Sunday, 17 March 2019

Cryptocurrencies and Corpocracies

Cryptocurrencies are not libertarian. To be sure, aspects of cryptocurrencies, and the blockchain technology on which they are built, resonate profoundly with the libertarian ideal, but the resonance of one’s soul with an idea does not engender the resonance of theory with reality.

When I wrote my essay, “Cryptocurrencies are not Libertarian” (I’m not very good with names), I made three arguments: 
  1. While the value of a cryptocurrency, and its issuance, are not controlled by the state, this is not dissimilar to how ‘traditional,’ currencies already work. The value of floating currencies is already determined by markets, while issuance is partly the result of fiat money mechanisms. Furthermore, this infrastructure minimises the role of any individual. 
  2. Cryptocurrencies are not as anonymous as cash, for any transaction is recoded on a publicly viewable ledger. Further, the benefit of anonymity in terms of data protection and preserving freedom of choice are better achieved by the existence of a legislative body that can exercise power over bad actors and protect individuals. As such, anonymity is a false prophet telling a bad story. 
  3. Where anonymity may be valuable is in protecting those who are performing illegal acts, or acts deemed damaging to authority. Yet, in such scenarios, cryptocurrencies serve only as tools to facilitate activities, and the real libertarian debate is around the prohibiting of activities. We should not conflate cryptocurrencies as tools with the political question of the legal authority of states.

I maintain cryptocurrencies are not libertarian. But the belief, which I might call myth, that they are is not only dangerous insofar as it captures the minds of those of a particular political persuasion in the same way gold does doomsday preppers. More subtle dangers exist; dangers which, to be sure, exist whenever new technology grabs hold of enough people’s imaginations. The danger is appropriation.


Reading Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion, one could be mistaken for thinking the whole point of the book is to attack the foreign policies of (Bill and Hillary) Clinton, Bush and Obama. At times a slog, the premise of the book is rather simple: the power of the internet could be utilised by the bad guys as much as it could by the good.

For Morozov, the West’s reliance on the idea that the internet would supercharge the voices of dissidents and freedom fighters is folly, and almost predictably so. Dictators and totalitarian governments possess the raw force and infrastructure to assert their authority on the ground and invest in building up their authority online. While journalists and activists are given a platform to share their ideas, and while this surely annoys those they are attacking, the impact can be minimised – if not eliminated – by an army of bots, entertainment content and surveillance strategies. While the internet gives everyone a platform to speak, it is still hard and soft power which determines who is heard.

Might cryptocurrencies suffer the same, appropriated fate? I think so.

Now, the possibility of cryptocurrencies becoming dominated by states, totalitarian or otherwise, is not enough to support the claim cryptocurrencies are not libertarian. Equally, and by the same logic, the possibility of cryptocurrencies, either presently or sometime in the future, being libertarian is not enough to argue that they are. The internet, on paper, is a wonderful tool for the liberation of oppressed peoples, and for some it will be. But every opportunity to liberate is another opportunity to oppress, and oftentimes this is the case.
Cryptocurrencies may be – relaxing some arguments – a tool for liberation from various economic systems (if this is the argument you want to make, I will not stop you. My comment here is still, however, rather critical. Most people who make this argument seek only to re-forge the present economic system, rather than engaging in the more interesting question of how the technology can radically design the way we do things), but they may also be tools for the crystallisation of economic systems.

We do not know what will happen, because – as many in the cryptocurrency community are wont to tell disparagers – the technology is so new and dynamic. But let’s take a lesson from the internet, and indulge some fortune telling.

In my essay, “A Modest Proposal for aNew Social Media,” (again, I’m bad with names, and not being self-referential, apparently) I argued the future of social media will be one that integrates cryptocurrencies. This was to be a solution to an agency problem arising from the semi-unilateral harvesting and profiting off of data (semi-unilateral because a) it is necessary to provide data to use the site, and thus consent becomes a dubious thing, and b) your individual data appears meaningless when combined with millions of others’, but it is the uniqueness which gives the data value).

The idea was as follows: the social media site has a cryptocurrency, and each user receives a small payment in this cryptocurrency for engaging in content with the platform, such as liking a post, commenting, status updating, and providing basic personal information. The site would have basic currency sinks to regulate the economy of the coin (like selling personalised emojis, banners etc.), but would also have a shop where users could buy discount codes used for real-world purchases. For the provider of these codes, they would receive invaluable user data; the social media site would receive a share of the transaction when the code is used; and the user would receive payment for the ‘sale,’ of their data. (For the record, I think this would be a cynical way of fixing social media and our relationship with data, but I also believe this is a very doable and – somewhat lamentably – appealing idea to both regulators and Silicon Valley bosses)

Is this a realistic prediction of the future of cryptocurrencies? I am confident when I say this prediction will be inaccurate in several areas; there will be a revenue stream missing from the concept, or a transaction stage, or something inane like that. But is this prediction wholly unlikely? I think not.

We already know, for example, Facebook is planning to launch a cryptocurrency, possibly as early as this year. Amazon already has a token of sorts with Amazon Coins, and for sites like YouTube a cryptocurrency payments system could be an effective way of encouraging content creators without relying on advertisement revenue. Services such as Uber and AirBnB could surely leverage the advantages of cryptocurrencies too, and for many investors in the technology, this is very much something they hope will happen. But for libertarians, is any of this good?

Metallurgy or Alchemy?

In Adam Smith’s the Wealth of Nations, the process of coinage is discussed a lot. It’s an important discussion, because for Smith – whose book concerns wealth – knowing what money is, where it comes from and why it means anything are vital questions. Many libertarians like cryptocurrencies because they don’t come from a central bank or government; the price is determined by the market, of which they are a part; and the supply is limited to the amount that has been ‘mined,’ at any one time. Ultimately, when considering libertarian ideas as a nexus of power, no single authority has absolute control over a cryptocurrency.

Of course, ‘traditional,’ money used to have a similar laisse faire approach. When coinage was as much about weight and purity of metal as it was about the ability to transact with it, anyone with a sufficient quantity of silver or gold could produce their own money, and this would be essentially as valuable and useful as money produced by a central authority. And they did.

The economic problem – or benefit, if you are of the libertarian persuasion – with this, of course, is power. The person that owns a lot of gold has a tremendous amount of power over the state apparatus, and if many gold-owners get together, they can completely diminish the power of the state. For the state, it is better to use its authority to outlaw the private manufacturing of money and purchase raw materials for coinage. In effect, the state assumes the monopoly of coin minting, and all the economic power that comes with it. (For the gold-owners, it should be said, they benefit too, by – for example – having a state apparatus that guarantees the value of the money in their pockets and saves them the effort of turning all their gold into coins, before convincing others their coins are worth using as currency. In effect, the state can make markets through its perceived legitimacy which individuals cannot – again, this is a key reason why cryptocurrencies aren’t all that libertarian)

Importantly, what’s being described above is the process of monopoly formation that can arise in any unregulated market. The emphasis on money, rather than any other, ‘good,’ is that money is present in every market. The authority to issue money, therefore, extends to the authority to enable the formation of markets in other areas.

