Wednesday 29 July 2015

Cheesed off

A couple of stories popped up last week. One that the Italians are miffed that the EU is insisting that powdered milk be allowed in a particular type of cheese - and that a similar dispute over cheese could be a stalling factor in the completion of TTIP negotiations.

Some critical points emerge from this. The former dispute is an example of where globalisation of regulation steamrollers things that make nations culturally unique. There is a greater good aspect to having common regulations but clearly there are downsides. I'll leave that to you to be the judge. Secondly, it's one instance where the media reports it as EU regulation but in fact is a standard set in Codex Alimentarius (the European food standards body) and the EU is merely demanding that standards are observed. This is not mentioned anywhere in the press and our media simply doesn't understand the nature of these bodies or how much influence they have.

More critically, we are told that the size of the EU market means that it can secure trade deals that we could not otherwise get. But TTIP is over a decade in the making, still a way from completion and because one nation has a particular hang up about a cheese recipe, the benefits from all the other articles will not be realised. Thus "sovereignty pooling" in practice results in compromise, indecision and delay.

The EU prefers the practice of far reaching negotiated bloc deals over decades, when the modern practice in the rest of the world is one of "unbundling", whereby nations register agreements on separate stratas of industry with the WTO on a case by case basis. So we could have gone ahead on certain automotive regulations and have felt the benefits of that some time ago, but for some reason we are waiting for the Italians to be persuaded that allowing skimmed milk in cheese is not as bad as it sounds.

Consequently, we may actually be losing out on business because independent nations capable of forging agreements befitting their own emerging industries are cornering new markets first. The EU is a dead weight in the modern global economy. Hence why I'm a little cheesed off with it. The world is waiting - and we can do better.

But rather than promoting the negativistic, europhobic, anti-co-operation agenda of Ukip, in order to leave the EU we No-ists are going to have to demonstrate that we are the ones with the grand idea, and the big vision, and demonstrate that it is we who are the big minded progressives. We're going to want more freedoms, more trade, more openness than the EU permits us. But that's not Ukip's message. It's easy to say we want to trade globally and show Europe the way from the outside, toward a faster, more agile global trade engine - but it's not just good enough to mouth the platitudes. We must know it, we must believe it, we must teach it, and show the eurotrash up for what they are - dinosaurs.

We have to embrace regulation, exalt its virtues, exalt the virtue of intergovernmentalism and co-operation and demonstrate by example that the EU is not the essence of it - but the antithesis. All I'm hearing right now from eurosceptics is moaning about the EU and its many faults - and the vibe from Ukip is very much a "pull up the drawbridge" mentality. Just today Farage was talking about sending the army into France! It's crass jingoism. If that is all we've got, and we're not prepared to motivate people with a bigger idea, then we should prepare to lose.

Bigger arguments can win, and more importantly, the opposition are not briefed to fight them - and if they do, it will be them fighting on a negative premise - not us. If Ukip and the Tory Eurosceptic bubble is the sum total of what we eurosceptics are about then the public will take one look at us and say no thank you. Bickering with euro-saurs using the Top Trumps cards from Business for Britain is not productive, it's a turn off and even if they win the skirmishes, they won't win the war.

It's make or break time for our side. If Farage is the general and Ukip is the army then it really is game over. Unless eurosceptics have the courage to break out of their comfort zone and start wanting to win, we have no hope. If we want to win we are going to have to change the record. Today.

Kipper griping has an inherent glass ceiling and it cannot break through it with the message it has. In the general election it hit that glass ceiling by tailoring its message to one social constituency. It galvanised that vote and scratched every vote it was going to get. What it cannot do is persuade progressives and moderates. The more we see of Farage and co - the more the mushy middle we need to win will be repelled. Given that the Kipper cult will vote out anyway, there is no value in tailoring the Brexit message to that audience. We need a different vision and a better strategy because we have to expand out of the cul-de-sac of the miserablist right and the far left. To that end, the less we see of the kipper cult, the better.

Farage thinks this referendum campaign is a marketing exercise for Ukip because he thinks Ukip can one day be a party of government. It's not going to happen. But if he hjacks the campaign, we're not getting out of the EU either. We cannot assume that because some on the far left have joined the cause that we have a common cause with them. We do not. The far left, while very vocal, are a turn off to the public who have shifted right. But they are more in Cameron's camp than Farage's. We cannot rely on the Tory Eurosceptics either because in terms of strategic thinking and tone, they're not much of an improvement on the Ukip clan. The only way we are going to win is to snatch the campaign away from the demagogues and primadonnas. In order to do that we will have to innovate and make our vision go viral.

To do that we will need to condense our message, simplify our arguments, but most of all motivate people and give them something to hope for. A message of entrenchment and national retreat cannot win and doesn't deserve to.

Lord spare us!

Ukip are imbued with an unconquerable sense of righteousness. It's a problem. It means they just won't listen to a single thing that's said to them. I made the point many times that running such an odious campaign on the subject of immigration would make it much harder to win an EU referendum. To this day these idiots don't get the point.

It is totally pointless trying to talk to a Ukipper about this. Regardless of how toxic and damaging Farage is, he still has their unwavering loyalty. Every single breath of mine was wasted. I had hoped that Farage at least would have the good sense to back away from the campaign but if the Independent is reporting things as they are, Mr Farage has clearly lost touch with reality and is insisting on being front and centre. This we do not need.

We have already seen hints of fact free campaigning he intends to run, once again grunting about immigration. It's too depressing for words. But then today we see a further extension of how Ukip intends to play it with Jill Seymour railing against new rules regarding engine monitoring equipment in helicopters. (fire monitoring)

Even though I have spent much of the last six years working in a department very closely related to aviation safety I profess to no particular expertise in the matter, save to say that there is no point in aviation standards at all if they are not international. Ground crews, operators, pilots and engineers cannot possibly work to multiple regimes according to the country of origin.  We need a common European standard so all operators and pilots are working from the same page. Y'see these helicopter things have a tendency to move about a bit.

And for Ukip to get worked up about instruments that cost £30,000 is naive in the extreme. If you are running a helicopter of almost any type then for sure £30k is significant, but still an amount you'd have in the petty cash drawer. Helicopters run on paraffin and money. Lots of it.

It's also tactically stupid to fight a campaign on these grounds. Not so long back we had a helicopter crash into the Shard in London, and then there was the dreadful incident with the police helicopter in Glasgow. The fact is that helicopters do crash with regularity, and when they do it's often in built up areas - and it's one area where we rightly demand the very highest standards of safety.

Jill Seymour says "This is yet another unnecessary EU rule which no member of the British public has demanded, and which is now threatening to destroy another UK industry". Silly assertions to say the least. The hyperbole about destroying the industry is, frankly, ludicrous and there are plenty of people demanding that corrective action be taken so we do not see more of the same types of incidents.

Ukip complains that these regulations exclude some of the smaller operators, but actually they represent the lions share of avoidable incidents since smaller, cheaper helicopters like the Robinson R22 (killer of Colin McRae and beheader of small children), are not what you would call robust machines, and possibly not what you would want flying over the capital city without the very latest safety equipment.

As far as the public is concerned, nobody is going to thank Ukip for drawing a line in the sand on the matter of airline safety. Even if they were right (and there is no reason to believe Seymour has her facts right) it still makes them look petulant and silly - and by association the No campaign. It is this kind of knee-jerk reaction that will make us all look clueless. Ukip is not opposed to safety regulation in principle - they just hate it because it comes via the EU. (Chances are, the regulation is not even EU in origin and we would implement it even outside the EU). It's irrational, unwise and about as crass as we might expect from Ukip.

The fact is that Ukip lacks the technical expertise and the perspective to fight on such grounds - and while it plays well to their narrow constituency, you won't find many moderate voters ready to go to the barricades over helicopter regulations. People tend to be suspicious of attempts to deregulate in these areas. Helicopters are rich men's toys and are not exactly the domain of the ordinary bloke in the street. Meanwhile, I'm rather surprised Farage himself doesn't have robust views on light aircraft safety given his record with them. It's not just his popularity that took a nosedive.

Monday 27 July 2015

Another way to look at it

Another one of those tiresome articles on Greece (and whether Poland should now join the Euro) appears on Zero Hedge. The huge misconception this time around is that the Greek situation is a problem with the Euro. It isn't. Had Syriza not ripped up their reform commitments and effectively set course for default, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. The Greeks wanted in the Euro - and they still do - some because they thought it was another pot to raid, others because they see it as the only way to modernise their clapped out economy.

As far as I know, Poland isn't as badly gone as Ukraine or Greece when it comes to endemic corruption, and while more could have been done, Poland has made made some considerable effort to clean up its act. Moreover there is reason to believe that the EU would be as committed to Poland as it has been with Greece. Not so much Ukraine, but that is another story.

