You’re on the right track, comrades

The EU has finally figured out a way to solve all its problems in one fell swoop. Unrest throughout Europe? Finished. Euro crisis? Over. Recession? No longer.

All these problems are behind us, with a bright future beckoning but a few steps up the road. For the EU is about to pass a law capping bankers’ bonuses at an amount equal to a year’s salary.

This announcement filled my heart with so much joy that my mind emptied of coherent thought. Since filling an article with nothing but ‘hooray!’ ‘bravo!’ and ‘hear, hear!’ would compromise my intellectual integrity, I’ve had to seek outside help.

This came from a Russian visitor to London, I.L. Kutchaheadoff, former pickpocket, then Second Secretary of the GULAG Party Committee, currently a member of the Duma, owner of three football leagues in Britain, nine newspapers in Spain, an oil trading company in Zurich (registered in Panama, operating in Goa) and a Korean massage parlour in Courchevel. Mr – or rather ‘Comrade’, as he prefers to be called for old times’ sake – Kutchaheadoff kindly agreed to share his views. Here’s what he had to say:

‘Comrades! I, along with all progressive mankind, welcome the EU announcement. It’s about time bankers, those hyenas of capitalism, running dogs of usury, skunks of imperialism, had their ears clipped. If Comrade Marx were alive today, he’d be happy, even though in an ideal world his preference would be to slash not bankers’ bonuses but their jugular veins.

‘However, much as I’m happy about this measure, I hope this is only the first of many. Didn’t Comrade Mao teach that a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a small step? So I’d like to take this opportunity and recommend a few subsequent steps, nay giant leaps on the road to our glittering future.

‘As far as caps go, a year’s salary is meaningless unless we also set an upper limit on said salaries, for example €15,000 a year. This is far in excess of the average wage in Saransk, Comrade Depardieu’s new hometown, but for the time being we must allow such iniquity.

‘The EU must then ban the charging of interest on bank loans, and our forward-looking English comrades have already taken a step in that direction. This measure was also proposed by Comrade Marx, but for appearances’ sake we can refer to the Old Testament instead – with apologies to Comrade Marx, who not only disliked both Testaments but also hated the Yi… I mean persons of Hebraic origin.

‘Since the banks will then become unable to produce surplus value, they’d have to be nationalised once and for all, with operational control passing on to the Financial Union (FU for short) and the regional EU Secretary.

‘Also I couldn’t help noticing, comrades, that your shops sell goods for considerably more than what they pay the manufacturers. This outrage must be corrected immediately, along with the anarchy reigning in the retail trade. Not only do shops overcharge the toiling masses, but they also choose their merchandise. This has to stop. The EU Central Committee must issue pan-European circulars mandating that, for example, shoe shops may not carry more than three most popular styles (e.g. jackboots, bast sandals, felt knee-boots). Ideally, shoe shops should sell no shoes at all to avoid complacency on the part of the toiling masses.

‘Neither should manufacturers who supply the shops be allowed to make what they wish, charge what they want and pay their employees whatever they fancy. To follow on my example, Church’s (to be renamed ‘Party Committee’s’) shall sell only the three styles of footwear specified above. They’ll pay their managers no more than €10,000 a year and will charge no more than €5 for a pair of stylish jackboots.

‘But this means de facto nationalisation, I hear you say. I agree with you, comrades; such palliatives must be outlawed. That’s why both industry and retail trade must be nationalised de jure. This means by an EU Central Committee decree to be greeted with mandated enthusiasm by the toilers of Europe.

‘Our English comrades have already nationalised healthcare, making the NHS the largest employer in Europe and fifth largest in the world, and I applaud them. It goes without saying that this progressive model must be followed across Europe, with private medicine banned once and for all. Doctors’ pay shall be calculated in line with that of a cobbler or a medium-level banker (€10,000 a year being the benchmark).

‘The English, who’ve seen the error of their imperialist ways, are also planning to introduce control of the press, telling the papers what they can’t write. My fur hat’s off to them. But their plans, commendable as they are, don’t go far enough. Tell the hacks what they can’t write by all means – but they also have to be told exactly what they must write. This is called telling the truth (Pravda in my native language).

‘Education? Here too our English comrades are leading the way by turning On the Origin of Species into the gospel of science, just as Das Kapital must be reinstated as the gospel of economics. To be on the safe side, however, all books that disagree with the two gospels (including the so-called Bible) must be removed from school libraries and, ideally, burned.

‘Pupils must be taught only those subjects that will enable them to advance the common cause: iron casting, gold exploration, uranium mining, laser guidance, barbed wire manufacturing, goose-stepping, money laundering. If asked, I’ll be pleased to draw up the detailed curricula.

‘And don’t get me started on publishing… Oops, have to run, comrades. There’s a recalcitrant editor who needs sacking and an anti-Marxist blasphemer to be execu…, I mean re-educated. One last thing before I go: shouldn’t the EU be renamed the EUSSR? Think about it, comrades. And keep up the good work.’





From subprime to subzero: now you’ll pay the bank to take your money

In an attempt to pull the economy out of the doldrums, the Bank of England is planning to cut its base rate to below zero. In parallel, it’ll shift its printing press into a higher gear and add to the £375 billion of worthless currency it has already run off in the last few months.

I’m sure that savers and pensioners, whose livelihood will be destroyed, are finding solace in knowing that the country’s economy is in safe hands. Managers of building societies must be ecstatic too: they’ll no longer have to get up early to go to work. The rest of us wonder what other weapons of mass fiscal destruction our rulers will deploy against us.

It’s axiomatic that the state’s fiscal policies affect people’s economic behaviour. The lending crisis of 2008, or rather the ongoing crisis that started in 2008, was caused by many factors. But by far the most pernicious of them all was the fiscal policy of the US administration and other Western governments. Collectively they encouraged banks and individuals to behave foolishly and irresponsibly.

By keeping the base rate artificially low and providing incentives for banks to lend, the US government created the subprime mortgage crisis that delivered to the world economy a blow from which it has never recovered.

