Friday, November 11, 2011

okay Sunny, you're not an oik but you're still a sociopath


Correction 08-02-12: Corrected "pedagogy" to "demagogy" in 1st para. Idiot. 

When I read this reply from Sunny to my earlier crowing I had a moment of genuine contrition because he's done some really good work at Liberal Conspiracy building a forum for thinking people and there's some really great stuff posted there. Then I re-read Martin Robbins' original tweet and I thought, "No, fuck it. Martin's about as right as anyone can be." You see, Sunny is happy to purse the truth and to share it with the world as long as it furthers his agenda to put the Labour party back in power. Sunny's a Labour fanboi. He sucks on the teat of social democrat demagogy like a parched camel after two months in the desert. Its his oxygen. And that's why he, like all partisan hacks, is a part of the problem. He's fundamentally disinterested in the entirety of the gritty truth behind any issue. 

Lets dig a little deeper into the issue. Martin's tweet was responding to this one of Sunny's:

@sunny_hundal: First NHS hospital gets privatised - article avoids mentioning company's links to Tories

And yes, the article avoids mentioning the link to Tories' pockets, which have been well established and are broadly appreciated by anyone who has the time and wants to take an interest. That isn't news. We all know the Tories are the Nasty Party, in bed with big business and happy to use their positions of enormous responsibility to throw the interests of the UK population on the bonfire in order to profit personally. I'm happy to read about this sort of thing, despite being already too familiar with it because every time I read something like this it fuels the fire inside me. It drives me to seek justice and to challenge the pricks responsible wherever I find them. The thing is, I'm equally happy to crow about Martin's post because Labour did a hell of a lot to advance NHS privatisation before the Tory's picked up the baton and ran with it. I can't be arsed to research links to it now, my name's not Google. Start with PFI and George Monbiot's book 'Captive State'.

For a Labour slut like Sunny to point and shout at the Tories for doing the same is rank, steaming hypocrisy. That is the opposite of evidence-based politics and it should be scorned for the malignant sociopathy it enables and propagates. Worse still, its the sort of shameless, history-denying points-scoring crap that keeps the endless two-party system in the UK going. Coalition government? What coalition government? All I see are a pack of Tory cunts and neoliberal, populist slags. Split these scum however you want because I don't see a choice between the lesser of two evils as any choice at all. A plague on BOTH your houses.  

And an especially rich, florid 'Fuck You' to you, Sunny.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

on the use of the term "technocrat" as an epithet


I've seen this many times from people I respect and admire (eg)and I want to complain about it to the internets. This is where I do stuff like that so if you don't like it fuck off. 

Lets see what the word means:

"Technocracy is a form of government where technical experts are in control of decision making in their respective fields."
Hmmmmm, those nefarious technical experts, hey? I bet they mean those evil people like medical doctors, engineers, scientists and other degenerate sociopaths. Because they're great examples of 'technical experts' who exert broad control of decision making in their respective areas of policy. Right?

I hope you've noticed my sarcastic tone. 

The problem is that people who generally deploy the term as a pejorative do so in reference to the kinds of people who claim to be technical experts in their field. I'm talking about political researchers, sociologists, economists and other pseudoscientists whose work is about as scientifically robust as Sarah Palin and often just as ideologically driven. These people are not technocrats. They're cunts.

The concept of a technocracy is entirely acceptable to most rational people in the context of the fields I have mentioned. You wouldn't want Gillian McKeith in charge of nutritional health at the British Medical Association or Lord Monckton in charge of energy policy, would you? You'd much rather that those roles were carried out by people oozing with demonstrable technical expertise and insight into the subject.

So, people of the internets, when you next wish to disparage the crimes against reason and science being committed by some insane, dribbling ideologue in Westminster or The Beehive, please don't demean the work of yours truly (yes, I count myself as a technocrat) by calling them by that otherwise eminent and respectable term. 

Friday, November 04, 2011

here's why we're utterly fucked


No, not this. Well. Yes, that too, but also this:

Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus, Italy, Spain will all be insolvent unless growth is rapidly restored. Risk of Breakup

What you've got there is groupthink from someone who is lauded across the internets for his objective vision. This is a classic example of why economics as practised by the great majority of self-declared economists is pseudoscience (there are exceptions, of course). In the words of Professor Steve Keen “here’s a simple guide for the public: Anything the vast majority of economists believe is likely to be wrong.”

