Capitalism

The Fall of the Berlin Wall and “The End of History”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 12:10am in

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Today (‎9/11/19) marks the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (which did not quite make its own thirtieth anniversary). It will be accompanied by the usual capitalist paeans to the wonders of democracy and the capitalist way of doing things. The following article from Communist Review 8 (later Internationalist Communist) appeared in January 1990 but has never been reproduced digitally before. It was our deeper reflection not only on the collapse of the USSR’s empire in the East but the burgeoning crisis of world capitalism as a whole

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Book Review: Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World by Branko Milanovic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/11/2019 - 10:58pm in

If capitalism has triumphed to become the sole socio-economic system globally, what are the prospects for achieving a fairer world? In his new book Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World, Branko Milanovic examines the historical shifts that have led to capitalism’s dominance and looks at the varieties of capitalism at work today to propose choices to ensure that capitalism delivers a more equitable future. Roberto Iacono praises this remarkable book as possibly the author’s most comprehensive opus so far.

If you are interested in this book review, you can listen to a podcast of Branko Milanovic speaking at the LSE public event, Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World’.

Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World. Branko Milanovic. Harvard University Press. 2019.

Find this book: amazon-logo

Capitalism, Alone by Branko Milanovic is a remarkable book, possibly the author’s most comprehensive opus so far. For economists working on inequality measurement, often accused of dealing with ‘measurement without theory’, Capitalism, Alone provides a novel paradigm within which analysis of distributional issues in different economies and social systems can be placed. The overall thesis of the book is that, for the first time in global history excluding a few country cases, capitalism (referring to production organised for profit using wage labour and mostly privately owned capital) is currently the ‘sole socio-economic system in the world’ (2).

This does not entail the end of history however, since a set of typologies of capitalism are sketched by Milanovic in the book – although the author does this in a more stylised manner than usually provided in the academic literature on varieties of capitalism. In my view, the main contribution of the book lies precisely in the neat way Milanovic categorises these ideal-typical social and economic systems, as I explain in the following.

Liberal Meritocratic Capitalism represents the typology of capitalism embraced by the core economies of the West, with the US being its most paradigmatic example. Individuals in liberal meritocratic capitalist states receive positive shares of both capital and labour incomes, whilst tax and transfers redistribute a fraction of those incomes. The moderate degree of redistribution does not, however, erase ‘social separatism’ (215), entailing that the rich consume more private education and health services than the middle class and the poor. Due to this, intergenerational mobility under liberal meritocratic capitalism is not necessarily high. Last but not least, democracy is one of the main strengths of liberal meritocratic capitalism, since the feedback of voters ensures, in principle, that the system does not end up failing in the provision of basic liberties (defined as a primary good by John Rawls, 208), although at the cost of lower growth rates of income than liberal meritocratic capitalism could achieve by retrenching these rights.

Image Credit: (Michael Roper CC BY SA 2.0)

Up to this point, not much novelty. However, Milanovic reaches further than other scholars working on capitalism by defining a novel phenomenon that alone encompasses several challenges that liberal meritocratic capitalism has been facing in recent decades: homoploutia (34). Namely, the rising share of the population earning both high labour and capital income (hence owning the same – homo, wealth – ploutia). Although the association of high labour and capital income at the top of the income distribution has been studied by economists before (by Tony Atkinson, among others), it is in Capitalism, Alone that this concept is embedded for the first time within a thorough analysis of the underlying socio-economic system. Why is a rising degree of homoploutia dangerous within liberal meritocratic capitalism? Because it allows economic elites to become more autonomous from the rest of society, and to overlap to a higher extent with political elites, introducing plutocratic features. If this distortion expands, the danger is that liberal meritocratic capitalism would assume the contours of the other main typology of capitalism analysed in the book: Political Capitalism.

Milanovic defines political capitalism, through the historical example of Deng Xiaoping’s China, as an ideal-typical socio-economic system in which the autocratic and technocratic bureaucracy in power has the duty of delivering high economic growth (possibly higher than liberal meritocratic capitalism), both to justify its leading role and the absence of a binding (that is, selective application of) rule of law (91). The main danger for a country picking this ideal-typical system is that endemic inequality due to corruption and the discretionary power of the political elite might not be tolerated by the population, especially whenever economic growth slows down. In other words, high and widespread income growth is the necessary glue for a system where endemic corruption and rising inequality might lead to disruption. The selective application of the rule of law is also important, since a rule of law without exceptions would allow competition between different economic elites, which could eventually overturn the power of the political elite in charge.

The above, although it represents the central thesis, is only a fraction of the material that the reader will find in Capitalism, Alone by Milanovic as an analyst of the different types of capitalism. Among other topics, I would like to mention the detailed historical review of economic and political development in China, within which Milanovic empirically demonstrates how fast the share of fixed investment and industrial output by privately-owned firms has risen in the Chinese economy. At least as interesting is the analysis the author delivers on the unsettled role of communism within global twentieth-century history, claiming that ‘communism enabled backward and colonized societies to abolish feudalism […], and build endogenous capitalism’ (75).

The last part of this review focuses instead on the policymaker Milanovic. Imagine the author joins the hypothetical council of advisors of the political elite in a country under liberal meritocratic capitalism. What should be done to move towards People’s Capitalism – with individuals earning equal shares of income sources, inequality under control and high intergenerational mobility – while avoiding the potential divergence into political capitalism? Milanovic provides readers with a set of economic and social policies, among which I will highlight the two most substantial ones.

First, the author proposes the introduction of tax advantages for the poor and the middle class in order to increase their endowments of financial capital with respect to the richer deciles of the income distribution. This would reduce concentration of wealth in liberal meritocratic capitalism, lowering the dangers that come with homoploutia, though whether this would be sufficient is not analysed in detail by Milanovic. As an interesting example, this would be similar to the recent scheme of a ‘Share Savings Account’ introduced in Norway in 2017.

