Kevin McKenna Guardian Unlimited. Freakshow TV has replaced bread and circuses.

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https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/09/freak-show-television-has-replaced-bread-and-circuses

I know I don’t do enough reading or enough writing. Unless Celtic are playing on a Sunday, which increasingly they are, I do nothing much but read the Observer from cover to magazine. Kevin McKenna is the kind of specialist they consult about all things Scottish. Like me he’s a Celtic man. Here he is mimicking me, I’ve been saying these things for at least the last five years. I can’t bear to be in the same room as people of the Jeremy Kyle ilk. McKenna calls him the poor man’s Jeremy Springer.

Let me recap. Since the Thatcher/Reagan era there has been a movement of money (in all its myriad forms) from the poor to the richest.

This is tied in with the idea of a meritocracy.

The popular analogy and aphorism is a rising (economic) tide lifts all boat.

The propaganda arm of this is reality television. Anything with ‘Benefits’ in the title, or Neighbours from Hell, sums it up. Jeremy Kyle’s role is ringmaster, to stir it all up. To show  us and them – scum. Scum do things like use bad language, steal things from each other and polute the earth not only with their presence, but also with too many poor children and even worse, they tend to smoke and drink.

The simplest solution would be to kill them all. We’ve not got to that stage yet, the Tories aren’t Nazis, although a few of them have more of a ring-wing bent than Mussolini or Nigel Farage.

Simply stop giving the scum state support and any kind of benefit. We’ll be a stronger and better nation by giving money to rich people, who deserve it more.

This is a tautological argument based on eugenics. So don’t let me stop you guffawing at the stupid looking cunts performing on cue for Jeremy Kyle. They’re paying his wages.  Sometimes you’d think they were almost human.

Close readers of the Observer would note a recent trend. Arguments from Nobel Prize winning economists such as Joseph E. Stiglitz or Thomas Piketty’s glorious refutation of all these assumptions and tautological arguments in Capital, doesn’t work. They’ve been Trumped. The propaganda war has been won, the foes routed. Smart people don’t want boring arguments. They want reality. The cost of thinking is too high. We lob invective from our silos of social media and cite Jeremy Kyle as source material. Nobody is listening and everybody, but the poor, have their own megaphones and websites.

In terms of fiction its worth looking at George Orwell, but perhaps the closest to our current situation is not Kevin McKenna, but a fellow Scot, Alastair Gray’s short story Five Letters from the Eastern Empire,    in which the immortal Emperor is a glove puppet, with a side-line in genocide, of his own people, to make the world a more beautiful place.

The carrot and the thick.

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Maslow’s hammer – if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I don’t believe in a market for healthcare. I don’t believe in a market for schools. And I don’t believe in trickledown economics, the belief that giving money to the rich helps the poor.

When I see the innocence of children I can believe in God. As Dr Benjamin Spock wrote for post- Second World War baby-boomers: ‘Each child is retracing the whole history of mankind, physically and spiritually, step by step’.

‘We believe that the person with a stigma is not quite human’, Ervin Goffman.

We can build more schools or more prisons and follow the lines and lies of the American model as we’ve been doing. This isn’t Trump talk but propaganda and ideology in action.

I sometimes watch The Chase on ITV with Bradley Walsh. It’s a quiz programme, general-knowledge quiz on around dinner-time, or tea-time depending on what you call it and whether you are a bit of a nob. Contestants play against a quiz master, the Chaser, someone like Shaun Wallace who is a barrister and has won Mastermind. Amateur again professional is a mis-match, but in the final round there can be a maximum of four amateurs again one professional answering similar quiz questions. The Chaser attempts to knock contestants out in earlier rounds, which are easier multiple-choice questions than the cash-build up. All contestants start with a one point advantage. That means that if they get a question wrong and the Chaser gets it right, they don’t get caught right away. Contestants get a second chance. Most contestants win usually between three and six thousand pounds in an earlier question-and-answer format called the cash-build up. If they want to play against the Chaser for that amount they can get two questions wrong before they can be caught by the Chaser. The Chaser tries to entice the contestant to give up a potential life by offering vastly inflated sums greater than the money they have won. Usually this is a multiple and ranges from £20 000 to £60 000. The maximum number of lives a contestant can opt for is three. That gives them a three point and three question start on the Chaser. In effect they’d need to get three questions wrong out of seven before the Chaser could catch them. But here’s the rub, when a team is doing well, and has for example, £30 000 in the collective pot and two contestants have made it to the final Chase, the Chaser often offers a negative amount.  If the contestant has won, for example, £3000 in the cash-build up, in order to qualify for the three extra lives the Chaser will usually offer a negative amount of, for example, £5000.  If the contestant qualifies the team receives less money than they would where the contestant be put out by the Chaser (£30 000 – £5000 divided by 4 and not 3).

Let’s look at grammar schools. There are around 57 different types of state sponsored schools in England and Wales with shrinking budgets, growing teacher shortages and calls for an additional 750 000 pupil places projected for the next ten years. An increasing gap between expected funds and expected delivery.  Teresa May envisions spending around £50 million a year on grammar schools out of a total educational budget of £80 billion. The pitch is the same one made by the contestant taking money out of the pot, making is smaller (adding a negative amount) that by doing so they make the collective team, our countries, stronger and benefit everyone as we face further tests. Not funding grammar schools puts the nation at risk.

That’s true in the same way that the contestant going for the negative pot in The Chaser is true. It denies money in the public purse with cuts to services such as Sure Start that benefited the poor to help the rich and it denies the majority of children life chances. Sainted Margaret Thatcher as education secretary in the 1979 recognised this and shut more grammar schools than any other minister, Labour or Conservative. But she didn’t need to shut them, just no longer fund them with public money, taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich and out of 315, 139 public schools became comprehensives. Post war the gap between rich and poor had narrowed and not enough parents could afford to send their children to such schools. There is an interesting cameo of how the world was viewed in 1964 in a Granada series 7UP directed by Michael Apsted. The three upper class boys attended a preparatory school, then they said they’d attend Westminster Public School then they’d attend Oxford or Cambridge. The idea of attending any other university was snorted and laughed down (later one of them attended a northern University, but went on to work for the BBC, and was, of course, headhunted by Channel 4). Out of the mouths of babes was a keen understanding of how the world worked. The middle-class banner against comprehensive schools and the mingling of the the poor with the rich wasn’t because the latter were smelly and noisy as the Apsted’s Public school boys loudly intoned to the camera, but because, then as now, standards were seen to be slipping. Only the upper and middle-classes knew how to behave, speak properly and write properly, the first Black Paper was prophetical, ‘The Fight for Education’ in defiance of the Government’s White Paper announcing changes needed to modernise schools. This was a war that poor people and their children lost.

A 2009 OECD report showed that Britain routinely diverted the largest share of education spending, 23%, for any comparable modern nation from poor people to a small group, 7%, of privately educated children with rich parents.  Teresa May’s decision to continue with this trend is a reassurance to her Conservative backbenchers and Select- 22 Committee that nothing has changed. Britain is a good country to be rich.

Margaret Thatcher before donning the garb of Prime Minister and bastardising the words of St Francis of Assisi shared her thoughts with a rapt American audience. She utilised a poppy analogy, ‘we value all individuals…not because they’re all the same, but because they are all different…I say let our children grow tall and let some children grow taller than others if they have the ability in them to do so’.

The message is clear, some children (the 93% majority of poor children) are holding back other children (7% rich children). Coal miners were an industry-sized example of greedy workers that were holding the country back. They were ‘holding the county to ransom’ and getting paid as much as twice as much as the average worker. There’s a moral in that story of what happened to them. Thomas Piketty, Capital, and more recently The London School of Economics’ paper, have shown how money is moved from the poor to the rich. Mark Townsend quotes from a TUC report that shows that the average remuneration of a FTSE 100 boss in Britain is 123 times that of a full time worker. An example of this is advertising executive of WPP, Sir Marin Sorrell whose annual package is worth £70 million. He has grown into a very tall poppy indeed and earns in 45 minutes of his precious time the annual salary of a non-unionised full-time worker that has the same rights as a plastic spoon.

But the story is an old one of Gothic horror and the fear of contagion and contamination with the rich being a different breed of human, with children in particular needing to be kept apart, for their own good. Think tank, Policy Exchange, the Notting Hill sect, prior to Cameron’s election, suggested that city’s outside the rich South were beyond revival, full of Lamarckian chavs, feral and promiscuous youths, bent on destruction and unwilling to work. Stereotypes that proved hugely popular as had the fear of the Irish in Scotland, and the fear of the Jews in London’s East End in the late nineteenth century. Both were seen as threat to our nation’s stock.

The issue was one of control, not education. Theresa May is playing to a gallery, and singing from an old hymn sheet, build more prisons and less local authority schools, less public anything. Talk about weaning ourselves away from the nanny state while filling her friends’ pockets with loot from the nanny state. It’s a great trick when they pull it off.  Poor people deserve what they get, because they are different. Their children are different. They are Goffman’s ‘other’.

Brexit and fuck-you politics.

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Ha-Joon Chang, The Little Blue Book:  ‘Economics is politics.’

Charles Darwin urged the ‘weak in mind and body’ to refrain from marriage. That’s why I never married. Contemporary disciples of Francis Galton’s scientific racism now favour that dismal science of pseudo-economics. Economic racism doesn’t discriminate against the rich. It is premised on it. The poor are feedstock for those that have accumulated land and wealth. A propaganda war, which we used to call ideology, or even Marxism, has been running against those without both for the last thirty years. It’s based on trickle-down economics. That means rich folk saying fuck you, I’m doing alright, whilst continuing to take an increasing share of the national income from the poor. Thomas Piketty, Capital shows with extensive research and an analysis of national figures the feebleness of this approach.  To paraphrase the US giant, General Motors.  What’s good for the economy is good for the rich, or so they keep telling us –ad nauseum.

The demonization of the poor is highly popular entertainment, cartoon demons that can be traced to the loss of the idea of social security. All being in it together. Remember that old David Cameron whopper, from our soon to be, Brexited, Prime Minister. Look at our glorious history. This was epitomised by the idea of homes fit for heroes after the First World War. After the Second World War, Britain led the way with the Beveridge Report and the welfare state and modern states followed our lead.  The American term welfare was exported back to us at great social cost, a  catch-all term and negative imagery carried by association. Prostitutes, junkies, alkies and council-house scum. (See for, example, ripostes from Owen Jones’ Chavs or Lynn Hanley, Estates.) Proof that welfare wasn’t working and dragging the nation down. Poor people,  whipping boys for the private sector and the top five-percent of  Eton educated and Oxbridge sponsored prevailing government ideology. Indeed, like Happy Gilmore with one golf club, they continued to beat all before them, slaughtering the poor, the public sector, and those on welfare while sweeping those before them in election after election with one idea. Rip up the social fabric. Trust us.  Give them less and us more. Nicholas Timmins, The Five Giants. A Biography of the Welfare State joked about the Tories mimicking the George Bush, Texas model, and meeting in a closed room and allocating public resources to their chums to run as part of their personal fiefdom. Who’s laughing now? Look no further than the recent debacle of those rich citizens paid rent to build and maintain local-authority schools, and even though bits were falling off, structural damage some cynics may call it, but moving sideways, with a neat trick economists call vertical integration and running the schools they build. This wasn’t called profit, but economic rent. Getting what they were due.  A quick fix was the idea of calling local-authority schools, Academies. In any language this is called monopoly. For all its faults the European Economic Union wasn’t that keen on these ideas, hence their challenge of Google’s monopoly powers to shape choices on the internet. The European Economic Unions determination that companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Facebook that have hundreds of billions in revenue pay some tax. But, of course, London is the greatest money laundering system in the world.   In comparison, try counting on one hand the number of media posts and television programmes depicting the lives of those on benefits, receiving government money. The latest ruse was to show that some of them had the gall to live in houses with more than one bedroom. Smokers. Drinkers. Obese. Round up the usual suspects. If there was such a thing as the Anglo-Saxon English race they were losing was the subtext and war cry.

Enoch Powell’s ‘river of blood’ speech in the late sixties tapped into popular zeitgeist. If they’re black send them back. A group of white working-class men were shown chanting, ‘niggers go home’ on a recent More4 programme, ‘Born on the Same Day,’ which showed the experience of a Jamaican immigrant, Ewart, growing up in multicultural Great Britain.

Remember the signs on private-let housing:

No blacks

No Irish

No dogs.

Add to that list: No DSS. NO WELFARE. NO REFUGEES HERE.

Brexit  tapped into a popular state-sponsored hate campaign.  Racism has long roots. Rudyard Kipling summed it up. ‘All the people like us are, We, and everyone else is They.’ It’s no coincidence that Robert A Douglas in That Line of Darkness, The Shadow of Dracula and the Great War has consecutive chapters on ‘Fear and Loathing of the Underclass’ (the working class) followed by ‘Xenophobia, Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism’ (replace with anti-Muslim rhetoric). It’s worth quoting Douglas below on those nineteenth-century patterns when Britain had an Empire to fleece, patterns which are recognisable today, with spokesmen such as Nigel Farage echoing the same sentiments, playing on xenophobic fears of the other, and being taken up by the Conservative Party and possibly the next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson:

Several commentators worried about Britain’s capacity for assimilating such large numbers and potential economic difficulties; however the more virulent spokespersons fed on the fears of crime, disease and tribalism to lobby for immigration restrictions…

A Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath took Great Britain into the EEC. Another, David Cameron, has taken us out. Britain no longer has an Empire. It no longer has the protection of a market to which we export most of our goods and services. We currently import around seven percent more than we export. That’s one deficit we really should worry about. When trading blocs such as the US and China, and now the EEC, play hard ball with small nations that have little or no leverage who can blame them? For we’ve voted to become a third-world nation. Fear of the other has made us a pariah nation. But the biggest fear is other nations will follow. Then with most countries resorting to protectionism there will be no common market. No market at all. What brought the world wide and general depression of the 1930s to an end was the Second World War. What brought the ideology of xenophobia and the pseudoscience of eugenics to an end was the Nazi death camps. Little England has never looked or felt so small. Fuck you, I’m alright Jack the triumphant calling card. For opportunist politicians such as Boris Johnson (and Donald Trump) that’s the only invitation they need. Fear of the other. I fear these ghoul-like creatures we have voted for most of all.

 

 

Paul Mason (2015) Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future.

Paul Mason is an optimist. I’m a pessimist.  He outlines the problems mankind faces in the future and suggests as a utopian solution of free money and us all working together in a non-working world. I tend more towards the four horseman of the apocalypse scenario.

Mason suggests there are a number of negative feedback loops that will work together to make the world a much poorer place for 99% of humanity, but if we reverse engineer this process we can all become richer and make a fairer and more prosperous world for all. ‘Neoliberalism is Broken’ is the title of his first chapter. We all know how this works. We’ve being doing it for the last thirty years and the process has accelerated since the financial meltdown of 2008. Work longer hours for less pay, or no pay. Sing hallelujah, and thanks boss, as money flows from the poor to the rich at an increasing rate.  Thomas Piketty, Capital, did the maths. Algorithms rule the world.  But Mason sees a chink of light in the information age. Technology that puts at least fifty percent of the workforce out of work, (timescale by 2050, or at cinema near you soon) will, as work itself become redundant, give us more leisure time. When the distinction between work and leisure becomes blurred creativity will flourish. Examples, oh dear, ‘people will blog, make movies, self-publish books’. Shit. I’m already doing all these things. I must be living in the future. It’s Martin Ford’s The Rise of the Robots, but with a happy ending. The robots won’t gain an awareness of themselves as a singular being, in the singularity, and mankind as being a species that has reduced the planet to a giant hamburger, and instead of keeping mankind as a pet, they’ll not do the logical thing and mine us for the energy in our hair and skin and meat and reduce the world to something like a boxset of hell played on an endless loop, but instead of that, our android friends will free us from work.

The merit in that argument is it is logical. William Shakespeare’s Brave New World  before Brave New World has Ariel working for the man, Prospero, in  The Tempest.  All utopias are a bit like that. Prospero might have stolen an island home, but it was from an evil witch, and give him his due, he did give gainful employment to the witch’s son, and became master of the monster, Caliban, who he used as another source of free labour. Prospero was free to do what he willed, as we will be in a prosperous new age based on exciting new technologies. Fritz Laing, Metropolis. As above, so below. Aldous Huxley and George Orwell both envisaged a time when work would be something that would be optional – for the elite. As it always has been, but Mason argues that the problems facing us are global problems and unless we face them together they will defeat us and the capitalist system will fall apart.

Global warming is an example of this. Mason doesn’t think the market can work well enough to allocate resource so everyone can meet their energy needs and keep enough fossil fuels out of the air and keep the temperature of the earth below an increase of around two-degree centigrade level. After that runaway global warning will take place. Being born in a particular location will be the equivalent of a life in poverty and death with millions of refugees on the move. I called this melodramatically, The Third World War, and suggested it’s already begun. I think it’s a war already lost. Human casualties, I’d guess, somewhere in the range of the Black Death, one in four. I can be bland about it because I’ll be dead by the time this is fully realised. But if you’ve children of grandchildren, be very afraid. Mason suggests that we leave all fossil fuels in the ground, turn to solar, wind, and sea, as Germany has done, with up to 50% of its needs being met in this way. So it is possible, but is it probable?

China and India playing catch up and building or having recently built hundreds of coal-fired stations.  But as Mason states ‘Between 2003 and 2010, climate change lobby groups received $558 million in the US. Exxon Mobil and the ultra-conservative Koch industries were major donors…’ What’s in it for them? Simple. Leave fossil fuels in the ground, or as Mason suggests in his chapter ‘Project Zero’ and Exxon Mobil will be worth zero on the stock market of any market. Far simpler to go out and buy a politician, or president.

One of interrelated problems Mason identified was workers in the Western world are getting older. Gee whiz, you may be saying, my hips killing me, I sure know about that. ‘Futureproofing’ on Radio 4 that around 50% of children born today will live until they’re 104. Great news for them. Around 4% of those born at the start of the last century lived long enough to collect their pension. So work hard and don’t collect your pension was the order of the day. Think about this. One in two hospital beds are filled by our fossil fools. Piketty suggests that rich countries growth will fall to around 1% to zero or negative growth. That’s where we are now. More must be done with less. That’s where we are now. Piketty also shows that the equation that you put into the system early and take it out in your later years, in health deficits, no longer works, or can be taken seriously. Mason shows that six of eight nations with populations under 30 are in Africa. Throw in India and US and the equation that one worker will be supporting one pensioner (around four workers fill those positions now) and you’ll be able to determine it doesn’t add up. Mason also shows that all that money invested in government bonds and shares and other financial assets are, in the longer term, worthless as the International Monetary Fund recognises. The bearer will not pay on demand.  When it unravels, as it will, then the provider of last resort is the government.

Here’s another of my favourites. The problem of supply is one of demand. Rosa Luxemburg, and all that. As Apple who make those nice phones and tablets and were the richest company in the world find to their cost, unless poor people have money in their pockets they can’t afford to buy those shiny new toys. One in eight workers in the US have at one time worked for McDonalds. Tens of millions wait for food stamps and flood into Walmart, who tell their staff to claim for food stamps. In our country we’re looking at the same solution: the race to the bottom. The solution, increased liquidity, give more money to the rich in the hope that it trickles –eventually- down to the poor, doesn’t work. It’s never worked, but is  neoliberal ideology in action.

Mason takes a hint from that well-known libertine, Friedrich Hayek, and suggests that citizens should be issued with an income to do with it what they liked by the government. Imagine if universal credit really was universal credit and how work would become an optional choice. But it’s another of Hayek’s truisms Mason challenges. Only the market can allocate resources. Computing power, argues Mason, can now do that just as effectively, or more effectively than any free market. Facebook and Google, for example, can anticipate our every need before we can even voice it. Their algorithms are getting better. What we think of choice is just a bit of camouflage as the servant serves us more of the same, but in a different colour. But imagine Mason suggests harnessing this power. Imagine the government building more houses. Imagine the government taking control of the money supply and instead of trying to sell banks we already own, lending money to rich people, lending it to fund social projects. Imagine the government running the energy industry for our benefit. I know, I know, it’s a bit much to take. Especially, the bit about taking money from the 1% who are rolling in it. There’s a loss of liberty there. Liberalism. Liberty. More equality.  Mason thinks that the threats that we face will allied with the technologies that we have developed will make it brave new world with everyone sharing in the fruits of non-labour. I’m more cynical. We’re at the Wright brother stages with the first aircraft. New technologies will enrich us, but not us all. The world is a more stratified place and will become even more stratified and uneven. Four horsemen on the horizon. Not even that far. I think I can hear the thunder of hoofs. But I hope Mason is right and I’m wrong, as I usually am.

idiocy on a grand scale

We all know how this works. BP is on the slide. Share price dropping like a cascade of dominos.  It’s not a good time to be in fossil fuels. China no longer buying; America fracking and the Middle Eastern countries pumping out more oil than you can shake a Sheik at. Even Saudi Arabia is feeling the pinch and trying to sell shares in its monopoly. The best thing a company that BP can do is sack worker [tick] and lower existing workers’ pay [tick] and water down any obligations that the company may have towards workers’ welfare such as pensions and sick pay [tick]. And if that doesn’t work first time, keep doing it until you can see the whites of the workers’ eyes. Plead poverty. Ask for a government bailout on that infrastructure you’ve already paid for and get a tax rebate to keep you competitive. Threaten even more job losses [tick].  Then appoint a new chief executive Bob Dudley.

What makes Bob that is a Dudley unusual is  the established formula of agreeing to everything the new chief executive demands, such as a £14 million starting salary was voted down. Wow. That’s Bolshevism for you. Some of the other executives in the top FTSE 100 companies average a  salary of around £5 million a year. According to the High Pay Centre, they’ve got to make do with Exec poverty at around 183 times the earnings of the equally average UK worker. Average earnings in the UK being around £26 500 in 2015, but of course most folk I know don’t make average earnings, they make far less than that. But let’s just simply, picture your own average executive and pin his image to an internal dartboard [and it will be a he]. He makes 200 times the average worker. And Bob, this is a Dudley, makes almost three times as much as them.

What can super Bob do? Can he like Superman turn the earth back on its axis, regularly save the world, turn back time and save Lois Lane from a crumbling dam that has killed her and bring her back to life with a kiss? Temporarily blip. Like the stock market, she will recover.

I’m sure those angry shareholders were asking the question most workers face. Would Bob work for a measly £13 999 999? And if he would why not a measly £13 999 998?  £13 999 997?  You can see where it’s going. A downward pressure on Bob’s pay packet.

Perhaps shareholder could get Bob, who is a Dudley, to sign a workers’ agreement, or more a lame-duck promise, not to commit suicide, as all new global workers, such as those making smartphones and tablets for Apple’s subsidiary company Foxconn in China were forced to do, in 2010.

Ignore signs such as those held up to information technology workers on Google buses there’s 10 million Dudley’s more like you in India. One of the picketer’s placards being held by Thomas Piketty.

All wages are relative and Bob who is a Dudley is I’m sure worth more than the average worker.  But how much more? Let’s throw up some ideas. Offhand, how about 100 000 times more? The ratio of how many serfs the nobility owned in War and Peace. By the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, around 1989, the modern aristocracy of the Communist politburo has two houses and earned around six times as much as the average worker. Let’s just say it’s a changed world from the people that owned the land that also owned the people on the land, to modern commerce, but the principle is the same. Putin knows it. I’m the one holding the big stick. Like it or lump it. I’m sure Bob that’s not a Dudley knows it too.

Dodgy Dave and his chums

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This is a difficult script to write. You could go with the no suggestion of impropriety, criminality or wrongdoing, and following good business practice [fill in any name here, for example, David Cameron, Pablo Escobar, Vladimir Putin]

You could go all jokey and imply  we’re all in it together and we’ve all done it, signing on, or someone else signing on for you, for example, Bahama residents including a part-time bishop, because you’re too busy that day, creating wealth. Perhaps fling in a bit of alliteration, Dodgy Dave the Downing Street landlord coining it in, and mention the Panama Papers.

But then you’d probably have to mention not just Panama, but London itself as a tax bolt-hole where rich people congregate and get fitted for a bespoke tax avoidance suit, tailored to their needs, by an army of experts, such as David Cameron’s dear departed father.

In the European Union there – this week discounted offers- of convenient parking spots in Luxembourg, Lichtenstein and Monaco. And if sir and his capital wants to take a break from all that onerous paperwork there are hotspots in Guernsey, Jersey, Sark, Gibraltar, Anguilla,  The Virgin Isles, Montserrat, Bermuda, Turks & Calicos Islands,   Cayman Islands and any other British Territories and Crown Dependencies you can think of and that can be expected to keep stuhm about how much loot you’ve looted and don’t really give a flying fuck where you got it from. As long as you’re filthy rich you are master of all you survey. Only mugs and poor people pay tax. Thomas Piketty on Capital showed an interesting anomaly, there is more money in circulation than can be accounted for. It doesn’t take a genius to suggest that turn over any of these stones and you’ll find lots of interesting facts about wealth squirming under the light of transparency.

We could go for the moral angle and the exposure of pious untruths. A biblical quote would be good here to set off the script. Perhaps something from Proverbs 22:16: Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, and gives to the rich will surely come to poverty.

But the problem with that is we are a nation built on that great lie of trickle-down economics that the poor might eat –eventually- from the scraps of the table of the rich man. The poor are always with us and it’s their fault for being poor is a stick. We have our masters grandstanding, telling us to work harder and dig deeper and stop being such a whinger and whiner, while quietly, money flows in one direction from the poorest to the richest at an increasing rate.  Paul Mason shows that before Lehman Brother’s collapse 40 percent of corporate profits in the United States were in the financial sector, four out of ten dollars. London, the most subsidized city in the United Kingdom, offers its own model of excess equalling success with everything for sale including the government. When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 he took artillery and about one million men of different nationalities, the finest fighting force on the planet, but he was no mug, somebody would have to pay for the invasion. Napoleon had roubles printed. Whoever paid the full cost to the bearer of such a note would not be Napoleon, nor will it be Cameron and his ilk paying for the NHS or road, or school or take your pick and mix .  Who’s paying for failure if it’s not the rich?

As a morality play it doesn’t work and as an economic template it works even less well, but ironically it offers the greatest chance of electoral success. Beat the drum.  Come clean and admit your faults. David Cameron is a good man. As is George Osborne and Boris Johnson. They are just doing what they have been brought up to do, which is to help the select few. What’s the problem with that?

 

Why I hate Downton Abbey

I know it’s the last series of Downton Abbey. It sells big in America where people like former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin things we live in stately homes.  Lots of people here watch it. It’s won sacksful of awards for best drama. I’ve never seen more than a clip of an episode, yet Downton Avenue has me reaching for my Kalashnikov.

There’s nothing down town about Downton Abbey. It’s a showcase of beautifully dressed people with impeccable manners showcasing all that was great about Great Britain. Let’s start at the top. Take away the gold frame from around the jug ear of Prince Charles, our future king, and perhaps someone can explain what particular skill set he, or his forebearers brought to the Industrial revolution, or to the modern world? There’s no answer to inherited land and inherited wealth. The people that own the land, like those portrayed in Downton Abbey, also owned the people on the land. Attend the right sort of schools. The right sort of University. Pull on a graduation robe and take the prizes of  public office and the trappings of power and the promise of yet more wealth. Look no further than our Prime minister and his Chancellor of Exchequer.  As Thomas Piketty, among others, have shown in the modern world wealth begets wealth, in spite of, not because of who owns it. Briton is a good place to be rich.

It’s not a good place to be poor. The antithesis of programmes such as Downton Abbey show mainly on channels 4 or 5 with the tagline ‘benefit’ attached. Type it into a search engine and see how many hits you get. Then add the Jeremy Kyle effect. There’s a Victorian cruelty to these programmes, a type of bear baiting, in which the working class are prodded and poked and made to dance and squeal for our master’s entertainment.  Upstairs, Downstairs, and while they are in the ascendency we’re downstairs where we belong, read the subtext, because we’re thick and left to ourselves would be primitive savages, what right wing commentators Charles Murray call a ‘feral underclass’. A recent poll at the Edinburgh Festival found the majority thought  Waynes and Waynettes and foul mouthed Vicky Pollard are not seen are representatives of Little Britain, but embodiments of the working class. But it fits a larger narrative.

To paraphrase R.H.Tawney (1913) what rich people call a problem of poverty is what poor people call a problem of riches.  A general post-second world war consensus and belief in a subsistence minimal under which no individual living in the UK should fall. The level at which national assistance or supplementary benefits were set as a monetary equivalent of a poverty line. Even then, in the 1950s, one in twenty household were said to be below it. And when Peter Townsend’s seminal work Poverty in the UK was published in 1979 seemed to be a call to arms. With empirical data, our Labour government would right a great wrong.

Yet, as Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack show in Breadline Britain in 2012 three in twelve fell below the poverty line. And the problem of child poverty has been solved, by our Eton-educated betters, by re-categorising it as a problem of poor parenting that can be solved by parenting classes. A moral problem. A story many of us are familiar with.

