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What you want to say Open Thread Christmas/New Year edition December 31, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free. And of course, a Happy New Year to everyone, thanks for participating, contributing or just passing through…

Ireland’s Austerity ….A Role Model for Others? December 31, 2012

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Economy.

Having read Eilis Lawlors guest post here on GDP… I Could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the headline “Comeback for the Celtic tiger” on the site of German Broadcaster DW.

Comeback for the Celtic tiger
Which begins with the introduction….

Two years ago, Ireland almost had to declare bankruptcy. Having implemented strict austerity measures and reforms, it now looks set to rebound – as a role model for others?

Its interesting to see how the story of our Austerity and Financial crisis is being pedaled abroad, especially in Germany. The article is full of stuff to make your blood boil….
I’ll just give the one example from Holger Erdmann of the German-Irish chamber of commerce in Dublin.

Erdmann agrees that there has been neither impoverishment of large segments of the population nor a large number of protests. “On weekends, actually starting from Thursday, it’s hard to even set a foot into bars or restaurants here in Dublin. Sometimes one really wonders: where is this economic crisis,” he said in an interview with DW. But “of course there are groups in society that are marked by unemployment. Some households had purchased property at the peak of the housing boom and later lost 50 percent of its value. They are now unable to pay their mortgages.”

As for who are DW?

DW works independently to present events and developments in Germany and the world and picks up on German and other points of view on important issues.

Guest post: GDP and wellbeing – a reflection and a request for assistance… December 30, 2012

Posted by guestposter in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.

A guest post from Eilis Lawlor that gives an overview of research she is engaged in in relation to GDP and wellbeing and how we might all be able to assist.

2012 draws to a close with Ireland officially not in recession having posted two consecutive quarters of positive growth: 0.4% and 0.2% respectively. It is also the only bailed out country to have experienced growth this year according to the IMF. Most economists would accept that growth of this level is fairy negligible; and yet the difference between zero growth and 0.1% still appears to matter. Amongst the soul searching, hand wringing and obsession with all things economic that has characterised Irish public debate since 2007, little attention has been given to what the GDP statistic really means. GDP is a measure of the final value of goods and services that an economy produces, so essentially it measures our ability to produce stuff. A dull enough statistic it would seem but few pieces of information receive the attention that GDP does. Politicians fervently await each quarterly announcement much like the gladiators of ancient Rome awaiting the direction of Caesar’s thumb. And they care because it directly affects their electoral success. Much was made of the fact the Obama was the first US president since Roosevelt to have been elected during a recession. In Ireland it took a 12 percentage point fall between 2007 and 2008 to topple Fianna Fail even though it has seemed they were the permanent party of government.

The effectiveness of GDP at measuring welfare (or well-being) has always been open to question (see here for a flavour of the problems associated with it). Originally developed to measure the size of the war effort in the UK, it’s own architect cautioned against using it as a proxy for social progress. In a famous speech in 1962 Robert Kennedy described it as ‘measuring everything except that which made life worthwhile’. Work in the 1970s by Richard Easterlin uncovered evidence that life satisfaction only increased in line with national income up to a point after which it declined. It was about this time that attempts to develop more sensitive and holistic measures of progress began. None of these gained much traction, certainly not enough to lessen the hold that GDP data has over our politics.

The search for an alternative, or at least for a different relationship with GDP, gained momentum again in the last decade, most notably in France where Nicholas Sarkozy established a commission led by Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen to recommend a new approach for France. Sarkozy explicitly wanted to demonstrate the merits of a shorter working week and other aspects of the French way of life, which improve people’s quality of life, but may have a negative effect on GDP.

Serious discussions of the limitations of GDP appear most palatable when a country is growing. It is no wonder then that they have been notably absent in Ireland. And yet the turbulence of the past few years makes Ireland a particularly interesting case study. Few countries have experienced such a dramatic rise and fall in GDP (a peak to trough contraction of almost 18 percentage points). As is now well-known, the economic fundamentals underpinning the Celtic Tiger were always shaky. But while there were some improvements in other indicators of social and environmental progress, other areas deteriorated and none kept pace with rises in GDP. One area that does correlate strongly with GDP growth is employment, and this is particularly the case in the Irish context. And of course this matters. More than any other single factor good quality employment is good for our well-being. However, it is an area that requires further research as the relationship is also starting to break down.

It is to investigate these issues further that I have begun a three-year research project at the University of Sussex with a particular focus on the relationship between economic growth and welfare in Ireland. The aim is to build an index of progress and compare it to movements in GDP over the past twenty years to look at where GDP predicts positive change and where it does not. The first step in constructing this index is to find out what kinds of things matter to people. To this end I am surveying people about the things they value in life. You can take the survey here. The results will be posted here as they emerge during the research project. I will post again when the analysis is completed later in the year.

