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Saturday, 31 January 2009

Recession fears for intergenerational conflict?

I've blogged before on the dangers of intergenerational conflict; in 2007 it was a polarisation between a generation growing profoundly wealthy on the rise in house prices, a generation that had enjoyed free university education, had secure pensions and whose values dominated our society, and a generation with no prospect of stepping onto the housing ladder, faced with working into their seventies and with a profound disengagement from those values.

Now the recession is hitting, I think the prospects for intergenerational conflict are growing.

The most vigorous and influential generation - variously termed 'Generation Y', 'the iGeneration', ''the Millennials' or 'the net generation' - is not a western but a global phenomenon. As globalisation has encouraged the growth of middle classes worldwide, in India and Brazil GenY have experienced the amenities of 'western' culture; in post-soviet Europe they are the generation that has grown up without the shadow of totalitarianism.

Generation Yers have more in common with eachother across the globe than they have with their parents. Shared values include impatience, a strong entrepreneurial drive, materialism and self-interest.

I've got a couple of Gen Yers in the office, and the contrast between my generation's approach and theirs couldn't be greater. They're very honest about their lack of loyalty; they'll move elsewhere as soon as they see a better deal. They are convinced they deserve more money. They resent my correcting their embarrassingly illiterate business letters before I let them go in the post. They won't give a minute more time than they're paid for, and although they take drug taking and same-sex relationships for granted, they can be quite shockingly illiberal, self-justifying and devoid of that degree of altruism and compassion that tends to run through my generation.

And it's this generation that will suffer most in a recession. They'll be amongst the first redundancies, or burdened with student debt will be unable to gain even a starter job. They still can't get on the housing ladder because banks aren't lending. They're faced with paying taxes all their working lives to pay for our boom, and paying even more taxes to pay for our old age welfare and health care. They've grown up without those ties of community or authority of intermediate institutions that would anchor them, and have never experienced recession. The shock will be great.

And I don't think they'll listen to political voices that call for patience, the long drag, struggle, bear it with virtue and all those nostrums that tend to resonate with my generation. They'll be impatient for rapid change. They'll want the rewards now that they feel are their due.

Politicians, especially Labour ones, still imagine that class is the dividing characteristic as we go into recession. I think it's age. The working-class trade unionist and the professional manager of my generation have more in common with eachother than either have with Generation Yers. And this, I think, has a real potential for intergenerational conflict.

They won't be happy - up to the 'quality mark'?

There's a story in today's Mail under Matthew Drake's byline that typifies everything that's gone wrong with this old girl of Fleet Street.

The whole story is about the dropping of the 'Church of England creed'. Now Cramner may correct me, but I've never heard of such a thing. It took a complete reading of the piece to work out that the author was writing about the Nicene Creed, a universal Christian affirmation of belief that's been at the core of Christian worship since 325.

That the author appears not to have heard of this could have been corrected by the subs quietly inserting a para about the Council of Nicaea. But they don't seem to have heard of it either.

The piece degenerates into farce as it goes on to say
Former army officer Patrick Mercer, who went on to become the Bishop of Exeter, last night led calls for the Creed to be returned.
Mr Mercer is indeed a capable man with a lengthy CV, but I was unaware that the Bishopric of Exeter was amongst his accomplishments. It wasn't, of course. It was his father, Eric Mercer, who held that ecclesiastical office. Perhaps this is what Matthew Drake wrote, and the subs just butchered it. Who knows.

The NUJ supports an idea launched in 2007 by the chairman of the PCC for pieces written by professional journalists that appear online to carry a digital 'quality mark'. He said ' there is a crying need to be able to distinguish between what is rubbish and what is quality, between what is fantasy and what reliable.'

I'm starting to agree. But I'm not sure the Mail would qualify these days.

Friday, 30 January 2009

From tears to rages?

