Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: capitalism

Cui bono res publicae?

I have already got my fingers of both hands covered in ink from the ribbon on the typewriter, and to be honest am thoroughly off-piste with this interruption of my well deserved sabbatical.  Some of those whom I had considered friends, until now, have been harassing me with their proposed solution to the Brexit chaos (to be known in the history books of the future as Cameron’s Catastrophe.)  They apparently believe it is urgently necessary to get the signature of every member of the writing classes in all European territories with any kind of constitutional link to the British monarchy (and that apparently has flushed out some very rum customers in eastern Europe not to mention three Atlantic islands some 180 miles west of Lisbon, which geographers had believed sunk during a volcanic eruption a century or more ago) on a petition pleading for a ‘non-controversial’ referendum on whether to have a new referendum with a more intelligent gamut of options – forget the whole business, sell the country as a going (?) concern to its inhabitants (somebody evidently remembers the Trustee Savings Bank farce/scandal !), put the whole country up for auction with the highest bidder then doing what the hell he likes with it, declaring war on America hoping they will treat the nation the same way they treated Germany after WWII (Churchill turned that option down in 1949 on the grounds that Britain might win) and half a dozen others.

   Lunatics!  This journal has, I believe, the only realistic solution, not that anyone is going to pay attention, but here it is in a dozen lines.  A delegation of a dozen or so citizens from the cloud-capped peaks of the British realm must attend upon the Queen, and respectfully show her the necessity of taking up immediately her inherited rights, delivering a bill of attainder upon every member of the House of Commons (with perhaps the exception of that stout fellow, Bercow).  The Serjeant-at-arms will then expeditiously arrange for every last one to be taken down the river under military escort, and installed under lock and key in the Tower of London.  If they question their situation they will find the Serjeant-at-arms to be a ‘negotiator’ very unlike the current prime minister.  Thereafter the governance of the nation to be in the hands of Her Majesty and such advisers as she shall see fit to choose.  She has for decades given more evidence of a capacity for taking good advice, for sound judgment exercised with moderation, and for avoiding foolish or disastrous entanglements than can be claimed for a very high proportion of those who in that time have presumed that bigotry and buffoonery, lying, xenophobia and careerism did not bar them from trying to take a share in influencing the administration of the nation.  And see the reults of their activities!

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Pulling the typewriter out of the old army kitbag in which it is stored (in case the roof leaks when there is a rainstorm) I found another text which seems unfamiliar, but highly relevant today, when capitalism appears proud that it has just propelled the world’s largest economy up to a pinnacle of $22 trillion of debt.  And just in case that was not a large enough investment the president of that nation has sent the government machine a request for the largest military budget ever recorded (in that country, though there may well be larger figures in some Hollywood movies.  Perhaps time, as they say in the movies, to feel very afraid.)  I append herewith.

            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 straturm 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’ .”

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 I use the term in its old-fashioned sense, of providing useful and valued service in return for some kind of financial benefit; no link whatever to the term ‘compensation package’

A couple of notes from London

One of my rare trips off the island, partly due to dealing with  a problem faced by Berthold (not included in the extract from his e-mail given in this posting)

Next regular posting scheduled for 16th August

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Memo to Donald J.Trump You said trade wars are easy to win?  Trade wars happen when regular trading breaks down.  Now, on any time span past a month or two, which out of regulation and capitalism would you back to win?  No, I did not mean which would you prefer to win.  (Please forward this memo to Brussels.  I never liked them any more than you.  Regards, V.P.)

