On Lions from The Wizard of Oz

The geographic smallness of my beloved home country may give the impression that we Maltese are simple folk living under the idyllic and peaceful aura of our warm climate. This can’t be even more further from the truth as the Maltese reality is divided by social and political camps and riddled with complex contradictions which make us nothing less than a very interesting nation.

When it comes to women we have some problems. Apart from the fact that abortion is still a criminal act both for the woman and the medic executing it, Malta also has alarming rates of femicide, sexual abuse and a justice system that has constantly failed to protect women. Look, we are a young Republic, and as a nation are barely through our adolescence, so abortion, a subject which needs some basic philosophy and science in order to be understood is still lagging in the popular conscience. We are also a bit religious.

Marlene Farrugia

But we are also patriarchal and a little bit misogynistic. One of the reasons why Daphne Caruana Galizia was hated, for example, was simply because she was a woman and took no shit from men (and women alike). While men who flaunt their criminal behaviour both in business and politics get applauded by misguided crowds, mischievous women are looked down upon as a menace to society.

And still, the biggest female menace to society is yet to come. The threat of genocidal abortion looms over our sanctimonious society. Last month in May, Marlene Farrugia did the unexpected and presented a private member’s bill in Parliament to decriminalise abortion. It was a shocker because abortion is still a taboo in Malta and women who decide to have one are looked down upon with extreme hatred and disgust. Surprisingly, the biggest gasp, outright shock and horror to Marlene Farrugia’s bill was expressed not by the conservatives but by the liberals, the Labour Party and the pseudo-intellectuals whose response was an unequivocal, how dare you? How dare you Marlene Farrugia propose a solution to this problem and effect it so sharply and timely while we are still cowardly discussing between each other and behind closed doors the theory of our eventual indented action, sometime down the line in future history, to solve this so complex conundrum ourselves? How dare you Marlene Farrugia do what we were not able to do ourselves. And you even did it without our permission or even notice or warning! How dare you?

And it is understandable why both men and women alike are hating on Marlene for doing what she did as if they are surprised that lightning can also come from a clear sky. Marlene Farrugia intimidates many of her compatriots because she is a self-made woman who stands on her own without needing the backing of anyone at all. She can do whatever she likes and no one can do anything about it. And doing what is most unexpected, by herself, what all the merry men and women couldn’t even do together in unison, is of course so much unwarranted. The Labour Party’s reaction was a textbook case of saying I was deeply offended without saying I have been offended. In this way, Farrugia ruined the narrative which was supposed to have been inscribed by the powers that be that the Labour Party was advancing the rights of women through the parliament gender quotas (which will work exclusive to Labour and PN, btw). It’s like Farrugia has finally created the much-needed rupture in the plot of a story where something that is supposed to happen never actually happens or at least happens only much later with an excessively nauseating delay. It’s like Godot eventually shows up when he is supposed to never show up in the first place or a twist in the plot of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse where a sudden miraculous intervention cuts the story short and finally takes the Ramsays to the Lighthouse. How dare you? This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Let’s be honest. I’m not the one who likes pretentions, but this should not be confused with the women without pretensions Musumeci-misogyny type. What I mean is I don’t like to lie and scribble gymnastic-bullshit. Many of the Labour MPs and MEPs who have pretensions and made declarations against abortion are actually pro-choice and they should be called out for their cowardice. Politics is becoming tiring with all the delusional and cryptic nonsense going on. You, dear Alex Saliba, are one of them. Much of a socialist you have been during your teenage years at college and changed you have not, other than that you have become a politician who reads from a stupid script instead of speaking your true beliefs and principles. You are all a bunch of cowards to me, but maybe I have too many pretensions.

And trust the intellectuals to articulate with some overly-stretched -rational the unwarranted and futile action of Marlene’s. This chorus justifies like a broken record the cowardice of our politicians in order to downgrade the historic break which Marlene Farrugia has just made in Maltese politics and Maltese history. First, it was Carmen Sammut, the University’s pro-rector who recently showed her true colours by complaining publicly on Facebook against Lovin Malta for supposedly breaking the news of Keith Schembri’s health complications before the news reached his family first (the claim was immediately denied by Lovin Malta). Sammut declared, and I kid you not, that Farrugia did not do any favours to women by presenting this bill. Take it, women. Sit there in your role as the obedient gender until your royal highness decides when it is appropriate to defend your rights.

Following Sammut it was Dominic Fenech’s turn, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Head of the History Department to pour cold-water on Farrugia’s proposal. Bizarrely, he took credit for having already decriminalised abortion along with the Labour Party in the 1980s and what Farrugia was actually proposing was only depenalisation. Fenech’s argument is that given a motion was passed by the Labour Party Annual General Conference in 1980 which declared that no woman should go to prison for having an abortion, the Labour Government of today is bound by this resolution and therefore decriminalisation is already in place. When I pointed out to him the absurdity of this argument, and that in fact there have been cases of women spending time in jail for having an abortion under a Labour government, his response was this:

Dominic Fenech’s tirade

Hilarious considering the Freudian slip, but the audacity of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts to speak to his former student like that is rooted in a collective frustration amongst the intellectual rent-seeking class for having been outdone by a lone woman in the bidding of what a progressive force is supposed to do.

Fenech’s argument is legally absurd and shows outright ignorance on how the legal process actually works. Does Fenech even listen to himself when he speaks? All well and good for him having been a major participant in a motion in the 1980s, but it does literally nothing to the execution and enforcement of the law itself by the authorities – both back then and especially today. What Fenech should have said instead, is that the 1980 motion only serves to show how distant and discordant the Labour Party has become with its inherent principles: not only with regards to women but also with regards to many other aspects such as social justice, corruption and the environment. Sure, a political party needs to change, and surely the economic policies of today should be very different from back then, but on a human rights issue, one would hope that the Labour Party would have made a step forward rather than a step back. And let’s not also forget that a motion passed in 1980 by a political party, will change nothing how a magistrate or a judge or a police commissioner will interpret the law. Having said the obvious, let’s conclude.

Maltese politics has become a tiring charade of smoke and mirrors but at what cost? . Old habits die hard, and it will take new generations to stifle out the toxicity and the rent-seeking which is assaulting politics and society in general. However, I believe that that’s what is happening today. Most of the support to Marlene Farrugia’s act is coming from the younger generations who apart from agreeing with her bill in principle, are tired of a political discourse based on misinformation and fairy tales. Those who used to be lions have turned into sheep while lambs are growing into wolves.

Excessive greed knows no reason: A quick reply to the anonymous article hailing the construction industry on Labour’s portal.

This is a quick reply to an article posted here. Of course, it’s saddening to see the Labour Party digging itself into the abyss of the rent-seeking jungle instead of admitting to its own faults.

We have arrived at the point of extreme greed and shamelessness when it comes to the rent-seeking marriage between the construction industry and the major political parties. No one bat an eyelid as Deborah Schembri, previously the Government Minister responsible over construction and development policies has now been appointed as the official representative of the construction industry. Schembri was congratulated by Joseph Muscat in bizarre Facebook post and apparently it seems to have become normal to use the Labour Party as a platform for a get rich quick career in the politics of rent-seeking.

Meanwhile, someone from the Labour Party decided to pen a convoluted article with a narrative about Labour saving the housing market. The article is full of mistakes and half-truths and I have penned them here for your perusal.

“In early 2020, the Maltese property market gave signs it was going to tank.”

A market which goes up by more than 100% in the span of five years and then makes a meagre 10% correction does not mean that “the market was going to tank.”

“The number of final deeds of sale fell from over 1,000 in previous months to little more than 550 in May 2020.”

Shock and horror if we mean-revert to the levels before the property market started heating up.

“The future looked dire.”.

Indeed, for an over-leveraged contractor who had emptied all his lines of credit but couldn’t sell the large number of over-expensive apartments built on debt to gullible foreigners who can’t come to the islands due to the pandemic, the future looked very dire.

“At the end of the first quarter of 2020 house prices were 4.4% below their end-2019 value. To give some perspective, in the rest of Europe they were 1.4% up.”

Malta is the only nation-state in Europe whose property prices increased by more than 100% in an indiscriminate manner, irrespective of the geographic location of the property in the span of five years.

“Property is the main asset of Maltese households. Which means that if the property market tanks, the impact is not, as some commentators argue, mostly felt by property developers. The impact falls hardest on average Maltese families. From just that initial drop the average Maltese family would have had a fall in its net wealth equivalent to €8,800, wiping away two years’ worth of its previous savings.”

Look, this is no different from anywhere else in the world. The most basic and common asset which ordinary people aspire to and is most commonly held is a home. Well, simply because people need to live somewhere.

Now, theoretically, property prices going up would be healthy if it is matched by wage and salary increase but this has not been the case under the Labour administration. During the same span of time that the value of property exploded by more than 100%, salaries only increased by 20%. The result of this gap is the increasing exclusion of new entrants in the market and this is increasingly being felt by the younger generations. But there is also an obvious point based on simple mathematics which makes the argument above rather insipidly simplistic. The property market in Malta could only explode in value given the serious lack of supply of land which could be used to supply extensive market demand. The supply is only being increased by taking up more ODZ land and increasing building heights. So, it is true, that families who own a property, but especially land, have the guarantee of an appreciating asset, but for what goal or end? Supply is already constrained enough that selling your property to buy another one will guarantee you to get a bad deal. Most of the high quality-properties are taken and are not up for sale unless it’s for a huge premium. New apartment buildings are overly-expensive and of horrible quality with no insulation properties. Bad and ugly buildings lower the quality of life not to mention the lack of proper development policies which is constantly reducing public spaces in exchange of cars and buildings.

“Besides, as pointed out by innumerable IMF and rating agency reports, a house price shock in Malta, given the concentration of mortgages in banks’ loan book, would have strong impacts on banks.”

Sure, but we don’t need the IMF to tell us this. It has been like this for at least since the 1960s. Local banks are overly-dependent on the property market and that is not a good thing. It is also a sign of great stagnation in our local banking sector, a lack of diversification and a lack of innovation. As Bank of Valletta starts transacting US Dollars through Western Union, our banking sector is beginning to look more like that of a banana republic than something on which our future can rely upon.

“The latter would need to increase their provisions, to make up for the falling value of their collateral and heightened risks, cutting off their supply of credit to the economy.”

Please, explain why this would be a bad thing. Underlying this bizarre concern is the risky mentality to over-leverage oneself with various lines of credit to pay for construction sprees. Is this how we want our economy to grow? Back to the 1960s it seems. Let’s take on mountains of debt to build the hell out of the country then. The Ministry of the Economy should change into the Ministry of Construction and Concrete Development.

“In April 2020, the total amount of loans granted by local banks fell by €40 million. This decline in credit would transmit the impact of falling house prices to other economic sectors, which would be drained of the finance they need to operate.”

It’s the other way round. The author keeps harping about the gloom and doom which will befall us in case the over-leveraged construction bonanza gets a hold of itself. The construction industry comprises 5% of GDP (while real-estate is another 5%) and it is only fueled by the multiplier-effect of other industries mainly financial services, online gambling and tourism. It’s not the construction industry pulling the economy, it’s the economy pulling the construction industry with it. Look, it’s very simple. People need jobs to get mortgages and pay for their property and most people don’t work in the construction industry, get it?

This is not to dismiss the importance of the construction industry but keep in mind that political parties give excessive importance to this industry because it is their biggest donor.

“Government, beset with so many challenges, may have been tempted to look aside and concentrate on other issues. This is, after all, what the government had done in the 2008 financial crisis. In the second quarter of 2008 Maltese house prices fell by 4.1%. No policy action was taken. Banks started to tighten credit, as the ratio of non-performing loans doubled. The number of permits issued halved almost immediately. The impact was not fleeting. Official data indicates that even in 2012, the volume of property transactions was still a quarter below that in 2008. The house price correction of 2008 was undoubtedly one of the prime causes of the lackluster performance of the Maltese economy in subsequent years.”

Surprise, surprise, all other economic sectors were also doing badly especially tourism. Here the article fails to mention various important things. Since Malta had joined the European Union the value of property had already increased exponentially but it was still relatively affordable to the huge majority of Maltese income-earners.

“Reflecting this consideration, the current administration undertook several actions to sustain the property market. The first crucial measure was to introduce a moratorium on existing loans. This meant that banks had to give a temporary holiday for borrowers who were affected by the crisis. By end July a tenth of all households with a mortgage, around 7,400 families, were benefitting. Instead of facing financial problems, that in a worst-case scenario could have led them to face a foreclosure and have to sell their property, these families went on with their lives.”

Keep in mind that this scheme enabled people to delay their mortgage payments on the condition that their delays would be charged with interest. It was basically emergency relief at a cost paid back later. The solutions to our incoming housing crisis go beyond measures of social-relief on a profit-basis.

“Government was not content with stopping the market from dropping. In June, policy turned on the offensive. Announcing an unexpected temporary cut in stamp duty, Government provided an incentive for those households with ample liquidity to use this to go up the property ladder. The measure has been incredibly successful. Instead of continuing to fall by half, property sales went back to their previous level and then started to improve. “

The exemption from the stamp-duty aided first-time buyers but it’s not the variable which would make people buy or sell property, neither is it a variable which will enable banks to make their final decisions on whether to issue a loan or not. This measure would become irrelevant if the government opted to transfer dead-capital from the our stagnant banks and the over-heating construction industry to our consumption economy by a multi-pronged development strategy which would include lower interest rates for first-time home buyers (other European countries are offering 1% loans for property purchases of first-time buyers), cutting down the over-leverage in the construction industry, adding supply to the market and introducing proper development policies once and for all.

“The “usual suspects” will argue that this is another case of the Government jumping in to save its developer buddies. The reality is that this measure was a godsend for Middle Class families. Instead of worrying like in 2008 about falling property values and bank restraint on credit, this time round, the situation is completely different.”

I don’t know who the usual suspects are. Last time I read the press, very few wrote on this subject with a critical lens with James Debono being one of the only ones whom I can remember. Surely, the reference here is not aimed at the Nationalist Party given it is in full agreement with the Labour Party on the construction industry. On the other hand, I’m only a Labour Party member and surely don’t have as much as influence as the usual suspects who are funding the Party and dictating its policy over the construction industry.

Statement By The Executive Chairman Of The National Book Council On The Recent Controversy About The European Prize For Literature

Publishers and authors have asked me to make a statement on the recent controversy about the European Prize for Literature. Without going into the details of the case – this is a case about a prize funded by the European Commission and administered by the European Writers’ Council, the Federation of the European Publishers and the European and International Booksellers. Local juries are composed of members of the European Writers’ Council, which in Malta’s case is the Akkademja tal-Malti. Apparently, the local jury awarded the prize to a Maltese author which was withdrawn by the administering consortium on the grounds that the book was published by a publisher that is owned by a political party.

First of all, as the Executive Chairman of the National Book Council, I am in no position to comment on how other institutions, public or private, run and administer their prizes. Similar conditions would have applied in local grants with other local public entities, for example, and still I would have no moral, or legitimate, interest to comment or interfere in any manner. Likewise, it would be madness to allow any outside interference in how the National Book Council runs the National Book Prize. My role as the Executive Chairman of the National Book Council with regards to the National Book Prize is to ensure that the adjudicators follow the rules to ensure that their decision is executed and is defended. Practically, as the executive legally responsible for the National Book Council, I have to support the adjudicators’ decisions whatever they may be – that is my role. We, at the National Book Council, take great pride in the prestige and status of the National Book Prize. As a cold and calculating executive, I can tell you two things. Firstly, that the National Book Prize is even more prestigious than the European Union Prize for Literature. We do not only provide the monetary equivalent to the winning authors, but also much more in terms of exports and marketing – which eventually directly impact book sales. So we can reassure our authors that there are even greater opportunities out there. Secondly, it is also in our interest that the European Union Prize for Literature is successful, so as to maximise the opportunities for local authors. That any author wins the European Union Prize for Literature is a welcome outcome, whatever the conditions may be. In fact, I believe the European Union Prize for Literature should even take place more often, at least once a year. Brussels should increase the Prize budget, rather than heckle about rules.

BUT. If authors want to change the rules, we can do this together – and I can tell you how. First of all, being this an issue close to your heart, let me suggest we discuss this in the upcoming Congress on 29 May, so as to also reassure everyone that I am here to represent you until Government drops the axe, or I lose your support by means of your votes. If authors feel strongly about the National Book Council having a say in how the EUPL runs its Prize, there is a process we need to follow, there are steps to be taken.

Disclaimer – I have no idea how Albert Marshall, the Executive Chairman of the Arts Council, got involved in this as the President of the local Jury. I may not be understanding the Byzantine trajectory here. But, as far as I know, the local administrator is the Akkademja tal-Malti. The Akkademja tal-Malti is not a representative organisation of local authors – it used to be the language academy before it was replaced by the Language Council. It took the opportunity, back then, and rightly so, to join the European Writers’ Council and manage the Prize in the absence of a proper authors’ organisation in Malta. The National Book Council has never had any objection to this.

What the National Book Council has done in the past was to try and get a seat in the European Writers’ Council, without prejudicing the Akkademja tal-Malti, however we were negated this opportunity on the grounds that we are a Government entity. These grounds can be easily appealed if the legal reforms we are proposing to the Maltese Government are approved and Government has an obligation to do so given these reforms have been approved by your kind selves during the last Writers’ Congress in September 2019.

The reality is, however – and I am being very honest here so that you may get the full picture, at least from my own perspective and experiences – that our best allies are not in the European Writers’ Council, but in the European Commission and its bureaucracy. And I say this with sadness, of course. From my own experience as a lobbyist during the last European Copyright Directive reforms, I have experienced way much more effort and tangible work done in the authors’ favour by bureaucrats than by the European Writers’ Council itself. In fact, the EWC took such a soft approach with regards to the authors’ interests on the said directive that another network of organisations had to be created to lobby separately from the EWC. The National Book Council made significant contributions to this network in private through our own Government and public channels. My impression is also that bureaucrats in the European Commission respect authors to a great extent and they will not be willing to get involved in a controversy with ANY author – be it a Maltese author who has been allegedly discriminated, or be it a representative from the EWC.

To conclude, the National Book Council cannot take a position on the results of the Prize. However, the National Book Council may change the rules of the Prize if we are members of the EWC. This step is only possible if the Government accepts our legal proposals. My proposal to you is simple: we should leverage this situation and ask Brussels to commit themselves to increase the funding for the EUPL on the certain conditions. This, I think, is the best we can do as the National Book Council. We can discuss this further during the Congress on 29 May.

All authors registered in the Public Lending Rights scheme have been invited to the Congress in the past few days. If you have not yet registered in the Public Lending Rights scheme, do so here. You will then be contacted via email to take part in the Writers’ Congress.

Some notes on the impending housing crisis.

Some notes on the impending housing crisis.

This series about rent-seeking is just a collection of notes for the compilation of a much larger work. Footnotes and research for this piece are missing.

Smoke weed and live with your parents. There is one big elephant in the room that has been consistently ignored by Government and the political class. As Deoborah Schembri, the Labour MP, takes on her role as representative of the construction industry, Government expects you to believe that this revolving door is a normal occurrence. There is little excitement by the youths over the decriminalisation of cannabis as they struggle with the very serious social problem of today. After all, there is no amount of weed that is going to console a young couple who can’t afford to buy their first home. As a politician who supposedly is working to solve this kind of problems, Deborah Schembri is not ashamed to show you whose interests she is fighting for. Jungle rules.

The socio-economic impacts of rent-seeking are quite apparent. Sure, we have a serious geographic problem of land scarcity and a growing population and this is not of the Government’s making, but as the political-class has been interwoven with the rent-seekers for many years, they have only made it worse. Given that we have no natural resources, the economy is strictly labour-intensive meaning that economic growth can only be achieved by increasing the productivity of labour. If we don’t innovate and the value of production doesn’t increase, the only way to increase the productivity of labour is by increasing labourers. Throughout the last seven years, the Government has raked in more taxes with the expansion of the labour force, foreign workers were brought in, and more women entered the workforce.

As the population keeps growing, and property prices increase by far much more than wages do (see article on economy 2019) and property keeps getting bought at a steady pace the inevitable housing shortage emerges. Smoke weed and live with your parents.

The structural policies which should address this issue are missing because it is not in the interest of the political party-donors for Government to find a solution to this problem. If Government would increase the supply of housing and address market imbalances in terms of demand, profit margins in the construction industry will be cut and property prices may correct substantially.

A recent article in The Times quoted a study that 55-cars are added to our streets every day. Instead of addressing the problem right away with an underground metro, we have sloshed away our national funds into more roads reducing potential building space. Quality of life deteriorates with increased traffic congestion but an erosion of the quality and affordability of homes is exacerbating the erosion of the quality of life. The answer to your problems? Pay for a gym membership. 

A brief-history of Maltese rent-seeking

A brief history of Maltese rent-seeking

During Nerik Mizzi’s funeral in 1950 two lines were formed: one before his family to give condolences and another one before Ġorġ Borg Olivier which included the top merchants and businessmen of the Islands. Naturally, they were asking for favours, most of which were acceded to up until the Nationalists controlled the government in 1971. Some of the families who own the biggest retail chains of today got land from the requests made during Mizzi’s funeral. Others, in the 1960s, got much, much more.

National Bank of Malta Logo

The history of rent-seeking in Malta has never been researched. What I know is from many years of research, and oral testimony of many people who preferred to share their information with me before leaving this world. When, as an undergraduate, I began studying Maltese economic history, rent-seeking and corruption came up inadvertently, but most of it in sporadic forms of data and information. My focus was elsewhere and I never took it seriously. Also, today, I am working on a series of unfinished papers and books, so there won’t be any time soon when I will take up this subject and study it rigorously. These blog posts may serve me as a dump for the crude data that I have on this subject if I would be tempted, many years on in the future, to re-open this subject more rigorously.

Rent-seeking was not only a hindrance to the economic development of the Islands, but it was also a hindrance to the intellectual and educational growth of society. Given that we never had any incentives to study this subject, we will always have problems in understanding the deep-rooted problems of our society which as of consequence hampers our ability to develop even further as a society.

We barely have critical work on the Maltese economy let alone critical work which addresses the history of corruption and rent-seeking in the Islands. The academics at the University of Malta aren’t incentivised to write and study critically on these subjects – they are only incentivised to write simplistic and acquiescent reports which serve their paymasters – mostly the government. Gordon Cordina, who today is Chairman of Bank of Valletta is an excellent example of this. An academic who made a career writing reports and papers which tell and say what the paymaster wants to hear eventually landed himself a top job. Today, in Malta, no economist is talking about the impending risk of the abolishment of tax-havens around the world, even though, the Democrats have since Obama, made it clear to be their long-term mission. No one wants to hear about risks.

But this is not the topic of today. Today, we speak briefly about how rent-seeking flourished ever since Borg-Oliver took the reigns of government in the 1960s. Not to say that Borg-Olivier introduced rent-seeking in the Islands – on the contrary. Rent-seeking has been in Malta for many years, but my knowledge goes so far. And for a very particular reason as well. The 1960s was the great rent-seeking boom.

With the excuse that Malta needed to develop itself quickly to create thousands of jobs, the Nationalist governments of the 1960s gave away a lot of public land to some of Malta’s top 40-elite families including the land where today sits the Dragonara Hotel owned by the Bianchi family and the land in Attard where Corinthia Hotel was formed owned by today’s hotel magnate Alfred Pisani. Many other lands were given away practically for free to many other families who built hotels, factories, and in one case even a shipyard, and the list is rather substantial. Many of these businesses are today still operational, but some of them have leases (99-year) that are closing soon and the government will have the possibility to renegotiate these deals. Of course, most of these negotiations are made behind closed doors.

The big land grab of the 1960s which also came with a myriad of tax incentives, left the elite with plenty of capital to slosh around. But most of this capital wasn’t invested in productive businesses, it was invested in the construction industry to build high-priced villas aimed for the British clientele, and a wide range of apartments which catered for all type of spenders such as high-priced apartments in Sliema to cheaper options in Buġibba. The Islands were flush with new construction projects and property prices were rising so fast as to create a serious affordable housing shortage which lead to streets-protests by young people.

Then the bubble popped. At the turn of the decade, the speculative bonanza in land and construction dried up. The economic development plans of the Nationalists failed to bring about a substantial change to the economy as immigration increased. The lessening of trade barriers in textile industries posed a risk to one of Malta’s emerging niches and Europe was also entering into severe economic difficulties. Bottom-line the property buyers dried up, and as high-priced properties could not be matched with the purchasing power of the locals, the property market got busted and the construction industry practically halved. In the early 1970s you would drive through streets looking at many abandoned construction projects still under construction.

Then came the crisis in Maltese banks which were overly leveraged in the property market. But maybe overly-leveraged would be a too diplomatic description since most of the investments of the local banks were actually in the property and constructions businesses, many of them in projects owned by the same bank-shareholders. There were significant economic risks to the run-down in the National Bank which as of today have not been properly studied. And few, today, are ready to admit that the National Bank failed because of the bust in the property market, and for obvious reasons. One of the biggest risks to local banks today is that they are heavily dependent on the local property market, but of course, it’s a very different market from that of the 1960s and 1970s. When faced with the National Bank crisis, Mintoff had very different ideas to today’s central banks and economists. Instead of bailing out shareholders and providing the bank with extra liquidity, Mintoff simply forced shareholders to hand over their shares to the government on the pretext that the bank was bankrupt and depositors interests needed to be protected. Mintoff punished share-holders and defended depositors.

The problem with Mintoff, however, was that he did not end rent-seeking. He merely changed it. And with Malta’s economy booming to previously unimaginable highs, Mintoff had ample room to allow and manage rent-seeking as he deemed fit. Enter, the low-life rent-seeker. See, Mintoff, despite his genius had some very weird ideas. He reasoned that given Malta’s resources were throughout history mostly appropriated by the same 40-families, it was only fair to suddenly allow poor people to get a piece of the cake for free. This is not to say that people like Albert Mizzi didn’t do some rent-seeking under Mintoff’s time, Mizzi was after all Mintoff’s confidant. What Mintoff did was to merely transfer the rent-seeking regime to the working classes away from the grip of the 40-family elite. The result was a disaster and produced monsters like Tumas Fenech whose only claim to riches was his fraudulent and corrupt dealings in public government lands in the 1970s and the 1980s. Some could get away with a boathouse in Marsascala while others could do with large parcels of land for more effective business interests. The field was free for crooked low-lifes who supported Mintoff and his henchmen. One can not fail to mention Lorry Sant in this story. Sant was a long-time socialist militant and Labour Party activist who had honest and principled political ambitions. But when Sant was rejected by his party-comrades in 1977 in the leadership race, his self-pity and sense of rejection turned him into a vindictive and corrupt monster.

When the Nationalists came to power in 1987, the rent-seeking regime changed again. It was once again the turn of the rich and powerful to gobble up some pie. Eddie Fenech Adami, an incompetent village lawyer whose only name to fame is leading Malta into the EU, was surrounded by proposals of all sorts. The Gasan family had wanted the power station ever since Fenech Adami took power – only Joseph Muscat made their dream come true. Fenech Adami was also aware of most of the corruption happening around him especially Ninu Falzon’s, John Dalli’s Austin Gatt’s. Most of the corruption was covered up for the Party’s interests and the press back then was very docile to the Nationalists, even despite several smoking guns staring right through the corrupt. For example, we have known that John Dalli owned secret off-shore accounts in the British Virgin Islands, ever since he was involved in selling Mid-Med Bank to HSBC. The intelligent and smart minds around PN closed an eye to all these shenanigans, and life moved on because turning Malta into a modern country in the European Union was all that mattered. Under Gonzi, this rampant rent-seeking continued to large excesses until MaltaToday finally uncovered the oil scandal which happened under Austin Gatt’s own eyes. His undeclared bank account in Switzerland was never investigated either.

So what about Police Commissioner Rizzo? See, John Rizzo, although he would like us to believe that he is a very upright man, never intended to alienate his political superiors. The judges who were charged for bribery under his tenure were not a political liability to PN. Rizzo moved mostly when his masters moved him, and even when Rizzo moved against crime, it was only against that kind of crime that did not delve into the interests of powerful people. Who is Rizzo? Rizzo was a Labourite who changed his political allegiance on the day of the 1987 election result and commemorated his change of heart by beating up rowdy Labourites in the Cospicua police station.

One stark contrast in the way Rizzo operated was his war on drugs. Tonio Borg, the zealous Christian conservative had in anticipation of Malta’s membership with the EU started pressuring Rizzo to rile up the war against drugs. Throughout Rizzo’s war, the big boys in the drug trade were never arrested – it was only the street hustlers and the middle-guys who got busted. Some of the top criminal elements in the smuggling trade which were related to PN ministers made the intelligent move to take a step back and for some years, Malta had a severe shortage of drugs but especially of marijuana and high-quality heroin. The cocaine kept pouring in because the demand came from more established quarters. This situation kept going on until some of the street-hustlers linked to notable, corrupt, PN ministers complained to them their business had dried up. The pressure was made and in the Summer of 2012, a network of smugglers in the Freeport that were connected to the same PN ministers started bringing in a massive bonanza of new supply. Naturally, some of this money flowed into political donations to the PN – unofficially of course.

And this is also why it should be no surprise to anyone that even Joseph Muscat had a conscious and close proximity to criminals like Yorgen Fenech. The criminal underworld is by far more connected to our politicians than what we are allowed to believe. After all, one should also not be surprised why none of the alleged corrupt cases of the Nationalist governments was thoroughly investigated by the police commissioners which were appointed by Muscat. Police Commissioners under Muscat served as his lapdogs and Muscat’s policy on corruption was that of total tolerance. Remember that Mark Gaffarena, a rent-seeker par excellence who (diplomatically speaking) garnered his wealth in very dubious ways, was allowed to take a property in Valletta for free because, under Muscat, criminal and illegal activity by the government ministers was permitted and normalised. In fact, Michael Falzon, the Minister who signed away the property to Gaffarena is still a minister today as if what he did wasn’t a corrupt act.

And today? Well, there is no reflective thinking about these matters by the Government of today. We are being fed the lie that we should bury the sins of the past and move on. History shouldn’t serve its purpose and academics are too busy licking boots and being complacent to act as independent and free-thinking individuals. The only problem with this attitude is that you are burying the problem instead of addressing it.

ONE and the Rent-Seeking Apparatus

One of my major arguments in my historiographic work is that Malta’s economic development was strictly and solely due to foreign direct investment. This means that the local elites, who traditionally where in cotton, imported most of the food and served the occupiers with services, had a very little role to play in the economic development of the islands. Practically, since the island had no resources at all other than limestone, lacked water and land, the only economic activity it could generate was by direct investment coming from abroad. The mono-crop economy by itself did not survive the test of time either. On the other hand, local elites were not entrepreneurial and as they ended up investing most of their capital in property and foreign stocks, as reported consistently with British Commission Reports in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the local elite never generated any productive value in the economy which created enough jobs and economic development. Ironically, and many miss the point in basic Maltese history, this is why the Mintoffian years were crucially significant in the history of economic development, first and foremost not for its socialism but the inflow of foreign capital.

Now, such historical work, which I haven’t practiced for some years, is rather laborious to produce (right now, I’m working on different material). So, I’m going to stick to the present rather than get all convoluted with the past. The point here is that some things haven’t changed. Rent-seeking is still the rule of the game for local business and this hurts honest businesses and entrepreneurs who compete fairly. We are lead to believe that these rent-seekers are important, when in fact they aren’t, as most of the economic activity generated today is generated by foreign companies while the local rent-seeking apparatus bleeds the economy of its resources. Albert Mizzi made a killing off Tigne Point because he got it practically for free not because he paid a fair price for the real state. Similarly to Silvio Deobono who got the ITS property for a discounted price. This practice has been replicated in history many times over leaving the rest of the people without jobs and housing. No wonder the British Admiral had god-status in Malta, and was by far, much bigger in the imagery of the people than any other well-dressed Maltese. Today, the end result of this long-historical process of rent-seeking is visually apparent to everyone. The country is flush with horrible over-priced buildings and an infrastructure which is continually clogging the country with cars and traffic jams. Some contractors could even get away with knocking down the homes of people in the course of their works until the practice ended with the death of a woman in Hamrun. No wonder many members of parliament want to send their kids abroad, but they will not tell you this, of course.

The Labour Party was supposed to turn the tide on Malta’s rent-seeking apparatus but Joseph Muscat ended up being a fraud, after all because that’s what you would call a politician who would dupe his party and most of the country with his pseudo-benign intentions. Rent-seeking didn’t end under Muscat – it exploded literally with a dead journalist. And we, who supported him, are all to blame for this in many ways, but being self-pitiful has never been my way of life (despite my rare and sporadic, emotional outbursts which I may have had like any other human being), so I agree in trying to look forward and try and build a better country. Not many would agree with me, however, especially the Labour Party which is currently in denial over its responsibility for Malta’s state of affairs.

See, the rent-seeking economy is all about the greed and selfishness of a very small number of people who are abetted and aided by a bunch of political morons whose only talent in life is to scam their way into a political career. That’s right. There is no incentive to get into politics so most who do, do so because they are incompetent to provide a valuable service to anyone in real life. There are exceptions of course. Chris Fearne, for example, was a very successful surgeon before he entered politics. Others are or were criminal lawyers who legislate on laws that may often directly benefit their clients. Same with architects. This is why you don’t see engineers, scientists, historians, or mathematicians in politics – these kinds of people would not bother and they don’t need to get a €40,000 kickback from Yorgen Fenech covered as a property-deal commission to get by in life. Politics is an open outlet for corruption.

How about Keith Schembri going to prison? Isn’t that a good sign? Here’s the thing, however. Keith Schembri is the first high-profile figure in Maltese history to be investigated over corruption and thrown to prison and was only sent to prison thanks to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s work who had collected enough information about him that could potentially send him to many years in jail. It was unusual that for the first time one single journalist had made such a rupture in local journalism, so much so, that it lead to her assassination. The reality is that everything that is being unraveled today is owed to Daphne Caruana Galizia while the Labour Party refuses to acknowledge its part in setting up the stage for this macabre situation.

The political parties’ TV stations hold a very important key to the answers we seek from the rent-seeking apparatus, mainly because they are the front of this apparatus itself. Let’s start with the most important conditions. ONE TV is not the Labour Party – it is the OPM. Jason Micallef is simply the person who signs the cheques and cheerleads the gross maleficence of the station’s editorial line. Joseph Muscat created a system whereby the political propaganda is dictated by OPM which is then handed over to the parliamentary group the Party and its media. Everyone toes the line on the reply given which supposedly would be universal. Now, who dictates this line?

It is the people who would go to the Party Headquarters and donate substantial sums of money to the Party with the promise that they would be supported in their projects, government tenders and land deals. Look, this is not just with Labour. It’s the same with PN. What Joseph Muscat did was simply to copy PN’s playbook and adapting it to the extreme. Previously, PN had Żaren Vassallo. Labour has Joseph Portelli and the Zammit-Tabonas who all of them gave donations to the Party which exceed the legal-capping. Sandro Chetcuti was another donor. These people give money to the Party intending to get something back from the government with the Party fully aware of the intentions behind their gifts. Permits are mostly sought, but so is government-land and contracts. It is also why James Caterers and Silvio Debono got a 274-million Euro surprise contract from the government to expand its old people’s home.

And guess where this money goes? It doesn’t go to the Party either. It goes to ONE. Similar to how Silvio Debono used to subsidise the Stamperija. Why? Because party TV stations are not economically feasible. Who gets the top seat at Malta’s economic policy kitchen cabinet? It’s the guys who slosh their money away to the Parties and that is why we hear politicians speaking mostly of construction and tourism projects. It’s a very simple game if one gets it. But I’m not saying anything new, ain’t I, we all know the game is rigged and that’s how it rolls. But guess, what? This whole primitive operation is illegal from top-to-bottom and it only takes enough resources allocated meticulously to bring it all down by independent authorities. It is not only illegal due to corruption, bribery laws and political financing, but it also illegal because it often contributes to cutting some of that tax bill of the donor. What not to like? A political donation can cut down tax if booked creatively in the accounts with the potential reward of getting a nicely signed government permit for another project. Bargain.

And what does ONE do with this money? It propagates the OPM’s propaganda which is entangled in this spiral of rent-seeking. Again, this is why one of the most popular figures on ONE is Robert Musumeci. Given that the construction industry, despite being one of the smallest industries in size amongst most other industries, is perceived to be so important. So, it is no coincidence that the guy who prostrates at his masters and showers praise over the dictator even when the crowd is knocking the door over the dictators-head is the same guy who designed Malta’s development regulations – Robert Musumeci. So, it’s one big racket, you say? And one big scam? Yes. The donors donate their money to the party and they have their economic policies shoved down the people’s throat with a televised broadcast. That’s how the game goes. The cheerleading presenter to all of this, is, of course, another fraud.

Indeed, if you corroborate the money trail of a political party TV station and corroborate it with official government land deals, permits and tenders, you may get surprisingly very interesting results. Naturally, that of a tangled web of illegal behaviour and corruption. And this shouldn’t only apply to ONE, but also Net TV. This is not about a bunch of individuals who made a couple of mistakes, but rather a self-perpetuating system where the sharks keep preying with impunity. Empty the water of the aquarium and let the sharks die. Start with the political-party TV stations because that’s where most of the answers lie. Better and healthier fish will come along later.

Words have little meaning when they come without any action. Failing to realise the real state of affairs of the country is the biggest relapse the Labour Party is making into old habits. We are being fed the lie that if we pass the Moneyval test and make some Venice Commission reforms, everything will be all right and business will be fine. The reality is that the historical problems of our society will remain. Unless rent-seeking is addressed structurally we will preserve our economic, social and civil problems.

On books and circuses

One of the current problems afflicting the book industry right now is the same problem afflicting all of Maltese society: jungle rules. The rampant disregard to the law and to good governance by many public officials is outstanding not because it happens in the first place; we all know that greed can make people act in a very destructive manner, but because it is being allowed to be perpetuated by the same government which supposedly is cleaning out the house.

Allow me to be brief and spare you with the details which may only be relevant to our industry. The Malta Book Festival, previously the Malta Book Fair, has been held at the Mediterranean Conference Centre for more than thirty years. Since 2013 we re-branded the event and made it bigger hitting consistent record sales year after year. As the Festival grew over the years we started taking more space at the MCC to add more capacity until we practically started booking most of the MCC, including Republic Hall in 2019. Then we were suddenly told that we were not able to book Republic Hall anymore because the Malta Tourism Authority had front-run our booking for an event they are sponsoring which will host the Cirque de Soleil circus.

I was flabbergasted. It was just right after the end of the Festival in 2019 that I received the news. Eventually, the pandemic arrived and Cirque de Soleil went bankrupt. MCC contacted us and told us that Republic Hall was available once again. In 2021, we then received the news the Cirque de Soleil show was to go ahead anyway and that we were not able to make use of Republic Hall any longer. I protested against this with the Minister of Tourism Clayton Bartolo and the Prime Minister himself and all I got from the government was the request to help myself by changing the dates and location of the Malta Book Festival. So, practically, the book industry is expected to take a bigger hit in sales by further changing the arrangements of its event for the sake of a foreign circus subsidised by our own government.

The Minister of Tourism has just recently released a document outlying the importance of promoting indigenous culture as part of MTA’s new strategy. Despite the fanfare to launch this document, the Minister and MTA are doing exactly the opposite of what this document says – they are subsidising a foreign circus at the expense of a local culture industry. And the expense is on our side is at least €100,000 less in book sales and a long-term negative impact on our brand. Great way to help small businesses. So, it’s not just about the money. And we don’t accept bribes either just to make it clear.

But there is also a very obvious reason why we are being front-run like this without any consideration to our industry and to the families who depend on it. The Cirque de Soleil show at Republic Hall is a corrupt contract handed over to 365 Entertainment Group by MTA official, and ex-Konrad Mizzi canvassar, Lionel Gerada. Gerada, who is a convicted fraudster, was given authority by the disgraced Konrad Mizzi to allocate MTA events funds and 365 Entertainment is amongst MTA’s favourite recipients. 365 Entertainment Group has been allocated a substantial, but yet undisclosed amount of funds to organise the Cirque de Soleil circus, but the government-suibsidised payment to Cirque de Soleil is undoubtedly in clear breach of EU-State Aid rules especially given the context. Gerada has also committed perjury when testifying with the Public Accounts Committee saying he has no connections to 365 Entertainment Group when he was caught representing them and dining with its owners in the Netherlands. And guess what? 365 Entertainment is one of those companies which last year promoted Malta as a safe-party destination to British tourists and directly contributed to the re-emergence of the virus pandemic in the country.

Why do I say it is a corrupt contract? Because a contract effected with the provision of funds by a convicted fraudster and public official who is associated with the same company he is giving the funds to, is simply nothing else but a corrupt contract. These are jungle rules. A corrupt contract will subsidise a show by a foreign and bankrupt company at the expense of a local cultural industry of national importance. You would expect people to resign over this scandal in ordinary European States, but this is not an ordinary European State. And, despite all of this, the government expects us to remain silent, complacent, and at best help ourselves by taking on bigger hits in sales by changing our arrangements. I’m not sorry. The older I get the less intolerant I become of corrupt bullies and infantile behaviour by supposedly-grown men. In our jungle rules, corrupt idiots are being allowed to bully their way around in the country, wreaking havoc on society and our businesses indiscriminately. It is my job and my duty to defend the interests of the local book industry and I will keep doing so as long as the law allows me to.

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it. A reply to Grace Blakeley.

One of the problems with the left of today is that it is stuck with the ideas of its peers which apart from being outdated have been misconstrued by many years of Leninist and Trotsykist influence in European socialist literature. I have great admiration for Marxists like Ernest Mandel who in the Second-World War fought with the Resistance, but the Marxist ideas of our peers have a particular history to them which is completely different from the historical conditions which have caused today’s state of affairs. Mandel was born in a world run by empires and where capitalism was ruthlessly oppressive, where racism was the official normal, and wars took place which massacred millions of people. Post Second-World War, the world changed to a great extent. Western Europe adopted the social-contract and the traditional empires were dismantled, however great injustices like the Vietnam War still echoed the oppressive vicissitudes of capitalist-imperialism of the old world and international communist movement lived to fight these injustices.

Back then socialism was an incredibly innovative political-ideology which was adhered to by political-movements that directly addressed the needs and aspirations of ordinary people. It was also fueled by countless of political, economic and philosophical debates. For example, Anuerin Bevan’s programme for the National Health Service to provide free health-care for all was a very radical concept back then which even some of his fellow members of the Labour Party were opposed to. Today, free-health care is embedded in the European psyche as a given-right, but the historical thought process which brought about this idea in our psyche was fraught with many barriers. Just look at the debate in the US on the student debt-jubilee proposal. Some of those who oppose it claim that it is unfair on them after having paid off their debts themselves. The idea that someone else is going to get something for free while I had to pay for it may be, for some, unfair, but the simple logical answer to this should be that if I have suffered injustice, it doesn’t mean that I am going to accept that it is repeated on others. Indeed, from my European perspective, forcing young people into debt for a basic university education is an injustice which restricts social mobility.

This is why it was very refreshing to see AOC coming in defense of the Reddit users in the GameStop saga – a glimmer of light amongst the recycling of idealist left-wing critique which doesn’t make any sense. Rashida Tlaib’s proposed bill on stable-coins signals to me that the left still doesn’t understand the world we live in and refuses to think outside its dogmatic box. It is after all true that the leftt keeps failing to relate to ordinary people and keeps being sidelined to the periphery of politics. Grace Blakeley‘s text on the GameStop saga produces the same kind of frustration. Hers is a very dogmatic and idealistic critique which once again re-affirms the left’s refusal to re-read Marx in the light of the events which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even Slavoj Zizek is not meticulously engaged with Marx and history as he is more concerned with Hegel and Lacan, but at least he has been one of the only few contemporary left-wing intellectuals who brought some tangible and rational discourse forward that broke away from left-wing idealism – case in point was when Zizek actually extolled the virtues of voting and inspired many young English left-wingers to eventually join the Labour Party and militate for Corbyn.

Post-GameStop saga, Blakeley argues that the fact that people can buy a company’s shares in an economy where most shares are owned by a very few number of people may create the illusion that somehow, ordinary people can successfully become owners of capital and achieve economic emancipation by becoming capitalist owners. Blakeley says, somewhat bizarrely, that neo-liberalism entices workers to believe that they can only exercise power as capitalist owners. I find this sentiment strange given that the point of Marx was that workers should become collective owners, but it seems to me that Blakeley sees this as an abstraction and an impossibility in today’s capitalist framework. Never mind the current phenomenon were countless of small businesses are being decimated and the aspirations of young people to open their own business in some of the most difficult conditions ever – from Blakeley they should rather keep their pay-cheque. But let’s drop this for a moment and go into some theory. The problem with Blakeley’s argument is that she does this from the stand-point of Mandel’s Marxist idealism whereas private ownership of assets under capitalism, primarily what used to be described as the workers’ collective ownership of the means of production, is not emancipatory given that this collective ownership will still uphold the rules of capitalism in trade and probably even finance. She highlights this point hyperbolically by saying that ordinary people buying stocks “are in an alliance against workers” and supporting companies which do great damage in the “Global South”.

I find this argument non-dialectical, simplistic and akin to Lassalle’s argument of the abolishment of the wages system which Marx derided. The failure of the re-reading of Marx by the left probably stems from the lack of appreciation of history itself which was essential for Marx to break with Hegel through Hegel himself by outlying the dialectical forces of history. And the lack of appreciation for history also stems from the rigid and dogmatic Leninist and Trotskyist views which were adopted by the left as the mainstay of Marxist philosophy. It seems that the left is confident in its misconstrued world-view and speaks as if it is a textbook of Andre Gunder-Frank’s theories while ignoring the massive historical changes that have happened ever since Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto. The point of Marx is to break from economic idealism, but the left is instead building its own idealistic bunker.

Marx can not be read idealistically or from the lack of a historical stand-point. I would say it is even non-Marxist to apply many of Marx’s concepts in today’s world. It should be obvious to a historian that even capitalism itself has changed its form and nature and this is also where Fukuyama gets it wrong with his constant hip-hopping of his endless list of static categories which are imposed on a linear course of history that supposedly explain how and why liberal-democracy and capitalism have mutually grown together. Feudalism took many hundreds of years to change and transform itself, so much so that historians have a difficulty and disagree between them on marking its beginning and the end on exact chronological terms. It is also similar with capitalism. We have seen through the course of the last century great changes to capitalism, most noteworthy, probably, the abolishment of traditional empires and the emergence of new global economic powers like Japan and today, China. Western Europe in the post-Second World War era adopted a new social contract which ensured free healthcare, free education and social mobility and the 1960s European Social Charter also echoes Marx’s words in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts that we should live in a meritocratic economy where people can freely chose their career out of will, desire and ambition and achieve success at it instead of having to forcefully choose a job and work simply to pay the bills. Additionally, the taxation regimes have changed and liberal-democracy have provided the opportunity for people to fight for their interests with their vote creating a wave upon wave of social-legislation which improved people’s lives.

Blakeley underlooks history. Europe after the plague epidemic of the 14th century had a serious labour-shortage which led to many serfs becoming peasants and this was a decisive hit to feudalism in its transition to capitalism. After the Second-World War we have seen changes in capitalism which are distinct from Victorian era-capitalism such as the nationalisation of companies to protect jobs, workers becoming capitalists, the booming of small businesses and the rise of the middle-class, free healthcare and free education, strong welfare states and much more. Although the rich got richer, workers and ordinary people also got richer and had greater access to money and the financial markets. The boomer generation is indistinguishable from the workers and ordinary people of the 1920s and the 1930s. The great material progress made ever since Marx wrote on the abolishment of capital is overwhelming. Marx never denied the incredible forces of capitalism which can produce great wealth. Marx’s problem with capitalism is that its basic legal system was built to make the wealthy wealthier at the expense of free labour. But Marx’s problem with the system of production also had a historical aspect to it and Marx was very aware of this:

The so-called distribution relations, then, correspond to and arise from historically determined specific social forms of the process of production and mutual relations entered into by men in the reproduction process of human life. The historical character of these distribution relations is the historical character of production relations, of which they express merely one aspect. Capitalist distribution differs from those forms of distribution which arise from other modes of production, and every form of distribution disappears with the specific form of production from which it is descended and to which it corresponds.

The relations of production are taking a different character in their historical course thanks to technology and also thanks to the introduction of intellectual property. The invention and widespread use of computer coding drastically increased the meritocratic opportunity in the world of business while the process of value creation took historically different characteristics wherein young and capable coders could build their products and their businesses even single-handedly. Today, the problem is that some of these businesses such as Microsoft and Apple have grown so big as to effectively wield monopolistic power. On the other hand, we have also seen digital companies extracting value from small-business and replacing them with cheap-paying jobs and huge returns to shareholders – case in point is Amazon. Oil brought great changes to the economy as well, but the green-energy transition is also changing that again. Surely, the process of value creation is changing and one can not apply Marx’s literal texts on these themes because they have historical distinctive characteristics from the process of value creation in Marx’s time. Undoubtedly the concept of free-labour in relation to the surplus-value still exists in the capitalist system, and in some sectors of the economy this aberration has actually got worse with new digital brokers and middle-men coming into the scene and taking a cut of the profit from both businesses and workers – Gig economy, Bolt, Uber etc…

Classes are also changing dramatically. The old capitalist-elite has changed dramatically. The financial elite who took over from the industrial elite in the 19th century are now being taken over by the digital elite. The old families who were in the car business ever since cars were invented are being challenged by a young entrant who coded Paypal and then sold it to start an electric-car company and space-company with the aim to go go to Mars. The historical rise of the middle-class, the house equipped with the domestic appliances and the family car, mass-literacy, the huge decrease in poverty and the eradication of polio, has also been met with advent of space-capitalists.

We are of course, still living in capitalism and the financial markets are clear testament of this. The stock market mirrors society’s hierarchy of classes quite explicitly as the massive number of assets available are mostly owned by the very few while the masses own a tiny fraction of it. At the same time, the architecture of finance is changing too. Bitcoin and crypto-currency are changing finance to the extent of making banks obsolete with decentralised finance and Bitcoin platforms which take on the banking role of providing loans and paying interest. So far the left has overlooked this incredible development, despite the fact that the banking system is one of the most important structures which make the system of capital so skewed in favour of those who hold assets at the expense of those who don’t (more on this another time).

The GameStop saga also shows a very interesting reality which was non-existent even a few years ago. Ordinary people can actually, and with concentrated and collective effort cause significant events in the financial market. No, we are not speaking of a systematic event here, and sure, there were investors in the GameStop long like Michael Burry who also made a lot of money on the trade, but by now no one can deny the power of the collective retail investor which can in some situations be very effective and may even put hedge funds out of business. But not only so. GameStop was in fact a classic case of a business going bust due to severe economic conditions and competition by bigger businesses like Amazon. It was shorted aggressively and greedily by hedge funds who were fought back by a retail army who loved their brand. This was a very rare occasion in history where the small fish gathered together and successfully exerted their power in the stock market. Now, of course, the retail guys could have been front-run by the insiders who manage of the plumbing of the system, but no one can deny that this event actually happened just like no one can deny that hedge funds and rich people have been buying billions of Dollars of Bitcoin from small fish who bought in early when hardly anyone wanted to buy it, creating as a result what may be described as one of the biggest wealth transfer events from rich to poor in recent history.

Just because wealth re-distribution doesn’t necessarily abolish capitalism as Mandel said it doesn’t mean it isn’t emancipatory. For many years people have fought for their right to be represented in parliament and be able to vote. When everyone was eventually able to vote, social legislation became more popular. Nowadays, we see more people wanting to participate in the financial markets and many of them feel entitled to make money out of it – this is good. Eventually financial markets will also change due to the increased popular participation and they are already changing – case in point is Bitcoin and crypto-currency. As more and more young people come into the financial markets, the political, financial and economic aspects of the financial system will also change. I’m not saying it will change for the good, but this is history in the making and refusing to accept is akin to once again ignoring the aspirations of ordinary people. The financial system is run by bankers, bureaucrats and big capitalists who set the rules of the game in their favour, but, if thanks to the internet and the democratisation and profusion of knowledge ordinary people are becoming well versed in financial markets, and in some cases even beating hedge funds, then that’s welcome. This will not bring more injustice to the world. So, instead of admonishing young people for trying to get rich from the stock market aby condemning them as “allies of oppressive capital”, socialists should be trying to make sure that many more ordinary people owned assets and even more power in the financial markets. It’s like Proudhon has taken over the left and the moralistic disengagement from the system is the only way out. This idea is absurd and would be equivalent to ask workers to refuse to join trade-unions because they compromise with capitalists. I’m pretty well sure that both Marx and Lenin thought that a tangible improvement in the workers’ life is way much more valuable than a hundred political programmes. Disengaging with the system to adopt moralising platitudes will give you just that: the bleating of age-old slogans. After all, even the British left realised very well in 2010 that engaging with the system, joining Labour and voting in elections is the best way to effect positive and progressive change.

To conclude, Marx’s most famous adage in The German Ideology applies, but the left has once again entered the trap of idealistic remorse. It’s as if the left is stuck in Plato’s post-modern cave creating ideas which are not really applicable outside, a disenfranchised character in a novel by Camus or the woman in the dunes of Hiroshi Teshigahara, resigned to live in the sand for ever. And this is very unfortunate with its results apparent to everyone – the left in the periphery of power while the right keeps winning more and more.

The Return of the Jedi

In 2010, when Europe was going through austerity and lost the social contract it had upheld ever since the end of the Second World War, when UK university tuition fees were increased and during the hype of Occupy Wall Street, Slavoj Zizek made his most important discourse ever. He extolled the Leninist virtues of taking power amongst a large crowd of young, angry, left-wing kids who saw ahead of them a bleak future of economic recession with no political leadership. The Socialist Workers Party which had organised the festival, lost its credibility with a rape scandal and most of the young people who attended that 2010 debate, eventually, joined Ken Loach’s political movement which debated the way forward for the left. Then, they ended up joining the Labour Party, helped Jeremy Corbyn get elected and became Labour front-liners. It was obvious by then to the young left-wing idealists that the only possible way to change the world was to take power and power was transferred through the vote.

Enter Satoshi

You had to be fucking crazy to buy Bitcoin at 100 Dollars. I had friends back then who were mining it in their bedrooms. It sounded like an experimental game by a bunch of highly-intelligent computer nerds who were building their own financial eco-system. Give me a break. I had too much interesting stuff to read back then to get remotely interested in an article describing a peer-to-peer financial eco-system which was being used to buy illegal stuff on the internet. Back then this kind of stuff was all over the place and we used peer-to-peer software to share our files and music with each other. There were so many experiments, so many new things coming up that Bitcoin was just one of the many. But then many things started happening. Young people were suddenly finding it difficult to buy homes. The cost of education was rising fast and many traditional industries were shedding jobs. Many of the new jobs that were being created seemed to be low-paid – the Gig Economy – they called it. Today, I read with astonishment stories of nurses and academics who have to do sex-work to get-by.

For me it was always obvious that traditional Keynesian economics did no longer make sense in today’s conditions, so I never really understood why economists kept harping about deflation. Does the correlation between employment figures and the rise of prices actually mean anything at all since the 1970s petro-crisis? Why do we keep deluding ourselves we are living in a deflationary world when the quality of life and purchasing power of young people is drastically less than their parents? Does it actually make sense to keep discussing traditional economic principles on inflation when your purchasing power is eaten away by housing and you can’t save for your retirement? I’m sorry, but the argument on the transfer of wealth from the boomers to the millennials does not provide any consolation. Boomers didn’t need their parents wealth to achieve a financially prosperous life.

Apparently, the only hope of the bureaucrats of Europe is China. The Chinese are supposedly going to buy so much stuff from us that we are going to pay off our debts. Economic recovery will surely ensue. Europe’s next UNESCO cultural heritage nominee is going to be a Louis Vuitton hand-bag (maybe they already did it, who knows?). But then, Bitcoin bottomed at around 3000 Dollars and then started climbing up. So, like the sheep, that I am, I read the white-paper only because many other people were taking it very seriously, and after reading the white-paper, I realised that Satoshi really had something going on there.

The Return of the Jedi

Trump in power. Bernie out of the game. Corbyn humiliated. Merkel as the aging complacent conservative who does deals with dictators while the European house is in shambles. Macron as the young-shining light of Europe? Maybe, but really nothing is changing. Except that our energy is getting slightly cleaner and a bit better. Ok. But other than that? How has your life changed for the better? What did the European leaders do for us? Much of this rhetoric can be applied elsewhere, especially the US. People would like to live better lives and see a better world for their children and no one is giving it to them. So, suddenly, people are finding ways to change the world by themselves outside the traditional spheres of power and Bitcoin is one of them. No, it is not going to solve the world’s problems, but it is and it has, transferred wealth from the rich to the poor. If you are not paying attention, then I’m sorry, but I am not going to bother to source the references and do the research for you. It’s too late and there has been too many drinks passing around to do that. Hedge funds are a dying breed and have been closing down while retail investors have been beating Wall Street ever since the pandemic begun. Now, central banks are fretting and getting worried that they are losing control of the financial system. They hate Bitcoin and don’t want young kids dictating stock valuations while they squeeze out hedge funds from their shorts.

