Hardcore for Nerds

"Why sneer at the intellectuals?"*
punk music, left politics, and cultural history - previously found here.
contact: gabbaweeks[at]gmail.com (sorry, no promos/submissions, thanks) or ask
Dublin/Galway, Ireland. 26, history graduate & human rights student
HFN | Best New Punk | HFN 2012 2011 2010 2009 | HRO 2k9 | Hoover Genealogy Project | @HC4N
*from the title of a review of Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure by Michael Foot, Evening Standard, Nov. 26, 1943.
Apr 10
Permalink
In effect, the European Court of Justice has set out a position which directly rejects the type of indiscriminate mass surveillance carried out by the US and UK governments as being unacceptable in a democratic society.

TJ MacIntyre of Digital Rights Ireland on yesterday’s ECJ decision striking down the EU data retention directive as incompatible, in its execution and extent, with fundamental rights.

Also good is Karlin Lillington in the Irish Times asking, amongst other issues, “What implications for the internet of things”?

internet eu politics
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Apr 04
Permalink irish politics economics gaa
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Apr 03
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Apropos of this, here’s a good example of the Irish media colluding with government on the austerity agenda - reporting statements by the Minister for Transport to subtly suggest that anyone who thinks railways are an important public good is being childish (to be fair, a sub probably saw a good human interest angle to leaven the political economics, but still).
According to Varadkar, “we are not getting very good value for money from our railways”:

"I love the railways, I had a train set as a kid. I love the romance of steam engines pulling into the train station but I have to be realistic….. we can’t keep pumping money into the least efficient part of public transport which is the railways,” Mr Varadkar said. “We are getting so much better value for money from Dublin Bus, from Bus Eireann, who have taken pay cuts.”

Which is the point, really - those two companies have already put through ‘cost-reduction plans’ over union objections as well as threatened and actual industrial action, resulting in token modifications - and Irish Rail is next in line, hence a bit of softening up public opinion.
Anyway, what is this efficiency?

Elaborating on the issue of costs, he pointed out that 50 per cent of public investment in transport goes to Irish Rail for operating expenses alone even though the company was responsible for just 15 per cent of overall passenger journeys. Payroll costs were also higher at the company, he said.

"Public investment in transport… for operating costs" is a somewhat confusing statement. Most public investment in ‘transport’ in fact goes on roads, with a smaller amount going to public transport in the form of subsidies for ‘public service obligation’ (PSO) routes - which is operating expenses, not investment in stock. According to the statistical bulletins for rail and bus transport from the National Transport Authority, Irish Rail does indeed receive about half the total amount of PSO subsidies, while accounting for a minority of passenger journeys (37 million journeys, as against 113 million for Dublin Bus and 29 million for Bus Éireann, in 2012).
But there’s no clear information on how far each company takes those passengers, with both Irish Rail and Bus Éireann operating intercity services as well as suburban routes (in the case of DART for Irish Rail), while all routes are not necessarily PSO ones requiring subsidy. The statistics do state, however, that Irish Rail operated 6,623 ‘vehicle seat kilometres’ in 2012 (that’s distances travelled multiplied by number of seats, as a measure of capacity), as against 5,598 for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, combined. Now that’s capacity as against occupancy, and there may be more empty train seats than bus ones, but given that one expects trains to travel farther it suggests there may be more to the 50%/15% imbalance than is made out.

Apropos of this, here’s a good example of the Irish media colluding with government on the austerity agenda - reporting statements by the Minister for Transport to subtly suggest that anyone who thinks railways are an important public good is being childish (to be fair, a sub probably saw a good human interest angle to leaven the political economics, but still).

According to Varadkar, “we are not getting very good value for money from our railways”:

"I love the railways, I had a train set as a kid. I love the romance of steam engines pulling into the train station but I have to be realistic….. we can’t keep pumping money into the least efficient part of public transport which is the railways,” Mr Varadkar said. “We are getting so much better value for money from Dublin Bus, from Bus Eireann, who have taken pay cuts.”

Which is the point, really - those two companies have already put through ‘cost-reduction plans’ over union objections as well as threatened and actual industrial action, resulting in token modifications - and Irish Rail is next in line, hence a bit of softening up public opinion.

Anyway, what is this efficiency?

Elaborating on the issue of costs, he pointed out that 50 per cent of public investment in transport goes to Irish Rail for operating expenses alone even though the company was responsible for just 15 per cent of overall passenger journeys. Payroll costs were also higher at the company, he said.

