In An Age Where Facts Matter, Keep Writing Fiction

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The biggest new phrases in our lexicon are things like ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. It’s easy to say that old adage “you’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts”, but it’s a perspective currently lost in the world of news and politics.

Many say – and understandably – that we need to grasp facts now more than ever before. They matter more than they have ever done. Now is not a time of escapism, of hiding from reality by delving into a fictitious world.

I respectfully disagree.

We need fiction now more than ever. We need stories more than ever. Because they’re often the best way of seeing the real truth.

I still can’t quite figure out why the book I wrote last year – Succession of Power – is selling so well. I’m sorry, that sounds like a very arrogant thing to say. I hope you understand that I’m just genuinely curious as to why a book with easily the lowest-key launch of anything I’ve ever written has done such good “business”.

A friend who read it said that she enjoyed that it features a woman president. Someone who was strong enough to stand up for herself when the forces of darkness rise over her. She said she felt that this was a reference to Hillary Clinton – the president that “should have been” (in her eyes) – taking control when all around is out of control.

I certainly don’t think the character Mary Rosalind is the same as Hillary Clinton. It’s pretty clear that Clinton wanted the presidency for most of her life, and spent all of her time trying to achieve that goal. It’s a perfectly respectable aim, but it was never the goal of Rosalind. Mary was quite happy in the position she was given, just a little frustrated that her brilliant achievements weren’t acknowledged.

But I see what my friend means. A lot of people look at the big political decisions of the past year, and are depressed. I’m personally not depressed about the politics of 2016 (or at least, not any more than any other year), and I don’t think that’s just my natural optimistic comportment. There’s a lot of things to be objectively happy about if you’re lucky enough to live in the West today. Arguably we’ve never had it better. Who cares who resides in the White House? And when it’s someone awful, then let’s take the positives out of that: it means more people are concentrating on the nuances of the Constitution than they’ve done before. That’s actually quite refreshing, if you’re more libertarian-minded. Welcome back to the fold, anti-war, anti-government overreach protestors. Where have you been for the last eight years?

And here’s the funny thing about writing fiction. Though the stories can be larger than life, they only really resonate when they speak a truth. When they tell us something about human nature.

That’s all Succession of Power has tried to do. In the middle of a crisis, a president – and a small band of allies – do all they can to stand strong for the moral principles of a republic, when everyone around is losing their heads. It’s about how not doing something is often more noble and brave than doing something.

But heck, if you’re just looking for a story where there’s a woman president who knows what the hell she’s doing, despite being surrounded by stupid, solipsistic men, then I hope you enjoy the book. And it’s available for less than a few bucks on Amazon right now.

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The American Presidents Without The Boring Bits 1789-2017

Blank white book w/pathIt’s out now. The updated edition of my (strangely) best-selling book The American Presidents Without the Boring Bits.

If you purchased it as an ebook from amazon.com, or amazon.co.uk or any other amazon site, I believe this is available as a free update (just go into your purchases and click the button by the title to update it).

You can also pick it up via my online store, here.

It’s a brief history of all the American Presidents – updated with a new intro and finally a chapter of number 44: Barack Obama – all told through the lens of a classical-liberal perspective.

More than that, this book was, way back in 2008/2009, my discovery of how the presidents that governed least often governed best. There have been a slew of so-called “mediocre presidents” according to the canon of history literature. But you know what? Generally, those “mediocre” presidents typically presided over proportionally some of the fastest levels of progress of American life; in terms of social mobility, economic prosperity and, heck, good old-fashioned happiness.

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I wear my heart on my sleeve during the book, but I hope you’ll take it in the lightness of spirit for which it’s intended. There’s more than a few moments where I take a sledgehammer to conventional wisdom and, indeed, the conventional “cataloguing” of the American presidents that most historians subscribe to. Warren G. Harding is often listed as the worst American president ever (seriously? Worse than Teddy Roosevelt?), but that’s not even remotely fair. There’s plenty of that in there.

trump-apwtbbBut it’s also fun, brief and hopefully, a little thought-provoking. I’m personally really proud of the new chapter of Obama. I think I’ve been fair, and summarised his accomplishments (and failures) in the best way I could.

Anyway, if you’re interested, the ebook edition is dirt cheap, so please do grab your copy for Kindle now.

Enjoy

Your friend,

Andy.

Brexit Negotiations and 2017

EU FlagA chorus of commentators are telling us that it’ll be impossible for the UK to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU in two years (once we’ve triggered Article 50), which means we’ll have to revert to WTO rules, and the subsequent tariffs will plunge us into an immediate, long-term recession. Not just a recession, but an out-right depression.

Are these commentators on to something? Is this likely? Before getting in to that, it might be worth noting that these are often the same people who told us that voting leave on June 23rd would result in an immediate recession. Remember that? Even if you do, they’ve forgotten.

The goalposts have moved. It’s now “economic Armageddon is still coming because of Brexit. But it hasn’t happened yet because Article 50 hasn’t been triggered.” Once Article 50 is triggered? It’ll be: “Okay, well, economic meltdown hasn’t taken place yet because we haven’t left.” Once we leave? Well, there will be more excuses.

At some point, given the ridiculous monetary policy of most western governments right now, there will also certainly be a global financial contraction. Maybe a big one. Maybe bigger than 2008. And when it happens – though Brexit is unlikely to be the culprit – you’ll be sure those same commentators will blame our decision on June 23rd this year.

Because of all of this, when I hear warnings of economic disaster due to us trading with the EU on WTO terms, I get sceptical. It’s the more of those same unqualified pronouncements that for some reason must be respected by virtue of the fact that they’ve been made. That makes no sense to me.

Right now, the chances of us getting a free trade deal sorted between March 31st 2017 and April 1st 2019 is about 50/50. If we had to do a deal from a standing start, I’d say we only have a 5% chance, given the EU’s awful history of this. But our terms are already active and in place. That should make it 99% certain that we’d secure a deal. But, the dead hand of the EU Commission and the other EU high-ups make it much harder than it should be. Though to be honest, don’t their petty hostilities right now justify our decision to leave?

And even if we do revert to WTO rules, will it really result in instant economic collapse? We pay £9.7 billion net into the EU a year. The tariffs (at current trading levels) are likely to be less than £3 billion a year for us. Much higher for the EU (we do have a massive trade deficit with the other 27 member states after all), but that’s just a good incentive for the 27 to strike a free trade deal with us.

But let’s end on a good note. The reason I think we’ve got at least a 50% chance of getting a deal in two years is the disconnect between the directly democratically-elected governments of the nation-states and the high-command in charge of the EU executives.

The EU guys talk tough because they don’t have to face a ballot box. But even the most sycophantically pro-EU governments in the 27 member-states are accountable. And if they push for rulings that make it harder and more expensive for, say, BMWs or French wine to be sold in the UK, their chances of re-election are, at least slightly more difficult.

Trump Didn’t Win. Clinton Lost

US FlagTrump “isn’t my president”, as so many people say these days. And that’s right. Trump isn’t my president. He’s no one’s president. But neither was Obama. Or Clinton. Or either of the two Bush’s. No one who has presided in the oval office since my birth has been “my president.” Not just because I’m not an American citizen. It’s because that’s not how it works.

The president is the head of the executive branch of the US federal government. He or she isn’t the king of the country. They don’t ‘lead’ the people. The people are free. The president is a clerk, a civil servant. That’s all.

If there’s anything good that might come out of Trump’s presidency, it’s that people will once again find a more constitutional attitude to how American government works. Those on the right who turned a blind eye to presidential overreach under Bush II, and those on the left who stuck their fingers in their ears and shouted “la la la, not listening” when Obama was in office can now unite. They helped create the situation we find ourselves in. But now, it might not just be the libertarians calling the president’s overreach to account. Libertarians have been lonely for some time. Maybe now that will change?

Like most, I utterly failed to call this presidential race. Early on, I dismissed Trump as a ‘cartoon character’, thinking he’d never get anywhere. How wrong I was. How much did I overlook the mood of one of the world’s greatest people, in one of the world’s greatest countries? A great deal.