The Press Association reports:
There were suggestions that the Prime Minister spent most of the day meeting individual MPs and pleading with them not to vote against the Government, with some sources describing him as "emotional and at times tearful". A No 10 spokesman dismissed the suggestion Mr Brown had been tearful as "nonsense".
Meanwhile the Mail reported:

One Labour MP told the Evening Standard he "recently got through three mobile phones in one week by hurling against the wall in anger". The Mail's political commentator Peter Oborne told the paper Mr Brown has somewhat of a "reputation for hurling stuff about the place". Mr Oborne, writing in the Spectator magazine, also revealed the Prime Minister's short fuse with secretaries; "He is said to shout at them abusively. He is reported to have impatiently turfed one of the girls out of her chair and sat down to use the keyboard himself." In another fit of temper, reported by the Mail on Sunday, Mr Brown was said to have upset his driver by picking up his phone and hurling it across the car.

Tears and rages? It sounds like what parents of young children term 'the terrible twos'. Not being a psychiatrist, I'd hesitate to use the term infantilism.

The drift into protectionism

Every economist, every banker and every politician gifted with a couple of brain cells agrees; the worst, the very worst, thing that nations can do during recession is to implement protectionist policies. It's counter-intuitive, but our best interests are served by keeping production workers in Shanghai in work by buying their goods. The Shanghai middle class will flourish, and buy Scotch whisky and Burberry scarves.

Globalisation, and the dismantling of tariffs and trade barriers, has done more to alleviate global poverty than decades of hand-wringing and benefit gigs. The number of people living on less than $1,000 a year has dropped from 50% of the world's population in the 1970s to 17% today. Those living on the World Bank's danger line of $1 a day has dropped to less than 5% of the world's population.

But politicians have always been dangerous fools.

Brown's call for 'British jobs for British workers' was intended to appeal to a white working class vote deserting Labour for the BNP, but appears on the placards of unemployed welders lobbying for refinery building jobs in Lincolnshire. Hilary Benn is urging us to buy British food, and is planning a crackdown to expose wicked foreign food not clearly labelled as such.

More seriously, Obama's $820bn stimulus package includes a ban on imports of steel for US construction projects. Other tariffs on imported goods may follow in the wake of his call to 'buy American'.

Politicians will erect tariffs and trade barriers for the benefit of their poll ratings, not for the good of their economies. And this will backfire as their trading partners retaliate by imposing their own tariffs; if Brown imposes a 50% import tax on goods from Shanghai, they will impose a 50% import tax on Scotch whisky. We all lose.

Politicians are not only short-termist but vain and hubristic, and it is these dangerous qualities that will encourage the drift into protectionism. Not one, not even the sainted Obama, has shown the quality of leadership needed to reject protectionism. And Brown, the weakest, most pusillanimous and vacillating tumbleweed of them all, will scrabble and grasp for every straw in this, the final phase of his disastrous political career.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Well, would you vote for them?

A charming viral video exposing Labour's nanny state
H/T Iain Dale

Brown's authority evaporates in the Commons

Watching the recording of PMQs on BBC's Parliament channel last night I was struck by Brown's palpable diminution. As every one of Cameron's barbs struck home he tried desperately to rally, struggled with every rehearsed quip printed on his crib-notes. A couple of weeks ago he came up with quite a good riposte - the Tories are the 'do-nothing' party - but a week is a long time for political catch phrases. As Brown ensured he worked this into every reply, it sounded increasingly hollow. He was like the boy in the playground doing Jimmy Durante impressions when the rest of the school had moved on to Hancock.

Brown's uncertainty grew as he realised something was missing. No-one in the playground was laughing. His own benches should have raised a rousing cheer every time he thumped down his catch phrase, but all they managed were a few ragged grunts. His frustration grew visibly. The force had gone out of his punches. As he petulantly flung himself back down on his bench, it was clear that his authority was evaporating fast.

Cameron refrained from using this week's Tory quip - headless chicken - but you could hear it hanging in the air; the Labour benches were expecting it, Brown probably had at least three counter-quips carefully scripted for him in his folder, but it never came. Unspoken, it hung there. The glances from Brown's benches as their leader flailed about were telling. They said headless chicken.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

French strike just a warning shot

The planned national one-day strike in France tomorrow should be a fairly bloodless affair. Teachers, postal workers and state pharmacists are unlikely to riot in an orgy of destruction, unlikely to smash the un-Gallic windows of the US junk food / drink chains. A few anarchists will get beaten by the CRS. The Communists, almost as venerable and revered as Galapagos tortoises, and almost as rare, will have their own sub-strike. Above all, the strike will be French. The unemployed north Africans who crowd the banlieue will not strike for the most part; how can you strike if you don't have a job? But they may take advantage of the chaos to burn a few Citroens.