The word corpocracy is often the reserve of science-fiction writers. It refers to a system of government where a person’s rights and liberties are a function of their wealth and ownership; rather than one person, one vote, it’s one share, one vote. The natural rise of companies to supranational size invokes, at least for me, imbues thoughts of corpocracy. Likewise, Leigh Phillips and Michael Rozworski’s book the People’s Republic of Walmart emphasises how modern corporations now rival states in terms of power and resources (and, they argue, this undermines the free market idea that centrally planned economies cannot work).

Quite what the libertarian view on corpocracy is unknown to me – modern libertarianism often seems more about doing what one likes but presently cannot do than it is about critiquing whole systems of power which its anarchist cousin does excellently. My gut instinct, though, would be opposition; the rule one share, one vote, necessarily deprives those with no shares of any right to vote, which is wholly non-libertarian. Maybe we mandate everyone has a single, unsaleable share, but isn’t the mandate of unsalability itself non-libertarian? Quickly, one ends up walking around in circles, so let’s return to cryptocurrencies.

The hypothetical social media site has a monopoly on their cryptocurrency, and by extension determines the value of all data, and all things in their marketplace. Imagine if we decide 1 like is worth 1 unit of our cryptocurrency. Why? Who says our likes are worth that much? And if so, why is sharing something worth, say, 2 units, or a comment worth 3? And why is the discount code I so desperately want worth 1,000?

Facebook will never pay users in pounds or dollars for their likes and shares, because that places the value of the data they want into a medium they do not control, and it is control that is the true value of the cryptocurrency, and indeed, of money generally. Similarly, Facebook will never allow you to sell your tokens for real-world money, for that would imply an exchange value and produce the same problem. They may, however, allow you to buy their token for real-world money (this may also imply an exchange price, but here Facebook controls the supply of the token; previously they do not) or trade your token for other tokens, say Amazon’s token. Such partnerships seem likely, firstly as a way of avoiding anti-trust laws, and secondly as a way of leveraging advantage: Facebook doesn’t know anything about the logistics which would be involved in a storefront, just as Amazon doesn’t know anything about social media; together they would be an extremely powerful online entity. (For the record, in my original essay, I specify some user-specific algorithm would be used to determine the value of a given person’s like, so that they could only ‘game,’ the system in a way that is beneficial to the site. For example, if I like 100 things, the value of my like falls, but it falls less if I have 1,000 friends rather than 10, and so on)

Do cryptocurrencies lead corpocracy? That question has two answers. As above, the future of cryptocurrencies is undetermined, but the myth of cryptocurrencies being libertarian and transformative may lead to us blindly allowing the appropriation of cryptocurrencies in ways that are wholly non-libertarian. This doesn’t have to happen, but early signs suggest it is.
The second answer is no, but corpocracy does necessarily require control of the means of exchange. The one share, one vote definitional slogan can be extended to a great many other things, including rights, and when the power of a share is elevated so much, it seems natural that shares become the means of exchange. In the sci-fi corpocracy, shares are essentially cryptocurrencies, but cryptocurrencies go one step beyond shares. Shares represent ownership, and so for shares to be used as a means of exchange, owners must necessarily reduce their ownership to supply liquidity. Cryptocurrencies, with no ties to ownership, demand no such thing from shareholders.

My fear of writing a dystopian nightmare

For a corpocracy to genuinely form, monopolies must be allowed to form, and a means of co-opting the means of exchange must exist. I do not believe corpocracy is our future, but just as democracy moves through shades of freedom, so too will corpocracy move through shades of reality (if not capitalism).

A problem with economic ideas is they often become characters in stories; capitalism is the tentacular plague that seeks to dominate people’s lives; OR communism is the tentacular plague that also seeks to dominate people’s lives. Neither capitalism nor communism are conspiratorial characters, and likewise, the motives of the powerful in any society are not quite so explicit as we might imagine them to be from a distance. The rise of corpocracy will not be a conspiracy to undermine democratic liberty and entrench the abstract concept of power in fewer and fewer hands; but corpocracy does highlight the ever-present tension between capitalism (or perhaps scarcity) and democracy.

For those invested in cryptocurrency (literally and ideologically), there is not enough criticality of what the technology will evolve into. Instead, there is simply the belief that evolution is always good. Equally, I think, for those who disparage cryptocurrencies, too often too few people ask the question, “but what if what I think doesn’t matter?” Cryptocurrencies, like the internet, and like many transformative technologies, will reveal societal tension which will demand a deft hand to navigate. The myth of libertarianism will leave this role vacated and old authorities will appropriate the benefits of the technology for their own means, just as the myth of liberation left many dissidents out in the cold while totalitarians appropriated the internet for their own advantage.

The point of this piece isn’t to attack cryptocurrencies, or the people involved with them, nor is it – as the subtitle suggests – to write a dystopian nightmare. Really, it’s to ask a question: if cryptocurrencies aren’t libertarian, what are they?

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Going to Zero: Economics and Climate Change

Our response to climate change can no longer be about the lack of urgency, or scientific limitations. Certainly, while some people remain to be convinced of the anthropogenic nature of climate change, on the substance of its existence, the majority are convinced. The only challenges preventing us doing something radical and transformative in the face of climate change, then, seem to be political and economic will.

We should ignore the question of political will for now. This reasoning will be elaborated on in due course, but put simply, politics often walks hand in hand with economics, and so by understanding the economic picture, we can consider the political picture in much more nuanced term. From the perspective of economics, there are roadmaps towards tomorrow, and compelling reasons to travel. It is here we should begin.

Let’s be clear, the scale of economic transformation to prevent the worse effects of man-made climate change will be huge. The governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, for example, highlights some 30% of FTSE 100 companies will be directly impacted by climate change due to their close association with our present carbon energy system. As Durand (2018) notes, in order to keep emissions within the IPCC temperature target of a 2oC increase, fossil fuel companies will have to leave unused between two-thirds and four-fifths of their carbon-based energy reserves. In short, massive parts of these companies’ values will become, for the stake of our survival as a species, worthless.

Of course, sometimes it is hard to have sympathy for large organisations, especially those that contribute so greatly to environmental degradation. But it is important to remember that the impact of these companies is not simply environmental. Many millions of ordinary and hard-working people are employed in fossil-fuel related industries, and part of our climate strategy must tackle the question of how do we safeguard these people? Speaking of climate strategy, obviously reducing the amount of carbon we put into the environment can’t just be solved by restricting supply of carbon-based energy; we must also tackle demand.

