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Political Football

I heard Noam Chomsky make a comparison between football and politics the other day.  He said that while few people understood what was going on in politics the ability ordinary people had to talk about football in depth showed that people weren’t avoiding politics because they didn’t have the ability to understand.  Noam pointed out that the intricacies that could develop in the relation of all the players in all the teams over the course of a year created a network of data that left him completely lost, yet ordinary blokes down the pub knew it all inside out.

The reason that all this brain power is directed into things like sport is that in sport there is so much flexibility of outcome.  An individual may not be able to affect anything personally but it somehow feels like the world in which it takes place does not reject the input of the individual.  Ordinary people may not be directors, coaches, or players, but they can still be part of the debate.  They may change nothing as individuals but collectively it certainly appears that the debate can have an effect on the overall game.  The difference in politics is that it feels so futile.  The individual has no effect, but the individual often doesn’t even have the illusion of an effect.  Even those within the system don’t appear to have an effect.  Britain’s party leaders seem to regularly talk about making changes but in reality they can’t even change the ‘Punch and Judy’ format of the way in which people address each other in the house of commons.  If leaders are unable to simply change the rules around how people speak to each other to something more respectful then how on Earth are they going to be able to make any substantive changes.

Politics are currently working on the wrong model.  In football the way things work is fairly obvious.  Teams fight it out until only the best one is left and they win the cup, or generally actions along those lines.  Each time a team goes to play football it is doing its job.  The competing is the job and each team gets rewarded for doing things their way to the best of their ability.

In politics the different teams involved do not do their jobs until after they have won the competition.  Up until that point they essentially pretend to do their job and then if everyone thinks that their ‘fantasy football’ style politics would be effective then maybe they will get voted in and be able to do it for real.  There is no way to objectively test if their methods work though.  In football the way to objectively test if a team’s methods work is to see if they won the game.  It is obvious.  In politics there is no objectivity like this.  The team who is trying to win has to try to work out what sort of things the public would like and then pretend that is what they would do.  The result means that they, lie about their principles; they mimic the group who has already won because their tactics must have worked, even though they are meant to be opposed, i.e. opposite.  

Our political parties cannot be chosen for objective reasons.  They can only be chosen because of personal biases or because the current party in power has screwed things up so badly that we have no other choice beside trying to walk across the channel.  My Grandmother refused to vote liberal because she said they couldn’t be trusted, although if they had ever been given the chance to learn from that mistake it could only  have been when she was a very small child.  Certainly I don’t think Lloyd George would have been likely to make the same mistakes again in the 1980s, having long since shuffled off the mortal coil. There was no objective reason to think that they would be remotely similar to the last liberal government.

This is my complaint.  No wonder sports are easier to relate to than politics.  Most of politics is just one small group of people, fewer than a thousand in a country of sixty million, doing their own thing, more or less unswayed by those who want change.  Luckily I have a solution.

As I have pointed out, every week when football teams compete they do so by doing their job.  The solution for political parties wholly failing to achieve anything comparable in their own operation is for political parties to start competing before they get into power.  Local MPs should be solving their constituent’s problems in their capacity as MP whether they succeed in gaining a parliamentary seat or not.  If a candidate fails and wishes to step down then they should be immediately replaced by someone prepared to do their job immediately.  A replacement shouldn’t be chosen only for the purpose of running for election.  A candidate should be chosen immediately to try and solve local issues and rally people together even if their is no hope of them gaining power for another five years.
The political parties should be operating at a national scale to make large changes to the way things are done.  They should consider themselves to be like large multipurpose charities.  There should be no focus on one particular field, they should be charities that deal with the day to day running of the country.  They should be able to prove their worth as potential leaders to run our country by their ability to raise money and then use that money to improve the lives of the people rather than saving it for advertising and canvassing.  If we could see parties achieve success when they are not in power then we are far more likely to put them in power where they get the opportunity to make even bigger changes.  We should not have to vote for people based on assurances which will probably never attain fruition.

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.

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.

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.

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.

How to change the world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug abusers or drug users?

I think a big part of the problem with modern drug use/abuse is that in order to grow we must test boundaries to discover what is safe and what is not. We must experiment. I do not mean specifically pertaining to drugs but just in general. While we are at a young age we experience. We learn the meaning of things by testing the boundaries. We live in a world of dualities. We reach towards pleasure naturally but often find that this causes the consequence that we are pushed towards pain. Drug misuse many would say, is a choice, it is the choice to follow our natural evolutionary instinct to learn about our environment. When drugs take hold of you you no longer have that choice, then I think it has many parallels with disease in that it disrupts the ease with which one approaches life.  It fits the etymology of the word and can legitimately be characterised as a disease.

There are solutions of course. In our youth we are seeking sensation, we wish to go to the boundaries of pleasure and pain because we have a need built into us by evolution to map the limits of experience. People can tell us what they are but we cannot understand by being told, we can only understand by experiencing. In older age, maturity, we are far more willing to take things on faith. Someone will tell us something and we will be able to compare it to analogous experiences we have had and understand it through analogy and metaphor. We do not need experience so much then. We do not need the heights of ecstasy we were seeking earlier. We would be content to just be, but we are not. Either we have become habituated to the use of drugs or there is something that is preventing us achieving our natural equilibrium.

