Realsociology

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

Your mortgage or your life?

Posted by Realsociology on September 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Related Posts

1. How the Average Income Earner could retire at 52

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

TTIP – Putting Profit before People

Posted by Realsociology on September 10, 2014

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

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

CORP

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The freedoms of living without money

Posted by Realsociology on September 6, 2014

I think learning to live with less money is a crucial life-skill that pertains to greater freedom, but here are two examples of people who have managed to live without money altogether…

Based in the UK and author of the Moneyless Manifesto, Mark Boyle gave up money for more than 2 years in November 2008. Having studied economics for six years he found himself looking around for a ‘big cause’ to devote his life to, he concluded that the one thing that disconnects us from nature more than anything else is money. Boyle points out that while we tend to associate money with independence, in fact it just makes us dependent on people far away from us, and less likely to look to our local communities for our sustenance. It is also money that is the root disconnect which facilitates the type of global production processes which are associated with social and ecological injustice. In the video below he makes the point that he couldn’t really proselytize about such things unless he actually lived them, and hence the moneyless experiment was born.

He originally set out to do this for one year, but after that year started to question how he could return to a money based economy, so he carried on.

A second example from the US is Daniel Suelo who occasionally updates the Moneyless World Blog has been money free since the year 2000 – Seriously, the video below is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever watched. He says that he’d thought about going money free ever since he was a child, when he used to question why his Christian household didn’t really keep to the ideals of Jesus. He then went on the study other religions and realised that what they had in common was that they all stressed the importance of living a ‘giving’ life based on compassion, rather than one in which you do something now for future gain, which is precisely the typical lifestyle associated with our money-based economy. There’s also a major ecological thread running through his philosophy – he lives a ‘natural life’ rather than an ‘accounted’ life, and if you want an interesting perspective on death, this video is a must watch. (Also, I may have this completely wrong, but Suelo is what I imagine the Zen Masters of the Tang to have been like.)

The man who quit money from Sacred Resonance on Vimeo.

 

The difference between the two is that Suelo seems to be living without money for spiritual reasons, part of which involves living spontaneously, and connecting with nature, and although networked and now joined by similar people, he seems to be more of a lone agent amidst other lone agents, whereas for Boyle his experiment is much more political, and he’s well-embedded in the Transition Movement and is currently involved in in establishing Streetbank, a nation wide money-free skills and stuff sharing site. Mark Boyle’s book also has some interesting criticisms of the money economy, whereas Suelo seems much more content just living a money free life, relatively disconnected, stating that the problems with the money-economy are so obvious they don’t really need to be criticised.

Such radical lifestyles serve as a reminder of not only how central money is to our present social system, but just how colonised the average mind is by the very idea of money.

 You might like to ask yourself the following questions

  1. What do you need money for?

  2. Do the benefits of consuming the things you purchase actually outweigh the cost (working) of getting that money?

  3. Could you get the things you want by other means other than money?

  4. Could you let go of the the desire for the things you want and live with much less money, or without money altogether?

  5. Why is it that I struggle so much giving up take-out Cappuccinos?

OK, so the last one’s personal….! 

Posted in Alternatives, But what can I do? | Tagged: , | No Comments »

How the median income earner could retire at 52

Posted by Realsociology on September 3, 2014

Over the summer I worked out that a 35 year old earning the median salary could potentially retire at 52, if they just stop buying crap they don’t need now. In contrast, the expenditure levels of the average worker-consumer effectively tie them into working until the current standard retirement age of 68.

This post is simultaneously a critique of the ordinary worker-consumer and of the Extreme-Early-Retirement model, which I don’t think can be applied in its fullest sense to an average person in the U.K. (Although if someone wants to modify my stats using different investment models to see if the retirement date could be brought forward, I’d be interested!).

In this blog post I compare two hypothetical 35 year old individuals (4) who both earn the median UK salary. One individual has average consumption and expenditure while the other has in mind the goal of retiring as early as possible and so is much more frugal, without completely having cut themselves off from society.

