Chris wrote:

If it is membership of the EU which is undermining competitiveness, why is it that Germany is doing so much better at exporting to China than the UK? Last year, its exports (pdf) to China were €71.4bn (£51.7bn) compared to the UK’s £12.8bn, which meant such exports represented 2.4% of GDP against 0.7 per cent for the UK.

I was curious and Googled. Wikipedia has this to say:

The frequent high-level diplomatic visits are acknowledged to have helped guarantee the smooth development of Sino-German relations. From 1993 to 1998, German and Chinese leaders met face-to-face 52 times: Among those Chinese leaders who visited Germany were President Jiang Zemin; Qiao Shi, former Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC); and Li Peng, former Premier and Chairman of the NPC Standing. Meanwhile, German leaders who visited China included President Roman Herzog, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and Minister of State at the German Federal Foreign Office Ludger Volmer. Among these leaders, Chancellor Kohl visited China twice in 1993 and 1995. Since the new German government came into power in October 1998, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has paid three visits to China. One after another from Germany came Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, and Minister of Economics and Technology Werner Müller. At the same time, Germany welcomed Chinese Primer Zhu Rongji, Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, State Councilor Wu Yi, Member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Wei Jianxing as well as Vice President Hu Jintao.

Relations would continue to improve after 1998. For instance, both Beijing and Berlin fervently opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in 2006 both Germany (the largest economy and the most populous country of the European Union) and China further enhanced their bilateral political, economic and diplomatic ties within the framework of Sino-EU strategic partnerships. Both Germany and China opposed direct military involvement in the 2011 Libyan civil war. Before the 2011 visit of China’s PM Wen Jiabao, the Chinese government issued a “White Book on the accomplishments and perspective of Sino-German cooperation”, the first of its kind for a European country. The visit also marked the first Sino-German government consultations, an exclusive mechanism for Sino-German communications.

So I suppose the answer to Chris’s question might be that Germany is China’s biggest trading partner and has a special trading relationship with it outwith the EU.

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Chris is right in everything he says about nationalising the banks, and I think he’s wrong. It’s a completeness problem.

His core argument is this:

[Nationalisation] wouldn’t prevent banks losing money: these are inevitable sometimes because of complexity, bounded rationality and limited knowledge. However, when banks are nationalized, their losses would create only a very minor problem for the public finances as governments borrow money to recapitalize them*. That needn’t generate the fears of a credit crunch or financial crisis that we’ve seen recently. In this sense, nationalization would act as a circuit-breaker, preventing blow-ups at banks from damaging the rest of the economy. (Given that countries are exposed to financial crises overseas, the full benefit of this requires that banks be nationalized in all countries).

This argues for an exchange of private gain/public loss with terrible knock-on effects, for public gain/public loss, which is more balanced. You could argue that the former alternative has other remedies.

But the main problem I see is the other effects of nationalisation: costs, regulation and enterprise.

Costs are hard to control in public enterprises. Partly because of the effects of regulation, partly because they’re unbounded by the profit motive, costs tend to increase to fill the space available when next year’s budget depends on completely spending this year’s. Problems tend to be solved by more money and more management, rather than by eliminating the problems.

Regulation of public enterprises is, necessarily and rightly, more onerous than it is for the private sector. The latter needs to to focus on the prevention of abuse and dishonesty, the former needs to include both measures to prevent corruption and ostentatious displays of virtue. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Tenders to public bodies have to be ritualised in a way private buying decisions don’t.

But despite all the best efforts of those involved, corruption, or nepotism, tend to take over public allocations of funds. To be anecdotal, I was asked a few years ago to take part in a business that was to be situated in Wales. The business plan was, this bloke knew someone in the Welsh Assembly who gave out grants. That was it.

If public sector priorities took over banking, the case study for any sort of finance would become: “can I cover my ass if this goes wrong?” Worthiness would tend to take priority over business cases: you wouldn’t criticise a loan to disabled veterans, would you, you bastard?

What effect would that have on the economy?

There’s another, broader, way he’s wrong too, I think. He says:

My point here is, however, a broader one. One fact illustrates it. During the golden age of social democracy – from 1947 to 1973 – UK real total equity returns averaged 5.1% per year. If we take the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 as its starting point, they have returned 4.9% per year in the “neoliberal” era. This alerts us to a possibility – that perhaps some social democratic policies are in the interests not just of workers but of shareholders too. Maybe the beneficiaries of neoliberalism are fewer than one might imagine.

All true, I’m sure.

