theunfashionabletruth

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Sometimes it’s the small things

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I find that often when judging a person’s character it is the smaller things that are more revealing. It is in these seemingly less significant moments – a throw-away comment, an instinctive gesture, etc. – that one drops one’s guard and reveals oneself more authentically than intended. I think that this holds just as firmly for organisations such as the BBC, whose members (due to the forces of groupthink, socially enforced self-censorship etc.) are perhaps better thought of as being components of one collective mind rather than a collection of truly individual, separate minds.

Anyway, that said, I’ve been thinking a bit about the Alternate Vote system recently, and whilst I am in favour of the change I must admit it has yet to really stir my passions. So I thought I’d read up a little, and I came across this overview from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11609887 . And whilst the broad aim of the piece is to give the reader a broad overview of the parties’ positions (hey, they’re providing a valuable service dontcha know?), it is in the smaller details that the writer cannot help but reveal something of the BBC collective(/ist) mentality. As far as I know – and as the article points out – the positions of the Greens and UKIP are basically the same on the AV question. But see how this is conveyed:

Greens:

The Greens will be supporting the “yes” campaign although AV is not their preferred system.

The party supports the additional member system, currently used in Scottish Parliamentary elections, and its leader Caroline Lucas – elected as an MP under the first-past-the post system in May – wants voters to be able to choose between a range of different systems in the referendum.

But the Greens have urged their members to put their “full weight” behind the pro-change campaign.

“A Yes vote would bring a step in the right direction and demonstrate an appetite for change,” says deputy leader Adrian Ramsay. “Greens and others who want a fair, inclusive proportional way of voting will then continue to campaign for further reform.”

Under the additional member system, each voter typically gets two votes – one for an individual, and one for a party. The exact proportion of constituency representatives and list representatives varies from country to country.

vs UKIP:

Party leader Nigel Farage backs a switch to AV, saying first-past-the-post is a “nightmare” for UKIP.

The party’s central policy making committee has decided to campaign for a yes vote in the referendum although some of its MEPs are believed to be sceptical.

The party failed to win a seat in May’s general election. But under the regional PR system used for European elections in 2009, UKIP came second in terms of the national vote.

Mr Farage has acknowledged AV is likely to make “little difference” to the party’s electoral fortunes, believing only the separate AV Plus system is likely to see “plenty of” UKIP MPs to Westminster.

Under this system, recommended by Lord Jenkins, most MPs would be elected via constituencies under AV. But about 10% would be chosen from party lists in a separate vote from designated regions.

Notice how the noble Greens seem to have arrived at their position through a balanced consideration of principles, whereas UKIP have come to the very same position through a self-interested assessment of future electoral prospects. Hmm…

Very revealing.

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February 22, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Irish Fairy Tale?

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/9401513.stm

I’ve developed a new game. The game is simple: I trawl through the BBC news website, clicking on articles at random until I stumble on some evidence of their institutional bias. The idea is to come across such an article in the fewest number of clicks possible. Well, I just set a new personal best with this one: 2 clicks.

The article is a precursor to next Monday’s Panorama. Here, our erstwhile BBC apparatchik (Fergal Keane) sets his sites on the Irish boom and bust. He writes:

Ireland is a nation in the grip of a moral hangover, wondering how such an age of recklessness had come about and why it had been allowed to last so long.

Hmm… good question. Did the Irish people all somehow spontaneously whip themselves into a frenzy? Were they consumed by a sudden madness, endemic to the great evil boogeyman that is capitalism? It seems our man Fergal’s analysis assumed the answer to be a sound ‘yes’ to these questions. Not that, of course, he was aware of this. No, his article seemed to have been based on such an emotive, romanticised and superficial level of thought that it is plain to see that at no point has he even bothered to consider any real, substantial questions about causes and incentives. The giveaway is his phrase “moral hangover”. Instead of actually applying some of his limited grey matter to questioning whether or not the Irish people’s behaviour had been incentivised by some external condition like… ooh, I don’t know, government policy, old Fergal satisfies himself with characterising the bubble as some collective fault of moral judgment.

We then get:

Nothing is so pervasive now in Ireland as the feeling of betrayal. I think we are on the verge of momentous change here. It will not be reflected in a radical shift in people’s politics from right to left [oh, isn’t that a terrible shame Fergal], but it could deliver something that has been almost entirely missing in Ireland since the foundation of the state in 1922. A real and widespread tradition of dissent, a people who will hold their leaders to account on a continuing basis and never, ever again believe that good times last forever.

