Sunday 27 November 2016

Stories of Resistance to the Holocaust

Between 1939 and 1945 the Nazi German state murdered 5.5 - 6 million Jews in occupied Europe, as well as another five million gentiles by the same methods of mass gassing, extermination through labour, starvation and mass shooting. This was itself only part of the 30-40 million killed in the European section of the 2nd World War. Many Jews fought and resisted by every means possible, but the Jews of Europe were never alone in their struggle. In the darkest night the light shines out the brightest, and in every country in Europe there were individuals and organisations who risked their lives to save their Jewish brothers and sisters. They were a scattered and spontaneous army of rescuers and resistors, though most fought without violence. In the worst period of human history they produced some of humanity's most noble heroism.

It feels almost wrong to talk too much about resistance to the Holocaust, as though doing so could give the impression the Holocaust 'wasn't so bad after all'. But it is also wrong to just say the rescuers failed because millions still died. They saved hundreds of thousands of lives, they saved all they could. But this resistance was horribly outnumbered and outgunned, facing political and military power they could not match, and divided and thinly scattered over an entire continent. Both Jews and non-Jews struggled to save lives during the Holocaust. This article focuses on the non-Jews, who could have stood aside, but chose to put themselves at risk to save lives. It would take a whole other article to begin to describe the remarkable Jewish struggle for survival against the darkness engulfing them.

Yad Vashem, the official Israeli museum for the Holocaust operates a program to recognise 'Righteous Among the Nations', non-Jews who risked their lives during the War to save Jewish lives. They have so far officially recognised over 26,100 people from 51 countries after submission of applications and evidence. This number is obviously less than the true number, even of those who directly risked their lives, but nobody can accurately say by how much. Certainly many times this must have been involved in rescuing, sheltering, protesting, or just remaining silent about hidden Jews at grave risk of Nazi reprisal, whilst constantly overcoming the shortages, poverty and want endured by almost all citizens of the occupied countries. And many heroes were caught and killed during the war, with no-one then left to testify to their resistance later.

Every Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th, I feel the stories of those who risked everything to save lives should be better known. Oskar Schindler, is perhaps the only name of a rescuer that will be immediately familiar to most people, and yet he was one of tens of thousands. For years I've been put off by the sheer complexity of trying. Even to give a thin, representative sample of stories would take many pages, and anything else risks giving an inaccurate impression. But I feel it better to share some stories, and hope it encourages you to investigate further yourself. So here I give just a few examples of the incredible courage of both whole countries, towns and villages, and remarkable individuals, taken from Poland, the country with the most recognised Righteous Gentiles. These examples are deliberately fragmentary, even so this makes for a long article. I implore you to read further on your own, explore the links in this article or on Wikipedia's section on Holocaust rescuers, or the wonderful website for Yad Vashem itself.

Resistance took many forms, both Jewish and Gentile, collective and individual, from whole countries to single individuals. It defies easy categorisation, due to the sheer breadth of experiences that made up the genocide. The Holocaust is unique among genocides in the sheer diversity of the area and people who were destroyed, united only by all being of Jewish ancestry. It affected European countries from France to Russia, and Greece to Norway. Its victims differed in language, nationality, appearance, politics, social integration, wealth, and religion. It destroyed poor, isolated, religious communities in rural, Ukrainian villages, and integrated, secularised, wealthy individuals in Dutch cities. It killed followers of Orthodox and Reform Judaism, Christians, and secular, non-religious people. Victims were stripped from every European community and equally the scattered resistance came from every corner and circumstance in Europe.

Amidst the general darkness a few whole countries saved almost all their Jews. Bulgaria was a Nazi ally, but when the Germans demanded Bulgaria deport its Jewish population to occupied Poland a campaign by the Orthodox Church, leading writers and intellectuals and the Royal Family forced the government to refuse the order. Bishop Kiril of Plovdiv reportedly stood on the tracks in front of the transport train in Plovdiv himself to stop it from starting the journey to the concentration camps. Bulgaria was lucky in that it was small and distant, and so unlike Hungary or Romania, attempts to refuse the deportation of their Jews were not met with immediate occupation by German troops. All Bulgaria's 50,000 Jewish citizens survived.

In Denmark more than 90% of the small Jewish population, around 8,000 people, was successfully spirited away to neutral Sweden by the Danish resistance. After the Germans threatened deportations the Resistance, with the collusion of some in the government, organised to move thousands through a series of hiding places to distant north-east fishing ports, and then across the sea to safety in Sweden. The Nazis occupied Denmark in 1940 without firing a short, in theory to 'protect' it from Allied aggression. The result was the Danish government was left largely intact, rather than being replaced by Nazi or collaborationist fascist officials. This combined with the strong sense of shared national identity and the deep historical integration of the Jewish community into Danish society, to encourage the successful effort to save them.

Albania was the only country in occupied Europe to end the war with more Jews than it started. From some 300 before the war there were around 1800 Jews in the country by the war's end. Jews in Albania were protected by the fact the country fell under Italian rather than German occupation until late 1943, and that the Albanian and Yugoslav partisans liberated much of the area by late 1944. Meanwhile many hundreds were hidden in remote mountain villages under strict local customs of hospitality dating back centuries.

In other countries scattered across Europe whole communities rallied to refuse Nazi demands for the deportation of their Jewish citizens. In France the Protestant town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon worked as one, under the leadership of its local church minister, to shelter and protect over a thousand Jews. They were housed in homes throughout the town, fed, and hidden in the forests nearby whenever German soldiers came searching. Local people continued to protest the persecution of the Jews in open defiance of the authorities, once handing a petition opposing the deportations directly to a Vichy minister. Townspeople were arrested and murdered in the concentration camps, including the Church Minister's cousin, Daniel Trocmé, and his children.

In the Netherlands the small village of Nieuwlande came together to agree that every house and family would hide at least one Jew, binding the whole population of the village to a common effort and reducing the risk of any traitor giving them away. Arnold Douwes, the son of the village's Reformed Church pastor worked tirelessly through the war years, encouraging villagers to hide Jews on the run from the Nazis and support them with food, official documents and money, as far as they possibly could, saving around three hundred lives.

In Greece, the island of Zakynthos, refused to hand over its Jews for deportation. In 1944 Mayor Loukas Karrer was ordered at gunpoint to hand over a list of Jews residing on the island. The list, presented to the Germans by the island's Bishop Chrysostomos, contained only two names: the Mayor and the Bishop. The Bishop told the Germans, “Here are your Jews. If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me, and I will share their fate.” Meanwhile all the Jews of the island were safely hidden in mountain villages. The Germans backed down and not one of the 275 Jews living on the island were lost. After the war in 1953 the island was struck by a terrible earthquake that destroyed almost every structure. The first boat to arrive with aid was from Israel, with a message that read, “The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their Mayor or their beloved Bishop and what they did for us.”

Poland has the highest number of recognised 'Righteous Gentiles'. Over 6,600 gentile Poles have received this award from Yad Vashem for risking their lives to save Jews. Poland was the country occupied longest by the Nazis, with the largest Jewish population, and both the most ferocious implementation of the Holocaust and the harshest regime of occupation for gentile Poles. Three million Jewish Poles and three million gentile Poles were killed during the war, and the punishment for offering any aid to Jews, even selling food or giving a lift in a vehicle, was the immediate death of the rescuer and their entire family. Nonetheless 50,000-100,000 Polish Jews were aided by Catholic Poles and it is estimated that each person received help in one form or another from at least several people, if not many more. Władysław Szpilman, Polish musician and author of The Pianist, on which the film of the same title was based, identified no fewer than 30 Poles who helped him survive the War.

Zegota was a branch of the Polish underground government dedicated to helping Jews. A joint
enterprise of Catholic activists and Jewish organisations, it provided money, food and hiding places to more than nine thousand Jews hiding with gentile Poles. Irena Sendler headed the Zegota children's section responsible for smuggling Jewish children out of the ghetto and placing them with families, orphanages and Catholic convents. Facing the most extreme danger her group of 30 volunteers physically smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto however they could, in ambulances, prams, packages and suitcases. She buried jars with the children's information in the hope they could be reconnected with their families after the war. In 1943 she was even arrested by the Gestapo, tortured and sentenced to death, but luckily escaped and continued her work. After the war she was arrested again by the Communists along with many members of Zegota, imprisoned, interrogated and tortured but eventually released.

Rescuing people involved huge personal ingenuity, quick thinking and sacrifice. Eugeniusz Lazowski was a medical doctor who saved thousands by generating a fake typhus epidemic in eight villages. He discovered that injecting someone with dead typhus bacteria would generate a positive typhus result on a test without harming the person. He injected enough people to persuade the Germans to quarantine an 'infected' area covering several towns rather than risk a widespread typhus outbreak, thus saving several thousand people from being deported to the death camps. Irena Gut was a nurse, she was employed a housekeeper for a German Major and hid twelve Jews in the basement of the house, where every day they emerged to help her clean the place. After several months she was discovered by the Major but struck an agreement to become his mistress for the rest of the War in return for his silence, thus saving the twelve lives. Jan Zabinski was the director of Warsaw's Zoo before the War. All the animals had been killed during and shortly after the Nazi bombardment and occupation of Warsaw so the Zoo with its grounds was deserted. Taking advantage of this with the help of his wife Antonina he temporarily hid hundreds of Jews in abandoned animal cages, supplying them with food and money, before Zegota could smuggle them to more permanent hiding places. He also hid two dozen people through the War within the grounds of his own house in the Zoo.

In outlying towns and villages it was sometimes possible to hide whole families on farms and estates. Franciszek and Magdalena Banasiewicz constructed a bunker underneath their farm where they eventually gathered and hid fifteen people for over three years. Once one of their rescuees was caught by the Germans, but they managed to bribe the guard to release him and he escaped back to hide on the farm. Many others hid Jews in a similar way, but this was astonishingly dangerous. In a nearby village to the Banasiewicz's a farmer called Kurpiel was caught sheltering 27 Jews and killed with his entire family and all their fugitives. In another nearby town over 500 Poles were killed, in that town alone during the war, for attempting to help the Jewish population.

I could go on for days. To even try to discuss this topic without mentioning the heroism and tragic end of Witold Pilecki, one of my personal heroes, seems dishonourable, but this article is long enough already. I encourage you to find out about him for yourselves. I want to briefly consider one final question though: Just how many people were involved with resistance and rescue across Europe? As I said, Yad Vashem credits over 26,000 people as proven Righteous Gentiles, those who directly risked their lives to save Jews. It recognises that this is a dramatic under-estimate. Even within this list the hundreds of people involved in the Danish resistance are listed as one entry, as per their own request. In Poland over 50,000 Jews were saved, and estimates suggest each would've been helped by multiple people during the course of the war, but there are only 6,600 recognised Righteous.

700 of Poland's recognised Righteous Gentiles were killed during the war for their efforts, but many estimates put the total number of Poles killed for aiding Jews in the thousands. Italy, for example, has only 700 Righteous recorded by Yad Vashem, but in Rome alone over 4,500 Jews were hidden almost overnight when deportation was threatened in 1943, largely in Church buildings and institutions, and tens of thousands more were protected around Italy. The true figure of rescuers must be many times higher. While there were some mass rescues, like Oscar Schindler and a few others effectively saving a thousand lives, in a great number of other cases such as in Poland or Italy, it would have taken many people to protect and hide only a few Jews. Other groups are not eligible for Righteous Gentile status, because although they campaigned against the Holocaust they did not directly aid specific Jews, but were involved in broader resistance, like the general strike in Amsterdam against the treatment of Jews, or reading out a declaration in every church in that same city protesting the treatment of Jews.

A true reckoning cannot be accurately calculated or even estimated without a huge further amount of painstaking historical work.  But I think it highly likely that at least a hundred thousand people met the criteria of Yad Vashem. And many times that number, hundreds of thousands at least, were directly involved in hiding, feeding, transporting, or otherwise assisting Jews, and in actively protesting the Holocaust under the threat of deadly reprisal and amidst all the other dangers of the War. If anything these guesses may still be conservative, across Europe the number of people in the second category could easily pass over a million. Their example deserves to be remembered for its own sake, but also to remind us that even in the darkest times opposition to evil is possible in very many ways.        

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Populations of Middle Earth - The Earliest History of the Elves

I have an occasional series of posts that try to work out population estimates for periods of Tolkien's Middle Earth. I have the distant ambition of this one day turning into a complete set of population estimates stretching, as far as possible, from the Awakening of the Elves, up until the Lord of the Rings. Posts in this series discussing the Elves of Beleriand can be found here, or the populations of Gondor and Rohan here. The rest can be found by clicking the Tolkien tab at the top of this site.

One era I don't intend to estimate personally is the earliest history of the Elves, stemming from their awakening in Cuivienen until the Noldor's return to Middle Earth at the rising of the Sun and Moon. This is because I fully agree with Michael Martinez's estimates for that period given in this article of his from 2002 called:

Elves by the Numbers

And so there doesn't seem much point repeating (and basically plagarising) his estimates. He excellently covers the difficulties with producing estimates such as the status of the Imin, Tata, and Enel myth from Quendi and Eldar, the problem of the number of generations, etc.

The most important points are that he calculates that 144 Elves awoke at Cuivienen, and these had multiplied into 18,000 Elves by the time of the Great Journey, which broke down into "1780 Vanyar, about 3560 Noldor, and about 5850 Teleri"  who were the original Eldar.

I also think his final estimate that around 100,000 Noldor would've arrived in Beleriand at the first rising of the Sun can be reconciled with my estimate that the Noldor would've numbered around 300,000 just before the terrible 4th Battle, the Dagor Bragollach. 

If we assume that half the Noldor population were in their child-bearing period, and had a generation of children every 100 years of the Sun, we get a population multiplier of about 1.25 per century. This means that by about Year 100 FA the Noldor would've numbered about 120,000, in Year 200 - 170,000, in Year 300 - 200,000 and in Year 400 - 250,000 and by Year 450 we get somewhere in the region of my 300,000. When we include Sindar this gives a total Elvish population in Beleriand of slightly over 1 million.

This is admittedly not very precise or rigorous, but it's about as good as we can do with the very limited information we have, and brings us nicely to the start of my estimates that will hopefully, eventually span the First, Second and Third ages of the Sun, to as great a degree of detail as possible.     

Sunday 9 October 2016

Populations of Middle Earth - How many fought at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears?

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears, or Nirneath Arnoediad, was the climactic and most detailed battle of Tolkien's First Age of Middle Earth, that saw the hopes of Elves, Men and Dwarves go down in flame and death against the might of the armies and monsters of the Dark Lord Morgoth. It contains some of the most evocative images of Tolkien's First Age. Probably my favourite is Fingon's great cry of hope when his brother Turgon came unlooked for with ten thousand more Eldarin warriors - "'Utulie'n aure! Aiya Eldalie ar Atanatari, utulie'n aure! The day has come! Behold, people of the Eldar and Fathers of Men, the day has come!"

But how many warriors fought in the battle overall? And how many enemies did they face.

Giving good estimates for the Union of Maedhros is particularly difficult because the armies facing Morgoth's hordes included contingents from almost every community in Beleriand including Noldor Elves, Sindar Elves, Men and Dwarves. This article uses my detailed estimates worked out in my previous articles on the populations of Beleriand to derive estimates for the numbers at the battle. Our window into this is the ancient and often repeated figure that "the army of Turgon issued forth from Gondolin, ten thousand strong" to the battle. This was the crucial starting point I used to calculate the Elvish populations of Beleriand, particularly the Noldor, with some confidence. Calculations for the population of Edain come from extrapolations from the information Tolkien gives in Peoples of Middle Earth on the initial numbers that entered Beleriand, and I am also pretty confident of these.

We can estimate the numbers of soldiers in each contingent by comparing their population to Gondolin's, and in some cases, adjusting for losses taken before the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, particularly in the Dagor Bragollach. Other clues come from the degree to which each realm seems to have committed to the Battle. After the defeat Hithlum was basically depopulated but the Falas, for example, and Brethil, continued to exist and operate, so we can presume they committed a smaller proportion of their pre-existing population to the battle since there were more left afterwards. To take account of the heavy losses taken in the Dagor Bragollach I estimate that the armed strength of the Elves and Men of Hithlum, and of Estolad, and the Elves following the Sons of Feanor, was reduced by 1/3 to 2/5th compared to its height just before the Dagor Bragollach. The Elves of the Falas, the Men of Brethil and the Dwarves of Belegost, on the other hand, were removed from the immediate impact of the 4th Battle so wouldn't have taken losses on the same scale.

The population of Gondolin originated with 1/3 of Fingolfin's people and "a greater host of Sindar". The population of Hithlum came from the other 2/3 of Fingolfin's people, the Sindar who lived around Mithrim, and other Sindar who were inspired to join the Noldor in their brave struggle. Thus it seems that Fingolfin and later Fingon in Hithlum must've initially had a larger population than Gondolin to draw from but not many times larger. On the other hand Hithlum had lost many of its warriors in the years from 455-472 FA in the assaults of Morgoth, but again in the other direction it seems to have committed a higher proportion of its people to the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Gondolin carried on after the battle without too great a devastation, whereas Hithlum was almost depopulated and its remaining people left defenceless. These combined would suggest that the Elves of Hithlum should've numbered more than Turgon's host but not dramatically more, perhaps 15-20 thousand strong.

In my previous article I estimated a population of the Falas of around 70,000 elves spread between the two havens and the surrounding lands, based on two sizeable towns with a surrounding population nearby. Cirdan's people were mostly mariners not soldiers, and the Falas carried on resisting Morgoth after the battle despite losing almost all the soldiers it sent to join Fingon's host. From this we can presume it too committed a much lower proportion of its population. It seems to have been a much more secondary contingent to the main host of Elves and Men, of both Hithlum and Gondolin, so I estimate a force of around 5,000 Falathrim Elves.

The Men of Hithlum suffered a similar level of devastation in the battle to the elves of Hithlum. Hador's folk were the largest tribe of the Edain and had been bolstered by taking in refugees from Beor's folk. On the other hand they had also suffered heavy losses in the Dagor Bragollach and the years since. I estimated Hador's folk would've numbered around 70,000 before the fourth battle, of whom around 20,000 would've been Men of fighting age, but many of their warriors had already been lost. By the Unnumbered Tears I reckon they would've been able to contribute about another 10,000 warriors to Fingon's Host. The Haladin were many fewer than the house of Hador and their own heavy losses had a much less devastating effect than those of Hador's folk. From this I estimate a much smaller contingent of perhaps 4,000 men. Including, finally, "a small company" from Nargothrond of perhaps a couple of hundred Elves, this puts Fingon's western host at about 33,000 Elves and Men in total, to which Turgon added another 10,000 Eldarin warriors.

In the East I think Maedhros' Host would've looked relatively similar in scale. After the disaster of the Bragollach the individual Lordships of the seven sons were shattered, as well as presumably the community of Men in Estolad. What remained were Maedhros and Maglor with forces of Elves and Men rallied on Himring, while Caranthir and Amrod gathered the rest of the surviving eastern forces around Amon Ereb to the south. Working from my previous estimates for the following of the Sons of Feanor and the Men of Estolad and reducing it by 40% to account for heavy losses suggests a mixed population of Men and Elves of around 100,000 remaining scattered across the East. This is the Noldor following Feanor's Sons, the Sindar of North-East, and the Men of Estolad. Adjusting for women, children and the elderly (among Men) I'd suggest that Himring and Amon Ereb could raise around another 20,000 warriors for the Unnumbered Tears.

To these must be added the Easterlings and the Dwarves of Belegost. The Dwarves of Belegost contributed a powerful force, but this was not their war, and I think they would have sent an expeditionary army of seasoned and equipped warriors, rather than a muster of their whole strength. The army of the Dwarves is also not referred to in terms that suggest it was the same scale as the main hosts of Elves of Fingon or Maedhros or even Turgon. As such I'd estimate a Dwarven contingent of about 5,000 under their King Azaghal. The Easterlings, I think, have to be considered to be similar in size to the houses of the Edain at that point. This would mean they come over the mountains in much larger numbers than the Edain did, but obviously had no time to multiply naturally. If we assume the combined peoples of Bor and Ulfang were together of similar size to the House of Hador, then we can deduce that they together would've contributed somewhat more than 10,000 men, perhaps several thousand in each house.

These admittedly vague considerations would suggest an overall force for the Host of Maedhros of more than 35,000 Elves, Men and Dwarves. This, added to Fingon's Host of around 33,000 Elves and Men, and Turgon's Host of 10,000 Elves would suggest the Union of Maedhros combined would've numbered around 80,000 troops at the start,  most of whom would die over the next 3 days of Battle. This would put the total Host of the Free Peoples at about the same size as the British-Allied Army at the Battle of Waterloo, and gives some sense of scale. The Battle was also  large in scale geographically, fought across a distance of 50 miles of the plain over three days, from the Gates of Angband to the Fens of Serech, and involving a considerable degree of manoeuvre by the different hosts.

But what about their opponents?

The Silmarillion describes three hosts of Morgoth that took part in the battle. The first 'Diversionary' host, the second 'Main' host and the 'Last' host released against Maedhros. We have no concrete numbers, apart from the statement that, after Maedhros' host was scattered and Glaurang driven back to Angband, the remnant of the western host of "Fingon and Turgon were assailed by a tide of foes thrice greater than all the force that was left to them". We can only compare the hosts of Morgoth by the effect they had on the Good armies. The initial host numbered perhaps around 50,000-60,000, enough to seem a threat to Fingon but not enough to defeat him. The Main host was presumably much larger, probably more than a hundred thousand orcs. The final host was seemingly smaller again, but contained a greater mix of Morgoth's most devastating creatures reserved until the end - Balrogs, Dragons and Wolfriders. This force was perhaps another 60,000, and finally, further strength of evil Easterlings hidden in the hills descended on Maedhros as well, maybe as many as 20,000. That would put Morgoth's total force at well over 200,000 and possibly considerably higher. A quarter of a million, or even up towards 300,000, would be a sensible figure for the total of Morgoth's forces engaged at one point or another.

Casualties were huge, the losses of Morgoth's orcs and creatures were enormous, probably at least 100,000, but perhaps as many remained and had the victory [this estimate updated thanks to a comment below]. The losses of the Elves, Men and Dwarves were terrible. Almost all of Fingon's host, and most of Maedhros' and Turgon's were destroyed. Of all the armies, Turgon's host and the Dwarves of Belegost probably suffered the lighter casualties, but still severe. Perhaps at most ten thousand of each of the eastern and western armies survived, suggesting there were over 60,000 dead across three days among the Eldar, Edain and Naugrim, a slaughter on the scale of the Battle of Waterloo or the opening days of the Somme.  Tolkien describes what happened afterwards to the bodies of the fallen:

"By the command of Morgoth the Orcs with great labour gathered all the bodies of those who had fallen in the great battle, and all their harness and weapons, and piled them in a great mound in the midst of Anfauglith; and it was like a hill that could be seen from afar. Haudh-en-Ndengin the Elves named it, the Hill of Slain, and Haudh-enNirnaeth, the Hill of Tears. But grass came there and grew again long and green upon that hill, alone in all the desert that Morgoth made; and no creature of Morgoth trod thereafter upon the earth beneath which the swords of the Eldar and the Edain crumbled into rust."

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Populations of Middle Earth - The Isle of Numenor (through the 2nd Age)

The population of Numenor was derived from the Three tribes of the Edain that dwelt in Beleriand before Morgoth overran the continent after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in 472 FA. These were the Beorians, Hadorians and the Haladin, to whom can be added the somewhat separate Druedain who lived among the Haladin, and presumably survivors of the people of Bor, the Easterlings who remained faithful at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. In my article on the populations of Beleriand at their height around 450 FA, just before the Dagor Bragollach, I estimated that the Edain numbered around 150,000 at their greatest, divided between the three tribes and a mixed group who remained in Estolad. In the century between this point and Morgoth's destruction their population certainly declined catastrophically through battle losses and their lands being overrun by Morgoth's minions. But a remnant of the Hadorians and Beorians survived as thralls in Dor-Lomin, and some of the Haladin clung on in Brethil, as well as presumably some who fled to the Isle of Balar or the southern forests with the last free Elves. These peoples never accepted Morgoth and when the Valar came in power the surviving Edain alone of the remaining peoples of Beleriand joined their armies and fought against Morgoth's hordes.

If we assume the Edain population declined by about 80% during this period, that leaves a mixed population of around 30,000 remaining at the time of liberation by the Valar and the raising of Numenor, including a tiny community of Druedain. These formed the initial population of Numenor after its raising in Year 32 of the Second Age. In HoME 12 'The Peoples of Middle Earth' Tolkien states that the first fleet of refugees lead by Elros numbered about 200 ships carrying "between five thousand or at the most ten thousand" people, but also that there was a smaller steady migration of people over the next 50 years. From this we can be reasonably confident that most if not all of the 30,000ish survivors eventually made their way to Numenor.

Numenor's history spanned about 3300 years from its founding and while we can't exactly state its population at specific points we can identify likely trends. Numenorean history hinges around the falling of 'the Shadow' on Numenor: the turning of its people away from loving loyalty towards the Valar and Eru to bitterness towards the Valar and thirsting to escape death. Tolkien repeatedly stated that in this latter period Numenoreans had fewer and fewer children as they focused on preserving themselves from death and brooding on their ancestors, though in the Akallabeth he also states that even before the Shadow they had few children. It seemed characteristic of Tolkien's culturally higher peoples that many chose not to marry in order to pursue arts and crafts, and this may also explain the slow increase of Numenor's population, despite the fact they didn't suffer from disease until after Sauron came to Numenor in 3260 SA.

Numenor's population growth would be affected by the long-life the Numenoreans enjoyed compared to other men. Numenoreans were granted a life three times that of other men, or about 200 years (apart from the Royal Family -The House of Elros- who lived even longer). It makes sense to assume this affected childbirth and I think a length of 50-100 years between generation is reasonable. Tolkien explicitly states (in the Unfinished Tales) that Numenoreans didn't grow much more slowly than other men i.e. at 30 years old they didn't resemble a normal 10 year old, it's just they endured longer as mature adults before old-age set in. We know that there were 25 generations of Kings but we would expect more generations of ordinary citizens than the Royal Family. For my purposes here I assume there were almost twice as many generations of ordinary Numenoreans, reflecting that Elros' House lived twice as long (until the Shadow deepened). This gives about 45 generations.

Numenor's history can be roughly divided into the following periods. Firstly, from 32-600 the period of isolation from Numenor's foundation to re-establishing contact with Middle Earth. Then from 600-1600, the early years of Numenorean contact and settlement on the mainland. From 1600-2020, Numenor goes to war against Sauron and begins building greater settlements or colonies along the shores of Middle Earth. 2020-2900, the Shadow falls on Numenor, the Numenoreans begin to exact tribute from the men of Middle Earth, conquer territory and build a great Empire. 2900-3320, the Shadow deepens on Numenor leading to the eventual confrontation with Sauron, the disastrous assault on Aman itself, and the complete Downfall of Numenor forever.

Estimating Numenor's population presents a very different challenge to my other posts because those were static estimates, screenshots of what the population was at a specific point in time, whereas here we need to estimate Numenor's population dynamically by working out how it grew over 3000 years. It's good Tolkien introduced reasons why Numenor's population growth was comparatively slow because otherwise the huge length of time it existed, over 3000 years, should've produced an astonishingly high population that doesn't seem to fit with the descriptions of its society. We know the starting population, around 30,000 people at Numenor's founding, and then in theory the population at each point is just a simple exponential function of the growth rate, or the average child-birth per woman. However over 45 generations our assumption for Numenorean childbirth rates massively effects the overall population figures we get, particularly at the end.

We have some information to calibrate these with as well after our starting figure. In 600-800 when Numenor first began to make contact again with Middle Earth it was still relatively sparsely populated, as recounted in the tale of Aldarian and Erendis, with even large areas of the centre mostly inhabited only by sheep. Centuries later in 1700 Numenor's decisive intervention in the 'War of Sauron and the Elves' seems to suggest a much more developed and powerful state. This intensifies over the following centuries as Numenor seems capable of not just exploring across the world but colonising and conquering huge areas of Middle Earth, particularly to the South and East of the lands familiar from LOTR. Presumably by this period Numenor was increasingly crowded and this encouraged the kind of massive emigration familiar from European societies in the industrial 19th and early 20th Centuries. By the time Sauron arrived in the 33rd Century Numenor seems a rather grim and over-developed place, though retaining a certain icy beauty, with violence and strife increasingly breaking out, presumably partly driven by the difficulty of accommodating so many people within its area, though certainly encouraged by Sauron. We can combine these vague images with our knowledge of Numenor's area of 168,000 square miles, twice the size of Britain, and between Germany and France in area, to provide a check on our simple exponential growth model.

For the early period of Numenorean history I estimate an average childbirth rate of 2.4 children per woman. This is obviously just an average, and takes into account Tolkien's statements about Numenoreans having relatively few children, and also that quite a few women would've chosen not to marry at all. For ease I assume this reflects the number of children each woman had that survived into adulthood and bore children, on average, rather than strictly the birth-rate. Numenor was a land without disease or war (for a long time) but Tolkien implies elsewhere child-birth was still painful and potentially deadly, though presumably in proportions more like our modern world than the middle ages.

This model suggests that by 600 SA 8-ish generations would've passed and the Numenorean population would be about 130,000. By 800-900 when 'Aldarion and Erendis' is set there would've been around 250,000 people. At this stage we can assume large parts of Numenor outside the central regions would still be basically uninhabited. By the time of Tar-Minastir's great armanent that decisively turned the tide of the 'War of Sauron and the Elves' around 1600-1700 this model gives a now much greater population of around 2.5-3 million people. The difference from Aldarion's time is dramatic, as would be expected over a thousand years. Whereas in 850 it was considered a great voyage for Numenor to send a few ships to Lindon, now Tar-Minastir sends a great fleet and army of, probably, many thousands of soldiers and sailors on scores of ships. Moving further forward we reach the time of Tar-Atanamir the Great, about 2100 SA, the King under whom the Shadow first fell, and Numenor reached "the zenith of its bliss, if not yet of its power". At this point the population reaches about 7 million.

From this time the Numenoreans increasingly establish colonies along the coasts of Middle Earth that grow steadily until they form virtual kingdoms of their own, conquering surrounding territory and including populations of Numenorean colonists and the native men of those areas. These come into continual confrontation with Sauron dominion over most of the inner lands of Middle Earth south and east of Mordor and absorb the excess population as Numenor became more crowded with the passing centuries. My calculations can only give the total Numenorean population descended from the original settlers, and so include both the population of Numenor proper, and the descendant population in the colonies. This whole period can be compared to the rapid imperialist colonisation of the 18th through 20th centuries in our real world. We also have the division in Numenorean society between the King's Men (anti-Valar, Elves) and the Faithful (Pro-Valar, Elves). We are told most people were King's Men, and the Faithful were concentrated in the west where the Eldar visited from Tol Eressa. Both groups steadily emigrated from Numenor, but the Faithful came to the North-West, the lands of LOTR, to Pelargir, and Eriador where Gil-Galad, High-King of the Eldar, held back the influence of Sauron. The King's Men sailed away to the Numenorean colonies and empire in the un-mapped lands of the South and East of Middle Earth that "left many rumours in the legends of Men", but apart from Umbar were anonymous.

I assume around 80% of Numenoreans were King's Men, and about 20% Faithful, though the proportion of Faithful in Numenor itself certainly declined steadily as the divide deepened, persecution grew, and many were driven to emigrate to the Elven lands of the North West, leaving more King's Men on Numenor itself. By the time of Elendil's departure from Numenor we are told he gathered all that remained of the Faithful he could on nine great ships, implying the rest were almost all gone. During this period of the Shadow, covering about a thousand years after Tar-Atanamir, I assume the average population increase over the whole period slowed to only slightly above the replacement rate (for maths purposes I use an average birthrate of 2.05 per woman). This also represents increasing losses in warfare in Middle Earth as well, where it is implied there was continual conflict with Sauron's forces. Still this proportion is enough that by 2500 SA it predicts a population of some 10 million people, mostly on Numenor but also in its colonies, of which about 2 million would've been the Faithful, and by 3000 SA the population has increased again considerably to 15 million.

At this stage the proportion of the Numenorean population that lived outside Numenor would be steadily rising as Numenor itself grew more crowded, driving emigration, and natural population increase occurred in the colonies themselves. We have no way of determining exactly what proportion of the Numenorean population dwelt abroad but I think give Tolkien's tendency to discuss the Numenoreans as though they were an aristocracy among wilder men in Middle Earth, it's reasonable to assume even at a late stage it formed a minority of the population. I think it reasonable to suggest that by year 3000 perhaps 5 million Numenoreans were living in kingdoms and colonies scattered across Middle Earth. These would not all be 'pure Numenoreans', many would be of only partial Numenorean blood as over the centuries Numenoreans married men and women of Middle Earth.

From this point around 3000 SA the shadow continued to deepen on Numenor until, after Sauron was brought to the island, civil strife broke out, disease began to plague Numenor, and the Faithful were violently persecuted, leading up to the final cataclysmic destruction of Numenor itself. The Faithful increasingly shrank in number as some fell away and others fled to the areas of the North-West that would later form Arnor and Gondor. I assume over this period population growth in Numenor slowed further falling to a complete halt in the period after Sauron's arrival. This suggests a 'final' Numenorean population of around 18 million shortly before the Downfall. We can perhaps sensibly estimate that in this final period there were around 12 million people on Numenor itself and around 6 million spread through its colonies. I think we can justify a continuing assumption that around 25% of the colony population would be Faithful on the basis that while many would've fallen away under persecution, the same persecution would encourage a higher proportion of Faithful to emigrate.

This suggests that in Numenor's final days there were around 1-2 million Faithful of Numenorean and partial descent in the lands around Eriador, Pelargir and the Anduin. There would also have been some 4 million Black Numenoreans spread across Middle Earth, as well as 12 million on Numenor itself, by the end basically entirely Kings Men. According to the Akallabeth at the Downfall Elendil gathered almost all the remaining Faithful who would depart onto this nine ships. We can assume these were enormous vessels, among Numenor's great ships at the height of its power, more like modern Cruise Ships than tiny medieval galleys. But still along with a great store of goods we can't imagine more than around a thousand people fitted on each ship. This means around 9 thousand Dunedain arrived with Elendil, but these figures show they joined a population of Numenorean descent many times larger already in Middle Earth. These people accepted Elendil's right to rule because with the loss of his father, the last Lord of Andunie, he was the hereditary leader of their people, and presumably the most senior surviving descendant of Elros.

These figures are purely illustrative but I think they are in the right ball park, which is as close as we can hope to get. The 1-2 million Faithful of Eriador and Gondor can be compared with my calculation that at the time of LOTR at the end of the 3rd Age, the population of Gondor was around 2 million, and that of Rohan around 500 thousand. There would've been probably equivalently sized populations (or even more) of native men in Eriador and Gondor as well. These provided the populations of early Gondor and Arnor and the manpower that created the Last Alliance of Men and Elves, that according to Elrond was, with the Elves and others, the greatest host in the history of the 2nd and 3rd Ages of Middle Earth. It also brings into stark clarity the sheer scale of the loss of the Downfall, especially if we assume there were also large losses in the cities of the King's Men spread across the shores of Middle Earth. The result would've been like the destruction of Pompei magnified a thousand times over, combined with the greatest Tsunami the world has ever seen.

A brief word in defence of these estimates. In order to disagree dramatically your first option is that Numenorean fertility was only barely above (but conveniently not below) the replacement rate even before the Shadow and even in the colonies on Middle Earth, such that the population barely increased at all from generation to generation. But this gives ridiculously low population figures for the time of Aldarion and Erendis and even Tar-Minastir.  Or you assume fertility must've been higher, but that produces humungous population figures over the extremely long time-frames Tolkien described Numenor as existing, in a blessed land without disease or contraception to control the population.

Nonetheless, I would love to hear your thoughts on these estimates and any suggestions for improving them. They are naturally rough, for we have only the thinnest actual information to go on, but I think they are the best that can be done.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Robots stealing all the jobs? - Nationalisation is the Answer, not a Basic Income

In the last year there has been increased discussion about introducing a 'Universal Basic Income' (or UBI). A Universal Basic Income would be a replacement for welfare where everyone gets an amount of money, say £100 a week, from the government as a right, just for being a citizen of the country. Unlike current welfare there are no conditions to meet to get it, either of age, or income, or anything else, and everyone gets the same. It is much simpler than current welfare, and the idea is to give people enough money to live on, just, to free people from the fear of destitution regardless of circumstances.

It is a rather expensive idea, but one that has significance advantages in areas such as simplicity and reliability. Recently, a perhaps unexpected source of support has come in the shape of various internet and technology billionaires, millionaires, etc. These captains of cyber-industry are worried about what happens if robots take all our jobs. They think, as do some others, that the rapid development of artificial intelligence and robotics will, over the next few decades, rapidly put most people out of work, not just in manufacturing, agriculture or low skilled services, but even in previously safe white-collar professions like Law, Medicine, Accounting, or whatever. They fear this will lead to a society where an increasingly tiny group of capitalists own all the robots, and everyone else is unemployed and penniless.

(Credit: Shutterstock/Salon)
Funnily the main negative thing our app-overlords have noticed about this is that if we're reduced to a vast penniless underclass there will be nobody who can afford to buy the products their army of robots and AIs produce. Hence their support for a UBI, to re-close the circle between production, purchase and consumption. Coincidentally, apart from the UBI part, this is exactly what Karl Marx thought would happen to Capitalism in the late 19th Century, but quite obviously didn't. Hence the failure of Marxism.

Ignore for a moment the obvious problem with this vision: that technology has been wiping out jobs en masse since 1750 but we haven't run out of jobs yet. The 'Tech' crowd's response is still ludicrously complicated when you think about it. UBIs are horribly expensive, so this would require massive taxation to pay for it. But if most of the population are penniless then the tax burden will have to fall heavily on the people with the money i.e. the tiny number of hyper-capitalists. So these people would be paying massive taxes, so the money can be distributed to everyone, so they can buy stuff, so the tiny minority can make massive profits on their capital, a large proportion of which would go in massive taxes, so the money could be redistributed, and so on.

It's worth noting at this point that the contemporary world is historically unique in that our aristocratic elite is both socially and economically liberal. That means they all like to think of themselves as nice, progressive people, but they also love venture capital, initial public offerings, and, oh yes, hate taxes. So I'll let you guess how long this re-distributive scheme would last before the elite decide that serfdom isn't so unthinkable after all.

But anyway, back to our dystopian future. So almost everyone has lost their jobs because robots can produce and provide goods and services of all kinds cheaper than human beings can. This means there pretty much is no problem of scarcity anymore, because AI can do basically everything. In this case there is a simpler solution than UBI, and it's called Socialism.

If we ever reach the point where most jobs disappear and capital is concentrated among a tiny elite who own all the robots and software, then we should just nationalise the robots and the software. That cuts out the ludicrous circularity of the UBI scheme (giving money to people, so they can give it to plutocrats, who give it back to the people, so, the whole process can go round again).  This all seems designed purely to keep money and power concentrated within a tiny, pseudo-aristocratic elite after real competitive capitalism has ended. Just nationalise them and then, once the robots are in common ownership, just use them to make stuff and provide services and just credit everyone directly from the output thus cutting the fat-cats out of the loop entirely. Problem Solved.

Now, I'm a right-wing, conservative, free-marketeer, so why am I suggesting socialist revolution if things go a certain way? For the answer we have to go back to Marx. The main problem with Marx's prediction that socialist revolution was inevitable was that it was based on assumptions about how economic development would occur . . . that were all wrong. A pretty large flaw. Marx thought capital would be consistently concentrated in fewer and fewer hands while wages were driven down more and more, until the whole system collapsed under its own inequality. But even his own data in Das Kapital showed that wasn't happening, real wages for workers were rising, as was their wealth (albeit from a very low base) and by the time of the Russian Revolution history clearly wasn't panning out how Marx predicted. According to his own theory revolution should happen in the most advanced societies. According to Marx Russia was the last place revolution should occur. Even more contrary to Marx Capitalism has chugged along more-or-less happily for the last 130 years, spreading wealth and raising incomes dramatically. But should this process go dramatically into reverse in the future then Marx's solution might be the right idea after all.

Free-market capitalism relies on competition among agents to generate the best prices and direct consumption and investment to best deal with the problems of economic scarcity. In all western societies this private, competitive mode of operation is balanced with democratic state control in areas where free-market provision can't cope. But in the robots-steal-all-the-jobs scenario competition and scarcity have rapidly vanished. Software putting everyone out of work would imply a massive increase in productivity had been achieved, as machines do the jobs cheaper than humans could so there would be little danger in damaging further economic growth. Economic growth doesn't matter so much if everyone has plenty anyway, while the democratic argument, that we can't allow the economy to be dominated by a handful of Mark Zuckerbergs while everyone else sinks into poverty, becomes far stronger as capital is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

At this point we should just nationalise companies as they reach a certain size and stability and effective competition recedes (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, anyone?). This could potentially even just take the form of nationalising certain patents or pieces of intellectual property, in terms of software. The original owners should be reasonably compensated but control should  pass into democratic hands, cutting out the fat-cats, and ensuring general control of the economy remains with the wide public. The economy would generally remain private, and competition would remain because nationalisation would be piecemeal, rather than by whole economic sectors (e.g. the Steel Industry). Businesses would remain managed much as before, allowing employees to research and develop improvements to products, and the state could allow them to shrink and go bust if necessary, because there would be a pool of further businesses or inventions to be nationalised. This should largely avoid the problems faced by classical post-war 'mixed' economies. The main difference would be that once a company or piece of intellectual property had been sufficiently developed, instead of owners being able to just sit back and live off a stream of profits perpetually, they would be effectively bought out by the state in a one-off, reasonable payment.

The majority of people would enjoy comfortable existences doing some limited work but largely supported by a vast army of robots and AI. Thus we would fulfil Marx's dream and eventually, as technology developed further, glide gently beyond Socialism to a state of prosperous democratic control, communism in the sense Marx originally meant it. Bliss.

Or alternatively the soothsayers may be wrong. Mass unemployment may not rapidly spread over the next few decades due to a shortage of work to do, and ownership of capital may not become rapidly concentrated among a plutocratic elite. If that happens we should not embrace Socialism and should just carry on more or less as we do now. Sorry.

Sunday 3 July 2016

Brexit, one week later.

1. Initial signs of Economic Chaos were overblown.

As of now the FTSE 100 has more than recovered all its losses, and the smaller FTSE 250 is only down 3.5% on pre-Brexit, taking it back to where it was in March 2015. The Pound is down against the Euro, but only to where it was in early 2014; it is historically down against the Dollar, but this should help boost UK competitiveness for exports. We will not know for months what impact it is having in underlying UK growth though. We could already be in (moderate) recession.

2. Political Chaos continues at full force though.

The Tories and Labour are both effectively leaderless, the government has temporarily ceased functioning, and the SNP are trying to destabilise things further. It is possible that Theresa May will be crowned PM within a week, but more likely the Conservative leadership election will go on until September. Democratically speaking, the Tories and Labour should both sort out their leadership problems, and then a General Election should be fought on different visions for Brexit. Economically this just risks eking out complete uncertainty until Christmas, with further negative economic effects. Economically we want to trigger Article 50 and get some things decided as soon as possible.

3. Obvious first steps.

It seems to me the following should be announced ASAP to reduce uncertainty now. Firstly, EU citizens currently in Britain should be guaranteed 'permanent leave to remain' post-Brexit, contingent on an equivalent guarantee from EU states for our citizens. Anything else is just playing games with people's lives. Secondly, the British government should promise to replace all EU funding on current projects in Britain with British money from our EU contributions. This will mostly be academic grants, infrastructure projects and agricultural subsidies. Thirdly, the government should announce all EU laws will be retained in UK law immediately post-Brexit, though after that they may be changed by the usual UK mechanisms. (Obviously not including those laws about our relation to EU institutions).

4. Our Further Negotiating Position

Given the state of the vote, I believe it is clear we should be pursuing the highest degree of economic links and co-operation in areas of law & order, science, environmental measures, visa-free travel, etc consistent with severing constitutional links and ending the total right of free-movement and settlement. If there was no right of unlimited immigration into the UK the Remain side would've won by a landslide. If the only issue was Free Movement then Leave would've won by a landslide. The only decent democratic thing to do seems to be to maximise and balance these truths. Given we already completely comply with EU law it should not be beyond the EU or the UK to reach a full agreement within the two years (though it will certainly be difficult). Brexit threatens the EU economy almost as much as it threatens ours, and the Eurozone is arguably in a worse position to deal with it.

Positively in the wider world there have already been expressions of interest in closer trade links with the UK from Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Iceland (assuming I haven't missed any). Negotiations with these states should start immediately. Someone suggested that there just aren't enough staff in Whitehall to do this, compared to in the EU. Hire some more then. Wider trade relations was meant to be one of the key advantages of Brexit. We can't afford not to at least try to make a strong effort at this.

Overall Brexit may turn out alright. But it certainly can be botched. As with many political choices how it's carried out and how other countries respond will be crucial to success. Our overall fate for better or worse was not simply determined on the 23rd June.

Oh, and please, for the love of God, no more Br-exit puns. No Bremain, No Bregret, No Scexit (Scottish, you get the idea).  Just stop it, stop it now. Thank you.      

Tuesday 7 June 2016

The Future of Greater European Union

I have very mixed feelings about the EU and the referendum on UK membership.  I feel that we don't really want 'In' or 'Out' of the EU. We want co-operation with other European countries without getting dragged into Brussels' incompetent empire building.  We neither want to be dragged into the Eurozone, or the Schengen agreement, or an EU army, or a banking union, or any other of myriad EU schemes for closer union. Neither do we want to end up entirely outside the European community, unable to engage in academic co-operation, free-trade, law enforcement co-operation, visa-free travel, or lose all say on a wide-range of technical standards.

The Leave campaign wants to persuade us that we could retain the good things we want while losing the bad things we don't want. The Remain campaigns wants to pesuade us we don't have that option and if we want the good bits we have to take the bad as well. I don't know which is right. But a better, more long-term question is, firstly, why isn't there a better option than either?  Why can't we be in a European Community, with some limited say over how it works, without constantly having to fight to avoid being dragged into an 'ever closer union'? This question is intimately tied up with another important question. Where will the EU itself be in twenty or thirty years time? And where should it be? How can we make a long-term decision to stay if we don't know what we're getting in to.

Frankly, nobody answers these question because the EU basically has an unofficial plan of not having a long-term plan. The EU's model for european unity has always been deliberately one-step-at-a-time. Looking where you're going might just terrify you, and lead to an almighty argument about the choice of destination, but if you concentrate on taking each step you get there eventually. Closer union does not advance with any big bang, but with a directive here, an agreement there, power after power, slowly standardised and shifted to Brussels. This approach has its advantages but the chaos of the Eurozone crisis and the refugee crisis, not to mention the risk of Brexit, and eurosceptic sentiment in countries like France, the Netherlands and Denmark, suggests it is no longer up to the job, to say the least. Obviously the future is uncertain, especially the future of the EU, but there are some things we can be reasonably sure of. And that offers an answer to the first question as well as the second.

This is the EU and Eurozone as it stands. The Eurozone in dark blue, the rest of the EU in light blue.

The European Union has expanded since 1953 when it was just France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries. From 6 countries it has now expanded to 28 and it is clear what further expansion plans there are. The remaining Yugolsav countries are only still outside the EU because of their low political and economic development, largely a result of the terrifying wars of the early 90's. Slovenia and Croatia have already been absorbed, and the rest almost certainly will. As will, eventually, the bits of Ukraine that Russia can't detach. In ten to twenty years the EU will most likely look like this.

At this point EU expansion hits a block though. It runs out of small European countries to swallow up. The only ones left on its borders are either vast and foreign (Russia and its satellites, Turkey) or have already said no (Switzerland, Norway, etc). All the east-european countries have signed up to join the euro so I'm assuming they will eventually, though this part of the picture is more uncertain. The EU will not just be geographically larger, it will be more integrated as well. 'Ever Closer Union' is the EU's one creed and it will work out its inevitable logic, slowly but surely. Even the EU's most serious troubles, the Eurozone and migration crises, have only fuelled the calls and need for ever closer union. Within twenty years we will probably have, and I would say, should have, the workings of a fully fledged European Superstate.

Not a strong federal state, a United States of Europe, it will never be that centralised or constitutionally uniform, its central government will still be weak compared to the member states. More like a European Confederacy, a diverse multi-lingual block with a central government whose brief is purely to manage cross-state relations and issues and represent their interests to the wider world, not to take precise and detailed control over everyone's lives and money. It will be more like a giant Switzerland than a European US, though still with its own common currency, banking system, central bank, scientific program, space agency, external border, trade policy, legislature, technical standards, immigration and asylum policy, army, agricultural policy, limited fiscal transfers, etc. More than enough to be getting on with.

And, for most European countries, this would be a good thing. Most of them are small, recent inventions, who are entirely surrounded by fellow EU neighbours and have neither the need nor the expertise, nor any interest in running their own currency, or their own foreign policy, or even their own armed forces. The 21st century will increasingly be dominated large states: America, China, India, Russia. These are many tens of times the size of Slovenia, or Belgium. On their own they'll get squashed but together the European Confederacy can stand toe-to-toe with the other great powers of the world.

A future in the European Confederacy is not for everyone though. Britain, whether it votes Leave or Remain on 23rd June, will not be in the European Confederacy. We're already outside the Euro and Schengen zones, and between the renegotiation, and the referendum lock the distance between us and the core of EU countries is only going to grow. It is likely that more and more decisions will be taken within the EU core and we will be increasingly side-lined. If we vote Remain we'll end up a semi-detached formal member of the EU, but outside the European Confederacy including almost the entire rest of the EU, a leviathan stretching from the Channel to Ukraine with the Euro as its currency. If we leave we'll most likely end up in the EEA or EFTA, in a very similar position, with a modicum more freedom to act outside the EU and a modicum less ability to influence policy inside the EU. This will leave the European Confederacy ringed by states to whom it is closely linked but either, to its north have chosen not to join 'ever closer union' (Britain, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, possibly Denmark and Sweden), or, to its East, are too large and alien to be satisfactorily integrated (Russia, Turkey).

Turkey, for example, has been inching towards EU membership since the 1960s, first formally applied for membership in 1987, and is currently in the customs union with the EU. I consider it very unlikely that Turkey will become a full EU member any time in the next twenty years or more. Turkey is no poorer than Bulgaria or Romania, but it has 80 million people compared to 26 million between the two of them, all of whom would be eligible for free-movement across a continent that has become paranoid about immigration. Turkey has a border that stretches into Northern Iraq and Syria about which the less said the better. It has a conservative Muslim population with cultural views predominating very different to that in the rest of the EU, a problem with military influence on the government, a repressive policy towards its large Kurdish minority, which responds in turn with a terrorist insurgency. Its sheer size and poverty means that it would immediately become the largest EU country and the poorest, making it eligible for a huge portion of the EU budget, draining money away from every other country, and the most powerful country in the EU parliament, as well as the Council of Ministers, etc.

All of these are good reasons why giving Turkey full membership of the EU would be a bad idea, and more prosaically, why it will be blocked by other EU states at any point in the foreseeable future. Similar considerations apply to Russia, even if at some point in the next generation they drop their antagonistic stance to Europe. But that doesn't mean that the EU shouldn't have close, friendly relations and co-operation with both Britain, Turkey, EFTA and possibly others. It should, for both our and their interests. It's just that none of these states, for very different reasons, is going to be part of Euroschengenland.

The obvious answer to this problem is a two-speed European community. There should be an inner core, a very large one, of states continuing 'ever closer union', moving towards a sort of European Confederacy, and an outlier of states semi-connected to the European Confederacy, forming a wider European Community. This already kind of exists. It's kind of like the relation between the EU and EFTA, and it's kind of like the relation between the Eurozone and the non-euro EU (like us). But formally it's neither. Formally the EU has opposed any idea of a two-tier Europe in the hope that everyone would move inexorably towards the same goal. That's why the EU requires all new members to eventually join the Euro, even if they have no wish to do so. That's why they talk in terms of Turkey eventually becoming just another EU country, even though for obvious practical reasons they've been blocking it for thirty and more years. That's why people in Brussels still hope we'll eventually join the Euro even though that will obviously never happen.

Accepting a two-tier Europe would be, in a very limited sense, accepting defeat, and so they are psychologically resistant to it. But the time when that has been a useful response has long since passed. Greater European Union can no longer be built on sheer stubborn insistence but must accept that certain countries cannot or do not want to fit into one size fits all. It would have obvious advantages for both the Euro-core and the European periphery. Instead of having different legal and institutional bases for relations with each of Britain, Norway & Iceland, Switzerland, Turkey, it would simplify and unify relations between the European core and periphery on a stable permanent basis, while allowing a degree of flexibility and independence. This map shows the countries that may be involved in such a system, with the European Confederacy in dark blue and the states around its borders with close semi-linked relations in light blue.

But how could a two tier Europe work? Issues and policy areas would be divided into two groups. There would be a cluster of policy and governance areas that would be bound together and form the province of the European Confederacy. These would include the following areas: currency, banking system, central bank, external border, trade policy, legislature, cabinet, free-movement zone, immigration and asylum policy, army, agricultural policy, fishing policy, structural support grants. These areas would be under supranational control under whatever rules the European Confederacy wanted to use, presumably with strengthened versions of current EU institutions: EU parliament, EU commission, EU Councils, civil service, court, etc. Brussels would be its sole capital and parliament seat, Commissioners could be democratically elected from each country to increase EU legitimacy. The EU confederacy would be recognised globally as a single sovereign state, with a single UN seat, probably a permanent security council one. It would be in NATO, and would generally have a role commensurate with its status as one of the largest, wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world.

It would sit on a second layer, that of the European Community, including the Euro-Confederacy and all the states around it I've discussed. This would share a free-trade area, a scientific programme, a wide range of technical standards, a space agency, crime and terrorism co-operation, minimum environmental standards and co-operation, the European Convention of Human Rights, Eurovision, etc. It would make a modest contribution to the Euro-Confederacy budget, or some formally separate budget to fund these activities but would not be financially on the hook for Euro-confederacy policy areas or issues. Community decisions would be taken inter-governmentally by councils of the relevant government ministers. Decisions could then be taken unaninmously, or by some super-majority of both the Confederacy and Community states, or whatever. Community states would be represented by their own governments and not have either parliament or commission representation in Community decision-making. The Euro-confederacy would lead for the whole Community on limited international issues with the approval of those governments and Community nations that wanted to integrate further in specific areas, such as Switzerland's membership of Schengen, could do so on an individual, negotiated basis.

Community to Confederacy relations would then be a cross between Norway's current relation to the EU and Britain's current relation to the EU core. The obvious question then is why would the much larger Euro-Confederacy choose to negotiate with the Community fringe, rather than just dictating terms as we are told they do to Norway?  Well partly because the Community would be much larger than Norway, including all the EFTA states, Britain, Turkey, and possibly Sweden, Denmark and others. These would be a relatively formidable block on its own, and thus harder to dictate to than little Norway. Largely though because the Euro-confederacy would gain little from treating the Community badly, but would gain from agreed co-operation. The areas I've mentioning as community areas are largely uncontroversial, and the Euro-confederacy would make its own economic and political surrounds more secure and productive by formally co-operating with the states around it under one system, which allowed it to concentrate on internal integration and its problems, and would gain little, and just annoy its neighbours, by bullying them or pushing them around.

Community countries would gain a sustainable, formal relationship with the Euro-confederacy that combined limited control and input on community issues with wide sovereignty on everything else, but hopefully also maximise the benefit they gain from access to European markets and scientific and other co-operation. Perhaps the other objection that might be raised then is what incentive would this leave to actually join the Euro-confederacy if countries could have such a relationship? Well, because they genuinely want and would benefit from the closer co-operation and integration that the Euro-confederacy provides. Particularly, it would be necessary if they wanted the Euro. The EU cannot and should not operate by trying to keep states inside by blackmailing them with threats of terrible revenge if they leave or choose to stay outside. The euro-confederacy can only work in the long-term, like any state, if all its parts are happy to be inside. The EU would probably operate better by moderately increasing the distance to its most eurosceptic and awkward members like Britain, thus allowing it to focus EU institutions on making closer integration work, as well as having a formal, permanent semi-status for countries it does not want to fully integrate like Turkey.        

It's impossible to tell what countries will choose to fully integrate into the Euro-confederacy and which will not in the next 30 or so years. Maybe Russia will join the Community or maybe not. Maybe Sweden and Denmark will join the Euro-confederacy, or maybe Euro membership will be the dividing line, and like Britain they will find themselves moving increasingly away from the EU-core as integration centres around establishing the necessary governance institutions to support the Euro. The exact borders of each group don't really matter. But I think a formal two-tiered Europe is inevitable and beneficial, and it would be better to formalise close links with states outside the EU-core (Britain, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, at least) rather than engage in a self-defeating all-or-nothing mentality that will eventually drive them further away.

It is possible that if Britain votes Leave, the EU will cut off ties as far as possible to punish us, and it is possible that if we vote Remain they will take this as the best chance to force us into closer integration.  Both would be foolish and counter-productive approaches: the geo-political equivalent of cutting off their nose to spite their face. Given that there is going to be further integration in the EU core, and that Britain is not going to be involved with this, and both EFTA and Turkey will still exist as well, if not other non-Euro countries, then some kind of two tier Europe will exist and deepen anyway, better to approach the problem explicitly and create the separate governance institutions that will allow such a relationship to continue sustainably for the decades to come.

Friday 6 May 2016

We need a new Electoral System. And it should be AMS.

After the AV referendum in 2011 a consensus formed that Electoral Reform is off the political table for a generation. I completely disagree.

The time is ripe for changing our Electoral System. Reform failed in 2011 due to a bad political circumstances, a weak alternative and incompetence campaigning.  None of these need re-occur, and the long-term trends will continue to strengthen the argument for change, as they have since the 1960's.  The decline of the two party vote, the rise of the minor parties, the increasing inability of 'First Past the Post' (or FPTP) to properly represent the democratic wishes of the people of Britain.  None of these things are going away.

I want to persuade you that AMS, the Additional Member System, currently used in Scotland and Wales, is the best and most achievable alternative to FPTP (and  a superior alternative to AV).

The massive 2011 vote against AV doesn't have to kill hope of reform for a generation. But it should kill AV for at least that long. Good, I say. AV was a bad, non-proportional system and we can do better.  AV solves only one of the numerous problems with the current system, and in a manner that potentially made other problems worse.

It did have one particular advantage that shouldn't be forgotten. It was quite similar to the current system.  This made it an achievable reform. Further attempts at change should be focused on a system as similar to the current one as possible, and sufficiently different to AV to give distance from its defeat. Regardless of the problems with FPTP the massive No vote shows there is considerable public sympathy, or at least familiarity, with its principles.  Any proposed alternative must work with this familiarity and general public small-c conservatism, not against it.

It should also not be based on the same principles as AV i.e. preferential voting. This means not only AV, but also the 'Single Tranferable Vote' or STV system is off the table. STV is the system used in Ireland, and the long-term obsession of Electoral Reform campaigners in Britain. It is AV in multi-member constituencies, which unlike AV gives largely proportional results, and it is the preferred system of most reformers. It should be abandoned anyway. If the AV referendum result was a rejection of anything it was a rejection of preferential voting, the only difference between FPTP and AV. STV requires voters to accept change to preferential voting and much larger, unfamiliar, multi-member constituencies. It is just too large a change to sell at once.

Both the reform movement's concentration on STV for decades and its overnight conversion to AV in 2011 can be explained by its obsession with preferential voting. Most reformers are just convinced it is cleverer than simple majority voting (putting a cross in a box). However, it has been rejected in the form of AV for now. It would appear to be a change and complication too far and, frankly, it is not worth sacrificing the chance to achieve real change out of a quixotic attachment to the wonders of preferential voting.

Another option that needs mentioning is basic PR.  This would be a very simple system where you just vote for a party, and then the votes are counted and seats portioned out to the parties equal to its percentage of the vote.  This is the only true PR system.  However its side effects are so awful that it is generally rejected even by hard-core PR enthusiasts. The problem is that voters have no control over who is actually elected, and there is no geographical connection between voters and representatives or sense that representatives represent everyone, rather than merely those who voted for them.  It is hence a massive leap from the current system, though it does bear the award of being the joint simplest system with FPTP from the opposite side of the spectrum.

So, ignoring Basic PR, AV, STV and FPTP, what is possibly left?

The answer to is very simple. The answer is AMS, the Additional Member System.

It's more proportional than FPTP, maintains constituency links, is a modest change, is already used in Wales and Scotland, and in countries like Germany, makes every vote count, and doesn't require preferential voting. It would ensure small party representation but still make majorities possible if one party wins an emphatic victory.

It works as follows:  Most MPs are elected the same way as now, one per constituency under FPTP, with every bit of the country having a constituency MP.  In addition to these constituency MPs there would also be a top-up List of MPs.  Parties gain a number of these MPs in proportion to their share of the list vote, taking into account those MPs already elected in the constituencies.  The system works like our current FPTP system, but the top-up List MPs dampen the extremity of the results guaranteeing some proportionality and ensuring that if you get enough votes you will get seats.

An AMS election is simple.  Each voter gets a ballot paper with two sections.  One where they vote with a cross for whatever candidate they want to be their local constituency MP, exactly as now, the other where they vote for the party they support, which goes towards deciding the list seats

Basically it would be the same system currently used for Scottish and Welsh devolved elections.

This system has a number of immediately apparent advantages.

Firstly, to go back to the point I mentioned above, it is familiar.  It's already used in Scottish and Welsh elections, and it's two parts are also already used separately for current Westminster and Euro elections.  It is a system used by Germany and a number of other European countries.  As a change from FPTP it would be modest and achievable.  Indeed it would be down-right familiar in considerable parts of the country.  Everyone would still have an MP elected in the normal way, albeit in slightly larger constituencies.  But they would just also have further MPs elected to represent their area.

