May’s Magic Money Tree and other stories

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I usually vote SNP, but will vote Labour. The first-past-the-post system means that my vote is meaningless, but if everybody thought the same thing the Tory party would win by a landslide.  Teresa May obviously thought that way. Her Damascene moment came while walking the dales. It had nothing to do with local government elections, where historically the party in government gets trashed, but the Conservative Party gained seats, even in places like Ferguslie Park where nobody knows what a Tory looks like, or has ever met one, because if they did they’d get a good kicking. It was probably a novelty vote, like voting for Mr Blobby.  The tory swing-o-meter, however, pointed to a Conservative (post-Falkland) victory of 1983 proportions, with Teresa May the new Thatcher Boadicea of the Daily-Hate-Mail ready to take on Brussels and get a good Brexit deal.

I do know what Brexit is, but I’m not clear what a good deal it. Brexit is Britain leaving the European Economic Community and customs union, one of the major power blocks in the world, and one which we do most of our trading with. We, however, import more that we export. That’s called a trade deficit. Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit and is particularly dependent on EEC funding and exports.   Withdrawing from a trade agreement with your most important and influential partner doesn’t seem very smart. Canada recently thrashed out a trade deal with the EEC it took years and 300 dedicated Canadian negotiators, multiply that by 100 support staff for every negotiator and you’ll get some idea of the complexity of a trade deal. Will Hutton reports that Britain will have to renegotiate 759 trade deals with 168 countries out with the EEC. On the bright side this could lead to full employment. Unemployed individuals could retrain as negotiators, with years of work in prospect. That’s what I’m doing now, brushing up on my pie-charts and colouring in graphics.

Some 55 000 work in the NHS and University departments report the loss of 3000 staff since the uncertainty of Brexit. It’s been called a brain drain. Boris Johnson and Teresa May have stayed to fight on. That’s a no-brainer.

I’m still not sure what the difference between a hard and soft Brexit is and I’m not sure they know either. World Trade organisation estimates ‘no deal’ with the EEC  and British exports will half and the sales of our invisible services fall by sixty percent or more. We laughed at the Greece government threatening to leave the EEC while taking another bailout to pay for its public services. It’s the economy stupid. The M20 and M2 can and will become gigantic truck stops full of goods by their sale by date and those in Northern Ireland will nip over to the Republic to stock up on cheap groceries and booze before bringing them home to Great Britain.

But it’s not often you hear an ex-chief office of the Metropolitan Police calling the Prime Minster a liar. Asked if that was what he was saying he said yes. She’s a liar. But not a lot of folk know that she’s also a Marxist.

If the energy cap fits, wear it. Our Prime Minister went along with the rhetoric that Ed Miliband, then Labour leader ‘lived in a Marxist universe’ because he wanted to cap energy prices for the major energy companies that have been ripping off exiting customers for years before angling to do the same thing. The difference between Marxism and Mayism needs to be looked at more closely.

Marxism is associated with the magic money tree. Karl Marx, 1860, in London libraries, was considering the idea of surplus value. He used the example of a worker that in two hours produced enough from his labour to pay for his food and accommodation, but worked on for another thirteen hours in a fifteen-hour day. The extra thirteen hours extracted from his labour was surplus to his requirement but the value was paid to his employer. So what, you’re probably thinking he probably works for Amazon or in a call-centre annoying folk. The killing line was the boy was only nine-years old.

The richest man under thirty in the United Kingdom is the Duke of Westminster. In a meritocracy he would be rich because of the skills he acquired. But he was also the richest under twenty in the United Kingdom. The richest under-ten in the United Kingdom. No need for him to labour for fifteen hours in a mill, creating surplus value. Others were doing that for him. He was the richest one-year old in the United Kingdom. And no doubt he was the richest placenta in the United Kingdom history. That’s democracy at work. Cradle to grave, he’s stinking rich.

Britain is a good place to live, a tax haven for the rich.  Money at increasing rate flows from the rich to the poor. You’re probably wondering what happened to that magic money tree that is going to pay for all those goods and services. Monetarism has also got magic dust when the Bank of England creates billions of pounds of bonds electronically and gives money to the rich folk and bankers that caused the financial crisis, ostensibly to help elasticity. Remember that film Happy Gilmore, well if you don’t, here’s how it goes. Happy Gilmore didn’t need golf clubs, he only needed one club, which he used to win competitions. Well, that’s the Tory secret, give money to rich folk and they’ll give it to poor folk. Trickle-down economics. It’s the kind of thing that the moron’s moron and US President believes in. You’re either for or against him, but there are pictures out there with Teresa May holding the orange sex pest’s hand and gurning at the camera.

Mayism unlike Marxism has no core values, no value at all. It’s junk bonds, but no doubt with an enlarged majority that rictus smile will be on the front page of every paper and on the news. Bad news for me, and people like me. Good news for the rich.

 

 

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OJ: Made in America, directed by Ezra Edleman. Storyville, BBC 4, iPlayer.

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Winner of the 2017 Academy Award for best documentary this five-part series is an investment of time. The premium dividend is it shows how America is polarised around issues of class and race. Karl Marx’s dictum that history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce is apt. OJ is the poster boy. A black all American boy that went to a white college, became the All American hero used by Hertz to sell their cars. ‘Go OJ,’ the tag, but used white actors to screen wash skin colour away. He became an actor, starring in films, such as Naked Gun, the biggest role he played being himself. He was involved in the trial of the century. Accused of killing his estranged, second wife, white beauty queen, Nicole and a male visitor to her house 13th June 1994.   Evidence, including forensic evidence, placed OJ at the scene. Black jurors remained unconvinced. One of them agreed that it was ‘payback’ time for a Los Angeles Police Department that acted like an invading army in the black community and regularly got away with murder and the maiming of those of African American ethnicity. Polls taken after the trial showed that over 75% of white thought OJ was guilty. Over 80% of blacks thought him innocent. OJ proved himself more stupid than guilty, ghosting a book, ‘IF’ in which he admitted his hypothetical guilt. He was later jailed for thirty-three years for a botched robbery in which he tried to take back sporting mementos he had once owned from a collector and seller of memorabilia. Black and white commentators suggested this was payback time for OJ.

There is a postscript of course with a black president Obama, in the White House, followed by the moron’s moron, convicted in the supreme court of discriminating against blacks in term of housing, but still elected president on a platform of racial hatred – and appointing a member of the Ku Klux Klan to a senior position in his White House.

If you think black lives matter this is worth watching.   One of the stories OJ liked recalling was after retiring from American football, and becoming a full-time, paid, celebrity, he overhead a little old white women saying ‘she’d seen OJ, but he was sitting with a lot of niggers’. Race didn’t matter. OJ’s celebrity made others colour blind. Until it did. In the same way that class doesn’t matter, until it does. This is the best documentary you’ll see this decade.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08qldj6

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb30l

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb4wh

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb6f2

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb6zx

 

Martin Ford (2015) Rise of the Robots

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Robots are pattern-recognition machines who have grown arms, legs and visual awareness. Each time we take a step, for example, we are continually falling. Robots face the same problem, but they have not had tens of millions of years of evolution to solve it. Moore’s Law comes into effect here. Computing power which provides the software for computer hardware; robot’s arms and legs and eyes (these are anthropomorphic attributes) doubles every eighteen to twenty-four months. Software engineers are coming up fast against the physical limitation of the materials used to encode machines. With the development of quantum computing that problem seems –temporarily- to have been solved, but few people can explain the mechanics. Martin Ford’s analogy of driving speeds highlights where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Imagine you’re in a car he says, driving at five-miles-per hour (mph). Drive for a minute. 10mph. fifth minute, 80mph. Imagine you’re on the twenty-seventh minute. We’re approaching the speed of sound. Then the speed of light. That’s Moore’s law. That’s where we are.

Another way of looking at it is to think of the brain power at Los Alamos around 1944 when plans were being developed to develop the first atomic bomb. Most of the great Western minds of maths and physics were working on the probability of different scenarios and outcomes. Unless you were a future Nobel winner, you were probably working in the canteen. Now that kind of mathematical grunt work could be done by a ten-year old boy or girl with an iPad. What direction are we going in? Think in terms of a continuum.

Where we are now, I’d guess is similar to the place where the Crow Indians were in Jonathan Lear (2006) Radical Hope: Ethics in The Face of Cultural Devastation; a place and time before the white man came, before around sixty million migrating buffalo were indiscriminately killed,  and with the mass cull went their food source and way of life. Lear writes of the Crows, but he might as well be writing of the Greek, the Roman, the Holy Roman, our own sense of the possible and the impossible: ‘The inability to conceive of its own devastation will tend to be the blind spot of any culture’.  Martin Ford suggests we are at endgame and the chess analogy is appropriate.

Graphic evidence comes from games. It was no great surprise when IBM’s software Deep Blue beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov over a six-game match. While the possibilities in chess are quantitatively enormous, we tend to think of it being on rails. Daniel Kahnerman (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow uses the example of a chess master looking at a chess board, and intuition will suggest the best move for him or her to make. That’s thinking fast, but it takes years of training. Software such as Deep Blue travels all the lines of the board at speeds faster than human thought. Speeds that we think of as simultaneous.  And if it makes a mistake it learns from it. Software does not forget. Given such enormous computing power it seemed inevitable that the machine would beat the man.

IBM’s success on Jeopardy! was a different level of success. Deep Blue had been taken off the rails. The brute force of computing power was competing in a general knowledge quiz with idiosyncratic questions and an idiosyncratic format. Computers don’t do spontaneity or intuitive thought over a wide range of subjects. Yet Watson, IBM’s software, triumphed in two televised matches over Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in February 2011.

At one end of the continuum humans become grey gloop. Nothing is wasted. Eric Drexler one of the leading proponents of this theory suggests the combined effect of nanotechnology and increasing computer power to develop their own heuristic, and innate ability to shape the world in their own image, human will be little more than feedstock. If this sounds a bit corny (pun intended) then the co-founder of SunMicrosystems, Bill Joy, article in 2000, ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’ runs through the existential dangers of cross fertilisation in the fields of genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Nobel winner Stephen Hawkins has also signalled his belief that this is a real danger. And Nick Bostrom (2014) in his New York Times Bestseller, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, argues the future is already here. We’re nurturing artificial intelligence and like a cuckoo’s egg it will outgrow the nest, feed on the hominoid family, and colonise space in its search for perfection.  These Jeremiah voices seem more science fiction than science fact. But look around you. Self-driving cars, drones and rocket back packs. Not in the pages of comic books, but on our roads and buzzing in the air.

Ford identifies other trends that any moderately sophisticated pattern-recognition software would immediately identify. One of them is climate change. He talks about the declining price of solar panels, technological innovation and government innovation. Or what the British Prime Minister called ‘all that green crap’ while withdrawing funding in the areas we really need to invest in.

Money flows unevenly from the rich to the poor. The only place it sticks is with those with money or capital. That’s another trend or pattern. Ford suggests the evidence points to a longer-term trend in which  the five percent who claim ownership of the world’s wealth, and in particular the moneyed-class in the richer nation, those who have cannibalised the wealth of the other ninety-five percent, then the one percent will cannibalise the wealth of the other four percent. Winners take all. Losers take the fall.

“The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”
― Karl Marx

Marx was wrong of course. Let us look at the data.  Losers are not sold the rope, only leased it and have to pay economic rent for their funeral. The triumph of capitalism is it is the only game in town. Communist China and Russia, for example, mirror the inequalities of the West. Martin Ford offers sobering statistics. An Oxford University report published in 2013 suggests 50% of US jobs will be automated. And a parliamentary report in the House of Lords in 2015 estimate 35% job losses in the UK. The flight to higher education with the promissory note of a well-paid job at the end of it is the same sort of myth building as, from a different era, Tony Benn’s ‘white hot heat of technology’ changing and modernising society. Thirty percent of employees are currently overqualified for the job they are in and while wages have declined in the last thirty years, the cost of education has more than doubled from £22 billion 2007/8 to £46 billion 2012/13 and that trend looks to continue.  This is one form of credit poorer members of society have access to and they are signing up in record numbers, both in the UK and the US. But not only is their grade deflation, but those printing presses we call universities, some of which  are more equal than others, can demand a premium for their gilt-edged qualification, in a race which our leading universities largely exclude the poor from entering. It would be interesting, for example, to look at what Oxford University defines as those in need of such a leg up. But this is hardly surprising when social housing is defined as costing up to £450 000. And our public-school educated Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, boasts of conducting ‘the most sustained squeeze on public spending for one-hundred years’. Back in 1918 the upper classes contact with the working class was likely to be a master and servant relationship, and as an employer. Those that owned the land owned the people on the land.  But in a contemporary global market as Ford notes, if cognitive ability follows the usual bell-shaped distribution curve, and India and China’s top five percent of intelligentsias adds up to around 130 million, almost double the population of the UK. Technology, based on deep neural learning models makes the universal translator inevitable. See, for example, Megaphoneyaku digital megaphone developed by Panasonic in 2014, which translates whatever language is bellowed into it according to the setting required.   If the offshoring of university graduates and teaching programmes move online, as they are likely to do, then the current crop of graduates will find it even more difficult to find paid work commensurate with their education. Software such as Geekie, launched in Brazil in 2011 because of a shortage of teachers, delivers the whole high-school syllabus, monitors pupils and designs courses based on individual responses and aggregate scores. A movement into higher education and universities with their expensive living costs seems inevitable.  It also seems to me likely that health care assistants will be the add on element of general health care practices with all the heavy lifting done by machines designed like Geekie to have the knowledge element built in and modified and upgraded with each interaction.

A trumpet it a wind instrument. It has the highest register in the brass family, which brings us nicely to Donald Trump and Trumpetism. We’ve had the bit player and actor whom Betty Davis called little Ronnie Reagan getting to play the role of US President. Then we had George Bush senior and then junior getting on the same horse. Anything is possible in the good old US of A. It’s dressed up in frontier ideology and the analogy of a rising tide of wealth lifting all boats. But as Chrystia Freeland says in Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich, ‘the super-rich don’t like to talk about rising income inequality’. The rising tide lifting super yachts that leave the rest stranded in their wake. They like to talk about the Kuznet’s inverted U-curve, how as societies become more complex and productive, high inequality peaks at the top of the U and falls. Wealth generated by a nation’s better-educated workforce is able to get a bigger slice of the national pie in terms of wages is proven to be a short-lived myth. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, using historical data going back to the eighteen century from twenty countries showed that the thirty years following the Second World War was a golden age in which wealth re-distribution did take place, but it took two catastrophic world wars for that to happen. Piketty and Ford both suggest the fallout from the golden age is toxic for all but the gilded few, and aligned with climate change and the rise of the robots it’s a good time to be rich. For the rest of us…man the lifeboats.