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Lobster Review of Book on the Real Reasons for Trump’s Hostility to China

The conspiracy/parapolitics magazine Lobster has put up a fascinating piece by Scott Newton, ‘The USA, China and a New Cold War?’ reviewing Jude Woodward’s The US vs China: Asia’s New Cold War?, published in 2017 by Manchester University Press. Woodward’s book is an examination of how Western attitudes towards China fell from being extremely positive in the first decade of this century to the current state of tension and suspicion. The chief causes for this, according to the pronouncements of our politicos and the media, are concern over massive human rights abuses in Sinjiang, Hong Kong and elsewhere, Chinese territorial claims to islands in the South China Sea, which threaten western strategic interests and the other neighbouring countries, and the threat to national security posed by Chinese companies, particularly in telecommunications and social media. Woodward’s book turns these assumptions upside down. She recognises that there are real concerns about Chinese human rights abuses and the persecution of the Uighurs, but argues that this situation is far more complicated. And the real reason for America’s change of attitude to China is due, not to Chinese authoritarianism, but because China represents an emerging threat to America’s status as the world’s dominant superpower and their attitude towards capitalism is very different from American neoliberalism.

Relations between China and the West were initially positive and very good because the new, capitalist China had helped prop up the global economy after the financial crash of 2008. The development of the country’s infrastructure created a huge demand for raw materials, which benefited other countries around the world, including the west. The introduction of capitalism is also transforming China. It’s gone from a largely agricultural nation to an industrial and commercial superpower. In 2013 it passed America as the world’s largest trading nation. later on this century it is expected to surpass America as the world’s most prosperous nation both as a country and in terms of per capita GDP.

China’s build up of military forces in the South China Sea is seen by Woodward as a defensive posture against the Americans. They’ve assembled a large naval force in the area, which poses a threat to Chinese access to the Straits of Malacca. 80 per cent of the oil imported by China and much of its merchant shipping pass through the Straits, hence Chinese determination to defend them. Woodward believes that China believes in a multipolar world, and has neither the economic power nor the will to establish itself as the world’s ruling nation.

Nor is China pursuing its economic and commercial interests at the expense of everyone else, as has also been alleged. Woodward argues that while western capitalism views trade as a competition between two parties, in which one party must beat and impoverish the other, the Chinese instead really do see it instead as benefiting both parties.

The oppression of the Uighurs and suppression of democracy in Hong Kong by the Chinese government are real and matters of serious concern, but the West is also covertly attempting to interfere in China’s control of these regions. This is through the National Endowment for Democracy, the non-state outfit to which the American state has given the task of regime change after it was taken away from the CIA in Hong Kong, and through sponsorship and funding of various extreme nationalist and Islamist groups in Sinjiang. Newton writes

But the picture is not clear cut. The Chinese government has
complained about unhelpful ‘foreign interference’ in Hong Kong and there
is evidence to support this. Senior US politicians such as Vice-President Mike Pence have met leading members of the opposition in Hong Kong,
and civil society organizations there have received significant financial
support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA spinoff established in 1983 to promote what later became known as ‘regime
change’. This has, of course, always been change to one committed to a
political economy characterised by neoliberalism, in other words by free
market capitalism. In Hong Kong the NED has been financing groups
since 1994. A China Daily article from 2019 stated that the NED has been
financing groups in Hong Kong since 1994 and that the Hong Kong Human
Rights Monitor received $1.9 million between 1995 and 2013. A search
of the NED’s grants database further reveals that, between 2016 and
2019, the (US-based) Solidarity Center received more than $600,000 and
the (US-based) National Democratic Institute $825,000.

As far as Xinjiang is concerned, the real story is complex. This area is
rich in oil, gas and ‘other natural resources and profoundly important to
China’s national security’. The region borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. At times of invasion and civil
war in Chinese history it has tended to fall under foreign influence: for
much of the twentieth century until the mid-1980s the Soviet Union
played a powerful role in the province’s politics, backing separatist
groups. This role has now been taken by the USA, which is funding a set
of far-right and fundamentalist Islamic organisations such as the Victims
of Communism Memorial Foundation in a bid to promote instability in
Xinjiang and perhaps even its detachment from China itself.

The efforts of these shadowy parapolitical outfits have been
supported by another NED-financed group, the World Uyghur
Congress(WUC), which is keen to promote the creation of a separate
Turkic State out of Xinjiang. WUC is linked to the extreme Right in Turkey,
notably to the Fascist Grey Wolves organization. Finally there is the East
Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) whose objective is also the
establishment of an independent state carved from Xinjiang, known as
East Turkestan. The EU, UN Security Council and indeed the US
government have all identified ETIM as a terrorist organization linked to
Al-Qaida. In addition to its activities in the Middle East, during the last
twenty years ETIM has carried out terrorist attacks in China, including in
Xinjiang. Given Xinjiang’s strategic importance to China’s security and
territorial integrity and given the nature of the externally-trained and
funded agencies at work in Xinjiang, the attitude of the Chinese State to
dissidents there cannot be called surprising, even if the taking of a
repressive line has exacerbated problems in the region. It has also
provoked increasing global disquiet and has contributed to international
tension, though it cannot be said to be the root cause of this, which stems
from changing geopolitical conditions.

Woodward also argues that current American hostility to China comes from the conviction that America really is divinely ordained to be the world’s governing nation with a particular mission to promote free market capitalism. America demands trade at the expense of privatisation, the suppression of organised labour, and the free movement of capital. The Chinese have no interest in promoting any of this. They’re solely interested in trade, not in the economic and political transformation of their partners. Newton writes

It may not seem rational for the US to pursue a confrontation here but two quotations explain the reality from Washington’s perspective. The first is the comment of former French Foreign Minister Hugo Vedrine that ‘most great American leaders have never doubted . . . that the United States was chosen by Providence as the “indispensable nation” and that it must remain dominant for the sake of humankind’. The second is a comment by Perry Anderson that the US state acts ‘not primarily as a projection of the concerns of US capital, but as a guardian of the general interest of all capitals, sacrificing – where necessary and for as long as needed – national gain for international advantage in the confidence of the ultimate pay-off’.

In other words, the US both writes and polices the rules of the game
and the rise of China represents a de facto challenge to this hegemony.
On the surface this seems a strange observation. China has engaged very
successfully and indeed supportively (shown by its reaction to the 2008-9
Crash) with global capitalism. But it does so in a qualified way, or, to
paraphrase Xi Jinping, ‘with Chinese characteristics’. Not only does the 33
Chinese economy continue to operate a large state-owned sector but its
financial system is closely regulated, with controls over the currency and
over capital movements. China does not possess the conviction that
private economic activity trumps public enterprise, that government
should be small, organised labour suppressed, trade free and
international capital flows unhindered. Its assistance for developing
nations is not accompanied by requirements that states cut spending,
privatise public industries and services and liberalise the foreign trade
sector. In short China has never, in practice, endorsed the neoliberal
norms of the ‘Washington consensus’ established during the 1980s and
there is a real prospect that, if it does become the world’s largest
economy, it will seek to re-write the rules of the game in a way that is not
compatible with free market capitalism. This is what the US fears and its
strategy is therefore directed to forcing China to accept Washington’s
leadership and ‘enter the world family of nations’ on US terms or it would
face the likelihood of pre-emptive diplomatic, economic and, if necessary,
military action to halt its rise. As Woodward points out, this approach is
designed to ensure not only protection of the interests of global capital
but to secure ‘a longer-term pay-off’ for US domestic industry and finance
‘by preventing China reaching the point of competing at US levels of productivity and technology’.

It’s very doubtful if this new policy towards China will succeed. Many of the surrounding Asian countries have embraced China as a new market for their goods, while much of the American commercial hostility comes from firms and industries threatened by Chinese competition. Newton concludes that other countries may choose not to follow America’s lead but there will be considerable pressure on Britain to do so following Brexit. He writes

There is clearly a strong push within the British establishment, coming mostly from within the Tory Party and its friends in the City and the armed
services, in favour of military deployment in support of US forces in the
Far East, even if few other nations are willing to join. This might make
sense for the complex of defence industries, banks, hedge funds and
private equity firms at the core of modern British Conservatism but it is
hard to see what benefit there is for the rest of us in the UK from
confrontation with a nation which appears to harbour no aggressive
intentions to foreign countries and seems destined to become within a
short time the world’s largest economy.

See: https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster80/lob80-usa-china-cold-war.pdf

In short, the new strained relations between China and America are a result, not so much of Chinese aggression, but due to Trump’s America trying to maintain itself as the world’s dominant nation economically and militarily. In this America is determined to promote its own very predatory form of capitalism, which is challenged by the less extreme form embraced by China. And it’s a situation that may benefit the military-industrial complex and financial sector that supports to the Tories, but won’t provide it to anyone else.

Ed Davey Elected Leader of Hated, Failing Party

Ed Davey has beaten his rival Layla Moran and been elected leader of the Lib Dems. But according to an article in Monday’s I by Nigel Morris, ‘Liberal Democrats to crown new leader as party hits ‘rock bottom’, the Lib Dems are still in major trouble with the electorate. The article states that the British public may still hate them for joining the Tories in the coalition government under David Cameron and their leader, the noxious and duplicitous Nick Cligg. The article runs

The new Liberal Democrat leader, who will be crowned this week, will inherit a party whose fortunes remain at “rock bottom” following a succession of dire electoral performances, the polling expert Sir John Curtice has said.

The party’s support has fallen to a 50-year low amid signs that it is still being punished for its part in the Tory-led coalition government of 2010-15.

Sir Ed Davey and Layla Moran are vying to become the Lib Dems’ fifth leader in five years, with the victor facing the daunting task of carving out a distinctive niche for a party at risk of being reduced to a bit player on the political stage.

The winner also must decide how to respond to moves by the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, to steer his party towards the political centre ground.

Despite their initial optimism that they could attract anti-Brexit voters, the Lib Dems won just 11 seats in last year’s election, and two polls this week showed them languishing on 6 and 7 per cent support.

Sir John, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, told I: “There was a brief moment last year when it looked as though they might be able to turn around their fortunes on a wave of Remain discontent with Brexit, but by polling day in December most of these voters had slipped through their fingers.

“As a result, the party finds itself still at rock bottom and having to start from scratch in persuading voters of its relevance and message.”

Although its vote share edged up to 11.6 per cent in December, it finished the night with two fewer MPs and suffered the embarrassment of its leader, Jo Swinson, losing her seat, plunging the party inito yet another leadership contest. Lib Dem insiders predict a close finish as Sir Ed, who has been acting leader for nine months and served in the Coalition cabinet, faces the insurgent appeal of Ms Moran, who has been an MP only since 2017.

Voting closes on Wednesday, with the result being announced on Thursday.

Mark Pack, the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire, said the party had some grounds for optimism, including increased membership, a growing local government base and stable finances.

“We cannot afford to be blase about the situation, but there is material for a new leader to have a decent opportunity,” he said.

“One of the clear needs is to communicate the positive vision we have for the country. People just don’t notice we are around. The new leader has to make voters feel we are relevant.”

Mike in his report on Davey’s election reminds us that this is the party of mischief. The Lib Dems targeted the Labour party in various constituencies with misleading graphs and polling figures claiming that Labour couldn’t win there. Davey and Moran have also adopted some of the popular Corbynite policies, like increased taxes for the rich and Universal Basic Income, that Starmer has dropped like the good, corporatist Blairite he is. There’s therefore a real danger that some Labour voters may go over to the Lib Dems, thus weakening opposition to the Tories even further. Because after the Lib Dems’ betrayal of their supposedly liberal principles to join the Tory government in the coalition, you really can’t expect them to honour their promises one bit.

And some of the centrists in the Labour party are also worried about the fate of the Lib Dems. A few weeks ago, Labour MP Ayesha Hazarika was in the pages of the I arguing that Starmer should work out some kind of partnership or pact to save them. Why? She confessed she liked them, and wanted to create some kind of anti-Brexit opposition bloc. I have no time for Hazarika. She seems to me to emblematic of much that is wrong with the Labour party under Starmer. She comes across as a Blairite, and I think her media prominence is entirely due to the fact that she is a young woman from an ethnic minority. Her parents are Indian Muslims, and according to Wikipedia, she went to Laurel Bank, a private girls’ school in Edinburgh. She’s thus a very privileged ex-private schoolgirl, who really doesn’t have anything to offer the working class. But due to her gender and ethnic background, she represents diversity and liberal values.

In fact, it could be argued that centrist, Labour MPs like Hazarika are a particular liability to the Labour party. The Tory media are currently whipping up White resentment against current affirmative action programmes and the anti-racist political consensus. You only have to look at Alex Belfield’s wretched output on YouTube, in which he posts rant after rant attacking ‘left-wing snowflakes’ and their attacks on Britishness and Whites. Such as attacks on the singing of ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ on the Last Night of the Proms, and an announcement by Channel 4 that one day next year will be entirely given over to Black presenters. And one of the other far-right websites on YouTube has put up a video on the ‘Demonisation of the White Working Class’.

UKIP’s core support came from older, White working class voters, who felt left behind by the mainstream parties. Blair and Brown turned the party away from its working-class roots to concentrate on getting the votes of middle class swing voters. They rejected traditional Labour policies and embraced privatisation, the free market and the destruction of the welfare state. But nevertheless they complacently believed that the working class would still support them as they had nowhere else to go. There is clearly a need to increase the representation of women and ethnic minorities in politics and parliament, but the selection of privileged, Blairite MPs like Hazarika threaten to further weaken parts of working class support for the Labour party. Because if working class voters don’t see Labour offering them anything except more poverty, and appearing to favour the BAME community instead, then some of them will respond to the barely coded racism of the Tories.

As for the Lib Dems, they are treacherous and completely unprincipled. They’ve shown that, whatever they may say about being a centre party and pulling the Tories in a more moderate direction when they were in government with them, they actually did anything but. It was Nick Clegg who wanted to raise tuition fees, for example. Cameron was prepared to give in to the Lib Dems, who had pledged not to raise them. Clegg, Cable, and Swinson have all shown that they are simply another neoliberal party of deceit with nothing to offer Britain’s working people except more poverty and despair. Instead of being given a life-line, the party should die.

And it would only be a good thing if the Blairite faction in the Labour party died out with them.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/08/27/ed-davey-elected-leader-of-the-party-of-mischief/

 

 

 

Private Eye Shows Blatant Pro-Starmer Bias in Review of Ernest Bevin Biography

I’ve blogged many times about the vicious anti-Corbyn bias Private Eye shares with the rest of the media. Like the rest of the country’s corrupt and mendacious press and broadcasting establishment, Private Eye has consistently pushed the smears and lies against the former Labour leader. It has vilified him as an anti-Semite and, some kind of Commie or Trotskyite infiltrator. Even now that Corbyn is no longer head of the party, the attacks continue. This fortnight’s edition, for 31st July – 13th August 2020 contains an article rejoicing over the threats to sue Corbyn and the party by the Blairite intriguers and anti-Semitism smear merchants for libel. The anti-Semitism smears always were politically motivated. They were mobilised by the Zionist Jewish establishment – the chief rabbinate, Board of Deputies of British Jews and the various Friends of Israel parliamentary organisations in order to rebut criticism of the Israeli state’s 70 + years of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. The wider British political establishment used them in order to protect Israel as an outpost of British and western power in the Middle East. And the Blairites used them from a mixture of political expediency and genuine political conviction. Blair, Mandelson and the rest were strong supporters of Israel anyway, and Blair had obtained his financial independence from the unions he despised through donations from pro-Israel Jewish businessmen through Lord Levy. And the anti-Semitism allegations were another way of discrediting Corbyn after he and the traditional Labour moderates gained control of the party.

