OK in the short term ?

“… and that is what is behind the abrupt rise in climate change denial among hardcore Conservatives: they have come to understand that as soon as they admit climate change is real, they will loose the central ideological battle of our time – whether we need to plan and manage our societies to reflect our goals and values, or whether that task can be left to the magic of the market.”

Naomi Klein

When I was young I used to think of 2020 as being the future, that was when everything would be different, we would have lots of cool technologies, we would have colonies on the moon, I used to think of all sorts of possibilities.

Now 2020 is just a year away and most of the things I dreamt of have not come to pass, except that we have the Internet and powerful computers.  Things are different but not in ways I envisaged, and most things are the same.

My children don’t see 2020 as being the future in that sense they see the future as being more like 2100.

But I wonder what will 2100 be like, will our children see us as having looked after the planet and handed it on in a better state than we received it in ?

I doubt it.

How often can we truly say we are thinking about the well-being of future generations ?

How often do we consider the impact of our decisions as they ripple down the decades and centuries ahead ?

I think the problem is that ‘Now‘ demands attention much more forcefully than the future, we are living in comfort at the moment and most of the demands of the future would require us to give up some of that immediate comfort to do something about a problem which we see as still being a long way away.

The timeframe over which we think of things is getting smaller and smaller so the perceived urgency of future problems is diminished by comparison.

It is easy to concentrate on the ‘now’, because it commands so much more attention than the future.  It is getting more and more difficult to look beyond our immediate problems.  Today’s news, the latest fashions, the newest technologies.  Politicians are only concerned with what happens up to the next election, anything beyond that is irrelevant to them as it might not be their problem anyway.  Businesses concentrate on ‘maximising shareholder value’ to maximise their share price in the short term, for them the timeframe they worry about is the next quarter.  On the Internet the timeframe of interest is minutes, and on the financial markets it’s about sixty milliseconds.

No wonder that in the Twitter fuelled politics of 2019 most people in society are not concentrating on the big problems which threaten the continued existence of the human race, like Climate Change.  They are not seen as immediate threats, that’s something for the future.

Some politicians even choose to deny the evidence on climate change and continue with business as usual and there are many reasons why they would do this.

In my opinion this ‘short termism’ is probably the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.  But what if we could be altruistic enough to care about people we will probably never live to see ?

The ability to have complex abstract thoughts about non existent scenarios is what sets us apart from most animals.  To imagine scenarios which do not exist and may never exist and to be able to plan how to bring these scenarios about or to avoid bringing them about is a vital adaptation which has led to the phenomenal success of humans as a species.

We can imagine what we want to do tomorrow or next week or next year, where we would like go on holiday, what job we would like, and we can imagine alternative versions of these scenarios, and we can evaluate each of them in terms of their likelihood and desirability.

We have the innate ability to imagine the consequences of our actions in the long term, but sadly not always the will or the motivation to escape our immediate desires.

Despite our mental faculty to look and plan ahead, we have a weakness in our thinking called ‘present bias’, which favours short-term payoffs over long-term rewards.

For example, people are more likely to accept an offer of £100 today, rather than a guarantee of £120 in a week or to smoke cigarettes despite a shortened life or to spend on pleasures and not save for a rainy day.

If we are so likely to neglect the our own future wellbeing, it’s even harder to muster empathy for future generations.

There is nowhere this is more apparent than in the world of politics and economics.

Politics and economics are inextricably linked especially in the politics of free market capitalism.

There is a fallacy at the heart of economics and that is that there must always be growth.  Free market capitalism has tied us to having economies which must grow in order to survive.

I think it was David Attenborough who once said that “to believe in never ending growth you must either be insane or be an economist“.

So why are capitalist economies so obsessed with growth ?

GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product, it is a figure which represents the total cost of goods and services traded in an economy in a year.  It was invented in the 1930s, but it very soon became the overriding goal of policymaking, so much so that even today, in the richest of countries, governments think that the solution to all their economic problems lies in more growth.

In 1960 this thinking was codified in a book by W.W. Rostow called “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto.”

In his book Rostow tells us that all economies need to pass through five stages of growth: first, traditional society, where a nation’s output is limited by its technology, its institutions and mindset; but then the preconditions for take-off, where we get the beginnings of a banking industry, the mechanisation of work and the belief that growth is necessary for something beyond itself; then we get take-off, where compound interest is built into the economy’s institutions and growth becomes the normal condition; fourth is the drive to maturity where you can have any industry you want, no matter your natural resource base; and the fifth and final stage, the age of high-mass consumption where people can buy all the consumer goods they want.

Well, you can hear the implicit airplane metaphor in his story, but this plane is like no other, because it can never be allowed to land.  Rostow left us flying into the sunset of mass consumerism, and he knew it.  As he wrote, “And then the question beyond, where history offers us only fragments.  What to do when the increase in real income itself loses its charm?”  He asked that question, but he never answered it.

So here we are, flying into the sunset of mass consumerism over half a century on, with economies that have come to demand infinite unending growth, because we’re financially, socially and politically dependent upon it.

We’re financially dependent on growth, because today’s financial system is designed to pursue the highest rate of monetary return, putting publicly traded companies under constant pressure to deliver growing sales, growing market share and growing profits, and because banks create money as debt bearing interest, which must be repaid with more money.  Therefore those companies which incur extra cost because they take care of the environment will be out competed by those who don’t.

We are socially addicted to growth, because thanks to a century of consumer propaganda we have become convinced that we transform ourselves every time we buy something new.  The real purpose of advertising is to make you dissatisfied with the things you presently have in order to persuade you to go out and buy something new to replace it.

And we are politically dependent on growth because politicians want to raise tax revenue without raising taxes and a growing GDP seems a sure way to do that.  They don’t want to inflict any tax rises to pay for long term threats because they are always looking towards the next election.

This is why politics is so shackled to the short term view, they are always looking towards the next election.  It goes something like this; “If it is a threat which is beyond the next election then it might be someone else’s problem if we don’t get re-elected so why worry about it, paying for it now just lessens the chances of our re-election and if the other lot get elected then this problem becomes something we can use against them“.

Future political threats are evaluated with something called ‘Discounting’.

