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Archive for the ‘Ideology’ Category

Magic and Kittens Socialism

March 5th, 2011 at 10:39 am

In which I write stuff that people who already agree with me will agree with, and those that disagree will disagree.

Yesterday I made a comment that, to me, socialism was like “Everybody in the country getting dial up Internet and Internet Explorer 6 (a very bad browser) a year before the rest of the world’s even thought about the Internet, but then never upgrading again. Ever.”

A huffy reply comes back. My crime? Conflating “socialism” which is lovely and full of kittens and magic, and “Stalinism” which as any right thinking person knows was really Capitalism.

Since I last brought up this subject on this blog I’ve made no further progress on understanding what on earth people expect from the Magic And Kittens version of Socialism – the version that ‘will’ exist, in the future, when ‘real’ Socialists are in power, as opposed to the Evil Capitalist Socialism which is What All Countries That Call Themselves Socialist actually are.

A simple experiment: Open up Wikipedia and search for “List of socialist countries”. Then do a search for “List of Libertarian countries” and spot the rather overwhelming difference: The latter page doesn’t actually exist.

Is it really so unfair of me, when talking about Socialism, to use Actual Existing Socialism as my starting point, even if the Magic and Kittens Socialists dispute the labels these regimes have placed on themselves?

Recently I read Colonel Gaddafi’s Green Book and his chapter on Socialism (“The solution to the economic problem”) and I wonder if his regime is counted as Evil Capitalist Socialism or Magic and Kittens Socialism. I wonder this very briefly – Gaddafi is an evil tyrant therefore this is the Evil Capitalist Socialism again. The answer is obvious: No magic or kittens there.

The real problem is that all varieties of Socialism – even the Magic and Kittens version – depend on egos, individualism and materialism (a term which is often misunderstood as meaning greedy, when it really refers to the ‘material’ world as opposed to the ‘spiritual’ world – material rewards rather than spiritual ones) being perceived as a flaw with humanity to be ‘fixed’, something to be got rid of as they ‘make people better’ than they are. It’s Capitalism that makes us this way, therefore once Capitalism has gone we will be ‘better’.

At least, we’ll be better after significant re-education, after Capitalism has been completely wiped off the globe so that people forget that individualism ever existed as a concept (let’s hope they’re right, that it’s not simply built in to us by evolution), after Socialism gives them sufficient time and resources to concentrate on self improvement and enlightenment.

Of course there’s always going to be a transition period. Not everyone will become properly class conscious during the revolution. Some will resist, and then the workers in charge will need to democratically decide what to do with these people. Re-educate them? Let them starve to death? Force them, at gun point, to play nice and share with the other children? Do you let all the doctors and scientists leave the country and hope you can fill the gaps using your schools and universities, or do you shoot them if they try? Do you need to keep them in for a little while, just until things have settled down?

At the heart of it is a creed which pits one ‘class’ of people against another class which promises to take everything that one class has – their wealth, their power – and give it to the other class. It’s the ancient idea of invading another country and plundering their resources for the benefit of the people back home put applied within a country, or raiding the neighbouring tribe’s food stores. “There’s more of us than them. We can take what we want.”

I’m beginning to think that Socialism isn’t really an economic theory or a social theory at all. Every Socialist imagines Magic and Kittens Socialism to be something quite different – it’s their own personalised version of political heaven, whatever that is. What they have in common is that Magic and Kittens Socialism is tailored for the domestic audience. What a British Student in 2011 regards as Magic and Kittens Socialism would not be recognised as such by a Russian Serf living in 1912. Or, let’s face it, another British student in 2011.

So trying to get a proper definition – a prescription, if you will, a list of things that will be different and how it will all work – is impossible, but it does point to the real answer: Socialism, when you reduce it down until there’s nothing left but what is true of all Socialism everywhere is nothing more than a means of getting sufficient support to successfully take over a country.

So, having considered my position, I wish to amend my pointless twitter comment. Socialism is like “Someone with Internet Explorer 6 organising all the other people with IE6 into a giant gang that then forces the rest of the world to use IE7 (a very bad browser, but slightly better than IE6). Forever.”

Hobbyist Socialism

September 27th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I used to write blog posts like this all the time. At least this one's short.

Another blogger, Ed Whitfield, wonders why I’ve accused the Labour Party of being “Socialist”. Isn’t conventional wisdom that since Tony Blair, Labour’s been many things – including “right wing” and “fascist” and lots of other juicy political words – but what they’ve not been, surely, is “Socialist”?

I thought, hey, I’ve not done a generic ideology post in months and this is as good as an excuse as any to do one. A short one.

