Friday, April 28, 2017

Technocracy must be subordinate to politics


Experts. The problem with experts is that experts are people too. They can know stuff but they can still also be malevolent, biased and selfish pieces of shit - so please don't tell me that we should listen to the experts. More to the point, for every expert you see there are experts who don't have a platform specifically because of what they say. Politicians and media are very selective in the experts they choose.

Does this mean we should stop listening to experts? No. I do. I listen to as many as possible. In fact I get some of my information on trade issues from avowed Europhiles many of them working in the EU. These people are technicians and lawyers who have some useful and interesting things to say.

What they can't tell me though is who I want as my government. The choice is to have corporates, NGOs and foreign governments steering the agenda on a ratio of 27:1 presenting agendas to a toy parliament for rubber stamping, or we can have politicians elected by us.

As members of the EU we have some influence but as we play by the rules, if the supreme authority overrules us then we have no say in the matter. That happens more often than I would like. In some instances it wipes out entire sectors at the stroke of a pen for entirely spurious reasons and sometimes based on junk science. As members we basically waive the right to say no.

This is actually why I am comfortable staying in the single market. There is a lot to be said for having common policies and harmonised approaches. It facilitates certain liberties. For the purposes of trade I see no real harm in that. It's when those agendas overreach into those areas that are not and should not be the concern of the European Union. That means we need two things. The right to say no and the right to change our minds.

When it comes to things like management of the land and our seas and labour rights I rather think it best if we have ultimate veto over what happens. After all this is our country and our environment. Installing one size fits all policies for the sake of a federalist ideology is not only antidemocratic it can also be damaging to livelihoods and landscapes.

Those who say we should listen to experts, typically remainers, actually mean that the experts should be in change and we should do as they say. This is a clinical and depressing world view. Very often experts deal in specifics. Economists spend their time on devising ideas to create wealth and how to remove barriers to it.

The problem is though that this is their only concern that fails to take into consideration certain basic human needs, be they community, identity and security. They can provide templates to guide us and parameters to work within but we can never be slaves to numbers on a screen. As humans we must shape and control our own environment according to our local needs and customs. That is what brings about diversity and innovation. It is we who should be instructing the experts. Cold logic may dictate that capital has greater freedom if we eradicate all those inconvenient things like borders and local by-laws but the needs of people must come over and above the needs of capital.

When it comes to international law and regulation it is very much to facilitate the activities of multinationals from banking to shipping and agriculture. It is in our material interests to ensure this activity can advance with as few impediments as possible. Globalisation, however, assumes they have an absolute divine right to operate as they decide and have enlisted our politicians to work in their favour rather than as servants of the public. This is why they were so keen for the UK to stay in the EU and this is why the EU favours technocracy over democracy.

This is at the very heart of Brexit. Ultimately it is a question of who our politicians serve. If there is any point to government at all it is to ensure that there are entities capable of wielding authority in order to curb the worst excesses of capitalism. The excessive greed, the dishonest practices and the exploitative methods. If instead we find that government exists to facilitate it then government has become the enemy.

But then as much as corporates love the EU, so do tyrants. By this I mean the many global NGOs who have found that in the EU they have a vehicle sat their disposal which allows them to subvert the democratic process. Rather than having to go the long way around and persuade people of the need to change their ways or to vote for certain changes, they can go to the EU.

This is the inherent problem with the EU. It is a top down system far removed from the people it notionally serves while robbing them of any meaningful powers. The ritual of electing MEPs is a decoy to distract an unwitting public who believe this to be an adequate line of defence. What we find when we take a closer look is that MEPs are neutered, without influence and very often lacking the ability or opportunity to influence the agenda.

In this you could argue that it has all been in the common good. After all the EU has enhanced certain liberties and facilitated trade in ways we could not have done otherwise. But in the end it is we who must decide what is in the common interest and what is in the common good, not a selection of bureaucrats, officials and corporates. Ultimately it is that lack of consent that leads us to Brexit in the first place. Forty years of stored up resentment of things that have been done in our name without being allowed a say. This is not government by the people of the people.

As we move into the era of a global economy we find that there are any number of authorities. It is a marketplace of conflicting interests seeking out their own fortunes and carving out their own influence. Nation states are but one type of actor in this arena. To that end our government must be our representative capable of forging alliances as a means to defend the people against unwelcome intrusion. In this the EU has become so big, so unwieldy and rudderless that it has become one of those authorities we need to defend against.

Democracy may be imperfect and the judgement of people may at times be unsound but ultimately the public live with the consequences of their choices. This is part of the bargain. They may not always act rationally or even intelligently but they are acting according to their own will in collectives chosen for themselves. That is how they shape their environment as is their right. And that's really how it should be. The people may not be economists or scientists but they are the experts in how they want to live.

The EU as a construct is ultimately one which thinks it knows what is best for us. And this is why the modern left love it. They have long since made peace with capitalism. Standing up to it is no longer their concern. There is mutual understanding that corporates get to do as they please so long as part of that bargain is that the left get to tell people what to do and how to live. They are entirely comfortable with the removal of choice just so long as they are in control. This is why Brexit brings about such autistic screeching from the establishment left. They feel the power slipping from their hands - and into the hands of the people. Up with this they will not put.

I don't deny that there are costs and distinct disadvantages to leaving the EU but these are short term considerations. The economy will eventually recover and we may yet avert a Brexit trainwreck. We will work it out somehow. What we do here is in the name of democracy. That is why us leavers ultimately believe almost any price is worth paying.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Brexit is no miracle cure, but it gives us the tools we need to succeed


To explain the modern trade environment I would describe it as thus. Imagine you were a small business and you found that there were bureaucratic barriers between you and your customer. You bring this up with your trade association and they go to the government. In theory the government then acts as your business lawyer to intercede on your behalf. It looks at any barriers it has which is can remove in exchange for the removal of the barrier that affects you.

Big comprehensive trade pacts like TTIP are when several issues have been highlighted and the government seeks a comprehensive package of reforms. Modern trade agreements though are considerably more than just a series of agreements on non tariff barriers. Very often what is worked out in negotiations does not work in practice. You may be able to sell to a market or import certain goods but if by doing so you radically alter other deals you have with other countries then you cannot trade under those terms. This is why we have a system of waivers built into most modern trade agreements along with dispute resolution systems. Usually a court of some kind.

A recent example of this was when Canadian beef producers found that if they sold beef produced to EU standards then it raised the risk profile for food poisoning with the Americans and subjected them to more expensive border inspections. Naturally there needs to be a system to resolve these disputes otherwise these trade agreements cannot be fully utilised.

One thing that could resolve these such issues in future is a global standard on food safety risk assessments which is why we have global bodies for standards and practices. What you will also find in modern comprehensive trade deals are boilerplate statements to the effect of further cooperation toward regulatory harmonisation. Usually the text is a copy and paste from the WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade. More often than not, these such deals establish working groups or joint committees where our own trade ministry will have an office dedicated to serving that exact trade deal. We have one that deals only in cooperation with China. Very often these offices have certain unilateral powers to make temporary concessions and these are brought up for periodic review. Where you have insoluble disputes we have the WTO courts.

