Advice for modern business

A change of tack today.  I am sure I have begun posts before by reminding folk that I am not a fan or corporations.  However today I have advice for business.  I often don’t say anything to people because whatever I am thinking simply seems too obvious, I later discover that the point I would have made was actually never considered by the person with whom I am speaking.  It occurred to me today that the usual polemical debate going on between the two sides in this issue might be a sign that many people did not realise there is a middle path other than compromise.  Most business owners are simply too busy working to give deeper consideration to the environment in which they operate.  This is why there is a necessity for academics to have think tanks in which they address issues on economics, sociology, etc.  Today I therefore offer the following advice to the corporations of the world, and in fact anyone else who wishes to find a gap in the market.  If it is followed then the result should be profits, happy people, healthy world, and even a change in my opinions.

 

The main aim of modern business is to make profit. If it weren’t enough that this is the desire of the business owners and board it is also enshrined in law by the Companies Act.  When making decisions there is a set of priorities to which the decision makers must adhere.  When it comes to things that affect the environment and greater society there is little more than an optional footnote to consider.  If that weren’t enough to upset people even customer satisfaction ranks well below profit.

 

Naturally this rule is very easy to enforce.  People like profit.  People like profit to such an extent that it even blinds some of them to avenues by which they might obtain more profit.  Many of you will be aware of the psychology experiment where children were left alone in a room with a plate of sweets and the promise of being allowed two if they could resist the temptation to take one.  For those who do not know this experiment there were two ways in which the children approached the task.  Some of them distracted themselves, playing with toys or looking elsewhere.  Others obsessed on the cakes, staring at them until they could no longer take the tension and had to have one.  The ability to focus on other things turned out to be a valuable trait in later life.  Being able to consider long term benefit over short term benefit helps many people in business and also in their personal finances; imagine where we would all be if we could not prepare for our old age.  One of the theories put about concerning the demise of the Neanderthal was that it lacked our ability to think in the long term.  It always feels necessary to obsess on the bottom line in business, but this is what stops one thinking ahead.

 

It is a constant complaint read in the business press that thinking in the short term is a continual source of trouble, from businesses being ill prepared for the future to the entire financial collapse.  With larger businesses the fault is difficult to pinpoint as even when the managers care about the long term they have to balance this against a a multitude of smaller issues, the most obvious of which being that many of the little people can only make enough money to live a decent life if they throw away their ethics in pursuit of bonuses.  When I worked in retail I lived in a culture of customer service where the company insisted we believe in making the customer happy and at their ease at all times.  We also had to balance this against the company insisting we must always make more money and compete against other stores in an effort to achieve an unobtainable bonus that had the same chances of being won as the carbolic smoke ball company planned for their £100 reward.  It didn’t matter how ethical the company was because we weren’t permitted the luxury of our own ethics.  Nor did I believe the company’s ethics had been seriously developed.

 

The result was that our business did reasonably well but superficially skimming the web revealed that hundreds of people hated us, hated our stores, and even hated us approaching them.  The reason this continues is all down to profit; until the enmity is reflected in the bottom line none of the directors will think to do anything about it. Unfortunately at that point the share price starts diving into a horrible spiral from which many companies fail to recover.

 

The profit motive itself can be damaging to further profit. 

 

The biggest profits are those being made by banks and utilities, the two most hated types of organisation must be the same.  A lot of people are moving to building societies to escape the first, entire towns are going solar to escape the second. 

 

Goodwill can be difficult to get.  Obtaining new customers is traditionally reckoned to cost about five times as much as retaining old customers. At present though we are in the middle of a worldwide, highly publicised financial crisis. In addition to this we are more connected than ever.  People don’t even get out of bed before they have read the concerns of their friends and acquaintances.  Many of those concerns are about greedy companies, greedy politicians, corporate mismanagement, environmental disaster, extinction, etc.  Goodwill is rapidly ebbing, bad will is snowballing.  Groups manage to gather hundreds and thousands of signatures on anti corporate petitions in a matter of hours.  Perhaps these petitions aren’t as effective as the public are hoping, but how long will the public put up with that before upping their game.

 

This might all sound like bad news and negativity but many of the greatest entrepreneurs do not recognise such a thing as bad news, only untapped opportunity.  When people turn away from one paradigm in droves, they turn towards another.  Apple’s Tim Cooke recently told his shareholders that if they didn’t like Apple’s decisions then they had the option to sell their shares.  This was reported as being in reaction to disgruntlement over maintaining environmental standards that were not reflected in profit.  Tim said that Apple did not use profit as its main motivation.  In my opinion he meant that Apple did not use short term profit as its main motivation.  The respect he gained by making the statement will translate to future sales.

 

The only way to succeed in a competitive market is to stay one step ahead of the competition.  This is easily done in the current business environment.  Where there are a huge number of disgruntled customers the obvious course of action is to give them what they want.  The big reveal is that this isn’t being done because companies don’t know what they want; worse, they think they do know.  It is in general a race to the bottom in prices. In corporate philosophy this is the best method to ensure continually increasing profits.  That is not what the people ultimately want though.  Whilst it is easy to sell things when they are cheap and often things are horribly overpriced, there are other concerns about which people are bothered. The whole conspicuous consumption thing is built into us by our evolution but that does not mean it is beneficial for us in the modern world.  Some trees will keep growing taller until they collapse under their own weight when they are put in an indoor environment.  We will keep handing over cash for junk as long as it is at a good price because we have the built-in desire to consume and compete.  We are as likely to destroy ourselves as the tree because our evolutionary urges use as little thought as the tree despite our ability to think.

 

We are only just beginning to think at a wider angle.  We are only just beginning to focus in the long term.  This is a great opportunity for business because a broad field is about to open in which the fallen behemoths of the corporate world will lie, destroyed by their inability to adapt with the same flexibility as their customers.  When the public are unhappy then it is obvious their desires are not being met.  Wherever businesses are thinking about how to protect their future they should realise that if they have something people want then they are going to be in demand.   What people are now concerned about begins at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; their safety is paramount, they need a healthy environment to live in; their family is important, they need to leave a world for their children; their health is important, they are beginning to learn that so many substances developed in recent years are damaging to health; their egos are important; they don’t wish to see that they are on the bottom rung of the social hierarchy while a minority sit in extravagant luxury at the top.  Ultimately their spiritual needs are of importance and these are not supplied by filling the world with Tarmac and burning the forests any more than any of their other needs.

 

If you think it is business as usual when the world is changing all around you and there is disgruntlement en masse then you are not going to be in business for long. If you learn to anticipate and recognise the turning of the tide before your competitors then you may be one of the heroes of the future world just as Henry Ford was one of the heroes of the past.  I am not going to patronise anyone by describing in easy to follow steps how to start a business for the changing world; some businesses will succeed and some will fail, the same as it has always been.  I just wish to point out that supply should meet demand and that the public is now demanding something that is being supplied by precious few entrepreneurs.  

