THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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August 2012

Why do Progressives fear Progress?

Social networking is threatening the open public network | Media network | Guardian Professional.

When anyone writing for The Guardian identifies a conflict between "public" and "corporate" interests, watch out. That's always a small screw that they want to drive home with the pile-driver known as the state.

If Facebook or Twitter or any other ephemeral organisations (does anyone seriously believe Facebook is forever?) upset me, I can live without them. And I speak as an enthusiastic user who derives a lot of pleasure; particularly from the former. I confidently expect that something as unexpected as they were will emerge to replace them before they ever become a threat.

I walked through the Science Museum in London with my young nephews yesterday. In a few rooms we covered the progress from cottage industry through industrial revolution to space flight. Much of that was seen in the life of my late grandfather. He saw one of the first motor cars in Britain drive through our home village when he was a boy and lived to see men walk on the Moon. The pace of technological change was dramatic in his life and has continued to accelerate through mine. Only political busy-bodies who want to regulate, tax and direct forces within their mean understandings want that pace to slow.

The Guardian, and the political classes generally, are stuck in the mindset of an era when classes, institutions and social relations were constant. They aren't any more, thank goodness. Only the aristocrats have any cause to regret the end of social stasis. For the rest of us, alarming though it may be at times that change is the only constant, it can only be (if we are prepared to work to prosper) good news.

I have seen the indefatigable defeated many times in my life. Think of mighty IBM slain by mighty Microsoft in turn slain by once near-bankrupt but now gargantuan Apple. Think of the Soviet Union or the Redness in Red China. The febrile idea I must fear Facebook or Twitter is ridiculous. Neither of them existed mere moments ago. If they are to be more than commercial mayflies, they had best keep innovating faster than all their would-be predators. Somewhere, in an American garage or dorm room, their nemesis already plots and schemes. I look forward to its emergence with lively anticipation.

Whatever the merits of Apple's successful lawsuit against Samsung, for example, it means that it has already mutated from plucky David to grisly Goliath. By going on the defensive it has come off the attack. This may be the moment of its triumph as a corporation, but it probably contains the seeds of its destruction. Apple stockholders are not betting on its continued dominance. No sensible shareholders are in relation to any company. You can't just buy consols and blithely go boating in a straw hat any more. Every shareholding is just a bet that there's some more life in a company's ideas before it goes the way of all flesh. And every shareholder's hands hover over his chips.

When, then, will our political thinking adapt to the new reality? When will we stop fighting the ideological battles of the 19th Century? And when will we stop promising each other a stability that would be as damaging as it would be tedious?

Why I still love America

Can you imagine a speech of this power delivered with such sincerity by a British politician? They are a seedy, cynical bunch, but Ms Rice (though a practical and effective politician) speaks from the heart. I know no other argument for the Romney candidacy than that she endorses it, but she herself would be the best President America could currently have. By a happy coincidence that very rarely occurs, she would also be the most electable Republican.

I saw her pass by with the Russian foreign minister at my favourite restaurant in Moscow when I lived there. My late wife and I were sitting among her Secret Service guards because the restaurant's staff kindly decided to let us have our usual table even though the place was closed for that meeting. I heard Russian friends speak of her with respect (she speaks their language well and, though she never wavers in advancing America's position, they know she understands Russia's importance in the world). It's in the nature of Russians that they respected her as much for the former as the latter. They despise their weaselly critics, not the sincere ones. This, by the way, is rather a problem for British diplomacy, with its reputation for combining sucking up with backstabbing.

I urge you to watch the whole video. She demolishes President Obama without mentioning him once or directly attacking anything he has said or done. This woman is highly intelligent, streetwise and a fine, impassioned speaker but the reason I love America is that someone of that calibre can be applauded for speaking from the heart in terms like this;

Ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement. We have not believed that I am doing poorly because you are doing well. We have not been envious of one another and jealous of each other’s success. Ours has been a belief in opportunity and a constant battle — long and hard — to extend the benefits of the American dream to all — without regard to circumstances of birth

and this (speaking passionately about education);

Self esteem comes from achievement, not from lax standards and false praise.

