Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Month: November, 2013

Proposed French legislation

I recently heard a recording of a very interesting interview on my local (French) radio station, and I thought your readers might like to hear about it.  I wrote to the broadcasting station  and asked if I could have a transcript.  I am pleased to say they agreed, and I have translated it as here:

   We are pleased to have with us today the distinguished gastronome and philosopher Louis-Gustave Capper, winner of the Prix Cinqroutes for innovative cuisine in the year 1931.  Professor, thank you very much for agreeing to speak to us.  As you know the French Assembly has again begun a project of law with the idea of imposing fines on clients of prostitutes.  We should be glad to have your views on the project and, if you will permit, I have to begin by putting a question which a number of our female listeners insisted should be put to you, when they heard this interview would be broadcast:  Are you a male chauvinist?


   There are several answers to this question.  As often with such questions of a social nature, the answers vary according to the person giving them, and have nothing useful to do with the nature of the person or subject under investigation.  Perhaps we may proceed to more substantive issues.

   Do you think that there are different categories of rape?

   I do not think any sane person can believe rape to be anything other than a very serious crime, whether committed against a male or a female.  However, there is reason to think it is especially heinous when the victim is female, to judge from the fact that on occasions it leads to suicide, whereas such an outcome seems to be extremely rare when the victim is male.  Having said that much, however, is it not evident that extreme brutality, for example, will make the crime worse?

   The supporters of this legislation say that it will reduce the incidence of trafficking.  Do you agree?

   Trafficking is a term that certainly admits of different categories, since it means in essence no more than trading in some commerce that a government dislikes.  Some forms of such commerce should be encouraged by all honest citizens.  I think, for example of the illegal export of necessary medicines into countries despite political sanctions against their governments.  Iran’s citizens have long been at risk when travelling by air because of severe difficulties obtaining spare parts for civilian aircraft.  Historically there have been many countries which banned certain books which most urgently needed to be distributed in great numbers in those very countries.  I myself look fondly on those who supply me with imported cigarettes which would cost me three times as much if they were imported legally.

    I think in this case, however, they are speaking of trafficking in people.

   Now it may be that here they are talking of people being treated in such trade as objects, and this is of course wrong, though let me point out that the worst offenders in this kind of treatment are governments themselves.  But in any case they are clearly misusing the language (a lesser offence but still one where governments are egregious offenders) since as I have said trafficking is simply commerce of which a government disapproves.  And I object most strongly to morally repugnant restrictions being placed on the crossing of frontiers by human beings.  We are told that humanity benefits from a free market (an obvious falsehood since those who benefit from a free market are those who have access to the knowledge and control to take advantage of it) but even as the words are spoken we see that they do not mean at all what they appear to say.  There is to be free movement of money and of physical goods but not of people, who are by the way the ones who do the work.  A poor man loses his job in Africa.  He goes to the embassy of a European country to get the visa which, as an African, he must get so that he can travel there to earn money for his family.  It is refused, because he cannot show that he has money to support himself in Europe (and would be refused even if he could).  So he sells half his possessions to pay for a trip to the coast, where he must hand over all the money that remains to him so that he can board a rotting boat which may take him to Europe.  Is he not an investor?  He has invested until he has nothing left.  He has struggled for weeks to make the journey.  He is a man.  He wants to work.  But if he reaches the other shore, he has no papers.  He will be held in a camp like a prison until he is sent back because he is an economic migrant.  So where is the theory of capitalism now?  It is lacking one of its two main motive forces.  However, I think that here too those who complain of trafficking really mean something different from what they are saying.  They are not concerned with the crossing of frontiers but with what may happen thereafter to the people who cross them illegally.  Now we know that some are forced to work as slaves, on farms, in brickyards, in factories, or private homes and that is so obviously wrong that I have a question of my own.  In all countries that claim to be civilised there are laws against this, but not very much happens to stop it, and I would like to know why?  Could it be that it is for the convenience of friends of the government?   The other major crime committed against those arriving illegally is that they are forced into prostitution.   Holding a human being prisoner in a network of prostitution is both kidnapping and rape.  And there is rape every time that a client is served.  Again there are laws that state clearly and loudly that these are crimes, and again I am puzzled that they do not seem to be used as much as I would expect and I wonder why.

   So then you would support this proposed legislation?

   Absolutely not.  I have no objection in general to the fining of customers of prostitutes, male or female.  Some clients will be caught, and the lives of those households will be shipwrecked.  Blackmail will flourish (a doubtful benefit to society).  The earnings of some poor women who have no chance to get reasonably paid work in socially approved employment will be disrupted.  And those who continue to work in this way will be forced into more repellent and more dangerous places unless they are to risk a police raid while the transaction is proceeding.  A very serious issue is that where the prostitution is enforced the gangs that exercise control will undoubtedly find ways to provide unchecked access, and that will make them more powerful.  The number of reported incidents will be reduced but prostitution will continue.  Are they not dealing with behaviour resulting from one of the three major human motives functioning to keep the race in existence?  Perhaps the most serious result, however, will be that some of the potential clients, the most dangerous ones, will try to assuage their sexual hunger with crime.  It is certain that there will be violent attacks.  Are the supporters of this law so totally ignorant of the history of prohibition in America, where crime was driven by an urge strong enough, to be sure, but less deeply embedded in the human framework than this one.

   Surely it is desirable that this unattractive aspect of society should be repressed?

   I do not speak as an habitué of this milieu myself.  Such a dérive is neither necessary nor conformable to my inclinations, and I have no difficulty in accepting that some find this aspect of society displeasing, but then I wish to ask why this is so.  Combine to dishonour any social group and push it into a disagreeable style of life where the majority would not wish to go and even if it does not in reality become unattractive it will be so perceived by the lack of thought of the respectable.  You can doubtless think of one well-known group so harassed today, in our country and to our shame.  It is the instinct to drive out the ‘different’ and to declare that you do so because it is wrong or ugly or immoral.  But the truth is not that it should be repressed because it is unattractive; instead, the fact is that it is treated by our society in such a way as to make it unattractive.

