It’s too close for comfort This heat has got Right out of hand

But first, let’s hear from the 1980s.

 

Enjoy? Good. (It’s a great song, by the way, and if you play it on C tuned guitars and slow it down then it sounds like awesomely evil grind core, and that’s a good thing too.)

So whilst everyone’s hot taking on the #EURREF, I have a little, probably unprovable thing that I want to run by both of you. It’s about the 80s, the 80s left, what the 80s left did next, and why that’s come back to haunt us. Here goes.

Back in the 1980s a significant fraction of the 80s left despaired of the fact that despite the obvious correctness of their views, the public kept voting for Thatch. This was very disappointing to them, because they were obviously correct. Unfortunately, they could not do a Brecht and vote in a new populace.

What was then to be done? Some stayed with the parliamentary approach, and kept faith even when the populace, unaccountably, voted in Major. They eventually came to accept that Labour had to change, and by accident of a) death of John Smith and b) the man being in the right place at the right time, came to be the New Labour party of Tony Blair’s movement.

But they weren’t the only important faction. Another faction decided that party politics was for losers and went into the NGO world, to become ‘shapers’ of civil society. They became the pressure groups and lobbies that influenced the party.

The third arm entered various public sector positions – Local government, academia, NHS, civil service etcetera. There, they gradually, probably even unintentionally in some ways, shifted arguments towards the territory followed by the second group.

The second group had significant contacts with both first and third. They drove arguments towards various campaign positions – on single issue by single issue fights. They were very successful in doing so establishing a broad consensus™ on many of those issues.

Along the way, however, those positions slowly began to alienate people who weren’t members of the Society of People Holding Appropriate Views. Sometimes this was because they supported some of the views but not others, sometimes because they disagreed entirely over priorities or over needs or values, and sometimes because they never supported anything like that agenda, and became disillusioned because there was now Cross Party Agreement™ on that sort of thing and therefore they didn’t even get to signal their disapproval at elections.

The outsiders therefore did what they could. They revolted successively at elections. And yet, because there was Cross Party Agreement™ about those sorts of things, they couldn’t shift the government to one more of their liking. When the Great European Question of Referendum was therefore put to them in 2016, they spotted a chance to give the broad consensus™ a bloody nose, and did.

Result, the Cruel Summer of 2016, when Calamity Reigned over the Body Politic and the Dead Came Back to Life and Squirrels Lay down with Pigeons.

Simplistic, yes. Unprovable, yes – though I suspect that there are very strong elements here behind the rise of UKIP and the fracturing of the party system. The whole explanation? I don’t doubt that it’s only a part of it, but at some stage you have to say that it’s likely to be like the Murder on the Orient Express (Spoiler Warning They all did it. ) and this is one of the suspects.

 

Whereas: Modestly Proposed

Whereas Her Majesty’s public hath voted in their wisdom by a simple majority to advise Her Majesty’s government to leave the European Union,

And Whereas Her Majesty’s Government and all who sail therein hath said we’ll think about it and maybe press the button,

And whereas Her Majesty’s Scots hath said, “hey wait no, don’t do that, we’ll leave you to your exiting treasonous English ways and leave you”,

And whereas, both sides of Her Majesty’s Brittanic Populus, do squeal and squeal, those against continued membership of aforementioned European Union that they still can’t determine who gets to be a member of Her Majesty’s Great British Subjecthood, and those for such aspiration towards continued membership of aforesaid European Union and the distinctive likenesses thereof that Her Majesty’s Great Unhosed are a bunch of screaming nasties,

And  whereas the aforementioned European Union of Europeans hath said “Well get on with it and do it and see if we care”

And whereas the commentariat of Her Majesty’s Great Trouserless Horde hath not decided yet what it is Her Majesty’s Great Shoal of Pilchards hath decided, nor what it is that Her Majesty’s Great Rampaging Herd of Wilderbeesties should  have decided,

And whereas everyone, Her Majesty’s Great Bouncy Castle of Sugar Rushing Infant Schoolers, Her Government, who may be similar of ilk to the aforementioned, Her Commentariat, who make the aforementioned two types seem particularly reasonable, The European Union of United Europeans and Boris Johnson are now de-calmed to an extent not relieved by a nice hot cup of tea,

IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED

That proceedings in respect of National Kerfuffle be invoked…

That the business of Government be placed into a holding pattern, neither increasing nor decreasing the the quantity not quality of legislation, nor pressing that bloody Article 50 button..