In the way that the world didn’t suddenly get better because Obama became president, and that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have made the world magically better by being president, Trump won’t suddenly make the world horrifically worse. Will be violate the constitution? Yes. More than the others before him? More than HRC would have done? I’m not sure. But probably not.

I can’t help see the irony in the aftermath of the Trump victory. We were told – and I believed – that if Trump, say, won the popular vote but lost the electoral college, his supporters would take the the streets. They would riot. Police cars would be set on fire. There would be hatred. People calling the result ‘invalid’.

Look what happened when the opposite took place. I won’t say any more than that.

Delving into the stats, one thing is clear. Democratic supporters disliked Hillary Clinton more that Republicans disliked Trump. It was close either way, but she was the one that put most people off. Not because she was a woman. Around a million of them who would have voted for the Democrat went for Jill Stein this time around. About the same for Gary Johnson, who broke all Libertarian Party records with over three million votes, and breaking through the 5% barrier in several states. He wasn’t the spoiler though, a’la Ralph Nader in 2000. For every traditional Democrat vote he took, he got two Republican votes. And a large bulk of his were independents who wouldn’t have voted for either candidate any way.

Here’s the best illustration of how disliked Clinton was: of the 700+ counties that voted for Obama both times, over 200 of them voted for Trump. That’s what he needed, but it wasn’t a great result for him. Typically, to win he’d need to have gotten around 350 of those counties. But what helped him: Of the 2,000+ counties that didn’t vote for Obama either time, just three of them voted for Clinton. Three.

So if you’re not a fan of Trump, and you’re unhappy about what has happened this time around, maybe it’s worth thinking of it this way: Trump didn’t win. Clinton lost.

And be of good cheer. The world will carry on turning and getting better, whichever constitutionally-overstepping person sits in the oval office.

Out And Into The World

UK FlagWe actually did it. I was convinced for more than a year that the vote to leave the European Union would end up in a 60/40 result in favour of remaining. Once again, UK politics has confounded my expectations, and produced a result few predicted.

So what happens next? We have a new prime minister (in the form of Theresa May) and she’s stated that “Brexit means Brexit”, and has appointed serious “Brexiteers” to the task of negotiating our way out of the supranational entity.

But what exactly IS Brexit? It’s a negotiation that could have many different forms, so which is best?

I think the result probably helps inform this decision. People voted 52% for leaving the EU, and 48% against. A massive turnout with 17.5 million people voting to leave, in absolute terms that’s more people in the UK voting to leave than have voted on anything ever before.

But is it such an overwhelming majority that gives the government a huge mandate to pursue an aggressive and ambitious (and fast) Brexit? The numbers are large, but 52/48 is still pretty close. There’s a lot of people who bought into “project fear” and are deeply concerned about us leaving the EU. I think it’s important to bring those people on-side.
So Brexit absolutely means Brexit, but the closeness of the result should influence how we transition from being an EU member state to being an independent sovereign nation. It’ll take a little longer than a quick clean break, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

In the medium-term, there will be a limited series of economic wobbles, but nothing on the scale that “project fear” was threatening. Already their big scary warnings are starting to look a little silly, (I thought they did anyway to be honest). The threatened “emergency budget” never happened, but the drop in the value of sterling and the short-lived dip in markets did shake some people up. They saw it as the beginning of the Brexit warnings coming true. The question is, how can the 52% bring the 48% on-board?

A decent suggestion would be to create a situation where they see what leaving looks like, dipping our toe into the wider world if you will. After that, moving further out would be easier.

An idea I had would be to start talking right away to the EFTA countries (Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland), and secure our membership. It should be pretty straightforward. After all, it was the UK who created EFTA originally, as an alternative to the EEC.

Once a member of EFTA, we could leave the EU, retaining our membership of the EEA (European Economic Area). You don’t need to be an EU country to be party of the EEA, after all, Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland are all EEA members (Switzerland has a series of bilateral deals with the EU that don’t require EEA membership).

