One reason for UKIP’s success is that the party has a particular appeal to older people – who are more likely to turn up at the polling station than younger voters. Thus, on the face of it, this is one more reason why the Conservative Party should pay particular attention to the grey vote.
But here’s the thing. While older people are more likely to vote at elections, they’re also more likely to die between elections. A party that fails to appeal to younger people is itself doomed to die out.
Of course, as the years go by, younger people become older people – and there’s a complacent assumption that as they do so they’ll become more conservative too. But will they? It isn’t the mere passage of time that changes a person’s political outlook, but the taking-up of opportunities and the taking-on of responsibilities.
That’s why we should be deeply concerned that for the generation that came of age around the year 2000 – the so-called ‘millennials’ or ‘generation Y’ – opportunities are hard to find and responsibilities are being delayed.
Writing from a US perspective, Derek Thompson sets out the situation in a piece for the Atlantic:
Saddled with student debt and facing poor prospects, millennials have responded by practicing a kind of personal austerity:
This isn’t just about consumerism, but family life too:
In fact, rather than progressing to the next stage of life, many young adults seem to be going backwards:
It’s all very easy to be scornful of these “perma-children”, but after the wages of the young have been taxed to pay the unfunded pensions and benefits of the retired, taxed again to service public sector debt their parents voted for and further reduced by student loan repayments their parents never had to make, that doesn’t leave much over for a deposit on some monstrously over-priced one-bedroom flat.
Moreover, the very policies that might give young people a fighting chance – such as building more houses, means-testing pensioner benefits to reduce the deficit and transferring resources from healthcare to education – would be politically impossible. Even if the Conservative Party were brave enough to act in the long-term interests of the country, UKIP would swoop in to feast on the immediate anger of older voters.
Thus millions of younger people will be left to fester in resentment and dependency – and which party do you think will benefit most from that?
The American sociologist Amitai Etzioni was once a familiar name in British politics, thanks to his status as an academic guru to Tony Blair.
Etzioni’s key idea was ‘communitarianism’ – a non-socialist alternative to the individualism of the 1980s. As such it was seized upon by New Labour as an all-purpose intellectual gap-filler. It was – and is – an interesting idea, but upon winning power, Tony Blair pursued it with all the attention to detail and unwavering commitment shown by David Cameron in implementing the Big Society.
In an op-ed for UPI, Etzioni writes on a completely different subject (though one still connected with Tony Blair) – America’s military actions in the Middle East and Afghanistan/Pakistan. His focus is on the use of unmanned aircraft, known as drones, to target and destroy the enemy – which, in the US, is a matter of increasing controversy:
Etzioni is less than impressed:
Indeed, there appears to be no clear correlation between anti-American sentiment and the use of drones:
In any case, what’s the alternative? Conventional air strikes? Boots on the ground? Are these forms of military actions more or less likely to stir-up local anger?
Perhaps, the only real alternative is complete disengagement – to leave countries like Yemen and Pakistan entirely to their own devices and to concentrate our efforts on protecting the home front against terrorism. Certainly, this would be a far more important and meaningful debate.
Larry Elliot is the economics editor of the Guardian, but don’t let that put you off. Unlike the Labour frontbench, there are some parts of the British centre-left still capable of original thought on the economy.
It is, for instance, refreshing to see someone look beyond the frustratingly restricted debate between ‘Keynesian’ supporters of stimulus and ‘monetarist’ supporters of austerity:
Some good questions, there – but it would be career suicide for any mainstream politician to even hint at the possibility that low growth may be here to stay. The pretense must be maintained at all times that growth is like a tiger in a cage, ready to spring forth the moment someone finds the right key.
But perhaps the reason why the beast seems so still is because it’s dead – or, at least, not at all well.
Larry Elliot considers three arguments to the contrary. First up is the observation that recovery is already underway:
Elliot goes on to deal with comparison to the 1970s, when what appeared to be terminal economic decline was dispelled by the optimism of the 80s:
The final counter-argument is that a new wave of technological innovation will rescue us, which, of course, it might. Then again, it might not – it’s very difficult to predict an economic future based on things that haven’t been invented yet.
