Category Archives: Economics

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.

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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.

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.

A tech utopia could be possible in a different world.

Having just read the Guardian article ‘The tech utopia nobody wants‘ it occurred to me that laying the blame on the nerds was unfair.  To some the idea of feeding the poor the artificial food stuff ‘Soylent’ in lieu of food stamps is a mark of a repellent future, just as there are people who rebel against the idea of Google glass becoming ubiquitous.  The problem is not a problem with the technology though, the rapidly changing nature of technology merely highlights flaws that have existed in society since the enlightenment era began.

Certainly there are solid reasons to allow the developers of technology to have less control over our lives.  Almost every piece of software I use has a feeling of being a beta version.  Some software is released in permanent beta; much of the software we use is supposed to be a finished polished version but is far from perfect.  Bugs and flaws are a common experience while we work on our computers; imagine if we had to put up with bugs and flaws in every aspect of our lives.  In fact we do have bugs and flaws running through many aspects of our daily lives because so many things are based around very modern technology.  The hidden pollutants and costs that frequently appear in our power sources, or the health problems caused by food additives are two examples of how technology exists throughout our lives and is not just the domain of silicon valley.

A very broad definition of technology would probably take in much more than the electronic world.  Stephen Fry, who is known for his love of technology once gave the example of the lighter as being the most important gadget ever invented.  We are so used to the lighter that we barely recognise it as something that hasn’t always existed, but almost everything around us is technology embodied.  Go back a thousand years and the average person might only have owned half a dozen things.  They would have had their clothing, which would have been barely more than what we might think of as a potato sack; they would have owned a bowl and maybe a knife; they might have owned a stool to sit on and a scraggy straw mattress to sleep on.  Aside from that there were not a great many possessions for most people; they were lucky to own themselves.  In the time since then technology has furnished almost everything around us.

When we live in what is arguably a tech utopia, or dystopia, already it cannot be fair to complain that the chaps in silicon valley are only now creating a tech utopia we don’t want.  We have had it for years already.  The complaint that it is only just happening now is simply fear of change.

However, it is not change in my view.  It is more of the same that we have been getting throughout the last few hundred years.  Many people are not happy and those who are happy are fully aware of reasons for the others to not be happy.  My opinion is it all comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of utilitarianism.  Jeremy Bentham was one of the most influential proponents of utilitarianism, which is basically the belief that the greatest happiness of mankind should be the ultimate aim of all effort.  Naturally there are trade offs and under a strict utilitarian view it would be acceptable to sacrifice the happiness of the few in order to guarantee the happiness of the many.  The cruelty of nature prevents more humanistic philosophies from being practical as we simply are not able to prevent all unhappiness, misery and harm.

Bentham’s philosophy has had a strong hand in the dominance of the free market system.  According to the understanding of the free market we should be able to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people by allowing competition to bring prices down and increase efficiencies so that eventually everybody will be able to afford all the luxuries they could possibly wish for and live in nice warm houses with big screen TVs and plenty of food.

The flaw in this of course is glaringly obvious but often overlooked; the output of the free market does indeed make people happier but as anyone with the most basic understanding of physics can tell you:- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and, matter and energy cannot be created from nothing, only transformed.  There may be many other ways of saying it but essentially the free market doesn’t only create output, it also uses input.  The output makes people happy but it is often very much overlooked how much the input can make people unhappy.

There are minorities who are unhappy about many of the effects of the free market; unregulated industries creating pollution and other environmental problems comes to mind immediately.  Utilitarianism allows for the misery of the minority so long as the majority becomes happier; for this reason it takes a lot of impetus before many of the complaints against the free market are dealt with.  Often the solution itself is an effect of the efficient operation of the free market in that customers deliver a message by altering their buying behaviour.  There are many different and overlapping minority opinions that eventually become resolved in this way like direct democracy in action.  There is an area where there seems to be an increasing problem that is being overlooked which offends against the principles of utilitarianism and the basis of why we wish to use a free market system – the input that is needed to create the output that benefits us.

When the original English economist Adam Smith travelled through Europe as a tutor he met the French economistes whose ideas inspired his later book, ‘The Wealth of Nations’ and kick-started our modern approach to economics.  The economistes grew to be known as physiocrats as economics developed on account of their view that the wealth of nations depended upon the agriculture of the nation.  It was agriculture that fed the horses and fed the men and thus allowed work to be done and allowed development to occur.  Prior to this, wealth was largely considered to be how much gold and silver a nation possessed.  Since those days, changes in technology have caused the wealth of a nation to be defined more by how much oil it can access.  The more oil a nation possesses the more machines it can power and the more plastics it can manufacture.  The majority of the input needed to create our output is therefore provided by oil fields and coal.  The problem is that there is still a link in the chain that has more in common with the early days of economics when Smith was travelling through Europe.  We may not make great use of horses anymore but production still relies a lot on people.

So while we take out all our products in the hope that we will create the greatest amount of happiness, we must still input our own efforts to produce them.  We find we are not as happy as we wish because we are not producing enough wealth and enough products, and our solution is to streamline our processes, and become more efficient.  We must work our factories harder and create more output in order to create this greatest amount of happiness.  In theory this should work but it seems that at a most basic fundamental level the powers who oversee this process have overlooked the fact that the consumer is also the creator.  The streamlining makes the overall amount of happiness decrease as men become automatons working in streamlined production lines, always aiming for greater efficiency.  The reward for achieving greater efficiency is to be challenged to achieve even greater efficiency by the next appraisal.

Societal happiness decreases.  The solution: push harder to be even more efficient.

This is not the approach in all nations of the world.  Many countries and many companies are well aware of the absurdity of this approach, but often they only have this luxury while wealth is abundant.

To bring this blog around full circle to my beginning point I think one of the major complaints that can be levelled at a technological approach is that we have become so good at inventing and building machines and computers that we have forgotten that not everything runs like a computer.  Our technology may be very advanced but our understanding of medicine, psychology, politics, and economics among other disciplines is nowhere near as advanced.  Our mistake is to think that the lessons we have learnt in technology can be applied across all disciplines.  The analogies do not work.  Society cannot be run like a machine because the happiness we are aiming to create exists outside the physical processes of creation and consumption.  Everyone is aware that as consumers we are not machines, but the thing that legislators seem to have forgotten is that as producers we are not machines either.

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.

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.