As a non-EU EEA country, we retain tariff-free access to the single market on goods, services and capital. We could unilaterally invoke Article 112 of the EEA agreement to apply a handbrake on free movement (as it was an area of such concern for many who voted to leave). In return for an agreement of free-movement of people in the financial services sector, it might be easier to secure the so-called passporting rights to ply our lucrative financial services to the EU member states. And that means in return that Germany can make money selling us their cars, and France their cheese and wine. All tariff-free.

A couple of years of that arrangement, and I think two things would become clear to lots of the 48%: firstly, the free-trade deals forged with the rest of the world (that we can’t do while shackled to the EU) will become striking and valuable, with a strong possibility that we’ll get our self-confidence back. We may also end up thinking that these free trade deals are so good, that we couldn’t possibly entertain the idea of rejoining the EU and giving them up. There’s a whole world out there, and the possibilities surrounding rejoining it once out of the EU are too exciting to ignore.

Secondly, they will see, simply, that the sky did NOT fall in. Free trade continues with the EU states, and life goes on quite happily.

It’s from a position like that, that we can start to unpick the EEA agreements, and replace them with a series of bilateral agreements, Swiss-style. Plus, our current laws and regulations will remain on the books, each only being rejected and altered as and when we want to. That’s not so scary.

The future outside the EU is bright and full of promise. My sincere hope is that in time, even great swathes of the 48% get to see it too, once we’re out and into the world.

Gary Johnson Wants to Make America “Sane” Again

Gary JohnsonWhile the two main parties in the US go through their procedural requirements before officially giving their candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the nod, in a quiet corner of Orlando, the Libertarian Party have secured their presidential and VP nominations. Gary Johnson and Bill Weld will represent the party in this presidential election cycle.

It’s an interesting pick. The libertarians, maybe somewhat focused on the relative unpopularity of the Republican and Democrat choices on offer, have chosen pragmatism over purity. Gary Johnson almost certainly fails most libertarians’ “purity test”, but so what? Politics is the art of the possible, and if you vote for Ayn Rand to represent you, you’re going to end up spending most of the election cycle justifying why roads must be privatised, or some other ‘kooky’ side-issue. But picking Johnson and Weld, the LP have a real shot – even though the odds are still against it – of picking up more serious numbers this time around. Johnson could even end up being part of the presidential debates if he gets 15% recognition in a series of polls. He’s around the 10% mark with his name in at the moment. Again, it’s unlikely, but it could happen.

Let’s make this clear. There will be three serious names on the ballot in all 50 states this time around: Clinton, Trump and Johnson. Clinton and Trump are statistically the least popular picks in recent history. I couldn’t find a time in the last 50 years where the Democrat and Republican candidates both polled with less than 50% approval ratings.

Which leaves one question: how much approval would Gary Johnson get? He has a problem: people have to have heard of him first. But if there’s enough attention (and with both disenfranchised Reps and soon-to-be pissed-off Bernie voters looking for alternatives, that attention could well be on its way), then here’s a guy who arguably represents the mainstream view of most Americans.

I’ve felt for quite a while now that while there’s some die-hard ideologues on both the left and the right, broadly speaking the majority centre-ground in the US are people who are fiscally conservative (read ‘competent’), and socially liberal (read ‘tolerant’). That’s a fairly nice big-tent definition of a libertarian, but Americans haven’t been specifically looking for one before. Today, that could well change.

In the 2012 elections, Gary Johnson polled over a million votes. It was the largest raw numbers the Libertarian Party had ever seen, but was still only 1.2% of the vote, not even quite their highest level. The odds of Gary Johnson becoming the next president are very slim, but if he can push the needle far enough, then there’s every chance that libertarianism in mainstream American politics could flourish as a result of his run.

Gary Johnson is a libertarian. Weld is, arguably, a libertarian-leaning Republican. They may offer an optimistic insight into the future of the GOP. Let’s take Gary Johnson as an example. He’s a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, in a state that’s 2:1 Democrat. How did he do it?

There’s no doubt that America is moving further and further away from the old socially conservative model that Republicans have hung their hats on for years. The times, they are a-changin’. And for a while now, the GOP has refused to move with it.

