Tag Archives: Sociological Theory

Britain’s top CEOs get paid too much

In the latest edition of ‘The Week’, there is some nice data which, if analysed, dispels the myth that the excessive pay of Britain’s top CEOs is deserved –

According to Income Data Services, the chief executives of Britain’s 100 largest companies earned 81 times the average pay of full time workers in 2009. This is up from 47 times the average wage in 2000.

I did a few rough calculations – the average yearly salary (the mean) in the UK is about #25500/ year – so if the average CEO of the top 100 companies earns 81 times more than this  – that means they earn just over 2 million pounds a year.

Put in chart form – this looks something like this (Please note I am getting into my bar charts at the moment!)

CEO

Now, keep in mind that the top 100 CEO’s pay has nearly doubled compared to the national average in the last ten years. This means 10 years ago they would have been earning 1 million pounds a year, but now its two – while the average person’s wage clearly  has not doubled in the last decade.

So what’s going on – have these top 100 CEOs become more skilled compared to ten years ago – are they doing twice as much social good as they used to? Have their companies doubled in size or become twice as important – the answer to all of these questions is clearly no! – Or have these people become more powerful, more influential in government, more able to carve out a larger slice of the corporate profit pie for themselves?

I think you’ll find the later rather than the former is the case, especially when you realise that average pay for the whole of the UK has fallen by #2000 in last year alone.

Science is not scientific

In this podcast from Thinking Allowed Laurie Taylor interviews Ian Angell- who criticices the claims that scientists make about truth.

Angell is critical of something he calls ‘Scientism’ – which is the idea that science is the highest form of human endeavour, that science is truth and that it is the only way of descrbing and understanding the world. He points out that not all scientists fall into this trap as even great scientists, such as Einstein, can be humble about the capacity of thier scientifc models to actually describe the world as it really is, rather than those models being just one way of helping us to make sense of the world.

He argues that ‘just because it (science) works’, doesn’t mean its true – and uses the example of Newtonian mechanics to illustrate this – Newton provided us with a model of the universe that enabled us to achieve great feats such as going to the moon and yet this model is no longer regarded as a true representation of  the way the world works.

He also raises questions about the nature of causality – Angell argues that ‘causality’  is something which we apply to the world rather than something that is found in the world. In other words ‘causality’ is a linear pattern which we confer on a chaotic world in order to make sense of it. Causality, he argues, is one of the delusions of cognition that we convey on the world in order to make our way in it – when we think causality is actually out there rather than something we have made up – then we are deluded.

He also seems to be arguing that the world ‘out there’ is just as it is, there is no essential order to it, but what we do as humans is to categorise things into the world, but in reality, the world is not as orderly as our categories suggest.

This is clearly of relevance to the ‘Sociology and Science’ debate – arguing that even science is not as objective as it would claim to be!

Angell actually comes accross as quite angry – he would maybe benefit from chilling out and doing some Tai Chi – like Fritjoff Capra who wrote the Tao of Physics – which I seem to remember said very similar things to what he’s arguing…. just without the irritation.

sfm-low-resI wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading it, but the podcast summarise some of the ideas in this new book – by Ian O.Angell and Dionysios S. Demetis – taken from the web site –

“categorization, the basis of observation, and hence of the scientific method, is a necessary delusion. Human observation does not allow access to the ‘real world:’ observation is deceived by the linearity inferred in causality. We don’t observe causality in the world; a belief in causality is a necessary prerequisite of observation and cognition. Indeed, without the delusion of causality there would be no observation; observation and cognition are only possible because linearity is erroneously imposed on what is an always complex, non-linear world.”

There is an interesting commentary on the book and the podcast mentioned above here

18 of the 23 Tory Cabinet are millionnaires

Hey – Just in case you were wondering why the Tories are making you and your parents pay for this current economic crises – part of the reason is perhaps because most of them are millionaires and they simply do not understand what life is like for ordinary people and can afford not to care about the rest of us.

A summary of a couple of recent news articles

18 of the 23 of the new cabinet are millionaires, according to an analysis by The Sunday Times.

David Cameron, the Old Etonian prime minister, is relative small fry: his £3.4m estimated fortune puts him only in sixth place in the ministerial rich list.

Top of the list is Philip Hammond, 54, the new transport secretary, with an estimated fortune of £7.1m. He made the biggest slice of his wealth through the property developer Castlemead.

George Osborne, 39, benefits from a 15% stake in his family’s upmarket wallpaper business, Osborne & Little, a firm valued at £12m. Osborne owes much of his wealth to inheritance

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, 43, a banker’s son!!!, is worth about 1.8 million

This article outlines details of a programme which claims that three ministers (Osborne amongst them) are avoiding taxes.

The programme also focuses on Mr Hammond, whose £7.5million fortune makes him one of the wealthiest of the Cabinet’s 18 millionaires. It suggests that his practice of paying himself share dividends instead of a salary from his property firm Castlemead is a tax-efficient device used by the wealthy and it claims that he moved to limit his exposure to the new 50p top rate of tax last year by moving shares in the firm into the name of his wife.

NB – The tories do not give a stuff about you – you have to make them care – by whatever means you think is appropriate!

Watch out for my next post – about Tory minister Andrew Mitchell – I will be explaining why he’s in the running for my ‘scum of the universe 2010 award’

Web site of the Week – RSA videos

 

I just wanted to flag up these RSA videos as an excellent way of introducing some very complex ideas – the ideas covered in these videos go beyond sociology – there are typically about theories that draw on many different academic disciplines, but for those of you that like thinking about sociology/ politics/ philosophy and want to push your understanding beyond the A level syllabus these are excellent. The link below is to many of the videos they’ve done and they’re also on youtube – http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/

As to the The RSA web sit e it says  “For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.”

The RSA offer a number of pamphlets and a good events (mainly lectures) series that focus on a wide range of political issues – althogether very interesting stuff – OK this is way beyond A level stuff but this is a good example of how Sociology can be relevant to real life.

So here we have it – 300 years after the Enlightenment spawned Sociology – so the Enlightenment tradition continues – Note that all decent sociologists and all decent academics draw on material from many disciplines and this is something I would encourage you do do as you develope – BUT – when it comes to the exam, narrow you foucs and try not to be too clever – or you may fail! When you finish the exams you can get back to being properly clever again!

Tory cuts – Britain’s Shock Doctrine

Hey kiddos – my predictions about the toryscum shafting people and planet for the sake of corporate profits have come true –

Check out this item  in which George Monbiot outlines how Giddeon’s cuts benefit his corporate chums.

A brief extract – ‘Public bodies whose purpose is to hold corporations to account are being swept away. Public bodies whose purpose is to help boost corporate profits, regardless of the consequences for people and the environment, have sailed through unharmed. The government’s programme of cuts looks like a classic example of disaster capitalism: using a crisis to re-shape the economy in the interests of business.’

Interestingly Monbit draws on Naomic Klein’s shock doctrine – one of the most important leftist books of this century – read it!

So if you think Marxism (well OK left-libertarianism) isn’t relevant – think again!

Tory Budget shifting women’s economic independence back a generation?

An extract from an excellent documentary, aired on 6th Oct on Radio 4, on the continued relevance of Feminism in Britain today – focussing on how the budget cuts are likely to affect women more than men. You can read the full transcript of the programme here ([Whatever happened to the sisterhood) – or the gernal web site with comments is (30 minutes) here

‘We know that the emergency budget (earlier this year) raised about 8 billion in revenue – of which over 5 billion, just over 70%, is going to come directly from women’s pockets. This will impact on all women, but particularly some of the women who already have least – single parents, black minority ethnic women, women who are living in poverty. It could literally shift back women’s economic independence a generation.

Until now, the recession has hit the private sector, mainly affecting male employees, but now that the budget cuts are hitting the public sector, which employs twice as many women as men. In addition, women draw more of the benefits that are being slashed as well: pregnancy grants, obviously, but also child and housing benefits.   The budget cuts are now hitting the public sector, which employs twice as many women as men. In addition, women draw more of the benefits that are being slashed as well: pregnancy grants, obviously, but also child and housing benefits.