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E-mail despatch from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems in London

            My apologies to you for this gap between reports.  The whole university is thrashing about in the throes of various emotions induced by Brexism, ranging from contemptuous fury (quite a lot of that, though directed at wildly different targets) to white-faced taps on the door of the Health Counsellor (a high proportion of the staff with non-British passports) and on to guffaws of incredulous laughter in the penthouse.  The main factor causing chaos in the emotional equilibria was the news that 10 Downing Street is to take over the campaign for telling the EU how they must organise things so as to give the UK a nice smooth departure.  However inept the Tory general staff have shown themselves to be over the past few months (admittedly, nearly all of them facing heavy barrages of friendly fire from others in the cabinet), it would take either a self-confidence verging on psychological disorder or a strangely blinkered mind to believe that May could be a better negotiator.  Plainly Theresa thinks she could be a better negotiator.  Perhaps dazzled, or dazed, by her own handling of the cabinet these past few months?  It is hard not to suspect that the trouble arises from an unfortunate choice of role model in her early adolescence; but you will not want me to ponder here how Thatcher herself came to be the frightful termagant who poured pesticide by the gallon on the sickly shoots of fair play in modern British society, indirectly making a bigger contribution to ‘Leave’ winning the referendum than Analytica did.  (But picking up samples of Daily Mail chit-chat while lurking under the counter of a middle England grocery store possibly had something to do with her repellent adult persona)  (Incidentally, the blokes on that group here doing facial diagnosis to assess mood, character, likely political stance and so on, officially to ‘enhance the effectiveness of British industry by improving interview techniques’, really of course to decide who gets let into the country, who gets refused promotion and put on employment blacklists and all that sort of stuff, have been having some fun using their techniques on old newsreels of prominent figures of the past.  Strictly unofficially one of them told me they did Thatcher and she came out with a seriously low score for intelligence, and an even lower one for trustworthiness.)  Theresa still sees Thatcher as a strong leader because she never changed her policies, and Theresa takes that as her best chance of hanging on for a month or two more.  Besides, it means that she never has to change course to deal with the ever changing circumstances; all she has to do is get an underling to rewrite the latest redraft of ‘our consistent policy’ to make it even more vague, ambiguous and opaque.  She certainly benefits from that terrible flaw in the human design whereby the mass of people are easily convinced by what looks like self-confidence, however misguided, even when anyone with eyes to see and the intelligence of a gnat can see the resulting actions will lead into the jaws of catastrophe.  Somewhere about here the name Adolf Hitler gets tossed into the conversation (at which point it would be advisable to stand well back.)  I may be wrong of course.  Maybe Theresa really is supremely self-confident and sure that she is much cleverer than the EU negotiators and can win by wrapping up her proposals in indeterminate verbiage that avoids making any specific commitments that she might get held to later.  “The government expects this commitment to end by October 2020”.  ‘Expects’? !   Does she really think the EU people are so dim they won’t notice?  So inefficient that they’ll forget that she signed up to that deal on the Irish border last December that stopped the negotiations collapsing then and there?  Who knows?  Perhaps foreigners really can be that disorganised, if ‘disorganised’ is the right word.  After all the Americans have just announced that the US will never tolerate any attempts by foreigners to influence American democratic processes, somehow overlooking their own scores of attempts to interfere often with great vigour in other countries’ electoral processes from the Italian De Gasperi government in 1945 onward, not to mention the 40+ countries on which they have dropped unrequested bombs in the past half century.

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Late news.  Constitutional experts in the United Kingdom are considering whether Mr Antony Blair should be held guilty of contempt of Parliament, having once more suggested that after the next election the British Parliament might be willing to accept him again as prime minister

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Today’s birthdays

Paul McCartney (172)

Cumberland (Senior royal corgi of the United Kingdom)  13½

Second post-Brexit UK government (– 19 months)

Third post-Brexit UK government (– 26 months)

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Bad business

Much unpleasantness after Manos played that deplorable practical joke on Monty 15-10-2016.  (Karela quite innocent throughout.) Sorted now, but from today onwards Manos is no longer in the loop.  More about all that later, perhaps.  Next scheduled: 15-11-2016

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  1. ‘Treaties’                 2. The semantic vacuum
  2. Farewell to Manos  4. Etc

