Three Alternatives to the Tory Cuts

Given that the three major causes of the crisis are 1. A Failure of government to regulate the finance sector 2. Finance Capitalists (Bankers) having too much power and 3. Capitalism – or at least neoliberal forms of Capitalism – it would seem sensible to tackle these three. Now I’m not saying some form of cuts to public services should be ruled out – but I think tackling these three fundamental problems are absolutely crucial if we are to sort out future crises, so ultimately joining a movement that aims for radical social change should be on anyone’s list of things to do as an alternative to letting the government cut our services…. But we’ll come back to that later, first of all a few concrete alternatives to the cuts[1]

1.   Tax Reform – There are plenty of things we can do as a country –

Firstly we can cut down on Tax Avoidance£25 billion is lost annually in tax avoidance and a further £70 billion in tax evasion by large companies and wealthy individuals. An additional £26 billion is going uncollected. The total annual tax gap is estimated to stand at over £120 billion (more than three-quarters of the annual deficit!). This is a great visual research tool from the Guardian that allows you to discover how much tax companies in the FTSE 100 declared in recent years compared to what it nominally should have paid. It is currently much too easy for rich companies and individuals to set up trust funds etc. to avoid tax – as George Monbiot points out we effectively have a situation in which there is socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor  

Secondly, we could apply a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ to financial transactions – If we applied a modest Robin Hood tax – a 0.05% tax on global financial transactions –to UK financial institutions it would raise an estimated £20–30bn per year. This alone would reduce the annual deficit by between 12.5% and 20%. It would also discourage the kind of financial speculation that helped to cause the economic crisis in the first place

And there are plenty of other ideas about how tax can save us from the cuts are outlined in this excellent document – The Great Tax Parachute – below are some examples – there are many more…

  • 50 per cent tax on all income over £100,000 £2.3 billion
  • Prevent anyone earning more than £100,000 a year claiming more than £5,000 a year in tax reliefs above their personal allowance £14.9 billion
  • An additional 10 per cent tax on bank profits

 

NB – The argument for taxing the rich more is basically that they (the 1%) have got disproportionately richer than the rest of us (the 99%) over the last 30 years – and this redistribution of wealth has carried on even with the contraction in the world economy in the last couple of years!
The world’s richest 1% has gotten $5.5 trillion richer since 2009 – Their wealth now totals $47.4 trillion in investible wealth, up from $41.8 trillion in 2009. This means the richest 1% control 39% of the world’s wealth – What’s especially unjust about this is the fact that world GDP contracted by about $4 trillion in 2009, and is predicted to have grown by roughly the same amount in 2010 (couldn’t find the actual figures for 2010 – not enough time!) – meaning that the above figures represents a straightforward $5.5 trillion transfer of wealth upwards!

Recent research has found that the wages of the FTSE 100 bosses have risen 4000% in the last 30 years. FTSE 100 bosses are paid now 145 times the average wage. Our Corporate leaders have seen their pay quadruple in the past 10 years, while average earnings increased at just 0.1 per cent a year. On current trends, this would rise to 214 times by 2020 and the top 0.1 per cent of earners will take home 10 per cent of national income by 2025 and 14 per cent by 2030 on the present trajectory. What’s especially unjust about this is the fact that the economy has now effectively stopped growing, the last decade of growth was largely debt fuelled and thus fictitious and the people running these Corporations are not especially talented, they are mostly just lucky and powerful enough to claim large wage packets.

