Apology for a Thin Dribble

Apology for a Thin Dribble
Sean Gabb
(1st August 2021)

There was a time when I would turn out thousands of words a week on politics. In the past year, I have slowed down. What used to be a gush of words has become a thin dribble. The reasons for this? One is that I have become busier than I could once have imagined with teaching the ancient languages. I have classes and private students all over the world, and I am often up half the night making unlisted YouTube videos on Greek and Latin grammar. The other reason still shocks me and ought to shock others. This is that I am, for the first time in my life, scared to write about politics. I find that I have an hour free of other duties. I open Word for Windows and start writing. Then I stop. I ask myself: “Will this get me into some kind of trouble?” Sometimes the answer is: “Yes—this will get me into trouble.” More often, it is: “I don’t know, but better safe than sorry.” The result is the same. I close the Word document and turn back to Livy or Herodotus or the editing of a video on the present participle in Latin.

How could I possibly be scared to say what I think about politics or culture or some other matter of public importance? I am a freeborn Englishman. None of the liberties I inherited from my ancestors has been abolished. Indeed, since 1998, these liberties have been formally augmented by the Human Rights Act, which gives a bias in law to freedom of expression, and positively compels all public bodies to respect freedom of speech. No doubt, if I want to speak uncharitably about people of different races, there are laws to restrain me. But, if I resent these laws, I have no wish to speak uncharitably about such people. On all other issues, the laws of my country tell me I have more solid legal protections of my right to free expression than my ancestors ever enjoyed. All this, and I sit wondering if my proposed sneer at the latest Coronavirus claims or yet another denunciation of the Great Satan America will get me into trouble. My reason for wondering and then not writing is that these apparently solid legal protections are of no validity against a new and rather scary kind of censorship that never shows up in the Law Reports.

A few weeks ago, there was a football match between England and Italy. I usually pay no attention to these things. This time, though, it seems that the management of the English team saw the chance of making propaganda for one of the current orthodoxies. The chance was mishandled, and the working class fans were left angry. Since there was no hiding from the fans of what was done, the regime media responded with hysterical denunciation of anyone who complained. The usual authority figures were pressed into service. The result was an orgy of virtue signalling. I will not bother quoting any, but my Facebook feed was stuffed with the sort of rhetorical abuse you would once have seen in Soviet Russia during the purges.

A further result was that anyone who stepped too identifiably out of line risked shadow punishment. According to The Daily Mirror, reporting just a day after the match,

Savills estate agents have suspended an employee after his Twitter account posted racist abuse at England’s players.

According to Sky Sports, reporting nearly a week later,

A university has withdrawn an offer to a student following racist abuse towards England players after the Euro 2020 final…

Now, I neither care about football nor understand the details of what happened in that match. My interest in what happened is that this is how dissent is mainly policed in modern England. Getting the police to put on ski masks and smash down doors looks too much like censorship. Outsourcing the job to Human Resources makes denial much easier. I suspect The Daily Mirror reported that first victim as a warning to everyone else. The real wave of sackings will not be reported in the regime media, though its scale will be known by word of mouth or from the reports on social media. The desired message has been sent out.

Earlier this year, I wrote a long essay on outsourced censorship. Because this was so long, hardly anyone read it. What I said, though, was that censorship has indeed been outsourced—offenders nowadays are more likely to get the sack than see the inside of a police station. The outsourced persecution of those disappointed football fans is just an extreme and peculiar illustration of the point I was making. It is extreme and peculiar so far as football is a kind of religion in England, and it would not do to allow an open discussion of what may have happened with those penalty kicks. Apart from that, there is nothing unusual about the denunciations. England has become a country where all dissent against the dominant opinion is dangerous. It is not legally dangerous. There is no official censorship of opinion, or not very much. Dissent is economically dangerous. Dissenters risk losing their jobs or businesses. They risk having their books pulled from distribution and their bank and social media accounts closed. Debate is being shut down on matters that, even a few years ago, were completely open.

I am a man of reasonably firm mind. For years and years, I went on the BBC to say what I thought on the issues of the day, and would laugh at the shocked reactions. I am now largely silent. For the moment, there will be no more incredulity about the environmentalist claims, no sceptical doubts about the nature of the Coronavirus claims or the efficacy of the vaccines, no more defences of the British Empire.