Tomorrow is a warning shot. If things get really serious, then the differences between France and the UK will start to show. The French can't trust their army not to join the civil protests, let alone trust them to combat the protesters. Neither can the Dutch, Italians, Spanish or Portuguese.

In 2006 these nations formed an integrated EU Gendarmerie, with 900 standing troops and a further 2,300 on call in emergencies. Although technically available to any EU nation needing help to suppress civil disorder, States requiring their services are unlikely to include the UK. Britain has always reserved this role for the army, and indeed the Ceremonial Duties Battalion permanently stationed in London has a lesser known role as the Public Order Battalion.

But how loyal to a Brown government would the British army be? They loathe him, but the suggestion that troops may not act against serious civil disorder in the UK is as repugnant to most serving officers as the suggestion that the Adjutant wears girly's panties and shares with Mark Oaten an interest in glass coffee tables. Brown's ministers must have asked themselves this question. Let's hope it never comes to the test, for Brown would have little reservation I suspect in tasking French and Spanish paramilitaries with shooting English rioters.

Bill of Attainder

As Heffer quite rightly draws to our attention in the Telegraph this morning, no new legislation is needed to rid the Lords of the bent Labour peers. Any MP with a slot for a private member's bill to his credit can introduce the following Bill:

Be it therefore enacted by the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, and by the Lords and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by authority of the same, that the Baron Truscott of St James', the Baron Moonie of Bennochy, the Baron Snape of Wednesbury and the Baron Taylor of Blackburn, for the heinous dishonour of Parliament, stand and be adjudged and attainted of dishonour, and shall suffer degradation from the title style and dignity of Barons of the Peerage of the United Kingdom, and incur the forfeitures of their goods and chattels, lands, tenements and hereditaments of any estate of freehold or inheritance in the said United Kingdom, which the said Barons or any other to their use, or in trust for him, have or had, the day of the first sitting of this Parliament, or at any time since.

Job done. And a few bob back for HM Treasury to boot.

Updike - a rich chronicle

There is a passage in 'The Coup' that describes the immolation of an American aid worker by an African tribe. As he dances atop a small mountain of boxes of US-made breakfast cereal and the flames lick upwards, uncomprehendingly he continues to extol the nutritional benefits of his pyre. Updike evokes the smell of his teenage bedroom, overlaid with scents of plastic model aircraft glue, his college-found vocation and his open, unselfish desire to help the third world. It is a quite masterful piece of writing, not without a dark humour, that sticks in the mind.

Updike chronicled with exquisite skill the paradoxes of being American. Through many presidential terms, and momentous changes in American society, his canon of work weaves a thread of acutely perceptive observation and understanding. If you are not already a fan, I commend him to you.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Iraq: We need to draw a line under this.

The Americans would say we need 'closure'. Since 2003 this has been festering away, claiming one dead scientist, Gilligan's BBC career, and the lives of 178 of our armed forces and several hundred thousand Iraqis.

I know Iraq split the right, and I'm not seeking to re-open those wounds. I was one of those who marched against the war on 15th February 2003. I never believed Blair's spin and lies. Neither did I have any time for the Ba'athists. As time has gone on, it's become clearer that Blair lied to the nation. So far, there's not been enough evidence to put Blair, Hoon, Straw and Irvine in the dock at the International Court, but slowly and surely it's coming.

The Information Tribunal judgement that has ordered the government to release the minutes of Cabinet meetings in March 2003 is critical. Brown will probably appeal to the High Court to resist releasing them, or some heavily censored versions will be released that fail to provide crucial evidence against the Blair cabal.

And I am reassured that smart young lawyers are adding every day to their dossiers that will one day produce an indictment against Blair.

Yes, I'm still angry. I'm angry that he lied to me, took me for a fool, used all the power and panoply of office to dismiss my disbelief, concocted glib justifications and has acted ever since to cover up his sordid crimes.

