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In Defence Of The Union 19 April 2007

Posted by David in Conservatives, Scotland, Scottish politics, SNP.
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Today David Cameron is making a speech in defence of the union. As Cameron pointed out in an article for the Telegraph, the defence of the Union must rely not just on nightmares of independence and cold mental logic, as Labour is doing as we speak in Scotland, but also on our hearts and spirits. For nearly 300 years, the United Kingdom has been a remarkable success. Britain, despite its wrongs and faults, has been on balance a force for good in the World beyond the contemplation of nations far larger. From the Common Law through to the English language, concepts of liberty to engineering wonders, this small island has a lot to be proud of.

Cameron will highlight the logical reasons – such as shared prosperity and global weight – but also the British Broadcasting Corporation, founded by a Scotsman and truly nationwide, and the National Health System, founded by a Welshman. He could add the Bank of England, founded by Scottish born banker William Paterson, Sherlock Holmes, wrote by Scottish born Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the steam engine, invented by Scottish born James Watt,the first television, created by Scottish born John Logie Baird, and the free market economist, Adam Smith.

Not to mention the thousands who have died for Britain, defending our liberty and values, and the vast majority of people who have ancestry from all over this island. We are not just three nations – Wales, Scotland and England – but one nation as well, Great Britain. As James I said, “Hath not God first united these nations, in language and religion and similitude of manners? Hath he not made us one island, compassed by one sea?”

Update: For the blog reader Dave On Fire and anyone else interested, “Niall Ferguson – Benefits Of Anglobalisation“, a short working paper. On the topic of things Scottish and British, Niall Ferguson was born in Glasgow and studied at Oxford.

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1. Dave On Fire - 19 April 2007

Britain, despite its wrongs and faults, has been on balance a force for good in the World

Are you serious?
Name one good thing Britain did for the rest of the world? Okay, there’s one – we stood up to Hitler (though we couldn’t resist a few war crimes of our own in Dresden and elsewhere when we got the upper hand) – but I hardly think those six years make up for three centuries of Empire.

2. The Bicycling Chameleon - 19 April 2007

“Name one good thing Britain did for the rest of the world?”
Peacefully gave up her Empire; established democracy in dozens of now successful independent countries; developed and spread liberal values (Locke, Mill, Smith etc); gave the World Shakespear, Dickens and Chaucer (among others); created the BBC World Service (“the greatest gift to the World in the 21st Century” according to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan) and to date the only broadcaster with global reach (US, French and USSR rivals failed); gave the World English as an international language; built most of the World’s railway networks; was first major country to abolish slavery; used power of the Royal Navy to police ban on slavery internationally; stopped Napolleon taking over Europe and Africa at Trafalgar and Waterloo; only nation to stand up to Hitler; lead fight against fascism and later communism…need I go on.

“Okay, there’s one – we stood up to Hitler (though we couldn’t resist a few war crimes of our own in Dresden and elsewhere when we got the upper hand) – but I hardly think those six years make up for three centuries of Empire.”
What an insult to the millions who died for our freedom! You just dismiss their sacrifice as “hardly” anything worth remembering.

I do not defend Dresden, hence why I said “Britain, despite its wrongs and faults”. But the truth is, “on balance” we have done a lot of good. Which country hasn’t got wrongs in its past?

Constant self-loathing achieves nothing. Get real!

3. Dave On Fire - 19 April 2007

What an insult to the millions who died for our freedom! You just dismiss their sacrifice as “hardly” anything worth remembering.
I do not defend Dresden, hence why I said “Britain, despite its wrongs and faults”. But the truth is, “on balance” we have done a lot of good. Which country hasn’t got wrongs in its past?

Eh? I never said it was “hardly anything”, I agree with Churchill that even in 1000 years it will still have been our proudest hour. But to consider the rights and wrongs “in balance” involves comparing their relative magnitude, and I still don’t see how one proud hour makes up for countless shameful ones.