I call this a “new and scary kind of censorship.” To be fair, it is only new for me because of when I was born. By 1959, the old ruling class had lost legitimacy. Its efforts to guide public opinion were laughed at. I grew to manhood in a moral environment where I was free to say anything I wanted. Oh, if I had been some kind of white advocate, I might not have been so free. But I was not a white advocate, and nothing I said ever got me into trouble with employers or clients or any government or business organisation. If I had been born in 1859, I might have been aware of a very firm pressure to conform. Suppose I had been a schoolmaster in the 1880s, and I had spoken out for Irish home rule, or disestablishment of the Church, or a confiscation of the landed interest, or a republic, or birth control, or I had held any other of the unpopular views of the day, I would almost certainly have found myself out of a job and blacklisted from getting another. Instead, I grew up in a kind of interglacial, where one set of established views was no longer hegemonic, and no new set had yet replaced it. That has now changed. There are once more established views that it is dangerous to mock or denounce too openly.

I could argue that the old views were somehow healthy and the new ones are not. I see no point in that. I will instead say that just because something undesirable happened in the past is no reason for putting up with it now. The old pressures to conform were wrong. So are the new. And they are wrong simply because they are pressures to conform. I find myself at last appreciating a part of Mill’s essay On Liberty for which I never used to have much time. Until recently, I would insist that the only real oppression was by the State: all else was the working of private choice. If the authorities fined a man £5 for having sex with another man, that was outrageous tyranny. If his tastes became public knowledge, and he was unable to find work, that was merely unfortunate. This is, I still believe, essentially true. Indeed, I could argue that, without a State having centralised and corporatised powers of discrimination that ought to be  widely distributed, there would be no problem—or there would be a problem that was bearable. But these powers were centralised and corporatised a long time ago. They are now being used to achieve a uniformity of opinion outside the home in which the formal organs of compulsion have no obvious part. This is not the “tyranny of the majority” that worried Mill. I find it inconceivable that anything close to a majority could believe the insane drivel pouring from the regime media. Neither, though, is it the kind of oppression against which liberal bills of rights have traditionally been written. Because of this—

when society is itself the tyrant…, its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them….

(J.S. Mill On Liberty, 1859, “Introductory”)

We need protection indeed. But the protection we need is not yet another law telling the police to leave dissidents alone. We already have a stack of these, and they are protections against a threat that largely does not exist. The answer, I suggest, is an amendment to the anti-discrimination laws to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of what may be loosely called political opinion.

I say hardly anyone read my original essay. Sadly, most of those who did read it stand in the more wooden reaches of the libertarian movement, and these set up a cry that I had become a Communist. I was suggesting that private organisations should be coerced in their choices of whom and whom not to employ, and even in their choices of customer and supplier. I had abandoned the non-aggression principle. Here, briefly expressed, is my answer to these claims.

I run the Centre for Ancient Studies. This provides a range of tuition services in Greek and Latin. It is a sole tradership. As such, I reserve the unconditional right to decide what services I offer and to whom. If I dislike the colour of your face, or the status of your foreskin, or your tastes in love, or anything else that I may think relevant, it should be my right not to do business with you. It may be that only a fool turns away customers with money to spend, and I am not that sort of a fool. Even so, I do claim at least the theoretical right, and I ground it on my right to do as I please with my own. But I claim these rights as a human individual. A limited company is not a human individual. Whatever entrepreneurship may exist in them, these companies are artificial persons and creatures of the State. Their owners have the privilege of limited liability. That is, they have the right, in the event of insolvency, not to pay the debts of a company if these are greater than the assets of the company. If this were not a valuable right, there would not be so many limited companies. There are almost no large companies, and none lasting more than a single generation, that do not have limited liability.

This being so, limited companies benefit from a grant of privilege from the State, and are legitimate subjects of regulation by the State for as long as they are receipt of this privilege. No doubt, some forms of state regulation are bad in their objects, or bad as regards the means to their objects. But regulation is not in itself an aggression by the State. It follows that, whether or not we can get it, libertarians should not feel barred from demanding laws to prevent limited companies from discriminating against their employees on the grounds of political opinion, and to require them to do business with customers and suppliers regardless of political opinion.

I appreciate that I am asking for more than the regulation of limited companies. The anti-discrimination laws we have make no distinction between incorporated and unincorporated associations. Even so, the extension of these laws to cover political opinion would mainly affect only the larger limited companies. At the same time, there is an obvious and overriding public interest in the protection of political opinion. People are now scared to speak their minds. Whether intended or just revealed, this is part of the strategy. The reason why the collapse of both freedom and tradition is gathering pace is because no one dares stand up and protest. In the absence of protest, everything will carry on as it is. Given a restored right of protest, there is a chance of stopping the collapse. The only way to lift the blanket of fear that now lies over all but approved opinion is somehow or other to get a law making it clear that no one who speaks his mind can be loaded with shadow punishments.

“Somehow or other!” In a sense, I am making a fool of myself. I am asking the politicians to make a law against what they themselves may not be doing, but that has no effect on their main reason for being in politics, which is to fill their pockets. I am asking them to take on the entire mass of the non-elected Establishment. I am asking a lot of these people. On the other hand, the politicians still need to be elected, and that was the weak point in the Establishment’s plan to stay in the European Union. We had to spend four nears voting and revoting, but we did eventually get what we wanted. It is conceivable that, if enough of us call loudly enough for protection, some kind of protection will be granted.

