Oct 192014

No.  I’m not very good at titles.  You may have realised that already.

This post is not really about obesity at all.  It’s written out of ignorance – as well as a reluctance to make myself seem more learned than I am by spending five minutes Googling statistics held online.

A couple of days ago, Jonathan Freedland connected – as symptomatic of two very current Western conditions – the Islamic State and Ebola crises.  He identified two states of mind as representing our shared responses.  Firstly, fear:

They are dark, unseen enemies, come from far away – and they are scaring us witless. Isis is not a disease, and Ebola is not a terror organisation. But fear is their common currency: intentional for one, inevitable for the other. […]

Secondly, impotence:

But the greater similarity is the feeling of impotence that both crises prompt. The US, the most armed nation in the history of humankind, the world’s hyperpower, which spends more on weapons than the 10 next highest-spending nations combined, that country – along with five European allies and partners from the Gulf states – is pounding Isis from the air and yet making only marginal progress. No one is talking of victory over Isis; most speak of merely containing it. Meanwhile, the same US, with all its state-of-the-art technology and germproof suits, couldn’t prevent one of its nurses catching Ebola. You can hardly blame those inside and outside America who look at both situations and feel overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, as I read Freedland’s perceptive train of thought – especially as he avoids with his perspicacity what the neocons will prefer to describe as that almost psychotic connecting of ideas (what, indeed, I myself have recently called the corrosive relativism of the Guardian‘s “Comment is Free”) – I may actually be falling into the trap of doing what he so successfully avoided.  “What trap?” I hear you ask.

Well.  I look at the two plagues currently assailing our Western civilisation – obesity and mental ill-health – and wonder why no one (as per Freedland’s methodology) cares to make the connection too often.

As the Guardian reports in the obesity story just linked to, on the initiative by the state to encourage health workers to sort out their own weight problems in order to give the country a good example:

The move by Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, comes amid mounting frustration within the medical profession and NHS over the failure of successive governments to invest sufficiently in public health campaigns.

One in five young people and one in four adults in the UK now suffer from obesity, which each year causes 34,000 deaths and costs the NHS more than £1bn. Last year almost 11,000 people – 8,000 of them women – were admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis of obesity.

However, I am minded to point out that in both the contexts discussed, the economic drivers soon push aside any primary considerations of a more humane nature, by coming to the fore of most policymakers’ mindsets.  Whilst the first report only mentions the cost to the NHS (others will I am sure go on to upfront the cost to businesses), the second – on mental health, and even as it starts out by talking about the impact on people – communicates the following (the bold is mine):

Dame Sally said the costs were “astounding” and NHS bosses needed to treat mental health “more like physical health”.

“Anyone with mental illness deserves good quality support at the right time,” she said.

“Underinvestment in mental health services, particularly for young people, simply does not make sense economically.

And this, if anything, if we are to use Jonathan Freedland’s carefully couched methodology, is why in the cases of IS and Ebola we are both fearful and impotent – and why in the cases of obesity and mental health we are getting far more ill than we should be.

A focus on economic drivers is driving our whole Western civilisation – once so liberal, caring, socialising and forward-looking (that little-by-little but positively remorseless progress of social democracy) – into the hands of these four hoarse men fed up of shouting out truths into the night.

The fear and impotence we are manifesting when faced with terrorism and horrific disease, as well as steady-state physical and mental infirmities such as obesity and mental ill-health, are all consequences of our leaders’ inabilities to make connections at the simplest level.  These inabilities to understand what makes us obese, mentally ill, unnaturally fearful of disease and terrified of terrorism … well, it all leads our makers and shakers to assume even more of their same is needed, when – in reality – it’s been more of their same which has failed us.

We are frightened, but not because we the people have done something very wrong in our lifestyles; rather, it’s because, deep down, we have already realised technocracy is not up to the job.

We are impotent, but not because the communication from our lords and masters has been inadequate to the task in the hand; rather, it’s because, deep down, we have already realised that those in charge, the technocrats and their economic sponsors, are now too powerful for us to be able to shift them in their error-making ways.  They refuse to make the connections we’ve struggled to make ourselves and, instead, look to multiply inability a thousandfold.

And when we try and communicate a different idea or approach, they see us as threatening their already fearfully threatened positions.  So instead of verily being part of the solution, we quickly become part of the threat.

We are living the rapid decline of pyramid capitalism.

They don’t know it, but we do – and that’s what’s making us fat.

Jul 272014

There’s a lovely and humane overview of robots and the subject of care-giving over at the Medium blogsite at the moment.  The dilemma it raises can be summed up in this beautifully succinct phrase early on:

Humans have only so many “irreplaceable” skills, and the idea that we’ll just keep outrunning the machines, skill-wise, is a folly.

The article goes on to explain how inhuman – where not inhumane – care-giving robotisation might be, suggesting that:

In my view, warehousing elderly and children—especially children with disabilities—in rooms with machines that keep them busy, when large numbers of humans beings around the world are desperate for jobs that pay a living wage is worse than the Dickensian nightmares of mechanical industrialization, it’s worse than the cold, alienated workplaces depicted by Kafka.

It’s an abdication of a desire to remain human, to be connected to each other through care, and to take care of each other.

