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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Tinkering With Time

During the First World War it was considered a masterstroke to create 'daylight saving': now known as 'summer time'. The idea was copied among the combatants, and during the second such war most countries adopted it, with several opting for a period of 'double summer time' to increase the effect of shifting the clocks forward during the northern summer.

This was in a horsepowered world, where almost all factories and homes were lit by gas, as were the streets and places like railway stations. The best force in the Second World War, the German Army, suffered in Russia particularly badly because it was still reliant heavily on horsepower, and as the horses died [often to feed the under-provisioned troops] the mobility of the army was massively diminished.

At the end of the Second World War it was simply taken for granted that the annual shift to summer time, by at least one hour, was economically [and thus militarily] efficient; and summer time was carried forward all over Europe. In the few years when the date that Britain [or some other country] opted for a different date from other countries' choice to change the clocks, massive chaos was ensured. So even though Britain's clocks are one hour behind those on the continent all year, the date on which they shift to summer time is mutually agreed.

There is now a growing lobby of those who argue that with a different technological environment there is no need to retain summer time. Poland has indicated that they may opt out of the shift to summer time as early as next year. There then follows the subsidiary argument, should a fixed all-year time be based upon the present winter time, or on one [or more] hours away from that?

The UK was able to impose the Greenwich meridian as the zero point for the global navigation system, and Greenwich mean time followed as a norm for the Empire [only after the failure of a huge push from the French for the Paris meridian to be adopted]. It seems obvious to Brits that if there is to be a standard all-year time frame it should be Greenwich: after all, the mornings are brighter for more of the year that way, and street lighting nowadays is sufficient for children to get safely home after school. Farmers point out that their animals do not understand the eccentricity of humans shifting clock-time, so they have to work by GMT all year anyway.

There will be no quick resolution of the issue, even after Brexit; but it would be a relatively low-cost way of the Brexiteers emphasising the difference that quitting the EU could make; regardless of what the Poles may do.


1. I was not at all surprised when the 'heroes' of the Catalan independence movement scuttled off to Belgium yesterday. Their stance always seemed to be a posture; but I did not think that they would cave in so completely. People who believed in them must be hugely disappointed, especially the young. As all the opinion polls show that the minority in favour of independence is shrinking, even without the unnecessary police violence in the recently aborted 'referendum', it seems that the election this December will settle the matter, at least for a generation. In this context, the flight of the leadership should be a major turning point.

2. Equally unsurprising is the gathering news that crooks and spivs joined the Trump bandwagon last year; and some are now being arraigned. The whole campaign was an ad hoc affair: populism necessarily depends on such eclectic coalitions, and Trump himself is not necessarily damaged by the present revelations.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Budget Lobbies

A British Government Budget is due to be presented to the Commons next month, therefore the lobbying has begun. Besides the usual sectoral claims from welfare interests and business, a whole range of Brexit-related fears and expectations are being pressed for the Chancellor to take note of.

The situation is bedevilled by the Brexit situation - which no-one, inside or outside government has any grip on - and further complicated by the fact that the Chancellor's 'responsible' stance [largely what the business community have demanded: to keep as far in to the European Economic Area as possible, after formal withdrawal from the EU] is under vicious and sustained attack by the headbanging Brexiteers.

Behind all this, lie crucial social and economic facts. There is no doubt that the National Health Service, the schools, the police and the armed forces are grossly underfunded. This is not simply an issue of how many billions of pounds are spent on those services: nobody can deny that aggregate allocations by the government are increasing [though some services, like the police and prisons, are struggling with the effect of previous real-terms cuts]. The essential point is that what the government has allocated is much less that is needed to meet the expectations of the changing population.

Osbornian austerity has been in force for seven years, during which the economy has stagnated. Real terms economic growth, especially in material output from factories and farms, has in most sectors declined. There is now a major milk shortage in western Europe, including the UK, because the supermarkets drove down the price of raw milk so far that hundreds of farmers went out of the business [at huge personal loss, with the slaughter of thousands of specially-bred animals]. More conspicuously, manufacturing output has declined, and productivity in most sectors of industry is at best the same as it was in 2005. Since the population is larger than it was in 2005, including more school-age children and over-seventies, the needs of education, health and welfare are growing: and the state's spending on educational and social services has not kept pace. Meanwhile, the capabilities of the health service improve and extend life have greatly advanced: if only those improving resources and facilities can be afforded, with people trained and available to provide them.

The state should be spending massively more than it is. The Chancellor and his team know this all too well; but they are steeped in the Osbornian dogma that extra spending can only come from extra taxation or extra government borrowing. Extra taxation will reduce the money that people and firms can spend on their items of choice, so 'demand' will decline; so the private sector of the economy will decline in total turnover. Extra borrowing will give the government and taxpayers higher interest bills to pay in the future: so it is an imposition on future generations that would be inexcusable to impose it. So the Treasury team is stuck with the existing austerity mantra.

This is not the whole picture, however. It is unfortunate that the deeply untrustworthy John McDonnell has been the cheerleader for an alternative proposition that really should be implemented.
In the medium term, the only way of paying for increased and improved public services is by getting more tax from the whole economic system because it is growing. A really growing economy can both pay more wages to employed people and yield more taxes for pensions, benefits, hospital, schools, police and the other essentials.

This policy option does require the government to borrow massively more money: earmarked for investment programmes of improved infrastructure [roads, railways, hospitals and housing] that provide economic returns by providing a healthier and happier and less-stressed workforce.But the government should foster much more borrowing and spending for investment in industry, agriculture and offshore activities both around the British isles and around all the UK's overseas territories [which have been wasting assets since they ceased to be needed as coaling stations and watering points for historic commercial shipping]. It is clear that robotics, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence etc are major components of the future pattern of industry; and that Britain is still a major contributor of new ideas. These are both in microprocessors and in new and improved materials that can stand the more extreme demands of the new era. The government should foster at least a dozen of the  technologically fruitful universities as hubs around which other universities, research associations and individual firms can gather their work on new things. There will always be depressives who say that you cannot guarantee which ideas will be successful and which not; so you should do nothing. That is not how the great achievements of the past were made. Bold ventures must take bold chances, and expect some failures: while experienced managers can spot cases where the money is running away faster that output is developing. And the state should provide a lot of money [from borrowing] to float the whole thing.

Companies have built up the biggest reserves ever, and have paid large dividends while not investing in new plant or higher productivity in their existing plant, and they have bought-back shares; or they have bought other companies [usually proving the old adage that the sum of the returns from two merged companies is rarely more than half of the combined return before the merger]. They should be taxed on what they hold in reserve, taxed more on what the declare for dividends, and given massive tax relief on genuine material investments. It is all so simple, so obvious!

New and improved plant is the only way to enhance productivity. Enhanced productivity is the only way to get substantive economic growth. Economic growth is the only way to get more taxation painlessly out of an economy. Taxation is the only way for governments to get the money they need to spend. Simple!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Brexit Buffoons and the WTO

Nobody who voted, either way, can claim to have understood the full implications of a 'Remain' or of a 'Leave' vote in the 2016 Referendum on Britain's place in the European Union.

It is almost certain that the great proponents of Remain - Cameron, Clegg and scaremaster Osborne - had no idea in advance how they would interpret, then implement, the Leave vote that occurred. Cameron ran away from responsibility:and even a gold-plated palace would not be a sufficient environment in which to write the exculpatory memoirs from which he hopes to make a pile of pennies. The fact that he has bought a sort of gypsy caravan, reminiscent of certain dead children's writers, for the purpose displays his ability to compound folly with ever-deeper illusion. Since the guilty men and their followers [and their mentors] had put the question to the nation, they should at the very least have had transparent contingent plans. They evidently did not. Nor did the civil service have anything like an adequate plan for what would happen after Cameron ran away, Clegg went into obscurity with his party, and Osborne's toxicity with the electorate was recognised by the new prime minister [of whose judgement and capabilities Osborne had been a vigorous critic when they had sat together in cabinet]. Evening Standard editor Osborne has been intermittently sensible in his comments on the Brexit situation, but he remains so much in the public mind as the author of the twin disasters of the Cameron era - austerity, and 'operation fear' in the Brexit campaign - that his political resuscitation is most improbable.

The prominent 'leavers' - who were far fewer than the high-profile 'remainers' - appear to have undertaken even less preparation than the remainers to meet the contingency that their side would actually win. The clownish assertion - written on their battle bus - that the net amount someone had calculated on a chewing-gum packet as the net annual payment made by the UK to Brussels would instantly be available to allocate to the National Health Service, resonated with a population that was all too aware that osbornian austerity was depriving family and friends of treatment that could be available. Whether the sum was in any way valid as an arithmetical calculation or an allocable fund did not count with those who used it. It was merely one  of a few desperate claims that they made to align themselves with a population that was disgusted by the failed political class and utterly unconvinced by the econocratic arguments that underpinned austerity. Boris Johnson became a more popular buffoon, becoming recognised outside greater London. Michael Gove surprised people with his articulateness: only to earn buffoon status for himself by his last-minute, half-cock, ill-considered decision to stand for the party leadership after Cameron scuttled away [thereby sparing the party from the embarrassment of having Johnson as their leader].

Mrs May began her period as prime minister well, with conciliatory speeches and the dismissal of Osborne; since which she has got everything wrong that was within her power to influence. She called an election unnecessarily then threw it away. She activated the withdrawal procedure with the EU before she had any clear plan. But from the start she made clear her utter incomprehension what she was dealing with, when she said 'Brexit means brexit': while everybody knows that the word itself is totally meaningless. While she has struggled, with a group of spectacularly inadequate ministers, to define what Brexit might mean the country has drifted towards the disaster of leaving the EU with no interim deal that will keep the UK effectively [under deep make-up] within the European Economic Area.

