Friday, 3 July 2009

Back home and unimpressed.

Well, I'm back, in case you hadn't guessed, in sticky old Blighty. Three days in the country and noone has at any point wished me a nice day, I already smell of fag-ash and no air-conditioning, and last night someone threw a dead mouse at my head in jolly good sport. I must be home. Not for long, though. In three weeks I'll be moving out of the little house where me and my friends have lived, in Turnpike Lane City of Dreams, for going on two years.

The reason I'm moving - to Mile End, specifically, land of Jack the Ripper, unfortunate schizophrenic train-shover-underers and George Galloway - is that we can no longer afford to live in our house. I at least am sorted for somewhere to move, because I'm a spoilt middle-class brat who got to do internships and, consequently, I still have a job, for the moment at least. But only one other housemate is currently working; we're in the middle of a torturous process of trying to access benefits, but it's agonisingly slow, and the subsistence money we're getting from the jobcentre isn't enough to keep us. And we're not the only ones.

The city is over-run with kids like us, grubbing around in wheelie-bins for the rag-ends of dreams we were sold in school. People are angry. The impossible has happened: free market capitalism has failed us, and real life is no longer the thick slice of fun pie that we were led to expect. Instead of doing anything worthwhile to help, our leaders have just been exposed as liars, fraudsters and charlatans, playing the system for everything it’s worth – defrauding the public purse for many times the amount scrounged by even the most wily benefit cheat. Me and my friends who have wasted years and years and got into thousands and thousands of pounds’ worth of debt slaving for degrees to prepare us for jobs that aren’t there are angry. We grew up being told that as long as we played the game, learned our lines, worked hard, were preferably white and rich and bought enough shiny things to disguise ourselves as good little boys and girls, joy, jobs and health insurance would be ours. But they lied to us: game-playing is no longer enough, was never enough.

I'm living with a close friend with a high IQ, excellent written and spoken English, top-notch computer skills and a degree from Oxford. The only job he’s even been offered an interview for in the past six months was the role of jobcentre assistant - the only boom sector right now – and this morning he was turned down for that. This confirms that our household can no longer support itself. We have to move; and whilst I’ve found a place, some of the people I live with are genuinely afraid that without the option of returning home, we’ll end up on the streets. This has got BAD. Most university leavers I know are simply fleeing home to live with mum and dad, which is a perfectly reasonable option at this point. But what about the rest of us? What about people like my housemates and me, who for whatever reason can't go home? What are we meant to do?

They LIED to us. And as that salient fact dawns, we are seething with range, panting with rage. The trouble is that rage alone is not enough.

A few weeks ago, I was heartened by the fact that the expenses scandal didn't seem about to be allowed to slink off any time soon. But today, expenses are still in the headlines and in people's frontbrains - expenses, scandal and how duped we feel by the entire political process. And that would be fine, it would be admirable, were it not for the fact that I can't for the life of me see the British Left getting anything else done. It's not just that the Guardian are letting the Standard editor publish pro-Tory pieces in their comment pages. And it's not just that the government and voluntary sector are being woefully tardy in doing anything for the 400,000 university leavers who will shortly be applying for the dole this summer. No, what gets me is that somehow we’ve let the Welfare Reform Bill – that one, you know, the one that’s going to screw over millions of jobless and disabled who one day might, just might, include you – get to the Lords stage and there’s been barely a murmur. Even the anti-poverty activist lists I’m on seem to have given up hope.

I’m worried by the sheer force of depression in this city, in this country. We seem to have more or less accepted that everyone in politics is corrupt and there’s nothing we can do about it and that the Tories are going to get in and there’s nothing we can do about it and Britain is slithering to the right and there isn’t a bloody thing we can do about it. But there are still battles to be fought; things aren’t just bad, they’re getting worse.

And I worry that people haven’t noticed. I worry that – what with Michael Jackson and the expenses scandal and the British Left tying themselves in knots over whether or not to pander to the Tories and Farrah Fawcett and Susan Boyle and the headline-munching heatwave and that Harry Potter movie – people just haven’t noticed that things are actually getting worse, right now, and not only is government falling apart and falling over itself to apologise like a surprised, stammering adulterer, they’re not delivering just when we need strong leadership and innovative ideas.

Not that innovative ideas have been short in coming from outside the Westminster bubble. I’m particularly cheered by some of the debate that’s been going on on Liberal Conspiracy this month, from rousing discussions of just what should go in a new British constitution, to the practicalities of living wage argument, to the high politics of Stuart White and Sunny Hundal's response to the 'Progressive Conservatives'' charge that British liberalism is actually illiberal. Compass, too, are doing sterling work, and their annual conference turned out to be only slightly crushingly depressing. Not everyone there was jaded: some of them were students.

But it's not enough. It's not *enough*, when there's so much work to do. We've got an economy to rebuild. We've got a generation of young people to rescue from drifting into a dichotomy of the drowned and the saved. We need more than vaunting ideas, we need practical plans, and immediate action. We need to be spending money right now on our children and young people, on building houses and care facilities for our elderly - but I see no concrete plans to do any of this, despite the fact that the Tories are already making their recession budget priorities clear (clue: it begins with a T and is mushroom-shaped). And yet liberal energy across the country seems tasered by fatalism.

