All posts by Realsociology

Land Wanted (Advert)

Wanted

A small parcel of land in a peaceful area where I can put up my 16ft Yurt and small off-grid solar energy system. At the moment, I’d prefer this to be in the South East of the UK so I can maintain my current job.

What I want

What I can offer

1/8th to 1 acre of land

To be self-sufficient-ish

Based in the SE so I can earn some £££

Some other people on the same trip to work with

The company of my-self, part-time

Permaculture skills – Doing up yer land

30 000 of her majesty’s pounds

Dry wit and enormous doses of cynicism.

The land I have in mind would either have sufficient room for me to start establishing a water harvesting/ food growing/ waste disposal system using Permaculture methods, or be close to a personal or collective project which is already involved in establishing such a system. I’d actually prefer to be working on projects with a range of other people, I just want my living arrangements to be private, because I like a bit of space to myself some of the time.

I only actually need the tiniest space for my yurt (an 1/8th of an acre would do) but in my wildest dreams this tiny space would be in the middle of a few acres of land with sufficient room to establish a few fruit trees (although unfortunately I might not be around long enough to help harvest them!), a raised bed system, and with sufficient woodland nearby for me to able to source fuel for my (innovative) portable rocket mass heater, and somewhere for me to build a compost toilet, naturally.

Of course if all of this is already established, or in the process of being established, then that would be just fabulous, but I’m just as happy to plonk myself in a bare-field and start from scratch. I’m also happy to go much smaller-scale too. 1/8th of an acre would be enough for me to start establishing a Permaculture basic-needs system. In other words, if you’ve got a big one, I’d be happy to pitch-up in your back garden. Also if you’ve got a suitable caravan then you’d save me half day of putting up my yurt.

PS I don’t mind irritating Nimby dog walkers while in the process of doing this. I’ve been through a special blessing-ceremony especially designed to ward off attacks by those wielding tightly rolled up copies of the Daily Mail. I also have every faith that even Daily Mail readers can be reformed (although in fairness maybe their wealth will need to be forcibly removed first).

Payment

I’m sure we can negotiate but to kick off proceedings….

Ideally – No money changes hands. You just let me put up my yurt on your land and let me work on it – which I’m happy to do for free. Hours of work to be negotiated. I’m thinking a figure of 10 hours a week in exchange for living on your land is fair.

Less Ideally – If it’s an ideal setting and you’re happy for me to do less work than 10 hours a week, then I’m prepared to pay some rent.

Fantasy Realm – You allow me to live on your land for free, and pay me to work your land as well.

Super-Fantasy Realm

You sell me some land. I’ve got £30K kicking about that I’m willing to sink into the perfect piece of land, although I’m well aware of how little that gets you in the SE of England and how rarely such small parcels of land come up for sale (hence the advert, it’s too depressing searching and coming up with nothing).

Why I want to do this in the South East

Frankly I’m sick of paying mortgage-interest on my flat in Surrey and I’d like to sell up and buy outright in another part of the country to stop paying money to a bank which is doing nothing to earn it. However, I can only afford to do this in another part of the country, and I don’t want to quit my current job just yet, so I’m left with the option of squatting on someone’s land. Rent around where I live is just an insult. Fortunately I’ve just always fancied squatting some land and living in a yurt, for decades actually, so it seems sensible to give it ago.

Future Plans – Also give me a buzz if this sounds of interest….

In 2020 (ish) I’ll either be quitting work for good, or starting a ‘gap decade’ during which I’ll travel around Europe with a van and a yurt to visit and stay at some of the many interesting looking Permaculture projects that are evolving in numerous places, so if you’re reading this and you’ve got somewhere that you think might be a medium or long-term (anything from a few months to ten years) possibility for sighting my yurt in the not-too-distant future then do get in touch, as It would be nice to start networking and planning my grand-tour now.

Contact me via twitter if you can make my dreams come true… realsociology (on twitter)

P.S. Technically I don’t actually own a yurt or have any real Permaculture skills as yet (bar having gone on one Introduction to Permaculture weekend), but picking up both is in the medium-term plan, and if I get any decent responses to this ad, then I’ll just accelerate said plan.

My Moneyless (more or less) March Manifesto

My Moneyless (more or less) March Manifesto

So far this year I’ve spent far too much time putting my money where my mouth is, via shitty food, beer and way too many take-out-coffees, so my aim in March is leave my money in the bank and go moneyless, more or less.

There are three/ four reasons I’m doing this:

  1. To save money to try and keep my goal of being able to semi-retire by 48 on track.

  2. To practice the kind of money-restricted lifestyle I’ll need to transition to in later life if I am going to retire early (anything after 53 for full-on retirement I would regard as a total failure, unless I cave in and decide to go part-time at work before I turn 48).

  3. I need to get back to some serious self-discipline after a fairly slack winter.

  4. It feels right – spring is coming, it’s lighter, and this coming half term is only five weeks long – and I’ve got 3/5 Friday’s off teaching, so only 2 full weeks – NICE!

I say more or less because I’m going to make the following exceptions:

  • Any outgoings I’ve already got going out – Which in somewhat contradictory-fairness is a lot of money. So a more honest title for this post might be a ‘disposable-income-left-after-outgoings-less experiment – but it doesn’t alliterate so nicely. My justification is that my ERE strategy is presently best facilitated by my remaining locked-in to the money system for a few more years because of my reasonably high salary and ludicrous rate of equity gain on my mortgaged-flat. Hence it only makes sense to experiment with the money I’ve got left over after mortgage repayments and the utilities I need to pay by virtue of living a non-off-grid salary man lifestyle.

