told the world when asked about dead Iraqi children that it was “worth it”. Its steadfast support of Israel shielded the civilian-killing aggression of that nation from all forms of challenge or accountability. It bombed and destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan that kept large numbers of people alive.

All of these facts are, and long have been, widely discussed in most of the world, where they have generated simmering, intense fury. As one small example: the Sudanese pharmaceutical factor destroyed in the Clinton years is now a shrine, accompanied by what the Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson this year described as enduring “bitterness and anger at what is widely seen as an unjustified strike”.

But most of these facts are largely suppressed, at the very least steadfastly ignored, in establishment US media discourse.

It’s worth pointing out that most of the plotters and participants in the terrorist acts of 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. The London bombers were from the UK. The Bali bombers were from Indonesia.

In short, these people were not responding to the suffering inflicted on their families by western armies.

They also don’t have any demands. Despite Greenwald’s tortured justifications for anti-American terrorism, the extremists aren’t asking to redraw Israel’s borders and they aren’t imploring the US to stop killing innocents in Afghanistan.

All of their goals are informed by a supposedly literal belief in the Quran — and death to anyone who doesn’t agree, which has mostly turned out to be liberal Muslims rather than westerners.

This is perhaps the biggest point that Greenwald ignores. Radical Islam is not engaged in a war with the west — it’s at war with everyone who doesn’t subscribe to its idiotic beliefs.

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