For all of these reasons, we need to question the lazy assumption, shared by left and right alike, that economic growth is just waiting to be ‘unlocked’. If this shared assumption is indeed wrong, then neither side in the current economic debate is right.
But might one of them be less wrong than the other?
The policy of ‘expansionary austerity’ – as pursued by George Osborne – may not produce much in the way of expansion, but the austerity part might at least better prepare us for a future in which we have no choice but to live within our means.
Which country do you think this is about:
It sounds like it could be just about any debt-laden nation in the western world, but, as you will have guessed the country in question, is China.
Indeed, given the following fact, it could only be China:
These extracts come from another eye-opening piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for the Daily Telegraph, which serves as a corrective to the idea that China is destined to overtake America in the course of the current century.
As things stand, China is already halfway there:
With four Chinese citizens for every American and a substantially higher rate of economic growth, can it really be that long before the People’s Republic takes the number one spot?
It can when you consider what lies behind China’s ‘growth miracle’:
China’s economic boom has also come at the expense of its environment. The Financial Times reports that “air pollution might have caused about 1.2m premature deaths in China in 2010 alone” and that “Beijing has registered a 60 per cent rise in lung cancer cases in the past decade.”
While lax pollution controls are killing China’s people, its draconian one child policy is preventing many more from being born. The country is firmly established on a demographic trajectory that, in the absence of mass immigration, is certain to result in severe labour shortages in coming decades.
This is not a good position from which to challenge America’s still overwhelming strengths:
So, it looks like we may be in for a second ‘American century’ after all – which, given the alternatives, may not be such a bad thing.
There are many euphemisms for debt – like ‘credit’, ‘finance’ and, for all you Gordon Brown fans out there, ‘investment’. In certain business circles, however, the term of choice is ‘leverage’.
To be fair, it isn’t an entirely meaningless word, evoking, as it does, the use of debt to minimise the equity portion of a money making venture and thereby maximising any return on capital.
In a hugely informative piece for the London Review of Books, Donald Mackenzie explains the principle of leverage in terms of the equity you might have in a house or flat. For any given increase in the property’s value, the lower your equity, the higher the return:
But there’s a catch:
And that, following the credit crunch, is what happened to so many of our banks. The value of the loans they’d made declined by more than the value of their equity:
Donald Mackenzie tells us that, just prior to the crisis, RBS’s equity levels were at 4.5%, while Lloyds’ were at 3.3% – not enough to weather the storm and avoid the bail-out. Once upon a time it would be have been a different story:
Who was responsible for the erosion of this vital safeguard? Well, the bankers, most obviously – but then bankers are prone to doing all sorts of silly things and it is the job of governments to impose sensible limits, which they failed to do.
In fact, the state has made things worse. For instance, by being ready and willing to bail out those who lend to banks (depositors), but not those who own them (shareholders), governments have distorted the relative costs of debt and equity. To compound this effect, corporate interest repayments are typically tax deductible, unlike dividend payments.
Then there was the farce of an 1988 Basel Accord on Capital Adequacy, which tried to set out a minimum capital requirement for banks. As Mackenzie describes at some length, the loopholes were of staggering dimensions. For instance, certain investments were deemed to be so safe that no capital was required to match them. It tells you all you need to know that these ‘zero-rated’ investments included Greek government bonds.
Today, it makes sense to get equity levels back up to where they should be – but where is the capital going to come from? Well, there is one rather tempting potential source:
Of course, this would mean forcing bankers to tie up their bonuses in the shares of the banks they work for – which, if nothing else, would give them a long-term stake in the stability of the banking system.
In the run-up to the financial crisis of 2008, the rich got a whole lot richer. But they must have taken a hit in the years since, right?
Not in America, they haven’t. Writing for Business Insider, Henry Blodget tells it like it is:
As a result the share of the nation’s wealth owned by the richest 7% has increased from 56% to 63%.
How can this be happening? And under that nice Mr Obama too!
But why are shares doing so well when the economy is doing so badly? As we’ve noted before on the Deep End, quantitative easing is driving demand for stocks and securities – and, therefore, pushing up their prices. And that’s not the only way in which governments are effectively giving money to the rich.