   But the legislation is strongly supported by women’s rights groups.

   It is to me extraordinary that they do not distinguish between those who are forced into this unpleasant and dangerous occupation, and those who choose it as they have the right to do for reasons of their own which we have no right to enquire into.  These groups say that prostitution demeans the woman.  Yes, a thousand times over – when it is enforced.  There is something distasteful in beholding a woman whose talent or fortune of birth offer her a comfortable life in easy circumstances but who denies the right of a free woman to exercise the talents she is born with.  Has she not the right to make choices of her own about her own body, just as do those who strive to become athletes, opera singers, film stars or restauratrices.   Among those women’s rights groups is it not a majority who defend the right of a woman to make choices about her own body in the matter of pregnancy? Let them fine clients of prostitutes if they must (but know that unfortunate consequences will follow).  Let them take firm and powerful measures against slavery and enforced violence against women, and men.  But what they need to do is to make the simple distinction between an activity and abuses of it.  Even the most authoritarian state does not ban reading because citizens might use it to read work on political liberty.  Or to offer you another analogy, the cars of France cause pollution, problems of health, noise, fights, and most serious, accidents.  Should we ban them or instead legislate against the evils they cause, punish those who transgress, and try to reduce to the maximum their nuisances while increasing to the highest level possible the assistance they can provide to the nation’s life?

Adrian Jenkins-Lejeune


Globalisation is bunk

Editorial note: I suspect I am declining into what my grandmother, Lady Craigeaster, used to call maturity, though to me it still looks like a shortfall in the ruthless selfishness that served me well in my youth before I realised that banking was the shorter and easier path to substantial wealth and to friendship with those holding the levers of modern power.  Whatever the case, I cannot conceive that fifteen years ago I would have permitted a contribution, such as the one immediately following, to sully the pages of this journal, whereas last week I found myself writing ‘Let the young have their say.  It has virtually no effect on the great causes of the state, merely releases a little steam that might otherwise escape through some inconvenient orifice in the body politic.’

There is a lot of talk in all the branches of the media about globalisation, which is taken to be a done deal already (as the change of the climate really will be in perhaps as little as ten years from now.)  The world does not have globalisation.  Holding this belief simply shows that the believer is a member of that benighted throng who think of the activities of humanity as consisting solely of trade and money.  The human species has made a lot of progress over the past 100,000 years and at the very least ninety percent of that was before any significant emergence of what could reasonably be called trade, while money has only been around for a mere two and a half thousand years.  It is true that in that short time it has caused mistrust, misery and warfare on a staggering scale, and has formed, as if deliberately, a Mephistophelean strategic alliance with organs of government round the world which has enabled it  to thrust a vicious wedge into the other aspects of human life to a point which threatens the extinction of the species.  For a trivial indication of the depth of the wound, read printed news or scan the internet for reports on, for instance, fine art or sport and notice how much of the report is taken up not with information about artists and their paintings or with athletes and their achievements but about financial activities of those involved or even just peripherally concerned.  Yet the many other forms of human activity most certainly still exist and although money can be dragged into them, they undoubtedly came into existence and they continue to exist for the sake of those parts that are not bound up with money (except in the view of the already enslaved members of governments).  There are, to begin with, all the other arts, music, literature, dance, the cinema; there is the terrestrial world, unimaginably complex in its geological, botanical, and zoological aspects and human interaction with it; and then beside that the marine world with all the same aspects; the myriad systems of custom about how one human may, should or must not interact with others; sports have already been mentioned.  We could certainly add more, but there is already enough background against which to remark that in all of them globalisation is non-existent.  On the contrary, we see diversity so various and huge that no human can hope to comprehend it even within one of the areas cited; and certainly it is far beyond anything that can even be sketched in a paragraph like this.  I do not simply mean that a particular artistic tradition of wood carving or a particular athletic activity, for instance, may not be widely practised outside a very limited area; rather, I mean that it will be completely unknown to the overwhelming mass of mankind, not excluding those who are (justifiably) regarded as having expert knowledge of athletic activity or three-dimensional art.  How many students of the theatre anywhere in the world except northern Thailand know, for instance, of Lakhorn Sor a traditional style of improvisatory performance accompanied by music which perhaps resembles the earliest beginnings of theatre in ancient Greece?

   So much for the first barrel of this requisitory polemic against the presumption of the globalists.  But there is a second.  How global is the globalisation which gives them such satisfaction?  It is astonishingly far from complete.  What we have even on the most charitable view is globalisation minus free movement of workers (and despite the best efforts of the desperate poor of northern Africa, giving away their life-savings to trafficking gangs, in order to gamble their lives against the power of the Mediterranean.)  One of the main supporting pillars of the whole enterprise missing then, and thereby a tremendous  and blatant reduction to the efficient working of the capitalist system, somewhat as in the operation of a bus which has a powerful engine but no seats for passengers, though some strong ones and lucky ones may manage to cling on here and there to the superstructure.  But enough is enough; if a second barrel is ever discharged, it will be at another time and place.