As William Hague said in support of the disclosure order
The sooner we can learn the lessons of the war the sooner we can apply them. It is imperative to begin an inquiry before memories have faded, emails have been deleted and documents have disappeared.
Apologies to readers who have taken an opposing view - and I won't be harping on about this. But I find even after five years my anger and resentment against Blair is undiminished.

Labour's £185bn a year waste

In a leader today the Telegraph highlights Osborne's speech to the ICA calling for a new culture of fiscal discipline in Whitehall. The piece describes an increase in public spending under Labour from £350bn a year in 1997 to £630bn today.

If Labour had kept spending at the safe Tory levels they inherited, how much should they be spending now? The answer's in the Treasury GDP deflator. £630bn a year now would have been £496bn a year in 1997/98 - £146bn a year more, at 1997 prices, than the Conservatives were spending. That's £185bn a year at today's value.

And for what? Lunatic social engineering experiments, schools that have failed utterly to teach the basics of literacy and numeracy, a tsunami of cash thrown at health that has only marginally reduced waiting times, a repressive and illiberal army of prodnoses, crumbling national infrastructure, a collapsing power grid, intrusive quangos that seek entry to our bins, wine racks and fridges, a paucity of manufacturing and industrial investment, hundreds of thousands of media studies graduates working in call centres and five million citizens locked into welfare slavery. That's what Brown's extra £185bn a year has bought.

And that's not counting the opportunity cost of having allowed people to make their own choices about how to spend their money, rather than Brown's State seizing that right. As UK plc goes into 2009 facing a time of intense personal anguish and hardship for millions of families, remember Harman's vacuous grin as she wastes yet more of that £185bn, remember Straw's smug smirk as he wastes yet more of that £185bn and remember that the self-satisfied inane certainty of Brown's cabinet that they're fighting some lunatic socialist crusade is at the price of hardship, pain, heartbreak and suffering paid by our people.

There are not tumbrils enough for this corrupt and depraved cabal.

Sorry, Gordon, no one will buy it

Matthew Parris, writing in the Sunday Times, warned:

There's a piece of fashionable political nonsense you should be vaccinated against before the virus hits us: a whole vocabulary of ministerial happy thoughts to which you'd best learn to block your ears.

The coming nonsense is that when this recession is over, countries such as Britain should seek and find our salvation in (in what will become a buzz phrase of 2009-10) a “new economic model”. ... as our prosperity sinks, the politicians' rhetoric will go skyward. “New challenges”, “a new vision”, “post-millennial economy”, “thinking outside the box”... how wearisome this inspirational PowerPoint pap becomes.
Sage advice. But it seems Gordon Brown isn't listening:
As some want, we could close our markets – for capital, financial services, trade and for labour – and therefore reduce the risks from globalisation. But that would reduce global growth, deny us the benefits of global trade and confine millions to global poverty. Or we could view the threats and challenges we face today as the difficult birth-pangs of a new global order.
Oooh! 'the difficult birth pangs of a new global order', eh?

And it's now becoming clear. Faced with the obloquy of history, with his reputation in tatters, exposed as a third-rate intellect, an emotional cripple and a deluded narcissist, Brown is seeking to cast himself in the role of midwife at the birth of a 'new global order'.

Gordon, this is about as convincing as Josef Mengele describing himself as a paediatrician. You're no midwife; you're a backstreet abortionist. You've drenched the nation in gin and bitter herbs and taken a knitting needle to the foetus. As far as Britain's recession goes, much of it was of your making.

I don't think even Parris could have foreseen the breathtaking audacity of this latest specious excuse from this dead PM walking.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The good news about the bent peers

Look at the background of the four bent lords:
  • ex-Labour councillor
  • ex-Labour MEP
  • ex-Labour MP
  • ex-Labour MP
Leopards don't change their spots when they start wearing ermine, if you'll excuse the clumsy metaphor.