Short of that, we are lost.

Remembering Brian Micklethwait

Remembering Brian Micklethwait

The man who made libertarianism fun

Sean Gabb, The Critic Magazine, 20th October 2021

Brian Hugh Micklethwait was born on the 26th September 1947, the youngest son of Sir Robert Micklethwait, a lawyer of some distinction who rose eventually to the post of Chief National Insurance Commissioner. His mother, Philippa, née Bosanquet, came from a legal family, and was related to the Bosanquets who were important in the Liberal Party at the end of the nineteenth century. Brian attended Marlborough public school in the early 1960s as a boarder, and went up to Cambridge in 1965 to study Architecture. After this, he studied Sociology at Essex University.

He voted Labour in the 1970 General Election. By 1980, he was a libertarian. The economic troubles of the intervening decade had seen a revival of interest in free market economics and the liberal tradition. The Institute of Economic Affairs now came out of the shadow in which the media had mostly placed it. Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman became household names. The Freedom Association and the Adam Smith Institute were founded. Margaret Thatcher became first the leader of the Conservative Party and then Prime Minister. 

More: https://thecritic.co.uk/remembering-brian-micklethwait/

Brian Micklethwait (1947-2021)

I regret to announce the death in hospital today of Brian Micklethwait, the first Editorial Director of the Libertarian Alliance. He had been suffering from cancer. We first met in August 1982 and became good friends. If our friendship ended some time before the February of 2011, now is not the time for reflecting on such matters. I wish only to remember that we were once good friends, and to regret his passing.

Music, Technology and the Market, by Sean Gabb

Trying to be Positive:
Music, Technology, the Market
Sean Gabb
(3rd September 2021)

If I wanted, I could write another litany of complaint that would easily fill up several thousand words. Let us take it as read, though, that we are not living through any kind of golden age of respect for liberty or tradition. This being done, I will pass to one of the various reasons for me to feel glad to be alive now, and not at any time in the past.

This is that, during the past few years, I have become acquainted with a growing band of composers from the High Classical Period, a term covering the musical styles dominant between about 1780 and 1820. These are men whose names come up in the longer or more focussed histories of music, but whose music I had never before heard, or never heard at any length. Their names include – and I mostly give the German rather than Czech versions of their names where appropriate – Vanhal, Reicha, Paul Wranitzky, Gyrowetz, Rosetti, Vogler, Pleyel, Koželuch, Michael Haydn, and Ferdinand Ries.

To call these men the equals of Franz Josef Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven would be silly. But, if they did not, across the whole range of their works, reach the standard of the musical giants of their age, these were men touched now and again by genius. Many of their works are decidedly worth hearing – hearing and enjoying. There are, I believe, several thousand symphonies that survive from the High Classical Period. I do not doubt that the average quality of these is mediocre. There is something to be said for the dismissive comment of Jan LaRue in 1956:

Any student of the eighteenth-century symphony occasionally feels that proximity to his subject lends disenchantment. Thus Adam Carse, in the final paragraph of his ‘Eighteenth-Century Symphonies,’ asks a disparaging question: “How many symphonies did it take to make one good one?” and estimates that the answer “would have to be in the hundreds.”

On the other hand, the exclusive focus made until recently on a handful of works by the musical giants has deprived us of much good music, and has given us a distorted view of those giants, so far as their works have been presented and heard without any of the musical context in which they were produced. If my sight-reading skills were better than they are, I might have made an earlier acquaintance with these men than I have. Even then, however, sight-reading skills short of the exceptional are a poor substitute for a decent performance; and it is only in recent years that many of the works in question have been published.

Before I pass to an examination of some of these works, I will try to explain why we have so far had so little exposure to these composers. Until about 1800, musical styles and musical fashions moved very quickly. A composer could be big in his own lifetime. He might be famous and respected across all of Europe. He would die, and, within about ten years, he was forgotten. Music was rather like Hollywood films in the early twentieth century. In 1925, Rudolph Valentino was a global star. By 1945, his films were seen as curiosities – superseded in every sense by what came after. That is how Vivaldi and Telemann and even the Great Bach were seen at the end of the eighteenth century. The big exception was Handel. He died in 1759. When Haydn arrived in London at the end of 1791, he was surprised to see that Handel was still performed throughout the British Isles. He was known in Vienna. But, for a public performance, it had been necessary for Mozart to rescore and generally revise The Messiah. Even then, the work was seen as a curiosity from the past.

