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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Dictatorship by Consent

Apparently, if we believe many opinion leaders, we fought most recent wars to spread freedom and democracy. Allegedly people across the world admire us because of our deep-rooted civic political culture. Never mind any inconvenient conflicts between personal freedom and true democracy, but what do the international ruling elites and their faithful cheerleaders actually mean by this Hellenic word for people power ?

Do they really want an open debate about issues that affect our daily lives? Are there really prepared to explain the inevitable dilemmas that arise from conflicting popular demands? Do they really understand the enormous sense of alienation and psychological inferiority that mass consumerism and an obsession with presentation and body image has created in so many of us? Given the choice, everyone would want higher wages, better working conditions, more leisure time, more green fields, cleaner water, better transport infrastructure, more affordable heating, larger houses, better healthcare, longer lives, more holidays, more fun, more friends and a higher social status. It hardly matters if we cannot have all these wonderful traits at once. However, if the mainstream media can set the agenda, stage-manage debates and isolate inconvenient critics, they can keep alive the illusion of democracy and free speech.

If we did as big business wants, we'd all halve our salaries, double our work load and triple our spending. If numbers don't add up, we can always ask banks or central government to create more money out of thin air, such is the logic of the debt-fuelled consumption-driven economy. Yet the more we are indebted and the more we rely on international trade, the more we transfer our theoretical sovereignty to unaccountable global entities. It often seems we can only debate how to boost the economy, how to attract more inward investment, how to accommodate more international commuters, how to deal with cross-border crime or how to combat terrorism. We do not debate whether any of these measures are necessary, i.e. do we really need to grow our economy?

As mainstream national political institutions become powerless in the face of tentacular transnational remote organisations, political debate is limited either to trivial parochial matters or is reduced to simple negative campaigning, blaming rivals for the collateral damage of policies that would have been implemented anyway. The recent Labour party political video, devised by the US media guru behind Barrack Obama's electoral victory (David Axelrod), may fool a few young angry voters, who'd like to blame a few convenient scapegoats for their misfortunes, but it is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. It perpetuates the myth that in the early 21st century any difference remains between the mainstream parties on any subject of importance. The video focuses on a few safe and simplistic issues, tuition fees, rising heating costs and bedroom tax. It then blames the old guard of British aristocracy. Just because modern CEOs wear jeans, listen to rock music and no longer have posh Etonian accents, does not make their huge financial superiority any less grotesque. Indeed the gap between rich and poor had been steadily rising for over 30 years. According to the top 10% earned just 7.1 times more than the bottom 10% in 1995, by 2008 this ratio had risen to 10.1 times.

It doesn't take long to disentangle any of these claims and see how Labour offers little alternative to the two other orthodox parties. Take, for example, the much-maligned bedroom tax. It is only an issue because housing has become unaffordable without huge government subsidies. Housing benefit effectively subsidises landlords, so why should hardworking low to middle income tax-payers in areas with lower property prices subsidise special categories of people entitled to housing benefit in wealthier areas? New Labour have become the biggest defender of spiralling housing benefits introduced by Thatcher after her government sold off council houses. Moreover, thanks to a rising population, largely driven by immigration, demand for social housing has never been higher, and thus needs to be rationed. Do New Labour plan to build millions more homes and where ? Will they admit the rather obvious environmental costs of more urban sprawl in Europe's most densely populated region? I doubt it. Indeed their stance against bedroom tax is just an exercise in political point scoring. In 13 years in government they abysmally failed to increase the tax burden on international oligarchs, multinational corporations and banks, as they relied on their presence in the UK to artificially boost the economy.

Not only did New Labour introduce tuition fees in 1997 and increased them to £3000 later in 2006, they promoted a huge expansion in higher education that turned universities into businesses competing not just for corporate sponsorship, but in the lucrative international student market. As a result degrees are not only devalued, but reflect the needs of big business rather than of wider society. With so many other spending obligations and financial constraints, no government can now afford to return to the old grant system, where most students from poorer backgrounds received fully subsidised education, but until the 1980s only 15 to 20% went to university. Yet today only a minority of the nearly 50% of 18 to 21 year olds who now attend university attain degrees of any practical worth with social sciences, law, business administration and creative arts among the most popular subjects. Biology is now dominated by the needs of the burgeoning pharmaceutical, biotech, assisted fertilisation and private healthcare (cosmetic surgery) sectors. Only a fraction of medicine-related degrees produce new doctors, most prepare students for life as a pharmaceutical representative, fertility clinic lab technician or psychiatric nurse. Such professions are in greater demand as a growing proportion of the population is on prescription medication, opts to bypass nature through fertility treatment or succumbs to emotional disturbances that we have relabelled as mental health issues.

Most of us shudder at the thought of opening our electricity or gas bills, largely because back in the 1990s they were, by European standards, incredibly low because most gas still came from the North Sea. Now most gas is imported and energy demand has grown. Logically we need to either increase energy production, with all its potential environmental consequences, import more or consume less. Token gestures like unplugging your TV set at night will make little difference. By offering short-term subsidies for heating, New Labour would promote inefficiency and fail to provide a long term solution, i.e. adapting to a low consumption economy, ensuring people can live healthy lives with less waste. If you naively believe they would just tax a few fat cat energy firm bosses, just consider the real reasons behind the 2003 occupation of Iraq.

In reality although some debate still takes place even on contentious issues such as mass immigration, the hands of local, regional and national governments are tied. All they can do is present a narrow set of options and hope big business will work magic to bridge the growing gap between social and environment sustainability and economic expedience. If people really exercised democratic control, you can bet the ruling elite would change strategy, as they often do. Instead every few years we are just given the opportunity to vote for another set of middle managers. Sometime we elect mavericks, who may rant and rave in parliamentary talking shops, but all along big decisions affecting people's jobs, community, housing, transport etc. are decided in remote boardrooms and think tanks.

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Power Dynamics

The Globalist Mindset

If you love planet earth and the human race, may I humbly suggest corporate globalisation leading to a grotesque misappropriation of resources may not be such a good idea after all. However, some self-proclaimed progressives disagree. They somehow associate the onward march of transnational organisations, the proliferation of branded retail outlets and the relentless expansion of the non-productive hedonism business with a concept they like to call progress. Indeed, even many wishful-thinking greens and socialists have internalised the notion that we, as a species, are all on a one-way journey towards a better tomorrow and we can face all potential challenges through ever greater cooperation. Guiding us are an alliance of transnational organisations, multinational enterprises and virtual social networks integrated seamlessly with the entertainment industry. As soon as people gain access to the World Wide Web from Norway to Chile or Japan to Angola, they tend to join Facebook apparently to stay in touch with a diaspora of friends and family, but also to broaden their mindmap of familiar faces to friends of friends or newly formed virtual communities of special interest groups. Never has the world been more connected and never has travel from one country to another been so easy. Many global optimists already view countries as mere relics of a bygone era of nation states, fallen empires and anachronistic religions. Local languages, dress codes, cuisines and custom blend into a potpourri of flavours and choices available in an apparent free market. Whether a modern world citizen happens to be relaxing by the beach in Goa, visiting museums in New York City or Paris, attending a business conference in Dubai or inspecting a factory in a Chinese megacity, the interconnected global culture never seems far away. The same brands and artefacts of our postmodern decadence and techno-wizardry accompany financial wealth wherever it spreads. While 50 years ago opulence was concentrated in a handful of wealthy countries, extreme decadence has spread worldwide. There are billionaires in countries we once prefixed with the label third-world such as India, Brazil, Indonesia and even Nigeria, and billionaires in the first and second world countries often hail from former colonies of the old imperial powers. Nowhere is the scourge of ostentation as daunting as in the Middle East, the scene of over 80 years of imperialist meddling and destabilisation. Yet without easy access and control of the world's cheapest oil reserves in the Middle East, the global economy would shrink.

Just 20 years after the fall of the former Warsaw Pact, European governments have become little more than county councils negotiating deals with multinationals and harmonising legislation in line with new laws in other countries and with the wishes of international pressure groups. In practice government ministers act merely as middle managers implementing policies decided elsewhere and liaising with local underlings to mitigate adverse effects for social stability. In many ways the history of post-war Europe has been a conflict between rival visions of global harmonisation. As long as the rift between the Stalinist East and Capitalist West remained, leaders paid lip-service to outmoded concepts such as self-determination, national sovereignty and workers' rights. Countries could intervene to protect markets against destabilising global competition thus protecting not only local jobs, but also key skill bases. After the big powers had redrawn boundaries and forced millions to move, enduring extreme hardship and even starvation, from around 1950 to 1990, Europe enjoyed one of its longest periods of peace, social stability and general prosperity. Admittedly large pockets of relative poverty and social exclusion remained, as did authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe and until the mid 1970s in Spain, Portugal and Greece. However, the degree of democratic participation and freedom of expression tended to reflect both social and economic realities. Those countries with the highest material living standards and thus best equipped to meet demands for better pay, working conditions and availability of life's pleasures and luxuries, could allow greater debate on economic policies and tolerate much greater dissent. If the business classes can distract the populace with bread and circuses and carefully manage the range of acceptable opinions, dissent can be easily sidelined or channelled into narrow lifestyle issues. Despite longstanding cultural differences, all Western European government pursued essentially social democratic policies. While governments allowed industries to compete, trade, expand and satisfy growing demand for consumer goods, they also invested in technological innovation and infrastructure, expanded welfare provision and protected national markets and workers against unfair competition from low-wage economies.

In the 1980s globalisation entered a new era with the Reaganite and Thatcherite obsession with supply-side economics and outsourcing of manufacturing. Since the fall of the former Warsaw Pact, we have seen the expansion of the European Union from a small set of countries with similar living standards to encompass most of the continent from Ireland to Romania or Finland to Portugal alongside other regional trading pacts from NAFTA, Mercosur to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). As a result the social democratic dream must either be extended to all and sundry or be gradually dismantled. In the UK we have the paradoxical situation where many descendants of the once proud working classes have become trapped in welfare dependence while low-wage jobs are increasingly the preserve of newcomers. To put things in perspective, despite public concerns about immigration from Commonwealth countries in 1950s to the 1980s, this immigration was always relatively balanced by emigration. Indeed between 1945 and 1995, total immigration to the UK was just under 2 million, a large number but spread over 50 years. Of course, the demographic effects were distorted by varying birth rates. Since 1995 more than net migration has been running at between 100,000 and 250,000 a year and the population has risen from a 58 million in 1991 to 63 million in 2011 despite a below replacement fertility rate among the native population. This means the UK has import raw materials, manufactured goods and food to sustain economic growth. So, as ironical as may seem to many trendy lefties, a higher population and greater economic growth in the UK leads to greater depredation of resources elsewhere. Where people suffer hardships in many apparently developing countries, it is often because foreign multinationals have uprooted them from their ancestral lands to exploit resources required by global markets. Yet corporate globalisation acts as double-edged sword, forcing people to leave their homelands and conveniently shifting the blame to the incompetence or corruptions of local leaders, while simultaneously promoting the very consumption-led economic growth that causes this displacement.

A False Sense of Security

Harold MacMillan, British prime minister in the late 1950s, once claimed "You've never had it so good". In some respects our material wellbeing and life expectancy have continued to improve since. However,what mattered most to those who remembered the humiliation of mass unemployment, soup kitchens, orphanages and real poverty below the breadline, were a secure job, affordable housing and a better future for their children. By the early 1960s most Western Europeans had all three essential components of the good life. With the advent of affordable television sets and growing car ownership, the new norm came to resemble the American Dream. It mattered little that most of the world still lived in a kind of post-colonial semi-feudalism or had to endure the excesses of Maoist or Stalinist authoritarian idealism.

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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.

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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.Â

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.

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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Hedonism Ablaze

What a coincidence! Just days after the US administration agreed to raise their country's debt ceiling and let the global consumption party go on for a few more months or maybe years, In London marauding mobs run riot, loot retail outlets and set commercial and residential buildings on fire. Reportedly it all started in Tottenham Hale, North East, on Saturday evening when demonstration against the police shooting of a minicab driver and alleged drug dealer, Mark Duggan, descended into violence, just four miles from my bedsit. Eye witness accounts and video footage clearly show that police lost control and were unable to contain the ensuing disorders. Some observers have dwelled on the conflicting evidence behind the initial incident, whose background builds on longstanding mistrust between the police and local communities. In 1985 a notorious riot on the Broadwater Farm Estate after Cynthia Jarrett, an African Caribbean woman, died during a police search of her home, later saw a Policeman, PC Keith Blakelock killed. Early reports indicated just another example of police brutality against an innocent man. It now looks much more like another case of police incompetence, as both bullets fired were police-issue, but the 29 year-old victim and father of four was undoubtedly involved with narco-trafficking Star Gang. That may not have justified his death, but like many other lads from sink estates in a city with over 50 billionaires he opted to service the service sector by not only facilitating the distribution of drugs, but living by the law of the gun.

The saddest part of all the destruction that has followed is that many young people in towns and cities across the UK see little future other than to party and re-enact some gangland fantasy. The more talented youths may aspire to becoming pop musicians, actors, dee-jays or film producers. A few entrepreneurs may open hairdressers, pubs, nightclubs, restaurants and gyms,. And a few conscientious individuals may be drawn to the caring surveillance professions such as social workers, police and learning support assistants, but many just choose to live on benefits. The purpose of life in London has now become simply having fun or rather exploiting other people's desire to indulge in frivolous entertainment. The city has long been a parasite on the world stage, importing huge quantities of additional goods through the proceeds of a global casino.

As riots spread to other London boroughs on Sunday and Monday, a pattern began to emerge. Thousands of hyperactive youths, a small but sizable minority in a city with over 8 million inhabitants, enjoyed re-ennacting the kind of wanton mayhem they had previously seen on TV and simulated on game consoles. Rather than protesting against the evil capitalist system that enslaves them they could not wait to get their hands on the latest electronic gadgets. Admittedly some food outlets were trashed too, many fast food eateries, but these were no food riots. Britain's generous social security system ensures nobody goes hungry unless they choose to squander their benefits on booze, drugs and gambling. Indeed the scenes of ransacked shopping districts reveal another grim reality. Most shops sell non-essential merchandise. One happy looter posted a picture of his bounty on Twitter, a vast collection of video games and other gadgetry. Was this some kind of statement against the UK/US invasion of Iraq, a sign of solidarity with starving Somalis or attempt to redistribute wealth from the rich to poor? The looter may have feigned his opposition to the excesses of British imperialism or pretended to care about malnourished Africans or the urban poor in a grotesquely overpriced city. But no, he just wanted some instant gratification.

As more reports come in, the choice of looting targets seems to reflect the spirit of our times, to name but a few "The Sony Distribution Centre" in a large warehouse filled mainly with DVDs and game consoles in Enfield and the Party Superstore in Clapham. The big babies are throwing their toys out of their hyper-consumptive prams.

In reply to a New Labourite:

I wonder if New Labour's supporters will ever question the wisdom of economists whose advice has bankrupted the US and European economies in the name of growth? While New Labourites may distance themselves from the current ConDem coalition, they actively supported the previous administration with almost identical policies and equally subservient to the unaccountable multinational organisations who really run the country.

Recent debt-fuelled economic "growth" in the UK has mainly relied on banking and frivolous media services, aided only in part by North Sea Oil (the UK as a whole is now a net importer of oil and gas). Once demand for these non-essential services crumbles, as it surely will, Britain will have to start living within its own means. However, after 30 years of unashamedly pro-globalist policies (by which I mean reliance on global trade), a huge public and private debt and a large section of the working age population on benefits, the country will be ill-equipped to weather any storms. In a historical context globalism is but the last stage of imperialism, so let's call it global imperialism.

Circular Arguments over Immigration:

While mass immigration may create new jobs by boosting demand, that's an entirely circular argument, e.g. before the 2004 influx of Eastern Europeans there were 600,000 unfilled vacancies, 4 years later the UK still had the same number of unfilled vacancies, but a million more residents boosting the country's reliance on imports. The UK's population has not grown at such a fast rate since the end of WW2. During the 1970s and 80s more people left the UK than entered. Indeed we've witnessed a steady brain drain of talented Brits to the US and Australia and from countries like Nigeria, India and now Poland to the UK. We have a shortage of surgeons because many of the best UK born surgeons work in private hospitals abroad. The oft-repeated claim that "the economy benefits from immigration", means big business gets a short-term boost in profitability due to the influx of enthusiastic workers and total demand rises, but what is good for the economy in the short term is not necessarily good for society in the long term. These arguments made sense in countries like Australia, the US, Canada or Argentina. Indeed for some time now, UK economic growth has been consumption-driven. This logic fails to take account of rather obvious socio-envionmental factors. Southern England is now the most densely populated region of Europe and Londoners would starve within a week in the absence of food imports. Who said we need to boost aggregate consumption? We should be doing exactly the opposite. If you believe infinite economic growth is possible, then surely you'd have to believe in infinite energy and dismiss man-made climate change as a green plot to depopulate the earth (as some pro-growthists do), but you don't because it would be politically incorrect.

As we hit limits to growth, the consequences of a recent consumption frenzy growth will significantly reduce the earth's carrying capacity (i.e. more consumption per capita => fewer people). Yet new Labour's policies actively encourage procreation through Europe's most generous child benefits leading to a benefits-driven baby boom and these babies become young adults wanting to emulate Jeremy Clarkson because that's the consumer culture your friends in big business keep marketing. This observation may horrify you, I hear you murmuring "racist" or maybe sexist, but the facts on the ground are pretty undeniable, so don't shoot the messenger. We should not subsidise irresponsible procreation, because it will inevitably lead to more social problems further down the line. You know that. I know that, so stop pretending otherwise.

Waves of Migration and Social Breakdown

Advocates of mass immigration had claimed before 2003 we needed an influx of highly skilled Eastern Europeans because native Brits lacked these skills, although as you no doubt remember the Home Office estimated only 5000 to 13000 Eastern Europeans would move to the UK in the first year after their countries joined the EU,. The classic example was the Polish plumber. First why did British-born young adults not aspire to these jobs? Second how does simply importing skilled and semi-skiled workers form abroad address a skills shortage among the home-bred population? It doesn't. More important a large proportion of this new unemployable underclass in the London area are themselves descendants of immigrants from the 1950s and 60s, whose parents and grandparents had filled a skills gap. So many conflicts we see now are between different waves of immigrants, something that can only get worse in the event of economic meltdown. However, in the 1960s unemployment in the UK was negligible, two-parent families still very much the norm and housewives valued members of society. Fast forward 40 years and most of the manufacturing and skilled manual jobs that made the British working class proud have been outsourced or assigned to new communities. Whether you like it or not, only a small minority of people will ever excel in the kind of cerebral jobs created by a knowledge economy. I know from personal experience that while millions of people are proficient in the use of software applications, only a few have the mental discipline required to write programs. Hence there are more IT recruiters (talking the talk) than programmers (walking the walk). Back in 1997 your friend, Tony Blair, boasted about how Britain led the world in IT. I presume that's why so few young adults from the XBox generation can write more than a few lines of client-side Javascript code. Much of the rest of the knowledge economy revolves around marketing goods we don't really need and promoting various social agendas (hence growth in the charity sector), which in turn serve to create new markets.

Do you seriously think British born young adults cannot learn plumbing, bricklaying or farming? Their forebears did. Why did they become de-skilled? And if there was such an urgent need for friendly smiling retail and catering staff, why could big business not tap into the large pool of British unemployed, many of whose parents were immigrants themselves? Why had they become so demotivated and unwilling to get out of the bed in the morning? You may blame Thatcher, who oversaw a tremendous rise in benefits dependency, but Tony Blair followed in her footsteps albeit with different rhetoric.

"Tariq Jahan had lost his 21-year-old son Haroon, murdered in the Winson Green area of Birmingham by thugs who drove at him in their car in what appears to have been a racist attack. No one could be more aware of the simmering racial tensions between Asians in his neighbourhood and those of Caribbean ancestry" .

So why should we tolerate further erosions of civil liberties turning us all into suspects to deal with the side effects of over-development and its recent manifestations as unbridled consumerism, narcissism and media trivialisation of violence. Yet as a result of these policies we will soon be cajoled into accepting even more authoritarianism

Attacking our Communities?

Globalist policies destroyed these communities. A community requires shared values, customs and social cohesion that cannot be built if its composition keeps changing. Ordinary people cannot afford to live in London except if the government, read taxpayers, subsidises rents. Indeed among the main beneficiaries of New Labour's welfare and immigration policies have been landlords, who in many cases can charge what they like because the Department of Word and Pensions will pick up the bill. As a result we have mind-boggling cases (that I have witnessed personally) of families subsidised to the tune of £3000-4000 a month? Let's do some maths. A typical semi in London is around £320,000 ... that means a couple needs to earn £80,000 per annum to get a mortgage, while real average salaries are closer to £30,000. Indeed in Scotland I knew many on 15/16 K per annum as a late as 2009. In case you haven't noticed there has been a whole scale exodus from vast swathes of London. Deny it if you will, but normal working people cannot afford to live here, unless like me they can tolerate a single room. So we have the chattering classes on 100K+ a year, wealthy advertising and media executives, and then street after street of houses converted into a flats and rented to a motley crew of migrant workers, home-grown benefits scroungers and miscellaneous gangsters. What a wonderful community!

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Power Dynamics

Corporate Mercenaries

The LM Gang are back, this time advocating, in a new C4 documentary Britain's Trillion pound Horror Story, the privatisation of healthcare and education and downsizing of the rest of the public sector to reduce taxes, the national debt and stimulate economic growth.

Back in 1998 a post-modern intellectual associated with the former Revolutionary Communist Party, which later became Living Marxism and then just the LM Group and more recently Spiked Online, produced a documentary for Britain's Channel 4, Against Nature, railing against misanthropic greens. They have taken some radical and provocatory stances aimed mainly at the thinking left, those of us who are not completely brainwashed by corporate conditioning and actually want to see a more caring, sharing and, dare I say, sustainable society. Since the fall of the former Soviet Union, they have argued that the socialist cause they once espoused is dead and instead they began a campaign against what they considered reactionary forces opposed to progress. To them progress was redefined as the globalisation of labour and consumer markets, rapid evolution of technology to enable constant material growth and the replacement of previous social structures such as families and close-knit communities with a shared cultural heritage with new structures based around life-style choices and special interests. The clique around Frank Füredi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent and author of Reviews of Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, have morphed from extreme proponents of a worldwide Bolshevik revolution in the dying days of the modern era, to extreme advocates of postmodern neoliberal globalisation. Back in the 1970s and 80s, most on the left opposed immigration controls and welcomed multiculturalism because of a basic sense of humanitarian solidarity with the downtrodden, the perceived victims of imperialism and irrational ethnic prejudice. That was my gut instinct until the early years of the new millennium.

Yet as I try to explain in another post, modern globalisation owes its roots in 18th and 19th century European colonisation and the expansion of the United States as a world power. The left also championed women's rights, another very noble cause, which has arguably been perverted to disempower families, as wel as gay rights, which while removing stigma against natural feelings of erotic attraction towards the members of the same gender, served similar purposes in weakening traditional family units and empowering big business and the state. Thus for many years the disciples of Frank Furedi could pose on the left. When other sections of the left opposed nuclear power and later genetically modified food, the descendants of the British RCP, championed these technologies as a means of feeding the poor.

As noted elsewhere, former RCPers have become very media-savvy, but we'd be very naive if we thought they had somehow successfully inflitrated corporate media organisations in order to promote a revolution that would see the overthrow of the today's ruling elites. Rather they serve as fifth-columnists embedded in media and organisations appealing to the wishful-thinking left on behalf of a corporate elite who owe no allegiance to the ordinary people of any country.

Smart propagandists like to build on concerns about a very real problem and then differentiate themselves from other more mainstream opinion leaders to appeal to a disgruntled section of the gullible electorate. If we sum the government debt accumulated thus far and the total commitments for debt repayments, planned public expenditure, the UK public debt is forecast to reach a staggering 4.8 trillion pounds, which as the documentary pointed out could not be repaid if every house in the country were sold at current market rates. This is obviously unsustainable, indeed so obvious that even advocates of unlimited growth admit it. The documentary rightly sheds light on the huge bureaucracy within the UK's public services. Of 9 million public sector workers, only 2 million are engaged in frontline jobs as teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers etc... Instead most sit in offices administering and monitoring others. Many dependent services become self-serving as they only exist to service the administration of the public sector. For instance, an equal opportunities commission does not provide the underprivileged with new opportunities, but merely liaises with other employers and service providers to ensure their client groups are well represented. However, as they're in the communication business, they inevitably require IT, multimedia, printing, catering and transport services and their infrastructure relies on hardware technicians, builders, plumbers, joiners, mechanics and electricians. However, this huge waste of resources is not confined to te public sector. We not only have a huge rise in the third sector of NGOs, charities and not-for-profit foundations promoting this or that agenda, but large corporations, even those with an industrial base, have morphed into miniature states. For all the talk of lean manufacturing and streamlined organisation, most large private sector companies are chock-a-block with non-productive penpushers and people-managers. hile the public sector is undoubtedly inefficient, it is at least in theory accountable to taxpayers. The documentary completely missed the point, why would the government and its corporate masters subsidise non-productive people management on such a large scale? The previous NewLabour government, which ran up the largest deficit in the UK's history, can hardly be accused of not acquiescing to the needs of large transnational corporations. More important before the government began its huge spending splurge following its 2001 re-election, banks had begun lending irresponsibly to millions without stable employment or even on benefits. The UK doesn't just have a public debt, but also a huge private debt to the tune of £1.4 trillion. Most owners of typical 3 or 4 bedroom houses do not really own their homes outright, their bank or building society does. They are in most cases 6 months to a year away from eviction should they fail to honour monthly mortgage repayments. Worst still as property prices skyrocketed in the South East of England, hundreds of thousands took out interest-only mortgages, i.e. for an initial period, usually 1 to 2 years, they pay only interest on their mortgage, but after this period of grace, their monthly repayments go through the roof. Many believed in a era of unprecedented finnacial growth that 2 years later they woud double or triple their earnings and once they were on the property ladder living the middle class dream, life would be sweet. In the end the government had to bail out the bankers, so a good deal of the huge £4.8 trillion debt is actually inherited from the private sector. I would suggest that both the state and corporate sectors wanted to stimulate consumer growth. Miraculously, as NewLabour launched Private Finance Initiatives and continued to transfer public services to private contractors, quangos continued to grow.

Expropriation

Most transfers of ownership from private to public and the from public back to private hands disempower locals and empower transnational corporations. In its early stages in a favourable resource-rich environment , a market economy can theoretically reward hard work and let entrepreneurs build communities around the provision of useful products and services. This certainly appeared to be the case in 19th century North America and even in prosperous enclaves of Western Europe. However, such a system relied on a working class willing to let their bosses profit from their labour in exchange for job security. As small companies grew larger to take advantage of economies of scale and drive industrial development, the proletariat became a distinct class whose interests clashed with those of their bosses. Before the emergence of capitalism, most workers were mere peasants tilling a small plot of land and handing a large proportion of their produce to their landlord as rent. Much of the British economy came under government ownership in the aftermath of the Second World War as much of the country's industrial infrastructure such the still important railways, coal mining, steelworks, health system could not operate effectively at a profit. The State left the profitable sections of the economy to the private sector. Indeed much had controlled by huge state interventions, not least through massive armaments contracts. Nonetheless after the austere 1940s, the 50s and 60s saw the longest period of economic and social betterment, as measured by rapidly decreasing infant mortality, the reduced incidence of poverty-related diseases (such as rickets) and full employment. Although the tertiary sector continued to grow, Britain still had a manufacturing base. Most cars, lorries and trains were still made in the UK as was most industrial machinery, coal and steel. While more and more women chose to pursue careers, most mothers of young children were happy to work as housewives. In many ways the 50s and 60s were the hey day of the modern nuclear family with its typical 2.3 children. Social services still played a relatively marginal role and Health and Safety inspectors were few and far between, hence despite apparent technological limitations before the advent of microprocessor-enabled information technology, public sector bureaucracy was a lot smaller.
Proponents of nationalisation or privatisation often use the democracy argument. Thus nationalisation makes an organisation democratically accountable, while privatisation frees an enterprise of the constraints and inefficiencies of state control and places it in the hands of private shareholders. In reality nationalisation merely transfers ownership to the state, which in turn serves the interests of its corporate backers and usually rewards former owners handsomely, while privatisation leads to a temporary injection of capital into the public coffers, but has always transferred ownership to monopolistic capitalists, thus failing to provide any real competition. We could even argue that nationalising loss-making industries did an enormous favour to venture capitalists as they could invest their compensation oversees, allowing other entrepreneurs to acquire the more profitable remnants when the government privatises again.
The post-war boom would simply not have happened without an advanced welfare state, a healthy and largely contented work force and the survival of strategic energy, transportation and manufacturing industries. Hence even capitalists, claiming to favour a free market, supported nationalisation in the mid 20th century. The Thatcherite revolution practically outsourced most major manufacturing and refocussed on non-productive media and banking, a trend that continued unabated under New Labour. The only segments of Britain's industrial base that remained almost unscathed were the multi-billion pound government-subsidised armaments industry (so-called defence), the pharmaceutical and biotech industries with some niche luxury and entertainment gadget producers. Manufacturing saw a brief comeback in the late 1980s and early 1990s with an influx of American, Japanese and German inward investors. However, by the early twenty-noughties factories resumed closing, replaced only by supermarkets, call centres, entertainment complexes. In 2006 Tessa Jowell promoted regional casinos as a means of job creation and urban renewal in Britain's depressed former industrial heartlands.
In 1997 I suggested to an acquaintance who worked as an advisor for the Labour Party that he'd better save up for his daughter's university education. "Nonsense", he said, "New Labour would always ensure higher education remain accessible to all". A few months later, New Labour announced the introduction of tuition fees, initially just £1000 a year, soon rising to £3000 and now, under the Con-Dem government to £9000. As a result millions of young workers will either have to accept low-paid jobs to escape repaying their loans, thus defeating the purpose of higher education, or forever be in debt. However, the true cost of higher education actually exceeds £9000 a year, but that misses the point, the whole sector is slowly but surely being primed for privatisation, relying on wealthy foreign students and failing to train the country's future generation of engineers, doctors and scientific researchers, while the relative academic value of degrees has been significantly debased. In the 1970s only 15% of school leavers went to uni, by 2010 that number is nearly 50%. Despite the Blairite mantra of education, education, education!!, class sizes have grown and student behaviour worsened leading hundreds of thousands of middle class parents, including Labour cabinet ministers, to send their offspring to private schools. When they consider the costs of a UK university degree, they might as well use their academic loan to send their offspring abroad. I suspect Indian universities will soon start offering cut-price degrees to the same disgruntled moneyed middle classes who travelled to Eastern Europe for cosmetic surgery.
The previous government pumped billions into the national health service, insisting all new hospitals be built via PFI (Private Finance Initiatives). Despite the rhetoric the NHS bureaucracy has mushroomed with billions squandered on management consultants (not doctors) and centralised IT projects, as detailed brilliantly by David Craig in his 2008 book Squandered. More disturbingly, vast sums of public money have been spent not on essential frontline healthcare, but on promoting awareness of new mental illnesses and lifestyle-related ailments ( diabetes, obesity, angina, high blood pressure etc..) hugely boosting demand for pharmaceutical products. Amazingly, the new Con-Dem government, depsite a massive debt, has committed itself to maintaining the previous administration's spending plans. In real terms public health spending has doubled since 1997, yet the nation's health patently hasn't as any gains in prosperity have been offset by culture of hedonism and a growing rich-poor gap. Any recent gains in life expectancy have more to do with improvements that occurred 30-40 years ago (i.e. your life expectancy is largely determined by your health in your 30s and 40s) than multi-million pound anti-smoking campaigns. The US probably has the world's most wasteful healthcare system with 16% of GDP devoted to public and private healthcare. This compares with 10 to 11% in France, Canada and Germany and 8.9% in Italy, 8.7% in Australia, 8.4% in the UK and just 8.1% in Japan, while life expectancy is highest in Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Iceland, probably more down to diet and lifestyle than provision of drugs. The US Model is to boost public demand for healthcare services persuading more people that they need long-term medication and cosmetic surgery (not included in the above figures), creating a huge comsumer market. In my humble analysis the UK health system is being primed for privatisation in all but name. It has become such a monster as to be completely unsustainable and the corporate elite will rely on a knee-jerk reaction to reports of waste and inefficiencies to soften public opposition to the removal of universal provision of healtcare free at the point of delivery. Nadeem Waylayat of Market Oracle has detailed the almost inevitability of the failure of the NHS project ( see http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article23744.html ), however, he seems to welcome its downfall. I hasten to add, when the NHS collapses, millions will suffer the consequences.
Martin Durkin's documentary is just the latest salvo in a war against common sense, i.e. a rational world in which education and healthcare serve the needs of taxpayers rather than those of multinational corporations and are not allowed to become unsustainable. Apparently he has the government on his side as they have now allowed the cloning of animals for human consumption and given the green light to transgenic farming and quiely announced the privatisation of the Royal Mail.
Categories
Power Dynamics

The Keynsian Dream is Over

None of the major parties in the UK have had the courage to tell the electorate the unpalatable truth. They act as mere middle managers or public relations officers, somewhere between their masters in global banking, energy cartels and military-industrial establishment and the hundreds of thousands of minion bureaucrats in the UK`s non-productive public and private sector institutions. It takes relatively little research to expose their presumed facts and figures. Indeed what should surprise us is not their apparent disagreements on issues such as Britain`s adoption of the Euro or immigration controls, but their agreement on the continued need for economic growth by injecting more virtual cash into an economy that has long ceased to produce more than a small fraction of what it consumes.

Over the last 13 years Britain has experienced its biggest collective spending spree in history. We may look back nostalgically at the monuments and urban infrastructure of Victorian Britain, erected over a period of some 70 years when the country`s industry not only led the world, but could exploit the resources of a huge empire. Yet the UK`s national debt didn`t really figure until the great depression of the late 1920s. In the aftermath of the seconds world war, the US had amassed such a large surplus it could easily bail out much of Western Europe to fuel growth and give rise to a new age of mass consumerism. It may seem ironic, but without huge government intervention through fiscal stimulus packages, direct subsidies, nationalisation and social welfare, mass consumerism would never have spread beyond the affluent upper middle classes.

Unlike previous splurges, Britain has gained little in lasting infrastructure. We have literally squandered 1.3 trillion of the country`s personal debt on holidays in the sun, property trading and 60" plasma TV screens. Most recent extensions to the country`s rail and rapid transit network were planned back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, yet owing demographic growth in the Southeast of England and increased commuting as people are forced to buy houses further and further away from their place of work, road and rail networks are bursting at their seams. To accommodate a rising population and smaller households, property developers have littered the countryside with suburban sprawl composed of compact houses designed to last 30-40 years requiring more roads, plumbing and wiring. Superficially, much of the country still has vast expanses of greenbelt, farmland and pastures. In reality it relies on natural resources from abroad to temporarily support current levels of aggregate consumption. Everything from vegetables to bottled water, electronic gadgets to coal, timber to steel, plastic utensils to fridges or cars to ships are imported to the birthplace of industrial revolution, in effect exporting pollution. Arm-chair human rights activists may bemoan the working conditions and exploitation of the Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese or Eastern European labourers who actually produce the goods we consume, but would they get out of bed for less than £5 an hour, let alone the derisory pay packets of the millions of virtual slaves who enable us to party like there were no tomorrow? Left-leaning Guardian-readers tend to live in a bubble, in which their non-productive service-sector earnings are exchanged for real goods labelled fair-trade, organic or environmentally-friendly and inspected by wishful-thinking corporate compliance officers.

The same government that bleats incessantly about climate change promotes economic growth and the globalisation of production. They may talk about investing in public transport, but rely on advertising revenue from automotive multinationals. The Blair years will be remembered as the final act of a 60 year experiment in mass consumerism, the age of 60†Plasma TV screens, people carriers and 4x4 off-road vehicles in suburbia, cheap Ryanair flights ferrying young Brits to stag or hen nights in Eastern Europe as well as for the commercialisation of the Internet and a national obsession with re-enactments of warfare and gangster violence. An age when absurd thought-suppressing political correctness coexists with disrespect for the uncool and widespread moral depravity, drunken binges and deregulated gambling.

Rather than champion Blair as a great democrat or human rights activist, future historians will view his fervent support for US/NATO military intervention in the context of depleting fossil fuel resources. Whether the recent consumption binge will trigger catastrophic climate change or not, sooner or later we will be confronted with the harsh reality of limits of growth on a finite planet and will need to readapt to a more humble localised existence. New Labour left future generations with a cultural vacuum, unsustainable material expectations, a huge debt and a woeful shortage of practical hands-on skills.