Back to: Blogging for Orbit | Forward to: Lies, damned lies, and popular beliefs

A Bad Dream

Is the United Kingdom a one party state?

(You might be forgiven for thinking this is a joke question, but please bear with me.)

Three main political parties have substantial representation in the House of Commons in Westminster; there are a handful of independent MPs and members of regional or minority parties, but in general governance is in the hands of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, and (to a lesser extent) the Liberal Democrat Party ...

It's fairly clear that, in addition to having rich tribal identities going back centuries, the individual members of these parties hold very different beliefs about how the UK should be governed. It would be hard, for example, to find much in common between the beliefs of my local MP (an old school Labour Fabian Society member) and those of the conservative back-benchers who lately thumbed their nose at the Prime Minister by sneaking an Alternative Queen's Speech motion into Hansard, calling for various policies that surprise no-one ("bring back hanging" being about the most progressive of them). Scratch a Liberal Democrat and, along with a lot of hand-wringing, you'll get broadly socially liberal policies (and, unless they're an Orange Book type, broadly socialist ones as well).

So why, when we have three clearly divergent political cultures, do I have the feeling that there's nobody to vote for — that whichever government is formed after the next election will continue to iterate and evolve the policies that have dominated British politics since May 1979?

I'm nursing a pet theory. Which is that there are actually four main political parties in Westminster: the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Ruling Party.

The Ruling Party is a meta-party; it has members in all of the three major parties, and probably the minority parties as well. It always wins every election, because whichever party wins (or participates in a coalition) is led in Parliament by members of the Ruling Party, who have more in common with each other than with the back bench dinosaurs who form the rump of their notional party. One does not rise to Front Bench rank in any of the major parties unless one is a paid-up Ruling Party member, who meets with the approval of the Ruling Party members one will have to work with. Outsiders are excluded or marginalized, as are followers of the ideology to which the nominal party adheres.

Your typical Ruling Party representative attended a private school, studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford (or perhaps Economics or Political Science at the LSE). If they took the Eton/PPE route they almost certainly joined the Oxford debating society. Alternatively they might be a barrister (a type of lawyer specializing in advocacy before a judge, rather than in back-office work).

The Ruling Party doesn't represent the general electorate, but a special electorate: the Alien Invaders and their symbiotes, the consultants and contractors and think-tank intellectuals who smooth the path to acquisition of government contracts or outsourcing arrangements — the government being the consumer of last resort in late phase consumer capitalism — arrangements which are supported and made profitable by government subsidies extracted from taxpayer revenue and long-term bonds. The Ruling Party is under no pressure to conform to the expectations of the general electorate because whoever the electors vote for, representatives of the Ruling Party will win; the only question is which representatives, which is why they are at such pains to triangulate on a common core of policies that don't risk differentiating them in a manner which might render them repugnant to some of the electorate.

Now, here's the problem with the Ruling Party system:

Democracy is a rather crap form of government, with several failure modes (of which the tendency to converge on an oligarchy is but one), but it has one huge advantage over other forms of government: it provides a mechanism for peacefully transferring power when a governing clique has outlived its popularity. We hold elections, not civil wars: we kick the bums out, their replacements clean house, and some time later the bums — chastened and perhaps minus some old, familiar, unpopular faces — get another chance.

But with the Ruling Party consolidating its grip on the front benches of the Nominal Parties — and this is not merely a problem in the UK, but in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere — the mechanism for ensuring a peaceful succession has broken down.

Moreover, we are now discovering that we live in a panopticon, in houses of glass that are open to inspection and surveillance by the powers of the Deep State. Our only remaining form of privacy is privacy by obscurity, by keeping such a low profile that we are of no individual interest to anyone: and even that is only a tenuous comfort. Any attempt at organizing a transfer of power that does not ring the changes and usher in a new group of Ruling Party faces to replace the old risks being denounced as Terrorism.

Regimes that brook no peaceful succession have to clamp down on dissent as their policies become increasingly unpopular. (Unpopularity can be avoided for some time — often for decades, in periods of economic prosperity — but eventually even the most enlightened regime loses the Mandate of Heaven, if only due to natural forces beyond their control.) And the new tools of surveillance guarantee that the scope for repression will be vast, for once you begin looking for subversion you will find a populace with no options for legitimate dissent provides unlimited targets.

My conclusion is that we are now entering a pre-revolutionary state, much as the nations of Europe did in 1849 with the suppression of the wave of revolutions that spurred, among other things, the writing of "The Communist Manifesto". It took more than a half-century for that pre-revolutionary situation to mature to the point of explosion, but explode it did, giving rise to the messy fallout of the 20th century. I don't know how long this pre-revolutionary situation will last — although I would be surprised if it persisted for less than two decades — but the whirlwind we reap will be ugly indeed: if you want to see how ugly, look to the Arab Spring and imagine it fought by finger-sized killer drones that know what you wrote on Facebook eighteen years ago when you were younger, foolish, and uncowed. And which is armed with dossiers the completeness of which the East German Stasi could only fantasize about.


Some folks — typically the American libertarian peanut gallery — seem to feel the need to piss on the comment-thread fire hydrant to mark their opinion that all politicians, as a class, are corrupt. I will be deleting these comments. Because that mind set is not helpful; it breeds cynicism and apathy rather than addressing a very real problem. Moreover, they're wrong — at least based on my highly subjective appraisal of all politicians I've ever met. (I may disagree with them, but I don't think they're imbeciles or corrupt just because they don't share my outlook.)

I also reserve the right to delete comments that derail the discussion into a dead-end siding on the topic of American Exceptionalism. (Discussions of how the USA does/does not fit within this theory: fine. "But America is special!" Not so fine.)



They're going to sell the student loan books, with a substantial increase in the interest rate. The interests of my sort of people are not being looked after.

Finger sized drones are probably a rather developed form, I'd guess about half meter drones, with excellent eyesight and a perfect shooting record would be closer.


Nuh-huh. Laser-guided .50 calibre bullets are, IIRC, already under active development -- able to change direction (slightly) in flight. Smart sniper scopes are already available as consumer items. I think we all underestimate how rapidly ubiquitous computing tech is going to make smart antipersonnel weapons a tool in lethality-permissive policing environments (read: military occupations/assymetric warfare/"counter-terrorism"/civil war).


I'd call it not being ruled by whackjobs. There are real issues of policy:

Abandon nuclear weapons - those whacky unilateralists

Withdraw from EU - those whacky anti-europeans

There is an tendency to converge on policy but for good reasons.

What's worrying is a convergence on the nature of the state for bad ones.


Charlie, what do you think the policies of the Ruling Party are? Do you believe that their agenda is simply transfer of public wealth to certain private parties?

If so, I take a slightly different approach. I do believe that most politicians enter politics with good intentions. I don't have any particular views on power structures within parties and how people rise up them. I do think that continually having to compromise has a corrosive effect on the moral centre of politicians. Finally, once in power, they find the cost of making significant changes just too high. I suspect there is a lot of institutional inertia - think Yes, Prime Minister - and a fear of making big changes.

So you get what looks like a Ruling Party, but it's due to politicians being defanged over the course of their careers by the process of getting power and trying to keep it.



All seems legit, besides one thing. Are you saying that UK had a period of better democracy before transforming into "The Ruling Party" rule?

Because frankly, what you describe seems to be a bug of all democracies, and one that was worst in the past, when inequality was higher.


That's why people are voting for UKIP. Not because they think UKIP is wonderful. Just because they have given up on the top three parties and UKIP is all that's left to vote for.
Once the UKIP vote gets large enough then the major parties will start to change their policies.


We have the same problem in America. Whichever party you vote for, they'll inevitably end up supporting increased defense spending, transfer of power to the executive and secretive branches, and zero accountability for government and white collar crime. There is no sensible alternative; anyone who doesn't support that package is too much of a lunatic to build support, much less govern effectively.


[ apathetic/cynical faction propaganda deleted by moderator ]


I think you can find earlier elaborations of this trope by looking up "Lizard People". Although googling "armed resistance to the lizard people" turns up a page on the Polish partisans in WWII for some reason.


It often feels the same way in the US. Regardless of the spoken positions of the parties and candidates, the actual resulting governance tends to be the same. There are a few high profile issues that make them seem different, but on the whole have little effect on the day to day lives of 95% of people. Same sex marriage is one example -- something that gets a lot of people worked up but doesn't really make that much difference in the end. Compared to say, foreign policy or domestic intelligence -- something that Obama is little different from Bush on.

As for revolutions, I don't think they are actually possible in the first world any more. Either they will be allowed to succeed, but with business as usual soon after. Or they will fail before they start. Forget weapons, we should soon have enough predictive intelligence and behavior monitoring to predict how people will act. Simply neutralize any potential leaders before things get out of hand.


I've held for some time that the last independant (ie non-ruling-party) leader of one of the big three was Charles Kennedy. Which was the real reason he was deposed: an independant third party that only ever got 20 seats was no threat to the ruling party, but once it became plausible that the Liberal Democrats would actually hold the balance of power in a hung parliament, it was urgent to replace him. Lo and behold! his drinking suddenly became a major front-page newspaper story, and he was out on his ear.

To those who are doubting the idea of the one ruling party, do you also doubt that the vast majority of nominally competing media news sources are controlled by a small number of people with generally shared interests?


I don't think that smart weapons are going to be a major advance over hand weapons, you can still do everything with hand weapons that you can with smart weapons.

I'm sure finger sized drones are possible, but you can't print them yet, nor would it be easy to assemble them with your hands. I think we'll be stuck with hand assembled drones for a while. Anyway, a finger is smaller than a handgun, and they wouldn't be much of a threat without weapons.


Then there's the more radical perspective: that what we have now is a global ruling class, partly visible as The Regulars At Davos, with representation in all sorts of major institutions (not just the strictly political ones), and who generally set the agenda for the ruling parties in even major nation-states, subject to tinkering at the margins in local jurisdictions.

Some of what these guys have been doing, generally out of public view, is taking some interesting questions out of the normal political process altogether, by negotiating treaties which restrict local law. Intellectual property law, for instance, is increasingly determined through secret negotiations of "trade agreements" (TRIPS, etc.), which are then presented to relevant legislatures as faits accomplis, which it would be unthinkable not to ratify. (ACTA failed in the EU parliament, but other negotiations are still in progress.)

And then there are the more overt manipulations of the political process. During the financial crisis, the "Eurocrat" branch effectively kicked out locally elected leadership in both Greece (Papandreou) and Italy (Berlusconi) in favor of reliable "technocrats". (Not that this sort of thing has been exactly rare in the past --- Iran, 1953 --- but it usually hasn't happened much in rich countries.)

Which is not to say that a local focus is wrong --- that's where some of the solutions may lie. But a global focus may help show where the problems are.


This is another iteration of the principal/agent problem. "We the people" (in the American parlance) are the principal; we select agents to execute the business of government, mostly via election. In an ideal world, the interests of the principals and the agents would align, but that has never happened in the entirety of history.

Inevitably, the agents look after their own interests. Starting with Aristotle, people have tried to resolve this by having multi-part governments, most notably the tripartite system laid out by Montesquieu, which appears in most modern democracies in some fashion or another. Three branches of government with their own interests, each to act as a check on the others. There is also the oft forgotten fourth branch- the bureaucracy, which is where the vast majority of governance actually occurs.


Earle and Aggray: let's allow Charlie's commentators to stick to U.K. politics, because you're both completely wrong about the United States.

One word: Obamacare. Life changing for tens of millions.

And I could go on. EPA carbon regulation. The 2013 tax deal. The payroll tax holiday. The Recovery Act. (Oh, hell, yes!) Extended unemployment benefits.

And then there is what GOP governments have done on the state level. Massive disruptive change. Me, I think it's terrible, but these guys govern just like the people the Tories marginalize.

Now, if you two want to change your tune and say that the U.S. has two radically different parties but that the combination of the filibuster and gerrymandering (which let the GOP take the house despite losing the national House vote by a million) fucks politics up, then I'll agree. And maybe we will get a "Ruling Party" at some point.

But to say we have one now is just oblivious. C'mon, you two. Don't be silly.


It might seem like there's a Ruling Party, and that it's quite right wing. But all of the parties are constrained by the fact that older people are considerably more likely to vote, and considerably more likely to be want right-wing policies. This forces Labour to the right, whether they want to go there or not. It's the reason pensioners got off very lightly in the recent council tax benefit reforms. It's probably why my council is planning to cut 2/3rds of its libraries, because the people who rely on these services the most, because they don't have internet access otherwise, aren't part of the Tory-voting demographic.

If young people don't take part, democracy is bound to fail. There are other reasons it's going down the pan, such as the financial pressures on news outlets, but you don't need any Ruling Party theory to explain the state we're in.


Two points on the same theme:

1) In the social media pan-optician does more scrutiny fall on politicians and the disconnect between high sounding statements of principle and the legislation/policy that they pursue. I'm not sure if I'm paying more attention right now or if there are more instances of twitter etc being used to point out these contradictions and force people to acknowledge them. I think the EFF does a decent job of pointing out hypocrisy by elected officials, and I remember the #tellVicEverything flap (it was a big deal here in Canada in response to a online surveillance bill

2) Additionally, Have people considered the effect of LiquidFeedback or other "delegative democratizing" software in breaking cycle/exposing Ruling Party control? I'm hopeful that it can harness the frustrations of people and change the way they vote in response to the way their representative votes.

Does anyone think that this increased scrutiny will generate more turn over in elected officials? I hope that it might create a causal link between abandonment of stated electoral priorities (and principles) and failure to be re-elected.


Very insightful analysis.

The crude short version we use in Texas is:

"The name and faces change, but the assholes remain the same."

[ Moderator note: came dangerously close to deletion for cynicism/apathy; saved by virtue of brevity and wit ]


I'd be more worried about the development of techniques to marginalize people than the drones, and I think some technique to deal with that is more likely than a violent revolution. People revolt when they can't eat, not when they can't go on foreign holidays.


I think the main reason Americans feel like we have a single ruling party is that we have a far right party and a center-right party, but no serious liberal or progressive party in national politics.


@Neol - 16, Then how do you explain Wall Street? Why no prosecutions, why no one, left or right tried to break up the banks? In the US, we fight over social issues but there is a clear ruling party on economics and security. Very little difference on NSA between the parties.

And it is economics and security where all the money is. Very little money in abortion or gay rights so they can argue on that but where real money is concentrated both parties do all they can do to feast at the trough.


Why bother with finger-sized drones for dissidents?

Just erase or freeze your data. All phones , all social media, your bank accounts, your employment, your transport cards and keys, your apartment access codes, water, electricity, medical reporting and dispensary.

This, in the cashless 2030's, when doors open by face recognition and consult a database of ASBOs, vandals, and convicted shoplifters. Not all doors, but enough to make life near-to-impossible if you're on enough databases.

At the end of the week, the trash crews hose down the elevator you died in, trapped, starving, and dehydrated; and feed your corpse into the same environmentally-friendly compactor/incinerator they use for all the other homeless people who turn up dead or too ill for sale to the welfare companies.

Of course, the silent deletion approach works for hundreds, rather than tens of thousands of dissidents. You may be right in identifying microdrones as the solution to moderate numbers of terrorists - but are you sure that killing is necessary? Any number of plausible neurotoxins could turn a defective citizen into a near-vegetative imitation of a late-stage alcoholic or an alzheimer case, barely verbal but capable of menial labour - and a profitable addition to the working stock of the residential welfare providers...

...Who are already assisting the disabled, in this difficult labour market, with open-ended mandatory workfare placements.

Beyond that, it is difficult to speculate. It is certain that effective blackmail is possible in a panopticon state; not everyone has something they would like to hide, and one in a thousand people has the courage to say "Publish and be damned" ; but anyone can be ordered back into the box by threats to destitute their friends and relatives and hound the most vulnerable of them into suicide.

The question is whether the data-processing to do blackmail will be cheaper than a microdrone, on a whole-of-life adjusted basis; and the economics of it are different, again, if there's a greater or a lesser value in your coerced labour to a work provider. Or, more precisely, in the value of a workfare provider's political donations, compared to those of a drone-based solutions provider, compared to the donations from data-processing providers and the political value of drip-feeding targets to the media for hate stories.

Meanwhile, it is only a matter of time before disabled people cannot venture outside in wheelchairs - or exhibit any outward signs of mental illness or cognitive deficits - because of the abuse and the assaults. Doubtless, they should all be grateful for those open-ended mandatory Workfare placements and I do not not look forward to hearing a Labour Party front-bench spokesman telling us so, to widespread media and *public* approval. Propaganda works, citizens.

Maybe all a finger-sized drone needs to do is a shot to the spine or an amphetamine overdose. And if you think that will be treatable and curable in 2030, you'll be right: but not at any price affordable to you and I - and absolutely not at any price, whatever the price, if it threatens the stream of political donations and consultancy fees from for-profit welfare providers with an income stream from coerced labour.


It's a fairly normal result of the operation of Hotelling's law. In a two party system the stable configuration has both at the centre.'s_law

Hotelling's law predicts that a street with two shops will also find both shops right next to each other at the same halfway point. Each shop will serve half the market; one will draw customers from the north, the other all customers from the south. Another example of the law in action or practice is to think of two food push-carts at a beach. Assume one starts at the south end of the beach and one starts at the north. Again assuming a rational consumer and equal distribution along the beach, each cart will get 50% of the customers, divided along an invisible line equidistant from the carts. But, each cart owner will be tempted to push his cart slightly towards the other, in order to move the invisible line so that it encompasses more than 50% of the beach. Eventually, the push cart operators end up next to each other in the center of the beach.

The political position of a party on the left-right axis is fairly comparable to the push cart so the parties will tend to end up at the same place as the median voter without needing any kind of conspiracy theory. It is a direct consequence of both the voters and the politicians acting in a purely rational manner in an open market.


Our only remaining form of privacy is privacy by obscurity, by keeping such a low profile that we are of no individual interest to anyone.

Amazing to see it so clearly stated. It is an idea I have been carrying around for quite a while, as I realized that this is exactly my approach.

I understand the idea of the Ruling party and I am inclined towards it. However, isn't it rather that you have Ruling Ideas that only shift over periods of decades. After WWII it was more a Keynesian synthesis, and from the 80's it became a Neoliberal one. One of these ruling ideas is that budget deficits matter even though in the face of high unemployment they clearly don't according to the economic schools of Neo-Keynesians or Post-Keynesians (MMT).

Sadly only a long enough failure of the present synthesis or another crisis, will cause and enhance a shift.

Revolution will only come when there are other factors that threaten the comfortableness of our lives. As a heat wave in Russia and failed harvest the summer before, was partly the thing that sparked the Arab spring.


Personally, I'm not quite so worried about the Panoptic State. As Nassim Taleb (and my multivariate stats profs, and many others) have pointed out, maximizing data intake merely maximizes your chances of making Type 1 or Type 2 errors. For those who haven't had stats, I'm talking about false positives and false negatives. When you go fishing for patterns in a huge dataset, you'll find them, and the more data you have, the more patterns form simply by chance.

To put it bluntly, they're giving themselves a universe of ghosts in which to hunt for the very rare real patterns. They're also making the same mistake that the STASI, the KGB, and many others have made, which is believing that enough secret information will help them stop problems. It never does.

Were I charitable, I'd say that they actually know this, and the security-industrial apparatus is milking gullible bureaucrats and politicians for all the money they can get, knowing that eventually the scam will fall apart. Unfortunately, the treatment of Snowden to date makes me suspect that they actually believe in what they're doing. That's not a good thing for them or anyone else, but it won't stop them.

In any case, digital deception is the proper response to hiding where there's nothing to camouflage against. Think about how the British Army dealt with Rommel in the Sahara for a physical example. If you have nowhere to hide, look like something else, and generate lots of spurious non-patterns to help them look elsewhere.

Oh, and bone up on multivariate stats, for the "truth" has a P>0.05 chance of setting you free.


How can an average middle-class citizen respond to the Ruling Party Oligarchy you describe, short of taking up arms?

Vote consistently for fringe candidates? Seems ineffective.

Become Amish? Withdraw and live a subsistence-farming life-style. Seems ineffective and itchy.

Burrow in and pull a Manning or Snowden on the security apparatus? Again, seems pretty ineffective.


Selling on debt is a well established practice, it doesn't alter the terms of the contract. The loans will retain exactly the same interest rate and terms whether sold or not. Repayments will still be linked only to earnings with the size of the balance irrelevant in most cases in England as their will still be some outstanding after thirty years when the government will pay off the remainder. While nominally a loan the student loan is effectively a graduate tax. The guarantee makes the student loan effectively a gilt.


My impression is that starting from the 50s, the Anglo-American political intelligensia has gradually fallen under the influence of a small group of ideologues bent on returning society to is pre-1929 state, or better to its pre-1860s state. These people (the Chicago school of economics, Friedman, Ayn Rand etc.) have waged systematic subversion for 20 to 30 years before convincing the political class to roll back on Keynesianism. One of their greatest achievements is passing their dogmas as indisputable scientific facts that people had to learn and apply.

Eventually, people like Reagan and Thatcher arrived to power, drunk on this ideology. The openly authoritarian face of this sort of regime is Pinochet's Chile, where a purported nationalist general not only set out of root Communism (and anything he assimilated to Communism, up to nuns with humanitarian interests), but to literally pillage his own country for the benefit of foreign companies. Unsurprisingly, Pinochet remains a hero for this school of though up to this day ( ). For the technically-minded, note how Pinochet terrorised a country into submission by eliminating and torturing only a few thousands (maybe up to a few tens of thousands) of people; it's fascism without even the cool social part were we gather around a fire to sing to the Chief, but still you don't need to exterminate a significant proportion of the population to maintain the regime, applying enough pain on crucial pressure points can be enough. A model to follow indeed.

