Boris, The EU and Lessons From The Bubonic Plague


The burial of the victims of the plague in Tournai. From Wikimedia Commons

A School Assignment

Yesterday I was involved in an interesting Facebook discussion about the positive things that arose as a result of the Bubonic Plague. My Australian friend’s daughter had been given the task of listing such positives as part of a school assignment.

At first glance such a project may appear rather sick for very obvious humanitarian reasons. From a personal standpoint while considering the interests of ‘number one’ the prospect is also horrific. Who in their right mind would want to die or watch others suffer while such a holocaust did its grisly work.

Lessons to be Learned

From a purely intellectual perspective, considering the long term impact of an event long past can be useful. Lessons can be learned that can help shape policy in order to maximise human well-being and social stability.

Such consideration is particularly relevant for our own age of controversial mass migration to the West and the dramatic demographic impact that this creates. It is also useful in explaining the lack of economic and political well-being in overpopulated parts of the poor world.

It could help policy makers to maintain both democracy and economic fairness in the rich world while at the same time increasing or creating democracy and economic fairness elsewhere. With power and money spread more widely in the poor world, the poor might even become rich.

Boris Wades in…

Right on cue and in characteristic fashion, MP for Henley, figurehead of the campaign to leave the EU and Mayor of London – Boris Johnson unwittingly joins the debate.

The TV news this morning drew attention to some recent remarks from the London Mayor about how mass immigration lowers wages. A headline by The Independent read as follows: “Boris Johnson says ‘uncontrolled’ immigration from EU is driving down wages and putting pressure on NHS”

Of course this is a no brainier, but previously discussion on this aspect of immigration had been suppressed. It was simply not polite the refer to this elephant in the room.

Lord Rose and the Horror of Increasing Wages

An article by The Telegraph demonstrated the effect from a different angle. This time in relation to remarks made by Lord Rose, a leader of the pro EU campaign. Lord Rose argued against Brexit on the grounds that leaving would push up the wages of British workers.

You can certainly see where his priorities are – with the latter day barons and not with hard working families. Reading between the lines and paraphrasing in the context of our discussion, he could have been saying that leaving the EU would be like the plague but without the loss of life! It would be bad for the rich but good for the poor.

Lessons Taught by History and by Economics

Just as decreased population at the time of the plague gave economic and political power to the poor, increased population has the opposite effect. It’s the simple economic principle of supply and demand in action.

After the Bubonic Plague supply and demand in relation to labour meant that the underclass had a much stronger negotiating position. In short the poor gained economic and political power and the rich, who had loads of both anyway, lost a bit.

Under globalisation, or the EU, if Boris and Lord Rose are to be believed, we have the direct opposite situation today. This is why the super-rich of our own day simply adore large population movements. Perhaps this is why their political stooges appear willing to precipitate wars to facilitate such movements as we have seen in Iraq and Syria.

Living standards in the Western world, amongst both the already poor and the soon to be poor middle class, will inevitably decline. Political freedom will follow into this descending spiral.

Bring on them buboes?

I am certainly not advocating a return of the plague to make our lives more fulfilling on the basis of these conclusions. I am not making a judgement on the issue of immigration. All I am saying is that immigration, if it is necessary, has to be done in a thoughtful managed way. There are great economic and political benefits for both rich and poor in the maintenance of a fair and stable society.


The Spectre of the Cashless Society

I have just been reading a rather well written article by Tyler Lonergan about the virtues of a cashless society. He is quite in favour of it and points out many of the genuine benefits that would derive from such a society. You can read his article HERE, and perhaps join this important debate yourself.

Above: The Bank of England – The Central Bank of the United Kingdom

In this article I will argue that a cashless society would be a very dangerous development. I will do so be referring to two issues. The first is that it would lead to officially legalised theft. The second is that it would lead to tyranny. I will then make some conclusions on the basis of these issues. But to start off, I will set the scene by doing something unexpected and discussing the virtues of optimism and pessimism. This is an important part of the discussion as you will come to see.