Second, and possibly more controversially, Milanovic proposes the introduction of ‘Citizenship light’, giving incremental access to welfare benefits and other social and economic rights for immigrants, ending the strictly binary division between citizens and non-citizens (217). The objective would be to make immigration more palatable politically. Milanovic defines citizenship as ‘a joint monopoly exercised by a group of people […] that gives rise to the citizenship rent’ (133), leading to higher income streams than those of non-citizens. In sum, native citizens are more likely to accept migrants, the less migrants are granted the benefits annexed to citizenship. The author qualifies this proposal as a realistic solution in order to allow migration to happen, migration being one of the key variables to reduce global income inequality (see Milanovic, 2016). In my view, the statement that access to welfare benefits in rich countries is based mainly on citizenship is only true to some extent (156). Social insurance systems in many welfare state countries are mainly based on residence (for example, Norwegian National Insurance Scheme, 2019), in combination with employment and with the amount of years one has contributed to the system with tax payments. In other words, if citizenship does not play the role assigned to it by Milanovic in countries with generous welfare states, the worst-case scenario depicted by the author – that the welfare state in the era of globalisation has to be dismantled in order to allow migration without backlashes (156-57) – becomes a more remote possibility.

Let us switch to the specific topic of the challenges faced by welfare states in a globalised world, touched upon in the book in Sections 2.3b (50) and 4.3 (155). Milanovic claims that ‘it has become a truism that the welfare state is under stress from the effects of globalization’ (50). In my view, this claim is not robust depending on how one defines the costs and benefits (or added value) of a welfare state economy. If globalisation increases income volatility and entails unemployment shocks, then the visible costs of welfare benefits in terms of national income increase. These costs are publicly discussed, as they entail higher taxes to be covered. However, the hidden gains of these measures provide economic value that does not show up in the national accounts, as they avoid even higher income reduction. The costs in terms of lost productivity and income when large shares of the population are not protected by social insurance might in the long run be even higher than the short-run costs of paying for services and transfers in times of recession (Kalle Moene, 2018).

Ultimately, I highly recommend Capitalism, Alone to all readers and scholars interested in challenging their understanding of the (supposed) sole socio-economic system we live in, including how Milanovic advocates to change it for the better and move towards the ideal-type People’s Capitalism outlined in the book.

Roberto Iacono is an Associate Professor in Economics and Social Policy at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). His latest research is at the intersection between Public Economics, Labour Economics and Political Economy, with a focus on (i) economic inequality and (ii) policy-relevant questions related to the ‘Nordic model’ of economic development and welfare. He is also Managing Editor of the Journal of Income Distribution (JID).

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.


“Far Left”? There’s No Such Thing in This Democratic Party

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/11/2019 - 8:31am in

American Communists.jpg

            America has lots of leftists. Forty percent of voters say that they would prefer to live in a socialist country than a capitalist one.

            Yet America has zero leftists running for president.

            Think about that the next time someone tells you that we live in the greatest country on earth, or for that matter, that this is a democracy. If the United States was democratic or, more precisely, had a truly representative form of government, 40% of the electorate would have someone to vote for.

            According to the mainstream media, the Democratic Party is left. And the current crop of contenders for president has never been more left.

            Beto O’Rourke, Fox News says, had a “far-left presidential platform.” He likes pro-corporate jobs-exporting free trade agreements, backs a blank check to Israel’s right-wing government and wants to send teenagers to prison for 15 years for sexting. If that’s far left, I have a Palace of the Soviets I’d love to sell you.

            “If Democrats select a nominee who is unelectable because of a far-left or socialist agenda, then their beds will be made,” frets The Hill.

            “As a left-wing San Francisco liberal I can say to these people [progressive candidates]: What are you thinking?” asks Nancy Pelosi. How can you be “a left-wing San Francisco liberal” and vote to invade Afghanistan?

            It’s BS but over time, even the most strong-minded among us succumb to the never-ending tsunami of propaganda. Like Winston Smith in “1984,” we doubt ourselves and believe the lies. No wonder 47% of Americans say that the Democratic Party has moved too far left.

            Now more than ever, we need a reality check. Electoral politics has no space whatsoever for the real, actual left: Communism, socialism, left anarchism, left libertarianism, etc. Corporate journalistic outlets employ no actual leftists. There is no organized left in the United States.

            Under a socialist economy, workers own the means of production. This is important because it means they are no longer exploited. As Karl Marx wrote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution.” So those who aren’t able to work due to physical or mental infirmities, for example, have equal access to the good things in life.

            Though the “green new deal” espoused by Bernie Sanders would theoretically employ millions of Americans as government workers, those employees wouldn’t own their workplaces. Similarly, “Medicare for all” would abolish private insurance but it wouldn’t put healthcare workers on the government payroll as is the case in other countries. Those two ideas, if implemented, would resemble New Deal-era programs like the WPA and CCC. Contrary to the dogma of the conservatives who currently control the national political dialogue, if it’s socialism for the government to hire somebody, then any place with a single cop is a socialist country.

            None of the 2020 candidates for president in the Democratic primaries favor the nationalization of currently private businesses that would be required to achieve a socialistic economy. You can’t have a far left without nationalization or socialism.

            None of the Democratic candidates oppose war in the manner of pacifists, much less adapt to the analysis of the left that there should be no war but class war. “The main enemy is at home,” noted the German Spartacist Karl Liebknecht, referring to the ruling classes. “We differ from the pacifists,” Lenin wrote during World War I, “in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within a country; we understand that wars cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and socialism is created; we also differ in that we regard civil wars, i.e. wars waged by an oppressed class against the oppressor class, by slaves against slaveholders, by serfs against landowners and by wage workers against the bourgeoisie, as fully legitimate, progressive and necessary.”

            A left—certainly a “far left”—candidate for president of United States would categorically oppose all wars of aggression, imperialism, and neocolonialism. Contrast that leftist ideal to the most anti-militaristic Democrats in the current race.

            Tulsi Gabbard, arguably the most stridently antiwar candidate in the cycle, nevertheless touts her military service even as she declaims “regime change wars.” She praised President Trump’s order to assassinate ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She took $100,000 in campaign contributions from arms dealers. “When it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk,” she said. “When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”

            Bernie Sanders, also on the left flank of the Democrats, told me that he would continue the drone assassinations that have killed thousands of innocent people. He voted for the authorization to use military force after 9/11, and 20 years before, to allow Bill Clinton to bomb Serbia.

            We will never get the chance to live in that better world embodied by the ideal of socialism and communism unless we understand that we have an awful lot of work to do before we can get there. Allowing commentators and the Democrats themselves to describe anything that’s going on in mainstream electoral politics as “far left” is self-destructive and an endorsement of the worst kind of lie, the fiction that the most important ideals are represented by anyone in American political life.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

The myth of shareholder primacy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/11/2019 - 12:27am in
A surprising alliance of big business, activists and left-wing politicians have condemned the shareholder value paradigm. But did it ever really exist?

