Politics. In decline.

June 20, 2011

Bad Ideas and “Bad Dads”

David Cameron is very keen that a) separated couples sort out their maintenance issues between themselves and not via the state and b) that as many “runaway dads” as possible are enticed back into marriage. To get them back and restore matrimonial bliss, the Tories (not the Lib Dems) are proposing tax breaks for married couples.

Trouble is, that shoehorning couples back together is highly likely to result in unhappy, violent environments for the children that Cameron and co. profess to care for. Child and spousal abuse are to be expected. Is that an acceptable price for appearing firm on “supporting the family”?

Work Don’t Work

Ian Duncan Smith, following courageously from the Hutton Review, wants to increase the pension age to 66 and, of course, slash pension benefits for public sector workers (another story). Some maverick eggheads think that the pensions age should be abolished altogether, such as Oxford’s Sarah Harper who argues that “It’s ridiculous retiring in our 50s when we’re living to 100.” So work, work, work while you still can.

The unspoken assumption behind this fetishisation of “work” is that it is a societal good to get as much work out of the people we have as possible. There is very little discriminaton about how that work should be carried out. The assumption is that work equals income equals tax money equals…the NHS dribbling on? Bailing out Southern Cross Mk. 50 in 2054?

But that, I suggest, is a bourgeois fallacy. The vast majority of jobs produce nothing of value that we need, or will need if we experience the much vaunted demographic crisis that such longevity promises. On current trends, we will have 700 million hair technicians in the country, a triumph for the services industry, yet in terms of human sustenance something of a hindrance.

Those of pensionable age would make the society of the future better and more economically sustainable by “working” with people in society and the environment, at their own pace and with something like a moral compass honed by years of reflection to be their guide. Cook, care, grow, craft – nice words to guide the oldies of the future. Better than attending personal development sessions aged 85.

Angling for an Apocalypse

Someone important should probably say something about this and, like, organize an international conference (Thunderbird-style branding optional).

The International Programme on the State of the Oceans has reported. A massive survey bringing together “experts from different disciplines, including coral reef ecologists, toxicologists, and fisheries scientists” has found that… they’re all terrified.

“The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University…”We’ve sat in one forum and spoken to each other about what we’re seeing, and we’ve ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we’re seeing changes that are happening faster than we’d thought, or in ways that we didn’t expect to see for hundreds of years.”

The accumulation of toxins derived from plastics dumped in the ocean; the sparking of algal blooms by agricultural run off; overfishing of fish species; ocean warming due to climate change; death of coral reefs – all up, up, up. No-one down there seems to have heard about Greek bonds. Or am I missing  the point?

Lights, Camera, Words?

Apparently, the U.S. government wants “actions, not words” from Syria. It’s unclear which actions are needed, as from a human rights perspective, Bashir Assad and his friends have been carrying out quite a lot of them, most of them quite alarming. So perhaps the U.S. wants fewer actions, preferably carried out silently, or no actions.

We can see from this that “action” is a slippery term. This is known in Washington. It has been quite happy, for example, with the actions undertaken by Bahrain’ royals – such as accusing doctors of stealing medicines and building up stockpiles of weapons, amongst other things.

This might be because the U.S. does “actions” of its own. Such as selling Bahrain $200 million in military hardware in 2010 alone. That includes thousands of rifles, machine guns and shotguns, by the way. And Syria hosts very few (0) American aircraft carriers, so its word carries but little weight.

Footballers are not cleaners. But.

It is commonly asserted that immigration results in the cheapening of labour. This is an error. Immigration implies a geographic widening of the labour market – people being more free to relocate and work around the world. This means that workers are both more numerous, but also more valuable to employers.

Consider this popular example: Footballers are free to work around the world in a way that few others can do. Has the rise of the immigration of footballers lowered the wages of Footballers in Britain? Hardly. British footballers now earn vastly more than they did twenty years ago, despite a huge increase in the number of foreign players. Part of this is due to the fact that clubs are anxious to prevent coveted players moving away, either domestically or abroad. Widening the number of destinations that players could go to has meant that their bargaining power has risen.

Of course, footballers are not cleaners. The point here is that sometimes opening borders to migrants actually raises wages (I’m sure big-shot scientists and smooth-talking CEOs fit in here) and sometimes, not so much. When capital is fixed – as in football clubs (which let’s face it, can not easily move around), labour mobility tends to push wages upwards. When it isn’t as in the textiles industry, service firms (like those which clean the Square Mile) capital and labour have to fight it out.

Then, when wages are pinned down, its the migrant workers who get the blame, and capital is free to dance around the globe.


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