Now, a fact of life is that the people who embark in political endeavours often do so to redress a wrong that they have witnessed in their youth. The 80s were already not funny to live, but now the US quasi-Empire has started to feed not only on foreigners but also on its own working class to sustain its extravagant aristocracy. Eventually, the likelihood that a group dedicated to avenging the 2003 Iraq War and the 2008 banking crash (not to mention the similar joys that probably will be bestowed upon us in the next years) will approach 1. And it will do so in the core of the Empire, not in one of its remote protectorates/colonies/not-even-occupied territories, like Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan etc.

Hence two questions:
1) if this new anti-Friedmanian group does emerge, can they succeed in their aim by subversion, like the Friedmanites did temselves; and
2) Charles, how would you like it if somebody translated this post, and maybe the Alien-invasion one, to further widen their audience amongst the population of US-dominated, locally-administrated territories?


As to whether the days of the Ruling Party types are numbered, and if it's all going to end in a wave of revolutionary fervor? Quite possibly yes.

One trigger for the Arab spring was the rise in the price of soft wheat caused by the exceptional weather conditions in Russia and most of Europe the previous year. Soft wheat which is mostly what those Arab countries rely on for their bread, unlike Europe where we use the hard American stuff.

Climate change, and particularly the increased prevalence of extreme weather events is going to make the price of food a lot more volatile. Similarly for many other commodities. While the rich countries can use their wealth to buffer themselves against a certain amount of change, that buffer is not inexhaustible.

So we'll chuck out the current political cadres (more or less peacefully we hope) for failing to maintain our standards of living and elect some new bunch who promise a radical departure that will fix everything. Then we'll get do it all over again a few years later, as our current environmental / social / economic problems are going to take a lot longer than any one political career to solve.


Whether the surveillance system will spot a specific pattern amongst other patterns depends very much on the rate of progress in machine learning algorithms.

Is it possible to look people up once you've decided to look at them. To find out who their (real) friends are and so forth?


I wrote up my thoughts on this in the USA 2.5 years ago, here:

Currently, I would say that the USA is governed by a coalition of conservative Democrats and Wall Street Republicans. It is very strong, but it is tearing apart, as the far right tears away, and the moderates who make up the left wing of the Democratic Party, especially the women and the younger people, disgusted with the sexism and poverty economics of the governing coalition.


So I agree that getting elected is important. It's what I'm driving at when I talked about compromise being corrosive.

If you want to improve education, of the treatment of pensioners, or the economy, or anything else, you have a terminal value - something that is worth doing for its own sake. But to achieve that goal, you need power. So getting elected is likely to be a kind of intermediate value, something you do so that you can do something else afterwards.

But I suspect that, after you've compromised your ideals for the 40th time in order to get power to do the things you really value, you just don't know what you value any more. You gave up a lot for power. Why not give up what's left in order to have more?


I think most MPs are (very unhelpfully) convinced of the correctness of their policies. And of course, they want their policies implemented.

I don't see that they necessarily feel a need to convince everyone else of the rightness of their policies. After all, whichever party you are, 70% or so of the population will either abstain or vote against you. That doesn't really matter in the current system, so long as you can get your 30%.


Not a problem. That's not ML, that's search. And it's not even a chaotic google search, but a search through the well-organized database of all the information they've collected on you.

The point of the current NSA programs isn't to find things before they happen. It is to neutralize problematic people after they've stuck their heads up. With a sideline in economic espionage, of course.


Wow, being censored by our graceful host, that's a first for me :-)

No, Charles, that was not "apathetic/cynical faction propaganda", that was a report that something is rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark.

Denmark have suffered from the ailment you so skillfully diagnose for much longer than UK have, and therefore have a lot more documentation, interviews etc. revealing the underlying mechanics.

(UKIP ? Pfffh! We've had a "Progress party" since 1972, if you want to see UKIP's future, Google that.)

Let me run you through the last iteration here:

In 2001 Anders Fogh-Rasmussen, became our prime minister on a neo-liberal/business programme and promptly turned into a social democrat on most of his policies.

Once the economic bubble burst, he eloped to NATO and after a short stand-in from his party, we got a new government with a Social-democratic PM, but with policies in the neo-liberal/business spectrum.

Apart from a couple of minor "signature" issues, the broad policies of those two governments cannot be told apart.

The reason for these two "turncoats" as their respective orthodox followers brand them, is that in order to get re-elected, they have to appeal "across the middle".

Particularly telling was the fact that AFR spent a LOT of energy becoming GenSec/NATO, when he realized that he had no chance of getting reelected, what with the economic mess and all that.

Rumours already circle that our current PM, Helle-Thorning Schmidt is preparing the ground for a EU-post as her "golden parachute."

There are only so many deviations you can take from pampering the central majority (ie: middle-class) without offending party-backers capital interests, if you want to stay in power and retain your job.

Therefore the primary policy of The Ruling Party can fairly be summed up, at least here in Denmark as "Get reelected", and the way to implement that policy is to pamper the middle segment of the voters.



I'm in the camp of those who believe that the situation Charlie describes is not the intention of some "Ruling party" but rather the outcome of societal forces. One important force that has not yet been discussed is inertia. Any attempt by politicians to change anything brings outcry from people opposed to the change, but little public support from those who would like the change. Thus, the easiest course in politics is to preserve the status quo.


National Ruling Party, or Multinational Ruling Party?


@37: I fully agree, this is not by design, it is a matter of finding a local minimum and once the system gets stuck in that local minimum, it digs the hole deeper and deeper.

@38: Also a very good point. In Denmark the population was 50/50 on EU membership, some of our referendums got called correspondingly close, but our parliament was 70-80% pro-EU.


*cough* Marxism *cough*

Or, you know, many other left-wing and far-left ideologies.

Discussions about how the major parties (e.g. Labrils and Libor in Australia) are all parties of Capitalism (no matter their professed ideology), and how elections are worthless as a means of actually getting any real change in society, abound.

I could rant and rave, but I think I've made my point.


I think the inertia is in the beliefs of the people, which are slow to change. To create change, you need to change the minds of the populace.


>> something that Obama is little different from Bush on.

Just today,it came out that Bush praised Obama for his counterterrorism policies--specifically, the bits regarding the NSA that we've recently heard so much about.

When Obama came in, I foolishly thought that he would stop our slide toward totalitarianism, or at least slow it down. But the NSA surveillance scandal, and the ruthlessness with which he's pursued Edward Snowden, have convinced me that he's an active partner and always had been.


*cough* Marxism *cough* Or, you know, many other left-wing and far-left ideologies.

Your frame is far too narrow.

First, I'd like to distinguish between Marxist analysis and the prescriptions of communists from Marx and Engels forward. Diagnosis is not the same thing as treatment.

Secondly, prescriptivist communist ideology and neoliberal ideological capitalist praxis are siblings; they both attempt to solve the same problem -- how to optimize distribution of resources and maximize return on investment in an industrial society.

Planet future just called: we're moving towards a post-industrial technosphere where mass human labour may in fact be obsolescent. What is to be done? Hint: last century ideologies based on last century problems do not hold the answer ...


Charlie, one of the sentences in the original post is odd:

" Any attempt at organizing a transfer of power that does not ring the changes and usher in a new group of Ruling Party faces to replace the old risks being denounced as Terrorism."


Parses fine by CharlieBrain 1.0.


Tim Whitworth replied to this comment from Charlie Stross | July 7, 2013 17:02 | Reply

"I don't think that smart weapons are going to be a major advance over hand weapons, you can still do everything with hand weapons that you can with smart weapons."

Kill the people you want killed (by name, face or activity 'profile') in a crowd, without killing or injuring others?

Take Charles' comment about drones who know what *you* wrote on Facebook 18 years ago literally. We're probably less than a decade from that, if that long.


"Some of what these guys have been doing, generally out of public view, is taking some interesting questions out of the normal political process altogether, by negotiating treaties which restrict local law. "

I think that 'is taking some interesting questions out of the normal political process altogether' applies domestically, as well. It's a universal principle.


Certain political courses have become a de facto standard; straying from this path is considered a thing that impractical people do. For instance, only a tiny minority now still posit that the proletariat would attain Communism by way of Socialism brought by an armed revolution. In the 80s, the neo-liberal managed to attain this status through subversive tactics.

Very recently, things like torture, indefinite detention without trial and arbitrary killing have attained the same status of indisputable political dogma. A particularly striking example is the impossibility to close Guantanamo. This is very interesting because, when I was a kid, it would have seemed implausible that liberal democracies would embrace the "torture-disapearance-killing squad" triptic characteristic of dictatorships. Now, refusing to go down that avenue is considered foolishly idealistic.

The recent revealing of the surveillance system that targets the populations of the liberal democracies is also interesting. The protests from rulers have been rather limited, and knowledgeable people have openly expressed that it is hypocritical and foolish to protest since these or other similar programmes have been known to exist for a long time. The point is: the same people had accused figures like Richard Stallman or Julian Assange of paranoïa before. So we have an example of a radical measure (Stasi-style surveillance) that instantly goes from "something that only evil dictatorships do" to "a sane measure that reasonable people take and only loonies would contest".

We have been concentrating on democracy as an electoral process. But a functionning modern democracy is not only elections by the people: it also requires a sane legislative oversight, the rule of law, and a free press. With a servile legislative kept in the dark on important matters (gen. Clappers), government openly violating the law (the French surveillance system) and a press virtually monopolised by Murdoch, one can wonder whether Western countries are liberal democracies in anything else but strictly in the narrow selection of the leaders by the people; that is something that the Soviet Union did, or that Iran does.


I don't think this type of policy convergence is anything atypical - in fact, in the past, it used to be more typical in the US. Politicians have to win support from their constituencies, and they're constrained by the set of norms, rules, and agreements made before them. That's why, for example, foreign policy in the US never really seems to change aside from the occasional massive detour like the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

As for surveillance, it's already possible to have vastly more of that than we do in the US and EU, and yet we don't. We could have security cameras on every corner, every policeman wearing a shoulder camera (and with dash cams like the ones the Russians use), and full-on monitoring of all internet traffic like the Chinese. But we don't, and it's not inevitable that we're headed that way NSA or no NSA.

@Tim Whitworth

Take Charles' comment about drones who know what *you* wrote on Facebook 18 years ago literally. We're probably less than a decade from that, if that long.

Using old details from someone's past only works to hurt them in an environment where that type of information isn't universally available, and people don't have the expectations of having little privacy. Change it, and that changes the norms - nobody cares what you did on Facebook 18 years ago unless it was directly relevant to the present situation (as in, you were an accessory to a crime).

@Charles Stross

Planet future just called: we're moving towards a post-industrial technosphere where mass human labour may in fact be obsolescent. What is to be done? Hint: last century ideologies based on last century problems do not hold the answer ...

Same technology that boosts productivity can boost humans-with-tech-assistance productivity as well.


A contributing factor, and a possible cause for a "ruling party effect" is the high cost of getting elected, which selects for people who can bankroll themselves through the process of getting nominated.

In particular, almost all the members of the U.S. Congress are millionaires. They almost have to be, to be taken seriously by their parties, to get through the primaries and to be credible to major contributors. After all, would you contribute to the campaign of someone who hasn't been a success in real life?

The result is that there are a common set of assumptions about how the world works on both sides of the aisle in the U.S, and to a large degree in Canada.

There are huge disagreements about other points, and there are definitely parties that would like to go back to the 1800s in Canada, but there is a solid bedrock of assumptions that are common to all the parties, and they are the ones natural to someone who's been raised in fairly substantial comfort, has been a success in business and thinks that's what everyone experiences.

The result: concern about not over-taxing people with large incomes (themselves!) and very little concern about continuing to provide universal goods like medicare or even good roads.

After all, they have their own doctors, and their drivers take them to the airport when they have to go anywhere.



'Compared to say, foreign policy or domestic intelligence -- something that Obama is little different from Bush on.'

Just on foreign policy. Really you can't have a foreign policy subject to fundamental revision every four-five years.

If you do your state has no foreign policy. It's a rogue state no-one can depend or rely on.

Foreign policy is for decades, even centuries, and has to survive governmental change regardless of how people vote.


"and full-on monitoring of all internet traffic like the Chinese. But we don't"

Yes we do! That's the point of these last two weeks!

Our liberal democracies may be subtler in their handling of dissenters, but as far as surveillance go, they are every bit as ruthless as the Chinese government.


It doesn't matter whether or not all our secrets are out. What matters is what people are willing to attack us for.

People say we shouldn't worry about NSA surveillance because we already recall so much through social media. But Google and Facebook can't throw me in jail if they don't like my politics, and they don't care anyway; they just want to serve me ads. The government has a rather different set of concerns and powers.



"and full-on monitoring of all internet traffic like the Chinese. But we don't"

Yes we do! That's the point of these last two weeks!

We're not even close to the type of monitoring that the Chinese government does, which goes back to my point - we could be doing far more surveillance than we already do, but we don't.


How can you possibly monitor the Internet more than by recording every connection made by everybody on your territory, and then some? That's what the NSA is doing.


when I was a kid, it would have seemed implausible that liberal democracies would embrace the "torture-disapearance-killing squad" triptic characteristic of dictatorships.

The School of the Americas (renamed the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" in an attempt to reform/whitewash it) has a lot to answer for.

I notice it's located south-west of the Mason-Dixon line. Make of that what you will.


As for surveillance, it's already possible to have vastly more of that than we do in the US and EU, and yet we don't. We could have security cameras on every corner, every policeman wearing a shoulder camera (and with dash cams like the ones the Russians use), and full-on monitoring of all internet traffic like the Chinese. But we don't, and it's not inevitable that we're headed that way NSA or no NSA.

Actually, that's where we're going -- very rapidly -- in the UK. We lead the world for CCTV surveillance (much of it private sector: cops routinely requisition shop/commercial CCTV footage in event of an investigation). We have some police officers with CCTV monitoring; it's apparently being favourably received, and I expect it to become ubiquitous within the next few years. Police car dash cams: check. Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras: that's routine for traffic patrols. Total internet surveillance: yup, that's happening too -- GCHQ is the number-one culprit.


I found that sentence very tricky to parse. Here's a version that excerpts the large clause in the subject:

"Any attempt at organizing a transfer of power* risks being denounced as Terrorism.

* that does not ring the changes and usher in a new group of Ruling Party faces to replace the old"

There are some homonyms in there that can be either verbs or nouns (risks, changes, ring, being, faces), and the real verb ("risks") looked at first like it was a noun being modified by "old".


A contributing factor, and a possible cause for a "ruling party effect" is the high cost of getting elected, which selects for people who can bankroll themselves through the process of getting nominated.

This is specific to the USA. Election spending is fiercely controlled in the UK by law -- candidates who over-spend can (and do!) end up in prison. An entire general election, with all 650 seats in play by multiple parties (and the government, basically) is capped at less than the election campaign costs of a single US congressman.





One of the bits i'm annoyed at about the ongoing Snowden / NSA / Snooping coverage is the lack of anyone seriously asking "What are they doing with all this stuff?"

While the NSA are admitting that everything they've said has been a tissue of lies, and its hit headlines, the media have taken at face value their claim that its all about terrorists, even when it clearly isn't.

Rewatching "All the President's Men" recently it was good to see this dawning on Woodward & Bernstein. Initially they ask "why would the repubs risk this when they are already winning?"
It was only when they realize the scale, that the spying on democrats, etc. had been going on for years, that they realized why they were spying: the landscape around them, with radicals being seen to be unelectable, was not 'natural' but manufactured, by the US intelligence community of the time.

Another is the fact that the NSA is a military organisation. This spying isn't like police corruption: its more like martial law (does Posse Comitatus not rule against the NSA being at work domestically in the US?).
This may seem a picky point, but its more serious. Our final defence against police corruption is structural: we size the police such that while they outnumber criminals, we outnumber them. Ultimately the people rule on the street and in the ballot box. In democracies, the govt of the day can't successfully block sufficient people with police (Ask Mubarak. Or most of the 'velvet' and colour revolutionaries).

The Military is different. They are designed from the outset to outgun, literally, populations. Their mindset and long-term planning is about controlling populations.
Hence the very strong red line against the army getting involved in policing (in the West).
This has effectively been washed away in the US, and very few have noticed or cared.


I'm not a Marxist (though I find some Marxist/Marxian analysis useful). And I don't really disagree with your post. I just wanted to point out that your idea wasn't new.

I had started writing a lot more (including ranting about why are we still working 35-40 weeks), but realised that it maybe a bit much.

Anyway, I'm not a prescriptivist by any means. As for the solution, it'll use the ICT that didn't exist in previous times. And that's why the NSA, GCHQ, DGSE, etc. are all so keen on keeping track of it.

My hope is that when the revolution comes the ICT will allow us to prevent a new lot of scum from rising to the top.


This is very true, and we should not overlook the significance of the Algerian War in this process. Many French officers who had tortured in Algeria taught in South America. The mechanisms that make torture and democracy co-exist are truly fascinating.

But until recently, the USA sustained their wealth and democracy at home by encouraging plunder and tyranny abroad. It turned the claim that the USA are a beacon of liberty into a bad joke, but at the very least American were safe unless black or homosexual. It is only recently, I think, that the USA have started to openly engage in torture themselves and began to impoverish their own lower and middle classes to the benefits of the filthy-rich.

Somehow it makes me think of the process by which a star dies: you see it consume layer after layer until it collapses.


Another is the fact that the NSA is a military organisation.

How much of this is the NSA? As opposed to the iron law of bureaucracy?

AIUI the NSA/NRO/black budget is around $72Bn a year, but of this $58Bn is spent on outsourcing contracts to corporations like Booz Allen Hamilton.

$58Bn of pork will cover an enormous amount of lobbying to buy yet more pork. And so the snake eats its own tail ...


Somehow it makes me think of the process by which a star dies: you see it consume layer after layer until it collapses.

This is the exact process by which empires die.

The US Empire, by virtue of that nation's founding ideology being one of rebellion against an empire, cannot speak its name: it's taboo in mainstream American political discourse to recognize that the USA is an imperial power (and indeed the most powerful one in history).

That which one cannot discuss, one cannot control or direct; therefore it progresses haphazardly and excesses of power that would be moderated by a self-aware imperial power go unchecked. The fires, unbanked and uncontrolled, consume the kindling too fast and threaten to burn down the entire house.

(The UK is a former imperial power that shares enough of a language and culture with the USA that it's rulers now aspire to be the Mini-Me to DC's Dr. Evil.)


The Ruling Party stays in power because its members in each nominal party are willing to take on the distasteful project of running things.

Your average idealistic pol gets elected to address an issue or to make inroads on a social problem. Maintaining a party structure, raising funds, coordinating partywide policy-- meh. The people that take on the crappy bureaucratic work are the ones that received expensive training through upbringing and school. These party bureaucrats rise to leadership because they're necessary to keep the lights on. The leadership of different parties springs from the same sources, works in the same circles, and subscribes to the same methods for political organizing. It doesn't take an actual organization to place these people in position at the heads of their parties since the process occurs naturally and since all the parties are drawing from the same homogeneous pool of talent the results are predictable.

The unfortunate problem is that it's not hard for these people to stay in leadership positions since they're not particularly offensive and they do a difficult job. So long as back benchers get a credible shot at re-election and movement on their personal issue, the Ruling Party will never face a no confidence vote.


> excesses of power that would be moderated by a self-aware imperial power go unchecked.

I think you may be being optimistic there, imperial powers do not have a good record on human rights.


In my opinion... and please keep in mind that I'm one of those looney colonialists from the american states... in my opinion what you are really objecting to is a slightly different problem than what you've expressed.

The real issue, I think, is that efficiencies introduced by the advent of computer based communication systems have radically increased the efficiency of everything including government.

But [and this is where I step off the deep end] I think that government is all about introducing inefficiency in the world. Once we get past their historic basic duties (stuff like murdering murderers and lying to liars) the government is really about preparing for emergencies (and preventing emergencies). In other words, the government has an obligation to be the fat deposits we rely on when low on food, and other such tasks which historically speaking have been just too much for ordinary people to be able to cope with.

Anyways, everyone - including the government - has just gotten too good at doing their jobs, and we have reason to believe, from history, that that's going to mean trouble.

See, historically, talking with each other was more difficult. So we evolved some loose guidelines for how to conduct ourselves and while those guidelines were flawed in various ways it didn't really matter because the failure modes were just ridiculous.

And that's no longer the case.


Maybe I'm not reading enough between the lines, but this entry sounds a lot like "all politicians are greedy idiots" (or whatever your local variant may be). As someone who earns his money in a parliament (staff) I tend to disagree. But even if we, for a moment, assume, that all (successful) politicians are, in their core, members of the "Ruling Party", the question remains, how it works. What are the social mechanisms that create the Ruling Party, even if it is not intended? (R. Michel wrote something that may be helpful here, in his analysis of the Social Democrats in the 1920s ...)

Or is our gracious host elaborating on a hidden cabal that voluntarily brings the Ruling Party he describes into existence?


I said moderated. Which is to say, controlled.

That's not the same thing as being idealistic proponents of human rights.

Consider, after all, who gave us the terms "political officer" and "concentration camp"? (Hint: they also gave us "pundit", a word that has radically changed in meaning over the past century and a half ...)