That a period of time be allowed to calm the bloody hell down..

That no commenariatism be committed but that a period of actually bloody listening be done, however objectionable the commentariat finds both Her Majesty’s Smelly Socked Peasanthood and their relevant opinions..

That the legislative aims of our friends in the European Union of the Unity of European Unionists be met with a ‘well, we might get round to it, but we’ve got bigger things on our mind for a little while’

That following such period, a set of realigned positions are put to Her Majesty’s Electing Idiocy at a New General Election

That once a new parliament has been constructed, the question be re-put to Her Majesty’s Subjectivity of Dunderheads, but only following a protocol of “The Legendary Decency and Decorum of Public Debate for which Her Majesty’s Subjectivity is Famed”

That Biscuits be provided to all.

That the aforementioned period be referred to in all History Texts or The Distinctive Likenesses Thereof as “The Year of the Duvet”.

 

Think about it. Don’t get crumbs everywhere.

 

You looked but turned away

Sorry to exhume the corpse of Cast (Britpop beat combo, 2nd division, m’lud), but it was the first song that came to mind today. It is here, should you wish to co-exhume it with me.

Anyhow, the populus has spoken, and has advised Her Majesty’s Government of its wish for Her Britannic Majesty’s Queendom to proceed forthwith from membership of the European Union. We’re also now down a Prime Minister, and by the end of the day possibly even a Leader of the Opposition (sorry, can’t remember who that was supposed to be) and a Chancellor of the Book of Bouncing Cheques Exchequer. Doubtless, some of you will have heard. Doubtless, some of you will have read, or uttered, a hot take or two on this momentous event. Doubtless, you will have agreed with, argued with, shaken your head or fist at any or all of those hot takes. I’m therefore, most Britannically apologetically going to utter another one.

No, don’t go away. Please don’t. It won’t be that awful. I hope.

The first thing to note is that as Jack of Kent reminds us, the referendum is advisory. It depends on the activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and already, we hear, a blonde buffoon named Boris is counselling no rush. But really, with Her Majesty’s House of Commons in the “right royal kerfuffle” it is currently in, nobody really has any mandate to do anything right now. So in a sense, although something has happened, nothing actually has, and even if the Article 50 button were to have been pushed there would be a decently long period of pointless windbaggery, useless negotiation and other stuff to go on. So we are in a position of Schrodinger’s Poker, where hands have been both dealt and not dealt and bids made and not made.

The second thing that I want to note is that it ought be no surprise to the good people of twitter that distance from the metropolis – economically and politically speaking, if not always geographically speaking – is correlated with vehemence of voting out. It ought not to be, but it seems to be. It would be nice if this led to a period of pondering, preferably accompanied by vigorous listening, with or without the lubrication provided by cups of tea, but I suspect that the metropolis knows its mind and is well versed in the art of projecting motives. Hence, Pre-Brexit, the North, for instance, was a victim of NeoLiberalism™ and Post-Brexit a hotbed of racialism, fascism and every other nastyism.

But the third point is where I want to dwell- and that is that this is emblematic of two things. First of all, the UK has changed party system, and second, a realignment is still going on.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Giovanni Sartori wrote about party systems contrasting three major types found in Europe (and other places – one of his examples was Allende’s Chile). Bipartite systems, like the British one, had two monolithic parties contending against one another. Sometimes the result was consensus, sometimes discord, but the result was a middle ground that tended to shift over time. However, most of Europe, largely because of the PR systems prevalent, experienced either a multipartite system that was characterised by moderate pluralism or by polarised pluralism. The former tended to produced moderate centrists governments, the latter political chaos. Sartori found the polarised pluralist system in amongst other cases, the French fourth republic, Weimar Germany, Allende’s Chile and Italy during the anni di piombo. A polarised pluralism system (I’m taking this from Ivo Daalder in West European Politics 1983 ) has four characteristics:

  1. A number of relevant parties (five-ish plus). Of most importance is that some of them are anti-system parties, with blackmail potential, i.e the ability to blackmail other parties into doing their bidding.
  2. A high degree of ideological stretching – the polarisation. This means a low level of consensus amongst parties, so it’s hard to find middle grounds between them.
  3. More than one or two poles in the system.
  4. The above three characteristics leading to centrifugal drives – that is, parties trying to inhabit space on the wings and not in the centre.

Any of that starting to look like Britain in 2016? In essence, the great monolithic parties that head butted each other over the post war period to 1979, became centrifugal in the 1980s, realigned around a different consensus post 1997 and finally, fractured in the noughties and teens, leading to a position, today, that looks a lot like Sartori’s recipe for chaos where, to nick a bit of Yeats, the centre cannot hold.

And that’s where we are, today. I’m pretty sure that once we start asking questions, and more importantly listening to answers, we’ll find that it all seems so obvious. But that brings up the second point – what’s the realignment about, then?

Ok. Here goes.

In order to build change, you need to assemble a very broad based consensus for that change, which means that you need to take enough people along with you to achieve that change. Now, if you keep insisting, centrifugally, on some set of core values that alienate people along the way, you lose the broad base of that coalition. That’s what Blair and Brown did over the course of their governments (Cameron and Clegg never appealed to those voters and didn’t really care). The result was in some ways good – yep, I support gay marriage among other great endeavours of the period- , and in some ways terrible – Iraq, the licensing of austerity because people lost faith in Blair-Brownism. But mainly, people who were outside the narrowing consensus of the period felt left out, and left behind economically. That’s a combination that’s not going to draw people back into your fold. It’s also no accident that this period coincided with many  British people feeling the narrowing of the class background of our political and governing classes and the failure of the social elevator. In short, government became something that was done to us, rather than a process we participated in. And eventually, the political classes, smiled at us, paid us and passed us, but quite forgot. And then, when people spoke – they didn’t know how to listen, because they were hearing objects, not people speaking.

Sartori thought that his analysis led, ineluctably, to Italy falling apart. It didn’t quite happen that way, largely because of the magic of transformismo and the ability of politicians to do deals that we may not have predicted in advance of the event. In Britain, now, the need is to actually engage, not isolate, and find a centre that draws in the excluded. It’s a shame indeed that the dealignment of Britain has found its expression in something like the EU vote – largely because it makes it easy to simply project racism onto people who simply feel they have no say. But, the dealignment has to be confronted. In the short term, it will mean all sides having to readjust their perspectives and settle more for what they can get to hold a coalition together. That’s the really big challenge, and irrespective of Eurovotism, it’s the one people are going to have to cross.

And if you see my reflection in the snow covered hills…

You know how it goes. You push ahead, doing your thing, ploughing your furrow and then….

Well, as a Florentine bloke put it:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura

ché la diritta via era smarrita.

And here I am, midlife, in those dark woods, looking for the exit route. Luckily, Virgil’s too busy hanging out with Scott, Alan, Gordon and John to come along and bother me with a package trip through the allegories of hell. Unluckily, mainly for you, Gentle Reader, that means that I’m going to have to work it out, in public, on the internet. And so, I’ll lay out the starting point, less cryptically:

I’m not so well endowed with faith in economics these days. There. Said it. No the Truth isn’t setting me Free – I’m reminded of Chesterton’s observation that people who give up on religion end up believing in everything, or anything, rather than nothing. Instead, I’m thinking of what it is that is really wrong with economics and what to do about it. Rather too much, as it happens. Partly this is because attacking economics has been about the easiest fish and barrel shoot in town for a while, because people will listen however inane your attack when the target is as obvious and unpopular as the trade has made itself, which means that what used to be called column inches have been filled with guff that attacks what people imagine the field to be, rather than what it is. Partly it’s because some people have made much more intelligent attacks that have called me on some of the less defensible parts of the enterprise. And partly it’s just because I’ve been listening to Landslide too much. But really it’s because observation and theory keep telling me different things and I can’t cope with more than three voices in my head at once.

