A new link

I’ve been rooting through files, researching and writing more about Robert Brough (one piece already on this site under ‘Other Writing’). One result was an article about a book his mother, Frances, published in 1867. The article is on the web site of Chartism.


Global links for a better world

I had lost contact with a colleague who used to help to run ATTAC UK, but have just realised that that network is now run by ‘Global Justice Now’. I’m an ardent fan of their posts, so I haven’t been missing anything, but it is worth noting that if you go to the ATTAC web site you can link to groups across the world.

More snippets from files

Here are more snippets from photocopies and notes I have unearthed in the long covid ‘spring clean’. Sometimes things just come together. Here are a few.

An extract from Raymond Williams’ The Long Revolution (1961):
‘In a society as a whole, and in all its particular activities the cultural tradition can be seen as a continual selection and re-selection of ancestors. Particular lines will be drawn, often for as long as a century, and then suddenly with some new stage in growth these will be cancelled or weakened, and new lines drawn. In the analysis of contemporary culture, the existing state of the selective tradition is of vital importance, for it is often true that some change in this tradition – establishing new lines – is a radical kind of contemporary change. We tend to underestimate the extent to which the cultural tradition is not only a selection but also an interpretation.’ (p.69)

At the same time as I unearthed pages from Williams I also found notes and photocopies from another writer setting out to challenge the world view that seems to be leading us to destruction. John McMurtry in Unequal Freedoms (1998) sets out to contribute to finding the words and concepts for a new account of our human situation to challenge the one being, as he sees it, imposed on the world. He sets out his task in this book as an investigation of the ‘life-ground’ and reflects on the things that make a good society and how the current value program is locking them out.
Here are a few extracts:
p.15 … ‘This [neoliberal] block to a critical understanding of one’s own social value system is a transcultural problem’ ….
‘That is why I have chosen to use the term ‘value program’. A value system or ethic becomes a program when its assumed structure of worth rules out thought beyond it’…
‘In this day and age we tend to think that we are beyond subjugation to a social value program, that we are no longer tribal…But this is naïve if a single value program rules across all different expressions of that concourse.’

p.22 ‘The value program becomes in this way society’s final ruler and judge, and the life of society’s peoples and their environment become, in effect, enslaved as its instrumental and disposable functions’.
‘A life-blind social value program sustains itself by uncritical identification of its demands with the public good, including the good of those who resist its imposition. In this case, what is good for the market’s expansion and control of civil life is assumed to be good for society’.

p.23 ‘It may seem quixotic to think that a value program now embodied in transnational trade regimes overriding national law and prescribing only obligations of market access, price, and money demand could ever find its way back home again to human and planetary life’s intrinsic requirements. It is difficult to see where any accountability or obligation to human, civil, and natural life beyond turning money into more money for money lenders and investors still exists for this value system. What can unlock it, and bring it back under the control of the life code of value?’
He reflects on how humans seem to keep some value that leads us to feel pain for victims of war or of environmental polluters and all of these ‘sear us to the core of our being, even if they result in GDP gains’ so that, ‘sooner or later, we are electrified into action. This nameless value ground develops as our humanity builds, and has done so for millennia… this shared value ground is lost, however, to the extent that a value regime successfully conditions and overrides it, depriving it of connections to the wider community.’(p.24)

What I admire about this book is the persistence of the author in challenging the language in which these discussions are normally couched. McMurtry is constantly finding ways to describe situations in language that challenges us to rethink our views of this reality.

A voice raised more recently on the need to rethink is that of Kate Raworth. In Doughnut Economics (2017) she explained how she came to this view:

‘Visual frames, it gradually dawned on me, matter just as much as verbal ones. That realisation drove me to look back at the images that had dominated my own economic education and I saw for the first time just how powerfully they had summed up and reinforced the mindset I was taught.’(p.24)

The relevance of these writers today was there again in the words of the editor in the lastest edition of Tribune:

‘Each day, workers …[in the NHS] lay the foundations of a decent society – based on common endeavour for the common good – only to see their efforts sabotaged before their shift ends’ in the narratives of the capitalist press that value only profit.