I think many of your “good points” are debatable – either not so good or not so true (though I sort of half agree with you on the BBC) – and you can’t deny you’re cherry-picking. Colonising the world was a story of oppression, economic control (read enforced poverty and artificial famine), mass murder, and all around misery that the developing world is still reeling from. On the other hand… Shakespeare?

Just to get the most glaring misrepresentations:

Peacefully gave up her Empire

Well, we could get into just how much of our empire we’ve given up – Britain (like other wealthy Western nations) uses its priveleged position at the IMF, UN to influence its (and others’) former colonies to its own ends. And you can ask the victims of General Dyer how peaceful our disengagemnt was.

But even if we agree to disagree on that one, and accept that what you say is true, it’s a moot point. To give up an empire involves having an empire in the first place. The same could be said for giving up slavery. Should we laud the VirginiaTech gunman because eventually he gave up killing people? It doesn’t really make sense.

And that’s without mentioning that our swift “peaceful” withdrawals left most of our colonies in utter chaos, which claimed further lives and in some cases lasted for decades.

established democracy in dozens of now successful independent countries

Yes… though the “success” of your average former colony is certainly debatable, and most of them have spent much of their post-colonial history under ruthless dictators. And lets look at the two largest former colonies – India and America. Their democracies were not gifted to them by Britain, but were won after long struggles against Britain.

4. Dave On Fire - 19 April 2007

And by the way, there is a difference between self-loathing and accepting responsibility for one’s actions. You would do well to consider it, as would whoever writes our school history textbooks (and, for that matter, our foreign policy).

5. The Bicycling Chameleon - 19 April 2007

Dave On Fire, I’m disappointed that you cannot see any good in anything, it must create a truly depressing life. Taking your points-

Firstly, many of the negatives you mention would have been done by others had Britain not done them. For example, the Empire. Of all the colonial nations, Britain was far better than most, for example Russia, the Ottomans, Germany etc.

Calling the Empire “a story of oppression, economic control (read enforced poverty and artificial famine), mass murder, and all around misery that the developing world is still reeling from” is probably a bit of an exageration. It wasn’t exactly all hunky dorey before Britain turned up either, was it? And since Britain’s left, it’s got worse in many places (Zimbabwe being a good example, Africa is the only continent to have got poorer since 1980). I’m not sure where you got mass murder, artificial famine and enforced poverty from, I know there were disasters (potato famine etc), but I don’t exactly think they were pre-meditated and planned in advance by the state. The actions like these were usually followed by public outcry in Britain.

As for “Britain (like other wealthy Western nations) uses its priveleged position at the IMF, UN to influence its (and others’) former colonies to its own ends.” Well, if we are, it’s not working very well.

“To give up an empire involves having an empire in the first place. The same could be said for giving up slavery.”
Of that I don’t deny, but we largely gave it up peacefully, ensuring no other state walked in after us (America offered to buy India after WW2 but we refused, and we created the Commonwealth to give a signal of solidarity), rather than being forced out by arms.

“And that’s without mentioning that our swift peaceful withdrawals left most of our colonies in utter chaos, which claimed further lives and in some cases lasted for decades.”
India and Pakistan being the main example, but are you saying there was no violence before we arrived? In some places such as Indonesia many British troops died helping quell anti-democratic rebels. As an Empire break up, it was largely peaceful (see Yugoslavia for a real bloodshed break up).

“Yes… though the success of your average former colony is certainly debatable, and most of them have spent much of their post-colonial history under ruthless dictators.”
Oh come on, that’s really being negative. And what about Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India…

“And lets look at the two largest former colonies – India and America. Their democracies were not gifted to them by Britain, but were won after long struggles against Britain.”
America, true, although the legal structure was British. India, after a peaceful struggle, although we still built the democratic and legal structures.

A balance sheet of good/bad was created for the British Empire by Prof Niall Ferguson, see his book ‘Empire’ available at Amazon, which agrees with me that “on balance” Britain was positive. I have a short working paper of his on the subject which I’ll try to upload to the main post. Britain is, of course, far mar than the Empire, and so “on balance” – we still have done a lot of good.