The crime committed here is abject failure to acknowledge that the endless pursuit of growth as a solution to all economic ills is as much a part of our economic woes as deregulation, regulatory capture, the bonus culture and tax havens. Alternatives theories exist but are almost uniformly ignored, even by "progressives". Roubini isn't alone in committing this crime against reason. Far from it: Here's Stiglitz doing the same thing last year.

Let me explain the implications. If your society isn't stable when the economy is stable then your economy is fucked. If you can't achieve a productive economy that can support a vibrant, fair and peaceful society without continually requiring it to grow then your model is unsustainable and you're heading straight up shit creek without a paddle. There's no arguing with this, you're up against the laws of thermodynamics. Its not just an issue of engaging with reality, however. There are decisions that affect the wellbeing of millions, maybe billions of people, taken every day that are based around this blind pursuit of growth. The refusal to consider alternatives means that these decisions are often made appallingly badly. As the super-awesome Andrew Simms of NEF has observed:
"The obsession with growth can lead to very bad decisions being taken, such as that to go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow. Almost anything can be justified if all you have to do is demonstrate that it contributes to economic growth, regardless of whether it might be the nudge that pushes us over an ecological precipice."
When almost the entire popular economic commentary refuses to consider the genuine issues it faces what hope is there of progress out of the current fuckyounomic mire. That's why we're fucked. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

how do unions justify using dues to fund the UK Labour party?


Addition 01-11-11: John B commented that unions are legally obliged to offer an opt-out on donations to political funds, however see my comment in reply for an example of how this law may be abused.


This follows on from my previous rant about how manifestly evil the UK Labour party is. One of the points I forgot to make in that rant was about union funding of Labour, as revealed in this Graun editorial.  Rusbridger describes how legislation to cap donations to political parties- a manifestly just and sensible idea (and another Labour failed to action)- would also hamstring union funding of the Labour party unless the political levy unions hand to Labour were ended and individuals were encouraged to donate themselves. Yes, you read that correctly. Regardless of the political alignment of the union member, who may very much need the protection and security afforded by membership, he has no way of preventing the union handing over his hard earned money to a political party that has- to say the least- taken a big, sloppy, wet shit all over the people of the UK. Interesting, yes? But wait, there's more: Rusbridger goes on to make the astonishing observation that, when levies were devolved to individuals in the past, the Labour party saw "big falls in the levy". What does that tell you about how much genuine support the UK Labour party has among workers.

I was, in fact, aware of this before I read Rusbridger's piece. I signed up to join Unite when I started my first job (which was also my PhD) after completing my Master's. Being the good little ideologue that I am I proceeded to crow about this on the internets. My bubble was rapidly burst by Rossinisbird pointing out that Unite actively lobbied the Labour government for new nuclear builds. So I cancelled my membership within a week. Fuckers. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

why do some people still not get that the UK Labour party is raw evil?


I caused offense on Twitter the other day (shock, horror) by engaging in the hideous crime of being astonished at the fact that Labour supporters had reacted with hostility to the OccupyLSX protest.  I don't know who this wart Dan Hodges is and I don't care. Anyone who works under the flag of the UK Labour Party is- by definition- an idiot, a dangerously deceptive and malicious demagogue or an outright psychopath. Regardless of the shortcomings and ideological woolliness of the Occupy movement, protest against the establishment is all that is left to society in the UK because the establishment is so thoroughly and irreconcilably dysfunctional. If you work with the forces operating within and sustaining that system then you are part of the problem. 