Given that any given country can have multiple comprehensive trade deals, each committed to regulatory harmonisation you find the difficulty is in trying to ride two or more horses. More often than not you are forced to align with your largest and nearest trading partner. In this there are three regulatory superpowers. China, the EU and the USA. TTIP was the most ambitious deal ever in that it sought to iron out the many disparities between the systems. Where harmonisation could not be achieved we would seek out mutual recognition.

Unfortunately due to the secrecy and complexity TTIP failed to pass, and also because certain vested interests really don't want to open up to competition. When it comes to trade deals, the bigger they are the harder they fall.

This is why I voted for Brexit. The EU likes big flagship gestures like TTIP and what that means is we spend seven years or more in complex negotiations to achieve, well, fuck all basically. Moreover it is unlikely that there will ever be a properly comprehensive trade deal with the USA. As much as anything the USA doesn't really want one and is big enough and diverse enough not to need one.

What remains though is a system of automatic adoption of global standards where over time we remove the disparities between the regulatory regimes. This is where the UK needs to be an active player in setting the agenda, to bring the resources to focus on those standards that would most benefit UK trade. As an EU member, what we find is that we lack the ability to launch such initiatives. Any initiatives have to be cleared with Brussels first and if EU member states object then we are prevented from acting. In this regard it would be like hiring a lawyer to work your case who then outsourced it without telling you and nothing is done.

For the EU the priority is not lubricating trade, rather it is focussed on preserving the integrity of its own regulatory system and the uniformity within the single market. All other concerns come secondary to that. We don't call it "fortress Europe" for nothing.

The real game changer is the WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade where the EU of its own volition has surrendered the regulatory agenda to those global bodies and adopts the findings of standards bodies outside of its own control. Outside of the EU we are able to participate fully in all of those bodies without first asking permission from the EU commission and without having our vote or veto overturned. That way we still get to influence the rules of the single market even if we are not in it.

As I outlined over on my last blog the purpose of Brexit is to shorten the chain of accountability and ensure that our trade representative is actually our own government. Britain is increasingly a services economy where we need to focus on niche financial services and internet services where the regulatory systems are still in their infancy. If all our trade activity is tied up in bundled deals where manufacturing is included we can end up losing out on services liberalisation because of German manufacturing concerns.

The view is that we can achieve more incrementally than waiting year after year for the EU's next miracle cure. By going in at the very top end and influencing standards and practices we can edit the DNA of trade deals that already exist and any future ones even if we are not a party to them. The future of trade is mulitlateralism.

The other issue we have is utilisation rates. Most of the deals we achieve in the next few years will be replicas of the deals we already had via the EU. That though does not improve or enhance our position. Unless partner nations are capable of meeting the standards we set then they cannot participate. This is where we need a concentration of aid efforts to promote good governance and assist in the implementation of standards. This does not immediately boost UK trade. All it means is that other countries can trade more and sell more goods. It does not necessary mean we can export to them. What it does mean though is that globally trade volumes increase and as a supplier of business services, the more trade there is in the world the better we do.

Jetting off round the world securing free trade agreements doesn't really accomplish very much if the infrastructure and capacity is not there. To boost trade we must invest. That is why DfID must be central to our trade policy. Trade utilisation rates have remained pretty static. If we make internet connectivity our focus in lesser developed countries then we are connecting more customers.

We can have all the officials and bureaucrats in the world working on hammering out agreements and they may make marginal improvements but ultimately we need to be out there making trade possible.

There are plenty of Brexit naysayers out there saying Britain can't be a player. I couldn't disagree more. Free to build our own sectoral alliances and without having to clear everything with Brussels we can be a more agile actor. We can act incrementally and we can act globally and we can steer the agenda by way of what we bring to the table in terms of knowledge, finance and governance. Norway is far more influential than is given credit and there is no reason why we cannot play the game the same way.

Brexit of itself does not do anything. It gives us the tools to succeed should we promote new ways of acting on the world stage. International development is absolutely crucial and ensuring British unions, business associations and trade guilds are up front and participating in global bodies is an absolute priority. This is how Germany manages to set the agenda. We must replicate that experience. We must invest in the best possible research to ensure we are leading the field in knowledge driven standards and we must fly the flag for multlateralism. 

All the Brexiteer talk of a free trade bonanza is pure gibberish. There will be no bonfire of regulations. There is a system, we are committed to it and there is a game to be played. Free of the EU we are free to redefine how we approach trade and we can re-write the rule book. Literally. But making a success of Brexit requires that we ditch the Tory free trade dogma and work with the WTO rather than against it. If we play it smart there is no reason why Britain cannot be at the forefront of regulatory innovation and in so doing be the shot in the arm global trade has needed for a very long time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Brexit: the future starts now


Every now and then I see a clip of the TV show "The thick of it". It's one that passed me by when it was first aired. It's a shame as I think I would rather have enjoyed it. In fact I think I would appreciate it more now in light of my referendum experiences. The programme paints a picture of jumped up spads managing every last communication with the outside world, maintaining a firewall between politicians and the public. Everything that so typifies the Blair-Cameron administrations. Everything I have hated about politics in recent years. It's good to have a periodic reminder.

Over and above the normal message management, though, was an integrated array of policies - not actually designed to address a particular problem, rather they were geared toward reinforcing a brand image. A faux-progressive veneer that appealed to the narcissism of the London liberal set. It really stands to reason that further EU integration would be part of that shallow agenda.

Latterly this political culminated in the further Americanisation of politics where we saw televised leader's debates, with everything reduced to soundbites - where the PM's hair stylist was as important to have on staff as a senior political advisor.

As this kind of politics became more entrenched, so did the counter narrative of an aloof, remote class of professional politicians - the ideal bogeyman for any counter-establishment campaign. In many respects the then establishment was the architect of its own demise. Bland and sterile centrism was on borrowed time.

Fast forward to now. Brexitworld. How things have changed already. Personally I am not all that impressed with the PM as a political thinker. She is easily led, badly advised and out of her depth. She is not, though, a presentation politician. Or at least not by the standards set by her predecessors. She does not court the media so frequently and she has already made it clear that she will not participate in any televised debates. She speaks to the public, not the media.

This, of course, prompts a number of howls from the Greens and Plaid Cymru as though these tawdry media circuses were a cornerstone of our democracy - despite them only appearing in 2010. If anyone is out of touch it is they. Left wing populists who haven't worked out that their time has been and gone. Throwbacks to that era. We do not want these televised sideshows, we never wanted them, nor do we want the vapid media blather that goes with it. You can keep your asinine Guru-Murphys too.

In this respect, thanks to Mrs May, we are already seeing a restoration of some of the gravitas our politics has lacked over the last twenty years. That is to her credit. I wouldn't go as far as saying Mrs May was anything close to Mrs Thatcher, but her dignity is what I have missed most in politics. I appreciate this could still be the product of sophisticated message management and it's just that my bullshit radar is getting weaker as I get older, but I do think this sets the right tone for the new era. This is a time of serious politics the like we have not seen for many years.