Linguistic corner (but serious)  Do not let the b*stards get away with calling NAFTA, TTIP, TPP, and CETA ‘treaties’.  A treaty, as the word has been properly understood and used for centuries, is an agreement reached after negotiation between the governments of two states.  But these arrangements (mocking the people suffering under capitalism by their capital letters)  are what should technically be called ‘stitch-ups’; that is they are bargains cooked up between members of plutocratic élites who have more in common with the élites on the other side(s)  than any of them do with the ordinary average citizen of the states which they are trying to hogtie into these deals.  Deals fixed up in the darkness of a secrecy like that chosen by thieves and coup plotters.  Even elected members of parliaments  of the states to be used for these manoeuvres were excluded from what was going on.  Who arrogated to themselves – surely illegally – the authority to exclude them?  (Why did those excluded put up with it?)  When some eventually got admission to the room where the negotiations were recorded, they were too late to start a proper campaign for enquiry into the conditions under which the whole shabby business was proceeding, and they would have been too late even if they had been allowed to make copies, use cameras, or take personal notes – but in any case they were not!  How were the organisers allowed to get away with it?  And why would they want to if there was nothing objectionable or improper in what they were doing?   Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know about the nature of these machinations?  As far as the historical records will go – unless a mighty spanner is somehow forced between the wheels of the tumbrils bearing individual rights to the place of execution – the conspiratorial business does not even have the traditional half-justification ‘History is written by the victors’.  Here the course of history is being rigged in advance by small groups who may very possibly be anticipating that they will do well if events take the direction they are planning.  ‘But,’ they will cry, if they are ever put in the dock ‘our evidence showed that the plans would increase the prosperity of all the countries concerned’.  Are we supposed to believe that increasing the prosperity of a country is more important than maintaining a tolerable condition of life for the majority of its population?  Where do you find the prosperity of the country? You don’t find it in the shop doorways of dark sidestreets where the homeless spend their nights, nor in the threadbare pockets or the defective fridges or half-empty cupboards of the 37% of the population (figures for the UK 2016!) in households where someone has a job  and which yet have so little money left over after paying taxes, rent and food for the month that they cannot put together even £20 pounds for anything else.  (Oh and how much does it take to buy a new fridge when the old one cannot be repaired any longer?)  And what do you think happens when even that level of existence becomes unreachable, when the business for which they work turns out to have been run into the ground and when the coffer is opened to inspect the pension fund it turns out to be practically empty.  What does it mean to a family, when they have had to rely on that employment to stay in a place to live, and to have food to eat?  Do those people say to each other “No problem, my dear, you can stay in our place in the country, and after the weekend I’ll call up Charlie who can get our Rupert a job as a director of human resources at his company when he finishes university in the spring.  And anyway, there’s a council in the West country where a friend of mine is looking for someone to fill a six-month consultancy, only £2,000 a day, I’m afraid but it’ll keep us going perfectly well and give me time to call on some of our other old chums.”  No, if you want to find the wealth and prosperity of almost any country picked at random you should head straight towards bank accounts in the West Indies, or those fabulously expensive yacht havens in the Mediterranean, or the offices of publicity-shy investment agencies in New York, or London, or Switzerland.  Or the immaculate corridors where the peoples’ well-paid democratic representatives ply their trade.