Lets throw some evidence in here to support these hysterical claims. Particularly, lets look at Labour's recent history in government: 
  • Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader War on Terruh. Extraordinary rendition, torture, repression. 
  • Becoming firmly entrenched in the rectum of the City of London Corp; being "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich". Private Finance Inititiatives. Ultimately, significant responsibility for the fuckyounomic collapse.
  • Overseeing a decline in equality.
  • Cash for honours/questions.
  • Pushing nuclear power over renewable research & development. Granting licenses for open-cast coal mines. The 3rd runway at Heathrow and a host of other appallingly short-sighted and unsustainable decisions on energy and the environment.
  • Renewing Trident. 
  • Failing to tackle tax evasion & avoidance. Cosying up to significant evaders/avoiders, i.e. being whores. 
  • Instituting university tuition fees.
  • Broad failure to ensure public services were run as such for the benefit of the nation. Particularly rail but also the post office, BBC, NHS, etc. 
I think there's a good case to be made that none of this was necessary. More to the point, I seriously doubt whether much of it had any public support. Some of the actions of the Labour government were or will be profoundly damaging to the people of the UK and to the country's stability and future prospects. I'm sure I've missed out other pertinent examples too. One that issue that deserves special mention is the Labour government's abject failure to reform the institutions of government and democracy in the UK. I am convinced that those institutions are profoundly dysfunctional, archaic or just plainly and outrageously unjust: the unelected second house, the unrepresentative nature of the First-Past-The-Post system, the unwritten constitutions, the libel laws. 

The idea that the Labour party can somehow be salvaged from the moral crevice it has somehow crawled down into is laughable. We are talking about one of the two largest political parties in the UK. The suggestion that its members can effect change upon the ruling elite of that organisation, can winkle out the bad sorts who helped get such diversely awful policy onto the statute books, particularly those who mindless pushed this stuff upon a naive and delirious public, is just arse. There are not "many good ppl in lab". There's just a shower of bastards too stupid, too malevolently sociopathic to realise that they are part of the problem.

I want to declare something here to anyone unfamiliar with this blogger's recent political history: I voted Labour in 2010. It was horrible. I felt violated. I had spent three and a half years railing against Labour's sociopathy and then had to vote for them at the general election because a Tory was threatening to get in. Ultimately he did and so I felt vindicated at voting for the lesser of two evils but the point that must be drawn from this is that Labour and the Tories are two sides of the same tyranny. Neither will reform the blatantly dysfunctional system that means that I have no effective vote. I can only choose between different flavours of sociopathic tyranny. That's not democracy and its Labour's fault as much as it is the Tories.

Addition 01-11-11:  I should really have added Labour's horrendous imprisonment and abuse of children to the list above, but *sigh* so little time and so many different injustices. 

Friday, October 07, 2011

a note on language


I get really annoyed by having to frequently use different terminology to describe the same phenomenon. If you follow my ravings for more than a day or two you'll notice that I often throw around terms like plutocracy, corporatocracy, pseudo-democracy, etc. etc. When I use these terms I'm very aware that they suggest an inconsistency in my analysis and I just wanted to throw this post out to explain why I do so. The reason is to identify the precise dysfunction underlying whatever subject I'm ranting about at the time. I think its useful to put these terms out there so that people can think about them and, if they wish, to explore further what they mean. As far as consistency goes the precise term is somewhat irrelevant. The depth of  the dysfunction that afflicts modern Western society is sufficient to contain a plethora of malignancies that are exhibited in different ways, be it Liam Fox's use of parliamentary office space to accomodate the operation of the sham 'charity' and arch-neocon lobby group Atlantic Bridge or the transparent attempts by the coalition government to push privatisation against public opinion and any conceivable national interest. Each term is appropriate to the specific phenomena to which I apply them but they all imply some sort of fundamental dysfunction. You can use a specific term to accurately describe the sociopathy that is being exhibited or you can use a generic term for the entire phenomenon.

As an aside, "sociopathy" is another favourite of mine. I use it as an umbrella-term for the entire, sordid, shit-storm of dysfunction that is endemic throughout modern Western society.  Wikipedia fails to provide a relevant definition, providing only psycho-babble that equates the term with psychopathy. According to the word's etymological roots, however, "sociopathy" is a pathology of society. I.E. It is some intrinsic aspect of society that is diseased. The intrinsic component of this definition is important because it is far too easy to subconsciously externalise behaviour and actions which are sociopathic. To categorise them as being alien to society, something new and different which isn't part of 'our society'. However, pretty much every sociopathy is not at all new but merely a development of some earlier human dysfunction that modernity has provided with a new way to manifest itself. Its really easy to draw historical parallels between serdom and modern wage-slavery, for example. Other examples are even more obvious: the resort to nationalism and jingo to exhort citizens to accept and embrace their own oppression is a beautiful one and a fundamental component of Tory ideology. The common theme running through all of these sociopathies is that they are human failings. They arise from humanity collectively misplacing trust or being insufficiently focused upon (sometimes purposefully distracted from) the workings of its own society to perceive the dysfunction lurking there. 

