Global Warming, Soot Pollution, Mayor Bloomberg, the Paris Conference (forthcoming): So Confusing, So Confused!

So many inane things have been said about climate change by silly unqualified sources and so many others by dishonest qualified sources that it’s hard to keep separating the wheat from the shaft (Ah, ah!)

On the Monday June 29th of the Wall Street Journal, former Mayor Bloomberg of New York City delivered himself of advice about the forthcoming 2015 fall United Nations conference on climate change. It will take place in Paris. Right there, you know they are not serious. At any one time, half the delegates will be seeing the sights, or tasting the flavors.

Below is the excerpt that flummoxed me. I am retired, I have the time to be flummoxed. Other readers may not have had the time or the peace of mind to notice. This is for them.

“…The Paris conference has already proven successful in one respect: It has pushed heads of state to prioritize climate action” (Bolding mine.)

And further down:

“Whether they live in a capitalist or communist society [sic], people want to breathe clean air. They know that air fouled with carbon pollution causes death and disease,….” (Bolding mine, again.)

Wait a minute, I have been told a thousand times if I have been told once that CO2 is the primary cause of “climate change”! I flunked high school physics (not bragging, just admitting the facts) but I am sure that CO2 does not cause disease. And, I remember from a diving class long ago that it does not even cause death except insofar as it physically replaces oxygen. That’s hard to do in your lungs, by the way. It takes practice. Accordingly, suicide by CO2 is extremely rare!

So, is Mr Bloomberg referring to another kind of carbon pollution? Is there a faction of the Warmist Movement that’s on the edge of admitting that mere CO2 is just plant food, as we believed before the Apocalypse began? I ask because if the real enemy is either carbon monoxide or any of the visible sooty components that result from burning coal, I am not sure which side I am on anymore. Speak of agonizing re-appraisal!

I don’t know which side to take because I am squarely against both carbon monoxide and particulate (soot) pollution. The only people who are in favor of carbon monoxide are people who failed physics even worse than I did and confuse this deadly gas with the innocuous plant food CO2. As for particle pollution, the only ones who would say a single good thing about it, don’t. They are power industry spokesmen and other users of coal. They are not even arguing that they are good; they asked for more time to clean up their dirty act. The US Supreme Court declared last week that they were actually entitled to more time.

I remember well breathing the heavy smog in Paris in the fifties; I remember seeing pictures of the even worse smog in London. I remember the largely automobile-based smog in LA in the sixties. All these cities cleaned up their act. They did it to a large extent under demanding legislation. That legislation was not very controversial because it did not rest on mysterious, esoteric, contorted, and ever-changing science largely propagated by the incompetent, the irrepressibly stupid, and those who leave political judgment to experts. Besides, the application of the legislation walked in lockstep with perceptible progress. The air in Paris cleaned up in a few years during my childhood even while the population grew. The air in LA improved quickly after unleaded gasoline was introduced, etc. I hope someone will correct me if I am wrong but I don’t think the research involved or its presentation comprised crude fraud as in the “hockey stick” scandal about global warming.

If they were concerned with CO1 (mono) or with particle pollution, there would be no struggle, or little resistance. They invoke CO2 threat because cleaning up carbon is not going to give them the de-industrialization and the government control they crave. Think it through.

Incidentally, we wouldn’t even have this discussion if the US had continued building nuclear power plants twenty years ago. I mean, like France, where absolutely nothing dangerous happened. Like Japan where the worst happened in Fukushima and nothing happened. Nuclear energy releases no carbon particles, no carbon monoxide, and negligible amounts of CO2. Want to save the planet or not?

So, is mayor Bloomberg calling for UN conference in Paris re-dedicated to better breathing rather than to the never-ending struggle against “climate change’? Is he honestly confused? (Wouldn’t be the first time.*) Is he a dupe or a fiendish accomplice? Is he aiming for a typical “liberal Republican” middle course between truth and falsehood? Or, he is pushing forward a genuine Trojan Horse to finally reduce the already tottering, rickety citadel of misrepresentations, exaggerations, conflicting truths, bad measurements, worse logic, unscientific reasoning, an outright lies of Warmism?

* I am not casting the first stone, in this case. I demonstrated that the UN “Summary” for officials and political decision-makers was incomprehensible.

Fiscal Watch Dog, The Dutch Way

I still have not found a way to make a living out of international political theory that also satisfies my demands as consumer at numerous markets, not least the housing market. At this moment this means I make a living at the Dutch fiscal watchdog. I recently wrote a piece about in Contemporary Social Science, which can be seen here.

Below is the abstract, drop me a mail if you’re interested in the full text.

CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis: Dutch (economic) policy-making

As one of the oldest independent fiscal institutions in the world, the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) has a long history of providing evidence for policy-making. Uniquely, its activities include the analysis of election manifestos, the national budget and the coalition agreement, as a derivative from its provision of leading macroeconomic forecasts. This paper analyses the CPB’s role within the Dutch political system, its place in public administration and the different methods it employs to provide evidence for policy-makers. It then focuses on two different types of activities, the costing of election manifestos and ageing studies, using a multi-methods approach to illustrate how the CPB’s influence extends to setting policy agendas and policy targets, and to reveal critical factors for success and failure. Although the CPB model cannot easily be transposed to other countries, a number of general principles can be deduced from it for application elsewhere.

Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, VIII. Germany’s post WWII contribution to market liberalism

World War Two was largely won by the United States and the British Empire in alliance with the USSR. The idea of Britain’s place in the world being defined by its relationship with the US, a relationship in which the US is inevitably the leading partner, and is a very popular – even defining – idea for the predominant brand of sovereigntist-Eurosceptism in the UK. There is surely some paradox in holding onto a sovereigntist view, in which national sovereignty is understood in an absolute manner and national life is understood to be highly distinct, and even unique, while giving the dominant role to another country in matters of international relations, diplomacy, foreign policy, defence, intelligence and the unlimited number of areas which these are likely to spill over into, including trade and commerce.

The sovereigntist-Eurosceptic position in Britain tends to portray not only the EU as threatening sovereignty, but Germany as a threat to sovereignty as the strongest country in the EU. However it is clear enough that Germany is less strong than the United States, so what is the problem? The problem might be defined by the Eurosceptics as that the UK has transferred some sovereignty to the EU reducing the role of the British parliament, but if defence and diplomacy policy is dominated by the United States, along with other areas, there is an inevitable loss of effective parliamentary sovereignty. That the loss of sovereignty is not legally defined should not be the issue, and leaves open the possibility of greater loss of sovereignty because it is not defined by laws or treaties.

Returning to the issue of Germany, the standard sovereigntist position in Britain is dominated by those claiming to be small state free market advocates, and claim that an EU which includes Germany is allegedly a mere instrument of German interests, thus posing a threat to the possibility of a less statist Britain in economics and other matters. As the sovereigntist-Eurosceptics are normally for limiting immigration, their claim to superior purity in matters of individual rights and state power is itself lacking in credibility.

Moving back to more strictly economic issues (though of course free market economics requires a free labour market which means open immigration), Germany has not always been seen as more statist than Britain. There was a period in which Britain administered part of Germany, that is during the occupation of Germany by the Allies after World War Two, shared between the UK, USA, France, and the USSR. The occupation zones evolved into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in the west and the socialist-communist Soviet satellite state, the German Democratic Republic in the east.

The FRG famously experienced an economic miracle in the post-war period. The main architect was Ludwig Erhard, who was strong influenced by the Freiburg School of free market economists, itself strong influenced by the Austrian School of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Erhard had a particularly strong connection with the economist Wilhelm Röpke, who was not a member of faculty at Freiburg University, but was close to that school and was linked with it through the journal Ordo.

The economic liberalism of that period is sometimes known as Ordo liberalism, which is one of great moments in the history of market liberalism. It was a moment which came out of struggle with the British and American occupation authorities who enforced price controls, and other statist measures, and were not supportive of Erhard’s moves to liberalise the price mechanism and other aspects of the market. Erdhard had to defy the occupation authorities in announcing the end of price controls in the period in which German self-government was emerging in the period before the FRG was formed.

Erhard and Röpke developed a program in which federal Germany had a ‘social market economy’, meaning a free market economy, accompanied by a social welfare program to establish minimum living standards and the establishment of those institutions and polices thought most likely to promote a functional market economy and social consensus behind the market economy, as an antidote to the economics and politics of totalitarian statism in what had been Nazi Germany and the existing soviet model Germany in the east.

So successful and influential was this, it was a model, at least rhetorically, for the Margaret Thatcher led government elected in Britain in 1979. Thatcher’s major intellectual influence in British politics was Keith Joseph, who promoted the idea of freeing Britain from statism and collectivism by following the German social market economy. This is not something the surviving Thatcherites, and their successors who are prominent in sovereigntist-Eurosceptic circles, like to emphasise at all. This maybe goes back to the time that German unification became a possibility in the late 1980s as the Soviet Union ended its dominance of large parts of central and eastern Europe.

Thatcher as an imperial nostalgia British nationalist was instinctively opposed to a stronger Germany. Ever since Germany has been damned as a malign influence the sovereigntist Europsceptics, eager to bury memories of the long post-war period in which Germany was more of a market liberal country than Britain. They like to portray Germany as such a statist monster in economic decline that many would be surprised to check the tables of national GDP per capita (including tables adjusted for dollar based purchasing power parity) and see that Germany is ahead of Britain by a significant margin. The comparison should also take into account the issue that despite Margaret Thatcher’s nationalist reservations, the German people exercised their right to unify peacefully and democratically, so that the current Federal Republic of Germany carries the weight of eastern regions, which used to be socialist-communist and have yet to overcome the negative consequences for prosperity and enterprise culture. There are certainly some measures by which Germany has a more statist economy now than Britain, including the levels of public spending and the role of banks linked to regional governments, which suggests an inherently robust market economy, stronger than Britain’s in some ways, able to survive the less market liberal aspects of German political economy.

The period in which Margaret Thatcher did introduce more market based economics and public policy in Britain, an admirable achievement despite her less admirable inclinations towards national, social, and cultural conservatism, began with a centre-left government in the FRG, which had been far more market oriented than the centre-left government which preceded Thatcher in Britain. The FRG under Helmut Schmidt, at least towards the end of his term made cuts to public spending and the public deficit, which mean that it made a contribution, if a very moderate one, to the general shift of industrial democracies towards market liberalisation associated with the 1970s in its beginnings and with the 1980s in its strongest phase.

Attention and Motivation

Since reading Pragmatic Thinking and Learning a few years ago, I’ve changed a small but important aspect of my life. I no longer worry about having enough time; I worry about having enough attention. Time devoted to working on a task early in the morning is far more productive than time that would otherwise be spent sleeping devoted to the same task.

In a similar vein, I’ve been coming across tidbits of information related to drugs and attention that have shed some light on this issue for me. For example, what Adderall (basically) does is that it excites your nervous system so that your focus is laser sharp. Suddenly boring tasks like cleaning the house are very easy. Besides ADD drugs, marijuana and LSD are both supposed to do something similar (in the case of LSD, for it to be a useful pharmaceutical would require doses in the sub-Grateful-Dead-concert range… just as you wouldn’t want to eat a handful of Ritalin). [Sorry I don’t have decent citations here… Commenters?]

The point of that last paragraph is to shed some light on the question plaguing those working on improving their own productivity: “How do I increase my motivation?” Anyone who has tried Adderall can tell you that motivation has nothing to do with why they’re cleaning the inside of the oven. They’re just doing it because they can.

What’s my point? Motivation and raw focus are both important, they’re different from one another, but they’re closely tied. Neither is easy to observe from the outside. Recognizing this is obviously important for our own lives. But it is also for how we look at the world as economists.

Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, VII.

This post continues from the last post‘s assessment of early twentieth century British military and foreign policy in Europe, in a series of criticisms of sovereigntist-Eurosceptic assumptions of Britain’s separateness and superiority in relation to mainland continental Europe, and is rather long because bad decisions of the 1930s had consequences in World War Two, making it difficult to split the periods into separate posts. After the Treaty of Lausanne of 1926, the most notable aspect of British foreign policy was appeasement of Nazi Germany from Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia beyond the Sudetenland which Czechoslovakia had been forced to give Germany in autumn of 1938. Spring 1939 represents the point at which Britain (and France) abandoned the policy of Appeasement, which had left Germany rearmed, stronger, and larger, and mobilised for war.

