Jan 272012

A few choice phrases from Fraser Nelson’s latest piece over at the Telegraph:

George Osborne should be having similar thoughts. His old routine is now failing. The embarrassing truth is that, for all his talk about how you can’t borrow your way out of a debt crisis, he is now trying to do just that. […]

And this (the bold is mine):

Treasury officials who have worked for both men are struck not by the differences between them, but the similarities. Brown was nicknamed Macavity for his habit of disappearing at the first sign of trouble; Osborne is known as The Submarine, surfacing only a handful of times a year. Both see economics as a game of political chess, each policy designed to outwit the opposition. […]

Not a way of making the world a better place, then – more a tool to batter what the rest of us can only define as a proxy enemy.  For the real enemy is what we live from day to day.

Nelson also points out that:

[…] The political narrative thus detaches from the economic reality. And this is why a Government that is widely regarded as radical, and hawkish on the deficit, is making virtually no economic progress, while running up the debt like there’s no tomorrow.

And this:

Even Osborne’s critics cannot deny that, politically, his policy has brought devastating success. He has won the argument on cuts, even though – as the monthly spending figures show – he has hardly made any. […]

Whilst for Labour the comfort is getting forever colder:

[…] The Chancellor told friends that he expected to be the most hated man in Britain by 2012, but there is surprisingly little hatred. Instead, there is ridicule – and it is largely heaped upon a Labour leader whose skills seem not to extend much beyond solving a Rubik’s Cube in 90 seconds.

Or, indeed, not eating a chocolate orange

As I sift through Nelson’s piece – as always tightly, pointedly and fairly written (you can tell he worked for a tabloid, can’t you?  Nothing better for those with the verbose tendency to write about politics than to have to do so in the context of flashy headlines and tawdry entertainment stories) – I can’t avoid coming to the conclusion that Osborne is actually truly some politician of considerable standing.  More adept, perhaps, at the presentational arts than the PR man that is Cameron himself.

What has Osborne – in reality – achieved then?  Well.  He’s increased the indebtedness of the nation whilst at the same time savaging all manner of social services.  “And this is an achievement?” you wonder.  Well, yes – mightily so.  Because Osborne is a three-dimensional politician who plays the long game.  “And what may that be?” you might ask.  Why, make it financially impossible – absolutely out of the question – for Labour ever to bring back the socialism by stealth we enjoyed for so many years under the New Labour regime.

Osborne, in his apparent ineptness, has shown himself to be not a son of Blair but a son of Brown.  For neither have ever been inept; both are consummate manipulators of the body politic.

This isn’t, after all, a battle between right and left but – rather – between those who would use politics as a tool to do something useful in the outside world – and those who do politics simply to keep the opposition at bay.

The pursuit of power above all is at the heart of Osbornomics.  As Nelson so memorably points out in his piece:

[…] Osbornomics: political stardust but an economic placebo.

With one small caveat: whilst the placebo is designed to strategically convince us he’s doing everything he should, in reality it’s there in order for him to have the time to burn all those bridges back to any kind of British socialism.  That is to say, on his part it’s not unconscious at all.  It’s a deliberate administration of a drug which allows us to die.

And therein my absolute misery this morning.


Jan 272012

I posted about redemption – and a rather partial forgiveness too – in my previous post “Redemption”.  A couple of tweets on the back of that post have made me think again; at least, in relation to the second half of the post on the subject of the erstwhile software businessman, and now – perhaps – self-redeeming philanthropist, Bill Gates.

Deborah, from the excellent World Development Movement, has these two points to make.  Firstly, that:

@eiohel it’s not just a matter of how Gates acquired his fortune but that 1 man has the power to decide how to solve the world’s problems

To continue with:

@eiohel and his version is top down technocratic favouring his cronies in pharmaceutical and agribusiness companies

It does, therefore, lead one to wonder – maybe a little uncharitably – that Gates the philanthropist, wrapped up in that mindset of excluding copyright and IP laws and legislation – a mindset which has served to make him so much money in the software publishing and development businesses – is now quite naturally setting up the ground rules for branded medicine and crops the world over.