Further analysis in the programme suggests that part of the reason women are likely to be affected by the forthcoming budget cuts is that they are much more likely to do caring jobs than men – teaching, social work, nursing, and these are public sector jobs (health and education are huge employers – approaching 2 million people!) – and many of these are in part- time positions – this reflects two things – firstly, that women have failed to move out of their stereotypical traditional gender roles as carers and secondly that women are still more likely to be finically dependent – either on their male partners who are more likely to be in full time work, or on the state, which many part-time working women rely on to top up their wages.’

For AS students – this is directly relevant to the ‘conjugal roles’ part of the AS Family course – this analysis reminds us that woman generally do not have as much financial independence as men.

There is more in the programme than the extract above – I suggest you listen to it!

The incredible immorality of corporate greed?

 or How Capitalism encourages individuals to be selfish

The next time you enjoy an ice cold coke, try to look beyond the cute Christmassy connotations, get beyond the warm reassuring notion that ‘there’s always coca cola’ and take some time out to discover the not so refreshing truth that lies behind the sickly sweet image of one the most enduring icons of the 21st century. Really discover the ‘real thing’.

It takes 2.72 litres of water to produce 1 litre of coca cola[1]. Now this may sound like a reasonable ratio for such a deliciously sweet beverage, but not if you happen to be a farmer living close by to Coca Cola’s Kaladera plant in Rajasthan, North East India. According to recent independent report, commissioned by coca cola, “[the factory’s] presence in this area would continue to be one of the contributors to a worsening water situation and a source of stress to the communities around,” concluding that the company should find alternative water supplies, relocate or shut down the plant.[2]

The result of coke’s presence in the water depleted region is that local farmers who have lived in the area for decades now have inadequate water supplies to keep their crops watered and there appears to be a clear link between the coca cola Corporation moving into the region and the destruction of the livelihood of the farmers living nearby. Coca Cola, which had an advertising budget of $2.6 billion[3] in 2006, is clearly in a position to compensate these farmers, or relocate to a more water rich area, but chooses not to. Coca Cola’s priority clearly lies in maintaining its sickly sweet image while generating famine and poverty for those living in proximity to its factory.[4][5]

The farmers of Rajasthan have it easy, however, compared to unionised workers at some of Coke’s bottling factories in Colombia. Campaigners have documented a ‘gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of union leaders involved in a daily life and death struggle’ at these plants. The bosses at some of Coke’s factories in Colombia have contacts with right wing paramilitary forces, and use violence and intimidation to force unionised labour out of work, and then hire non unionised labour on worse contracts for half the pay. There have been more than 100 recorded disappearances of unionised labour at Coke’s factories.[6]

Now the Coca Cola Corporation is obviously not directly to blame for this, as Colombia is one of the more violent countries on the planet, and this culture of violence and intimidation is widespread. The company is, however, responsible for making the conscious decision to choose to invest in a region well known for such practices, and failing to either pull out or protect its workers.

Now, before you purchase your next coca cola (or related product), pause to reflect, and ask yourself:

  • In areas of water scarcity, should priority of use be given to farmers who have lived there for generations to meet their basic human needs such as for drinking, watering crops and washing, or should priority be given to a multinational to produce a sweet fizzy beverage that has little nutritious value for consumption by the world’s wealthiest nations.
  • Is it acceptable for a company to continue producing in a country where its local managers use violence to kill those members of a work force who have joined a union?

If your answer is no to the above questions, and you don’t like the idea of living in a world of poverty, misery, and violence, then don’t drink coke ever again, because if there is any truth in the notion of there ‘always [being] coca cola’ then there is also a good chance there will always be human misery and environmental disaster in the wake of its production because available evidence suggests that Coke’s profits are more important than basic human rights.

Coke is merely one example of one product produced by one company that harms people and the environment in its productive process. It really is just the red and white tip of one very large, very wealthy, and very powerful corporate iceberg, and that iceberg is unlikely to go into melt down any time soon. There are many other cases where the pursuit of Corporate Self Interest has lead to obvious harm of workers, the environment and local communities.

In addition to the increasingly well documented cases of companies such as Nike being involved in sweat shops labour[7], two other fairly widely known examples are those of Shell in Nigeria failing to clear up pollution of the tribal lands of the Ogoni people caused by it’s oil pipelines leaking[8]; and the Nestle Corporations policy of providing free samples of its baby milk formula to new mothers in developing countries which resulted in their breast milk drying up and their becoming dependent on this formula, having to pay after the first few weeks had been used up.[9]

Many commentators, even mainstream conservatives, have also pointed out that one of the root causes of the credit crunch was the greed and self interest of bankers who lent money to people who they knew could not afford to service the debt it in order to improve their profit margins. This created a massive debt bubble that eventually lead to economic decline and a massive tax payer bail out of financial institutions.[10] [11]

A further, softer, criticism of the morality of the corporate sector can be constructed by taking a critical look at the usefulness of the goods some corporations actually produce. There are dozens of corporations which the technological know how to produce useful products that could improve the lives of millions, but instead they plough their resources into producing goods that will benefit the rich, because selling to the wealthy generates more profit than producing socially useful goods. Pfizer, for example produces Viagra; and Oil corporations have persistently refused to invest in greener technologies all the time there are oil reserves they can tap into.[12]

Probably the most worrying example of extreme Corporate immorality is the recent growth of Corporations such as British Aerospace, Blackwater and Haliburton which derive a significant part of their revenue from providing services to the military sector, in the form of the development of weapons systems, the provision of private security forces (mercenaries), in addition to the provision of more mundane services such as rebuilding infrastructure and providing meals for the armed forces.  We thus have an expanding private sector that increasingly relies on wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan for a significant portion of their revenue.[13]

So to summarise so far, if we look at just a few examples of our not so cute and cuddly  corporations we know that, in the course of increasing profits, they deprive communities of the resources they need to survive (Coca Cola), pollute land through which their resources are transported (Shell), encourage dependency on their products (Nestle and Monsanto), choose to sell unnecessary goods to the wealthy rather than use their resources to help the needy (Pfizer, all oil and car corporations), and seam to have little compunction over profiting out of war (Halliburton and BAE).

 


[1] http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=4492835

[2] http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/business/uk-environment-group-accuses-coke-of-depleting-water-in-rajasthan-2_10013709.html

[3] http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/contactus/faq/advertising.html

[4] http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=kqE40Oc1CXo&feature=related

[5] See Mark Thomas’s book (2008) Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola

[6] http://www.killercoke.org/pdf/KCBroch.pdf

[7] http://www.nosweat.org.uk/

[8] http://www.ratical.org/corporations/OgoniFactS.html

[9] http://www.thecorporation.com/ gives details on the documentary ‘The Corporation’.

[10] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7525724.stm

[11] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news-old/columnists/reade/2008/10/09/make-greedy-bankers-feel-the-pain-of-the-credit-crunch-115875-20787539/

[12] www.monbiot.com ‘The Other Bail-Out, 7th October ‘08

[13] See Naomi Klein’s book (2008) The Shock Doctrine

Our uncritical acceptance of the budget cuts….

Another nice quote from Polly Toynbee’s blog about how we are accepting the need for budget cuts so uncritically…..In my mind this is a good example of neo-liberal hegemony.  

“It has become the grown-up, rational, received opinion that there is no alternative to budget cuts of unthinkable proportions. People believe that Labour spending, not global finance, caused the deficit. So strong is the stranglehold on most media, a brainwashed nation has most people blindly repeating the mantra that deficit reduction, fast and furious, is the only medicine. Any other course is Red poison. If Labour tries to talk of its own values, its convictions, its alternative view of the world, it is attacked for indulging in ideology, not practical economics.”

The wealth of the richest 1000 grew by £77bn last year

According to this article the richest 1000 people in the UK saw their wealth increase by a third last year-  an increase of £77bn – If I were in power I would give these people the opportunity to  donate these profits to socially useful public services – (no one can actually earn this much money after all), if they chose not to, I would jail them and forcibly take their assets for the benefit of all. It really is morally unnaccetable that we are facing cuts of billions of pounds from our public services while the rich just go on getting richer.

The government’s response to this situation is of course to put in place budgets that make the poor even poorer!