In the subsequent panicky attempts to get their economies up from the floor, governments started pumping funny money in, trillions’ worth. The money was indeed funny because it didn’t reflect any underlying value. Ostensibly it came from the printing presses activated by the levers held in the hands of quasi-independent central banks. But the real culprits were Western governments exerting pressure on the banks.

‘Quantitative easing’ is by its nature inflationary – it increases the money supply without increasing the amount of goods and services available. Sure enough, for several years now the interest on savings and government bonds has been lower than the inflation rate, roughly by half.

The new bright idea will hit the economy with a double whammy: it’ll increase the inflation and further punish responsible individuals by plundering their savings. Add to this the surreptitious but progressively sharper pinpricks of higher taxes, and we find ourselves bleeding white.

Saving will now be even more of a losing proposition than before. The pot will simply grow smaller every month until it’s empty. Borrowing, on the other hand, seems to make every sense in the world – why not take on a second, third or fourth mortgage if there’s practically no interest to pay? The value of your properties will grow at no cost to you; it’s like getting rich by investing somebody else’s money.

This is the kind of mentality that has proved ruinous already. Derisory interest rates to the state are what a piece of cheese is to a mousetrap. Encouraged to take gambling risks with their money, millions of human mice reach for the cheese, only to see the trap slam shut behind them.

For at some point in the near future the lending rates will go up, as they did in America a few years ago. As thousands of overextended people got caught in negative equity and impossible repayments, a spate of defaults hit America, along with all those dominoes leaning against it in our globalised world.

So, if saving is silly and overextending ourselves in the property markets fraught with danger, what else are we to do with our money, what’s left of it after the state has taken its growing cut? We could either spend it or take gambling risks. But what about those of us who are by nature neither gamblers nor wastrels? Historically, there used to be viable options, but this has changed.

The up side of low interest rates was that they encouraged active, rather than passive, investment. For example, rather than letting money sit in a savings account, in the past we could invest it in the shares of our manufacturing concerns and then grow with them.

In those days, the price of shares and the amounts of dividends reflected the real value of the firm. That’s why shares were held for years, often for generations. Rather than putting money into a building society, people would buy shares in solid firms and live off dividends. If the company was doing well, the dividends were high. If not, they were low. But by and large the marginally greater risk of such investments was offset by returns higher than those available at a bank.

This situation has changed. Hardly anyone buys shares for the dividends any longer. People gamble on a rapid increase in the shares’ face value, and with the advent of High-Frequency Trading (HFT) fluctuations are very rapid indeed. Share ownership first began to be measured in months, then in days and now – courtesy of HFT – often in seconds.

Most HFT traders sell their whole portfolio in one day, and in America about 70 percent of all trading is done that way. This means that share values no longer reflect a company’s long-term performance – more and more they depend on imperceptible, and often unaccountable, factors  changing by the second.

Under such circumstances buying shares has become sheer gambling. The choice is no longer between putting money in a bank or investing in the stock market – it’s between buying shares or roulette chips.

Hence the government’s strategy is just what we’ve come to expect from this lot. They’re counting on a short-term upsurge in growth that’ll last until the next election. If they win it, they’ll handle the inevitable fallout then. If they lose, this becomes somebody else’s problem.

Don’t you just love these chaps? Alas, even as we no longer have reasonable choices of investment, neither do we have any reasonable choice of government. The lads waiting in the wings are even worse.

The Nobel economist Milton Friedman, the great champion of modern economies, titled his bestseller Free to Choose. I wish.

Who can keep them foreigners straight?

Certainly not the man responsible for US foreign policy.

Speaking ex cathedra before his first foreign tour, the new Secretary of State John Kerry praised his department for securing democratic institutions in the former Soviet republic of Kyrzakhstan.

This was quite an achievement, made even more remarkable by the unfortunate fact that no such republic exists. It’s a portmanteau word made up of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Brought together in this fashion they remind one of the Americans’ refreshing ignorance of foreign lands. Even taken separately, neither of them testifies to Americans’ success in taking their deified democracy to the infidels.

In fact, their proselytising efforts to turn tribal societies into American-style democracies have been ending in consistent and predictable fiascos. Target countries hold some kind of elections to secure American aid (or to escape bombing raids) and then revert to business as usual – or worse.

Americans don’t seem to realise that no democracy can be born at the ballot box unless it’s already born in the people’s hearts. To them ‘all men are created equal’ is supposed to mean that all countries either are or yearn to be just like the good old US of A. And Americans are genuinely upset when this turns out not to be the case.

There are many reasons for this deficit of sensitivity, and one of them is pandemic ignorance of the world’s political geography, history and culture. Hence President Ford declaring at a 1975 press conference that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Thinking he had misheard, the reporter repeated the question, this time specifying Poland, all but a Soviet colony at the time. ‘That’s what I’m talking about too,’ insisted Ford. Fast-forward to 2008, and we have George W. Bush warning that at risk in the Russo-Georgian war was ‘Russia’s duly elected government’.

When I lived in America, I never revolved in such elevated circles, but I can testify from personal experience to the natives’ ignorance at the grass roots. My first job there was as translator at NASA in Houston, where all my bosses were men with advanced university degrees.

One of them, the Texan in charge of the documentation support (including translation) for the Apollo-Soyuz mission, once asked me, ‘Are y’all from Russia?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘D y’all speak German at home?’ Thinking this was a joke, I replied in the same vein. ‘We do sometimes. But usually we speak Russian.’ Jack earnestly thanked me for teaching him something new.

This wasn’t an isolated incident – I had to field similar questions every day. Then a Harvard-educated friend explained that Russia and Germany were so often mentioned together in history lessons that most denizens assumed it was the same country. Moreover, Russian and German were grouped together in the language departments of most Texan universities (in Europe, Slavic and Germanic languages are wisely kept apart).