  • I’m going to buy simple, cheap, food – but I’m only going to allow myself to buy the following: Fruit – apples and pears, peppers, tomatoes, olives (I do so love olives!); Veg – celery, carrots, spring greens, onions; milk, cheese, butter and eggs, beans and tinned tomatoes/ paste, tea bags, grain staples – cereals, rice, pasta, couscous, spreads – honey and Mar-mite, walnuts, maybe some pumpkin seeds, and sultanas and dates and flour – to bake bread. I feel the need to bake bread. I mean I could spend two hours a week skip diving, but when I only need to spend £20 a week on food and I can earn than in an hour, it’s completely irrational to skip dive!>! I’ll do one shop, once a week on a Saturday.

  • I’ve got an INSET day in London in mid-March so I’ll need to spend £30 on train fair. Technically this isn’t coming out of my own pocket as I’ll be reimbursed, but it’s London, so I imagine I’ll do coffee on the way up and maybe a beer or two after. Call it a £10 exception to the rule. What can I say? I’m weak.

  • If I need anything for emergencies I’m damn well forking out. This is highly unlikely, but if, for example, a brake cable snaps on my bike, or a drill bit breaks when I’m building something (‘cos I’m a proper builder, me) I’ll replace them. Or if I get a little touch of man-flu I’ll buy myself some paracetamol. What can I say? I don’t like pain.

Wish me luck, and if you see me this March, please feel free (‘cos I certainly will be) to take me out and buy me a pint, or two or four, or a coffee and almond croissant.

I’m not fussy, at least if you’re buying, but I do prefer ale rather than shitty lager, and I might even return the favour, in April.

Cheers! Here’s to a money-free March 2016, more or less.

Four Options for Quitting Work in my 40s

I’m getting a bit sick of my job – It’s a lot to do with the job, but also probably to do with being 42, and with it being January (at the time of writing this).

Also, I’ve now given 15 years full time to ‘the man’. Enough is enough for Christ’s sake. That’s almost a 5th of my entire life.

My original early-retirement plans (in 2015) were to ‘hold-out’ in full-time employment for 7 years – by which time I could travel or transition easily, but the way things are going I might crack earlier, so I need a crack-up plan. NB I’m claiming this as a new concept – a back-up plan is something you have in case a new venture goes wrong (which implies risk taking). In my original early-retirement plan there is no real risk of it going wrong – I just stay in teaching for another 7 (now 6) years and save-hard. However the risk is that I go fucking nuts before the next 6 years are up, hence the need for a crack-up plan. If I feel my mental health deteriorating any more I’ll transition early. This is a post about my options.

It’s interesting to note that this is an indication of how truly awful the UK education system is – I work in a nice college, with nice kids and nice staff, and teach an interesting subject. In short, outside of the immoral private sector teaching doesn’t really get much easier than my job, but my job still makes me feel anxious and miserable and generally shit. This is the effect of the system constantly focussing on the negatives and always demanding more. This is the sub-optimal logic of performativity caused by the neoliberalisation of education. Life is not worth living as a teacher in a marketised education system. The only thing currently keeping me in it is the fact that I earn enough and am frugal enough to save down and get the hell out relatively early, which is something I advise anyone insane enough to go into teaching to do.

How much money I’ve currently got to play with

Current liquid -ish assets

£20K

Equity (-£5K sales shaft)

£110K

Total capital to play with

£130K

Other (approx)

£16K – Ring fenced for spending when I’m 58/9 (Hoping this will grow and extend into my early 50s)

The headline news is that I can already afford to buy a house outright in a cheap part of the UK, which means I could quit my job now, work part-time for the rest of my life and still probably fully retire in my mid-late 50s.

If I wait until 2018, things are a lot more comfortable, if I wait until 2021, that’s near enough sufficient for me to fully retire.

What I perceive to me my total array of practical options to escape work:

  1. Downsize to a small homestead/ croft somewhere else in the UK, or maybe Ireland, quit work and figure out another way to earn money/ live without money, more or less.*

  2. Downsize to a cheaper house in the UK, rent it out to earn a small base income and travel/ do voluntary work abroad.

  3. Downsize to a cheaper house in he UK, rent it out to earn a base income, buy some land in Portugal and ‘do Permaculture’ and figure out another way to earn money/ live without money, more or less.

  4. Downsize to a cheaper house in the UK and buy a houseboat, and figure out another way to earn money/ live without money, more or less.

  5. *I could do this, and then just stay at work and rent in the local area as a sort of ‘transition year’.

NB – It’s unlikely that any of the above will kick in for me until 2018, given the enormous housing bubble currently inflating in my local area, which I think it’s safe to ride it for a couple more years. 

NB – When I say live without money more or less, I spent a lot of time reading about freeganism this holiday – check out the previous post. 

Approximate Costings

Strategy

Initial Transition and capital costs

Additional Capital Required

Anticipated monthly expenditure

Buy a small homestead/ Croft UK

£150K House

£20K

£900.00

Downsize and travel

£160K

£150K property and £10K to kick-start travel fund

£30K

£200.00 – £1000

Downsize and buy land in Portugal

£200K

£150K House in UK

£50K Land and transition to Portugal

£70K

£700.00

Downsize and buy

House-Boat

£180K

£150K House

£30K Boat

£50k

£900.00

Option 1: Buy a small homestead (nearly) outright and earn money working part-time from home

One advantage of owning a two bedroom purpose-built flat in Surrey is that the flat’s worth a ludicrous amount of money, currently around £245K. With £130K left on the mortgage, and after the £5K cost of being shafted by the sales-system (which I could lower if I self-sold it), this would leave me with £110K in the bank. Plus the £20K I’ve currently got kicking around that leaves me with £130K.

With £130K I could actually buy outright a two-bed semi-detached house in Lincoln. I’ve never actually been to Lincoln, but it does seem to be the cheapest place in the UK that’s not a shit-hole where you can buy cheap property. Given that I grew up in a town that was a shit-hole and that I presently live in a town that’s not that dissimilar, Lincoln would probably be a step-up for me. There are probably other towns where you can buy relatively cheap, some may be better, and if you know of any candidates then do let me know!