Coincidentally, yesterday I finished reading a short story from an excellent collection of Isaac Asimov’s robot tales called “Robot Visions”.  I’ve been lending it from Amazon’s lending library for a while; my time to read mainly taken up by work on my PC.  Now I’m on holiday, I can return to my Kindle.

The story in question is called “The Evitable Conflict”, and – in a very socialistic sort of way (more along similar lines from yours truly here) – describes how hugely ingenious data-crunching Machines have been developed to perfectly organise and balance the different regions of the world’s economy.  Things begin to go moderately wrong in certain places: key people make the wrong sorts of decisions, projects then go off kilter – and as a result those responsible are suspected of petty subterfuge; even, as the story progresses, of possibly institutionalised sabotage.

In the end it seems clear that the Machines are more than data-crunchers, deliberately leading the key people in question to make the undeniable mistakes which will lead to gentle but nevertheless irrevocable sideways demotions.  As the Machines are hard-wired with the Three Laws of Robotics, they are unable to do anything which might harm a human being excessively, of course – but the interests of a wider humanity have clearly begun – in some way – to take a certain pride of place.

And so we humans, as individual figures, become tools to a greater goal: the maximisation of an economic system.

I don’t suppose that rings any bells.

For whilst the writer of the Medium piece, Zeynep Tufekci, is I think looking to avoid such a future submission of humanity to the machines that were throughout history thought to be – more or less – extensions of ourselves, I feel it is also clear – both from her piece and Asimov’s story – that even before such machines may manage to become cleverer than this humanity we currently are, other more powerful human beings than ourselves have systemically created economic constructs which force us to be extensions of an already pre-existing economic machine – instead of, radically (though hardly unreasonably, inhumanly nor inhumanely) the other way round.

If the robotisation of care-giving does continue to remove a human presence from the process – even where the robots themselves were to be indistinguishable from humans! – perhaps it will only be so easy to contemplate and accept because our economies and body politic, before any encroaching mass-robotisation is allowed to make it inevitable, have chosen to sustain the everyday submission of flesh-and-blood beings to the mandatory numbers of the technocrats; have, in truth, little by little pummelled us into accepting the future they want to await us.

And if one day we notice so little difference between a living nurse and a positronic one, it won’t only be because the positronic technology is so brilliantly engineered to fill their place – but also because, well before the positronics come along, the human nurses will already have been definitively dehumanised, along with maybe ourselves as patients too.  The robot engineers will be ingenious souls, no doubt about it – but their technocratic counterparts in politics and business, the opinion formers who make and shake our imaginations, wants, needs, products and services, will already have remade and redefined our worlds to the bespoke requirements of the technologists.

The maximum management of emotional expectations, in fact.

The evitable conflict – and how to fully transition from a historical humanity to a world at the service of the Machines.

Jul 122013

Itiddly summarises the awful progress of the British Coalition government thus.  It makes for depressing reading because it concentrates it all in one place.  But I urge you to read it, even so.

In truth, the Thatcherite household economists are righter than they think.  You know the ones I mean: the ones who proclaim that violent austerity is needed to violently balance the books.  Only for the savagely falling tax receipts to blow any such intentions out of the murky water of government obfuscation.

No.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mean as economists; I don’t mean as applied to the science of economics.

“Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.”  It’s an easy phrase to understand because we generally try – we should try – and apply it to ourselves.  Which is why these stupid stupid Thatcherites find it such an easy and convincing narrative in order to pull the blue wool over their voters’ eyes.

And they’re so clearly wrong: they’ve even had the practical opportunity to prove it.  They’re so bloody minded that they even say – in the face of horribly manifest evidence – that the real reason it hasn’t worked is because we haven’t had the guts to cut deeply enough.  As the Telegraph article linked to above underlines (the bold is mine):

Like Greece before it, Portugal is chasing its tail in a downward spiral. Economic contraction of 3pc a year is eroding the tax base, causing Lisbon to miss deficit targets. A new working paper by the Bank of Portugal explains why it has gone wrong. The fiscal multiplier is “twice as large as normal”, or 2.0, in small open economies during crisis times.

What is new is that Vitor Gaspar, the high priest of Portugal’s shock therapy, has thrown in the towel. He blames the fainthearted for refusing to slash with greater vigour. Needless to say, he still refuses to accept that a strategy of wage cuts and deflation in a country with total debt of 370pc of GDP was always likely to fail.

Meanwhile, in our own blessed land, the same paper, just today, reports as follows:

Mr Osborne, the Chancellor, has declared that taxes will not need to rise after 2015 to fill a £25 billion black hole in the public finances.

He dismissed concerns that the Tories are planning further tax rises and said that his plans instead would involve further spending and welfare cuts.

“Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.”  Rings a little hollow, right?  Seems quite the wrong approach.  And from the point of view of the economy, it is.  But not from the point of view of our people.

It has often been observed that we judge a society – we should judge a society – on the basis of how it treats its weakest and most defenceless.  And when the Thatcherite household economists argue that the important things in life will look after themselves if we look after the small things, they misdirect their attention.  Instead of focussing on sustaining the defenceless, the weak, the sick, poor and disabled (in no way insignificant members of our nation – even as they are definitely quite the easiest to neglect), in the belief that if we can treat them with grace and love, then grace and love will be the lot of everyone else, they choose to rubbish, terrify, cause untold distress to and, finally, drive to death the very people whose treatment should be a litmus test for our civilisation.

We should rewrite this clearly favoured proverbial chant of neoliberals everywhere.  No longer shall we apply it to economics but to how we perceive and deal with flesh-and-blood human beings.  Let it, from now on, run thus: “Look after the defenceless and the powerful will look after themselves!”

That, in essence, should be the prime objective of any society which cares to see itself as civilised.  The powerful never need our help – never!  Neither our often stealthy and shameful acquiescence – nor their brazen redrawing of the battlefield.

Any civilisation which refuses to devote the majority of its resources to defending the defenceless becomes a pig trough of socioeconomics – a pig trough which should shake and shame us to our core.

Oh yes.  We do need to balance the books.  It is true.  The books that explain to us how to believe in much better: much better than any of this.

But the books we must deny any responsibility for – any desire to acknowledge or factor in to our political equations – are those which the powerful use to maintain their power.

Let’s get it clear, once and for all: this is a full-throated conflict where the pounds are taking care of themselves – and the pennies can just bugger off.  We mustn’t allow it to continue.  We must find a way to interrupt it.  We must prevent the needless suffering of any more of our citizens.

Repeat after me: “Look after the defenceless and the powerful will look after themselves!”  “Look after the defenceless and the powerful will look after themselves!”  “Look after the defenceless and the powerful will look after themselves!”

And maybe in this mantra we shall find another way.

Mar 082013

I ranted a bit the other day on my own position as a natural immigrant on this planet.  In fact, I am as much an immigrant as I am a person with disability – though you probably wouldn’t notice it if you looked at me.

Just as many of us are disabled but silently, so many of us are immigrants but invisibly.  There are, in fact, many more of us than you think.  You only see those who suffer because of their skin colour.  What you don’t know or realise is how many of us have anciently – and recently – invaded your genes, your history, your habits, your cuisine; even your treasured language itself.

The thesis of today’s post runs as follows: to posit any discussion on the issues surrounding economic fracture as issues which require us to address a person’s culture and race is immediately – without exception at all – to create a group of very second-class citizens.  To argue that individuals who are supposedly different from a perceived norm have fewer rights – simply because they were born elsewhere and are of a different nationality – is an expression of severe anti-internationalism to a most unpleasant degree.  To suggest that some people are more important to a nation-state because their economic contributions are greater is a demonstration of how difficult it has become for all of us to value others in terms of what they are; how easy it has become for all of us to define human beings in terms of their relationship to number-crunching stats and outputs.

To summarise, when we’re talking about immigration, what we’re really talking about is our inability to make an economy work effectively.  People who want to “address the immigration issue” refuse to accept that their views on how the economy should operate are as near to bankrupt as makes no difference.  Unable to recognise that the mixed economy of the traditional social-democratic state is tottering towards an abyss essentially of its own making, they find it far easier to play silly buggers with people’s identities.

Which is why this happens: you will, on the one hand, from the very same important political mouths, hear voices claiming how ridiculous the thought of Scottish independence must be – even as they argue, on the other, for a reassertion of a national identity they do approve of.  An identity which parties must kow-tow to and support because a significant minority of the voters is judged to be significantly racist.

This, then, is what I argue: immigrants are always second-class citizens.  We say things about immigrants we never dare say about anybody else.  And, these days, we say them more and more often.  It seems that Fortress Britain is being re-established on all parts of the political spectrum.  Most everyone is now following that significant minority whose powers of persuasion are located in the unhappiest of prejudices: the prejudices that confuse the reality of economic bankruptcy with the symptoms that immigration represent.

Easier to shit on an immigrant than on a banker perhaps?  Maybe so.  Especially for those who need the political sponsorship of the financial-services sector.

To finish, then, a thought experiment.  I’m going to quote from three recent points of view on the subject, but – on International Women’s Day – substitute all references to immigrants with references to women.  Let’s see how these opinions then sit – how uncomfortable, perhaps, they begin to make us feel.  The first excerpts from the blog Stumbling and Mumbling today.  First, the original text:

Sunny says  the conventional ways of arguing for a more liberal immigration policy have been unsuccessful. I agree. I also agree that we shouldn’t look to the Labour party to change this. Political parties tend to follow the public mood, not lead it.

Now my version:

Sunny says  the conventional ways of arguing for a more liberal policy on women’s rights have been unsuccessful. I agree. I also agree that we shouldn’t look to the Labour party to change this. Political parties tend to follow the public mood, not lead it.

Then we get this – again, first the original:

[…] The strongest foundation for anti-immigration attitudes lies not in economics or hard facts but in an inarticulable sense that migration will change the national character. It’s no accident that there’s a big overlap between antipathy towards immigration and towards gay marriage; both are based upon a conservative disposition which, in many ways, is an admirable instinct.

How do we combat this? Paradoxically, we do so not by being modern metropolitan liberals, but by celebrating our “national story” – by pointing out that immigration is nothing new but part of our heritage. Churchill was the son of an immigrant, as is the heir to the throne.

Again, now my version:

[…] The strongest foundation for anti-women attitudes lies not in economics or hard facts but in an inarticulable sense that women’s rights will change the national character. It’s no accident that there’s a big overlap between antipathy towards women’s rights and towards gay marriage; both are based upon a conservative disposition which, in many ways, is an admirable instinct.

