« Economists' advice | Main | House prices & class struggle »

June 02, 2014



I'm not sure it's that they want to listen to voters. But the alternative is to say "Hey, the reason you are unemployed or poorly paid is globalisation and technological change. We don't have any answers to these issues, but why not vote for us anyway?"

Much easier to tackle something they can control, like borders, than something they can't, like China and the internet.

Jobs and Ford didn't need to listen to customers because they had a great product. Labour's "product" is crap. And if your product is crap, you have to focus on really good marketing instead.

Steve M

If you could get rid of the native population and replace it entirely with immigrants, you could probably create a country that would vote the way you wanted, but only if you were careful about who you let immigrate thereafter: no Mongol hordes, please! (unless you like that kind of thing, of course)

Chris Wilson

Three points:
First, I've noted the same tendency and wondered if it's a result of buying into a simplistic version of economics, where people have fixed preferences and all that can be done is to satisfy them
Second, if you take the view that it's markets not heroic entrepreneurs that create growth then you should recognise that lots of different, eg, IT companies produce lots of different IT products and consumers choose what they want. Seeing it from the point of view of the heroic entrepreneur intuiting what the consumer will want will lead to error.
Third. What if you give the public what it wants and the public is wrong? The politician is going to have to live with the malign consequences anyway. If you deny climate change because your voters don't like the implications, and they get flooded out, you're ultimately no better off.


What if people aren't so worried about the economics as the cultural changes? Are they not 'legitimate' concerns? Or do only the natives of foreign countries get the support of the Left against cultural changes imposed on them from outside?

Dave Timoney

Ford didn't ignore customers and introduce a revolutionary product. He simply built a much cheaper car than the competition, which he achieved through better process design, not product design.

Similarly, Jobs's success was in repurposing technologies already developed by others, rather than in creating new product lines or sectors. His "genius" was in opportunistic integration and marketing. The "build it and they will come" meme is just marketing.

Labour are probably only too well aware of this. After all, the key corporate technique they have adopted since the 90s is spin. I don't see that changing.


How easy is it to explain that immigration doesn't affect wages, or not much?

Imagine you've got one minute on TV or as long as an interviewer gives a politician without interrupting. Or about half the length of this blog (about as much as I read of most newspaper articles). And in the same time/space you have to tell the wealthy that they have to pay for re-distribution necessitated by gloabalisation and technological change.

You're not allowed technical shorthand, like "lump of labour fallacy." And probably not allowed anything alarmist, like "higher taxes are better than being murdered by peasants with pitchforks."

To be fair to Chuka et al, I think it would be hard.


When a Leftist starts explicitly advocating political elitism and hankering after a heroic charismatic leader (like Jobs), what does that indicate?

Churm Rincewind

I'm not sure what's so wrong about politicians listening to voters' concerns, and trying to understand them.

Isn't that one of the main points of our political system?

Churm Rincewind

I'm not sure what's so wrong about politicians listening to voters' concerns, and trying to understand them.

Isn't that one of the main points of our political system?


The problem with talk about heeding voters concerns is that it is just talk. As -

1) All Political parties are committed to a set of economic ideas that regards the firm and market as important. The nation is not a concept in free market theory; free movement of labour is the other side of the neoliberal coin to free movement of Capital and low or no taxation of capital. The logic of this theory shared by all party leaders is in conflict with older ideas of organic communities and nation states. Unless they ditch the neoliberal theory they cannot really restrict migration of people.

2) Governments in the west cannot really stop migration without changing life for the average person in a way that would be deeply unpopular. The restrictions and controls necessary for a fortress policy would not go down well with the people. Politicians are unwilling to point this out, as it shows up how thinking about migration is not rational or consistent.

3) The well known problem with Jims' arguments about culture are that culture is not fixed. There is no white or European "culture" that is set in stone. Our culture is always changing. In a free society no one polices culture, that would be deeply authoritarian and Fascistic. The opposition of certain groups to social change reveals their reactionary nature. Elite political leaders realise this but do not want to come out and say it. They will not however change what they believe.