"Public investment in transport… for operating costs" is a somewhat confusing statement. Most public investment in ‘transport’ in fact goes on roads, with a smaller amount going to public transport in the form of subsidies for ‘public service obligation’ (PSO) routes - which is operating expenses, not investment in stock. According to the statistical bulletins for rail and bus transport from the National Transport Authority, Irish Rail does indeed receive about half the total amount of PSO subsidies, while accounting for a minority of passenger journeys (37 million journeys, as against 113 million for Dublin Bus and 29 million for Bus Éireann, in 2012).

But there’s no clear information on how far each company takes those passengers, with both Irish Rail and Bus Éireann operating intercity services as well as suburban routes (in the case of DART for Irish Rail), while all routes are not necessarily PSO ones requiring subsidy. The statistics do state, however, that Irish Rail operated 6,623 ‘vehicle seat kilometres’ in 2012 (that’s distances travelled multiplied by number of seats, as a measure of capacity), as against 5,598 for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, combined. Now that’s capacity as against occupancy, and there may be more empty train seats than bus ones, but given that one expects trains to travel farther it suggests there may be more to the 50%/15% imbalance than is made out.

irish economics trains politics
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hardcorefornerds:

Political freedoms are luxuries that can be enjoyed once not-explicitly-political means of social control (like markets) have adequately supplanted inferior technologies of suppression.

The new New Inquiry issue, Money,is knocking it out of the park (at least if you like thinking about economics and politics as much as I do). You should buy it!

On a similar line, this post from the Fixing the Economists blog:

"It seems to me that this sort of totalitarian mindset is tied to the entire of marginalist microeconomics. Marginalist microeconomics, through its doctrines of rationality, seeks to describe the supposed behavior of every actor within the economy."

I don’t know if the title is a deliberate nod to Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, but it’s interesting to turn that critique on its head: rather than the planned economy leading to political unfreedom, the ‘free market’ not only supports oligarchic power (in the standard left critique) but also restricts meaningful choice at the individual level - “in marginalist economics people are nothing but calculating machines — not actual decision-makers.” 

politics economics
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Apr 02
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Political freedoms are luxuries that can be enjoyed once not-explicitly-political means of social control (like markets) have adequately supplanted inferior technologies of suppression.

The new New Inquiry issue, Money,is knocking it out of the park (at least if you like thinking about economics and politics as much as I do). You should buy it!

politics economics
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Mar 22
Permalink
We must reconsider leisure. For a long time the wealthiest lived a life of leisure at the expense of the toiling masses. The rise of intelligent machines makes it possible for many more people to live such lives without exploiting others. Today’s triumphant puritanism finds such idleness abhorrent. Well, then, let people enjoy themselves busily. What else is the true goal of the vast increases in prosperity we have created?

Enslave the robots and free the poor - Martin Wolf

I’ve been meaning to write about this very good piece, from Wolf’s Financial Times column as syndicated to the Irish Times. I finished André Gorz’s Farewell to the Working Class recently, having read it in search of answer, or at least a perspective, on this very question. 

Most interestingly, on the call for a basic income which even Wolf joins above and which is becoming increasingly common not only on the left, Gorz sounds a note of scepticism (I have my own, too):

"Socialised distribution of production, according to need rather than effective demand, was for a long time one of the central demands of the Left. This is now becoming ever less the case. In itself, it can only lead to the state taking greater charge of individual lives. The right to a ‘social income’ (or ‘social wage’) for life in part abolishes ‘forced wage labour’ only in favour of a wage system without work. It replaces or complements, as the case may be, exploitation with welfare, while perpetuating the dependence, impotence and subordination of individuals to centralised authority. This subordination will be overcome only if the autonomous production of use-values becomes a real possibility for everyone."