The problem with all these big words and my precise definitions is that they might alienate your average reader. Basically, they're radical jargon. The purpose of this post is to admit this and to confess to the crime of using jargon. It is a crime against communication and if there's one thing that radicals need it is to be understood. However, is it necessary to use such particular terminology in order to convince people of the truth of your arguments? Its entirely possible that such terminology might alienate people who are looking for a simple 'hit' of insight, such as Twitter might provide. Insight isn't necessarily compactable into 140 chrs but precise use of language is one way of facilitating it. Sometimes its not only helpful but essential to be precise in your use of terminology.



Plutocracy is rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth.

The US and the UK, being fundamentally similar in their social- and power-structures are both plutocracies, as revealed here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011



I'm trolling this guy's post on the alleged absence of lefty alternatives to neoliberalism. I'm really quite proud of my work.

I rule.

Saturday, October 01, 2011



This Venn diagram is pretty much the most concise summation of the challenges faced by Western society that I've yet encountered:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

from the horse's mouth


This is the most blatant exhibition of corporate sociopathy I have ever seen.

I have transcribed the words of the participants so as to really hammer home the message to anyone who might develop temporary deafness when confronted by the brutal truth of this man's words.

Trader: [The euro?] is gonna crash and its gonna fall pretty hard. Because markets are ruled right now by fear. Investors, the big money, the smart money. I'm talking about the big funds, the hedge funds, the institutions. They don't buy this plan. They basically know the market is toast. They know the stock market is finished. The euro, as far as they're concerned, is finished. They're moving their money away to safer assets, like treasury bonds, 30 yr bonds and the US dollar. So its not going to work.

Presenter: We keep hearing that whatever the politicians are suggesting, and admittedly its all been rather woolly so far, isn't right. Can you pin down exactly what would keep investors happy and make them feel more confident.

Trader: That's a tough one. Personally, it doesn't matter. You see I'm a trader. I don’t really care about that kind of stuff. If I see an opportunity to make money, I go with that. So, for most traders its not about...we don't really care that much how they're going to fix the economy, how they're going to fix the whole situation. Our job is to make money from it. And, personally, I've been dreaming of this moment for 3 yrs. I have a confession, which is: I go to bed every night, I dream of another recession. I dream of another moment like this. Why? Because, people don’t seem to maybe remember, the 30s depression, the depression in the 1930s wasn't just about a market crash. There were some people who were prepared to make money from that crash. And I think anybody can do that. It isn't just for some people in the elite. Anybody can actually make money . . . its an opportunity. When the market crashes… When the euro and the big stock markets crash, if you know what to do, if you have the right plan set up, you can make a lot of money from this. For example, Hedging strategies is one, then investing in bonds, treasury bonds, that sort of stuff.

Presenter: If you could see the people around me, people's jaws have collectively dropped at what you've just said. We appreciate your candour but it doesn't help the rest of us. or the rest of the eurozone.

Trader: I would say this. Listen. I would say this to everyone who's watching this: This economic crisis is like a cancer. If you just wait and wait, thinking this is going to go away, just like a cancer its going to grow and its gonna be too late. What I would to say to everybody is: Get prepared. Its not the time right now to . . wishful thinking, that the government is gonna sort things out. The government doesn't rule the world. Goldman Sachs rules the world. Goldman Sachs does not care about this rescue package, neither does the big funds. So, actually ... I would actually tell people, I want to help people. People can make money from this, its not just traders. What they need to do is learn how to make money from a downward market. The first thing people should do is to protect their assets. Protect what they have, because in less than 12 months, my prediction is that millions of people's savings are going to vanish. And this is just the beginning. So, I would say: be prepared and act now. The biggest risk people can take right now is not acting.