Once another boss reprimanded me for having a lot of ‘discrufancies’ [sic] in my translations. In my defence I asked for an example. ‘Well, look how y’all translated the word “ball”,’ he said. ‘In English it has four letters and the last two are the same. In y’all’s translation it has five letters and none are the same.’ I laughed at the joke, only to realise it wasn’t.

According to the same helpful friend, our bosses believed that translation meant transliteration: taking English words and writing them out in Cyrillic alphabet. ‘If you probe them,’ he added, ‘you’ll find they don’t know the difference between Austria and Australia, Sweden and Switzerland, not to mention Slovakia and Slovenia.’

Back in Texas I knew many old people who had never been farther than 20 miles away from their home towns. Then I moved to New York and met quite a few Brooklyn residents who had never been to Manhattan, a short subway ride away. With notable exceptions, Americans tend to be happy in their own skin and in their own country. And even hereditary Ivy Leaguers like Bush or Kerry only bother to turn their attention to foreigners under duress.

By itself this sort of parochialism is quite touching. It’s also reassuring that there exists a nation where people are so happy with their immediate surroundings that they have no curiosity about faraway places, or even those not so far away. The problem only starts when such a nation tries to assume the mantle of a world empire.

This is a role for which the USA has no qualifications other than the purely physical ones, and even those are dwindling away. For it takes more than just military and economic power to bring half the world together within one political culture. To assume an empire-building mission, the metropolis has to learn about other cultures first – their spiritual and historical roots, their prejudices and idiosyncrasies, their loves and hates.

This kind of learning can’t be purely academic – it requires centuries of experience in rubbing shoulders with outlanders, learning their ways and teaching them one’s own. Europeans tend to acquire such experience naturally, simply because they’re all bunched together on a small continent, or a narrow channel away. That’s partly why the British Empire was so successful for so long – its administrators weren’t just teachers; they were also learners.

Americans have never been learners, which is why they fail as teachers. Witness their crude, ill-advised efforts to turn the Middle East into a political replica of America’s own Midwest. In a decade of violent nation-building, no nations have been built. However, many have been destroyed or at least taken to the brink of destruction. Moreover, the region has become thoroughly Islamised and radicalised – so much so that the whole world is now a more dangerous place.

Bulls don’t build china shops; they smash the china. Americans will do well to keep this clichéd observation in mind.

Meanwhile, I wish John Kerry a safe journey on his foreign foray. One hopes for all our sakes that he’ll learn a thing or two on his travels. Such as that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are two different places. So are Sweden and Switzerland. So are Austria and Australia.

Above all, let’s hope he and his  countrymen will realise that they aren’t yet ready to build nations. Their own is barely finished. The scaffolding is still up. 









Reading papers is such fun (especially for psychiatrists)

Themes of emotional instability recur in my prose, usually in the context of a world gone mad or else particular personages acting in ways that make one doubt their mental health.

I’m man enough to admit that this is a copout, a feeble substitute for deep and detailed analysis. So every day I decide to avoid any more references to psychiatric disorders. Then I scan the papers and my good intentions go the way of all flesh. But look at today’s press and judge for yourself.

Professional Tories like Ken Clarke and Tim Montgomerie respond to our loss of the AAA rating by suggesting that this development proves the government in general and George in particular are on the right track. To emphasise this indisputable point, the rating agency Moody’s now regards Britain as a greater credit risk.

As the pound heads for parity with the pre-euro French franc, one wonders where the country would end up if it weren’t on the right track. In a soup-kitchen queue? On the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean? Actually, any speculation along these lines is unnecessary. We’ll soon find out the answer empirically.

If any residual belief in Dave’s sanity had persisted, Lord Ashcroft’s announcement that he’ll stop financing the Tory party should dispel it once and for all. The party’s biggest donor has introduced a note of sanity by refusing to throw good money after bad because the Tories aren’t Tories any longer.

Specifically he cites Dave’s madcap obsession with marginal issues such as homomarriage, at the expense of what really matters. Such as the economy which, according to our professional Tories, has received a ringing vote of confidence from Moody’s and the currency markets.

This insanity, claims the dejected Croesus, curries favour with the metropolitan elite and no one else. How is this possible? Lord Ashcroft is sane, which explains his consternation. His world and Dave’s virtual reality exist on different and never intersecting planes, which is why they can never understand each other.

Lord Ashcroft wants to have a real Tory government because he knows the country would be much better off under one. By contrast, our self-proclaimed ‘heir to Blair’ wants to emulate his idol not only in but also out of office, the territory he’ll inhabit in a couple of years.

Tony, the great champion of the downtrodden working classes, is raking in millions on the lecture circuit. Have you ever attended one of his paying engagements? Neither have I. Tony’s present, and Dave’s future, audiences come from precisely ‘the metropolitan elite’ Lord Ashcroft holds in contempt. Dave may be mad, but there is method in his madness. One fails, however, to discern any method in a party that would have him as its leader or in a country that would have him as its prime minister.

Then there is Nick, getting caught in the good old-fashioned cover-up of Lord Rennard’s robust sexuality. Here I must defend Nick against those who accuse him of lying. The notion of lying presupposes that the perpetrator knows the difference between a truth and a lie. To chaps like Nick such real-world categories simply don’t exist. In the virtual world Nick shares with Dave, whatever is expedient at the moment is true. Explaining to them that truth has an independent significance is like trying to persuade a madman that he’s not really Napoleon.

Considering the problems plaguing the Coalition parties, one would expect Labour to run away with the Eastleigh by-election. In fact, the party is on course to finish a distant fourth (also behind UKIP), outside the medals. Could it be because the Hampshire voters doubt the sanity of a party where Ed Balls is in charge of economic policy?

Having been a key figure in the government that reduced the British economy to a loony bin, Ed has taken stock of the list of tricks he employed to achieve that task. High taxation? Tick. Incontinent spending? Tick. Borrowing 60 percent more than we earn? Tick. Uncontrolled import of welfare recipients? Tick. Giving even more powers to the EU to impose growth-stifling practices? Tick. 

