Tag Archives: Westminster

Contemporary Britain, a country dominated by Nietzsche’s untermensch (under men)

Nietzsche hated democracy because it makes possible the rule of the common man and the suppression of the superman. A term that Nietzsche uses to describe the common man is untermensch or underman, a term which was open to misunderstanding and abuse. What he meant by the untermensch was a man who lacked the potential to live the life of a ubermensch or superman. What was never understood was that for Nietzsche the distinction was based on intellect and character, not power or physical strength. Originally he named the saint, artist and philosopher as his supermen. Even his dislike of Christianity as the religion of slaves did not stop him admiring Christ as a possible superman. He admired Christ as a founder of a religion but despised Christians for slavishly following the beliefs of another. What I think is most useful is his description of the untermensch as those in thrall to a slavish culture. People incapable of independent thought. When I look at the British parliament and the legislatures of other Western nations it seems obvious that we live in an age of the untermensch.

What the untermensch share is a slavish adherence to a common culture which means that politicians of whatever political stripe, will all give the same replies to questions on policy. These are a few examples which demonstrate this clearly.

In Britain the housing market is broken and many people are forced to live in private rental sector. Properties in which they have no security of tenure and for which they pay ever increasingly exorbitant rents. Whenever it is suggested that these tenants should be given security of tenure or have their rents controlled, the same parrot cry comes from politicians, whether of the parliamentary left or right, that such controls would only make matters worse. They claim that such controls would force landlords to withdraw from the market, reducing the number of properties for rent and so making the situation worse for tenants.

Britain’s railways are the most expensive and some of the least efficient in Europe. When it is suggested that these railways should be taken out of private ownership and returned to the state, it meets with howls of derision from the collective parliamentary body. Everybody in parliament knows that the state is peculiarly unfitted to run business and businesses such as the railways are best left in private hands. The solution to the problem is as every parliamentarian knows is to transfer the railway franchises to more efficient private owners.*

There are many other examples of the politicians collective thought that could be mentioned. What is common to these practitioners of politics is a hatred of those that think independently, they expel or seek to suppress from the collectivity of politicians those who think differently. At present the parliamentary Labour party is seeking to purge itself of a leader who thinks differently. A glance at the politics of contemporary Europe provides evidence that those who think differently have no place in the mainstream political parties, they have to come from insurgent parties such as Podemos in Spain or The Five Star movement in Italy.

One common place truth of contemporary political analysis is that the political elites have lost touch with the people. It is a resentful and sullen people that turn to the populist parties of the right. These parties at leas recognise the pain of the people, something that the political parties of the left fail to do. Durkheim called socialism a cry of pain, the parliamentary socialist parties of today no longer this truth. Rather than ignoring the people, parliamentarians are following a culture that denies the validity of other expressions of the truth other than its own. Truths that might appear obvious to the people are to politicians merely uninformed opinions.

Another demonstration of the untermensch mentality is the slavish following of opinion polls. Rather than leading, politicians prefer to follow, all to often they are prepared to abandon their principles because the people as expressed a different views to theirs in an opinion poll and the peoples will  must be respected. Never do they consider that they are elected to lead the country, they prefer to follow.

The language of politics is so often that of the untermensch. One of our most popular newspapers is said to ensure that all of its content can understood by the average thirteen year. It does not tax its readers with difficult text or content. Similarly our leading politicians prefer the language of the thirteen year old which are  expressed in what are meaningless phrases or slogans. Our current Prime Minister is campaigning for re-election with a series of simple phrases, such as that she will provide ‘strong and stable government’ as opposed to the opposition who represent a ‘coalition of chaos’. She it seems feels no need to present a detailed and reasoned manifesto to the electorate.  A vague and rather meaningless manifesto will suffice and that is all she and her advisors believe is necessary is a few repeated slogans to get out the vote.

Defenders of the present political system will argue that the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians not only went to university, but elite universities and got good degrees. However the very intelligent can be members of the untermensch, as its a mentality or way of thinking and it is as much about  character as intellect. Politicians rarely stray beyond the party line or parliamentary consensus of views, they sacrifice their individuality on the altar of group think. What Nietzsche’s supermen do is to challenge the conventional thinking of the time. When politicians continually speak and think in the language of the average thirteen year old, it cannot but deform their personalities. What at first becomes a means of communicating with the masses through does through constant repetition become incorporated within their personality. They take some of the characteristics of what they affect to despise, the common or under man.

