Thursday, 21 March 2019

Brushing Up Shakespeare

Long ago when going to a play written by William Shakespeare, you would expect to see a more or less straight performance going literally by the book. As Stratford on Avon was a family town for some time, this meant the Memorial Theatre.

In the world of today this is strictly no go. Performances, notably in London, have to "mean" something else and there is a debate about what who where and how. The SJW's have stormed the stage and what you see is what you are now supposed to believe in terms of 21st Century ideology.

Which presents a problem, since when WS departed to the great dressing room in the sky in 1616 is a long time. This makes him history and that means what we are told was history. In the 21st Century we prefer to skip the detail and the facts for a collection of beliefs and theories of people who have little awareness of the realities of the early 20th Century let alone the 16th.

When you do look at the detail it is interesting on its own account, let alone any insights into the period. On 25 October 2011 I did a long post dealing with the actual complex of family and connections of WS titled "Shakespeare Family And Friends".

A follow up long post was on 15 February 2015 "More On Tudor Times" because the name Cumberbatch in a 15th Century document along with Shakespeare meant an extension of the discussion of who really was who for WS.

On 23 April 2016 a short item "Shakespeare In Brief And At Length" deals with his place in society at that time. There are a handful of others but they do not have anything to add.

Back a long time was  that at the end of one play although one of the first out I was still beaten to the bar of the The Dirty Duck (aka The Black Swan), by Richard Burton. We had a chat about the Cefneithin Rugby Club.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Are We In The Money?

Ever since money was invented and so the ability to move wealth readily from one place to another in various forms of acceptable goods, tokens or titles to goods or tokens the question of who should control this and how has been central to rulers and the ruled.

Some forms are more moveable than others. They might be precious metals or stones or they might be edible domestic animals which have other by-products. In primitive societies much conflict arises from raiding between groups as well as title to grazing lands.

For someone who grew up during the great age of the cowboy film much of the global financial system is explicable in terms of the Wild West of the USA. These bear a strong similarity to activity of earlier centuries.

Many of the riders and herders were the direct descendants from the medieval cattle thieves and raiders of the Atlantic Isles. We might recall that in the USA indigenous arable peoples lost out but later the ranchers lost out to the farmers.

As for our modern "capital" expressed in terms of modern  currencies and financial products they have become not just portable but moveable in vast amounts in a digital instant. A trader who has lunched too well can cause a financial hiccup or crisis at the tap of a key or a touch on the screen.

There are many reasons for capital to move. Some are the basic ones of investing in projects or activity in other states in an open and fully legal way. Others might be between or involving governments with a political purpose embedded.

Increasingly, there are very large sums moving arising from criminal sources, tax evasion and avoidance. More worrying are the surges of capital movement arising from the instability or collapse of either political systems or financial systems in one state to another reckoned to be more stable or at least friendly to those moving the money.

The term Lethal Liabilities is used about the human cost of debt and capital flight.  It is concise and its main reference is to The Third World contending that the ability to move wealth easily and at will has allowed extractive and predatory elites to grow very rich at the expense of leaving debts to the very poor.

What the various debates in the USA, Europe and the UK are about in relation to internal financial troubles have at their heart is that the same is happening in their own countries. It is not just one state preying on another, it is the financial sectors extracting capital internally to move elsewhere.

That this is now intermingled with high leverages and substantial speculation creates huge risks. Only it is not the movers and holders of the digital money who will lose it is the ordinary people doing ordinary work.

This is happening and it is getting worse by the year. When the next "Black Swan" event occurs we could all be in for a nasty financial shock.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Dreaming Of A New World

Who wants a “Big Society”?

There were difficult times before but that was before big was beautiful in the shape of retailing, banking and government.

Now I want my Little Society of the past back. It was cheaper, close at hand and a whole lot easier to deal with. Here are just a few thoughts:

Off licences that sell beer by the jug in quantities you ask for and not in expensive packaging.

Policemen who know which town or village they are in without having to consult a sat-nav or ask for guidance from Control.

Refuse collectors that remove refuse.

Meat retailers who are butchers who know one end of a cow or pig from the other.

Post Offices within walking distance that sell stamps and have collections with a parcels service that does not send everything to Coventry to be smashed up on the conveyor belts.

Banks nearby that keep your accounts accurate, pay interest on savings and get on with dealing with the customers instead of regarding them as sales targets.

