Nov 132011

I have Tim Worstall to thank for raising my blood pressure on this fine Sunday afternoon and distracting me from some work I’m supposed to be doing. His reaming of this article by Naomi Klein in The Nation is brief, but extensive enough to hint that she might be saying some stuff that I particularly hate.

There is a run-of-the-mill Left position, that revolves around general ideas of environment, equality, and government involvement that I can sort of tolerate, even if I don’t agree with it. And then there is the crap spouted by people like Naomi Klein, who seem to view themselves as the best thing since sliced Marx, and in that tradition of philosophising about a new world order. This group also includes Madeleine Bunting.

And if there’s one thing that really gets my goat, it’s assholes holding forth about overturning the current “narrative” and bringing about a completely new social and economic “paradigm.” Especially when it’s actually a really old one.

I’ll declare my interest and say this is partly because the current narrative isn’t so bad (for me), but there’s another facet, and that is the blind outrage I feel when someone talks about junking the collective effect of the individual, diffuse, organic behaviour of billions of people. You can’t get different results without changing the inputs, and the natural way to do this—making a case, hoping it’s reasonable, and watching it become a trend if it is—isn’t good enough for the Kleins and Buntings of this world. There will be no grass-roots, bottom-up behaviour change, even though this is how it has only and ever worked. No, instead we shall have planning. Lots and lots of planning.

And in the service of what, precisely? Why, a new paradigm that overturns capitalism and delivers an earthly paradise of low-carbon equality of wealth. The infuriating thing about this is reading how they propose to do it, and losing one’s temper about the fact that it makes no sense.

Let’s start with Klein’s thesis.

The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence.

That would not be a “new civilisational paradigm” but a very old one: the one humans lived in for many thousands of years, the rhythms of their lives attuned acutely to the natural cycles of growth, rains, harvest, dormancy—or else growth, drought, famine, and death. Many people in the world still actually live this way, and not only does it suck, we in the first world acknowledge that it sucks because we call these people “poor” and try to help them not have to live attuned to the cycles of nature.

This is mainly because, while human intelligence might have its limits, inability to overcome the cycles of nature isn’t one of them.

Not that any of this really matters, because Klein doesn’t want to do this really, and nothing in her “planning” would achieve it, or is even designed to achieve it. Her six-point plan bears no resemblance to anything remotely “natural.”

It’s not even as sensible as my colleague’s ten-point plan for when he becomes dictator of India. That one starts like this:

1. Remove all restrictions on trade.
2. Legalise prostitution.
3. End all licensing laws.
4. Introduce the death penalty.
5. Put all corrupt people to death.
6. etc.

So let’s look at Klein’s plan. With the rhetorical crap stripped out, it goes like this.

1. Create a huge government deficit by building massive green infrastructure.

Yeah, okay. That’s just run-of-the-mill leftism, but we’ll come back to it.

2. Every community in the world to plan how it will stop using fossil fuels.

My favourite part of this is how collective lifestyle imposition is described as “participatory democracy.” I guess it doesn’t occur to Klein that people don’t require participatory democracy when they are free to make their own individual decisions. It’s only when some group is trying to force its shit on everyone else that the twin charade of “engagement” and “consultation” is invoked. Seriously, whenever you hear that you’re about to be consulted or engaged with, abandon all hope, because it means some decision about you has been made without you and you’re now about to be told what it is.

2a. This planning should focus on “collective priorities rather than corporate profitability.”

Somehow this is something to do with making sure those people whose current jobs are entwined with fossil fuels don’t end up left without a job.

This makes no sense. For one thing, there is nothing more capitalist than a job. A job is what you do to earn money (sometimes also known as capital), with which you buy the stuff you need to live. You can’t sweep away capitalism and keep jobs. It just doesn’t work. A job is not some kind of intrinsically good way of keeping oneself from growing bored with leisure. A job is work someone pays you to do. And jobs are not the same thing as work; this is why we don’t call hoovering and dusting “housejobs.”

Let’s also address the problem of “profitability.” You know, the one where “profit” is the positive difference between outgoings and incomings. You know, the one where that difference—that profit—is what the government takes a slice of (“tax”) to get its money to build lots of lovely infrastructure?

2b. Re-introduce labour-intensive agriculture in order to create jobs.

Labour-intensive agriculture is otherwise known as peasant farming, and peasant farming is not a job. It’s work. It’s the work one does not to have money with which to buy food, but to have food to eat. It’s back-breaking work that is harder than a job, less fun than a job, and less rewarding than a job. It is another old paradigm that we’ve actually spent some centuries now trying to get away from. We’re still trying to help third-world subsistence farmers get away from it. Returning to it is a shitty idea, and a really stupid plan for achieving a really stupid thing.