I long for the day when I can hear such sentiments expressed sincerely by British politicians. I know of no greater criticism of my own nation that I can only think of two who might ever do it; both of them on the margins of the Conservative Party and with little hope of advancement under its current, deplorable, leadership.

Or perhaps, sadly, there is one greater criticism; that the morals of the British electorate have degenerated so far, that such words would be received badly.

h/t Sean Linnane

Where I stand on the US political spectrum

As ever please click on the images to enlarge them and, though the Pew Research Center is a serious body, take the results of all such pop quizzes with a pinch of the proverbial condiment.

You can find the quiz here, if you want to try it yourself. I guess most libertarians will get very similar results, though the lack of an "it's none of the government's business" option will make for unreliable outcomes on social issues.

Screen Shot 2012-08-26 at 11.11.49
Screen Shot 2012-08-26 at 11.12.13

h/t Guido

Hysteria. His or ours?

How do we escape the hysteria that threatens to erode public debate? | Peter Beaumont | Comment is free | The Observer.

The linked article by Peter Beaumont cheered me up immensely. If the control-freaks of the left-wing press, so intent on setting every possible parameter of public debate, fear that;

The blogosphere, increasingly fuelled by toxic language, is hindering honest engagement rather than encouraging it

then we political bloggers are doing well. To quote (as I have not done in such style since my misguided Communist youth) from Chairman Mao:

It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear dividing line between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear dividing line between the enemy and ourselves but have achieved spectacular successes in our work.

The truth is that the elite Beaumont calls "opinion formers" feel threatened by electronic democracy. They had long ago managed to infiltrate and subvert the old media to present a consistent statist view that has been acquiesced to, but never truly accepted, by what Mao would have called "the masses" and I just think of as "us." We express this division of reality by the term "politically correct". If it wasn't different from that which is merely "correct", there would be no need for the qualifying adjective.

Beaumont considers any view that is not politically-correct as "hysterical", but I think the only hysteria here is his. True democrats seek to serve the people, not mould them. They certainly don't despise them, fear them and regard their use of language as "toxic". I only wish I could be as optimistic as he is pessimistic that his game is up.

"Opinion formers" everywhere are seeking to manage the internet. Communist China employs legions of trolls to contradict every anti-government view expressed online in an advanced form of electronic agitprop. The corrupt elites of the world will fight to keep their thieving hands on the levers of power. They will seek every possible way to hinder the resistance of those they regard as their lawful prey.

Now I have only one hero left

Now I have only one hero left

I was much moved by Neil Armstrong's family's dignified statement on his death.

Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.

Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.

He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.

As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of goodwill from people around the world and from all walks of life.

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

For those who may ask what they can do to honour Neil, we have a simple request. Honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

He was a very great and a very modest man. When you see a celebrity of minimal accomplishment and a bloated sense of self-importance, think of Neil Armstrong and what real manhood means. RIP sir.

A question

December 82 (13)
This used to be my local when I lived in Cambridge. I remember it as a rowing pub and recall being targeted as soon as I entered on account of my height (6' 7") and (then) general fitness. I declined the proposal to take up the sport and rather regret it.

But I digress. Coming across this picture when digitising my photos it struck me that it's a pub named after an idea. Most British pubs are named after the aristocrat on whose land they stand, heraldic devices, national heroes, landmarks or local legends. I can't think of any others named after ideas.

The closest I can come is "The Old Trip to Jerusalem" in Nottingham, where knights congregated to set out for the Crusades. It might be said it's named for the idea of the triumph of Christendom, or it might be said I am over-reaching.

Any other suggestions?

NHS exports

NHS to export death in a corridor.

The Daily Mash is being funny. But why not? The NHS already exported C.Diff and E.Coli around the world. In that context, isn't the idea of "exporting the NHS brand" rather flawed?

Humans are mortal, fragile and in many cases neurotic. There is an unlimited appetite for health care. Like it or not, it has to be moderated, either by pricing or rationing. I don't like that fact any more than the reddest socialist. I too wish there were unicorns frolicking in the streets and free health care for all regardless of wealth. Sadly there aren't and there isn't. I dislike pricing less than rationing however. Why? Because we have some control over how much money we earn, borrow or raise by charitable appeal and NONE at all over the decisions of bureaucrats. And because I don't want strangers to decide what treatment my family and I get based on their opinions of us or our life-style choices.

