Marina Hyde Competition

by Harry on January 17, 2019

For decades I have bought the New Statesman only occasionally, always feeling rather like Charlie Brown does when Lucy puts the football in front of him. I loved it when I was a kid, but certainly since I was 25 it has always seemed utterly dull when I actually have it in front of me. But, I recently discovered, and love, the New Statesman podcast—Helen Lewis is clever, funny, well-informed and a bit gossipy, genuinely likes Stephen Bush (who is not funny, but is clever, well-informed and very gossipy), and knows how to run a conversation. So, I recently thought I’d kick the ball again and…. same as ever. Except, to my horror, the one lasting saving grace of the NS, the competition, was missing. (Nor was there a letter from Keith Flett whom, to my regret, I have never met despite once being the head of a department in which he was, reputedly, a PhD student).

Still…. CT can have a competition.* Occasional commenter, dob, send me a link to yesterday’s Marina Hyde which contains these marvelous descriptions of Johnson and Mogg:

Here comes voluminously overcoated Jacob Rees-Mogg, who still resembles an 11-year-old Jacob Rees-Mogg sitting on Nanny’s shoulders for a nursery game called Disaster Capitalist’s Bluff.

And here comes the affectedly shambling figure of Boris Johnson – not so much a statesman as an Oxfam donation bag torn open by a fox – who could conceivably still end up prime minister of no-deal Britain.

One sentence descriptions, please, of politicians who are unsuited to office, in the style of Marina Hyde. (Johnson and JR-M are not off-limits)

  • I’m hoping that Richard Osman hasn’t copyrighted the idea of a competition—if he has, that might explain its disappearance from the NS. If his lawyers approach us, I’ll take this down forthwith. (Oh, and, the prize is as valuable as the prize for winning I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue, so don’t get excited).

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Green New Deal

by John Quiggin on January 14, 2019

The idea of a “Green New Deal” seems to be everywhere, quite suddenly, although Wikipedia suggests it has been around for quite a while and that the phrase was coined by the ubiquitous Tom Friedman. There’s quite a good summary of the various versions by David Roberts at Vox (for those who don’t know him, an excellent source on climate issues in general).

The fuzziness of the term is, in a sense, unsurprising. It seems obvious that any progressive policy for the US must fit this description in broad terms. That is, it must be a modernized version of the New Deal and it must imply a shift to an environmentally sustainable economy. So, I’m going to put up my own version, without claiming that it is the One True GND.

As far as the “Green” part is concerned, it’s urgently necessary to decarbonize the economy, shifting to a fully renewable electricity system and electrifying the transport system. The time when this could be achieved by a price-based policy (carbon tax or emissions permits alone) has passed. A carbon price is needed, but so is systematic regulatory intervention.

Compared to politics as usual, this is a big deal, involving trillions of dollars in investment a complete restructuring of the energy sector, and radical changes to transport systems. It also has the potential for substantial net gains in employment – solar energy already employs three times as many US workers as coal.

But relative to the US or world economy as a whole, a transformation of the energy and transport sectors is not a big enough deal to form the basis of a New Deal. Energy and transport together account for around 10 per cent of the economy, and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy in this 10 per cent is not going to make a fundamental difference to the operation of capitalism.

Quite a few ideas involving more radical economic changes have been proposed, including a Job Guarantee and Universal Basic Income. I’ve argued for a combination of these. In the specific context of a Green New Deal, the most important demand should be a reduction in working hours, with no offsetting change in wages. That amounts to taking the benefits of increased productivity, and progressive redistribution, in the form of increased leisure rather than increased consumption. It goes along with research findings suggesting that experiences, rather than material goods, are a better source of lasting happiness. To make the argument work completely, we need the further proviso that experiences arising from participation in family and community activities are more genuine than those offered by commercial providers such as tourism operators. I’d be interested to know if there is evidence on this point.

I’m at an early stage on this, so I’ll stop here and leave it open for discussion.

