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February 23, 2018


Jeff Pickthall

I suspect the rise of tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking is a result of the lowering of the cost of disseminating information - or rather, misinformation - courtesy of the internet. At the same time, the internet allows connections between people in possession of misinformation. Organisation and recruitment is easier than in the era of grubby photocopied pamphlets.


He completely lost me when he described the process of industrialization as people flocking from the farms to the factories for a better life...

Peter K.

"If this is right, liberal centrists are doing what Tom Paine accused Edmund Burke of: they are pitying the plumage of liberal values but forgetting the dying bird of the prosperity that fostered them."



A very very good post. Churlish to say it but I can't help it – for some/many stagnation has been way way more than ten years.

John Halstead

This blog is a clever person being wrong over and over again. Marx was a bad philosopher, economist, and prophet, and was wrong about most things.

Ralph Musgrave

“We’ve seen a rise in fake news (and misplaced allegations thereof), asymmetric Bayesianism, shrillness, intolerance and xenophobia.”

Really? So prior to 1990 right wing newspapers didn’t tell all that number of lies on behalf of the political right and ditto on the left? As for “xenophobia” that is simply a myth dreamed up by the nasties who make up much of the political left. There isn't a scrap of evidence that members of UKIP or any other so called “far right” party actually hate foreigners: they simply want to see Britain keep its culture, identity, etc. Moreover, treatment of foreigners during the time of the British Empire was a long way from being entirely saintly.

Bizarrely, the political left is all for Tibetans preserving their culture, but as soon as whites try to do that, the left screams abuse, which proves that a significant section of the left is too dumb to attract attention to itself by doing anything constructive, so it draws attention to itself by doing what vandals do: trashing their own neighbourhood.

I.e. it’s the left which is motivated by hatred. And that is a classic example of what Sigmund Freud called “projection”: seeing your own worst faults in others.


Marx gave five reasons as to why Capitalism will fail:

1. Inevitability of monopolies.

2. Lack of adequate planning.

3. Demands for labour-saving machinery hence unemployment and a more hostile proletariat.

4. Employers will tend to maximize profits by reducing labor expenses, hence falling incomes and ultimately falling profits.

5. Control of the state by the wealthy.

We don't really have that big a problem with monopolies, planning has turned out to be a dirty word. We have got labour saving machinery. The increasingly hostile proletariat is watching pap on large tellies. The falling incomes/falling profits scenario is mitigated by global markets. And the State is controlled largely by the wealthy, but it always was. The chances of workers rising up seem pretty negligable and easily monitored.

Has capitalism failed? I'm not so sure it has, capitalism is doing what it is incentivised to do, make rich people richer, build business where it is profitable and as a by product provide income to some humans. There are a few problems though.

The global spread has been good until recently when technical progress has slowed, there seem fewer whizzy new things to make. Capitalists are looking to move to ever cheaper sources of labour or to eliminate human labour. Herein lies a deviation from Marx's analysis, globalisation has allowed the capitalists to cut costs whilst allowing Western societies to divide and thus compel western governments to subsidise (whether they admit it or not) workers displaced by capitalism. The revolution bit is not happening, paid for by Western tax payers.

Then parts of the West perceive capitalism to have failed simply because their working population is not the one getting the trickle down. Essentially the West is priced out of the market for moderate skills. That is not a bug, its a feature. More education sounds good but imho impractical and probably not worth the bother.

Western governments have not caught up with a new reality, the West may have to get a lot cheaper. But to do that would require a big change in housing cost etc which brings its own problems - for government not for capitalists!. In a way the capitalists have now got Western governments by the goolies, cooperate with us and keep the peace or bust your budgets.

This leaves capitalism with a problem, the West is still a good place to invest money, it is reasonably safe and reliable. The West retains centres of technological and educational excellence and is still doing well maintaining these. But Western governments are facing increasing social costs and problems and are seeking to extract money from the global capitalists. Eventually the capitalists will move on to more fertile investment pastures.

