Hopes for 2012….


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a title - new years resolutions

Times are going to be tough, but we can re-invent ourselves for the future

Let’s change the system

As we come to terms with the idea that we shall work longer for less, and not reap the same pension benefits as our parents, we should be asking ourselves how we can draw some comfort from the difficult few years ahead of us. When Vince Cable likened our economic situation with the war, I am sure those who actually lived through it must have viewed the statement with a mixture of disbelief and fear. Of course, the next few years will be less destructive of life and property but, when our flatlining economies start to recover, we will find, like in 1919 and 1945,  that we have effectively lost a decade of growth, optimism and wellbeing. Even after the two world wars, when the purposes had been so well defined, there was a period of desolation between the inebriation of victory and the resumption of economic growth.

More positively, the wars drove social change for the better. In Britain Women finally achieved suffrage in 1918 ( limited until 1928 ) and the education system was reformed under the Fisher act, giving the state responsibility for secondary education. The end of the second world war  saw the introduction of the National Health Service, nationalised railways, coal mines and steel production.

So, if this period can be likened to war, should we not be looking to see what we can change to improve our futures like the post war years? What should we be looking at? What New Year’s Revolutions should we be looking to enact to build a better future for us and our offspring?

1)  National Service.

Yes that old chestnut, but with youth unemployment in the UK at a high, and the evergrowing problem of elderly care, it seems bonkers not to join the two together and have the young look after the old. See this for more details.

2) Pensions.

The pensions system in the UK is crazy. Why should employers have to provide pensions? Why should they be invested in the markets, who then bet against us? How can a society allow its old to sink into poverty through poor pension provision?  The solution is already in place. Take 10% of every salary and place it into a personal pension plan backed by the government and run by an independent body. the money accrued could be loaned to governments ( our own, for example ) at a competitive rate, negating the need for them to go to the markets. The markets would gradually loose the vast wealth of the pension funds and find their original level ( when they were just a rich man’s betting shop ). Every individual would receive a statement once a year informing them of how much was in their particular pot and how much this would generate at retirement. Remember it is in everyone’s interest that we all get good pension provision. Pensioners who live on the breadline are economically dead. Just think how our economy would benefit if our pensioners had money to spend.

Make tax payment public.

The recent parliamentary report on the Inland Revenue’s writing off  billions of pounds worth of taxes for Vodafone left a nasty taste in the mouths of Joe Public. But, in fact it is just the tip of the iceberg. Because of this ridiculous notion that tax is a private issue, non-taxpayers have been getting away with it for years. Surely, in these times of hardship, we should be supporting those companies who pay their taxes in the UK? Take Boots the Chemist, for example, until it was bought by a private equity company in 2008, it was contributing abut £140 million to the exchequer every year in taxes. Its new owners quickly moved the company HQ to Switzerland and now we receive nothing. But that is not all is it? Boots is now competing with legitimate tax paying British companies whilst not paying tax itself. Hardly a level playing field is it? According to this research, it is estimated that the government currently loses £12 billion a year in taxes unpaid. Yet surely it should be a simple process for the Inland Revenue to issue a ‘tax paid ‘ statement to each company – or individual – who would surely then be pleased to present it publicly. A ‘pays British tax’ logo above your shop would boost sales, wouldn’t it? Of course the main problem is that they are all at it. Even if they have their HQ in the UK, their incomes are sifted through hundreds off-shore accounts. So don’t expect a public campaign for this. The media groups are playing the system just like everyone else.

Limit political careers.

That ugly phrase, ‘the political classes’ suggests some sort of Platonic predeterminism which strikes at the heart of democratic processes. Politicians should be limited to 4 parliamentary terms and the two chambers ( Commons and Lords) should be mutually exclusive.

 

 

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7 billion and counting

7 billion mouths to feed.

baby Nargis, claimed to be the 7 billionth Human

Baby Nargis, Claimed to be the 7 billionth Human | Pic Plan International

In 1798, Thomas Malthus presented his fear that eventually we would all starve to death. His theory was that food supply was a natural brake on population increase. As agriculture would improve, it would allow more people to survive, but at a certain point farming would reach its limit and the rising population – coming behind that curve – would temporarily exceed the limits of food production. The following period of famine and war would destroy most of what that process of civilisation had achieved, and the human race would be reduced to square one. For two hundred years, as agriculture has constantly exceeded demand for food, Malthus has beencategorized with those victorians who thaought that travelling over 30 miles an hour would cause asphixiation. Quaint, yet hopelessly wrong.

As we see the nominal birth of our 7 billionth Human Being, it may be a good time to reflect on what Malthus broadly got right. Food security has undoubtedly been at the heart of the growth of civilizations. As food becomes plentiful, the population rises and from that increase in numbers comes creativity, knowledge, curiosity and the time and wherewithal to achieve progress. There is no doubt that we are on a similar curve. But as each civilsation reaches its peak, food security, the foundation of its success, starts to falter. Those great achievements of agriculture – irrigation, fertilisers and continuous usage eventually take their toll and the land becomes barren. Ironically these civilisations are advanced enough to monitor their demise. The move from wheat to barley ( a crop more salt tolerant) is often the first sign of the disaster to come.

Of course, our forebears were very limited in their methods of destruction. They couldn’t effect their environment much. Today, our industrial power is changing our climate, something more fundamental than the land we live on. Of course we are advanced enough to monitor the climate change. I wonder if there is a marker as clear as the switch to barley? I wonder if we have reached it yet?

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Why the Euro will never succeed


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What a great idea the Euro is.

Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron

The Euro, a great idea doomed because the founders flouted their own rules. If they now force conditions on their weaker partners, the euro will break.

Getting rid of all those minor currencies and joining to produce one major currency to compete with the dollar and yen and making Europe a major economic player was an excellent idea. And for a while it seemed to really work.  It improved internal European trade, reduced the yo-yoing of the markets and even started to become the reserve currency to replace the dollar. After all the schisms of the previous 1000 years, it seemed that Europe was finally getting it’s act together.

Perhaps if the member states had stuck to the rules or the EU had had the authority to enforce them, the Euro might now still be the model currency it was intended to be. But in their effort to optimise membership, the EU countries allowed in countries who lied about their financial status. As if applying for an extra credit card, they succumbed to the temptation to up their income, forget some of their debt and generally give a much better impression of their housekeeping ability than was credible. The EU turned a blind eye to the obvious inaccuracies in the hope that ultimately everything would be fine. And with the two biggest players, France and Germany, flouting the rules themselves, who was going to lay down the law and get everyone into line?  This crisis wasn’t created by the bankers playing fast and loose with toxic debt, but by the European politicians playing fast and loose with national debt.

The only solution seems to be that the stronger economies bail out the weaker. The pound of flesh will be greater control over the vagaries of the weaker countries’ tax and spending. It will be described as convergence, but really France and Gemany will want to control their satellite economies for decades to come. The Greeks are rioting against their own government – they, the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Italians are hardly likely to accept stringent dictats from outside governments who claim to be doing it for their own good.

It was one thing to create currency union. That is an abstract concept vague enough for most people to accept. Fiscal union is a different matter. Battles over sovereignty are struggles Europe is only too familiar with. The borders within Europe have been drawn in blood for centuries. They will not be erased by the eurocrats. Forcing peoples and cultures together against their will, to live under a single system has alway had the whiff of tyrany about it. It is like trying to force magnets together. Either they naturally attract, in which case no force is needed, or they perpetually resist. The reason there are so many different countries in Europe is that their polarity requires them to resist union. When you try to push people together, to force them to unite into a single entity, that entity can never be permanent. Just look at Czechoslovakia, Iraq and Yugoslavia, created by treaty after the first world war……

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The real Steve Jobs legacy


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What is Steve Jobs’ real legacy?

What does the Apple brand really mean around the world, especially in the sweatshops and mines, where people slave to produce them?

Children in the Congo Mining for coltan

Here are the kids working on the Iphone 5

Was Steve Jobs a saint? One might think so, judging by tsunami of public grief that has swept across the western world. But no, he was a man who sold temporary highs to the shallow.

So Steve Jobs, you didn’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery. But you undoubtedly are, your account fueled by the lust of millions for the latest little thing to punctuate their existences. You changed the world, apparently – you were a visionary. But what did you see? A world of suckers, dumb enough to pay through their noses for technology just a little shinier, in slightly prettier boxes, all branded with the devil’s mark. Yes Steve, you saved the world from the tedium of sameness by making everyone as different and original as a Japanese Elvis. The wonder of you helped everyone to feel that cheap thrill of pointlessness – the gift of excess, unnecessary, obsolescent and instantly discardable for the next fruity hit. Were we sharing needles? Your contagion spread like a virus, blocking any avenue of escape. Your products were cool, your company calculating and cold. Turning technology into fashion, you enjoyed a hyper must-have mark up. Once there was a sucker born every minute, now it’s every second. And as the minutes rolled into weeks and years, your monster ballooned into an economic titan – a bubble built on self delusion, doing good by giving the people what they want. The important people, anyway. Us. Not the children of the Congo, forced to mine the filthy ores that feed your baubles, or the Chinese factory workers locked in a ceaseless living death to satisfy our waspish grabbing reflex. Casually, you brushed off criticism like a flake of dust “You go in this place and it’s a factory but, my gosh, they’ve got restaurants and movie theatres and hospitals and swimming pools” you said.

Did we care? We could not resist your goblin fruits. Cynically, you mocked the very meat that fed you. You prefixed everything so blatantly and yet the masses merely applauded your ironic intellect. You gave us all an imperial prerogative, blinding our honest conscience. You could have called your product ” I-m a twat” and we would still have queued outside all week.

And so Steve, snake-hipped and snake-lipped, your coils caressed our self-gratifying hearts. Stockholmed, we worshipped you. You led us into temptation and by taking the apple, we have damned ourselves. You will be remembered, Steve Jobs, as a man who fed our shallow, naked, petty lusts with the very soil of the earth. Who sated our materialistic addiction for minor sensationalism with blood and slavery. In equal measures, Barnum, Stanley and Escobar you will not be forgotten. In a hundred years you will be remembered – with a shudder.

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Occupy Wall Street – you are the top 1%


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We need economic change, but are we

prepared for it?

occupy wall street poster

Occupy Wall Street. We want change, but dare we go through with it?

There is no doubt that the western economies are in a mess. We are right to want change, and occupying the financial centres is probably as good a way as any, of getting the politicians to listen to us. After all the money, the debt, the profits, the hedge funds, pension funds, insurance companies and banks ultimately belong to us. They should really do what we want, shouldn’t they?

Protesters in Wall Street

We are the 99%, but actually they probably aren't.

However, if we start to unravel the system where will it end? We want to make the world a fairer place….really? Those in Wall Street who claim to represent the 99% majority, the ones suffering from the evil grip of capitalism really ought to look a little further afield. The truth is that the top 1% have always dominated and manipulated circumstances and events in their favour. And up to now most of us haven’t complained. Most of us have accepted it as natural and logical. Most of us have benefitted from it. Because many of us in the west are in the top 1%.  According to globalrichlist.com, you have to earn £25,800 a year to be in the top 1% of earners in the world. That’s not so much is it? If you earn £475 a year, you still scrape into the top 50%. If we really want to make the world a fairer place, we are going to have to take a drastic reduction in our standard of living.

I doubt the protesters want to go that far. They just want the world to be fairer to them. Hardly any of us complained when our corporations were pillaging the third worlds of Africa, Asia and Latin America, applying economic pressure and dictating terms down the barrel of a gun. Now the third world have become the emerging economic powers and are more able to resist, the bankers and corporates are merely applying their tactics closer to home. All of a sudden, it isn’t fair.

 

 

 

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