We keep telling you
MMQQ Supplement 2
Next regular posting scheduled 16 May
Once again there’s been an e-mail saying this journal doesn’t keep up with current events. This is outrageous. Even if you only look at the ones we are allowed to publish, I’d back some of our stuff to stand elbow to elbow with what comes out of Chatham House or RUSI. (But it’s still a pity my attempt to sign the Official Secrets Act with disappearing ink was thwarted.) In our honourable tradition, so often flouted now by politicians across the western world, of giving tangible evidence for claims placed before the public, try this. It was first posted in 2010.
It is still hard to find an economist who sees globalisation as a bad thing, even if it would be unnecessarily cynical to point out that economics tends to be written by members of a class that does well out of it. But there are two hugely important factors involved in economic activity. Putting it crudely, one of them is money and the other is the people who do the work. It seems to be pretty well taken for granted that free circulation of money is a good thing, and an essential element of the business, which will lead to increasing prosperity of the world’s population, (or at least of the populations of rich countries, or more exactly yet, of the better-off sections of the populations of rich countries). This is considered to be the same thing as progress. Yet in country after country, the idea that the same kind of freedom should apply to people is seen as unacceptable. It is not at all clear that the unacceptability is soundly based on economic self-interest. In America many employers would be eager to recruit more staff and get more business done. One might have thought that the population at large would be glad to see more workers arrive to do the necessary menial jobs – garbage collection, low-grade building work, and so on – which they do not want to do themselves at any price. Yet a giant wall is being built on the southern frontier, and draconian laws are being prepared to capture and punish those who have somehow managed to gain entry without official permission. Hundreds drown each year in the Mediterranean because they cannot lawfully enter the European Union. The EU itself is established on a premiss of ‘free movement’ of all citizens within its boundaries, but – linguisticism darkens the debate – even for those whose starting point is within the EU this is only free movement of those who can establish themselves in recognised employment or show other evidence of having enough (unspecified) resources. In every continent the ‘trafficking’ of people is an appalling disgrace, and is even sometimes mentioned by governments and ‘authorities’ as a problem.
Thus, when neither proclaimed political principles, nor economic self-interest – and obviously not common humanity – can explain why people are denied the freedom granted to money, the conclusion…. is what?
(Answer (2018): democracy is eating civilisation away; it is a system allowing the most privileged and influential to gerrymander things to their own further advantage)
Or try this, equally topical as things are at present, and in fact not an editorial contribution of our own, but an example of the better kind of correspondence we receive from time to time.
3 July 2017
Some have unkindly, and inaccurately, described Theresa May as Hillary Clinton translated into British. Theresa got where she did by her own efforts, not significantly aided by serried banks of supporters, and she did get to the top job. But she is a paradigm example of the outstanding lieutenant who should not have been promoted captain. Given a post (Minister of the Interior) where cunning politicians like to see an able and efficient rival, since there is a good chance its demands may leave them exhausted, she held it for six years but still succeeded to the top job. She also was not afraid to speak truth to the dangerous, that is the police and the elderly grandees of her own party. But Theresa’s efficiency is her weakness. She identifies issues and their parameters, the problems and their solutions, and systematically works out the ways to deal with them. Efficiency, in this mode, is what in junior posts is described as ticking boxes. To tick a box appropriately you have to identify it, and that identification tends to fill up the foreground of the attention, blocking the chance of taking into account other circumstances that might be related, might be important. and might change. This kind of efficiency is the enemy of the imagination of the gifted and successful leader. In the case of the holder of a demanding post it also inevitably leads to a risky dependence on outlines and options and information and position papers passed upwards from offices which individually will very probably have less competence and less complete awareness of what is needed. The procedures for supplying that material will soon enough become standard and by that fact will be invested with a spurious aura of reliability and authority, even when the material is the outcome of an overworked inexperienced subordinate team. And what will the result be when the time comes to take the sum of this prodigious labour and to ask others from an opposing camp to accept the carefully measured and firmly based conclusions of one’s own side? Will one meet them with a mind ready to hear different views and values and to recognise aspects of the situation that had not shown themselves before, a mind able at once to see a way to build a stronger structure by combining the familiar with the new? Or will that strenuous preparation of meticulous plans to cover every factor foreseen have led to unquestioning trust in one’s own side’s right to stay true to its decisions, adherence to its predetermined principles and to insistence that one’s own position is the only one possible, lead in fact to the last step on the path to failure? (The Hon. J. Q. de H., Suva.)
