Monday, 5 September 2016

The Aftermath of Brexit: The Pursuit of Liberation

James Rosanwo takes a look at whether the outcome of Brexit has yet been as calamitous as many had expected. 

A couple of months ago, the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union- and the immediate impact was near catastrophic. The pound dropped as much as 2.2 percent to $1.3, a 31-year low. From then on, many feared the worst was yet to come. The threats of total economic crisis and recession lingered in the air like a sour breath, as individuals panicked, from investors to home buyers. The whole market was in a state of disbelief and incredulity. However, it is beginning to seem that, just maybe, the prophecies of an economic apocalypse were not as well founded as we initially thought.

Before the EU referendum, the British finance ministry warned that a vote to leave the EU would make it harder and more expensive for new home owners to request for loans, forcing the country into a “DIY recession” and driving down equity prices.

However, nearly half of mortgage borrowers look set to gain from the Bank of England’s interest rate cut on August 4th, while British equity markets have risen.

Unexpectedly, the British economy has recovered well from the momentary Brexit calamity. Due to the fall of the British pound, it has become much cheaper for wealthy tourists to shop in the UK, boosting retail sales. Grocers enjoyed a 0.3% rise in sales in the 12 weeks to 14 August, the best performance since March. The manufacturing sector and the building industry have also shown signs of improved growth. Persimmon, Britain’s biggest house builder, said customers were flocking back to view new build homes.

Nonetheless, many, including myself, maintain the view that it is still considerably early to determine the real effects of Brexit, simply because Article 50 has not yet been triggered- and hence the UK and EU are still occupied with negotiations on a post-Brexit deal.

However, what is still even more alarming is the fact that the British government is yet to provide a clear plan as to how they intend to extricate Great Britain from the EU. Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister, recently rejected the option of a further parliamentary vote. This strongly reiterated her stubborn intent to lead Britain out of the European Union. Despite several warnings from many EU countries, the PM has maintained the view that Great Britain can get exactly what they want: retain free access to the Single Market, while restricting Free Movement.

During the Brexit campaign, one of the only suggestions by the Leave side that inferred some sort of clarity and outline for a post-Brexit Britain was the possibility that the UK could adopt either the Norwegian or Swiss model to regulate and encourage trading with the EU. However, Mrs May recently ruled out other existing models and expects an entirely new model unique to Britain alone.

The public were also promised that the NHS would receive an increased funding of £100 million from the previously allocated EU budget and that Britain could also most likely adopt an Australian style points based immigration system to try and limit immigration; however the PM recently dismissed both notions, explaining that a points-system would simply not be rigorous enough.

Ultimately, Mrs May’s continuous divergence from the Leave campaign’s manifesto has done nothing but add further ambiguity and uncertainty into the future of post-Brexit Britain.

Presently, the future of our great nation perhaps does not seem as doomed as once thought. However, the pursuit for liberation, while illuminating, can be treacherous.  One thing we have learnt from previous economic crises is that calamity has no expiry date.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Poponomics at One Young World 2016!

We will be attending one of the most prestigious summits in the world, and will be bringing you all the action!

Thanks to the wonderful support of the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Bath, I will be attending the One Young World Summit in Ottawa, Canada, later this year from 28th September-1st October.

One Young World is a UK-based charity, focused on making a positive change in communities around the world through gathering together young leaders from universities, NGOs, companies and other organisations in an annual Summit.

The Summit consists of delegates debating, formulating and sharing innovative solutions for the pressing issues the world faces: climate change, gender inequality and poverty to name but a few. The delegates are joined by Counsellors: esteemed public figures from all areas in life. These have included Nobel Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus, chef and health campaigner Jamie Oliver and founder of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson.

The work does not end at the Summit- afterwards, the delegates work on their own initiatives, or lend their skills to initiatives already in existence.

We are incredibly fortunate to have access to such an inspiring event, and so we will be covering it from all angles- bringing both video, blog and Twitter updates of what goes on. Be sure to check both the website and our YouTube channel for when these come out. There will also a great chance to have your questions put forward at the Summit to the expert speakers.

Find out more about the summit:

We'll also be blogging updates on the University of Bath One Young World blog.

And check out the profiles of myself and my fellow Bath delegate Emma Powell!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Why Owen Smith Is Losing

Owen Smith looks set to lose against Jeremy Corbyn. James Dancey look into why his campaign has fallen flat and why moderates like himself will not be voting at all.

Beating Jeremy Corbyn was always going to be an uphill battle; he has swathes of grassroots support, he’s very mild-tempered and likeable on a personal basis and appeals to a lot of people who have felt disconnected with politics for the previous few months. However, the PLP politicians wanted to field someone against him. 