Sunday Independent Stupid Statement of the Week December 30, 2012

Posted by Garibaldy in Sunday Independent Stupid Statement of the Week.

An end of year attack on the PR system in the Sindo. And it’s not Eoghan Harris.

Think of all the quality Irish minds that have seriously struggled over the years to make up a miserable quota at a general election and then to defend it next time round.

Conor Cruise O’Brien, Michael McDowell, Dick Spring and even John Bruton in 1992 all either barely managed to hang on in the Dail or lost their seats over local issues on various occasions.

No mature democracy can be proud of the fact that people as smart and original as these found the PR ride so excruciating.

Any article about democracy that ends by quoting Edmund Burke – democracy’s most ferocious enemy in his time – ought to be satire. But unfortunately not.

2012 Digest December 30, 2012

Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Uncategorized.

Just in case you don’t have enough piling up. Here’s a few bits that stood out over the year.

Short Al Jazeera documentary on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger with contributions from Occupy Dame Street, Fintan O’Toole and others. Found Margaret E Ward’s particularly interesting on the ‘subtle control of thought’. When dubious degrees of separation are pointed out we’re often told ‘how small Ireland is’ but this really highlights just how small the circle with access to influence often is.  Paul Mason was doing the rounds plugging the book that followed the blogpost on why it’s kicking off everywhere. 2012 might have cooled down compared to the previous year but his thoughts on some movements & a tendency towards horizontalism are interesting to follow beyond the immediate legacy of Occupy, Syntagma and the Arab Spring. Similarly, Mason was also talking to Castells on Spain and the rise of alternative economic cultures

Coercion and Comic Sans: How “Positive Thinking” Became Capital’s Latest Weapon, Fiona de Londras on ten years since the US began to hold suspects at Guantánamo Bay, why is it still open?  Monbiot on the increasing influence of think-tanks, crucial pieces from Mark Fisher on austerity and mental health and Rosaleen McDonagh on portrayal of Traveller women.

Nina Power’s essay on the pessimism of time and paradoxes facing the left. She also started a show on ResonanceFM (see #4 on animals in particular). Other talks from Gavan Titley and Michael D at the LSE on Alternatives and the Democratic Crisis respectively.  Wendy Brown, Costas Douzinas, Stephen Frosh & Slavoj Zizek at Birkbeck on the cusp of the Greek Elections. Brown & Frosh fascinating.

Caitriona Clear on Irish womens’ social & economic position between 1890 -1922. Paula Geraghty has collected another valuable year of footage outside the narrow mainstream. Talks from this summer’s Countess Markievicz school are worth a watch with contributions from Kathleen Lynch, Camille Loftus and others. Two on Health, Sara Burke on policy at years end and an earlier – far seeing – piece from Priscilla Lynch on the power struggle within a Department that went on to lose a Junior Minister, Chief Executive and almost a Minister in 2012.

Stiglitz & Krugman talk debt and economy  ahead of the US Elections. Inside the mind of Merkel, The Live Register on DCTV and a very awkward Lucinda Creighton in Europe.

RTÉ History show from May on Robert Mallet, public records & genealogy and the tension between Nationalist & Suffragette women. And a 1965 interview with Nora Connolly O’Brien on life in the Connolly household and the last moments before the execution in 1916.

Suggestions welcome. Lots of good stuff floating around this year.

Lest we forget… December 29, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in The Left.

…EamonnCork makes the point that there’s no thread for those who died this year. And as he notes Gerry Anderson who was a towering figure in parts of popular culture is a good example of same. For my money Anderson’s best work was that on UFO – a weird campy but sometimes surprisingly adult programme, but perhaps that’s unfair. Above are the end titles to UFO – brilliant stuff. His earlier work was excellent, later things got a bit ropey. Space: 1999 never quite lived up to its premise, and became a curious mixture of the chill and sillyness – sort of 200!:A Space Odyssey visuals entrapped by the constraints of children’s tv tropes of the time.

Then there was Patrick Moore. And many others. But what of figures on the left of other areas. Eric Hobsbawm immediately springs to mind. And others…

A question about a Science Fiction story… December 29, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Uncategorized.

For all you SF fans out there, a question. Years and years ago I read a story set in a universe which is filled with rock where ‘worlds’ are like bubbles inside of the rock with miniature suns at their centre. Humans live on the inside surface of these enormous bubbles. In the story someone finds a ‘corridor’ from one ‘world’ to another. I’m wondering does anyone know what that story might be? I’ve an idea that it was written in the 1950s or thereabouts.