I don’t fully share Gorz’s aversion to the state, which makes his autonomism look a bit like a more polite version of anarchism; but if many people would be more than happy to accept a “wage system without work”, he makes it clearly that it is little different than being on the dole. Equally, he notes that “the abolition of work is neither acceptable nor desirable for people who identify with their work, define themselves through it and do or hope to realise themselves in their work” - it is in essence an issue of subjectivity. This is all in the introduction to the book, his Nine Theses for a Future Left, which introduces the idea of a ‘non-class of non-workers’ as a necessary improvement on the old Marxist notion of the proletarian class as the driver of socialism. Much of the book is in fact an interesting critique of Marxism, as suggested by the subtitle An Essay on Post-Industrial Socialism; the post-industrial element is mostly about showing the effect of technological change on society such that it has become irrevocably complex. Thus he rules out one form of autonomy, which is a retreat to self-sufficiency, at least on the grand scale, and advocates a ‘dual society’ which combines personal autonomy and, kept to a minimum, ‘heteronomy’, that is, socially necessary labour. As he says:

"Freedom cannot be based on the abolition of socially determined labour, nor … upon elimination of external compulsion so as to have each individual perform what is objectively necessary as an internalised moral duty."

Also:

"the very same technological developments that make it possible to free time and reduce everyone’s work load also allow the Right, through the weapon of unemployment, to reinforce the old ideology of hard work and productivity just when it no longer has any further economic or technical basis."

The second quote is from an appended text, ‘Towards a Policy of Time’, which states the argument of the book in much more accessible manner and with fewer political-theoretical trappings. On the side of personal autonomy, it is this ‘free time’ from work, guaranteed by a social income, which enables people to realise their social and individual selves; but on the other, the mandatory contribution of a certain amount of part-time work to ensure the smooth running of society. Though he points to what he calls ‘the hidden costs of productivism’ where the demands for social and administrative services would in fact be lessened if adults were not forced to work full-time jobs, but instead were able to attend to their families and communities at leisure.

It’s utopian, but in a good way - and addresses at least some of the issues I have with a straightforward redistributive income guarantee, if with the result of highlighting the necessary transformative social change. For me, a big issue I still have with Basic Income is the inherent reliance of our society on wage exploitation - cheap (frequently immigrant) labour for menial tasks in the service industry - and then the extent to which we are addicted to resource exploitation on the global scale, both of which make the idea of a redistributive income guarantee amongst Western citizens (more than already exists, comparatively speaking) highly problematic without a clear further shift in moral and ethical attitudes.

economics basic income socialism politics gorz books
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Mar 08
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On the Emotional Conservatism of Bono

This week Bono was the surprise guest speaker at a meeting of the European People’s Party (EPP), a grouping of European ‘centre-right’, Christian Democratic conservative parties, in Dublin’s Convention Centre. This is a good summary of the reaction, at least in the Irish media (social and otherwise):

"The sight of St Bono communing with world leaders has the power to send a lot of Irish people into apoplectic rage.

As he spoke yesterday, the non-Irish members of the audience lapped up his every word while local observers sniggered quietly.”

It’s no secret that there is a vocal dislike of Bono amongst many Irish people, typically termed ‘begrudgers’. In fact, it’s a reflexive process of antagonisms about Irish culture that really just focuses on Bono as a very obvious source of provocation. I actually watched the 20-minute speech and found it quite interesting, in ways that differ somewhat from my initial perception, but I still have a lot to disagree with. Yet the emphasis on both the supposedly farcical pontificating and the fact that other people were paying attention to our national figure is perhaps illustrative of the conflict of ideas.

The quote that first caught my eye was this one: 

"For all this progress, for all these achievements, nearly 60 years after the Treaty of Rome, Europe is an economic entity that still needs to become a social entity,” he said. “Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling.”

Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling (he repeated it in the speech). The first thing is that I would agree with the first part - the Treaty of Rome being the founding treaty of the European Community and now the European Union - although, and this is the important issue, it’s very easy to agree with. It’s the second part that threw me, because aside from the apparent cloyingness, to my sensibility it seems problematic that the ‘social’ is emotional, while the ‘economic’ is intellectual. Arguably, the economic is irrational and ideologically blinkered whilst the social is the affective, human and ethical element of life that resists categorisation to either head or heart. Of course that is itself trying to make an intellectual justification for something more akin to a gut feeling I had in reaction to seeing that single line. More to the point, I felt when watching the video that he actually sold the line pretty well: it was, obviously enough, emotional. And that’s the lesson of what you get when you rely at first on the cynical, abbreviated snark of Twitter.

