Monthly Archives: January 2021

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.