Monthly Archives: January 2017

In Moral Freefall

It’s less than a week since the US Presidential Inauguration and how does it feel? Metaphors and images come readily to mind, mostly involving cliff edges and falling off them. In the Oval Office, we see daily pictures of the Trump-creature (I can’t bring myself to see him as human) signing executive order after executive order. It’s like all my worst nightmares rolled into one awful horror story. The dominant image is of the USA in freefall.

Sign of man going over cliff
Over the cliff

The American Clifftop

All countries have their national myths: they are part of the glue that binds nations together. A powerful and enduring US myth is of the “shining beacon on the hill”: America as leader of the free world. American setting an example in terms of freedom of speech, equality before the law, peaceful handover of power following a free and fair election. To a considerable degree, all of these things are true. America’s clifftop is all of these things, a moral high ground of sorts. There have been a few landslides and rockfalls, mainly, in recent times, during the Richard Nixon and George W Bush eras. But the cliff is still there, discernible.

At the foot of the cliff, I see horror: a moral cesspit. There appears to be no moral compass to any of Trump’s decisions. All you see is personal self-interest, projected into a twisted notion of national self-interest. And right now, I see a country just starting its freefall from the moral clifftop to the cesspit. Most Americans don’t seem to appreciate the degree of resentment and hatred there is around the world against the USA. 9/11 was a sharp reminder of the most extreme example of such hatred. It may take months, it may take years, but the collapse in the US’s moral standing will have consequences, sooner or later.

The British Clifftop

At the risk of trying to stretch the “falling off a cliff” analogy too far, Britain has two clifftops to consider, one economic and one of social policy and ethics. We haven’t jumped off the economic cliff yet: we’re still arguing over the size of the cliff and what’s at the bottom. So far, Theresa May’s comments suggest see sees quite a high cliff and a hard landing. But all this will be the subject of acrimonious debate over the next two years.

We’ve already jumped off the ethical cliff by the referendum result last June. Despite the other EU members granting the UK a number of concessions and opt-out deals over the years, a small majority of voters still said we’d had enough and to hell with the lot of them. I must have been naïve to think that we British now considered ourselves quite European in our outlook on the main social issues. But we’ve always been the most Atlanticist in our values, and that’s got nothing to do with our geographical position. Our moral standing in the EU and the rest of the world has taken a great fall, except perhaps in the eyes of a sociopath like Donald J Trump.

May’s Visit to Trump

Trump and May at lift
Going Down? You betcha!

Which brings us to Theresa May’s impending visit to Washington. I squirmed with embarrassment and disgust when I read published extracts from a speech May plans to deliver to a Republican gathering today. It contains the usual British delusion of the “special relationship”: nothing new there. But, worryingly, she also speaks of “shared values” and “common interests”. I hope May’s shared values don’t include support for torture, undermining NATO and the UN and disdain for basic women’s rights such as abortion. There’s not too much evidence of common interests, on free trade in particular.

As to a bilateral trade agreement, Trump’s idea of a deal is one in which he wins hands down and his “opponent” is crushed and humiliated. And one of Trump’s sidekicks spoke of the meeting for the UK in its “time of need”. The new US administration clearly sees us as subservient, a supplicant. That’s another reason why it is stupid for Britain the leave the relative protection of the EU.

May also spoke of the opportunity for the USA and UK to “lead together, again”. To lead where, exactly? It would scare me witless to think of May leading the UK in any direction that Trump wanted to go.

Plummet Meeting

I spoke at the beginning about the USA being in moral freefall. If May is planning to try to hold Trump’s hand, metaphorically speaking, as he drags his country down, we’re truly in for a Plummet Meeting.

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What’s My Line?

What's My Line 1950s panel show
What’s My Line panel show

Only people well above retirement age will remember a gentle 1950s TV panel game called What’s My Line? Panellists would try to guess a person’s line of work from a mime and answers to ten “yes” or ”no” questions. Right now, Theresa May doesn’t seem to know what her job is. She spent too long as Home Secretary and still hasn’t woken up to her apparent promotion.

The Home Office

It’s been a truism of British politics that the job of being Home Secretary breaks politicians. In the last 25 years we have had 11 jobholders in that post. That’s an average duration of 2 years and 3 months. Theresa May stuck it out for 6 years (with Michael Howard and Jack Straw next, at 4 years apiece). That speaks to me volumes about May’s politics and outlook on society.