It is from these two perspectives that much of this piece will revolve. The question of jobs, both now and in the future, will be tackled, prior to and following a discussion of energy demand. As one might expect, such ideas are open to criticism, and criticism should be welcomed. As such, following these ideas, a discussion of present and future difficulties is offered. Finally, we return to the question of political will, illuminated to the economic circumstances of which the question resides, and a tentative answer is offered.

It is important also to recognise what this piece is not. This piece does not consider, for example, the environmental consequences of industries such as food production or rare-mineral extraction, both of which are closely linked to greenhouse gas pollution, environmental degradation and resource scarcity. The omission of these topics is not due to minimise their importance; rather, they simply fall outside the general remit of topics discussed in this piece. Furthermore, while many of those topics may fall into the catch all term of something like a Green New Deal, and while the focus of this piece will largely be focused labour and infrastructure, of which various GNDs concern themselves, this piece is not a critique or analysis of any GND, though ideas have been drawn from and adapted from, for example, Ann Pettifor’s work of a UK Green New Deal. If this piece must serve any relation to such legislative proposals, let this be as a broad and most certainly flawed introduction, rather than a reflection. Finally, it seems important to reference here, due to the lack of reference elsewhere within the text, climate refugees. Climate refugees do not fall in any distinct capacity into the broad categories of labour or infrastructure, and the issue is not discussed here as a result; yet, the consequences of climate change, above all else, will manifest in human form, and it would be questionable to emphasise the urgency of our climate response without any acknowledgement of the human cost of complacency. Similarly, and in what serves as the only major critique of present GNDs offered here, climate refugees should be at the heart of a foreign policy chapter within all future GNDs.

Jobs, part 1

Immediately, we should note, there are effective, radical, rapid and – given enough politicking – political solutions to the question of jobs lost due to the decarbonising of the economy. The old mantra of largely centrist/centre-left politics has been a promise to, say, coal-fire workers redundancy followed by retraining. In practice this is a solution, but it ignores so many real issues, hence why such strategies retain the veneer of condescension.

Many of these workers have been employed in these industries, perhaps doing the exact same job, for several decades. It’s just unrealistic to expect these workers will either a) want to retrain or b) have the necessary skills to learn and transition to a new industry. To some veterans of these industries, such an offer may even be humiliating, as society not only diminishes the value of their work in the present but also seems to blame them for the problems of today and tomorrow. Regardless of all these issues, these people must continue to work for a time, as will many of those employed for shorter periods in these industries. This highlights another problem, which is wage security. What good is retraining if while retraining one can’t earn any money, or available compensation is necessarily low, and the wages associated with alternative roles (potentially skilled work earning a higher level of pay, but, given the challenges outlined previously, likely non-skilled, low-paid work) is also precarious?

We have seen with the legacy of the mining towns what happens when industries are allowed to fade away and inadequate support is provided. If, as will be necessary, we need to end the use of coal in our energy network as fast as possible, we will need a radical solution. It is here a simple idea is offered: we guarantee to pay those employed in these industries their annual salary every year until they retire, regardless of whether retrain and get a job, simply get another job, or decide to give up work. The only requirement for such a package would be to accept redundancy at point of request. This would, essentially, be an industry-specific basic income, and it would have several advantages. Firstly, it would allow those who do not want to retrain to simply not have to, without the wage insecurity that would come with such a decision. Secondly, it would support those who would like to retrain to do so and would open retraining opportunities beyond those which the government could provide. For example, a worker to go back to school, or start their own business. Thirdly, it would ensure economic activity in the communities effected by the industry closures. Finally, it would be an economically sensible investment, achieving our aims rapidly in the short-term, while being a relatively small investment in the long-term.

Thinking of this proposal as an investment – which we should acknowledge is, given the urgency of this matter, a rather dubious, cynical and unhelpful exercise – we should be happy to pay individuals several thousands of pounds for the best part of 40 years if that safeguarded the survival of the planet for the next hundred or the next thousand. Compared to the upside, the cost of this scheme is exceptionally good value. Of course, it would need to be funded. A 2015 IMF report into government subsidies of fossil fuel companies found global subsidies totalled around $5.4trn. Even a small portion of these subsidies could be put into a wealth fund, managed to ensure its longevity, and paid out regularly to those covered by the basic income scheme.

New Energy

The economic problem of climate change cannot simply be tackled by ending the supply of fossil fuel energy. While it is so obvious it seems silly to state it, state it we must: our energy systems exist in their current form because they facilitate our present energy demands. Furthermore, the dynamics of energy demand, has two parts, namely how much energy we use, and how we use that energy.

On this latter point we should not linger, partly, and frankly, because this remains our biggest hurdle in tackling climate change, and so there is little that can be said beyond acknowledging this continuous challenge. Yet, it seems appropriate to say something. Solar power, for example, is excellent during the day, but during the night our energy needs must be met by energy stored in batteries, provided, say, we are reliant on solar energy sources. Our energy storage capacities are still insufficient to meet our round-the-clock energy needs quite in the way conventional energy sources do, but as the World Bank (2017) reports, we are getting ever closer to solving this problem.

A more interesting point of consideration is how much energy we use. The narrative of economic growth suggests that human energy consumption will increase ad infinitum as our capacity to consume individually, and the number of us consuming generally, increases. On the topic of population, there is always a risk of facilitating ever more disagreeable discussions, and so it is sufficient to acknowledge that as economies develop, their population expansion seems to decrease, and globally, the rate of population increase appears to be slowing. In terms of mouths to feed, both literally and as a metaphor for energy consumption, there appears to be a maximum number we need to provide for. Thus, then, we should concern ourselves with how much energy we can use. If we each continue to use an ever-increasing amount of energy, it matters little how many of us are alive to do so; energy consumption will still increase.

Or will it? An important observation offered in Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) is that consumption takes two forms, namely consumption over time and materialistic consumption. Consumption over time is a rather simple concept. A person who does not need to work because of their wealth can choose not to work, and thus can spend that time doing something else. For Veblen, this may have been hunting on an estate; in the modern era, this may be holidaying in a foreign country. Again, in the language of Veblen, all consumption that is not necessary to survival compromises of a greater or lesser element of conspicuous consumption; consumption used to demonstrate one’s position or class within society. We all consume conspicuously, but as Veblen noted, there is an absolute limit – and one that is quickly reached – on the amount of time-based conspicuous consumption any one person is capable of. We all experience the passage of time equally, and on average we all have access to a broadly similar amount of time, in which part is spent working, part necessarily consuming and part conspicuously consuming. Ergo, for some, the capacity to ‘spend,’ their time (interestingly, perhaps where the turn of phrase, “spend time,” is derived) is insufficient to demonstrate their wealth, power and thus status within society.

