War Debt! Huh! What is it good for?

Gosh, I’ve neglected this, haven’t I? This is part of the general crisis of confidence that makes up my life, so don’t worry.

So, a short thing about debt. It’s commonly bandied around that the UK, thanks to Labour’s profligacy, is the most indebted it has ever been.

It’s technically true that the UK holds an astounding amount of debt; something in the order of 492% of GDP. But what is elided here is that it is mostly private-sector debt, largely due to the financial sector’s very large role in the economy, and the recession caused by the crash. Labour may, indeed, be partially responsible for that by looking the other way whilst the real-estate bubble continued to grow, but then, so did everyone else. Does anyone really believe that the Conservatives would have introduced and enforced the kind of regulation necessary to prevent the bubble? Then look over here, I’ve got a rail franchise to sell you.

The argument that’s being made, though, is that Labour spent too much money and that is what has done for us. Bear in mind that the current level of net public debt is something like 60-65% of GDP, a piddling amount in comparison. This is argued to be an incredibly high level of debt which will lead to default, misery, and the ruination of everything we hold dear, especially your granny.

Except this is what debt was like from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day:

How bloody tiny does our “Debt Bombshell” look!

The next fallback is that it only during wartime that we ran up so much debt, so there were special circumstances that are unrepeatable now. This is true, up to a point: part of the reason the WWII spike is so high is that the US was lending the UK shedloads of money in order to keep the UK viable. It’s unlikely the same would happen today, in these austere times.

But here’s debt from the interwar years, 1918 to 1939:

Debt remained well over 100% of GDP throughout the inter-war years, yet strangely enough, there was no massive debt default. Why was the debt so high? Because of a long, miserable depression from 1918-1936. The UK never had a Roaring Twenties, just a horrible, grey 18 years. There may be institutional reasons why the UK was able to run such a high debt; it was the centre of the financial world, after all, and as a highly developed nation no doubt creditors were willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Much like today, when the markets are basically saying “Dear God, why aren’t you spending money! Spend money now! Today! Please!”

But, of course, that kind of market signal just isn’t what we’re looking for, is it?

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Emission

February 6, 2011 3 comments

Yegods, this is a special kind of stupid:

But surely she must see, I counter, that the majority of British Muslims are moderates? Sitting in her publisher’s office in an elegant grey-flannel trouser suit and pearl earrings, she fixes me with her lucid brown eyes. “If the majority are moderates, why did the Muslim community never take to the streets to abhor the 7/7 bombers? Why is it that the only time we see Muslims protesting en masse is when Islam is allegedly insulted, like with the Danish cartoons, or the Pope’s comments?”

“I’ll tell you why: because Islam is the new fascism. Just like Nazism started with Hitler’s vision, the Islamic vision is a caliphate – a society ruled by Sharia law – in which women who have sex before marriage are stoned to death, homosexuals are beaten, and apostates like me are killed. Sharia law is as inimical to liberal democracy as Nazism. Young Muslims need to be persuaded that the vision of the Prophet Mohammed is a bad one, and you aren’t going to get that in Islamic faith schools.”

Forget the “Islam is the new fascism” thing, if one can (I’d like to save that for a more involved post, whilst I’m not hitting my head off a wall, here).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali suggests it was deviant of Muslims not to take to the streets in mass protest against the bombings, possibly waving signs around and suchlike. This is a strange attitude to take. For one thing, like most national tragedies, Britain after the tragedies was in mourning, for which the kind of political theatre a mass rally would undoubtedly be is incongruous at best, and tasteless at worst. There were a number of vigils held, in which British Muslims took an active part (as you would expect, since some British Muslims were actually killed in the attack; collateral damage is unimportant to the fanatic), one of which was co-organised by the Muslim Association of Britain, which we are always hearing has been co-opted by the treacherous Islamofascist hordes. Must have just been some really deep cover.

As for the assumption that “there are no moderate Muslims”, i.e., there are no Muslims that do not support the terrorist tactics of Al-Qaeda, why don’t we actually ask the Muslims what they think? About a year after the bombings, Populus polled British Muslims on various subjects, including their responses to 7/7. Only 6% thought that “the 7/7 bombers were acting according to the true principles of Islam”, 13% thought that “The 7/7 bombers should be considered martyrs” and 16% thought that “The 7/7 attacks were wrong but the cause of the bombers was right.” This suggests a fairly sizeable fringe, but no-one could possibly read those polls and think “Boy, most British Muslims simply loved those bombings, and are slavering for more! This truly proves that Islam itself is the problem, and all Muslims want to see us dead or slaves in the new, glorious Caliphate!”

