Belmont Club

Nobody Leave the Room

The New York Times is uncertain whether to break out the champagne or don the sackcloth and ashes over Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral gains. Ordinarily “progressives” would be celebrating a success by Labor.   Unfortunately the British Labor party no longer clearly represents the “working class” any more, so it’s hard to keep score.  It’s as if someone tore up the program to an old familiar play and scrambled the characters onstage.  Consequently the Gray Lady is unable to say with confidence Who’s on First.

“Britain doesn’t feel stable anymore,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London. “We’re a European country, with voters becoming more volatile over time. People don’t have the same tribal loyalties that they used to. Voters are more consumerist, much more willing to switch depending on the offer.”

Voters must be wooed by programs and personalities, no longer content with the old, predictable divisions of class and regional identity. Robert Tombs, a historian at St. John’s College at Cambridge, described the breakdown in tribal loyalty this way: “The electorate is no longer an army. It’s a crowd.”

“For Britain, political stability is a quaint relic,” it concludes. Thousands of miles away similar perplexity is afflicting Syrian rebels. Former Jabhat al-Nusra official Abu Sulayman explains that Syrian rebel factions are in an agony over whether to side with Saudi Arabia or Qatar and its Turkish and Iranian allies in their latest dispute because many were ready to take money from either side.  Now things have suddenly become complicated.

Just how confusing things have become was shown by Van Jones, who speaking at the People’s Summit in Chicago, denounced Hillary Clinton for wasting a billion dollars on a big nothing-burger of an election campaign.  The Hill recounted Jones’ tirade.

“The Hillary Clinton campaign did not spend their money on white workers, and they did not spend it on people of color. They spent it on themselves,” Jones told a packed house at McCormick Place in Chicago. “They spent it on themselves, let’s be honest.”

“Let’s be honest,” Jones continued. “They took a billion dollars, a billion dollars, a billion dollars, and set it on fire, and called it a campaign!”

“That wasn’t a campaign. That’s not a campaign.”

Jones continued, attacking the Clinton campaign’s reliance on consultants and polling data that proved to be wrong.

“A billion dollars for consultants. A billion dollars for pollsters. A billion dollars for a data operation, that was run by data dummies who couldn’t figure out that maybe people in Michigan needed to be organized.”

How could a billion dollars worth of consultants and polling be wrong?  How could the old certainties so radically collapse? Max Fisher and Max Taub of the NYT, baffled, conclude that uncertainty, more than populism, is the new normal in Western politics.  But merely declaring that “leaders must now govern societies reshaped by forces that are barely understood” explains nothing.

Whether it’s international politics, war in the Middle East or the world of the Beltway nothing seems to work the way it did.  The old order is lying like a corpse on the floor and yet the pundits standing around can provide no clue as to who the murderer is. But even if the murder can’t be solved it should be possible to start is listing the possible suspects for the growing chaos.  The lack of significantly cheaper energy was already mentioned as a factor in the last post.  The world is still living in the afterglow of the “fossil fuel revolution” and must bend the cost curve to meet the tide of rising expectations.

To this we might add a second suspect: the failure of public education. In a world where human capital is regarded a significant factor in wealth creation a Harvard study showed six Baltimore schools had zero students proficient in math or reading despite having one of the highest per pupil levels of spending in the United States.  It reflects a disturbing trend that has been happening for decades.  According to the Cato Institute public education costs have tripled since 1970 with absolutely no impact on student outcomes.

Source: Cato

Comparing the cost of public education to results Cato writes, “if music players had suffered the same cost/performance trends we’d all still be lugging around cassette boom boxes, but they’d now cost almost $1,800…. Aren’t you glad we didn’t give tax-funded state monopolies to 19th century Victrola manufacturers?” Things are not much better in India, where the Economist reports that “more Indians are attending school than ever before. But they are not learning much.”

About 260m children attend school in India, more than in any other country. Enrolment has risen steadily over the past two decades, helped by legislation such as the Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009, which makes school compulsory up to the age of 14. …

Half of fifth-grade pupils (ten-year-olds) cannot read a story designed for second-graders … Just a quarter can do simple division. The consequences of failure are profound, if hard to measure. How well pupils do in school is associated with higher wages and faster economic growth. India will not fully take part in the Programme for International Assessment (PISA), an influential global test, until 2021. But 15-year-olds in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu did do the test in 2009. A rough analysis of those results puts them five years of schooling behind pupils in Shanghai and other high-performers in East Asia.

The educational engine, like the “fossil fuel” revolution is running out of steam.  Little wonder things are sputtering.  Other suspects will be examined in succeeding Belmont posts: demographics, information freedom and institutional reform.  Yet energy costs and ineffective education by themselves would appear to be huge factors in explaining why we’re in the fix we’re in and why neither Corbyn, nor Sanders, nor Van Jones call pull stalled institutions out of the stasis we are mired in.

It’s instructive to note that the political leadership is set on ignoring both factors as potential causes for the current disarray because they have powerful constituencies.  As suspects they are above suspicion.  Hardly a day goes by without the media advocating hugely expensive subsidies for windfarms and solar panels;  or more spending for public education — as if these were solutions rather than potential problems.

We have let these suspects leave the room without considering how the crime might have been committed “by forces that are barely understood” — because we are determined not to understand them. “Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible”.  Now to round up the opponents of open borders and climate change deniers.

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The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, This book by Douglas Murray is not only an analysis of demographic and political realities, but also an eyewitness account of a continent in self-destruct mode. Declining birth-rates, mass immigration and cultivated self-distrust and self-hatred have come together to make Europeans unable to argue for themselves and incapable of resisting their own comprehensive change as a society. Murray includes reporting from across the entire continent, from the places where migrants land to the places they end up, from the people who appear to welcome them in to the places which cannot accept them.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton. Every page shows how strange and marvelous the world really is. With compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, charts, and maps for every region of the world. Tagged as addictive by readers.

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, by William Strauss and Neil Howe. First came the postwar High, then the Awakening of the ’60s and ’70s, and now the Unraveling. In this book, published in 1997, Strauss and Howe apply their generational theories to the cycles of history and locate America on the brink of a crisis. Are you ready for the Fourth Turning?

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Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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