Nov 182014

Both talk and policies about wealth are terribly repetitive.  Whilst right-wing parties still pretend to attribute a mysterious force to the idea of trickle-down economics – you know, the stuff where rich people get so rich that the crumbs which fall from their tables acquire a mystical power to raise the poorest satisfactorily from rank to relative poverty – the left-wing of at least our political spectrum doesn’t half engage with the idea of taking money away from the wealthy.  And when I say “take money away” I mean not only lots of it but also almost any way possible.  Consequently, the higher that level of wealth, the more punitive, aggressive and intrusive the measures to control it must be.

So.  That’s why I’m beginning to wonder if the problem isn’t elsewhere; if the problem isn’t on both sides of the argument – and principally the assumptions people are making.

What is wealth, after all?  I remember reading a long time ago a book about the newspaper mogul, Robert Maxwell.  Apparently his life of wealth was more a game of musical chairs: he didn’t own very much of “his” wealth; instead, he apparently had access to a great deal more of what we might term “other people’s resources” than perhaps he should ever have been allowed to.  Yet at the time his empire strode the world, most would’ve seen him as wealthy: a man to be heavily taxed for sure; a man to be punitively intruded upon as already described.

And so we have policies such as the “mansion tax”, currently issuing forth from the Labour Party.  If you own a house (or maybe if you occupy one which you have mortgaged to the hilt), and valued to a certain degree, under a Labour administration you will have to pay an annual tax on the societal cost of your possessions.  If you like, this is probably little more than the “bedroom tax” in reverse – except we’re looking to apply it to the very richest instead of the rather poor.

Maybe, as such, it’s fair enough as an example of rumbustious politicking – but it doesn’t half seem (to me, at least) an arid and sterile act of policymaking, which positions – as in a predictable mirror-image that only serves to allow the enemy to continually define you – the Labour Party in no better place intellectually than the government it aims to vanquish.

Is this all wealth can manage to be?  Is this about as imaginative as we can get?  Do progressives have to be eternally framed by arguments their oppositions use against them?  After all, it must be awful for anyone who professes to be of the open-minded and thoughtful left for people to say the following about you – and not only say it once but repeat it heavily over the decades:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy” #QOTD

There are I suppose two alternatives:

  1. Aim to spread wealth equally so we are similarly poor or similarly well-off (always depending, I suppose, on where you’ve started out and where you’ve found yourself ending up) – I can imagine that here a) taxation systems would play a big part in attempting to achieve this goal; and b) universal basic incomes could also contribute constructively to its implementation.
  2. Aim to allow concentrations of wealth only where and when value is demonstrably added over time.  We would not stop being punitive about the kind of concentrations which just have rich people sitting on their wealth; we would however reward any and all concentrations which allowed us to achieve wider societal goals that Parliament, a bespoke tribunal of the people or any other democratic process could design.

What kind of societal goals could those be?  In no order of importance, then – just as they trip out of the ideas-generator:

  • Dignified, humanly fulfilling and educationally expanding work.
  • Inclusive organisational patterns of relationships, at all community, corporate and political levels.
  • A re-establishment of that liberal bond between responsibilities and rights.
  • An intuitive openness in governance in all kinds of institutions, so that honesty, sincerity and informed debate are to be prized and held dear above all.
  • Profit to be understood primarily as that which benefits the whole of society, and only secondarily the interests of more traditional investors.
  • A careful appreciation, development and implementation of technology, with the aim of putting it at the service of people and not the other way round.
  • A sustainable approach to all our environments – whether natural or human-made.
  • Ultimately, an evidence-based approach to all kinds of decision-making processes – even as the plethora of information available these days should not freeze our collective ability to take such decisions in a timely manner.

I may not be the best person to argue these things;  I may not have the most visible soapbox; I haven’t even developed the idea in any implementable way; and yet, even so, with all these caveats, what I do suggest we in Labour should engage with from now on in is thinking far more imaginatively about the whole idea of wealth and its functioning.

There’s no room in the future for the kind of politics which glories in weary gesture-making.

The future’s too serious by far for that.

Until we accept that grand things can sometimes be achieved by putting large, perhaps at first sight obscene, amounts of money in the hands of a single organisation or deserving hub of organisations, and that sometimes by so doing a helluva lot of wasted time and energy will result, we will not be able to win over what so many voters will always intuitively comprehend: money begets money, and often in a tremendously multiplying way.

Jul 302013

Twitter, navel-gazer extraordinaire that it can be, has been kind of skirting around the subject of the abuse of women on its virtual networks and connections.  Ben wrote it up well over at Speaker’s Chair recently – you might want to read his piece before we continue.

Other women have also been abused on the back of this case.  Mind you, it’s true to say that abuse is par for the course these days: the political establishment is sanctioning in their droves offences against the rights of people with support needs various, as the so-called bedroom tax drives home the British state’s ever-increasing fascist tendencies.

Meanwhile, Rolling Stone reports speedily on the Bradley Manning verdict.  As Amnesty is quoted as concluding:

“It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning’s trial was about sending a message,” Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “The U.S. government will come after you, no holds barred, if you’re thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behavior.”

Finally, it will hardly have escaped your attention that a certain father-in-law has argued that outside the Home Counties – that is to say, outside the heartlands of Tory support (more here) – fracking should be given its wild and unpredictable head.

And so it is that the despicable procedure by which certain people in society are being made more and more invisible – through the machinations of those powerful men and women who manage our mainstream discourses (as well as via a political process of societal cleaning) – marches clearly, fiercely and determinedly on.

From the online abuse of women to the casual abuse of the disabled to the Realpolitik-like effluences of countries like the US, countries which we thought – after fighting the corruption of Communist repression for so many bitter years – would have surely been able to strive towards something much wiser than this, I don’t half get the feeling that the invisibility I mention above has vigorously and ultimately defeated the indivisibility that once characterised Western civilisation.