Setting the Scene: The Continuum of Optimism and Pessimism

Tyler is obviously an optimist, he says so in the header of his blog. While optimism can help you achieve things, it is a state that others can use to manipulate you. It can cause you to sign up for things that are not in your best interests. It can also cause a person to engage in wishful thinking and to ignore obvious dangers.

Optimism is not bad, just like pessimism is not bad. Both exist on a continuum, like yin and yang.  Problems can emerge at the extremes of any continuum because that can, though not always, lead to imbalance with the other important variable – the surrounding environment.

Sometimes the surrounding environment might necessitate extremes of optimism, but normally it would necessitate some sort of combination of optimism and pessimism. As the environment is in constant flux, the amount of optimism or pessimism also has to be in constant flux to adjust to the changes in the environment.

A cashless society is certainly a good thing for an extreme optimist that has complete faith in the goodness of humanity. But humans are not just good! They can be nasty, manipulative, greedy, suspicious and self serving. That is the reality of the environment in which a cashless society would exist.

Legalised Official Theft

While a cashless society would create wonderful convenience, efficiency and ease it would also create very serious problems. It would be the equivalent of the Pacific Islanders of an earlier age being bought off with shiny beads, cuckoo clocks, and liquor when visited by European explorers. It seemed like a good idea at the time but led to their subjugation.

Much has been written about moving towards a cashless society since the start of the current recession. The financial crisis was caused by banks practicing casino capitalism. They were of course bailed out by the public, but that was not enough for the long term!

Already central banks can manipulate economies so that their interests, and not the public good, predominate. They can create new money by quantitive easing and thus reduce the value of the money that already exists. People’s savings lose their value as their money value is transferred to the central banks. This is already a form of theft but a cashless society would make this more blatant and extensive.

The reason the powerful, the governments and the bankers who corrupt them, want a cashless society is that they could move us to a system of negative interest rates. Instead of banks paying to use your money via interest, you would pay the banks for the privilege of having your money under their control.

In a cashless society all your money would be in the bank by compulsion.  If the gambling bankers had made some losses, they could recoup those losses by increasing the negative interest rate. In other words they would steal from you to pay for their bad decisions and incompetence. In turn this would lead to more bad decisions and ultimately to systemic collapse.

A New Tyrannical Age

With a cashless society big government would get bigger and be even more intrusive. Every transaction would be recorded and judgements would be made about what you bought. You might be approached for having too much fat in your diet or for reading books that the government did not want you to read. You might have driven your car more than they would like in a particular week. Like a disciplinarian parent, the government could cut you off in a second.

This situation would allow the rise of tyranny to a level unprecedented in the whole of human history. Prison would no longer be necessary, the government could simply cut off your food supply or restrict your freedom of movement to walking only. Health care could be restricted if you were deemed to be eating the wrong foods. Ultimately your diet could be restricted to government issued gruel that you would have to consume in front of your iPad video camera. If you were cut off by the government you would have only two options – become enslaved and have your needs met by your owner, or resort to crime.

No government should have this level of power. A cashless society would given them that power. They are incapable of using their existing power wisely so why should they by given such absolute power?

The Rise of a New Barter Economy and a Moral Black Market

Of course, people would not stand for the theft and tyranny outlined above. As thinking beings they would make their own adjustments. They would create alternative systems just like they did during the era of Prohibition when they turned to gangsters. What’s more, they would be right to do so.

To survive or to maintain their privacy and dignity people would move back to a barter economy. Just like with the continuum of optimism and pessimism, adjustments would be made in the context of the continuum of the cashless and barter economy.The black market would flourish and gangsters would gain new status and legitimacy.

The new black market would be a moral black market, a justified black market, a necessary black market. It would be an antidote to theft and an antidote to oppression. The only way this alternative economy could be stopped would be via the application of force and coercion on a hideous scale.

