Posts Tagged: Politics

Brexit predictions

Wednesday 29th June 2016

So Leave won it. Probably fair to say it’s not the result anyone expected, but there we are.

As I write, the pound has slumped, markets hugely down, and both main parties are looking for new leaders1.

I called the result completely wrong, but here’s my stab at predicting what will happen next:

  • There will be a recession this year. There would probably have been a recession in the next year or so anyway, but the referendum means it will happen sooner.
  • The £ and markets will recover. The current turmoil is due to uncertainty as much as anything else; once we know what Brexit looks like, things will improve as people gain confidence again.
  • We will leave the EU. Despite the result this isn’t actually a given, but I think politically it would be very difficult not to leave, given the result. That being said…
  • The UK will join/stay in the European Economic Area. This keeps us in the single market, and will retain the freedom of UK nationals to live and work in the EU (and vice-versa). This point is too important to the UK economy that I can’t imagine a scenario in which some variant of this doesn’t happen. This will mean that despite the illusion of change, things will essentially stay the same2.
  • Boris won’t be PM. I’m not sure about this – at the moment he’s the frontrunner – but I think he has too many enemies amongst the Tory party. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he does become leader, because the party is currently going about things in a pretty grown-up way. In stark contrast to…
  • Labour. I think we’re witnessing the death throes of the Labour party. The Parliamentary party will force a leadership election, Corbyn will stay on the ballot and will win – again – with the membership. I think at this point Labour has to split, with the grown-ups leaving to create a modern left-wing party (think New Labour without the baggage). This will leave the lunatics free to do what they want with Labour, and pave the way for the party to fizzle into insignificance.
  • There will be another General Election before 2020, but not in 2016. Labour (or their successor) needs to sort themselves out before they vote for that.
  • Nicola Sturgeon will pretend to call for a second Scottish referendum, without ever really asking for it. She knows she’d lose, and that even if she wins establishing an independant Scotland would be an impossible task.

I guarantee I’ll be wrong about half of this (I’m less certain about the party political stuff), but thought I’d put it out there anyway.

  1. Corbyn hasn’t technically left Labour yet, but it must happen soon []
  2. Hurrah for modern politics! []

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Well played, sir

Friday 2nd November 2012

So you’re a Republican Governor. You’ve been in the role since 2009, and coming up to the end of your first term. You’re the first Republican to win a statewide election in your state in over a decade, and during your time as governor you’ve built up a formidable reputation. Although people told you that you should, you elected not to stand for the Republican Presidential nomination. So some other guy gets nominated, and obviously as the election nears you play your part. Talk him up, talk down the other guy. All standard stuff.

And then a fucking big storm hits your state. And then you do this.

Governor Christie, well played.

You can see the logic. This guy is good. He’s done a good job as Governor of New Jersey, and had he stood I think he would’ve had a very good chance of getting the nomination. So why didn’t he stand? Well, if your assessment that the incumbent is likely to win, you might not want to stand against him. Because if you do, and lose, then that’s it, that’s your shot. Surely better not to run, to try in 4 years against the next Democratic nominee, who won’t have the advantage of incumbency. As a bonus, you can spin it as loyalty to the people who elected you as governor, and by distancing yourself from the election now, you also distance yourself from the nutters that currently comprise the GOP.

I kinda hope this is right. Christie seems to have done a good job as Governor; he’s done sensible stuff, and has actively tried to work with the other party. He would be a substantially better President than either of the numpties that are currently on offer (although I realise that isn’t saying much).

Of course, all this is skewered if Romney wins next week. On the subject of that… I think I’m right in saying that in the UK, most people would see Obama as the better candidate. In fact I think I saw a thing in the news recently about the results of a survey carried out which said that, if they had a vote, something like 75% of Britons would vote for Obama. I’m not sure why, because Obama has been a fairly mediocre President. Sure, he’s been better than Bush Jnr, but I don’t think that’s really an acceptable benchmark. So I’m biased towards Romney purely because he’s The Other Guy.

But would he do a good job? During the campaign Romney has been chameleonic, blending himself to fit in with the views of whoever’s nearby, to try to win their vote. That’s probably logical. I think he’s generally a moderate candidate, and he’s had to at least appear more hardline to win the support of the whackjobs in his party in order to secure the nomination. My instinct is that he’d probably be marginally better than Obama as a president, but it’s really hard to tell because he’s currently saying anything to win votes. So of the two, if I had a vote, I’d pick Romney over Obama; I’d prefer to take a chance on someone who’s unknown, rather than stick with someone who we know has done a bad job. But the choice is kinda like picking which limb you’d like to cut off; there’s no good answer, only a least bad one.