So far, so good, and I’m sure people of some ideological perspectives will be applauding a Damascene conversion to their viewpoint. Thing is, I make no such conversion. I’m still a Catholic (have been since before I was born), even if I don’t go to mass and do break some pretty strict edicts now and then, because I was immersed in that culture and see many things through a lens that I learnt to use at catechism. I’m still an economist, just one who has arrived at some views on the practise of economics, the dimensions of its analyses and the culture attached to those two, and finds himself in some disagreement with his trade (and with himself, to be honest).

What I do think, though, is that mainstream economics has left me. In short, I think that it’s focus has narrowed excessively. It has stopped paying attention to ideology and imagined itself to be purely technical as if that were possible in the real world. It frequently uses the wrong tools for analysis, even from the ones in its pretty formidable toolkit. It behaves as if entities of entirely different scales were equivalent. It has allowed itself to become a tool of oppression. It has imagined that solutions are not entirely contingent on many external factors, and lapsed into hubris. It’s become the 1990s Tottenham Hotspur of the social sciences, living on past glories and not investing its future. It frequently asks the wrong questions and then gets surprised when it gets silly answers. It’s insufficiently 1) human, 2) ecosystems oriented, 3) questioning of its root ideas and at the same time excessively 1) over quantified, 2) atomised and 3) looking for logical purity over explanatory power.

(Colleagues may well disagree with the above. I think that at various times one or several of those factors apply, not necessarily all at the same time)

So what would I want to do with it? Not rescue it or salvage it – not my job – but expand it. Go a bit meta. Start from a new jumping off point and see if that makes a difference. My opening salvo comes from the really difficult task of telling someone who hasn’t studied it -Hello, Mum! – what it is that economics is, should be, or even could be doing. So here’s my operational beginning in re-opening the mind of homo economics:

Economics is the study of the human ecosystem. The human ecosystem is distinguished from non-human ecosystems in two ways – 1) except over the very long run, the carrying capacity of that system is not fixed and 2) the participants in the system have volition and agency and can use pieces of information about each others valuation in order to trade resources or opportunities with each other. That’s really it – it’s a special case of ecology as much as it is any other form of enterprise. All the rest of the endeavour start at these two points. You are really looking at a very specific ecosystem with some very specific properties.

How does this change things? Firstly, I think the operative part of the word is system. Economies are massive, interconnected and complex systems where diversities between the participants are as important as the similarities between their actions. Secondly, it opens up space for discussion of evolution, and in particular its complete disregard for teleology and the way it makes predictions of the future state of a system entirely contingent. Thirdly, it allows economics to be mucky in the way ecology is. Fourthly, it allows you to be more creative about modelling strategies since you are now actually thinking about the interplay of different types of actor within the system rather than the individual decisions each makes.

Overall, I’m not at all confident that I’ve nailed any of the problem, I am just sure that it is a problem, and that this is one way to take the discussion forward in a way that isn’t likely to result in bad government or miserable societies, because one look out at the world (admittedly in the middle of a dark, dank London autumn) and you can see both those risks likely to materialise around you. I’m pretty sure I’ll have recanted this view and provided an alternative definition by the time I get to the next post. It’s just that nos in illis mutamur an’ all.

After all, time makes you bolder and even children grow older. Here’s the Dixie Chicks brilliant version of that august song.

Landslide.

Battle come down.

The Guerrilla Economics Manifesto is quite clear on what it thinks is up. It says

People, we are at war. The Machines have taken over and Kyle Reese ain’t coming to babyfather no-one. You aren’t in their game, you’re just the collateral damage. Your choice is not over who gets to play. Your choice is over whether you get to smash the fucking board.