This is my unimpressed face.

I want to be wrong about this. Tell me I'm wrong about this. Tell me that people are beginning to pick up the work that needs to be done. Come on, guys, I believe in you. Comment with examples of good things that are happening in politics land and my heartfelt gratitude and little socialist biscuits shall be yours, all yours.


  1. Sarah Palin resigned a few hours ago, which might mean that Obama will stay for a second term, considering that the Conservative party don't really have a strong candidate.

  2. But that doesn't really help the situation in Britain much I suppose.
    Alright, so the left is depressed you say? And the young people, the students are the only ones looking forwards, being optimistic and going all Obama over the whole place?
    If the Old Left can't get the motivation and momentum up, the New/Young Left will have to do it on their own, and either try and get the rest going, or force them to do something by going ahead on their own.
    That's my suggestion anyway. It feels right, but I'm not sure how practical it is.

  3. Long-time lurker popping my head round to offer virtual gin if wanted.

    My mum's husband is currently writing his dissertation on the subject of human capital, and it's largely about the same things you've talked of here - for the last few years we've totally vocational-ised the universities to the point where people ARE now graduating and finding the life they'd been sold isn't ready and waiting for them, because we chivvy kids into uni on the promise of it getting them a fancy job rather than because it might, y'know teach them something enlightening, and be an experience had for the love of it rather than an extension of their A Levels. I think the education system has a hell of a lot to answer for in that regard, and as a former student recruitment officer for a very large university I hold my hands up to that and accept my share of the blame. Something needs to change there.

    On another note, I too am disappointed, almost to the point of worry, about the lack of resistance put up to the Welfare Reform Bill. I sent a strongly-worded email to Lord McKenzie, and as a mostly-housebound disabled person that was all I felt I could do. If I could have marched, or done something useful, I would have. On a positive personal note, it's 100% cemented my desire to become a welfare rights worker if I'm ever well enough to work again. God knows we'll be needing more of them.

  4. I'm not quite sure what you're advocating, Penny. I understand and share your frustration and disappointment at not seeing the New Left already risen, all phoenix-y and that, but what, practically, does this disappointment amount to being disappointed in? What structures do you think should be emerging?

    If it's about left unity, there are genuine moves being made on the left to build a new coalition whilst trying to avoid Socialist Alliance Mk II, but it is still early days yet. And frankly I'm not sure what shape it will or should take as it does emerge.

    For my tuppenyworth, ideally the left within Labour and the remaining union support would break away to form a new coalition party that the left could get behind for electoral purposes, but the hard realities of centre-left politics are of course tied firmly to the carcass of New Labour and the unions, and these beasts don't change direction easily.

    And those on the activist left outside these structures simply don't have the time or resources (or media access) to build a new movement without them, at least not on the scale of the Labour Party. Frankly, my comrades (and to a lesser extent, myself) have been running from campaign to campaign for years now, and the last year or so has been particularly frenetic, what with UAF, Gaza, PSC, a few local issues, People Not Profit, Stop the War etc.

    Could you explain a bit more about what you think should be appearing please?

  5. I believe Worker's cooperatives are the way forward.

  6. Stuck to your macbook and net connection in your 'middle class' cosiness, I doubt you really appreciate the half of it.

  7. Your right about the welfare reform bill, its been going through the works with hardly a mention in the press, and the public are oblivious.
    It a major change in how the country views its people, and the support that will be available, even in the power the state has.
    If you want to write about it, feel free to post on as we are looking for people to debate the welfare reforms.

  8. Morning Penny,

    Regarding the WR Bill I just wanted to add that there are some who are fighting this,who realise that if these proposals are rubber stamped,they will actually make life worse for a lot of people.

    If you get time take a look at theses links.They will give you an idea of what Carer Watch have been doing.

    As an aside,John McDonnell has this EDM too

    As much as the present govt are pushing this Bill through,the Tories have stated many times that they will push it further and faster.

    This is not just about young people like your and your friends Penny but about society as a whole.We cannot and must not stand by and let this Bill go unopposed

    The LibDem Lords have been the only ones trying to get amendments to the Bill accepted but have been up against a man of ice ( McKenzie ).

    This is not about welfare but about WORKFARE.

  9. clue: it begins with a tea and is mushroom-shaped

    Er, what?

  10. Some of us grew up being sold promises that have now been proved false, sure. Many more of us were never meant to aspire to anything greater than manual drudgery. All financial/economic crises and recessions do is tear the mask off capitalism, and let you see what's been writhing underneath all along.

    Obviously I have both a personal and a political investment in what you say above. On a personal note, you don't want to know the fucking hatchet-job that went on in my workplace yesterday. There really aren't any green shoots of recovery.