This is it, people. If you ever had any doubts about whether the people and institutions this appalling character refers to are actually benign wealth-creators or unabashed, sociopathic parasites, there's your answer. They. Don't. Care. About. Us.

Its time they were stopped: Nationalise the banks. Move to quash speculation. Close the tax loopholes.


Looks like John B is right in the comments. This guy isn't a trader. He's not even authorised by the FSA. In his own words, he's "an attention seeker". 

I saw someone on Twitter musing whether he was, in fact, a member of activist group The Yes Men. At the time I thought, 'nah'. In fact, he is a hoaxer, just not a very good one. Which is a real shame. The reason I got so excited about this video was that its rare for the public facade of financiers to crack, for them to admit to the fundamentally sociopathic nature of what they do. This lie is so robustly defended by the media and the government that it is currently pervasive. Most of the population aren't aware that one of the biggest industries in this country is fundamentally hostile to the state and to the 'poor' (meaning anyone on less than £200,000). General dissatisfaction with "bankers" resulting from the fuckyounomic implosion threatened to bring this truth to light but, despite the valient efforts of activists and campaigning journalists, it remains obscured by a general air of approval emanating from the media and the government that is all it takes these days to conceal enormous crimes. I'm talking the astonishing public herd mentality that "if no-one's acting against it, it must be fine". For example, read the business page of any newspaper and marvel at the absence of critical, joined-up thinking.

NB: Please don't refer to the Vicker's Report as if it is evidence of the government "doing something", its a pathetic fig-leaf-gesture to reform. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

on turnout and the franchise


Whilst penning the previous post to this I looked up some numbers on the number of UK residents eligible to vote. We all know voter turnout is alarmingly low: 65% last election and 62% the one before. However, those numbers only represent those registered to vote. There remains a multitude of people in the UK who aren't even registered. I can't find data on the ONS site for number of eligible voters so I wanted to work it out.  Here's some data on the age distribution of the UK population that I found on the ONS website. 
  • In 2010 there were 50,654,000 people in the UK over the age of 16. 
  • 29,691,780 votes cast in the 2010 election. Dividing this figure by 0.65 (the turnout) gives the registered electorate: 45,679,661. 

There is a ~5,000,000 person disparity between these two figures. Of course, not all of those people are eligible to vote as they may be foreign citizens, in prison, mentally incapable, etc. Some prisoners can now vote but if even half of the ~95,000 prisoners in the UK do so that's only ~1% of the missing voters. Can anyone else suggest an identity for the rest of these 5 million voters?

The fucking Tories polled ~11 million votes in 2010. 15 million voters didn't bother or didn't manage to. Another 5 million eligible people weren't even registered to do so. When the proportion of functionally disenfranchised voters approaches 50% (41% in 2010 according to the numbers presented here) you would like to think that a society as conflicted as the UK would start to ask pretty hard questions about the legitimacy of the government. Of course this is barely a footnote in the greater list of glaring inconsistencies in the ConDem coalition government's journey to power but I will not embark upon an opening of that can of worms tonight. I'd just like to remind readers of some of the reasons that I advocate compulsory voting.

the punkscience electoral system


I had an epiphany whilst reading this tweet from @Cunthorse. The idea behind is to help people identify the political party that best fits their political ideology. Thinking about this I realised that the same system can be used to eradicate the insidious distraction of identity politics. If people's votes were registered through a similar polling process, with questions selected to differentiate between the different parties' manifesto commitments then I can foresee three advantages over the current system:
  1. People are forced to consider the issues and cannot be distracted by personality/identity politics and scandal/emotional exploitation. This is a biggie. The insidious, antidemocratic effects of the political PR and propaganda machine would be neutralised. 
  2. Becoming engaged with the issues, instead of identities would encourage the electorate to seek accountability from politicians and parties. Manifestos could become so much more than the tawdry wishlists they currently are. People surprised to find their votes being cast for minority parties would be encouraged to follow-up this revelatory experience by looking  for the reasons why. 
  3. Any confusion associated with electoral systems that rely upon ranking of political parties would be avoided. (A minor issue but still relevant).
The insidious effects of identity politics would be permanently laid to rest if people weren't even made aware of to whom their vote had been allocated. Of course oversight of such a system would require considerably more effort from political parties and the Electoral Commission but when the health of society is at stake I think this isn't a price to quibble over. It would also demand more involvement from the electorate than the simple box-ticking paradigm that currently prevails. However, seeing how dysfunctional and undemocratic the current system has become  I see this as yet another advantage.