As testimony to my lack of Open Office Calculator and Inkscape skills, this is represented below:

Ret Info

To make reading this more meaningful, you should refer to this spread sheet throughout – Comparing 33 years of expenditure

For the sake of making an easy comparison, I’ve used expenditure figures based on one person living alone for the remainder of their life, and imagined that they have just bought their first property at the age of 35. The reason for selecting a 35 year old is because this is the age by which most people are settled into a stable career, and this is also the age by which most people are at least starting to think about retirement, if not yet looking forward to it in the near future. It also happens to be the age at which today’s typical graduate student can reasonably have expected to have paid off their student debts and have some kind of savings towards their first property. Although the figures in each expenditure category will vary considerably depending on variables such as age, or household make up, the levels of expenditure are generally not going to be that far away from how the majority of people spend their money for much of their lives, and thus most people should at least recognise something of their own and their friends’ expenditure habits in these figures.

However, to satisfy those who just can’t get over the problems of using averages when variables which will differ widely, I’ve included a link (4) to the spread sheet where I’ve done my calculations so you can add in your own expenditure and income levels in order to personalise these calculations for yourself, or you can even modify at a deeper level to add in things such as inflationary effects, investment returns and changes in circumstance over time.

The purpose of this exercise is to put in the starkest terms possible how many years and months (expressed in decimal terms) of one average human life one individual would have to spend working to buy certain things for the remainder of one’s normal working adult human life. In those stark terms – The expenditure levels of the average-consumer effectively lock them into working until the current standard retirement age of 67-8, while the frugal-consumer, assuming they maintain their frugal levels of consumption, will be able to retire when they are 51, or 14 years earlier, or in half as much time as the average consumer on the average wage.

 

Executive summary – A comparison of the 33 expenditure patterns of an average-consumer compared to a hypothetical frugal-consumer.

As far as I see it, there are three main factors which work together to keep the average 35 year old worker-consumer locked into the need to work for 33 years until they are 67-8. In terms of overall expenditure, the single most significant item is the 25 year mortgage with massive interest payments (costs 9 years). However, this lock in occurs primarily because the high cost of car ownership (costs 5 years), and what I can only characterise as fragmented expenditure on a range of unnecessary consumer frivolities (costs 4 years), which together means that a person earning the average median salary has no choice other than to drag the mortgage out over a 25 year period, and accept the attendant massive interest costs.

In contrast, what I call the frugal-consumer chooses to get rid of the car and buys a bike (saving 4 years), radically reduces consumption of frivolities (saving 2.3 years), and in addition makes some relatively marginal savings on necessities (saving 1.5 years) such as food and utilities. Taken together, these changes in lifestyle allow for an 11 year mortgage repayment term and much lower interest payments as a result (saving 2 years). All of this, factored with the lower cost of living, mean that this individual could potentially accrue enough savings over 16 to years to pay for 33 years worth of frugal consumption, allowing for an early retirement age of 52.

In future blog posts, I’ll compare expenditures across four categories – housing, transport (focusing on the car), consumer frivolities and things which may be reasonably regarded as necessities.

If you can’t wait, you can always buy my book and help me retire a few minutes earlier…..

 

Boring but important – A few (selected) notes on data sources and expenditure categories and statistics

Categories of Expenditure In my analysis below I have four main expenditure categories, mainly drawn from The Office for National Statistics’ Family Expenditure Survey (5) -Mortgage repayments -Transport costs -Necessities – food, utilities, council tax, clothes, pensions contribution, communication, maintenance of dwelling, health -Consumer frivolities – recreation and culture, restaurants and hotels, ‘miscellaneous’, household goods and services, alcohol and tobacco and education.

To get my figures for individual expenditure based on one individual living along I’ve mainly used the data from the ONS’ family spending survey and divided by the average household size (2.4 people) where it makes sense to do this (dividing makes sense for clothes, but not for council tax). Because the figures are mostly weekly, I’ve multiplied by 52 to get the annual figures and then 33 to get the 33 year overall expenditure to the normal retirement age. I’ve calculated how many years working it would take the average consumer to pay for one category of expenditure earning the median net salary by  dividing the total cost of 33 years worth of expenditure by this figure (£21, 240). Where housing costs are concerned, I’ve used the figures for the cost of repaying the average mortgage which is £121 000 according to this is money (6).  Here, for the average-consumer repayment is over a 25 year term, while for the frugal-consumer, the repayment period is over an 11 year term.