For a long time, I’ve believed that the Home Office is the most illiberal, dysfunctional of all the government departments. Even more this is true of its bastard offspring, the UK Border Agency, where asylum-seekers and would-be citizens have to navigate a nightmarish, Kafkaesque system to gain residency and citizenship rights. Anyone who has had any dealings with the system knows that the tabloid portrayal of Britain as an “easy touch” for immigrants is a gross, downright lie.

Theresa May
May: beyond her comfort zone?

May is, I believe, a rather small-minded person with a strong authoritarian streak. I detect no real sense of empathy or genuine humanity – just like I view the Home Office. No wonder she lasted so long there. During this time, Prime Minister Cameron often repeated that Government policy was to reduce net migration into the UK to “tens of thousands”. This policy was absurd, as achievement was outside his control.

Possibly bruised by her experience of repeatedly failing to meet Cameron’s daft immigration “target”, May appears to be over-obsessed about immigration. May has swallowed whole the argument, put forward by UKIP, her Europhobic flank and the rabid tabloids, that the referendum result implies reducing immigration is a top priority in the EU negotiations. There is no sound reason to draw this conclusion.

Motives for Voting “Leave”

Let’s unpick this assumption a bit. The referendum produced a binary result to the question whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU. It stands to reason that voters on both sides would have had a variety of reasons in mind when voting. I’m unaware of any convincing research as to what those reasons actually were. Let’s try to list those of the “leave” voters, in roughly ascending order of merit:

  1. Bigotry: racism and xenophobia: sadly, there is still a minority of people who fit this category. They are implacably opposed to the EU and all its works and their opinions are fixed firmly. A few of these are those responsible for the rise in hate crimes since the referendum. Clearly, all people with such a reason would wish to see a drop (to zero, presumably) in immigration.
  2. Credulity: the referendum saw politicians in the leave camp at their most mendacious: I have never known so many blatant lies. This followed 40-plus years of lies, distortions and propaganda from sections of the media (you know who). I have to keep reminding myself that many – most? – people do not take the degree of interest in politics that I do. Such people may be more willing to accept these lies as the truth. A difficult-to-quantify proportion of these will agree that immigration should be reduced.
  3. Post-imperial hubris and delusion: Likely to be skewed towards older voters, there are many Brits who continue to live in the shadow of our airbrushed imperial past. They hold instinctive views that we can relive our former imperial glory and be better off going it alone. Probably a majority holding these views would wish to reduce immigration, since, obviously, the British are better at doing things than Johnny Foreigner – despite vast evidence to the contrary.
  4. Resistance to change: I would guess there’s a far greater number of “leave” voters in this category. Too-speedy change to the composition of a community can be disconcerting and a proportion of people will be opposed. It’s likely a significant proportion of this group would want reduced immigration. Some may not: they may see the economic and key skills benefits of migrants, as long as there are not too many in their back yards.
  5. Desperation to be heard and for a change from the status quo: Much has been heard about this group and their vulnerability to populist siren voices. There’s a partial overlap with “credulity” in that they’re likely to have allowed their anger about “elites” to be diverted away from those people and policies responsible (bankers / free market fundamentalism) to the “faceless bureaucrats” in Brussels instead. There’s no obvious way of guessing the importance they attach to immigration as part of the problem.
  6. Socialist dreamers: There is an honourable reason to want Britain to leave the EU, exemplified by the late Tony Benn. This is that the EU has been “captured” in ideology by the free market fundamentalists. Britain would be better going it alone with a (presumably Labour) Government introducing legislation which restores the balance of rights to employees and poorer members of society. Control of immigration hardly enters this line of reasoning. Attractive as this idea may be, I suspect this isn’t going to happen any time soon. The greater danger was spelled out by Phillip Hammond threatening to turn the UK into a tax haven with even fewer rights for workers and the poor and a further erosion of our tax base.

Of course, an individual voter may have weighed up several of these factors and some have clear overlaps. But there’s nothing to suggest that immigration is the top concern of Leave voters. When you add in the 48% who voted Remain, the argument for prioritising immigration over the economy – or anything else – falls away entirely.

Read the Job Description!

For me, this all leads to a straightforward conclusion. May was in her comfort zone as Home Secretary. By definition, her brief as Prime Minister is much wider. Viewing the EU negotiations from the perspective of her previous job has led to a grievous consequence. She has, without perhaps realising it, surrendered to the view of the most nauseating and bigoted of the extreme Europhobes in her own party and to the even more nauseating populist slimebags in UKIP.

In short, Theresa May clearly falls a long way short of the Job Description for the job as Prime Minister of the UK. As predicted, she has now lost the Supreme Court appeal – at great expense and waste of time. Let’s hope that members of parliament will help her to understand she is not some medieval monarch, but the Prime Minister of a 21st century democracy.

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My Way

The scene: President’s Inaugural Ball, Washington DC, 20 January 2017. The new US president and first lady take to the dance floor.

Donald and Melania Trump dancingAnd now, the end is near
And so you face the final curtain
The world, it stands in fear
The civilized: well they’re just hurtin’
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I bullied all, in a tough-guy way
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regret’s not what I do
My past mistakes, I’ll never mention
Regret is just for you and those I screw without attention*
I lurched from boom to bust, from bust to boom, a do-or-die** way
It’s mostly luck, don’t give a fuck, I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I would grope and I would screw
But through it all, when there was doubt
I shut them up and spat them out
To ease my itch, just grab a bitch and do it my way

I’ve loved; myself of course
It’s what you call self-adulation
And now that I’m the boss, I’m gonna fuck up every nation
I’ll build a wall, and that’s not all
The world will glow, that’s in a fry way
If I feel heat, another tweet, I’ll do it my way

America, I’ll make it great
I’ll show you all just how to hate
The weak, the poor, and millions more
If I feel sore, I’ll start a war
To darkest times – at least *that rhymes!
I said “unite”, that all was shite, just do it my way.

(**I do. You die.)

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The March of Civilization

The world watches on anxiously as the Americans are about to embark on a highly dangerous experiment. They are about to hand over the keys of the White House to a “grotesque man-baby*”. With the keys come the world’s largest economy and by far the world’s largest military operation and the codes to a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons. It feels like the onward progress of humankind, the “march of civilization” has been thrown into a terrifying reverse.

(*thank you to Polly Toynbee for this memorable, and chillingly accurate, turn of phrase.)

Ascent and descent of man
Ascent and Descent

Civilization

What do we mean by civilization? My dictionary defines it as follows: “an advanced stage or system of human social development”. This is fine as far as it goes, but begs the question about the word “advanced”. I think it is easier to spot which societies are civilized and which are not, rather than come up with a precise definition. But bound up in the idea is the sense of advancement, of moving forward, of progress.  My own world view is strongly bound up in this notion of advancement: the “march of civilization”, if you like. As we learn and discover more, as we spread our knowledge and improve our skills in education, we become more “civilized”.

At the 1908 London Olympics, the gold medallist in the men’s high jump cleared 1.90m. The current Olympic record is 2.39m (world record 2.45m). Better training, fitness and innovative techniques have literally “raised the bar”. So it is with civilization.

Early Civilizations

It’s generally accepted by historians that civilizations arose independently in several parts of the world: the Middle East, Asia, China and Meso- and South America. The earliest were in Mesopotamia (roughly modern Iraq and parts of neighbouring countries), the east coast of the Mediterranean and in Egypt, beginning around 3500BCE. And of course, classical Greece is seen as the foundation for Western democratic civilization.

If we were transported back in time, clearly we would be shocked by many aspects of what we would see. None of these early “civilizations” would feel “civilized” to a 21st century western eye. Slavery, random acts of violence, arbitrary rule with little or no concept of equality before the law would be just for starters. A total lack of status for women, early death from violence or disease and near-100% illiteracy would be commonplace, too. What we call “civilized” today has been a long time in the making. Like the high jump, successive generations have raised the bar when it comes to defining civilization.

To the Rear, March

No one is naïve enough to believe that progress has been smooth and steady. To give a random example, the good intentions of the French Revolution were followed by a bloodbath before some new order prevailed. Nevertheless, in the longer term, progress has been in a forward direction.

But two key events in 2016 have given the onward march a violent kick backwards. In June, the Brits stuck two fingers up at our closest neighbours – closest geographically and culturally. And in November, the Americans voted a grotesque caricature of a human being as their next president.

Uncivilized USA

We all presumably carry some kind of mental checklist around in our heads about what it takes for a country to be civilized. For many a year, I’ve said that the USA doesn’t meet my criteria, for two – or three – reasons. The two, either of which alone would, for me, disqualify it, are:

  • The US still commits judicial murder on its own citizens (i.e. capital punishment);
  • It has no comprehensive healthcare system (despite Obama’s attempts) to look after all its citizens when they fall ill, regardless of their ability to pay.

