Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Layer 375 . . . China, Obama, Cameron, Bush, Poverty, Defence, Gove, Education and the Washington consensus

Heard on the radio this week:
"In America gun sales are going through the roof. There's a lot of anger out there . . . "

"In Brazil the newly elected president has said her first priority is lifting 20 million Brazillians out of poverty . . ."

David Cameron has told China's leaders that "they cannot shut down debate about democracy, urging them instead to recognise that political freedom, the rule of law and a free press represent the best path to stability and prosperity." Which is complete bollocks. If it's stability you want, then you look to China and not Britain and America. The type of stability we have here is between two competing versions of capitalism. So what? As for "prosperity" - I do believe it was Britain and America who were mainly responsible for crashing the world's economy and ruining millions of lives. It was only good old socialist nationalisation of those bad banks that prevented an even bigger disaster - an overwhelming disaster.

And it's China's economy that's been growing continuously and rapidly - lifting millions of their people out of poverty, just as millions in Britain and America are sinking back into poverty, homelessness and hopelessness.

Meanwhile, President Obama, touring Indonesia, said, "It takes open society and active citizens to reject inequality and injustice." Oh dear, oh dear. Has America rejected inequality and injustice? Does America really give a shit about inequality and injustice? Good try, Barack baby. Good try. Keep saying those words often enough and hope some of your folks start to embrace these tricky concepts.


Talking of Presidents, Jonathan Freedland had a good column in the paper today -

This bid to rehabilitate Bush must be defeated: he left a trail of destruction

For Tony Blair it was sex with Cherie. For George W Bush, it's a turd from his pet dog Barney. In this season of memoirs the two leaders who so dominated the first decade of the century have been engaged in similar efforts to secure absolution by autobiography, to seek our understanding, even our forgiveness, by telling within two months of each other their story, their way.

Above all is the Blair-style insistence that, while some of the practicalities might have gone awry, his principles were sound and just.

For Bush, as for Blair, whether the actions of a leader were actually right or wrong is always secondary to the purity of his convictions. That he thought he was right is enough.

What this adds up to is a challenge for those on the centre-left in both countries and beyond.

So, with a loud voice, they have to stop this incipient attempt to rehabilitate Bush in its tracks. They need to remind the public of a record whose litany of failures is so inarguable, much of it can be evoked by names alone: Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo, Katrina, Abu Ghraib, Lehman Brothers.

They need to recall an administration that cherry-picked intelligence, that misled a nation to war on false pretences, that ignored expert advice that it didn't want to hear, that invaded a country with barely a modicum of planning, then declared Mission Accomplished.

They need to remind the world of an economic policy that gave billions to the very richest in tax cuts and turned a healthy surplus into a ballooning deficit, that allowed a deregulated Wall Street to run riot and to crash the global economy.

So yes, it's charming to read about Barney out for his morning stroll, leaving a mess on the neighbour's lawn. But that's as nothing next to the mess his master left for the world – and we should let no one forget it.


Mehdi Hassan wrote this:

Low pay keeps even more in poverty than the jobless

Hardworking teaching assistants, dinner ladies, security guards and street cleaners are not scroungers. They are poor because they are poorly paid: theirs is not, to borrow an insidious phrase from the chancellor, a "lifestyle choice". The issue of low pay – or "poverty pay" in the words of the TUC – should, therefore, be at the heart of the debate over welfare reform. Does the coalition have a coherent plan to tackle in-work poverty; to reduce the growing number of "working poor"; to boost wages at the bottom end?

Eighteen of the 29 members of the coalition cabinet are millionaires; few have had to eke out a living on low wages.

Meanwhile, research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests the gap between the minimum wage and the income needed to pay for a very basic household budget has widened. An adult working a 40-hour week on the minimum wage will earn £1,027 a month, which translates annually to £12,334 in pre-tax income. According to the foundation, however, a single person now needs to earn at least £14,400 a year to reach a "minimum income standard" and afford a socially acceptable standard of living.

Ministers are keen to discuss welfare and worklessness but have little to say about the chief cause of poverty: low pay. In opposition, Tory sources suggested the minimum wage would be allowed to "wither on the vine". The coalition's attitude towards supporting, and raising, the minimum wage, as well as improving the working conditions of the low-paid, will thus reveal whether or not we have a genuinely progressive government committed to helping the poor. These welfare reforms, on the other hand, are a distraction.


Only Britain can beg for scraps from China and tell them how to behave

David Cameron says he will drum up trade in China, and tackle human rights. It is an exercise in bluff concealing hypocrisy

by Simon Jenkins

How do you beg the Chinese for money and yet hold your nose and tell them how awful they are?

The British empire may be dead, but a nagging desire to rule the world, or at least tell it how to behave, is embedded in the genes of every British politician.

Cameron seems overwhelmed these days by the evils and injustices of other peoples.