There had been an associated appeasement of Fascist Italy, particularly with regard to its invasion of Ethiopia, the one African state which was fully recognised and fully independent at that time. Britain also acted to prevent aid to the Spanish Republic during the Civil War of 1936 to 1939 against the alliance of traditionalist conservatives and fascist Falangists led by Francisco Franco, though Franco received a high level of aid and military assistance from Germany and Italy. It would add too much to this long series of posts to get into the issues round the Spanish Civil War, but being as brief as possible it has to be said that the Civil War came about through extreme polarisation, sometimes violent, between left and right, and was not a simple case of a bunch of fascists overthrowing a model democracy. Nevertheless, the left was in power in 1936 due to elections, and was not in the process of abolishing democracy in Spain, which was abolished by Franco, including the destruction of autonomy of the most distinct regions of Spain, and associated cultural repression. This followed not only the use of military force, but many massacres of prisoners of wars and civilians. This is hardly a glorious moment for British influence in Europe, unless support for far-right dictatorship in preference for a highly stressed but real democracy is glorious, and does not really support any picture of a uniquely moral and beneficial Britain.

The policy in any case backfired in World War Two. Hitler was not willing to offer enough to Franco to tempt him to enter the war on Germany’s side, but in the earlier part of the war, Spain’s embassies and intelligence networks were used to subvert and undermine the British war effort, in addition to which, Franco sent a division of volunteers to fight under German command on the Soviet front. There were more than 150 divisions in the German invasion of the USSR, so this was a small contribution, but nevertheless a contribution to fighting a country then allied with Britain. There was just nothing glorious or admirable about British policy in Spain in the late thirties.

The less than admirable British (in partnership with France) policy towards Germany continued after the declaration of war on Germany, after the latter’s invasion of Poland in September 1939. No help was given to Poland and the only attack on Germany was a brief French assault on the Saarland which was not executed with any real energy, certainly not enough to detract from German aggression in Poland, and troops were withdrawn soon after the Fall of Poland. This was a shared failure of British and French policy, since it came under the Anglo-French Supreme War Council.

Germany was essentially unimpeded in invading Poland, with the USSR joining in after a few weeks. This was followed by the Phoney War, in which Britain and France failed to attack Germany at all though a state of war existed and Poland had been occupied. There was a passive policy of waiting for a German attack on France and other west European countries. The handing over to Germany of all initiative in the war of course had disastrous consequences. I will just mention one significant detail of the Fall of France, illustrating the failure of previous British (and French) policy: many of the better German tanks were in fact Czechoslovak tanks produced in what had become Germany after Britain (and France) abandoned Czechoslovakia in September 1938.

Winston Churchill’s refusal to negotiate with Hitler after the Fall of France was highly admirable and correct, but should not distract us from the reality of joint British and French failure and no sense of superiority over France is appropriate given that the German forces were faced by the natural barrier of the English Channel, and no one doubts that if the German forces could have got directly into southern England then the result would have been a military collapse at least as quick as that of France.

The British government’s refusal to negotiate did lead to the danger of invasion, which was averted by success in the Battle of Britain between the German and British airforces, on the basis of great bravery and determination from the aircrews and moral courage at the political level. The overwhelming majority of British people of all political inclinations take pride in that history and there is not criticism offered here of that attitude.

However, it is possible to take that attitude too far and inevitably the sovereigntist Eurosceptics do. Some individuals on that side might be a bit more careful and cautious about this, but certainly as a whole that attitude draws on the idea that British resistance to Hitler marks it as uniquely heroic and as somehow morally superior to those countries which were so morally weak as to become occupied, and which then collaborated with the Nazis in the sense that one way or another governments acceptable to the Nazis and willing to work with them appeared, and of course no other government could have survived in occupied territory.

The successful resistance of the British owes rather a lot to the seas separating Britain from the European mainland, the North Sea, English Channel, and the Atlantic Ocean. 1940 was probably too soon for Germany to organise a sea born invasion anyway, except though a total destruction of British naval and air forces which was not very likely. There was actually some demobilisation of German forces after the fall of France, and Britain was outproducing Germany in fighter planes, so Hitler was never really focused and committed with regard to an invasion of Britain. Had Hitler continued to concentrate on Britain after aborting a planned invasion in the autumn of 1941, when Herman Göring failed to deliver the promised quick and complete destruction of the Royal Air Force by the Luftwaffe, the situation could have been very different. The decision to invade the Soviet Union in summer 1941 meant that the vast overwhelming majority of armed forces were transferred to the east saved Britain.