There is a tension, Western governments are seeking to extract more money but capitalists see the extracted money as going into a sink hole. What we have is a kind of symbiosis that preserves parts of Western society for now whilst letting other parts sink slowly. The old Western democracies will I think tend to lose out, where it will end I can't figure out.

Andy S

Ralph Musgrave-

I am genuinely curious- can you please list 3 aspects of British culture that are under threat, are uniquely British and unite all white indigenous Brits?

Thank you


@ Andy S.

Well i cannot speak for Ralph, but firstly the idea that British culture has to be uniquely British and limited to white indigenous Brits seems a bit of an assumption.

I'd say

1. all people are equal regardless of race, sex, or religion and all have the same rights under the law. that seems under threat as with identity politics some people are now deemed more equal than others because of their particular identity.

2. You should go as far in society as your talent and hard work can take you. That seems under threat as mass immigration means that there is no incentive to develop people's talents, and the government is no longer ambitious for Britons putting rights of non-UK citizens above the rights of UK citizens.

3. Free speech and freedom of expression including the right to offend. This is under threat as people are no platformed because some people might find the free expression of opinions offensive.

Many immigrants have enjoyed the freedoms and opportunities these values bring and have been proud to become British.

Andy S

@ Dipper-

It was Ralph who wrote: “they simply want to see Britain keep its culture” and “..as soon as whites try to (preserve their culture)”. Hence it was natural to ask what is unique about its culture that white Britain wants to keep by leaving the EU.

Turns out from your explanation, there is nothing unique. That is quite disappointing I must say- going through all this trouble of leaving the EU for preserving what is essentially a set of European values.

You can’t be serious when you say that Britain has lived by the value that all people are equal- Britain is and has been one of the most unequal, class based societies in Europe. Heck, you even go to great lengths to preserve a monarchy that is the exact opposite of your 2nd value: that you should go as far in society as your talent and hard work can take you. The data also flatly contradicts that Britain has lived by these values: https://www.oecd.org/els/soc/cope-divide-europe-2017-background-report.pdf

So you claim these are British values that you share with Europeans, but only one side has actually lived by these values. As was once said famously “There are two teams out there; one is trying to play cricket and the other is not”.


@ Andy S

LMAO as young folk say. What has the EU got to do with values? Its an actual thing with actual laws and actual money changing hands. If all you have is values then you've been screwed.

barbara terry


DBC Reed

The problem is that the current crisis of capitalism is not completely Marxian: it is in large part Henry Georgite.You may have noticed that rents and house prices in parts of Great Britain where there's any work are beyond what people can afford.Because house prices have stagnated in "depressed areas" to use old terminology reborn, unemployed people cannot sell up and move where there's work because rents and house prices are too high.Should public infrastructure(such as Crossrail) develop some area commercially all the land values will rise and even the businesses will not be able to set up there ,let alone the poor fucked up workers.John McDonnell is currently proposing Land Value Tax as a more efficient way of raising local taxes ostensibly,but as a one -time member of Labour Land Campaign he is also well aware that at present any increases in productivity or industrial activity directly translate into inflated property prices and keep the workers out-and in the precariat.


Post acknowledges that Pinker is correct (Things Getting Better) when one takes a long view of history, but questions results of recent decade. I'd guess that the Big Picture (global human experience) is still improving, but the former Hegemons (UK, US) are losing ground. (Reasons & processes too numerous for Comment thread)

OTOH - re Enlightenment - I've seen a significant turn toward Fundamentalism in several different religions (Evangelical Protestant Christianity, Wahabi/Salafist Islam, Orthodox/Zionist Judaism, BJP Hindu, and the attacks on the Rohingya indicate that even Buddhists are susceptible). This trend predates the Austerity Decade, so there are presumably other causes.


«Post acknowledges that Pinker is correct (Things Getting Better) when one takes a long view of history, but questions results of recent decade.»

Sure, things have been getting better, but pretty much the enabling factor has been fossil fuels, that is the discovery of far more fertile land than any previously discovered, in the deserts of Arabia and the seabed of the North Sea and the prairies of Texas etc.

This fantastic unprecedented fertility of land is the "bird of the prosperity that fostered" much of the achievements of socialdemocratic economies. Purely "capitalist" economies seem to have delivered very little of the benefits of that fertility of land to the masses, if we go by the enormous slums and miserable lives of most of the population as recently as the 1920-1930s.
And that the land fertility windfall has been used to fund socialdemocratic achievements like the NHS, state pensions etc. has been due largely to competition from the USSR, in the teeth of ferocious opposition from the Conservative side.

My impression is that it would be very hard to find any good argument that by itself "liberal capitalism" which is what Pinker really means by "Enlightenment" would have delivered much to "hoi polloi" without the enormous land fertility windfall of oilfields and the socialdemocratic impulse from soviet competition.


«unemployed people cannot sell up and move where there's work because rents and house prices are too high»

Sure they can: millions of third world and eastern European workers have moved to "where there's work" without having anything to sell up even, and have paid whatever "rents and house prices" there by doubling up again and again: sharing a room with bunk beds, renting a bunk by the shift, for example.

From a tory point of view the english workers from "depressed areas" are "lazy uppity scroungers" who are so arrogant to think they are entitled to absurd luxuries like a bedroom all to themselves.


«members of UKIP or any other so called “far right” party actually hate foreigners: they simply want to see Britain keep its culture, identity, etc.»

Well, there is no such thing as "British" culture, as any irish, scottish, welsh people might well argue, and if there are "British" values they are pretty much the same as those of most other EU nations.

There are however several regional cultures (not just in England, but also in Wales, northern Ireland and Scotland) which used to be quite distinctive.

There have been several large scale immigrations over the centuries to these isles in part because like "ancient regime" states the UK used to be and to some extent still is rather dynastic in essence rather than national: like the austrian empire the UK has been for a long time pretty much multilingual and multiethnic and multicultural, despite southern english domination.

But your arguments that many (not all) kippers are not xenophobic and want to protect their culture are rather funny to me:

* That the english in particular dislike the bl**dy foreigners, also out of a sense of superiority, is something that is widely attested over the centuries, also by welsh, irish, scottish (and even northern english) people. It is nothing new and it is pointless to deny it. English communities, especially southern ones, are as a rule defined by those they exclude, like english clubs. I personally think that xenophobia is a human right, even if unpleasant, and also that it probably is, in various degrees, part of traditional english culture.

* In any case the people who are afraid of eastern European immigration diluting whatever regional culture they think they belong to seem to me totally deluded because it is too late: all the regional cultures of the british isles (UK or Eire), and not only, have been fatally diluted already by americanization.

Jeans, coke, fried chicken, jazz, car chase movies, superhero comics, rock, Amazon, financialization, ...

A few polish delicatessen in low-income areas are nothing compared to that. Ironically many people in Poland also lament the loss of traditional polish culture and want to defend it against "EU" influences, when it is really americanization. Japan, a place fantastically resistant to outside influences has had to cope with westernization, and more recently specifically americanization, for centuries.

BTW, I strongly suggest to people talking about the "culture, identity" of Britain to read G Mikes "How to be a brit", a humorous, fond and cynical impression of english culture and identity by a "naturalized" foreigner. A lot of that has disappeared too before the onslaught of americanization.


BTW the take of D Baker on this is similar to that of our blogger and interesting:


D Baker points out that today many things are indeed better than in the 1950s, but that is only because they improved a lot up to the late 70s-80s and then started stagnating or getting worse, and direction matters a fair bit.

C Dillow mentions appositely the "dying bird of the prosperity".