  11. Yeah, you're wrong. You'd think you were the first generation this happened to. You seem to be too young and lacking in perspective to know that this is par for the course, and very definitely not the end of the world.

    You also seem to be part of the "Me" generation. Never mind young people, what about everyone else? There's no monopoloy on need you know.

    What I'd say to you is take a chill-pill. Life is like this. Get over it. Do something about it. Just stop this repetitious romanticising self-indulgent clap-trap.

  12. Uh... ?

    Failed by the free market? I`m not sure we`re talking about the same country.

    The problem here is that successive governments have tried to provide an increasing number of students with a university education despite the fact that a university education has really only ever been useful for one thing - as a *signal* of intelligence and wealth.
    Giving everyone a university education is just an exceptionally expensive way of making it an irrelevance.
    So, a degree in Ancient Mesopotanian pottery (or whatever), even if it is from Oxbridge, is of limited value - probably the equivalent of straight A`s at A-level 25 years ago.

    If Britain has a problem, it is the fact that people feel entitled to far too much, with limited understanding of how things are actually achieved and aprox. zero desire to work for things.
    That and the lack of trust, pessimism and refusal to take responsibility at election time and vote the bastards out.

  13. This is the thing. As you say,

    "We seem to have more or less accepted that everyone in politics is corrupt and there's nothing we can do about it"

    I mean, really? How can we be expected to do anything else, when we haven't seen anybody whose ultimate actions proved them to have been meaning anything that even looks like well for god-knows-how-long? And when things get bad, and the economy starts going down, the ministers actually and genuinely start hurling blame like gibbons with shit and squalling like 14 year old boys?

    What happened to, if not honesty, then dignity?

    The expenses thing is sordid, yes, but people with power are traditionally paid well to make them harder to bribe. The behaviour was far from exemplary, but it could have been worse.. I just wish one party, any party would pull their thumb out and start trying to fix something, rather than trying to make sure they land on top.

    RE: Mark

    "[...]probably the equivalent of straight A's at A-level 25 years ago."

    Yes. this is because we have increased the standard of education across the board since 1984.

    The different types of training are not interchangeable... Yes, I went to university, yes it was a good one. Not oxbridge, but the best for my subject (which, ironically, did cover Ancient Mesopotamian pottery,) but this was because I had a job in mind which required it. If my chosen work had not required going to university, I wouldn't have. (all very well you cry, but...)

    One of the problems, and here is where I do agree with you, is that the purposes of university education have changed. I wouldn't say they have never been useful, but since the training offered has grown less and less to do with what you need to know and more and more to do with the politics of syllabus, the whole thing has gone a bit wonky. Fortunately for me (aren't I the lucky one) my department was a bit more focused than that, but the point stands..

  14. "And it's not just that the government and voluntary sector are being woefully tardy in doing anything for the 400,000 university leavers who will shortly be applying for the dole this summer."

    What? All of them? Shurely shome mistake. 40,000 is likely, according to the Guardian. But then that roughly corresponds to the number of people who will end up with thirds, so it's hardly a shock.

  15. Well, the government's spending more money now - as a % of GDP - than it ever has in our lifetimes.

    There's the £1Billion Future Jobs Fund that is designed to help young people get jobs.

    Don't really know enough about what the left is really saying about the economy in general to know whether it's sensible or not. I know Compass have come out against consumerism. That's a brave line to take in a recession.

  16. I think you should try and open your mind a little, especially as regards to your understanding of economics. Start by reading some economic history books of the rise and fall of Empires.
    Other things worth looking at would be the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, 1125, this is the first recorded case in English history of bankers ruining a country.
    The Great Debasement, the first recorded time it was done by an English monarch, Henry the 8th.
    I think perhaps you should also take a look at the Austrian School of economics, Ludwig Von Mises, Rothbard etc. A lot of this stuff can be found at
    Essentially though your solution can't work, although there may be things that need money spending on them, there is no more money. All that is happening now is that as Brown proposes spending more money, what he means is that he is printing more pieces of paper, thus reducing the buying power of those that do have money, which causes inflation. Prices seem to go up, but actually the value of paper money goes down. You will see this more clearly when we move to hyper inflation later this year. You might want to take a look at Zimbabwe for a good example of this in effect.
    At times like this it is worth remembering that things are going to get worse for many years, so you have to find happiness in other ways. Take pleasure from friends, a sunny day, a nice cup of tea, a walk by the river. Those things got me through the last recession, pitiful as they sound.

  17. "although there may be things that need more money spending on them, there is no more money"

    Yes, this is true, but, it's also absurd and obviously false. For this to be true would mean that in a world where about a billion are chronically starved, and in a country with millions of children raised in poverty and hundreds of thousands of homeless, there just aren't the resources to feed everyone, house everyone, and provide a good standard of living.

    But those resources are there - the food, the houses, every other kind of important good is available in the needed amounts.

    And yet 'there's no more money'. Some greedy class of parasites must have appropriated the great majority of society's wealth. I wonder who that might be?

  18. 'Some greedy class of parasites'

    You and me and the rest of the rich West are those parasites.. when are you going to admit this and help the real poor in Africa and Asia?

  19. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be able to use your experience living with the poor to some advantage in future. Dinner parties in your 40s will resound with laughter as you describe your descent into temporary plebdom.

    So it's not all bad.

  20. It is actually incredibly heartening to me that you guys all believe in the concept of my future wealth and poshness.
    I'll be sure to send Titus and Marcia your love when the nanny brings them home from prep school.

    Seriously, though - what is all this commentary on my personal background actually meant to be achieving? Apart from a weary ad hominem? I'm very open about my own privilege on this blog, and how it problematises both my socialism and my objectivity, and the steps that it's my duty to take to work around that. If you still can't stand to read anything by someone who had to wear a tartan kilt to school, I suggest you go and find another blog. I can't change my past, but I can try in my own small way to change the future.

  21. Why try and work around your privilege?

  22. By 'work around', I mean 'take into account'. There's a lot that my privilege stops me from understanding, a lot that it makes me take for granted. Attempting to blog about politics without interrogating your own inherent prejudices is like trying to do an office job whilst wearing a huge pair of blinkers or dark sunglasses. Trust me, I had to do that once after eye surgery.

    By the way, SarahSea and Rosemary: plenty of little socialist biscuits for you guys. Glad to see you on here. *grins*

  23. Yakherd - I think that`s a major problem. Alot of students just go to university now because it`s kind of what you have to do if you want the mythical, ill-defined "good job". It`s an unrealistic attitude which the government has been promoting for a number of years...

    Directionless Bones...
    Rather than a class of parasites - the ones with wealth are those that have created it (often by organising others.)
    Likewise, the reason why Africa is poor and the UK is rich is that 1) we don`t live in a desert 2) we have stable political and social institutions and 3) the previous two conditions have been true for quite some time.
    It`s not as if we`re cruelly vaccuming up all of the poor Africans money. It`s just that we happen to have built better stuff and do more in-demand things here.

    Given that wealth is created by hard work - how does giving people money solve anything?

    Penny Red - do you think that your privilege / middle class sense of entitlement might be exactly what makes you a socialist?

    BTW... Roedean?

  24. Post holiday blues strikes doubly hard when she finds she has to move house to Mile End, an area known for its packs of wild dogs, gangs of knife boys and vampires. I told you it would be back to boring old Briton with a skint present and a sad future the writer said.

    Then as she twisted on her platforms she broke through to the other side. It required her to fling off her white tights and roll one of those extra long Rizzla papers.

  25. 'do you think that your privilege / middle class sense of entitlement might be exactly what makes you a socialist?'

    Um - in a word, no.

  26. Um... what does make you a socialist?

  27. Lots of reading. An inherent sense of justice and fairness. Knowledge that so much of the world is *un*fair. Feminism. Having worked some shitty jobs. Being involved in the mental health system. Being a carer.

    ...and, I suppose, an awareness that a lot of people have had it a lot harder than me, and it shouldn't have to be like that. So in that respect, yes, my politics are directly influenced by my background.

  28. *Fair* enough. I guess the difference is that I don`t consider differences in income to be neccesarily unfair or a result of unfairness. I also don`t believe that above a certain level wealth redistribution has any greater purpose than "keeping up with the Jones`s" (or rather keeping the Jones`s down), which doesn`t seem like a particuarly good (or fair) reason to force money out of people.

    What`s your view of the really big inequalities (personality, charactor, quality of upbringing, beauty, etc.)?

  29. "I'm very open about my own privilege on this blog, and how it problematises both my socialism and my objectivity, and the steps that it's my duty to take to work around that."

    I don't think your personal situation needs to affect your objectivity to the extent that it does. The reason this happens is that you choose to make it the story.

    It's perfectly legitimate for middle class (in the sense of top-university educated, media and political class sense) journalists to write about middle class people having difficult lives.

    A terrible situation for a middle class person doesn't suddenly become better just because poorer people in the UK, or even poorer people elsewhere, are doing worse.

    The problems in your case arise when you start with the experiences of you and your flatmates and then try to extrapolate wide-ranging conclusions about the situation of the economy and society as a whole.

    My initial prejudice is that the anecdotal experiences of you and your flatmates reveal more or less nothing at all about the overrall situation of the economy and wider society.

    My initial prejudice is that the problem of some young people getting degrees from top universities and then not really knowing what to do with their lives - or being unable to do want they want to do due to difficult personal circumstances - is not significantly better or worse now than it was five, ten or fifteen years ago and is largely unrelated to the current slump in the construction industry, the global banking crisis or the nature of the UK benefits system.

    These prejudices may or may not need challenging but you don't provide the evidence or wider arguments to challenge them.

  30. David - part of the point of this blog is to extrapolate wider points from what happens in my day-to-day life. That's what I've been trying to do here, and it is in part what brings people to my blog, the combination of personal and political writing.