What does this line about a shift from right to left mean? It seems the reader is left to infer that a) such a shift is desirable, and b) that a shift to the left is a natural consequence of the situation, as if Ireland somehow provides a counter example to the ‘capitalist paradigm’ (to use the vernacular of the leftist). And this is the kind of vacuous, romanticised left-wing drivel that the BBC are more than happy to put out. What we are getting is a silly fairy tale in which (mildly) complex economic issues are presented in terms of ideological caricatures.

Here’s a suggestion Fergal: perhaps being a member of the eurozone, and having ECB rates that were artificially low by Irish standards incentivised some people in Ireland to borrow a bit more than they otherwise would have? Perhaps it encouraged property speculation? Oh wait, I forgot that criticising the EU – or heck, just giving it any significant coverage at all – does not sit easy with the BBC groupthink agenda.

Perhaps I’m jumping the gun, and the Panorama show on Monday will give a far more balanced account than this ridiculous article suggests, but I won’t hold my breath…

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February 19, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Banks complicit in Madoff fraud?

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSULxqZUf-4 (can’t embed)

Not exactly shocking news I suppose, but worth putting up nonetheless

Written by theunfashionabletruth

February 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Posted in Finance, Fraud

Tagged with , , ,

BofE and Inflation

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So finally some attention is turned to the inept Bank of England who have really emerged from the whole financial crisis surprisingly (at least to me) unscathed. It continues to amaze me how little blame has been laid at the Bank’s door for their role in creating the bubbles that have characterised our economy in recent years. Why this is, God (or Allah or Buddha or Xenu or whatever your deity of choice might be) only knows. Perhaps organations like the BBC simply assume that Joe Public is too much of an ignoramus to understand the structure of central banking. (There may, unfortunately, be more than an element of truth in this.) Perhaps they themselves don’t really understand these things (again: quite likely). Or perhaps it’s all just a lot easier to bring in an angry lefty to shake their fist and rant about bankers and their vulgar bonuses than to actually produce any analysis of substance.

Anyway, the debate posted above centred around the inflation figure and its divergence from the Bank’s target.  Now I’m not going to discuss here the relative merits of inflation targeting – perhaps I shall do another time. No, the question here is just how political is monetary policy? One of the key problems that has always plagued macroeconomic policy is the ever-present conflict between sound economics and political expediency. In an attempt to remove this conflict in the domain of monetary policy, the Labour government in 1997 granted independence to the Bank of England. Now whilst there are legitimate questions about the democratic impact of such a transfer of power, the move does at least have an air of macroeconomic sensibleness about it. And as far as Labour go, doing something with even a faint whiff of sensibleness to it is about as good as you can hope to get.

So, does the nominal independence of the Bank and their MPC really remove the tendency to form policy in a politically expedient, short-termist manner? Well, it seems it does not. Firstly, as with any policy structure, it is worth considering the psychology and incentives of the agents involved. Is it realistic to assume that Mervyn King and the MPC would be happy to simply devote themselves to sticking to their inflation target, over and above all other macroeconomic considerations? They have their reputations to consider, just like anybody else operating in the public domain (well, maybe not Jordan), and macroeconomics is primarily characterised in the public eye by growth. Wherever there may be a policy conflict between inflation targeting and growth, the MPC will always have an incentive to break with their targets. This has been plain to see throughout the MPC’s history*. It seems the MPC face the same incentives to act in a populist fashion as the politicians.

So what if they do do choose to break with their targets? Surely there is a system of accountability? Well, technically, yes: the Chancellor can reprimand the MPC. The problem is – as the chap from Europe Economics points out in the video clip – that no Chancellor has so much as even let out a mildly disappointed sigh on hearing the news that the inflation target has been missed, let alone done anything of any significance. What has basically happened is that by giving the politicians the choice on whether or not to enforce the target, what is meant to be a constraint on policy is merely a constraint only if chosen to be enforced. Or in other words: not a constraint at all.

Thus, by granting independence to the central bank, we have simply moved from a situation where monetary policy decisions are made by government for short-termist, political reasons to a situation where decisions are being made by an unelected institution based on similar reasoning, but where now government can easily disavow themselves from any erroneous judgments if need be. Moral of the story: even if a policy sounds good, and stems from good intentions, the actual set of incentives involved always needs to be examined.