Greengrocers round the corner with a choice of locally grown fruit and vegetables.

Real newsagents.

Local councils who tell you what they do, use English and not management speak like verbal diarrhoea and have people who can give answers with councillors who do not think they are the Court of Versailles.

Bakers who bake real bread.

Pubs that cater for adults and do not require you to spend up to fifty quid on microwaved packaged junk food supplied from central Poland so you can sit down and have a drink or two.

Doctors and nurses who sometimes look up from their computer when they are talking to you and work in surgeries which do not smell like a 19th Century Parisian brothel after a bad night.

Shops which sell you what you want and not what their marketing or distribution systems tells you to have.

Appliance retailers and servicing where the men do not have to come from the other end of the country and the parts ordered from East Asia.

I will leave it there and suspect that others could think of a few things more.

Monday, 11 March 2019

The Man Who Never Was

This document relates to a 2013 item on Europe with and from the role of David Cameron and his policies on Europe. Six years later and his successor, Theresa May maybe about to leave office before an election, it gives a point of reference to the present mess.

The title of this post is that of a 1956 film about a Second World War plot to deceive the Germans about where allied troops might land in Southern France in 1943. It needed a workable plan, to be feasible and above all a body floated out to be found and believed.

Cameron asked us to believe him on Europe and look what happened next. There are times when someone might be taken aside by a wise person familiar with the ways of the wider world and have things said quietly to them. Preferably, the person concerned will have a command of language and ability to reduce things to brutal simplicity so there can be no misunderstanding.

David Cameron, our Boy of Tears (see Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”) should have been told to lay off the history and concentrate on the future. One good reason is that so much of history is fiercely debated and open to differing interpretations.  Another is that he invariably gets it badly wrong.

He had made a speech on Europe as critics called it, nailing 95 theses to the doors of Brussels when it might be more like leaving what is left of a bakers dozen of humbugs behind the settee. The worst insult to think of is that it is the sort of speech I might have drafted to get a politician into deep trouble.

In 2019 we do not have Cameron as Prime Minister but is able to provide for his family from his financial work, along with the others of his time all off the radar but in the money. Where was Cameron’s speech made?

It was not the House of Commons; that once might be the obvious place.  Nor was it somewhere like the Manchester Free Trade Hall, Liverpool St. Georges Hall or Glasgow or even Deacon Brodie’s in Edinburgh. Nor was it at a Conservative Party moot at the Blackpool Winter Gardens or Scarborough Spa or even Westminster Central Hall.

It was at Bloomberg, the media financial outfit who broadcast to satellite. This really says it all about his vision of government and Europe.

He was very lucky to avoid having a mid speech break of several minutes for advertisements for gambling firms, washing powders and male perfumes.

Now we remember the advert's but few of us remember Cameron.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Sail Away

In 1869 when “Cutty Sark” was built on the Clyde at Dumbarton, on launching she went down river for some final work to be done in Greenock. Two of my Great Great Grandfathers were resident there with their families, one a ships carpenter, born in Leith in 1815 and the other an iron worker born in Ayr in 1808 who married in Paisley.

Did either of them put in some work on the ship? Given the number of other family connections, I like to think that someone did. Given their home addresses adjacent to the docks and yards they could hardly avoid seeing her or marvelling at her construction.

Given the number of men who did work on the vessel in construction originally and later or sailed with her on the many voyages, there must be quite a number of people around the world with a connection.

It is possible to complain that the work and events down the years have meant that what is left of the original “Cutty Sark” is limited. But it was a working ship and the ropes, the sails and a lot else have to be changed. The wear and tear of service inevitably meant reworking and replacements.

But the survival of what we have tells us of the incredible skills and strengths of the men who built and sailed her and something of the abilities of our past generations. Above all she was a merchant ship manned by ordinary men for ordinary trading purposes. But in these years when the clippers were at their peak, first the coal burning iron ships were coming into to use to be followed by oil burning steel. Now she is a tourist attraction located on The Thames and will never sail again. Moreover, her survival in part is due to Royal interest and persistence in wanting her to survive. The Duke of Edinburgh was a naval man and his body language never lets us forget it.

When there is a stiff Sou’ Wester, wet and with the white flecks on the waves of the Thames is the time to imagine her coming in with cargo.