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[2] Trying to get to the end of a recognised scale of measurement is almost as challenging as trying to get to the right place on the platform to have a chance of a seat when you board a Southern Region train in the UK.  Over more than a hundred years now, huge amounts of money and effort have gone into attempts to approach absolute zero, or to achieve a perfect vacuum.  But it is not only the physical sciences which investigate such matters. Puzzlingly the British average moral pressure level has fallen steeply since 1940, and despite the crises of refugees fleeing terrifying conditions in the Middle East is now closer to a moral vacuum than at any time since 1840.  However, in a less alarming field of investigation, semantic scientists are cock-a-hoop, confident they have discovered the closest thing yet to a semantic vacuum on earth.  Previous research had suggested Fabian Society meetings, computer ‘Help’ files,  or catalogues of modern art exhibitions as promising venues where meaning-free text might be found.    However, despite exciting prospects (notable contributions from the Whitechapel Gallery and Tate Modern, and above all New York commercial galleries) no researcher until last Thursday had succeeded in discovering a source rated lower than 2·3% on the Barroso scale (named after Jose Barroso in honour of his long struggle against meaninglessness while heading the EU.)  However Bognor Sophia University in Wales has now proudly published a claim for a reading closer to absolute zero than ever before.  Measurements are made using a sample text of 500 words, which remains available to respondents while they take the test.  After reading this they are asked to answer a questionnaire usually comprising 40 questions obviously related to the text, which is submitted to at least 30 respondents. They are told ‘Most of the questions can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or left blank’.  However in fact the questions will have been carefully designed by experts so that not one can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the basis of the text provided.  (For instance the text may contain a sentence ‘The sinkhole opened up last Monday’ and a question might be ‘Did the sinkhole open up on Monday morning?’)  So the fewer the questions left blank, the more the evidence that a respondent has, in the words of Professor Keri Popper, ‘failed to establish a semantic rapport with the text’.  If a respondent hands in a questionnaire with every question answered that is accepted as evidence that, as far as concerns that respondent, the text was essentially meaningless.  By taking an average over all respondents, investigators arrive at the index of how meaningful the text was for that audience.  The new meaningfulness figure of just 1·2% was obtained with a composite text compiled from television interviews with a number of football managers and well-known players discussing preparations and prospects for forthcoming soccer fixtures.  Sour-minded critics have objected that this procedure measures the amount of meaning derived from material, rather than the meaning which is actually in it.  But Bognor Sophia’s Dean for Outreach retorted that in most transmission of meaning between humans it is the former which matters and that is what should be assessed.  ‘After all, if you want to test a lifejacket what you need is real tests in real situations, not calculations based on a fully competent swimmer in a brand-new jacket in a swimming pool.’

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[3] We shall be saying farewell to Manos as a regular contributor based, theoretically, in this office.  The appearance of considerable wealth when he most recently arrived on the island with two dozen of Corton Charlemagne stashed away in a luxurious yacht was not misleading, even though it turned out that the yacht itself was only a long-term loan from one of the cross-national aristocratic businessmen in whose company (or companies) he now spends much of his time,.despite the fact that he proudly claims not to have done more than half a day’s work in the past six months.  It will be remembered he went to Germany to see if any company engaged in molecular biology could be interested in his proposal to combat climate change by tweaking the genome of grass so that worldwide it would function with white chlorophyll (‘leukophyll’), thus reflecting a huge proportion of radiation received from the sun).  He got a better reception than we had expected from our experience with his earlier get-very-rich-quick schemes (well known to longtime readers of this journal).  It emerged that the leader of the team deputed to discuss the project with him was Greek, and born in the same town where Manos passed his boyhood half a generation later.  They rapidly became excellent friends, and already in March while negotiations on leukophyll were still in preliminary stages, Manos had been taken onto the board of a company where his new friend was the president, receiving a golden ‘hello!’ package as well as a re-location expenses notwithstanding the fact that in so far as anywhere was home base for him, it was and continued to be the island where this journal is regularly born.  He joined this first company in March (backdated to January for tax reasons) but following a ‘reshaping’ of the parent company he left in May, receiving a munificent compensation package.  Almost immediately he was headhunted to be deputy general manager of the Greek subsidiary of Gowlze Andoghers in July with special responsibility for East Asia, receiving a generous expenses package to cover his costs for relocating to Hong Kong (although so far he has remained in south-west France, since all except essential current operations are on hold pending the probable takeover by US giant Polla Chremata Pasi; this move will probably require his unit and all its activities to be relocated to the US with of course lavish removal allowances).  Other ventures are also apparently possible.  He has spoken somewhat enigmatically of ‘not doing damn fool mistakes made in green business’, if we understood him correctly.   We are glad that success has now come his way, even if not directly because of his many talents, and warm-hearted good nature, and wish him well for all his future operations far away from our island.

