Wednesday, 25 February 2015

RIP America's war on drugs

Funny how such pragmatic and sensible legislation as that enacted by certain US States, Uruguay and (most recently) Jamaica had to wait until the end of the vaunted 'War on Drugs'.

You might almost think that strong arming Latin American states and sending in American troops was having a negative effect, perish the thought,

Thursday, 19 February 2015

On Libertarianism (and Scottish Sci-Fi Writers)

 “Libertarianism. A simple-minded right-wing ideology ideally suited to those unable or unwilling to see past their own sociopathic self-regard.” Iain Banks.

I've just finished reading Ken MacLeod's 'Intrusion' which contained some very interesting ideas about the implications of geno-fixing and the development of the surveillance state. 

I never know entirely how to feel about MacLeod. He was the protege of the late and much missed Iain Banks but, possibly surprising, this does not mean he is his political clone or even a close fellow traveller.

Having read Banks' entire back catalogue and being familiar with MacLeod from his Fall Revolution series and a scattering of his one off novels, I feel that the former is far more optimistic about the ability of institutions and assorted 'do gooders' to achieve positive change.

The Culture may be a post-scarcity, anarchist utopia but Banks does often present traditional hero characters working within some kind of institutional structure (Special Circumstances, Contact, his various mercantile or cultist clans); even if they are generally personally flawed and often fleeing some personal nightmare or atrocity.

By contrast MacLeod's characters can seem almost Randian in their attitudes and values. Intrusion and the Fall Revolution novels bring this to the fore in presenting self sufficient individuals engaged in life and death struggles with such unlikely 'Statist' or principled villains as the Labour Party, environmentalists and computer geeks.

Not that there is anything wrong with this. As I've said at the start of this article I find MacLeod's books compelling and imaginative (although I don't think his characters are ever quite as strong as those produced by Iain Banks). However, I do feel that it is a bit rich for libertarians to continue to present the strong State as the main nemesis of the free and the good. Ever since the Thatcher era we have seeed locked in a race for ever weaker government control. Capitalist libertarianism is certainly dominant now and for all off the doom-saying I don't see a return to totalitarianism being a threat again until governments can carry out basic functions like taxation and basic wealth distribution without being deterred by vested interests or hostile popular opinion.    

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The End is Nigh

Good old Russia Today - returning to form with a hilarious list of the ways in which the World might end.

It's got all of the actual favourites (asteroid strike, supervolcano) in there but rates them as least likely when they probably should be most likely (along with the mid-ranking nuclear holocaust). AI gets ranked as the most likely apocalypse which is frankly laughable. Whatever Hawking may think I'll be more worried when robots can walk and think at the same time without collapsing or getting stuck in an infinite loop.  

The high point, however, has to be the extremely highly rated 'Future bad governance' with a picture of the White House underneath.

Who said propaganda had to be subtle?

The Economist vs the socialists

Having picked up this week's Economist I have made an amazing discovery. A disinterested observer might be tempted to think that oil-producing countries are nearly certain to struggle during an oil glut especially following OPEC's decision to not curtail production.

This is evident in the cases of Russia, Venezuala, Brazil and even Nigeria. America should be treated as something of a special case. The shale gas producers are certainly being squeezed be low oil prices but the size of the US economy and its central position in world investment means that the boost to economic endeavour given by the low prices helps to offset damage to the exporting energy industry.

However, if you read the Economist it becomes clear that these failings are due to the number one suspect. Venezuala is suffering for decades of, unfathomably, attempting to fund social progress with oil profits rather than stakeholder dividends. Brazil could have avoided this crisis entirely if it had nipped corruption and state control in the bud with a healthy dose of market forces.

I'm not saying that this is entirely a fabrication. The corruption in Brazil's Petrobras company is abominable (although it wouldn't look out of place in the modern state capitalist China). What seems unfair is the special pleading that the same journalists would apply in analogous cases for devout capitalists. The Coalition are heaped with praise for staying the course with austerity even though it is clear that low oil prices (over which they had little control) are responsible for much of the recent upturn in economic growth.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Osborne resorts to bribery

I just saw an interview on BBC news with Osborne offering the flimsiest reasoning for this blatant piece of electioneering.

"We've just come out of a recession where our need to lower interest rates have hit savers", he mugs. Fair enough so far, "and therefore we should support those who save for the good of the economy".

Lots of buzz words. Impeccable logic. However, one wonders why the over 65's with their Final Salary pensions and innumerable state-funded benefits are especially deserving of further government largesse. Osborne's move has been described as 'reverse social engineering' since all the studies show that the young have been disproportionately screwed by the downturn. This further encouragement to growing wealth inequality doesn't seem to faze the chancellor.

The only reason for this move is that we are now in election season and Osborne wants the silver vote to help stave off the defeat that threatens with the splitting of the right wing vote between Tory and UKIP.