29 September 2010

Some notes on a housing policy

On Walter’s post on housing: my suggestions

Mortgages of over 50 percent of purchase price prohibited. Result: collapse in demand and of land prices.

Building of public housing for rent. Rent level to recoup building cost over 25 years.

Public housing made available to pre-defined groups (e.g. workers earning under 15K, workers with children, etc.)

How to ration within the group? Through money: the one who buys the most expensive saving bond, gets the tenancy. Housing bond cannot be redeemed during tenancy. Housing bond used to provide credit for new house building.

New Land tax. 1% of property value per year. Every person gets a land tax credit of 1000 pounds.

E.g. couple in 180 000 house. Tax: 1800; credit 2000: land tax nothing.

Person in 450 000 house. Tax: 4500, credit 1000 – Land tax 3500 per year.

28 September 2010

The social democratic test for Ed Miliband

There is a lot of piffle being written in the press about Ed Miliband.

One central question confronts socialists: would a Miliband Labour government elected in 2015 bring about a meaningful shift in wealth and income in favour of ordinary working people AND (not or) expand democracy, along with greater civic and personal freedoms.

If you believe the answer is yes, then we should join him in the Labour Party and help strengthen that agenda. If you think, on the contrary, that the main role of Labour in government would be to further entrench the power of capital in Britain, then we need to build an alternative movement for socialism, however hard that task may be.

24 September 2010

New Mexico abandons the death penalty

The death penalty is wrong because the universal right to life (even for the most evil) is the building block upon which all other rights are constructed or derived. The right to life is conserved not primarily for the benefit of the criminal, but for the benefit of the moral structure of society.

That New Mexico has abandoned the death penalty is to be welcomed, even if the state is acting for financial reasons rather than ones of principle.

This point should be made: every case of the death penalty is wrong, not fundamentally because it is expensive or that it fails to act as a deterrent, but because the right to life, even of the most evil, is a moral absolute, just as the right not to be tortured is – or at least in theory.

More precisely, the right to life is the building brick upon which other rights (e.g. the right to be treated with dignity) are built. Abolishing the death penalty does not of itself guarantee a civilised society, but it is not possible to have a civilised society in which people are sentenced to die.

20 September 2010

Labels and terms

Labels and terms become much clearer when a simple piece of logic is applied to them.

“Labels are vital. Without them we would have no idea of what will come out of any tin or jar. But in our field we should apply with care.”

It is correct to stress this point and he goes on to give several examples in which misguided labelling can lead us astray.

At the point of being pedantic let me introduce a distinction. For every term, for example chair, we can talk about the terms intention and extension.

The intension of a term refers to all those elements that a phenomenon must contain to make the application of the term valid. Let us take a very simple case: a bachelor must be male and unmarried. Unless we can apply both attributes we may not use the term bachelor.

The extension of a term is the listing of all those phenomena to which a term can apply: in the case of ‘bachelor’ all the bachelors in the world.

It is fair to point out that this simplicity becomes much less so when we consider phenomena in nature (e.g. gold, oak tree). Nonetheless clarity is never lost by considering the intention and extension of a term.


14 September 2010

Marxism as science

I adopt a broad definition of science: a paradigm of concepts and a system of propositions related thereto which have claim to truth value on the basis of reason and evidence. (I avoid the Popperian definition of science, if only because I can see no inherent dependency between the truth of a proposition and our ability to disprove it).

Within the definition of science that I have just outlined, I do see a historical materialism as scientific. There is a Marxian paradigm of concepts; there are related propositions which stand on the basis of evidence and reason.

6 September 2010

Anti-Semitism in Easter Europe 1948-53

The issue of whether the Stalinist purges in Communist controlled Europe 1948 to 1953 were linked to Stalin's antisemitism is indeed much debated.

Antisemitism would seem to be an element in the purge of the General Secretary of Czechoslovak Communist Party, Rudolf Slansky, as he and several of his co-defendants were Jewish. Yet in the parallel trial in Hungary the non-Jewish Rajk was purged and executed by a party leadership that was itself mainly Jewish.

Far more important for Stalin was the elimination of communists who were not wholly obedient to him, who had independent support or who had links outside the bloc; e.g. those obtained through fighting in the international brigades in Spain.

For Stalin antisemitism was not an article of faith, but merely a tool to be used whenever it suited his purposes.


Moving Blair's Autobiography

Surreptitiously moving copies Blair's memoir to the crime section of bookshops is a wholly appropriate thing to do. It is simple, nobody gets hurt and it makes a point.

To the commentator above who worries about customers not being able to locate the book, don't worry. Customers now know where to find it.

And don't worry about inconvenience to shop assistants either. They simply need to direct customers to the crime section.

War against Belgrade 1999

I believe that the war against Belgrade in 1999 should not have been supported by the left for two reasons.

First, the war provided the time, space and setting for the intensified slaughter of the Albanians of Kosovo.

Second, it was only on account of good fortune that after two months of aerial bombardment Milosovic capitulated and agreed to withdraw from Kosovo on condition that his Belgrade regime was left alone. In the absence of a ground invasion it was always possible for the regime to have remained defiant.

Had Milosovic been threatened at the outset with a clear ultimatum: hand Kosovo over to the EU (not NATO) or face a ground invasion, then the war would have been worthy of support: except of course it would never have happened.