Friday, 22 May 2015

How we 'won' the war in Iraq. (For Tony Blair)

Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services Institute had this to say on the Today programme 19/05/15

"Let's take this inconsistency of US policy:

you have an Iran-backed government in Syria which the US doesn't support;

an Iran-backed government in Iraq which the US does support,

and which it is trying to help to take Ramadi;

then you have Saudi Arabia,

which is pushing back against what are claimed to be Iran-backed

militias in Yemen.

Now, the US is closely aligned to Saudi Arabia as well,

so there's a bit of schizophrenia,

there is inconsistency...

This counter-offensive in Ramadi, 

there is no other way to see it other than

Shia militias, which are run and controlled by Iran

fighting against a Sunni extremist group..."

A few notes on my comments on Where the Wild Things Are

1. One of the problems with that kind of criticism is that it sounds spoilsport, overly condemnatory and dismissive. It may also sound as if a little book is the same or as equivalent as say the CEO of a major corporation or a general invading another country. Needless to say, I think that this gives a wrong impression and undermines the purpose of writing such a piece. It is written in the spirit of enquiry, trying to figure out how such a book - and I help make books that are similar! - fits into the total set-up we live in and/or inherit from the past.

2. One thing I wouldn't want is for people to read such an article and think, Right, I'm not going to read that book again, either for myself or for my children. I think that 'Where the Wild Things Are' is a fascinating, clever and brilliant book. It 'contains' some of our emotions and 'represents' behaviours in ways that enable us to reflect on and debate how we behave. It does this by avoiding explicit, verbalised moralism (laying down rules about how we should behave) thereby leaving 'gaps' within which we have room to talk and interpret.

3. I suggested in the last paragraph but didn't put sufficient emphasis on the role of the classroom and the library. For a start, those places and those 'reading situations'  undermine 'commodity fetishism'. The books belong to that community. They have been paid for by the public purse and are shared equally by its members including and prioritising those being nurtured and educated. And, as I have said, but I would like to emphasise, it is in these situations that important meanings are made. People talk and share their thoughts and concerns in relation to the book, or inspired by the book. Though 'talking about our feelings' can be a bit of a cliche, I wouldn't want to sneer at it or undermine it, particularly at a time when education is crowding out the time and space for children to reflect on who they are and what they feel. WTWTA can and often does provide a cue or a trigger for such discussions to take place, where adults can be seen as non-punitive, non-restrictive, non-constraining -  sympathetic, interested and taking children's lives seriously. As I've suggested but not emphasised, some children have their lives taken seriously by the adults (or some of the adults) in their lives. Others do not. What schools and libraries can do is give those children who find that their lives are not taken seriously, moments that reverse this. Some books do this better than others. This book does it very well.

4. Mistakenly (and typically for this kind of criticism, sadly) I left myself out of much of what I wrote. WTWTA has played a part in my life and several of my children's lives. It has fascinated and intrigued them and me. I have often wondered, for example, much more than I have suggested,  about the swiftly changing 'position' of the wild things. One moment they want to eat Max up. Then they are very easily tamed. Then they can all be friends and have a wild rumpus - a key, co-operative, joyful, expressive and egalitarian sequence in the book -  and the next, Max can reject them and leave in a scene which partially revives the danger: would they eat him if they could, in order to prevent him from leaving? The ambivalence and insecurity of the wild things is a very positive thing about the book. It is what is known in the jargon 'an unstable signifier'. We don't know exactly what they signify because they change. Hurrah for that. Education in the hands of examiners and governments tries to enforce stable signifiers through the regime of right and wrong answers. WTWTA defies this.