Nothing remains of that world I was brought up in: that kiddies’ world where little Ladybird books taught my nascent soul that society was there to make our planet a safer and more supportive place; where people would form part of an intricate web of constructive interaction; where life was a forwards and upwards trend to less unhappy being.

Instead, all we get is the rich shitting brazenly on the poor; the foul-mouthed shitting brazenly on the discreet; the aggressive beating back the compliant; the noisy shouting down – where not utterly shutting down – the absolutely respectful.

It is the primitive law of the jungle to which civilisation has gravitated: for this civilisation we worked so hard to erect has become a phallic symbol of those who would trample with their stupidities the sensibilities of the intelligent and educated.  Thus it is that on the back of our hard work, the powerful have hijacked my childhood world of Ladybird-book collaboration – and turned our tools of wider empowerment violently and finally against us.

It should have been a question of that indivisibility I’ve already alluded to: a total solidarity of latterday wisdoms.

It’s become a reality of that invisibility I’ve already described: a total absence of those very same latterday wisdoms, as solidarity becomes a sarcastic wail of the most cruel.

Intelligent and committed women suffering death threats; people with support needs being made to pay for the crimes of the billion-dollar fraudsters; disconnected privileged white men who want to deflower the natural beauty of places they care so little about; whistleblowers who cause violent perturbations in the body politic of sovereign democratic states by simply revealing the illegalities committed in the name of such democracies … all these things – and far far more – just go to show how the rich have turned the achievements of the 21st century against us.

And perhaps only the threat of further perturbations will now have any chance of making these evil evil people think twice; think again; think before they lose the entire bloody plot.

Before they allow the plot that was once all our stories to become a sadly bottomless burial ground – a burial ground for the ever-so-foolishly trusting 99 percent we still attempt to be, and who they now would appear to possess in our entirety.

Apr 302013

Paul writes a splendid defence of universal benefits this morning.  You can find this post over at his blog at the moment.  It’s clear from the shape he gives to the subject that it’s really rather a no-brainer for those in favour of a smaller state.  As he argues:

[…] A simpler, more direct and universal benefits system should appeal not only to those on the left but to those who believe in a ‘smaller’ state – it doesn’t require such huge state machinery, such massive bureaucracy and such complication. It does go against the grain in some ways – we like to believe that being more ‘targeted’ means being more efficient, and we’ve followed that mantra for many years, largely despite the evidence against it that’s all too clear for anyone who’s tried to work their way through the systems. Now, it seems to me, is a time that we can try to think in different ways about these issues. Think more radically. Universal benefits is one of those ways.

Mind you, those who remain in favour of “targeting” the deserving versus the undeserving find it just as impossible to go down a route that would clearly benefit their ideologies long-term.

I’m inclined, myself, to want to go even further.  I’d like to see us adopt the concept of a citizen’s income.  Pete does a beautiful exposition of the whys and wherefores of the subject in question here, coming to the following radical conclusion (the bold is mine):

Our society has moved from being dependent on unskilled manual labour (which was adequately motivated by threat) through to more skilled manual labour (which can be adequately motivated by the promise of money) and is now entering a time where we are more depending on mental labour – which cannot be motivated by threat and can only be only poorly motivated by money. Yet, our leaders still use both to try and squeeze more and more productivity out of us.

Why then, is there the dual insistence that some people, normally rich, will only be productive in return for extensive financial reward and others, normally poor, will only be productive when faced with some form of threat? We understand where our most productive activity comes from, and we also understand that productivity there is not very well motivated by promises of wealth or threats of poverty. So is now the time to, perhaps against many people’s intuition, start removing the link between work and having enough money to live on?

And for once, in a New-Labour triangulating kind of way, I’m looking to gain a broader acceptance for such radicalism.  Any changes such as seriously universal benefits for absolutely everyone – which in essence is what a citizen’s income would seriously constitute – would require the complicity of the rich.  As I argued a few months ago, the tax system we currently have surely only exists because the well-to-do – those who have the biggest voices in society – are fairly content with the current outcomes (despite all their wailing).  So how could we convince them to jump ship and take wholeheartedly onboard this logical extension of universal benefits as described above: that is to say, the aforementioned citizen’s income?

How about this idea which I drag out of the treasure chest of ancient 21st Century Fix trains-of-thought?  This one runs thus:

For some mad reason, it provoked the following train of thought in my fevered Saturday brain.  What if we paid for everything according to our tax code?  In an entirely – or almost entirely – cashless society, tax code information could quite easily be added to our credit and debit card chips.  In such a way, we could eliminate all kinds of income tax and use the tax code – instead – to determine how much we paid at point-of-sale.  Big spenders and big earners would pay more for everything – those with less would pay correspondingly far less.  The scale would be incremental rather than banded.  Poverty traps could be eliminated at a stroke.  We wouldn’t have to calculate VAT or chase its evasion or pay out tax credits or even child benefit.

An income-tax free state which allowed for properly dimensioned public services and strove to reduce the difference between the very richest and the very poorest?  Surely a Nirvana of some kind …

As a result of varying the price at point-of-purchase (a concept which, incidentally, the discounts you get for buying in bulk already contemplates) instead of varying the income you are left with at the end of year, we could suggest not only to the rich but – actually – to absolutely everyone that anything and everything they ever earned would remain in their pockets until a purchase was required.

Yes.  It would only work effectively in a state where every purchase was tracked – but isn’t that where we’re heading for anyway?  If the cashless electronic state of total state and information awareness is going to be our future in any case, why not make it work on our behalf as we properly break the already disintegrating connection between the motivation of money and the motivation of mental labour?

Don’t pay you for what you do.  Pay you, instead, for what you are: a human being, as valuable as the next; with so many things to offer society.  And in the meantime, allow the alpha men and women to keep a hundred percent of what they prefer to value.