It is only human to favour those who think as one also thinks.  That he may believe in massive technological solutions – implemented by pyramidal organisations where one or two men (or very occasionally women) are paid enormous amounts of money to take relatively dictatorial decisions – is hardly surprising in the circumstances.  But as I pointed out in reply to the first of Deborah’s tweets above:

@DeborahDoaneWDM Yes. That’s absolutely the problem. Excellent point. For where one man can decide for better, one man can decide for worse.

And so it is we come back to the paradox of devolved governance and democracy in general: one highly driven man can do so much more and so very much more quickly.  But once the tools and structures are in place for this to happen for the wider good, those who would wish to abuse for their own advancement may do so far more easily.

And in a sense, as the BBC did indicate on Wednesday, Gates hasn’t changed from his Microsoft days:

His foundation’s work is carried out with a “hard-nosed mathematical” approach, he says, calculating the impact in terms of “dollars per year of life saved”.

He is applying the same attention to detail that made him such a business success into the business of saving lives.

Substitute “dollars per year of life saved” with “dollars per year of sales bonus achieved at the expense of sustainable, safe, cost-effective and user-controllable software” and you might get a flavour of what I’m getting at. 

All those shady agreements to load only Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player on new computers or the decisions which made it impossible to open new Word documents with older versions of the same software are simply a few reminders of how empires are built.

So Deborah is right to take me to task.  And I’m glad she did.  I’m glad she did.

Jan 262012

Two examples of redemption tonight.  There’s not enough of it about.  We need more. 

Firstly, the Twitter storm-in-a-teacup that today has been the hashtag #savetheintern.  The full story can be found here at Tom Watson’s blog.  This is the bit I most like about the whole matter:

8. The intern has not been sacked nor was she ever going to be. She’s young. We all make mistakes.

This is true.  And needs to be said, far more often.  Without, that is, the desire to redeem being worn too brightly on one’s sleeve.  A normal humane instinct to treat people as people.  Instead of cattle to be disposed of all too hurriedly.

Meanwhile, another case where redemption seems to be an unspoken driver is the philanthropic Bill Gates of today.  Firstly, from the BBC, this quote yesterday:

“If I hadn’t given my money away, I would now have more money than anyone else on the planet,” he said casually.

And it’s the giving away that makes him so interesting.

But it’s not quite true.  What really makes Gates interesting is that he can publish letters like this – thoughtful, considered, accurate, needed – at the same time as maintaining the monopolistic empire that is Microsoft’s Office and Windows operating system software

That is to say, it is true that we must doff our virtual caps in admiration when the BBC points out that:

His philanthropy is on an epic scale. He is seriously planning to eradicate diseases in his lifetime that have plagued humanity for thousands of years.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already given $26bn (£17bn) to fund health, development and education projects.

Even the biggest cynic would have to be impressed by this massive engine of generosity, with Bill Gates working full time on donating the income from an endowment worth $33.5bn (£21.5bn).

But we must also remember that the money he so laudably donates was often arrived at in a less than seemly way; and perhaps, in some parts of the globe, continues to be questionably obtained to this day.

So it is that redemption is never simple – even as, in its messy and incomplete manner, it must be a better way than no kindness at all.

Jan 262012

I prepare my children’s lunchtimes thus – and for one of them there is this pizza today.  And so I am driven to consider the messages behind the messages in front of a margherita pizza.

“Established 1965″ – that seems fair enough.  Pride in tradition; the value of longevity; the perfect practice that comes from plenty of practice.

“Pizza Express” – well, it’s the name and brand that they are stuck with.  Perhaps the previous message is designed to undermine in some constructive way the negative connotations of fast food for supermarket consumers.

And so I come to the final message which caught my attention:

“Individually handmade” – as opposed to what then?  “Industrially handmade” – or perhaps “Individually manufactured?” 

You can see how the marketing teams and focus groups try to cover every base here.  And yet, as they try and anticipate every unspoken criticism we might have of the product under discussion, in truth – as consumers – we will more often than not buy because of a cheapening red sticker which proclaims “Half Price”!

A cheapening red sticker designed by a different marketing department – perhaps out of a cheapening desperation.

Oh, how our dreams and ambitions do tumble and fall.

Damn good pizza, by the way.

At the price …

Jan 262012

I have to say I speak out of ignorance – or, at least, an absence of firm data and inside knowledge – on the topic that I raise today in this post.  On the other hand, we may fairly retort, this hasn’t stopped me from writing in the past.

Which is true.

Recent events, however, even so, have brought me to consider that as always politicians will prefer to deal with the most easily measurable matters before they deal with the most useful ones.  Whilst there was a big hoo-hah last year – and quite rightly so – on the tuition fee disgrace that was the transfer from students to both the banking industry and universities of yet more profit and business, little attention was placed on the matter of what all that money was supposed to be purchasing.

I mean, of course, the university teaching itself.

And whilst the government has recently announced plans to fire underperforming teachers, I’m not sure this is aimed at affecting precisely the sector (that is to say, the universities) where the direct customer (that is to say, the student) not only pays upfront but also pays the most.

My experience of university education was relatively benign.  I wasn’t a particularly applied student but did thoroughly enjoy my three years at Warwick where I studied Film & Literature.  I managed to get a 2(i), probably due mainly to the results of my third year Creative Writing module under the inspiring Andrew Davies.  And the different elements of the course – film on the one hand and literary studies on the other – were well coordinated and structured.

The course influenced the rest of my life.  For better or worse, it changed me most profoundly.

Not long ago, however, I had the opportunity to talk to a student currently at a university in the North West of England.  This student seemed unhappy for a number of reasons.  Two appeared to be at the top of the list: first, the university teachers had been utterly unresponsive to the feedback the student had given about the level in which he had been situated at the beginning of the first year, an error of judgement on the part of the professionals the implications of which became compounded in the first semester of the second year – and apparently led to a reactive depression on the part of the student.

Second, and perhaps much more revealingly, in what is now clearly a consumer-driven and consumer-structured society, he felt – and, indeed, feels – that he wasn’t getting his money’s worth, his value for money, from the style, substance and take-it-or-leave-it attitude of the vast majority of his teachers.

Over the past decade or so, an enormous amount of work has gone into improving the quality of compulsory education: from inspection regimes to teacher-training; from school infrastructures to cross-curricular subjects … all these items and far far more out there have helped to radically re-engineer the compulsory education system in the UK.  Yet, from my unpractised and looking-in-from-the-outside eye, it would seem very little has been done to track the behaviours, efficacy, pedagogical worth and consumer focus of university teaching – precisely the teaching, in fact, where the link between payer and payee would be easiest to establish, forge, develop and take advantage of.

So I do wonder as the government continues to fill the pockets of its sponsors in universities and the financial services sector, and at the expense I might say of the students, why it doesn’t place as much emphasis on improving the teaching standards in higher education as it clearly wants to do for the rest.

I’m not saying we should go as far as to be able to fire a university lecturer in a term – for the relationship between lecturer, teaching and research is far more complex than compulsory education has to date been able to contemplate; but I do wonder if it isn’t time for university lecturers and their teaching behaviours to come under the microscope of an institution with absolutely similar criteria to those a rejuvenated Ofsted might wish to contemplate.

And at the very least begin to create a shared university mindset which sees the student as a customer with the right to the very best pedagogical systems in the world – especially where in some cases they are being obliged to pay a very 21st century £30,000 for the often dubious honour of a 19th century kind of tuition.

Jan 242012

This introduction to the term “economic democracy” came my way via Tom on Facebook today.  I republish it in full below:

Economic democracy is a socioeconomic philosophy that suggests a shift in decision-making power from a small minority of corporate shareholders to a larger majority of public stakeholders. There is no single definition or approach for economic democracy, but most theories and real-world examples challenge the demonstrated tendencies of modern property relations to externalize costs, subordinate the general well-being to private profit, and deny the populace majority a democratic voice in economic policy decisions.[1]

It’s the next bits which I really like, though (the bold is mine):

Classical liberals argue that the power to dispose of the means of production belongs to entrepreneurs and capitalists, and can only be acquired by means of the consumers’ ballot, held daily in the marketplace.[2] “The capitalistic social order”, they claim, therefore, “is an economic democracy in the strictest sense of the word.”[3] Critics of this claim point out that consumers only vote on the value of the product when they make a purchase; they are not voting on who should own the means of production, on who can keep its profits or on the resulting income redistribution. Proponents of economic democracy generally agree, therefore, that modern capitalism tends to hinder or prevent society from earning enough income to purchase its output production. Centralized corporate monopoly of common resources typically forces conditions of artificial scarcity upon the greater majority, resulting in socio-economic imbalances that restrict workers from access to economic opportunity and diminish consumer purchasing power.[4][5]

Economic democracy has been proposed as a component of larger socioeconomic ideologies, as a stand-alone theory, and as a variety of reform agendas. In most cases, economic democracy promotes universal access to “common resources” that are typically privatized by corporate capitalism or centralized by state socialism. Assuming full political rights cannot be won without full economic rights,[1] economic democracy is a proposed solution for the problems of economic instability and deficiency of effective demand. As an alternative model, both market and non-market theories of economic democracy have been proposed. As a reform agenda, supporting theories and real-world examples range from decentralization and economic liberalization to democratic cooperatives, fair trade, and the regionalization of food production and currency.

It seems to me that in this concept we might have the seeds of a properly renewed Labour Party – even if some significant proportion of a decade down the line.  Rather than focussing on the “how” – the policy-making details so beloved of professional politicos but of so little immediate interest to the wider voting public – surely what at least Labour needs far more urgently is a “what” everyone, voters and supporters, can agree on.

“Responsible capitalism” is certainly a nicely turned phrase for policy wonks – but at least fifty percent tainted by many people’s current experiences.  Meanwhile, applauding the ability to learn from one’s enemies obviates the need to admit that choosing one’s friends is a far more significant leap in political activity.

Far better surely, then, than the triangulation of the latter – or, even, the uncertain timbre of the former – is precisely the concept under discussion in this post which Tom has brought to our attention: bringing democracy to economic activity.

But as an overarching and shared meme to capture people’s imaginations.  Neither workers’ cooperatives nor mutual business structures; neither stakeholder consultations nor a popular capitalism.  No detailed instructions which would allow the enemy to pick away, perhaps quite rightly in the event, at the gorgeous potential of such an idea.

Rather, we should argue that where we really place the source of our deficit in modern societies is not in our voting system; not in our media; not in big or small business behaviours; not, even, in our politics.  Instead, it is entirely to do with how imperious that “consumers’ ballot” isn’t: a ballot, right now, which covers only a discrete set of purchasing decisions and ignores almost everything else of importance in the processes that run our economies.

An “everything else” which – to be honest – has clearly failed us of late.  Perhaps precisely because economic democracy in Western societies is such a limited, empty and anti-democratic practice.

Jan 232012

That’s the issue to hand, isn’t it?  How to empower the poor.  The right obviously believe that what the poor really need is a good kick up the backside; and according to such theses, we need, as a society, to put the frighteners on them all so that – out of thin air – they will somehow manage to magic themselves better jobs, better schools, better housing and better lives.

On the other hand, the left are looking to implement ameliorative policies which, little by little, succeed in providing a better environment first – an environment which, so the argument goes, will lay the foundations for future success. 

The left say that without the environment, everything is unfair.  The right say that without the fear, nothing ever gets done.

But surely what we all need to do is sit down round that inevitable negotiating table – for a battle and war of sorts it has certainly been to date; and then proceed to ask the poor how they actually see the situation … how they would best like their lives to pan out.

Instead of grandly doing and undoing prejudiced generations of political guesswork, how about we truly empowered the very people at the centre of it all?  Give them the control and hold over the very levers of power.  Directly.  Without prejudice. 

Without political grandstanding.

Give them – for the first time ever, that is – both the right and holy duty to actually decide what gets down, how and why.

And in the process, remove both fear and amelioration from the equation that is poverty on this planet.

Jan 232012

The benefits cap the government proposes is all in the news at the moment.  Left Foot Forward uncovers six myths you might be interested in finding out more about here.