The broader issue I have with it, however, is that despite his either genuine or effective sincerity, there is still a problem with making ‘social Europe’ an emotional goal. It is that the obstacles to such a thing are - if not quite cold, hard facts since they’re hotly (though perhaps with still not enough heat in the right places) debated - then a quasi-rational structure of economic integration that deliberately places market outcomes above social goals and protections. It’s a contested area between law, politics and economics that I’m trying to get to grips with myself currently, but the most common and least challenging view seems to be that as the EU was set up primarily if not wholly exclusively as an economic integration vehicle (and thus from that to a progressing measure of political integration) its social side has remained, for nebulous political reasons, comparatively underdeveloped. There is a balancing act with the laws, and the political efforts of the governments and EU institutions, which some see as less fair than others. I myself am inclined to the view that the thrust of the EU as a project of economic liberalism, or neoliberalism (or, in respect of Germany’s role and thus much of the EU’s own structure, the more rule-based ordoliberalism) must play a decisive and active role in shaping the legal-political structure within which any balance has been struck.

image

Later in the speech Bono turned to the German Chancellor, leader of their Christian Democrat Party and generally considered the most powerful political figure in Europe and its handling of the economic crisis, to praise her for using the term Eco sozialen Marktwirtschaft, or in English, Eco Social Market Economy. Which is of course just the standard phrase ‘social market economy’ with a trendy ‘eco’ added on to reflect the fact that the planet is burning up. My current lecturer in EU law is enthusiastic about the presence of the first term in the initial articles of the primary Treaty on the European Union, although what it actually says is a “highly competitive social market economy”. And while I was unimpressed because, to me, the ‘social market economy’ just meant the compromise between socialism and capitalism, or social democracy and free-market conservatives, which is just a reflection of an historical balance that doesn’t really mean anything one way or the other, it turns out it’s (arguably) worse. What I was thinking of is better termed the ‘mixed economy’, whereas (as I learned from Foucault, or at least as he reminded me of having read in Judt) the term ‘social market economy’ has a specific history dating back to immediately post-war Germany, the finance ministry of Ludwig Erhard and the engineering of Germany’s economic ‘miracle’. For Foucault and other critics of neoliberalism, the social market economy is not at all about a balance between two contrasting political ideologies, but the socialisation of the market into society. And really this is the concept we’ve been fighting, not just some ‘amoral capitalism’ as Bono referenced, whenever people have called for ‘a society, not just an economy’ or for the injection of social ‘feeling’ into a primarily economic project, as in the case of Europe.

From the Miriam Lord sketch column linked above, is I think a pretty effective deflation of that part of his speech (and others):

Bono’s speech entertainingly ticked all the boxes of many speeches made by political thinkers about the EU “an economic entity that needs to become a social entity”.

President Michael D Higgins, among others, has been saying that for a long time.

To be fair to the President, he tends to place more emphasis on the problems of the market itself, and the more complex interplay between it a his native field of sociology - whereas Bono breezily refers to the traditional Irish concept of ‘meitheal’, a sort of community solidarity where agricultural work was pooled and shared, and opposes ‘real neighbourliness’ against ‘red-tape bureaucracy’ in Europe. This is the kind of social Toryism that befits his audience (although the UK Conservatives, true to their distance from the EU, aren’t a member of the EPP and instead inhabit the paradoxically named Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists, presumably in an attempt to stop anything being done in Europe). One could oppose to that the argument of Gorz that the traditional, community-level autonomy is by definition either impossible or practically very limited in the complex, modern society which we inhabit. That is, the spirit of meitheal may live on occasionally - most recently in community responses to flooding along Ireland’s west coast, although characteristically it is coupled with a dissatisfaction in the extent of the state’s response and investment - but the agrarian notion of solidarity is already disarmed by the market and the necessity of state structures. What makes it a perfect image for Bono’s speech, however, is what I refer to in my title - the easy appeal of tradition to conservative emotion, the safe knowledge that the traditional will not - and can not - be expressed in a way that is genuinely radical and threatening to the current social (market) order. Which is what meitheal would be if it was actually applied now, as a concept of solidarity that overrode the economic freedoms (and responsibilities) that constitute much of modern individualism.

At the same time, by making the emotional appeal to a concept that is at least oblique to the established trend of conservative politics as they are practiced and specifically expressed, it feels like he’s calling for a change. That we could change Europe, change the world (on the issue of development which he usually campaigns and made significant reference to here also), if we the citizens, and the politicians, our leaders, just changed our values to be more ‘social’ and less economic. But I’m not convinced that’s the issue at all. 

irish politics europe
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Feb 26
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The Necessary War?