As usual, there’s some of the usual demographic panic, where Hirsi Ali suggests that Muslims will become the majority in Britain in the next 50 years. Seeing as Muslims currently make up a paltry 3% of the British population, even making the very questionable assumptions that Muslims wouldn’t integrate further into British society and only marry amongst themselves, Muslim women would have to be squeezing out babies on Fordist principles for this to make any kind of sense. I suspect Hirsi Ali is bullshitting us.

One can probably tell I find Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s commitment to rationalism slightly underwhelming; more totemic than actual, using philosophers as human shields and massed ranks of infantry than through any sustained intellectual challenge. Just another front in the ongoing, and utterly fucking interminable culture wars. But then, that’s why she’s at the AEI, and I’m here at my blog. Warfare is fun, easy, and cheap, especially for the armchair generals and keyboard warriors.

Update: Is it just me, or is it really fucking creepy how the author keeps going over Hirsi Ali’s looks in every other paragraph of that piece?

Categories: Islamobollocks, Politics

Frost/Nixon

There’s a curious compulsion within the American conservative movement to classify everything as either “conservative” or “liberal”, much like the Daily Mail’s attempts to order the natural world into things which cause cancer, and those which do not. Mostly one finds – unexpectedly, of course – that “good” things (Mom, apple pie, whichever film is most critically acclaimed at the time of writing) are conservative, and “bad” things (syphilis, plagues of locusts, BBC Three) are liberal. But really whatever is most conservative is usually that which it is tactically expedient to claim as conservative.

It’s kind of like cheerleading – prurient, unseemly, and irrelevant to the matter at hand – and it reached its’ apogee in literal cheerleading for John McCain’s campaign, where everything, from the financial crisis, to McCain not remembering how many houses he had, to being continually behind Obama in the polls, was “good news for John McCain”.

The peerless Roy Edroso links to one such attempt, with the National Review’s Charlotte Hays claiming that:

“The blizzard is definitely a force for conservatism”

Cold, potentially deadly, and mostly wind?

and not only because it has had the global-warming crowd scrambling for explanations.

Oh, of course. It’s always nice when someone says something this bone-shatteringly stupid (weather is not climate, and you cannot generalise conditions in one area to the whole world). It acts as your own personal filter; if they believe that, then it’s likely much of what they believe will probably be nonsense. This is a little unfair, but in a world where there is vast trenches of information waiting to be dredged, you need some shortcuts. Otherwise you’re just going to be bringing up a lot of muck, and precious little brass.

But wait! There’s more than just boiler-plate climate change baiting here:

The blizzard reveals something basic:  Liberals in government want to tell us what to eat, counsel us about how and when to die, and in general attempt to engineer our lives. But when reality knocks, they can’t do the basic stuff such as clearing the streets so that newborns don’t die in bloody apartment-building lobbies. Mayor Bloomberg may be receiving an unfair amount of criticism for his lackluster [sic] performance in coping with Mother Nature, given the almost unprecedented nature of the storm, but the unplowed city streets provide a metaphor for the nanny state: It can order us to do anything, but it can’t take care of the basic obligations of government.

It is a compelling philosophical argument against liberalism that it cannot save everyone all the time, apparently. It is also responsible for unforeseen extremes of weather. Despite the storm being “almost unprecedented” and criticism against Bloomberg being “unfair”, liberalism, by not using its’ Power Ring or X-Ray Vision or supreme, omnipotent clairvoyance, killed a newborn baby, because it’s spending money on poor people and safety at work and other useless fripperies. You can’t have road gritting services and unemployment benefits, apparently. That would just be ridiculous.

But at least a child is dead! It’s good news for conservatism!

Cthulhu/Kodos ’12!

November 3, 2010 3 comments

And so this is fun, watching the Democrats blow a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something vaguely centre-leftish. Of course, since they’re not technically a centre-left party, but an agglomeration of almost everyone in America who is not definably crazy, it means you have a party whose ideological range leans from mild social democracy to reactionary social conservatism. It’s not exactly the optimum centre-left vehicle, as d-squared notes. And despite calls for sanity, that only seemed to get everyone excited because it was vaguely ironic, which worries the hell out of me.

Estimates that the Republicans are going to get about 50-60 seats, and about 8 or so seats in the Senate seem about right so far, although it had been argued that there was an extremely wide variance in possible outcomes. It seems like the mushy middle was the best place to go, although there are bright spots in the dark firmament. Not many, though.

More to come, as more votes come in.

Updates under the fold. An elitist fold, hiding the true hatred all left-wingers have for America from salt-of-the-earth billionaires!

Read more…

Categories: Elections

Dear America

Please don’t suck too bad tonight.

That is all.

Categories: Elections, Politics

A slight return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Well, bugger, I’ve neglected this, haven’t I? I do apologise. I am an unreliable sort.

As a return, here’s, as usual, a slightly half-formed post with an economic tinge.