Rereading McMurtry the phrase that I find most powerful is his label for the neoliberal system as ‘life-blind’. We should not forget this as corporations step in to manage more and more of the activities in our ‘health services’, and as they line up to welcome us after Brexit into a world where trade is overseen by that ‘life-blind’ neoliberal system. But there is hope that the covid experience is helping us to rediscover other values in our history that can be the basis for a better future.

Strawberries – at what price?

In some countries around the world there is now talk of famine – land that has been flooded, crops that have not been planted: issues caused by natural disasters from weather to covid. In this country the news this week was about whether the strawberry crop could be harvested.

As an ‘oldie’ I have to say I enjoyed the taste of strawberries more when they were a luxury only available in season. But was that because we always want what we can’t have or because the strawberries have changed too? Probably a bit of both.

I guess strawberries like many other fruit and veg have now been tailor-made for us by seed and plant producers who are part of the global food production systems: from monopoly seed providers to pesticides that become a necessity, to a product made fit to withstand lengthy travel (thanks to those new seed varieties) and supermarket just in time systems with their container systems moving products around the world.

Just how much of this is bad for the planet? Most of it I think. How much of it is really good for us? Not much I guess. But the beneficiaries are the ones for whom the system works – the corporate shareholders of companies such as seed producers, global freight companies and of course the global supermarket giants.

In the UK in war time people were once asked to ‘dig for Britain’. But we have been taking our food supply system for granted. Now perhaps we should look again at our food systems and put them in order to deliver for the people.

Take the example of the strawberries and ‘foreign’ workers: people come to work on the farms who will work on a causal basis in the peak of the season. Who benefits from this system? The worker gets a wage he is OK with (though he works very hard for it and doesn’t have a voice in these matters). The farmer benefits as far as the supermarkets allow him to, as they control the price. The consumer benefits from strawberries at a price perhaps more of them can afford, though perhaps the strawberries are not as fresh or as tasty as they used to be. On the other hand, the climate suffers as the co2 from transport goes up. But at the top the shareholder gets an even bigger cut. The dividend controls who gets what in the chain below. It is big news if a shareholder dividend goes down, not if more people can’t afford strawberries or if a farmer goes out of business. This is a small example but the principle sadly works in many sectors of our economy.

In the case of food, in some countries all of these relationships consumer/ retailer/ wholesaler/ transport/ producer are controlled by laws to protect the corporations involved: a law that says the farmer can’t keep seeds and use them but must buy each year from the seed companies; laws that allow corporates to buy up vast areas of land for agribusiness; laws that permit GM crops etc. etc.

In the UK we still have the power to change our food system to make it work for the people, but for how long? The UK’s deal with the US under WTO rules looms, as talks continue screened from view by the continuing anxiety about convid. But shouldn’t we be concerned?
Naomi Klein has written about how ‘Disaster Capitalism’ has impacted around the world. We mustn’t let the UK be its next victim!

Found! Thankyou internet

How many times I have apologised as I quoted from G.B. Shaw and vaguely referred to it being from a preface to some play or other! How many times have I gone back to the book shelves to try to find the quote I thought I remembered and failed.

It came to mind again this week, and instead of going to the book shelves I went to the internet. So I am clearly learning some new ways of thinking.
And – the internet found the quote. It appears it is from the preface to a play I don’t have a copy of. The source I found is G. Bernard Shaw’s Broadcast on Democracy including the preface to the play The Apple Cart (1928). The whole thing is worth reading, but here is a small extract and the long-remembered metaphor I have kept quoting:

You will notice that I am too polite to call Demos a windbag or a hot air merchant; but I am going to ask you to begin our study of Democracy by considering it first as a big balloon, filled with gas or hot air, and sent up so that you shall be kept looking up at the sky whilst other people are picking your pockets. When the balloon comes down to earth every five years or so you are invited to get into the basket if you can throw out one of the people who are sitting tightly in it; but as you can afford neither the time nor the money, and there are forty millions of you and hardly room for six hundred in the basket, the balloon goes up again with much the same lot in it and leaves you where you were before. I think you will admit that the balloon as an image of Democracy corresponds to the parliamentary facts.’