Well, Starmer is now head of the party, and is continuing the campaign to maintain Blairite control through purging the party Left, all under the pretext that he is just clearing out the anti-Semites. This is while real, anti-Black racists are allowed to thrive and fester in the party as many of them appear to be the Blairite intriguers, who conspired to undermine the party’s election campaign.

But there is also an ideological as well as a tactical campaign being fought by the Blairites in their attempts to win control. According to Private Eye’s literary column, this includes a new biography of Ernest Bevin by New Labour’s Andrew Adonis, Ernest Bevin: Labour’s Churchill. This is reviewed in the magazine’s recent issue as ‘Ernest toil’.

Bevin is a major figures in Bristol and Somerset labour history. He was a Somerset agricultural worker, who was instrumental in forming the union for this part of the rural workforce. He then moved to Bristol, where he became a major figure in trade union and Labour party politics, helping to found the Transport and General Workers’ Union. During World War II he served Churchill as Minister of Labour, and then under Clement Attlee as Commonwealth Minister.

The Eye’s review of Adonis’ biography is deeply critical. It notes that there are already several excellent works on the great man, on whom Adonis’ own work is very strongly based. Adonis has conducted no deeper research into Bevin – the book draws very heavily on the previous biographies. Adonis doesn’t bring any fresh insight to his subject either, and the book is stylistically marred by the use of contemporary management-speak and 21st century jargon. So why has it been written?

For the Eye, the answer is that Adonis is attempting to use Bevin as an ideological bolster for the Starmerite faction in the Labour party. Adonis is impressed by Bevin’s embrace of Keynsian economics and proclaims that the stood for a ‘liberal socialism’ apart from nationalisation and the unregulated free market. This is the position of Starmer and his faction, whom the Eye gives absolutely no doubt should have the leadership of the party. Their anonymous reviewer writes

So what is Adonis up to? Well, like the Imperialist burghers of late-Victorian Bristol busily erecting statues to Edward Colston a century after his death, Gordon Brown’s former transport secretary is keen to harness the past to the somewhat shaky equipage of the present. According to this assessment, Bevin is worth reading about now not only for the startling achievements of his ascent through life – he was an orphan boy from the West Country sent out to work in the fields at the age of 11 – but for what he has to tell us about the politics of 2020.

Item one on Adonis’ list is Bevin’s friendship with John Maynard Keynes and his enthusiasm for the latter’s plan to borrow money to fund better public services. Item two is the touting of something called “liberal socialism”, in which, quoting Keynes, “the solution lies neither with nationalisation nor with unregulated private competition; it lies in a variety of experiments, of attempts to get the best of both worlds.” Item three, naturally, is Bevin’s lifelong quarrel with the Left, exemplified by his wiping th floor with the Labour party’s pacifist leader George Lansbury at the party conference of 1935.

Bevin, you see, was not only a visionary politician (although this being 2020, Adonis has to take up several paragraphs apologising for his unreconstructed ideas about “Empire”), he was also an old-style Labour bruiser able to stitch up the right-wing trade union vote in the service of the parliamentary front bench. Clearly, what we need right now is a sensible, moderate Labour party with a raft of policies that will encourage social justice without scaring off big business and the middle classes while doing to the Jeremy Corbyn’s o this world what Bevin did to Lansbury.

“Britain needed Bevin once,” Adonis signs off. “Now we need his kind again.” If this isn’t a piece of semaphoring in the direction of Sir Keir Starmer, I don’t know what is. Will Lord Adonis play a part in making sense of our post-coronavirus world an emergency by the way, “of a kind Bevin relished”). We can only hope and pray. (My emphasis)

I’ve got a biography of Ernest Bevin on one of the bookshelves here, because of his importance to national history and that of Bristol’s working class. But the policies Starmer supports and wishes to impose seem just to be standard ‘Third Way’ Blairism. It’s just more Thatcherism and neoliberalism. We’ve seen again and again that the privatisation of the public services, the utilities and the NHS, have been an absolute failure. They haven’t improved performance. Far from it – they’ve made it worse. And thanks to the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS pushed through by Blair and Brown as well as the Tories, there is a real danger that this country will get a private healthcare system as disastrous and malign as America’s, and run by much the same firms. We desperately need to renationalise gas, electricity, water and the NHS. While the Tories, Blairites and the media succeeded in turning the public against Corbyn, these policies were still immensely popular with the public. My guess is that they still are, and would put Starmer and the party in an excellent place for power if he bothered to promote them. But Starmer won’t, because as a Blairite he believes absolutely in the primacy and success of private industry, even when its failure is obvious to anybody else.

Contrary to the rubbish put out by the right-wing political establishment, Corbyn really was never a radical. His programme for the renationalisation of the NHS and the utilities is simply a return of the old social democratic consensus that gave Britain growth and prosperity from 1948 to Thatcher’s miserable election victory in 1979. By traditional Labour standards, Corbyn’s actually a centrist. But after 40 years of free market Thatcherism, even this moderate position is viewed as dangerously radical by the self-appointed guardians of political orthodoxy.

And that orthodoxy is shared uncritically by Private Eye, even though the magazine has consistently revealed its failure, particularly in the Private Finance Initiative. But it’s the ideology adopted by what passes as the left-wing media set. It’s been pushed by the Groaniad, for example, whose hacks are now in a screaming rage that the left-wingers they’ve been sneering at and gaslighting all these years are abandoning their wretched rag. Sales of the Groan are disastrous and massive job cuts on the way. And the magazine has only itself to blame.

My guess is that Private Eye shares some of the same assumptions as the hacks at the Groan, or at least the left-wing members of the magazine’s staff. Britain’s newspaper hacks, with certain exceptions, seem to come from the same class and my guess is that much of Private Eye may also come from the same journos in the rest of the press, published anonymously.

And so we have the spectacle of the Eye openly revealing its own partisan bias in support of Starmer. Which confirms just how fake the anti-Semitism smears were. The real issue was always the Blairite’s fear of a genuine socialist Labour party that would genuinely empower the working class. The Eye’s anonymous reviewer, through their hopes and prayers for Starmer’s leadership, as just made that very clear.

 

Furious! Tories Include NHS in Secret Trade Deal with Trump

I’m afraid it’s taken me a few days to get round to this story, but it’s partly because this whole, shabby deal has made me so enraged. Mike put up a piece a few days ago reporting that the Tories have lied to us. Despite their fervent denials, they have put the NHS on the table to Donald Trump. This means the privatisation of the NHS as a whole comes that bit closer, and medicines are going to be more expensive. Because what Trump’s donors in big pharma really hate is a big state machine demanding value for money and affordable drugs. Some of us still remember the moan of one of these company heads when he took over the firm making the anti-AIDS drugs. He immediately raised the price to exorbitant amounts as he didn’t want to make them for poor Indians. I think his name was Martin Shkreli, and he was torn to shreds for his disgusting attitude on social media. But the attitude against supplying cheap drugs is still there.

Mike in his article pointed out how the Tories lied to us. Jeremy Corbyn told the public the truth. He presented the evidence, but was shouted down by the paid liars of corporate media, who carried on smearing him and his followers as anti-Semites. As Mike showed, one of those claiming that the NHS was not going to be included in the deal was Laura Kuenssberg. She claimed it would be far too unpopular. Well, it would be if more people knew about it, I suppose. But it’s been kept off the front page so far by the scandal about Russian interference, so I’m guessing that the Tories hope that their grubby deal has been successfully buried.

Mike also pointed out in his article that the Tories have a proprietorial attitude towards the Health Service. It isn’t ours, it’s theirs, and they can, in their view, do what the devil they like with it. There’s so much truth in this. When David Cameron was busy preparing the dismemberment of the NHS eight years ago with his disgusting Health and Social Care bill, there was a meme showing just how many Tory and other MPs were connected to private healthcare companies, or companies supplying the NHS, that would stand to profit from the deal. And there was no shortage of them – over 100. This is all for the profit of Dodgy Dave, Bozo and their friends and donors in private healthcare.