Median Income

According to the UK Annual Survey of hours and earnings (7) median, full-time gross weekly earnings stands at £517.00 per week, which amounts to (*52) a median gross annual salary of £26884, which equates to a take home annual salary of £21, 240, or a monthly salary of £1770 after income tax and national insurance are taken out (£408/ week for those who like to work in weeks).

Potential problems with my modelling

Firstly, I don’t take into account inflation, I’ve just worked out everything at today’s prices, and neither do I take into account any returns you might make investing rather than paying down the mortgage, which is the main early-retirement strategy in my scenario. However, these two things being equal in both my average and frugal-consumer examples, you are still a lot better of spending as little as possible on anything other than the mortgage or savings. Another potential limitation of the model is that it is mainly based on someone having a stable job, and being single, although it is possible to ‘stick to the programme’ while moving around jobs and holding down a relationship, maybe even kids, just a lot more difficult.

 

References

(4)See the spread sheet above

(5)Office for National Statistics – Family Spending 2013 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-spending/family-spending/2013-edition/index.html

(6)http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-2553023/Two-thirds-time-buyers-turn-Bank-Mum-Dad-deposit-help.html

(7)ONS – Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2013 – http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/ashe/annual-survey-of-hours-and-earnings/2013-provisional-results/stb-ashe-statistical-bulletin-2013.html

Posted in But what can I do?, Capitalism, Infographics, Retirement - Early, Things I like, Uncategorized, Work | Tagged: , , | No Comments »

Increasing income inequality in the UK

Posted by Realsociology on August 30, 2014

I thought this infographic showing income inequality was worth sharing (From the Equality Trust) –

income-inequality-uk-2

Unfortunately (if you think income inequality is bad!) things have got even worse since 2012!

Britain’s top executives are now paid around 130 times their average employee, according to analysis released today by the High Pay Centre think-tank. 

Income inequality has got a LOT WORSE in recent decades. In 1998, the average FTSE 100 CEO was paid 47 times their average employee, which means that while average incomes have stagnated in relation to the cost of living, the incomes of the very richest have almost trebled in 15 years.

The video below illustrates this in stark terms by comparing the typical wage of a nurse with that of a typical CEO, the headline figures being as follows:

  • A CEO earns as much in 3 days as a nurse does in a year.

  • A CEO earns more in a year than a nurse will earn in her entire life.

  • If we redistributed the income of the top 1%, then on average each household in the UK would be better off by £3K a year.

 Related questions you might like to think about include….

1. Why does such income inequality exist?

2. Is this fair? (are CEOs worth 130 times more than their average employee?)

3. Is income inequality good or bad for society?

4. If you’ve answered ‘no’, and ‘bad’ to questions 2 and 3, can anything be done about increasing income inequality?

Posted in Changing Britain, Infographics, Marxism, Wealth and Income Inequality | Tagged: , , | No Comments »

Early Retirement Extreme – A Summary

Posted by Realsociology on August 27, 2014

EREI came to conclusion over summer that if I could make this 6 week holiday my life, my life would be a lot nicer. Hence why I’ve got the early retirement bug and hence this blog post summarising the following book -

Early Retirement Extreme offers a critical intellectual framework for rethinking your approach to retirement that would allow someone on the median salary to retire several years earlier, and the more you earn, the earlier you should be able to achieve this goal. (The book has helped me (on £40+K) to work out an 8-12 year early retirement plan, which I’ll post on later).

Early Retirement Extreme is not a step by step guide about how to achieve early retirement. It is a critique of the paucity of normative ways of thinking about work-consumption-retirement and an overview of an alternative way of thinking about this nexus which ultimately means working and consuming less and retiring a lot earlier than normal.

If I could pick one single stand-out idea which captures the ethos of the book it is this: If your current yearly income is £10 000 and you spend 75% and save 25%, it will take you 3 years to accumulate enough savings to take 1 year off. If you invert this ratio by spending 25% and saving 75% then after 3 years you can take 9 years off.

While this hypothetical example doesn’t factor in real-life variables such what you might actually be earning, or inflation or interest on savings, it does illustrate the central principle of the book – Whatever your income, if you get used to living on as little money as possible and save as much as possible, then you will be able to retire A LOT earlier than the norm. In this model, early retirement will also require you to invest sensibly (this is not an anti-capitalist manifesto!) and develop a range of skills (social, physical, practical and technical) which will make you a more resilient person who is able to meet their downward-adjusted needs and wants with much less money.