It was around 1800 that music became less ephemeral. I think it is Mozart who was the first whose works remained popular after their composer’s death. Die Entführung (1781) is the earliest opera that has never had to be revived. Figaro and Don Giovanni were immediate and enduring classics. Demand for his scores in the 1790s led to improvements in the technology for printing music. Mozart was joined by Haydn and then by Beethoven. After about 1820, these were joined by J.S. Bach and by Handel. They were joined, through the rest of the century, by other composers whose music was seen as of permanent value. Ending perhaps with Brahms, these are the standard classics we still revere.

But, all through the nineteenth century, the growing list of giants from the past had to compete for performing time with new music. A concert at the Crystal Palace might end with a Beethoven symphony. Everything before that would be new, and perhaps composed for that concert. This produced an inevitable if ruthless sifting of music from the past. All of Beethoven’s symphonies and piano concertos continued in performance. His Triple Concerto became a curiosity. Other works vanished from the concert hall. It was the same with Haydn, who was known wholly from his Paris and London symphonies. His earlier symphonies and his operas were unknown. Much of his vast output, indeed, remained unpublished until after the Second World War. It was the same with Mozart. Apart from the private study of his scores, he was revered for about a dozen of his later works. Given that there is only so much performing time, this is to be expected. Even live composers suffered a bias against their earlier works. In the 1880s, an Italian audience protested when some scheduling accident led to an unexpected performance of La Traviata, which had first been performed in 1853.

The taste for new music declined after about 1950. It became a general belief – one I happen to share – that, even when not wholly dissonant or impenetrably complex, new music was at best second-rate. It became common for the first time for concerts to be filled with music by the dead. This created an immediate gap. Let us say that the sifting of past music had produced a canon of perhaps a hundred works. Endless playing of that canon, and nothing else, was not enough to fill concert schedules and concert halls – not year after year.

The record companies now faced a similar problem. Since the beginning of a mass-market for recorded classical music, the record companies had focussed on the canon. This made sense in an age of rapid improvements in sound quality. Leave aside anything special about the performance, a recording made in 1920 was inferior to one made in 1930, which was itself inferior to one made in 1939, and so on. This process of improvement came largely to an end with the arrival of stereo records in 1958. I think digital recordings are better, but I have friends who disagree. Certainly, until I got rid of the playing equipment, I had few complaints about my records from the 1960s and 70s. After about 1960, then, the record companies had to decide where to go next. How much demand was there for yet another cycle of Beethoven symphonies, or the same dozen Haydn symphonies, or the same handfuls of Bach and Mozart and Brahms?

The first solution was to dig into the unperformed works of the great composers. I am not sure if Antal Dorati was the first to record all the Haydn symphonies, or if Murray Perahaia was the first to record all the Mozart piano concertos. By the 1970s, however, we could hear more by the great composers than had been available in their own lifetimes. Rossini was no longer half a dozen overtures and The Barber of Seville. We could hear Wagner’s Rienzi and the Paris version of Tannhauser for the first time in generations. At the same time, there was a modest expansion in the number of acknowledged great composers from the past. The most notable of these, I suppose, was Mahler – though there was also increased interest in Purcell and Vivaldi and others who had never entirely faded from performance. These expansions were made by the record companies, but their success had an influence on the choice of music for live performances.

Then we have the arrival of the original performances movement – that is, playing music on instruments of its own day, according to some approximation to the contemporary styles of playing these instruments. The idea was to create a performance of something as it might have sounded played well in its own day. The first recordings and concert performances were of the standard composers. In 1977, I attended a performance, overseen by Christopher Hogwood, of the Mozart Piano Quartets. But this was joined by a revival of interest in other composers of the eighteenth century. By the 1970s, there was a growing interest in Johann Christian Bach – the London Bach, the youngest son of the Great Bach. His music is good in itself, both beautiful and characterised by an almost obsessive balance and repetition. Also, for the first time, you no longer had to be a music scholar to appreciate the greatest single influence on Mozart and what he did with this influence.

After this, the number of “new” composers expanded rapidly. So long as the bracketed dates after his name were 17xx-18xx, record-buyers and concert-goers were no longer put off by unfamiliar names. You may complain that the dead have now taken over the entirety of the market for classical music. But, if there are some good living composers beginning to make their name on YouTube, the new music given us by the BBC is just not very good. It is not very good even when it shows no influence of the Second Viennese School or any of the other musical horrors of the twentieth century.

But I will drop this argument. There is no accounting for taste, and my own taste is for music of the High Classical Period. I like the constraints of sonata form – the presentation and development of short themes that vary between the predictable and the unexpected and unstable, the frequent modulations as themes are taken apart and reconstructed, the reassuring solidity of a good recapitulation. I like Bach and Handel. I like Wagner, and also Bruckner and Mahler and some Shostakovich. I like French and Italian opera of the nineteenth century. But most of the music in my collection, and most of the music I play, is from the High Classical Period. I like it and have no need to justify my taste.

