Authoritarian Russia

Nick Cohen has a nice piece on the rise of authoritarianism in Russia. Most especially, on the way in which big business doesn\’t seem to mind:

Just before Tony Blair resigned, a telling scene illuminated the new world. At the June G8 summit, Blair warned Putin that unless Russia shared Western democratic values and tolerated dissent, there would be a business backlash. No, there won\’t, replied appalled business leaders. Hans-Jorg Rudloff, the chairman of Barclays Capital, said Blair\’s approach was \’unbalanced\’. Peter Hambro, executive chairman of Peter Hambro Mining, an Aim-listed company with extensive interests in Russia, said that Blair\’s comments \’ran the risk of being damaging\’ for British business interests in Russia. The outgoing PM\’s position was \’very different to that business\’.

And so it went on and few noticed that a regime filled with ex-KGB men was now being defended by the beneficiaries of global capitalism.

He also gets in a marvellous series of digs at the founders of the university I went to, the LSE.

There is one point I\’d like to make though. I\’ve not been particularly worried by morals in my business life (I\’ve done a deal with North Korea for example, I\’ve paid douceurs as another) but I have been concerned over the ease of doing business. A lot of that business life has taken place in Russia so I\’m well aware of the trends which Cohen is talking about: but I\’d like to insist that it is Big Business that thinks this way, not the small fry like me. Not, as above, for any moral reasons, but because that imposition of State power is making it ever more difficult to actually conduct business. Our last three shipments have all been delayed for weeks at customs, as those running the system attempt to extract their rents (we do in fact pay all of the applicable export taxes, as we have done for more than a decade). So much so that I spent part of this week thousands of miles away looking into the possibility of recreating the extraction and purification system outside the borders of Russia. Not because it would be cheaper (it wouldn\’t) but because it would be more reliable, less subject to the exercise of the power of the Russian State.

Big business might make peace with authoritarians, but small business never will: because we can\’t. We never have enough power to infuence the decisions, we are the prey that is picked over. The tragedy for Russia, indeed for all those who suffer such political systems, is that small business is the future, the driver of economic growth and the creator of the golden uplands of the future.

I know that as a good liberal I\’m supposed to be concerned about freedom of the press in Russia (which I used to write for actually and there\’s no way that the same house would publish those pieces now, owned as it is by Usmanov) and indeed I am. This is from the other side of the mind, from my self-interest, not my enlightened one.

Another way of putting this is that if someone as unscrupulous as myself is ready to give up on the place as a place to make money then they\’re right royally screwed.

Err, Will?

So:

Forget the general election that wasn\’t – the biggest political event of this autumn is about to take place. The 17th congress of the Chinese Communist party starts tomorrow in Beijing.

Ah so. Will you be launching Operation Commie County then? That the ChiComs allow no voting on their internal affairs should not be an impediment to the Great and the Good of British Liberalism making known their preferences now should it?

Hope I Die Before I get Old

Mary Riddell doesn\’t seem to quite grasp the point here:

In an era of wonders, 90 people in the care of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust died from Clostridium difficile between 2004 and last year.

Many of the elderly victims were forced to lie, ignored and stripped of dignity, in diarrhoea-soiled sheets on wards that would shame a Crimean battlefield, let alone a country whose health service is fancifully supposed to be the envy of the world.

Here\’s another everyday story of how lives end. It\’s about a woman I know who is approaching her 100th birthday in this annus mirabilis. Her daughters, who live far away, discover she is being drugged at her care home to keep her quiet. It takes them six months of bureaucracy and rage before a place in another home is promised, in due course. In the meantime, their fragile and demented mother is threatened with eviction. Two weeks from now, she could be on the streets.

This is because we have handed these important tasks over to the State, which, as ever, organises such responsibilities for the benefit of said State, not the individual entrusted, however stupidly, to its care.

Her solution however is worse: euthanasia. And there was I thinking that The Observer was a liberal newspaper.

It appears that the correct solution to caring for the sick, the elderly, the mad and the demented, is to kill them.

Most liberal.

Well, Quite….

