Posts

The Annual Prediction Game: the world is STILL getting better. Mostly.

Electorates across the rich world are losing the plot, and increasingly backing utter numpties all over the place. Mostly, the likes of Trump, Le Pen and Corbyn will not win elections, and sanity will prevail. The last 6 years have seen middle-class wages stagnate in the rich world and voting for these populist goons is a way express dissatisfaction with this fact. Meanwhile, the global poor continue to get better off. 

2015 saw a continued decline in the number of people in absolute poverty, who struggle to get adequate calories to survive. Fewer than 10% now live on less than a $1.90 a day, down from 36% in 1990. 1990, by the way is the year the world started to abandon the idiotic economic shibboleths of socialism and embraced markets. It’s not even clear in-country inequality is rising in the west. Anyone who says “the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer” under capitalism, is simply wrong. 

Even the rise of populist politics in the west can be seen as a symptom of success. In previous generations, semi-educated morons would be too busy surviving to have opinions, and nor would they have any means to express them. Should morons express themselves, educated people would have had the confidence to ignore them. Now morons not only have opinions, and a means to express them, but they expect to be taken seriously! Worse, educated people, who are usually achingly tolerant, have internalised the idea that all opinions are equally valid, while being ashamed of their status. The morons’ great yawp of disatisfaction mouthed by the likes of Farage and Trump will, however, pass as successful economies resume stuffing their fat mouths with bread and circuses, and the Morons stop listening to politicians again, even ones that stroke their prejudices. 

Corbyn is a slightly different phenomenon: here an antediluvian trot has taken advantage of a disorientating defeat, and been swept on a wave of unusual unity from the hard-left to capture Labour. Young, ignorant pillocks, who don’t remember the piles of corpses and devastated economies left behind by Socialism, have flocked to his banner. Moral certainty, and so the nice-sounding homilies of socialism poison a new generation. 

Democracy means playing whack-a-mole with bad ideas, and this dispiriting process has sucked the confidence out of the West. Without an enemy with which to contrast ourselves, we’ve rightly turned to solving problems within. But this focussing on our problems has given many the impression there are fundamental flaws in our society, and created a yearning for certainties. Hence the support, on both the idiot left of Corbyn and the Trump/Farage moron right, for the likes of Putin. 

The return of real wage growth will see off the populists in a way rational argument won’t. If they’re getting richer, people will stick with the status quo.

War has taken more lives in 2015 globally  than in the previous few years. We have spent the peace dividend following the defeat of the Soviet Union. But Russia is re-arming, China is starting to throw its weight around, and the Middle-East is in flames, and so the West must pull together and re-arm too. Although Fukuyama’s “end of history” was widely derided, we have acted for 25 years as if he was right. The free west needs to rediscover its confidence, and start asserting itself again. Democracy’s march has slowed. Dictators have learned to manage the process. Idiot socialism is coming back. Whatever the faults of our society, the free-market liberal democracy remains the best, freest society yet devised, and we should be confident in our moral righteousness, when facing down our enemies, domestic or foreign.

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

Last year’s predictions were as follows:

  • I think 2015 will be the year the FTSE breaks 7000. One day it will, one day I will be right.
  • Oil will fall to $40, and maybe below and stabilise in the $40-60 range. USA becomes the world’s swing producer
  • The Conservatives will win a thin majority in GE2015. There maybe 2 elections. Don’t ask me how. no polling backs this up. But the country doesn’t want Miliband, and Cameron’s actually done a pretty good job under difficult conditions and doesn’t deserve to be sacked. UKIP to win 3-5 seats, Farage to fail in Thanet, the party’s national vote share in the 10-12% range.
  • China’s growth over the past few years will prove to have been overstated. China’s slowdown to get worse. India to continue to develop rapidly. Modi proving his critics wrong: He may be the man to get India working and taking its rightful place as a major economic power.
  • Russia will try to save whatever face it can for Putin, as it withdraws from Ukraine in response to the falling oil price and continued sanctions. Russia will be set up to rejoin the world financial system in 2016.
  • IS will be reduced to a rump by the end of the year, as having been stopped in their tracks on a number of fronts, they will find the supply of jihadis will dry up.
  • Darfur will be the international flash-point to watch
How did I do?
  • The FTSE did break 7,000 and then collapsed. 1
  • Bang on the money about Oil 1
  • Bang on the money about the election, though I overstated UKIP’s seats. 1
  • Bang on the money about China and India 1
  • I under-estimated Putin’s willingness to make his people suffer for his grandiose designs, though the Ukraine ceasefire is mostly holding 1
  • Perhaps over-optimistic about ISIL’s defeat, but they are certainly in retreat. 1/2
  • Not sure a great deal happened in Darfur, indeed it seems to be quietly solving its problems. 0
5.5/7 ain’t bad! And looking forward:
  • The FTSE 100 will recover lost ground, and make a new high in 2016. Oil will remain below $60 for the foreseeable future.
  • Inflation will remain low, and there will not be an interest rate rise in the UK until at least the 2nd half of 2016, and probably not until 2017.
  • The UK will vote to stay in the EU, and do so relatively comfortably.
  • Trump will not be the Republican nominee, but it doesn’t matter. Hillary Clinton will be the Next president. However ghastly she is, the GOP is going through the same existential madness that is currently gripping the Labour party in the UK. Hell, given the current bunch of twat-o-matic onanists vying for the Republican nomination, I’d probably have to vote for her.
  • Corbyn will remain leader of Labour through 2016, and will poll in the mid 20s by the end of the year. 
  • Labour will start losing MPs to defections and a small chance of a formal split in the party.
  • We’ve seen peak UKIP: I estimate a 25% chance of Douglas Carswell resigning the whip in protest at ‘KIPpers being mostly ghastly pillocks with horrific views.
  • ISIL will continue to be degraded, and continue to lose ground to various forces. Putin will continue to prop up Assad, and Syria will become increasingly binary, as Russian and Regime forces grind down all (non-ISIL) opposition to the regime. 
  • It is likely the west will grudgingly accept Assad’s part in the post war Syria.
  • It is possible 2016 could be the year of the QSD, a Arab League and US-backed coalition of (mostly) non-jihadi, democratic (ish) Syrian groups.
  • The conflict in Ukraine will remain frozen, Putin’s aim being a nation with an open sore, which cannot therefore join NATO or the EU.
  • If the last decade was China’s, the coming one looks like it may be India’s. India is just too corrupt and chaotic to manage ‘big bang’ development by government fiat, but China’s getting old before it got rich, and there is *a lot* of mal-investment to purge. China’s economy will weaken sharply in 2016.
  • India’s rise may be more sustainable, as it will have to be driven from the bottom up. India’s growth rate will be higher than China’s (largely fictitious numbers) again in 2016.

