Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Annual Prediction Game: the world is STILL getting better. Mostly.

Electorates across the rich world are losing the plot, and increasingly backing utter numpties all over the place. Mostly, the likes of Trump, Le Pen and Corbyn will not win elections, and sanity will prevail. The last 6 years have seen middle-class wages stagnate in the rich world and voting for these populist goons is a way express dissatisfaction with this fact. Meanwhile, the global poor continue to get better off. 

2015 saw a continued decline in the number of people in absolute poverty, who struggle to get adequate calories to survive. Fewer than 10% now live on less than a $1.90 a day, down from 36% in 1990. 1990, by the way is the year the world started to abandon the idiotic economic shibboleths of socialism and embraced markets. It's not even clear in-country inequality is rising in the westAnyone who says "the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer" under capitalism, is simply wrong. 

Even the rise of populist politics in the west can be seen as a symptom of success. In previous generations, semi-educated morons would be too busy surviving to have opinions, and nor would they have any means to express them. Should morons express themselves, educated people would have had the confidence to ignore them. Now morons not only have opinions, and a means to express them, but they expect to be taken seriously! Worse, educated people, who are usually achingly tolerant, have internalised the idea that all opinions are equally valid, while being ashamed of their status. The morons' great yawp of disatisfaction mouthed by the likes of Farage and Trump will, however, pass as successful economies resume stuffing their fat mouths with bread and circuses, and the Morons stop listening to politicians again, even ones that stroke their prejudices. 

Corbyn is a slightly different phenomenon: here an antediluvian trot has taken advantage of a disorientating defeat, and been swept on a wave of unusual unity from the hard-left to capture Labour. Young, ignorant pillocks, who don't remember the piles of corpses and devastated economies left behind by Socialism, have flocked to his banner. Moral certainty, and so the nice-sounding homilies of socialism poison a new generation. 

Democracy means playing whack-a-mole with bad ideas, and this dispiriting process has sucked the confidence out of the West. Without an enemy with which to contrast ourselves, we've rightly turned to solving problems within. But this focussing on our problems has given many the impression there are fundamental flaws in our society, and created a yearning for certainties. Hence the support, on both the idiot left of Corbyn and the Trump/Farage moron right, for the likes of Putin. 

The return of real wage growth will see off the populists in a way rational argument won't. If they're getting richer, people will stick with the status quo.

War has taken more lives in 2015 globally  than in the previous few years. We have spent the peace dividend following the defeat of the Soviet Union. But Russia is re-arming, China is starting to throw its weight around, and the Middle-East is in flames, and so the West must pull together and re-arm too. Although Fukuyama's "end of history" was widely derided, we have acted for 25 years as if he was right. The free west needs to rediscover its confidence, and start asserting itself again. Democracy's march has slowed. Dictators have learned to manage the process. Idiot socialism is coming back. Whatever the faults of our society, the free-market liberal democracy remains the best, freest society yet devised, and we should be confident in our moral righteousness, when facing down our enemies, domestic or foreign.