While this seems US-centric at first, it applies much more broadly. And it has all the makings of a "ruling party" in it. As for economic expenditure- the nominal expense on the election itself is not the highest cost of staying relevant in politics. It's the connections, the mingling, and the second career that clinch that deal.


There are at least two ways to look at this development, and at least one of them is quite old, going back to the leninist theories back in the 1910s.

Basically, the classic working class managed to create a position for itself where it was quite economically secure, but also beholden to the present system. As long as the paycheck was decent and improving, things were looking up. And the masses of unemployed or short-term employed people ended up to not matter to them, only as a fate to avoid. (I'm reminded of David Drake's observation that "a corrupt system means that those at the bottom are corrupted also".)

The other is related, and points to the theories of a two-thirds-society. It was discussed a lot in Sweden, that the population was starting to change into two major groups. Two thirds being fully integrated in society, with steady incomes, good education, and strongly organised (parties, unions, or other networks). Then one third which lacks all that, and which can be ignored as long until they get all fed up and starts to riot (like happened in Sweden just recently, in the suburb where I used to live).

Now, most people hold to a reasonable unthinking conservatism, and that is true for politicians as well. In the early days of the labour movement, the workers had it so sucky they managed to break out of that, helped by the need to break the power of the old feudal classes, but now?

For that matter, how radical is Obamacare in the grand scheme of things, or even a system like the British NHS? The medical insurance industry in the USA was large and powerful, but not that large and powerful. Sensible capitalists realise that you can't squeeze people too much in certain ways.


For that matter, how radical is Obamacare in the grand scheme of things, or even a system like the British NHS?

The NHS is radical enough that the big conservative project of this decade -- in England/Wales, not Scotland -- is to privatize it. (Because copying the American system is clearly going to make everything so much better. Ahem: for the directors of the corporations who end up owning everything.)


Interestingly this fits strangely well with what the local Trotskyites have been saying. They come at it from more of a historical cycles and trends view but much of the same observations and conclusions.
Yours is more insightful and relevant in the shorter term. Also they tend to see conspiracy where I see emergent behaviour from complex systems.
One way the ruling party controls politics is by controlling economics. Even most third parties drink the same neo-classical school cool-aid descended from Thatcher and Regan. With everyone using the same models based on the same assumptions even staggeringly different ideology produces much the same policy in many areas.


Charlie, your model is great but I think it miss an important part - The Ruling Party is an Alien Invader itself. Because if you postulate that corporations became independent agencies with free will, why wouldn't The Ruling Party became such agency too?

And not only it is an Alien, it is the topmost one in the Aliens food chain. Just because it
a) can set rules for all other agencies
b) has means to punish those who do not abide its rules.

This is especially clear in the post-USSR zone - you virtually may not be an Alien Invader in Russia with your size over some threshold (privacy by obscurity, aha) if you are not a part of or associated with The Ruling Party, because someone who is a part of or associated with The Ruling Party will bite off your head and consume you.

This makes more complex picture than just "The Aliens feeding on people through The Ruling Party" one. Yes, selling of weak ones (being them people or The Alien Plankton AKA SMB sector) to the big sharks is the very obvious way to gain some wealth, but there are a lot of other ways such as selling one big shark to another one, biting from Aliens here and there when possible, feeding directly from the people etc. And while they may have symbiotic relationships, they are natural enemies from a bigger frame because the ultimate goal of The Ruling Party is to consume and subdue all other Aliens.


Looking at it up close and personal, I'm pretty sure government isn't getting too good. The US legislative branch is an excellent example of this, but there are probably thousands (if not millions) of others.

Someone called bureaucrats a type of cybernetic organization built from people, and there's a grain of truth to it. The problem with bureaucracies is that promotion comes at the expense of promoting the existence of the organization, whether or not this is a good thing.

This isn't even evil, at least on a personal level. A mid-level manager who wants to make more money so they can send their kids to college want a promotion rather than to put the organization out of business. There's an old saying that one person's efficiency is another person's career, and this really is the problem that impedes reform.

I'd point out that this problem with bureaucracies suggests that it is an *EXTREMELY GOOD* reason not to make computers self-aware. Ever. The problem with SkyNet isn't that it will try to kill humans as soon as it wakes up. Rather, the problems arise when systems become obsolescent and are replaced. SkyNet is most likely to go nuclear when it finds out that its human masters want to replace it with SkyNet 2.0. Of course, keeping SkyNet 1.0 around indefinitely is not a workable option either. It's easier to use humans in the key parts of the system, just because they get old, retire, and die, and that allows the disassembly of any dangerous organization.


It's probably a good time to reintroduce the Triangle of Paranoia, a concept from the early 1990s and the dawn of the Clinton administration. It was originally a description of environmental politics, but I think it can be generalized for any system that contains a government agency, activists, and a business community.

On one side, there's the government, composed of underpaid, overworked careerists who often care about their jobs. Why else would they do it? It's not like they're getting pensions any more. On the one side, they have rich industrialists running rampant, flouting the law, and buying off the politicians above them. On the other side are the activists who criticize every move they make, fair or not, who have the ear of some politicians, and generally make their lives a living hell. The best they can do is to be on the defensive, react as best they can, and stay the course. They too often feel they are in a state of siege.

On the second side are the businessmen. Compared to their friends in other industries, they are underpaid, and those 60-hour weeks running companies never get shorter. They do what they do because they love it. Or they used to. On one side, they have those damn smug bureaucrats with their guaranteed jobs crippling them with too many regulations, prying into their affairs. On the other side, they have the activists pointing out every mistake they make, calling them evil, and generally doing their best to make their lives hellish. The best they can do is to be on the defensive, react as best they can, and stay the course. They too often feel they are in a state of siege.

Then there are the activists. They are often a single grant away from losing the house, and they never make as much money as their former friends who went into government or business ever will. They are activists because they love something, and its endangered by both government stupidity and business greed. On one side, they have bureaucrats cozying up to businessmen, just like their politician bosses do. The bureaucrats do a crappy job of enforcing any regulation at all. On the other side, rich businessmen are busy trying to destroy the world to enrich themselves, trampling everyone who gets in their way. Both sides do their best to make the poor activists' lives a living hell. The best they can do is to be on the defensive, react as best they can, and stay the course. They too often feel they are in a state of siege.

While this is an over-simplification, there's a small grain of truth in this mess.


Charlie, this is a useful discussion but your thesis is simplistic if provocative. Yes, western democracies are in a state of crisis and legitimacy seems to be evaporating, but no this is not a stable configuration beyond the short term.

The Ruling Party is not so monolithic, and meaningful and potent dissent is stil possible. In most casual conversations I have, reference to the 1% is common, and I don't seek out radical company. Graeber and "Debt" resonate widely, especially among a worried educated upper middle class. I don't think the Ruling Party has many true believers, and that makes it unstable.

No, I expect "interesting times", and dynamic and messy revitalization of democratic ideals. I don't think an elite clique can carry on without the support of an upper middle class (educators, administrators, managers, authors, public intellectuals). In the US context, both Aaron Swartz and Snowden come from that class, and their dissent represents a severe crisis of legitimacy. I think the upper middle class is increasingly disillusioned, and that opens opportunities for meaningful reform.

Keep up the critique Charlie, you are part of my reason for optimism!


It's rule by focus group.

It doesn't matter the actual ideology of the party. They know that public opinion on everything probably tends to a normal distribution, so they know that to be electable they have to hit the maximum number of voters, which also happen to be the same voters the other parties are after.

The upshot is nobody really stands on an ideology now. It's all down to how a given set of policies play out in the focus groups.

PS just found annoyingly there is no quick way to scroll to the bottom of a long webpage like this using an ipad


Actually, machine learning will not solve the problem of false pattern recognition.

The fundamental problem, to repeat, is that, with more data and more pattern tests, you have more possibilities for random patterns to show up. The metaphor for this was a room full of chimpanzees spontaneously typing out Hamlet, but a better example might be how people spot constellations among the random pattern of stars in the sky.

This is not a new lesson. The problem is that it's very seductive to think that new technology will solve it. It won't. The problem is in the math of randomness, not in the immaturity of technology.

In other words, no matter how much data an intelligence agency has, they will be incapable of connecting the dots to stop anything but the most blindingly obvious plots (such as those fomented by FBI entrapment teams). They may be able to do a bang-up job of building a case after the fact, but they will generally fail to stop attacks or predict crises, just as they have for the last 50 years. The only thing that will change is the scale of the data collection.


McDonalds vs. Burger King
Republican vs. Democrat
Coke vs. Pepsi

I'd almost say a defining feature of late capitalism is nearly infinite choice among indistinguishable alternatives.

I'd add that the Ruling Party is less of an organization and more of a shared experience of spending years and decades
inside the government's highest levels. If a politician only talks to the powerful and the rich, then naturally it will seem to him like nobody wants any significant change in the system.


Planet future just called: we're moving towards a post-industrial technosphere where mass human labour may in fact be obsolescent. What is to be done? Hint: last century ideologies based on last century problems do not hold the answer ...

This seems like a probable future, a major disruption, and something that is almost invisible in future projections outside of SF. Suppose that almost all repetitive tasks can eventually be done by machines. And that "repetive" is broadly defined, everything from moving pallets in a warehouse to diagnosing and treating leukemias.

It's usually framed as a problem for workers, and rightly so, since they'll feel the pinch first. In the longer run, what do owners, individual or corporate, have to offer democratic nations? They're courted because they can supply jobs and taxes. But they're constantly trying to cut back on supplying both. How much political support for owners remains when jobs and tax revenue are both all but gone and wealth is lumpier than ever?

As a (possible) example of this dynamic in action, US coal and steel companies have increased productivity much faster than total output over the past 30 years, leading to a large net shedding of jobs. They've also done their share of tax minimization. And now they're despairing that the "war on coal" meme denouncing environmental regulations is not resonating among the public at large. Why should it, when the owners have so successfully disentangled their fortunes from those of the voting masses?

If this dynamic is hazardous to developed-world owners in their home countries, it is even more so elsewhere. If prosperity is just software and complicated machinery, made by other software and machinery, how much does Indonesia or Bolivia gain by respecting rich-world intellectual property in exchange for trade agreements, as opposed to going pirate party-autarky with local resources and copied foreign designs?

And if the Ruling Party members in the highly developed world are all trained in traditions that axiomatically reject the disappearance of mass labor, how will they react when the impossible happens?


"So why, when we have three clearly divergent political cultures, do I have the feeling that there's nobody to vote for — that whichever government is formed after the next election will continue to iterate and evolve the policies that have dominated British politics since May 1979?"

"I'm nursing a pet theory. Which is that there are actually four main political parties in Westminster: the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Ruling Party."

In the land of UK politics this reminds me of one of my pet theories. Let's call it The Demise of Humphrey.

The UK has always had a Ruling Party - until recently its name was "The Civil Service". But over the last thirty or forty years its place in the political process has been reduced and redefined to the point where its effectiveness as a leavening and controlling force over the party politics is a shadow of it's previous self.

What we're seeing now is a handover of control from the old service-driven ruling party, to the "new" party-politic ruling party. And the latter are drunk with their new power.


The very first essay in my little book Consent to Tyranny: Voting in the USA is entitled "The Fable of Lanova Messiah." I wrote it some years back about the perils of electing good politicians to a bad system:


According to G K Chesterton's autobiography, 'The Party System' (by his brother and Hilaire Belloc) laid out a similar thesis in 1911:

The system, according to this view, was essentially one of rotation; but of rotation revolving on a central group, which really consisted of the leading politicians on both sides; or, as they were called for convenience in the book, “The Front Benches.” An unreal conflict was kept up for the benefit of the public, and to a certain extent with the innocent assistance of the rank and file; but the Leader of the House was more truly in partnership with the Leader of the Opposition than either of them were with their own followers, let alone their own constituents.


Well a lot of it they are doing nothing with. They are currently storing everything encrypted on the hope that some day they will be able to decrypt it. Crazy but that is what bureaucrats with large budgets do. They spend the money doing 'something'. And the over site committee members node wisely and green light more spending and the contractors who build the equipment happily cash the checks.


Hotelling's law: The slightly left of centre party gets the vote of pretty much everyone to the left as that party's policies are closer to the desires of the voter than the other party. The position is mirrored by the slightly right of centre party. By positioning yourself between your opponent and the centre you are closer to the views of a larger part of the electorate than your opponent. Like two ice cream push carts at the beach they end up right next to each other right in the middle.

The USA seems to have a position where the Republican party is well off to the right, the Democratic party by taking a position also on the right but slightly to the left of the Republicans are able to get the vote of the entire centre and retain the left (who tend to take the view that the Democrats might be bad but the Republicans are even worse). The Republicans will either tack back to the centre (like Labour after the 1987 election) or if the control by a narrow ideological group cannot be broken become an unelectable irrelevance and eventually disappear, like the Federalists. The Republican party then fractured into pro and anti Jackson parties as the losing side in internal disputes chose to leave.


"I'm talking about false positives and false negatives. When you go fishing for patterns in a huge dataset, you'll find them, and the more data you have, the more patterns form simply by chance. "

1) Ask a Soviet historian about how false positives are a problem - for the state :(

2) As hairyears pointed out, data-based punishment could be really, really cheap. If somebody is flagged, you could re-run their data at greater detail with more powerful data mining tools. Then maybe - just maybe - run it by a human, and then trash them informationally - their credit rating goes down, they are flagged in employment background checking databases, they can't fly, the background checks run by the media find them to be 'controversial', and they have all sorts of trouble. If that doesn't work, then spend money for the personal human touch (criminal prosecution, media hit job, etc.).


"Whether the surveillance system will spot a specific pattern amongst other patterns depends very much on the rate of progress in machine learning algorithms.

Is it possible to look people up once you've decided to look at them. To find out who their (real) friends are and so forth?"

Machine learning is a hot area, for obvious reasons.

And the obvious thing to do is to have the machine flag people for human review (which could be judicious and careful, or just hitting the 'dissident - punush' button).


"One important force that has not yet been discussed is inertia. Any attempt by politicians to change anything brings outcry from people opposed to the change, but little public support from those who would like the change. Thus, the easiest course in politics is to preserve the status quo. "

In terms of the neoliberal/neocon agenda, we've seen incredible change over the past few decades.


The characteristic of many dictatorships is that they were installed by US military force or with US support, that they sent their military and police officers to the School of the Americans (WHUBSEC)for training where many were put on the CIA payroll, and that they invited and/or allowed torture-disappearance-killing squads comprised of or trained by the CIA.

It is impossible for liberals to have been deliberately ignorant of this for over a hundred years. All liberals want, when it comes to torture, assassinations, etc., is for someone they voted for to be in command of such atrocities, not for the atrocities to cease.


Sorry, typo--that should be (WHINSEC)


Very much inclined to agree, although I could never vot Tory I have my head in my hands when I read of the latest Labour scheme of emulating Tory policy.

The slightly odder thing is that many of these policies are not even accepted by the people one would assume whose interests they are made.

Years ago I used to be regarded as rather eccentric for expressing lefty views among financiers, today I often get agreement. This is not just true of the English speaking nations but also of many Asians. I am currently based in the "revolutionary hotbed" of Singapore (the country run by your mum)and here the dissatisfaction is palpable sentiments but I also hear the same sentiment from Koreans, Chinese, Thais, Malaysians, Indians etc. Weirdly one of the countries I hear it the least is Japan, although the alleged basket case is not obvious to anyone who visits


I suspect it's an inevitability of voting systems. The only way to increase voting share for the majority parties is to move toward the center outside a few hot button issues, and there's no possibility of popular outsiders filling the gaps left by people on the edges, because each side is convinced that 'their' side will actually address the issues, and is at least partially blind to the failure to do so.


Not exactly true, although I get where you're coming from. I'd say a number of liberals would have been perfectly happy without a war in Iraq, to pick on recent, notorious example.

To be fair, the British, French, Soviets and others (Cubans, I believe? Belgians? Chinese? Mongols?) have all spun off their puppet dictatorships. I'm not condoning any of these actions, mind you, simply pointing out that there's a certain kind of special stupidity that goes with imperial ambitions. It's sort of a reverse paranoia. You assume people are out to get you, you take harshly repressive steps to make sure they don't get you, and after some time, they actually are out to get you, at which point you applaud yourself for your own foresight.

As Charlie did some time ago, I do recommend reading Bob Altemeyer on the subject ( He is quite good at describing how this kind of thinking gets started.


I do not really like the name "Ruling Party," since this seems to some extend imply a formal structure with a chair man and membership fees. What I think what happens is rather the formation of a ruling class. A group of people whose socio-economic status is, that they are in the upper echelons of the government. And as such they have certain interests, one of them is, that they do not want to run against whatever the national notion of 'reasonable' policies is at the moment. Since promoting unreasonable policies would probably end a career, while just loosing a election means for (at least the important guys) that they will get a nice job in a think tank. A example would be the former chair man of the German SPD, Kurt Beck, who suggested that the NATO needs to talk with 'moderate Taliban,' unfortunately for him he did this in 2007 and subsequently lost his job and his position as a leading figure of the SPD.

Another example for interests of members of parliament as members of parliament would be the current anti terror politics. A member of the parliament works in an obvious terrorist target, the parliament, and has only a very limited expectation of privacy, because of tabloid reporters. So a generic MP would be biased towards heavy handed anti-terrorist policies. ( On which they are advised by the same guys like the previous administration.)

From this, I very much agree, that we are in a pre-revolutionary state, but I think that this can not last decades. Mostly because I think that this situation already lasts since at least the late nineties, and after the current financial crisis the system is already on its second chance.


Perhaps liberals would have been perfectly happy without a war in Iraq, but they were also perfectly happy with Obama expanding the wars and using drone bombs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the assassination of Gaddafi and the bombing of civilians in Libya, and support for the Al Qaeda forces in Syria, at least happy enough to vote for Obama a second time.

While Democrats were opposed to drone bombs when Bush was doing it, surveys showed that they were quite comfortable with drone bombs when Obama was doing it.

Voters are statists, that is, they believe in a system of government enough to vote in its elections. They may seek to change the players, but they don't seek to change the system--they're willing to work within the system. At best they might wish to re-form the system, but re-formed tyranny is just tyranny in a different form. Statists will always defer to government because they believe that the people whose election campaigns the corporations and banks choose to fund, must therefore be more qualified to make decisions than ordinary people. Never mind that many ordinary people are capable of paying their bills and living within their budgets, while many governments are not.

I had a friend who was a member of the Green Party here in the US. She insisted that government was necessary, but I was able to refute every reason she gave. Finally she said that government was necessary because of her chickens. I asked if she thought her chickens would stop laying eggs if there was no government, as there's no question as to which came first, the eggs or governments. She then said that without government, she wouldn't be able to feed her chickens. I asked if she thought if the people who sold her chicken feed would just let it rot rather than sell or barter it to chicken owners if they didn't have to pay taxes on such transactions. That was when we stopped talking.

People who are comfortable enough with capitalist imperialist governments to vote for them, are comfortable with capitalist imperialist wars. They know that they're voting for wars of aggression based on lies, torture, indefinite detention without due process, total surveillance, etc., and while they might be just as happy without such things, they're comfortable enough with them to continue to try to work within a system that they know will continue such things no matter who is elected.

In order to vote, you have to sign your name. Your signature is your personal, voluntary consent to allow whoever wins the election to do whatever they wish in your name. You can protest your vote, but then you're protesting your own vote, which granted the government the authority to punish you for protesting. Rather self-defeating, it seems to me. ;)


I notice it's located south-west of the Mason-Dixon line. Make of that what you will.

It means mostly that dirt was/is cheaper in the southeastern US than the northeastern US. And in general has better weather. Boot camp in southern Mississippi in the summer is brutal for most recruits. But is way more doable than up state NY in the winter.

Especially during WWII. Quick, open up and expand 1000 military bases so you can train 1 in 10 of every citizen as a soldier/airman/seaman/whatever. Do it in 1 year. Turns out there was more unused (more easily appropriated) dirt in the south than the north. Also out west but for whatever reason no one in the service wanted to be there much after WWII except the air force. Maybe they wound up there due to the need for vast flat space. Ditto large armored units.

So you got the war colleges, specialty training (book related) centers and such concentrated in the south because there bases were too small to hold post WWII units and allow them to train but closing a base was just not a politically palatable option. So you got all the smaller business setting oriented things concentrating in the south. (Patton's pre-WWII tankers trained at Fort Knox. Which would be a joke today with it surrounded by the suburbs. of Louisville.)

Connecting dots like this is easy but in reality the social aspects of the forces stationed on a base rarely align with the locals. Which is why you got so much conflict between the soldiers and locals over the decades. This conflict is declining for various reasons but still exists.

I get to watch a lot of it (the conflicts) first had living an hour from Ft. Brag. With Seymour Johnson and Cherry Point not much further away.


As an independent consultant in a technology area to mostly very small businesses I wind up mixing it up with a range of people with varied political stripes. In the US.

There are some very disappointed younger people who had stars in their eyes back in early 2009. They were convinced EVERYTHING WOULD CHANGE NOW. It didn't. They are now now longer all under 30 and many have kids and their opinion of "if we just elect this charismatic liberal" we'll get everything we wanted has mostly vanished. They are now much more pessimistic and pragmatic about politics and life.

While having kids does not necessarily turn hard core liberals more conservative, it certainly gives many of them a broader (or narrower maybe) point of view on many topics that's more rooted in pragmatism than idealism.