Andy S

Great points Blissex, about so-called British culture and how Americanized it is in certain aspects and also very European in others. Exactly what I was trying to get to when I asked Ralph Musgrave what is so unique about British culture that is under threat. But got no reply, as expected.


Just pointing out that if you follow the link in Ralph Musgrave's name and do a minimum of googling, you quickly find out that he was once a candidate for the BNP in Durham. That doesn't automatically discount his views, but it should provide a little context for them, including any insistence on his part that xenophobia is a myth or that it is the left who project their own hatred onto the right.

Just my public service announcement.

Meanwhile "Dipper" gets away with Daily Mail-style catnip for BNP members and Britain Firsters such as the fantastic drivel that the UK Government is "putting rights of non-UK citizens above the rights of UK citizens".

I mean it's a free internet and all that, but still.


I reject your premise on two counts.

First, and most importantly, Pinker's book is primarily focused on global progress. And I assure you the last ten years have been fantastic, probably one of the best decades ever for the human race. There are countless websites which track global poverty, global inequality (yes global inequality is dropping), education, tolerance, subjective well being and so on. It has clearly been one of the best decades ever, and certainly the best thirty years or so in the history of, well, history.

Second, there is nothing in Pinker's account which requires steady, constant improvement everywhere all the time. Honestly he specifically addresses this issue in the early chapters. It is a gradual, inconsistent process with stops and starts (remember the depression and the world wars?)

My final point isn’t an objection but builds on your theme. As Pinker warns, if we fail to appreciate the recipe of progress, then we are prone to abandon it, turn from it, and lose its bounty.


"We must remember that capitalism was a force for progress in the 20th century in large part because it embraced anti-capitalist elements – a welfare state, mixed economy and progressive taxation – and began to stagnate as these elements were whittled away by neoliberalism.."

Again, I disagree completely with your framing of the issue. You are framing markets and government as if they are two opposing methods. It would be better to frame it as two separate methods of addressing human problem solving (and there is actually a third system — science). Problems of understanding and controlling nature are usually best handled by science, problems pertaining to scarce resources usually by markets, and public goods usually by government and politics. Thus the better analogy is three legs of a problem solving stool, not capitalism or anti-capitalism.

Certainly there can be disagreements on which system is best to handle which problem as they can easily overlap. But social safety nets, progressive taxation, and provision of public goods are not anti market in the slightest.

And factually, there is absolutely no truth at all that safety nets, taxation or whatever have been "whittled away." You just made that up. The US is at the frontier of innovation and entrepreneurial advance according to every study and analysis I have seen. It also has safety nets about average for Europe, and one of the most progressive taxation systems (with no regressive VAT, and the top quintile paying virtually all income taxes.)

As for "neoliberalism", if we take that to mean support of the market leg as a crucial element of the three legged stool, then again your comment is contrary to fact. Globally, it is nations which adopted markets which previously rejected them, (China, E Europe, SE Asia, etc) which saw the biggest leaps in economic prosperity and standards of living aka progress.

DBC Reed

Roger's point above shows that Communism is often a stage to a working " free market" economy.Take Vietnam! Communism gets rid of feudal land holding and land owning, destroys monopolising elites and builds a fantastic amount of inter connected infrastructure.
Instead of the disgusting mess American lunatics made of Afghanistan by dishing out Stinger missiles to tribesmen to shoot down Russian helicopters, leading to an international crisis with Islamic terrorism ,it might have been more sensible to let Communists modernise the state, confiscating and redistributing feudal land and demolishing ancient social distinctions while building a lot of hydroelectric infrastructure on the headwaters of the great rivers.The present course of events seems to be that countries so transformed by Communism tend to evolve into more democratic entities with distributed capital.


I certainly believe a stable communist state is probably superior to armed religious extremist warlord anarchy. Kind of like I believe getting hit by a bicycle is superior to getting run over by a bus.

Hopefully there are other, even better alternatives.

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