But we need Obama to win so Christie can stand in 2016, so that America can have a decent President for the first time since Clinton left office… Obama for President!

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Thursday 28th June 2012

A little while ago the US Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s healthcare reforms, officially named the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but called Obamacare by everyone else. The latter takes less time to type, so that’s what I’m gonna call it for the rest of this post… Anyway, rather predictably the reaction seems to be fairly mixed. One group thinks judging the individual mandate (I’ll come to it in a minute) constitutional is a grave mistake and, ahem, “un-American”. The other group seems to largely think that the first group is nutty, and that Obamacare is a Very Good Thing Indeed. My reaction was to realise that I don’t really know what Obamacare is all about, and to try to find out.

So I’ve spent a little bit of time doing that. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got all of it, so I might’ve missed things out or misunderstood them, but from what I can ascertain here are some of the key features of the reforms.

Firstly, they’ve introduced an individual health insurance mandate. This says that individuals who do not receive public health insurance (Medicare or Medicaid) or private insurance through their employer, must purchase an approved private insurance policy, or otherwise pay a penalty. This is the basis of the question of constitutionality; because it essentially requires individuals to purchase a service from a private company, whether they want to or not. I kind of have some sympathy with this; it is a restriction of freedom, even if it is relatively trivial in comparison to other types of restrictions. I believe that the motivation for introducing this change is that uninsured patients cost more money, because they don’t get problems looked at until they’re severe enough to take them to A&E, where (presumably) someone else picks up the tab.

So that is a trade-off between individual liberty and overall utility. Personally, I can see both sides of that argument, and I think that either opinion is a respectable one to hold. As it turns out, I think that the Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but that the penalty you must pay if you don’t want to have insurance is actually a kind of tax, and it is constitutional for the government to impose such a tax. Interesting argument. Mostly I reckon that this basically highlights one of the key problems with having a constitution, but that’s something for another day.

Another effect of the reforms is to impose more stringent restrictions on the providers of health insurance. Insurers can no longer stop offering coverage to people who get sick. Insurers are also required to offer the same rates to applicants of the same age or who live in the same location. So they can’t hike up someone’s rates because they have a history of poor health, or are recovering from illness.

I can understand why some people might be upset at these changes. Insurers might end up losing money on some policies, and people who are always healthy might have to pay more for their policy to subsidise the loss-leading policies of people who are ill. But really, these are pretty poor arguments. If you get ill, that’s a shitty situation in itself. Being ill and then being told you have to pay more insurance – or that it’s being dropped entirely – is a bit of a kick in the teeth. It seems to me to be a good thing to try to stop that from happening.

Another restriction has been the banning of coverage caps. Previously, many (most? all?) insurance policies had clauses which capped the amount they’d pay out for healthcare, either on an annual or a lifetime basis. So someone might get ill, have a load of expensive healthcare, and then get to a point where they’d reach their coverage cap and their insurance provider would stop paying for treatment. Again, this seems to be a pretty shitty practice, so it’s probably good that they’ve banned it.

The reforms also see changes to Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the introduction of subsidies to help people pay for private insurance. Medicare and Medicaid are publicly-funded health insurance schemes, for the elderly and the poor. They’ve been expanded, so more people can access them. Subsidies are for those who earn too much to qualify for public health insurance, but earn less than a certain threshold. Taxes on high earners (over $500,000pa) have been raised to help fund these programmes. I suppose this makes sense; if you’re gonna mandate that people have health insurance, at least help them out a little. But it does highlight one of the problems of the scheme, which I’ll come back to later on.

The American right think this is all a terrible idea, and keep banging on about “socialised healthcare” and mentioning communism. From what I can gather, it isn’t socialised medicine at all. It’s an expansion of socialised healthcare insurance with the expansion of the base for Medicare and Medicaid, but it’s an expansion of private health insurance too. One of the problems with the scheme – the thing they’ve used to try to get it reversed in the courts – is that it requires people to pay money for private health insurance whether they want to or not. You can’t get upset about that whilst also claiming that the plans introduce communism into American healthcare. The two positions are contradictory.

The scheme is an expansion of health insurance to try to get 100% coverage; it’s also an attempt to try to ensure better healthcare by reining in some of the weird behaviours of private insurers (coverage caps etc). Judged purely on the basis of “how to make a good healthcare system”, it actually seems like a fairly decent idea. We know that public health insurance with private health provision can work well; that’s what they have in much of Europe, and those systems generally outperform other forms of healthcare system. It seems like the reforms fix some of what is wrong with American medicine – the lack of access – to try to move it closer to those types of European health systems. This seems to me to be a good idea.