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Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool, from Albert Dock

by Chris Bertram on January 13, 2019

Looking towards Pier Head, Liverpool

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Creative arts and investing in systems

by Daniel on January 11, 2019

Earlier in the week, a thinktank called “Onward UK” got some press for a report condemning the proliferation of “Mickey Mouse Degrees” in British universities. You might think (and indeed say, as I did) that a bucket shop policy institute consisting of a recently resigned special advisor and a “Senior Research Fellow” with a lobbyist day job has a bit of brass neck calling anyone else “Mickey Mouse”, and that’s why I’m not linking to the report (although I did finally crack and read it; it’s not terrible quality stuff, but as an example of the genre of policy entrepreneurship it’s an American trend that I don’t want to see embedding in British public life). Instead of getting into an empirical debate, I want to address what I see as a more interesting question; the whole way we think about our creative industries is fundamentally misconceived, because of a sort of methodological individualism that stops us seeing the system as a system.
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Globalization

by Henry on January 9, 2019

I’ll be teaching a Ph.D. level class on globalization this semester – the draft syllabus is below. The direct aim of the class is to provide doctoral students in both international relations and comparative politics with an understanding of broad debates about globalization, without duplicating the materials of the (separately taught) class in international political economy. The indirect aim is to get them reading at least some material outside the field of political science (specifically: sociology and financial history – they get plenty of economics elsewhere). Comments and suggestions gratefully received. [click to continue…]

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At Bertram’s Hotel

by Henry on January 9, 2019

I really enjoyed this John Lanchester essay on Agatha Christie, which came out a little before Christmas. I thought it was even better after watching John Malkovich play Poirot in the new BBC version of The ABC Murders. The essay explains in advance why the adaptation failed. Poirot is not so much a character as a bundle of mannerisms. To provide him with an interior life, much less a Secret Wound that drives his quest for justice, is to miss the point completely. [click to continue…]

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Disentangling?

by Harry on January 9, 2019

When I left home I didn’t have a phone for several years. I don’t mean I didn’t have a cell phone – I mean that nobody could contact me by phone. (This meant that each time I moved I had to find all the phone boxes within reasonable distance – all, because at any given time at least one or two were either not working or being used by someone to make an endless call). I also didn’t have a television most of the time. One year in college I lived in a shared house with a TV, and we did pay for a license, but it was dead cheap because the TV was a small black and white portable. I could listen to music because I had a small radio/cassette player and a few cassettes. (Some bugger walked into our house because a housemate left the door wide open all day and stole the radio/cassette player, along with Randy Newman’s Trouble in Paradise, my passport, and 30 quid’s worth of 5p pieces that I had for the electricity meter in my room but, mystifyingly, didn’t fancy any of my clothes). When I finally got a phone, it was fixed to an address, and I paid the monthly bill until I moved out.

When my daughter left home she took her phone with her, her monthly bill paid by us on the family plan. She could watch television on her computer with our Netflix and Willow TV subscriptions (regrettably she has still never used the latter). She could listen to music with our apple music account, and had access through itunes to whatever music and television shows we have purchased (including many of the Dr Who episodes I missed the first time during the long period of not having a telly). She’s now moved to another country, so she’s off our family phone plan but, conveniently, is on my dad’s instead (and, for complicated reasons she doesn’t cost him anything at the moment). Otherwise, she still has the Netflix, itunes, apple music access (though, as a new secondary school teacher, she works nearly every waking hour, so doesn’t have time to watch much – except the wonderful The Mighty Boosh, to which she has introduced us).

As things stand, her use of our Netflix, apple, and itunes (and Willow TV should she ever come to her senses) costs us nothing: and some of the itunes purchases are hers in the sense in which the cassettes I owned were mine, and, as far as I can tell, not transferable to separate account. I haven’t looked into it, but if she moves back to the US, I imagine it will make more sense financially for her to go back on our family plan and pay her share than to get her own individual plan. And the same for the second child when she leaves. And the third.

