Rampant Germanophilia merits closer examination

Yesterday, Ian Birrell wrote about that great survivor of international politics, Angela Merkel. Her durability is indeed remarkable. In her time at the top so far, her opposite numbers have included three Americans, three Canadians, four Brits, four Frenchmen, six Italians and seven Japanese. She is a fixed point in a changing world – and, as such, is representative of how many view Germany itself.

It’s a point made by Anne Applebaum in an opinion piece for Spiegel:

“Some even speak of Germany as the West’s new leader. As Donald Trump’s America turns inward, possibly abandoning its free trade agenda and its longstanding commitment to democracy, Germany seems like a possible replacement. A poll taken in 2013 showed Germany to be the most admired country in the world… Germany’s public commitment to environmentalism, multilateralism and human rights give Germany moral standing; Germany’s industrial strength and export clout have given Germany economic power as well.” ...  Continue reading

The Left is (also) right about the minimum wage and investing in infrastructure

In his column earlier this week, ‘From Jeremy Corbyn to Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren; what the Left is getting right’, Liam Halligan highlighted Jeremy Corbyn’s focus on housing and Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for banking reform as examples of ‘what the Left gets right’. In her column Charlie Pickles adds the minimum wage and capital spending to that list.

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UnHerd has been exploring the global march of the Left.

Think Iglesias in Spain, Tsipras in Greece, Melenchon in France, and Corbyn and Sanders in the UK and US. Some have established new parties, others have radicalised old ones. Either way, in capturing the popular imagination, these socialist candidates have helped shake up mainstream political parties which had become overly comfortable in their grip on power. The financial crash – with its big bank bail outs and years of austerity – created a sense that ‘traditional’ parties and politicians just weren’t serving the people. That the rich have largely recovered their pre-crash wealth while lower and middle-income families continue to struggle appears to prove the point.1 ...  Continue reading

The political centre is not where liberals think it is

These are heady times for the hard left and hard right. A paradoxical side effect, however, is a renewed interest in ‘centrism’ – and not just as a punchbag for online extremists. In the US and UK there is talk of setting up a new centrist political party, inspired by the success of Emmanuel Macron and his En Marche movement.

But what exactly is centrism? The simple answer is that centrism is the opposite of extremism. However, that covers an awful lot of ideological territory. Is it possible to be more exact?

For liberals, centrism is another word for liberalism; but liberalism – whether in its economic, social or cultural dimensions – is rarely to be found on the centre ground of an argument, but firmly on one side or the other. It is only on the extent of state intervention that they take a middling position, guided by practicalities rather than principle. Otherwise, it’s all about maximising individual autonomy – as if that were the only thing that mattered. ...  Continue reading

The great survivor of European politics – Germany’s extreme pragmatist

For all the feverish polls and fervid political analysis, every election boils down to one core issue: change or continuity. When people enter the booth to cast their vote they are confronted with the same choice regardless of the names before them: do you want to give the current gang another few years in charge or kick them out for that other bunch? Many factors inform the final decision, from economics and social concerns through to personalities, yet ultimately all feed into this simple question.

Since we live in tempestuous times, with many voters spooked by digital disruption, economic pessimism and the pace of globalisation, several key electorates have opted for change in recent ballots. We saw Brexit in Britain followed by the shock insurgencies of Donald Trump in the United States and Emmanuel Macron in France. These same undercurrents, fostered by uncertainty, fuelled a resurgence of dismal forces from the dark past with rampant nationalism rising on the right and a reinvigorated Marxism on the left. ...  Continue reading

Marx: a revolutionary terrorist

Marxian theory derives a certain respectability from its Hegelian origins, but how do we account for its ready – almost casual – advocacy of violence?

The first and principal volume of Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (“Capital: A Critique of Political Economy”) was published in Hamburg a hundred and fifty years ago this week1. In it Marx observes that Die Gewalt ist der Geburtshelfer jeder alten Gesellschaft, die mit einer neuen schwanger geht – “Violence is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one”. Since then, violent midwifery in bringing forth the classless society of free labour and production has been prodigious. According to the grimly named website, Necrometrics.com, Stalin alone, directly or indirectly, probably killed thirty million people. This does not need comparison with fascism’s head count in order to accentuate its horror, for relativism only diminishes murder. The numbers speak for themselves – to which must be added those for China, South-East Asia, Africa and Latin America. ...  Continue reading

Could genetically selective societies breed themselves into crippling uniformity?

As we move ever closer to the commonplace genetic engineering of humanity, sceptical voices make an appeal to diversity. If we can choose how our children turn out – both physically and intellectually – aren’t we in danger of losing something?

The counter-argument is that if the population becomes smarter, healthier and better looking, then what’s the problem? Very few people would choose to be thick, sick or ugly – so why wish these afflictions on others if they can be avoided?

