Posts Tagged ‘Globalism’

Scottish Economist Mark Blyth’s on Neoliberal Economic Cause of Trump and Global Fascism

December 3, 2016

Mike early today put up a piece about a speech by Jeremy Corbyn, in which the Labour leader correctly described the extreme right-wing parties and their leaders as ‘parasites’, feeding off the despair and poverty that had been created through Conservative economic policies. They blamed their economic problems on immigrants, racial minorities and the poorest and weakest members of society. What was needed was for centre-left parties to reject the political establishment, and devise policies that would help people take power for themselves.

The report cited by Mike quoted Corbyn as saying:

“They are political parasites feeding off people’s concerns and worsening conditions, blaming the most vulnerable for society’s ills instead of offering a way for taking back real control of our lives [from] the elites who serve their own interests.

“But unless progressive parties and movements break with a failed economic and political establishment, it is the siren voices of the populist far right that will fill the gap.””

Mike makes the point that this effectively damns New Labour and its legacy. Blair’s espousal of neoliberal, Thatcherite economics allowed the country’s remaining state assets to be sold off by the Tories and Lib Dems, and made the country ready for the rise of far right politicians such as Theresa May and Nigel Farage.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/03/far-right-politicians-and-their-supporters-are-parasites-says-corbyn-calling-for-rejection-of-the-establishment/

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the only person making this point. Over a week ago Michael Brooks, filling in for Sam Seder as the anchor on the left-wing internet news show The Majority Report, discusses the economic causes behind the rise of racist authoritarianism around the world. And it is global. Trump has been elected the next president of the United State, Marine Le Pen’s Front National is leading the polls in France, the neo-Fascist Fidesz party is in power in Hungary, and Brexit in England is part of this pattern.

Mark Blyth, a Scottish political economist and professor of international political economy at Brown University gave a speech at the university’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs which laid bare the roots of the origins of these illiberal, Fascistic movements in the massive poverty and social inequality created by neoliberal economics. Brooks plays a clip from his speech, and then adds his own comments afterwards.

Blyth states that from 1945 to 1975, the world’s governments were concentrating on full employment. He states that there is an economic law called the Lucas Critique, which states that in any economic policy, someone will try to game it to serve their ends. And in the case of the strategy of creating full employment, both unions and employers tried to game the system, with the result that inflation increased massively. This principally hurt the creditor class – the financial sector – who decided to hit back by liberating the banks from government control and creating an integrated global economy. This included globalising labour, so that they could not demand fair wages. If they did so, their jobs could be closed down and moved overseas. He also makes the point that the international trade agreements concluded during this period have been made with little regard for the interests of ordinary people themselves. You can see this in the Trans-Pacific trade agreement. If you look this up on the web, you will find a 700 page document negotiated between governments and major corporations, but with little input from civil society. Ditto for the treaties of the European Union. People have realised that for the past thirty years from 1985 onwards, massive amounts of money has been made, but these have all been passed upwards to an infinitesimally small number of people.

The result is massive poverty. He makes the point to his audience at the uni that they don’t have to go very far to see the consequences. All they have to do is go to north-west Providence, in Rhode Island. There they can see the stores offering to cash cheques on demand, or selling or fixing goods cheaply. People are fed up, and use every opportunity to show it. This was demonstrated with Brexit in England and Wales, and in the Constitutional Referendum in Italy.

And there is also a macro-economic underpinning to these movements here. Successive governments have targeted inflation, and Blyth states that he can see no reason why the Lucas Critique should not also apply here. We now have a situation in which 3 trillion euros have been dumped into the money supply through quantitative easing, and it has not caused inflation. This has caused other problems. When banks have been bailed out and taken over by governments, so that they have been dumped on the public, the creditors fight even harder to get their money back. This can be seen in the case of Germany versus the rest of the Eurozone. This has set up a conflict between creditors versus debtors. On the left, it’s produced Podemos in Spain. On the right, it’s created the Front National in France. Trump’s part of this trend. Misogyny and racism are part of the mixture that has thrust him to power, but if you look at areas like America’s rust belt, you also see that part of it is also economic.