Against the chauvinism of the sovereigntist-Eurosceptic approach, it should be noted that a part of Britain, or at least territory closely associated with Britain did fall to the Nazis without fighting and collaborated with German occupation until the general German surrender of May 1945. That is the Channel Islands, which are closer to Normandy in northwestern France than Britain and are not part of the UK, but which nevertheless are under the sovereign power of Britain and have no independence in defence and foreign relations. German forces landed in these islands and occupied them in 1940, because the British government decided they could not be defended and the King took on the duty of telling the islanders to offer no resistance. Local administration collaborated with the Nazis who used slave labour from eastern Europe in the islands. There was no provision land in the islands when the western Allies landed in Normandy in the summer of 1944 and the local collaboration with Nazi occupation went on until the final surrender of Germany.

We should not make light of the difficulties Britain had in defending or liberating small thinly populated islands of little strategic importance outside its coastal waters, but it has to be said that this little story does take some of the plausibility away from chauvinistic sovereigntist-Eurosceptic tendencies to turn World War Two into a story of British superiority over cowardly collaborationist Continentals. The very real suffering of Britain was small compared with the suffering of occupied countries, particularly in eastern Europe, and the courage of those who joined partisan and resistance movements in occupied Europe must command the highest respect, and surely even higher respect than that justly given to British leaders, ordinary people, and soldiers determined to carry on fighting the Nazis after the Fall of France.

Next post, Britain and Europe after Word War Two

Morons of the World Unite!

In 1848, before he really had really learned to think, Karl Marx emitted the famous call, “Workers of the World Unite!” That was in the “Communist Manifesto,” communism lite for those who move their lips when they read. The workers of the world never united. They continued enthusiastically to eviscerate one another in war as before. The few times the workers actually came together, mostly but not exclusively on a national basis, they brought tyrants to power. The Communist tyrants proceeded to impoverish them like never before. They also killed many of them, both on purpose and through gross negligence. The remaining Communist countries: China (not communist at all, an amazingly successful Mafia state), North Korea, a deadly operetta permanently set in the fifties, Cuba, barely kept afloat by generous remittances from Cuban emigrants. Incidentally, the open-handed cousins from America mostly reached Florida with the shirts on their backs. They became rich as waiters and parking attendants in Miami while their doctor relatives back in Cuba seldom had enough to eat. You can’t have everything, a socialist paradise and fried chicken on demand.

Since 1848, in the midst of one socialist/communist debacle after another, and unrelated to them, something appalling has happened: Mr Marx’s “workers” evaporated. I mean that it’s completely clear that Marx referred to industrial workers specifically, what we would call today “blue collar” workers. He explicitly did not mean the poor in a general way. On the contrary, he wrote scathing words about the lack of social discipline of the lumpenproletariat, the “poor in rags.” As for the peasantry, still quite numerous in Marx’s day, his followers had to perform intellectual acrobatics to present them as other than natural enemies of the Revolution. Stalin himself spoke eloquently of the “non-antagonistic contradictions” between the working class and the peasantry. That was after he had starved to death millions of the latter to feed the former. He said he had good reasons to do so. (Allegedly “scientific” socialism brought to the world deadly pedantry, a trait seldom before encountered but all around us again as I write. See below.) Anyway, what I wanted to say before I got waylaid is that in the century and half after Marx, the “workers” mostly vanished from advanced countries. In small part, it was because primitive manufacturing moved to poor countries such as China. To an overwhelming extent, it was because of technological progress.: One semi-literate guy half conked out on grass sitting at a machine makes more nails in one day than ten master iron workers made in one month when Marx was writing the Communist Manifesto. (I am sure of this because I watch “How Things Are Made” on TV).