Discounting is standard practice in politics all over the world.

Imagine a politician who is facing a difficult decision, there is a future problem which is known and well documented and they are trying to decide whether or not to spend large sums of money to mitigate the problem.  In the future this will have looked like money well spent perhaps saving many lives and billions of pounds.  It will certainly be of benefit to the grandchildren of the politician.  On the other hand spending all that money now will cause immediate problems for the taxpayers who will see little or no immediate benefit to themselves.

So the politician turns to an economist for a cost benefit analysis and they feed the numbers into the economists spreadsheet.  The economist points out that something called a ‘discount rate’ can be applied to these far future benefits.

A social discount rate is a technique that economists and politicians use in their cost-benefit analyses to decide whether to make investments with a long-term impact.  It weighs the benefits for future people against costs borne in the present-day, and proposes that the calculated value of benefit to society in the future is worth less to society in the present depending on how far into the future these benefits occur.  For example, if you’re deciding whether to spend a lot of money to boost the economy in the future, it’ll tell you that a 10% boost in economic growth in 2 years is worth a lot more in the present than a 10% boost 20 years from now.

The underlying assumption (fallacy) of economics is that economies must continuously grow and therefore it is assumed that future generations will be richer and more able to bear the costs of future problems.  But there is another reason why discount rates are used, on average individuals are not very willing to give up comfort and/or income today for a putative benefit at some time in the future for people who don’t even exist yet.  The society as a whole reflects the views of it’s individual members so politicians, and the societies they govern, have a limit to how much cost they are collectively willing to bear for the benefit of future generations.

So the politician turns to the economist and the economist runs the numbers in their spreadsheet and they realise that dealing with the problems now might not show enough payback for decades or possibly even centuries, so the proposals fail their cost-benefit analysis. The politician will leave it to their successors to deal with the problem.

Most people would accept that there is a need to bear some costs to avoid future climate catastrophe, but how much?  If we continue to postpone action the cost of dealing with the problem continues to rise and this makes it even more likely to be postponed next time the decision comes up.  If we leave it until urgent action is required then it will be too late and we will not be able to deal with the problem.

Ask yourself what portion of your own income today would you be willing to give up for the benefit of future generations?  When economists and politicians are debating this question, they are essentially arguing over how big a discount rate to apply.

If you apply discount rates over long time periods then the importance of the benefits felt by future generations in these calculations eventually dwindles towards zero.

But there is another way of looking at the problem of discounting future harms.  If we turn to philosophy we can see that discounting the needs of our descendants is akin to burying a shard of broken glass in a forest.  If a child steps on the glass and cuts themselves today or tomorrow, then a discount rate suggests this injury is much worse than a child hurting themselves on the glass a century from now.  But ethically, there is no difference between the two.  The child stepping on the glass in one hundred years time feels just as much pain and suffers just as much harm.

So we must ask ourselves is it ethically defensible to do nothing about climate change ?

So, ask yourself what portion of your own income today would you be willing to give up for the benefit of future generations ?  Make yourself heard, write to the politician who represents you and make them aware that something needs to be done now.

Our world is dying of consumption.  Consume less and recycle more.  Fix things that are broken rather than replacing them.

Have less children.

Join a green movement.

Ignore adverts!

If one person does this it won’t make much difference.  If everyone does this it will make a difference.

The time to act is now!

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Zinkydoink means Zinkydoink !

So, what does Zinkydoink mean ?

Well like any fictitious invented word it can mean whatever I want it to mean, it can mean different things to different people and it can mean different things at different times.

Just like another fictitious invented word which has been used a lot recently, I mean ‘Brexit’, and like any other fictitious invented word it means different things to different people and its undefined meaning changes over time.  So when Theresa May utters the meaningless tautology ‘Brexit means Brexit’ it is up to whoever hears the phrase to assign a meaning to it and that is the whole point, to trick people into thinking they are going to get the ‘Brexit’ they want when in reality almost everyone will be disappointed with the eventual outcome.

In my opinion Dominic Cummings the political advisor who served as the campaign director of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign committed a great evil when he designed the campaign to portray ‘Brexit’ as all things to all people.  He was very clever in the way he conducted the campaign, but he allegedly used some underhanded tactics and in winning the campaign to get people to vote to leave the EU he has condemned this country to be much worse off in the future.

The slogan ‘take back control’ was chosen to imply that we were taking back something which had been lost and which can be reclaimed.  It represents the desire for things to return to the way they used to be back in the ‘Good Old days‘, peoples imagined idea of the way things used to be.

But the world has changed and it is impractical to try to take things back to an earlier state, however this desire offers a way to manipulate people.  The Leave campaigns tried to imply that by voting leave and ‘taking back control’ that we could take Britain back to that earlier time of peoples imagination.  To ‘Make Britain Great Again‘.

Another factor was a successful attempt to tap into the discontent which has developed in this country over many years because of the centralisation of power in London.  Parliament is so London centric and so disconnected from the rest of the country.  They have become out of touch with anything which happens outside the Home Counties.

I believe that for a significant percentage of the Leave voters the concern was disillusionment with the political establishment.  This was a protest vote for many, a sense that nobody represented them, that they couldn’t find a political party which they thought was on their side, and so they rejected the whole political establishment.

However the poorer communities in the north of England and in the Midlands who mainly voted to Leave will be the ones who are the hardest hit by the recession which will be the inevitable consequence of leaving the EU.

The Leave campaigns also tapped into nationalistic and xenophobic concerns which people have by implying that we could cut immigration if we weren’t in the EU.  Many of these concerns centre on immigration from outside the EU which will not be affected by being in the EU or not.

The Leave campaigns were also helped by the incompetence of previous governments both Labour and Conservative who have claimed all the benefits of EU membership as being the result of their own government policies, and blamed all the negative effects on the EU, variously labelled as “Brussels” or “the (European) Commission”.  In the referendum, the consequences of that political cowardice really helped the Brexit campaigns.

Now that we are in this awful mess what can we do to get out of it ?

Not a lot !

I would be in favour of a second referendum but I fear that it will not help.  There is a political divide in this country and it is not the usual Left/Right divide.  This divide does not split along party lines it divides both Labour and Conservative parties.

