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Stealing to be Legalised

Stealing is to be legalised by the British Government, it emerged today. “We can’t keep the lid on this any longer,” admitted David Cameroon at a press conference, “it’s time to bring outdated legislation into line with the modern world and let the British public lead the way in ripping each other off with impunity”. In fact many commentators think that the government has been secretly testing the new policy for some time. Mark Steele, head of the UK’s 5 Star Movement (slogan: politicians are doing comedy all the time now, so let’s get comedians into politics) pointed to headlines like “Centrica bosses split £16m pay pot as customers face 6% gas price rise” (makes a change from Banksters bonuses at least), while at the other end of the spectrum the job centers now have fixed targets for how many customers they accuse of lying per day. “Cameroon’s just acknowledging what has been reality for some time,” said Steele, before popping into Harrod’s to steal himself a gross of quail’s eggs.

Thank god for banks



IMG_20130227_131507     IMG_20130227_130918

This is my local post office, on a main road in the center of Sheffield. There’s always a queue here, so it obviously has a useful function, but apparently not useful enough to be maintained properly.

Luckily we’ve got lots of nicely decorated banks in town to make up for it (though none of them sell stamps, or heal the sick for that matter).

Time for a UK 5 star movement maybe?

Warmer and wetter

We’re ending the year with a drip, drip, splosh, and the backstory serves as a reminder of the poverty of information provision. I remember ten or fifteen years ago when climate scientists started appearing in mainstream media sources with predictions of the future. The headline for the UK was “warmer and wetter”, and, surprise surprise, that’s exactly what we’ve got. Flooding is the new normal, and those of us lucky enough to live on high ground may well be thinking of the logistics of ark building.

But how is all this reported in the media? With no connection to the history, or the science. No “just as predicted”, or “in accordance with long-term climate models”, or “in clear disproof of climate change denial”, or the like. Instead we are encouraged to emulate the ostrich and bury our heads even deeper in the sand. Consume! Buy! Don’t worry about drowning, technology will deliver a miracle new form of towel!

Also in today’s news is the report that all the major energy companies in the UK have staff on secondment to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, some of them even paid directly from government funds. No doubt they’re there just to advise on technical matters in a dispassionate and disinterested manner.

The power of the corporations: that’s the elephant in the corner at the close of another year, and we’d best get beyond drip drip acceptance of business as usual if we want any kind of viable future. Happy new year.

Turning the Screw

Did you see an NHS doctor recently? Did your child go to a state school? Are
you receiving a state or public service pension? The UK government thinks that
all these things need to be swapped for their corporate profit-making
equivalent, and that’s why they’re taking an axe to the NHS, privatising
schools and cutting pensions. It’s called austerity, and it has nothing to
do with repaying debts

Then why?

A lot of nonsense is talked about markets (which don’t, of course, create
efficient solutions — they create profitable solutions). One thing that
markets do often drive, though, is competition. (Not all the time: when the
banks cease to be competitive the state bails them out; when a powerful group
of companies stiches up one sector then they’ll inflate prices. But as a
general rule, markets are competitive arenas.)

Competition in a capitalist economy means that companies have to grow (or else
your competitor will get big enough to buy you or undercut you or otherwise
get their hands on your share of the pie). Of course there are limits to
growth: common sense can tell you all you need to know here, and if that
doesn’t work get a few of your friends or colleagues to rendezvous in the
stationary cupboard and then just keep on packing them in. Economists will
tell you that externalities mean that growth is unlimited, but your friends
will tell you that things are getting pretty stuffy already and don’t be such
a dozy wazzock. As globalisation has spread corporate competition across the
world, so growth gets less and less viable within existing markets. Therefore
your school, your health service or your pension become increasingly
attractive targets.

Competition for profit also means that if one corporation or country manages
to drive down the wages and social services of their workforce then they
automatically put pressure on their competitors to do the same. Otherwise the
higher profits of the cheapskates will let them encroach on the markets of the
higher paying. Over time this creates a race to the bottom — and the EU’s
health service, education system and pensions are much more expensive than
their Chinese equivalents, for example. This race to the bottom is
never-ending because it is built-in to the logic of capitalist competition.

