Sunday, 6 August 2017

Living Lives of Quiet Desperation...

I, like many others, was very struck by the recent YouGov Poll outlining that a majority of over 65 Leave voters think their family losing their jobs is an adequate price to pay for Brexit. God knows what dreams they have about the benefits of Brexit, but it is very shocking at quite a visceral level, before you get onto how Boomer Leavers expect us to pay for triple-locked pensions from a reduced GDP.

British Nostalgia, or a million iterations of the same Keep Calm and Carry On font and poster design, the station in the Railway Children, Paddington Bear's coat and hat, George Smiley, Dunkirk, Vera Lynn, Tudor houses, antique tables, and billiards and other lines from songs by The Kinks.

That's what I thought Brexit was about, nothing to do with the EU - and it's still not really to do with the EU, if you ask me, more about a reckoning with ourselves. Strangely, recently, I've started wondering if the older generation have just as much problem with us as we have with them, post Brexit anyway.

When we agreed to go into the EU, before I was born, in 1974, we were the sick man of Europe. Better trade co-operation and our comparative advantage in services led to increased prosperity. However, as the late Paul Daniels might have said, not a lot of people know that. People doing better makes for a more prosperous country. I was struck when I spend time abroad in Malawi when I was 19, that there was a difference in "just the basics" like roads, what shops sold, transport and local amenities like cinemas or leisure centres that felt like a yawning chasm between where Malawi was, development wise and where I had grown up. Before I did that, I thought the Britain was rubbish, as people are around me in Britain kept telling me so.

Britain has some unfortunate aspects of our culture - the belief that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing every singe thing, all the time; that there are "people like us" and "people not like us", that it's safe to be just rude enough that a British person would feel put down but someone from somewhere else would think you were unfailingly polite, the ability to be kind to animals and cruel to other human beings. And I love my country - god knows what it would be like if I didn't!

This, combined with what I have learnt is anchoring - the ability to think you deserve your prosperity, and a virtual disregard of any understanding of structural advantage or disadvantage, mixed with Brexit nostalgia, led to a result that I am not even sure Vote Leave understood. As Dominic Cummings said, he took the result of focus groups that said "give the money we give to the EU and give it to the NHS instead" - a simple answer on the face of it. So they won with simple answers to a deceptively simple question. But now I understand more about Britain I see we are a very mixed bag of people like us (I use this deliberately) who have grown up with the prosperity of being in the EU, understand how things are balanced and somehow think we will continue to prosper with it, and people who not exactly liked the old days, as they were hard times, but think that because they went through them, so should we.... almost like time served. But, as much as we like the increased prosperity, Britain itself and our collective failure to deal with structural problems of it's own has led to us not doing as well as our parents already and Brexit is just going to make that so much worse.

So we have these two parties, Gen X and Millennial Remainers and Boomer Leavers, who seem to have diametrically opposed interests - Gen X + would like to stay in the EU/EEA and keep as much prosperity as possible and Boomer Leavers, with their pensions, think we should do worse because back in the 60s and 70s they had to.

I can't see a resolution to this. I don't know why older Leavers would think a period of penurious living is a good thing, unless I suppose they think we are weak in character and also, more weirdly that being poorer would help us build character? Can we show them we are strong in character without such a drastic step? Can you show anyone that has formed a judgment that if they went through something so should you, even as we have children of our own? Do those children have to have the "sins of the fathers" (i.e. us), whatever they might be, visited upon the children?

Although I am concerned about the result of Brexit and obviously would still like to Remain, I have at bottom a belief that certainties like the U.K. being generally risk-averse as a nation and fairly pro-trade (and liking a lot of the new innovations in cooking in food brought to us from the last 20 years of globalisation) will probably prevail either in a relationship a bit like the EEA, and/or a bespoke trade deal which does not bring prosperity to a standstill (but the latter will probably take 10-15 years). I've become much more concerned about the divided state of the country, and moreover, exactly how easy it was to cleave. When that cleaver fell between families, I'm even more shocked.