Claus Mudarris


There is a lot to be said for the Aussies.  Fine hard-working, straight-talking people, and when the going is really tough, they are as dependable and loyal as any race on earth, as they proved many times over in the two World Wars.  They have the odd blind spot, admittedly.  Why do they spend so much time in the water, teasing the sharks, when they have the money and the technology to zoom along over the surface under sail, finest sport available to a young man, or woman?  It is the sharks’ ocean after all.  As land-dwellers we would all take it rather badly if we were peacefully enjoying dinner in a fine restaurant and were suddenly intruded upon by a couple of great whites which had thought it might be fun to play hide and seek under the tables or to swing from chandelier to chandelier over our heads.  Anyway, in the recent terrible outbreaks of wildfires over large areas of Australia we once again saw the Aussie spirit, with whole communities pitching in together for the good of all.  Hundreds of volunteer firefighters turning up and working day and night to save what they could, no waiting for the ‘government to do something about it’; families leaving their own homes at risk so that they could try to stave off the threat to a neighbour’s property.   This is the way that nations should run, with people working together spontaneously, because it helps a neighbour, not because it is laid down in some set of regulations laid down by some remote committee of buffoons.  (In saying that, I’m thinking of cases like the  fireman charged with a disciplinary offence because of saving a drowning woman from a river, since his rules stated that ‘personnel should not enter the water’.  Which country?  You have probably guessed – modern Britain.)

            There was, however, a thin black lining to this silver Australian cloud.  One of the shining examples of mutual co-operation was in Tasmania, and during this it was discovered that one community had been cut off for days, and was in urgent need of supplies, both of provisions and of equipment needed to fight the fires and for rescue work.  The need was quickly met by people working, in some cases until exhausted, through their social networks on and off the internet, and at one point more than thirty boats were sent off with supplies.  That whole operation was a fine success. But afterwards it turned out that even in this wonderful outpost of the human race, the influence of the British bureaucrat is not unknown.  There was criticism of those who had not worked through the official channels, who had not got permission for this or that activity, and had gone ahead and helped people without being properly authorised to do so.  The most vaporous comment was that the despatch of the boats to help the isolated group involved boats that were not in a proper condition to put to sea (as far as I know they all did the trip there and back without mishap) and that people might have hurt themselves unloading the needed supplies.  To the best of my knowledge, nobody hurt themselves unloading supplies; there is no law against people unloading supplies to help others, and I am sure that even if there had been the unloaders would have used forceful language in saying they were going to make the trip and do the unloading anyway.  And good for them!

Charles Millarby-Wendlesham


I don’t think I’d like to meet any of those genitically modified humans, as Jojo Ceausescu wrote about a week back.  I expect they’d all be about seven feet tall which doesn’t give much chance to the little ’uns, even if they aren’t going to be around till 2030 or something like.  But if those sientists are getting all so clever, why can’t they do something realy exciting we could all enjoy like they could modifie some of those big lizards like you see on tv and turn them into real dragons.  Come on sientists, get your white coats on!

Auliffe Baratsch


Intrusion: advertisement or rubber boat?

Unless the whole business is an April Fool’s joke which has been misdated by somebody’s calendar app, or a malicious rumour started by the company’s enemies, Tesco is intending to install cameras with face-scanning software in its petrol stations so that it will be able to get an idea of the lifestyle of the individuals filling up (presumably on the assumption that those driving vehicles are the owners or close relatives of the owners), so as then to be able to target individuals with adverts which company geeks (drawing on their assumptions about the relative sameness of eg male thirty-year-olds wearing raincoats, or bleached-blonde teenagers in miniskirts who happen to get petrol there) judge to be appropriate.  ‘Appropriate’ in this case would probably be presented by the company as meaning primarily ‘helpful to the consumer’, though in my opinion this could be self-deception, with the true meaning rather closer to ‘likely to bring in more profit to Tesco’.  (Perhaps I am wrong.  Perhaps all those companies that blast us with their adverts every time we venture out of doors in a city are actually pure-spirited enterprises, working themselves and their managers to the bone, in order to make life happier and slimmer and more beautiful and more successful  for everyone within earshot and visual range – nothing to do with making money for themselves, nothing at all.)

   But could some lawyer with a sense of human decency (it is reliably reported that a small number are still at large) please find a way to use the legislation against stalking to deal with companies that ‘target individuals’ with unrequested adverts?

Manny Khrubber



  “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect,” wrote Mark Twain with another of his shrewd blows under the ribs of popular opinion.¹  So I should like to put in a few words against the Greenpeace operation against a Russian oil-drilling rig in the Arctic Ocean.  This featured ‘commandos’ in rubber boats launched from a mother ship who did their best to scale and occupy the rig, against the resistance of the workers on the rig.  They failed and all on the Greenpeace side were arrested.  Initially they were charged with piracy, and in fact the actions may well have fitted that charge technically, but to their credit everyone involved was sufficiently grown-up to see that the would-be boarders had no intention of actually taking over the rig, and even less any plan to sail it away and hold it to ransom.  Putin himself said the charge was ridiculous, and it was soon reduced to hooliganism.  A Greenpeace spokesman was not mollified.  ‘Wildly disproportionate’ he fulminated, pointing out that the penalty could be up to seven years of imprisonment.  The western media seem not just sympathetic to those arrested but indignant that anything less than congratulations and friendly waves as they sailed away again from Russian waters should have come their way.