I think that in the time since the referendum a lot of the lies and deceit of the Leave campaigns have been exposed and a lot of people have changed their minds but a second referendum would not calm things.  The people who voted Leave however misguided their reasons would be very disappointed if a second referendum were to overturn the result of the first.

Theresa May’s deal will probably be voted down however many times she presents it to parliament.  It is a bad compromise which satisfies neither of the extremes.

A No Deal Brexit would be an unmitigated disaster for this country.

Revoking Article 50 and staying in the EU is probably the best option but I don’t think it will be persued despite the petition which at the time of writing has four and a half million signatures.  Mrs. May has ruled it out as an option.

There aren’t a lot of other options.

British politics has become the laughing stock of the world.

How did we get here ?

Margaret Thatcher pursued a policy of ever increasing centralisation of power.  When ‘New Labour’ and Tony Blair came to power they should have reversed this trend but they did not, they failed to address the fracture which was developing in society despite being competent politicians.  They slipped into the system as they inherited it because it gives them more power and because it is difficult to change a system once it is in place.

MP-Farce

A very popular condiment in the House of Commons.

During the Thatcher years the British system of government became extremely centralised with everything being decided in and run from Downing Street, the rest of the country, and that includes Parliament, is under command rather than being in partnership with government.

During the Thatcher years the British constitution was drastically re-shaped and when ‘New Labour’ came to power they should have taken the opportunity to reform the constitution to make the system of governance less centralised but they did not.  This centralisation of power condemns whichever government is elected into a cycle of ever more effort for ever less results.

Successive governments since then have slipped into this same cycle of trying to fix the problems by imposing even more centralisation of power and control but this just makes the problems worse.

 

What can be done ?

The political system in Britain is broken.  These are my opinions on how it might be fixed.

We need to restore the House of Commons as the central political authority in British democracy, at the moment it is more like a creche where children shout abuse at each other.

There needs to be a devolution of power to Local Government.  This needs to be real power not just a token gesture, and it needs to be properly financed.  The financing could come from central government or local taxation but if it is financed through local taxation there needs to be a commensurate lowering of central taxation.

It would also need local government to be re-thought.  At the current time Britain doesn’t have local government which is fit to take this power.  But there does need to be less central control.

The Lobby system needs to be scrapped, or at the very least revised, it should not be possible for big business to buy government policy.  This is a highly corrupt system and what the people who do the Lobbying want is seldom in the public interest.

But the biggest thing which needs to be done to fix our broken political system is to sort out the funding of political parties.  The system we have at present is well and truly broken.

The Trade Unions fund the Labour Party and this allows them to control the Labour party.  The political levy for trade union members needs to be scrapped.

Big business controls the Conservative Party and it gets funded from donations by private individuals and businesses.

The trouble is that too many vested interests with hidden agendas control British politics.  It should be completely transparent and public.  All donations from private individuals, businesses and from Trade unions should be banned.

Instead a fixed amount of public money, a ‘Political Fund’, decided by parliament should be set aside to fund political parties.  Vouchers could be issued to taxpayers which can be given to a political party of their choice or thrown away if they choose to do so.  The proportion of the Political Fund given to each party would be decided by the proportion of these vouchers given to that party by it’s supporters.

I’m sure this system as I have outlined it is not perfect and would need some refinement in order to be fair and equitable but even as I have outlined it here it would be an improvement on the broken system we have in place.

I am also sure that this system will never be implemented because of all the vested interests who would like to keep the current corrupt system as it is.

And so we have come to Brexit, a result of a Conservative leader who started a referendum because he couldn’t control his back benchers.  The campaign was then hijacked by various interest groups and by a Campaign Manager who used dubious tactics to pedal a mendacious manipulative message.  And because of the general disenchantment of the public with the broken political system we have it was voted through by a very narrow margin.  The political leader who started this whole mess then walked away whistling a happy tune and left it for others to sort out.  And so after two years of negotiation the person who inherited the whole mess came back with a deal which satisfied very few people.

So the choices are, a bad deal, an even worse no deal or no Brexit.  But having no Brexit would cause huge political turmoil and probably cause the rise of some pretty unsavoury far Right extremist parties even more idiotic than UKIP.

What can I do now ?

I suppose I could apply for citizenship of another country, preferably an EU country, if there are any which would have me.  But I don’t really want to do that.

Brexit is a disaster and when it is finally over I think most people will be left saying “This isn’t the Brexit I voted for !” but unfortunately by then it will be too late.

Remember Zinkydoink means Zinkydoink !

The mess that is Brexit !

In the run up to the referendum I listened to and witnessed the lies and exaggerations of the Brexit side regarding what the EU is, its purpose, its costs and its detriments.  Remember the big red bus with it’s message about giving the NHS £50 million a day, that evaporated almost as soon as the votes were counted.  In reality there never was £350 million a week because we don’t contribute £350 million a week it was a complete and utter lie!

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I also regularly heard their statements that only a soft exit was intended.

Although the terms hard and soft in relation to the exit were not in use at that time, the statements most typically coming from the leave campaigners would lead one to believe they intended the UK to be a member of the EEA (European Economic Area).  There was never any public endorsement of what is now called a “Hard Brexit” or a “No-deal Brexit” prior to the referendum.

I voted to remain but the area in which I live voted to leave.  It was a massive shock to find out next day that my country had voted to leave the European Union.  In the days following the referendum there ensued a complete political meltdown, the Prime Minister resigned, and Scotland was considering a referendum that could break the United Kingdom apart.  There were calls for a second referendum, almost as if, following a football match, we could ask the other side for a replay because we didn’t get the result we wanted.  Everybody was blaming everybody else.  People blamed the Prime Minister for calling the referendum in the first place.  They blamed the leader of the opposition for not fighting it hard enough.  The young accused the old.  The educated blamed the less well-educated.  That complete meltdown was made even worse by the most tragic element of all, levels of xenophobia and racist abuse in the streets of Britain at a level that I have never seen before in my lifetime.