The fact of the matter is that none of these basketcases are ever going to claw their way out of perma-poverty unless they make massive reforms to their public sectors - not least reducing tax rates, building effective tax collection systems and formalising their grey economies. These periodic near default crunches we see will probably not be confined to Greece, but the EU's treatment of Greece is a warning to Spain and Italy that if they don't start to actually govern, then their auditors will. Anything that even slightly threatens the Euro gives the EU every excuse to do so.

The question we need to ask is whether we support the EU in its aims of pulling these states out of their perpetual economic funk. I would say we do. It's going to cost Europe a lot of money to take care of the inherent problems in these countries and it is going to take time, but the EU rightly cannot allow our money to be fire-hosed at these states without absolute assurances that their governments are making reciprocal efforts. Greece most certainly didn't. There are tentative signs that Spain is getting to grips with it and we should applaud that.

In effect the EU is a political union for the primary purpose of developing Europe into the first world continent it pretends to be. For sure, we can say hubris meant that it bit off more than it could chew but like it or not, one way or another, it did survive the crash of 2008, and while we saw a decade of stagnation, partially through regulatory correction, it has endured.

As to whether what the EU is doing is in our interests, well of course it is. Half the reason asylum seekers and migrants move to Northern Europe is because of administrative delays in immigration processing and the lack of viable employment. In any strategy for controlling influxes of immigration you need international development and effective administration - and that begins in Southern Europe.

I do not presently believe Poland should join the Euro, mainly because it doesn't need to. It could do more in terms of industrial regulatory compliance but in terms of brushfires in the EU, Poland isn't much of a concern. Italy most certainly is though.

Effectively, in creating the Euro, France and Germany willingly chained themselves to the weakest links. They did so in the knowledge they were effectively taking responsibility for countries with poor governance. That is no small undertaking. I am glad we didn't join because it's not a responsibility we want, are not obliged to take it on, and have no need of it as an internal development mechanism for ourselves.

The recent "crisis" we have seen is effectively the theatre they needed to stage in order to create the political will for the next EU treaty - a treaty that gives the EU the necessary leverage it needs to intervene in non performing states. That then formalises the two speed Europe we effective have already. That is what Cameron, a passenger of these events, will attempt to sell to us as reform. He's had virtually no influence in it but that second tier of the EU is where they want to park us. That will be his great phantom victory.

Personally, I have no objection to the EU doing whatever it is going to do. It made a massive mistake in Ukraine and we should say so, but it is the only game in town that can transition southern Europe into functioning states and not the quasi-failed state basketcases we see today. But that's the EU's concern, not ours. The Southern states were under no illusions as to what they signed up for, it's ultimately their decision and despite what some may think, Greece did not vote to leave the Euro nor did it elect Syriza in order to do so.

But since that is the future for the EU, one which we will still necessarily contribute to financially, we have to ask if that second tier status is enough. Since we are never going to go all the way in, I would say the limbo is simply not good enough. It means we take all the worst aspects of the EU while having no real say in our own trading affairs and the EU retains exclusivity over trade policy. I cannot imagine a worse place to be... On the fringes of Europe but prevented from pursuing our own avenues.

That is why Eurosceptics must drop the Europhobia and the jingoism. The EU is doing something good that would otherwise not be achieved. It just isn't really something we are central to. So rather than mouth-foaming hate of the EU, how about some constructive leadership from the outside, but politely decline their offer to be tied as a member state to their statehood ambitions? We can vote no and still be friends.

Saturday 25 July 2015

It's entertaining, but it's not important

So this Corbyn chap is a bit of a firebrand it seems. Shoots from the hip, says what he thinks and pulls no punches. That has a certain appeal in principle but in practice, the adult world of politics is very different. It's why skilled politicians appear as two dimensional as they do. I've made the case myself that it would be refreshing to see authentic people in politics, but I don't think there is any merit in politicians who have no control over their impulses. To many that seemed appealing in Nigel Farage but you can see where that eventually leads. I am also deeply suspicious of righteous men on a mission to take power. Corporate blandness is preferable to leftist zealotry every single time.

And while we can say his fellow leadership contenders are about as bland as bland can be, dealing only in platitudes, short of any real radical ideas, Corbyn can only take Labour back into the land of the dinosaurs. Nobody really benefits from a government without effective opposition. This much vaunted authenticity is actually worthless without any real ideas. Setting the Delorean in the direction of 1948 is no solution for today's world. All the bad ideas of socialism have been tried. Social housing, the NHS, welfarism, nationalisations, you name it. All the integrity in the world is not going to make these good ideas.

If Labour does want to survive (though there are no signs to indicate that it does) it will have to find somebody presentable, knowledgeable and with a bold idea that is relevant and plausible. The inherent problem there is that the left is never interested in anything until it has a track record of failure. It's a qualifying requirement. While it is unable to shake off the leftist fleas, it is unlikely to survive - and doesn't deserve to either.

But the right can't be complacent either. We have an excellent administration for maintaining the status quo and as far as managerialism goes, you could do a lot worse, but politics on both sides is in the habit of tinkering with the status quo rather than addressing what is to my mind the most dangerous and divisive development of all. The divergence of London from the rest of the country. It is not just the Scottish fascists who think there is something amiss. The imposed devolution on Manchester or combined authorities in West Yorkshire are no solution. Nor are a few token gestures in infrastructure. Nor do these ideas speak to the yawning democratic deficit or the march of globalisation.

Their claustrophobic bubble is of diminishing relevance to the rest of the country. We see little of substance and most politics is Londoncentric. Policy by the few for the few - and Corbyn doesn't strike me as any different despite his rhetoric.

In my world, the conversation is about global trade and Britain's place in the world. In their world they prate about food banks and a Dickensian poverty that exists only in the imagination of the poverty industry. Their understanding of the EU and the recent Greek saga is superficial at best. They cannot lead the people from a position of ignorance. Not one of their number holds any great expertise on anything. Where are the leaders who are kicking over tables and spelling out home truths?

When politics in the media is dominated by the likes of Owen Jones, Nick Cohen and the rest of the SW1 claque there is simply no possibility of fresh ideas finding their way in. It is little wonder the public seem disengaged. There is little of consequence to engage with. The public are engaged in politics, but London is obsessed with trivia and gossip. Their world is not ours. It's a fun little circus that keeps the girls and boys occupied but as we have demonstrated, the very serious business of politics is conducted at a level they are barely even aware of. That the Labour leadership is the lead preoccupation of the media class actually tells you how much they have lost the capacity to report news. Unless it is spoonfed to them, they don't even know where to look for it. This months long festival of leftist navel gazing won't be important next month and it isn't important now.

Meanwhile, France is waging an economic war on us, the integrity of the nation is creaking and the EU is plotting a massive powergrab. Can you imagine either Corbyn or Kendall speaking to that with any knowledge or sophistication? No, neither can I. You can be forgiven for thinking the adults are no longer in charge.

Democracy in name only

You will note that I seldom ever wade into the climate change debate anymore because it tends to be the domain of crashing bores on both sides, and is actually a long obsolete debate. It's over. The subsidies have been pulled for renewable energy because it is politically convenient to do so. Hardly anybody buys it anymore. It is only useful to those who have an underlying political agenda.

On the domestic front, it has very little traction. It actually cost David Cameron an outright victory in 2010. A Labour part lead by Gordon Brown should have resulted in Conservative landslide - but there was no way in hell I was going out to vote for a husky hugging eco-conservative. Now they've binned the green crap they've started winning elections again.

But that is not to say that damage is not still being done in its name. As you know, we've been looking in detail at the international bodies that produce much of what is believed to be EU regulation. As much as these organisations are made up of nation states, corporates and unions, they also have a large contingent of international NGO's who are largely accountable to nobody, often funded by the EU. The EU pays them to lobby for laws they themselves want.

It is hardly surprising that both India and Russia have taken robust measures to remove such NGO's from their countries. They don't take very kindly to meddlesome Western NGO's poking their noses where they are not wanted. In this, I have some sympathy.

This is actually as good a reason as any to leave the EU. The idea that a single penny of my money is channelled to Friends of the Earth is offensive. The chain of accountability is far too long, and the longer the chain, the more corrupt it is. On environmental concerns, we neither want or need the likes of Oxfam raising concerns and we need our own officials and ministers involved at that level because they are subject to freedom of information laws and of course answerable to the electorate.

There is no way that renewables targets were a legitimate decision and in fact all areas where statutory minimum spending and targets are set cannot possibly be democratically sound or legitimate in that they are often politically useful for virtue signalling according to whichever fad is en vogue. Had the public been consulted, there would be no statutory minimum on foreign aid spending.

Thus we need to make better use of referendums because the purpose of a referendum is to secure legitimacy for decisions where Parliament alone can not secure that legitimacy. It can't in these such instances. With only small mandates, themselves in hock to an SW1 bubble mentality, MPs cannot be trusted with such extraordinary decisions.

