“The window of opportunity for UK banking reform will close soon” or “Augars well, but doesn’t augur well.”

One hundred people, mostly pale male and stale, met tonight at Manchester Business School to take part in an ‘attack’ on capitalism that fell somewhere between Rooseveltian reform and a savaging by a dead sheep.

The event, organised by “Manchester Capitalism” and co-sponsored by Manchester University Press and the Business School (full disclosure: imma student there) asked the question “Have banks finally got the message?” and consisted of wine, olives and chat followed by a half hour very erudite and polished keynote by Philip Augar, and some very succinct and probing questions.  This write-up is a blow by blow account, with hyperlinks, a riff on how “Multi-Level Perspective”  developed by Frank Geels (full disclosure: he’s one of my supervisors) might help in thinking about possible transition to the sunny uplands of banking reform, and a mini-rant about the baby and big Elephants in the Room.  On the way there will be links to movies and books (some of which I’ve even seen and read!), a shout-out to George Monbiot and various slapped-down digressions and crap puns…

The tl;dr.  We’re more than waist deep in the big muddyWe are the big fool telling ourselves to push on, and we are not the ones we have been waiting for. And there is (no) hope, but not for us

Who the man is: “Philip Augar  has been commenting on banking and other topical issues since 2000, the year he left Schroders plc in order to write. During his twenty year career in the City, he led NatWest’s global equity and fixed income division and was Group Managing Director at Schroders with responsibility for the securities business.”

What the man said: [square brackets means I am editorialising]

Augur worked in the roaring 90s for a Big Bank [Natwest, but he was too coy to say], flying around the world making sure the trading floors were profitable [if not actually ‘creating value’].  He wondered occasionally where the money for the trading had come from, did the depositing customers know?  Did the other banks from whom his bank had borrowed know?  How could they repay if everyone asked for the money a once [It wouldn’t be a wonderful life].  Did the bank’s shareholders know?

Then he moved to an investment bank called Schroders which was small enough not to suffer from the size problem (“size conceals sins; introduces conflicts of interest, often means a bad culture, anonymity decreases responsibility, stock market listing can lead to [short-term]  shareholder pressure.”)

But this was the era of deregulation, of all boats being lifted (which is fine if you have a boat), and Schroders’ owners sold out. Augar got out and wrote some books about how it would all go wrong.  In 2007, as the boom went on and on,  he told his publisher he’d been wrong and wanted to write a book explaining why. While researching the book, the human fecal matter started making contact with the blades of the air-circulation device.

From 2007 to 2010 there was ‘mayhem’ with banks almost failing, being bailed out by ‘governments’ [i.e. taxpayers and – ultimately – the natural world, ever more intensively exploited].

By the end of 2010 the worst seemed over(to quote Bob Diamond – “the time for remorse is over” as various minor reforms around liquidity and reserves had been pushed through.

Then in 2012 the unexpected twist – lots of scandals

Then the authorities “got tough”;

  • Banks had to beef up balance sheets, hold more capital
  • Prohibited US proprietary trading, UK ring-fencing of retail arms,
  • Bonuses deferred, fines levied

So, folks were asking “Is this a new era or will banks return to business as usual/”

Augar first talked about investment banks [the kind that does corporate finance, murders and inquisitions, sorry “mergers and acquisitions”] like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan. You know, the “shock troops of shareholder value”.

These seemed more stable, less highly leveraged, and Augar’s various contacts assured him, to his satisfaction, that investment banks had cleaned up their act, there was more compliance, that the new rules were making a difference and that there was a new mood at the top of the business….

And to his immense credit Augar admits he believed them and was going to change tack in his criticism.  And then…

In December ten investment banks paid a fine of $43m (chump change, but the symbolism is what matters) for having played around with the share issue for Toys R Us.  [“To liquidity and beyond”?]

The rules these banks broke had been put in place in 2003, after the dotcom crash had led Elliot Spitzer to launch an investigation/prosecution, that had led to a £1.4bn [not chump change] settlement.  As Augar points out, it took the investment banks not even 7 years to start circumventing the rules they had signed up to. He rethought about and asked the obvious question – why is it different this time?  Why won’t they game the rules again?  He think they will and they  indeed are.  They are lobbing to soften the rules on derivatives and on capital requirements.  He thinks (and has written in the Financial Times) that banks are like alcoholics, they simply can’t help themselves. Here’s the article, not behind a paywall.

So then, onto retail banking [the ones where wage slaves like us go to get ripped off].  At this point Augar reiterated the chair’s disclaimer that he was speaking in a purely personal capacity.

He asked the audience how many thought the banks were doing a good job/bad job, and then took two photos. [There was one hand that I saw for good job. Everyone else said “bad”.]

As Augar says, the public assessment is that they overpay themselves, overcharge, their IT systems suck and they don’t support small business.

Is this fair? Augar says the “industry seems to be trying harder” and that the tone at the top seems different [he repeatedly gave the example of Bob Diamond being replaced by Anthony Jenkins as Barclays boss, derided as “Saint Antony”]

He pointed to the Banking Standards Review Council, voluntarily funded by the banks [Augar doesn’t mention Goldman Sachs snubbing it] , and the regulators’ involvement in forcing banks to be properly capitalised, ring-fence investment from retail banking and increased management accountability.

But… there was another big but…

The reforms don’t tackle the problem that the “market isn’t working.”

He asked the audience again. Given everyone’s assessment that the banks are not doing well, who had changed their bank in the last 12 months.  About 6 or 7 hands went up.

Why so few? In Augur’s opinion, that’s because it’s hard to do and because it’s largely pointless since they offer largely identical services that are “free” if you’re in credit and steep if you’re not.

He pointed out that the return on equity for retail banking is 30%, a very very high number compared to utilities.

So, in Augar’s opinion “radical” action is required.  The Government [he used the term government and state interchangeably, which is a pet peeve of mine] will have to step in and Do Something.  Government is well-placed to do so at present, but won’t be forever.  There are three reasons;

1. The Digital Revolution means that the normal high barriers to entry (it costs money to have physical branches everywhere) is becoming lower. Mobile banking is gradually (and quicker and quicker) making branches less important.

Augur thinks that government should therefore make sure the payments system is opened up and that there is a centrally-owned banking network that is open to challenger banks. He suggested the audience google “bank in a box”

2.The State currently owns an unusually large portfolio of banking assets

Augar said that RBS could be broken up into regional banks that had a mission to grow regional economies, and that challenger banks could get seed capital?

 3. Competitions and Markets Authority report pending

It will probably suggest investment/retail split, a cap on market share, a price cap on certain products.  These are potentially worth, but it would be really radical to open up the bang infrastructure to everyone, with the underlying system state owned. This would allow “mobility, flexibility and genuinely competitive” [challengers].

Augar made the point that change is coming anyway (from Google, Amazon, Paypal and its peer-to-peer lending) and at the moment the government could change things, ending banking monopoly and increasing genuine customer competition.

Right, at this point it’s time for the MLP digression

The Multi-level Perspective doesn’t just have to be about “socio-technical transitions” (from sail to steamships, from horse and cart to cars). It might also help us think about “political/economic” transitions (the line is very fuzzy of course!!  Here is a very short and crude version of MLP;

The short version is that you have a “landscape” of long-term changes or stability (war, population, technology etc) a “regime” where the big beasts try to keep big, eating other beasts and smaller beasts as needed – also known as ‘vested interests’ and the experimental “niches” where little organisations run around trying stuff out, in order to get rich and powerful and/or save the world.

So, thinking about banking you’d have at the “landscape” level the financial crash of 2007-8 onwards, digital technology, increased individualism, delegitimisation of the banking industry [though, frankly, if you weren’t pissed off, you hadn’t been paying attention.  Who spoke of the Long Term Capital Management near-catastrophe during the boom years of the nougties?]

At the “regime” level you’d have the big five retail banks, the big investment banks and the government “regulators” (cough cough).

At the “niche” level you’d have the smaller banks, the techno-wizards and their apps etc.

But sometimes, of course, the regime actors are sock-puppeting the niche actors, or buying them (off) when they might be a threat to their business prospects.  Transitions are often long, slow, intermittently bloody and frustratingly ‘fuzzy’ things.

Punctuated equilibria aside, it will be a slog…

Which- without the MLP schtick –  was Augar’s opinion, as he closed out his speech.

The respondent [didn’t catch his name] pointed out that the dynamic in the speech was around the question of “patch things up or fundamental reform.”
Augar thanked him and agreed, and said he was leaning towards the latter [though of course,  different people will have different metrics and definitions of the magic words ‘fundamental’ and ‘reform’…]

He  declared investment banking to be “an effective oligopoly,” pointing to the work of US academic Jay Ritter on the remarkable clustering of fees, and pointed to the lack of incentives for retail banks to shift their behaviour.  He also cited the example of the 2000 report by Don Cruischank that called for much of what he is calling for. Nowt happened, in large part because “banks have a very strong lobby.

The Question and Answer session was rather unusual, in that there were no speeches, with the questions all being clear, relevant and often very incisive (and no, I didn’t ask one).

“Will there be a change (to appetite for regulation/intervention after the election?”

Augar admitted that Osborne had gone further than Augur had thought (based on Osborne’s background), but was forced to by the 2012 scandals.  He didn’t see much likelihood of another Conservative government doing the same. As for Labour – “we’ll see.”

“Is peer-to-peer a big threat?”

Yes, also credit unions, crowd funding and disintermediation [cutting out the middle man/woman] generally

“Will there be an end to boom and bust?” (general laughter from audience)

We will learn to manage the busts better, how to deal with failing banks

“Don’t your proposals risk embedding the power of regulatory experts, with no more transparency for MPs etc than before. Didn’t the Diamond episode expose that Treasury is far less independent in its thinking/action than it seems?”

Augar gave a limited defence of Diamond as a ‘lightning rod’.  He defended his proposals as not that difficult to explain [maybe he has met smarter MPs than I have?], and advocated a “we’re going to have a National Grid for banks” meme.” He conceded that it was unlikely that Treasury would lead on this, and said they seemed to mostly be unreconstructed free-marketeers.

“[Why] do the British have a problem with the concept of social ownership?”

Augar agreed, saying Miliband gets shouted down as a nationalizer. Augur said that business lobby is too prominent a platform and that competing voices get crowded out.    Which means it’s time to give the promised shout out to George Monbiot, who recently observed;

 A study by academics at the Cardiff school of journalism examined the BBC Today programme’s reporting of the bank bailouts in 2008(12). It discovered that the contributers it chose were “almost completely dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators who questioned the benefits of having such a large finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage.” The financiers who had caused the crisis were asked to interpret it.

I’ve then got an illegible question [#oldmancramp] and then this doozy – “how will we know if/when the banks HAVE finally got the message?”

Augur said it would be when there was product differentiation for individuals, it was easier to switch banks [without having to provide grand-father’s inside leg measurement, 23 forms of photo ID etc] and when returns on retail banking shrinking from the 30% he cited to the levels of utilities [though I think one or two of the Big Six are making Big Profits, no?]

The final question probed the question of culture – don’t bankers recruit people who look and think like themselves, hyper-competitive etc [or as some might say ‘shark-eyed sociopaths’].

Augar returned to the talisman of Anthony Jenkins, various behavioural programs, the Banking Standards Review Council, before saying that indeed, shareholders will seek higher returns, and there is likely to be a return to the old ways  [ a regression to the mean, if you will] once memories fade and the press watches less intensely.  Seven years then…

The Elephants in the Room

1. The baby elephant, which may have gotten a showing if the last questioner had had more time, is the question of whether shareholders are the only problem, or if perhaps the managers have taken over the sweetshop.

2. The big elephant – in fact the whole herd of elephants that went unheard – is… of course… the growth economy, climate change and the pending ecological debacle.  What are banks for? To allocate surplus to achieve goals.  And what should our purpose be, if we want our kids to have some sort of life? To stop speeding towards (over?) the cliff with a leaden foot on the accelerator.  In this speech, carbon emissions didn’t get a look in.  That’s deeply irresponsible, borderline autistic.  I’ll close out with this from my other post from today, about what I read on the stepper.

Gosling,J. And Case, P. (2013) Social dreaming and ecocentric ethics; sources of non-rational insight in the face of climate change catastrophe. Organisation 20 (5) 705 -721.

… [The article is] better at the outset (what the Crow did) than the end, (what we do), but super-useful for thinking about how to rehearse the apocalypse without descending into zombie films and Mad Max…

The next of these “Manchester Capitalism” events is on March 12th. It will be someone else’s turn to blog.

Some stuff to (re) read

Kate Jennings (2003) Moral Hazard

Gillian Tett (2009) Fool’s Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe

John Lanchester (2010) Whoops!: Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay

– (2014) How to Speak Money: What the Money People Say–And What It Really Means

Films

Margin Call (2011) -early days of the financial crisis thriller. Not seen it, but good reb

Arbitrage (2012) – Richard Gere in pot-boiler. Susan Sarandon excellent

Inside Job (2010) – excellent documentary! Sequel pendin.

Concepts that didn’t get (full airing but might usefully have done so

Fractional-reserve banking is the practice whereby a bank holds reserves (to satisfy demands for withdrawals) that are less than the amount of its customers’ deposits

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator. Operators of Ponzi schemes usually entice new investors by offering higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent.

Second Contradiction of Capitalism

“This is between the forces and relations of production combined and the conditions of production, broadly speaking, between political economy and the environment:

“An ecological Marxist account of capitalism as a crisis-ridden system focuses on the way that the combined power of capitalist production relations and productive forces self-destruct by impairing or destroying rather than reproducing their own conditions.”

The tabloid version; “capitalism is turning the planet into an uninhabitable slag heap. It can’t help itself, it’s just what it does. To pick an example at random, kinda like an alcoholic….”

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Stepper: Augmented miners, Academic games, reputational repair and rehearsing the apocalypse

Mix of what I read on the train yesterday and what I read on the stepper this morning;

Bassan, J, Srivnivasan, V. and Tang, A. (2013) The Augmented Mine Worker: Applications of Augmented Reality in Mining CSC Australia

Lots of good stuff here. It’s a bit more complicated than sticking googleglasses on folks and hooking it up to a googledocs spreadsheet, but you get the idea.

“The mining industry is faced with imperatives to improve worker safety and productivity, adapt to skills shortages, high worker turnover rates, and provide more effective maintenantce to new and ever more complicated plant and equipment.”…

Next up Nierenberg, N. Tischinkel, W. and Tshinkel, V. (2010) Early Climate Change Concensus at the National Academy: The Origins and Making of Changing Climate Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 40, (3) pp. 318-349.

Oreskes and Conway had written a piece saying, more or less, that William Nierenberg (big fish physicist) had soft-pedalled on climate change in the late 70s and early 80s. The authors here (and Nicholas never makes clear what – if any – relation he is) more or less blow that out of the water, though the article isn’t perfect itself (could have mentioned other climate studies at the same time – IASSA, Flohn), or actually quoted Helmut Schmidt, etc etc). Only worth reading if you are a history of climate science geek, but this sort of careful detective work is note-worthy and praise-worthy.

Alvesson, M. (2012) Do we have something to say? From re-search to roi-search and back again, Organization 20 (1), 79-90. is bloody brilliant, and I will blog it separately. The tl;dr is that the academic game is a game like all others (trudat, you feel me?) with its rules and rule-breaking, its gaming of the system and system of the game. And Alvesson asks all the right (imho) questions and gives provocative (in the good sense!) answers. Roi-search is “return on investment” academia – writing “gap-filling” stuff for high-impact journals, self-censoring and pre-cutting your cookie so it fits.

This paper is a a solid-gold classic for anyone who met a social scientist and wondered how they got that way.

Gosling,J. And Case, P. (2013) Social dreaming and ecocentric ethics; sources of non-rational insight in the face of climate change catastrophe. Organisation 20 (5) 705 -721.

Just the sort of suggestive daring and relevant research and thinking that (I think) Alvesson would like to see.

It’s better at the outset (what the Crow did) than the end, (what we do), but super-useful for thinking about how to rehearse the apocalypse without descending into zombie films and Mad Max-ness (though I admit to a mild degree of excitement about Hardy and the Return of the Native Max…

Stepper: “Energy Flow in #Australia” -1978 article, depressing prescience…

On stepper this morning I also read some Financial Times, natch. But here is the short version: in Australia there was a small, well-connected and highly intelligent “epistemic community” (h/t Peter Haas) around energy/climate from the mid-1970s onwards. People like Mark Diesendorf, Hugh Saddler, Roger Gifford, Graeme Pearman. Many of them are still alive…  And the top German politician was on it a decade ahead of Maggie…

Gifford, R. (1978) Energy Flow in Australia: Matching Needs and Supplies. Australian Journal of Public Administration Vol 37, pp. 69- 83

The abstract is worth quoting in full

Abstract: Energy flow and transformation, being a fundamental driving force behind organization, should be subject to long term government policy. A pre-requisite for formulating energy policy is detailed knowledge of the dynamics and thermodynamics of energy supply and utilization. The lack of coherent policy in the past has led to the development of a society which is physically, institutionally and psychologically locked into an unsustainable liquid fuel consumption pattern requiring not only high but also growing consumption. An expression of this situation is the widespread assumption that coal and nuclear energy are the only significant realistic longer term options for the future, even though these would involve unproven technology and considerable environmental and social risks. The other long term option-the diffuse energy option based on widely distributed, renewable energy sources such as wind and the sun-is generally regarded as unrealistic. This is a social judgement determined more by the inertia of existing institutions and perceptions of our needs than by technical reality. I t is possible however, that the measures which might be taken to deal with the crisis of oil depletion in the next couple of decades may swing community structure and attitude and bureaucratic organization into a conservation-minded pattern in which the long term option based on low, stable consumption, diffuse energy sources and decentralized conversion systems seems as realistic to policy makers as the other extreme-the centralized, nuclear-electric growth society. This flexibility could only emerge, however, if energy research expenditure is diversified very soon. (emphasis added)

And here is what we would now, after Unruh, call (carbon) “lock-in”

As Patterson puts it, “It is all too easy to let the momentum of past decisions define the limits of the future- even if these limits look very unattractive”. Cities and road systems become structured so that public transport is not as effective.as private transport; the tariff structure of electricity inhibits individuals from installing solar collectors for low grade heating; the private motor car industry has become so entrenched into societal infrastructure that the vigour of the automobile industry itself is regarded as a key indicator of community well-being, and special protective measures are set up by government to bolster car manufacture; the funding of research is biased in favour of advancing the trend of existing developed technologies, the dominance of which may be more a matter of historic accident and inertia than of coherent energy policy.
(W. C. Patterson, The Fissile Society. London, Earth Resources Research Ltd., 1977.)
page 72-3

And here’s the (for me) key argument against nuclear –

“The fast breeder- or fusion-based society, if fusion ever becomes feasible, would necessitate highly centralized bureaucracies to control electricity generation and supply. Both the manufacture of plant and the control of the fuel supply would involve high concentration of capital. The energy base of the community would be likely to be partly allied with the military base and there is the risk that aspects of civil energy supply might be cloaked in official secrecy. But if fusion became a reality, the radioactive waste problem should be smaller than with fission and the rate at which energy could potentially be made available may, according to popular view, be limited only by the thermal tolerance of the environment.”
page 74

1978energyflowinaustraliaoncc

“Given the large capital requirements, and the extent of technical changes needed, it is hard to envisage how Australia could make the rather abrupt transition into an economy based on coal and/or uranium while maintaining the political goal of annually rising energy consumption deemed necessary for growth in gross domestic product. If, however, that goal were achieved, this would propel the community on to another hazardous trajectory; hazards of climatic change for the coal option; hazards associated with indefinite management of radioactive wastes, with nuclear bomb proliferation, with unproven breeder and fusion technologies, and of globally centralized control of energy systems for the nuclear electricity
option.”
page 81

And it concludes

“An interesting possibility is that the measures which need to be taken to meet the short term crisis of the next two decades may swing community structure and attitude and bureaucratic organization into a conservation-minded pattern in which the long-term option based on low, stable consumption, diffuse energy sources and decentralized conversion systems seems as realistic to policy makers as the other extreme-the all nuclear-electric, growth society. A new flexibility thus would have appeared. But it can only appear if concerted steps are taken to diversify energy consumption behaviour and supply options very soon. This means that expenditure on research, development and demonstration of solar and wind energy technologies and for energy conservation problems needs to be made comparable with expenditure on oil, coal and nuclear energy research and development.”
page 82

Which, of course, didn’t happen. So, were are about to enter the age of consequences!!

Meanwhile, Helmut Schmidt, on a visit to American in [mid-July] 1979 told Abraham Ribicoff, chair of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs that in his judgement the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere represented a major threat to the future of humanity.
(Clark and Dickson, 2001; 289.)

To chase down-
Australia, Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Report .from the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. Solar Energy. Canberra, A.G.P.S.. 1977.

A. B. Lovins, “Energy Strategy: The Road not Taken?”. Foreign Affairs 55 ( I ) , October 1976. pp.65-96.

G. I . Pearman, “The Carbon-Dioxide Climate Problem: Recent Developments”, Clean Air. I I . 1977, pp.21-26.

R . B. Bacastow and C. D. Keeling. “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Radiocarbon in the Natural Carbon Cycle. 11. Changes from AD1700 to 2070 as Deduced by a Geochemical Model”. In G . M. Woodwell and E. V. Pecan (eds). Carbon and the Biosphere: Proceedings of 24th Brookhaven Symposium in Biology. Upton. New York, 1972. Ah, bless Google- http://archive.org/stream/carbonbiospherep00broo/carbonbiospherep00broo_djvu.txt

Barriers to Social Movement (reflective) Learning. Burblings

There are so many reasons we don’t DO reflective learning.

  • We live in our habits/routines/comfort zone (as as Charles Duhigg points out, habits can be Good things)
  • Time (lack thereof)
  • Energy (exhaustion)
  • It’s difficult to reflect. We get little or no training. It’s not something we are encouraged to do in school. It’s far more important to have the Right Answer and get the Smart Token in exchange.
  • Ego protection (you will be accused of thinking yourself too good, whereas reflecting might also lead you to think yourself not good enough). Easier not to go there…
  • Group ego protection (there are shibboleths, taboos)
  • Morale protection (“don’t open the can of worms,” “let sleeping dogs lie…”)
  • “Too navel gazing; we DO, not talk.” The NVDA crowd are impatient with “theory”, which is for Marxists. And for Marxists, they are impatient with any theory that isn’t explicitly Marxist…
  • Learn the “wrong lessons” (fight the last war)
  • Some reflections are just too personal,not easily transferable. Or so you might think stories “but that’s just me”

“If the only tool you have is a hammer,
all your tools begin to look like nails

There is I suspect a difference between passive and active barriers, internal and external barriers (though of course these distinctions are shifting, have fuzzy borders)

  • Not a habit for individuals
  • Not validated – doesn’t get you status tokens
  • It’s hard to do well and then to FOLLOW UP. The insight may be good, but changing own behaviours/actions/perspectives is hard enough, without thinking about the broader sub-culture/ecosystem, whichever phrase you want to use.
  • Badly-run reflection, ending in acrimony and discomfort can have long-lasting “prophylactic” effect
  • Limited individual and group capacity – “we tried that once, it ended with half the people in tears and the other half not coming back.
  • And of course, people have different types of learning styles – formal, informal, messy, and different types are more appropriate at different times.

WHAT, you might ask, are you TRYING to learn. And how/why. Not that learning can ever be so compartmentalised, I fear…

So, how to Make People Aware of the problem(s), , co-produce tools, get them believing that change is indeed possible? How to inspire, perspire the making and sharing of tools?
(Dropping boxes of tools on people’s heads – cartoon anvil style – just does not work)

Knowing what to reflect on (both failures and successes and everything in between)
how to do it
when to do it
why to do it (improve, transform, anticipate)
who to do it with (people you trust – but this takes time! Can’t be doing it with “newbies”, can you? [remember though, while people are “newbies” to you and your group, they have HEAPS of other experience(s)]

In order to have “capacity to reflect” (ctr) you need

  • high levels of trust between members (ergo, fairly stable groups)
  • high level of intra-group value attached to reflection
    (and therefore likely previously valorised examples of its effectiveness)
  • “Soft skills” up the wazoo.

These seem, imho, to be lacking. Not just from the ‘left’, whatever that is, but from ANYONE. Or am I missing something?

See also
Kolb learning cycles
Peter Senge
Donald Schon

Song lyrics and meaning: “Grey Seal” by Bernie Taupin (performed by Elton John)

Got me an ear worm.  Heard this on the stepper at t’gym on Sun 18th January.  Googled it, read about it, loved it. Lyrics in italics, my version in square brackets.  Apparently Taupin says he doesn’t know what the song means.  I think his unconscious was hard at work…

Why’s it never light on my lawn
Why does it rain
And never say good-day to the new-born

[Why is nature unfair to me? Why am I not recognised?]

On the big screen they showed us the sun
But not as bright in life as the real one
It’s never quite the same as the real one

[Crucial to understand the distinction that Taupin sets up in the song between “life” (what actually is) and the “real” – what the state/society version is.  Think William Blake on this too.  And think U2 – “even better than the real thing”. Think “nulture“. The “real” is the state/society sanctioned version. They “steal your dreams and sell them back.” In Leon Rosselson’s words, “The clergy dazzle us with heaven or they damn us into hell.”]

And tell me grey seal
How does it feel
To be so wise
To see through eyes
That only see what’s real
Tell me grey seal

[The seal, – his school teacher, a performing preforming seal – barking, will get his fish. The word  “wise” is (at least semi- ) ironic. The seal can perform, he can clap and bark and he’ll get the fish. But he can only see (and force others to “see”  what is “real” – the state/society sanctioned version.  “How does it feel?” See Dylan from 1965.  Or this from Pink Floyd]

I never learned why meteors were formed

[Declares his ignorance, his inability to jump through the hoops.]

I only farmed in schools
That were so worn and torn

[Autobiographical line- Taupin’s parents were itinerant farmers, not wealthy.]

If anyone can cry then so can I

[Declares his actions and emotions as valid as those with state-sanctioned educations]

I read books and draw life from the eye
All my life is drawings from the eye

[He declares his skills. He draws life (the second use of the word, earlier contrasted to “real”) without the goggles that the seal wanted him to wear.]

And tell me grey seal
How does it feel
To be so wise
To see through eyes
That only see what’s real
Tell me grey seal

Your mission bells were wrought by ancient men
The roots were formed by twisted roots
Your roots were twisted then

[The music (bells) you (the seal and those who obey the seal) answer to are ancient, twisted. You are twisted.  (then again, crooked timber and all that).]

I was re-born before all life could die

[Religious line – I am my own saviour.]

The Phoenix bird will leave this world to fly
If the Phoenix bird can fly then so can I

[I will create my own mythology. To hell with your state/societal salvation myths. I prefer the phoenix.]

This song, to me, is a declaration of independence, a “ya basta” to those who had sought to crush him and conform him into a box, and to grey seals everywhere…

There is a real tie-in with William Blake, and the whole songs of innocence/experience thing here.

Stepper reading: Delayism from IPA, Mann’s “Serengeti Strategy” and “policy dictators”…

So, started with “The Greenhouse Panic” by Dr Brian Tucker, who was a leading player in the CSIRO’s climate efforts, and wrote a 1981 book on the “C02 connection”.

From his obituary I knew that he’d gone to work for the (libertarian) Institute of Public Affairs. This article,written in mid-1995, (IPA Review, Vol. 48/1) is interesting and depressing.

There’s stuff that wouldn’t get published by the IPA these days (they’ve well and truly been drinking from the well of looniness of late) such as this;

“Greenhouse scientific theory is well founded, despite the criticisms of sceptics and iconoclasts” (p. 51)

but much flannel about uncertainties and incoherence (the IPCC scientists being both self0interested AND “independent” as it suits his argument). There is much unreflective boosting of economic reports that say the costs will be astronomical. Most depressing of all, Tucker lists all the “tinges of hypocrisy evident at Berlin” (the first COP meeting, March/April 1995) including from “bureaucratic opportunists, environmental opportunists, ‘rich nation’ opportunists and ‘poor nation’ opportunists.

What’s missing? The interests of the oil and coal companies. Their opportunism is around delaying/deferring/shaping any regulations that would hurt their profits. Some of these companies have been known to fund the IPA. Tucker was unable to see them, which is sad and embarrassing for a trained observer. Ho hum.

It would be interesting to know what Tucker, who didn’t die until late 2010, thought of the attacks on Ben Santer (1995-6), or the attacks on Michael Mann (2004 onwards).

Which leads nicely into Mann’s BRILLIANT piece

Mann, M. (2015) “The Serengeti Strategy: How special interests try to intimidate scientists, and how best to fight back” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Vol. 71 (1) pp. 33-45.

The abstract says it best;

Much as lions on the Serengeti seek out vulnerable zebras at the edge of a herd, special interests faced with adverse scientific evidence often target individual scientists rather than take on an entire scientific field at once. Part of the reasoning behind this approach is that it is easier to bring down individuals than an entire group of scientists, and it still serves the larger aim: to dismiss, obscure, and misrepresent well-established science and its implications. In addition, such highly visible tactics create an atmosphere of intimidation that discourages other scientists from conveying their research’s implications to the public. This “Serengeti strategy” is often employed wherever there is a strong and widespread consensus among the world’s scientists about the under-lying cold, hard facts of a field, whether the subject be evolution, ozone depletion, the environmental impacts of DDT, the health effects of smoking, or human-caused climate change. The goal is to attack those researchers whose findings are inconvenient, rather than debate the findings themselves. This article draws upon the author’s own experience to examine the “Serengeti strategy,” and offers possible countermeasures to such orchestrated campaigns.

Full of verve, wit, quotable quotes and enraging details. Read this now!

Next up was Jensen, C. (2011) Focusing events, policy dictators and the dynamics of reform Policy Studies Vol 32, (2), pp. 143- 158.

Lots of good stuff in here on policy dictators, “existing policy monopoly” and so on. Useful indeed for the paper I am writing about Manchester (except Jensen was writing in a place where there was, in fact, a political opposition. In Manchester, there is none, with all the cynicism, complacency and incompetence that that implies/promotes).

Finally, made a start on Powell, WS., Koput, K., and Smith-Doerr, L. (1996) Interorganizational Collaboration and the Locus of Innovation: Networks of Learning in Biotechnology. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41, pp. 116-145.

Good stuff on who learns how and when during collaborations.

How to scupper international negotiations #425; remove the “too competent” diplomat

How do you slow down international negotiations that you aren’t keen on without being Too Obvious about it? One way is talent-control. Make sure that someone who just might succeed where you want the process to fail is removed

Here’s a fascinating interview that I stumbled upon that speaks to just that. It’s Professor Jason Fleming (author of a book called “Fixing the Sky,” about US attempts at weather modification) interviewing a very clever and experienced scientist called Gordon MacDonald, who’d been in the thick of lots of US science and policy for a looong time.

The interview took place in March 1994, five years after the climate negotiations started. Just before the climate negotiations, in the mid-80s, there had been an international agreement on Ozone. That process had started with a relatively toothless “Vienna Convention” in early 1985. There was then enormous pressure (because scientists found a whacking great hole over Antarctica) towards the Montreal Protocol of 1987 and the London Accords of 1990.  But I digress…

I’ve tidied up the transcript a bit, and added hyperlinks. You can see the original here.

Gordon MacDonald: … a leader of the U.S. Delegation [on ozone], Dick Benedick, a very capable and forceful guy. And he went to Reagan and argued him into it…. [Secretary of State George] Schultz said it to me once but he may have been joking, that [Benedict or Schultz] used the fact Reagan had had a couple of skin cancers removed as an argument this was not something that was a trivial problem. But despite the strong anti-regulatory tone of the Reagan Administration, they led the fight for the Ozone Convention.

James Fleming: Is Benedick —? Well, he has the well-written book on the ozone? [“Ozone Diplomacy: New Directions in Safeguarding the Planet“]

Gordon MacDonald: Delightful book.

James Fleming: Is he involved in global warming issues?

MacDonald: No. He wanted very much to head the U.S. negotiations on global warming. Clearly it could have been follow on to what he had done in ozone, and he knew many of the people involved,…. But it was a [White House Chief of Staff John] Sununu and [President George HW] Bush decision that he was much too able a person to lead … climate change negotiations. So they turned it over to less capable people.

 

 

 

Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gordon MacDonald March 21st, 1994
“This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics”

“Gordon James Fraser MacDonald (July 30, 1929 – May 14, 2002) was an American geophysicist and environmental scientist, best known for his principled skepticism regarding continental drift (now called plate tectonics), and later work on possible non-anthropogenic (for example, astronomical) causes for global climate change. While often on what would turn out to be the “wrong” side of scientific issues, MacDonald was admired for his creative mind, and his ability to connect scientific issues and matters of public policy.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_J._F._MacDonald

“James Rodger Fleming is a historian of science and technology and Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Colby College, Maine. His teaching bridges the sciences and the humanities, and his research interests involve the history of the geophysical sciences, especially meteorology and climate change.”
http://www.colby.edu/sts/JimFleming.html
“Richard Elliot Benedick is President of the National Council for Science and the Environment. He is a former diplomat and was chief United States negotiator to the Montreal Protocol on protection of the ozone layer. He is a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_E._Benedick

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