Newsnotes 2016 10

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

  • Free Abuse By Free Markets
  • The Doom of the Baby Boomers
  • China: Leninism With a Mixed Economy
  • How Corbyn Can Now Win
  • Russia Dares To Believe In Itself
  • Global Equality
  • Snippets
    • Sport and Therapeutic Use Exemption
    • You’ve not seen nothing like the mighty Finns

Free Abuse By Free Markets

Britain’s Hardest Workers was a recent BBC program.  In it, 20 volunteers test their skills in a series of low-wage jobs.  In game-show style, the least effective would be eliminated after each job.  The last survivor got a large cash prize. The others were shown just as getting their low-pay wages, though I’m sure they got extra for having been on television.

They were a mixed bag, often people who would anyway have been looking for the sort of jobs they were doing in the program. A few looked like they might be ‘upwardly mobile’. At least one was ‘downwardly mobile’: a middle-aged woman who’d been a Mortgage Advisor on £40,000 a year and now seemed unemployable.

All of the jobs we saw needed skills, despite most of them paying only the minimum wages. New people learning the job were much slower than those with a few weeks experience, and they made many errors. But it’s no wonder that they were still paying a minimum wage. With hotels, for instance, there is a tiny price advantage reflected in very low and irregular wages for hotel cleaners.  Tiny price advantages can make the difference between having most of the hotel rooms full or most of them empty, with a vast difference in profit or loss.  Such workers are hard to organise and very easy to replace, particularly with contracting out.  When businesses move most of their work to agencies, they can replace the workers instantly. There is a strong economic pressure for the lowest possible wage.

An informative program, and quite entertaining with many human stories. If you missed it, you can still download it.[A]

The Doom of the Baby Boomers

“Did we baby boomers bring about a revolution in the 60s or just usher in neoliberalism?”, asked Polly Toynbee in a recent Guardian article.[B]  The truth is, we did both.

The Wiki defines Baby Boomers as Westerners born between 1946 and 1964. But the radical rebellion of the 1960s was carried through by the eldest of them, and often inspired by the slightly older ‘War Babies’. John Lennon was born in 1940, Paul McCartney in 1942, Mick Jagger in 1943.  Polly Toynbee herself was born in 1946. I was born in 1950, and found student radicalism in sharp decline by the time I was part of it.

It was a scrappy radicalism that distrusted the state. Distrusted all authority and organisation. You could call it The Very Popular Front for the Liberation of Wonderful Me.  It actually did liberate ‘Wonderful Me’: it established freedoms that are now taken for granted. I remember in the 1990s hearing two people some 15 years younger than me, finding it hard to believe that it was ever viewed as unusual or wrong for young people to try living together to see if they got on before marrying.  I’m old enough to remember when it was called ‘living in sin’, and only a small minority dared do it openly.

That was the positive side – it was a revolution of sorts, though not violent and maybe better called a radical reform. But weaknesses and a lack of realism left it wide open to replacement by Neo-Liberalism. People who talked the language of liberty, but got a tight grip on the state machine out of the public gaze. But it wasn’t a failure: there were gigantic changes in social life.  A family order that had stood since the Neolithic age was first challenged and then overthrown.

The biggest change is that women made vast strides in social equality and work equality. They also got the freedom to do what they liked with their own bodies. The most surprising change, and one which the conventional Left and Far Left were initially doubtful about, was the acceptance and increasing normalisation of both lesbianism and male homosexuality. I must admit, I myself was doubtful about it. I accepted the decriminalisation of male homosexuality: nor was I bothered by lesbianism existing somewhere out of sight – by the oddities of English law, it had never actually been illegal. But as far as I recall, I felt that this was quite enough and that gays should keep it all private. I ignored the widespread discrimination against them. Only gradually did my attitudes change. It took a lot of work, risk and effort to change the whole society.

Suppose someone in 1965 had predicted that ‘gay rights’ would win through almost everywhere in the next 50 years. That even the Republic of Ireland would accept not just ‘living in sin’ and legal and open homosexuality, but also gay marriage. They actually voted for it by almost 2 to 1 in 2015, but this would not have seemed possible in 1965. In that year a conservative MP called Humphry Berkeley brought in a Private Members bill, which failed. He lost his seat in the 1966 election, and said that his support for homosexual rights was the cause. Yet because he and others dared push various aspects of a radical agenda, it won out.

On economic matters, distrusting the state and distrusting organisation was sometimes liberating, but more often damaging. And hard-line radicalism was often self-defeating. When Trotskyist, it was always self-defeating.  Baby Boomers were irrationally fond of a failed branch of Leninism that has had zero positive achievements since its emergence in the 1920s.[C]

It was once normal for the post-1945 economic system to be called the Mixed Economy. 1960s radicals, whether socialist or anarchist or mystical, insisted on calling it capitalism. The Hard Left also congratulated themselves on defeating moderate leftist reforms like Incomes Policy and Workers Control, which would delay the immanent collapse of the wicked capitalist system. This left them wide open to Thatcherism, which said that Capitalism was Virtue and would do wonderful things if freed from pointless state restrictions.