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(Extract from e-mail from Isabelita)

In Ecuador we are charmed by your Yanqui geographical capacities – North Atlantic stretching from Canada to Kabul!  Jens Soltenberg is doubtless a very clever man as you say, but we are puzzled.  He says they are putting powerful military forces in Eastern Europe near Russia not to provoke trouble  but to be prevent trouble by showing they are well-armed and frightening.  But is this not the same idea which the American Rifle Association gives for its policies in America which many people think work exactly the other way?

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(With apologies to George Orwell)  Britain no longer to be called ‘Airstrip 1’, but instead, from now on, ‘Departure Lounge 1’

 

With friends and allies like these…

We have received a message from Monty Skew, currently in Monaco.  Due to what we regard as its insulting nature we shall not post it here and only add that we will not tolerate being addressed as ‘you girlies’, but as professionals we shall nonetheless issue the piece which it accompanied:

With the eyes of the world looking at France through a lens shaped like a football, it seems to have escaped general notice that the country has turned her politics into a branch of circus entertainment.  In earlier times of chaos there was a detectible hankering for a return to some kind of ancien régime, a good example being the return to power of de Gaulle in 1959.  But now what she needs is a return to any sort of régime at all.  To begin with, the problem was the election of Hollande as president.  (An earlier cousin of this site pointed out before his election that this was a major blunder on the part of the electorate given that he was not Martine Aubry, who was clearly the best candidate available for the job, but who lost the chance to compete, being a woman.  So much for égalité.)  It is a sort of poetic justice that the next president will be a woman, all the many other contenders having wrestled one another to political exhaustion (so much for fraternité), leaving Marine Le Pen out on her own, benefitting with another dollop of poetic justice – or in this case some would say ‘poetic injustice’ – from the decision by all the self-alleging democratic contenders to exclude her from the political battlefield as too right-wing for decent politicians to tangle with.  Hollande thinks that he is still the President (as in fact he still is in the strictest constitutional terms) which has led him to try the usual ploys of useless and failed national leaders, military interventions abroad (provided that the abroad concerned is not too strong militarily), announcements to the nation that the situation is improving (‘ça va mieux’ despite unemployment now being hundreds of thousands higher than when he was elected), and ‘toughness’ at home, notably by manipulating into law without parliamentary approval a measure to help employers wanting to dismiss employees, a measure which has naturally caused massive strikes and continuing protests, which despite the associated chaos still have 60% support from the public of this reputedly democratic country.  He has now compounded the error by letting the government consider the possibility of banning public protest (so much for liberté).  Earlier, he had naturally tried the tactic of shifting ministers around, but this backfired on Hollande when he brought in Manuel Valls (a Spaniard until his twenties) to be his prime minister since the latter soon usurped the position of prospective next President with ratings far superior to those of Hollande, until as the chaos grew worse the move backfired on Valls in his turn whose prospects of winning power are now wilting like the chances of Hollande getting back the favours of the lady he used to visit disguised in a motorcycle helmet until his liaison was discovered whereupon he ungallantly assured the nation that he was putting her aside and would be staying in his office.  Meanwhile  strange characters roam the land.  One Mélenchon, with good ideas and intentions but less political nous (transliterated from the Greek, not untranslated from the French) than Charles I of England tells the French things most of them do not wish to hear.  One Macron walks the highways and the byways and the fish markets smiling on all he meets and holding himself out to be the reincarnation of Tony Blair telling those who listen that he has answers to the nation’s travails which he heard from the mouths of Goldman Sachs.  And now  plagues of barbarians have arrived to stage nightly street battles, giving the French police all the chances they could wish to show that they can stage  street battles better than any of them.  Ce n’est pas magnifique, mais du moins ce n’est pas la guerre.