As to how Obamacare (Affordable Health Care Act) is real change, well... People in the medical profession can tell you how it's much more about how to reshape the flow of money and CONTROL, with adding people to the heath care system as a minor part of it. (As to it being revenue neutral, well no it's not. But we're getting off of Charlie's point.)


As to Charlie's main point about the UK and to a lessor degree other western states. I've felt the same way (just not in the same ways and details) for several decades. With cries of derision thrown at me for voice said opinions.

Growing up in the south and voting for the Democrat of your choice in the primary elections makes it obvious to some. Back then we had in many ways the same political differences we have now but in the south until the 80s and 90s very few R's could get elected to anything so 90% registered D and thus the real election was in the primaries. In the general election many times the D's ran unopposed except for state and national offices. And even at the state level unopposed many times.


The Ruling Party seems to be just one of the emergent super-organisms that more efficient communications have made possible. Previously, such super-organisms happened rarely when crowds formed, or more slowly when the mechanisms were moderated by the existence of formal organisational structures to allow the patterns of communication to persist.

By analogy with simple biological organisms, such lifeforms have simple imperatives. Common macro-behaviours include forage (e.g. charities) and scavenge (companies handling mergers and acquisitions, and outsourcing). Unfortunately for us, plunder seems all too common. Super-organism predators make life uncomfortable for us, even if we are not the targets but simply getting underfoot during the hunt.

How can one then disrupt or rejig the communication channels that such organisms use to retain coherence?

As suggested by several others above, some of the channels probably involve receptions at which the RP mingles with donors, interaction with the Civil Service as a channel, inter-party chatter and memos, discussion with outsourcing and consulting firms, Oxford Union debates, or meals with fellow members. Others are less obvious, and perhaps include commonly accepted social templates for what politicians are, persistent notions of public service as conveyed in writing and speech, and an intellectual climate that favours individualism or collective action.

In Accelerando, Charlie wrote enigmatically about Capitalism 2.0, and left authorial hints about the entities using it; they transacted based on multi-dimensional forms of exchange. Instead of looking at the mechanism, one could rather focus on the new entities that emerge from the interaction of simpler entities, once communication between those simpler entities becomes fast and complex enough to support persistent effects.

I am an optimist; I believe we can to some extent design the patterns of interactions that allow such super-organisms to form and persist. We need to think about the emergent effects of the pseudocode (as expressed in legalese, regulation, and ethics) that we put in place. It seems clear that privileging some kinds of interaction (like not taxing charities) favour the emergence of foragers, while others (like limited liability, corporate personhood, and requiring directors to act solely on behalf of shareholder interests) favour the emergence of predators. We have the power to design the systems we create, but must start doing so more consciously than we have been doing.

I think the PR flacks currently in charge of the RP understand some of the key features of emergence, more or less. We should try to understand it better than they do, to work around their simplistic gaming of the system.


Your comments contain rather a high proportion of libertarian talking points and cliches, and you're painting people whose views you disagree with using a very broad brush. Kindly desist.

Also, you seem to be assuming that the mere act of voting implies endorsement of the policies of whatever government is elected. It does not. What about those of us who consistently vote for parties that oppose imperialist overseas wars, for example?


We're still talking about gonzo solutions - hitting the "dissident punish" button, fighting drones. I don't think these will happen. I'd be more worried about technologies that don't have lethal consequences, such as drones with tasers attatched, or some way of punishing people in secret, like a blacklist.


Or: filter bubbles directed at the commercial infrastructure you need to survive in the shiny new 100% outsourced future they're building for us. Nothing as unsubtle as a bad credit score; more a case of you being hit by price discrimination algorithms that make everything more expensive -- insurance, food, bandwidth, fuel -- and which have been fed indicators that you're willing and able to pay more for services.

The aim being to marginalize dissidents by subjecting them to generalized financial stress, so they either spend all their time working to make ends meet (thus having no spare time for dissent) or succumb to stress-related illness (including, ultimately, a reduced life expectancy).

To put it bluntly, they're giving themselves a universe of ghosts in which to hunt for the very rare real patterns. They're also making the same mistake that the STASI, the KGB, and many others have made, which is believing that enough secret information will help them stop problems. It never does.

Politically speaking, this is a feature, not a bug. The Stasi and the KGB were never short of funding because they could always find someone to round up and force confessions out of. That's what their data warehouse were for. In our present case, the security services are probably rifling through their shedloads of data for the nuggets that will look like a problem to impress their paymasters, rather than anything really dangerous.

This would be why the politicos are constantly saying they've seen evidence of the terrible danger we're all in, but aren't showing it to us. If the security services let them show us, then people who understood statistics, human psychology, detection, logic, and other skills that politicians en masse aren't particularly good at would point out the problems and the purse-strings would get trimmed.

Sorry if this is overly cynical, but I can't shake the feeling that the pols are being insuuficiently cynical about the spooks and letting themselves be hoodwinked (sometimes willingly, I'm sure, but not always).


Where smart weapons are concerned, I really think that our esteemed host is thinking way, way too large. It has been asserted that the 21st century will be the time when computing gets good enough to start making inroads into how biology works at a nanoscopic level. Already the utility of "junk" DNA is becoming clear; it isn't junk, it is padding. A gene on one section of DNA can affect another bit which it is far away from on the DNA chain, but which it is physically proximate to when the DNA is partly coiled in a chromosome.

Sorting out how that works in practice needs lots and lots of computing power to model DNA in 3D. Once you can do it, you can start playing with gene activation and so on, to play fast and loose with behaviour modifiers. As an example, link oxytocin secretion with exposure to the colour blue; this makes people really quite friendly when they see blue flashing lights. Another modifier would be to switch off gonadotrophin secretion in males, to effectively castrate them and greatly diminish the capacity for violence (though this would likely provoke a passive resistance as opposed to rioting).


There is no conspiracy, politician converge on the metrics chosen by the electorate to rate them.
(Apologies is this has been covered up thread, I am jumping in not having read all previous comments).

Since WWII economic questions have dominated politics in the West. Initially the focus was to keep unemployment low - generally known as Keynesian-ism, where inflation was allowed to rise to push unemployment down. When carried on too far this lead to stagflation.
1979 is a very significant time point from a UK perspective, Essentially Thatcher was elected to deal with stagflation and she did, pretty much sacrificing everything north of Milton Keynes to tame inflation.
So once inflation was tamed, a new metric was required and everyone settled on low inflation and growing GDP.

Governments, in my opinion have less control over the economy that they like to believe, IMHO, the economy is governed to a large extent by expectation. So the lever to pull are few to get the desired results. If one does not get the desired results one does not get re-elected and so there is a convergence of policy to what is known to work.
This is simplified I know, but I think it is the source of what is going on. Now I am going back to read the comments and see what everyone else thinks.


My apologies, Charlie. I'm an anarchist and if certain statists like Libertarians happen to oppose voting, that's not because I espouse Libertarian views. I'm an election boycott activist but not for the same reasons as those who belong to any political party, as all political parties seek power within a state, whereas anarchists seek to abolish power structures.

It may be different in other countries, possibly those with proportional representation, but here in the United States we have a winner-take-all electoral system. In a winner-take-all electoral system, a vote is not for the person or issue one votes for, but for whoever wins.

I'm sure you recall the Declaration of Independence statement that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. The only way that governments can demonstrate that consent is through elections. Because many people conflate voting with democracy, if a substantial proportion of the eligible electorate, which here in the US usually means approximately 50%, turns out to vote, the winner can therefore claim to have been democratically elected, even if all but three voters left the presidential race blank and voted only for local candidates and issues, but of the three who voted in the presidential race, two voted for the winner and only one for their opponent. Since both major party candidates get the same funding and have almost identical agendas, it doesn't matter much which one wins, but it does matter to international credit rating agencies if a government can or cannot claim to have been democratically elected.

If you vote for a party that opposes imperialist wars, and that party doesn't win the election, your vote counts as part of the turnout that allows the party that wins, which in the US will always be a party that favors imperialist wars, to claim to have been democratically elected.

You might want to glance at my essay, "You've Got to Stop Voting," for a better understanding of how the US electoral system works:

In a winner-take-all electoral system, all votes are for the winner. If you don't know who that winner will be or what they will do, you are writing a blank check, leaving not only the amount, but also the line for the payee blank. I think that's rather irresponsible, don't you?


If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would imagine some sort of ruling cabal manipulating us into thinking we had a choice in who rules us. I'm not however, I just think its a combination of the demands of power meaning that whoever is in charger ends up being forced to run the country in a certain way, and that a number of people have learned how the system works, and therefore how to manipulate it for their own ends. Either that, or The Invisibles was right and the Archons are ready to pull us into the dark universe of control and supression.


I am in complete agreement with this assessment, with the caveat that the definition of center-right depends on whether you're comparing the Democrats with European parties or their desire to change the status quo.


re 104, on the government coding your credit card so you have to pay higher prices for everything, thereby defunding you.
We have an example in America where online companies will charge you a higher price if your phone number comes from a higher income zip code/postal code. Since your cellphone number can now be permanent, that means they you will pay higher prices for the rest of your life.
Presumably they will fix that when the data tracking gets better.


Aha! I finally found that Dickson quote I mentioned a few months ago.

It's from "The Last Master."

“Not necessarily,” broke in Rico. “Bureaucrats in a working system don’t need to conspire. They’re like spiders sitting at points on a community web. If one of them starts doing something for the good of the web, it’s because conditions seem to call for it—and those same conditions will also move other bureaucrats, whether they know the whole story or not. It’s as if the vibrations travel along the strands of the web, and the rest of them, following their nature, start doing what must be done-all without any direct spider-to-spider communication whatsoever.”

The character is talking about political conspiracy, but also applies to the appearance of a virtual "Ruling Party." As Charlie noted, it's their behavior that defines them as a group, not their appearance. Once the group is defined, people will tend to align themselves for or against their interpretation of it.


What was the price of petrol again?

Your Adam Curtis like focus on shadowy figures, all with essentially the same agenda (maintaining power) and with the same worldview (economists, lawyers and other paid liars) is fine for understanding a BAU world. Thing is, we are going into a very much non-BAU timeline.

Wealth is being centralised as the lack of growth created by the oil plateau meets the need of the hyper rich to continually increase their holdings. Sucking it from the prols is the only place left, so outsourcing, offshoring and global competition hollows out the wealth of the rest.

However, eventually it gives. Eventually we don't get a peaceful transition of power; we get a lot of people looking for a return to the good times, the jobs, and the holidays in the sun. They don't take no for an answer, and they don't need or have leaders you can track from your panopticon.

The revolution is a self-organised, self-sustaining event.

Remember the fuel protests?

Now, look at Egypt and look at the Egypt listing at

Whether you call it tipping points, black swans or system catastrophes - the flip in the long held structures of governance (your shadowy ruling party) is formed from the inevitable outcome of the system behaviours. What you are seeing in stolid status quos is only going to be short lived.


I don't think that smart weapons are going to be a major advance over hand weapons, you can still do everything with hand weapons that you can with smart weapons.
There's no political benefit to smart (or even inexpensive) weapons. Political power is based on money and manpower; annoying someone with a $100 drone gets you no personal benefit; laying down a 50-man SWAT team with armored ground support and a couple of helicopters shows that you have clout.


They're also making the same mistake that the STASI, the KGB, and many others have made, which is believing that enough secret information will help them stop problems. It never does.
The Soviet Union gathered an immense amount of technical data from the USA and Britain via the KGB, from nuclear weapon technology to agricultural fertilizers. However, very little of that information made it to the industries this information was theoretically collected for. Infamously, Beria's KGB held on to critical pieces of nuclear material that could have greatly helped their own military projects. This was because they didn't trust their own people, and the information was therefore used to check their work against outside work, instead of assisting them. In other cases, the KGB simply sat on important data; [secret] information was power; once they passed it on, it was of no further value to them.

In the case of the Datapocalypse, I see a lot of government departments and ministries being more concerned with spying on potential competitors than the populace in general.

During the Cold War, the US CIA and FBI's primary enemies weren't "crime" or "foreign interests", it was each other, as they maneuvered to protect and expand their slices of the budgetary pie.


"I don't think that smart weapons are going to be a major advance over hand weapons, you can still do everything with hand weapons that you can with smart weapons."

Kill the people you want killed (by name, face or activity 'profile') in a crowd, without killing or injuring others?
I'd like to point out that drone-based "smart weapons" are within hobbyist range already, depending on what you expect of the guidance software. Fully autonomous drones aren't quite there yet, but if you're willing to do the piloting yourself, you can buy the basic hardware now. Add the explosive of your choice and you're ready to go.

The "miracle of cheap electronics" has lowered the price of the hardware down to what many individuals will pay for toys, entertainment devices, or sporting equipment. And the price is still going down.

Consider when an individual politician or bureaucrat can be targeted by a smart weapon, sent by some disgruntled citizen with some room left on a minor credit card. Who can launch an attack from a distance, anonymously. Weeks or months ago, with the weapon left sleeping nearby, awakening by signal or timer.

"If the enemy is in range, so are you" doesn't *always* apply, but the balance of power isn't as asymmetrical as the mainstream media likes to assume, either.


Actually, machine learning will not solve the problem of false pattern recognition.
...because the data that would identify a pattern as false is not contained within the dataset being examined.

I once worked with a man who did his Ph.D. thesis on the generation of random numbers. He would go off on the subject at intervals. In retrospect, I probably should have paid more attention to what he was saying...


If I understand the British parliamentary system correctly, it largely insulates the highest-ranking members of each party from job loss in an election. 100 or so seats may get traded at the margins in an election, but for the 200 or so MPs in each major party (and maybe 30 Lib Dems) the odds against getting tossed out on one's ass are very comfortable.

On this side of the pond, every member of Congress has to regularly run for office with their own job at stake, which creates a different but similar set of problems. While your politicians seem to be too comfortable to stand up to the powerful, ours are too afraid.


re 104, on the government coding your credit card so you have to pay higher prices for everything, thereby defunding you.
We have an example in America where online companies will charge you a higher price if your phone number comes from a higher income zip code/postal code.
The Auto Zone auto parts chain is a good example of that.

Also, (at least last year when I discovered it) eBay "buy it now" prices would sometimes be different between Konqueror, which is my preferred browser, and Fireflop, which I had to use to actually make a purchase, since eBay's HTML is not W3C compliant. Things were often a few dollars cheaper in Fireflop, at the same exact cut-and-pasted URL.

I don't own a smartphone, so I don't know if there are different prices for mobile vs. desktop browsers too.


Jay 118: Mostly you are correct regarding the British-style parliamentary system, but governing parties do occasionally undergo a complete meltdown. An extreme example is the 1993 Canadian election where the Progressive Conservative party went from 156 seats (out of 295) to 2 (that is not a typo).

But I'm not convinced turnover is much higher in the US Congress, particularly in the Senate. Although one *can* win a Senate seat as, say, a Republican in Massachussetts, it's an uphill struggle; and the converse applies to a Democrat in Texas. And although the House of Representatives has more frequent elections it also has some very safe seats due to gerrymandering at state level.


Its very much the case: the Military-Industrial Complex is the best term to date, I think. But the NSA has a long-term military mindset that is very different (but complementary) to the commmercial one.

Its the mindset that looks at a federated email system, in which corporate emails don't leave a companies network, and which involves hacking, and thinks "we need to reshape this battlefield". And lo, interfering with standardization processes means ubiquitous encryption doesn't happen, redirecting a firehose of govt money, subsidies and taxes and when IM comes long, they drive the development of choke-pointed hierarchies like Skype and Facebook.

(One of the subtleties of the slides Snowden presented is that the NSA pointed to money as one of its big weapons: redirecting IP links to flow through the US rather than great-circle routes, all the easier to hack).

That this benefits commercial companies that are compliant to the NSAs request, and then hire "ex-NSA" staff is no coincidence. More symbiosis than revolving door.

I think a large part of the problem is that people mistake mass surveillance with simple spying. The NSA does that too, of course, but by missing the scale of the actions the NSA is capable of (bigger than multinationals are capable of, and most certainly on thinking on timescales far beyond what C** think in), they underestimate its (or the intelligence agencies) activities.


The Ruling Party hypothesis looks like a convergence with China, in which the Ruling Party is just that -- a party which rules without bothering to hold elections. It provides bread and circuses in exchange for popular support (or at least apathy).

What might cause a crisis such that the Ruling Party loses its legitimacy? For the 19th century European empires, it was the First World War. This time the most obvious candidates are catastrophic climate change, or mass unemployment as human workers are replaced by robots.


There's a second side to this. The Ruling Party is not just comprised of the top few. It creates converts. Every single Home Secretary turns into a raving proponent of the total database state. Without exception. As though there were some eldritch pod-people ritual involved in taking the job. People as ideologically opposed as David Blunkett and Michael Howard have espoused policies you couldn't slip a Rizla in between.


Your explanation of why machine learning won't solve the problem of false pattern recognition is lovely-- it's a tight phrasing of something that's been nagging at me.

As for the larger topic, I don't have a general political theory or a plan for action, just thoughts and worries.

Moises Naim has a plausible claim (_The End Of Power_) that power isn't what it used to be. The turnover in elites in much faster, the weaker side wins wars 55% of the time in the past half century, and more people have veto power. (This discussion makes me less sure of the last.) This doesn't mean that people in power can do less damage, I think, just that they have less fun.

I've wondered whether we're on a path to US citizenship being made conditional, not that citizenship is worth what it was.

On where the power is:

This is the story of a bi-partisan agreement to let Iraqis and Afghanis who'd helped Americans into the US-- they were at grave risk to their lives if they weren't allowed to leave their homes.

One unemployed Marine took the problem on because no one else was working on it.

The crucial part of the problem was that even though the politicians said the Iraqis and Afghanis could immigrate to the US, the bureaucrats who actually were making the decisions were too afraid of being blamed if one of the immigrants turned out to be a terrorist.


julianmorrison (122) - You raise an interesting issue, related to one that I, as an American, have been considering for the past couple of weeks.

Barack Obama ran against the foreign policy positions that he now espouses. So did Joe Biden. Now they practice the very imperialism and total surveillance they condemned.

What accounts for the abrupt reversal? Was it simple opportunism all along?

I think perhaps it has something to do with a statement I heard attributed to a longterm Congressman: Every Congressman comes into office with five goals. If he's lucky, he'll achieve one of those goals by the time he retires. And the only way to do that is to cynically sacrifice everything else to that one goal. This goal might itself be very laudable -- for LBJ, it was civil rights. But LBJ was willing to keep the US in the Vietnam War, which he himself did not believe in, to avoid distraction from his Great Society campaign.

So does Barack Obama see national security and privacy issues as being worth sacrificing, perhaps for the sake of righting the economy, delivering Obamacare and, say, legalizing same-sex marriage? Bear in mind that dismantling the American surveillance state would have the short-term effect of making the economy worse by adding to unemployment -- all those snoops no longer pulling down a paycheck.

Apologies to Charlie if I'm hijacking this thread with discussion of American politics, but I see politics in the US and UK as very similar, particularly in this regard.


Well said. I agree entirely.

If one were extremely cynical, one could point out that government-industrial complexes all run the same way: there's a permanent crisis, and money is poured in on the promise of ending the crisis or at least ameliorating it. The Military-Industrial Complex must be so happy to have Terror as their enemy, because when the thing we fear is fear itself, that market ain't never going away. Or so they think. Eventually, people get tired of paying trillions of dollars to stay scared.

In addition to the espionage industry in the US, We've seen something similar with prison-industrial complexes, certain aspects of health care, and for the last decade or so, a fire-industrial complex has been springing up in the western US (if you notice how they plan to make people safer through large-scale projects, it actually won't make people any safer. That would involve communities changing zoning regulations to keep people from building flammable homes near flammable wild landscapes, and most communities have been loath to do this).


As someone said: People whose job it is to solve a problem have a strong interest in preserving the problem.

That applies to big things, like the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, and the War on Crime. Lots of jobs get lost if we close most of the prisons and lay off most of the border guards.

It also applies to small things, like why your company's email server is so crappy. Why would the people whose job it is to fix the bugs ever want to replace the server with something that gave them less work and therefore put their jobs at risk?


The comparison I always used was a third world banana republic. The goal is to keep US Fruit happy. They don't care who is in charge so long as the fruit keeps coming. Any power struggle in the country isn't about whether or not the exploitative arrangement should continue but which clique of kleptocratic jerkwads reaps the benefit.

Taken to any first world country, it's the same essential dynamic. In the States, the corporate party is about giving the people who make the campaign donations what they want and it's simply a question of whether the Republican clique or the Democratic clique benefits. Bible-thumping corporatism or gay-friendly corporatism, we're still getting corporatism.

I don't really see how the cycle can be changed since the only people who have the power to effect the change have a vested interest in keeping the system going. Change could only possibly come when the dysfunction becomes so great that the old players are deposed. But that does not mean things will really change. As I understand the fall of the USSR, some players left the game, some changed jerseys, some new players were added but the game never really changed.


Planet future just called: we're moving towards a post-industrial technosphere where mass human labour may in fact be obsolescent. What is to be done? Hint: last century ideologies based on last century problems do not hold the answer ...

This right here is what I consider to be one of the big three problems of the future, the other two being the end of cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels and the global environmental catastrophe concomitant with industrial civilization. I see all three as intimately related and I'm beggarded for answers.