In fact, were such matters subject to public approval, such idiotic gestures would not even be proposed in the certain knowledge they would be rejected. This is why we have yet to see a local referendum on raising council tax by more than 2%.

The decade of global warming politics is over. We have begun to undo some of the infantile proposals it spawned and hopefully carbon capture as a notion will be put into the dustbin of history. But we have no mechanism for containing the vanity of the EU and thus, have no means of preventing them committing us to spending that we would otherwise reject.

In fact, were we to instruct our parliament to reject such spending, we would find ourselves in breach of EU treaty - and the British don't play it like that. Duplicitous conduct is very much how the French do it, but we still respect our international agreements thus in practice our parliament is not sovereign. Thus while EU members we are a democracy in name only - still subject to the political agendas of NGO's long since hijacked by Malthusian hard left NGO's who speak for nobody but themselves. This underscores why we need the Harrogate Agenda and why we must leave the EU in order to achieve it.

Globalisation is happening, but it is happening beyond the reach of democracy and it is subject to the same vanity and zealotry that brought the Euro currency into being. It very nearly brought disaster upon us. We cannot afford for these people to do this to us again.

Leaving the EU is a means to correct an historical mistake and to ensure that our voices are heard in the future. We need direct democracy too because while the EU did so much of this damage through its own vanity, it should not be forgotten that it was our parliament who let it.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Hoping for the best is not the basis of a foreign policy

If my radar is functioning properly, and our lame media is paying it any attention, we're about to get a flurry of news about Ukraine. Now I realise I'm mostly talking to myself by now and I won't coax an opinion out of anybody, but I have more concerns and questions than I have answers.

I've read one or two reports that investors are buoyed by Ukraine's market liberalisations and a deal for a new LNG terminal to ship Chinese LNG into Ukraine, in part solving some of their energy crisis, and some tentative moves in the right direction to tackle political corruption. This may lead creditors to be kinder to Ukraine in the face of a default than they have been to Greece for fairly obvious reasons. The assumption being that Ukraine's problems are temporary.

Both the IB Times and the FT are keen to point out that Ukraine is not Greece - and so the narratives cannot be transposed. But then the media had badly misread Greece so to make the claim that Ukraine is not Greece is entirely a matter of perspective. As I've pointed out, Ukraine is one of the worst ranking in the world for non-performing loans, and in the same league as Greece when it comes to corruption.

Of course much of it depends on what is owed to whom and whether the current strife is as temporary as some imagine. We also don't know if market liberalisation is as meaningful as we are told, with the EU keen to downplay any suggestion that virtually nothing has been done. It doesn't want to scare the horses. But this self-deception could well lead to reinforcing failure as it did with Greece by (in effect) unconditionally bailing it out the first time.

What we find with Ukraine is that material aid ends up on the black market and financial aid - unless it goes to creditors, goes into a black hole. How bad things are depends on what you're reading and how well you trust the source. On the one hand you have the believable but often wrong western media and then there's regional media which varies, is often peppered with propaganda and the EU is very much a participant in a major information war in Ukraine. It's easy to get caught out with bad information even if you're usually good at evaluating sources.

We saw some ugly protests demanding the resignation of the president over the weekend, asking "where are the reforms?". These are orchestrated events by one of Ukraine's premier "far right" groups (bordering on militias, forming volunteer forces in the East) who while viscerally anti-Russian, are no lovers of the EU either. How much sympathy they have among Ukrainians is anybody's guess.

As to that "market liberalisation", Ukraine announced "fair and competitive privatisation in 2015" listing over 300 state-owned stakes to go under the hammer in 2015 - ranging from coal mining to agriculture to ports. But analysts believe the government will have its work cut out just to shift a few of the largest assets, not least because the top job at the State Property Fund is a dangerous one. In the course of the last two years, two notorious former heads of the property fund have committed suicide under mysterious circumstances. What gets sold to whom and in what circumstances is very much in question.

Oh, and then there's that being at war with Russia thing. Having seen Sarkozy completely fold during the 2008 Georgia crisis, Putin has been able to make aggressive moves there to cease gas pipelines knowing that neither the EU nor NATO is likely to do a damn thing and knows that any NATO moves in Europe are merely reassurance for states Putin has no intention of invading. He can pretty much do what he pleases where his current concerns lie.

The short of it is that the EU is impotent both in terms of demanding social and economic reforms - will be highly cautious about material aid and will have only limited scope for political reform and technical assistance. We have seen this before with Croatia. Reforms run out of steam and then further aid becomes politically inconvenient, with market reforms only half complete leaving shuttered farms replaced by nothing and a drain of the professional class, doctors in particular. Given that there has been visa relaxation in Ukraine as part of the association agreement we have every reason to expect the same will happen in Ukraine if it has not begun already - with large numbers of displaced Ukrainians settling in Poland.

This in essence is why the EU should have left Ukraine well alone. It has bitten off more than it can chew, with little idea what to do. If it doesn't become a major media incident in the next few weeks it will largely be because the EU does not want it to be and has proven adept at providing distractions. It may well be that the Greece saga was exactly that and back room deals over Ukraine debt were done on the quiet. We don't know. But the EU could easily put the whole matter into stasis without the media ever catching on.

Because the mainstream EU effort is now focussed on a new treaty path, recent accession and associate states will go on the backburner and left to fend for themselves - with the EU hoping that regional powers such as Poland will take up the foreign policy slack. Whenever there is a new treaty on the books the EU goes into full introspection mode largely preoccupying the diplomatic efforts of the founder member states. The Ukraine can will likely be kicked down the road and left to fester unless something turns up the volume. The United States is unlikely to push anything. They have their hands full with ISIS and Iran.

So in effect, Ukraine will slip far down the agenda, much like Chechnya did. It was politically inconvenient, beyond our power to influence and too dangerous to push the boat out. If we weren't going do the job properly we should have left well alone. In terms of energy and agriculture Ukraine had self sufficiency potential. The status quo was not ideal but it was a problem that could wait. As with Libya, it's diplomatic efforts have been stalled by political realities beyond their control - and thus far the EU reaction is to bury it's head in the sand. The notion that the EU makes us safer is one I find difficult to swallow. Hoping for the best is not the basis of a foreign policy.

In a world of their own

I just had an exchange with the Telegraph's economics wunderkind on Twitter. I ain't too impressed. You've seen the extensive work we've done on Greek corruption and the global impact of it, but Ambrose Evans Pritchard asserts "I could write identical corruption stories about Austria or Belgium". In the bluntest terms, no you fucking well couldn't mate. Not if you're on this planet.

"You can't generalise from micro-corruption to macro-economics" says he. Well, that's true, but we're not talking about "micro-corruption". We're talking about grand larceny of epic proportions. The Greek government is leaking billions in every direction. It's not a currency crisis, it's not even a debt crisis. This is a theft crisis.

You can criticize the EU for its own hubris in thinking such an absurdity as the Euro would not hit the rocks taking on basketcase economies, but it takes two to tango. The EU wanted Greece in the grand experiment but Greece saw them coming. To them the EU was just another pot to be raided.

But this escapes the media scribblers. They've been predicting a collapse of the Euro for so long, not because of any particular insight, but because of that basic human instinct of wanting to see something big fail. It's why we all had our eyes glued to the telly when those aircraft hit the world trade centre. But the truth of it is, the eurozone GDP is gargantuan compared with the poxy economy of tiny Greece. The Euro survived 2008 and Greece is inconsequential now. What we've seen is pure theatricals.

After repeated bogus reassurances that Greece would get their act together, in comes Syriza, rips up reform agreements, sabotages the port privatisation talks and defaults on debt. From the tone set the EU then knew full well where the next bailouts to prop up the government were going. Straight into a black hole. Greece failed to make any serious reforms and can't be trusted to make them.

To say that austerity hasn't worked is a total misreading of the whole thing. Greece has not implemented any austerity measures in any meaningful sense - and the debt Greece has is the only leverage the EU has to ensure that they do stop the bleeding. If they don't Greece will continue to be a liability. It's also a strong message to Italy and the others. The benefits of the single market are not inherent to simply being in the EU - it is a product of playing by rules.

Evans-Pritchard accuses me of victim blaming when in reality Greece has effectively been caught with its fingers in the till and refusing to honour the terms of previous agreements. No state can function like that.

Evans-Pritchard is caught up in the theatre, not really realising what's going on. The Euro was not in any great danger from a Greek default as there is no contagion threat this time. So why then was it the big story? There are any number of bigger concerns in the EU right now that we're not hearing about, not least Ukraine. The answer is simple. The EU wanted it to be a big story.

A nice big story like this underscores the need for a new EU treaty that affords the EU the powers it needs, not only to tackle Greece but also the other basketcases - not just for the security of the Euro but also because the failures of the Greek and Italian states are a liability on many other scores too.