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Book review : The fashionable economist Nemone Credat (a contemporary of Karela at the London School of Geographic and Political Studies) has published a new book (pretty much an old book actually but incorporating some eye-catching shots of her in impressive locations and extremely stylish gear, pages 3, 17, 31, 39 and 82, with pp.108-116 as a pull-out colour supplement) promoting her idea of corruption as a necessary requirement for maximising economic growth; as she puts it, corruption is ‘the oil which maximizes the efficiency of the world economic engine’.  Corruption in all its forms, cartels, nepotism, cronyism, insider trading, free trade pacts and other political stitch-ups, allows investors to take risks which would not be justified according to officially approved criteria, thus opening the way to the rich rewards that go to those who know how to get in early and to the parts other punters cannot reach, so as to invest in ventures that conventional moneymen pass by, rewards which can subsequently serve as the springboard for further economic prosperity in the territories concerned.  The task for governments is therefore not to ‘crack down’ on corruption, but to arrange for discreet management of regulation, with, in the foreground, a few flamboyant or protracted  investigations to distract public attention from less skilfully organised activities and to provide evidence to the international community that the appointed regulators are still at work.  Several South American countries and two major financial centres in Europe are cited with particular approval, although at a lower level a number of British municipal authorities win high praise

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Plaudit of the week : As he grew older he suffered increasingly from that fear of encountering unfamiliar opinions which used to drive so many to subscribe to the Daily Telegraph (from a biography of Horatio Bottomley).

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European news : There continues to be much criticism of the recently introduced EU regulations dealing with domestic pets, on a number of scores such as the exclusion of budgerigars from the list of acceptable household pets, to mark EU disapproval of Australian policy with regard to immigrants.  Nevertheless the Commissioner has announced that it is the intention to follow up those measures with fresh regulations establishing compulsory fitness tests for domestic pets.  These will be designed for the benefit of both pets and owners (here designated the ‘responsible hosts’), and also for others who may be affected by the presence of such animals in the neighbourhood.  For instance, cats must be able to enter and leave through standard-sized cat-flaps, thus making it illegal for a responsible host to tolerate obesity in these animals, while dogs must be unable to leap a three foot high fence, for the protection of the environment and those living in the vicinity.

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As an experiment I am, with Dr Karela’s approval, offering a competition.  Most of us are familiar with anagrams, where the letters of one word can be rearranged so as to make another word or phrase.  In the early nineteenth century James Whortleberry and Nephew of Shepton Mallet tried to develop a form of lighting, based on magnesium filings, superior to what was available before the widespread adoption of gas lighting, and advertised their product as the ‘clean powder that’s better than candlepower’.  An anatax, however, is when two phrases can change places and still leave two sentences that make sense, like these:

   It’s time to stretch my legs and take the dog for a walk

   It’s time to stretch the dog and take my legs for a walk

   he married his childhood sweetheart and ten years later discovered it had been a mistake

   he married a mistake and ten years later discovered it had been his childhood sweetheart

A special prize for the best anatax sent in before the end of June.  (A copy of the satirical trilogy The tale of Esmond Maguire, normal price 18 euros.)

Maud Timoshenko

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?

   (Capper)

   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

Roeselare

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

Chelyabinsk

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  “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

Athens

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

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

Melbourne

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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

Yeovil

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.

Spoons in the east, beetles underfoot

(1) Editorial note   (2) tasers   (3)   muzak in the wallpaper  (4) self-contradiction in the EU  (5) capitalist competition in reality  (6) footnote

 

The Editor writes:  The next distribution which we hope to make is pencilled in for 30 OctoberPlease note that this time there will be no earlier supplementary distributions.  In the first part of the intervening period we shall be conducting our annual ceremony of respect and honour for Rupert Murdoch.  We should like to speak highly of his private life and of the doubtless many and ingenious methods by which the enterprises he has fostered pursue their noble goal of disseminating to the world news that the world should be told, but shall forbear; these are matters of which we have no privileged knowledge and we hesitate to repeat mere hearsay, no matter how warmly it glows.  However the steadfast loyalty of this cosmopolitan magnate to his determination to lead the world’s foremost publishing and media group has been obvious to all.  How can we not see that his companies have set cultural standards for the nations of the earth, providing their populations with a new understanding of what counts as fitting behaviour and social mores, and seeking to offer ever more attractive visions of human life to those who would view them.  Who will deny that those who have been touched by the influence of his enterprises even at second, third, or fourth hand are moved to greater love for their fellow human beings and an almost irresistible desire to do whatever they can to promote peace between nations, and equal and fair dealing between all?