One of my children demonstrated the power of the book to invite interpretation when, as a very young child (3, I think) he felt free to make comments about what he thought the text meant when the text itself is mysterious and unspecific e.g. when Max wants to be where he was loved 'best of all'. In that moment he felt entitled (empowered?) to say 'Mummy'…an interpretation that is not inevitable or stated by the text itself. In fact, it's a fine example of the kinds of 'transactions' that take place between the reader and text: 'Mummy' was his word for his own mother, yet the mother in the text is 'Max's mother'. So 'Mummy' and 'Max's mother' met at the moment of his being read to. Again, some books enhance and enable this kind of creative reading more than others. WTWTA is an enhancing text for several reasons - it is as I said at the outset, 'mythic', which entails mystery, with quite a few mysterious and/or unresolved elements, whilst giving pride of place (literally as 'king') to the child, especially the lone, male child. This, it could be argued, plays to the wish of the child who is able to 'identify' with Max, to be 'omnipotent',  to be all-powerful. That of course is part of how masculinity is constructed and so takes me back to some of the ways in which the book fits the dominant order of things rather than undermines them! I didn't want to end on that note though - so I'll say again, it's a book that I find fascinating and powerful.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Where the Wild Things Are - what can marxist approaches to the book suggest?

[UPDATE: I have added some notes to this article in my next blog]

Where the Wild Things Are appears to be a book about things that we call 'personal' - in this case 'anger'. It presents them in a way that we might call 'mythic' (in that the shape and form of the story is similar to folk tales, legends and myths). We might also call it 'fantasy' in that some of the events and creatures are clearly not 'real', and some things (like the forest growing in the boy's bedroom)  happen in a seemingly magical way. Or we might call it in part 'surreal' in that some of the events happen in ways which juxtapose 'real' things in ways that are 'unreal'.

With all this being the case, this surely is a book which does not lend itself to marxist criticism. Let's see what happens if we view the book with some of the critical apparatus that has developed under the heading of marxist criticism. Areas that might come into the reckoning here are:
'what marxists have said' about such matters as:
commodity fetishism
social and economic reproduction

According to Marx we are all positioned within class, classes and indeed within the 'class struggle' which is an inevitable part of how things are made and serviced in a capitalist society. At the core of society in what he called 'production' (the making and servicing of the things we need, desire and consume), is a battle over the price of labour. This may be expressed as a direct conflict over the amount of wages, it might be a conflict over the number of people employed, or it might be an indirect conflict over conditions of work, holidays, pensions or over that part of the national cake which is given over to health care, education and welfare.

At first glance, this has nothing to do with WTWTA. That said, any book which shows people and the places they live in can't help but give off signals about their conditions of living. This household is clearly not fabulously wealthy, and though absence cannot be taken as non-existence, it's a household that doesn't appear to have servants. It's modestly furnished. There is no indication that a father is present. But it's a house, not a hovel. It's not overcrowded. At the very least, this gives us a kind of window within which this little unit - Max and his mother - appear to live. They are adequately but not luxuriously resourced.

This is a white family, which in a US context means that it has a position in the race hierarchy born of its history of slavery which, in the wider context of the world, is born of how Europe colonised the rest of the world. Just to be clear, this is about a hierarchy of how we receive such notions of superior/inferior rather than simply or only a matter of income. However, the very fact that there is a hierarchy has served the most powerful, most rich of this world rather well. Max is a boy (and not a girl)  and is therefore positioned in another hierarchy in which part of his formation (if we take him to be 'real') is in making him masculine not feminine. The book itself may be part of how this formation comes about, that is in how masculinity is produced, or part of how to be a good or 'normal' male, according to what this particular society validates and approves of as good or normal. Again, this hierarchy with its huge differentials in pay and opportunity seems to have served the owners and controllers of power and wealth extremely well. There are other hierarchies he is part of - he is not disabled though it's clear he is doing things which his prime carer thinks is problematic. In modern jargon he has 'anger-issues'!

He is also in a hierarchy of adult-child. His prime carer clearly has the power to send him away, and sends him to a particular place, a place that historically has been carved out of our habitations within which most of the world now thinks is a good place for children to sleep - a place separate from adults in which they can or should 'play'. In fact, this idea is enshrined within the massive industry of house and apartment building, and is a crucial fact in the housing market. It is a fundamental part of everyday existence for billions of people and yet we should remember that it's something created within history. It is not a universal part of all children's lives now, nor has it ever been. This historically contingent fact, then, is part of what enables the mother to detach Max from her. So, the 'psychological' feature of 'detachment' is in fact intertwined with the historical and class aspect of being able to detach in that particular way. In a way, 'Go to your room!' is a class statement. Indeed this detachment process has been identified as one of the ways in which we teach children 'discipline', i.e. how to survive without being 'attached' to our parents, better able, it is argued to accept the rigours and disciplines of the workplace, where we are required to detach ourselves from those we love and are loved by so that we can devote our energies to helping produce things and profits for someone employing us. Max is sent somewhere that is historically important for this social process to be carried out. It is not 'innocent' of such connections.

