Brexit and Labour’s Disaster

by Henry on January 5, 2017

A piece I wrote on Brexit and the UK party system has just come out in _Democracy._ More than anything else, I wrote the article to get people to read Peter Mair. I didn’t know Mair at all well – he was another Irish political scientist, but was based in various European universities and in a different set of academic networks than my own. I met him once and liked him, and chatted briefly a couple of times after that about email. I wish I’d known him better – his posthumously edited and published book, Ruling the Void is the single most compelling account I’ve read of what has gone wrong in European politics, and in particular what’s gone wrong for the left. It’s still enormously relevant years after his death. The ever ramifying disaster that is the British Labour party is in large part the working out of the story that Mair laid out – how party elites became disconnected from their base, how the EU became a way to kick issues out of politics into technocracy, and how it all went horribly wrong.

The modern Labour Party is caught in an especially unpleasant version of Mair’s dilemma. Labour’s leaders tried over decades to improve the party’s electoral prospects in a country where its traditional class base was disappearing. They sought very deliberately and with some success to weaken its party organization in order to achieve this aim. However, their success created a new governing class within Labour, one largely disconnected from the party grassroots that it is supposed to represent. Ed Miliband recognized this problem as party leader and tried to rebuild the party’s connection to its grassroots. … However, as Mair might have predicted, there weren’t any traditional grassroots out there to cultivate. … Mair argued that the leadership and the base were becoming disengaged from each other, so that traditional parties were withering away. Labour has actually taken this one stage further, creating a party in which the leadership and membership are at daggers drawn, each able to stymie the other, but neither able to prevail or willing to surrender.

For quite a while now, I’ve been working through my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons (partial draft here), focusing on applications of Lesson 2

Lesson 2: Market prices don’t reflect all the opportunity costs we face as a society.

Thinking about the standard market failures (monopoly, externality and so on), I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to say more about the interaction between market failure and income distribution. I’ve already looked at the opportunity costs involved in income redistribution and predistribution, but different kinds of questions are coming up in relation to issues like monopoly, privatisation and for-profit provision of public services.

The discussion here and at my blog has been very helpful in stimulating my thoughts, but I need to do a lot more clarification. Some preliminary thoughts are over the fold: comments and criticism much appreciated

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Look, It’s Halley’s Comet!

by Belle Waring on January 5, 2017

My step-father Edmund Kirby-Smith (great-grandson of the very same) was kind of an awful person. In a shorthand way it may help to note he was best pals with Lee Atwater. Well, he was brought up by a…I think brutally strict father is a fair thing to say about Col. Edmund Kirby-Smith Sr.? Though less strenuously strict fairness compels me to say the Colonel was never anything more than abstractly terrifying to me or my brother and sister, and meant well as near as I could figure. They lived in an isolated home looking down into a valley at the edge of Sewanee, Tennessee, at the top of the last arm of one of an amphitheater of mountains, with trees falling away endlessly down the slope and then more mountains stretching out of view which, if not purple, were at least the lavender of eroded East Coast majesties. To say Edmund’s dad was lord of all he surveyed would understate his power. Just him and his sister–shit went Faulkner wrong up there, is the thing. Maybe sometimes I think he didn’t really have much of a chance to be a good person, although that’s not an actual excuse for failing to be one.

So, yeah, he was sort of your all around bad step-dad. You can use your imagination as long as you don’t go overboard. But father to my beloved, best beloved sister. And he had his moments! He was fun at parties.* I’m not being sarcastic; he really was. We invented games like Jupiter-Ball, which we played with a whole Salvation Army’s worth of bowling balls (we systematically switched the tags on them from badminton rackets), and into the thumb hole of the biggest and black ugliest of which we had hammered a broom handle to use as a mallet. We dug a huge hole in the yard to be the golf-analogue target, and created a ring out of which one would attempt to knock one’s opponents’ ball before they could take the shot. When even that grew boring he helped us carry them all over to the park across the road at 12 a.m. where we took turns sending them down the curly slide and seeing whose could go the furthest into the soft sand. We had some good friends with us, like the liquor store clerk and his girlfriend with the less interesting, less relevant job: electron microscopy. But she could play the fiddle pretty fair and could pee standing up like a man and was willing to do it in front of everyone after a few beers, and so was a worthy addition.
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