It also shows how little libertarian internet personality Sargon of Gasbag really knows about free market capitalism as it really exists, as opposed to the idealised version he’s taken over from the panting disciples of von Hayek, Mises and Milton Friedman. When the possibility that the Tories would include it in the deal with Trump first broke, the Sage of Swindon put up a piece on YouTube denying that such a deal would be made. This was because no private businessman would want it.

Sargon obviously hasn’t been paying attention for the past couple of decades. Because ever since John Major’s time American companies have been desperate to get their claws into Britain’s NHS. It began with the private healthcare insurance fraudsters Unum, who advised Major’s health secretary, Peter Lilley. And when Major lost the 1997 election to Blair, Unum simply moved in there. Along with other American companies. Blair even decided he wanted to remodel the commissioning system of the NHS on American private healthcare company Kaiserpermanente, because he thought mistakenly they were able to provide better value for money.

The Tories and the media lied to the British public. As Mike states in his article, the Tories are inveterate liars. But they succeeded in getting the British public to believe them, handing them an 80 seat majority. Because Boris was going ‘to get Brexit done’. And Brexit would be absolutely wonderful, we’d be able to have all these wonderful trade deals made on our terms without the interference of the EU. And we wouldn’t have to worry about all the nasty bureaucracy we’d need to travel to or trade with the Continent, because all that was just lies dreamed up by Project Fear.

That was also a lie, as Zelo Street has also shown in his articles about it. No-one is queuing up to trade with us on our terms. The Japanese have made it very clear that any deal they make with us will be very much on theirs. And I have no doubt Donald Trump has made the same point. Outside the great trading block of the EU, we are very weak and vulnerable. The Tories need Trump’s trade deal, and so it was almost inevitable that despite their weasely denials, they’d fold and give into him.

Not that selling off the NHS isn’t something they haven’t wanted to do since Margaret Thatcher planned on doing it in the 1980s. Or when a section of the Tories in 1948 refused to back the NHS as it was too expensive, and then returned in the 1950s to demand its denationalisation.

If this deal goes through, it will bring even closer the Tories’ dream of replacing the NHS with a private healthcare system, funded through private health insurance. Where if you don’t have the cash, you try getting your treatment from medicare or the charity hospital. Something like 20 per cent of Americans can’t afford their health insurance. As Mike says, 3/4 of all bankruptcies in the US come from Americans unable to pay their medical bills.

It will mean a return to the terrible, deeply unequal provision of medical care that existed before Labour’s foundation of the NHS in 1948. When millions of working people couldn’t afford the doctor. And what is also boiling my blood is that Nandy and Starmer are complicit in this privatisation. Blair would also liked to have privatised the NHS, although I think he would still have kept it funded by the state. But Nandy revealed on the Andrew Marr show that she and Starmer would also have kept the NHS’ inclusion in Trump’s trade talks secret as well.

British working men and women are being sold into grinding poverty, debt, despair, starvation, illness and death for the corporate profit of a Thatcherite political and media class. Mike in his piece comments about how generous the Beeb and newspaper hacks, who stand by when deals like this are being made and dutifully keep their keyboards and mouths shut, or hail it as a success in bringing more private investment into the NHS, are rewarded with personal private healthcare cover for themselves.

Because you can bet that they have. Just as Tory bigwigs have connections to the big private healthcare firms slavering to buy up the NHS.

Here’s how the Tories reneged on their promises to protect ‘our’ NHS

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/brexit-ball-and-chain-exposed.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/brexiteers-meet-project-reality.html

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Condemns Israeli Invasion of Palestine After Smearing Corbyn and Labour

I used to have some respect for Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. She was one of the few people writing about racism who was even-handed, condemning Black anti-White racism along with White prejudice and violence against people of colour. I still do respect her to some extent. But that respect is rapidly dwindling thanks to her joining the witch-hunt and mass smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters, and the Labour Party in general. As I’ve blogged about before, ad nauseam, ad infinitum, the campaign had zero to do with real anti-Jewish hatred in the Labour Party. It was simply a ruse by the Tories to smear Labour, along with other lies, such as that he was a supporter of the IRA, A Czech spy, or a Commie or Trot. None of these were true. Within the Labour Party, it was down to the Blairite faction trying desperately to cling on to power and continue to push the Dear Leader’s free market, low tax, pro-privatisation and anti-welfare agenda. Which very much included the privatisation of the NHS. This dovetailed with the Israel lobby. Blair was an ardent Zionist, and his government – I think it might have been his friend Peter Mandelson – who said that Labour under Blair had ended the ‘cowboys and Indians attitude to Israel’. Blair had received generous funding from pro-Israeli businessmen through pop promoter Lord Levy, whom he met at a gathering at the Israeli embassy. And the Israelis wanted Corbyn gone and his supporters purged because of Corbyn’s principled opposition to their decades long ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. As Tony Greenstein has tirelessly shown on his site, Israel routinely smears its critics as anti-Semites as its only defence, the facts themselves being indefensible. It says much about their smears that very many of them were directed against anti-Zionist Jews, or simply Jews that criticised the Israeli state’s treatment of the Palestinians. Under Netanyahu, even liberal Zionists like B’Tselem are dangerous subversives, who must be discredited and silenced. Corbyn and Jackie Walker, a Black Jewish activist by descent and faith, were judged joint no. 2 existential threats to Israel. And the British establishment felt threatened because Israel’s our ally and western colony in the Middle East. And so all the press and media joined in with the howls and smears. Including Alibhai-Brown.

Now Corbyn has lost the election, as they wanted, and been succeeded by Starmer. And Netanyahu has announced he is going to annex a third of the West Bank. And Alibhai-Brown condemned it yesterday in her column in the I. It was, she declared, colonialist and would just annoy the Arab and Muslim worlds. Yes, yes it would. And it does. You only have to talk to British Muslims to realize how strongly they rightly feel about the Palestinians’ maltreatment. If Corbyn had won the election – and in 2017 he came very close, considering the strength of the opposition – he may not have been able to stop Netanyahu’s invasion, but he would have made a damn good try. And that was precisely what Israel and its willing allies in the British establishment were afraid of. And they included Alibhai-Brown’s employers, the I.

It is now too late for her to condemn Israel’s planned assault on the Occupied Territories. I’m glad she’s doing so, but it is more than a little hypocritical after she joined the smears and persecution of Corbyn and the Labour Party. Israel is prepared to accept some criticism of its maltreatment, if it’s only token. Boris Johnson has issued a statement against the annexation, but, unlike those of various left-wing Labour MPs, there are no penalties attached to it. Netanyahu knows he can go right ahead and there will be no consequences. Just as the Israel lobby in this country has not demanded that the Conservatives adopt the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism, or subscribe to ten pledges against it, unlike the Labour Party.

It seems to be an illustration of the kind of tactics Noam Chomsky describes in Manufacturing Consent. Capital and the establishment hold on to power by creating the illusion of free speech and democratic debate, while making sure that there is no opportunity for real, profound change. Alibhai-Brown can condemn Israel’s attacks on the Palestinians in her page, just like Private Eye could also criticise Israel for its brutalization of the Arabs. But this freedom to criticize is strongly circumscribed. The Eye was also in lockstep with the rest of the media in smearing Corbyn, as it still is. There was the carefully crafted illusion that Israel still tolerates criticism, but this is an illusion. As soon as there’s any real chance that public opinion will turn against Israel and the Palestinians aided, that criticism is silenced. And magazines and journals like the Eye and Alibhai-Brown start smearing the real opponents of Israeli policy. Of course, it’s possible that Alibhai-Brown and the Eye thank they are genuine critics of Israel, but add the caveat that they’re ‘responsible’ critics. Just as Blair pursued ‘responsible’ – in other words, right-wing establishment – policies.

But it just shows how very limited their commitment to genuine anti-colonial politics really is.

 

Fabian Blueprint for a Socialist Britain

Sidney and Beatrice Webb, with an introduction by Samuel H. Beer, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain (Cambridge: London School of Economics/ Cambridge University Press 1975).