Such a treaty I would support, but obviously not with Britain as a member of the EU. That's why we need out so we can let the EU get on with it. Cameron won't get reform - he'll get relegation - the worst of both worlds.

This is why I've been looking at Greece in the first place. This sets the tone for Cameron's renegotiation and has massive ramifications for how the Brexit referendum goes in terms of what Cameron will attempt to sell us. In and of itself, the Syriza saga is otherwise an issue of little economic significance.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

We need our parliament back in control

In recent years we've even seen some of the more enlightened Marxist types embrace capitalism as the system that delivers for the poor. The battle between socialism and capitalism is over. Capitalism is what brings those massive container ships in every day, bringing more and better goods, ever cheaper.

Trade brings peace, liberty and prosperity. The global elites are all agreed on one thing. More trade with fewer barriers is better for everyone. They are right. And as much as some like to complain about DfID, and god knows I do, they are doing some incredible work building roads and ports in Tanzania, Tunisia and Botswana. It is also connecting those places where the Arab Spring fermented. Their goods will now get to market and the world will get to them.

But trade is only as good as the supply chains and supply chains work best with regulation. It's good for them, it's good for us. It makes for buyer confidence and reduces waste. Regulatory convergence is a greater cost to trade than border tariffs. So there is a global effort to bring about more regulatory convergence. That is what TTIP is mainly about.

There is no question that what they have in mind is in principle a good thing, but the processes by which it comes about - and the levels of accountability are scaring the horses. The world is ready for more trade but even small regulatory changes have massive cultural and economic effects and there are winners and losers each time.

What is missing is the necessary debate and forewarning. Much of what is done in the name of improving trade is never studied for its potential impact and the people are never asked for their permission. Thus the debate for our century is how we bring about the benefits of globalisation while giving the people a say in it. A system that progress without the understanding or consent of its people can only end up on the rocks.

That is why we need to leave the EU. The trade deals like TTIP are a decoy to an extent. It's the deals made between the giant regulatory agencies we need to pay more attention to - and our own parliament should be scrutinising our activities in those places rather than ruminating over the contents of children's lunchboxes. The outsourcing of trade as a competence to the EU has cheapened and infantilised our politics and the consequence is that we take on board regulation even our own government is blissfully unaware of.

Even downing Street was caught out by the realisation they signed up to a budget escalator. They didn't see it coming because such agreements are rarely scrutinised. Our politicians deal with the easy and the highly visible. Why trade is an exclusive competence of the EU, it lacks visibility and debate. It is wholly neglected by our media which is why our media is equally asinine.

Globalisation is good. Trade is good. But homogenisation and democracy free managerialism is a growing concern - and that should be the preoccupation of our own ministers and MP's - not the grunting lunatics we end up appointing as members of the European Parliament as a protest. It is far too important.

By leaving the EU, we shorten the chain of accountability and revitalise our media and parliament. The real politics is happening elsewhere which is why our politics keeps going over old trivial ground. If we want politics of substance, we shall have to take back those adult responsibilities we have abdicated.

The politics of the last century is dying - and not before time.

Labour are busy insisting they didn't cause the 2008 crisis. But they did preside over an era of banks handing out loans and mortgages like Smarties. They watched a debt bubble inflate, did nothing about it, creamed off the excesses and splurged on the welfare state. For this they claimed economic credibility. We have "abolished boom and bust" they said. They bloated the councils and let them take on massive debts of their own. They geared the economy so that the private sector was way too dependent on public spending. But then 2008 happened. They took a gamble that the private sector could always carry the weight of their public sector indolence. It couldn't.

In truth, the cuts we have seen since have been little more than meagre accountancy. The coalition proved a serious obstacle to reform. Now we're starting to see some signals that cutting taxes is working. But we need more. We need some serious cuts because in truth the public sector has only been trimmed to the size it was is when Labour came to power and it was too big then. No public sector should ever expand to such a size that it cannot withstand an economic shock of 2008 magnitude.

And have Labour learned anything since then? No. Despite the mountain of evidence that low taxes make for faster growth and more prosperity they are still intent on hitting the taxpayer hard and seducing their powerbase back onto welfare. The only one who has said that fiscal prudence and hard work are not incompatible with Labour values is Liz Kendall - and she has been castigated.

Essentially the left have become nihilistic and loathing of prosperity. They would rather destroy wealth and kill growth than admit their core beliefs are wrong. If that is the mindset that wins out in the leadership battle then they have set a course for extinction - and they should not be mourned. A Corbyn win would be the swansong of the left. The politics of the last century is dying - and not before time.

It's time to shut down the Scottish parliament

When Scotland voted to stay in the Union we should have shut down the Scottish parliament. We should definitely do that next time. Y'see only nation states have parliaments. Scotland isn't a nation state. It will never hold powers over defence or foreign policy and its influence over central fiscal policy will be minimal. Thus the matters of national importance are conducted by Westminster, in which Scottish MP's are participants. Thus the only way a Scottish parliament can afford itself relevance is to confiscate competences and powers that really ought to reside with councils and parishes.

Since it's inception it has only ever syphoned off powers when in reality power needed to go the other way. To some parts of Scotland, Edinburgh is about as relevant as Leeds as a centre of power, since it's faster to drive from Edinburgh to Leeds than some of the outer reaches. The Scottish parliament can only ever be a pretentious talking shop whose very existence denies democracy and accountability to its peoples. Glasgow is large enough in geographical size and population to merit its own assembly and yet a Scottish parliament essentially puts Glasgow Council under Edinburgh supervision. Being it a pretentious talking shop, it will only ever be abused by nationalists seeking to enforce their cultural and social ideas on the whole of Scotland without their consent. When the peoples of Dundee can be persistently overruled by the people of Glasgow, that is not democracy - that is an affront to democracy.

And yes, we can very well say this dynamic applies to England and Wales too. The "Northern powerhouse" will never exist while London holds the purse strings. And if what is true of the Scottish parliament then the same should also be said of the European parliament where we are systematically outvoted. Voting rituals and parliaments should never be confused with democracy. Democracy is when the people hold the power. At present we have opinion polls and reshuffles within the managerial agency that dictates how things are run. It works up to a point but it sure isn't democracy.

Neither Holyrood nor Strasbourg were parliaments constructed by their people's. They were the construction of political elites. And if we're being entirely historically precise, nor was Westminster. It was a talking shop for the barons and landowners. In many respects it still is, with a staggering proportion MP's belonging to the legal profession and millionaires. In due course, Holyrood too will become (if it hasn't already) a cushy little sinecure for those perpetually averse to doing a real job.

The SNP would have it that their disaffection with Westminster is unique. It isn't. London is becoming a different country and it is a popular view that London governs for the South East. Everywhere we look we see local authorities failing at the basics, but this isn't because the people are not fit to run their own affairs. In most cases they are not permitted to run their own affairs with councils hamstrung by guidelines and diktats, rules and regulations covering disciplines that really should not be a competence of Westminster. Councillors are little more than expensive chair warmers for all the influence they exert - and that's why few with any real talent for government would bother becoming one. Consequently anyone with political ambitions goes to London.

What we need is a new model of governance - one that puts real power in the hands of the people - and not a minority elite in the South East. They don't know what's best for Newcastle, Leeds or Manchester - and Edinburgh doesn't know what's best for Glasgow. Holyrood is a waste of space and Westminster does far more than it should. We need bottom up governance, not top down. We need to be rid of the pointless middlemen and shorten the chain of accountability. That starts with leaving the EU, but there is much more to be done if we want real democracy.

The SNP is a symptom of moral decline in Scotland

So the SNP have been playing musical chairs again. Childish stunts do seem to be their modus operandi don't they? One wonders why they bothered if that's all they intend to do. They certainly didn't come to Westminster with any big ideas.

So far as I can see, the SNP see the purpose of government as an agency for redistributing wealth rather than facilitating those who create it. It is more interested in redistributing wealth than governing - so those vital institutions that facilitate functioning civil society will be centralised, neglected and compacted to release more funds to bribe their core vote with. Road repairs, snow clearing and refuse collection will take second place to doling out more benefits. They are more interested in subsidising poverty than examining the reasons poverty exists. 

And this is Labour's problem too. The left think government is some giant redistributive charity funded by the Easter bunny and that outright plundering of private wealth is entirely free of consequence. It beggars belief that such backward ideas would still gain traction in the twenty first century, yet Labour are actually serious about electing a 70's era throwback for a leader. They are stark raving mad.

When we look at those nations where his mentality prevails we find an indolent public sector, broken infrastructure, shortages and corruption everywhere. Nobody is made any richer for it, it makes the currency worthless and nobody in their right mind would invest there. When a government has an ambiguous attitude to private property, where is the incentive to invest, create and improve?