   Now, it is not surprising that there have been demonstrations of support in the west led by young ladies holding large fluffy animals of an Arctic nature (as found in western toyshops), and there is no need to deny that the ideals of Greenpeace in general are highly admirable while the aim of saving the Arctic from industrial devastation in particular is one likely to be opposed only by the idiot fringe of capitalism.  For the matter of that, Russia had a notably dirty industrial scene in the 20th century and may well be very conscious of the need for less destructive development, as not seen in a good few areas controlled by western companies.  But what sort of reaction and what sort of conditions could reasonably have been expected for the Greenpeace operation in Russia.  What, to start with, did the workers on the rig see coming at them?  Imagine that a similar assault (but on dry land) with the same military-style preparations and the same number in the attacking group was launched by supporters of a British football club with the aim of invading and occupying a conveniently placed government-owned building in Britain against the wishes of the legitimate occupants, so that they could watch an international match for which they could not get tickets.  The British media would be filled to overflowing with tirades against – against what?  Why, exactly ‘hooliganism’.  The government and the polls would be fizzing with indignation.  There are other aspects to the media coverage which also showed a very oblique perspective.  Western commentators seemed to feel the fact that the Russian cells where the activists were confined were cold and far from comfortable was part of an  underhand plot.  One wonders what accommodation the men in the boats had looked forward to after the operation; themselves they must have been aware that good class guesthouses are thin on the ground, or rather the tundra, in northern Russia.  But the most unreasonable aspect of the activist reaction is the flourishing to the media of seven years of imprisonment, because that is the maximum sentence, and there is no reason to think that is going to be handed down to any of them.  Let us at least wait to find out what the judicial decisions will be and then let the media improve their credentials by offer a mild and proportional reaction.

Hamish Tanpinar


 ¹(Members of the Tea Party, please note it is permitted also to pause and reflect when finding oneself in the minority.)

The bankers’ card and future terror

Acting Editor’s note: as our Editor is at a conference in Sweden on investment in broccoli, I am filling in for him, and am taking this opportunity to post a couple of items we received earlier but which for some reason seem to have been overlooked until now.

One of my neighbours went up the university the other day to find out what sort of value we’re getting for all the money they take out of our taxes.  He wasn’t very impressed, but if you ask me I don’t know how he could tell because he wouldn’t know how much all the wages were and how much money all the students were paying to go there, and all that side of things.  He did say it seemed like a sort of park, very nice living conditions, and lots of people wandering about not doing much.  But the thing that really interested me, was he said he met these scientists.  They said they were all scientists and they were all wearing white coats so it’s probably genuine.  They told him that scientists are getting cleverer and cleverer and they told him that now there are lots of subjects they teach up there where scientists can prove most things you want, so long as you tell them what it is you want and find the right scientists, and give them enough money, and get the right journalists to put it on the internet, though how journalists come into it I don’t really see.  But one thing I’d like to see them find is a way how you can get a crooked banker into jail.  Marvellous isn’t it.  Politicians are all issued with get-out-of-jail-real-quick cards, but the bankers must be top of the whole shooting match because it seems like what they get is never-go-to-jail-at-all cards (and pass go, and collect £2 million pounds).

Jack Edwards


It may all be too late but just in case it is not, may I suggest to those reading that they should start trying to work out strategies for surviving the near future, in case they do. The terrors in store are legion.  New 3-D printers mean lethal weapons may be in the hands of every other teenage hoodlum.  And it is certainly not simply a matter of teenagers and weapons.  Leave a key unattended for just thirty seconds, and a camera can take three quick photographs, which the internet and 3-D printing can use to produce a copy, without the key’s owner having the least idea that a copy exists.  The sculpture side, at least, of the art market will collapse.  Forgeries of all kinds from birth certificates to driving licenses to fraudulent contracts will flood the corridors of bureaucracy to waist height.  Meanwhile, genetically modified human beings with powers of memory and speeds of reaction out of reach of the most talented today will be growing up to fill all places in top universities and sports teams; the uncouth among them will make it dangerous for the unmodified to visit nightclubs; the criminal among them will accumulate wealth allowing them to purchase whole countries as their personal playthings.  Nanodrones will fill the air in such numbers that even the genetically modified joggers (at their steady fifteen miles an hour) will have to wear masks to avoid swallowing one.  Every second the nanodrones will pour a torrent of information about each citizen into the megadatabanks of their government (and, simultaneously, into the megadatabanks of that country’s enemies).  The sensors on the nanodrones will record every sideways glance towards the window of those who can still find work to be done by humans, will analyse the bacterial and alcoholic content of the breath of each commuter arriving home, and will capture each facial reaction and muttered remark in front of the screen emitting the evening’s choice of what will still be called entertainment.  If the facial reactions, as analysed by a government-run computer programme, are categorised as anti-social, another computer will issue an order to the police for your arrest, you will be tried before a jury of a single computer programmed to deliver twelve opinions on your case, each one being a prediction of the reaction of a typical human (from a databank of average citizens established by a government computer programme), and after being found guilty you will be free to walk to the prison the next day, knowing that any failure to arrive on time will prompt instant tasering delivered at five minute intervals by nanodrones, until you appear at the correct destination.

     Now we know why such large numbers have applied for the several projects already begun, for one-way trips to Mars.  For those who prefer to keep their gravitational attraction at normal levels there seems no chance of finding any overall strategy for a comfortable and untroubled existence, but some individual measures may help a little here and there.  Buy a bullet-proof jacket and a plausible university degree soon, if you do not already have one (and apart from anything else the price is going to soar in coming years anyway).  Borrow a 3-D printer and run up some forgeries of your own, for instance you could try your luck with a certificate from the government of Montenegro confirming that your house is a diplomatic residence and therefore not liable to be entered by British police or any other officials (nor required to pay council tax).  Become accustomed to staying indoors as much as possible. and in particular avoid visits to nightclubs.  Do not buy sculptures, or, to be on the safe side, any other works of art.  For dealing with those nanodrones, you will obviously keep the windows shut, and it would be wise to buy, online, one of those electrically charged ping-pong bats and pretend to be using it to kill flies – as you swipe around you, shout aloud and very clearly ‘Damn all insects’.  Keep tight control on your reactions when watching any screen; a smile in the wrong place can be just as dangerous as a frown.  Quite generally, be as inconspicuous as possible.  Do not respond to government surveys, except to say you are fully satisfied.  Do not respond to those invitations, on air or on the internet, to send in your views on some current topic whatever it might be.  If you have to go out for some reason, give way to everyone, especially the genetically modified; always obey official notices, policemen, and anyone in uniform; walk with your head bowed and a shambling gait.  To be honest, even if you do all this, it cannot be more than a temporary measure, but you may perhaps at least survive long enough to hear the news that all contact has been lost with the colonists on Mars.

