The Great Machine

Penny Red has recently addressed the question of how we start using the untapped resources our physically, and particularly our mentally, distressed people can offer. We still haven’t figured out (at a systemic level) that the answer to a changing economic map is not necessarily to change the people until they fit the work; it can be to redesign the shape of ‘work’ until its flexible enough to fit the people. I am not going to try and further that argument, for my esteemed colleague knows the specific field better than I do. However, one of the questions that debate raised is about the difference between what a thing is, and what it looks like once we’ve measured it: I’m going to talk about analytical structures instead.

One of the things that is heinous about our education system is that it has been designed to give much of our society the idea that they understand statistics, without actually teaching them to understand statistics. I know this from bitter experience; as a history graduate who went into telecommunications engineering, I had a lot of geeks explaining to me exactly why I was wrong, without really helping me learn to be right much.

Most groups of 4 people that I know include at least two computer programmers, who are a special case, but a survey of most groups of 4 people in my pub would not provide even one of them who could adequately explain the difference between an average, a median and a mean (I’m one of those who can’t). Most of our population has trouble understanding that ‘8 times more likely’ is not necessarily that significant when the base rate is 0.003% chance. 0.024% chance is still very small; and our political masters have no hesitation in using that fact to their advantage when it’s time to scare the populace. Whether they got it from the professional news media or vice versa, I cannot say.

Another thing our education system teaches people to believe they understand is economics. They don’t. The professionals in the field don’t understand economics, for the same reason that Michael Fish got it wrong in the 80s. Systems which are sufficiently complex that they require non-linear analysis (such as the weather) don’t work like machines. Our economy does work rather like a machine, a point I’ll return to later, but our society does not because humans don’t like being subject to a designed obsolescence.

Traditional macro-economics was designed by men who were inventing a new world. Muscle-powered society was giving way to machine-powered and then electric society. The human mind, fairly obviously, is affected by its environment; and the men of that era who sought to see into the abstract and describe the world saw it as a kind of inexorable, immensely complex machine and so they described it in those terms. Even for the world they actually lived in, this analysis was insufficiently subtle. It created the abject poverty and child-slave labour in Victorian England, it created World War I and the Russian Revolution. But in those days, it was possible to enforce a flawed vision of society as a machine upon the masses, because mechanisms for change were still restricted to bloody revolution.

After WWI it all changed. We were still an industrial system, and so (up to a point) the mechanistic metaphors still worked. The The Wall Street crash set the pattern for the next 70 years. The one time we almost broke out of that way of thinking, they shot everyone and went into Vietnam anyway; and that was after Eisenhower had warned them against the “acquisition of unwarranted power by the military-industrial complex”. This, by the way, is why our economics in the West look rather mechanical; they’re being deliberately engineered to be that way. Machines are good at producing predictable results. Our system is a machine for funneling money towards those who start with capital; ie. the ancient Christian adage ‘To him who hath it shall be given, from him who hath not it shall be taken away’.

When we invented the internet, we kicked off a systemic alteration of human society on the same level as the Industrial Revolution and the Rennaissance. Muscle-powered society gave way to mechanical society, which is in turn now giving way to information-driven society. But none of the metrics for analysis that we use in determining the worth of an individual within our society have evolved beyond the mechanistic. They could have; by the end of the 1960s, there were alternative models available but they were not adopted. Why not?

Because it is entirely in the interests of the Establishment to retain our current ways of thinking about economic contribution, because they are the only ways of thinking about economic contribution that keep the Establishment, established.

The tasks of “production” (in the Marxist sense) are, and will be, increasingly mechanised; therefore, those who continue to work in production will increasingly be cybernetics engineers and mechanics: and also, a steadily shrinking percentage of the population. Unless we all decide to stop having kids, each generation is going to be larger than the last; for a look at ways to stop people having kids, examine China’s One Child Policy and see if you think it’s still a good idea. Therefore, we are, without a doubt, going to have an increasing problem with population who cannot, due to technological advancement, work in production.

Therefore, whether we start figuring it out now, or when its too late, our society will, at some point, need to evolve metrics for measuring an individual’s contribution which are neither mechanistic, nor purely material, but deal with the ephemerals which govern people’s lives.

Why is a banker worth more than a teacher? Because no-one knows how much each child the teacher trains will earn. Without that, no-one can add up the columns and put a monetary value on the contribution the teacher has made to society: whereas a banker’s ‘contribution to society’ is easy to count, it’s his bank balance. Of course, in practice, his bank balance is society’s contribution to him, not the other way around.

How much is a really good child-minder worth? At the moment, the only metric which we have available is based on how much money the parents of the children make versus how much they’d make if one of them had to bring up the kids. This is not only a bad metric for measuring anyone’s contribution by, (because of me someone else makes money; on the other hand it most certainly is the typical measure we use in this society) it also indicates a disturbing lack of respect for our own future.

How much is the contribution to society of a bus-driver worth? Speaking as someone who has to commute to work, frequently at extremely anti-social hours, on London’s bus network I am inclined to argue that a bus-driver’s work benefits more people on a daily basis than a TV Chat-show host does (note; benefit != entertain). And yet…

We need to start valuing those contributions which are not commodities; and we need to stop seeing increased capacity to consume (ie. financial affluence) as the only viable way of keeping score on someone’s contribution to our civilisation.

Advertisements

21 Comments

Filed under Content

21 responses to “The Great Machine

  1. ghonrogoro

    Hello!
    Found you via penny red!
    Aren’t the financial value and intrinsic worth of things entirely different? Should water be more expensive than a peanut, simply because we need it more?

    • johnqpublican

      Hello :)

      It can be argued that there’s no such thing as ‘intrinsic worth’, since that implies a value judgement which is also an absolute fact. Financial value is an assigned value; while in many cases the assigned value matches reality, it does not do to forget that the values are still arbitrarily assigned.

      In some instances financial values are forced to track the real world: food, for example. In other instances there is no such mechanism. Concerning things like social renumeration for individual contributions, there’s more grey areas, and in such areas privilege and discrimination lurk. There is no reason for the wildly disparate levels of pay between, for example, a nurse and a network engineer. The common argument is ‘skill scarcity’ but that doesn’t hold; while there was, for a while, a skill shortage in the internet industry, there hasn’t been a labour shortage in that sector for a long time, whereas in the cases of nurses there’s a chronic labour shortage, and has been for decades. According to the simplistic model that should have pushed up the wages for nurses, probably to near merchant-bank levels, but it hasn’t.

      Therefore another force is at work. My thesis is that this force is socially assigned value. Some things are, for hystericalhistorical reasons, assigned a lower societal value than others and this is reflected in how they’re paid. In terms of social impact, nurses, teachers, and most certainly full-time childcarers would be among the highest paid, where they not all jobs historically associated with women and therefore systematically undervalued throughout Western society.

  2. ghonrogoro

    Interesting. So what is the mechanism for enforcing this low value, on certain professions? Is it a case of the establishment convincing the masses of the low value of these jobs or are more direct methods to blame?
    Or is this just a result of general discrimination throughout society, without the influence of elite?

  3. “In terms of social impact, nurses, teachers, and most certainly full-time childcarers would be among the highest paid, were they not all jobs historically associated with women …”

    I think there’s also a strong effect whereby certain jobs (often including those referred to as ‘vocations’) are lower paid because they are jobs that some people want to do – and therefore will do for lower wages (but with a corresponding rise in their quality of life, due to having a more enjoyable job or working environment).

    This same effect can be seen at work in situations where there is no traditional-gender-role explanation for the difference… for example ‘cool’ shops such as HMV paid their Saturday staff lower wages than ‘boring’ shops such as BHS when I was a kid (and I assume they still do).

  4. johnqpublican

    An immediately applicable example is government health programs such as the NHS. The NHS establishes a benchmark (very low) for nursing pay. Private firms only have to compete with that to get highly qualified and motivated staff.

    Double the NHS pay to nurses and the private clinics will either lose all their skill and experience advantages, or have to pay realistic salaries. In teaching the same clearly applies, etc.

  5. johnqpublican

    Denny: I agree entirely with your initial contention. That issue is one of those I’m queuing up to investigate in its own right.