"Modern Labour politics has a dark heart, full of devices and verbal tics that betray an absence of authenticity, either because professionalised politicians have no real idea of what authenticity actually means, or because – hung up on the tired idea that the party always has to put up with selling itself to an essentially Conservative electorate – they are so wary of actually speaking their minds that they take refuge in empty slogans and the odd bit of fake folksiness."

No the shadow cabinet are the conservatives they claim the electorate to be.

"They all talk and think in much the same way"

Good article. IMHO.


"There is no white or European "culture" that is set in stone. Our culture is always changing. In a free society no one polices culture, that would be deeply authoritarian and Fascistic"

So you oppose the French attempts to prevent American culture and English language over-riding theirs then? You prefer a free market in culture where Coca Cola is sold in every shop, Hollywood films play in every cinema, and everyone speaks English? Does this run to telling the Welsh to stop trying to make everyone speak Welsh because there is no 'white European culture' and the free market should prevail?


I would like to have politicians as servants who do our squabbling for us and come up with well considered compromises and tell us what they are and why. I don't think that is what we have.

As for offering innovations, the useful ones would be vote losers or attract poisonous press coverage or have the lobbyists in a fluster, better to slip them out once elected. Or offer useless anodynes.

Developing a worthy product? that's a tough one. I reckon the less Labour says about its policies the better from now on, leave C&C to put their collective feet in it. Politics is not business, it uses similar tools but to do a different job.


For the millionth time Chris, the public's rejection of immigration has little to do with economics.


Repeat until it sinks in.



@forchrissakes & Jim - you might be at least partially right - though I wonder to what extent disquiet on this front is a problem of a rate of change and to what extent it would remain a problem once the immigrants have been here a few years. However, Ummuna and Cooper themselves linked migration and wages. It's this I object to.
And I'm not sure how many of the most vocal anti-migrants say "immigration is good for the economy but it has adverse cultural effects".


@ Jim

A free market in culture sounds like a bloody good idea imo. Cultures aren't static, they evolve, sometimes this may have unfortunate consequences but in the long term it appears to work out for the best. Modern "white or European" culture is evidence of this.

I can understand why people are concerned about immigration, but promoting/protecting some idea of what our culture should be is out of the state's remit imo.

Igor Belanov

I'd hazard that economic factors and the 'Americanisation' of culture have been massively more transformative than the arrival of immigrants, who usually have very localised effects or in specific facets like cuisine. Even there, in largely ethnic areas of Leeds the majority of fast-food outlets prioritise Southern Fried Chicken, hamburgers and pizza over curry, polish sausage or kebabs.


"promoting/protecting some idea of what our culture should be is out of the state's remit imo."

The State seems to have no problem (with 100% support from the Left) in supporting and defending the cultures of the immigrants though doesn't it? Bit of genital mutilation? Just their culture, we mustn't judge them. Marrying off 14 yo girls to illiterate men from 'back home', or marrying your cousin generation after generation? Don't make a fuss, its culturally sensitive. Can't speak English after years in the country? Don't worry we'll translate every government document into every language going.

There seems to be a huge amount of official support for 'culture' if you're of a darker skin hue, but very little if you're white. I would have far less problem with immigration if we said to immigrants 'Right, you've come here, this is the way we do things, you fit it with us, not the other away around, you're not in x country now, you're in Britain, integrate into our way of doing things, or go home.' Instead we bend over backwards to prevent integration, to indulge the culture immigrants come from, all the while trampling all over the culture of the indigenous population. And you all wonder why the majority of people of this country are p*ssed off with it all.


Fair enough. I am an immigrant to the UK myself so easy for me to say I suppose.

FWIW I don't think the state should be intervening in promoting the cultures of immigrants either, I am not a Leftist, or a nanny-statist.


My answer to Jim and his ilk is that the leader of the Front National recently said local authorities run by the NF should only serve pork in school dinners to assert French cultural norms.