But, in case there are others who share my taste and have not stepped yet outside the canon, I will say something about this other music. There are two initial points to make. The first is to repeat what I said at the beginning of this article. The composers in question are not the equals, across the whole range of their works, of the musical giants. Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven have been regarded, for at least the past two centuries, as giants for a reason. The second point, however, is they did not compose consistently great music. Not all of Mozart is inspired. Much of his symphonic output is unmemorable. Some of Beethoven is openly mediocre. You only need to hear it to know why his Wellington’s Victory had to wait until 1961 to be recorded. There are individual works by men like Vogler and Vanhal and Wranitzky that are as good as or better than all but the best of Haydn and Mozart.

Since I mention him, let us take the Symphony in D minor by Georg Joseph Vogler (1749-1814). He was a composer based in Mannheim, not in Vienna, and this symphony, from 1782, was composed for Paris. It has no introduction, but launches at once into a long burst of Sturm und Drang violence, heightened rather than weakened by the continual pizzicato during the inner passages. This drives forward, now intensified, now relaxed, for seven and a half minutes, then gives way to a rather sinuous minuet and trio. The third and last movement is in the style of an operatic overture and a return to the spirt of the first. The orchestration throughout is both striking and colourful. Of course, Haydn wrote better symphonies than this, but he also wrote worse, and we listen to these without complaint. Vogler had a longish life for his time, and an interesting one. He made an early attempt at the formal analysis of music, and his travels in search of new sounds took him far outside Europe. I learn from Wikipedia that his later students included both Weber and Meyerbeer. I have heard nothing else by him that matches this early work. Then again, I have not heard that much by him – and, if he did compose only one memorable work, that work is still worth hearing.

Or we have my present favourite, which is the Symphony in D, Op.16, by Paul Wranitzky – or Pavel Vranicky (1756-1808). Unlike Vogler, he lived and worked in Vienna, where he was a favourite of the Empress. There, he was regarded, between the death of Mozart and the rise of Beethoven as the leading symphonist of the day. He was admired by Mozart and Haydn, and he directed the first performance of Beethoven’s First Symphony. His Symphony in D is in the full High Classical style. Its first movement is both grand and brilliant, with a powerful development section. For its quiet solemnity and extensive use of wind instruments, the second movement easily stands comparison with Mozart. The third and, as with the Vogler symphony, the last movement is another rondo in the style of an overture, and is a fitting end to a fine and remarkable work.

There is also a case to be made for his Symphony in F, Op.33. This is a different kind of work – more expansive, though still notable for its use of wind. The first movement introduces and develops a strange and unexpected theme which is echoed from his String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 16, and which I suspect is borrowed from Moravian tavern music. The second movement is a clever set of variations on the popular song Freut euch des Lebens. The trio in the minuet third movement is another popular song, Auch, du lieber Augustin. The symphony has no pretensions to the grand or profound, but is enjoyable throughout, and often striking.

I could say more about Wrantitzky. Unlike Vogler, he is not an occasionally good composer, but one hovering back and forth across the border between high talent and greatness. I am presently working my way through all his output so far recorded, and I am continually astonished by it. His chamber music is probably my most exciting discovery of the year. If he is forgotten, it is an effect of that ruthless sifting of past music during the nineteenth century. No one can say of Wranitzky what Adalbert Gyrowetz (1760-1853) lived long enough to say about himself:

There was a time when I celebrated triumphs in Paris, Naples, London, and Vienna. I welcomed Haydn to London, and some of my quartets were published later under his name by speculating music sellers. My operas were sung a hundred times on every stage; the arias of my Augenarzt went, like Donizetti’s, around the world. And who knows me now? I am poor and forgotten. And that is natural. I was only a talent, and must count myself lucky, since talent wins over only the present; only genius lives beyond the grave. But it is a strange feeling to remain alive yet to understand that one is spiritually dead. [Quoted in John A. Stine, A Stylistic Assessment of the Viennese Symphony, 1790-1825, 2017]

Much rather, I agree with François-Joseph Fétis, a French critic, writing around 1870:

The music of Wranitzky was in fashion when it was new because of his natural melodies and brilliant style. He treats the orchestra well, especially in symphonies. I recall that, in my youth, his works held up very well in comparison with those of Haydn. Their premature abandonment of today has been for me a source of astonishment.

But, if I could, and perhaps should, say more about Wranitzky, I could say more about all the others, and much more about their works and why I like them. I will not. I am not a musical scholar. I know what I like, and I can usually explain some of the things I like. But, if I can appreciate it when done by others, I am not myself qualified to write about tonal oscillations or tertian relationships in a false recapitulation. What I will do instead is come to a sudden and abbreviated end.

