Posts Tagged ‘economy’

So I’ve noticed how some people are strongly against socialism.

Or at least, to some interpretation of it. To the idea that a core foundation of society should involve people doing things for the good of everyone as a whole, with no direct benefit to themselves individually. To a system in which we all try to do good for each other based on what we each need, rather than what we can each afford or achieve on our own. That sounds terrible to a lot of people.

And it’s not some perverse hatred of generosity and kindness which leads them there. It’s possible, apparently, to believe that a ruggedly capitalist system, where no more is ever provided to people than what they’re able to earn and pay for, would be the optimal way to allow our most noble impulses to improve the world.

But a lot of the objections to socialist ideas and programs come from thinking too small.

Often, when people are imagining how terrible socialism would be, they’re picturing some amount of their money being taken away from them and given to someone else, because some central authority has deemed that this other person “needs” it more. And they think, hey, I earned that money, through all that tedious drudgery I have to do just to survive at that job I resent, so why does it get taken away from me by the government, to give to someone else who didn’t even work for it?

I mean, for this to make much sense, you need to pretend that people generally get paid money in relation to how hard they toil and how useful their work, which is just comical lunacy. But even so, the above paragraph is not a useful way to imagine how society could work if we were all looking after each other.

When I’m at work, earning a salary to keep me in books and cheesecake, I’d also resent the idea of chunks of it being nibbled at and taken away for things that won’t directly benefit me. I’ve kinda been numbed to it with tax and national insurance deductions by now, but they still hurt a little when I really look at my payslip. We’re a naturally loss-averse species, and I have financial commitments to worry about. Millennia of evolution have given my brain clear instructions on how infuriated it should be by the idea of something of mine being taken away from me.

But regardless of my gut reaction, helping people is a good thing to do, and in the right circumstances it can feel like it as well. If there were more of such solidarity and mutual aid going around in every direction, we’d be less worried and insecure about our own financial position, and might be able to react less violently to any possible sliver of charity we might somehow be tricked into performing.

As it stands, I’ve got bills to pay, a mortgage, animals to feed, all kinds of shit. If my or my wife’s gainful employment went away, even for a little while, I’d be panicking about our income and how we were supposed to cope. Of course I’m going to be wary of any of that vital cashflow being snatched away at the source, and I’ve got a way better and less frangible deal than many people in similar positions.

But without all those artificial worries to make me so insecure – without the capitalistic infrastructure, which massively disincentivises selflessness, and puts people in positions where actual lasting financial security is an impossible pipe dream for almost everyone – if we could just escape all that and feel safe and get the system of incentives right…

…then I’d love to work as hard to help other people as I currently do just to keep alive. And I’d take what help I can from them, too. Be part of a supportive network, a community.

As it is, chances are good that I’ll be too scared to let any of my effort go toward helping anyone else, for fear of losing out. But that attitude works both ways. So my colleagues might then be similarly disinclined to look after me when I’m sick, or keep me sheltered and fed if I lost my job or couldn’t work, or buy me a drink when I’m out of change, or work at schools where my kids will get educated, or help maintain safe roads and reliable public transport, or provide some sort of allowance to help me continue living an independent and worthwhile life when I’m old and decrepit… or any of the numerous ways that every person alive relies on the rest of the species to help them out. Because they’ve got their own lives to support and are worried about their ability to do so, even before I start free-loading.

We might all end up deciding not to let anyone else benefit from anything we could keep to ourselves, if we allow the idea of helping other people to become so abhorrent and frightening.

So if you’re worried about socialism because of what other people might take from you and how little you can afford, I understand. I totally get the feeling of financial insecurity, the urgent need to make sure you can keep a roof over your family’s heads, and put food on the table, without also being expected to take care of other people you don’t even know.

But it’s worth asking where that constant anxiety as you cling to survival comes from, and whether it’s really necessary. Is the system as it currently stands really working out so well for you? It’s made you live in fear of what you might lose out, without appreciating the vastness of the potential for you to gain. You really don’t know what you’re missing.