Is that the sort of society that would be worth living in? I say no!

Technological Change in the Recruitment Business

Uriah Heep from David Copperfield art by Frank Reynolds.jpg
Uriah Heep from David Copperfield art by Frank Reynolds” by Artwork by Frank Reynolds (1876-1853) – From The Personal History of David Copperfield, pg. 480-81, Toronto : Musson Book Co., 1910.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Above: old ways in the office – now, thankfully, supplanted by technological progress.

You know when you apply for a job and you are certain there will be thousands of applications? When the final decision will, as a result, seem random and arbitrary? When the necessity of making a choice between equally matched applicants will mean that a small mistake unrelated to the job will make a huge difference to your future or for that of  your company? This is the situation that employers and jobseekers alike are confronted with in the modern chaotic labour market.

Something I experienced today suggested to me that this situation may be beginning to change to the delight of both recruiters and jobseekers. I am currently looking for the next opportunity in the development of my own career and saw a position that caught my interest so I put forward my CV for consideration.

Shortly afterwards I received an email from Recruitment Genius, the CV finding service who had advertised the position. It said that my application was been considered along with others, but that I could increase my chances of success by answering some additional questions. They said that I could do this via an app called JobChat or via a local rate number. Intrigued, and in accordance with my forward looking nature, I took the more intrepid option and downloaded the app.

To use the app I had to enter a unique PIN that was provided in the email. I was asked to take a photograph via the device and then given the opportunity to do practice question. Then came the questions that had been provided in the email. You were given up to 30 seconds to think about each question and a similar time to give your answers in video form.

While I might have been better from a performance point of view using the familiar telephone, I think the app approach is very interesting and I am glad to have experienced it. I think I messed things up a bit with the app and suffered a bit of “stage freight” in this new environment under the “klieg lights” of my iPad video camera. I think I would do better with practise and increased familiarity with the app, but I certainly think that the technological route is the best one to reduce the randomness of the recruitment process and the frustrations and inefficient expenditure of effort and resources by recruiters and applicants.

This new approach also allows an employer to get a better impression of an applicant before inviting them to interview. This is particularly advantageous to a person already in a post and having to take annual leave to attend interviews. One of the most frustrating things about spending leave to attend interviews is the feeling of wasted journeys across town and wasted time.

I think what I experienced today is a beginning for recruitment rather than an end. Nevertheless it represents a significant move in the right direction. I love innovative approaches like this! It could even develop into something where employer and candidate can interact directly in the early application process and thus cut through the usual brain numbing bureaucracy. Furthermore app based first interviews could well become an important efficiency saving for the future.

With sometimes thousands of people applying for a single job, this sort of technology has the potential to revolutionise the job hunting experience and is urgently needed. It is great that someone is devising creative ways to make things better and making applying for jobs less random than the current process which to me is not much different from an employer drawing up an astrological chart as the basis of decision making.

Many thanks to Recruitment Genius for paving the way in this important area and for helping to bring things from the Dickensian world illustrated in the picture at the top of this blogpost and into the twenty first century! Hopefully in the future the best people will always be matched efficiently to the most suitable jobs.

The Banking Crisis And The Transition To A New World Order

Written on 25 October 2013.

The City

Since studying international relations at master’s degree level I often look at world events through the prism of that education.  I try to analyse foreign policy and interpret contemporary events. Of course, actors on the international stage do not advertise their intentions prior to engaging in their grand plans and use ‘smoke and mirrors’ to achieve their goals.  Sometimes, my theories may appear ‘far-fetched’ but I am willing to risk criticism by putting them out there for people to mull over.