For these individuals, and for those for whom price mechanisms prevent time-based consumption, the alternative, material form of consumption, becomes the means of expression of one’s access to resource. But here, too, there is a limit. We see it circumstantially during financial crises, where concerns over financial stability cause many to become unnecessarily frugal. But we also see it in accumulation, and in turn indebtedness. For those tremendously wealthy individuals who, by virtue of their wealth, dominate corporate and political narratives, there is literally nothing which they could purchase to adequately demonstrate their wealth. Indeed, the frequent beguilement of many to the desperation of the few to make just a little more money demonstrates both ours and their inability to grasp the sheer level of wealth controlled by these people, and the relative insignificance of any subsequent gain (or loss).

We need not linger on wealth either; again, while an obvious statement, a person’s ability to consume is limited by their ability to afford to consume. This, more than above, is key when thinking about climate change, and humanity’s capacity to use energy. For many, the limit of what a human could theoretically consume, either in time or material, is less than they could afford to consume. Even then, wealth, while crucial, is not the only factor impacting consumption; there is also desire. We should, therefore, also appreciate the role of diminishing marginal utility. As such, there may be a natural, if economically determined, limit to the amount of energy any individual could utilise. Considerations of the wealthy only further contribute to this idea; if billionaires are to serve as natural experiments in the essential de-limiting of one’s capacity to consume, we can see such an experiment would fail. Rich people cannot consume all the wealth they accumulate.

Returning to our demand for energy, it may be the case that in the long-term as economic growth enables more avenues for consumption, the individual’s demand for energy will increase, but in the short-term we might assume a plateau. And, in a rare example of where the urgency of climate change is a good thing, we are only interested in the short-term. Furthermore, an assumption of long-term increase need not be the case if a revolution in the mindset of human consumption is successful. For example, the society demands from those who contribute to growth that said growth be carbon neutral or even carbon-reducing. In other words, if the in-vogue thing is to produce products that are environmentally friendly – which some companies have endeavoured for many years to do – we may see a shift in mindset to one that places production method and origin at the forefront of consumer decision making. Finally, as organisations such as Degrowth and other elements of the economic pluralist movement advocate, we might even abandon economic systems built on perpetual growth and replace (or incorporate) such standards with alternative, ecologically minded metrics.

Thus, then, the question of dealing with energy demand need not necessarily demand reduced energy consumption per se, and to do so would be dangerous, not only from the perspective of restricting people’s liberty, but because it would associate climate change action with economic stagnation or decline. The transition away from fossil fuels will be accelerated, not hindered, by a strategy that promotes it as a driver of economic prosperity, whether prosperity is classical economic growth, some more nuanced re-alignment of economic language, or simply the promise and prospect of higher wages and better employment opportunities. So let us set the question of curbing energy consumption to one side, assume that we simply need to reach a short-term energy demand, and think about how we can champion such economic prosperity as part of a green agenda.

Jobs, part 2

As Ann Pettifor (2018) reports, the consistently low investment in UK housing stock has left many properties woefully energy inefficient: “the UK ranked eleventh out of fifteen European countries in terms of housing energy performance” (Pettifor in McDonnell, 2018: 49). Similarly, in the US, figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA, 2013) for 2009 show that 47.7% of household energy use was from space heating and cooling. Better household insulation, the encouragement of the development of temperature regulation technologies and legislating for proper insulation to be fitted to new homes, or when homes are bought, would reduce household energy use massively, with savings being passed to occupants. In fact, the EIA reports that household energy use for heating and cooling is down 9.9% from 1993, in part due to better insulation and more efficient home technologies.

Again, this is something we can do, and something which national executives can do with greater efficiency and long-term benefits than individuals may be able to. Workers will be needed to retrofit buildings or build new properties where those deemed financially unsustainable are demolished. These jobs should form part of a work package that is offered to those made unemployed by the loss of jobs in this decarbonisation program. Importantly having guaranteed income for these workers, such jobs do not become stigmatised as degrading and charitable work, but as a genuinely, socially valuable role. But we need not rely solely on those left out-of-work. The nature of work is transforming across the Western world, and many people are stuck in low-paid, insecure service jobs. An ambitious infrastructure plan to retrofit homes and install green energy technology should also include well-paid apprenticeships and training opportunities which allow workers to remain important and skilful members of the workforce long after the initial infrastructure spur has been completed. This returns to the core of what must be our green economic message: no one can be left behind.

But the reform to the labour market cannot stop here. It is hard to imagine, given any technological or social upheaval, what the future of work will look like. However, we would be foolish to not recognise the rise of automation on the one hand, and the consequences of decarbonising our economy on the other, will lead to less or greater demand for existing roles and the demand for new jobs (the question of whether these new jobs will be numerous enough to continue to provide employment to many is beyond the scope of this piece. Equally, it would be an oversight not to acknowledge this concern, and if one is interested, elements of this piece already discussed such as basic income may become a necessary part of our labour force strategy. Similarly, there may be environmental benefits to facilitated unemployment, for example by enabling time-based consumption rather than material consumption to flourish. Additionally, embracing digital consumption practices, which go together with the automation revolution, seems like a potentially environmentally beneficial strategy).

These jobs, from an environmental perspective, may include ecological and conservation experts. The West runs the risk of the failures of past interventions if, via military and economic means, we attempt to co-opt smaller and emerging economies and those of the Global South to embrace environmentally friendly development strategies. Part of an acceptance of the global challenge of climate change must be an acceptance of ourselves as global citizens and our nations as one within a group, rather than dictator and sub-ordinate. Faced with the alarming prospect of climate change, it may appear justified to some to intervene in the development and economic decisions of countries such as Brazil to protect environmental entities (such as the Amazon rainforest) which are not under our control but crucial to our own survival. This will not be justified, however, and will serve only to accelerate us towards one possible future, to borrow a phrase from Peter Frase (2016), that of barbarism. Better it seems to advance solutions to this environmental agency problem which are of mutual benefit to both those with sovereignty over resources, and those with interests in the preservation of those resources.

An educational emphasis on environmental protection, and a technical emphasis on green technology and innovation, would position the West to be fantastically placed to offer, on fair terms, consultation and assistance to emerging and ecologically significant countries, enabling them to leap-frog, as they must, the age of carbon-based industrialisation into a comparable age of green industry. These ideas must surely form part of future international trade institutions, which by their very nature already have an invaluable place in any future green economic agenda, and must – if necessary – be supported via comprehensive foreign aid provisions.

