The UK public supports greater equality in principle, but not in practice.

Attitude Polls such as this one from the JRF (2004) and this research from the British Social Attitudes Survey suggest that about 75% of the population believe that the income gap in the UK is too great. The graphic below shows how the difference between what people in the UK think people should earn in certain careers and what people actually earn.

However, although three quarters of the population think those at the top earn too much, only 20% of MPs support motions for greater equality in the UK – The latest news letter from the trust also states that 101 MPs have signed an early day motion on income inequality, while This link will take you to the current is a list of the 86 MPs that signed an equality pledge put together by the Equality Trust.

So here we have what appears to be a nice example of how out of step our largely unrepresentative democracy is with public feeling – untill you dig a little deeper –

The general public are deeply suspicious of redistributive policies – the public don’t like the idea of the rich getting taxed more and the government giving the money to the poorer – which is linked to a widespread mistrust of the ‘undeserving poor’ – which in turn is probably linked into myths perpetuated by media stereoypes about Chavs. So while people think the income gap is too high, they don’t want the government to redistribute income!

So one solution possible alternative solution to income inequality that isn’t redistributive could be a maximum wage? One model is that the maximum wage in a company is set at a percentage of the minimum – you could make it quite generous – say twenty times greater? That would mean if the minimum wage is say £10 000, the maximum is 200, 000 – to my mind anyone seriously arguing that they are worth more than that per year is deluded. One other advantage of this is that this would actually make managers and workers work closer together – a likely scenario is that if workers demand a pay rise – and they get it, this means the bosse’s pay would go up – if the boss imposes a pay cut – he’d also get a pay cut…..

However, despite the advantages,  the only poll I could find on this suggests there isn’t any public support for this either…

So there you have it – we have a population that thinks income inequality is too great but isn’t actually in favour of either of the two major policies that could tackle it!

The next logical thing to do would be to discuss the factors that might explain this apparent paradox – Of particular interest would to explore how valid those polls on equality beliefs actually are, and how generalisable, and  a second train of enquiry would be to explore whether ideology plays a role here – do we not want greater income equality because we all secretly (or not so secretly) harbour desires to ‘escape’ into the realms of the ‘uber-rich’?  

Unfortunately I don’t have time to discuss this at the moment – right now I need to go do my lottery tickets….

Incidentally, if you want to add your voice calling for greater income equality – then click here and, if you like the look of what you read, sign the e-petition! Needs to get to 100 000 signatures – I was number 290 – so some ways to go!

Of course – expressing your opinion, as is usual in British Democracy, is about as far as it will go – the chances of this petition or anything else related to greater equality actually being converted into action are incredibly remote – especially given the social backgrounds of MPs, with more than 50% of Tories coming from public schools or being Millionnaires.

Do we have an innate sense of fairness?

This provides a potential missing link between system and agency in explaining why inequality leads to violence such as riots… How Growing Inequality Hurts the Middle Class by Robert H. Frank (2007) – Even though it’s not focussed on those suffering real deprivation – if inequality hurts those in the middle this much – it can surely be applied to help explain why the really deprived in unequal societies might occassionally display signs of anti-social behaviour… Of course you may have seen this, but it’s relatively new to me, even though it’s four years old…

Frank offers up considerable evidence that human beings have an innate sense of justice – they care about their position relative to others and feel that if they are not getting their fare share in relation to their peers, then a sense of injustice and negative emotions arise – most notably anger… (taken from the text)
Do you teach kids to care about relative position or do they just discover it on their own?

Why not try the 'orange juice' expt. on your kids?

I was curious and did an experiment with my two older boys when they were young. David was seven and Jason was five, and it was a three day experiment. I gave them each a full glass of orange juice on the first day. I watched them each day. What did they do? Nothing on the first day! I cut them back to a half glass on day 2. Did they complain? “Why did we get only half a glass?” No, they again drank their orange juice without comment. The pay-off was day 3. David got 7/8 of a glass, Jason ¾—what psychologists call a “just noticeable difference,” where you need to carefully make sure there is a difference. Sure enough – I could see Jason’s eyes go back and forth between the two glasses. He could tell it wasn’t going to play out well if he complained, but he just couldn’t bottle it up any longer. He finally blurted out “That’s not fair. He always gets more than me.” We don’t teach them to do that, they just do it.

He goes on to provide an excellent account of evidence for greater equality leading to greater pyschological well-being  

So this is basically to pyschology what the Spirit Level is to Sociology – and I believe that Will Hutton in ‘Them and Us’ builds a similar arguement…although I’ve only just skimmed that book thus far – but while the war against the unread pile may be unwinnable, I think we are making ground in the war against neoliberalism in general and the Tories in particular…Check out the latest Yougov polls for some encouraging signs on this.  