By saving 75% of his income Fisker managed to become financially independent in five years, ane the blog recommends that you aim to save at least 40-60% of your income to make early retirement possible (I’ve managed 56%).

In Fisker’s model, the first step to early retirement is to get over the habitual way of thinking about work as something we do for 40 years, and to get over the idea that a high-level of consumption is what we do with those small chunks of time when we are not working. In his view, many of the consumer goods and services which are regarded as normal have little real value, and as examples he lists everything from kitchen gadgets to gym memberships but also cars and higher education.

Instead of working-consuming for 40 years, Fisker suggests that we stop consuming and start saving and we spend our non-working time developing ‘resilience skills’ which will make us less dependent on money. He suggests four types of skill – practical (e.g. building your own house rather than paying £100K interest on a mortgage), technical (a diverse range of professional skills), physical (being able to cycle rather than needing to drive), and social (sharing a house rather than living alone).

Each individual will approach early retirement in different ways depending on their own specific circumstances, and Fisker sugggests that it is up to the individual to weigh up their own talents and find their own individual (or couple/ small network) path to retiring early – In this vision, thinking for yourself, and creativity are crucial.

The fact that the idea of saving 75% of your income will seem unrealistic to most and down-right impossible to many is, to Fisker, simply a sign of how colonised our minds have become by societal work-consumption-retirement norms and very early on in the book Fisker contrasts his own creative ‘renaissance’ approach to early retirement to the slavish mentality which keeps us chained to our sub-optimal 40 hour a week/ 40 year career working norm.

He uses Plato’s cave analogy to illustrate how we have become wage slaves, the wall in his modern rendering of this tale representing us being trapped by the multitude of things we mistakenly think we need. However, unlike physical walls, our chains are mental, because rather than using our imagination to creatively break free of this cycle, we develop excuses which keep us locked into this cycle of a long-career and short-retirement.

Fisker criticises what he casts as the ‘wage-credit-spend-consume-retire on a million-cycle’ – Into which we have been duped. He is especially critical of our wasteful consumption practices – we are taught to be materialists through toys from childhood and later on our mortgage-purchased houses become places in which we store stuff which goes largely unused.

As briefly outlined above, rather than spending, Fisker’s solution to breaking free of this cycle is simple – spend less and save like what appears to be crazy to build a relatively small retirement pot. His own version of retirement really is extreme – saving 75% of his income, it took him 5 years to retire on a third of the median income (something like $700 annually), reducing his expenditure to the very basics of life and finding creative ways to enable him to live on less.

Given that he lives on $7000/ year, it seems reasonable to assume that he had an income of $30 000 over these five years of saving, meaning that he has ‘retired’ on an income pot of $150 000, although it will almost certainly be more than that given that he appears knowledgeable about investing.

Obviously this is more than most people will be earning in their late 20s/ early 30s when he started out on his early retirement mission, but Fisker holds that it is the 75-25 ratio that is the crucial thing, and more crucially, the mindset to spend as little as you can by finding creative ways to avoid the con-of-consumption and save what remains.

If you haven’t already done so, I thoroughly recommend checking out the early retirement extreme blog which has details of many people on a mission to retire early, and in a future post I’ll put together a number of links to U.K. based early retirers…

You might also like…

How the median income earner could retire at 52

Your Mortgage or your life…

Posted in Retirement - Early, Work | Tagged: , | No Comments »

For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until one of us decides that we should part

Posted by Realsociology on August 23, 2014

After a year’s break I’ve now got the time to start blogging again…. here goes…

Lots of useful ideas in this 30 minute Thinking Allowed podcast on Love, which focusses on the idea of lifelong love and its relationship to marriage…

Just a few of the key points made throughout the programme (NB this is from memory)…

While the feeling of being ‘in love’ might be the same in all socieities, our ideas and expectations surrounding this emotion, and especially its relationship to marriage are shaped by the society in which we live, so yes, even elements of love are socially constructed! To my mind the key point of the podcast is that we now have higher expectations of marriage than ever before in history – The norm today is to see marriage as primarily about love and passion, as a sort of constant high of mutual emotional fulfilment and not primarily about duty.