This game of tick-tack-toe completed, Ed saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. More of the same, and the Labour economic policy is chiselled in stone. Apparently, the Hampshire worthies don’t quite see it the same way, but the country at large still may. That sort of thing makes sense in our virtual world.

Turn another page, and here are reports of our dear NHS, so envied by all other countries that they refuse to have anything like it. Apparently, this shining example for the world not to follow has decided to emulate Nazi medicine with its propensity for killing people.

And why not? The NHS has already adopted the same hectoring practices, lecturing us on our diets, smoking, drinking, preventive medicine and in general putting its foot down. For example, doctors routinely refuse to treat smoking-induced diseases because they are caused by people’s own behaviour. ‘How about AIDS?’ asks a sane individual. Off to the madhouse with him, that’s where sane people belong in an insane world.

Crushed underfoot are those poor patients who relied on the NHS sticking to its core business: ministering to the sick. They should have known that state enterprises exist for the benefit of state employees, and the NHS is a prime example. Not only is this abomination allowed to survive, but its chief is hanging on to his job. Let patients die so the NHS may live.

Doesn’t all this make perfect sense? In our mad world, it does. 






What economic policy, by George?

In response to Britain’s loss of the AAA credit rating, George Osborne promised to ‘redouble’ his efforts to reduce the deficit.

This is like the captain screaming ‘full speed ahead’ when his ship is heading for the rocks. George’s choice of verb, which comes from poker, also hints at his understanding of the essence of his economic policy. One can only wish that he gambled with his own money, not ours.

He then went on to admit with laudable perspicacity that ‘Britain’s got a debt problem’ which needs solving. How does this tally with his attempts to reduce the budget deficit? About as well as his 2010 promise to maintain our AAA rating relates to its yesterday’s loss.

Economics is simple, and it only appears complicated because of the fog screen constantly laid by economists and public officials. These lads self-perpetuate by hiding behind the wall of formulas, charts, graphs, ratios and projections. George too is one of the chaps for whom economics is too simple to understand.

For the rest of us, it can be easily reduced to a few core propositions that any schoolchild unencumbered by learning difficulties will grasp in a second. Let’s see if any of this would break through George’s resolve to steer his inept course.

Though our debt isn’t as catastrophic as Greece’s or Italy’s, catastrophic it is. This means that for a long time the state’s outgoings have exceeded its income. Now how do we reduce the debt? By taking in more than we spend and applying the difference to paying off our IOUs.

And what does this mean? Only that instead of our budget deficit, the one George wants to reduce, we must have a budget surplus. Will George and the rest of the gang achieve this logical goal? Have they even enunciated it?

No. They continue to spend more than they earn and then declare proudly that the gap is a smidgen smaller than it was under Tony-Gordon, the worst government in British history. But for as long as we have any deficit at all, the debt isn’t going to disappear – it’ll grow. Correct so far?

Next question. How do we eliminate – eliminate, George, not reduce – our deficit first and our debt second? Things are getting a little more complicated now, but they don’t have to become convoluted.

The solution is two-fold: the government must in parallel increase its income and reduce its spending – ideally. At a pinch we’ll accept one or the other, provided that the income remains greater than the expenditure.

God has created only two ways for a government to increase its income: printing (or borrowing) more money or increasing its tax revenue. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who everyone knows is nasty but few realise is stupid, says he’d borrow more. He doesn’t say at the moment that he’d increase the tax rates, but he doesn’t have to: it goes without saying. In other words, he’d revert to the criminal policies Labour pursued while in power. You know, those that got us in trouble in the first place.

The only healthy way for a government to get more in tax is not to increase rates but to make it possible for the economy to grow. Since the government isn’t directly involved in any productive activity, it can only effect growth by not hampering it. In other words, by reducing taxes, regulations, red tape, getting out of the EU (which is greatly responsible for all of the above).

The arithmetic is simple for anyone other than a politician or an economist to understand. Getting 20 percent from a man who earns £1,000,000 a year is better than getting 60 percent from one who makes do with a meagre £100,000. And getting 20 percent from someone who earns £100,000 is better than getting 30 percent from someone who earns £40,000.

The less of our income the state confiscates, the more we’ll be stimulated to earn. An economy isn’t a function of integral calculus; it’s an outcome of human behaviour. That’s why, as Arthur Laffer correctly explained to George’s American colleagues, a 100-percent tax rate will produce exactly the same tax revenue as a 0-percent rate will: none. The inference is logical: the state must get out of people’s hair and let them get on with it. The economy will grow, and tax revenue along with it.

Now the second part: reducing expenditure. We aren’t talking about a cosmetic nick here and there, usually accompanied by increases elsewhere. We’re talking about reducing government spending by at least a third, preferably by half.

This simply can’t be done without changing cardinally the role the state plays in our lives. This means eliminating the welfare state and reducing our social spending to what’s absolutely necessary to protect those who can’t protect themselves. (Note to George: ‘can’t’ doesn’t mean ‘won’t’, it’s something entirely different.)

It also means quite a few other things, such as getting rid of all government departments except half a dozen or so, dropping fully nationalised healthcare and education and so on. I won’t go into details here. Let’s just say that, unless state involvement in the economy and indeed our lives is reduced dramatically, George can double and redouble all he wants – he’ll be called and he’ll lose. More important, so will we.

For as long as he and that lot remain in Westminster, nothing of the sort will ever be done. The deficit will stay. So will the debt. The economy won’t grow enough to make a difference, if at all. The state won’t pay its way. Things will remain dire – regardless of who leads the main parties or which one of them is in power.

Colonel Pride, where are you when we need you?





Let’s not be beastly to the French

France has much to criticise it for, as do all other countries, even – and I know this will come as a shock to most Americans – the USA. Moreover, France and all other countries must be criticised, especially by those who like and understand them.

Now it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that few Americans like France and even fewer understand it. In general, nuanced sensitivity to foreign ethos isn’t high on the list of most salient American virtues. That’s why, whenever they level opprobrium at other lands, they evince not so much loving concern as obtuse pig-headedness.

Unlike the British, whose understated affection for the French goes back more than 1,000 years, the Americans don’t have such venerable history to fall back on. In fact, but for France’s support during their Revolution, the Americans would today be saluting the Union Jack, not Old Glory.

Much of their resentment is of recent provenance. It goes back about 10 years when the French presciently refused to support the Americans’ concerted effort to Islamise and radicalise the Middle East.

By way of revenge the Americans began to boycott French wine and cheese, which action ought to be mentioned in the dictionary entry for ‘masochism’. They also expurgated the word ‘French’ from their vocabulary, typically replacing it with ‘freedom’, as in ‘freedom fries’ and presumably – I’m guessing here – ‘freedom kissing’, ‘freedom fashion’ and ‘freedom letters’.

This is part of the background to the ill-mannered outburst by Maurice Taylor, CEO of the American tyre maker Titan International. He rudely declined an offer to buy a plant in Amiens, citing the laziness of French workers, the statutorily short hours they work, their long holidays and the time they take for lunch. ‘Do you think we’re stupid?’ he asked indignantly.

No Mr Taylor, I wouldn’t call you stupid. I’d call you ignorant – not so much of France’s work practices as of her ethos, which is fundamentally different from America’s, or for that matter Britain’s.

There’s no doubt whatsoever that the French economy is held back by the country’s stifling labour laws, predominance of vastly corrupt and powerful unions, expropriatory taxation and loyalty to the EU. It’s also true that the French as a nation spend less time at work than the Americans and the British. In fact the French economy is ticking away on 20 percent fewer man-hours than in the UK.

Yet, even though France and Britain have roughly the same population, France’s GDP is greater than ours, which, if my arithmetic serves, suggests their workers are considerably more productive. The quality of the goods they produce, including in the sector served by Mr Taylor, isn’t too shabby either. Show me a man who’d choose Titan’s Goodyear tyres for his car, in preference to Michelins, and I’ll show you someone who knows nothing about driving.

How do they do it, considering all the self-imposed yokes on their economy? I don’t know. But, discounting divine intervention, one could guess at some possible reasons.

For example, for all their recent efforts to reverse the situation, the French are still better educated than either the Americans or the British. They could even be more talented, though something inside me refuses to accept this possibility. It could also be that their absence of maniacal dedication to working themselves into an early grave, something observable in the US, makes French workers happier, calmer, less exhausted and therefore more productive.

Max Weber, who knew a thing or two about such matters, ascribed the rise of capitalism to the Protestant work ethic. One wonders if, should he live today, he’d ascribe some of capitalism’s decline to the same source.

Catholics or, to be more precise and up to date, those raised in a Catholic culture, work to live. Many Protestants, religious or merely cultural, live to work. From their early childhood they have been imbued with belief in the redemptive value of hard work. And even acquisitiveness, to which the traditional Christian attitude is at best tepid, has acquired a religious dimension in Protestant, especially Calvinist, countries.

According to Calvin, wealth is God’s way of telling its recipient that he’s living a righteous life. And hard work is ipso facto a function of virtue. That’s why so many Americans and even Englishmen feel awkward about leaving the office on time, even if there’s no reason to stay late.

To cite the example of the industry with which I’m familiar, advertising on both sides of the Atlantic, someone who heads for the door at 5.30 on the dot draws disapproving glances. Not working weekends is taken as a sign of negligence and moral failure. ‘If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday’ is the motto of one of America’s major agencies.

However, many of my American and British colleagues have worked in France, and they have instructive stories to tell. The French leave work early, have more public holidays, take all of August off (‘toute la France est en vacances,’ as they put it), knock off at lunchtime on Fridays, especially in summer. And yet they get a lot done – at least as much as Anglophone admen do.

Part of the reason is that they spend a lot less time in meetings – another Protestant trait. As work to Protestants is a matter of life or death, it can’t be done in a haphazard manner – every ‘i’ must be dotted and every ‘t’ crossed before actual work can start. Reversing the Anglophone practice, the French do a bit of talking and a lot of working, thus saving hours every day for productive labour. This leaves them enough time and energy for their ubiquitous ‘cinque à sept’ trysts – occasionally even for more time with their families.

Personally, much as I deplore French statism, red tape and incipient government tyranny, I prefer the French take on work ethic to the American. It’s understandable that Americans may feel differently, and they may even be right. But before running off at the mouth they would do well to learn a bit more about different cultures. Who knows, they may then learn to treat them with more respect and express themselves with more tact. As it is, the likes of Taylor give ‘tous les Anglo-Saxons’ a bad name.





What Pryce jury trial?

If you ask your friends which institutions define Britain, each will give you half a dozen answers, and the divergence will be small. It’s a reasonably safe bet that democracy, free enterprise and trial by jury will be on every list.

One has to do with politics, another with economics, still another with justice. But they all have something in common: all three depend on nearly universal popular participation to be successful, or even operative at all. Hence they have to presuppose considerable sophistication on the part of the general population.

A universal-franchise democracy can’t function properly if most people are incapable of casting their votes in an enlightened and responsible manner. Free markets will destroy themselves if deprived of underpinning moral tenets shared by most and obeyed by all. And the jury system will fail in the absence of a large majority of those who have the mind and the knowledge to understand the fundamental principles of justice.

The trial of Vicky Pryce illustrates the last point with the precision of an illuminated manuscript. Chris Huhne’s scorned wife was being tried for perverting the course of justice. This vindictive lady had agreed to take her husband’s speeding points. When he then left her for another woman (technically speaking), she shopped him and, as an inevitable consequence, herself.

The outcome of the trial hinged on a simple argument. The defence claimed that Pryce should be exculpated because she acted under marital coercion (‘her man is what done it’ in colloquial language). The prosecution sought to prove she had acted as a free agent, thus striking a laudable blow for the basic Christian doctrine of free will (‘fair cop, guv, she done it herself’).

The issue at stake seems relatively straightforward, and yet Miss Pryce’s 12 peers failed to reach a verdict. In the process they submitted, in writing, 10 questions that made Mr Justice Sweeny admit that in his 30 years on the bench he had never seen anything like it.

For members of the jury manifested their ignorance of such little things as presumption of innocence, the desirability of ignoring evidence, the meaning of reasonable doubt and so forth. (‘Reasonable doubt is doubt that is reasonable,’ explained His perplexed Honour, reasonably.)

They also proved that they are either too illiterate or too stupid to understand such things even after they had been explained to them in plain English, as all these had been. Some of the questions hinted at severe mental retardation or at best a minuscule attention span, such as the one about Miss Pryce’s religious convictions, which hadn’t been mentioned by either side.

The immediate reaction in the press has correctly focused on the validity of the jury system, with most pundits and Jack Straw suggesting it’s wrong to condemn this institution on the basis of one trial. I wonder on which planet they have been living, or else what they are on.

One trial? You can’t open the papers these days without reading about yet another gross miscarriage of justice perpetrated by juries who simply don’t understand what justice is and how the system is supposed to work.

Thus an argument that a murderer had an impoverished childhood has been known to produce mitigated sentences or even acquittals in Western courts; race has been seen as an extenuating circumstance; and political motives have been accepted as being more noble than simple savagery.

As courts in the West demonstrate their inability to deal sternly with criminals, the jury system looks more and more antiquated. Jurors have to be drawn from the available pool of humanity, which, alas, has been poisoned by decades of ‘liberal’ cant and our moron-spewing education.

As a result, courts are beginning to act as rubber stamps of egalitarianism, rather than agents of justice. Society predictably responds by a climbing crime rate that requires statistical larceny to pass for anything other than a social catastrophe. (One example: in 1954 there were 400 muggings in all of Britain; 2001 produced 400 in Lambeth, a South London borough, in one month.)

A possible response to this deficit of justice would be to limit the size of the pool from which jurors are drawn. Exactly how it’s to be done is a matter of debate, with all sorts of possible qualifications to be considered, from IQ to education testing, from property ownership to tax-paying record, from age to linguistic competence. (Incidentally, the same debate on suffrage is long overdue.)

What is beyond doubt is that some further qualifications are necessary if trial by jury is to serve its purpose, that of punishing the guilty and thereby protecting the innocent. Appeals to the centuries of success ring hollow: modernity has severed its spiritual, intellectual and moral continuity with tradition. ‘O tempora, o morons,’ as Cicero almost said.









It’s only Marx’s body that’s buried at Highgate

My good friend’s father was both a manufacturer and a Marxist. In the first capacity he made a lot of money. In his second hypostasis he refused to invest it. Wealth, he was certain, had to be produced by one’s labour, not one’s money.

Even within his own framework he wasn’t wholly consistent. For he still appropriated the ‘surplus value’ of his workers’ labour, thus transgressing against another commandment of his creed. But thank God for such paradoxes: if Marxists were invariably and relentlessly consistent, we’d all be dead.

Many equate Marxism with religion, and it is of course fideistic. But it’s a religion only in the same sense in which the Antichrist is Christ. What Marxism illustrates is that, when political philosophy is cut adrift from religion, sooner or later it’ll destroy itself.

The essence of the West’s dominant faith, Christianity, can be summed up with one word: love. The essence of the West’s dominant philosophy, Marxism, is hate.

The most obvious reason for Marxism’s ascent to its lofty status is its success in taking over Russia in 1917. It thus could spew its venom through the greatest propaganda machine in history, one that extended its tentacles to every corner of the world.

But the real reason lies deeper, as it always does. For, as any publicity man will tell you, propaganda can succeed only if it enunciates and appeals to some intuitive cravings already felt.

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins, and it made that distinguished list precisely because its spread is universal. Add a bit of passion to envy and, ideally, some quasi-scientific post-rationalisation, and it turns into hatred of those on the receiving end. This explains the on-going success of Marxist propaganda: it activates and expiates the least commendable of human emotions.

Marxism neither originated when the Soviet Union appeared nor died when it ‘collapsed’. This pernicious doctrine has been so influential not because it lived for a while in Russia, but because it always lives in the dark recesses of the human heart.

That’s why I see red whenever yet another ignoramus avers that Marxism is a wonderful idea but lamentably one perverted by the Soviets. ‘Have you read The Communist Manifesto?’ I invariably ask, and they invariably answer ‘yes’. They lie.

In fact, I’m often tempted to have a pocket edition of that disgusting brochure with me whenever attending a gathering where such conversations could ensue. For the Manifesto and the entire edifice created on its basis by Marx and Engels contains everything we know and love about modernity. In fact, one can go so far as to say that Marxism inspires most modern governments, either in what I call their nihilist or philistine incarnation.

The nihilist regimes of modernity, those openly calling themselves Marxist, brought to fruition Marxist dictates on concentration camps (Engels called them ‘special guarded places’), slavery (Marx: ‘Slavery is… an economic category of paramount importance’), mass murder (Marx: ‘the victorious party must maintain its rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries’), anti-Semitism (Marx: ‘…the Polish Jews… this dirtiest of all races,’ ‘Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew’), genocide (Engels: ‘All the other large and small nationalities and peoples are destined to perish before long in the revolutionary holocaust.’).

The philistine regimes, such as the one governing Britain at present, focus on the less carnivorous legacy of Marxism, singling out its economics as a day-to-day guide. The destruction they perpetrate is therefore delayed-action, but the bomb is ticking away.

The Manifesto demands wholesale abolition of private property, especially of land, but this ideal couldn’t be attained even in the Soviet Union. Still, various Western governments are doing their level best to chip away at private property, relying on other prescriptions from the Manifesto.

The present proposals championed by two and a half of our three major parties are aimed at taxing wealth, from houses to jewellery, from paintings to pension funds – all acquired with money already taxed. Now experience of every country where wealth taxes have been tried shows that their net effect on public finances is negative – even Sweden, in the past the most Marxist of all Western countries, has abolished such taxation, with its finances instantly improving.

But our Eds, Vinces, Nicks and other visceral Marxists prove that sound reason need not apply where evil emotions are at work. As far as they’re concerned, MP may as well stand for Marxist Partisan. These chaps are driven by Marxist envy and resulting hatred, not by actuarial concerns. Their aim is not to cushion failure but to punish success. If this destroys the economy, then so be it. For it’s destruction and not creation that every hater sees in his mind’s eye.

‘Abolition of all rights to inheritance’ is another dictate from the Manifesto. This worthy goal is very much on the agenda, but it’s hard to achieve all at once without ‘revolutionary terror’, so beloved of Marx. In its absence, progress has to be made slowly, but no less surely for that. Thus every mooted plan to increase the threshold of inheritance tax has been shelved, while plans to lower it will soon become law.

It has to be said that both wealth taxes and higher inheritance tax are being opposed by many. What most people are taking for granted these days is another Manifesto prescription: ‘a heavy progressive and graduated income tax’.

One doesn’t hear many protests against this Marxist abomination, and yet it violates the most fundamental principle of Western civilisation: equality before the law. Those who make more money obviously must pay a greater amount in tax. However, making them pay up to five times the proportion of their income is immoral, unjust and economically counterproductive.

Yet our most sacred tenets have no chance when assailed by Marxist envy. If those people who claim they’ve read The Communist Manifesto had actually done so, the situation would perhaps be slightly better. But it wouldn’t be much better: the poison of Marxism has seeped into the bloodstream of the West, and nothing short of a complete transfusion can cure it.

Alas our governments have for generations lacked the conviction and inner resolve to administer such treatment. Now they exceedingly lack even the technical means: the electorate has been so thoroughly corrupted that it’ll never vote in a passionately anti-Marxist government. Hence Marxism lives so the West may die.




Tory heads with LibDem hearts

The Times is like a magnet. It attracts Tories who think ‘Conservative’ in their party’s name should become as meaningless as the ‘Liberal’ in the name of their coalition partners.

When the word ‘liberal’ first appeared, it designated those supporting private property, free trade and individual liberties. Now, if it means anything at all, it denotes those in favour of bleeding individuals white in order to strengthen and enlarge the state. The exact opposite, not to cut too fine a point.

In parallel, ‘Tory’ used to mean someone whose political ethos could be summed up by the words ‘God, King and Country’. Now, if you believe John ‘Maastricht’ Major and Tim ‘Learn-From-Obama’ Montgomerie, it must mean Open Mind, Socialism and the EU. Sir John’s recent contribution to that effect bears the title Ignore Those Tory Heads with UKIP Hearts. Montgomerie has opined that All Good Tories Should Support a Mansion Tax.

‘The French… now fear the UK will opt out of social and employment provisions to give our economy a further competitive boost. They will not readily concede this,’ warns Major.

My heart bleeds for the French, but having been out of politics for 15 years, Sir John must have forgotten he used to be a British Prime Minister, not a French President. While his concern for our neighbours’ feelings is touching, a British patriot should welcome his country getting a competitive advantage, even if it means upsetting a few continentals.

‘We cannot, legally, simply walk out of the EU… The costs could be substantial,’ is how Major decorates his sentiment with hardnosed pragmatism. In particular, he explains that if we’re no longer in the EU our motor trade will suffer as we’d have to ‘pay a 10 per cent tariff on exports to the EU, and a 5 per cent tariff on components. Would Nissan… and BMW, Honda, Toyota and Ford continue to build at Swindon, Sunderland, Dagenham, Bridgend or Oxford?’

The answer is, yes they will. If fact, they’ll be falling all over themselves to do so, provided a newly independent Britain can do two things. First, we must explain to our trading partners that tariffs beget tariffs. Would they be willing to start a trade war with Britain, knowing that their trade balance with us is hugely positive? Now, when their economies are contracting and they are on the verge of recession? Would Germany, which lives or dies by exports, be willing to see us switch from Audis and BMWs to Toyotas and Kias? I don’t think so.

And should they stand on idiotic principle and indeed impose self-harming tariffs on our car exports, then we could use our newly autonomous tax system to provide incentives for foreign manufacturers. Cut their employment, corporate and income taxes by, say, 20 percent, and you’ll be amazed how attractive they’ll think Sunderland and Dagenham are.

Then Sir John, with his usual intellectual rigour, comes up with a clincher: ‘As a non-member we would have to negotiate our own free trade agreements’. True but irrelevant. The negotiations could be conducted in a lazy afternoon: you don’t use protectionist tariffs against us, we won’t use them against you. That’s it, Robert est ton oncle, as I try to teach my French friends to express themselves. If HMG can’t find anyone to take on this arduous negotiating task, I volunteer.

Every word Sir John utters these days communicates his desire to vindicate his own role at Maastricht and to vilify those who believe that role was treasonous in any other than the purely legal sense. As long as The Times is in business, he won’t be short of a platform, but those willing to listen may be in short supply.

Another professional Tory, Tim Montgomerie, is, according to a mutual friend, ‘a decent bloke who loves a pint.’ Too many pints, by the sound of it.

Montgomerie wants us to follow his lead and learn from Obama’s success. Since Obama is by far the most socialist president in US history, this means we should all become socialists. Allowing for local colour, all Tories must turn Labour or LibDems in all but name and then one day they may win an election outright.

Specifically, we should all fall in love with every form of taxation championed by our home-grown socialists. Mansion tax, inheritance tax, you name it. And why is that? Well, because the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Specifically, it’s awfully unfair that London properties are so much dearer than in the rest of the country and the luxury good market is thriving. Make the bastards pay, in other words. François Hollande, with his ‘fair payer les riches’, must come close to Montgomerie’s ideal of a Tory. Shame he’s French.

