Saturday 5 November 2022

Seneca is better than Truss' lame quote might suggest

What have the Romans ever done for us ..?

Predictably, Liz Truss made a spectacle of herself spluttering out an attempted quotation from Seneca (or was that Sennapod?) as she bad farewell to the cruel world of Downing Street with a neat encapsulation of her brainless approach to political decision-making.  Seneca did however write some really interesting stuff - more interesting than the low-grade self-help platitude that Truss seems to like: the T-shirt slogan material that counts as worldly wisdom amongst people like George Osborne who think that Nudge is a work of philosophy.

We turn, then, to Seneca's blood-soaked Medea - probably most famous for its prediction of the discovery of the New World: 

... in later years a time will come when Oceanus shall relax his bars and a vast territory shall appear, and Tiphys shall discover new worlds, and Thule shall be no longer the remotest spot on earth.

Seneca also had something critical to say about the opening up of the world for commerce and multi-culti exchange - an issue we often find being discussed around here, and indeed which exercises a lot of modern political thought: the benefits, or otherwise, of globalism, free trade (and dependency thereon), supra-national government and more-or-less compulsory cultural fusion.  The Loeb translation runs thus

Our forefathers saw bright eras with crime and deceit far distant.  Homely, touching no shores but their own, they grew to old age on their fathers' land, and, rich with little, beyond what their native soil had yielded they knew no wealth. The covenants of this well-separated world were dragged together by Thessaly's pinewood boat, which ... bade the sea, once alien, become part of our fears.

In other words:  our [very distant!] forefathers knew nothing beyond their own shores, but they were happy, and lived well enough on what they had.  All these happily separate nations, each with its own customs, were forcibly wrenched into a single 'unity' when the first merchant-adventurers started stirring things up: and the seas, which nobody ventured upon before, became a source of troubles.  (Apologies if I'm insulting you by offering a precis.)

Now of course ancient Roman imperialists (Seneca's target here) were very much in favour of globalism.  They had every intention of taking their ships everywhere, with no limits as to whom they were willing and indeed eager to embrace in their world-system: all you had to do was subordinate your culture - and of course pay your taxes.  In return, you got, well, whatever it was the Romans did for us.  And, as John Cleese's Reg ruefully acknowledges, that was, errr, quite a lot.

We have more recent versions of globalist imperialism to think about.  We Brits had a good crack at it, spouting the Roman precedent explicitly at every opportunity.  The French would have loved to (and the Spanish).  The Americans are still in that mode, though less confidently than in earlier decades.  The Chinese are itching to have a go.  Somewhat more regionally, Russia thinks everyone across a pretty broad expanse of the planet should offer fealty to Moscow.  And of course the EC is pretty keen on having everyone in (and indeed adjacent to) Europe subordinate their cultures and pay their taxes, with compulsory multi-culti all round.  Which a majority of us Brits are now quite resistant to.

I don't recall Nigel Farage ever quoting Seneca.  But the golden image of a "well-separated world" of yore, everyone happy with their lot, might sometimes be rather attractive - on both right and left of politics; and for Greens, too.

Still, that list of "what the Romans did" is quite impressive ...



Old Git Carlisle said...

Bit off paste But

There was a quote this morning on BBC 4 by some ad man who had written a weird book, To paraphrase -The Maggie concept was that providers would compete to gain customers who would vote with their wallets on which was best, only the best would survive. But but now the providers were so big and powerful and not capable of being held responsible that choice had disappeared and the whole free market concept was corrupted.

Makes sense to me!

andrew said...

The market that appears to be especially badly served at the moment is the market in political parties - there are 2. The cons are both incompetant and nasty. I suspect lab are incompetant and nasty in different ways. We shall see.

Their policies are largely the same. I suspect we complain about it bitterly but in the same way most cars look largely the same. Not many can afford something that is much different. I suspect there is little we can do about that.

What we can do more about is open up the market in politicians somehow.
As endless others have noted private school to Oxford to spam to mp to minister to pm tends to produce the same sort of person but I would argue with decreasing competance over time. Consider the sliding scale from thatcher to truss (soon may she be forgotten).

Matt said...

I think people will, in future, look back on Truss and Kwarteng and understand that trying to do something different was necessary to save the country.