Culturally speaking, WTWTA comes to us a 'picture book'. This is an artefact that has been created and modified in the modern era. In its present form, it's only possible to create it as a cheap, colourful object as a result of mass production, though its roots are in small-scale artisan printing and production. WTWTA comes out of a large corporation, its pages printed far from the offices that plan its distribution. It is part of globalisation. The very fact that I know it and have seen hundreds of copies of it, is a result of that. Any reader of the book is part of that system of production and distribution. Thousands of people are responsible for this - from editors, publicists through to truck-drivers, printers, ink-makers, paper-makers, sailors, salespeople, shop staff and so on. This production process depends on the same kinds of hierarchies that I've already mentioned - where huge differentials of pay and power result from class, and hierarchies of race, gender and physical/mental ability.

But this production and distribution network works hand in hand with validation. WTWTA only reaches us because it is validated by a system of criticism in papers and magazines, This feeds into a buying network of individuals and institutions - especially schools. A book like this survives and flourishes as a result of validation and is enabled by the system of production and distribution. This 'mediation' becomes part of the meanings we make of the book itself. One key example of this is the construction of the notion of a 'classic'. In the end it becomes impossible to distinguish between meanings apparently contained within the text, the meanings we as individual readers make and the construction of a book through its mediation. This is a useful reminder that ideology is not a matter of simply reading a viewpoint off any given text.  Nevertheless we can see that WTWTA is positioned for us now as a classic. We can ask why that might be.

At the heart of the story, is the tale of one white, able bodied, adequately fed and sheltered, cared-for male (thereby ticking off several scores in the various hierarchies). He is a child (lower on the adult-child hierarchy) but as we shall see, that is part of one of the institutional functions of the book. It is also significant that whatever problems or struggles he faces, he faces these as an individual.  This slots him into a long literary tradition in which a hero or anti-hero goes through the world, society, war, struggles, quests, challenges on his (it is nearly always a male) own. In this case, Max also follows another long standing tradition:  he 'sails away' - he leaves what appears to be a western urban situation - and goes to somewhere seemingly tropical and 'uncivilised'. In other words, he follows a tradition going back as least as far as 'Robinson Crusoe', which of course is riven through with colonial and imperial assumptions. On arrival, Max meets 'wild' things, hybrid humanoid-animal creatures who are explicitly un-tamed. As is part of this tradition,  these wild things are immediately framed as threatening to the western white male. As has often been pointed out, the net effect of western occupations  and colonialisations has been to inflict terrible damage on indigenous populations. In other words, the literary representation of these encounters has been a projection of western genocidal views on to supposedly 'savage' populations who are supposedly going to wipe out the white male, whereas it was the converse that actually took place - nowhere more poignantly and obviously within the US itself.

So, Max 'tames' the wild things, whereupon these seemingly savage beings 'know' that they need and want a king, who is of course the young white male. This replicates the scenes in 'Robinson Crusoe' in which Friday 'knows' that Crusoe is his superior and his ideal position is as Crusoe's servant.

Now, it can easily be pointed out that this isn't the 'point' of this encounter, that this story is about a boy mastering his anger, that the 'wild things' are 'just' or 'only' representations of his inner demons and the like and the 'king' is a Freudian symbol of how the 'ego' masters the 'id' and so on.  But what this illustrates is that notions like this come to us in this book embodied in what is the classic form of the colonial encounter. In the jargon:  the ideas are 'freighted' with colonialism.  The idea of overcoming anger is carried by the metaphor or 'figure' of a colonial encounter. And this is one of the key ways in which ideology works. That is, it arrives not as 'the message' but as the unstated, not-foregrounded 'point' of the story. It arrives as an assumption. 'Of course wild things can be tamed by a white male, albeit a very young one, and of course they will ask him to be king.'

In its route to becoming a classic, the book has been invested with a capacity to help people overcome irrational anger.  Max at the beginning is himself 'uncivilised' (part of a longstanding trope that young children are like 'savages' and 'savages' are like young children, each with their uncontained desires and 'wild' behaviours, and naive thought processes - supposedly).  He has threatened to harm the very person who nurtures him ('I'll eat you up') but when he comes back home, he has calmed these urges (as represented symbolically by calming the wild things) and someone has forgiven him:  there is hot food waiting for him. The undertow here is that this is 'freeing' Max from his unconfined and unrestrained and uncivilised urges. There is, it is suggested some kind of progressive liberation going on here.

So far, so good. The problem though is that this liberation (if that's what it is) has taken place in the form of a distinctly un-liberatory encounter - this quasi-neo-colonial one. In some marxist accounts of what happens in fiction, (e.g. Jameson, Macherey) this expresses 'contradiction' or the contradictory 'unconscious' of the story. What appears to be the story's prime motive appears to be countered or contradicted by the ideology of its form: liberation within an oppressive encounter.

The book doesn't exist separately from its role in 'production' nor isolated from any socio-political function. As well as being a book, it is also a commodity. Again, according to marxism, capitalism creates or embodies or produces 'commodity fetishism'. This isn't simply a matter of fetishising products or 'consumerism', as we call it. It is also, more significantly, a process by which anything in the universe can be made 'equivalent' through the cash nexus, that is reduced to the quality of being a 'thing'.  Anything can be bought and sold, including our own minds, bodies and emotions. So, though WTWTA embodies ideas and feelings it is also a necessary commodity that has a price which is part of the overall process of producing profits within a corporation.

In its dual role as commodity and bearer of ideas and feelings it is placed in two key institutions - the institution of nurture and the institution of education. The nature of capitalist society requires these two institutions to deliver up packages of labour power (individuals with skills and abilities) to society and industry. In its role as a carrier of ideas and feelings, the book enters a conversation or discourse about how we nurture and educate. In society, we have conversations about 'discipline'. This is a key marker of how any given society controls, contains, shapes and represses its younger generation. For several hundred years, western society has been dominated by the idea that children need 'discipline', that they are wild or sinful unless they are controlled by all-knowing adults. Counter to that idea, have been  various ideas which suggest that children can be encouraged to find other ways to proceed: e.g.  through co-operation, empathy, self-awareness and the like. In fact, education has been one of the battlegrounds in which this very struggle has taken place.

WTWTA seems to embody several positions. Max is 'disciplined'. Because he has said something deemed by the mother to be wrong, he is detached from motherly love. He is sent away to sit on his own. This is a sanction, as the child-rearing books put it,  or 'time out'. In the situation of coming face to face with his own anger, Max then overcomes his apparent badness and becomes good again. No matter how much of an achievement this is shown to be as performed by Max on his own, the means by which it happened was a sanction. And his achievement is then validated (positively reinforced) by the hot food at the end. Superficially then, the book appears to validate self-realisation and 'good' individuation and 'good' self-control, but in actual fact it is framed by parental 'discipline'. This is not to say that such parental behaviour in real life is either good or bad - that's not the discussion I'm having here. What is significant is that it is  the adult's actions and  approach which are validated by the book. And yet, if we look at this encounter as one of millions, we can ask ourselves what is it about this adult world's values that are worth validating? Put it this way:  the adult world out of which this book appeared, and then went on to validate the book, was dripping with the blood of terrible wars, many of which were directed towards indigenous peoples thousands of miles from the metropolitan west. Perhaps children's books in general and this one in particular served a function (of several functions) in patting adults on the back at the very moment in which the adult world was/is seriously screwing up. The child figure was then 'used' by the piece of fiction to do this.

