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Friday 20 March 2020

It's all about China

Let's not forget where the Wuhan virus originated. Despite a highly co-ordinated campaign that in the UK has roped in the usual suspects including Sadiq Khan and David Lammy, the public are stubborn in continuing to say and post that this virus comes from China. Even parts of the UN (no surprise) have launched a campaign to tell us that the Wuhan virus is the result of deforestation and global warming, and it's nothing to do with eating bats or wet markets at all.

But sometimes there are no heroes and no villains. I wrote a post recently that regarded China favourably in airfreighting vital medical kit to Italy at a time when France and Germany had banned sending such stuff and the EU was deaf to Italian appeals. As usual, one well-informed commentator added the necessary perspective to the piece. No, neither China nor the EU deserve congratulation. Neither are heroes, both have damaged Italy. I read it wrong.

Where I stand absolutely shoulder to shoulder with Sadiq Khan and David Lammy is that this is not the fault of people from China who are working and raising families in our communities. Perhaps if they'd had the balls or the sense to say so instead of excusing the People's Dictatorship of China then their message might have been more widely heard. Any attacks on or discrimination or harassment against Chinese people is inexcusable and unacceptable. The irony is that many, at least in London, will be those and the descendants of those who have fled the PRC.

The Chinese government, bless 'em, having precipitated a global pandemic and millions of (coming) deaths by first trying to hide then lying about the Wuhan virus are taking a lesson from the EU in using this as a 'beneficial crisis' to tighten the Belt and Road bonds with Italy and drive a wedge between the country and the rest of Europe. The 'Chinese School' cartoon below has recently surfaced on social media. Well, sorry, guys - this sort of crude propaganda may play well amongst the third world, but Europeans remain amongst the most politically sophisticated voters in the world, and this just makes China look crude and silly.

Thursday 19 March 2020

Shooting the first rioter - a London timeline

If one thing is clear from the chaotic scenes on TV and social media of the undisciplined selfishness at our supermarkets, it is clear that the UK is not the place that many liked to think it was. And London, filthy, crowded, raw London with the highest multi-drug resistant TB rates outside Iraq, Ethiopia and Afghanistan, is worst of all. When Quentin Reynolds described the resilience of Londoners on Humphrey Jennings's 'London Can Take It' he was documenting a very different London to today's city.

Watching the fights break out over toilet roll at a time when there was no food shortage and the chip shops were open, one has to wonder what it will be like when food shortages start to bite, as they surely will. People who have never used their kitchens in London will be lost. Me? I love to cook. So my shelves are already full with dried ingredients and the staples - polpa, coconut milk, onions, dried onions, garlic, garlic paste, tomato paste, and herbs and spices in ranks of big Kilner jars (tip: never again buy those sully little supermarket bottles. Order your Turmeric, smoked Paprika, peppercorns, Garam Masala, mustard powder etc in 200g packets - 200g of Turmeric is the same price as one of those little curvy 28g jars.

When the pizza and cocaine run short - and you can bet the crisis is affecting the supply chains for illegal drugs as well as everything else - then tempers will also run short. Someone will pull out a zombie knife in Tesco. A shop worker will die in a pool of blood, and armed troops will be posted to London's supermarkets. A wilding gang will run at a guarded supermarket entrance, and a young soldier will open fire.

It hasn't even started yet.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Looking on the bright side ...

I must admit, against all the odds, that there are glimmers of pleasure in this global crisis. Rather than the free-market approach of letting 520,000 of us die, the government have opted for a national lockdown, which will see the UK's deaths this year rise only from the usual 600,000 to 620,000. Call it the People's Covid Strategy if you like - and it certainly depends on co-operation from everyone. And as in WWII, when the population had to make most of the sacrifices, there will be a reckoning to be paid. First, an evening-out of social inequality; back then it took the effects of a universal ration, in which even the King had the Buckingham Palace baths marked with the max 5" water level and the princesses had ration books, to persuade the masses to comply. Second, a universal service obligation. And finally, deep and permanent changes to society to enshrine fairness, equity and limits to the pre-war inequalities.

Jeremy Warner in the 'graph has somewhat stolen my thunder with this observation
Once the pinup boy for sailing close to the wind entrepreneurialism, and as such a mentor to many, Richard Branson is now widely demonised; the gist of it is how dare a tax exile with estimated wealth of £4bn ask for a bailout by UK taxpayers. Nevermind that thousands of jobs are at risk, he can, as one well-known Dragon’s Den celebrity investor put it, “b***** off”.
Anyone on Twitter yesterday cannot have failed to notice the universal hostility toward Richard Branson - and particularly to the thought that a taxpayer funded bailout should help his airline whilst he retained his £4bn personal fortune. It was revelatory. Thatcher's poster boy is now a figure of mass hatred. It must have sent a shudder through the 0.1% of the mega-wealthy, and be causing a little anxiety amongst the 1% who have so benefited from Globalism. That's going to be part of the price of this war - demands for an end to obscene rewards. And yes, I'd go along with that.