Consider the case of Apple – one of the biggest and richest companies on the planet – which is borrowing $17 billion to buy back its own shares when it’s sitting on savings of $145 billion. ‘Buttonwood’, of the Economist, asks and answers the obvious question – “why doesn't [Apple] just use its cash to do the same thing?”:
Good for Apple, not so good for the ordinary American taxpayer:
And that’s not the end of the bonanza. Apple’s bond issue will generate lots of lovely fees for Wall Street bankers – “the same bankers taxpayers helped support five years ago.”
So, whether in term of QE or a distorted corporate tax system, the state is merrily shoveling cash into the gaping maws of the wealthy.
It’s time to do something about this blatant injustice, but what?
Well, our elected governments could borrow even more money and shovel it down some other throats in the hope of evening things up. This is Labour’s solution. It won’t work and will make the state even more dependent on the money men than it is now.
Instead, we need tax reform that advantages real wealth creation, not accountancy tricks; and, if we must have quantitative easing, let it be in a form that puts money in the hands of ordinary people, not just the rich.
The very term ‘modernist architecture’ evokes a sense of inevitability – as if architectural modernism is a simple fact of modern life. But as recently as the late 19th and early 20th centuries, modernism was just one of many competing architectural styles.
In a fascinating article for Resilience, Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros explain how the modernist style came to dominate the built environment:
The key to modernism’s triumph was its unique compatibility with the technologies of mass production:
And yet there was much more to modernism’s dominance than mere economics. The expulsion of all other styles from the theory and practice of mainstream architecture was an ideological project. Modernism was pursued as a deliberate break with tradition – and one of the key theorists of this rupture was the Austrian writer and architect Adolf Loos:
Loos readily admitted that modern methods had left us unable to produce “authentic ornamental detail.” But he went on to argue that this was not something worth having, the proof being that ornament was something that “any Negro” (his words) could obtain.
For Loos, ornament was ‘primitive’, while the plain, repetitive, geometrical uniformity of modernism was ‘advanced’ because only the latest technology could produce it. Far from being a regrettable by-product of our methods of production, modernism’s bleak aesthetic was to be celebrated as the embodiment of the age:
Fast forward a hundred years, and the cities that modernism made are all around us. Yet though the buildings are, for the most part, devoid of ornamentation, many of the people who live in them are not. In fact, with, every passing year, it seems as if more and more of them sport the tattoos that Loos so despised.
Instead of ornamenting his buildings, modern man now ornaments his skin instead.
Back in February, the Deep End featured a post entitled Sweden: Beacon of the right. Today, we look to a rather more obvious source of inspiration: the Lone Star State of Texas.
Writing for the Dallas Morning News, Erica Grieder contends that talk of a ‘Texas miracle’ is no exaggeration:
Furthermore, this isn’t just due to the geological accident of rich resource endowment. In the past, one could have dismissed Texas as “a resource colony — America’s leading provider of cotton and cattle, soldiers and oil”, but no longer. 21st century Texas is a dynamic knowledge-based economy, capable of creating large numbers of well-paid jobs.
All of which is bit embarrassing for American liberals. After all, how can a state that elects governors like George W Bush and Rick Perry, be doing so well? Surely, there’s much less to the Texas miracle than meets the eye.
Erica Grieder decided to find out for herself, and has a book out on the subject Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn From the Strange Genius of Texas. This is what she concluded:
We’ll come on to these tweaks in a bit; but, first, what is the Texas model?
That’s all pretty straightforward, but success – a young and growing population in a skills-hungry economy – is presenting new demands:
But there’s a big difference between state-led investment in the ‘infrastructure of opportunity’ and the public sector feather-bedding that is bankrupting other parts of the United States. Even if up-and-coming Democrats like Joaquín Castro succeed in winning Texas back from Republican rule, Grieder is convinced that the state will “remain on the fiscally conservative side of the spectrum”:
Fiscal conservatism is sometimes dismissed as a hard-hearted ideology of the hard right, but actually it is something much wider and deeper than that. Texas shows that it is a state of mind, embracing values of self-reliance, but also a shared and selfless loyalty to a culture conscious not only of its past and present, but its future too.
To borrow and spend without thought of repayment represents the opposite state of mind, one which, implicitly or explicitly, gives up on the future. More than a matter of fiscal irresponsibility, it is an act of cultural suicide.