At what point do young people get their own Netflix, apple music, itunes accounts and phone plans? Just to be clear, the question isn’t about our subsidizing her: we can stop subsidizing her (well, we have: as you all know, beginning secondary school teachers earn a fortune) but it will still make sense for her to be entangled with us in this way that was unimaginable to me as a young person. And, also to be clear, this isn’t a complaint – I don’t think it’s bad, it just seems like a big change from the past.

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Cults

by Harry on January 8, 2019

A while ago I was helping a couple of students decide what to register for the following semester. One of them had discovered a class in Religious Studies called “Sex and Cults” which the other student and I thought sounded thrilling, and were very disappointed to discover we had been mishearing, and it was in fact just “Sects and Cults”. Even so, I’ve long had an interest in cults (and sects), so I’d like to recommend a couple of great podcasts about cults (partly in the rather forlorn hopes of someone being able to offer me something else equally good).

End Of Days is a BBC documentary about the Branch Davidians, told from the British perspective: 24 Brits, all recruited from the Seventh Day Adventists, and almost all of them Afro-Carribean in origin, died in the conflagration. The reporter seems particularly incomprehending that Brits could end up in a cult in Waco, as if there is something in the national DNA that immunizes us from such gullibility, which might irritate some listeners, as might the slightly superior attitude toward the Americans they meet. And he is exceptionally unsympathetic to the cultists and, for example, is remarkably uncritical of the idea the idea that the cultists were brainwashed. The phrase “Whackos of Waco” is repeated much too often! But it is well worth listening all the way through: its a compelling story, well told, you get a real sense of the ways in which it was tragic for those left behind. They trace the role of, and interview, a remarkable and rather sinister character, Livingstone Fagan, who helped Koresh recruit and whose wife and mother, whom he refuses to mourn, were killed in the fire. They deal particularly well with the siege and conflagration: as with all accounts I’ve heard its hard to escape the conclusion that the ATF and FBI were spectacularly irresponsible.

Better still is Glynn Washington’s series about Heaven’s Gate. Washington was, himself, raised in a cult which, I think, helps him understand the state of mind of the cultists much better than the makers of End Of Days. The end is, of course, the starting point for the investigation, but whereas the BBC documentary maintains consistent focus on the conflagration, for Washington the end is just the end. He traces the whole history of the cult, interviewing people who knew Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles before they became cult leaders, and many former members and friends and family of those who died. Whereas Koresh lived very differently from his followers (he, and they, believed he was the second coming of the Messiah and, oddly given what we read in the Bible, thought that entitled him to sex with any woman, or girl, that he wanted). Applewhite lived just like them—he was one of the several men who underwent voluntary castration to affirm their ascetic lifestyle. (Nettles who, it becomes clear, was the true leader, pretty followed rules that all were expected to abide by while she was alive, with one notable exemption that Washington teases out). Nettles and Applewhite were clearly in love with each other but seem to have remained celibate. Washington goes much deeper into the psychology of cult membership, and devotes an entire episode to the ethics of deprogramming and whether brainwashing is real. Much more than End of Days, Heaven’s Gate gives you a feel for what life was like for the followers.

If you can recommend other long form podcasts about sects and cults (or even sex and cults), go ahead!

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One charge that conservatives often level at professors in universities is that we are biased and that in the humanities and social sciences, our teaching amounts to left/liberal propaganda. Much of this is silly and some of it is self-fulfilling: vilify a group of people long enough, attack their funding and, hey presto!, they end up favouring your political opponents. But I take seriously the pedagogical need to put arguments on both sides in political philosophy. And actually, for some issues in political philosophy it isn’t too hard because there are pro-capitalist libertarians out there who aren’t shy about articulating their reasons. Some of them are even very gifted at crafting teaching-discussion friendly cases and examples: Robert Nozick, for instance or Mike Huemer.