Scepticism and concern

One might at this point, especially given what has just been said, hold a degree of scepticism about the view taken in this piece. Beginning with the most recent suggestion, for it seems the least divisive from a political perspective, one might wonder whether what has been said is not terribly vague and superfluous? To this, we should not deny this charge. It is important that much of the economic response to climate change must be grounded both in the scientific evidence of what is and will mostly likely happen and the technical knowledge of what can be done within the necessary timeframe to achieve our desired outcomes. In short, we should always place an emphasis on utilising tools available in the here and now, on what technology exists today, and on what data exists today, and not on the maybe of tomorrow. In highlighting but not lingering on the problem of battery storage, for example, or recognising it is only short-term consumption which must now be of any analytical concern, this piece has attempted to do so. Alas, then, the question of tomorrow’s jobs and the future’s international relations belongs more so in the realms of futurology than they do in the minds of today’s policy makers. The very nature of their answers existing in the future is the primary contributor to the vague and superfluous nature of the proposal, and this is unavoidable.

Yet, as a wider consideration which, had we adopted this mindsight several decades or several centuries prior (hindsight continues to prove itself wonderful), would have mitigated the environmental situation we find ourselves in, we should always endeavour to move forward not just with an eye to policy, but with an eye to policy implications. Man-made climate change is the most important issue of our time, but it is not the only issue, and while one might be reluctant to admit as much for fear of diminishing the issue at hand, it would be foolish to not recognise our environmental strategy will inevitably become entangled in, say, the problems of automation or the problems of rising inequality. An eye to the future, even if it is obscured by the distance we still have to travel, is better than no eye at all, and a procession towards an unknown destination.

We should also recognise that the state, as puppet master or financier, plays a crucial role in the ideas outlined here. There is a certain degree of inevitability in the role of the state, being that climate change is a global problem and states are our best example of accountable global actors. As part of a global dialogue, states must and indeed have been the voice of their respective citizens. The role of the state, at least diplomatically, however, does not diminish a question of the function of the state as part of a package to tackle climate change. The promise of basic income, for example, may be best attacked not because of its practical purpose within a wider decarbonising programme but because of the precedent it sets. On this particular issue, however, we should have little concern, and where concern is found, it should be in the branding (basic income) and not in the substance of the policy. For example, such a policy should be funded from subsidies world governments already give to the fossil fuel industries. In terms of the political economy, then, the role of the state changes little; instead of subsidising corporations that are soon to be defunct in a decarbonised world, the state subsidises workers, who will still be capable of making a contribution to society and who will still deserve as much access to our collective future as anyone else.

The defunct nature of fossil fuel corporations is, however, one of contention, and indeed, within this piece, much has been said for the protection of citizens and infrastructure, but not of the protection of corporations which, as stated previously, contribute a significant amount of value to national economies and the global economy. The question, really, is is it right for society to let these companies fail? And, as some will believe, if these companies are not destined to fail due to the power of the free market, is it not the case that the free market, rather than the state apparatus, is sufficient and perhaps preferable?

From a very pure capitalist perspective, one should not shed a tear for the failure of a company if it is unable to compete within an ever-changing marketplace. If, as will soon be the case, large fossil fuel companies find themselves with fossil fuel reserves which are now necessarily worthless, then that is the natural pull of the market, and any exposure is the fault of those within these companies who did not foresee this inevitability. If, on the other hand, they did foresee this inevitability, and these fossil fuel companies endeavoured to transition their business into one of Greentech and renewables research, that would be a market-based adaption, free from the hand of the state, which should be applauded. But not all innovation is fair innovation.

For example, fossil fuel reserves which cannot be extracted for the sake of the environment have a value in what devolves into a hostage like situation. It would be irresponsible, though certainly praised by some, to simply adjust the present subsidies such that fossil fuel companies are paid to not extract the assets they own. Such a strategy may prevent further environmental degradation, but this strategy would also protect the interests of shareholders and capital at the expense of workers, who would no longer be required, and as a result worker communities. Likewise, subsidising fossil fuel investment in Greentech has a certain rationale to it, but it also feels tremendously immoral, an approach that would be tantamount to a protection racket, like paying the arsonist to put out their own fire. This is besides recognising that any such innovation shift, subsidised or otherwise, would likely displace a great many workers presently employed by the fossil fuel companies, and the state would still need to intervene.

On this question in particular, opportunities for the free market do exist, but the result of any route leaves workers exposed. If such an innovation shift occurs naturally within the market, we should offer no objections, but we must focus our efforts on protecting workers, not capital, from the necessary disruptive forces of decarbonisation.

On the question of the free market generally, as with comments made previously, we should not ignore the unknowns of the future. The innovation of the free market, if one believes it more innovative than the state apparatus, may produce in the future some technology which revolutionises our economy, society and relation to energy. This may happen, and as the need for Greentech skyrockets, indeed such advances probably will happen. But, again remembering previous comments, the time horizons to prevent the worse effects of climate change have shortened to the point of requiring action in the short-term. We can remain optimistic about any innovative potential, and probably should, but we must emphasis strategies that can be implemented here and now. As such, it would be foolish to discount the free market as a potential actor in the decarbonisation revolution, but equally, there is too little time for us to rely on it either. Thinking of this another way, Friedrich von Hayek (1960) argued that the free market maximises the number of experiments society can perform in order to find solutions to problems, and as such always produces better solutions faster than, say, the state, which can only attempt one strategy at a time. There are be many rebuttals to this logic, but on the question of climate change, only one rebuttal seems necessary; it is no longer necessary to find the most efficient solution to preventing climate disaster, we simply need to find a solution that works. Only then should we worry about optimisation. This is part of the price we must pay for our prolonged deference on this matter.

This lack of optimisation will take many forms and will undoubtedly cause setbacks and the loss of reputational and political capital. One area where we should proceed with caution, for example, is that of inequality. In retrofitting millions of homes to better regulate temperature and with solar panels, we will inevitably encounter the politics of the housing market and accessibility to housing more generally. Resolving this issue is a creature und to itself, but nevertheless, a blinkered approach will not be helpful. Again, the temptation is to emphasise panic and the apocalypse for fear that legitimate emphasis on other concerns would distract from the very real issue of climate change. But part of the real issue must involve answering legitimate questions about housing availability, housing quality and gentrification. Yet, even resolving these problems, the process of retrofitting may still be plagued with the challenge of inequality.

Time is not on our side, and so it pragmatically makes sense to retrofit homes that are the easiest to retrofit first, alongside legislating for high standards of energy performance in all new build properties. Yet the properties that will be easiest to retrofit will be newer properties, and those where the owners have already invested in modernisation and efficiency improvements. This will likely capture more wealthy individuals than those poorer individuals, who frequently occupy lower-standard housing stock, or rent and thus do not have the authority to invest in their accommodation. On this latter point, then, legislation demanding landowners retrofit their accommodation may be a useful tool. But beyond this, the point still remains; the pragmatic approach may lead to investment in wealthy communities before poorer communities, with the benefits of this investment being felt first by those who will benefit less from them. Again, it should be emphasised that such a scenario is the product of our present circumstances, and may be mitigated with intelligent accompanying legislation, or may not even manifest. The advantage of raising such an example now is two-fold: firstly, to acknowledge that the present solutions to climate change are not perfect, but they remain necessary, and thus a lack of perfection while necessary to acknowledge is not a sufficient excuse for inaction; secondly, that we should be honest about the scale of disruption a decarbonisation programme will bring about, and that there will be spill-over effects into different areas of the economy and society we must also be ready to tackle.

