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Ranieri’s sacking

Claudio Ranieri has gone. It’s been held up as a decision that typifies the fickle nature of modern football. Nine months on from winning the league, he finds himself shuffling down to the job centre in Leicester. Well, maybe not. A holiday is perhaps more likely for the Italian, what with a cushy payout on top of an already-rather-nice salary.

I think the sentimentality regarding this sacking is a little over the top. Just last year Chelsea faced the same dilemma with José Mourinho, and look at them both now. Chelsea top the league with Antonio Conte, while José’s United charge seemingly unstoppably up the table. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side.

Leicester’s Thai owners have been painted as absentee landlords who don’t understand football. It shouldn’t be forgotten, though, that their last managerial change seemed rash at the time but paid off handsomely. Sacking Nigel Pearson after Leicester’s great escape of 2015 was widely panned, but led to one of the greatest stories in sporting history as they won the league under Ranieri.

The real problem for Leicester is that they haven’t been unlucky. They’ve been frankly dire, and showing no signs of improving. Last season they built up a good lead early on as side after side underestimated them, pushing players forward only to have the Ngolo Kantes break up an attack, leaving Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to cut them into pieces.

Since around February last year, though, teams have learned to stop disrespecting Leicester. Rather than attack with abandon, they let Leicester have the ball a little more, and they were found wanting. With a healthy points cushion and a series of scrappy (bordering on lucky) 1-0s Leicester made it through to claim the title, but they haven’t been at their electrifying best for a long while.

Ranieri has had ample time to make the adjustments, to find the right combination of players and tactics to beat teams that give Leicester the ball and say “show us what you’ve got”, but he hasn’t been able to. Without the Kante twins they can’t absorb pressure so well, Robert Huth and Wes Morgan are still Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, and the side look disjointed and out of ideas at both ends of the pitch.

Not only this, but the players look unmotivated. We can’t know what’s gone on inside the Leicester camp, and allowing a sulky dressing room to fire their boss is a risky move, but to assume the players are automatically at fault just because Ranieri seems lovely makes no sense. Perhaps their frustration is rooted in the knowledge that Ranieri hasn’t done what’s needed to get them winning again. By his own account, Ranieri changed little from Pearson’s tactics, and spirit alone can only take you so far.

The romantic in me hates this decision, but last season is over now. Ranieri and his players overachieved, and won their medals. Nothing – not even relegation – can take that from them. The story is already written, and barring a Champion’s League miracle, this year could only ever be a footnote to one of football’s greatest ever tales. Leicester’s owners gave Ranieri time, but now they have to look to the future, not the past.

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Donald Trump and his core beliefs

It’s hard not to read a lot about Donald Trump, and so as an easily distracted politics nerd, I have repeatedly succumbed. I think that – beyond the startling rhetoric – one of the striking things about the man is his amorality. Few, if any, other politicians are almost openly amoral in the way that Trump is. I’m sure there are amoral politicians, but most feel the need to conjure up a veneer of morality.

Trump does not. He almost wears it like a badge of honour – his businesslike denial of the existence of moral dilemmas serves as part of his general “I’ll do whatever it takes” aura. This feeds into another aspect of Trump – his repeated, almost pathological lying means that his “true beliefs” are somewhat difficult to ascertain. In lieu of working out what he thinks based on what he’s saying at any one time, people have tried to piece this together based on his actions over time.

This might be a bit of a mistake. In fact, I’m not sure Donald Trump has beliefs in the same way most people do. When he talks, he isn’t so much communicating fixed truths about society, or human nature, but treats every conversation as a zero-sum game that he is going to win. Perhaps even win so much he gets tired of it.

He has a long history of making degrading, misogynistic comments to women. He also employed women in senior positions in his company long before that was typical in the real estate business. These two things seem contradictory, but need not be.

The first, from most people, would reflect a belief that women should be subordinate to men. From him, it may reflect more a belief that everyone should be subordinate to Donald. In one situation, sexist rhetoric enabled him to “win” that conversation. In another, motivated, capable women excluded from employment elsewhere in the industry were probably better value than their male counterparts – they made more money for Trump, so he hired them.

Women in senior roles didn’t trouble some deeply held belief about gender relations in his head, because he just doesn’t have beliefs like that. It’s why he can lie so easily – truth is a fluid concept that changes as and when it suits him. His rhetoric is borne out of opportunism and amorality – normally someone would have to believe these things deeply to say them, as otherwise it would offend their sense of morality. Trump sees an advantage in doing so and does so.

It’s why we need to view him not as a uniquely awful individual, but the product of a system. In the businesslike logic that I imagine underpins every decision he makes, the Republican Party created the demand for this sexist, racist rhetoric and the Donald  simply stepped in to supply it. This makes him less predictable than a nasty ideologue, but potentially just as awful. It should give even his supporters pause for thought.

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Neoclassical, neoliberal, marginalist: what’s in a name?

“Neoclassical”, as it’s commonly used, refers to the orthodox school of economics. This first arose in the 1870s with W. S. Jevons, Karl Menger and Leon Walras, and has been the dominant school of thought in economics since it was revived in the 1970s by Milton Friedman. In short, this type of economics places great significance on prices and value, and devotes its energies to explaining the relative prices we see around us.