How do we combat this? Paradoxically, we do so not by being modern metropolitan liberals, but by celebrating our “national story” – by pointing out that women are nothing new but part of our heritage. Churchill was the son of a woman, as is the heir to the throne.

The second article I’d like to play this game with was posted on Liberal Conspiracy yesterday.  First the original, as follows:

Why doesn’t Labour change the narrative?
This is the question almost every leftie asks. But probe it further and it quickly falls apart, because it is much easier said than done.

Labour is an opposition party which already struggles to get attention. Even if Ed Miliband said everything that lefties wanted, the media would distort it and re-interpret it for their audiences. And how many times would he have to say it before it got through to people?

Furthermore, people hostile to immigration would just ignore the speech and explain away the facts. This is how people react. This is how the world works. Just making a speech on immigration facts, even repeatedly, just wouldn’t do much to change the narrative.

I’m not saying Labour should pander and I’m not saying Labour should bring back the odious Phil Woolas and triangulate. I’m just pointing out that there are practical limitations to how much Labour can do.

Now my rewrite:

Why doesn’t Labour change the narrative?
This is the question almost every leftie asks. But probe it further and it quickly falls apart, because it is much easier said than done.

Labour is an opposition party which already struggles to get attention. Even if Ed Miliband said everything that lefties wanted, the media would distort it and re-interpret it for their audiences. And how many times would he have to say it before it got through to people?

Furthermore, people hostile to women’s rights would just ignore the speech and explain away the facts. This is how people react. This is how the world works. Just making a speech on facts about women, even repeatedly, just wouldn’t do much to change the narrative.

I’m not saying Labour should pander and I’m not saying Labour should bring back the sexist Austin Mitchell and triangulate. I’m just pointing out that there are practical limitations to how much Labour can do.

And another original excerpt from the same LibCon post:

So what is Labour doing then?
Ed Miliband understands that New Labour triangulation won’t work any more. His view has always been that immigration needs to be re-framed as an economic issue (‘a class issue’ – he called it), to help poorer workers at the bottom. He has thus far resolutely stuck to that view.

But you simply cannot take the public with you unless they trust you and think you understand their concerns. This is also basic psychology. So, first, Miliband has to gain their trust with a bit of humility and apologies. Once enough people think he’s trying to solve a difficult issue, only then will they start listening to his solutions.

And another thought experiment:

So what is Labour doing then?
Ed Miliband understands that New Labour triangulation won’t work any more. His view has always been that women’s rights needs to be re-framed as an economic issue (‘a class issue’ – he called it), to help poorer women at the bottom. He has thus far resolutely stuck to that view.

But you simply cannot take the public with you unless they trust you and think you understand their concerns. This is also basic psychology. So, first, Miliband has to gain their trust with a bit of humility and apologies. Once enough people think he’s trying to solve a difficult issue, only then will they start listening to his solutions.

To finish with this:

We are a long way away from the days when Tories campaigned on immigration by saying ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’. There is plenty of reason to be positive about the future.

And my tweak here:

We are a long way away from the days when Tories campaigned on women’s rights by saying ‘If you want a feminist for a neighbour, vote Labour’. There is plenty of reason to be positive about the future.

So there you have it.  And the third point of view?  I am reminded by all the above of an El Roto cartoon from 1996 which the Spanish El País newspaper posted on Facebook today.  It shows a professional businessman or typical political sort looking down on a clearly impoverished woman.  His demeanour expresses some significant degree of self-satisfied vanity.  The speech bubble goes along these lines: “Patience, woman, things are getting better, it’s just a question of centuries.”

To be fair to Liberal Conspiracy, the penultimate paragraph of the post I quote from does properly suggest where the future must really lie.  Which is to say, in following the recent US model: here, immigrants have exerted their muscle and gained recognition through political action on their own behalf.

But if any of the above things I’ve quoted from in relation to immigrants are not acceptable to any of us when referring to women and their indisputable rights, then – really – is it not the case that they should not be acceptable in relation to immigrants either?

As a final thought to this rather laborious post (if you’ve got this far, many thanks for having indulged my probably tiresome sensibilities in the matter), where I do find myself in more agreement and substantially greater comfort is in this post which quotes from Compass’s Neal Lawson writing in the Guardian newspaper today:

The problem is not immigration but free-market capitalism, which uproots people from their homes and encourages the best to leave. That denies us the tax base to invest properly in people and places. It’s not a new immigration policy we need, but a new capitalism.

A much better frame than “as so many people are racist, we’ve got to go down the route of centuries of top-down persuasion – and, in the meantime, be grateful for what you are occasionally given …”.

Don’t you think?

Jan 022013

This came my way a few minutes ago:

RT @_Lilykins The irony of Osborne claiming Labour is the party of borrowing, when he’s borrowing at record levels.

As a result, I tweeted the following:

Much better to be the party of borrowing than the party of daylight robbery. At least when you borrow, you aim to give s’thing back.

And then, quite felicitously and via Rick’s always perspicacious eye, came this story from Money Week titled portentously “The End of Britain”.  Apparently we’re stuffed – and not just Christmas-turkey stuffed either.  Roundly, totally and utterly stuffed. Stuffed till the end of time.

