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Showing posts from October, 2013

Whether the weather be fine or whether the weather be no...

The day after the "St Jude's day Storm":  it was a rough night, but let's face it, we've had worse- well anyway, enough of Estonia. 

In the UK the predicted zombie apocalypse seems not to have happened, although the press-inspired panic was by turns absurd and sinister- like most things in the British press.

In fact it is still pretty wet and windy in Tallinn, but we just get on with it- after all a year ago we were fighting the first blizzard of the year, at the beginning of a very long winter, and for sure there will be tricky days ahead when the winter finally does arrive.

As for the disruption and mild panic in Southern England- it all seems a very long way from the stiff upper lip, and makes the British look ridiculous.

Politeness, Political Correctness & Censorship

In "1984" George Orwell created the idea that the way we express ourselves has a fundamental effect on the way we also view the world. In the world of Newspeak, bad things could not be permitted, they could only be ungood. In such a way, the party restricted the ability of the individual to dissent. If the idea of dissent could not be expressed, then the very concept of opposition to the party line became impossible.

In recent years the idea of political correctness has gained much traction in the way we talk about the world. Ideas deemed to be socially unacceptable- discrimination on the basis of race, creed, sex, sexual preference and so on- are to be eliminated by the use of carefully proscribed norms. Sometimes the earnestness of this exercise seems faintly comic, and at times "politically correct" has become a term of abuse.

I have generally been tolerant of politically correct language, on the basis that it is a matter of politeness to address a person or a gro…

Unprofitable dinner

After the usual tedious journey to Riga, I attended the kind of dinner that wealth managers inflict on their customers. I happen to have a long history with these particular wealth managers, so received an invitation- probably to make up the numbers, since we have not transacted any business.

If I sound a little jaded, well, perhaps I am- the speaker was interesting in himself, but the topic- trying to institutionalize entrepreneurship- was not really what the first- really only- generation of Baltic millionaires is yet ready for. It was, of course a plug for the services that this particular house provides, and frankly, given the pleasant venue and good wine, fair enough.  Yet as so often in the past I was struck by the way that the large investment houses have a tin ear for the process of innovation and change that is hitting financial businesses around the world. 

They seek to trade on a brand which reflects "centuries of tradition and continuity", yet this particular house…

Tallinn re-discovers an old tradition

Dimly remembered from my fourth year Latin is the idea in Virgil that a nation should "choose foreign leaders". 

It is surprising how often nations do in fact choose foreign leaders, the positive and negative examples are legion: of course there is Hitler, an Austrian, who led Germany, Eamonn De Valera, a half Sicilian New Yorker, who led Ireland and Napoleon, the scion of a Corsican speaking family, who led France. Winston Churchill was half American, and most royal houses trace their origins to each other and not necessarily to the countries that they reigned over.

In the Baltic there has been a civic tradition of foreign participation. The first Mayor of Riga was George Armitstead, who came from a family of British Merchants. 

Now we have a successor, Abdul Turay- whose family originated in Guinea, became prominent in Sierra Leone and later came to the UK. Abdul had already added another step in his family's journey, by marrying an Estonian wife, but now he is set to be …

EU turn

The FT reports on the sharp rise in support for the limitation of the powers of the European Union- even amongst traditionally strong supporters of the bloc.

The context is interesting- the suggestion is that the backlash against the EU is coming as a result of the rapid growth of immigration. The rise of immigration has indeed been rapid, and there is obviously generally pretty limited support for expanding the rights of free movement to the citizens of Bulgaria and Romania. Yet the majority of immigrant attacks are not made against EU migrants but against those coming from the Arab World, the sub continent and sub-Saharan Africa.

To my mind, the issue of immigration is a kind of referred pain: discontent is far more entrenched than merely a right-wing backlash against immigration. The creation of giant government-lead projects, such as EU funded rail construction, is a symptom of a Brussels elite which is seeking to buy the support of the voters. Yet the elite is very isolated and as …

The Low Tax Problem of a Global City

A few weeks ago, Michael Goldfarb published an article in the New York Times highlighting the growing crisis in London property. His view- that Prime London property has become a global currency- has been said before, and rightly. However the timing of his article hit the zeitgeist of growing anxiety about the mismatch between London as a place to live, the capital of the United Kingdom, and London as a playground of the globalized rich. 

The squeeze in London is having a strongly negative effect on large areas of British Society, and the influx of hot money from places such as China, Russia and the Arab World- not to mention crisis-hit EU member states is not just undermining the social fabric of London but the economic fabric of the UK.

At the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow, several London based members made the point that these apartments now owned by the global uber-rich are often left empty, so at night you see few lights on in Mayfair and Belgravia- and the impact on the c…

Blogging On

Blogging has become more and more intermittent of late.
There are two reasons, one weak and one perhaps less so.
The weak reason is that I have been travelling even more than usual and have simply got out of the habit. 
The other reason is that this blog has its origin in my political activism, and although I am more motivated than ever to try to put forward a platform for economic, social and political change, the fact is that I am much less sure that conventional politics in the UK can deliver necessary reform.
The Liberal Democrats have been a great ideas factory. Many of their ideas were so powerful that they were adopted by the party's political competitors: most recently the increase in the tax-free rate, but also in many other things, such as the independence of the Bank of England.
Most of all the Lib Dems were the party that recognised the deep problems of the British constitution. The position of the citizen, which we call a "subject" in the UK, has been undermined …