This has created a field day for the couple of dozen Tory MPs who appear really to believe - in their enfeebled minds - that the World Trade Organisation [WTO's] tariff regime will enable Britain to survive as 'the fifth-largest economy in the world'. The whole point is, that it is NOT tariffs but REGULATIONS that are used by all countries and economic communities to keep out unwelcome competition. Inside the European carapace the UK necessarily conform to the rules, and thus its trade with other  EU members states can move freely. To loose that benefit, with the block that sends and receives about half of Britain's imports and exports, would be irreplaceable. The assumption that German motor manufacturers and French wine growers will 'see us right' is infantile. Professor Minford's calculations of the 'benefit' for Britain of trading on WTO terms with the global community - including the EU - are agonisingly bereft of any allowance for the predominant pattern of restrictions on trade, that would be tightened against an innovative economy such as the UK if we were adrift in the world and thus are extremely dangerous. But those are the argument to which the headbangers adhere: because they have nothing else. Yet they hold the government in awe; and are increasing their power to ruin the country. I will have to return to this topic in the coming days, as the argument gets more fraught approaching the deadline for the next meeting of EU heads of government.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Sovereign Club, Crimea and Catalonia

The Spanish king and his government are adamant that there should be no truck with a purported 'sovereign' administration that has just been announced to exist in the region/province of Catalonia. The United Nations has asserted that a 'solution' should be found within the Spanish Constitution. Washington has declared that Catalonia is simply part of Spain, and that fact will not change in the perception of the United States [which fought a very nasty civil war to preserve their Union]. Britain, France and Germany have made similar assertions: there will be no recognition of a rebel 'government' by any European Union member state.

President Putin deeply deplores the fact that the Gorbachev administration in the last stage of the Soviet Union acted in accordance with the 'Stalin Constitution' which had enshrined the myth that the state was a federation of independent [largely ethnically-based] sovereign republics. This was very particularly Stalin's constitutional speciality. He had been sent to Vienna in the early years of the twentieth century to find out how the Habsburg regime was coping with the question of Nationality in Austria-Hungary. Slovaks and Czechs were asserting that they were distinct national groups, with a right to statehood of their own. Minorities of the population spoke Romanian, Polish, Ukrainian and various forms of German in distinctive territories split between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austrian Empire  [and the latter contained a massive range of entities from the Kingdom of Bohemia to small counties that were notionally sovereign]. The heir to the throne [Franz Ferdinand, who was to be killed in 1914 thus triggering the war that ended the monarchy] was said to want to change the 'dual monarchy' of Austria-Hungary into a 'trial' [or triple] monarchy with autonomy for the Slavs, in deference to his Czech wife.

Stalin produced a convoluted account of his thoughts on nationality, and after the revolution he was appointed Commissar for Nationalities. As the Soviet Union consolidated its absolute power over all the former Russian Empire, except Finland, it did not matter that a constitutional charade was enacted whereby the political entity was asserted to be a federation of notionally independent states. However, come the end of the Second World War, in their anxiety to keep Stalin on-side with the new United Nations, Britain, France and the USA agreed that three of the Soviet republics should each be independent members: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. After Stalin's death, Khrushchev - a Ukrainian - almost casually transferred the Crimea from Russia to Ukraine: it did not seem to matter, at the time. The facts that the Crimea had been hard fought for under Peter the Great and Catherine II, and was seen as strategically important, did not cause any controversy while the USSR was operated as a single hegemonic state.

However, suddenly in 1990, the USSR collapsed; while the Communist party stooges who held office as the presidents and premiers of the various [formally fully sovereign] Socialist Republics simply colluded to ignore Gorbachev and his collapsing central authority and go their own ways. The largest component of the Union, Russia, had the charismatic Boris Yeltsin on hand to crush a half-cock attempt by party old hands to reverse all the democratic changes that Gorbachev had instituted: and as head of the Russian Republic's government Yeltsin established his hold over the biggest and most complex Soviet Socialist Republic; thus of Moscow. A notional federation was established of the former Soviet Republics, while the asserted sovereign authority in each of them began doling out the national assets to their families and friends. The Russian Republic itself became the Russian Federation including all the Autonomous Republics and Regions that Russia has inherited from Stalin's manipulations of notional boundaries. Yeltsin and his associates employed American Economists to assist them with a hugely corrupt and corrupting 'privatisation', which transferred much of industry to the hands of the so-called 'oligarchs' and caused massive deprivation to the mass of the population.

Putin's rise to power came after the damage derived from Stalin's constitutional machinations and Yeltsin's alcoholic incompetence had been done. In territorial terms, he has tried to rectify what he sees as two major failures: the transfer of the Crimea to Ukraine and the welfare of millions of Russians whose families were settled in the southern and eastern Ukraine, particularly in the reigns of Peter I, Catherine II and Stalin's post-1945 implant of Russian speakers into territory known as 'New Russia' that he had assigned to Ukraine. Stalin planted similar minorities of Russians in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; which has ensured that those countries have become very keen members of NATO in order to preserve their territorial integrity. Putin's attempts to make minor revisions of Stalin's and Khrushchev's cavalier actions, at the expense of Ukraine, have placed him under sanction by the western powers, who have set their faces against all tinkering with the pattern of states that was admitted to the United Nations in 1945 and subsequently. I have drawn attention previously to the idiocy of keeping the colonial frontiers in Africa: but they are also part of the stasis that goes with the present, deeply flawed concept of sovereignty.

East Germany was allowed to vanish into West Germany, and an independent Scotland arising from due democratic process would have gained international acceptance: provided it had been set on the international stage by the United Kingdom government acting as its sponsor.

On the other hand, if the Chechens declared themselves independent of the Russian Federation, President Putin could call on the UN to help him to suppress such pretension; at least, with verbal assurances such as have been given to Spain in respect of Catalonia.

The Catalans are having an exciting game; but they need to learn from history, quickly; before hotheads start getting hurt.

Friday, 27 October 2017


The partial release of the 'secret' files relating to the killing of President John F Kennedy activated one of the most bizarre recollections that I carry. I was at the time a student, and I cannot recall any other political figure until Donald H Trump who was so well-loathed by virtually the whole of my generation as was Kennedy. He was seen as the man who had carried the world to the brink of nuclear war to intimidate the Soviet Union into withdrawing its missiles from Cuba; an occasion that produced mass rallies of students of all political opinions [and of none] in passionate protest at the threat of nuclear annihilation. He proposed that the navies of all the US allies in NATO should be merged into a 'mixed manned force' under US command. He was supporting Cuban exiles in their attempts to destroy the infant Castro regime.

When Kennedy was alive, his record was seen as at least as highly blemished as Trump's is now: though no-one denied that he had a meritorious record of service in the US Navy in the Second World War; which had caused injuries to his back that meant he was in almost-constant pain.

The president's father had allegedly made his fortune in the illicit alcohol trade during prohibition, and was reputedly the keeper of notorious actresses. These equivocal items on his record did not prevent Joe Kennedy from becoming a major supporter of Franklin Roosevelt's campaign for the Presidency, which brought him the reward of being appointed Ambassador the the Court of St James'. As US Ambassador, Joe sent Roosevelt negative messages about Britain's determination and competence to wage war. He had intended that his eldest son, Joe Junior, should in due course become US President; but when Joe was killed in the war that ambition was passed to the second son, Jack. Old Joe could not hope himself to attain such an office, in view of his highly equivocal past.

The second son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, got his second name from his maternal grandfather, 'Honey Fitz', a man who had allegedly descended deeper into the murky side of New England life than did Joe Kennedy.

The Democratic party machine duly delivered a Senate seat for young Jack, whose marriage did nothing to limit his sexual adventurism. His run for the presidency was well funded by friends and family and it was widely believed that his election was achieved by the questionable delivery of a package of Electoral College votes by Mayor Daly of Chicago who controlled Cook County, Illinois.

As president, Kennedy utterly failed to advance the cause of emancipation for the deeply-oppressed black community in the Unites States. Emancipation and integration became a major motif of the succeeding presidency of Lyndon B Johnson, Kennedy's vice president; who had previously been seen as a political machine-man in contrast to Kennedy's heavily-marketed charisma. In foreign policy Kennedy was an aggressive cold warrior, prepared to 'bear any burden and fight any foe' in the cause of his understanding of democracy; which he usually equated with American dominance. The US allies were expected to give him blanket endorsement, and this is what most riled the young in the UK.

Immediately on the announcement of the president's death, there was a surge of jubilation: young people rejoiced that the greatest risk to peace had been removed. Over the ensuing twenty-four hours, however, a very different mood was disseminated by the media; and the Kennedy legend as it is still handed down was being established. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a libidinous, middle-aged and significantly disabled man: by contrast, right from the day of his death, his legend was presented ruthlessly by his courtiers and disseminated by an obedient mass media; and that version was adopted by most subsequent historians. But those who remember the way in which the media succumbed to an 'official' interpretation of Kennedy's short tenure of office have retained a lifelong suspicion of how susceptible those media are, at key times, to manipulation by the state authorities in the so-say democracies.

