Europe: Death Throes


Europe is at a crossroads and its survival may depend on the route taken. It is very clear that large numbers of ordinary folk have fallen out with the concept of ever closer integration, and with mass migration. Multinational companies are advocates of the EU, according to the analysis of focus-economics.com. This body paints a bright picture of vibrant colours for the immediate future of the Eurozone.
While the few, (big boys) find it exhilarating, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the poor throughout the EU fear the dark and unappealing clouds. Who is right and why the divergence of opinion?
Since the crash of 2008 not a lot has changed for the poor. Unemployment remains persistently high at around 11% for the Eurozone as a whole. The only country doing well is Germany with the lowest unemployment rate in 25 years.  www.focus-economics.com/germany
In contrast France has seen its unemployed rate rise above 10% as recently as December 2016. In Italy it’s almost 12%. In Spain youth unemployment is a persistent 24%. As the economist.com points out, there is “…high unemployment almost everywhere.” (October 2016).
Therein lies a major problem and to compound it we have the arrival of significant numbers of migrants. The figures vary, according to Frontex the EU border agency 1.8m came to Europe in 2015 with an estimated further one (1) million illegal entrants. Significant numbers continue to arrive. It really doesn’t matter whether you think it is a good idea, the humanitarian thing to do, or not. The crucial point stems from the impact. And the impact has proven seriously negative for the poor.
In highlighting the negative we need only look at the UK and that 73% of local councils take few, while councils in the most affluent areas take no migrants. Whereas, places like Boston in Lincolnshire has witnessed a huge influx. In consequence 72% of the electorate voted ‘Leave’ in the referendum of June 2016. Thus the burden of coping with migration has been firmly placed in areas with a high concentration of working class people. A class issue?
It is slowly being accepted that such an influx of numbers has a direct effect on: housing, rented accommodation and the cost of rent, school places, dentists, doctors’ appointments and the NHS especially the accident and emergency (A&E) departments. The same difficulties are not a part of daily life for those who castigate the poor for stating the obvious.
Therefore, it is the poor who carry the burden of migration. The well-off and the political elite berate the poor for moaning, and are unconcerned by the growing frustration and mounting anger of the people. As a means of demeaning and controlling any outbursts from the lower classes the establishment and their luvvie bedfellows demonize them as: ‘ignorant, uneducated, stupid or racist’ as experienced by Lord King, former governor of the Bank of England. (Daily Mail 2017/02/10)
A blind adherence to their prescribed agenda by the political class and their groupie acolytes has served only to alienate millions of voters. The consequence is now obvious.
Similar patterns are to be found throughout Europe. In Germany the altruism of Angela Merkel and her subsequent rise to fame has waned considerably. When the emotional high withers the harsh reality, the practical everyday environment comes to the fore. Germany was magnanimous but the rise of opposition has increased steadily. The AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) has been growing and estimates that it can now command roughly 25% to 30% of the electorate with an anti EU policy.
Now the Social Democratic Party (SPD) with their new leader Martin Schulz ex EU President, think they can muster a campaign. The youth movement of the party JuSos are filled by enthusiasm and think they could actually steal the election in September. www.theguardian.com/      15/02/2017
However, there are more fundamental consequences as many of the migrants are now feeling trapped in camps. Thousands complain that they cannot find work and their frustration and anger grows. Those who find work are usually a source of cheap labour paid below the minimum wage. Illegal workers are simply used and abused.
Nonetheless, the true horror comes from the sheer number of single male migrants, hundreds of thousands who have needs beyond that of shelter and food. Existing brothels will not cope with the increased need and so the void is likely filled by people traffickers to help satiate the overload. In consequence, thousands of women and children will be brought in and forced to meet the demand.
The sanctimonious will continue to berate their opposition with their abusive language and remain immune to the tragedy behind the closed doors. I’ve met their friends who accompany them everywhere they go:  see no evil – hear no evil – speak no evil! It’s unfortunate but reality cannot by itself break down a fixed ideology.
Throughout Europe there is fallout from the high unemployment, the migrant crisis and the deafness of the political class. In Sweden, once considered the hallmark of social democrat achievement has fallen foul to these undercurrents. In the city of Malmo the local police have asked for national assistance to combat the steep rise in crime.
One area particularly affected is the district of Rosengard which has an 80% migrant population but less than 40% of the total population have a job. A growth in social unrest, gang warfare and multi-ethnic violence has led to eleven (11) murders, 80 attempted murders and a spate of shootings, arson attacks and bombings. Little wonder that the local guys want additional help. (Reuters)
Si se puede
Meanwhile, a Spanish member of the EU parliament (MEP), Javier Lopez has written a piece on the ‘defense of democracy’. By democracy he means the maintenance of the existing order as he abhors the “bigoted populist movements”. Along social democratic lines he is calling for the reconstruction of the EU to incorporate a fiscal branch, harmonization of taxes, a minimum income throughout the Eurozone and better public services.
Lopez believes such a programme will curtail the build-up of populism. However, his ideas will necessitate closer integration which is the opposite of what many of the new parties in the EU want. Also, the Guardian newspaper, (theguardian.com October 2014) points to political scandals and corruption as prime reasons for the existing political parties losing ground.
In his homeland of Spain, has seen the rise of Podemos (We Can) founded in March 2014 and now the second largest party in Spain with a membership of 456,000 as of April 2016. It is also the third (3rd) largest group in the Spanish parliament. The party is a strong left leaning organisation that wants an end to austerity and changes to the Treaty of Lisbon. But to Lopez’s logic all members of Podemos and all those who voted for them are ‘bigoted populists’. Unfortunately for Lopez the motto of Podemos is – se si puede – Yes We Can!
www.socialeurope.eu/2016/12/europe-globalization-unrest
Of course all eyes are on Greece at this time and whether it can meet its debt repayment plan. There is little understanding from the ‘powers’ in Brussels of the political reality in Greece. The parties that once held sway, PASOK, centre left and New Democracy could look forward to 70% – 85% of the vote at elections.
Such numbers create a self-assuredness and in consequence a relaxed approach to the everyday needs of the electorate. The vote for PASOK has fallen to 5% at points and their joint vote to 31% at the May election of 2014. It is difficult to understand how such a change can go unheeded by the Brussels politburo.
The Greek economy has fallen by 25% which is equivalent to the 1929 crash in America. The country is on its third (3rd) bailout with the forth due soon. In the summer it has a debt of €7.5bn to repay before receiving its next tranche.
There is now an open rift between the IMF (International Monetary Fund)) and the ECB (European Central Bank) over how Greece should be bailed out. The debt problem of 184% of GDP which equals some €350bn means it will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pay off any of its debt. The IMF says the debt is ‘unsustainable’.
If Greece had a vibrant economy it could possibly reschedule its debts. However, the country is still in the doldrums; high unemployment, poor investment levels, poor productivity and the fact that the people don’t have a lot to spend means it’s between a rock and a hard place.
Hence the IMF wants the next bailout package to include some debt relief. But, the ECB want more austerity and are really none too happy that the Prime Minister Tsipras gave a Christmas bonus to pensioners and free school meals to children of the poor.
Now you’re aware of the priorities of the ECB and the German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Of course they may argue that the poor in Greece will be better off in the longer term but that don’t help when you’re hungry now. And that don’t help if you’re a political party trying to stay in power. And that don’t help unless it’s a stone cast guarantee!
www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2017/feb/05/                   (A good read.)
BBC Business News 2017/02/15
Poor Greece (literally as well as metaphorically) has suffered years of austerity. And while other nations get a boost from retail sales Greece doesn’t have that luxury. Instead it is under pressure to cut pensions again which would be the thirteenth (13th) time. Unlucky for some – no pun intended. Therefore the Greek debt problem is a headache and perhaps, that’s why the German newspaper Bild has suggested that the German government would welcome Greece leaving the EU.
www.marketwatch.com   www.taieitimes.com/news/editorials/  (2017/02/06)
According to the economist Paul Krugman forcing Greece to suffer austerity which comes with every deal, “…it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.”
https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/12/killing-the-european-project/?_r=0
CIAO Italy? (chow)
Another nightmare stirring in the background readying to wake the dead is Italy. This nightmare can truly disturb the sanity of the EU: dozing, dozing, dozing; alarm! The banks are described as “…an inexhaustible source of financial instability”. Unemployment hovers around 12%. It has the highest inflation rate (Feb: 2017) since 2013. Public debt continues to rise and there is no sign as yet of any economic recovery.
Interestingly, none of the major rating agencies: Standard & Poor, Moody or Finch is prepared to give the country a rating. The reasoning may be because the country’s debt stands at 132.6% of GDP the second largest in the EU. Bonds sold to keep Italy afloat are not being bought by private investors but by the ECB. Aggressively!!
The Times also reports that Italy has gained little from the euro. The paper also claims that the poorer countries in the EU can’t reach their potential because of poor growth and poor investment. Such a scenario may have fed into the logic of the Mediobanca report that states that many parts of the EU are caught in a “mouse trap” and adds “Without a major restructuring of the Eurozone, there is nothing you can do under these rules”
. www.focus-economics.com/countries/italy   www.times.com/2017/02/08/business/
Business Insider in discussing the problems of the EU concludes that “Actually, a lack of reforms, slow growth, a troubled banking sector and high government debt in Italy may be a bigger risk for the Eurozone.” Than Greece! www.businessinsider.com
La France – la sortie?
France the second biggest economy of the Eurozone has many of its own problems. Unemployment is up above 10% again and tales of political corruption have been in the headlines for a number of years. Add migration and terrorist attacks and the government is under severe pressure.
Since Hollande came to power taxes have risen to an all-time high at 47.9%, the highest in Europe. The real indicator of the well-being of the country is summed up thus, “… no significant economic improvement over the past five years”.
In terms of trade France exports 17% to Germany but imports 19% from the Germans. Their deficit is also high, while debt stands at around 102% of GDP. That only leaves Germany with a positive outlook.
www.ndtv.com/world-news/   citing an article by Reuters 2016/12/04.
It doesn’t look promising as the IMF say that the euro is about 15% undervalued but their analysis suggests that based on the French economy it is 6% overvalued. This is a problem faced by all the economies of the Eurozone but that of Germany. How would the other nations fare if the euro was 15% higher? The alternative is to leave the EU and devalue or a complete overhaul of the EU.
The French election should be an interesting one, Emmanuel Macron standing as an independent is now running high on the polls aided no doubt by the corruption scandal surrounding Fillon the right-wing conservative candidate.
Unfortunately for the French workers Macron is proposing more austerity with a package that includes cutting pensions and severely restricting trade unions to operating at company level rather than across the whole industry. Maggie’s back in town!
Marine Le Pen seems the likely opponent of Macron. The National Front programme is to leave the euro and devalue. Or create bedlam along the way.
Generally, the economic picture is not one to win investment and the policy of austerity has proved a disaster, so much so that it has been abandoned by some countries. Therefore there is no common policy to deal with the desperately slow growth that hangs over the Eurozone like a huge dark and brooding cloud as far as the eye can see.
The chief European economist for Goldman Sachs Huw Pill suggests at best the EU will stumble along making small gains. However, he warns that the EU needs ‘institutional and structural’ changes to overcome the weaknesses of the block.  www.goldmansachs.com
A further nail in the coffin comes from the economist.com (October 2016) and their assessment that there are “…deep flaws in the single currency’s design.” Flaws in the currency have been known for some time through the work of J Stiglitz and Paul Krugman both Nobel Prize winning economists.
Having already bailed out Greece, Spain and Ireland; the question must be how long can this process carry on. How long before the moneymen run for the hills?
On the political front the EU is open to severe attack from several flashpoints. In Austria Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party lost the presidential election by a mere 0.6%. The latter is far-right politically as is the AfD in Germany and other such movements have sprung up in many areas of the EU.
Austria’s new chancellor Christian Kern has made it abundantly clear that he expects the Eurozone to make big changes. He at least recognises that the writing is on the wall unless the people’s wishes are given a hearing.
The Danish People’s Party has increased its vote by 50% in eight years. In the Netherlands the far-right party of Geert Wilders the PVV with its anti-EU stance could possibly win in the next election. In Italy the Five Star Movement (M5S) has gained the mayor ships of Rome and Turin and is polling nearly 30% of the electorate. www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/
Just over a year ago Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament was quoted as saying, “The worst nightmare for the European project is an outbreak of populism or political upheaval in Germany. Now it is looking like a real possibility.” He went on to say that the Schengen area is ‘buckling’. www.express.co.uk/news/world/ (2016/01/15)
Which road will the politicians take? It seems that they have run out of rope but are afraid of the consequences once their actions become apparent. A Hungarian commissioner Sandor Lederer has demanded to know why the EU Commission has not released the extensive report on corruption.
He is of the opinion that “Corruption is rampant in Europe” and that transparency should be a “…top priority at all levels of governance.” Frans Timmermans reputedly told the Civil Liberty Committee that he sees no point in releasing the document. Hmm, interesting!
www.euractive.com/section/justice-home-affairs/opinions
Corruption stories keep coming up all over the continent and yet there are no sackings, no heads roll, it’s a carry on as usual syndrome. Meanwhile, ordinary Joe goes to prison for fraud. Hmm, interesting! The stories of corruption are causing a dust cloud.
It is little wonder that the populace have a growing contempt for the politicians. It doesn’t matter the party in power they follow roughly the same line of thought; it’s just different shades of grey.
There is a sweeping antagonism and a deep mistrust of the politicians and of the opaque bureaucracy they have installed. No one is accountable. No one takes responsibility for any wrong doing. No one admits to failure. Everything is fine in La La Land!
The most telling point comes from an 86 year old Frenchman Maurice Beauzac from Chartres during a street poll held by Reuters:
 “We are living at a time when the word integrity is becoming meaningless to our politicians.”
www.uk:reuters.com   2017/02/09
The crossroads has roadworks! Trapped in the mire of their own making all the politicians can think to do is attack with ever more disparaging language. Sad isn’t?
This year is one of crucial elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands the outcome could seal the fate of the European project.
If we assume that the establishment parties win by whatever margin will they read into the result a clear acceptance of their programme? Or will they note the size of the opposition, an opposition that did not exist a few years ago and concede that change must follow?
It may well be that they will carry on down that same road and continue with the policy of austerity. They may turn a blind eye to the exposé of corruption and continue their role as the proverbial ostrich.
Meanwhile, several notable commentators, Goldman Sachs, Mediobanca have called for serious institutional and structural change. The Economist magazine notes a weakness of the euro as have several leading economists. Many have commented on the sluggish performance of most of the economies of the EU and see few prospects in the near future.
The most recent set of stats from the German official statistical office Destatis paints a bright picture for Germany and the Eurozone. Germany it concludes has achieved 1.9% uplift in activity in 2016 making it the fastest growing of the top 20 nations, due to higher exports and the weak euro.
For the Eurozone it suggests the highest lift since 2011. Destatis also points to the French service sector as ‘booming’. However, this contrasts with France24.com when they highlighted that tourism, a major contributor to the French economy, had a steep decline and that Paris had seen a drop of 1.5m visitors alone.
Martin Baccardax, The Street 2017/02/23  reported in msn.com/news
Unemployment is too high throughout Europe it’s a persistent harbinger of poverty and causing a persistent distrust of the politicians. Ordinary Joe is not feeling any upsurge in their personal well being and there are few good signs on the horizon.
Note the point by the New York Times: 50% of all new jobs since 2010 are temporary jobs in Europe. It’s a job but one without prospects and one that simply keeps the debt man (raptors) from the door.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/09/business/europe-jobs-economy-youth-unemployment-millenials.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&smtyp=cur&_r=1
Part time work feeds many problems down the line. If people are barely managing then how can they save for a rainy day? They cannot contribute to a pension for their retirement, a tab that will in all probability have to be picked up by the state. Tax increases?
Big business is screwing ordinary Joe now with part-time work and zero hour contracts. And will screw Joe later when Joe has to rely on a pittance of a pension from the government to survive.
Alternatively, people just fuel their own debt by taking out loans at exorbitant rates of interest and spend. Keeping up with the Jones’ is such fun – until the bubble bursts.
Nonetheless, at some point a state of listlessness creeps in, anxiety increases, stress leads to a host of other problems: break up of relationships, increase in violence fed by a growing anger, illness and crime.  Add a less than causal approach to productivity, all of which help to dampen the economy and force more fuel into the fire of discontent that has been growing.
Add to the mix the migrant crisis. These are people with as many aspirations as anyone else but many are finding that Europe is not the Promised Land. Lack of employment, trapped in camps, their culture clashing with local beliefs and other migrant groups. Desperate for the good life many enter illegally and too many become sub-human cheap labour for the profit hungry businesses.
“…traffickers are increasingly bringing in vulnerable people for the sex trade and as slave labour.”
Such is the problem created by traffickers that Frontex recognises that they are a       “…significant threat to the EU”.
On integration: “The high numbers of economic migrants – mostly with low educational qualifications and with a different cultural background – are not truly integrated into European societies. This causes social conflicts and critical perceptions of migration.”  http://frontex.europa.eu/assets/Publications/Risk_Analysis/Annula_Risk_Analysis_2016.pdf