But in 1973 I wore darned socks and trousers with patches, and my younger brother wore my old trousers. We lived in a three bedroom detached house in a nice cul de sac in Essex, just outside the M25 (it wasn’t yet built). That house financed the rest of my parent’s lives, a couple of decades later.

Today I wear socks that cost £5 for 5 pairs, from Tesco, and when they wear out I buy new ones, and I don’t ever see any kids with patched trousers. Torn knees in jeans became fashionable, much later. Then they meant you weren’t patching your kid’s trousers. Signals of actual poverty are never fashionable.

Meanwhile, the people making the socks and the trousers have become many times richer than they were in 1973. Chinese workers have seen their incomes rise by an average of more than 15 times. We’re richer, in terms of what we can actually consume, and so are they. Their increased wealth is more measurable than ours. I’ve never seen a graph of jean patching or sock darning.

That’s also something neoliberalism has achieved. It meant we came through a calamitous banking crisis with problems, for sure, but without the dustbowl economics and breadlines of the 1930s.

The undoubted problems of banking today could be addressed in different ways. Chris talks about a return to full reserve banking, but we don’t have fractional reserve banking, we have Basel Rules that let banks use dodgy securities as backing for loans. Maybe actual fractional reserve retail banking is worth consideration. Maybe lowering the regulatory burden but making it more effective would allow the banking sector to become more diverse, so banking failures were isolated, like failures of newsagents or engineering companies.

There’s no question we have a problem with banking. But making it run with the beige inertia of British Telecom circa 1978 isn’t the answer.

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We could go on. We could mention Deborah Orr in the Guardian, who somehow managed to link events in Cologne to the historical failings of European (and British) criminal justice systems; or Gaby Hinsliff (also, coincidentally enough, in the Guardian) who contrasted the “expensive smartphones” of the assaulted German women with the miserable lives of “young male migrants…scraping by at the bottom of Europe’s social and economic food chain” (query: what’s the Arabic for “with that iPhone she was asking for it”?). Suffice to say that to endure the Krakatoa-like eruption of cognitive dissonance from the feminist left in the aftermath of the obscenity of Cologne was to have a whole new dimension of unpleasantness added to what was an already thoroughly unpleasant ordeal: A bit like being hectored by One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’s Nurse Ratched during a particularly difficult colonoscopy.


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Jeremy Corbyn has been a supporter of the Chagossians’ plight for a long time, and on this I agree with him. On his website, an article is published, which discusses the depopulation of Diego Garcia and notes that
“This was done in secret and with no consultation with the people who matter most, namely those people who lived there”
Hard to argue with, really. I’m with him so far. But it becomes difficult to square all of this with his attitude to the Falkland Islands.

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Forty six minutes into this discussion about trigger warnings, freedom of speech and campus lunacy, Brendan O’Neill tackles Bea Campbell about her role in the Satanic Abuse witch hunts of the 1980s. He says he supports her freedom to make false allegations, though not to destroy working class families.

Campbell replies:

The conversation I really want to have is this, it’s about, not so much freedom of speech, but the difficulty of speech, the difficulty for those who need to speak, the difficulty of giving voice, particularly when what they need to say has been shrouded in shame, whether it’s about the shape of their body or somebody abusing their body. This is at the centre of experience of women for ever, as far as we know. Now, the thing that’s fascinating about that difficulty is that all sorts of other oppressed and marginalised groups have something to say about that as well.

Primo Levi describes, let me just remind myself of the way that he puts it, ‘the unlistenable to, the unlistenable to, the unheard things that need to be said’.

Let’s just remember where the great inspiration for the contemporary language of feminism came from. It came from people who defied death, in Mississippi, in Alabama, just to vote. Black people who in order to vote had to risk life and limb and had to actually recuperate some sense of personal worth, which they recovered amongst each other, to give voice and to enter the public realm.

Now, the thing that I think is shameful about you [O’Neill] and your Institute of No Ideas [some discussion because O’Neill isn’t formally attached to the Institute of Ideas] I want to refer to your article about… rape… you had a go about this current rape thing that you go on about and you likened contemporary feminism to the Ku Klux Klan. And you cite that great, heroic, astounding figure Ida B. Wells, who campaigned against lynching and particularly named the ways in which white people enlisted the spectre, your term, the spectre of rape to lynch black men. The thing that you do is to traduce, to erase, the history of black women at that time in the service of your repudiation of the implications of rape.

She went on from there, and you can listen to it if you like.

Let’s look at what she did.

First, she claimed primacy over other people. She claimed to be more important, to make her voice louder than O’Neill’s. She did this by playing to the natural sympathy everyone has for people who feel ashamed of themselves or who have been abused, then saying that’s a female experience, centrally so. She is, of course, female.

