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Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Extremism and Democracy)
Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Extremism and Democracy)
by Robert Ford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful but limited, 24 Jan. 2015
The first sections of the book deal with the tortuous development of UKIP. I do not doubt that the account is accurate and it is quite as detailed as anyone might want. The main part of the book is an analysis of opinion polls and like data. This, the authors claim, shows that UKIP support comes from the “older blue-collar workers with little education and few skills who have been “left behind”” and who have been ignored by the main Parties. There are details I would question but I accept that the conclusion is correct. The analysis is long-winded and repetitive; the statement about the group that has been “left behind” is made time and time again. This is just tedious but the assertion that UKIP is, “not a second home disgruntled Tories” is a fundamental error. When the Conservative MPs Carswell and Reckless defected to UKIP and decided to stand for re-election, they expected to garner the votes of many former Conservatives, and so in the event they did. In the Heyword and Middleton by election the Conservative vote declined from that at the General Election although the Labour share remained unchanged. In the coming General Election UKIP will have to appeal to two very different constituencies. Even the blue-collar, left-behind group is not homogeneous; Ford and Goodwin show that it contains former members of the extreme right British National Party and others with similar views, as well as working class former Labour and Conservative voters.
The authors’ analysis of the “left behind” group is to my mind inadequate. F and G resort to a hypothetical UKIP supporter. “John” resents immigrants, wants out of the E U, thinks politicians corrupt and blames them for the recession, terrorism, “kids running riot” and so on. What “John” is complaining about is simply change. However, the crucial change is the loss of a stable job. “John” lost his foreman’s job when the Raleigh cycle factory closed in 2003, but that had nothing to do with immigration or Europe and very little to do with the deficiencies of politicians. In the final chapter, the authors acknowledge the role of technological change and outsourcing. “Manufacturing jobs have been automated out of existence or outsourced abroad”, according to a recent Leader in The Economist. UKIP has no solution because there is no feasible solution.
How will UKIP fare at the coming General Election? F and G do not deal with this directly but they point out how difficult it is for a minor Party to break through with our “first past the post” system. They advocate following the Lib-Dem tactic of building up local support in selected constituencies. But that takes time, time that UKIP does not have. Moreover UKIP does not have the Lib-Dem’s belief in the importance of local matters. And there is the matter of the division of UKIP support; constituencies with many disgruntled blue -collar workers are not likely to have a large number of disaffected Conservatives.
F and G point out that UKIP is now the Party of protest. What F and G do not consider is whether resentment will carry through from by-elections to the next General Election in a way that has not happened before. Nor do they consider whether UKIP should attempt to make a positive appeal through policies beyond Europe and immigration. What might those policies be on taxation, defense, welfare and education, given the diverse basis of UKIP’s support?
This is a useful book but over long and I feel might have considered the firmness or fragility of UKIP support in the coming election with profit. It could have been better.


The Various Haunts Of Men: Simon Serrailler Book 1 (Simon Serrailler series)
The Various Haunts Of Men: Simon Serrailler Book 1 (Simon Serrailler series)
Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing and flawed., 9 Nov. 2014
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Books I have read by Susan Hill have been well written, so I thought that the Serrailler series might provide winter reading when there is nothing worth watching on Television. I found this first of the set disappointing. The writing is no more than adequate with to my mind too many adjectives.
The crime novel is an awkward form. A detective story is straight -forward. We know, more-or–less, only what the detective knows. However accurate the detail, they are fantasy; there is no real-life Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. With the classic novel like Jane Austen’s “Emma”, we know everything relevant about all the characters and all contribute to the story. The characters are “real” and so is the setting. The crime novel is somewhere between. We cannot know everything about all the characters but everything we are told should possibly have some relevance to the crime or the criminal. So as a rule the crime has to have been committed by someone within a defined group. Many of the group may have a motive: blackmail, avarice, jealousy, revenge. Those that have no motive tell us something about those that have. The works of P D James are of this form. To introduce a set of characters who it turns out were never even suspected of the crime, would be cheating. The reader would have been “led up the garden path”. But “Various Haunts of Men” deals with a serial killer and serial killings are motiveless in the normal sense; the killings are effectively random. So here there is only one clue and no suspects. However, it is obvious enough early on who the killer is. We get extracts from the tapes he has made. (Why by the way did he make them and how did we - the reader - come to hear them? Much the same problem arises with Iris Chater and Debbie Parker. There is nothing in their past to warrant attention. The reason for describing them lies in the future but the future is unknown to the reader.) I do not know if the tapes give a plausible insight into the mind of a serial killer but they do narrow the field of suspects. And we know too much about everyone except the killer. Because of the dearth of clues and motive the detective work is as a consequence routine stuff. The break-through requires the killer to make an implausible lapse.