Psychological discomfort is something that the mature drug user is constantly trying to combat. The cause of psychological discomfort is the discordance between the world in which the biology of his brain has evolved and the world in which his brain now inhabits its body. People are not built to fit into the modern world. Drug use has been heavy for centuries and perhaps millennia into totally different worlds but it is becoming more widespread the further we move from our original state of nature.

People who ‘abuse’ drugs are not drug abusers. They are self medicators trying to find a solution for not fitting into the modern world. For not understanding it. In every environment we have entered throughout hundreds of thousands of years we have always lived according to Darwin’s principle of survival of the fittest. The human population becomes trapped in an environment with certain conditions and the maladjusted cannot deal with the change in their natural environment with the result that the strongest survive and the weak die out. The modern world of bureaucracy and forms and pollution, etc, is one of the most extreme environments that we have ever found ourselves placed in during our entire evolution on this planet. It is a world created by this new organ we have been developing, the sentient brain. As a construct of the sentient brain it is naturally the sentient brain that is the tool that is needed to negotiate it, but being a new organ in evolutionary terms it is still evolving.

There is nothing wrong with the maladjusted brain. It is not broken, it is merely suitable for a different environment but the problem is that the well adjusted brains are creating the environment and they are creating an environment in which they will flourish. evolution does not promote the survival of the fittest whilst killing of the unfit in humans anymore. Our humanity causes us to care for our maladjusted members and thus they survive. Unfortunately while their bodies are given the opportunity to live within tolerable limits their brains are the issue and brains are not well understood so these member of our society self medicate with drugs.  Drugs that are illegal only on account of the tendency to be habit forming or open to abuse due to their nature of creating extremes of sensation that are the reason for their potential to cause addiction.

Those who do not ‘abuse’ drugs live their life without ‘abuse’ for two reasons. 1) they are the well adjusted inheritors of the world. Or 2) they do not self medicate because a doctor prescribes alternative drugs that do not have the unfortunate side effect of creating extremes of sensation. This is what most mature people want. They do not want extremes of sensation. They just wish to avoid the knowledge that they are living in a world that has been created by determined, intelligent, mercenary people when they would rather be living in a natural world that had not been reformed by human will. There are huge amounts of drug users being given mind altering prescriptions by the medical services. The only difference between those on these substances and the mature users of illicit substances is that one is prescribed by a doctor and the other is prescribed by a lost soul in a world not of their making. One is no more or less an abuser than the other.

Of course it is plain that these people who do not fit into the modern world love many of the features of the modern world. I.e., computers, televisions, etc. Who wouldn’t love these things? However, if you were to take all these thing away and eradicate the memory of them and place those people in a peaceful 18th century country side environment then they would find themselves psychologically far more easily adjusted to their environment. It is true there were many physical hardships in those times but in general people’s minds had greater strength back then. The people in the modern world if exposed to those kind of hardships would be far less able to cope due to the additional weight of all they experience in the modern day.

A new business model for a new world

A new business model for a new world.

I have recently been asked by my employers to write blogs for the college.  Their idea is marketing of the college I believe but I am a thinker and I believe in making my writing interesting and informative.  They do manage to make me write the occasional couple of blogs that are essentially for the purposes of promoting some piece of college news but when they complained that the direction I was taking was not relevant to the college’s mission statement and direction of focus I gave them relatively short shrift and explained that social media is not an advertising platform, it is about engagement and they have hired me for the fact that I am an educated academic not for the fact that I use a lot of social media.  As such I will write blogs that touch upon interesting items of relevance to the subjects in which I teach or which I am studying.

If they wish to get someone to simply post adverts I think they would be far better off hiring a conventional marketer on a lower wage than that of a law professor.  Having said that I think my current wage is possibly too low to attract a marketer in London.

Anyway, I have been doing my thing and writing a few blogs, unfortunately as many of the topics on which I write are pertinent to the courses we offer at my college I have taken to publishing such blogs there.  I kind of felt cheated by this as I wish to provide content for this blog and all those who watch it.  So I have decided that whenever I blog anything elsewhere I will provide you with a link to the site if I believe it is appropriate for the style in which I write here.  Some of the blogs will stay put on the CSBM blog, Capital Concepts, and of course a few tech oriented ones will go to my other blog, pcmakto.  I will also link you to the new pcmakto blogs as they are quite interesting.  In fact all of my blogs are quite interesting but I will let you find the other CSBM ones yourself if you so wish.  I just thought I  would let you know the state of affairs in case you were wondering why I keep reblogging other people.  They are all me.  It is complex in my head.

The link you see above is to a blog I wrote the other day on the changes away from short termism towards long term strategic planning that are becoming prevalent in larger tech companies.  As such it is probable that I should be publishing it on the pcmakto blog rather than here, I may have to reblog it there, so confusing.  Anyway, I examine the choices that are being made by Google and Microsoft in combining their software and devices to be built to match.  The recent appointment of Marissa Mayer as Yahoo CEO has been interpreted by many commentators as being a move towards more products rather than services so maybe they will start taking this approach as well.

I think my interpretation of the progression that is being made has a certain novelty in that I have not read anyone else making a similar interpretation.  If this bears out and I am correct then I will be quite pleased to be the first to see it happening.