Socialism is a very ill-defined concept and anyone who tells you otherwise is likely to be confusing, “wot I reckon socialism means” with “wot socialism means”. You show me one book with a clear definition (unlikely, but I’ll let you try) I’ll find another that contradicts it and explains why the other lot are totally wrong.

Individual socialists are very clear about what their version is not “It’s not the USSR” , “It’s not Capitalism”, “It’s not fascism” etc, but as for what it actually is? Well it’s an ever changing, mean-anything-to-anyone concept that has some sort of vague notion of collectivism at the core.

I appreciate that there’s some sort of “Hobbyist Socialism”. Hobbyists up and down the country have little political parties and pressure groups that dabble in a more hardcore, DIY, build-your-own Socialism. Some even write blogs and pamphlets. And books. There’s a whole cottage industry devoted to explaining the inexplicable.

But, for the sake of my own sanity and not getting involved with long protracted arguments about what one particular word means, I have found a useful way of explaining “socialism” (at least the British variety) is to say simply that it’s whatever stupid shit The Labour Party are doing today. I call Labour “Socialists” because, lacking another credible definition that any two people can agree upon, it makes sense to regard Labour as “Mainstream Socialism” and Mainstream Socialism is defined by what Labour do.

It’s not ideal but, seriously, politics is dull and complicated enough without pointless additional complexity created by deliberately vague labels and words like this. It’s not dumbing down – it’s about not wasting energy on stuff that doesn’t matter.

On Lending

June 14th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Why some of us get very bothered by the deficit.

So how is wealth created? Wealth isn’t merely cash. You don’t simply print bank notes and announce yourself to be wealthy. Wealth, real wealth is measured by value.

We all know that when a bank lends money, it conjures most of the cash out of the thin air, which sounds alarming… but it is hopefully repaid in full with interest in due course. The loan is supposed to be spent on things of value that generate – or save – more than the amount of the loan plus the interest.

In this way, wealth is created. Simple, right? A loan represents future wealth, future value. You borrow money to buy a car, you’re left with a unit of value – the car itself.

So, say a bank conjures money out of thin air for me, I spend it on a machine that allows me to make bottle caps, I then sell the bottle caps which eventually pays off the loan and then the rest, for me, is profit. Wealth has been created – represented by the existence of the machine and the bottle caps it produces.

So far so good.

The people who made the machine are paid for their work building it, too, as are the people who made the parts and those who processed the raw materials and those who mined those raw materials. The people who handled the payment of the machine are paid, as are the people who brought it to my bottle top factory, as are the people who designed the brochures and the web site, and the sales staff who gave me the information I needed.

The people who risked their own money putting together a team of people to design and build the machine get to take a bit of profit, although only as much as they can get away with without losing out to a competitor. If no-one had bought their machine, they would have lost it all. They deserve their reward. Their efforts have also created wealth – a factory producing bottle top machines, and with it employment.

Every single person who’s been paid along the way gets to spend their money on food, on clothing, on putting a roof over their heads and in acquiring whatever else they wish or can get with what they have. This, in turn, creates demand for food, clothing and consumer goods – including bottled beer, with some rather funky bottle tops.

It works because the people in the banks try to make good lending decisions. They want to be sure that the money they lend creates value, creates real wealth, because this is how they’re certain they’ll make their money back. They lend money to make it, and people borrow money to make it. Typically loans are ‘secured’ against some real existing wealth – property of some kind – so that if the loan is not repaid there is still real wealth to show for the cash.

Now, in the credit crunch, when the banks were (and in some cases still are) refusing to lend, you can see how this causes a major problem for any economy that depends on it – and why it caused such a catastrophic contraction in our economy.

The reasons for their non-lending boil down to demands from the Government to increase the amount of cash they hold in their reserves and uncertainty that the wealth against which loans are secured have any real value at all. Housing that no-one will buy, for example, is very poor security indeed.

The credit crunch itself was caused by banks neglecting this most basic duty of theirs: Lending only when they are certain to get the money back, to take only good, well calculated risks. It turned out that too many loans were secured against very bad risks that other people had taken, resulting in everyone realising there was no security in the system at all whatsoever – and it nearly brought down our entire economy.

The Government’s solution was to use its own power as a Nation State to borrow and spend, thus hopefully stimulating demand. It gave people jobs directly, in the hope that they would continue spending money somewhere. It paid money to buy cars from people and destroy them, thus literally destroying wealth in the process. It printed money and used it to buy toxic assets from the banks to help them get their balance sheets in order.

Nothing it has done has replaced that carefully targeted injection of cash for the purpose of generating wealth in the same way that banks do to business. The same amount of cash lent to the entire private sector should always generate more real wealth than the same money borrowed by the Government to spend on random projects for the sheer hell of having some sort of economic activity. The decisions made by politicians will always be inferior to the combined decision making process of everyone else acting in their own self interest.