It was soon revealed that the supposed 'climb down' by the Soviet boss, Khrushchev, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, was in fact the result of a compromise deal whereby the USA stood down planned missile silos in north-east Turkey - close to the Soviet border - as a quid pro quo for the Soviets' withdrawal of planned missile silos in Cuba, close to the United States mainland. The world then settled down to the prolongation of the cold war, and the USA became embroiled ever more deeply in the confrontation with communism that degenerated into the Vietnam war. The Europeans who had previously been coerced by Kennedy avoided direct involvement in a land war in Asia. Harold Wilson brushed off Lyndon Johnson's plea to send 'just one battalion of the Black Watch' to Vietnam, and the perceived threat of a US takeover of the British forces was removed. Australia and New Zealand did send men to Indo-China, which gained them the status of especially close US allies that they still enjoy.

Donald J Trump's 'America first' policies are reminiscent in some ways of Kennedy's. It is not easily conceivable that an assassin's bullet could make Trump a global hero; but an equally strange thing has happened; within living memory.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Intelligence, Common Sense and Politics

Neither 'pure' intellectual capacity nor the applicability of a person's perception to the events in the visible and audible world around her [or him] can be measured with any degree of accuracy. Yet there is a common assumption within society that some peoples' processing-power for complex and abstract thought is greater than other peoples'; while other people are seen to have a greater-than-average capability to assess the movement of events and the actions of other people in ways that are useful guides for themselves and for others who trust them to base their own actions on. It is usually assumed that people with the highest perceived 'intelligence' are often not very 'practical': and very often it is manifest that a person of highly-rated academic intelligence is not capable of managing all aspects  of their everyday life in a way that the generality of their community would consider to be sensible.

President Macron is well on the way to getting himself regarded as a vain and shallow man by allowing his acolytes to assert that he is 'too intelligent' and his utterances are too complex for ordinary folk [and press reporters] to understand. Some of President Trump's most obviously-infantile tweets are when he asserts that he is of superior intelligence; and he appears to be quite singularly lacking in both pure intellect and common sense. Boris Johnson is often asserted to be of a very high intelligence; but even those who quote this as a qualification for even higher office than he now holds also admit - often, before they are challenged on the point - that he lacks both assiduity in his current duties and any sort of empathy with the 'common man's' reaction to life's vagaries. Rowan Williams was elevated to the Archbishopric of Canterbury on a reputation for extremely superior intelligence: he was an utter failure in the role, as his sermons wandered off into incomprehensibility and his actions showed an almost total failure to address real-world situations.

By contrast, Stephen Hawking has shown, notwithstanding his extreme physical challenges, that he can combine both superior intelligence with the ability to explain theoretical physics to a wide audience. Clement Attlee is often described as the most under-rated prime minister of the twentieth century, and there is no doubt that he mastered every aspect of leading the country through the biggest-ever government-led socio-economic change in modern history; he was notoriously taciturn [thus leaving the fewest possible hostages to fortune] but he always ensured that he was clearly understood by the audience to which he addressed his comments.

The context in which I raise these issues is the present sorry and shameful state of the Brexit issue. A Tory whip who I shall not bother to name has demanded that university heads tell him the names and syllabus summaries of the lecturers who teach students about Brexit: the universities are rightly rejecting those demands, in most cases, as being unacceptable political interference with 'academic freedom'.  The request is not necessary, anyway, as separate data which have recently been released show that a significant majority of lecturers on European affairs in UK universities are emphasising the extreme economic risks that will arise from Brexit, and the almost-certain economic damage that will be done by a 'hard Brexit' or a no-deal situation. Leaders from virtually every sector of business, large and small, are pressing similar views on the government: unless something very close to membership of the European Economic Area [EEA] succeeds EU membership, the effects on the economy, on jobs and on living standards will be catastrophic.

The point is being learned, in most places other than the headbanging quartile of the Conservative party, that tariffs are not 'the big issue': what would be lost by exit from the EEA are common regulatory standards which allow the free passage of goods and services between the member countries. It is the loss of common standards in everything from medicines through nuclear controls to aviation that would really bankrupt Britain if we walzed away into oblivion.

It is impossible to make a positive judgement of the intellectual capacity of the 'other two' Brexit ministers who are meant to form a team with Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. Liam Fox [Trade Secretary] talks about future trade possibilities as if tariffs and WTO rules are all that really matter - which is fantasy - and David Davis gives increasing cause for worry. As 'Brexit Secretary' Davis is Mrs May's point-man on the 'divorce' negotiations with the EU, and he told the Commons Committee on his chosen subject yesterday that no definitive motion may be put before the Commons until after the Brexit deadline has passed [in March, 2019]; thus implying that whatever has been agreed, or failed to be agreed, by that date will be the future context for the nation to live with. This displays a lack of both intelligence and common sense that is truly spectacular. 'Number Ten' has already begun to 'clarify' what he may have meant, beyond presenting a further demonstration of the government's complete lack of competence. But is it crystal clear that any academic who is honestly and objectively trying to give her students an understanding of the events that are shaping their future lives must be highly critical of the process that is in hand and of the competence of the people who are conducting it.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Sprinklers: A Key Indicator of Economic and Social Wellbeing

I have rabbited on about sprinklers in buildings on several occasions in the past, most notably in the context of the Grenfell Tower disaster in Kensington. I do it today in the context of another issue that has surfaced in the media in the past 24 hours: namely the fact - as officially recorded - that fewer new schools are built with sprinkler systems than in past decades.

Sprinklers are devices to produce a heavy shower of water inside a building that is on fire, and if they are properly installed to a good design [and an appropriate specification of devices used] they massively reduce the risk of destruction of the contents of the building and of death and serious damage to people and animals. There are advanced techniques for drying-out water-damaged assets.

The aspect of the prevalent free-markets dogma that is most directly damaging to human beings is the reduction and removal of controls that prevent dangerous structures and situations from being permitted. There was an almost-golden age of safety in factories and public buildings, when the local fire brigade had the power to insist that safety systems like supplementary escape staircases and sprinkler systems had to be installed in a building before it was granted a 'fire certificate' that permitted a range of uses of the premises. Buildings with fire certificates were usually acceptable to be insured - with their contents, including liabilities to people and to other entities than the owner or operator of the building - but nevertheless the insurance companies employed their own Inspectors who could enter the premises and check that safety systems, including sprinklers, were appropriate and properly maintained and fully functional. That last sentence is important, because it is possible to have a well-designed system that is regularly inspected but which can be switched off [or the water turned off] by human oversight or negligence: or as part of the preparations for a fraudulent insurance claim for loss of goods kept in the building which were burned in a fire where the sprinklers 'failed to operate'.

The free marketeers have been dominant in the United Kingdom since the Labour government submitted to the International Monetary Fund [IMF] in 1976: in return for being allowed a loan which was intended to 'stabilise' the external value of the pound sterling during a period of extremely high inflation and 'industrial strife', the Callaghan government accepted [very reluctantly] the free-market dogma that the Thatcher regime was to embrace after their election victory in 1979. On that reckoning, the free markets dogmatists - the Econocracy - have dominated society and the economy for forty-one years [though I have pointed out several times that 364 then-practicing Economists signed a letter to the Times in 1982 rejecting the dogma that was to gain hegemony by 2002].

The period since the autumn of 1976 is exactly the period of Britain's absolute decline as a manufacturing country. We have wantonly destroyed coal mining, most steelmaking, large-scale commercial shipbuilding, our separate aircraft industry, the mass production of textiles and most of the armaments industry [including even the capacity to supply uniforms for a mass military]. The economy has grown because new industries have arisen in high technology such as pharmaceuticals and microprocessors, and in the games and the entertainments industries; due to the brilliance of British inventors, some of them in the university system. The balance of payments deficit has been mitigated by sales of much of the new intellectual property to aliens.

At least equally important for the growth of the economy has been the expansion of government and personal debt. Some of the government's debt has been hidden from the official balance sheet, for example in the PFI schemes by which schools and hospitals have been built and funded by businesses on the understanding that the government [or agencies including the NHS and local authorities and their semi-independent social housing departments] will pay for the use of those buildings when complete. Those charges will for decades to come be paid out of the users' annual budgets; and the debt that would otherwise be required to build them is not listed in the public accounts.

In order to pare bits of expenditure off the public accounts, both from the admitted debt for construction and from the the running costs of premises, devices like sprinklers have been made optional. Building operators - including providers of social housing and free schools and the trusts that manage [and profit from] 'academies' - are exempted from costly requirements such as installing and maintaining sprinklers. Thus the 'economic burden' of building and operating the facilities is reduced: and so is the safety and utility of the premises.

The extreme shabbiness of this policy has rightly been attacked by the Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton. Human lives - even those of children is school and in care - are at unnecessary risk: due to the implementation of policies directly derived from Econocratic dogma. Thus has Economics become directly and fundamentally inhumane.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Concorde: A Retrospect

On this date in 2003 the last flight by a British Airways Concorde carrying paying passengers flew in to Heathrow. Hundreds of Thousands of people made sure that they could see - and hear - this spectacular aircraft for a last time. There were a few more final flourishes, including one in which half a dozen of the 'planes flew up the Thames estuary towards the airport; then that unique sound vanished from the skies. A few of the aircraft have been kept as museum pieces, but they are naturally regarded as relics rather than as harbingers of great things to come.

The aircraft were first mooted in the nineteen fifties, and a joint venture was sealed with France; long before Britain was admitted to the Common Market that was to mutate into the European Union. Harold Wilson's Labour government strongly considered aborting the project, on cost grounds; but it was decided that this joint exercise with France, that would put Europe ahead of the USA and the USSR, was too important to abandon. Tony Benn, in a short episode of ministerial office, returned from conversations in Paris to report that the project would definitely go ahead: and that the name of the craft would be spelt in the French way - with an e on the end - to stand for Europe, enterprise and a whole string of other e-words that I cannot remember [and it is not worth looking them up].

