We would like to pretend that pricing helps what is scarce go to those who value it most.

In our world, increased pricing just makes a good accessible to the yet richer section of a privileged sector.  Increasing the price of a good, and overvaluing the labour required to produce it shifts it further into the preserve of those who cannot understand its value, whilst we need to drastically undervalue labour, cut costs and exploit producers in order to make goods ‘affordable’ for those we have made poor.

 

It’s that spot during the evening when the things I haven’t done, the things still to do crowd into my mind. I notice I’ve written two blogposts in six months.  I realise the thoughts I’ve struggled to find purchase for aren’t finding expression. The night feels clear and sharp   but also far too big to explore.

Here is a fear:

That much of where we are inadequate – such as the catastrophic misuse of our productive time, the perpetuation of gross inequality, the failure to understand and organise a response to what we are doing to the world, comes from our ability to slot to safely into the easiest and present roles there are available to us, our readiness to let those who want power take it, and the limits of what we can think about at any one time.

Here is a response:

We cannot change this, I don’t think. So perhaps we need to be cleverer about designing and maintaining the topology over which we roll, the cavities and dimples that will catch us and keep us still, the hollows that will lull us to sleep. May all our circles be neither virtuous nor vicious, but stay grounded, in the company of those with whom we share our life.

On the streets, for an alternative

Ok, so I’m going to be out on the streets tomorrow (today), and I thought I’d explain the reasons here for the record, and also explain the other reasons – reasons no to march – that didn’t quite win out.  And if I digress into epistemology, then so be it.

It’s the march ‘for the alternative’. There are two problems with this.  I’m not quite sure what the alternative is, and I’d be more comfortable if it was phrased as ‘an’ alternative.  And an alternative to what, precisely? An alternative to cutting? – the somewhat complexly tiresome ‘we should make no cuts and instead increase – or rather, just, collect – tax on corporations and banks’? Or an alternative to these cuts?  The ones that destroy these particular services which we feel are vital? Does it matter?  Or a broader alternative – an alternative to the particular brand of market capitalism we find ourselves embroiled in perpetuating and sustaining and bemoaning when it comes predictably crashing down, that concentrates wealth and ownership in fewer and fewer hands?

It’s late so I’m not going to make this complex.  I’m going to make a point or two, state why I’m marching, and leave it at that.

Two problems that put my protest in context

We have a deep problem in this country of living beyond our means, and it has very little to do with the current defecit.  An abundance of free-at-point-of-extraction resources, and massive global inequality enabling ridiculously cheap foreign labour and goods and services that cost us far far less than the human and ecological cost of their creation.  Neither kick-starting growth, charging companies more or cutting public services will address this.  We can in real terms sustainably and equitably afford a hell of a lot less than we enjoy at the moment, and I’m not about to pretend that skimming off imaginary profits from global financial gaming systems or proceeds from gambling on other countries’ businesses is going to change that.

We have a deep problem of inequality in income and ownership, that cuts far deeper than bankers’ bonuses.  The monetary value of someone’s time is what they can get away with charging for it, rather than what its effect is worth, and we individually spend on things what we can financially afford, not what things are worth.  (Companies exist and thrive even though no one really wants to work for them, and no one really likes what they do – but someone will pay money for something it produces, and so it exists.)  Those at the very top are not able just to hold countries to ransom – you want our big spending boosting your gdp, so be nice to us – but the wealthy service industries also pay for a lot of our services. The collapse of the financial sector crashed a huge hole through our anticipated tax revenue.  They were paying for our hospitals.  We have lost touch with how much things actually cost, and our inequality invites us to point to big money and say ‘they should pay’, preventing us from addressing the question of what we value enough to work for and pay for.

The core of my protest

is simple

That though there are aspects of this government in policy and in attitude that I admire

That though I distrust simplistic alternatives

The assertion that ‘there is no other option that the current course’

Is a universally ridiculous and patronising one.

It is far easier to destroy than to rebuild

And they are destroying too much

Without the time, without the energy, to understand and to assess,

to learn, adapt, reconfigure.

Whether it is our voluntary and community infrastructure, that is being swiftly and ruthlessly decimated; whether it is our councils, being bent into a commercial mould that prioritises business objectives over service objectives, outsourcing and privatisation over internal dynamism and innovation, and blocks out communities from having a meaningful say; whether it is our health system, facing being thrown to corporate operators who in the majority of cases will structurally place profit-making above keeping people healthy, if ever the two were to come in conflict.

My reasons will not be the best ones

So also I will be marching in support of many other people who will be there, and who feel and think reasons that are deep and valid, who are having support ripped up from under them, services or jobs taken away. I know that if I talked to most of them for a short while I would be wanting to stand up in support of them and what they are saying by being out on the streets.

So what is the alternative?

I am confident enough that there is a short term alternative that goes a hell of a lot further to making sure we steer through this period with our energies in the right place: committed to building resilience, building support networks, building community infrastructure, investing in that which will bring benefit greater than its cost, ensuring that the damage is felt most where it is absorbed easiest, committing to collaboration… there’s more to work on here but that’ll do for a start. I am convinced enough that the deficit reduction programme is unnecessarily severe. Coupled with the presence and reality of harm done by this programme, that is sufficient reason alone to march.

I am confident that there is a long term alternative that can see us start to break towards a society in which the economy and the financial sector serves not enslaves us, in which the connection between what we do and its effect on our community and our world is more known, discussed and apparent, in which we see increased levels of collective ownership, effort and investment, oh and so much more besides.   See rest of life/blog.

My New Year’s Articulation

Been quiet lately – had too much to say, too messily, and it never seemed to get neat enough in my head to write down.

Multiple narratives of catastrophe, hyperbole, deep strong feelings, mingled with the defininate suspicion that most of what everybody is doing and saying isn’t having that much effect, and what’s more are being proclaimed and enacted with only a hazed, compromised sense of what the alternatives are, or at least what they are based on and how they fit together.

Where alternatives are posited – on the environment, on the economy, on immigration and society – they run up quickly against the wider walls of our current rationality.  Despite the increased popular appeal of positions on the radical left, it is still very much seen as position of dreamy futility, and we accept that our behaviour is constrained by the behaviour of the ‘other’ – the rich who will up-sticks and run, the foreign investors who will look with tredipation on our debt, the emerging (or emerged) economies that we threaten our competiveness, and wouldn’t stick to environmental legislation even if we made it so what’s the point, need to make not killing the world good for business.  Read that last bit again and see if it makes sense to you.

What’s more, the best hopes and solutions – which I feel sure rest on a culture and collective attitude, not on external restraints and compulsion, seem to take a long time to take hold.   Sustainability, balance, habitual ethical democracy, a world in which the normal life is one of flourishing not subtle-or-not-so-subtle oppression, in which we manage to allow all of us to make the most of ourselves – this is something that requires so many people, aware and compassionate, so much of the time.   And we are too far away.

But it’s a new year.  A week later than last week.   This year, I’ll talk more, do more, fight more.  And when I get confused, I’ll ask more, learn more, sleep less.   I’m hungry.

Hello, 2011.