Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Hat tip - Paul Anderson, I am Spartacus.

Monday, April 25, 2005

You use usury...

To return to a point raised by a couple of commentors, via Shakespeare again:

Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3.
[Aside] How like a fawning publican he looks!
I hate him for he is a Christian,
But more for that in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.

Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
'Shylock, we would have moneys:' you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold: moneys is your suit
What should I say to you? Should I not say
'Hath a dog money? is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?' Or
Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
'Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn'd me such a day; another time
You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys'?

Now, note above, the christian lends money gratis to his friends.

Lets look at this closer, in terms of Mauss' ideas on gift relations. If I lend someone money, I am not making a gift of it, so it's return to me does not count as an equivilant gift. i.e. if I gave someone money that person some money, the gift relationship wopuld require them to give me a gift of the same value/sort at a later date, and that would be it.

When I lend money, I expect to get it back anyway, what I am giving is my trouble in not having my own money to hand. The person who borrows owes me recompense for that trouble, to reciprocate the gift or face the shame of charity/inability to reciprocate.

Now, usury allows for this by making it a purely monetary payment. When Antonio in the Merchant of Venice lends money he does so to his friends, that is the polite gloss of talking about his network of dependence and clientalism that made up his place in feudal society, the people he lends money to may pay back only that monetary value, but they owe him gratitude. Again, the sin of the Jew figure is to monetize social/personal relations and thus dissolve feudal loyalty. Hence the plays triumphant denument when racial law is used to stop the base abstraction of Shylock's contract.

Anyway, my point is this, you cannot have money lending without usury, without interest of some sort, whether its called that or not.

As an aside, next month's Socialist Standard has a small article on Islamic interest making much the same point.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Fantasy r'formism

OK, I promised my list of fantasy reforms I would advocate were I a reformist/leftist.

I hope you'll all play along too, and we can compile some sort of fantasy reformist eague, or, to paraphrase Monty Python If I were not in the ultra-left, something else I'd like to be. If I were not in the ultra left a [blank] me.

OK, so:

1) War referendum. I truly think the left has missed an open goal on this one. Concentrating on Bliar and Troops out slogans, they have missed out on any substantive political demand. The demand that referendums be required before British troops are sent to any war would satisfy as a venerable old social democrat reform. It would be a blow against the secretive power of the state and its owners.
2) Relatedly Annual Parliaments - in reality, direct democracy without some of the hurdles put in the way of referendum and initiative measures in some countries. Effectively, parties would be elected on their legislative and budgetary programmes. Parliament would become a revising chamber.
3) Oh, yes, Abolish the upper chamber it serves no useful purpose.
4) Direct Taxation - tax system should be simplified for accountability, and inirect taxation should be abolished. Council tax should be abolished and instead we should rely on negotiated bloc grants voted on at budget time.
5) Increase competition, for certain sectors, by making them subect to the freedom of information act, thus supermarket inventories would become public knowledge, and we can all judge the true state of the market.
6)Unleash the unions what's suace for the goose is good for the gander - we give them free trade, we build unions.

There, that is my fantasy reformist list, note, no nationalisations. It's a fun game, lets see where we can take it, please?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

How I will vote

Paul Anderson is at it. Phil Evdwards is at it. Ken is at it. SIAW are at it.

All declaring their intention to vote. The arguments are fierce, and uncomprimising - should we vote Labour or not?

I'll stick my neck out - this year, once again, I shall be joining the Socialist Party write in vote.

That is, I will not be voting for Frank Dobson - my local MP - nor for any of his rivals. I shall write World Socialism across my ballot paper, to indicate my positive preferrence for that, and my rejection of all the factions of the Capitalist Party.

I don't reject the idea of voting - after all, I'm the election agent for our campaign in the Vauxhall constituency, where I'm asking only those who understand and accept our case for socialism to vote for our candidate. We don't want any other sort of vote, and would rather leftists and old Labourites didn't vote for us.