Thankfully some things have changed – but with the media intervening between the people and the choice of government we now seem to be left with the same ruling class throwing us to the dogs again.

And here is the link to read more on-line

Global destruction: collateral damage in pursuit of profit

Fragments from many files: Just a sample list! And behind each ‘headline’ are stories of environmental destruction and human misery.
Mining for diamonds, copper, cobalt, coltan in Democratic Republic of Congo (and resulting wars)
Gold and diamond prospectors in the Arctic
Global rush for gold creating major pollution as mountains excavated in e.g Chile, Balkans, Mount Ida in Turkey…
As ice melts in Greenland new drive for mining
Water pollution from free trade zones – Mexico in e.g. in chemical industry
Water pollution of great river in China from industrial waste etc reported 2006
Water pollution from GM crops reported by Greenpeace 2004
Pollution from oil industry e.g Nigeria – Niger delta and oil Exxon Mobil
And also the acknowledged spills: 1989 Alaska;1991 tankers in Kuwait+Mediterranean; 1992 Uzbekistan+ tanker in South Africa; 1993 tanker UK; 1994 pipeline Russia+ tanker Hong Kong; 1996 tanker UK + tanker Gulf of Mexico etc etc Alaska 2007..
Around 2000 deep sea drilling and drilling in the Arctic said to be threat to climate: 2010 BP to start Deepwater Drilling in Gulf; now Drilling for oil in the Arctic acceptable – Russia has begun others well on the way.
Biofuels in Africa
Madagascar – tar sands oil.
Canadian tar sands
Logging eg in Russia felling ancient trees (eg oaks) for quick profit
Africa growing for export eg flowers leads to overusing water resources and pollution from fertilisers etc.
Canada resisting GM crops – from Monsanto
Cash crops leaving nothing for local people eg in Guatemala
Clearing of Amazon rainforests for agri business in cash crops/farming eg in Brazil for soya; cattle rearing for beef; timber…
an endless list of destruction.

The NHS – a long battle that could be nearing its end: urgently needing your attention!

Scraps from a file:
The Lancet, 1999 an article by Allyson Pollock and Jean Shaoul ‘How the World Trade Organisation is shaping domestic policies in health care.’ Referring back to the Seattle protests against WTO policies and noting the future is ‘Democracy versus consumerism’. [So where does the NHS fit in now?]

The Corner House, 2001 ‘Trading Health Care Away?: GATS, Public Services and Privatisation’. This is still on the internet at the Corner House and is a terrific commentary on GATS and how it was (and still is) working to shackle governments and support privatisation.

Leys and Player (2011 ) The Plot against the NHS – was blunt in its exposure of ‘the plot’.

But the Tories continued their game with the public. The Guardian May 2011 George Monbiot ‘Ignore his denials: Cameron, like Blair, wants to turn the NHS into a kitemark.’ (something already achieved as an earlier blog here noted), and again July 2011 Guardian heading ‘This NHS U-turn was a fake’ , but just one skirmish in the Tory fight to deceive the public.

There have been many more publications eg Allyson Pollock has written several books as well as articles, and campaigns tirelessly.

PSIRU, a research centre based at Greenwich University has masses of papers charting health care provision across the world from 2002 through to 2015 all threatened with privatisation.

Another great resource on health care is, ironically, published by the World Bank (as generally a neoliberal organisation) and available to down load – a 300+ page book! International Trade in Health Services and GATS (2005)

If you look at this on-line p.107 provides an insert on ‘What is actually on the table under GATS’ – and as the negotiations for Brexit continue behind the scenes this is urgently needing our attention!

More spring cleaning – How our rulers ‘followed the science’ in the nineteenth century.

Finding photocopied pages from Anthony Arblaster ‘s The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism (1984) was exciting. Arblaster is a writer whose exposure of attitudes in 19th century has really stayed with me, but I’d stuffed the photocopied pages away, so finding them is another good thing to come from my spring clean! Here are a few snippets!

At this point Arblaster is looking at the progress of the New Poor Law through parliament in 1834. So the ‘new’ science at that point was mainly economics of Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy (1817) (which I personally have always viewed as, not a science, but an account of how money makes money in the 19th century world) and Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population, which looked at population in relation to political economy (1798). Also developmental ideas which influenced Darwin were also buzzing around in the work of Charles Lyell Principles of Geology (1830-33).

p.173: …’considered historically, liberalism has always been linked to attitudes and policies of harshness towards the poor.’
How ‘as the new ‘science’ developed ‘the poor came to be thought of simply as ‘labour’ or ‘hand’’ – that being the only part of their bodies of any interest to their potential employers.’
p.246 – in a chapter on early 19th century:

‘Malthus [writing on poverty] does not for one moment concede a basic right to the necessities of life. There is simply not enough to go round. ‘All cannot share alike the bounties of nature (Malthus,134).Those who already possess the world – the metaphor of ownership is all too apt – have the right to these bounties, and if they are so misguided as to show compassion to the hungry poor, they will soon be shown the error of their ways.’ So, whereas Adam Smith could not accept that a nation could be said to be wealthy when the majority of the people were poor and miserable, Malthus finds this perfectly acceptable.’

p.247…. Arblaster argues that Malthus ‘played an active part in the contemporary debate over the treatment of poverty and put forward his own scheme for the gradual abolition of the Poor Law.’….. and Arblaster goes on to quote Marx view ‘that the hatred of working class for Malthus was justified.’

p.254ff from ch. 14 ‘Liberal Political Economy: Practice.’
Arblaster quotes from Edwin Chadwick who was one of the principle movers of the New Poor Law ‘who sets out the principles on which it is based, the third being that there should be no interference from government as this would be to tamper with the laws of the market ‘which like other natural laws were the discoveries of objective science.’

p.255 Many people… ‘were campaigning in the early years of the nineteenth century, not only for the abolition of outdoor relief, but for an end to any kind of support for the poor, including the workhouses or poorhouses. Workhouses antedated the New Poor Law, and were always viewed with horror by the poor themselves…’
But a compromise was reached and a New Poor Law introduced new workhouses. This New Poor Law drew on Malthus ‘scientific work’:

‘It was’, said Chadwick, ‘the first great piece of legislation based upon scientific or economical principles.’… ‘The guiding principle of the new legislation was a simple deduction from liberal political economy. It was that whatever relief was offered for poverty, it should in no way undermine the monetary incentive to seek work. And indeed the plan was that the workhouses – henceforth to be the only source of relief – should be so forbidding as to act in themselves as a deterrent. Workhouses should be ‘objects of terror’….’

Are there echoes of the present government’s language here? Isn’t it time someone asked them which ‘science’ their strategy to deal with covid19 is based on?

and the next file – the last lecture: ‘Global Futures’.

In this session I had tried to offer views for and against the contemporary direction of travel which was labelled ‘Globalisation’. At that time the vociferous defence of corporate power by a young Scandinavian academic stood out from the rest. Johan Norberg had a TV documentary programme had been devoted to his story. Now his view seems to be clearly underpinning so much of the politics of today as he praises the glories of unfettered trade.

On the other hand, there were articles in the file explaining that the world was changing and corporations needed to have values: some approaching this pragmatically and initiating moves for change that were so small scale they are now laughable – things like auditing your green credentials – doing it yourself, of course, and turning a blind eye to the rest. But many titles like The Myth of the Market Economy (Lazonick, 1991) were sounding warnings.