And although this is yet another re-posting, it certainly should be included since it too remains disgracefully topical. (from 15-5-16)
Readers over the age of 7¾ will long have realised, I trust, that various kinds of arguments are put to us from time to time to persuade us to publish some item or other. I feel free though to express my amazement at the flexibility of the backbones in some news organisations that we have dealings with, unless, that is, their bleatings of approval for government actions simply show their callow credulity. For instance, a few days ago the British media were full of ‘good news’ brought to them by express donkey from No.10 rejoicing that the noble British government had done a ‘U-turn’ on its scandalous, and thoroughly dishonourable rejection of a parliamentary proposal to admit refugee children, many with good and valid links to Britain, who were living without family or any other adult support in Europe, and in some cases without adequate food or shelter, but who had been denied entry. (On what grounds can any moral being refuse help to a child in such circumstances? On what grounds? On grounds of invincible – and also, looking at the broad economic picture, entirely pointless – selfishness. Pure and unadulterated selfishness, therefore.) So in what did the trumpery ‘U-turn’ actually consist? The government had merely withdrawn the declaration of its refusal, and announced that it was ‘in talks’ with ‘various organisations’ ‘to see what arrangements could be made’. What is the level of political IQ that can think that it sees there a good deed? There are frequently other such devious plays on the gullibility of lackadaisical media outlets in today’s benighted journalistic circus, relying on governments to deliver prepacked ‘news’ and social networks to deliver unhinged views which can be ladled out, without benefit of sub-editing, to anyone who might still be listening (and is this a recipe for commercial survival?)
Since this supplement is being prepared anyway, I will, with his permission, add unedited comments sent in by our long-time colleague Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems, now a para-academic in London:
Goodness knows what Lady Margaret Hall was teaching back in the 1970s. Whatever it was it doesn’t seem to have done Theresa much good. The woman seems incapable of normal intelligent thought. She has swallowed whole this notion of her being a second Thatcher, an ambition which itself shows deplorable lack of insight. Thatcher only got away with it, because the men in Thatcher’s cabinet were so confused by the idea of being ordered around by a woman that they let her get away with things that would have been career-ending for any of them. And once she had cottoned on to an idea or policy she was incapable of adapting to the idea that it might be a mistake. Some inspired spin-doctor called this ‘steadfast leadership’. Little-known fact (as passed on by a former academic at Somerville): Thatcher left after being told her mind might be better suited to politics than academia. May follows this model with even less adaptability. Once she’s learned what she’s supposed to say about some idea or policy she’ll carry on repeating it robotically even if every fact in the situation changes through 180 degrees. She really should face up to the fact the ‘British people’ did not vote for Brexit. About one third of the adult electorate, only, voted for it. As for her approach to negotiation, she seems to have only one tactic, great quantities of ill-defined but agreeable-sounding verbiage, making complimentary but entirely irrelevant comments about the other side, spinning things out until deadlines get near, so that through boredom or exhaustion the opposition will stop making objections; then adding in a casual throwaway style at the end “in all relevant sectors”, “to cover all likely developments”, “so far as is possible” and “which is in accord with the agreements we’ve already reached” (whether this has the slightest link to truth or not), or – if she gets caught out – “Oh, I know I signed that last December, but I thought that was just a goodwill gesture to get things moving along nicely. But it’s too late now, isn’t it – we’ll have to let it go through, it would be so much trouble if we had to start all over again.”
There are two things wrong with this sort of approach. In the short term it may, sometimes, cut the mustard, but long-term your opponents will get tougher and tougher, and you’ll pay the price many times over. The other thing is that it relies heavily on the belief that the opposition’s mental equipment is significantly inferior to your own. I do not think this is a wise strategy for the present British government.