Brooks adds that this is true, and like Corbyn, he makes the point that if there is no serious left-wing response which deals with an economic system that has been created to serve a tiny elite, it will open the door to the ugly things that are also present in the system.

In America, this is White Supremacism. He states that it’s in America’s DNA. The country was founded on genocide, slavery, apartheid and racism, of which there are different kinds, including discrimination against Asians and Hispanics. It is a profoundly racist country. The situation has also been made worse through the misalignment in the Democrat Party. There is a split between those who want social liberation, and those who want to reign in the corporate interests and break up the big cartels. This wasn’t quite so pronounced twenty years ago under Bill Clinton, who was willing to use racial demagoguery. Brooks states that the only way to tackle the rise of racism in America is to combine the two goals of creating greater opportunities for women and minorities, and attacking the power of the big corporations. The Third Way, neoliberal nonsense is unable to do this. The age of neoliberalism is over. The reign of neo-Fascism is now in.

Blyth, Brooks and Jeremy Corbyn are all exactly right. But you won’t hear it from the establishment press, or the Beeb, or any of the mainstream news outlets, which are there to serve corporate interests. And those interests want to prop up neoliberalism as long as possible. Hence we have the supposedly liberal press – the Guardian and Independent, viciously attacking Jeremy Corbyn and demanding his removal in favour of a safe Blairite leader. There’s a piece in today’s I newspaper by Janet Street-Porter asking why Ed Balls can’t be leader of the Labour party. She makes the point that he’s a fellow of Harvard University, and so intelligent. Balls academic qualifications aren’t in question here. All of the New Labour clique were well educated men and women, and the majority of them had spent periods studying in America. That’s the problem. They are the products of the British-American Project For the Successor Generation, a Reaganite programme set up to influence rising politicians in the 1980s so that they followed the Atlanticist line. And you can see the effects in the case of Tony Blair. When he started out, he was for unilateral nuclear disarmament. They he spent four weeks in America as a guest of the think tanks involved in the programme, and came back a convinced supporter of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. And Balls was an integral part of New Labour, and the Thatcherite/ Reaganite policies it pursued.

And that’s exactly what Janet Street-Porter and the other, supposedly left-wing hacks want: Thatcherism, but under a left-wing guise, which is essentially no different from that of the Tories.

It’s why Tony Blair has also returned, and is talking about his plans to set up an institute to promote ‘centrist’ politics next year. His politics aren’t centrist, as Mike’s pointed out: they’re far right, neo-liberal. They punish the poor, the ill, the unemployed and disabled for the profit and big businessmen like David Sainsbury. I’ve no doubt Blair is genuinely afraid of the rise in racism across the Continent. But he’s also terrified of the re-emergence of genuine socialism and of ordinary citizens taking back power from the corporations and the bankers. Hence his stupid and misguided plans for the institute. He hasn’t realised that his policies are part of the long chain of causes of the present political crisis, going all the way back to Thatcher. His institute isn’t going to solve the problem of racism and authoritarianism across Europe. It’s going to make it worse. If it ever gets going, of course.

Robothespian, the British Robotic Actor

October 25, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece about a performance of Karel Capek’s classic play about a robot rebellion, RUR, at the Czech national library a few years ago by a theatre group, Café Neu Romance, using lego robots. The theatre company was the creation of Vive Les Robots, a Danish company set up to encourage public interest in robots and robotics. I said in the article that I thought it would be good if the play could be performed by full-sized robots, to give it the stature it deserves. I realise, however, that was unlikely given how massively expensive the animatronic technology is, that brings to life robotic puppets like Ry’gel from the SF series Farscape.

One British company, Engineered Arts, has created such a full size mechanical actor. It’s called Robothespian, and there are a number of videos about it on YouTube. The video below shows it, appropriately enough, talking about R.U.R. as part of Café Neu Romance, a robot arts festival, at the Czech National Technical Library in 2012.

