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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Indignant or Occupy?

In Brazil, Russia, India and China it will be a normal Saturday for the educated young aspirational middle classes; they will browse the global chain stores, take a coffee in a global coffee shop and return to their apartment with some token of global brand identity; a bottle of Johnny Walker, perhaps, or something from Agn├Ęs B. Over the weekend, before they return to their careers in aerospace, electronics, marketing or energy they may well tune their satellite TVs to news broadcasts of their old-West counterparts out on the streets today. The Indignant movement started in Spain, a protest by the educated young that the middle class lifestyle had evaded them. No Vuitton belt or bottle of Jim Beam in Seville. The Occupy movement started in New York, a protest by Americans who claim 'we are the 99%' and that the 1% have deprived them of an aspirational middle class lifestyle. No cabin in the Hamptons for those stuck in Alphabet City. 

"International capital is mobile, and is running circles around the world's governments, frankly" speaks an economist on Radio 4's Today as I type. The author of 'The Price of Civilisation', Jeffrey Sachs, appeals for the return of a humanistic and communitarian ethos in America. The blurb for the book includes
Sachs goes deeper than an economic diagnosis. By taking a broad, holistic approach—looking at domestic politics, geopolitics, social psychology, and the natural environment as well—Sachs reveals the larger fissures underlying our country’s current crisis. He shows how Washington has consistently failed to address America’s economic needs. He describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. He also looks at the crisis in our culture, in which an overstimulated and consumption-driven populace in a ferocious quest for wealth now suffers shortfalls of social trust, honesty, and compassion.
This is, of course, true. And the Occupy protesters and the Indignant protesters on the streets today are essentially angry about the same thing. The balance of global power has slipped away from the political class and towards the global corporates, not in some sinister conspiracy but through the wholly natural behaviour of monopolies and oligopolies in excluding competition and strengthening their grip. We, the West, are spent-out; the corporates have squeezed about all they can from our markets. The burgeoning markets and debt-potential of the BRICs are now their focus, rich honeypots of spectacular GDP growth and rapidly expanding middle classes, young populations and a sort of societal energy that powers rapid change. 

Corporatism and the power of Leviathan States and Super States are the enemies both of laissez-faire capitalism and classic Liberalism, but the targets identified by the protesters are as fatuous as these things usually are; "... the WTO, the IMF, the ECB, the UN, the G8, the banks". The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in our selves. Both strands of protest today are by essentially 'an overstimulated and consumption-driven populace in a ferocious quest for wealth', by a furious young fighting for material gain. In 1968 they fought for Love; in 2011 it's for Money. 

"You are right to be indignant. The fact is, the system is not working right ... We've socialized losses and privatized gains. That's not capitalism. That's not a market economy." – Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, speaking to Occupy Wall Street.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Minister's In Tray

Mr Letwin read the HR expert's memorandum again with dismay. "Under no circumstances" it stated, in 14pt bold, "are staff to retain 'In' or 'Out' trays on workstation horizontal surfaces in contravention of the Department's clear desk policy". The minister had already been forced to hide his red box in a cupboard, stuffing it as full as possible with the pile of ministerial correspondence that fouled his workstation horizontal surface (the term desktop, the IT people had declared, was reserved for the vertical computer screen). His permanent secretary seemed to have no difficulty in maintaining a clear WHS, so why was he burdened with paper? Letwin resolved not to be defeated.

The following day he arrived at the ministerial building just after 6am and made for the ministerial secretariat. His pigeon hole (or hard copy information distribution node) was crammed. Stuffing the papers and envelopes inside his overcoat and holding his arms across his chest, he nodded perfunctorily to the Nigerian security guard as he hopped down the steps and back out of the building. Dawn was breaking in St James' Park and the pigeon-eating Pelicans were yawning hungrily. As he passed a litter bin, Letwin discarded a report on NHS contracts for Kangaroo Meat. The following bin received a bundle of letters from arms lobbyists. He avoided the eyes of a dog walker as he dumped the minutes of the Wind Turbine Advisory Committee. As he rounded the Hydrangea Pool and crammed the last bundle of constituency correspondence into the bin beside a discarded White Lighting can he froze; just thirty paces ahead on the path was the terrifying figure of the Cabinet Secretary. Sir Gus was also frozen in a rictus of embarrassment. Then Letwin noticed the documents stuffed inside Sir Gus' coat lapels, and the handful of A4 documents clutched in his gloved fist and frozen above the mouth of a litter bin. 

"Morning Gus" he called "brisk out today"
"Yes, Minister."

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Rape and spoilation

Richard North has a few succinct and hard-hitting words on the effects of the common fisheries policy. Our island waters should be teeming with an abundance of marine life, which if sustainably fished inshore by boats under 10m and further out by boats that can stay out for a few days will provide an inheritance for all the people of these islands who come after us. Instead our inshore waters have been turned into deserts, raped and spoiled by the Spanish factory ships that hoover up every living sea creature for fertilizer and chicken meal. 

Fishing is a hard life and one no fisherman would recommend to his children. Yet it formed the backbone and character of countless villages and communities around our coasts, employment and independence, and fed us through two submarine blockades. Marine stocks have the chance now to recover - it's not quite too late - but we must exclude the Spaniards in particular from our waters. Richard estimates we have lost £100bn to Spain alone. 

Dr North rightly reserves his contempt for the weak and spineless political class who have sold away the birthright of Britain's children - our fish stocks - for narrow self-interest, short term expediency and the nauseous stench of political jobbery. And as the foreign beam-trawls scrape the British sea bed into a barren waste, what's our Prime Minister's greatest concern? Oh, stopping teenage boys watching porn on their PS3s.    

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Werrity is just more sleaze

Werrity is the sort of name Dickens would come up with. Magwitch and Werrity, dealers in hooves and glue, perhaps. Fox is too obvious a tag for an ambitious politician; Dickens would have used a derivative of vulpine. Wulpine, possibly. Werrity and Wulpine, then, dealers in hooves and glue, with a stinking yard in Bow from which the rendering chimney spews its greasy smoke over a widow's flower garden. Something like that. 

However crawlingly Fox grovelled yesterday, however ready to lay down his partner for his political life, and whatever mock sincerity the Prime Minister pretended to evince, this was just more sleaze in the public's mind, reinforcing the popular view of Parliament as the place where little men come to get rich. We don't know what Wulpine got from Werrity; chocolates on the pillow, little splits of Moet or amusing cufflinks all seem possible. But over all hangs the stench of the glue works. 

Monday, 10 October 2011

Occupy Wall Street?

There's not been much comment in my segment of the blogosphere on the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the MSM are describing it as 'anti capitalist'. The two may not be unrelated. In fact, from what I can tell, it's not anti-capitalist but anti-corporatist and anti-Big Government. If within the movement is a discernible bent towards laissez-faire capitalism and a society that owes more to Burke's little platoons than to State social planning then the movement should be supported. However, it's a protest movement - and by definition against stuff rather than for stuff - and this is why I suspect fellow bloggers are reluctant at this stage to identify with it too closely. If the movement is simply a conglomeration of angry young people with an inchoate focus for their ire, there is an opportunity to help clear the fog.