Writing for Bloomberg, Tyler Cowan develops a deeper argument against genetic choice. Though of a broadly libertarian standpoint, he has profound doubts about the wisdom with which we’d use the coming technology: ...  Continue reading

You don’t have to be old and uneducated to be an extremist

Indulge me for a moment and close your eyes. Now imagine a typical Trump supporter. Who do you see? An older white guy? A blue collar to go with that red cap? And what about the setting? Somewhere rundown in the Rust Belt? The Mid West? The Deep South? Anywhere but a college campus, that’s for sure.

But stereotypes don’t always accord with reality – and especially not with that part of the Trump coalition known as the ‘alt-right’. Admittedly, the alt-right is predominantly white and male. Some elements are undoubtedly racist and sexist, but what really characterises the movement as a whole is its vociferous opposition to the idea that whiteness and maleness are, in themselves, ‘problematic’. ...  Continue reading

How the Left conquered social media

During the election campaign, it was fashionable to mock Jeremy Corbyn’s rallies. They were reminiscent, some said, of the early 1980s when Michael Foot rebuffed criticism of his leadership of Labour by pointing to the fact he had a thousand supporters at his events, and “they all cheered”. However, as the MP and trade union leader of the time John Golding told Foot, “there were 122,000 outside who think you’re crackers”.

In the age of social media, though, rallies make sense. The audience for them is not primarily the diehard supporters who will turn out in the rain. It’s the hundreds of thousands of people who will see footage on regional news bulletins, and as ‘B-roll’ – the silent footage which is used as a backdrop to a voiceover – on Facebook videos. (Incidentally, if you want to tell whether a political party or candidate “gets” the internet, see if they have subtitles on their videos. If they don’t, it’s a red flag: many videos are watched on public transport or work computers, with the sound muted.) ...  Continue reading

From Jeremy Corbyn to Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren; what the Left is getting right

The Tarbell Column

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“Housing policy… perhaps nowhere has Tory policy failure been so complete and so damaging to our people,’ boomed Jeremy Corbyn at the Labour conference in October 2016. Corbyn was absolutely right. This is part of a trend of left-wing politicians and writers highlighting the genuinely important problems – even if they often propose heavy-handed, misguided solutions.

For decades, far too few homes have been built in the UK. Under governments of all stripes, house building has fallen woefully short of what is needed to accommodate even the natural expansion of British population, let alone immigration. The result has been spiraling prices and the emergence of ‘generation rent’. A decade ago, almost 60% of 25 to 34 year-olds owned their own home. Now it’s under 40%. ...  Continue reading

Who are more dangerous? Right-wingers or left-wingers? The generations divide again

Brits and Americans are united on one thing – 80% of respondents on both sides of the Atlantic agreed that terrorists were among the most dangerous people in the world today. No surprise there. But after that? ComRes presented a list of other possible ‘baddies’. The full list was…

  • Big businesses… or High-taxing governments;
  • Capitalists… or Communists;
  • Fake news;
  • Left-wing unions, politicians and campaigners… or right-wing pundits, politicians and donors;
  • Military leaders;
  • Religious leaders;
  • And then Terrorists.

The main reason for our asking was to establish the popularity/unpopularity of left-wing versus right-wing flag-wavers. The overall totals suggest little difference in either suspicion of the two ideological camps or, indeed, between the two countries. 20% of Americans saw right-wingers as dangerous and, very nearly the same, 18% saw left-wingers as dangerous. The numbers in Britain were 17% and 16% respectively. As with the data we published last week, however, the totals hide a significant generation gap… ...  Continue reading

Is Britain losing its religion? Well, it’s complicated…

We’ve lost our religion, and there’s no point making room for religion in public life. That might be one way to interpret new British Social Attitudes data that was released last week by the independent social research agency, ‘NatCen’. It showed more adults in Britain identify as ‘No religion’ than those who identify with a religion1. At 53%, the ‘Nones’ outnumber all of the religions combined.

But it might be a blip.

It’s the first time the figure has been this high, although we’ve seen broadly half and half for the last few years. In 2009, the figure hit 51% but then from 2010 to 2015 we saw the figure settle between 46% and 50%, leading NatCen’s own analysis only a year ago to suggest that religious decline had halted. ...  Continue reading

With robots likely to take so many jobs we need to retire earlier, not later

As robots threaten jobs it’s increasingly common, on the right as well as the left, to suggest that we need a “Basic Income” safety-net for everyone1. A kind of pension that you draw all your life. So whether you have a full-time job or not, you won’t starve.

I think there’s a much better answer… but we’ll get to that.

It really isn’t clear if the advance of robotics and Artificial Intelligence will actually destroy more jobs than it creates. If that happens, it will undercut the goal of ‘full employment’ that has been central to the developed economies for more than a century. Full employment doesn’t mean everyone has a job, but it means most people who want one can get one. There’s nothing more important to governments – other than defending the nation from external aggressors – than keeping unemployment down. ...  Continue reading