Realsociology

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement

‘Summary’ of Why Nations Fail

Posted by Realsociology on October 15, 2014

71obsqEDYbL._SL1199_Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (2013) by D. Acemoglu and J.A. Robinson

Overall Summary

Developed countries are wealthy because of ‘inclusive economic institutions’ – Basically a combination of state and free market in which

  1. The state creates incentives for people to invest and innovate – (through guaranteeing private property rights and enforcing contract law)
  2. The state enables investment and growth through providing education and infrastructure, which private business uses, and
  3. The state is controlled by its citizens, rather than monopolised by a small elite. Crucially, there needs to be a democratic principle at work in which people in politics establish institutions and laws which work for the majority of people, rather than just working to make them rich.
  4. The state also needs to maintain a monopoly on violence.

The authors come to this conclusion through a number of comparative studies of countries which are in close geographical proximity to each other such as

  • Mexico/ America
  • South/ North Korea
  • Botswana/ Zimbabwe

They argue that the only factor which can explain why one of these countries is poor and the other rich is because of the institutional infrastructure which has been established through the last few decades/ centuries.

In contrast to the above ‘inclusive economic institutions’ which encourage development, the authors suggest the opposite ‘extractive economic institutions’ (think corrupt dicator and his clique sucking money into a Swiss bank account) can generate growth in the short-term, but in the long term result in poverty.

They also suggest that there has been ‘a vicious circle’ at work in many underdeveloped countries over the last three to four centuries – With their globalised history starting off with extractive institutions established by a colonial power (typically built on already existing internal extractive institutions), which, on independence, became even more extractive under postolonial rulers, which in turn lead to civil war as competing factions fought for control over the extractive institutions – which then led to a decent into chaos and failed states. The authors see little hope for such countries.

In contrast, developing countries such as the US and the UK have benefitted from three to four centuries of a virtuous circle in which institutions have become gradually more inclusive, which has created increasing incentives for entrepeneurialism and economic growth.

The gist of the book is, handily enough, covered in the intro and chapter one….

Introduction

Countries such as Egypt are poor becuase they have been ruled by a narrow elite that have organised society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people. (This also applies to North Korea, Sierra Leonne, Zimbabwe)

Countries such as Great Britain and The United States are wealthy because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed, where the government was accountable and responsive to its citzens and where the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunties. (This also applies to Japan and Botswana).

 

Chapter one – so close and yet so different

Starts with a comparison of the two sides of Nogales, half of which lies in Arizona, in the US, the other half in Mexico.

In the Arizonan half the average income is $30 000 U.S dollars, the majority of adults are high school graduates, the roads are paved, there is law and order, most live until over 65. In the Southern half, the average income is three times less and everything else is similarly worse.

The authors point out that the difference cannot be because of environment or culture, it must be because of politics and economic opportuntities.

They also argue that in order to understand the difference, you need to go right back to early Colonialism in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Mexico was the first to be colonised, under a system of slavery and extraction. In the 15th century, the Spanish basically used already existing systems of slavery to their own benefit and extracted mountains of gold and silver, leaving a legacy of elite-governance and a dearth of politcal rights for the majority.

In North America, settled by mainly the English 100 years later, the absence of slavery amongst indiginous populations and much lower population densities meant that slave systems simply would not work, although this didn’t stop them trying for the first twenty years or so. Eventually, however, the orginal settler company (The Virginia company) back in England realised the only way colonialism was going to work was to provide incentives for the settlers – So they offered them land in return for work. It was this that set the basis for the democratic constitution and congress of the US, which then went on to create problems for the English government.

The rest of chapter goes on to argue that the next 300 years of history are crucial to understanding why the US is now so wealthy, and why most of Latin America is so poor.

America has had 300 years of political stability, where poltical institutions control economic institutions, at least to an extent (the authors cite the breaking up of the Microsoft Monopoly as an example) broadly making them work for everyone. Other factors such as the patent system, credit systems, and education provide opportunities for anyone to make it rich and enjoy the benefits of the wealth.

By contrast in Latin America (Mexico), up until the 1990s most countries saw political turmoil and a series of dicatorships where a series of small elites ruled for their own benefit. This instability has lead to the rise of monopoly power, and it acts as a disincentive for anyone to try and do well and become rich (the next dictator might just take all your money away), also lack of finance and education prevents competition anyway.

Crucially, historical good fortune appears to be central to explaining why a country is rich now, so figuring out how a current poor country can develop is not that straight forward if a culture of monopoly, corruption and lack of political rights are the norm…..

 

Chapter three – the making of prosperity and poverty

This chapter contrasts North and South Korea, divided along the 38th parellel after world war two. In the late 1940s these had similar levels of development, today, however, their economies have diverged.

South Korea has living standards 10 times higher than North Korea, the former being similar to Portugal, the later similar to sub-saharan African countries. People in North Korea also live ten years less than those in South Korea.

The differences cannot be explained by anything other than institutions.

In the South, private property and markets were encouraged (albeit by dictators initially) and thus investment and economic growth were encouraged. At the same time, the government invested in education and new industries took advantage of a better educated population.

In North Korea, privated property and markets were banned, and a centrally planned economy instigated. This simply led to stagnation.

Extractive and Inclusive economic instiutions

Countries differ in their economic success becasue of their different institutions – the rules influencing how the economy works and the incentives that motivate people. Crucial is private property rights – which needs to be backed by the state…. In South Korea, people know that they will be rewarded for their efforts, in North Korea, there is no incentive to innovate and invest because the state will expropriate the benefits of any such initiatives.

In order to develop a society needs to have ‘inclusive economic institutions’ – A state that guarantees prosperity for the massess – Such a state provides a degree of infrastructure that is necessary for economic growth – for example enforcing private property rights, contract rights for all, not just a minority, and providing education and physical infrastructure such as roads. Private enterprise uses and needs such institutions.

What doesn’t work for development is extractive insitutions – where the state is used to extract wealth from one subset of the population to another…. Such as slave and colonial systems (and the Tories in the UK today?)

Engines of Prospertity

Education for the masses is crucial for innovation in an advanced technological world – This is what all developed nations have, and what many undeveloped nations lack. Education needs to be well financed and parents need to have the incentive to send their kids to school.

Inclusive and extractive political institutions

A state needs to be inclusive for economic growth to occur – that is, it needs to both be chosen by its citizens and have a centralized control over legitimate violence.

Extractive political and economic insituttions tend to support eachother (which then means the masses don’t support them…. there is disincentive!)

Why not always choose prosperity?

The simple fact is that where technological change is the engine of economic growth, this means social change, and with change there are winners and losers… Thus existing elites may resist changes that make institutions more inclusive even if this means greater prosperity for all, because it will mean less prosperity for them. (Think industrial revolutions in Europe).

The long agony of the Congo

The Congo has not developed since independence because it has not been in the interests of the ruling elite to build a centralised state which includes all voices, or in their interests to use the state to provide public services which will benefit the masses – instead the institutions remain extractive.

As an independent polity, Congo experienced almost unbroken economic decline and poverty under the rule of Jospeh Mobutu between 1965 and 1997. Mobutu created a set of highly extractive economic insitutions. The citizens were impoverished but Mobutu and the elite around him (known as the Grosses Legumes or The Big Vegetables) became fabulously wealthy. Mobutu built himself a palace at his birthplace, Gbadolite, with an ariport large enough to land a supersonic Concord jet, a plane he frequently rented from Air France for travel to Europe. In Europe he bought castles and owned large tracts of the Belgian capital Brussels.

The simple truth is that if Mobutu had introduced more inclusive economic institutions he would not have been as rich.

Growth under extractive institutions

Growth can occur under extractive instiuttions – as in Russia and South Korea at first and China today but this is unlikely to be sustained unless both economic and political insitutions become inclusive.

 

Chapter twelve – the vicious circle

The authors paint the vicious circle as starting off with extractive institutions established by a colonial power (which builds on previous extractive institutions), which, on leaving, becomes even more extractive under corrupt post-colonial rulers, which in turn leads to civil war as competing factions fight for control over the extractive instittions – which then leads to a decent into chaos!

Or in more detail… The British Colonial Authorities built extractive instititions which many post independence African politicians were only too happy to continue in order to enrich themselves. This happened in countries such as Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. The postcolonial rulers used their wealth to build personalised security forces which were answerable to them and also to rig elections – money thus became essential to maintain power, with only those who have money able to maintain power. This creates incentives among the opposition to depose the existing leaders in order to gain power and wealth themselves, and to protect themselves from being killed off by the said existing leaders. The point here is that power has become an end in itself rather than as a means to developing a country.

