if i were a big clever capitalist …

I wasn’t sure whether to say “big bad”, “big diabolical” or “big disingenuous” …

In the end, I’ve settled for “clever”.  It’s fairly neutral.  I could’ve chosen “ingenious” too.  Or maybe “self-serving”.  I’m sure each adjective tells a story of moral baggage; their choosing – or not – just as much.

So.  Anyway.  The one I’m plumping for is the one in the title.

If I were a big clever capitalist, what would I do?  Faced with the “threats” of Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Jeremy Corbyn (shortly) in the UK, and a right-wing extremism which similarly serves to splinter received opinion everywhere (read the establishment’s power to decide what people are prepared to publicly think), I’d probably do something pretty much like what’s being done.

Less playing with fire, though.  And, now, with a much grander dose of urgency:

  1. For a couple of years I’d let austerity bite to a pretty savage degree, focussing on those who find it difficult to defend themselves in mainstream media.
  2. This would serve to create a narrative whereby the poor (whether in a condition to work or not) were to blame not only for their situation but also for the parlous state of an economy which once – many years ago – had journeyed hand-in-hand with a quite different narrative that stated it would aim to engage with the biggest majority possible (full employment; social security; health services for all etc).
  3. Meanwhile, I’d confuse the official parliamentary opposition into shutting up about the injustice of blaming the poor for their poverty, so making it impossible for the aforementioned opposition to develop any substantial counter-narrative.
  4. Once I’d undermined the poor’s sense of self-worth, and the opposition’s sense of right and wrong, I’d proceed to make the reasonably well-off a tad nervous about the privilege they were beginning to learn how to count.
  5. The goal of all the above being, of course, to keep everyone – whether poor or reasonably well-off – on very uneasy voters’ toes.
  6. Come general election time, the risks of “austerity lite” – ie austerity operated by people not entirely convinced by anything, it would seem – meant that “austerity full-on” was bound to win the day.  (Well.  Actually, 901 voters won the day – but that’s a bit of a different story …)
  7. This would then lead to a pendulum swing for the opposition itself, as halfway houses were shown to have failed dismally.  No “lite” anything – not any more.  Balance and equilibrium in reply had manifested substantial failure.  What was needed, instead, was “something else full-on”, to battle violently against what we assume to be Capital’s unremitting idiocy.
  8. Here, however, we come to the big clever capitalist bit.  Playing with fire, it’s true, as consciousness amongst those most hit by “austerity full-on” begins to come together, and as time is left for cogent contra-argument to find its mainstream.  But let’s imagine the following was the process; the following was the thinking of the big clever capitalist I would gladly become:
    1. Kick people into desperation through a manufactured austerity.
    2. Generate interest in all kinds of alternatives to traditional capitalism.
    3. Allow society to splinter into two grand blocs: a) the “haves” who slowly begin to fear they might one day not; b) the “have nots” who’ve little clear idea how to achieve anything concrete any more.
    4. Make bloc b) gravitate to a politics easily described as extreme (even though of extremist thinking we could surely argue any austerity has more than its fair share), so bringing together in full view of bloc a) the neighbours, friends and family who’d happily sign up to the terror of a democracy where the “have nots” can effect something concrete.
    5. Once the two blocs are delineated, and the differences and loyalties are sharp, and even as we recognise this is dangerously playing with fire, roll out in dribs and drabs – slowly, but ever so slowly – ameliorations of the nastiness that has been deliberately employed to put people out of dignified work.

I know.  It’s all too organised, structured and planned for any of the above to really tell useful truths.  But unconditional basic income (UBI), as an alternative to traditional capitalism, is a form of neo-capitalism that could maintain the former just about as is.

What’s the real problem for traditional capitalism structures when it comes to the figure of semi-permanent austerity?  Why, the lack of regular income streams which simultaneously serve to keep people more or less in place.

Fairly hard work – not very hard, just hard enough – was enough to keep us in the weekend money and weekly drudge without complaining too much.

In the future absence of such types of work (not only for technological reasons; also because of the capitalism I’ve been describing today), we not only lose our weekend money, we also begin to suffer a 19th century weekly drudge that, once more, truly means we have nothing to lose but our chains.