Another pleasure has been the utter helplessness of Labour. They so want to protest and be angry about something, but they can't find it. The nadir must be yesterday's demand for Covid victims to be classified according to self-identified gender as well as ethnicity and sexuality. Sweeties, men die more because we express greater levels of ACE2, to which the SARS-CoV-2 virus binds in cell-invasion. It doesn't help being a trannie. As far as Covid-19 is concerned, you're still a bloke.

A downside, as I posted a few days ago, is that Whitehall reform is on hold - we actually need a central command and control structure during the crisis. But this is not a reason, or an excuse, for maintaining a Big Central State once we have beaten this thing. Much more on this as time goes on.

And finally, the world's nation states have just amply demonstrated that supranational government is a pointless chimera, and that the people are best served by less Europe, not more, and by less UN. In concert yesterday, the leaders of the US, UK, Germany, France and Japanese, the G7, all announced co-ordinated bailouts of hundreds of billions. If everyone prints money, it doesn't count. And not a peep from the irrelevant EU or UN. The nation state is back.

And even though there's yet no hint of a vaccine, minds in the UK are already turning to a post-Globalist world; AI, computer printing, strategic national capacity. And our effects on our environment are quickly becoming manifest; clear water and visible fish in Venice's canals, and here blue skies free of contrails, and the deafening loudness of spring birdsong. We may not want to give up this green-ness, not want to go back to the filth and degradation. Universal basic incomes are also being mentioned without hoots of derision.

If you look, there's a silver lining to most clouds.

Tuesday 17 March 2020


Actors age like fine wine and most are better with age. I've drunk and laughed with many, including an ex, and I like them as a breed - but they're definitely more fun when they've reached a stage at which they can laugh at their own profession. I've got a deep fund of actor jokes they've shared with me over the years, but a few are favourites. The late Billy Jay, an old time Rep actor, reminded me of the precarious life of an actor when we caught sight through the window of the French of someone carrying a box of Romeo y Julietas. Old-school actors, he explained, used to carry their make-up in cigar boxes. On spotting his thespian friend on the other side of Shaftesbury Avenue carrying such a cigar box one blade waved across the traffic and with stage-face asked optimistically 'Working?' the response was a shake of the head. "Moving" came the reply.

London's theatres are going dark. We are losing a large part of the magic that lives amongst us, for the live stage is a potent conjuration, an experience that leaves even the jaded and unimpressed changed, and mostly improved. Not just the actors on stage, but the whole backstage armies so skilled in lights, paint, ropes and canvas and mixing boards who form little animated clumps in pubs from the Welsh Harp to the Coach and beyond and whose presence amongst us adds immeasurably to the joy and quality of West End life.

I've just read Philip Ziegler's 'London at War 1939 - 1945' in which the capability of theatreland to survive and even flourish during the blitz and the following attritional bombing campaigns is well-described. This time that won't even be a possibility - this nasty little virus will succeed where Herr Goering failed (and we without a Murial let alone a 'Miss Hitler' to curse).

So here's a plea. In all the measures to mitigate the effects of this thing, let's not forget the theatres, and the people that make them work, and not just the West End but every Rep in the land that brings the magic of the stage to our lives. It will cost a lot less than maintaining the billionaire Richard Branson in his offshore lifestyle, and bring a lot more benefit to many more lives.

Monday 16 March 2020

Capitalism good, Globalism bad

Take a look at this graph of UK GDP growth from 1955 to just about now. Clearly, it's in two halves, as they say - but what marked the change of the roller coasters of the economy in the sixties, seventies and early eighties and the dull, mediocre, flat performance since then? The 2008 shock is the only visible bit of excitement (though the virus will do something interesting)

I've been reading David Graeber, lefty LSE academic and Corbyn supporter, but a man with half a brain. His observations are good, his conclusions dire. Here are a couple of good bits, the first on Neoliberalism -
.. global economic performance over the last thirty years has been decidedly mediocre. With one or two spectacular exceptions (notably China, which significantly ignored most neoliberal prescriptions), growth rates have been far below what they were in the days of the old-fashioned, state-directed, welfare-state-oriented capitalism of the fifties, sixties, and even seventies. By its own standards, then, the project was already a colossal failure even before the 2008 collapse.
He manages to miss the real reason for this dire economic performance despite describing its manifestation .
While the new free market ideology has framed itself above all as a rejection of bureaucracy, it has, in fact, been responsible for the first administrative system that has operated on a planetary scale, with its endless layering of public and private bureaucracies: the IMF, World Bank, WTO, trade organizations, financial institutions, transnational corporations, NGOs.
Yes, Globalism. What Globalism has managed to achieve is to destroy the benefits of the version of capitalism that made us rich up until about 1990. Oh not rich in terms of disposable incomes, consumer toys, cars that we don't own but in the important things.

You may also note that the falling of the Wall and the start of NATO's decline also coincides with this Globalism - indeed, helped to enable it. All economics is human behaviour, so here's an anecdote.

Back in the 1970s I had a gap year before going to university. At the end of the year, I had enough saved as a deposit on a little flint-rubble cottage, which cost the princely sum of £5,250. The attraction was the rear garden, which was huge, with a little orchard of six trees and enough room to run a gaggle of hens and grow a crop of tobacco - but that was for later years. I was going away, and my student grant wouldn't pay the mortgage - no problem. A quick call to the USAF produced the first of my Master Sergeants, superlative tenants whose rent payments were generous and warranted by the US government. That sort of thing was possible back in those spiky, variable years.