This is best illustrated through the example of Sierra Leone -

All of the West African nation of Sierra Leone became a British colony in 1896. The British identified important rulers and and gave them a new title – paramount chief. In Eastern Sierra Leone, for example, they encountered Suluku, a powerful warrior king, who was made Paramount Chief Suluku.

In 1898 the British tried levying a hut tax of five shillings, which resulted in a civil war known as the hut tax rebellion. It started in the north, but was strongest and lasted longest in the South.

In 1904, the British stopped construction of a railway line from Freetown to the North East and instead diverted it south, to Bo, in Mendeland, to give them quick access to put down this rebellion.

When Sierra Leone became independent in 1961 the British handed power to to the SLPP, which attracted support from the South, and in 1967 this party lost the election to the opposition party, the APC which drew support from the North.

Though the railway line was initially established to rule SL, by 1967, its role was economic – it allowed transportation of the country’s exports – coffee, cocoa, and diamonds, which came mostly from Mendeland in the south.

The then leader of the APC, Siaka Stevens, who drew his political support from the north, ripped up the railway line and sold off the track and rolling stock in order to weaken the oppostion in the south and consolidate his political power. This decimated the SL economy, but when it came to a choice between consolidating power and economic growth, the consolidation of power won out. Today, you can’t take the train to Bo anymore.

There is continuity between Colonial rule and Steven’s government – both extracted wealth from the people.

The Colonial rulers did this through agricultural marketing boards – farmers had to sell their goods to these boards, which typically paid much less than the market price (impovershing farmers and enriching the elite). When Stevens took power, he kept these marketing boards in place, but it got worse – under colonial rule, the colonialists extracted about 50% of the value of agricultral products, under Stevens, the rate of extracting rose to 90%.

Along with marketing boards, the old system of Paramount Chiefs remain in place today…. They control local politics at the village level, and local land rights and taxation – Paramount chiefs are elected, but only members of the ruling house can stand – and in 2005 the victor was Sheku Fasuluka, King Suluku’s great, great grandson.

The combination of these two institutions means there is very little incentive for farmers to increase productivity – because they have insecure land rights due to the paramount chief system and are the victim of extractive insitutions in the form of the marketing boards.

Thirdly, there was the control of the diamond mines – The British essentially set up a monopoloy for the entire country and handed it to DeBeers in 1936, and shortly after independence, Stevens simply nationalised this arrangement, through which he effectively personally controlled 51% of the diamonds in SL.

Stevens used his vast fortune to buy political influence and to set up his own private security forces – the ISU (known locally as the ‘I Shoot You’ and the Special Security Division – known as Siaka Steven’s Dogs).

All of this set the scene for the brutal civil war, outlined below….

Chapter 13 – Why Nations Fail Today

In the year 2000 Zimbabwe held a national lottery for everyone who had kept more than 5000 Zimbabwean dollars in their bank account (following a period of hyperinflation). The fact that it was Robert Mugabe who won this lottery just goes to show the extent of his control over Zimbabwe’s institutions and just how extractive those institutions had become.

The most common reasons nations fail today is because they have extractive institutions – and Zimbabwe illustrates the economic and social consequences of these…. By 2008 its per capita income was half that when it gained its independence, and 2009 the unemployment rate stood at 94%.

The roots of the political and economic instiututions lie in the colonial period. Orginally apartheid institutions were establised for a white elite to extract wealth from the country, but when Zimbabwe gained its indendence, these institutions were simply maintained by Mugabe. Eventually (because of lack of inclusivity) his support waned until by the year 2000 he had to find further resources to buy political support – so he expropriated the farms owned by white people and when that wasn’t enough he printed money, which led to massive hyperinflation.

Nations fail today because their extractive institutions do not create the incentives to save, invest and innovate. In many cases politicians stifle economic activity because this threatens their power base (the economic elite) – as in Argentina, Colombia and Egypt. In the cases of Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone this led to total state failure and economic stagnation. The countries in which this has happened include…

  • Angola
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • DRC
  • Haiti
  • Liberia
  • Nepal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Sudan
  • Zimbabwe

And the civil war, mass displacement, famines and epidemics that accompany them… in terms of development many of these countries are poorer today than they were in the 1960s.

A children’s crusade…

This section outlines the causes of the civil war in Sierra Leone. The authors put this down to decades of extractive institutions by the tyrannical APC government (the economy was collapsing by 1985, and they use the example of the TV transmitter being sold by the minister of information in 1987 and in 1989 the country’s main radio antena collapsed, ceasing radio transmissions.) By this point, the army had been dispanded because of the ruling elite feared it might overthrow them, which meant by the time Charles Taylor’s RPF crossed the boarder in 1991 there was no one there to stop them…. And then that brtual and chaotic civil war carried on for a decade – in which competing factions competed over resources in order to keep fighting eachother – diamonds/ children (soliders) and weapons.

So in summary, the historical precendent of the SL civil war is extractive institutions… the hollowing out the state to the point that was incapable of fending off rebels.

The authors now go on to outline three other countries which have suffered from different types of extractive institutions – Colombia, Argentina and Egypt, and then Uzbekistan…. a country languishing under the absolutism of a single family and the cronies surrounding them, with an economy based on the forced labour of children….

Cotton accounts for 45% of the exports of Uzbekistan. When the country was created in 1991, its first and still only president Islam Karimov, divided up the land among farmers, but each was required to devote at least 35% of their land to cotton, a valuable export crop. However, because the farmers themselves receive only a fraction of the world market price of the crop, they had no incentive to maintain, let alone invest in, cotton harvesting machinery.

No matter, however, because the country has turned to children to harvest the cotton, and every September-November the schools are emptied of approx. 2.7 million schoolchildren. Teachers, instead of being instructors, become labour recruiters.

Each child is required to pick between 20-60KG a day, depending on age, and the lucky ones who live close to their allocated farms can walk or bus to work, but the unlucky ones have to sleep over in sheds, with no toilets or wash facilities. And it’s BYO food.

While the market price for cotton was $1.40 in 2006, the children were paid somewhere in the region of $0.01 per kilo.

All of this has come to pass because Karimov has established a regime where opposition is repressed and there is no free media or NGOs allowed.

Why do nations fail?

What all of the countries loooked at in the book have in common is that they have an elite who have designed economic instiututions in order to enrich themselves and perpetuate their power at the expense of the vast majority of people in society.

Despite differences the bigger picture is that in each of these countries extractive political institutions that have created extractive economic insitutions which transfer wealth and power toward the elite.

The solution is to transform the extractive institutions into inclusive ones…

Chapter fourteen – breaking the mould

This chapter looks at three case studies – Botswana, The South of America, and China, which all managed to move from, or negotiate their way around (in the case of Botswana) extractive to inclusive political institutions which encouraged econonomic development.

Of particular interest to me is the case of Botswana – which today has the same level of development as some Eastern European countries, despite being as poor as most of the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s (at which time there were less than 100 graduates in the entire country).

What’s especially interesting about Botswana is that in that particular region of Africa a broadly inclusive political system was in existence pre-colonialsm – in the sense that any individual could rise up to become head of one the various different chiefdoms in the region, and so chiefdom was not hereditory, it was meritocratic, and someone could only be chief with the will of the people. Thus the principal of ruling with the will of the people, and on behalf of the people had been established for generations.

Another factor which promoted development was the fact that the English weren’t particularly interested in Botswana. In fact in the 1890s, three Twsana chiefs visited England and negotiated with the government to be part of a British Protectorate (different to a colony) – In return for protecting the region against Rhode’s South African expansionary policies (the guy who colonised Zimbabwe and Zambia, and look how they turned out!) all Enlgand wanted was enough land to build a railway in order to open up the intererior. For this the Twsana were pretty much left alone, crucially unextracted and without interefering institutions which had been set up to allow the extraction to take place.

Also signficant is that, following Colonialism and the discovery of diamonds, the Tswana chiefs passed a law that all diamond wealth was to be national property, rather than giving the rights to individuals or Corporations (like neoliberals would claim should be done, and like what happened in Sierra Leone). The effect of this was masses of public money which was then used to pay for public services. Hence development……

Something else emphasised in this chapter is that in all three cases certain key actors made important decisions at crucial junctures in the country’s history (when an existing leader died, such as Mao, creating a power vaccum, or when Independence was gained in Botswana) – The decisions taken at these crucial points in history in these countries involved either fighting the power of entrenched elites (as in China) or establishing laws which would prevent political corruption (like nationalising the diamond supplies in Botswana) – it was these decisions, in contrast to decisions in countries like Sierra Leone where a national railline was sold off to benefit an elite, which led to economic development.

Chapter 15 – understanding prosperity and poverty

The most interesting section of this concerns the predictive power of the theory – which is limited given the role of agency and contingency in said theory. However, the authors do predict that…

America and Europe are likely to get even richer than countries in most of the rest of the world, because these are the most inclusive institutions (I’d beg to differ given Tory Policy). Nations that have undergone no signficant state centralisation such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Haiti are unlikely to witness any development. Some Latin American countries are set two grow – most noteably Brazil, Chile Mexico as are some African countries – Tanzania and Ethiopia for example. Growth will not be sustained in China.

The irresistible charm of authoritarian growth…..

This section reminds us that modernisation theory is flawed – economic growth (more Mcdonalds as Thomas Friedman might put it) does not necessarily lead to to more inclusive political institutions.

Plenty of repressive regimes have pursued and achieve very rapid economic growth in the last 60 years – Germany, for example, Russia, and China.

This chapter also deals with what probably won’t work in terms of development… Firstly, any attempt at engineering policy changes such as those attempted by neoliberalisation throughout the 1980s and 90s – Because if a country is politically corrupt, they just subvert the policy changes – Privatisation happens, but the people winning the contracts are the brothers of the ministers for example, or the country says it implements a policy but they just carries on as normal!

You can’t engineer prosperity

…because the actors within developing countries are constrained by their institutions, and if these are extractive then any programmes designed to engineer change will ultimately result in further extraction.

This is true of two approaches to foreign aid preferred by the West – both the neoliberal ‘restructure your economy’ type approach and the micro-economic approach which focuses on specific institutions.

The failure of foreign aid

As above, any aid money going into a country with extractive institutions will ultimately end up being extracted. The authors do argue, however, that even if only 20% of aid money reaches its ultimate destination then it’s worth it!

What works….?

The chapter and book round off by going back to the English and US revolutions which resulted in institutions becoming more inclusive – what is required for development is a plurality of voices demanding to be heard by government and actually being heard. This cannot be imposed from above, but seems to have to become from below.

In this sense, any attempt to engineer growth and provide aid seem pointless – the only things that make any sense are programmes oriented towards empowerment and making sure media is free because the later fosters the former.

Thoughts and comments….

Positives

The comparative analysis of countries and territories in close geographical proximity does seem to rule out the role of environmental and cultural factors in explaning divergent patterns of development, leaving only political and economic institutions.

It fully recognises the importance of the legacy of extraction identified by dependency theory, however, it also puts more emphasis on the already existing extractive institutions which the early colonisers extracted and it recognises the continuation of extraction post-colinalism, acknowledging the fact that corrupt elites also play a role.

This seems to deny the validity of neoliberal theory – the state seems to be crucial in helping development, and the absence of the state seems to be crucial in explaining the descent into chaos and civil war.

This isn’t a deterministic theory – it stresses the importance of agency and contingency at crucial historical junctures.

Limitations

This is  quite a generalist analysis – ‘extractive’ and ‘inclusive’ institutions are very general, broad terms, and there’s lots of variation possible within these voluminous concepts.

The book only draws on a relatively few case studies – and lacks the statistical rigour of, for example,  Paul Collier’s Bottom Billion Theory.

The book doesn’t seem to deal with the globalised context of the nation state today within a ‘world system’ – There is no mention (as far as I can see) of the role which TNCs, trade rules, the World Bank might play in allowing a global elite (rather than nationalised elites) to extract regions of the world.

As a final word, what’s maybe most timely (or not timely?) about the book is its suggestion that some kind of political infrastructure which allows a plurality of voices to be heard and wealth to be distributed so it benefits all is crucial to development – it’s time more of us started asking how we might do this at a global, rather than a national level.

Further Reading

The blog based around the book

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The rise of the yummy mummies, and why you shouldn’t tolerate them

Posted by Realsociology on October 8, 2014

The rise of the ‘yummy mummy’: popular conservativism and the neoliberal maternal in contemporary British culture

Jo Littler

This is a brief post summarising (much of it paraphrased) the above article,  which analyses the rise of the ‘yummy mummy’ – I’m not a huge fan of cultural studies, but I like this…. It’s helped me understand why I’m so intolerant of them, and why I’m right to be.

What is the yummy mummy?

In short, she is a white, thirty something in a position of privilege, shoring up the boundaries against the other side of the social divide (so-called ‘pramfaces’).

The yummy mummy, as constructed through autobiographical celebrity guidebooks and ‘henlit’ novels espouses a girlish, high consuming maternal ideal as a site of hyper-individualised pyschological ‘maturity’. ‘Successful’ maternal femininity in this context is often articulated by rejecting ‘environmentally-conscious’ behaviour – disavows wider structures of social political and ecological dependency in order for its conservative fantasy of autonomous, individualising retreatism to be maintained.

Whilst the characteristics of the yummy mummy might appear as changeable as her clothing, most often the term is used to symbolise a type of mother who is sexually attractive and well groomed, and who knows the importance of spending time on herself. She is, according to Liz Fraser’s book ‘The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide’ (2006) ‘the ultimate modern woman: someone who does not identify with the traditional, dowdy image of motherhood… who knows her Gap from her Gucci’.

There are various blogs and websites maintained by women ready to embrace the term, and is frequently used to describe glamourous celebrity mothers – books by Myleen Klass and Melanie Sykes are two well known examples in the UK.

Yummy mummys tend to think of themselves as exemplary successful individuals who are making the most of their lives and through their high-consumption lifestyles they demonstrate to the rest of us that it is possible to ‘have it all’ – the children, the job and the looks. Truly, they are (in their heads) the ultimate modern women.

However, just as with the yuppie, or the new man, the emergence of the yummy mummy can also be read as indivative of an underlying social crisis, in which case her emergence can tell us about how ideas of feminity and parenting are changing and about the times in which we are living….

Sexualisation -

Most obviously the yummy mummy positions the mother as a sexually desirable being. This is a substantial cultural shift – previously, mothers had been perceived as asexual.

For generations, patriarchal norms had typically constructed women as either Madonnas or Whores – either asexual Sacred Virgins or sexual beings deserving of brutalisation (hence witches being burnt at the stake) – It was precisely this myth of the asexual female which second wave Feminists such as Germaine Greer, Ann Oakly and Kate Millet criticised, (although little was said by any of them about the constructued asexuality of mothers in paprticular).

A brief history of motherhood in western cultures looks something life this (from Woodward 1997)

  • The 1950s domestic goddess – groomed yet chaste
  • The 1970s oppressed housewife – made-up and miserable
  • The 1980s working mother – powerful and besuited

Given this history, the yummy mummy’s positioing as desirable and sexually active might be regarded as emancipatory because now mothers themselves are encouraged to look hot, however, there are other ways of intererepting the yummy mummy – as outlined below…

A) As expressing a very limited (traditional) femininity and sexuality

Littler points to three limitations with the yummy mummy’s sexuality

Firstly, certain aspects of performance come to be expected – mothers are not just allowed to express their sexuality but are expected to express a particular kind of sexuality. Treatments like facials, for example, are now advised as necessary and routine. As minor UK celebrity (I love this description) Melanie Sykes tells us….

‘Being a gorgeous mum just takes a bit of imagination and more planning than it did before, but you  really have no exuse for sinking into frumption and blaming it on parenthood’

It is harder to imagine a clearer expression that this of how the onus, no matter the extent of resources or income, is on a self-governing subject to regulate herself. Such urgings are part of a wider canvas of neoliberal responsibilising through self-fashioning. In this context the yummy-mummy is an aspirational figure, with the specifics of how to become her outlined in various guidebooks suchaas The Fabulous Mum’s Handbook.

Second, sexuality is delimited because the preferred model of femininity is ultra-feminine – well-groomed, wearing fashionable clothes and being very slim. In other words, this is the extension of a fashion and beauty complext to the post-pregnant body.

Even the ‘slummy mummy’ still aspires to the yumm-mummy, the former being a Bridget-Jones type of mother – Still accepting the ideal, but endearing through her failure to live up to it. Both types (according to Mcrobbie) share in common a rejection of Feminism.

Third, the yummy mummy is more of a desired than a desiring object, although unlike with the pornoised MILF, there is something eerily infantile about the yummy mummy construction – part of the identity inolves a coming down to the level of the child and depoliticsing yourself, suggesting you are incapable of dealing with political issues, rather all you can do is consume.