The end, in fact, of life as we know it.

Time to buy up supermarkets of tinned foods various?  Time to bunker down in outrageously expensive survivalist holes?

This is clearly Douglas Adams territory.

Clearly is, my friends.

For the solution that Money Week provides for its horrified readers to this veritable apocalypse of barely conceivable and almost indescribable proportions is none other than … wait for it … [innocent drum roll multiplied a thousandfold] … a magazine subscription to its content!

Yay!  Salvation was never so cheap!

A perfect end to a perfectly constructed universe.

The consumer and welfare societies, brought down by their two-headed dependency mindsets.  And yet, now, so dramatically saved at one easy stroke by a simple subscription to a possessor of secret truths like these.

Now where have I heard that before?


Will we never learn?


As to whether the oracle, above-mentioned, is right or wrong, I have no professional framework which allows me to provide you with an answer either way.  But what does seem clear is that if what they say ends up taking place, a magazine subscription will be a woeful defence against the societal trauma the publication appears to be predicting.

And if, indeed, as some have suggested, the content is the wizard wheeze of some overblown marketing department, surely it’s time that Money Week did a little bit of fruitful navel-gazing – and analysed its behaviours in terms of the apocalypse it apparently expects.  Printing stuff like this with the mere intention and objective of increasing the take-up of membership subs is hardly the most gratifying spectacle we might witness.

And whether one would choose to be a harbinger of doom or not, there are better ways of making one’s way in the world than this.

Oct 312012

I suggested a few months ago that the knowledge society – you remember that wonderful future of intelligent work and fulfilling leisure they once promised us? – had been soundly hijacked by the social web.  I still think the thesis is relevant and worthy of further investigation.  And it’s relevant to today’s post too.

This article from the Independent lays it out all too clearly:

“On the UK’s current path, come 2020, household incomes across the bottom half of the working age population look likely to be lower than they are today,” it says. “A typical low income household in 2020 is set to have an income 15 per cent lower than an equivalent household in 2008, a return to income levels not seen since 1993.”

It also describes how middle-income jobs in services and manufacturing will vanish as further robotisation and the introduction of new technologies will wipe out such employment over the next decade.

Only last year, Left Foot Forward was informing us thus:

In 1977, workers in the bottom half of the earnings distribution received £16 of every £100 of value generated in the economy; by 2010, their share had fallen to just £12. By contrast, the share of GDP flowing to the top 10% of earners increased from £12 per £100 of GDP to £14.


If the full extent of bonus payments are included in the calculations the share of GDP going to the top 10% of earners increases from £14 per £100 to £16, while the share of the bottom half reduces from £12 to just £10.

Meanwhile, the Public and Commercial Services Union points out that:

While the value of workers’ wages in the UK has fallen, corporate profits have increased as a share of GDP from 13% in the mid-70s to 21% today. In this same period, government has massively cut corporation tax and income tax for the highest earners, so that now the poorest fifth of people pay more in tax, as a proportion of income, than the richest fifth.

Not to mention wholly legal tax avoidance which means large corporations get to use British infrastructures without paying a fiscal sausage to the state – or, indeed, the rest of us taxpayers.

The truth of the matter, of course, is that whilst innovation drove down prices, our wage-slave jobbery was kind of OK: we could put up with the grind in exchange for the ever cheaper diversion – something we did, in fact, end up doing.

That socioeconomic contract does, however, seem – in the light of the above figures – to be breaking up; and – perhaps – breaking down.  No longer can we rely on corporations to share out their ill-gotten gains.  No one at corporate level seems to care that they may be accused of greed.  No one, anywhere, wants to take ownership for the misery more and more middle-income families are going to suffer from over the next decade.

But hell!  We should be talking about the already poor.

Never was self-interest more self-evident than in latterday politics.

In reality, growth – that Holy Grail of modern political thought – is becoming an economic cancer.  Growth used to involve a society sharing out its benefits and progress for mostly everyone.  Now it’s becoming a helter-skelter dash to destroy an opposition at the expense of almost everyone else.  No one seems to care any more that future consumers are being slaughtered at birth.

All that the big companies and transnationals of this world can now seem to think of is how best to fleece the states that still care to pursue them.

Or, alternatively, re-establish their realities in other, more subservient, places.

A total disconnect from the communities that created them.

A carbuncle on the face of a planet which once loved its inhabitants but now only loves its inhabitants’ tools.

We need a new economics – and we need it fast.

Anyone out there care enough to invent it?

Sep 132012

Start with the most lurid item first, I guess.  This story, about a man who believes in rambling naked, is tragic.  It may be incompatible with polite society, but it’s tragic all the same.  In his own words:

[…] “There’s nothing about me as a human being that is indecent or alarming or offensive. That’s where I’m coming from, which is deep inside,” Gough said.

He continued: “It’s me, standing up for what I am. [Because] all of us are human beings too and we have children and our children are beautiful and we’re beautiful too, because we’re human beings – all the same. I have nothing to be ashamed about. I’m just a bloke standing up for the truth of what I am.”

Before Original Sin, nakedness was unconscionably beautiful.  After Original Sin, it’s just sin.

What a journey.

So as our society condemns a repeat naked-rambler to five months in prison, naked gamblers of our unsustainable economy get away with a figurative murder.  And although in a 24-hour rolling-news kind of world it’s a cliché to repeat such things, the fact that, days after David Cameron smooched his way into the Paralympians’ closing ceremony, a Paralympian should have his application for disabled support rejected because he’s not disabled enough – whilst at the same time the BBC reports disabled hate crime has risen by a third – well … this surely should make us think hard and long again about the society we’re allowing to fall apart.


A final thought – not in my mind unconnected, though in yours it may be so tangential as to be totally out of the ballpark.  Embassies have been getting a really bad press of late.  A few weeks ago, we had Julian Assange entering an Ecuadorian safe haven against the will of the British, US and Swedish governments.  Now, sadly enough, and apparently as a result of a YouTube video being posted online, various US embassies have been the subject of attacks on the sovereign nature of their territory.  (More on the recent attack in Libya can be found here and here via abetterpeople.com.)

It does really seem, however, that in a world of growing openness – at least when seen from the point of view of an expanding citizen usage of soul-baring and community-networking online tools – we should begin to question, in this globalising planet, the almost isolating nature of embassies.  There will come a moment when embassies become fairly redundant: and that moment will arrive when we all not only subscribe to general principles of human rights but also manage to apply them.  What then will be the point of sovereign space on another’s soil – especially if such a space is converted into a ghetto which only serves to concentrate the occasional ire of contrary foreign subjects?

On the other hand, and in a century where a British judiciary allows financial-sector whizzkids to survive unpunished for actions which are destroying ordinary people’s lives – even as the powers-that-be simultaneously find they can imprison a man for wanting to ramble in the nude and deny a one-legged person his due support because he’s got one leg too many – perhaps maintaining the highest symbol of secrecy in our society, the embassy of a sovereign state, is actually quite the most coherent and cogent decision the establishment can take.

I don’t know about the civilisation you live in – but it seems to me that something really dirty is about to unspool out of the civilisation I habitually inhabit.

It’s probably a consequence of all that social media honesty.  If you start doing it for fun in your everyday life, how can you avoid not ending up doing it for real in your work?  We’re all, little by little, acquiring whistleblowing instincts, aren’t we?  Even those people in the middle levels of organisations, who generally find their job is to filter away reality from both the public and workforce’s gaze.

Who said Facebook and Twitter couldn’t conquer the world?  Maybe what’s really happening here is that these environments are actually retraining us all in the twin, unassailable and universal virtues of honesty and good faith!

With truth becoming a natural instinct again, perhaps there really is a chance for hope on the horizon.

May 202012

Apologies for the title.  But reading this article from the Wall Street Journal this morning reveals to me with an evermore greater clarity exactly why we’re in the shit we’re in.  Some choice thoughts from this excellent piece on the subject of what economists really (don’t) know:

As Greece girds for elections next month that could lead to its exit from the euro zone, economists are acknowledging an unsettling reality: No one knows what the bill will be.


The Institute of International Finance, a global association of banks that has represented private lenders to Greece in negotiations with the country, took a broader view. In a February report that leaked in March, it put the total cost at a minimum of €1 trillion, including over €700 billion that could be needed to prop up other troubled European economies, including Portugal and Italy.


“The IIF went for a trillion because, why not?” says Gary Jenkins, founder of Swordfish Research, a U.K. bond-analysis firm. “It’s a great figure, sounds fantastic.” However, Mr. Jenkins adds, “I don’t think anyone can work out a precise figure. The uncertainties are just absolutely huge.”

So whilst Mr Cameron’s government berates us for not putting our household affairs in order, his chummy friends at stratospheric economic levels go for a back-of-the-envelope figure when pricing the cost of things – because it “sounds fantastic”.  And in the meantime, such back-of-the-envelope merchants continue to describe the less-advantaged economic powerhouses of the West as PIGS.

Fuck youse.


Question is, who are those “youse”?

Economists will argue that as theoreticians and thinkers, they simply lay before those who take the decisions the options they’ve duly imagined.

On the other hand, those who participated in developing the atom bomb surely had qualms of conscience around the matter – even if they took no part in the final decision to drop it.

So do we blame the economists for creating a self-consuming Darwinian evil of winner takes all?  Or do we blame the politicians for eagerly attaching themselves to such theories when the intellectual times we live in could’ve delivered so much more?

Or can we simply rejoice – in a cutting-one’s-nose-off kind of way – that even the experts must now experience the directionless impotence the rest of us are living from day-to-bloody-day?

Apr 302012

Two articles which tell the same story.  First, how the number of entrepreneurial, business and job-related suicides has reached alarming proportions in Italy:

According to the EURES social research institute, suicides have been on the rise in Italy since 2008, with at least two per day on average in 2010, when 362 unemployed people and 336 entrepreneurs killed themselves. In 2011, a record 11,615 Italian businesses closed their doors. In 2012, at least 25 and as many as 70 suicides have so far been linked to Italy’s economic troubles, especially prevalent in the industrial north and the construction industry.

The widows say there is too little dialogue and not enough state support for families that have fallen into despair over unemployment, bankruptcies and loan defaults.

Second, a story from Britain on how the very body politic that is responsible for administering our terrible response to the awful crises that assail us responds most despondently – and with equally dispiriting familial implications – to its ongoing consequences.