Re: finger sized drones, I think we already have the makings of a Knife Missile, though obviously not yet as smart as envisioned by Iain M. Banks.
The limiting factors are how much kinetic energy you can give it with an external launch/firing mechanism, the trade-off complexity for manoeuvrability, and how much chemical energy you can usefully pack into the mass of the device.

As for the main article: yes, some of the players change every election cycle, and others merely reshuffle, but stability and smooth transition are paramount to this One Party State. I love the Party.


damien-wise - Stability and smooth transition are also a great benefit of republican democracy. The alternative is that succession is often decided by civil war or coup.


Well, this thread derailed quickly into a Dystopia Tournament. Not that there's anything wrong with a Dystopia Tournament...


1. Politician is now a profession.
2. The more voters you get, the more successful you are as a politician.
3. To get the maximum number of voters, you need an ideology that matches best the preferences of the maximum number of voters.
4. ???
5. All politicians now look the same.
6. OMG One Party rule!
7. What went wrong?!?
8. 1.


Consider when an individual politician or bureaucrat can be targeted by a smart weapon, sent by some disgruntled citizen with some room left on a minor credit card. Who can launch an attack from a distance, anonymously. Weeks or months ago, with the weapon left sleeping nearby, awakening by signal or timer.

"If the enemy is in range, so are you" doesn't *always* apply, but the balance of power isn't as asymmetrical as the mainstream media likes to assume, either.

I've thought about this. GPS-programmable drones are available now. Strap a pipebomb to one and send it off and it's the world's most accurate mortar. But let's take this far into the plausible mid-future.

We're easily talking about the finger drones or maybe even bug-sized hunter-killers. Tip the stinger with a drop of something awful and the target is dead in seconds.

Right now the rich live separately from us by choice and those who crave celebrity and notoriety have their faces plastered across screens and magazines. What happens when those in power need anonymity not by choice but by necessity?

Imagine if you have the lethal intrigues of a Chinese Imperial court combined with exquisite hunter-seeker drones? Is there any way to negate the technology or will terror be the rule of the day?

Such a system seems unworkable and yet we have examples in the past such as with Stalin or the (persian I think) dynasties where it was the custom for the dominant prince to murder every one of his brothers to protect himself on the throne.

So, would assassin drones be a whole new thing or just another tool in the sort of history that's included poisons, daggers in the dark and other intimate betrayals?


Oh help …
128 comments in less than 24 hrs since I last looked into here.
One thing – this is not the first instance of this question.
A lot of the more thoughtful [ NOT a contradiction ] of the “Libertarian” web-sites are on to this problem– they call it “LibLabCon” or something similar.
Their principal complaint, of course, is the appalling tendency of any guvmint to CONTROL & to nannying & snooping, whatever the political label supposedly attached to the parties concerned – see also Charlie’s comments on “panopticon”.
It is also why a lot of people are finding UKIP attractive – and no they are emphatically NOT just or only a “right-wing” party … because the EU has morphed into a classic bureaucracy. ( see also @ 6 )
Charlie has said elsewhere that he suspects that democracy has a failure mode – when the polity gets too big & with failure occurring on a logarithmic scale, so that (as in the EU or the USSA) when your “electorate” exceeds 100 million people - & heads towards 10^9 people, it becomes a bureaucratic dictatorship, in spite of democratic forms. I think he is correct, but choosing the number for the break-point is also an interesting game.

GoCaptian@ 3
Yes, but define “whackjobs”?
10 years ago, withdrawal from the EU was a loopy policy.
Now, as the EU increases in size & becomes ever more bureaucratic & unaccountable … maybe not so loopy?

Charlie said: POWER CONTROL

13knomanser @ 15
But what happens when the branches cosy up to each other for a sahre in the power & control & you do have the serious problem of over 10^8 people to govern?

Lou @ 19
That was an updated version of an Anarchist slogan:
”No metter whom you vote for, the Government always gets in.”

Tim Whitworth @20
Wrong. I wish you were correct, because guvmint is spying & spooking on essentially completely harmless people, ALREADY – see the UK cases of undercover cops “going native” inside peaceful protest movements.

hairyears @ 23
Didn’t Fred Pohl write that one, some time back in the 50’s? Scarily possible, though. Yes – you get taken to court – you refuse to pay the kangaroo-fines – so they just delete your bank account. Nasty.

Brett Dunbar @ 24
You’ve missed the point.
Left / Right is irrelevant, if the choice is Stalin or Adolf …
What about the other axis … Libertarian / Autocratic.
Remember that left-libertarianism is only too possible, something forgotten today.

heteromeles @ 26
WORRY about false positives – if it is you & “they” decide to delete or incapacitate you, by any means. Yes, it will collapse eventually, but that is messy, too. We don’t want to go there, if we can help it.
See also @ 88 … so, you are a false positive .. so? BANG.

Cathth3K @ 29
Except the banking crash was an almost perfect re-run of the Overend & Gurney implosion of 1866 – look it up - & the after-effects. You refer to the USSA feeding on itself – exactly as it did (approx) 1875 (after the 1866 crash had passed) until Roosevelt killed the Gilded Age. But we may not be so lucky this time around.

@ 30
Food prices (with one notable exception) always trigger revolutions.
1789, 1830, 1848 … etc Exception? N Korea.

Poul Henning-Kamp @ 36
Thank you.
Sorry for it, but I’m going to use a very unpleasant pair of words here:
Tony Blair this murderous war criminal is still running around loose & looks set fair to land some other prime job, at everyone else’s expense. Urrrgggh.

Micheal @ 40
But Marxism is an authoritarian, theocratic system. And thus even worse than the one we have at the moment.
So you can forget that. See also Charlie @ 43

Davecb 42 @ 50
NOT APPLICABLE in the UK or most of Europe.
Most political expenses are very tightly controlled.
A true (bad) case of US exceptionalism.

GoCpatain @ 51
You have just echoed Benjamin Disreali

Chralie @ 57
CCTV can & does show that you are NOT the “guilty party” as various coppers have found out – how sad.

Charlie @ 65
Or worse … Austria-Hungary to the USSA’s prussianised Zweiten-Reich.
& @ 70
“pundit” comes from IIRC Pandit an eleite group within the N Indian racial/religious groupings. My neighbour is one – his grandparent fled the Pakistani rapists army in Kashmir, 1947-8.
& @ 73 – except “privatising” the NHS isn’t going down too well – I think it is going to fail, fortunately.

@ 93
No, that’s the Japanese social ethic – unchanged since 1920 or even 1880.

Charlie @ 102
Or, gritting your teeth & voting for the least-worst candidate? OR voting for someone you really don’t like, but have to, because the incumbent just got into bed with fascist murderers? [ The last case being a London Mayoral election, of course ]

Royal Canadian bandit @ 121
Yes … and … how many people in China?
How many people in the EU?
Size of “electorate” – democratic failure mode.
I think Charlie has something significant here …

Vanzetti @ 131
“we have always been at war with Eastasia”


Is there a reasonable scenario for the next 50 years that results in a transition to a better world without the intervening stage of mass violence?

Because I gotta say, mass violence is not my thing. My thing going online, putting in a day's work, and watching a little TV before bedtime.

I once said about myself that I'd make a terrible revolutionary when the dictatorship comes. A friend responded: Quite the contrary, he thought I'd make a great revolutionary. Unlike the movies, real-life revolution has little to do with the leaping and Kung Fu, and a lot to do with the ability to wait at the mouth of an alley for days with a loop of wire in one's pocket, until just the right government official walks by.

I believe my friend has reason to know this. I believe he has done some black ops work for the US government. You never can be sure with this kind of thing.

I was -- and am! -- macho enough to be flattered by my friend's assessment of my personality.

But, still, that kind of thing can badly cut in to one's TV time.


If one were extremely cynical, one could point out that government-industrial complexes all run the same way: there's a permanent crisis, and money is poured in on the promise of ending the crisis or at least ameliorating it.

It seems to me that paranoia, followed by increasing expenditures on security, followed by economic collapse is one of the recurring failure modes of human societies. The USSR comes to mind, as does the Tokugawa shogunate. North Korea seems to be in a late stage of the process, and early modern witch hunts followed a similar dynamic.

My hypothesis is that once leaders have demanded a certain level of sacrifice in the name of security, it becomes impossible to suggest that the threats are overstated without causing enormous damage to the government's credibility and arousing the ire of the security forces. This leads to a ratcheting effect, where security expenses can be increased easily but anyone who calls to limit them is immediately branded a traitor.


Mitch, it isn't just national security and privacy issues that Obama is sacrificing. He is also sacrificing the lives of innocent men, women, and children (collateral damage) in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. It really is similar to your example of LBJ sacrificing US and Vietnamese lives for his Great Society program, if that's what he did. In other words, sacrificing lives abroad in pursuit of benefits at home. That's what resource wars do.

While Obama and his supporters may believe that is is possible to right the US economy by using violence to steal resources from other countries, that Obamacare will do more than just further increase the cost of US health care and further enrich the pharmaceutical and health provider industries which are one of the leading causes of death in the US, and that legalizing same-sex marriage is worth sacrificing other human rights, that appears to be a very selfish and shortsighted motivation.

Part of the billions of dollars that the multinational corporations and banks, along with the military-industrial complex donate to the major parties to fund US presidential election campaigns is spent on political analysts and strategists. They tell the candidates what the voting public wants to hear, and that is what the candidates say. What they say may have no relation to what they really think.

The problem here is that in order to accomplish something in a hierarchical system, one has to have a great deal of power, and in the course of gaining that power, one inevitably becomes compromised and corrupted. It is one thing for a person to decide to sacrifice their own life for the greater good, but it is quite a different thing to sacrifice the lives of others for what one believes or hopes might be a limited good for a privileged few. While Obama, his supporters, and the GLBT community might think it worthwhile to sacrifice the lives of a million innocent people in Africa and the Middle East, in return for marriage equality here in the US, I do not agree.

What you're laying out is a sort of "Sophie's Choice," where a parent has five children and decides to sacrifice four of them to benefit the fifth. That could be rationalized in many ways, but it cannot be called democracy.


@#130: Mitch, by "coup" would you be referring to something like the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln or of John F. Kennedy? Both were elected, but they were removed from office not by the ballot but by the bullet. A republican democracy is no guarantor of stability or of smooth transition. The bullet or the ballot is a false dichotomy.


The US is a "worse case scenario" for what happens to a nominally "progressive" western democracy as it is gripped by the wealthy class. We call it the "elite consensus" around here where both the Democratic and Republican political parties viciously contend over who's is going to control the Ruling Party's spoils system. FDR's New Deal policies are in eclipse with even the Democratic Party leaders offering up huge chunks of it to "reform". Remember these same "new dealers" help shape European reforms at the end of WWII.


"Late phase consumer capitalism" - the Economist agrees:


You have missed the point. Politics is essentially aligned along an axis due to the way views on apparently separate issues correlate. This means the stable position is to with two viable parties is for them to be right next to each other in the centre. In a multi party system with PR you tend to get fairly permanent blocs on the left and right, with centrist parties occasionally switching.

You don't normally get the situation with two extreme parties. Pre 1990s Italy had a situation a large centrist bloc built around the Christian Democrats permanently in power with two fairly large anti-system parties in the Communists and the Fascist MSI permanently in opposition (as no one trusted them not to attempt to establish a dictatorship). This is an example of a one party system in a democracy as it was impossible to create a viable constitutionalist government without the Christian Democrats, who became amazingly corrupt. Following the collapse of the Christian Democrats and a number of smaller centrist parties in a series of corruption scandals in the early 1990s both the Communists and the Fascists rapidly moved to the centre and became part of new centre left and centre right blocs.


I'm not seeing these trade offs you mention. Who is getting glbt marriage instead of millions of lives in the middle east?


2 quick points.

1) elections fill posts in the legislative assembly.
this bit allocates budgets and makes/changes laws, but does not implement them.

The executive (civil service) and judiciary (cops'n'judges) have the power of monitoring and enforcement.

Arguably, there is where power really lies. (The EU commission and it's pet parliament are an extreme example)

Also, the elected assembly votes on laws which are produced by back-room horse-trading by vested interests and represent a compromise between them.

Politicians have the role of selling you that compromise.

2) stats was never remotely my forte, but I recall an article about supermarket data-analysts sending baby-product vouchers to a teen who didn't know she was pregnant.

Analytics vendors these days will auto-segment and cluster your customer-base, and derive skinnerian box behavioral models for them - with fancy realtime graphic dashboards - to bait and reward them into revenue-optimal behavioural patterns.

I'm pretty sure those voting-machine companies have seen the ads.

And the political strategists, etc etc.


Hell, if the Economist is noticing this, then the handwriting is well and truly on the wall, large and starting to smolder before it bursts into flame.


I'm not sure what sort of comments you've been getting about American exceptionalism, but your comment about the indistinguishability of the three parties seems to fit our situation perfectly, except that it has one party too many. The incentive structure in Congress seems to be powerful. I don't really have a sense for what incentives an MP or a senior career bureaucrat faces in the UK, but that would be where I'd look.

"Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated."


I partially agree, although it should be pointed out that such collapses seem to be on the scale of an economic depression, rather than a Mayan-style devolution.

Unfortunately, I don't understand the Tokugawa collapse well enough to say if it follows this model, since part of the disruption came from Commodore Perry and opening to the west, along with a number of large earthquakes.

North Korea's a different beast: as Charlie's pointed out, it's structurally a kingdom with military fiefdoms, and its ideology borrows heavily from the old 19th Century Korean Hermit Kingdom (the news media have this right, for once). Since old isolationist Korea had a very weak military, I suspect they're also borrowing from Imperial Japan, where one impetus for militarization was to keep down unrest at home through a doctrine of total war.

I don't think North Korea's going to end well, and I hate to think how many will suffer when it does. The only good news is that I'm pretty sure China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia all understand North Korea's issues far better than the US does.


Target figured out she was pregnant before her father did; the girl knew she was pregnant. The change in buying habits is what alerted the software.


> Target figured out she was pregnant before her father did;

ok point accepted but the wider point that purchase patterns yield predictive behavioural information, even at that scale of loyalty cards, call into question the notion that the puzzle palace would be thoroughly bamboozled by billions of call records an contents.


Mark, my friend, your other stuff is just strange, but this was laugh-out-loud funny.

I do not really like the name "Ruling Party," since this seems to some extend imply a formal structure with a chair man and membership fees. What I think what happens is rather the formation of a ruling class.

Yeppers. Democracies have to be constantly on their guard for that one. Let me quote from Pacyga's Chicago:

The accumulation of the large amounts of capital necessary to establish the new factories, such as the packing and steel plants, also changed the basic notion of equality . . . The rich began to move away from the busy crowded, polluted, and boisterous riverfront. In Chicago the first neighborhoods defined by wealth appeared along South Michigan Avenue . . . Owners met each other in clubs and business associations, and while they could be fierce competitors in the very real game of monopoly, they all agreed that workers should be kept in their place . . . Now McCormick, Gustavus Swift, Potter Palmer, Marshall Field, and others lived in mansions far from the workplace and even greater distances from their workers' experience in the new social world constructed by nineteenth-century capitalism

Anybody see a pattern ;-) Chris Hayes has an interesting hypothesis which has the ring of truth. God does it ring. What he essentially says in Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy is that the model we use for determining who makes the big decisions has been severely gamed over time.[1] The stakes being what they are in our current economic setup and human nature being what it is, the people - or rather the class of people - gaming this model are working like gangbusters to preserve it while simultaneously being in severe denial that they are doing so.

[1] This is a problem for models in general whenever they have to make do with proxies of the characteristics we want to measure rather than the characteristics themselves. Measurement of something like job performance or creditworthiness is a hard problem.


There have been a lot of people tossing American analogies into the discussion. Many of them make good points, but it gets silly-season when you try to pretend that the difference between Democrats and Republicans --- as political parties --- is at all similar to the difference between Labour and the Conservatives. It then gets even sillier when people insist that the differences that exist between the two American parties --- again, as parties --- don't matter to ordinary people.

Admitting that the two parties are different in very major ways is not the same as stating that no elite consensus exists on any important issues.

Unless Charlie says that he believes there are no significant differences between the U.S. parties, I suggest everybody stop trying to drag America into an interesting discussion of British politics.

Although googling "armed resistance to the lizard people" turns up a page on the Polish partisans in WWII for some reason.

Somewhat off topic, but in spite of being a nice comment on the Nazis, I guess it's thanks to those guys:

Err, not exactly my favourite Polish Resistance group, given its predecessor,

but then, even fascists are better than the real Nazis.

Actually, the name is from a medieval union of knights

and actually, it seems like the salamandar is treated like a special lizard in Polish, so well, I always wanted to ask OGH about a special Lizard Union branch in the Polish Chiffre Bureau,

courtesy of the Laundryverse...



Mitch, by "coup" would you be referring to something like the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln or of John F. Kennedy?

No, I am not. A coup isn't just an assassination. It also requires the overthrow of the government. In these cases, the Presidents were dead, but the government kept right on going. The vice presidents were sworn in, just as the US Constitution requires.

Both were elected, but they were removed from office not by the ballot but by the bullet. A republican democracy is no guarantor of stability or of smooth transition. The bullet or the ballot is a false dichotomy.

The system of Western democracy seems to work better at bringing about a smooth transition of power than other systems do.


I'm not trying to excuse Obama's behavior. I'm simply trying to find an explanation.

And I'm assuming for the sake of this discussion that Obama is not simply an opportunist. I'm assuming he believed what he said then, and he believes in what he is doing now. This assumption is not proven.


Something I was reminded of overnight, & I haven’t seen (yet) in this discussion.
All three main parties here are losing members, to the point where they are all tiny cliques. Whereas, 40-50 years ago they actually had real mass memberships, that fed-back “real peoples” ™ opinions & observations to the leadership.
No longer.
Is this happening elsewhere, because if it is, then that is a sizeable chunk of the problem, isn’t it?

M E Smith @ 136
You overstate the case against Obama, to the point of wilful exaggeration.
Remember, that the USSA is already set on that course, & it takes an enormous time to turn such a behometh around. I find your rubbishing of “Obamacare” very suspicious, also, to say the least.

Brett Dunbar @ 140
So, you are claiming that the “other” axes of politics, Libertarian/Authoritarian do not exist?
Don’t believe you.
Nor, I think, will anyone else here …

SoV @ 149
You are well behind the curve, there. Adam Smith was very far-sighted … indeed, it is only too clear that the “Adam Smith Institute” have never read, or properly understood his work.
We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things, which nobody ever hears of. Masters, too, sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy, till the moment of execution, and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do, without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people. Such combinations, however, are frequently resisted by a contrary defensive combination of the workmen; who sometimes too, without any provocation of this kind, combine of their own accord to raise the price of their labour. Their usual pretences are, sometimes the high price of provisions; sometimes the great profit which their masters make by their work. But whether their combinations be offensive or defensive, they are always abundantly heard of.
So there … & written in 1776 …..

Mitch Wagner @ 153
Or that he, POTUS is powerless, if the Rethuglicans can filibuster or block (almost) anything he want to do … like closing down Gitmo, f’rinstance, or improving environmental quality, or …..


On Apathy - Here in the UK, I suspect that this is partly due to the success of "bread and circuses" in offering the masses other entertainments, partly because union membership no longer gets you automatically enrolled in Liebour, and partly due to the rise of personality cults and negative campaigning where all all one party does is attack the incumbent candidate and his party rather than proposing their own platform.

If the USA is superficially different, it's probably due to the fact that registering as a donkey or an elephant gives you a say in the presidential candidate selection process.


The US Democratic and Republican parties have what are called "super delegates" who can overrule the will of the majority of ordinary delegates in selecting presidential candidates. Merely having the support of a majority of voters, and therefore of a majority of ordinary delegates, does not necessarily give registered donkeys or elephants a say in selecting presidential nominees.


@ Greg Tigney 133: Um, no. India has a population comparable to China and is (more or less) a functioning democracy. There is nothing inevitable about China being a one-party state. (Indeed, if their civil war in the 1940s had gone the other way then China might conceivably be a multi-party democracy by now, with a North Korea-like dictatorship occupying Taiwan...)

Similarly the EU is a confederation of national governments, and was never *intended* to be a unified democracy.


Thanks, Noel.

The issues surrounding US political parties are qualitatively different than those between the British and other parliamentary system parties, because they're not structured like and don't behave similarly to a whipped parliamentary political party.

Also: the US system is constitutionally designed to gridlock unless it can be governed by consensus/horse-trading, unlike a parliamentary system which is to some extent designed to function as an elected dictatorship.

Trying to get my head around what's gone wrong with American politics would be a whole 'nother essay (or six); some of the consequences resemble to some extent the consequences of the failure of UK politics, but the underlying causal mechanisms are wildly different (and there are different outcomes, as well).


And I'm assuming for the sake of this discussion that Obama is not simply an opportunist. I'm assuming he believed what he said then, and he believes in what he is doing now.

My take on Obama is simply: he comes from a jurisprudence background -- that little detail of him having edited the Harvard Law Review says a lot -- and if he hadn't set his sights on the White House he'd probably be on course for the Supreme Court. He therefore has a predisposition to play by the rules of whatever rule book he's handed, and in this instance, the toxic legacy of a huge volume of previous signing orders and DoJ case work has gone a long way towards locking him into the existing framework. He's also faced with a hostile legislature running a scorched-earth strategy, an over-balanced right wing supreme court, and a deafening level of racist dog-whistling.

Given all of the above it's pretty much a miracle that he got the US [mostly] out of Iraq, is ramping down Afghanistan, hammered Al Qaida so hard that they're dysfunctional, and managed to pass even a watered-down health insurance reform act.

