Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jump! You Fuckers!

I have just finished a 10,000 word piece on the origins of the current economic crisis. A pdf can be downloaded here at Verso's website. It is released on a Creative Commons license, so you can edit and expand on it and forward it freely on a non-commercial basis. If you need a Word version, drop me a line.

In it I look at the various explanations as to why we are such deep trouble and I sketch the one I have come across that seems best supported by the evidence. The good news is that it is possible to understand what has happened over the last generation in Britain and America. The other good news is that we'll have to create a more equitable economic system if we are going to get out of the current shambles. The bad news is that the current political and economic establishment, to the loud applause of their many tame intellectuals, have really gone and fucked the dog on this one.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quantitative Easing and so on


So, the Independent has this today:

Treasury officials said yesterday that Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Mervyn King are looking at options ranging from introducing "quantatitive easing" – printing money – through underwriting or insuring the toxic assets of the UK's banks, to full-scale nationalisation. Speculation that the Government is set to create a "toxic bank" to isolate all the sector's bad debts was, however, played down by the Treasury because of the complexities.

The government are on now talking about printing money. This is coming up a lot. I am sure that they have their reasons, a banking crisis and all that. But before we start debauching the currency couldn't we start prising some money out of the tight hands of our beloved large corporations and high net worth individuals - they have been skipping tax offshore for a generation now. This has recently stirred the indignation of the union Unite. According to the Guardian:

The union cites figures published by analysts Tax Research UK, which suggest that Britain's top companies avoid paying £25bn in tax a year through the use of tax havens. In addition, a conservative estimate suggests that wealthy individuals - those earning over £200,000 a year - avoid a further £8bn in tax.

OK, so £33 billion a year. Let's say that they have to pay back taxes of £330 billion plus £33 billion for 2008-2009. Now, I am not an expert, but wouldn't using that money to buy out the banks have a less inflationary effect than printing a stack of money? Wouldn't it have the added benefit of shifting the cost of saving the capitalist system onto those who have benefited in ways that others have been unable to profit from? Inflation hits anyone with savings. This only hits people who've been skipping taxes. If some sort of massive bailout is necessary to head off a disaster, then surely the burden should be borne by an opulent and devious minority, rather than by the rest of us, too slow-witted or scrupulous to get with the tax avoidance program?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Counter-Enlightenment Today

In a debate with Noam Chomsky at Ohio State in 1988 Richard Perle ends his opening remarks with a stirring call for his audience to set its face against discussion of the documentary record:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we continue the evening, ask yourself whether the adumbration of documents that you haven’t seen and I haven’t seen, and the weight and the consequences of which it is impossible to estimate, bears up against your impression of where the United States has been in the post-war period and your sense of what the United States represents both at home and around the world.

Thank you.

(the relevant section comes at about 4.22 on the clip)

Chomsky has offered evidence to support his claims, Perle prefers that we concentrate on our 'impression of where the United States has been in the post-war period' and our 'sense of what the United States represents both at home and around the world'. The appeal to pre-existing sentiment, and the dismissive attitude to information that might weaken the hold of that sentiment, are characteristic of hostility to Enlightenment. The are often successful, since they show a shrewd appreciation of the role that 'sense' and 'impression' play in the selection and rejection of information relevant to the construction of a political world-view. Few of us can give up an hospitable 'impression' for the desolation afforded to us by the mere facts.

Labels: ,

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Public Trust

One of the criticisms offered for The Threat to Reason is that it states the obvious. The public already distrust the mainstream media, corporations and governments, so what purpose does it serve to argue that an enlightened society depends on a less trusting attitude towards these institutions?

Certainly the evidence is there, that the public are deeply sceptical of the same things that I am. But the responses to this scepticism are what interest me. Instead of asking whether it might be justified, commentators tend to assume that 'trust' is something that can be won back with more sophisticated communications techniques, that it can be restored if the public take a more adult approach to the complexities of policy-making, or if they give up their addiction to conspiracy theories.

In other words privileged commentators assume what they need to demonstrate - that powerful institutions are deserving of trust. They then take the public's refusal to trust these institutions as evidence for their intellectual or moral infirmity, or for ineptness on the part of those charged with informing the public. The language of Enlightenment is relevant here, since the public's attitude towards power is taken to reveal its benightedness. The majority will only be enlightened when they come to believe the same things as the privileged minority. They will be enlightened when they too take the claims of power on faith.

This supposedly enlightened position depends on a refusal to engage with the evidence. It is taken as uncontroversial that powerful institutions are trustworthy. If you internalise that assumption you are qualified to comment on the problem of trust. If you doubt it you are part of an ignorant and hysterical mob.