For the left, the last century was their grand experiment. Their ideas took hold in Mexico, Russia, Greece, Cuba and Venezuela - to name a few. Now the challenge in this century is how to undo the decades of damage. The ideas of the left have brought all of these nations to the brink of extinction as functioning states.

We should be relieved that the clear majority are adult enough not to be seduced by those same toxic ideas, and if anything the right can afford a little cheer as Labour consigns itself to the dustbin of history. The British people will reject Corbyn as they did Miliband. But that is no reason to be complacent. That these poisonous ideas are on the march in Scotland tells us that something has gone badly wrong - that Scotland is in a state of advanced moral, intellectual and spiritual decay. We should treat that as a national emergency.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Alan Johnson doesn't know much about the EU

Alan Johnson has written a superficial piece of fluff in the Guardian. It's a sentimentalist screed based his naive perception of what the EU is. He concludes that "The European Union is simply a place we have built where we can manage our interdependence. It was developed because the peoples of Europe recognised one value above all else – a value that we need today perhaps more than ever, not only to restore Greece to its rightful place in our European family but also to preserve Britain’s. Happily it is the most important value of the left: it’s called solidarity."

This is factually and historically wrong. The EU from inception was a zealot's vision; that Europe's peoples could not be trusted to run their own affairs without going to war and so must have their democracy salami sliced so as to create a federal Europe. It was done by deception. Johnson urgently needs a history lesson. The notion that the EU in any way demonstrates solidarity ought to raise a few eyebrows, but that's something we'll go into another time. What's more important is that Johnson doesn't have the first idea what he's talking about from a technical perspective either. In his imagination the EU is "a place" where Europe comes together to solve its problems. It is nothing of the sort.

Johnson asserts that "the key aspect of Britain’s engagement with the EU is the single market. Crucially, this is a market with rules, not least legislation to protect consumers, workers and the environment". Except the EU is not the single market. The EEA is the single market and the rules are made by Codex, UNEP, WHO, ILO, UNECE etc. In most respects UNECE is the origin of these rules and the rules are adopted verbatim by the EU.

These bodies are comprised of governments, lobbyists, corporates and NGO's - largely accountable to nobody - so to use his words, it very much is a "grand corporatist conspiracy" - especially if you examine TTIP in any detail. And if you oppose TTIP on those grounds then it is not logical to be pro-EU at all. Corporates making the rules with little or no accountability is exactly what we have now.

Far from being a forum, it is a rubber stamping chamber for that which has already been decided at the global level, where we have no independent power of veto as an EU member. (Trade is an exclusive competence of the EU).  Europhiles insist that we don't have the clout without the EU but in reality sovereignty pooling leads to collective impotence, dilution and indecision - meaning nobody gets a good deal. In most respects the EU is an obsolete middleman and this whole debate completely ignores the march of globalisation.

I think most politically active people have heard of the OECD in passing, but couldn't tell you precisely what it is and what it does. And if that is true of the OECD then that is certainly true of the UNECE. I knew they were big but until recently I had little or no idea of the scale of their activities globally - and just how pivotal they are to international trade and development.

In many respect the UNECE is not just the standards body for global trade. It IS the single market. It has standing agreements lodged at the WTO with partners like IATA and the IFA and nation states. That's how it works now. Trade agreements do not happen between nations and blocs as they once did. That takes years and the process often fails. Instead it has all moved up a tier where trade talks are conducted between non-state actors which are barely visible to the public.

This is a key issue in that these organisations are not democratically accountable and this is where we need MUCH more scrutiny. I'd say a primary reason for leaving the EU is to increase their visibility and shorten the chain of accountability. As long as globalisation is done via the EU it lacks visibility and transparency. Moreover, we want our parliament to have the final say and not the mouth-breathers we end up with as MEPs. We're not just outvoted in the EU. We're systemically outnumbered. It can't be democracy by definition if the power does not reside with the people.

The world is shifting to an increasingly inter-governmental model, working through all these international bodies instead of supranationalism - and in most respects the EU is redundant. It's an anachronism belonging to the last century. Johnson is making twenty year old arguments that simply aren't relevant to the global scene we have today. He is a dinosaur and we have become an introspective "little Europe" because of men like him. The debate has long overtaken Johnson's stunted perceptions - and a man who displays such an astonishing ignorance of what it is, how it works and what it wants to be is in no position to tell us where our future lies.

Monday 20 July 2015

Shape up or shut up

If arguments alone won debates eurosceptics could leave the opposition standing in any contest - from any angle you care to mention. But the world doesn't work like that. People don't judge on arguments alone. They take a long hard look at the people making them. On this score, we're screwed.

On the one hand you have Nigel Farage and on the other you have Owen Jones. Neither of whom represent mainstream or moderate constituencies - the very people we need to win over to win a referendum. Neither of these men could summon a fact if their lives depended on it - and they are both repellent in their own distinct ways.

But then their followers are no better either. The grunter featured above largely typifies the aggressive and fanatical nature of eurosceptics and depressingly it's not a mindset confined to Kippers. That one there is a Tory. The tweet is bristling with irrelevant hashtags - the internet equivalent of scrawling in crayon. You can dislike Juncker if you like. I'm not overly fond of the man, but to call him filth is beyond the pale.

Combined with the invincible stupidity of Ukip, we're going to repeat all the same mistakes as the cybernats and lose this referendum. We'll make a bigger mess of it than they did. These idiots have no self-awareness and no capacity for self-criticism. As ambassadors for the Brexit case they are a liability.

Some would demand uniformity of message. I think that's an unlikely aspiration, but it shouldn't be too much to ask that eurosceptics put a little bit of thought into how they are perceived and shelve the jingoistic, shallow and crass nonsense that litters the Brexit hashtags.

Not only are the arguments hackneyed and obsolete, they won't win over any moderate people. They will likely turn the other way in disgust - and I wouldn't blame them. They are pushing me dangerously close to it. It's embarrassing to be associated with them. 

Ukip - a serious liability

It seems Ukippers are too thick to understand this point so I need to be as succinct as possible and say this for the last time. I am sick to death of having to fight Ukip on this.

The moment Ukip started banging on about immigration, all the left wing came out of the woodwork and successfully, with some considerable help from Ukip, painted the party as far right and racist. We have already seen signs that the EU referendum campaign will be fought along similar fault lines.

The bottom line is that referendum campaign cannot be a left/right dispute. If it is we will lose it. If the no campaign is made up of unhinged europhobes without a positive and progressive message then we will lose badly - and be sucked into the EU forever. Ukippers are presently doing very well to live up to the characterisation of eurosceptics being xenophobic little Englanders - and publishing images such as the above puts Ukip in BNP territory. That's a fact.

More than this, Ukip is apparently not using the Ukip brand on these leaflets thus they are tainting the whole referendum effort as people will assume it is part of the official no campaign.

Immigration is not going to be the issue we win on because it can't win over the moderate middle. Chances are, those for whom immigration is a concern will vote to leave the EU anyway so there is no point in aiming the message at them. This is a referendum NOT an election. Our side needs to convince the people who would never in a million years vote for Ukip. And if stupid and wrong literature such as the above is going to be the imagery of our campaign then we might as well pack up now.

For now, the left wing are dipping their toes in euroscpetic waters, but there is every possibility their swing will be just as fickle if Ukip continues to poison the well. Were I not so heavily invested in this debate and if I were a person with only a passing interest in the EU, the vibe coming off Ukip would be enough to convince me to vote the other way. The stupid, jingoistic memes on Twitter make eurosceptics look like ignorant grunters and will deter moderate people from joining the cause. Ukip needs to shape up or shut up. 

Thanks but no thanks.

Apparently you now have to support Greece as the downtrodden victim of the EU to be a true eurosceptic. This is stupidity on stilts. It's one thing to want us to leave the EU, another thing entirely to want the EU to fail in its endeavours to lift Greece out of the depressing bog of corruption. Nobody has anything to gain from letting Greece fold completely. A total collapse of governance would be a major headache for European stability and security.

We have to stop treating Greece as a debt crisis or a currency crisis. The Euro is not in any great peril, it survived 2008 and it can survive a chump change economy like Greece now that the contagion is contained. Most of the economist are peddling a scare story because that's what sells newspapers.

It should instead be viewed as a major theft crisis, because that's why Greece is broke. It has spent its way to oblivion while neglecting the basics of governance. Most state procurement contracts have resulted in vast sums of money going missing. If we do "stop meddling" and let Greece go its own way, we're still going to have to pump in money just to avoid a massive humanitarian crisis. Only without leverage, whatever money we send will go into a black hole.