This is sectarian insanity. In a free society the fact certain foods are denied to Jews and Muslims must be accepted by those providing public services. It is irrational to hold otherwise. I do not see how political leaders who are not mad Natzis can accommodate such prejudice.

Phil Beesley

@FATE: "Ford didn't ignore customers and introduce a revolutionary product. He simply built a much cheaper car than the competition, which he achieved through better process design, not product design."

Henry Ford was a more complex industrialist than is commonly suggested. The Model T placed the driver on the left hand side of the car (the norm today in countries which drive on the right) which made his cars strange for a while. The pedal arrangement forever remains strange.

The Model T was cheap but competed with cars of similar price. Ford made the economic model work by staying in business, by maintaining the T in production long enough for owners to find spare parts locally. Ford sold cars at cost to dealers until there were enough on the road (which was not very long).

Ford's engineering rival, surprisingly, was Henry M Leland at Cadillac. Leland learned toolroom skills in the arms industry and applied them to automobiles to create the concept of interchangeable parts. Search on the web for Dewar Trophy and Cadillac for more info.

Ford could never afford the production quality of a Cadillac but he applied the same principles. Parts had to be good enough to be fitted on a production line (or to be reworked by a penniless owner). So Ford designed a car that could be cheaply manufactured in volume (ie product design, rather than process).


"In a free society the fact certain foods are denied to Jews and Muslims must be accepted by those providing public services."

The UK is culturally Christian, and we therefore eat all meats. So they have all traditionally formed part of meals served in schools. What you are saying is that the culture of the immigrant is more important than that of the native, and what we have always done must be changed to accommodate the immigrant. Which is wrong IMO, and the view of a huge swathe of the public too.

And nice conflation of Jewish and Muslim dietary requirements there. We've had Jews in this country for hundreds of years, I don't remember them demanding all food served in schools should suit their requirements. That only seems to have happened since we imported adherents of the Religion of Peace™

Churm Rincewind

No, Keith, I can't agree with your apparently blanket claim that the cultural norms of minority immigrant communities "must be accepted by those providing public services"

Honour killing? FGM? I think not.

Tokyo Torquemada

Immigration tends to reduce labour's share of income. Voters are correctly suspicious of the economics of it - just as Joan Robinson (see Economics: An Awkward Corner) was. The interesting question is why generally left-leaning economic commentators who, in other connections, would tend to identify a factor or a change likely to reduce labour's share of income as a "bad thing", have a blindspot in terms of immigration (which may, of course, still be justified on non-economic grounds). Japan is a perfect example of this confusion: business interests promote immigration in order to reduce wages; and those who would normally look to the interests of labour and/or have concerns about the impact of a lower labour share on the course of aggregate demand, hitch a ride on the bandwagon.

Igor Belanov

Logically, if you hold to the 'lump of labour' argument, women and people over pension age in the workforce would also tend to reduce labour's share of income. And those folks who constantly whinge about benefit scroungers should be glad they're not competing with them for jobs. So why is it only immigrants that get targeted? I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the mire of nationalism and racism. Still, I suppose we should give thanks for the small mercy that they're not picking on the female sex as much these days.

Tokyo Torquemada

Or perhaps it's because we already have mechanisms to limit the entry/use of children in the labour force ( schooling etc)), to curb the exploitation of women (equal pay) and we pay the retired to stay out of the workforce (pensions). Given this backdrop, state promotion of mass immigration is at odds with the standard settings of social policy.

Igor Belanov

Yet the retirement age has been raised in recent years, and elderly people are often positively encouraged to work. I hardly think that compulsory schooling has been created to limit the amount of children in the economy, and the numbers of women workers has shot up even though they cannot be as easily exploited.

Any more excuses?

Tokyo Torquemada

A consensus organized around laissez faire notions certainly has weakened the protections afforded to children, women and the old. Fortunately it has not entirely erased them. The point is that promotion of mass immigration is an extension of that laissez faire agenda - the economic logic behind it could equally well be deployed to argue for a return to the dispensation that obtained before the Factory Acts........

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad