Monday, 19 February 2018

What are you worth?

Imagine a world where there was no work ethic. Imagine a world where, to survive, all you had to do was pick up your basic income and settle back into your armchair; where being in work was no longer a necessity. I have been invited to imagine such a world and I have found the prospect horrifying. Working has been the backbone of my life, from the very early days (sub-ten years old) of pocket money for odd jobs to my current 60-hour week I can’t imagine life without it. As I’ve got older I have toiled longer and become more dedicated to my work.

The work-life-balance trope is an illusory and often meaningless thing, espoused by those who think they have achieved it, much like Slimmer of The Year supposedly sets a shining example of what can be done with a bit of willpower, a gastric band and some judicious photo-shopping. For most people it is a distant dream. But could Universal Basic Income free us from that dream and make leisure and the pursuit of happiness a reality? Well, no; the idea is frankly preposterous.

An interlocutor on Twitter seemed to be all for it. He said "I'm not 100% sure of the benefits of a basic income, but I do believe it would work." Which, in a nutshell, encapsulated for me the deep waters of critical analysis which have been trawled in developing the idea. Like all social policies driven by dreams it envisages a humanity set free to explore everybody’s potential, where nobody is in fear of falling through the cracks and we all live happily ever after. The machines will do the work while we just sit back and enjoy our leisured liberty.

If only I had the time I could write that novel, invent that gadget, build that dream house, explore that vast untamed wilderness; the belief that this could happen is seductive. Yet where’s the evidence that this is likely? History’s great thinkers, its artists, its writers, its explorers, its pioneers in every field have done so not because they were freed from the drudge but in spite of it. For every success story there are a hundred others who tried and failed... and for every heroic failure there are thousands who just never got around to it.

Our forever burgeoning welfare state is a harbinger of what might happen under UBI. The odd J K Rowling may emerge from the experiment, but in reality most will simply languish on a subsistence level of unearned income and – rather than be the masters of the machine age – become slaves to state handouts. Those who do strike out to better themselves will come to resent the unnecessarily indolent even more than they currently do and tax avoidance will inevitably rise.

I heard a caller on LBC yesterday, earnestly explaining how she joined the Labour Party after the Jeremy Corbyn ascendency because she wanted to bring about a fair society. At the heart of her passionate thesis was a plea for egalitarianism; equality being the holy grail of those who believe in ‘social justice’. Universal Basic Income is not Labour policy (yet) but it might as well be. It is just the sort of crackpot theory that would appeal to those who feel they are owed a living.

Promoting the Utopia of a society with want vanquished could be seen as the worst kind of political mountebankery. If you want to keep left wing governments in power you need a solid voter base of poor, ill-educated people, who will vote uncritically for the slops served up in the state trough. Universal Basic Income would become – like the minimum wage – not the bare minimum, but the maximum wage for the untermenschen. Turnips for everybody, tovarishch! 

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Brexit means Boris

Boris Johnson has given another Brexit speech. I have to confess, I never quite grasp the purpose of Boris’s orations, at least not beyond the furtherance of his own career. The amiable buffoon character fooled nobody; I’m not expecting the world statesman shtick to bolster his image. And as far as reaching out to Remainers is concerned, surely Boris had to be one of the worst possible choices; for many he is the face of Tory treachery and opportunistic jingoism.

As for his speech: Brexit means a more open Britain, a more outward facing Britain – what does any of that actually mean? Who really cares? Leavers didn’t vote for it; the world market argument is fallacious. And Remainers don’t get it: Matthew Parris, on PM yesterday, tried to claim that Boris’s inner liberal was making the case for ‘nice Brexit’ in the face of nasty Little-Englander Brexit. To his credit he did admit that he was an angry, unforgiving, bitter Remainer who would probably hate leave voters for the rest of his days, but this just shows how far we’ve come along the federalist path in the last four decades.

Throughout the dying 20 years of the last century, the EEC was a pain in the arse, a bunch of Johnny Foreigners poking their noses into our business and blocking our every attempt at reform. A few decades of heavy PR though, and it’s not just millennials who now declare themselves ‘European’. Can they not see that the British will never be truly accepted as part of the continent, except for a few highly lauded cosmopolitans who own parts of it and who don’t possess a smidgeon of Britishness beyond saying ‘sorry’ far too often... usually on behalf of the rest of their ignorant islanders.

Sadly, I agree with Parris in that Boris’s speech will do nothing to mollify Remainers and little to inspire Leavers to turn yet another cheek in the direction of the commission. The battle lines are drawn and I have to say I blame the Remainers. Had the referendum gone the other way, Leavers would have been disappointed, for sure; some may have even carried on campaigning for a while, but I’m pretty certain that the majority would have shrugged, accepted it and got on with business as usual.  