  Thereafter, those of us in this office will each be spending two weeks in rather different fashion, undergoing a renewal experience (despite mockery from certain critics in more sedentary – or sedimentary – sections of the media; they know who they are).  Our goal is to place ourselves in a framework different from our life in Guernsey in as many ways as possible, socially, geographically, meteorologically, philosophically, and even gastronomically.  For instance, I am to be zipped into the costume of a giant panda and sent out to entertain the crowds in an American theme park by dancing and singing nursery rhymes in time to recorded music operated by a switch in my backside.  Manos has just returned from London depressed, after learning that the official who finally agreed to allow him an interview to discuss his innovative proposal for velcro strips on future banknotes ¹, was the deputy to the director of the Bank’s car pool, and his encouraging reaction may therefore count for little.  Nevertheless, and even though this is his first year with us, Manos will be the assisant cook on a trawler taking mentally disturbed children on three-day trips in the Bay of Biscay.  (The Chief Psychiatrist of the institution where the children are held believes that the combination of fear and seasickness is a splendid method for producing a recovery of normal behaviour patterns.)  Our hope in these ventures is that we shall acquire a deeper understanding of others and their ways, and return with a far less simplified grasp of our own situation and presuppositions (which by no means excludes the notion of condemning ignorant and self-indulgent critics). 

  Jeremy alone will not take part having kindly agreed to feed the guard dog, since we were unable to find any alternative solution to that problem, meanwhile taking online a course of (very expensive) Californian psychotherapy intended to cure what the counsellor who recommended the course described as his ‘guilty, unnatural and self-destructive lust’ for olives (one of a number of remarkable cures offered by this estimable consultancy).  (Personally I think it is just another example of the trouble one can get into through trawling the internet.)

   We wish our readers well until 30 October, when we hope to be able to give news of a controversial new theory about Stonehenge.

¹ [see distribution 15 September]

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taser mysteries  from 10-10-2012

Legal proceedings are under way in Sydney into the death last March of a Brazilian student aged 23.   He was reported to police as having been involved in an armed robbery.  In fact he was unarmed, and it turned out that he had taken two packets of biscuits without paying for them.  A policeman who tasered him, twice, using the weapon directly on his skin, denied hearing him cry out ‘Help’ and ‘What did I do?even though at that time the victim was lying on the ground handcuffed and apparently virtually naked.  The weapon was used against him in bursts of between five and fourteen seconds.  It was stated that he had taken a dose of a hallucinogen and was in what was described as a psychotic state; reports did not clarify whether he had realised that those who had attacked him and thrown him to the ground, initially six although in all there were eleven around him as he died, were policemen.

Legal mystery: the proceedings are described as an inquest to discover how he died.

Social order mystery: what are the prospects for the mentally ill, or indeed the merely eccentric, who go out at night in Sydney?

Educational development mystery: what are the current prospects for universities trying to attract students from overseas?

Continuing mysteries: when will we get an answer to the question put in the second item in the distribution of 5 June?  And if none is forthcoming, why?

