Archive for » April, 2014 «

Being of right or left

A story titled ‘Doubting Thomas’ – with mostly a positive slant on Thomas Picketty’s recent book titled ‘Capital’ (plus a few more words following it) – has made its unlikely way into the BBC. Also to the New York Times, in which a former ‘Nobel economics award’ recipient, Paul Krugman, says that, “the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack to the book’s central thesis — one that utterly destroys the core arguments long made by the nation’s neoliberals and the financial elite.

Now, Mr Krugman is clearly indicating that he is not of ‘the right’. But are the Krugmans of this world then of ‘the left’? Anyone not right is no longer willing to say they are of the left – for they may be identified as ‘socialist’. This is the new breed of maggot, after ‘Communist’ ceased to be of any use as a term of vilification, following the extinction of that sad species. The furore from the right, that Krugman refers to, is as if this Picketty has written a communist manifesto, which is not at all what he has done. But Picketty has been mischievous enough to title his work ‘Capital’ (plus a few words following it), almost urging the reader to supplement the title with the word ‘Das’, in front.

The furthest that anyone not ‘neoliberal or belonging to the financial elite’ is willing to go these days is to call themselves ‘liberal’ – unaware that the response to this presumably safe label is no different to what ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ arouses.

And in what sense is not-of-the-right Krugman liberal, if that is what he is? From what I can gather, liberal means no more than being able to take delight in seeing some ‘neoliberal’ commentators tying themselves up in ludicrous theological knots. Not being shrill and insistent enough in supporting neoliberal doctrine is nowadays almost enough to be identified as a ‘leftist’. When people like Krugman are the spokespeople for social justice, it is indeed in need of life support.


Underlying dynamic?

Why is unequivocal support for neoliberal dogma shown by a huge proportion of people who do take a position? The idea that it should be good for everybody if about 50 individuals owned over 50% of a nation’s total wealth, say, should be hard to sell – but it isn’t. And the noise needed to ensure that this idea always dominates is raised by almost all of those among the wealthiest 40%, and others way down below too – and not by the richest 50 or 500 people. Most of the bottom 60% are not in a position to make a noise, unless they are paid to participate in protests, because they are busy making ends meet. So people like Krugman become spokespersons for greater equity. The right and left are nicely sewed up.

The underlying dynamic is that someone at the 20th percentile, or so, of income imagines that she is closer to the richest 500 individuals than to the person on the 40th or the 60th percentile. This is gross misperception. The deception is easy to achieve for she too wants to believe she’s close to the truly wealthy, or even amongst them.  The best way for her to reinforce such imaginings is to copy the views of this elite. Her anger at any hint of slightly higher taxes for the super rich, say, is genuine and intense and driven by the feeling that the hardworking and capable are being taxed to support the lazy and incompetent. She identifies with the ultra rich because she is able to afford a luxury holiday and new laptops for her children every year. But she cannot even conceive of the wealth of the really rich – who can gift a few new laptops to everyone in the country and not have to think about the cost.

The support for the gross inequities we see, from a wide swathe of the population, is driven simply by their imagining that they are among or close to the really rich – or will be very soon.  They therefore feel duty bound to protect the interests of the club. But the scale of inequalities now is so great that the people you and I consider ultra rich cannot even imagine the gap between them and the richest 50 or 500 individuals. A million fold? Less? More?

For the wealthiest 500, the ordinary wealthy do not count any more than those in the bottom 75% of the population (unless they are royalty or current global celebrity). Pity the merely rich, and most of the super rich, languishing way below the top 500. They are even more gullible than the rest of us – sad lackeys working tirelessly to create an even more unequal world, in the belief that they serve their own interests.


The departing wagtail

The Siberian winter, I understand, induces a few of its small wagtail (grey headed yellow) to migrate to a lawn in Battaramulla, year in year out. Several of them adorned it some years ago, until the numbers started dropping. This year and last, there was only a solitary wagtail visitor. I have no doubt that it is the same individual that still returns loyally to this specific winter haunt – despite the others having perished. How on earth does it manage this amazing feat, with no access to GPS? As amazing, I’d say, as G. M. Henry (in ‘A Guide to the Birds of Ceylon’ – first published in 1955) being able to say where each of these winter visitors spend their summer, breeding.

I was curious about the date they chose to take off, heading back to Northern Europe, confident that winter there is over. How do they know when the climate up far north is mild enough? Henry does not say when this bird leaves but he mentions that its cousin, the grey wagtail, leaves ‘in April or May’. This bird is said to head for Central Asia, for summer breeding. (Our remnant local visitor will likely produce no offspring – to guide along to our lawn. We’ve sadly come to terms with the fact that one more species will be lost, from those that graced our garden, when this single bird is no more.)

Given that our wagtail friend is readily sighted every day that it spends here, we can be fairly sure of when it takes off.  I find that the grey headed yellow wagtail leaves our garden in Battaramulla, as far as could be discerned through sporadic observations, very early in April. Maybe it takes off earlier than its cousin from Central Asia because it has further to fly – to as far as Siberia or Northern Scandinavia. That logic does not quite convince me, for I have not noticed either the Indian paradise flycatcher, lingering after the first week of April. And it has even less far to go than the grey wagtail. (The paradise flycatcher – which is occasionally seen here – is not so easy to spot as the wagtail, so I can’t be sure it too has left by 5th April.)

The signal for departure must surely be the sun’s position as it travels northwards. I realized only yesterday that first week of April was when the sun traversed directly over Colombo. If our loyal wagtail does return next year, I can carefully observe as to whether it’s gone on precisely the same day as this year.

I wonder whether all migrants take off, as the sun trips right overhead.  Not so, if as Henry in passing says, the other breed may leave as late as May. A chance remark in Henry’s long book contradicts my notion. I’m inclined to ditch my hypothesis even on the strength of this. It’s unthinkable that Henry may have let in a careless slip. So masterly, his scholarship.