Further to this, one key marxist concept that is enmeshed within these questions of nurture and education is what is termed 'reproduction' - not in the sense of sexual reproduction but in the sense of how it is that a society reproduces itself. So, since capitalism was invented, how has it been able to reproduce itself? One obvious way is for the rich and powerful to pass on riches and power dynastically - that is through inheritance to children.  One part of the structure of capitalism is quite literally reproduced that way. But another kind of reproduction is necessary: people who have nothing but their labour power to sell as a means of earning their livelihood have to be convinced to go on doing it, and indeed to pass on that 'discipline' to their offspring. Given that work is hard and it is quite obvious that no matter how hard you work, you will never earn enough to have all the things you need, want or desire, how is this matter managed? It has been suggested that this is engineered in several ways at the same time: through commodity fetishism; through the manufacture of desire (largely through advertising);  through the false prospect that 'anyone' can succeed is the same as saying that 'everyone' can succeed;  through suggesting that competition with our fellow-humans achieves more than co-operation;  through the almost compulsory acquisition of debt (thereby ensuring the prospect that penury lies around the corner unless you go to work tomorrow);  and various other mechanisms to ensure passivity - through e.g. instilling a sense of never being as 'good' or as beautiful as the super-humans who are paraded in front of us…and so on. Further, it is necessary for a capitalist society to produce elites whose main function is to proclaim the worth of a capitalist society and/or to ensure its smooth working. These elites are also self-reproducing, usually through the mechanism of a confluence between home and school. That's to say the processes of education with its systems of the private acquisition of knowledge, reinforced through the enforced test-crazy regime, are reinforced or even engineered by the home background of elite parents. The kinds of knowledge rated by elite families are similar to the kinds of knowledge prioritised within the exam system while other kinds of knowledge e.g. cooking or hands-on engineering are given low status. Even linguistic strategies developed within the homes of elite families seem confluent with those that are given high rating within the exams - written rather than oral; extended non-fiction prose rather than drama, fiction and poetry, and so on.

So, WTWTA lands into this process of reproduction. In some respects, as a consequence of its popularity and widespread distribution within the school system, the book holds within it certain reproduction-busting elements: a complex story about a child's emotions is accessible to millions of children at a time when children's emotions are given low status and low priority within the education system. At times in the story, the adult-child hierarchy is broken by the seriousness with which the book takes a child's emotions. Yet, I am suggesting that through its class, gender, race and physical positioning this subversive element is at least in part undermined. Similarly, the symbolic representation of 'overcoming' anger as a western white male being crowned king by wild indigenous peoples far from the boy's home, likewise rebounds back against the book's ability to break the cycle of reproduction. In crude terms, the book shows kingship (boss-ship) as good and being ruled or being lower class as not so good. To be fair though, the boy learns freedom, joy and pleasure from the lower orders, experiencing a form of liberation through the 'wild rumpus'. The constraints of his life back in 'civilisation' are thrown off in the rumpus. But he can't stay. The rumpus comes to an end, it is contained by closure. The form requires him to return to 'civilisation' where his 'real' life, the norm,  can carry on. Max is saved for reproduction. He will be able to dutifully do what society (as embodied by his mother at this stage in his life) asks him to do.

The critic Raymond Williams suggested that at any given moment, culture or a cultural artefact expresses 'residual', 'dominant' and 'emergent' aspects. In other words, cultural forms do not tally exactly with the economic forms. Under capitalism, it may at times be convenient or necessary to express cultural ideas that stem from, say, a feudal outlook (i.e. residual) or from a liberated, co-operative, utopian perspective (i.e. emergent) or simply as a kind of mouthpiece for the main outlook of capitalism's ruling class (i.e. dominant).

WTWTA appeared and goes on appearing at a time that some have called 'late capitalism'. It appeared at the height of the cold war when we were told that a struggle for the very life of capitalism was under way. Some suggested that much of this was bogus, and that the threat of communism served capitalism very well. It discouraged working people from envisaging any opposition or utopia  based on a non-capitalist set-up. It helped bolster the biggest arms industry the world has ever known thereby diverting huge resources into the production of weapons rather than healthcare, education and welfare. Now, the great problem facing capitalism is its own tendency towards crisis, produced probably by the central problem at its heart: more commodities are produced than can be bought by the people. That's because capitalism works by not paying employees the full value (as measured by the total price of goods sold) of their work. They never earn enough to buy what the produce. To compensate for this, capitalism diverts billions into creating demand and desire.