It may come as no surprise to both my regular readers that the results showcased on the front page of give the 2010 election to the Green Party of England and Wales, of whom I am a member.

As Johann has written, "Britain is a country with a large liberal-left majority". Our pseudo-democratic political system doesn't represent it. If you want a real say in how your country is run it must be changed. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

on being a scientist


This is absolutely my favourite quote from The Guide:

"I'm a scientist and I know what constitutes proof. But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he though he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting. Most scientists forget that. ... So the other reason I call myself Wonko The Sane is so that people will think I'm a fool. That allows me to say what I see when I see it. You can't possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking you're a fool."
-- Wonko The Sane

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

malware, what malware?


One of the feeds in my blogroll appears to have been a source of malware, according to Google. Apologies to anyone getting scary messages or who has actually suffered from this phenomenon. Do let me know of anything untoward as I am in touch with admin at the alleged offending site. Send your electronic mail to punkscience at gmail, innit.


Addition: I should, of course, have stated explicitly that I have removed the offending site from my blogroll & requested a review from Google.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

hard lessons in a global society


One of the most obvious results of US exceptionalism and unilateralism has been the collapse of global cooperation as forums such as the UN are no longer seen to represent the weaker, developing countries but to be vehicles for legitamising US policy. The consequences of this permeate far and wide throughout global society and one of the saddest aspects of this is described in this article by MJ Robbins, who blogs for the Guardian as The Lay Scientist

The following paragraph struck me as highly pertinent in the wake of my recent post on human sustainable development and my point in the comments that cultural influences that promote fecundity as a desirable trait are, alongside US exceptionalism, one of the most malignantly sociopathic influences upon our species. 
"In a male-dominated culture with a strong tradition of polygamy (in the Islamic north at least), where children are seen as gifts from God, the power of men is measured by the size of their families, and different political, ethnic and religious groups compete to be the most populous, fertility is an especially sensitive issue."
Whilst America continues upon its historical course of imperial conquest, subjugation and exploitation there is little hope that genuinely benevolent campaigning organisations can make much impact in their attempts to confront and reform such appallingly destructive and regressive cultures. Oh, and they're not going to make much progress in Nigeria either. LOL

Monday, July 11, 2011

on Iceland & justice


I'm having a barney with John Band on Twitter that is irritating me greatly and so I want to take 5 minutes three hours to try and hash out why. Here's the thread:

WOOHOO! GO ICELAND! “Taxpayers should not be responsible for paying the debts of a private institution” via @NetNewsBuzz

@punkscience That isn't what they've done. The Iceland deal isn't an Ireland-style bailout. It's about compensating retail savers in
- the two Icelandic banks. Because the Icelandic government has reneged on this, the UK and Dutch govts had to pay instead.
- EU depositors invested in Icelandic banks in the belief that guarantee existed. Or is it fair for grannies to lose all their savings when they invest in supposedly government-guaranteed savings accounts?

@johnb78 Yeah, I'm calling bullshit on your pearl-clutching, granny-robbing hysteria.

@punkscience No you aren't, you're proving I'm right. Iceland was obliged under EFTA rules to compensate EU depositors.
- EU depositors invested in Icelandic banks in the belief that guarantee existed.
- Instead of paying them the money it owed them, the Icelandic government reneged.
- Instead of the *people who owed the money* compensating depositors, this was done by British and Dutch taxpayers.
- The Icelandic government, whose fault it was, should reimburse the UK and Dutch governments, whose fault it wasn't.
- Yes, of course, if the government has explicitly guaranteed those private debts in advance. As Iceland did.
- Obviously not if they haven't.
- Re last link, see especially my comment #12.
- also…

@johnb78 I profoundly disagree with implication that citizens are responsible for their gov's every action. That would require democracy.