If you measure wealth not in the volume of cheap £10 electric drills and £5 jeans one can buy but in having a stake in the country, a country with a standing army of over 100,000, a navy of a least 50 warships and an air force with more than a handful of squadrons, in which there was the freedom to take the sort of financial risks that we did, and enjoy the rewards that we did, then we were rich. Pre-Globalism we also had personal freedom and independence to a far greater degree than subsists now, and even though the State owned a lot more business and industry than it does now, it was also somehow a much smaller State. The Big State that supports Globalism is also supported by what Graeber calls Bullshit Jobs -
But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.
The paradox, as Graeber points out, is that the new de-nationalised capitalist Neoliberal West shouldn't allow such massive economic inefficiencies, such a huge waste of resources. Yet it does. That's an answer in itself. What's the point of having a Big State, a regulatory state, if you don't have a society replete with willing, conformist drones to enforce all the regulations?

I'm sorry, but all the cheap Chinese electric drills in the world and the availability of flash new cars I don't own don't come close in compensating for the real wealth of those pre-Globalist days.

The costs to the UK economy of over regulation, from the IEA
The report concludes regulation has become a political tool, used to drive social or distributive objectives, rather than to correct market failures. Failure of regulation, including over-regulation, has led to increasing barriers to entry for new businesses, stagnating competition between incumbents, and in many cases no evidence of beneficial outcomes for consumers.

Regulations are being judged on their intentions – not their outcomes – and increasingly weak mechanisms for accountability of state regulators risk undermining the rule of law, the report warns.

Sunday 15 March 2020

Dan Hannan is confused

Dan Hannan is an odd cove. His habit of buttoning up all three buttons on his suit earned him the nickname 'cockvirgin' on Twitter, and indeed there is something of the prissy schoolboy about him that limits the human warmth necessary for political success. Still, he was on the right side over Brexit and has been loyal to the party. It's just a shame his piece in the Telegraph today is so confused between globalism and globalisation. I suspect he knows. I suspect his piece is the first of many we will see in the coming months defending the interests of the global corporates as Covid-19 casts them as villains. It's not a good time for the CBI.

For any newcomers, globalisation is the neutral and unmanaged process through which trade, travel and technology makes the world a smaller place. Cheap airline travel, capitalism, electricity and the internet have brought 4G phones to the favelas of Rio and South African townships, primary health care and the polio vaccine to equatorial Africa and the Hindu Kush. Even the floods of young male migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Bangladesh heading for the Greek border are followed by mobile phone charging vans equipped with adaptors for everything from a Nokia to an iPhone, selling juice for a few Turkish lire.

Globalism is the process under which capital seeks those places with the lowest factor costs - labour, power, land, raw materials, transport, regulation, penalties for environmental degradation and pollution - in which to invest. Globalists love supranational government, the globalisation of commercial law and standards, open borders, free movement of people, capital and goods and everything else that facilitates friction-free profitability across the globe. Internationalists, in contrast to globalists, want wealth-making trade between sovereign nations, not for the world to become a single technocracy.

Globalism has lifted billions of the world's people out of absolute poverty. It has also hollowed-out the middle and working classes in the UK, Europe and North America. Median incomes have remained completely flat from 2008 until this year, whilst the 1% have grown hugely more wealthy. Globalism has destroyed our post war social mobility, globalism means our children will never be as wealthy as their parents and it has created a bitterly divided and unequal society. When Hannan's Telegraph piece claims 'Globalisation brought us unprecedented riches' it is false on two counts. First, it was not globalisation but globalism that so altered the world's economies. Secondly, it was not us to whom globalism brought unprecedented riches but 'them'.

The fact is that globalism has left the UK in a position in which we have not a single manufacturer of the type of ventilator we will need in the tens of thousands. The PM has mobilised British industry and we will put our taxes into British businesses to remedy this; sorry, Dyson, you get nothing. You've gone to Singapore. The irony is that the 1% here who have so enjoyed the material benefits of globalism will be no more exempt from ending their lives with their lungs flooded with Covid-19 than will the elderly working classes whose families they have robbed of futures.


EU/EEA and the UK Cases    Deaths  
Italy 17660 1268
Spain 4231 121
France 3661 79
Germany 3062 5
Denmark 804 0
Netherlands 804 5
Sweden 775 1
United Kingdom 707 10
Norway 621 1
Belgium 559 3
Austria 504 1
Greece 190 1
Finland 155 0
Czech Republic 150 0
Slovenia 141 0
Iceland 117 0
Portugal 112 0
Ireland 91 1
Romania 89 0
Estonia 79 0
Poland 68 2
Luxembourg 38 1
Bulgaria 31 1
Croatia 31 0
Slovakia 30 0
Hungary 25 0
Latvia 19 0
Cyprus 14 0
Malta 12 0
Lithuania 6 0
Liechtenstein 4 0
Total 34790 1500