The Inequality of European Equality

The European Union is built on a number of principles based around fairness and the encouragement of cooperation between nations.  Equality is central to the philosophy behind this.  As is so often the case with the law and politics it is subject to continual change as precedents are set in courts and legislation is finessed by the legislatures of various countries and of the Union as a whole.  As is so often the case with the workings of mice and men, nothing seems to work quite right the first time.

Equality is important to Europe largely due to the fact that Europe has been largely under the influence of Christianity for well over a millennium.  Combine this with an inbuilt sense of fairness shared by all humanity and the aims of the Union and we end up with an aim for Union legislation that is important enough to create massive disturbance to the economic balance in some countries.  The idea of discarding equality and delivering preferential or prejudicial treatment to different members of society is more politically daring than the idea of simply brushing our hands of the whole idea of Europe and drawing a curtain on further involvement with the Union.  This is why UKIP and other parties with similar philosophies have grown so much more influential in recent years.

Immigration is a large target for enmity of newspapers and the disaffected.  There are continual complaints that jobs are being taken by immigrants from poorer countries.  There are even complaints that the same immigrants seem to also be claiming all our benefits at the same time.  Naturally they are an unfair target designed to distract the public from the far greater causes of economic problems within our country.  Most people are fully cognisant of the fact that immigrants provide the country with a dedicated workforce and contribute to a lot of our overseas dealings to the overall benefit of our economy.  The greater diversity of our population is beneficial on so many levels from natives of Europe developing tastes for products we can export to fresh DNA entering the genetic makeup of English people.

A far larger problem than immigrants coming into the country is the level of employment amongst those who are native to England.  A very small percentage of benefit claimants are taking money because they can’t be bothered to work and do not wish to look for a job.  A far larger proportion are actively seeking work and are unable to find it.  Public figures such as Edwina Currie echo the sentiment of Norman Tebbit that the unemployed need to get on their bike and find work.  The unemployed say they are looking for work and they are told they are not looking hard enough; they need to motivate themselves harder.  It is in the motivation to find work that the problem is developed.  There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the effect of ‘equality’ on the motivation of the work seeker.

Workers are largely in agreement that what motivates them to go to work is their pay.  If the employer stopped paying them then it would not be long before they would go somewhere else where an employer would pay them.  Likewise if they are being paid half the wage of the man next door who is doing exactly the same kind of work then it will not be too long before they start considering changing their affiliation to their neighbour’s employer.  This might seem obvious but it is central to the complaint that the unemployed are not motivated to find work.  If there is truly equality then there is equality of wage and therefore equality of motivation.  It therefore follows that all the unemployed are equally motivated to find work and that they cannot be at fault for not being motivated enough.  So where does it go wrong?  Why are people who should know better accusing folk of being too lazy to work?

The flaw of the system lies in misunderstanding what equality truly is.  There are so many factors to take into account when discussing equality that it can be difficult to develop an understanding of what constitutes equality without putting some deep thought into formulating an answer.  Naturally there is no time for most people to put deep thought into anything these days because they are too busy juggling a multitude of tasks to try and out compete everyone else in order to earn enough money to spend it on televisions, cars, horses and whatever else can be found to distract them from putting deep thought into anything.  Combine this with a far less rigorous education system focussed on developing vocational skills at low cost in short time and you find that few people really consider equality on more than a very shallow level.

If thought is not put into the subject of equality then it is plainly obvious that £10 in one person’s pocket is equivalent to £10 in any other person’s pocket.  £10 will alway have the exact value of £10.  Hence it is called £10.  If you are thirsty and need a drink then £10 can buy a lot of beverages.  Going on the logic that £10 is always worth £10 we have now found a solution to people who cross deserts dying of thirst; simply ensure they have a plentiful supply of ten pound notes and they will easily make it across.  Quite obviously there is something very wrong with this logic.  The beverage purchasing power of £10 is vastly less satisfying in the middle of the Sahara than it is in the Dog and Duck at last orders.

That is an extreme example but it serves to show that motivation will not always be equal for the same sums of money.  I daresay at last orders in the Dog and Duck I could convince some people to do all sorts of ridiculous and embarrassing things in exchange for £10.  If I was to try and similarly motivate a man dying of thirst in the middle of the Sahara then I would not be able to repeat what he would probably say to me in response, even though he is plainly in far greater need of a drink.

Likewise when motivating the unemployed in England there is the problem that the purchasing power of £10 in London is substantially less than the purchasing power of £10 in a rural village of Poland.  At first this does not seem like too much of a problem until you consider the Polish speaking ability of the average English person.  English folk are famous the world over for their language speaking expertise; everyone knows how bad it is.  English folk are therefore most likely to wish to spend their wages on buying a house, food and all other products in England rather than rural Poland.  A Polish worker on the other hand is far more likely to wish to save his money until he returns to his home country.  He will spend some to stay alive in England but he is no idiot, spending all his wages in this expensive country would be stupid when he knows that he will one day most likely be going home and he knows full well how cheap everything is back home.

The equality of wage is therefore not equal when judged by the ultimate spending power of the money the worker takes home.  The motivation is therefore unequal according to the same buying power.

So far this is all relatively simple and obvious.  Yet this does not seem to have been realised by the majority of crafters of policy.  Either that or they are keeping it well under their hats.  From here on in it all gets a lot more complicated.  Not all English people want to stay in England to spend their wages.  Not all immigrants wish to return home.  Some immigrants come from countries where they can make great use of the money they earn in the nation where they work; other immigrants come from nations where there is not all that much to buy on the shelves and the governance of the nation does not promote fond thoughts of returning.

Within the country that has an influx of economic migrants the government’s main concern should always be the people within its borders.  This does not necessarily mean favouring natives above immigrants but it does mean promoting the best opportunities for those who feel an allegiance to that nation and not demonising those who are restricted to being indigenous.  There are a great many hurdles to be countered in making sense of a system of equality that is inherently unequal but possible methods to deal with it would certainly include enabling greater cross border migration for reasons other than simply finding work.  If all migration is aimed at finding work then the problem will always exist that natives of countries favourable to paying a good wage will always be disadvantaged.  Employers will always be encouraged to pay wages that are not feasible for natives because they will always find employees from poorer nations for whom such wages are feasible.  It must be possible to give the native of that country the same spending power as the immigrant and the only way to do that is to ensure that emigration to poorer nations to make use of money seems as logical to the native as immigration to earn the wage seems to the native of the poorer nation.