Some final caveats:

  • We’d have to, of course, base the tax code on access to wealth rather than ownership.  Too many rich people would soon work out ways of getting around any definition based on the latter.
  • I can imagine a flourishing industry in reselling growing up: less well-off people might become professional shoppers for the better-off, so buying at lower prices than the latter should be paying.  On the other hand, this would create business opportunities – not necessarily a bad thing in such times.
  • We’d have to be pretty clear that hacking of such cashless systems – and at the very least, revolving-door mediation – to adjust tax codes would be an ongoing issue.  I have no answer to this one.

As you can see, a few thoughts to be getting on with on the table.  And as I mentioned to Paul Bernal on Twitter this morning, some of the above are clearly heretical.  But hasn’t the situation become sufficiently complex and problematic for heresy to be almost a requirement?

Isn’t it time we began considering how we might turn the systems constructively upside down?

Mar 242013

Galludor writes consistently concisely over at Equals.  His is a genius of immense knowhow, boiled down time and again to its understandable essence.  Two posts which demonstrate this.  Firstly, these choice phrases on the very ongoing banking crises various (the bold is mine):

[…] A financial crisis has caused the economic crisis and countries were badly affected even if they had low public debt before 2008. (Ireland and Spain had lower debt than Britain which was less indebted than Germany or France.)

Despite the fact that the problem lay in the banks, the narrative turned to public debt with Greece as the exemplar. The banks are still the problem and fixing the finance sector should be the priority.

As I tweeted this evening before going out for a bit of verbal GBH from GBS’s glorious “Pygmalion”:

Good point. After all the crap that’s been been hurled at Europe’s public sector, the banks *still* haven’t sorted out their problems. When?

Then, in another post, Galludor has an equally brief and sharp point to make, this time for Labour and its currently dismal efforts at a narrative:

I keep asking where is Labour’s narrative?

The Tory narrative works because it deals with familiar ideas. Personal debt and household debt may be completely different from national debt but the Tory tale has a feel of familiarity. “Maxing out the national credit card” is an absurd notion, but it connects to how people feel when personal debt is out of control. Equally the global race sounds plausible not just to sports fans to to people whose only connection to racing is school sports day.

As a simple Keynesian I would like to see narrative which emphasises investment to boost effective demand and increase growth. The problem is that these terms lack the immediacy of the Tory metaphors. I want to propose one small step towards a more homely narrative.

Instead of talking about growth we should talk about income. The parallels between national income and household income may not be exact but it does open a way of connecting to people’s experience. For example, if you are in debt one way out is to increase your income. Paying down the national debt will be easier if we increase national income.

He’s a bloody Einstein of concepts – making out of a complex sequence of ideas a simple and easily understandable train of thoughts.  “Now why the hell didn’t I think of that?” the Labour strategist de turno might say.  And you might very well ask him or her, because that’s what they’re getting paid to supposedly do.

Read the right blogs, is my advice now.  And read Galludor, whenever you can.

Two final observations before I shut up shop for the night.  Firstly, this paper which came my way via Chris Dillow’s Stumbling and Mumbling – and, if true, only goes to confirm our worst fears (where not certainties) in relation to the dire and miserable state of our politics (again, the bold is mine):

Present social movements, as “Occupy Wall Street” or the Spanish “Indignados”, claim that politicians work for an economic elite, the 1%, that drives the world economic policies. In this paper we show through econometric analysis that these movements are accurate: politicians in OECD countries maximize the happiness of the economic elite. In 2009 center-right parties maximized the happiness of the 100th-98th richest percentile and center-left parties the 100th-95th richest percentile. The situation has evolved from the seventies when politicians represented, approximately, the median voter.

Secondly, another tweet from yours truly – though this time perhaps a little more cryptic than I would have liked.  The tweet first, and then my explanation:

Why do we define the poor by the few who won’t work – and yet, at the same time, demand we aspire to a wealth which doesn’t work?

Essentially, then, what I meant to question is why we use efficacy in order to define the value of the poor – and then require that a whole society be built around the idea a socioeconomic Nirvana is to be found precisely where wealth refuses to function.  For wealth, these days, is a terrible thing of diminishing returns.  And politics follows its sorry trail: tell me, really, if you honestly believe that “center-left” parties which defend the top 6 percent are doing very much more than “center-right” parties which defend the top 3 percent.

This is not efficient; this is not moral; this is not a “good thing” on so many levels.  And so I ask the question again and again and again: why are the rich being so stupid?  Why are the rich being so short-sighted? Why are the rich being so foolish?

There can be no explanation – unless they already have an escape hatch.

Either that, or the rich really are as stupid as their billions.

Which, honestly, really doesn’t bear thinking about.

Not tonight.

Mar 012013

Chris finishes off an involved piece on the internecine battles over Labour’s fiscal dilemmas with the following, almost off-hand, remark:

[…] The challenge for fiscal conservatives, then, is how to combine fiscal austerity with job creation?

Which brings me to ask a fairly obvious question, though not one I hear asked too much these days.

At least not in the limited circles I move.

What is the point of jobs in the first place?  What, indeed, is the point of all those job creation programmes?  If we believe that the main objective of jobs and employment is to share out the world’s wealth – in some reasonably sustainable way or other which allows the grandest number of people as possible to deal with and survive the buffetings of life’s unpredictable ups and downs – are we really saying that the current system of jobs is truly doing the best we can engineer, in a century where our predictive algorithmic powers become more and more sophisticated and accurate as time goes by?

I don’t think it is.  In fact, I think the random nature of the system – where millions of well-paid posts the world over remain unclaimed for months, maybe years, on end, and where billions of poorly-paid people struggle during entire lifetimes to make ends meet – is highly unsatisfactory all round.  Apart from anything else, it’s simply inefficient.  Using any measure out there, it’s economically inefficient.