Jojo Ceausescu


How rich are economists? Yeovil’s public library and the Art of War

It is often said that history is written by the victors, and this must be a factor encouraging many to believe that right wins in the end.  While no expert in such matters, I would incline to think that on the contrary in military matters there is no very strong link between moral standing and success, and insofar as one exists it is likely to be in favour of the scoundrel rather than the white knight, if only because the former will resort to ‘dirty tricks’ which the latter would eschew.  However, my point here is to pose the question whether a similar principle may operate in the economics we see in the media.  I am not thinking of the many pieces which are deliberately biassed for one reason or another, but rather of those that purport to be, and may in all honesty set out to be, careful and balanced assessments of this or that economic issue.  There is a saying to a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail and in economics (as in politics) we face a sophisticated version of a rather similar skewing of judgement.  For with an infinitesimal number of exceptions the views that receive widespread coverage are written by those who have done well out of the economy, with salaries soaring in some cases far into six figures of pounds or dollars, not to mention ancillary sources of income.  This will apply whichever side of a given issue they support, and however hard they try to avoid ideological bias.  No matter how wide the field of data at their disposal, how can they not base their interpretations on their own experience, and the experience of their friends and associates, who will very largely share the same background?  Even before that, their own experience will influence the data they choose to use.  But the proportion of humanity with salaries in six figures is tiny.  With the best will in the world these analysts cannot notice all the factors and understand wholly the situations that confront the vast mass of humanity.  And so the most recent issue of the Economist argues firmly for action by governments to raise prices.  It says that deflation (prices dropping) has been deeply damaging to Japan.  This may be true if by ‘Japan’ you mean the rich corporations, but it is highly questionable if you are speaking about the standard of living of nearly all Japanese.  ‘Since loans are fixed in nominal terms, falling wages and prices increase the burden of paying them’.  Some unclarity here.  If prices drop that will help the vast majority of the population to pay off loans.  As for wages dropping, that will be a factor but it depends how ruthlessly businesses try to hold on to their profits by cutting wages, how soon they cut and by how much.  There have been plenty of examples in recent years, notably in Germany, of wages being reduced only by moderate amounts and with the employing business doing its share by accepting a loss of income.  (Incidentally, should we be hearing any talk about cuts in management salaries?  That may be a small fraction of the total costs of most – but not  all – businesses, but it would make a vast difference to the willingness of everybody else in the mix to tighten belts and compromise.  But is that how senior layers of management view the issue?)  ‘Low inflation…tends to go with a weaker economy and higher-than-necessary joblessness’.  This is loose.  The Economist gives three countries’ jobless rates, but even if the inflation rates were added, this would remain only a claim of correlation, and in a plainly complex relationship, more would be needed to count as evidence for a useful causal connexion.  ‘Nominal incomes grow more slowly than they would if prices were rising faster.’  This sounds alarmingly close to a truism, but no figures are given, even as examples, and in any case what matters crucially is the relative speeds of the increases in incomes and prices.  ‘Low inflation makes it tougher for uncompetitive countries within a single currency to adjust their relative wages,’  True enough (and it is pleasing to see some explicit recognition here of what we might perhaps call the social factor).  But as with the linkage between low inflation and unemployment (above) this is a moderately complex relationship, and there is more than one way out, the most drastic, single-track exit being (notoriously) to stop sharing the same currency.  ‘Too little inflation will undermine central bankers’ ability to combat another recession.’  Fair enough, up to a point, but beyond that point a very important question is how severe the recession might be (and what combination of factors caused it).  It is understandable that those who look at economies from the point of view of large companies and the significantly wealthy will see any recession with its reduction in profits and ‘growth’ as a failure, and for those committed to an ideological version of capitalism it will count as ‘deeply damaging’.  But whether it can be so described for the population affected, with for instance massive loss of jobs and really substantial disappearance of income and assets, is another matter.  (Let me refer you to the Japanese case again.)  And that, incidentally, depends on how far those who control the levers of commerce and economic power are determined to look after their own interests rather than those of the nation at large.

Ernesto Keynes



I was able to help Ollie B with her enquiry about Sun-Tzü, personally, because she goes to the same college as me in Yeovil, and she showed me the letter she had on this website.  (By the way, the editor said I could only put this letter in if I gave her real name, which is actually Auliffe Baratsch, but Ollie said that was okay.)  It’s pretty well true that Sun-Tzü did come close to saying that the best way to win in war was to make the enemy not want to fight, even if he didn’t use exactly those words (in Chinese, anyway).  That sort of angle is big in his third part (which you aren’t supposed to call chapter apparently).

Seeing as I am writing on this site anyway, I wonder if I can set a puzzle for the readers?  Which leader of a nation now is a reincarnation of Syngman Rhee?   Clue 1) look up about him, especially what the newspapers said about him (in English) in the time of the Korean War.  Clue 2) for the answer look around the countries in the Middle East today.

Veronica Mallinckrodt


Editorial note: You appear to have been spending a lot of time in the East Asian reading room of the Yeovil public library, if that town has a public library.  A much better way for a young lady to spend her time is to get out of doors and play some healthy outdoor game; I would suggest tennis or hockey or lacrosse perhaps.

A sadly understated economic law

Editorial note: I have decided to overrule the fad among my young contributors for using an initial or sobriquet instead of their full name.  From this date forward please note that writers must give a real name, even if it is not their own, and also at least a figment of an address.  I must also very definitely dissociate myself from the view expressed in the following item.