The third, which comes close to the previous two, is the lack of state control on gun ownership, a basic failure of a duty of care for its citizens.

But the United States is about to get a whole lot further from my definition of a civilized nation. Sunday’s Observer doesn’t mince words: “His [i.e. Trump’s] often-demonstrated ignorance, racial bigotry, misogyny, untruthfulness, hostility to free speech, crude bullying and dangerous, rabble-rousing nationalism utterly disqualify him. […]Even if all Trump’s numerous inadequacies and sordid personal baggage were set to one side, his egregious lack of coherent, fact-based, rational and cooperative policy platforms, especially internationally, is potentially disastrous.” Quite.

Assuming we all survive the next four years, there will be some backlash to all this, sooner or later. I have to believe the march of civilization will move forward again one day. Whether that’s in my lifetime, right now, I’m not so sure…

 

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Can’t Be Trusted!

The Red Cross, not known for exaggeration, calls it a “humanitarian crisis”. The “it” is, of course, the state of the NHS and its A&E services in particular, as winter takes its toll. Three times as many NHS trusts are in deficit as a year earlier, key targets such as waiting times are being missed on a spectacular scale.

The NHS remains one of Britain’s most cherished institutions. And yet, it seems that significant numbers of the electorate are very slow learners: The Tories can’t be trusted with the NHS!!

On the Cheap

Britain has been getting its healthcare on the cheap for a long time, compared with similar countries. The graph below compares spend on healthcare (as a percentage of national income: GDP) of around 30 countries:

Healthcare spending international comparison
Healthcare spending by countries

It can be seen that most of our comparable countries in the developed world spend more than the UK – the USA spectacularly so. The obvious consequence of this is that the NHS is less well-resourced than its main European neighbours (but not the USA! – see below).

doctors by country
Doctors by country

The degree of goodwill shown by NHS staff in maintaining the system becomes apparent when you see the relatively thin provision of key staff: doctors shown above and nurses below. (NB: no / incomplete nurses data for the Netherlands and Italy.)

nurses international comparison
Nurses by country

But perhaps the most shocking of all is Britain’s incredibly low provision of hospital beds: see below. When you add in the “bed blocking” caused by draconian cuts in social services budgets over the past few years, it’s easy to see why “running out of hospital beds” is a daily news item. It’s not just the cold weather and feckless patients, it’s the result of government policy.

hospital beds international comparison
Hospital beds by country

The US Confidence Trick

It’s perhaps worth pointing out something else that jumps out of these graphs. That’s the spectacularly poor performance of the USA healthcare system. Despite the eye-wateringly high spend, Americans get very little for their money – as the graphs above show in terms of doctors, nurses and hospital beds. US life expectancy is lower than the UK and EU average, its infant and post-natal mortality rates are practically third world standard. A stark warning is the fact that a significant faction of the Conservative party wants to undermine and destroy the NHS to bring in something more like the US system. Clearly, the Americans are being conned big-time. Their dollars must go to the fat profits and the spending on major lobbying and propaganda campaigns of the private US healthcare companies. You have been warned.

Recent Healthcare History

All the above information shows how Britain compares to similar countries, using the most recent data available to the OECD. A historical perspective of trends in healthcare spending in the UK is also instructive, as the graph below demonstrates. Background colours on the graph represent Labour (pink), Tory (blue) and Tory / Lib Dem coalition (green) governments.

healthcare spend 1951-2020
Healthcare spend 1951-2020

From the 1950s through to the mid-1970s, both Labour and Conservative governments followed similar policies in terms of funding the NHS. Spending rose slowly in line with longer life expectancy and a wider range of treatments available. The period of decline in the late 1970s can be attributed to shock to the economy of the oil crisis and the five-fold increase in the price of oil. The jump up in the graph in 1980, shortly after Thatcher won the election, is not due to an increase in spending on the NHS. Rather, it is due to the sharp drop in GDP; Thatcher’s monetarism experiment resulted in a sharp recession, wiping out much of British manufacturing industry and the steady jobs with them – never to return.

Spending was stagnant through the 18 years of Tory government, mostly falling slowly under Thatcher with a slight compensatory rise under John Major. When Tony Blair won the 1997 election, spending was under 6% of GDP, whilst average spending in the rest of the EU had steadily risen to over 8%. Blair pledged to bring NHS spending up to the level of the EU average: a 25%-plus increase overall. The graph clearly shows a rise to nearly 8% by the 2010 election, but the EU average by then was approaching 11%.