I’m often torn when it comes to the matter of modern financial capitalism. Considering the utter rottenness of the edifice, part of me wants to go full wild-eyed anarcho-communist and actively tear the whole goddamn thing down. Watch it burn. This would be tremendously satisfying, a propaganda of the deed on a mass scale.

It’s also thematically satisfying, I guess, since our financial overlords hold what is essentially an economic timebomb over us all; without the effective regulation needed, there is no safeguard against another major financial crisis in the future. Sometimes, when in a drunkenly belligerent, political mood, I have described Wall Street as functionally equivalent to terrorists; using economic violence, and the threat of economic violence, to their own benefit. I was only half-joking, largely because terrorism is usually the tactic of the politically and militarily weak, rather than the powerful, who can easily employ much greater force, and much greater destruction.

And that’s where the problem lies; the destructive force of a financial crash would hurt the self-described Masters of the Universe, it’s true. As individuals, some, perhaps many would be reduced to bankruptcy. Others would find their wealth, their source of credibility, greatly denuded. The status of financial capitalism as a whole, as the giant which it is almost impossible to tackle critically, would possibly be destroyed outright. It would make sane reform much easier. But it would hurt so many people as collateral damage, honest hardworking people whose only vice is believing that the American Dream will, in fact, give the sucker an even break. And I couldn’t do that, even if I had the capability. I couldn’t immiserate that many people, just to shatter their illusions about what the financial elite are doing to ruin their livelihoods and their nation for generations to come.

And so the illusion continues; and due to the survival of modern financial capitalism thanks to things like TARP (which is an incredibly successful, competently administered program, in terms of what it set out to do and what it has accomplished) and the American stimulus bill (similarily, with the caveat that it was much too small and wrongly focused to have the necessary effect on demand hoped), means that it managed to get away with causing the crisis relatively untouched, and even managed to eventually deflect the criticism to government spending. The crisis suddenly became the fault of modern society’s bete noir, the overbearing, statist, bureaucratic government and the amount of debt it held, despite that debt largely being a function of a) the recession, as tax receipts fell and benefit claims rose as a result of the financial institutions’ malfeasance, and b) how much it cost to make sure the little fuckers didn’t take us all down with them, Lehman Brothers style. And so the enemies of growth became not the unstable financial sector and the house price bubble, but benefit cheats and public services. A familiar story, if not a truthful one, and I can only hope Clegg, Osborne and Cameron’s tongues blacken, swell and choke them as a karmic result of the continual mistruths and false, pious stories told in lieu of data to support their claims.

It actually reminds me a little of a specious argument made to me about climate change. It was along the lines of “We probably don’t have to do anything, it’ll probably resolve itself. Who’s heard of the hole in ozone layer anymore?”

Of course, the reason we don’t hear about the hole in the ozone layer any more is that we bloody well did something about it. That argument really made me despair a little. There’s a significant body of people who seem to be ignorant of the processes of government and how we resolve issues, and seems to take it as given that some problems are eternal, or will be worked out on their own without any real contribution from anyone.

The next financial crisis will come, and it may come soon. Ironically, it may develop out of the ashes of the last financial crisis, merely proving what a gigantic clusterfuck that was for everybody involved. Sorting out the twisted, complex, and sometimes fradulent financial instruments which were responsible for the mess we’re currently in could cause the great houses of capital to collapse inwards again as investors realise to what scale they were had and as houses are taken away from homeowners who are supposed to take the banks at face value when they say they have to foreclose, without any corroborating paperwork.

And what happens when it comes? Another bailout, another increase in debt held by governments in order to weather the storm of collapsing financial institutions, more slashing of public services as the primary function of government becomes the stabilizing wheels on a careening, wonky unicycle of finance, rather than, say, the general welfare of its’ citizens, until the kind of governments that we know in the developed world, mostly stable, mostly liberal, mostly democracies, could collapse under the weight.

I’d like to hope that won’t be the case, that as with Marx’s predictions about the death-throes of capitalism merely being its’ birth-pangs, we learn from our mistakes slowly and painfully,  still fumbling our way towards a tolerably humane society. But I’m not holding my hopes up just yet.

So, Yeah…

Ok, ok, I know, I’m shit. TEZHI has never really got off the ground and life (specifically moving into a place which has no internets) has got in the way of this blog. But we shall begin anew! A year zero! But not in a Republican France or Khmer Rouge kind of way. Well, maybe a Republican France kind of way before it started to look like a Saw film with better dialogue, which is not difficult, I must admit.

To give me impetus, Facebookery has been connected! Oh me! Oh my! And this most thrilling and yet at the same time most boring of election campaigns is still in our midst! Hooray!

Stay tuned for a review of manifestoes, with, as always, a number of obscenities.