- The Tapeworms of Finance
- Untrustworthy Dollars
- Britain – the Tyranny of Structurelessness
- China’s Democratic Dictatorship
- China from Number 2 to Number 1
- ICC – Kangaroo Court
- The Fight for Tik-Tok
- Saving Female Sports
- Salad Failures
- Iraq – Also Remembering 1987
The Tapeworms of Finance
Tapeworms are tough and hardy survivor of one of nature’s harshest food-rich environments, the mammalian gut. Shall we praise them?
No one does, of course. But ‘Darwinian Selection’ is seen as the answer by many on the right. So ask them why tapeworms don’t fit.
Tell them, if they don’t know, that a vast range of ingenious animal parasites are a much more typical product than apes or dolphins. Richard Dawkins must know it, but never mentions it.
Aggressive humans have always admired aggressive meat-eating animals – lions and tigers and wolves. Also strong grass-eaters, especially elephants. But most of the financial ‘heroes’ act much more like tapeworms. They tap into normal human desires to get a good return on their savings. Or the riskier business of investing in commerce.
A lot of what they do is pump-and-dump. Use a promising idea as the basis for a scam.
Warren Buffet actually is a useful investor. He creates value by reorganising badly-run firms. Invests by assuming that he should buy when the market is falling, and sell when it rises unreasonably. And has always been out of tune with the New Right.
Thatcher and Reagan removed regulations that had been put in place in the 1930s. Told everyone that the rules prevented dynamic capitalists from creating new wealth. But neither the USA nor Britain have been growing faster than they did in the well-regulated 1950s and 1960s. And since the 2008 crisis, they have done worse both economically and politically.
“Large US banks are being inundated with requests from customers trying to transfer funds from smaller lenders, as the failure of Silicon Valley Bank results in what executives say is the biggest movement of deposits in more than a decade.
“JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and other large financial institutions are trying to accommodate customers wanting to move deposits quickly, taking extra steps to speed up the normal sign-up or ‘onboarding’ process, according to several people familiar with the matter…
“Depositors are still attempting to move balances into larger banks such as JPMorgan, Citi and Bank of America, as well as money market funds, the people said. That is especially the case when balances exceed the $250,000 threshold that is guaranteed by federal insurance.”
The 2008 crisis saw the state cover the gambling debts of the rich, with austerity imposed on the rest of us to cover the speculative profits with real money. But this time round, many of them may be cut loose.
There is a separate problem that I’d expect to have fed into the crisis, though I’ve not seen it mentioned.
Not mentioned by media dedicated to convincing us that in the Ukraine War, Russia will crack before the West does. That China will be forced to stop challenging US hegemony.
The weakness is the huge deficits that the USA has run up from the days of Ronald Reagan. Tax cuts were seen as an automatic benefit. State spending was disliked – but they had to limit cuts to get re-elected. So they ran up a defect. Re-created much of it, after President Clinton had almost cleared the defecit.
To me, it is part of seeing themselves as wolves. when they are much more like tapeworms. Vanity that makes them act tough, when most of them are not in fact tough.
The USA depends heavily on borrowing and foreign investments. But by seizing the assets of any rich Russian who was not the declared enemy of their President and their Parliament, they made many people nervous.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 triggered a wave of US-led financial sanctions against Moscow. The two most powerful among them have been the decision by Western governments to freeze nearly half ($300bn) of Russia’s foreign currency reserves and the removal of major Russian banks from SWIFT, an interbank messaging service that facilitates international payments.
“These sanctions, which some have called the ‘weaponisation’ of the dollar, have predictably made Russia and China, the two biggest geopolitical rivals of the US, promote their alternative financial infrastructures.
“But it isn’t just Beijing and Moscow. From India to Argentina, Brazil to South Africa and the Middle East to Southeast Asia, nations and regions have accelerated efforts in recent months towards arrangements aimed at reducing their dependence on the dollar. At the heart of these de-dollarisation initiatives is the fear in many capitals that the US could someday use the power of its currency to target them the way it has sanctioned Russia, according to political economists and sanctions experts.”
