All posts filed under: Politics

Politics

The flaw in Press Review announced by Theresa May

There are two ways of looking at the new Press Review announced by Theresa May, the UK prime minister: a genuine attempt to inject some badly needed funds into the failing business model of journalism, or another backhander to the mainstream corporate press to keep them sweet. Depressingly, history suggests the latter. The prime minister was effusive about the importance of journalism as a “huge force for good” – and anyone who has seen Spielberg’s The Post could scarcely disagree. That film encapsulated everything noble about great reporting and the vital importance of a free and independent press to a healthy democracy. May chose to highlight the crisis in local journalism – where the journalism may be less dramatic than that portrayed by Tom Hanks et al, but is just as vital: the leaders of local institutions such as hospitals, police forces, local courts or local councils can be equally susceptible to corruption or incompetence and also require the kind of scrutiny which keeps them accountable to local people. At a more mundane level, communities …

Why Democratic governments regularly supply weapons to oppressive regimes

Democratic governments regularly supply weapons to what are sometimes called “outlaw states” – oppressive regimes that violate the basic rights of their own citizens, or aggressive regimes that wrongfully threaten the security of outsiders. Sometimes democratic governments sell the weapons themselves; sometimes they issue export licenses to private arms firms within their jurisdiction. Both practices are frequently condemned on moral grounds. But how might governments who help to arm outlaw states try to defend themselves? What arguments could they appeal to in an attempt to justify their actions? Politicians sometimes claim that their acts make no difference to the degree of suffering inflicted by the regimes that they arm – that if they didn’t sell weapons to the regimes in question, some other government would. For example, when it was revealed in 2014 that Hong Kong’s riot police had used British-made tear gas against unarmed pro-democracy protesters, then foreign secretary Philip Hammond remarked: “CS gas is available from large numbers of sources around the world. To be frank, I think that is a rather immaterial …

A Likely Dictatorship

Term limits for the leadership are not usually found in dictatorships. The Chinese Communist Party’s proposed abolition of China’s presidential term limit means that it has forgotten one of the main lessons of Mao’s long despotism. The two-term limit was inserted into the People’s Republic of China Constitution after the Cultural Revolution ended and reflected a widespread desire to prevent the return of one-man dictatorship. Its abolition signals the likelihood of another long period of severe repression. This should prompt us to think of Chiang Kaishek as well as Mao and Yuan Shikai and, in a comparative Asian vein, of Marcos and Park among others. Of course, some recognize that Putin’s example may also have significantly influenced Xi Jinping. Xi’s move will have a profound effect on world order. It will enable him to move more boldly and increases the risk of his acting arbitrarily and perhaps mistakenly in international relations. It will surely hinder China’s efforts to be respected for “soft power” as well as military and economic prowess. Xi decided to strike while the iron is hot …

Centuries of Catalonia’s cultural struggle against Madrid

Centuries of Catalonia’s cultural struggle against Madrid

Like all constitutions, the 1978 Spanish constitution is a product of a very specific historical moment. General Francisco Franco had died in 1975 and his political heirs understood the need for change: Francoism without Franco in a rapidly modernising country was not sustainable. The democratic parties, including the Catalan nationalists, recognised they were too weak to impose a clean break and bring Franco’s henchmen to justice. The constitution was a pact between the most forward-looking Francoists and a heterogeneous opposition prepared to turn a blind eye to atrocities committed by Franco’s so-called nationalists during the Civil War and nearly four decades of dictatorship. It is from this uneasy compromise that all recent political upheaval in Catalonia stems – including the latest instalment, the region’s election on December 21. To understand the conflict, however, you have to go back much further than 1978. Neither can you confine yourself to politics; everything is underpinned by the rise of Catalan culture and its battle to express itself. Renaissance years Today’s Catalan nationalism has its origins in the 19th-century …

Does Gender Matter?

When I was 14 years old, I had an unusually talented maths teacher. One day after school, I excitedly pointed him out to my mother. To my amazement, she looked at him with shock and said with disgust: “You never told me that he was black”. I looked over at my teacher and, for the first time, realized that he was an African-American. I had somehow never noticed his skin colour before, only his spectacular teaching ability. I would like to think that my parents’ sincere efforts to teach me prejudice were unsuccessful. I don’t know why this lesson takes for some and not for others. But now that I am 51, as a female-to-male transgendered person, I still wonder about it, particularly when I hear male gym teachers telling young boys “not to be like girls” in that same derogatory tone. HYPOTHESIS TESTING Last year, Harvard University president Larry Summers suggested that differences in innate aptitude rather than discrimination were more likely to be to blame for the failure of women to advance in …

Debate on Universal Basic Income in the U.S.?

