Treatment of poisoning by amanita

Today I shall maybe saving the life of someone you know.  I might be saving your life but I assume that if you have the kind of mind that doesn’t mind wading through my writing then you are probably capable of making sure you don’t need saving.  Or if you are going to be killed then it will be by some means that I have no power to save you from.

 

I read today of one of the country’s first mushroom fatalities of the year.  Reportedly the culprit was amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom.  The coroner passed a verdict of misadventure saying that there was nothing that could have been done, even had she been taken directly to hospital at the first indication of trouble.  The woman affected was very ill and there was no transplant organ available to replace the damaged one.

 

This struck me as being a somewhat political verdict.  Admittedly amanitas are fatal a lot of the time and admittedly there is very little knowledge about how their harm may be prevented.  However I felt the verdict was largely to protect the doctor that had been consulted at first instance.  Most doctors will probably never come across a case of amanita poisoning and if they do it is probable they will never do so again.  Due to this it is hardly surprising that most cases end in death.  There are a few treatments that are beginning to come to light but our ability to find more is probably scuppered by the fact that people rather sensibly do not eat all that many death cap mushrooms.

 

The first is that proposed by Doctor Bastien which has been used with a remarkable level of success since 1957 on the continent.  Dr Bastien has even had so much faith in his technique as to consume fatal quantities of amatoxins on two separate occasions in order to prove that it works.

 

“The treatment consists of giving, as soon as possible, intravenous vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 3 g/d, oral nifuroxazide 1200 mg/d and-dihydrostreptomycin 1500 mg/d. The three drugs are administered for 3 days during which time carrot broth is the only source of nutrition.  At the anti-toxic centres in France this treatment is combined with ‘the indispensable reequilibration of fluids and electrolytes and a course of penicillin.”

 

Beyond the mention of vitamin C I have little idea of what the substances are, but the important thing to remember is that this treatment appears to do the trick.  So much so that Dr Bastien is prepared to risk his life to prove it.

 

The second treatment is one which seems far more likely to become available in England.  The principle involved is that when the amatoxins enter the system they are processed by the liver, which is damaged by their presence.  The liver passes the amatoxins back out into the bloodstream but sadly some time later they once again enter the liver to try and finish off the damage they earlier began.  The only way out of this cycle is to have faith in the kidneys.  The kidneys have the ability to actually send the amatoxins out of the system so they can no longer do any harm.  The problem is that in order for the kidneys to do their job they need to be kept sufficiently hydrated.  The process is so lengthy that they often become dehydrated and death results.  The primary part of this treatment is therefore to keep the kidney’s hydrated.  In order to do this just make sure you get enough water.  Sadly many hospital treatments that are tried before the hospital realises what is going on will lead to further dehydration, e.g. pumping the stomach, which is ineffectual anyway as the poison has already moved on if it is causing damage.

 

The second part of the treatment is a substance called silibinin.  This is given intravenously and has the effect of maintaining the liver during this trialling time.  The substance is originally obtained from the milk thistle plant, silybum marianum, so if it is not possible to get to a  hospital on time then that would have to be your last/first resort as an alternative to being given medication.  Whatever happens always maintain your water intake to give as much support to your kidneys as possible.


There are other options such as plasmapheresis to cleanse your blood or an organ transplant if things have gone that far, which they do, very rapidly.  The most important and obvious way to avoid any complications though is to never eat any death caps, destroying angels, or galeriana’s.  If you do discover that you have been unlucky enough to have done so then make sure that before anything else you tell the doctor of this suspicion because these poisonings are rare and it is unlikely your doctor will realise this is what is ailing you if he is not told of the possibility.

The concept of default votes for absentee voters

After yesterday’s election there are a lot of disappointed people.  On account of the failings in our first past the post system the number of people who are disappointed are considerably more than half of those who voted.  Fortunately there are a great many people who are pleased with the result.  Unfortunately a large number of those are only pleased because they got the party their father taught them to vote for or their newspaper told them to vote for.  In the long run it is probable that many people who currently feel pleased will be badly affected by the outcome of the election.  Fortunately the lack of understanding of politics and economics that led to their choice will further shield them from knowledge that they have merely been pawns at the hands of the true beneficiaries.

 

However, having spoken to a small number of people I have come to the conclusion that anyone who is interested enough to be reading this, i.e. anyone who pays the slightest attention to politics, anyone who voted yesterday, is going to be supported far better by the change in government than they currently feel.  The reason I say this is that having spoken to people who didn’t vote because they weren’t interested or didn’t have the time I was horrified at the irony that they were also the people who I would have considered to be most likely to be badly affected by the proposals of the new government.

 

Of course politics is about looking after society as a whole, not simply looking out for one’s own self, no matter how much the government seem to be giving the opposite impression.  We should not breathe a sigh of relief that of all the people who live in the country we are probably going to fall into the group which will not be so badly affected by the next five years of governance.  However, if one considers the natural bell curve on which all phenomena seem so easily to fall it is probable that in most natural systems one would expect a few to do extremely well out of any system, a few to do extremely badly out of any system and everyone else to fall somewhere in the middle.  The zenith of the curve will vary in thickness and may float towards the left or the right but if you are on the side of benefitting well then you will know it well.  If you are on the side of being taken advantage of by the world around you then you will not be reading this, you will not have any idea it is happening, you will not even know that you could have done anything different to change it.

 

The rest of us who float in the middle will be experiencing varying levels of fortune from our situation but we all have one thing in common.  Our actions are worth worrying about to those who seek power.  As voters, or even as people who simply think about speak about politics we are the one’s who can make or break careers.  It may not feel like it because individually we are as powerful as a single ant in a colony, but as a group we are a force that needs to be appeased.  Those who did not vote because they did not know who to vote for, or because they did not have the time, or did not care wield less political power than a single ant, even when grouped together as a cross section of society.  Those in power do not care how they feel about the results of policy because those in power know that they will never be part of the defining force that takes the effort to change things.

 

A lot of the rest of us feel like history has taken a turn against us today, but we only think this because we have the intellect to think about the way things are going, and the understanding to be able to hope for better; we also have the wit to look after ourselves if the situation turns against us.  Those who do not possess these qualities, who do not have the wit to look after their political interests, who do not have the sensitivity or understanding to fear the future that now looms are the only ones who need really fear the future.

 

Just like we may be inclined to leave the hallway light on because we consider that tiny trickle of electricity to be negligible in its effect on climate change, the non voters consider their vote to be of no consequence.  They feel that they can’t change things so they don’t try.  All politicians seem equally corrupt to those who do not follow politics, even though the chances of complete equality of corruption would be more unlikely than the natural occurrence of perfect spheres.  I do not wish to make arguments as to why a single vote is important; that has been done many times before.  Instead I propose a different manner in which votes might be envisaged in order to motivate those who do not make the effort.

 

Russell Brand has done a great deal to lead to further disenfranchisement of vulnerable groups by urging people to avoid voting.  The result will have been many people simply not registering or not turning up to a polling station.  Better advice might have been to turn up but only offer spoilt ballots.  That much would be counted, and large numbers would be every bit as influential as a vote for a losing candidate.  The only votes that actually do anything under our current electoral system are those which actually push a candidate above his competition.  All the others simply offer an indication of how the rest of the public are thinking and feeling.  In that respect a spoilt ballot speaks volumes.  In many instances it speaks more loudly than any other losing vote.  If I could go back and take yesterday’s vote again I might be tempted to write a treatise on electoral reform rather than putting an x beside my preferred candidate.