Banksy

And the sanctimonious speak to their best friends: – see no evil – hear no evil – speak no evil!   Happy to smile for the cameras while playing politics with people’s lives!

Such is the political cauldron we live in today. There is but a tinge of hope that one day a door will open and objectivity will enter but alas – don’t hold your breath.
Do some good join – Robin Hood!

Marchers Against Trump

Of course it is early days but can the movement set up to oppose Donald Trump, the new President of the United States be successful. Or is it all much ado about nothing? The turnout for the marches was very impressive. The question is whether it can be maintained. According to the NY times there was a four (4) hour meeting directly afterward in New York by the organisers to think of ways to keep and build on the momentum. The danger is that it will frizzle out like so many other spontaneous movements.

An article in the NY Times by Farah Stockman makes disturbing reading as it points out that the issue of race was raised almost immediately by black activists.  A comment by one such activist from Brooklyn wrote on the Facebook page encouraging participation, “…white allies. Listen more and talk less.”

On reading the above quote a wedding planner, Jennifer Willis from South Carolina was put off attending the rally. She had planned to do so with her daughters but felt that the message did not make her feel welcome.

While we may understand to a degree the activist’s attitude as black people are on the bottom rung in American society. Nonetheless, her belligerence put Jennifer Willis off. This was not an isolated incident as Stockman pointed out that the issue of race “erupted every day, exhilarating some and alienating others”. Tension was also visible in Tennessee and Louisiana.

Another damning point raised by Stockman was that Trump campaigned against ‘political correctness’ and won with half of white female voters supporting him. I’m sure that Trump had more than one issue on which he campaigned. However, the article highlights the divisions in American society which make it almost impossible to build a cohesive movement against his brand of politics.

A further divisive illustration comes from the Portland NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). The body refused to become a part of, “…a white – women kumbaya march”. The main grievance was that the organising committee was not diverse enough and no speaker was arranged on the question of race. www.wweek.com/2017/01/11

Nonetheless, the march did go ahead and 100,000 turned out in the pouring rain to show their opinion. It is unclear whether the NAACP found a solution and participated.

Division was also evident in the choice of partner organisations. It appears that pro-life groups were not welcomed as found by the New Wave Feminists whose stance includes: anti-abortion, anti-war and against the death penalty. The complaint of the group was that they had been accepted onto the rooster but later ‘kicked off’, as were similar groups; ‘Students for Life of America’ and ‘And Then There Were None’. They joined the march anyway. www.catholichearld.co.uk

One group Planned Parenthood, who had carried out 324,000 abortions (2014 Annual Report), was accepted as a partner organisation. Therefore from the outset a political agenda was formed. Thus it is no longer a women’s movement but a political one. It may appear as a decisive step but if it leads to alienation then it is non inclusive. This is a sizable weakness. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_Parenthood

The problem surrounding the abortion debate is the entrenchment on both sides. They are the ‘Bubble People’ they see only their point of view ergo there is no room for a cosy chat over a mug of coffee to find common ground.

The NY times also reported that minority women feared that any success for the movement would only benefit the white working class. While this would not be true it is illustrative of the hurdles that must be gone over.

The article in the Times also mentioned that, “Now a wide range of groups”, are trying to keep the movement going. At first glance such a coming together can appear as a sign of strength; rather, it’s a weakness. It is a weakness that can unravel the movement at any given time. Each group may come to a meeting not to find a common objective but to promote their own agenda.

Individual groups may argue that their programme for change is one that promotes all women. One could condemn any such group as wearing blinkers or of being politically naïve. Any bid to promote a singular issue is wrong on several levels:

  • I have highlighted two contentious standpoints that of race and pro-life. Both of these areas have multiple bodies claiming to represent the whole and within their field there will be factions that want a more confrontational approach, while others will abhor any hint of violence.
  • A place at the top table and how it will be manufactured can be a very divisive block. The question of representation can be critical as noted above. Will it be by quota, e.g. said amount of black people – Asian – Hispanics – Latino – white? What of partner organisations, will their size determine their quota or seat at the top table? How will this reflect on the political stance of the movement? Many questions, there resolution will be critical.
  • Any attempt to list their priorities can also be fraught with problems. A danger rests in trying to accommodate all the partner organisations and thus the demands become too numerous to gain political traction. Some groups may feel that their particular issue has not been given sufficient prominence.
  • In future demonstrations will the organisers insist on ‘passive resistance’ (Mahatma Ghandi & Martin Luther King) or allow each group to form their own policy. Another problem is keeping anarchists and others from trying to usurp the demos. Therefore who will police any future protests?
  • It will be assumed that the organisation will be democratic; the problem will come in unrolling equal participation. How will they prevent any one group becoming dominant? Therefore causing others to walk away.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/22/us/after-success-of-womens-march-a-question-remains-whats-next.html?&moduleDetail=section-news-2&action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&pgtype=article

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/us/womens-march-on-washington-opens-contentious-dialogues-about-race.html?_r=1

 

There are so many hurdles, so many pitfalls that it will be incredibly difficult to maintain a united stance. Some inspiration may be found in the Shriver Report of 2014 written by Sonia Pressman Fuentes of NOW (National Organisation for Women). The report highlights eighteen (18) issues that women should fight to implement.

www.shriverreport.org/top-18-issues-challenging-women-today

  1. Poverty: I was surprised to read that in 2014 some 70million women and their children live in poverty in the U.S. That America has the largest number of homeless women and children of any industrialised country. Who could not lift their banner of protest against such a picture of despair?
  2. Wages: It is a universal truth that women are disproportionately found in low-paying jobs. But according to Harvard economist Claudia Goldin if employers showed more flexibility on hours and location the pay gap could be greatly reduced. This would help women everywhere.
  3. Violence: I was staggered by the numbers -270,000 rapes or sexual assaults annually in USA. That 1 in 3 females murdered is killed by a partner. Of course this is a world issue so perhaps the ‘movement’ in the U.S. could link up with Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) who have held large demonstrations in Argentina in a struggle against a culture of machismo. The fight in Argentina has been followed by groups in Uruguay and Chile.
  4. Abortion Rights
  5. Maternal Mortality Rates
  6. Sick pay and parental leave
  7. Pregnant Workers Fairness Act – needs to be enforced.
  8. Affordable Child Care: This like some others is a world problem. Johnathan Cohn cited in the report, states, “The lack of quality, affordable day care is arguably the most significant barrier to full equality for women in the workplace.”
  9. Women in prison and their horrid treatment.
  10. Human Trafficking: where nightmares are 24/7.
  11. Female representation in many aspects of society. A world problem.
  12. Discrimination in academia.
  13. Under representation in the Justice system.
  14. Under representation in large companies.
  15. Under representation and unequal pay in entertainment industry.
  16. Keeping women in high tech jobs.
  17. Lack of health insurance, affects 30m women and girls in U.S.
  18. CEDAW Treaty – an international bill of rights for women. USA only major country that has not ratified it.

They are all good causes though some are U.S. specific. I have chosen five (5) issues which I believe are uncontentious but significantly are world issues that could help galvanize women everywhere.

Poverty: Nobody can deny that poverty affects millions all over the world and if women didn’t cope our global society would fall apart. By embracing the cause of poverty and, the numbers in America are significant, a message of hope is sent wherever the internet reaches.

Wages: An issue that women in the Western World can readily agree with. It is in the West that the cudgel can be thrown down. If women in the West are not to be trifled with a message of hope flies around the world faster than a jet.

Violence: Where in the world have women not been acquainted with violence? The fight back in South America can only be uplifting for women everywhere. The culture of machismo is world-wide. Men are conditioned towards violence and especially when they feel inadequate. It needs a massive input into education.

Child care: Governments keep talking about getting more women into the workplace but do little to encourage or enforce businesses to cater for those with children. The quote by Johnathan Cohn above tells us just how big an issue it is.

Human Trafficking: The powerlessness of these women and children surely has a resonance with all women to some extent. A global business generating some $32 billion annually: what price misery. What cost men’s libido? It’s a tsunami of barbarity, women and children used worse than pigs in a pen. There is no bright star in their sky. Unless….

Equality of Burden

By accepting the premise that all women, no matter their status, are treated as second class citizens in some aspect of their life then you have equality of burden. There is no race, no religious or class issues; these are barriers to unity. If women can see beyond their present status and they can on many issues, then they can organise/vote for change as a singular body.

America has pole position in the chase for change. However, much will depend on their ability to overcome their biases. It’s a huge problem as bias can debilitate any organisation. As noted earlier tensions arose immediately concerning race, while some minority groups feared that it may become a programme for the white working class.

However, any change in working conditions would by necessity of law include all who work in that environment. What has emerged is just how divided American society is and how perceptions can be skewed. It is a massive task for the women’s movement but a unique opportunity to transform society.

A further testing case for the organisers of the women’s movement will be their attitude to the 53% of white females who voted but voted for Trump. (NY times & Newsweek) Two points can be raised immediately e.g. will they be welcomed to participate in subsequent action or simply dismissed as beyond exorcizing.

Unfortunately, some will dismiss them as right-wing fascists and want nothing to do with them. Others will recognise that if you nick them they will bleed. Surely there are issues on which the vast majority of women can agree? It would be a failure of magnitude not to invite the Trump supporters to participate. The opposition would correctly admonish the women’s campaign as not representative of all women.

Not to welcome, not to embrace the white women who voted Trump would be akin to railroading yourself into a cul-de-sac. It must also be remembered that around 30% of Hispanics voted Trump. If women are to make a credible difference, a long lasting difference, then they need the overwhelming majority on their ticket. This necessitates that some, perhaps more than some, will have to burst their bubble and walk out into the sun to welcome the warmth that camaraderie brings.

And thus it has to be noted that abortion is an extremely contentious issue and organisers must be cognizant of the millions of Catholic women and other religious groups that cannot accept abortion on demand. It is in recognising differences that we gain strength. As a fillip to the abortionist lobby I would recommend, the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”

We Will Vote IF…

That is why non-contentious issues are vital. One such is violence. State the case by issuing an ultimatum: we will vote if your party will sanction stiffer penalties for violence against women and a fully paid programme in schools to educate about such violence.  If not fully implemented we will vote against you or abstain in the mid-term elections. Therefore you pick the battles you want to fight.

We will vote, IF… the government puts forward a programme to smash poverty by introducing legislation to build homeless shelters in every state. Produce a remit to subsidize specific charities to provide food and clothing to the most needy. No child should go hungry in America! No child should go without an equal chance in America! The same applies for the whole of the western world. A minimum wage can be a crucial element.

The issue of a minimum wage can be a winner as evidence shows it already has support from both Democrat and Republican women. At present the minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25. A proposition in 2014 to increase it to $10.10 over a two year period was defeated in the Senate by the Republicans.

However, the Republican states of: Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all elected to increase their minimum wage.  This is a clear illustration that certain issues can bridge the gulf between the classes and race to gain cross political support. The measure would have affected 16.5 m workers and lifted 900,000 out of the poverty trap. A study of Claudia Goldin’s research might reveal a second route forward.

Furthermore, to have someone’s living standard dependant on the size of a tip is monstrous. It means that tipping becomes an expectation and a must, and, is thus an unfair burden on both the waiter and the diner. Surely the amount of a tip should be based on the quality of the meal and the standard of service and not as an obligation to help the worker survive.

It’s unbelievable that the worker gets around $2.13 an hour and has to make the rest up by tips. Does the owner of the establishment then take a cut if the tips go beyond the national minimum wage? The owner must be sitting in the back of the premises counting up his profit. Scrooge lives!

Further up the ladder would require legislative change to enforce employers to act accordingly with severe penalties if they do not. Example: Any employer found to be breaking the law should be made to pay full compensation to the employee- X – by the number of year’s service and face a fine of the equivalent of one year’s income for each employee affected, plus the cost of bringing the action.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimum_wage_in_the_United_States

child care

A simple must!

Child care is the one issue that affects every family though some much more than others. I was drawn to a TV news programme the 51% on France24.com. 31/01/17 The programme which focusses on women’s issues worldwide highlighted a growing dilemma for nations in Europe. Apparently women are having fewer children and a growing number are having none. This can be construed as a matter of choice but it has long term consequences.

The obvious downside is fewer young people which equates with less taxes = less to pay for pensions + less workers = less people available in care industry etc. The main solution was to greatly increase provision of affordable child care allowing more women to have a career and a family. It gives considerable credence to the view expressed by Johnathan Cohn cited earlier.

Discrimination against pregnant workers and new mothers is an ongoing problem. It should be a matter of law, an obligation of society, taken for granted that such provision is given. After all, were would we be without pregnant women? Again it requires government to get tough but it will only do so with your vote or threat of abstention.

Child care generally is patchy, haphazard and chaotic in places but its importance cannot be underestimated, “High quality early childhood programs are viewed by many educators as a critical way to help overcome the learning deficit many low-income kids face when they start kindergarten – an obstacle many never overcome”.

While 1.6 million families use federal subsidies the facilities and teaching are not always up to scratch. Overall there is $5 billion spent on subsidies but few reports on inspection or on background checks of the workers. www.cbsnews.com/news/review-finds-lax-child-care-rules-across-us

This investigation took place in 2013 and since then Obama has instituted a programme, Preschool for All with an estimated cost of $75bn over ten years, paid for by a tax increase on cigarettes. At the time over one (1) million were not receiving any preschool. The take up figures for those living below the poverty line was less than 50%. U.S. is one of the worse industrialised countries for preschool education and especially if your poor.

Moreover, Obama’s scheme has come under serious criticism from an educational specialist, Grover J. Whitehurst who argues that a study in Tennessee has more of, “…a positive effect on children’s social/emotional development”. He argues that Obama’s plan is lacklustre at best. Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN – VPK) is aimed at 4 year olds from low-income families.

https://thinkprogress.org/update-obama-budget-includes-75-billion-to-fund-preschool-for-all-initiative-83a77a17d8d8#.pe1z6ghdx

https://www.brookings.edu/research/new-evidence-raises-doubts-on-obamas-preschool-for-all/

Exploitation

There is a road so dark that only evil walks there, it’s the route of the people traffickers. It has to be the most despicable of all trades and this should be reflected in the punishment. A minimum of 30yrs in prison and all assets seized. Every nation should have special units that cooperate worldwide.

Any politician found to be involved must immediately stand down and all their assets seized even if it leaves their family without a home. Tough, but then they are the perpetrators of unimaginable misery.

This is a long term proposal over a ten (10) year period but action must be seen to be taken. It is also a critical issue because it mainly affects women and girls. If you can’t send out that message of hope – then go home.

The NOW organisation was founded in 1966 by 49 members of whom two were male. Only nine of the stalwarts are still active but seem to have their finger on the pulse.

Moreover, the folks at NOW might have a lot more to contribute to today’s organisers. What has inspired them to keep going all these years? What have they learned and what can they impart. There must be many stories about achievements and disappointments. There will also be lots of contacts; not forgetting the stored ability of those still standing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Organization_for_Women

http://now.org/

 

If the road was clear, with no traffic, then the women’s movement could march straight ahead gaining momentum as they pass each village and town. (Ghandi’s Salt March) Unfortunately, there are many actors who are cocksure of their direction and are adamant that their voice should rise above all others. They are a hindrance because they cannot hear the others sing. They are the soloist who feels superior to the choir.

It is these soloists that will hold back and eventually break a movement that holds a mountain of promise. They must be told to leave their baggage at the door. If they cannot burst their own bubble it must be broken for them.