Meanwhile, if the meme really is how we all need to work together to get the country out of the massive mess recent economic and political histories have engendered, why isn’t the government also proposing a salary cap?  Why, in fact, every time it proposes a new policy, does it prefer to further impoverish the already impoverished in society?  Why doesn’t it look to other methods of resourcing the country’s wealth?

Why is it all so damnably one-sided?

A quotation attributed to Ralph Nader came my way this morning which made me think that perhaps the answer is to be found somewhere here.  It goes as follows:

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” — Ralph Nader #business #leadership

As far as I can see, Cameron & Co understand quite the contrary.  And it’s absolutely clear that they don’t want to remove the dependency culture at all.

Instead, what they really want to do is transfer our sense of dependency from the state to their private sector buddies.

Not change us at all, then – just rearrange the furniture for the benefit of their deep-pocketed sponsors and bosom business pals.

Leadership?  You gotta be joking.  The Coalition know as much about the true tenets of leadership as did the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  They don’t want to amplify our initiative – they just want our docile consumer complicity.

And that’s a really long way from encouraging independence of action.

Jan 232012

There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of Coalition thinking which the left is failing to clearly define; an unenunciated contradiction which – as a consequence – is serving to confuse us all.

On the one hand, Cameron & Co don’t believe in a benefits society and – instead – claim to believe in what we might term an initiative society.  On the other hand, however, their sponsors are massive corporate institutions – accustomed to a ready supply of wage slaves who know their place and are accustomed to staying put.  So whilst the government suggests in its spin we should all become entrepreneurs, the reality is that in its policy it is orientated towards making labour cheaper and more plentiful – that is to say, anything but entrepreneurial. 

If my thesis is right, the benefits mentality isn’t even primarily engendered by the state but, rather, by the millions upon millions of workers who spend their lives ensconced in a corporate cocoon of bonuses, pensions, career ladders and perks.

And if that’s not a benefits society, I really don’t know what is.

In a perfect Coalition world, what the Tories and their supporters are looking to achieve – then – is a) for no one to claim benefits; b) for the privileged to maintain their position as entrepreneurs at the top of the hierarchical pyramid; and c) for the wage slaves to earn just enough to keep them content, politically neutered and docile – as well as out of the horrified public view which some mainstream media, even under such a regime of political duplicity, are still currently prepared to contemplate.

And until the left is able to reveal this reality in a punchy and convincing way, the dissonance created by naked “do as I say, not as I do” politics – visible primarily on the right end of the spectrum but with an increasingly hearty support on the left – will continue to leave the progressives falling violently between two stools

Two stools which are allowing the Coalition to get away with ruddy murder.

Jan 222012

Politics should not be about doffing our (benefits) caps in mutual incomprehension.  But it certainly looks to be heading in that direction.

We simply do not understand each other, do we?  On the one hand, the government has clearly decided that the whole nation needs re-engineering far more than it needs a helping hand.  On the other hand, the opposition (that is to say, the political party I am a member of) can only see the degrading piecemeal destruction of a vast infrastructure of little-by-little policy decisions – all originally put together with the very best of intentions by New Labour and its protagonists over a long decade of social repair.

Sadly, most modern politicians seem – eventually – to get stuck at “changing things” instead of “changing things for the better”.  Even such enlightened observers as Éoin are now urging Ed Miliband to come over all pragmatically populist.

Out of sheer desperation, Labour is now uncertain whether to triangulate the short game of the general election in 2015, in the faintest hope that maybe the polls will eventually support what is now fast becoming a manifest absence of convictions; or, alternatively, give up on the short game entirely and properly play the long game of 2020.

Between two such stools we are rapidly falling.  And no: populism is not the answer. 

On the other hand, a careful weaving of a tapestry of real and appropriate convictions, whilst surely just what the (spin) doctor ordered, doesn’t seem to be all that close to a sensible realisation.