Has anyone asked the question, then, whether there mightn’t be a better way to share out all this wealth than the one which has ended up attaching itself to the fetish of work?

I’m sure someone has.  I’m sure, in other stratospheres, this question is making clever people think.  But I do wonder, from way down here, amongst the dirty dirty, if it isn’t time we used our blessed algorithms to work out a far more cost-effective system of dividing up the wealth the earth most certainly contains.

What could we call it if jobs, work and employment were no longer our aim?

How about “life”?

Now there’s a thought.

Just think of the advantages: no benefits, no shirkers, no scroungers, no strivers; no privileged, no meritorious, no undeserving, no graft.  Instead, a beautifully hygienic system of support and release where everyone had enough to engage and survive; where no one, in fact, wanted for anything.

It does make you think.  It does make you wonder.  It does make you feel the current system has been designed solely so that the overly ambitious, the unbearably people-stamping and the downright alpha men and women out there can continue to have an outlet for their base and cruel instincts.

Instincts which would destroy them from within if the system of jobs – as we see it right now – did not exist.

And whilst the system’s hierarchy suits them down to the ground – suits them down to the very suits they always wear – they fashion enough crumbs to make the rest of us believe there might be a way out for us all.

Only the system is designed from the ground up to ensure the ground never manages to take off.

Yes.  For most of us poor souls, our jobs are boring and monotonous.  And they only exist, my dear friends, so that the people at the top can generously employ us as their stress balls.

So how does that make you feel?

Any better?


Thought it might!

Dec 082012

I just can’t understand it.  The world appears to be collapsing around our ears: both the natural bits of it we may be impacting (almost certainly are, in fact – or so our science would now seem to be telling us with evermore accuracy) as well as the more directly human-made structures, processes, procedures and systems which we could more easily and undeniably adjust – and right now if we so wanted.

A train of thought, then, which pushed its ungainly head out of my mindscape with difficulty this evening.  No one likes to look like a conspiracy-head, after all.  But I feel obliged to run the risk.

In order of appearance:

  1. Are the rich gathering all this money close to themselves for a reason? Do they know something we don’t? #justwonderin
  2. All this news of flying to Mars and the moon just makes me wonder how committed to an earthly future our ultra-wealthy souls really are.
  3. As soon as you see an escape hatch out of a complex situation, you give up on solving it. You just leave it behind.
  4. Imagine the ultra-wealthy had discovered an escape hatch. Imagine they really didn’t need to look after the future of the earth at all.
  5. That, at the very least, would explain the idiocies they’re committing at the moment. Nothing else does, to my mind anyway.

It can’t, after all, be that all the ultra-wealthy are interbred fools.  Some of them must have a minimum of intelligence and foresight.  So what explains their acts of late?  Where in the business bible of any businessperson does it say it’s clever to create a society of markets where the markets consume the consumers?  Where in the business bible of any businessperson does it say it’s clever to destroy and make unsustainable the physical environment in which people are supposed to move their money to and fro?  Where in the business bible of any businessperson does it say it’s right and proper – that is to say, businesslike and commercial – to hobble the futures of billions of potential customers?

Where does it say this – except in that bit where we are taught the implications of limited liability?  Yes.  Perhaps, indeed, this is now where the ultra-wealthy find themselves.  Time to shut up shop on the earth – and move elsewhere.

It’s the end of the road for the ultra-wealthy project here amongst the dirty dirty.  Time to leave the creditors behind and take one’s wealth to a very different sort of place.

Sound so totally out of the box?  Well.  In the past month we have heard stories about private industry looking to put a colony of 80,000 people on the planet Mars for around $36 billion, if I remember the figures correctly.  Another story which flitted past my eyes even more recently was a similarly private proposal to fly to our dearly romantic satellite of ancient literature.  These are not recent instincts, of course.  Nor are they ignoble.  But they could, in some way, in desperate situations, operate as that escape hatch I mention above.

I just don’t get the feeling any more that all of this humanity finds itself in essentially the same boat.  And I do get the feeling, though it’s nothing I can specifically point to, that the ultra-wealthy are very calm and relaxed about a series of matters which are beginning to hurt billions gravely.  That they do not predict damaging revolutionary movements – damaging, that is, for their interests – nor appear to be in the least fazed by the very real dangers of climate change, planetary hunger, oil and water wars and an ageing population without the wherewithal to pay its hugely inflating medical bills … well, it does make me wonder exactly what might be going on in their well-upholstered minds.

So whilst I am reluctant to commit the error of being a conspiracy-head, no other explanation out there right now fits the facts as much as this one I have fashioned tonight.

We’re no longer in the same boat.

The ultra-wealthy aren’t doing all they could to save the planet.

The terribly rich have a terrible plan.

And this plan is so terrible that it doesn’t include the 99 percent.


Update to this post: in my probably limited defence of this post’s admittedly weird premise, one of my Twitter friends drew my attention last night to what I hope might be a relevant quote:

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

Who’s to say that what was good enough for Sherlock Holmes in his curiously complex time isn’t just as acceptable for a 21st century audience – especially as it attempts, in baleful good faith, to grapple constructively with encroaching doom?

Jun 162012

It is an oft-commented truism that the virtual world reflects the real world at every opportunity.  In, for example, the real world’s well-honed ability to obfuscate and confuse.

I was Skyping with a family member this afternoon on the occasion of my fiftieth birthday and we briefly touched on the subject of music piracy and its economic implications.  It seems that some of the arguments being bandied about by copyright supporters would suggest that if illegal music downloads hadn’t taken place, the US music industry would now be larger than the entire US economy.  Hardly realistic, I’m sure you would agree.  Certainly, the figures which have been used in the recent past – which even continue to be peddled – are suspect to say the least.

This wouldn’t be the first time lobbyists tried to blind us with the farmyard science of pulling the wool over our eyes.

But the virtual world reflects our own in more ways than one.  Even as our populations grow towards a veritable plague of physical obesity and eating disorders, so our online corporations do the same.  This is what I think is happening – quoting, and slightly adapted, from something I’ve just posted on a Facebook conversation*:

The thesis? Via the example of the bridge of open source, which offered payment in kind for its freely offered labour, owners of proprietorial social networking software have continued to dumb down the contributions of its data-inputters (its unpaid worker bees) to the point that no one can reasonably demand payment for authorship of such discretely trivial activities as a like or a photo post or a comment on one’s drunken state.

The software, however, becomes the author of a far more complex stream of product, so replacing any claim to human authorship – and therefore remuneration – with that of algorithms and maths. The knowledge society, instead of consisting of educated people doing clever things and getting just rewards, involves educated people doing primitive things – whilst even giving up DOBs and post codes in exchange for the right to be the drones in question! – and all the time receiving absolutely no reward at all; except perhaps the dubious one of an all-too-public notoriety.

Question is – and here I am currently stuck – is how to recover the promise of the knowledge society as once posited in those wonderfully forward-looking – and radically mistaken – 90s. Ideas? You’ll tell me, I guess, the living is to be made in other areas. But just think of this: 1 billion active users who spend hours every day on this beast. Imagine what a truly productive society we could have if 1 billion active users were actually producing stuff of real value and reach. Solving external problems, real world issues, practical challenges. We need social networking software which achieves the latter, surely; not the former. The former is there simply to concentrate the wealth in the pockets of the few. Dead wealth. Inactive wealth. A wealth of the societally disconnected. And, precisely, in a society where connections of these kinds could serve to resolve so many pressing problems.

And so you see it: the obesities of Facebook, Google, Apple and Samsung – and how they exactly mirror our own.  Sedentary citizens versus sedentary wealth.

Two debilitating curses for our times.


* Some of the content of this post is, incidentally, part of something I’m preparing for a PhD submission; comments and advice from interested parties – either online or offline – would be very welcome and would, of course, be duly referenced if I achieved funding for the proposal.

Jun 132012

Louise Mensch, the Tory MP who – as far as I can see – generally seems to support Rupert Murdoch’s lines of argument in almost everything he says, points out the following in the Telegraph today in relation to a case of cyberbullying she and her family has recently suffered from:

Writing in The Daily Telegraph Ms Mensch said: “I felt helpless and attacked. The nature of the internet is that you don’t know who is behind the screen.

“Is it Zimmerman, with his filthy house and his record of targeting women online? Or is it some demented teenager with a gun?”

Whilst I might argue with her choice of adjectives – and her laughably implicit stereotyping of our younger generation as mad gun-toting individuals – I can appreciate how she must have felt, and do sincerely sympathise.

I think we all can.  As she is also quoted as saying:

“Social networks have a duty to identify internet bullies who cower behind anonymity. As victims repeatedly fight back, we can hope to see a culture shift. “

And I’m pretty sure that most of us will agree with that.  Just as most of us would agree that bullies who don’t hide behind their anonymity but, instead, behind their utterly revolting wealth should also receive their just desserts.

No names provided.

As if we needed such information.  (More here.)

As Nick Clegg is quoted as saying this morning:

The point of good government is that you don’t allow yourself to be swayed by one vested interest or another: Nick Clegg #leveson

Question is, of course, what happens when the vested interests are the government itself?

May 072012

I’ve just seen a documentary on BBC Four.  At the time of writing, you can find details here.  It’s called “Inside the Medieval Mind” and the synopsis runs thus:

Leading authority on the Middle Ages, Professor Robert Bartlett, presents a series which examines the way we thought during medieval times. He lays bare the brutal framework of the medieval class system, where inequality was part of the natural order, the life of serfs little better than those of animals and the knight’s code of chivalry more one of caste solidarity than morality. Yet a social revolution would transform relations between those with absolute power and those with none.

One statistic from early on in the programme, the exact details of which escape me now.  Everyone had a value in medieval times.  Some people were more valuable than others, of course.  If you killed a peasant, I think the punishment was 200 shillings – the equivalent, if I remember rightly, of something along the lines of forty cows.  If you killed a nobleman, however, the punishment ran to 1200 shillings – six times as much.

People in medieval times were born into a radical inequality.  If you were born a peasant, that was forever your place.  If you came into this world as a baron or knight, from there you would never be shifted.

I read today that in Spain the government has decided, as it strips public-sector services of their resources and reasonable support, that it will in some magical way conjure up the means and public funding to refinance one of the country’s biggest banks – struggling as it is with those famous “toxic” real-estate assets.

Now there’s another euphemism if there ever was one: “toxic” sounds so medical, so scientific, so much like an unavoidable Act of God, so natural even, that it allows those who are directly to blame to get off scot-free.

Can’t you see it though?  The medieval mind is now.  Take the example of London:

London is most unequal city in the developed world, with the richest tenth of the population amassing 273 times the wealth owned by the bottom tenth – which creates a “means chasm” not seen since the days of a “slave owning society”, according to a new book.

So, from medieval ratios of six to one in a society of absolute power, we come to latterday times in a supposed democracy of equals where the top ten percent is worth 273 times more than the bottom ten percent.

Happy, then, those of you who believe in democratic discourse?  In parliamentary action and engaging with the establishment?  In sustaining a society where the medieval mind is now?

I sincerely hope you are.  Because you’re actually, totally, in the wrong.  And there’s nothing worse than being totally in the wrong and yet – at the same time – being unhappy about it.

Leave the unhappiness bit to the bottom ten percent.

Keep the wealth for yourselves instead.

Mar 162012

One does begin to wonder if the deficit is the kind of bogeyman parents of yore summoned up to terrify their children into an unhappy slumber.  As Duncan has just tweeted:

It seems that both Coalition parties have become rather bored of the whole ‘deficit reduction’ thing and are now focussed on tax cuts.

Which does make me wonder, perhaps in a show of rather bad faith, if they weren’t actually focussed on the tax cuts in question from the very start.

Playing the game of chess does, after all, require one to hide the true purpose of one’s end-game.  Is it really too foolish or conspiratorial on my part to suggest that the purpose of wailing on so much about the deficit was a very simple twofold?  How so?  Well, thus:

  1. Firstly, force through massive shifts in control over public-sector resources, management and culture to the big bad capitalism of self-serving transnational organisations – therefore helping to enrich further the government’s corporate sponsors and keep their power onside;
  2. Secondly, even whilst doing this, fail to keep the deficit under control so that the real end-game – a return to an intellectually disavowed trickle-down economics leading to a long-harboured policy of tax cuts for the rich – would be accepted out of total desperation and general societal weariness;

After all, the Big Society of protest which Cameron’s regime has engendered must surely one day encounter a point of fatigue where yet another petition to sign will be just one petition too far.

Especially if the public begins to perceive that their governors give not a toss about being reasonable or listening.

Personally, I find myself absolutely fed up of asking politely any more.  So if you want me to sign another petition to try and save what used to be a green and pleasant land, a green and pleasant land which is fast becoming a blue and ugly carbuncle, then you’ll just have to couch its terms quite differently: time to demand, not ask politely; time to impose, not suggest meekly.

Only the problem really is that when they have all the levers of power in their hands, when the spirit of the law is no longer the guiding principle of our politics, when what you can get away with is what you end up doing, how can any of us law-abiding folk demand anything of or impose anything on absolutely anyone in charge?

For this isn’t the land of fair play any more.

This is now the land of the rich.

Nov 212011

This, from the Telegraph this morning, points us in the right direction:

Children as young as nine have been living among drinkers and hard drug users amid the squalid surroundings of the St Paul’s protest camp, a report has found.

Meanwhile, Luke Bozier neatly summarises the issue on our behalf in this tweet:

A sex offender, drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless, defecation & urine. Occupy London has become a disgrace.

But he’s wrong about one thing.  It’s not Occupy London that’s become a disgrace.  It’s the fact that – as the Telegraph report can’t help pointing out – people who might do these things are homelessly roaming the streets of London in the first place:

“City of London social worker Joy Hollister said the camp had become “a magnet for very vulnerable people” attracted by free food, tents and clothing.

They have to come from somewhere.  They are not magicked out of thin air.  And that somewhere is precisely the streets of the richest city in the land.  Even as, in the midst of awful crisis, the wealthiest amongst us increase incomes by unimaginable amounts.

So before I finish this post, I would like to repeat Luke’s thoughtful tweet – though this time with a few pertinent links of my own:

For these are examples of the human condition, Luke.  And just ‘cos you don’t care to admit their existence, when hidden, doesn’t mean they don’t – even so – exist all the time.

Nov 212011

Awful stuff from Left Foot Forward this morning:

New TUC research shows more than 750,000 workers – 90 per cent of them women – will face higher contributions from next April.

This is because the government will measures workers’ income not by looking at their gross pay, but their full time equivalent earnings. In other words someone working half-time with a £14,000 slary is treated as earning £28,000.

Official figures (see Table 1) show 806,000 public sector part-time workers earn less than £15,000 but have full-time equivalent earnings greater than this threshold. Of these 732,000 or nine in ten (90.8 per cent) are women.

We then get a table which, I am bound to say in my case, simply muddies the waters.  Not because there is anything wrong with it; simply, because I’m not up to the complexity of the concepts.  And I am reminded of an email I recently received from the Europeans for Financial Reform organisation – on the subject, amongst other things, of precisely this complexity of important issues such as these (the bold is mine):

Europeans for Financial Reform Workshop

Topic: From taxing financial transactions to taming credit rating agencies: Campaigning for financial reform

Friday, 25 November from 9h-10h30

Organiser: Europeans For Financial Reform (EFFR)
- Stephany Griffith Jones (Columbia University)
- Pierre-Alain Muet (MP PS, France)
- Carsten Sieling (MP SPD, Germany)
- Ahmed Laaouej (Senator PS, Belgium) (tbc)
- Andreas Botsch (ETUC)
Moderator: Amir Goreishi (AK Europa)
Languages and Interpretation: English/ French

Workshop description: The complexity of the financial system hinders a truly democratic debate. But what it at stake is too important to be left to the sole experts. This workshop will present the European-wide progressive campaign for taxing financial transactions and new ideas to tame credit rating agencies as means to empower citizens and hold the financial sector to account.

Room number: 206

Which is when I realised this is all most likely inevitable.  As societies get more and more complex – and even despite their most solemn efforts to educate us all up – they become less and less democratic.  Greater sophistication, as defined in terms of technological advancement, inevitably drives us towards a specialisation which is absolutely anti-democratic.  Our inability to democratically track the foolishnesses of the financial services sector is but one example which evidences this truth.

In a sense, whilst Norman would argue otherwise, those of us who live in societies which tend to such complexity are condemned to an ever-decreasing quality of democratic discourse.  The problem isn’t those oligarchies of wealth interfering in such freedoms.  The problem is – rather – precisely what we judge to be their saving graces: those advanced products and services supplied for a far lower end-user price than any other economic system might achieve.  For these technological miracles and what they allow our societies’ specialists to do are making it impossible for the rest of us to understand enough to have a right to even comment on what we perceive.

When the specialists criticise the ranters for ranting uneducatedly as they might, the former are both right in their detail and wrong in their conclusions.  The ranters would – if they could – be far more educated in their matters of preoccupation … if this were only possible.  But it is the ranters who suspect quite correctly, as well as probably subconsciously, that – whilst the quality of democratic engagement savagely declines – their lot is evermore to be that of ranting.  And meanwhile, the specialists, those of the latterday black arts, grimly cling to their delusions of exactitude and precision.

If my thesis is at all adequate to the matters at hand, complex societies such as ours only really improve the products and services we acquire.   And so it’s not the concentrations of wealth which take place as a result that are damaging our ability to be democratic; it’s the overpowering – and what’s more, inevitable – lack of proper understanding of what have become the excessively complex issues that structure our societies (a lack of understanding that the vast majority of voters unhappily exhibit) which is destroying evermore our ability to be intrinsically democratic.

We’re not becoming undemocratic because of the concentration of wealth itself; we’re becoming undemocratic because of the technological progress this wealth is choosing to drive.

And thus the mutual incomprehension on both sides becomes even more disagreeable and difficult to resolve.

And so we despise the wealthy themselves – rather than the society and lack of democracy they have freely, although perhaps unwittingly, chosen to produce.

Nov 112011

Paul has an interesting piece up at Though Cowards Flinch today, where he argues that the real object of our endeavour should not be the excesses of capitalism but the very subject of money itself.  As he concludes in a post which deserves to be read in full:

Ed Miliband said at the weekend:
In every generation, there comes a moment when the existing way of doing things is challenged. It happened in 1945. It happened in 1979 and again in 1997. This is another of those moments because the deeper issues raised by the current crisis are too important to be left shivering on the steps of St Paul’s.”

True, but Ed needs to be clear that the moment is not about taming the excesses of capitalism, but about taming money itself on behalf of the citizens of Britain and (if Habermas‘ advice is followed) the whole of Europe.

Which brings me to a post of my own which I dug out this morning and where I say the following from the perspective of the 2008 credit crunch (I’ve added the bold today as I reread what I wrote then):

I also find it curious how some democratic socialists should spend the past decade berating the evils of triangulated capitalism, only then to spend the past six months defending the evils of propping up (perhaps) poorly-run (and clearly iconic) representatives of all that was once so bad. Does no one else see beyond the dangers of the immediate headlines? Is the need to keep money swilling round the economy so great that – whatever its source – we must keep it swilling?

Where’s the intellectual coherence behind all these policies? Is this simply downhill racing for beginners?

I wonder.

I wonder if the avowed need to keep this money moving isn’t blinding us to simpler truths. Robert Maxwell was once allegedly quoted as believing wealth was not a question of possession but access. Perhaps the vast majority of the allegedly rich – companies and individuals both – falls into this latter category. These individuals and entities with access to money can only live the high life if that money is kept moving. Perhaps the urgency for us to spend, spend, spend comes from this stratum of society, more than any other. Perhaps the great achievement of the past ten years was to increase the proportion of the population which believed it formed a part of the former category of possession without letting on to the fact that it actually formed part of the latter one of access.

I don’t think people’s capitalism will ever provide anything more permanent than the access Maxwell so accurately described.

Possession will only ever be for the truly rich.

And they will always be wealthy, whatever happens to the economy and the rest of us.

So. We have a choice. Keep it swilling or realise the chimera you’ve been living for the past decade.

Now which would you choose?

For as Steinbeck is quoted as saying:

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

It does beg the question, though, doesn’t it?  That is to say: does money need to swill for the poor or for the rich?

The poor can only ever strive to live within their means.

Whilst the middling- and upper-rich have the psychological tools to hand to convince their investors they’re richer than they really are.  And so it is that the swilling I describe – and which underpins the chaos that has befallen the world economy in recent times – must continue as disastrously as it has of late, simply so that these supposedly wealthy personal economies do not fall utterly flat on their brown-nosed faces.

Nothing to do with the needs of the vast majority of the population.

Entirely to do with the mad careering of the top thirty percent.

Jun 252011

KatrinaNation knocked me sideways with this particular tweet just now:

In 2010,World Wealth Report estimated 103,000 people of 7 bn. on planet controlled 36.1 percent of world’s wealth.Taxing richest off table!?

I am, for a change, quite speechless – or, perhaps, that should be wordless.

Aren’t you?

Meanwhile, just take a look at how some of the almost 7 billion others are judged by the unintentionally patronising eye of Western journalism to be engaged in a victory of poverty over Indian injustice.  The story of micro-entrepreneurs – as couched in this piece – does kind of allow us to turn a blind eye to the 36.1 percent concentrated in the hands of the richest among us, who themselves barely deserve the description afforded the slum-dwellers.  For yes, the latter are entrepreneurs – absolutely true.  But they are driven not by reasonable necessity – that necessity which leads admirably to invention – so much as a disgraceful imbalance of resources between those at the top of the pyramid and those at the bottom.

They are not imaginatively creative but desperately imaginative.  And it is by our acts that we have put them where they are.

Let us never lose sight of this – even as we like to brush aside the intellectual incoherence which resides in believing that out of our systemic lack of equality the rest of the world will somehow find its salvation.

Mar 102011

I read in El País today (in Spanish) that as a result of the crisis the rest of us are suffering from the very very wealthy are actually getting wealthier.  It’s an object lesson in how to destroy the work/life balance of ordinary people.  Whilst the rich lever evermore power for themselves, the rest of us who were looking to do all sorts of open source-type things in both virtual and offline communities – out of a selfless and essentially generous instinct aimed at generating a wider good for a broader idea of humanity – suddenly find ourselves back in an awful rat-race of laboratory rodent-like relationships.

Let’s just imagine how the strategy meeting went.  Virtual communications are now so cheap that centralised private bureaucracies operating out of massive skyscrapers and complex installations no longer add the kind of value to working environments which they did in the latter half of the 20th century; value which, at the time, convinced workers to throw their lot in with the creamers-off of shareholder and executive profit.  The tendency has been, therefore, in the first decade of the 21st century, for people to begin to organise themselves, outwith these traditional corporate habitats, in low-cost nodes of worldwide communication – initially, out of a desire to contribute to voluntary activities such as blogging and other kinds of social media; later, out of a desire to set up places and spaces of common interest and focus.  Meanwhile, the desktop computer has slipped almost invisibly into the mobile phone and pockets of our particularly switched-on youth.

Let us not forget that they have grown up with the USB memory stick – where our lot was the paper and pencil; even the paper and fountain pen (for I still remember handwriting lessons at school and how individual calligraphic expression was so fiercely frowned upon).  This reliance on everything digital shapes thought patterns, mindsets and expectations to such an extent I truly believe we do not understand, as yet, their final and transcendental reach.

The destiny of our 21st century children was emancipation from the rat-race I mention above.  Open source tendencies, virtually free, instantaneous and worldwide communication, digital technologies and remix philosophies – all of these were leading us to believe that social, technological and cultural freedoms for ordinary people, a work/life balance of the very most balanced, were shortly to be ours by right; were shortly to be ours to take.

But this, of course, would have meant both the gentlest and most far-reaching of revolutions: a far-reaching revolution achieved through goodwill, good faith and good humour, in fact. 

Nothing anyone could complain about, criticise or condemn.

And for these very reasons, nothing anyone in any kind of power could sensibly allow to reach its full potential.

A revolution of the poor with no blood ever to be shed?  How could the ruling elite even contemplate beating such an absolutely convincing statement of intent!  No.  Far better to ensure it never properly took flight in the first place than try and shape unpredictable tendencies which could quite easily overcome centuries of hierarchy.

So back to that hypothetical strategy meeting.  Perhaps not a real meeting as such.  Perhaps, rather, more a meeting of minds across continents, simultaneously; without specific agenda.  A convergence of interests – a case of convergent evolution even. 

The interests of the rich do not include true emancipation or empowerment; rather, simply that false and superficial kind that a consumer society of spurious choice lays out before one.  Yet, that very same consumer society has taught us the true important of choice – and, quite despite itself, has led us to demand far more.

Which is why, now, those demands now need to be contained. 

The rat-race which for that squeezed middle will become those hand-to-mouth existences, the fear of financially crippling illness in the absence of an inclusive NHS, the terror of finding oneself and one’s entire family being cast out of a familiar home, the shame of losing one’s job through no real fault of one’s own … well, all these disparate events may actually be tools fashioned by an intelligence that chooses quite instinctively to operate.

Very deliberate tools designed to come together and operate in consonance; designed to make us all poor again, designed to make us all fear this incredibly beautiful world.

Designed to turn us all into those unthinking (possibly unthinkable) rodents in a chiefly man-made laboratory of economic games and button-pressing.


On the other hand, maybe not …

Aug 102010

Reading this article from the Guardian today reminded me how inconsistent we are.  In particular, this section (the bold is mine):

“But here’s the rub: You should not trust Verizon or other carriers, or Google for that matter, to follow through in ways that are truly in the interest of the kind of open networks the nation needs. Throughout the conference call, we kept hearing references to the ‘public internet’ – an expression that leads inescapably to something else.

“If Schmidt was telling the truth when he said Google’s overwhelming focus will remain on the public internet, such as his promise that YouTube will remain there, that’s great. I have no reason to disbelieve him, and Google’s track record to date is strong on this issue. But plans change, managements change, and corporate goals change.

Essentially, by allowing these grand centres of wealth and creativity – these corporate bodies which both supply our needs as well as fashion our wants – to decide the when, how and where of progress (subject as they are to the whims and overarching demands of their shareholders far more than their stakeholders), we have ended up demanding far less of them than we do of our politicians and governors.

We are entirely unambitious when it comes to anything outside politics and entirely obsessed when we talk of the body politic.

I am reminded of a presentation I was given recently on the subject of a development plan for a business quarter in the city I live and work in.  The plan was inclusive, imaginative, ecologically aware and – in general – highly constructive for a city that has often been tied down by an overbearing and under-invested attachment to the past.

The plan aimed to construct a 15-year framework of phased redevelopment which would regenerate and incorporate into the centre of the city a radial section currently separated by widespread car usage from the heart of the city itself.  No one at the presentation questioned the enthusiasm or ability of the people currently running the show, but one important question was raised which cast a significant shadow over the viability of the project: over the fifteen years the redevelopment was supposed to take, who could guarantee that the visionaries who kicked it off would still be in charge at the end?  Who would be able to assure us that some self-interested developer – that is to say, businessperson – wouldn’t at some convenient point of financial weakness or need succeed in hijacking the wider objectives of the project for his or her own pecuniary purposes?

We demand of our governments and politicians certain internal coherences and continuities that we absolutely do not require of our business people.  The case of Google, Verizon and net neutrality is not all that removed from Chester’s business quarter.

We need to be more ambitious with our wealth creators and they need to want to focus more on a sustainable long-term than they currently seem to want to.

Wealth is a circular act of creation.

Whether we are rich or poor, we all contribute to this circle.

We should remember this and act in consequence.

The essence and vibrancy of wealth lies not only in sharing its fruits but also in developing – together with others – its framework.  Wealth is not finite.  Only the poor of intellect believe that the objective of wealth resides in its accumulation and concentration.

We need to liberate wealth from those poor of intellect I mention.  The question now is how.


Incidentally, during the presentation I describe earlier in this piece, the question of how to guarantee continuity of vision remained, hardly surprisingly, unanswered.  How often does the interface between business and politics collapse through a lack of vision?  Sad enough, intellectually speaking, at any time in history.  In moments of significant generational crisis such as these we live today, it is, however, tragic – a tragedy of unacceptable proportions.

How many more generational tragedies must we survive before we realise that working together alongside people we do not immediately identify with is the only way forward we can usefully end up contemplating?