After ruthlessly ousting fellow candidate Angela Eagle, Owen Smith was the man who stood against Corbyn, to try and take back the left and unite the party. In Owen’s defence, the only way the more moderate side of the party had a chance of winning was by fielding one candidate, any more would’ve diluted the vote and Corbyn would’ve trampled over everyone. And don’t even get me started on how Eagle rubs me the wrong way, she sounds like she’s saying everything in falsetto and has the charisma of a damp flannel.

So I was open minded to the idea of Owen Smith following Corbyn’s reign at first, he was no revolutionary leader but a united Labour would’ve been stronger than a divided Labour. It’s a shame no-one told Owen Smith that, because since the start of the campaign he’s been trying to sell this passive, mature gentleman as this sort of warmongering Disney villain, which no-one buys.  The polls are stacked against him and I’m not remotely surprised.

When Corbyn won last year, he won over half the vote, which would mean Owen Smith would have to convince people who had voted Corbyn to vote for him, he would have to obtain significant swing. If someone has voted Corbyn, it means they have a positive view of him likely, that view may have wavered, but I guarantee most of the people who have voted him are still sympathetic towards his cause. So with that in mind, you have to present yourself as a more positive option, rather than a less negative option.

Unfortunately, Owen Smith has been given the jumped-up obnoxious PR treatment; a Corbynite comrade of mine invited me to watch the Smith against Corbyn debate in Glasgow stream with him. We both regularly cringed at how staged Smith’s responses seemed, and even how aggressive and unpleasant Smith came across, one particular highlight was when he started ranting about how Corbyn must’ve secretly voted leave. He asked Corbyn “Did you vote remain?”, Corbyn replying “Yes”(shutting Smith down completely). Smith then went on to savage Corbyn for his supposed lacklustre support, completely contradicting his previous compliments only a couple months prior.

People wanted reasons to vote for Owen Smith, not reasons to vote against Jeremy Corbyn, the jeers from the crowd against Smith’s accusations told me what I needed to know about how they felt about Smith’s sudden hostility. Smith’s aggression and nastiness isn’t going to heal the wounds, it’s just going to rub salt into them; Smith is doing exactly what he said he didn’t want to do: divide.

This sort of change in tone demonstrates a disingenuous nature of many politicians, and the exact reason that so many people voted Corbyn in the first place. Jeremy Corbyn went against a lot of his principles to support the Remain vote and did a lot more campaigning than a majority of Westminster politicians (including the current Prime Minister Theresa May). The sort of whinging from Labour politicians who blame Jeremy Corbyn for the vote not going their way is comparable to a delinquent child who can’t have ice cream in their favourite flavous. Corbyn was not the deciding factor of the EU vote, the establishment were.

Speaking of Brexit vote, we can talk about some Owen Smith’s policies, which are backward-looking to say the least. Call me a man with vested interests but I don’t want a second EU referendum, neither do most people in the northern areas, the Labour heartlands, Sheffield, Bradford, Wigan, Birmingham, Hartlepool, Barnsley, Doncaster, Durham, Sunderland, Rochdale, Rotherham and many more all voted leave, how can Labour expect to retain these seats with such a metropolitan policy which exemplifies everything wrong with politics currently. Also, how can he expect to win marginal seats in Bolton, Bury, Nuneaton, Derby, Telford (more strong leave constituencies) and so many more with a policy of defiant denial of democracy at the forefront of his campaign? Recent polls have suggest that ‘Regrexit’ is regressing, with a majority of people being happy with Brexit, he’ll end up forcing people to vote Conservative or even UKIP in a defence of their vote.

And then there are the gaffs, how on earth anyone can think it sensible to sit down for peace talks with ISIS is beyond me. He would be torn to shreds before the next election for that one quote alone, you could see it in The Sun now, the fact that he said something as stupid as that does not just demonstrate he has no understanding of ISIS, but no understanding of the motivation people voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the first place. Although Corbyn’s opposition to the Iraq war has been helpful through the Chilcott report, foreign policy was not the primary reason he received a lot of people’s endorsement, and the fact that Corbyn’s own team distanced themselves from Smith’s policy demonstrates that Smith is untrustworthy and unfit for the Labour leader position, and certainly no better option than Corbyn.

I’m no Corbyn supporter, in fact I’m more to the right of the Labour party, however, it’s not just a case of politics, it’s also a case of competence, and as much as I would like to support a progressive alternative, Owen Smith is not that. If you don’t want a protest party, then don’t make your manifesto based on protesting one of the most prominent votes ever.  If you don’t want an unelectable party, then don’t set out peace talks with ISIS.