What I find fascinating is that so many people in Britain are so supportive of these plans. The British Government is trying to introduce a health system that is sort of a hybrid between socialised medicine (i.e. provided by the state, what we have now, doesn’t work very well) and what Obama has just introduced. If the British Government went the whole hog and introduced the changes that Obama is making, there would be uproar. Why are these changes good in America, but bad in Britain?

Some other thoughts. These changes might make the health system better, but they’re also likely to cost a lot of money. The increased taxation (on individuals, and on business) will reduce economic growth, as will the imposition of more regulation on employers and individuals. I also don’t really understand why the government has increased taxes on medical supplies; ostensibly it must be to pay for these changes, but the cost will surely get transferred back to those who pay for treatment. To put it another way, the tax they’ve introduced to pay for more medical treatment will increase the cost of medical treatment. Doesn’t seem clever to me.

In the past few years, the key problem that’s faced every government has been how to deal with the economy; that’s what every world leader should be laser-focussed on. Instead, Obama spent a lot of time and effort trying to pass these reforms. But not only did he get distracted by them, the changes he’s made have actively made it harder for the economy to recover. Now, the reforms might be great; they might make healthcare in America much better, and perhaps that justifies it all. But the fact that he let this distract him from the economy – the major concern of our time, and most likely the fundamental issue of his presidency – surely calls his judgement into question.

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Stop Kony. And then what?

Thursday 8th March 2012

So you’ve probably seen the Kony 2012 video, or at least heard of it. I only got around to watching it this morning, and to be honest it made me feel rather uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable because of  Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (although clearly he and it are thoroughly unpleasant), but rather because of the style and presentation of the film. There are a few things which irked me, but my main problem is that it spends more time showing the film maker (and his son) and showing all the stuff he’s doing, than it does explaining what’s happening and why.

Here’s part of an article from Foreign Affairs magazine a few months ago (emphasis added):

“During the past decade, U.S.-based activists concerned about the LRA have successfully, if quietly, pressured the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to take a side in the fight between the LRA and the Ugandan government. Among the most influential of advocacy groups focusing specifically on the LRA are the Enough project, the Resolve campaign, the Canadian-based group GuluWalk, and the media-oriented group Invisible Children. Older agencies, from Human Rights Watch to World Vision, have also been involved. In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.”

I think what mostly made me uncomfortable about the video is not that the film makers simplified the situation, it’s that they barely try to talk about it at all. Kony may be a terrible person, but history has shown that when powerful states intervene in a region to remove one person, the likelihood is that someone else will step into the power vacuum. To quote Foreign Affairs again (emphasis added):

“Beyond the ins and outs of dealing with Kony, the political challenges in the region are simply too massive for Obama’s new operation to yield much fruit. The violence in Uganda, Congo, and South Sudan has been the most devastating — anywhere in the world — since the mid-1990s. Even conservative estimates place the death toll in the millions. And the LRA is, in fact, a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence. If Kony is removed, LRA fighters will join other groups or act independently.

Until the underlying problem — the region’s poor governance — is adequately dealt with, there will be no sustainable peace. Seriously addressing the suffering of central Africans would require engagement of a much larger order. A huge deployment of peacekeeping troops with a clearly recognized legal mandate would have to be part of it. Those forces would need to be highly trained, have an effective command structure, be closely monitored, and be appropriately equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment and helicopters, among other things. It would require a long-term commitment and would be targeted not only at chasing the LRA. Moreover, it would make the protection of the local populations a key priority. Finally, the deployment of such a force would need to have emerged from concerted efforts in international diplomacy[…] not as a knee-jerk reaction to the most recent media splash.

I’m not trying to say that it’s a bad idea to get rid of Kony, I’m saying that I don’t know enough about the situation to be able to form an opinion. And it unnerves me that people can form an opinion based upon just seeing that film, that they’re so willing to jump on a bandwagon seemingly without question. Because to my mind, to be able to form an opinion on something like this would take a lot of time and effort to learn about the complexities of what’s going on in the region; watching a 30 minute propaganda film just isn’t enough to allow anyone to say what should or shouldn’t be done.