*It should be obvious to anybody with half a brain, who has applied any amount of time to thinking about the subject that not only do the central bankers in general have an incentive to sacrifice their inflation targets in lieu of a more populist growth agenda, but at the moment they also have huge reason to discount the importance of controlling inflation. That is, we have a huge public debt. Now, I don’t suggest that their has ever been an explicit decision made amongst the MPC to inflate our way out of debt (although I certainly don’t rule this out!). No, but on a more subtle level, the prospect of eroding the real value of public debt is always going to be in the back of the central bankers’ minds whenever the prospect of controlling inflation is considered. One doesn’t need a huge imagination to see how this might affect their decision making.

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February 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Europe’s Most Dangerous Man?!

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Well I know relatively little about Geert Wilders, other than that he is a controversial Dutchman who isn’t too fond of Islam. So when the BBC aired an hour long documentary about him last night, entitled ‘Europe’s Most Dangerous Man’, I felt compelled to check it out and see if the title description was apt. Who is this guy? What makes him the most dangerous man in Europe?

Well, fast forward one hour and I was none the wiser. This programme was just another BBC hatchet job; all I gleaned from it was that some people like Wilders, and others don’t. Those from the former group tended to look somewhat… odd, whilst members from the latter were a bunch of reasonable looking fellows. Maybe the film-makers deliberately chose their subjects this way, or maybe I’m imagining things. Or maybe, they really are a representative sample of their respective groups. Who knows. Anyway, then in the middle of the film there was a strange tangential section that seemed to be trying to ‘suggest’ that Wilders was receiving suspicious funding, although no concrete accusations were made, nor was any evidence provided. Then after this odd section subsided, we cut to a muslim intellectual Khalid Yasan (whom I am not familiar with) describing Wilders’ Zionist views. In the background of this segment, the music playing is clearly meant to induce a sensation of revelation in the viewer, as if he is having a ‘eureka moment’. All in all, I found the programme insubstantial and at points somewhat bizarre.

Now perhaps Wilders really is a terrible individual (like I say, I don’t know a huge deal about him), but based on the showing last night I didn’t have any reason to believe that he is. The only thing the programme really helped shed light on for me is the utterly ridiculous, backwards set of moral priorities that characterise mainstream views in society today. I mean seriously, a man is vilified as the most dangerous man in a whole continent simply for voicing his dislike of a particular bloomin religion?! Come on.

Now don’t get me wrong, Wilders isn’t exactly a man that I have warmed to. Indeed, I found that his slick, well-crafted appearance and persona made me instinctively suspicious of the man. Some aspects of his rhetoric were hyperbolic and not to my taste. However, these are peripheral points at best; the issue is: what is it about the views that expresses regarding Islam that is so fundamentally wrong (in a moral sense)? As far as I can see, absolutely nothing.

Indeed, the reason the programme failed to persuade me of Wilders sheer dangerousness was that it assumed from the outset that I, the viewer, was on board. An implicit premise of the whole thing seemed to be that to criticise a religion (or perhaps just Islam?) – or at least to do so in anything other than the meekest of manner – is a morally outrageous thing to do. Absolute nonsense.

Unfortunately, this programme is not alone – indeed, this implicit premise is made in almost every mainstream discussion of religion I have had the displeasure of witnessing. If we want to talk about what is really dangerous for Europe I humbly suggest that the BBC look not to any rogue individual who speaks out against the satus quo, but perhaps to themselves. You see, by making the assumption that they make, and thereby branding individuals such as Wilders as abhorrant, or ‘fascistic’, they are contributing to the socially prevalent propensity to opprobriate those who voice any controversial opinions. This: a) enforces a culture of socially imposed self-censorship which, if prevalent for sufficiently long can, I believe, lead to a very real reduction in the capacity for free thought; and b) equips those (typically on the left) who wish to stifle meaningful debate by simply tossing pejorative terms such as ‘bigot’ or ‘fascist’ at the speaker. Ironically, these two effects both then create a void which very often tends to be filled by the very extremists the opprobrium was meant to deter in the first place. It is no coincidence for example, that the rise in popularity of the BNP occurred at a time when the Labour government refused to engage in meaningful debate about immigration.

So do I agree with Wilders that the Qu’ran is fascistic? Well, truth is I’ve never read the thing so I have no idea. But more importantly, simply being asked the question does not enrage me or provoke me to insult the asker, for to do so would be the real mark of a fascist.

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February 15, 2011 at 8:10 pm