Yes, we are ruled by wolves and pigs. They are visibly trying to take us back to something like the social structure of the High Classical Period, though without the good taste in the arts that redeems the old ruling classes. I will not try to discuss what our rulers have been up to with the Coronavirus Panic, except to say they are up to something, and it is not intended to be to our advantage. All this is true. Even so, now is for me a glorious time to be alive. A reasonably free market has given us all the most wondrous technology for recording and transmitting and storing music. It has given me record companies that jostle against each other to provide me with more and better performances of the music I like. I have unlimited music to console me, and to do more than console me. It is like being a boy again – something new and often wonderful almost every day to listen to.

You may not share my musical tastes. You may not much like music of any kind. I will not blame you for this, though I may feel sorry for you. But, if you are a libertarian or a conservatism, there is something to be said for looking up every now and again from predicting and explaining all the terrible things our rulers have in mind for us, and giving thanks for the many other good things in life. There may even be many more of these than of the terrible things.

Shortages and the Class Struggle, by Sean Gabb

Shortages and the Class Struggle
A Libertarian View
Sean Gabb
(28th September 2021)

There is in the United Kingdom a shortage of lorry drivers. This means a dislocation of much economic activity. Because it cannot be delivered, there is no petrol in the filling stations. Because there are not enough drivers, and a shortage of fuel, we may soon have shortages of food in the shops. Christmas this year may not involve its usual material abundance.

These difficulties are wholly an effect of the new political economy that has emerged in England and in many other Western countries since about 1980. An army of managers, of agents, of administrators, of consultants and advisers and trainers, and of other middle class parasites has appropriated a growing share of the national income. This has happened with at least the connivance of the rich and the powerful. Since, in the short term, the distribution of the national income is a zero-sum game, the necessary result is low and falling real wages for those who actually produce. So long as the productive classes can be kept up by immigration from countries where even lower wages are on offer, the system will remain stable. Because leaving the European Union has reduced the supply of cheap labour, the system is no longer stable in England.

There are two obvious solutions. The first is to rearrange the distribution of income, to make the productive classes more able and more willing to produce. Since this would mean reducing the numbers or incomes or both of the parasite classes, the second is the solution we mostly read about in the newspapers. This is to restore the flow of cheap foreign labour.

In summary, that is my explanation of what is happening. For those who are interested, I will now explain at greater length. According to the mainstream theory of wages, labour is a commodity. Though workers are human beings, the labour they supply to employers is of the same general nature as machine tools and copper wire and cash registers and whatever else is bought and sold in the markets for producer goods. A wage therefore is a price, and we can illustrate the formation of wage rates with the same supply and demand diagrams as we use for illustrating the formation of prices:

The supply curve slopes upwards because most work is a nuisance. Every hour of labour supplied is an hour that cannot be spent doing something more enjoyable. Beyond a certain level, workers can only be persuaded to supply more labour if more money is offered for each additional hour of labour. As with other producer goods, the shape of the demand curve is determined both by the price of what labour can be used to produce and by the law of diminishing returns.

To show this, let us make the following assumptions:

First, that all labour employed or employable by a firm is of the same quality;

Second, that all other factors of production are fixed in quantity;

Third, that the price of whatever is produced by a firm is £10, and that its demand curve is perfectly elastic.

Suppose that the employment of one extra worker will increase output by ten units a day. This will increase revenue by £100 a day. The maximum daily wage paid to that worker will be £100. If the wage is somehow fixed above that level, it will not be worth employing him. If, however, we make the secondary assumptions that all other firms in that market are in exactly the same circumstances, and that all workers are employed on daily contracts, firms will compete for workers and workers will compete with other workers until that is the daily wage of all workers.

Let us now suppose that another worker appears from nowhere and offers his labour, and let us suppose that, because of diminishing returns, his employment will increase our firm’s output not by ten but by nine units a day. This being so, the daily wage rate will fall to £90. If, on the other hand, a new worker does not appear, but an existing worker disappears, and increasing returns now mean that the last worker employed before him has added eleven units per day to total output, the daily wage will rise to £110.

This is a grossly unrealistic illustration. But this does not in itself falsify the theory. Economic theory works by looking beneath the multitude of transient circumstances we find on the surface of things, to see the underlying reality. No basic economic theory explains how a market does or should work at any one time. What it shows instead are the underlying forces that shift markets in the long term towards an equilibrium that is itself constantly shifting. This being so, the marginal productivity theory of wages is part of an overall theory of distribution that roughly explains the earnings of each factor and subdivided factor in a country with reasonably free markets. It is not very good at explaining wages in the service sector, and may apply at best indirectly to wages in the state sector. But it is a true theory, and it only ceases to operate when some forcible rigging of markets prevents it from operating.