‘The decent bloke’ forgot the law of supply-demand. Houses in London cost more than in Pembrokeshire because more people want to live in London. This preference isn’t wholly aesthetic: about a third of British jobs are concentrated in and around London. One reason that’s the case is the corrupting effect of the welfare state, especially in the north of the country. In the Celtic fringe and England’s northern counties, for example, around 70 percent of the economy is in the public sector. These areas, in other words, are socialist.

Vindicating an irrefutable law of history, people vote for socialism with their feet. So it’s exactly the kind of policies advocated by the LibDems, Labour and Tim Montgomerie that are indirectly responsible for London houses being so expensive. Add to this the fact these chaps must lament, that London is the world’s financial centre, and the picture becomes complete.

What’s left of Montgomerie’s argument, other than his desire to have a Tory government even if it means that not a single Tory principle survives? Foam on the walls of his pint glass. This sort of talk goes over big in pubs, especially those in the low-rent areas. The Times seems a good place for it too.








Whatever happened to scholarly impartiality?

Prof. Diarmaid MacCulloch is an eminent church historian, the author of solid (and stolid) books many buy but few read. Still, there’s nothing he doesn’t know about his subject – a truly learned man.

That’s why his post-mortem on the ministry of Benedict XVI piqued my interest: Prof. MacCulloch, I thought, would be in a perfect position to elucidate the place Joseph Ratzinger occupies in history.

Alas, he didn’t write his article A Brilliant Theologian but a Dreadful Leader as a scholar – he wrote it as an ideological leftie and a man obsessed with sex, a defensive reaction one often observes among homosexuals.

Prof. MacCulloch does attach more importance to his sexuality than it warrants, at least to his readers. Actually in 1987 he declined ordination to Anglican priesthood over the Church’s attitude to his own predilection. This fact of his biography matters to him considerably more than to those who, like me, have waded through his excruciatingly detailed history of the Reformation and a rather sentimental biography of Cranmer.

And it’s certainly not an adequate platform from which to launch an analysis of Benedict’s papacy. ‘How disappointingly undistinguished Ratzinger’s time has been, considering that he is probably the most talented theologian to have held the papal office since Gregory I…,’ writes MacCulloch.

He’s entitled to that view, and certainly there would be nothing unusual in a scholar whose leadership qualities don’t quite match his intellect. The time of philosopher kings has passed, if indeed it ever was more than Plato’s wishful thinking.

However, if Ratzinger’s theological brilliance doesn’t require any proof, his dreadful leadership does – just to keep all the ducks in order. Instead MacCulloch kills the birds with a few mad salvos.

First he attacks Benedict’s opposition to ‘the landmark Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, which ended so much authoritarian clerical control, listened to the voices of non-Catholic cultures, introduced worship in the language of the people and implied much more change to come’.

This is rhetorically unsound. The views of a Catholic prelate can only be attacked within the framework of the Catholic Church, not from MacCulloch’s own position on the left wing of evangelical Protestantism.

‘Worship in the language of the people’ is yet another modern perversion – all Abrahamic religions use a liturgical language that’s different from street speak. This applies even to the great scriptural texts of MacCulloch’s own Anglican Church. Though written in the vernacular, they have never been, and certainly aren’t now, merely a reflection of everyday speech. As to the Latin that Vatican II effectively expunged, it was the liturgical language of the people, a great unifying force for Catholics from all over the world.

Obviously a staunch Protestant wouldn’t see things that way, but perhaps the erudite Prof. MacCulloch ought to know that Benedict XVI is a Catholic after all. As to not paying much attention ‘to the voices of non-Catholic cultures’, fair cop. One doubts His Holiness spent sleepless nights wondering if ayatollahs or TV evangelists approved of his policies.

Then we get to the meat of the criticism, with MacCulloch taking exception to ‘the huge sums that the Catholic episcopate has spent… in opposing same-sex marriage, all to no effect: each time some British or American bishop opened their mouths to rally the faithful, it converted hundreds more to the cause of social equality.’

I’m not aware of any great debate within the Catholic Church on this subject. Unlike the C of E, its advocacy there falls into the domain not just of the left, but of the loony left. Nor have I noticed a groundswell of support for same-sex marriage among Catholic laity.

Clearly, MacCulloch’s own sexuality overrides not only his mind, but also his eyesight. The former is particularly lamentable: a thinker must not allow personal quirks to interfere with his judgment. And surely MacCulloch, self-described as someone ‘brought up in the presence of the Bible’, must know that opposition to same-sex marriage, or indeed to homosexuality, isn’t without some scriptural support.

Towards the end of his diatribe MacCulloch graduates from crepuscular, prejudiced thinking to sheer madness: ‘Perhaps the greatest humiliation that the Vatican has experienced in recent months was the re-election of President Obama, when it was quite clear that most of the American episcopate were doing their best to boost the chances of the Republican Party. The US electorate humiliated the Holy Father and his cohorts. Now, quite wrongly, Catholics are associated with begrudging gay people dignity and personal happiness, when only a clique of their clergy and hierarchy are to blame.’

One doesn’t know where to begin, apart from pointing out that this illiterate use of ‘cohorts’ is most unfortunate in a professional writer. The American episcopate, Sir Diarmaid, traditionally stands on the political left, much more so than European bishops. With a few exceptions it has consistently supported the Democrats for as long as Prof. MacCulloch has been around.

He also seems to think that, just like his own life, Obama’s presidency revolves around the issue of same-sex marriage and all it entails. This is cloud-cuckoo land, pure and simple. MacCulloch really ought to steer clear of politics; it’s not his subject.

As to the notion that ‘the US electorate humiliated the Holy Father’, this is grounds for mandatory commitment to an institution, and not one of higher learning. His Holiness neither stood in the US election nor, to the best of my knowledge, acted as Romney’s campaign manager. Privately, he may have been upset by the vote, but it takes madcap stridency to aver that he was in any way humiliated.

The Old Testament, so dear to MacCulloch’s Protestant heart, has a saying about people like him: ‘Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.’