    I disagree entirely with your dismissal of me and my housemates as 'not really knowing what to do with our lives' - all of us know exactly what we want to do with our lives, and that begins with just getting some kind of job. Difficult personal circumstances are not only complicating factors - they are the direct result of a year of poverty, unemployment and misery and a punitive benefits system.

    In general, I think you may be underestimating what people my age are going through at the moment. It's not only people who went to top universities who are affected, it's all graduates and school leavers: the jobs are just not there, and the support for those currently out of work is not there. It's a pretty shitty situation, all in all, and right now there's nothing I can do but try and protect myself, which makes me feel equal parts guilty and furious.

  31. Its a even worse situation for those unable to work through physical or mental problems.... Much worse.

  32. Mark, if there are people who work most of their lives on the minimum wage cleaning buildings, and end up with, say, one thousandth of the wealth of someone else, I think it's absurd to suggest that that other person has worked one thousand times as hard, contributed one thousand times as much to society.

    Similarly, if I have a shitload of money and pay someone a bit of it to invest it so as to make ever richer and richer, without working more than five minutes a day myself, I clearly haven't created much wealth. But that's simply the extreme case of wealth from prior ownership. If you want only wealth from contribution, fine, there are forms of socialism that preserve that, but to avoid mixing it with wealth from prior ownership you'll need to abolish private property.

    And if you think Africa is poor because the whole continent is a desert (presumably India and Latin America are also deserts) then you're either a racist or didn't go to primary school.

    Anononymous: there's no conflict between identifying capitalist exploitation at work within each country and also identifying it at work between countries (not to mention identifying its racialised dimensions within countries).

  33. Unfortunately, value of output does not equal the hard work put in. I`m sure stone age hunters worked hard, but the value of their work still wasn`t as large as a modern farmer sitting on his tractor.
    I`m working very hard at the moment to learn Klingon. Guess how much I get paid for it.
    We`re not talking about how hard people work, but whether the value of their work is being stolen by some parasitic class.

    If I invest my time and create an irrigation system and then sell my wheat to my pals, i`m gaining an advantage from my prior ownership, but i`m not actually expoliting anyone (unless you are suggesting that we shouldn`t have any rights over our own work). The only difference between this and wealth in the modern world is that the existing wealth is extremely liquid (which is good) making it harder to see the link between the owener and the original creation of wealth. Even so, i`d suggest that generally, the link is there (depending on your views of inherited wealth)

    And there were two reasons given for poverty in Africa, you cheeky scamp.

  34. And since when did being geographically challenged become racist?

    Getting "Whats the Capital of Australia?" wrong has serious implications in modern Britain?

  35. Penny - why don`t you move to China and work in a factory?

  36. Why on earth would I want to do that?

  37. I keep hearing China is where all the jobs are going. So if we really want jobs, let`s go to China.
    Better than seeing out your days as a gin-addled wreck, slowly dying of consumption in a mouldy, rat infested slum. Non?

  38. The move to China comment is clearly ridiculous, but moving out of London is probably a good idea for all your housemates - there are more jobs, less competition and cheaper housing in the other large towns and cities.

    And outside of London, your housemate's Oxford degree would be much more useful - he could offer tutoring to GCSE and A-level students quite easily if he went to a non university town.

  39. You are wrong about this :-P

    I'm not a member of the SWP but I went to their Marxism conference this weekend and it was very inspiring. There were a lot of activists there, (not just party members) who are intelligent and enthusiastic and getting shit done.

    It finishes tomorrow - if you can get time off your job I would recommend you go and check it out and meet some people who are actually on the left (that doesn't include labourites or liberals, imho). Or just go for their gig in the evening and chat to some people there, it might cheer you up a bit.

  40. Ben
    ... 'getting shit done?'
    What sort of shit?

  41. To anonymous...

    Really too much to say in a comment box. There are people involved in all kinds of issues. The main strategic emphasis of the SWP is trying to politicise trade union activism. However that is their particular way of addressing any number of issues from economic inequality to racial discrimination to LGBT rights to anti-war campaigning. Personally I think that is fine as one tactic among a diversity; their technique of joining popular protests in order to recruit and propagandise, I find less productive. (Not being employed myself at the moment I can't say how the majority of trade unionists feel about them.) Anyway the point is that because they are interested in a lot of issues they invited various non-affiliated speakers who agree with their aims but don't necessarily follow the same tactics, for example Paul Gilroy was very good I thought.

  42. So the shit is that big it wont fit in a comment box?

  43. Mark: you've picked a particular example in which 1. the only labourer is also the only owner, and 2. the owner never ceases to labour. The difference between this and property in the modern world is not simply that wealth is more liquid, it's that 1. owning and labouring are largely separate, with most work being done by people who don't own, and 2. the sort of property we have is one which allows you, having once established that irrigation system, investing a lot or a little time, to then sit back and spend the next 50 years getting an income off it from other people's work.

    Perhaps you think that you, having created that system in the first place, have in fact 'created' whatever exorbitant share of the proceeds you manage to appropriate, and that those who spend their lives feeding you and everyone else with its help have only 'created' whatever pittance you decide to pay them.