(B) The yummy mummy as neoliberal agent (a social class based analysis)

In the UK there are generally two routes to motherhood, and there is now a signficant gulf between working class younger mothers who are demonised and middle class mothers in their 30s who are the ideal, and it is from this later type that the yummy mummy emerges.

The yummy-mummy is basically a high-consuming, stay at home mum drawn from the top 10% of society.  She does not think about the wider social context which affects all mothers, because she does not have to, and rather than doing politics she retreats from public life and and focuses on a very delimitted range of concerns – deciding what consumer-oriented activities her and her child should engage in. The message of the yummy mummy is clear – you have the power to solve your own problems, and the solution to these problems is conusme more – no need to get political.

The problem with this is that the very visiable yummy mummy construction ignores completely the wider structural context of motherhood and parenting….

This context is that neoliberal policies have reduced support for working mothers make it very hard for most mothers to stay at home for any length of time outside a year’s paid maternity leave – Working conditions remain very unflexible and radically unfriendly to families. On top of this there is still an expectation that the mother will be the ‘foundation parent’ (NB recent changes to paternity leave may help change this). This makes it very hard for parents (and especially women) to combine work and soical care in equitable and supportive fashion –

As a result the majority of mothers (say 90%) simply do not have the resources to be yummy mummys, only (say 10% do), and it is these 10% who get the air-time and get to publish books and tell the other 90% what they should be worrying about.

Thus in sociological terms the yummy mummy is a neoliberal agent whose function is to encourage individualisation and responsibilisation on the part of all mothers and to demonise mothers who are working class, in any way political and/ or do not subscribe to a tradtionally feminine (infantalised) sexuality.

C) – Finally, the yummy mummy is inherently anti-environmental

She is basically a pro-corporate consumer, and she has wider agency in encouraging and driving consumerism. In many contemporary novels, high end consumers are often contrasted against frugual-consumer mothers who are cast as freaks and social misfits.

It is not hard to see why the yummy-mummy is anti-environmental when you think that environmentalism is overtly political whereas the YM is high-consumption, individualistic and narcissistice.

In conclusion

This article has helped me understand my own high degree of irritation at yummy mummys and thier brats disturbing my peace and quiet in coffee shops around Reigate. Before reading this I was somewhat concerned that I should find this so annoying.

Now, however, I realise that I haven’t just been being irritated by the mums their brats, it must have been my unarticuclated subconscious telling me that these people are the shallow, selfish, narcissistic agents of neoliberalism.

In short, my peace in those coffee shops was being disturbed by the agents of everything that’s wrong with global politics, not to mention the reproduction of it at the level of the life-world.

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Why does it cost so much to raise a child?

Posted by Realsociology on October 4, 2014

How much, on average, does it cost to raise a child?

It topped £225 000 in 2014, for the first 21 years of a child’s (/kidult’s) life, including university tuition fees. (No prizes for spotting the middle class bias in this analysis). The costs break down as follows:

  • £86 K – Childcare
  • £74K – Education (includes university fees)
  • £20K – Food
  • £17K – Holidays
  • £11K – Clothes
  • £10K – Hobbies
  • £7K – Leisure
  • £5K – Pocket Money

How does this compare historically?

To be honest, I spent several minutes digging around the net and couldn’t find anything specifically focussed on this relating to the UK, but I did find this infographic from the US…..

rising costs of kids USA

From my own experience in the UK, if I think back to my own childhood/ kidulthood (’73 -’94) the cost of raising moi would have been nowhere near £225K. The combined cost of childcare and education would have been precisely £0, I couldn’t comment on food, but the cost of everything else would have been about half of what it is in 2014. Then again I am proper working class roots, so I would have had below the average amount spent on me (and it never did me no harm!)

Why are parents spending more money on children today?

In this article Christopher Carr points out that we need to look at what exactly parents are spending more money on – He points out that relative expenditure on basic needs such as food and housing have decreased since the 1960s, and most of the increase is being spent on caring for children’s emotional and psychological needs – With the biggest areas of increased expenditure being on child care, education, and (in the US) health care, and to a lesser extent hobbies and leisure.

He interprets this as a positive trend – simply indicative of the average family being wealthier now than they were in the 1960s, able to invest money in their children’s well-being. He does, however, point out that poorer families still struggle to meet their children’s needs on low incomes and some of the health-care expenditure is being spent on managing new health problems amongst kids such as obesiety and range of emotional disorders, so this is good for most but certainly not for all.

Personally I don’t see this as a positive trend at all. This analysis misses out a number of underlying ‘structural’ changes which effect the cost of raising a child….

(1) Given that the largest expdenditure item is on childcare, the single most obvious trend which lies behind this is that today both parents work which means they have little option but to spend £86K on childcare.

(2) The changing nature of childhood – children grow up later, and parents increasingly think its normal to assist their children financially into their 20s, by paying for some of their children’s university tuition fees for example (of course the introduction of these fees is something which has itself raised the cost of raising a ‘child’).

Behind this second factor lie a number of other factors (which I’m not going into here) – Such as greater gender equality, social policies (or lack of them), rising norms of consumption, probably house-ownership, probably also the ageing population.

(3) Originally I thought this would be more signficant, but advertising to children and pester-power also contribute -  as parents feel the need to give into their children’s demands for unnecessary crap. However, given that the major expenditure areas are on childcare and education, and only a measly £30K on leisure etc., this only makes up a relatively small part of overall expenditure on children. However, for lower income families, this kind of figure will serve to ‘lock them in’ to the system for a couple more years at least.

(4) Finally, you might like to consider whether the colonisation of the lifeworld of today’s love-struck couples have anything to do with the rising costs of childcare – It could be that today’s 20 somethings have been socialised into a historically unusual high-consumption norm – so they spend a fortune on keeping their relationship going (holidays/ home-decor/ 2 cars/ shopping trips/ gifts/ days out) during their 20s, which pushes them into a situation where they have a relatively small deposit for their first house,  and so require a large mortgage, with the attendant massive interest payments over 25 years, and it is this in turn that causes number one above – both partners needing to work – in order to maintain this high-consumption lifestyle which they then go on to socialise their children into.

In Conclusion…

If you’re a parent reading this I suggest that you grow up yourself (in the spiritual sense of the word) and stop buying crap you don’t need. If you’re a child, ditto. Instead, try and find ways of being happy/ constructing an identity (if you must do this) which are not rooted in uncessary consumption, ultimately you’ll end up being much less shallow and much more interesting.

Finally – Here’s a nice alternative parenting style - which avoids spending shed loads of money on them. Or you could just not have kids, and save yourself £225K, not to mention the planet.

Posted in Childhood, Family, Sociological Theory | Tagged: , | No Comments »

Five ways to spend less than £263K on housing over the next 32 years

Posted by Realsociology on October 1, 2014

The average twenty something in the UK will spend £263K on housing over the next 32 years of their life, and many will spend considerably more.

What I find deeply offensive about this astronomical figure is the simple fact that the house below cost £3K and took only 10 days to build.

ST_roundhouse_1307_2982916b

 

Given this, I think normal housing strategies are in need of serious reconsideration.

The Housing Norm in the UK (which is just NUTS!)

According to this is money, a typical first-time buyer who buys a £151,000 home with a £121,000 repayment mortgage over 25 years will pay back £191,600,  calculated at 4% interest. This works out at £638 a month or £7664 a year, which is equivalent to 9 years worth of earnings on the median-salary. Of these repayments, interest accounts for £191, 600 – £121, 000 = £70, 000.

Previous to buying their first property,  A recent report by Santander found that the average person spends 7.4 years renting paying an average monthly rent of £474, totalling £42, 000,

Combined with the £191.6k loan repayment and the £30K assumed deposit in the scenario above this gives a total 32 year average spend on basic housing costs of £263 600. Obviously, if you are twenty-something, you have the choice to follow a similar path-to-property ownership and just settle for paying out an overall average of £600/ month for 32 years.

Obviously you have the choice to follow a similar path-to-property ownership and just settle for paying out an overall average of £600/ month for 32 years. Or, like me, you might think this is totally nuts and consider doing all, or any of the following in order to reduce this figure…

  1. Live with your parents for the rest of your life
  2. Squat someone else’s second (or third/ fourth/ fifth etc….) property
  3. Live in a van
  4. Buy some land and live on it without planning permission
  5. Set up a low impact eco-village

This post is really just an overview of some of these alternatives, to demonstrate that they are viable, even if challenging….

One –  Live with your parents – until they die.

According to the Office for National Statistics, A total of 3.3 million 20- to 34-year-olds lived with their parents in 2013, the highest number since it started keeping records in 1996.

While the prospect of a 34 year old still living with their parents may sound sad, it is good for your finances. Taking the average rent of £5688/ year, if someone were to live with their parents from the age of 20-34, they could potentially save £80 000, and that’s before accumulations on savings are factored in, and for the ultimate savings on housing costs, you could just live with your parents until they die, which is what 42% of current renters are waiting for in order to be able to get their foot on that first rung of the property ladder.

Two – Squat

Squatting means to unlawfully occupy an uninhabited building or settle on a piece of land.

Until recently squatting in England and Wales was generally a civil matter, not a criminal matter, However, in 2012  Squatting was technically criminalised by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012, section 144 of the LASPO made it a criminal offence to trespass in residential properties with the intention of living there.

However, a few test cases have revealed that if the police find you squatting a building, charge you with squatting and you plead not-guilty, it is actually nearly impossible for the prosecuters to prove that you were actually living in the building permanently.  Also, the law does not cover non-residential properties.

There are a few things you need to get right in order squat a property for any length of time –The squatter’s advisory service recommend the following -

  • You need to make sure you do not commit criminal damage to get into the property, and repair any such damage that someone else has done immediately after you take up occupation.
  • Always make sure somone is in the property, because if the property is vacant you can be evicted.
  • You should contact the utilities providors asap to prove that you intend to pay.
  • When the police turn up, do not give them entry, talk to them through the door, and finally research who the owner is so you know who you are up against when you go to court, and don’t expect them to be too happy about it the fact that you’re squatting their property.

It’s difficult to say exactly how many people squat in the UK exactly given that squatters don’t generally want to draw attention to themselves, but there are some high profile, political examples –  One of the most interesting being Grow Heathrow which was established in an abandoned market garden site in Sipson, one of the villages due to be completely tarmaced to make way for a third runway at Heathrow. Over the past four years the site has played host to a wide range of political gatherings for groups such as: UK Uncut, Climate Camp, Reclaim the Fields, and The Transition Network, so you would need a certain amount of subcultural capital to fit in to this network, but if you can embed yourself comfortably into that sort of thing, then the payback is free accomodation, and probably food too.

Also of interest is this site – Made Possible by Squatting which is an exhibition from  September 2013 documenting stories of how squatting has benefitted the lives of individuals and communities in London- against the backdrop of the government’s attempts to criminalise squatting.

Three – Live in a Van

Admitedly this doesn’t seem to be a very popular option here in the UK, so firstly to America for some inspiration….  To Simplify is a blog by someone called Glen, whose been living a mobile life for over 5 years in a heavily converted 1988 Volkswagen Vanagon, which he describes as the closest thing to a home he’s ever owned. The blog simply documents Glen’s life on the open road, and he also details his total van conversion, from totally gutting the original van and then installing a whole range of new features – not least of all the engine and a solar electricity system. I particularly like this picture in which Glen’s parked up with other, more typical American mobile home dwellers – it sort of sums up his philosophy.

van 1

Bringing it back across the Atlantic, El Pocito is a nice little blog which, among many other things of an alternative nature, outlines the experience of two art teachers, originally from the UK who spent 9 years travelling through Spain and Portugal in their converted van. The site offers some excellent advice on the realities of van-living on the continent.

Campervan Life is a web site devoted to providing advice on buying, converting and living in a camper van, set up by a guy called Darren who bought a cheap Mercedes Sprinter (£1000 in 2006), learnt how to convert it on-the-job with no prior experience or any significant background in DIY and then travelled around Europe in it for 9 months. He lists the ‘van-travel’ related costs of his trip at under £3K, and although he doesn’t appear to include costs of the conversion can’t imagine it would have cost more than £1000, which means that in total Darren had almost a year of comfortable living and travel for under £5K, which is cheaper than the average rent in the UK.

While there are no doubt hundreds of people who live in vans long-term in the UK, but hardly any of them document their experience, hardly surprising given the degree of prejudice against ‘travellers’. The only example I could find was of a guy (who, incidentally has a job!) who’s put a few videos up on youtube outlining aspects of his life in a converted ambulance. In this clip he’s talking about his ‘split charge relay’ while smoking a king size roll up (contents undisclosed)

Incidentally, living in a van may sound like it’s an extreme strategy for saving money, and possibly only for hippies, and you’d be forgiven for making this mistake given that one of the first search returns for ‘living in a van uk’ takes you to a forum called ‘UK HIPPY’, but there are even members of the relatively conservative caravan club who have lived in their caravans long-term, combining this with either owning a small no-frills apartment, or house-sitting.

Four – Buy some land and just build without planning permission

In eco-circles, the best known example of someone who has actually done this is Tony Wrench and his partner, who built their own low-impact roundhouse for about £3K in 10 days (picture above). Actually, this may be the only example of a couple who have managed to do this and get away with gaining retrospective planning permission, others, such as the couple who built the beautiful hobbit-house below don’t seem to have been so lucky.

Shortly to be torn down because local planners judged it to be 'out of touch with the countryside'

Shortly to be torn down because local planners judged it to be ‘out of touch with the countryside’

 

For this reason, although this particular strategy is the one I intend to adopt at some point in the future, you might be better off going for option five…..

Five  Set up a low-impact community

There aren’t very many low impact communities in the UK, this is a very emergent phenomeonon, but one example of a group who have managed to get temporary planning for their dwellings is Tinker’s Bubble, a community of 11 adults and 2 children based in Somerset who live on 28 acres of land in self-built houses, grow most of their own food and are fossil-fuel free. I don’t have too many about the economics of the place, but the dwellings most of them live in seem to be of Tony Wrench’s low impact design and the weekly contribution for food is only £20, so compared to the average mortgage-monkey, this represents a significant saving.

One of the most inspiring recent examples is that of Llammas. Based in Pembrokeshire, on about 75 acres of land, this is one of the few fully legitimate (in planning terms) eco-projects in the U.K. It combines the traditional smallholding model with the latest innovations in environmental design, green technology and permaculture. The ecovillage was granted planning permission in 2009 by the Welsh Government and is currently part-way through the construction phase. The dwellings being built here are more robust than those in Tinker’s Bubble, and thus more expensive, but over the course of a lifetime these individuals will save themselves well over a £100K per person compared to the average, and have a significantly higher quality of life into the bargain.

In conclusion

Although all of the above involve more hassle than the standard massive-mortgage route to home ownership, personally I think a little discomfort and risk is worth it given the injustice involved with said mortgage route – via which you pay tens of thousands of pounds to people who simply haven’t done anything to earn it.

 

Posted in Alternatives, But what can I do?, Retirement - Early | No Comments »

A few thoughts on ICT, digital media and stratification in education

Posted by Realsociology on September 27, 2014

In its recent report, OFCOM describe young people as prolific users of digital media, with the vast majority of young people perceiving digital technologies in highly positive ways, and approximately 25% reporting that they see ICT as the key to their future career. (OFCOM 2013, see also Logicalis 2013).

This widespread enthusiastic adoption of digital technologies is met by equally enthusiastic encouragement by business leaders, many of whom voice optimism that such technologies can help maintain UK economic competitiveness in the global knowledge economy. Gantz and Reinsel (2012) for example note that CIOs, data scientists and digital entrepreneurs already know that there is huge, untapped potential in the rapidly expanding collection of digital bits, although this will require the tagging and analysing of big data if this is to be realised, while Lent (2102) suggests the long established blurring between consumption and production is accelerated by the web which opens up new capacities for self-generated value, pointing to a new entrepreneurial spirit amongst today’s younger generation, which should be embraced.

This optimism seems to be mirrored by the DFES1 which has an overwhelmingly positive view of the future role of ICT in schools and colleges, noting that it has transformed other sectors, and that pupils need ICT to equip them with future-work skills. In DFES literature, ICT seems to be presented as a neutral set of technologies through which individual students can be empowered, with emphasis on the benefits such technology can bring to schools, such as more personalised learning, better feedback, a richer resource base and the possibility of extending the learning day.

Following Ball (2013) this optimistic tone surrounding ICT fits with the neoliberal reorientation to economic global competitiveness as part of a global flow of policy based around a shift towards a knowledge based high skills economy, and in terms of broader (‘classic’) sociological theory these optimistic voices correspond to the largely optimistic theories of disembedded individualisation (following Dawson 2012) originally advanced by Giddens and Beck in early 1990s, in that digital technology is constructed as something which can enhance the capacity for young people to employ agency and craft innovative transitional choice-biographies (Giddens, 1991, p5, Beck 1992, p135-6). If there is any truth in this, we should, over the next few years, see several hundreds of thousands of young digital entrepreneurs engaging in cyber-reflexivity and creating innovative online solutions to the systemic problem of decreasing youth employment opportunities, irrespective of their class-location (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p39).

There are, however, several factors which suggest that this vision of the (dismebedded) individualised cyber-reflexive entrepreneurial future is either naive or ideological. Firstly, the extent to which today’s so called ‘digital natives’2 are genuinely innovative digital entrepreneurs rather than simply being ambivalent-consumers of digital products remains unclear3; secondly, cyberspace is far from a neutral arena, in reality I think it is more accurate to view it as a field of action in which the type of agency employed (e.g. whether productive/ entrepreneurial or banal/ consumptive) will be influenced by factors such as cultural capital and social networks; thirdly, this vision overplays the actual opportunities available for using digital media as a route to career success or self-employment – for example little mention is given to the problematic fact that millions of young people in Asia will be entering the ‘flat’ digital-labour market in the coming decade, able to survive off much lower returns than their UK competitors; fourthly, there seems to little interest in operationalising what kind of opportunities will be opening up for digital entrepreneurs in the future – there may well be hundreds of thousands more 20-somethings with their own digital-companies by 2020, but it is uncertain what side of the high skills low skills informational economy (referred to by Apple 2012) the majority of tomorrow’s digital workforce will find themselves; and finally there is the possibility that this is the latest discourse innovation in the denigration of teachers and state education through constructing technologically reticent staff as a barrier to progress, as well as paving the way for further privatisation with the forthcoming renewal of the ICT curriculum being fully endorsed and part-authored by Google, Microsoft, and IBM4.

It is also the case that I see little evidence of digital innovation in my mundane workaday reality – instead what I mainly see is digital-addiction, banal banter, and browsing for shoes, with today’s digital youth seeming largely content to construct themselves through digital-consumption and self-expression. Many of today’s students attach huge significance to such aspects of their lives (browsing for clothes and shoes is a favoured activity in tutorial, as are discussions about the post-exam trip to Malia, photos from the previous year’s trips being standard as social networking profile pictures). It is also apparent that the mobile devices through which many young people access online culture are themselves fetish-objects, central to young people’s experience of being themselves (as researched by Jotham 2012), that young people generally remain uninterested or unable to engage with the more technical aspects of these technologies5 which might actually equip them with the skills to be digitally-entrepreneurial, and that mobile devices link young people to heavily commodified space (Bolin 2012) which connects users directly to corporate (read neoliberal) protocols (Snickars and Vonderau, 2012).

It follows that youth engagement with digital media seems much more likely to centre around what Kenway and Bullen (2008) call the corporate curriculum (2008) which normalises the libidinal economy, a hyperreal realm of carnivalesque jouissance fuelled by desires based on values associated with lifestyle commodity aesthetics rather than the work ethic or responsibility, with any sense of ‘digital entrepreneurship’ being limited to the self-conscious commodification of the self through personal branding via social networking sites (Marwick 2011).

I also think that many students struggle as a result of what Bauman (2013a, 2013b) refers to as the pointillist experience of time online… ‘marked as much by the profusion of ruptures and discontinuities…. more prominent for its inconsistency and lack of cohesion than for its elements of continuity and consistency…. broken up, or even pulverized, into a multitude of ‘eternal instants’. This concept has been developed by Niehaus (2012), exploring what he calls ‘iTime’, describing this experience as being structured by an addictive hunt for frissons, short instants of excitement and pleasure; with each moment ever-more packed with contents, references, and tasks which taken together are likely to take precedence over the linear, single-minded time of one activity.’ This process is likely to be accelerated through multitasking, through which 16-24 year olds manage to squeeze in the equivalent of 9 hours and 30 minutes of data consumption per day (as noted by Davis 2013).

According to Bauman (2013b), those young people who are distracted by pointillism and the jouissance of the corporate curriculum, engaged in what he would call ‘banal’ cyber-reflexivity, are afflicted with a ‘fatal coincidence of the compulsion/ addiction of choosing with the inability to choose’, and if Bauman is correct, those who are more engaged with such aspects of digital media are probably less-likely to have thought about their long-term futures, and be less able to construct the kind of entrepreneurial ‘choice’-biographies that DFES champion (Bauman, 2012).

While there is a lack of critical research available on the use of digital media in an educational context (as Selwyn 2014 notes), there is some evidence that higher levels of ‘social’ use of digital technologies could be correlated with lower levels of engagement  with educational opportunities. Fisher’s (2009) personal experience of teaching in an FE college was that FE students who were heavy users of communications technologies were more likely to get bored of standard, offline lessons, Junco (2011) has theorised that the negative correlation between the frequency of posting updates on Facebook and final GPA could have been due to due to cognitive overload, given that the former variable was not negatively correlated with time spent engaged in college work, while Hall and Baym’s (2012) analysis of mobile maintenance expectations uncovered that once established mobile technologies can encourage high levels of ‘mundane maintenance’ to meet communicative obligations within a friendship group.

Possible avenues for research….

There’s definitely scope for further research to examine the extent to which student use of digital technology6 encourages the production neoliberal subjectivties, and the scope for and meaning of resistance to such subjectivities. One possible avenue might be to look at the extent of ‘digital entrepreneurship’ (for example, ability to code and create software or use software to generate innovative products) compared to other more common uses of digital media (such as information-seeking, maintaining social networks and game-playing).

My own feeling is that it would be useful to employ Bauman’s theoretical framework7 to explore the extent to which different forms of (socially embedded) digital-reflexivities stratify young people into (different types of) digital-producers and digital-consumers, although there is potential for this to be a ‘sociology of education’ type study, which might usefully draw on the theoretical work of Bordieu, exploring how digital reflexivities are embedded in social networks and influenced by cultural capital, and how these reflexivities influence students’ ability to meet the performative demands of further education.

 Works cited

Apple,M (2010) Global crises, social justice and education, Routledge: New York.

Ball, S (2013) The education debate, Kindle Edition.

Bauman, Z (2013a) Dividing time, or Love’s Labour’s Lost, Thesis Eleven 2013 118: 3

Bauman, Z (2013b)  The art of life, Kindle Edition (originally published 2008).

Bauman, Z (2012) On education: Conversations with Riccardo Mazzeo, Polity Press: Cambridge.

Beck, U (1992) Risk society: towards a new modernity, Sage: London.

Beck, U and Beck-Gernsheim, E (2002) Individualisation, Sage: London.

Bolin, G (2012) Personal media in the digital economy, in Snickars, P and Vonderau, P (2012) Moving data: The iphone and the future of media, Columbia University Press: New York.

Davis, M (2013) Hurried lives: Dialectics of time and technology in liquid modernity. Thesis Eleven 118:7.

Dawson, M (2012) Reviewing the critique of individualization: The disembedded and embedded theses. Acta Sociologica 55: 305.

Fischer, M (2009) Capitalist realism: Is there no alternative? Kindle Edition.

Gantz, J and Reinsel, D (2012) The digital universe in 2020: Big data, bigger digital shadows, and biggest growth in the far east, IDC. (Accessed online January 25/ 2014 – http://www.emc.com/leadership/digital-universe/iview/index.htm).

Giddens, A (1991) Modernity and self identity: Self and society in the late modern age, Polity: Cambridge.

Hall, J and Baym, N (2012) Calling and texting (too much): Mobile maintenance expectations, (over)dependence, entrapment, and friendship satisfaction. New Media and Society 2012 14: 316.

Jotham, V (2012) iSpace? Identitiy and space – A visual ethnography with young people and mobile phone technologies. PhD Thesis, University of Manchester, Faculty of Humanities.

Junco, R (2011) Too much face and not enough books: The relationship between multiple indicies of Facebook use and academic performance. Computers in Human Behaviour, 28: 1 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563211001932, accessed 24/01/ 2014).

Kenway, J & Bullen, E (2008) ‘The global corporate curriculum and the young cyberflaneur as global citizen’ in Dolby, N & Rizvi, F (eds.) Youth moves – Identities and education in global perspectives, Routledge, New York.

Lent, A (2012) Generation enterprise: The hope for a brighter economic future, the RSA. (http://www.thersa.org/action-research-centre/enterprise-and-design/enterprise/enterprise/generation-enterprise, accessed 25/ 01/2014.)

Livingstone, S (2008) Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression, New Media and Society, 10: 293.

Logicalis (2013) Realtime generation (http://www.uk.logicalis.com/knowledge-share/reports/real-time-generation-2013/, accessed 22/01/ 2014).

Marwick, A (2011) I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience, New Media and Society, 13: 114.

Niehaus, N (2012) Whenever you are, be sometime else’. A philosophical analysis of smartphone time (https://www.academia.edu/3664754/Whenever_you_are_be_sometime_else._A_philosophical_analysis_of_smartphone_time, accessed 22/ 01/ 2014).

Selwyn (2014) Making sense of young people, Education and digitial technology: The role of sociological theory. Oxford Review of Education 38:1.

1http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools accessed 16/01/2104, updated 18 October 2013

2Despite the fact that recent research by the Open University suggests the concept bears no relation to empirical reality, the DFES and business analysts still seem all too willing to use it.

3 In my own college, reporting of 60+ hours a week use of digital-media is not uncommon, but the majority seem to simply use digital media for communication with significant-peers, entertainment or consumer-related information-seeking purposes, and thus it seems likely that most 16-19 year olds are currently more accurately characterised as digital-consumers rather than genuinely innovative digital-producers/ or a range of diverse prosumer hybrids.

4https://www.gov.uk/government/news/harmful-ict-curriculum-set-to-be-dropped-to-make-way-for-rigorous-computer-science DFES 11/01/2012, accessed 16/01/2013

5for example, Livingstone (2008) reported that teenage users of a variety of social networking sites were unsure of what aspects of their profiles were private, which requires a ‘deeper’ level of technical awareness than that required to maintain a profile, but in itself is hardly a ‘deep’ level of technical knowledge.

6I use the term broadly at this stage, although I realise I may need to limit the study to certain types of digital-engagement.

7If that’s even possible given his love of ambivalence?

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Stop buying crap you don’t need now and retire 4 years earlier!

Posted by Realsociology on September 24, 2014

In this post I continue my statistical critique of the ordinary life of the everyday worker-consumer. This is done through comparing a hypothetical 35 year old who earns the median salary and has average expenditure to a hypothetical construction I call the frugal-consumer who spends as little as possible without completely cutting themselves off from society. The expenditure levels of the former effectively tie them into working for a further 33 years until the current projected standard retirement age of 67-8, while the later, assuming they maintain their frugal levels of consumption, will be able to retire when they are 52-3, or 14 years earlier, or in half as much time as the average-consumer on the average wage.

Here I consider spending on Consumer Frivolities (see previous posts for other categories of expenditure).

The average-consumer spends £216.71 a month on what I call consumer frivolities, which includes unnecessary expenditure on restaurants and hotels (£73.15), furniture and furnishings (£51.48), ‘miscellaneous goods’ (£69.33), which in the ONS family spending survey mainly consists of beauty products and jewellery, and finally recreation and culture (£111.06), which for most people means the cost of purchasing audio-visual equipment and subscriptions to various services, and also includes the cost of entrance to things such as cinemas, concerts and festivals.

Over the course of one year this amounts to £3,933 and maintaining this for another 33 years will cost £129, 798,  which represents 6.0 years working earning the median salary.

So what does the average person get for this £129, 798, or 6 years of toil? Most people would say it’s hard to generalise, because the consumer gets what ever they want for the money they’ve got, assuming the market can provide it. Some people will choose a house full of antiques, others a house full of gadgets, and stilll others closets full of clothes and  boxes full of jewellery. Increasingly likely, though is that money will be spent not on stuff, but on experiences, such as playing the dating game, or weekends away and longer holidays, supplemented by such products as fake tan and sun cream to prevent an actual sun tan.

To many people, such consumerist experiences are the very purpose of life: the products we buy define us, mark us out, and the events we purchase play a crucial part in our weekly, monthly and yearly life-course – they are things we look forward to, and back on, the events which help to maintain and define our relationships with our friends and family and give us something to talk about at work, other than work.

I’ve managed to resist the urge to be utterly cynical about the role which consumption plays in most people’s lives, because just recently I’ve come to perceive most ordinary consumption as tragic, and in this context cynicism seems innapropriate. Those people  who define themselves through their stuff become tied to it (and possibly require a bigger house in which to stuff their stuff), and for those who define themselves through their experiences, it seems to me that the way in which many people consume such events involves them not really being present because they’re too concerned with acting for the sake of sharing the experience via social media, and for me if you’re not actually present, then you’re not really even alive.

Ultimately such unnecessary consumption costs the average-consumer on the median salary 6 years of their working life. In contrast to this the frugal-consumer rejects the trivial, shallow and short-lived fake-joys of consumerism and instead engages in meaningful, productive and either free or very cheap activities when not working.

The frugal-consumer is not, however, an anti-consumer, and maintains an expenditure level on ‘consumer frivoloties’ which allow them to avoid being completely cut off from ordinary society. This is mainly because I could not, hand on heart, say that I am ever likely to cut out consuming frivoloties all together myself, cut down radically yes, cutting out altogether, highly unlikely.

The frugal-consumer spends just £60 a month on such frivolities, allowing for £20 a month on restaurants and hotels (so basically no hotel stays and one trip to a restaurant a month), £20 a month on furniture and furnishings, given that this category includes spending on basic household items such as hoovers, a further £20 for ‘miscellaneous goods’ because everyone needs a little something extra, and a whopping £30 a month for recreation and culture. This amounts to an annual expenditure of £1080 a year, a total of £35 640 over 33 years, representing a saving of £94 158 or 4.33 working years of working at the median salary compared to the average-consumer.

NB If this looks unrealistic, or even unbearable, something like the bottom fifth of the U.K.  in terms of income live such a life out of necessity rather than as part of an early-retirement strategy, so it is possible.

References

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-spending/family-spending/2013-edition/index.htmlhttp://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_335332.pdf

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On the Social Ideology Ideology of the Motorcar (UK version, 2014)

Posted by Realsociology on September 20, 2014

One unexpected finding from my statistical analysis of average consumption patterns (E R E for infographsBLOGv3) is that an irrational addiction to the motorcar is the single most significant  factor which locks the individual into having to work until they are 68. Giving up the car and moving to within cycling (preferably walking) distance of work and most other places you want to go is the single most significant thing you can do to save money and make early retirement possible.

The average-consumer’s crazy car habit.

According to the National Travel Survey 2012, the average distance travelled per person  in 2012 was 6,691 miles, with 78% of these miles being travelled by car, which means roughly 5000 of these miles were travelled by car. If we assume that someone makes an economically rational choice and purchases a relatively cheap car, then using the AA’s Motoring Costs Survey 2014, the overall average standing costs of the cheapest category of car (up to £13K in this survey) stood at £1913, with a running cost per mile of £18.56. If we factor all of this together, the average cost of running a cheapish, and thus probably small car in 2014 was £2841. (See endnotes 13-14)

This works out at £277.77 a month or £3333.20 a year, which rounds up to a staggering £110 000 over 33 years, equivalent to 5.2 years worth of earnings on the median salary.

worst-ever-jams3-01122012-jpg_130019
I was first alerted to the incredible economic inefficiency of the motor car by Andre Gorz’s excellent 1973 essay ‘The Social Ideology of the Motorcar’. Following Ivan Illich, Gorz made the point that the average American spent four hours a day devoted to their car, either sitting in it (moving or not-moving), or working to pay for the various services associated with driving. He calculated that if you added up all of these hours and divide by the average distance travelled by car, the average American travelled at an average speed of 3.5 miles an hour, or the same as walking pace, but thousands of dollars worse off and probably a lot more stressed as a result.

In Britain today, the statistics aren’t quite as bad as this. If we take the approximate average distance travelled of 5000 miles a year, and divide by the average speed of 24.6 mph, this makes a total of 203. 25 hours spent driving. If we then add to this the 212 hours it would take you to pay for one year’s worth of motoring costs, the total amount of hours we get is 415.25, which when divided by 5000 miles gives us an average speed of 12 mph.

Given that this is comparable with the speed of a bicycle, and that I am being quite generous in my calculations (the bigger your car, which won’t go any faster in all that traffic, the more local your journeys, the more of them are in peak hours, and the lower your wage, then the more time inefficient the car becomes), all in all I’d say the car is, for your typical person, a total waste of money and of 5.2 years of a precious human life.