Our problem in England is that large areas of economic activity have been rigged. There is an immensely large state sector, paid for by taxes on the productive. Most formally private activity is engrossed by large organisations that are able to be so large either because of limited liability laws or by regulations that only large organisations can obey. The result is that wages are often determined less by market forces than by administrative choice. In this kind of rigged market, we cannot explain the distribution of income as a matter of continual choice between marginal increments of competing inputs until the whole has been distributed. It may be better to look at a modified wages fund theory. A large organisation has a pot of money left over from the sale of whatever its product may be, minus payments to outside suppliers, and minus whatever the directors choose to classify as profit. This is then distributed according to the free choice of the directors, or how hard they can be pushed. Or we can keep the mainstream cross-diagrams, but accept that the demand curve is determined less by marginal productivity than by the overall prejudices of those in charge.

Therefore the growth of a large and unproductive middle class, and the screwing down of all other wages to pay for this. This is not inevitable in rigged markets, but is possible. It has come about since the 1980s for three reasons:

First, the otherwise unemployable products of an expanded higher education sector have used all possible means to get nice jobs for themselves and their friends;

Second the rich and the powerful have accommodated this because higher wages and greater security for the productive might encourage them to become as assertive as they were before the 1980s;

Third, that these rich and powerful see the parasite classes as a useful transmitter of their own political and moral prejudices.

Where the lorry drivers are concerned, a friend showed this yesterday in a brief e-mail:

This is something due to the lack of HGV drivers due the outsourcing to agencies for driving. The agencies grab the most of the money and the drivers get paid pants for a long, difficult job with terrible conditions. No wonder no one wants the job. I know a couple of drivers who tell me qualified drivers are stacking shelves rather than drive since the pay and conditions are better

I know nothing of that particular market. But I do know the education market. I used to work now and again as a supply teacher. From every £10 an agency charged a school, about £5 went to the teacher it supplied. Many teachers, I might agree, are worthless at any wage. Also, I do appreciate that middlemen are often useful for creating markets that would not otherwise exist. But you see these agencies in almost every sector, even in those where customary employment markets already exist. It is a reasonable inference that they are a means of diverting income from those who work to those who live by skimming-off.

And this is the cause of our present difficulties. It explains why there are so many calls for the flow of cheap foreign labour to be restored. It may be that many businesses in this country are run with so little enterprise and investment that they survive only with cheap foreign labour. Much more than this, the parasite classes have realised that the growing labour shortage faced since we left the Single Market is forcing up wages for the productive, and that is not a short term response, but part of a more general readjustment, and that this will be bad for them unless they can make those labour supply curves more elastic at lower wages.

An almost obligatory end to anything written by a libertarian is a call for an end of regulations and cuts to government spending. I think these would help. But we have a class war in which no side seems to want a free market. So, for what it may be worth, I choose the workers. They did themselves no favour when they last had a seat at the table in the 1970s. So it may be again. I choose them even so. As for the parasite classes, I can shut my eyes and see them them at pavement cafes in the King’s Road, twittering into their i-Phones over skinny lattes served by Bulgarian waiters. Watching them unplugged from their host would, all other considerations aside, be enjoyable.

The Ultimate Covid Conspiracy?

The Ultimate Covid Conspiracy?
Sean Gabb
(29th June 2021)

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We have, for the past eighteen months, lived through a fantasy pandemic. If unpleasant, the Virus is not particularly deadly. The number of cases is a product of testing, the number of deaths a statistical fraud. We have had much worse infections in living memory. We never responded to those by locking down whole populations and making hysterical fear an object of state policy. What is happening?

The most likely answer is stupidity. The quality of the people who rule Britain and America has dropped through the floor since about 1990, and it was not that high then. Sadly, though, the rest of the world still believes Britain and America are the pinnacle of civilisation, and so, whatever madness is decided in London and Washington is copied without question almost everywhere else. Take stupidity, add short-term advantage to the usual suspects in politics and business, and we have the Coronavirus Panic.

But arguments from stupidity are boring. They are the equivalent of denying the existence of ghosts and second sight – worthy and true, but unentertaining. Much better is to begin from the assumption that the idiots in charge are not really in charge, but are only front men for the supremely intelligent and supremely effective and supremely wicked Ones-on-High. Do this, and explaining the panic becomes an argument over which conspiracy theory best fits the observed facts.

Until a few weeks ago, my favourite was that the Virus was a bioweapon that had somehow leaked from a Chinese laboratory. It was spotted by the main governments, because they were all working in secret on something similar. This would explain the initial panic. As for the piffling number of deaths, bioweapons are still at the experimental stage, and no one realised until it was too late that modified viruses lose their potency almost at once in the wild. This was my favourite conspiracy theory for over a year. I only went off it when the authorities stopped denouncing it and punishing anyone important who said it was true, and instead announced on television that it might be true. Since the hacks in the mainstream media are just bright enough not to tell the truth even by accident, it was half a minute to give up on a year of enjoyable speculation.

