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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The result is an economy in decline.

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

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

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An ethical way to invest in the most ruthless of moneymakers

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

Advice for modern business

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The profit motive itself can be damaging to further profit. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.