Then she made the inevitable leap to the civil rights movement in America.

So far, the logic of this is:

  1. Victimhood is more important than equality and freedom
  2. I am one of a victim class
  3. I also claim honorary membership of an even more evocative victim class

Remember, this is a response to an allegation that she had been part of a campaign of lies about parents forcing their children to eat excrement during satanic rituals, a campaign that resulted in state child abduction.

What she’s doing here is drawing a veil of virtue over herself. How can you criticise someone without a voice? Campbell is without a voice despite having one of the biggest platforms of anyone in the UK; her voice has been heard in the national media, in books and in academia for decades. But she has no voice as a member of an unvoiced group.

How can you not reverently make room for a voice that has been kept hushed by shame, of body image and shame that stems from abuse?

How can you disagree with someone whose great inspiration, dammit, came from Black Americans who’d been denied a voice, just like her?

It’s drivel, of course. So is what follows. O’Neill has erased black women by quoting a black woman. This is gibberish. But not even O’Neill is brave enough to challenge it as she comes out with it.

If you want to know how it is that someone could help tear families apart, causing irreparable trauma to children, over an obviously bogus piece of hysteria and yet retain both a sense of personal virtue and an always-warm seat on BBC discussion programmes, as well as a lifetime sinecure in a university, this is your answer. It’s the veil of virtue.

This veil acts as a turbocharger for the motte and bailey doctrine (if you haven’t yet read the paper at the end of that link, take a few minutes and rectify that right now). Motte and bailey arguments have a solid, defensible inner core (the motte), and a fatuous or worse hinterland (the bailey). If challenged on the bailey, the proponents retreat to the motte until it’s safe to come out again. An example motte and bailey feminist approach was given on the starslatecodex blog a year or so ago:

The feminists who constantly argue about whether you can be a real feminist or not without believing in X, Y and Z and wanting to empower women in some very specific way, and who demand everybody support controversial policies like affirmative action or affirmative consent laws (bailey). Then when someone says they don’t really like feminism very much, they object “But feminism is just the belief that women are people!” (motte) Then once the person hastily retreats and promises he definitely didn’t mean women aren’t people, the feminists get back to demanding everyone support affirmative action because feminism, or arguing about whether you can be a feminist and wear lipstick.

The turbocharged version is, instead of “But feminism is just the belief that women are people!”, you get “But feminism is the only way the marginalised can ever have a voice, especially those who men have made feel bad about their bodies, and it’s exactly the same as the civil rights movement, and you don’t want to lynch black people do you, you bastard???”

Campbell isn’t the only person who does this. It’s characteristic of her generation of political activists. This is why it’s ironic, and often quite funny, when younger activists, the current crop in particular, attack those of the 1970s using exactly the same tactics and shout them down for being trans-exclusionary – transsexualism not having formed a part of the identity politics that set, like concrete, in the minds of 1970s activists thirty years ago.

This inflexibility is a serious problem now. In the aftermath of the mass sexual assault of women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, we read that

Barbara Steffens, the minister for emancipation in the North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) government, said the New Year’s Eve incident was “the tip of a very unpleasant iceberg”. She called for a “larger societal condemnation of a male abuse of power”.

This incident in Cologne was created by migration without assimilation, not by masculinity, and European men don’t behave like that. A politician who can’t understand that can’t deal with it either. But by falling back on this call to ossified identity political roles, distraction can be achieved. Distraction without effective action, that is.

This is how several thousand children came to be raped in full knowledge of the authorities in northern English towns like Rotherham for a decade and a half or more. The crumbling, Soviet-era concrete of the political priorities of the Labour Party meant that imaginary white racist backlashes were more important than the actual racist rape of white children. And you know, you wouldn’t want to be suggesting there was anything systematic about the rape of white people by non-whites would you? I mean, not even if we both know the statistics show exactly that.

Just as nobody on the panel in the clip above was willing to challenge Campbell’s ridiculous attempt to co-opt US civil rights as a cover for British witch hunts because they didn’t want to risk appearing to attack the US civil rights movement, nobody was willing to risk being called racist in Rotherham.

It’s time to stop buying this crap.

It’s time to say that Bea Campbell stands in a line of descent from Matthew Hopkins, not Ida B. Wells. In more current issues, it’s time to stop letting the descendants of Bantu colonisers of southern Africa pretend their anti-white crusade is anti-colonialist.

It’s time to challenge not just the ideas of the regressive left, but also their false assumptions of virtue.


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In sum: Distasteful as the Saudis are, the Iranian regime is far worse. The Saudis are not carrying out crimes against humanity the way that Iran is. And Saudi Arabia is not seeking to subvert its neighbors or to make war on America or our allies. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has reached a quiet rapprochement with Israel because the two states are united in their mutual opposition to growing Iranian power.

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The series created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss [Sherlock] works so well because its adaptation of the exploits of Sherlock Holmes is, excepting the names, flagrantly faithless…

No conundrum solved by Holmes is as mysterious as the enduring popularity of these squibs. Remember A Case of Identity from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes? Thought not: a plot that hinges on the inability of a spinster to work out that her suitor is in reality her wicked stepfather in disguise invites not sympathy for the victim but derision for the author.

Each to their own, and I don’t object to others’ harmless reading pleasure, but the notion that Holmes epitomises rationality is ripe for debunking. Holmes’s method is not reason but wild speculation and remorseless serendipity. He advises Watson to approach cases with “an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage”. What? That isn’t even a parody of critical inquiry. Where would scientists be without laws and theories? Plot contrivances such as a venomous snake trained to slither down a bedpull and then up again (in The Adventure of the Speckled Band, as if you cared) are an insult to the reader’s intelligence.

In person, Doyle would believe almost anything. It’s not a literary failing that he was an enthusiast for the occult (so too was Yeats) but there’s neatness in the fact that spiritualists tried to summon his spirit at the Royal Albert Hall five days after his death in 1930. He failed to turn up, having perhaps realised in the meantime that his life’s work merited public oblivion.

Oliver Kamm, The Times (£)

It’s rare for something to be so thoroughly misunderstood. Certainly, the mysteries that confront Holmes can be rather silly. In one of my favourites, for example, a blue carbuncle is fed to a goose, which is instantly mistaken for another by the thief, while the goose with the gem in its crop immediately makes its way to an acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes. Worse than silliness, in some stories Holmes holds information the reader doesn’t have, a serious breach of detective story ethics. Yet nobody seems to mind.

Because, and this should be fairly obvious, the mysteries are beside the point. Indeed, we never learn anything at all about one of the most significant:

Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, … It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.

“For which the world is not yet prepared” – we read these stories for the silliness of the hyperbole. It delighted P G Wodehouse, who made Bertie Wooster refer to Holmes repeatedly. It’s very funny to read Wooster saying something like “You know my methods” to Jeeves, but there’s far more going on than a simple joke at Bertie’s expense. The similarities between the two sets of stories are extraordinary.

Both focus on a couple, two men, one clever, one less so. Both are narrated in the first person by the less clever one – with, I think I’m right in saying, exactly one exception in both cases, there is one H&W story narrated by Holmes, and one J&W story narrated by Jeeves. Neither is more than a curiosity.

This structure allows a very effective comedic and dramatic trick, that of having the narrator unaware of things the reader and the cleverer partner are aware of. The narrator can even be used a pawn by the other character, not realise it, yet make sure the reader does.

It was invented by Conan Doyle, and copied and complimented by Wodehouse, perhaps the greatest writer in English of the twentieth century – don’t be misled by the fact he ‘only’ wrote comedy.

Don’t be misled by Conan Doyle’s apparent oafish stupidity, either. If he had wanted to write about scientific detective work, he could have done so. The period in which he set the stories, the decades before 1914, was one of enormous progress. Fingerprinting became a standard police procedure, forensic ballistics emerged; Holmes apparently knew nothing of either. When a fingerprint does appear, nobody takes any notice of the whorls, its importance is as a planted piece of evidence.

Telephones appear in a handful of stories, Watson drives a car in the latest in setting, in 1914, but technology remains rooted in the mid-nineteenth century, for the most part. That is, the stories’ own use of technology is anachronistic, and deliberately so. The setting is a fantasy version of Victorian London, one forever lit by gas lamps, whose taxis are for all time horse-drawn and whose streets are eternally cobbled.

It’s a fantasy. It isn’t real. It isn’t meant to be the real London. 221B Baker Street is an address chosen deliberately because it didn’t exist. It’s the prototype for Harry Potter’s railway station platform.

Holmes is a fantasy character and his scientific detection, of which we learn just what we have to for the narrative, and no more, is a fantasy too. It isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s a device that allows Watson to be both uncomprehending and admiring.

It’s a measure of Conan Doyle’s success in rendering this fantastical version of the world convincing, complete with its archetypal characters and a version of science closer to phrenology than forensics, that some people do believe it and criticise it as though it’s serious.