The Global South have not backed the USA over Ukraine. They see the USA as unreasonable. They fear what would happen, if Russia and China were not limiting US power. And combined with Russia in BRICS, the strongest states now match or exceed the wealth of the G7.
Britain – the Tyranny of Structurelessness
Complaints about the ‘Tyranny of Structurelessness’ date to the 1960s. A complaint by a US feminist about others in the movement. But I see the problem as going much deeper.
Conventional Western politics defined what was legitimate opposition. The Structureless stuff does it by trickery, abuse, and threats. But it follows on from the 1960s demand for FREEDOM. A failure to accept that there can be many different views about what freedom is or is not.
Real freedoms for ordinary people could have been extended by laws that imposed Incomes Policy and Workers Control. Many in the Labour Party and Trade Unions wanted it in the 1970s. Even the Tories under Edward Heath would have accepted it. But far too many among my own Baby Boomer generation disliked it, because it was not structureless.
Barbara Castle as a serious leftist sought reforms under the slogan ‘In Place of Strife’. Most of the Hard Left decided they preferred Strife. They were very surprised when they then lost to Thatcher.
Justice through irregular acts of violence and trickery is a common fantasy, and Hollywood films put it across brilliantly. Thrilling car-chases in crowded cities, and no innocent person ever gets killed.
Or the film hero somehow defeating enormous numbers of the Professionals of Violence, mostly in a very photogenic brawl. Real fights are quite often won by the person you’d sooner see lose. And I’ve been reliably informed that real no-rules fights are usually much shorter. Not fun to watch, unless you hate the loser.
We were fooled. Far too many among my own Baby Boomer generation voted for Thatcher, when she promised a much less structured economy. And continued it with Brexit.
The UK is suffering because of it.
“Average UK real household income is broadly unchanged since 2007, just before the banking crisis, according to data from the Office for National Statistics…
“Household income per capita across OECD countries increased by 20 per cent between the first quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2022, but it only rose by 6 per cent in the UK.”
It is our lives, as well as our money.
“UK life expectancy growing at slower rate than rest of G7, research shows
“Widening inequality blamed for UK lagging behind all other countries in G7 except the US.”
US citizens today die sooner than the previous generations. But the rich-dominated media keeps many of them obsessed with threats to their liberty from the state. Feeling crushed by taxes, when workers got a better share of the national wealth in the tax-and-spend years before Reagan.
China’s Democratic Dictatorship
“Western democracy is weaker in this new cold war than it was in the first one…
“The Chinese Communist party has coupled dictatorship with industrial dynamism in ways that were deemed impossible by triumphant democrats at the end of the cold war. The theory was that the transition from Marxist economics would require the end of state monopoly control. That would empower a privately wealthy middle class who would then demand property rights, the rule of law and political liberty. Democracy and capitalism were an inseparable bundle.”
That’s a Guardian commentator, so naturally they expect China to fail soon. Much as Western commentators have been expecting every year since 1949. But Mao’s 28 calendar years of rule saw economic growth that was faster than the USA. A much better increase in life expectancy than most poor countries in those years.
By suppressing opposition, the Chinese Communists were able to give most Chinese what they wanted. What they had never got under various copies of Western values tried between 1911 and 1949.
The author sees Western problems, but is far too respectful of the New Right aberration.
“British wages have been stagnant or falling in real terms since 2008. The 20th century promise that children would grow up to enjoy higher living standards than their parents is broken. Liberal democracy offers social advancement through merit and hard work. The only reliable conveyors now are inheritance and luck…
“But for democrats, a stubborn economic malaise is more existentially threatening than any example set in Moscow or Beijing. There is no demonstrably better model out there, but the resilience of western societies needs more than just a complacent expectation that all rivals implode sooner or later.” (Ibid.)
But there is a better model – the Mixed Economy that gave us Full Employment and generous welfare before Thatcher and Reagan got us convinced it was wasteful and oppressive. And it won the Cold War.