I would recommend a split of perhaps 500 constituency MPs and 150 list MPs.  This would keep constituencies a reasonable size, while giving enough list MPs to produce reasonably proportional results. The country would be divided into about 30 multi-member regions (of about 4 MPs each) from which the list-MPs would be elected, attaching even list MPs to a reasonably local area with particular concerns and demographics.

AMS has many advantages over FPTP and AV. Unlike with AV it would be impossible to argue that AMS was an unpopular, marginal system only used in one major country, as was argued, with some basis, against AV. It would be much harder to argue that AMS was complicated or alien as we already use it. There is even the example of an English speaking Commonwealth Nation, which has already successfully switched from FPTP to AMS, namely New Zealand.  Any argument that the system was complex could be answered by saying that the Scottish, Welsh and New Zealanders have no problem with it.

Second, unlike AV, this system is always more proportional than FPTP.  There will be no incentive for a No2AV, Yes2PR type vote as there was with AV.  Almost all supporters of change should have no problem of principle supporting this change, even if they would prefer an even more proportionate option still.

Third, it would make every vote count.  Whether your candidate wins or loses at the constituency level you still have an incentive to cast a vote for the regional lists, knowing it will go towards securing representation for the party you choose.  Equivalently on the parties' side, it will give political parties an incentive to campaign even in no-hope areas, knowing that they need to maximise their vote to gain vital list seats. This is superior to FPTP and also AV.  AV made 'every vote count' by allowing people to put their 2nd, 3rd 4th choice towards influencing a result in a constituency, for a party they didn't want anyway, but at least hated slightly less than some other party. AMS gives every voter a chance to gain seats for a party they actually want to support.  This also allows people to cast an effective list vote that will reveal the true relative level of party support and still vote in their constituency election as they need to.

Fourth, this solves the problem of safe seats. Unlike the rubbish the Yes2AV campaign was putting out, the problem with Safe Seats was never that they exist.  If voters in a seat consistently vote for the same party then good for them, that is their business. The problem with safe seats is that if you're in such a seat and don't support the majority party, then you may as well stay at home or vote for any other party, or even the party you hated, or whatever. It has no impact on the national result.  As far as having any impact goes you are effectively disenfranchised.  AMS gets rid of that problem by allowing you to cast a regional list vote that actually goes to securing election for the party you support, even if there is no point turning up to your constituency election.

Fifth. AMS is more resilient to another of the core arguments against AV.  Anti-AV campaigners made a lot of the idea that AV violated 'one person, one vote', by taking account of some people's 2nd and 3rd preferences but not others.  This issue does not exist under an AMS system where everyone has two votes, in effect, and everyone's two votes are taken into account the same way.

These are all advantages of AMS.  However, I think there is a more general advantage that trumps anything offered by pure FPTP or AV.  Electoral systems are fundamentally about representation. Turning people's opinions and votes into the suitable representation in parliament and in our government and laws.

This is the point where I have a confession to make.  I would describe myself as a pro-PR reformer but I do not actually support totally proportional representation. A totally proportional system can have distortions just as great as our FPTP system.  A pure PR system provides fair representation in numbers in parliament, but it risks giving disproportionate power to tiny minorities who hold the balance of power, which can be as distorting as disproportionate numbers of representatives. I want a system that rewards party co-operation and cohesion, not one that leaves government permanently hostage to un-representative minorities. I want a semi-proportional, slightly majoritarian, consistent system.

Why else don't I want pure PR?  Well, another reason is, and there's no polite way to phrase this, that marginal ideas should be marginalised. Any political cause, no matter how ridiculous, will find some people to vote for it, and no matter how excellent, find some people to oppose it. In a democracy more popular ideas should be privileged over less popular ones in terms of representation, with popularity acting as the only democratically legitimate proxy for the quality of those ideas. Majoritarianism does this. It also provides an incentive for groups to work and stick together, to attempt to appeal to as large a swathe of society as possible, and stretch over a broad range of ideological ground.  It discourages and punishes splits, extremism and focusing on appeals to narrow sectional interest.  This is as it should be.  One idea held by 40% of the population should have more representation than ten ideas each held by 4% of the population.

But there must be some limit to this. A decent number of votes should lead to some representation, even if it is weighted down compared to more popular parties.  Exact numerical proportionality is not in of itself the most important thing because representation is not a linear concept.  It is far more important that you have some representation and only roughly in terms of scale how much that is.

Perhaps unusually for a conservative I am worried neither by hung parliaments nor by coalitions.  Under any sane system they are an inevitable and natural feature, which can work in a situation populated by realistic adults, both as voters and politicians. The previous Coalition government and the previous SNP minority in Scotland decisively answer the case against coalitions and minority governments while also conveniently demonstrating that FPTP does not guard against coalitions, nor AMS make single-party government impossible.

Absolute majoritarianism for the sake of majoritarianism is just unsustainable. In terms of legitimacy the argument for it is non-existent. Just how small a percentage of the vote are majoritarians prepared to have a single party government elected on?  Is 35% not too low already?  Would they really rather see a majority government elected with 33% or 30% or 25% of the vote than see a coalition or minority government?

My fundamental problem with FPTP is not that it isn't strictly proportional, but rather that it is arbitrary.  Its majoritarianism occurs on no consistent basis.It neither weights down less popular parties nor rewards more popular parties consistently. A consistent majoritarianism would always weight down parties compared to more popular ones, and weight up parties compared to less, however popular or not they were.  This is fair to all parties because they all have the same strong incentive to secure more votes.  FPTP doesn't work like that though. It is totally inconsistent. It is a system where the Lib Dems may get 17% of the vote at two elections and receive 9 seats at one election and 48 at another. A party's vote may go down and its seats up, and then next election its vote go up and its seats down. A party may get 31% of the vote and 166 seats, another 27% of the vote and 209 seats, and another 25% of the vote and 23 seats. A party may get 170,000 votes and receive 8 seats and another at the same election get over a million and receive none. And I could go on and on.

The traditional rationale for this is that general elections are not one national election, rather they are 650, or whatever, individual constituency elections.  And our system is a relic of when this was in fact the case.  Now it is clearly not though.  A general election is largely a mechanism for determining the national composition of parliament.  This, in turn, is largely denominated on party lines.  Our current system only extremely roughly reflects this reality though.  And the fact it does as well as it does is largely coincidence.  At times it has produced more proportional outcomes and at times worse ones.

This leads to another fact about representation.  The problem with FPTP and also AV is that they are only capable of adequately conferring representation on an individual constituency basis.  And on this level arguably AV does a better job.  But this is largely irrelevant because both fail on the national stage.  I am a liberal conservative who for several years lived in safe Labour seats.  But I did not feel entirely unrepresented just because my MP was a Labour party drone for the simple reason that my views were partially represented by Conservative MP's elsewhere, even though I was not in their constituencies.  Representation is both national and local.

In Britain, perhaps to a peculiar extent, representation really is also local. We value the independence of our MP's and we cling with pride to the notion that MP's may owe their candidacy to a party, but their election is solely in the hands of the particular voters of that constituency.  We rightly cherish the closeness of that connection, as well as the magnanimous notion that an MP must represent all his constituents rather than merely those who vote for him. The manner in which MPs can only referred to in parliament as 'the honourable member for X' is a mark of this.  Their name is unimportant, what is important is that they have been chosen to represent a particular community. This sense is so deeply ingrained in our political psyche that it would be wrong to derail it.  We also correctly take this sense of connection to be stronger the fewer people a representative is responsible for, and with closeness of geography and culture.

On these clear principles the top-up, multi-member regions of AMS would actually bring representation far closer to most people, who belong to the 60%-odd of voters shut-out in their one constituency because their candidate didn't win.  A mostly unseen problem with the current system is that what proportionality it does get comes largely through overwhelmingly disproportionate results in different regions. Most UK regions are, within themselves, massively dominated by a single party on a minority of the vote.  It is only the vast differences between regions that produce even vaguely proportional results nationwide. AMS addresses representation at this level.  Its top up seats will elected Conservatives in Scotland, Labour in the South, and Lib Dems and UKIP almost everywhere, meaning Conservatives in Scotland will no longer have to look to MP's far to the South, nor Labour voters in the South far to the North, nor the millions of Lib Dem voters to a few distant and scattered islands of representation around the country that few of them actually had a chance to influence, etc.

AMS contains both the key intuitions behind proportional representation and majoritarianism.  It ensures representation that is both tied to individual voters as closely as possible, and tied to the wider national opinion.  In other words a semi-proportional system.  Only STV or AMS can deliver this, and AMS is both closer to the traditional British model and less discredited than STV (for the foreseeable future).

AMS would improve representation at every level, enfranchise voters across the country who are excluded by FPTP, or would be by AV, and update our electoral system for a more pluralist and connected age.  It is a modest and simple addition and improvement on FPTP and remains true to its principles that, despite their shortcomings, are built into our understanding of politics and democracy.  In many ways it is a thoroughly conservative proposal for reform.  And although that may not commend it to some people, I believe that places it in a long, successful and unequalled history of steady, peaceful, evolutionary improvement that has helped make Britain one of the most long-lasting, peaceful, democratic and best governed countries in the world.