Money on the Mind September 30, 2013Posted by irishelectionliterature in Capitalism.
In a series of startling studies, psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley have found that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals.” Ongoing research is trying to find out what it is about wealth — or lack of it — that makes people behave they way they do.
Working poor August 2, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Capitalism, Economy, Inequality.
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Here’s an article from the NYT from 2004 by David Shipler who wrote “The Working Poor: invisible in America” that looks at some of the perhaps less obvious ways that poverty functions – health issues, health/appearance issues, the nature of work that is available, how family relationships impinge, and so on and so forth. It seems to me to be particularly good at point how there are something analogous to a cascade of problems, with each individual problem perhaps unconnected to another, but collectively and cumulatively each operating to further pull a person down.
And there’s one very telling paragraph which points to the primacy of the workplace, but also its effective reification above criticism… the main focus of the story Caroline, found that she was unable to juggle rotating shifts and homelife looking after her daughter. So she was getting grief from schools and social services for neglect but…
Perhaps the most curious and troubling facet of this confounding puzzle was everybody’s failure to pursue the most obvious solution: if the factory had just let Caroline work day shifts, her problem would have disappeared. She asked a supervisor and got brushed off, but nobody else — not the school principal, not the doctor, not the myriad agencies she contacted — nobody in the profession of helping thought to pick up the phone and appeal to the factory manager or the foreman or anybody else in authority at her workplace.
And the article is explicit about this:
Indeed, this solemn regard for the employer as untouchable and beyond the realm of persuasion unless in violation of the law permeates the culture of American antipoverty efforts, with only a few exceptions. The most socially minded physicians and psychologists who treat malnourished children, for example, will advocate vigorously with government agencies to provide food stamps, health insurance, housing and the like. But when they are asked if they ever urge the parents’ employers to raise wages enough to pay for nutritious food, the doctors express surprise at the notion. First, it has never occurred to them, and second, it seems hopeless. Wages and hours are set by the marketplace, and you cannot expect magnanimity from the marketplace. It is the final arbiter from which there is no appeal.
That is as true in this state as it is in the United States.
…there’s a piece in the current issue of Prospect magazine that will infuriate many. Under the heading ‘Middle-class survivalism’ it argues that since ‘we’ are ‘the prime target for politicians struggling to restore the public finances…is there any escape?’
The author is a former financial writer:
Looking back, I can put my finger on the time when clutch of appealing illusion I had carried unquestioningly with me throughout my adult life began to fall away. It was 2009, just two years into the financial and economic debacle that still surrounds us, but long before I or most other people finally realised that what we thought was just another temporary downturn – albeit a bad one – was in fact something totally different. it was game over. An old way of thinking and doing things was finished.
What was the cause of this damascene conversion? Well his wife was pregnant with their first child, there were issues with his extended family and…
…a happy and supportive relationship with my employer which had lasted almost 15 years, suddenly became the exact opposite. By the following sprint I had an infant son, a disorientated mother living among strangers behind locked doors and a cheque instead of a career.
Now, he appears a little trusting. For example, who could disagree with the following:
Life is a lot easier and less stressful if you like your job and the company you work for.
But I often wonder how much that would be true of many many working lives?
That said there’s a lot of truth in what he then says:
The money turns up every month and the seasons roll around. Colleagues can become good friends over the years and the social life of the office is something you miss when it’s gone.
And that is true, and inevitable, at least in many workplaces, because this is a primary focus of life in this period if one is working. The office, factory, whatever the space one is positioned in is where so much of living takes place. It may not take up all the conscious part of the day but it is easily the most prolonged period in a day in a single place – at least for most working.
And having been made redundant myself I know all too well, and this I’ve mentioned already recently, about how friendships, networks, contacts are broken, often for good. All pattern is taken from the day to be replaced if there is no work with… nothing much.
Still, again the thought strikes that he was particularly naive…
The first big illusion I left behind that spring was that any company would ever really care for me, as opposed to the role I was being paid to carry out.
Perpetuating this comforting illusion is a key function of middle management and stupidly I allowed almost 15 years of positive experience to lull me into believing it. That turned out to be a profound mistake and one I won’t make again.
It reminds me of a former boss, an MD of multiple companies. On occasion his thing was to drag his sales and management teams from the various companies into what were optimistically called a ‘sales meetings’ where in some magical ‘synergistic’ fashion great things would be plotted and achieved.