Stories like that are catnip to me, and it’s a great idea which I’m surprised has never been recycled subsequently, at least as far as I know. It reminds me in a way of another story which I think came a bit later about a rift in the side of a planet which just descended mile upon mile into the centre of it – again I can’t recall the title or author. I seem to remember a VTOL expedition being sent out at one point.

If these are reminiscent (or precursors) of more recent authors one name that comes to mind is perhaps Charles Stross whose excellent Missile Gap which has a very different Cold War (and some nifty Soviet technology as well as a cameo by Carl Sagan) and can be read in large part online here.

Some music listened to in 2012 December 29, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Uncategorized.

No This Weekend this weekened because EamonnCork’s piece on musicals from a few days ago fits the bill. But, quite a lot of bands I listened to this year in a way which I hadn’t for a while. I often wonder if as you get older you get a bit jaded in relation to new sounds, but this year I found myself not just liking but genuinely enjoying a large number of groups.

Toy: Colours Running Out

First up, the ones I liked best of all, UK political industrial/post punk outfit miserylab, Australian psychedelic revivalists the quite genius Pond and Tame Impala (who are so closely related they are practically but not quite the same group) and UK based new wave/psychedelic/post punk crew TOY (and I enjoyed their peers S.C.U.M. too – though that apparently is a minority opinion). What interested me a lot was that I was back listening to primarily guitar based music. Other groups that were on the radar were NYC by way of Boston (I think) outfit Minks and a real oddity for me, I genuinely liked Graham Coxon’s A+E. Not sure why, because I’m generally immune to all things Blur, but it had sticking power. Another crowd worth listening to are fascinating and experimental post-hardcore crowd Fucked Up. Even if the vocals get a bit much after a while there were times when they reached Husker Du levels of excellence. Soft Moon are great though there it’s a case of the guitars getting a bit much over an entire album. Admiral Radley, again from a couple of years back, comprising one part of Grandaddy, were pretty great.

Fucked Up: A Slanted Tone

Interestingly the Jesus and Mary Chain reappeared briefly releasing a single to no fanfare whatsoever on iTunes over the Summer. It’s a song they played on their last tour some years back and there’s hints – no more than that – that an album may be in the works.

Soft Moon: Circles

Dance and electronica? At first sight, or listen, I thought this was a weak year for same. But looking back in a bit more detail and there was some great moments.

Burial: Loner

RxRy produced perhaps his best work (and to judge from his website perhaps his last work) in the form of c.STRS. There’s no youtube video of it, but it is absolutely brilliant, based on stars, as in the lights in the sky, and much of the time eschewing entirely the ambient excursions that might imply. Nope. For him there’s rushing sounds, roars, calm areas and then more clicks, rushes and so on. There were the Errors who did something, as best as I can describe it, anthemic and sparkly. And VMCG, Vince Clarke and Martin Gore working together for the first time in three or four decades on a reprise of mid-1990s electronic/techno. It’s great, doing exactly what it says on the tin. Ulrich Schnauss popped up with German techno outfit Beroshima and produced a great great album which stuck with me throughout the year- but then again Schnauss appeared in numerous places with other collaborations, most more guitar based but all of them good. Minotaur Shock’s Orchard was pretty good. mind.in.a.box released yet another high quality futurepop album, the concluding part of a series they’ve now been working on for a decade or so.

John Talabot: El Oeste

John Talabot, Barcelona based House DJ, on the album Fin, did some amazing stuff. Burial’s Loner was superb, and Blackbird Blackbird’s All and Tear were the missing links between electronica and…er…what sometimes sounded like surf-rock (though I suspect he’d say it was post-punk).

I got around to listening to older names such as Orbital’s comeback album… which was good in places and the last Underworld album, two years old now but still pretty good – particularly ‘Between Stars’.

Quarkspace: Translight Limited

Other stuff that I enjoyed, Quarkspace – US based space rock outfit whose Drop album from the beginning of the 2000s is available for free on their website and is well worth a listen if you like Hawkwind etc… Rush’s latest album which has a particularly good track entitled The Anarchist on it. Turbonegro’s return with a new singer which was far better than it had any right to be. But I’ve drifted away from metal in recent years and see no need to return, at least at present.