While I think that Nietzsche’s understanding of British democracy is correct today, it has not always been the case that the British parliament promotes the mediocre at the expense of the talented. Today parliament has been overtaken by the culture of the untermensch, whether its expressed in terms of loyalty to the one’s party, obedience to the will of the people or submission to the dominant Westminster belief system. In previous times there has been a much more vigorous culture at Westminster, one in which individualist thinkers could thrive and even achieve the highest office. What is needed is an ending of the stranglehold on Westminster culture of the parties of the consensus, then politicians of an independent mindset will begin to flourish there.

There are those who will have a different understanding of Nietzsche’s concept of the superman. Mine derives from the earlier writings of Nietzsche, as his understanding of the superman did change in his later writings. Obviously those who have read ‘The Will to Power’ a book created by his sister out of his notes will have a very different understanding. Personally I think that this understanding of Nietzsche’s superman is invalid and of little intrinsic merit.

* Any independent minded economist could easily expose the flaws in such thinking.

The vain glorious and useful idiots of Brexit

Economists often seem afraid to use words in common circulation in their analysis, they will resort to made up technical words, when a much simpler phrase would have been more appropriate and useful. One little known book today is Erasmus’s  “The Adages”. In this book he demonstrates how the simple proverbs and phrases in common usage can conceal profound truths. One of the frequent themes of his essays are the damaging behaviors of vain glorious princes. These princes in their lust for glory start wars which damage their countries prosperity leaving them poorer and indebted. The only beneficiaries are the mercenaries they employ in their armies. These wars were so profitable for the mercenaries that one even took over a city state and made himself the Duke of Milan. What economics lacks is that despite being a science of human society are the terms to describe those irrational behaviours that have a major impact on the economy and society. Just as in renaissance Italy we have leaders that inflict significant damage on their economy in pursuit of vainglorious enterprises, that they believe will earn them a place in history. However what I cannot find in Erasmus is any reference to the ‘useful idiot’ a person that is now very common in our political classes.

A useful idiot is the one who in elieving that they are advancing their own interests are  in fact advancing the interests of another more powerful individual or group of individuals. This  group prefers to avoid attracting to much attention, as it would highlight the fact that their interests are damaging to the health of the wider society.

The most damaging to our economic prospects as a nation are the useful idiots in parliament, who have successfully campaigned for a damaging break with Europe. When one reads of the vast sums of money paid by the Brexit supporting billionaires to those politicians campaigning to leave Europe, it becomes obvious in whose interests they are operating. Senior politicians who supported the campaign are now being paid hundreds of thousands for newspaper columns and books by the very press barons who wanted to exit Europe. Do these politicians really think that their newspaper columns or books are really worth the hundreds of thousands that are paid for them? What can be said is the hundreds of thousands paid to these politicians are but the small change in the pocket of these billionaires? Only the politicians themselves can really think that their talent is worthy of such high salaries. What can usefully be said is the many books being written by these self serving politicians will the very books which will be the first to be pulped next year as most of them will remain unsold.

There are another group of useful idiots in our parliament, these are not the paid proxies of the billionaire class but those naive politicians who having spent a lifetime within the Westminster confuse reality with the world as seen from within the Westminster bubble. They over estimate their powers and the significance of their actions. They seem to have a naive Harry Potter like perspective take on the world, they believe that having access to the levers of power in Westminster gives them the power to change the world. What they despise is the mundane reality of power in which Westminster is but one player, a player that achieves it goals through negotiation and persuasion. They have no time for the mundanity of reality, they are lost in their own fantasy world.

One of the worst offenders are those on the left. They believe that by turning their back on reality they can create the just socialist society of their imaginings. If only they looked at the failing career of President Hollande they would be aware of the fallibility of their beliefs. He was elected promising to create a better France by increasing spending on the French welfare system and to reduce France’s high unemployment levels. To fulfil promises he would have to increase government spending, but this was in the Europe dominated by a Germany committed to an Europe wide austerity programme. Nothing he promised the French electorate could be delivered because his government was committed to the European programme of austerity. Now Hollande is the most unpopular of French Presidents, who if he wished to stand for President at the next election would be rejected by his party.