There is abundant evidence that at grassroots there is massive support to push forward women’s issues. It is the collective noun that is the vital ingredient to the mix. There is an overwhelming wealth of talent out there, it would be a catastrophic failure to restrict it or allow it to fritter away. There is also solid evidence that a victory can be won by promoting a National Minimum Wage.

This is a win – win issue that can galvanize the whole movement and give heart to those on both sides of the track that all can contribute. It can be a significant stepping stone. Be careful Donald, there’s an army on your doorstep!

Vote or Abstain:  the power lies with you!

 

Democracy: Can it Survive?

 

Democracy holds more emotion in its wake than any other political theory. It has stimulated a considerable amount of discussion and hyperbole from the earliest philosophical writers to the present day. But the burning question is whether democracy can work, and, can it work for the majority of society or is it a pleasant guise for control by an elite?

Certainly, the thought of democracy has wetted the thinking of many writers considered among our best intellects over the centuries:

Plato: was not a fan as he condemned it “… followed citizens’ impulses.” rather than the common good.

Nietzsche: was not enamoured either, he wanted to be, “… beyond the lowlands of the herd conscience.”

Machiavelli: likewise; as the intellects would be the prisoner of the “whims of the people”.

Charles Maurras: believed we should accept that we have, “natural hierarchies”.

JS Mill: was concerned by, “…the moral coercion of public opinion” that the individual was sovereign and bemoaned the ‘tyranny of the majority’.

www.serendipity.li/jsmill/jsmill.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-democratic_thought

Without being disparaging these were yesterday’s men with yesterday’s prejudices, when the very concept of democracy held a fear of control by the ‘herd’. Mill’s focus on the individual is little more than a scream of a narcissist. Along with the others mentioned their fear was brought on by the prospect of the uneducated rabble who survived in vermin infested hovels having jurisdiction over them.

They saw no potential in the hoi polloi. They simply looked at the uneducated mass and contrasted that with their own highly educated self and, were blinded by that fear and blatant snobbery.

Would a look at a more modern picture reveal a more sympathetic view?

Robert Michels: opined “… that democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of a particular elite…” He suggested that democracy naturally slides into an oligarchy. He himself moved from being a socialist to become a fascist. Can we see a trend?

Rabbi Elazar Shach: had no doubts, “Democracy is a machinery of lies, false notions, pursuit of narrow interests and deceit.” His preference was to follow the teachings of the Torah.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_to_democracy

Not much succour there for believers so let’s come right up to date:

A study carried out by Martin Gilens & Benjamin Page (2014) concluded that the majority of the American public had little influence on U.S. government policy. I have encountered that view several times and have raised it on previous posts.

A more damning assault on the weakness of democracy comes from ex U.S. president Jimmy Carter (2015) who is reputed to have said that the USA is now “… an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.” Wow! Don’t mince your words Jimmy. Again, it is a slight that has its own choir of substance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oligarchy

We have come across the term oligarchy a few times and can now add other nouns such as plutocracy and fascism.

  • Fascism – strict rule by a leader & a small group of supporters.
  • Oligarchy – government by a small group.
  • Plutocracy – government by the wealthy.

Political scientists and sociologists will no doubt condemn me but the terms come across as much of a muchness. Or to put it more informally – money talks!

The political class will scream and bring forward an array of quotes from notables to try to establish that they don’t fit into any of the categories above. The social democrats in particular will holler their disapproval of any such characterization. In response I would suggest that they look in the mirror and learn the true insightfulness of reflection. They have ruled, especially in Europe for the last few decades, so anything that has gone wrong has done so under their watch, e.g. the rise of fascism and far-right groups.

“…extremism flourishes in an environment in which respectable voices offer no solutions as the population suffers.” Paul Krugman (p19) End This Depression NOW!

We’ve had ex-president Jimmy Carter, Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, so let’s hear from political philosopher Noam Chomsky. “It’s getting so that when I hear the word ‘democracy’ uttered by a politician or government official I automatically reach for my BS detector.”          Chomsky – Language and Responsibility There are a whole, whole lot of people do exactly the same as Chomsky.

So nobody likes democracy from the educated of the past to the educated of the present. What shall we do? Dump it in the rubbish can or just leave it to rot. For me, sitting on the next to bottom rung of the ladder of power (big ladder), I say keep it. As it has not yet completed its cycle.

There are weaknesses but there are in all political philosophies. There are also solid strengths as experienced in 2016 with the march of ordinary joe who shocked the political establishment with their voting power.

The body blow to the political class in UK, USA and Italy is a very hopeful sign, though a move to the right it was not a bridge to far. A thoughtful and inclusive campaign can swing things around.

A further strength of democracy is the ability to remove poor governments and the dirtbags whose back pocket is weighing them down. The system while open to abuse is also open to voices of descent and those who aspire to a good society. It’s just unfortunate that the latter voices cannot sing in harmony and as a choir.

Note what Charles Handy (p89) writes, “In a democratic culture, if it is not to degenerate into a battle between interest groups, it is particularly crucial that we find a common cause.”               Handy – Empty Raincoat

False Hope

To this end the social democrats and the general left of the British political scene probably thought they had found a ‘common cause’ with their promotion of political correctness (PCism). They were very wrong. It may have been perceived as a positive step forward towards a good society but it was clumsily introduced and implemented as tactfully as a bulldozer at a F1 race.

One can’t condemn fascism and communism as totalitarian regimes then seek to impose a political agenda, even if that agenda may be construed as for the common good. But to then lacerate opponents and doubters with vile accusations and, invoke the law to enforce its acceptance is hypocritical. It is not equality at work.

Any political agenda which is imposed may be considered as totalitarian. “What is a totalitarian regime but one in which variety of opinion is suppressed and conformity to a particular ideology is enforced.”  Catherine Rowett, www.academia.edu/1766239/A_dangerous_opponent_of_democracy

A more moderate view of PCism comes from Graham Good – University of British Columbia: “… it catches a certain kind of self-righteous and judgmental tone in some and a pervasive anxiety in others…”   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_correctness

It may be shrouded in Karl Popper’s term ‘piecemeal social engineering’. Others may liken it to B.F. Skinner’s (1904-1990) view that society should develop ways to condition people to behave in a more appropriate way.  Book: Walden Two 1948

Some will associate it with George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (p241 (Appendix)) and his version of Newspeak, which was devised, “…to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism.” The sole purpose of Newspeak was to, “…to make all other modes of thought impossible.”

http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/piecemeal-social-engineering

Nonetheless, many right-wing activists believe that PCism is ‘indoctrination’ an attempt at ‘brainwashing’. Can the left in politics answer this view without being curt, inflammatory and dismissive? Dialogue is our only way forward in a positive vein.

Moreover, PCism was introduced throughout the western world. This would suggest a concerted and determined plan to impose it by the social democrat political elite. However, their haste was their undoing because they never took the time to talk it through with the electorate which suggests a contempt for ordinary joe. This fervent flurry to have it implemented and cemented before the likelihood of political change may have forced their hand to try to secure it with the weight of the law.

The law may remain in force, even after political change and, will stop people from openly voicing an opinion but will not change their mental attitude. The use of the law will foster resentment and that resentment will fester. The cost will be high.

There is a considerable loss of trust between the people and their elected representatives, admittedly, not solely due to PCism but it is a serious nail in the democratic coffin. Other costs include:

  • A decided move to the right in politics.
  • The rise of fascist parties in Europe.
  • People ‘feel’ the contempt of the political class.
  • Division in society.
  • A set back in the quest for a good society.

Of serious concern is that once people move to the extreme right in politics they very rarely move back to the centre ground. They become entrenched.

A chasm has opened between those in favour and those against PCism. A vehement opposition has emerged. In some parts of America it has reached fever pitch, with radio talk show hosts lambasting PCism at every opportunity and shows like South Park taking the mickey. It has given the right in politics a ready-made platform from which to pillory the left.

Jokes about PCism may not be heard much on television in the UK but are common in local pubs and clubs. And every time a silly case gains media attention it reinforces the held view and encourages others to join in.

Such a rallying of opposing loud hailers may appear as a positive thing for a healthy democracy but it is not. Entrenchment on either side makes it nigh impossible to find common ground, and a ‘common cause’. Thus the advocates of political correctness may have set back the very principle of equality because they failed to make it inclusive.

Call me a cynical conspiracy theorist but could the failure have been deliberate. In order to maintain the alliance of the political class and business interests and the windfall that comes from corruption.

Without doubt democracy has many challenges but still has room for development. In my opinion PCism is an exemplary example of the dangers inherent in democracy; it was too one sided and the brain child of a cabal of thinkers. The result is that we have factions of right and left at loggerheads or at worse entrenched and bitter.

People Power?

The weaknesses of democracy are apparent if we re-examine the views expressed earlier. We can dismiss the fear of the ‘intellects’ of the past as their vision of despair did not materialize. On the other hand there is a degree of truth in the more modern analyses.

Michels view that democracy is a ‘façade’ for rule by an elite is insightful. If we think in terms of the political class and the present feeling of alienation by the people, that gives credence to Michels’ observation. However, we do have opposition parties and organizations; perhaps not as strong as they should be but that could have as much to do with our lack of involvement as their whispered voice.

We can add to the voice of Michels the study of Gilens and Page and their conclusion that the electorate of America have ‘little influence’ on government policy. The obvious point being made is that the public are simply ignored. That being the case gives credence to Michels other contention that democracy slides into oligarchy.

I would lump together Rabbi Shach’s view on ‘deceit’ with Jimmy Carter’s condemnation of ‘bribery’. They both contend that corruption is rife in the political hierarchy. We should all be aware that corruption plagues our political system. It’s as widespread as trees in a woodland. There is not a country in the world which you could say was squeaky clean. Daunting, isn’t it?

In America, supposedly the great democracy corruption is second nature to the politicians. It is given the name ‘clientelism’ which simply means; you scratch – I scratch and both our backs are covered because the money given to my campaign is just a donation. And my vote for particular legislation is that I support it. A whole lot of $millions is involved.

The problem is so embedded in India that the government has recently changed its currency; new notes for old in an attempt to flush out corruption. As the Indian government has recognised corruption harms the economy. Good luck. However, we should take our hat off to them for such a bold move. Good to see some politicians with a large degree of bottle.

Another positive story comes from South Korea where the president Park Geun-hye has been impeached on bribery charges. The head of Samsung has also been questioned (for 22 hrs) about donations totalling around $25.5 million. The authorities are now trying to secure an arrest warrant for the head of Samsung. President Park’s future will be decided by their constitutional court.

China has only recently set up a new agency to investigate the agency they initially established to counter the growth in corruption. It makes me think it’s a lot like a dog trying to catch its own tail.

A more recent example comes from a report in the Daily Mail January 11 2017. The story outlined that a businessman flew $500,000 in a private jet to Liberia, Africa to bribe two officials in order to have the law changed to suit his mining company.