To fly in Concorde was a very special experience. It was all-first-class [except on specially booked flights] and the space in the cabin was extremely limited. There were four carefully-designed small seats in each row, with a relatively narrow aisle and a low ceiling. Takeoff was spectacular and the craft quickly got to supersonic speed, which was shown on an indicator at the front of the cabin. The westbound journey to New York took almost four hours: which meant that the 'plane arrived in America a little earlier [on the clock] than its takeoff time from London. I was intrigued to find that a lot of people booked westbound flights on Concorde to enjoy the experience of 'beating time'; then they traveled eastbound on less cramped aircraft.

Some people became inter-continental commuters - a few, mostly media figures, on a weekly basis - and claimed to feel no ill-effects from the experience.

The venture was demonstrated soon to be uneconomic. It became a flag-flying exercise for British Airways, Air France and their sponsoring governments. There were no orders from alien airlines, and while the USA and USSR developed and even tested supersonic passenger jets there was no marketed competitor to Concorde.

The context in which this happened was that of the cold war. With the development of nuclear weapons, the competing powers of NATO and the Warsaw Pact needed aircraft that could deliver such weapons with minimum chance of being intercepted before they got over their target. The development of fast fighter 'planes reduced the chances of even supersonic bombers being successful; so began the concentration on inter-continental ballistic missiles. The British and French governments decided jointly to try to create a market for supersonic aircraft in commercial use: and Concorde was the spectacular result. But it was never cost effective. The amount of the most highly-refined fuel needed to get it [and keep it] airborne, in ratio to the number of passengers who could be carried, was never going to be economically efficient. Commercial aircraft constructors saw the future in large-bodied, relatively economical sub-sonic 'planes: of which the Boeing 747 and the European Airbus became the best-known workhorses.

Some of the technology that was developed for supersonic flights was of use generally in the aircraft industry: but that knowledge was mostly acquired from the bomber programmes; Concorde was not needed from that point of view.

As the small stock of planes aged, so maintenance costs increased, fuel efficiency declined and it became clear that passengers in general preferred the relative economy and comfort of wide-bodied aircraft in which first-class passengers could have beds, business class could have comfortable divans, and everybody had space to move around. The British and the French had proved what could be done. Tens of thousands of people had enjoyed the unique experience. But that was that.

Was it sad? Not particularly. It was they way of the world: 'how the cookie crumbles'.
Was it wasteful? Yes, but nobody much minded.
National pride was enhanced.
France was helped to develop the capability to build big, twenty-first century aircraft for which the Brits made some of the parts.
France can still design and build fighters: Britain has surrendered that capability.
The relative efficiency of the bureaucracies of the two states was sharply differentiated by the whole venture. The French remain focused, chauvinistic and effective. The British have remained indecisive and have continued to axe promising projects every time austerity is called. The British are probably the better engineers: but that fact is always eclipsed by political reality.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Economic Ignorance and Ignorant Economists

For the past few years, the self-styled 'Economics profession' has faced a direct challenge from the students who formed the Post-Crash Economics Society in Manchester. Their network is growing and spreading worldwide. Several years before that society emerged from classroom frustration at the real-world irrelevance of much that the professors asserted, George Soros - the man largely responsible for Britain having to crash out of the European Exchange Mechanism [ERM: forerunner to the euro] when John Major was the prime minister - funded an institute for new economic thinking which has dissipated the founder's concept by engaging Economists who have released no significant alternative thought. In recent days a well-funded group of recognised Economists [including a couple of holders of the pseudo-Nobel prize] has been set up in recognition of the fact that Economics as taught by the Econocracy does not offer even a sensible explanation of how modern mass poverty has occurred. There might be a slight hope that this group may provide some new insight that is of practical utility; but the experience of similar initiatives is not encouraging.

There is a widely-recognised perception among the general public and much of the commentariat, that formal Economics does not address the issues of living humans in the real world; but that has not led to mass resignations by professors who have become ashamed to draw salaries for preaching irrelevant dogma. Nor have the professors gone into purdah to think anew and recast their propositions: no, they continue to assert them with absolute confidence in the 'scientific rigour' of their abstractions. There is a widespread assumption that groups like Soros' institute and the new 'commission' might just add something to the existing corpus of Economics that will enable the professors and their students to carry on teaching and learning the same stuff; to which a new wrinkle will be added that vindicates the mass of the subject and resolves the outstanding issues without anybody having to eat humble pie.

That will not happen.

Meanwhile, practical politics is bedeviled by the impact of Economics upon it. The rise of 'populism' in the USA, in Europe and in other parts of the world is largely associated with the failure of economic policies based on established formulas that have been formed with the participation of the Econocracy. It has been manifest in the USA for almost three decades that redundant steel workers in the rustbelt states do not mutate into migrants who mystically acquire the skills to gain employment in silicone valley that pays them all enough to get new houses [at Californian prices] and live a west-coast lifestyle. That is what the professors say should happen in a fully-fledged free-trading economy; but it does not happen. People have families and associations and familiar landmarks in the places where they [or their parents] have been settled since when times were good: so they mostly stay there. The brightest graduates, the prettiest girls and other identifiable groups who have characteristics that support social mobility may move on in significant numbers, but they are a minority; and the core population will be left in misery awaiting a saviour: who appeared in the US  rustbelt in the highly improbable shape of Donald Trump. Trump will fail, as both Bushes and Obama and even Clinton failed, to turn round the march of economic events and the persistence of people in refusing to behave as textbook specimens.

In the UK the practical irrelevance of Economics has become acute, as the head-banging Brexiteers [mostly in the Conservative party] cite the views of extreme Econocrats: such as Patrick Minford, a Thatcher guru who has suddenly returned to prominence with his confident assertions about how good the world will be for the UK if we leave the European Union with no deal. Minford and his little friends have claimed that the British economy could grow by some 7% if all the restraints [and advantages] of membership of the Union were simple sloughed-off. People who try to form a mature and balanced view of the probable impact of Brexit see summaries of these assertions, and the fact that their advocate is Professor Minford: and they wonder whether they should just dismiss his propositions; might he be right? Might the UK be passing-up a great opportunity if we try to stay close to the European Free Trade Area?

The answer is, of course, on the ground all over the UK. The factories and mines and dockyards that were abandoned at the behest of the Thatcherites may have been prettified into tourism sites like the Titanic area of Belfast; but even there a significant proportion of the consumer-facing staff on minimum wages are immigrants who came to the UK prepared to do such work [and they are mostly better at it that taciturn under-educated Brits]. There is no well-paid long-term highly-productive employment for the rising generation in any of the despoiled regions that were once world-leading hives of industry. The formula didn't work in the nineteen-eighties or the 'nineties: and it is even less likely to apply to the real world now. if the headbangers win, mass misery is the only probable outcome: and the growth in new, longer-term non-employment will be well over 7% per year for several years.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

More About Sovereignty: Rhodesia to Zimbabwe to Disaster [and On to Honours from the United Nations]

The arbitrarily-drawn colonial-era boundaries that still delineate the African country called Zimbabwe were set in the last days of the nineteenth century. The area had by then been recognised as having significant potential for the development of agricultural estates; and a group of entrepreneurial individuals gathered around Cecil Rhodes [a magnate who became premier of the Rand diamond and gold mining area which was settled by large numbers of Europeans, predominantly British] agreed to venture further north into this promising territory. Approval from the British state was secured, a territory called 'Rhodesia' was marked out, and a Company on the traditional lines of the East India Company and the Hudson's Bay Company was set up to help to fund the venture. The Rhodesia Company - which mutated into Lonrho - was essentially a trading operation. White settlers accepted land grants individually to set up their own farms [of various sizes, but much larger than those individuals could have bought in Europe or North America], and several companies and consortia also took land grants, all employing 'native' labour, and with the intention to sell their output on world markets. It was quickly demonstrated that the land was generally fertile and well-watered, and favourable for growing food crops and tobacco and for cattle ranching.

The settled pattern of agriculture cut directly across the traditional migratory lifestyle of the Shona and other peoples who were well established on the territory; and there were frictional incidents as the allocations of land to white individuals and alien-owned companies proceeded. In due course accommodations were made with the indigenous tribal groups, chiefs were given status in the pattern of civil administration, and relations between settlers and native peoples became relatively calm.

One great disruption had occurred more or less simultaneously with the development of white interest in the territory: a significant sub-set of the warrior Zulus rebelled against their famous king Shaka, and to avoid his wrath they knew they must put a significant distance between his armies and their own. Thus they migrated to the territory that was soon to be Rhodesia [later Southern Rhodesia] where they could be used by the whites as a counterpoise against the majority Shona: in effect, they were allowed to settle, provided they collaborated with the colonial regime. With that uncomfortable mix of farmer-settlers, ex-Zulus known as Matabele and Shona [who had the longer claim to the territory] Rhodesia developed as a major exporter of food [crops and beef] and of tobacco; with significant mineral production as well.

