Recessional risks

Recently my pub got burgled. Well, sort of. I mean, nothing was stolen from inside the pub. And they didn’t really have to break in, because the conniving twatproperty developer who owns the plot behind us left his site open to the street for three weeks, thus circumventing our nice, expensive security gates.

What they actually stole was about 8 feet, in two L-shaped segments, of copper piping. This has a retail market value, new, of perhaps a tenner. Second hand, that’s maybe six to nine quid. Cost to us, between one and two thousand pounds because said bits of pipe were plumbed into the industrial chiller system which keeps my cellar cold. In other words, someone came along in the night and ripped from the wall, with their bare hands, two pipes through which coolant fluid was circulating, then walked away leaving it draining on the ground.

Now, I don’t like it when my cellar warms up, it’s very bad for the beer. I also don’t particularly like it when people steal bits of my plumbing. But since I’ve chosen to think politically, I can’t let even a stupid event like this go by without contextualising it within this growing economic recession.

As I see it this could in theory be one of two things: theft or vandalism. Dealing with them in reverse order: if it’s vandalism, then it is a sign of social disorder. It’s a sign of people who’re prepared to break things just to express their frustration with a failed socio-economic system; regardless of who the things belong to. It’s the symptom of anger and desperation and despondency. And I really wish people in my city weren’t forced to such acts. I wish they could realistically hope to get a job; that they could realistically count on healthcare when they are too ill to work, and pastoral care when they’re too ill to cope. I wish they could trust in a national social conscience which says that recessions are what the Welfare State were invented to cope with; that the state’s social agenda should be dominated by helping the poorest, not the richest, survive the next ten years. But the people who live around me in London can’t trust in those things. All they can be sure of is taxation without any kind of effective representation.

Alternatively, it could be theft, either amateur or professional. If it’s amateur theft, then everything I’ve just said applies just as well, with the rider that I also wish six months wasn’t enough time to drive ordinary, hard-working people into industrial burglary, but it is: when there is no safety-net, the people who fall out of the cogs in the machine fall very fast and they hit very hard.

If this was professional theft, then let’s look at the realities here. Pulling those pipes from their restraining mounts, and then exerting sufficient lever action to tear two 2cm copper pipes off at each end so that they could walk away with the metal, will have taken some time. The angles were inconvenient, the pipes sturdy and the effort considerable. Let’s estimate half an hour for a successful theft. Let’s also guess that instead of being opportunists who are just wandering the streets late at night with a shopping trolley looking for bits of metal they can break off buildings, these guys were organised and had scoped a series of sites in the local area for visiting on a single night. They might realistically pull, say, seven of these jobs in a night. So, they (and evidence suggests there were at least two involved) have just spent a night risking arrest and long-term imprisonment for a total reward of less than forty pounds a head.

Professional theft happens with three or four zeros on the end of it, or in the case of the financial industry, ten or twelve such zeros. No-one who can think up a more effective crime method will walk around tearing pipes off walls on an ad hoc basis. Beyond that: these things were filled with some local equivalent of Freon. Industrial coolant systems are toxic, corrosive, dangerous and very very cold. So these thieves were also placing themselves at considerable risk of injury and agony, all for maybe ten pounds worth of copper.

Does that seem like a high-achieving crime strategy to you? It seems to me like an act of economic desperation. People have been nicking the lead off church roofs for decades, and it’s always been an act of desperation. So much physical and legal danger, but at least with a roof you end up with a very considerable lead weight. These guys were nicking pipes. I can see no way that anyone would do the above risk/reward calculation and decide it was a good idea. It’d be safer and more rewarding, even under current law, to get into dealing marijuana or working for the London Underground. Which means the level of desperation represented here is extreme.

I don’t want to see people forced to steal my pipes. I like them where they are, keeping my beer at a nice 12C, but that isn’t the point. In 2003 I didn’t want to see the brave and the few (by which I mean British servicemen and women) forced to risk their bodies in bizarre hybrid of Monopoly™ and Risk™. Today I don’t want to watch the people I see every day in the pub or on the bus forced to desperate, dangerous measures to try and feed their kids.

New Labour has been all about cosmetics. Let’s make Labour look more smiley. Plaster enough red on and no-one will notice we’ve turned into moderate conservatives. Sex up the dossier and no-one will question until it’s too late. Cosmetic responses to this crisis will not work. We need to see change, a rededication of social conscience from the personal profit motivations of the post-Thatcher era into something different; a social conscience based once more upon the public good.

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27 Comments

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27 responses to “Recessional risks

  1. ghonrogoro

    Sorry to hear about that.

    I’m going to go with number one, with a fair bit of stupidity mixed in.
    But not to sure about your interpretation of their motivations though – I’d think it more likely that these are people who have never had to work for anything and therefore have no appreciation of hard work or costs to others.
    A socio-economic problem, but one of ‘entitlement’ – people who believe they are entitled to anything they like because nobody has ever told them any different.

    And rather than desperation, this really does just seem like gross stupidity. Why didn’t they take the beer?
    Are you sure those pipes weren’t made from gold?

  2. johnqpublican

    The beer was inside the pub, and the pipes were exposed on the wall (they’re now in a fairly serious locked box).

    Regarding motivations: if ‘never having to work’ was what caused this, why would they be stealing? Never needing work implies alternative support, and in your example I assume that you mean the benefits system. If it has successfully supported them all their adult lives, why on earth would they steal things?

    Clearly, if people on benefits are resorting to risk of imprisonment and considerable physical danger just to obtain an extra tenner, the benefits system is doing a hideously inadequate job of maintaining them.

    The only people I’ve ever come across in Britain who could get through their lives never having any expectation of needing to work are those who descend from serious money, or the specific subset of upper-middle class women, whose expectations are largely to marry money and enjoy it. Poor people have to work. Rich people get to spend.

  3. ghonrogoro

    Right, I see – I was thinking the pipes were inside the pub.
    As for their motivations – maybe ripping pipes off walls is easier for them than working in MacDonalds – maybe they enjoy it. Its clear that people don’t only commit crimes due to destitution. How about the kids who steal cars for joyriding? How about designer shoe clad muggers? And with the prison system as it is, the chances are that someone ripping pipes off a wall is at no risk of imprisonment – they’re probably fully aware of that.
    Heres the thing – I think we can agree that crime should be reduced by increased welfare payments. However, you can’t deny that culture also plays an important role in determining whether someone turns to crime. I reckon that in most cases, in the UK, culture plays a preeminent role in determining whether someone will become a criminal – rather than any level of absolute poverty they might be experiencing.
    And if it is culture which is the major problem, how is more money in welfare going to help?
    What jobs do you suppose these people are willing to do, and are they willing to learn new skills?

  4. johnqpublican

    maybe ripping pipes off walls is easier for them than working in MacDonalds – maybe they enjoy it. Its clear that people don’t only commit crimes due to destitution. How about the kids who steal cars for joyriding? How about designer shoe clad muggers?

    Point understood, but I believed I had entered some data here which implied that this wasn’t that kind of thing. I.e. the considerable physical danger involved in performing violent acts on toxic chemical plumbing. Either whoever did this had considerably better safety gear than we actually have in the pub, or they got hurt, and badly, and potentially picked up a fatal poisoning through open-wound chemical contact.

    That’s not better than a McJob, unless the person involved is a seriously crazed serial masochist. It would also be a huge price for some basic vandalism: violent crime (e.g. your muggers) is different psychologically, and in this instance there was no immediate victim to provide the release a violent offender is looking for. This kind of thing would be on a par with painting the walls, which has a much lower physical risk for equivalent annoyance to whoever has to clean it.

    However, you can’t deny that culture also plays an important role in determining whether someone turns to crime. I reckon that in most cases, in the UK, culture plays a preeminent role in determining whether someone will become a criminal – rather than any level of absolute poverty they might be experiencing.

    Good lord, you don’t think I believe the recent recession is responsible for forty to fifty years of generational betrayals perpetrated on the poor, do you? [ /sarcasm ]

    “Culture” in the poor areas of London is defined by chuck-the-nutter-in-the-gutter, by bailiffs and squats because all the council houses are now owned by middle-class people, by the comprehensive failure of Thatcher’s new model education, and by forty years of Stephen Lawrences and Damilola Taylors. Of course the problem is wider than the current crunch, but: those pipes have been there for three years. They got nicked this week. Do the math.

    Are these people willing to learn new skills? For damn sure. Can they afford to do so? Not in this economic climate. I’ve been relatively well off in terms of salary for various parts of the last 10 years, and I managed to find money for two training courses (because my employers refused to train for a technical post; idiots). The KP at my work is: working 25hr weeks here, working 12-hr weeks elsewhere, attending night school for an eventual qualification in sound engineering and producing his own music, which is getting specialist-channel radio play. He’s a war refugee who arrived here in a UN handbag at fifteen, and I think he’s extraordinary.

    It’s the third generation kids, the ones whose parents were screwed by Thatcher and whose lives have been dominated by street gangs and failing schools, that find themselves in ‘the life’. This is just as true of the white kids in Romford as it is of the black kids in Leyton, and has been true in Essex for longer than it’s been true around my way. Getting out of that involves spectacular luck or someone else footing the bill: and spectacular luck will only ever help a very small number of people. For the rest of us, that’s what social consciences are for.

  5. ghonrogoro

    When I see a guy like your KP who works 30 odd hours a week and still studies, I don’t think that such people are amazing. I think that the people who don’t make the effort to do so and instead go out and rob others are complete shits. If this guy can pay his own way and attempt to better himself without resorting to crime why can’t the others? For every aspiring biochemist stealing pipes in order to complete his experiments, how many feckless rat boys are commiting crimes out there? There are a growing number of people to whom honest work really is anathema and i’m sure they’d rather suffer the risk of death than the indignity of labour.
    To what extent will should your KP be compelled to support those who havn’t made the same efforts?

    About me and my family.
    Both of my grandfathers were engineers. My grandfather was an orphan who grew up in rural lincolnshire and managed to make a good life for himself and his family through hard work. My parents have both worked hard, my mother as a primary school teacher and my father as a lecturer at a polytechnic. My brother works for a car company. All of my Uncles and Aunts have worked – engineer, window cleaner, macdonalds staff, nursery nurse, bank clerk. All of my cousins work – scientist, builder, detective, artist, tax man etc.
    My wife works over 70 hours a week (but that doesn’t count because she’s Japanese).
    I worked while I was wasting my time at university in various jobs (shop staff, telemarketing, KP) and now work 40 hours a week in a moderately paid job whilst studying in my free time. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, i’m not rich and I don’t see why I should feel guilty about people who haven’t ever tried and are now resorting to petty theft. I also don’t see why people who were working and studying whilst I wanked off and drank beer should be forced to share the fruits of their labour with me.
    Beyond free education (which would now be exceptionally easily provided by the internet), and social insurance for those who can’t find a job, what else can we do?
    What did thatcher do to these people and what is the best way of showing them the error of their ways? Because the vast majority of people who are rich in this country have worked damned hard and the vast majority of people who haven’t are still stinking rich by absolute standards.
    The ones commiting crimes don’t have many excuses beyond their own laziness and stupidity.

  6. johnqpublican

    When I see a guy like your KP who works 30 odd hours a week and still studies, I don’t think that such people are amazing. I think that the people who don’t make the effort to do so and instead go out and rob others are complete shits. If this guy can pay his own way and attempt to better himself without resorting to crime why can’t the others?

    Three things stand out easily, others would take more thinking: firstly, he’s a muslim immigrant asylum-seeker. That means he’s used to a world in which you work longer and harder than you do over here, for hardly any money, not enough food and a regular risk of organised murder. The fact that over there is worse than here is no reason to start assuming that crisis-response work habits should be normalised in Europe. For a start, employers will actually cut you off if you start working too hard. I know, I was told by an employer that I could only book 25% of my overtime because, and I quote, ‘if we paid you for all the hours you work it’d be cheaper to sack you and hire someone normal’.

    Second, he’s not from around here. He needed considerable English teaching to be able to function here at all, and various other social adjustments. In this he has been given effective help by the government. Free. A good deal more than any Holloway teenager can look forward to in their lives. He got both his night-school place and his primary job via government-funded or government-subsidised schemes. So another reason is that we don’t put enough money into the support, education and rescue of inner-city poor kids. After all, we don’t put enough into looking after immigrants, either, and even that is better than what you can get here.

    Thirdly, he’s not from around here. That means none of his cousins are involved in playground gang warfare, or are likely victims of it (of course, his cousins are dead). It means his brother isn’t going to be done over by a skinhead down in Brixton on a Saturday night (of course, his brother got shot by rebels).

    You don’t seem to understand my point above, about how ‘the life’ works. Blood is thicker than water, and poor people have big families (one reason family size has shrunk is that in absolute terms, most of us are richer than even rich people pre-industrialisation: in the sense of having better food and health-care). Getting away from that is very hard. It’s much harder when you’ve been under- or un-educated; when you’re part of a social demographic ignored except when they’re a crime statistic. And it’s not just about colour or religion: which is why I mentioned Essex, where an identical process can be seen among white kids. Another example would be Newport in Wales.

    About me and my family.

    Snipped for brevity. You have just stated in detail that you are: middle-class back three full generations, university educated back three full generations. You have then implied that this by nature equips you with a personal experience of ‘working your way out of poverty’.

    Like yours, my grandfather came from poverty. He got from Coriander Dock to Goldsmith’s College during the Great Depression. That was tough, and it relied on the government paying his fees and living stipend. Also, he did have the benefit of a functional, free, education system which took him far enough that natural talent and dedication could get him scholarships. He was one of the luckiest of the boys he grew up with: he survived the War. And that situation, tough and impressive though it was, bears no resemblance at all to the modern situation of urban poverty, for any number of reasons.

    Firstly, then we were an industrial nation, and now we are not (we’re the first post-industrial one). Then we had the Victorian values of Enlightened Self-Interest and Social Conscience governing our rich; now we do not. Then we had a national drive towards Education For All. Since Thatcher, we do not. And so on, and so on. I don’t care about equality all that much, because some people are smarter or luckier or harder working than others. I do care about equality of opportunity. Your ancestral narrative, as expressed by you above, fails the Privilege Check both in tone and in content.

    Beyond free education (which would now be exceptionally easily provided by the internet), and social insurance for those who can’t find a job, what else can we do?

    Well, doing either of those things would be a good start. Talking to me about the uses of internetwork technology for education is like talking to Penny Red about feminism. You do not know as much as you think, and we do.

    The internet is not a panaceaic replacement for a 21st-century education system, it is merely a possible distribution method for one. If you’re still distributing badly designed, 20-year outdated, over-standardised shit then the people at the other end will still get bored and still won’t do their homework. If you’re still paying the educators so much less than their societal contribution is worth, then the talented people will become bankers and oil executives: your schools, tasked with creating your next generation of talent, will only get those who can’t do. The problems with our education system are massively more complex than the underlying flaws in classroom-based dissemination systems.

    Much more importantly, the percentage of people in this country with no access to the internet at home is pretty much identical with the section of our population who are most left behind. The people who can’t afford even a dialup connection are exactly the people most betrayed by the Comprehensive Post-code lottery.

    Regarding the social security network: a personal example would be a friend (in his 20s) who has been physically disabled (he has a genetic condition which requires a series of operations to cut bits off his bones and replace them with metal) for three years, in varying degrees depending on operation cycles. Some days he can’t walk up stairs, some days he is on a crutch if he wants to leave the house. Some days he can just about function over the pain, and some days he can’t. He’s been out of work for a year because he can’t commit to a job; his health is too unreliable. And he still hasn’t got disability living: he’s on his third or fourth round of applications. Because he’s not applying for jobs (which he couldn’t then do if hired) he’s ineligible for JSA. And this guy is educated to University level, has a middle-class background and desperately wants to work (but his career evaporated under his health problems). Imagine how much worse this would be for him if he didn’t have the same kind of privilege you do, and friends (from the same kind of background) who can help him out?

    If our education system was functional, well-designed, and fully available to all for free; if our social safety net was comprehensive and focussed mainly on the people who need it, I’d be a lot less angry.

    Social problems happen when society allows people to fall through the cracks. Rome burned, not because the barbarians arrived at the gates but because the rich stopped feeding the poor, so the poor stopped signing up to fight for the rich. When your economy involves deliberately ensuring that the plebeian mass of people stay poor so that their labour can feed the fortunes of the rich, your society breaks down as soon as the rich stop seeing it as their civic duty to feed and clothe the poor. Any number of revolutions in European history illustrate this principle.

  7. ghonrogoro

    Yeah, fair enough.
    I agree with alot of what you’re saying here, but providing money, jobs (beyond basic unemployment insurance) – is only a policy of kindness if they truely cannot do these things and will never be able to do so. I tend to assume that the number of people who are completely incapable of providing any service to their fellow citizens is relatively small, despite our post-industrial economy and worry that fruitless attempts to ensure the happiness of all will just delay progress.
    Anyway, I think it’s clear that *sections* of the lower classes in the UK don’t possess anything approaching a work ethic – and as far as i’m aware its members of this group who are responsible for the majority of crime, rather than the legitimately desperate. And if it is true that the only things that the “haves” have is a capacity for work – what can we give to the “have nots” that will solve their problems? The problem with bread and circuses was the introduction and acceptance of the policy, the loss of personal responsibility, not its termination. “from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties…everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses” certainly strikes a chord with me.
    Also, I don’t think that equality of opportunity is anymore realistic or desirable than equality of outcome – i’d much rather have certain fundamental freedoms any day of the week.
    Regarding education – the most important thing that anyone can learn is that education is nowhere near as important as study. The internet provides an incredible opportunity for near-free study and all we need do is abandon *elitist* copyright laws to provide the wisdom of the greatest teachers and thinkers to all, for almost nothing. Not that i’d want to lecture you on the subject.
    I’m also not convinced that compulsory education much beyond the primary level is a major advantage to society and while I do think that free education should be provided to an extent, i’d rather live in a nation which made it easier for a legitimately interested adult to study than one in which disinterested teenagers were forced or cajoled to do so.
    Lastly, not too sure that bankers are neccesarily suited to the classroom (or the banks).

    PS being an expert in feminism is rather like being an expert of theology. Only useful to others of the same ilk.

  8. johnqpublican

    I tend to assume that the number of people who are completely incapable of providing any service to their fellow citizens is relatively small, despite our post-industrial economy and worry that fruitless attempts to ensure the happiness of all will just delay progress.

    The exemplar I mentioned earlier has many contributions. He’s a skilled electronic and mechanical technician, but entirely self-taught and unqualified. He’s qualified for an academic career which he was on the second rung of when his monkey broke, and the career involves a lot of heavy manual labour. He can’t get benefits and no-one will hire him. I did, but he had to quit because his knees couldn’t take the 12hr bar shifts any more.

    Happiness for all cannot be enforced; some people will find something to whinge about even after we invent cornucopeia machines. What we’re talking about is reversing the policy Thatcher hit on of ignoring the needs of those who can’t afford to hire lawyers and pay politicians.

    Anyway, I think it’s clear that *sections* of the lower classes in the UK don’t possess anything approaching a work ethic

    Almost exclusively white, post-industrial communities which were eviscerated by the Thatcherite revolution. And even those weren’t like this 20 years ago. It took an entire generation to embed the sense of despair so deeply that the communities which mobilised the nation in the 1970s could be fragmented into the hopeless poor of today.

    Other huge chunks of the North, East, Wales and urban south (Leyton, Hackney, Southall, Harlesdon, High Wycombe, Slough, Banbury…) contain thousands of people, white, black, Asian, whatever, who just want to work, and ideally get their kid something nice for Christmas. When the boom was good you could maybe get a job or two (each, because one such job doesn’t pay a living wage) stacking shelves and vacuuming offices or selling drunk bankers a hot dog after dark. Now the money is tightening, these are the people going out of work; and even while the money was good there were a million unemployed.

    Economic recession is when you need a working welfare state. Boom times are when you expand the capital required to get your people through the bust (look at Spain, though I can’t claim to like their general governmental model). What we’ve been doing is using every person back in work as an excuse to divert that money to other uses; and now we’re going to get screwed by it. But the first ‘we’ there is “The British Government” and the second ‘we’ is “poor people”.

    And if it is true that the only things that the “haves” have is a capacity for work

    But this simply isn’t true. It’s the same kind of propaganda as ‘Africans have smaller foreheads so they must be stupid’. And before you assume I’ve Godwinated myself, I’m actually talking about the theories of early Victorian anthropologists.

    Employers would rather hire someone middle class than someone without the accent and the tie. Employers would rather hire someone who hides their mental illness (e.g. that they drink, that they cheat on their wife, that they have depression, that they have bipolar disorder: all of these are mental health problems) than someone who admits to it, works to manage it and is therefore in recovery. Employers would rather hire someone who has a middle-class education, because then the employer will need to spend less training them in using computers or in telephone manner.

    What the ‘have-nots’ haven’t got is the stamp of middle-class acceptability, and the education and expectations which go with it. What they also haven’t got is safety nets.

    Imagine, if you will, a poor kid like my KP, who gets a Uni scholarship. After Uni, she’s got a debt anything between 8k and (if she starts in two years time from now) 30k. And hey look, she can’t get a graduate level job (because 60% of graduates can’t get a graduate level job). And hey look, any phone-bank McJob which they could possibly get is given to the person who sounds middle class rather than sounding E. 17. And hey look, she doesn’t have parents who can support her through the months looking every week at Jobcentre adds and being told she’s over-qualified for the only jobs which will interview her, because the jobs she’s qualified for won’t even call back a black woman.

    And yes, this kind of thing happens. The Head Research Otter was working last year for a recruitment firm whose attitude to even which CVs they’d read, let alone offer work to, was quite scandalous. Another person I know is an Oxbridge first-class graduate who’s been trying to get manual labouring and telephone reception jobs for 4 months. To date, not one single interview. Etcetera, etcetera.

    Also, I don’t think that equality of opportunity is anymore realistic or desirable than equality of outcome – i’d much rather have certain fundamental freedoms any day of the week.

    “Freedom from Want”.

    There is also the argument that only by introducing genuine equality of opportunity can we as a species maximise our creativity, productivity and progressive capacity, because only through complete equality of opportunity can you ensure that everyone has a chance to do what they’re best at (which is pretty much the definition of maximising our species potential).

    Regarding education – the most important thing that anyone can learn is that education is nowhere near as important as study.

    Er, no, no it isn’t. The most important thing anyone can learn is that the right kind of education which gives you the right kind of voice and the right kind of manners is, in this country, a career make-or-break. We’re still part of a class-based society. Education is one of the markers we use to determine the middle-class from everyone else. Not whether you’re educated, but how you’re educated, and where.

    Therefore, there is value to a middle-class British education regardless of anything actually learned. It’s why I went to uni here rather than at the US institutions I had access to. A British education still commands respect internationally as well as here. Losing it now though.

    Your abstract point is well taken as an indictment of some of the specific shortfalls in the DfES’s elementary education schema, which is dreadful; and in our implementation of secondary education, which is variable. However, the next thing you say:

    The internet provides an incredible opportunity for near-free study and all we need do is abandon *elitist* copyright laws to provide the wisdom of the greatest teachers and thinkers to all, for almost nothing.

    undermines your stronger points, because all you’ve done is recycled a comment I’ve already refuted above. The internet is a transmission technology. Yes, it provides opportunities, but it doesn’t overcome the fact that humans are a gregarious evolutionary species and that neurochemically, one human learns better from another than through any technology yet developed. Books never replaced teachers, they just helped them. The internet will not replace teachers, it will merely help level the playing-field for them.

    Your comment about copyright is just bizarre: I agree that I’d like to see copyright brought down to 12 years again (across the board), but it would have virtually no impact on education at all. Things taught to school children could be taken as the archetype of the concept of ‘public domain’.

    And, again, you’ve ignored the inconvenient truth that as currently implemented, your plan would offer excellent, free education only to those whose class allows them to expect it already, i.e. the perhaps 60% of our population who have daily internet access. As I said above, these are precisely not the people who need the help. They are, however, the people from among whose ranks you and I spring. Go figure.

    I’m also not convinced that compulsory education much beyond the primary level is a major advantage to society and while I do think that free education should be provided to an extent, i’d rather live in a nation which made it easier for a legitimately interested adult to study than one in which disinterested teenagers were forced or cajoled to do so.

    Now this, this is interesting. The US flirted with this idea a while ago, and lost out because they came up with it too late. It works best in pre-Information Age societies if applied to agrarian ones, rather than industrial ones.

    In the abstract? Sure. It’s how things used to work, after all: peasants learned in winter and worked in summer til they were 12, then they went to work full time. Rich kids had tutors til they were 14, then went on the Grand Tour and when they’d learned about real life for five years, those that wished went to Oxford or Cambridge (or Durham) and those that didn’t went to work in the Civil Service or the Army. The girls got married, and … Oh, hang on, is that not what you meant?

    More seriously, there is genuine merit to this idea. In the long term [1] I think the way education will need to look is a structured, curricular and standard education up to circa 12, followed by student-driven work/study structures perhaps derived from the model used by the Swiss. this will also help kids to grow up much faster and start taking their study seriously much earlier. However, we can’t do it now.

    We can’t even do it this generation. Our entire society is geared to the idea that poor kids have to be ready for adulthood at 16 and rich kids have to be ready by 22. However, as the extended family has broken down (and the Comprehensive system has abjectly failed) we’ve stopped actually preparing kids for adult life by 16, not in any useful or systematic way. And I know so many kids who’ve got out of Uni at 21, didn’t take a gap year, never had to work (because their grandad was an engineer and their dad was a managing director), and just hadn’t got a damn clue how to work or manage a relationship or take responsibility for a home.

    To get to where you’re talking about, a system where the Information Revolution really has reached everyone, and where people can start being more flexible about how they are prepared for life, we’ve got to win the battles of the next generation first. We’ve got to break the centralised-hierarchical social model altogether. We’ve got to restructure how we evaluate contributions to society. We’ve got to end the culture of short-termism and deliberate betrayal in politics.

    Do you want to see the Internet deliver the world you described above? The capitalist/statist model can’t deliver that. Actually just can’t, it doesn’t work that way. The capitalist/statist model couldn’t even deliver the internet; they could only deliver the hardware. It took a bunch of free-IP geeks to turn it into the Internet: if you want to know how to educate for the future, look to the Open Source movement.

    The Internet works as it does because power of agency is placed at the edge of the network. The capitalist system, redefines agency as ‘possession of capital’, and is explicitly and intrinsically a model for moving that power of agency towards the centre of the network.

    Also:

    PS being an expert in feminism is rather like being an expert of theology. Only useful to others of the same ilk.

    An expert in theology wrote down “I think therefore I am”; another posited the laws of planar physics. Mind you, he was an alchemist as well, which may have helped with his paradigm.

    Do you believe it is a good idea not to waste 50% of your creativity pool for 7000 years? Then expertise in feminist theory would be useful to you.

    [1] By “long term” I mean maybe 40 to 50 year,s at the current rate of development of information technology according to Moore’s Law,

  9. ghonrogoro

    “We’ve got to break the centralised-hierarchical social model altogether. We’ve got to restructure how we evaluate contributions to society. We’ve got to end the culture of short-termism and deliberate betrayal in politics.”

    Bang on. But surely the power of agency is more diffuse under capitalist or semi-capitalist systems than it has been under any of the other examples of political/economic organisation throughout history. The existence of the Soviet Union suggests to me that centralised decision making owes very little to the form of ownership except perhaps that the more diffuse the ownership, the more centralised the decision making becomes (owners have less motive to take an interest in the running of their capital and so leave it to the managers). When our bodies and the work that they produce become the property of all, do we have any motivation to help others, or to take responsibilty for society as a whole?

    Anyway, as far as i’m aware (you’ll have to correct me if i’m wrong), what Thatcher did was to withdraw government support from unprofitable industries through privatisation. Presumably, if they were unprofitable there was insufficient demand for whatever it was that they were doing (this applies to your indebted graduate KP too) and the resources would have been better used in some other fashion. This can only not be the case if people acting freely are incapable of determining what is actually in their best interest, or if their short term best interests will eventually lead to disaster for all.
    I believe that people are entirely capable of determining and expressing (at least partially through markets) what is in their best short term interest. People drink or eat chocolate because they like it and because the risks in the far-off are of less concern than the pleasure of now. Give people the information and then allow them to decide for themselves – the experts aren’t that much more intelligent than us and they have far less information about our personal situation.
    So – that leaves disastrous effects of a rational decision. Is this the case with Thatcherite reforms? I don’t really see any reason to think so. Where possible, surely it is better to follow policies which encourage people to adapt and provide something of value to someone, rather than forcing the rest to pay for whatever it is that is being produced?
    Is it the case that the poor can’t adapt, since the rigid class system will always prevent them from reaching their full potential? Is it grossly unfair to refuse to provide the poor work, when the failure is no fault of their own? Obviously, conceptions of morality and fairness must inform public policy in the same way as they inform our everyday actions, but in this case our idea of fairness threatens to create “moral hazard” and accentuate the original problem. It is true that accent and education still act as a shibboleth for entry into work, but the way to combat this is to allow and encourage greater diversity in forms of ownership – to expose the expensive inefficiency of the system rather than to make use of quotas and make-work jobs.
    I’m also unconvinced that the moral and legal onus should be placed upon the middle classes for the following reasons;
    1.We can’t be expected to bear responsibility for strangers in the same way that we bear responsibility for our children
    2.In this case, rather than possession of physical capital (I guess thats what inheritance tax is for) we’re talking about differences in human capital due to upbringing. Is it possible to establish the extent to which different elements of a persons background have contributed to their success?
    3.I think you’re exagerating the difference between the middle class and the desperate. I went to state school, my only tie is from Marks and Spencers and I speak in pretty much the same way as 95% of people from the South East of England. My spelling is terrible.
    4.I think you’re underplaying the importance of personal choice. My mother knows nothing about politics beyond the name of the Prime Minister. This isn’t because she’s oppressed or stupid – it’s because it is of no interest or value to her. She can live her life perfectly well without having any awareness of westminster politics. Many uncle and aunt have no interest in reading for the same reasons. Many people don’t want the internet because they’re not interested in it. The same applies to many people who don’t work.
    5. There are other factors which are probably more important for life outcome than class – how about beauty, intelligence or height? Personality? Is it the responsibility of the beautifully intelligent tall to help the stupidly ugly short? How?

    All of this does not mean that I am opposed to insurance. But the difference is that with insurance the individual recognises the responsibility to contribute to the system. Emphasis upon “fairness” above all else is unhelpful and damaging in a way which emphasis upon security is not.

    Education – I think I’ve probably learned more from reading than anything else – obviously there is a role for tutorship – but if you have a good book on a subject, half the battle is won. I’m fairly confident I could master any subject up to at least A-level standard as long as the information was freely available. I’m fairly confident that most of the study involved in university revolves around books. And surely education doesn’t have to be face-to-face to be effective? We can communicate through email, blogs, forums or instant messenger.
    And i’m a bit more of an optimist – I think these changes will happen within the next few decades, spontaneously. I’m not too sure how they can be stopped.

    Newtons religious expertise v. genius – correlation rather than causation?
    The problem I have with feminism is that it doesn’t seem to be advocating the advancement of humans, but only of women. Further, trying to couch any sociological problem in gender-warfare terms, even when unrelated to gender strikes me as unnecessarily divisive and a little daft.

    PS What on earth is a “Head Research Otter” ?

  10. johnqpublican

    Bang on. But surely the power of agency is more diffuse under capitalist or semi-capitalist systems than it has been under any of the other examples of political/economic organisation throughout history.

    Absolutely concur. No question there, and a large part of what I’m using this blog for is to develop the chains of reasoning necessary to consider that point demonstrated and move on. One thing that frequently annoys me about my fellow-travellers is their inability to come up with an answer to the question: “If capitalism sucks, why has it remained the most effective solution to human organisation for 38k years?”

    Ideological answers (like “Because the capitalists had all the swords”), while appealing and carrying kernels of truth, aren’t good enough. The answer needs to be functional as well. I think I have one, I just need to spend some time arguing about the underlying reasoning before I’m ready to take it on comprehensively. For the moment, there’s a distillation of some of the reasoning below.

    However, returning to your actual point: human history ain’t good enough. I don’t just want to have my kids get the best of what the past can offer: I want to make the future a system that works better than history.

    The existence of the Soviet Union suggests to me that centralised decision making owes very little to the form of ownership except

    The short answer is: agreed. I think the governing imperative in causing statist/centralised structures to be the best available alternative to date is the paucity of communications infrastructure. At no point in history to date has the underlying communications infrastructure been good enough to permit any alternative system of information flow to succeed in competition with a centralised/statist paradigm. However, I believe that has now changed for one subset of the Malthusian population, and evidence suggests that this subset constitute the dominant paradigm of the next century.

    Basically, at no point in the past has human information infrastructure been sufficient to allow a decentralised system to work. Now it is, for some; soon it will be for most.

    Anyway, as far as i’m aware (you’ll have to correct me if i’m wrong), what Thatcher did was to withdraw government support from unprofitable industries through privatisation.

    No, that’s some of what was done. Other things were the conceptual evisceration of the Welfare State (and once you’ve stopped the ruling class believing they have an obligation to the rest, you can just wait; unenlightened self-interest among said ruling class will take care of the actual erosion of function); the deliberate redesign of our education system to promote the re-emergence of a financially, rather than academically, predicated elite and the massive propaganda effort directed at convincing everyone over here to buy into an American Dream we’d already seen fail.

    Today, the blogosphere is arguing about our inheritance tax. Do you know how big an issue this is in America? And do you know why it’s so hard for them to get any work done on it? Propaganda. The US population were convinced during the New Deal that making the rich contribute was bad for them, the poor, because one day, they’d be rich: and then they’d want laws which favour the rich. This is a piece of social illusioneering on the same level as medieval Christianity’s “Peasant life is shit, but you’ll have mana in heaven” trick. The people who consistently vote to shelter the rich aren’t ever going to be rich. Their dream is definitively impossible in a capitalist system, since capitalist wealth distribution systems are based on successful competition for resources in an economy of scarcity. Therefore, for any one person to be rich, many must be poor. And yet, majority politics allows one percent of the American population to vote themselves successive tax cuts.

    Thatcher, deliberately and successfully, sold that illusion to the British people. By doing so, she practically guaranteed the slow collapse of our Welfare State; Labour then spent 8 years helping it along. The only way back to security and social responsibility, now, is a fairly comprehensive redefinition of the system.

    I believe that people are entirely capable of determining and expressing (at least partially through markets) what is in their best short term interest.

    And you see nothing wrong with running a state based purely on short-term interests?

    Give people the information and then allow them to decide for themselves

    This only works if they can understand it. Particularly since the Comprehensive System failure, they can’t. Therefore pundits enter the picture, as does spin. “You’re for us, or against us!”. “Bring it on!”. “Yes we can!”. Etc.

    So – that leaves disastrous effects of a rational decision. Is this the case with Thatcherite reforms?

    No, it leaves the disastrous effects of a short-term decision. Immediate gratification != rationality.

    Is it the case that the poor can’t adapt, since the rigid class system will always prevent them from reaching their full potential? Is it grossly unfair to refuse to provide the poor work, when the failure is no fault of their own?

    To frame the terms of the debate is to win the debate: that’s how the US Republicans managed to redefine ‘liberal’ as a word equivalent to ‘communist’ in US politics.

    I would frame these terms very differently: I would say that the educated are adaptable, and our current system is geared to ignoring the poor when it comes to our priorities in education. I would say that it is economically insane to waste resources simply because we are unwilling to restructure our management paradigms. I would say that short-termism is inevitably doomed to fail if you wait long enough.

    It is true that accent and education still act as a shibboleth for entry into work, but the way to combat this is to allow and encourage greater diversity in forms of ownership – to expose the expensive inefficiency of the system rather than to make use of quotas and make-work jobs.

    I completely agree. So why didn’t every person who had a mortgage with Northern Rock get their house deeds back when the bank collapsed? After all, it’s their name on the Charter.

    Because that would have moved enough capital out to the social edge of the network that it would have genuinely diversified ownership of the British economy. There was absolutely no way the current establishment could permit that, so instead they bought people’s debts with those same people’s own money: and they still expect people to pay someone else for the house they live in.

    I’m not suggesting the above as a serious answer to recent economic crisis; the Great Machine is too entrenched for that to work out well, at this late date. If we’d tried it in 1688, or even better, in 1542, it might have worked. I’m saying that the reason that ownership isn’t being diversified is that the people who currently own everything would rather it wasn’t.

    Is it possible to establish the extent to which different elements of a persons background have contributed to their success?

    Yes. But every time we do people claim the reports are biased.

    Thing one: every study since the 1970s has indicated that the single largest factor in a student’s academic improvement is not themselves, their parents, cost per student per year or any other ’empirical’ factor; it’s how good and how dedicated their teacher is. All the other things impact on the result, and any two or three of them going wrong can overwhelm even the best of teaching influences, but still the single biggest factor is quality of applicants to teach. If we don’t start rewarding teachers like bankers, we’ll get less equipped for modern living every generation, whereas if we do, we’ll be investing a considerable amount of wealth in a future rather than in a gamble. A future is going to happen anyway; a win at gambling is less certain. This is a fairly good statement of the underlying differences between economic and political theories based on long-term and short-term thinking.

    3.I think you’re exaggerating the difference between the middle class and the desperate. I went to state school, my only tie is from Marks and Spencers and I speak in pretty much the same way as 95% of people from the South East of England. My spelling is terrible.

    And? Your grandfather went to university,your father went to university, your family’s expectations for you were that you should go to University (and you did) and that you should have a professionl career path. Not that you would be unable to find work your entire life, that you’d be pushed out of school by knife-wielding gangs before you got through your GCSEs and then that you’d end up in jail because the knife you carry for protection happened to be spotted by a copper.

    Of course you think I’m exaggerating. I point you to my earlier comment where I used the phrase ‘Privilege Check’.

    I think you’re underplaying the importance of personal choice. My mother knows nothing about politics beyond the name of the Prime Minister. This isn’t because she’s oppressed or stupid – it’s because it is of no interest or value to her. She can live her life perfectly well without having any awareness of westminster politics. Many uncle and aunt have no interest in reading for the same reasons. Many people don’t want the internet because they’re not interested in it. The same applies to many people who don’t work.

    You were doing great until you equated the ability to eat with the ability to use the internet in terms of where it sits on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As soon as you did that, your entire argument unraveled. If your last sentence is true, then according to the government it applies to less than 1.2% of the unemployed. That is not, by any means, ‘many people’: in a nation of 60-odd million that’s 25,000 of us.

    I don’t believe your last sentence is true at all in the way you mean it, but I do believe it’s true. I believe that anyone who argues against an intense inheritance tax doesn’t want to work. I believe that children of privilege don’t want to work, because they have no model for it in their early lives.

    5. There are other factors which are probably more important for life outcome than class – how about beauty, intelligence or height? Personality? Is it the responsibility of the beautifully intelligent tall to help the stupidly ugly short?

    And had I framed this debate purely in terms of class this would be relevant, but since I didn’t, I can refer the honourable gentleman to my earlier remarks on the subject. Of course there’s more to it than class. Again on the thread of manipulation by moving goalposts: I would say that it is in the enlightened self-interest of the haves to ensure the have-nots don’t self-perpetuate. Options for this include educating them, caring for them, teaching them, and spaying them. You pays your tax and you takes your choice.

    Education – I think I’ve probably learned more from reading than anything else – obviously there is a role for tutorship – but if you have a good book on a subject, half the battle is won.

    Did you derive the entire history of research technique from first principles, or (like me) did someone in your childhood keep saying “I don’t know, let’s look it up!” when your 4-year old self asked “Why?”

    I’m fairly confident I could master any subject up to at least A-level standard as long as the information was freely available.

    You qualified from Uni, which means you spent a minimum of 15 years being systematically taught how to be capable of doing this. You could not, not just would not but could not, unless you’d been taught how. The self-taught auto-didact, the Renaissance Man, was theoretically possible when the total pool of human knowledge, technique, theory and data was a small as it was in the Renaissance. It can’t be done now.

    But where we seem to completely agree is that systematised education should be moved from focus on fact (which can be easily obtained on a project by project basis as long as information flow and retention are liberalised) to focus on process. We need to start building schools as places to teach our children how to learn better, not just chant ‘1066 and all that’. Also, we need to get better at avoiding ideological imperatives being distributed as facts by political organisations using the Jesuit social-control model. I’m referring primarily to the Fundamentalist Religious Right, but also to some extent to the Islamist madrassas.

    Newtons religious expertise v. genius – correlation rather than causation?

    Er, no, actually. He had to be a theologian to even get into the only places on earth (at that time) capable of giving him the tools for genius. It is only after the foundation of the Royal Society, much later in his life, that there was any secular scheme for research propagation and support, and even then anyone who wished to teach had to be ordained until the foundation of what is now London University. Pythagoras was a priest and cult leader, and Giordano Bruno was an extraordinary theoretical physicist, for all he turned out to be wrong. Many have.

    The problem I have with feminism is that it doesn’t seem to be advocating the advancement of humans, but only of women.

    Well, indeed. And it does not seem to make sense to you that when the human race as a whole has been cut off from 50% of its creativity resource for seven thousand years, systematically and vigorously pursuing the goal of eliminating all of that senseless waste is going to be good for all humans, female or not.

    Further, trying to couch any sociological problem in gender-warfare terms, even when unrelated to gender strikes me as unnecessarily divisive and a little daft.

    Well indeed. Which is why the speakers and writers of the modern feminist movement (heard the phrase ‘Third Wave’? Well, I personally suspect we’re going to be looking at a perceived fourth wave inside the next few years) don’t do that. Some of their rank-and-file do; just as some rank-and-file Labour supporters are radical Trotskyites. But the accusation that this is what the serious speakers are doing is leveled so often that one becomes inclined to see the accusation itself as removing the accuser from the field of reasonable debate, at their own request.

    PS What on earth is a “Head Research Otter” ?

    A whimsical way of referring to someone who helps me investigate things and track down data. Also suggests ideas, works on road-testing some of my theoretical developments and so on. There are a pool of people I rely on for such assistance, who are collectively (and whimsically) known as my research otters. I was footnoting while tired and the term seems to have stuck.

  11. ghonrogoro

    Yes… you`re right. 

    If you`ll allow me – some questions;

    If the public can`t understand the issues being presented, is there any hope for democracy?

    Do you think that policies such as negative income tax can be instituted in modern Britain?

    What do you think are the limitations of community and communal action?

    How important are tribalism and shared values and does multiculturalism interfere with collective action?

  12. ghonrogoro

    except about the teacher thing

    that`s still wrong.

  13. johnqpublican

    Honoured :)

    If the public can`t understand the issues being presented, is there any hope for democracy?

    In it’s current form, I suspect not. My analysis is that the combination of Moore’s law with Malthusian economics will cause, whether we control it or not, a fundamental restructuring of human values along the same lines as that triggered by the printing press.

    Do you think that policies such as negative income tax can be instituted in modern Britain?

    If I understand the question, no. Could you elaborate?

    What do you think are the limitations of community and communal action?

    Self-government, time and change. A corporation is merely a community with an executive which operates hierarchically. A kibbutz is a community which operates collectively. This is the kind of paradigm conflict which the free market really is perfect for resolving. Level the playing field and see which performs best. If the playing field doesn’t start level, outperform the other idea until it is level.

    Individuals have ideas but rarely without inspiration. Communities can change the world; the obvious Gandhis and Mandelas are oft quoted, but millions of local people organise groups to act and lift more weight than a single person can.

    I write this thing to road-test ideas. Informed debate is the only way to find out what I think myself, and to refine it. I’m doing it because I want to use these ideas to act on the issues I discuss, and I lack the arrogance to believe I’ll get much done alone. I need people who can share my goals, regardless of cosmology or ideology, because they’ll have ideas I’d never get.

    How important are tribalism and shared values and does multiculturalism interfere with collective action?

    Two complex issues in here which I’ll need to distinguish.

    Tribalism and shared values are not synonymous. I grew up among actual tribes; I know the benefits, and I know the awesome dangers. Shared values are structurally essential to maintain any lasting community of purpose, in any field.

    Tribes are important. Every human operates as part of one, or chooses to set themselves apart; I’m talking about churches, about local pubs, about wearing a red striped scarf or a blue one on a Saturday. The nature of such gregarious behaviour is undergoing a redefinition caused by the advent of non-parochial tribes. What I’m interested in is how you describe a system for dealing with this new world which is even remotely as clear and laudable as the First to Fourteenth Ammendments of the US Constitution.

    Multiculturalism is a whole issue on its own. It is a word often used to mean the wholesale permission of immigrants to bring their assumptions from home. It is more accurately used to describe the process where Old Country traditions inform and inspire a syncretic culture in a high-immigrant destination.

    One might suspect that the second of these options is clearly the more advantageous to a stable economy and society. I grew up in a country nominally Christo-Muslim, where modesty, social customs and personal space were completely different. No-one expected my mother to not be white: but it was absolutely expected that she, and we, took our shoes off before entering any dwelling. And that’s reasonable multiculturalism. They accept that we’re a bit weird, you accept that this is where they live.

    What we’ve got in the immigrant populations of Britain today is a vocal and pressing debate over the guidance of Britain’s second and third generation immigrant communities. A tiny, very vocal community of, frankly, lunatics has dominated the external view of that debate since 9/11, but if you talk to guys on the steps of mosques in Walthamstow, you hear a different view. We get on: Islam is for my heart and my family, I follow the Five Pillars and I pray. Why would I blow up a tube train? I’m a Spurs fan!

    When you look at the same debate in its more troubling form, between the aspirations of inner-city Afro-Caribbeans and the terrible reality of their lives, you see the same theme. A few opt out of sanity, and the rest are just trying to get out from under.

  14. ghonrogoro

    If we create a basic guaranteed income for all citizens, there is a requirement that we trust our fellow citizens to behave as citizens – that we believe they will share certain values and act in an appropriate way. The greater the difference between groups – rich v. poor , religious v. non-religious, black v. white (basically however people choose to define the old them and us), the greater the difficulty in justifying the mutual support.
    While the mutually beneficial transactions which take place in a market require a relatively low level of trust (this guy isn’t going to poison me- i’ll buy his hamburger) and are relatively easy to enforce, the level of trust required to create an effective welfare system (such as a basic income for citizens) is that much higher. Enforcement could threaten basic freedoms.

    Levels of trust in Britain are currently the lowest in Europe – if we are going to assume that communities must self determine, will Britain as a whole form a viable community?

    Perhaps as we became more used to contributing towards each others welfare levels of trust would rise correspondingly… or perhaps levels of trust are so low that it is impossible to institute such a system – meaning that we must first create (some) unity of purpose before we begin to contribute towards the welfare of citizens at large.

  15. johnqpublican

    While the mutually beneficial transactions which take place in a market require a relatively low level of trust (this guy isn’t going to poison me- i’ll buy his hamburger) and are relatively easy to enforce, the level of trust required to create an effective welfare system (such as a basic income for citizens) is that much higher. Enforcement could threaten basic freedoms.

    Hmmm. There’s a lot of things implied or unstated here which are complicating factors, but: firstly, ‘mutually beneficial transactions’ are not what the market encourages, most of the time. Mostly, it encourages Ambrose Bierce’s definition of a bargain: situations where both parties believe they have cheated the other.

    The level of trust required for normal market operations is actually very high; I must trust when I send an invoice that the other party will pay it (which they often won’t, until you’ve hassled them): I must trust that people who deliver me sealed barrels have put what they said in them (which sometimes they haven’t), and so on. The only reason you perceive the market as operating at a low trust level, I would argue, is that the single largest coercive operation in the history of mankind is looking over the shoulder of everyone who takes part in the market, with a really big gun. Nothing gets the attention of the legal, policing and bailiff communities faster than small-scale economic misdemeanours. Certainly gets more attention from the law than, say, wife-beating, which probably happens as often or more so.

    Also, what do you think is happening in the stock market at the moment? People just had yet another graphic object lesson in quite how much trust in the bank executives is required for their game of musical chairs. We shouldn’t trust them, is the lesson of this crash, and Black Monday, and so on back to ’29. But we always do, because they’re consummate salesmen whose pitch is ‘money for nothing’. I would argue that the amount of trust required to let them fuck up our lives this badly for that many years before we called them on it is massively higher than the level of trust required for a white rural schoolteacher in Yorkshire to get why a black inner-city bus-driver’s kids might want a grant to go to Uni.

    Perhaps as we became more used to contributing towards each others welfare levels of trust would rise correspondingly

    That’s pretty much the story of the sixties and early seventies, though a story troubled by entrenched racism and sexism. That multilateral trust development was pretty much screwed by the arrogance of the unions and the totalitarian response of the rich in the late 70s and early 80s.

    or perhaps levels of trust are so low that it is impossible to institute such a system – meaning that we must first create (some) unity of purpose before we begin to contribute towards the welfare of citizens at large.

    That boat already sailed, though. Civic pride, public works, grand scheme infrastructure development and, since the Enlightenment, education, health and welfare have seen the rich paying for the poor since the Romans were here. Since we moved from industrial to post-industrial, we have created an underclass whose gravitational pull is stronger than any we’ve had since the one created by the start of industry. What you’re actually talking about is yanking out the life-support that’s already there for a whole bunch of people our system did not equip for economic contribution. Some of that will be their failure. The rest is ours.

    But I completely agree with you about unity of purpose. I don’t believe that picture looks the same as it would have in the 1960s; the number of different reasons to support a common-good project like developing sustainable living (to pick one of the current great battles: as I say, the argument over whether or not the rich have an ethical obligation to provide a safety net for the poor was solidly won forty years ago) draw many different political organisations together in support of it. Why they fight for it can differ radically without affecting the makeup of what they’re fighting for.

    The cost of entry into the ideas market has never been lower. We need to start getting messages out into that mindshare which draw people together. It’s easier to get attention by starting a fight than by stopping one; online, this is all the more true because the guy you insult can’t actually thump you.

    We need to start overwhelming the trolls with actual, good ideas; with open minds and powerful language. We need to develop communities which link together into networks. In that, we agree entirely. The competition as to whose idea they should be drawn together around is what debate is for; and I’m sorry to have to say it, but at the moment, the extremists are winning because the sane people can’t quit fighting for number one.

    Levels of trust in Britain are currently the lowest in Europe – if we are going to assume that communities must self determine, will Britain as a whole form a viable community?

    Long or short term?

    The US States are self-determining, within a structure which permits and governs collective bargaining, collective reasoning, and collective values. We are very small, and federalism in its Victorian model is probably not the system for us, but in the short term I think Britain is well and more than a viable community. People living here tend, on average, to have been born here or to have come here by choice. That means they have a deliberate stake in what’s happening here.

    The trust levels, to me, are like graffiti. Writing on the walls; our country is currently losing its trust in each other because the government stopped trusting the country. This is what happens. When it happens for long enough, serious people start thinking about an overhaul of how we keep an eye on the bugger in Whitehall. It worked out pretty well last time; I’m hoping that this time it works even better.

    The countryside commuters are a community (say that while drunk) but they are unlikely to secede from crown rule. The inner-city mosques are a community: and they’re currently fighting a civil war between those who wish to teach their children to integrate and the occasional few who wish to teach their children to die. I believe I know which will win, if “we” (the West) can only get our heads out of our collective arses for a few years, and take the long view.

    Britain has a long history of being a bunch of more or less autonomous communities which stand together in the face of outside attack and bicker constantly when fat and happy. I can live with that.

  16. ghonrogoro

    If both sides believe they have cheated the other it’s because schadenfreude is more appealing than the reality – which is that the vast majority of freely undertaken exchanges must, by definition, be mutually beneficial.
    Of course trust is required in a market – but most of the time there is good reason to believe that it is within the market participants interest not to cheat their trading partners – when they do this, they not only face the grim prospect of the regulatory gun, but more importantly will also tend to miss out on further chances to trade beneficially. Obviously in the more anonymous modern world there are always new trading partners to be found, which is why independent regulatory powers are important – but generally I think these forces acting together are a remarkably powerful force for ‘straight dealing’.
    What are the forces for straight dealing with a citizens income? What is it that ensures the money is well spent – or what makes us care enough about the people involved that we don’t really care what they do with the money? (are we ever going to be rich enough that we can afford not to care?)
    The problem here is not about communalism – we all believe in and practice that. The problem is the extent to which that communalism can be extended. Family, town, country? Is it rational to care for all men? Is it possible?
    If people don’t want to take part in a welfare support scheme, must they leave the country? Can regions make their own rules?
    Who should be allowed to join? To what extent should we be afraid of providing a free lunch?
    I think it is alot harder for us to trust in the motives of “others” than it is to trust in the self interest of culturally similar strangers.

    As an aside, the financial managers didn’t actually cheat anyone – they did exactly what they said they’d do. Take a large paycheck, a slice of the profits and none of the loss (excepting share compensation). I’m not so certain this is a failure of trust – as a success of stupidity.
    We don’t neccesarily need more regulations – we need savy citizens and owners.

    • johnqpublican

      If both sides believe they have cheated the other it’s because schadenfreude is more appealing than the reality – which is that the vast majority of freely undertaken exchanges must, by definition, be mutually beneficial.

      Ok, let’s go through that one.

      If one posits, as Adam Smith did, a free market in which as a starting condition one hundred percent of all available resources and capital have been redistributed equally among all participants in the free market: and that no individual in that market has access to military power, then, in such a free market, the vast majority of exchanges must by definition be mutually beneficial.

      This is not and has never been the case. Very few such decisions are freely undertaken; I can’t grow my own food, so I have to buy it. I don’t get a choice in that. I get a choice in who I buy it from; and that actually can be a choice now, as alternatives to chain supermarkets exist. But I can’t afford to shop at them; I earn around a quarter of what I earned two years ago when I could afford to shop that way.

      You can’t boycott the Carlisle group. As in, if you live in the UK and use cash to buy food, clothes and services, you can’t. It would not be possible due to the market penetration of companies they own. Therefore, I’m forced to enrich people I politically object to (including John Major and George H. W. Bush). Not an exchange freely undertaken.

      How often does an employee get to bargain in truly free fashion with an employer? The way markets work is that 99% of the time, the employer has all the power; the prospective employee needs work to eat, the employer will probably have other choices. And so on, and so on, and so on.

      There is simply no economic reality to the claim that most exchanges in our economy are freely undertaken, not in the way your questions presuppose. The luxury commodity market (i.e. ‘bling’) is one of the very few in this country where that could be claimed. Genuinely, no-one is forced to buy those products. On the other hand, in order to level that playing-field mass media marketing would have to be banned.

      Of course trust is required in a market – but most of the time there is good reason to believe that it is within the market participants interest not to cheat their trading partners – when they do this, they not only face the grim prospect of the regulatory gun, but more importantly will also tend to miss out on further chances to trade beneficially.

      Absolutely not. That is only true of a poor vendor cheating a wealthy purchaser. If a wealthy vendor cheats a poor purchaser the chances of them being able to gain redress are minimal. That’s why labour movements organised and boycotts were used to force companies to start caring about company service, back when boycotts were, on average, possible.

      Capital creates privilege. Privilege means private law. The rich can always cheat the poor; the poor can only gain redress from the rich by the exercise of coercive power. The market will not give it to them.

      What are the forces for straight dealing with a citizens income? What is it that ensures the money is well spent – or what makes us care enough about the people involved that we don’t really care what they do with the money?

      And this from a person whose views are predicated on defending individual liberty?

      Who is supposed to define ‘well spent’? The Anglican church, who are our Established arbiters or morality and appropriate behaviour? I’m a practicing an active member of a religious group other than the Church, and I’m pretty sure they’d object to quite a lot of what I spend my money on.

      What makes us care enough about the people involved? Well, for me, it’s the fact they’re human, and that I grew up during the 80s famines. I was actually there, they went on a lot longer than people over here think (i.e. our first harvest failed in ’81, and the West didn’t notice til ’85). The reason we care should be that they’re people.

      The problem here is not about communalism – we all believe in and practice that.

      No, we don’t. The break-up of the extended family is only one of the many things which say you’re wrong. The number of men who bail on their children say you’re wrong. The break-down of the next-door-neighbor relationship assumption in urban Britain says you’re wrong. And more than anything else, the attitudes of the rich towards social responsibility say you’re wrong.

      Is it rational to care for all men? Is it possible?

      Yes. Yes.
      (For the hard of thinking: care for != care about. The second is a statement of personal connection, the first is a statement of ethical responsibility.)

      If people don’t want to take part in a welfare support scheme, must they leave the country?

      Well, that’s true now, or at least, their money has to leave the country. That’s the choice most rich people make.

      Who should be allowed to join? To what extent should we be afraid of providing a free lunch?

      The first is a question for immigration politics, not welfare politics. The second is ‘no extent at all’. Since we aren’t, and since no-one on my side of the debate is suggesting we should, provide a ‘free lunch’, I’m inclined to assume this was another attempt on your part to reframe the debate into one you’d be right in.

      I think it is alot harder for us to trust in the motives of “others” than it is to trust in the self interest of culturally similar strangers.

      Then don’t. You’re engaging here in one of two psychological processes which have, between balance and conflict in various eras, defined human progress into civilisation. Your end of it is called Othering. I’m unwilling to base a strategy for a global future on that process: I think Inclusion is more likely to succeed, and humanity is a species as well as a marketing slogan.

      I’m not so certain this is a failure of trust – as a success of stupidity.
      We don’t neccesarily need more regulations – we need savy citizens and owners.

      What do you mean by failure of trust here? I implied a failure of honesty, not a failure of trust. Also, we absolutely need savvy citizens and owners. What we mainly need, though, is more owners. If you cut the pie up into many many many more, much smaller slices, you still don’t have less pie. In fact, evidence suggests that the Information Revolution has primed human society for a period in which, if you do that, you’ll actually have more pie. You also have a much closer imitation of a free market and therefore some chance to see if Smith was right.

      We need the class of ‘owners’ to include, say, even half the adult population would be a good start. At the moment it applies to maybe 5%. My boss doesn’t count: he has four pubs and between the profits of all of them can only scrape out one living wage for a full-time employee (him) which is hardly any higher than mine. His pubs are all debt-encumbered but one, and that one is sufficiently small it contributes relatively little overall revenue. My pub gives a net profit to the company of 25kpa before amortization on our refit and contributes a bookable profit of 0.

      And yet he is a successful market entrepreneur who owns his own business. From the Tory viewpoint, he is a model of market success: from mine, he’s just a guy trying to get some work done. He doesn’t have access to the halls of the plutocracy, and never will. And the Great Machine is explicitly designed to maintain that status quo.

      When so much of ownership is concentrated in the hands of so few, where (to mirror your own rhetorical style) is the cause for the rich to behave responsibly? The only way to make ‘the owners’ start acting on behalf of everyone is to make the owners a much larger chunk of society.

  17. ghonrogoro

    Isn’t it a bit infantile to blame markets for preventing you from doing anything you wish? What exactly are you saying here? That markets are bad because you have to eat? That people won’t sing to their cattle for a low enough price for your tastes? Quite frankly, tough shit. Just because you don’t get everything you want doesn’t mean that a transaction isn’t mutually beneficial. I want a blowjob from Angelina Jolie, but that doesn’t mean i’m worse off when I buy a can of beans. I have a pressing desire to eat, that doesn’t mean i’m worse off when I buy a can of beans, (quite the opposite).
    Whether or not in some hypothetical fantasy land we might design a system by which the transaction might be *even more* beneficial for all concerned doesn’t change the fact that in the here and now the one we have is pretty good. I don’t even think it can honestly be said that the cost of life in modern Britain is particuarly onerous for the vast majority of people – if it were, it simply wouldn’t stand. Might I suggest that the only way to prevent your hard work from enriching John Major is by banishing him from the civilised world, or killing him? All of our work is of benefit to everyone else living in this world (unless you’re bad at your job or a political type).
    Perhaps you can console yourself with the idea that if buying food from Asda really does grate too much there is nothing stopping you from hunting squirrels in the park – except, as i’m sure you’re aware, the horrible risk and hardship that such a life entails.
    By the way – it’s complete nonsense to say that employers have *all* the power in negotiations – the law of supply and demand applies to labour as well as anything else. Agreed – it might be rather harder *in some cases* for an employee to leave their job than for an employer to do without them but employers are competing for employees in the same way as they compete for customers. I think you might be mistaking the lack of viable options which an unskilled worker possesses for slavery.
    If a large company cheats a small one they’ll get away with it? Thats a problem with the legal system – corruption – bad regulation – not a problem with the market itself. Organised labour and boycotts are part of the market. The provision of sevices may create wealth which can then be used to buy power – but the area which we want to stop is the corruption rather than the creation of wealth. The human desire to dominate others has nothing in particular to do with market transactions.

    I’m not advocating othering as a principle on which to base our lives – i’m recognising it as an unfortunate aspect of human nature. To a large extent groups are defined by those outside of them. We do trust those we’re close to more than those live their lives far from our sight. We want to help family members more than people we don’t know.

    The class of owners does include half the adult population – its just that the class of managers doesn’t.

    • johnqpublican

      Isn’t it a bit infantile to blame markets for preventing you from doing anything you wish? What exactly are you saying here? That markets are bad because you have to eat? That people won’t sing to their cattle for a low enough price for your tastes? Quite frankly, tough shit. Just because you don’t get everything you want doesn’t mean that a transaction isn’t mutually beneficial.

      Goodness: what did I say that provoked such vitriol?

      I don’t recall blaming markets for anything. What I did was analyse them. The ‘free market’ that is so often touted has never existed, and everyone from Keynes to Greenspan to Brown knows that: why don’t you? The only way to establish a free market that would actually work as you were describing is to first create a flat field of resource allocation, which has never happened. This is was A-level economic history in the early ’90s.

      For the market to ensure that transactions are mutually beneficial each side must have equal prospects if they walk away from the deal. I pointed out ways this is not the case. You have not, so far, answered them.

      Whether or not in some hypothetical fantasy land we might design a system by which the transaction might be *even more* beneficial for all concerned doesn’t change the fact that in the here and now the one we have is pretty good.

      You think I don’t know this? The military dictator of the country I grew up in informed his people in 1982 that for the next decade, the economy would be so poor that military oversight would be required to maintain order around food aid stations. In the process, he refused to accept that signing up with Russian aid in return for communist policies was a good idea, and broadened our economic base from 3 products providing 90% of our hard-currency GDP to 10 products providing 70% and the rest coming from a properly broad-based spectrum. I know exactly how rich the west is.

      The west is rich enough to afford to not forget its poor. The country I grew up in was not rich enough to do this. Can you possibly imagine why I expect more of Britain than I did back home?

      Might I suggest that the only way to prevent your hard work from enriching John Major is by banishing him from the civilised world

      Precisely. You have just restated my thesis that the free market does not work as you, earlier, were suggesting. The only method of using the market to enforce social change on plutocrats is via boycott, and you have just recognised that this method of political protest is no longer viable. The Great Machine has moved too much of the power and too much of the money into the hands of too few, who have then been given decades to entrench their control.

      By the way – it’s complete nonsense to say that employers have *all* the power in negotiations – the law of supply and demand applies to labour as well as anything else. Agreed – it might be rather harder *in some cases* for an employee to leave their job than for an employer to do without them but employers are competing for employees in the same way as they compete for customers.

      The figures on unemployment say you’re wrong. My experience of being a highly-rewarded, highly-skilled and educated technocrat in a booming industry is that after about four years, there was always someone cheaper who employers would rather was doing my job. And my employers were prepared to hire them, even after it became apparent that they were not as good as me. This does not place me in a position of power relative to my employer.

      Boiled down to much simpler language: when you work for, rather than with, someone else you do what you’re told. Every negotiation undertaken in those circumstances is not equitable.

      What you seem to have misunderstood is that this doesn’t bother me all that much. When someone works for, rather than with, me they do what they’re told as well. What I have a problem with is when people claim that the ‘free market’ will fix social problems which it is not in a capitalist’s interest to fix; it won’t, because for it to do so relies on this situation, which we both agree on, not being true, or on the human desire to dominate others having evaporated. Your earlier thesis does not compute.

      If a large company cheats a small one they’ll get away with it? Thats a problem with the legal system – corruption – bad regulation – not a problem with the market itself.

      No, it’s a problem with the current state of capitalism. If my company got in a dispute with $supplier, whose owner has sufficiently deep pockets that he (a Brit) owns one of the most popular Belgian fruit-beer labels, we lose. They can afford more and better lawyers and can simply wait until we can no longer continue our case due to lack of funds. The capitalist wins. This is how Microsoft killed all competetiveness in the PC operating system market: it’s how GM and Ford both obtained their dominant positions in the US motor manufacturing industry and it’s how GE became big enough that they can legitimately own 3.0.0.0/8 Free market economics have taught us this: as soon as an entity or corporation is capable of acting anti-competitively it is (within a true free-market system) in their interest to do so. As soon as you regulate against monopolies you are no longer in a free market system, and your analysis has to cope with that. So; free markets inevitably create monopolies, and to permit the competitiveness from which virtually all the benefits of such markets depend, one has to regulate against monopolies, creating … a non-free market.

      In the current world, the imbalance of power is sufficiently high that one can sometimes gain redress through the law. And when one does, it’s enforced on the capitalist by coercive power. That is not the free market: that’s not even a free market. So why are you suggesting that free market forces will fix the problems I have identified?

      Organised labour and boycotts are part of the market.

      To a very limited extent, yes. In both the US and the UK, unionised labour massively over-reached itself in the 60s and 70s and was then broken by government power, in both cases applied by military call out. That was dumb; if they hadn’t gotten arrogant and corrupt, they’d still be a viable political foce. Neither is a viable force today.

      When was the last time the NUT got the pay deal their members needed? When was the last time you saw a British General Strike, where a national coalition of working people picketed in solidarity with one another? You are again forgetting that Thatcher’s victories were only partly direct; the rest lay in the propaganda campaign that stopped people who work in one industry believing they have any lateral ties to protesters who work in a different one.

      The provision of sevices may create wealth which can then be used to buy power – but the area which we want to stop is the corruption rather than the creation of wealth.

      For whom is the wealth to which you refer created? The people who did the work? The people who had the ideas? Largely, no. It’s created for the people who already had enough capital that they could buy the people who did the work, and the people who had the ideas: or at the very least, their intellectual property rights.

      I, again, am not a communist. I do not believe that personal skill, initiative and dedication should go unrewarded; not at all, I’ve been working towards the ideal of owning land for ten years. You’ll notice that I, like the vast majority of others in my cohort, have failed in spite of the fact that I earned nearly twice the UK median wage for ten years. This is not due to me being a shit capitalist, it’s due to the prices on houses in the area of the country where it was possible for me to practice my trade went up so much faster than my salary that I couldn’t get within a multiple of 5 of a mortgage, let alone a multiple of 3. And now that this situation might change, hey look, I’m back on the same wage (adjusted for inflation) I was earning as a bouncer in 1997.

      What I believe, and have clearly stated now several times, are these things. Firstly, that for the last 38,000 years the centralised/hierarchical model of economo-political organisation has been the most effective available. Secondly, that because of how it actually happened, we are now in a situation where less than one tenth of one percent of western society is in functional control of the other 99.99% of us, through concentrated economic power which is vastly disproportionate to the actual economic contributions of those owning the money. (Warren Buffet agrees with me, btw). Thirdly, that one of the reasons for this is that in circumstances of low-bandwidth and low-storage communications infrastructure, the only model capable of generating and sustaining a unit larger than the city-state is the centralised/hierarchical model. Fourthly, that since we now have an information infrastructure which is on an exponential improvement curve, we are capable of implementing and thus testing other models to see if they work, but that the entrenched interests listed above are actively opposed to such experiments. You’ve debated none of these substantive points, merely berated me for opinions I do not hold.

      Now, returning to your quote: when have I advocated stopping wealth creation? I’ve advocated redefining it; it would arrantly foolish of me to suggest everyone stopped trying to make cool stuff. For a start, no Google.

      To a large extent groups are defined by those outside of them. We do trust those we’re close to more than those live their lives far from our sight. We want to help family members more than people we don’t know.

      The only one of these statements which is not quite flawed is the last. The first is flawed in that while groups are defined in part by outsiders, this is actually not anything like as anthropologically significant as the process of groups banding together to dislike outsiders: Othering, as I was pointing out earlier. There’s an Oscar Wilde aphorism that’s appropriate here. The second is flawed because in the context of your earlier comment it implies you believe that you have a right to moral oversight over how people you don’t know live their lives, if they’re to be permitted assistance from their own government in times of economic hardship. That’s a remarkably confident assertion.

      None of them, however, are relevant to the discussion, which is about whether or not social responsibility stopped being necessary for a stable society when Thatcher declared that everyone could be rich (and forgot to mention that most never would be).

      The class of owners does include half the adult population – its just that the class of managers doesn’t.

      Half of the adult population do not own land. Half of the adult population are not self-employed. Until they are, your statement is not accurate.

      If you work for someone else, part though not all of their profit margin depends from you making them more money than they pay you. Unless you wish to dispute that, anyone who is not self-employed or a business owner is not part of the plutocracy, and is also not getting their due remuneration for the contribution they make to the national economy.

      Now, since we have once again arrived at the point where you’re casting aspersions on me and claiming I think things I don’t think and have never said, I suspect that I’ve learned what I can from this conversation. If you wish to substantively reply to any of the answers I gave you above, or to respond to the requests for clarification I submitted, then I will respond but if we’re back to this, I’m done for this argument.

  18. ghonrogoro

    “Goodness: what did I say that provoked such vitriol?”
    Think I’m going to have to blame the plum wine for that one….
    Here’s the thing – and you’ll have to forgive me if I’m misrepresenting your argument here, but the examples given that 1) you have to buy food and 2) supermarket alternatives (basically alternatives to cheap shops) are expensive don’t seem to me to be in any way demonstrative of your conclusion that transactions occurring in a market are not mutually beneficial.
    Looking first at number 2 – the fact that you can’t afford to buy everything you want doesn’t mean that it is against your interests to buy that which you can. To me it seemed indicative of a rather spoiled mind to think otherwise. I’m willing to admit I may have got completely the wrong end of the stick.
    Secondly number 1 – it is the case that it is fairly unfeasible for most of us to grow our own food (and completely unfeasible for all of us to do so) but the train of thought which leads from this fact to the conclusion that we lose out from buying food is not clear to me.
    I`d also suggest that both of the above conditions would hold even if we *did* have a starting point of absolute equality of wealth for all and that in fact, these are observations relating to specialization and modern life in general, rather than markets in particular. Because I (perhaps wrongly) interpreted these examples as unrelated to the argument at hand, I (as is my wont) responded in a rather facetious manner, for which I apologize. I`d appreciate some further clarification.
    Before I continue I’d like to address a point you made in your previous post. I’m not talking about idealized free markets here and neither was Adam Smith. Adam Smith was making an observation about the world as he saw it, that men driven only by their own self interest (the invisible hand) can promote the good of all (please note can, rather than will). If you are suggesting, as you appear to be, that men are unlikely to benefit from trade unless they start from a position of absolute equality, you’re proposing a view of the world which would be very alien to Keynes, Greenspan or Brown (not too sure they’re the best examples, but hey ho!) as well as the vast majority of economists alive today.

    As for this;
    “ For the market to ensure that transactions are mutually beneficial each side must have equal prospects if they walk away from the deal.”
    I’m afraid, as far as I can tell – it’s just plain wrong. All that is necessary for a transaction to be mutually beneficial is that the alternative (not doing the deal) is less attractive than doing it, for both people. That’s the definition of mutually beneficial.
    Again, the usual apologies apply, but I believe you should say that if the negative effects of not completing a deal were onerous enough it would constitute compulsion – but I’d suggest that problems of this nature are more likely to relate to monopoly than to equality. I’m also not sure that applying the observation that we must eat or face starvation has much value in this context.
    Regarding employment – we must suppose that employers are incompetent if they opt for the least cost effective method. Is there any reason to believe that a market wouldn’t solve this problem by punishing the less efficient business?
    I find your attitudes towards employment quite puzzling, I must admit. Again not too sure about the leap from “there is some unemployment” to “employers have all of the power 99% of the time”. Perhaps there’s more than a little faith involved?
    And one loaded question; has European history over the last 100 years demonstrated that states are an effective tool to constrain mans urge to dominate other men? What on earth does any of it have to do with markets?
    I do hope you’ll reply, because I am genuinely interested in what you have to say – but incase you don’t I will say (at the risk of being an ass hole/ ending up with egg on my face) that if you’re basing your analysis on some dimly remembered a level economics you should perhaps do a bit of boning up.

    If the egg on my face is accompanied by a bit of enlightenment I’ll be well pleased.

  19. ghonrogoro

    An example;

    Let us suppose there are two men, John and Mark.
    John is the manager of a pub in London and Mark is a mime living in Japan.
    John has been saving for several years to buy some land, while Mark doesn`t have much in the way of savings. Lets say John has $100,000 in the bank and mark has $50. They clearly aren’t starting out from a position of equality.
    Now a bottle of sake has come into Marks posession and since he doesn’t like it he decides to sell it. In Japan he sell this bottle of sake for $1.
    However as luck would have it, a space has just opened up in Johns exotic drink cabinet at the pub. He can sell sake for $10 or a bottle of bog standard beer for $3.
    So John decides to buy the bottle of sake from Mark for $3. This is mutually beneficial since Mark will make an additional $2 dollars of profit, while John will make an additional $7 of profit compared to his next best alternative, beer. If they don’t take the deal Mark will be $2 worse off while John will be $7 worse off.

    In this case, there is neither an absolute equality in terms of the assets that the two parties possess nor do both sides possess equal prospects if they walk away from the deal.
    But the deal is still mutually beneficial.

    • johnqpublican

      Yes: however, the market does not ensure it. The market has in this case facilitated it.

      You are suggesting that market forces will, not can, feed the world. They won’t. They will feed the rich and the poor will starve.

      You completely missed my reference to Malthus and the significance of it to an economic system (our current one) which relies for continued operation on new markets opening up, when we are about to hit the edge of our petri dish. Let me elaborate: global economics means economics which cannot open new markets. The current system of free-market capitalism can only function with the continual growth of new markets and new resource bases. Once we’ve globalised, there aren’t any. Even if we get out of the gravity well, there still aren’t any new markets, though there are some new resources.

  20. ghonrogoro

    PS
    In the second part of your post you are presenting arguments against a form of ownership. I’m fully prepared to accept that private ownership is not always the best form of organisation, but and (this is where that old chestnut John Lewis comes in) any decentralised or non-hierachical system would still have to rely upon markets to function.
    (I personally believe that the greater problem with regards to hierachy and centralisation relates to the political – democratisation via the internet will be an effective tool)

    Whether or not you and I believe it is important to support people beyond your immediate circle, the fact remains that it is easier for us to trust those we identify with than those we do not.

    Finally, it is not neccesary to be self employed to be an owner of capital. Both Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are employees of a public company. Land is not the only form of capital.
    There is a division amongst the haves and have nots – (your 0.1% figure is way off though – 25% of people own 72% of the wealth) but to a large extent this represents a division between the experienced and inexperienced, old and young and successfull and unsuccessfull. In any organisation, the experienced, older more successfull members of the group will have more of a decision making role.

  21. ghonrogoro

    **Sorry in the example given above, John will be making an additional $4 of profit, not $7. My mistake**

  22. johnqpublican

    Here’s the thing – and you’ll have to forgive me if I’m misrepresenting your argument here, but the examples given that 1) you have to buy food and 2) supermarket alternatives (basically alternatives to cheap shops) are expensive don’t seem to me to be in any way demonstrative of your conclusion that transactions occurring in a market are not mutually beneficial.

    And were not intended to.

    That was ably described by pointing out the coercive power of capital accretion in out current socio-economic environment (and noting that self-sufficiency, which is the only way to avoid such coercive power, is virtually impossible on this island these days). The point about food is that when you can only buy it for money, you therefore have to get money. That means anyone who already has money, wins.

    And as I said, unless you have something substantive, (which in none of these do you present), I’m done.

  23. ghonrogoro

    “The point about food is that when you can only buy it for money, you therefore have to get money. That means anyone who already has money, wins.”

    As I said, Johnny, thats an observation about specialisation and the modern world – not about markets and not even about ownership.

    What you`ve essentially said there is that we rely upon each other.

    Nothing substansive except the bits where you were proven wrong eh…

    Better get back to those books…

    • johnqpublican

      “Proven wrong” is a grand assertion given your own comment above that I was ‘right about everything except the teacher thing’.

      I know you’re a troll from watching you elsewhere. I have now tried twice to engage you in debate, and you’ve started well each time. However, your only method of engaging is to try and redefine the debate until you feel you can win it. You start each thread articulating a reasonable, moderate-conservative view of free market economics, with a somewhat individualist bent to your social politics which I’m quite happy to agree to disagree about. You ask questions, then when I answer them you ignore me and look for bait: I’ve been happy to follow you, each time, until you resorted to arrogance and insult.

      There are two flaws in your approach here: firstly, you don’t seem to know your own side of the debate as well as I know yours side. No one serious would claim that your theoretical constructions aren’t good theories: but no one serious would claim that we have, or have ever had, a ‘free market’. Somehow you seem to have missed this. It’s like newtonian physics; good illustration, bad engineering.

      The second is that your frames of debate are massively too narrow. They do not accept that centralised/statist capitalism is only one model of free-market economics among several whcih might be viable: they do not recognise that the status quo was established by theft, murder and mass starvation; they do not recognise that maximising wealth creation is not the sole and only goal of an operative, civilised society.

      The debate on this blog is framed by me; when I write on Penny Red or on Libcon, the debate is framed by whoever wrote the article. If I want to engage with them, I have to accept that if they think, say, the ethics of social systems are important to the debate, then they are. If I want them not to be, I have to actually answer the reasons why my disputant thinks they should be.

      You have made no such attempt here: you didn’t even respond to my question (although I responded courteously to all of yours) about whether you could understand why I hold Western civilisation to a higher ethical standard of practice than I expect from medieval, agrarian economies. We’ve had an Enlightenment and we’ve got all the money: that leaves us with higher expectations of our society.

      If you want to ignore those issues, you would have to explain in detail why, and I would be able to explain my reasons for seeing them as important. You have completely failed to engage with that debate. You have instead, particularly in your most recent comment, resorted to the rhetorical equivalent of making chicken noises in an attempt to get a rise out of me. So, this debate is now done.