Essentially what we have is a situation where people must fit into systems.  No one believes, these days, that we should fashion our economies around the needs of the finite and perishable goods that are real people’s lives.  The reality is that whilst the systems seem to be working, most people are happy to muddle along – and even allow the powerful to encourage such muddling.

But since we are so locked into our systems, when the latter break down … well, so do we.

I am reminded of this by the story reported from Spain recently where the cost of Metro journeys was I believe hiked by 30 percent.  Just imagine the effect on an ordinary commuter.  In a sense, when they bought their flat on the outskirts of town, a social contract was being signed by the providers of such infrastructures and the purchasers: you settle down here, bring your income and your outgoings, and we’ll provide the reasonable means for you to get to work.

Now the message is: we’ve got you by the balls.  Stuff your standard of living.  Stump up the difference.

And it’d probably be morally justifiable if we were all equally affected, too.  But we’re not.

This is not just capitalism.

This is naked and unbridled theft.

And whilst the economic experts talk of the dangers of economic recession, the real danger out there is a marauding and eventually all-encompassing depression of an emotional nature.

An emotional depression in which the passive-aggressive economies that nudge us so very cleverly have, step by deadening step, ensnared us.  Just as that wife-beater makes his wife believe through very reasonable argument that she is the real problem at heart, so these economies – and their public sponsors and representatives – are designed and structured to make us all feel we are to blame for the disasters which are destroying so many existences.

Never was the invisible hand better named.  The invisible hand not that guides the markets but wife-beats the voters, their families, colleagues and friends into savage and terrible submission.

Nov 202011

I’ve been looking at various videos this evening of the most recent pepper-spray incident which has raised understandable hackles around the civilised world (background here from the Telegraph and the Huffington Post).

This short video – in particular – clearly shows the demeanour and attitude of the police officer involved.


Meanwhile, on ilegal’s site we have this alleged statement by the police department in question:

“The officer was surrounded and feared for his safety.”

But as ilegal adds:

Courtesy of treehugger.com: [The] video is of Lt. John Pike walking along a line of University of California at Davis students and acting as if he was spraying Febreze on some smelly hippies. But it isn’t Febreze, it’s pepper spray. The cop looks happy, almost bored as he does this to students who could be my kids, your brothers and sisters or you or me. It’s an image that says it all: I have power and you don’t. I have a job and you don’t. I have rights and you don’t

It does seem peculiarly apt, doesn’t it?  After we’ve been utterly dumped on by the cleverer ones in the financial services sector, so we bear witness to this almost casual exercise of power by those who wear uniforms over those who protest non-violently the injustices of our days.

To be honest, I get the feeling that what’s really happening here has little to do any more with the horror we feel at the foolishnesses visited upon us by the financial services sector – and far more to do with a much broader distaste for the general and widespread business belief in the dynamics of violent action and reaction.

Corporate battlefields where life is an unrelenting – even where metaphorical – fight to the death have helped define for all those who live and work under them a peculiar set of mindsets.  These mean they cannot, for example, understand at all how a group of people might sit back and let themselves be pepper-sprayed as above.  There must be something so very abnormal about young people who refuse to engage in the game that business killing-fields employ each and every day.  The very strength of these young people is interpreted as passivity.  And so the mutual incomprehension continues.

So is that police officer really thinking what the young people assume? 

Or is he, deep down somewhere, actually unable to resolve contradictions he can’t fail to be at least tangentially aware of?

For these are the dynamics of “us and them” which lead to civil wars, you know.

And the “passivity” of the American youth in the face of such casual oppression reflects and mirrors how the rest of us have reacted to the gutting of entire national economies.

If this doesn’t make us strong, then – really – nothing ever will.

Aug 032011

Politics is all about apportioning blame and obtaining advantage as a result.  It could be about something quite different – but, in reality, that’s not how it works.  Two snippets of such reality have just come my way.  The first, in relation to the debt ceiling crisis in the US, reacts thus:

this is fisco-terrorism by #banksters in washington… horrifying that this isn’t prosecutable. How many thousands will suffer from this?

I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say this, but – and no pun intended whatsoever – it does seem a bit rich for the rich to be able to cock things up so badly, get bailed out by sovereign states so muchly and – finally – attack the living standards of the poor by maintaining the falsehood that concentrating power and wealth is the only sure-fire way of kickstarting Western economies of the kind we have been accustomed to.

Meanwhile, almost at the same time, I receive my generally weekly newsletter from the American right-wing journal the Weekly Standard, which in very few words just begs us to fall into the trap of playing the blame game I mentioned at the top of this post:

This economic nonsense confirms a point Senator McConnell made during the debt ceiling fight: We can expect little progress in addressing the central issues of our day as long as Barack Obama remains president. That’s why it’s incumbent on conservatives and Republicans to have a realistic view of what can be achieved before January 20, 2013, as they lay the foundations for the case against Obama in the upcoming campaign.

That case is straightforward. Unemployment is higher than when Obama was inaugurated. So is the price of gasoline. We are further in debt. Government has grown. More Americans believe we are headed in the wrong direction. The facts speak for themselves. All that is required is someone to state them.