Meantime in the Financial Times, I saw an article that noted how things had changed:
“A big difference between today’s cold war and the original one is that China is not exporting revolution. From Cuba to Angola and Korea to Ethiopia, the Soviet Union underwrote leftwing insurgencies worldwide.
“The original idea of containment… With patience and skill the USSR would fold, which is what eventually happened.”
Actually it was just half of what happened. The USA was lukewarm about ending colonial empires, letting Portugal be part of NATO while oppressing vast numbers of Africans. And had to attack White Racism at home, doing permanent damage to the New Deal consensus. Letting White Racism be scooped up by the Republicans, with their damaging belief in structurelessness.
China from Number 2 to Number 1
President Xi was given exceptional powers, when China’s politicians realised that the USA was not going to play by the rules that it claimed to follow.
He did this for 10 years in alliance with the Hu Jintao faction, who had similar aims but preferred softer methods. And with things getting tougher, the soft-liners are now visibly not a Chinese alternative. Not enemies either: their aims are approved of, but they might be too weak to enforce them.
And it flourishes:
“China leading US in technology race in all but a few fields, thinktank finds.
“Year-long study finds China leads in 37 of 44 areas it tracked, with potential for a monopoly in areas such as nanoscale materials and synthetic biology…
“Across the board, the institute also found that there was ‘a large gap between China and the US, as the leading two countries, and everyone else’.
“‘The data then indicates a small, second-tier group of countries led by India and the UK: other countries that regularly appear in this group-in many technological fields— include South Korea, Germany, Australia, Italy, and less often, Japan,’ it said.”
Japan, the former Number 2, made the error of listening to New Right advice.
“Chinese factories boom while Japan’s are in reverse…
“Factory activity in China expanded last month at the fastest pace in more than a decade, official figures show.
“However, in Japan manufacturing activity shrank in February at the fastest pace in over two years.
“Firms around the world are balancing reopening as Covid restrictions ease against rising costs of everything from energy to workers’ wages.”
“China’s manufacturing sector expanded at its fastest pace in more than a decade in February, in one of the clearest signs that the world’s second-largest economy is shaking off the effects of a nationwide Covid-19 outbreak and years of growth-constraining pandemic curbs.”
ICC – Kangaroo Court
A genuine and impartial system of International Law would be a wonderful thing. But it remains a fantasy. A cover for squalid politics.
After World War Two, the Western powers decided on a show-trial for its defeated German and Japanese enemies. Most of those convicted deserved it. But it was never intended to create an authority that could actually apply anywhere. And the USA protected Japanese who’d killed humans to research germ warfare. Traded immunity for the data.
The USA disliked the idea of an undefined court. But allowed it in 1998, because they can bully enough small weak countries in the Global South to get a UN majority on most issues. This included awarding the western half of Papua to Indonesia. And in the 1960s, the failed and deeply dishonest UN intervention in the former Belgian Congo.
Croatians who had been part of Croatian death-camps in World War Two were never touched, unlike elderly villains elsewhere. The USA wanted the Serbs to be seen as bad and Croatia good.
When the ICC was set up, 41 states refused to accept it. These included India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkiye, the Vatican City, and Pakistan, as well as China. States too big to easily bully.
Russia signed, but later refused to ratify, which has been in the news. Not in the news is that the USA and Israel are among the other 31 countries that signed but did not ratify.
The Fight for Tik-Tok
“The US and Chinese governments are battling for control over the algorithm that powers TikTok, with the short-form video app trapped in a geopolitical tug of war over its future.
“ByteDance, the Beijing-based company that owns TikTok, has faced US demands that the app be sold to cut ties to its home country, while the Chinese government has taken legal measures to prevent any divestment without its consent…
“TikTok’s algorithm has been touted as one of the most advanced uses of artificial intelligence in consumer technology. It is considered more effective than rivals such as Meta at presenting users with content they are likely to be interested in that does not necessarily come from friends’ recommendations.