Arguably this is a consequence of the vote to leave the EU back in June. I don't see that it was going to change any other way. Cameron and Osborne would still be in charge, striking their ridiculous poses and staging visits to northern factories. Instead I now get a sense that, in her own cack handed way, Mrs May is seeking to connect with voters, fashioning her approach according to their values rather than the Twitterati and the Westminster bubble. It's a touch illiberal for my tastes but if the polls are anything to go by it's popular enough.

If there was one thing most voters agreed on in recent years it was the need for a new politics. Many politicians have claimed to be the manifestation of that, be it Farage or Corbyn, but actually the real manifestation happens to be Theresa May. This is not to say that Mrs May is a radical. She is about as ideas free as her predecessors - but then Mrs May does not need to be a radical. Voters have been radical for her. Brexit is about as radical as we need for now and all she has to do is deliver it.

One is then puzzled why anyone would want to wind back the clock on Brexit. Whatever happens now we will get our new politics. Already business as usual is disrupted, non-essential lawmaking is on the back burner, and public debate is focussed on matters of existential substance. The next ten years or more will be devoted to revisiting our statute book; redefining the structures and institutions of government. It will be the first comprehensive review of the UK constitution since the war. What's not to like?

We do not as yet know what Brexit will look like but we can safely assume British fishing will be up for review along with agriculture and labour law, and for the first time in a very long time we will have our own trade policy. We'll be having debates about issues buried for decades. Why would you want to go back to the stagnant universe of pre-Brexit politics?

It's early days yet and I am still not convinced for a fact that we will leave the single market. Certain realities are starting to dawn on opinion formers and politicians alike. Nobody is expecting sunlit uplands and rainbows. Outside of the government and the readership of the Daily Express, the strawman Brexiteer does not exist. Of the fifty two per cent who voted for change there were no homogenous traits. Most recognise that there will be trade offs between trade and control, democracy and liberty. British voters are treating this with the gravity it deserves.

The reason I can tell is because they're not voting for Labour. They know that Jeremy Corbyn has nothing to offer, nor indeed does his party. It would also appear that those seeking to wind back the clock are putting their faith in Tim Farron, a pinch-faced worm bent on taking us back to that era of narcissistic presentation politics and centrist political deadlock. Back to those days of asinine and trivial politics. Back to those days where mainstream politics wallowed in its own inward looking insular bubble, completely oblivious to what they have signed us up to.

For the first time in my adult life politics is finally getting real. When I do vote Conservative in June it will be reluctantly, in the absence of any new movement with good ideas, but in the subsequent disarray space will be created for new ideas and new innovations out of necessity. This is the democratic renewal I voted for. Something interesting may arise from the husk of the left - and maybe the Tories will implode as Labour just have. By 2025 we could be looking at an entirely new edifice of politics and entirely new debates, long departed from the vexed question of EU membership. A genuine new era of politics.

It is said that we leavers are the inward looking ones seeking to wind the clock back. I couldn't disagree more. For me I can imagine little more stultifying than carrying on the same tedious debates from our parents generation. Nor could I stomach any more of the same cloying sycophancy of media driven politics. Brexit is about change, it's about moving forward and dealing with the world as it really is rather than reinforcing the failures of the last century. We have really started something here and I don't want to put the genie back in the bottle. Luddites and naysayers be damned. The future starts now.

Monday, April 17, 2017

On the circumstances of Brexit. Again.

Over on Facebook, John Band linked approvingly [FB link] to a lengthy article by Fugitive Ink (FI): this post started as a comment in response but, it becoming somewhat lengthy, I have decided to post it here.

The FI article, written by someone who was involved with Ian Duncan Smith's leadership bid, is interesting and thoughtful; however, it also betrays much of the thinking that has led to an increasing disconnect between the political parties and their voters—and, thus, some of the reasons for the vote for Brexit.

Apart from the author's slightly tongue in cheek opinion on referenda—"… they’re mob rule! indirect democracy is the only non-disastrous form of democracy! etc, etc.…"—my original comment was sparked by two passages, the first of which is this:
Let’s be clear about this. No one, during the course of that 2001 campaign, was arguing that we should leave the EU. No one was arguing that we should give up the Common Market.
The second is this:
We had, self-evidently, settled the issue of Europe within the Conservative party for a generation—perhaps even forever. By demonstrating beyond argument that a charisma-free, intellectually limited, personally disorganised and badly-staffed unknown could defeat all sorts of proper candidates, purely because he did not want further European integration, we had paved the way for healing our painfully divided party.
FI's aversion to referenda is justified by his statement that "[n]o one, during the course of that 2001 campaign, was arguing that we should leave the EU"—but, of course, many Conservative voters absolutely were (and continued to do so): whilst the issue may have been put to bed as far as the party was concerned, it wasn't for a great many voters (and my parents, for instance, were not knuckle-dragging neanderthals desperate to kick out the dirty foreigners).

This complacency within the political bubble, and unwillingness to engage with decades-held concerns of nominally Conservative voters, simply encouraged those same people to believe that no party shared their concerns. Which, of course, explained the increasing rise of UKIP (organisationally shambolic though they were (and are)): increasingly, people reluctantly gave their votes to the Conservative Party at the General Election (largely because they feared a return to a 70s-style Labour government and union tyranny), whilst increasingly voting UKIP at European Elections.

There is an argument, of course, that this state of affairs could have carried on indefinitely—and it might well have done. But then came Cameron and his personal speciality of making un-forced political errors. Rightly or wrongly, a number of unfulfilled promises—around hunting, inheritance tax, and others—and, of course, the gay marriage issue, meant that the Conservatives were losing voters and activists at the margins. And, given the number of safe seats in the UK, the margins are where elections are won.

And so the promise of a referendum was given—to try to win back those voters, and to neutralise UKIP (the latter being effective in terms of Parliamentary seats—but less so on the pure number of votes). Cameron held the referendum, genuinely assuming that he would win: this was partly because he ignored the fact of those 4m UKIP votes—many of which came from Labour's heartlands.

Whilst IDS's campaign, and Fabricated Ink himself, seemed to believe that the issue of further integration had been put to bed—i.e. we don't want it, thanks very much—no one bothered to tell the European Union. As such, the EU has continued to press ahead (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) with the integration agenda: it continued to arrogate to itself new competencies, e.g. over energy supply and bin disposals through its environmental remit; over tax arrangements through state aid regulations, e.g. Ireland and Apple; .

And the EU did these things with, it sometimes seems, an almost wilful lack of regard, or care, for basic public relations nouse—seeming not to care about gross violations of traditional UK rights such as habeas corpus via the European Arrest warrant, as highlighted by the Andrew Symeou case; and, at the other end of the scale, ludicrous micro-management—such as deciding that the sale of powdered milk formula means that UK supermarkets cannot offer their customers free parking.