The truth of the matter is that the second paragraph is probably more real in both spirit and letter than we might expect.  Thus it is that the right-wing commentator responsible for pulling together the sentiments expressed, Matthew Continetti, writes a striking description of the current state of US society – a state which to a greater or lesser degree all of us, wherever we find ourselves, are suffering from at the moment: “All that is required is someone to state [the facts].”  And, in amongst all the spin and the marketing-speak detractors and supporters of Obama find themselves wrapped up in, it is absolutely significant that whilst the poor have no voice articulate enough to make itself heard (I almost certainly mean wealthy enough when I say articulate enough), the rich, who have found their voice a long long time ago, unerringly waste their opportunities on going about reducing the opportunities for a much broader base of Americans.  If there were an index of opportunity determined in terms of such a breadth of access to entrepreneurial grace and favour, I am pretty sure the decisions just taken in the United States have served to dramatically reduce its impact and level of operation.

As Paul points out in a case much closer to home, after all this time the left still don’t get it even as the right long ago understood.

And yet … and yet …

I would still far rather believe that a re-encounter was on the cards.  If only those “facts” Continetti talks about were possible to share.  It would then allow politics to be based on the exchange of verifiable information, instead of what we – both rich and poor, both articulate and unexpressed – currently suffer under: a grand inability on all sides to use data in good faith, and share information with proper intent.

The blame game allows Obama’s supporters to remit us to Bush’s war years and the massive waste of human resource for devious political objective.  The blame game allows Obama’s detractors to remit us to his own inability to turn a rainbow-coalition promise of real change into a forceful tool for action.

And meanwhile we drink tea and watch the Titanics sink on both sides of the Atlantic.

As a final thought, just imagine if it had been the socialists who’d brought the financial system to its knees and had then bailed themselves out, paid themselves ever greater bonuses and finally passed legislation which required the rest of us to support them in their dotage.

That is what has just happened in the US, what is happening in Britain, what is happening across Europe.  Only the socialists in question call themselves capitalists – and have learned like no others in history to feather their own nests.

See what I mean?

The blame game again …

May 182011

The seeds of rape lie in prejudice.  Prejudice is a primal soup of appealing lies which caters to the darker side of human nature.  From the crimes of civil war, as the tipping-points of community fear drive us into the arms of hateful acts, to those daily acts of verbal abuse which happily married couples keep for their more private moments, prejudice allows awful thoughts to flourish and find their medium of exchange.

The progressives amongst us have recently found ourselves facing up to the reality of fragile human nature.  First Assange and now Strauss-Kahn find themselves embroiled in circumstances which – whatever their truths – involve wrongdoing somewhere along the line.  What I mean to say is that if the wrongdoing is not of the accused’s making, then the accuser’s motives must surely be questioned.  And yet … and yet …

This is clearly a man’s world.  This is clearly a boss’s world.  This is clearly a world of big companies and large organisations.  This is a world which belongs to the rich and powerful.  This is a world where, as a general rule, only the rich and powerful can topple the rich and powerful.  And when the rich and powerful fall, reserving judgement – that is to say, letting due process run its course – is perhaps the fairest reaction of all.

I have never been a fan of the IMF.  I suppose this is a knee-jerk reaction on the part of someone who cannot profess to a profound knowledge of the matter.  As such, my opinion is of little importance.  But people far better than myself have spoken authoritatively on the subject and have come to the following conclusion:

Behind the free market ideology there is a model, often attributed to Adam Smith, which argues that market forces–the profit motive–drive the economy to efficient outcomes as if by an invisible hand. One of the great achievements of modern economics is to show the sense in which, and the conditions under which, Smith’s conclusion is correct. It turns out that these conditions are highly restrictive. Indeed, more recent advances in economic theory –ironically occurring precisely during the period of the most relentless pursuit of the Washington Consensus policies–have shown that whenever information is imperfect and markets incomplete, which is to say always, and especially in developing countries, then the invisible hand works most imperfectly. Significantly, there are desirable government interventions which, in principle, can improve upon the efficiency of the market. These restrictions on the conditions under which markets result in efficiency are important–many of the key activities of government can be understood as responses to the resulting market failures.

Abuse can be sexual or abuse can be economic – in either case, the common driver is the exertion of power by someone who has it over someone who doesn’t.  And the seeds of such drivers, the seeds of such abuse, the seeds of what we might term a profoundly common instinct to rape, lie precisely in the comments that men of the people like this casually doff in mainstream media when they are caught off-guard and unprepared.

Political correctness is, in a sense, a hugely negative factor in our society because it serves to teach the vast majority of us to hide very strongly held prejudice.  It serves to teach us how to hide it without allowing us to face it.  What we need far more of, in my opinion, is a long-term process of eradication: a consensual act of education agreed on by all political parties and stakeholders which serves to underline and support – from a true baseline of honestly uncovered opinion – a mechanism whereby all of us can approach and deal with painful subjects like this afresh.  A mechanism whereby all of us can be truthful about what we really think and might do.  A mechanism whereby situations can be laid truly bare and then – just as truly – resolved.

In the meantime, and whilst we choose to do nothing, the seeds of rape will continue to be nurtured, and people in positions of power everywhere – whether they are powerful through their position or powerful through momentary circumstance – will continue to want to take full advantage of all their opportunities.