In the run up to the referendum I saw Nigel Farage being interviewed on a news program and he was saying that if the result was any closer than 55% to 45% then the result could not be considered a clear and unequivocal mandate and so they would try to get a new referendum at some later date.  Obviously they were expecting to loose.  But after the result came in at 48% to 52% to leave suddenly it was a clear and decisive decision which should be respected.  What a hypocrite.

It would be a waste of time to go through all the lies pedalled by the Leave campaigns (yes plural), instead I want to look at the reasons for the mess we now find ourselves in.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Although it was a massive shock at the time looking at the bigger picture this is not something which happened overnight, there are deeper reasons for what happened, many of them have nothing to do with Europe but have a lot to do with our fractured society and the political disenfranchisement which many people feel.

So, what does Brexit represent, not just for the United Kingdom, but for the rest of the world ?

Firstly I will look at what it represents for the United Kingdom.  Looking at the bigger picture, the referendum teaches us something about the nature of politics today and once we identify these factors it becomes apparent that similar things are happening in other parts of the world.

Politicians seem to be blissfully unaware of how divided our society is.  How London centric government has become as if they are working for what is in the best interests of London instead of what is in the national interest.  Geographically, it was mainly London and Scotland that voted to remain, whilst most other parts of the country voted to leave.

But our society is not just divided geographically, young people didn’t turn out to vote in great numbers, but those that did overwhelmingly voted to remain.  The great majority of older people voted to leave the European Union.  There were also divisions along class lines and between the well educated and the less well-educated.

If one looks for a common factor which divides the remainers from the leavers then one thing becomes apparent.  The fault line of contemporary politics is between those who embrace globalisation and those who see globalisation as a threat.

Politicians need to take these divisions seriously or at least to recognise that they exist.

Contemporary politics is no longer just about right and left.  It’s no longer just about tax and spend.  It’s about globalisation.

If we look at what motivated people to vote leave or remain then we see two factors in the opinion polls that were important to many people.  The first was immigration, and the second sovereignty, and these represent a desire for people to take back control of their own lives and they also represent the feeling amongst many people that they are unrepresented by politicians.  These ideas are ones that signify fear and alienation. They represent a retreat back towards nationalism and borders in ways that many of us would find disturbing.

Both of these issues are specious, the idea that the vote on Europe could reduce the number of refugees and asylum-seekers coming into Europe, when the vote on leaving had nothing to do with immigration from outside the European Union.  Also on the question of sovereignty, we won’t be getting back our sovereignty because we never lost it in the first place.

In the Leave vote, a minority have peddled the politics of fear and hatred, creating lies, mistrust and doubt.  But for a significant majority of the Leave voters the concern was disillusionment with the political establishment.  This was a protest vote for many, a sense that nobody represented them, that they couldn’t find a political party which they thought was on their side, and so they rejected the entire political establishment.

All around the world we see a similar disillusionment with the political establishment.  We see it with the rise in popularity of Donald Trump in the United States, with the growing nationalism of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, with the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and the rise of the Five Star movement in Italy.  There has been a rise in nationalism all over the world and I think this represents a rejection of globalisation.

I think what we are seeing is part of a much bigger struggle between globalisation and what I will call ‘tribalism’.  Tribalism in this sense represents many things, the desire for tradition and traditional values, but it often leads to nationalism or religious orthodoxy and theocracy.  It also represents the desire for things to return to the way they used to be back in the ‘Good Old days’, peoples imagined idea of the way things used to be.

The world has changed and it is impractical to try to take things back to an earlier state but this desire offers a way to manipulate people.  The Leave campaigns tried to imply that by voting leave and ‘taking back control’ that we could take Britain back to that earlier time of peoples imagination.  To ‘Make Britain Great Again’.  But this was just manipulation.

There are some politicians who would welcome a future where Great Britain was nothing more than a 1950’s nostalgia theme park but I think this would be a very bad thing for the people of Britain.

I think there is a gap between public perception and empirical reality.  It has been suggested that we’ve moved to a post truth world, where evidence and truth no longer matter, and lies have equal status to evidence based facts.  Take for example Donald Trump and his ‘Fake News’ tactics, which is basically to describe anything he disagrees with as being false or a lie regardless of whether it’s true or not.

How can we rebuild respect for truth and evidence into our liberal democracies ?  It has to begin with education, but it has to start with the recognition that there are huge gaps.  It will not be easy.

Tribalism is attractive to many people who see globalisation as eroding their cultural identity, it offers solidarity and protects cultural identity, but at the potential cost of diminishing tolerance and stability.  Often the solidarity needed within the concept of tribalism is secured through exclusion and hostility to outsiders.  At the extreme end of the scale different forms of anti-democratisation can arise through anti-democratic one-party dictatorships, military juntas, or theocratic fundamentalism.

Tribalism is a group with a distinct cultural identity seeking a smaller world within well defined borders that will seal them off from modernity.  These groups are cultures, not countries; parts, not wholes; sects, not religions, rebellious factions and dissenting minorities at war not just with globalism but with the traditional nation-state.

Globalisation is characterised by the global economic, political, cultural and environmental interconnections and flows which make many of the currently existing borders and boundaries irrelevant.  Globalisation promotes peace and prosperity, but this is achieved at the cost of independence and identity.  Cultures are intermingled in ways that some may see as an erosion of their own culture.

Globalisation has both positive and negative effects.  On the whole it is a good thing but there are some bad things about it.  At the extremes neither global corporate cultures or tribalist cultures are supportive of democracy.

There are some positive benefits to globalisation. The consensus amongst economists is that free trade, the movement of capital and the movement of people across borders benefit everyone on aggregate. The consensus amongst international relations scholars is that globalisation brings interdependence, which brings cooperation and peace.

But globalisation also causes a redistribution of wealth.  It creates winners and losers. To take the example of migration, we know that immigration is a net positive for the economy as a whole under almost all circumstances.  But we also have to be very aware that there are consequences, that importantly, low-skilled immigration can lead to a reduction in wages for the most impoverished in our societies and also put pressure on house prices. That doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s positive when taken as a whole.

In 2002, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, gave a speech at Yale University on the topic of inclusive globalisation.  In that speech he said, and I paraphrase, “The glass house of globalisation has to be open to all if it is to remain secure. Bigotry and ignorance are the ugly face of exclusionary and antagonistic globalisation.”