 

Oil and Globalisation – not working for Equitorial Guinea

This extract from Peter Maas’ excellent ‘Crude World’ illustrates how Equitorial Guinea hasn’t benefitted from ‘capital-intensive invesment’ by the oil industry – – I’m sure  this kind of thing is pretty much what’s going on with China’s expansion into Africa…

The book obviously talks about a lot more than what’s below, focussing on how the extraction and export of oil has affected a range of countries and not always in beneficial ways,  but I was struck by this extract as an excellent example of how Transnational Companies and economic globalisation don’t necessarily result in ‘development’ because those companies import help from outsdie the areas in which they are based rather than integrating into local communities. One assumes, that once the oil has run out, they will just disappear without a trace – other than the legacy of pollution and corruption left in their wake of course…  

From the book –

Even if Mother Teressa were president of Equatorial Guinea, the odds would be stacked against her subjects getting rich from the country’s mineral wealth. That’s because it is not just the thieving of the government officials that make it hard for average citizens to benefit from oil booms. The globalisation of labour, combined with the small number of workers needed for capital-intensive oil projects, ensured that most Equatorial Guineans would watch others profit from that boom.

Let’s begin at Marathon’s natural gas facility, the one whose immense flares brightened (and polluted) the nigh sky. Little of the $1.5 billion Marathon spent on the facility entered the local economy because the plant was built by foreign workers who lived on the construction site and sent their pay packets home to Manila and Houston. Even for manual labour – digging ditches and the like – workers were flown in from India and Sri-Lanka.

As we moved around the plant I noticed that almost all the workers were South Asian, while managers were American and European… Indians and Filipinos had previous experience and knew how to use welding torches and wre not hobbled by Malaria or yellow feavour which were rife among the native population.

The plant – like many oil installations in the developing world – would have been on teh moon for all the benefit it offered local businesses. Thanks to just-in-time supply networks that span the globe, Marathon saved money by iumporting what it needed rather than working with unfamiliar local suppliers. Instead of buying cement locally, Marathon set up its own cement factory on site. The plant has its own satellite network, power plant and sewage system.. it existed off the local grid.

Almost everything has to be imported – Paces (the author’s guide) explained

‘How about paint?’ I asked

‘Imported he replied’

‘Portable Toilets?’

‘Imported’

‘Yes’

Equatorial Guinea had a lumber industry so I asked whether the wood was at least local

‘No Imported’

‘Food?’

‘Most of it gets imported’

I pointed to the small rocks that had been lined up to denoted the shoulders of a small road

‘Those are local rocks, but importing them would have been cheaper’ he said.

Definately worth a read this book!

 

Anyone for tea – just don’t make it Tetley’s

Tetley's Tea - buy it and you perpetuate the abuse of Bengali Tea Pickers

I’ve started obsessing about ethical consumption recently – And as I’ve just run out of tea and had to buy some more – I did some digging –

The British drink  165 million cups of tea every year, but some of our most popular tea suppliers perpetuate great environmental and social harms in the process of bringing us our national drink.

Tetley’s, the second most popular tea brand in the UK, and owned by parent company Tata, are notoriously bad, scoring only a dismal 4.5/ 20 for it’s ethical trading policies as measured by Ethical Consumer – which looks at the parent company’s environmental, workers rights and political activities.

Buying Tetley’s effectively involves supporting a company which doesn’t support fair pay and conditions for its tea pickers – also see this site for how Tetley’s attacks its tea workers in West Bengal – so you can either boycott them, which wouldn’t actually help the tea pickers,  so far better would be to take some stiffer action – letter writing, or you could, not that I condone such action, go to 18 Grosvner place in London and spray paint on their offices details of what they’re doing.

NB – Tata also own good earth tea – you’d never guess this was on dodgy ethical grounds judging by the packaging – incidentally this is why I reject most forms of marketing as a valid career – marketing involves dressing up a product so it seems more than it actually is – in this case, deliberately misleading the public.

Top of the ethical tea standards table were Equal Exchange Tea – with 17/20 for its ethical credentials – seems to be a reliable fair trade company which means that the tea is produced sustainably and the tea pickers get a decent price.

So if you are also a filthy, dirty and weak caffeine addict and your middle class enough to be able to afford it, go for the fairtrade option – alternatively I’m awaiting delivery of a batch of new T shirts I’ve designed – a range of colours and sizes bearing the logo ‘I don’t give a toss about worker’s right’s in the developing world so make mine a Tetley’s’ – so you could always buy one of those instead…

 

Book Plug – Why Marx was Right, Terry Eagleton

Why Marx was Right refutes ten criticisms levelled at Marx and Marxism over the years by drawing on material from Marx and Engel’s original writings and by looking at how Marxism has evolved over the last century and a half.

Just some of the ten criticisms of Marx Eagleton refutes – in ten chapters -include ..

  • Marxism is no longer relevant in a changed, classes society
  • Marxism is economically reductionist
  • Marxism has all too often lead to oppression
  • The notion that Marxism is about equality which is not possible
  • The idea that other struggles are more important – Feminism, anti-colonialism and ecological for example.

To summarise the very short (one page) conclusion on why Marxism is still relevant!

  1. Marx had a passionate faith in the individual and a suspicion of abstract dogma
  2. He Marx  was in fact wary of the notion of equality and did not dream of a future in which we all wear boiler suits. It was diversity, not uniformity that he hoped to see.
  3. He was even more hostile to the state that right-wing conservatives are, and say socialism as the deepening of democracy, not as the enemy of it.
  4. His model of the good like was based on the idea of artistic self expression.
  5. He believed that some revolutions might be peacefully accomplished and was in no sense opposed to social reform.
  6. He did not focus narrowly on the manual working class. Nor did he see society in terms of two starkly polarised classes, he was well aware of the growing power of the middle classes even in 1860.
  7. He did not make a fetish of material production – he thought this should be done away with as far as possible. His ideal was leisure.
  8. He lavished praise on the middle class and saw socialism as the inheritor of its great legacies of liberty, civil rights and material prosperity.
  9. His views on nature and the environment were for the most part startlingly in advance of his time. There has been no more staunch champion of women’s emancipation, world peace or the struggle for colonial freedom that Marxism more generally.
This would be a great read for students – it’s very accessible, although at times it does drift into a rather sarcastic tone and sometimes assumes you know something about Marx’s original works too, still, highly recommended -

Statistical Overview of the Food Crisis – useful links

Click on the map for link to interactive version

 

What with the UK news focussing on the riots and the financial crisis, you may also have missed the fact that 12.5 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other countries in the region.

The World Food Programme has put together a very useful web site  to provide information on the famine with lots of links to how you can help – the most easiest way being to donate by text message

This Guardian Development Post looks at what countries are donating to the humanitarian relief effort – Unsurprisingly The USA is the biggest relief donor – having committed to provide approx. $0.5 billion but the UK as committed to providing around $160 million in humanitarian aid – making us one of the biggest donors per head of population.

This may sound like a lot of money – bur keep in mind that this is money committed not money yet spent, and also the UN notes that another $2.5 billion is needed to prevent half a million people from starving.

If you want to know more about hunger around the world – the World Hunger Index provides details of percentages of malnourished children around the world.

 

 

This Guardian podcast focusses on Somalia and provides details of what it’s like for some of those suffering from famine and the problems with mounting large scale aid programmes in the area.

World Humanitarian Day

You probably missed the fact that it was World Humanitarian Day on 19th August – in it’s honour The Guardian put together a list of the countries who provide the most humanitarian aid – this basically being emergency relief, rather than development aid. The total amount spent last year was approx £5 billion, with the UK providing approx. one fifth of that – so as with development aid in general, we are right at the top of world league tables for aid assistance.

Thinking Allowed – summary of some recent research on gangs and parenting

Nice Thinking Allowed podcast that demonstrates Cameron is irresponsible to blame gangs for the looting, if nothing other than the fact that the term ‘gang’ is such a loose concept.

The podcast blurb starts – Are we right to blame the parents? Is there anything they could do? Laurie Taylor speaks to two researchers behind a massive investigation into the families of British gang members. Judith Aldridge and Jon Shute tell him what they discovered about the lives and experience of families with children in gangs and whether it is possible to intervene.

There research is just about as extensive as it gets on gangs – carried out between 2005 – 2008  a team of five researches cunducted formal and informal interviews with 130 gang members, ex gang members, mothers and fathers and members of agencies dealing with gang members.

The podcast starts off with the question ‘What is a gang’? – mentioning that there is a considerable debate around this basic question – as one person interviewed pointed out ‘sometimes’ what the authorities call a gang is just kids hanging around on the corner’, later on we are also reminded that being in a gang and committing crimes are two different things

The second question is ‘ Are the cerain characteristics which predispose someone to joining a gang…? The researcher here give an unfortunately wooly answer but confirms that the following predict future gang membership –

  • Having gang members in the family already
  • Coming from a permissive family
  • Rather unexpectedly, coming from an authoritrian family (this later being precisely what the right is calling for in response to the riots)  

They next move onto the question of interventions in family life, and here it’s pointed out that the people intervening have not clue just how bad some of their kids are – the authorities do not recognise the day to day challenges facing the parents of ‘bad children’ – they hence mistrustful of social workers – being able to cite evidence of their competence –

The parents also seemed to think that the courts were from different worlds – some quoted the fact that judges were mostly privately schooled and had no idea what it was like to wake up hungry and cold – and they tended to see incidents such as ‘smoking weed’ as serious, while to the parents in the study this was just not the case.

Another point is that we don’t know if parenting classes work as a means of reducing gang membership specifically because the two have never been compared – there is an evidence gap.

That swimsuit becomes you – An experiment on the effects of objectification

That Swimsuit Becomes You – Is an interesting  body image experiment designed to test Objectification theory (B. L. Fredrickson & T. 

Objectification Theory (part of it at least) posits that culture has socialised women (men too, but more so with women) to base their self-esteem on how slim/attractive they believe they are (hence judging themselves by the way they think others perceive them) – It’s theorised that this has two effects – firstly, it leads to restrained eating habits, and secondly, it leads to reduced educational performance as resources (mental and emotional) need to be consumed to maintain one’s body image….

In the above research, Two experiments manipulated self-objectification by having participants try on a swimsuit or a sweater. – The idea being that when you’re in a swimsuit, you’re more likely to feel ‘objectified’

Of 42 women and 40 men in the experiment and found that these effects on body shame and restrained eating replicated for women only. Additionally, self-objectification diminished math performance for women only

I’ve included it here as I’m sick of hearing – always from females – that these days men are just as ‘objectified’ as women – this experiment where ‘objectification’ is tightly controlled and men and women’s responses to it compared suggests this is not the case… Although the experiment is 15 years old so things may have changed, but until someone pushes something that suggests otherwise under my nose – I’ll stick with this as proof of the fact that women are still more objectified and effected negatively by it.

 

 

Where have all the Criminologists gone?

A whole host of pundits, journalists and bloggers have chipped in with their views on the causes of the UK Riots, while The Guardian is doing an excellent job of tracking the state’s response, but where is the commentary from professional sociologists and criminologists? There seems to be a lack of empirically and theoretically informed analysis coming from the professionals in these fields.

I find this annoying – because there are a lot of criminological and sociological researchers out there who have a lot of empirical knowledge they could bring to the debate, but on the whole I haven’t heard that much commentary on the riots from the professionals who are still, as it stands, primarily publicly funded.

In fairness, some sociological commentators have chipped in – Zygmunt Bauman has offered us his critical account of the underlying causes – unsurprisingly telling us it’s all abut the fact that post-modern Capitalism calls on us to limit our reflexive-projects of identity construction to the sphere of consumption rather than politics and production, and David Harvey, although more of a Marxist Geographer, has also penned an account of the relationship between the crisis in late capitalism and the riots.

But where are  the actual criminologists – where are their contributions?

Well probably the best specific online criminology blog is the Bent Society Blog – (the link is to their category –  riots), and I suspect that most of these posts are written by Mike Sutton –  This post makes some sensible observations about the actual role of new media in reducing street- crime overall but leading to increasing spikes of copy cat incidences. Richard Wilkinson, co- author of the spirit level has also ‘come out’ and highlighted the link between high levels of inequality and increasing violence

But what about other Criminologists and Sociologists -such as the serious ‘theory generators’ such as  Jock Young, one of the leading Criminologists in the country and author of the ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’ – nothing? Stephen Lyng – who developed the theory of Edge Work?

And what about the other professional criminologists working on the ground – there are hundreds of them in the country – where are you in this debate and why aren’t you contributing, surely those criminologists working in the field of youth criminality, surely they could  spare an hour to help fill the knowledge-gap that exists over this issue with some informed, evidenced based insight and perspective.

I mean I am not expecting full blown ‘I have all the answers’ contributions, but at least critical responses to  ideological accounts of the causes of the riots being given by the Tories that provide us with links to evidence that warn us off such simplistic analysis – along the lines of what this post from the JRF does…. I know the research is out there – so why aren’t people that know the same as I do, but know it better, and get paid more than me, and are better practised at articulating themselves, why don’t they contribute to this important debate?

It may be that Professional Criminologists are just too busy, but a few comments shouldn’t take that long; it may be that the issues are too complex, but then they can always be broken down (communicating as well as generating knowledge is in the job description, right?)

It may be that the media just isn’t asking – and I can believe this of the BBC – but not of the Guardian, and then there’s always social- media – professionals don’t have to wait to get their research to a wider audience these days.

Or could it be that criminology is just part of the system and that critical criminology is just dead in the water? Could it be that Universities put pressure on their staff to not to contribute to current debates for fear of  political reprisals and it’s only the really big names who are retired or in a position to be able to retire who can was political?

Or maybe it’s just pure old self-interest – it’s their knowledge and their damn well only giving it to those precious few people who can afford to pay for it?

As a final note I can’t accept that Universities don’t allow this knowledge to be disseminated in watered down form via the media – if this were the case we wouldn’t have programmes such as the excellent thinking allowed by Radio Four.

So can someone please tell me, in the case of the debate over the UK riots, where have all the Criminologists gone?

P.S. I fully accept I may have missed something – this is a genuine call for info. – If anyone knows of links to material that is not journalistic, please let me have them!