Monday, August 17, 2015

A short history of Bertram

Chris Bertram

2003 Those demonstrations
But even walking a few streets around my home and looking at the posters urging people to demonstrate, I’m quickly reminded why I would not. “Bush” is represented on many of them with a swastika in places of the “S”—an absurd implied equivalence anyway, and a grotesque one a few days after the synagogue bombings in Istanbul. The stunt with the statue also suggest the triumph of theatre over political and moral judgement. And then there’s the fact that the Stop the War Coalition calls for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and that some of its components even support what they call the “resistance”. Since the imperative now is to stop Britain and the US from “cutting and running” and to insist that they ensure a transition to stable and constitutional Iraqi self-goverment (and put the infrastructure back together again) what the demostrators largely want is the opposite of what ought to be done.
The right frame, in my view, is to think of the state as “we, the people” and to ask what conditions need to be in place for the people, and for each citizen, to play their role in effective self-government. Once you look at things like that then various speech restrictions naturally suggest themselves. 
However, the central idea of the book, that receipt of a certain type of humanities education is necessary for people to acquire the capacities for empathic imagination that (according to MN) are necessary virtues of democratic (and indeed global) citizenship strikes me as (a) obviously false and (b) insulting to those of her fellow citizens who haven’t been the beneficiaries of such courses. Those given a more technical education are described as “useful machines” as early as p.2. There is very little empirical support adduced for any of the causal claims in the essay which tend to rely on more or less a priori arguments from various educational and psychoanalytical thinkers that Nussbaum likes.
2011 The fragmenting coalition of the “left”, some musings
1. The technocratic quasi-neoliberal left as incarnated by the likes of Peter Mandelson. Pro-globalisation, pro-market, pro-growth: keep the masses happy by improving their living standards....

2. The “left” version of populist nationalism. Culturally conservative, worried by immigration (and willing to indulge popular anxieties), anxious about the effects of markets on working-class community....

3. The eco-left. Highly egalitarian. Deeply sceptical about the capacity of capitalism to provide real improvements in people’s lives through “growth”....

4. The old Leninist hard left. Naturally they fancy themselves as the people strand 3 need to give them organization and direction. I don’t think so. Washed up, marginal, authoritarian and unappealing.

I have a lot of sympathy with the eco-left strand. The trouble is, whilst having, in many ways the most attractive long-term vision, it is probably electoral suicide (for now) for any left-of-centre party to run on a platform that eschews wealth-creation and rising living standards. And in the anglo-american world at least, associated ideas for shorter hours and job sharing are seen as marginal, impractical and extreme. Still, I see this group growing ever larger over time, as the environmental crisis becomes deeper, and as promises based on growth become both harder to keep and harder to translate into real improvements in quality of life.
2012 Towards a 21-hour working week?
First, I’m sympathetic, I really am, to the idea that people should work and consume less and that we should attend more to real life quality. But this doesn’t seem very realistic in my own life for two reasons: first, even if my employer were sympathetic (unlikely) I feel very hard pressed now to produce the level of research output necessary for me to stay competitive with other academics (not just in the UK, but elsewhere). I suspect this generalizes to many people in professional jobs: we couldn’t achieve the kinds of things we want to in our careers on those kinds of hours. ...
2013 Some days are better than other days
It is indeed remarkable how all the places inhabited by the super-rich (Kensington, Mayfair, much of Geneva, the XVI arrondissement …) are really crushingly dull. At least little of real value will be lost when we burn them down.
2014 Basic rights, membership and the UK’s toxic immigration debate

2015 Open(ish) Thread on Labour Leadership Election
I’m not a Labour member or “supporter”. As I voted (and advocated) a vote for the Green candidate in my constituency, I didn’t feel entitled to register.

I wouldn’t vote for Corbyn even though I share lots of his values and positions.

...If Corbyn is elected leader, what is going to happen? Most of the PLP will refuse (either openly or with some degree of caution) to recognize his authority. They will not serve in his Cabinet. There might be an open split, with some MPs going off to other parties, there might not. Probably there will not be and we’ll have a few months of ineffective leadership and infighting before there is some pretext for the PLP to declare no confidence in Corbyn. Then Corbyn and his new “base” will face a choice, to split, form a new party (perhaps in formal electoral alliance with the Greens) or knuckle under and revert to their traditional role. I predict the latter.

None of this is Corbyn’s fault. Fault lies with the generations of SPADs and androids who are represented by the other candidates. Of those, Cooper is the only one who I can see as a credible leader of the opposition. Kendall is a joke and Burham has reacted to Corbyn by making unthought-through pledges to do things on the hoof.

In short, there are no good outcomes here, and many disastrous ones. Labour is f****d.
2016  Brexit, social trust, migration and welfare: an ugly thought
Here’s the thing. Those voting for Brexit out of resentment against immigration are disproportionately the elderly poor whites who don’t pay much in but who benefit from those public services. A predictable consequence of them getting what they want is that the fiscal base for those services will be eroded and that either they will have to be cut or taxes will have to be increased. This is because those EU immigrants are, in fact, paying more in taxes than they are taking in services. (Actually, the UK is free-riding in a big way, as it never paid for the cost of educating and training those workers.) 
When I take those political affiliation surveys, I always say I’m willing to pay higher taxes. But now the devil on my shoulder is saying “why should you pay higher taxes to replace the taxes that were paid by EU migrants? Those idiots have brought it on themselves, let them now suffer the consequences”. An ugly thought, but I’m guessing that if I’m having it then I’m not alone. The UK’s EU referendum has eroded social trust more than immigration per se ever did. It poses the question of what citizens owe to one another in pretty stark terms. If people could mitigate the need for higher taxes by accepting immigrants and they choose not to do so, why should their wealthier fellow citizens bear the cost of their choices?
2016 Why it is not unfair to think of (nearly all) Brexiteers as racists
One reason for this is that I think of nearly all of them as racists and xenophobes. Since this is one of the most bitterly resented accusation, prone to trigger outbursts of indignation, some explanation is needed. So here goes. Most Brexiters don’t actively hate foreigners. At least I think and hope that’s true, so let me stipulate that it is. If active hatred were a necessary component of racism and xenophobia then it would follow that most Brexiters are neither racists nor xenophobes. But I don’t think such an active attitude is needed for the accusation to proceed. Rather, I have something else in mind....

[in comments] “What kind of reciprocal or universal solidarity is being imagined here ….” 
Actually just solidarity, or at least concern for, the ordinary Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian, etc families who live in your street, go to your school, work in your workplace, shop in your supermarket and are in all ordinary respects social members of British communities. Let that be taken as a reply to Manta also. So please quit the straw manning
Whilst nation states may be unable to produce the level of control for democratic electorates that they falsely promise, they are rather good at classifying, organizing, excluding and generally bullying people, with miserable effects for the people and their families who don’t fit into the neat little containers of nationality and citizenship or who would challenge them.
I know you’ve all been waiting expectantly …. My book Do States Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants? is published in the UK today by Polity Press (those of you in North America will have to wait until Wiley publish it in July). The book challenges the assumption that lies behind most debates on immigration, namely that states have a discretion to do pretty much as they like and may set their policy according to the interests of their own citizens.

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