That idea of inclusive globalisation was briefly revived in 2008 in a conference on progressive governance involving many of the leaders of European countries. But amid austerity and the financial crisis of 2008, the concept disappeared almost without a trace.

Since then globalisation has increasingly been taken to support a neoliberal agenda.  It’s perceived to be part of an elitist agenda rather than something that benefits everyone.

We need to revive the idea of inclusive globalisation.

We need to ensure that everyone shares in the benefits of globalisation.  If we look at the areas which voted to leave the European Union then it becomes apparent that those people who voted to leave the European Union were those who actually benefited the most materially from trade with the European Union.  But the problem is that the people in those areas didn’t perceive themselves to be beneficiaries.  They didn’t believe that they were actually getting access to material benefits of increased trade and increased mobility around the world.

Politics needs to become less polarised but unfortunately politics is becoming more polarised, all over the world.  One factor in this is social media and filter bubbles.  In order to keep people on the website longer so that they can click on more adverts social media sites automatically adjust peoples news feeds to show them more of what they want to see.  So once the AI on the site has figured out their prejudices and beliefs (and it doesn’t take long) then they will only see news which they agree with or articles which support their beliefs, anything which they might not like gets filtered out.

This is fuelling the polarisation of society and is a very bad thing.

Brexit has turned into a very bad mess and when it is finally over I think most people will be left saying “This isn’t the Brexit I voted for !” but unfortunately by then it will be too late.

Perhaps it is already too late.

Who knows ?

The Great British Break Off

I observed both sides of the debate and discussed the issues with friends and colleagues in the run up to the referendum.

I listened to and witnessed the lies and exaggerations of the Brexit side regarding what the EU is, its purpose, its costs and its detriments.  I also regularly heard their statements that only a soft exit was intended.

Although the terms hard and soft in relation to the exit were not in use at that time, the statements most typically coming from the leave campaigners would lead one to believe they intended the UK to be a member of the EEA (European Economic Area).  There was never a public endorsement of what is now called a “Hard Brexit” or a “No-deal Brexit” prior to the referendum.

In fact the Brexiteers never really presented any coherent vision of what the result was intended to look like, just a lot of complaints and an incoherent set of purported benefits from multiple points of view.  They tried to be everything to everyone.  The leave campaigns (and yes there were multiple leave campaigns) could be summed up as “EVERYTHING will be better for Britain and Britons when we take back control of our own country”.

I saw that the official remain campaign never published any strong endorsement of EU membership and identified no clear set of benefits that the UK received and receives through its membership.  The entire official remain campaign could be summed up as “it would be difficult and expensive to leave, so better to keep things as they are”.  I later learned that this was due to the direct instructions from the Prime Minister at that time – David Cameron, who was also the head of the official remain campaign.

The entire campaign was conducted in a manner similar to that of the earlier Scottish referendum.  The remain campaign used logic and reason, while the leave campaign had all the emotional arguments and symbols on its side.  It was a campaign of emotion versus reason.  As any marketing expert will confirm, in a contest between logic and emotion, emotion wins most of the time.

During the campaign, I saw the British government doing what all the governments of the other EU member states do.  They claim all the benefits of EU membership as being the result of their own government policies, and blame all the negative effects on the EU, variously labelled as “Brussels” or “the (European) Commission”.  In the referendum, the consequences of that political cowardice really helped the Brexit campaign.

There is no consensus about what we are trying to achieve, either amongst the Brexiteers or among the Remainers.  Both sides are factionalised with deep divisions and everyone pulling in different directions.  The European leaders aren’t going to agree to the ‘Chequers Deal’, it is dead in the water, only Mrs May is delusional enough to think that it is still a realistic possibility.  So it looks like we are heading for a ‘No Deal Brexit’, and this is the worst of all possible outcomes.

When this is all over, everybody in the country is going to be saying “This not the Brexit I voted for”.

I voted to remain in Europe.

Since the referendum I have watched the core Brexit politicians reveal themselves as duplicitous manipulators who will say and do anything to promote their interests and the interests of their class and the interests of the lobbyists who are lining their pockets, rather than act for the good of the country as a whole.  I think certain factions within the Conservative party have a hidden agenda to fundamentally change the nature of British society to entrench the privileged elites.

A hard exit from the EU is simply the first step.  After this, there will be a concerted, sustained attack on the worker and social protections that the EU has fostered.  When I hear people like Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg or James Dyson (of vacuum cleaner fame) talk about freeing British industry from red-tape and unnecessary regulation, I believe they mean to eliminate things like job security, paid vacations, the minimum wage and other worker protections.

In fact, previous Conservative governments have already made a start on this.  In recent years there has been a proliferation of “Zero hours contracts”.  This is a pernicious contract which allows the employer to bypass almost all employment rights.  This type of contract should not even exist in a developed country.

The division between the rich and the poor is getting wider.  Some progress had been made in recent years, John Major, building on some of Margaret Thatcher’s changes made some hesitant steps forward.  The Labour Party, under Tony Blair, appeared to accelerate this trend.  But in the last decade in the name of austerity these improvements have been reversed and the Conservative party has reverted to form, this coincides with the rise of nationalism in many countries.  Brexit is just one more step in this process and it is likely to be a exceptionally painful step for the majority of people.

I have come to the conclusion that the hardliners in the Conservative party are a significant threat to British liberty and to the British economy as a whole (at least outside the financial centre in London, and perhaps in the Tory heartland). The fact that the strongest advocates of a hard Brexit have significant wealth (much of which has been moved out of the UK, at least until the dust settles) or are seeking / have obtained bolt holes in other countries in Europe (e.g. Farage in Germany, Lawson in France) should be taken as a strong warning by the rest of the country.

The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is just marking time.  It is simply waiting for Brexit to happen under Tory responsibility so it can win the next election and form a government.  I see Corbyn as very similar to Gordon Brown in that he lusts for power, but hasn’t got the slightest clue of what he wants to do with it – he will just drift aimlessly, simply reacting to events.