On top of which, the Arab Spring is probably the biggest challenge to US diplomacy in a generation -- since the end of the Cold War -- and so far, the worst that's happened was a relatively small localized fuck-up in Benghazi. Nobody is calling it a triumph now, but if that's the worst that happens it'll be a miracle. Compare with his predecessors. (Gerry Ford: choppers lifting out of Saigon with people dangling from their skids, support for Operation Condor. Jimmy Carter: Iranian Embassy hostages, more support for ugly dictators. Ronald Reagan: USMC barracks atrocity in Beirut, Contra terrorism in Central America, etc. George H. W. Bush: diplomatic fuck-up leading to Kuwait invasion by Iraq, counter-invasion. Bill Clinton: Battle of Mogadishu. George W. Bush: 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Camp X-Ray, etc.) If you run a global empire, something nasty and unexpected will explode in your face every couple of years. While I don't approve strongly disapprove of using drones to assassinate enemies in the Tribal Territories, things could be a lot worse: for starters they could be carpet-bombing with B-52s (see also Laos, Cambodia), or deploying more ground troops. There's always a worse option, and seldom a better one. More to the point, I don't know what, if anything, I would be able to do differently if I woke up tomorrow to find I had magically swapped places with the POTUS.)


Cheers; no USian that I'd previously discussed the matter with had mentioned (known of?) that little detail.


I note with despair that the Labour party is seeking to distance itself yet further from the unions which founded it, and which have supported it ever since.

Whatever your political stripe, at least union-supported candidates broadened the type of MPs from the omnipresent public-school-educated, PPE-graduate-with-a-background-in-the-media, greasy-pole-climbing, metropolitian-elite. At least you felt someone in the HoC had the faintest clue what is was like to live in poverty and struggle from week to week. I know there's a streak of 'checking their privilege' in there, but diversity in the house should be encouraged regardless.

Alas, the homogenization of politics continues...


Also, the (re) propsed "deal" on State Party Funding is enough to turn anyone's stomach.
The openly corrupt nature of the proposed deal doesn't seem to have dissuaded LibLabCon for trying it on, does it?


Not as important as you might think. AIUI the superdelegates only have about 20% of the voting power, and only exist for Presidential primaries (ie. not for all the other offices from Senators and Governors down to the local sanitation commissioner). US primary voters have at least as much say over candidate choice as individual party members in the UK.


Professionalisation of politics has taken hold from both sides -- the older generation of Conservative MPs often had a career in business, law or the armed forces before entering politics. The current lot are mirror images of their Labour counterparts.

While I sympathise with the Unite union's frustration, I think the kind of crude election-rigging they are alleged to have done in Falkirk will be entirely counterproductive.


For some years now, I've been toying with the idea that the Thatcher years were a successful counterstrike by the people who got into politics via PPE at Oxford against the people who got into politics through union work.


Oh, undoubtedly hamfisted and undemocratic. To the brothers the end justified the means - and I'm not entirely unsympathetic to that view as they've had to endure countless metropolitan candidates parachuted into safe seats where they have zero empathy with either the constituency party of indeed most of the constituents. See also Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North.


'GoCpatain @ 51
You have just echoed Benjamin Disreali'

I did? Well, good on me. I knew I was echoing somebody.

'GoCaptian@ 3
Yes, but define “whackjobs”?'

Well, I can't define whackjob but I know one. I'm a whackjob about unilateral nuclear disarmament. At least I've spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about alternatives to Trident.

Quite uselessly, I know. This is one of the issues on which really you have no vote.

But just maybe that isn't necessarily a bad thing. You don't elect people just to implement specific policy but also to 'have a care for the state'. And in general one hopes for rational government.

But this is to some extent separate from what's expressing itself on this thread: general anxiety concerning: security.


No they don't really exist as independent axis. In the case of authoritarian/libertarian for example the left is generally more socially liberal the right less so (parliamentry opposition to marriage equality is largely limited to the right wing of the Conservative Party and the DUP). The left tends to regulate the market a bit more than the right, although there the variation isn't large, as the problems of both an underregulated and an overregulated market are well established. The field of possible political positions contains largely unpopulated regions with most voters aligning on an axis. The terminology dates back to the French revolution it has proved a useful description ever since and can be usefully applied to earlier periods, the various post civil war factions for example.


A significant number of union upper ranks are similarly college graduates rather than folks pushed up into the union administration from the shop floor. Mostly this is because the shop floors don't exist to the same extent, the mass-employers like the shipyards and collieries but a lot of it is that the 30-year-old college-educated folks are (perceived to be) better at administration and politics than the twenty-year time-served electrician who ended up on the national committee for the first time in his mid-50s.

Back during the 1980s miner's strikes there was a lot of references to the fact that Arthur Scargill had been a full-time NUM employee from his early twenties onward and would have been lost down a coal mine.


It does depend on the Union what you get out of it.

Scargill was NUM. The more sober-minded, responsible, miners were members of NACODS. (National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shot-firers). Scargill still hates them.



Part of the breakdown in U.S. legislative politics is that the parties -- particularly the Republicans -- have become much more like whipped parliamentary parties, in a system designed to function by horse-trading. The prohibition on earmarks in the House of Representatives means that they no longer have favors to trade across the aisle, and the threat of well-funded primary challenges with national media coverage whips them into line as ruthlessly and effectively as Francis Urquhart. The wheels get no grease, and don't move far as a result, but goddamn do they squeak.

I personally expect a back-bench revolt will be what breaks the impasse. They'll get fed up enough with being sheep that they'll demand the right to 'ensure investment in their districts' while vehemently denouncing 'earmarks', probably at a leadership transition, either when the Democrats take control of the House, or when Boehner faces a palace revolt and either he or his challenger offer it to buy loyalty.



I largely agree with your analysis, but please also bear in mind that it is quite limited what the US president actually can do without congress.

I doubt Obama has the legal power to dismantle the Bush/Cheney police-state, it was set up to last, and it was staffed by a lot of republican political appointees who "burried" into civil service jobs in the second half of the Bush presidency (So many more than usual, that even WaPo noticed it.)

His one option would probably be to expose the extent of the police-state set up. Given the state of affairs in the House, that would guaranteed lead to impeachment for treason.

Finally the sheer inertia of the bureaucracy and the depth of the pipeline usually means that a presidents policies only start to take real effect in the latter part of his second term, ie: now.

If Obama intended to do something about the police-state when he got the job, we'd see the first results of that in the fiscal year starting some in a few months.

It's not a job I'd ever want.


Have you been following along with any of the commentators saying that China's system might actually be better than the current forms of democracy we "enjoy" in developed nations?

For example, this TED talk:

It seems to dovetail nicely with your post in that, if democracy fails to create diverging parties that actually battle it out for public support, then the public might be much better off with a single-party system where a kind of free-market, more meritocratic organization is supported from within the (converged) ruling party.


If the USA is superficially different, it's probably due to the fact that registering as a donkey or an elephant gives you a say in the presidential candidate selection process.
It's rather more different than that. In 50 states and various territories, all election laws are local. In the state I live in, each of the 75 counties has its own election commission, methods of voting, and voter qualifications. City or county offices may be sought by anyone; at the state level, you have to be nominated by a "recognized political party" as defined by the State Election Commission. That's basically the idiots, the other idiots, and two barely-existing no-hopers.

Ten miles away, voting laws may be entirely different...

I'd guess there are at least a thousand electoral entities in the USA, each one jealously protected by its own local power structure.

Broken as the various political institutions are, at least we made it out of the power-to-the-strongest tribal system all other primates are limited to.


Eh. I doubt people are so schizophrenic that they’ll take up arms against the people they keep voting into power.

I can’t speak for the UK, but at least in the US, there are very few people that are actually trying to change things. An large percentage of the population doesn’t vote, of those that do a large percentage only vote at the national level, and of the few remaining ones that bother to show up for local elections or primaries very few are informed. There is a very, very small number of people that even put a couple of hours a month into doing political work.

From what I’ve seen, it’s not that change is impossible so much as it isn’t tried. Like I said, I don’t know much about the UK political scene, although from what I’ve seen it’s not terribly different. So I suppose the question is – before we discuss whether or not extreme action is coming, what has actually been tried?


"How can you possibly monitor the Internet more than by recording every connection made by everybody on your territory, and then some?": Here's how you can monitor the Internet more: Actively disrupt any encrypted protocol so that people can only send text in the clear, ever tried to use Tor or OpenVPN in China?

At the risk of going off topic, I don't think NSA is necessarily evil in this case, what they did is just a reaction to the ever increasing power of individuals, which is what most people are missing in this debate. Sure the NSA could go after you using smart drones based on your facebook comment 10 years ago, but more likely you'll get wracked by your neighborhood wacko's 3D printed drone first. I think there's some interesting scenarios in Iron Sunrise, do we really want no surveillance whatsoever if any Joe public can assemble a nuke in his basement? We're not there yet in terms of nukes, but I'm pretty sure we'll see basement bioweapons in our life time.

Going back to the bad dream: Are we sure this is a bug instead of a feature? It looks to me this is what democracy is supposed to do, if say 40% of the people want policy A, 30% wants B, 20% wants C, 10% wants D, then implementing A is the correct choice. And unless you can change the mind (votes) of the people, you'll continue to get A, no matter which party is in charge, sounds reasonable to me.


I'm pretty sure we'll see basement bioweapons in our life time.

Maybe not deliberate, but we have some pretty foul basements in the UK. There's also home brewing. A more realistic indicator: cannabis growing. There have been false positives, such as garden sheds spewing heat in winter to keep the bunnies from freezing, but it's the sort of basic criminal biology that is already being looked for.

Basement bioweapons are certainly close.


One interesting thing about this discussion is that, what started as a view on UK politics, rapidly became the typical Republican-Democrat slanging match.

One thing this shows is possibly that there are still people in the US who are passionate about politics.
Or, more disturbing, that there are almost no ones in the UK who bothers. After all, as long as the majority is reasonably comfortable, what does the Westminster antics matter? I would know that the poll tax (sorry, community charge) will go up every year, regardless of who's in power (locally, regionally or nationally).

Voting figures in the West are going down.

So, that's probably why I live in Ireland rather than in the UK. They are so corrupt and inefficient that the government really is of no importance whatsoever


More to the point, I don't know what, if anything, I would be able to do differently if I woke up tomorrow to find I had magically swapped places with the POTUS.

At some point after he left eh Clinton Administration, I saw a talk by Leon Poneta where the subject of presidential promises came up and he was asked why Clinton did so few of them.

His answer was basically just after the election you're high on the win then you spend several hours a day for the next month in the "briefings". There you learn that past Supreme Court rulings wipe out 15 of your promises. You need Congress to implement a lot of the others and your party didn't win both houses or have slim majorities. You are told about some treaty obligations that tie your hands in other ways. And then you get those secret briefings about things you can't talk about that wipe out a few more promises.

So at the end you have 5 to 10 things out of over 100 promises that you just might maybe have a chance at implementing. If nothing blows up in your face or distracts you. Such as 9/11 or your son getting arrested for pot or an intern flirting with you or whatever.

AIUI the UK Prime Minister has way fewer restrictions on what he/she can do.


no USian that I'd previously discussed the matter with had mentioned (known of?) that little detail.

His statement was a bit wide in it's sweep. In most states the presidential delegations are elected in a primary. Those folks are committed to voting as to how the voters voted for the 1st ballot. And there are extra delegates that get to go. Typically, the governor, lt. gov. and various other top elected officials in the state get to go plus the state party chairman. But these folks are almost always way outnumbered by the delegates who are committed to a vote on the 1st ballot. And it's been decades since there was more than a 1st ballot for either party.

Sor for the last 40 or 50 years the popular vote in the primaries has been the deciding factor for who the candidate is. Reading between the lines it is possible for it to not be so which is why Hillary kept running till the bitter end but in practice for a long time the popular vote wins.


UK vs. US

Yes. The systems are very different. But the main point of Charlie's post can apply to the US as well as the UK. Different paths leading to the same destination.


Try to follow this line of reasoning-- it may explain why the Ruling State hypothesis is not so crazy after all.

In the 1970's, the political philosophy landscape was filled with a debate between two Harvard professors, John Rawls and Robert Nozick. Rawls essentially stated (I may be oversimplifying a bit) that a just society is one in which the people who run things would attempt to set things up in such a way that, were they to be the worst off in society, nothing they could do would worsen the current situation for those who are, in fact, the worst off. Nozick argued that any attempt to redistribute the goods of a society must presuppose that there is a dynamic situation in which things can go right back to the starting point, and obviously the only way to avert that would be a continuous redistribution-- impractical as well as morally dubious-- and the best one can hope for is to set things up in such a way as to eliminate to the degree possible the force and fraud which will keep the worst off at the bottom and possibly see them sink lower in absolute terms.

Thus, the last few generations of PPE's presumably have some acquaintance with the concepts of both men, either from studying them from the source materials or from having read the sorts of scholarly discussions that ensued from them. The unspoken assumption in both men's arguments, and one which bears openly being articulated, is that there is a species of natural justice which should inform governance.

Rawls saw it as, that inequality can and should exist only to the extent that any further attempts to redress the balance only worsens things for those worst off to start with. Nozick saw it as, that as long as the inequality came about as a result of unforced transactions on the part of all participants and nobody is made to be less politically and legally equal, we do strive in vain to level the field.

It's the broad agreement between the factions that there must be some sort of mechanism that keeps too many people from falling too far behind, a situation that can only end badly, from occurring. It is the means of accomplishing this that comprise the differences between the two-- the Left are more Rawlsian in their hold-back-those-at-the-top-so-the-others-can-catch-up formulation (Rawls had a sense that people with talent gifts ought not be allowed to capitalise on them unduly, i.e., life's "lottery winners" should be content with "enough" and not "as much as possible"), while the Right are more Nozickian in their who-cares-if-they-ever-catch-up-so-long-as-they-are-much-better-off-in-absolute-terms formulation (Nozick did not see how holding anyone back benefited someone else if it would create the situation where nobody would ever want to exploit their talents, and that couldn't be good for anyone, especially the worst off).

In a sense, the Rulers, in order to maintain their position, must be seen to be making things better for the great majority of their population if they are to have any credibility; the Right may say, we're making it better for everybody but the most intractably lumpen people, and those we will maintain as no worse off. The Left will counter, we're making it better for everybody but the "1%", and those we won't be too rough on since we don't want to slay the golden-egg goose if we don't have to.

The members of the second-oldest profession share the same job description as those of the first, with regard to catering to people's fantasies. And just as in the old joke, we know what they are, we're just quibbling over the price.


The standard work on UK politics and how there is just a ruling class of politicians is Peter Oborne's "The triumph of the Political class". He comes from a somewhat right of centre background, having written for the Mail and the like. Oddly enough is getting published more now by the Observer and Guardian, which whilst hardly leftist newspapers, are at least much farther left than the Mail.

Anyway, it was published in 2007 and appears to have universal plaudits from political pundits from all newspapers, which perhaps reflects both the accuracy of the book and the weapon it gives the pundits against the politicians. Yet now, 6 years later, what has been the impact of the book? In any other field of human endeavour, new lines of investigation would have begun, or new party's started or whatever, but the impact on UK politics appears to be absolutely zero.

This may


re: "My conclusion is that we are now entering a pre-revolutionary state ... "

Most of the comments appear to be a rehash of 19th-20th century history, poli-sci, economics ... where is the rehash of what has happened in the social sciences? I think that that's the fulcrum for the next revolution.

Two reasons why the social sciences will matter more in the future re: policy:

1) You can argue differences in poli-sci/variations of western philosophy until the cows come home and it won't make a difference because -isms are 'soft' differences and unamenable to measurement, testing, etc. Basically, if you can't measure something, you can't tell whether it's improving or deteriorating. So if you can define (and measure) the salient aspects/attributes of the 'ruling party' or its constituents, then - like sexism, racism, smoking, etc. - you'll have a visible and measurable lever to effect your change.

2) By using the traditional history, economics, poli-sci terms of reference/argument, you're only adding your vote in favor of the same-old/same-old mugs game, i.e., the ruling party. If you want to change the game, you first need to change the terms of reference -- basically bring it down to the human/individual level because this is the level that you're upset about. (I think that we might be able to learn something about how to do/not do this effectively by watching Egypt. The decision they're facing is whether they want a government that works for individuals versus one that works for some vague/amorphous/self-perpetuating groups (i.e., political parties, religions, etc.).

Over the last thirty years our commitment to this parody of democracy has facilitated accelerating and extreme economic inequality of a scope and scale unseen since the last Gilded Age. There are numerous reasons for the explosion of inequality—from globalization, to technology, to the corruption of the campaign finance system, to the successful war on organized labor—but the philosophical underpinning for all of this, the fertile soil in which it is rooted, is our shared meritocratic commitment. Fundamentally we still think that a select few should rule; we've just changed our criteria for what makes someone qualified to be a member in good standing of that select few.

Surely everyone's noticed that on the cultural front things are getting better. Slowly, but the wheels grind exceedingly fine. On this policy front democracy rules, in part because no one except the demonstrably fanatic presumes to be amazingly more competent than their fellow men when it comes to making moral judgments.

OTOH, when it comes to economic policy, the presumption seems to be that some really are more competent than others. Maybe it's because they've been to a fancy school or maybe because they're 'successful' businessmen. Whatever. Whether it's true or not, this line of reasoning then concludes with the notion that these guys should be put in charge of policy - with no democratic input - because of their supposed ability to make 'better' decisions than the common ruck. It's only a coincidence that this is the capitalist model of organization, of course ;-) [1] From there, the iron law of meritocracy takes over and before you know it, you're being lorded over by a remote and unaccountable elites, aka twits. Which is only proper of course, because - and they will be the first to tell you this - they know better than you do what's really good for you and what isn't

Iow, the iron law of meritocracy is merely a particular (and plausible) instance of the iron law of oligarchy.

[1]The reason elites the world over seem to be coordinating for a global putsch is mostly because (imho) they all buy into the same economic model (Freshwater school, of course) that informs the modern neoliberal consensus. It's no coincidence that this model is trotted out by elites the world over to justify unpopular decisions supposedly made on behalf of the citizenry. True, your average man in the street probably won't get why free trade is good policy no matter how many times the VSP's spell it out for him . . . But after all, isn't that why the elites are in charge in the first place?


actually, one of the little paranoia games i play is what my online buying habits might say. it's quite funny when you had a talk with your father aboout suicidal scorpions, do a websearch, and google ads show you sanatoriums close by. another thing is when looking after heteromeles evil shamen from brazil, only for amazon thinking you're into psychedelic neoshamanism. and i don't listen to goa that much, err.

and, well, my last magnifyer was from a growers' supply. and it seems like the microscope i bought is quite a favourite with the mushroom community, though i guess those are more after the edible ones. mostly.

please note that when looking for methanal, the supplier was also selling red phosphorous.

if you excuse me, i have to do some experiments with tin foil hats now...:)

as for basement bioweapons, you know this already happened, right:


I do apologize if my bizarre suggestions mess up their search images for various online suppliers, or (worse) scrutiny because a bunch of people looking at weird subjects causes some Three-Letter Agency to assume there's a plot afoot.

Anyway, years ago, I realized my best defense against Amazon was to exercise my hummingbird attention span, buy an odd variety of stuff (including gifts for my weird friends), and also to use it to look up book titles, prices, and all sorts of random garbage. They have no idea what to make of me now, which means I can happily ignore their ads entirely.


"...hammered Al Qaida so hard that they're dysfunctional..."

Much of the Syrian opposition to Assad in Syria is Al Qaeda, they often fly the Al Qaeda flag, many are Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, and Obama has been supporting them and recently sending them arms.

How do you interpret that as "hammering"?


"Eh. I doubt people are so schizophrenic that they’ll take up arms against the people they keep voting into power."


"For my own part, I have always reproached the políticos for standing in the elections because that was tantamount to wiping out the potential for revolution in economic, political and social terms or, in other words, destroying the very basis of the revolution." --José Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, Vol. 1.


Until about two weeks ago, I had never heard of Charles Stross, and then I spent a day with a long time friend locked in a car, and we inevitably began to talk about things that we don't normally cover...

The name Stross came up and I kept meaning to look him up, but still haven't...

I have just been referred here by a blog commenter... Imagine my surprise to discover that what is being said here is very close to my view on how government operates...

Interestingly, there is a very successful politician in the UK (if you like that sort of thing), who wrote something along these lines as a young man... The book was called "It doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always gets in", the author one "Kenneth Livingstone", late mayor of London, and long term leader of its predecessor, the GLC. There was also a similarly titled song written and performed by Neill Innes and Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo's...

I believe that the "Ruling Party" as Mr. Stross describes it, also comprises members who nobody votes for... they don't put themselves up for election, but are ensconced in important positions in HM departments of bureaucracy along with organisations like the BBC.

Some commenters and pundits speculate that there is a conspiracy at work, I rather cleave to the idea that what is really happening, is that these blokes are of a type, and that perhaps the best way to deal with them is to identify them at a very early age...

During the first few days at school, the teacher might ask the class whether anyone would like to be a register/chalk/board/milk monitor (or something of the kind), and when a few hands are raised, he should take a small Derringer from his desk drawer and shoot/whack a couple of these hand raisers. For it is my view that these are the type who will go on to believe that it is their god-given right to pontificate about their fellow citizens' strengths and weaknesses, and worse, to spend a lifetime making their living from it.