But there’s an issue where I’m struggling to find a text that articulates the conservative case well, and that’s the issue of access to national citizenship, an issue where the libertarians and the liberal left are broadly in agreement. The case isn’t entirely hopeless: I can find plenty of people willing to argue that adult immigrants who chose to immigrate, particularly those who don’t share the culture or values of the receiving state, should face obstacles to naturalization, or even should be barred from it altogether. The trouble is that none of those arguments really works to justify similar barriers to membership for children. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Bradgate Park

by Chris Bertram on January 6, 2019

Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

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Published! (almost)

by John Quiggin on January 6, 2019

Economics in Two Lessons is listed as the #1 New Release in Microeconomics on Amazon. I’m not sure what this means, but it sounds encouraging.

It’s now available for preorder now, with a release date of April 23, the hardcover publication date. Apple books also has it for pre-order.

Thanks again to everyone who read and commented on the excerpts I published along the way. I’ve tried to mention you all in the acknowledgements, but it’s just about inevitable that I will have missed someone.

On our way to zero net emissions

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 3, 2019

In many avenues of my life, people are now discussing whether we should reduce our emissions and if so, how much they should reduce their emissions and what we will still permit ourselves to do (meat? flying? driving our gasoline car? buying some new stuff we would like but can also live without?). Academically, the question of the fair division of the remaining emissions, as well as the question whether we should frame this as a moral duty for inviduals or rather merely to those in power to change institutions, are part of the Fair Limits project that I’m directing. Politically, we’ve seen these questions discussed in newspapers, on blogs and on twitter, including penetrating comments such as this one by the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (who, according to Wikipedia, turns 16 today – happy birthday, Greta!):
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New discoveries: Ali Smith

by Chris Bertram on January 2, 2019

The most welcome change in our local area in the last few months is that we now have a local bookshop, Storysmith Books, and no longer have to traipse into town to Waterstones or Foyles or give our money to Jeff Bezos. I’ve always loved hanging around in bookshops (and record shops) since I was teenager, browsing, discovering new things, and that has become so much harder to do since the internet started killing the high street.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I was browsing in Storysmith, not very sure of what I wanted, and came across the first couple of volume’s of Ali Smith’s in-progress Seasons quartet Autumn and Winter. When things are in a sequence it is helpful to know what’s first, so I had to check that I wasn’t supposed to start with Spring or Summer (and indeed they’re still being written). Actually, though Autumn is first, the novels are quite independent (so far) and I could have read them in either order. Both Autumn and Winter are set in post-referendum Britain and the plots unfold against its division and dysfunctionality, but neither is didactically political. Each has at its centre a disruptive character who serves as a kind of moral and aesthetic exemplar: in Autumn it is Daniel Gluck, dying in a care-home at the age of 101 and the history of his friendship from her childhood with Elisabeth Demand a precariously employed young art historian, and his role in awakening her aesthetic sensibilty (and more broadly sensibility to life, nature). The Profumo Affair and the almost-forgotten British pop artist from the sixties, Pauline Boty, thread through the novel. In Winter, the action is centred around Christmas, a nature-blogger called Art who is a bit of a fraud and his trip home to see his entrepreneurial Leaver mother. Here the key relationship is between mother and her estranged sister (formerly of Greenham Common) and the disrupter is a young woman, Lux, hired by Art to impersonate the girlfriend who just dumped him. Both are wonderful books, and reminders that even against grey political skies, we can catch glimpses of beauty and spirit.

Having consumed these, and facing a wait till March for the next installment, I went looking for earlier work and finished The Accidental, yesterday, in which a middle-class English family, spending the summer in Norfolk, find their sense of themselves transformed by a mysterious visitor, Amber, who challenges each of them with a Nietzschean playfulness that is by turns benign and malevolent. It is a long time since I was twelve, but Smith’s imagining of the inner monologues of Astrid, the daughter and her elder brother Magnus is transporting. The theme: a family that is unhappy in its own way disturbed and changed by a chance encounter is very Anne Tylerish. But whilst Tyler’s prose is unshowy, Smith plays with language the whole time, punning, rhyming, even having characters think in sonnet form at one point. And she does this lightly and unpretentiously so that you are delighted rather than irritated. (The lightness and playfulness coupled with deadly seriousness about life and history also reminded me a lot of Pauline Erpenbeck.)