SIAW note:
While we admire the SPGBs tradition of spoiling the ballot paper with socialist slogans, we cant see that it has ever had, or could ever have, any effect, beyond making the person who does it feel pleased with themselves for a few seconds.
Obviously, I'd dispute that. Voting is a collective action, a co-ordinated action, the cumulative expression of voices. One spoiler is a lonesome idiot (lit. Greek, private person), a million is a movement.

After all, in Argentina, spoilt ballots contributed to bring the government down back in 2001 (this is the first random artiocle I googled up to back up this argument). But that took a movment alongside the votes.

Spoilt ballots are counted - the party agents inspect them all to see if they can pitch for them (I hear cheeky Labour agents have tried to claim our Socialism ballots in the past). It's active abstention, no-one could accuse me of apathy for travelling across London to the part of town where I was registered to vote in order to scrawl World Socialism across a ballot paper.

But this is true of anything, even SIAW's argument kinda rests on extra-parliamentary pressure to affect the exercise of the outcome of the vote.

Anything without a wider movement, a cumulative voice and a social force is a wasted vote.

But we can't build that movement, that cumulation, unless some people stand up and act differently - votes with noses held and fingers crossed are equally effective. The choice is between the possiblism of a labour vote, and the impossiblism of standing up and being counted.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Pure Genius

Paul Anderson - nuff said.

Following the below

See, I was just following a logic trail, trying to understand an argument.

So, no matter the size of the constituency, they will only need to be adjusted by up to one quota at a time - i.e. one average number of voters to seats. In practice, that means up to about half a quota adjustment per constuency. This is an absolute number, that doesn't change.

What does change, though, is the distriubution of the surplus/deficit. i.e. for those parts of the constuency that cannot be equalised to the quota of voters.

In a one member seat, a half quota means adding or removing half the voting strength for the electors of one candidate. In a two member seat, thats a quarter per candisdate, and three members, is 0.17 - one third of one half. i.e. you can distribute the differences among candidates within a mulimember constuency.

Sorry for being dim.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Nailing an argument

The one - and I think I should stress, that because it is the only one, it betrays the inherent weakness of the whole case - good defence of First Past teh Post voting has been the so-called 'constituency link' - the idea that each group of electors has a direct link with a named MP representing a defined political area and interest.

Many people rank that quite highly, and it has some merit. At least, I've traditionally given it credit. This weekend, however, I read an intriguing old book:

Elections and electors : studies in democratic representation / J. F. S. Ross. - London : Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1955.
Now, he brings forward the highly important point - single member constituencies are - at the least - problematic with regards to the equalisation of the value of votes.

Here's how. The UK has something like 59.6 million people, it will have 649 MP's after the next election. Thus there should be (rounding) 92,000 people per MP - on average.

Obviously, practical considerations of geography prevent the simple parcelling up of the country into constituencies of 92,000 people. Town sizes, transport links and historic associations come into play. Thus therewill be variety in the size of constituency, and thus variations in the effective weight of each vote (i.e. a constituency with fewer electors will have as many MP's and votes in Parliament as a constituency with more than average voters).

Now, there are limits to how much they can vary. Ross suggests one third of the average because - taking our numbers above if a constituency falls below 61,000 or rises above 123,000 it would be closer to the average to merge or split the seat as appropriate.

With multi-member constituencies, this value - one third - falls as a ratio of the total size, since the constituency need only be adjusted by one representative in any given circumstances.

Thus large mulit-member constituencies tend towards an equalisation of the value of votes more than single seats do.

I suspect I've not made that clear enough, I'll return to it when I have more time.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Sort of continuing

Tuyrnout will be key to the election.

If as Phil notes, Labour would have to lose 78 seats to lose their majority then somewhere around 250,000 voters are going to have to change their vote (all other things being equal from last time. I am aware that this is highly unreasonable, and there is no good cause for thinking the vote last time will affect the vote this, save that previously people have demonstrated an unwillingness to change their minds dramatically at elections.) That is, the 78 most marginal Labour seats have a combined majority of 252,265.