But if only she could sail again.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Spending The Future

You will be aware of the difference of opinion between those who argue for the Government, Bank of England, and others to increase spending and money flowing into the system and those who take the view that balanced finance and careful control of spending is the only safe way forward.

At the root of this is the concept of the Multiplier, that spending will circulate in such a way as to encourage economic activity and recovery from the recession/depression. Those for deficit finance, that is borrowing to spend, argue that this is essential to kick in the Multiplier. Those opposed argue that as excess borrowing was the root of trouble, spending should be carefully targeted, and debt restricted to that sustainable in the long term.

Much of the debate revolves around the validity or not of applying the theories of John Maynard Keynes to the current situation. To reduce it to its barest level, it is said that he was in favour of deficit financing in times of economic recession to stimulate the economy. Unluckily, when the world changed after 1939, whilst he was heavily involved in the war effort and in rescuing the world economy in 1945, he died in 1946 and never had time to write up and publish in full how his thinking had developed since the early 1930’s.

His ideas were taken up by Nicholas Kaldor (1908-1986) and Joan Robinson in what was known as the “Cambridge School”, which were highly influential in the UK in the period 1950 to 1980. Their influence on the one hand, and the Marxist-Leninists on the other, more or less wiped out the middle ground and other schools of thinking in the period.

Putting complex ideas, however, in the hands and minds of politicians is even more dangerous than allowing them to determine their own expenses, or to run a scheme of agricultural or other subsidies. The concept of the Multiplier is such an idea, to a politician and their special advisers facing a bad downturn in the economy it is a powerful psychedelic hallucinogen.

Briefly, the idea is that when economic activity slows or turns down to avoid the risk of a major decline, there should be monetary and other “pump priming” injections into the economy. Because this money will them go from one activity to another, if the circulation takes place as expected the total economic effect as it goes through the system will multiply the several sectors involved to the total health of the economy as expressed in the Gross National Product.

This will generate added tax revenues etc. and balance can be restored. Necessarily there are a number of assumptions embedded in Keynes ideas.  One is that there is a moral ethic involved in policy decisions and expenditures. This may have been the case in the 1930’s, when morality was a touchstone of much of public and welfare policy, but in recent years has been overtaken by other ideas, that of serving particular interests represented by lobbyists where it is access and power that matter.

Another is that as far as possible the statistics and data used for the process of decisions should be as reliable as possible and honestly derived. As the figures given out by government, and the indexes and basic data are now more often works of political fiction, and sometimes fantasy, there are real problems.

Other assumptions in Keynes were that essentially, all the more prosperous in the population would pay taxes, all the companies and other economic entities in the UK would pay UK taxes, all the financial sector would be included in the tax base would be taxable, there would not be a major criminal element in economic affairs, and the public sector would be the minor spender as opposed to the real economy.

Also a government would not stoke up a boom by grossly inflating any market of significance. In recent years this has been the property market, and the huge bonuses being tolerated, even encouraged, in broken nationalised banks at present are designed to try to rack the London market up as fast as possible if only for the sake of the politicians own property portfolios and their trusts and special accounts offshore in tax havens. If you attempt to factor all this into Keynes ideas, then you have very serious problems.

In the 1960’s the UK and the world was a very different place.  Where did my money go at the time? The house I was in was built by local builders, from UK materials. My current property was built by a firm with offshore financing and the service charges and freehold payments go to people with offshore private trusts. My power suppliers were British gas and electricity boards, but now is French.

The railway was British Railways, now it is owned by the French. My food came from small local shops, with most of the supplies, seasonal, from within the region. For most people it is a local supermarket, and you have to look for the British produce. My clothing and footwear were always British made, now it takes time and effort to find a British product, most people do not bother. My insurances, once British, are now in the hands of an offshore based Private Equity Company; and so on.

The upshot of all this is a large proportion of Magic Money Tree going in as “quantatitive easing” or “pump priming” is not circulating in the UK economy, it is going somewhere else in the world. In short to produce an effect in the UK similar to that of the 1960’s or 1930’s, a proportionately vastly greater amount of money has to be spent, and therefore borrowed because of the nature and extent of the leakages abroad at all levels.

Additionally the UK financial system is entirely different from the times of either Keynes or Kaldor. It is geared to operate extensively outside the UK on a far greater scale and much of it under foreign ownership, albeit using the City of London as its base. So much of the money going into that system will not appear in UK pockets.