Universal basic income is a controversial proposal under which the government provides regular, permanent cash payments to each citizen with the intent of lifting everyone out of poverty, encouraging their participation in the economy and covering the costs of their most fundamental needs including food, housing and clothing. Everyone, in other words, gets a paycheck – whether they work or not. The idea of setting a universal basic income has been around for centuries but remains largely experimental. Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Finland have launched trials of universal basic income variations. It gained some momentum among some economists, sociologists and tech industry leaders with the advent of technology that allowed factories and businesses to automate the manufacturing of goods and to reduce the size of their human workforces. How the Universal Basic Income Works There are many variations of the universal basic income. The most basic of these proposals would merely replace Social Security, unemployment compensation and public-assistance programs with a basic income for every citizen. The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network supports such a …

Resurgence of Catalan

Resurgence of Catalan

Barcelona is one of the best-known cities in the world, yet visitors expecting to practice their Spanish can often be surprised when they hear Catalan spoken in the streets. The language has had a troubled history, but is a key marker of identity in Catalonia, a region where many hope for independence from Spain. The outcome of regional elections on September 27 means the current Catalan president Artur Mas may now seek to declare independence. Attempts to suppress the Catalan language and culture have deep historical roots but were intensified during the era of Francisco Franco. The dictator banned the Catalan language from public spaces and made Spanish the sole language of public life. For 40 years under the dictatorship, Spain tried to present itself as an ethnically and politically homogeneous state. The execution of Franco’s opponents continued after the end of the Spanish Civil War. One prominent victim was the former Catalan president, Lluís Companys who was deported from Nazi-occupied France in 1940 and then executed in Barcelona. Cultural repression After the Spanish Civil …

Oman is turning to Twitter to help govern

Research conducted by the Dubai School of Government into the Arab Spring of 2010-11 found that mass protests on the ground were often preceded by revolutionary conversations online, and that social media such as Twitter played a central role in shaping the political events. Having studied changes in internet traffic and social media use, they concluded that social media during the Arab Spring played a critical role in “mobilisation, empowerment, shaping opinions, and influencing change”. In some cases, such as in Dubai, the government used social media to engage citizens and encourage participation in institutional rather than revolutionary change. In other cases, such as in Egypt, governments blocked access to websites used by protesters, or even shut down access to the entire internet. Following the Arab Spring, citizens of the Persian Gulf state of Oman became aware of Twitter’s potential and decided to adopt it as a platform for addressing social problems, rather than instigating revolutions. For example, unemployment for young people even with degrees is a problem in Oman, as it is in other …

Battles Over Memory Rage On

Battles Over Memory Rage On

Throughout the world postconflict societies have grappled with bitter wartime memories. Some succeed by casting aside disputes over the past, says David Rieff, author of In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies. Others, like postwar Germany, have repudiated their pasts. White nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month over the removal of Confederate monuments highlight how the United States has had no such reckoning, he says. This stems from the federal government’s failure to impose a narrative of emancipation of African Americans after the Confederacy’s surrender, Rieff says, adding, that “the rebellion won the peace, in terms of the memory war.” How do you distinguish between memory, collective memory, and history? The only thing that we can call memory is individual memory. You can testify on the basis of your individual memory in a court, but not on the basis of your collective memory. Even if we agreed on what happened [in Charlottesville], that wouldn’t mean we have a collective memory; it would just mean we share the same view. Collective memory is the …

Why Pay Workers More? skepticsociety.co.uk

Why Pay Workers More?

AN ECONOMIST’S GUIDE EFFICIENCY WAGES The term “efficiency wages” or “efficiency earnings” was first introduced by influential economist Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) to represent a unit of labor based upon the relationship between wage and efficiency. According to Marshall, the theory behind efficiency wages would require that employers pay based upon output or efficiency, meaning that more efficient workers would be paid more than less efficient workers which would render the employer theoretically indifferent towards workers of ranging efficiencies. Today, the term has taken on a different meaning. The modern use of the term efficiency wage is in reference to the hypothesis that wages in some markets are not always based upon the process of market-clearing, which requires that supply be equal to demand. Market clearing wage, for instance, is the wage or pay scale at which the quantity of labor is equal to the demand or need for labor. It is when this supply equals demand that the market is cleared of all excess. Efficiency Wage Theory In economic theory, market clearing presents the most …