    But this 'value of work', that sounds like something incredibly hard to evaluate. I imagine you'll say that the market evaluates it, which looks distinctly circular from where I'm sitting, since markets have all kinds of major systematic flaws.

  44. "it is in part what brings people to my blog, the combination of personal and political writing."

    Combining the personal and political isn't a problem in principle. It's not even a problem that the combination might be slightly contrived (if it's good enough for George Orwell... ).

    Even fairly wild extrapolations are reasonably journalistic devices - I'm just suggesting that if there going to convince anyone of anything (rather than just provoke some people to take a pot shot at you) they need to be backed up by facts or (probably more appropriately for a blog) arguments that actually deal with the most obviously likely objections.

    My comment neither underestimate or over-estimates what young people in general are currently going through due to the economic situation. It suggests that your experiences are not typical of it.

    My instinctive belief is that a fairly high percentage of young people who left Oxford in the last couple of years are now in work or in further state-funded study - and that the state of the economy is not the main reason a small percentage are not.

    Maybe I'm wrong but you're not offering either arguments or evidence to convince me otherwise.

    In terms of the benefit system, how specifically could it be improved?

  45. I'm very cross and don't know who to complain to. Not my MP. I'm drafting a letter to Gordon Brown that I will send eventually. I doubt he will listen either. It is very depressing that these politicians do not value people who do not have paid work. May I please have a small biscuit (no animal ingredients)?

  46. PS I think that should have been "whom".

  47. Directionless bones:
    A cursory glance through the top twenty richest people in the world shows that these are people (with the exception of the walton family with their inheritence and possibly Warren Buffet) who are incredibly wealthy as a result of their work in founding and managing what proved to be exceptionally successfull companies. The ownership of wealth isn`t seperate from work - it`s just that the work being done is often managerial.
    Anyway back to the irrigation system.
    It`s not going to be a matter of how much i decide to pay my workers, its a matter of how much they can make doing something else.
    Lets stay some guy grubbing around with a stick can produce 1 turnip a day, but that if he comes to work on my swanky irrigated farm he can produce 2. Lets say he gets 1.5 turnips per day and I get a half... how am I exploiting him?
    He`s better off by half a turnip.
    I`d say that in societies where peoples labour is collectively owned there is more likely to be exploitation, especially if the societies aren`t particuarly coherent in of themselves or the managers (of the collectivised produce) are allowed free reign to do what they like.

  48. Vanilla Rose - they don`t value people who do have paid work either.

    PS you can leave off the whom in blog comments.

  49. Oh and directionless bones - surely the value that people actually apply to a product (how much they want it) is the only sensible way to evaluate an object or services worth.
    If we are going to give any credence to the desires of the people within society, that is.

  50. The ownership of wealth is separate from work, because even if some work is done by these wealthy people, most of the work is done by their employees.

    What your workers can make doing something else will reflect whether a bunch of other, more miserly, people own all the other fields - i.e. it's determined by the pre-existing layout of property. Moreover, if one of your workers comes up with an even better idea for an irrigation system, but it will only work on your field, then you're still likely to benefit more than her from that new improvement, despite creating nothing yourself. Property rights are only fair (i.e. only remotely reflect some idea of 'contribution') if there's equality at the outset: but they immediately imply that there won't be equality at the next outset.

    The value that people put on a product is indeed the only sensible way to evaluate its worth, if we're going to give people's desires any credence.

    But surely each person's evaluation of a product is equally telling as to its value. Hence, wages and prices set by workers' councils and by communal assemblies. A market will set crazy values on things because, apart from ignoring externalities etc., it believes that someone with ten times as much money to spend is ten times as much of a person.

    But you don't believe that, do you?

  51. *Vanilla-flavoured biscuit for VR*

  52. @ David Floyd

    looking at

    (Any of them, they compare the college data to the university average)

    It seems 5% of Oxford graduates are unemployed 6 months after leaving university, and of the other 95%, their average salary is £26,000 a year.

    So I don't think we need to get the violins out for them just yet.

  53. directionlessbones
    Discounting theft and violence, the ownership must be based upon work. If we have no right to the product of our own labour (and no right to buy and sell that product) we are at risk of real exploitation and slavery unless we happen to live within a society in which all people agree as to which projects to pursue (and which noone ever wants to leave).

    It doesn`t matter how miserly the other owners are as long as their are enough of them.
    With regards to property rights and unequal starting conditions, this really is a matter of how you view inheritance - do we owe alligence primarily to our families and then operate within broader society, or are we a society that happens to be made up of families.
    If the former, an unequal starting position due to the hard work of a familial forebear can`t be viewed as any more offensive than would be an inequality of wealth due to the hard work of the individual in question. I`m not actually convinced either way since this may represent unacceptable inequality within society - but I have a hard time viewing this as exploitation (it`s exploitative for my father to choose who should recieve the things he has made after he dies goes to? why?), or particuarly relevent considering the large number of self-made men who grace the top gazillionaire lists.