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

Last year's predictions were as follows:
  • I think 2015 will be the year the FTSE breaks 7000. One day it will, one day I will be right.
  • Oil will fall to $40, and maybe below and stabilise in the $40-60 range. USA becomes the world's swing producer
  • The Conservatives will win a thin majority in GE2015. There maybe 2 elections. Don't ask me how. no polling backs this up. But the country doesn't want Miliband, and Cameron's actually done a pretty good job under difficult conditions and doesn't deserve to be sacked. UKIP to win 3-5 seats, Farage to fail in Thanet, the party's national vote share in the 10-12% range.
  • China's growth over the past few years will prove to have been overstated. China's slowdown to get worse. India to continue to develop rapidly. Modi proving his critics wrong: He may be the man to get India working and taking its rightful place as a major economic power.
  • Russia will try to save whatever face it can for Putin, as it withdraws from Ukraine in response to the falling oil price and continued sanctions. Russia will be set up to rejoin the world financial system in 2016.
  • IS will be reduced to a rump by the end of the year, as having been stopped in their tracks on a number of fronts, they will find the supply of jihadis will dry up.
  • Darfur will be the international flash-point to watch
How did I do?
  • The FTSE did break 7,000 and then collapsed. 1
  • Bang on the money about Oil 1
  • Bang on the money about the election, though I overstated UKIP's seats. 1
  • Bang on the money about China and India 1
  • I under-estimated Putin's willingness to make his people suffer for his grandiose designs, though the Ukraine ceasefire is mostly holding 1
  • Perhaps over-optimistic about ISIL's defeat, but they are certainly in retreat. 1/2
  • Not sure a great deal happened in Darfur, indeed it seems to be quietly solving its problems. 0
5.5/7 ain't bad! And looking forward:
  • The FTSE 100 will recover lost ground, and make a new high in 2016. Oil will remain below $60 for the foreseeable future.
  • Inflation will remain low, and there will not be an interest rate rise in the UK until at least the 2nd half of 2016, and probably not until 2017.
  • The UK will vote to stay in the EU, and do so relatively comfortably.
  • Trump will not be the Republican nominee, but it doesn't matter. Hillary Clinton will be the Next president. However ghastly she is, the GOP is going through the same existential madness that is currently gripping the Labour party in the UK. Hell, given the current bunch of twat-o-matic onanists vying for the Republican nomination, I'd probably have to vote for her.
  • Corbyn will remain leader of Labour through 2016, and will poll in the mid 20s by the end of the year. 
  • Labour will start losing MPs to defections and a small chance of a formal split in the party.
  • We've seen peak UKIP: I estimate a 25% chance of Douglas Carswell resigning the whip in protest at 'KIPpers being mostly ghastly pillocks with horrific views.
  • ISIL will continue to be degraded, and continue to lose ground to various forces. Putin will continue to prop up Assad, and Syria will become increasingly binary, as Russian and Regime forces grind down all (non-ISIL) opposition to the regime. 
  • It is likely the west will grudgingly accept Assad's part in the post war Syria.
  • It is possible 2016 could be the year of the QSD, a Arab League and US-backed coalition of (mostly) non-jihadi, democratic (ish) Syrian groups.
  • The conflict in Ukraine will remain frozen, Putin's aim being a nation with an open sore, which cannot therefore join NATO or the EU.
  • If the last decade was China's, the coming one looks like it may be India's. India is just too corrupt and chaotic to manage 'big bang' development by government fiat, but China's getting old before it got rich, and there is *a lot* of mal-investment to purge. China's economy will weaken sharply in 2016.
  • India's rise may be more sustainable, as it will have to be driven from the bottom up. India's growth rate will be higher than China's (largely fictitious numbers) again in 2016.



Thursday, 17 December 2015

Trump and Corbyn, Le Pen and Farage; Putin and the Crisis of Democracy

Vladimir Putin runs a managed democracy. He controls the media, he ensures that any opposition figures that make it to telly, are risible tosspots. Credible ones are killed, unless they're too famous, like Gary Kasparov, then they're just ignored. The country Putin governs responded to the collapse of its empire and subsequent "humiliation" by electing, and then submitting to someone who trades in a simple narrative; that of Russian greatness. We've been here before.

Those homo-erotic pictures of a bare-chested Putin hunting, much mocked in the west, are part of a pretty scary cult of personality centred on someone who is by some measures the richest person in the world. He oversees a kleptocracy where wealth flows from power, and power flows from the Kremlin. Why did the Sochi winter olympics cost $51bn? Because grand construction projects are a good way to distribute state funds to chosen cronies.

Much is made of Russia's "humiliation". In reality, the former satellites of Russia's brutal empire are seeking protection against their former master. The Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Poles who escaped Moscow's grip have absolutely no desire to go back. Georgians sent troops to work with Americans in Afghanistan in a desperate bid to secure NATO membership, and the protection that offers from Russian aggression. Ukrainian's government are desperate for western support against Russia in their frozen conflict in the East.

Meanwhile Russia is pumping out their Narrative: that Ukraine is "not a real country", that Russia is responding to NATO "aggression", and that its neighbours do not warrant full autonomy as independent nations. And useful idiots from left and right lap up this toxic, stupid narrative. Otherwise intelligent people claim there's moral equivalence between Estonia's enthusiastic and voluntary membership of NATO with the aggressive annexation of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea and the ambiguous warfare in the Donbass. Putin's lie that the people who stood on the Maidan in Kiev were "fascists" and that the protests were "western-backed" stands no scrutiny. Fascists made up 3% of the parliament post-Yanukovych. The Maidan protests were not western backed, and any agents provocateurs there may have been on the Maidan were most likely (though no proof as yet) to have been Regime-backing Russians.

Recently, in a grand and theatrical gesture, Russia deployed a few squadrons of bombers to Syria to prop up the ailing Assad regime. This wasn't done to "fight ISIL" as many would have you believe. They're mostly bombing the people the west want to win. It was to secure a say in post-Assad Syria, place Russia (and by extension, Mr. Putin) at the centre of world affairs; ultimately to buy bargaining chips for Putin to negotiate away the sanctions that are crippling his country's economy. Further benefits: destabilising the middle east may raise the oil price, and the ongoing refugee crisis (made worse by Russian bombing) destabilizes the EU, an organisation second only to NATO in the Kremlin's demonology.