None of this was true. From the 1980s down to the present day, a more-than-millionaire class (also known as the richest 1%) have enjoyed an economic miracle for themselves, and only for themselves. The Mixed Economy remains the reality, adapted to benefit the rich and squeeze ordinary people. Britain and the USA had slightly lower growth-rates than in the 1950-1975 era.  France, West Germany, Italy and Japan lost the subtle balance that had given each of them an Economic Miracle that won the Cold War.

Socially, there have been vast shifts that fitted the left agenda, as I’ve detailed before.[D]  Thatcher didn’t like it and did what she could to obstruct it. She promoted no other women in the Tory Party while she dominated it. She introduced ‘Section 28’ against gays.[E] But she also did nothing about the swarms of libertarians in her party, keeping a low profile but climbing the hierarchy. Under David Cameron, they finished off what was left of traditional England.

Cameron was born in 1966: just too young to be a baby boomer. But Brexit and the death of traditional England are his legacy.

China: Leninism With a Mixed Economy

The West has done badly since people started believing that the Mixed Economy was an aberration that must be urgently replaced. It’s not actually been replaced. But as I said, the official ideology of Free Markets has let a more-than-millionaire class enjoy an economic miracle for themselves alone.

In China, Deng and his heirs have in practice copied the successful Western pattern of a Mixed Economy. From what I’ve read of the open discussions of their policies, the understanding is unclear. It may have been corruption more than wisdom that led the party to keep its grip on the whole economy.  But British public life was gigantically corrupt during the Industrial Revolution, normally dated from 1760 to 1830. The respectable clean-up under the Victorians coincided with the decline of British dominance of manufacturing, and arguably caused it. For certain, there was also enormous corruption in the USA when it became a manufacturing giant during its ‘Gilded Age’.  ‘Patriotic corruption’ – corruption among people who expect to stay part of a society and enjoy a common prosperity – often does grease the wheels of radical change.

Under Xi Jinping, China is increasingly understanding how the wider world works. Sees that Neo-Liberal ideas do not in fact work well. That China badly needs a clean-up of corruption, but need not copy the West. A recent article called China’s socialist model outperforms capitalism says:

“The top four fastest growing economies since the neo-liberal ‘Washington Consensus’ was put forward, all follow, or are highly influenced by, China’s development model. These countries are China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. In contrast, capitalist development models, including the Washington Consensus, have been a failure. Pro-capitalists in China would clearly prefer these facts to be generally unknown since they damage the idea that China should abandon its socialist path of development and adopt a capitalist one.

“These facts also have international political implications. The socialist development model followed by China is the creation of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC).

“The Washington Consensus is the dominant economic strategy put forward by international economic institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank, and is taught in Western universities. Yet, the overwhelming economic superiority of countries following a socialist development policy, more in line with the Chinese model, shows that it not only outperforms capitalist alternatives but that the CPC has a better grasp on the situation than Western economists.

“A factual comparison in the international results of the two economic development approaches – the neoliberal Washington Consensus versus the Chinese socialist development strategy – clearly shows how the latter outperforms the former.

“We will consider China itself as well as three other countries. These are Vietnam, which defines itself as socialist and drew heavily from China’s socialist market economy approach, and Cambodia and Laos, both of which were highly influenced by China’s development model…

“From 1993-2015, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos ranked, respectively, No.1, No.2, No.3 and No.4 in world per capita GDP growth – peripheral cases of countries with populations of less than 5 million or dominated by oil production are not included…

“Since 1981 China has lifted 728 million people out of World Bank-defined poverty. Vietnam lifted over 30 million people from poverty by the same criteria. In the rest of the world, in which the dominant model advocated by the IMF was the Washington Consensus, only roughly 120 million people rose above poverty. During this time, 83 percent of all poverty reduction was in China, 85 percent was in socialist countries and only 15 percent was in capitalist countries.”[F]

China also may be stabilising after the loss of export markets, caused by a world slowdown in which poorer people who buy cheap Chinese goods have born the brunt:

“China’s imports rose for the first time in nearly two years last month, sending a strong signal that the world’s second-biggest economy is slowly building up steam.

“China’s exports, however, fell again in August, but by a smaller margin, indicating that demand overseas for Chinese products is also stabilising.”[G]

How Corbyn Can Now Win

Labour is supposed to be ‘democratic socialist’. But when a free vote delivers the ‘wrong’ outcome, respect for democracy is shallow. 172 out of 232 Labour MPs thought that Brexit gave them a good excuse to dump Jeremy Corbyn and replace him with someone bland, timid and safe. Stop seriously opposing the Tories: be a nice wishy-washy alternative.

As we all know, it failed. It was quickly claimed that a majority of those who were Labour Party members when Corbyn was first elected had voted for Owen Smith. I’d want to see several independent polls on the matter before I accepted this as truth. But it may be that many who originally voted for Corbyn out of hope were spooked by a hostile press and hostile Labour MPs.