These spill-over effects should not, however, be a rallying cry against the political advantage of framing the decarbonisation agenda as one of grand narrative and (inter)national mission, in favour of the technocratic incrementalism which we have had for several decades. As the economist Mark Blyth recently stated, “no one gets excited over a carbon tax.” Equally, as Srnicek and Williams (2015) argue, disaster is not the impetus for enthusiasm. An unspoken essential of the ideas discussed thus far has been one that does not threaten destruction and degradation: redundancy for fossil fuel workers must be transformed into opportunities which return agency to workers and does not infantilise them; infrastructure transformation must be promoted as a great, society-wide investment in our collective future; and international relationships must be approached as a truly global affair that will continue well beyond our present predicament, and will allow all nations to move forward together.

The Next Revolution

This strategy of building the future, rather than simply saving it, is a deeply political one. And it is the reason why we must reject any intransigence for political reasons, and be bold in proposing new economic solutions, even if – as is shown here – those solutions require development. Political intransigence is often excused in the face of seemingly unrealistic economic ideas. Yet there is merit in an economic approach burgeoning on fantasy; indeed, it is often those fantastical ideas that inspire the practical ideas of today and become the practical ideas of tomorrow. But the ideas proposed here are not fanciful, far from it in fact. At the core of any proposals given here is a recognition of the constraints placed on our actions due to climate change, and a rejection of blind faith in the solutions of tomorrow saving us. If the solutions exist today, we should move forward with them, and if better, more practical solutions to climate change emerge during the process of decarbonisation, that is a windfall we should embrace. But we must abandon the idea of paying for inaction today with tomorrow’s windfall; that policy is why we are in this situation to begin with.

Yet, the promotion of political intransigence as a hurdle which must be tackled before anything else has a modicum of truth. While it is true that grand economic change cannot occur without first having the political will to enact such a programme, it is also true that offering people hope, and selling policies which directly suggest to the electorate not simply a solution to disaster but an opportunity to thrive, is core to any politician aspiring for power. The submission to the failings of political will is a self-fulfilling prophecy; it is Mark Fisher’s (2009) There is No Alternative (TINA) argument manifest in its most unhelpful and destructive guise. Necessarily, economic vision must precede political action, facilitated by a whole suite of PR strategies to sell that economic vision, and thus enable an effective polity. If those economic policies naturally complement the PR message of hope and opportunity, then we are embracing an effective political policy.

It is worth considering, however, what the alternative political narratives are. As above, there are strategies to decarbonising the economy which should secure favour from right-wing politicians: tax subsidies for Greentech investment, government purchasing of fossil fuel reserves to ensure the asset base of exposed companies, and – in extreme circumstances – the mass closure of damaging (easily rephrased as loss-making following enough carbon taxation) fossil fuel sectors such as coal-fire power plants. As explained above, these policies, respectively, promote turning the arsonists into firefighters, turn fossil fuel reserves into a hostage situation only fixed via socialisation, and risk the devastation and abandonment of workers and their industry-dependent communities. Indeed, the West’s response to the financial crisis of 2008 serves as an excellent example of future potential strategies. And what must also be said, despite the clear criticisms of such policies outlined here, is that these policies are not beyond saleability, but such strategies would involve the demonization of climate refugees and fervent appeals to national security. None of these policies, nor the justifications of them, inspire hope and optimism, but as time runs out, and thus urgency increases, it may be these unequal and socially fragmenting policies which become our adopted solutions. Of course, these not be.

We need not reject these ideas simply on the basis of our dissatisfaction with the world such policies would ultimately create, but because they would be economically unhelpful to the vast majority of people. As above, income inequality, corporatism and access to basic amenities for the poor are important and vocal challenges facing our societies today. This is without the pressing challenge of climate change. Promoting policies that tackle two birds with a single stone – that marry investment with redistribution, that marry retraining with genuine opportunity, that encourage mutual global relations rather than technocratic, corpocratic and class-divisive relations – will deliver prosperity to societies that adopt these policies. And, it must be said, there is no tool better disposed to us for the propagation of an economic and environmental revolution than by demonstrating to both policy makers and peoples the success which might be achieved. Ultimately, this is why at the start of this piece the politics was separated from the economics. We could call on Bill Clinton’s famous political slogan, “it’s the economy, stupid;” though, as we might expect, Keynes put it more elegantly, “look after the unemployment, and the budget looks after itself.”

While both these statements were made in rather different circumstances to our present, the core message rings true: good economic policy will supersede political intransigence. It is for this reason we should, baring a fair appreciation of the challenges which face us, cast aside those who seek to do nothing because they believe nothing can be done, and accept that we can solve the challenge of climate change. Today. Now.


Durand, C (2018) ‘Fictitious Capital’ Verso Books: London

Energy Information Administration (2013) ‘Heating and Cooling No Longer Majority of US Home Use’ [Online] [Date Accessed: 24/02/2019]:

Fisher, M (2009) ‘Capitalist Realism’ Zero Books: London

Frase, P (2016) ‘Four Futures’ Verso Books: London

Hayek, F (1960) ‘The Constitution of Liberty’ Routledge Classics: London

International Monetary Fund (2015) ‘How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies’ [Online] [Date Accessed: 24/02/2019]:

Pettifor, A (2018) ‘To Secure a Future, Britain Needs a Green New Deal’ in McDonnell, J (2018) (eds.) ‘Economics for the Many’ Verso Books: London

Srnicek, N, Williams, A (2015) ‘Inventing the Future’ Verso Books: London

Veblen, T (1899) ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ Renaissance Classics: USA

World Bank (2017) ‘Energy storage can open doors to clean energy solutions in emerging markets’ [Online] [Date Accessed: 24/02/2019]:

Thursday, 31 January 2019

We’re All Pluralists Now: Challenges and Victories of the Pluralist Movement

In a behavioural economics class recently, I was discussing the concept of pluralism. The exact question up for discussion was, “is economics right?” which – before any answer can be given – demands we understand what economics actually is. From these postgraduate students with whom I was speaking, ideas were provided hesitantly. Economics involved supply and demand and had something to do with utility maximisation. Keynes had been an economist, one student has said.

Answering the question of what economics is is an essay for another time. My response to these students, then, given the daunting task that might have faced me, was that economics was the study of value systems. It questions what society values, how it values things and – on the question of utility – what does value actually mean?