The rating agencies, who are the current weapon of choice in the continual
battle to keep this logic of the system from becoming obvious enough to
provoke revolt, are downgrading government debt as a way of turning the screw
on politicians who haven’t yet signed up enough of their nation’s public
sector to corporate incursion.

It all makes perfect sense — unless you want a decent health service, or good
schools, or a comfortable retirement. It is time to remember that
our species can cooperate, not just compete.

Kids and Pensioners: the New Muslims

We’ve all got used to the idea that Reds Under the Bed are no longer the main
threat to Western Civilisation (Gandhi, when asked what he thought of ‘western
civilisation’: "Oh, yes, I think it would be a good idea!"). No, the Reds have
transformed themselves into motherhood and apple pie (or at least Vladimir
Putin), and are no longer Evil Personified. What really challenges the pillars
of our Good and Just Democracy is The Muslim Community. (No, don’t even
think of raising points like "Moira Hindley, was she part of the Christian
Community in the same way that Bin Laden represents the Muslim Community?" Not
unless you have no fear of Rendition, that is.)

Anyhow: The Muslims! (All 1500 million of them are functionally identical, of
course.) What beasts! If they all saved up their combined income for the next
100 years they would almost be able to afford to buy as many arms as the US
and the UK put together!!! How can we tolerate such an affront to reason?

Stop right there. You’re out of date. Yes, there’s a new threat, and one even
more terrifying than the Menace from the Far East (or Barnsley, or wherever
these people come from). And that new threat is…: the very young and the
very old!

The old, it has become clear, are busy sucking us dry with their gold-plated
pensions, and it is clearly of prime importance that we caulk this gaping hole
in our collective finances. (How ever will we pay for the bankers’ bonuses if
not? And then what might happen?! Don’t answer.)

And as the fabric of our society falls apart at the wrinkly end, so the babes
just-out-of-arms step up to the folk devil plate and demand the right to an
education, or else they might have to
go to London and complain. How
dare they!

It’s the parents’ fault, of course. You know who you are. You’re the one who
has failed to save up £75,000 for the degrees of each of your children. And
now those ungrateful sprogs have the audacity to contend that the state should
pay to educate its workforce! Where’s the profit in that?!

Join with me in opposing this insidious rot in the main timbers of our green
and pleasant land. Swift was right: down with the poor, the young and the old!
A modest proposal, I’m sure you’ll agree.1


  1. Now go and read Penny Red,
    Notes from the New Age of Dissent
    , by Laurie Penny — as she says on ‘Buy them in the knowledge that I’ll spend
    the money on whisky and biscuits for anarchists.’

The Difference This Time

I’ve just been to a student meeting about the parlous state of things in
general and the ConDem lunacy in particular. One of the questions that came
up was "last time the state attacked they won — what’s different this time"?

It seems to me that there are several significant differences between the
Thatcherite assault on working people and the poor that we saw in the 1980s
and the new round of muggings and austerity measures.
The upshot is that Cameron and his Libdem apologists will probably not be able
to replicate the success of his predecessors in his mission to make the
majority pay for the banking crisis. Why not?

First, Thatcher had one luxury that the ConDems cannot afford: the ability to
take on her opposition piecemeal. The dockers, then the public sector piece by
piece, then the miners — the whole process took almost a decade. Today the
schedule is perforce much shorter.

Second, and on a longer timescale, the last time young people got angry enough
to really challenge the dominant ideas in society (roughly speaking, the
period between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s) the middle aged had just been
through a period of unusual prosperity and expansion (the long boom of the
50s and 60s — during which time the majority of economists confidently
predicted the end of crisis, of course and as usual, until the oil shocks of
the early 1970s precipitated a return to widespread chaos, unemployment and
social strife in the normal manner). So, while the flower power generation
discovered free love and strong weed in the late 1960s, their parents were, on
the average, more content with the existing order than many generations before
them. The concessions won by working people at the end of the second world war
also contributed to this contentment: the NHS and the welfare state were
massive advances over the lives of their parents’ parents. When the young
started to resist being sent off to Vietnam to slaughter and to be
slaughtered, for example, and all the other movements of 1968 and after span
into motion, their elders were not very likely to jump onto the same bandwagon
as their children.

Contrast the situation today, at the end of 30 years of frequent crisis,
unemployment and stagnation, and in latter years the foundation of a permanent
war against a shadowy and ill-defined enemy and whoever is wearing a thick
enough jacket on the London tube this morning to warrant destruction a hail of
speculative police bullets.

We, speaking now from the grand height of my 45 years, are not content.

Of course we’re also not conspicuously ripping up our social contracts and
heaping our sofas into makeshift barricades… We have, after all, just come
through a period of massive defeat. But I strongly suspect that on average
we’re an awful lot angrier than the 40- and 50-year-olds were in 1968, and
perhaps all we need to bring us out of our shells is one victory, one
breakthrough, one signal that we don’t have to take it any more, and there’ll
be hordes of wrinklies scrambling over the youngsters in our rush to get to
the picket lines. At the very least, our imagery is going to be a whole hill
of beans better than those young upstarts 🙂

The New Muggers and an Old Problem

Why are we being assaulted? There are two reasons why our pensions, our jobs,
and our education system are under such concerted attack from the ConDems,
one immediate and one long-term.

The immediate reason is that, to paraphrase Michael Moore, the bankers and
their friends recently drove a large truck up to the back door of our public
coffers, loaded it up with billions of pounds, dollars and euros of our taxes,
and drove off to the yacht shop to spend it on their bonuses. A pretty
straightforward mugging; I’ll be phoning CID this afternoon, but don’t hold
your breath. The millionaires inhabiting the cabinet found it quite obvious
that we needed to save the banks; after all, if you’re sitting on a huge pot
of cash the last thing you want to contemplate is a default in the insitutions
holding the money. Those of us for whom the banks more often hold debt than
savings may find the equation less obvious.

The longer-term reason was explained very clearly by Joel Bakan in his book
The Corporation and has to do with some of the most fundamental processes of
our society.

One of the reasons why people new to an anti-capitalist world view find it
hard to accept is the implication that the leaders of our institutions must be
a woeful set of incredibly viscious and stupid people. In daily life such
types are in a vanishingly tiny minority, so it is easy to believe that
leading politicians and industrialists are as they often seem in the media —
by and large pretty ordinary.

Joal Bakan’s book is wonderful for showing how the personality types at the
head of our society’s institutions are largely irrelevant to how those
institutions construct the terrors and catastrophes of our times.

If the most powerful institution on earth is the nation state, the second
most powerful, and the one with by far the greatest influence over the state,
is the corporation. Bakan shows how this institution is:

  • treated in law as a person who has only limited responsibility for their
  • mandated by law to act in its own selfish interests at all times
  • behaves in ways that are pathological for society and the environment as a

Not surprisingly, when this freedom (to act with the rights of a person) is
combined with mandated selfishness a whole range of pathological behaviours
ensue. Bakan quotes a psychologist who categorises corporate behaviour as
psychopathic, and notes that Anita Roddick blames the "religion of maximizing
profits" for business’s amorality, for forcing otherwise decent people to do
indecent things: "Because it has to maximize its profits… everything is
legitimate in the pursuit of that goal, everything… So using child labor or
sweatshop labor or despoiling the environment… is legitimate in the
maximizing of profit. It’s legitimate to fire fifteen thousand people to
maximize profits, keep the communities just in such pain." (p. 55)