For we, on the progressive side of politics, appear to have learnt absolutely nothing from our last disagreeable encounter with a conviction politician.  Mrs Thatcher finally managed to impose on us her cruel brand of politics because we gave her the space to demonstrate she was perfectly coherent in everything she did.  She might not have been, of course; but her discourse clearly gave the impression she was.  And that, far more than populism, convinced us there was no alternative.

Triangulation; populism; to be reactive; to have no clear centre of political gravity … well, these are ideas I all find an anathema to what I believe a politics of the people should really be about.

Essentially, we need to know three things: why we are here; what we want to achieve; and how we want to achieve it. 

Defining oneself in terms of one’s eternally piecemeal responses to a multitude of government policy objectives – objectives which only serve to shotgun our body politic – is a lily-livered and ultimately futile exercise in short-term political survival.

We have no alternative, any more, to entirely reinventing ourselves. 

This is not a party political luxury of the self-indulgent. 

This is a precondition to long-term survival.  A precondition to any progress from here on in.

Jan 222012

I honestly think this is all a conspiracy of sorts.  The population is ageing dramatically; the consumers are getting grey- (or no-) haired; and potential markets in developed worlds are beginning to seize up.  Who wouldn’t, then, want to release onto the open market the massive host of products and services that is health, social care and legal support?  In this sense, everything our British government is doing right now can be seen as a way of sustaining future profits for companies which are surely worried about the end of rabid (and youthful) consumerism.  In the light of such a thesis, we could even argue that socialism in the UK was spreading not because New Labour made it stealthily so but – rather – simply because as you get older you are going to be more inclined – out of understandable self-interest – towards a society which cares.

And so we come to the subject of this post: the complex and astonishing choreography behind the calls – in the midst of economic crisis – for a new yacht for our dearly beloved Queen.  Or, as I have cared to title it, “Gold Diggers of 2012″.  Here’s the historical reference:

And the background from Wikipedia. And the definition of “gold digger” from Wiktionary:

gold digger (plural gold diggers)
  1. Someone who digs or mines for gold.
  2. A person (usually female and considerably younger) who cultivates a personal relationship in order to attain money.

But since this is the 21st century, the female bit has reverse-liberalised itself considerably.  Nowadays, I suggest, we could safely assume that instead of “considerably younger females”, we might (though it still has yet to be entirely proven) be talking about “considerably older males”:

[…] it seems the support is part of a well-choreographed campaign to make the yacht a reality. The project has had the backing of the royal family, a national newspaper, and the tacit support of at least two major organisations, for more than two years, suggesting last week’s enthusiastic headlines have been a long time in the planning.

The campaign can be traced back to the mid-1990s when a powerful group of industrialists and monarchists, anticipating the scrapping of the royal yacht, devised a replacement that would not require funding from the taxpayer.

Thus far, no surprises.  This is par for the course in a democracy where the wealthy reserve the important levers for themselves.  The next bit is rather more disconcerting, mind:

The accounts note: “Particular interest in the project has been expressed by British Antarctic Survey and Edexcel, who are the project’s science and education partners respectively.”

Edexcel is owned by the FTSE 100 company Pearson, and describes itself as “the UK’s largest awarding body offering academic and vocational qualifications and testing to schools”. It has major contracts with the Department for Education, whose secretary of state, Michael Gove, has been a vocal cheerleader for the project.

Though Edexcel then go on to rather hurriedly distance themselves from any significant association:

An Edexcel spokesman said: “In 2009, we had some initial conversations with the group about the educational aspects of their plans, and said we would be happy to offer our expertise in support, if and when the project came to fruition. We have not been closely involved with the project since then.”

Which does seem a little unseemly.  After all, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is either a jolly good thing or it isn’t; it’s hardly something one needs to be so equivocal about.

Does it?

And if so, why might that be?

Anyhow, the Guardian report clearly indicates that a considerable level of media management has been taking place.  And I do wonder if this is the case in something as surely iconic and uncontroversial as our Queen, how much more choreography is going on behind the scenes in other areas to ensure that our grey-haired futures end up firmly in the pockets of our large consumer-loving corporates?

Gold Diggers of 2012?  You bet your bottom dollar on it!

