Posts Tagged ‘Physiocrats’

Andrew Marr Praises Steven Pinker’s Book on Science, Rationality and Free Markets

February 28, 2018

Mike has posted a number of pieces on his blog commenting on the right-wing bias displayed by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning show. One recent example of this was his comment to a Tory guest, who came on immediately after he had given a hard interview to someone from the Labour Party. His interview of the Tory was softer, and at the end of it he leaned over to tell her that she had done ‘very well’. Or something like it.

I’m not surprised by this bias. Marr is a fan of the free market, the sacred ideology at the heart of Thatcherism, against which no-one is allowed to blaspheme or question. He was in the I newspaper a few weeks ago praising Steven Pinker’s new book, which argues that the world has got immensely better due to science, reason and markets. Pinker’s a neuroscientist and atheist polemicist. The book’s a successor to his previous work, The Better Angels of Our Nature. This was written to refute the claim that the 20th century was the bloodiest period in human history. This argument has been made in defence of religion, as much atheist polemic is based on the violence and bloodshed that has been generated by religion. But the 20th century is a problem, as the massacres and genocides there took place within an increasingly secular world, and in the case of the horrors committed by Communist regimes, were perpetrated by aggressively atheist regimes. And in the case of the Fascist regimes, it’s questionable how religious they were. General Franco in Spain believed that he was defending Christianity from secularism and materialism when he launched his attack on the Republican government, and horrifically many Christians did support the Fascist regimes against the supposed threats of Communism and Socialism. I’m well aware that Hitler claimed that he was doing ‘the Lord’s work’ in persecuting the Jews in Mein Kampf, but in his Table Talk he has nothing but contempt for Christianity, and wants astronomical observatories set up near schools as part of a scientific campaign against the religion. Hitler’s own religious beliefs seem to have been a kind of monistic pantheism, possibly not that far removed from those of the Monist League, who also sported the swastika as their symbol. As for Mussolini, the Italian dictated signed the Lateran Accords with the papacy, in which the Pope finally recognised Italy’s existence as a state in return for Roman Catholic religious education in schools. But il Duce had started out as a radical socialist, and many members of the Fascist party still were vehemently atheist. Much depended on the religious opinions of the local Fascist ras whether Roman Catholic religious education was taught in the schools in his area. I don’t wish to go into this argument now, whether these regimes were really atheist or not, or if the 20th century really was the bloodiest period in human history. I just wish to make the point that this was the issue at the heart of Pinker’s previous book.

Pinker’s new book apparently tells us that everything’s getting better, including the environment, and Pinker marshals an impressive arrays of facts. But all this said to me was that people and governments have become more ecologically conscious. It does not mean that we aren’t facing the devastating loss of an extraordinary number of this planet’s animal and plant species, or that we face catastrophic global warming which may make the Middle East uninhabitable.

But even more questionable is Pinker’s and Marr’s assertion that modern, post-Enlightenment society has been immensely improved thanks to the science, reason and markets. In the case of science and reason, at one level the statement is obviously true. Human life has benefited immensely from scientific advance, particularly in medicine. But the view that science and reason didn’t exist before then is one that many Medieval scholars would strenuously reject. In contrast to the stereotypes, the Middle Ages actually wasn’t anti-science. There are poems from the 12th-13th centuries celebrating it, and the new knowledge that was flooding into Europe from the Islamic world. The 15th century English poem, The Court of Sapience, lists the various branches of knowledge known to the medieval world, and celebrates them as the area of ‘Dame Sapience’, an idealised personification of wisdom. As for superstition and the occult, historians have also pointed out that the Middle Ages were also an age of scepticism as well as faith. Medieval theologians wrote texts arguing that visions of demons were more likely caused by a full stomach interfering with the correct functioning of the nerves, and so causing bad dreams. Others doubted whether the seers, who claimed to be able to identify thieves through peering in bowls of water or other reflecting surfaces, had any such powers, and were simply using common knowledge to put the blame on notorious thieves. And in contrast to what Marr apparently thinks, free market capitalism did not suddenly emerge in the 18th century with the French Physiocrats and then Adam Smith. In fact, some Christian theologians were arguing for free trade as far back as the thirteenth century.

As for free market capitalism benefiting humanity, the evidence today is that it really doesn’t. The neoliberalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan has done nothing but make the lives of the poor much poorer across the world, and in so doing has increased international tension and political violence. The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, shows how the strong economies of the world’s developed nations were all created, not by free trade, but by protectionism.

This is very clearly not something any true-blue Thatcherite wants to hear. But it also shows the strange, cult-like nature of the ideology of free trade capitalism. A number of writers have pointed out the apparently illogical, absolute belief its supporters have, even when they are shown the plentiful evidence to the contrary. They still go on believing and demanding free market solutions, even when it is abundantly clear to everyone else that not only do they not work, they are even causing immense harm. And Marr is clearly one of these true believers. He also seems to have uncritically accepted the view that science, reason and free market capitalism were all products of the Enlightenment, when academic historians have been pushing the origins of science and capitalism further back to the Middle Ages, and demonstrated that the Age of Faith was also one of Reason, however irrational it now seems to us.

Marr’s praise of the book and its promotion of the free market also gives more than an indication of his own political beliefs, and why he is much less sympathetic to left-wing guests on his show than those from the right. He’s another member of the cult of neoliberal market capitalism, and this has to be protected at all costs from unbelievers. Even when he and the Beeb swear impartiality.


Jeremy Corbyn Suggests Capping Director’s Pay – Media Goes Ballistic

January 11, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting on another good suggestion from Jeremy Corbyn, and the predictable response of outrage and sneering from the meejah. The Labour leader had said on an interview on Radio 4 yesterday morning that he believed that there should be a cap on the pay earned by company directors and senior execs. The media naturally responded by pointing out that Corbyn has an annual pay of £138,000 a year, and tried to draw him into giving a price figure for what the maximum amount earned should be.

The story got onto the One Show yesterday evening, where they did a brief survey of people in the street. Opinions were, as they say, mixed. One elderly objected to the cap on the grounds that it might take away the incentive for people rising to the top. Looking at the headlines on the various papers this morning, it was very clear that it had riled someone at the Torygraph, as this was the story they shoved on their front cover. Other newspapers, like Mail, led by claiming that Labour’s policy in immigration was ‘in disarray’. Mike’s also written another article this week showing that’s also rubbish.

Mike in his article makes the point that compared to some of the vast, bloated salaries awarded to company executives, Corbyn’s own salary appears very modest indeed. He suggests that it is stupid to try to lay down a particular set figure – it should be based on company turnover and the lowest wage earned by an employee at that company. He also makes the point that the casting of particular star actors can make a great difference to how well a movie does, and that when this happens, everyone else who worked on the movie should also enjoy the films’ financial awards.

This is all correct. And there’s something else that needs to be added:

Japan already has maximum wage legislation.

Yep, it’s true. Japan is one of the world’s five wealthy countries with a very capitalist economy. The centre right Liberal Democratic party has ruled the country almost uninterrupted since the Second World War. And it also has a cap on how much company directors may be paid. I think it’s set at about 20 times that of the lowest paid employee, but I am not sure.

And the limitation of wage differentials is not something that has been simply added on in the course of reform, but an integral part of the dominant, guiding vision of the nature of Japanese society. East Asian societies can be extremely collectivist, stressing group loyalty over individual opportunity or achievement. In Japan the goal was to create a harmonious, middle class society, where there would be no extremes in wealth or poverty. This isn’t quite the case, as the Burakami, an outcast group rather like the Dalits in India, and those of Korean descent are still subject to massive poverty and discrimination.

The Japanese have also tried to justify their collectivist outlook through racist pseudo-anthropology. One school textbook claimed that Japanese society was more collectivist and co-operative because the Japanese people were descended from agriculturalists, who had to forge strong links with each other in order to cultivate and harvest rice. We Westerners, however, were all isolated individualists because we’re all descended from hunter-gatherers.

As anthropology, it’s rubbish, of course. Some social historians have argued that agricultural societies are more prone to tyranny and absolute government, which would include the type of Asian absolute monarchies described by Western observers as ‘oriental despotism’. But all human societies were originally hunter-gatherers, including the Japanese. And European society has practised settled agriculture since the beginning of the Neolithic 6,000 years ago.

The origins of Japanese and East Asian collectivism probably lie more in the influence of Confucianism, which stressed the right relationships between the members of society, such as between the prince and the people, and between elders, parents and children, and the still powerful influence of feudalism in structuring social relationships. Instead of a samurai warrior giving his loyalty and service to a daimyo feudal lord, it’s now the sarariman – the corporate warrior – becoming part of the retinue of company employees under the lordship of the director.

And European individualism probably comes not from any vestiges of our hunter-gatherer deep past, but from the effect of Hobbesian Social Contract political theorising and the free trade economics of the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith. Hobbes has been described as the first, of one of the first philosophers of the emerging bourgeois society of the 17th century. This was the period which saw Cromwell sweep away the last vestiges of feudalism in England, and the emergence of modern capitalism. But Hobbes’ philosophy views people as social atoms, all competing against each other, as opposed to other views of society, which may stress the importance of collective or corporate identities and loyalties, such as family, feudal lordship or membership of trade and professional bodies. Similarly, the founders of the economic theories of modern capitalism, such as the Physiocrats in France and Adam Smith and in Scotland, also stressed unrestrained individual competition. They were also specifically arguing against the mercantilist system, in which the state regulated trade. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries the British government enacted a series of legislation governing trade with its emerging colonies, so as to tie them to the economy of the home country, which would benefit from their products. Modern Western individualism come from these theories of capitalist society and the perceived operation of its economy.

The collectivist nature of Japanese society also expresses itself in other ways in the structure and management of Japanese corporations. Singing the company song in the morning is one example. Management are also encouraged or required to share the same canteen as the workers on the shop floor. Both of these practices, and no doubt many others, are designed to foster group solidarity, so that management and workers work together for the good of the company.

This isn’t a perfect system, by any means. Apart from the immense pressure placed on individuals in a society that places such heavy emphasis on the value of hard work, that individuals actually keel over and die because of it when doing their jobs, it has also made Japanese society and corporations extremely resistant to change. Confucianism places great stress on respect for one’s elders and superiors. While respect for the older generation is an admirable virtue, and one which our society in many ways is sadly lacking, in Japan it has resulted in a mindset which resists change or apportioning due blame for historical crimes and atrocities.

At the corporate level, the slow down of the Japanese economy in the 1990s meant there was no longer such a pressing need for company staff to work such long hours. However, so great is the corporate inertia, that staff still feel that they have to keep working past six O’clock in the evening, even if there is little or no work to do, because they don’t want to be seen as breaking with the approved practices of previous generations of employees.

And at the national level, it has been suggested that the exaggerated respect for one’s elders and ancestors is the reason why Japan has had such immense difficulty confronting the atrocities their nation committed during the Second World War. Japanese school texts and official histories have been criticised because they’d don’t discuss the atrocities committed by the imperial Japanese army. One school textbook even talked about the army’s ‘advance’ through Asia, rather than its invasion. The reason for this failure to admit the existence of these crimes, and criticise those who perpetrated them, is that respect for one’s elders and social superiors is so engrained in Japanese society, that except for a few extremely courageous mavericks, casting shame on those responsible for such horrors and, by implication, the whole of society during this period, is unacceptable. Even though many over on this side of the Eurasian landmass would consider that a failure to confront the atrocities committed by one’s nation to be even more shameful.

Japanese and Asian collectivism is not, then, perfect. But a maximum wage cap certainly did not hinder Japan’s advance to become one of the world’s foremost industrial countries. And the goal of creating a harmonious, co-operative society where there is little disparity in wealth is a good one.

The title of Mike’s article on Corbyn’s suggestion for a maximum wage states that the identities of those complaining about it reveal why they’re doing so. Indeed. The proprietors and leading executives of newspaper companies, like the Barclay twins at the Torygraph, have awarded themselves immense salaries. They’re multimillionaires. This wealth is increasingly not being shared with the hacks, who do the actual work of putting the paper out. The Torygraph has been particularly struck with declining sales to the point that Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column regularly reported further job cuts. Many of the big newspaper companies depend on the work of unpaid interns, particularly the Groaniad. And even if they’re not being threatened with the sack, conditions for the paid staff are becoming increasingly Orwellian. For example, the Eye reported a few months ago that one of the managers at the Torygraph had tried to install motion detectors on the staff’s desks to prevent them moving around too much, just like the staff at call centres are also monitored. The hacks were so annoyed, however, that management had to back down and the motion detectors were removed.

As for the film industry, the presence of big name Hollywood stars can sink a movie simply through the sheer expense of paying. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $7 million for his appearance in the second Terminator movie. While that was a box office success, the presence of ‘A’ list celebrities in a movie does not guarantee that a film will be a success. One of the reasons why the film Ishtar became such a notorious flop in the 1990s was that the producers cast three major stars, who all commanded multi-million dollar salaries. This pushed the bill for the movie towards $20 million or so, even before the film had been shot. The film was thus under financial pressure from the start.

Apart from the Japanese, there are other, successful European nations that also deliberately avoid huge inequalities in wealth. One of these is Denmark. The newspapers have been full of articles analysing and celebrating the traditional Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This has been translated as ‘cosiness’, but it actually means much more than that. The way I’ve heard it explained by a Danish friend, it’s about being content with the homely necessities. I got the distinct impression that it was similar to the Swedish notion of ‘lagom’, which translates as ‘just enough’. You make just enough to satisfy your basic needs, but no more. And from what I’ve heard about Danish society, the social attitude there is that no-one should try to appear ostentatiously better off than anyone else. This is not to say that everyone has to do the same low-paid job, or that they should not earn more than anyone else. But it does mean that they should not be conspicuously more affluent.

This is the complete opposite from the values promoted and celebrated by Thatcher and the wretched ‘New Right’ of the 1980s. They demanded making conditions harsher for the poor, and giving ever larger salaries to management on the grounds that this would act as an incentive for others to do well and try to climb up the corporate and social ladder. The result has been the emergence of a tiny minority, who are massively wealthy – the 1%. Like the Barclay twins, Rupert Murdoch and just about every member of Theresa May’s cabinet. For everyone else, wages have stagnated to the point where a considerable number are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

But wage caps and an attitude that discourages inequalities of wealth have not harmed Japan, nor Denmark and Sweden, which also have very strong economies and a very high standard of living.

The massive difference between the millions earned by the heads of the big corporations has been a scandal here in Britain, to the point where David Cameron and May made noises urging company directors to restrain their greed. Corbyn’s suggestion is eminently sensible, if Britain is to be a genuinely inclusive, prosperous society. The outrage shown by various media execs to it shows that the Tories are still committed to a policy of poverty for the many, riches for a very few. And all their concern at reining in executive pay is just platitudes to make it appear that they’re concerned when the issue becomes too embarrassing.

Backlash to Judges’ Brexit Ruling Reveals Right-Wing Racism and Authoritarianism

November 8, 2016

Last week the Guyanese-born investment banker, Gina Miller, succeeded in her legal action to force the government to open up the decision on the start of the Brexit process to the rest of parliament. Three judges ruled in her favour, and the result has been a tide of right-wing hatred and vilification directed against the lady herself and the judges, who made the ruling. And Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, has come out of the woodwork once more promising to lead a march against the decision.

Mike in his article on the original decision reports personal threats Miller received, including rape, and comments that she should ‘f*** off’ back to her own country, and people telling her that Brits were sick of foreigners telling them what to do. She has also been denounced as a traitor to democracy.

Miller herself hit back at her critics and those, who insulted and threatened her. Mike quotes the press report on this incident, in which she told the International Business Times

“Yes there has been a deluge of hatred and anger but this is because people were lied to in respect to the EU referendum, and because (of) irresponsible figures like Farage and tabloid media who lack any understanding of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law that is the bedrock of our civil society”.

See Mike’s article at

The reaction of part of the Tory right, and the Daily Mail and Express has been hysterical. On the Beeb’s Question Time, Sajid Javid, who Private Eye suggested looks like The Claw, one of the villains from one of Gerry Anderson’s puppet SF series, went over the top, exclaiming that the ruling was an attempt ‘to thwart the will of the British people’.

The Express, never known for anything like statesmanlike restraint and diplomacy, declared that “Today this country faces a crisis as grave as anything since the dark days when Churchill vowed we would fight them on the beaches.”

See Mike’s article at

Not to be outdone in the ultra-patriotism stakes, the Daily Mail put photos of the three judges on its front page along with the screaming headline ‘Enemies of the People’. As Mike, Tom Pride and many others have pointed out, the Heil is never very far from Nazism, and this was another instance where the rag’s headline almost exactly reproduced the propaganda and stance of the Nazi party. The cartoonist Gary Barker put up the image of the Heil’s front page, along with a similar page from one the Nazis’ newspapers, denouncing a line of judges as ‘Volksverrater’. Barker translates this as ‘Enemies of the People: Get Out of the Way of the German People’s Will’. This isn’t quite right. A more literal translation would be ‘Betrayers of the People’ or ‘Race Traitors’ – the German word volk has an ethnic connotation, which the word ‘people’ doesn’t have. The sentence underneath reads something like ‘shoved out of the German racial community’. That’s roughly what the German Volksgemeinschaft means, rather than ‘common people’s will’. Volksgemeinschaft was obviously one of the key planks of Nazi domestic ideology. I don’t know where Barker got the page from, but it looks very much like the Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer. On its own, Sturmer just means an impetuous fellow. The Nazi newspaper of the same name is infamous as the vehicle through which the Nazis, under the rag’s editor, Julius Streicher, demonised the Jews. Back in the 1980s the goose-steppers in the BNP or NF decided to launch their own version, The Stormer, which was similarly intended to spread hate against Jews and non-Whites. Mike in the title of his article on this appalling headline asks if it is proof that the UK is shifting towards Nazism. I’d say that it was. English doesn’t quite have a word for ‘racial community’ like the Nazis’ Volksgemeinschaft, but the ideology is certainly there on the Tory xenophobic right. Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP for Devon, who’d like to privatise the NHS, has raved in his column on the Telegraph blogs about ‘the Anglosphere’, meaning the English-speaking world, and there certainly is a tendency in the American Libertarian Right to view this in racial terms. White Anglo-Saxons are inclined towards free trade and small government, according to them, while the Irish and Continental peoples are genetically determined to be the enemies of freedom favouring Socialism and big government. This is despite the fact that Adam Smith based his views on free trade as the foundation of the ‘Wealth of Nations’ on those of the French physiocrats. And the hostility of the Heil and Express to non-White immigration is notorious.

See Mike’s article at:

As for the Fuhrage’s declared intention to lead a mass demonstration of 100,000 outside the high court to protest against the judges’ ruling, Mike states in the title of his piece on it that ‘someone should tell Nigel Farage this is the UK, not Nuremberg’.

A mass rally to oppose democracy? Someone should tell Nigel Farage this is the UK, not Nuremberg

Mike has defended the democratic basis of the judges’ decision, pointing out that far from being traitors to democracy, the judges have upheld it. Their decision does not affect the Brexit decision, which has been settled by the referendum. It does, however, prevent Theresa May and her cabinet from deciding how it is to be implemented solely by herself, and then presenting it to the rest of us as a fait accompli. This, Mike quite rightly points out, would be despotic. He rebuts the Javid’s stupid comment by making the point that the judges merely upheld the sovereignty of parliament, which is enshrined by law. He shows how ridiculous it is to compare their lordships’ decision with the threat of Nazi invasion, as well as the homophobia in the Express’s article, which attacked one of the judges for being ‘openly gay’. As if the man’s sexuality had anything to do with the judicial soundness of his decision. And he rightly quotes the Angry Yorkshireman on the ridiculous bigotry and hypocrisy of the Heil’s attitude, who wrote:

“Thus anyone who doesn’t agree that Theresa May should be allowed to behave like a dictator by bypassing democratic accountability and making up the law as she goes along is an ‘enemy of the people’ (as decided by a bunch of right-wing hacks working for a billionaire sociopath who lives in Monaco to avoid paying British taxes!).”

The ranting of the Tory ‘Leave’ campaign on this shows the fundamental racism and authoritarianism which runs all the way through them. The Tory right are deeply undemocratic. They would far prefer that the issues were settled by a small coteries of elite, moneyed individuals in their favour. Parliament is grossly unrepresentative of the economic background of British society. Most MPs are millionaires, as Mike has shown again and again in the meme showing this fact. Even so, they represent a wider and more diverse circle than May and her cabinet. As for Gina Miller not being ‘British’, Guyana is a former British colony, and before Thatcher altered the immigration law in the 1970s, citizenship of a British colony or member of the commonwealth automatically granted the right to immigrate to this country and be considered a British citizen. This principle was held by an older generation of imperialists, including Winston Churchill. By their standards, she’s as British as the rest of us. You could even argue that as someone born in Guyana, she also has a perfectly reasonable right to bring her court action. One of the arguments of the ‘Leave’ campaign has been that if Britain leaves the EU, we will have greater freedom to develop trade links with our Commonwealth partners. As a lady born in one of those former colonies, she therefore has every right to make sure she and the other prospective trading partners are properly represented in these decisions.

The Tory attitude also contradicts one of the fundamental principles of democratic freedom articulate by John Stuart Mill. Mill was concerned that the views of the minority should always be protected and represented, even to the extent of being over-represented. He stated that if everyone in the country held the same political opinion, with the exception of one man, that one man should still be allowed to hold and express his views without suppression. But the Tories behind all this hysterical ranting clearly don’t believe that the views of the general public should be represented in the ability of parliament to vote and decide on this issue, rather than just May and her privileged cronies.

It’s also highly hypocritical. Remember when the Tories were complaining at how ‘presidential’ Tony Blair was, and how he was sidelining parliament? They were right – Blair was presidential. But this shows that their objections to a presidential style of British politics, in which power is concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister in a manner more suitable to the American political system, was purely tactical. Once presidential power is in the hands of a Tory PM, all objections mysteriously disappear, and it is the defenders of the sovereignty of the British people and parliament, who are vilified as ‘enemies of the people.’ Perhaps, like the judges denounced by the Nazis, they’d like to see them shoved out of a British volksgemeinschaft.

This has to be stopped. Mike is quite right to recommend that people stop buying these dreadful right-wing rags, and vote out the Tories. They’re the real enemies of democracy and popular sovereignty here. Not the EU, and not the judges.