Oct 212014
 
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This came my way via Phil on Twitter just now (the bold is mine):

As the Greens have gained more media attention, Bennett has thought seriously about post-election possibilities, and what role her party might play in supporting a Tory- or Labour-led government. “I can’t imagine circumstances in which we would prop up a Tory government,” she says. “Our first inclination would be a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, rather than a coalition, because it means you provide stable government – you don’t get the ministerial cars but you keep your conscience and you don’t have to vote for tuition fees, for example.”

As I tweeted in response:

@philbc3 To be fair, does seem to express lukewarm preference for Labour. But not good keeping conscience is more important than ownership.

@philbc3 Seems the Greens may be made of the same political instincts as other party groupings. Our body politic refusing to regenerate!

Representative democracy is, in fact, a bit of a bugger.  At the moment there are moves to bring about the legal figure of recall to parliamentary constituencies.  I suppose what this means is that if a sufficient number of voters are unhappy with what an MP is doing, he or she can be forced to stand again mid-term.  Its opponents will argue this will lead to a ridiculous knee-jerk body politic where currently there isn’t one; its proponents will argue knee-jerk instincts couldn’t get worse than they already are.

The bugger that such a democracy becomes, with or without recall as a shiny bolt-on, is that we agree with the idea of moderately autonomous MPs when they stop barbaric – even as possibly popular – impulses to reintroduce the death penalty but we refuse to countenance such structures when their autonomy leads to the horrors the Coalition has committed over the past four years in the name of a negotiated politics.

Or, rather, it’s not so much their autonomy of us we refuse to accept as their often blind and unquestioning attachment to their political groupings.

This leads to the stuff we’ve spoken about at length; it also means no one – or very few, at any rate – cares to question underlying fundamentals.

For example, why is the only alternative to a rapacious corporate capitalism supposed to be a heavy-handed, unresponsive, dead weight of a state?  And why is the former so easily sold to and bought by us as representing a fleet-of-foot operating efficiency when any objective assessment would judge its efficiencies to be – at the very most – limited mainly to the needs and desires of executive classes and shareholders various?

I’m not arguing that corporate capitalism doesn’t have its virtues.  At its best, it collates and shares the living and breathing knowledge of maybe hundreds and thousands of employees.  But that’s at its best.  And we do, surely, have to accept that in its battle with the equally corporate state, it has grown up in a shadow many of its companies have clearly emulated.  That the Tories should go onto the attack from 2010 onwards – having identified the prime weakness of their business sponsors as their inability to stand on their own two commercial feet without the succour of Mother State; instead, putting the spotlight on the poor, disabled and equally state-dependent disempowered – is just one indication of where the truth really lies: that is to say, by telling a small truth about one defenceless portion of society, we tell a damning lie about one hugely powerful – yet potentially vulnerable (ie in need of permanent political protection) – top of the pyramid.

Even so, there is another way: there always has to be.  As democratic socialists – or perhaps wistful social democrats – it could be our task to regenerate this narrative completely: in the face of a relatively efficient – although often ineffective – corporate capitalism, we shouldn’t posit the only alternative as being the aforementioned, inevitably less efficient Mother State.*

For the problem now appears to be that business – corporate capitalism I mean – has been so successful at burrowing its way into our societal mindsets that we are utterly unable to conceptualise a different set of working structures, tools, assumptions or wider ways of seeing.  Just as we struggle to conceive of a business which isn’t corporate, so we struggle to conceive of a state which could be anything else.

In fact, in much the same way as we now assume business has to be corporate capitalism, so we assume the state could only be a less efficient version of the same.

Yet the technology, ideas, mentalities and moods are surely out there for another kind of representative democracy, society and commercial environment.  Isn’t it time we stopped assuming there only existed a singular duopoly in our society – time we started believing there must be far more than just one best way?

____________________

* That corporate capitalism’s “kicking when down” of the state – which it nevertheless receives so much benefit from – mirrors the Tories’ “kicking when down” of, for example, the European Union for purely political reasons – of a, nevertheless, commercially incoherent nature – shouldn’t go unnoticed as a tactic which is spreading too far and fast for any progressive’s liking.


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Aug 092014
 
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I posted earlier today an email which reached me as the nominal Amazon author I am (I’ve never received any payment as such, but this blog is still up there on their site as a product).  I was quite positive about the thrust of the argument this presented.  An apparently virtually identical letter was posted by Amazon at this website at about the same time.  A blogpost then argued that Amazon is getting nervous (presumably about tons of stuff – not just e-books I mean), and a tweet which flitted past me even sardonically commented how the company was being true to its $9.99 maximum e-book price tag policy by paying a similarly restricted amount of dosh to the firm it “obviously” used for its PR.

We then have a lovely summary of Almost Everything Amazon vs The Rest Of The World here.  That post came my way via Dave Winer, who suggested as he prefaced his tweet that Amazon will always be a computer company.

And so to my final quote before I get started.  Evgeny Morozov went and said this about an hour and a half ago:

Writers, embrace disruptive innovation! Stay hungry, stay foolish! Someone has to pay for Jeff Bezos’s plans to mine asteroids in space!

Yep.  Disruptive innovation … it just had to rear its ugly head.

Why ugly?

Recent history informs us so.

Amazon is a great “external customer” company.  There have, however, been plenty of tales about how it doesn’t treat some of its workforces quite so well; how it doesn’t engage with some of its tax communities quite so constructively; how, even, that its fierce McDonald-like focus on undercutting prices and achieving market share at the expense of almost everything else (not customer service any longer – I’ve been there and seen the ugly, bad and now good) is destroying independent booksellers and the craft of face-to-face relationships in ways we could term brutal.

But it was that comment of Dave Winer’s about Amazon always being a computer company that caught my attention.  Morozov’s reminding us of disruptive innovation is apposite in this context: a concept I’ve generally understood to mean providing intellectual justification and coverage to thinking the only customer worth paying attention to is the external one – everyone else, consequently, being allowed to go to hell.

And computer companies – tech companies to be more inclusive – have razed the more old-fashioned sectors of many countries to the ground, even as end-user external-customer-types have, medium-term, benefited everywhere.  In this, as distributor (I’d argue distributors generally ultimately win these battles for new technological turf), Amazon has productively disrupted accepted models for ages.  But not only Amazon: we also have Apple, to a lesser extent Microsoft.  Whilst Microsoft continued to focus on publishing software, Apple got a leg-up via music.  And so two of the oldest types of content joined one of the newest and least tangible to form a triumvirate of content distributors.

So far, so good.  But the philosophy of disruptive innovation makes for rapacious souls when it comes to living alongside the rest of the world.  The fact that these “external customer” companies paid far more attention to the needs of only one potential client meant that this was no democratic universe of relationships: this was the re-establishment of ancient pyramidal monarchies.  No P2P hierarchy or mentality; instead, a hierarchy where only one objective counted: shareholder value, levered by the continuing satisfaction and capturing of these end-user external-customer-types.

If we’re to make better large companies in the future, this monarchy of customers must become far more democratic.  I remember two examples from personal experience.  In Spain, a car components group promulgated the idea of the customer being king (still monarchical, I accept – only wait …) – but the customers in question were entirely circular: you could be your boss’s customer; your boss could be yours; you had to see all personal and business interactions as moving – in both directions – between the nexus of customer and supplier.  In the UK, meanwhile, cack-handedly implemented, I experienced the half-baked taking onboard of a concept which divided customers up into the already alluded to “external vs internal”.  Of course, this automatically led – by the clearly uninitiated – to a prioritising of the “external” and a pretty savage ignoring of the “internal”, to the extent where historically damn good industrial relations were destroyed within a year.