Dead Children in the Mediterranean

The independent leads today with harrowing photographs of a small boy, maybe two years old, face-down in the surf having drowned. You will see this image shared on social media, along with impassioned pleas to “do something”, as if opening Europe’s borders to the 10m Syrians who are currently displaced is a viable option.

You will hear it said that this is all because of the 2003 war in Iraq. Perhaps that is a part of it. But perhaps a premature withdrawal before Iraq was able to look after its own security is more to blame. But actually this is a small part of the problem. People are fleeing Syria, where the west didn’t intervene to topple a poison-gas using dictator (Assad, gassed people around Damascus in 2013) to one where we did (Saddam Hussein gassed Kurds in Halabja in 1988).

The origins of the Civil war in Syria are not due to the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, but more down to the self-immolation of a market trader called Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in December 2010, an event credited with starting the “Arab spring” whereby the populations of several countries, including Syria rose up in an attempt to overthrow their dictatorial leaders. As ever, economics played a part. The rising oil price back then made fuel subsidies unaffordable to non-oil exporting leaders such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Syria’s Bashar Al Assad. Removing the fuel subsidies created an environment where the previously content middle classes of Damascus and Cairo decided to throw their lot in with the usual malcontents, the Muslim Brotherhoods and less savory organisations who saw their chance.

But you will see the lazy assertion that the Syrian civil war is “our fault” because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And certainly the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi later became ISIS/ISIL/IS under Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was facilitated by the lawlessness of post-US withdrawal Iraq and the incompetence of the Governments.

But ultimately, this is the long-running sore sectarian sore of the middle-east, that various dictators have sat upon, with varying degrees of success, with or without help from outside powers, since the 9th century.

The problem, those showing the photo of the dead child on the beach would have you believe, is that “we” caused the problem. “We” did not. The problem isn’t that Europe is too “callous”, and that the problem would go away if everyone was as achingly moral as they were. There are 10m people displaced around Syria’s borders. The brunt is Borne by Turkey Lebanon and Jordan. Iraq too is taking its share. It’s just in the UNHCR camps, well run, by the way, there’s no work. It’s a boring, depressing, but safe existence. There is food and water, from which shit is separated. It is quite understandable that people seek a better life in Europe.

Europe is spending billions, helping people in the camps. That people want to come is understandable. But the idea we’re doing nothing to help them, or have an obligation to let them in, is more about the virtue-signalling of the person saying it, that the real moral position. Worse than the vacuous moral posturing, is the complete lack of agency you give to the people in this situation. Millions are waiting patiently in the camps, or in Beirut or Amman to return to their homes should peace return to Syria. Yet some decide to put their children in the hands of people smugglers and unseaworthy vessels and unventilated trucks. These people bear the responsibility for the dead children far more than the “Cameron” whom countless memes exhort to “do more”.

 The very people most likely to share these self-aggrandising, shroud-waving memes on social media, are the same ones who’re ostentatiously anti-war. Perhaps if any politician in the west is responsible for the success of ISIS it’s Ed Miliband who successfully vetoed international military action in 2013, wholly for domestic political concerns in order to wrong-foot the Prime Minister. Perhaps if we’d started supporting reasonable groups in the Anti-Assad forces in 2013 (or earlier, my view it was already by then 18 months too late), IS may not have got such a foothold. Or maybe not. We will never know.

Not “our” fault, those dead kids. We do have an obligation to help Syrians and we are doing so through UNHCR, but that’s not the same as playing host to the entire population. The solution in Syria is military. If you want to blame a British politician, blame Ed Miliband. An American one? Barack Obama who brought the Troops home from Iraq prematurely, before Iraq could look after its own security. But ultimately blaming politicians in the west for the complete failure of the middle east is futile.