Either we restructure and rebuild Greece or we simply give up, let it fester and watch the whole thing fold. I think that would probably result in a low grade civil war and nobody wants that. It would be absolutely impossible for Greece to recover without EU membership because the corruption is now endemic to the culture. Call it an administrative occupation if you like. In effect, Greece is an occupied territory and while some on the left would call that EU imperialism, I don't actually have a problem with it.

Even if the EU never existed there would still need to be a pan-European political effort to tackle Greece because its own maladministration has massive implications for Europe as a centre of trafficking, smuggling, counterfeiting and the international black market. In that respect, such intervention is not imperialism - it's self defence.

We can't afford for Greece to remain a corrupt kleptocracy and we can bleat about democracy but in essence Greek democracy is a free pass for them to keep robbing Europe blind. Greece has been conning the EU for years saying it will make the necessary reforms but there is scant evidence of this. Germany has finally lost patience and I don't blame it.

I would like to see Britain as a developed first world nation leave the EU because we are another world away from what Greece is and we don't want to be in a political union with any of these rogue states - and we should pity Germany for the burden it must now carry. But Germany sees EU as the means to bring a form of order to Europe, and both France and Germany are agreed that a new EU treaty, effectively assuming control over the fiscal policies of these rogue states, is the only way the Euro can work. They are probably right.

What we don't want to see is the Euro fold because that is in nobody's interests. It is what it is, and though born from hubris and folly, there's no going back without a disintegration of mainland Europe once again.

In this we need Britain to be a friend and ally of the EU - from the outside - and we need to tell them when they are getting it wrong. I believe they got it badly wrong on Ukraine, and got it wrong on Greece through a mix of arrogance and naivety, but now the EU is pretty much the only game in town that can save Greece from itself. When it is done with Greece it will likely have to take a very close look at Italy too. Corruption is a cancer that is eating the Southern states alive and will ultimately destroy what little democracy there is.

The EU needs a new treaty in order to fix the many problems it has. That will necessarily mean it needs more powers. I can't see how it can work without. But as a functioning state and a state not in the Euro, Britain is largely a fringe concern for Europe - with a wholly different destiny. We can be a better friend to Europe by standing independently, promoting our own vision and values. We don't have to be in the EU to show solidarity with Germany and assist it in its aims of turning the rogue states into halfway functioning economies and we should welcome moves to improve governance. That said, policies designed to deal with these broken states are neither useful to us nor are they good for us. Unlike Greece, we can be trusted to run our own affairs because we have a strong record of doing precisely that.

It has often been said that the EU is just a tool of Germany to exert its dominance over Europe as if that were actually a bad thing. If only it were true. Brexit would effectively allow Germany to get on with it without being distracted by the griping of Britain whose relevance to (and interest in) the EU as a non euro member is largely inconsequential.

Brexit gives us the freedom to pursue things that we are actually interested in but ultimately takes the brakes off for the EU to get on with what it needs to do that will ultimately result in a stronger Europe. A stronger Europe is in everyone's interests but whatever is in the next EU treaty is not something Britain has any interest in signing up to.

The naked and irrational hatred of the EU is unhelpful and unnecessary because being pro EU is not incompatible with wanting to leave it. It has its faults but anything it does to EU member states is certainly no worse than what they would do to themselves or each other. There will always be a need for an international forum for Europe - and the EU is as good as any, but Britain is not so broken that it needs to be run by it. Britain is prosperous and doesn't need the EU's help to run it. Greece does.

Thursday 16 July 2015

This lie will not stand. Picard is not a pinko

It's pretty sad when you're fisking a Star Trek meme, but the the article I had in mind is going to take a while longer to write. But these little things are also important.  This meme is factually wrong in every respect and must be thoroughly debunked.

Everybody knows that government had collapsed by the time of the first flight of the Pheonix flown by Zephram Cochrane. There had been a devastating nuclear war. It is unclear what the political circumstances were that brought it about, but we know from the series Enterprise that Earth was restored with Vulcan technical assistance, aid and close supervision.

Too little is said about the political settlement during the early Starfleet era, but it can be assumed comfortably that Vulcan technology produced abundances in food production, and that for all other goods a system of barter was most likely in place. There is no hint of an overarching state mechanism that owns all the means of production. Not in the early days or in the Next Generation era.

By the time we get the the Next Generation era, we see full technological abundance that produces food and basic items literally from tin air. This removes scarcity, thus there is then no need for barter, exchange or price mechanisms, rendering capitalism (and Socialism) largely redundant. However, we see in Deep Space Nine, on the far edges of the Alpha Quadrant, that capitalism is still vibrant in the wider galaxy and there are limitations to the Federation self-enhancement philosophy in that Jake Sisko is unable to buy a baseball card for his father without the acquisitive talents of Ferengi Ensign Nog.

Nevertheless, it is still necessary to ask whether humanity would have progressed that far without Vulcan intervention. We'll never find out now thanks to those paternalistic green blooded bastards. But the concept of replication is to my mind a mix of particle acceleration and 3D printing. While it is certainly government research and development that has contributed to the creation of such marvels, it is the power of the market that has made 3d printing an every day possibility for the masses.

In most instances where there is socialism, technology is held back. This is evidenced by the agricultural nature of Russian military hardware. Socialism is usually more likely to result in rationing too. It is markets that will finally deliver abundance - and the technological progress. The only place where we do see full state control in the Star Trek world in any great detail is on Cardassia, with a draconian justice system, abuse of prisoners, and an all powerful secret service (The Obsidian Order) - widely regarded for its brutality, torture and ruthless treatment of political dissidents.

I'm sorry to have to throw a hyperspanner into the ODN relays, but the notion Starfleet could exist under socialism, where there is a planned society and class determinism is mildly offensive. Picard in his defence of Data, in his struggle for recognition as a sentient being, is a champion of individual rights - evidenced also by his refusal to hand over Data's daughter to Starfleet on the orders of his superiors.

In fact the mortal enemy of Starfleet is the Borg - a collective society where individualism is stamped out, resources and destinies are dictated, and the only resources it has are those which it forcefully removes from individuals. Borg "citizens" are allocated their resources according to their predetermined position and may never perform a function not designated by a higher authority. Sounds like socialism to me.

Then if we examine the nature of the United Federation of Planets, we find that it is not a supranational entity. It has directives and a united moral ethos but it plays very little role in the governance of member planets, and respects cultural differences without imposing its own model. It more resembles a mutual trade and defence alliance akin with an Efta/NATO amalgam, rather than, say, the EU or the USSR. Call it what you like, but it isn't socialism.

As to the upper picture, one assumes that is Mad Max. I'm afraid my expertise does not extend that far, but if we give it the benefit of the doubt and say that is indeed libertarianism, then what it's saying is that I'm free to roam the desert in a dune buggy, wearing a jock strap and gimp mask, and take pot shots at passing auto-gyros. I'm not seeing a downside.

But as I understand it, in Mad Max, there is resource scarcity, but no currency, and no governmental authority at all (for the most part), thus cannot be considered a minarchist capitalist state. I'm not sure what it qualifies as, but judging by appearances alone, it's not all that far removed from the Australia we see today. Call it libertarianism if you like, I don't mind, but don't you dare call Jean-Luc Picard a bloody communist. 

Too much Europe could end in tears

The left are calling for Greek debt write-offs. This is stupid. The debt is the only leverage we have on Greece in order for it to clean up its act. If there is a hole in Greek finances it's because so much has been embezzled. What Greece needs is a corruption task force to find out where the money has been going and take it back. One might start by looking at the 900 or so Greek shipping families. The theft is of gargantuan proportions. A write-off would effectively enrich a small group of oligarchs without consequence - and any subsequent bailouts would likely suffer the same fate. But the EU risks similar with its bailout conditions.

The danger for the EU is that its insistence on various privatisations is that public assets will be sold off for a song, sometimes to the lowest bidder, run into the ground and consequently will rack up yet more state debt. We've seen this in both Poland and Ukraine. The system of governance is not mature or clean enough to handle such transfers. One can sympathise to some extent with Greek reluctance given the precedents for Western backed firesales. Privatise in haste, repent at leisure.

This is actually my chief complaint about the EU's association agreement terms for Ukraine. Ukrainians make Greeks look like petty crooks when it comes to grand larceny. At least the Greeks have some half way competent record keeping that might lend some clue as to where the money is going. We cannot expect such broken countries to be able to adequately handle such sell-offs. We got a good deal from our privatisation because it was planned over many years, handled (for the most part) responsibly and to (more or less) respectable bidders. The chances of that being the case for Ukraine are nil.

Moves by the EU to embrace Ukraine as part of the EU family will probably result in similar crunches to Greece. Too much, too soon and without the proper supervision. The terms have been set, they've been told what to do, but barring a few token arrests, there is scant evidence that anti-corruption reforms are happening. Will the EU then point to these token reforms as it did with Greece and claim a mandate for "more Europe"? Cooking the books for political purposes is not unprecedented for the EU.

