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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

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Universal Basic Income for all (Terms and conditions apply)

On behalf of trendsetting businesses around the world, we'd like to thank all semi-skilled workers for your tireless devotion to the complex industrial system on which we all depend. We are truly grateful to all our past and present colleagues and business partners including production line operatives, meat packers, welders, textile workers, millers, steelworkers, coal miners, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, builders, carpenters, farm labourers, fruit pickers, truckers, bus drivers, cleaners, shop assistants, cooks, waiters, typists, accountants and the thousands of other specialised roles that have served us well over the last 250 years.

Over the decades we have endeavoured to improve working conditions, raise salaries and address emotional issues such as stress, anxiety and interpersonal relations that may arise in the modern workplace. However, we have always had to strike a fine balance between the wellbeing of our staff and our commercial viability.

To this end, our team of robotics engineers and artificial intelligence programmers have now successfully developed a range of smart automatons who will relieve you of your daily drudgery and let you spend more time with your friends and family, unleashing a new world of playful creativity and exploration. As a sign of our lasting appreciation we have lobbied your governments to provide a global basic income, which you may spend online or at any of our authorised retail outlets or leisure centres. In keeping with our commitment to universal human rights and inter-community tolerance, we will extend our universal basic income to all world citizens, irrespective of gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religious affiliation, ethnic origin or mental health challenges, provided you agree to our terms and conditions* and cooperate fully with our friendly social harmony supervisors.

  • Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook source
  • Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX source
  • Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
  • Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet Inc
  • George Soros, primary supporter of the Open Society Foundation

The above announcement is of course fictitious, but based on current social trends. A populace fully controlled by a technocratic elite and totally subservient to an army of humanoid robots, social workers and psychiatric nurses is no longer science fiction, it's an emerging reality. The main questions relate to its implications for personal freedom and our sense of purpose in life as well as the likelihood of societal breakdown if things do not work out as planned.

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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Infantile Leftwing Globalism

Save the bees! Save the Trees! Save the refugess!

You might naively imagine the main focus of the Green Party is to promote environmental sustainability, while the Labour Party seeks to defend the rights of ordinary working people in their country. Yet increasingly both serve the interests of global corporations, just as much as their nominally centre-right counterparts in misnamed conservative, liberal or separatist parties.

Today no mainstream political force, and that includes the Greens, can implement the wishes of their activists. They may make a few eloquent speeches on subjects that can inspire strategic audiences and give us a semblance of democratic debate, but the only campaigns that ever succeed are those that win the backing of key corporate players via their myriad NGOs and lobby groups. The conservatives pretended to champion family values and curb unsustainable net migration. In reality they were unable to stem migratory flows, while failing to help stay-at-home mums (yes incredibly many intelligent women choose to take time off work to look after their children). Likewise New Labour had 13 years to tackle falling standards in state schools and a burgeoning housing crisis.

Radical environmentalism seeks to build an alternative model of development focused on a long-term sustainability rather than short-term profits or whimsical consumer desires. Likewise the Labour Movement was founded to empower workers, favouring long-term social wellbeing over short-term commercial gains. I sympathise with both green and red politics. I certainly do not want either a grotesquely unequal society or an environmental collapse.

Yet if history can teach us anything it is to be very careful what you wish for. As the green movement gained momentum in the 1980s, eco-sceptics claimed ecologists wanted a return to a pre-industrial era of horse-drawn carts, peat fires and peasants toiling 12 hours a day just to grow enough to feed their community. Some would argue that the Greens have never opposed technology, only bad technology. The trouble is without evil polluting technologies such as coal-fired steam engines or monstrous chemical processing plants our modern world could never have evolved. The industrial revolution initially saw a huge rise in infant mortality as young boys were sent down coal mines. It later produced the material wealth needed to invest in more efficient and human-friendly technology. By the mid 19th century child labour and slavery had become anachronisms in the eyes of capitalists, superseded by technological developments that capitalist competition had spawned. Capitalism was both a financial oppressor and a technological liberator, that the later Soviet Union could only mimic by enforcing an authoritarian form of state capitalism. Herein lies the first glaring dilemma for self-proclaimed anti-capitalists.

Back in the real world capitalism has long given way to corporatism, a marriage of major enterprises and state institutions. Left to its own devices laissez-faire capitalism would have died in the early 20th century. Indeed it would never have expanded as fast as it did without the help of state-funded armies, navies and airforces. Free trade, as we know it, has largely been won by gunboat diplomacy and later as its tentacles spread far and wide by financial coercion.

The greatest advances in workers' rights occurred in the first half of the 20th century, admittedly interrupted by world wars and national dictatorships. Capitalists had little choice because they needed highly skilled workers both to design, operate and manage their machinery and to buy their goods. In many ways the outcome of the second world war made the western world safe for a new era of mass consumerism. As mean living standards and productivity rose governments could offer more generous welfare and provide an illusion of democracy as conservative and social democratic managerial teams vied to win the favour of a docile public.

Endless Growth

However, corporate capitalism relies on continuous economic growth. The physical possibility of infinite growth on a finite planet depends on our definition of growth. It may simply mean greater circulation of capital, as happens during periods of high inflation, but most of us understand it to mean higher material living standards and thus higher aggregate consumption. We are currently on a trajectory to have a peak population of ten billion human beings. The problem is they will likely expect a Western European standard of living meaning the number of motor vehicles is set to grow from 1 to 5 billion over the next 50 years. They may well be electric cars, but they will still require billions of tons of steel, aluminium, potassium and plastics to manufacture as well as thousands of square of miles of asphalt and an exponential rise in energy demands. While many talk of a transition to public transport, walking and bicycling in urban areas, for the time being at least alternatives to cars only appeal in congested cities. When left to market forces, people will choose convenience and prestige over environmental friendliness or fitness. Our obsession with appearance and body image means many prefer to drive several miles to a gym than make a fool of themselves cycling or jogging along busy roads earning the ire of impatient motorists. Many wishful thinking Western eco-activist's are rather surprised when new immigrants to their country choose to drive short distances when they could easily walk, cycle or catch a bus. That's because they did not move to a richer country to promote environmental sustainability, but rather to enjoy a higher material living standard, or as we once said, live the American dream. Herein lies the second great dilemma of today's bien-pensant green left. Mass migration is driven, indeed actively encouraged, primarily by the same corporate system that ecologists claim to oppose or do they?

Impotence

In the UK Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish National Party and Natalie Bennett's Green Party are powerless to challenge the hegemony of the multinational corporations that shape every aspect of our professional and consumer lives, for they all agree to transfer any scrutiny of our true masters to a supranational entity, the European Union. The SNP may well run the Scottish Parliament, but dare not limit the power of the corporations that run Scotland's consumer economy. In 2016 the likes of Tesco, Walmart, SkyTV, Raytheon, BP, Shell or GSK hold greater sway over public policy than the Westminster talking shop. Indeed the SNP are so keen on ensuring that big business pay their taxes that they promised lower corporation tax to boost inward investment. As a nominally autonomous country within the European Union, they would be powerless to pursue independent economic policies. They could merely liaise as a minor player with the European Union, itself beholden to the other organisations such as WTO, IMF and the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. How could any party that enjoys the editorial support of Murdoch-owned newspaper, the Scottish Sun, be anti-establishment anyway. The SNP only oppose the old guard of British aristocracy.

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party seems to have greater anti-establishment credentials. Indeed the corporate media has been quick to denounce Labour's new leadership as dangerous extremists, naive pacifists or apologists for terrorists and Nazi-sympathising Israel bashers. The whole polemic about Ken Livingstone's Hitler comments is a case in point. You'd seriously think he had denied the Nazi holocaust or advocated the annihilation of Israel. In actual fact he had merely alluded to the 1933 Haavara Agreement between Zionists and the newly elected National Socialist regime, which incidentally still had important commercial ties the United State and Britain. We had the spectre of a Labour MP patronisingly shouting “Have you read Mein Kampf†at a former colleague.. This manufactured controversy over alleged antisemitism had two effects: to discredit the main opposition party and to restrict intellectual freedom. The other details were lost on a general public accustomed to a simplified Hollywoodesque portrayal of recent European history.

In 1981 before Argentinian General Gualtieri intervened to boost Margaret Thatcher's popularity, a much more radical Labour Party under Michael Foot won 41% of the vote in local elections compared to just 38% for the ruling Tories. In similar elections Jeremy Corbyn's party could barely muster 31% within England. Short of a miracle, Labour are extremely unlikely to win the next general election. If they oust Corbyn, then many Labour members would leave probably to join the Greens. With Corbyn, they can only hope to appeal to the core Labour vote in areas of high welfare dependency and/or Muslim populations as well as trendy professional elites. The party has lost much of its traditional working class vote. First in power it did little to protect British workers against unfair global competition and encouraged the migration of a new generation of immigrants from Eastern Europe to fill short-term vacancies in the country's volatile, but booming, labour market dominated by agency staff. Left-leaning opinion leaders and even government ministers would dismiss low-skill British workers as lazy and unmotivated, while failing abysmally to reform the welfare system to make work pay. Indeed Gordon Brown's flagship working family tax credits merely subsidised the kind of low-paid jobs to which new immigrants were attracted. Of course, nothing has changed under David Cameron's tenure either. Net migration has continued to hover around the 300,000 a year mark and more and more young people are employed under zero-hour contracts. While inflation-adjusted spending on the NHS has actually risen, a growing population is clearly putting it under enormous strain. Yet Labour and Conservative spokespeople always like to remind the descendants of the great British working class that we could not run the NHS without immigrants, a sly way of telling native Brits that they either too stupid or too well paid.

Ironically many in the Labour movement would agree with my critique of trendy champagne socialists, infantile eco-warriors and no-borders activists, the kind of people who think can they simultaneously cut industrial pollution, fight climate change, save endangered species, protect natural woodland and greenbelt, build more houses and allow million more economic migrants to enjoy a 1980s British standard of living. Many middle-of-the-road Labour activists from the 1970s and 80s just wanted Britain to be a peace-loving country that protected the interests of its own people without expropriating the resources of other countries or interfering in their affairs, except to deal with environmental catastrophes or to avert genocide. A humble country that would lead only by example. However, our economy has become so unbalanced and dependent on imports of goods and export of services as to make any government captive to the diktat of major multinationals.

In purely ecological terms the UK is a global parasite. It extracts much more from the rest of the world than it gives back. It has effectively become a large shopping mall complete with airports, a motorway network, millions of offices and matchbox houses. If you are worried about the destruction of the Amazonian rain forest, endangered species in Borneo, peace in the Middle East or carbon emissions globally, then buying imported goods at Tesco or taking a cheap Ryanair flight to sunny Spain will not help. Indeed our consumer habits outsource environmental destruction to the rest of the world.

Hands Tied

If Corbyn and Bennett really wanted to overthrow capitalism, they would not call for more economic growth or advocate corporate welfarism. They would oppose unaccountable and wasteful corporations and transfer their business operations to cooperatives respondent to the needs of local communities rather than short-term profits or longer-term commercial expansion. We would bring our consumption in line with our essential needs (e.g. we could eat a lot less and still live healthier lives), rather than short-term consumer fetishes. Most important a genuine workers' party would ensure all families have a stake in our real economy, i.e. at least one member who contributes through meaningful and rewarding work. If we outsource manual labour or let next generation automation displace workers in all but the most intellectually demanding roles altogether, we will have a nation of expendable consumer slaves.

The Greens may well oppose fracking and building on greenbelt, yet their leadership fully support the causes of fracking and habitat destruction. Capitalists do not lobby governments to allow hydraulic fracturing because they want to contaminate drinking water or destroy our countryside, but because they believe for the time being fracking is the most cost-effective way to produce the extra energy we need to power our growing economy and satisfy the consumer demands of the country's growing population.

Many Greens I've debated with live in a parallel universe, in which highly skilled and ecologically aware immigrants help us address an acute labour shortage and compensate for a shrinking and ageing population. This may be true in a few remote Devon villages, but the UK's population has grown from 58 million in 1997 to well over 65 million now. While youngsters born and bred in the UK struggle to find permanent jobs, agencies import ready-trained nurses and careworkers to look after the disabled and elderly.

What's Wrong With Old People?

If there is one demographic group the infantile left loathes more than any other it's the native British elderly, the kind of people who distrust the European Union, disapprove of gay marriage and may, heaven forbid, not be too happy about the displacement of indigenous communities with transient communities of international commuters. Yet an ageing population is hardly sign of failure, but a cause for celebration and an immense opportunity for a younger generation unable to compete with robots, but perfectly able to care for their elderly relatives and neighbours rather than twiddle their thumbs in marketing agencies or sell spurious legal services. If the UK had had zero-net migration since 1997, i.e. a sustainable balance of immigration and emigration, our population would only have declined only slightly today and we'd have smaller class sizes, much less congestion and a much smaller housing crisis. Indeed the fertility rate has risen from a low of 1.6 in the mid 1980s to 2.0 today (partly due to higher birth rates among some recent immigrants). By contrast countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Germany and Poland have fertility rates between 1.3 to 1.5. Singaporean women have on average just 1 child. People in these countries have merely adapted to the reality that our survival does not depend on having an excess of children. Raising a child to become a successful adult with good career prospects now requires massive investment in time and money. That why millions of European and Japanese couples simply opt out of parenthood.

Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will soon displace most most manual and many clerical jobs. Banks are busy closing branches, driverless vehicles are already a reality and manufacturing workers will be replaced by a handful of programmers and technicians. However, the elderly and disabled will still prefer human care-workers ideally with a similar cultural background. Would it really matter if over several generations the population halved through entirely peaceful and non-coercive means? Not at all, it would merely bring our numbers back to the population we had in the 1960s and it would certainly make it much easier to address the challenges of rising material expectations, resource depletion on a finite planet and the inevitability of greater automation. A true environmentalist would aspire to attain an equilibrium with a steady state economy and stable population, but we are not going to run out people any time soon.

Useful Idiots

If the Greens and Left Labour pose such a great threat to global corporations, why do they get so much airtime on TV and so great prominence in social media. People are not being arrested for expressing opposition to austerity cuts or staging refugees welcome demos, but rather for expressing socially conservative opinions critical of globalisation. This is because our real masters are not the old national aristocracies, but global corporations who positively loathe nation states. Both the European and North American elites are planing a new borderless playground for a new technocratic upper class. The main wheelers and dealers are not populist politicians eager to placate the concerns of a conservative electorate, but large banks, transnational enterprises and increasingly NGOs and charities. While the infantile left may rant and rave about our wonderful NHS and the evils of TTIP, trendy business consultancies are busy new ways to expand the market reach of their corporate healthcare clients and rebrand TTIP to placate European politicians. When professional services networks such as Price Waterhouse and Cooper, Ernst and Young, Deloitte or KPMG talk of global governance or localisation, what they really mean is the transfer of decision-making away from national institutions to large corporations. Increasingly national parliaments debate merely how and when to phase in policies decided elsewhere. Cultural convergence is seen as a historical inevitability that merely has to be managed. In this context the mass migration of people from the Middle East and North Africa may lead to a temporary culture clash. but the long term aim to displace all autochthonous cultures with a global superculture. Civil unrest, decreased social solidarity and the spectre of terrorism all provide excellent pretexts for more surveillance and greater centralisation of powers in supranational bodies. Not surprisingly, the Eurocrats always respond to economic, environmental and human crises with calls for more Europe, by which they mean greater powers for unaccountable institutions intent to undermining the will of ordinary Europeans.

Yet across the European continent the growing divide is no longer between the lifestyle left and the economic right, but between those of us who care about the identity and thus sustainability of our cultural heritage and those who wish to supplant all traditional cultures with a brave new world order, to which all but the enlightened elite have to conform. They are quite happy to use green activists and even trade unionists to push through policies that will both destroy our environment and undermine workers' rights. The real xenophobes are not those who defend their own cultural traditions, but those who cheerlead ethnic cleansing on an unprecedented scale.

The imbecile left will never thwart global corporatism, but will merely claim credit for policies emanating from corporate think tanks such as global taxation of corporations or their new favourite, the basic income, which will inevitably be a form a global social welfare subsidised by global corporations to the workless underclasses in exchange for their acquiescence.

It often helps to observe critically what is really happening rather than formulate a convenient worldview based on personal prejudices, peer pressure or official reports. Some will tell you the green lobby is harming ordinary working class motorists through their obsession with global warming and carbon emissions. Back in the real world green politicians support policies that increase carbon emissions by actively supporting the migration of people from poorer to richer countries and recycling propaganda about how a larger population boosts our wonderful retail economy. We thus witness a manufactured debate between small businesses, often keen on easier road transport and lower taxes, and globalist greens, usually keen on tigher regulation of private transport. Larger companies always find it easier to comply with new environmental regulations introduced to please green lobbies. All the while massive out-of-town superstores with huge carparks are sprouting up everywhere. They may have a few token cycle racks and sell fair-trade bananas, bu their bottom line depends on more eager consumers buying their imported merchandise. In power and in opposition, the greens have been disaster for our environment.

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Power Dynamics

Imagine there’s no countries…

Utopia or dystopia

Reflections on Global Convergence

As an idealist teenager John Lennon's Imagine became my anthem. I yearned for a future devoid of the seemingly pointless nationalist rivalry and imperialism that had fuelled two world wars and enslaved millions in the colonial era. I dreamed innocently of a world where different peoples would learn from each other, share their experiences and cultures altruistically and fairly. Yet as I travelled around Europe, South America, Southern Africa and India, another reality emerged. Far from converging on a new environmentally sustainable and egalitarian world order with genuine cultural exchange, the world was converging rapidly on a new model of hyper-consumerism based on the North American dream. As the increasingly globalised world media, albeit localised in a multitude of idioms, spread awareness of the 2-car suburban family with all mod cons, traditional alternatives lost their appeal. Suddenly everyone wanted a washing machine, fridge, car, TV and holidays in the sun. Anything less might now be viewed as some kind of denial of human rights. If you enjoy these luxuries you may reasonably wonder why you should deny them to those who through no fault of their own were born in a low-wage country, where with a lower purchasing power people may not afford all the gizmos of early 21st century life that many of us take for granted. This begs the question, can we ratchet up global consumption to sustain 8 billion people (the world population is forecast to peak at between 10 and 11 billion sometime mid century) with a Western European lifestyle? That would require 4 billion motor vehicles, millions more miles of multilane highways and high-speed railways, a huge rise in air traffic, and four to five-fold rise in electricity consumption, even taking into account improvements in energy efficiency. Even if we could convert our entire car fleet to electric power, we'd still need billions of tonnes of steel, aluminium and plastics as well as copious supplies of lithium for mission-critical batteries. Yet some wishful thinkers would rather believe the only reason we have not yet refined technology to accommodate 10 billion happy consumers in perfect harmony with our ecosystem is because of a combination of evil capitalism, repressive regimes and remnant border controls that prevent people from escaping third world hell holes.

An apparently well-meaning group of left-branded activists have recently staged protests under the No Borders banner in Calais. As their name suggests they want the complete abolition of border controls. If corporations can operate globally without restrictions, then why can't human beings? Their demands stand in stark contrast to widespread opposition among millions of ordinary Europeans to growing levels of immigration. Then Germany's business-friendly government announced they would accept as many as 800,000 refugees (and other migrants) this year. As migrants continued to flow through Southern and Eastern Europe to reach the more generous welfare states of Sweden, Germany and the UK, incessant media pressure mounted for more countries to take their fair share. The stage is set for the perfect storm in the next phase of globalisation, as ethnically diverse groups of natives and newcomers compete to gain access to higher pay and living standards. Newcomers fail to understand why they cannot enjoy the fruits of what is by any measure a globally integrated economy, while natives all too often remain not just sceptical of the alleged benefits of mass immigration, but see their wages compressed as the practical cost of living keeps rising.

Global Village

For the sake of argument let us just indulge the universalist fantasy, prevalent in much of the allegedly green left, that as we are all human beings in an increasingly interconnected world, we may as well just abolish all borders and let people move freely wherever they see fit.

If your ideal society is some sort of post-modern metrosexual vegetarian hippie commune where everyone shares a worldview broadly based on the 1969 Woodstock festival but with state-of-the-art smartphones and designer-label fashion accessories resembling a typical London advertising agency, borders would be pointless. Everyone would share the same godless politically correct mindset, speak the same language, watch the same movies and worship one or more global brands, a jetsetting, peace-loving generation eager to explore the world. Except they'd all be fairly rich and would only travel to embellish their facebook profile and boost their CV.

I agree borders are a major inconvenience for globetrotters. I've had a few unpleasant exchanges with border guards myself. In 1990 I was refused entry into Argentina on a British passport while my Italian partner was welcome to enter the country visa-free. After waiting 2 hours, I was granted a temporary 10 day visa. In 1999 I had my backpack humiliatingly ransacked (exposing two rolls of film in the process) by a Kalashnikov-wielding Namibian border guard. In the early 80s I can recall being detained by a Dutch border guard because my garishly dyed hair and earring did not match my 2 year-old passport photo. But by far the most awkward border crossings I endured were between West and East Berlin. On one occasion I sported a red SWP fist badge. The East German border guard was not amused as I explained it stood for International Socialism and then discovered a crumpled copy of the magazine of the SWP's tiny West German sister organisation. Just 6 years later jubilant crowds knocked the infamous Berlin Wall down. Later as the Schengen Zone expanded to include Poland and Baltic states, one could travel from Portugal through Spain, France, Germany and Poland without ever having one's documents checked. Just 30 years ago longstanding communities were torn apart by arbitrary borders imposed by superpowers. Now not only is Europe largely borderless, but the ruling elites plan to open the continent's doors to millions of economic migrants and refugees. Many cities and suburbs have already been transformed from mildly cosmopolitan urban districts that still reflected the cultural traditions of their provincial hinterlands to microcosms of a rapidly converging global village of diverse transient communities. Cities have come to resemble airport terminals populated by a motley crew of international commuters frequenting localised variants of the same global brand stores and restaurants.

I should admit a selfish personal interest in maintaining regional cultural diversity. For me part of the joy of visiting another locale is to experience different customs, ways of life, philosophical outlooks, expressions of humanity, belief systems, cuisines and languages. I admit such differences are not always convenient. I once had trouble ordering a meal with a monoglot Czech waitress in the pre-Internet era before I had a chance to buy a phrase book. During a four week exchange with an Indian family on the outskirts of Delhi my stomach took two weeks to adapt to Uttar Pradesh cooking, bucket showers and squat toilets. I was the only non-Indian in the neighbourhood. Now these differences are either commoditised as regionally branded dishes and fashion accessories available worldwide or are submerged by a global lifestyle. Cultural diversity in Europe's metropolises is just a temporary illusion as different ethnic communities adapt to a bland new superculture, often at odds with most of the world's traditional cultures.

However, many radical universalists view real cultural diversity as an anachronism. We may celebrate our differences and share recipes, but national cultures may soon become mere historical artefacts of interest largely to ethnologists, preserved only in vestigial formats for tourists, a little like Maori Dances of Life performed at New Zealand's All Blacks national rugby team matches or quaint signs in Manx or Cornish, now defunct languages resurrected only by local enthusiasts.

Global Fantasy

So what would happen if all border checks disappeared? 30 years ago most people in Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia would have simply been too poor to take advantage of their new travel freedoms. Even today many would rather stay within their native communities than risk uncertainty in foreign lands. Yet the world today is a radically different place as hundreds of millions have already abandoned their ancestral rural homelands for large conurbations. Moreover, we live in an unprecedented era of instant telecommunication, peak population and, more disturbingly, peak consumption. Never have so many wanted to consume so much and so rapidly. So now with the consumerist genie of out of the proverbial bottle, it seems only logical for millions more young people to migrate to where the best economic opportunities present themselves. I've experienced this myself as an IT contractor. “Would you move to Dubai as an Oracle database administratorâ€, enquires an IT recruiter, “Surely many locals would like such an opportunity†I reply. It seems all countries experience both high youth unemployment and a skills shortage.

As long as migration is controlled, substantial differences can remain in welfare provision, workers' rights, environmental protection, tax regimes and salaries. The UK's population has risen by nearly 7 million in just 15 years, its fastest rate ever since the early 19th century, almost entirely due to record levels of net migration. Yet seven million extra human beings are a mere drop in the ocean compared to 6 billion human beings who do not yet enjoy Western European living standards. Some have argued the free movement of labour enshrined in the 1993 Maastricht Treaty worked well when the EU only had 15 member states with fairly comparable living standards. However, without overriding economic motives, inter-EU migration remained relatively balanced. By contrast when countries have huge differences in wealth, migratory flows tend to become unbalanced. We see that both within countries and internationally. For much of the 20th century the British Isles saw a steady drift of best and brightest from the North of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to the Southeast of England. Likewise Southern Italians would migrate to the industrial North. However, governments would intervene to redress the imbalance. In the 1990s many Northern Italians grew tired of subsidising the South and supported the Lega Nord, who wanted to secede from the rest of Italy. Little did they know that their taxes would soon not only subsidise Sicily, Campania and Calabria, but much of Eastern Europe and a growing influx of migrants from Africa and Middle East too.

Life as an Emigré

Fed up with life at home, I migrated myself to Italy at a time when just as many Italians were in the UK. I belonged to a tiny minority that felt a little disillusioned with British cultural decadence in the mid 80s and relished the opportunity to learn Italian, a different outlook on life and new ways of doing things. Cultural change catches your attention much more when you return to a place after a lengthy interlude. After 13 years away from the UK, I returned in 1997 feeling rather alienated, but for the first few years I failed to grasp the true scale of cultural change as we moved to the relative backwater of Fife, Scotland, but within easy commuting distance of more cosmopolitan Edinburgh. Only when I moved back down to London in 2006 did I begin to realise that the gradual cultural changes of my youth had given way to a new era of rapid global cultural convergence. Whereas once I would worry that 90% of movies in Italian cinemas were American or continental Europeans unduly worshipped English rockstars, the England that I knew as a child was fast fading into a distant recent past. Its capital city has become a global hub unhinged from its geo-cultural setting. Indeed while I may have once worried that Spanish waiters would reply to my Spanish in English, I would often struggle to make myself understood in the heart of England's capital. What we are witnessing is not, as I previously thought, Anglo-American cultural imperialism (as Robert Phillipson theorised in his seminal book on Linguistic Imperialism), but full-blown Global imperialism. This may sound oxymoronic. How can the world colonise itself, but a global superculture is rapidly superimposing itself on all autochthonous cultures everywhere.

Global Justice

As the global juggernaut seems unstoppable, despite our undeniable environmental challenges, let us briefly evaluate the feasibility of this borderless fantasy. If transnational corporations exploit people and resources globally, how can we expect them to subsidise welfare and higher pay only in Europe and North America? Abolishing borders would surely require us to get rid of different tax regimes, salary levels and environmental standards. The European Union is well its on its way to harmonising tax systems and welfare provision across the continent. If a Federalist EU merged with NAFTA, MercoSur and other regional trading blocs, some idealists believe global corporations would pay global taxes to be redistributed fairly to anyone in need wherever they may live. Global justice warriors imagine they can welcome the mass exodus of people from low wage regions and simultaneously defend welfare provision in high-wage regions. They imagine resources are extracted merely to boost corporate profits, but not to meet an insatiable demand for more and more consumer goodies.

Democracy and Human Nature

Lower living standards are not great vote winners, yet as wealthy countries lose their exclusive right to a larger share of global resources, that is precisely what we may soon have to accept.

Should the economies of Northern Europe, North America and Australia (the most popular destinations of the current exodus from developing countries) decline, you can be sure migratory pressure will subside too. However, business elites have found a clever way to grow the economy by promoting a huge oversupply of low-skilled labour servicing the affluent professional classes alongside cheap manufactured goods keeping the consumer classes happy. This growth is both illusory and ultimately counterproductive as it relies on importing more and more waves of compliant workers to replace home-grown workers with higher material expectations. Worse still unbalanced migration in an unequal society tends to erode social cohesion and trust. However much we may pretend to care for the rest of humanity and embrace new cuisines or music, the system induces us act selfishly as self-marketing players in an economic rat race. In this context the prospect of a better paid job in Australia or Norway is simply an opportunity.

Reality Check

Historically, the higher living standards of ordinary workers in wealthier countries like Sweden, Canada, Germany or the UK were built on a high-skilled and dedicated workforce, subservient to a rapacious ruling class eager to gain access to plentiful supplies of raw materials. I very much doubt Britain's industrial revolution would have given the country such a vast technological lead over its main imperialist rivals in the 18th and 19th centuries without immense coal reserves, and shortened lives of hundreds of thousands in miners, powering its shipping and steel industries. Likewise Britain would not have conquered a quarter of the world's landmass without a sizeable navy. UK-based corporations built the nation's subsequent wealth on the back of its mercantile empire with the blood of its native workers and colonial subjects. As industrial automation and outsourcing took hold, people became less aware of the complex processes involved in the production and distribution of their beloved consumer products and began to value them only for their utility and prestige. We take many consumer products for granted and have redefined poverty to mean a relative lack of the kind of devices considered essential for our modern lifestyle. Just 20 years ago, most of us could manage without a mobile phone. Just 60 years ago most Europeans did not have a car. Now anyone unable to afford these technological marvels is considered poor.

Alternative Futures

Global idealists envisage the only way to tackle global inequality is to abolish nation states altogether, so in effect the whole world becomes one country. If we simply enforced a global average on everyone, living standards would plummet in wealthy countries, so global justice warriors believe rapid technological change will enable us to elevate everyone to Scandinavian levels of welfare provision while reducing consumption. They seem to believe solar panel and wind turbine technologies are progressing so fast that massive efficiency gains will enable all 7-8 billion human beings alive today to escape poverty in a nice cuddly tree-hugging eco-friendly way. The problem is while the current phase of intensive globalisation has certainly seen rapid rises in wealth in countries once considered poor and a shift of global power away from Europe and North America to Asia, Africa and South America, it has destabilised whole regions and continued to fuel proxy resource wars. The Euro project, far from creating a level playing field among its member countries, has led to record youth unemployment in much of Southern Europe, unable to compete with cheap imports from the Far East. Meanwhile we see extreme concentrations of profligate wealth in the Middle East, China, India, Africa and Latin America. How can we build a global utopia if Nigerian billionaires squander the proceeds of their country's oil bonanza on Ferraris, private jets and marble palaces? Why should working class Europeans compete with refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East for social housing and healthcare provision, if Arab billionaires build fortress city states that refuse to accept any refugees at all?

I've long argued that mass migration is not the answer, but merely a symptom of a grotesquely unequal world. The only sustainable solution that accords with human nature is to roll back corporate globalisation and build a new multipolar world order of independent countries that live within their means and only trade fairly. We would still pool some sovereignty on global environmental issues and we would still have some balanced migratory exchanges. To me it seems perfectly fair to ban imports reliant on cheap labour or to give preferential treatment to local lads and lasses for local jobs. We must become more aware of global issues, but seek local solutions to our immediate problems.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/2ca5y1qj848

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

The Wealth Illusion

finances 111116 money bags of three currencies

A much publicised factoid, popularised by many left-leaning campaigners for greater equality, shows that the richest 85 people in the world are as wealthy as the poorest half or around 3.5 billion human beings. That would make each multibillionaire a staggering 41 million times richer than your typical Sub-Sarahan African, Indian or Indonesian. I've done the maths and it turns out the combined financial wealth of the top 85 billionnaires is around £1 trillion, at least according to research carried out by Oxfam as reported in the Guardian last year and retweeted endlessly ever since. 1 trillion is a mind-boggingly large number, ten to the power of 12, a million millions or £11 billion each. By contrast the same sum divided by the bottom 3.5 billion world citizens is just £286.

The upshot is to alleviate poverty we just need to redistribute wealth from the top 85 to the bottom 3500 million. However, this simplistic solution is based on the fundamentally flawed logic that financial wealth bears any direct relationship to real wealth and real living standards. Moreover, transferring abstract financial wealth to billions of the world's poor may simply fuel inflation and subjugate more people into a debt-driven monetary economy. £286 is peanuts in Europe, but then so is £572. Intriguingly, financial wealth does not necessarily buy more material resources, but merely exclusivity, privilege and power over others locked into a money economy. As I will explain, the real problem is the overconsumption of much larger minority of the world's citizens and the logic of infinite economic growth. That means if we are to transition to a more sustainable and equitable steady-state economy, we would need to drastically cut consumption and waste in places like Western Europe to let poorer regions enjoy much more of their own natural resources. We would fool ourselves if we believed we could bring about such a change by taxing the very same global corporations and investment bankers who created such grotesque inequalities in the first place.

In purely monetary terms what can £11 billion buy you? Possibly, more power via shares in leading corporations, an art collection, a few luxury villas, a private jet, a helicopter, a yacht, a team of tax consultants and lawyers, a personal security squad and privileged access to various wheelers and dealers in government and finance. At current prices, no normal human being could consume material goods worth £11 billion. A Ferrari 458 Spider may set you back £200,000, but it's not 10 times better or 10 faster than a more modest VW Golf hatchback. It also consumes a lot more, is harder to park and less versatile for practical purposes. Likewise having 2 cars for personal use does not help you travel twice as far or twice as fast. It merely gives you greater choice, a second option if one car breaks down and takes up twice as much space in your driveway if you're lucky enough to have one. Owning 200 cars would be sheer insanity as few people would have the time to drive and maintain such a large fleet of vehicles. However, owning a car rather than just a bicycle can change your life. There may be no limits to how much someone can waste or how much junk someone can accumulate, but there are limits to how much a human being can personally consume. When a billionaire, like Roman Abramovich, boards his £20 million Mediterranean yacht to entertain guests, he is not consuming the yacht for his exclusive gratification, but allocating some of his wealth to corporate hospitality. Some would also argue the Russian oligarch's maritime extravagance also employs boat builders, sailors, catering and security staff. Nonetheless, Mr Abramovich's wealth certainly leads to a misappropriation of resources.

If we take a wider look at the top 1% of the global population, around 70 million lucky individuals, we see a staggering concentration of both financial and material wealth, worth around £114 trillion in 2013, or just over £1.6 million each. In purely financial terms, that's astronomically more than the bottom 3.5 billion. If you spend much of your life in international airports, corporate get-togethers, scientific and academic conventions, luxury hotels and secluded holiday resorts, this wealthy cosmopolitan elite may well seem the norm, with the remaining 99% a mere backdrop. But does it mean your average global elitist is 6000 times happier, longer living, better nourished, better educated or smarter than your average bottom 50% guy? They do not own 6000 times more real estate or 6000 times more gadgets. Your average Tanzanian (in the bottom quarter on the global financial wealth scale) lives in a small bungalow or thatched house, owns second/third hand mobile phone or may have a bicycle or motorbike, but as long as someone can eat, has access to clean water and shelter and is integrated into a cohesive community, they do not feel the same kind of extreme poverty of many temporary city dwellers in makeshift housing or sleeping under bridges in cardboard boxes. Yet even the poorest city-dwellers have much more money than rural Tanzanians, simply because they have to buy everything. The global rich simply own properties in more exclusive or strategically located neighbourhoods and have access to the latest, usually much more expensive, cutting-edge technology. A small two bedroom flat in Tokyo or New York has a market value much greater than a 1 square kilometre farm in Tanzania capable of sustaining a small community of approximately 300 people, based on the average yield of the 16% of Tanzanian land that is actually arable.

For a few short years, my income rose way above the UK average (just £27 thousand a year), but because I had to rent a flat in London, pay off some debts and allocate around £1200 to maintain two teenage offspring, I saw pitifully little of this income. Indeed I had diminished and hectic lifestyle. Some people earning £100,000 a year in expensive cities are actually worse off than others on a tenth of that sum in much of the rest of the world. A better measure of wealth is purchasing power parity or PPP, but even that discounts all the extra goods and services that people in high-consumption countries feel they need or deem essential to maintain their way of life or compete in the labour market.

Green Billionaires

If you thought the anti-elitist left always backed green policies, while the billionaire-loving right wanted to despoil the planet, think again. A common argument against the extreme concentration of wealth is that the mega-rich do not spend most of their immense financial fortunes on manufactured products. If the same wealth were redistributed to the poor (and this usually means the relatively poor in high-consumption regions), they would spend it on manufactured goods and thus boost the economy. In reality such a release of financial assets would just trigger inflation as demand for consumer products would rise. If a billionaire owns a vast forest, some may naively conclude he is denying the rest of us of land for more farming, housing or parks. In reality he is just a custodian of natural resource that provides us all with oxygenated fresh air, absorbs carbon-dioxide and plays a vital role in our planet's ecosystem. A populist government may seize such land and allocate it to other purposes for short-term social and economic needs, but a wise administration would take a more holistic and farsighted approach. Naturally, as a counter-argument we would argue the billionaire forest owner probably made his fortune through profits from wasteful industrial processes, but only to meet consumer demand.

Who pollutes? Consumers or producers?

If you drive a car and shop at supermarkets, as most Western European adults do, why should you complain if the industrial processes required to maintain your lifestyle trash the planet. If a chemical processing plant contaminates groundwater destroying not just natural ecosystems, but food crops, we instinctively blame its evil capitalist owners rather than a system that creates massive demand for inexpensive petroleum-based products. Environmental regulations inevitably increase costs. These days the dirtiest industrial processes are outsourced to regions with lower levels of environmental protection, who we then blame for failing to adhere to our high standards. We often seem blissfully unaware of the massive levels of habitat destruction created by our addiction to more and cheaper gadgets with a very short operational lifespan.

Consider the humble example of a compact smartphone. In some ways it has the potential to act as a green device by avoiding unnecessary journeys, but in other ways it's very ungreen. All mobile phones require durable lithium batteries, silicon microchips and coltan capacitors as well as specialised plastics and aluminium. Nearly 13 tonnes of water and 18 square metres of land are required to make a smartphone, with two fifths of the water impact due to pollution at the component manufacturing and assembly phases.

What is Poverty?

It used to mean living on the breadline, on the verge of starvation or lacking the bare essentials of human existence. As our needs and relationship with nature have changed, so has the definition of poverty. A car-less citizen of North American suburbia is much more underprivileged than a Nepalese smallholder with just a horse, although the former may still have a greater carbon footprint as nearly everything she consumes has to be shipped from afar. An unemployed North American may feel alienated without the tools required to compete in her world, but her true poverty isn't the temporary lack of a motor vehicle, but her disconnection from the natural world.

Financial wealth is a mere temporary illusion. It can at best buy us only relative advantage in an endless arms race with diminishing returns. Rather than simply blaming the mega-rich, we should look at our own overconsumption. We cannot solve any fundamental social or environmental problems by misallocating concentrated financial wealth on short-term mass consumption which will only exacerbate existing environmental depredation. We should focus on quality of life and experiences rather than financial worth.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Extreme Labour Mobility

Rethinking the Migration Debate

Were we to debate the ethics of racial prejudice, the relative merits of other societies or the wonders of humanity's rich cultural diversity, I would not hesitate for a moment both to stand against all forms of xenophobia and to celebrate true cultural diversity. However, as soon as someone suggests the massive recent rise in migratory flows may cause social destabilisation and alienation, some left-branded rhetoricians play the race card. Sometimes the very mention of the word immigrants rather than the now favoured terms, migrants or international commuters, can trigger instant accusations of racism. The UK is no longer the homeland of the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish, but a dyanmic international social engineering experiment.

The real question is just why the left-leaning cosmopolitan elite are so out of touch with ordinary working class people on the issue of extreme labour mobility and job insecurity. They simply fail to empathise with the very people who until recently they claimed to champion. Interestingly, working class peoples in the most diverse countries all seem to support labour market protection, while the wealthy chattering classes everywhere seem keen to promote labour mobility allowing newcomers to outcompete their local working class. In the first phase of post-WW2 economic growth, from the 1950s to 1980s, the social democratic nation-state model prevailed in most wealthy capitalist countries. The state actively intervened to promote national industries, build skills bases and protect workers against unfair competition from markets with much lower wages. Interestingly, the two Asian industrial superpowers to emerge from the post-WW2 boom, Japan and South Korea, both adopted avowedly protectionist policies at home, while benefiting enormously from European and North American export markets. As Ha-Joon Chang points out in his 2010 book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism: The free market doesn't exist. Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice. A market unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them. How ‘free' a market is cannot be objectively defined. It is a political definition. The usual claim by free-market economists that they are trying to defend the market from politically motivated interference by the government is false. Government is always involved and those free-marketeers are as politically motivated as anyone. Overcoming the myth that there is such a thing as an objectively defined ‘free market' is the first step towards understanding capitalism..

In the same short book Professor Chang describes an inconvenient truth of wealthy regions: Wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else, including any minimum wage legislation. How is the immigration maximum determined? Not by the ‘free' labour market, which, if left alone, will end up replacing 80–90 per cent of native workers with cheaper, and often more productive, immigrants. Immigration is largely settled by politics. So, if you have any residual doubt about the massive role that the government plays in the economy's free market, then pause to reflect that all our wages are, at root, politically determined

Translated into plain English, this means that immigration controls, far from protecting the rich and powerful against the poor, are actually a form of social welfare in an unequal world. Indeed without generous welfare provision, the UK could not first have outsourced most of its manufacturing base, in the Thatcher years, and then allowed an unprecedented influx of unskilled and semi-skilled labour in the New Labour and Tory / Lib Dem coaliation years. Such welfare provision softened the blow when factories closed in 1980s, but also led the emergence of a deskilled new underclass, unable to participate fruitfully in the new service-led economy. Many people are simply not suited to academic, managerial or marketing roles, but are perfectly capable, when given the chance, of doing practical jobs. If an economy does not provide a wide range of employment opportunities for people with different skills and learning profiles, it will exclude a large section of the population.

However, until recently workers in Western Europe, North America and parts of the Pacific Rim (Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand) were relatively privileged as they could enjoy such luxuries as refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, holidays and most notably motor vehicles unavailable to most in the developing world. As late as 1990 this lifestyle was only available to 15% of the world's population. We have since witnessed not just the fall of the Iron Curtain with integration of Eastern and Western Europe, but exponential industrial and consumer growth in the world's two most populous countries, China and India. While back in 1970s some environmentalists feared population growth, itself a by-product of technological progress, represented the biggest environmental challenge, per capita consumption, measured in kilojoules of energy required to sustain a human being, is rising much faster. The critical issue is no longer whether we can feed 10 billion human beings with a modest lifestyle, but whether we can sustain 5 billion cars with all the related infrastructure of motoways and hypermarkets. There is now no logcial reason why a highly educated Indian workforce should not aspire to the same living standards as their European counterparts. While Indian workers still have a huge competitive advantage for the time-being, the rising cost of living, especially in urban areas, may soon change that. As countries open up their markets, the living standards genie pops out of its proverbial bottle. Why should British workers, who today make few goods other countries really need, continue to enjoy higher living standards than Indian, Chinese or African workers, who arguably produce much more of what we need ? Back in 1970s only a tiny minority of Indians were wealthier than typical Western Europeans. Today India's emerging middle class accounts for over 10% of its population or 130 million people, a larger market than Germany or France. The top three wealthiest UK residents all hail from countries, until recently considered poor, Sri and Gopi Hinduja, (Indian: £11.9 billion), Alisher Usmanov (Russian: £10.65 billion), Lakshmi Mittal (Indian: £10.25 billion).

The new global elite has representatives in every geocultural region of the world. Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Brazilian, Mexican and even Nigerian billionaires are now in the same league as their North Amercian, European and Japanese counterparts. Their global enterprises prefer to negotiate either directly with transnational organisations like the European Union (NAFTA, Mercosur, ASEAN etc.) or with small malleable national microstates like Singapore or Luxembourg, especially if they can legally dodge taxes. Not surprisingly the big 4 global professional services firms (Deloite, PwC, Ernst and Young and KPMG) started life as tax consultants helping their coporate clients to evade national taxes, but have recently diversified into lobbying and naked promotion of globalist policies, often hiding behind environmental and humanitarian campaigns. International big business loathes large viable nation states able to protect labour markets, impose higher corporation standards and enforce strict environmental standards. It much prefers regional trading blocs as a stepping stone to a global government. With the Chinese economy destined to overtake the US economy within 10 to 15 years and India destined to surpass the UK within 5 years, we may wonder what kind of welfare and workers' rights a future global government may protect.

Let us briefly consider the logic of free movement of labour, one of the foundation stones of the European Union's 1992 Maastricht Treaty. When first introduced, the gap between the poorest regions of the EU and the richest were not much greater than those within some of the larger members states, e.g. in 1995 Lombardy enjoyed a mean standard of living comparable with that in the Netherlands, Southeast England or Sweden. It just became a little easier for migrants from poorer Italian regions to consider Northern European destinations for temporary relocation rather than apply for guest worker status. However, for cultural reasons, most workers still preferred to move to other regions of their country or linguistic region to being set at a distinct disadvantage. In the 1990s Spain and Italy began to feel the impact of growing migratory pressure from Africa and the Middle East, while the Balkan wars helped boost emigration to Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. As the birth rate fell in most of Europe to below natural replacement level, many academics and business lobbyists began to advocate higher levels of net migration to offset a natural population decline and rejuvenate an ageing population. It seemed as long as most natives continued to enjoy the same career prospects and migration inflows remained manageable, wealthy European countries could absorb more immigrants. However, elsewhere in much of the developing world, we have seen divergent demographic trends with birth-rates still way above replacement level and a steady drift away from traditional rural communities to sprawling megalopolises. For many third world citizens, the transition from a small rural backwater to a teeming 21st century metropolis such as Lagos, Istanbul or Mumbai presents a greater culture shock, than the geographically much longer flight to Frankurt, Chicago or London. Once uprooted from traditions passed down and gradually adapted from generation to generation, it takes only a little leap of faith to risk one's life for a comfortable existence European or American urban setting. Globalisation has not only deskilled relatively well paid of European factory workers, it has driven hundreds of millions off the land to overcrowded cities with limited prospects other than other than begging, theft, drug trafficking or prostitution. The last 20 years have seen three clear trends:

  1. Long-distance travel via air, sea, rail and road has become much more accessible to hundreds of millions in developing countries.
  2. A telecommunications revolution has made it much easier for people not only to stay in touch with friends and relatives anywhere in the world, but to become aware of job opportunities. Communities are no longer constrained by geography.
  3. Trade barriers have almost disappeared, making it very hard for Western European workers to compete with low wage economies in China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam or elsewhere.

The pace of social, cultural and technological change has accelerated since the late 1990s. While this rapid rate of innovation has benefited some smart entrepreneurs and technical wizards, it has destabilised the labour market. Many old skills become obsolete overnight, unskilled and semi-skilled workers can be hired and fired more easily and employers can tap into an almost unlimited supply of enthusiastic and ready trained labour from some other region. Poorer regions lose their best and brightest and survive mainly on remittances from richer regions, and the poor in richer regions are out-competed by opportunists from poorer regions. Wealthy professionals in richer regions enjoy more affordable and dependable nannies, gardeners and plumbers, while the indigenous poor are consigned to an intellectual wasteland of welfare handouts, budget supermarkets and mass-marketed junk culture.

Ungreen Greens

Why should your electric kettle be assembled by a Chinese worker earning 20p ( £0.20) an hour rather than by a British worker earning £20 an hour ? It's a good question because the demand for electric kettles for making tea, instant coffee or soup is strongest in the British Isles. Demand in the UK alone is certainly large to warrant more than one kettle factory. Indeed until recently, this quintessentially British invention was a nice little export earner (mainly to Australia and Canada). Not any more, leading British brands, such as Russell Hobbs or Murphy Richards, simply have their designs manufactured in low wage regions. A new generation of Britons is more concerned with brands, price and convenience than supporting local workers. Some may argue that we are so busy providing media, marketing, education and entertainment services to the rest of the world, that it makes sense to help other countries grow their economies by making the things we buy in retail parks or online. Indeed as our manufacturing techniques had changed, it made perfect sense for big business to transition to a new type of high-income service economy. The only flaw in that optimistic analysis is that excluded over 50% of young people who didn't go to university and had been failed by a one-size-fits-all comprehensive education system. Nowadays very few affordable electrical appliances are made in the UK. Hoover pulled out of Cumbernauld in 2003. Only three years later Lexmark closed their laser printer plant in Rosyth. Yet all the while the UK retail sector, with a brief slump in 2008-9, has continued to bloom. People travel more on holiday and buy more gadgets, while the UK population has risen by 5 million since the year 2000. However, the country's carbon emissions have remained static despite ambitious government promises of a 20% reduction by 2010. Yet in reality, the country's true carbon footprint has risen dramatically as we simply consume and import more junk that have to be shipped thousands of miles to reach our warehouses. It may be cheaper to import kettles from Indonesia, Malaysia or Vietnam, but in addition to the pollution created by the manufacturing process, we have the environmental burden of shipping the goods over longer distances. Deceptively lower retail prices have another oft-forgotten side effect. It is now often cheaper to buy a new domestic appliance than attempt to repair an existing one, simply because compatible spare parts have to sourced from remote manufacturers and local retailers lack the skills needed to service parts that are not designed to be easily replaced. If your kettle only costs £20, why spend £20 to replace a faulty thermostat? As a result our landfill sites are replete with discarded appliances with just one faulty component. Globalisation, rather than spreading environmental burdens and maximising efficiency, leads to monumental waste, not only in terms of hyperconsumption (by things we really do not need), but also destroying the prospects of millions of potential workers, out-competed by power-hungry global corporations. If we cared about the environment, we would buy fewer manufactured goods made by well-paid workers with spare parts we can buy in a local hardware store.

A country of Immigrants?

Wishful thinking sociologists proclaim that we have always been a country of immigration. In theory, this statement is true to varying extents of any country outside of Africa's Rift Valley, but should only really apply to countries whose populations are made up mainly of successive waves of recent immigrants such as the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina or Australia. Ironically, such multiethnic countries were also built on large-scale population displacement and genocide. Australian aborigines did not invite Dutch and British colonisers to cope with a temporary skills shortage. In truth, before the expansion of the British Empire, these islands experienced only a trickle of migrants from continental Europe. The Norman invasion added 1-2% to the country's blood pool and Anglo-Saxon incursions possibly as little as 5% (Stephen Oppenheimer, Origins of The British). As late 1990, over 75% of the British population descended from the original settlers who moved to these Isles from various ice age refuges between ten and eight thousand years ago. In the imperial age, especially following the Industrial revolution, Britain became mainly a country of emigration with a few groups such as Huguenots and Russian Jews moving to the UK in the 19th century. Most continental European countries experienced greater migratory flows for simple reasons of geography. From the 1950s, Britain experienced the first large waves of immigration from its former colonies. The country was no longer populated almost exclusively by pale-skinned descendants of Celtic, Germanic and Pictish tribes. As the British had colonised much of Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, Caribbean and Oceania, this seemed only right and proper, especially as a many English, Scots and Welsh continued to emigrate to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. Between 1950 and 1997, net migration fluctuated between -20,000 amd +50,000 a year. The UK's population grew gradually from around 50 million in 1950 to 56 million in 1980, covering the first era of mass immigration from the Commonwealth and the 1960s baby boom. In much of the 1970s and early 1980s Britain experienced negative net migration and a declining birth rate. These changes gave rise to a new multiethnic British identity as newcomers integrated and intermarried with longer-standing Britons, but Britishness itself was in crisis often associated with national supremacist groups like the BNP (British National Party) or National Front. In an increasingly interconnected world, the United Kingdom became an anachronism only temporarily rebranded as Cool Britannia, largely due to the commercial success of UK-based rock bands promoting the country's new multicultural image. Britain attempted to capitalise on its image as the birthplace of the English language and industrial revolution, but became a victim of the successful spread of its two leading cultural and economic exports. Its former engineering and scientific excellence had long been eclipsed first by the USA, Germany and Japan and more recenly by global corporations with no national allegiance. The expansion of an English-like global lingua franca and the enduring reputation of a few leading universities seemed the only consolation prizes from the country's imperial past.

However, UK support for US military interventions and the blurring of cultural boundaries between nation states destroyed a rebranded Yookay. Despite the popularity of the English language, UK entries to the Eurovision Song Contest failed to win the hearts and minds of young audiences elsewhere in Europe, while until the 1990s British Rock stars had gained a godlike status abroad. Younger Brits preferred to identify as English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. By the late 1990s, the economy has depended mainly on abstract financial, education, Since 2000 net migration has varied between 150,000 and 300,000 a year. In 2014 over 625,000 moved to the UK by legal means, and around 330,000 left. Not only only are these figures unbalanced but very different kinds of people are moving in either direction. The problem is not, bloody mmigrants, but a global economic system that is clearly unsustainable and works against the interests of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

Categories
Power Dynamics

11 million empty homes, in the wrong places

The Guardian newspaper has just revealed to its credulous readers that EU-wide no fewer than 11 million dwellings stand empty. This apparent news has been endlessly recycled by various well-funded lobbies and think-tanks to suggest there is no housing crisis in the regions that have recently attracted most inward migration. Meanwhile to accommodate 4 million new UK residents, the government has relaxed planning laws to allow the building of 3 million new homes, many on prime agricultural land. At the same time it has sanctioned hydraulic fracturing across England, which will pollute the groundwater in much of the remaining farmland. So presumably news of 11 million empty homes could not come at a better time. We may be able to house everyone and keep our farmland to cope with rising global fuel and food prices, or can we ?

The trouble is most of these empty homes are far from where most jobs are. Indeed many millions are the direct result of international commuting as young people vacate their home towns and villages in Eastern and Southern Europe and head to the wealthier climes of Northern Europe and the British Isles. Many millions more are second homes built for ex-pats in Mediterranean or Black Seas tourist resorts. Just 700,000 of these empty homes are in the UK, most of which are in rundown post-industrial wastelands. At the other end of the scale are prime pieces of real estate in overpriced neighbourhoods bought as investment by international gangsters, so just as many London-based workers have to commute several hours a day or make do with substandard accommodation, sumptuous properties lie empty in Hampstead and Mayfair.

However, what would happen if we could force the government to seize these properties and allocate them to those more in need? For starters demand would greatly exceed supply. There are nowhere near 11 million des-res Hampstead villas waiting for minimum wage workers to take up residence, there are at best a few hundred. London-wide there may be several thousands of empty properties, but many would require renovation and would only temporarily ease an artificial housing shortage. I say artificial because without mass migration, there would be enough houses for all without destroying valuable farmland. Forced repossession of empty luxury properties would have one very positive side effect, it would discourage property speculators (mainly foreign) from distorting the London market and thus deflate the economy and diminish the need for so-many temporary service workers. Like it or not, the whole London economy thrives on recycling wealth generated somewhere else, so once again you either support corporate globalisation and live with its many consequences, or you support more viable alternatives, that inevitably means economic shrinkage in overheating economies.

Few seem prepared to admit the obvious. With huge economic imbalances between regions, a growing rich-poor divide, shrinking middle classes and open labour markets, globalisation has succeeded in simultaneously creating chronic overcrowding and unbearable congestion while leaving other areas in a state of abandon and social decline.

In addition the environmental impact of housing depends very much on habitation. Abandoned properties may decay, but they pollute very little. Inhabited properties inevitably consume water, electricity, produce sewage, add to local retail consumption and traffic (especially if their owners insist on driving everywhere). For every inhabited house we need to provide more shops, schools, hospitals and roads.

Europe's empty properties fall into 4 categories:

  1. Too expensive, only suitable for wealthy property investors
  2. Holiday homes by the sea or on the slopes, not suitable for young city workers
  3. In areas of high unemployment and mass emigration
  4. Substandard, in a state of disrepair

Of these only the fourth could be easily repurposed to cope temporarily with Europe's large population movements, but long-term we should look at smarter solutions. Rather than moving to where big business offers more lucrative employment opportunities, how about restructuring the economy so jobs are more evenly spread. It really makes little sense for more Eastern Europeans to abandon underpopulated regions to add to environmental problems in London, Frankfurt or Stockholm.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Monbiot denies peak oil.

In reply to:‚ We were wrong on peak oil. There's enough to fry us all

Dear George,

Once again I feel constrained to write to you in defence of cool-headed rationalism rather than vapid emotionalism. I refer of course to your recent piece in the Guardian on peak oil. I would really welcome any hard‚ facts that led you to change your mind since the concept gained public awareness in the late 90s. Geologists have long known of huge reserves in Alaska, the South Atlantic and even deep under the Antarctic Ice. We have long‚ known of vast reserves of tar sands. Peak oil refers to the maximum commercially viable extraction rate of easy oil, as present in‚ the Middle East, Venezuela and formerly in Pennsylvania and Texas. Once we start drilling 3000 metres below the Mid Atlantic seabed, as Brazilian surveyors already are, the EROEI‚ a concept‚ with which‚ I hope you are familiar, will diminish very fast in any currency and oil will lose its relative advantage over alternatives, which unfortunately either yield much less (biomass), are unreliable (wind), require enormous infrastructure and maintenance (solar and tidal energy) or are downright dangerous (nuclear). However, don't take my word for it, Richard Heinberg has dealt with your assertions much more eloquently than I could:‚ Peak Oil Denial.

I had previously written about your refusal to attribute‚ our ruling elite's support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq to control of the oil supply. You seem to have a‚ wonderful knack for pandering to our establishment's self-righteousness (namely we did it for democracy‚ freedom and human rights). You also expended considerable literary resources on your condemnation of 9/11‚ truthers, likening them to climate change deniers,. To the best of my knowledge, nobody denies the destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 or the murder of around 3000 office workers, although many Americans and others fail to believe the official explanation for this terrorist act. So why would you join William Engdahl and others in denying the reality of finite resources on a finite planet? For the environmental movement the timing could not be worse, only two week's ago James Lovelock admitted overestimating the scale and consequences of man-made climate change. While our collective overconsumption has undoubtedly affected our planet's ecosystem, I remained somewhat sceptical of some of the more extreme predictions, mainly because the so-called scientific consensus has frequently been wrong on so many issues. Continued human hyperactivity is‚ very likely to disrupt natural climatic cycles, but maybe not before other technological constraints begin to thwart our suicidal drive for growth at all costs. Indeed the message climate change and peak oil deniers have been getting is quite simple: The enviro-fascists were wrong, the party can go on. We can keep expanding markets and place all our uncritical faith in the next generation of technofixes. Remember in geology a century is but a just a split second, yet in this period our‚ population has quadrupled and our per capita consumption sky-rocketed. We are indeed treading unchartered territory and may not be fully aware of the consequences for another 50 to 100 years.

I suspect it's because you fear the consequences. Indeed I also note your disagreement‚ with Jonathon Porrit on the population issue. You simply fail to recognise it and accuse, albeit diplomatically, true‚ environmentalists of wanting to depopulate the planet through Draconian measures such as sterilisation and‚ eugenics.Yet any rationalist would distinguish science from ethics. If we get the science right, we can then consider its ethical implications and act to avert suffering. If we get the science wrong, through misplaced faith in dangerous‚ technology or overreliance of finite resources, then the ethical consequences can be catastrophic. Yet since the mid‚ 1980s, and increasingly since the advent of New Labour, the trendy left has been enamoured with the neoliberal‚ Globalist project, its growth mantra and its imagery of multicoloured happy consumers sipping lattes and fondling their iPads. Humanitarian intervention, outsourcing and mass migration were key tools‚ of the new globalist world order. Yet the left seems to have confused the noble causes of International solidarity and‚ humanism for an economic system that thrives on hyper-competition and hyper-consumption addicted to growth at all costs. Its advocates in the British media stop at nothing to accuse its intellectual opponents of authoritarianism (green fascists), racism (anyone opposed to cheap labour and free trade) or conspiracy theoryism (anyone refusing to believe orthodox propaganda)‚

In short, I suspect you changed your mind on peak oil, not because of any new evidence, but because of peer pressure to embrace growth and remain politically correct on immigration and‚ population. Well done! So as 1.3 billion Chinese, 1.2 billion Indians and 700 million Africans strive to emulate Western European living standards, will they kill each other in the process? Will we ever learn from experience?

I'd prefer to see tens of billions more human beings over the coming millennia than destroying the ecosystem on which our civilisation depends just to squeeze in a few billion more here and now.

Categories
All in the Mind Computing

All true conservatives are green

I sometimes enjoy Peter Hitchens‚ antidote to mainstream trendy Neo-Liberal thinking, but fear he is on some subjects in bad company and a tad ill-informed. No rational person could deny volumes of hard evidence showing the exponential rise in humanity's collective impact on our planet's delicate ecosystem, both in terms of our numbers (rising from just 750 million at the start of the industrial revolution to 7 billion now) and our per capita consumption. Our population will probably peak in the next 10 to 30 years, but at the expense of adopting modern high-consumption lifestyles. And now 2500 million Chinese and Indians are preparing to join the mass consumer frenzy, resources that previously seemed almost unlimited, are nearing depletion.

The fact that scientific forecasts have so often proven wrong should lead us to take a more rather than a less cautious, and thus conservative, approach to future development. Climatologists know full well our climate is subject to multiple natural and, dare I say, anthropogenic factors, but man's impact on our environment has reached unprecedented levels. But climate change is just one of many potential side effects of our rapid overdevelopment. James Lovelock has merely conceded that some of the more alarmist forecasts made 20 years ago have not been supported by subsequent observations. So what! They were just forecasts. Meanwhile, other forecasts, such as available oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, have also turned out to be gross exaggerations. That's why Brazilian geologists are busy surveying fossil fuel deposits 2 miles below the surface of Mid Atlantic Ocean, the Chinese are sealing deals with Nigerian businessmen and Western Oil companies see Libya as a mere gateway to oil in Chad and Darfur, despite the huge costs of building pipelines and other infrastructure.

Wishful thinking cornucopians would like to see the current era of cheap mass motoring for all continue without drastic consequences and place blind faith in scientists to find to magic techno-fixes. Climate change denial, so popular in Neo-Conservative circles, has little to do with any understanding of the actual climate (which may get warmer, colder, wetter or drier in different parts of the globe) and everything to do with the same culture of entitlement Mr Hitchens so rightly denounces in his columns. Claiming to have a god-given right to drive your car to a suburban shopping mall, funded by your non-productive marketing job, is just the same as claiming a right to welfare handouts to subsidise your hedonistic idleness. If we are to tackle our very real environmental challenges and avoid unprecedented loss of life resulting from a grotesque overconsumption, we need to power down.

Categories
Power Dynamics War Crimes

Branding Cuba

If you want to get away from the adverse effects of mass consumerism, extreme concentration of wealth, social unease and poverty, Cuba is an intriguing destination. Like in many countries your experiences can be filtered both by your cultural prejudices and expectations and by your tour operator. Many tourists just head for the beach resorts of Varadero, Cayo Coco, Guardalavaca, Cayo Largo del Sur or Baconao near Santiago. They see Cuban life on the periphery through the rearview mirror of the rented cars and happy to encounter the charm and friendliness of thousands Cuban hustlers or jineteros, who gather at all popular tourist attractions to offer a multitude of services in exchange for convertible pesos, buy souvenirs and admire revolutionary graffiti replete with portraits of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. To many such visitors, mainly educated upper middle class Europeans, South and North Americans, Cuba is ripe for a dose of globalisation, inward investment and democratic reforms.My interest in Cuba was slightly different. I wanted to see how an ostensibly non-capitalist country is faring in a predominantly capitalist world. How could Cubans survive without the benefits of Wall-Mart, Starbucks, international banks, PlayStations, XBoxes and a steady diet of consumer advertising? Were all Cubans eager to hop on the first boat to Miami? Were they crying out for the kind of multi-party elections we purportedly enjoy in the enlightened West. In my late teens and early 20s I had been active in various leftwing Trotskyite grouplets, before growing disillusioned with the prospect of a worldwide revolution driven by a vanguard party and becoming much more concerned with the practical issues facing our species such as the environmental sustainability of the primary economic model of continuous material growth, i.e. before we can begin to distribute resources more fairly and eliminate poverty we need a sustainable model of development so future generations can enjoy the same level of material wellbeing. I had never really had any illusions with the former Soviet Union, having briefly travelled in Erich Honecker's old East Germany, or Maoist China, but the Cuban Revolution was essentially anti-imperialist and its alliance with the Soviet Union more a matter of convenience rather than strict ideology.
If you measure wellbeing by the state of strategic infrastructure such as roads, railways, telephony, electric power, plumbing etc... then Cuba will disappoint you. Just 90 miles or 140km south opulent Miami, Havanna (La Habana) is, with the exception of a few areas of Habana Vieja (old Town), Vedado and Santa Maria, in a state of disrepair, attempting to add new life to infrastructure inherited from pro-US Bautista era with a few additions during the countries 30-year long alliance with the USSR.
Consider your classic high-budget tourist staying a couple of nights at Havanna's immaculately opulent Hotel Parque Central, visiting Habana Vieja before relaxing by the pool of a newly built Varadero hotel complex. To such a traveller Cuba is a mere playground with a Hispanic flavour and rather unique Che Guevara branding. Why not have your picture taken smoking a Habanero cigar, wearing a Che T-Shirt and drinking a Mojito? Since the fall of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a new official enemy of the great North American dream, advertisers in Western Europe have exploited Che as a rebellious sex symbol appealing to a certain faux counter-culture mindset (to understand this concept better, read

The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture

by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter

Many observers have wondered whether Raul Castro's cautious reforms will usher in a new era of capitalistic growth with trendy multinationals setting up shop across Cuba. In Centro Habana, I did see one discreet shopping mall, but most shop names were unrecognisable. Over the last 20 years not only have shopping centres become indistinguishable across the UK, but in much of the world from Tokyo to Johannesburg, Toronto to Buenos Aires, but not yet in Cuba. Everything is still very low key, almost like a blast from a recent past, such as err the 1970s when each country had its distinctive commercial flavour. With the US's global economic influence declining and friendlier trading neighbours in nearby Venezuela and Mexico, the relative benefits of succumbing to US demands to open up markets are waning. In 1990s following the breakup of the former Soviet Union, Cuba weathered the storm of international isolation by becoming almost self-sufficient and taking drastic measures to cope with a dearth of imported oil. Cubans still love their cars, but only those who can earn hard currency can afford fuel or maintenance. In Havana, it seemed all car owners had become tax drivers. Outside the main cities, the roads are largely desolate, a few trucks, buses, horse-drawn buggies and rental cars driven by affluent tourists.
Cubans seem very eager to talk with foreigners, but surprisingly at least compared with other countries, few wanted a visa. One guy did complain about not being to travel, but on the whole, Cubans seemed surprisingly aware of life abroad. Not only do many have relatives in the States or Europe, but they can pick up Spanish-medium TV stations from Miami. Yet despite the lure of shiny gadgets and higher wages, most seem content to stay, measuring their welfare not against North America's gated neighbourhoods, but against neighbouring Haiti, the poorest country in the Caribbean and Jamaica with the highest crime rate.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Migration Myth Busting

It looks like the globalist growth lobby has been busy copying and pasting its Migration Myths all over government-sponsored Websites and many run by spurious NGOs. Hint if someone is providing information free of charge in a glossy format, it's probably not very reliable. As always first-hand fact finding goes a long way. I live in a small single room in London, am not entitled to housing benefit as I have a job and my kids do not live with me. I've visited many former council estates around Inner London and my observations on the rapid socio-ethnic transformation should surprise no-one with their feet firmly on the ground

Government Migration Myths exposed

Original source: Fear of Migrants: a Myth

Myth: Official reports are objective.
Fact: Government-commissioned reports select skewed statistics to suit their agenda.
Myth: Objective population realists suggested 98% of all new jobs go to immigrants.
Fact: As stated above, around 50% of new jobs in the UK as a whole go to immigrants. In London that percentage is bound to be significantly higher, but in the UK as a whole recent immigrants still account for fewer than 20% of the population. More important, many natives have lost their jobs and are simply not re-employed.
Myth: Immigration does not boost unemployment within the indigenous population.
Fact: Only as long as continuous economic growth can keep producing new jobs. (See next item).
Myth: Economic and population growth are good
Fact: We live on a finite planet with finite resources. The UK is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Indeed England alone is now more densely populated than the Netherlands. To sustain London's population, we need on area of land larger than the UK. The UK imports 40% of its food, most of its manufactured goods, is now a net importer of fossil fuels and exports pollution created by domestic consumption.
Myth: Unsustainable migration has not caused a housing crisis in London.
Fact: Most indigenous workers in London commute from the home counties or beyond and have been effectively priced out of London. For someone on the min wage, an average rent of £150 - £200 per week is simply not affordable. People can only afford to stay in London in acceptable accommodation on low wages if they receive housing benefit, i.e. if they are subsidised by other tax payers...
Myth: Population realists are racists:
Fact: Any peaceloving human being abhors racism, but the consequence of more unsustainable growth will be internecine warfare... The country is hugely indebted and entirely dependent on services nobody really needs.
Myth: There is a skills shortage...
Fact: Only a small minority of newcomers can offer engineering, IT and medical skills. Most offer the kind of skills that use to be very common in the UK before the demise of manufacturing and the rise of a benefits culture. Anyone can serve lattes.... provided they have sufficient food and shelter. Maybe newcomers can fake smiles better... There are 8 million Britons of working age not in employment or education. An estimated 5-6 million of these are perfectly capable of working, if motivated and trained, and coming off incapacity benefit.