One does not hear much talk about the trickle-down theory of wealth these days but the assumptions behind it still seem to be holding up well.  The idea, roughly speaking, is that if you get a stratum of serious wealth in any given area then its members will, to put it crudely, spend their money in diverse ways thus spreading wealth through the community.  They will buy goods, engage services, and start businesses.  They will buy cars and pianos, employ butlers and drivers, and establish media companies.  Then the shopkeepers and the butlers and drivers and the editors will have more money than they ever had before, and in their turn they will spend more on the things they want, need and like.  And so on all the way down the economic slope.  As in all the most comforting fairy tales, it leaves everyone better off.  Therefore we should always fight for rich people and rich companies to have the lowest possible taxes, to help the whole wonderful process to work (and it is said some governments even hand out free grants under the name of privatisations to promising candidates to make sure they have enough wealth to keep things going).  But all this is rather abstract stuff.  Let’s try to envisage a practical example.  Let’s take a large group of bankers fleeing their native country somewhere in Asia perhaps, to save their lives and wealth after a leftish government has somehow got elected.  They decide to settle together on the pleasant island of Arbyesse in the Bay of Bolivia, which up to now has maintained a moderate prosperity on the basis of fishing, tourism, and the manufacture  and sale of artefacts attributed to the first bronze age settlers.  The first thing that happens is that they buy the finest houses on the market for their families, equip them with the most modern computer systems, and furnish them with exquisite period furniture bought after whirlwind shopping expeditions to Paris and Hongkong.   You will notice at once that the latter two forms of expenditure do nothing for the local economy, but for now let us pass over that point.  After that they set up a new bank employing some dozens of local staff, some formerly unemployed but most of them attracted by the higher pay from their previous jobs in various local businesses.  The bankers also establish firms dealing in financial investment and advice, facilitating of course dealings with their own previous contacts in other countries.  The purchases continue, notably including two private yachts but also a number of expensive cars (which naturally have to be bought from overseas firms).    They are careful to adopt a low profile in local life though some do offer support for one respectable local party, obviously well-favoured by the population since it wins the next three elections in a row.  Investors and friends of the bankers overseas see Arbyesse as a stable, investible target and pile in.  Hotels are built and infrastructure projects take shape.  So the economy after a few years achieves substantial growth.  Local construction companies (in which the bankers have invested heavily) have done well, as has the airport (foreign-owned).  There is a new ‘Omnimercato supermart’ with 60,000 different kinds of items, on the site of the old vegetable market, which still exists but has moved to a convenient site near the lagoon south of the capital.  Shopkeepers, and owners of other small businesses like the smith who turned his hand to making ornamental ironwork drive respectable cars.  But one night a young trainee accountant, cycling home after a celebratory dinner with some friends in El treinta de julio, a beachside café, noticed several down-and-outs sleeping in doorways, something he had never seen as a child.  He thought about it when he got home, and these thoughts led him by chance to realising that though he seemed to be earning quite reasonable pay, somehow he and his wife still could not afford to buy a number of desirable additions to their home, and had to be very careful with their monthly expenses.  She commented that it was much the same for most of her friends, while her aunt, though married to the man who had successfully turned his small taberna into an upmarket wine-bar specialising in imported wines, was always ready to deplore the drain on her purse when she went to the Omnimercato, and to denounce her husband who insisted they must save one more year for the bathroom suite she had set her heart on.  The accountant, Federigo, became curious and he found it quite easy to get information, sometimes in detail, about the assets of other inhabitants.  It seemed that typical members of the uppermost stratum had assets that would compare quite favourably with those of wealthy individuals in advanced countries.  The next level, senior managers in the construction companies for example, were also quite well off.  But as one went down the scale it seemed that the level of wealth diminished, not just individually but when all citizens of that level of the economy were added together.  He also tried to find comparative data on incomes.  This was harder since the tax authorities were rather more conscious of confidentiality than the private branches of the wealth system.  Nonetheless it seemed that a similar variation existed there.  The most striking thing was that in both cases it appeared that the figure dropped to zero before one reached the lowest band of the population.

            Perhaps foolishly, he started talking about his findings in company.  He was frankly puzzled as to why the ‘ever more vibrantly pulsing economy’ (to quote from the Trombón del Amanecer) pulsed so feebly in its lower depths.  Most who heard him did not share this reaction; they simply regarded it as a natural aspect of human existence.  However, he was finally offered the reason, at a gathering over a few beers one evening with some friends as the rain lashed down on the same beach-side café, the night before he was arrested.  Once again he plaintively voiced his puzzlement and once again saw the same resentful but apathetic impotence.  As often, one of them muttered about ‘all this money around.  Not much filtering down to us.  The only thing that filters down to us is higher prices’.  This time, however, the amiable Irish beachcomber in the corner, a regular customer over many years but one who rarely spoke, added an unexpected coda.  “It’s just what you should expect, you know.  The economists don’t like to talk about it much, but it is an economic law.  ‘Prices rise to meet the money available to pay them’ .”

Brandon Fitzhenry


A setback for the working glasses?