 

2. We should adopt most, if not all, of the policy proposals suggested by a recent report by compass and the New Political Economy Network – entitled ‘Plan B: A Good Economy for a Good Society’ which attempts to outline where the left should be on economic reform – and offers some useful alternatives to the current Conservative government’s programme of public sector cuts etc. Some examples of proposed reforms include…

  • Maintaining present levels of government expenditure rather than cutting – which is seen as necessary to avoid a ‘double dip’ recession.
  • Quantitative Easing (this basically means the government increases cash flow through issuing bonds) to create a ‘New Green Deal’ – So far since 2009 the government has released £275bn through ‘quantitative easing’ – but this has gone straight to the banks who have in turn invested most of this in international commodity markets rather than lending to UK businesses and stimulating economic growth. Instead – Plan B argues that governments should be raising money to be invested in the two items below
  • Firstly, training a carbon army – to be employed in such things such as making houses more energy efficient – not only will this involve creating more skilled jobs but also have the effect of saving people money on energy bills, which in turn can be ploughed back into the economy. 
  • Secondly money should be used to Cancel out certain Private Finance Initiatives – £50bn spent now can save £200 bn in the long run – a particular favourite of mine
  • Raise the incomes of the poorest – through increasing benefits and tax credits rationale here is that these are the people who will spend money – thus stimulating economic growth

 

3. To bring about all of the above, we should all join a movement that aims to fundamentally change society – and the current occupy movement is, I believe, at the forefront of pushing for positive social change today. Some of the selected core beliefs of(I modified them!) the movement (London Branch) include –

  • We need alternatives to the current system which is unsustainable.
  • We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis.
  • We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable.
  • We demand an end to global tax injustice
  • We demand that our democracy represents people instead of Corporations
  • We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.
  • We want structural change towards authentic global equality.
  • The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.
  • The present economic system pollutes land, sea and air, is causing massive loss of natural species and environments, and is accelerating humanity towards irreversible climate change. We call for a positive, sustainable economic system that benefits present and future generations. [1]
  • People of all genders, nationalities etc. should come and participate in moving towards a fairer future.

If the above sounds Idealistic – look at what happened in Iceland following its credit crunch 

Following Iceland’s ‘Credit Crunch’ in 2008 – each Icelandic citizen was required to pay 100 Euros a month (or about $130) for fifteen years, at 5.5% interest, to pay off a debt incurred by private parties vis a vis other private parties. It was the straw that broke the reindeer’s back.

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.

In the March 2010 referendum, 93% voted against repayment of the debt. The government launched civil and penal investigations into those responsible for the financial crisis. Interpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, some of the bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.

But Icelanders didn’t stop there: they decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money. To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.

It remains to be seen If Iceland will recover faster than other countries who honour their debts to finance capital, but at least in principle they’ve got things more or less spot on!

 



[1] Most of these figures come from the following documents (also see reading list at end) – There is an alternative: The Case against the Cuts (published by PCS)

The Ideal scenario for children – the dual earner household?

Nice little summary of recent research on the effects of mothers working and the behaviour of children from The Millennium Cohort Study funded by the ESRC. Some of the chief findings seem to be –

  • There are no significant detrimental effects on a child’s social or emotional development if their mothers work during their early years
  • The ideal scenario for children, both boys and girls, was shown to be where both parents lived in the home and both were in paid employment
  • Children in single-mother households and in two-parent households in which neither parent was in work were much more likely to have challenging behaviour at age five than children where both parents were in paid employment

The Cohort Study follows 19000 babies born in 2000/2001 – although I don’t know how many of these the above research based its sample on as details of the research are only available ‘on request’ – so it’s a good job the ESRC aren’t a public body -oh er hang on, they are, ok so it’s a good case we don’t expect researchers to be IT literate enough to post links to their research, oh er hang on, I do expect them to be that competent – so ESRC – could do better…

If you can be bothered to find out details of this interesting research the contact details are here… It would be good if someone could because the summary above suggests that the impact of the working life of the mother partly depended on the working life of the father…

Also, while it might well be better for children to have both parents working, I think it’s still the case that women ‘are the takers of shit’ in most familial relationships – not in the classic rad. fem sense of the word – but in the sense that studies still report they are the ones doing most of the drudge labour and, even when they earn more than men, working women have to overcome feelings of guilt about ‘working and mothering’, and they have to pay special attention to make sure their male partners don’t feel emasculated.

So all in all, while children may be doing best living in dual earner households, there may well be a lot of exceptions, and we have to consider the extent to which women are responsible for this by doing more of the domestic labour and emotion work…

Are we protecting children too much?