References

The National Travel Survey

AA’s car costs

http://www.bikereader.com/contributors/misc/gorz.html

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/310251/congestion-local-a-stats-release-mar-14.pdf

http://www.thebikestation.org.uk/storage/BS_Travel_Cost_Comparison_2011.pdf

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Some ‘nice’ infographics on inequality in the UK…

Posted by Realsociology on September 17, 2014

Wealth Distribution

It’s a bit dated already, but I guess these things take a bit of time to put together – A video outlining wealth distribution in 2008/10. One of the stand-out statistics is that to be that in the bottom 10% of households, the HH had to have wealth of less than £13000, whereas to be in the top 10%, the HH needed wealth greater than £967 000. Or…

Top 10% of households –       Minimum Wealth = £967, 000

Bottom 10% of households – Maximum Wealth = £13, 000.

So the poorest household in the richest 10% is at least 74 times richer than the richest household in the bottom 10%.

(Quick aside – From an extreme early retirement perspective, £967,000 is about three times what you need to retire on, so not one of those households needs to be working, although some will be because of unnecessary consumption addiction syndrome).

 

Inequality has actually increased since this video – In 2010 the wealthiest 20% of the UK were 92 times wealthier than the poorest 20%, in 2012 they were 105 times wealthier.

WEALTH3

 

Life Expectancy

Richmond upon Thames had the highest healthy life expectancy (HLE) for both males (70.3 years) and females (72.1 years). The lowest HLE was in Manchester for males at 55.0 years and Tower Hamlets for females at 54.1 year

health2

 

Education

There’s no pretty picture for this one, but there is a nice interactive infographic here (courtesy of learning plus)

The short story is that, nationally, while there has been an overall improvement in the GCSE 5 A*-C pass rate, there has been an increase in both the FSM (Free school meal) gap and the CLA (children looked after) gap between 2012-13, so those from disadvantaged backgrounds have fallen further behind those from more advantaged backgrounds.

The site notes… ‘Nationally we see an increase in the percentage of pupils eligible for pupil premium achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs including English and mathematics between 2011 and 2013. At the same time the gap in the achievement of this threshold measure has widened between 2012 and 2013, reflecting a greater increase in the achievement of other pupils. The percentage of CLA pupils achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs including English and mathematics increased by just 0.3% between 2012 and 2013 while among all other pupils this rose by 1.8%, widening the performance gap to 45.9%. Among FSM eligible pupils there was an increase of 1.8% achieving this threshold measure in 2013 than in 2012; similarly there was an increase of 2% for all other pupils, increasing the gap to 26.7%’

On the plus side, there is evidence that London is successfully closing this education gap.

In summary – CLASS INEQUALITY IS STILL RIFE IN MODERN BRITAIN!

Posted in Infographics, Wealth and Income Inequality | No Comments »

Your mortgage or your life?

Posted by Realsociology on September 13, 2014

Following on from my realisation that the average income earner could retire at 52, I’ve started to analyse the relative importance of various categories of expenditure in preventing early retirement. Here, I look at housing.

Given that housing represents the single largest life time expenditure item for most people in the U.K., getting your housing strategy correct is vitally important for early retirement. As far as I’m concerned, it is simply irrational to rent in the long term, so, if you can afford it, buying really is the only option. However, the average-consumer goes about this in the wrong way – i.e. by spreading their mortgage repayments over a relatively long, 25 year term and dragging the mortgage out even longer because of trading up to a larger property.

According to this is money, a typical first-time buyer who buys a £151,000 home with a £121,000 repayment mortgage over 25 years will pay back £212, 000, calculated at 5% interest. In my calculations I’ve been a little more optimistic, to reflect some of the better interest rates out there at the moment, and assumed an average life-time interest rate of 4%, so borrowing the same amount  (£121 000) at 4% over 25 years means paying back a total of £191,600, at £638 a month or £7664 a year, which is equivalent to 9 years worth of earnings on the median-salary. Of these repayments, interest accounts for £191, 600 – £121, 000 = £70, 000, which in itself is equivalent to almost 3 years of work earning the median salary. (See endnotes 8-12)

In my frugal-consumer model (Spread sheet ) the same figure is paid back over 11 years, which means paying back a total of £149, 764, at £1135 a month or £13, 620 a year,  equivalent to 7 years worth of earnings on the median salary. Compared to the average individual, the frugal-consumer saves themselves over £40, 000 or the equivalent of nearly 2 years worth of work earning the median salary.

The above scenario is actually extremely generous in its comparison – In the sense that while my 11 year pay-back model is, I think, reasonably achievable for the average income earner, my ‘average’ consumer model is in fact not realistic – If a couple chooses to ‘trade up’ to a house then their costs of housing almost double.

The Average house price is currently £264K – And if we apply the same payback-ratios as above, then a  4% mortgage over 25 years gives a total payback amount of £385K (5% gives  £424K).

(NB – Many people will pay back more than this – 30 years is rapidly becoming the norm for mortgage repayment periods - In 2012, the number of mortgages with more than 30 years on the term had risen to 27.8%, up from less than 3% ten years earlier, and the longer the mortgage term, the greater the interest!

So let’s just pause…. assuming that you stay in a one or two bed flat for the rest of your life and stick to the standard mortgage term, then that will cost you £250K over the course of your lifetime, but if you want a family-home, you are looking at something in the region of £400K. Looked at in starker terms, if we take the median salary, these figures represent approximately 12 and 20 years of work respectively. If you compare the later of these to my frugal-consumer model, you lose 9 additional years working to pay for property.

To make an even starker comparison, there are several people in the UK who have built their own houses for 10 times less than these figures both in terms of money and time, it becomes clear that most of the above years are basically years spent making someone else rich – A combination of the land owner, property developer, previous owner and/ or mortgage-lender – And I think anyone who is either considering getting on the property ladder or who is currently on it needs to urgently consider some of the available, cheaper, alternatives to housing.

Or look at it this way – If you walked in to work tomorrow and your boss offered you a year, or two, or ten off on full pay, that’d be pretty nice, wouldn’t it? Or if you won £100K on the lottery, that’d be at least Facebookable. These are the types of figures radical housing alternatives can save you…..And these are the figures you throw away by being a mortgage slave.

NB – The point of this post isn’t necessarily to criticise the injustice of a system based on debt, the aim is simply to raise awareness of the extreme savings that can be made in terms of your money and your life if you just pay that damn mortgage down as quickly as possible.

References

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-1633400/Mortgage-calculator-Compare-true-cost-rates-fees.html

Related Posts

1. How the Average Income Earner could retire at 52

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TTIP – Putting Profit before People

Posted by Realsociology on September 10, 2014

The government is about to sign up to a treaty which will would allow companies like Sports Direct (just a random example) to sue a future government for increasing the minimum wage, if introducing such a policy damaged corporate profits.

The treaty’s called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – And it’s seems to be primarily about shafting the 300 or so million citizens of European countries so that Transnational Corporations can make even more profit.

CORP

 

Having clicked around a few web sites which try to summarise what the TTIP is, I think I’ve done a better job below – down to just FIVE KEY POINTS… (Handily for anyone studying Global Development, this also reads like a ‘what is neoliberalism’ check llist).

1. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a free trade treaty currently being negotiated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA.

2.  The main goal of TTIP is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the  Atlantic.

3. These ‘barriers’ are basically social and environmental protections currently enforced through the laws of various nation states within Europe and include the following:

  • labour rights (e.g. Minimum wages, holiday pay, public sector pensions)
  • food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs),
  • regulations on the use of toxic chemicals
  • digital privacy laws
  • new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

4.  TTIP also seeks to create new markets by opening up public services  to competition from transnational corporations, threatening to introduce a further wave of privatizations in key sectors, health and education.

5. Most worrying of all, TTIP seeks to grant foreign investors a new right to sue sovereign governments in front of ad hoc arbitration tribunals for loss of profits resulting from public policy decisions.

So here we go again – a further wave of neoliberalisation, given that it looks like many Nation States in Europe are about to agree to a set of international rules which put Corporate profits before the well-being of their citizens.

Of course you’ve probably never heard of this treaty, it’s firmly off the news agenda, even though, right now, your democratic rights are being undermined and this treaty will almost certainly mean that you are worse off in the future in terms of your labour rights, environmental protection, and quality of public services.

If you want to sign a petition to get Vince Cable to fix or scrap the deal then click here

This post is mainly summarised from this nice document – TTIP – A Charter for Deregulation, an Attack on Jobs and an End to Democracy

Posted in Agenda Setting, Capitalism, Global Development, Globalisation, Neoliberalism, TNCs | No Comments »