Should the opposition dump Milliband for Salmond?

Lord Ashcroft – the tory Millionaire is delighting in his self appointed role as chief labour pollster and strategist.

But his latest poll/focus group findings is not good news for Ed – the main reaction of focus groups to seeing his photo is to laugh.

The most worrying thing for Labour is that the more people see of their leader, the worse his approval ratings become. They are comparable to those of William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith at the beginnings of their doomed leaderships of the Tory Party. He’s miles adrift from the approval that voters gave to new leaders who went on to be prime ministers such as Cameron and Blair.

Ed has been one of the thinkers. He and David got communitarianism but the red tories stole the clothes of blue labour and Milliband has failed to take put in the public mind a distinctive position.

Putting aside for one moment the utter inability of Labour to dump failing leaders is there an alternative?

Ed Balls despite his pugnaciousness is too associated with Brown.

The leader of the opposition does not need to be from the second largest party. Coalition realities and stitch ups in Europe and globally mean that on rare occasion the best candidature for prime minister can arise from smaller parties. The Prime Minister of Iraq is an example. For years too in France the Guallists were not the largest party on the right but sometimes offered the strongest candidate for president.

Labour too face an uphill struggle if the SNP achieve a breakthrough at Westminster of the scale of the recent assembly elections. Labour would then require a landslide to achieve a majority and would probably be forced into some form of coalition. The SNP could then play the sort of decisive role that irish nationalist did a century ago.

Alex Salmond is the most successful politician of the left in modern times. He has also managed to achieve traditional social democratic goals -such as abolishing tuition fees and prescription charges, that are popular and distinctive.

Salmond has also had the political foresight to think one move ahead of his opponents – such as proposing a ‘third question’ on the ballot for independence – proposing fiscal independence. Replacing hard line ‘Pur et dur’ nationalism for shorter term advances.

Of course the tribalism of many labour politicians make this unlikley, although those who most firmly held this haave now suffered electoral oblivian.

Salmond is and would be a convincing figure on the world stage; in return for full fiscal independence for Scotland Labour could offer him control of defence and foreign affairs and Labour could define its own domestic agenda for England. This would neatly neuter the West Lothian question. After all england has often turned to non englishmen to gird its defence and been quite open about it – like Smuts in the first world war (bearly a decade after fighting England in the Boer war) and Parks in the Second world war.  All you need is the right kind of Scotsman.

The ripples from Greek Default – better sooner than later

Andrew Lilico writing in the Telegraph reinforces my view that a Greek Default will have huge ripples, and will be treated with rolling news panic by the media, but will be contained and is probably essential to global economic rebalencing.

The biggest opponents to restructuring are the ECB, suffering from a huge conflict of interest as they would be likely to go bankrupt from default, The IMF would be none to pleased either, and Germany, again suffering from a conflict of interest. With the euro artificially depressed they have got a huge boost to exports.

This means that the fate is in Greeces own hands, as there is no rational champion in Europe to carry out a rational currency area restructuring. France will not upset Germany and Sarkozy is too weak, and the UK is just an observer from outside the euro area.

The sooner the better. It will break the myth of bank debts being a fixity and of the world being beholden to bank creditors as a necessity.

Bank debts like a fiat currency are based on belief. If that belief collapses then they are not enforceable. Rebooting the circuits of credit will require some exotic monetary measures – yes currency reform, that realm of economic cranks. Capitalism has always required some such reform to recover from its greatest breakdowns.

Colin Wards Political Philosophy – the Property Rights of the Propertyless

A friend of mind told me yesterday he is editing a collection of Colin Wards writings – who sadly died last year, but at a ripe old age.

I only met him once and sadly never had much chance to talk but his writings had a great influence as he was a very different voice within town planning.

In environmental education he has had an enormous influence and a a secret hero of many teachers;  A whole conference was dedicated to these ideas in March of this year. In town planning too he was a subversive voice, under the the equally subversive patronage of the TCPA. He would be angry and amused im sure after a lifetime promoting the ‘path not taken’ (to quote the name of his best article) – on the welfare state – of basing it on structures of mutual self organisation, that localism was now finally and ironically being used to fill the void for a retrenching welfare state.

Im sure he would have pointed out that as spontaneous organisation always works better that, after seeing what radicals and working people could get up to, the range rover owning classes would work out that they could make use of the same tools to secure their property rights, and differential advantages in job opportunities, schooling and healthcare.

It is easy to see him as a nostalgic, and end of the pier type of radical. This would be unfair. He despised zeitgeist views of the left for sweeping aside valuable traditions of self organisation.

In most spheres his skills lied more in exposition than originality. He was a key feature of the ‘new anarchism’ (as described in works by Andrej Grubacic and David Graeber), strongly influenced by Herbert Read – adjusting to the ending of mass movements. His most influential philiosopical writings were on spontaneous self organisation, the ‘seeds under the snow’ emerging in all societies had being a different way of human behaviour than that which replicates state and oppressive power. These ideas were taken from Landenauer, Paul Goodman and further back Proudhon and Kropotkin.

His true originality lay two fold. He was fiercely critical of the eurocentrism of traditional radical thought. His writings going back to the 60s – and in one of the last thing he wrote – anarchism in the 21st century – always took a global perspective. Heavily influenced by Walter Segal he championed the third world.