Especially if you live in the US and you have no perspective on how horrifying your country looks to anyone who’s grown up with socialised healthcare, I mean holy shit you need to sort that the fuck out.

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So here’s another reason why the economy is dumb.

Smoking, it’s generally agreed, is pretty bad. All the sensible medical advice these days is that anyone who does it should try to do less of it, ideally none at all. There’s some room for nuance there, but that’s mostly an uncontroversial interpretation of the evidence. Even the most spirited defense tobacco companies seem to fall back on nowadays is that it’s something everyone has the right to do – as in, the government shouldn’t be able to use force or the threat of force to coerce you into not doing it. (I agree with this, though again, nuance can still be discussed.)

Imagine some magical switch was suddenly flipped, and now nobody wants to smoke any more. No cold turkey or withdrawal or cravings; everyone is instantly a non-smoker and has no desire to change.

This would have massive global health benefits, add countless millennia to people’s collective lives, and be an unprecedented economic catastrophe.

Nobody smokes anymore? Well, so long to that trillion-dollar a year industry, along with the tens of billions in tax revenue in the US alone.

Nearly a million jobs would be wiped out too, as well as numerous entire businesses.

If a hugely beneficial thing somehow happened, we would be completely unprepared for it and it would fuck everything up. There would be severe negative repercussions, making things worse for almost everyone, resulting from a straight-forwardly positive development.

And it really would be positive! All those folk who were spending their careers helping to provide people with an injurious and useless habit can go do other things now! Everyone can carry on just as awesomely as before, but without this one dumb factor that used to shorten their life and take their money! All the effort that was going into preparing and distributing toxic firesticks can be diverted to stuff that might improve the quality and length of people’s lives instead! There literally should not be a down-side!

There’s no reason this should harm our prosperity – we could support our current levels of thriving in the past, even while a bunch of people were devoting all their working hours to making cigarettes, and millions of other people were wasting their time smoking them and shortening their lives. Nothing meaningful has been lost, and the potential for a great deal of heretofore untapped productivity has been freed up.

It’s an abject failure of our current approach to collective organisation, if we’d find ourselves doing worse than we were doing before, after a big positive change. And at least in the short-term I suspect that’s what would happen.

I don’t know how you make the economy less stupid. That’s some higher-level thinking I’m not prepared for just yet. I just do the bit where you point out how much things suck in case people hadn’t noticed.

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So says this article.

We live in a world where corporate capitalism has always completely depended on state power, and the basic practical thrust of left statism has always been annexation of the economy.

I still naturally think of myself as being on the left, and tend to find more common ground with lefty ideas and positions than with self-identified right-wing thought, but it’s a fuzzy and nebulous excuse for an axis, and there are much more fruitful ways available of summing up what I consider politically important. I’m an anti-authoritarian more strongly than I’m, say, a socialist – and in fact much of my feeling on the latter flows from my vehemence on the former.

Rather than “libertarian socialist” or other similar labels I’ve found helpful in the past to sum myself up, I think I’m going to start saying that my political views can be best represented in the form of the Konami code. It conveys no useful or meaningful political information, but it’s kinda funny the first time you hear it, and feels like it could be referring to something deep and profound, and establishes that I probably enjoy being irritatingly contrarian.

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People in this country are increasingly unable to adequately feed themselves and their families. Whether due to the inhumane system of benefits sanctions or some other reason, hundreds of thousands more people are relying on charitable services in order not to starve to death, in the UK, in 2014.

By any reasonable metric, more people are facing more appalling hardships due to broadening income inequality. But at least one elected representative thinks it’s all nonsense. He’s seen through the agenda being pushed by those other politicians who wear different coloured hats than him. He’s observed proof positive that, in his area of the country at least, the notion that anyone’s going hungry is merely an illusion:

People aren’t in poverty in terms of going without food. You try booking a restaurant in Crawley on a Friday or Saturday night. You can’t do it.

Well, there you have it. See, poor people? If you’ve been referred to a food bank due to some imaginary “crisis” with your so-called “cost of living”, been given a few tins of beans to help stave off malnourishment, then brought them back because you can’t afford to heat them, don’t despair – the restaurant industry in Crawley is booming. Why not just go out for a nice meal? Genius.

…Except on Friday or Saturday nights, I guess, because apparently you can’t do that on those days. Which somehow still proves his point about how everyone’s got enough food? Mind you, this is from the same brilliant mind responsible for this logical nail-bomb immediately before:

Some people are finding it hard but everyone’s finding it hard.

How do I conjunction?

Sentence construction aside, this kind of pathological obliviousness fascinates me. I stare at it and try to fathom the underlying worldview and assumptions which could prop up such an insane missing of the point, my brow furrowing in ever-deepening bafflement at how every notion of logic or sense could be so deftly avoided, until I inevitably make this face:

and need to go and sit down with an ice-pack pressed against my head for a bit.

Calling it a rationalisation or a way to resolve cognitive dissonance doesn’t satisfactorily get to the root of the faulty thought processes here. And it seems important to try getting to their root, because otherwise the whole thing’s too impossibly frustrating to even know how to engage with. But it really feels as if, in order to have quite this little of a clue, you’d have to be actively trying really hard to close your mind to reality.

A significant swathe of conservative thought is ideologically resistant to the idea that people in the same part of the world as you, in comparable circumstances to your own – not in some poverty-stricken, far-flung part of Africa, which might as well be somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse – can be suffering more than they deserve. Maybe if the government directly caused it, it can be believed – but anyone who the market’s decided shouldn’t be in possession of a life-sustaining supply of nourishment must have failed in some inherent, moral way. So when faced with hordes of people for whom this is palpably not the case, the only available response is to rationalise them out of existence.

Nobody’s really going hungry; the restaurants round here are packed.

Or, they’re all feckless scroungers who could be getting by just fine if they got off their lazy arses and worked.

But actual, genuine hardship and suffering and injustice, faced by hundreds of thousands of people, who don’t deserve it? Who’ve just been dealt a shitty hand by the same system which I’m a part of and which has always treated me pretty nicely thank you very much? Oh no, that can’t possibly be how the world works. If that were true, I might have to admit that luck played some sort of role in my own success, or that all those socialist do-gooders who go round saying we should be nice to each other and care for the less fortunate might have a point.

(h/t Political Scrapbook)

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Look, forget for a moment all the problems with my vaguely defined and ill articulated socialist utopia.

Forget any of the specific counter-arguments you’re tired of re-hashing whenever people bring up one of your constant bug-bears, like how government regulation might ever be a good thing.

Step back from all that. Just look at how things actually are, right now. Ignore the details of the system behind it, and just look where it’s got us.

The current system our species has settled on for distributing wealth has basically amounted to: “Here is all* the money: you 85 people over here take half, and you 3,500,000,000 share the other half out amongst yourselves.”

Does that really sound like everything’s working okay to you?

I’m not proposing any specific action be done about it, so stop rehearsing complaints about the dangers of government regulation, and shut up about the fucking Laffer curve for a minute.

Look at the numbers. Look at the shitty kind of life many of those in the bottom 3,500,000,000 are stuck with.

Consider how much the experience of life would be affected for several billion people by the amounts of money being discussed here. Consider how much less happiness, comfort, or motivation eighty-five individuals would experience, if the numbers that appeared on some bits of paper didn’t have quite so many zeroes on the end. Compare the impact that would be felt, by one group and by the other, if some of all the money were somewhere other than where it is.

Can we not just agree that this level of division is pretty fucked up? That such a colossal disparity does not actually represent a discrepancy in how hard people are working, or how much a given person is contributing to society, or how much we all fucking deserve?