At present the leadership of the opposition party supports Brexit, because they believe that freed from EU regulation they can remake society according to their values. What they fail to realise is that a Britain shorn of EU membership will be but a small struggling country on the edge of Europe. They to solve what will be a problem of growing unemployment will be desperate to make deals with those businesses that can bring jobs to the UK. In such a situation the various multinationals will be able to dictate the terms on which they do business. What they will demand is a freedom from regulation, particularly employment regulation, together with cash subsidies of various kinds and infra structure  to benefit them. As demonstrated in Wales where the Labour government to persuade Amazon to locate a warehouse there was forced to spend billions on new roads to improve access to the new warehouse. Amazon is an employer noted for its use of exploitative working practices. This Welsh Labour government despite its socialist principles has turned a blind eye to this firms employment practices, so as not to offend a major local employer. A weak desperate government will sacrifice all its socialist principles to attract business to  the country in its desire  to create jobs. These people I class as useful idiots, because they will be doing exactly what the various rapacious multinational corporations want, creating a country in which they can operate largely free of regulation.

Those on the right seem to believe in some magical notion of Britishness. They believe that Britain really is some ‘spectred isle’ which will be restored to its former glory by breaking with Europe. One of their claims is that Britain will be free to trade with all those countries outside Europe, that they could not do as EU members. Again as with their left wing opponents they lack a firm grasp of reality. Unfortunately these dreamers dominate government and seem to think that by destroying all links with Europe, they will restore Britain to its past glory. If or when they achieve their break from Europe they will find that they become are reduced to governing a desperate vassal state, whose real governors are the multinational corporations.

The words Puerto Rico seem unknown to these ‘unrealists’. This country is independent and has a free trade treaty with the USA. Something desired by the ‘unrealists’, however any small weak country is at a disadvantage when negotiating with a powerful neighbour. In consequence  the free trade treaty has kept the country poor and impoverished. It is the location for American multinational companies who wish to operate in a low cost and regulation free environment, which of course is of little benefit to the people there.

What I am trying to suggest is that economics struggles to explain the why and what of human activity that is irrational and self destructive. Reading Erasmus’s explanations of the adages that explain the vain glorious actions of Princes, gives a far better understanding of the behaviours of today’s politicians than does any economic text.

The Dog’s Opinion or the Received Wisdom of Westminster

20140217-161044.jpg

Kierkegaard has a wonderful phrase which he uses when referring to public opinion, he calls it the ‘dog’s opinion’, in that it contributes as much to public debate and has as much truth value as the barking sounds made by his neighbour’s dog. It is worthless, I put a similar value on the consensus of opinion that passes for the received wisdom of the Palace of Westminster. This consensus of opinion at present has determined that the priority of any government is to reduce the public sector deficit. Only policies that contribute to reducing that deficit are judged to be worthwhile. Trying to make new policy commitments that don’t involve spending any extra money are next to impossible and lead to nonsensical policy statements by our leading politicians.

20140217-161319.jpg

David Cameron was the first to make a meaningless sound bite on the flooding problem. He said money would be no object in tackling this problem. Afterwards it was quickly established what he really mean was not what he appeared to be saying. There was to be no extra government money, other than a few small sums to spent on diverting troops to flood control, he was addressing others. What I think he meant was that the insurance industry should not hold back on compensating homeowners for their losses. Not to be out done the leader of the opposition had to produce his own nonsensical policy pronouncement. Ed Milliband said he would commit much more money to resolving the problem than the current government. He then made the statement completely meaningless by saying that the money would not come from extra government spending but through reordering its priorities. However given that most government spending has already been committed to a variety of projects only a small sum of money is available to be redirected to compensating flood victims or spending on flood defences. What he is really trying not to say is that his policy is exactly the same as David Cameron’s.

20140217-161536.jpg

One really popular but nonsensical policy pronouncement that comes from all parties in parliament, is that they will improve public services not by spending more money on them, but by reforming them to make them more efficient. What these reforms are and how much each reform will save is never spelt out, neither is how it will really lead to an improvement in service. Fortunately it has never to be spelt out, it is ‘responsible politics’, that it is not wasting public money. Any such announcement of reforms in the public sector, will be met with a warm response in the house, as the received opinion is that this is the correct approach to public service. Any minister that announced extra spending to improve public services would be met with howls of derision in the House, as ALL MP’S know that is exactly how not to improve public services. It’s a waste of money, as only reform will improve services.