 

At present the number of votes for all the separate candidates are counted and considered, as are those spoilt ballots.  What are not read out are the number of people in that constituency who could not be bothered, or did not understand the system.  As none of  those votes had any influence to prevent the winning candidate taking their place in parliament they may as well have been considered to be votes for the winning candidate.  After all if you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that your choice would get voted in whether you turned up or not then there is an argument that you might be able to spend your time more effectively, but only if it was a 100% certainty.  My proposal is that once the winning candidate has been chosen then every abstention by inaction should be considered to be a vote for that winning candidate.

 

Such votes might not be considered to add to the members majority but they should be used to be illustrative on charts of how much influence was wasted.  Those who felt it wasn’t important enough to take the effort should not be allowed the easy path of losing their right to complain during the next 5 years, they should have it imposed that their choice not to vote was a positive vote for the actual result.  In essence every non vote would be considered to be a default vote for whoever won in that constituency.


If charts were presented that contained the number of votes a party received, the number of seats they achieved and also the number of default votes that led to their election then it could lead to a new understanding of our duties in elections.  I would not insist that all voters must accept one of the candidates on offer, but I would insist that those who do not wish to choose any of the candidates should at least try to make the effort to turn up and put something into the box to at least prove that their reason for choosing none of the above is not because they were too busy sitting in the pub or pursuing equivalent avenues of amusement.

Fixing the housing crisis

A couple of posts back I offered some essential ideas on how to go about seeing that the economy is repaired.  Naturally that is a large task so I could really only skirt around one particular issue, which I suppose could be summarised as making work pay, if I wished it to be in soundbite form.  Today I plan to offer a partial solution to the housing crisis that Britain is currently experiencing.  I say partial because, on the one hand, it is a very large housing crisis, on the other hand there are a number of other supplemental solutions which will also be of use in ensuring there is enough housing for people.

 

There are those who say that the housing crisis could be dramatically reduced by simply making sure that all the unused property is put into use.  There are derelict and condemned buildings all over the place, as well as commercial properties that are out of use where the land could be repurposed.  I don’t think that the problem could begin to be dealt with by derelict buildings alone, I also think that if we solved a lot of our other problems then we would need those commercial properties.  Once there are more homes so that fewer people are losing their wages by paying extortionate rents there could be a far greater ability for ordinary people to invest in making use of those commercial properties to supply goods that will become more affordable in the absence of extortionate rents.  Although there are obviously some economic advantages in employing people and buying materials for developing these sites it is an economic disaster to knock down and rebuild every few decades.  Not to mention those same people and materials could be far more efficiently by putting up extra buildings in previously unused locations.

 

Of course that is where the objections start to spring up.  It is the threat of new developments on previously unused locations.  That is what gets protestors building treehouses and digging tunnels.  Our biodiversity has suffered dramatically over the last few hundred years of the industrial revolution, sometimes fast enough for us to sit up and take notice, but usually so slowly that we don’t even realise it is happening.  Having grown up in Devon I am used to living in the countryside and walking through woodlands, or wading in rivers.  Devon is after all the countryside wilderness of England.  However if someone from Devon ever spends any time in Scotland it quickly becomes apparent that there is a homogeneity to the flora of Devon that is an obvious mark of humanity’s impact on the environment.

 

There are still areas in the south of England where the wilderness reigns.  If you leave the main roads and the towns, taking a route down narrow windy lanes, it is not long before you can find wild meadows full of masses of different plants and flowers.  Despite the time I spend in the countryside and my efforts to learn about obscure plants like Bugle, Jack in the Hedge, Stinkhorn mushrooms, etc, I was surprised to find a plant that I had simply never seen before growing in a field near my home.  When building houses it is obvious that plants will be replaced by buildings but as the lack of houses is damaging our ability to live happy productive lives we are left in little choice.  It must therefore be considered which places are most appropriate to avoid as much environmental damage as possible.  This includes how much extra pollution might result from increasing a local population and how much use of local infrastructure with its knock-on effects of diminishing the comfort of locals, increasing danger for other road users, raising costs of road repair, etc.

 

In addition to preventing these negative side effects of increased housing it is also reasonably important to upset as few people as possible.  I say reasonably because if one paid attention to the way in which modern politicians dealt with these issues one would think that nothing can be done if there is any danger that it might upset anyone whatsoever.  You might also look at what they achieve and think that nothing is done.  Politicians get into office and then when they leave office years later they realise they have squandered their opportunity and done almost none of the things they originally intended.  It is obvious that someone is going to get upset about almost everything, if only because there are some people who make a sport out of getting upset about things.  Some journalists make a career out of it, even though they don’t really care at all, usually because they are twisting the facts so much that the upsetting news bears little relation to reality.  Fortunately if you make a decisions based on logically avoiding as much damage as possible and increasing the greatest benefit possible then this becomes less of a problem.  Unfortunately decisions are often made according to the whims of corporate sponsors and other less than transparent inputs.

 

In order that extra housing complies with as many of the conditions I have mentioned above the most sensible place to put it is where it is closest to the main thoroughfares that provide routes to work for the people living in the housing.  If you put a housing estate on the quiet side of a town then that might be very pleasant for those living there, it might even command a higher price (pleasant for those selling the houses, or renting them out) but it will lead to massive amounts of traffic heading towards the best roads for commuting.  If the commuting roads of the residents are on the quiet side of town then very quickly the quiet side of town stops being so quiet; the quiet local roads become over congested and dangerous.  If the commuting roads are, as is more likely, on the busier side of town where the local dual carriageway/motorway is then anyone who needs to commute to the nearest large towns will first have to contribute to the morning clogging up of traffic in their own town’s rush hour before they hit the larger roads to make their commute.  Naturally the same applies for returning home in the evening, with the result that the town becomes busy, noisy, dusty, and polluted.  In this modern era it is probable that a large number of people will be seeking to travel on these larger roads.

 

If housing is put on the side of the town where the dual carriageway/motorway lies then this extra weight on the infrastructure of the town is avoided, possible with reduced need for the building of an additional bypass in the future.  Additionally placing housing estates near the roundabouts where access to these large routes can be made, will result in massive reduction in use of fossil fuels by commuters as they no longer need to sit in traffic jams to negotiate the narrow roads leading to the dual carriageways.  There will be economic benefit as more workers will be inclined to accept jobs at businesses that are now easier to reach because the commute will be shorter.  Those businesses will therefore find it much easier to find more suitable staff; they will not need to make do with the local pool of talent and the few who make the effort to go through an arduous commute, they will have the addition of the many who will be prepared to go through a far less arduous commute.

 

Environmentally we already see a benefit from reducing those fossil fuels but there is of course the problem of direct damage by building on the countryside.  The one thing that all access roads for dual carriageways and motorways have in common is that any such environmental damage has already been conducted during the twentieth century.  Protestors have already tried to stop these roads being built and having failed the countryside has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.  The trees have been cut down, bulldozers have churned up the rare flowers, badgers and deer have largely fled into more secluded country areas, litter is thrown daily from the windows of cars, and there is a lot of noise from passing vehicles.  People do not go to these places to enjoy the countryside anymore.  One might argue that they would also be less pleasant places to live but there are many people who already live alongside such roads and there are solutions such as fences and double glazing.

In addition it also reduces the potential cost of the homes, making them far more suitable for first time buyers, and far less suitable for farming.  Besides if we all got to live in the nicest places then there wouldn’t be any more nice places.  This way all those hidden country meadows remain intact.


To anyone that has read the previously mentioned blog on fixing the economy there will be obvious connections between the matter written here and the matter in that.  As I have said, that blog was not fully concluded because it is such a large subject.  This approach to solving the housing problems we face is another piece in the puzzle of how to make things better.  This approach is probably not suitable for all areas either.  It is likely that many local councils have already taken the opportunity to see that housing is built with easy access to the country’s main roads systems.  There are also many councils who are still having a great deal of difficulty in deciding where they should put homes to fill the quota being demanded from politicians above them.  There are areas of outstanding natural beauty where there are few options.  In some of those areas this is an options that may not have been considered, or may be being debated at present.  The solution written above is offered for those areas.

