Liz Truss is a belter.

The formless nought. That was my thinking when I heard Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng mentioning ‘the people,’ ‘the people’ he talked to, ‘the people’ he listened to, ‘the people’—

Not my people. Not me.

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, friend of Queen Victoria,  leader of the Conservative Party and twice Prime Minister but also a writer. Sybil (1845), for example, brought the two nations argument into dining rooms. The working class, of course, did not need to read about it in novels they couldn’t afford to buy, we lived it.

‘Two nations: between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.

You speak of… the rich and the poor.’

 PM Liz Truss and her chancellor no longer are going to implement a 45p tax rate for top earners, equivalent to Thatcher’s hated poll tax, but worse, because that possibility remains.

Liz Truss puts her faith in trickle-down economics. Also called supply-side economics, or monetarism as opposed to Keynesism. Thatcherism. Reaganomics. Trumpism. Lowering taxes and cutting regulation will promote economic growth.  A coded form of letting the rich grow rich. 

Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party leader but not yet Prime Minister in a speech given in early1975, to The Institute of Socioeconomic studies in New York, outlined her philosophy in her ‘Let the Poppies Grow Tall speech’. ‘I would say, let our children grow tall and some taller than others if they have the ability in them to do so’.

Greed is good. Money trickles down the economy and everyone wins. But some more than others. There’s not much trickle down from King Charles III’s conservatively valued £10 billion of art work. But he gets to put his mugshot on our notes and coins. Its value goes on rising as the economy goes into triple-dip recession. He’s looking down on us. Sterling tanks, allied to the economic folly of Brexit which knocks around five-percent off Gross Domestic Product. The price of money goes up. Mortgages go up, the value of our homes fall, for the first time since the financial crisis, but not too far. There’s a safety net for investment. Demand for housing outstrips supply. The oldest, most costly and least energy-efficient housing in Europe (50% built before 1965, most of it council stock, 20% built before the end of the first world war, housing for heroes). Price, in theory, will find a new equilibrium under Alfred Marshall’s original supply and demand diagram. The free market will have done its job of allocating scarce resources.

The Tory government refused to let the Office for Budget Responsibility audit these tax cuts. But According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, only taxpayers whose earnings are £155 000 or more would have paid less tax in the government’s mini-budget. Millionaires would, nominally, become £40 000 per annum better off. Spending and welfare payments to be cut, and not to rise with inflation, which is another way of penalising the poor.  Austerity the answer for one of the two nations. Withdrawing free child care for three-to-four-year-olds marked down as a saving. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 800 000 children living in England are missing out on free-school meals and going hungry.  Ten-to-fifteen percent, the amount house prices are likely to fall next year according to analysts. Eight million households struggling to pay telecom bills, according to Offcom, a record.

Fredrich Heyek (1944) The Road to Serfdom argument that a central bureaucracy will lead to militarism and fascism. Council houses equals fascism. British Rail equals fascism. Public control of water companies equals fascism. Health Care and the NHS equals fascism.

Arthur Scargill, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, the class enemy of Thatcher’s government. 85 000 coal miners and then there were none.  His mantra that not a seam of coal would be left in the ground has much the same ring as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Right Honourable Jacob Rees-Moggs’s claim that no untapped gas should be left in the North Sea. No great surprise that deniers of manmade climate change and deregulation have the same office and same ideology.

BP, which used to be owned by the taxpayer, who like other energy companies have had a good war in Ukraine, and enjoyed massive windfall profits with sky-high oil prices, chief executive, Bernard Looney was paid £4.46 million in 2021. Like his colleagues in Shell and British Centrica, top ups range from around £75 000 to just over £550 000. More is on the way for less.

The Rand Corporation in the United States shows decades of tax cut and deregulation of labour markets have taken around $50 trillion in wage growth from the bottom 90% of earners and given it to the top 1%.

We talk about subsidising Putin’s war by buying Russia’s oil and gas. We are familiar with sanctions against Russian oligarchs who have supported the Conservative Party. But we remain wilfully blind to who helped the moron’s moron get Trump elected in the United States in 2016, supported Nigel Farage and engineered Brexit. We’re talking Moscow.

  But as James Meek argues in Private Island, the free marketeers in selling off public assets at knockdown prices effectively subsidised other nation’s public sector, privatised and taken back into state control. The French state energy company EDF is a good example. The company we hoped would build new reactors for us with Chinese partners. Our government ditched the Chinese for political reasons. EDF ditched our government for financial reasons. There wasn’t enough cash in it for their private monopoly. Win-win for them.

Meek tells the reader what we already know about privatisation.

‘The Spanish economist Germa Bel traces the origins of the word to the German Reprivatiserung, first used in English in 1936 by the Berlin correspondent of The Economist, writing about the Nazi economic policy in 1943.

‘The Nazi Party facilitates the accumulation of private fortunes and industrial empires through “privatisation” and other measures thereby intensifying centralisation of economic affairs in an increasingly narrow group.’

Ironically, Karl Marx’s dictum that all value comes from the surplus value of labour shows best how deregulation worked in concentration camps that benefited the national socialist elite and their eugenic philosophy. Heinrich Himmler, a leading architect of the holocaust, had a sign over the entry to Auschwitz: ‘Work makes you free’. He benefited from the unit cost of labour. Worker’s wages were driven down. Uniforms, housing, and food were provided by the SS. They acted as a modern employment agency where workers were replaceable parts. The commodity price of labour fell to the bare bones with sick days limited and near to zero. A right-wing paradise and the trains ran on time. Even Amazon or Uber would find it difficult to beat such benefits.

Surplus value. The gap between the price the worker can sell his or her labour for and the price of the commodity on the free market widens. Win-win for efficiency and the capitalist mode of production. The hidden cost of labour is taken out of the equation. Low cost labour labelled workshy or lazy by the right-wing media or lacking the prerequisite skills, until we’re told to clap them as they worked throughout the pandemic. Now those same workers are labelled greedy and unreasonable for not agreeing to inflationary pay cuts.     

 Thatcher did not have a patent on privatisation.  The Common Lands used for the good of communities was made uncommon. Those that owned the land owned the people on the land.

Unchained Britannica, the cabal of free marketeers who seized power committed themselves to the same path as Cameron and Osborne’s austerity budgets or Johnson’s levelling-up agenda. Taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich (the reverse-Robin Hood, I’ve been saying that for ten years or more). But they talked about it in the wrong language. They scared Tory voters. And they scared the markets they claimed to understand better than anyone else. George Soros bought sterling and sold sterling. Black Wednesday, 16th September 1992, wasn’t black for him. He made billions of dollars. Sterling’s weakness  was regarded as a snapshot of the economy by trading markets. Hedge funds are similarly piling into the pound, borrowing to bet it will fall to parity with the dollar. Money for nothing. Who works for it?

Chrystia Freeland (2013) in the introduction to Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich noted the super-rich, or the one-percent, didn’t like being called rich. They prefer the term affluent. Winners and losers. We’re all in it together rhetoric of David Cameron. Bumps in the economy ahead. A 2011 experiment conducted by Michael Norton of Harvard Business School with behavioural economist Dan Early, Duke University showed people the wealth distribution of the United States (top 20% own 84% of wealth) and compared it to Sweden’s (top 20% own 36% of wealth), and asked them where they would like to live.

The predictable answer is Sweden wins, even as it is becoming more right-wing, insular and moving towards the American model. Ironically, the Swedish model of wealth distribution was similar to the American model and indeed the British model of the 1950s.

What happened?

‘The skew towards the very top (accelerated after the moron’s moron, Trump took office in 2016) is so pronounced that you cannot understand economic growth figures without taking it into account.’

Trussonomics and the Tory Party, and the magic money tree, follow this model of deception based on nominal economic growth. After the 2008, $700 billion banking bailout in which unregulated (which they termed self-regulation) money men were given public money, which was mirrored in Britain and around the world at no cost to the rich. Boom and bust for some. Greed is indeed good. All the gains, none of the losses. America’s economic recovery in 2009-10 of 2.3% of GDP could be considered impressive out with China and Asian economies.

Economist Emmanuel Saez had a closer look at these growth figures. ‘99% of American’s incomes increased by 0.2%. Incomes for the top 1% rose by 11.6%.’

Tweets, President Joe Biden: ‘I am sick and tired of trickle-down economics. It has never worked. We’re building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out.’

Thomas Piketty (2014) The New York Times Bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century was based on fifteen years of research. He acknowledges the empirical data provided by Simon Kutznet and compared him to Karl Marx. Kutznet’s theory could be summarised in a single sentence spouted by President Reagan, ad-libbed by numerous politicians, the latest being Prime Minister Liz Truss.

‘Growth is a rising tide that lifts all ships.’

Kutznev, like Piketty, was measuring income distribution. Who gets what, without providing the why as Marx did.

‘He (Kutznev) noted a sharp reduction in income inequality in the United States between 1913 and 1948.’

America was becoming a more equal society. Income equality would follow the path of the Kutznet Bell Curve. Inequality was shrinking as Americans and the world became more middle-class.

Freeland compares Alexis de Tocqueville’s prediction to Kutznet’s, which sounds very like a justification for the modernity of colonialism and the white man’s burden. He was writing in the early years of the industrial revolution, when the wealth and status of landowners was being undermined by industrialists who poured labour into the coal mines, shipyards and sugar plantations (that’s not to claim that many industrialists weren’t also aristocratic, the two aren’t mutually exclusive) and took out vast sums of money or capital.

‘If one looks closely at the world since the beginning of society, it is easy to see that equality is only prevalent in the historical poles of civilisation. Savages are equal because they are equally weak and ignorant. Very civilised men can all become equal because they all have at their disposal similar mean of attaining comfort and happiness. Between these two extremes is found inequality of condition, wealth, knowledge—the power of the few, the poverty, ignorance and weakness of the rest.’

Piketty worked with other economists to analyse, like Kutznet, wealth distribution and inequality in around twenty nations using historical and contemporary data such as income tax returns. His findings are clear. Hayek believed we were on the The Road to Serfdom. Much the same road as Marx envisaged in his theory of infinite accumulation. Wealth increasingly flows from the poor the rich, who use their resources to deregulate and create an environment in which inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient, like global warming, reaches increasingly new highs, which become the new norms to further pauperise society and call for more tax cuts for ‘the people’. We lost the propaganda war. Fox News is no news. Plutocrats might not like to be called rich or super-rich. No bell-shaped Kutznet curve, but the hockey stick of man-made global warming shooting up year on year, running in tandem with the wealth of the super-rich and growing inequality. In our new gilded age, the must have is a bolt-hole away from common humanity and the coming apocalypse. Liz Truss could play her part as being the useful idiot that builds a fence to keep out the poor. Inside the gilded escape pod, the problem of labour returns in a familiar form. How do we keep the servants servile? How do we keep labour labouring? Discuss, Liz Truss.         

David Halberstam (2009 [2007]) The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War.

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David Halberstam was killed in a car crash in 2007, clichéd as it is, his memory lives on here. This is a book all American citizens need to read before saluting the flag. Old Glory, American Presidents should be handed it when they are sworn in and take office. The Korean War began on 25th June 1950 and lasted three years. The forgotten war, a stepping stone into Vietnam. Military historian S.L.A Marshall described it as ‘the century’s nastiest little war’.

Karl Marx’s view was that ‘history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce.’ Halberstem did not witness the election of the moron’s moron, Donald J Trump, as the 45th President of the United States. An election victory the mainstream media did not see coming. (I can take a little credit here, predicting he might win, could win, did win, for the same reasons that I thought Boris Johnson this side of the Atlantic might be the next British Prime Minister when he dallied with Brexit all those years ago). The much heralded New York Times, whom Halberstem worked for, marked Hilary Clinton as a shoo-in for President.   You’d need to go back to 3rd November 1948 for such a shock election result. There was no digital then.   The Chicago Tribune  had already printed copies of its front-page banner: ‘Dewey defeats Trauman’. Harry S Trauman was, as history shows, elected President by a landslide. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

Senator Joe McCarthy’s claim then that ‘the Reds Run the State Department’ have taken until 2016 to having any semblance of truth, or fake news, depending on your point of view. There is little doubt that Russian intelligence provided finance and expertise to get the least intelligent President in American history elected. Reporter George Reedy’s quip at the height of the House of Un-American Activities investigations, that espionage wasn’t Joe McCarthy’s speciality and that ‘Joe couldn’t find a Communist in Red Square – he didn’t know Karl Marx from Groucho Marx ’, now seems the cruellest kind of irony.

Demands for a ‘loyalty test’ still hold true with Trump, but With President Trump inviting President Putin to the White House and Washington in the Autumn and announcing policy reversals be Tweet, reds are no longer under the bed and mainstream media is twittering as it catches up. There’s no doubt the moron’s moron would fail Hoover’s ‘loyalty test’. The only person Trump remains loyal to is himself.

(There is a joke here about them not being in the bed unless a couple of ‘communist’ prostitutes have peed on it, first –but that’s fake news and not very funny).

The Coldest Winter is a topical book about casual racism and hubris. The four-star General Douglas MacArthur and self-styled Emperor of the East took it upon himself to ignore orders from the Commander in Chief, President Harry S Trauman and created a coterie of sycophantic officers and yes men that took up residence in Tokyo to fight a war in Korea. There’s parallels here, of course, with the moron’s moron.

MacArthur claimed in early November 1950 that what fighting there was in Korea would all be over in three weeks and his men would be home for Christmas. He ignored warnings and intelligence reports that the Chinese were about to enter the war to support the three divisions of North Korea communist troops that were routing their Southern (ROK) counterparts. MacArthur referred to them collectively as Chinese laundrymen and a few divisions of white American troops would show up and have them running. MacArthur was right because he was always right. His armoury didn’t include being wrong.

American troops sent to Korean didn’t have enough of pretty much everything required for a war including men, military hardware, rifles that worked and ammunition. Much like the Nazis invading Russia, they were in summer uniform in temperatures thirty-below zero. Most non-conflict casualties for American troops and their NATO allies were due to frost bit. But there were lots of casualties. Americans were running, but in the wrong direction, not towards the North Korean capital as planned back at MacArthur’s headquarter, but back towards the 38th parallel, that still divides North and South Korea. Many of them never returned. MacArthur’s call for a larger war against China were downplayed.

Satellites looking down at night see only the South Korean towns lit up. The North remains in the darkness of the 1950s, when Chinese troops used horses and musical instruments to coordinate their punishing attacks.

General Douglas MacArthur presided over one of the worst military defeats since Custard at Little Big Horn. This was the same general, of course, that refused to believe the Japanese would attack America – until Pearl Harbour – and then got stranded in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded. He had that God complex.

In comparison, there’s nothing casual about the moron’s moron’s racism or hubris. It’s who he is and what he stands for and stood for in the Presidential election.

The Korean War was an unpopular war, largely ignored at home in the United States. Fighting Communism, fighting the North Koreans, fighting the Chinese, with the Russians standing on the side-lines, fighting for free Asia, to protect Europe, the word ‘crusade’ was used. Escalation of a small war, to a larger war, to a nuclear war and nuclear winter.  North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung, the Great Leader also had that God complex, which he passed on to his son, and grandson, Kim Jong-Un like a bit of stale cheese. Chinese historians, those running dogs, were not pleased that little mention was made of China’s part in saving North Korea from capitalism in a museum documenting the war in Pyongyang.  History repeating itself. God I hope not.

China, the workshop of the world, is at the stage where America was at the end of the Second World War. Where Russia was after winning the Great Patriotic War (let’s forget, like President Putin does, the sticky bit about the agreement to invade Poland and parcel up Europe with the Nazis). The rise of fascism all over Europe.  The moron’s moron in the White House. Hubris and racism meeting and having spoilt kids we call oligarchs. The rise of eugenics, populism and the belief that the atomic bomb can be deployed in a limited capacity. There lies World War III and Armageddon. The seeds of that right-wing madness is all here in the 700 pages of David Halberstam’s classic book. A must buy. A must read. My book of the year.

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.

 

 

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.