A strange report emerged this morning from my bedside radio, by which of course I mean a news item, though now I mention it the thing does sound like a Chinese New Year’s worth of firecrackers when my wife is hoovering the dog, or, as in this case, cooking my breakfast on the other side of our spacious flat (163½ feet2 and £980 a month – a bargain these days).  Fortunately my surging consciousness was just able to capture this curious report before it became drowned in the last round of audible breakfast cereal (‘crackling with health’), and I recorded its details.  It was in the context of a research programme somewhere near Russia into the effects on human beings of heavy drinking (surely studied enough over the past seven or eight hundred years since universities got going in Europe?) and the important part went approximately thus: `500 hardened boozers are to be recruited in November to act as guinea-pigs on a year-long programme.’  You encounter a very low class of word on the BBC these days, but when you meet the people running it you realise it is a waste of time to be surprised.  What is unusual is the word `act’.  Now if it was a matter of being treated as guinea-pigs, which is quite common in experiments and surveys, and for that matter in ‘government initiatives’ too, there would be no need to raise an eyebrow.  (And before I go on here’s another oddity.  `Guinea-pig’ is a traitor to its social origins.  Nowadays it means any member of the masses who is bought, or bullied, tricked or suborned by powerful appeals to his stupidity into submitting to the callous curiosity of whichever experimenter or surveyor or politician wishes to manipulate him.  But it is a word which has crossed the social front line; for it used to designate one of the manipulating classes, specifically a well-paid company director or some such who was too incompetent or too lazy even to seem to do the job.)  Anyway, the manipulators, whoever they are, had allowed it to slip out on the radio that this particular survey required the `boozers’ to act as guinea-pigs.  The mind boggles (indeed if it boggles what else can it be except a mind?)  What on earth is this programme aiming at and how on earth is it going to be conducted?  Are `boozers’ needed because it will be easier to persuade them to adopt this unusual and humiliating behaviour?  True, some drunks are easily bamboozled into undertaking ridiculous activities (remember the safari porter who chased away a full-grown elephant a month or two ago?) but just as many become dangerously countersuggestible (especially in Russia in my experience), and half of the first lot collapse into hysterical laughter when they realise what they look like.  Perhaps the idea is that those who can be so persuaded will be better at the guinea-pig business than the sober citizenry.  This is likely an unjustified slur on sober citizens; nobody so far as I am aware has ever done any properly run investigation into the capacity of ordinary citizens to mimic the guinea-pig when not drunk.  I for one believe I could do so to the full satisfaction of all concerned.  All the same it is a very odd business, given the almost complete lack of common ground between the typical guinea-pig – shy, herbivorous, timid, a total abstainer from alcohol, and so on – and the typical drunken Russian, and it is a mystery why anyone should have put up the funding for such an experiment.  Except it strikes me at this moment that there may be a clue in the extraordinarily large number of people required to take part.  They want five hundred!  Despite all the differences in other ways, there is one type of behaviour the two mammalian types share.  What is more it is one that guinea-pigs are particularly good at, humans less so especially when they are too drunk to be able to perform at a satisfactory level.  It is well-known that the Russian government is seriously worried by the declining population.  It may be that applicants for this programme will be given the impression they will be getting free supplies through the winter and beyond.  I would advise them to be very cautious; it could be that those who devised this experiment are heading in exactly the opposite direction.

Jason the Mason

I spy forlorn hope

Editorial note: I intend to see my duties as light.  If I get wind of any of them trying to post something barking mad then I may have a kindly word, but I really do not intend to spend a lot of time mollycoddling them.  However, I did interfere a little with the first item below.  The ‘poster’ is an engaging lass, but should, I think, concentrate on improving her squash, at which she’s rather good, instead of wasting her time trying to write English.  I did correct the spelling but as for the phraseology she is plainly, to quote Tovey, beyond the reach of advice.

A friend of mine who is a scientist has told me there is a new scare out about spying which is when you have your appendix taken out.  You probably think they just throw the old appendix away.  (I used to think they took it home and got the wife to cook it for dinner – no, only joking!)  But my friend says there is a new report which is how they can use this new technology to find out things about you.  First off they analyse all the DNA in it and they can tell all sorts about you not just are you male or female, and in fact nine times out of ten if they know which hospital it comes from, which of course they do, then they can know exactly who that appendix came from.  Then they use this modern techno clever stuff which can find nano traces of just about everything that’s been in your body.  Even one molecule is enough.  So they can tell if you’ve been smoking crack, or boozing, and my friend says if you’re a woman they can even tell how many men you’ve been with the week before you went in.  And even that’s not all, because they reckon they can guess about your politics, on account of Tories are more likely to have been eating lots of red meat, and Labour voters eat more chips, and the Lib Dems will have tiny traces of muesli in their appendix.  (Not just tiny traces great big bits, too, nuts and all sorts if they eat the sort of muesli my boyfriend used to have.)  But he says they’re not so sure about that, and up to now the police have only been round asking about the crack, and the cannabis.  What a world!

‘Backhand’ Sarah


Today the International Court of Justice is due to hand down its verdict on a border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.  A cynical view might hold that this quarrel was put together, out of pièces à conviction which had been lying for decades in untroubled mutual contradiction, in order to get the imminently threatened establishment of an Asean Economic Community off to a start appropriate to the way it is likely to continue (the next exciting episode very likely to be war between the Philippines and Vietnam over the Paracels).  As so often, the exiguity of the terrain at issue bears no common relation to the bitterness of the feeling that can be roused by those on each side who for whatever reason feel that violent emotion is called for.  Soldiers have been killed, and the lives of villagers in the surrounding areas have been made miserable.  The Court is only too likely to provide an abundance of emollient verbiage, delivering, in the modern fashion, a finding which has little to do with rights and wrongs (whether or not anyone would be able to find those out) and which may well dissatisfy both sides leaving the sore to fester.  There is another course open, even though it is unlikely to be the one taken.  The Court should announce that despite the lateness of the hour, judgment will be reserved until one further decisive piece of evidence is available.  That will come about as soon as further military action takes place, since this will result in judgment being delivered in favour of the side which on the basis of reliable reports can be determined to be the one which did not initiate that action.

    Let that be the verdict, and the Court may have earned the next Nobel Peace Prize.

Charles M-W

Working against her interests again?