6. The Bicycling Chameleon - 19 April 2007

I’ve uploaded the paper, see the update.

7. Dave On Fire - 19 April 2007

That others have been worse than Britain, and that bad things can happen when the British aren’t there, I needed little convincing.

I have no doubt that there are occasions when the British Empire has been on the side of freedom and democracy (see above, re: WWII), but the overwhelming majority of the time it was against such things. Subjects’ aspirations of democracy and self-determination are in direct contradiction with imperialism, and the Empire was always quick to put them down. Your choice of example – Indonesia – is interesting, as it’s a country where we long supported the brutal dictator Suharto – and we still sell weapons to the Indonesian army, which it uses for its genocide of West Papua.

I’m not sure where you got mass murder, artificial famine and enforced poverty from

There are examples all over the world, but India makes a good microcosm of the Empire. Uprisings were put down violently – sometimes even peaceful ones. Again, see General Dyer, who ordered the massacre of a several-thousand-strong crowd of peaceful demonstrators.

Economic control was one of the main tools of empire. Our navy enforced ridiculously one-sided trade treaties even with countries we didn’t directly control (eg Brazil, China). For the countries we did rule, at the absolute least we imposed ridiculously harsh taxes, keeping people poor. In India, see the lagaan land tax that crippled many already-struggling communities.

As well as looting a country’s resources, we would deny its people control of their economy. The Irish potato famine and its equivalents in India were perhaps not deliberate – indeed, some of the imperial administrators went to enormous lengths to try and relieve them – put they were an inevitable consequence of keeping the Irish and Indians poor and putting their economies in imperial hands. For even the most kind-hearted governor had his priorities, and his bottom line was not the needs of the people, but the enrichment of the empire. The former was usually neglected, with tragic results.

At the end of the day, you can’t make an empire without keeping your subjects in line.

Britain is, of course, far more than the Empire

Of course. But we weren’t discussing what Britain is, but its role as “a force for good in this world”. As far as its behaviour towards the rest of the world is concerned, Britain has been first and foremost (and by a long way) an imperial power.

I’m disappointed that you cannot see any good in anything, it must create a truly depressing life.

That’s quite a conclusion to jump to! There are many things in which I see good. That doesn’t stop me from calling an empire an empire. Or are you saying that unless one sees everything as good, then one must necessarily live a depressing life? There’s more to happiness than a rose-tinted view of one’s nation’s history, surely.

Thanks for the Niall Ferguson paper though, which I will read at my leisure later.

8. The Bicycling Chameleon - 19 April 2007

Dave On Fire, I hope you enjoy Niall Ferguson’s paper, which is very interesting.

I am not trying to deny any wrong done by Britain, but all the others would have done the same or worse. With regards to trade and tax, sadly crazy state controlled economics is not just limited to colonies, and using your definition of economic control we have had a fair share of that ourselves. For ‘lagaan tax’ replace ‘inheritance tax’ or ‘income tax’, particularly in the 1970s; and as for denying people control of the economy look at the common fisheries policy, post-war nationalisation and now the EU. As for trade restrictions check out EU tariffs and quotas set against the third world. Britain and the British Empire was in most ways the ‘most free’ economically, as Ferguson’s paper shows. Not perfect, with a great awful mistakes when liberal economics was rejected for state control, but better than most.

“As far as its behaviour towards the rest of the world is concerned, Britain has been first and foremost (and by a long way) an imperial power.”
The same can be said of everywhere really, foreign affairs = using power to influence other countries = some degree of imperialism.

I’m not in favour of a rose tinted view of history, but I am against an overly shame tinted view as well. No where have I said everything was and is good.

9. J.H. Bowden - 23 April 2007

No nation in the history of this planet has done more for human good than the United Kingdom. As an American, I look at the senseless self-hatred across the pond, and it is like watching a venerated grandparent going senile.

While slavery had been a human norm since the dawn of history, the British Empire alone stamped out the slave trade on the high seas at its own expense. This alone should establish the moral superiority of the British people.

India, the United States, Australia, Israel, Canada– are all in debt to the UK for blessing us with British institutions.

No country has consistently done more to oppose tyranny — Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler — than the UK.

During the Cold War, what happened in Prague in 1968 or Budapest in 1956 never happened in Bonn, Paris, Amsterdam, or Rome.

When socialists of the decadent West rant about “imperialism” — I can only wonder, what in the world are they smoking?

10. Dave On Fire - 23 April 2007

Here’s some of what we “socialists” are smoking:

The global institutions like the IMF, WTO and UN are controlled mainly by the US, UK and countries like them (through both a bias towards the wealthy – explicit at the IMF, implicit at the UN – and priveleges such as vetoes), yet the decisions they make impact mainly poorer countries.

These institutions bribe and blackmail the nations of the world to take on unpayable debts, to open their vulnerable markets to the sophisticated predators of Wall Street, to accept ridiculous assymetrical tarifs and trade barriers (the US considers the sale of naturally-cheaper Mexican products within its borders to be “dumping”, while artificially-cheap subsidised American and European produce flooding the markets of Africa is legit, despite being far more harmful).

In addition to this, the US and UK have a habit of engaging in aggressive, illegal and murderous wars to maintain their influence, behind a paper-thin charade of “spreading democracy in the Middle East”. Exercising great control over other countries, using that control to extract their wealth, and defending that control with violence – these are the actions of empires.

11. The Bicycling Chameleon - 23 April 2007

Welcome JH Bowden, nice to have a perspective from one of our American friends and I hope you enjoy the blog.

Dave On Fire, I am in favour of free markets, which are the only way to create long term sustainable economic growth for all. I oppose subsidised goods and trade barriers. Yet you seem to oppose them when they are against third world countries and support them when they are against the West (“to open their vulnerable markets to the sophisticated predators of Wall Street”). I assume you are from the ‘West bad, everyone else good’ school of socialism.

12. Dave On Fire - 23 April 2007

Please. Do you see no difference between the economy of Britain and that of, say, Kenya?

The sophisticated economies of the West – especially Britain and the US – developed through a large degree of protectionism. For example, tarifs on Flemish and Irish weavers were an important tool in developing Britain’s all-important textile industry. Yet those same countries are reluctant to afford the same room for growth to the underdeveloped economies of the rest of the world. After centuries of sheltered development, we are strong enough not to need such protection; how churlish to deny it to those who do.

A global free market is perhaps a laudable goal, but it will not spontaneously appear. In a country with a poor and uneducated workforce, dilapidated physical infrastructure, and immature legal, insurance, and banking systems, all an open market can bring is exploitation at the hands of more sophisticated players. Once everything is in place and there is no longer any need for protection, there would be no excuse for using tarifs/subsidies as economic weapons. Most third-world countries are (by definition, almost) not yet at this point.

By the by, a truly free market requires not only the mobility of capital, but that of workers. If the rich can decide where to invest but the poor have no choice as to where they work, the market is only half free, and exploitation is inevitable. If we were to instantly instigate both complete capital mobility AND complete worker mobility, then (after the inevitable chaos had settled down) we might have a functioning free market. But (as I’m sure you’d agree), such chaos would be substantial; for practical and political reasons, we impose limits on worker migration. The flipside of this coin is that others are compelled to impose limits on capital migration.

13. J.H. Bowden - 24 April 2007

Dave on Fire–

I understand what you are saying, for at one time I used to believe the Litany. However, the race-to-the-bottom theory doesn’t square with the facts of 2007.

My favorite comparison is Japan after the Meiji restoration, versus India after independence. Japan was a backward, feudal society, but by opening its markets up to exploitation and copying western ways in the 1860s, in several decades they were able to stomp on Russia in a major war. India, on the other hand, had limitless potential given its exposure to British ways of doing things. But they aped the USSR, and struggled for a few decades.

Now, interestingly, India deregulated many sectors and sold of many state industries, and opened its country up to free enterprise. Contrary to the gloom and doom predictions of radical leftists like yourself, millions of proletarians are being turned into proprietors, the GDP growth is an explosive 9.2%, and unemployment has dropped from 25% to 7.8%. Granted, India has a long way to until the country surpasses the West, but it isn’t always about where you are, but where you are going.

One sees the principles of classical economics at work in other “exploited” countries. Estonia implemented a flat tax in 1994, and now has 9.8% GDP growth. The GDP of the United States has added the equivalent of the economy of Canada since the Bush tax cuts were passed. While on the other hand, tariffs are the absolute worst thing one can do to a struggling economy. The Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930, the most protectionist piece of legislation in American history, turned a bad recession into a monster one, and the policies that people like you advocate kept the misery going for ten years.

On another note, in the United States, we have 36 million foreign-born residents. Mobility of labor definitely is not an issue in North America, and the more people living in the United States, the better. Like the Borg, we will add their own cultural distinctiveness to our own. 😉

14. Dave On Fire - 24 April 2007

First of all, JHB, I would thank you not to misrepresent me. I could easily jump to conclusions about what “people like you” think, but I have the good manners not to do so.

For one thing, I am not advocating a world of national economies isolated through tarifs and such. Under the right conditions, trade is of mutual benefit to both parties. Those right conditions do not come magically into being, however, and they are certainly not fulfilled by the majority of the world’s countries.

Some of your examples are quite disingenuous. If you think that the only difference between 1860s Japan and 1950s India was that the former was “opening its markets up to exploitation and copying western ways” while the latter was “aping the USSR” then it’s my turn to ask what you are smoking. India was just recovering from three centuries of occupation, with a woefully inadequate infrastructure and a poor and largely illiterate populace. Japan was not, and nor did it open up especially quickly.

What separates Japan and the fast-growing economies of SE Asia from the failures that characterise the rest of the world is not that the former opened themselves up for “exploitation”, but that they opened themselves up progressively for trade, on a timetable that suited them. This is indeed (sort of) “aping the west” – the period of deregulation that preceded the Smoot-Hawley act was an anomaly, after an 18th century characterised by both successful growth and protectionism – but it is NOT what the West demands of other countries.

The formula prescribed and enforced by the Bretton Woods institutions (the “Washington Consensus”) is in fact quite different to that followed by America, Europe, Japan, S. Korea etc. While experience shows the importance of nurturing local talent through educated and sheltered immature industries, of developing physical, legal and financial infrastructure, and of opening up gradually, the IMF demands a rapid lifting of all capital barriers, in the express hope of having foreign investors buy everything up, and quick.

The consequences of these measures are not hard to forsee: when school is a luxury, rural communities are isolated by poor roads, insurance is nonexistant and financial law and understanding limited, then locals cannot compete with the large and sophisticated companies of outside. They are powerless, unable to participate in the market as anything but underpaid and overworked manual workers, unable to protect their environment or to aspire to a better life for their children. Until the Daewoos and Hitachis, the banks and insurance brokers, the roads and the schools allow the locals to participate, competition will inevitably be a disaster.

I am very glad you mentioned the ex-communist states of Eastern Europe, for they provide a sterling example of the results of Western meddling. Compare the current situation of the IMF’s “star pupil”, the Czech Republic, with that of Poland, who eschewed the IMF’s “shock therapy” preferring to reform on its own timetable. And as for Russia…

Even if you do indeed favour unlimited immigration, your nation does not put that belief into practise. Like Europe and Australia, the US is making it increasingly hard for people to immigrate. As to those who do, the debate is always about what they will contribute to our country, not about our country opening up to the free labour market. Unless we were to open ourselves up instantly and completely to this market (which even to a “radical leftist like [me]” seems pretty foolhardy), we have no right to demand that others open themselves up instantly and completely to the capital market.

(And for the record, the US GDP is indeed rising, but then it is measured in dollars – and the dollar is falling rapidly. Measured in almost any other currency – Sterling, Euro, Yen – indices like the Dow Jones are actually going dramatically down).


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