Yet imagine how that might completely change with a minimum level of unconditional, state-delivered and sanctioned comfort.

Imagine what would happen if the “austerity full-on” right decided, little by little, to trundle out such change.  They’d sell it as an anti-poverty measure, of course, and in essence that is what it would do.  Nevertheless, it would also, in reality and primarily, serve the needs of traditional capitalism to have a continuous supply of solvent customers.

They wouldn’t trundle it out before Jeremy Corbyn broke the back of a Labour Party whose back has already been broken, and whose cracks have been ineptly papered over, several times in the past twenty years.  No.  Politically, expediently, cleverly (to use that word again), the right would wait for Labour to fully tear itself apart.

But the cementing of any opposition’s final destruction – exactly what Peter Mandelson dreamed of with respect to the Tories all those New Labour years ago, but in reverse – would surely be on the table for Cameron & Co.

By cruelly allowing the dispossessed to clamour intelligently over the next couple of years for a place at the top table, and then carefully spinning the introduction of a radical initiative like UBI (which to an eternally “sensible” voting public such as the British could be made to seem a perfect squaring of all these complex circles), the right would not only beat Jeremy Corbyn but would also knock the labour movement into a corner it had openly chosen to paint itself: the corner where coherence born of long-suffering frustration led to the nailing of flags to masts of unchanging political analysis.

Capitalism’s strength once more: to renew its appearance and potential desirability, even as its practice has been generating its ugliest moments.

So.  To summarise.

If I were a big clever capitalist, most of the above is how I’d be planning to beat a labour movement, and parliamentary opposition, led by the figure of Jeremy Corbyn.

But then since I’m not, who am I to say?

why aspiration is a load of codswallop (and other idiocies of western society)

Some stuff follows, in no particular order – except that of being what first comes to mind …

  1. The unemployed – and the wider rates of unemployment – are a sign of technological change and development (I resist the term progress), as well as government’s failure to do its job: these are two excellent reasons for centres of power and wealth to charge the unworking poor as responsible for both their own states of being and mind:

    Unemployment is being “rebranded” by the government as a psychological disorder, a new study claims.
    Those that do not exhibit a “positive” outlook must undergo “reprogramming” or face having their benefits cut, says the Wellcome Trust-backed report.

  2. Poverty – and wider states of inequality – are a sign of concentrations of wealth which do not choose to make their resource work creatively – a sign of what we might term bad capitalism.  As a result, it becomes necessary to blame those without such choices – the working-poor, the disabled, the long-term sick, pensioners etc – for the inability of society to provide them with a decent life: it becomes necessary to blame the unchoiced, if you like, for the actions of those whose journey is far easier, and whose lifestyles are peppered with options.
  3. Capitalism does prioritise competition over collaboration; exclusivity over sharing and copying; repetition over true innovation.  No wonder they drill into us we’re not up to the job of being entrepreneurs and creators: if the whole nation did rise as one and became the creative souls they’re wanting us to aspire to being, a capitalist approach to making society would tumble and fragment under its own contradictions.  Capitalism can only work when a few have what the many must only wish for.
  4. In essence, in truth, the word aspiration is so important in modern politics because it allows the powerful to suggest we must continue to hope for a better existence; a hope which in no way – in reality – will ever serve to threaten their status quo.  By the very act of simply aspiring, no more – not doing, not achieving, not reaching anywhere in particular – we can continue along our merry way of little-by-little amelioration without ever affecting the people who sit atop it all.
  5. Finally, it’s clear that there’s plenty of resource swilling round the economies of the world to do far better by its people.  I have no solutions to the challenge – except to repeat what I said yesterday.  Far better than regulating an always ingeniously- and cruelly-moving target is to fundamentally change its nature.

A bit of a random post today: comes of getting up at 4.30 am, I think.

Until the next one …


capitalism is good for communities – discuss!

Last night’s debate at discuss.org.uk’s event, held at the magnificently 21st century Manchester Central Library (its remodelled insides, I mean – outside, it remains grand old Manchester), argued for and against the motion: “Capitalism is good for communities.”

For the motion: Breffni Walsh, Founder, Brands Are Best; and Penny Haslam, of PHEW

In the UK, enlightened capitalism helps us all. Right now, big business understands and delivers against its obligations to deliver corporate good and there is an unprecedented – and growing – recognition that satisfied and engaged employees and receptive local communities are good for business. Not least because everyone has seen the increased risk – and often spectacular fallout – from businesses that lose the public’s faith. Also, imaginative ways to respond to economic pressures have resulted in new public/private partnerships whereby our biggest businesses can get involved in helping to deliver fresh, new and effective approaches to education, health and other public services.

Against the motion: Paul Kennedy, Sociologist, MMU; and Georgia Rigg, Leadership lead, RECLAIM

On the other hand, it could be argued that big business has inveigled its way into society in ever more insidious ways. That we are all consumers first and citizens second; victims of increasingly sophisticated ways to embed marketing into our everyday lives. And with zero hours contracts and ever ingenious ways to protect profits and bosses’ windfalls at the expense of the workers, you could argue that as both consumers or employees we have never been more victimised by rampant capitalist forces.

The debate was chaired by Michael Taylor, Founder of Discuss – as even-handed and efficient a chair as one could hope for.  The evening flowed well as a result, with plenty of vocal audience participation – both during the presentations as well as after in the Q&A sessions.  Interestingly, Michael encouraged people to state points of view, not only to ask questions.  This hasn’t happened on previous Guardian Live-sponsored events I’ve been to.  I don’t know if it’s because northern folk know how long to expound a pet theme (maybe more societally conscious of others’ rights of expression!), but offering explicitly a pulpit up to the floor caused zero problems of any kind.  No one attempted to hijack the meeting, as had been the case a couple of uncomfortable times in London events.

I was undecided at the beginning, and prepared to listen.

As the debate developed, some of the key points got lost in the passions on both sides.  There were actually three groups of participants: the “for” and “against” presenters being two; the audience, a participative and necessary third set of voices.  It was refreshing to see that people were open to having their minds changed.

Personal anecdote combined with more technical and general overviews provided for a good mix of approaches.  This Storify gives my impression of what happened.

Yes.  As you can see, quite despite myself I think, I voted “against”.  I think this was more to do with the measured forcefulness of the floor than the cogent preparedness of the panel.

But as I say in my tweets during and afterwards, if we want to fix capitalism – and I still think it’s possible – I think imposing a massive and fundamental change on corporate law by making all corporations into equivalents of US “benefit corporations” would serve much better – than, for example, a harsher regulatory framework – to provide the level playing-field which the good people who work in corporate capitalism everywhere need, in order to be able to consistently follow up their manifestly good instincts:

In the United States, a benefit corporation or B-corporation is a type of for-profit corporate entity, legislated in 28 U.S. states, that includes positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit as its legally defined goals. B corps differ from traditional corporations in purpose, accountability, and transparency, but not in taxation.

The purpose of a benefit corporation includes creating general public benefit, which is defined as a material positive impact on society and the environment. A benefit corporation’s directors and officers operate the business with the same authority as in a traditional corporation but are required to consider the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders but also on society and the environment. In a traditional corporation, shareholders judge the company’s financial performance; with a B-corporation, shareholders judge performance based on how a corporation’s goals benefit society and the environment. Shareholders determine whether the corporation has made a material positive impact. Transparency provisions require benefit corporations to publish annual benefit reports of their social and environmental performance using a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third-party standard. In some states, the corporation must also submit the reports to the Secretary of State, although the Secretary of State has no governance over the report’s content. Shareholders have a private right of action, called a benefit enforcement proceeding, to enforce the company’s mission when the business has failed to pursue or create general public benefit. Disputes about the material positive impact are decided by the courts.

It’d be a long haul, of course; there’d be many vested interests of the bad sorts out there who’d fight tooth and nail to prevent any such changes.  But for others, others we need to reach out to, eschewing greater regulation in favour of the innovation good capitalism has always been characterised by would surely get more than a few dyed-in-the-wool capitalists onboard.

And it would allow them (us!) all to deal with goals such as social justice within the framework of capitalism: at its very centre and core as well; not just tagged on as lame corporate social responsibilities.