When I was coming back from Luxembourg this last time, back from my latest
obeisance at the EC’s alter, I bought a Guinness in St. Pancras and sat at a
table on the concourse to watch the world go by for the ten minutes until my
train was due. (You were my sponsor, in fact, because when you texted me the
train times you’d suggested having a beer, and the idea had grown in my mind
while I trundled along in the Docklands Light Railway across the hard bright
landscape of East London.) As I sat with my pint I noticed a little boy
sitting beside his father against the wall of the escalator opposite. The boy
was perhaps five or seven years old, and very sad about something, and he had
something strange about his eyes — perhaps he had eye problems, or perhaps he
had just been crying an awful lot. His father was helping him and soothing
him, and gave him a drink of something. But it was easy to see that they
didn’t have much money, and easy to infer (perhaps mistakenly, but certainly
credibly) that his pain was the result of opportunities curtailed by lack, of
hopes gradually eroded by the never-ending absence of a lucky break, of a
continual disconnect between the happy smiling faces of the Sky TV, SUV, Me Me
Me images dangling like carrots in front as the big sticks of unemployment and
underemployment loom up behind. He was hurt, and a hurt child is a well of
almost infinite sadness into which we ache to pour some comfort, some love and
care that can make up for their hurt and so allow us to again forget those
torments of the innocent that go on and on and on all around us.

Before our child arrived I sometimes managed to forget this feeling. Now
that our precious daughter lives and breathes and faces up to life in all her
fragility and all her wonderful humanity my emotions are more raw, more
exposed. I can bring tears to my eyes by thinking of that little boy’s face
and his expression, framed by the impersonal hustle and bustle of a busy
London station, sustained by his father’s kindness but simultaneously insulted
by the price of the beer that I was drinking, or the insouciance of the
carefree suits in the champagne bar above our heads.

How the World Works

The way that the world works is actually quite simple. It appears complex
because a large number of people are employed to make it look that way. This
set includes those employed in sales and marketing, public relations,
economics, politics, journalism. That’s a lot of people, and a lot of money
spent on their craft. So whereas few people are inclined to believe someone
who sells used cars for a living, for example, most of us most of the time
believe in lots of things which are, when you get to the heart of the matter,
just as unreliable, and just as firmly rooted in the self-interest of whoever
is paying for the message.

To see the underlying simplicity of it all we first have to dig through all
that babble and get to the principal motivations of our opinion-formers.
Fortunately there’s an easy rule to follow: always ask "who benefits?", and
always expect that the people benefiting most from the current state of things
(almost always the rich and powerful) will be the ones most likely to sell you
a clapped out old rustbucket while persuading you that it’s the latest thing
in automotive engineering.

The world is run by a combination of three types of powerful organisations:
corporations, states and governments. In theory the first two are controlled
by the last, but in reality the reverse is often true. This is not to say that
our ‘democracy’ is not a good thing. Even if our ability to vote for
alternatives in government once every few years is set up in such a way that
the real change that we need is next to impossible, the process is extremely
important and must be defended tooth and nail. There is a world of difference
between a totally unfettered power and one which has to make even a token
effort to placate its opposition and argue its corner.

However, quotation marks are often necessary: a real democracy would not mean
choosing between conservative Labour and the new Tories (or between the
Demoblicans and the Repurats, or still less the ConDems) whilst being
bombarded by a thoroughly unified media and marketing world view constructed
from the same deep pockets that pay for the private schools where the elite
politicians learn their trade. A real democracy would mean lots and lots of
people making decisions. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The world is run by a combination of three types of powerful organisations:
corporations, states and governments. In some countries these three are all
rolled into one giant object, generally called The Party. This is what most
people mean when they talk about "communism" (although it bears little
resemblance to the
original concept of that name). China is the
last major example of this type of country.

Where was I?

The world is run by a combination of three types of powerful organisations:
corporations, states and governments. The effect of all this is that
journalists end up behaving like used-car sales people, and politicians end up
behaving like used-car sales people without the usual high level of commitment
to truth and honesty. This is not to say that journalists, politicians and
other opinion-formers are bad people; just that the structures they find
themselves in force them to act as apologists for a system which requires us
to believe a lot of nonsense in order to put up with it.

Bugger. Time for bed. As Ian Dury said in
You’ll See Glimpses,
"It’s true that I haven’t quite finished yet." But never fear, "… here’s a
last glimpse into the general future. Home rule will exist in each home,
forever. Every living thing will be another friend. This wonderful state of
affairs will last for always."