Friday, 25 September 2009

Letter published in The Times on Iran and the missile shield

Trident and tested
What use would a defensive missile shield have against suicide bombs?


Why would Iran, even when led by someone as irascible as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ever contemplate an unprovoked missile attack on southern Europe, or even on the US, when such an attack would result in overwhelming retaliation by infinitely more powerful US Forces (“Russia says it will join sanctions against Iran”, report, Sept 24)?

Throughout the Cold War we were told that nuclear deterrence works, and this refrain is repeated now, as Trident replacement is under discussion. Why is deterrence with conventional, let alone nuclear, weapons deemed inadequate in the case of Iran? Furthermore, the most worrying threat to our civilian population is from suicide bombings with homemade explosives. So what use would a defensive missile shield have been in any case?

John Slinger

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Letter to The Guardian (not published)

Dear Sir,

Lord Turner is right, the very large profits made by trading banks are "a legitimate matter of social interest rather than an entirely private matter." It is astonishing that it takes a City establishment figure rather than a Labour government to talk about the elephant in the room. Perhaps Lord Turner might go even further with his next intervention into the debate and say that as the banking sector caused the economic crisis and associated recession and was bailed out at huge cost by the taxpayer, it ought to repay this generosity through higher levels of corporate tax (voluntarily or otherwise) as its profits increase. The alternative is what we are now witnessing - ordinary people and public sector services being expected to pay for the errors of the one remaining sector of the economy that is immune from the harsh realities of market capitalism.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Monday, 21 September 2009

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Labour leader says something visionary about global economy shock...

All four of my readers (assuming you're not just me checking to see if I have any comments throughout the day!) will have noted that I have been banging on about the lack of vision and radicalism from the leadership of the British Labour Party for some time now. Perhaps it's the occupational hazard of incumbency...

Anyway, imagine my surprise when I saw an article by the leader of the Labour Party which argued that the imbalances in the global economy which helped cause the present crisis, must not be allowed to be replicated, and that a new model of growth needs to be created. It really is unusual to hear of a political leader daring to suggest that we might need a new paradigm - one which doesn't assume that 'business-as-usual' with a tiny bit more regulation, will suffice.

The only depressing thing for me was that it was the leader of the Labour Party in Australia saying these things, and not the leader of the British Labour Party. That the biggest economic crisis in 70 years, which has wrought massive financial and yes, physical suffering on millions of people, should cause so little soul-searching amongst our political and financial elite, is both scandalous and remarkable. As I keep on saying, had any other sector of the economy caused such damage for everyone else, and then demanded taxpayer bail outs, there would have probably been rioting in the streets or a coup d'etat. Can you imagine the trade union movement causing even 10% of the damage and getting away with it? Or organised criminals, or terrorists, or communists? We seem, collectively, to have rolled over and accepted this state of affairs as if it is perfectly normal. This is all very "British", but it is also very short-sighted. There is a danger of British stoicism allowing a moment of great opportunity for debate about the nature of British market capitalism to pass us by.

I do not know what the answers are as to how to prevent a recurrence of this kind of bust, nor do I have the answers as to how to create a fairer society, or a way of harnessing the power of markets in the interests of ordinary individuals, families and communities rather than the 'Masters of the Universe' who have spent the last two years proving just how true their moniker is. I do have some ideas, and I am absolutely certain that almost all my fellow citizens do too. I think it is reasonable to expect our political leaders to at least engage in a debate with us about the kind of society we wish to build in the future. 'Change' is just a word. But words, ideas, debates, can change the world.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Sarkozy the right-wing radical leads the way on happiness

It is incredible that it takes a right-wing political leader, President Sarkozy of France, to state the obvious truth that the financial crisis must lead to a radical recalibration of the things that society most values. He asked respected economists Joseph Stiglitz and Armatya Sen to form the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress in order to assess this subject. The Commission recently published its report. The French Government may well now use this as the basis for a new way of measuring France's social progress. Wouldn't it be wonderful to hear a single mainstream British politician utter these words:

"A great revolution is waiting for us. For years, people said that finance was a formidable creator of wealth, only to discover one day that it accumulated so many risks that the world almost plunged into chaos...The crisis doesn't only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so."

And yet it falls to a French right-winger to point an accusing finger at the elephant in the room. The feeling that most people have of the profound injustice at play in a world where the greedy elite which caused such an economic calamity should be bailed out by governments using the future tax payments of the very people whose jobs, homes and wider economic well-being they so endangered or in many cases, damaged. It is a con trick of the highest order, and if you think these words are too harsh, consider the fact that now, any notion of moral hazard for our bankers is a thing of the past. They know that they are too big to fail with the same certainty that almost every other industry knows it is too powerless to warrant Government bailouts.

The eulogies for Lehman Brothers and the scorn poured on the US authorities for having the temerity to let such a behemoth fail is revealing in the same way that shrill outbursts that greeted Lord Turner when he questioned the social utility of some financial institutions and mentioned a Tobin tax. It reveals that the powerful do not like it when their paradigm is questioned, especially by those they consider 'their own'.

With recovery thankfully on the horizon, it would seem that the most strident defenders of the pre-2007 paradigm may well have survived a crisis largely of their own making which very nearly brought most of the large economies of the world to their knees. Yet there is a chink of light for people such as me who do not wish to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, but who think that given that the crisis we have just endured was largely caused by the greed not just of bankers but of us all. The recent crisis happened in an age where mass consumerism seemed to be in the ascendency; an age when people could become millionaires merely by buying and letting out properties while so many struggled to gain a foothold in the housing market; an age where increasingly parents feel the need for two incomes in order to merely survive, thereby neglecting their responsibilities as parents, or as members of the wider community for whom they could perhaps carry out voluntary work were they to have more time and energy; in short, a time when much was right, but much was also out of balance. This must surely lead us at least to have a debate about the kind of society we wish to live in and how to achieve it.

President Sarkozy, the right-winger, leads the way. If only those on the left here in Britain would have the guts and the philosophical wisdom to follow his lead and engage in a long-awaited debate with the ordinary people of this country about the kind of society we wish to live in. Only then can we set about creating it, and some new tools of economic analysis, which factor in our happiness and well-being, will surely help us in this crucial endeavour.