*

Here\’s a flavour: "It\’s not a constitution – there is no anthem, no ancient Greek mottos. And although the EU\’s pooling of some powers to give Europe greater weight in the world will always be objected to by British diehards, we need to remember that for the little bit of influence over our own actions that we grant others, we get an equivalent measure of influence over theirs."

Speaking as someone who has zero interest in gaining a measure of influence over anything the Greeks, or Portuguese or Poles want to do with their justice systems, or much else beyond ensuring they guarantee free trade, I cannot see what there is for us in this ever-closer union,

 

Err, Really?

This should lead to some interesting articles:

Apax, the private equity firm, has teamed up with the publisher of The Guardian newspaper to mount a joint £1.2bn bid for Emap\’s business publishing division.

It is, of course, The Guardian, which has been leading the mob against the iniquities of private equity, of the way in which companies that remove themselves from the public capital markets no longer feel the requirement to treat their employees fairly. As, indeed, The Guardian is not a publicly quoted company.

BANES

True, true:

A front-runner for the worst-run council in Britain must be Bath and North East Somerset, if only because of the scarcely believable mess it has made of its flagship "Spa project".

All supported, of course, by the odious Don Foster.

England 14, France 9

I agree, obviously, that all of creation should celebrate this, that plants should spurt with growth, that the very heavens should reflect that God is indeed there and that all is right with his creation.

Might I ask a small favour though? (And I do not believe that I am the only one who will be doing so this morning….)

Could we just change the volume and pitch controls on that very creation?

The sun is that tad too bright and the birdsong just a little too loud this morning. Yes, yes, Hosannas are all very well, justified, but can they not be sung quietly?

 

Now Here\’s an Interesting Argument

OK, so we want to talk about inequality and possible responses to it. Sure, OK:

I might add that serious egalitarian-oriented health care reform — if indeed it succeeded — would significantly lower the case for greater progressivity of taxation.

Aha! So, if we\’re really interested in equality of outcome (which is what at least part of the argument about redistributive or progressive taxation is about) and we move 10% of the economy into an egalitarian form (bear with me, 10% is roughly right for that part of the economy in the UK which is the health sector) then we have to worry less about the equality of the other 90%. If we move another 5 or 10% (whatever it is for education, say) into such a state funded egalitarian form then we need to worry less about the inequity in what remains.

In fact, as we move anything from a grossly inegalitarian distribution into a more egalitarian one, we need to worry less about the inequitable distribution of those parts of life which are left distributed so.

So, over the past couple of hundred of years, we have seen a huge decrease in the inequality of many things. Of caloric intake, of height, of protein intake, of leisure time, of length of life, of the survival of children, of housing, of clothing, literacy, numeracy: in fact, in just about everything that is actually important to a human life well lived.

We may well have Victorian levels of inequality in income distribution (we don\’t, but people like to say so) or of wealth (ditto) but we absolutely and most certainly do not have such inequalities in all of the things which actually matter.

Which really rather leads me to the conclusion that we shouldn\’t worry about income inequality as much as we do. Because it\’s simply a trivial vestige of the much greater inequalities of the past.

Investment? Pah!

Grr, Grr. This really does annoy me, the pabulum we are feed about "investment" in the arts:

Government investment in the arts is to be boosted over the next three years, with the announcement yesterday of an extra £50 millon for Arts Council England by 2011. The funding body’s grant will rise from £417 million this year to £467 million in 2010-11.

It\’s not bloody investment, it\’s current spending. Furthermore, it\’s not sensible current spending. It\’s the bribe that the Statists pay to the luvvies and artsy types to keep such opinion formers onside, keep them supporting the State that feeds them.

This though is even more wankeriffic:

Simon Thurley, its chief executive, said: “What they seem to have said is that the Government’s priority is museums and the Arts Council.

“Yet we know that heritage is virtually the nation’s favourite hobby. Many more people visit heritage sites than museums and galleries or football matches, yet it’s starved of funds.”

If you get more people than visit football matches, why not try charging these people for what they obviously want to see? Like, err, football matches do?

The argument that you get lots of punters isn\’t an argument in favour of more subsidy: it\’s an argument in favour of less, moron!

Darian Leader

Gosh, what a surprise!