Inevitably most of the book has nothing to do with the crime so perhaps it should be regarded as an account of small town life. In that case class is still alive and well in Lafferton. The only social group that Ms Hill recognises is the St Michael’s Singers and those the choir members know. They are all middle class much given to dinner parties and worthy causes. The Serraillers are the core of this group; all except for Simon, are or were doctors. Most of those outside the circle are either dim or pathetic or insecure or unattractive or dubious. One cannot imagine even the most respectable of them feeling at home in the St Michael’s Singers, however good his or her voice.
Then there is the police. Simon Serrailler, handsome, intelligent, private. His flat is secluded and furnished in impeccable taste. He exhibits his watercolours from time to time. I find him implausible and uninteresting. Next is Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham newly arrived from London and a divorce. She is welcomed into the Serrailler social circle and joins the Singers. I find her too worthy and too devoted to her work. She develops what can only be called a crush on Serrailler. Freya Graffham is assisted by puppy-like Detective Constable Nathan Coates, who becomes instantly devoted to Freya. I can’t accept invariable cheerful Nathan.
The Various Haunts of Men does not logically hang together and it is not good enough in other ways to compensate.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 6, 2015 5:00 PM GMT


The King's English (Penguin Modern Classics)
The King's English (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars is not easy to find, 6 Nov. 2014
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Calling his book “The King’s English” implies that Amis has written a reworking the manual of the same name by the Fowlers. But he has not done so. This is not as Amis claims “a work of definition and reference”. What Amis has produced is a set of articles about topics that interest him. A few have little relevance to English usage – “Typewriter vs. word-processor” for example. The articles are arranged alphabetically although why is not clear. That decreases the book’s usefulness. Thus a list of Latin words that are used in English, is not easy to find. It appears at the end of a relatively long rambling article on the value of studying Latin, but even then not under L but under D. Amis gives a number of examples of words whose meaning is ambiguous, having a general usage that is different from the technical definition or from an older meaning. (Decimate is one; Amis tells us it meant the execution of one in ten of a legion as punishment.) But these are not collected together.
What Amis has to say is nearly always sensible. Whether or not you like the book I think depends on whether you find the style and manner in which it is written, congenial or irritating. Amis admits to a “didactic or put ‘em right side” to his nature. He comes across as opinionated and somewhat cantankerous. I suspect that is in part a pose; a character he decided to adopt. If Amis’s account of his dealings with a salesman out to get him to try a word-processor is correct, Amis could be discourteous, unfair and unkind; I can imagine the young man departing muttering, “Silly old fart”.
The style fits the personality; I find the style ponderous and not always immediately clear. Amis writes, “Occasionally I think that a kind of training that has for many years been more than avocational is no real training at all, is one that fits its recipients better for argufying than for argument, and am suitably chastened.” I would urge anyone thinking of buying the book to read a page first.
Amis has a long section on pronunciation. The point, as Amis says elsewhere, is to be understood. Pronunciation, in my view, does not matter except for a few words like “desert”, provided it is not so outlandish as to be incomprehensible. Amis asserts that the building where the Commons sits is pronounced Wessminster. Why not “West-Minster” or something between? Dictionaries in any case give Received Pronunciation (R P) and one might as well follow R P as not. I think this section should have been left out.
Amis’s advice on the pronunciation of foreign words is much more useful in part because there are not many of them so the list can cover most in common use, and in part because getting the pronunciation “wrong” can make one seem either ignorant on the one hand or pretentious on the other.
A problem with The King’ English is that those who would benefit most are the least likely to read it. The same is true for other books on English usage. As Amis says, ”The most that can be offered is some guidance for those that want it”. That the book provides.


For Who the Bell Tolls
For Who the Bell Tolls
Price: £4.68

4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I have written annual reports and like documents. I have aimed always for clarity - ..., 21 Sept. 2014
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Who buys books about the use of English? What do buyers expect and in this case, does the book fulfill their expectations?
I am a retired scientist. I have published many papers, and reviewed and edited papers by colleagues, I have written annual reports and like documents. I have aimed always for clarity - to inform not to impress. I have taken to writing essays; whether or not those are well written you may judge for yourself should you so wish, by entering Philip Symmons on Google. I have on my shelves a number of manuals and books on the use of English.
I would have thought most of those who have bought - or who contemplate buying - For Who the Bell Tolls would be roughly like me. They need, or wish, to write and hope to write clearly. They would expect to be made aware of faults that they might make. They would hope to be helped to write better and at the same time to be entertained. They might be concerned about practices by others that impede communication - politicians who are deliberately ambiguous and managers who appear to wish to avoid saying anything comprehensible.
However, Marsh does not appear to have decided who he was writing for or, to put it another way, what sort of book he intended to write. For Who The Bell Tolls gives the impression of having been cobbled together from what Marsh had lying around. The book ranges from the basic to the mildly esoteric; from the useful to the merely diverting. Chapter 1 contains basic information that anyone who cares enough to buy the book would know. Someone who needs to be told that “sentences comprise clauses, phrases and words” is not likely to be bothered by the difference between infer and imply.
The same lack of clear purpose is shown by the listing of commonly misspelled words and of pairs of words that, according to Marsh, are commonly confused. A spell checker will pick up the former. The latter also are likely to be misspellings. If I ordered a burgher from McDonalds I think meat inside a toasted bun would still be more likely to turn up than a worthy Dutchman.
The whole book is written in a jokey style with references to pop groups of some years back not known to me - but that goes for all pop groups. It is also full of personal asides. The result is irritating and long-winded; the book could do with severe editing. (Editing might also remove mistakes. “Singular “they” or “there” is much less clumsy than “his or her”.”) The following is an example of what I mean. “Stubbornly to resist splitting infinitives” …“to leave adverbs staggering haplessly around the sentence like the odd toddler out in a game of musical chairs is not just half-baked: it is fully baked, with a fried egg and a slice of pineapple on top.” If splitting infinitives is O K why not write, “To stubbornly resist”? Half-baked means not thought through. Why is thinking something through to a conclusion like adding a fried egg and a slice of pineapple? You need to be agile and quick to play musical chairs; toddlers are neither. Toddlers cannot play musical chairs. A player who fails to bag a chair does not “stagger about haplessly” but sits at the side, and the music restarts. This is, like so much of the book, a desperate attempt to be amusing; but it is ill thought out - it doesn’t work.
Chapters 7 and 8 (Pretentious moi? and Attack of the Jargonauts) are in the main preaching to the converted. Those who go in for foreign phrases or management-speak are not likely to read Marsh. Foreign words for which there is no English equivalent are surely permissible; for example esprit de corps and schadenfreude. Perhaps those will become English in time. Latin plurals are as Marsh says, a matter of usage and are not always pretentious.
Orwell’s Politics and the English Language said something that I feel needed saying. However, neither that essay, nor previous and subsequent attacks, appear to have changed politicians’ devious way with words. Managers though are presumably trying to say something not to avoid saying anything. Avoiding saying anything requires a perverse skill but making yourself understood is relatively straightforward. At some level within management gobbledygook must be thought to be what is needed. Someone at a senior level within the railways must think that the curious language of announcements is desirable. How does this come about? How do estate agents all come to describe houses as “beautifully presented”, “deceptively spacious”, and "boasting" and “having the benefit of” various things? (I am tempted to write, “the benefit of”!?) Listing these faults will not cure them. Primaries though might result in candidates with some independence not just ones chosen by central office for their loyalty. Management-speak and jargon will have to be tackled at school. I suggest that pupils should be required to convert examples of both into English and also edit each others work. Spotting the motes in others eyes might make students more aware of the beams in their own. In later life they might resist the temptation to write portentous nonsense.
By the way gourmand does not mean glutton- at least not in France and the French ought to know. Sault de Navailles, a few km away, has a large sign on the outskirts reading “Village Gourmand”. Michelin’s Bib Gourmand indicates an “Establishment offering good quality cuisine at a maximum price” not ”All you can eat for E15”.
I think it is a pity that Marsh did not deal with metaphors, similes and euphemisms in more detail. I would have welcomed examples of metaphors used incorrectly. I suspect I make mistakes where I do not think of - or do not know - the original meaning. As Orwell pointed out, it is the hammer that comes off worse not the anvil. ”The die is cast”: gambling or metal founding? “Barking up the wrong tree”: hunters with dogs or lumberjacks? You can be sure that a mixed metaphor comes from scrambled thought. I recall an official in Australia saying that something- I forget what – would “snowball like a bush fire”. I know what he meant just as I understand the great Ernie Bevin saying – although it is not certain he did - “If you open that there Pandora’s Box you’ll find it's full of Trojan horses”. He might have had devolution in mind.
Marsh I think overestimates the efficacy of euphemisms. Words that start out as descriptive, whether honest or devious, soon become names. Breakfast is just the meal you have after getting up. English is full of such words. Stonehenge is that prehistoric site west of Salisbury. (I had to look up henge.) In much the same way, extraordinary rendition means kidnapping and taking to a place where torture is allowed. It is now a name. No one has any doubt what ethnic cleansing means. Euphemisms don’t work, at least they don’t work for long.
I have a few other gripes. Marsh is not a scientist. I am not interested in his views on global warming. Climate change has replaced global warming not because of capitulation to climate “skeptics” but because the world has not got warmer of late although the climate would seem to have changed. I assume it is just the Kindle version that renders “In” at the start of a paragraph as “I n” and. C S Lewis as CS Lewis. Botswana is not twice the size of Wales but roughly 28 times.
Is this a good book? No I don’t think it is. Do I regret buying it? No I don’t. It didn’t cost much. I learnt a few things that are useful and I liked learning a few that are not: I did not know that supine means face up although I have lived happily not knowing. The book passed the time .
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 9, 2016 12:37 PM BST


Blood Whispers
Blood Whispers
Price: £1.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a thrilling thriller., 27 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Blood Whispers (Kindle Edition)
I bought “Blood Whispers” after hearing Nick Higham on “Meet the Author”. My expectations were not high. I just wanted something to pass the time. It scarcely did that; I had to push myself to finish the book. Threequarters of the way through I gave up caring what happened to anyone. Just as well since nearly everyone ended up dead; there were surely far too many corpses. A dozen or so shot dead in a warehouse I would have expected to class as a major incident. Plenty of violence but the violence is just mechanical. The violence would have put me off had it been believable. The plot is far fetched. That might matter little if the plot had been ingenious and cleverly worked out but it is neither. The writing is adequate but not the dialogue especially that by the Americans. None of the characters came alive for me. I had hoped for better.


Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Price: £18.49

13 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Industry not insight, 24 May 2014
Our second son gave me “Capital” and since it cost quite a lot I felt in honour bound to read it. “Capital” is very long but to make it long Piketty has to repeats himself time and time again. For example, Piketty takes a page and a half (P266-7) to say a that single index cannot represent inequality adequately and an analysis requires the examination of the top 10 % of incomes, even the top 1% or 0.1%. This makes reading “Capital” a chore. I kept saying to myself, “Yes I get the point; please get on with it.” But then long windedness is the French way. A talk that in England would last no more than 30 min, here in France goes on for an hour - and that is only halftime. Then the tone I find patronizing. Piketty (P33) asks “readers not well versed in mathematics to be patient: these are elementary equations, which can be explained in a simple intuitive way.” Does anyone need to have compound interest and the concept of deciles and centiles explained? But again it is the way with the French. As a scientist of some note, or perhaps notoriety, in my field, I find being treated by French colleagues like a rather unpromising member of the lower IVth, a mite irritating. By the way the title is misleading; by far the larger part deals with the 19th and 20th Centuries.
These are perhaps trivial complaints but Piketty’s claim that the driving force behind colonization was the need to provide a place to park wealth safe from annexation is not. Colonialism is a complex matter and whether of overall benefit to the occupying power is moot. It is not easy to see what profit France could have wrung out of what are now Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad. Piketty believes that somewhere to park cash was the reason, and a reasonable one, behind Germany’s interest in Morocco. Others might regard both crises there as down to the whims of the Kaiser. Either way the matter needs to be examined.
I cannot resist questioning Piketty’s use of Jane Austen’s novels as a guide to those times. Miss Austen is quite specific about everyone’s income but unspecific about where the money comes from. As Tony Tanner says in his book, money appears like “fairy gold”. Sir Thomas Bertram does not go to the West Indies to look after his business interests but to get him out of the way for long enough to permit the staging of “Lover’s vows”. London or the continent is too close, and South Africa and Australia are too far, so the West Indies it must be.
I have a general complaint here that though Piketty charts the fluctuations of various economic variables – and his industry must be admired- he largely fails to explain why the changes occurred. For example, in my view the current problem in Britain goes back well beyond Thatcher. The nationalised industries failed to work partly because politicians give little thought to the matter; politicians are not doers. Unions became over mighty. And so on. Had Labour been more effective, Thatcher might not have become Prime Minister (and but for the Falklands and Michael Foot her tenure might in any case have been brief).
Then there are some fundamental errors that make me question Piketty’s understanding. On p 99 there is a section heading, “The Double Bell Curve – of Global Growth” and we are referred to Figs 2.2 and 2.4. Most people take the “bell curve” to be a colloquial name for the normal. Piketty must be aware of that. Figs 2.2 and 2.4 are not normal distributions. Normal or not, a bell curve ought at least to be bell shaped. A bell is symmetrical with a rounded top and flared sides. Neither figure is remotely bell shaped. In fact 2.4 only has a peak in the projected output range. Piketty does not need to claim that the curves are bell shaped so I am at a loss to know why he does so, when they clearly are not.
But that error is of much less importance than the two laws of capitalism. The “First Fundamental Law” a= r*b (the internet does not translate Greek characters) is better expressed as b= a/r since r, the return on capital, and a, the share of income from capital, are computable quantities; b is the “capital C/income I ratio”. But if Ic is the income from capital then a=Ic/I and r= Ic/C so b=(Ic/I)/(Ic/C)= C/I. Piketty admits this is a tautology. But a tautology is not a law; at best it is a definition. b is perhaps analogous to Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is defined as a person’s height (m) divided by the square of weight (kg). BMI is an attempt to quantify a qualitative concept – fatness and thinness. But b does not represent any quality that I can grasp. It is just capital/income. To be a law the relationship would need to be like Boyle’s Gas Law; Pressure/ Volume = k where k is a constant. If we compress a gas by a given amount we can calculate its new volume. But there is no suggestion that if we increase the capital we can calculate the new income.
The “Second Fundamental Law of Capitalism” b=s/g where s is the savings rate and g the growth rate, is no more a law than the first ”Law”. To see what is going on one needs to put in the variables that constitute the ratios. s the savings rate = savings/ income and g the growth rate = change in income/income. Income cancels out so that b= savings/change in income. According to the 1st “Law” b is Capital/Income. Clearly capital comes from savings but it is not the sum of savings up to the present. Capital can decrease as it did dramatically in most western countries as the result of both Word Wars. Although in time growth might seem to dominate income, the consequence is always proportional to the initial income. Start with £1million and a real annual increase of 2% will produce about £8 million after 100 years; start with a billion and you finish with £8 billion. But the concept is faulty anyway. Income does not accumulate. Each year’s income is either spent or saved and saved income becomes wealth. Income is like petrol. The number of cars last year is the number the year before minus those scrapped plus new cars bought. The petrol used last year is a function of the number of cars on the road. It has nothing to do with the petrol used the year before. Petrol is consumed; it is gone. The structures that produce income survive from year to year - some are added, some written off, some depreciate –but the income generated does not survive. That is why, as Piketty admits, if income did not grow b would be infinity, and that is nonsense. b according to the 2nd”law” does not become b as defined by the 1st “law” even in the long run. This is not to say that the ratios are meaningless. Change in the savings rate, the rate of growth of the economy and the relationship of capital to income are important. The mistake is to suppose that those ratios can be combined in some fashion to constitute laws.
It matters not at all the Figs 2.2 and 2.4 are not bell shaped but it is disquieting that Piketty thinks that they are. It matters not a jot that the 2 laws of capitalism are not laws at all but one wonders how Piketty could ever have thought that they were.
The other relationship that features time after time is r>g- the return on capital is greater than the growth rate. Piketty claims that as a result return from capital will form an increasing share of income. That does not follow. The mistake is to try to compare ratios; ratios are dimensionless. What counts is the size of the income from capital and the size other income. To illustrate the point suppose I hold stocks in two companies, £10000 in one giving a return of 10% and £100000 in another returning 5%. Most of my income comes from the latter despite the former giving a higher rate of return. Of course if I reinvest both the higher earning stock will eventually come to dominate but it is actual values not the ratios that determine if and when that occurs. The same objection holds for r-g. What meaning can be attached to the difference between two ratios composed of different variables?
I also have a problem with assigning part of growth to population increase. To do so one must assume that those joining on average make the same economic contribution as those already present. But if population growth were to be down to immigration for example, that might not be so. Immigrants might be all doctors and programmers on the one hand or all “benefit tourists” on the other. However, it is surely the change in income per head that counts, and that avoids the problem.
The main part of “Capital “deals with the economic changes mainly in the western economies in a factual way. Much of this Piketty claims is new and I have no reason to doubt that. I am sure “Capital” will be of value to economic historians. If Piketty had left it there I doubt that his book would have caused much of a stir. It is what he claims about the present and the future that has led either to approval or to condemnation. I have a suspicion that many who buy the book skim through the historical part, and for that they might be excused. The conclusions do not follow from the historical study. The main part of the book simply lends an air of authority to the conclusions.
Piketty’s subject is inequality; inequality is a matter of widespread concern and with good reason. Never-the-less Piketty has hit on a topic that is in fashion. Inequality has replaced unemployment at the top of the list.
First of all the inequality of income. We all know that Chief Executive Officers (C E Os), and heads of banks are paid absurdly large sums, and those a step down also get paid a great deal. Why is that? Does it matter? If it does what can be done about it?
Piketty points out, and he is far from the first to do so, that remuneration boards are packed with friendly characters so the executive more or less sets his own salary. Piketty rightly pooh-poohs the notion that the huge salaries are justified because the “talent” is so rare, pointing out how difficult this talent is to define and discern. In a curious way that might make the vast payments understandable. A C E O does matter. If the company is doing well it might make sense to bribe the C E O to stay; if doing badly the company needs someone who promises to turn it round however much that costs; and if doing badly the sacked C E O will undoubtedly have a contract that ensures generous severance terms. The cost is small as a percentage of the profits of a large company. None-the-less appointing a C E O is buying a pig in a poke.
Piketty points out that when top salaries were heavily taxed, salaries were more modest, because he argues there was no point in earning more. Piketty believes that would be so again but I am less sure. A C E O works long hours. He cannot spend what he earns. Indeed as Piketty says much of the salary is saved and becomes capital. But I doubt building capital is a driving motive. More probable is the wish to own a football club or establish a foundation devoted to good works or own a newspaper. But even more than that, salary is a mark of standing; a high salary is a status symbol. The current huge difference between the lowest and highest paid is socially very undesirable. However, if taxing very high salaries did not bring down the before-tax amount, as Piketty posits it would, it might not have the desired unifying social effect; people would still look at the before-tax figure. We are told that if the top end tax were to be raised, the high earners would simply find ways to avoid the tax – as though they were not now doing all they can to avoid paying tax at the current rate. Piketty rightly dismisses the argument that the highly paid talent would emigrate to more economically benign climes. London has schools, theatres, concerts and everyone–well nearly everyone-speaks English. Where are these highly talented folk supposed to go?
However, my main quarrel with Piketty over income is the scant attention he pays to the less well off, to those earning below the median wage and the unemployed. His only solution is to send more to university. Whether a degree always provides a skill that a modern economy needs is certainly debatable, as is the ability of the less academically able to benefit. The experience in Piketty’s France suggests that it is often otherwise. Half of school leavers start a degree but the drop out rate is very high. That does nothing for the economy or the confidence of those that leave. Many of those that stay the course are forced to take a succession of stagiere that pay no more than subsistence.
Piketty believes that jobs will not change radically since the rate of innovation has slowed. Many, and I am one, believe that the widespread applications of technologies that are already available or which are clearly likely to be developed soon, will transform work. Hitherto innovation has created as many jobs as have been destroyed, although the social upheaval has often been severe. But that may no longer be so. People have been crying wolf since the Luddites but I think this time there really is a wolf if not yet at the door, howling in the woods at no great distance. Self-service checkouts are already available at supermarkets and I would guess that manned ones are on the way out. It is not science fiction to foresee a customer putting in an order and it being put together by robots from shelves stacked by robots. Peage kiosks are now automated. Computers may replace a doctor when scanning your X-ray. And so on. There will clearly be a need for the very highly skilled in certain fields and they will be well paid. But many professional jobs may be under threat. The service jobs- the waiters and careers and refuse collectors- that we may need or wish to retain, are poorly paid, and that is likely to remain the case. Indeed, in Britain wages are so low that they have to be increased from taxation through the Working Families Tax Credit. Far from increasing the number of service workers to provide employment and improve the quality of life, every effort is being made to reduce their number.
Piketty is an economist; I am not. Great wealth and great disparity in income I agree is socially undesirable. However, I would wish to know the economic consequences of both. I would wish to know how capital works. What are the economic consequences of the steeply rising taxes on income, wealth and inheritance that Piketty advocates?
Wages about and below the median have stagnated in real terms for several decades in most Western countries. Has this anything to do with the vast salaries of C E Os and the like? If they were paid less or taxed more would the poor benefit? If they had less to spend would that affect employment? If they saved less would “investment” suffer? I would like to know.
Piketty says that capital and wealth is the same thing and so it may be. However, when we talk of wealth we think of something someone has; when we talk of capital we envisage something that is used. So what is capital used for? How does capital work? How much of it do we need and of what sort? Is there good capital and bad capital?
Do the wealthy exert political influence? Certainly the wealthy donate most to political parties that will let them continue to be wealthy But it is surely companies lobbying, bribing and blackmailing government that is more of a problem.
Capital is needed to start and expand ventures. But most capital is held in stocks and shares, and in buildings. Most profit comes from buying and selling shares or the appreciation in the value of buildings. How does this profit benefit the economy? What difference does it make to a company if its shares rise? What difference does it make to you and me if the stock market goes up- unless we hold stock? Does this game of pass the shares where the music never stops have any effect outside the game, unless shares are turned into cash and spent? Where does the investment capital come from? I had hoped Piketty might shed some light on such questions.
Capital and income from capital has certainly increased and I accept is likely to go on increasing. Piketty says that eventually the amount of capital and the size of the profit will be unacceptable. Perhaps so but I would like Piketty to tell me how this will manifest itself. We are no longer as in La Belle Époque, divided into those with inherited wealth who can afford to live well and the rest who cannot. The majority in most western countries lives comfortable. Will the growth of wealth cause that to cease to be so?
Mme Bettencourt is very rich. How does that affect me? Suppose she gets even richer and many others get very rich as well, so that their total wealth greatly exceeds the total income of France, what then? Does Piketty suppose that the economy will collapse as a result?
I believe that there will be profound changes in work and society but I am sure not only for the reasons Piketty advances. Meanwhile there is much that could be done, including perhaps some of the measures Piketty advocates, to improve the ordering of western society now.
As for “Capital in the 21st Century” itself, it seems to me of little note. I really cannot see what all the fuss is about. I suspect that the book will soon be forgotten. My bet is that “Capital” will prove to be a nine-day wonder.
Phil Symmons
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A Delicate Truth
A Delicate Truth
by John le Carré
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent thriller., 18 July 2013
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This review is from: A Delicate Truth (Hardcover)
There are three elements to this book. It is a thriller, It is also an exposure of the sort of murky exercises the secret services of the U S and the U K get up to, and it is a study of the impact on good men caught up in those affairs.
"A Delicate Affair" is a decent thriller. But is operation Wildlife plausible? Over Iraq politicians and their advisors proved willing to believe intelligence that was completely fabricated because it suited them. With Wildlife there is no clear reason to be uncritical. I can accept Wildlife as the sort of thing the CIA and MI6 might dream up but not the political origin of the enterprise. One can usually see which person or persons a character is based on but I can't find a "Fergus Quinn" in the last Labour administration. Any politician even tempted by Wildlife would make sure he dealt indirectly and deniably. He would surely not have attached a Kit Probyn to the escapade. Is there in reality a "Jay Crispin"? In any case Wildlife is not a major affair; an embarrassment but no more. So is the complicity of the police plausible?
To feel outrage I would have to believe in Wildlife. There is more than enough to fuel outrage in the real world; drone strikes, "extraordinary rendition", sifting of emails and so much else.
Only the "good" characters are explored but not in depth. Kit Probyn I can accept as a decent straightforward chap who is outraged by the way he has been used. Not much depth to be plumbed. Toby Bell faces a choice between his career and doing the right thing but that is no contest; he is obviously going to do the right thing. The sudden revulsion that Jeb experiences, is not uncommon with battle hardened soldiers; a number commit suicide. A very real problem but Le Carre does not probe the matter. Oakley is potentially the most interesting and complex character but his character is not explored.
This is a good read-I enjoyed it- but I cannot see "A Delicate Affair" as anything more.
Phil Symmons


All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945
All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945
by Max Hastings
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What we all ought to know., 16 Jan. 2013
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"All Hell Let Loose " is an important book; everyone should read it. It is readable; the judgements are as far as I can tell fair if uncompromising; it is comprehensive.
The book has though destroyed one of my illusions. I had thought that the generals in the 2nd World War were on the whole competent; it would seem that few were. But at least in contrast to the Great War, battles were won and lost, and resulted in advances and retreats of hundreds of kilometres not at best hundreds of metres. The Great War was unnecessary. The Kaiser wanted a place in the sun for Germany not to obscure the sun for everyone else. It was a 19th century war fought with 20th century weapons. The 2nd World War on the other hand had to be fought.
The book made me realise the extent and the depth of the brutality and hardship in a way that I had not before. I have asked myself how I could have avoided knowing. I was 10 when the war started. We were I think rarely lied to but we were presented with a sanitised account and I suppose that, reinforced by post war films, is the image I have accepted. I had nothing in my immediate experience to challenge that. My father was too old to fight and so were the fathers of my friends. One of my brothers was medically exempt and the other was a physicist working on RADAR. Their friends were conscripted during the later years of the war and one didn't survive. Bill Whitaker was lost on his first operation, a thousand bomber raid. Colleagues a few years older than me served and one lived through the Dutch occupation. Emile Wolf, a Czech Jew who visited us often lost his family in the holocaust. I could have asked them about their experiences but it never occurred to me to do so, partly perhaps because of the image of the war we had been presented with. I doubt they would have been forthcoming had I asked.
Personally I suffered little. Bristol was heavily bombed but I certainly was not frightened. My mother was a poor cook with a fetish for economy so our diet was not much worse than before.
I accept that Max Hastings account is essentially true. The horrors of the eastern front and the Far East are beyond comprehension. I suspect though that for many who served elsewhere, the war was in the main just uncomfortable. For a fair number as Hastings makes clear, the war was a liberating experience. But for many in Britain the war made relatively little difference; it made little difference to me.
I fear I have not written about the book itself. I can only repeat that it is an important book, an impressive achievement and should be read by everyone. The world may be a violent and unstable place but nothing like it was 70 years ago. We should all be constantly aware of that.


The House of Silk: The Bestselling Sherlock Holmes Novel
The House of Silk: The Bestselling Sherlock Holmes Novel
Price: £4.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent thriller but a poor detective story, 2 July 2012
The detective story is an artificial construction with a number of conventions. The crime presents a puzzle that the reader follows the detective in solving, step by step. There must be a limited cast of suspects. The setting - the props as it were- may be convincing but there is no requirement for social realism. The pieces of the puzzle must fit and on the whole the detective must not know something that the reader doesn't.
A thriller depends on a realistic setting and accurate detail to carry an extraordinary plot - I gave up on The da Vinci Code at the stretch Jag and Versailles in the wrong part of Paris. The Valley of Fear and A Study in Scarlet demonstrate the distinction; the first part of each is a detective story and the second a thriller in which Holmes plays no part.
The goings on at Ridgeway Hall is a detective story but not a good one. The House of Silk itself is a thriller and not a bad one; I'd give it 4 stars. But, there is no detective work there and indeed Holmes is out of action for much of the time. Within the detective story convention the life of the Baker Street Irregulars is irrelevant, but The House of Silk is a thriller so they have to be dealt with realistically. Similarly Lestrade has to be presented as a human being in The House of Silk. But most importantly the thriller humanises and normalises, and so changes, the relationship between Holmes and Watson.
Then there is the premise of a disreputable sexual perversion shared my many thought of as the great and good. That does not fit with Conan Doyle's view of the world. The notion of widespread paedophilia amongst our rulers Doyle would have rejected as a subject, assuming it occurred to him. The lapses in the Sherlock Holmes stories are all individual: for example indiscretion in A Scandal in Bohemia, an attempt to avoid debt and dishonour in The Bruce-Partington plans, and a dastardly foreign noble in The Illustrious Client.
The part of The House of Silk that is a detective story - the events at Ridgeway Hall-does not hang together and the reader is not treated fairly. Pinkerton's was a highly respected agency at times contracted by the U S government. Any agent would have had a contract and the Agency would have seen that its terms were fulfilled. Even if MacParland was underpaid, blackmail of the wife of someone of moderate means would scarcely have covered the cost of travelling to England and loss of earnings. Surely Conan Doyle would have had MacParland as a Pinkerton man, pursue Keelan with aim of bringing her to justice not for blackmail.
The authorities knew enough about the gang to be aware that Keelan had a room to herself but we are asked to believe that it had not occurred to them to find out why. It would though, have been difficult to keep Keelan's sex a secret nor did the Flat-cap Gang have any motive for doing so. MacParland knew Keelan was a woman but we are not told when or how. If he knew, the Boston Police would have known too and would surely have told Scotland Yard. That aside we are told that Keelan is smaller than Rourke but not how much smaller. The Pinkerton men remarked that only a child could have got through the escape tunnel but surely one would have said, "But then Keelan is tiny." Keelan is in fact a small woman and must have been slight also, but that also we are not told. Holmes does not ask Carstairs to describe "Keelan". Why not? That would show us at once that the fellow was not Keelan. Would MacParland an experienced Pinkerton man, have been daft enough to give his address to a ruthless killer he was blackmailing? Would even Lestrade have accepted that a corpse from which all identification had been removed except for a cigarette case with different initials, was of Keelan, someone half the size of the corpse, on the basis of a scar that Keelan might have had but in fact didn't? Then we are asked to believe that Carstairs, whose sexual preferences were quite other, was so taken with Keelan that he married her despite fierce family opposition.
And where are the exchanges between Holmes and Watson? Surely something like the following would have taken place in a true Holmes story.
"Holmes, why are you sure the fellow is not Keelan?"
"You heard Carstairs describe the man; above medium height and solidly built." "....and we know Keelan is short and slight, looking more like a boy than a man, and able to pass through a tunnel thought only a child could traverse!"
"Precisely so Watson."
"But then who is he Holmes?'
"That I do not know but I have sent a wire to the authorities in Boston and I confidently expect that the reply will provide the answer."
"How do account for the fellow's extraordinary behaviour? He acts as though he wishes to be recognised."
"There my dear Watson I am sure you are correct."
"But Carstairs does not recognise him although he is convinced that the fellow is Keelan."
"You forget that there are others in the household with American connections."
"Do you mean Mrs Carstairs?"
`"I do indeed."
"Then surely we must warn her!"
"I think not Watson. I can assure you that Mrs Carstairs is in no physical danger. I expect developments within the next two days at most, that will considerably clarify matters but we must let events take their course ".
This is a decent thriller but as an addition to the Holmes canon it does not pass muster.
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Stormbreaker (Alex Rider)
Stormbreaker (Alex Rider)
by Anthony Horowitz
Edition: Paperback

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Junior Bond, 10 May 2012
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I bought Stormbreaker on the basis of the TV series Foyle's War scripted by Horowitz. Foyle's War is plausible and realistic, as far as any crime series can be; Foyle is decent and reticent. I had expected the spy series of which Stormbreker is the first, to be similar. I could not have been more wrong. It is "James Bond" for adolescents. It makes no attempt to be plausible. It is a fantasy and for me an unattractive and unpleasant fantasy. But so is James Bond in my book.
I do not know how to rate Stormbreaker; it may be good of its sort for all I know.
PS I have read a number of books intended for adolescents with pleasure - The Dark Is Rising for example - so it is not the fact that Stormbreaker is for adolescents that puts me off.


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