In the late 1960s, a young banker named Joel Stern was working on a project to transform corporate management. Stern’s hunch was that the stock market could help managers work out how their strategies were performing. Simply, if management was effective, demand for the firm’s stock would be high. A low price would imply bad management.

What sounds obvious now was revolutionary at the time. Until then profits were the key barometer of success. But profits were a crude measure and easy to manipulate. Financial markets, Stern felt, could provide a more precise measure of the value of management because they were based on more ‘objective’ processes, beyond the firm’s direct control. The value of shares, he believed, represented the market’s exact validation of management. Because of this, financial markets could help managers determine what was working and what was not.

In doing this, Stern laid the foundation for a ‘shareholder value’ management that put financial markets at the core of managerial strategy.

Stern would probably never have imagined that these ideas would 50 years later be castigated as a fundamental threat to the future of liberal capitalism. In recent times everyone from the Business Roundtable group of global corporations, to the Financial Times, to the British Labour Party has lined up to condemn the shareholder ideology.

“Fifty years of shareholder primacy,” wrote the Financial Times, “has fostered short-termism and created an environment of popular distrust of big business.”

It is not the first time Stern’s creation has come under fire. A decade ago Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric declared shareholder value “probably the dumbest idea in the world”. And 15 years before then, British political commentator Will Hutton, among others, found paperback fame with his book The State We’re In preaching much the same message.

To critics, the rise of shareholder value is a straightforward story, that has been told over and over again. Following a general crisis of postwar profitability in the late 1970s, corporate managers came under fire from disappointed shareholders complaining about declining returns. Shareholder revolts forced managers to put market capitalisation first. The rise of stock options to compensate corporate managers entrenched shareholder value by aligning the interests of managers and shareholders. Companies began sacrificing productive investments, environmental protections, and worker security to ensure shareholder returns were maximised. The fear of stock market verdicts on quarterly reports left them no choice.

This account fits a widespread belief that financiers and rentiers mangled the postwar golden era of capitalism. More importantly, it suggests a simple solution: liberate companies from the demands of shareholders. Freed from the short-term pursuit of delivering shareholder returns, companies could then return to long-term plans, productive investments, and higher wages.

In two recent articles, we have argued that this critique of shareholder value has always been based on a misunderstanding. Stern and the shareholder value consultants did not aim to put shareholders first. They worked to empower management. Seen in this light, the history of the shareholder value ideology appears differently. And it calls for alternative political responses.

To better understand Stern’s ideas, it is important to grasp the broader context in which he was writing. In the 1960s, a group of firms called the conglomerates were pioneering many of the practices that later became associated with the shareholder revolution: aggressive mergers, divestitures, Leverage buy-outs (LBOs),  and stock repurchasing.

These firms, such as Litton Industries, Teledyne and LTV revolutionised corporate strategy by developing new techniques to systematically raise money from financial markets. They wheeled and dealed their divisions and used them to tap financial markets to finance further predatory acquisitions. Instead of relying on profits from productive operations, they chased speculative transactions on financial markets to grow.

These same tactics were later borrowed by the 1980s corporate raiders, many of which were in fact old conglomerators from the 1960s. The growing efficiency with which these raiders captured undervalued firms on the stock market and ruthlessly sold off their assets to finance further acquisitions put corporate America on alert.

With fortunes to be made and lost, no manager could ignore the stock market. They became increasingly concerned with their position on financial markets. It was in this context that corporate capitalism first spoke of the desire to ‘maximise shareholder value’. While sections of the corporate establishment were put on the defensive, the main reason for this was not that shareholders imposed their preferences on management. Instead, it was competitor managers using the shareholder discourse as a resource to expand and gain control over other firms. Capital markets became the foundation of a new form of financialised managerial power.

These changes made the approach of management consultants championing shareholder value attractive. The firm founded by Stern and his business partner Bennett Stewart III took advantage of the situation. They sold widely their ideas about financial markets as a guideline for corporate strategy to firms looking to thrive in this new environment.

As the discourse and tools of shareholder value took hold, they served three distinct purposes. First, they provided accounting templates for managerial strategies and a means to manage a firm’s standings on financial markets. The first and most famous metric for assessing just how much value was being created for shareholders was one Stern himself helped develop, Economic Value Added (EVA).

Second, they became a powerful justification for the idea that managers should be offered share options. This was in fact an old idea floated in the 1950s by management consultants such as Arch Patton of McKinsey as a means to top-up relatively stagnant managerial pay. Yet it was relaunched in this new context as part of the promise to ‘align the interests of managers with shareholders.’ Stock options helped managerial pay skyrocket in the 1990s, a curious fact for those who believe that managers were ‘disciplined’ by shareholders.

Third, the notion of shareholder primacy helped to offload managerial responsibility.  An amorphous and often anonymous ‘shareholder pressure’ became the explanation for all manner of managerial malpractice. Managers lamented the fact they had no choice but to disregard workers and other stakeholders because of shareholder power. Rhetorically, shareholders were deemed responsible for corporate problems. Yet in practice, managers, more often than not, enrolled shareholders into their own projects, using the newly-formed alliance with shareholders to pocket huge returns for themselves.

Though shareholder demands are now depicted as the problem to be solved, the same reformist voices have in the past championed shareholders as the solution to corporate excesses. This was the basis for the hope around the ‘shareholder spring’ in 2012, or the recent championing of activist shareholders as ‘labour’s last weapon’.

By challenging the conventional narrative, we have emphasised how it is instead the financialisation of managerialism, or the way in which corporations have leveraged their operations on financial markets, that has characterised the shareholder value shift. Politically this matters.

If shareholder demands are understood to be the major problem in corporate life, then the solution is to grant executives more space. Yet the history of shareholder value tells us that managers have been leading the way in corporate governance. They do not need shielding from shareholders or anyone else and instead need to be made accountable for their decisions. Critiques of shareholder primacy risk muddying the responsibility of managers who have long put their own interests first. Perhaps the reason why executives are now so ready to abandon shareholder primacy, is because it never really existed.

The post The myth of shareholder primacy appeared first on Political Economy Research Centre.

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.

Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.

One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.


Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.

The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.

Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.

In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.

In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.

He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.

KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)

The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.

As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.

Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.

Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.

He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.

DEMOCRITUS

The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.

Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.

But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.

The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.

Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.

The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.

But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.

Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.

