Notes On The News
By Gwydion M. Williams
Economics used to be called ‘political economy’. In substance, that’s what it still is. But rich people with the good political connections like to pretend otherwise, and the ‘free’ media has been bought up by such plutocrats. So they encourage the little people to see the economy as a law of nature, and then beat the patriotic drum when their own interests are threatened.
It’s even better if gullible foreigners can be persuaded to tie their economy to the USA, leaving the USA free to boost or dump them as the USA sees fit. Japan and the East Asian Tigers were boosted all through the Cold War, dumped in the 1990s. Latin America isn’t even doing that well, and the closer they get to the USA, the worse they do.
Just now US big business is getting bailed out, with September 11th as a good excuse. Argentina another matter, it has no votes in the real centres of power. The developing American Free Trade Zone will be free for US business to penetrate other economies, and for little else. It will not have the central democratic institutions of the European Union which, however imperfect, do at least ensure everyone gets looked after. And using US dollars, as Argentina did, is a bad idea if your own economic pain is not felt in US political circles.
Of course there is flexibility. Enron was allowed to crash, because it was huge and because it looks like it was always intended as a massive fraud. And Argentina is being allowed to default at the expense of overseas investors, because there was a popular revolt and it was impossible to go on impoverishing the common people as the IMF recommended.
The New Right can think their system ‘natural’, only by denying the naturalness of all other sorts of human experience. That might have worked, if the USA were also willing to absorb other peoples fully into their system. They aren’t, of course. Foreigners are foreign and expected to remain so, relatively small numbers may be absorbed as immigrants, but the rest are supposed to know their place.
Peace-keeping run by foreign armies worked in the Balkans, because the various peoples of the Balkans had had centuries of occupation by some outside power, this is nothing new. The brief existence of Yugoslavia was a decided exception to an ancient pattern of belonging to some foreign empire, and fell apart once the discipline of Leninist power was removed.
The various Afghan tribes were another matter, either left alone or ruled by someone of similar spirit. That accounts for the success of Alexander the Great, hereditary king of Macedonian mountain-men who had learned Greek ways but kept different attitudes. And likewise Babur, a Central Asian nomad and warrior whose name means ‘tiger’ in Mongolian. He made the Afghan city of Kabul his base for the conquest of India, and he was very acceptable to the locals.
When it comes to characters like Blair, or even Colin Powell, they are welcome to flit in for one of the world’s best photo-opportunities, but they’d better not stay long. Afghanistan has gone back to its pre-Taliban pattern of local warlords, and the opium is once again flowing freely.
The trouble with terrorism is that states are always likely to be better at it, and superpowers especially. The USA is showing this, and exposing the total hollowness of International Law. ‘Unlawful combatants’ is meaningless, an invented concept that allows exactly the sort of thing the Geneva Convention was intended to stop
Terrorism by small dissident groups tends just to justify much worse terrorism by rulers, and has generally been a futile tactic.
Bush & Co. have correctly judged US opinion; the rest of the world is another matter, especially the ‘Second World’, the developed countries other than the USA. We really do need to revive the old concept of a ‘Second World’, with the US as the First World. ‘Third World’ sometimes was an alternative option in the Cold War, but it soon came to mean poor and non-European. Nowadays it must mean mainly poor, as Japan and Asian tigers joined the Second World, while East Europeans ‘helped’ by post-Communist advice from the USA have sunk down to 3rd world levels.
The power of the USA has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. Some of us were saying even before the Gulf War of 1991 that the USA had no interest in respecting the fragile structures of International Law and the UN. There is small excuse for not having realised it after 1991, and yet most of the Second World was happy to go along with the messing-up of Yugoslavia and an arbitrary war in Afghanistan, which has killed more Afghans than the number of Americans who died on September 11th, and makes sense only if you assume US lives count for a great deal and Afghan lives rate at next to nothing.
Embarrassingly, the two chief villains have not been found. Bin Laden may well be dead and secretly buried, his failure to make any more propaganda tapes is suspicious. Even so, the war is not clearly or cleanly won. So there is a need to make examples of members of members of an enemy army, transformed by lawyer-speak into ‘unlawful combatants.
Not respecting the Geneva Convention is something new. Even the USA’s biggest backers have balked at that. But when it comes to the point, the Second World has always fallen into line behind the USA. Looks like they will again.
What about China? China was a source of opposition in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. In the Afghan war they have so far has been conciliated. Rather than the USA nagging China about ‘human rights’, they seem to be borrowing some of the successful methods of the People’s Liberation Army. ‘Peacekeeping’ in Tibet has so far been frustrated by the lack of a proper war: the USA has funded enough Tibetan guerrillas over the years, but none of them lasted long. So maybe the USA has given up, accepted that Tibet with all of its minerals and strategic position cannot be taken away from the Chinese. Better to make China a conditional ally, especially since China has its own Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, also known as East Turkistan.
The USA must have excellent Chinese sources and know far more than has appeared in the media. My own reading from published sources is that China’s leftist and nationalist opposition is far stronger than the small pro-Western dissident movement. If dissidents stood even a small chance, then this Republican administration would be trying for confrontation. They aren’t, so forget dissidents for now, for the next decade or so.
Meantime China also has no reason to object to the USA doing officially what they have always done unofficially
On the railways, the ‘miracle of the market’ is even more elusive than a White Christmas. Experience is showing that the old semi-capitalist formula was best. Tax-and-spend is no longer seen as unspeakable, and Iain Duncan Smith is now resorting to the interesting idea of taxing less and spending more. Hire a few accountants from Enron to balance the books?
In the USA in the 1990s, 10% did extremely well and the rest did badly. Whereas in Europe, Britain included, 10% did badly, 10% did well and the middling 80% did about as well as if Keynesianism had been reformed and not dismantled.
The virtues of public service are being appreciated after a couple of decades of damaging ‘reforms’. People in the 1960s and 1970s wanted to be ‘empowered’, and when the majority of the Left opposed practical Empowerment through Workers Control and through developing the European Union, the right were given a turn.
The world turns on. Iain Duncan Smith is saying some very unexpected things, the sort of stuff we might have expected from Portillo had he been elected. He had supposed to have put self in tune with 21st century thinking. Or is it just the thinking of a few media people, whose opinions count for less than they think?
All I definitely known is that he has successfully put himself out of tune with natural supporters. It’s no longer a party fit for bigots, which could boost far-right alternatives. But why should anyone trust a Toryism that sounds like a weak copy of New Labour?
New Labour did get elected as a weak copy of Thatcherism, but that was after a long period of Tory rule. And it helped that one could be certain that New Labour would not be peddling any ‘back to basics’.
The semi-reformed House Of Lords could be around for a long while yet. The official Labour idea for a ‘House Of Obedience’ dominated by party political appointees. But then what? More democracy? Two chambers and gridlock, like they have in the USA?
If I could chose, I’d have 30 regions electing an average of 10 candidates, but make them real regions with historic roots. Give everyone ten transferable votes, give the lunatic fringe a chance, along with pop stars and entertainers, anything to make it a place dominated by party machines. Limit its powers –nothing can be delayed more than 12 months, if the Commons is determined. But give the ‘Lords’ a real role.
Iain Duncan Smith’s “senate” was a silly copy of the worst of US constitutional machinery. He managed to upset his own people by not defending tradition. But why isn’t he calling for proportional representation in elections. to the House of Commons, which Labour half-promised and the Liberal-Democrats are still keen on.
Labour’s troubles have not boosted Tory poll ratings, not that I’ve heard. Proportional representation might be Iain Duncan Smith’s only real chance of high office.
[As of April 2015, the semi-reformed system remains in place.]