I can see that reading more Smith will take up quite a lot of the year to come.

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Not the best of light, but having fun with the new camera:

Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock

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If Brexit goes ahead, say goodbye to radical redistribution

by Chris Bertram on December 29, 2018

Here were are, at the edge of the Brexit precipice, and I find myself disagreeing with friends about Jeremy Corbyn and his attitude towards it. It is surprising that, with three months to go, we don’t actually know what that attitude is. Some people think he’s playing a long game, or a super-clever n-dimensional chess match aimed at keeping Labour voters in the north of England who backed Leave on-side. Some think he’s just reiterating Labour Party policy (to push for a general election, but keep a second vote on the table as a possibility). Others think he was a closet Brexiter all along. My own view is that we have less than 100 days to stop this thing, that the time for keeping your powder dry until you see the whites of their eyes etc has passed, and that passionate Remainers need some signal, at a minimum, to keep them voting Labour and that if they don’t get it, then Corbyn’s prospects of leading a radical Labour government are gone: they will defect to Lib Dems, Greens, Nats or (a few) even to the Tories if Labour doesn’t reposition on Brexit.

In fact, I think the Tories (or maybe right-wing anti-redistributionist politics more generally) will do rather well out of Brexit – if it goes ahead – and it will be the end of Labour. The reason why exposes a contradiction in the position of those on “the left” who have positioned themselves as pro-Brexit, or not-really-arsed-about-Brexit, together with the people who sometimes refer to themselves as “left” but clearly aren’t (Goodhart et al). I’m thinking of all those who make a big deal about “left-behinds”, “somewheres v anywheres” and “(white) working-class community”. For these people, the vote to Brexit was a spasm of pain from those who had been too-long been ignored by the “liberal elite”. To be sure (at least now) Brexit might come with an economic hit, perhaps of 4 per cent of GDP, but the redistributionist capacities of the state are still intact and we can do something about Britain’s very real social problems (170,000 homeless households) and make the UK a more inclusive and equal society, even by the economic envelope Brexit leaves us with. Besides, a second referendum, needed to give remaining in the EU any democratic legitimacy, would be a nasty and xenophobic affair, sure to sow division and hatred.

Here’s where that goes badly wrong. A redistributionist politics needs the support of millions of middle-class “liberal” Remain voters to succeed. What those who say we’ll-take-the-hit-and-redistribute are asking us to imagine is that those people will, in sufficient numbers, support redistribution to those whom they identify as having, by voting for Brexit, just made them and their families worse off. Not going to happen. A staple of Blue Labour/Goodhartian thought is that immigration and increasing ethnic diversity has made it hard to sustain social trust and that this risks undermining support for welfare-state institutions. The thought is that people need to be committed to the idea of an inclusive national community if they are going to be motivated to make sacrifices on behalf of others in the form of economic transfers: they won’t stump up for people who are too unlike themselves. But by fighting a culture-war against immigration and the “liberal elite” in order to secure Brexit, those Blue Labour types have succeeded in destroying the illusion of an inclusive national community. They have produced two hostile camps, ranged against one another, who will be unwilling to make the payments those very leftists think are necessary.

I confess that I myself have had some ugly thoughts as a result of the Brexit experience: why should I pay taxes to bail out a bunch of racist idiots in Sunderland or Stoke? What do I care if some elderly xenophobe can’t find a nurse or a doctor because too few EU nationals have stayed to look after the people who voted to take their rights away? Usually, I put away such thoughts: the homeless in the doorways of our major cities provide urgent enough reason for a redistributive and reconstructive politics. But enough people will stick with their anger and resentment against Brexit for disaffected Remainers to be electorally significant. There will be no healing of the division, no national coming-together. Corbynite tweeters will rail against the selfishness of middle-class people who won’t vote Labour any more. Maybe they’ll have a point. But the fact is they need the targets of their anger to vote with them rather than for an individualistic set of policies that abandon the worst off. The future looks surprisingly bright for people like George Osborne and the Orange Book Liberals, and the left has stuffed itself, again.

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