“That has given the app an uncanny ability to serve up addictive lip-sync and dance videos that capture the attention of its 1bn users worldwide. But critics contend that, under pressure from the Chinese government, it could be manipulated to serve up propaganda or polarising material — a claim denied by ByteDance.”
The shallowness of US Libertarianism is shown. They use state power whenever it suits them.
Saving Female Sports
“World Athletics Council excludes transgender women from female events…
“Sports have been increasingly wrestling with the thorny issue of transgender participation in recent years, notably when New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard qualified for the  Tokyo Olympics in having transitioned in her 30s.
“Since Tokyo, the majority of sports have opted to allow trans women to compete if they lower their testosterone to 5 nanomoles per litre for 12 months. However emerging science showing that transgender women retain an advantage in strength, endurance, power, lung capacity – even after suppressing testosterone – had led World Athletics to propose a lower testosterone limit for at least 24 months in January.”
I’ve heard it said that they would dominate many sports, if they were let in. Theoretical tolerance would in practice exclude non-trans women from the top levels.
Turning men’s events into Open has been suggested. A place for whoever may be good enough.
“For decades the supermarket sector had been given a free run at our food supply chain by governments of both stripes. Just a dozen companies then controlled 95% of UK food retail and used that economic might to force such drastically tight deals on producers that many had gone out of business …
“We are capable of growing salad vegetables under glass in the UK all year around – not enough to meet supply, but certainly enough to deal with shortfalls. There are those who claim grandly that there’s something intrinsically distasteful and wrong about eating such foods out of season; that, as environment secretary Thérèse Coffey said last week, we should make do with turnips. That’s to misunderstand the history of agriculture. Humanity has been interfering with how and when crops grow since wild grasses were first domesticated on the banks of the Nile thousands of years ago. It’s called progress.
“The problem is that growing salad vegetables in the UK has been made economically unviable, both by those shortsighted supermarkets and in large part by Brexit. Growers in the Lea Valley around London, regarded as Britain’s salad bowl, have started applying to knock down dozens of acres of greenhouses so the land can be used more profitably for houses. As the Lea Valley Growers Association has explained, the post-Brexit seasonal workers’ scheme only granted six-month visas when they were needed for nine months. It meant bringing in two cohorts and double the training. That means extra costs which are not being met by supermarkets.”
The ‘miracle of the market’ was supposed to fix it all.
The difference between this and the Biblical ‘Miracle of the Fishes’ is that there is no clear disproof about the fishes.
Iraq – Also Remembering 1987
Weirdly, there are still people denying that the destruction of Saddam’s Iraq was a gross error. But only a few. Here is how one Iraqi women put it:
“We Iraqis had survived Saddam Hussein. It was the US invasion that destroyed our lives.
“We have a saying that captures the devastation of our country: ‘Saddam has gone, but 1,000 more Saddams have replaced him’…
“The Americans and their allies seemed to have a plan to eradicate the Ba’athists rapidly and efficiently, based on lies and disinformation about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Yet they had no plan for, or interest in, rebuilding the country and the state afterwards.”
I’ve kept reminding people that the USA saved Saddam in 1987, when the Soviet Union was still a superpower. He had failed to weaken Islamist Iran, but was still seen as useful.
The later US idea was to have someone much like Saddam, but docile and willing to hand over more to US oil companies.
Creating a viable society after the conquest was never seen as necessary.
Old newsnotes at the magazine websites. I also write regular blogs – https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams
 https://www.ft.com/content/2b580939-a4b6-48d2-8eb6-629b4cb1e06c – pay site.
 https://www.ft.com/content/85971473-d76a-48fb-ab03-efcad0829044 – pay site.
 https://www.ft.com/content/bc6685c1-6f17-4e9e-aaaa-922083c06e70 – pay site.
 https://www.ft.com/content/2426792b-1454-45b8-93d3-320cde3297dc – pay site.
 https://www.ft.com/content/b9f3b5a8-19ae-407f-be4b-e2536617b0f8 – pay site.