Amazingly enough £130K would also be enough to outright-purchase a small bungalow in the highlands of Scotland on just under an acre of land. Add on £20K for updating the property and this would leave me with a mortgage of around £20K.

I figure that it doesn’t really matter where I live in the UK, but I do kind of fancy the Scottish Highlands. When all you want to do is grow vegetables, meditate, read Sociology books, and make your money online-tutoring who cares where you live? I figure the cheapest non shit-hole town/ rural location is best.

A £20K mortgage paid off over ten years would mean repayments of around £200/ month, add on my anticipated monthly costs of living @£700/ month = £900/ month income required to survive, which means I could live off a part-time income.

For every year extra I work, I’ll should have another £15K to play with, so if I do this in 2018 I can add £30K on and maybe even buy a nicer house. Also, I could buy for something a lot cheaper in Ireland, which is something I maybe need to explore more.

Option 2: Downsize and travel

This basically involves downsizing as outlined above, with all the attendant costs plus £10K to kick-start my travel fund.

The rental for a £150K ish property would be around £550/ month gross, which would come down to around £400 month net. Obviously whether I can live off this depends on what I can put up with ‘on the road’.

There are numerous people out there ‘budget travelling’ who demonstrate a range of possibilities viz how little money you can get by on. One of the most inspiring is Dan Suelo – The Moneyless Man – who has managed to survive without money for the last 16 years of his life, but I’d personally be more inclined to become the moneyless, more or less, man. Not as cool, I know, but I know myself. And I’m not cool, so that’s OK by me.

This option also opens up the possibility of buying a van (A converted VW Transporter or Mercedes Vito or something similar) and being more mobile (and obviously not money-free), which would ad about £10K to my overall transition costs.

Of course I could combine travelling with a variety of voluntary work and even paid work – time to dig out the TEFL qualification maybe?

Option 3: Buy a house in the UK outright and buy some land in Portugal; rent out the house and move to Portugal and ‘do Permaculture’.

This strategy involves buying some kind of cheap-ish property as in the other options above, but also buying land with a wreck in Central Portugal and then ‘doing Permaculture’ and self-building a small eco-house. I calculate that I’d need about £50K to very comfortably establish myself in Portugal – £30K for the land + a further £20K to transition over there. When I say ‘very comfortably’ – this includes one year’s worth of living costs while I get established + the cost of a van, and yurt.

The advantage of this would mean that I could rent out property in the UK one while I live in Portugal. The rental for a £150K ish property would be around £550/ month gross, which would come down to around £400 month net. This means that if I escaped immediately I’d have to find an additional £300/ month to pay for said property, but if I can hold out until 2018 then it should pay for itself, and after than it becomes an income-paying asset. So, somewhat unsurprisingly, the longer I can stick out my job, the easier my life is later.

I’ve looked at a fair few blogs by people who have done this, and as long as you’re careful to do everything right, it is possible to pick up some cheapish property in a couple of acres of land to renovate, actually for less than £30K. Central Portugal seems like the best bet.

The massive downside of this plan is that I’ve never been to Portugal, I’ve hardly spoken a word of Portuguese, and my earnings potential would be massively limited. I’ll take a holiday there at some point in the future, I’m sure I’ll like it.

On the ‘doing Permaculture’ front – I’m sure renting out property one is against the ethics of the movement, but I’m also sure, given the prevalence of middle class 50/60 somethings in the movement, that this is extremely common practice, just not something which people advertise freely.

As of February 2016 this is my preferred option for escaping work, hence why I’ve gone into the detail.

Total cost of buying a reasonable property outright in the UK

£150K

Total costs of buying land in Portugal and fully transitioning

£50K

Total Net Wealth Ready to Invest

£130K

Additional Capital Required to fully transition

2016 – £70K

2017 – £60K

2018 – £40K

2019 – £30K

2020 – £10K

Estimated monthly income required after property costs

£700.00

Add or Minus money I’d need to pay of outstanding mortgage/ rental income I’d receive

2016 – £300

2017 – £200

2018 – £000

2019 +£100 (need to earn £600/ month)

2020 +£300 (need to earn £400/ month)

Option 5 – Downsize and Buy a House Boat.

As above with downsizing, and then you can pick up a nice houseboat for £30K – I’ve added on £200/ month to cost of living to reflect costs such as licence fees, and mooring fees. This might actually be more. I’m not likely to do this in 2018, but living on a canal boat is just something I need to do for a period in my life at some point, thus I’m including it. Preferably I’ll be able to keep moving for much of the year to avoid the mooring fees!

In conclusion 

It is financially viable for me to quit my job this year and still retire early but it’s optimal in ERE terms to wait until 2021. A reasonable compromise in my noggin is to hold out until 2018.

Early Retirement Progress Update 2016

January 2016 And I’m now one year in to my 7-10 year plan to (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. This is the second of my intended 6 monthly updates, this allows enough time to show clear progress (hopefully rather than regress) and also these things to take quite a lot of time to review.

Executive Summary

  • Total Net Wealth gain of £27000 in 2015

  • Net wealth gain excluding equity – £9000

  • Average total monthly expenditure not including mortgage – £930

  • Average monthly savings of – £536

  • Average savings to expenditure ratio – 62% (if I include mortgage payments)

  • Overall I give myself 8/10 – For once I’m actually going to focus on the fact that I’m doing most things right, rather than the few things I could improve on.

Reminder of Original Long Term Financial Goals – Updates in Italics, YEARS COUNTED FROM JAN 2015. 

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£133K outstanding)

  • Pay over £1000 a month towards the mortgage (15 year term) with a mind to either using savings or ‘trading down’ to pay off early.

I’m easily on track to do this in 10 years if I stay put in my flat in Surrey. However, the £140 I pay (in reality it’s probably more) towards service charge every month is becoming increasingly insulting, and so I’m looking at ‘downsizing’ to a house in a poorer area and commuting to work, POSSIBLY BY 2018.

  • Save £200 a month towards a ‘land fund’ – eventually to be used to purchase a van and land on which to establish a forest garden.

  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.

In analytical terms I now treat these the same. I’ve done quite well here – my average overall savings each month is £537 – I made the decision in November to shove £140/ month into teacher’s AVCs, I’ve now decided to reverse that – I can’t access them until I’m 55 – what was I thinking?

NB The reason I keep banging on about land is because land squatting is a key part of my ERE strategy.

  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years.

I’ve finally made some progress here – early days, more on this later as it develops.

  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme.

It’s not quite a no-brainer to keep paying into this, but it still makes sense. The amount I pay in has increased, and because of recent changes to the scheme I’m now stuck with a pension at 60 of around £7K/ year – everything I pay in from now on is not worth claiming until I’m 65 – If I claim my future contributions at 60, I lose 25% of the value of current and future contributions (what I’ve already got is protected, but then again I’m sure this could change under the nasties.)

Now onto the more detailed updates…

January 2016 Update One – Spending days compared to non-spending days

Spend Non Spend 2015

It was going so much better up until December – but still – I won by 11 days!

Jan-June 2015 Update Two – Expenditure and Savings Summary

  • Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage –62% (down from 64% 6 month ave).

  • Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 21% (down from 23% 6 month ave).

ave monthly savings and expenditure

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for entertainment rather than work).

  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’.

  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.

NB For calculating the above savings to expenditure ratio I always count service charge (an outrageous £140/month) as ‘expenditure’ but for the first calculation I count mortgage payments as savings because in the future my flat will act as an investment which will bring in an income (while I squat in a field).

Technically I should count the interest part of this as expenditure and the repayment as investment, but honestly I can’t be bothered to work this out and recalculate it every month as the repayments change, so stuff that! Just reduce the figure by a few percentage points if you’re uncomfortable with it.

January- June 2015 Update Three – Total average monthly expenditure excluding mortgage more detailed breakdown

This is really the headline figure – and it comes out at £930/ month, or £11K/ year – This is an honest account of how much I will need in retirement to live extremely comfortably. The service charge is something which is going to disappear hopefully very soon, but I figure the future cost of running a van which I currently don’t have will come out around the same amount of £140 a month, maybe more, so I’ll stick with £900 a month to live off. I’ve factored in £700 a month for my monthly retirement budget – this covers all of my necessities and allows £50 for ‘frivolities’ – so the idea is that Ill either need to suffer or do some kind of work to pay for me beers in retirement. Then again, that probably won’t be necessary as I’ll be enlightened by that point, and just naturally high on the joy of life.

average monthly expenditure 2015

Of course if I can pull off a land-squat my services costs will fall drastically, as will my food costs, so all of this could come down to nearer £5-600 in future. Whether that’s sustainable or not remains to be seen!

NB – The obvious immediate area for improvement besides service charge (PAIN!) is beer, I intend to hammer this down from September.

January Update 4 – Total Net Wealth

Well I’ve gained £27K TNW in the last year, but most of that’s equity, only £9K gained not including equity – still, that’s enough accumulated in one year to live for approx 1 year and 1 month. 

I’ve basically got £32k to either go towards an early retirement fund or blow on some land to set up a land squat. Not bad for the end of year one!

It’s kind of comforting to know that that’s enough to buy some kind of Quinta in Portugal – I’ve even taken off £4K from the figure to factor in a contribution to selling up and moving on in case it comes to that! It also doesn’t include a small emergency fund I’ve got stashed away.

So all in all, I’m on track to achieve my ERE goals, I could do better, but I think this not so extreme route to retirement (land squatting aside) is sustainable!

If you like this sort of thing – then why not my book – 

Early Retirement Strategies for the Average Income Earner, or A Critique of Curiously Ordinary Life of the Everyday Worker-Consumer

Available on iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble – Only £0.63 ($0.99)

extreme early retirement

Also available on Amazon, but for £1.99 because I’d get a much lower cut if I charged less!

Sociological Perspectives on Advertising

A brief summary of pages of 27-32 of Joel Stillerman’s ‘Sociology of Consumption’: The Effects of Advertising and Branding on Consumers (with comments!).

The theories covered in this section include:

The Manipulation Thesis

(1) This originated with Adorno and Horkheimer’s essay ‘the culture industry’ which was inspired by their observations of 1930s Hollywood and the way the Nazis used propaganda.

The basic idea is that advertising manipulates consumers into buying goods. Mass entertainment is produced in a similar way as mass produced auto-mobiles and other products. Adorno and Horkheimer viewed advertising as standardised, artless and manipulative. Products offered people cheap thrills which provided them with compensatory pleasures after a day at a dissatisfying job. Playing to consumers’ emotional vulnerability, music, film and advertising offered instant gratification without true satisfaction while helping them to tolerate unacceptable working conditions.

In short, the culture industry was a form mass manipulation which helped to keep the working masses happy in order to discourage them from protesting about poor wages and working conditions.

A long line of scholars has followed this basic idea – through with different foci –

(2) Kenneth Galbraith argued advertising played the same function of manipulation but rather than seducing the masses into political apathy served the function of convincing shoppers to buy new goods and keep industry profitable.

(3) Jean Baudrillard argues advertising helps businesses solve the ‘realisation problem’ – namely how to sell the increasing number of goods which are produced as Capitalism ‘evolves’. However, Baudrillard accords advertising a more central role in changing our culture. He argues that rather than focussing on the functional properties of a good advertising articulates their emotional or symbolic properties, thereby unleashing an endless process of consumption that has lost its connection to exchange and only reflects a symbolic system which classifies goods into different categories.