For those that see this as an excuse to abolish the House of Lords, remember that this is an equally good argument for un-reforming the Lords, booting out all the ex-politicians and leaving the place to the more honourable hereditary peers.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Integrated EU blacklist of 'criminals' is here

Have you paid a parking fine recently? Got three points on your licence? Been formally warned by the council for your bin protruding on the footway? (yep, I have had the £1,000 fine threat on the last one) Been suspended from your Sunday football league for rough tackling? (yes, seriously) Congratulations! Your records could soon be added to a pan-European database of subversives. This EU Council decision of 20th January on the establishment of a pan-EU 'criminal' database includes the following 'offences' :-
  • Offences related to waste
  • Unintentional environmental offences
  • Insult of the State, Nation or State symbols
  • Insult or resistance to a representative of public authority
  • Public order offences, breach of the public peace
  • Revealing a secret or breaching an obligation of secrecy
  • Unintentional damage or destruction of property
  • Offences against migration law - an "Open category" (offences undefined thus all encompassing)
  • Offences against military obligations - an "Open category" (offences undefined thus all encompassing)
  • Unauthorised entry or residence
  • Other offences an "Open category" (offences undefined thus all encompassing)
  • Other unintentional offences
  • Prohibition from frequenting some places
  • Prohibition from entry to a mass event
  • Placement under electronic surveillance ("fixed or mobile" - eg: home, car, mobile phone etc)
  • Withdrawal of a hunting / fishing license
  • Prohibition to play certain games/sports
  • Prohibition from national territory
  • Personal obligation - an "Open category" (offences undefined thus all encompassing)
  • "Fine" - all fines. inc minor non-criminal offences
All those of us who have ever accidentally spilled a cupful of diesel in the water when refuelling, dropped a piece of litter or called the EU circle of stars a fascist and totalitarian symbol are now, officially, criminals. Welcome to the club.

Regional economies the key to recovery

The British economy has never been homogenous. In the mediaeval period, East Anglia was England's most densely populated and wealthy region, packed with villages, churches and fine houses while the people of Lancashire were still scratching in the dirt with sticks. In the nineteenth century, the vast industrial wealth of the north-west raised splendid cities graced with public architecture that boasted the pride and grandeur of their peoples whilst Anglia had become a backwater of poverty and abandonment. That's how it goes.

The recent property bubble always amazed me. I could understand the boom in London and the south-east easily enough, based on demand, but how could this extend to places no-one wanted to live? I went to a wedding in Middlesbrough in the early nineties and one could not only buy a terraced house on a credit card, but half a dozen of them. I toyed for a moment with the idea of maxing out the card and becoming a DHSS slum landlord with six houses packed with profitable doleys. During the late nineties / early oughties boom Middlesbrough property rocketed, despite the fact that no-one wanted to live there. The differences between London prices and Middlesbrough prices closed dramatically. I should have bought that terrace of houses and sold it in 2007.

As von Mises would have pointed out, it was all just too much credit chasing too few worthwhile assets. Now that the markets are starting to function properly again by correcting inflated asset values, regional differences will once again show themselves. London house prices fell by 15% in 2008 but Belfast house prices fell by 33%. Price falls will be greatest where unemployment is the highest.

Secondly, the current size of the client State is unsupportable. Whether the IMF does it or a Conservative government does it, the public sector needs severe pruning. Even Dennis Healey now agrees with Digby-Jones that the civil service could be cut by half.

And the national minimum wage should be abolished. I've never seen the slightest sense in imposing on business with vast factor cost supply and demand differentials a homogenous wage rate. It's nonsense to suppose that London and Bradford have the same labour markets, so why impose the same wage? No, the labour market too must be allowed to correct itself.

And finally we come to regional cross-subsidisation:

The Times today publishes a recent analysis by the CEBR on the size of the client State in the regions. Output and expenditure closely follows the graph above; the State is now responsible for 77.6% of the northern Irish economy, 71.6% of the Welsh economy, and 66.4% of the north-east's economy.

With hundreds of thousands of finance sector and dependent jobs disappearing from London and the south-east, these regions will no longer generate the tax surpluses that have historically subsidised the regional client States. But London and the south-east have a fair degree of 'headroom'; housing demand remains high, the labour market is flexible, there is high mobility of labour and the regions are home to a tradition of successful innovation and entrepreneurship. If London and the south-east are not bled dry by a tax regime that foolishly seeks to maintain the client State in the broken regions, it could well be the economic engine that pulls the country from depression.

This would mean hard choices. Life in Wales, northern Ireland, the north-east and north-west would become very tough. Unemployment would soar. House prices would crash back to credit-card affordability. But isn't this the correction that the markets need?