Hi – in something of a new departure – and definately a positive one – today’s post is a guest post – from Brittany Lyons on excessive UK laws surrounding children’s use of toys… Brittany aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

Are We Protecting Children too Much?

Another threat to children's safety - at least according to the British State.

In a move that has been criticized as far too intrusive for many parents’ liking, a series of recent laws passed in the UK have effectively banned children from using party favors. While the safety of children is important, critics of the new laws feel that they are taking much of the fun out of children’s pastimes in exchange for a negligible improvement in safety. Some have even argued that the passage of these laws is just one more step toward the UK becoming a “nanny state,” where the government decides what is best for everyone—at the cost of their freedom.

According to a Telegraph article, the new laws were put into effect as part of the new EU “toy safety directive,” which cites balloons as enemy number one, arguing that children under eight years old can easily swallow them and choke to death. Balloons must now be packaged with a warning to parents about the possible choking hazard, essentially threatening that letting their kids help decorate might end any chances of them growing old enough to earn an online PhD. Additionally, whistle blowers are prohibited for those under 14, stuffed toys for toddlers must be made of washable material, and there is a limit on how loud toys or instruments may be.

Many experts feel as though these regulations hinder children’s abilities to play and learn, and don’t contribute much in the way of keeping them safe. Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Kent, argues that, “[t]oys and activities, such as blowing up balloons, are part and parcel of the type of children’s play that helps them become independent and self-reliant.” Even one member of the consumer safety committee for the EU, Paul Nuttall, has criticized the rules, saying safety laws that are this restrictive set a bad precedent.

Regulations concerning toys and other items are not a new idea. They were originally put into effect across Europe, including in the UK, in 1990. According to Toy Advice, they were updated again in 1995. Some toy regulations concern the use of chemicals, such as BPA, that have been found to be toxic, while other regulations are put into effect after a manufacturing defect in a toy or other item causes serious injury or death. As a result, many parents have come to rely on laws to determine whether or not a product is safe rather than extensively researching it themselves.

For many parents, however, this imposition is not acceptable. One of the strongest arguments that can be made against restrictive toy laws is that, under British law, parents are charged with protecting their children, and should therefore be responsible for what belongs to their children. This type of legislation seriously infringes on parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit.

The bottom line is that such laws actually end up doing more harm than good. They make it difficult for children to learn from and enjoy favorite activities, and interfere with the parents’ ability to make their own decisions about how to raise their children. While these laws may have been intended to protect children, in reality they only hurt them.

Catfish – A nice documentary to illustrate Hyper-reality

Catfish is  a great 2010 documentary to illustrate the piffalls of the hyperreal world many of us inhabit –

It follows a Young photographer Nev Schulman who becomes Facebook friends with Abby Pierce, an eight-year-old child prodigy artist in  Michegan, wafter she sends him a painting of one of his published photographs. The Facebook network then broadens to Abby’s family, including her mother, Angela and Abby’s attractive older half-sister Megan.

To cut a medium-length story short, Nev really falls for Megan and ends up heading up to Michegan to pay the family a surprise visit – and what he finds is that Megan doesn’t exist and that the mother, Angela, who is the talented artist he thought Abbey was, had invented a network of a dozen or more friends on Facebook and played all of them in a web of deceipt.

All of this is captured on film – and in Angela’s own words as to what happened –

‘the personalities that came out were just fragments of myself, fragments of things I use to be, wanted to be, never could be… Sometimes I just don’t know who I am.’