At the same time, the British government engaged in what many perceived as chicanery, and complicity with the EU, over such things as the European Constitution—sorry, the "Lisbon Treaty" (after the breaking of what voters perceived as a promise, both by Brown and Cameron, it almost didn't matter what the treaty actually said anymore).

Of the IDS campaign team's opinion of the EU in general, FI also says…
True, a lot of us wanted a looser, less standardised, less integrated Europe. We wanted a Europe that was more about free trade, liberal rather than corporatist, not over-burdened with fiddly regulations and tolerant of historic differences.
...

Some of us very much liked the idea of EU enlargement, if only as a way to mandate that looseness, the lack of standarisation and ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ variety.
Had the EU been able to say, in 2001, "alright chaps—you in the UK can stay as you are, and you're automatically exempted from any new Directives or Regulations", then we might still be in that organisation. But, of course, that would have been impossible—without continued compliance with EU laws, remaining within the Single Market and the Customs Union would have become increasingly difficult. A compromise might have been made by allowing firms who wished to trade with the EU to sign up to all of the regulations would, of course, have been satisfactory to the British—as it still would be, I believe—but it was not, and is not, to the European Union.

Furthermore, Cameron's inability to bring anything meaningful back from his key negotiations—despite repeatedly watering down his stated aims and declared red lines—gave the impression that the EU simply was not going to make any concessions. As such, by the end of 2015, it became abundantly clear that an EU "that was more about free trade, liberal rather than corporatist, not over-burdened with fiddly regulations and tolerant of historic differences" was not on the table—and it never has been.

From a UK point-of-view, the European Union has never really helped the pro-EU cause. Perhaps its functionaries thought that the "Little Englanders" would not notice the Irish, and the Dutch, and the French (the French, for god's sake—supposedly one of the pillars of the EU!) being forced to re-run referenda until "the voters gave the right answer"? But how would they not, given that some of those were in the context of a UK referendum promised—and then reneged on by British politicians?

This kind of bombastic and arrogant refusal to countenance that the peoples of Europe might not be quite as keen on a "United States of Europe" as its architects, led to a perception that the EU simply didn't care what the citizens' actual opinion might be. As such, the EU continued—and continues, even now—to announce further integration measures, often in direct contravention of UK politicians' frenzied denials, or attempted evasions, e.g. plans for a European Army.

Similarly, had those inept British politicians not given the impression that they were lying, dissembling, breaking promises and generally covering up the true scale of the EU's ambitions, then we might have voted to Remain. Or, of course, the vote might not have occurred at all.

But, once Cameron had promised the referendum, it is unlikely that his personal pride, if nothing else, would have allowed him to cancel it—after all, was he to be the Prime Minister who had twice broken his "cast iron guarantee" of an EU-related referendum?

Further, as FI asserts, EU membership has made the British people more internationalist in their outlook—or, at least more Europe-centric. This proved particularly unfortunate after 2008, especially given the timing of the referendum, as both Left and Right deplored the on-going train-wreck of the southern European economies—Italy, Spain, Portugal and, particularly, Greece.

The Progressive media decried the cuts in Greek benefits and pensions demanded by the demons of the "Troika", and the horrendous unemployment rates (particularly amongst the young) in Greece and the other countries. The excitable media of the Right were able to conjure more immigration horror stories about people from the southern economies flooding into the UK, looking for work.

And, for slightly different reasons, both sides became incensed at the possibility that the British taxpayer would have to stump up for the Greek bail-out; this forced George Osborne to deny, categorically, that this would happen: his subsequent humiliating climb-down (originally denied by the Chancellor, and counteracted by the EU), simply provided more ammunition for those who maintained that membership of the EU meant that we were no longer in control of our own destiny.

In many ways, these crises shot down one of the Remainers' key arguments: that membership of the EU meant political stability and economic prosperity. How were people to believe this argument, when the newspapers were full of stories about EU member states where this was obviously not the case? The newspapers did not have to explain "complex" ideas such as "internal devaluation" or "fiscal transfers"—they just had to publish pictures of Greeks rioting against real austerity, and stories about 50% youth unemployment in Spain.

Our politicians and other campaigners rushed to explain that, of course, this economic nightmare couldn't happen here—because, our "Anglo-Saxon" economy and legal system were uniquely conducive to business. This, of course, tapped into the British psyche about our unique brilliance and fitness (a jingoistic reflex that is, in fact, present in most peoples) and thus reinforcing the mindset of "well, why can't we be bigger players on the world stage, rather than a province of the EU"?

In this climate, what might be seen as surprising is that Leave won so narrowly (and I've barely even touched on the migration issue). Rightly or wrongly, the British people is not one that likes to see itself as subordinate—and, yes, one can blame the British for being pig-headed, nostalgia-driven, xenophobes if you wish—but, in the circumstances, a rift was more likely than not. Indeed, given the many exemptions that the UK already has, one could argue that it was inevitable because it was already happening.

Probably the only way to ensure that the UK voted for Remain was simply to wait another thirty-odd years for all those people who viewed themselves as British (as opposed to European) to die. One might argue that holding the referendum in 2016 might be the only way in which Cameron was ahead of his time.

Whatever happens next—and I don't necessarily disagree with FI's assessment of Theresa May—it is likely to be a bumpy ride. I remain optimistic but—in my more cynical moments—largely because May's vast ego won't let her be the Prime Minister who fucked up Brexit.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Brexit: escape from the progressive prison


Teflon Tony they called him. The untouchable prime minister. I don't know if you remember why they called him that but I do. It's because in the first term of New Labour we saw a number of scandals and failures on the front benches and yet still we saw no u-turns, no resignations, no reshuffles. Electorally, they were untouchable.

I also remember the political culture that came with it. Spin. Behind that was a ruthless competence in imposing a political agenda. That was a government that could do as it pleased. It was the era of political fuckyouism.

By the end of that Labour administration public finances were in a mess, the public sector was bloated and a corrosive welfarism had taken root. Qualification inflation had all but nullified the value of a degree and personal debt was reaching crisis point. We were also bogged down in two unwinnable wars. Amidst all that mess the Treaty of Lisbon was pretty much rail-roaded through parliament with less dignity than an Alabama shotgun marriage.

Enter Cameron. The Eton coup. The Tories had demonstrated with Michael Howard, IDS and William Hague that a traditional conservative party could not win. Or so the narrative goes. Cameron had bought the line that in order to win you had to occupy the centre ground and shape the party in the image of the soft left social democratic consensus.

Many would credit Cameron with making the Tories electable. This ignores the fact that Cameron did not actually win the 2010 election and instead formed a coalition. The reason being that the right of the party had deserted Cameron and instead backed Ukip - or didn't bother to vote.

The change of Conservative party logo to the scribble tree was significant. It marked a change of values. Moreover it was continuity fuckyouism. It was a clear message to the right that they were not wanted or valued. The message was heard loud and clear. Fast forward to 2015 and we would have seen Cameron lose to Miliband were it not for the promise of a referendum. Ukip would have done just enough damage in the marginals to swing it for Labour.

Underlying these tides was a sentiment that whoever you voted for nothing would change and there was little to choose between the main parties. Moreover they were parties who would continue to pile on insult after insult and rub our noses in it. This is ultimately where the anti-establishment revolt came from.