The hard core Leave movement would have kept on rattling the collecting tins, of course, but Ukip would have gone into a lengthy hibernation and the broadcasters would have given zero-to-negligible air time to their concerns. By now it would have been a largely forgotten event and Boris Jonson would have become an irrelevance; his epitaph reduced to ‘former Mayor of London’.

Vote for me... I mean Brexit!

But Boris is clearly still eager for power and hungry to leave a lasting legacy and the nasty little barb in his speech, coining the adjective ‘Faragiste’ as a descriptor for those who most loyally made the case to leave, was a clear and unattractive ploy to appeal to his detractors. Nobody was fooled, however and his relevance remains sidelined. The principal effect of his speech will be... nothing. No opinions were influenced, no minds were changed and today it’s business as usual – the Remainers will carry on remoaning, the placards will remain at the ready and the establishment will continue its struggle with the meaning of democracy.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The humanity!

I think it’s time I gave up discussing anything with humans. I mean the supposedly advanced primates which make up the human race are so stupid they-be-like, “Theresa May wants to starve poor school children” and “Jeremy Corbyn will make the economy work for the many, not the few” and “After Brexit where will we get our oxygen from and how much will we have to pay for it?”. Seriously, the level of delusion about how the world functions would be staggering, were it not so depressingly predictable.

Andrea Leadsom publishes the death threat she received and the immediate response – from exactly the sort of maladjusted Momentum mobsters who would wish her dead in the first place – is to cry ‘false flag’. A decade after the worldwide financial crisis, with stock markets relying more than ever on artificial intelligence to drive decision-making and a 24-hour blip in the fortunes of the various indices has preppers stockpiling ammunition and awaiting the rapture... or aliens. And despite the plethora of ‘fake news’ people still respond like eager puppies to the dog-whistle of their confirmation bias.

Men with power have used said power to get laid; get a leg over it. Rich people threatened with rapacious taxation use their riches to protect their wealth; like you wouldn’t in their place. The NHS needs more money; when hasn’t it? And why would the ‘nasty’ Tories want to keep people poor? Their entire raison d'ĂȘtre is based on giving everybody the opportunity to better themselves. As for ‘fat cat’ employers, if they could double the wages of their staff, don’t you think they would? Imagine the loyalty of well-paid, happy workers, all pulling together in some glorious cooperative endeavour. Oh, wait, that’s socialism; see Venezuela for details.

I confess to harbouring the embers of some youthful fluffy dreams about the brotherhood of man, but they are fleeting, soon extinguished by the realities of venal humanity and its grasping opportunism. Why can’t people see the simple chain of causality? Increase wages, decrease job security – a firm paying the best needs to employ the best and produce a product only a few are willing to pay for. However you go about it the only way you can have any prolonged form of egalitarianism is by diktat... and that necessitates an authoritarian ruling class usually categorised by an extreme mistrust of the masses and systemised nepotistic hiring practices; you swap an openly despised elite for one which you dare not criticise.

Nope, humans are too stupid to solve the problems of humans. Take the aid industry; for all the bleating over Oxfam and the consequences for aid funding, is there honestly less suffering about as a result of  decades of the first world throwing money at the despots of the third? As far as I can see we are creating a worldwide narrative of need which extends even to our own, relatively privileged proletariat. And don’t get me started on the grievance industry, creating ever more nuanced things to be upset about; imagine the work the devil would find those angry idle hands to do? Humans? Fuck ‘em.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Old McDonnell had a farm...

And on that farm he grew... mostly fantasy. They say that to be a good liar you first have to convince yourself and Labour’s John McDonnell appears to have done an exemplary job on himself. I wonder, does he gaze into a mirror and say “Look into my eyes...”? He certainly has the demeanour of a man not fully in charge of all his critical faculties and when he says he wants all Tories to face direct action – insurrection – every time they leave the house, he must surely send a chill down the spine of any sane person. I expect psychologists would pay a pretty penny to be able to study him once he has been de-activated and made safe.

And talking of money, he has been all over the airwaves expounding on his plans to renationalise everything that hasn’t been relocated offshore when he comes to move his favourite armchair into Number Eleven. Make no mistake, he seems to sincerely believe he will one day – and one day soon – have the keys to the Treasury. Last week he tried several times to explain how Labour would massively increase public spending and yet cost the country nothing. He seemed to think that by calling borrowing ‘investment’, sufficient numbers of eager acolytes would be convinced by his alchemy to vote for another socialist economic experiment.

One of his gambits was to imagine buying a house – and for many Labour voters, imagining is as far as they will ever get. He suggested that should you buy a house in London and borrow half a million quid to do so, you could rent this house out and make a small profit thus paying for the valuable asset you now owned. Of course this misses a few small, but not insignificant points. Firstly, where do you live? Secondly – and the whole buy-to-let mortgage lending criteria is predicated on this point – will the rent actually cover the mortgage? Without a substantial deposit this is unlikely; and where do you get the deposit? Thirdly, what about the overheads such as repairs?