To illustrate this all we need do is go back a hundred years or so and look at Britain and France – Marriage was much more of a practical arrangement – It wasn’t based on choice, your family had much more of a say in who you got married to, it wasn’t based on finding a person you have a special emotional connection with,  it was based on financial necessity (for women especially) and carrying on the family name. Historically, in this context, people had very low expectations of marriage in terms of love – marriage was about duty, not about ‘passion’.

Today (obviously) most of us expect to have a choice over who we get married to, and the norm is that marriage is about an emotional-connection (love) at least as much as duty. The downside of this is that we expect more than ever of our marriage partners. The person we commit to as a life-long love partner is expected to be a superb lover, devoted parent, attentive counsellor… and there is an expectation that the passion is to be kept alive throughout the relationship. There is an incredible pressure put on ‘that one special person’ to meet the emotional needs of the other (and the children) in today’s marriages.

Of course these high expectations of marriage do not live up to the mundane-reality of married life, which goes some way towards explaining the high divorce rate (as well as the number of extra-marital affairs).

According to Giddens this is all just part and parcel of living in a late-modern society characterised by reflexivity and greater gender equality – Today the normal relationship is what Giddens calls a pure-relationship – a relationship which is ‘internally referential and therefore ‘exists solely for whatever rewards that relationship as such can deliver’ (Giddens, 1991). Unlike in the past, the point of a relationship is not something which roots us in our community, or embeds us into society, or connects us to our god, the point of a relationship is to further our own lives for our own sakes. The result of this is that relationships simply last as long as they work for both partners – unlike in the past there is no other reason to keep the relationship going once it has stopped being fulfilling for both partners. 

According to Giddens there is nothing wrong with having high expectations of marriage and then moving on – this is simply the way modern ‘pure relationships’ are -  we pair up with someone, maybe get married, it lasts a decade or so, and then we move onto the next person, it is all just part of the ‘democratisation of daily-life’, and part of what he calls ‘confluent love’ – which, unlike ‘romantic love’ in modern society is based on finding that special relationship, rather than finding that special person, and to assist in this relationship we have (probably thousands, I haven’t counted) relationship and sex guides, and various marriage and divorce counsellors/ lawyers which have emerged to help us navigate through these occassional transitions in our personal lives.

From Giddens’ point of view it seems as if most people going into a marriage for the long-term are kidding themselves, and that the correct attitude to marriage in late-modern society should not be ‘until death do us part’ it should be ‘until one of us simply decides that we should part’.

On a practical and moral level I’ve no problem with this scenario – I think Giddens is simply describing the most appropriate type of relationship/ marriage (described variously as the pure relationship/ confluent love/ serial monogamy) which fits in with a late-modern society characterised by dual-careerism, near gender-equality and the eroding of traditional norms of masculinity and feminity – but I do see two potential problems with Giddens’ easy acceptance of this type of relationship – Firstly, this would be all well and good if people were honest about it – I don’t think people think of themselves as  being in ‘confluent love’ or in a ‘pure relationship’, and I’m sure people don’t talk about their own relationships in these terms (of course Giddens would probably just say this needs to evolve), and secondly (which is pointed out in the podcast – this type of serially monogomous relationship-lifestyle seems wonderfully applicable to kid-free cosmpolitans, but maybe it’s not so great when kids are involved, and long-term relationships do have this strong tendency to end up with kids being produced.

There was more to the podcast than this, but I’ll leave it there for now…..

Love  and  marriage

Related texts

  • The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution Claire Langhamer by Claire Langhamer.

  • Love: An Unromantic Discussion by Mary Evans

  • The Transformation of Intimacy – Anthony Giddens

Posted in Family | Tagged: , , | No Comments »

Free Journal Articles!

Posted by Realsociology on November 3, 2013

 

I like to keep up to date with current research, but not working in a university means I don’t anything like the access that bought-academics have.

No doubt there are ways of hacking into Athens systems and getting very broad access to all sorts of academic material for free. Unfortunately, while this is ethical (given that most publishers do absolutely nothing to justify the cost of their journals – all the intellectual labour is done for free don’t forget), this wouldn’t be legal, so I would not recommend this – There are however, a few ways you can get hold of journal articles for free….

The British Library – Of course you’ll need to be able to get up there, and you’ll have to register for a reader’s pass in advance – but this is a great way to get concentrated into some serious reading, given that’s pretty much all you can do in one of their reading rooms. The way to use the BL is to blitz it when you’ve got half a dozen or more expensive or otherwise innacessible texts to read. Personally I think it’s a great way to spend a Saturday. You also get free WiFi, and water (outside the reading rooms).

http://www.academia.edu/ – You have to open up a free account, but then you can search and download a whole range of presentations, books and journal articles. Some of these might be works in progress.

http://www.jstor.org/ – This is one for serious tightwads – the free account allows you to store up to 3 articles on your ‘bookshelf’ to read – Once two weeks have passed, you can store more. So you only get 3 articles for free every fortnight, but is’t better than nothing. There are also subscription options that allow you to download more stuff.

http://online.sagepub.com/ – Not normally free, but I mention this because at time of writing, they’d just ended a free trial period during which you could download most of their journals – keep an eye out for future trials, heavy on the sociology content.

Scribd.com – According to the blurb…. ‘On Scribd, readers can find everything from up-and-coming books by new authors, to court filings that have been making the news, to academic papers from scholars around the world. With a Scribd subscription, readers can have unlimited access to best-selling books and premium documents, and read them on any iOS and Android smart phone, tablet or desktop.’ OK It’s not free – last time I checked it was $8.99 a month, but you can always search for what’s there and then blitz-download…. As far as I remember I got ‘coming of age in second life’ and ‘fear of freedom’ from Scribd. NB although I do actually pay, I think you can get a lot of material for free, without subscribtion. Either way, it’s worth a mention here!

 

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Summary of Liquid Modernity Chapter Five – Community

Posted by Realsociology on November 1, 2013

Bauman starts of the chapter summarising the liberal-communitarian debate about the relationship beetween the individual and society.

He reminds us that the individual according to the likes of Kant, Descartes and Baccon, could come to truth by using pure reason, and that all individuals if just left alone from the distortions of community would arive at the same notions of truth.

Communitarians criticised this by pointing out that the individual could never be free because individuals are socialised – e.g. through language.

But Bauman points out that it was never clear whether the critiques were saying that the image of the self-contained individual was untrue or just harmful.

Today, says Bauman, the liberal-communitarian debate concerns whether or not liberating the individaul from communal constraints is good or bad. Also today, communities are more like a light cloak rather than an iron cage and the reason why we are concerned for community is because it is in decline. Furthemore, communities when spoken about are postulated – we can comment on them because we are not really bound by them, they are a choice.

Sociologically speaking, communitarianism is an expected reaction to the liquification of life…. yet today the word community is used loosely… the community in today’s communitarian gospel is not that of Gemeinschaft, it is to be chosen (and we have no choice but to choose) – a choice between different identity reference groups.

However…. the communal world is complete in so far as all the rest is… hostile – a wilderness with enemies. The inner harmony of the communal world shines and glitters against the background of the obscure and tangled jungle outside. It is there, to that wilderness, that people huddling in the warmth of shared identity dump (or hope to banish) the fears which prompted them to seek communal shelter. In Jock Young’s words ‘The desire to demonize others is based on the ontological uncertainties’ of those inside. An ‘inclusive community’ would be a contradiction in terms. Communal fraternity would be incomplete without that inborn fratricidal inclination.

(172-176) Nationalism, mark 2

The community of the communitarian gospel is an ethnic community – the choice is either between being at home or being homeless – it is an essentialising idenitity, (a master identity?).

Here Bauman argues that the nation state was the only success story of ‘community’ in modern times.  he discusses the similarities between nationalism and patriotism (both are basically agressive, not gentle) before suggesting that both are based on exluding others – nationalism is closed, and relies on the vomitting out strangers approach, but at least patriotism is more open ended, it invites people in – but only with the aim of ingesting their difference, still leaving others outside.

(176 – 182) Unity – through similarity or difference?

Both Nationalism and Patriotism depend on ‘othering’ – Unity comes from setting up a boundary and then emphasising the difference between us and them.

He now draws on Bernard Crick to propose another type of unity – that based on unity and conciliation – were people pursue self-identification in a multitude of ways and the ‘polis’ is one of onging negotiation and conciliation of differences.

This later, argues Bauman is the only one which is compatible with liquid modernity (so nationalism is no longer relevant?) – Now that disembededness/ individualisation etc. are so advanced, we must either construct a society in which different people can live together collectively, negotiating and reconciling their differences, or we create a society in which we basically avoid eachother and those who are different to us.

We seem to be in the process of creating the later, at least those in power do….. as evidenced in cyber-enclaves and gated communities, which are privatised solutions to insecurity which cost (while we leave the poor outside in ghettos).

He now sites Sennet who puts a pyscho-sociological gloss on this….

The image of the community is purified of all that may convey a feeling of difference, let alone conflict, in who ‘we’ are. In this way the myth of community solidarity is a purification ritual…. What is distinctive about this mythic sharing in communities is that people feel they belong to eachother, and share together, because they are the same… the ‘we’ feeling, which expresses the desire to be similar, is a way for men to avoid the necessity of looking deeper into each other.

Bauman goes on to say that this is also a bid to avoid confronting vexing questions such as whether the self, frightened and lacking in self-confidence is actually work loving in the first place and whether it deserves to be the basis of a design for society.

In another place (In search of politics 1999) I have discussed the unholy trinity of uncertainty, insecurity and unsafety… each one generating anxiety… with the access to the sources of these out of reach, the pressure shifts elsewhere, to the realm of bodily, domestic and environmental safety. As a result the ‘safety problem’ tends to be chronically overloaded with worries and cravings it can neither carry away or unload. The unholy alliance results in the perpetual thirst for more safety, a thirs which no practical measures can quell since they are bound to leave the primary and perpetually prolific sources of uncertainty untouched.

(182-184) Security at Price

Communitarianism assumes that the cost of increased security is individual freedom. The two cannot be increased simultaneously. Also, the vision of communitarianism is one of an island that protects against the stormy sea, the idea of mastering the sea itself is already abandoned.

Bauman now draws on Durkheim – Society for Durkheim (a view credible at the time) is that body under whose protection we shelter from the horror of our own transcience…. he cites the following quote to emphasise how irrelevant Durkheim’s vie are today… ‘Actions which have a lasting quality are worthy of our volition, only pleasures which endure are worthy of our desires’.

The body and its desires are now longer lived than in Durkheim’s day, but nearly everything else is more transcient – hence the body (along with community) is the only place we can look to for security.

He rounds off this section by suggesting that the body and the community are the only places where we might find security and certainty, and they are lonely places. This has happened because the Nation State has dissolved itself of the responsibility of providing security, or of guaranteeing the security of its citizens.

(185-192) After the Nation-State

There is little hope of salvaging the security and certainty servicecs of the state. This has been erroded by the new global powers (of capital) with the awesome extraterritoriality, speed of movement and evasion/ escape ability; retribution for violating the new global brief is swift and merciless. Indeed, the refusal to play the game by the new global rules is the most mercilessly punishable crime, which the state powers, tied to the ground by their own territorially defined sovereignty, must beware of committing and avoid at all cost….. More often than not, punishment is economic. Insubordinate governments, guilty of protectionist policies or generous public provisions for the ‘economically redundant’ sectors of their populations’ would be refused loans or denied reduction on their debts; local currencies would be made global lepers, speculated against and pressed to devalue, local stocks would fall head down on global exchanges… global investors would withdraw.

Sometimes actual war is necessary, as was the case with Yugoslavia….

Bauman now outlines how history up until heavy modernity was a war over space….. between the settled and the nomads, bewteen the bigger and the smaller,  no longer, today the war is between the quick and the slow. He then argues that what global capitalism wants is the right to be free from commitments, while leaving the tricky issue of security to local goverments, at whatever level these exist.

Four pages are now devoted to outlining the failures of NATO’s attempts to police conflicts. Bauman argues the trend is likely to be to less engagement in local conflicts (the let the war burn itself out approach), before rounding off the chapter suggesting that globalisation has lead to increasing conflicts between communities rather than promoting the peaceful coexistence of communities.

(192-199) Filling the Void

Following Hobsbawm – TNCs would prefer a world with no nation states, or at least smaller states, because these are less powerful and easier to buy. Bauman likes Gidden’s juggernaut analogy, and further suggests that nation states desperately try steer it competitively – they have no choice but to try and attract economic forces favourably because votes depend on it.

The future is one of either supranational regulatory institutions or increasing precariatisation (following Bordieu) – Either way the NS will decline… If this continues, and possibly loses its monopoly on coercion (one if its defining features according to Weber and Elias), it is not at all certain that less violence would be the result. We might just see violence descend to the neo-tribal level.

What could fill this void are what Bauman calles explosive communities, which are born in violence and require violence to continue.

Bauman now draws on Rene Girard’s work on the role of violence in community. Gerard argues that a violent urge is always seeting beneath any community….. To deal with this it needs to be channelled and it is channelled outside of the community – Boundaries are drawn, others created, and unity of the community is periodically enforced by choosing victims from the others to sacrfice. (NB this is all very abstract!)

He now makes a few qualifications, but to be honest I only skim read the rest of this section as I’m not especially interested in this aspect of Bauman’s work at this time, although the point seems to be that explosive communities require violence to define themselves.

Cloakroom Communities

Bauman rounds off by saying that such explosive communities are also cloakroom communities – I’m not sure the word works, it’s supposed to capture their addiction to spectacle the high emotion. He also calls them carnival communities, a better choice of word.

Finally, Bauman mentions that such communities offer no means of grounding the individual, they do not adequately address the destabilising forces which give birth to them!

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Work in Low Pay, No Pay Britain

Posted by Realsociology on October 30, 2013

In this latest Thinking Allowed podcast on ‘Low pay, no pay’ Britain Laurie Taylor talks to the sociologist, Tracy Shildrick, about her prize winning study of individuals and families who are living in or near poverty. The research was conducted in Teesside, North East England, and focuses on the men and women who’ve fallen out of old working class communities and must now cope with drastically reduced opportunities for standard employment. To my mind, this is a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat (although Shildrick would be more cautious).

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The research is based on the book (published in 2012) – Poverty and insecurity Life in low-pay, no-pay Britain by Tracy Shildrick

This book explores how men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced and where people exist without predictability or security in their lives, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many.

Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment.

Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women this research challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain.

Below is a summary of the main points of the podcast

  • The low-pay no-pay cycle is much more common than long-term unemployment. Most people intreviewed were committed to work, even though the jobs they did were not ‘comfortable’ jobs. This was one of their most consistent findings…. which in part explains why these people go back time and time again. This of course is the opposite to what we here in the media about people ‘languishing on benefits’.
  • It is not a guarantee that taking up employment will mean an individual is going to better off than on benefits. Most people were ashamed at having to claim benefits.
  • Jobs typically did not last long enough to take workers away from poverty.
  • In work-poverty is – 66% of poverty live in households were at least one person is in-work.
  • The types of work include factory jobs, bars, customer service, often run through agencies.
  • For the people interviewed these type of jobs are not stepping stones to something better – they get one foot on the rung of the ladder, get knocked off, and have to climb back on again.
  • Shildrick is not convinced that the term ‘Precariat’ is accurate enough to describe adequately the experience of all people who are sometimes put into this category. She argues that the experiences of the people she interviewed are different to those of a graduate working for a few years in similar jobs (although the people she interviewed do seem to fit into the definition of the Precariat used by the GBCS below)
  • In response to the idea that better training is the solution to helping people in these jobs, Shildrick suggests we need to look at the bigger picture – society needs these jobs – we need to think ahout how to reward them more appropriately.

Shildrick suggests that it is ultimately employers who have the power to help people out of this cycle. Unfortunately, the trend seems to be of employers being increasingly inflexible while demanding that employees be more flexible.

Links -

1. This seems to be a good in-dept illustration of what life is really like for a section of the Precariat

2. Also a nice illustration of the effects of living in liquid-modernity – The reality is actually bleaker for them than the above research might suggest – As Zygmunt Bauman reminds us (in Liquid Modernity)- ‘The bottom category are the easeist to replace, and  now they are disposabe and so that there is no point in entering into long term commitments with their work colleagues…..  this is a natural response to a flexibilised labour market. This leads to a decline in moral, as those who are left after one round of downsizing wait for the next blow of the axe.

Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013 How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being? This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many. – See more at: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781847429100#sthash.8EnqVw5J.dpuf

Posted in Book reviews, summaries and excerpts, Capitalism, Changing Britain, Neoliberalism, social class, Wealth and Income Inequality | Tagged: , , | No Comments »