What we saw during this time was a series of leaders attending all the international jamborees signing us up to ever more improbable and costly environmental targets. The international stage had become a platform for climate change virtue signalling. Meanwhile, climate change narratives had woven themselves into all walks of culture and public life. What became clear was that government was something done to us, not something we were participants in. The way in which the EU bribed the affections of NGOs and institutions using climate change as the vehicle to capture activist bases was symptomatic.

All the while we were subject to pious climate moralising and it became increasingly clear that there was a gulf been the governors and the governed. Our concerns were not theirs. This became acutely obvious around 2008 when everyone was struggling financially, when petrol prices were soaring and our government saw fit to pile massive costs on household energy bills. When we complained they merely said "switch your supplier". This policy continued into the Cameron administration. The modern day "let them eat cake".

We shouldn't forget also that somewhere along the way the motorist became the favoured cash cow. Road tax sky-rocketed, and Londoners were hit with the congestion charge. You can argue that the system has some merit but behind it was a ruthless and malicious enforcement system administered by law breaking thugs. Oh and let's not forget the explosion of gatsos and CCTV. The hallmark of the Blair era.

In a lot of ways the banking crisis was the best thing to happen to the UK for a very long time. The only thing worse than an underfunded government is a well funded one. The cuts to national and local government brought about more conservatism than any conservative party has in recent history. The constant harassment by the state seems to have abated somewhat.

The era was marked by an oppressive bureaucratic authoritarianism where a minor infraction could see you dragged through the courts and hit with fines. It eroded the very fabric of public life, with people widely believing the police were little more than revenue collection agents. Effectively, the missing component was government by consent.

Totemic of this was wind turbines. No government ever sought to win the argument. The policy was simply rail-roaded while fat cats creamed off a subsidy and vain politicians met their EU targets. We have seen two decades of abuse of power and government we have no say in.

Often when I go off one of these tangents (for it is far from the first) people point out that the EU is not responsible for this. In part it is, but for the most part, the EU is a symptom. It has evolved into a construct for global elites where they concoct ever more virtue signalling gestures - which ultimately eat away at our disposable incomes and transfer our wealth into the hands of energy companies and other corporates. The government takes its cut which it then uses to imprison and coerce us. It's no coincidence that this era spawned a populist form of libertarianism on the right.

Meanwhile, when I now look at local authorities I effectively see EU regional management agencies. They are not doing as we instruct them. They are dancing to someone else's tune - fulfilling statutory statistical exercises and promoting political agendas in public services. The whole edifice of government is infected with a hectoring and nannying psychopathy. This is the experience that shaped my politics and this is why I voted to leave the EU with out hesitation.

Unlike many brexiteers I do not believe Brexit is an economic remedy and for the time being I do not see much economic benefit from it. I see it is as massive spanner in the works and a means of snatching their toys away from them. It's a little "fuckyouism" of our every own.

I actually think the UK is going to be quite a bit poorer for having left the EU, not least because of the manner in which we leave. I think this government is incapable of securing a workable deal. We'll be taken to the cleaners. I don't care though. Like the banking crisis it will de-fund government and force our politicians to focus on priorities rather than the displacement activity we have seen in recent years.

The UK does not have a constitution as such. There is no system that limits the power of government. There is no means of ensuring government by consent. The only way to rob it of its power over us is to hit it in the wallet. In this I would hope that the politics that follows Brexit will present the necessity to rethink our constitution and make damn sure they never get to do this to us again. That is why I will continue to promote The Harrogate Agenda.

Brexit creates a number of headaches for the UK. This government's approach to leaving will result in a number of avoidable body blows. It will force us to completely reconsider how we do things. It will see a number of white elephants go on the scrap heap and it will force us to rethink the NHS too.

Leaving the European Medicines Agency will likely increase the price of drugs and reduce their availability. Even if the NHS were to see an extra £350m a week (which it categorically won't) it's going to be swallowed up on pharmaceutical certification costs on top of the cost of transitioning to a new regulatory regime. The NHS is going to have to do more with less.

In fact I can see a number of services and facilities cut to the bone. I might even go as far as saying that the NHS will survive in name only. It will have to go the most radical shake up in recent history. Those with means will be expected to contribute to certain treatment costs. This will likely see a new boom in health insurance and non-profit friendly societies. This is already the underlying trend, but this has been a slow drip revolution. Brexit will probably open the floodgates.

We might even GP services to be fully marketised. I don't see that as a bad thing at all. It will more than likely increase availability while creating a genuinely competitive wage structure. The way I see it is that the NHS's days were always numbered. Eventually there would have to be a correction to a system long overdue a rethink. It didn't happen when we had a banking crisis and it wasn't going to happen any other way. Politically it won't be popular but then asking voters to face own to their own hypocrisy never is. People want the world on a stick for free. There's a bubble that needs to be burst.

There are other ways we will see corrections. Morgan Stanley seems to think office values in London will drop by a third. They say that if potential property buyers lose confidence in their ability to charge more for vacant space when it becomes available, prices will drop sharply, especially given the new supply of offices under construction.

This is apparently a bad thing. Personally I'm not seeing a downside to prime real estate becoming affordable. It will bring renewal and it will be a boost to start-ups. More to the point it will close the economic gulf between London and the regions - a dynamic which is doing more to damage the Union than any other factor. The cultural and economic disparity needs to be bridged urgently.

From a purely economic perspective, at face value, Brexit doesn't have much going for it - but it is a corrective to some unwholesome political trends - and it is the shake up we need. It isn't a silver bullet, and if we want to make good of it then we will have to work at it. I think Britain will be a better and happier country for it. The political stranglehold of the centrist consensus was toxifying British politics and eroding public life. Brexit is the wake up call - and not before time.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Brexit and all that...

After agitating for nearly 30 years, and writing endless screeds on this 'ere blog, it would be remiss of your humble Devil not to mark the passing of the bill to Trigger Article 50 through the House of Lords.

So, hooray!

However, I have always (at least in my more sober moments) maintained that Brexit entails considerable risk—and it is important that we keep these risks in mind when negotiating our exit from the EU. To be able to do so, one needs to actually understand what is involved: not only so that we can measure the risks, but also so that we can understand—faced with limited resources—which ones we really need to focus on.

For these kinds of discussions, EU Referendum and Pete North have always been an excellent resources for the ignorant (although, possibly, not the short of fuse!). However, it is for this in-depth, technical knowledge that I asked Pete to contribute to the Kitchen a couple of weeks ago—you can read his perorations here, here, and here (and I would urge you to do so).