3. Rein in corporations’ ability to supply and burn fossil fuels.

That’s all well and good, but there’s nothing here about what happens to all of the other corporations where there’s no fuel. I work in a web software company. The other day, some builders over the road accidentally cut the power cable, and for two hours, the entire neighbourhood went dark. Our whole company was paralysed—no routers so no internet, no phones. Within ten minutes, the place was like something out of Boccaccio, with employees sitting in dark rooms telling stories about other power cuts they’d endured. Imagine that all over the world, and it’s only a matter of time before hundreds of millions of people start contemplating peasant farming as the only alternative to eating each other.

4. End non-local trade.

Wow, again, we’re back to the fucking Middle Ages. Thank you very much for coming to dinner, Ms Klein. Have a turnip. No, really, that’s all we’ve got. A turnip. We have to source our food locally, you see. Perhaps you would like a bit of the salted rat I’ve been saving up for our meat during the winter? What do you mean, that’s a protected species?

5. End “growth” in the first world.

Hey! You there! Yes, you with a good idea for streamlining this process! Stop it right now.

Either these people do not understand what growth is, or they don’t understand what humans are. Humans are problem-solving creatures. “Growth” is not using more resources to make more profit. “Growth” is solving problems. Often, it is solving the problem of “how do we do this thing with fewer resources?”

Klein obviously doesn’t understand this. To her, use of resources is to be minimised, except when the resource is human labour—use of that is to be maximised.

I mean, am I going crazy in the rare sunshine, or does anyone else see that we’re going backward here? The whole reason we use “stuff” is so that we don’t have to use people, because back when we had no “stuff,” we had things like 30-year lifespans from toiling in the fields, and slaves.

It’s like she’s saying we should use less stuff so that we can use more people, because it’s good for people to be used, because it means that they have work, and it’s good for people to have work, because it means that they’re not being underused.

It’s so recursive that she’s in danger of suggesting that jobs need humans in order to live.

6. Tax people and corporations.

We’re back to the whole “profitability” thing again. Now that we’ve spent some time using participatory democracy to make sure nobody cares about profit, and some more time ensuring that we stop using resources to make things, and still more time ensuring that no one makes money from using or supplying fossil fuels—where is the money, precisely, that the government’s going to take in tax? When everywhere is a co-op or a peasant farm, producing only what people need locally, where is the excess capacity that the government can take in tax?

This is the whole problem with this stupid obsession with the evils of profit. Profit is what the government taxes. Therefore, no profit, no tax. No tax, no government infrastructure projects or green subsidies or anything else the government is supposed to pay for because the private sector won’t do it because there’s no profit in it.


Klein sums up:

There is no joy in being right about something so terrifying. But for progressives, there is responsibility in it, because it means that our ideas—informed by indigenous teachings as well as by the failures of industrial state socialism—are more important than ever. It means that a green-left worldview, which rejects mere reformism and challenges the centrality of profit in our economy, offers humanity’s best hope of overcoming these overlapping crises.

Yeah, okay. There’s nothing in your “plan” that didn’t come straight out of the playbook of 1381, only in 1381, the peasants were revolting because it was such a shitty fucking plan and they didn’t like living under it.

More to the point, it makes no sense. The whole point of this “new paradigm” is to stop climate change and, as an added bonus, improve equality and “participatory democracy.”

But go back to the first premise—climate change should be stopped—and take a moment to ask again why that is so. Climate change is bad because it will destroy our way of life. It will kill a bunch of people outright in floods and storms. It will reduce the land area we have to live on, and reduce how much food we can grow on it. It will make many of the natural resources we depend on unavailable. It will make miserable, cramped subsistence farmers of us all.

And the way we’re supposed to avert this disaster is… to do it to ourselves first? What a pile of complete nonsense.

As Klein herself admits, the dangers of climate change are being used as a pretext to re-order the entirety of human life according to the “progressive” plan of using up excess wealth in order to maximise human work.

That is the most backward, fucked-up, and human-hating plan ever dreamed up. Anyone who backs it has a perception of life on earth so diseased and warped that they’re barely recognisable as human beings themselves.

Sep 112011

Alistair Darling, Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11, p. 269:

If I could increase gradually the rate of VAT to 19 or even 20 per cent, I could scrap the National Insurance increase. I could compensate low earners with a package of measures to negate the impact of the VAT increase. On top of that, I could surprise people by cutting both the basic rate of income tax and corporation tax in order to boost growth. I tried this out with Gordon, but was met with an emphatic no. I talked to both Peter and Ed Balls, trying to convince them that we needed something big if we were to come out of this with any momentum at all. While Peter this time had an open mind, Gordon and Ed remained implacably opposed to the VAT increase. There was nothing more I could do, so we stuck with the tax measures previously announced.