I’d vote for the Monster Raving Looney Party before I’d vote for Owen Smith.  

Saturday, 13 August 2016

The American Presidential Election: The Two Party Dictatorship

James Dancey looks into the state of affairs in the US, and a electoral system that leaves a lot to be desired. 

When talking about the US Presidential race, the name Trump or Clinton immediately springs to mind, however, the question really beckons, why only Trump and Clinton? Why is there not a larger pool of candidates to choose from?

When speaking to a disgruntled American at his apartment gathering, he seemed disappointed, yet not surprised that it once again seemed a two-party choice, between two of the most undesirable nominees in recent memory. On one hand you have the corrupt, contrived, business-minded Hillary Clinton, so prone to going back on her word there’s a 14 minute YouTube video documenting it.
Then you have Trump, who doesn’t need or deserve description. More intent on reactionary policies and attacking individuals rather than creating actual constructive solutions to genuine working class concerns, you have a choice between an extreme ‘populist’ or a moderate elitist. Why can’t a more moderate option be on the table?

There’s no law against other parties running, and often many parties do, why do the media project it as a two-horse race? Well, the financial stranglehold that both of the main parties have is the real deciding factor with many other components to be considered (which I’ll explain later), once you have that sort of margin between the two major parties and any smaller parties, it’s hard to see the electoral system as ‘Democratic’.

 In the UK, that expenditure margin is low enough to allow other smaller parties to shoehorn in a presence, we are extremely lucky in that sense to have a political system that enables lesser parties to gain significant recognition, and subsequently allow them to hold a Government to a little more account than most, with the threat of taking away their voters.

The other big problem in the USA is this longing adoration of tradition; it has been Republican versus Democrat since the beginning of time, people feel comfortable with that vote, so despite being more than prepared to select someone extreme for a nomination, they wouldn’t endorse the same person if they weren’t affiliated with one of the biggest political forces of modern day, even if they had the same funds and momentum.

Which is why Donald Trump is running under the Republican name, he has no long-term attachment or commitment to the party, he was a democrat less than ten years ago, but he needs that household name behind him to lead his ego to victory.  

Then we talk about these other parties, there is a Green party in the US believe it or not, a little less surprisingly, they barely harness 0.5% of the total Presidential Votes. There’s the libertarian party, the constitution party, all very reasonable minority parties, but all have no look in how politics in the US is shaped.

The Electoral College doesn’t help, running on a system where a state elects, and considering some states are the size of countries, it means that a lot of votes are deemed completely irrelevant on a much larger scale than nearly every other country in the world. This can be emphasised by the 2000 result in which Al Gore actually received more votes than George Bush, yet George Bush won on states. How on earth a result like that can be upheld almost seems absolutely irrational, someone who had less of the popular vote won the election, think about that.

We live in a progressive world where every vote should be valued the same, however, in this instance Gore’s votes clearly equalled a lesser value than Bush’s, or else Gore would’ve won. When you have voting on such a large scale, there is this huge fear that their vote won’t mean anything, which is why most people are forced to vote tactically for Republican or Democrat, even if their views may align more with another party.

Tragically, many people would vote for different parties if they believed they had a decent chance of winning, however, they are held back by their inhibition, only to realise that if nobody voted tactically then smaller parties would have a lot more competitive share. However, people don’t trust those around them to not vote tactically, and they end up voting tactically as well. It’s this self-fulfilling circle of two party politics caused by a winner-takes-all attitude. People are too conscious to vote outside their comfort zone.

Another huge flaw in certain states is that the electors don’t even have to elect what the people in a district vote for, which means that the people in an area could vote Republican and the elector, decide that they’re all wrong and they want a democrat instead. Can people trust electors in the current political climate? Of course not.

Is congress any better? No. Plus there’s the additional issue that delegates can select the shapes of their own districts. This can often lead to tactical shapes when they are seeking their re-election. See below. 

In these instances Ohio and South Carolina voted for the democratic party on majority, yet Republicans won a much larger share of seats, because of a tactic called gerrymandering, where politicians can redraw district lines once new voter information has been released, as you can see, this is regularly abused.

When parties redraw the district lines, it is done to make sure their party has a clear majority, locking out the main opposition, any other smaller parties who want to compete, and other independent candidates.  Instead of voters choosing their representatives, representatives choose their voters.

Clinton and Trump aren’t the only two political figures running for President, but they are the only ones who have enough money, power and media coverage to propel them towards The White House. It’s a sad state of affairs when people have two choose the lesser of two great evils, but that’s the tragic story of political entrapment in the US.

Democracy is rigged in favour of whoever is in authority, which is why the USA can be considered to have a two-party dictatorship, and until someone comes along with enough money and enough positive vision to try and sway the electorate (nearly impossible as it may be), that’s the way it will remain.  