The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.

Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.

The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.

From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.

The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.

Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.

Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.

He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.

The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.

The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.

Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).

The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.

It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.

While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.

The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

Behind Chile’s political crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/10/2019 - 6:24pm in

More than one million people marched in Santiago on October 26 to protest the Government’s security response to Chile’s current political crisis and to demand structural economic reforms to reduce inequality and increase social services. In this post I analyze these grievances from a quantitative perspective and explore what it would take to translate them into policy.

This is my fourth inequality-related post. I use the same sources of data and framework of analysis as in my initial analysis focused on Canada, its update to include inequality/redistribution “models” and my analysis of inequality in Venezuela and encourage interested readers to refer to these for further conceptual and technical background.

Income Inequality

Chile has long been an economically unequal society.

Figure 1 shows that Chile’s market income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has been very high for as long as the data has been available, including for the last 40 years, as shown in Figure 1. For comparative purposes Figure 1 also includes two group averages (“LatAm-7” group: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Peru; “OECD-11” group: Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Sweden, UK and USA) and three other countries.

Chile joined the OECD in 2010 and is currently the Latin America country with the highest GDP per capita, currently (2018) at USD $25,000. The data for the OECD-11 and Chile are from the OECD’s Income Distribution Database, supplemented with the Standardized World Income Inequality Database (SWIID), which is the main source of data for the LatAm-7.

The Gini coefficient varies from 0 to 1.00, with higher values representing higher inequality. The Gini is one of a number of ways in which inequality may be measured. Other measures include the proportion of income flowing to the 1% or 10% of the population with the highest income. I use the Gini because it is more conducive to redistribution-related policy analysis and is more broadly available than other measures.

Market income Gini coefficients measure the distribution of “market” income from the labour and capital markets and differs from “disposable” (sometimes referred to as “net”) income, which measures income after the payment of direct taxes and the receipt of public cash transfers/benefits. The difference between “market” and “disposable” income inequality reflects the extent to which Governments reduce market income inequality by direct taxes and cash benefits.

Starting at group averages, Figure 1 shows that market inequality was significantly higher (almost 0.10 Gini points) in Latin America than in the OECD in 1980. Inequality in both groups started to climb in the mid-1980’s until the early-2000’s, at which point inequality in Latin America began to decrease.

Chile’s market inequality has remained very high and is now well above the LatAm-7 average. For comparative purposes I have included Canada, France and the USA, which are representative of three types of inequality/redistribution country “models”. Market inequality in Canada, France and the USA has increased by 0.07, 0.05 and 0.10 Gini points, respectively, with France and the USA now reached levels similar to Chile. Figure 1 also presents the year in which each country reached Chile’s current GDP per capita and shows that they generally had lower or similar inequality than currently, indicating that Chile’s high market inequality is not related to its relative or absolute GDP per capita, but rather to other factors, including the distribution of human and financial capital and other structural elements, including the extent to which markets have been designed and/or regulated to benefit the elite.

Redistribution

Chile has
historically had very low economic redistribution.

The difference between the market income Gini and the disposable income Gini is referred to as “fiscal redistribution” or just “redistribution”. Figure 2 shows that Chile’s redistribution has been similar to that LatAm-7 but is well below that of the OECD-11 and Canada, France and USA. Readers will note that these countries have chosen very different levels of redistribution to counteract their underlying market inequality. France and the USA are high-inequality countries, but each chooses a different level of redistribution, with France having about twice that of the USA. Canada is a low-inequality country with the same low level of redistribution as the USA. Figure 2 shows that the level of redistribution is not related to GDP per capita: redistribution was similar to current levels in all countries when they had GDP/capita comparable to that of Chile today. Redistribution is fundamentally a political choice with real societal and welfare consequences.

To be clear, redistribution is not designed to, nor does it generally have an immediate or large impact on the underlying determinants of market inequality, including the distribution of human or financial capital. Rather, it is principally designed to moderate market inequality to politically-acceptable levels – it is a form of “social contract”. As added economic bonus, as I noted previously, the recent economic evidence is that redistribution tends to (slightly) increase economic growth. That is, there is no “efficiency-equity trade-off” that proponents of neoliberal policies used to justify a minimalist State. And that a minimalist State is certainly what Chile has had.

Figure 3 shows Government (all levels) taxation revenues as a percentage of GDP (data from the OECD Global Revenue Statistics database), which is my preferred widely-available indicator to use as a proxy for the comparative economic weight of the State. Figure 3 shows that since comparable data has been, available starting in 1990, Chile’s taxation revenues have been only about half of those in the OECD-11. Figure 3 shows that the level of taxation revenues (as a proxy) is not related to GDP per capita. Comparing Figures 2 and 3, readers will note the direct relationship between tax revenues and redistribution – in modern democracies, citizens choose, generally indirectly, to have higher/lower levels of redistribution, including by having higher/lower taxes.

The composition of taxation revenues in the OECD-11, with a relatively heavy weight on personal and corporate income taxes, are relatively progressive and account for about one-third of redistribution (measured in Gini points). In contrast, Chile mostly relies on value-added taxes (VAT) and hence taxes have little or no redistributive impact (Chile also receives non-tax revenues – royalties – from copper and other mining).

The remaining two-thirds of the distributive impact in the OECD-11 is the result of cash benefits, which will depend on their quantum and degree of targeting at low-income households (“efficiency”). Based on the most recent data (2015) from the OECD’s Social Expenditure database, cash benefits account for 5% of GDP in Chile, compared to 9% for Canada and USA, 13% for OECD-11 and 19% for France.

Disposable
Income Inequality

Figure 4 shows disposable income inequality. Because Chile has chosen very low redistribution, Chile’s disposable income inequality remains very high, with a Gini coefficient of about 0.44. In contrast, the two countries that had similar market inequality as Chile, France and USA, both moderate their disposable income inequality by different degrees, USA to a Gini coefficient of about 0.39 and France to such an extent that it ends up having a Gini coefficient similar to Canada’s (and the OECD-11) of about 0.30.

To see how these Gini coefficients relate to other income inequality measures, the OECD estimates that for 2015 a very large 36% of disposable income goes to the highest 10% in Chile; that figure is 29% in the USA, and 24% in Canada, France and OECD-11.

Public financing and privatization of Social Services and Education

A key demand of the Chileans marching in the streets is increased public financing of social services, including for education, health and retirement. In keeping with the neoliberal model of a minimalist state, in each of these sectors Chile has established parallel public/private systems.