The greatest political disaster for Britain in the 20th Century has been the collapse of the Liberal Party (I mean the real Liberal party led by the likes of David Lloyd George, not the current joke called the Liberal Hypocrites Democrats).  The Liberal Hypocrites Democrats lost all credibility when they cosied up to the Conservatives in the Coalition.  When that occurred, the result was, as Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”.

Britain is a country divided, and it’s getting more divided.  There are damned few politicians even admitting the divisions exist, never mind actually attempting to resolve any of them. The Liberal Hypocrites Democrats are living in cloud-cuckoo land, Labour is ducking and dodging any responsibility while it waits to take over in the aftermath of what will probably be an unmitigated disaster, UKIP is happily pouring nationalist petrol on the fire while the Conservatives are happily expanding their internal dispute into a national crisis.

Is there anyone out there worth voting for ?

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The reality of Brexit

The reality of Brexit is now becoming apparent.

But what I can’t understand is that the government is negotiating to leave the EU, just so they can try to negotiate another arrangement with the EU to give us as much as possible of what we’ve already got, but on considerably inferior terms.

If we don’t get what we want (i.e. the EU benefits we desperately want back after we’ve left), the government has said it will crash out of the EU without any agreement, plunging Britain into a very deep economic crisis.  The so called ‘No Deal’ Brexit.

Does this make any sense at all?

No!

The EU is the world’s largest free trade area. As a member, we receive huge benefits worth enormously more than the net annual membership fee of £7.1 billion a year.

As a member, we enjoy free, frictionless trade with our biggest trading partner by far, right on our doorstep, where almost half of our exports go to and over half of our imports come from. Nowhere else in the world comes close to that.

The government is desperate to continue to enjoy similar membership benefits of frictionless trade with the EU after we have ended our membership, because they know that our economic survival depends on it.

In Parliament a couple of months ago, Theresa May said:

“We’re committed to delivering on our commitment of no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and ensuring we have as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union.”

In other words everything we’ve already got as an EU member.

But the UK government has also said it wants to continue to enjoy these EU membership benefits after Brexit:

  • without being part of the EU Single Market or customs union;
  • without agreeing to the rules of the EU and its market;
  • without being subject to the European Court of Justice to oversee those rules;
  • without paying anything to the EU for access.

But it’s not going to happen and Mrs May knows this.

Before the referendum Mrs May said:

“It is not clear why other EU member states would give Britain a better deal than they themselves enjoy”

Yet that’s exactly what Mrs May now wants. She says she aims to achieve a new trade agreement with the EU that’s unique to us, that no other country in the world has ever achieved.

Of course, it’s not going to happen.

What’s the point of having a club if you’re going to allow non-members to enjoy the same or better benefits as members? What club would allow that?

So here’s the bottom line. Britain needs frictionless trade with the EU. We need free movement of goods, services, capital and people for our country not just to survive, but to thrive.

We need to continue with the status quo: i.e. the arrangement we have right now.

Has this sunk in yet?

  • We’re leaving all the benefits of the EU, only to desperately try and get back as many of those benefits as we can after we’ve left.
  • We’re going to pay around £40 billion (the so-called ‘divorce settlement’) – money that will come from us, the taxpayers, you and me – to try and achieve what we’ve already got, but less of it, and on considerably inferior terms.

This is complete and utter madness. It will be much better to just keep the current arrangement. It will be cheaper, and we will all be better off.

As an EU member:

  1. We have a say and votes in the running, rules and future direction of our continent.
  2. We have full and free access to the world’s largest free marketplace.
  3. We enjoy the right to live, work, study or retire across a huge expanse of our continent.
  4. We enjoy state healthcare and education when living and working in any other EU country.
  5. We enjoy free or low-cost health care when visiting any EU nation.
  6. We are protected by continent-wide rights that protect us at work, when shopping and travelling.
  7. We benefit from laws that protect our environment (and have, for example, directly resulted in Britain’s beaches being cleaned up).
  8. We enjoy excellent EU trade agreements with around 60 countries, with more on the way, on advantageous terms that Britain is unlikely ever to replicate.

So, we’re going to throw that all away, just so we can get an inferior arrangement with the EU, in which we’d still have to agree to the rules of EU trade (over which we’d have no say) and we’d have less access to our most vital customers and suppliers outside of our home market.

And what are we gaining? Surely something?

No, nothing at all!

All the reasons given to leave in the referendum were based on lies and false promises! There are no good reasons to leave.

  • More sovereignty? Nonsense. We’ll get less. In the EU, we gain a share of sovereignty of our continent. Outside the EU, we’ll still live on a planet and have to obey thousands of international laws and treaties. We share sovereignty with NATO, for example. Is that a good reason to leave NATO?
  • Fewer migrants? Really? Just think about it. Most EU migrants in Britain are in gainful employment, doing jobs that we simply don’t have enough Britons to do. So if they all left, we’d have to replace them with about the same numbers of migrants as we have now just to get all those jobs done. What’s the bloody point of that?
  • More houses, schools and hospitals? Think again. Without EU migrants, we’ll have fewer builders, teachers, doctors and nurses. Migrants are not the cause of our problems. Blaming them is just an excuse by successive UK governments for not investing sufficiently in our country.
  • Get our country back? We never lost it! If being in the EU means losing your country, why aren’t the 27 other EU member states planning to leave? (Really, none of them are: support for the EU is the highest its been in 35 years).
  • Make our own laws? The vast majority of laws in the UK are our laws and passed by our Parliament in Westminster. But in the EU, we benefit from laws for our continent that no single country alone could ever achieve. Could our UK government have forced the mobile phone companies to scrap mobile roaming charges across the entire EU? Of course not. It took the might of 28 EU countries working together to achieve that, and so much more.
  • The EU is run by faceless bureaucrats? Another lie. The EU is run and ruled by its members, the 28 countries of the EU, along with its democratically elected European Parliament. The European Commission is the servant of the EU, not its master, and the European Parliament has the power to choose, and dismiss, the entire Commission.

We are leaving the EU for no good reason, not one. We are paying around £40 billion (money the UK has agreed we owe to the EU) to settle our debts with the EU, to enable us to have an inferior deal.