Now, as I have said, I am spending a lot of time at the beach these days, near downtown Santa Cruz. I have almost become one of the Moms there. Speaking of which, a Mom with two little kids addresses me the other day. I am pretty sure she is not hitting on my although there is a dearth of functional males around. I think she is just bored or worried. She is old enough – in her mid thirties- to be used to defer to male authority on how things work. She comments on the fact that the beach where her children and my own granddaughter wade in the water is posted for high E-coli content.* This happens every summer on that beach. (See my moving essay on the topic.) To make a long story short, there are fish in the water and these attract seabirds that do what they must do after they eat. And then, there are the hundred or so resident sea lions. I re-assure the Mom that probably none of these E-coli are of human origin. After two years of drought, there is no running surface water anywhere near the beach. There is no conceivable way for human feces to reach that particular beach, with two exceptions. First, it’s possible to imagine that some homeless, caught short would deposit somewhere on that beach. (Large number of homeless in Santa Cruz, many not quite all there.) In fifteen years frequenting the beaches of Santa Cruz, I have never seen any evidence of such, not once. Toddler with imperfect diapers are another story. But whatever E-coli they leave behind cannot be nearly as bad as, say, your average grocery store shopping cart: I have seen a study (I can’t find it) that said that 75% showed traces of human feces. (I would guess, from adorable toddlers). I point out to the Mom that seagull E-coli would feel uncomfortable in the gut of a child who eats fish once a week at most. She seems unconvinced. Besides, the beach stinks a little at the moment. Offshore winds have brought in a pile of kelp that is allowed to rot slowly nearby. (Myself, I like the smell of marine decomposition, enthusiastic abstract “environmentalists” often less so because they tend to be sissies.)

In spite of of her mistrust of my explanations, the woman wants to talk. It happens all the time, either because of my still-advantageous physique or because I have a French accent. (Do I sound snarky? Sure thing.) Soon, the conversation drifts, as often happens in conversations between strangers reveling in their idleness; (as happens all the time between women at the beach, I must testify). Somehow, we end up talking about cheese made from milk that has not been pasteurized. I let her know that such cheese is freely available in France though clearly labeled. I also tell her – twice – that several people die in France each year from consuming such cheese. The woman replies by deploring that non-pasteurized dairy products are generally not allowed in the US. She tells me sadly that it’s difficult to eat only “organic” in this country. I begin telling her that the two things are unrelated. Artisan cheese makers of unpasteurized cheese are free to feed their animals irradiated, pesticide laced, genetically modified feed all they want. The products they offer for consumption must simply have been made from raw milk, milk that has not been brought briefly to a high temperature to kill bacteria.

Get it: An adult woman who is nervous about highly diluted bird bacteria in the ocean is craving the guaranteed concentrated bacteria content of a cheese that is medically proven to kill at least some people.

At last I am curious and I want to find out what deep well of ignorance this woman was pulled out of. The answer feels like a big slap in the face: She works in the radiology department at Stanford University Medical Center, a teaching hospital!

Now, my general expectations are low because I was a teacher for thirty years. It’s an occupation that induces a sort of reflexive humility: Listen to your students and measure the immensity of your failure. But what I am facing here is not simple ignorance. It’s a deeply consistent commitment to inconsistency; it’s the aggressive pursuit of disinformation. It’s militant moronism. As I often say – sagely – what makes a moron is not simple ignorance, which can be innocent, or the result of mere laziness – it’s a fierce attachment to one’s ignorance. To be a moron requires demonstrations of spirited ignorance, you might say. And with numbers comes courage, including the courage to believe stupid things openly. But the numbers of the militantly ill-informed are growing thanks to the Internet because, as everybody knows, “If it weren’t true, they wouldn’t put it on the Internet.” (OK here, I am plagiarizing an old TV ad.) And those who lay in fear of everything except cheese and have no basic understanding of how the world works, those who rely blindly on experts, are bound to live like little children who fear monsters under their beds. They want to believe that there is someone looking out for them, if not God then, the Government. So, after its ignominious defeat under the name of Communism, collectivism has not said its last word. It has returned under the guise of ignorant naturalism, the specifically, urban, unlettered belief that nature is benevolent and that it has a Grand Design just for us. The followers want government to force us to live according to the imagined design. Why not try injections of cobra venom, I asked the cheese-loving woman on the beach, it’s completely organic? The black humor went right above her head. Now, I have a vague fear she might propose it to others. Fortunately, cobra venom is hard to come by.

Militant morons are incomparably better interconnected than the working class was in Karl’s time. They are very good at enforcing conformity to their dogma. More importantly, – stay with me here – they stand in as clear relation to the means of communications as the working class stood to the means of production when Marx was freezing his buns in the British Library. Nothing is lost yet. There can be another try. So, one more time, “Morons of the World Unite!”