Unfortunately due to the nature of my work I was forced to lurk at these in the corner and saw that the drab reality was that he would proceed to talk for hours about what should be done with little or no purchase on what was actually feasible. Eventually, I realised, as many had before, that these served as a sort of therapy. His catharsis and us paid for the privilege. Fair enough, and there were sandwiches at lunch, so few complaints. As the years progressed these became more and more absurd and that was essentially the spirit in which people engaged with them.
But on one occasion a new recruit, a senior manger in a company appearing for the first time made the rookie error of addressing the MD by his first name. None of us passed comment, but I heard back from the individual – let’s call him ‘Bob’ – involved that he had been taken aside directly afterwards by the MD and informed… ‘Bob, I’m your boss, not your buddy’.
This wasn’t news to me, given my political orientation, but a useful object lesson in terms of the real power relationships at work, nonetheless.
That someone, the author of the Prospect piece, could be a financial writer and not understand these from the get go is a disturbing testament to how orthodoxies actually function (indeed here from a few years back is another angle on this).
Sure, he says:
Being a financial writer, I’ve naturally come across other, more impersonal ways to view the true balance of power that exists between companies and the people that work for them.
But one has the sense that that penny never quite dropped. And note not a mention of unions or workers organising to ensure their rights or extend them further.
Anyhow he continues, being concerned with the anguish of the middle-classes in the newish dispensation. Though, I guess in fairness, it is worth considering how the precariousness of working life that has characterised lower paid work is now reaching well into the self-ascribed middle classes.
And also in fairness he makes an interesting point discussing his mother’s situation. He talks about the general sense of unease in the middle class, amongst the ‘well-paid’ and so on in the current situation. And he suggests that ‘having gone through the process of unravelling my mother’s finances after she went into the care home, I can see good reasons why they should be [uneasy]’.
I grew up thinking my parents were comfortably off and once we tracked downy he paperwork this belief turned out to be broadly true. As part of the wartime generation, she had worked hard, saved and owned property through its long bull market with the result that, at 85, she had a teacher’s pension, property she owned outright and a decent sum in personal investments. What she didn’t have was enough income to meet her monthly bills.
How could this be? She had apparently done everything right but was till well short of being able to pay her way in the world.
And here it gets very interesting indeed.
The reasons will, I suspect, be depressingly familiar to many others who have been through the same process with their parents. From what I could discern, my mother must have had a financial advisor at some point – at least this was the most obvious explanation why her money had been spread across a roll-call of the UK’s leading fund management groups (all the big names got their share), and why all of its as invested in equity funds that held shares in the same narrow list of large companies. The other things these funds had in com,mon was that none paid out any regular income to her and they all charges at least 1.5 per cent a year in management feeds, around a third of which would be handed to the advisor who had channelled her money into these funds and then departed the scene.
But why is this a surprise? To be a capitalist requires capital, serious capital. Handing over the facade of capitalist endeavour, attempting to understand let alone play markets, requires much much greater resources than his mother could bring to bear. Add in the noxious intersection of deep self-interest that serves to pass for much of the financial industry and the capacity for personal losses are enormous. And that’s before we get to the marketisation of social services which really only the state has the heft, or the willingness (and even that increasingly partial in the current context), to provide.
He argues that it was an ‘accident of bad timing that meant we had to overhaul our mother’s financial arrangements to try to secure her a low-risk income form her investments at about the worst moment in living memory to attempt such a manoeuvre’.
Well, yes and no. These are cycles, subject to the market. Markets boom, markets bust. And they’re entirely indifferent to such matters as the welfare of his, or anyone’s mother or father.
What lessons does he take away from this? Tellingly he blames ‘the people we elected, trusted and paid to manage this country’s financial affairs knew what they were doing. They clearly didn’t.’
That’s okay as far as it goes, but it goes nowhere near far enough. It wasn’t just politicians, it wasn’t just supposed regulators, it wasn’t just the private sector, it was an ideology where the needs of the latter were serviced by the former and largely ignored by the regulators. Where political policy was dictated by laissez-faire approaches. Where markets became ever more central to socio-political activity with little or no questioning as to whether they were, or ever could be, fit for purpose.
And his solution is no solution at all. He writes that ‘I’d far rather rely on myself and my family than on any of the institutions I used to believe would ‘be there for me’ when I needed them’.
So he now works for himself, a nice place to be – well bar the enormous and very real pressures – but one that is beyond the scope of most working. He has decided to ‘make my own mistakes in deciding how to manage our money than pay for the privilege of having someone else to blame when things go wrong’. He’s gone off the ‘pensions system’ – though he doesn’t call it by its correct name, the ‘private pensions system’. And one presumes that he feels his mothers pension, which presumably was state, did such a bad job.
Still he also makes another interesting point.
…the other goal of this exercise [he’s put money into a small pension for his children] is to find more ways to pass on wealth from one generation to the next – not just by bequeathing what we have left when we die (inheritance tax permitting) but also by doing some of the hard work of saving for their old age well in advance, so that when they reach adulthood they will have greater scope to spend or save the fruits of their own labour, rather than racing against the clock to amass a pension fund from scratch.
To which the obvious response is that this generational socialism in one family is all very well (though one does have to wonder where individual effort and endeavour fits in), but it does absolutely nothing to address the wider system problems addressing millions both in the UK and further afield who are in a similar or worse situation, trapped in employments where they are, let’s not put too fine a point on this, exploited in a multitude of ways from low wages, poor working conditions and so on, where they have little or nothing to look forward to at the end of their working lives, where they are increasingly pushed whatever their circumstances towards the market. Even after the events that he describes which we have all lived through.
Why he can’t see that community/society/social systems are the way to go escapes me where instead of the risk being borne by the individual, which is what it has been and effectively what he seeks to perpetuate, albeit in a lower key way, it would be borne by all. His is an analysis trapped within the constraints of his own class horizon.
And in all honesty, his middle-class survivalism (sic) doesn’t strike me as that great to begin with. Yet more grabbing the crumbs and trying to make do. And what that means for his offspring…
Pádraig Mac Lochlainn replaces the Skibbereen Eagle June 12, 2013Posted by Tomboktu in Capitalism, Crisps.
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From yesterday’s proceedings of Dáil Éireann:
Irish Prison Service
700. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will confirm the revenues and profits generated by the tuck shop at Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, in 2011 and 2012 and the ten most popular items apart from cigarettes sold at the shop in 2012 and quantities in each case. [26914/13]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): As the Deputy is aware there is a tuck shop in operation in each of the prisons which are operated and staffed by the Irish Prison Service. Profits generated from prisoner purchases in the tuck shop are used to support prisoners through the Prisoner Assist Programme Fund.
The cumulative total of monthly revenues and gross profits generated by the tuck shop at Mountjoy Prison for the years in question are as follows:
|Year||Revenue (€)||Gross Profit (€)|
At the end of each month, gross profits are transferred to the Prisoner Assist Programme Fund to facilitate hardship payments to prisoners. In addition, initiatives such as the Red Cross Programme and the Community Return Programme are also part funded from the profits.
It is not possible to provide the ten most popular items sold in the shop and the quantities in each case as this detail is not recorded. The new accounting system which is used to manage prisoner funds (PAMS) is currently being reviewed and future developments may facilitate the reporting on sales.
…uh-oh. Depressing to read this in Slate the day before yesterday from Phil Plait about how the Canadian National Research Council has now stated that:
they will only perform research that has “social or economic gain”.
John MacDougal, President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”. Gary Goodyear, the Canadian Minister of State for Science and Technology, also stated “There is [sic] only two reasons why we do science and technology. First is to create knowledge … second is to use that knowledge for social and economic benefit. Unfortunately, all too often the knowledge gained is opportunity lost.”
As Plait notes, this is entirely wrong. As he puts it:
This is monumentally backwards thinking. That is not the reason we do science. Economic benefits are results of doing research, but should not be the reason we do it. Basic scientific research is a vast endeavor, and some of it will pay off economically, and some won’t. In almost every case, you cannot know in advance which will do which.
But as noted in comments under the article this is a line of thinking that can be found much closer to home… George Monbiot noted on his blog, again coincidentally the day before yesterday, that:
Two weeks ago I castigated the new [United Kingdom] chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, for misinforming the public about risk, making unscientific and emotionally manipulative claims and indulging in scaremongering and wild exaggeration in defence of the government’s position(3). Since then I have seen his first speech in his new role, and realised that the problem runs deeper than I thought.
How much deeper?
Speaking at the Centre for Science and Policy at Cambridge University, Walport maintained that scientific advisors had five main functions, and the first of these was “ensuring that scientific knowledge translates to economic growth”. No statement could more clearly reveal what Benda called the “assimilation” of the intellectual. As if to drive the point home, the press release summarising his speech revealed that the centre is sponsored, among others, by BAE Systems, BP and Lloyd’s.