Stuff I didn’t enjoy? The Cult’s latest album – the riff store called them to say it was empty for the moment. AraabMuzik – at first I thought it was clever. But then I didn’t. Jon Hopkin’s third album, released some years back but only getting to it now, replete with pointless additional crackles and effects. Noctorum, Marty Willson Piper’s current incarnation outside of the Church. I should like it, Lord knows I should, but I don’t. And Grimes. On paper Grimes should be just about perfect, but in practice, not so much. Peaking Lights… bits of their stuff I liked, but I never seem to find them when I go back to listen again. The Hundred in The Hands. Too polished. Peter Hook and the Light and their pedestrian run through of a hitherto ‘unknown’ Joy Division track which really wasn’t necessary. VNV Nation released a new album earlier in the year that saw them tip towards the formulaic – never good in a genre (futurepop/EBM) which is already formulaic in the extreme.

Old new stuff? IELB got me listening to the Police, something I hadn’t done since a kid and worse again got me liking it. I finally got the F.S.K. compilation from Anarchaeologist and it was well well worth the wait – filled with curious and unlikely earworms. Kudos to rockroots for digging up Irish prog outfit Supply & Demand Curve. Listened to a lot of Momus this year. And the Manics as well.

George Gershwin and also musical soundtracks, in part the fault of EamonnCork for inadvertently enabling my listening and prompting me to get more. Singing in the Rain, Easter Parade and an host of others. I was worried that these songs may be fading out of the culture, but let me assure anyone who by pointing to a small straw in the wind. In East Wall I happen to know that there’s a dance class for young kids where along with One Direction, Michael Jackson and so on and so forth Singing in the Rain figures highly on the list of songs that are used to dance to (by the way, the sheer number of Irish related actors in Singing in the Rain is something to behold. Not sure what that tells us, if anything).

Singing in the Rain

Somehow I find that comforting.

Anyhow, over to you, what was good, bad and – as interesting – terrible?

Economic systems December 28, 2012

Posted by Tomboktu in Capitalism, Communism, Economics.

If you liked Red Plenty, then you may find an essay in the latest Jacobin Magazine of interest.

Around the time of the Soviet collapse, the economist Peter Murrell published an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives reviewing empirical studies of efficiency in the socialist planned economies. These studies consistently failed to support the neoclassical analysis: virtually all of them found that by standard neoclassical measures of efficiency, the planned economies performed as well or better than market economies.
First he reviewed eighteen studies of technical efficiency: the degree to which a firm produces at its own maximum technological level. Matching studies of centrally planned firms with studies that examined capitalist firms using the same methodologies, he compared the results. One paper, for example, found a 90% level of technical efficiency in capitalist firms; another using the same method found a 93% level in Soviet firms. The results continued in the same way: 84% versus 86%, 87% versus 95%, and so on.

In 1989, the dissident Polish reform economists Włodzimierz Brus and Kazimierz Łaski — both convinced socialists and disciples of the distinguished Marxist-Keynesian Michał Kalecki — published a book examining the prospects for East European reform. Both had been influential proponents of democratic reforms and socialist market mechanisms since the 1950s.

Their conclusion now was that in order to have a rational market socialism, publicly-owned firms would have to be made autonomous — and this would require a socialized capital market. The authors made it clear that this would entail a fundamental reordering of the political economy of East European systems – and indeed of traditional notions of socialism. Writing on the eve of the upheavals that would bring down Communism, they set out their vision: “the role of the owner-state should be separated from the state as an authority in charge of administration….[E]nterprises…have to become separated not only from the state in its wider role but also from each other.”

Parties of the working class, acutely vulnerable to pressure from below, were in government more than 40% of the time in the postwar decades – compared to about 10% in the interwar years, and almost never before that – and “contagion from the Left” forced parties of the right into defensive acquiescence. Schooling, medical treatment, housing, retirement, leisure, child care, subsistence itself, but most importantly, wage-labor: these were to be gradually removed from the sphere of market pressure, transformed from goods requiring money, or articles bought and sold on the basis of supply and demand, into social rights and objects of democratic decision.

This, at least, was the maximal social-democratic program — and in certain times and places in the postwar era its achievements were dramatic.

But the social democratic solution is unstable — and this is where the Marxist conception comes in, with its stress on pursuit of profit as the motor of the capitalist system.

Well I never! December 28, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.

Whatever about the basis of the original news report – and I’m unsure what precisely the point, other than a gratuitous lash at SF, is given that the Dáil from its inception has had former members of various IRA’s in it – I had to smile when I read this on the front of the Irish Independent in Dunnes in Donaghmede today…

The detail will be hugely embarrassing for Sinn Fein, which has come under severe criticism recently because of its links to the IRA.

Recently? Hugely embarrassing? Really?

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