In recent years I believe the international system has begun a key phase of transition.  This transition is not just a turning point in world history, but a fundamental sea change in the way international relations are conducted.  The last great sea change took place when theTreaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648. This ushered in the international system of nation states under which we have all lived our lives.  That system now seems to be coming to an end.  Globalisation actually began around that time, when organisations like the British East India Company began to invest in far flung markets across the world.  The nation state system itself was a product of globalisation as the West exported it to places like Africa and the Americas.  What is different now is that globalisation has reached its end game which will result in some sort of systemic transformation.

Of course, there is nothing completely inevitable in world history, the international state system might continue in some form.  However, changes will inevitably happen and ultimately a new balance will have to be reached in order to create the stability that human society craves beyond all else.  Some actors in international relations appear to want to replace the system of nation states with some sort of system based on global governance.  Some proponents of this might be motivated by the feeling this is in the best interests of the human race, others may be motived by greed and the desire to amass personal wealth and private power.  Who knows!

Nevertheless, the contemporary engines of economics and industry drive us to think in global terms.  Globalisation is a reality, though the eventual form a totally globalised world system takes will be determined by all of us who now live on this small planet.  Of course some have more power and influence than others but all have a role to play.  At the moment, at least in the Western world, the powerful have to consider public opinion.  As such they may feel the need to distract us from what they are doing and what their motivations are.  They may rely on our credulity to achieve their goals!  The form that the new global system will eventually take will result in either greater freedom or greater tyranny.  The current generation will decide which – we are on the hinge of history!

This brings me on to this subject that I want to discuss.  I have a theory about the banking crisis and the economic chaos that now blights our lives.  This theory relates to our current period of transition.  It is my own opinion and is based on nothing other than my own feelings and observations.  It may seem far-fetched, it may be far-fetched, but here it is anyway.  This is the scenario of the banking crisis in the context of a systemic shift in the way international relations are conducted:

Banks use their control of the economic system to create an economic crisis.  Banks are bailed out with pretend money that governments borrowed from banks that have no real money.  As soon as the money is endorsed by the government, via a government loan, it becomes real money. Governments then have to pay back the loan of pretend money from the banks with real money based on the sale or transfer of tangible state assets.  The banks then pay off their debt with more pretend money.  Thus wealth is transferred from the state and its people to a global elite.  This is how we are being moved from a world run by national governance (democratic), based on the international state system and the rule of law, to a world run on the basis of global governance (oligarchic), based on transnational corporations and law applied on the basis of social position.


People’s Europe for a Bright Future

Hemicycle_of_Louise_Weiss_building_of_the_European_Parliament,_Strasbourg 640 x 427

Above: The European Parliament in debate. 18 May 2010, 15:01. Source:
078 Strasbourg
. Author: jeffowenphotos. Licensing: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Original size of 2,000 × 1,333 pixels reduced here to 640 x 247 pixels. Obtained from

We have heard a great deal in recent years about the process of European integration. Invariably, we have been baffled by political rhetoric, bamboozled by esoteric terms and confronted by economic wrangling that replaces common sense with confusion.

Young people, spared the horrors of European civil war, apparently feel more inclined to accept a European identity. They are more willing to embrace our commonalities as Europeans than react to that which divides us.

We have not known a world in which the United Kingdom has existed outside an integrating Europe, be that in the form of the EEC or EU. Nevertheless, we remain uninspired and uninterested by the current focus of debate.

We need an ideal, something that puts this grand project on a human scale, something that shows how it can improve the human condition or produce a more just society. Discussions relating to legal and economic mechanism fail to motivate the energies of a new generation.

Europe seems to be more relevant to big business and a small elite than to the needs of the people who would constitute the citizens.

This is sad, because the power of Europe could be harnessed to help protect the rights of its people, as the forces of globalisation become more rampant.

Increasingly we are subjected to global forces apparently beyond our control. Once great powers now stand in line, heads bowed, begging multinationals for their patronage. But what is the price of this financial influx?

As we in Western Europe begin to compete with the non-unionised sweatshop economies of the Far East, wages are forced into a downward spiral, welfare states are deemed to be too expensive and individuals are ostracised if they fall upon hard times.