Jan 212012

I’m finding all this difficult to understand and would like someone to explain it to me (the bold is mine):

Last week, after delivering a speech on “popular capitalism”, the prime minister refused to say whether he would block a bonus for Hester, who is widely seen as having done a good job at RBS, after taking over from the much-maligned Sir Fred Goodwin in 2008. The board of RBS, which is 83%‑owned by the taxpayer, is said to be considering a bonus of £1.3m to £1.5m for Hester, on top of his £1.2m annual salary. A final decision from the company’s remuneration committee is expected on Wednesday.

But Miliband, who is determined to define his leadership around the issue of “fairer and better capitalism”, said it was entirely wrong for a bank, majority-owned by taxpayers, and which is making thousands of people redundant, to pay its boss a £1m-plus reward in such circumstances.

The Labour leader told the Observer that the public would not regard it as “fair or right” for the head of a company whose share price had halved in the past year and which had missed its target for lending to small businesses to cash in when so many hard-working people were struggling to make ends meet. […]

A good job?  A bonus equal to his salary?  Thousands of people redundant?  A share price which has halved in the past year?  A bank which has missed its target for lending to small businesses?  A good job?  A bonus equal to his salary?  Thousands of people redundant …?

And so the circle continues.

I don’t know.  I mean I understand – but I don’t know.  There is nothing unusual, of course, about top-flight executives being paid enormous amounts of money to fire thousands of workers, not hit targets and fail their shareholders.  Nor is there anything unusual about large companies believing that to retain such leaders – allegedly able to stand usefully on the pinnacle of these pyramidal organisations – they will need to reward them whatever they do because reward is the preserve of such beings.

It seems natural, in fact.

Even so, I don’t know.  Why can we not agree on something as simple – and as key – as remuneration policies in industrial relations?  Why has it become so natural for money to accumulate more money – and for its relative absence, as time goes by, to lead to even lower incomes for everyone else?  As I am clearly ignorant of the technical aspects of the conundrum under discussion, all I can do is presume that it’s because we don’t all value the same things.  Balance sheets in such times are incompatible with full employment: those of us who want a job will never appreciate the intelligence required to slash a workforce by frightening percentages. 

How can we ever possibly agree under such circumstances?

Meanwhile, Chris points out most accurately that capitalism is no longer efficient – not even on its own terms.  Its ever-concentrating circles of wealth have meant that the money which used to swill more broadly around the economy now spends far more of its time in the pockets of the incredibly wealthy.  Innovation and renewal – the opportunities for business ingenuity – are falling dramatically as fewer are able to get a sniff at that cash which once flooded our hopes.

The conundrum that is RBS, then, is but an element of a wider conundrum: how do we agree on what our society should value?  Are we finally condemned to permanent disagreement?  Are resolution and cooperation – words which we manage to value in other contexts – not to have their place in business and politics?

And how is it possible that governments themselves are never more firmly in place than when they break their election promises, ruin entire communities, send unemployment rates soaring and make a society more conflictive?

Why – essentially – do we reward so generously bad behaviours like these the higher up the hierarchical scale we go?

Why is it so good to be so bad when you’re at the top?

Jan 212012

Louis quite rightly defines the forked paths ahead of us thus:

So the question is this:

* A lifetime of licenses routinized into the cost of living, and invisible in the enormous harm such a licensed life would put in play if only by suturing close the possibilities of having it some other way; or

* A lifetime open to innovation, collaboration, production unencircumscribed by closed licenses; markets would be built and profits made on the merit of one’s work and not on the right to work itself.

It seems to me that with the traditional content industries’ massive desire to make copyright a tool for guaranteeing enormous cashflow without further creative effort – that is to say, without further artistic creative effort (for marketing tricks and discourses these moguls will always value and understand) – we are running the serious risk in our Western civilisations (and wherever their values manage to prevail) of destroying the very right to artistic creation itself.

Just imagine if versions of SOPA and PIPA finally get through, sanctioning the right of one discourse and society – the US capitalist cash-cow industrial model – to decide who sees what, where and when, as well as for how much and how often.  With the vast quantities out there of already existing and licensed content, who needs new ground-breaking applecart-upturning ways of looking at the world?