Furthermore, goods are no longer appealing because of their individual properties, consumers only recognise them as part of a particular style: in a particular living room set, combined with certain objects and colour combinations for example.

As a result, for Baudrillard, advertising has overtaken our culture and we are trapped in a world of symbols and the incessant need to consume.

(4) More recent analysis focuses on the emotional aspect of advertising – how advertising attempts to link particular emotions and sex to certain products (e.g. Zukin 04 and Smart 10)

(5) Other analysis focuses on how society is increasingly organised around consumption rather than work and thus individuals are expected to consume at a certain level or else face rejection by their peers (Bauman 2007).

Comments

I’M broadly sympathetic to Manipulation Theory in that I believe we can distinguish between ‘basic’ and ‘false’ needs and the primary function of advertising is to manipulate people into buying shit they don’t simply need.

Taking all of the above together I think the primary function of advertising is that it reinforces a world-view in which it’s it’s normal to shop, it’s normal to consume at a historically high level, it’s normal to link happy states to products (or rather sets of products in Baudrillard”s case), it’s normal to construct your very identity using consumption, and it’s normal to spend a lot of time alone and with others, engaged in consumption.

In short the effect of advertising is to convince us that consuming is a normal part of everyday life which should not be questioned, and we are right to assume that shopping as a strategy can provide us with individual and collective emotional fulfilment as human beings.

However, I don’t actually think advertising is necessary to a high consumption society – the various reasons outlined in this post explain the emergence of a high consumption society – we’d probably consume at similarly historically high levels without advertising – advertising exists because of surplus production – broadcast by producers to get our attention amidst a whole load of other producers churning out what is essentially the same shit-we-don’t need.

The other bit of manipulation theory I agree with is that advertising has a sort of ideological function – it masks the truth of its existence and the truth about unnecessary consumption which is as follows

(a) Advertising primarily exists to help the capitalist class sell the shit they produce.

(b) Despite what advertising tells us about this or that shit we really don’t need any of it.

(c) If we ‘buy into’ the messages of the advertisers (which are a bunch of lies) we’re being stupid/ shallow

(d) In the case of Bauman – if we pursue happiness through consumerism, we’re probably going to end up being miserable in the long run.

(e) We don’t freely choose to consume, we are buffeted into it by social and economic pressures (meaningless work, pestering kids (who have been manipulated by advertisers), busy-hurried lives, the strange desire to stand-out) and the causes of these pressures-to-consume need to be put under investigation but the very act of consuming at a high level prevents us from doing so, and advertising helps in this.

(f) There are more effective ways to pursue happiness which aren’t about consumption – producing things, and ‘sprituality’ being the two most obvious.

‘Active Theories of Consumption’

Having outlined the above five aspects of Manipulation Theory, Stillerman now turns to more active approaches.

(1) Other scholars have criticised the manipulation thesis. Douglas and Isherwood (1996) argue that goods are a ‘communication system’ and that most of our consumption is ritualistic. There are essentially three reasons we consume

Firstly – we consume to remain connected with others and stay involved in the ‘information system’.

Secondly – people can also find their place within the group and mark of stages in the life cycle through engaging in consumption rituals.

Thirdly – consumption is also about boundary maintenance – the wealthy try to monopolise certain events and goods, the middle class try to gain access to them and the working classes try to maintain their consumption at a certain level.

COMMENT – All of this is true – we consume actively, BUT – the frame within which we consume has changed radically over the last few decades – the pace of consumption and overall level of consumption have increased, and so (inevitable) has the amount of choosing people have to do – as a result, we are devoting more and more time to keeping up with consuming… Take the average cost of weddings, houses and raising children increasing for example. Also, people may well consume actively in various ‘neo-tribes’ but the fact that this is the norm, also means more time has to be devoted to consumption – THUS society has made us into consumers, this is the thing I find most interesting, focussing on HOW people consume once they have been made into consumers just isn’t interesting….!

(2) Colin Campbell (2005) rejects the manipulation thesis for two reasons – first, he argues that this thesis distinguishes ‘needs’ from ‘desires’ but there is no easy way to know what ‘basic needs’ are because needs are always cultural defined in all societies (No they are not – food, water, shelter, clothing for warmth, security, this is straight up post-modern BS). Second, he argues that advertising tries to appeal to consumers in order to convince them to make a purchase, rather than manipulating them. (OK – I accept the fact that consumer are more active, but I’d like to see Cambell distinguish between the act of manipulation and appeal).

(3) Slater (1997) rejects the idea that consumers are cultural dopes, and argues that they buy products in response to their own individual or cultural needs and dispositions.

(4) DeCerteau (1984), Fiske (2000) and Miller (1987) also argue that consumers are more active – they use goods in their own ways, often appropriate goods and creatively recontextualise the meanings of them in ways which are specific to their own live (this sounds like Transformationalism and cultural hybridity in Globalisation), and some of these consumption practices are forms of resistance against advertisers.

(5) Other scholars emphasise the liberating aspects of consumption, arguing that because shopping and and consumption were not traditionally coded as masculine, these became the domain of women and women gained status, satisfaction and a degree of freedom by becoming skilful consumers.

Comment – I fully accept that people make active choices when it comes to consumption – however, to reiterate the above point – It is society which has made us into consumers, focussing on HOW people consume once they have been made into consumers sort of misses the point – As far as I’m concerned, for the majority of people, consumerism is a pathetic strategy toward ‘agency’ – agency within a sub-optimal framework, which is based on false promises and false hope of realising happiness and satisfation.

Beyond the Active Passive Debate

Recent scholarship has moved ‘beyond’ (sideways?) debates about whether individuals are active or passive in relation to advertising.

(1) Leiss (2005) argues that advertisers study society, recycle existing beliefs and practices and broadcast those ideas back to society. The importance of advertising lies in the fact that it has become integrated into our culture and affects how we view ourselves.

(2) Finally Holt and Holt and Cameron (2010) argue that advertising reconfigures existing beliefs and practices in a way that resolves psychological needs for specific groups of consumers, which arise because of social and economic challenges they face.

Advertisers create adverts based on profiling certain groups and try to strike a chord with them – advertising recycles existing cultural practices in a manner that resolves psychological distress and uncertainty among people within these groups.

Leiss and Holt and Cameron all argue that we should understand advertising as the product of a dialogue between creative professionals and specific social groups.

Once again to reiterate the above, advertising may well help people resolve psychological crises they’ve developed because of having alienating jobs and busy-hurried lives, but the consumption that one’s encouraged to do in order to resolved such psychological distress is only ever going to offer short-term release, a quick fix if you like.

Overall I think all of these active theories of advertising which (a) fail to contextualise its function within the broader social and economic context (alienating/ insecure/ liquid) and (b) fail to recognise the fundamentally false nature of advertising’s promises to alleviate the suffering induced by this social and economic context are ultimately incomplete theories (and probably derived from people with career-histories in advertising!)

Consuming Life, Zygmunt Bauman: A Summary of Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Collateral Casualties of Consumerism

The concepts of collateral damage and collateral casualties have become a central part of political discourse.

The concept of collateral damage is that when harm occurs as an unintended consequence of an action, then the person doing that action cannot be held legally or morally responsible. The divorcing of the two is fundamentally about encouraging a kind of moral blindness towards the victims.

One tool which the politicians have in their box to justify collateral damage is the difficulty of measuring the likely amount of it for any given conflict – It is as if by not calculating the likely ‘collateral damage’ (or at least not publicly sharing the calculations) then this is what enables the claim of unintentionality to be justified.

Bauman now argues that collateral damage occurs not only in the realm of military involvement but also in the extension of the market into more and more spheres of social life – and the ultimate form collateral damage here is the commoditisation of daily life…

In the words of J. Livingstone, ‘the commodity form penetrates and reshapes dimensions of social life hitherto exempt from its logic to the point where subjectivity itself becomes a commodity to be bought and sold in the market as beauty, cleanliness, sincerity and autonomy.’

Arlie Russell Hochschild argues that the consumerist invasion into personal life has lead to the ‘materialization of love’:

Exposed to a continual bombardment of advertisements through a daily average of three hours of television (half of all their leisure time), workers are persuaded to ‘need’ more things.

To buy what they now need, they need money. To earn money, they work longer hours. Being away from home so many hours, they make up for their absence at home with gifts that cost money. They materialize love. And so the cycle continues.

For the top tier of knowledge workers, who spend long hours at work, employers go out of their way to make work environments homely, and one may experience a sense of home in workplace (albiet with your love relationship in your actual home kept going by commodities) – Whereas for the lower tier of workers, they are subjected to the very worst of Capitalism — Long working hours and insecure contracts, and not enough time to maintain meaningful relationships at home – and so for them, neither work nor home provides emotional anchors for these people.

The search for individual pleasures articulated by the commodities currently offered, a search guided and constantly redirected and refocused by successive advertising campaigns, provides the sole acceptable substitute for both the uplifting solidarity of workmates and the glowing  warmth of caring for and being cared for by nearest and dearest inside the family home and its immediate neighbourhood.

Politicians who wish to reinstate family values should think hard about the fact of the consequences of living in a consumer society – where people are trained to afford other people no more respect than the consumer goods they consume (who exist solely for our pleasure and which need replacing every two years).

The Underclass is the collective victim of the progress of consumer society.

The Term Working Class implies a people who have a useful function in society, the term lower class implies a society on the move – the lowest class being at the bottom of a ladder which it might climb. The term underclass belongs to a different image of society, one which is not hospitable to all, and one in which belonging is achieved by denying and excluding rights to certain others – and this group of others in consumer society is the underclass.

The underclass is seen as wholly cut off from the class system, a no-class, which threatens to undermine the class based order of society. This is just how the Nazis described the Jews.

According to H. Ganns, the underclass describes a wide variety of people – the workless poor, illegal immigrants, single mothers and drug addicts.

What all of these have in common is nothing, except that they are flawed consumers, they have no market-value – they cannot take place in the game of consumerism. They are conceived as an overall drain on society, like weeds who only drain from the beautiful garden, and thus the rest of us would be better off if they did not exist. They are largely conceived of (constructed?) in terms of the dangers they pose to the rest of us.

However, there is one useful function the collectivity of the underclass performs – As a source of moral panics – as a place to which we can attach the cause of our our fears – even though in reality these fears (or anxieties) are endemic to the rootlessness of consumer society itself.

The poor of society (and not necessarily just the unemployed) are useless because they cannot perform their principle duty – they cannot consume! They are thus outcasts, but they do not find solidarity as this, they experience this as loners and do not expect to be helped or find a collective way out.

So where is the place of the poor in the consumer society? In short, it is out of sight – either indoors, in ghettos, or in prisons, and mentally we are made ethically blind to them through the rewriting of their stories – from deprivation to depravity – it is their fault that they are poor.

The problem here is that once you remove a section of the population from moral consideration, they become collateral in solving society’s problems – Violence can thus be justified as a means of exterminating them, as happened with the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Nazi violence was committed not for the liking of it, but out of duty, not out of sadism but out of virtue, not through pleasure but through a method, not by an unleashing of savage impulses and an abandonment of scruples, but in the name of superior values, with professional competence and with the task to be performed constantly in view.

I think Bauman’s point is that we are doing to the poor in this country what the Nazis did to the Jews in Germany in the 1930s – writing a discourse which removes them from ethical consideration and then makes their eradication a procedural duty.

A society unsure of its own reproduction is besieged by demons of its own making – For the order building societies of the past those demons were the revolutionaries who wished to build different orders, for the consumer society of today, its demons are those who cannot consume. The problem with this is that the more the consumer society progresses, the bigger the gap grows between those who are able to consume and those who want to consume and cannot. This is simply the logic of the market.

In consumer society the ultimate goal seems to be being happy through consumerism, which means always to be doing something, always to be consuming something (in other words the goal is the avoidance of boredom) – A busy life full of consumption is a measure of success and happiness – and thus people are compelled to do so. The problem is is that there seem to be no limits to the number of things you can consume, no limits to the number of things you can do – the goal posts keep moving, there is no end!

For the poor this a real problem because they are able to listen to messages about things you could be doing (from the evil advertisers) but are unable to participate, this can breed frustration and all sorts of other negative consequences.

The disarming, disempowering and suppressing of hapless and/ or failed players is also an indispensable supplement to integration through seduction in a market-led society of consumers.

Prison is the primary means by which this is done – the means through which society now exorcises its inner demons – and these demons are cast as ending up there because of their own fault, not because of society. And the harsher the punishments can be, the more effectively those demons are exorcised.

Bauman now traces the common usage of the term ‘The Underclass’ differentiating between Gundar Myrdal’s usage of the term in 1963 – when he used it to mean the coming threat of structural unemployment in the context of increasing productive efficiency – here being a member of the underclass was something over which individuals had little control – it was a failure of the organisation of society to provide sufficient jobs for people.

He contrasts this to the usage of the term by Ken Auletta – who argued that being a member of the underlcass in the early 1980s in America was not a matter of poverty, but of actively opting out of normative values – it was a choice to be feckless – However, his study was based on a highly unrepresentative sample of people from one training centre, in which you had to be an ex convict to gain a place – And here Bauman questions the lumping together of of all the various categories of people into one class.

The Island of Nauru – Our Collective Ecological Future?

The case study of Nauru illustrates the potential catastrophic consequences of pursuing economic growth without considering the ecological consequences. It may only be one island but Klein argues that the logic which hollowed out Nauru is the same logic which has driven the global economy for the last 400 years. 

The extract below is taken from Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ (2014: Chapter Five  Beyond Extractivism

Few places on earth embody the suicidal results of building our economies on polluting extraction more graphically than Nauru. Thanks to its mining of phosphate, Nauru has spent the last century disappearing from the inside out; now, thanks to our collective mining of fossil fuels, it is disappearing from the outside in.

For decades, the tiny South Pacific Island of Nauru, home to only 10 000 people, seemed to be an example of a developing country which was doing everything right.

During the 1970s and 80s, the island was periodically featured in press reports, as a place of almost obscene riches, much as Dubai is invoked today, and in the mid-80s Nauru was reported as having the highest GDP capita in the world.

All of this was due to the fact that Nauru was made up almost pure phosphate, a valuable fertiliser, which the Nauruans had been shipping to mainly Australia since they gained their independence in 1968.

Extraction had been going on long before, since 1900, carried out by a series of colonial rulers, who had a simple plan for Nauru once all the phosphate had been extracted – simply ship the islanders to another island. In other words, Nauru was developed in order to disappear – an acceptable (and largely invisible) sacrifice to make for the advancement of industrial agriculture.

When the Nauruans themselves took control of their country in 1968, they had hopes of reversing the hollowing out of their island. They put large chunks of their mining revenue into a trust fund, with the intention of winding down the mining operation and rehabilitating their island’s ecology. However, this long term plan failed as Nauru’s government received catastrophically bad investment advice and the countries mining wealth was squandered.

As a result, rather than being wound-down throughout the 70s and 80s the mining continued unabated and Nauruans benefited from the royalties which rolled in – one consequence was a radical change in diet as islanders came to eat large amounts of processed food (as one resident recalls – ‘during the golden era we didn’t cook, we at in restaurants) which resulted in Nauru becoming the fattest place on earth (today it has the highest levels of obesity and the highest levels of diabetes in the world). Another consequence of high levels of cash was high levels of corruption amongst public officials.

Another consequence was, of course, the hollowing out of the island – in the 1960s Nauru could still have passed as a pleasant tropical island, but the 1990s it was a hollow shell with a small strip around the edge where people lived.

Now the island faces a double bankruptcy – with 90% of the island depleted from mining it faces ecological bankruptcy and with a debt of at least $800 million it faces financial bankruptcy as well.

But this is not the end of Nauru’s problems – it now also faces rising sea levels and inland water shortages because of climate change.

This isn’t the end of the misery of Nauru – because in the past decade the island has become a dumping ground of another sort – In an effort to raise much needed revenue it has agreed to house an offshore detention centre for the government of Australia, in what has become known as ‘the Pacific Solution’. Australian navy and customs ships intercept boats of migrants, most from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, and immediately fly them to Nauru where they languish in a detention centre, unsure of their status, sometimes up to five years.

Amnesty International has called the camp ‘cruel’ and ‘degrading’ and one journalist has likened it to a death factory because conditions are so bad that people have been driven to attempt suicide.

Unfortunately for us, the logic which has led to such devastation and cruetly on Nauru is the same logic which has underpinned the last 400 years of ‘development’. This logic is the logic of ‘extractivism’ – a non-reciprocal, dominance based relationship with the earth, one of purely taking. The opposite is stewardship, which involves taking but also taking care that regeneration and future life continues.

Extractivism is also directly connected to the notion of sacrifice zones – places that, to the extractors, somehow don’t count and therefore can be poisoned, drained, or otherwise destroyed, for the supposed greater good of economic progress.