Two years later, and thanks to Brown and Balls, not only do we still have their increased NI and income taxes, we also have 20% VAT.

Thanks, guys. Thanks a fucking bunch.

Sep 042011

Archbishop Cranmer has written a lot recently about the Dorries/Field amendment, which he describes thus:

…her modest proposal is that women should be offered independent counselling to give them a breathing space before proceeding with termination.

Ostensibly, the rationale behind giving women this choice is because abortion clinics, which provide counselling, are not independent. Cranmer even imputes that they have financial interest in counselling women to have abortions, even though they are not-for-profit institutions, because the government pays them per abortion carried out. Ergo, more abortions means more money for the clinics to…provide more abortions, I suppose.

He has also written disparagingly of Louise Mensch, who has proposed her own amendment to the amendment, to the effect that:

Mrs Mensch believes not only that women must be protected from the manifestly conflicted counselling services of BPAS and Marie Stopes International; they must also be shielded from faith groups who seek to spread their own ‘ideology’.

Faith-based pregnancy counselling does not operate under a financial conflict of interest, and is therefore independent. Cranmer would not appear to recognise that conflicts of interest need not be financial.

From what I can tell (though His Grace is free to correct me on this), the reason this ‘offering of choice’ has anything to do with legislation—when of course ‘choices’ do not need to be legislated for—is that public money is involved. The Dorries/Field amendment would prohibit abortion clinics from providing counselling to pregnant women and instead use public funds to pay for these women to have ‘independent’ counselling, with ‘independent’ bodies being defined as ‘anyone who doesn’t get paid to carry out abortions.’

This would include faith groups, presumably, because they don’t get paid to carry out abortions. Never mind that faith groups have an interest in pushing women not to have abortions. And never mind that paying faith groups to advise against abortion will, naturally, supply them with a financial conflict of interest, as they will now be given money by the government to continue urging pregnant women not to have abortions.

So here is my question for Archbishop Cranmer.

Why should government pass legislation to give taxpayers’ money to faith groups to supply pro-life arguments when pregnant women can, even now, get that same advice for free from any priest, vicar, imam, rabbi, street-corner preacher, church worker, or religious internet blogger—should they wish for that advice?

Why is Louise Mensch wrong to say that faith-based counselling is no more neutral than that provided by abortion clinics, and to object to funding counselling that is equally conflicted, but for different reasons?

Why should taxpayers’ money, if it is going to be spent in this endeavour at all, not be spent providing truly independent counselling by people and organisations that have no interest in either payment-per-abortion or saving souls?

Any why, if the Dorries/Field amendment is all about giving choice, rather than restricting it, is it continually justified in the newspapers and on your blog by the claim that it will reduce the number of abortions by 60,000? Where is the study, the proof, the methodology to show, as this number suggests, that 60,000 women or so are connived into having abortions they don’t really want because they are not availing themselves of government-subsidised advice they could nevertheless get for free?

Because that justification, it seems to me, has nothing to do with women’s welfare, but everything to do with the amendment’s apparent real objective, which is to stop women having so many abortions. It may not be obviously coercive in this regard, but it is nevertheless clear from the touting of this figure that it has nothing whatsoever to do with women’s welfare, and everything to do with using taxpayer cash to give more influence over pregnant women to pro-life, anti-abortion groups.

The Progressive Dictionary: 7

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Aug 272011


The Free Dictionary: n. Reduced availability of goods, especially luxuries.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. Reduction in the rate of growth of government spending that can lead to, among other things, the requirement for employees of government to contribute more to their pension funds.

The Progressive Dictionary: 6

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Aug 262011


The Free Dictionary: n. Absence of interest in or enthusiasm for things generally considered interesting or moving.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. Absence of interest in or enthusiasm for politics, attributable only to either philosophical defects in the subject or the use of a first-past-the-post system of voting within the subject’s country of residence.

Aug 232011


The Free Dictionary: n. The money invoiced by a business enterprise in exchange for providing goods or services; the money paid to an investor from the profits of a business enterprise.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. Tax.


The Free Dictionary: n. A compulsory fee levied by a government.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. Revenue; the money paid to the government by its residents in exchange for the promise of a civilised society.

Aug 222011


The Free Dictionary: n. An industry in which mechanical power and machinery are employed.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. One of the few types of honest labour, the increase of which is the solution to all economic woe, involving a highly unionised workforce carrying out manual toil in the production of physical goods intended for consumption.