His second source of originality was never properly enunciated but always implicit. It has been troubling me how his and similar writers ideas are different from figures on the libertarianism right – such as Hayeck – who similarly stress principles of spontaneous order.

The difference I think lies in the concept of property rights. Deontological libertarianism, of the like of Rothbard, Nozick, or Ron Paul is based on the homestead principle. If property is not owned then you have the rights of the fruits of the labour you apply to land – a principle that goes back to John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. The problem with this view is endowments, what happens after the first generation? Does it then give those with unequal endowments the right to secure the labour, and accumulate the fruits of the labour, of others simply because they have no other means of subsistence? The deontologists would say that despite these problem any action to seize the use of property owned by another is intrinsically wrong.

The deontologists are thrown back to a unreal original state, of homesteading and occupation, both as justification and ideal future. Even the market anarchist Benjamin Tucker had to abandon this view recognising as historical fantasy as property arose through force and occupation (what Marx would call primitive accumulation).

Consequential libertarians view ownership and structures as being justified by their outcomes. Hence it could be justifiable for example for the dispossessed to seize land. Ward argued that not only does this lead to better outcomes but it will happen anyway -a pragmatic anarchism . Where the poorest have no other means they will seize them. Indeed in the faellas we now see that within 20 years majority of the worlds population will be in land established by this very principle. An ‘actually existing’ anarchism.

This social phenomenon poses real problems for right libertarians. Following initial occupations gangsterism typically parcels up and sells on land without formal title. What is their attitude to this? Do the ‘illeagal landlords’ have a right to the rewards of their actions? Should instead the rewards go to the formally allocated state plots – even if as in Lusaka or Bahrain elites allocate land to themselves? Wards ideas are the seeds under the snow for a better world.

What is a commodity? – a Product/Service Bundle

The monetary economist Bennett McCullum has posed an intriguing idea at Economist Debates

Today we pump our own gasoline, arrange our flight schedules without the help of a travel agent, and ring up our own grocery purchases—just to mention a few obvious examples. In all these cases, our product purchases now come supplied with fewer services than was the case just 20 years ago.

The inference he draws from this I think is wrong – that inflation indexes should be adjusted to compensate.

All commodities purchased in the market are a bundle of the results of production and an associated service to a greater or lesser degree, apart from pure non-produced means of production – land.

Even if we buy a recently mined tonne of ore we in part base our purchasing decision on the level of service offered by the supplier, including the reliability, speed and flexibility of delivery.

All services have an associated consumption/depreciated of produced commodities, the hairspray and wear and tear of scissors of hairdressers etc.

Hence I would argue that all commodities are examples of joint production. This is both a frightening and liberating thought. Frightening because nothing causes so much mathematical complications as joint production and the many unsolved problems associated with it, liberating because since Sraffa’s rigorous treatment of Torrens we now realise that joint production, far from being a curiosity, is at the heart of a correct treatment of fixed capital – and possibility a lot else.

When we choose a commodity we value that against other potentially suitable such bundles. Entrepreneurs substitute capital and labour in such bundles depending on their relative price. Hence in India say you might be served by half a dozen at a filling station whilst in the UK you will serve yourself.

Consumers can also potentially substitute their own labour for the labour in the product/service bundle.

Lets say their are two rival supermarkets, both of identical price. One of which will pack your groceries for you taking 30 seconds but where the person packing is rude and surely, and the other where you pack yourself and it takes you a minute. The consumer may value negatively that service and so give it a negative ‘scrapping’ price in the language of joint production, a ‘bad’ not a ‘good’, substituting it with their own labour. This will of course depend on the shoppers own perceived price of their labour time. If they are wealthy they may put up with the surliness, if they have nowhere else to go, if their time is precious. Negative prices are real and meaningful when seen as part of a product bundle.

When the products of joint production are sold as a bundle the problems of valuation of inputs become less problematic as it is possible to impute back fully the prices of production.

As we have seen from the example it is not possible to properly value a product, any product, without the labour contributions of the consumer – an interesting thought.

The product and service parts of the bundle may also have different contributions towards profit. Where the product is mature and secures a low rate of profit then producers will seek to substitute with a product/service bundle, as the business community knows only too well, with Ryanairs endless charges and Dixon’s ‘would you like an extortionate servicing contract with that’ know.

All of this is impossible to aggregate in an inflation index, as it depends on the distribution of income.

This also helps support Ricardo’s intuition of why Labour Commanded cannot be an invariant measure of value – leaving aside for one moment whether one exists.

Ayatollah Cameni’s crackdown on licentiousness

Residing in a modern liberal democracy is a temptation and an affliction. It is therefore forbidden in line with my new policy to restrict the licentious display of female body parts to protect the innocents.

You may have read in our official state murdoch media of our plans to restrict porn on laptops, ensure ‘lads mags’ are sold in brown paper bags and probibit ‘gentle thrusting’ on the X Factor.

However to ensure that no overt sexuality is displayed where children may see it it is necessary to prohibit women from wearing short skirts and plunging necklines, especially in this hot weather.

Particularly sinful is the slutwalk march in London.  I have therefore ordered the Metropolitan Religious Police to adopt the policy of shaming slutty protestors as in the rightious nation of Eygpt.   All found to be virgins will be released.

Further to ensure the universal use of innocent clothing I hereby dictacte the adoption of my new national uniform for university students; by adopting the fashions of the sweet little ones all sexual connotations are banished.