Trade in general

Since your humble Devil is unable to match Pete's in-depth knowledge, I would like to summarise how I understand the different strands of the situation and how, therefore, we might proceed with minimal resource and minimal risk. Let me summarise, from my understanding, how this works:

  1. the first thing to understand is that the world of trade actually encompasses a huge web of standards: many of these standards have been initiated unilaterally, but then developed alongside other countries through various trade agreements, treaties, and supra-national efforts. Just think—there are standards for labelling car tyres, let alone medicines, food, etc.;
  2. in order to facilitate trade between companies—whether within the same country or between nations—there needs to be a basic, and agreed, standard of quality (for just about everything). There are essentially two ways to approach this: "harmonisation" (favoured by the EU and in which the standards are defined by the EU, and then imposed on Member States through legislation) or "mutual recognition" (usually bashed out via bilateral treaties, and whereby one country recognises the other country's standard as being broadly equivalent to its own);
  3. these standards are generally a means to protect the general public from dodgy... well, dodgy anything. As such, they tend to be rigorously enforced by the more developed nations in particular.

The WTO

Many of the trading standards are defined by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), at which most countries have some kind of representation; and it must be understood the the WTO is essentially as technocratic as the EU. Some quick headlines however:

  1. agreements made at the WTO are, in the main, voluntary—not enforced by supra-national law. The downside being, of course, that if you do not agree to abide by the standards defined then no one has to trade your goods;
  2. the other thing to understand is that the UK is a member of the WTO. However, whilst we are part of the European Union, we are obliged to vote for the common EU position—whether we want to or not. In effect, the EU takes our vote by proxy;
  3. and it is because of this that many declare that, the WTO—but not EU—member, Norway has rather more control over their own trade policy than the UK does. And this despite Norway's rather less powerful status in the world as a whole.

Please note (and you will see that this is a constant refrain as we delve into our relationship with the EU) how our vote is co-opted by stealth.

Many Leavers will tell you that the EU does not have a seat at the WTO—that we are only represented by the EU; Remainers, on the other hand, will argue that we do have a seat, and that Leavers are talking bollocks.

It is worth, for a moment, sitting back and admiring the way in which the EU and our own governments have made both statements true—whilst concealing the true state of affairs.

Why do we care?—it's imports that are important...

Well, yes, of course—as good little economists, we understand that.

I cannot make bread (and have not the slightest interest in learning to grow corn, grind the bastard, make bread, etc.), and so I import it. I do this by exporting my labour in exchange for money, and then using that money to buy bread.

Excellent.

However, when you import bread into your home, you want to make sure that it's not cut with rat poison, for instance (this problem is, after all, why illegal drugs do so much damage—they are unregulated and thus cut with all sorts of adulterants that are, in large part, what do the real damage to the body).

And so we have standards—standards that say, amongst other things, that we trust that your bread is not cut with rat poison. And part of the reason that we trust that it is not cut with rat poison is because your government has already certified that you meet the standard for non-poisoned bread.

Great—80% of the UK's trade and commerce is internal to this nation. Fantastico!

Imports sorted!

But we've had a shit harvest, and we'd like to import some bread from Holland.

"I know—we'll tell Holland what our non-poisoned bread standards are, insist that they should meet them, they disagree and say that our standards aren't good enough, we negotiate around that, have a few junkets, and then...

"Oh, fuck—everyone has starved to death for lack of bread. And now we politicians have no one's tax to live off. Shit."

Sorting it all out beforehand...

Luckily, we create treaties and agreements between nations in order to stop this kind of problem (and remember that, currently, some 30% of our food comes from the EU).

And we have been doing this in concert with the European Union for nearly 50 years now. This is the essence of the Single Market and, indeed, the Customs Union.

Because the EU sets the standards and forces the EU Member States to enforce these standards into law (and enforce those laws. Ideally—we all remember the horse-meat problem, right?), we are able to trade goods pretty freely across the EU.

So why leave?

Well, the problem is that all of these things are very slow-moving: and with the EU setting standards, there is an inevitable stifling of new technologies and processes. I think that the potential for change—across the entire political sphere—is a massive opportunity (which I shall more about later).

In one of his recent blogs at the Kitchen, Pete North stated that...
... we need to make the distinction between government and governance...
... and I would consider the maintenance and agreement of these standards to be part of that. At present, this is the most dangerous part. (I shall deal with the "government" in subsequent posts.)

Again, to quote Pete...
The fact is we are not simply ending membership of a golf club where we settle the bill and part company. We are disengaging from a network of agreements, long standing policies and institutions. This cannot be done at the stroke of a pen. There is no ripping up treaties and starting over. For starters that would destroy our credit rating and our international standing, and it would end all of the market access we presently enjoy. Moreover, it would ruin our chances of securing a replacement agreement in the future.
This is going to be difficult. But the best way to face the problems that we are going to have is to understand them, break them down, and to design solutions to them.

None of this will be easy—our supply chains work on "just in time fulfilment", and we need to have software and processes ready. Given the vast volume of transactions that we are talking about—from the point of view of politics, practicality, software, customs checks, etc.—this is going to be a huge endeavour.

Will it be worth it? I believe it will, but time will tell.

Am I glad that we are taking this step? Yes—absolutely.

Why? I shall return to let you know...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

There is no "walk away" option


Due to the lack of a proper threading system, it is difficult to reply to comments adequately. There is one comment on the previous post though that demands a response - with particular regard to what happens if we leave the EU without an agreement...
What you don't get is the WTO rules. Tariffs and barriers ratchet down. Countries that agree to no barriers or tariffs cannot reintroduce them unless both sides agree. The countries are to use the jargon, "bound". So the EU needs the UK's agreement to change the UK's access to the single market post Brexit.

Why would the UK do that when if the EU imposes barriers, it goes to the WTO and gets penalties on the EU countries involved? Remember, the WTO and the EU are separate parallel agreements. Both have to be adhered too. Leaving the EU, the EU countries and the UK still have to adhere to the WTO rules [or leave]
This is the same misapprehension we see in David Davis and John Redwood et al. Our commenter has misunderstood the concept of reciprocity. The EU, under WTO rules cannot impose barriers on us that it does not apply to anyone else. What gives us preferential access is membership of the EU or a specific comprehensive trade agreement.

The crucial point on this issue, is that when we leave, the EU will be applying existing "third country" rules and controls to UK exports. The same ones it applies as a default to all countries which do not presently have some kind of deal with the EU. Contrary to the assertions of Brexit zealots, it will not be erecting barriers against us. They already exist. We are voluntarily moving outside the castle walls.

We are told by Brexiteers that we can trade on WTO terms citing the USA as an example. Except that there are many different kinds of trade agreements. The USA may not have a deep and comprehensive agreement with the EU but it does have dozens of cooperation agreements and customs accords (as illustrated above). In fact, there are only nine countries presently trading with the EU without an agreement of some kind. Most of the world has some sort of agreement, be it only a basic one.

Leaving without an agreement means ending our EU relationship in entirety without anything to replace it. That means an immediate end to free movement of goods and services along with passenger rights, chemicals registrations, pharmaceutical certifications etc. Tariffs are neither here nor there. The EU is a complex system of government developed over forty years and without an agreement our exports are dead in the water.

In this, we cannot retaliate since, under WTO rules, we cannot apply a new set of barriers to the EU without extending them to everyone else. Since imposing import controls would effectively disrupt supply chains, that would lead to empty shelves within days. Do we stop supermarket shelves being restocked just so that we can retaliate against the EU? And what do we tell people when they go hungry?