It seems natural that language education should be heavily promoted in these economically wealthier nations.  Television and popular culture should also include far more international offerings.  Cross border travel should also be made easier; on an island this is obviously trickier.  Inevitably the only way to end the phenomenon of people from poorer nations having the advantage of greater motivation is the eventual equalisation of living standards.  As Employers take advantage of the availability of a more affordable work force we will ultimately see living standards dropping in England to match those in the poorer European countries.  This will further push the gap between rich and poor.  Naturally this is not ideal.  A way to prevent this eventuality would be to do whatever is possible to raise the living standards in each of the poorer nations.  This is part of the intention of Europe as a single political entity but to leave it up to the evolution of the market is going to create a painful and unenjoyable process for those who will lose out in the early stages of the transformation.  In the long run it seems inevitable that this is going to become a greater problem so it seems a good idea that these things need to be dealt with as soon as possible rather than dragging them out.  There are probably a great many other devices for resolving the problem but the first hurdle is to develop recognition that equality is far more complex than people seem to think or our governments are prepared to admit.

Google’s purchase of Nest may be a far better idea than it seems.

I have found myself drawn into the debate over the recent acquisition of Nest by Google.  As Nest is a maker of thermostats it is not a subject I would have paid the slightest attention to if it hadn’t been so extensively covered on the Tektalk podcast; by covered I mean panned, slated, poopooed, belittled, you get the drift.  A lot of people seem to be somewhat shocked by the purchase as it cost Google 3.2 billion dollars.  When Google itself has just under 60 billion in spendable assets then it makes 3.2 seem like a lot for a company I had never heard of until this week.  Playing devil’s advocate I intend to defend the purchase.  It seems to me that this is a lynch pin in the Google game plan.

My initial reason for looking deeper is that my wife feels the cold really badly.  I mean Really Badly, with capital letters.  When I am walking around the house in a Tshirt she will be wearing two cardigans and two blankets with a hot water bottle and the central heating on.  The idea of being able to turn the heating on when we are still ten minutes away from home is something that we would want to have asap.

My second thought is that this is a perfect additional tile for Google Now.  I have installed Google Now on a couple of occasions but aside from its excellent speech recognition it is of little use to me.  I work at home, I don’t drive, immediately a lot of its use disappears.  I also feel like an idiot talking to my phone in public and if I did I would find that it couldn’t find a 3g signal so I was wasting my time.  Such is the problem of living in the countryside, if I use anything other than an ancient nokia I have no hope of getting 3g.  If my heating could learn to control itself according to my motions then I would have a lovely toasty home all the time and my wife would be far more happy.

The best reason for my optimism in the purchase of Nest though is the money it will be able to save consumers.  I have heard the opinion that this is an expensive purchase, and wasted money but when your heating can learn how best to save electric in doing your will then you are going to save a lot of money.  Nest themselves reckon the saving will be about 20% of your heating bill.  This will pay for itself in no time.  Aside from the benefit of saving cash for your pocket you will also have the huge benefit of easing a great deal of stress on the environment.  Climate change will be reduced, air will be cleaned, customers will save money, which they will probably spend on tablets, phones, and any number of things in the google play store.

The big problem with the whole deal is that everyone expects Google to misuse the information gleaned from these sensors.  Everyone thinks that there is a wealth of advertising opportunities to be had from being able to monitor every movement of the owners of these devices.  Of course everyone is right about this, but Google have promised not to take any sneaky peeks at this data. Google have said that they will only use the data for purposes in the operation of the devices themselves, heating related, etc.  Given the billions spent on heating I am inclined to believe this, why alienate your customers to sell adverts to any other kind of business when you can use your knowledge to influence the sale of contracts that far overwhelm the amounts spent on mobile phones or broadband?

Another key in the puzzle that makes me think that Google will not look at the data is the even more recent news that they are going to be investing in Deepmind AI.  They will not need to look at any data, if they take the AI in the right direction they will be able to rely on the devices themselves knowing exactly how to use the data to maximise profit and there will be no human to see any of the data at all.  The data could be misused and noone would ever know because it could all happen inside the machines.

3.2 billion is a lot of money but in the long term it is less than most of use realise.  Naturally if you or I had this kind of money we would most likely become overwhelmed by the possibilities and disappear off on a long holiday/spending spree that would never end.  In multinational business dealing in the kind of devices that everyone can make use of it seems like a smaller amount.  All the same it is still a lot.  However as stage number one, the opening gambit of a far longer play, it might seem far less.

Nest is run by a team that have Apple pedigree.  This is valuable.  This is part of the legacy of the insight of Steve Jobs.  He may be gone but some of his decisions live on, and his decisions hold a mystique when compared to the decisions of all other CEOs.  There are a number of teams doing similar things with sensors and the ‘internet of things’ but they are all unknown quantities.  When a company has access to the resources of Google and has a serious game plan then there is no point skimping over the odd billion and risking getting stuck with a bunch of numpties who have been mismanaging the company you are buying.  If you buy tried and tested Apple veterans then you know you are getting quality.  That is a weight off your mind because the odds severely suggest you have made the right choice.  It is probable that there were some key patents involve in the acquisition.  Home automation seems like it was the natural next step in Google Now’s design, they could have been balked by the patents held by Nest.  There are other companies doing similar ‘internet of things’ tasks, but of them all, the combination of factors in Nest make it a no-brainer.

It is obvious that Google are playing a long game.  In a way they are far more able to get away with this than most companies.  Most companies have to worry about the next shareholder’s meeting and reporting the maximum amount of profits because they are always in competition with others and therefore need to cut costs all the time.  Google is currently free from this rat race and is still able to dream.  They have always been a very adventurous company willing to innovate to a massive extent and no matter what happens they can fall back on the massive profits brought in by being the go-to search engine, an actual verb in the dictionary.  This allows them freedom from the usual constraints of short term operation that usually control the decisions of companies.  Asimov wrote of a mathematician who predicted a thousand years of future in the foundation trilogy.  Although a thousand years is excessive it is my belief that Google are focussing on the distant future.  They probably have intentions of occupying a particular position in 2035 but in order to get there it is imperative they make this purchase now.

With most companies we all know what they are planning.  We might not know the specs and the design of the next Blackberry or Ferrari, or Conran, but we know roughly what they will be doing.  We know roughly what they are working on at this very moment.  Google is not that kind of company.  They could be working on anything.  Is it software?  Is it a phone, tablet, car, computer?  Are they working on giant robots, drones, space craft?  Nothing would surprise me with Google and for that reason I think that all the criticism of this purchase is looking at this all from the wrong angle.  Nest is an expensive acquisition but it may not be long before it begins to make a lot of sense to the rest of us.  The future is always coming and often it takes us by surprise.  We ought to keep our eye on Nest to see where the next surprise comes from.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-01-28/google-nest-heats-up-takeovers-in-race-to-control-home-real-m-and-a

http://venturebeat.com/2014/01/27/robots-nest-now-artificial-intelligence-googles-next-big-buy-is-the-ai-company-deepmind/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57617161-76/how-google-and-nest-could-get-the-smart-home-all-wrong/

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/13/google-nest-labs-3bn-bid-smart-home-devices-market

http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/14/5307530/why-is-everyone-disappointed-by-google-buying-nest

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/10570051/Google-buys-Wi-Fi-thermostat-company-Nest-Labs-for-3.2bn.html

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

I have been forced to comment on a great hooha spreading across the internet at present that seems to be getting a lot of people unnecessarily upset.  Anyone who has read my blogs in the past will know that I do not approve of corporations and they might therefore be surprised to hear I am not against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  I have always been a bit paranoid about the powers over my head ever since the days they were all poised to destroy us with nuclear missiles at any second so I am slightly surprised at my acceptance of the TTIP myself.  There are a number of commentators who are riling up the internet as though they were poking a wasps nest with a stick.  Of course the internet is quick to anger and there are millions of people who now oppose the TTIP.

I can’t help thinking that such an opposition is a sign of what I shall call farageing.  It seems strange to me that people who consider UKIP to be a group of morons have no problem with applying UKIP logic to the idea of an agreement with the States.  I can see where they are coming from to an extent.  I have no uncertainty that there will be a lot of negative effects from such a partnership.  However I am also sure there will be a great many positive effects from the partnership.  Such is the nature of change and if we were not able to put up with it then we would all be living in small villages of mud huts eking out a poor existence from what we could forage and farm in the small patches of land around us, with any excess being taken by marauders.  Whilst I might like to try such a way of life for a holiday I don’t think I would like to live there.  Change will always bring bad things but at the same time it tends to bring more good, that is why the majority of us would not trade our current homes for one a thousand years ago.

When England joined Europe in the early 1970s we felt a great deal of change.  Within a few short years there were an overwhelming number of new goods in the shops at ever reducing prices.  Admittedly if you want to buy a decent bit of Deutsch Wurst then you still have to pay a massive amount more than you would in Berlin but at least you have the option.  To compare what we can now buy in the stores compared to the early 70s you would be forgiven for thinking that the wartime rationing was still in operation at that time.  The breaking down of the barriers in Europe and the loss of customs tariffs on European goods allows us to live the colourful lives we have now rather than the grey lives we had then.  It also allows the producers of this country to sell with greater ease in Europe and when the pound becomes weak it means that there are far more customers helping to boost it up again.  Back then it was the way in which food improved that I was most impressed by.  Nowadays the thing that most people are having trouble buying and the thing that most people are coveting is electronics.  Our free trade agreement with Europe does not help too much there because in Europe it is England where the prices of Electronics seem to be most affordable on average.  If we had a trade agreement with America then we would suddenly gain the benefit of the fact that America has very low prices on Electronics compared to most other places in the world.

Aside from all the other benefits that might come from a trade agreement we would quickly find our capability to push our country technologically would become far more affordable.  Computers, tablets and phones would be cheaper and all the benefits of them would become more attainable.  Education would become cheaper for those who use such technologies to push themselves harder.  That education would be more useful with an extra market that wishes to trade with us without barriers.  This is only one aspect that would be helped by the agreement.  Those in favour would touch upon others.  Throughout the whole of Europe it is probably England that is positioned most favourably to benefit from this agreement.  We share a very similar language to the Americans.  They even name it English as it is so similar.  For us the agreement will be far easier to slip into than for the Germans or Greeks.

The one failing of the agreement that is being pointed out by the naysayers and is drawing all the negativity is the rights it gives to corporations to use arbitration to challenge governments that adversely affect their business interests.  Ironically the people who seem most alarmed by this are the same people who usually wish they could challenge the same governments themselves for all manner of idiocy.  They seek to challenge the governments for the idiocy of allowing corporations to challenge the governments.  It is true that we consider ourselves to be living in a democracy and we wish our desires to be adhered to.  With this in mind we vote for politicians to represent our wishes.  Once politicians are in power they can pretty much do what they want for the next 4 – 5 years.  What they do is usually appeal to the readers of the most popular newspapers because whatever rubbish is published in them will determine whether they get to keep their job at the end of the period.  Corporations are not one of my favourite forms of institution but at least they do listen to the actual democratic majority.  There are so many twists in the way that politics works that almost everyone must now be familiar with Winston Churchill having said democracy is the worst form of government.  The fact that he then said, ‘except for all those other forms’ meant that he still favoured democracy but simply felt its execution needed work.  The beauty of a corporation is that it will listen to the will of the customer.  One thing that many corporations have in common is that when they were not attentive enough and flexible enough to do what the customer wanted they went bust.  The thing that all the other corporations have in common is that they were attentive enough to do what the customer wanted and they thrived.

In general the TTIP is unlikely to cause a great deal of arbitration to be focussed against our governments.  It is a measure that is put in place in such agreements to protect companies in the worst possible circumstances where governments are using unethical levels of protectionism for their own industries.  This does not mean arbitration will be absent.  There will undoubtedly be some egregious use of the measures and no doubt we will all tut and blame the TTIP.  This will not change the fact that we will gain massive benefits from the TTIP.  It will also not change the fact that we are entering a new era of democracy.  We are being given a far more direct form of democracy than we had before because if we disagree with the way the corporations abuse such measures we have the ability to stop shopping with those corporations.  We have the ability to tell our friends to stop shopping with them.  With the internet what it is we have the ability to tell the world to stop shopping with them.  If the TTIP affects the web to such a degree that we cannot, and if this is something we dislike then we have the ability to set up meshnets, we have the ability to use usenet.  We still have a right to free speech, we have the right to say something about these corporations and they will quickly learn that the TTIP does not give them carte blanche to abuse their positions.

There will be change.  I have already said this.  But we live in a changing world.  Think of it not as change but as adaptation.  This will be a time of great empowerment for average people, if we want it to be.  Moving the emphasis of control away from government towards corporation really moves the emphasis of control into the hands of the people, and that is where it should be.

Further information can be found at the following URLs and at any to which they link.

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/osbornes-bid-to-end-democracy-by-the-back-door/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/eu-us-trade-deal-transatlantic-trade-and-investment-partnership-democracy

You will also find amongst them links to petitions of opposition if you so choose but you will need to find them yourselves.

Altruism and Materialism

The careers advisory board has revealed that young people at present prefer to seek work that will principally make a difference.  Work with a purpose greater than simply serving one’s self.  This is at odds with what the generally accepted wisdom currently is.  We have recently lived through an era marked by Thatcher’s privatisation of public services; Milton Friedman’s assertion that the greater good is best served by companies always seeking growth and the benefit of their shareholders above all else; Gordon Gekko’s ‘Greed is good’; and Ayn Rand’s philosophy that through devolution of responsibility to our own selfish interests the greater good of the whole is served by all members of society focussing on the mote in their own eye.
In a world where we are all surrounded by materialism proclaimed on every billboard, and the quest for the latest and greatest technology as soon as it is released, it seems surprising that those who are now entering the job market have their attention focussed on a more altruistic end than earning enough money to take part in the 20th century model of consumerism.  Over time a pattern has been revealed whereby times of prosperity are marked by self interest, and times of recession are marked by altruism.  Naturally the committed capitalists will cite this as evidence that self interest causes prosperity and altruism leads to recession but living through the current economic downturn it is plainly obvious that altruism is a response to the uncertainty of a world in which there is not enough to go around.
Go back further to World War 2 and we are all familiar with the tales of the blitz spirit.  As everyone was forced into terrible conditions by the constant barrage of doodlebugs sent over from Germany the city dwellers of England drew together with such bonds of camaraderie that many people have looked back fondly upon the war.  Our basic humanity will not allow us to sit idly by while others suffer.  Likewise our basic understanding of justice will not allow us to give excessive pity to those who exhibit their failure to contribute during good times because they are drunk on cheap cider in the doorways of derelict houses.  We are well able to tell the difference between those who are undeserving of poverty and those who should be able to escape it by an effort of will power.  There may be some who do not care at all about the poor under any situation and there are also those who will go out of their way to help others no matter what the situation but these are the outliers.  The vast majority of average people seem to react by helping those in need during hard times and helping themselves during good times.
It would seem that there may be something in the philosophy of selfishness, but only in times when society is running on an even keel.  When society is experiencing times of hardship then the philosophy subconsciously followed by average people is far closer to the ideals of Marx.  The pattern is observed not because people have made a conscious decision to follow one economic model or another but because it is inbuilt at the most basic evolutionary level.  If society is ok then we do not need to worry about society; we can focus on our own well being.  When society is falling apart then we had better start worrying because we live in society and society surrounds us; if society goes then we all go.  This is something with which we have had to live for millennia.  We know it is a tendency and need that has been constant for millennia because that is what is necessary to cause it to become part of our psyche.
Intellectually there may be many reasons to ignore the sea change in popular consciousness that has been recognised by the careers advisory board but it is hard to ignore the similarity with the flux of the cycle of revolution outlined by Crane Brinton in his anatomy of revolution (1938).  Without the change in thought and approach that has been shown by jobseekers the financial breakdown would lead to the organisation of the discontented before impossible demands were made on those who rule.  The shift in popular consciousness may well be a safety valve protecting this from being an inevitability.  The mass consciousness becomes a hive mentality that has evolved to seek the survival of society as a whole.
Where until recently happiness has been sought by the satisfaction of material desires the goal posts are continually moving.  It has been proven that in countries with greater economic equality there is a greater sense of happiness but in those where there is a great gap between the rich and the poor there is far greater dissatisfaction.  Satisfaction of material desire is relative.  Mankind strives to keep up with the Jones’s to satisfy their desires.  This is what the entire conspicuous consumption supporting our consumer society depends upon.  This is the greed that Gordon Gekko and more recently Boris Johnson have been telling us is good.  This is the driver that has propelled our economic success thus far.  The reason it is dying now is because it is futile.
Just as someone suffering from depression has simply given up under the futility of fighting the slings and arrows of ebbing fortune, the mass of popular society has given up on trying to reach the unattainable carrot that is being pulled further and further out of its reach.  The wealthy are now known as ‘the one per cent’.  They are separate from the rest of us and they have decided the way to maintain society’s wealth is to allow us, the 99 per cent, to have less of the wealth.  Society is no longer wasting its energy trying to reach a dangling carrot; society is scrabbling in the dirt for whatever crumbs have fallen with which it may sustain itself.  There will still be some of the poor who will attain wealth but for most people there will never be the attainment of anything close to the kind of wealth that exists within gated communities and marble towers.  For some people the attainment of enough wealth to buy a week’s worth of food is out of reach.
That is why happiness and fulfilment is being sought in altruism.  Happiness through satisfaction of material desires is no longer practicable on a societal scale.  The vox populi is singing a different tune.  The old order will either be forgotten or if the dinosaurs do not listen it may be overthrown.  Whatever happens, there is definitely change ahead.

The Future of Podcasting

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century setting in motion the process of releasing the typewritten word to the general population that eventually developed into webpages such as the one on which you are probably reading this.

 

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 setting in motion the process of recording sound that eventually developed into the podcast.

 

The internet grew from the written word on bulletin boards and in an echo of technological development through the centuries gradually incorporated pictures, sound and video.  The podcast was named for the ipod and was one of the best reasons to have an ipod.  Podcasts took off.  As is so often the way on the internet everyone was talking about podcasts and everywhere you looked there were companies setting up podcasts.  The podcast was the future; a way of delivering content to a different audience, the people who listened rather than reading or viewing.

 

The problem was that everyone read on the internet, especially once the internet became filled with the communications of their friends on social networks.  Those who didn’t read wanted something like the television that they were accustomed to watching through the evenings in the pre-internet world.  The people who liked to listen to podcasts wasn’t such an attractive audience for whom to produce content, the profit wasn’t there.  Gradually the podcasts have begun to disappear.  A lot of people who spend time on the web are fans of technology; for these people the disappearance of Stuff magazine’s podcast, followed by Cnet’s main podcast, and most recently by T3 magazine’s podcast has been notable.

 

These 3 big companies of technology have decided that podcasting is not worth the effort involved.  In times of austerity the natural way to save money is to cut back on those expenses that are not profitable enough.  Is this the best plan.

 

Companies are ruled by their shareholders and at regular points they must release details of their profits.  The problem with this is that if they do not continually try to save money and build up good dividends then they will lose value in the shareholder’s eyes with the result that funding will become harder, expansion will become harder, even staying afloat will be harder.  Lose too much value and you risk being bought out and liquidated.

 

However the internet has been with us for a while and there are many people who are beginning to feel swamped by the intensity of information that is delivered.  A short while ago Facebook was developing into something massive.  It was so massive that when it made its initial public offering on the stock market its value ballooned to ridiculous levels that were totally disproportionate to its ability to earn money.  Even though this has now died back Facebook is still left with having to sell a lot of advertising to create the necessary profit to maintain its value.  The result for Facebook users is that newsfeeds are filled with sponsored posts.  Chosen pages are having their posts suppressed if they don’t pay to promote them.  Facebook has become chaotic and time consuming to read.  Those who love facebook are finding that it is eating up too much time to justify its place in their life.

 

Facebook is only one example but in general the web demands too much of those who live there.  200 years ago the average reader would own a few books in their lifetime which they would read and reread, eventually memorising them.  There is now more information uploaded to the internet everyday than any one individual could hope to read in a lifetime.  A lot of it is tripe but a lot of it is stuff that we want to read, in fact most of it is designed specifically to pull all the strings that make us want to read it.

 

A lot of us spend our working lives sitting at desks interacting with computers; we carry phones which have the same functions; it is possible to spend hours conducting a social life under exactly the same conditions.  For the first few years of the internet it was an intriguing mystery.  When the world wide web was created it started to become something that ordinary people would use.  As more people have begun to use it the web has become a potential target for corporate profit.  The result has been the explosion of exciting and enticing content crying out to be seen.  If television was ever the drug of the nation then the web is the crack cocaine that was even more addictive.

 

I am not saying we should all become Amish and reject modern technology but when we find it stealing our lives we have to take something back for the sake of our health.  However we can learn from the internet and besides, we enjoy the information.  The beauty of a podcast is that we can run in the woods while we listen to them; we can go shopping; we can travel to work or to visit friends; we can sew and paint.  All those things that we have lost to the internet can be given back to us by the podcast.  As people start to become disillusioned with the theft of their time they can take it back but still enjoy the benefits of news, reviews and opinion.

 

It seems to me that we are just reaching the point at which the podcast is going to be the solution many of us are looking for.  The demand for profit of corporations is going to drive us away from the internet that we have been enjoying for the last few years, but ironically the demand for profit is what is taking away the refuge that the podcast offers.  There is a future for the podcast but the companies are throwing it away ahead of time.  Like so many things that have come before it, the podcast was invented a little bit ahead of time.  With the right approach the podcast could make a comeback with a vengeance.

 

Having lost three of my favourite podcasts, Stuff, Cnet and T3, I am glad to say that when the Times newspaper decided to shut down its hilarious Bugle podcast the presenters thankfully took matters into their own hands to seek sponsorship and create merchandise to keep it running.  The people who will profit when podcasting again attains a height of popularity will be those people like this who do it because they enjoy it and because it is who they are.  The companies that were only doing it because they smelled a profit may all have ducked out by that point.  There is still a future of great content to be developed and it will be developed by the real enthusiasts, and perhaps that is the best way it should be.

Future PriceSpy gadget guru?

I have recently been placed in the line up for becoming the UK gadget guru for PriceSpy.  It is currently being put to the vote on Facebook.  As far as voting stakes are going I am currently not in the top running but then neither am I at the bottom.  It is unfortunate that friends and connections can be a bit slow at clicking through to things and on Facebook there is always the problem that nobody wants to give any permissions to a site they’ve never previously heard of.

There are eight of us in the running and we have been told to be ready for interviews up in London next week.  They have also asked to see a piece of our writing, naturally focussed on gadgets/technology.  I am planning to write about the Neo900, which I think is a particularly interesting phone soon to be released that has received hardly any publicity due to its opensource origins.  I am being limited to 500 words so I will not be able to say everything I wish to say; I will therefore be likely to publish the full length impression I have been given of the Neo on here for you to read.  In future of course, if I get the job, I will be writing anything technology based on the pricespy blog primarily.

Pricespy themselves are a Swedish outfit I believe, Prisjakt Svaerige.  Their umbrella company is one of the leading Norwegian media companies so they are not a small outfit.  They have successfully entered a number of European markets but this is apparently the first foray into the British technology world.  It is fairly well known that Norway and Sweden are amongst the most advanced nations on the planet.  The economist has named them as some of the best governed countries in the world.  Things are done differently up there in Scandinavia and even with the distrust of big business I usually have, I must say I would feel far happier working for a Norse/Swedish company than I would for most.

Ultimately I am here blogging to blag for your vote.  I don’t know how many people are likely to read this piece of text but if you do then please go to the UK PriceSpy Gadget Guru voting page on Facebook and put in your vote for Ro Atkinson.

Why the Government like Anonymous

The image and idea of Guy Fawkes has become a romantic concept. The Alan Moore book and subsequent film, V for Vendetta brought the idea of Guy Fawkes as a folk hero into the popular consciousness of the late 20th century. Guido Fawkes, the politics commentator may have had something to do with the character entering our contemporary field of vision. After years of burning Guys in effigy he has suddenly become a hero of those disgruntled with a hypocritical and uncaring government.

It is an image that has been adopted by the group, anonymous. A group whose main feature is given away by their title, anonymous. We don’t know who they are. They could be your next door neighbour; they could be your children; they could be your parents or even your teachers. They could be anyone. They could be the police and they could be government operatives. Just about the only thing that they couldn’t be is an acceptable figure to stand alongside if you are an average person working in an office who dislikes the government’s harsh plans of austerity. In essence, anonymous is the perfect activist group as far as the government is concerned because anyone remotely respectable does not want to be associated with them.

David Cameron has described legitimate protestors against austerity with terms such as ‘feral’. That is certainly how they looked on television to the rest of the country. The reason for this is that the ones in masks are so much more dramatic than the rest of the protestors. Why film those who look like normal everyday people when you can film those who look like characters from the film, V for Vendetta. It makes much better television to film the ones in masks. Not to mention that if anyone is going to be doing anything newsworthy for which imprisonment might be appropriate they will prefer to be in a mask. To the rest of the country observing through their television screens it appears that the only people present are wearing Guy Fawkes masks and smashing windows. It certainly never looks as though the protests are being attended by Bob from the pub, although he might be just out of shot in his tweed jacket, he is simply not newsworthy enough to make it onto television.

What is even better than the fact that normal people are alienated by anonymous is that if nobody turns up and starts vandalising the seat of power it is easy enough to send in anyone in a mask to do the job. If Boris Johnson was in the midst of a protest throwing bricks through the windows of the Supreme court nobody would ever know so long as he had a mask of Guy Fawkes on his face. We would laugh at the fact that someone had turned up in a suit with hair just like Boris’ hair but we would never imagine it was him. Of course I very much doubt that Boris would do such things. Mainly because we know that undercover police have been doing similar things for years. We have seen their confessions of working with activist groups in the newspapers. Why do it yourself when you have plenty of people who will do it for you.

Almost everyone dislikes the austerity measures dreamt up by Mr Osborne with the help of his limited experience and inadequate education. Almost everyone is being impacted negatively by them. Almost everyone would like to protest against them. A lot of people have been protesting against them, not that you would know that with the minimal coverage the television news has given such protests. According to the television news there have been a small group of masked ‘anonymous’ youths causing trouble in the capital. The average man is supposedly far more concerned with the mass influx of that nice couple down the road that own the corner shop taking all our jobs. Or the huge number of terrorists not blowing anything up with anything like the regularity that the IRA did. If only the IRA had been mostly Muslim instead of Catholic; the streets of London would have been far safer in the 70s.

As far as the average person is concerned the only people protesting against the fact that they are being overworked in a horrible job for so little money they can’t afford to pay for taxes and hideously overpriced power bills are ‘feral’ youths in Guy Fawkes masks. Therefore poverty, misery and hunger are obviously not the sort of thing that average people are complaining about. We will just put up with them because it is obviously natural justice that slogging our guts out all week should only just allow us to stay alive while inflicting all this misery on us while sitting in a gold throne is obviously far more worthy of an obscene income.

The government knows full well that we are not going to like what they are doing at the moment. They know better than we ourselves know. They are privy to the kind of information that they are trying to keep hidden from us. As far as we are concerned perhaps there is only a small group of people who are really bothered by this austerity. We are divided sufficiently to stop us putting the pieces together too easily. With the knowledge that there is a disgruntled population, the most pressing need the government has is to keep us all quiet. Anyone who remembers the miners’ strikes knows how uncomfortable things can get when the people are unhappy. The friend of the government throughout all of this is ironically Guy Fawkes. As long as people are wearing the visage of this valorous visitation of bygone vexation they may indeed be the vestige of the vox populi but they may also be the very venal and virulent vermin they vow to vanquish. What we need is not the veneer of vanity of a vaudevillian veteran. What we need now is for ordinary, average people with ordinary average faces to say ‘it is US that dislikes these cuts’.

A journalistic career

I would imagine that a lot of people blogging on wordpress or blogger or wherever probably harbour hopes of becoming a journalist.  This is a fine and noble profession.  At least it is if it is done correctly.  The protector of free speech and the exposer of corruption is one of the most important people in a functioning liberal democracy.  Why else would dictators and other trouble makers around the world imprison them and punish them for letting the world know what is going on?  When journalists put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, camera to eye then the dictators know that they are soon going to have to start giving some thought to human rights and justice because the people are going to start hearing about them and they will eventually take action if they are being wronged.  Naturally the journalist does not have a great time throughout a lot of this mistreatment.

 

In everyday life away from battle zones and horror the journalist’s life is not a great deal easier.  Naturally there are some journalists who will spend their time simply sitting in an office interpreting the latest feeds from Reuters; they are just another bunch of office workers, like the rest of the slaves of the personal computer.  Those who need to go out and source the news though do not have a good time.  If you want to become a journalist, as many of you will then you really need to consider if it is the right move for you.

 

I decided to move in that direction many years ago and applied to study journalism at degree level because the normal thing to do when you wish to enter a field is to get a degree.  Of course if you then decide the field is not for you then you have wasted three years of your life getting a useless degree.  I escaped in the first year and transfered to law because I realised that the kind of journalist the degree course was for was the kind of journalist who would be working at the bottom level on the local newspapers around the country.  It is probable that journalism is indeed a highly competitive area to enter.  However everyone needs a milkman or supermarket checkout operator now and then but most people get by without journalists to a great extent even though society itself depends upon them.  Despite the limited number of places available it is unlikely that there will be a great number of people to fill the places because a lot of people will point blank not wish to do it.  Of those who do it there will be a lot who do not do it very well and of those who might wish to do it and might even be skilled at it they may not have the stomach for it.

 

My degree course had a number of modules in the obvious practical skills of copy writing, shorthand, page layout, etc; but the thing where it is easy to fall down on is actually getting the stories.  If you can’t do that then you are little more than a secretary.  Parts of the degree required finding random people in the street for voxpops, i.e. hearing the voice of the people, the vox populi.  This is tricky if you are shy but not as bad as death knocks.  Thankfully there was little opportunity for tutors to send the students out to do this but they made it clear that in a lot of instances the place to get a story was at the front door of grieving families who had just suffered a horrific loss.

 

Despite having left the degree to move onto another course it is plainly obvious from the fact that I am writing here that I have not abandoned the idea of publishing the written word for the public to read.  I did learn a lot on my degree, although I believe in ignoring most of it, and I do always carry a camera for potential journalistic use.  This evening I encountered a situation that a journalist on a local newspaper will at some point be forced to face that would make them wish they were on a battlefield bringing out the truth about the psychotic dictator who would probably be locking them in a dungeon next week.  It was a situation that my wife had had to face a few times in her own time working on the local newspaper as a photojournalist.  A serious traffic accident.

 

My training told me that this was a situation that needed to be reported.  The bystanders who were watching attested to the interest that the public had.  An entire section of the road around Cirencester was shut off this Sunday evening with the attendance of more police cars than I have ever seen in one place in Cirencester.  The air ambulance appeared to have been called as there was a helicopter hovering above.  There were also a number of ordinary ambulances parked alongside.  It was difficult to see how much damage had been done because the area was so busy.  There were far too many blue flashing lights to be able to see clearly from a distance.  Certainly too many lights to allow a camera to take a photo from a distance.

 

Part of the training on a journalism degree is about the importance that the news should be reported.  Just as there is importance in reporting a battlezone or a court case there is importance in reporting a road accident, especially one that looked as major as this evening’s.  If road accidents were not reported then people wouldn’t realise the importance of road safety and the result would be more road accidents.  Driving into Cheltenham this morning my wife mentioned the danger on the particular stretch of road we were using.  I had never had any idea of the danger there before and had always travelled down there as fast as I liked.  According to my wife there had been about eight fatalities on that stretch of road in the last four years.  If people read about this then they would not travel fast; they would take care; there would be fewer fatalities.  I never travelled down there thinking it could be the last thing I ever did.  I went down there like a bat out of hell without a care in the world.  My wife said the tendency was to report the story in a tiny little paragraph that barely anyone ever saw or remembered.

 

If people read these stories and remembered them then people would make sure to be more careful on that stretch of road and they would not get killed.  The journalist could save those lives.  Why was it that the story took such a small space?  Largely because there were never enough photos to make it an important front page piece.

 

I found myself this evening in Cirencester with a camera in my hand and a major road accident.  I don’t think there were any fatalities but the accident was definitely of the kind of magnitude to make for the kind of spectacular pictures that would get a story put around them that people would read and remember; the kind of story that would make people take care on that stretch of road.

 

I couldn’t do it.  If I had been a jobbing journalist I would not have been able to do my job.  My wife told me that she had only had to do it three times; it was the kind of job that no one wanted to do.  It made me feel sick to even think about taking photos of what was a horrific and extremely personal moment for the people in that crash.  The police were there keeping the situation under control and the paramedics were there making sure the victims survived.  I have just explained that the journalist would be saving lives too, but that is not how it looks, nor is it how it feels.  The journalist just looks as though he has taken rubbernecking to a professional level, a vulture making a living off the misfortune of the wounded.  In that moment I would far rather have been under fire taking photos of scenes of carnage in Afghanistan, at least there would be some heroism in that.  My wife had been here before, she suggested a better spot from which photos could be taken.  I told her ‘no.  Let’s go.  This makes me feel ill.’

If you want to become a journalist then be aware that a journalism degree is not going to make you into a journalist.  The degree will teach you the side of the job that you don’t want to know.  If you write, then the way to do it is to just focus on the thing that drives you and get into that.  Some people will be driven by the desire to report the news but those people are few and far between.  Most publications are magazines and most writers are interested in writing for those magazines.  Just be aware that a journalism degree is not going to focus on that kind of journalism.  It is for the all rounders and it will teach you the murkiest harshest side of the career.  Make sure that is what you want if you are going to apply.  And remember, if you do get the degree it still won’t guarantee you the job.