The publicly-financed systems are designed to be universal and have relatively modest or no user fees/contribution charges, depending on the level of service selected and income level of the user. In practice, however, many middle-income and almost all high-income Chileans “opt out” of the perceived lower-quality public systems by subscribing into a health or retirement “plan” offered by a user-fee-based for-profit private provider that make up the private systems. In fact, many of the grievances of the marchers are directed at these health plan providers (“ISAPRES”) or the retirement plan financial entities (“AFPs”), or the for-profit universities.

This system perpetuates Chile’s high market inequality because it relegates lower-income households to generally lower-quality public systems that are less conducive to building (education) and maintaining (health and retirement) human capital to participate in labour markets. At the same time, the privatized systems allows for the creation of financial capital, which is predominantly held by higher-income households to which the investment income flows.

Figure 5 shows how comparatively little public financing Chile provides for social expenditures (e.g. health, retirement, etc.) and education, reaching about 15% of GDP, compared to 22-23% for Canada and USA, 28% for the OECD-11 and 37% for France.

This ranking of public financing generally corresponds to the ranking of taxation revenues in Figure 3, which puts back the question into political economy terms of the choice between low/high public provision of services and low/high taxes. Chile is a prime but not the only example that the demand for “public” services, whether it be education, health or retirement security, is independent of their public provision and how private systems can be designed to complement or even substitute them.

Financing of Health and Education Sectors

Figures 6 and 7 show the relationship between the public and private systems in the health and education sectors.

The OECD collects detailed health statistics, including on public and private expenditures, including out-of-pocket medical costs. Figure 6 presents the relative size of privately-financed/funded expenditures and shows that Chile’s system is highly privatized. Chile is similar to the USA, at around 50%. The slight decrease in the USA in 2014 and 2015 are the result from the coming into force of the ACA (“Obamacare”). In contrast, Canada, France and OECD-11 are around 25-30% private.

Total (public and private) health expenditures are highest in the USA (16% of GDP) and lowest in Chile (8%) with Canada, France and the OECd-11 at between 10-11%.

Similarly, based on detailed OECD education financing statistics, Figure 7 presents the relative size of privately-financed/funded education expenditures. It shows that Chile has long been a highly privatized system, even higher than that of the USA, and much higher than Canada, OECD-11 and France.

The reason is that while a number of OECD-11 countries have a high private participation in tertiary education comparable to Chile (60-70%) none of the comparator countries also have Chile’s relatively high private participation in primary and secondary education (20%), which makes up three-quarters of overall expenditures (which are between 5-6% of GDP for the comparator countries).

Concluding Thoughts

The structural economic reforms that are being demanded by the millions marching in Chile are simply those that most advanced democracies have long implemented: policies to substantially moderate income inequality and to finance high-quality universal social services.

These policies are relatively simple to administer and have been implemented by dozens of countries with national incomes well below that of Chile. There is no administrative or economic constraint. But that has never really been the issue in Chile (or elsewhere). Rather, until the last two weeks, the political equilibrium in Chile appeared to be one of incremental reforms to the neoliberal policies imposed during the military dictatorship of 1973-1990.

So assuming the political equilibrium in Chile is more responsive to demands for structural reforms, what would it take to have such demands translated into policy?

For example, Chileans could decide to increase redistribution. Based on the analysis above, I estimate that matching the levels of redistribution in Canada and USA would require about 5% of GDP to finance, while matching those of the OECD-11 about 8% of GDP. Similarly, Chileans could decide to increase public financing of high-quality and universal social services and education, which to match Canada and USA levels would require about 5% of GDP, and to match OECD-11 levels about 7% of GDP.

Behind Chile’s political crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/10/2019 - 6:24pm in

More than one million people marched in Santiago on October 26 to protest the Government’s security response to Chile’s current political crisis and to demand structural economic reforms to reduce inequality and increase social services. In this post I analyze these grievances from a quantitative perspective and explore what it would take to translate them into policy.

This is my fourth inequality-related post. I use the same sources of data and framework of analysis as in my initial analysis focused on Canada, its update to include inequality/redistribution “models” and my analysis of inequality in Venezuela and encourage interested readers to refer to these for further conceptual and technical background.

Income Inequality

Chile has long been an economically unequal society.

Figure 1 shows that Chile’s market income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has been very high for as long as the data has been available, including for the last 40 years, as shown in Figure 1. For comparative purposes Figure 1 also includes two group averages (“LatAm-7” group: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Peru; “OECD-11” group: Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Sweden, UK and USA) and three other countries.

Chile joined the OECD in 2010 and is currently the Latin America country with the highest GDP per capita, currently (2018) at USD $25,000. The data for the OECD-11 and Chile are from the OECD’s Income Distribution Database, supplemented with the Standardized World Income Inequality Database (SWIID), which is the main source of data for the LatAm-7.

The Gini coefficient varies from 0 to 1.00, with higher values representing higher inequality. The Gini is one of a number of ways in which inequality may be measured. Other measures include the proportion of income flowing to the 1% or 10% of the population with the highest income. I use the Gini because it is more conducive to redistribution-related policy analysis and is more broadly available than other measures.

Market income Gini coefficients measure the distribution of “market” income from the labour and capital markets and differs from “disposable” (sometimes referred to as “net”) income, which measures income after the payment of direct taxes and the receipt of public cash transfers/benefits. The difference between “market” and “disposable” income inequality reflects the extent to which Governments reduce market income inequality by direct taxes and cash benefits.

Starting at group averages, Figure 1 shows that market inequality was significantly higher (almost 0.10 Gini points) in Latin America than in the OECD in 1980. Inequality in both groups started to climb in the mid-1980’s until the early-2000’s, at which point inequality in Latin America began to decrease.

Chile’s market inequality has remained very high and is now well above the LatAm-7 average. For comparative purposes I have included Canada, France and the USA, which are representative of three types of inequality/redistribution country “models”. Market inequality in Canada, France and the USA has increased by 0.07, 0.05 and 0.10 Gini points, respectively, with France and the USA now reached levels similar to Chile. Figure 1 also presents the year in which each country reached Chile’s current GDP per capita and shows that they generally had lower or similar inequality than currently, indicating that Chile’s high market inequality is not related to its relative or absolute GDP per capita, but rather to other factors, including the distribution of human and financial capital and other structural elements, including the extent to which markets have been designed and/or regulated to benefit the elite.

Redistribution

Chile has
historically had very low economic redistribution.

The difference between the market income Gini and the disposable income Gini is referred to as “fiscal redistribution” or just “redistribution”. Figure 2 shows that Chile’s redistribution has been similar to that LatAm-7 but is well below that of the OECD-11 and Canada, France and USA. Readers will note that these countries have chosen very different levels of redistribution to counteract their underlying market inequality. France and the USA are high-inequality countries, but each chooses a different level of redistribution, with France having about twice that of the USA. Canada is a low-inequality country with the same low level of redistribution as the USA. Figure 2 shows that the level of redistribution is not related to GDP per capita: redistribution was similar to current levels in all countries when they had GDP/capita comparable to that of Chile today. Redistribution is fundamentally a political choice with real societal and welfare consequences.

To be clear, redistribution is not designed to, nor does it generally have an immediate or large impact on the underlying determinants of market inequality, including the distribution of human or financial capital. Rather, it is principally designed to moderate market inequality to politically-acceptable levels – it is a form of “social contract”. As added economic bonus, as I noted previously, the recent economic evidence is that redistribution tends to (slightly) increase economic growth. That is, there is no “efficiency-equity trade-off” that proponents of neoliberal policies used to justify a minimalist State. And that a minimalist State is certainly what Chile has had.

Figure 3 shows Government (all levels) taxation revenues as a percentage of GDP (data from the OECD Global Revenue Statistics database), which is my preferred widely-available indicator to use as a proxy for the comparative economic weight of the State. Figure 3 shows that since comparable data has been, available starting in 1990, Chile’s taxation revenues have been only about half of those in the OECD-11. Figure 3 shows that the level of taxation revenues (as a proxy) is not related to GDP per capita. Comparing Figures 2 and 3, readers will note the direct relationship between tax revenues and redistribution – in modern democracies, citizens choose, generally indirectly, to have higher/lower levels of redistribution, including by having higher/lower taxes.

The composition of taxation revenues in the OECD-11, with a relatively heavy weight on personal and corporate income taxes, are relatively progressive and account for about one-third of redistribution (measured in Gini points). In contrast, Chile mostly relies on value-added taxes (VAT) and hence taxes have little or no redistributive impact (Chile also receives non-tax revenues – royalties – from copper and other mining).

The remaining two-thirds of the distributive impact in the OECD-11 is the result of cash benefits, which will depend on their quantum and degree of targeting at low-income households (“efficiency”). Based on the most recent data (2015) from the OECD’s Social Expenditure database, cash benefits account for 5% of GDP in Chile, compared to 9% for Canada and USA, 13% for OECD-11 and 19% for France.

Disposable
Income Inequality

Figure 4 shows disposable income inequality. Because Chile has chosen very low redistribution, Chile’s disposable income inequality remains very high, with a Gini coefficient of about 0.44. In contrast, the two countries that had similar market inequality as Chile, France and USA, both moderate their disposable income inequality by different degrees, USA to a Gini coefficient of about 0.39 and France to such an extent that it ends up having a Gini coefficient similar to Canada’s (and the OECD-11) of about 0.30.

To see how these Gini coefficients relate to other income inequality measures, the OECD estimates that for 2015 a very large 36% of disposable income goes to the highest 10% in Chile; that figure is 29% in the USA, and 24% in Canada, France and OECD-11.

Public financing and privatization of Social Services and Education

A key demand of the Chileans marching in the streets is increased public financing of social services, including for education, health and retirement. In keeping with the neoliberal model of a minimalist state, in each of these sectors Chile has established parallel public/private systems.

The publicly-financed systems are designed to be universal and have relatively modest or no user fees/contribution charges, depending on the level of service selected and income level of the user. In practice, however, many middle-income and almost all high-income Chileans “opt out” of the perceived lower-quality public systems by subscribing into a health or retirement “plan” offered by a user-fee-based for-profit private provider that make up the private systems. In fact, many of the grievances of the marchers are directed at these health plan providers (“ISAPRES”) or the retirement plan financial entities (“AFPs”), or the for-profit universities.

This system perpetuates Chile’s high market inequality because it relegates lower-income households to generally lower-quality public systems that are less conducive to building (education) and maintaining (health and retirement) human capital to participate in labour markets. At the same time, the privatized systems allows for the creation of financial capital, which is predominantly held by higher-income households to which the investment income flows.

Figure 5 shows how comparatively little public financing Chile provides for social expenditures (e.g. health, retirement, etc.) and education, reaching about 15% of GDP, compared to 22-23% for Canada and USA, 28% for the OECD-11 and 37% for France.

This ranking of public financing generally corresponds to the ranking of taxation revenues in Figure 3, which puts back the question into political economy terms of the choice between low/high public provision of services and low/high taxes. Chile is a prime but not the only example that the demand for “public” services, whether it be education, health or retirement security, is independent of their public provision and how private systems can be designed to complement or even substitute them.

Financing of Health and Education Sectors

Figures 6 and 7 show the relationship between the public and private systems in the health and education sectors.

The OECD collects detailed health statistics, including on public and private expenditures, including out-of-pocket medical costs. Figure 6 presents the relative size of privately-financed/funded expenditures and shows that Chile’s system is highly privatized. Chile is similar to the USA, at around 50%. The slight decrease in the USA in 2014 and 2015 are the result from the coming into force of the ACA (“Obamacare”). In contrast, Canada, France and OECD-11 are around 25-30% private.

Total (public and private) health expenditures are highest in the USA (16% of GDP) and lowest in Chile (8%) with Canada, France and the OECd-11 at between 10-11%.

Similarly, based on detailed OECD education financing statistics, Figure 7 presents the relative size of privately-financed/funded education expenditures. It shows that Chile has long been a highly privatized system, even higher than that of the USA, and much higher than Canada, OECD-11 and France.

The reason is that while a number of OECD-11 countries have a high private participation in tertiary education comparable to Chile (60-70%) none of the comparator countries also have Chile’s relatively high private participation in primary and secondary education (20%), which makes up three-quarters of overall expenditures (which are between 5-6% of GDP for the comparator countries).

Concluding Thoughts

The structural economic reforms that are being demanded by the millions marching in Chile are simply those that most advanced democracies have long implemented: policies to substantially moderate income inequality and to finance high-quality universal social services.

These policies are relatively simple to administer and have been implemented by dozens of countries with national incomes well below that of Chile. There is no administrative or economic constraint. But that has never really been the issue in Chile (or elsewhere). Rather, until the last two weeks, the political equilibrium in Chile appeared to be one of incremental reforms to the neoliberal policies imposed during the military dictatorship of 1973-1990.

So assuming the political equilibrium in Chile is more responsive to demands for structural reforms, what would it take to have such demands translated into policy?

For example, Chileans could decide to increase redistribution. Based on the analysis above, I estimate that matching the levels of redistribution in Canada and USA would require about 5% of GDP to finance, while matching those of the OECD-11 about 8% of GDP. Similarly, Chileans could decide to increase public financing of high-quality and universal social services and education, which to match Canada and USA levels would require about 5% of GDP, and to match OECD-11 levels about 7% of GDP.

Can the US beat China in a “trade war”?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/10/2019 - 1:00pm in

Andre Vltchek It is very popular these days to talk and write about the “trade war” between the United States and China. But is there really one raging? Or is it, what we are witnessing, simply a clash of political and ideological systems: one being extremely successful and optimistic, the other depressing, full of dark …

The Sacred Story of Capitalism, Retold

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/10/2019 - 11:00am in

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Capitalism

Magical Rites and Sacrificial Rituals.

The post The Sacred Story of Capitalism, Retold appeared first on Evonomics.

Ian Hislop Tackles Fake News with Reassurances about Lamestream Media

I watched Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True Story last night. I blogged about it a few days ago after reading the blurbs for it in the Radio Times. It seemed to me that part of the reason for the programme’s production was the Beeb, and by extension, the mainstream media as a whole, trying to reassure the public that they were truthful and reliable by tackling what is a genuine problem. I don’t think I was wrong. Hislop is a good presenter, and the programme was well-done, with eye-catching graphics. As you might expect from Hislop’s previous programmes on British heroes and the the British education system, it was strong on history. He pointed out that while Donald Trump used it to described factual news that he didn’t like, because it criticised him, the term actually predated Trump all the way back into the 19th century. He illustrated this with quotes and contemporary cartoons. But it was also a very much an establishment view. The last piece of fake news created by the British state it mentioned was a story concocted during the First World War that the Germans were boiling down human bodies for their fat and other chemicals. It presented the main threat to truthful reporting as coming from the internet, specifically software that allows the mapping of a public figure’s face onto the body of another to create fake footage of them, Alex Jones and Infowars, and, of course, the Russians and their adverts and propaganda for the American election. We were assured that the British state no longer interfered in the politics of other countries. A former BBC official, now running the New York Times, appeared to talk to Hislop about how papers like his now spend their time diligently fact checking stories. He also talked to the MP, who called for an inquiry into fake news in parliament. All very reassuring, and very misleading.

The New York Sun Moon Hoax and the Spanish-American War

The programme began with the 1836 Moon hoax story run by the New York Sun. The Sun was one of the first tabloid newspapers, aimed at a working class audience with the low price of only a cent, a price a sixth that of its competitors. It published a series of articles claiming that an obscure British astronomer had discovered man-bats, unicorns and bison on the Moon. The story ran for six days until it was exposed as a hoax by a rival newspaper. The next item in this list of journalistic infamy was about the attempts by Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to start a war with Spain in support of Cuban rebels at the end of the 19th century. There wasn’t much fighting going on, and there weren’t any available reports of Spanish atrocities to inflame the patriotic, moral sentiments of the American public. So they made them up. The papers first claimed that a young American woman had been brutally strip-searched by suspicious Spanish male officials. Well, not quite. She had been searched, but privately by a respectable older Spanish woman. When that didn’t work, they seized on an explosion that destroyed an American ship in harbour. In all likelihood, the ship was destroyed by an accident. The papers claimed, however, that it had been destroyed by the Spanish, while issuing a small caveat stating that the cause had yet to be determined. And so the papers got the war they wanted.

The programme then moved on to the American Civil War, and the exploits of one of the world’s first photojournalists. This gentleman used photography to bring home with hitherto unknown realism the horrors of that conflict. But he was not above faking some of the photographs. One of these was of a young Confederate soldier lying dead in a trench. In fact, the photographer had dragged the corpse into the trench from elsewhere, move the head so that it faced the camera to make it even more poignant, and added a rifle that the photographer himself always carried. This little episode was then followed by the story of William Mumler and his faked spirit photographs. Mumler ended up being prosecuted for fraud by one of the papers. However, while the judge sympathised with the papers, the prosecution hadn’t proved how he had faked it. They merely showed he could have done it in nine different ways. And so the case was dismissed, Mumler went back to faking his photos for a satisfied, grieving clientele, one of whom was the widow of Abraham Lincoln.

Deepfake and the Falsification on Online Images

This brought Hislop on to the Deepfake software, used by pornographers for adding the features of respectable actors and actresses onto porn stars. This was used to map Hislop’s own features onto the mug of a dancer, so that he could be shown doing the high kicks and athletic moves. He also interviewed a man, who had used it to parody Barack Obama. Obama’s face was mapped onto a Black actor, who mimicked the former president’s voice. This produced fake footage in which Obama said, with statesman like grace and precision, that Donald Trump was a complete dipsh*t. He also interviewed another young man, who was producing fake stories on the internet, which were nevertheless clearly labeled satire, intended to rile the Alt-Right by feeding their hate and paranoia. Hislop asked him if he wasn’t actually encouraging them. The man stated that he wasn’t converting anyone to the Alt-Right. They were already angry, and stupid if they didn’t read the statements that what they were reacting to was fake. He was just showing up their stupidity.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The programme then moved on to the noxious Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is one of the main sources for the bogus conspiracy theories about the Jews running everything. He pointed out that it was first run in Russian newspaper, which blamed them for introducing capitalism and democracy into Russia. Then in 1917, they were updated to claim that the Jews once again were responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution. Hislop said very clearly, waving a copy of the infamous book he’d managed to get hold of, that it was long and contradictory. It had also been disproved as long ago as the 1920s, when the Times in a series of articles showed that it was based on an 18th century novel that had nothing to do with Jews. This showed how the press could correct fake news. He himself said that, whereas when he started out as journalist, he spent move of his time trying to get new stories, now he spent most of his time checking them. Despite its falsehood, the Protocols were seized on by Goebbels, who insisted that it was spiritually true, if not literally, and had it taught in German schools. This was a different approach to Hitler, who had argued in Mein Kampf that it’s very suppression by the authorities showed that it was true. Nevertheless, the wretched book was still available all over the world, illustrating this with Arabic versions on sale in Cairo bookshop.