The very essence of democracy is put into question too. Countries which sign up to treaties that are geared to promote “far” trade become bound to the whims of corporations who use legal technicalities to prevent the formulation of legislations demanded by electorates.

In the absence of international regimes that establish rules to protect individuals and communities, as well as promoting the legitimate requirement for free trade, a social malaise results that impacts negatively on the lives of us all.

The position of Europe as one of the biggest markets in the world would be sufficient to put pressure on these transnational forces and impel them to operate more reasonably.

After all, it is states and not private companies where democratic legitimacy lies. It should therefore be states that have the upper hand when formulating “global rules of the game”.

A unified Europe, speaking with a united voice would thus be able to succeed where competing nation states have failed.

It could act to promote the establishment of such global norms. It could establish a “Fortress Europe”, making access to its market dependent upon countries operating according to European standards of welfare and wage levels.

This would act to create a level playing field, preventing our industries been undercut as a result of our Government’s benevolence in providing the welfare safety net.

We have seen quite recently how the global interests of leading international tycoons are put before basic rights and privileges enshrined in our constitution.

The case of Rupert Murdoch’s veto on the publication of Chris Pattern’s book on Hong Kong illustrates this perfectly.

Imagine a world where all publishers had interests in a country like China, and all refused to publish books that were deemed incompatible with their interests there.

The result could be a curtailment of the right of free speech equivalent to that experienced in any of the totalitarian police states of former communist Eastern Europe. Free market thinkers of the 1980s were all too keen to embark on a moral crusade against such bastions of tyranny. Where are those voices now?

Is it that private organisations and powerful moguls have the right to take away freedoms that were considered too precious to be withdrawn by mere governments?

The arguments in favour of this view are tainted with hypocrisy.

Europe could be big enough and powerful enough to stand up to such companies and individuals. It could shift the balance of power back in the direction of democratically elected governments.

In international forums such as GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), Europe would be able to present the case for its own, more socially responsible brand of capitalism.

It could offer a counter weight to American capitalism that seems to ride roughshod over communities across the world, setting people against each other and driving down the wages of the developed world.

Our generation has been the first truly European generation. However, simultaneous developments in the world economy have meant that we have also been the first one deeply affected and influenced by the process of globalisation.

This has meant that we have witnessed the dismemberment of great industries and seen the image that this has had on the communities in our own area.

We have had our own employment and prospects and choices of career changed and incorporated in to what has become euphemistically known as the flexible labour market.

In this respect, we have seen first hand the awesome powers that are at work in the international capitalist system.

The flexible labour market is likely to have continued influence. It may drive us from our communities to seek opportunities elsewhere in the country and in some cases the world. The real question however is flexibility for whom?

Increasingly it seems that it is the average person who pays the price, working longer hours, often for less pay, increased stress levels and reduced family contact and quality of life.

Society suffers too. Children are increasingly brought up not by their parents but by paid employees.

It seems that nuclear families are going the way of their extended predecessors, as they degenerate into dysfunctional chaos. Individuals look at how they can beat down their compatriots in order to get ahead.

Can Europe buck the trend? Can it take us forward into a new social order that sees us as individuals rather than mere units of production in the global economy.

My view is that it can, but only if it responds to their needs and aspirations, and only if it inspires our confidence.

A people’s Europe is one whose prime purpose is to improve the lot of the mass of the population, not just the chosen few.

It is also one, which reconciles the relationship between the multinational corporations on which we depend for employment opportunities and wealth generation, and the people and communities that help to generate this bounty.

Finally, it is one which captures the imagination of the generation who will one day act as the custodians of its future.

Maybe the Prime Minister can use his apparent genius for international affairs to help bring this about.

By Chris Knowles

Originally published in the REaction! the political magazine of Wakefield District Young Labour (Pilot Edition), ISSN 1464-8105, Mpril 1998.