I’ve got a mate that’s got cancer and I’ll expect will die this year. He’s been knocked off the sick, told he’s fit to work. He’s appealed that decision. But in the meantime has zero income. His housing benefit is no longer paid. Local authority housing employees send him threatening letters demanding increasingly larger sums of money. He’s been told by his medical consultant to eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids. He’s a causality, one among the many. Classifiable in that old throwback to Victorian society and notions of the deserving and undeserving poor. The underserving poor where those thought able to work and not willing to work. Those like my mate.  And the place for them was prison –for vagrancy – or the poor house, cast in with the old and sick where they’d be made to work. George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London, trailing and documenting these spikes prior to the Second World War, showed what little work there was for the men (and it was mostly men), wasn’t worth the cost of administration or effort, but it had to be seen to have a salutary effect as not being a soft option. Language we are familiar with today.  Weighty matters such as how much salt should be added to the gruel and whether sugar was a luxury inmates would come to depend upon where debated at parish level. Scotland was the most frugal of nations here.

The privilege of being rich and owning land and the servants on the land as they do in Downton Abbey extends to a policing role of the morals of the lower classes. Sarah Waters gives a fictional account of this in her novel The Little Stranger set in a decaying aristocratic pile, Hundred Hall, just after the end of World War Two. Doctor Faraday who visits the Hall, in a professional capacity, recounts to Lady Ayres how her mother had worked as a nurse maid in the same house in which they were sitting. She wore an identical uniform to the other nurse maids and had to stand with her hands out each morning while the housekeeper examined her fingernails. How the former Lady Ayres would often come unannounced into the maids’ bedrooms and go through their boxes one by one.  Dr Pamela Cox in the BBC programme, Servants – the true story of life below stairs, shows that such experiences were not unusual. It really was an us-and-them world. In 1911, one and a half million worked as indoor servants. Cox suggests that few in Britain would have an ancestor that was not a servant. When I watch clips of Downton Abbey I don’t see the leading actors, I look for subterranean tunnels, damp basements and attic rooms. I look in vain for a serving class on their feet and at the beck and call of their masters for sixteen hours a day, six-and-a-half days a week. I look for servants that cringe at the behest of the master and mistress and are urged to make themselves invisible – until needed. I rejoice that those days are gone, but mourn the lesson of two world wars have been forgotten and they have returned under the guise of neoliberal orthodoxy and extended choice.

Linda Tirado, who works –among other jobs –as a waitress, in the introduction to Hand To Mouth, feels the need to remind readers, ‘I’m a human after all’ and most poor people start their day in debt and end their days in debt and in between isn’t much fun either.  Her chapter titles show where the fault line in the propaganda war against the rich has been lost and the poor routed and tagged with epithet worthless, subhuman, scrounger.

‘It Take Money to Make Money.’ This is not Thomas Piketty telling the reader that money flows from the poor to the rich at an increasing rate, but a working- mother’s view from the bottom rung, two jobs, living on fresh air and foodstamps. No matter which way you cut it, isn’t going to make any difference. Her car gets towed and she can’t afford to pay to get it out of the compound. You need money for that. More than she makes in a day. Martin Ford shows a different pattern. Waltmart is busiest at midnight when food stamps are first issued. Stores are least busy in the week before food stamps are issued. The end of the month is the end of the line for tens of millions.

‘We Do Not Have Babies For Welfare Money.’ What Tirado does not say is that she has the wrong kind of babies. Babies that are born poor, are likely to grown up to be poor as Robert Putman, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, shows.  She admits this herself. ‘Poverty is Fucking Expensive.’ They don’t swear like that on Downton Abbey, but then again, perhaps they don’t need to. Tirado in her penultimate chapter sums up where the propaganda war has been won and lost, ‘Being Poor isn’t a Crime – It Just Feels Like It’. Let’s be as honest as Tirado, when you’re the servant of the rich you’re going to get screwed, whether you like it or not, and there’s nothing much you can do about it. Rich men hold all the trump cards and they have a big stick at their back. The propaganda war was lost a long time ago. Hunker down or rise up. Winners such as those in Downton Abbey write the history and talk about traditions. It leaves a sour taste, but I don’t have to watch it – not yet. But it’s hard to hold your tongue or listen to such claptrap getting cheered.