We will be poorer, and with less sovereignty, fewer rights and protections, restricted trade, and diminished power after we’ve left.

What’s the point?

There is no point!

This country really has gone crazy!

Democracy in peril.

I think that democracy is failing.

Politicians all seem to be too busy looking after their own interests or the interests of their cronies. They are isolated and insulated from the views and needs of the great mass of the population.

Government has become so London centric it’s as if the south east of England were a different country.

Yes we have a popularity contest every four years but what then? After the election the Prime Minister gives a press briefing on the steps of number 10 and promises things she has no intention of delivering, just to reassure everyone, the lobbyists line the politicians pockets with silver so big companies and the people with power and money get what they want while the common people who were given so much attention during the election campaign are now simply ignored.

What we seem to have is a system made up of liars who would promise anything just to get re-elected, they would sell their soul to the devil just to secure that chair in the house.

If you look at the arguments put forward by politicians and think about the meaning of what they are actually saying it basically boils down to “Vote for us because we aren’t as bad as the other lot”.

Wait ? Why can’t I vote for someone good ?

Well I could but good luck getting them to win. What we have is a system which strengthens oligarchs and screws the ordinary citizen, over.

The problem is getting worse. Technology is being used to ‘Fix’ elections and referenda by micro targeting individuals with messages customised to their own prejudices and beliefs. Politicians can tell whatever lies they like without the fear of being held to account for any of their lies.

In the recent European Referendum the Brexit campaign used micro targeting of messages on social media and lots of other dirty tricks to exert undue influence on the voters. I do not regard the results of that referendum to be fair and unbiased.

The system is loaded, it isn’t the party with the best policies that wins, it’s the one with the biggest advertising budget. There are supposed to be rules on how much money each party or faction can spend on their campaign but there are ways around these rules for the unscrupulous.

This was not the way it was supposed to be. The internet and the world wide web were hailed as bringing information to the masses. It was supposed to make elections fairer by promoting a well informed electorate, any lies told by politicians would be exposed immediately.

That is not the way it turned out !

What went wrong ?

People vote with their hearts not their minds, you can influence more people with an emotive article or a graphic picture than with an article which contains reasoned arguments and verified facts. Facts don’t tug at the heart strings. And when you are freed from the constraints of telling the truth you can construct some very effective propaganda.

Micro targeting allows you to tailor the message to the recipient and so this becomes a very powerful tool to influence voters.

But this is a slippery slope that we are on.

The success of this strategy will lead to a greater demand for big data about people, and this in turn will lead to politicians relaxing regulations on user surveillance and monitoring, after all it is in their interests to provide themselves with the best tools available to win elections. And that is what it is all about, that is the goal of politicians, to win the next election, not to look after the people or the security of the country or the economy, all these are just the side effects of the need to win the next election. They must be seen to be doing the right thing by the country even if it is an illusion.

What we should be doing is passing laws and regulations to limit the amount of user surveillance and monitoring but this is unlikely to happen and if it does it will be crafted in such a way as to be ineffective, just for show, because it’s popular with the voters.

I don’t have any solutions.

I think I know what the nature of the problem is, but nothing will change unless we’re prepared to have very broad based discussions that get away from the normal platitudes you get in any political campaign “everything’s going to be OK next year if you just vote for me”, it’s a load of crap. This goes for all the major political parties. You know what they are telling you is a load of crap and they aren’t actually going to solve anything.

Will Technology destroy Democracy ?

Technology has made some wonderful advances, it looks like we will fairly soon have self driving cars, just tell it where you want to go and it will take you there. Your fridge will know when things were bought and when they are likely to go off, it may also give you dietary advice. You might have a personal assistant on your desk listening to your every word you say and controlling your connected home, remembering all of your appointments so you don’t have to and answering any question you ask it.  There are many technologies which are ‘just around the corner’ so the next few years could see some interesting changes.

So how is it that with all the incredible advances in technology we have today and with increasing automation the rewards have not been spread more evenly ?

It seems to me that there is something very wrong about how technology is benefiting the world today. There is also a fundamental threat to democracy which few people seem to be aware of.

It is said that we have entered a new ‘Information Age’ but the information economy seems to be about endless austerity, jobless recoveries, lack of social mobility, and intense concentration of wealth and power for the few whilst most people struggle to make ends meet.

One of the principles of the information age seems to be the spread of free information and services. For example social media, Wikipedia, free software, free ‘Cloud’ storage (which is just your data stored on someone else’s server), free online education and many variations of the above.

Most people would think that this is a good thing. It spreads the power of information to the many. Control of this information has passed out of the hands of a few elites and into the hands of anyone who cares to download it.

But there is a problem. There are consequences which nobody seems to have anticipated.

Revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica came as a shock to many people but this should be a wake up call! I think that this is only the tip of the iceberg and that Cambridge Analytica was not unique among companies.

The actual problem runs far deeper and this is just one example of a struggle which is going on between technology and democracy. There are some benefits to free stuff online but this has blinded us to the fundamental ways technology is eroding our democracies.

A typical server, many racks each containing many computers all linked together.

A server is a group of computers linked together to perform a particular function. The computers in a server are linked to a network and provide services to other computers on that network. Computer programs can be split up to run on many computers in parallel and get results much faster than if the program was running on just one computer. A server may consist of a few tens of computers up to many thousands of computers.

All the servers that crunch ‘big data’ are physically similar. They are placed in obscure sites in anonymous buildings and have lots of security. Because they are very valuable.

When people share information freely, those who own the biggest and fastest servers benefit in ways that ordinary people can’t even imagine let alone emulate. Companies with large servers can simply calculate wealth and power out of free information.

While the free and open information ideal feels empowering, it is actually enriching those with the biggest servers to such an extreme that it is weakening democracy. The uses to which some of this data is put is also weakening democracy, I’m talking about micro-targeting here.

It doesn’t matter if the servers run social media sites, national intelligence agencies, giant online stores, big political campaigns, insurance companies, or search engines. What they are all doing in the background is remarkably similar.

All these servers gather data about people and then process that data to find out all they can about the people the data is about. This data might include emails and tweets or social media likes and sharing, private documents on ‘cloud’ storage, sightings through cloud-connected cameras, or commercial and medical dossiers. There are no limits to the snooping.