People have been talking about culture wars for a while now, and now I see that there are some advantages to being Gen X and younger - more of us have gone to university which probably makes you happier and certainly makes you smarter (in the aggregate). Technology has led to better outcomes and medical advances. We are healthier, and will probably live longer. Our children are less likely to die. Through the psychological revolution we understand ourselves and each other better, we are more comfortable with people from different backgrounds and lifestyles.It is easier to be open about different types of sexuality. It is easier to leave an unhappy relationship. Multiculturalism is not just social policy to many of us, it's an article of faith. Does this, in fact, make us an alien species to a Boomer Leaver? Are we cuckoos in the nest? How much are our assumptions about each other and these Boomer Leavers a function of the times we grew up in?

I realise these are mostly questions, and no answers, however I did really need to write them down see if I could move the thought process on at all. Still stuck.... any assistance welcome!

Now, there was of course a man who did believe in order to be free, you should be poor - as well as of course many others - including whole religious sects - founded on this principle. His name, of course, was Henry David Thoreau and he said:
            "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."

Is Brexit an act of desperation ? This is probably my final question and one I might have to return to.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Big Ideas Notebook

I have a notebook called "Big Ideas". I didn't actually mean to buy a notebook called Big Ideas - I was looking for something to write revision notes in for my Open University exam in June, and picked up a packet of three and one of them came with the front cover emblazoned with "Big Ideas".

But something quite interesting has happened.

I have a long commute and drive a lot as part of my job, and especially after the commute in the morning, I often have a few minutes before starting work and I just jot any ideas down.

In addition, I've started using PodBean to listen to my favourite podcasts including Radio 4's In Our Time, This American Life, HBR's Ideascast and Bloomberg's Odd Lots podcast, and this has led to loads more inspiration and ideas, and now  just quickly jot them down.

The interesting thing that has happened is my thoughts are beginning to coalesce under subjects and plans, and work together to play off each other.


So, in short, if you aren't already - buy or make your own "Big Ideas" notebook - it could be worth it's weight in gold one day!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

How to Kill a Brexit

I don’t want to make a prediction, because as we all know the volatility of our current political situation and the multi-level constitutional crises that last years Brexit vote brought on leads to a lot of egg on a lot of faces, however there are a few observations I’d like  to make...
 
So, after Mr Cummings “did a Ratner” and following on from Gisela Stuart also saying that Brexit was a mistake – they are not constrained by constituents or really parties anymore, so we can take this to be their honest opinion – if key architects of Brexit can see it’s a disaster then it could be (with the emphasis on could) that the thing will be abandoned. Parliament has a habit of kicking problems it doesn’t like to deal with into the long grass, and even now the debate is about safety standards because of Grenfell Tower, the public sector pay cap because of the election result and it feels, to be honest, like the debate has moved on. But we can’t just casually long grass it and move onto something else like Parliament seems to indicate it wants to. As  every month, there will be a week of negotiations, grinding us on to decision point after decision point, which seems to preclude our usual appetite for a good old-fashioned British fudge.
 
My anxiety is that an effective minister can often drive through reforms if the Prime Minister is either weak, like May or not particularly interested in the detail, like Cameron, then dramatic reforms such as Gove’s to education can take place.  I’m worried David Davis could lead us into disaster primarily because nobody else is paying attention. At this time, maybe our best bet for self-preservation is the spreadsheets of Phillip Hammond. Can he kill Brexit? I suppose it remains to be seen, however it's striking that some of it's architects seem to want to scupper it now.
 
I’ll leave you with the superb, and controversial words of Oscar Wilde from the Ballad of Reading Gaol vis-à-vis the recent comments regarding Brexit by Dominic Cummings
 
 
"Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!"
 