P.S. This blog post by a Ugandan journalist makes some other very excellent points:

“Many African critics unsurprisingly are crying neo-colonialism. This is because these campaigns are disempowering of their own voices. After all the conflict and suffering is affecting them directly regardless of if they hit the re-tweet button or not. At the end of the day the Kony2012 campaign will not make Joseph Kony more famous but it will make Invisible Children famous.”

And… Oh, basically go and read all these links if you’re at all interested in this issue. You’d do much better to spend half an hour reading through some of those, than to spend it watching the video.

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Comparing two Observer articles…

Sunday 5th February 2012

First from a 2001 article by Andrew Browne, then the health editor of the Observer:

“Even as you read this, in almost every hospital in the country, there will be elderly, vulnerable people left for hours and sometimes days on trolleys. Each year, thousands of British people – the young, the old, the rich, the poor – die unnecessarily from lack of diagnosis, lack of treatment and lack of drugs. They die and suffer unnecessarily for different reasons, but there is just one root cause: the blind faith the Government has in the ideology of the National Health Service, and our unwillingness to accept not just that it doesn’t work, but that it can never work.”

“…we must abolish the NHS as we know it, abandon our unique obsession that all health care should be free, and become as comfortable with mixed public and private medicine as they are elsewhere in the developed world.”

It’s tragic that so many of his criticisms still seem to be valid.

Secondly, Ed Miliband on the Government’s proposed healthcare reforms:

“That bill remains what it was in the beginning: a misguided attempt to impose a free market free-for-all on our National Health Service.”

As Browne noted, other countries have mixed private and public health systems. Those healthcare systems are the best in the world. Miliband is criticising the reforms because they’re too similar to the best healthcare systems in the world.

Words fail me.

From the first article again:

“The noble ideology of communism had to be ditched because it didn’t work. So the noble ideology behind the NHS should be ditched because it costs lives. We should ditch the ideology and ditch the NHS.”

Quite right.

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The Eurozone

Wednesday 2nd November 2011

It’s a bit like a bad joke at the moment.

Last week, the Eurozone leaders announced their latest agreement to save the Euro. Essentially, what they announced was what it is that they’d like to do, but they haven’t really worked out the details of how they’ll do it. It’s only small details that are left to sort out, for example where exactly the money is going to come from…

So they haven’t really agreed much at all. And the stuff they did agree, doesn’t even solve the underlying problem. So for the umpteenth time, the EU leaders have just kicked the can down the road.

Straight after it was announced, some people were sort of facetiously wondering how long it’d take before the plan would fall apart. As it turns out, less than a week! Because the Greek leaders have decided to have a referendum about whether to sign up to the plans. EU leaders aren’t used to the concept of people having a say on Europe, so this has perplexed them. And everyone is worried that when the referendum takes place next year, the Greek voters will give the wrong answer.

Meanwhile, Greece is on track to have a primary surplus by 2012. Which will mean they can safely default, and the EU can go screw themselves…

What’s amazing is just how dysfunctional it is. The Eurozone leaders get to ponce around, looking self-important whilst managing to completely dodge the issue, making it all the more likely that the whole thing goes tits up. It would be quite hilarious to watch, if it weren’t all quite so serious.

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Ranting about occupations

Tuesday 25th October 2011

If you’ve seen the news recently, no doubt you’ve heard about the various “occupations” which are occurring in various places. It’s all spread from “Occupy Wall Street” in the States, and in the UK we have our own version in “Occupy LSX”, who are currently occupying that well-known fortress of capitalism, er, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Hmm, oh well.

As far as I’m aware, one of the main messages that they’re trying to get across is the idea of the “99 percent”; or the idea that 99% of people are struggling in the current economic climate whilst 1% are prospering, and that the 99% are angry. It’s a simple idea. Okay, for all sorts of reasons it’s also a little bit inaccurate, but the general thrust is good enough. Because fundamentally, the protesters are probably right to say that most people should be pretty pissed off at the state of our economy. But the protesters are angry at banks and stock markets (wtf?) and capitalism in general. This seems to me to be a little bit confused. Do they really want to dismantle capitalism?

A protest, last week.

Capitalism is generally taken to mean things like the right to private property and to free trade. And are the Occupiers honestly against those things? Well, if I went down to the  occupation camp and tried to pinch their big anti-capitalism sign, one of their tents, or the iPhones they use to post updates to Twitter (yes, the poor 99% who can afford some of the most expensive consumer electronics in the world), I think they’d be rather keen to uphold their right to private property. And are they against free trade? Well, by choosing how to use their labour, arguably they are exercising precisely that right. Because a part of free trade is the right to freely trade your own labour; and in this case, the occupiers have exercised that right by choosing to use their labour to protest the state of the economy (and so one can argue that implicit in their protest is the idea that they’re protesting against their right to hold that protest. Consistency FTW!). If the government (or anyone else) tried to remove that right – by arresting the occupiers, for instance – then I’m confident that they’d be pretty upset.