    Regarding the BHS vs HMV thing, an even better example is internships in journalism or politics, or runners in Soho. People who want, effectively, an apprenticeship in a craft career used to be able to be apprentices. The good thing about that was that there was a clear code describing the duty of care a master owed the apprentice in lieu of pay.

    The erosion of the apprenticeship system allowed the barrow-boysentrepreneurial class to evolve a new concept of getting labour for free from the young, and having no real responsibility in return, certainly not the guarantee of a unionised career structure that apprentices used to get.

  6. ghonrogoro

    Or, I suppose, do away with the NHS ; )

  7. johnqpublican

    Ghonrogoro:

    I’m not entirely sure what problem that would solve?

  8. ghonrogoro

    Underpayment of nurses.

    • johnqpublican

      I’m sorry? If private industry could swing it, then no-one who was not a share-holder [1] would get paid, because clearly free labour is massively more efficient (at maximising share-holder value) than any other option. Under the paradigm of free-market economics, healthcare is currently a two-player game. There’s government, and there’s !government. One is in it for the money, the other is in it because our society had an Enlightenment and they’re the guys who got elected. At least, this used to be the case. Since ‘bribery’ was rebranded to ‘Public-Private Partnership’, I’m beginning to think they’re both in it for the money.

      The only reason private care nurses get better paid is competition: if they didn’t, there’d be no benefit to not working in the NHS. The higher private pay allows the private health industry to self-select from incoming young professionals, so that an increasing number of the best people work in private rather than public health, which is a self-reinforcing spiral (and has been one since the seventies). If you remove the NHS, thus removing the only source of competition, then private nurse pay will go down, I guarantee you. The goal here is to raise societal recognition (ie. money) for those whose work is for legacy reasons not valued highly enough. Your suggestion would remove the one protection those extraordinary and dedicated people have left.

      [1] At which point, of course, the John Lewis Partners will be laughing all the way to the mattress (since the banks have all gone bust).

  9. ghonrogoro

    Thats right, but surely there would be more competition without the NHS? The private sector wouldn’t be one big block holding wages down, which the NHS is. Why are medical wages in the US higher if this isn’t the case?
    If there is a shortage of nurses and they are neccesary for the smooth operation of a hospital, how would private business be able to keep their wages low?

  10. johnqpublican

    ghonorogo:

    Thats right, but surely there would be more competition without the NHS? The private sector wouldn’t be one big block holding wages down

    Er, yes it would. It’s called a cartel.

    The private sector does medicine to make a profit. The public sector does medicine because the provision of medical care to the public is both socially necessary and, more importantly, a perceived duty of care.

    If you allow medical care to become private then you do, indeed, end up in the situation the Americans are in. Have you ever read any of the politics surrounding healthcare in the States? Where people literally die in A&E because they can’t sign the consent forms to a $50k bill while shot? Or where hospital staff have a choice of letting a person who has no insurance and who has no access to Medicaid die, or treating them and seeing them driven to bankruptcy and jail by the weregeld?

    Public health is like public roads; too important to be left to those who have to make money at it.

  11. ghonrogoro

    Hmmm – I’d imagine that a government with the ability to forcably extract payment from its citizens is in a better position to fix prices and wages than a group of businessmen are. Anyway, I’d suggest that the nature of the healthcare business doesn’t lend itself well to price fixing – since the product is the service provided by the staff, the products provided by different companies are never going to be indistinguishable (in the same way that oil or diamonds might be) and further it’d be exceptionally easy for a doctor to set up an independent practice and provide competition.
    As for your second point, thats an entirely different argument. Obviously the American system is less accessible than the British one, but the staff are well paid.
    There is always going to be a trade off between the best interests of the customer and the best interests of the worker.

    And i’m interested by your final statement – why do you disdain the profit motive?
    Don’t the people running the NHS or road system do so for money?

  12. johnqpublican

    Hmmm – I’d imagine that a government with the ability to forcably extract payment from its citizens is in a better position to fix prices and wages than a group of businessmen are.

    And when they tried it over in France they got guillotined. The point is that the government is, however minimally, accountable for the social responsibility of their decisions. Business, particularly a business which has through the 20th century distilled itself into a very small, exclusive and VERY RICH club (think GlaxoSmithKline, BASF, etc.) has quite literally only one inherent concern: to increase shareholder value. Except where forced, businesses have no reason to be socially, rather than fiscally, responsible.

    Anyway, I’d suggest that the nature of the healthcare business doesn’t lend itself well to price fixing – since the product is the service provided by the staff, the products provided by different companies are never going to be indistinguishable (in the same way that oil or diamonds might be) and further it’d be exceptionally easy for a doctor to set up an independent practice and provide competition.

    Have you seen how AIDS medicine is priced around the world? Have you seen the fighting that’s currently going on with NICE surrounding price-fixing by the international medical cartel over cancer medication? The point about healthcare is that it’s already a cartel. Ever since large-scale philanthropy went out of style people have been trying to treat healthcare like the auto-mechanic trade. We fix you, you pay. That’s great from an economic perspective, as is funding your army on a ‘If someone attacks us, raise a tax then and we’ll pay it’. More money in people’s pockets to invest, right?

    Except you can see immediately it doesn’t work like that. Neither does healthcare.

    As for your second point, thats an entirely different argument. Obviously the American system is less accessible than the British one, but the staff are well paid.
    There is always going to be a trade off between the best interests of the customer and the best interests of the worker.

    The staff are most certainly not well paid. You’re thinking about consultant- or surgery-level positions. I’m talking, and explicitly, about nurses. Also, the whole point of the government taking a third of my hard-earned cash is that they’re meant to spend it (note, spend it) on things that will benefit me, like not dying of neglect when I’m ill. The interests of the customer (the tax-payer) and the employee (the tax-payer) in this instance are that the national health service should be completely free, and should work. The reason the NHS is broke is that the direct tax it was funded by was broken up so the government could re-distribute it to more government-friendly budget areas.

    Regarding the more general point about trade-offs between customer and employee: I refer you again to the John Lewis Partnership.

    And i’m interested by your final statement – why do you disdain the profit motive? Don’t the people running the NHS or road system do so for money?

    They do now, and you’ll notice both systems are fucked.

    ‘The Profit Motive’; lovely weasel words, there. The Profit Motive is ‘I need more, which means he needs to have less‘ That’s a great way to run personal affairs; if I were a brewer, then the profit motive is a perfectly good way to operate. People don’t have to have beer: it’s a choice. Therefore, if I’m to make a profit, I have to make good beer, market it well, deliver it on time, etc. Profit as a motive causes me to perform better.

    Healthcare, roads, education, and the support of the destitute; the profit motive has never got any of these done (except item two, and that only in dictatorships). There’s a reason for this; all of them cost money without there being any revenue stream.

    The reason they’re left up to churches (charitable institutions) and governments (coercive institutions) is that people do, in fact, need healthcare, or they die. In the modern world theyneed education. They need affordable food, as well. In none of these endeavours is the profit motivation a good one, because none of them will ever make a profit, because the whole point of all of them is that they customer doesn’t have to pay for them directly. We pay tax, our tax makes the system work, the system works, we use it when we need it, and not when we don’t. That’s how it’s meant to work, but for that to be true, we have to constantly spend money on these things. Profits are not made by constantly spending money on something which has no direct ROI.

    It boils down to the need and want dichotomy; anything necessary is too important to be left to the profit motive.

  13. ghonrogoro

    You’ve got this entirely back-to-front. Firstly, depending on the government, they can’t neccesarily be held to responsiblity by anyone, because they have bigger guns. As your own example shows often the only way to get rid of the bastards really is to kill them. Secondly, companies are entirely beholden to their customers. Whatever social pressure it is possible to apply to a government is equally applicable to companies – if you don’t like their policies – boycott them. The fact is that most companies (especially large ones) are acutely aware of public perceptions and go out of their way to avoid damaging their reputation. If the public actually cared about an issue, it would be significantly easier to affect a company than it would a government that potentially has the power to crush dissent with violence. At worst it’s the same.

    To be honest, I know nothing of AIDS medicine, but i’d imagine that any potential for enforcing high prices lies in government supported monopoly (license) rather than business acting alone. Anyway, the production of drugs is a very different matter to the provision of healthcare. That one can be made into a cartel does not indicate that the other can – for exactly the reasons stated. It is possible to produce HIV drugs which are identical, whereas the service provided by a doctor can never be.

    Nurses in the US make more than their British counterparts – I googled . They seem to be on about £25 thousand a year, (thats not even accounting for the current low pound) which is a good, average British pay packet. Can’t say fairer than that. BTW, as I’m sure you know, the NHS isn’t in any way free. It costs however many tens of billions every year, and it is in your interest to recieve good medical treatment as cheaply as you can, whil e it’s in the interests of doctors and nurses to get paid more.
    The reason why the NHS is broken is that for all the talk of saving lives, they’re just prolonging the inevitable. The only possible result of better (non-preventative) medicine is greater cost.

    I don’t really understand the point you’re making about John Lewis.

    Greater profit, doesn’t neccesarily have to be about taking money from others – thats a pretty medieval view you have there. It can equally be about increasing efficiency, providing better service or making something new.

    Toll roads? No revenue stream for healthcare or education? Uh… I work in private education – of course there is a revenue stream! There might not be a profit motive for universal education or healthcare, but systems of universal education are generally justified by the wealth that a well educated population will create for a nation. As for affordable food – you’ve never heard of Tesco? Private business has made food progressively more affordable while government has largely worked to make it more expensive! People obviously feel a desire to help the less fortunate, but that dosn’t mean that a central authority is best placed to determine how the aid should be spent.

    Why do you think an alturistic doctor is better than a greedy one?

  14. johnqpublican

    Secondly, companies are entirely beholden to their customers. Whatever social pressure it is possible to apply to a government is equally applicable to companies – if you don’t like their policies – boycott them. The fact is that most companies (especially large ones) are acutely aware of public perceptions and go out of their way to avoid damaging their reputation.

    To a certain extent this argument held up before a) global conglomerate companies, created under incredibly lax regulation and now protected by an immense amount of law, and b) before mass media and the concept of ‘market creation’.

    If it is even possible for a company to say ‘We have this thing we can make. No-one wants it; so we will spend $foo creating a market through advertising, and then we will be able to sell it’ (which is what ‘market creation’ is), then your argument immediately breaks down. The hard-line free market economic argument only works if every trading entity is small; as soon as you get companies like the Carlyle group, who I object to very extremely but who, like Nestle and anyone else who owns a packaging plant are virtually impossible to effectively boycot, then the customer argument has limited viability.

    Regarding the last part; notice the huge gap between ‘going to great lengths to safeguard your reputation’ and ‘not doing the bad stuff’. The latter means actually acting in a socially responsible, and therefore expensive way. The former, what we have now, means ‘going to great lengths to try and make sure no-one finds out‘. A classic case-study in this is the history of industrial pollution in the USA.

    To be honest, I know nothing of AIDS medicine, but i’d imagine that any potential for enforcing high prices lies in government supported monopoly (license) rather than business acting alone.

    Goodness. You think that the USA launching trade wars over copyright treaties was to do with the government wanting the copyright treaties? Er, no. It was the businesses, who own the government. The same applies to the medication; the infamous statistic comes from 1997 when identical drugs which cost about $11 a dose in Sweden, where almost no-one needed them, cost over $60 a dose in war-torn Rwanda where everyone needs them and no-one earns $60 a year let alone a month.

    The fundamental difference in our analysis comes from this: you seem to think that the market is, in itself, in some way going to do things which are expensive and have no benefit to the person doing them, but which do benefit the person for whom they are done. I believe that companies have only one purpose; to make money. Anything they do besides that is something they have been forced into, be it by government oversight, by tradition, or (indeed, if rarely in the last 40 years) by customer action.

    Nurses in the US make more than their British counterparts – I googled . They seem to be on about £25 thousand a year, (thats not even accounting for the current low pound) which is a good, average British pay packet. Can’t say fairer than that.

    Actually, yes you can, I spent the article above saying just that.

    The reason you feel nurses being paid a social average wage packet is reasonable, is that you are part of a society which values the civilisational contribution of nursing work at average, or below average. My argument is that if we were prepared to assess social contribution by metrics other than cash, nursing is a massively more valuable than average contribution to society, second only to teachers and full-time childrearing in my personal assessment.

    Currently, the most rewarded, ie. the most socially valued, work in our culture is banking. Look where that got us. My argument is that we need to reassess the values we put on different jobs, and make them a better reflection of holistic rather than merely financial contribution:

    We need to start valuing those contributions which are not commodities; and we need to stop seeing increased capacity to consume (ie. financial affluence) as the only viable way of keeping score on someone’s contribution to our civilisation.

    Regarding the NHS and its freedom: it’s not free now, but the whole point of having one was to provide universal access to free medical care. It was initially funded by direct taxation: all four and a half billion pounds that came from tobacco taxation went straight into the NHS, none of it into the military. The NHS began to run short of money right after they axed the direct tax law and started funding the NHS out of the Treasury. Go figure.

    Regarding John Lewis: quite literally the only inescapable responsibility any modern company has is ‘increase shareholder value’. This intrinsically places companies at odds with their own employees, who could all make the company so much more money if they just didn’t want paying. The John Lewis Partnership is the only major economic player in the UK where the shopfront employees are the majority shareholders: ie. it’s the only major company I know of where the board are responsible to the employees.

    Toll roads? No revenue stream for healthcare or education? Uh… I work in private education – of course there is a revenue stream!

    Yes, but someone has to pay you for it. Have I been unclear, or have I just failed to point out that in my analysis of Information-age societies, education and health-care should be universally accessible? Universally accessible means free at point of access. Yes, I think that education and health-care should be paid for by taxes, and available for free all the time, rather than paid for as needed only by those who can afford them.

    At no point have I been talking about private education. Of course it should be legal to have a private school, or a private doctor’s surgery. Of course it should. But, no-one should ever have to use one to get first-class healthcare or a first-class education. Public education costs, rather than earning. Public healthcare costs rather than earning. That’s the point.

    Greater profit, doesn’t neccesarily have to be about taking money from others – thats a pretty medieval view you have there. It can equally be about increasing efficiency, providing better service or making something new.

    I agree it doesn’t have to be. I’m proposing alternative socio-economic models in which it wouldn’t be, but capitalist economics is intrinsically about exploiting the maximum ROI from every resource (including the human *spit*). In order for that not to be the case, you have to be doing something that ain’t capitalist.

    People obviously feel a desire to help the less fortunate, but that dosn’t mean that a central authority is best placed to determine how the aid should be spent.

    And right there, we’re talking the same language. I don’t think it is, but it’s what we’ve got. In the next 50 years, there aren’t going to be any viable alternatives to central government, so this is what I have to try and modify.

    Why do you think an alturistic doctor is better than a greedy one?

    I don’t, not in the least. I think that the profit motive works fine on an individual level. Which is why I’m advocating raising the pay of public-sector health workers, rather than removing the only bit of the system someone like me can get medical treatment through entirely and assuming I’ll just die of exhaustion and thus stop losing the country money.

    My goal here is to see a national health service, for which the user (the patient, in this case me) does not have to pay, which performs at the highest plausible level of current technology; ie. the kind of service you get in private institutions. Since the government would rather spend my money on bailing out their mates in banking than on me and my mates on the ground, I don’t get that service; in fact, you can’t get a damn appointment in my area unless you’re really lucky. Too many poor people, who get sick more in winter.

    The same rationale applies to education.

    I’m aware I’m not going to get you to change your underlying political beliefs. I’m not trying to; I believe in a public social responsibility which is, for the reasons I’ve outlined above, something our society claims to engage in but which it is failing at, spectacularly. You believe that social responsibility is not actually a problem, that the market will take care of everyone if only we’d let it. You see a flaw in my argument, which is that you think I don’t understand economics. I see a flaw in yours, which is that you think I’m only talking about economics.

    What I’m looking for here is whether you can accept that my axioms are different from yours (I believe in societal responsibility for those who are in need, you do not). From that, plus the umpteen bits of evidence I adduced above, my argument that the capitalist system is going to die under its own mechanisation, and that therefore we need to start putting successor systems in place should make sense, even if you don’t believe it.