Social media discourse on politics in general and Russia in particular has become prone to what is known as the "Pish gallop" in Scottish politics. Putin was one of the Few world leaders to endorse Scottish independence, and Russian observers were the source of the rumours of stuffed ballot boxes: the "Pish Gallop" describes the tactic of overwhelming an opponent with multiple lies, each of them egregious but without sufficient time to refute them all, you end up leaving the central idea unchallenged: the grand lie that Russia is responding to NATO "provocation".

What has this to do with the west?

The lunatic fringes, left and right buy into the narrative of a corrupt and decadent western "elite" which is somehow to blame for everything bad. Syria? the west's fault for invading Iraq. Libya: the west's fault for bombing an armoured column in a country that's already at war. No Arab; not Mohammed Bouazizi, nor the people from Benghazi to Cairo who rose up to overthrow dictators are credited with any agency in all of this. Everything is somehow a grand (and often "zionist") conspiracy. This is comforting to people who want to see themselves as courageous crusaders against a decadent establishment. But this is self-serving and childish disatisfaction with the messy compromises of electoral politics. Morons have always yearned for Fuhrerprinzip of the charismatic dictator.

Putin is busy corrupting discourse on social media, with professional trolls who go around commenting on everything from the Daily Mail, to this blog. These trolls support all opponents of the status quo, from Anti-fracking activists (Putin has no interest in Western Europe being self-sufficient in oil), to UKIP (an EU without the UK would be much weaker) and "Peace" activists (who mostly share the Kremlin's belief that NATO is always the problem) and political extremists of all stripes in a general policy of throwing sand in the faces of the entire decision-making apparatus of a free democracy.

Even if these Fringe politicians steer clear of outright support for Putin, the Trumps and Farages, the Corbyns and Le Pens all share some or all of the Kremlin's assumptions. While Putin's Russia is far, far weaker than the old USSR, the moral certainty the west once enjoyed has gone. The Kremlin may be weaker, but its "Useful Idiots" are stronger.

The problem is without an enemy - and we've been schooled to see Russia as a friend for most of the last 25 years - freedom becomes complacency. The success of western economies means people way down the income distribution no longer have a significant struggle to find enough calories or shelter, and thanks to social media, their voice is now being heard. Those who once struggled for survival are now looking for self-actualisation and respect. Putin is pouring poison into the discourse and seeking to crow-bar open the cracks in our society, even as its success becomes manifest.

Take a step back. The UK spends 2.2% of GDP on its military, lower than at any point in our history. NATO is an association of free democracies (though Turkey is at the moment stretching that definition). Russia is an aggressive kleptocracy, who spends disproportionately on a new and highly mobile military; a nation with an appalling human rights record which has repeatedly annexed territory from its weaker neighbours, and is bent on overturning the post-war security architecture of the world. NATO's "aggression" is, in reality holding at arms length Russia's former clients, who're clamouring to join us in the west with our freedom and market economies. The west faces no significant challenge, but we're blind to the poison being poured in.

The aim of all this disinformation and posturing is that when the little green men pop up in Narva to "defend" the "Rights" of "Russians" living in Estonia (defence they've not asked for, of rights they're not denied), and Estonia asks for help, the populations of the west will not support NATO kicking the Russians out. The result of which is the Baltic states must once again fall under the sway of Moscow, slice by slice. And this means their proud nations, this time, will die. Is this the best we can we offer the two million brave people (about 1/3rd of the population) who joined hands in 1989, determined to look west? And where will an emboldened Russia stop? Donetsk (Twinned, ironically, with Narva)? Kiev? The Vistula? We've seen a dictator play this salami-slicing game before. Stopped early, war can be prevented.

Putin is feeding the "anti-establishment" lines, which get far more traction than they deserve. Our "elite" is not "corrupt", NATO is not "an aggressor", our democracy isn't a sham, Russia isn't being "provoked", Fracking doesn't "poison the water supply". The ballot boxes were not stuffed in the Scots independence referendum, we are not being lied to by "the mainstream media". Please stop repeating Putin's lies, however much you want to agree with them. Please be sceptical of Russia Today. Please don't say "Putin stands up for his people" because he doesn't. He is prepared and able, unlike our leaders, to sacrifice the Russian people at will, to the greater aim of Greater Glory of Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin. Do not be his useful idiot.



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