How to avoid back pain when gardening. Why don’t people do this?

It recently occurred to me that there is a very easy way to avoid back pain when gardening which no one had ever thought to tell me.  After looking at a dozen or so websites I began to wonder if the idea had actually ever occurred to anyone else.  Despite spending what felt like a considerable length of time reading through the top search results on google I largely came across the same sort of advice, none of which included what now seems obvious to me.  It is almost as though the people giving advice had never actually done any gardening themselves.  Certainly the advice on offer is good advice but it seems as though everyone is just spouting the same wisdom that has been around for decades and no-one has made the link between gardening and modern techniques for preventing muscle damage.

 

The typical advice you will see is stuff that is worth doing along with the advice that I will offer you because any one piece of advice can always be helped by adding a little more positive advice.  Obviously you want to take a break when you get too worn otherwise you will find yourself doing more damage in the long run.  However, if you have a lot of space that needs digging or weeding then taking a break as often as you need might not be an option that you will appreciate.  Luckily I have worked out how to prolong the period before you are likely to be bothered by back pain.  In fact I have personally discovered that I end up having to stop out of exhaustion before the back pain gets to me, which feels like quite a feat considering how much my back used to hurt in the past.

 

Naturally you should make sure not to do your gardening without warming up first, and you should avoid letting cold breezes blow on your back.  So many times I have been absolutely fine until the point the wind blows and I have been hit by agony.  One tip that I particularly liked the look of is the use of a gardening apron that works something like a weight lifter’s belt to hold your back in shape.  I thought that was quite original.  Likewise I read a great deal of advice about bending knees when lifting and making sure to use the right size tools for your body shape, whether that be using a small spade or a long handled spade.  But nowhere did I see any mention of balance.

 

The way to avoid back pain when gardening that no one seems to have realised is to focus on maintaining a balance in the way you use your muscles.  Anyone who spends time in the gym working on weights knows the importance of balance.  In fact one of the main reasons that people progress to using weights instead of exercise machines is to maintain this sort of balance.  The problem with the machines is that they force you to continue exercising your muscles in a very rigid fixed manner whereas free weights allow your muscles to move in a far more natural way.  Gardening lies somewhere between these two.  On the one hand you are able to move in a manner which is far more natural as you are not tied into such a rigid pattern of motion as an exercise machine, but on the other hand people tend to enforce a repetitive pattern of motion on themselves anyway.  By escaping the repetitivity and lack of balance you will quickly find that instead of pulling your back out of place you will begin to pull it back into place.

 

My tendency when digging is to stand on my left leg and then use my right leg to push the spade into the ground.  I then apply pressure on the spade handle by pushing it down on my left hand side, before bracing and lifting the spade with the strength of my right arm whilst balancing the weight with my left arm.  Often the only additional advice that would be offered is to make sure that you do that lifting with the aid of your knees.  The problem with this is that after you have done a few dozen repetitions you start to feel your back aching and you have to stop for a break and stretch out your spine.  This is caused as you have some muscles getting tired more quickly than their corresponding muscles on the opposite side of your body.  My first thought was that this could be helped by exercising all your muscle groups in the gym.  That certainly helps to a degree because it does help to build up an energy store and create muscles that are far less easy to tire out, but most gardeners are too busy in the garden to waste time going to the gym.  It also does not prevent the imbalance that is the root of the problem, it merely delays it.

 

The technique that I developed was simply to swap my spade wielding hand every 5-10 repetitions.  When doing this I immediately found that I was exhausting both sides of my body at an equal rate.  This prevented the usual back pains because I no longer had one side with strong fresh muscles pulling on my spine and pelvis while the other side with tired worn out muscles was feeling to weak to pull back.  The sensation of making this swap felt unnatural at first.  As a right handed digger I had to try and teach my body a new trick.  It was a bit like learning to play pool or snooker with my left hand instead of my right hand, a trick that Ronnie O’Sullivan has used in the past and seemingly amazed the commentators with.  It immediately made a difference as it felt as though the aches were actually being pulled out of my be the usually troublesome opposing muscles.

 

Having tried this with digging I then decided that it would be a good idea to use the same technique with trowel weeding.  Many people overcome the problem of imbalance when weeding by putting both knees on the ground at the same time.  The difficulty this causes is that you then become far less mobile.  My tendency is to put my right knee on the ground so I started to alternate by putting my left knee on the ground.  Surprisingly this was far more difficult for me than alternating my digging stance.  When descending towards the ground my body tried to continue doing things as it always had and it we tricky adjusting the way in which I knelt whilst in descent.  As I became more adept at alternating my knees when weeding I began to discover the pain in my hips was far reduced as well as the pain in my knee and if I was picking up something I had unrooted with a spade or a fork I also found that the arm which continued to hold the spade/fork upright felt far less pain as well.


So it is as simple as that.  I am now far more able to dig for far longer without back pain.  In addition to reduced back pain I have also discovered that the energy I have available for digging is also increased due to using the abilities of twice the muscles.  It seems so obvious when you think about it but it is that initial habit of doing it in the one way that is hard to overcome.  It does feel unnatural when first trying it, a bit like juggling or rubbing your tummy whilst patting your head, but if you stick with it you will find that you will be able to do far more gardening work with far less effort.  You will feel far less back pain and you will no doubt be able to continue gardening into a far more advanced age.  This may also have knock on effects to maintain health into older age both through the exercise and the chance to continue eating your lovely homegrown greens.

Fixing the economy

It is no secret that the government depends largely on taxes in order to finance its management of the country.  Even if things were massively stripped back as is proposed by William Hague and his colleagues there would still be a need for large amounts of money just for simple administration and political process, let alone welfare, health, ordefence.  At present there are a number of problems with trying to raise funds through taxation.  Firstly there are a huge number of people who pay hardly any taxes at all.  I do not mean the wealthy and large businesses who can afford to employ clever accountants and tax lawyers.  I am referring to those who earn so little that their wages are not high enough for them to pay tax, or only a little tax if any.  For those at this poorer end of society the idea of paying taxes is simply not feasible because if they did have taxes imposed on them they simply wouldn’t be able to afford to pay them.  For those who are a little better off and earn enough to become a target for the tax collectors the payment of taxes is a great weight to bear; the demands of their lifestyles, living in areas where they can get higher paid work or the expense of commuting mean that they are barely better off than those who do not earn enough to pay taxes.

The idea of fraudulent benefit claimants has been used as an explanation for the lack of money in public coffers, as has the idea of families that have lived from generation to generation wholly dependent on benefits.  It has been stated over and over again that these actually represent a tiny minority of those who are supported by the welfare system.  In reality it is largely ordinary working people who are being helped out by the welfare system.  One figure I recently read showed that the majority of housing benefit claims brought out during a one year period had been claimed by families which would have been considered to be middle class by most people.  During the time when I was lecturing in London a large part of my income was from tax credits rather than my wages.  My employer tried to claim that I was self employed in order that I should also have to pay taxes out of my wage.  Luckily one of the subjects on which I lectured was employment law otherwise I would be bankrupt at the moment.  Despite this a very English tendency towards fair play might have prevented me taking advantage of this if my employer had not also fully agreed with the principles on which I relied to argue my position.

Unfortunately it seems the vast majority of us are in a similar position, child benefits, disability payments, income support between jobs and housing benefit when rents are simply too high.  On the one hand we fear our country’s economy collapsing but on the other hand almost all of us are reliant on our country’s generosity to maintain our meager standard of living.  We want spending on education, welfare, health, etc cut, but at the same time we need spending on these things to be increased in order to maintain the living standards that we consider to be adequate, or in some cases, humane.

While we pay taxes from our earnings we receive them back in various payouts.  Our real tax payments are probably far less in many cases once our income is adjusted in this way.  So we have a government reliant on taxes, yet the vast majority of people pay little or no tax, even receiving benefits as tax in reverse.  This does not work for anyone.  It does not work for those wealthy enough as to be paying large taxes and receiving no benefits.  It does not work for those receiving a demeaning pittance that barely allows them to eat and live.  It does  not work for those who are working furiously hard to keep themselves above water.  It does not work for companies who are relying on the public to have money to buy their goods.

It might seem somewhat contrary to say it works for no one.  After all there is plainly a lot of wealth around.  It must work for someone.  There are of course individuals who will be doing well out of any situation but well is always relative according to the context within which these individuals find themselves.  The feudal system of medieval England appeared to benefit those who lived in large castles with tapestries on the wall and roaring fires over which they roasted whole cows.  However, that is only in the context of the era.  It might be argued that they could not have had the same level of luxury in medieval England as we have in the modern day but progress is not just the invention of technological devices, progress is also political and social reform.  If those feudal lords had cared less for their own personal comfort and had instead tried to increase the educational standards of their serfs then things would have been different.  If they had focussed on trying to make the lives of their serfs better then they would have had a healthierwork forcewho would have been better able to produce more wealth from the land around them.  Admittedly we didn’trealisein those days that education and health could reap benefits broad enough to change the world but today we have the advantage of knowing that these things can change societies.  We have the benefit of having seen it happen.  Yet we still fail to put great enough investment in because we have given over our whole societies to a fatally flawed faith in the wisdom of money makers acting in their own interest.

The free market is one simple idea.  One idea that could have come from the head on one man, yet an idea on which most of humankind is relying to achieve a better future for us all.  It is an idea that works, at least it works in certain contexts and certain environments with certain variables.  Similarlymarxismworks in certain contexts and environments with certain variables.  Religion works in certain contexts and environments with certain variables.  Rather unfairly they are popularly derided now while the free market ideal is theflavourof the day.  In their time they were ideas that were very useful for those in power to build and maintain their power.  This is yet another parallel they share with the free market.  The lesson to be learned is that circumstances change.  The great thing about government is that regulation deals with changing circumstance.  The ludicrous thing about government is that overwhelming faith in the idea of the free market leads to the idea that regulation should be reduced as much as possible.

If the free market was a cathedral then regulation would be the buttresses.  Any builder can tell you that the ideaof building a cathedral of greater purity and majesty to tower above all other cathedrals is not going to be helped by removing the buttresses that marr its purity.  You may end up with smoother greater expanses on the walls but only for so long as the walls remain standing before they fall.  Nowadays we are so used to the idea of buttresses on a cathedral that we consider them to be part of the beauty and part of the design but when they were first conceived they were a compromise to hold the buildings up against gravity, arguably the will of God trying to pull them down.  Regulation might be seen as petty bureaucracy getting in the way of business but over time regulation becomes part of the beauty of the entire system.  Nostalgic old lawyers would tell you this straight away.  They still have so much nostalgia for the past that they continue to use Latin terms and dress in 17th century wigs.

So despite a lifelong disdain for those who are usually in political power I find myself infavourof regulations.  The tendency when wealth is not guided by regulation is that it ends up being hoarded.  Thomas Piketty has told us how the wealthy families of several hundred years ago barely needed to get up in the morning to see their wealth grow at a faster rate than inflation.  Those who were wise enough to buy extrahouses thirty years ago are now living comfortable lives on the rents of whomever lives within those houses now, while people now can’t afford to buy one house.  Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose, so the bible says and it still is news.

This brings me back to my starting position.  Governments need money.  Money comes from taxes.  It is therefore vital that as many peopleas possible can afford to pay as much tax as possible.  Ideally as many people as possible should be earning so much money that they can afford to throw it at civic projects with joyful abandon.  Instead we have a situation where those who have proven themselves to be most adept through nature and nurture at clinging to and amassing wealth, are the ones who are expected to pay the most tax.  In the case of companies we also have rules written into the Company Act 2006 which state they should do whatever they can to keep as much of their wealth as possible by whatever means possible within the law.  Although I am certain that last condition is more implied than stated.  Unfortunately for everyone loopholes are legal.  If they weren’t legal then they wouldn’t be loopholes, they would be crimes.

Naturally the closing of tax loopholes is important but more important is the encouragement of greater levels of employment and security for the greater number of people.  I hardly think that the most utilitarian view would be that the greatest good of societylayin ensuring that the largest companies could gather as much power and wealth as possible while thousands ate fromfoodbanksand fell into worse health while all the hospitals were being closed down.  The more people who are working, the more people can afford to home themselves, feed themselves, educate themselves, etc,etc.  Irritatingly I find myself sounding very much like any politician at this point.  The main difference being that the current crop of politicians have a solution to getting people into work that they don’t seem torealiseis not going to work.  The solution being offered at present is to take away as many advantages as possible because if people have no food to eat and no clothes to wear then they will be forced to find a job, thereby increasing employment.  Unfortunately they will be so desperate for a job that they will undercut other folk who are already in employment who will then lose their jobs to make way, so will have to also be encouraged back into work.  Mind you the solution for people taking jobs that pay too little is to take away more advantages so that they are forced to find better jobs.  If this wasn’t stupid enough already then the fact that there are not enough jobs for all those looking for jobs in the first place probably won’t have the impactto make it seem even more stupid.

Naturally it is not possible to simply tell employers to give jobs to those who need them.  Things need to be done gently for a start.  Employers cannot necessarily afford to employ huge numbers of people.  There must be reform to the way the stock market works to prevent large companies being punished for employing people and rewarded for dismissing them.  There should be encouragement, politically, economically and publicly to companies who take on extra workers.  There should of course also be greater encouragement for those who are seeking the jobs.  Not the stick that is currently being used but rather a carrot.  Give greater benefits to those who are working in educational possibilities.  Good managers are well aware that people appreciate recognition in thework place.  This is not because they like praise or pats on the back, this is because they assume it will lead to greater opportunity.  Not greater opportunity to take on more responsibilities and stress, greater opportunities to get into positions where they can make positive changes, earn more money and lead a more fulfilling life.  It is true that far fewer managers seem to understand the whole complexity within the equation but this is something that should be regulated for.

CPD should be offered to all workers; there will be many workers who will not want CPD, it is probable that these workers might prefer to be in different jobs.  The free market solution to this is to show them the door and let them work it out for themselves.  That should not be the solution in a society that is aiming for the greatest overall profit and utility for all.  it is because people fear losing their jobs that they never speak out truthfully about how they feel and it is for that reason that so many workers are disgruntled and doing less than stellar work.  It is in the interests of companies to have the best and most suitable workers, and it is in the interests of government to aid the companies in achieving that end.

Ideas such as making difficult to claim benefits also do not work.  The harder it is to claim benefits the more likely it is that claimants will not give up their benefits, especially for jobs that offer little security.  When there is a spate of zero hour contracts across the country then there will be a great many people who will actively avoid gaining such work for fear it will make it more difficult for them to keep their benefits without having to wait for a protracted period to open a new claim.  Even if it works out in theirfavourfinancially they are unlikely to see this because, lets face it, if the intricacies of economics were so open to them then they would not be on the dole, they would be holding down positions atcanarywharf.