No longer a monarchy of customers, then; quite a different hierarchy of customers is what we need to fight to achieve.  But whilst computer companies like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft continue to dominate and manage our economic expectations, and continue only to focus on our manifestations as end-user external-customer-types, we won’t be able to make corporations good for everything we really do need them to deliver.

Maybe the disruptive innovation we’re actually looking for is to be found somewhere else: make of the world a huge business simulation – isn’t that, anyway, what the stock markets are? – where the bottom line grows through a far more complex combination of actions than simply destroying the carefully woven threads of competition: cashable points for this, cashable points for that, cashable points for everything that makes good our human obligations.

A democracy of customers indeed.

All of us.


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Oct 292013
 
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I’ve been having a few problems recently.  Mainly as a result of my off-and-on relationship with technology.  I’ve documented them here and here, so if you want to bring yourself up to speed you might want to read these posts before we continue.

You can understand that I felt aggrieved enough with Carphone Warehouse and Blackberry for not repairing something still supposedly under guarantee.  This was the bit of their reply which most upset my sensitive soul, when I queried CPW’s initial refusal to do anything at all (the bold is mine):

The reason for this is that, upon review, your handset was missing buttons. This type of damage, regardless if it caused the fault on the device or not, invalidates the warranty and means that we cannot repair this without a charge.

As it seemed pretty clear that no other option was available to me, I didn’t reply to the email in question.  Then yesterday I got a follow-up which went as follows:

Dear Mr Williams

We have not received a response from our recent email.

If there is anything else that we can assist you with, please let me know.

If we haven’t heard from you in the next 7 days, we will close your case file down.

So that was when I found it in myself to reply.  This is what I said:

Hi

Many thanks for your follow-up.

I think your email made it very clear I have no other options in this matter.  I hardly felt a response was even expected.  However, as you have asked for one, I’d like to make it clear I will no longer be purchasing nor recommending products or services sold by CPW – either online or in its shops, either in Britain or in Spain – nor shall I be investing in any Blackberry products in the future (if, that is, the company manages to remain at all viable).  Any phone contracts I have which I suspect may benefit your group will, when they come up for renewal, be moved to other providers.

That’s about all I can do.

Your bottom lines are safe.

Kind regards,

Miljenko Williams

Meanwhile, my second major techie issue seems to rumble inconclusively on.  Last week I contacted Tesco about the failure of my two-year-old 3G Kindle’s screen.  Whilst contacting their helpline connected me directly with Amazon, I felt my contractual relationship should be with the shop I bought the product from.  Amazon offered me an upgrade I would obviously have to pay for.  My initial reaction was that I would rather it be replaced for the exact same keyboarded model.  It had been a birthday present from my eldest son and I valued the object as such.  The gentleman on the customer helpline said no similar models were made any more by Amazon, and an upgrade was the only option.

I then phoned Tesco’s helpline again, this time choosing non-Kindle options from the menu in order to speak to a Tesco person him- or herself.  And this time I pursued – as per the advice from our local store – the “electrical products out of warranty” path, where you can put in a request for a pro-rata compensation payment to be made, if the product you’re complaining about is judged to have a life expectancy beyond that which it has shown.  I was given a timeframe of 48 hours for a response, I think it was.  Unfortunately, that was last week and this is this week.

Now I’m obviously going to have to negotiate Tesco’s complex menu system all over again in order to chase the case up.  But before I do, I thought I’d put down my preferred outcome in black and white, along with a few wider observations on what corporate capitalism is doing to us all.

Kindle is a great system for binding you into Amazon’s infrastructures, that is true.  It also offers significant benefits – if, that is, you’re prepared to accept the limitations the system leads to with respect to ownership, portability of content and so forth.  But where it wins out – its ability to be accessed from a multitude of devices and allow you to pick up from where you left off absolutely anywhere – is precisely where it is damaging our previous and singularly healthy attachments to artefacts.

In the past, when we gave someone an object of certain value, this object maintained both its operational ability, its physical integrity and its sentimental value for many many years.  Out of love, out of respect and out of a generosity which characterises him, my eldest son wanted to make what he felt would be a present I would always treasure and remember him by.  And he got it right – an electronic book: something I have been fighting for and arguing in favour of for over a decade now.  What more could a loving son want to gift an aspiring editor-father than something in the very vanguard of 21st century publishing?

But now I realise, at least as per Amazon’s intentions (and possibly Tesco’s too – I have yet to find out), my treasured birthday present has become – two short years and a few months later – a mere accountant’s calculation in an upgrade path to tablet-ownership.  Yes.  Corporate capitalism, and here I mean both Amazon and Tesco, both Carphone Warehouse and Blackberry, both Apple and Samsung, as well as practically everyone and their mother, is in the process of making us about as promiscuous with our artefacts as any grasping capitalist could hope for; about as promiscuous with our objects as any Sixties’ hedonist ever was with their bodies; about as promiscuous and uncaring about the intrinsic value of what we give to another as any shallow consumer manages to be with their trashed-upon and popcorned entertainment.

To be honest, I don’t want a brand new super-duper all-colour upgrade.  That wasn’t what my dearest son gave me just over two years ago.  What I want is for the object he gave me, the very object he gave me, the very same serial-numbered present, to return to the state it was in during the summer when I was still able to finger its well-designed curves.

Yes.  It’s the object he gave me which I want to recover.  It’s his present, not your largesse, which I want to be able to remember him by.

So does no one out there, no one at all, understand in any way what I am getting at here?

Does no one else see what we are losing?

Does no one else care to care?


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Sep 032013
 
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There’s a lovely – short – video which I stumbled across yesterday, from the visual pens of Professor Teivo Teivainen and Director Juhana Aunesluoma, on the subject of corporate power.  I’ve embedded it below and suggest you watch it before we continue.


http://youtu.be/0AXbJsHOzBI

As you can see, the two do not exactly agree on the way forward for a “future world order”.  Whilst Teivainen argues that democracy – politics, if you prefer – has been engulfed by what I presume are processes which mainly consist of the lobbying and sponsoring power of corporations and other transnational institutions, and that these – as politics – need opening up to greater democratic input and oversight, Aunesluoma suggests political power has become far more diffuse, and that – as a result – solutions would/should lie, be found, elsewhere.

I’d like to add a third idea to the mix, if I may.  On the journey back from Spain this year, I began turning round in my mind the idea that competition between businesses, rather than being a saviour towards which we should strive to return, a positive whose time needed to come again, was actually the cause of the many ills which the above video signposts.  Competition used to be seen as a guarantor of efficient practice, the engine behind innovation and positive change and – if  you like – a wider hygiene in what we preferred to see as free-market capitalism.  But it seems to me now as an end-user of so many of these clearly competing industries – note I say “competing”, not “competitive” – that, these days, competition serves much more to encourage these institutions to hugely damaging levels of secrecy in practically everything they do.

From capping the ability of whistleblowers to do their good deeds to super- and hyper-injunctioning national and international media to copyright and patent law – and even making it practically impossible for employees to have separate private lives, where their actions would not need to reflect on their employers (one, indeed, here becomes a chattel of 21st century proportions) – we can only conclude that the aggressive nature of these secretive organisations comes not out of individual malice or evil but, instead, out of a systemic tendency to compete.

Competition is good, yes; we all tend to agree.  But not if it leads to high levels of suspicion.  Not if it drives cross-cultural collaboration out of the frame.  Not if it means that whilst we argue between individuals cooperation and trust are good, between corporate bodies they must become – and remain – quite impossible.

For that is where we are right now.  The problem with corporations is not just their alleged purchasing of swathes of political influence; it does not even exist in a far more complex understanding of where things are working poorly.  No.  It actually presents itself in what ninety-nine percent of us, if asked, would suggest was the inarguable virtue of decently operating capitalism: the process whereby one company must compete with another, through eternally revolving doors, for that “daily vote” of the aggressively pressured, savagely treasured consumer.

Competition is what has made these organisations destructively secretive.  Competition not for our purchasing power, which we could even now justify quite happily, but between each other for resource: for resource as people, for resource as raw material, for resource as research, for resource as branding, for resource as market perception.

Needing to get in first on a project, market and new development has made it impossible for human beings to collaborate with anyone who is not their business race; impossible for employees to collaborate (except in underhand cartel-type ways) with employees from another corporate culture.

Whilst corporations limited themselves to implementing primary research and investigation, perhaps these tendencies were no bad thing.  But now that corporations pay for everything from the election campaigns of political leaders to scientific hubs of excellence, the dangers of a concept and practice of competition which so unerringly lead to these secretive behaviours I describe … well, they really should not be underestimated.

The solution then?  Little by little, of course.  But it seems to me the principles of open source – where new ideas are commonly and openly shared, whilst implementation, support and training are where we focus on competing – could be one productive way which might allow us to recover our ability to collaborate more fulsomely: not only across humanity’s cultures and races, as our progressive politics might demand of us since time immemorial, but also across the artificial business Berlin Walls in corporate-land which – in the end – have (as the video indicates) both been initially constructed by people – and could, equally convincingly, be deconstructed.

To summarise, then: competition between corporations is the problem.  But not because we don’t have enough of it.

Rather, essentially, and pretty much curiously, because we’re suffering from far too much.


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Aug 112013
 
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Stupidest story of the digital week has to be this one on how the British Library’s wifi filters banned Hamlet for violent content.  You can read up on the whole miserable experience here.  It just goes to show that the real virtual opportunity out there is for those who would like to track and control every emission of artistic and sociocultural content, in order to better monetise/repress those who would still dare/care to communicate.  As I tweeted yesterday:

The #NSA uses algorithms and computers to read our communications – a big bad. Advertising does the same – let’s go with it. #amconfusedhere

And now to the content of this post.  Peruse, if you will, the photo below.

The UK revised by my wife

What have we got here?  My wife, suddenly converted into savage and unremitting Scottish Nationalist via a bit of apposite sewing?

Not quite.  Firstly, I’m not sure she’s suited to such opinions, especially as she’s firmly Spanish in her upbringing – and might have a thing or two to say about her own country before venturing any similar opinions about anywhere else.

But more importantly, what she did with what used to be a £3.75 tea-towel bought in a sale at Debenham’s would almost certainly be illegal if it had involved software, computers and the web.

So what did she do?  Essentially, see a beautifully designed pair of cushions which together would have cost £20 – and then on the shelf next to them, with the same design, stumble across the aforementioned tea-towel.  Cut cleverly in half and combined with an appropriate piece of cloth she already had, we have the DIY brilliance of my clever spouse saving us at least £15.

Now imagine what might have happened, had she done any of this manipulation with other kinds of content.  Imagine, for example, she had a dearly beloved old VHS video-tape – properly and legally purchased – and wanted to remake the content for personal use.  Imagine, even, she dared to put such content online, on her own account and for viewing by friends, family and other interested parties.

All of this and more, that one might instinctively care to engage in, is fast becoming criminalised by the digital ownership of everything virtual.  From advertisers to security services, everyone and everything is looking to monetise our every act.  And by encouraging us over time to drive all our activities, exchanges and relationships via the frame of online nexuses, simple impulses such as the desire to copy and share – primal behaviours in all human beings – become vetoed by evermore invasive business and security sectors.

My wife’s no copyright infringer but, offline, she’s done something – the shifting of media and purpose, if you like, from prosaic tea-towel to gorgeous cushions – which online I’m pretty sure would be judged illegal.

And that, really, is not right.  That copying and sharing and reworking intelligently, humongous reasons for why the human species is now where it is, should be prohibited by so many corporations, business infrastructures and government organisations everywhere is surely something which should make us think twice.

And if we made the above image of a detached Scotland a viral success, would we quickly find the original creators of the design on our heels to take it down?

Well.  I have to say that nothing would surprise me any more.

Even as I continue to hope that a very human sense and sensibility might yet reign over our future.


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Aug 012013
 
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I’ve noticed over the past couple of weeks a growing cynicism in my public expressions.  I’m currently on holiday, so you’d hardly expect it.  That Cameron wishes to limit our access to the Internet even as his mates in the security services are increasing theirs may have nothing – or everything – to do with it.

This morning, however, I felt I outdid even my most recent outpourings in this radically unhappy tweet:

So fracker corps will end up poisoning our water table in order that water corps may hike the price of the bottled stuff. #symbiosis

What’s behind such gross bad faith on my part?  What drives me to make such wearisome connections?  Where’s the good in even trying?

Interesting questions, all.

And I am reminded of an experience I had a couple of years before I left the banking corporation I previously worked for.  In 2008, it was forcibly taken over by another banking corporation of similar size, as a result of the broader financial crisis which assailed us all that year.  Whilst our corporation had spent a lot of time and energy implementing the concept of leadership at all levels, the one which took us over had a far more traditionally American view (as I think befitted its CEO of the time) of how hierarchies should be organised.  In this case, the index they used to measure employee satisfaction was termed “engagement”.

Essentially, how closely identified employees were with everything the company allegedly stood for.

So it was that engagement surveys became the flavour of the quarter.  Everyone had to do them.  In some cases (not my department’s I hasten to add), it was said that bosses looked over employee shoulders to ensure the right answers were given.  In other cases (yes, here my department was guilty), chocolate bars were strategically located next to the workstations in question in order to encourage buen rollo.  Of course, the reason for all this dysfunctional behaviour was because the results of the surveys were tied to our bosses’ KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) – and therefore, inevitably, to their yearly bonuses.  Who wouldn’t, under such circumstances, try to influence the aforementioned surveys?

Bosses, after all, are only human.

Even where mere Level 1 workers must strive (robotically) not to be.

Anyhow, in the first year or so of the new regime’s existence, engagement ratings went quickly through the roof.  Whilst the trades unions transmitted one kind of message from the grapevine and grassroots, management got quite another impression of what was happening.  They, quite naturally, were delighted with their data – and promptly proceeded to ignore the perceptions of the unions.

It took another year or so before the misfit between survey-land and reality became even moderately clear to the executives.

So why do I mention all the above today?  Because it’s a clear example of the slow but sure extinction of engagement.  And it’s a dangerous extinction to boot.  Partly because the people best placed to resolve the issues are the people most blind to them.  Partly because the damage done to worker morale, trust and good faith is so difficult and costly to repair.

Looked at more widely, then, it seems to me that our society is going through a similar process.  While popular acquiescence to government diktat and corporate imposition makes those at the top believe they can get away with anything, and whilst sales figures and opinion polls show little dramatic change, deep down under the surface of public perception, not even publicly commented on any more, a desultory resignation is taking hold.

A huge and destructively long-term process of disengagement has been initiated.  Only an omniscient figure of economically God-like proportions can predict, right now, where it will lead us in the end.

I am not that figure.

But I can tell you, right now, that if banking corporations are anything to go by, society’s spying on the answers we give on the one hand and the cheeky provision of branded bribes on the other can only lead our shakers and makers to a place of massive misunderstanding.

The slow but sure extinction of engagement leaves behind it little DNA to recover the species.

Engagement isn’t a woolly mammoth but, rather, a thoughtful and fragile indicator of human interaction.

And no amount of chocolate bars will make such interaction any more real – even as they may serve, for a while, to soften the sorry blow of societal deception.


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May 072013
 
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Yesterday, I suggested that if only corporations were moral, their way of shaping how state-sized entities might be was far more appropriate for a physically globalised and 21st century world than the legacy of nation-states we’re suffering from more and more.  As I observed in the post in question (the bold is mine today):

So if anything is now stopping us, if anything can explain our hatred for these behemoths, it must surely not be the things themselves but, rather, the way they’ve been hijacked for other purposes.  We shouldn’t be railing against the idea and structure of corporate bodies themselves but, instead, be identifying the miscreants who’ve subjected their missions to such stupid jackass strategies.

Much as political leaders have lately driven us to UKIP, so business leaders have driven us to moral despair.  We are clearly confused.  We are clearly bemused.  We are clearly unable to properly understand the shape of things.  But looking at these things with a cold and beady eye, three-dimensional, morally-respectable and transnational states of the kind corporations could potentially become make far more sense in a truly 21st-century world than the two-dimensional, mutually-excluding, geographically-restricted and xenophobia-leaning nation-states of the type we are clearly headed for.

Further thoughts and reading has occurred to since I wrote that post.  Firstly, I realised that perhaps what’s missing isn’t corporations which act more like the better nation-states but, rather, nation-states which incorporate the better aspects of the better corporations.

For there are, of course, many people who wildly fling about statistics – which may be made up or not – that argue bitterly against the alleged fact that around half of the biggest “economic entities” in the world are corporate.  As if all the nation-states that populate the globe are covering themselves in glory.  We only have to revisit the number of wars since World War II to realise that – even where possibly in cahoots with the private sector – many nation-states aren’t averse to using violence and death to achieve their external and internal policy objectives.

Some of them being these democratic nation-states we so love to look up to.

So just because half the world is corporate doesn’t mean that the non-corporate bit of it is doing us any particular favours.

The other interesting aspect of this whole argument is that it does appear the proportion of big corporate hitters in the top 100 is falling over time.  Or at least in the decades leading up to 2009.  The argument being that new corporate players have been recently emerging from Asia and other rapidly developing areas of the world, so taking some of the purchasing power and influence from the traditional corporate behemoths.  If we accept, or assume, that these new and emerging players operate in non-Western cultures and choose to play by some of their own rules, the chances that Western corporations can influence and manage the growth of such companies for their own benefit is going to be rather more reduced than if we were talking about start-ups in our homegrown economies.

What’s more, if the tendency I mention above is as described, it would appear that – over the recent past – political and nation-state unions may have been heading in the opposite direction: with the moves to cement Germany safely at the centre of the European Union, the historical impetus to protect Europe from war has led to a concentration of powers rather than a spreading out.  That this should take place within a supposedly democratic framework such as the EU, whilst corporate-capitalist organisations fight it out in what is, even so, hardly a free market, does lead us to some rather puzzling places.

Three pieces of further reading, then, to inform some of the ideas I’ve had in these past two posts:

  1. From Rob Marchant, with a piece from March this year on Labour’s internationalism and how it is at odds with standard business practice.
  2. From revolutionise.it, this pamphlet on reaching cross-party consensus by being forward-thinking.
  3. From an American PBS-linked organisation, sponsored it is true by corporate agents, we get this project on re-engineering corporate values and practices.

I think there is plenty to be getting on with here – and, we might even argue, to be considering seriously already.

Happy reading.

Hope it’s useful.


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May 062013
 
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Here’s an interesting slideshow with data from 2009 on the subject of the top 100 “economies” in the world.  Worth your time, I think.  I found it fascinating, myself.

 

More on the subject, I think with respect to a similar dataset, can be found from a 2011 blogpost from Oxfam here.  There’s an interesting discussion in the comments thread as to how useful it is to compare what the original poster refers to in his response to a critical comment as “apples and pears”.  But at the margin of such discussions, which I am not qualified to judge, I do think both the slideshow and the Oxfam post provide instructive food for thought.

When I finally left my parental home in search of a new life, it took me twenty-four hours by coach to get from London Victoria Coach Station to Burgos in northern Spain.  My eldest son, meanwhile, living and studying in China, is about fifteen hours away by plane.  Making his life across the other side of the world, he is nearer today to me than I at the time, in Europe, was to my parents.

I once read an article which suggested that most sustainable nation-states had acquired their sizes around the distance of three days’ travel on horseback.  I don’t know if, in the event, this was actually true or not for such structures, but it almost certainly does now apply to corporate transnationals.  Being able, effectively, to be physically anywhere you have your installations, within that forty-eight to seventy-two hours of leaving HQ, is surely a psychological need all CEOs and executives must have fulfilled.

In this sense, then, corporations of the sort we regularly lambast are simply very three-dimensional equivalents of the traditional dividers of national space.  And also in this sense, we could argue that, if properly applied, their procedures – ranging from people selection to health and safety to cultural openness to creativity to technological diversity – could make for far better nation-state alternatives than those our political buddies are currently fashioning.

That’s the catch though, isn’t it?  That big “if”.  Because if it weren’t for the “if”, for the inconsistent and inconstant implementation of all those theoretically excellent values, processes, and procedures, we might want to argue that nation-states were out-of-date.  In a world where barriers really need not exist as they used to, we could do away with customs, different ways of doing things, the money-changers’ paradises, the red tape which allows public bureaucracies to earn their pound of flesh for just crossing their artificial frontiers … for a whole host of superfluousnesses and confusing uncertainties which slow down the abilities of us all to get things done.

In this sense too, we could argue that if corporations could be trusted, then in their massively planned economies, in their ingenuity and focus when implementing new ideas, in their ability to deliver hugely-multiplied services to many people simultaneously, in their (at the very least supposed) capacity to serve the vast majority of a market’s needs, the corporation way could quite easily be the way we should want to pursue.

The way, in fact, of choice.

So if anything is now stopping us, if anything can explain our hatred for these behemoths, it must surely not be the things themselves but, rather, the way they’ve been hijacked for other purposes.  We shouldn’t be railing against the idea and structure of corporate bodies themselves but, instead, be identifying the miscreants who’ve subjected their missions to such stupid jackass strategies.

Much as political leaders have lately driven us to UKIP, so business leaders have driven us to moral despair.  We are clearly confused.  We are clearly bemused.  We are clearly unable to properly understand the shape of things.  But looking at these things with a cold and beady eye, three-dimensional, morally-respectable and transnational states of the kind corporations could potentially become make far more sense in a truly 21st-century world than the two-dimensional, mutually-excluding, geographically-restricted and xenophobia-leaning nation-states of the type we are clearly headed for.

The out-of-date nation-state, do we say then?

Unfortunately for us and our world, the pretender to the throne is simply too rash, cruel and unwilling to recognise where its virtue might correctly lie.

A real pity.

It could be so completely different.  For everyone too.


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Apr 282013
 
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This is what’s happening to Legal Aid.  Essentially, citizen access to due legal process is being dramatically reduced and gamed in favour of people and organisations with loads of dosh.

This is what’s happening to the NHS.  Essentially, patient access to due medical process and the right to doctor-patient privacy is being dramatically controlled and gamed in favour of people and organisations with lots of power.

This is what’s happening to our police.  Essentially, the subjects of this green and pleasant land are becoming just another monetised calculation in the deep pockets of transnational law-and-disorder.

This is what’s happening to our education system.  Essentially, the students and teachers of England are, both, becoming part of a secretive and overbearing experiment to change the ideological bent of society in the future.

And this is what’s happening to our social cohesion.  Essentially, the government – having failed in its attempt to impose a full quiver of mean-tested benefits through its attacks on the disadvantaged – now aims to shame the elderly well-off into giving up their rights. Attempting once again, this time at the other end of the spectrum, to achieve the aforementioned objective.

Essentially, old against young; rich against poor; sick against healthy … people like Iain Duncan Smith playing their favourite game of bloody divide and rule.

Essentially, what’s happening is that legal rights, health, policing, education and the ability of our society to band together are all being pulverised by the monetising ideology of those who run the world: those who have the time, energy, knowledge and resources to fill in forms, understand documents and read executive summaries.

Which ain’t going to be you or me.  Which ain’t going to be any of those who struggle in evermore precarious lifestyles to get to the end of the month.

Essentially, what’s happening is that our blessed unwritten constitution is being radically rewritten in the most underhand of ways.  No consultation.  No public recognition of their aims.  No voter awareness that the law, patient care, justice, learning and the socialising nature of humanity are being progressively re-engineered to fit “one best way” only.

To fit just one way.

Quite covertly, these people have analysed every significant centre of human liberation, of equal opportunity and of citizen empowerment which we’ve managed to fashion in the last sixty years.

And having done so, they’ve worked out how to dismantle each and every brick which made up those walls that served to protect us so – that served to protect us from the wolves.

The wolves that have never left the doors of poverty.

The wolves that now await each and every one of us.

This is a revolution conducted by a group of people who have burrowed into the very innards of the establishment.  They have turned it inside out as a hedonist may pick away at the meat of a lobster.  Rather pink and expensively pursued by the money-mad, this is the call to independence of the corporates.

Independence of ordinary people; independence of ordinary lawyers; independence of ordinary police officers; independence of ordinary health workers; independence of ordinary educationalists … independence, that is to say, of the general desire that societies have to work together.

Sounds a bit mad of me to suggest that this might be the case?  In truth, how else can we describe it?  If someone takes over your legal, health, police and education systems – as well as attempting to detonate the ability of a people to defend themselves judiciously as one – what could we call it if not a call for someone’s savage breaking away?

A breaking away, if you like, from all that England and the United Kingdom used to mean.

No wonder some Scots are burning to escape.

Who wouldn’t want to leave such a sorry state of constitutional hijack?


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Apr 252013
 
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Rolling Stone, in its latest edition, has this story to regale you with:

Conspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. We found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world’s largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.

I suggest you all read it all before we continue.  So see you in a few minutes, OK?

*

Fixing the prices of, well, just about everything, eh?  That would, I suppose, include not only sovereign debt, community loans and the cost of things that make the world of manufacturing go round but also, indubitably, the price of foodstuffs too.

Can it get any clearer than this?

Time, perhaps, we resurrected my recent idea to “arrest without bail” and “imprison” banks?  This is why we need these two figures – and how they would work:

[...] At the moment, corporations are legal figures with many of the rights and obligations of ordinary people.  This is well known and well documented and I shan’t repeat myself here.  However, what I would like to suggest is that a serious imbalance does exist as far as depriving the liberty of such corporations to act when under investigation – or, indeed, after being found guilty of certain acts.

Ordinary people, for example, quite often when arrested find themselves summarily deprived of their liberty – and no one questions the process.  Apart from the odd legal phonecall or interview or occasional family visit, their radius of action and ability to influence the result is radically reduced.  This allows for the police to carry out necessary investigations, untrammelled by the interference of too many interested – and perhaps self-promoting – parties.

This does not happen in the case of corporate entities: mostly, in cases of even quite severe misdemeanour (witness recent high-profile banking scandals around the long-term money-laundering of drug revenues by banks you’d hardly expect to exhibit such behaviours), we generally find such corporate figures – flesh-and-blood people in everything but flesh-and-blood – do not get arrested; do not need to request bail; and never get imprisoned.  Their liberty is never deprived; they continue to operate in the meantime; they proceed to make their money as before.

Sadly, of course, we often discover after the event that the potential for being fined for some act or another will have been factored into an annual budget before the crimes in question were committed.  A fine, even a large fine, even just the threat of a fine, becomes simply one more operating cost to be contemplated as the logistics of the year are calculated.

And although, on occasions, executives do find themselves accused of specific acts, the processes are so drawn out as to make any sensible adjustment to the direction of our socioeconomic fabrics impossible to engineer.  They frequently manage to stay at the top of their hierarchical games, despite the complaints of shareholders; despite the unhappiness of a wider consuming public; and despite the reputational damage this leads to.  With their battalions of legal support, these alpha men and women feel secure in their protective silos and bunkers of belief.  No wonder they behave as imperiously as they do.

In such cases, not only are the operations of the companies in question left untouched, the ability of their apparently criminal leaders to continue leading remains intact.

My suggestion, then, which came to me as I journeyed – quite appropriately – to the TUC’s founding place, is to engineer two new figures in company law:

  1. the figure of arrest without bail
  2. the figure of imprisonment

How would these work?  Well, in the case of the former, arrest without bail would mean the corporation would have to shut down all its operations immediately.  Just as a person who finds themselves under the same deprivation of liberty, whilst investigations into probable misconduct take place, so we should be able to do the same to a company.  And the mere threat of being able to do this would surely lead to a radical change in how fines and punishments for corporate maleficence were treated and assessed in the future by those who currently quite happily contemplate them.

In the case of the latter figure, the figure of imprisonment, we could suggest that a company might totally cease operations in a similar way once sentence had been passed a posteriori.  Under such circumstances, and for a certain period of time only, the company in question could not continue to occupy the marketplace, in much the same way as a person in prison must effectively cut off all connections to the outside world.

The result would be two powerful instruments to make the corporate figure far more like the human equivalent which – in so many cases – it loves to emulate.

Applied in particular to the banking corporations, it would send a hugely important message around the significance of competence, honesty and openness for our shared societies.

As well as, surely, end the terrible cycle of reward for utter failure – a cycle which appears to be the current tonic and reality of latterday capitalism.

I think the evidence of a seriously consistent, deliberate and intentioned sequence of misdemeanours is piling up enough for a real and concerted series of contrary actions to be designed, shaped and implemented.

Don’t you?

A 21st century banking fix in search of a 21st century legal fix.  A way of changing radically how banking corporations behave.  A way of recovering these astonishing tools to organise the masses, in order that – in potential harmony – different ways of seeing and doing might serve to re-establish some sense of overall sensibility.

If you like – and finally get – my drift, that is.

If you appreciate the measure of what apparently needs to be done.


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Apr 212013
 
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This story was brought to my attention by Paul Bernal on Twitter this morning.  It involves what he described as a Labour-funded think tank, IPPR, coming up with the brilliant (#irony) idea to turn unemployment benefit into a loan which would be repayable on returning to work.  You can find the story on the Observer at the moment here.

IPPR, meanwhile, is fairly transparent as think tanks go.  As per the Who Funds You? website, it gets an “A” rating – and on its own website lists current funders thus.  Quite a mixed bag, in fact: from charities and David Miliband himself to the European Commission, Serco (#hmm), Aviva, the consumer magazine Which?, a brace of Joseph Rowntree organisations and the City of London Corporation.  Hardly straightforwardly Labour-funded, then.

The news did, however, cause me to tweet in the following way:

Taxpayer bailouts; student loans; now the poor in their grasp. The real something-for-nothing scroungers are the bloody banks themselves!

And it’s true.  It seems to me that in a crisis entirely due to mismanagement in and around the financial sector – both technical and technocratic it has to be said – those who continue to pay the price for such disintegration are those hardest hit by its consequences.  So it is we reward instead of punish the banking corporations for having got it so wrong.  As money gets tighter for the poor, opportunities for the banks to make easy cash off our backs are expanded not only by the Wonga-style market forces of the desultory high street but also by the bright and bushy-tailed think-tank boffins themselves.  I can’t think of another sector in the world – or, indeed, in history – where failure was such a profitable act.

Nor, in fact, where it continues to get even more profitable.

But, on the train yesterday on the way to a Manchester policy forum, I stumbled across a solution to all our ills.  At the moment, corporations are legal figures with many of the rights and obligations of ordinary people.  This is well known and well documented and I shan’t repeat myself here.  However, what I would like to suggest is that a serious imbalance does exist as far as depriving the liberty of such corporations to act when under investigation – or, indeed, after being found guilty of certain acts.

Ordinary people, for example, quite often when arrested find themselves summarily deprived of their liberty – and no one questions the process.  Apart from the odd legal phonecall or interview or occasional family visit, their radius of action and ability to influence the result is radically reduced.  This allows for the police to carry out necessary investigations, untrammelled by the interference of too many interested – and perhaps self-promoting – parties.

This does not happen in the case of corporate entities: mostly, in cases of even quite severe misdemeanour (witness recent high-profile banking scandals around the long-term money-laundering of drug revenues by banks you’d hardly expect to exhibit such behaviours), we generally find such corporate figures – flesh-and-blood people in everything but flesh-and-blood – do not get arrested; do not need to request bail; and never get imprisoned.  Their liberty is never deprived; they continue to operate in the meantime; they proceed to make their money as before.

Sadly, of course, we often discover after the event that the potential for being fined for some act or another will have been factored into an annual budget before the crimes in question were committed.  A fine, even a large fine, even just the threat of a fine, becomes simply one more operating cost to be contemplated as the logistics of the year are calculated.

And although, on occasions, executives do find themselves accused of specific acts, the processes are so drawn out as to make any sensible adjustment to the direction of our socioeconomic fabrics impossible to engineer.  They frequently manage to stay at the top of their hierarchical games, despite the complaints of shareholders; despite the unhappiness of a wider consuming public; and despite the reputational damage this leads to.  With their battalions of legal support, these alpha men and women feel secure in their protective silos and bunkers of belief.  No wonder they behave as imperiously as they do.

In such cases, not only are the operations of the companies in question left untouched, the ability of their apparently criminal leaders to continue leading remains intact.

My suggestion, then, which came to me as I journeyed – quite appropriately – to the TUC’s founding place, is to engineer two new figures in company law:

  1. the figure of arrest without bail
  2. the figure of imprisonment

How would these work?  Well, in the case of the former, arrest without bail would mean the corporation would have to shut down all its operations immediately.  Just as a person who finds themselves under the same deprivation of liberty, whilst investigations into probable misconduct take place, so we should be able to do the same to a company.  And the mere threat of being able to do this would surely lead to a radical change in how fines and punishments for corporate maleficence were treated and assessed in the future by those who currently quite happily contemplate them.

In the case of the latter figure, the figure of imprisonment, we could suggest that a company might totally cease operations in a similar way once sentence had been passed a posteriori.  Under such circumstances, and for a certain period of time only, the company in question could not continue to occupy the marketplace, in much the same way as a person in prison must effectively cut off all connections to the outside world.

The result would be two powerful instruments to make the corporate figure far more like the human equivalent which – in so many cases – it loves to emulate.

Applied in particular to the banking corporations, it would send a hugely important message around the significance of competence, honesty and openness for our shared societies.

As well as, surely, end the terrible cycle of reward for utter failure – a cycle which appears to be the current tonic and reality of latterday capitalism.


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Apr 022013
 
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Definitions first.  This, on the corporation:

An corporation is a separate legal entity that has been incorporated through a legislative or registration process established through legislation. Incorporated entities have legal rights and liabilities that are distinct from their employees and shareholders,[1] and may conduct business as either a profit-seeking business or not for profit business.

And this, even more pertinently:

Despite not being actual human beings (‘Natural People’), corporations, as far as the law is concerned, as legal people have many of the same rights and responsibilities as natural people do. Corporations can exercise human rights against real individuals and the state,[5][6] and they can themselves be responsible for human rights violations.[7] Corporations can be “dissolved” either by statutory operation, order of court, or voluntary action on the part of shareholders. Insolvency may result in a form of corporate failure, when creditors force the liquidation and dissolution of the corporation under court order,[8] but it most often results in a restructuring of corporate holdings. Corporations can even be convicted of criminal offenses, such as fraud and manslaughter. However corporations are not considered living entities in the way that humans are.[9]

Now this, on how we might define racism:

Racism is usually defined as views, practices and actions reflecting the belief that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called races and that members of a certain race share certain attributes which make that group as a whole less desirable, more desirable, inferior or superior.[1][2][3]

And this, again even more pertinently:

Racism and racial discrimination are often used to describe discrimination on an ethnic or cultural basis, independent of whether these differences are described as racial. According to the United Nationsconvention, there is no distinction between the terms racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination, and superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere.[7]

Now to my most recent post (though I’m pretty sure, in my case, the tendency has been exhibiting itself for a while) on the subject of Tory failure (the bold is mine for the purposes of the post you are now reading):

In terms of their own economic markers in the sand; of their inability to lead a country – not through medieval fear but a real and tangible hope – out of the quagmire most of the less well-off will now find ourselves in; of their absent understanding of where a natural justice must lie; and of their abdication and giving-up of a sovereign England to transnational corporations with very foreign ways of seeing and doing.

I imagine, of course, I’m not the only English subject to fear the influences of foreign parts – but I do try to resist what might fairly be considered the expression of racist tendencies.  So why am I happily letting slip phrases such as a “sovereign England” being given up to “transnational corporations with very foreign ways of seeing and doing”?  Given that – as the above definitions have shown us – corporations have many of the attributes of people, am I not committing the cardinal sin of racists everywhere?

Am I not, in fact, demonstrating a profoundly unpleasant side to my character – a side I only reveal when dealing with the branded anonymity of my fast-food provider?

Then I think even deeper on the matter.  Perhaps there is in motion a deliberated sequence of events (not exactly a conspiracy – more a flocking of interested parties) aimed at directing our immigration-riven fears at the foreign people who visibly come over.  That these fears might originally be sourced in the corporations we work for, with their “foreign” values and missions and their effervescent induction processes, seemingly unstoppable, unavoidable and inevitable as they are, is neither here nor there: in essence what is happening, as we find ourselves unable to fight the “real” enemy, is that we transfer our fears onto the entirely blameless young Polish couple living two doors down from where we do.

Seen in such a light, we must conclude the following: of course it’s not right to be racist about anything.  And yet … and yet … in the light of these thoughts, I better understand the “real” racists out there.  These corporations, with their foreign ways, are coming to change my education system, my NHS, my police, fire, search and rescue services, my Legal Aid, my road and rail infrastructures – even, it would seem, my very English love of a cricketing fair play.

So what gives them the right to storm the barricades of Englishness?

Their logo-dressed fineries?  Their invisibility cloaks of globalisation?  Their automatic right to move their electronic wealth from country to country?  And why, please tell me, do they really manage to become so like us – especially when the ordinary foreign-landed flesh-and-blood folk allegedly find it so difficult to integrate with our traditional ways and wherefores?

Are the corporations more gracious with our customs?  Are they more respectful with our habits?  Are they more adept at understanding our ways?

Or is it something else – something really rather unhappier?

Is it really that they manage to remake themselves in our image – or is it more that they have the means and methods to remake us in theirs?

Maybe it is OK to be racist to a corporation after all.  They, in many senses, would appear to be swallowing us whole.  Swallowing us whole – before (once sufficiently masticated, our function fulfilled) they proceed to discard and spit us out.

Thus I come to my final question: in such circumstances as these, wouldn’t your racist tendencies begin to flower too?


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Mar 072013
 
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Rick has a lovely piece on defending bureaucracy as a Good Thing.  It starts off like this:

Gus O’Donnell presented a thought-provoking programme on Radio 4 this morning, In Defence of Bureaucracy. He presented two arguments. Firstly, you can’t get much done without basic organisation. Secondly, bureaucracy, with its formal rules, offers protection from the arbitrary whims and prejudices of those in power.

I suggest you read it in its entirety.  It’s not just a piece about bureaucracy in government.  It’s also a piece about bureaucracy in the private sector.  This paragraph, for example:

Bureaucracy is the corporate equivalent of the rule of law. It protects people from arbitrary decisions inside the organisation. Rules and procedures give people clarity about their roles, their scope for decision making and their boundaries. Like the rule of law, they protect employees from random and vindictive treatment by their bosses. It has become very fashionable to deride bureaucracy but working in organisations with fewer rules and procedures can be just as unpleasant. Trying to second guess the whims of a maverick autocratic boss can be every bit as energy draining and innovation stifling as working in a bureaucracy.

In essence, as a set of democratic societies, we could not have arrived at where we are if it hadn’t been for the law-engendering instincts of overarching rules, processes and procedures.

It’s clear, therefore, that our impulsive perceptions of bureaucracy need a makeover.  We need to perceive it with a greater sense of its complex contribution to latterday civilisation.  Therein the rub, of course.  There’s plenty of evidence that bureaucracy – and its fairly widely independent relationship to political masters – makes it a perfect vehicle for doing ill too.  Just because a bureaucracy religiously ensures that rules, processes and procedures are followed to the letter doesn’t mean that only good may necessarily spring forth: if the rules, processes and procedures in question are malignant in nature, the result will be unkind.  What’s more, pretty consistently – even remorselessly – unkind.

The most obvious example is how the Nazis appropriated the Weimar Republic’s institutions.  But we also have an example much closer to home:

Patient interests were neglected for years by NHS mangers as hospitals concentrated on cutting waiting times at the expense of good care, the head of the service admitted today.

Sir David Nicholson accepted that he was “part” of an environment where the leadership of the NHS “lost its focus” and which indirectly led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of patients at Stafford Hospital.

Now it still seems the latter case is being the subject of much political football – the Tories have recently blamed the previous Labour government for, I assume, its attachment to targets (perhaps, in this case, the wrong ones – that is to say, the easiest ones to measure); meanwhile, the Labour opposition is calling for Nicholson to resign his current responsibility as driver of highly unpopular government-organised change at the NHS.

As I’ve said on a previous occasion:

If you think about it, the pyramid which reaches pointy-headed to the sky is actually totally absurd.  As the work gets more complex and challenging, we use fewer heads to decide what needs to be done.  The chances of committing errors, of stressing oneself into illness, of failing to achieve one’s targets … these are all bound to increase with the traditional pyramid we are all used to.

Surely this is madness.

Surely we need if not a cylinder, at the very least a pyramid without a considerable part of its upper superstructure.

And as Shuggy concisely points out:

From the Hootsmon:

“Excessive hierarchy must become a thing of the past. Upward communication must be encouraged and constructive criticism should be positively received.”

The remedy for this is, apparently, to give those at the top of the hierarchy more power:

“Headteachers should be seen as the chief executives of largely autonomous organisations…”

Kier Bloomer being desperately stupid in a way that only intelligent people can be. I’ll make this my last post on education for some time because this stuff makes me so depressed I can’t stand it.

Again as I’ve said on other occasions, where we currently find ourselves is here:

Where managerialism takes over, and where hierarchies reduce the number of people involved as the tasks get more complex, we get the big-hitter striker syndrome: a man or woman at the top on whom everyone is focussed. A man or woman on whom everything depends. A man or woman who will one day fail; or perhaps, over time, frequently fails – but has the physical presence to convince us they are, even so, actually succeeding; and so deserve the massive salaries they command. [...]

Bureaucracies and top executives – or corporate law and CEOs, if you wish – are complicated relationships, after all.  It’s true, of course, that bureaucracies can act as a dead hand on individually dangerous and maverick leaders.  But as the Nazis showed us, and as the concept of charismatic leadership more widely demonstrates, a stratospheric leadership structure can just as easily use a bureaucracy to escape conviction and control as that very same bureaucracy can serve to ameliorate the former’s wilder instincts.

If we want to continue to believe we can use bureaucracy as a force for good, we need – first and foremost – to sort out the ever-growing dysfunctionality of pyramidal structures, as well as the inefficient concentrations of wealth that accompany it.


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Feb 272013
 
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Time to be totally honest about this.  I’m officially diagnosed – have been for most of my life – both epileptic and paranoid schizophrenic.  I’m not quite sure about the second diagnosis – my doctor refuses politely to revisit it any more.  But I have been – and still am – dependent on expensive medication in order that I might function.

Without it, I would at the very least be having multiple fits every day of my life.

This, therefore, has profoundly shocked me – not only shocked me but revolted and disgusted me:

[In Greece, hundreds] of drugs are in short supply and the situation is getting worse, according to the Greek drug regulator. The government has drawn up a list of more than 50 pharmaceutical companies it accuses of halting or planning to halt supplies because of low prices in the country.

More than 200 medicinal products are affected, including treatments for arthritis, hepatitis C and hypertension, cholesterol-lowering agents, antipsychotics, antibiotics, anaesthetics and immunomodulators used to treat bowel disease.

The Guardian goes on to report that:

Chemists in Athens describe chaotic scenes with desperate customers going from pharmacy to pharmacy to look for prescription drugs that hospitals could no longer dispense.

The government list includes some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. Pfizer, Roche and Sanofi all said a few products had been withheld. GSK and AstraZeneca denied the claims.

So why are the drugs being withheld?  It would appear that traders as well as wider corporate greed are both, once more, at the heart of our problems:

“Companies are ceasing these supplies because Greece is not profitable for them and they are worried that their products will be exported by traders to other richer countries through parallel trade as Greece has the lowest medicine prices in Europe,” said Professor Yannis Tountas, the president of the Greek drug regulator, the National Organisation for Medicines.

I’m truly sorry for the language I’m about to use here but I see no other way of expressing my rage.

On second thoughts, nothing in the English language fully expresses the way I feel right now.

*

Of course, you’ll be thinking, and I bet you are, Greece is one of those reasonably faraway countries we like to nastily describe as PIGS.  Which, in truth, says far more about ourselves than any unfortunate object of our prejudices.

Only, quite interestingly, this acronym has been expanded on two occasions – and can occasionally be now seen even as PIIGGS.  Yes.  Great Britain is joining the band of merry men and women whose sociopolitical and economic environments do unpleasant things to their peoples in the name of financial probity.  Looking for examples?  Try this one, again from the Guardian tonight:

The acrimonious debate over soaring energy bills and mounting fuel poverty reignited when British Gas – the biggest energy supplier in the UK – unveiled an 11% increase in profits and its parent group, Centrica, promised a £1.3bn handout to its shareholders just months after pushing through an increase in household bills.

Campaign groups warned that 160,000 children had been dragged into fuel poverty by the actions of the big six energy suppliers since 2010, while trade union bosses accused energy chiefs of “creaming off” profits. Dividends of more than £3.5bn have now been paid out by Centrica over the last five years. Anger was exacerbated by confirmation that Phil Bentley, British Gas’s managing director, will stand down with a combined pay and pension package worth more than £10m.