All this borrowing they’ve done, like any loan, needs to be repaid by someone. The difference, and the main difference between borrowing to invest by the private sector and borrowing by the public sector is that the private sector borrows in order to make money. The public sector borrows simply to dump cash in the system in the hope that it inflates the GDP figures, or to spend it on services that, in themselves, have no ability to create further wealth.

It is, ultimately, the private sector that has to generate the wealth to repay these loans – if it can. The Government, by its very nature, has no means of creating wealth itself. Every pound the private sector needs to spend on servicing this loan made to them against their will is a pound that cannot be spend on something that might have created a job, or been used to create more real, concrete, measurable wealth. This is the ‘opportunity cost’, and it is this great unknown, the ‘what could have beens’ that we are increasingly losing the more the Government borrows.

That’s why some of us are bothered by the deficit, you see?

The point of this post is to attempt to tackle this idea that it doesn’t matter whether it’s the public sector borrowing money and spending it, or the private sector borrowing it and spending it – it’s all just cash and it all goes around just the same, creating demand for food and clothing etc. But there IS a difference, and that difference is everything. It is the difference between real growth – increasing wealth – and simply trading other people’s ability to create wealth in the future for short term political gain.

Putting the ‘National’ in ‘Socialism’

December 13th, 2009 at 1:07 pm

1072 words long. You've been warned.

A few months ago I read Road to Serfdom for the first time, and a powerful and convincing read it was too. Hayek makes the case that Nazi regime grew out of the destruction of the German middle classes, a hatred for British liberalism (specifically the ‘free trade’ economic liberalism of the day) and complete failure to understand the problems inherent to economic planning.

One of the most compelling arguments was the correlation between anti-capitalism and anti-semitism.

The argument goes that, excluded from the sort of unionised, protected jobs available to German nationals, Jewish people set up their own businesses – as, literally, the only means of making a living. They embraced capitalism and trade because it allowed them to feed themselves and their families and they were perceived as being very successful at that.

Of course the German working classes, having been through a depression and economic disaster, saw it differently – they saw Jewish people making a living and not sharing their wealth with the German people. Jealousy quickly turns to hatred, and all it then takes is the right politician to come along to threaten to use the power of the state to redress the balance and, it seems, all hell breaks loose.

I look around the town where I live and I see a disturbing parallel – a hated and despised immigrant population (mostly from Pakistan) whose main source of employment appears to be either self employment or working for other people from Pakistan. Any poverty in the Pakistani community is hidden because the only interactions most white people have with them is when they order take-away, or go into a corner shop, or order a taxi. Others live in the same area – the part of the town that has the cheapest housing – and have watched as the their streets have become increasingly ethnic in appearance. This freaks people out. They don’t like it, and they’re condemned as thought criminals if they say so. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t… but is it entirely fair or reasonable to force people to think anything through bullying, hectoring, intimidation? If there’s nothing wrong with being the only white person left on your street, why does it need saying? Why do people need to be persuaded of that?

The problem is this: What do you do about it?

Dispersing the immigrant population? How do you do that without evicting them from their homes, ripping them out of their jobs and families? Too fascist.

Preventing them from wearing ‘ethnic’ clothing? Well, how do you do that without passing laws about what is and isn’t acceptable for people to wear? Again, that’s distinctly un-British.

Deport the immigrants: Hard to imagine how that one ends well. Derisory bribes to leave are unlikely to be successful – it would require force and would quickly reduce Britain to the status of a rogue state, an international pariah. International trade would collapse, imports from Britain would be banned and we’d be utterly ruined.

The least worst option appears to be controls on immigration in the first place, it seems. There’s no acceptable, humane or even British way of dealing with immigrant populations once they’re in the country.

But then the question becomes does it really need dealing with in the first place? Apparently so, if you listen to the people who point to crime statistics from certain ethnic minority grouping as if this is the ultimate argument that, yes, immigration is a terrible thing. I’m not convinced. Other people argue that the public services and general infrastructure cannot cope with the growth in the population – which, I think, is a much more valid argument.

The growth in the population has exposed Britain’s planning system as glacial, the dependence on the state to provide infrastructure as in error, and more horrifyingly it’s shown that public services are not properly balanced – theoretically ten thousand more people paying tax should pay for the public services of ten thousand more people – but that is not the case. Public services are not paying for themselves based on the people using them thanks to ridiculous levels of centralisation and woefully inadequate five and ten year plans. More proof, as if it were needed, of the folly of economic planning.