Ultimately there are many ways in which employment can be encouraged when a government accepts that not all citizens act according to the idealbehaviourhoped for by free market theorists.  When the citizenry of a nation is looked at from ademographicallevel then it is probable that starving people will encourage some to find work and to progress into better work.  But we are not numbers, we are people, and people are not that easy to predict.  What is easy to predict is ideal economicsituations.  Economics in general is very difficult to predict because situations are complicated and there are many variables.  However once almost all variables are reduced until all you have is more people in more employment, earning more money and paying more tax, then you don’t need to be Keynes to see that this means more money for government.  That is easy to predict, but it is the individuals within thework forcethat are beyond the ability of so many politicians to understand.

Papal power in the 21st century

Everyone recognises that the pope had a great amount of power in the past.  It is relatively recently that Italy became a whole nation state without direct influence from the Vatican in the way it was run.  Looking even further back the Pope was the head of a network of influence spanning the whole of Europe that wielded the power of excommunication.  Go back to the crusades and the Pope was the guiding force that led Europe into a series of crusades to try and defeat the Middle East.

Those were the days of the warrior church.  In the modern era the ghost of the Holy Roman Empire is seen as an anachronism, a state without an army, and a largely harmless ideology.  While heads of other religions may launch Jihads, fatwas and the like, it seems as though the Pope is little more than an old man in strange robes who simply tries to encourage folk to live life according to the gospels.

Currently the Pope is one of the more innocuous popes.  Speaking out against capitalism and poverty it seems that this is a Pope who can recognise some of our most immediate problems and knows what has to be done with the greatest immediacy to effect positive change in the world.  He has given up the tradition of living in the papal palace and prefers to live in a simple apartment.  It is rumoured that he leaves the Vatican at night to hand out charity to the destitute whilst disguised in every day garb.

Despite all this positivity in the image of our current Pope he still wields an immense amount of hidden power.  In a world where even One Direction have the power to make hundreds of shops sell seemingly endless lines of One Direction merchandise, so that thousands, or millions of One Direction fans can buy money boxes, posters, cushions, mints, etc, it is clear that the leader of a global religion can create huge change with the utterance of a few words.

Thank goodness that we do currently have a Pope who seems to have his heart in the right place.  Unfortunately this is not necessarily enough.  One of the points on which most of the Pope’s critics agree is that the banning of contraception is not a good idea in a world where there are so many sexually transmitted diseases.  Obviously it is not good that people should pick up disease, or even die from disease, and a simple barrier contraceptive would help prevent this in the majority of cases, but I can see the Pope’s point of view.  It has been a long standing rule of the Catholic church that life should be encouraged and procreation is good.  It has also been a long standing view that sex without procreation is purely a pleasure seeking act.  When the greatest pleasure in life is supposed to be God it is natural that competition should be discouraged.  Beyond the usually considered dangers of unprotected sex there is also a further danger far beyond most people’s realisation, a danger that is very far from the kind of outcome one would expect to be encouraged by a church of any religion.

We are all agreed that STDs are not good but the less obvious danger is one that is caused by successful gestations.  At present most first world countries are experiencing a gradual growth in population due to the advantages of the modern world.  In poorer areas of the world there will soon be a much greater amount of growth that could become an issue.  China has for a long time had its rule against more than one child per family; India has one of the most incredibly packed populations in the world.  In Africa great numbers of children are common for the same reason as they were in Victorian England, they offer the best chance of having children survive to adulthood.  Currently population is kept small by diseases but we are rapidly finding ways to cure and prevent these diseases.  We are also finding ways in which to increase food yields.  These are all good things that we should be doing but as more and more of the world’s Catholics are lifted out of a state of nature there are more and more people who do not have the option of prophylactics to prevent large families.

Every life is a blessing and as any parent knows, their children are wonderful, but it is plain to see that some, due to circumstance, do not end up leading lives as positive as others.   This is largely due to attempts to escape poverty or achieve better than that which fate has offered.  A lot of us know what poverty feels like and a lot of us know there are better things out there than we have in our lives.  Some people end up living like emperors.  It is hardly surprising there should be a little jealousy.  Recent years have seen the occupy movement and the recognition of the 1%.  If this is the reaction of the citizens in the first world to the wealthy few who take the majority of the wealth then just imagine what the swelling populations of the poorer nations will feel like when they discover the riches claimed by those few, or even the comfort that many of our poorer people live in by comparison to so many others in the world.

Those folk who have to walk five miles per day to fetch clean water, and who spend most of their income on just enough food to stay alive already know that there are other folk in other nations who are far better off.  It is largely accepted that this is simply the way things are.  Soon, however, with greater leaps in agriculture and better understanding of medicine there will be far larger populations within these areas.  We know from observation of the behaviour in overpopulated areas of our own countries that people become hardened to humanity when there is just so damn much of humanity around.  The appearance of a disgruntled class of people who will begin to feel as though perhaps they have the numbers to take some of that wealth from the greedier nations is almost inevitable.

By insisting on the papal ban of contraception the Pope is likely to be able to add huge numbers to the armies of the future.  By ensuring that there are huge families growing in nations where religion is taken more seriously the Pope is ensuring that there will be hungry and disgruntled young people looking for a way out of poverty at just about the same time that the population growth in the west will most likely be slowing or even reversing.  There may be vast power shifts in our future and they may be vastly exacerbated by this one small proclamation.

Rise and Fall – A short story.

Despite warm temperatures and all the nutrition that could possibly be needed there was negligible life to speak of.  It was only when primitive life forms were introduced from above that a new era of living, consuming, organisms began.  The life that was deposited by the hidden hands from above took to its new environment.  The conditions were perfect to flourish and soon it was as though the party of all parties had begun.  The competition to thrive and stay alive was so much more greatly reduced than if life had simply arisen here by chance.  Many other organisms or creatures would have died rapidly in this environment but the hands from above had been careful to choose the perfect colonists for this little world.  The native residents of the little world, such as pre-existed the invaders, had made little impact on their environment; it may have been that little change would have occurred for some time from their presence.

The new life that had been delivered to settle took so well to their circumstances that soon they overwhelmed any few or little signs of life that had been here before them.  They pushed all aside in their conquest of the entire sphere of their existence.  The nutritive qualities of this place were exceptional, and the growth of the new residents was exponential.  As they developed and spread they interacted with their environment, changing the balance of all that was around them.  Soon the culture was thriving and things were rapidly developing.  The general gases given off by the living escaped into the air in vast quantities as their numbers grew.  Still they thrived and consumed, enjoying their existence in the limited ways that were available to them at their current stage of evolution.

They saw no reason not to do what came naturally.  This was the way they had been made.  They had evolved, to consume and grow, as had all living things; what sin could there be in living by their biological programming.  Soon the community had spread to all limits of the available space.  It was certainly crowded compared to the way it had been when they had arrived.  All lived closely entwined with all; to an outsider they looked like a swarm, perhaps even a single being, intent on consuming all available resources.  Still the gases billowed into the air, at ever increasing rates; belching up into the atmosphere in ways that surely could not be sustainable.

The height of the culture was rapidly reached, and for what seemed like the longest time the production of gases into the air continued.  The speed at which the atmosphere was altered was alarming and palpable.  Perhaps to one who lived within this world the change would not seem so rapid and extreme, but how would it look to one who saw the arrival of the settlers, and did not return until the peak of their success.  Given the overwhelming spread of these visitors, dropped here by an intelligence far beyond their own, and given the dramatic manner in which they spewed gases into the air above them, could it be that there was any way to view their lives as being anything other than akin to that of a virus, eating up all that surrounded it, without a thought for the consequences.

Eventually the effects of all this high living began to be felt.  It had been proven.  The conspicuous and furious consumption was not sustainable.  The environment began to be poisoned and the life within it began to die.  Where there had been so much joy before, now there was death and sickness.  The new inhabitants of this brave new world no longer had the blessing of the ideal surroundings with which they had been gifted.  The irony was that there was still nutrition all around, but it was all now far too poisoned to sustain the visitors.  The world had been reformed, and where they had once thrived and spread with almost limitless vigour, they now began to die.