Now, assuming all other things are equal, then the Tories would need to gain half of that number plus one in each seat. That is a total of 126,211 votes. That is an average of 1,618 votes per seat. In the scheme of things not a huge number - although if they got precisely that number that would only get them 35 of the total of seats. To get the 78th seats, for example, they would need 2,978, which, out of an electorate of 60,000 or so per seat is not mean shakes, but does not represent that astounding a figure.

That is, the real figures, not the percentages, show how slender Labour's lead is, and how, without the Tory vote overtaking Labour's they could destroy it's majority. But that would just lead to PR.

But, there is more, the real formula must be that the Tories should need:
(Labour Majority - Abstentions)/2+1 - where any vote for a party other than the one in second place counts as an abstention. Thus, in effect, every two abstentions equals one vote for the Tories.

Hence why Labour is discouraging tactical voting, hence why the fear a low turnout, and hence the reports at Harry's Place.

As it goes, Strategic Voter gives previous example of electoral volatility brought on by small shifts in voting. I'd only add, that these battleground marginal voters amount to less than the number who voted for various state-capitalist and reformist parties with Socialist in ther name at the last election. Accidents of geography seem to place a huge part in this story.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

More representation

OK, so you'll need to read part one and part two first.

Right, so proportional representation breaks free of the problem of first past the post simply by allowing constituencies/geographic divisions to elect more than one representative. (The Bloc vote - i.e. where you have as many votes as seats in a multimember constituency -I should add, doesn't do this, since it is really several simultaneous FTPT elections). That's it, really, it means you can then return a divided spread of representatives from a divided polity. After that, you're just onto how.

Obviously, I could at this stage just link to the wikipedia entry on Proportional Representation. The thing I want to emphasise, though, is that all debates about PR centre on the legislature. i.e. they want to produce a representative parliament. The problem, though, is that that Parliament normally goes onto hold first past the post elections (at least nominally) for who is the government. Further, that choice is again constrained down to a singular choice of a Head of government/State (depends on the country).

This is seen in a classic counter to PR - the minority party in a hung parliament. Now, lets assume a split like this:

Party A - 30%
Party B - 30%
Party C - 20%
Party D - 10%
The combinations necessary to make a government (i.e. have a majority) are ABC, ACD, BCD, AB.

Now, that means that C are in four out of five possible governments. That is, they have a 80% chance of being in government, despite having only 20% of the vote. Likewise D has 50% chance with 10% of the vote. This just reproduces what happens in First Past the Post parties, but without the discipline of unified party structures or the need to secure the vote. Of course, under FPTP a party with 40% of the vote can have 100% chance of forming a government,a nd everyone else drops to 0% - but the argument doesn't usually include that.

So, you may have a PR system, but there are other variables:
1) Degree of choice among candidates (i.e. list systems give little choice to voters on candidates, Single Transferable Vote gives great choice).
2) Scale. This is more a question of how many representatives you want, but if you have PR with a parliament of 100 in a population of 100 million your choice is going to be more contrained than if you choose 1000 parliamentarians.
3) Complexity. Some systems are opaque in counting, others complex in voting, STV combines both. This further adds to process problems, with people being given or denied seats because of arbitrary allocation usses - much as I discussed in the situation of allocating representative seats to yankland states. Same deal.

The point, I think, I'm driving at, is that PR isn't the end of the game, you need much more, you need to address the whole system of government, not just change the way the votes are counted. I think that's it.

Next, another day I fear, I will discuss my personal preference for electoral system and why. I'll follow that with some dream leftism. Gotta keep busy.

Proportional Representation

OK, you'll need to read Part One first.

My main thesis is that voting reform is not a strong argument. I know at the minute the nastiness of the electoral system is a central part of the campaign.

First past the post locks people in, it means you can't vote for a party with a small base support for fear of letting in the main opposition. Put anotehr way, First Past teh post works best [sic] when you are faced with only two choices, as soon as a third choice enters it merely becoms a secondary factor working on the choice between the two leading candidates.

