At 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.
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.
The image and idea of Guy Fawkes has become a romantic concept. The Alan Moore book and subsequent film, V for Vendetta brought the idea of Guy Fawkes as a folk hero into the popular consciousness of the late 20th century. Guido Fawkes, the politics commentator may have had something to do with the character entering our contemporary field of vision. After years of burning Guys in effigy he has suddenly become a hero of those disgruntled with a hypocritical and uncaring government.
It is an image that has been adopted by the group, anonymous. A group whose main feature is given away by their title, anonymous. We don’t know who they are. They could be your next door neighbour; they could be your children; they could be your parents or even your teachers. They could be anyone. They could be the police and they could be government operatives. Just about the only thing that they couldn’t be is an acceptable figure to stand alongside if you are an average person working in an office who dislikes the government’s harsh plans of austerity. In essence, anonymous is the perfect activist group as far as the government is concerned because anyone remotely respectable does not want to be associated with them.
David Cameron has described legitimate protestors against austerity with terms such as ‘feral’. That is certainly how they looked on television to the rest of the country. The reason for this is that the ones in masks are so much more dramatic than the rest of the protestors. Why film those who look like normal everyday people when you can film those who look like characters from the film, V for Vendetta. It makes much better television to film the ones in masks. Not to mention that if anyone is going to be doing anything newsworthy for which imprisonment might be appropriate they will prefer to be in a mask. To the rest of the country observing through their television screens it appears that the only people present are wearing Guy Fawkes masks and smashing windows. It certainly never looks as though the protests are being attended by Bob from the pub, although he might be just out of shot in his tweed jacket, he is simply not newsworthy enough to make it onto television.
What is even better than the fact that normal people are alienated by anonymous is that if nobody turns up and starts vandalising the seat of power it is easy enough to send in anyone in a mask to do the job. If Boris Johnson was in the midst of a protest throwing bricks through the windows of the Supreme court nobody would ever know so long as he had a mask of Guy Fawkes on his face. We would laugh at the fact that someone had turned up in a suit with hair just like Boris’ hair but we would never imagine it was him. Of course I very much doubt that Boris would do such things. Mainly because we know that undercover police have been doing similar things for years. We have seen their confessions of working with activist groups in the newspapers. Why do it yourself when you have plenty of people who will do it for you.
Almost everyone dislikes the austerity measures dreamt up by Mr Osborne with the help of his limited experience and inadequate education. Almost everyone is being impacted negatively by them. Almost everyone would like to protest against them. A lot of people have been protesting against them, not that you would know that with the minimal coverage the television news has given such protests. According to the television news there have been a small group of masked ‘anonymous’ youths causing trouble in the capital. The average man is supposedly far more concerned with the mass influx of that nice couple down the road that own the corner shop taking all our jobs. Or the huge number of terrorists not blowing anything up with anything like the regularity that the IRA did. If only the IRA had been mostly Muslim instead of Catholic; the streets of London would have been far safer in the 70s.
As far as the average person is concerned the only people protesting against the fact that they are being overworked in a horrible job for so little money they can’t afford to pay for taxes and hideously overpriced power bills are ‘feral’ youths in Guy Fawkes masks. Therefore poverty, misery and hunger are obviously not the sort of thing that average people are complaining about. We will just put up with them because it is obviously natural justice that slogging our guts out all week should only just allow us to stay alive while inflicting all this misery on us while sitting in a gold throne is obviously far more worthy of an obscene income.
The government knows full well that we are not going to like what they are doing at the moment. They know better than we ourselves know. They are privy to the kind of information that they are trying to keep hidden from us. As far as we are concerned perhaps there is only a small group of people who are really bothered by this austerity. We are divided sufficiently to stop us putting the pieces together too easily. With the knowledge that there is a disgruntled population, the most pressing need the government has is to keep us all quiet. Anyone who remembers the miners’ strikes knows how uncomfortable things can get when the people are unhappy. The friend of the government throughout all of this is ironically Guy Fawkes. As long as people are wearing the visage of this valorous visitation of bygone vexation they may indeed be the vestige of the vox populi but they may also be the very venal and virulent vermin they vow to vanquish. What we need is not the veneer of vanity of a vaudevillian veteran. What we need now is for ordinary, average people with ordinary average faces to say ‘it is US that dislikes these cuts’.