Monthly Archives: August 2014

Hamas and Israel

Should the UK become involved in the conflict between Israel and Hamas or in the conflict between ISIS and various other groups in the middle east?

It is often said that a government’s prime duty is the defence of the realm. Even that is not as simple as it sounds. As good a place to start is to consider the concept of the ‘just war’.Three such ’causes’ have, since Roman times, been cited as reasons for declaring war: invasion, breaking a treaty and damage to or theft of property.

The UK’s military have been in action continuously since the second world war. In my opinion few of these actions could be described as ‘just’ on that basis. Indeed, only three spring to mind: Korea, Kuwait and the Falklands. Of these only the third involved one of the UK’s possessions. Was there any moral justification for the other interventions?

Many were triggered by human rights atrocities of one sort or another. These always pose a problem for me: such intervention demands that the UK chooses one side over the other and often, with hindsight, it seems that the wrong side was chosen. The classic case of such a decision was the Vietnam War and it is much to Harold Wilson’s credit that he refused to be drawn into that conflict despite huge pressure from the US.

Guilt comes into this too. In places we controlled when we ran an empire, we drew lines on maps that bore little reference to the people living in those areas – especially in Africa. Those who took control in the middle east after the first world war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (which, of course, included the UK) repeated those mistakes: they also drew lines (almost literally in the sand) which took little account of traditional boundaries. To be fair, in all these cases those boundaries were very fluid and fluidity is something that the so-called developed world finds difficult to accept.

There is also a sense of guilt over the creation of the state of Israel. Any group which retains a religious loyalty which transcends national boundaries can be seen as being a threat to governments (even when they are not) and the Jews have been a convenient target for regimes that wished to divert attention from their own actions. It is perfectly understandable that a significant number of Jews would decide that the only escape from anti-Semitism was to create their own homeland.

Thus the creation of a Jewish state in the middle east came into being. You can argue about the rights and wrongs of the creation of that state but the fact is that it was created and, very importantly, it was recognised as being a bona fide state by the United Nations in 1948. Israel created a focal point for inter-group tensions in that part of the middle east and many were not happy to accept the (democratic?) decision of the UN and vowed to destroy Israel and all the Jews living therein.

This is central to many of the problems in the middle east as I see them – which does not mean that I am right. We, the west, think in terms of democracy. They, the people of the middle east do not. They do not respect the ballot box (although many living there world wish it to be otherwise): they respect power. We have ample evidence of that. Following free and fair elections held in places such as Egypt (usually greeted with joy on all fronts) matters begin to turn sour when the new, democratically elected government proves less powerful than the leaders of some of the ‘parties’ that lost at the election.

It is as if, in May 2015, Red Ed were to win the election and the new leader of the opposition (shall we call him J?) succeeded in persuading enough members of our armed forces and or police to mount a military coup. It is impossible to imagine that happening in the UK, isn’t it? Are we sure? If things weren’t working (remember the three-day week, the piles of rubbish in the streets, unburied bodies?) then there could be enough tension for violence to break out and if Red Ed could not restore order and J could . . . We have ample evidence that this scenario, so alien to us here in the UK, would be the norm in parts of the middle east with the possible exception of Israel.

As an aside: to make matters worse, faction A sees that faction B has broken a treaty or damaged property and so the retaliation becomes a just war. But that retaliation also breaks that treaty or damages property and so now faction A sees this as a just war.

To return to the main argument: we have decided that this time we really do know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Let us assume that in this case it is the Israelis who are the bad guys because the have used dis-proportionate force against the people of Gaza.

What can we do? Well, we could stop selling things to Israel (including arms). Assuming that this so weakens Israel as to make it impossible for them to continue action again Gaza (and there is no point in doing it unless that can be achieved) we have now given Hamas the opportunity for which they have been waiting – an Israel weak enough for the forces of destruction to go in and annihilate or evict the Jews: mission accomplished – no more Israel. Only there are a lot of Jews who do not live in the UK and over whom we have no control. It is inconceivable that they would just stand back and watch this happen. Is that sort of action against Israel really likely to bring peace and stability of the middle east?

If you agree with me that it is not, you would also probably agree that we would not be able to clear the first hurdle (making Israel weaker than Gaza) but there is one thing we would achieve. Our government would no longer be on speaking terms with the Israeli government and any influence we might have had would then be lost. (This point was made by Dr Sarah Woolaston MP on letters to some of her constituents and it is, I think, a very valid point despite the reception it received).

So, as far as I can see, there is nothing we can do to make matters better other than to try to help with any peace proposals should our help be sought.

This is NOT to say that I condone the way in which the Israeli have been used. It is NOT to say that I am unmoved by the appalling sights coming our of Gaza. The amount of force used by Israel is terribly wrong and I cannot see that it can do anything other than harm. Frankly I despair of the situation but I am prepared to accept that if I had as a neighbour a regime that was intent on wiping me and mine off the face of the planet, I might well behave just as badly. Wouldn’t you?

