Sunday, 28 August 2011
We have come to a time of significance when an ex Telegraph editor questions whether the left is right about capitalism. Charles Moore followed up his article in the Telegraph with an appearance on Newsnight, where he discussed the impact of the economic policies being pursued by the government.
It is clear that he remains convinced that the over-riding justification for capitalism, for those on lower incomes, is that wealth trickles down to the poorest. However, he acknowledges that, through globalization, this is no longer the case - in truth we now have an 'upwards flood' of wealth to a very small group of obscenely wealthy.
Viewing this purely in terms of capitalism, it can be said that it is an extremely valuable concept in the development of modern civilizations, but it has its limits. When John Sainsbury opened a grocery store in Holborn in 1869 it gave him a way to provide for his family and also supply the local people with, we must presume, good quality provisions at a reasonable price - two admirable outcomes.
As the store grew in popularity more staff were needed, which provided a living for those employed and this increased as the range of products grew. However, the point at which general benefit started to wane was when a second shop was opened. Had this not been the case, we must presume, that a different family would have developed a shop, copying the Sainsbury's innovations, and they instead would have flourished in the new location instead of the Sainsbury family.
Both would have employed local staff, providing livings for these families, but instead of the Sainsbury family becoming increasingly richer than their neighbours, had they stopped at one shop [along with all their competitors] the business of grocery would be one that provided a good living for thousands of families throughout the UK. Also, without the development of 'limited liability' all of these families would have probably remained self-employed people with a ratio of employees to employers of between 1-50 to 1.
Had this been the case it would have reflected the natural grouping of we, Homo sapiens, from our earliest time, for it has been noted by anthropologists that once a group of humans reached around 50 individuals, it divided. It seems that natural leaders occur at around 1 in 50 and that we, as a species, are most comfortable in groups of this size because it appears to be the limit of our capacity for individual relationships. Certainly my experiences as an employee bore this out - organisations employing less than 50 were far more cohesive.
Clearly, for the purpose of distributing food, separately owned shops throughout the land are able to provide this function. In any area, because of capitalism, there would be a handful that were best at this activity and would survive - whilst the worst would go to the wall. However, if this where the case - instead of the members of the Sainsbury's family being fabulously wealthy and the vast majority of families whose main bread winner is its employee, by comparison, being extremely poor - the income of the highest paid working in this industrial sector would probably not be more than four times the lowest - the maximum differential recommended by Plato to avoid civil unrest.
The result of Sainsbury's and the other grocery stores, who have now become global corporations, integrating both vertically and horizontally, is that we have reached a point where they, as with global corporations from other sectors, are more powerful than the governments of nations. From a UK prospectus the government is cowed by these giants and cannot significantly raise the rate of tax on the highest earners or increase corporation tax - the two most obvious measures available for them to redistribute wealth - for fear of them relocating their operations to a country with a more favourable tax regime with a consequential loss of jobs and government income.
It is already becoming clear that the number of global corporations are reducing through the weakest being taken over by the strongest, and it is reasonable to expect if this continues - certainly in the West that there will be, perhaps, less than 100 global corporations who account for virtually all trade and virtually everyone will be their employees. This would lead to just a few percent of the people owning virtually all assets and wealth with just another small section, their key employees and servile politicians, being the few with any noticeable wealth. The nation state would continue to decline in influence in comparison to these global monsters as we have seen recently in the US, as a result of Republican plotting.
Oddly, if things are allowed to continue on this path, we will have, effectively, returned to feudal times. Great estates, not being won through violence, but by economic warfare. If this does occur, we can expect to return to a world of similar inhumane practices for there is no compassion within commerce.
It would not be difficult for a government to start a program to gradually reduce the influence of these corporations - although the longer it is left the more difficult it becomes. However, it would require a political party whose leaders cannot be tempted by offers of wealth and power from these corporations and an electorate who were not bewitched by the dark arts of the advertising industry. The former may be difficult to find, but, as things continue to decline for the majority, an ever increasing number will be demanding action to improve the people's lot - unless they just content themselves with rioting and looting!
Sunday, 14 August 2011
Those wishing to see a redistribution of wealth from the richest to the poorest, as opposed to the reverse - the certain outcome of the Coalition's policies - would be better placed if they recognized that the influence of the global free market, in the UK, prevents this and ensures that the gap between the richest and poorest continues its rapid growth.
It is possible to discuss the impact of this on an ever increasing number of groups and imagine that these effects can be somehow be ameliorated, but despite George Osborne's insistence that social problems cannot be solved by 'throwing money at them', if the underlying problem is that an increasing number of individuals do not have sufficient income to purchase the goods and services to enable them to live a half decent life - the only solution is to find some way to increase their spending power and this costs money. This problem is becoming worse and is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future.
Osborne's excuse that 'if throwing money at the problem were the answer - it would have been solved by Labour' on the grounds that this was exactly what they did, however, cannot be true. It has been demonstrated all too frequently since the Coalition has come to power, that the government's of Blair and Brown were simply appalling and must be viewed as the worst in living memory if not longer. They have left the nation with so many intractable problems and no money with which to solve them - even if many of the leading figures may have achieved their true aim!
The riots exposed the dark underbelly of the nation which has virtually destroyed Cameron's plan to sell Britain as a quaint land with a Queen living in her palace and a fairy tale prince and princess - where crime is so mild that the British bobbies can police the nation unarmed. The image that Cameron wished to portray has been completely demolished and there is little likelihood of it being reconstructed and rightly so because it was sheer fantasy.
Unlike Greece, whose rioters were against a government trying to rapidly install, impossible to achieve, austerity measures, because they attacked the very fabric of Greek culture - our most recent crop of rioters are not trying to influence politicians, they have gone beyond believing that they will help in anyway. A poll in June showed that only 14% trusted politicians just to tell the truth, so it is unsurprising that so many do not believe they will help in these troubling times.
So the worst riots here in living memory, although sparked by the apparent accidental killing by the police of an innocent young black man, were not an attempt to change government policy, but simply to obtain consumer goods that the mainly black unemployed youths knew they could not obtain by legitimate means. Cameron refuses to accept that there is any connection between these acts and deprivation and clearly intends to use increasingly harsh sanctions against any repeat occurrences and has the backing of a frightened nation - 33% of whom would be happy to see live ammunition used by the police!
Clearly if Cameron does not deny a link between the rioting and deprivation he is obliged to spend money to help the poorest in society, because maintaining law and order is a primary role of any government. He cannot confirm the obvious because, in so doing, he would undermine Osborne's deficit reduction plan so he is obliged to continue to deny any causal link.
Meanwhile, Osborne is busy trying to create a haven for global corporations to site their European operations here by keeping personal and corporation tax low - the most obvious sources for extra government income. He is clearly hoping to be able to scrap the 50% rate of tax introduced by Labour for the highest earners on the lame excuse that it costs more to collect than will be collected. If he is successful it will be yet another measure that contributes to the increasing gap between rich and poor.
Cameron is facing the likelihood of increasingly impossible circumstances ahead, as the austerity measures fully bite. These are likely to see more public unrest from those who still believe that politicians can and will act in the interest of the people. The police clearly have the upper hand in their dispute over the cut of 20% in their budget which no US Supercop will be able to resolve and only the most optimistic will believe that the underclass, who engaged in the riots, will not take advantage of any public disorder against the austerity cuts with a repeat of riots aimed at looting - unless some hope for a better life is provided.
Since there does not seem to be any great hope that the economy will improve and that a double dip recession appears most likely. It seems almost certain that Labour will continue to increase their lead in the polls and form the next government - which is astonishing considering it was they that dragged the country into its dire financial predicament and should have been out of office for at least a generation.
The Lib/Dems will all but disappear from the political scene, for, although they are best placed to prosper as a result of our dire circumstances, since few of our present ails can be attributed to them. They are too timid to perform the root and branch surgery to their policies necessary so that they confront the real world, but will continue to apply their sticking plaster mentality and incomprehensible 3000 word dissertations of intellectual avoidance at this time of immense challenge.
Thursday, 4 August 2011
I thank 'Metal Guru' for allowing me to reproduce his article 'Don't Get Old':
Rooms full of lonely faces, bodies swiveled on chairs directed at the incessant drivel of daytime TV, the lingering smell of palliative air freshener. Lurid coloured corridors, easily recognised symbols on bathrooms and toilets, photographs of residents on doors - miniature snapshots of forgotten destines.