In less pungent terms, the course of recent developed world history, since its definitive end in 1989, is a story of how we built Skynet and how we’ve let its operations corrupt us all and how we’ve turned from a world that promised so much to one that has closed its imagination to all the possibility and only sees fear and conformity, and one that instills little hope in the future. The people responsible have come from all sides of the political spectrum and are united simply by their contempt for anyone who is not them and does not hold their ‘superior’ values. We are the external cost of this.

The evidence piles up around you. Why would it be that after five years of coalition torment – oh come on, that’s what everyone’s telling us we felt isn’t it? – that Labour could not get in. Answer – because Labour was a coalition, and the Skynet classes within Labour broke the coalition by focussing on their pet policies rather than simply leaving people alone. As a result, principally working class supporters drifted away, and well, five more years an’ all, yo!. What about Europe? Arch case of technocrats versus the people. What about that whole Diesel Engine brouhaha? Came from Government – We handed out the incentives to switch to the smelly sods because they emit less CO2, but didn’t even think about particulate matter or NOX, and when standards were brought in, no-one could simultaneously hit the two conflicting objectives so they cheated. How’s our services delivered? Well by Theory X management that sees people as essentially incentives and tools. How you feeling? Like a person? Or like a thing? Guess what, if it’s the latter it’s because you are a thing to Skynet, and if not then it’s because you profit from it, and fewer and fewer of us feel that we do. (I’m in the system and I don’t, so Chthulu knows how someone who isn’t in it feels.).

And it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s an equilibrium that’s ripe for disruption, and can be simply just by demanding that your essential humanity, whether you’re a sinner like all of us or a saint like none of us, is respected. But you won’t do that, probably because you’ve got Stockholm Syndrome from living under Skynet. What’s the end product? A tent that’s getting smaller and smaller and more impervious to people on the outside pissing in, evitable conflicts, blame duckings, rituals crucifixions by social media, avoidance of real issues, security theatre over real security. These are all connected, and all come from society, Western, Eastern, Middle North by North Western, being governed by the most hubristic, the most bombastic, the angriest and worst citizens and those best able to play the inside game while those outside are kept in zero sum conflict, and you, I all of us are participating, even if we think we’re not.

John Connor will once write “No fate but what we make.”. Right now, it’s not a great fate we’re making. Maybe we want to change the programme and shift the paradigm and disrupt the shit out of our thinking, because we won’t get the chance come Judgement Day.

Greetings Sapients and Lutrinae of all planets

Hello.

I’m Peter Antonioni. For my sins, I am a refugee economist in the department of Management Science and Innovation at UCL, where I largely teach terrified second year cherubim to be even more terrified in the face of the calamity that is a complex world by introducing them to horrific concepts like prisoner’s dilemmas and hair raising corpus of works like those of Nash, Stills and Young.

After a long amount of humming, hawing and making other kinds of strange sub-vocal noises I have finally begun to write thought shapes from my brain to the infinite vastitude of T3h Int3rn3tz, a decision I may have cause to regret or may not as the case may be. My focus, in particular, is Industrial Economics. That is, I like looking at the bits of economics that are to do with how industries work, in terms of nice concepts like innovation, evolution, competition and co-operation et cetera, et cetera. Thus, you might be slightly disappointed if you’re looking for the usual Keynes/Austerity/Goldbuggery articles; not that I won’t wade in, but I’m really not usually about that part of the game.

All, or a greater part of the thought forms therein are my own to a greater or lesser degree, meaning they may not be original, but they don’t as far as I know represent anybody else’s viewpoint and I don’t claim them too. This is by way of giving the standard disclaimer that these do not represent UCL, as if any voice could represent so fractious a body and that colleagues should not be unduly disturbed by my attempts to prove that noise will always drown out signal.

Be Excellent to Each Other and Party on Dudes.

 

Peter