Moreover, the establishment of a regulatory regime suchas the EU's takes years, if not decades. We in Britain needed little time to adapt because we are a mature economy with established systems that only need tweaks, but for Eastern Europe, with agriculture still in the dark ages, with a large gift economy, neither fiscally or intellectually equipped for regulatory compliance, we risk alienating the people as farms are sold off to foreign firms who can meet regulatory challenges. In Poland this has been viewed as a corporate landgrab - and not unjustifiably.

That will see a major resurgence of communist parties as domestic workers are displaced and replaced with cheaper foreign (often illegal) labour - without effective immigration policing. Basically Ukip on stilts. Euroscepticism is growing in Poland and so is anti-immigrant sentiment. Similarly EU cultural reforms will not be welcomed in the rural outbacks. Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the head of the ultra-conservative Catholic radio station Radio Maryja considers the EU to be pure evil: abortion, euthanasia and gay parades. "In the west, I detect mostly the power of Satan," he said on air in 2002. The crass parade of beautiful people recruited into the police, patrolling Kiev in Toyota Prius's is provocative. Possibly deliberately so.

This is not to say that reforms should not take place, rather that it should be done slowly and carefully according to a long term plan with adequate supervision (and with some of that democracy stuff preferably). In most respects, Ukraine has been told what to do but the EU has not been forthcoming with much in the way of technical assistance. They pour in money but that quickly finds its way into the hands of oligarchs and thieves. Subsidiarity is fine when dealing with modern first world economies, but not with systemically shattered nations and especially not one presently engaged in civil war.  

One thing we see from Greece is that it's not just corruption at the top. It's endemic to the culture. It's been there for decades and it's getting worse. It is not going to get better spontaneously and only by a supreme effort of will and outside intervention is anything going to happen.

Greece has some systems which are sufficiently mature to cope with privatisation, but outside Kiev, Ukraine has very little going for it. A Western backed elite steaming ahead with political, economic and cultural reforms without the necessary democratic mandate is not going to succeed in bringing people along with it - and they may well look to Putin.

As to Greece, it will swallow the bitter pill, but EU maladministration of reforms may well produce the opposite to what is hoped - with the collapse of the few systems that actually work. This above all is the main reason to be sceptical of the EU.

Sadly, Eurosceptics presently make shallow arguments, calling the EU a bully and openly want it to fail in its aims - opposing it for its own sake. I don't. I do want to see a modern, democratic and prosperous Greece and Ukraine. The EU is possibly the only actor who can bring that about, but not with hasty "integration" and dogmatic Europeanism. The EU is very good at producing trade frameworks but in most respects fails to follow through. It has abandoned its efforts in Libya, it has shown little solidarity with Ukraine and will likely alienate Greece unless greater attention is paid to the shape reforms take.

One actor that is largely missing from all of this is the United Kingdom. We had little influence in all of the above. For sure, it was RAF Tornado's doing the donkey work in Libya, but diplomatically, the EU commission was in the lead and with Ukraine it was largely German, Polish and American officials. Similarly with Greece, we are bystanders. We have become an insular, inward looking little England, not because we are Eurosceptics but because we are in the EU, having delegated foreign policy, foreign affairs and law of substance to external entities. Now more than ever we need to be seen at the global top table to demand that the EU does the job properly instead of the ill conceived, half baked and incomplete efforts we see today. Especially where asylum and international development are concerned.

Never have we held less influence in the world from a regulatory and political perspective at a time when the world needs a strong and assertive Britain, promoting its own values and chastising the EU for its short-sightedness and hubris. We'd like to see the EU succeed in its aims, but at this point it needs to shit or get off the pot.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

That Greek crisis in full

Greece: Uhm, we fucked up our economy, can we have a lot of money?

EU: What again? Ok, well this time, you're going to have to stop spending it on hookers and crack.

Greece: Ok, sure, we'll do that.

EU: Here you go.

Greece: Uhm, we fucked up our economy again, can we have a lot of money?

EU: But we saw you out the other night with two hookers and a boatload of crack. You said you were going to pay us back and sort your life out.

Greece: Oh we will this time. We really mean it.

EU: Well we don't believe you. We'll bail you out again, but hand over your credit card, you know what you're like when you've had a few.

Greece: But that's not fair, how do we pay for hookers and crack if you've got our credit card?

EU: Well, you can't, that's kinda the point!

Greece: You horrible Nazis! Hang on while we just have a quick vote on this.

EU: Well hurry up. You can either have it this way or you can just die on a soiled mattress with a needle in your arm. That's your choice.

Greece: We still want your money but we'll only give up hookers, and not give you our credit card.

EU: Sorry chuck, it doesn't work like that. No deal.

Greece: Ok, here's our credit card, but we need a few extra quid for a skanky whore.

EU: You really don't get this do you? You have to WANT to get clean. We can't help you if you don't want to.

Greece: But you used to be Nazis!

EU: Oh not this again. Look do you want the money or not?

IMF: He's been a good boy, go on, let him off!

EU: Oh FFS!!

Western media: "Germany bullies poor Greece. The bastards."

EU: Oh just fuck off, the lot of you.

Greece: Er, yeah, about that money...

Monday 13 July 2015

Hardly original

David Cameron is prepared to look at making workers pay into flexible saving accounts to fund their own sick pay or unemployment benefits, Downing Street has confirmed. The idea was first floated by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who said he was “very keen” to have a debate about encouraging people to use personal accounts to save for unemployment or illness, even though it is not official government policy.

This will be funny. We'll get to see the left in full hyperventilation mode - completely ignorant of their own history. After World War 2, the government had little idea how to run a welfare state and so consulted a great many private and non-profit enterprises. One of the architects was a friendly society called National Friendly, which still exists today as a private health insurer.

Unlike normal insurance companies, it has members rather than shareholders who each manage their own deposit accounts that can be used either as savings or as sick pay or even to cover the cost of treatment. It's practically unheard of as a mechanism which makes it unique in the modern insurance market but it's a product they offer which hasn't deviated much from its original design for about a hundred years. It did well not to be nationalised by the state at the birth of the NHS because it worked so well. Even now, it's a decent company - apart from one or two shady marketing practices.

It was this mechanism that was eventually copied but sadly turned into what we now laughingly know as National Insurance. Such cover from a friendly society is surprisingly affordable - less than I have ever paid for NI in a month. Not only can it work - it does work, and because they tend to be smaller operations there is competition between them, but also far less opportunity for fraud and corruption - unlike the government ponzi scheme we have now which is totally unfunded.

That said, it is only effective up to a point, and have argued elsewhere that it wouldn't now function without a basic fallback level of state provision that deals with the less predictable healthcare costs - but have argued these should be university hospitals funded entirely by student fees, working especially hard to become the global leader in medical training.

Dredging up news

I'm not actually surprised we have such a shallow political debate in the UK. As much as I like to complain about "the media" I sometimes forget that Google is a big part of that media. As some of you will be aware, I've been looking into technical barriers to trade just recently. My central case being that free trade agreements (FTA) don't matter a damn if the ports are so decrepit that goods don't make it to their destination in tact. If you don't address this then there won't be trade growth with or without an FTA.

My case study was Lagos in Nigeria. It's not good. I put that subject to bed in a longwinded blog post last week. But then today I saw that the privatisation of Greek ports was back on the table and decided to investigate to see if the same corruption and lack of maintenance existed there. It does. And this is supposedly a modern EU single market contender.

The thing is, as you start seeking out more arcane points of detail, Google becomes less useful. Ever since the Somerset floods I've taken a keen interest in the subject of dredging. As much as it's essential to keeping our rivers flowing, it is also of major global significance in keeping ports and shipping lanes open. If it isn't done, the time a ship can spend in a port is reduced as it must go with the tides. It matters a lot and is key to understanding global trade issues.

If I enter key terms into Google suchas "Greece dredging neglect", at least half of the results return British mainstream media results, mainly from the UK, and mainly concerning Somerset. Curiously, no blogspot pages ever show up on my search results.

What this tells me is the algorithms for search refinement are very much tailored to the myopic British media market where brand prestige is given greater weighting than search term accuracy. This is the gardenwalling of the internet we were warned about whereby the mainstream media still maintains its grip on the media message. I went to, a lesser known engine that doesn't track user behaviour and found that not only were search results more helpful, they did in fact return articles I have written.

This is how alternative points of view are now excluded from popular discourse. To most Google is now the whole of the internet with licenced voices permitted on it according to what they pay. This to my mind is the very antithesis of what we hoped the internet would be. Google is effectively the new BBC. It owns and controls the message because out of convenience we are collectively hooked on it - not least because of the miraculous stuff it gives us for free. It will be a tough habit to break.

One that surprised me in all this though. I was assuming British ports would be the one thing this island nation could manage not to screw up. But of course, as trade is part of a global chain, delays over there mean delays over here. And with a 9% increase in Asian imports, we're going to need at least two new deep water ports in the south in the not too distant future.

