When Conservatives Accidentally Destroy Capitalism

I found a bit of a gem in the spam filter – a drive-by comment in which somebody really didn’t think through all the implications of what they were saying.

I’ve released the comment back into the wild here:https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/the-other-kind-of-alt-history/#comment-8754 It was in reply to my post about the politics of calling the invasion by Britain of Australia in the 18th century an “invasion”.

“Australia owes a debt to the people whose land was taken.”
Those people died a long time ago. Nobody stole from the ones alive today.
By the way, where are my reparations for the Highland Clearances? I’m sure somebody owes me a bundle, by your reckoning.

And wow – no sarcasm but those are nearly good points but which collectively stab right at the heart of modern capitalism.

I’ll nit pick first: “Nobody stole from the ones alive today.” I assume this is just ignorance on his part. Australia’s indigenous population was robbed in living (and deeply painful memory) of many of its children https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generations I assume that wasn’t what he was thinking of – he meant land/territory and of course even that is debatable.

But let’s look at this point by point:

  • Those people died a long time ago. Let’s accept that for the moment. A long time ago, in this case, means the 18th century which is a long time ago but well within the time of Britain as a state, the institution of property rights, the rule of law, the establishment of core elements of modern capitalism (including share ownership, financial institutions etc).
  • Nobody stole from the ones alive today. Ignore for the moment any more recent theft and think about what this is saying – it requires that a theft from A is not a theft from the heirs of A.
  • where are my reparations for the Highland Clearances? This is another good example of an 18th-19th-century land grab. It is also intertwined with the losses suffered by indigenous people in Australia and elsewhere, as the clearances fueled emigration from Scotland to other lands – including Australia, New Zealand and North America.
  • I’m sure somebody owes me a bundle, by your reckoning. And the question might be asked – who is the somebody?

That last point is a way of sarcastically attacking the notion of restitution for historical theft by pointing to the impracticability of paying people back but again, I’ll park that issue to one side for a moment.

Instead, let’s flip this around. The Highland Clearances were a long time ago. The people who did the stealing are also long dead. So, nothing to see here move along? No. Scotland STILL to this day has some of the most inequitable land ownership in Western Europe.


This image is from a Guardian article entitled (unsurprisingly) Scotland has the most inequitable land ownership in the west.  That inequity continues and causes real damage to people’s lives – and be warned the story and the quote below includes a case of suicide.

“Last October, on a farm near Edinburgh, the body of Andrew Riddell, a tenant farmer, was discovered. He and his family had worked on the farm for more than 100 years and then, one day, he was given notice to quit by his landlord, Alastair Salvesen, billionaire and Scotland’s third-richest man. The notice followed a year-long legal case which finally found in favour of Salvesen. The judge ruled that the protections Riddell thought he had in the tenancy arrangement were trumped by the landlord’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. He killed himself after collecting his final harvest.”

This inequity stems from land taken in the 17th century onwards. The land was taken and then the wealth passed down by inheritance. The original grab may have been theft (if not legally then morally and by modern standards) but then the people who gained by that wealth were sure to demand the protection of the laws of property right and inheritance AND STILL DO.

The idea that it was all so long ago only works as the basis for ignoring the issue when considering the theft. The benefit of the theft remains protected by inheritance. To say nothing was stolen from those alive today requires us to discount any wealth/land/territory they might have otherwise inherited. Perhaps we SHOULD discount that but then it would need to be discounted for all surely? Would the commenter argue for the abolition of inheriting property? Now there’s a radical notion. Need we go that far? After all, IF IT DOESN’T MATTER if the person is dead then taxation of inheritance is not only not theft by legal standards but presumably isn’t theft even by the standards of the conservative defenders of property rights.

The impact of the theft is still visible today, even in a modern developed nation such as Scotland. The original crime still has an impact, and we can see, by looking at Scotland and the Scottish people how this has played out over the centuries and how, despite otherwise very different situations regarding culture, freedom of movement, and political rights between the displaced land workers of 17th century Scotland and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia that there are outcomes in common:

  • The descendants of those who gained from the theft, on the whole, continue to gain from the theft.
  • The descendants of those who lost from the theft, on the whole, continued to suffer (to some degree) as a consequence.

That isn’t to say every possible individual must fall into one of two camps or that many descendants of the Scots who emigrated to the new world haven’t prospered. Economics isn’t a zero sum game and the historical theft of land is not the only thing in play. Where Australia’s indigenous peoples would not gain political rights until late in the twentieth century, emigrating Scots found new opportunities and new political rights in the new nations that grew around the colonisation by Europeans of Australasia and North America.

But, maybe it is the last point alluded too that matters. Maybe it is all just too hard to undo. You can’t fix history and you can’t possibly work out who owes who what?

Well let’s go back to the 18th century and ASK somebody.


Agrarian Justice Warrior

In 1795 Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet called “Agrarian Justice“. It was written in response to what was then a major piece of privatisation – the sale by the crown of royal and common land. While that land had not been directly owned by ordinary people, it was land that they typically had use of. This shift of land from common use to private ownership had been occurring for centuries (Paine argues that has been occurring since the beginnings of agriculture) but it has also been creating poverty for some. In Paine’s time, that creation of poverty was painfully visible in Europe – causing a population shift from the countryside to the cities.


Paine’s pamphlet is far from perfect but it has some deep insights. Firstly he identified this loss of access to land as a cause of poverty. He also identified INHERITANCE as a force that then makes that split between poverty and wealth generational. Finally, his solution feels breathtakingly modern: tax inheritance and use the money to pay an old-age pension for everybody.

“In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity, that I am pleading for. “

Paine is often portrayed as a proto-socialist but his arguments typically rest on principles that sit closer to modern libertarianism:

  • Private property is a good thing.
  • Capitalism (he doesn’t use the term) is a good thing.
  • Modernity (again not a term he uses) is a good thing.
  • Material/technological progress is a good thing.
  • Rule of law, good government is a good thing.
  • Individual rights are a good thing.

His thinking is still the thinking of somebody shaped by the 18th century and the Enlightenment (e.g. Rousseau-like notions of a kind of positive natural state for humanity). What makes him feel modern is his tendency to focus on practical social-policy solutions to problems of economic inequity i.e. he draws on ‘classic liberalism’ to reach conclusions that are currently seen as leftist.

Agrarian Justice essentially argued for a kind of Universal Basic Income funded by inheritance tax. The moral justification being one based on notions of property and justice.

Is this the best way to address the debts of the past? I don’t know but it certainly is a way. By providing for all it does not require to identify who lost what and when. By taking only from inheritance it addresses only that wealth that can be inherited. Everybody is paid and everybody can (in principle) pay. The inequities of old crimes are not resolved over night but the approach limits their effect on further generations. Nor does this approach prevent other more specific ways of compensating the heirs of those who were robbed of land, opportunities and rights.

Time for a different constitutional crisis

American readers appear to have been having an unwelcome level of excitement in their politics over the past 24+ hours. Trump attacking the rights of transgender people to serve in the military, a new Whitehouse director saying some very strange things, the Whitehouse chief of staff being sacked via Twitter and, of course, a nail biting vote on the repeal of Obamacare which failed due to sensible people standing firm, two Republicans using their common sense through a series of votes and finally John McCain doing whatever that thing is he does.

Frankly, that is way too much excitement for one day.

To ease you all down gently, here is a softer story of a constitutional crisis in Australia. Nobody gets hurt and nobody suddenly finds themselves stripped of health care or marginalised. Still weird though.

It all started on July 18, a senator (a member of Australia’s upper house of parliament) for the Green Party announced his resignation. Scott Ludlam had discovered that he had dual citizenship with New Zealand. He had been born in NZ, move to Australia when he was three and later naturalised as an Australia – at which point he had thought he had lost his NZ citizenship. As it happened, he hadn’t and as the Australian Constitution implicitly does not allow dual citizens to stand for election (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_44_of_the_Constitution_of_Australia#.28i.29_Allegiance_to_a_foreign_power ). Oh well, people thought, easy mistake to make and also it was a Green etc. The Green Party looked a little silly for not checking these things out and politics moved on…

…for a couple of days, when a second Green’s senator resigned. Larissa Waters had thought she’d better double check her citizenship status after Scott Ludlam had resigned. Waters was Australian by birth as both her parents were Australian but she had been born in Canada and moved back to Australia when she was a baby. Unfortunately for Waters due to a change in Canadian citizenship rules shortly before she was born, she was actually a Canadian citizen as well as an Australian one. Oops. Well, now the Green Party looked extra silly – they only had 7 senators and to lose two, in the same way, began to look like carelessness. The rival parties made much mockery of the poor Greens and then politics move on…

…for a couple of days, when A GOVERNMENT MINISTER stepped down. Matt Canavan hasn’t resigned from Parliament yet, but this member of the National Party (the lesser half of the right-wing coalition with the Liberal Party) had also discovered that he was a dual citizen. Of course, this time the story went up a notch. Canavan was apparently accidentally Italian. Canavan claims no direct ties to Italy and has never visited the country but his mother applied for Italian citizenship back when Canavan was 25. Canavan claims that when she did so, she also applied for citizenship for him as well but forgot to tell him. Consequently, although he had never asked for citizenship, he was in fact, an Italian citizen.

Well, as you can imagine, having suffered much mockery in the previous few days, the Green Party were somewhat miffed that Canavan had not resigned from Parliament. The Liberal and National Party had to switch arguments and claim that maybe this whole dual citizen thing was a misunderstanding of what the Constitution said and also Canavan was only accidentally Italian and really that could happen to anybody. Who hasn’t maybe tripped on a piece of loose carpet and suddenly found themselves becoming Italian. Of course all these middle-class politicians and their cosmopolitan ways and their dual citizenship, just the sort of thing to stir up Australia’s nativist, anti-immigrant right. Nothing says ‘far right’ in Australian Parliamentary Politics as much as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party – what finer example could they have of how the traditional parties were literally unAustralian! Politics move on…

…for a couple of days, when Senator, climate-change denier, and all round wingnut Malcolm Roberts of the One Nation Party found himself busy trying to clarify to everybody whether he was or wasn’t a dual citizen. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jul/27/one-nation-malcolm-roberts-choosing-to-believe-he-was-never-british

In Roberts’s case, the issue had been looked at before – Roberts’s father was Welsh and his mother was Australian and Roberts himself had been born in India. His story has changed over time and remains inconsistent but it does appear that while he might not be a dual citizen now, he may have still been one when he was nominated (and therefore not eligible).

And now, in retrospect, Scott Ludlam’s resignation is transformed from silly-Green-who-should-have-checked to canny-political-move-by-a-minor-party. In modern Australia, the rule against dual citizens serving in Parliament looks antiquated and silly. All the significant political parties (including some minor ones) has elected members with immigrant backgrounds. Two recent Prime Ministers (Julia Gillard and Tony Abbot) were not Australian born (both did renounce their British citizenship though). So, by getting ahead of the issue, the Greens have successfully pushed the other parties to look into the issue.

More importantly, the Greens also highlighted a kind of spectrum of honesty. The Green senators resigned of their own volition as soon as they identified the problem. The (moderate right) National Party MP, on the other hand, has only resigned his cabinet position and is offering a somewhat less plausible story. Meanwhile, the far-right senator is only discussing the issue because the press is looking into it and can’t keep his story straight.

And that is my story for the day.

Pod 2 of The Book Club Roundtable Discussion Club Non-Audio Podcast Club

Today’s picture chosen by Timothy as it shows what’s important i.e. him. Ignore the two whiskers that are wandering off.

camavatar[Camestros] Welcome back, loyal viewers!

timavatar[Timothy] (listeners)

susanavatar[Susan] (readers)

camavatar[Camestros] This is the second episode of the Book Club Roundtable Review Club Non-Audio Podcast Club. I have to say people, lots of positivity about the last one. I think our innovative features were very welcome among the podcast community.

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Can Vox Day Read?

I haven’t looked at the blog us SF fans got in the adopt-a-far-right-troll-2015 raffle for awhile. I decided to check in just in case and found something a bit different. Vox is trying to explain what is wrong with modern literature. To this end he took a fragmentary paragraph from he 1985 National Book Award winner (you can look it up). He re-arranged some sentences and created three versions – one of which was the original – and challenged his readers to spot the correct one. The point of the exercise was to show that it didn’t matter how much he garbled them.

The thing is, it was obviously number 2 and even his comment section (not always the brightest of sparks) mainly get it right.

The actual text is a bit of direct speech from a character. I’m not saying it is great writing or that meaningful but it really isn’t that hard to spot the structure.

“Everything is concealed in symbolism, hidden by veils of mystery and layers of cultural material. But it is psychic data, absolutely. The large doors slide open, they close unbidden. Energy waves, incident radiation. All the letters and numbers are here, all the colors of the spectrum, all the voices and sounds, all the code words and ceremonial phrases. It is just a question of deciphering, rearranging, peeling off the layers of unspeakability. Not that we would want to, not that any useful purpose would be served. This is not Tibet. Even Tibet is not Tibet anymore”

It is easy to spot the randomised versions from the actual versions because the actual version is structured intelligibly. The person may be not saying anything very meaningful but they are doing so in a relatively natural way:

[Everything is concealed in symbolism]->[examples of different things (to demonstrate everything) being symbolic].  [How to respond to everything being symbolic]. [This not Tibet]<- [the start of the next idea which is then continued in the next bit of direct speech]

Now there is an absurdity to what is being said because while there is structure what follows each major idea is not well connected to it. So the orginal paragraph looks more meaningful than it actually is.

The randomised paragraphs don’t and hence look more obviously meaningless.

Here is some more obvious gibberish:

The gendlepucks of mishmosh tend to spinkle on a spockle: they spinkle here, they spinkle there. The sponkles are never found undecnkled. And woe betide anyone with a mishmosh at that time. Still most of gereretups cope with this well. Not that anyone should volunteer to do so. A mihyu may not be as bad but who wants the effort of bigulpoo the minglehop.

That paragraph is nonesense because many of the nouns and some verbs are just nonce words. Even so you can follow the paragraph. If I chopped into chunks and asked you to put it back together, you would get close to the original. Where to put the last sentence  might be tricky but otherwise you’d cope.

What is revealing is that VD thought his sentence re-arranging was a strong point when it isn’t. You can even regard the original passage as bad writing and still see that Vox doesn’t really understand how the writing functions – what is fits the higher level ‘grammar’ of speech and what doesn’t.

Time for those Dragon Projections!

I promised this awhile ago but I’ll explain it all again.

  1. These are most definitely NOT predictions. I have no idea what will be a Dragon Award finalist and there are way to many unknowns to make a decent guess. In particular as far as I can tell the rules (which have reappeared) allow the admins to do anything.
  2. The titles listed are based on what I have found trawling the web looking for people who were, to some degree or other, promoting works to be nominated for a Dragon Award. I found a lot but who knows what I missed. I did find some stuff on Facebook but it and other places are hard to search inside of. Also, maybe some authors are promoting the Dragons like crazy in forums I cna’t access or on their email lists. Who knows? So large pinches of salt please.
  3. There is though a ‘status’ column and that is even a greater testament to hubris in data collection. The higher the status the more wallop I think the promotion of the work had – either in multiple places or by venues with known impact (e.g. the Rabid slate). “Low” though also includes stuff whose promotional impact I don’t know. Some are authors I don’t know but who may have some legion of highly devoted followers ever ready to throw their bodies and email addresses at an awards website. It is NOT any kind of assessment of the quality or even the popularity of the work – so if you an author and you see ‘very low’ next to your book, don’t be disheartened.
  4. So it is all a bit pointless then? No, no. Basically the more stuff on the list that appears as Dragon Awards finalists, the more the finalists were determined by overt public campaigning on blogs – and predominately from the Rabid and Scrappy corners. The less stuff on the list making it as finalists, then the less impact that kind of campaigning had on the Dragon Awards.
  5. So it is like a measure gauge of a kind rather than a prediction or even a projection I guess.
  6. But if there is a really good match between the list and the finalists then yeah I totally predicted it and am the guru of everything and ignore everything I just said.

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