@punkscience Iceland is far more democratic than the UK. Of the two main political parties, one was pro-finance and one raised concerns.
- Throughout the boom, the people voted for the pro-finance party. Only *after* the crash did they start voting for the others.
- I agree the situation, say, in the UK is as you say - with a choice between two right-wing pro-finance parties.

Note the jubilant tone of my opening comment. I am convinced that the decision by the people of Iceland to reject responsibility for this debt is a just one. John clearly thinks otherwise.

I suggest you follow the links John posted as his posts are very interesting and I learnt a few things reading them. For example, that the money at issue isn't even a fraction of the total loss but merely the sum of ~€20K for each individual (note: not for organisations such as local authorities or charities) that the Icelandic government was required to underwrite as a precondition to access to European Economic Area. This money resulted from a 1% levy  imposed on all deposits and  should have been stashed somewhere safe in case a bank went tits-up. All banks in the EEA must abide by these rules, which were designed to provide for situations where banks became insolvent. Unfortunately the levy was grossly inadequate as it was designed to defend against the loss of individual components and not a system-wide failure such as that which hit the global economy in 2008.

So the icelandic government found it was on the hook for more money than it had been required to put aside. Note that this is not a result of any legislative wrongdoing on their part. The Icelandic government was just as poorly placed as the rest of the world to handle the events of 2008.

Hence we have this conversation between  Alistair Darling and the Icelandic Finance Minister, Árni M Mathiesen. Its fascinating to read in full but I'll only post a few choice quotes here:

AD: What about the depositors you’ve got who’ve got deposits in London branches?
ÁMM: We have the [deposit] insurance fund according to the directive and how that works is explained in this letter and the pledge of support from the Government to the fund.
AD: So the entitlements the people have, which I think is about £16,000, they will be paid that?
ÁMM: Well, I hope that will be the case. I cannot [visible] state that or guarantee that now but we are certainly working to solve this issue. This is something we really don’t want to have hanging over us.

This serves to illustrate the initial intent of the Icelanders to resolve issues cordially.

AD: Do I understand that you guarantee the deposits of Icelandic depositors?
ÁMM: Yes, we guarantee the deposits in the banks and branches here in Iceland.
AD: But not the branches outside Iceland?
ÁMM: No, not outside of what was already in the letter that we sent.
AD: But is that not in breach of the EEA treaty?
ÁMM: No, we don’t think so and think this is actually in line with what other countries have been doing over recent days.
AD: Well, we didn’t when we had the problem with Northern Rock. It didn’t matter where you saved money, we guaranteed your savings.

So now things become a little grittier: Mathiesen declares that the Icelanders have decided to look out for their own interests first and that this is not in breach of the terms of their deposit insurance scheme, the Depositors' and Investors' Guarantee Fund [DIGF] (this argument is a significant aspect of the Icelandic legal defence).

“The democratically elected Icelandic government, under EU/EFTA financial regulation equivalence rules, agreed long before the crisis even began that it would guarantee compensation of the first EUR20887 of deposit to retail depositors in Icelandic banks from other EU/EFTA countries.”

I disagree most strongly. The government agrees to establish the deposit fund and oversee its administration according to established EU legislation over which it has no influence. Wikipedia labels such a situation as a ‘fax democracy’ “with [participating states] waiting for their latest legislation to be faxed from the [European] Commission”. The Icelanders simply had to rubber stamp it in order to do business across the continent. They were under no obligation to ensure it was fit for purpose. The Icelandic government itself has claimed of the Depositors' and Investors' Guarantee Fund:

the directive was never intended to cover the case of a systemic failure, and does not impose a sovereign guarantee on deposit insurance schemes.