Curious, isn’t it?  After the credit-crunch years, and as all those little shareholders of people’s-capitalism fame found their investments slipping like sand through their once expectant and optimistic fingers, so the big corporate blue chip companies – riding out the storm – have begun to handsomely reward not only their managerialist executives but also their cleverly deep-pocketed gargantuan corporate investors.

As people’s capitalism went into reverse gear, so the corporates learnt to bide their time.

As people’s capitalism lost the support of the people, so the brutal corporations remembered how to keep their resources ever closer to their (war) chests.

And all of the above on the backs of 160,000 children.

All of the above on the backs of the most poverty-stricken.

Brute corporate force, exerted brutally – is this really what we deserve?

Transnational pharmaceutical companies which hold cancer patients, schizophrenics, heart-condition sufferers and people with depression to the kind of ransoms only bastard kings would ever consider.

Energy conglomerates which pile the pain on every winter as they force the poor and elderly to choose between food and fuel.

Where the HELL is your HUMANITY, for Christ’s sake?  Where the HELL is your SHAME?  Where the HELL did you leave your CHARITY?

Where the HELL do you THINK this will LEAD you in the end?

Or IS this HELL we already inhabit?


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Feb 112013
 
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Our blessed government seems to still be selling us the donkey (many apologies to any donkey-lovers – and, indeed, donkeys – reading this post) that those ladies and gentleman responsible for the horsemeat scandal are a group of murky underworld elements quite different from anyone in respectable public or private office.

Of interest, then, to my naturally suspicious self is the following quote from the Telegraph article in question:

Mr Paterson [the British Environment Secretary] yesterday said: “As we speak this morning this is an issue of fraud and a conspiracy against the public I think probably by criminal elements to substitute a cheap material for that which was marked on the label.

As he goes on to point out, in language all politicians are prone to understand (the bold is mine):

It is a labelling issue. Now we may find out as the week progresses and the tests begin to come in, we may find out there is a substance which is injurious to human health. We have no evidence of that at all at the moment.”

Once again, we see that branding (probably literally in this case) raises its ugly and foolish head.  For politicians do love to define every problem in terms of how it’s being communicated – and never in terms of how objectively grave it might be.  To say that the issue is simply one of labels is – really – to argue the empty-headed toss about one of the most significant concepts in 21st century business: just think of all the money and effort massive corporatesprivacy groups and other interested observers are expending in justifying their different approaches to issues such as the integrity of intellectual property, its differentiation and its intrinsic right to earn an exclusive income from its authenticity.

So it is utter bollocks for anyone these days to argue that anything is ever just a matter of labels.  If it were absolutely nothing else, it would be more than massively a matter of great preoccupation.  If such arguments are good enough to justify oppressive Internet intrusion in order to protect film content and DVD sales, surely a little more hands-on attachment to the integrity of our food chain is also fairly going to be warranted.

But back to my first quote tonight, and this phrase in particular (again, the bold is mine):

“As we speak this morning this is an issue of fraud and a conspiracy against the public I think probably by criminal elements to substitute a cheap material for that which was marked on the label.

Criminal elements – or standard business practice?  Isn’t the drive that is continuous improvement – which perpetually looks for ways to substitute a more expensive “material” with a functionally similar but far cheaper equivalent in every single process, procedure, product and service – exactly what 21st century business is exactly about?

In reality, these “criminal elements” are only doing what every good businessperson, CEO and team leader does every single day of their working week.  The objective of their respective marketing actions is to match perceived customer needs to such processes, procedures, products and services – and deliver the outcomes in question at both the lowest possible cost and highest possible price.  So perhaps, as the Telegraph does indeed suggest today, the behaviours which are coming to light at the moment are rather more distributed, widespread and “endemic” than the furious distancing techniques of recent government statements would tend to give lie to.

As I have already noted on these pages, both the banking and food sectors’ regulatory bodies share the same abbreviation: the FSA in each case.  This is, of course, a total coincidence – but not an irrelevant or specious one.  That such crises of propriety, probity, confidence and honour should assail banking in recent times has led many of us to assume the problem is sectoral.  But that similar patterns should now repeat themselves in our food chains should, surely, make us begin to think more than twice.

In each case, we have perhaps necessarily top-down institutions with about as heavy a governance as one could expect, failing lumberingly to inspire the sort of trust one would hope for in their respective consumers and users.  In each case, it would also seem that through the habit corporate organisations always exhibit of building, little by little, every element of their precious practice on the assumption that preceding and successive practice is coherent, correct and contained, the tenuous connections thus finally constructed lead them almost inevitably to criminal downfall.  Part of the problem, of course, is that companies are made up of people, and people cement their understanding of whether other people are behaving themselves on the basis of what these other people manage to do to appear trustworthy.

You can never entirely remove from any process or procedure the need to trust that another is doing what they are supposed to do.  And when you add to the mix the Chinese walls that are designed to ensure we all behave ourselves – but which, in the event, seem to be leading more and more of us to misunderstand the acts of other specialisations to the terrible detriment not only of the companies we work for but also of the societies we operate within – it would seem the mix is becoming dangerously explosive.

Don’t get me wrong.  Corporate organisations are potentially magnificent tools to organise a globalising century of many billions of human beings.  But when they become as fragile as they have of late, we might rue the day we decided to construct our societies around them.

They have, I fear, become corrupting in what many of us saw as precisely their greatest virtues: those very paused and structured mannerisms we assumed would guarantee – at the very least – some kind of enduring sense and sensibility.

*

When businesspeople and criminals both use the same structures to such an extent that it becomes practically impossible – from the outside looking in at least – to tell clearly enough who is who, maybe it’s time we decided on a different set of approaches.

For maybe the day business and criminal practices first began to use the same tools is the day we should have decided – in some way – to shut up this stable for good.

Before all these bloody horses had their chance to bolt our systems and – in that process – perhaps ended up criminalising us all.


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Feb 102013
 
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And so it has come to pass.  The beef that was not beef but was actually, to a very great degree, horsemeat may not – in the event – be horsemeat either.  Whilst lurid tales have been recently spread by government ministers – alluding to Eastern European mafias shifting equine loot – the Independent reports tonight that we could be facing a culinary invasion of donkeys.  In its astonishing report – verging on the most English of parodies in tone – the paper also reminds us (the bold is mine):

The French consumer minister, Benoît Hamon, said today that he would not hesitate to take legal action if evidence emerged that the two French companies which handled the meat had been aware of the fraud.

In passing, Mr Hamon also took a swipe at the British Government. He said that London was complaining about weak European food inspection while cutting the budget for EU food-safety checks in Brussels.

This is a revelatory sentence and explains with great clarity the behaviour of the Tories.  “How perfect!” their strategists must have proclaimed on discovering that good old British beef had been contaminated by pesky European horse.  No matter that in reality we could argue these things happen because hands-off neoliberal thinkers a) like to believe the market will attend in an absolutely perfect and efficient way to both its own and our needs and b) love to suggest the complex B2B transactions that now populate our globalised world are always going to be entirely beneficial.

In truth, the B2B transactions I mention don’t really have to be as complex as they are.  It’s only so huge transnationals can easily reach – with their tenuous distribution channels – each and every corner and supermarket shelf of the nations that make up the developed world that we tolerate these complicated and interdependent ways of delivering food to our tables.

And so now that it turns out our meat has been properly tested for hygiene but not – it would seem – for species, what other lurid thoughts can flood our minds?

Horses?

Donkeys?

Mafias?

Concrete boots?

Various and varied ways of disposing of that which one would prefer to make disappear forthwith?


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