Hence famously(ish) Respect helped the Tories win a council election by taking votes off labour (to be precise, more votes than the difference between Labour and Tory). Likewise the referendum party helped remove Major's government by splitting away Tory votes.

Now, most Proportional Systems are set up to reward votes gained only. That is, voting for one party does not objectively become a vote for another. They are also more volatile systems because of this, because parties are seen of having more chance of winning - i.e. that our votes can be effective. Not much point voting Green, say, since they won't win under First Past the Post.

This is a major reason why turnout is dire in areas with thumping Labour majorities. There is just no point voting against them. (Although if you think it's bad here, look at the results from local Elections in Washington DC. The point is, though, that in elections that only return one representative per geographic area, the system is enforcing homogeneity, compelling coalition building. But when that sort of homogeneity doesn't exist in the electorate, that can only happen by covering over the cracks.

Further, given the resources required for an election campaign, and the level of media access required, tehre is a huge incumbancy advantage. The whole concept of 'Main parties' gives them an air of establishment an permenance, backed up by the fact that the warring bands who really make them up are compelled to mask themselves behind the party brand. And of course, whoever controls the party machinery has a further edge in ensuring they can get teh best of the system.

Next post is about how PR challenges this.

The Coming General Election

OK, time for another series. I decided I was going to talk about voting reform; but thought that first, for the benefits of non-UK readers and the like, I ought to explain our electoral system over here, much as I discussed the Yanklander system last time. Also, I think I'd end the second (of what I plan to be three parts) with stating my preference of electoral systems, and saying why. From there, in the Spirit of From Despair to Where the final post will be about fantasy reformism, or what sort of leftist I would be were I not in the SPGB. Get your thinking caps on, I'll want responses.

Anyway, so, British Elections. First and most important point. In the UK we do not elect a President, Prime Minister or the Government (though there are systems which do, America and Israel respectively spring to mind). We elect a Parliament. That is, we elect one geographically based representative to go to Parliament.

Now, it's important to remember that in the UK, Parliament is Sovereign. This needs clarifying now, because otherwise the rest gets confusing. To clarify. Recently, the highest court in the land ruled the old terrorism law to be unconstitutional. unlike the US, this did not immediately strike the law down - parliamentarians asserted their sovereign right to make law, and the law remained operative until Parliament resolved the dispute by making new law.

OK, this is important because, Parliament does not elect the Prime Minister. There is no vote, no official power, it is merely conventional that a Prime Minister be a member of Parliament and have the support of a majority of MP's in the House of Commons. The Monarch appoints the Prime Minister. Formally.

Parliament, though, is Soveriegn, and that means, as the supreme power in the land, it reserved the right to remove monarchs who get in its way. So a Prime Minister should have support in the House of Commons, thought technically, it could be anyone on Earth the monarch chooses.

Technically, the Monarch also appoints all cabinet ministers, since they serve the Crown (Not Parliament nor the Prime Minister). However, the Monarch can do no wrong - which translates to doing nothing. The Monarch follows the advice of Ministers, and so will appoint Ministers nominated by the Prime Minister. That is, really, the Prime Minister appoints the cabinet/government. Ministers, again, should be members of Parliament, and this includes the House of Lords. However, Cabinet ministers should be members of the Commons - though a couple of Years ago Baroness Amos was, IIRC, briefly Overseas Development Secretary.

Members of the House of Commons are elected by First-Past-the-Post. That is, simply, in an election a constituency returns one representatives, and that representative has the most votes of all the candidates. Very often this means that a candidate with a minority of the total vote wins. On average tehre are, if I recall correctly, something like 60,000 voters per constituency. Most MP's get to Parliament with around 20,000 votes - often fewer.

That's it, quite simple, really, and that will set the stage for part two. Just to precis. In the UK, we elect representatives to a Parliament that then actually, not formally, appoints a Prime Minsiters who appoints a Government. We do not elect a government, but support a party that will form a government thrrough it's control of teh house of Commons. The House of Lords is not elected by the people, it is now entirely elected by the Prime Minister and a special commission.