Never having considered in any but the vaguest terms what reform means, it always in practice means the following. Cuts in staff numbers, worsening of terms of employment and cutting wages of the remaining staff. The crudest cost cutting possible, which generally results in a poorer service provision. Since the quality of such service provision is impossible to measure, it’s always possible to produce statistics to prove that contrary to what service users experience, that the service has improved.

HMRC into which the Inland Revenue has been subsumed demonstrates this clearly. Prior to the era of the great civil service reforms, which started in 1979, it was possible to ring up and speak to a tax inspector to get valuable and informed advice on tax matters. Now after the great cost cutting years of Thatcher, Major, Blair and Wilson, the same quality of advice is no longer available. What the relatively unskilled, demotivated but cost efficient service offer is a much poorer service. Advice offered is often poor or incomplete, errors are made in tax collection. Tax avoidance has grown exponentially because an underpaid, unskilled inspectorate is no match for the army of well paid tax accountants advising on tax avoidance schemes. When Gordon Brown announced that he was cutting the tax inspectorate by 10,000, he was cheered to the rafters. Those MP’s did not need facts or figures, they knew he was right.

What really provoked my ire was the triumvirate of George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls pronouncing on the impossibility of an independent Scotland keeping the pound sterling as their national currency. It was if that if these three great men agreed on something, any opposition is but folly. They claim that if Scotland wanted to keep the pound sterling it had to submit to a currency union with the UK. Ignoring any inconsistencies in their reasoning, they knew they were right. I would want to ask them why this reasoning did not apply to the ‘treasure islands’ of Jersey, Guernsey, The Isle of Man and Gibraltar. Although small in total population, the banks of these ‘countries’ handle many times the quantity of currency handled by Scottish banks, yet their tax policies are contrary to those of the UK. They are in contravention of them as tax havens, yet this does not stop these countries using the pound sterling as their national currency. In fact the inhabitants of the Westminster Palace encourage them to pursue such policies.

20140217-161748.jpg
What these politicians display is an ignorance anything outside the approved group think of Westminster. Any cursory knowledge of economic history would demonstrate to them that all kinds of currency unions are possible. The sterling area existed for over a hundred years and countries that wished to use sterling as a trading currency only had to deposit their reserves in the Bank of England. Their currencies were tied to the pound sterling in a fixed exchange rate and they were free to use sterling as they wished. There is no reason why a Scottish pound could not exist in parallel with sterling, but such options are closed off to Westminster consensus.

Another aspect of this group think is a commitment to the ‘purity’ of the pound sterling. The foolish notion disproved throughout history is that if the currency is right all will be right with the economy. While it is necessary for the national currency to have a certain degree of soundness, it is overdone in Westminster’s worship of the pound. Nobody in Westminster seems to know that in the 19th century when the USA experienced phenomenal rates of growth, the dollar was one of the weakest of international currencies. Some of the slowest growth in Britain occurred in the 1920’s when the government put a strong pound at the heart of its economic policy. This strong pound through overpricing British goods wreaked havoc on the export industries.

Words that I dread coming out of politicians mouths are reform and modernise as they always herald the introduction of some new and ill thought out policy measure.

‘Collective unwisdom’ is not a feature peculiar to this parliament, there have been several times in history when parliament has been equally poor. The British population in the 1930’s had a similarly low opinion of Parliament. This is the period in which the Boulton Paul Defiant was built, a fighter plane that I think embodies best the follies of our politicians. After 1938 the British government decided it had to build fighter planes quickly to counter the threat from Germany. One plane they choose was the Boulton Paul Defiant, whose only virtue was that it was cheap to build. This plane had two faults it was in terms of speed about 100 miles per hour slower than its German rival the Messerschmidt 109 and its guns were positioned in the rear of the plane. This slow moving plane was a death trap, as to get the best shot at its German rival it had to turn around so the gun turret faced the German fighter. In the process of turning around it was defenceless and this is when the German fighter shot it down. Hundreds of RAF pilots were killed in these planes without them shooting down one Messerschmidt. It is my wish that one of these planes should be positioned outside Westminster so as to constantly remind them of the limitations of the wisdom of conventional Parliamentary thinking.