To do this, it studies economics at the margin: by looking at the points at which we are undecided, we can infer what the limits of our wants are. Only an individual can make a decision in this way, or be undecided, so this is an individualist theory that takes subjective wants as the ultimate cause of everything. As well, it makes great use of maths and must therefore make a number of assumptions about human nature and economics in order to produce neat results, rather than messy indeterminacy.

A number of economists, such as the great A. K. Dasgupta (mentor of Amartya Sen) and the economic sociologist Tony Lawson (a long-term critic of the school) think the term ‘neoclassical’ misleading: they prefer the term “marginalist”. Why? Well, in essence it just doesn’t revive the Classical Political Economy of Smith, Ricardo and Marx.

That school was focused on big questions: “Will the capitalism system continue to grow?”, “Will we produce enough to feed our population?”, “What are the underlying social relations of this system?”. Coming, as they did, at the very of capitalism, it’s pretty natural that they would want to focus on understanding the system as a whole, the age-old struggle between humans and nature.

A century later, and people had adapted somewhat; some thought it was brilliant, others found it problematic, but it was hard to deny that it had a certain stability. Scholars were less interested in the big, existential questions – nature, it seemed, had been conquered – and turned instead to understanding the minute relations between the parts of the system.

In essence, the classical school is dynamic – it is interested in the long term path of the economic system. The marginalist school takes this for granted, and gives up the ability to study the dynamic path of the economy, in exchange for managing to learn a lot more about a stationary economy. Neoclassical, in this sense, should refer exclusively to those such as Alfred Marshall who attempted to combine the two – a true resurrection of the classical school.

 

Finally neoliberalism is, in a sentence, a political movement centred on an acceptance of the conclusions of marginalist economics and a faith in free markets. It’s not a school of economics in its own right, but a political coalition around pro-market policies that holds that, essentially, big questions are resolved. The market is the route to our happiness, an interference with it leads to ruin, no matter how well-intentioned.

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Notes on IDS, Osborne and Labour

He’s gone. Jumped. Before he was pushed? Perhaps. Were there more reasons than he is letting on? Certainly. Of course this is partly about Europe; from now until June, everything that happens in the Conservative Party is. Still, resignations don’t just happen out of the blue, even if that may be the way we see them. Whatever reason he had for resigning, the language IDS employed in doing so was quite remarkable, and he made official a few open secrets along the way.

He could have said something like “I want to take a more active role in Leave and feel that the British people deserve a fully-focused cabinet minister” or some similar guff, but he didn’t. Instead, he labelled austerity as a political choice and went fully after the Cameron style of governance. Many people have been saying this for years, and one would be naive to think him 100% sincere, but this choice of language doesn’t come from a vacuum – it echoes what a lot of left-wing economists, and others, have been saying for a while. What effect this will have long-term it’s hard to say, but it certainly legitimises the position, I think. It’s hard to use the usual trick of painting someone as a “raving lefty” if a former Conservative Party leader and former minister of that government has been saying the same thing.

He confirmed George Osborne’s policy of going directly after non-Tory voters. This policy was never that much of a secret. When pensioners, the NHS and the education system were protected, but the working-age jobless and working poor were not protected, it was pretty clear what was happening. Spending that’s used by Tory voters is protected, spending for non-Tory voters is not. It has been the same story with council funding – protection for Tory councils, none for Labour councils. This, again, sounds a lot more convincing coming from an ex-colleague than it does coming from Labour party sources.

It clarifies also the suspicision that the government has been run on a largely ad-hoc basis, focused on the news cycle over the long-term effects of policy – taking a leaf out of the New Labour book. A continuation of the politics of cynicism that we became all too accustomed to – the politics of cynicism that virtually everyone in the country despises. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to Labour leader was in large part a refutation of this style of politics, though sadly most of his party seem not to have picked up on this. Once again, this type of criticism sounds a little “well you would say that” if a Labour source says it, but from an insider it’s much more damning.

Leftists should not be tricked into thinking that just because IDS was the frontman for some ghastly cuts, he was fully in favour of all of them. At the end of the New Labour era, there was a significant group of benefit recipients for whom work would not pay – a moderate amount of work on a low wage would disqualify people from a large number of benefits, leaving them worse off overall. Having the structure of the benefits system actually discourage some people from work clearly suits nobody.

The move to universal credit could have smoothed this out, with a seamless transition from out-of-work to in-work benefits that meant nobody was made worse off by work. The problem for IDS has been that Osborne saw benefits as a pool of money into which he could dip every time the numbers didn’t add up. His budgets were tightly controlled surprises so that he could get the most political coverage from them with the least scrutiny – a bit like an Apple product launch. What could have been a productive reworking was transformed into a cack-handed attempt to cut benefits without anyone noticing.

Just because IDS is a Conservative doesn’t mean he can’t be appalled at a style of governance that is so nakedly partisan and news-cycle focused. Yes, IDS has selfish reasons for resigning. He probably wouldn’t have lasted long after the referendum. He might just be being petty. One could ask why was the straw that broke the camel’s back – if he cared about welfare recipients, why not have done this before? He may have felt that he could do more from within than outside. He may have relied on the Lib Dems to shield him from the Osborne axe. Only he truly knows.

Still, his resignation is big news. For the first time since the financial crisis, it looks like Labour have had some success framing the economic narrative. That IDS chose to mirror it so closely is significant – he would not have chosen those words if he didn’t think they were either good for him or bad for Osborne. A majority of twelve now looks like basically nothing, and in other news, Labour lead a poll for the first time during Corbyn’s leadership.

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