In one sense, WTWTA is part of that. An apparatus of critical thought (of which this essay is part) has as its ultimate message 'buy it'. In fact, for that book to pass on its ideas and feelings, it has to be bought. Though many of the ideas and feelings are confluent with the dominant of the ideas of the day, it also contains within it some residual ideas e.g. in relation to 'kings' and savages along with some emergent ones, in relation to the legitimation of a child's emotions. Further, the book often ends up in places where it is received and interpreted collectively - in kindergartens and places of shared care and education of very young children. There are many occasions where meanings are produced and contested  in this shared environment. More than likely, these situations are not ones where there will be some tested outcome based on the narrow criteria required by tests: those of 'retrieval' and 'inference' , which close down and control 'interpretation',  thereby eliminating open-ended and collective learning. It enters what I would call, then, emergent practice. I'm suggesting that this will de-individuate the story. It becomes less of a story about 'I' and more of a story about how 'we' have these feelings and emotions - though, as I've said, the solution expressed within the book is an 'I' solution not a 'we' one. Even so, the book results in shared subjectivities, an emergent - even subversive idea, particularly for members of non-elite groups, members of people on the lower end of society's hierarchies.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Government Academies Policy Explained

If your academy needs improvement it will be converted into…an academy because…er…academies are better, because they are…er…academies….apart from your academy…which is…er worse…but will get better when it's…an academy….

Friday, 15 May 2015

Tristram Hunt looks into the middle distance and talks a crock of sh...

Watching Tristram Hunt staring into the middle distance and struggling with what the Labour Party is actually for, made me want to write this note to him:

1. If you're going to defend the Labour record in your last administration at least do it with verve and gusto. Tell people that the deficit you ran is what the Tories would have run. Osborne said he would match you, pound for pound.

2. The deficit you ran was not breaking the banks. Though it is Keynesian dogma to say that you cut the deficit when the economy is growing, it's not obligatory with an economy like the UK because the UK economy is not like most economies. It can 'print money'…and does. It is lies and distortion to make comparisons between UK and, say, Greece.

3. Keep saying that the huge hike in the deficit was because 'we' (Labour) bailed out the banks. Apart from anything else this saved the skins of middle class and upper middle class people with over 70 grand in the bank. So don't come moaning to 'us' (Labour) that we trashed the economy. We saved middle England's bank balances. (I know this isn't a 'left' thing to say, but I'm just thinking here of how Labour could be more combative…!)

4. If the Tories had been in power at that time, there is every likelihood they would have done exactly the same, so they're in no position to criticise us. (That shouldn't be too difficult to keep saying?_

But, hell, why am I even trying ?!

The whole point is that Labour tried to manage raw rampant finance capitalism - nay - to ride it and milk it - thinking that they could go on doing that forever. The one thing they overlooked (or pretended to overlook) is the inevitability of capitalism to go into crisis - of one kind or another.

So, the questions I would want to ask any campaign around the leadership of the Labour party are:

1. Will you actively and enthusiastically fight austerity? There is even a centrist argument now for saying that it doesn't work, can't work and won't work…that is that capitalism won't thrive that way - never mind the socialist argument that it is just a continuation of class war. (On that note, Tristram, why couldn't you have replied to Jeremy Hunt's sneer about 'Labour going back to class war' by simply saying, 'And what is austerity, if it isn't class war against the poor?!')

2. Will you produce the statistics which back up what Clegg himself admitted that the 5 million public service workers took a pay cut while the super-rich became super-richer? And repeat them over and over, reminding people that this is the true story of the last 5 years?

3. From that, will you explain how the whole process by which the banks collapsed and the UK (along with Europe and the US) have used the crisis in order to squeeze the poor in order to enrich the super-rich? And this crisis was not caused by the poor? It was caused by the inevitable consequence of financiers taking bigger and bigger risks.

4. Will you commit to a being in favour of a programme to provide hundreds of thousands of 'units' of social housing - not 'affordable' - but 'social' housing, with low rents and guaranteed tenure arrangements?

We could go on adding more and more to this list and I, for one, could easily make it more and more socialist. I suppose what I'm doing here is being 'minimalist', thinking of what are genuinely feasible and winnable ideas that an unfearful Labour Party could campaign for.