The toxic environment began to still.  The production of gas into the air gradually ceased, marking the death of all those who continued, striving to endure the existence of living in this impossible place.  Eventually all were dead.  Life was over.  The colony was no longer a colony, it was a morgue, a wasteland.  Desolate.  All was silent, nothing breathed, and there was nothing left to consume the nutrition that still lay there for whoever wished to take it.

The outsiders returned to see what had happened to the colony they had deposited here.  They saw that the outward signs of life that had been spewing into the atmosphere had stopped.  They looked down from above, into the little world, and there were no longer any outwardly visible signs of the beings they had brought and delivered to this place.  The outsider reached down into the little world drawing up some of the substance of the environment and testing it to see what had become of it.  The wine was definitely ready, he would bottle it up tomorrow and everyone could have some for Christmas.

Demonisation of the unemployed harms the economy more than it helps.

IDS LunchingAt the present our society is facing a set of problems that are unique in the history of humanity.  Thanks to a limited understanding of science that we have developed over the last few hundred years we know a great deal about food production, creation of fertilisers, even genetically modifying plants to increase yields etc.  No matter how one feels about all the different technologies and methods in farming it is undeniable that one of the results has been an increasing population.  Combine this with our gradually improving medical knowledge and our growing reticence to send huge numbers of people into wars and you find that the global population is growing massively.

At the same time as this growth is happening we are also developing far more efficient production methods, automation, robots,  vehicles, etc, that reduce the number of people needed to run many business types.  Where an office worker would once have had a secretary, they now have a computer, and type themselves where they would never have dreamed of doing so in the past.  Where deliveries once took days to transport across the country with the use of numerous horses and the supporting services of stables, farriers, etc, deliveries not take a day as one man in a white van drives to their destination.  I need not list all the ways in which modern technology has saved us time and money in the work place because everyone probably has many more examples in their own mind than I can think of.

These developments have of course created work as well.  While we have become more productive it is also obvious that this is hand in hand with massively increased production.  Look back half a millennium and you will see a society where most people owned only a handful of items and most money was spent on food.  Today we probably have more items in our pockets most of the time; look around the room and you will no doubt see hundreds of different things, some of which will be technological marvels that would have looked like magic to that person of half a millennium ago.  Naturally if so many more things are being invented and made then there will be a lot of jobs created by their production.  However, necessity being the mother of invention, there is a huge effort put into the creation of labour saving devices, with the result that we all have a lot more free time than we once did.  With mankind’s constant effort to amass more wealth and safety it is natural that employers will take advantage of some of this labour saving machinery to reduce their work force and lower their costs.

The problem with this is of course the fear that led saboteurs to throw their clogs into the early machines that were taking their jobs.  The spanner in the works of modern economics is rising unemployment.  Humans have a need to work on a deeply hidden psychological level.  While a cursory glance at nature will reveal that most animals spend a lot of time conserving energy and humans have descended from the same origins, it is a tendency towards industriousness that has enabled us to rise to the height we have as dominant mammalian species on the planet.  It is improbable that evolution ever intended us to work like machines for solid days, day after day; the rise in stress related illness attests to this, but we certainly do have a deep seated need to keep busy and be industrious.

King Solomon was regarded as being a rather wise chap. In Ecclesiastes 9:10, King Solomon instructs “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”  Our industry is something that keeps us happy; when a person sits with nothing to do for too long it does not take long before boredom and depression set in.  The fact that the quote above comes from the bible demonstrates that work is something that has been preached as being important on a moral and spiritual level.  At present there is a moral crusade against the NEETS and scroungers who are not contributing to society.  The seemingly endless recession hand in hand with our healthy population levels and work automation has led to a large number of unemployed people.  The rigours and stresses of modern life and the many new chemicals and substances surrounding us are leading to effects on general mental and physical health that is preventing a great many people from keeping to the 40 hour schedule of the modern work week.  The support that all these people need is being focussed on as being one of the drains on public finances.

Despite the fact that very little public money actually goes to people who are not contributing to society this group makes a convenient scapegoat and forcing them back into work is being touted as one of the many solutions being offered to help us back out of the recession.  There are a number of points that render this approach unhelpful.  Firstly it has long been acknowledged that there is no such thing as zero unemployment.  Zero unemployment would not be desirable anyway as an absence of unemployed and penniless folk would lead to vendors being able to increase prices, which would lead to inflation.  The only way zero unemployment would be possible is if people were not able to leave jobs, as if they did leave jobs they would become unemployed until they found another job.  If people never leave jobs then there is no incentive to try and retain staff by offering a decent wage.  The world where there is zero unemployment is a pipe dream inhabited by indentured servants paying high prices for their goods.  As long as there are unemployed people it is possible to demonise them and use them as scapegoats for the failure of the government’s long term economic plan but in reality most of these unemployed folk are simply hopping from one job to another.  These are all people who are in the process of improving their economic success by moving from inferior employment towards better situations.  They are folk who have become unnecessary in one area of the world of employment but will soon become needed in another area.  This is the free movement between employers that enables the system to keep running at optimum efficiency.  The number of people who are actually targeted by schemes to deal with long term unemployment are a tiny number compared to the official unemployment statistics.  The small amount retained to aid the economic recovery becomes so inconsequential when this is realised that it is nowhere near worth all the newsprint and publicity it generates.

The second undesirable factor in the demonization of the unemployed is the stigma surrounding unemployment.  Those who become unemployed feel such an urgent need to return to the work place that they will accept jobs far sooner than they would if there was not such a stigma.  The problem with this is that people will hurry themselves into jobs that do not pay their full worth.  The evidence for this can be seen in the gradually drop in wage that is being experienced across the country.  Newsnight has said that wages are expected to return to pre-recession levels sometime during the 2020s.  It might not be the haste to return to work that is causing the wages to fall but it is certainly allowing the wages to fall.  It is common for unions to call strikes in objection to the failure of wages to increase, yet here are people across the country rushing into positions with lower wages or with zero hour contracts.  The employers are taking advantage of the measures being brought against the unemployed, even to the extent that employees are being sacked from their jobs and then being replaced with unemployed people who need not be paid the minimum wage.  This is an obvious circumvention of employment law that should not be accepted.  If people were not so eager to escape the stigma of being associated with the tiny minority who are deliberately unemployed then employers would have no other option than to offer a decent wage, and if the unemployed were not forced to work until they could find a job then they would be able to take the jobs that would not be done by the unemployed and unpaid.

The dropping wages that are supported by the increased desire people have to get back into work leads to a far more significant effect that is detrimental to society as a whole.  Where there are lower wages the amount paid to tax is naturally going to be lower.  A larger number of people are going to find themselves below the tax cut off and will not be paying any tax at all.  A larger number of people will find themselves earning less than they would in more prosperous times and will therefore be paying less in tax than they would otherwise.  The working population of the country is massive and all those of us who are earning lower wages would ordinarily be contributing vast amounts to the economy through tax.  At present this money being saved in wages is money that is being retained by the employers; in most instances the employers will be using the services of accountants to find any methods available to reduce the tax they pay.  It is a well known issue that large companies use many different methods to avoid paying tax, yet they are now being given a situation wherein it is becoming possible to retain more of the money they would otherwise have given to employees who pay tax, and the companies are using these methods to further reduce their tax payments.