I got this through the post yesterday, having ordered it a month or so ago. The Webbs were two of the founding members of the Fabian Society, the others including George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. The idea of the NHS goes back to their minority report on the nation’s health published in the years before or round about the First World War. First published in 1920, this is their proposal for a socialist Britain.

The blurb for it on the front flap runs

The Constitution for a Socialist Commonwealth is a book that helps us understand the ‘mind of the Webbs’. Of all their works, it is the most general in scope – Beatrice called it a ‘summing up’ – and it does much to reveal the ideology of the great partnership. And since the mind of the Webbs was also the mind (though not the heart) of British socialism, an appreciation of this ideology, considered not only with regard to its confusions and blinds spots, but also its insights and intellectual sensitivities, helps one understand the Labour Party and what is still sometimes called ‘the Movement’.

But the book also has a broader importance. The problems that prompted the Webbs to write it still plague Great Britain and other, advanced societies. In 1920, the year of its publication, the modern democratic state was being sharply confronted by a syndicalist challenge based on the rising economic power of organised producers’ groups. Hardly less serious were the political difficulties of giving substance to parliamentary and popular control int eh face of growing bureaucratisation and a mass electorate. With regard to both sorts of problems, the Webbs were often prescient in their perceptions and sensible in their proposals. They concentrate on economic and political problems that are still only imperfectly understood by students of society and have by no means been mastered by the institutions of the welfare state and managed economy.

After Beer’s introduction, the book has the following chapters, which deal with the topics below.

Introduction

The Dictatorship of the Capitalist – The Manifold Character of Democracy.

The book is split into two sections. Part 1, ‘A Survey of the Ground’, contains

Chapter 1 – Democracies of Consumers

Voluntary Democracies of Consumers – Obligatory Associations of Consumers – The Relative Advantages of Voluntary and Obligatory Associations of Consumers – The Economic and Social Functions of Associations of Consumers.

Chapter 2 – Democracies of Producers

The Trade Union Movement – Professional Associations of Brain Workers – The Relative Advantages and Disadvantages of Obligatory and Voluntary Associations of Producers – The Economic and Social Functions of Associations of Producers: (i) Trade Unions; (ii) Professional Associations.

Chapter 3 – Political Democracy

The Structure of British Political Democracy: (a) the King; (b) the House of Lords; (c) the House of Commons and the Cabinet – Cabinet Dictatorship – Hypertrophy – A Vicious Mixture of Functions – the Task of the M.P. – the Failure of the Elector – The Warping of Political Democracy by a Capitalist Environment – Political Parties – The Labour Party – The Success of Political Democracy in general, and of British democracy in particular – The Need for Constitutional Reform.

Part II, ‘The Cooperative Commonwealth of Tomorrow’, begins with another introduction, and then the following chapters.

1 – The National Government

The King – the House of Lords – The National Parliament – the Political Parliament and its Executive – the Social Parliament and its Executive – the Relation between the Political and the Social Parliaments – Devolution as an Alternative Scheme of Reform – The Argument summarised – the Political Complex – The Social Complex – The Protection of the Individual against the Government.

2 – Some Leading Considerations in the Socialisation of Industries and Services

Three Separate Aspects of Economic Man – The Relative Functions of Democracies of Consumers and Democracies of Producers – Democracies of Citizen-Consumers – Democracies of Producers – ownership and Direction – The Participation in Management by the Producers.

3 – The Nationalised Industries and Services

The Abandonment of Ministerial Responsibility – The Differentiation of Control from Administration – The Administrative Machine – District Councils – Works Committees – the Recruitment of the Staff – Discipline Boards – Collective Bargaining – Advisory Committees – The Sphere of the Social Parliament – How the Administration will work – Initiative and Publicity – The Transformation of Authority – Coordinated instead of Chaotic Complexity – The Price of Liberty.

4 – The Reorganisation of Local Government

The Decay of Civic Patriotism – The Chaos in the Constitution and Powers of existing Local Authorities – Areas – The Inefficiency of the ‘Great Unpaid’ – The Principles on which Reconstruction should proceed – The Principle of Neighbourhood – The principle of Differentiation of Neighbourhoods – The principle of Direct Election – The Principle of the General Representatives – The Correspondence of Area and Functions – The Local Government of Tomorrow – The Representation of the Citizen-Consumer – The Local Councillor – Vocational Representation – Committees of Management – Machinery for Collective Bargaining – The Practicability of Vocational Self-Government in Municipal Government – The Industries and Services of Local Authorities – Emulation among Local Authorities – The Federation of Local Authorities – The Relation of Municipal Institutions to the Social and Political Parliaments.

5 – the Sphere of Voluntary Associations of Consumers in the Socialist Commonwealth

The Co-operative Movement – The Limitations of the Cooperative Movement – Constitutional Changes in the Cooperative Movement – Other Voluntary Associations of Consumers – Adult Education – The Future of the Country House – The Extension of Personality – The Problem of the Press – The Safeguarding of the Public Interest.

6 – The Reorganisation of the Vocational World

The Trade Union Movemewnt as the Organ of Revolt against the Capitalist System – The Right of Self-Determination for each Vocation – What Constitutes a Vocation – The Right of Free Enterprise for Socialised Administrations – Vocational Organisation as a Stratified Democracy; (a) How will each Vocation be recruited? (d) The Relative Position of Obligatory and Voluntary Organisation in a Vocation; (e) The Function of Vocational Organisation; (f) Subject Associations; (g) The Development of Professional Ethic; (h) Vocational Administration of Industries and Services; (i) Is there any Place for a National Assembly of Vocational Representatives?

7 – The Transitional Control of Profit-Making Enterprise

The Policy of the National Minimum – The Promotion of Efficiency and the Prevention of Extortion – The Standing Committee on Productivity – The Fixing of Prices – The Method of Expropriation – Taxation – The Relation of Prices to the National Revenue – The continuous Increase in a Socialist Commonwealth of Private Property in Individual Ownership – How Capital will be provided – The Transition and its Dangers- The Spirit of Service – The Need for Knowledge.

I’ve been interested in reading it for a little while, but finally decided to order it after reading in Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism that the Webb’s included an industrial parliament in their proposed constitution. I’d advocated something similar in a pamphlet I’d produced arguing that parliament was dominated by millionaires and managing directors – over 70 per cent of MPs have company directorships – working people should have their own parliamentary chamber.

The book is a century old, and doubtless very dated. It was republished in the 1970s during that decades’ acute trade union unrest and popular dissatisfaction with the corporative system of the management of the economy by the government, private industry and the trade unions. These problems were all supposed to have been swept away with the new, private-enterprise, free market economy introduced by Maggie Thatcher. But the problem of poverty has become more acute. The privatisation of gas, electricity and water has not produced the benefits and investment the Tories believed. In fact electricity bills would be cheaper if they’d remained in state hands. Ditto for the railways. And the continuing privatisation of the NHS is slowly destroying it for the sake of expensive, insurance-financed private medical care that will be disastrous for ordinary working people.

And the growing poverty through stagnant wages and welfare cuts, seen in the growth of food banks, is also partly due to the destruction of trade union power and the exclusion of working people from the management of their companies and industries.

I haven’t yet read it, but look forward to doing so because I feel that, despite Tory lies and propaganda and no matter how dated, the Webbs’ proposals and solutions are still acutely relevant and necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Free Market as a Double Lie

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/04/2020 - 4:06am in

As social animals, humans live and die by the success of our groups. This raises a dilemma. What’s best for the group is often not what’s best for individuals within the group. If you’re surrounded by a group of trusting individuals, it’s best for you to lie and cheat. You’ll increase your relative fitness. And in evolutionary terms, that’s what matters.

Given that selfish behavior is often advantageous, why aren’t more of us liars and cheaters? One reason, paradoxically, is that we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves that what’s best for groups is also what’s best for individuals within the group. I’ll call this the noble prosocial lie.

Propagating this noble lie, I believe, is one of the principle roles of ideologies. A good ideology convinces individuals that selfless behavior is in their self interest. This promotes prosocial behavior, making groups more cohesive. And since cohesive groups tend to beat out incohesive groups, the noble lie tends to spread.

Given the benefits of equating altruism with self interest, you’d think that all ideologies would do it. Yet some do the opposite. They promote selfish behavior as good for the group. I’ll call this the Machiavellian lie.

Now here’s the paradox. The Machiavellian lie should be caustic to social cohesion. So you’d expect that group selection would kill it off. But for one Machiavellian lie, that’s not what happened. Instead of dying out, this lie has thrived. In fact, it’s become the dominant ideology of our time. What is it?

The belief in the free market.

Free-market ideology claims that to help society, we must help ourselves. If we all act selfishly, the thinking goes, the invisible hand will make everyone better off. So here we have an ideology that promotes selfishness in the name of group benefit. It’s a Machiavellian lie that should be caustic to social cohesion. And yet free-market thinking has beat out many other ideologies. How can this be?

Here’s what I think is happening. Free-market ideology, I propose, is a double lie.

First, it’s a lie in the sense that its central claim is false. Acting selfishly does not maximize group well being. Modern evolutionary theory makes this clear. Second, and more subtly, free-market thinking is a lie in the sense that it does not lead to greater freedom and autonomy. Quite the opposite. The evidence suggests that free-market thinking actually leads to greater obedience and subordination. The spread of free-market thinking goes hand in hand with the growth of hierarchy.

So the free market, it appears, is not about freedom. It’s about power. Free market thinking is successful, I argue, because it uses the language of freedom to cloak the accumulation of power.

Group interest vs. self interest

We’ll begin our journey into free-market thinking by dispelling its central concept. The selfish behavior of individuals is not magically good for the group. Modern evolutionary theory makes this clear.

According to the theory of multilevel selection, there is always a disconnect between the interests of a group, and the interests of individuals within the group. This disconnect appears odd at first. After all, isn’t what’s good for a group also good for individuals within the group?

The answer is yes and no. Yes in the sense that when a group succeeds, that’s good for everyone in the group. But no, in the sense that evolution doesn’t care about absolute fitness. It cares about relative fitness. Sure, the best strategy may be for individuals to cooperate in groups. But in relative terms, it’s best for individuals within the group to act selfishly. They’ll increase their fitness relative to others in the group. And in terms of the spread of genes, this relative advantage is what matters.

So for groups to be successful, they must suppress the selfish behavior of individuals. There are many ways of doing this, but the most common is probably punishment. To encourage altruistic behavior, groups punish self-serving individuals. Human groups do this. Animal groups do this. Even cell groups do this. Right now your immune system is killing off deviant cells (nascent cancer) that would, if let alone, kill you.

But while punishing deviance is universal to all social organisms, humans have developed a method for suppressing selfishness that is unique. To promote prosocial behavior, we harness the power of ideas. We lie to ourselves.

Altruism through self deception

When it comes to promoting altruism, we don’t tell ourselves the truth, which is this: group-serving behavior involves sacrifice. To be selfless, you must lower your relative fitness from what it would be if you were selfish. Few ideologies acknowledge this truth. Those that do don’t last long.

Consider the failed ideology promoted by the French philosopher Auguste Comte. In the mid-19th century, Comte argued for a new ‘Religion of Humanity’. Its goal would be simple: to promote altruism. The religion would celebrate putting the needs of the group above self interest. Here’s how Thomas Dixon summarizes Comte’s thinking:

The “great problem of human life” for Comte was how to organize society so that egoism would be subordinated to altruism. The aim of the Religion of Humanity was to solve this problem through social organization and individual religious devotions. [1]

At first glance, Comte’s religion seems unremarkable. Just like most religions, it celebrates selflessness. Why, then, did it fail? A closer look reveals a key difference. Comte’s ‘Religion of Humanity’ portrayed altruism as a win loss — a win for the group and a loss for the individual. Successful religions, however, portray altruism as a win win. They claim that altruism is good for the group and for the self.

You can probably see why this noble lie is more potent than Comte’s truth. Few of us are completely selfless. So there’s no better way to motivate prosocial behavior than to appeal to our self interest.

Biologist David Sloan Wilson argues that this noble prosocial lie is part of most successful ideologies. It’s something that, in evolutionary terms, is unsurprising. Ideas that are successful need not respect the truth. Here’s Wilson:

Groups governed by belief systems that internalize social control can be much more successful than groups that must rely on external forms of social control. For all of these (and probably other) reasons, we can expect many belief systems to be massively fictional in their portrayal of the world. [David Sloan Wilson in Darwin’s Cathedral]

Most ideologies, it seems, have converged on the same ‘massive fiction’. They align altruism with self-interest.

In his book Does Altruism Exist?, Wilson further analyzes this deception using the example of the Hutterites. The Hutterites are a communal sect of protestants who live in Western Canada and the United States. As communal livers, the Hutterites prize group-serving behavior. But they don’t portray this behavior as loss for the individual. Instead, the Hutterites believe that what’s good for the group is also good for the individual.

Figure 1 shows Wilson’s analysis of Hutterite beliefs. Here he plots moral values on a two-dimensional scale. The horizontal scale ranks the benefits of a behavior to individuals. The vertical scale ranks the benefits to others (i.e. the group). According to the Hutterite worldview, actions that are good for the group are also good for individuals. Conversely, actions that are bad for the group are also bad for individuals.

Hutterite world view Figure 1: The Hutterite worldview. This figure shows David Sloan Wilson’s analysis of Hutterite beliefs. [Source: Does Altruism Exist?]

The Hutterite worldview shows the noble prosocial lie in action. Hutterites encourage prosocial behavior by portraying it as best for the individual. It’s easy to see why they’ve adopted this worldview. Portraying altruism as a win for both the individual and the group is a powerful motivator for group cohesion.

In selfishness we trust

Although rigorous research has yet to be done, I suspect that most ideologies are similar to the Hutterite belief system. If we plotted them on Wilson’s 2D scale, we’d find that behaviors that are good for the group are portrayed as good for the individual.

Interestingly, free market thinking is no exception to this rule — at least at first glance. Using the beliefs of Ayn Rand as an example of free-market thought, David Sloan Wilson finds something surprising. Although rabidly anti-communal, Rand’s worldview appears similar to the Hutterites.

Figure 2 tells the tale. As with the Hutterites, Rand’s worldview contains no gray areas. All values are either good for both individuals and groups, or bad for both individuals and groups.

Ayn Rand’s world view Figure 2: Ayn Rand’s worldview. This figure shows David Sloan Wilson’s analysis of Ayn Rand’s beliefs. [Source: Does Altruism Exist?]

A closer look at Figure 2, however, reveals a gaping difference between Rand’s libertarianism and Hutterite communalism. The Hutterites portray prosocial behavior (things like community and mutual help) as good for the individual. This is the noble prosocial lie. But Ayn Rand portrays antisocial behavior (things like egoism and selfishness) as good for the group. This is the Machiavellian lie.

According to evolutionary theory, Rand’s Machiavellian lie ought to be caustic to group cohesion. It promotes (rather than discourages) selfish behavior. That’s the opposite of what successful groups must do. So why, then, is this free-market lie so pervasive in modern society?

One possibility is that free-market thinking is caustic to group cohesion. This means that the spread of libertarian values is slowly undermining social bonds. If this is true, it’s only a matter of time before society either (a) finds a better ideology; or (b) collapses under the atomism of free-market thought.

This reasoning, I admit, is my default way of thinking about the free market. But I’ve convinced myself that it’s wrong. The problem is that it takes the claims of free-market ideology at face value. Free-market ideology claims to promote egoism and self interest. So you’d think that adopting these values would lead to an atomistic, antisocial society. This is logical, plausible and (I believe) wrong.

The problem is simple. If ideologies are ‘massive fictions’ (as David Sloan Wilson argues), we shouldn’t take their claims at face value. What an ideology claims to do will be different from what it actually does. This divergence of claims and actions, I believe, is why free-market thinking has been so successful. Free-market ideology claims to promote autonomy and independence. But in reality, it promotes obedience and subservience. So yes, free-market thinking is a lie. But it’s not the lie you think it is.

Altruism through power relations

On the face of it, free-market thinking appears to discourage altruism. But what if it actually motivates altruism?

To make sense of this latter claim, we need to rethink what we mean by ‘altruism’. We usually think of altruism in terms of acts of kindness. I’m altruistic, for instance, if I give money to the poor. But there are other forms of altruism that have little to do with kindness. In evolutionary terms, altruism is any behavior that benefits the group at a cost to the individual. Although we don’t usually think of them this way, power relations qualify as a type of altruism.

In a power relation, one person submits to the will of another. Bob submits to Alice. By doing so, Bob sacrifices his own fitness for the benefit of Alice. That’s altruism. But if Bob’s subservience only benefited Alice, it would be an evolutionary dead end. The Bobs of the world would die out, having given all their resources to the Alices. Since power relations have not died out, something more must be going on.

Although power relations are one sided, they can (under the right circumstances) benefit both the master and servant. This benefit happens when groups compete. By concentrating power in a single leader, a large group can act cohesively in a way that would otherwise be impossible. If this cohesive group beats its competitors, the altruism of subordinates is rewarded. For an in-depth discussion of this principle, see Peter Turchin’s book Ultrasociety. (The caveat here is that a despotic leader can use their power to hoard resources, wiping out any benefits to the rank and file. That’s something I discuss here and here.)

Justifying power

So power relations involve altruism. What’s that got to do with the free market? At face value, nothing. Free-market ideology claims to stand for autonomy and independence. These values are the opposite of what’s needed for power relations (submission and subservience).

We should not, however, take the claims of an ideology at face value. Yes, free-market thinking appears to promote autonomy. But what it actually does, I believe, is cloak the accumulation of power. Free-market thinking does covertly what other ideologies do openly. This covertness may be why free-market thinking is so potent.

Looking at ideologies of the past, you’ll find that they openly preach servility and subservience. In other words, they unabashedly promote power relations. The Hutterite religion, for instance, preaches ‘obedience’ and ‘surrender’ (Figure 1). Most other religions do the same thing. The Catholic church proclaims that the faithful must give obsequium religiosum — religious submission. Islam goes further still, having named itself after the act of submission. In Arabic, the word ‘Islam’ means ‘submission to God’.

While religions openly preach obedience, they still employ a thinly-veiled ruse. The obedience they preach is always to God. Fortunately (for the rulers), God doesn’t issue orders directly. Instead, he has a habit of speaking through the powerful. And so by preaching a heavenly order, religion inevitably justifies an Earthly one.

Unlike religion, however, free-market ideology doesn’t preach obedience or submission. Quite the opposite. It preaches freedom and autonomy. How, then, can free-market thinking promote power relations? It’s simple. The ‘freedom’ of the free market is actually a form of power.

Power as ‘freedom’ [2]

On the face of it, freedom and power seem to be opposites. But if we look closer at the two concepts, we find that they’re related. To see the similarity, let’s do some quick moral philosophy. Freedom, as I see it, has two types. There is freedom from, and there is freedom to.

‘Freedom from’ is about restrictions. Your ‘freedom from’ restricts what other people can do. If you are free from discrimination, for instance, then other people aren’t allowed to discriminate.

‘Freedom to’, in contrast, is about power. If I’m free to speak my mind, I have the power to say what I want. Admittedly, free speech is a meager form of power. But ‘freedom to’ can be expanded until it is unmistakably about power. The key is to use ‘freedom’ as a ruse to command people.

Here’s an example. In free-market America, Jeff Bezos is ‘free’ to run Amazon. But this use of the word ‘freedom’ is doublespeak. It’s code for Bezos’ power to command Amazon employees.

This doublespeak, I believe, is how free-market thinking promotes power relations. The language of freedom provides a cloak for the accumulation of power. Feudal kings wielded power. But modern capitalists wield ‘freedom’.

Free-market speak and the growth of hierarchy

If free-market ideology promotes the accumulation of power, then the spread of free-market thinking should go hand in hand with the growth of hierarchy. So has it?

In the United States, the answer appears to be yes. As free-market ideology spread, power became more concentrated. Figures 3 and 4 tell the story. Here I use the frequency of free-market speak in American English to measure the spread of free-market ideals. I compare this word frequency to two measures of hierarchy: (1) the relative size of government; and (2) the relative size of the management class.

Let’s dive into the data, starting with the growth of government. When it comes to government, we can all agree on two things. First, governments are the opposite of the free market. They are hierarchical institutions that are designed to command and control. Second, governments are free-marketeers’ proclaimed mortal enemy.

Given these two facts, you’d think that the spread of free-market ideology would limit the size of government. But in the United States, that’s not what happened. Instead, as free-market speak spread, the US government actually got larger (Figure 3).


Figure 3: Free-market speak and the growth of US government. The vertical axis shows the relative frequency of each free-market phrase. The horizontal axis shows the size of US government as a percentage of total employment. Both axes use logarithmic scales. For data sources, see [3].

What’s going on here? One possibility is that free-market ideology is simply ineffective. This means that free marketeers are, as they claim, opposed to concentrated power. But they are powerless to stop the growth of government. All the free marketeers can do is shout more loudly — to no avail — about the miracle of the market.

Peddlers of free-market ideology would probably like this story. But I find it unconvincing. The problem is that it focuses on the growth of public hierarchy (government). But it ignores an equally important form of power: private hierarchy.

Business firms, you may have noticed, don’t use the market to organize their internal activities. They use hierarchy. Firms have a chain of command that tells employees what to do. Given this fact, the growth of large firms is as much an assault on the free market as is the growth of government. So before we claim that free-market thinking as ineffective, we should see how it relates to the growth of private hierarchy.

To measure the growth of private hierarchy, I’ll use the size of the management class — the portion of people employed as ‘managers’. Here’s my reasoning. Managers work at the tops of hierarchies. So the growth of the management class is synonymous with the growth of hierarchy and the concentration of power. (Here’s a simple model showing so.)

Looking at the management data (Figure 4), we see the flaw in the story that free-market ideas are ineffective. Yes, US government grew as free-market thinking spread. But government wasn’t the only form of hierarchy to apparently buck free-market ideals. The whole US management class got larger. So it’s not just public hierarchy that spread with free-market thinking. It’s hierarchy in general.

Figure 4: Free-market speak and the growth of US managers. The vertical axis shows the relative frequency of each free-market phrase. The horizontal axis shows the size of the US management class, measured as a percentage of total employment. Both axes use logarithmic scales. For data sources, see [3].

Given this evidence, there are two possibilities:

  1. Free-market ideology is remarkably ineffective
  2. Free-market ideology does the opposite of what it claims

I think we should seriously consider the latter possibility. Doing so, however, requires breaking with most political-economic thought. While political economists have endlessly debated the merits of the free market, few have stopped to ask — does free-market thinking actually lead to a free market? The answer, paradoxically, seems to be no.

This makes little sense if we take free-market ideas at face value. But it makes perfect sense if we treat free-market ideology as a ‘massive fiction’ — a set of ideas that does something different than what it claims. Free-market thinking is effective, I believe, but not at promoting freedom and autonomy. Instead, it promotes the growth of hierarchy and the accumulation of power.

We can make sense of this apparent paradox by thinking about who promotes the free market. Is it small business owners? To some extent, probably yes. But over the last century, the number of self-employed people plummeted (see this paper). So either this shrinking group of people shouted louder and louder about the free market, or some other class championed these ideas.

Here’s my hunch. The most vocal proponents of free markets aren’t small business owners. They’re owners of large corporations. They’re people like the Koch brothers — wealthy capitalists who are seeking to augment their power. Sure, they promote ‘freedom’ … but they don’t actually want a free market. Instead, the ‘freedom’ that corporate leaders seek is the ‘freedom’ to command. That’s doublespeak for power.