The grand paradox of the traditional content industries since time immemorial (and certainly since Hollywood’s inception) has been how they required of their artists an anti-artistic series of behaviours.  Thus it is we could argue that finally working out how to censor the Internet’s flow and exchange of information is nothing more nor less than an easy but unhappy return to a previous age: a Hays Code for our time.

It may be that history will teach us that the progress we thought was being achieved via virtual freedoms was actually a simple parenthesis between the instincts of the 1930s and the beginning of this fearful 21st century, where an openness to new ideas – and an inability to properly sustain the existing order – are taken as signs of a dangerous unpredictability which could serve to shake the very foundations of our societies, instead of a source of brilliant imagination and game-changing thought which – to the benefit of us all – could totally alter our future socioeconomic growth and development.

Proprietary cash cows which see creativity mainly in terms of repackaging and marketing existing material – or fleet-of-foot online and offline nexuses of real artistic endeavour?  That is the crossroads we find ourselves at.  And the stakes are far higher than simply a matter of whether the traditional content industries manage to reimpose far more forcefully a tired business model which – over the last decade – was clearly losing traction. 

I would, in fact, posit that we run the risk of losing the very environments, conditions, instincts and impulses which would allow for future art itself – or, at least, future art as we have understood the concept to date.

A world without art then? 

Or, at least, a world with only a marketable, packageable and securely licensable history of art – but no possibility any more of a confident future of mould-breaking innovation?

One step too far in my train of thought?  It might all be closer than you think …

Jan 212012

This apparently happened in the 1980s, during the previous Tory regimes:

Two undercover police officers secretly fathered children with political campaigners they had been sent to spy on and later disappeared completely from the lives of their offspring, the Guardian can reveal.

In both cases, the children have grown up not knowing that their biological fathers – whom they have not seen in decades – were police officers who had adopted fake identities to infiltrate activist groups. Both men have concealed their true identities from the children’s mothers for many years.

Mind you, other similar actions took place during both Tory and New Labour times:

Last month eight women who say they were duped into forming long-term intimate relationships of up to nine years with five undercover policemen started unprecedented legal action. They say they have suffered immense emotional trauma and pain over the relationships, which spanned the period from 1987 to 2010.

Family values indeed.

As disposable as our throwaway culture.  Consumerism gone absolutely revoltingly coherent.  From durables to intellectuals, all we argue is now at the mercy of a relativistic deconstruction of all that used to – so securely – frame our lives.

Precisely when a love child is anything but, in fact. 

And in the name of state security, just one more example of how any line can now be crossed.

Jan 212012

Coffee is apparently not only good for you but also, now, thanks to Chinese researchers, demonstrably good for you:

Prior global epidemiological studies have shown that those who drink four or more cups of coffee a day have a 50 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent type of diabetes accounting for 95 percent of all cases. Every additional cup reduces the risk by an additional 7 percent.

The Chinese researchers in question have now discovered the mechanism by which such risks are reduced.  Evidence that for once a vice may be a positive thing to possess.

Not all property being theft, then – after all. 

Life would, indeed, seem to be looking up!

Even if only momentarily …

It does make me wonder just for a second, mind: perhaps there are other virtues to other vices out there we simply have not stumbled across.  It often has to do with our various ways of seeing.  Prejudice so blinds us to data and reality that it sometimes becomes unhappily impossible to share useful perceptions.

If only life was more like coffee – wonderful to savour and constructive in its actions.

But it isn’t, is it?

Not very often, anyhow.

Jan 202012

From “Granada Reports” tonight, a story on the recent “mole gang” robbery in Manchester:

Granada Reports has been given exclusive access to the underground- tunnel, dug in secret, and used to raid a cashpoint machine in Manchester.

Police are still hunting those responsible for what’s been described as an amazing feat of engineering.

After months of hard work, it would appear the gang only netted £6000 between them – and there are suggestions that this would amount to something rather less than the national minimum wage.

And so it occurs to me that in David Cameron’s Britain of unrepentant capitalism, even the criminals with acknowledged initiative are fully prepared to work for far less than sanity might advise.