breaking news from the world of ideas

by Giles Fraser
Monday, 14
October 2019

Sorry Lady Hale, that’s not quite an answer

Back in June, Lord Sumption delivered the Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4. In a series of devastating talks, he charted “law’s expanding empire” – the extension of the law into areas of public life that were previously thought of as being beyond its legitimate remit.

In 1911 there was one solicitor in England for every 3000 inhabitants. Just over a century later, there is about one in 400, a sevenfold increase.
- Lord Sumption

Human rights law, he argued, has been particularly beset by a sense of mission creep.

When he delivered his lectures, he could hardly have imagined how prescient his words would seem just a few months later. The philosophical question raised by Gina Miller’s recent use of the law to thwart the will of the executive in proroguing Parliament was very much a question of the proper balance between the political and the legal. As Sumption warned, the encroachments of law into areas that it previously thought of as outside its concern threatens fundamentally change the balance of our constitutional settlement. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 14
October 2019

Prince Charles hints at a blueprint for his reign

When Prince Charles becomes King, one of the more dramatic ways in which the monarchy will change overnight is that it will once again become a court of ideas. Charles has an active intellectual life, and is surrounded by favourites and thinkers in different disciplines. In this he is quite unlike his mother, who is known to prefer more down to earth pursuits.

Leading the British delegation to the Vatican over the weekend to celebrate the canonisation of John Henry Newman, Prince Charles also authored a considered essay about the new saint in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

The event itself confirms the sphere of public life where he feels he can be most active: outside politics, but defending the role of faith in public life (see the 2008 controversy over his job title), tradition and heritage (see his foundation’s focus on traditional arts and architecture). In other words, things that matter but don’t make the news. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Saturday, 12
October 2019

Weekend long read: China’s illiberal Confucianism

This week’s long read recommendation, from T.H. Jiang and Shaun O’Dwyer at the excellent Palladium Magazine, looks at the rise of authoritarian Confucianism as an increasingly dominant state doctrine in modern China.

This revival of Confucianism has become part of the Zeitgeist of contemporary China. What lies at the core of this project is to redefine the relationship between the Communist Party, the Confucian tradition, and Chinese history […].

Liu Xiaofeng, a professor of classics at Renmin University, promotes the idea that the CCP, as an elite group, is the modern incarnation of premodern Confucian literati-bureaucrats, whose superior intellectual and moral virtues entitle them to function as the grand tutor of the people.  In contemporary China, argues Liu, the task of the CCP is to uphold lofty moral ideals (moral politics or “the Kingly Way”) in order to resist the nihilism and relativism of liberal modernity, exemplified by the way of life and normative political ideals of the United States.

- Jiang and O'Dwyer
 ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Friday, 11
October 2019

Why haven’t you seen your friends recently?

Back in 1929, the Soviet Union abolished the weekend. In its place a more ‘rational’ and less historically religious arrangement was established. The nepreryvka – or “continuous work-week” – divided workers up into five groups and assigned them all colours, with each group given their own specific day off. This way, production would never cease, with four-fifths of the workforce always on the go.

Socially, the nepreryvka was a disaster. People had no time to see friends; instead they associated by colour: purple people with purple people, orange with orange, and so on. Managers were supposed to assign husbands and wives to the same colour but rarely did. The Communist Party saw these dislocations as a feature, not a bug, of the new system. The Party wanted to undermine the family, that bourgeois institution.
- Judith Shulevitz, The Atlantic

But hasn’t capitalism simply reinvented nepreryvka, Judith Shulevitz argues in The Atlantic, with our hectic work-lives now increasingly directed by the demands of a 24-hour gig economy that has no respect for shared time with friends or the old fashioned idea of the family weekend? ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Friday, 11
October 2019

How the Knights Templar explain Portuguese politics

Portugal held elections this week, which I won’t pretend to know a thing about except that it’s all to do with the Knights Templar.

As this Twitter thread shows, the political division in Portugal already maps onto the country in the 12th century, when the south was conquered by crusaders, who established large latifundia and so with it a largely landless peasantry ripe for Communism centuries later (Lisbon, incidentally, was conquered by passing English crusaders on their way to the Holy Land). The same thing also occurred in Spain, as the thread explains.

Here's a small thread about why the map of the 2015 legislative elections in Portugal looks remarkably similar to the map of Portugal in 1160. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 10
October 2019

Why would anyone buy a negative yield bond?

In August, I wrote about negative yield bonds. A bond is a tradable IOU – in which the issuer (typically a government or a big business) promises to repay a specified amount (basically the bond purchase price) at a specified point in the future plus a bit extra – i.e. the interest on the loan, which is also referred to as the coupon or the yield. Bonds, therefore, are a means by which governments and other organisations can borrow from the money markets.

A negative yield bond is a strange beast that promises to repay the holder less than the original purchase price. It is therefore an investment guaranteed to lose you money. Nevertheless, governments have been selling these by the bucket load. At one point over the summer the money markets had $17 trillion invested in these seemingly unattractive pieces of paper. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 10
October 2019

Tax evading billionaires will put Warren in the White House

Well, it’s finally happened – America now has a regressive tax system in which the 400 richest families pay a lower effective rate than the poorest 50% of Americans.

That’s according to Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post, who reports on the latest research into what different income groups actually pay in terms of all taxes, not just income tax :

The Triumph of Injustice, by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley, presents a first-of-its-kind analysis of Americans’ effective tax rates since the 1960s. It finds that in 2018 the average effective tax rate paid by the richest 400 families in the country was 23 percent, a full percentage point lower than the 24.2 percent rate paid by the bottom half of American households.
- Christopher Ingraham

The following graph shows that the super-rich used to pay a lot more but that the gap has now not only disappeared but gone negative for the first time:

Presidential contender Elizabeth Warren has a plan to put that right. This is her “Ultra Millionaire Tax“, which happens to quote the economists who produced the above research: ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Thursday, 10
October 2019

You don’t have to be lefty to love Extinction Rebellion

Boris Johnson with Margaret Thatcher’s biography

It almost seems Boris Johnson was performing a parody set piece of himself this week. He showed up to a Thatcher biography book launch and described Extinction Rebellion as “uncooperative crusties” who should stop blocking the streets of the capital with their “heaving hemp-smelling bivouacs”. Boris’s father Stanley promptly and proudly declared himself an “uncooperative crustie” as he showed up to join protests.

The insult inevitably captured the headlines, but in his remarks the Prime Minister also acknowledged that Thatcher was ahead of her time in acknowledging the impact of “greenhouse gases”. In 1989 she gave a speech to the United Nations warning of the impending crisis around carbon emissions:  ...  Continue reading