This extractivist thinking, unfortunately, lies behind not only the whole history of modernity and colonialism, and obviously neoliberalism, but also behind Socialism, including most of the recent leftist movements in Latin America, because despite their advances in bringing greater equality, national income is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Even the mainstream in the Green Movement are failing to challenge the extrativist model because they have come under the thrall of large-scale, big tech solutions to climate-change, rather than accepting as necessity that the earth requires us to consume less.

Pretty much the only ray of hope for a sustainable future according to Klein lies in the Scandinavian social-democratic models, which are going to take a globalised grass-roots movement to realise on an  international level.

The Corporate Takeover of Education? Pearson’s Rapidly Expanding Control of UK Qualifications

Amidst the other aspects of the privatisation of education (Marketisation, Academies, Free Schools, Apprenticeships, Tuition Fees etc.) you may have missed this aspect!

Pearson PLC is a FTSE 100 company worth nearly £10 billion with sales of £4.9 billion and a £720 million profit in 2014, whose best-known subsidiary is Britain’s largest exam board, Edexcel, which generates a a profit of £60 million a year.

Over the last five years Pearson PLC has aggressively expanded its control of Britain’s qualifications and assessment market.

Between 2008/09 and 2012/13 its share of the GCSE market increased from 21% to 30%

Pearsons GCSE

 

Its share of ‘other qualifications’ has increased from 5% to 28%

Pearsons other table

Pearsons other

However, Pearson’s share of the smaller A level market decreased slightly from 25% to 23%.

Pearsons A level

Despite the shrinking in the A level market, taken together this means that Pearson PLC now sets the examination standards for almost 30% of qualifications undertaken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (1).

NB – There is more expansion planned! In its 2014 annual report Pearson PLC clearly states a desire to further expand its role in the UK education further, by getting more involved in such areas as the development of blended and virtual schools (e.g. Connections Education); and schools improvement programmes (e.g. through the Pearson’s School Model), and the use of ICT is central to all of this (2), although to date progress in these other areas seems to have not been as rapid as with its takeover of the qualifications market.

(1)http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20141031163546/http://ofqual.gov.uk/standards/statistics/annual-qualification-market-report-england-wales-northern-ireland/

(2)https://www.pearson.com/ar2014.html

Early Retirement Extreme – A Motivational Visualisation (?)

One consequence of striving for early retirement is that you end up having no-life, so I’ve developed the visualisation below to provide some motivation.

Extreme Early Retirement

It shows how long my current total savings would last assuming monthly outgoings of £700/ month (the minimum/ base mount I’ll need to live off once the mortgage is paid off).

The end date is set at July 2033 when I turn 60 and my teacher’s pension kicks in which, with lump sum factored in, is already set to provide me with more than £700/ month from that point forwards.

The start date is pretty arbitrary – I just backdated it to to this July because that’s my most recent birthday. No reason why I couldn’t start this at some point in the future, but you never know, I may find a duffel bag of £50s tomorrow and be able to retire at 44, there’s always hope. (And there in’s the curse of my life – hope).

Personally I like the Viz – it shows me clearly that each £700 I save (which is what I can tuck away each month at a push) brings my retirement date forward by a month. (OK perhaps if I’d started it at 2022 or something around there it would be a tad more motivational?!?)

In summary, here’s a few financial facts which have emerged out of this exercise, based on calculations specific to my own individual circumstances!

  1. £700 saved = retirement date brought forwards by one month

  2. £24 saved = retirement date brought forwards by one day

  3. £1 saved (actually every so slightly less!) = retirement date brought forward by one hour.

Alternatively, you could express this in terms of how many hours and days each good or service costs you in terms of retirement-days lost. E.G…

1 large Cappuccino from Costa (cost £2.65) pushes one’s retirement back by 2 ½ hours.

1 pint and a bag of crisps in the pub (approx cost £5) pushes one’s retirement back by 5 hours.

1 Domino’s Pizza (£10 if on special) pushes retirement back by 1 day.

Another way of seeing this is to look at the time spent engaging in the ‘consumption moment’ in terms of a ‘time trade-off’ – Given that each of these activities takes me about 30 minutes then….

Enjoying a Cappuccino for 30 minutes pleasure extends my working life by 2 ½ hours, or 5 times the amount of time it takes me to delicately sup the Cappuccino.

Enjoying a pint and bag of crisps extends my working life by 5 hours, or ten times the amount of time it takes me drink the pint and scoff the crisps.

Enjoying a Domino’s for 30 minutes extends my working life by 10 hours, or 20 times the amount of time it would take me to eat the Pizza.

NB – Don’t forget that all of the above is based on my personal statistics entirely – and I’m not saying that it would take me 20 hours of work to earn enough to buy a Domino’s, of course it wouldn’t. What I mean is that, based on my needing £700/ month to retire, which works out at £24 a day, then £10 costs me half a day. If I forewent the Domino’s and saved the cash, I could retire half a day earlier (assuming I don’t eat Domino’s again, that’s not in the financial model).

Closing thoughts

Of course, with luck, my savings will accumulate at a faster rate – and so every now and again I’ll be able to notch another month forwards. Also, I could of course assume that once I retire with a lump sum of, say £60K, that I can expect some more money back from that in returns too. In short, this is a very conservative way of estimating my early retirement date.

I wish I had the technical expertise to do a live infographic of what’s above, rather than relying on a static version in word.

Executive Summary

No more Domino’s!

If you like this sort of thing, then why not buy my book:

Early Retirement Strategies for the Average Income Earner, or A Critique of Curiously Ordinary Life of the Everyday Worker-Consumer

Available on iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble – Only £0.63 ($0.99)

Retirement Cover5

Also available on Amazon, but for $3.10 because I’d get a much lower cut if I charged less!