Offshore castaways

This blog often comments on big stories stories after the news cycle has moved on to the next big headline. You may say that is because I’m slow to react to events, but I’d like to think it’s because I have been ruminating on the major happenings and the meaning behind them. What’s more, I might even be valiantly striking back against short attention spans, and giving issues the extra consideration that should be accorded to them. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. And so to the Panama Papers, and the inadequacy of how they have been covered. Watching the travails of David Cameron over recent weeks is to be reminded of how the British media is most comfortable discussing the careers of middle aged men. The vast conspiracy of the super rich against the rest of us, which the Mossack Fonseca leak probably no more than hints at, seemed for most news sources of secondary interest to the personal financial arrangements of the Prime Minister.Read More »

Curating the Cuban transition

During his recent visit to Cuba, President Barack Obama drew criticism in some quarters for attending a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team in the immediate aftermath recent terrorist attacks in Brussels. Another case of those claiming to be serious about combating terrorism agitating to deliver the terrorists’ desired response. By now it should be clear to anybody that terrorist outrages are not so much about the carnage inflicted in murderous acts, but what they are designed to provoke. Namely that targeted countries will abandon their professed principles, sacrifice civil liberties and persecute religious minorities, thereby upholding the Wahhabist rhetoric that Islamist terrorism draws on.Read More »

How can we trust the Tories with the economy?

I bet you saw what I did there. It wasn’t very subtle, was it? But I have rarely encountered mainstream media commentators subvert this attack line, one of the anchors of the conventional wisdom that has infected British politics for decades. Labour governments always end up running out of money, and Tory governments are required to step in and clean up their mess. The only argument for Labour to occasionally get in is to make investments in public services after the Conservatives have bequeathed them sound public finances. Tory competence contrasted with Labour chaos has become one of those things that people reflexively say, without any need for recourse to examination of the historical record. Extraneous as it might seem, however, it is a very worthwhile exercise to perform.Read More »

What does it really mean to be pro-business?

This is intended to be a brief-ish post before I offer thoughts on the UK Labour Party’s leadership battle, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post. The Labour Party is currently plunged in existential angst, as the party debates how and in what sense it should be “pro-business”. It’s a loaded word in political discourse, hence the frequent need for quotation marks. A notable aspect of the UK general election campaign earlier this year concerned then Labour leader Ed Miliband’s attitude to business. Apparently Ed wasn’t “pro-business” as defined by his opponents in the Conservative Party, his enemies in the media, and his critics in the business community. But hardly anybody disputes the importance of wealth creation in order to for prosperity and opportunity to be available to a nation’s citizenry, and it is usually disingenuous to allege that some people do. However, one of the key issues in politics is how best to create that wealth, and how that wealth is distributed among the population.

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The moralists of misery

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” So said John Kenneth Galbraith, one of the great economists and proponents of liberalism of the 20th century. Aside from seeing virtue in wealth, the converse is also deemed to apply – that poverty is a moral failing. Attitudes to the poor have been characterised by such contempt for several centuries, and they refuse to go away. Indeed, an entire intellectual edifice has long been constructed to explain poverty in terms of fecklessness and idleness. The leading advocates of this approach to poverty over the past few hundred years are of varied background, and include the economist and demographer Thomas Robert Malthus, the economist David Ricardo, the philosopher and biologist Herbert Spencer, the social scientist William Graham Sumner, Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, all the way up to many of today’s cohort of leading conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic.

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