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March 29, 2019

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Tony of CA

The global Capitalistic Model is spent. It's time to move on. I would argue most center left parties(Blair/Labor-Clinton/Democrats) aren't offer much either; hence, they rise of the new political forces.

Brian

This is such an excellent post. This particular line is so well-observed that I actually felt the pinprick of a tear reading it: “Thatcher hoped to create a society of people like her father – diligent, benevolent entrepreneurs. But instead we got one of people like her son – amoral chancers“.

I sometimes feel that Britain adulates speculators as businessmen. Speculators are short termist profiteers. Businessmen and women build and run organisations which create wealth for society. Speculators build wealth only on their own balance sheet.

Indeed with Boris, the leader of the party of fucking business, what he actually means is fucking society, the fat jabber. For all the damage Thatcher did, I do think her overall intention was well-meaning rather than self-enriching.

I fantasize about standing against my local Tory MP at the next election - as a true conservative. And running the charlatan out of town.

John

Can you imagine, in outline, a conservative offer in tune with contemporary conditions?

georgesdelatour

I think your demolition of Thatcherism is very well-argued.

The thing is, Thatcherism wasn’t very conservative. It was more like a kind of mutant, free-market Marxism (maybe even free-market Trotskyism), notably:

1) its economism - its belief that culture and tradition are mere epiphenomena determined by economics. Hence “there is no such thing as society”. Thatcher’s famously frosty relationship with the Queen suggests she viewed the Monarchy not as a custodian of tradition, but as another failing nationalised industry potentially ripe for privatisation. There were even Thatcherite think tanks who toyed with the idea of abolishing the Royal Navy and replacing it with privateers. Whatever your view of the Monarchy or the Royal Navy, these perspectives don’t obviously derive from Disraeli or Lord Salisbury.

2) its historicism - creative destruction, “the facts of life are conservative”, and especially TINA (there is no alternative). Marxism has a kind of neo-Hegelian version of the Whig interpretation of history, in which an arc of progress is assumed. But conservatives are far more pessimistic about human nature and human progress. A conservative assumes barbarism is the norm, and civilisation the lucky exception.

To put it crudely, I’d say Karl Marx, a Whig and Margaret Thatcher would all agree with Rousseau, that “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”. They’re simply arguing about what things constitute the chains. Conservatives agree with Hobbes, that “Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”. They’re suspicious of enthusiasm, and see the main task of politics as shoring fragments against our ruin - which is a very hard sell in a mass democracy. It’s most natural for them to take power in the wake of some left wing reforming government by promising to be as boring as possible. Maybe Churchill 1951 and Eisenhower 1953 were like this, just about…

Andrew Curry

@john I’m not a Conservative, but you can see some outlines of a conservatism in the post-financial crisis world. You’d have to start with an assumption that what you’re trying to do is getting capitalism to work. Effectively, that means focussing on productive forms of capitalism, rather than extractive forms (bees and not locusts, in Geoff Mulgan’s phrase). That probably also means making it work more inclusively, looking after your workers, probably allowing them to gain a profit-sharing share in the business, though probably not an ownership position. There are some corollaries to this: you need to crack down on corruption and tax avoidance, and so on. Because of the need to reduce extractionism, you need to regulate markets to create more fairness between providers and service users. And you probably need to find a way to transfer some wealth away from the older generation and back to the under-45s, to give the younger generations a stake in this project.

So just starting to lay it out gives you a sense of how far the current Conservatives are away from this position. But to give him a small amount of credit, Nick Timothy may have been a terrible and divisive political adviser, but at an intellectual level he understood quite a lot of this.

Blissex

Well, I mostly agree with these arguments (there should be a pointer to "averypublicsociologist" though), about the transient nature of Thatcher's redistributive successes, but:

* There is still quite a bit to redistribute: the middle and lower income classes can be squeezed harder and harder for a a decade or two more.

* The Conservative party is *never* decadent: it is the party of incumbents, and there is always a large chunk of incumbents. What can be decadent is the particular flavour of incumbents that drive the party, that can change.

In particular though for the longer term toryism may have reached a stasis, a plateau, but that could last a long, long time, centuries even, like each phase of the "Ancient Regime".

In the thatcherite era the Conservatives seemed to reckon that the benefits of incumbency could be shared with the upper-middle and some parts of the middle class; they now seem to reckon that may be coming to an end, and they have been giving themselves laws that allow very high levels of authoritarianism and repression, and they have been very clever at gradually inuring the public to their operation.

Many Conservatives want to go back to the 1850s or even the 1750s, and that to me seems a rather plausible project.

Blissex

«Because of the need to reduce extractionism»

The alternative is to make extractionism a permanent situation, returning to the pre-industrial rentierism, with suitable updates for the changed times. The extreme right-wing Conservative that admire Dubai are quite numerous. Part of their enthusiasm for exiting the EU may be related to that.

Andrew Cury

@blissex Yes, this is a good point. Obviously permanent extractionism also requires pre-industrial punishment regimes to maintain social order, although there seems to be plenty of scope for digital innovation in this area. Peter Turchin’s “secuar cycles” model is instructive in this regard: falling shares to labour tends to increase asset prices and increase intra-elite competition (the increasing cost of running for US political office would be an example, or the lobbying to remove the cap on UK university tuition fees). This situation can remain stable for some time, in Turchin’s historical analysis and model; it tends to crack when a sufficiently large proportion of the elite become fearful of losing everything.

Tynnie Todgers

"the problem with Thatcherism is that you eventually run out of other people’s assets to sell."

That right there deserves a Nobel prize.

Scurra

In the US, Elizabeth Warren has revived the clearly utterly outrageous concept that "Markets require rules". For which she is being pilloried as a radical socialist, bent on destroying US society.

And yes, @georgesdelatour, I tend to agree - likewise Marx and Adam Smith both diagnosed the same problem; they just differed in how they thought it would resolve itself if left unattended.

Guano

I continue to be intrigued by the way that the Tories have transformed themselves from "The Party of Europe" (from about 1960 to 1990) to "The Party of Brexit". I continue to be intrigued by the way that the things that annoy the Tories most about the EU are the inevitable outcome of the Single Market (which was heavily promoted by Margaret Thatcher) even though they shed bucket-loads of tears when Thatcher died.

In part this is due to the influence of recent trends in thinking by American right-wingers, and in part it is because the Tories now have little to offer except spite about outsiders.

Nicholas Martin

Interesting points, but - watching the Tories from Germany - I wonder if there is something else to it: the relative estrangement and distance of the Tories from any organised business community.

My (possibly false; corrections welcome) impression from afar is that for at least a couple of decades now organised business (i.e., CBI, IoD, ?) have played a relatively minor role in Tory party politics: Money seems to come primarily from billionaire individuals - surprisingly often foreign - (at least that was my takeaway from the various fundraising dinners of the Cameroons), while "ideas", or rather ideologemes, are supplied by an array of rightwing/libertarian think-tanks and media outlets, that again seem tied more to billionaire individuals than any organised, broad-based "business community."

Contrast with Germany: both the Mittelstand and the Large Corp. business communities have highly organised & established voices in the CDU (esp. the Mittelstandsvereinigung) and the broader political landscape. BDI (the German CBI) and BDA (peak employers' org.) are highly influential & deeply networked into the party. "Ideas" meanwhile come from an array of long-established "institutes" like IFO or IW, which (i) maybe have a stronger academic link than most UK thinktanks, esp. conservative ones, and (ii) are, I think, funded more by the business communities as a whole than Random Rich Guys.

This is not to idealise the German business community or its quasi-academic spokespeople (see H.-W. Unsinn), or to imply that the CDU simply implements biz.com. wishes (see e.g. Russia sanctions). But it would seem to moor conservative party politics more deeply and consistently in real-world matters. A "fuck business" pronouncement seems pretty unthinkable from a major or even minor CDU figure, and so does the idea that the CDU would be able to spend years arguing over an implementing something as patently economically insane as Brexit without BDI and BDA making their voices heard very loudly and influentially.

By contrast, the (apparent) relative distance btw business and the Tories (and the apparent relative weakness of peak business/employer orgs in the political landscape) in the UK would seem to instead lead to a situation where rich individual donors, thinktank-funders and media owners (i.e., cranks) and the individuals they raise up (i.e., hacks), who owe their loyalty primarily to the cranks, rather than "business", get to decisively shape Tory politics.

What do you think?

georgesdelatour

@Guano

It’s actually very easy to understand: in a domestic political contest, the stronger side tends to resist foreign involvement in national affairs, while the weaker side is more amenable to it.

Around the time the UK joined the EEC, Labour seemed like “the natural party of government”. It was the party which had largely set the postwar political agenda. So, from Ernest Bevin and Hugh Gaitskell to Michael Foot and Tony Benn, Labour tended to be the more Eurosceptic party, while the Conservatives were more open to a little continental help. When the Conservatives won an unexpected victory in the 1970 election, Edward Heath sold his MPs EEC membership on the promise that Brussels would frustrate any future Labour government’s manifesto pledges to nationalise more industries.

But then came the 1979 election, and the great reversal. The Conservatives wound up in government for a full 17 years. They were now “the natural party of government”. Inevitably this led to more conflicts between the Conservatives and Brussels, and more opportunities for a Labour rapprochement with Brussels. In 1988 Jacques Delors addressed the TUC with a reverse version of the Edward Heath promise: even if British voters fail to elect Labour governments, Brussels will impose Labour-ish labour policies on future Conservative governments.

One extra ingredient massively increased Conservative Euroscepticism: Black Wednesday. Margaret Thatcher had opposed UK membership of the ERM, believing that “you can’t buck the market”. But the Europhiles in her Cabinet eventually prevailed and the UK joined the ERM in October 1990. It was a disastrous policy. Its high interest rates gave the UK a “recession of choice” which bankrupted businesses and crashed the housing market. UK attempts to stay in the ERM in the run-up to Black Wednesday cost the taxpayer £3.3 billion. It destroyed voter confidence in the Conservatives, making it virtually certain the next government would be Labour.

Alex

Nicolas Martin: I think this is broadly right. I blogged about it here:

http://www.harrowell.org.uk/blog/2017/11/19/the-theory-of-the-eccentric-billionaire-and-why-politicians-got-so-awful/

and further here:

http://www.harrowell.org.uk/blog/2018/01/26/pro-market-pro-business-or-just-pro-wealth/

Guano

Possibly the kind of business that was common about 40 years ago no longer exists - medium sized firms with mainly local capital and management. These were the basis of the CBI and provided the links between the Tories and business. The CBI is rarely heard from now, and often only comes out with a statement when the TUC forces them to. The Tories no longer seem to be the political wing of the CBI.

Local businesses are very much smaller and their owners/managers do not have the time to be involved in the CBI or the Tories. Large businesses are multi-national and are not very interested in participating in the local political processes - if things go pear-shaped they will move elsewhere.

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