 
 

Monday, 24 April 2017

Snap General Election

I thought it best to write a short post about the snap General Election, given I won't be able to write that many posts throughout it. I've got some Open Uni work on the go plus working 4 days a week plus a toddler to bring up so I generally don't have that much time anymore for reading blog posts, let alone writing them!
Anyway, five things I would like to see from this election.
1. Jeremy Corbyn's removal as Labour leader post the loss of seats for Labour. I feel the single most important thing that could happen in the Brexit process is genuine opposition
2. A Lib Dem MP (Lisa Smart) in my home seat of Hazel Grove
3. Many more Lib Dem MPs to add to the excellent 9 we already have
4. More women MPs for the Lib Dems and in general
5. Good returns to vote levels for Lib Dems to pre-coalition levels at least
Good luck to all Lib Dem candidates on 8th June!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Brexit - Free Movement of People Extended - BINO?


I’m wary of putting too much hope in this government, but post Article 50 being triggered, the government seems to be executing a pivot towards policies which seem sensible.
Theresa May has indicated that for an “implementation period” the free movement of EU citizens could continue, and hasn’t said much recently about her immigration in the “tens of thousands” policy. Now, I obviously don’t want to Brexit, but this is sensible, whilst businesses and government turn around the tanker of the UK economy towards slower progress….. or of course, don’t do that.

As it seems to me a great deal of normal citizens who don’t pay that much attention to politics aren’t paying a great deal of attention to Brexit, if the trade deal that was struck looked a lot like being in the EU (Brexit In Name Only) but without the MEPs (sorry MEPs – it does appear nobody seems to have your interests in mind!) and included an “emergency brake” on immigration which is probably politically possible if we continue to pay into the EU budget, well, then things go on like before, mostly, only Liam Fox doesn’t have a job.
What’s not to like?

I realise this is very rose-tinted view, but it’s nice to have something positive to write about in this mess!

Monday, 3 April 2017

I pay for journalism. Here's what I want in return....

I don’t want to link to any of the stuff, but there was a kerfuffle over the weekend on Twitter about journalism and ethics. One senior journalist decided to lay into a political party’s press operation, and a more junior journalist criticised this in public, whereupon they were put down by a third (senior) journalist that they hadn’t had any scoops so weren’t worth listening to.
 
Now, I don’t really want to comment on that particular situation, but all these comments flying about reminded me of two things, and as I keep thinking about it, I’m getting it all down here so as to perhaps stop thinking about it for a while.
 
I don’t really interact with the big columnist’s Twitter accounts that much anymore because I’m not online when they are as I am at work, and if I do interact with them, in the past I seem to have annoyed them with comments that go against the angle of their article. I think what’s happened is I misunderstood who “should” really be replying to them. I’m not actually “supposed” to reply to these accounts, especially not with criticism, but I think the medium of Twitter lends itself to thinking one is equal with these accounts. I’ve fundamentally misunderstood who they are “talking” to, at some level.
This led me on to considering do I value “scoops” as much as journalists do themselves? I’m not sure I give as much weight to it as they do, perhaps because I’m not a journalist. I value new information of course, but at least on a level with forensic analysis of the subject at hand, plus being able to write and interview a subject well and with sensitivity and a sense of the most important things to discover. I would give equal weight to all of those. To illustrate this, Rachel Sylvester may have changed the course of history with her Andrea Leadsom interview, Janan Ganesh is a must-read about Brexit and Britain’s role in the world, Dan Hodges can get to the heart of a matter very quickly (even when I disagree with him) and Eddie Mair always asks exactly the right question at exactly the right time, elevating him head and shoulders above the rest.  Of course, Eddie Mair is a broadcast journalist rather than a print one, but the point still applies.
 
I do pay for my journalism, I subscribe to the Guardian and use Blendle to access a lot of content that will let me pay a proportionate amount to read one article, rather than pay for a  whole newspaper that I won’t have the chance to read properly (marginal utility matching marginal revenue). I don’t want to be advertised too unless it matches my preferences and I think we can achieve that – I think a large amount of advertising falls into an area of lifestyle policing (“Beach Body Ready”) that I am really not here  for – but you can advertise Kindle novels and non-fiction books about economics to me all day long…. this really shouldn’t be that hard to achieve.
 