Come the nineteen-sixties and the desire of the United Kingdom to slough-off direct responsibility for the colonies, the London government lumped together three colonially-administered territories into a new Central African Federation. The economic, social and political structures of the three components were very different. Southern Rhodesia was a relatively rich segment of Africa, with hundreds of thousands of white settlers and the major city of Salisbury as its capital: there was an apartheid-type parliament, dominated by whites but with representation for Matabele and Shona.  Northern Rhodesia had a much smaller white settler and technician population than its southern neighbour, but it had a semi-democratic representative assembly; and the territory had significant wealth both from agriculture and from mineral exports, most notably copper. The smallest territory in the Federation was the poorest, Nyasaland [now Malawi]; with the lowest level of white settlement, the least-developed economy, and no effective democratic institutions. Unsurprisingly, the Federation fell apart. The convention that nobody should upset the colonial frontiers was upheld, however, so Malawi and Northern Rhodesia [renamed Zambia, after the river that runs through it] drifted into post-colonial limbo within their existing boundaries. For more than a decade the informal white-Matabele coalition continued to control Southern Rhodesia [which became Rhodesia] but it became susceptible to an increasingly aggressive Shona-led insurgency which campaigned for independence under black rule.

South Africa and Rhodesia conducted joint military operations in several other African countries where the 'freedom fighters' holed up, often with assistance from the local government and from the Communist bloc; while the fighters waged an increasingly successful guerrilla war against the Rhodesian state. The freedom fighters fell into several sections, and included some Matabele; but their movement was predominantly a Shona enterprise. It had several leaders, of whom Robert Mugabe was one. Hence, throughout Africa, he is gazetted as a hero of the struggle for liberation. The eventual collapse of the isolated settler state and the grant of formal sovereignty to the new country of Zimbabwe - named after some impressive ruins left by a forgotten people - was followed by the seizure of power by Shona factions, the brutal suppression of the Matable and the botched 'Africanisation' of agriculture which deprived the country of its export surplus.

At the age of 93, Robert Mugabe is seen from Europe as a grasping, incompetent, brutal tyrant. By c contrast,Almost throughout Africa he is seen as a man who has an heroic past, who has tried constantly [and largely successfully] to remove colonial exploitation and all its hangovers from his country: as he promised to do half a century ago. In so doing, he has ruined the economy and once-great public services - not least, the health service - have suffered.  Thus it is paradoxical that a recently-appointed African chief officer of the World Health Organisation [WHO - a part of the UN] should think naturally of appointing an African legend to be a 'Goodwill Ambassador'; and that the aid-donating west should be horrified that the chief agent of waste and pillage in a once-rich country should thus be honoured. At least, the furore surrounding the appointment has made a few people remember the past and contemplate the future of a naturally rich part of the world.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Necessity and the Nuisance of Sovereign States

Last year, and for most of the rest of this century, there will be events and media coverage of the events that commemorate the sequence of events that stem from the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation: when Martin Luther issued his formal challenge to the pope and the [pretty monolithic] Roman Catholic Church in western Europe. Various rulers of petty states across Germany [who were all notionally subject to the pope and the monarch - usually the Habsburg ruler of Austria - who held the title of Holy Roman Emperor] found it convenient to slough off various components of that subjection: so Germany split between protestant-ruled and catholic-ruled states, and descended into a prolonged, vicious series of wars and persecutions.

In the first years after Luther's declaration, Henry VIII of England was a staunch and highly literate defender of the papacy, for which he was awarded the papal title Defender of the Faith [Fidei Defensor: abbreviated to Fid Def] which is still used by the Queen and features even on the new pound coin. Then Henry wanted to get his divorce from Katherine of Aragon: which the pope denied him, because the papacy was controlled by the Holy Roman Emperor [Charles V] who was Katherine's nephew. So Henry persuaded/bullied Parliament into declaring that there was no power higher than Henry: in civil matters, England was an empire on its own, and in church matters Henry was answerable only to God as the head on earth of the English church. Half a century later Henry's niece, Mary Queen of Scots, was evicted and fled to England [and to eventual execution] which left Mary's infant son as a King who was controlled by a Lutheran-Presbyterian church that declared their own complete separation from Rome and the associated Empire. Thus the entire island of Britain was separated from the ambiguous dual control of pope and emperor; and when England and Scotland were left with the grown-up James as their joint monarch after Elizabeth I's death the combination was able to act as one sovereign entity.

Kings of France and Spain, and princes who had been invited to rule the Netherlands, moved in the same direction as the British monarchy to establish mutual recognition of their states, exchanging Ambassadors when they were not at war with each other. This pattern of statehood was extended over almost all of Europe by the time of the French revolution, which disrupted everything and led to the Congress of Vienna in 1815 which settled the boundaries of the 'powers' until everything was thrown into chaos by the First World War. Then, under the tutelage of the USA, the 'principle of nationality' was established as the basis for some states' right to exist: while other states - not least, the new USSR - included many dozens of 'nationalities'. France occupied Dutch-speaking areas around Dunkirk, German territory in the east [Strassburg/Strasbourg etc], Italian-speaking border zones in the south east, Basque country in the south-west and the Celtic Duchy of Brittany the west: only modern media have pulled together a 'nation' that speaks more-or-less the same French. Kings of Spain made heroic efforts to unite the whole Iberian peninsula; but the Portuguese could not be coerced for ever, the Spanish Basques have only recently abandoned a vicious campaign for independence; and now what seems to be a minority of Catalans back a regional government that is threatening to declare independence: against which the Spanish government will take whatever steps they think fit to stop any such declaration having effect.

The number of fissiparous local and regional claims for independence or autonomy across the European Union is great - at least thirty - so there is a consensus within the EU to try to suppress and ignore all of them. The Catalans cannot expect to leap from Spain to separate membership of the EU: they would jump into a limbo far worse than a post-Brexit Britain can expect to suffer in the highly improbable event of 'no deal' being reached.

There is much wrong with the concept and the conduct of the sovereign state [I intend to expatiate on the disaster of Zimbabwe tomorrow], but we are lumbered with it and have to make the best of it.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Ecological Disaster

Almost certainly, the most important news from Europe this week is the result of a long-term study of insect life in the German countryside. This has shown that over the last 30 years - an incredibly short period in evolutionary terms - up to 84% of the TOTAL of insect life, over almost all species, has declined when the incidence of creatures is counted at the peak of the summer [when the populations of most insects should be at the highest level].

The importance of insects in the crop cycle for most plant types has been recognised by humans for millennia, and it has been re-emphasised as the population of bees has declined over recent decades with a whole series of diseases and alien species destroying the populations of hives and also the survival and reproduction of solitary bees. That this catastrophe has befallen almost all European insects in a very short period is truly alarming. Insects and plants have evolved symbiotically over millions of years; and mammals are utterly dependent on that symbiosis for their foods.

The culprits are well recognised, especially a small range of herbicides and insecticides that are used in massive quantities - particularly in Europe - with the desired effect of protecting crops in the short term. The lobbies for these substances to be banned will grow larger and louder from now on, with many farmers joining in as the risk to pollination of their crops hits their pockets.When the necessary measures have belatedly been taken, nature will almost certainly act as it usually has, and provide the climatic and other conditions in which populations can rebuild themselves quickly. But it may not work that way: the ecological disaster may already have gone so far that the spaces left by the vanished insects could be taken up by alien species that do not support the main farmed crops, and present health hazards to human beings.

There have been many, crystal clear warnings from various ecological pressure groups, not least the ludicrously-named 'organic' movement [who ever saw an inorganic cabbage?], and they have been ignored. The German data are incontrovertible, and are largely replicated across the continent: so something most be done, and will be done, and things may just turn out all right.

A parallel crisis has been reported from the mass use of antibiotics in cattle and other mammalian species of farmed animals and in zoos: the powerful chemicals become dispersed in the waterways and thus return to the life-cycle of which humans are a part: accelerating the rate at which viruses and bacteria evolve to counteract the effects of the drugs on their own ecology. The British medical establishment has warned that when the rate of evolution of bacterial and virological resistance to antibiotics outpaces the development of new and replacement antibiotics, it will become unsafe to perform almost any form of surgery. I include viruses alongside bacteria here because it has become common to give antibiotics to people experiencing virological attacks because in many cases patients find it has a placebo effect: thus they demand antibiotics and doctors often succumb to such demands in order to avoid complaints from patients. This matter has been presented to the media for several years, and the impact of the message has somewhat been muted by the development of more advanced antibiotics; but there is no assurance that the pharmacologists will continue to outpace the evolution of bacteria, and it is irrational for people to assume that science will always triumph.

There is nothing new in the reported decline of insect species: the decline in several bird species has been associated with the decline of their prey for several decades. But nothing adequate has been done about it, and now the 'eleventh hour' has passed and Europe is in the twelfth hour. This is a far more massive challenge than Islam, Jihad, populism, Putin or Trump: and it cannot be avoided.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Mrs May's Incomprehension

In an emotional Commons sitting yesterday, Mrs May displayed her total incomprehension of the realities of life for the very people she has said she wants to convince that 'Britain is a country that works for everybody'. She absolutely refused to pause in the roll-out of the new single benefit, even though Tory MPs had lined up to warn her of the stress that this was causing in households up and down the land. She lauded the principle of the benefit, and gloated that it was forcing people to take low-paid jobs [though, of course, she did not formulate it quite in those terms].

The government more generally have emphasised that people can get an advance of 50% of their benefit for the six-plus weeks they have to wait to draw the main sum; downplaying the speed with which repayment of the advance is required once receipt of the benefit is confirmed. It is a matter of indifference to the government whether the 'helpline' charges 50p+ per minute or is free: no doubt, if more people can access, it more of the callers will find it constantly engaged.

The same day, figures were produced that show that more than a quarter of young mothers all over the country and of the people in north-east England lead the large league table of people who are locked-in to low-paid jobs, with no hope of shifting to better situations in the short term. Thus more people are more deeply depressed than have ever been since the introduction of the welfare state; with the food banks planning for a bumper Christmas this year.

A long way beyond Mrs May's comprehension is the fact that as more people are driven into low-paid employment, that is also low-productivity employment.  So the more people 'gain' from the single benefit, the lower will be the average wage and the less will be the average output per head over the whole workforce: so the lower will be the average 'productivity' of labour: brilliant!

Today Mrs May is off to Brussels, to reveal her equally profound incomprehension of the plain English, French and German in which she and David Davis [and their team] have been told what the EU expects before they are willing to talk about giving Britain special access to the EU single market after Brexit. The Tory headbangers have sent her a formal warning not to be led into making any 'concession' to the EU: as if the UK has any real choice in the matter. Of course, none of the clots who have issued the warning lives on the breadline. None of them are dependent on the minimum wage, or on the single benefit; indeed, many of them have no need to earn their current income at all as they are rentiers or pensioners [or both]. So none of them will be in the categories who would experience extreme deprivation in an economically-isolated UK; but there are millions of people in Britain whose precarious living standards would be smashed to smithereens under WTO Rules. Thus these Privy Councillors and party hacks are showing the same arrogance of affluence as Mrs May and her Secretary of State for Work and Pensions showed yesterday. They are flexing their power to destroy the Conservative Party: perhaps they should be allowed to do just that; before the final vote in Parliament on the implementation of Brexit is held.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A Macron-Merkel Plot to 'Destroy' London?

The world has been so intrigued by the bizarre conduct of President Trump that far too little attention has been paid to the oddity of the French president. Mr Trump has been ridiculously intrusive in sharing his rapidly-changing views with the media and in the Twittersphere: M Macron has been tight-lipped to an unusual degree; and there have been many reports of his contempt for the media. He has been reported as saying - to his own staff - that there is no point in him giving interviews and press conferences because his intellect is so far superior to the norm that people simply will not understand his statements and his answers to questions. His path to office has been engineered by the old establishment of the 'higher schools', who experienced the agony of the Hollande regime and were determined to seize upon the national consensus that politics had reached a nadir. Thus they presented a new sort of candidate from a new generation: a man with few friends and a most peculiar private life. His allies engineered a parliamentary landslide, and he appears to be in an unassailable position with a clear popular mandate - to be 'different' - backed by a parliamentary majority.

With these assets, he is attempting - as half a dozen of his predecessors did - to attack the established position of the trade unions and of the farming interest, and to try to change the culture of work generally in France. Given the fact that recorded French 'productivity' is very much greater than the British, and not far inferior to the German, it is unclear why he thinks that such disruption is desirable or necessary; but he is having a go anyway: and it fills column inches in the press.

His career record includes a few years with a major international bank, where he greatly refined his spoken English and learned how far ahead of French practice in banking and finance are the systems in new York and London; and how much bigger are the financial markets in those centres - and in Singapore - than in Paris. He also gained a perspective an the depth of support that the London finance sector has, from a huge array of specialist lawyers and a raft of support professions such as actuaries, arbitrators, loss assessors and adjusters. Some English-speaking critics reckon that he has developed a profound envy of these markets, and that he came into office with a determination to push Paris as a rival to those centres even though the ancillary trades there are massively under-developed.

Doomsters in London have now come up with the idea that he has decided to use the Brexit opportunity to diminish London massively: and that he has enlisted Angela Merkel and the gnomes of Frankfurt to his plot. This is seen as the hidden agenda behind the determination of a loyal, ambitious and deeply egocentric Frenchman, Michel Barnier, to use his role as EU negotiator with the UK to delay and diminish whatever settlement the UK can achieve with the EU. This sort of conspiracy theory can be very powerful in times of massive uncertainty; and the absence of any such plot  - as with any negative argument in politics - is ultimately impossible to prove.

Mrs Merkel grew up, graduated and worked in the German Democratic Republic, and presumably had to learn Marxist dogma sufficiently to be allowed into university and into a research post. There is very little evidence that her education since 1990 has included any significant familiarisation with serious political economy. Her chancellorship has been supported by strong and well-informed ministers who have dealt with economic affairs and with business: she has read appropriate speeches, but no significant initiative has been attributed to her [other than the catastrophic decision to open Europe to mass immigration, which will mark her rule throughout future history]. It is possible, but improbable, that she has actually committed to any scheme systematically to attempt to smash the London market which - as is being stressed today - is an irreplaceable asset to world trade that even Germany and France rely upon heavily.

As a boy growing up in Lancashire, I became used to hearing older people say: "The French will never forgive us for saving them in two world wars", whereupon a minority said: "the First World War, yes: they don't like admitting that they needed us. But in the Second they hated us for disrupting their comfortable collaboration with the Nazis: remember, we bombed them and fought our way through France. DeGaulle was very much in a minority until the Americans put him in power."

It would be no surprise to discover that Macron grew up surrounded by the French mirror-image of such sentiments.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Intellectual Property and Corporate Power

One of the key components of my 'dissident' approach to economic science [or political economy] is my assertion that all ownable things - assets - come in four categories:

1. Keyn. anything in the category that J M Keynes described as chartalist in his definitive Treatise on Money. These are all the immaterial creations of the human mind that can be claimed as the possession of the person who invented them, or of the person who was able to capture such command over them as would be recognised in a court of law. Thus people and corporate entities [governments, local government, institutions, companies etc] come to be the 'owners' of control of the land, and owners of shares, stocks, bank deposits, patents, copyrights, brand names, trademarks etc. Most defined keyns can be sold . The most massively increasing category of keyns in the contemporary economy are items of intellectual property [or 'intellectual keyns' shown as ik in my text].

2. Quon. A material asset whose price includes both the costs of assembling the material thing and a charge for the intellectual property that the owner of the object is able to enjoy with the material thing. The owner of the ik sells the user a right to enjoy the benefits of their brand, and the intellectual property that inheres in the object.

3. Jev. A material asset whose price when resold is determined by its perceived rarity and aesthetic quality, rather than by its cost of production or its contemporary usefulness in any material sense to the owner. Thus this category covers antiques, works or art etc; which can be bought and sold and which - over time - often appreciate in retain price, so they can be assets of increasing inventory 'value'.

4. Marcom. These are commodities which are sold at prices that equal, or are close to, the cost of production and delivery [allowing for a reasonable return on capital to the producers and distributors], with no premium for any ik such as occurs in the price of a quon.

There are huge implications that arise from this differentiation of assets. I refer to two today.

A. Firms that are licensed and regulated as 'banks' have huge privileges. In particular, because they manage keynic money for natural and corporate persons they get special guarantees from the state. The most extreme version of this protection was the 'rescue' of the banking system in 2007-9, whose effects are still affecting everybody in the advanced economies. Despite the huge direct and indirect cost of 'saving' the banks, governments and their agents, the central banks [e.g. the Bank of England] have done nothing that definitively separates the socially-necessary and economically-indispensable banking functions of the huge complex firms that include banking divisions from the parts of the firm that trade in stocks and shares, bonds, investment advice, creating and trading in derivatives and futures and other speculative keyns. Thus the entire western world remains at risk from rogue trading or sheer incompetence in these pampered businesses. This remains one of the biggest risks to civilisation; even allowing for jihadism, rogue states, cybercrime, plague and famine.

B. Hundreds of thousands of people and firms own ik that has become increasingly desired by more and more people over the past twenty years. Computer games, films and records and all accessed from cyberspace, and social media have become massive foci of consumption; and although the ownership of such assets is widely diffused, a small number of points of access are used by the vast preponderance of users. Thus Google, Alibaba, Facebook and a few other leading points in the cyberworld are absolutely dominant. The creators of these platforms have established their intellectual property with immense rigour, and are constantly extending their [patented] means of checking on their customers so that they can increasingly tailor 'special offers' that will tempt them to spend their money and their time at the profitable direction of the ik owner. This gives more power over the consumers and their world to a small number of firms than has ever been held by firms that control material commodities. Economic models have not even begun to cope with it: the Econocracy have been content to monopolise their fantasies while Silicon Valley has established a much firmer hegemony than the professors can comprehend. Politicians are increasingly exercised by the new sort of power that is held by the dominant holders of the ik that shapes hundreds of millions of consumer's lifestyle; and don't know what to do about it. They can't even work out how to tax the massive cash flow that they receive.

My basic taxonomy of economic assets forms a basis on which public control, exercised by the political system of the state, can properly be established over the cybernauts within a sensible structure of political economy. One small step for man?

Monday, 16 October 2017

Disrupting the Econocracy? Thaler's Prize

The mutual admiration event of the Econocracy's year is the award of the 'Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science', which is announced at about the same time and in the same sort of way as the real Nobel prizes. But this prize was funded by Scandinavian banks, many decades after the original Nobel benefaction; before the absolute triumph of the 'rational expectations' dogma but well into the era when Economics had been captured by the neo-Keynesians who were about to show the dangerous impact of their views as applied [on their advice] by governments when the inflation that was the inevitable result of the flawed dogma began to bite into individuals' welfare and to undermine government strategies. Through the later nineteen sixties and into the 'seventies a back-catalogue of economic writers from the previous forty years were rewarded with the new prize, which was often split between two or more winners [thus quickly building-up the list of 'Laureates'] . After that the prize has been awarded to a mix of writers who have [in general] more or less closely subscribed to the increasingly tight dogmatic requirements of the Econocracy as they have tightened their control of the standard syllabus in Economics for students [as explained in the text Econocracy, frequently mentioned in the blog and created by the Post-Crash Economics Society at Manchester].

There have been occasional exceptions to this command of the prize by the dominant faction of Economics grandees, achievable because the electors' view of the world from the expanses of Scandinavia is broader than from Chicago, Princeton, the LSE or Cambridge; and thus other points of view have had a look-in from time to time. But those individuals have deferred, in general, to the overriding assertions of 'scientific' rigour, purity and authority that has been claimed by the Econocrats.

Thus this year's prize has been hailed as a novelty, a breakthrough; maybe as the gateway to a new era. This is the award of the prize to the hugely respected Richard Thaler, best known as the advocate of the 'Nudge Theory': a psychological insight that can be said directly to contradict the assumptions about humans' behaviour that lie at the heart of Econocratic dogma. Thaler has drawn on psychology to suggest that people do not behave as Alfred Marshall assumed in his Principles of Economics [1890] and which subsequent authoritative figures have built up constantly as the core of current theory. The critics have been delighted to welcome this award to Thaler as evidence that even the committee awarding the pseudo-Nobel Prize are open to the view that homo economicus - 'economic man' - is not a true or fair representation of real, living and breathing human beings.

The entire modus operandi of the Econocracy is based on the assertion that people will act 'rationally' if they have enough access to the facts on which they should reach economic decisions. Individuals will allocate their scarce resources to those purchases that will maximise their welfare over their lifetimes; thus dividing their spending between present needs and the demands of the future [such as providing for pensions and medical care in old age]. Recognising that resources are scarce, economic man will always buy what will do him most good and and least harm: always assuming that sufficient evidence of potential outcomes is available to him.

A few minutes' observation of real humans gives the lie to this daft assumption. Stand in any street and watch the obese people waddle laboriously along, eating something from a packet. Look at the flashy cars that young men can only afford to hire-purchase at the cost of making no provision for the future [and often not insuring the vehicles]. Look at the drunk, drugged young women in the gutters in any major city at weekend. Read the data on early deaths and completely burnt-out people still in their twenties.

Since real people behave so irrationally, it cannot be expected that whole communities whose coalmine or steelworks is closed down on the basis of fake data by a Thatcherite government [whose real objective is to eradicate the trade union that is embedded in the 'redundant' plant] will abandon their community, their homes and their connections, and migrate as individual families to places where there may or may not be new jobs for them. How do five hundred redundant miners assess such a situation? They can't: and anyway even a Thatcherite government is subject to the 'irrational' need to win the next election: so they maintain the denizens of the pit villages in situ with social security payments, early access to pensions and other means by which no 'rational' economic decisions need to be taken by the population. Hence both people and their political systems can be seen to be 'irrational' every day.

Thaler does not approach the issue as I do in this comment; but he suggests means by which people can be 'nudged' more constructively to react to the situations in which they find themselves. In doing this he has performed a major service: not just to 'economic science' but potentially to humanity. But this does not rescue Economics from its guilty hold on the essentials of human interaction: Thaler has cast light, and proved that his theories have traction in reality: which is great. But much more is needed to smash the Econonocracy; who can choose to teach their students that real people can be nudged to behave more like homo economicus: which would be the worst outcome of all.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Austria's Choice

Today, there is to be a general election in Austria. Thanks to the actions of Angela Merkel two years ago, the conclusion of the election in this neighbouring country to Germany was clear before voting began. The overwhelming majority of Austrians agree that there are now too many Muslims in the country, that the strain they have put on the social assistance and housing and education and health systems is unacceptable; and that no further significant immigration - however desperate the plight of people claiming to be 'refugees' might be - should be permitted. The government that will emerge from the election will be a coalition with a more right-wing structure than any since the re-unification of Austria [after allied occupation] in 1956. The two stand-out policy positions that it is expected to adopt are to seal the frontiers of the EU against immigrants, and to review and restrict access to the social security and related systems.

Neigbouring Hungary has had a government with policies designed to minimise immigration from outside the EU for several years: access to that country is very heavily controlled, with high wire fences and a strong presence of border guards. To the south-west of the Hungarian frontier is Austria's border with Italy, which has already been 'strengthened' to limit the onward passage of any of the tens of thousands of economic migrants who reach Italy by sea every year. No doubt that border will further be toughened: but there will also be sympathy for the Italians in their situation of receiving the migrants, which is resulting in right-wing politicians rising through 'populist' movements there, too.

There will be resistance in Austria to any attempt by Germany to impose any quota of Muslim [or, indeed, any other category of] immigrants on any EU country. It is widely expected that Austria will adhere to, and may even join, the 'Visigrad' group of countries [Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary] that have 'ganged up' to resist pressure from Germany and France. Thus there is already the making of a very powerful subset of the EU that will simply decline to go along with aspects of the settlement that the USA imposed on 'liberated' Europe after 1945. The Liberal Consensus to which Roosevelt and Truman, Churchill and deGaulle subscribed is fading fast.

The right-wing AfD in Germany has gained seats in the Bundestag, sufficient in number to harass whatever coalition government Mrs Merkel may be able to cobble together. France has a completely unproved president; and there are huge questions as to whether his parliamentary majority and constitutional authority will be enough to overcome the inertia of the trade unions, farmers and other vested interests. It has been noted above that Italy has strong and growing right-wing parties, and the legacy of Fascism is ceasing to be seen as an embarrassment. Those countries in north and west Europe that have a couple of centuries of constitutional government [Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Luxembourg; plus non-EU-member Norway] have all seen some emergence of minority anti-migrant movements. The three Baltic States [Estonia Latvia and Lithuania] have no significant problem with Muslim immigrants; they have suffered, to varying degrees, net emigration to the more affluent west of the EU.

The Balkan EU members, and aspirants to membership, want to prove their democratic credentials; but they have limited resources to accommodate immigrants [balanced by limited means of keeping them out]. They will sympathise with [and envy] the countries to the north that have the means and the will to seal their borders to a significant extent.

Thus the European Union that is harassed by the Brexit issue is a very different political and emotional structure than it was at the beginning of 2015: the year in which Cowardy Cameron launched the Referendum as an election pledge. It is quickly becoming an entity about which any true democrat would have serious questions. Britain is so beset by a useless government that it has not yet faced up to the point: but there is a growing doubt as to whether we would wish to join, if that was the issue before us.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Politicians' Earnings

There is a glorious row rumbling on about the salaries of Vice-Chancellors [general managers] of Universities. A new Vice-Chancellor of Oxford feels constrained to defend a salary of less than £400,000 as the head of one of the half-dozen most powerful and effective academic communities in the world: and that is quite inappropriate. To attract a significant global academic-cum-manager needs that amount of money: though it is only a couple of decades since Sir Colin Lucas occupied the office of Vice Chancellor for a couple of years as Master of Balliol College. Colin was able to persuade the powers-that-be in the university that the time had come to drop the hit-or-miss rotation of the Vice-Chancellorship among the heads of colleges and to employ a top manager on a longer-term contract. Cambridge did the same thing about the same time, and so far the two institutions between them had some successes and some embarrassments: but nobody is proposing a reversion to the medieval system.

The silly title of Vice-Chancellor implies an assistant or deputy to the honorific head of a university, who may be a member of the aristocracy [even a minor royal] or a politician or a benefactor or a distinguished scholar or scientist: but who is in no way involved in the routine management of the place. Several vice-chancellors have added titles like 'president' to their portfolio [evincing a painful need to say 'I'm really the boss'] and Scots avoid the whole morass by being known as 'principals'.

The route to being a vice-chancellor is complex, but now that there are some 120 of them it has become obvious that both the institutions and their general managers are of very different quality. The vice-chancellor of Bolton University [yes, there is even one there now] has waded onto the media several times, bragging of his importance despite his institution wallowing near the bottom of the league. He claims to be worth what he is paid, in a way that would perhaps justify £50,000 a year plus expenses and pension: the fact that he is within spitting distance of the top 'earners' is absurd on any objective criterion.

The row started with somebody making the observation that all the vice-chancellors are paid more than the Prime Minister is paid. This has been developed into something close to a vendetta by the obsessive proponent of the useless HS2 railway, who has been unable to make any inroad into the system; while the government looks most unwilling to intervene. There are at least twenty world-class university institutions in the United Kingdom, including the leading colleges of the University of London. Their heads need to be global figures. But for the rest of the so-say university system the salaries are indeed inflated. How did this happen? I was there at the time. During the 'seventies and the 'eighties of the last century several 'polytechnics' were created, usually by amalgamating teacher-training colleges and craft colleges with city technical colleges. These institutions grew quickly as they 'produced' graduates more cheaply than did the 'traditional' universities; so their Directors were able to negotiate high salaries with their local-authority-dominated  employers. Then the government decided that the polys should be given 'parity of esteem' by being designated as universities. Then the pre-existing vice-chancellors found it impossible to ignore the fact that their median salaries were below those of ex-poly directors; and a game of catch-up went crazy: resulting in the present system.

Then somebody drew in the comparison with the Prime Minister: if she gets a much more modest salary for 'running the country', then it can be claimed to stand as self-evident that V-Cs are paid 'too much'.