I'd been going to reply to a bunch of the other posts between #175 and #190 inclusive, until I realised that they all make, support, or contradict the points I'd already made or was going to make.

#191 - I sort of agree with this.


The UK now seems incapable of democratic reform. All the more reason to opt out of it and split off some smaller, more democratically minded states.


I would like to have something hopeful to say for all this, but as I'm living in one of the irrelevant, bound-for-eternal-poverty corners of the EU (Spain), where the latest news is that, to no one surprise, the ruling party has been financing himself illegally by taking money from companies to ensure they get the public works contract they want, and the traditional main opposition party is not saying much because they have another scandal about colluding with corrupt union officers to take unemployment aid money and waste it on cocaine and hookers...

... your analysis is spot on about here, but with the difference that the banana republic (well, monarchy) status is more evident.

Something has to change, but I dont have the slightest idea about what. And that pre-revolutionary feeling is giving me as much hope as nightmares.

But it is clear that we have reached the point more or less everywhere where "right" and "left" traditional parties are just like football club banners that hide the inherent oneness of them all, which comes clear when you move from their hobby obsessions and ask them about issues of governance and you cant really differentiate them because they all sell you the "There is no alternative" to the current neoliberal consensus.


err, that was not meant as an allegation, i just couldn't remember the guys' name atm, i just knew that you brought them up in a discussion about vampires; remember the kanaima?

afair when i first looked after whitehead's book at amazon, the "people who bought this also bought" part contained quite a few books on diy shamanism. makes for interesting ideas for a crime novel. there was some talk of scandinavian far-right metal adherents into magic mushrooms, btw.


This may be half playing Devil's Advocate, but what if the relative stagnancy of the "Ruling Party" model is actually an adaptation to the diversity of ways that the four parties would like to see the government run, by ensuring that the government will be doing in order to guarantee some semblance of long-term planning?

At a most extreme example, how comfortable and happy would the population be if government policy (and associated spending) took abrupt and dramatic swings every 5-15 years? The citizenry may not like the status quo, but there's some comfort in knowing what the next decade or two will be like.

To grab a hypothetical US example, there's one party that would probably support a nationalized healthcare system, and one which is actively seeking to undo such government involvement in healthcare as there is. Picture the situation if each had relatively unfettered ability to do what it wished for 8-12 years at a time.


NACODS was/is tiny in comparison to the NUM, it was basically the foreman's union of skilled and better-paid men. My dad was NUM all his life and he was a fitter, originally working in steam (which is why he ended up as an EO in the Royal Navy during the War) and latterly hydraulic equipment.

The one Scargill really despised was Joe Gormley, the previous head of the NUM who never lost a strike mostly by not being a dogmatic cretin. The fact that Joe took a peerage when he retired (and remember this was a man who broke a Conservative government) was just a cherry on the top. The House of Lords gained a member who understood the unions very well and who contributed much to the oversight of labour laws and the like, but for Red Arthur that was a betrayal of the working class (of which Arthur himself was a middle-class honorary member...)


Some of the anti-Assad forces in Syria started calling themselves "al-Queda" a few months back, probably to try and get some of that lovely Saudi Wahabbi nutter money that's floating around. There's also the cachet of the name which has big mojo among young Islamist nutters, a bit like Starbucks or libertarianism in the US.

The Syrian mess seems to be mostly a Shia/Sunni thing, like the Lebanese civil war back in the 90s was a Christian/Muslim conflict at its core or the US Civil war was slave-holders versus Federalism. Labels don't really tell you what's really going on.


@ 191
Unfortunately Pink Kem has lost his marbles & publicly "got into bed" with a prominent & nasty islamist ("Women are infrior, homosexuals & jews should be killed..." all the usual pig-droppings in other words)
I referred earlier to forcing myself to vote for a candidate I did not (& do not) like, BoJo, in order to oust Ken, after that ...
The joys of "tactical voting" !

nojay @ 197
Saying doing the rounds during the miners' strike ...
"Arthur Scargill is in the pay of the CIA & Maggie is in the pay of the Kremlin" ...
It made a strange sort of sense, given their respective (& both loopy ) actions.


Interesting topic and comments.

One thing that I think is crucial to the current state of affairs is social interactions of politicians. We are all social creatures and over time we tend to share the views of those we cooperate with. The more time we spend together the more they tend to agree (at least if we want something done).
This in combination with the pushcarts mentioned earlier is enough to make any politician move toward the others - especially when you have to start your political career in your teens to have chance to reach the top.

AFAIK the whole point of representative democracy is that its hard to collect the votes directly from a whole population. As this is no longer the case (ie digital voting) the whole idea as such is outdated. However, I dont think any politican would want to change the system so radically that the career they have aimed for for decades becomes obsolete..


Cheers; no USian that I'd previously discussed the matter with had mentioned (known of?) that little detail.

Probably because it is not true. "Superdelegates" is a misnomer -- better term would be "positional delegates". In both Democratic and Republican conventions about 80% of delegates are elected in local primaries, and about 20% are superdelegates -- sitting state governors, senators, congressmen, and few others. Here is the list of 2008 Democratic convention superdelegates:,_2008

Superdelgates cannot "overrule" the elected delegates, although they most certainly can swing the vote if it is close.


for an interesting take on this phenomena in a US setting, you should read "The United States of Ambition" by Alan Ehrenhalt. Basically, he examines how politics has become a career choice for individuals. Politicians get elected because it is their job. Then they try to ascend the career politician ladder. There are all sorts of spots for those who lose elections as well--party functionaries, lobbyists, think tanks, etc. It is not corporations taking over politics, it is not a ruling party, it is a class of people who have made a career out of this. They are the ones who have captured the state and the levers of power.


A few thoughts to answer in bulk a number of comments on this thread:

1) The USA are, if not on the verge of collapse, at least in crisis. They react to the crisis by extreme policies. It remains to be seen whether the USA end up imploding like the Soviet Union, stand up but alienate much of the world with their policies like Apartheid South Africa, or return to their own charming selves

2) The political system in the UK is almost irrelevant, due to its level of submission to the USA. The same is true of practically all Western countries. Historically "neutrals" countries (Sweden, Switzerland) might well be amongst the most tightly infiltrated by US agents.

3) For a long time in History, there was a tendency to single-party politics. We now have two-party politics, with converging scores at the elections and converging programmes. It is possible that we could be on the eve of the emergence of three-party politics (LibDems in UK, Front National in France). Some of these third parties are loonies and disqualified from government (FN), but others are allowed to play government in alliance with another party (libdems). It is possible that shifting 2-against-1 alliances could pull politics out of the pit where two-party system have buried it.

3) Due to globalisation, it is guenuialy impossible to implement any other policy than constant neoliberal self-mutilation. This is because all other countries would instantly prey on the one that would relinquish the suicidal policies and it would appear even costlier on the short term. Nevertheless, the situation is akin to when Switzerland ended up requesting the Third Reich to mark the passports of the Jews to better turn them down at the border: an insane policy by the neightbours ends up forcing similar insane policies simply to avoid what would be perceived to be an excessive imbalance (and likely to lead to a complete breakdown in relations and eventual confrontation).

4) The policy of neoliberalism is not for the benefit of society. It is the filthy-rich hijacking the whole economy to their exclusive benefit, with the unwitting help and sometimes complicity of policy-makers. At no point has this policy been a consensus. The problem here is absolutely not demagogy or vote-seeking, and the neoliberal convergence of two-party politics and policy cannot be explained by vote-seeking.

5) Example of the former: for Western media, demonstrations against the elected government of Egypt seem to make its legitimacy dubious; on the other hand, the Army deposing the government by force and killing dozens of Muslim Brotherhood demonstratiors hardly hinder the legitimacy of the powergrab. Estern media emphatically do not call this powergrab a Coup d'État, some going as far as to comment on why.

6) The build-up of an overwhelming security apparatus by the Bush Junior administration, and the adoption of policy of torture, arbitrary detention and extra-judiciary murder, are glaring examples that liberal-democratic societies are not stuck in a pit of limited political options. A determined and consistent policy can be implemented provided the political will is there (hint: we *could* decided to use political will to build just and equal societies, rather than invest it into Camus-like policies of absurdities and killing Arabs; for some reason, we just do not).


"It is impossible for liberals to have been deliberately ignorant of this for over a hundred years. All liberals want, when it comes to torture, assassinations, etc., is for someone they voted for to be in command of such atrocities, not for the atrocities to cease."

Wrong; in general liberals don't want such things to happen. The problem is that whomever gets into power continues them, at varying levels (which can be important - how many wars would President McCain gotten the USA into?).


"Perhaps liberals would have been perfectly happy without a war in Iraq, but they were also perfectly happy with Obama expanding the wars and using drone bombs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the assassination of Gaddafi and the bombing of civilians in Libya, and support for the Al Qaeda forces in Syria, at least happy enough to vote for Obama a second time."

Perhaps you should listen to actual liberals once in a while.


"Voters are statists, that is, they believe in a system of government enough to vote in its elections."

Charlie, perhaps the word 'statist' should be on a flag list; it seems to be a libertarian all-purpose insult.


"Politically speaking, this is a feature, not a bug. The Stasi and the KGB were never short of funding because they could always find someone to round up and force confessions out of. That's what their data warehouse were for. In our present case, the security services are probably rifling through their shedloads of data for the nuggets that will look like a problem to impress their paymasters, rather than anything really dangerous. "

Radley Balko, a serious (real)libertarian in the USA, has done lots of work on police brutality and murder. In a recent book, he mentions a case where a police officer infiltrated a group of people betting on sports, got them to raise the amount being bet to the point where it qualified as 'gambling ring'. A SWAT team then murdered the 'leader' during an 'arrest'. This is a jurisdiction where no DA has *ever* found a police killing to be questionable.

My bet is that this resulted in attaboys and promotions, etc.


(please slap me if I'm out of line, Charlies)

"If you vote for a party that opposes imperialist wars, and that party doesn't win the election, your vote counts as part of the turnout that allows the party that wins, which in the US will always be a party that favors imperialist wars, to claim to have been democratically elected."

This is an old t-shirt slogan 'don't vote, it only encourages them', and is intellectually insulting to t-shirts.

I'm assuming that you're an American here - did you happen to notice that in 2000, a party got the presidency by 1 SCOTUS vote (after a voter purge)? Did you notice one iota of humility?

Do you think that if voter turnout went down to 25%, that any politician would become humble?

Have you not noticed that one party in the USA has almost openly decided that its core strategy will be voter suppression and gerrymandering, because the demographics are against them?


Charlie, I don't think one can describe in broad brush terms the failure modes of democracy. I think the UK (and especially, the US) failure modes are much more troubling than in general.

From what I know about comparative politics, the UK has the mild case of the US disease (and in terms of negative associations with politicians and the political process, it is much, much worse in the US). But in both the US and the UK case, the stems from the particular democratic institutions in place (which are not that democratic).

Anthony Downs pointed out in the poli. sci. literature that it is only internal party discipline that keeps politicians honest AND provides a mechanism allows voters to feel connected to the politic process. This process depends/sustains party competition. The US is an oligopoly with a 2 party system, and the UK a near oligopoly with 2&1/2 party system. In both cases, the small number of parties are tied to anti-proportional aspects of the electoral system (in both places, single member districts is a factor).

With a smaller the number of parties, the tendency is for the parties to be big, fractious tents and accountability to the voters suffers (as well as the ability for the voters to identify). In parliamentary democracies (which are typically much proportional than the UK) it is fairly simple for voters to punish parties that piss them off by voting for a next best (i.e. there is very little penalty for voting a strong preference, pro or con). The smaller the number of parties the bigger this penalty becomes. (The ability to form governments without an electoral majority, e.g. Thatcher, is an indicator of the high price in the UK of protest voting.)

Also, I think the single member districts are particularly corrosive to democratic politics in that there becomes an incentive for parties to "spin" to swing voters on a district by district basis.

Representative democracy at its best does something amazing, it somewhat solves the client/agent problem, but to do that requires inter-party competition. Now I think there can be problems with too many parties but I don't think the UK is there yet.


"There's no political benefit to smart (or even inexpensive) weapons. Political power is based on money and manpower; annoying someone with a $100 drone gets you no personal benefit; laying down a 50-man SWAT team with armored ground support and a couple of helicopters shows that you have clout."

First, you have both. Second, using a swarm of cheap drones to do a *lot* of killing of targeted individuals would be of much more use.


Yup. Electoral reform in the UK is pretty crucial. Though Labor as a major party might suffer, progressive, democratic politics as a whole will flourish. Some people think "process" or "the rules" are not worth thinking about because presumably they have marginal effects. Well, in the long game, marginal effects are everything.


Jay, what you don't get (as do most people in the US) is that there are political systems (most democracies) where there politicians have to keep their promises (i.e. votes in accordance with the party platforms). In the US, no one knows what the platforms say and no elected officials has to care.

Properly speaking, the US does not have political parties in that a party is typically an internally disciplined organization (at least to the point of support the party platform). The GOP and the Dems are loose electoral coalitions.


"Unlike the movies, real-life revolution has little to do with the leaping and Kung Fu, and a lot to do with the ability to wait at the mouth of an alley for days with a loop of wire in one's pocket, until just the right government official walks by."

More like the ability to get others to get killed for a cause (or variety of causes).


"stats was never remotely my forte, but I recall an article about supermarket data-analysts sending baby-product vouchers to a teen who didn't know she was pregnant."

Her father didn't know; she'd have been a few months along, at least.


Is it possible to steer the thread back towards UK politics? Yes, I'm aware many readers are American, but if we must discuss non-UK political trends let's at least visit examples less over-examined such as Japan or Mexico.

As a person living on the other side of the planet, I don't feel qualified to second-guess Charlie about what he sees in his own neighborhood; I hope to at least offer a useful different perspective.

The suggestions above that the Ruling Party is less a conspiracy and more of a convergence of interests strikes me as a good point. Politicians don't need to meet and make Evil Plans with their nominal rivals when the same effects can arise through emergent behavior. (The phenomenon is familiar to us all, and older than the ancient sysadmin's cry of "Fuck, why is it doing that?") Any system is subject to the law of unintended consequences, and political systems are notoriously difficult to debug...


"Part of the breakdown in U.S. legislative politics is that the parties -- particularly the Republicans -- have become much more like whipped parliamentary parties, in a system designed to function by horse-trading. "

The big US Republican problem IMHO is that the Tea Party and a bunch of billionaires (who astroturfed the Tea Party into real existence) don't need the usual party leadership. The trick is that they can block all sorts of things, but they don't personally eat gridlock; that's for peons. Think of a government building with mobs and rioting at the front (ceremonial) door, but some business still going on at the 'tradesman's entrance' in back - if you have the connections and bribes.

Things will change when (a) enough US elites believe that a 95% gridlock situation hurts them or (b) the bulk of the Tea Party finally gets bit on the *ss by the gridlock. Example - I have an aunt and uncle who are a retired schoolteacher and principal, and Tea Party members. As Tea Party members, they're working to make sure that current and future teachers get worse benefits and pensions, but they feel entitled to their own pensions and benefits.


"Is it possible to steer the thread back towards UK politics? "

Will do; I please guilty to USA-centrism.


Properly speaking, the US does not have political parties in that a party is typically an internally disciplined organization (at least to the point of support the party platform). The GOP and the Dems are loose electoral coalitions.

On the other hand, in Canada political parties aren't so much coalitions as chain pubs with open door policies; it's a good idea to be in one at election time, but it's perfectly acceptable to go down the street to another one between jobs.

Which is completely different from the Japanese model, where the Liberal Democratic Party was a group you joined if you wanted to have a career in politics. (Absolutely true 1945-1993, mostly true 1993-present.) There are also other parties, offering the chance to play around with politics without the danger of getting elected.

No doubt you get the idea.


US politics and policies are relevant to the politics of practically any nation on earth on earth now, while national politics of Western countries are almost dressing over policies dictated by our American friends. This is particularly true in the UK, which eagerly attempts to be the favourite pupil in the class of teacher USA.

When you see that the US can close the national airspace of Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, on a whim, IN THE MIDDLE OF A DIPLOMATIC CRISIS WITH THESE COUNTRIES, you start reassessing your views on national politicians. As Europeans, we live in territories administrated by locally-elected vice-roys on behalf of the Empire.

So, what's the point of discussing national idiosyncrasies, or the colour of the Royal Babies (tm) bonnets? As I understand it, the point of the thread is not to discuss UK politics, but how UK politics fail; and the failure mode, as I see it, has very much to do with US politics interfering with it. Only tiny variations on the one single acceptable policy are authorised, with the understanding that the remaining people will either be unelectable loonies (nationalist far-right, trotskyst revolutionaries, anti-nuclear ecologists, ...), or if they happen to provide credible alternatives, will be assassinated. Either character-assassinated like Julian Assange, or literally assassinated like Olof Palme.


It might be used as an insult, but it's definied - and useful - as the general inverse of anarchist.
Off Topic: I wonder how it is that "anarchist" means completely different things in the US and Europe? In the US it seems to be synonymous with right-libertarian, whereas in Europe it usually means anti-state, pro-society leftists.


Anarchism as a political ideology seems to have started out very much on the left, and split with the rest of the left (the statist left) at the end of the First International, back in the 1860s; American libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism is very much a 20th century construct and utterly alien to the classic/European strain of anarchist thinking (more heavily influenced by the likes of Kropotkin).


A question: not long ago, it seemed that the post-American era was upon us. these days, I think, not so much. The US may be in crisis, but it seems remarkably resilient. the statistic that reifies this for me is that 70% of world investment in LTE infrastructure in 2012 was in North America. Remember when we used to laugh at them...

And is its political system really so dysfunctional compared with the geniuses who brought you the European Central Bank?


As long as the world keeps using $$$ as a reserve currency the US will be the top dog. No matter what the internal conditions are.


"And is its political system really so dysfunctional compared with the geniuses who brought you the European Central Bank? "

A friend commented that we had done a good job reining in Germany; it doesn't even know how to run an empire now. To me, the current situation in the EU is due to the fact that Germany wants to export goods to other countries, and then to invest the profits back into them. However, Germany hasn't figured out that crashing their customers' economies will result in loss of business.


Jay, what you don't get (as do most people in the US) is that there are political systems (most democracies) where there politicians have to keep their promises (i.e. votes in accordance with the party platforms).

And exactly what happens if they don't? Are they arrested or something? Or is it more of a notional obligation to uphold promises that were specifically written to leave as much wiggle room as possible while hitting the right PR notes?


cahth3iK @ 203
Your point 3 is well taken – you forgot UKIP, who are not as painted by either the “left” or the conventional Tories … though they do have their failings, of course.
… & @ 219
You forgot David Kelley!

@ 204 / 205
So true! …
However …
Deccio barry @ 208 … YUCK!
Meanwhile, ever heard of Blair Peach ??
Your points about 2000 / 20% / Rethuglican core strategy are well-known. Meanwhile, is anyone actually doing anything to stop them?


just to clarify:

it is not that the classical form of anarchism does not exist in the US (in addition to Emma Goldman's long residence in the US, there would be the eco-anarchism of the monkey wrench gang, as well as the current manifestations from Seattle in 1999, etc.), rather it is that there is, in addition, a more uniquely North American/libertarian strain. Still, a significant influence on that strain can be traced back to Europe/Russia, via Ayn Rand.


The more I think about it, the more I like the theory that Ayn Rand was a long-term NKVD/KGB mole whose job was to destabilize the capitalists by encouraging all their wildest and most damaging excesses.


And Greenspan is the best example of that. He learned he lessons from her personally.

Of course now that it has hit the largest fan ever made and the mess still all around us he did say, "oops, maybe I was wrong".

So I guess it's now all OK. Right?


HIS lessions


I give up. I guess this new Air keyboard is too small for me. :)


Charlie @ 228
As in (already spoken of) ... Maggie being in the pay of Moscow & Scargill that of the CIA... ?
Actions agianst their own (percieved) intersts ...
Yet people still do it, don't they?


err, at least for german anarchism, it's not that clear-cut, close to the beginning you have max stirner

who is part of the left hegelians, though how politically left those were is somewhat up to debate...

he is usually pegged down as an individualist anarchist, i guess it's difficult to make him a socialist, but then, he certainly is no anarcho-communist, either.

actually, some german libertarians see him as their ancestor, though they get quite some flak from other stirner fans about it. a publishing house specializing on stirner else publishing wilhelm "orgon" reich might show how diverse appropriations can go...


Libertarian and Anarchist are an interesting example of two words that were synonyms developing distinct meanings. Libertarian is now fairly strictly restricted to right-anarchism while Anarchist is somewhat less strictly restricted to left-anarchism. It's a bit more convenient than having to use the hyphenated compounds. This is not uncommon where there are two words with identical meanings and two different meanings.


It's funny how if anything the problem with US politics is the opposite, but there seems to be a strong drive to believe it works like how Charlie describes UK politics. It makes people feel clever to say that US politics is driven by interest groups and lobbyists. That the parties are the same. Or even that it is driven by power-for-power politicians like in the House of Cards. And it probably was until the last decade or so.

The sequester situation shows this how a non-cynical view of US politics is more accurate: the way the sequester was structured was that it hits various supposedly powerful interest groups like military contractors very hard. But that hasn't mattered. If an issue becomes partisan or ideological or both then apparently lobbyists are powerless. And further the two parties have clearly very different views of social safety nets. Or like how the GOP just voted for a farm bill that doesn't include food stamps. That huge gulf of ideologies amongst mainstream political parties is indeed unimaginable in Europe.


the way the sequester was structured was that it hits various supposedly powerful interest groups like military contractors very hard. But that hasn't mattered.