And they could stop whinging and snivelling about the election. Tell people that 9.3 million votes is not a wipe-out and that you are much encouraged by the SNP's anti-austerity campaign….etc etc
….oh hell I won't go on….!

Monday, 11 May 2015

What is this 'wealth creators' stuff?

What is it with all this 'wealth-creators' stuff?
Who do they mean when they say, 'wealth-creators'
and what do these 'wealth-creators' do?
And what do they mean by wealth?
So the people who own those businesses, are they really 'wealth-creators'?
If, let's say, I had half a million quid and I decided to start a business making
wodgets, and these wodgets sold really well, would I really have 'created wealth'?
If it was just me who 'created wealth' what are all the people making and selling the wodgets for me doing? All the people in the offices doing all the paperwork?
Are they creating wealth, or just grateful that i'm 'giving them a job'?
I mean, if we were on a desert island, would they be hanging about, stark naked, not knowing what to do, until I came along and said, 'I've created some jobs for you to do?'
I don't think so.
Now, of course people come up with great ideas and they contribute to the national or world wealth. But surely they only become stuff we can use or enjoy when people make them.
And surely the way that these things get made
is really just a way for the people who own those businesses to make profits.
That is, after they've paid out for raw materials and rent, 'investment' and wages, they get income from sales. The aim of business is to make much more in sales than the total of what they've paid out. So, all the people working for wages, get much less pay for their work, than the owners of the business get in net profit (after they paid out in raw materials, rent, investment and wages).
This, society says, is 'fair enough'.
It means, of course, that the waged people in a business don't get back the full value of their combined work. The owners - many of whom may have done absolutely nothing - get a chunk of that value of the work. Some of the ones who do absolutely nothing are the 'shareholders'. They just may be people who wondered what to do with a stack of money they found themselves with. This too is 'fair enough' under the system.
Meanwhile, a great slew of people make 'wealth' by selling and servicing debt. They don't actually make or distribute anything. They just rely on people needing or wanting cash. So they lend money and get interest back on what they lend.
These too are in theory 'wealth creators'. But again, they don't actually 'create' anything. They just milk the people borrowing, many of whom are themselves trying to get profit from other people's work, through their business.

So, we live in a time where we are locked into thinking that a whole range of people who don't actually make or do anything fundamentally useful are worshipped. We are kidded into thinking that they are all immensely clever inventors like Dyson and his Dyson cleaner when in fact, loads of them are nothing of the sort. And even Dyson couldn't make his cleaners without thousands of people making them for him. He'd be stuck on his own at home looking at his fantastic drawings.

But we have lost the language for saying these things. We are stuck inside a language that speaks of 'wealth creators' as only meaning people who employ others. The rest of us should just be eternally grateful that such people are doing this for us. And be bewildered when it occasionally occurs to us that when it comes to the totting up at the end of the year, these 'wealth creators' get richer and richer and the other kind of 'wealth creator' (those who make the stuff or distribute or service it) are squeezed more and more.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

How to install a Tory-lite leadership of the Labour Party

The next election is being fought now. For Britain to be aligned even further as a destroyer of the welfare state and public spending, it's been necessary to depict Miliband as a communist, a cynical sell-out to 'the Scots', and now - even more importantly - someone whose electoral failure was dire.

We know he wasn't a communist and was no more or less cynical than anyone else sitting in the House of Commons when it comes to horse-trading. The electoral bit, though, needs unpicking. The core point is that 9.3 million people in England and Wales voted for a party led by someone who only the Mirror and Guardian (reluctantly) backed. In its own tiny way, this represents small acts of resistance and solidarity.

For the time being, the media are not spending much time finding out why people did vote Labour. As I said in another post, the media set the 'ring' within which the contests and battles take place. The ring now set is about how and why Labour failed. This means at heart a story about how Labour is not listening to UKIP voters and not why people chose to vote Labour and how the thoughts of those people can be built on. Much more exciting to the media is finding UKIPpers and recycling uncritically what they say. In other words, acting as a mouthpiece for their thoughts and using these as a hammer to hit the 9 million Labour voters.

Part of this project (which media people will deny is a project - also part of creating the 'ring') is to install a Tory-lite leadership in the Labour Party.