It looks like good news. In an era where psychological problems are increasingly explained in terms of biological deficits, the government has announced that it will spend £170m by 2010 on talking therapies for depression and anxiety. The scheme should pay for itself as better mental health will mean fewer sick days and benefits – £170m isn\’t much compared with an annual £12bn cost to the economy. But will it really help?

The answer, sadly, is negative. Talking therapy means not psychotherapy, but cognitive behavioural therapies (CBTs). These aim at the removal of symptoms and the return to work of sufferers, who will have learned to identify and manage patterns of undesirable behaviour. However, clinicians know that patients are likely to be back on a waiting list within a year to 18 months. Their underlying problems will not have been resolved, resulting in new symptoms or the return of old ones.

More money is to be spent on mental health problems. Does this toiler in the fields of mental health welcome this? No, of course not. It\’s being spent on the wrong kind of mental health treatments. That is, the sort that he does not do, that he will not profit from.

Yes, really, someone at the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research thinks that the mental health budget should be spent on Freudian Analysis. Shocker, eh?

Sex Blogging

Rootling around the web for examples to put into this directory of sex blogs I find that this is certainly true:

All sex is bad sex in fiction; wise writers leave us at the bedroom door. AS Byatt once pouted, "I do sex very well because I don\’t do it at any great length" – and Bronte, Austen and Tolstoy all left us at the door. Now I admire Norman Mailer but I don\’t want to put my hand down his trousers: not in life, and not in fiction.

There\’s not much really good writing out there on the subject, certainly not in the way that political, or economic, or food, or sports blogging throws up some excellent pieces and writers.

Hymns and Whatnots

Damian Thompson * is very good today on the appalling quality of much new Catholic religious music.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI gave Catholics everywhere the right to ask their priests to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass, in effect suppressed 40 years ago.

Liberal bishops were aghast. The "director of liturgy" for the diocese of Portsmouth, Paul Inwood, prepared a set of guidelines for parishes (since withdrawn following a storm of protest) that totally misrepresented the Pope\’s wishes by suggesting that most Catholics were not entitled to request the older form of Mass.

Also, Inwood insisted that priests coming into the diocese to say the old form of Mass would need child protection clearance. Eh? What a weird thing to say.

Anyway, I Googled Paul Inwood and discovered that he is not only a layman, but also a successful composer of trendy Masses.

I listened to the extracts on his website and, as Victor Lewis-Smith would say, sent for my Turkish slippers: this is music to make your toes curl. (One of the numbers is called Alleluia Ch-Ch, the "Ch-Ch" being a sort of noise you make with your mouth or a tambourine.)

The music of Inwood and other "contemporary" Catholic composers sounds like nothing else on earth.

This isn\’t a new thing though. Most of the decent hymns (with some exceptions for pre-Reformation stuff) in English come from the Anglican or Protestant churches: most especially the Methodist one. There certainly was (being very out of touch with Church matters I don\’t know whether there still is) a reluctance on the part of the Catholic church to use these hymns, and so we were all left with whatever scrag ends had been stitched together by the adherents of what is, after all, a minority religion over the past century and a bit since Catholic Emancipation. So not many people over not much time writing songs gave us not many good ones.

As I say, a something of a long standing problem.

* Looking at Thompson\’s photo I have a vague suspicion that I know where he went to school and who with. Me, Briffa and Jonathan Petre…and the drummer from Echo and the Bunnymen.

 

Marriage and Tax

Well:

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, says there is a “moral case” for promoting the traditional family through the tax system. “I think marriage is best for kids,” he says. “It’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage.”

Well, yes it is actually. The tax system should be indifferent to whether people have made a promise to the Sky Pilot or not. What you\’re actually saying is that you\’ve noted that such tax breaks are popular. This is known as populism.

La Polla Again!

Hunh?

Holding down public sector pay rises to 2% for three years, only half next year\’s expected private sector increase, will increase inequality.

How so? As public sector pay is, on average, higher per hour than private, holding down public sector pay will reduce inequality, surely?

Private equity types laughed all the way to their merchant banks, having expected a much higher tax than 18%. They still pay less than their cleaners.

Again, hunh? The rich pay more tax than the poor. So she must mean they pay a lower rate: hmm……how many of these cleaners pay any CGT? So their rate is zero, is it not?