That Great British class calculator April 3, 2013Posted by doctorfive in Capitalism, Complete nonsense.
and who you know
Im boxed the lowest of wretched Proles however, while still living on >10k with no savings I effortlessly achieved social mobility by claiming to like Opera and know a Chief Executive (which could of course be my boss)
The traditional categories of working, middle and upper class are outdated, fitting 39% of people.
It found a new model of seven social classes ranging from the elite at the top to a “precariat” – the poor, precarious proletariat – at the bottom.
More than 161,000 people took part in the Great British Class Survey, the largest study of class in the UK.
Class has traditionally been defined by occupation, wealth and education. But this research argues that this is too simplistic, suggesting that class has three dimensions – economic, social and cultural.
The BBC Lab UK study measured economic capital – income, savings, house value – and social capital – the number and status of people someone knows.
The study also measured cultural capital, defined as the extent and nature of cultural interests and activities.
The ‘new’ classes are defined as:
Elite - the most privileged group in the UK, distinct from the other six classes through its wealth. This group has the highest levels of all three capitals
- Established middle class – the second wealthiest, scoring highly on all three capitals. The largest and most gregarious group, scoring second highest for cultural capital
- Technical middle class – a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy
- New affluent workers – a young class group which is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital
- Traditional working class – scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have reasonably high house values, explained by this group having the oldest average age at 66
- Emergent service workers - a new, young, urban group which is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital
Precariat, or precarious proletariat – the poorest, most deprived class, scoring low for social and cultural capital
and what of this?
The researchers said while the elite group had been identified before, this is the first time it had been placed within a wider analysis of the class structure,
Even on basic level of uselessness, White middle class kids have been the biggest consumers of “hip-hop/rap” for the last twenty years and what relation has it to Class at all?
So what would an Irish version look like?
Surely as useful a guide as the above effort.
For a better picture check out this week’s welfare reforms.
“Income Inequality: Evidence and Policy Implications” March 25, 2013Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Inequality, Taxation Policy, Uncategorized.
Emmanuel Saez does not propose replacing capitalism, but within its terms, this is a useful lecture that could do with an airing here.
Economic systems December 28, 2012Posted by Tomboktu in Capitalism, Communism, Economics.
Around the time of the Soviet collapse, the economist Peter Murrell published an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives reviewing empirical studies of efficiency in the socialist planned economies. These studies consistently failed to support the neoclassical analysis: virtually all of them found that by standard neoclassical measures of efficiency, the planned economies performed as well or better than market economies.
First he reviewed eighteen studies of technical efficiency: the degree to which a firm produces at its own maximum technological level. Matching studies of centrally planned firms with studies that examined capitalist firms using the same methodologies, he compared the results. One paper, for example, found a 90% level of technical efficiency in capitalist firms; another using the same method found a 93% level in Soviet firms. The results continued in the same way: 84% versus 86%, 87% versus 95%, and so on.
In 1989, the dissident Polish reform economists Włodzimierz Brus and Kazimierz Łaski — both convinced socialists and disciples of the distinguished Marxist-Keynesian Michał Kalecki — published a book examining the prospects for East European reform. Both had been influential proponents of democratic reforms and socialist market mechanisms since the 1950s.
Their conclusion now was that in order to have a rational market socialism, publicly-owned firms would have to be made autonomous — and this would require a socialized capital market. The authors made it clear that this would entail a fundamental reordering of the political economy of East European systems – and indeed of traditional notions of socialism. Writing on the eve of the upheavals that would bring down Communism, they set out their vision: “the role of the owner-state should be separated from the state as an authority in charge of administration….[E]nterprises…have to become separated not only from the state in its wider role but also from each other.”
Parties of the working class, acutely vulnerable to pressure from below, were in government more than 40% of the time in the postwar decades – compared to about 10% in the interwar years, and almost never before that – and “contagion from the Left” forced parties of the right into defensive acquiescence. Schooling, medical treatment, housing, retirement, leisure, child care, subsistence itself, but most importantly, wage-labor: these were to be gradually removed from the sphere of market pressure, transformed from goods requiring money, or articles bought and sold on the basis of supply and demand, into social rights and objects of democratic decision.
This, at least, was the maximal social-democratic program — and in certain times and places in the postwar era its achievements were dramatic.
But the social democratic solution is unstable — and this is where the Marxist conception comes in, with its stress on pursuit of profit as the motor of the capitalist system.