There are other conspiracy theories. Regrettably, most of these border on the respectable. For example, the panic is a cover for clawing back some of the manufacturing outsourced to China since the 1990s. Or it is an excuse for ending the unwise monetary policies of the past decade and inflating away the resulting national debts. These all have an appearance of the probable, and are therefore dull before the first paragraph is read. But, looming over all the others, is the merger of scepticism about vaccines and the Agenda 21 conspiracy.

For those unaware of it, Agenda 21 is boring drivel from the United Nations about not cutting down trees. Behind this, though, is an alleged conspiracy to reduce the human population from seven billion to half a billion. Doing this, apparently, will end all the fanciful scares about global warming, and leave the lucky survivors free to use all the electricity they want without feeling guilty.

The latest version of this theory is that the Virus is a fraud, but justifies injecting people with a vaccine that will make most of them fall down dead, or in some degree sterilise them. There are passionate advocates of the revised theory, all of them begging us to keep away from any of the vaccines on offer. I have so far kept away from the vaccines. But there are two problems with the theory:

First, why bother with a deadly vaccine when a deadly virus would be easier? It is hard to make vaccines compulsory, and they can be reviewed at leisure by dissenting scientists. A virus can mow down its victims even as people argue over its origin.

Second, the vaccines are being injected almost entirely into peoples who are not the cause of rising populations. Why kill off or sterilise countries like Italy and Japan and Israel, where populations are already stable or falling, and leave countries like Ghana and Bangladesh free to continue growing by ten thousand an hour?

The theory is untenable as it stands. However, it can be revised into a credible explanation of everything. Let us take these assumptions as true:

First, the English-speaking world is ruled by a semi-united secret state of great ability and great wickedness.

Second, this secret state has ruled much of the world since the final defeat of Germany in 1945, and the whole world since the end of the Cold War in 1990.

Third, this domination is threatened by population growth in the Third World and by China’s refusal to stay an obedient sweatshop. What used to be called the White Race has fallen from about half the human population in 1900 to barely a tenth today. Its share of gross planetary product has fallen since 2000 from about two thirds to about a third.

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You can add concerns about global warming and so forth. But these three assumptions are enough as they stand. Here is the resulting conspiracy:

First, in 2019, the Ones-on-High released a virus they had planted on their Chinese dupes. This was not intended to be deadly, but only to justify the creation of a universal panic.

Second, a group of vaccines was produced. These are not perfectly effective against the Virus, but they do not need to be, as the Virus barely exists as a danger to health. Since then, these vaccines have been injected into almost everyone in the rich countries.

Third, before the vaccines can be injected into more than a trivial percentage of all other populations – I suggest this coming October – the Real Virus will be released. The vaccines are a sure preservative against this. Those populations not yet vaccinated will go down like ears of corn in the blades of a combine harvester. By January 2022, the Israelis will look out from their electrified border fence at a vast silence of rotting bodies, and argue over how much of the Levant they should annex. The British and French will take back their colonial empires. Enough Chinese in the coastal cities will have been vaccinated to keep the factories working. But the peasants will all be dead, and the coastal cities will depend absolutely on food imports from Australia. No more will be heard of global warming, and resources no longer needed for supporting the dead can be directed to the manned exploration of Mars. And this will be the Great Reset – taking the world back to a version of 1914, in which the Germans are no longer actual competitors, nor the Russians potential competitors.

It is a credible conspiracy theory. It has means, motive and opportunity. It explains everything. Do you want to explain the Black Lives Matter protests?

Either, the darker races are slightly telepathic, and they picked up a hint that the Ones-on-High were planning something to their disadvantage,

Or, the protests were contrived by the Ones-on-High to annoy white people and leave them indifferent to the coming genocide.

Give me ten minutes, and I will work out how Brexit and Donald Trump and the current Pope fit in. I can explain the rising price of lithium – if it is rising. I can explain the scratches on my bumper, and the building of a railway station in East Kent where almost no one lives. I can bring in or exclude the Jews according to taste. If the genocide fails to show itself by the end of October, I will move the date to November. If nothing happens by the time the whole of India is vaccinated, I will go silent for a few days, then come back with something about UFO bases at the bottom of the sea.

You may think this rather a light-hearted view of conspiracies. I suppose it is. Even so, there is something odd about this invisible pandemic. It may all be explicable in terms of stupidity. But there is a strange comfort in being ruled by the Ones-on-High. If they do want to murder us all, and feast on our souls, that may be a more meaningful abuse than being pushed about by our useless Prime Minister’s brain-dead cow of a wife.