  15. ghonrogoro

    I don’t have a problem with charity, social insurance, or even ‘free’ education or healthcare, if that is what people want. I do believe in societal responsibility to those in need, though i’m guessing that the society I have in mind is rather smaller than the one that you’re thinking of. I must admit that I have doubts that the national government of a large country like Britain has the ability to organise and manage such communally funded projects and at all times I’d prefer voluntary to forced action.* However, whilst I think government is often a poor means of organisation, the idea that government should not merely be acting as an agent which secures the nation services for the best price, but also that it should take it upon itself to determine what consitutes a socially agreeable payment for each person within society is the point with which I *really* disagree. I strongly believe that the adoption of these and other additional responsibilities by goverment is both unnecesary and undesirable.
    For what reason might it be neccesary for the government to determine peoples pay level? Firstly, if this is a case of morality which must be addressed by law regardless of peoples desires and secondly if the will of the people is being undermined by some (possibly profit-mad) elite. If it is the case of the first I think that government intervention is the wrong approach for two reasons – firstly, the laws of society should enjoy broad-based support unless we are to live in a totalitarian state – (if the people are generally immoral perhaps the current perception of morality is unhelpful) and secondly, even if we agree that it should be the business of government to force change upon us, that we are incapable of determining the value of each individual within society, who is going to determine what the appropriate payment should be and how will we reach agreement? I truely believe that this kind of thinking leads us down a very dangerous path.
    Secondly, if it is true that the will of the people is being undermined by an elite, additional power to the *political* elite is the last thing we need. Democracy and markets are the easiest way for people to directly express their will. If you believe that nurses are underpaid, there is nothing stopping you from starting a charity which will provide them with additional payments. If there are enough like minded people, i’m sure it’ll be wildly successfull. This is a problem of individual responsibility, as are many of the problems with the current system – managers who pay themselves fortunes for nothing, prime ministers who get elected despite unpopular poorly justified wars. The means to remove them exist if the will to do so is present – pandering to the slavish need for leadership will do nothing to solve any of these problems. Take independent action using existing structures. You may well find that support for your plans is lacking, in which case I refer you to the previous paragraph.
    Also, for the reasons given above, your judgement of business is flawed. It *is* the case that managers should aim to run their business in the most efficient way possible, because by doing so it allows the rest of us – customers and consumers both – more money which we can then decide to spend in the way which *we* see fit. Whether that is buying a new x-box or giving money to help a charity of our choice, it is certainly a better proposition than being forced to give money/time to someone elses moral vision.

    So the points on which I believe we disagree:

    That it is neccesary/desirable to use compulsion to further our personal moral aims.
    That additional compulsion (beyond basic, easily agreeable laws) can improve society.
    That existing problems within society can’t be solved (if there is the will to do so) *within existing structures*

    *I’m sure that a small, *voluntarily* communal society would be a lovely place to live and i’d certainly be interested in giving it a whirl.

  16. ghonrogoro

    bugger – I meant customers and *owners* both. – paragraph concerning your judgement of business-

  17. ghonrogoro

    Sorry – one more

    I guess we also disagree that:

    The genius of the individual trumps the wisdom of society at large.
    (i’m on the side of society)

  18. johnqpublican

    Ghonorogo;

    I understand the various points you were making there. I don’t, as it happens, believe centralised government is the answer either. Not in the least; to me, that’s last epoch’s thinking, and it had its uses but we should be outgrowing it now.

    However, the existing social system, and the government itself, believe they are the answer. The system is set up so that only central government can influence business to be profitable and responsible instead of outrageously profitable and socially or environmentally destructive. Part a of the plan is to start building the kind of community both you and I would like to see. Part b is to start using virtualisation, hyper-textuality and strong encryption to propagate a vision of society as interlinked rather than parochial, as globalised at the grass roots rather than at the board-room level. Part c, however, is to survive the 50-odd years it’ll take to do all of that. The reason I’m calling for government to re-evaluate the metrics by which we assess social contribution (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as pay scales; that’s the old thinking, again) is that they could, if they wished, get things done now. We, collectively, are not in a position to do that.

    I feel I’ve learned what I can from this debate, and thank you for that; you represent a positive challenge :) But neither of us is going to change our basic social assumptions, so shall we move on to the next one?

  19. ghonrogoro

    Of course!

    Thanks for the interesting discussion!