The fact is we are not simply ending membership of a golf club where we settle the bill and part company. We are disengaging from a network of agreements, long standing policies and institutions. This cannot be done at the stroke of a pen. There is no ripping up treaties and starting over. For starters that would destroy our credit rating and our international standing, and it would end all of the market access we presently enjoy. Moreover, it would ruin our chances of securing a replacement agreement in the future.

Like any other Brexiteer, I would like to see us out of the EU as soon as possible but there are no magic wand solutions - and whether we like it or not, the EU will continue to exist for a time to come. We need an amicable and measured departure and where possible we should seek to minimise disruption to the normal flow of goods. That is not going to happen without compromise and it is not going to happen overnight.

For decades, leavers have been screaming from the rooftops that the EU is more than just a trade bloc. This is something of an understatement. It is a supreme government for Europe - and one we had no business joining. But since we did join, the damage will take considerable work to undo - and it will take a very long time. Leaving without an agreement would be an act of self harm and it would make the process far more costly than it ever needed to be. The WTO option is not a realistic proposition much though I wish it were otherwise. It's time that Brexiteers grew up and accepted that leaving the EU has consequences.

Leaving the EU is only half the job


Speaking with The Devil last night, he asked me to pen five basic points as to how we make a success of Brexit. And that is half the problem with Brexit. Everyone concerned wants the inherently complicated made easy. We have a political class which not only doesn't want to be troubled with detail, they will actively avoid any new information that complicates or disturbs narratives.

I could list five broad principles or the five most pressing objectives but that would not do justice to it. Broad principles would likely be motherhood and apple pie stuff we can all agree on but where does that get us? And though there clearly are priority objectives such as the free movement of goods across borders, that doesn't even begin to touch on the wider issues.

More to the point, it's a little late to try and steer the process. Before the end of this month we will likely see Article 50 invoked and the balloon goes up. It's out of our hands. The process is now entirely in the hands of the Tories who think it's a simple case of hammering out an agreement on tariffs and giving the French a swift handbagging over the final bill.

The intel I'm getting is that ministers really do believe their own rhetoric. What you see is what you get, compounded by the most extraordinary ignorance. They will go to Brussels imbued with the idea that "they need us more than we need them" and completely screw it up.

You can't tell these people anything. The only way to be heard inside the bubble is to tell them exactly what they want to hear. Had I spent the last three years making the case that we don't need to pay anything and that WTO rules were perfectly viable and that we can have a bonfire of regulations I expect I would be very popular in the Brexit bubble. Now, with the debate now being so hopelessly polarised, anybody contesting that woefully simplistic view is written off as a remoaner.

But then there is something very familiar about all this isn't there? This is the exact mirror image of the hubris that took us into the EU in the first place. A government so intoxicated with its own rehtoric it will steam ahead, listening to nobody and disregarding any and all words of caution.

Richard Dawkins on Newsnight this week said: "We have no right to condemn future generations to abide, irrevocably, to the transient whims of the present". I quite agree. This is exactly why Lisbon should never have been ratified. But in they went, conniving to dodge democracy and signed us up to this booby trap.

This to me suggests that as much as the EU is a problem, it is only half of the problem and Brexit alone doesn't get close to resolving anything. At the heart of this is a Westminster establishment, which, no matter who is in charge, is accountable to nobody.

And herein lies the hypocrisy of Brexiteers who have been vocal in denouncing "the establishment" only to roll over when that same establishment is singing their tune. Unless we are serious about pressing home meaningful democratic reform then we haven't resolved anything. As soon as the left inevitably take their turn to rule they will abuse the levers of power in exactly the same way.

From Brexiteers we have heard much about "returning powers to Westminster" but it should not be forgotten who it was who handed over powers to Brussels to begin with. More to the point, many of those powers were confiscated from local authorities by Westminster. Consequently the return of powers to Westminster will mean all of the power is in the hands of an entitled born-to-rule political class.

I've been around the block a few times now and I have seen how the system works. If you want influence you need to play the game and suck up to the right people, telling them what they want to hear - and even if you go into Westminster with the best of intentions, the system soon turns you native.

The system is festooned with PPE Oxbridge graduates, fast-tracked know-nothings and LSE policy wonks having done the right unpaid internship, none of whom have any exposure to real life and have never worked what you are I would call a real job. The same dynamic extends to the media where hacks are interchangeable between the Guardian and the Telegraph, each climbing the greasy pole, learning nothing as they go.

The politico-media bubble is an oral culture whereby information is traded over dinner in the form of factoids, where MPs have ever more stresses on their attention to the point where they agree with whoever it was they last spoke to. Trying to affect change at this level is pointless.

It is a culture that prizes conformity over knowledge and loyalty over substance. The system rewards obedience with money and prestige. It's a time honoured means of silencing dissent. The incorruptible, however, are simply unpersoned, bullied and skilfully marginalised.

This is how we end up with a disconnect between the politicians and the people and it is how politics becomes deeply London-centric, self-absorbed and insular - and consequently incapable of engaging in serious politics. Their feeble grasp of Brexit issues is all the proof you need.

And it is so telling that the referendum result was an inchoate howl of rage. Look where it comes from. It's the regions giving London the two fingered salute. Economically, culturally, politically, London is divergent in every conceivable way.

This is ultimately why Brexit needs to happen. The referendum has not divided the country. The country is already fractured. All Brexit has done has exposed the fault lines. And so when it comes to Brexit, we just have to let them get on and make a pig's ear of it because that is all we can do. It is the reckoning that comes after that should concern us.

My own studies lead me to believe that, thanks to the Tory approach to leaving the EU, we are going to be considerably worse off and we will lose a substantial amount of trade with the EU and, by proxy, with the rest of the world as well. This will not be EU obstinacy. This will purely be an act of self-harm, going into talks with unrealistic demands with no functioning knowledge of the EU.

When that happens there is an opportunity afoot. Free of the EU there are no longer any excuses. The buck stops with Westminster. The establishment must now take responsibility for its own failings. If we collectively roll over and make excuses for the Tories (by blaming the EU) then we will squander a once in a generation opportunity to correct a long standing problem. Brexit is a chance to dismantle the ossified structure of Westminster; a system designed before the internet and when MPs faced several days on horseback to meet in the Commons.

The task before is to heal the many rifts that make the UK so fundamentally divided. To that end, Brexit could very well be a window of revolutionary opportunity - to revise, modernise and decentralise government - and break it away from the sordid den of virtue signalling prostitutes in Westminster.

I had hoped to avoid Brexitgeddon, but my hopes fade with every utterance from David Davis and the Brexiteer back-benchers. Success seems unlikely because the ingredients for success are not there. Sceptical voices have been silenced and purged and replaced by soothsaying charlatans seeking consultancy fees, aided and abetted by dogmatic zealots. I think we have lost the capacity to make a success of it.