So to be angry at capitalism is, I think, a mistake. At least, it’s a mistake to be angry at properly-implemented capitalism. OccupyLSX shouldn’t necessarily direct their anger at the banks or stockbrokers (unless they own shares in a bank which has lost value, in which case, feel free). They should be angry at governments, for oh so many things. For allowing themselves to be open to lobbying, and bowing to the influence of vested interests. For meddling too much in the economy, trying to maintain the housing bubble which lead to this crisis. For the arrogance of the Euro project and repeating the mistakes of the past. For spending too much in the boom years, ramping up debts which we now need to repay. For breaking one of the golden rules of capitalism – that bad businesses must fail – by bailing out the banks which behaved so irresponsibly prior to the downturn.

The problem isn’t capitalism; at least, not capitalism in it’s proper form. The crisis is not the failure of economic liberalism, and the answer is not something like a laughably-impractical “Resource-Based Economy“. Actually, we want our government to be more liberal; to spend less, to leave more money in the pockets of the populace, and to not interfere in matters best left to the market. Because when you trace it back, a good chunk of our problems stem from bad government interventions, or the “crony capitalism” we see at present.

Of course, this would involve politicians deciding to make themselves less powerful. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the type of person most likely to want to be a politician, is not the type who is likely to take power away from themselves once they’ve gained it. So we’re probably screwed.

Photo by flickr user wheelzwheeler, licensed under Creative Commons.

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Is the minimum wage working, or just stopping work?

Wednesday 12th October 2011

It’s been announced today that unemployment is at a 17-year high, and that 16-24 year olds are being particularly affected. In that group, unemployment is higher than it’s ever been.

Back when the minimum wage was introduced, there was a particularly interesting argument put forward against it. This was that it would have an adverse impact upon people whose labour is not worth the minimum wage. In particular, it was argued that younger people with less training or experience, would simply not be worth hiring any more. Given today’s unemployment figures, this argument seems at least plausible.

The intention of a minimum wage is – presumably – to ensure that people are paid enough money to allow them to have somewhere to live, food to eat, and some sort of good standard of living. And that’s an absolutely good intention. But is pricing people out of the job market really the best way to deliver this? Isn’t it better that people work for whatever wage they’re able to collect (and, of course, are willing to work for) so that they’re at least gaining experience which increases the value of their labour, and allows them ultimately to secure better-paid employment? And if a wage is deemed to be too low, wouldn’t it be better for the government to supplement it, rather than trying to force employers to pay over the odds?

Is it time to scrap the minimum wage and come up with a more intelligent way of dealing with this? Perhaps something like a negative income tax?

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The death of capitalism, apparently

Tuesday 27th September 2011

You would imagine that when a column in a newspaper begins with “I might be an economic dunce, but…”, it would serve as a pretty damn good signal to basically ignore much of what follows. Alas, no.

If you’re on Twitter then you may have seen this article by Charlie Brooker being retweeted today, as seems to happen most Mondays. Brooker’s articles are generally fairly popular amongst the Twitterati, and so they should be as they’re usually quite amusing. But with the latest one, I really couldn’t get past the pretty fundamental error.

The title of the article is “If capitalism has failed, how the hell do we pay for our Shreddies?“. And so we can see the issue. It’s a pretty basic error, but sadly it’s one which is commonly repeated in the present climate: the current economic crisis isn’t really a failure of capitalism – in many respects, quite the opposite. So it’s perhaps a little foolish to be pondering its death.

Fundamentally, the credit crunch which precipitated the present economic mess, happened for a number of reasons. Banks lent money to people to buy houses, which caused house prices to rise. Sadly, lots of money was lent to people who couldn’t afford really afford the loan (and it’s very easy to blame greedy bankers for this; no-one seems willing to blame the greedy consumers who took on debt they couldn’t afford. I suppose it’s politically more convenient to blame bankers though). So when those debts went bad, the banks repossessed the property and put them up for sale, to try to recoup their money. This influx of property into the market drove house prices down. Mortgages are loans secured against the value of a property, and so we reached the situation where there were lots of loans which were secured against property which was worth less than the value of the loan (i.e. if the bank sold the house, they wouldn’t get back all of the money they lent in the first place). Calamity ensued*.