Paul Cammack was another academic challenging ‘the myth’. The preface to his essay ‘All Power to Global Capital!’ begins: ‘It is one of the key precepts of the ‘political economy of reform’ that every crisis is an opportunity to be exploited to drive forward reform’. (noting ‘reform’ as defined by neoliberal economists, means following their free market prescription for direction of travel).

This sentence is another way of saying what Naomi Klein’s powerful book focused on: The Shock Doctrine (2007). Kozul-Wright and Rayment (2007) attracted me just from the title: The Resistible Rise of Market Fundamentalism. It came from the Development Economics section of the library which was where I often found myself gravitating to.

But the writer who still stands out for me was David Korten. In the 1990s as the WTO was taking up its new role as agent of corporate power he wrote When Corporations Rule the World (1995). By the 2000s on his website he was talking about ‘The Great Turning’ – identifying that all humans (with few exceptions) want the same thing, which is to care for each other and the earth we depend on: ‘Our common future depends on navigating a Great Turning from the dominator cultures and institutions of Empire to the partnership cultures and institutions of Earth Community’. The only word I would now change in this is ‘partnership’ which has already been hijacked. But I do believe that cooperation and love will get us to a better place. In fact the quote in my notes that I’d taken from his web site read:

‘The institutions of Earth Community, by contrast, nurture and celebrate higher order human capacities for love, cooperation and service to community, which define our true potential.’
And there is much more at: https://davidkorten.org/
What a message of hope for today but also a call to action?

Another good read!

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (2019)- a challenging book, though I read it in fits and starts, partly to ponder the issues raised, partly because sometimes the argument seemed somewhat repetitive. But personally I felt it was well worth getting to the end.

The author’s position is that when the data that is collected all refers to male experiences or is non-gender specific with the majority of participants in surveys etc being men, then action based on this data is blind to the needs of women. Just one example – the fact that all musical instruments are designed for the larger hands of men disadvantages women. Apparently even men with smaller hands have noticed this, as in the case that CCP quotes illustrates (p.157ff). Her central thesis came through loud and clear in many more shocking examples.

She looks at the general issue from many angles, from designing of performance indicators and their impact on such public provision as public toilets, to the composition of volunteer groups for test trials on vaccines. In the latter case she notes that male and female bodies can have different reactions to drugs/ vaccines. As a result those drugs approved may not be those delivering best results for women patients: so interesting comments in the present health crisis. Indeed, for a female reader some of her examples are quite scary in their conclusions (e.g p.209).

However, she does lose me a bit in her chapter on work, especially when she appears to draw on personal experience in academia. She comments on the blindness of the system to women’s work and contributions and identifies a bias in favour of a white male image once again in the systems in place. I can testify to the bias she describes but I have drawn a different conclusion I think. My reaction at this point is that the book is a cry to be allowed in, to get to the top, whereas my own conclusion that I have tried to take into spheres of politics in my small way has been: I want to make a different world, one without a race to the top, one where a variety of perspectives are valued, discussed but not used to create a hierarchy. At several points I was shouting to her: ‘Don’t fight to let women in; work to end the hierarchy’.

Again another topic on which I admired her analysis and deviated from her conclusions was the concept of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As a strong opponent of the economic emphasis on growth I have tried to understand GDP as one of the supporting players in the growth agenda. CCP identifies many aspects of the collection of data that she feels distort GDP as a ‘performance indicator’, with many examples that add to those identified by other writers. To illustrate with one that I remember from another source – a woman’s contribution to GDP is zero if she does the housework but useful if she seeks a divorce. But again while CCP wants women’s work to be recognised, I wonder whether at this juncture we should be clamouring to have the value of our caring work included in GDP or just simply for this ineffective and distorting measure to be abolished, linked as it is to the damaging mantra of ‘economic growth’? In effect, though, I felt that CCP’s challenging illustrative examples in this section actually made a good case for a citizen’s wage, though this was not her explicit aim.

My reaction to her section on bias against women in the parliamentary system was similar: rather than change it, I would argue the need to scrap it and start again. But there is no doubt for me that Invisible Women has reached parts of the system not usually seen.