The lower wages that are being seen around the country are leading to lower spending.  Despite a few successes in the retail sector on Black Friday and Cyber Monday it was noted that spending did not reach the levels that had been expected.  This was partly due to retail fatigue brought on by a glut of possessions, less available spending money and an underlying realisation that even where the public are spending the money we are so much part of the consumer equation that we are becoming products ourselves.  Money that is available is being largely spent on rent and food.  Food is free of VAT so is not contributing to the public coffers.  There is little left over for spending on luxuries and gifts and what there is available is being sucked up by the companies that are closest to being national monopolies.  VAT on luxury items is therefore not forthcoming and the appearance is that there must be a level of collusion between electric companies, gas companies, broadband companies, etc, raising prices year on year, who are all large enough to employ accountants and tax lawyers with a far higher level of skill than can be afforded by the public sector which is trying to retain some of this money.

The result is an economy in decline.

It is evident that a large number of the ‘solutions’ being offered to the problem of recession are being implemented purely for reasons of publicity.  The government wish to be seen as being proactive in finding our way out of the recession.  At the next election it is extremely valuable to be able to say that ideas were put in action that led to a reduction of the deficit and the national debt and greatly improved the lives of all Britons.   At present it appears that the ideas are not leading to the ends that were expected.  Had all the indignities of the last few years actually resulted in economic recovery I would probably feel far more magnanimous towards the current cabinet.  The measures implemented look more akin to the measures of an average driver when sliding on a patch of ice, actively steering in what appears to be the right direction but is actually pushing the car into an ever more extreme skidding slide.  The hands currently at the tiller of public finance are far too heavy to negotiate the delicate task of restoring balance to our economy.

It seems obvious that in an ever changing world we need ever changing ideas to find solutions to the issues that face us.  Imagination and creativity are what is called for in solving the problems of an ever more automated society.  We do not need to be forcing people into graft and labour just so that we can look as though we are being proactive and thereby  gain enough votes for another disastrous four years of governance, we need to be nurturing the creativity and imagination of all those who do not find themselves immediately drawn into the employment situations available.  It is education where we should be focussing our attention.  A line from the Facebook film a few years back was that graduates from Harvard made their own employment.  That is what should be expected of everyone who is at a short end.  We should all be capable of spotting the gaps in the market and thinking of ways to cater to that need.  There is no need to force people into working as little more than slave labourers if they are given the abilities to discover their own uses and their own jobs.  Nobody wants to work for peanuts to further the success of a company that doesn’t even value their contribution enough to offer a fixed contract with adequate hours at adequate pay.  Train the unemployed to make their own employment and numerous problems we are faced with will simply solve themselves.

Charities should not be expected to fill the gaps of poor governance

A stumbling block Russell Brand has come up against a number of times since he started talking about the need to reject our current political system is that he is himself reasonably wealthy.  People question how he can speak about redistribution of wealth, presumably because he has not chosen to redistribute his own wealth.  The situation seems to be that if he were poor then his ideas could be ignored because they are obviously the result of his self interest, but as he is rich his ideas should be ignored as he is obviously a hypocrite.  Recently when speaking about on one topic a channel four journalist asked him about the price he pays for rent in London himself.  When Russell told the reporter that his rent was not relevant to the issue he was discussing the reporter claimed that the cost of his rent was a valid point in a discussion of poverty.

Presumably those who make such assertions to undermine Brand are making the point that if poverty is such a concern then Brand should start the ball rolling by donating his money to the poor or by living in conditions as though he were himself poor.  If it is the second of these two then he would not need his money anyway so should presumably donate it to the poor rather than hording it for no purpose.

However, it is not Brand’s position that the wealthy ought to be more charitable.  Certainly a greater level of charity among the wealthy would be a good thing, not least for the good of their own positive self image.  It is plainly obvious to anyone that has been paying the slightest bit of attention that Russell Brand has been calling out the political system for the past year.  Admittedly he does seem to have a fondness for the idea of anarchy and that people would be able to manage society without governmental oversight, however, I believe he also recognises that in an anarchic system power would very quickly be grabbed by large organisations and the ideal anarchist utopia would not be achieved.  Aside from this is the fact that if one man decides to redistribute his wealth according to charitable ideals but the rest of society carries on as they currently are, then that man may be even less wise than Russell is accused of being by his detractors.

Plainly the ideal that Russell must be striving for is a set of legislative measures to prevent abuse of power and to assist those who are driven into poverty by any failings in the system.  Given the nature of the system that has provoked him to reject British democracy even this currently seems like a pipe dream.  In any event, one of the issues with the current government is their disregard for those in poverty and need.  Public services are rapidly being privatised in what many people believe to be a return to the system as it was before the last world war.  Rather than the eradication of poverty that the last government aimed for the perception of the current government is that there is a grab for profit and advantage at the expense of the country, with the latest report being that aside from her work for charity David Cameron’s wife also secretly holds stock in a company that is being given the opportunity to build on a large amount of green belt land.  Even if this had been declared along with the Camerons’ other interests it would still be shocking.  Undeclared it is on a level with the sleaze that destroyed the last Conservative government.

The solution to poverty that has evidently been in the mind of the Prime Minister since before the general election is that wherever austerity cuts affect the public charities will be able to take up the slack.  Looking back now it is obvious that ‘The Big Society’ as he called it, is society looking after itself.  People may be shocked by the massive rise in the use of foodbanks, but it appears that the Conservative strategy to cope with their increased need is to distract attention until they have become such a fact of life that we have grown used to them.   If there was only one person in Britain who thought that those complaining about poverty should start by giving their money to the poor, it would be David Cameron.

Whilst I am very much in favour of charity, and I am very much in favour of the people in society getting to know each other, and help each other out, I feel it should be done with an overall safety net provided by public services.  At present those safety nets are being taken away and people are dying.  The elderly who freeze to death because they can’t afford heating; the homeless who freeze to death because they can’t afford rent; the family whose children do not attain high academic results because they can’t afford plentiful nutritious food; the workers who have to work on zero hour contracts, who work in an unpleasant environment, who don’t earn enough to cover their costs; those who are falling further and further into debt despite living in modest surroundings and working hard; all these people are being let down by the current system.  Where the slack is taken up by charities it may be portrayed as shameful in the press, but as far as those in the process of dismantling the welfare state, that is one more successful transition.

I do think it is important for everyone to give to charity as it is a beneficial act for everyone’s psyche.  Without charitable acts being second nature the world gradually turns into the kind of uncaring environment that is modern capitalism.  Everything has a value, and money is placed on a pedestal. It troubles me that the damage done to the state welfare system in the name of the austerity measures is being held back by charity.  It is a stop gap measure like stopping up a hole in a dyke with a finger, it is not sustainable.   There are fewer alive every year who can remember the system as it was before the changes brought about by Aneurin Bevin in the 50s but soon we may find ourselves back in that pre-50s system without the safeguards that have been allowed to disappear through the last half a century.

The individuality that allowed people freedom from stress in those days has been wiped out by the constant drive for profit and stream lining.  Cost cutting and overwork drives people into illnesses of stress at subsistence levels of wages today; the next steps that lead to a reduced NHS and harder to obtain sickness benefits will not be able to support the modern worker who is expected to run like a machine.  Charity will only go so far.  Organisation on a societal level should not be left up to the chance that volunteers will be well co-ordinated enough to cope with preventing cultural collapse.

While I buy most of my clothes, books and other possessions from charity shops and give to collectors, and drop coins in boxes it worries me that people are starting to give chunks of money to fill the void left by poor governance in the public sector.  Broad swathes of needs are not catered for by the specific aims of the handful of major charities and as more charities will be set up to cater for these needs as they arise they will be accompanied by crowds of people signing folk up to direct debits in the street, direct debits which will naturally skim a percentage off the top for the collecting professionals before donating to the charity.  Donations that we already know go into the overheads of running the organisation before they even reach those in need.