Lots of things can happen in the next few years to change that. However, it’s not totally unrealistic at this stage, to say that I can see a time in the next 20 years or so, where Republican presidential nominations are like, well, Republican gubernatorial nominations in a heavily-Democratic state like New Mexico. Gary Johnson came along, with lots of money (a successful self-made millionaire), and gave the GOP some money. They were grateful, but tried to steer him away from wanting to become the Republican nominee for governor. Despite that, they eventually picked him. After all, he had lots of energy and enthusiasm, and the rest of the field were going through the motions comparatively . After all, what’s the point? Republicans seldom win in a state that’s 2:1 Democrat.

Once he had that platform, he went full-blown libertarian, challenging the inconsistent positions of the incumbent Democratic governor. And people flocked to the idea. It was new, it was fresh, it was exciting. But more than that, it felt, it felt… right.

So he won. Became governor. Did everything he promised he would. He upset the Republican old-guard as much as the Democrats in that state. And once it came to the next election, he happily conducted dozens of debates with his challenger, and won with a bigger majority.

Imagine a time, not too far from now, where the whole US is like New Mexico. Majority Democrat. Picking a Republican candidate is not important any more, because those guys just don’t win any more.

So, just like in New Mexico, a younger, fresh-faced person wins the national GOP nomination on an energetic libertarian platform. He or she doesn’t get too much opposition from the GOP establishment because that establishment has shrivelled up. Then that libertarian pick gets to be on the main stage with the Democratic clone.

Then the future of American politics starts to get interesting. And, for this libertarian, a lot healthier too.

Donald Trump says he wants to “Make America Great Again”.

Gary Johnson says he wants to “Make American Sane Again”.

I think the two-term governor of New Mexico is on to something.

Send in the Clowns

GOP 2015 DebateCan the Hillary machine be defeated? It’s the question a rag-tag bunch of GOP wannabe leaders are hoping to bring an answer to.

My predictions on the result of the UK General Election was so far off the mark, that it’d be pretty shameless to predict the next US presidential election. But you know, me and my big mouth…

Hillary Clinton already seems to be walking the walk as the next nominee for the Democrats, and barring any magical moment, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that she’ll be given the official seal of approval without too much fuss.

I’d love to see a female President, though I want one on merit rather that because someone finally got there and people voted for one to “make history”, which is why I’m not exactly on Team Hillary. She sounds like a pretty authoritarian hyper-interventionist to this libertarian, but looking at the rogues gallery of Republicans (again, mostly great white males), there’s not much inspiring stuff going on their either.

Donald Trump – the cartoon candidate – is currently taking all the headlines on the Republican side, with occasional references to Jeb Bush, brother of George, son of George Snr. The GOP don’t stand a chance.

Or do they? Before the Trump machine starting it’s cacophony, Rand Paul was right up there, in the public spotlight.

Rand Paul – though maybe not as “pure” a libertarian as the supporters of his father Ron would like – is the nearest thing to a libertarian running at present. We don’t know if Gary Johnson will take the libertarian party candidacy this time around.

He’s leaning further to the traditional right than I believe his natural instincts and morals would usually take him. But he’s running for the Republican nomination just now, so I ease off any serious criticism, given his fairly commendable behaviour overall in the Senate, including his remarkable filibuster attempts.

As it stands, I think only Rand Paul could stop the Hillary Machine marching into the White House. While a sequel to the Clinton years wouldn’t be so bad (balanced books, etc.) I’m not sure if we’d see that from President Clinton II.

If the Republicans were to stand with Rand, then he wins their nomination, moves to the centre, and campaigns on a broadly socially tolerant but fiscally competent platform, it would make the whole election exciting.

Republicans would (mostly) fall in line behind him. But for Democrats, it would open up a bigger moral conundrum: do they “make history” and vote for the first woman president, or do they take this very real opportunity to vote for a properly socially liberal (in the classical sense) contender in Rand Paul?

Man, I’d love to see that. But given the recent history of Republicans voting for safer, boring, more, well, I guess, ‘conservative’ candidates, I doubt it’s a political match-up we’re going to see. And that’s a shame for all of us.