Sure, the execution was poor (mostly around the lack of backbone) which inevitably lead to constant u-turns and flip-flops. She should have removed the whip of the wet Tories before they undermined her so she could be replaced with their preferred place-man (Sunak).

Now we're stuck with more of the same tax, spend and borrow which will not turn around the fortunes of the UK.

I'm hopeful that things will get so bad that there is a turnout of people onto the streets to ensure we get a better political (and public sector) class than the total failures we have now.

Anonymous said...

The Truss/Kwarteng episode has become a convenient excuse to be used by those who are really responsible for our current economic predicament. Andrew Bailey was at it again this past week, trying to obfuscate his own failure and that of the MPC to raise interest rates, as from early last year, to head off the impending rise in inflation.

Similarly, the pension funds' "near-meltdown" was caused by their own sudden realisation that an inevitable rise in interest rates would threaten the risky LDI's they have loaded themselves up with. This had nothing to do with Liz and Kwazi. It was entirely their own fault, plus laxity on the part of the Bank and the FCA.

As for the "unfunded tax cuts", the only actual cut proposed was a reduction of the top rate of income tax from 45% to 40%, which involved a shortfall of £2bn. The other two "cuts" were simply cancellations of proposed tax increases. The NI increase is still cancelled, but Corporation Tax is once again set to go up to 25%. One wonders if that is anything to do with EU harmonisation...

The really problematic figure was the open-ended promise to subsidise consumer energy costs, without any form of means-testing, and for two years. But even that could be affordable if the price of gas continues to fall.

As for the "black hole" (figures between £30b to £80bn, take your pick), that only means the gap between government revenue and government spending. If the government reduced its spending, then the gap would narrow to nothing, and the black hole would disappear into outer space.

Even the above figures are trifling compared to the £400bn cost of furlough, the colossal rise in the national debt, and the inflation caused by years of money printing and negative interest rates. The people responsible for this are Carney, Osborne, Johnson, Sunak and Bailey.

They should own up to it.

Anonymous said...

Potential trouble in Kosovo - the police in the northern (Serbian) bits have all resigned saying they can't oppress their Serb brothers, Kosovo special forces reportedly heading north. Big Kosovo Serb rallies planned for tomorrow.

Don't like it. The non-Serb Kosovans, for whose sake we (and NATO) bombed Serbian power stations, troop concentrations and utilities until Serbia agreed to having Kosovo removed, are basically all Albanians. We in the UK are slowly discovering what that means. Blather about human rights and a justice system designed for Englishmen will come off worse in an encounter with clan-based justice.

"Some of the Kanun's most controversial rules (in particular book 10 section 3) specify how murder is to be handled, which in the past (and sometimes still now) would lead to blood feuds lasting until all men of the two involved families were killed"

dearieme said...

"an encounter with clan-based justice"

A bit like Campbells versus MacDonalds but without all that lovely Highland music, and the dancing, and the flash of tartan.

jim said...

I feel we have a problem deciding what to do as a country. Lizzy set the stage for the Hidden Hand to do its work. But most folk believe the Hidden Hand has found better pastures. No one believed Lizzy.

Perhaps a mismatch - or no attempt at matching - the populace to the work available to us. We used not to bother about this. Children born without thought or education, grow a bit, go down coal mines and into iron works. Tin trays made and flogged. Hidden Hand doing its work.

For many years we laughed at the Yanks with their cornflake packet degrees and paid for easy-in uni system. But it worked well for them during the great post-war economic boom. We Brits stuck with the rich buying into Oxbridge as usual with selected chavs allowed in on suffrance.

Then as the post WW2 economic boom was coming to an end we adopted the US paid easy-in uni system. Vice Chancellors got rich and the output did not couple so well to the stuttering economy. Hidden Hand had withered or gone away and history-of-art and philosophy was not so valuable when fed to the chavs.

Now our high house prices driven by us all being marketing consultants, rag trade and cosmetics influencers and phony financiers mean we are far too expensive for anything so vulgar as car factories etc that match the abilities of the general populace. We relied on the Hidden Hand and forgot the virtues of economic planning.

Meanwhile everyone else has built the car factories and strangely we have not managed to push the national IQ to 170+. Which leaves us in a bit of a fix. Too much Greek, not enough Roman.

Sobers said...

What Anon 5:26 said. For some reason our host appears to have an animus against Liz Truss, never missing an opportunity to make personal slights against her character or intellect, so I think we can discount his analysis of the Truss/Kwarteng episode as utterly biased. I was no fan of Truss, but its blatantly obvious to me that the true creators of the current mess have used Truss as a scapegoat to cover their crimes. I mean - is it Liz Truss's fault that all the financial regulators have allowed the entire UK pension fund industry to take one way bets on the direction of interest rates? But according to the likes of our host it was all her fault and the guilty men who created those fundamental fault lines (and they are all men) should be given back the keys to power, so they can do it all over again. Talk about rewarding failure......

Don Cox said...

"We Brits stuck with the rich buying into Oxbridge as usual with selected chavs allowed in on sufferance."

I was at Oxford from 1958 to 61, reading Zoology, supported by a State grant (not a loan). The entrance exams were quite difficult, I think, being based on essay questions. A-levels were irrelevant. I don't recall any of the other undergraduates that I knew being particularly rich. Maybe I mixed in the wrong circles. We were expected to study. The science library was very good indeed.

I think the days when Oxford and Cambridge were three-year holidays for the rich ended with WWII.

Don Cox

Bill Quango MP said...

Mrs Q is at a Russell Group university now. Sharing with 5 others in a student house. None are from rich backgrounds. Of the five, four, are the first person in their family to attend university.
Blair’s university for all reforms taking effect.

She was born 2003.

andrew said...

Those who think that truss was right are like me entering the euro millions.
(Sometimes i do) Nice idea but wasting time/money on something that won't happen.

To have a truely low tax economy you need truely low spending.
And balance the books.

The Erg wants us to be Singapore on Thames - great idea. But what about the boring stuff that is the 20 year long painful transition from where we are now.
Not many will vote for the end of the nhs or the state pension or state schools - that is the scale of spending cuts needed to get there.

The cause of small statism is generally pushed by those who have lots of money. If we want to go somewhere we get in a car.
Other people who cannot afford a car are forced to get jobs they can get to and those jobs often pay less than they could get if that could get transport (buses and trains)
The public transport system in London has had many billions of govt money invested and a part of the reason the London area is richer than the rest of the UK is the (massive long term) govt investment in and subsidy of the mass public system.
Something that has not happened outside the m25 (another govt subsidy to london) on anything like the same scale for the last 30 years.

Back to my point. some govt spending works pretty well like the public transport system in London. No one suggests cutting that back or telling everyone to get their own cars.
If only that was available in the rest of the country.

People want more money spent on the things that they see are needed.

My one sentence bottom line; until powers of spending and taxation are decentralised radically, you will not see much movement towards a genuinely lower tax environment as the North will want the south's public transport system and v.v on other things and each wants someone else to pay.

And I see no sign of any decentralisation as politicians like power.

dearieme said...

"Blair’s university for all reforms taking effect."

Blair? For God's sake the unis were like that in the 60s. If you want to give politicians credit it would be Rab Butler for his wartime Education Act.

Bloke in Callao said...

You have a trophy wife Mr Quango? Or did you mean Miss Q?

Sobers said...

"Blair’s university for all reforms taking effect."

Except it isn't 'university for all' is it? Its university for 50% of the population, and a system of economic apartheid for everyone post age 18. Go to university, and while you are not guaranteed a 'good job' yourself, all the good jobs will go to someone who like you did go to uni. Don't go to uni, get thrown into the outer darkness of perpetual minimum wage work, with not even the opportunity (as there used to be) of working your way up from the shop floor to the management suite. Now the 'You must have a degree to pass the factory floor ceiling' dictat prevents the dim degree holders (and there are LOTS of them) from ever having to compete with the sharp witted but not educationally inclined at 18 crowd. Its just another middle class ramp to keep the working classes down.

Its the ultimate irony - the very people who declared that dividing people into sheep and goats educationally at the age of 11 was the very epitome of evil are now actively promoting exactly the same principle (but worse, because its harder to harder to change camps the later you are put into them) at the age of 18.

Bill Quango MP said...

Sobers. I fully agree with that. I’m not advocating or disavowing the University reforms.
No degree, no matter how absurd a degree, no entry is a real thing. Only going to get worse.
Though, offset for the first time in a long while, by my relatives in trades earning more than their white collar equals.

The point was that it is not almost exclusively the children of the rich going to university. With the implication that those idle idiots join the civil service and destroy the nation through idiocy, sloth, indolence and general Tim, Nice but dim, everyone’s a jolly nice chap, attitude.

It is anyone who wants and is able to go, can. Providing they can pay. Or loan to pay. So the social mix is wider.

Nick Drew said...

@ For some reason our host appears to have an animus against Liz Truss

Not so, Sobers - until I took the trouble to meet her in person ...

... I had no views on her, one way or the other. Sadly, upon actually meeting her I couldn't but notice she was bonkers - the crazed look in the eyes, the crazy answers to questions, the incompetence of her team (never a good sign: by their acolytes shall ye know them). Purely empirical.

And handsomely borne out by events, n'est-ce pas? My 'animus' towards politicians is mostly invoked by incompetence. Which brings us too ...

@ I think people will, in future, look back on Truss and Kwarteng and understand that trying to do something different was necessary to save the country. Sure, the execution was poor

Sorry, Matt - but execution is everything. Intentions? Pah. Not interested; it's too serious.

Don Cox said...

"It is anyone who wants and is able to go, can. Providing they can pay. Or loan to pay. So the social mix is wider. "

Wider than when ? Anyone who could pass the entrance requirements in 1958 could go, and they could get a grant that paid the fees and also provided money to live on. That was a grant, not a loan. My recollection is that this was the case up to at least 1980. Even students on an art and design Foundation Course (a pre-degree year) could get grants.


dearieme said...

@Don: later than 1980. From 1990/91 funding swapped to a mixture of grants and loans. In the '97 election campaign Blair said that grants would be safe under him. He won and then almost immediately abolished them. He also introduced university fees.

For decades I assumed that the Heath/Wison years would the the nadir for British PMs. But then I recognised Blair as our worst PM and, even after Truss, I still think so. He's the only PM I'd happily see hanged.

Sobers said...

@Nick Drew: well bonkers or not, the Tory party died when it defenestrated Liz Truss. It had a chance to be different and it chose to run back to all the ideas and policies that have got us where we are today. We have Jeremy f*cking Hunt as Chancellor for God's sake. No Tory voter is going to vote for them again. They are toast.

dearieme said...

Blair and education: a splendid Osborne rant in the Mail.

"Anthony Blair sent two of his sons to a totally exceptional state school, the London Oratory, miles from where he lived. By doing so, he tacitly accepted that the local comprehensive schools were not good enough for him. As so often, some are more equal than others. But in 2002, he did something even more shocking. He hired teachers from the hugely expensive private school, Westminster, to give his boys extra tuition for their ‘A’ levels. After five years in office, chanting ‘Education! Education! Education!’ he was accepting the truth that all informed people know. Comprehensive state education is a disaster, especially for the poor. ... But the future Sir Tony was not admitting it openly, just in his actions. Shouldn’t he have used the schools he said he wanted all others to attend, if they were so good? But of course he knew they were not good. So instead he used the Oratory, officially a comprehensive. Is it really one? When I once suggested it wasn’t, the Blairs came after me, until I agreed to say that it was a comprehensive in the same way that Ten Downing Street is an inner-city terraced house."

dearieme said...

After Blair left office how did he choose to school his youngest? The old Oratory/tutors from Westminster trick again? Or something more heinous?

E-K said...

Well Seneca was from the Stoic school of philosophy which was never about being happy but about taking responsibility for what one can, changing what one can... or surrendering to what one can't.

It was all about inner tranquility, eudaimonia or equanimity.


Oh bugger it !


I think that's what Truss meant when she left.

E-K said...


Most of the train guards and customer hosts I work with have degrees. I'm in charge of them all, ultimately and my education amounts to a handful of O levels, a duff law A level (by correspondence) a decent ONC by day release and a hooky Chartered Inst Diploma (by correspondence and residential over five years.)

Most of the other drivers of similar authority have fuck all but the fact that they were born at the right time - though most have trades, military experience/police/prison or banking experience.

A degree is now two-a-penny and our town is full of graduate bar men.

jim said...