*I do not deny that bird E-coli can make people sick. I just don’t know. What I know for sure is that any such case of illness would be on the front page of the local, paper, a liberal rag that adores all bad news. There is also the possibility that bird E-coli cause mysterious illnesses that go underground for a long time so that any causal link between them and symptoms is lost to the view. Do you believe this? If you do I have something to sell you.

Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, VI. From the 1832 Reform Act to World War One

In this post, a look at comparative growth of democracy in Europe along with Britain’s role in World War One and subsequent European diplomacy.

Britain made some progress towards extending voting rights beyond a very tiny minority in the Reform Act of 1832, which was also a law to make constituency distribution relate to the population of the time, particularly the expansion of the urban population, abolish constituencies of a few voters where the MP was in practice appointed by the local dominant landlord and even out a very inconsistent voting system, reducing the number of people who could vote in at least one case. The overall right to vote was extended from about 5 per cent to about 20 per cent of the population, which did mark a genuine shift of power from the aristocracy and put Britain in a good place in terms of comparative voting rights by the standards of the time. Nevertheless, there was working class disappointment expressed in the Chartist movement which mobilised mass support, but was ignored.

The next major change came in the 1867 Reform Act, which did not introduce universal male suffrage, but did extend voting rights to a significant part of the urban working class. Universal male suffrage at the age of twenty-one did not come until after World War One, alongside suffrage at thirty for women, followed a few years later by voting rights at twenty-one for all women as well as all men. Denmark and Switzerland introduced universal male suffrage with meaningful pluralistic elections in 1848. France reverted to the lost revolutionary republican idea of universal male suffrage, though the meaning of elections was highly constrained by the rise of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte to the presidency, which he transformed into the role of Emperor. Prussia, while reserving a powers to the monarchy and preserving the power of the aristocracy through a weighting of the electoral system to the highest tax payers, did introduce universal male suffrage in 1849.

The 1867 Reform Act in Britain still left it behind these countries, particularly as France became a pluralist democracy after 1870 and a unified Germany appeared in the same year (the events are linked by the Franco-Prussian war of 1870) with universal suffrage, but the same weighting towards the upper class within the Kingdom of Prussia, the largest and most powerful part of the new German Empire, which had a distinct and dominant status within the Empire. As we can see, discussion of the comparative growth of the suffrage and political pluralism soon gets into very complicated details, which also include questions of how much power elected bodies had in relation to hereditary monarchs, so that is the end of the examples.

Anyway, the general pattern is that though Britain was ahead of just about all of Europe outside Switzerland in giving power to elected institutions, there is nothing special or exemplary about the spread of voting rights in Britain. In the nineteenth century it was certainly republics, just Switzerland then France, which established the best situations, which certainly challenges any idea of a special virtue in the British combination of monarchy and parliament. The exemplary monarchical state was Denmark rather than Britain.

Moving onto the First World War, as has already been shown, British entry was not a re-entry into European politics after a complete absence after the Battle of Waterloo. Britain was constantly engaged in European affairs and would not have entered the Great War, if it had not been concerned enough with European politics to establish alliances and have a strong view about German armies invading France and neutral Belgium.

Who to blame for World War One and the question of whether Britain should have taken part are rather divisive questions across political distinctions, so it is difficult to talk about a unified sovereigntist Eurosceptic narrative here, or indeed any political tendency, however defined, having a unified narrative. So it can at least be said that World War One does not add to any claim to the innate superiority of Britain and if Britain was right to intervene, that cannot make it more morally admirable than France and Belgium. The intervention right or wrong certainly reflected British views of its own interests in keeping northwestern Europe, the land mass facing it across the seas, out of the control of a hegemonic European power

It can at least be said that even for those who think on balance Britain was right to come to the full aid of France and Belgium, the continuation of the naval blockade of Germany, part the armistice which ended the war into 1919 was a horrifying policy of suffering imposed on an already defeated and impoverished German population, depriving Britain of any claim to rise morally above the other European powers.  In any case there is no denying that Britain was involved in European politics during the War and after in the Paris peace treaties, the revision of the Treaty of Sèvres, signed with the Ottoman Empire, in the Treaty of Lausanne signed with the Republic of Turkey in 1926.

Next post, World War II