Again, these are big questions, and often superfluous ones. I argued as much; economics as a discipline is innately tied to political forces, with political economy, for example, often being the study of what to do with surplus production. Beyond anything, this is a political question. At this point, I believe there was a realisation. If politics can change, so too can economics. If attitudes can change, so too can what we value.

This is a useful, but dangerous way to think about economics. It allows economics a freedom not available to its counterparts in the natural sciences – the ability to change and adapt as necessary. But it is dangerous because, particularly when taught, it suggests that for every political/social/economic problem, there is an economic school which can solve it. This is a bastard form of pluralism, and it is what I desire to discuss.

First, however, here is a problem. In less pompous language than my own, a student asked me how we can know which economic key fits a given policy lock? In other words, what is correct economics today, and how will we know if it’s still correct tomorrow?

This desire for absolutes amongst an academic trail of ‘isms,’ is understandable, if regrettable. This is not what I wish to linger on. Rather, I will conclude my story. My view of pluralism is what one student called nihilistic economics: nothing is right, nothing is wrong, nothing is known, and everything is possible. In the face of such an open-ended philosophy, an important question was asked. What is the point?

This is a question I have thought about, so much so I have been inclined to write about it. It is a question that resonates because, in one form or another, I have seen this sentiment before. This will not be an attack on the present pluralist movement, or the institution of which the movement consists. I am, in broad strokes, an ally of that campaign, and celebrate their victories. But, in a way I fear is characteristic of a pluralist, I believe some worthwhile words may be said. After all, nothing is right, nothing is wrong.

Remembering Realism

My definition of pluralism is a personal one. A more common definition may be, “the study of various, sometimes contradictory, schools of economic theory and analysis.” By this definition, the mission of organisations such as Rethinking Economics, or the activism of groups such as the Post-Crash Economics Society cannot be criticised. Neither can the wider goals of groups such as Joe Earle’s Economy charity, who aim to reform the image of economics as a closed off subject and the economy as an amorphous creature into an image that is more representative of reality; one of real people, decision making and the values which underpin those actions. I wholeheartedly applaud this effort and will return to this in due course.

I want to first consider another anecdotal experience. Several years ago, I attended a roundtable discussion on universal basic income held by the Post-Crash Economics Society. At the time I was sceptical of UBI, and remain somewhat still, yet objectively I would not deny UBI’s place as a heterodox economic position. I voiced my scepticisms, and everyone politely listened, before others voiced their opinions (some more developed and significantly better researched than mine). This was pluralist economics in action, but I too found myself wondering what was the point? After some consideration, I think I know the cause of my dissatisfaction; it was academic.

Let us think about UBI. In terms of tackling rising inequality and automation, UBI may be a solution. It may be a necessity in a market rationing form of socialism as suggested by Peter Frase, or as a market perpetuating tool in a Keynesian economy where profit tends too zero. Friedman even proposed UBI in the form of negative income tax, and indeed a dubious argument could be made that the tax-free income allowance is a form of UBI.

These are very pluralistic takes on universal basic income. They are not particularly practical. While I accept the argument that discussing these ideas with students makes them familiar and facilitates policy formation in the future, I feel this is insufficient, and an absence of emphasis on practicality is a present weakness of a supposed pluralistic curriculum. After all, when that postgraduate student asked what the point of pluralism was, it was not out of blind faith to the neoclassical paradigm. It was because, for all the talk of Marx, Keynes and Hayek, they needed to see the big picture – to see the policy.

This is not a universal criticism. In my own field of behavioural economics, great strides have been made to bring it into the mainstream, alongside practical developments such as the creation of the UK Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and the advent of behavioural public policy. Unfortunately, for much of the pluralist movement, pluralism consists of taking books usually reserved for the niche work of postgraduates and giving them to undergraduates without much context.

Maybe, however, this is something which must be allowed to develop as the movement does. As pluralism re-enters economics education, educators will surely have to adapt the literature to identify the point of it all. It is also, perhaps, a consequence of our higher education system, with knowledge regularly treated as a commodity, rather than an end in itself. On this latter point, the power of the pluralist movement is limited; on the former, we can do more. The consequences of not doing so are, in the short-term, defeatist: replacing consumption functions with a copy of Capital will do little other than increase library withdrawals.

We must teach pluralism not simply as an ideology in itself, but as a practical reimagining of economic progress, one that recognises as part of its programme where we are, where we have been and where we might be heading. Central to this, I believe, will be an expansion of scope, one that includes political science, philosophy and anything else which one determines to be relevant to our contemporary world.

While Keynes remarked in the long-run we are all dead, pluralism must not fear this horizon either. Part of the logic of disseminating more, ‘niche,’ economic literature not just to undergraduate students but to non-economists (by which I mean ordinary people) is because most people do not go on to discover these ideas for themselves, as few continue to postgraduate or doctoral study. I recognise this, and so I encourage the pluralist movement to continue in this endeavour.

However, it is an insufficient argument that these graduates, now knowledgeable of heterodox thought, will necessarily go onto shape policy with those ideas. Indeed, it may be this reasoning which is why an emphasis on policy in tandem with pluralism has not, in my opinion, been a priority. This argument is insufficient because of what Veblen might call a hurricane: institutional culture.

Another way of thinking about this might be to adjust what Mark Fisher called capitalist realism; while Fisher employed the term to criticise the belief in the inevitability of capitalism, we might call neoclassical realism the belief in the inevitability of the eponymous economic school. All professional economics graduate employers follow some degree of neoclassical realism, and demand an adherence to a particular economic method, rationale and standard – not a school of thought. And, for that matter, no aspiring economist would get very far if they wore their ‘allegiance,’ on their sleeve.

Again, with the exception of perhaps behavioural economics, few heterodox ideas have made a place for themselves in the mainstream. Some ideas, such as the push to get unpaid household work recognised in official statistics, or to get recognition of climate, ‘externalities,’ in growth and risk assessments, have made traction too. These are real achievements of which the pluralism movement deserves some credit. But Goldman Sachs do not want a Marxist economist, just as the civil service do not want an Austrian; both simply want good economists that can evaluate policy/strategy effectively.

The role of the pluralist movement in this reality may be, as I suggest, to engage in the policy realm as much as the academic. Equally, it may be to lobby business and government to recognise the issues the incurious analysis such as theirs produce. Ideally, the movement will do both.

This, of course, will be a long-term project, and one which may risk debasing the movement if the movement takes a stance beyond advocation of pluralism. But I believe recognising the practical employment needs of economics graduates would serve the movement well. Again, I return to the question: what is the point? For a student of economics, what is the point of pluralism if it is not going to be used in job procurement? And for pluralism, surely this is partly the goal: to get real economists thinking differently.