Infowars and Pizzagate

The programme also showed a contemporary conspiracy theory. This was the tale spun by Alex Jones on Infowars that the Comet pizza parlour was supplying children to be abused and sacrificed by the evil Democrats. Talking to the parlour’s owner, Hislop heard from the man himself how he and his business still suffer horrendous abuse because of this fake story. But it got worse. One day a few years ago a young man, incensed by what he had heard online, came into the story with a high-powered rifle, wishing to free the children. The conspiracy theory about the place claimed that there was a basement and tunnels running to the White House. The proprietor tried explaining to the man that there was no basement and no tunnels. The gunman went through the building until he found a locked door. He fired a few rounds into it, destroying the store’s computer. Hislop found this ironic, considering computers were the medium that spread it in the first place. The man then lay his gun down, put his arms up and let himself be arrested. It was a peaceful end to a situation which could have resulted in many people dead. But even this horrible incident hadn’t silenced the conspiracy theorists. They still believed that the stories were true, and that the incident had been faked with an actor as a false flag.

Russian Interference

The programme then went on to talk about Russian interference in American politics, and how they had set up a bot army to spread adverts aimed at influencing the result of the American election. RT was deeply involved in this, as the Russian state-owned news service was defending the country and its leader, Putin, from allegations that this had been done. It had also spread lies denying that Russia was responsible for the Skripal poisoning.

British Propaganda and the First World War

Had the British state done anything similar? Yes, in 1917. This was when the War Office, tired of the First World War dragging on, had seized on the news that the Germans were boiling down animal carcasses for their fat, and elaborated it, changing the corpses into human. Some might say, Hislop opined, that this was justified, especially as the German had committed real atrocities. But if we told lies like that, that meant we were no better than they. Stafford Cripps, who served in Churchill’s cabinet during the War, said that if winning it meant using such tactics, he’d rather lose. The fake story about human carcasses also had an unforeseen, and deeply unpleasant aftereffect. Following the realisation that it was fake, the first news of what the Nazis were doing in the concentration camps was also initially disbelieved. We don’t do things like that now, he said. And in a side-swipe at the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ and Saddam Hussein, he said, that no-one would believe stories about a mad dictator possessing weapons of mass destruction.

The Message: Trust the Mainstream Media

Hislop and his interlocutors, like the MP, who’d called for an inquiry into fake news, agreed that it was a real problem, especially as over half of people now got their news from online media. But the problem wasn’t to regard it all with cynicism. That is what the retailers of fake news, like Putin and RT want you to do. They want people to think that it is all lies. No, concluded Hislop, you should treat online information with the same scepticism that should apply to the mainstream media. Because there was such a thing as objective truth.

The Mainstream Media and Its Lies: What the Programme Didn’t Say

Which is absolutely right. There is an awful lot of fake news online. There’s also an awful lot of fake news being retailed, without any objection or scepticism by the lamestream media. And the only people tackling this fake news are the online blogs, vlogs and news sites. I’ve mentioned often before the anti-Semitism smears against Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone, Mike, Martin Odoni, Tony Greenstein, Chris Williamson, and too many others. It’s all fake news, but there is not a word against it in the lamestream press, including the Eye. I’ve also mentioned how the British state during the Cold War had its own disinformation department pushing fake news, the IRD. This also turned to smearing the domestic, democratic Left in the shape of the Labour party and CND by claiming that they had connections to the Communist bloc. And in the case of Labour, that they supported the IRA. This is documented fact. Is it mentioned by the Beeb and the rest of the lamestream media? Don’t be daft! Is it still going on today? Yes, definitely – in the shape of the Democracy Institute and the Institute for Statecraft, which have connections to British intelligence and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. And they are smearing Corbyn as too close to Putin, along with other European dignitaries, officials and high ranking soldiers. And we might not seek to overthrow government, but the Americans certainly do. The CIA has a long history of this, now given over to the National Endowment for Democracy, which kindly arranged the 2012 Maidan Revolution in Kiev, which threw out the pro-Russian president and installed a pro-Russian one. As for the New York Times, the editors of Counterpunch showed in their book on official propaganda in the American media, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, how the Grey Lady ran a series of articles of fake news to support George Dubya’s invasion of Iraq. The Beeb has also done its fair share of broadcasting fake news. It’s supported the bogus allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and his supporters. It altered the footage of the fighting between police and miners at the Orgreave colliery during the miners’ strike to show falsely the miners attacking the police. In reality, it was the other way round. And then there was the way they edited Alex Salmond in a press conference during the Scottish Referendum. The Macclesfield Goebbels, Nick Robinson, had asked Salmond a question about whether the Edinburgh banking and big financial houses would move south if Scotland gained its independence. Salmond replied with a full answer, explaining that they wouldn’t. This was too much for the Beeb, which edited the footage, subsequently claiming that Salmond hadn’t answered fully, and then denying that he had answered the question at all. It was fake news, courtesy of the Beeb.

Mike and the Sunday Times’ Smears

None of this was mentioned, unsurprisingly. The result is a cosy, reassuring view of the mainstream media. Yes, fake news is out there, but it’s being done by internet loons and nasty foreigners like the Russians. But never fear, all is well. The mainstream media can be trusted to check the facts, and give you the truth. Except that they don’t check the facts, or when they do, immediately ignore them. As Gabriel Pogrund and the editor of the Sunday Times did when they wrote their nasty hit piece on Mike. Pogrund rang Mike up, Mike explained very clearly that he certainly was no kind of Jew-hater and certainly did not deny the Holocaust. Pogrund and his editor ignored that, and published their piece anyway. Complaints to IPSO then followed. Mike won, but some people still continue to believe the lies.

You can’t trust the lamestream media. Instead, I thoroughly recommend you go for corrections and alternative views to the left-wing blogs, vlogs and news sites like Mike’s, Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Zelo Street, the Skwawkbox, Gordon Dimmack and the American sites, Sam Seder’s Majority Report, The Michael Brooks’ Show, the David Pakman Show, Democracy Now! and the work of Abbie Martin attacking the American Empire and Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Those sites provide an important corrective to the lies and falsehood being daily fed to us by the lamestream media. Including the Beeb.

 

 

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