And when do you ever hear a thing about this in the media? Neh-hever. Yet we must all drop everything to discuss London's municipal airport and whether it should have another strip of concrete. Myopic London politician bubble concerns that are mainly of interest to nobody but London and have very little to do with our prosperity as a trading nation. Not that London should get a new strip of concrete, but that's another story. This just highlights how badly served we are by the braindeads who supposedly keep us informed.

Put simply, our media is not concerned with anything outside their gossip bubble because these profoundly shallow people aren't actually interested in politics.
Real politics is something different. Pushing it into the super nerd territory, I'm now incidentally looking at Greek disposal of dredged materials. Intensely political it seems. The existence and distribution of persistent pollutants, such as heavy metals in coastal sediment, used for opportunistic "beach nourishment" is a problem that has not, understandably, received much attention.

In one assessment, coastal sediments in a restoration project included the effluents of small industries (tanneries), wastewater treatment plant effluents, and paint and oil scraps from substandard ship maintenance - which takes place on port breakwaters. A few neighbouring beaches were found to have similar heavy metal concentrations.

Existing legislation regarding dredging activities in Greece appears insufficient for sustainable and environmentally friendly nourishment. It was concluded that before "opportunistic" beach restoration projects materialize with material borrowed from ports and harbours the quality of the dredged material needs to be assessed.

While this is a global problem, in most cases it is devolved to the port authority most local. This is the case in the USA where it is taken surprisingly seriously. I am unaware of any global standards, but global or local, it is clear that Greece runs a dirty shop. For a nation so dependent on its beaches for its massive tourist industry, you would think they would take it seriously. But the Greek state has proven itself not fit to run a whelk stall so there's little wonder the EU wants to take over. Such things are often not considered, but this is the essence of real politics.

These are all matters for the invisible government that exists all around us, often taken for granted but grossly underestimated in its value and significance. These are the regulations and concerns we cannot just drop overnight as Brexiters would have it, and we abandon them at our peril. Regulation makes the world go round. To fail to understand it is actually negligence on the part of the public as well as the media. 

Why we should oppose TTIP and leave the EU

Leftists are finally coming out of the woodwork to declare their euroscepticism. This in my eyes weakens the case for leaving the EU. When you have the RMT, Owen Jones and Ukip on your side it looks pretty grim. The leftist arguments are starting to merge with those of Ukip - not least in their opposition to TTIP.

As we have noted, opposition to the EU over Greece is wholly irrational, especially from the right - for whom it is also wholly inconsistent, but TTIP is something they both agree on. The chief complaint being Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). But you can see why corporates would lobby hard for it. COSCO was heavily invested in the bidding process for Greek shipping ports and then on day one of Syriza's rule, privatisation of ports was taken off the table. Democracy is a volatile thing. Why a nation should not be held accountable for ripping up contracts I don't know.

It is said that the nature of ISDS courts and their secret nature would lead to corporate gouging of the taxpayer, which is a real concern - but what is interesting is that the left placed their insistence on it not applying to healthcare when it is a much more serious concern for infrastructure and defence. But such intellectually inconsistency is only to be expected from the left and Ukip.

That is not to say it is a not a genuine concern. Just because the left are anti-trade and broadly protectionist does not mean the right should be dogmatically in favour of TTIP. Anti-corporatism, or crony capitalism, is a cornerstone of libertarianism. It is a matter of fact that globalisation is happening, it brings enormous benefits to us and the emerging markets of the world and makes us all wealthier. A trade agreement between the EU and the US is going to happen in one shape or another and most of us will be better off for it.

The problem is that it lacks transparency and accountability. It isn't democratic. People we didn't elect will be making agreements that won't be challenged by the European Parliament, not least because MEP's are not intellectually equipped to even approach it. Especially not the fringe lunatics like Ukip. It's bad for democracy here at home too. In effect we're seeing the death of domestic politics as it has effectively outsourced most of the politics of substance. It's why we have government ministers debating whether or not teachers should have the powers to confiscate unhealthy snacks from children's lunchboxes. It's displacement activity.

These agreements are happening almost completely without national scrutiny and no right of independent veto. As much as this can mean more regulation (which is not always a bad thing) it mainly means regulatory convergence, which often means compromise - which too often results in a lowering of standards or a reluctance to regulate at all in the knowledge an agreement will probably fail.

What we need is our own voice at the top table table to ensure that we get the very best from such global agreements and that we can veto deals that harm our own standards. More than this, I want to see parliament re-energised and focussed on the stuff of consequence. More than this, while we expect TTIP will eventually get where it's going, a lot will have been removed from it. It will not resemble the original proposal in scope and depth. And that's actually a pity.

The problem with the EU is it's insistence on bloc trade deals applying to almost everything whereas Mexico has seen much faster growth in the automotive sector by a process of unbundling - ie industry and sector specific trade agreements which happen bilaterally and with fewer compromises. That is the future of global trade.

Opponents of TTIP oppose it from an anti-globalisation perspective - fearing a gradual global homogenisation and an erosion of democracy. The former complaint is pointless. Technology and progress demands globalisation. It is happening and it is a force of nature equal to gravity. So the question for my generation and the next is how we harness that force without sacrificing democracy.

There does need to be an ISDS mechanism. There is no good reason why any sector should be exempt from it either. Nor is it unreasonable for agreements to have conditions that demand structural and economic reforms as we have seen in Greece. But the EU is not the vehicle best equipped to manage this process. It needs to be more consultative and cannot be as the EU is where entire nations are summarily overruled - particularly in our case where we have nations that don't even have a car industry blocking trade deals that we would benefit from enormously.

The fact is that unbundled trade agreements are much faster to achieve, and more likely to succeed. As it stands TTIP has all but stalled, taking us back to 1992. Such agreements can take decades whereas a simple agreement on global standards for painkillers or wheelnuts is far more achievable - and it means areas where we have particular standards and concerns cannot be overlooked for the sake of expediency.

The world is developing in a different way to how the architects of the EU envisaged. Rather than large blocs forming sweeping agreements we're looking at inter-governmentalism and sector specific global trade associations. The model is incremental and tailored according to the development status of the participants. This is alien to the EU.

This is why there is an apparent intellectual inconsistency on this blog. I have welcomed Greek port privatisation on the behest of the EU but at the same time oppose mandatory land reforms and wholesale privatisation in Ukraine. Greece is developed enough and has had single market access long enough to (notionally) be able to carry off such reforms. It just doesn't want to despite having agreed to it. Ukraine and Poland however have some considerable distance to travel become they are economically and culturally able to full converge with the mainstream single market. A one size fits all approach, imposed all at once is simply not a good idea. Not in the region and not globally.

The removal of border tariffs and complaining about African protectionism may be free trade in principle, but it goes against the principles of international development. In order for there to be free trade there needs to be an equilibrium between trading systems - trading on like for like terms. Dismantling protectionist development mechanisms to pursue a dogmatic free trade agenda has been a disaster for Kenya, is damaging to Poland and may be catastrophic for Ukraine.

Outside the EU, we would have a good deal more power to put the breaks on the EU by vetoing proposals at the top table to prevent the free trade wrecking ball undoing efforts to nurture open up new markets.

It has been proposed this week that Britain should rejoin Efta, which is indeed part of the interim solution in that Britain would be a leading voice in Efta and a necessary counterweight to the EU at the global level. That is presently more influence than we have a subdued EU member. What we can then do is overtake the EU in securing unbundled agreements with the USA (and beyond) and achieve more than we could waiting decades for whatever compromise the EU can cook up.

TTIP represents the thinking of the last century in a world that is so much more dynamic. We are and always have been a global leader in setting standards and anything that reduces those standards is an unwelcome development, and anything that subordinates our parliament to the level of a local council is insufficient. Our own MPs need to be fully engaged in matters of trade and development but instead, because it's an exclusive competence of the EU, it's something we barely even discuss anymore. It's why the level of debate about trade in the UK is so lamentably shallow.

We can't stop globalisation, we can't have global trade without some kind of dispute settlement mechanism and we can't always expect there won't be losers as well as winners in any final agreements - but a system that progresses without consultation or consent is one that cannot survive. The future is a world of nations speaking as equals with fully engaged legislatures, not as subordinates of unaccountable blocs who outsource their lawmaking.

The case must be made for an assertive Britain leading the way for globalisation and making it work while keeping our democracy. The shallow and timid worldview of Ukip is not the solution, nor is the paranoid protectionism of the left, but the imperialism of the EU is obsolete, hubristic, anti-democratic, slow and in some cases dangerous. That is message the No-ists need to promote, otherwise we're stuck for another generation in a decaying and stagnant bloc with delusions of statehood. I'm not certain we can survive that.