How to change the world

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  I have stolen the beginning of a tale of two cities from Dickens because it is more appropriate now than ever.  I shall also be stealing the concern that Dickens had for social reform.  We often look back on the Victorian era as being a dark and oppressive time.  This is partly due to looking at it through the work of writers like Dickens.  Ironically it is also partially due to the spotlight on the failings of society provided by his work that led to this era being massively progressive.  There was a massive amount of change during the 19th century as prisons were reformed, working conditions were reformed and the law in general began to recognise a respect for human life.

It is a constant theme throughout history that change will always upset the people it affects.  The 20th and 21st centuries have seen even more change than the 19th due to the explosion of modern manufacturing techniques.  In many ways now is indeed the best of times, but as my opening line suggests it is also the worst of times in many ways.  We are technologically more advanced than at any other time in history but this has been at a cost.

The business techniques that have allowed us to have such massive growth are focussed on growth.  The corporations grew up as a solution to how such large scale projects as national railways could be completed when they were so far beyond the financial strength of the average business person.  Within the legislation that supports the setting up of corporations is a statutory mandate to seek profit and the benefit of the shareholders.  Despite recent attempts to mitigate this primary directive through concern for broader societal impacts, the dependence that corporations have had on legislative backing to aid their main aim  has led to anything other than legal rules being ignored where this aim is not supported.  As a result it has been recognised for some time that humanity is beginning to learn the Gordon Gekko mantra, “Greed is good.”

Although there is much to be said on the failing of ethics in modern business, this is not my intention with this post.  I think that by now the vast majority of intelligent people are well aware of the ethical tightrope walking that is practised by company boards.  Even those who are not intelligent or are not regular readers of the daily news must recognise the precarious positions they are being placed in by the way in which these large companies are affecting their lives.  Jobs are disappearing, wages are dropping, land is being eaten up, towns are dying.  Even those who might be lucky enough to live in wild countryside paradises may have been able to see that there are fewer insects than there once were, and fewer birds.  Even stranded in the middle of the Pacific ocean it is hard to miss the effects of a failing business model when you are surrounded by a floating pack of discarded rubbish the size of a country.

My intention is to talk about a solution to all these problems.  One thing is certain, our politicians have failed us.  With each successive government we see them ever more bowing to the wishes of the corporations.  Every government is so afraid that trade will leave their shores and instead give their wealth to international neighbours that they will allow the companies to get away with almost anything.  In addition to this a disaffected and disillusioned public is given little choice in the politicians who may next be given control.  Largely homogenous groups of MPs parade through parliament trying to make things better rapidly enough to prove they are the ones for the job before the next election date.  Unfortunately they have little power over companies big enough to buy their own countries so the focus of the legislative posturing is the behaviour of the people.  Even more unfortunately the behaviour of the people is a result of the interaction the people have with the companies.  In essence, the companies are creating changes that are producing negative effects amongst the populace.  The governments are treating the symptoms, not the causes, and the result is the deterioration of life for individuals.

We may be gaining massive benefits from the progress of technological development but at the same time we are losing freedoms that have been enshrined in British law since the Magna Carta; that go back almost as far as time immemorial.  Politicians even wish to knock back positive gains in human rights that have only been gained in the last 50 years.  If changes are holding back the agenda of profit then they are changes that are slated for reversal.

The majority of people feel helpless against the behemoth that is politics, law and business.  This is with good reason; the last millennium has been a lesson in the futility of standing up against them.  There have been gains in the past.  The revolutions of England, France and America wrought massive change.  There are even some who speak of revolution now.  Such a course of action is unlikely in the conventional sense.  Despite the hardships we have to face we are supplied with the things we need to keep us docile.  Television, the drug of the nation keeps many people far too busy to protest.  Where this is not effective we are beginning to see growing legalisation of marijuana across the United States.  I wonder if it can be just coincidence that this sedating substance, so very much favoured by many protestors I have met, is being made available to them at just such a time as it seems vigilance and energy are more important than ever.  Social engineering is often looked upon as a technique of conmen and hackers but it is also the tool of governments and corporations to keep populations on side and to make their own brands appear to be of value.

Despite the failing of democracy and the futility of revolt there is a way that is open to us to effect change.  The arrival of computers and the internet mean that direct action of the sort advocated by green peace or more darkly, anonymous, are not necessary.  All the actions that are carried out by the companies are in a manner of speaking truly democratic.  The big corporations are only there because we, the people, have allowed them to be.  It is us who have provided them with their wealth.  It is us who have observed their business models and decided that purchasing their products is something that we wish to do.   It is us who have said that the way in which they conduct business is acceptable.  It is us who can stop paying them if we decide that the way in which they conduct business is not acceptable.

In our traditional conception of democracy we might have made our vote for a better world by voting for certain politicians but the politicians themselves feel powerless to change the world when they have to bow to corporate demands.  That traditional conception was developed in a world before the internet and before instant communications.  We could not have known the details about what we were voting for.  We simply voted for someone we trusted to get the job done and then hoped that they had the inside knowledge to get the job done.  The internet now allows us to uncover the information for ourselves.  The only way that we can really change things for the better with greatest rapidity is to start doing this and to start voting with our money.

There was recently a worldwide protest against capitalism that swept across the globe through many capital cities.  The most that a lot of people heard about this was a paragraph on the BBC news website.  When it comes to the drama of public protest there is a tendency by the media to ignore it these days.  There is so much protest that there is lower news value in publicising anything that isn’t truly spectacular.  There may also be other reasons behind the scenes why it might suit news corporations to keep the protests quiet.  Protestors are portrayed as trouble makers, hippies, punks, anarchists, anonymous.  All the negative buzzwords are used to show protestors up as being something other than normal people.  Normal people therefore wish to distance themselves from these groups.  This does not mean that normal people do not share the same concerns.  The way in which the normal people can make their wishes known is to reward the companies when they get it right.  Shop politically.

I do not like the idea of boycotts.  They are a lot of effort for a start and can endanger the welfare of all those who rely on that particular company’s trade.  I do think that it is possible to make a change for the better in the world just by making slightly different choices when in the supermarket.  This is largely achieved already as people avoid the GM crops and buy more of the organic or whatever their concern is at the time.  The problem is the lack of transparency around the activities of the companies.  It is a shame that the newspapers are so wrapped up with other important issues like Chantelle’s latest diet because it is here where reportage is of greatest importance.  Companies would soon change their behaviour if they found that it was ceasing to be profitable.  They are like the genie in the bottle; they will give us what we wish but we must be careful what we wish for.

With that said, I am now going to go and find out whose products I should be buying and whose I shouldn’t if I am to bring my kids up in a world where they have a chance of a healthy and happy life.

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