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Case Study: ‘Voldemort – From Orphanage to Oligarch’

In the social sciences, we all love a good case study. So what better way to round off this series of articles and draw together our economic musings on the Potterverse than with a study of (arguably) its greatest economic success story? Now, before there is a furore over the implication that Voldemort is ‘good’, let me define my criteria for success. I’m talking about success in the strictly economic sense, which we could define as the ability to better your socio-economic position against difficult odds and institutional bias. Voldemort was able to do that; he was born in an orphanage, and by the end of his career he was the most powerful wizard in the world, effectively in charge of the Potterverse.

For the record, I also think the Weasley Twins are economically successful too, through the development of their joke shop (discussed in Article 3). And undeniably Harry is perhaps the epitome of ‘all-round’ success; magically competent, slayer of Voldemort (no ‘biggie’) and from what we know of his later life, professionally esteemed too.

So there are clearly economic lessons to be learnt from the rise of Voldemort, despite his manifest evilness. How did he make it? How did he gain support? How did he game the system? All these questions, despite his evident evilness, can help teach us about how we can build a society that encourages social mobility, maintains freedom of speech and prevents tyranny. These are key questions in today’s society as much as they have ever been.

Why the Dark Lord, and not Barty Crouch?

Voldemort was a talented wizard. We learn this in the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) when Dumbledore recounts a visit to the orphanage where young Voldemort (real name, Tom Riddle) lived. The future mass-murderer is able to move objects without needing a wand and to command animate beings, such as small animals, as he wishes; things which your average wand-toting student can’t do.

So Voldemort was gifted, and he presumably could have pursued that gift in any direction (although in the books, Rowling implies an ingrained malevolence in Tom Riddle, which probably makes the future Dark Lord more credible). As we discussed in Article 3, though, the Potterverse is skewed against outsiders through the active preservation of the societal status-quo. In part this is due to pre-existing prejudices; wizards seem generally afraid of socio-economic change and so are not too concerned with economic growth or the emancipation of minorities such as house elves.

The chief consequence of a static society is that it reduces the pobability that fresh talent and ideas will come to the fore. Logically if it is not encouraged, and is in some cases actively repressed (witness Hermione’s Elf-right’s campaign), it will not grow. This means that there is less competition at the top; to break through and be talented, you don’t need to do very much. In other words you just need to be marginally better than everyone else, in an area where you have a comparative advantage (thanks Ricardo!).

The implication here is that Voldemort wasn’t actually the greatest wizard of all time; rather that he was marginally better than his peers during that particular period, and had the capability to ‘cash in’ on his magical comparative advantage without requiring societal support. There’s no reason why Barty Crouch, or anyone else for that matter, couldn’t have been as talented; it’s simply that the social structure they required to discover their skills was inadequately equipped to enable this.

Expelliarmus – disarming the system

So having looked at how Voldemort was a bit better on average than everyone else; how did he manoeuver his way to the top?

By definition he wasn’t one of the elites, like Minister Fudge or the Malfoys. He had no apparent economic power, and the financial system didn’t offer adequate funding (in part due to wizards’ distrust of finance, but you’d also hope that Gringotts had robust KYC policies!). This meant he needed to recruit acolytes, preferably rich and powerful ones. This he did with success; the Death Eaters are a rich and privileged gang, ranging from the mercenary Lucius Malfoy to the die-hard Bellatrix L’Estrange. All have a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

With powerful retainers comes access to power and capital, we see Lucius bribing Fudge in the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5). These are things that would ‘grease the wheels’ of Voldemort’s takeover bid, as even the Dark Lord couldn’t do it with just a big wand and ego.**

Voldemort also benefitted from a stagnant government, which was unable to counter a significant internal rebellion due to its unclear decision-making and review powers (Article 4). The general feeling of terror that swept the wizarding community upon Voldemort’s return is in part a comment on the trust people place in their government to address threats to society.

What’s next for the wizarding world?

There are laudable aspects of the Potterverse economy; universal, high-quality education for example. However much remains unresolved, stagnant economic growth, an underdeveloped financial system and lack of effective debate both in society and government to name a few. All this contributed to an unacceptable period of social instability, culminating in a terrorist’s successful seizure of power which need not have happened. Voldemort was un-exceptional; yet it was the un-exceptionalness of wizarding society that allowed him to flourish.

This series has taken a (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek look at the economics and sociology underpinning the Potterverse. Of course, we couldn’t examine everything in depth, and it is still a fascinating world with many similarities to our own that could be explored further. Thank you for reading this far, now time for me to disapparate!