But it’s no more serious than the Jeeves and Wooster stories. Like them, the joy for the reader is the narrative itself. It’s Bertie Wooster’s vocabulary, and Watson’s hyperbole. It’s the magnification of trivial things into issues of huge significance, for few of Holmes’s cases are actually of any import at all. Holmes’s methods aren’t realistic, but nor are Jeeves’s. The joke comes from having a character who is, in Wodehouse’s word, omniscient, and in seeing them through the eyes of a narrator who is – let’s be gentle – not omniscient.

The stories are recitations, performances of which the plots are there simply to support the characters and the narrative. Wodehouse used the same plots over and over again, and it didn’t matter at all, what mattered was each particular performance. The Holmes and Watson stories are the same.

Which is why I haven’t got the slightest interest in watching Sherlock. The series makes the same mistake Kamm does, of thinking the ‘mysteries’ are the point. They’re not going to get anything else right, from that starting point. And I think it’s a shame that millenial viewers might come to associate this series with the characters, and in doing so lose one of the genuinely great achievements of imagination and literature.

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Apropos of Greece and the Euro, the words of U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, in a 1999 court hearing, in which Microsoft tried some extraordinary stunts to convince the court that Internet Explorer was an integral part of the operating system, spring to mind.

“The code of tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

“In law firms,” the judge continued, “we often try other strategies with dead horses, including the following: buying a stronger whip; changing riders; saying things like, `This is the way we have always ridden this horse’; appointing a committee to study the horse; arranging to visit other firms to see how they ride dead horses; increasing the standards to ride dead horses; declaring that the horse is better, faster and cheaper dead; and finally, harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed.”

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We’d be in real trouble without an effective opposition and regular changes of government, so even though I’m glad about this result, I’m worried about Labour. Boundary changes and, perhaps, some reform of the BBC will work against them, and even though the large number of new SNP MPs will, necessarily, include some car crashes I can’t see Labour sweeping back in Scotland soon.

The party that was born in an industrial landscape that no longer exists, and that fell prey to a mid-twentieth century nationalisation fallacy that destroyed volume car production, prevented heavy industry from modernising so it died (Thatcher was just the undertaker) and closed the branch railway system, has only come close to re-inventing itself in a sectarian identity politics most people find repulsive, and that has led to obscenities like Rotherham.

UKIP’s appeal to Old Labour voters was apparent, not least in the ‘uneducated’ east coast from Clacton to Hull, where they came second in 120 constituencies. They made sweeping inroads into councils without denting Tory gains. Old Labour always was a ‘stop the world I want to get off’ party, yearning for a past of jobs for life no less fictitious than the Express’s nostalgia for the 1950s. UKIP gives that voice more effectively than Labour, today.

Worst of all for Labour, though not so obvious, were the liberal supporters who couldn’t vote Labour, or who did so holding their noses. Most of them were prevented only by tribalism from voting Conservative. How long can that last? How long can a party with Lutfer Rahman-supporting UNISON as Kingmaker, that has refused to expel Livingstone, that only expelled Galloway (for Christ’s sake) when he called for mutiny in the armed forces – but not before then – keep their loyalty?

Even thoughtful Labour partisans adopt tribal positions on questions like the EU, the Human Rights Act, the NHS , Welfare reform. Even when they write about Labour’s need to stop hating the provinces and the self-employed trades, contempt drips through. There’s still the unexamined narcissism that believes the poor are hated by the Tories, and only they can provide clean hay and warm barns – the notion people want to stand beside them rather than beneath them doesn’t seem to occur. The idea that the general rise in prosperity means more and more people don’t just want that, they expect it, is unimaginable to them. The idea that the people who know most clearly that there are freeloaders and scroungers are the fucking working class who live next door to them isn’t anywhere near their horizons.

Backwoods Tories are, literally, dying off. Oddly, and entirely unanticipated, demographics favour the Tories. They’re becoming more liberal because the illiberal ones are pegging it. Labour didn’t realise that immigrants are actually natural Conservatives, ambitious, hard-working, socially conservative.

I don’t want fifty years of Conservative government with UKIP emerging as the main opposition. I’d like an increasingly liberal Conservative Party kept like that because the main threat is further to the left. I’d like a party that is still too close to inherited privilege and wealth moderated by meritocratic and liberal pressure.

But unless Labour guts itself, there’s a possibility – no more than that – of it becoming irrelevant. And what party has ever gutted itself?

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At a time of great sadness, our thoughts must turn to the most important issue of all: my own virtue. While of course one cannot condone any violence against people who needlessly provoke peaceful Jihadists, we have to fear a backlash from those who disagree with me about politics in general – which is in itself a form of violence.

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