    Regarding the value of people, the market believes no such thing. Maybe you believe that a person with ten times as much money is ten times the person, but I can`t say i`ve ever met anyone who thought similarly. Do you think a holiday to barbados is 10 times better than a holiday to Granada? Is a Ferrari a 100 times better than a mini?

    To find evidence of that kind of thinking, you`ve got to move away from captains of industry opperating within a modern democracy and instead examine the Kim Jong Ils of this world - those whos wealth is based upon threat of violence rather than mutually beneficial exchange.

  54. Captain of Industry6 July 2009 at 15:47

    You people are all of the "glass is half full" variety. New Labour have helped me grow my business in ways that no other government has been willing to. I can get all the staff I want from the "New Deal" scheme. I've found that they are mostly willing to work very hard, often for longer than the usual 30-hour 13-week period, if I hint that there may be a job at the end of their "Intensive Activity Period" with me (even though there never is of course). I can get all the freebie graduates and non-graduates I want and the government actually pays me a subsidy to use them like meat in my factory. Great isn't it?! I can now afford to take three luxury holidays a year, all thanks to the "New Deal". So I for one am really looking forward to the "Flexible New Deal", especially the six-month "work for the dole" element. Imagine for a moment that you are a small business man looking to expand your concern and cut down on labour costs and that the government is enlightened enough to supply you with an army of sub-minimum wage slave labour to use as you see fit! Fantastic! And I always thought the Labour Party were pro "social justice" - whatever that means - and anti business! The only thing that could be better is to have a real Tory government that would turn the unemployed over to me for a year, to do with what I pleased. Oh boy! I really can't wait to start using these unemployed wretches like chattels.


  55. Anyway. Here`s a bit of advice for you.
    When in doubt, invest your money with nice middle class men who remind you of your rich friends dads.
    Because money can`t buy that.

  56. Mark: on what the market thinks, my point is very simple. If 5 people with £1 to spend walk into a shop along with 1 person with £10 to spend, the laws of the market mean that decisions will reflect the will of the rich guy (as in, who gets what, what gets produced, etc.) even if the other five are united in disagreement, because £10>£5. Thus in practical terms what 1 person wants is treated as more important than what 5 others want.

    You can't exclude fraud and violence because 1) fraud is everywhere in the form of assymetric information, and more importantly 2) most claims to property go back to violence at some point, the violence of some state or private army in establishing and defending a claim of ownership over some land or resources. And property rights are maintained by the threat of state violence.

    Which impinges on the inheritance point. Even if I owe my 'allegiance' to my family, that's not going to get me anywhere unless a lot of police, judges, and politicians who aren't related to me co-operate in constructing my 'inherited' wealth as wealth. Without them I just have some bits of paper and discs of metal.

    In short, my family loyalty is relevant to intra-family currency, which I exchange with other family members for their goods and services. But nobody's interested in that.

    Nevertheless, inheritance is important because regardless of how many self-made millionaires you care to point to, social mobility is low, and most people's lives are very seriously influenced by the circumstances of their birth.

    On your first point, of course we have the right to the products of our own labour. We just don't have the right to own them. Possession vs. property etc.

    Also, you keep mentioning that you don't see how this or that is exploitation. Exploitation is where one person does something useful and someone else gets part of the benefit, because of their political or economic power. For instance, if I come up with a brilliant irrigation system but I don't own any land on which to build it, I need to pay some chunk of the proceeds to someone who does, regardless of what actual contribution they as human beings make.

  57. OK. "exploitation is where one person does something useful and someone else gets part of the benefit, because of their political or economic power". By this measure, replacing a system based on private ownership for one based on wholesale socialism would mean replacing a system which may have the potential for exploitation for one in which it is an absolute certainty.

    Yes, a rich man has greater buying power and greater influence. My point is that given a minimum standard of living and laws protecting certain basic rights, I don`t think it should bother us overmuch. *If* this influence is based upon previously accrued goodwill and is limited by the need to gain the agreement of other parties, I think it`s actually a remarkably good way to run a society.
    Anyway got to go to the gym and I can`t seem to copy this... so...

  58. As an aside, given that material goods (again above some basic limit) are unlikely in of themselves to make us particuarly happy - that rather, working towards some (any?) goal is rather more likely to promote happiness - will taking money from those for whom it an important goal (the wealthy) and giving it to the largely disinterested be any better for national happiness than a simple change of attitude?

    Anyway, yes... there is some justification for initial national ownership of natural resources (though I can`t see why selling it to an individual from this starting point would be problematic), but since that boat has sailed - perhaps some form of taxation until we`re satisfied that the books have been settled? An inheritance tax which we can do away with after a few generations.
    How long have we had inheritance tax, now?
    As for the maintainance of order by state bodies - personally I don`t think we`re going to get around the potential difficulties inherent in that state power until we have some genuine choice between different states in which we can live.

    Yes, people are seriously influenced by the circumstances of their birth - but direct inheritance is no where near as significant as quality of parenting. How should we account for that?
    If the family represents a fundamental unit of organisation, why should a successfull family owe anything to those who are less successfull?

    And to add to my previous post - the market doesn`t think anything - a rich mans wealth is limited by the attitude of others to that wealth.
    I honestly think the problem with the left is that they hold money in too high a regard.

  59. Ahahahahahahahahahahahahaha hahaha hahahaha haha



    Sorry. Had to get that out of my system... Actually there is some sense in your post, but this sentence just got me;

    "free market capitalism has failed us"

    Capitalism has only failed us because someone left a monocular scottish socialist lunatic in charge of the system...

    Are you really as daft as you appear to be?

    The gist of your post is;

    The bloody government have lied to us. They've stolen from us. They are crooks. They're doing nothing to help. But oh no, this government is going to be kicked out on it's backside within a year and those darn 'do nothing' Tories are going to get in. Woe is me. Woe is me.

    Well tough titties. Try actually reading a little history. Labour governments _always_ bankrupt the country, leave a massive bloated innefficient public sector almost entirely on strike. Always.

    You voted for these scumbags, now you're moaning about them. Think how those of us who KNEW it would end this way feel, those of us who wouldn't vote Labour if you put a gun to our heads. (Perhaps thats next year?) YOU imposed these fucknuts on US for twelve years. Just remember that.

    Free markets have failed us MY ARSE.

    What has failed us was the pathetic, obviously broken tripartate regulatory system a certain monocular Scot imposed on us. The FSA, Browns baby, was mostly to blame, and they've been given massive bonuses and will be given MORE responsibility by Mr Brown. No more boom and bust indeed.

    So stop bleating and _look forward_ to a new government. I fear they won't be different enough, but they cannot possibly screw up the country as much as Brown and Blair have managed during their tennancy...

    In the mean time look forward to Gordon spending your childrens money and your childrens childrens money in an attempt to buy your vote at the next election, I suspect you and some of the readers here may actually be stupid enough to continue to vote Labour.

  60. Now let me see,where are the instructions on how to register so I can make a comment.
    Theres a little box down there with Google account written on it.
    That,ll do me.
    Click mmm thats strange---now that I,ve started to write,the little box with Google account has changed colour again from blue to white.
    Can,t seem to find any place saying "register here ".
    Fred was right you know when he said "the best people to design logical,clearly understandable web-sites are people without the slightest knowledge of computers whatsoever.
    Please assist (journeyman )

  61. Please ignore previous post.I have defeated cyber monster single handed and am now fully registered.
    The sweet taste of victory.
    Tammy Bruce is my hero.She was also a Marxist,man-hating,dike
    Er...sorry..I meant Socialist,Feminist..whatever.
    Just fell over your Harry Potter thing at Liberal Conspiracy (silly name for a web-site,it gives the game away to the enemy ).
    Which makes my job all that more easy,now that I come to think about it.
    Just thought I,d pop in an find out whose leading the new Leftist/McCarthyist counter-revolutionary purge of dissident literature.
    Nice to hear your moving to Mile End.
    Rather foreboding name for a place.You,ll like it there.(there I go with names again)
    Its very...erm how would you say..culturally enriching...diverse.
    Although not the sort of place you,d find me hanging about at night.
    Or broad daylight with an armed guard.
    Actually just thinking of not being there is making me feel better already.
    Well, have to move of now.The war against the Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Pod people is never done.
    Might just pop in from time to time to see what the enemy is up to.
    Best Regards

  62. Thanks for the biscuit. Delicious.

    Mark has a point, people in work are not always valued either. People not in paid work are actively discriminated against, eg as regards housing ("No DSS").

  63. Directionless bones
    Re 'There is no money'
    I think here we are arguing about different things. In this world their is a limit of physical resources, farm land, oil, etc. Under the present system these are allocated by how many paper notes you have.
    In the case of Britain, we have borrowed too many paper notes, foreigners will lend to us no more. In this case there is no more money that the government can spend buying real resources, so they cannot invest more. So we see students turned away from university, homebuy programmes abandoned, infrastructure projects abandoned, etc.
    Obviously the government could print more paper notes, to start some project to employ Penny Red and other unemployed people, but these merely dilute the buying power of all the other paper notes, thus reducing the real goods others can buy.
    Essentially it transfers buying power from those with savings to those without. Obviously socialists love this, as it impoverishes the middle class. The drawback is that the government project is often something nobody wants, so the money is wasted. The middle class also now don't have any savings, so they cannot start a business to employ Penny.
    After this I can come in, swap some of my gold for paper money, buy real assets extremely cheap and make Penny my sex slave.
    It isn't a great system, but it is the one we have.

  64. Vanilla.

    You and I should have anal sex.

  65. The problem, as always, is that there are more people with differing needs and wants then there are realistic outcomes. Everyone wants something different for their future and we live in the world of finite possibilities, no matter what your romantic, I mean socialist, tomes tell you.

    Now, sadly, I cannot offer a solution. Not sure that anyone can at this point. Maybe we should all jump, lemming-style off the nearest cliff?


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