One more case to hit the headlines is that of Rolls Royce the engine manufacturer. Several areas of the media have given it some prominence with its fine of £641m or around $810m for bribing foreign officials to secure contracts. Daily Mail 2017/01/17

The Guardian claims that along with the BBC they exposed the scandal in October 2016. However, the investigation had been on-going since 2012 with the cooperation of the company. The good thing is that it was exposed. Let’s have a monthly column on corruption in all media.

These are but a few examples and as already alluded to there are few clean bums in the political world. On a serious note we should listen to J. Stiglitz (p165)  “Corruption undermines faith in our democracy.”  The Price of Inequality

What should we do next? It seems like an impossible task to rid the system of the pirates. It’s especially difficult in that we need the existing politicians to implement a programme of corruption busting. Progress is being made based on the evidence above. Fighting corruption is a big job which requires a considerable amount of mental strength and the belief that ending corruption is essential work.

I’ve illustrated with the examples of India and South Korea that it is possible and that there are good guys out there. I’m also of the opinion that there is considerable mileage for politicians to pick up the cudgel against corruption.

Can democracy be saved?? Will the Fantastic Four come to its rescue? The Guardians of the Universe! James Bond, even? Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the fantasy world to help us.

Though I’m reminded of an old movie I watched on TV; it was Michael Douglas playing the role of the American President, Andrew Shepard. He’s addressing the assembled press and uses a one liner which struck me as apt: “Democracy isn’t easy” and goes on to attack his republican opponent Bob somebody.

And that’s the reality, democracy isn’t easy. I wish I had a blueprint, all the answers but I come up against the pure logic of Karl Popper The Open Society. He argues, correctly, that there can’t be a blueprint that we cannot lay down a set path that people will follow because we want them to. If we can agree on something, then let’s have a go, see if it works, if not change it. It’s a slow process but eventually we get to where we hope is a good society. That should be our common cause.

I’m encouraged by the electoral votes of 2016 and hope that the movement continues into 2017 in both France and Germany. I just hope that the political elite can hear the alarm go off.

I was struck by the speech that British Prime Minister Theresa May gave at the UN in September 2016 when she reminded the assembled that:

“We must never forget that we stand here, at this United Nations, as servants of the men and women that we represent back home.”

Colour me surprised but intrigued by her reference to representation, which was positive. But the bit that got my real attention was the use of the word ‘servants’. Was this purposeful as a means to curry favour back home, an ideological slip or a clear understanding of what democracy should look like. Of course, as a believer I hope it was the latter and like me she is a true disciple. Arrrh! My cynical personality is coming out!!!!

Nonetheless, we know in which direction we need to go, for our sakes, for our children and our grandchildren. Let’s keep our common cause in mind every time we vote or want to voice an opinion. Our motto: we know where we’re going. If politicians or businessmen don’t want to come along – stuff them. A good society is too important to be side tracked by the merchants of greed.

We must also be aware that we can’t get everything we want. Let’s walk and talk and see where it leads us.

 

 

 

The Rape of the Poor

 

Try not to live as a pretender,

But so try to manage your affairs

That you are loved by wide expanses,

And hear the call of future years.

Boris Pasternak – It is not Seemly to be Famous – stanza 3

It is now well documented that while the super rich have grown richer the poor have travelled in the opposite direction. According to several economic writers the blame lies squarely with the neo-liberal economic model*, and, that its demise signals the last rites for capitalism. It’s a stretch to suggest that because one economic model has failed that we must prepare for a new world order.

However, there is one truth and that is that the poor have been raped. They have been raped of income, of opportunity, of prospects, of their self-esteem and of their very dignity. Let’s draw our picture with a few succinct and powerful quotes from notable writers.

The USA, under neoliberalism, boosted profits by impoverishing its own citizens.” Paul Mason (p19)1

“…income inequality has reached extreme levels not seen since the 1920s, and before that, the 1890s.” James Rickards (p236)2

The general thrust of these quotes are supported by other economists that I have previously quoted in earlier posts: Stiglitz, Chang, Rodrik, and Krugman. There can be no doubt that the poor have not kept pace with the distribution of wealth that has been generated. The push to globalization and its fellow rider free trade have cost the poor of the western nations much.

*www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism    

 Multinationals have simply used their capital to invest elsewhere, mostly in Asia and China in particular, to utilise the cheap and at times slave labour. A prime example, quoted in several books is that of Apple. This company pays to have its phones etc. manufactured in China by cheap labour but when the finished product comes back to USA and Europe, Apple charge a price that would equate to the phones being manufactured in America or Europe. The company makes huge profits from such an arrangement. Huge!

We are all now aware why the big boys have been promoting globalization and free trade; it’s of great benefit to their profit margin. The rest of the populace can go take a hike!

Banksy

But wait! The hoi polloi have not sauntered off with their cap between their legs. No, they’ve used their democratic right to vote against the elite. They have done what our politicians have been afraid to do.

Stunned, the elite stare in amazement at the audacity of the low-life. Some have voiced their anger at this popular wave of sentiment: the Brexit vote in UK, the Trump victory and the referendum outcome in Italy. Shit! they cry. The bastards are ganging up on us! However, the real reason is that the elite have been blinkered by “decades of denial” Rickards (p230) Paul Mason (p258)

Nonetheless, the elite have sent out their Stormtroopers to defend their rights. Politicians of various hues have marched to the given tune. Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission has made it clear that events should not be dictated by populism. John Major, ex-Prime Minister of Britain bemoaned the “tyranny of the majority” (John Stuart Mill 1859). Meanwhile, Labour MP Chuka Umunna, speaking on the BBC News channel spoke of the “elective dictatorship”.

·         These little men are so full of their own self-importance.

Let’s try and explain to these political hacks why populism is so in vogue:

“Once the election is over, voters are ignored and winning elites carry out preconceived plans”. Rickards (p238) Ring a bell? Been here before?

This leads nicely to philosopher Michael Sandel, (p13) 3

“Disillusion with politics has deepened as citizens grow frustrated with a political system unable to act for the public good, or address the questions that matter most”.

I would make one quibble with Sandel with his use of the word ‘unable’; I would have used the adjective ‘unwilling’.

Michael Sandel’s book was published in 2012 and was probably written therefore in 2011, if not before. Five years later and the elite still had not grasped the significance of what was happening right under their noses! The logical explanation is that they couldn’t give a shit. And now the shit has hit the fan!

One can only learn if willing to. It seems our political masters are unwilling. Their attack on democracy, for that’s what it amounts to, is a clear attempt to diminish the power of the majority. We cannot as a society, have a democracy that does not adhere to the majority vote, whether we agree with the vote or not. Let those who talk of the “tyranny of the majority” stand up and demand a dictatorship.

I appreciate that Karl Popper in his work the Open Society had a dilemma accepting a majority vote in favour of a fascist party. My response to his concern is that society should never get so low down that it is faced with such a prospect. A democratic society has failed if it reaches that stage.

In the midst of a crisis people hanker for a solution, a solution with the least trouble. The question is should people push forward in a direction of which they are unsure, full of doubt but advised to dare. Or will people be more cautious and look for something vaguely familiar or perhaps rely on the political party that appears to know what it wants and how to get everyone there. The road to fascism!

Democracy: The Only Road Forward

In the general election of 2015 in the UK, the Conservative Party polled 36.9% of the public vote and secured power as the next government. The Labour Party won 30.4% of the popular vote and is now trying to override a majority decision of 52% that voted to leave the EU.

The Scottish nationalist with 4.7% of the national vote are busy screaming in alto from the upper circle; joined by the Liberals who saw their percentage of the vote fall by a staggering 16%. The refrain of this unlikely choir is, ‘All we are saying, is let’s stay in’. They’ll still be singing as the gravy train goes rolling down the track – out of sight.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results

We have reached an impasse, will the political class respond positively and accept that the times are changing or must they be pushed to the wayside. Will it be the death knell of capitalism as espoused by Paul Mason and James Rickards? There is little doubt that neoliberal policies have proved a nightmare for the overwhelming majority. Those at the top end of the table had a feast out of neoliberalism. The question is are they now willing to share?

Perchance they will remain in denial as both Rickards and Mason state. If so what are the consequences? I doubt the elite can carry on much longer on their present course. The deep frustration with the elite will turn increasingly to anger which will beget activist groups taking up the cause of the people.

Such a scenario will not strengthen the elite as the use of force against these factions will break down quickly. It will not bring out the silent majority against the perpetrators. That old reliance was only solid when there was trust and most people felt good about their lifestyle. The rise of populism is a clear indication that many are genuinely feeling downtrodden.

Many of the elite may feel just as Mitt Romney does, “…inequality is the kind of thing that should be discussed quietly and privately.” J Stiglitz (p33)4  Those days I’m afraid are gone, if they ever existed outside the comfort of elite homes and country clubs.

Winter for all Seasons

According to Paul Mason (p262) quoting from a survey from the OECD that world development will be weak for the next 50 years and that inequality will rise by an estimated 40%. If these figures are anywhere near accurate then winter is going to be all year round for the poor. And if winter is all year round people are going to get mighty fed-up! Guy Fawkes might get reinvented for real.

Mason also states that the only way to keep globalization and free trade is by having the costs borne by the poor. Again if he is right – its winter! He gains support for his view from James Rickards (p227) who argues, “Yet free markets and free trade are flawed in theory, non-existent in practice.”

This assertion is proven when we look again at the practises of Apple and other conglomerates. Such businesses gain comparative advantage because their money buys more in China and the cheap labour make it a double whammy. China also gains comparative advantage by having the investment and the jobs. Who loses? The workers in America and other western nations!

Further examples are the manipulation of the Chinese currency the yuan or of their interest rates. Other nations have also made great use of the manipulation of both as well as the corporate tax which for example, is due to reduce from 28% in 2010 to 17% in the UK by 2020. Therefore there are no free markets or free trade; everything has a fix.

Nonetheless, the lack of truly free markets or trade does not spell the end of capitalism. The system has witnessed upheaval before, several times, and by hook or crook the system has mutated or morphed and we carry on. In living memory for some is the horror of the 1920s and 1930s – ‘Buddy can you spare me a dime’.

Another period of uncertainty was in 1968 when many of the young at the time believed they were on the brink of revolution particularly in France. In the USA there was the anti-Vietnam protests, civil rights, the rise of the Black Panther movement, and woman’s lib. The Prague Spring, trouble was brewing all over the world. “Many protests were a direct response to perceived injustices…”

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_of_1968

Most recently the 2008 financial crash has kicked many, right where it hurts. Ouch!

What is increasingly likely is turmoil in the EU. The euro () has never been stable and the single market is hurting many countries. These nations: Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland among their number have been on the receiving end of the slump that followed the 2008 crash. For eight (8) years they have held to the philosophy of the single market but, and it’s a big but, for how much longer.

Paul Mason (p261) argues that the EU is just one ‘political accident’ away from collapse. In this I would be in agreement with him. The self-interest of politicians from one of the nations mentioned above may be the trigger in a struggle to stay in power.  Moreover, the euro () was a political construct not a financial one and therefore weak from, GO. The bureaucracy is too big, and wields too much political power. A bureaucracy should never hold political influence; otherwise we enter the realm of Stalin.

However, any possible collapse can and should be managed. The EU needs to reinvent itself and those in power must surely be aware of the need for radical reform. The euro is but a starting point. It’s about the political class’s ability to face reality. If not – KA-POW!

Moreover, Mason and Rickards are not the first economic writers to predict the fall of capitalism. Joseph Schumpeter (1883 – 1950) had a whole school of economics named after him and prophesied the evolution of capitalism into socialism. It didn’t happen, as you are aware.

Schumpeter recognised that capitalism adapted and adopted but felt that the very nature of the system and the changes it goes through would cause its mutation.  Schumpeter  termed it ‘creative destruction’ thus the process of regular change and the growth of multinationals and management teams would stymie the entrepreneur, as a result  the system  would lose its dynamism and, the bureaucracy and the State would play a greater part in the new socialist world.

Of course others preceded Schumpeter. We can look back to Marx and Engels, to the world of Lenin and Trotsky, to Mao and the likes of Ho Chi Minh. With the exclusion of Marx and Engels, the other attempts at the promised land directed by the state from the centre came crashing down. The failure in all these enterprises was the insistence on ‘democratic centralism’ – basically the central committee told everyone what to do. It was the vision of the Politburo or nothing.

The other side of the coin of failure was trying to control development and trade in a predominately capitalist world. In essence they could not compete which forced their leaders to become increasingly totalitarian. And as usual the workers paid the price!

Market Economy?

Nonetheless, the state has a role in the capitalist system. Neoliberalism may want a minimalist state but we’ve never heard the big boys moan when regularly bailed out. In every economic downturn or crash as in 1929 and 2008 the state stepped in with tax payers’ money to prevent the catastrophe that would have followed in consequence.

Ha-Joon Chang (p456)5 is adamant that the state has a crucial role and may even be critical in maintaining a society for the public good. “The economy is much bigger than the market. We will not be able to build a good economy-or a good society-unless we look at the vast expanse beyond the market.” He cites Herbert Simon of the Behaviourist School, that 80% of economic activity happens inside organizations not in the market. (p159)

So what can the state do to help rebuild our broken economy? Many jobs can be created by investment especially by improving infrastructure: build more and better roads etc. Even Donald Trump threatens to help America get going again by infrastructure programmes.   

Retreat is another way to help our economy, retreat to the Bretton Woods agreement of July 1944 and claw back the free rein given to the banking sector through deregulation by Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Perhaps there’s a need for another clever intervention as with the New Deal 1933-1938 which held back the growing tide of anger at the depth and extent of poverty at the time. Of course the economy really took off with the Second World War but I’m not advocating a third.

The Bretton Woods agreement was an attempt to bring lasting stability to the world economy, and it worked until dismantled. The team which drafted the programme described the world of finance as “…a casino instead of a driver of economic well-being.” Rodrik (p97)6 Rodrik (p111) after examining a lot of evidence, stated, “The inevitable conclusion is that financial globalization has failed us.”  

Trade globalization can also be restricted and more power shifted to domestic governments. Let’s leave it to economist Ha-Joon Chang (p446) to lay down the case for a rethink:

“In the last three decades of hyper-globalization, economic growth has slowed down, inequality has increased, and financial crises have become far more frequent in most countries.”

Michael Sandel (p64) adds, “Economists often assume that markets do not touch or taint the goods they regulate. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark on social norms. Often, market incentives erode or crowd out nonmarket incentives.”

Sandel argues that to put a price on everything diminishes the human interaction. He gives several examples such as the selling of kidneys and blood. Such enterprises hurt the lower class the most; it is therefore unfair, as here survival often necessitates the action. His philosophy demolishes the logic of neoliberal economists that we are all motivated by self-interest.

The trafficking of women and children for sex is a clear example. The kidnappers / sellers are self –interested as are the men who pay to use these unfortunates. But can it ever be justified? Would we or should we ever permit it as a legitimized trade transaction?

The human factor cannot be discounted from any understanding of how the world works. Money is but one example of a motivator. However, it’s also regarded as the ‘root of all evil’. Somebody knew something. Economists don’t like nouns like ‘altruism’ because they can’t quantify it and therefore can’t add it to their constructed model.

Let’s refer once again to the philosopher Michael Sandel (p130)

“Altruism, generosity, solidarity, and civic spirit are not like commodities that are depleted by use. They are more like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise. One of the defects of a market-driven society is that it lets these virtues languish.”

This is an area that I don’t think Mason has fully taken on board; emotion is a most powerful part of our makeup and can lead us in many directions. I’m thinking of religion and its hold over people and their decision making. Any move to socialism may be blocked, unless we let God in, because religion can be very intractable.

Obviously, the market is not all that the neoliberal /classical economists would have us believe. But is the capitalist system doomed as Mason and Rickards suggest. I have an alternative view of what is taking place. I believe it’s a war of the elites.

Clash of the Titans

Wealth creation has a direct relation with power and consequently the Middle East has become one of the richest areas on the planet. Therefore, presumably, it could become the prime powerhouse of the globe and its elite the most powerful group. Add to that scenario the emergence of China and its record breaking productivity which casts it into a power player. Then of course, we have the West, led by America.

On the outskirts of this game lies Russia, rejected by the elite of the West because Putin won’t play ball by the set rules. Putin cannot be trusted to conform to the big picture. So, Russia gets up to as much mischief as it can in an attempt to be heard and still retain some credibility as a big player.

So here we have it, three main players at the table and an outcast screeching on a bench nearby. The Middle East has vast wealth and can turn on a tap to get as much as it wants. China has been accumulating significant wealth over the last few decades and can screw its people for more if needed – bang goes their saving plans.

The West has a fair back up but needed a whole lot more, hence the rape of the poor. It needed to replenish the coffers to make the banker feel good. But the West had an ace up its sleeve; it could cause big trouble in little China and particularly in the Middle East.

War! The Iraq war was only partially about oil and more about destabilizing the region. The Arab world was then encouraged to turn against each other. In Libya, under the guise of introducing democracy the West invaded – the nation is still torn apart. A similar ploy was utilized in Syria. For generations the different brothers of Islam, Shiite and Sunni lived in calm cohesion, now there is nothing but killing of their brothers.

 China has built a powerful industrial base but this has been on the back of Western capital. The multinationals can at any time transfer their allegiance back to their home nation leaving China with a major industrial wasteland.

It may seem that the West have the resource to come out on top. Perhaps, but the rise of populism has taken the gloss off their cosy abode, unless they come up with something new damp and rot will set in and they could lose any advantage.

Therefore the contention is that the world is in trouble because the elites are at war. Once this battle is resolved it will be back to business. Thus capitalism is not falling apart; it is being used by the elites to fight their respective corner.

There is so much more to this theory: industrial espionage, the deliberate interference on manufacturing of products. In this war some industrial giants are being forced to recall damaged goods which have been sabotaged, costing them $ millions. It’s nasty out there!

Notwithstanding, neoliberalism has proven a disaster movie: the steadfast, independent and strong individual (read – elites) have fought off the greedy bandits’ (read –poor) and secured world domination. Not quite! Ordinary Joe is back with a new army armed with the knowledge that:

·         Financial globalization has failed

·         Trade globalization has failed

·         That inequality has greatly increased.

The people want a better managed, more fair, more decent society than the ‘grab what you can mentality’ of the present system. Citizens want a ‘civic spirit’; they want to flex those ‘muscles’ to strengthen the positive values to take us forward. The people want a fair share of the goods they help produce.

So we are getting close to the crossroads, there will be change but I don’t think it will be revolutionary, it will be a while yet before the end to the capitalist system. Capitalism will not meld or morph into socialism; we are simply not ready intellectually for that stage of development. How damned unfortunate!

Instead governments will spend as Keynes advised. They will also introduce a degree of protectionism while continuing to promote free trade. Currency, corporate tax and interest rates will be manipulated. The financial world will be regulated as before. This will be a period of stabilizing the economy. Government investment will become a crucial element in future development.

Much may be determined by the political class. Whether they have the nous to change, the strength of will, the character, and a sense of civic duty. Or will they besmirch the aspirations of the people and cry foul as have British politicians over the Brexit vote.

We move on, perhaps a tad slower than before but hopefully happier.

1.       Paul Mason        POSTCAPITALISM A Guide to our Future.

2.       James Rickards The Road to Ruin

3.       Michael Sandel                 What Money Can’t Buy

4.       J.E.Stiglitz            The Price of Inequality

5.       Ha-Joon Chang Economics: The User’s Guide

6.       Dani Rodrik         The Globalization Paradox

 

Populism: Let’s Celebrate?

 

Robber Barons

Robber Barons

Populism arises from the dissatisfaction of the people at the back end of the train. It’s a long train. We have all participated in the building of society therefore we should all share in the benefits. It is not a case of envy but of right. The popular vote is a warning salvo; a means to give a good shake to the elite and political class. Will the gruesome twosome listen or will the people have to push harder. Time will tell!

Decisions have to be taken by the political class as to how the river will meander. Politicians have to understand that the people want a decent life with as little hassle as is possible. They want more transparency from the state. They also want easy access, to what might be defined as everyday things. They want their children to have better prospects than they experience, therefore social mobility is crucial.

Moreover, the demands of the poor are not an attempt at robbery, nor is it about taxing the rich till they bleed. However, the wealthy may like to pay the full tax they should. And if the State has to come and get the tax, let there be stiff penalties. There is little thought at the moment of the guillotine being wheeled out but there is an anger borne of frustration of the daily grinding of the millwheel but having barely a crust to eat.

Populism is just one consequence of inequality. A whole economic argument has been written by J.E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality. He like others, Ha-Joon Chang* and Paul Krugman* have highlighted the growing disparity since the 1980s. As the latter states, “… the income of the typical family grew much less after 1980 than before”. While Chang and others suggest that inequality creates barriers to economic growth by restricting social mobility.*Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide (p320)

*Krugman, End This Depression NOW (p73)

child from the streetsBy not mobilizing the 80% who don’t get a fair shot at a top class education we fail, we fail because we don’t know what talent awaits discovery. We fail because many poorly educated end up in prison. We fail because we have failed to listen and failed to act.

 

The experience of the poor throughout the world has led to a mountain of distrust. Therefore an initial step for the political class is to give clear indications that this rift will be healed. I accept that this will be difficult for career politicians whose hand has never been far from the till. Such characters must be weeded out. Perhaps we need to think in terms of a fixed term for holding office, say 15 years after which they must stand down?

I can well understand why the ‘gruesome twosome’ have misgivings about populism. They may well concur with the view, “… while a wing of scholarship in political science contends that populist mass movements are irrational and introduce instability into the political process”. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populism

There may be a tad of logic in that opinion but only in that such ‘irrational’ behaviour and ‘instability’ upset the status quo. And if the status quo is upset what was the underlining cause? Obviously the system has gone skew-whiff. Who would have made it so? I suggest the ‘gruesome twosome’ ask the mirror. A question on the political bias of the writers also needs to be asked.

Notwithstanding, the wealthy may hide behind the notion of the ‘ideas man’ that as they thought of the idea or solution ergo they should reap their just dessert. However, in discussing such a scenario Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)* adds some thinking to that weak logic when suggesting a clearer view of events.

The scenario:

people need to get their goods from point A to point B so a businessman came up with the idea of a railway but before the businessman could stash the cash, Emerson restrains him by reminding him, “The human race has gone out before him, sunk the hills, filled the hollows, and bridged the rivers”. Ergo!

*Emerson Representative Men 1850 – published in English Critical Essays, Edmund D. Jones (ed:) p459

The Scam!

The term rip-off looms large in the thinking of the general populace. It seems that everywhere they look Fagan is in the shadows. Ben Goldacre, Bad Science (p208) illustrates this with an incidence in the pharmaceutical industry concerning SSRI drugs, an antidepressant. He tells us that the data from the trials of the drugs was purposely delayed, being issued much later than expected. When the trials were issued data that suggested that the drug might be dangerous was hidden deep in the blurb. Also buried was data that suggested it was no better than placebo.

Another fleecing example comes from an unusual source the crime novelist Michael Connelly.* The character Micky Haller explains to his daughter about the sheer number of foreclosures in the housing market as a result of the 2008 financial crisis:

“These lenders all want their money back and so some of them do bad things and some of them hire people to do bad things. They lie and cheat and they take away people’s houses without doing it fairly or under the law”.

*Connelly, The Fifth Witness (p65) Good read.

Hence, one might start to grasp the sense of betrayal building in the gut of thethHCBKO3M8 people. Unsurprisingly, many feel used and abused. These incidents in the pharmaceutical industry and the sub-prime scandal demonstrate a considerable degree of contempt by the wealthy against society.

Moreover, the propaganda or spin lays the weight of the blame on the people themselves or the most deprived sections of society. It’s all the fault of the workshy or those fiddling social security payments.

Thus there seems little room for engagement as the ‘gruesome twosome’ appear entrenched in their attitude. However, if contempt is allowed to fester the democratic route to righting wrongs may hit a serious buffer. The big boys who find themselves in the first class carriage need to reflect long and hard on the way forward, and find an avenue towards a just society. The answer is out there!

I will happily direct them to some good reading material. Bryan Magee, Popper (p78) highlights Karl Popper’s view of a good democracy, “… free institutions, especially those which enable the ruled to effectively criticize their rulers and to change them without bloodshed”.

Another philosopher Michael Sandel, Justice (p266) adds a crisp point, “Too great a gap between rich and poor undermines the solidarity that democratic citizenship requires”. Now that’s a piece of craftsmanship. In essence a better distribution of the wealth that is generated can help keep the peace.

The question is, can on old dog learn a new trick? Mitt Romney a presidential candidate in 2012 suggested that the poor suffer from ‘envy’. Chang (p318) Of course the people rejected him; little surprise there. Romney just doesn’t get it, perhaps an illustration from the consummate thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson might help to enlighten him and others of his ilk.

While discussing the genius of Shakespeare, Emerson explores the reality, “In point of fact, it appears that Shakespeare did owe debts in all directions,…”. He cites the contribution of Malone and others past and present. And as John Donne said much earlier, 1624 “No man is an island”.

Nonetheless, as evidence of their righteousness the wealthy cite the fact that the majority of economists believe in individualism of the libertarian (republican) belief. That a nation should be based economically as a minimalist state, that the state should not pass any policy without consulting all the people. The state did, the people elected Trump! Happy?!

Furthermore, the concept of individualism is so tempting; we like to think of ourselves as special. But if we can grasp the significance of what Ralph Waldo Emerson is saying then we can recognise that in the social environment (not biological) we do not stand alone but are reliant on many others.

This body of economists also put forward the idea that all consumers are rational shoppers. Poppycock! The argument that shoppers are rational stems from a badly constructed model. There are numerous restrictions and ploys which come into play concerning shopping:

  • Education level
  • Income level
  • The £/$ billions spent on advertising by all industry
  • Sales, special deals, Black Friday, January sales. Fashion

Anyone who looks at the annual fashion splurge has to admit that there’s nothing rational about shoppers. The extent of consumer debt aided by, the have plastic, will spend attitude. Businesses would have to be stupid to spend £/$ billions on advertising their goods if the shoppers could not be convinced to buy their product and not an alternative.

Many of the multinational businesses spend £/$ billions building a ‘brand’ name e.g. Nike – to convince the customer that their product is a sound buy.

Indeed, it is worrying that the ‘gruesome twosome’ and their acolytes suffer from a serious dose of groupthink. The problem with groupthink is that it is dangerous, and, so it has proved. Note what Dr Nicky Hayes* says about the condition, “… the consequences of groupthink can be disastrous”. Shall I mention the 2008 financial crisis again? Oops!  *Hayes Understand Psychology (p137)

 

th1b2fvzdtThere is a clear justification for harping on about the financial crisis (there I go again) because the same gang of economists advised governments to implement a package of measures we now call ‘austerity’. Another term for austerity is ‘CUT’! Millions of people’s lives have been affected. Youth unemployment is 25%+ in Spain, 40% in Italy, nearly 20% in France, eight years on. Eight years and people are still struggling to make ends meet.

The latter are the ‘jam’ guys but there’s nothing sweet about their troubles. This group of the population are ‘just about managing’ (JAM) to survive on their meagre income. Eight years on!

So forgive me if I have little time for these economists. Their concept of the minimalist state would have left the world in a diabolical mess following the crisis had it not been for government intervention. Francis Fukuyama* shoots from the hip when he states: “If the state did not control the richest and most powerful elites in society, the latter would appropriate and misuse the political system at everyone else’s expense”.Fukuyama Political Order and Political Decay (p56)

Governments have more to concern themselves with than an economic model. Thank goodness!

We have come a long way but not very far. If you read Robert Roberts* a sense of horror makes you ever so sad and at once angry at the extent of destitution in the UK 95 years ago. Tens of thousands of destitute souls where sent to live and work in the workhouses, a place, generally recognised as hell. It is difficult to get national figures because the poor were dealt with at the local level. *Roberts:  The Classic Slum

Today we see ourselves as more fortunate, there are no workhouses. However, destitution has not gone out of our lives. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundationth6xovw9al there are an approximate 1.25 million destitute people in the country, 300,000 of which are children. The destitute are classified by certain measures: someone who can’t afford the basic essentials they need to eat, keep clean and stay warm and dry. www.jrf.org.uk/press/destitute-uk

 

Changes need to be made; the road to a just society cannot be allowed to rut for another 100 years! And the change must come from the elite and political class. It is incumbent upon them to show willing and to deliver in the short and long term. Let their bedtime reading include all those mentioned in this text. The philosophy of an Open Society by Karl Popper might be a good place to start, followed by Justice by Michael Sandel.

Without doubt populism can prove to be a very positive thing to have happened. We can stop, think, and reflect. We can celebrate this opportunity to get back on track – 1950s style when people felt they had a good life. What was termed the golden age. We can move forward from this juncture more determined, more realistic, more in tune with what makes a just system work. We can employ greater participation and have greater transparency. We can use our nous.

 

Elites: The Selfish Gene

thKF8B2C69

“Greed has taken over”.*

These are not my words but those of David Rubinstein (2007) who made $billions on Wall Street. He recognised the grab epidemic that had gripped the centre of finance. The selfish gene had infected just about everyone, and the infatuation with the big bucks overpowered the otherwise educated.

*Suzanne McGee – Chasing Goldman Sachs (p177)

Of course greed has long been a deadly sin and thus part of the human make up. Wherever there are winners and losers greed has been dangling its lustful bait.

Though greed and elites have been around quite a while the world has now changed significantly and the divide is much more noticeable. Ordinary Joe has become more aware of their daily grind and the comparison with those of wealth. Television, films and books help to keep them informed.

The dramatic change came with the advent of socialism, Marxism and democracy. These developments brought the growth of political parties and trade unions which have changed the dynamics by keeping people aware. Social media has a world audience that means we are neighbours in many respects.

Moreover, information on the great divide is well documented. Noam Chomsky, How the World Works deals with it by mentioning the philosophers David Hume (p129-30) and Aristotle (p209-210). Hume acknowledges that leaders are only in power as long as the people tolerate them.

Aristotle was challenged by a question on how to deal with the great divide – reduce poverty or reduce democracy. His answer was to lessen the impact of poverty, a purely logical conclusion.

It is quite obvious that if you are a part of the elite that you would chose to maintain your status. However, history teaches us that empires always fall and therefore the wise counsel of Aristotle should be heeded.

Unfortunately, greed clouds judgment.  Joseph E. Stiglitz – The Price of Inequality (p5) clarifies the great divide by pointing out that in America the top 1% gets 40% more in one week than the bottom 20% get in a year. Bloody hell! you may whisper to yourself but the worse is yet to come.

The top 0.1% in one and a half days (1.5 days) gets what the bottom 90% make in a year. Now you can scratch your head in disbelief. NO WAY you say, but. Obviously the elite is deaf to the wisdom of Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

Francis Fukuyama – Political Order and Political Decay (p479) hits the nail on the head when he states, “In the contemporary United States, elites speak the language of liberty but are perfectly happy to settle for privilege”. The same argument can be espoused for the elite everywhere. One consequence is that the poor and poorly educated become marginalized. (p488) Further consequence flow from this reality.

Therefore, few would dispute the analysis of Suzanne McGee (p354) when she says that attitudes on Wall Street have not improved since the 2008 financial crash that battered the poor hard. The cry of the financial elite is, “me first, me foremost, and only me”.

Though the election surprises of 2016, and going into 2017 may wake the elite from their slumber. The Brexit election in the UK and the Trump victory in the presidential election may bring a wakeup call with the cockerel. Throughout Europe we are witnessing a growing dissatisfaction with the elite and their political acolytes.

Furthermore, throughout the world people are standing up and letting it be known that they are fed up with the status quo.

Protestthiec512pf

South Africa:      Since 2008 an average of 2 million people has taken to protesting annually.

Main complaint: poor services and corruption.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_in_South_Africa

Venezuela:         Polls show that 75% of people are unhappy with the government of Nicolas Maduro. Massive oil reserves suggest it should be a wealthy country.

Main complaint: food shortages, power cuts and corruption.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-36319877

September 2016 over 1million protest against government. NY Times suggest mainly middle class but then they can be the most dangerous.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014%EZ%80%9316_Venezuela_protests

El Salvador:         Main complaint: Corruption – effects food shortages and poor services.

Brasil:                    April 2016 poll shows 63% don’t like the government of Dilma Rousseff. Since been ousted, her successor has faced similar protests.