Under the 2010-15 coalition, spending was stagnant, despite the continuing increase in demand due to increasing longevity and new, expensive treatments. The graph shows the forecast decline for the Tory years to 2020. This forecast is made by the respected, expert medical charity The King’s Fund, based upon stated government policy announcements. No wonder that Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, told the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on Monday that Theresa May’s assertion that the NHS was getting all the funding it wanted “stretches it” – “it” being the truth. That’s polite speak for pointing out she’s a liar.

Tory Private Healthcare Links

The figures above speak for themselves: Tory governments since the 1980s tend to underfund the NHS. The institution is still much loved by the UK public whereas, to some implacable free market Tories, it acts as an inconvenient contradiction to the “truth” that private provision is always better than public. Add to that the many Tory MPs with vested interests in private healthcare providers: see this 2014 Daily Mirror article, for example. (It’s interesting – and disturbing – to note that many people in the Mirror’s article have now moved to government posts closer to healthcare and cabinet posts since the article was written.)

Which brings us full circle to my original point: how much more evidence do people need that the Tories cannot be trusted with the NHS?

Serious attempts are being made to formulate some kind of non-partisan, consensus policy-making to secure long-term funding for healthcare in this country. Indications so far are that May and company are resisting this: she appears always to want to have her own way and dismisses, rather than listens to, dissenting voices. Failing that, we will need some organised, grassroots political movement to get the Tories out of office before they destroy the NHS completely. The fightback must begin – soon.

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A Fundamental Contradiction

Well, here we are in 2017, in the worst mess politically in my lifetime. Hatred, xenophobia and bigotry on the rise again, the highest levels of inequality for a century and the prospects of matters getting even worse. It’s worth tracing how we got to this position – and I want to explain the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the thinking of those who got us here.

Early thinking

Starting with Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead in 1943, the economic theory which I call Free Market Fundamentalism slowly began to form. Rand’s 1957 work Atlas Shrugged further developed the idea of the “morality of rational self-interest”. The intellectual baton passed to economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek, first at the LSE then at the University of Chicago. Hayek won a Nobel Prize in economics in 1974 for work on the theory of money. (One ironic moment in the story was 30 years earlier, when Hayek was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy, nominated by his intellectual arch-rival, John Maynard Keynes.)

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand

13 years Hayek’s junior, Milton Friedman was also at Chicago between 1946 and 1977. The “Chicago school” developed further the ideas which were to form the basis of FMF.

Implementation: Thatcher and beyond

Hayek and Friedman acted as advisers to various right-wing politicians in the USA and elsewhere, including Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.  A key moment came in 1975, shortly after Margaret Thatcher had become leader of the Conservative Party. At a Tory policy conference, Thatcher produced a copy of Hayek’s book The Constitution of Liberty, stating “This is what we believe”. Reagan in the USA stated he was much influenced by Hayek. Thatcher and Reagan both appointed ardent Hayek followers to key government posts in their respective governments.

Augosto Pichochet
Augosto Pinochet

But the first to put Hayekian ideas into practice was Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet. In 1975, when he wasn’t busy “disappearing” his political opponents, Pinochet implemented free-market reforms which rescued Chile’s economy from some of its ills, at the expense of rapidly rising inequality and poverty. Thatcher and Pinochet remained friends until the latter’s death in 2006. Thatcher lobbied for his release from house arrest in 1999 where he was held pending a request for extradition for alleged human rights abuses.

One defining strand of FMF thought in the early 1980s was monetarism. There was much talk of the “velocity of circulation” of money and much debate as to what actually counted as money. The resulting policy implementation led to two devastating recessions, in 1980 and 1984, which saw off much of British manufacturing industry, never to return.

Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich Hayek

As virtually all of the economic growth was hoovered up by the richest 1% of the population, money flowed secretly into the coffers of various right-wing “think tanks”. Hayek himself had been instrumental in the founding of one of these notorious bodies: the Institute of Economic Affairs. Another think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, was co-founded by Keith Joseph, Thatcher’s Secretary of State and propagated Hayekian ideas. A third, Policy Exchange, co-founded in 2002 by Tory ex-Ministers Michael Gove and Francis Maude, pursues the same propaganda war. Common features of these organisations are their bland, neutral-sounding names, their extreme right-wing agenda and the lack of transparency in their funding sources. More information can be found at the Transparify and WhoFundsYou  websites and my earlier blog post Think Tanks? More Like the Thought Police!