This, I’m afraid, is the real problem. The solution of ‘get rid of the immigrants! Stop them coming in’ might temporarily relieve the stress on infrastructure and public services but it wouldn’t fix the underlying problems – that this is a country that is institutionally incapable of adapting to anything and with an over mighty state stretched far, far, far beyond what it can be reasonably expected to be able to deal with.

And yet we blame the immigrants for this, for daring to expose the limits of our creaking, broken infrastructure. The current reasons for capping immigration is to protect the public services, benefits payments, social housing and job prospects of the people who are already here. It’s socialism, you see, but just for British nationals. Hmmm…. why does that sound familiar?

But then this is the tendency of socialism – this is what happens. It’s inevitable. As the state grows and “gives” more and more to the nationals in its jurisdiction, so the pressure grows to limit who counts as ‘in’ and who counts as ‘out’.

People explode in a self-righteous fury if they believe that one group is getting something their own group isn’t – and this fury is being channelled into the growth of fascist thought rather than providing the political will to stop Governments picking favourites and taking sides.

It may be that the socialists are the most vocal anti-racists, but it is they who’ve created the economic conditions in which racism thrives. It’s they who’ve created a country with a growing obsession with stopping “foreigners” taking advantage of our welfare state, and it’s they who’ve spent the last 100 years telling everyone that Free Trade (which includes free movement of people) is a bad and terrible thing, it’s they who’ve told everyone that the job of the state is to pick sides and pick winners…. and they’re acting surprised, shocked and outraged when people who see themselves as losers in the current system want to use the state for their own purposes?

What exactly did they think would happen? I mean, really? The only way to stop National Socialism in the UK is to stop socialism.

Is Britain too Infantile to end Prohibition?

November 1st, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Hedonism is not a substitute for liberty.

Alcohol is a recreational drug. Most people tolerate it well – they use it in moderation and suffer very little in the way of side effects. It should be a model of how reasonable, self interested adults are perfectly capable, when they know the facts, of using recreational drugs in a mostly beneficial way.

We should be the kind of society where we can make informed, adult choices about these things. But informed, rational adults are not the target of the drug prohibition. It’s children and the yahoos and the donkeys that behave like children that seem to ‘demand’ that the state sets the boundaries for these children and wannabe children.

In this country we seem to have a problem with a minority abusing alcohol, causing havoc and chaos in our cities and town centres, making them no-go areas at night.

The state is attempting to lay down new boundaries for that too… but why? Why is it necessary? What’s wrong with our particular society that we’re like this?

I think I have a pretty good idea why we’re like this: Telling someone that’s drunk so much that they’re throwing up, yelling, screaming, fighting and behaving like a toddler that they’re utterly repulsive is less socially acceptable than getting paralytic itself. Infantalism is cool, rationality is not. Celebrating stupidity is hot, celebrating intelligence… well not in this lifetime. Bloody intellectuals, eh? What do they know?

But again, I ask: Why? Why are we like that?

We delegate the dirty work of being uncool, boring and judgemental to politicians…  and we all seem surprised when they’re utterly incapable of doing anything about it and slowly society seems to be getting further and further away from any hope of being able to end drug prohibition.

No matter how much better things might be without prohibition, the majority can only see the potential bad – that this is not a society mature or civilised enough to cope with the freedom.

How do you fight this? What do you do about this? Are we in a chicken and egg situation where the state will only treat us like adults if we behave like adults, or will we only behave like adults if we’re treated like adults?

Those of us that already behave like adults resent and hate being dragged under the control of the state for things that other people have done and do, like a squad of soldiers being made to do press-ups because one failed to shine his boots properly.

That’s our democracy though, isn’t it? We vote for the politicians that promise to ‘look after us’ and ‘be nice to us’ and ‘stop people doing bad things’ and we wonder why we get politicians that regard themselves as surrogate parents for a nation of children.

Yet perhaps it’s because this is a country with more rules than freedoms, where the level of inhibitions on our behaviours and controls on our lives has become so oppressive, so subconsciously unbearable (all these additional things on top of simply trying to raise a family and put food on the table) and so universal we’ve come to celebrate and admire those who seem to live beyond these rules, those who rebel – that we ourselves have created the climate where there are cultural incentives and advantages to hedonism, to completely letting go of all self control for a few hours to get away from it all.

So we love rebels, and we love to rebel… well, until we see the consequences of that uncontrolled abandon in the form of vandalism, violence, abuse and so on, at which point the politicians being in more laws, more rules and the pressure keeps building, and glamour of the rebel continues to grow. Round and round we go…

Any society that thinks hedonism is a substitute for liberty is always going to end up like ours, isn’t it?

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