In a wonderful post-film twist – many critics think the documentary is fake and that some or all of the people involved know that the initial Facebook relationships were not real…. but the documentary makers claim it’s all genuine…

Goldman Sachs conquers Eurozone

No apologies for this post being lazy – this news needs spreading! Ex-Goldman Sach’s employees and current advisors are involved at senior levels of government in nearly every major Eurozone economy. It is in GS’s interests that Nation States pay off their debts, but not necessarily the people’s interest – this does signify the death of effective democracy and the power of the 1% in Europe as we turn over government to unelected technocrats…

Sach’s tentacles spread into the heart of politics in Ireland, Italy (the new PM Mario Moni and Greece, as well as the European Central Bank – in th UK it’s done via cosy lunch dates of course). This infographic says it all –

According to the article –

The Goldman Sachs Project. Put simply, it is to hug governments close. Every business wants to advance its interests with the regulators that can stymie them and the politicians who can give them a tax break, but this is no mere lobbying effort. Goldman is there to provide advice for governments and to provide financing, to send its people into public service and to dangle lucrative jobs in front of people coming out of government. The Project is to create such a deep exchange of people and ideas and money that it is impossible to tell the difference between the public interest and the Goldman Sachs interest.

 

Mexico’s Drugs War

This has to be one the best examples to illustrate the criminal dimension of globalisation –

 

 

Since the United States clamped down on cannabis cocaine being shipped into to America by boat, most of the product coming from South America goes via Mexico – which has lead to an astonishing growth in power of drugs cartels in Mexico – It’s not just the demand from the US for cocaine that’s driving the violence, it’s also the illegal supply of guns from the US back into Mexico too – 90% of the weapons used by the Mexican Drug Cartels comes from the United States. Some cities have truly become global hubs of international crime. To give you some idea of the scale of the market – it’s esitmated that the annual street value of drugs is somewhere between 13 and 48 bn dollars.

It is estimated that 45 000 people have died in Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ since President Calderon launched a military campaign against the drug cartels 5 years ago in 2006. So great is the power of these criminal organisations that they sometimes execute policemen outside local police stations, and some people are getting themselves chipped so they can be tracked if they kidnapped and held to ransom by one of these gangs.

Human rights violations run in both directions – both the authorities and the drugs gangs allegedly  kidnap, beat and torture to extract information.

If you can find it – the Mexico section of  ‘tropic of cancer’ does a great job of illustrating the power of these Cartels

PS – Sorry about the blank posts earlier – I ‘time release’ posts and sometimes the get published before I’ve written them – that’s just the postmodern kinda guy I am…

The Mobile Phone = the Bike Shed?

The Mobile Phone = The Bike Shed: Children, Sex and Mobile Phones should amuse your students – it’s based on a sample of 30 11-17 olds and it explores territory that many students will be familiar with – using mobile phones to explore their sexualities – in layman’s terms this translates in discussing dating, the etiquet of dumping (via text or not…?) and the risk surrounding ‘sexting’ (basically managed by not showing your face). Fortunately the research is summarised in this thinking allowed podcast – this is part of a broader study exploring the use of mobile phones among youg people.

The issues focussed on are that –

  • There is a lot of discussion over whether it’s appropriate to ask out/ dump via text and exactly how you should phrase messages  
  • Boys especially use their phones to look as if they are popular
  • There are some problems over having your mobile phone switched on while engaged in ‘intimate encounters’
  • phones are routinely used to send intimate photographs to eachother in the context a loving relationship  – don’t show yer head!
  • Exploration of sexuality is not uninhibited
  • The use of phones – sexting etc. just reflects the fact that we live in a more sexualised society.
  • There is a lot of anxiety surrounding development of sexual identities – partly fostered by the use of new media.

One of the most interesting ideas put forwards is that developing a sexual identity has always been part of growing up, but one of the main drivers behind the growth of using new technologies to do this exploring is that children are increasingly forced into using virtual space to explore their sexual identities because they actually have less access to public space than my generation would have done in the past…

It’s also quite a good example of a study with plenty of ‘ethical issues’ – which the reseracher basically got round by just starting off with an open question ‘what dyou think about mobile phones’ – most of her findings came out of that!