@Don, perhaps you missed out on the Bullingdon, had gone a bit quiet after ahem 1955.... Its great traditions seem to have survived though and its alumni land all the best jobs. @BQ congrats to Mrs Q, let us hope uni enriches and amuses.

Blair is doing an excellent job - of ensuring his family's ongoing survival. He is salting away his money such that short of nuclear war they will always be rich. From now till eternity. Plus attending to the fact that humans do not genetically improve much if at all. Therefore a lot has to be spent on one's children if they are to stay ahead of the herd. And of course barriers have to be put in the way of the herd playing the same game.

So follow Blair and watch what those who have gone before Blair are doing. The wealthy are retrenching and ensuring their ongoing hegemony - as they should. Just look around at the better banking services aimed at those who made a pile and plan on keeping it. Meanwhile the lower orders struggle to get more than 2% less 10% inflation. We are living in a world of multigenerational wealth but spreading that boon too wide risks spoiling it for all.

Truss and Kwarteng's problem was their Wiley Coyote economic policy was just a little too obvious.

Diogenes said...

Back to the Romans. They gave us games. Boris brought us "cakeism" and a travelling circus of hijinks and promises. Very Roman.

But how do you balance the books, or get a smaller state when we all want more for nothing. We have all been brought up on the buy-now, pay later economics. Debt is good. Savings are bad.

@Andrew talks about 20 years of pain but you have unfunded pensions and a growing pensioner population. You have high government debt that needs servicing just at a time when low interest rates are disappearing. We have, for a number of generations, spent the historic and future wealth of the country.

And as anyone in debt knows, you can winge but you just have to accept the inevitable when the collectors come knocking at your door.

We could always default on our debt obligations and start again. But where would we be in a few generations. Are politicians to blame or are they just following the electorate?

Matt said...

@ ND

Results (or outcome) are the measure as you rightly state.

On that basis, Truss was a failure because she delivered no value (and arguably made things worse).

The acid test for Sunak et al will be whether they do better. They will have a more compliant media and probably longer before it things fall apart but my prediction is he'll fail worse than Truss.

Things will get much worse because you can't tax the country into being more productive (and therefore better off). We already know this doesn't work because we have 20 years experience leading us to the current mess.

So the strategy is wrong and great execution won't change that.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if results are actually a fair measure. Rather, we should say “did such and such make good decisions and act prudently given what he knew or ought to have known at the time?”

Outcomes can be affected by a million things that have nothing to do with the actor.

jim said...

All rather depressing. A trawl across the blogs finds no useable ideas and the news is of a pointless beanfeast somewhere and us all going to hell in a handcart. Not much to laugh at at all.

Over in the former colonies they seem to be stirring, laying the way for that nice Mr Trump. He might liven things up a bit. Over here, woodburners smoking from Windemere to Woking and we look like making the teachers redundant. Well who needs edyoucayshun anyway.

Don Cox said...

"Education very good if of best sorts. Otherwise no earthly use."


Anonymous said...

When only 5-10% of the population went to university we built nuclear reactors and supersonic jets, developed the world's first computer and jet airliner (though metal fatigue did for the Comet, but being first is 'bleeding edge' for a reason). We built huge ships and 100mph trains - steam powered - in the 1920s.

Now? We have nearly half the population going to university, yet our average intelligence hasn't increased - far from it, it's gone down.

Intelligence is passed down more by the mother than the father, and bright women are having fewer kids than ever.

The "Blair generation" will be the best educated in history, the school standards minister, David Miliband, promised yesterday as he backed a drive to engage parents more in their children's education. Parents would be urged to support the state system, which an upbeat Mr Miliband pledged would create "the best educated generation ever" by the end of three Labour terms.

And what have we got? Decent GP engineering, anything else? I remember visiting a carbon fibre plant up Rochdale way 40-odd years ago. Now Japan dominates as in so many other hi-tech base materials.

Be interesting to see if BritishVolt goes the way of Silicon Glen, only ten tines faster.

Anonymous said...

Anybody know anything about BritishVolt? Smells fishy.

Sobers said...

"Anybody know anything about BritishVolt? Smells fishy."

Any 'business' that exists purely to suck on the taxpayers teat will always be fishy........