This is daft: everybody knows that most prime ministers in recent decades have been quite young people, who had a great deal of lifetime remaining in which to make a great deal of money, if they are so inclined. Gordon Brown is not so inclined: he has a comfortable existence doing global good works. But his old sparring-partner Blair was quickly notorious for the millions that have passed through his personal accounts as well as through the charities that give him a public profile that has not yet diminished his odious personal reputation. David Cameron's cowardly exit from Downing Street and the Commons was followed by the purchase of a hut-on-wheels in which he is writing the memoirs that he hopes will begin the repletion of the fortunes that he and his wife have inherited. Mrs May's impending departure will give her the opportunity to accumulate a cash pile to set alongside her husband's City earnings; starting, again, with heavily-supported memoirs.

The 'granny of them all' among ex-politician big earners, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is in the UK now to promote the memoirs that have been written and published in quick time since her election defeat last November. Like her husband, she had outblaired Blair himself in the league of big post-political earners. So to make a current prime minister's salary a template for anything is simply silly. Some civil servants, NHS managers and others in the public sector are necessarily paid more than the prime minister. If Labour re-nationalise any industries or utilities, they will have to pay their managers more than the prime minister, if they want the re-nationalisation to work. That is the way of the world. Meanwhile, the vice-chancellor of Bolton University will be the living proof that some people in the semi-public sector are indeed overpaid.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Mrs May's Brexit: from Chaos to Catastrophe

Mrs May and Mr Hammond - her Finance Minister - are represented by various sections of the media as being in a serious conflict about making provision for a 'no deal' outcome from the current negotiation between the UK and the EU. The Chancellor [who is wedded, as tightly as if he were welded] to the concept of 'austerity' has told a Commons committee that he has contingency plans, but does not want to release any funds until the very last moment. He could not make that statement if staff time and some expenses [notably consultancy] had not been applied to the planning: so what he obviously means is that he is reluctant to release funds on implementing such a plan until that should appear to be the [utterly disastrous] inevitability.

Mrs May seems to be saying the same things, when she indicates that £250 million has been set aside for implementing a 'hard Brexit'. Yet the press, notably the Daily Mail, has become hysterical about the 'dispute' and the 'disloyalty' - even 'sabotage' - attributed to the Chancellor.

This stupid scenario shows that the minority of extreme Brexiteers are dragging the Tory party to its destruction; which would be no bad thing [in view of the appalling inadequacy that is apparent right across the government] if there was an opposition that combined honesty and competence over the board. But that is not the case. Labour is led by an unreconstructed Marxist who is as good as the late Comrade Suslov [the chief exponent of Leninist-Stalinist orthodoxy as the USSR was heading for destruction] at avoiding direct or evidence-based questions. The Momentum group show a dangerous revival of the 'entryism' that undermined the Labour government in the nineteen seventies, and thus opened up the way for Thatcherism and the dissipation of all that remained of the legacy of the first industrial revolution.

If May or Hammond was serious about managing a really 'hard' Brexit their first decision - however covertly it was taken - would be the abandonment of 'austerity'. Government spending far in excess of £250 billion would be needed to install a full customs border with the EU. The recruitment and training of hundreds of thousands of officials would need to begin now: somehow, the IT systems would have to be provided - almost instantly - despite the fact that even modest government schemes for computerisation are always over-cost and excessively delayed in implementation [to the extent that they often have to be abandoned].

British firms that still make things - there are many, often high-tech companies developed or reconstructed since 2008 - are almost all integrated into just-in-time Europe-wide supply chains [both in getting their necessary inputs and in selling components to EU companies]. Such businesses are making contingency plans that would require them at least to double the manpower and computer availability just to manage the 'paperwork' that would be involved in trying to maintain the flow of business after a default Brexit. Many such firms are already finding that their European customers are looking elsewhere for contingent supplies. Furthermore, insuring trade and the goods traded in a crash-Brexit situation will become massively more complex and thus expensive.

The clowns on the Tory right, with their airy assertions that all will be well 'under WTO Rules' [which they certainly do not understand:cf my many references to point protectionism], are driving an amazingly weak Cabinet towards the destruction of the national economy.

There must a popular movement, of Leavers and Remainers united, to avoid national economic destruction.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Beware of Africa

It is terribly easy for a resident in Europe or the Americas to ignore Africa. Nevertheless the European Union is subject to a massive invasion of African economic migrants, many of whom claim to be refugees; but fewer and fewer are even allowed landfall on the continent. An unknown number of hundreds of thousands have gone to ground in Europe, many of whom have no prospect of becoming fully registered members of the workforce and of the social security systems. The main political focus on this issue is on keeping any more of them out, as 'populist' politicians gain votes from people who are scared [rationally or otherwise] by the prospect of culturally alien people of different skin colour 'swamping' medical services, schools and the jobs market.

Some voices are raised to point out threat the flow of would-be migrants would be massively less if more attention were given to economic and political development of African countries; but weary EU politicians who take any interest in such matters count the billions of dollars of 'aid' that have been abused by dictators on their personal lives and on military equipment to mount or to defend against political adventurism. The continent is seen as inherently corrupt; with many western corporations hesitant to trade there because of draconian anti-corruption laws that operate in their home states.

China has been very active in construction, especially of railways and port installations that enable the sources of materials and crops in which they have invested to get back to China easily. China has become a major manipulator of the African morass for its economic advantage; which has relatively disadvantaged the west where firms are hamstrung as mentioned above.

Almost every African country is an artificial construct, with boundaries set by the European imperialists in the nineteenth century which have simply been handed on the post-colonial regime that now prevails. These boundaries ignore ethnic diversity, and give cause to conflict on those grounds. It is estimated that half of the world's population growth in the next two decades will be in Africa, centred in just five countries; which are as diverse as Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa.

There are renewed signs that the ethnic tensions which have to some degree been restrained over the post-colonial half century will break out with renewed force. The key example here is in Kenya, where a few months ago a court whose participants - all native Africans - wore English eighteenth century white wigs and black gowns as handed down by the former colonial government to announce the decision to quash the result of a presidential election. Now the losing candidate in that election, who knows that he will also lose any re-run of the election, has stood down from the contest. So long as there is an acknowledged candidate from the Kikuyu population, as there is in Mr Kenyatta, no minority ethnic group has a chance of being elected, however free and fair the election process is. Mr Odinga uses many arguments, but the weight of numbers will always be against him.

So does Odinga try secession: do a Catalonia? It has been tries many times, all over Africa, dating back to the secessionist campaigns in Katanga and 'Biafra' several decades ago. There will be much more of this kind of thing, which will increase the lawlessness and political chaos that have paralysed most of central Africa for several decades. No outsiders have any right to tell Africans how to conduct their lives. The problems will multiply; and their effects will rebound on the rest of humanity: not only as an endless procession of boatloads of miserable, desperate humans who are even more unwanted in Europe than they were where they come from.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

More British Self-Destruction

BAE systems is one of Britain's outstanding engineering companies; with a great deal of its success based on the supply of 'defence' equipment to the British and many foreign governments. The flow of government orders to the company has stimulated countless innovations, some of which have been widely diffused in industry worldwide. Like all defence suppliers, BAE systems depends on a massive complex of components suppliers, and it is itself a very significant contributor to other firms' final products.

This week it has been announced that the major parts of its aircraft assembly capability are to be closed. This follows a recent joint announcement by France and Germany that are to go it alone, together, on the construction of a next-generation fighter aircraft. It is unsurprising that Brexit Britain is not to be a partner in this venture, as we were in the Eurofighter which is to  cease production [in the UK] as soon as the existing run of orders is completed.

The largest concentration of job losses is at the two airfield based assembly plants at Salmesbury and Warton, in Lancashire. Warton is west of Preston, Samlesbury is to the east: Preston has always been a major centre of engineering, and the modern aviation capability was developed there by the English Electric Company, which had taken over the Dick, Kerr works that had been a major builder of tramcars and then of electric and diesel-electric railway engines while the higher level aircraft division was developed. Probably the highest level to which that firm aspired was in the nineteen-sixties with the development of a revolutionary fighter, designated the P1, that was confidently expected to become the world's leading 'plane for the 'seventies and beyond. Rumours circulating in Lancashire at the time indicated that British politicians were being browbeaten by the Americans into ordering US-designed rivals to the P1, while the British Treasury got cold feet about the cost of taking the design beyond the existing prototype to a full production version. So the project was abandoned: and that was regarded at the time as a major retreat from advanced science. This feeling of shamefaced abandonment of the 'best of British' was compounded by the fact that another very promising project, TSR2, was also abandoned.

Thus the UK was tied in to European joint fighter 'planes; which at least were assembled in this country while civil aviation was centred on Toulouse and the British industry became a components supplier to the Airbus and later to Bombardier when Short Brothers was sold to that Canadian firm. The facilities at Warton and Samlesbury, taken together, are Britain's last chance to retain the capacity to build aircraft. The present government, in thrall to the austerity lobby, are almost certain to let this capability - and the massive human skills base that contributes so much to it - be binned.

Meanwhile the Navy is being provided with the two biggest vessels it has ever had: aircraft carriers for which it is most unlikely that there will be so really effective aircraft for several years. The government is contracted to buy American 'planes that will need massive adjustment [paid for by the UK] to be even partially effective in operating from the carriers. To pay that bill, cuts so deep in the rest of the military are being imposed that this country's entire defensive capability is at risk.

A government with will and imagination would charge BAE with a project to build  a completely new generation of vertical take-off and landing [VTOL] planes, for which a global market could be generated once the planes were proven in service on the carriers.

Instead, the short-sighted submissive wastrels who cannot frame a Brexit negotiation with the EU will wring their hands at the loss of jobs and of technological capacity: and blunder on with the policy of austerity and the actuality of dismantling the economy on which the entire population depends.