All these sites (apart from the national intelligence agencies) need a ‘hook’ something to entice people into this asymmetrical information relationship.

The hook might be free Internet services or music, or easy-to-get mortgages. But there is a price to be paid for these ‘free’ services.

Ordinary people are the sole providers of the information that makes the big servers so powerful and valuable, and ordinary people do get some benefit for providing their data.

They get the benefits of an informal economy usually associated with the developing world, like reputation and access to barter. The real monetary benefits are given to those who own the servers.

More and more ordinary people are thrust into a winner-takes-all economy. Social media sharers can make all the noise they want, but they forfeit the real wealth and clout needed to be politically powerful.

In most cases there was no evil plot, it is just a result of human nature. Many of the people who own the servers are genuinely nice people. But a lot of the people who use the data they harvest have their own agendas. And the people who have wealth and power want what almost all people with wealth and power want … more wealth and more power.

In a world of free information, the economy will shrink as automation rises radically. This is because in an ultra-automated economy, there won’t be much to trade other than information.

The threats to democracy come from the uses to which the data is put.

Our democracies evolved for an analogue age and they developed alongside institutions which support them like a free press and citizens who all have access to the same information. There are rules to follow like the secret ballot and expenditure limits. These institutions and rules keep the whole thing fair and equitable.

But in the past few years things have changed drastically and things are still changing. Most people don’t realise how much things have changed already.

Digital technology works by a different set of rules to those which evolved alongside democracy. It is de-centralised and difficult to control and it is improving at an incredible rate.

Western democracies have rules to make sure that all their voters have access to the same set of information for an election. The statements which a candidate makes are on the whole accurate because they know that if they make a false statement this will be picked up by news organisations and the media and they will be found out. Issues are debated in the media with representations being made from both sides of each argument.

But now we have ‘Big Data’ and micro targeted messaging and the rules which ensure free and fair elections don’t apply anymore.

Using Big Data analysis servers can build up very accurate and detailed psychological profiles of millions of individuals and politicians who pay for the services of companies like Cambridge Analytica can target each one of them with a highly personalised message. They can exploit our psychological vulnerabilities and prejudices on a vast scale and in a way that no regulator has access to.

It is out with the old shared frame of reference against which new information can be judged and in with millions of private frames of reference which may or may not bear any resemblance to the shared frame of reference.

How can we hope to hold politicians to account for their statements if everyone gets a different message and nobody knows what anyone else was told?

But it gets even worse.

Facebook have algorithms which can build up a very accurate psychological profile from what seems like innocent, unconnected and irrelevant pieces of information. The original purpose of these algorithms was to give you more content that you like in order to keep you on the Facebook website longer and therefore expose you to more targeted advertising.

But it didn’t stop there when Facebook amassed all this data about its users the next question was “How can we make more money out of all this data?”

It isn’t just Facebook who are tracking their users, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are doing much the same thing along with a host of other companies and national security agencies of many countries.

The more data they get about you the more accurate their psychological profile becomes, they can make predictions about your political and religious beliefs, how likely you are to take risks, how introverted or extrovert you are and many other aspects of your character which you might not have wanted to share with others.

Pretty soon your car will know about every journey you take, where you started from, where you went to and what time you set off and arrived, your fridge will know everything about your diet and if you like to buy the yellow label discount items from the supermarket and your personal assistant will know how you feel because of your tone of voice and all this information about you will be correlated and cross referenced against all the other sources of information about you.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. All this information will reveal more than you ever wanted to share with the rest of the world. In such a world as I describe there will be no such thing as privacy.

You will be constantly bombarded with messages based on all this information and that will open up a whole new level of manipulation targeted at you personally.

But there is another aspect to this which is fracturing society. In the social media realm we create our own reality which alienates us from one another. This is a result of the algorithms whose purpose it is to keep us hooked to Facebook and other social media platforms.

Democracies need informed citizens who all have access to the same shared base of information but in the social media realm we create our own reality. Social media gives us more of what we want so if we ‘like’ a post with a particular political leaning the AI on the server takes note and makes it more likely that we will see more posts from that particular political leaning in order to keep us looking at the social media platform longer and be exposed to more targeted advertising.

On social media we create our own reality, our own mix of opinion, information, misinformation, real news and fake news. This creates our own bubble in which we only see what we want to see and only hear the views of those people who agree with us.

This is making people more angry and more extreme in their views and it makes it much less likely that we will compromise with each other.

In the end there will only be one winner in the struggle. Either technology will destroy democracy and the existing social order will be destroyed or the current political system will exert its authority and control over the digital revolution.

As things stand at the moment technology is winning and unless things change dramatically democracy will be washed away just like communism, feudalism and absolute monarchies have been.

It will be regarded as a system which persisted for a while but could not adapt to the new technology.

If democracy is washed away what would replace it ?

I think it will be authoritarianism, but not like anything which has gone before !

Corporatocracy. Huge multinational corporations too big to fail will dominate the global landscape and a very few people in the world will, and already do, hold the vast majority of wealth and power.

Their wealth and influence being the key to influence global politics to favour their own needs. They will have and feel no responsibility to the rest of humanity.

Big business has already had such a tight grip on politics that for a long time now people have just accepted that you can’t budge big business and that the worker is in no position to fight back or negotiate.

They monitor us with advanced technology and have built a consumer society which seeps into our cultural psyche. We slowly, through globalisation, will become homogenous until all there are only two classes. The consumer, alienated and kept down by the exploiting classes and the capitalist, who demands a homogenous class of downtrodden and subdued consumers to keep themselves rich, and who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing !

Even now the ruling elites are plotting behind the backs of millions to set up trade deals and line their own pockets and have been doing so since the rise of neoliberalism – oligarchs are pulling the strings of our ‘democratic’ nations. In effect, these past few decades have simply been a restoration of power back to private industry and history is once again repeating itself. Over and over again it is the same struggle between humanity (the working people), and the ruling elites.

In such a world ruled by big business they would probably keep governments and elections just to keep a sham of democracy but government would be under the control of big business. Corporate interests, profits, growth, and returns would come before all else !