I've read the DIGF policy document as carefully as my brain would allow me to (YAWN!), particularly chapter 3, which deals with payments from the fund. The securities fund, from which payments are to be made, only contained ~€1 million. In the eventuality that the securities fund did not contain sufficient funds it was possible for more money to be drawn out of the general deposit fund to cover:

Should the total assets of the Fund prove insufficient, the Board of Directors may, if it sees compelling reasons to do so, take out a loan in order to compensate losses suffered by claimants.  -Article 10

The Board of the Fund may authorise loans of up to ISK 50 million (~€500,000) between the Deposit Department and Securities Department. Loans shall be repaid within 36 months. The Minister may impose further provisions regarding loans between the Departments in a Government Regulation.  -Article 11

The liabilities of the DIGF were £2.35 billion in the UK and €1.2 billion in the Netherlands. The fact that the entire fund, let alone the securities fund, held only €68 million serves well to illustrate the inadequate nature of this Europe-wide legislation.

That the Icelandic government decided to prioritise their own people’s deposits is unsurprising, if antagonistic. I challenge anyone to criticise it as anything other than conscientious pragmatism. There was no way the country could pay off the debts incurred by the banks’ collapse and so the pot of money it did have access to would be virtually meaningless if it were distributed among the debtors. I believe they were entitled to take this action, unpopular as it was and I challenge anyone to find a statement in the policy document to the contrary.

I also reject John’s claim that the obligation to pay depositors ~€20K is guaranteed by the government. The assumption in the policy is that there will always be enough money in the fund to cover any eventuality and no consideration is given to a systemic collapse. Once again, I challenge anyone to find evidence to the contrary.

Other points made by John that I take issue with:

The Icelandic banks then went bust and lost their depositors’ money.

Nope, they became insolvent due to rampant inflation in the value of the Krona and “the assets of the failed Landsbanki branches are now estimated to cover most of the depositor claims”.

“Today’s populist refusal by Iceland’s president to pay the UK and Netherlands government the US$5bn it owes as a result...represents every single Icelandic person nicking more than US$10,000 from British and Dutch taxpayers.”

This is just absurd. It could be argued that the prioritised Icelandic deposits successfully underwritten by the DIGF were a direct steal from UK & NDL taxpayers (in fact, this is part of the case that the UK & NDL authorities are putting to the European Court) but that is a much, much smaller figure. See the comment above about Landsbanki assets covering depositor claims.

Ultimately, the cause of the Icelandic banking fiasco was, reckless management of the economy and financial industry. As with the broader financial crisis and collapse of 2008, this was the fault of regulators and bankers, in Iceland and in Europe, who either administered regulation that wasn’t fit for purpose or profited grossly from the system during the neoliberal boom years. The repeated refusal by Icelanders to accept responsibility for the debts incurred by Icelandic banks hinges on this and no one has yet provided a reason why they should. They have, in fact, suffered terribly as a result of their economy’s collapse. Simple asking cui bono should provide you with the culprits of this crime and although there may well be several Icelanders amongst them there’s certainly not 320,000.

Monday, July 04, 2011

sustainable stupidity


Liveable4All sent me a link to this video.

I think the message in this video is a stupid one. Here's why: "Biologist Colin Tudge" clearly assumes that in his utopian future the majority of the earths population will continue to live in abject poverty. All very well for a rich Westerner to claim but the inhabitants of the global South might have some rather reasonable objections. In 2006, WWF's "Living Planet Report" stated that in order for all humans to live with the current consumption patterns of Europeans, we would be spending three times more than what the planet can renew. What "Biologist Colin Tudge" should have said is "we will be able to feed ten billion people in the future on starvation rations".

Personally, I don't find that an appealing, let alone a likely future. The only just solution is to equalise living standards between the developed & developing world and stabilise populations at a sustainable level. See George Monbiot for more, although note that George inexplicably fails to extend his argument to a call for equalisation of living standards. This is why he continues to cast the population issue as a "myth", In actuality, unless you are content for the majority of the human population to continue living in poverty you must accept some reasonable reduction in population in both the developing and developed world.

I suppose you could advocate for 10 billion people living in poverty, but then you'd be a monster.

Saturday, July 02, 2011



You may not believe this but I have a particularly pessimistic, misanthropic view of human civilisation. I'm an avowed technophile, however, and if there's one aspect of humanity that is certain to bring a smile to my face its awesome gadgets being used awesomely. So here's a couple of examples that I've just discovered on a blog called genomicon. Its a pretty cool place if you're into tech and gadgets.