One thing that will amuse your students is listening to an academic talk about ‘their territory’ in academic language – here’s how the journal abstract analyses what’s going on –

[this research] explores children’s use of mobile phones in relation to their intimate, sexual relationships and in their development of gendered sexual identities in their everyday lives. Implications of risk and mobile phones are reflected in current media discourse and contemporary public discussions. While the concept of risk remains at the centre of current sociological debate, children have only recently been seen as active social actors within social science. Based on the accounts of 30 young people aged between 11 and 17, the article adopts a social constructivist perspective to explore the relationship between young people’s talk of sexuality and sexual acts in their discussions of mobile phone use, within the wider theoretical debates about risk and self-identity.

 

Britain in a day – Filming today

You might like to film for this today – Britain in a Day is an extraordinary project to create the definitive self-portrait of the UK today, filmed by you, inspired by Life in a Day. Basically, anyone can film any aspect of their lives – but there are a few rules (see ‘rules’ on the web site).

Even if you don’t film, it’s worth considering this as a really interesting way of collecting qualitative information about life in Britain – visual ethnography completely open and respondent centred – but obviously a self selecting sample and then edited down by probably mainly middle class men. It’ll be really interesting to see how reflective people think it is of ‘Britain in a day’.

I think I might see if I can nobble David Harvey up at LSX into condensing his views on Capitalism into a 30 second sound-bite – then pan the camera round to get me and him in it at the same time and sound off with some cheesey line like ‘that’s me and Dave from outside St Paul’s – It’s Capitalism or humanity – you decide…

I’m sure that’s got zero chance of making it into the movie – but I think it’s worth a go!

Head to Occupy #LSX for a real education

Tent city university at the Occupy LSX protest is the most amazingly progressive force for education in Modern Britain – The agenda for tomorrow is like a living, breathing Sociology/ Politics A2 level class…. but probably with a bit more life in it….

As it says on the web site –

This is a space to learn, share knowledge and develop skills through a wide series of workshops, lectures, debates, films, games, praxis and action. As formal education becomes more and more commodified and inaccessible, here we have an opportunity to explore alternatives. Because between us we have all the resources we need.

Anyone can teach, everyone can learn – and the two go hand in hand. Feel free to propose sessions, listen to new ideas and share with others what you know or want to know.

All events are free, open to everyone, and take place in the ‘University Tent’, (next to the ‘Info Tent’), at the OccupyLSX camp, outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, the library next door or in the ‘Uni Yurt’ at Occupy Londons second site at Finsbury Square.

 

Just look at the list of events for Friday (tomorrow)

11.00 – poverty in the uk and the debts of the poor – Rev. Paul Licolson –

12.00 Why Anti-Capitalism? Speakers include Selma James, Global Women’s Strike, author of Marx and Feminism and Sex, Race and Class; Sam Weinstein, Assistant to the National President, Utility Workers Union of America, Payday Men’s Network.

14.00 Morality and Finance: A response to the St Paul’s Institute Report – A Panel discusion in response to the recent release of the report by the St Paul’s Institute indicating city professionals feel their wages are out of proportion with those in other employment. Speakers will include James Meadway senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, Richard Murphy, Director of Tax Research LLP and The Tax Gap Limited, one of the report’s author’s Bishop Peter Selby, the retired Bishop of Worcester, as well a members from our own working groups dedicated to exploring matters of economics.

15.00 ‘Offshore finance: a realm beyond the imagination’ – Liam Connell

16.00 – Judith Orr speaking on “Women, work and walk-outs: fighting for liberation today” –  looking at the effect of the global crisis, cuts and austerity on women and what can be done to fight these, drawing in part from past womens struggles but looking in the context of today. Judith has written on these matters and also spent time in Tahrir Square during the revolution in Egypt

White households – 20 times wealthier than black households in the bad ‘ole US of A.

The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center – 2009 data. The ratios were significantly better in 2005 (when white households were only ten times wealthier than black households) but the recent collapse of the mortgage market and house prices has affected blacks and hispanics much mroe than whites.

Apologies for the short post, but every now and then I come across something so stark that it’s just worth flagging up – I mean we have inequalities between ethnic groups in the UK – but this is is nothing compared to the bad old USA!