So, in total, all this leads me to think there is a little bit of a bubble, and some of us who might count as filters between it and the wider population who aren’t on Twitter, might be turned off by a negative approach towards us.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

On Only Retweeting Women Of Colour in Black History Month

After seeing a tweet which I now cannot find urging me to only retweet Women of Colour for Black History Month, I tried it out.
 
I learnt:
 
  •  I do not follow enough Women of Colour, so I asked for recommendations and now follow some superb women, examples being Sunny Singh and Tressie Mc
 
  • Most people posting content on Twitter are white men. It was an active task to not RT white men when I saw something I agreed with and wanted people to know I supported.
 
  • White Men tend to tweet a lot
 
  • There's a lot of insight and interest that I was just missing out on.
 
Totally recommend doing this, for Black History month or at any other time.
 
 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Did a failure of social democracy cause Brexit?

I'm wary of criticising other strands of political thought, because generally they all interest me and have upsides and downsides. However, a number of people seem to have convinced themselves that either an over-reach of liberalism or "neo-liberalism" or woolly centrism is to blame for Brexit, I feel honour bound to mount a defence of liberalism, through the time honoured means of attacking something else.
 
As nativists and nationalists erect barriers to trade around the world, I am pondering why they achieved so much support from people who felt left behind. It's an interesting phenomenon, because as us globalists congratulated ourselves on the laudable aims of raising so much of the world out of poverty and bringing the benefits of commerce and trade to an ever wider audience, some people felt left behind.
 
Now leaving worries like how easily it is to focus on the outgroup and blame them, as one for sociologists and psychologists, I wonder if it isn't time for a new economic paradigm - that of every person being important and valuable, and long term productivity to be the most important goal. Having been studying economics as part of my Open Uni course, I feel better versed the last two movement, that of Keynes trying to banish unemployment, and monetary policy trying to restrain inflation to a manageable level like 2%.
 
How about a third leg to this stool - that of a high degree of focus on productivity? What helps make a society productive is education, focus on what works, and investment in research and development.
I would also add, as fricitionless as possible.
 
I'm very interested in the fact that early economic theory was lifted straight from physics, because not only does that explain the structure of a lot of the equations, it also makes me wonder how it was updated - Nash equilibrium and all.
 
Did economic thinking drift behind politics? Did social democrats rely too much on old theory and redistribution when perhaps the aims of mankind are less about distributing resources and more about (hippy alert) mechanisms to help everyone reach their full potential?
 
Many questions remain... answering them, or at least trying to, could lead to some exciting work in economic theory.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Brexit positive.....

One positive thing about Brexit is we are actually having a debate about our place in the world and what type of immigration we want which I'm not sure many other countries are doing. We will find this comes to the fore as we want to have trade deals with the US, China and India and find that a number or even all of those countries demand increased levels of immigration to the UK
 
On the day the Supreme Court have decided that Parliament must have a vote on Article 50, it is at least the case that there will be a debate in Parliament, however I do think most MPs will vote for Article 50, a bit like the Iraq War, in that on the basis of the evidence available and conjecture made by the Government (about what the people intended), they will feel that that is their role.
I’m glad my own party, Liberal Democrats will demand a 2nd referendum, but from the polling in general I think most people will think given the result of the referendum, we should proceed with Brexit. I still think we shouldn’t really, not without information on how much it’s going to cost us.
 
I do hope Kier Starmer gets his own way and  a White Paper is produced – I also hope in tandem the IFS do some financial projections of Brexit. We do have quite a biased press but outlets like the BBC should faithfully report facts, and the British public tends to go to the BBC for their facts.
All of this this should inform the debate more. Although I still don’t want Brexit to happen, I think having the information available that we should have had before the referendum, and a long overdue debate about our place in the world and where we want to take the U.K. post the British Empire, it’s more likely that a better decision will be made.