I would advocate that people think about where they want their money to go.  Charities at present, worthy though they are, are a middle man, separating giver from receiver.  The humanity is taken out of the equation; it has become another soulless financial transaction.  I am sure that people have recognised for centuries that charity is a way of buying one’s way out of guilt or feelings of obligation.  In the modern era it has become so clinical and efficient that many people barely realise their money is going to charity.  When someone buys a shirt or a book in a charity shop, how often do they register exactly which charitable cause they have supported.  This is one reason that I think people should make their charitable giving more personal.  A second reason is that when money goes to a large charity it is money that can be seen publicly.  That is an area where a government minister can see less need to support that section of society.  When there are cuts to be made isn’t it convenient if the cuts can be made where there is a back up money source.

In order that these areas of supported public services do not stand out as good places for the next austerity cut we should give our charity directly to the needy.  I am not saying that people should not continue to shop in charity shops, these serve the secondary purpose of preventing the ecological damage done by constant consumption of new products.  I am saying that if you want to prevent people from starving then try to find out who in your community is hungry, go to your neighbours and tell them that the multibuy deal at the supermarket has left you with too much bread, see who is grateful for the help.  Tell the people in your street that your garden had a glut of fruit, you can’t possibly eat it all, who needs it?  If you care about homelessness then see that the homeless guy in the doorway has a warm meal one night, or a chocolate bar full of calories.  Rather than drop the coin of economic incentive for sitting in doorways into his lap, think about what he needs to stay alive and give him that.  People should get to learn what the issues are, learn where their help is needed, the issues should stop sliding beneath our notice because they are affecting more people every day during this ridiculous austerity drive.

An ethical way to invest in the most ruthless of moneymakers

It can be hard to make a living in modern Britain. Contrary to the prediction of Bertrand Russell we have not all been freed from the bonds of labour. The arrival of labour saving devices has not given us the freedom we expected. Robots apparently do not even threaten jobs, according to some reports each robot leads to the creation of three jobs for those who need them. Given that labour saving computers need constant attention to clean up viruses and malware and find solutions for the bloat of new updates this might not even seem surprising.
Mind you it is possible to buy your way out of the daily grind and thus leave your days open to pursue more fruitful ways of making a living. For the average person perhaps, the promised future in which machines would do our work for us has not arrived. For those who have the money to buy their tickets to freedom from hard work it is quite possible. Obviously a substantial amount of money would be needed to manage this, maybe a decade or two’s wages for most people. A lot of people have managed it. Sometimes they only succeeded because they inherited the requisite amount but others have worked their way into the position through their own cunning and ruthlessness. For some people the very act of buying one’s way out of work becomes a job in itself, even an obsession as they become wealthier and wealthier.
You may have worked out by now that it is the world of shares, stocks and financial trading to which I refer. If you can work out which businesses are going to be successful then you can become wealthy. If you can work out which ones will simply keep on a level then you can potentially bring in an income sufficient to keep afloat. For a lot of people who have to spend their days sweeping, building, digging, driving, painting, vending, etc, there is one obstacle that can prevent them making a living through this method. Aside from needing to learn the esoteric intricacies of entering the world of stocks and shares there are ethical considerations that many find hard to overcome.
Naturally one makes investments in order to earn money. A lot like the days when banks offered reasonable levels of interest except that the levels possible with a good investment can be far more interesting. In order to make money the investment must be in the sort of company that is likely to make more money and pay out dividends. With a free market in which regulation is kept to a minimum the more successful companies are also the most ruthless companies. They are the companies that don’t mind chopping down forests full of undiscovered creatures; they are the companies that don’t mind sourcing their products from unregulated factories where the age of the workers does not concern the owners, or the materials used might have been mined at terrible cost to the environment and the miners; they are the companies that see the law as a set of rough guide lines that can be interpreted in many ways, and if by chance that interpretation was incorrect the payment of a fine will be all the recompense necessary.
There are of course many successful companies that have far more ethical processes than these but those are the companies that must work extra hard to compete with the less ethical companies. The odds are that they will be paying their workers the lowest prices they can get away with and they will pay their taxes wherever is most convenient, as well as cutting costs by expecting their staff to do excellent jobs with old and malfunctioning equipment. Once again I may have painted a picture of a less than desirable company to hitch one’s ethical karma to.
Of course there are many flavours of business, but if a person wishes to buy shares in a company then the companies that are floated publically on the stock exchange do largely fit into these two categories, and for many people with the intelligence to work out where their money will get the best return these ethical shortcomings are unreconcilable. This is one of the reasons why many people never succeed in buying their way out of logging, farming, welding, bricklaying, fishing, etc. For these people the idea of sitting back and letting the money flow in from all these dubious business practices is as unacceptable as sitting in a bedsit on the dole waiting for junkies to come and buy heroin off them. Here we see a potential meeting of morals between the middle classes and the so called scroungers that Ian Duncan Smith is so intent on destroying.
For the people who are still earning their money without supplementation from shares it might seem as though they are the ones left behind by Bertrand Russell’s prediction. They look on the travesties conducted in the name of business and just hope that one day regulations will be put in place to prevent such practices and in the mean time they hope that perhaps consumers will choose companies with fewer ethical violations. They see the banks distorting markets and losing billions only to be bailed out by tax payer’s money and have little recourse beyond tutting and grumbling in the pub later. They would vote for a government that would sort it all out but the political parties have little difference between them and place GDP so high on their scale of priorities that they aren’t going to be the ones to sort it out unless a critical mass of public opinion forces them.
Getting such a critical mass of opinion in a nation is not an easy job for anyone. Pressure groups and charities work hard to force businesses to be more ethical and for governments to create better legislation, but it all blends together into the buzz of daily news. The political parties canvas to gain voters but as the last election showed no party can even gain a majority at present. Since then the political landscape has become even more fragmented. It is difficult to align the wishes of an entire nation so government ends up controlled by whoever has the loudest voices. These are media organisations with their own business interests which tread the delicate path between success and failure just as any other large business.
The solution to the problem of poor ethics in business for all those who have been trying to keep their hands and their morals clean, is the solution that goes immediately against their instinct. It is by investing in the very companies which have these terrible practices that they can guide them towards better ways of doing business. In day to day running of these companies the board of directors makes business decisions based upon rules that are set out in the Companies Acts. These rules suggest they ought to think about broader issues and their effect on their environment but only really so long as they don’t let it stand too badly in the way of returning maximum profit to the shareholder. However the secondary input that guides their decision making is the input of investors at any meetings they attend.
Given that the entire country proves to be problematic even for the Prime Minister to lead or control it makes sense that ordinary people would only be able to make the world better in smaller ways. Start with the world in front of you. At a certain point one begins to realise that doing the washing up or the vacuum cleaning is quite satisfying but makes no real long term impact on the world and the problems that afflict it. Conveniently if it is possible to save or raise even a small amount of cash it is possible to step into those companies that appear in the newspapers every day. Those things that people vote to change in elections can be changed from within the companies themselves. Admittedly it is still necessary to have the backing of many other like minded thinkers, but far fewer than in a public election. Alternatively simply raising enough money can give one investor the voting power of many.
Without the force of legislation there are few ways to change the behaviour of a company. Consumer action works to an extent but is often easily exhausted and difficult to affect by repairing company behaviour. Only by getting power inside a company itself can one be most assured of getting close to having a positive influence over the way that company conducts its business. By attending shareholder meetings one stands a far better chance of meeting other shareholders and of affecting their thought processes. The more shares a person owns and the more ruthless the company in which they have bought the shares, the more potential for good they can create in shareholder meetings. A side effect of this method of trying to make a better world is that those dividends are received by the people who are working hardest to prevent the companies in question from doing any further harm. That is the way to buy into Bertrand Russell’s prediction without breaking one’s moral principles.

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