They say that quantative easing creates bank reserves and doesn’t cause inflation nor does it affect market valuations. Sure. That’s why the stock market bubble is solely being pumped by the retail trader in one’s bedroom. I’m not so sure. Maybe the correlation between the money-supply and the stock-market does actually make sense and has some interesting significance to what’s going on in the economy. Our debt keeps growing, public expenditure keeps sky-rocketing and yet economic growth is subdued. These are not the consequences of the pandemic – we’ve been going through this ever since the financial crash of 2007 and if anything the pandemic has just exacerbated the cycle of stagnant economic growth.

With no political leadership to look up to, and nothing new in the economic horizon, Bitcoin just keeps making more sense. If we don’t have the opportunity to be involved in a political movement which actually aspires and aims to change the world, we have no choice but to change the world ourselves. We can start with the financial system itself which actually serves, as of today and first and foremost as a casino for those who already own assets ( and those who do, generally own lots of them). Bitcoin can serve as a decentralised financial system which can be rather difficult to control and transfer some of that wealth back to those who have no assets. Our parents had the opportunity to own interest on their savings through bonds. The advent of crypto-exchanges which provide lending services and interest payments against crypto-currency is a total game-changer in the world of finance. Theoretically, crypto-currency, is actually and really making banks obsolete. I really did not see this coming when Bitcoin was 100 Dollars. And neither did I see coming the young nerds defending their favourite companies by buying their stocks and squeezing out hedge funds’ shorts. If only the big book-publishing bosses (mostly, old and white men) stopped ingratiating with Amazon and took a dose of courage from the young kids today, we’d have a better book industry.

The long march in the mountains

Do you know how revolutions were made back then? Mao Tse-tung lived in the mountains and had to march armies through mountains and rivers. Lenin and the Bolsheviks lived for many years in shabby apartments in Europe, struggling to survive on donations while writing pamphlets of communist insurrection. Eventually they all had to fight or die. As of now, today, politics seems more civilised. People are becoming ever more aware of the power of the vote and when the vote fails alternatives are being sought. Usually, we are not very quick to realise about the historic changes we go through. It’s like when the city you live in is changing block by block and you only become aware of the change when the whole sky-line has become completely different from what it used to be.

I don’t think we live in a deflationary world and I don’t even think the word itself makes sense in the current economic context we live in. We live in a very rapidly-changing world, for good or for worse and many economic concepts of the past are no longer applicable. Bread and eggs aren’t getting cheaper either. Seriously. I’ll start believing I live in a deflationary environment when people buying stuff at the supermarket don’t actually need to check their exact quantities in fear of exceeding their budget for possibly defaulting on their credit card.

Let’s get this straight – no one ever said capitalism wasn’t productive. Back in the bleak days of the Victorian era, Marx was astonished at the riches that capitalism could produce only to be dismayed by how, despite these riches, most people lived in poverty and grueling conditions. The great change came after the Second-World War with the new social contract. Now, as we lose that contract, we are desperately looking for a new world and a new paradigm. It’s going to be a very long march.

God’s Magical Formula – ONE and NET

In the short-story “The Writing of the God” by Borges, God writes a magical formula to ward off a big calamity which would befall humanity in the future. The formula is stored secretly in perpetuity and would eventually be accessed by a chosen one.

Maltese political parties don’t need this magical formula. They have TV stations to ward off big calamities. Highly-calibrated machines oiled by construction money which will constantly pump a tirade of bollocks to their viewers presented as news, information and political commentary. If you want a political career, you don’t need principles, back-bone, education, and some real life-experiences which provide you with enough wisdom to lead the people’s interest in parliament – you can just go and shill yourself on your party’s TV station pretending to give a damn, and eventually you will get an advantage over the ones whose physical appearance disqualifies them from being TV presenters by the station’s board-rooms. Lovin Malta objects. They have filed a constitutional case arguing TV stations go against impartiality rules as prescribed in the constitution article 119.

Chris Peregin, the young stalwart who launched a successful online news portal while the traditional media houses were running into big financial challenges, has picked up a gargantuan fight against party-TV stations, namely ONE and NET which are owned by the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party respectively.

I’m compelled to write about this because I have authored various Maltese laws on free speech and have been vociferous on this cause for some time. Some of my friends want to know what I think about all of this, so, now they may know.

First of all, sorry Chris, but fat chance party TV-stations will close down or stop serving as propaganda machines. The Constitution is not a Godly-secret magical-formula – it is a malleable document and political parties will get together to change it if it transpires that it may not serve their interests. So even if the case is won, I don’t see any way party TV-stations would ever start being impartial. In addition, political parties will retain their right to free speech even if their speech is impartially-bullocks and they will fight for their right to propagate it in any way possible.

But, and this is a big but, the case does put a dent into the political status quo which currently incentivises corruption and outright nepotism. The problem with party TV-stations is not an issue about free-speech and convoluting the issue on these grounds will make us miss the woods for the trees.

Chris is right in arguing that ONE and NET incentivise corruption in politics because they are bankrupt and depend on construction money. The only way Karl Stagno-Navarra gets to go on ONE to ingratiate with corrupt politicians and defend their antics is because someone like Sandro Chetcuti is willing to go to the Labour Party headquarters and hand over wads of cash. Of course, the Sandro Chetcutis who do this are only doing so because they want something in return from the Government.

So, the more bankrupt ONE and NET are, the more entangled will the political parties become with the corrupt construction industry. Things took a slippery slope when the Panama scandal broke out. ONE turned into a festival of corruption-apologetics where corruption and grave political misconduct were justified on a daily basis and cheered on by the likes of Karl Stagno Navarra to the amusement of die-hard Party supporters. Thanks to ONE, there can never be a bad Labourite politician. Even during the November-December political-crisis of 2019, top ONE executives like Jason Micallef had no shame in allowing these apologetics to continue still. And guess who was a main fixture at ONE during those trying times, when the good men and women of Labour were screaming and hitting at Joseph Muscat to resign immediately – the darling of the construction industry Robert Musumeci who wrote a construction policy so friendly to the industry that it allowed it to destroy people’s homes with impunity. Of course, Musumeci made money out of the self-serving fabricated rules he himself helped create.

Imagine Mintoff coming back to life just to see all the PN-rejects conglomerating on ONE to defend the corruption of their fellow Labour political masters. Houston we have a problem – things really look messed up. Apparently, the new Deputy-Leader of the Labour Party, Daniel Micallef, is very happy about this situation. Let’s show them. We’re here to stay, he said. What’s staying Daniel? All the corrupt Nationalists who joined Labour because they saw in Joseph Muscat a corrupt master who could give them what Gonzi didn’t?

It’s about time we realise that party TV-stations are a serious and structural problem in our political status quo. No, I’m not saying that the party should not do propaganda. I’m neither saying that a party should not have its own TV station. But clearly, the situation is gravely messed up and if you are proud of this situation you may as well be totally dumb. It is clearly not in the interest of the Labour Party nor of the Government nor of the general public to have a publicly-funded party TV station which is compromised by corrupt money. Something here has to give. Otherwise, we’ll keep celebrating the trash-fest ONE has become with all its PN rejects lining up to its studio to show their faces and make sure their ingratiation is delivered and broadcasted wide and clear for the assurance of their new political masters.

Look. I’m just bringing up the PN-rejects as an example. The problem here is twofold: a non-commercially viable entity which depends on corrupt money for its existence and thus compromises its political owners, and secondly, the fact that both ONE and NET have no compunction in using their arsenal to further incentivise corruption by defending their corrupt politicians.

But ONE is also reflective of the state of the Labour Party itself. By now, all the failed PN rejects have joined in and have become regular fixtures on ONE: Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Ian Castaldi Paris, Robert Musumeci, Jean-Claude Micallef and more. No surprises here why Musumeci was so adamant to defend Joseph Muscat during the Nov-Dec crisis. These people have no principles – they are opportunists and morally corrupt and Labour is having too much of them. ONE gives them a platform.

Meanwhile, as ONE sucks all the money from the Labour Party’s coffers, I can’t get party top-brass to continue investing in the Party Library and archives, an investment which was cut-off as soon as Gino Cauchi stopped being Party CEO. My lament is finally recorded but it is only one of the many deficits of Labour Party. Too much attention, energy and money is wasted to keep ONE running while the Party is left abandoned only to be wrecked and invaded by the PN rejects looking for some silver.

Clearly, the situation needs change. If political parties are immature enough to refuse change, there’s nothing wrong in forcing change from without. So, although I don’t agree with Chris’ view on the case he instituted, I still bid him Godspeed and good luck. If the case doesn’t serve its purpose, it will at least threaten an institution which is actually harmful to our society.