Watched the Max Hastings documentary on the First World War and found it very interesting, thought-provoking if not actually polemical. My main issue with it was, firstly, the persistent notion that the threat to British independence as a world power, as posed by a victorious Germany on the continent forced, or justified, their involvement (a more subtle point, made by Hew Strachey, was the importance of upholding the ‘rule of law’, in relation to Belgian neutrality, to the economic interests of Britain’s empire). Yet how does this compare to Germany’s position in seeking to expand its own power - beyond the economic - and at what point does British hegemony cease to justify as a cause the bloody slaughter across the continent? Likewise, when dealing with the outcome of the war - the necessary peace, as it were - it is posed that there was no other possible accommodation of a belligerent Germany in the European order before World War II. This, of course, poses the question of how the post-WWII settlement established a lasting peace between Germany and the rest of Europe, essentially it would seem by establishing a more closely integrated economic and later political order - that, nevertheless, the UK notably remains on the periphery of. Which brings me to my third idea, relating to my current reading in Foucault of the German origins of ordo- and neo-liberalism in the post-war conception of an economically-founded political order - “History had said no to the German state, but now the economy will allow it to assert itself” - and its influence on the EU. Without wishing to indulge in the anti-German rhetoric which features among Irish reactionaries, left and right, I wonder if the financial crisis has indeed revealed a third phase of German struggle for hegemony, this time economic rather than military, and politically motivated by a constrained ideal of law rather than the authoritarian or totalitarian usurping of it.

history europe politics
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Feb 23
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Liberalism, neoliberalism, conservatism, libertarianism … at least in America, they are all just a blur. People who live elsewhere in the world have little feeling for the American cultural drumbeat that keeps insisting politics has no theoretical grounding - it is only something dubbed “human nature” that can be theorized. America, that fabled Land of Neoliberalism in European parlance, soldiers on, blissfully unaware that it is neoliberal.
— Philip Mirowski, Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived The Financial Meltdown (Verso, 2013), p. 29
politics american exceptionalism
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Feb 19
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Bought this recently, on the basis of this review - even though it is rather critical (and of course an excellent essay in its own right) the approach interested me, especially this point:

"For Mirowski, neoliberalism is first and foremost a political doctrine, not a class strategy or commercial project. Unlike the classical liberalism of the 18th century or today’s waves of libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism, neoliberalism — though an anti-democracy project — nonetheless seeks to use the state rather than destroy it."

I didn’t however realise it was going to be quite a tome - obviously I should have looked at the page numbers - and I think I was distracted by the comparison with David Harvey’s shorter work into thinking it would be another slim volume.
More to the point perhaps, I’m working my way through Foucault’s lectures in The Birth of Biopolitics, which is fascinating - especially coming from a history (although I have some scepticism about the accuracy of Foucault’s broad-brush approach, he does at the same time make a good critique of historicism - that which puts the universal “through the grinder of history”) and a political theory background with a fair bit of familiarity with the early modern period. And right now I’m trying to connect that with the current international legal order in the EU and viewing the state, not just as an embattled actor that needs to have positive, and rather worthy, social obligations placed upon it, but that needs to be restrained from pursuing particular neoliberal aims through its involvement in the economic sphere (particularly in the area of ‘labour activation’).

Bought this recently, on the basis of this review - even though it is rather critical (and of course an excellent essay in its own right) the approach interested me, especially this point:

"For Mirowski, neoliberalism is first and foremost a political doctrine, not a class strategy or commercial project. Unlike the classical liberalism of the 18th century or today’s waves of libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism, neoliberalism — though an anti-democracy project — nonetheless seeks to use the state rather than destroy it."

I didn’t however realise it was going to be quite a tome - obviously I should have looked at the page numbers - and I think I was distracted by the comparison with David Harvey’s shorter work into thinking it would be another slim volume.

More to the point perhaps, I’m working my way through Foucault’s lectures in The Birth of Biopolitics, which is fascinating - especially coming from a history (although I have some scepticism about the accuracy of Foucault’s broad-brush approach, he does at the same time make a good critique of historicism - that which puts the universal “through the grinder of history”) and a political theory background with a fair bit of familiarity with the early modern period. And right now I’m trying to connect that with the current international legal order in the EU and viewing the state, not just as an embattled actor that needs to have positive, and rather worthy, social obligations placed upon it, but that needs to be restrained from pursuing particular neoliberal aims through its involvement in the economic sphere (particularly in the area of ‘labour activation’).

politics economics llm blogging
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