Isn’t about time that major awards – like the Oscars and the Emmys – were opened up to a public vote?
The answer to that, of course, is no – for the very good reason that the public can’t be trusted. For instance, if the Brits (awards for popular music artists, m'lud) were to go fully democratic, then we could expect the most popular boy band of the moment (currently One Direction) to win in every category including best female solo artist.
Prospect magazine’s ‘world thinkers poll’, provides another object lesson in the perils of the public vote. With the lads of One Direction having been cruelly excluded from the short list, the way was left open for the celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins to top the poll. To add insult to impiety, the celebrity Marxist Slavoj Zizek came sixth – a remarkable result for an unrepentant exponent of a discredited ideology.
However, as Walter Lacquer reminds us in the National Interest, it could be worse. Among certain academics – with more taxpayers’ money than sense – Marx is certainly back in vogue. But as to any danger of this revolutionary fervour spreading from the chattering classes to the workers, the chances are on the slim side:
To be fair, the bearded one did have some eccentric notions of his own (other than actual Marxism). For instance, Lacquer tells us that he was convinced that Lord Palmerston was a secret Russian agent.
Still, if Marx is at all relevant to the 21st century it isn’t because of some intellectually-diverting read-across to literary criticism or peace studies, but because of the recent near collapse of international finance. We should be therefore be thankful that the finest minds of the extreme left are more interested in their silly academic word games than in exploiting the current weakness of capitalism.
But that leaves some unanswered questions about the Marxist revival, such as it is:
Lacquer’s theory is that the academic Marxism of our time isn't about economics at all, but serves instead as a totem pole for the humanities department to dance around:
Which, when you think about it, is just as well.
On what principle should one name a political party?
In the good old days, the main parties were named after various gangs of misbehaving celts (i.e. the Tories and Whigs). This was all a bit too silly for the high-minded Victorians, who opted for ideological labels instead (the Conservatives and Liberals). Moving into the 20th century, British communists and fascists followed suit, though British socialists and social democrats named themselves after the working class they claimed to represent – becoming the Labour Party.
In more recent decades, party labels have tended to focus on issues rather than ideologies – most notably in the case of the Green Party and the United Kingdom Independence Party. In an age that generally frowns upon ideology, but embraces single issue politics, issue-based names have enabled small parties to establish an electoral niche.
However such niches can be limiting. The Green Party, generally identified with environmental issues, has been unable to, er, capitalise on capitalism’s wider discontents. UKIP, too, were limited to their own Eurosceptic niche – doing well in European elections, but otherwise confined to the sidelines.
Last week was proof that UKIP has broken free. They have done so because they have established a relevance across a wide range of issues, not just Europe. But is there a coherent set of ideas that links these policy positions together? Some within UKIP, including Nigel Farage, claim that theirs is a libertarian party.
This, as you may have noticed, is nonsense. A halt to immigration, opposition to same sex marriage and a highly restrictive approach to planning policy may be good or bad things depending on your point of view; but one thing they are not is libertarian.
So what is UKIP all about, then? One of the best answers to that question can be found in a perceptive piece for Prospect by Max Wind-Cowie, which appeared before last week's election results:
Spot-on. But, having exposed the liberal left's betrayal of 'labour', Wind-Cowie then goes on to broaden his analysis – putting a name to the ideology that might increasingly come to define UKIP:
The operative word here is "accidental", it may be that UKIP's top brass like nothing more that to discuss the finer points of post-liberalism over a pint and packet of pork scratchings, but one doubts it. Rather, the party is haphazardly feeling its way to policy positions that resonate with ordinary working people.
Thus last week, we saw Nigel Farage effectively junk UKIP's commitment to a flat tax – the sort of thing that appeals to the libertarian right, but not to those who aren't rich enough to profit from such a proposal. It was a key moment, emblematic of the fact that there is a whole swathe of middle England who find themselves cut off from the supposed benefits of economic and social liberalism.
Of course, if the Conservative Party did what it says on the tin, then it might be bes-placed to respond to the growing disenchantment with the liberal 'consensus'. Last week was certainly a wake-up call:
Whether the Conservative Party chooses to respond remains to be seen. But if we don't, it won't be for lack of a clear warning.