I called those MPs the Timid Tendency. People certain that Labour could not win with Corbyn leading it, even though the polls were close before the bulk of the Labour MPs used Brexit as an excuse to rebel. The activism and enthusiasm of Corbyn supporters was discounted, even though it includes vast number of individuals who ought to be able to get possible Labour voters to actually vote.

What happens next? Peace within the Labour Party, I hope. So I’m making a suggestion that should improve Labour’s chances of winning the next election. Corbyn is against nuclear weapons, but many potential Labour voters might be put off if electing him meant functional disarmament.  So he could pledge:

  • the job of holding the nuclear trigger would be transferred to someone willing to use them (maybe the Minister of Defence).
  • the manifesto should promise a referendum on nuclear disarmament, and also if Trident is the best option if we stay nuclear-armed.
  • make an absolute promise of no-first-use, which neither Britain nor the USA have ever done.[H] (And Russia no longer makes this promise.)

Russia Dares To Believe In Itself

As I said earlier, when a free vote delivers the ‘wrong’ outcome, respect for democracy is shallow. The Western media use a series of sneers to cover up the awkward fact that pro-Western and liberal parties in Russia are now as unpopular as the Far Right in Britain: maybe more so. It wasn’t a perfect election: but had there been serious discontent, it could have been expressed.

Turnout was low – but to me that means that most voters thought the government was doing its best in a tough situation. More than half the votes were for Putin’s party. Everyone had expected them to win easily.

Second, but much reduced, were the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, maybe fading as their older members die off. Their vote fell from one-fifth to between one-seventh and one-eighth; 13.34%. The hard-right ‘Liberal Democrats’ rose slightly to nearly the same level, 13.14%. The moderate-socialist ‘Just Russia’ lost half their votes and got 6.23%.

Some 13% voted for a scattering of minor parties that got three seats between them, there being a 5% cut-off for the party lists. Biggest (though without seats at a national level) was a rival ‘Communists of Russia’ with 2.27%.

As for the pets of the Anglosphere: Yabloko, the largest surviving pro-Western party, lost heavily. They fell from 3.43% to 1.99%. Their best-ever result was 7.86% in 1993, before pro-Western policies had truly screwed up. It must help that they were not involved in the actual implementation of Yeltsin’s bungled privatisations.

A much smaller pro-Western party, Civic Platform, actually won a constituency seat, though overall its vote was no more than 0.22%. It is new for this election. It belongs to Mikhail Prokhorov, one of the people who became mysteriously rich while Russia grew poorer in the Yeltsin years.

Russia looks surprisingly solid, after all it has been through.

Global Equality

In the West, we hear a lot about the richest 1% prospering at the expense of the 99%. It’s actually more complex. The 9% just below the richest 1% have done about as well as they’d have done if the older Mixed-Economy viewpoint had held. This is worth emphasising, because this middling 9% have probably got more talent and hard work per head than the richest 1%. They manage to be useful to society without the gigantic rewards that the richest 1% claim they need and deserve. Many ordinary people see the limited privileges of this 9% as a just reward for skills. Since we’re definitely not going to be moving to a society of complete equality in the foreseeable future, left-wingers should be emphasising this.

We must also point out that the 99% or 90% who have lost out in the West are themselves a privileged middling group from a global viewpoint:

“The era of globalisation seemed to offer little for the people in between: households in the 75th to 85th percentile of the income distribution (who were poorer than the top 15% but richer than everyone else) seemed scarcely better off in 2008 than they had been 20 years before. They constituted a decile of discontent, squeezed between their own countries’ plutocrats and Asia’s middle class. This dramatic dip in the chart seemed to explain a lot. ‘Cue Donald Trump. Cue nationalism. Cue Brexit,’ wrote Mr Milanovic’s publisher.”[I]

Branko Milanovic wrote a book arguing that globally, the poorest 75% had made a lot of gains. As had the richest 15%, but especially the richest 1%. I plan to review it for the next issue.


Sport and Therapeutic Use Exemption

Performance-enhancing drugs can be used quite legally when there is a genuine medical need. This is fair enough, but also wide open to abuse.

A lot of Western athletes have Therapeutic Use Exemptions for things they would not otherwise be allowed to take. [J]  This was the main point of the recent leak of personal medical data by the ‘Fancy Bear’ hackers, who are presumed to be Russian.[K]

The West is also suffering a lot of deaths from abuse of legally prescribed opioids made by regular drugs companies. These are chemically close to heroin, and it’s been claimed to be an easy pathway to them.[L]


You’ve not seen nothing like the mighty Finns

“Finland has one of the world’s best education systems, with no tuition fees and also giving free meals to their students. The literacy rate in Finland is 100 percent. Finland has one of the highest standards of living in the world. Like Denmark and other European countries, equality is considered one of the most important values in society. Whereas in the Netherlands, government control over the economy remains at a minimum, but a socialist welfare system remains. The lifestyle in the Netherlands is very egalitarian and organized, where even bosses do not discipline or treat their subordinates rudely.”[M]

Britain could usefully copy Finland in most things. (Though not the weather.)



Previous Newsnotes can be found at the Labour Affairs website,  And at my own website,