By my definition of pluralism, I of course disagree with this utility maximising sentiment. Pluralism should be about adaption, enabling our economists to understand trends and build models in a way that better reflects the real world. Was this not the original failing of neoclassicalism? But as long as pluralism is taught as a lock-and-key approach; as long as something like UBI is explored an academic curiosity rather than a real world policy decision with all the problems that go along with it; as long as pluralism is a call to eat forbidden fruit, rather than to grow some of our own, the same question we ask of neoclassicalism can be asked of us: what is the point?

Today’s and Tomorrow’s Work

Reading the Econocracy, it is clearly a rallying cry by enthusiastic and academic minds calling for movement in the face of intransigence. This is a cry worthy of praise, and praise too should be given to those that continue to advance the movement today. Particularly, I might add, in its efforts to democratise economics. In these times of tremendous global uncertainty, direction should not be left to a select few. Furthermore, in advancing this agenda, problems of institutional dogma may subside as the wider population questions and re-evaluates, say, the role of the state, of finance, or of higher education. These goals, primarily to expand the economics discipline inside and out, should remain the core aims of the movement, and in far too many areas, from feminism to environmentalism, the subject remains unchanged. In other words, we still have work to do.

But hand-in-hand with knowledge must come purpose. Marx’s writing is as much a history of the Victorian worker as it is political economy; Hayek’s as much a love letter to classical liberalism as it is economic theory. Context matters, and pluralism should embrace a campaign of why economics is taught as much as what economics is taught and how. These things are surely not the same. Without the why – without the point – many efforts may be wasted.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The Agnostic Brexiteer

Nothing has changed.

Brexit is one of my least favourite things to talk about, but like that cousin who is constantly planning some hair-brained scheme, it always finds its way back into the conversation. One thing I have found very positive about Brexit, I will admit, is how healthy it has been for our political discourse. I’m sure a great many people will disagree with that diagnosis, but I can only speak from my experience: when one is willing to listen, to politely challenge, and to accept that in times of great uncertainty – political or otherwise – all ideas may hold some water, the true colours of this country emerge.

Some of these ideas I vehemently disagree with. But, and this is hardly an original critique, there is little to be gained from embracing one’s tendency towards the ideas of those whom you agree with. I have spoken to a journalist from a true blue constituency who sees common incompetence amongst all politicians; I have spoken to a die-hard Labour supporter who felt Hilary Benn was the solution to all our problems; in a Wetherspoons I engaged in a fascinating discussion with a retired lawyer who, several decades prior, claimed to have predicted the raise of the European project, and saw Brexit as the solution. That last person was, if you’re curious, self-described as, “not a liberal.”

I have heard the arguments for Lexit, discussing, and often agreeing with, the arguments that the European Union is a deeply undemocratic, protectionist set of institutions, and I have preached my own diagnosis of this situation. Namely, we as a nation are trapped in a Churchillian national mythos which has left us unable to accurately understand the United Kingdom’s place in the world.

These discussions I consider invaluable. Indeed, I urge everyone to engage with others, be it about Brexit or other ideas. Nothing aids us in understanding our perspective on the world better than by understanding someone else’s. My issue, returning to Brexit, is this: despite all this discourse, positive or otherwise; despite all the rhetoric, the commentary and the sassy comments; despite all the debate, argument and legislating here and in Europe; despite all these things, nothing has changed.

Perhaps that’s because, in the most perverse way possible, Theresa May is genuine in her convictions (nothing has changed is personally my favourite of Mrs. May’s quotes), but we will return to her in due course. Let’s begin with the recent votes in parliament.

The government’s withdrawal agreement has been rejected. Everyone considered this outcome obvious – even the government back in December. This evening, the deal has passed… with an amendment that demands the now infamous backstop be removed and the withdrawal agreement altered to facilitate this change. Of course, Ireland specifically and the EU more broadly are refusing to reopen the question of the backstop or renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. So, once again, nothing has changed.

Let’s think about this. Brexit was, by definition, a vote for change. Whether one agrees with that change or not, the apparently inevitable goal of the vote was to catalyse a systematic change in British politics, if not the British state. Of course, I say apparently inevitable. The reality has been a combination of encouraging bluster while establishment forces which produced the referendum have crystallised. The bluster was necessary, if really a con – as long as the discourse continued, and twitter accounts and news commentators were occupied with what often amounted to little more than gossip, the technocratic business of fixing what should have never been broken could be carried out.

That is a tremendous shame. We can all criticise the process of the 2016 referendum, and in hindsight a series of referenda were probably the best way to tackle this question. But hindsight is irrelevant when one faces chaos and carnage. In time, I have come to understand why some people voted in contrary to myself, to the extent that I dub myself (and I would dub many others) an agnostic Brexiteer. To be sure, anyone that has bought into this country is now a Brexiteer, for we all have an opinion on how we leave (even if that opinion is we don’t).

The agnostic part is that which I wish to linger on. In recent days I have stopped trying to predict what will happen with Brexit, and with this country. Not necessarily because I was frequently incorrect; but because, in the sheer honest light of day, no one knows how to Brexit. While a sad indictment of our current state of affairs, I believe an appeal to theological parallels is the most appropriate course of action. Democracy is, like almost everything else which commands the souls of people, the result of belief.

Nothing has changed because nothing can change. To pull one way rather than another does not simply risk tearing the Tory party apart or tearing Remain from Leave. The intricate web of social groups and ideas which make up contemporary Britain face decimation. It seems rational then, in such an environment, to display the level of intransigence the Prime Minister has. If fundamentally the role one occupies is predicated on the existence of a state, one would be unwise to risk the state’s destruction.

I may be accused of hyperbole, but I think such an accusation would be short-sighted. It has long been my belief Brexit has little to do with Europe, and more to do with economic disfranchisement, technological rapidity and societal changes. In other words, bog standard populism. As above, Brexit was a call for change, for upheaval. For control, of which the previously listed populist symptoms too frequently render in short supply.

When nothing has changed, that means nothing has changed. The forces and fears of economics and politics have not changed, nor having living standards, or job security, or wages, or – to put it simply – basic prospects for opportunity. This, more than anything, is why there is no solution to Brexit. The social turmoil and strife which plagues communities, both here and abroad, must first be tackled before the diplomatic behemoths of Brexit, of trade, of climate change and globalisation can be tackled.

Doing so will not be easy, hence why I believe the term agnostic Brexiteer is a useful one. How do we Brexit? How do we rebuild trust, cohesion and opportunity in our communities? How do we restore a sense of democracy and equality into that thing we call our democracy? How, on the most basic level, do we move forward together in any direction? This has always been a challenge of statecraft, but the arrogance of the end of history has left these questions to linger, and now voices, via radically different effigies, demand answers.

In the face of these challenges, which I believe leave many of us unsure how to proceed, the theory of nothing has changed will surely not suffice.

Cryptocurrencies and Corpocracies

Cryptocurrencies are not libertarian. To be sure, aspects of cryptocurrencies, and the blockchain technology on which they are built, reso...