Reading the preceding paragraph there are two blatantly obvious questions: why did the banks feel able to lend the money in the first place, and why did lots of people suddenly become unable to afford their debts? The answer is that central banks and governments set interest rates according to whatever agenda they have at the time. In the early 2000s interest rates were set low in an attempt to soften the effects of the dot-com crash and the terrorist attacks in America in 2001. This had the effect of reducing the cost of lending money, which meant that loans became affordable to more people. Because of the low interest rates, banks could now give mortgages to people who previously couldn’t afford them. And correspondingly, consumers presumably felt encouraged to take on this debt because they assumed that they’d always be able to find affordable finance, even if their initial loan became too expensive. After all, house prices were always going up…

Of course, the low interest rates weren’t sustainable, and when they rose in the latter part of the 2000s, the cost of debt rose accordingly. And then the people who could barely afford their loans when the rates were low, suddenly couldn’t afford the debt at a higher interest rate, and had no way to refinance their debt. And so they defaulted.

We can see then that one of the key weaknesses was nothing at all to do with capitalism, or the free-market liberalism which is often assumed to go with it. It was a housing bubble fuelled by low interest rates. A colossal failure of interventionist policy, and a reminder that centrally managing a fundamental part of the economy is not necessarily a wise thing to do. And this lesson is something that those people who are generally in favour of capitalism go to great pains to point out.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t market failures as well; the existence of banks that were too big to fail, for instance. But without the interventionist policy – the setting of interest rates – it’s highly questionable whether the conditions would’ve existed for the rest of the crisis to follow, or for it to be as profound as it was/is. Far from the death of capitalism, this – along with the troubles we’re now seeing caused by excesses of sovereign debt – should really signal the end (or at least a reduction) of the interventionist state. Probably won’t be though, and we’re all the poorer for it.


* I’m afraid I’m simplifying a little here; there are other factors, such as the way that risk was dispersed throughout the financial system, and the rationale behind subprime lending. That’s somewhat beyond the scope of the point I’m trying to make though.

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Phone hacking, journalism, and the media

Saturday 16th July 2011

Watching the phone hacking thing play out recently has been fairly interesting. Obviously, what was done was fairly bad (although I would suggest that phone hacking – or other illegal activity – isn’t necessarily always unethical for journalists), and so it’s probably pretty shrewd of News International to have closed the News of the World. What will also be interesting now is to see what other papers are guilty of this; there are suggestions that it may have occurred elsewhere, at non-NI papers.

I remain baffled at the anti-Murdoch bent to the whole thing. I don’t understand why dodgy activity at the News of the World has derailed the BSkyB bid (if indeed it has for more than the short term), aside from the politics of the situation. Because the issue there was about media plurality, about competition in the sector, and not building up businesses with too high a share of the market (although if we really were concerned about such a thing, a good place to start would be the BBC). The argument has been about News Corp and the Murdochs having too much control over the media; yet the bid has actually been derailed because the Murdochs didn’t have control over the News of the World (I think it’s fairly accepted that the management of News Corp didn’t know about the extent of the hacking until relatively recently). Which is an interesting little contradiction.

What’s I find really interesting though is to compare this with another recent media scandal, this time concerning the scribblings of Johann Hari. He was caught out for plagiarism; he took things that people wrote in books, or in interviews to other journalists, and pretended that they’d said that in interview with him. Hari wrote/writes for The Independent (amongst others), which is generally held in pretty high regard. Whereas I think it’s fair to say that the News of the World was generally not held in the same esteem. Yet it’s the “good” journalist in the “quality” paper who got caught out for plagiarism, whereas the journalists from the trashy NOTW were caught out for basically trying to find out the truth. All other factors aside, surely the former is the greater crime against journalism? Plagiarism has to be worse than going to extreme lengths to investigate a story?

Fundamentally none of this changes my opinion of the papers, or the media generally. I’ve long thought that they’re all as bad as each other; that the Grauniad is as bad as the Mail is as bad as the Telegraph. They all have their biases, and all employ journalists (such as Hari) who are willing to misrepresent facts to make an argument. Which is a massive problem, because it leads to a public which is horrendously misinformed about fundamental issues. Such as this staggering finding that 70% of people think that the government is currently reducing the national debt, or the general ignorance towards technical subjects such as nuclear power or climate change (although there are certain parts of academia that are confused about the latter, so I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on the general public). That is the real scandal of the UK media, and the blame lies at the feet at more than just the Murdochs.

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