A chunk of the money that does remain goes into the pockets of money men at multiples comparative to ordinary people hugely greater than those of the past, and certainly of my own, my parents, and my grandparents time. As I suggest one modern multiplier effect is to sustain property prices, and therefore to help keep most of our politicians and their associates personal wealth at high levels.

The idea of Keynes Multiplier was to benefit us all. The multiplier of today will impoverish the majority of us, and enrich the few.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Fog In Foreign Office World Isolated

Among the forgotten nooks and crannies of Westminster there is a little place, well a big one, called the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Once it was the Mount Everest of the Civil Service but like the mountain is now a much visited tourist attraction. Also it is strewn with the litter of visitors, liable to cause unpredictable damage and has lost both its mystery and purpose. It has been redecorated recently but we may need to restore it to its former glory of function.

The FCO was one of the first Whitehall departments to assume a more modern form back in 1782. The two separate departments that had dealt with matters in foreign parts, the Northern and Southern Departments were merged into one. It was Jeremy Sneyd, then Head of the Northern Department and former Private Secretary to Prime Ministers, who is regarded as the person responsible.

Sneyd, born in County Cavan and who rode with the Government cavalry at Preston in 1745, was close to Sheridan and his circle.  In the past he had paid off Goldsmith’s liabilities to his servants and associated ladies. He was probably the man who arranged the bail outs to some of those worst affected in the Great Crash of 1772. At least it got him a property in Cleveland Row by Clarence House, a handsome estate in Hampshire and an acquaintance with the Austen’s. This is the essential tradition of the FCO, insider knowledge is a wonderful thing to have.

However, the bringing together of the opposing elements in handling Britain’s relationships with the world did not mean ending the conflicts. It internalised and disguised them. Many times in the recent past our Foreign Policy, such as it was, lurched from one stance to an opposing idea and from one hasty deal to another that was even more hasty and ill advised.

At least much of the policy was at least our own and as far as possible in our own interests, as the government determined.  Posterity often disagrees but history is a movable feast. From time to time it involved making deals with more or fewer other governments jointly and with respect to their needs. By and large, however, we remained free from permanent set up’s which fixed the ways and means of conducting international relationships.

After the debacle of World War I, this changed. There was now a League of Nations and a growing number of bodies and other organisations to which we became committed. At the end of World War II with now the American’s involved as well as many others the number of international bodies, agencies, treaty commitments and other forms of negotiation and decision increased rapidly and extensively.

By the 1960’s it was impossible to conduct any sort of independent policy. The major constraint was the Cold War need to follow the American’s, but there were others. We liked to claim that we led the way but only like a poodle leads its mistress.

In the 1970’s we bought a ticket to the Great Maze of Europe and since then the only diplomatic triumphs our politicians have claimed are those where they have taken on more binding commitments, membership of this or that at a huge price and giving away both our law and sovereignty to more or less anyone who asked for it.

In the last three years the world has turned. Just as Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs was relegated to one of the disregarded and last of the interests of our media and the least comfortable seat in the sofa of government, we may well need to learn how to do it for ourselves all over again. We can no longer play “Follow The Leader” because we do not have any leaders any more.

But the FCO is no longer what it was.  Like the rest of Whitehall it has been hollowed out of its essential past functions and turned into another PR/Management freak exercise meeting targets for sales talks, sales fairs, sales conventions, contact lists media spin circuses and attending meetings on how to keep all our masters happy. The baby that was the capability for analysis of information and intelligence as a basis for policy has been thrown out with the bathwater of real international communication.

One of the main problems this or any government faces is with the radical change in the way the world works, who matters and we our need to formulate and structure a well thought out and effective Foreign Policy. To do that the FCO has to change again and soon. It no longer means churning out reams of garbage based on redundant management and financial theory or fancy fictions about how we intend to make Ruritania our kind of place.

You cannot run a real foreign policy on the notion of added value. Also the FCO is not there just to be a sales office, agency for the latest financial dross dreamed up in The City or a personal service for all those Brit’s who travel abroad and find out the hard way that others have different ideas about personal conduct.

We have a FCO but need a real foreign policy. The present office would not know where to look for or recognise one if it found it.

Jeremy, where are you now?