Power in the name of freedom. [2]

The power of ideas

For much of the last century, evolutionary theory paid little attention to the power of ideas. Evolution, it was thought, was mostly about genes.

Fortunately (for those of us who care about ideas), modern research is showing that this is untrue. Anthropologists Carla Handley and Sarah Mathew recently found that cultural variation between human groups is far greater than genetic variation. Put simply, this means that ideas matter. What we think probably affects our behavior more than our genes.

Economists, for their part, have always recognized the power of ideas. But they’ve done so in a peculiar way. Among economists, ideas go by the name of ‘preferences’. Each individual, economists claim, is endowed with a set of preferences that completely determine their actions. Given your preferences (which are fixed), you act in a way that maximizes your utility. Human behavior explained.

Or not.

There are two big problems here. First, economists assumes that we know our preferences. But this isn’t always true. Evolution often produces what philosopher Daniel Dennett calls ‘competence without comprehension’. An organism can be competent at surviving without knowing what it’s doing. It’s called instinct, and it leaves no role for conscious ‘preferences’.

Second, economic theory leaves no role for self deception. A utility-maximizing agent can’t have preferences that are against its self interest. That would contradict the premise of the model. In contrast, modern evolutionary theory makes clear that our ideas can be delusional. In fact, we expect a disconnect between ideas and reality.

The reason is that human life is marked by a fundamental tension. We are social animals who compete as groups. For our group’s sake, it’s best if we act altruistically. But for our own sake, it’s better to be a selfish bastard. How to suppress this selfish behavior is the fundamental problem of social life. [4]

The solution that most cultures have hit upon is to lie. We convince ourselves that prosocial behavior is good for the self. Oddly, however, free-market ideology seems to buck this trend. Rather than preach the merits of community and brotherhood, it preaches the merits of selfishness and greed. How can that be good for the group?

It’s possible that it isn’t. Free-market ideas may well be toxic to groups. But there’s another possibility, one that I think we should take seriously. The alternative is that free-market ideas do promote altruism … just not the kind we’re used to thinking about. They promote altruism through power relations. And they do so through doublespeak. Free-market ideology uses the language of ‘freedom’ to promote the accumulation of power.

Thinking this way allows us to put human history in a different light. If group cohesion requires a noble prosocial lie, then cultural evolution means finding ever-more convincing ways of deceiving ourselves. The ‘free market’ may be the pinnacle deception so far.

Notes

[1] This passage by Thomas Dixon is from his book chapter called The invention of altruism: Auguste Comte’s positive polity and respectable unbelief in Victorian Britain. I’ve quoted it from David Sloan Wilson’s book Does Altruism Exist?.

[2] My thinking about power and freedom is inspired by a conversation I had with Jonathan Nitzan. When discussing the free-market dogma of economists like Milton Friedman, Jonathan noted that this ideology did the opposite of what it claimed. It promoted freedom. But by doing so, it actually legitimized capitalist power. So free-market ideology, Jonathan observed, was about ‘power in the name of freedom’.

[3] Data sources for Figures 3 and 4. Word frequency of free-market speak is from the Google Ngram corpus for American English. Data for the employment share of US managers comes from:

  • 1860 to 1990: Historical Statistics of the United States, Table Ba 1033-1046
  • 1990 to present: Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey series LNU02032453 (management employment) divided by Bureau of Economic Analysis series 6.8D (total persons engaged in production).

Date for the employment share of US government comes from:

  • 1890 to 1928: Historical Statistics of the United States, Table Ba 470-477
  • 1929 to present: Bureau of Economic Analysis series 6.8A-D (total persons engaged in production)

[4] ‘The fundamental problem of social life’. This is David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson’s phrase, used in their landmark paper Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology.

Further reading

Dennett, D. C. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. London: Penguin Books.

Dixon, T. (2005). The invention of altruism: Auguste Comte’s positive polity and respectable unbelief in Victorian Britain (D. M. Knight & M. D. Eddy, Eds.). Ashgate.

Fix, B. (2017). Energy and institution size. PLOS ONE, 12(2), e0171823. https://doi.org/doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0171823

Fix, B. (2019). An evolutionary theory of resource distribution. Real-World Economics Review, (90), 65–97. http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue90/Fix90.pdf

Handley, C., & Mathew, S. (2020). Human large-scale cooperation as a product of competition between cultural groups. Nature Communications, 11(1), 1–9.

Nitzan, J., & Bichler, S. (2009). Capital as power: A study of order and creorder. New York: Routledge.

Sober, E., & Wilson, D. S. (1999). Unto others: The evolution and psychology of unselfish behavior. Harvard University Press.

Turchin, P. (2016). Ultrasociety: How 10,000 years of war made humans the greatest cooperators on earth. Chaplin, Connecticut: Beresta Books.

Wilson, D. S. (2010). Darwin’s cathedral: Evolution, religion, and the nature of society. University of Chicago Press.

Wilson, D. S. (2015). Does altruism exist? Culture, genes, and the welfare of others. Yale University Press.

Wilson, D. S., & Wilson, E. O. (2007). Rethinking the theoretical foundation of sociobiology. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 82(4), 327–348.

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Tuesday, 30 January 2018 - 9:22pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 30/01/2018 - 9:22pm in

Well, I feel better now.

On 30/01/18 13:15, Talent Acquisition Team [company name witheld] wrote:
> Hello Matthew,
>
> We're writing to you regarding your application for the above position of
> [interchangeable anonymous cubicle drone] at [company name witheld].
>
> Unfortunately, we have not received your completed Talent Assessment so are
> unable to progress your application at this time. If you’re still interested in
> working with us, please refer to the [company name witheld] Careers
> <https://companynamewitheld.com>
> or LinkedIn page <https://www.linkedin.com/company/companynamewitheld> for opportunities.
>
> We wish you all the very best for your future career choices and hope to hear
> from you again soon.
>
> Warm regards,
>
> Talent Acquisition Team - [company name witheld]


Hi Warmly Regarding TAT,

That would be because your online application process set a cookie with a very limited expiry time given the amount of information I was expected to assemble, and deliberately cut me off (my working hypothesis at the time), or else just crashed or futzed up in some unidentifiable way.

I was a software developer in a past life, but - even so - was not inclined to report a bug, even if there were some self-evident way to do so. You see, the larger issue, to the determined jobseeker, arises from losing whole days to combing through job search websites which all screen-scrape each other, and consequently all index the same jobs, albeit with differently-dreadful database query interfaces. Once you have painstakingly whittled down a shortlist your patience and optimism levels are at a low ebb, while your bleak hopelessness and can't-give-a-fuckedness is soaring.

To my mind, ignorant as I am about the transition from HR to TATs (which appears to have happened about the time The Rock became Dwayne Johnson; coincidence?), the personal qualities required to submit, submit, and submit again in a lengthy and repeatedly failing multi-stage job application process (never mind what is required to get far enough to begin that process) are not necessarily consonant with what is desirable across all the roles in a large organisation. In the jargon of a hypothetical recruiter, I expect this to yield applicants who are less "warm and customer-focused" than they are "detail-oriented", as in "Dustin Hoffman turned in bravura performance as the detail-oriented Rain Man".

However, I am pleased to report that for you, the fine people of the Talent Acquisition Team, the news is all good. Given that the cascade of flaws, all the way up the recruitment chain from yorrasadunemployablelosr.com to your good selves, introduces so much baked-in randomness to the process, anything that you could personally add is negligible.

You are off the hook! After showing up for a morning coffee and apricot danish, you might as well spend the rest of the day in the pub! I only wish that I could join you there on the coalface of the optimally efficient job market. If you find your roster of talent too loaded with twenty-something boys who can't tear their gaze away from their shoes, just drag in a homeless person from the street. They're quirky! They're the new office character! They think outside the box, then go home to it!

Hope this has helped, and warm regards,

Matthew.