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Deviathon, the well-known multinational conglomerate based in Madagascar and tax havens throughout the world has triumphed again.  Its new ‘musepaper’, muzak-impregnated wallpaper, claimed to be superior to anything else on the market, is intended to entertain and soothe the housewife as she moves around her house through the day.  It comes in two ranges.  One has mostly abstract designs, and it is the colour and colour combinations in these which control the easy-listening muzak that emerges whenever the sensors register the approach of an occupant of the room.  The ‘superpremium’ wallpaper of this type is especially suitable for those with a creative itch, since the muzak is not pre-recorded but will be made up of different tones resembling the sounds that can be produced by electronic synthesisers which indeed they are, so that pitch, quality, and volume can be varied according to the speed and position of the human, or indeed animal, movements in its neighbourhood.  The brochure foresees hours of fun as you teach your pet to wave its paws and move this way and that so as to produce weird new versions of popular television theme tunes.  The other range of musepaper includes photographs of your favourite performers set in a variety of tasteful striped and floral designs.  A close approach to e.g. the late, great Nate Butley will start a shortened rendition of one out of his five greatest hits.  Most of the performers featured will of course be in the current charts, since the firm is counting on built-in obsolescence in the muzak and pop industries.  This, they anticipate, could reduce the use-span of the average roll of wall-paper from its presentday eight to twelve years down to less than six months, with a corresponding dramatic increase in profits.

  Asked if there were any plans to produce a range with pictures of classical composers so that a close approach would elicit a few favourite bars of some symphony or concerto, the spokeswoman responded ‘What is a concerto?’ and when this matter was cleared up, answered simply ‘No’.

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Readers’ letters

  Madam, Can any of your readers find a rational explanation of what looks like a piece of self-contradiction?  In February 2008 Kosovo declared its independence from the rest of Serbia.  This event was apparently favoured by the benevolence (towards the Albanians of Kosovo) of a strange combination of the European Union and Nato, but we pass over this unusual feature, as also the allegations about questionable aspects of the Kosovan government.  Although a considerable number of nations still do not recognise the validity of the declaration (which seems to be in contradiction of the UN charter), there is no doubt that the core administration of the European Union does accept it, apparently on the basis that it was a change of national boundaries made necessary in order better to match the ethnic pattern of the populations in the region.

  Since then there has been a consistent and very strong demand from the overwhelmingly Serbian population of the three northernmost municipalities of Kosovo, that their territory should be restored to Serbia and detached from the rest of the traditional Kosovo.  The European Union’s administration resists this firmly, apparently on the basis that national boundaries should not be changed even if in order better to match the ethnic pattern of the populations in the region.

  It is not easy to explain such an inconsistency; it could not possibly be on the basis that one particular ethnic group, here the Serbs, has simply been classified as ‘the wrong sort’.  Such ideas would not exist at any rational level of politics in the modern world.  Would they?

Lobelia Helgasdottir

from Luddites Gazette

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Economic shorts

  The assertion, that while state enterprises in a nationalised sector inevitably lead to inefficiency, competition between private companies will lead to improved operation and a better deal for customers, does not sit comfortably with this news just out of the U.K.

  Gas supply to households in Britain was technically privatised in the 1980s but remained a regulated monopoly until 1996.  Now a number of private firms compete.  All of them have decided to raise the price to consumers in the coming year by between six and nine percent.  The current rate of inflation on the other hand is 2.5%.  The biggest supplier is British Gas, affiliated to Centrica.  Centrica made a profit of £1.45 billion in the first six months of this year; £345 million of that was attributed to supplying gas to domestic households.  Incidentally, fears have been expressed that deaths among the elderly poor are likely to result from the price increases.

  It may also interest some to know that according to media report a Mr Laidlaw, the boss of Centrica  had a total ‘compensation’ package (pay + extras) last year of £4.1 million plus an entitlement to shares in 2014 anticipated to be worth £5 million, provided that company profits show a satisfying increase.  It is not thought, however, that prospects for an increase will be damaged severely by the increase in price to consumers.

from Luddites Gazette

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sour observation

some might describe the views of well-paid economists that ‘increasing wealth of a country’ = ‘increasingly satisfactory situation of its population’ as two fallacies folded into one economists’ superstition: that what is true for an ensemble is true for all its members, while ‘increasing wealth’ = ‘increasingly satisfying condition’

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honor honestique floreant