As far as I know there have only been free elections to choose a government or a head of state of Egypt twice in the past five thousand years.  (By the way, there is not a jot of genuine evidence for a theory that Cleopatra was secretly arranging a scheme for elections to foil the Romans by showing the extent of her popular support, and was poisoned when the Romans found out, though afterwards they managed to spread the story that she had done it herself. )

   Both the free elections have taken place within the past two years.  The election for president was won by Mohammed Morsi.  The election in 2012 of the consultative assembly which would prepare the way for normal democratic practice was won by supporters of Morsi.  Specifically in the consultative assembly the islamist parties won 150 seats out of 180 elected, liberal parties 22, and others 8.  The accusations against Morsi during the months before the military coup were principally that under his leadership the preparations for democratic practice were weighted unfairly in favour of islamist views.  One does not have to share those views to find the charge somewhat surprising given the results of the elections; democracy is generally considered to intend that a country’s direction follows the path chosen by the majority.  A different charge against Morsi was that he became too authoritarian, in particular when he gave himself the right to overrule judicial decisions.  The fact that judicial decisions had given the appearance of resisting the change to a more democratic system of government, and were in fact mostly taken by those who had been appointed to office under the previous régime, however, seems a rather respectable response to that charge.  It may also be borne in mind that those now protesting against Morsi belong mainly to the privileged minorities in society and in many cases were active supporters of the previous dictatorial régime, who may have seen their great advantages slipping away.  Another point to notice is that Morsi had allowed at least provisionally many of those privileges to remain, had hardly put any constraints on the army’s great power, and in fact had himself appointed General Sisi to the post of Defence Minister.

            In those circumstances it was a heroic endeavour of the Secretary of State to refuse to describe the military coup as a military coup, calling it instead (to gasps of international astonishment) a case of the army intervening to restore democracy.  Those who have paid some attention to Egyptian politics for the past few years will know of the close links between America and the Egyptian army, but it seems the excesses of the military since seizing power have even shocked Washington.  We have seen the legitimate head of state not only illegally driven from office, but also charged with torture and incitement to kill – in effect murder.  Perhaps this bizarre charge will prove a step too far.  It seems to be based on Morsi’s giving instructions for security forces to put an end to riots and disorder.  Undeniably and deplorably, a number of people were killed in the process, but this is an immense distance from any reasonable argument that Morsi wished those people dead, and even then would leave the question of why he is on trial when in the disturbances since the army coup the numbers shot by the security forces run – if the reports in the media are correct – into thousands.

   It is only too easy to see here another case of America working hard against her own interests, beside those mentioned by Oliver in his posting, since at the very least she could have averted the coup had she chosen to do so.  Presumably Washington had thought that Morsi would be a dangerous activist, and not least a threat to their ally Israel.  This suggests no great knowledge of the background of the movement he represented, and shows an assessment of his character which is almost certainly badly wrong, and and an appreciation of his policy which is at odds with the facts.  He made it clear explicitly that with his leadership international treaties and undertakings would be respected.  Relatively minor disturbances in this regard were to be expected, but could also be expected to fade out as a responsible democratic system got under way and economic progress was restored.  Out of the 150 islamist seats mentioned above, the comfortable majority, 105, were members of his party which has been described as middle-of-the-road.  And as already noted above, Morsi had been extremely cautious about restricting the privileges of those who had done well under the previous régime, not least the army.  Now, however, with a military government clearly at odds with a very large section of the population, and trying to suppress them violently, with shootings, imprisonments, and show trials, it should be obvious that there is a risk of  a really serious explosion in the largest nation in the region, with who knows what to follow.  Not a prospect to reassure the government of Israel nor, for that matter, others further afield.

Donald J

Where do they get their advice from?

   Our editor looks like a fairly fierce old guy but he said I could write that, so I guess he’s pretty open-minded.  Anyway here goes.

   A big item in the news yesterday was the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, or at least in Waziristan.  Whether Waziristan was ever officially and constitutionally incorporated into the parts alleged to be ruled by Britain and later taken over by Pakistan is not completely clear (and for what it’s worth if it happened it certainly didn’t happen democratically).  But that is not the point here.

   Whether you are basically favourable or unfavourable to America, what is amazing is that a country with such huge resources and such legions of highly trained officials for dealing with other countries can arrive at policy decisions that seem so blatantly against her own interests.  Apparently the official view is that Hakimullah’s demise was a great victory in the (undeclared) drone war, because under Hakimullah’s leadership over the past few years – nine, was it? – the Taliban had upped their numbers from 8,000 to 20,000.  This may not be a case of putting the telescope to your blind eye; if anything it’s more like using no telescope and looking in the wrong direction. What else has been happening over the time the numbers are said to have gone from 8,000 to 20,000?  The answer is a campaign of using drones to bomb what (with uncertain reliability) are said to have been enemy targets (and with extensive civilian casualties).   Where else has something like that happened?  You don’t have to look far.  In the Yemen a very similar campaign of bombing by drones has been proceeding.  What has happened there?  Numbers of active supporters of the armed groups hostile to America are said to have soared from around 300 to over 1,000.  Even if we leave out the moral and legal issues, history is strewn with examples where what were intended to be campaigns of merciless suppression were not just unsuccessful but actually produced massive counterproductive results.  One highly visible instance is France in the Second World War.  When the Nazi armies marched in the resistance consisted of scattered groups, and even adding them all together its numbers were tiny.  The Nazis who had the advantage of overwhelming power and continuous control of the population on the ground launched a programme of brutality intended to eradicate resistance by intimidation and outright elimination.  The result?  Four years later the active members of the resistance numbered around 200,000 with a further 300,000 providing support; and large numbers of German soldiers had been killed.

            I wonder if anywhere in his writings Sun-Tzü makes the point that the most reliable way to win a war, and with the least cost to your own army, is to make the enemy not want to fight you.

Ollie B