Not That It Matters

For various reasons, we have created a division of Devonwriters (the name of the partnership within which I work) called Dartside Press. This is because the office is pretty close to the river Dart here in Devon and this division is going into publishing. We can afford to do this because of ebooks. To do so with printed books would be far too costly.

Even then there is a lot to learn and I decided that I wanted something simple on which to cut my teeth. The result is a compilation of some of the political stuff I wrote in 2011 and 2012 – suitable edited and embellished as required. It is called “Not That It Matters” for two reasons. The first is that it seems a pretty accurate title. The second is that it was the title of a delightful collection of essays written by A A Milne who, apart from his children’s books, was a brilliant writer in an era when writing styles were at their most elegant (a personal opinion, of course). Anyway, this was to doff my cap at him (and at his son near whom we once lived and who I knew slightly).

The book is priced at a very reasonable £1.83 but I am afraid is available from Amazon alone at the moment. I have another steep learning curve to climb before we publish in other formats but hope get there reasonably soon. Should you care to know more click here.

The economic arguments for and against the UK remaining in the EU

As some of you will know, I have been trying to come to a sensible view as to whether or not there are any economic advantages in remaining in the EU. I have read so many contrary views on the subject that I remain convinced that on this it is too close to call but that we should hear as wide a range of opinions as we can.

So I asked Paul Pizzala to write a blog for me and here it is. He trained as an economist (BA Hons Economics) and read Finance and Investing for his MA. Having worked for an investment bank in the City for a number of years, he decided to return to college (Schumacher College here in Dartington to be precise) and now holds an MSc in Holistic Sciences. He is presently Financial Director of the Totnes Renewable Energy Society.

* * *

First I would like to thank Rodney for sponsoring my thoughts on this subject. To frame them my career background is in investment management with a degree in Economics and masters in finance and ecology.

From a career perspective these sorts of meditations seemed to arise on the brink of change inducing a flurry of economic and strategic analysis, in terms of competitive advantage and free trade, leading to a cost benefit analysis. The politics and economics are interwoven: as are issues of sovereignty, national identity and having a place at the negotiating table where powerful global institutions are deemed to shape the course of events and pecking order. Personally, I don’t have sufficient knowledge to untangle the economic and political framework in terms of the treaties that have been negotiated and what rights, subsidies and taxes they create and how this affects the terms of trade and the functioning of a particular economy in a global market.

For me the root question is: how can competition and collaboration be organised in a way that allows people and markets to promote well being which may result in very different ways of organising markets and free trade? The term free trade actually hides a historical imperative to be able to invest surplus capital internationally and for those countries with surplus capital to grow their economies and this has antecedents in any civil society that produces surplus usually in the expansion of boundaries. Clearly the best current example of this is the US at the vanguard of globalisation and free trade and the question of free trade is who is it actually free for and is it in the best interests of all participants? The historian AJP Taylor discusses the mobilisation of US capital post the second world war as the start of this monetary trend and, irrespective of the political and other motivations, it has created powerful forces that have become institutionalised through trade agreements and flows of international capital, goods, and services.

The typical economic analysis is that freedom of movement creates win-win situations aiding the development of economies and societies through creating new wealth and innovation, however it is wise to question these assumptions and to try and test them objectively in some ways according to other principles. In a a very brief conversation with Marc Faber (a well known investor and market commentator) I asked whether there was something better than the free market to organise wealth and well being and his answer was not socialism. This polarisation of view without testing assumptions and looking openly without conviction at other possibilities, in my experience, puts on the blinkers and generates an intense political charge around one sided ‘isms’, ideologues and fundamental positions that are shades of the same colour. It would be naïve to say that we are operating in a world with vested interests, bargaining positions and short term cycles and this does put strong constraints on the negotiating table.

As a recent student of ecology and organisational change, I believe that there are some objective tests of what a well ordered political economy should be delivering and looking at the data you can see the widening gap between ‘rich and poor’ in the most developed countries as wealth seems to ‘trickle up’ in to more concentrated pockets whilst government balance sheets strain under the cost of welfare. At the global level there is plenty of evidence to suggest that growing economies are not delivering increased levels of welfare. In fact they point to the reverse: after a certain point wealth seem to diminish welfare.

The debate of whether we should be ‘inside or outside’ the EU, in my view. depends on intentions and motivations and whether it is serving a particular group of political interests. I would like it to be more a question of how to open the conversation at all levels. It is not, in my view, healthy for a democratic elite to shape the agenda and the likelihood is that this debate will be just another example of short term and cyclical politics. Personally, I doubt that it will make a real difference to governance and welfare: the risks are skewed to the downside of executing and making it happen with all the potential for unintended consequences, which a fragile system of governance is not well equipped to handle.

Paul Pizzala

You may care to visit Paul’s blog/