Robothespian has also appeared on British breakfast television. In this clip from the Beeb’s Breakfast TV programme from 2014, the two presenters talk about, and sometimes to Robothespian with Dr Nigel Crook of Oxford Brookes University. The robot was created by Engineered Arts as a research project to explore the ways people interact with robots. Crook explains that it can respond to a number of voice commands, and the two presenters ask it questions such as what advantages robots have over human beings. Crook also explains that despite this ability, real intelligence is a long way off, and the problem of giving the robot the ability to hold a genuinely intelligent, wide-ranging conversation is very challenging. So right now, the machine responds giving the answers programmed into it by a human operator.

Robothespian, or Artie, as it is called, from RT – Robothespian – replies to the question about its usefulness that robots can perform simple, repetitive tasks accurately without tiring, or needing to go for breaks. They ask it if it could do their job. Its answer is that it certainly could, as all they do is read from an autocue. So when does it start?

The machine has a range of expressive hand gestures, a moving mouth, and two screens in its head, which show images of eyes. These blink, helping it show a number of expressions. They also show hearts, like those shown in the eyes of cartoon characters to indicate they have fallen in love. The two presenters are, however, advised to stand a few feet away from the robot. Crook explains it is compliant, which means that, unlike an industrial robot, it won’t blindly continue to perform a gesture if it accidentally strikes someone who happens to stand in the way. Similarly, it’s possible to pull the robot’s limbs away from where they’ve settled without damaging it. Nevertheless, the presenters were advised to stand clear of it just in case it accidentally flipped back and struck them.

As well as delivering monologues, Robothespian can also sing, giving a hilarious rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, and do impressions, like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Crook explains that it was built to act as a guide at museums, festivals and exhibitions. The two presenters ask about its gender, and are told that it’s creators think of it as male, as it’s been given a male voice.

Also on the show is a little feature about a robot toy, Caspar, which is used in schools to teach autistic children. The toy was being tried out as a teaching tool as autistic people can find it immensely challenging understanding other’s emotions. They also like things in a very set order. Caspar is useful in that its responses, although intended to mimic those of humans, are always the same. For example, when it smiles, that smile is always the same smile every time it makes that expression. And this regularity and constancy of expression is intended to be reassuring and non-threatening, so that the child using it finds it easy, or easier to do so, than more conventional forms of interaction with people.

Robothespian isn’t cheap. Crook explains that it costs about £50,000. Despite this, Engineered Arts have built more than one of them. In this video from last year, 2015, two of them sing, ‘I Am Not A Robot’.

I find robots and robotics interesting, but I am very much aware of the problems they pose. There are the general philosophical issues like human identity and uniqueness – how long before they develop real intelligence and consciousness, start performing sophisticated task like creating art or composing music, or resent at their enslavement and control by humans? There are also the very real social and economic problems caused by their manufacture. The more industry is automated, the more real jobs, that could be performed by people, are lost. The Beeb a few months ago broadcast a documentary which forecast that in the next 15-20 years a third of all jobs could be lost in Britain. You can certainly see it in retail, where a number of companies have replaced human staff with self-service tills, where you scan in yourself the items you want to purchase into the machine, which then takes your money and hands you your change and receipt. If we aren’t careful, this will lead to the emergence of a society very much like that of 2000 AD’s Megacity One. Judge Dredd’s home city has, thanks to robots, a massive unemployment rate of 95% or so. As a result, most people’s lives are marked by boredom and despair, a situation brought home in the classic ‘Judge Dredd’ story, ‘Un-American Graffitti’, featuring Chopper, a teenage lad trying to escape this crushing social malaise through ever more daring pieces of graffiti artwork. 2000 AD and the ‘Dredd’ strip in particular always had a very strong element of satire and social commentary, and this was one of the most outstanding examples of the strip telling an entertaining story while also describing the real situation many of its readers faced for real due to Thatcherism.

And unfortunately, despite the boom years of the 1990s, the prospect of long-term unemployment and grinding poverty has got worse, due to globalism and the spread of neoliberalism as the dominant political and economic ideology. This will only get worse unless humanity finds ways to manage robotic technology wisely, to create jobs, rather than to the replace them.