A national health service begins by nationalising service provision but ends by nationalising our bodies.

I understand the desire to provide universal health care. I think it's a bad idea, but if we democratically decide that we must have the state ensure it, let's at least have some regard to the strengths and weaknesses of government. Let it make health insurance compulsory and regulate it prevent companies from excluding whole categories of people. Let it prevent insurers from refusing to cover pre-existing conditions for more than, say, 1 year so that people can change companies to ensure competition. Let it even prevent deviation from a given pricing curve band over age set by actuaries without otherwise limiting overall prices. Then, if we must, let it tax to provide through social security for the premiums of those who genuinely can't afford to pay. Some variation, in short, of the French model.

But don't, for the sake of our health, our freedom and our relationship with our medical service providers, let it employ doctors and nurses or own hospitals. After all, that's a concept which, despite the British people's delusion that the NHS is "the envy of the world" hardly anyone has chosen to emulate.

A message from the 1970s

A message from the 1970s on state spending - Telegraph.

The 1970s were when my political views were formed. In that decade, I was suspended from my bog-standard comprehensive for my revolutionary activities. I was a member of a Maoist school students union, which organised the only pupils strike in the history of British education. I sold "Quotations from Chairman Mao" and "The Little Red Schoolbook" to my fellow pupils. I refused to be a prefect or to apply to Oxbridge (alas) because I was anti-elitist.

I had a Damascene political conversion as a result of seeing men on a building site where I worked in my school holidays subjected to violent intimidation by the Shrewsbury Pickets. I had already read my Marx but that led me to my Hayek and Popper. I went on to lead my university's Conservatives to take control of its Student Union from the Left for the first time and was one of the first people to call myself a "Thatcherite". I met and discussed politics with Sir Keith Joseph and discovered I was a good judge of character when I also met the pompous, wet and unreliable Sir Geoffrey Howe. I didn't like him the instant I set eyes on him and was not surprised when he later played Brutus to Margaret's Caesar.

But the truly formative event was the national humiliation wrought on Britain by Labour bankrupting the British state and calling in the IMF. I don't think anyone who was there and understood what what happening could ever forget it. It has informed my every political and economic thought since. It's why I am so scared by the nonsense flickering across the synapses of commenter and erstwhile guest blogger Mark (and virtually everyone else in Britain, alas).

Every new Labour leader should stand before his first party conference and recite Jim Callaghan's words, because they nail the greatest lie in modern politics and economics; that the state can drive growth. It cannot. At the most it can facilitate it, by providing the rule of law and consistent, predictable regulation that businesses can plan for, but otherwise getting the hell out of our way. This is what he said.

We used to think you could spend your way out of recession and increase employment by boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists. And in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion ... by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.

I agree with , author of the linked article in The Telegraph, that these are among the most important (and I would add almost certainly the most honest) words uttered by any British Prime Minister. That they have been forgotten so quickly horrifies me. If all my efforts in writing this blog achieve nothing else, I hope I can bring people to Mr Callaghan's honest, if no doubt disappointing for a lifelong Socialist, realisation.

Inflation rises "unexpectedly". Well duh.

Inflation rises unexpectedly | Reuters.

In what possible universe was inflation not "expected" to increase? Are we naieve enough to think that the economic gods would not notice the printing of money unbacked by value? Or that they are so stupid as to be fooled by the euphemism "Quantitative Easing?"

Admittedly the rating agencies seem to have been fooled so far, but the invisible hand tends to put its finger on the truth rather sooner than them.

Or perhaps we simply assert, with Merkel-like arrogance, the primacy of politics over economics?

A belated thank you note, one year on.

The Last Ditch: 'Mrs Paine' - 1956-2011.

It is the first anniversary of Mrs Paine's death and I won't be blogging today except to say this. Among the unhappy memories of that time is also the recollection of the kindness shown to me and my family by the readers of this blog. Your comments on the linked post touched me. I read and re-read them in the days that followed and marveled at the kindness of (mostly) strangers.

I am not sure I thanked you properly at the time. Everybody says there's nothing they can say to help in the context of such loss, but it's not true. What you said (or more precisely the fact that you wanted to say something) helped.

Thank you.