Main complaint: high inflation, bad recession = prices & unemployment + corruption

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-35810578

Equatorial Guinea:  has one of Africa’s largest oil reserves but is one of the continents poorest. Their leader is estimated to have amassed a personal fortune of $600 million.

Around the world a better informed populace are beginning to assert their rights. Power to the people!

thXB41ZEDFCorruption

A keyword in many instances is ‘corruption’. However, corruption takes many forms, from direct bribery to filling one’s own pocket surreptitiously. Moreover, corruption is not solely attributed to developing countries. Britain was rocked by the expenses scandal when our Members of Parliament took to giving themselves handsome handouts, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill. Then of course, there’s the semi-legal type of corruption known as lobbying.

Interestingly, Senator Ted Cruz, who sought nomination for the republican presidential candidacy, was noted as saying, “…career politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder”. In Texas 2015 www.theintercept.com/2015/07/30

Let me give you a handful of views on lobbying.

“…it defies belief that the banking industry’s legions of lobbyists did not have a major impact,”…on government policy. Francis Fukuyama (p481)

“In other cases, interest groups have been able to block legislation harmful to their interests”. Ibid (p486)

These groups, instead of pursuing wealth-creating economic activities, made use of the political system to extract benefits or rents for themselves”.  Mancur Olson – The Rise and Decline of Nations quoted ibid (p481)

Or it may be due to exploitative elites, typically in cahoots with the government, who block any improvement in economic condition that would threaten their power” Dani Rodrik – The Globalization Paradox  (p137) Rodrik was looking at reasons for poverty in poorer nations.

All told more than $3.2 billion was spent on lobbying in 2011 alone. The main distortion is to our political system; the main loser, our democracy” Joseph E Stiglitz (p119)

The pattern is clear, the political outcome of lobbying seldom works for the majority; as decisions are heavily influenced by interest groups. E.E.Schattschneider – The Semisovereign People   ibid (p483)

There are several other damning opinions I could add to those given but hopefully the point is made. Unfortunately, the material from which I got the quotes is not on the daily reading diet of the poor and poorly educated.

Ordinary Joe tends to rely on gut and experience, the latter a method favoured by Aristotle, to reach a conclusion. The poor may be marginalized but their brain has not ceased to work.

Dissatisfaction with the political class has grown over the decades to such an extent that, “…trust in Congress has fallen to historically low levels barely above double digits”. Ibid (p481) A similar point is made by Stiglitz (p117) that the rich have, “…become more distant from ordinary people”.

While these instances concern the American system they are readily transferable throughout the world. Perhaps, in understanding this ‘distance’ those who cannot grasp the seismic political upheaval called Brexit and the Trump victory can begin to comprehend that the ‘sleeper has awoken’!!

The Double Deal:

Backhander

Backhander

A good outline of the direct and moral corruption that is bought on a daily bases of lobbying can be read in Francis Fukuyama (p478) when he deals with ‘reciprocal altruism’. Basically, I give you a big contribution to your election fund and somewhere down the line, you do me a favour. It’s a fancy name for you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.

We are all aware of cronyism and nepotism and as distasteful as they are, we also know that they are an apron string around our lives. Who wouldn’t help a friend or look after one of our family when times are hard? However, when a similar thing happens at the top end of business its use is to maintain status and power, and to advance wealth.

That brings us back to the catch phrase noted by Suzanne McGee (p354) “…me first, me foremost, and only me”. The actions and statements of the rich are catalogued beside all the other pieces of exhibitionism that symbolizes their contempt for the poor. These are duly noted until a jigsaw has been completed and then contempt is fired back at those in power.

The notion that the poor lap up the display of wealth and the misnomer that their anger is only a form of jealousy is so out of place. The trite use of ‘jealousy’ was a smokescreen floated by the wealthy to browbeat the poor.

I refer back to the wisdom of Aristotle that experience is a solid learning tool; and experience is what the poor collect in abundance. The machine operator knows that they are producing wealth and have become aware that their share of the proceeds is hardly enough to survive on. Hence the ostentatious flirting of the rich does not engage their jealousy but their anger.

A Learning Curve?

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is as stated by Ralph Schosstein, a banker on Wall Street, “Memories fade faster on Wall Street than on Main Street”. (McGee p383) The lure of the big buck is so enticing it’s almost irresistible. For the big boys it’s their raison d’etre. It appears that nothing much has been learned since the build up to the 2008 crash that we are still suffering from.

“A few years ago various cunning bankers were sitting around on their fat arses scratching their sweaty balls wondering how they could make themselves even more disgustingly rich….so they started looking around and they spied a vast amount of poor Americans who hadn’t been allowed loans before…” Geraint Anderson, Cityboy (p307)

Soon the world economy collapsed and we had to bail them out!

Control of the financial sector should have been exercised by the government. However, government must be free of corruption. Hm! I’m reminded of a child’s nursery rhyme – the wheels on the bus go round and round…. Lobbying all day long!

In today’s society we need the money men but they also need us. We are both sides of the coin. What they need to understand is that wealth distribution is a key element in keeping the fabric of society on a harmonious path.

Many countries throughout the world are experiencing an upsurge in people power. In the UK and the USA the people have exercised their democratic rights to let the elite know that they too want to participate in the nation’s wealth. Let’s keep it democratic!

 

Multiculturalism: From Dark to Darkness

Unless you welcome multiculturalism with open arms the branding irons come out and the familiar adjectives are burned onto the forehead. Therefore, let’s get the nova moment over with; I am neither a racist nor bigoted but I do have opinions.

The big hope of multiculturalism is that everyone will integrate and all the people will respect each other’s way of life. Thus diversity is viewed as maintaining each culture in a harmonious plane, with religion playing a central role in this nirvana.

However, this hope is based on the here and now which allows no thought of tomorrow.  Of course those who have promoted multiculturalism may view it as a long-term commitment for the human race.

My problem with the ‘here and now’ philosophy is that it allows no space for change. It is very much a ‘present time’ philosophy which is the maintenance of cultures, and, the legal obligation to respect it has an inflexible rigidity appended to it. A society so ordered is one set in concrete. One thinks of Stalin!

th5Suddenly, as if by magic wand (Harry Potter is real) all the religions will love and respect one another. Let’s forget the centuries of upheaval that religion has brought us. In the recent past we have had the murderous debacle of Northern Ireland where Catholic fought Protestant and, where the hate is still tangible.

In the Middle East where the two houses of Islam have no compunction in killing the other. Tension continues to increase between India and Pakistan. @France24_en November 7th. In India Hindu and Muslims continue to shed blood. Whilst in Pakistan religious differences have caused several bombings and where attacks on Christians are now a common occurrence.

Can we seriously dismiss what is happening around the globe as though it has no effect on the migrant populations in our midst? We know it can and does. Also, Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay p543 reminds us that politicians use ethnicity and religion for their own purpose.

Religions may speak of peace and love but harness swathes of intolerance and subjugation. All religions were basically the stanchion of men, and, women knew their place or else. In the modern Christian world the old culture is being broken down and women are gaining their rightful place as equals. Note, Tom Peters, The Circle of Innovation pp 402-407 he quotes several writers to argue that, “Women are smarter than men”. And better managers!

In contrast Islam is still mired in the ancient culture, as are some other religions. It is therefore difficult to give any credence to the Muslim faith, while promoting equality in every other aspect of life. We do not need to unearth the prohibitive nature of Islam towards women. On another tact we cannot have different laws operating for different sections of society. The law of the land must be initiated by parliament and not Sharia courts.

There are numerous cases of young women, children really, who have been plucked from their school to be sent to a foreign country to be married. A marriage of arrangement! No say, no choice – a diktat.

I read an article in the Daily Mail (November 2nd) concerning a woman, Maryam Nemazi from the group One Law for All. She holds a strong opinion against Muslim Councils and the use of Sharia courts in the UK. She accuses them as “tantamount to abuse”. When I read such stories I think, what would the Suffragettes think, and, how can a liberal society tolerate such subjugation.

Referring back to Tom Peters and the power of women and, recognising the imposition placed on the females of Islam, I think of a vast wealth of talent not nurtured. A Terracotta Army hidden!   I came across a refreshing little piece by E.E. Bradford (1860-1944) called Society.

“God made the country and man made the town – And woman made society”.*

Furthermore, faith schools are not a celebration of diversity. Rather such schools are a cold statement of difference and work to emphasize that difference. Faith schools do not best employ the concept of empathy. Unfortunately, as the country becomes more ghettoized differences become more heightened.

Moreover, multiculturalism signs the death knell of any possibility of achieving a secular society. Religions are obviously opposed to the very notion of secular schools for the simple reason that they would lose influence. An influence they use to cement the child’s belief system. We know this yet we pander to the needs of the soldiers of entrenchment.

A society based on a secular outlook would allow children to mix and to learn from each other. There would be no need to impose a law demanding respect; the kids would simply play together, grow together and build lasting bonds. Multiculturalism is a poor attempt at a quick fix.

The fact that law has to be used in an attempt to enforce respect tells its own story. Athqbhtaafd law is a demand that the people must obey.  They are told to adapt their language and thought processes to accommodate others but such a law has to be one that meets general approval otherwise it is likely to go unheeded. People have an aversion to being forced.

Audite et alteram partem – A Latin motto – Listen even to the other side*

Notwithstanding, multiculturalism has proven a great asset for big business. Perhaps that is the real reason behind its promotion? The influx of several million migrants was obviously going to cause upset hence the desperate need to design a concept for it, with the threat of the law to empower it. No doubt it was a blessing that the Liberal elite endorsed and readily adopted it as their own.

The truth is that we cannot save the world alone. The mass movement of people has more to do with globalization. The pursuit of money leaves no room for the thought of consequence or a plan for the long-term. Globalization is a harvester of cheap labour.

However, many see no alternative, their eyes are pinned on the present for fear of a divide, leading to violence between the migrant and indigenous population. They are happy with their quick fix and are thus too busy patting their own back to consider any consequence.

*The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

*Economics: The User’s Guide   Ha – Joon Chang p458

Nonetheless, change is happening. The change is championed by an unlikely ally – capitalism. The source of the problem may actually lead to its solution. Change will not be advanced by politicians, no, they’re too wrapped up in their own cossetted world. The agents of capitalism, the marketing agencies and their never ending push to boost consumerism will be our knights.

Consumerism will break barriers that politicians are afraid to breach. While consumerism may smash the ramparts we will then need to reconstruct a society, the thcafjwb3ekind of society that we need as a human race. To anticipate, the answer is, no! we don’t want the Americanisation of the world. America has had ‘Affirmative Action’ for over 50 years and is the most ghettoized nation in the world. We need to think!

Change is taking place around the world as the poor demand a greater share of the wealth of the planet. They are using the power of democracy (take note) to send the message that they are unhappy. Power to the people!!

Therefore, multiculturalism is not the answer because it holds no answers. Multiculturalism is actually the harbinger of ghettoes. Its solution is to keep us separate, not to unify us as one people.