I imagine most of my readership will be on board at least that far. But from the way many people downplay the extent to which income inequality in the US and UK is a problem, or deny the assertion that there is any systemic injustice causing or exacerbating such inequalities… I’m starting to worry that some people out there really think that the current situation is how you’d expect things to look if everything was working just fine.

And I’m going to have to take some time to figure out how to even talk to that kind of belief.

*You’re on the internet, you should be used to “all” being used hyperbolically. Of course it’s not all the money being referred to here; it’s actually just several metric fuckloads.

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– It was Self-Injury Awareness Day last week, and it’s never too late to be a little more aware.

– Yet more evidence that those poor investment bankers and billionaires are getting a bum deal while there’s so much welfare fraud ruining the country: a new $77 million system has saved a whopping $7,591 in illegitimate Medicare payments.

– When you look at the taxes corporations actually pay, the US has almost the lowest rate in the world. And here’s ten more charts.

– People tend to have very different views on government social programs when they’re the ones benefiting from them.

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RBS is handing out half a billion dollars in bonuses this year, on top of all its employees’ regular salaries.

This despite the fact that they failed to achieve the lending targets that were agreed to, and so aren’t actually providing as much of a public good as it’s been decided they ought to, even now the company is publicly owned.

But, you know. We’ve got to make sure these execs have a financial motivation to stay here, and are rewarded by a competitive market with no external regulation. Otherwise, well. They might not want to stay here and run our banks any more.

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I’ve also not gotten around to producing my own write-up of the workfare fiasco, the scheme by which people on benefits are obliged to take on unpaid work in order to continue receiving government support, while corporations essentially get entirely free labour which is paid for by the state, at far below minimum wage.

The internet’s already kicked up a very effective fuss over this while I’ve still been gathering links and trying to put together some thoughts.


First of all, read this by sturdyAlex, because it’s completely brilliant.

Then follow the Boycott Workfare blog, and read posts like this one and this one.

The Guardian has been reporting on how unfair this scheme is, and also how it affects disabled people.

The New Journalist looks at a speech in which Iain Duncan Smith totally abandoned any remaining vestiges of credibility he might have been able to lay claim to.

The Third Estate looks at the context in which workfare exists: minimum wage, benefits, prison work, apprenticeships, and so on.

I endorse the sentiments contained in the articles linked to above. If you’ve read through it all and got as angry as I have, you might want to sign this petition.

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Mitt Romney demonstrated his utter inability to comprehend the basic number ordering system last week.

He said, specifically, that he’s “not concerned about the very poor“, and instead wants to focus on the middle-class, the “very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

His rationale is that the very poor have a “safety net” in place, and so we can basically stop thinking about them. Whereas the middle-class, that block in the middle who it’s assumed aren’t really poor but are doing kinda-okay-but-could-be-better – the ones who might actually vote for Romney – well now, they’re worth some pandering.

The point being, of course, that those people are by definition better off than the “very poor” who need those safety nets, and it makes no coherent sense to be more concerned about them.

He also said:

The area that I think is the greatest challenge that the country faces right now is not to focus our effort on how we help the poor, as much as to focus our effort on how to help the middle class in America, and get more people in the middle class, and get people out of being poor and becoming middle income.

A sentence in which he both continues to misunderstand how numbers work and contradicts himself a couple of times.

Oh, and if you look at the actual tax plan Romney’s proposed, most of the middle-class he’s courting get screwed over pretty good anyway. And Obama’s not exactly unfamiliar with similar rhetoric himself.

So, good luck America. Hope that democracy thing works out for ya.

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– What version of atheism are we on now? Cuttlefish estimates it’s 6.2. Maybe in a future upgrade we’ll believe in God again.

At this moment the UK Economy is listing. Hehe. (Context, if you need it.)

The futility of prayer, demonstrated in one simple chart.

Asexual and aromantic. Just another way to be.

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