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A GLANCE AT REVOLUTION
Reviewed by ANDRE BEAUMONT
When the events in Tahrir Square two years ago, which later became known as part of the Arab Spring, were over it did not look like a completed revolution.
Unlike in Tunisia the protestors were not going to get much of what they wanted despite a heady, optimistic atmosphere that continued for many months.
Now, with the non-violent military coup of 2013, the country's events have taken on the patina of a serious, multi-stage revolution like the French Revolution.
With its large population and traditional leadership role, post-Suez, in the Arab world this is revolution to watch carefully.
This coup feels like the one Barras ordered Augereau to execute though with a bit of luck there is no soldier to come back from Europe as Napoleon did from Egypt to carry on the turmoil in a different form.
This website, though, claims no expertise in the Middle East so let us change the focus.
Revolutions come in many forms.
The Glorious Revolution was a political and religious one.
The American Revolution a political and military one.
The French Revolution a military and social one. (Without the continual involvement of French armies in largely expansionary war until the end of the Napoleonic period the social, political and cultural ideas of the revolution would have been slow to spread across Europe.)
The Industrial Revolution was a technological and economic one.
The Russian Revolution was a political and social one.
The revolution in the 1920's and 1930's that brought modernism and economic collapse was an artistic and economic one.
The Chinese Revolution was political and then self-asserted to be cultural in its second phase.
The Iranian Revolution was a religious and social one.
The events that became known as The Fall of the Berlin Wall were a political and economic revolution.
The Digital Revolution, which is continuing, is technological and cultural.
Some may disagree with the two principal strands listed for each in order of importance but they are not to the exclusion of other strands and in this ordering no two have the same strands in the same order.
We are probably in the middle of a global economic revolution but it is slow-burning.
Some revolutions may overlap in temporal space. The political and social consequences of the Russian Revolution overlapped with the artistic and economic ones that started in the 1920's and 1930's, and still do, though their potency has declined and is perhaps due a further falloff.
A characteristic of a revolution is that it has sufficient momentum that it cannot be stopped. If it is brought to a halt it is not a revolution.
Hitler tried to stop modernism, unsuccessfully, whilst exploiting ruthlessly the technological change that was part of the zeitgeist.
Napoleon ignored the emerging technological aspects of the Industrial Revolution whilst forging lasting change of his own in the social sphere with the Napoleonic Code.
So were revolution to happen throughout Europe today it would not be by means whose momentum could be halted e.g. violent public disorder.
It would more likely involve technological or economic change or both.
As for other parts of the world, it depends on circumstances.
A possibly relatively benign form of revolution would be an artistic and technological one.
It is unlikely to happen soon.
Art is in an historically unusually weak position, unable to command the mass followings it used to do. There is no cultural backing track as in the disturbances of 1968.
Nonetheless, Napoleon never expected his lasting sphere of influence to be in the law or for Empire style architecture and furniture to gain a foothold in Sweden, a country he never seriously attempted to add to his dominions.
Technology, though, is currently immensely powerful in finding followers.
Self-driving cars (really part of the Digital Revolution), for instance, represent a disruptive technology that will bring more benefits than disbenefits, as the car did before it, and they should acquire many enthusiastic adherents.
So why are revolutions necessary at all?
Myriad reasons must have already been given so another one may as well be given here:
Laws are there to be obeyed. Rules are there to be broken.
Even if the society is dominated by a dictator like Ceaucescu, people want to be law abiding.
Laws are in theory what people consent to bind them together and which they share in common.
Rules of politeness, religion and ethics can also share similar common ground by consent.
Most rules, though, are made up by one person, or a group of people, to get other people to do what they want.
Sometimes they establish hierarchical structures not necessarily consented to.
Who would it benefit if engineers were not allowed to advertise for business?
Or if no new banking licenses had been granted for over 150 years?
Why can a sportsman be fined $50,000 by stewards when in the criminal courts an assault may be punishable by a fine of less than $500?
People can approve of a fine imposed by a court because it is sanctioned by law whilst being outraged (few are) at a sportsman's fine because it is imposed by the rules of a body the sportsman had no option but to join in order to compete at the highest level.
Legislation can have a problem when it is not solely primary.
A Directive can issue from the European Commission having properly followed the full legislative process but is then brought into force nationally by secondary legislation.
This legislation might then provide for it to be supported by mandatory or quasi-mandatory documents, in effect forming a tertiary layer of legislation. These documents might then refer to standards that have to be complied with.
A full understanding of what the tertiary legislation means may reside with only two or three people in the national civil service who may not convey the same meaning as one another.
In theory meaning can be tested in the courts but if not much money centres around the interpretation, as is usually the case, it never will be. With a bit of luck a guidance text is issued, which may vary considerably from guidance given in other capitals. Otherwise a very few people are left to interpret the rules, or they are disregarded, as they will be in some other countries.
These are perhaps innocuous examples of problems with rules but when the rules stack up in favour of a dictator's family or prevent people making a living, the brushwood can be tinder dry.
When a society becomes fed up with the accretion of unnavigable rules revolutionary change get its chance.
Then there is rule reversal and it becomes positively dangerous to follow the old rules.
This is evident in all types of revolution.
For example, modernism swept away a set of aesthetic rules of little contemporary relevance, even though some of the products of those rules, considered in longer perspectives, had abiding aesthetic value.
If we might be in the middle of an economic revolution, regardless of the other strands what might revolutionary economic change look like?
Firstly, start with what might have to go.
People do not want state solutions because they lack plurality of choice and have too many hidden agendas.
Nor do they want big corporation-dominated solutions as these too often mean curtains for clusters of healthily competing specialized companies and local economies.
They hope each will keep the other in check but with diminishing confidence.
They fear both.
They need a third alternative, perhaps genuinely individual-oriented structures, but some fear those too.
In England evidence of disaffection with state solutions can come from young, non-ideological sources.
Talking to someone from Blackburn, not yet thirty, who had been to two high calibre universities and had worked in a high paying industry in London, I remarked that she must truly be amongst the 1% from her town and the conversation naturally turned to the possibility of London becoming a kind of city state. I said that we must not have structures that disadvantaged other parts of Britain and mentioned the NHS but her view was this: why should London have to put up with a fuddy-duddy healthcare system where it often took months to get seen when you could get everything else in a twinkling as befits a modern city with a robust service culture.
An example given centred around vision. You could get spectacles that offered perfectly good vision and appearance on the NHS, if you qualified, but some opticians offered to upgrade them to something you preferred for a usually small, additional payment.
No one went away with a solution that offered poor vision but this did not rule out the possibility that you would get better vision by choosing and insisting on what you wanted - some people naturally saw better wearing bigger, frameless glasses or contact lenses and someone with a NHS prescription should not be denied choice. Certainly, patients should not have to accept 'take what's given' in the NHS.
As for big corporations, there could be no less critical supporter of business than me till 2009 when, surveying the economic wreckage of 2007-8, it became apparent that some large businesses had no interest in supporting an ecosystem of smaller businesses below but were intent on driving competition out.
Also, consolidation used to be the goal to take competitors out. Governments could be lobbied to allow it. Now, in 2013, it is cheerfully admitted this is no longer necessary. Simply wait for the smaller companies to go out of business and take their business.
This is not to say that winner-takes-all strategies executed in Silicon Valley or the City with no hostility to the ecosystem cannot be impressive. They can be but they usually have found a niche where little competition yet exists.
Next some preconceptions will have to be ditched.
The first is that profits for corporations mean taxable dividends for individuals and therefore individuals across the board need to be taxed because all money ends up with them. It does not.
Microsoft, Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway have for the most part not paid dividends.
Corporations can be unintentionally like those monarchs who taxed their citizens hard but just put the gold and silver in their treasuries and did nothing with it. The farmers killed or sold their animals, the merchants slaved away, all to no purpose.
At least corporations undertake some investment.
The second is that the source of all wealth is people working. It is not quite so. Go into work, set your machines and computers to do the work and the rest of your day can be taken up dealing with awkward humans. At the end of the day you can count the wealth your machines and computers have made for you.
This increasingly says that the owners of systems are going to pocket the lion's share.
In the new economy, the solution would be not to trust it too much to either government or corporations whilst recognizing the need for both.
One would need to distinguish what will be called here trading trusts (italicized) from government and corporations and between what will be called here royalties (italicized) from taxation.
In some Gulf states the bulk of the wealth comes from the well-head. A sizeable percentage of this is taken away as taxation at that point (much of which may formally be called royalties) which means that subjects can have low or no personal taxation, cheap fuel and a means to share in the wealth, even if inequitably. The owners of systems, the state oil companies and multinational companies involved, still get their economic return.
Royalties will mean here that portion of wealth generated from any enterprise taken at source which the government will not be allowed to spend, unlike taxation, because it must go to a trading trust whether it be the trust actively creating the goods or services (similar to a university providing education on a non-profit basis) or one actively the beneficiary of royalties it has not earned (similar to a university receiving gifts and bequests).
In Norway, over 80% of hydrocarbon revenues are deducted from the wealth generated at the well-head and go into a sovereign wealth fund for the future. Such a fund has similarities to a trading trust.
Corporations still get their economic return which generates tax revenues but the system owners are not getting the lion's share.
Now, setting aside the furore that hydrocarbon exploitation can cause, let us look at the British government's infrastructure investment plans relating to fracking.
Here it is proposed that the fracking industry pays £100,000 to communities for each well drilled near them and 1% of revenues for each production site. If this money does not go directly into council funds for current expenditure the recipient funds are likely to have similarities to trading trusts.
Now imagine fracking did extraordinarily well and 70% of the wealth produced at the well-head could be paid as royalties to a trading trust or trading trusts with the remaining 30% going to the system owners (the drilling companies, landowners and so on), the government in taxation and other parties.
Instead of joining a company or government after education (or at some other point in life for everyone else) people could choose to apply to join a trading trust instead. If accepted, the trading trust would call on their skill sets when needed but pay them a basic stipend when not needed. A trading trust's position would be that it itself would be exempt from tax, its employees would be exempt from tax (so their rates of pay would be correspondingly lower) but that it would be required to be non-profit making, averaged over a business cycle, meaning it would have to use potential surpluses to discharge social obligations such as paying the basic stipends, building houses in its locality, undertaking business investment and so on.
When a new enterprise is to be set up, founders would have to decide whether to choose the trading trust model with its privileged tax position but greater social obligations or the traditional corporate model.
Trading trusts would not be charities, conventional trusts or employee co-operatives, all of whose status leave something to be desired but which could continue as they are.
Taxation outside the trading trust framework might also move to deduction once at point of wealth generation, scrapping personal taxation and corporation tax in the process but leaving indirect taxation such as value added tax payable by the whole society including trading trusts.
In general this would probably lead to a business world where system owners did not take the lion's share and where the role of government could be scaled back.