An old man with a crutch walks slowly along, muttering through folded face and thinking about his property in Australia. Approaching him, a crooked-framed old woman with a hand on the railing for support asking 'Can somebody take me home now please?'.
Privately funded care homes provide the prospect of an undignified and unhappy twilight for the ever-increasing pensioner population. Specific problems such as insufficient staff, low pay and long hours - added to varying quality of care and kindness - contribute to the, intrinsically flawed, concept of offering care as a commodity.
Commercial organisations, like all other, enter the private care industry to make and maximize profit. All cost cutting is fair game as long as they adhere to the standards proscribed by the regulatory bodies and therein lies the problem. These regulations only serve as a template for a uniformity of service that has little bearing on 'caring'.
The predominant term used to refer to residents in private care homes is 'service users'. The individuality of each 'service user' is systematically degraded by these, humanity free, intellectually constructed procedures considered to offer the highest quality of care.
While the residents sit compliantly in a state of partial dormancy - healthcare assistants, nurses, cleaners and catering staff chew their pencils and twiddle their thumbs whilst undergoing a strict regime of training videos and practical demonstrations on manual handling.
Nurses ceaselessly update each of the residents' personal care files, uninterested in properly monitoring the work of their healthcare assistants, because the important thing is, when the government inspectors come knocking, that all training and paperwork is up-to-date for this is what will provide a good inspection review.
On the face of it, perfect standards of care have been exhibited. All staff have received the relevant training - properly recorded in the 'staff training matrix'; all paperwork on individual care and medical consultations have been completed, all daily food menus are nutritionally balanced to conform to recommended catering standards. In every hallway, stairwell and lift there are pictures demonstrating the service users happily enjoying activities such as reveling in the excitement of a monthly entertainer.
The reality is, however, that care, dignity and fairness are abstract concepts, unable to be taught. Staff who attend training courses on dignity, for example, with the rewarded title of 'dignity champion' as their incentive for completion, learn concrete examples of how to treat someone with dignity. The problem is that examples a, b, & c become the actual qualifiers of dignity rather than harbingers of its actuality.
The concept being if a, b, & c are manifest, then dignity is ensured. This is of course not the case. So the best any home can hope for is where the a, b, & c throughout all of the systems of good care, have been ticked off. The quality of a resident's life is formularized by calculable factors that bare little to no relation to the happiness of a resident and actively seek to undervalue the nature of their individuality.
Their days routinely consist of being herded from their beds to the lounge, lounge to the dining room, to the toilet, to the bathroom, back to bed. In between, they sit, predominately confused about where they are and why nobody has come to collect them!
Their slightly impaired physical or mental functions become exacerbated by unfamiliar surroundings and a profound sense of abandonment. The disturbing irony is that such deteriorations will be labeled and explained as a medical affliction disconnected to their residential environment.
Usually within a year they have plummeted to mere shadows of the people who arrived. Stripped of their use, their habits, their possessions and their freedom, they slowly discolour in body and soul.
Granted it takes longer for some - for those who get daily visitors, those who take residence as a married couple - and bizarrely, for those who have illnesses that require constant or specialised nursing. They more frequently embody an aura of resignation that tries to make the best of it.
And the most harrowing aspect of the whole situation is that government run care homes are unlikely to be any better - perhaps worse. Instead of cost cutting to increase profits, as well as ineffectual regulation, there would be cost cutting measures aimed at keeping government expenditure down and ineffective internal regulation.
So the only advice can be: don't get old! The growing acceptance of rabid consumerism and unbridled selfishness has filtered into every nook and cranny of society and is reflected in the industry of elderly care as well as any other. The businesses make their money, the old folks are out of the way and we, the children and grandchildren of this forgotten portion of society, can continue with our pursuit of pleasure.
Meanwhile, the old man stops walking lengths of the corridor and forgets about his property in Australia; the crooked-framed old lady stops asking to be taken home and thousands and thousands across the land are told: 'sit down and wait'.
Wait for what? - wait until there is no more waiting...