If however, the outcome of Brexit is a serious examination of how and why Westminster is failing so badly then it is more than just a mere consolation prize. I would value a reunited Britain and a rejuvenated politics over this buccaneering free trade paradise we are promised.

To bring that about we must start a national debate about how we want government to be shaped in the wake of Brexit. We must ensure that the Tories are exposed and brought to account for their hubris and we must mobilise to present new ideas. Unless we make good of this opportunity then we will have wasted the once chance we had for lasting reform. Brexit will have been a total waste of time.

The EU is not so much the cause of our problems. Rather it is a symptom of a deeper malaise, where government wants all of the power but is happy to deflect the responsibility and the blame to the EU. Our EU membership underpins that dynamic - and that is why nothing was ever going to change unless we voted to leave. Now that we have, it would be a travesty to leave the job unfinished. Brexit is a starter for ten, but the real work is only just beginning.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Quote of the Day: ASI on Ayn Rand

Regardless of any criticisms of her prose style, reading Ayn Rand's books inspire me. It seems that this applies to those at the Adam Smith Institute too...
Though she died in 1982, huge numbers of people still come to Ayn Rand through her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged – and their lives are changed as a result. No wonder. These novels assert the nobility of using your mind to reach your full potential. They make self-belief cool.

Rand’s heroes are individualists who live by their own creative talents—existing for no one else, nor asking others to exist for them. They are rebels against the establishment and its ways. They do not conform to social norms, but stand by their own vision and truth: a vision built on their own values and a truth built on fact and reason, not on the false authority of others. They are the creative minds who discover new knowledge, who innovate, drive progress and consequently benefit all humanity.

But minds cannot be forced to think. Creativity, and therefore human progress, depends on people being free to think and act in pursuit of their own values. That is a powerful case for liberty, values, mind, reason, creativity, entrepreneurship, capitalism, achievement, heroism, happiness, self-esteem and pride. And against the life-destroying consequences of coercion, extortion, regulation, self-sacrifice, altruism, wishful thinking and refusing to use one’s mind.
Ayn Rand made the abrogation of one's mental facilities shameful—and shameful because it is a waste of your own potential, not because others might think less of you. If only more people read her works...

Friday, March 03, 2017

Taking back control



Those readers who know my name (Pete North) will most likely dislike me intensely. Or at least I hope so. The Devil has asked me to contribute to this website for reasons best explained by him. That, though, is a subject for another time.

If you know me from my blog, you will know that I specialise in giving Ukippers, libertarians and Brexiteers a hard time. In fact, I have gone out of my way not to make any friends in those circles.

Probably like you and our host, I believe that government should be as small as possible and interfere with our lives as little as possible. Where we differ is that, having examined why much of our glorious bureaucracy exists, I happen to think that even the minimum level of government will necessarily need to be quite large. Check this out...

When an American Airlines plane smashed into a Colombian mountainside, outlaw salvagers didn't even wait for all 159 victims' bodies to be collected before they moved in. "Using sophisticated tools, they extracted engine thrust reversers, cockpit avionics and other valuable components from the shattered Boeing 757 and then used helicopters to fly the parts off the steep ridge, U.S. and Colombian sources say. The parts were offered for sale in Miami, a hub of the thriving black market in recycled, stolen and counterfeit aircraft parts. "They wanted to sell the whole lot, including the landing gear," a law enforcement source said, speaking on condition of anonymity."

Parts illegally salvaged from crashes, counterfeit parts and other substandard components regularly find their way into the world's air fleets, sold at bargain prices, often with falsified documents about their origin or composition. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized $4 Million worth of counterfeit electronic components in Fiscal Year 2009. According to a 2001 publication produced by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “as much as $2 billion in unapproved parts are now sitting on the shelves of parts distributors, airline, and repair stations".

When I started looking at the scale and size of counterfeiting and fraud I realised that the libertarian "caveat emptor" approach was every bit as deluded as socialism. There are many examples of industrial scale manipulation of supply chains. A food fraud scandal came to light in 2008, when over 20 companies were found to have added melamine, a flame retardant plastic, to baby formula in order to fool tests designed to ensure adequate protein content. Around 300,000 babies became ill in China, with tainted formula being linked to 54,000 hospitalisations and 6 deaths from kidney damage and malnutrition.

Additionally, the product category Herbs and Spices is listed as number four in the ranking of most frequent product alerts in the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). About 75% of these reports are due to improper composition or contamination, both of which can affect the health of the consumer, as well as damage the brands of those involved in the supply chain. In 2005 over 600 finished food products were recalled in Europe and the US due to the presence of the carcinogenic red industrial floor dye "Sudan", which had been added to chilli powder to disguise its ageing.

When it comes to governance, I defer the the authority on this subject. The TV sitcom, Scrubs. Most political isms assume people have a hard outer shell, but inside have a creamy centre. I'm with Dr. Perry Cox: "People aren't chocolates. Do you know what they are mostly? Bastards. Bastard coated bastards with bastard filling". We need systems that bet against basic human decency because the bastards always win.

And then we come to the EU. For decades we eurosceptics have complained that our political elites have imposed upon us an economic and political system without our consent. That is reason enough to rail against it. The problem we have though, save for the egregious stupidity of monetary union, the system they have sought to impose on us is actually quite good.

That makes us Brexiteers look like right proper dickheads railing against progress. For sure we have seen the PIP breast implant scandal and the horse-meat scandal but the only way that ever became public knowledge is with an EU wide public health surveillance system.

The truth of the mater is that much of the government that rules our everyday lives is wholly invisible and under-appreciated. It means that we can buy in confidence and that our rights are upheld. As a pragmatic libertarian I take the view that there are positive and negative liberties whereby the externalities of other peoples freedoms must not impinge on my own. And on a small and densely populated island such as this, that is all the more likely to happen. As much as there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are no libertarians when the neighbours dog is barking at 3am.

So now is the time for a real debate about technocracy vs democracy. We may very well wish to "take back control" but we must ask what we are taking control of and to what ends? Is it really worth unplugging from all EU market surveillance systems just so we have ultimate sovereignty over aubergine marketing standards?

After three years of writing about technical governance, I can see from my hits that the vast majority of people are not remotely interested in the details of governance. The more technical I get the fewer readers I have. They would much rather I wrote a rabble rousing polemic about that Milo chap and some other moral outrage. We say we want to take back control but evidence suggests that most are more than happy to leave the details to the experts. So the dilemma of our generation is where the lines are drawn between technocracy and democracy and how much we are willing to cede to the bureaucrats.

To be truthful, I do not have any real answers. Somewhere along the line things got a bit more complex than normal political narratives can accommodate. There is every advantage in international and scientific cooperation on standards and practices, and regulation has a clear role to play. But how do we make it transparent, democratic and accountable, and beyond the reach of the NGOcracy and the climate change zombies? In this we need to make the distinction between government and governance and ask how we the people ensure that we are not just passengers in the grander schemes of the globalist left. I am all for "taking back control" but increasingly we bump into the questions of what, why and how?

The alternative Devil Budget

It's time to throw in an alternative policy initiative for the UK. My ministers will do so presently...