The left seems to be convinced  that all landlords are neo-Rachmans, raking in huge and ugly profits. This ignores the simple truth that there are millions of accidental landlords – I am one – who effectively subsidise their tenants. For instance, while the rent (almost) covers my mortgage it goes nowhere to meet the costs of repairs and replacements and general upkeep of what is still my house in a habitable state. Many more people who bought into the industry, on the back of successive governments failing to maintain the level of public housing stock, struggle to make any operating profit, relying entirely on hoped for increase in capital values. Should any government actually deliver on the promises to build more council houses, the arse will fall out of that market.

As an example of how a Labour government would ‘make money’ from borrowing money this is far more illustrative than Big Mac might realise: Tenants unable to afford the true costs of housing themselves will have their rent paid by the benefits system. Landlords will desert the private rental sector as the capped rents won’t cover their costs. A glut of properties thus for sale will depress values, thus deterring private involvement in low-value housing. Unless the government takes them into public ownership those which can’t be sold will stand empty, unmaintained and become a hazard. The whole sector would become a vast money pit.

The true economic basis behind McDonnell's Farm

Add to this the massive sums they intend to pour into the NHS, social care, police and infrastructure and you compound this fiction of ‘investment’. The fag-packet suggestion that becomes a pamphlet espousing some nebulous concept of public ownership evolves into a gargantuan novel with no end in sight. When you don’t pay your debts, sooner or later the big boys with the clubs come calling and it never ends well. Has anybody in the Labour Party actually read Animal Farm? Old McDonnell had a farm all right – a funny farm.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Still waiting...

The problem with growing up is it never happens quickly enough to help. You only get to understand what it really means when you get there and then, when you attain great age and the gift of wisdom settles softly on your shoulders, you find can’t even give it away – nobody wants to know, grandad. By this time you have also consigned much of your own callowness to the soft focus mists of unreliable memory. Yes, you cringe at occasional sharp recollections of your own naive follies, but you also imagine that the gilded youth of your day was somehow better, nobler in intent than now.

The youth of today, eh? It simply cannot be the case that young people are more stupid, less well educated, less disciplined, less well prepared to tackle the world than they were in generations that came before. It can’t be, because this is the complaint of every generation towards those who come after. Followed to its logical conclusion – and this feeling pervades writing from the earliest times – the human race ought to have regressed to grubbing around for roots and berries to survive. It’s something of a surprise we haven’t re-grown tails.

 When I was a child the Internet just didn’t exist, so there is an obvious skill today’s kids possess which was beyond my ken. Ah but, we old codgers insist, they can’t spell though can they? Maybe not, but they can converse in an instant with others all around the world in a language we only think we understand. And just as language evolves – and English appears to be pleasingly malleable – so do sensibilities. So what that many young people appear to reject the nuclear family model we earnestly believe is the ‘proper’ way to build a society? Maybe their globalised, multicultural ideal could work... if it weren’t for us dinosaurs.

So what, am I arguing we should bow down and make way for the new revolution to sweep our world away? Not one bit of it; we should fight it tooth and nail, just as they are fighting for change. Because the counter-intuitive conclusion is that the real equilibrium is the quest for change; constant change. And it is a special kind of change in which everything ultimately stays the same. Is it any wonder that so many movements carry the prefix ‘neo’? The French, I seem to recall, have a phrase for it, if only I could remember it. Ah, memory.

Memory is an interesting human trait, or at least the way we use and abuse it is. Our memories are horribly fallible and also horrifyingly manipulable. We can ‘remember’ events in which we never participated. We can even remember things which never happened. And parts of our memories of things that never happened are also some of the building blocks of our individual character. In other words, even who we imagine we are is partly a work of fiction – and a fiction often written in the words of others.

Know thyself, the Greeks said – and this was quite a while back – ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. And yet, here we are, still struggling with the concept. Left-right politics, young-old conflicts, black-white contradictions... are there really clear cut boundaries between right and wrong? If there were, the slippery, unsavoury profession of law would not be necessary. And movements would not spring up to create and exploit division. Instead they would seek to work together.

It simply cannot be that everything about capitalism disadvantages the poor. Similarly everything about communism can’t always end in genocide. Hell, even the LibDems might have the odd nugget of a good idea, here and there. But we are all blinded to some degree or another by the simplicities of our own solutions. And we are all similarly resistant to compromise, no matter how much we believe otherwise. Given that the unknowable future will be what we all make it, shouldn’t we make it together?

The wisdom of youth and the energy of age

That aspiration is eminently sensible; of course we should work as a team. It requires the simplest of logic that if we have a common goal we can best achieve it by all pulling in the same direction. In fact, so logical a solution is it that exactly this answer has been suggested many times throughout the ages, by many people... often young people. But what do they know?