Such grandstanding diplomacy may give Cameron a statesman-like buzz . . . but it makes no difference to the plight of the persecuted Chinese, except possibly to exacerbate their persecution. Meanwhile, it risks undermining whatever benefit to trade might come from the visit.

One day perhaps China will have enough of this posturing and send a return delegation to London. Before discussing British lingerie exports, the Chinese will profess a "deep concern" at Britain's prison overcrowding, control orders, housing benefit reform and [lifting the] cap on student fees. They will "raise awareness" of Abu Hamza's detention, the persecution of asylum-seeking children and house flipping by MPs.

Perhaps Cameron could lend Beijing his admirable Mr Gove, to advise on the dictatorial centralisation of the Tibetan education service.


Simon Jenkins wrote this brilliant piece a few days ago -

Does Britain really need the military?

Our armed forces were made to fight in conventional wars and cannot meet the real threats to modern Britain. So why must we pay £45bn for something that's so obsolete?

Six months ago I proposed in the Guardian that if Britain was short of money it should cut defence. I did not mean reduce defence, or trim defence. I meant cut it altogether. We are desperately short of money and absolutely no one is threatening to attack us now or in the foreseeable, indeed conceivable, future. Besides, as we have seen this past week, other ways of ensuring security make more pressing claims on us. We just do not need an army, navy or air force. So why are we paying £45bn for them?

Britain as a sovereign state is less "under threat" today than ever in my life, indeed less than ever in its existence. That is to the credit of recent generations of British governments. But this means we do not need a defence that has been successfully rendered obsolete.

The chief threat to me today, if at all, is from crime. Yet we are appalling at combating it. Obsessed with punishment, we neglect crime prevention. To guard me from unreal foreign attack the government spends £45bn, but to guard my home and hearth from crime it spends just £6.4bn, and badly. I am defended against crime, including terrorist attack, not by an army, navy or air force, but by vigilant acquaintances of the criminals, by an alert school and mosque, by the police and by the apparatus of intelligence, espionage and diplomacy.

The truth of the matter is that our defence spending is misdirected and extravagantly out of date. We are deploying cold-war weapons against occasional outrages by fanatics with no capacity to cause the state harm.

Reported in the Evening Standard:

Michael Gove is bullying us into becoming an academy, says head

Brian Lloyd, head of Kelsey Park sports college in Bromley, said his school was the subject of a hostile takeover supported by the Government.

Hundreds of parents are campaigning for the all-boys school to be taken out of local authority control and turned into an academy run by the Harris Federation.

The move is supported by Education Secretary Michael Gove but the Tory-run council does not want to give up control of the school and neither does Mr Lloyd.

He said his school has been denigrated during the campaign, which he said is designed to be a “quick win” for Mr Gove. Mr Lloyd said: “The way in which this is being dealt with is very hostile. I would like parents to trust me and give me a chance. I have 1,000 boys in my school and nobody has complained to me about the way it is being run.”

He added: “We are a happy, successful, good school and every year we get some outstanding grades. But we are getting to the stage where we feel we are being pushed into a corner because Gove wants us to be an academy.”


It's time to reject the Washington consensus

In Seoul, the G20 summit has a chance to ditch the dogma which has held back the developing world

by Ha-Joon Chang

The G20 summit takes place this week in my home town of Seoul.

Now the initial crisis response is over, the G20 is looking for a mission. My fellow Koreans want that to be development, especially of the world's poorest countries. But before welcoming this agenda, we need to ask what kind of development the G20 should promote.

An obvious place to look for inspiration is the recent history of the host country. In my lifetime Korea has lived through one of the greatest development miracles – half a century ago, its annual per capita income was around £50, less than half that of Ghana at the time. Today, it stands at £12,000, putting it on a par with Portugal and Slovenia. How was this possible?

Korea of course did things that most people agree are important for economic development, such as investment in infrastructure, health and education. But on top of that, it also practised many policies that are now supposed to be bad for economic development: extensive use of selective industrial policy, combining protectionism with export subsidies; tough regulations on foreign direct investment; active, if not particularly extensive, use of state-owned enterprises; lax protection of patents and other intellectual property rights; heavy regulation of both domestic and international finance.

The G7 was always remarkably reluctant to recommend these "heterodox" policies and insisted that the "Washington consensus" package of opening up, deregulation and privatisation was the right recipe for everyone.

Korea today wants the G20 to focus on a lengthy shopping list of development issues: infrastructure; private investment and job creation; education; greater access to rich country markets by poor countries; more inclusive finance; building resilience to financial or weather shocks; food security; governance.

The Korean experience shows that sustainable export success over a long period of time, for which the country is justly famous, requires protection and nurturing of "infant industries" through selective industrial policy, rather than free trade and deregulation. And there is no mention of land reform and other measures for asset redistribution, which created social cohesion that made development in Korea sustainable.

If these gaps can be addressed, the Seoul meeting could mark a watershed – the start of a new, realistic and historically literate approach to development, after decades of misguided market fundamentalism.

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