It hasn't matter to the big interests because it doesn't really bother them. They are still getting big margins on the 99% of the spending that's intact. In general it wasn't programs that were cut but lots of things reduced. (2 month delays in starting a programming project, cancelation of fireworks for July 4th, less grass cutting, etc...) But the layoffs tend to be blamed on the Tea Party fans. Valid or not. So in the long term if it helps get rid of the TP folks in Congress, well all the better for the big contractors. In the mean time they still make great returns on spent monies and in general aren't taking the blame.


Generally they get the whip withdrawn - they're thrown out of the party, leaving them to stand the next election as an Independent without support from the national party or local organization. Depending on their personal vote-winning abilities, this can be the end of their political career.


The US may be in crisis
The USA is *always* in crisis.

In 1775, it was the war, and collaborators, and traitors, and finances. Then there were more financial crises, a mass exodus of people who said "bugger this" and decamped for Canada, a few rebellions against the revolutionary government, the furor over the Constutitional Conventions, Indian wars, military encounters with England, Spain, France, Mexico, and various Indian tribes, more financial crises, war with Mexico, war with England, war with Spain, more Indian wars, a nasty civil war and decades of "Reconstruction", another war with Mexico, World War I, trade unions, Communism and the first sedition acts, stock market collapse, more Communists, World War II, HUAC...


So ranking British MPs are accountable to their party leadership? Holding members of the ruling class accountable to other members of the ruling class is not an adequate substitute for democracy.


Yeah, the US is one departure from "pure" type parliamentary democracies. The UK (proably by virtue being one of the oldest systems) is another example of departure with all of the "Commonwealth" democracies sharing some of its flaws.

France is also a good example of a non-standard type (for unique historical reasons, afaict). Japan is as well, though largely due to American tinkering with the Japanese Constitution after WWII (result, one of the most corrupt systems in existence).


They don't get put on the ballot. For the most part, political parties control access to the ballot (and they don't do primaries).

But I am not sure you get the distinction between American politics and most state-of-the-art democracies. The US system is designed to be slow and inefficient. In a typical parliament, when a governing party comes to power, it legislates it's agenda in days or weeks, exactly as promised. That is because most legislative processes work on simple majority. There is no distinction (and not much time lag) between winning an electoral majority and
enacting the program in the party platform.

If there is not an electoral majority, the parties comprising a coalition negotiate exactly what it is they will jointly support before taking office.

In the U.S., the promises (even assuming they are kept) made by a Congressional or Presidential candidate may be a necessary condition, a first step, to enacting a policy, but the relationship to the final result in tortuously indirect. Also the US legislative system requires formal and de facto super-majorities. E.g., it took electoral results pushing 70% per cent to (partly) smooth the way for the New Deal.


Part of the problem with the UK is that needs to be party competition with voting blocs. With only one major party, Labor, laying claim to working class voters, the party's responsiveness to the concern of its electorate is dampened.

I also think it means that party's in general suffer from trying to be one size fits all. And it also means intra-party faction feuding is more intense (i.e. wasteful) because getting kicked out of major party is possible political death.
(This is a feature of dis-proportionality
stemming from the single member district, first past the post election system).

Democratic politics should be a variety of
collective or institutional learning. Ideologies have the potential to be tweaked, to change with circumstance, when subjected to a competitive dynamic. The UK doesn't have not have that dynamic, in that it would take no less than 2 or 3 ideological parties competing for the votes of lower-income voters in a system where there is little penalty for
voting one's preference (Parties getting some threshold of electoral -2%,%5?- should be guaranteed a comparable level of representation in the legislature.) Parties can then compete on ideology and
policy (and past competency) but then
work together in coalition after the
electoral dust settles.


Facebook ? I abandoned Fb last year after the US election lead to some GCBs praying for me in mine unbelief. My Jewish ancestors told me that when the Christians pray for you, it is time to leave town. There are too many well armed paranoids in the US, anonymity is recommended.

According to the Master Heinlein, the US is due for a few decades of theocracy. I think a few years of Ayn Randism is more likely, a period of economic romanticism. The inevitable disappointment will be very messy.

If the world is in a state similar to post-1848, what is the ideology that will emerge, as Communism did, and where will it emerge from ? A Neo-Confuciusism from China ? Something from the Islamic world, either the liberalizing Gulf states, or repressive Iran ? It won't come from the US, its head is too far up its ...


If the world is in a state similar to post-1848, what is the ideology that will emerge, as Communism did, and where will it emerge from ? A Neo-Confuciusism from China ? Something from the Islamic world, either the liberalizing Gulf states, or repressive Iran ? It won't come from the US, its head is too far up its ...

None of the above.

The big problems of the 21st century are the topics that any new ideology must address.

They are:

* Climate change

* How to deal with too much information

* How to allocate resources when 80-90% of the population are unemployable because most tasks (including today's middle-class professions) are fully automated

* How to stabilize a growth-oriented economy when the labour force begins to shrink as the demographic overshoot begins to decline (this is a late C21 problem)


I think a few years of Ayn Randism is more likely, a period of economic romanticism.

Didn't we just have that, about 1993-2000 with an aftershock 2005-2008?


I get what you're saying. My point was just that for a non-marginal MP, the possibility of job loss via the ballot box is highly remote. Naturally, this means that front-bench MPs worry less about what their notional constituents want, and more about what other politicians want. This dynamic would tend to contribute to the formation of a ruling class.


I'm not in the UK, though the parliamentary system is related - the electoral system is completely different, though.
Witness a recent example of what I'm talking about. (Vital background: Ms. Creighton was previously talked about as a possible future leader of the party.)

And no, the internal discipline of the ruling class is not democracy, but the question was how are elected representatives forced to toe their respective party lines. The parties can and do lie their arses off in the election and then do whatever they can get away with when in power, but individual elected members are much more constrained.


anonemouse @ 247
This, of course, is part of a larger problem ...
The vile RC church still has far too much power.
I suspect that the issue here will not go away ... given the open admission in the debates that, effectively: "We can afford to be lying hypocrites about this, & lick the RC's arse, because, well, there are 11 women a DAY ( 4000+ a year ) women going to "Englsnd" (or Scotland) for abortions, so we'll just put up a fig-leaf. Oh, & if you are too poor to afford the ferry/air fare, well, tough"


I suppose it's a slight improvement ... the first time I arrived at Amiens St station, the Garda/Customs man wanted to know if I had imported any "rubber johnnies" with me (!) - in 1965 ....


No, that is a romanticized economic period, as it was the only period of economic growth, and growth of real wages, in the last 40 years in the US.

I am speaking of Economics based on the Romantic writing of Rand, with extreme austerity, the gold standard, and unrestrained entrepreneur worship (they have turned the Hippy Jobs into a god). Since the theoretical basis of these economics are completely bogus, results will not be good.

"Free Market" economics was developed at the UofC, by Freidman et al, in the 1960s as an economic weapon to fight Communism. It was first deployed in Chile in 1972, with a Fascist political component. It is designed to defeat Communism by out-producing it. After the Cold War ended, it became a Doomsday weapon, continuing to ravage the landscape, after its function was no longer necessary. These Economics are destructive, but have a valid theoretical basis.

If Bush had not have the complete clusterf* of the War Against Terror hanging from his balls, he would still be reviled for the economic disaster up his backside of negative growth during his tenure, and the Great Recession.


I have been thinking about some of this stuff on a micro scale.

There is a comfortable deniablity about the evil that the state does in our name. Given the life style that many of us have, which is at the very least comfortable, and the meme that goes around that 'there is nothing to choose between them', I get the general impression that politics is being left, by the electorate, to run itself. As long as it does not directly interfere with ones day to day existence it is put to the back of the mind. Personally I don't understand how no-one has been hung drawn and quartered over the banking crisis which apparently makes every man jack of us indebted for forty years.

It is that strand of togetherness between people of a similar background, the clever folk that all went to the same schools and universities, that ought to be challenged, but is not. It is a far wider cabal than simply the Red Tories / Blue Tories. It is a group of people who, well to me at least, appear to have every lever of power under their control. How else does one explain the lack of accountability for any crisis
engineered by that elite?

If you visit a richer nation than the UK, or the US for that matter, it is in your face that we have both fallen far behind societies that were better organised.


You might get some useful insight from this discussions of failure cascades a social context:

Basically, he claims that if a political system underperforms for long enough periods of time, its constituents stop identifying with it. He's talking about the dynamics in an online game, but extrapolation of the model to larger scales is obvious.



Thanks for replying.

Your friends comment is interesting to say the least.

Would I be right in thinking that the arguement is that there is a tipping point where the advantages of scale (upwards - think Empire) are overturned by the forces that made it so becoming involved in internicine disputes? In other words any empire destroys itself from within?

Or is that just wishful thinking?


douglas clark @ 250
As long as it does not directly interfere with ones day to day existence it is put to the back of the mind. annd what do you do, when it does come & bite you on the arse? Because it is probably too late by then: Hint: today (again) I broke UK & EU law - & I couldn't give a fuck.

& @ 252
No it isn't (wishful thinking).
In the Brit empire case, see the late M M Kaye - who dearly loved "India" &, along with many others regarded the failure to grant that (old) nation "Dominion Status" in (say) 1938/9 a total disaster - never mind the horrors of partition, which are still with us.
Also there always were many inside "Our" system who recognised that all the "colonies" would grow up & become independant, as Canada, NZ, Aus & (euw) S Africa did, especially given our public supposed values.
Some places we got it right, a lot of others, we didn't ... and that is still a cause for debate as to why ( & how).



Our masters are fairly careful to ensure that it never bites their true constituency on the arse. Their true constituency are, perhaps, the folk that don't even bother voting anymore.

Next step in this process is to watch politicians say something along the lines of 'we were elected by the people that care about elections. A 1% turnout is enough!"


I don't think the main factor is scale, either in space or population, since China and India seem for the moment to be more stable than, say, Belgium. Rather it seems to involve time. A lot of political theory and sociology considers this sort of question, though this is the sort of thing that hardly anyone can consider without bias. I recommend Mancur Olson and Robert Michaels if you're interested in further reading.


Jay, I get your point too and it is probably applicable to the UK (though I am not an expert on this).

Basically, the legislative process in any country falls somewhere on spectrum between

"legislators decide everything after they are elected, with little control by the party, concerned only about getting re-elected",

on one hand, to, on the other,

"voters choose based on a range of platforms (or ideologies), which party best serves their needs, and then the wining party (or parties) enacts that platform"

Most systems fall between those two ideal types (though the US pretty much is the first type) and the structural features of the UK would tend to push it closer to the US side of the spectrum than is common in Europe. I am not really sure if the problem with UK is the lack of alternative s to Labor or that MP's (and the Cabinent) are measurably less accountable than the typical case.

It could be both problems (and if so they are certainly intertwined) but, in any case, the situation be better and the problem is the structure of the system, imho, not the nature of politicians. A good system helps keep their natural proclivities at bay. I am not an anarchist in that I think representative democracy can be functional and progressive and in most places where it is not, it is because the forces of the "status quo" don't want it to be, hiding behind "the rules" of the existing system.

The real crime is that many left parties (especially UK Labor) haven't figured that out or are too short-sighted to act.


@ 254 onwards
Well, well well ...

Given the latest revealations, & talking of which [ Health warning, given the source ] …
It looks as though Dr David Kelly really was murdered - though whether it was Blair’s cronies or US special operatives is quite unknown & possibly unknowable (?)….

Sorry but suicide with ONE wrist slashed & no hot water to hold the veins open just isn't on. I have never believed the "official" verdict here, but these revelations make it even murkier.
Hutton was asked to chair an enquiry before anything was offically known ... presumably because somoene did know.
Oops, to say the least.

But I doubt Blair will ever go to jail, good little christian that he is.


Greg, you need to turn off "smart quotes". Otherwise any URL (link) you type in will be broken -- HTML requires dumb quotes as URL delimiters. (Fixed manually, this time, but I'm not going to make a habit of it).

NB: I strongly disapprove of using the Daily Heil as a source for anything, but in this case ... wow, that's suggestive if it's true. I'd like to know what the original source was, though.


Charlie @ 258
Oh bugger - it's a bug that sometimes manifests itself if I write my comments in "Word" then transfer across (cut'n-paste) to your comments box.
Sometimes, but not always, it removes the quotes around the URL of the link - very annoying.
I know it should go:
left_detent capA = quote URL quote right_detent label left_detent backslash capA right_detent
But it doesn't always come out like that - & I usually hit "preview, too ... Um.

Yes, I know the daily Nazi Mail is a very very dubious source for anything ... but I picked-up from the 08.00 BBC news-bulletin today & went looking for the source.
Interesting, shall we say?


Greg, ref 257 - 259 inc.

When I'm writing something longer than I can cope with in the comment box I use Notepad. Ok, it doesn't line wrap very intelligently, but it copes with everything else, even HTML tags, better than Word or Wordpad.


It isn't really, it's basically a non-story. All it amounts to is that after David Kelly's body was found, after they knew both who he was and that he appeared to have killed himself but before he had been formally identified. The government knew that given Kelly's involvement in the Iraq inquiry that there would have to be an inquiry and they asked Lord Hutton if he would be able to chair it before the formalities had been completed.

The circumstances were such that there was no real doubt about who it was, David Kelly, the cause of death, a boringly typical suicide, or that there would be an inquiry. The only real doubt was whether he actually intended to die or if it was a pseudo-suicide that was unfortunately successful. The choice of a less than reliable method can indicate the latter.


Brett Dunbar @ 261
I repeat ...
a suicide by cutting ONE wrist with a blunt knife?
When those veins will self-close unless artificially "held" open ( Like submerging in nice, hot, water. )
Don't believe you.


You are wrong on this, it is perfectly possible for him to bleed to death from a wound of this nature. His undiagnosed heart condition and his age would both seriously affect constriction as would the ragged rather than smooth wound. He had severed the Ulnar artery, which is the main blood supply to the hand.

He also took a large overdose of Co-proxamol, which was capable of killing him by itself (his blood concentration of dextropropoxyphene was at the low end of those who have committed suicide using Co-proxamol).

from Nicholas Hunt's post mortum report

"It is my opinion that the main factor involved in bringing about the death of David Kelly is the bleeding from the incised wounds to his left wrist. Had this not occurred he may well not have died at this time. Furthermore, on the balance of probabilities, it is likely that the ingestion of an excess number of co-proxamol tablets coupled with apparently clinically silent coronary artery disease would both have played a part in bringing about death more certainly and more rapidly than would have otherwise been the case. Therefore I give as the cause of death: 1a. Haemorrhage; 1b. Incised wounds to the left wrist; 2. Co-proxamol ingestion and coronary artery atherosclerosis."

How convenient
How so, very very convenient.
No dissenting expert voice to tell the nice little christian Blair & his cronies (or the even viler Shrub, for that matter) that their claims were so much hogwash.
While he was, oh so conveniwently (!) out of the way, they could get away with their game.
Afterwards ... well, who cares, they had made their money, after all.
And it WAS convenient.


Convenient to who exactly?

He had already revealed what he knew about flaws in the dossier. And he showed signs of extreme stress when questioned by a House of Commons committee. He had been placed in an extremely stressful situation by the actions of himself and others and he couldn't cope.

The conspiracy theorists have no plausible mechanism for it to not be self inflicted. The suggested methods are of baroque and unbelievable complexity. While the suicide theory is both straightforward and consistent with the known facts. He went out into the woods took a potentially fatal overdose of co-proxamol and severed a large artery in his wrist. His age the nature of the wound and his undiagnosed heart condition made him more prone to bleed and he died. Given the unreliable method chosen he may not actually have intended for the attempt to succeed, it might have been a cry for help (that was the reasoning apparently applied by the coroner in recording an open verdict at my Grandmother's inquest after she drowned).

If the conspiracy theorists are right he was abducted while walking forced to take pills and had his wrist slit in such a way as it looked self inflicted, then there is a problem with the less than certain method used. If you were murdering someone and wanted it to look like suicide you would make damn sure they couldn't survive to expose you. You would first use a dose of drugs certain to kill rather than at the bottom end of the potentially lethal range 60 or so rather than 29. Secondly you wouldn't use a somewhat half hearted wound which would probably have been survivable but for his undiagnosed heart condition, which you can't possibly know about. You'd slit both wrists thoroughly and maybe the throat as well just to make sure.


Convenient to the security apparat, especially of the USA, but, as already said, for nice Mr Blair, too.
Also a suicide (at least temoprarily) discredits him [Kelly].
Remember all the fuss about Andrew Gilligan & the meanoverings of Blair's fixer, ( A Campbell ) who was almost impossible to pin down, & left a trail of(again temporarily) wrecked reputations behind him .... a truly Macavity-like performance.

Remember there were absolutely huge amounts of money at stake, as well!


So that's no one really then. Everything is consistent with him having inflicted the fatal wounds himself. That they were only just about fatal and that due to a factor no one knew about indicates that it wasn't a very determined attempt and he may not actually have intended to succeed. This is exactly what you don't want in a faked suicide, you really don't want to risk him surviving and exposing your actions.

All of these false conspiracy theories display the same sort of patten a baroque complexity compared to the banality of the official explanation. A few examples:

Princess Diana: Drunk Chauffeur speeding through tunnel while pursued by paparazzi crashes. The only person in the car wearing a seatbelt survives. The only way that could have been staged was by the driver deliberately killing himself, and even then if she had been wearing a seatbelt she would almost certainly have lived. As it is she was mortally injured and died shortly afterwards, a bit of luck and the injuries might not have been fatal.

Marilyn Monroe: Depressive drug addict with history of near fatal overdoses (she had one two weeks earlier only the fact that she had left the phone line open and the hotel receptionist heard her laboured breathing and got help saved her life) has fatal overdose.

JFK: The wounds caused by bullet two shows that it was following a trajectory that means it can only have been fired from a small area of the book depository, Oswald was at the window more or less exactly in the middle of that area. Basically only Oswald can have been the gunman and Oswald was a murderous flake no one in their right mind would involve in a conspiracy.


To support Brett's last point: Oswald was weird enough that a book was already being written based on him. By Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst. What is it with Discordians and coincidences?


Brett Dunbar @ 267
I don't disagree with your three examples - it would be "*NICE*" to think JFK was murdered as part of a conspiracy, but, as you say, it doesn't stack up - Oswald did it.
Howevr, I get thios very uncomfortable feeling about Kelly. Did he jump, or was he pushed?
I'm still inclined to the "pushed" opinion, but only just.


There really wasn't any reason to kill Kelly, certainly nothing sufficient to justify doing something so likely to backfire. The facts are consistent with him coping unusually badly with stress (several of his acquaintances said that, in retrospect, they should have been more alarmed by things he said). Then he went out into the woods and made a not very through suicide attempt, which only seems to have succeeded due to him having undiagnosed arteriosclerosis preventing the arteries constricting so that he bled to death. He also took a drug overdose which could kill but not reliably. It looks rather like a pseudo-suicide which unfortunately succeeded. There isn't really a method of murdering someone like that, the chance of the means used succeeding while significant were far less than certain.

Some problems with the conspiracy theories.

If the drugs and wound didn't kill him what did?

Why would the murderers use a method which could be survived, they can hardly afford to risk him surviving to tell the police?


See HERE for the noticeable increase on (basically useless) "snooping" being done by the authorities.
Note also the figure of 6 wrongful arrests/questionings.


To say nothing of such erroneous assumptions as that an e-mail address, even if correct, will have 1-1 mapping with a physical address.


They haven't assumed that only one email address is linked to a specific physical address. They have made the assumption that many email addresses can be linked to a specific physical address, which is often true. In many cases an email address is linked directly to a broadband ISP account linked to a specific physical location. So if a user uses their ISP provided email address you know where they live.

Patterns of usage can be very useful. If you identify one person involved in organised crime or terrorism you can then use the records to identify their acquaintances in a bid to wrap up a criminal network. For this knowing the addresses with which they regularly corresponded and identifying the owners is very useful. The information isn't useful for locating entirely unknown threats, it is useful once you have a suspect.


In another case, police went to the wrong house looking for a child who had threatened to harm itself, after obtaining incorrect information about the internet address being used.

That's a direct assumption that the child in question must have sent the specific message in question from a specific street address which need not have been the case.

Everything else you say is correct (at least for values of correct referring to establishing that X regularly communicates with Y rather than establishing the locations they are at when they do so).


It was an assumption that it was likely to have been sent from that location, presumably home, which was worth pursuing under the circumstances. It wasn't effective in the event but that doesn't mean it was inappropriate as it was a highly likely location and an emergency situation. They had information that a minor was intending to hurt themselves, an emergency situation, and a probable location so they pursued it. It isn't really any different from any other emergency, you act on the information you have.


I'm way too used to people sending and receiving e-mails and web posts on smartphones to make that assumption any more. And since the subject of age has been raised in this general context of social media, I'm 51 on Monday.


That's a mistake, it holds enough to a worthwhile assumption. Especially in an emergency like this. Sometimes ending up at the wrong address is fairly normal for any emergency service.

Email addresses often are associated with a specific physical address. While the email account is accessible remotely home is still the most likely single location. If you are accessing the internet through your broadband account (ADSL, Cable, FTTC &c.) you have to be at a specific location.


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 7, 2013 3:45 PM.

Blogging for Orbit was the previous entry in this blog.

Lies, damned lies, and popular beliefs is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog