2014: The year it sucked to be a right-wing economist

Still think inequality is a good thing in the post-Piketty world?
Comment ça se dit, "slap in the face"?

Comment ça se dit, “slap in the face”?

Are you believer in the free market fundamentalist school of economic theory? If you are, then 2014 must have been a crap year. The main reason was the publication in English on what has now turned to be one of the seminal works of economics of our generation: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Let’s understand the magnitude of this. A French economist, yes French, wrote a 700-page monolith of a tome in one of the most mind-numbingly boring subjects known to humankind and turned it into a New York Times bestseller. Presumably many of the thousands of people who bought Piketty’s book probably have never bought, much less read, an economics book in their lifetime. Maybe they didn’t even read it from start to finish (this blogger must confess, he has neither bought it nor read it) but, hey, it’s the thought that counts.

L’enfant terrible of economics

I cannot emphasize enough the he’s French bit. If there’s any country whose economic intelligentsia has been vilified by the Ivy League-bred doges of the economics profession, it is France. Yes, there’s a handful of world-renowned French economists like former IMF chief economist Oliver Blanchard and this year’s Nobel Laureate Jean Tirole, but for the most part these have comfortably fit into the “system”, and only challenged it at the margins, if at all. Certainty none of them has launched the kind of broadside that Piketty did in Capital, a book which uncovers free market capitalism’s ugly face: that of a system which naturally gravitates towards the accumulation of wealth by the owners of capital. Rather than see the two most recent periods of massive rises in global inequality (the so-called “guilded ages” before the 1929 and 2008 crashes) as oddities, Piketty has painted them as the baseline: the social-democratic golden age in the post-WW2 decades is in fact, a one-off, in which the trauma of war forced Western governments to redistribute wealth to a degree that had never been done before or since. Continue reading

The greatest aviation duels in history

Forget Top Gun, here's the best combat rivalries from World War I to today
Spitfire versus Messerschmitt in the skies above Britain

Spitfire versus Messerschmitt in the skies above Britain

Aviation has captured the imagination of humanity since the Wright brothers took to the skies for the first time in 1903. But like every other great human invention, it would not take long before some military use would be found for it. When World War I began in 1914 most air forces consisted of a few scouts, but by the time it ended in 1918 the air arsenals of the great powers would be composed of thousands of fighters and bombers. World War II would see air power reach its full maturity; the war would see the first battle waged entirely in the skies (the Battle of Britain), thousand-bomber raids over Europe, the first jets, and most ominously, the dropping of an atomic bomb by an aircraft. Air technology expanded by leaps and bounds during the Cold War as each of the two superpowers strove to achieve a technological edge over its rival. By the end of the 20th Century, air technology would finally make it possible for a war to be won by air power alone, as shown by the 1991 Gulf War in which a US-led air armada laid waste to Saddam Hussein’s vaunted armies, which had once been considered the fourth most powerful in the world.

Despite the destructive nature of air power, it has nevertheless been romanticized throughout the years as evidenced by the glamorous image of the fighter pilot. So much that the US Navy set up recruitment booths outside movie theaters following the success of Top Gun back in 1984! But Tom Cruise’s heroics on the silver screen pales in comparison to reality. So without further ado, here are the 10 most legendary true air combat rivalries in history. Continue reading

The madness of Black Friday

It's not an Americanism. It's the inequality, stupid
UK or US? Can't tell the difference

Could be either side of the Atlantic

There are few things as ‘Merican than apple pie… and the mayhem known as Black Friday. On this day, which just happens to be the day after families are reunited for a homely turkey dinner during the celebration known as Thanksgiving, we see the spirit of kindness and sharing break down into an orgiastic shopping fury for the bargain of the year. Time after time we see the videos showing a complete breakdown of society as soon as the doors to Walmart and Best Buy open at the stroke of midnight, in what could easily be filmed as a sequence for The Walking Dead or some other zombie apocalypse movie. Decent Americans hang their head in shame at the sight of this insanity being showcased to the rest of the world, while foreigners look with a sense of smug relief: hey, we may not be a global superpower, but at least we’re not that pathetic!

Well, except Britain.

Replace Walmart with Tesco or ASDA, replace the name of any mid-western hick town for any chavy London suburb and you pretty much have an exact replica of the US’s singularly most awful cultural peculiarity. Don’t believe me? Just watch this. There were screams. There was tussling. There were fistfights. There were arrests. If there was a final exam for aspiring to US statehood, Britain passed it last week with flying colors (err, colours). Continue reading