Parallel realities

A key problem for the proponents of Free Market Fundamentalism is when rigorous pursuit of their policies for over 30 years fails to deliver us all to the promised land. Thorns in their side are those intellectuals and independent-minded people who point out the failure of this policy – most spectacularly in the 2007-8 economic crash, but also in low economic growth, massive tax avoidance, chronic underfunding of public services and rampant rises in inequality and poverty. For Chilean dictator Pinochet, the solution was simple: lock up and kill your political opponents.

But in liberal democracies such as the UK and USA, a more subtle approach is needed. For right-wing politicians, this has mainly taken the form of the consistent application of propaganda (i.e. lies) to deflect criticism away from their policies which have caused the problems. The best two examples of this since 2010 in the UK are the vilification of the poor (including highly misleading distortions about benefit fraud) and putting the blame for the 2008 global recession on the then Labour Government.

Such propaganda has been highly successful and has led to a distinct rise in intolerance and hatred. But the politicians have been helped enormously by their friends in the media, traditional and digital, aided and abetted by those shady think tanks. In his excellent 2014 book The Establishment: and How They Got Away With It, Owen Jones calls these groups and individuals the “outriders” of the system. For reasons of electability, the politicians have to choose their words carefully and not be too brazen about their lying. (At least, that was true until last year’s EU referendum campaign, by far the low point in UK politics in my lifetime.) No such scruples apply to the outliers. The think tanks, Fox News, the Sun, Mail and Express in the traditional media and the likes of Breitbart and worse in the new media pump out a vision of a parallel universe in which truth is an inconvenience to be swept aside with contempt and fury.

Populism and post-truth society

Add to all this the social media and search engines: Facebook, Twitter, Google and so on. Their algorithmic, profit-maximising approach to presenting information on the web, together with a proliferation of false news propaganda websites, can promote lies to the top of the list above those websites, often less melodramatic in tone, aiming to tell the truth. Instead of reasoned debate between people with different views, discourse has now split into two distinct strands. Firstly, people seek out those sources of information which share their views and people spend much of their time in bubbles of the like-minded. The second form of discourse is hysterical ranting, often limited to Twitter-length soundbites of people abusing and threatening each other.

Throw in the denigration of “experts” and you arrive at the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of 2016: post-truth.

The Contradiction

This now brings us up against the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the post-truth project.

The early intellectual founders of Free Market Fundamentalism appealed, above all, to the rationality of humankind. A key aspect of 1980s monetarism was known as “rational expectations”. Rand, Hayek et al built fabulously complex and, on the face of it, intellectually appealing sets of arguments to support their cause. These towering achievements of intellect remind me of theodicies: increasingly sophisticated arguments purporting to show how the existence of evil in the world can be compatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good deity.

As I’ve said before, the whole of the free market fundamentalist project rests on two prior assumptions, both false, which are never properly spelled out. These are (a) the pursuit of material self-interest is our only motive in making decisions and (b) such decisions are always entirely rational. (Click the link at the start of this paragraph to see my reasoning.) The “clever” people, Rand, Hayek et al, forgot what it is that makes us human.

As critics are increasingly questioning the economic orthodoxy, its true believers have switched tactics, by appealing instead to human emotions, above all anger and fear. Watching the way Trump stirred up the mob during his pre-election rallies surely brings into mind some sub-Nuremberg chilling of the spine. For the “project” to continue, the “people” must forget all this rational discourse and simply shout and scream at the defined enemy (the poor, immigrants, racial and sexual minorities, or whosoever is selected, 1984-style).

And so a project reliant for its existence on rationality now has to destroy it to survive!

The Fightback

It’s still very early days, but there are signs of a fightback. Economists are rapidly rethinking their ideas. The political left and centre-left are talking about ideas for “progressive alliances”. Various groups and individuals are beginning to agree on one thing. We will not let the mob, exemplified by the more rabid “Brexiteers” and by the “Trumpsters” go unchallenged.

My take on the contradiction is unspectacular. Societies work best when the rational and emotional sides of human nature are reflected in balanced policies and political programmes. We used to call it social democracy. A re-fit for the 21st century is sorely needed. The decent people need to organise and rescue post-truth society from its own follies and contradictions.

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