Style and Substance
Dennis Hopper died this week. A strange guy. I'd never heard of him before Easy Rider, and his character in that film was certainly HIM - a money-oriented bastard making lots of cash from flogging hard drugs whilst masquerading as some kind of spiritual freewheeling hippy on wheels.
Whereas the Peter Fonda and the Jack Nicholson characters clearly had depth and something to say about life, about freedom and the state of humanity, you had the feeling about Hopper that he didn't really give a shit about anything except taking care of business and looking after himself. He reminded me of quite a few people who were students at that time - growing their hair and dressing in denim but essentially on their way to making as much money as possible through the pursuit of cruddy careers in accountancy and business.
In real life Hopper spent many years addicted to hard drugs and booze, and was an anti-liberal paid-up Republican far-right-supporting nihilist. He also liked guns. Not a very attractive character. What the hell's a 'hell-raiser' anyway? A loud-mouthed drunken egomaniac. About as far from hippy ideals as you can get.
Hardly in the same class as Hopper, but David Laws is another anti-liberal dressed up as a Liberal caring sharing good guy. He's a City man through and through, an Orange Book believer in Chicago-school neo-liberal economics. It seems it was only his sexual proclivities that kept him away from entering politics as a Conservative.
And then there's the strange case of Jackie Ashley, who this week shed her left-wing political make-up and came out as a defender of the indefensible - Sex and the City 2. This film has been widely panned as a total dog of a movie - about four women who used to be strong characters in favour of freedom and fun, now reduced to hankering after marriage and endless shopping trips in places like Abu Dhabi. Ashley is a waste of space. She defends these women's indulgence in frivolity and air-headed materialism on the grounds that such escapism is no worse that men's indulgence in football and gadgets.
Nobody sensible should be mad enough to pay extortionate amounts of cash to see a bunch of millionaire footballers running around a football pitch for 90 minutes, agreed, but nobody should enjoy the sight of grown women doing stupid stuff either. Weird, Jackie.
And finally we come to the other weirdos of the week - the other style over substance attention-seekers vying for the leadership of the Labour party. A feature on Ed Balls in G2 was just as vacuous as the man himself, who had nothing interesting to say at all. This is a man who didn't even realise that you need to go to Paddington and not Euston in order to catch a train to Swindon. Duh!
Lots of interesting comments here, prompted by this piece, and by Iain Duncan Smith's proposals.
It's surely a mistake for those who see themselves as anti-Tory to attack someone like IDS when he's a lone Tory voice making at least some constructive points about work and poverty.
For example, when he says, "If you are unemployed, and you come from a family that is unemployed, all you can see when you think about work is risk", he's surely not mistaken. He's talking about thousands of people who receive benefits and are likely at present to lose those benefits as soon as they take a job, no matter how temporary that job may be, no matter whether they will be able to cope with its demands, and therefore could soon find themselves having to go through all the hassles of re-applying for their benefits.
IDS seems to be saying, let's allow people to keep their benefits for some time until it's established that they have some job security, and are doing work for which they have some capacity, some aptitude and perhaps even some liking. I know from personal experience within my own family just how hard it can be for people to cope with being laid off several times within a matter of weeks or months from jobs they'd understood to be long-term .
Secondly, the author of this piece says, "In fact, very few are materially better off unemployed, as there are numerous financial incentives to ensure that taking a job is financially rewarding. Jobcentre advisers are trained to offer "better-off calculations" that detail claimants' potential earnings from these benefits."
What this is failing to address is that financial benefits are only part of the equation when someone's deciding whether to take certain, usually low-paid, jobs. Being unemployed and cash-poor, but time-rich, for example, which might permit a poor but pleasant lifestyle, especially if it involves being able to offer more care for one's children and elders, may also be a key factor. And we shouldn't forget that those who are unemployed, time-rich and claiming benefits also have more opportunity to do odd days of work for cash in hand.
If I understand him correctly IDS is proposing to help create a fairer society partly by persuading parliament to approve measures that will allow those on benefits to keep most of what they earn when they take a job, without any fear of losing their benefits, for a reasonable stretch of time. This is surely the only way to get people to give up an unemployed and cash in hand lifestyle - to make work pay and to make people significantly better off by taking even a low paid job.
It's only by finding a niche in the world of work that people can acquire the habit of working and a desire to acquire further skills. I believe IDS, through his work with his Centre for Social Justice, genuinely believes that it's worth the state spending more on the unemployed, or rather, not immediately grabbing back state benefits when people start work, in order to spend less on unemployment in the long run. He sounds to me as though he means it when he says that it's wrong for people to pay back proportionately more to the state when they start work than even those on 50% income tax are paying.
If I'm wrong about this, then maybe this is an idea that the Labour party ought to consider, and maybe should have considered already. If I'm right, then let's give IDS the credit he deserves.
Labour leadership hustings: Lead resistance to the cuts
We must again become a grassroots social movement
Labour leadership hustings: I voted against the Iraq war
We need to rediscover our sense of moral purpose
Why should we listen to deficit hawks?
Calls to cut social security come from economists who want to line Wall Street pockets with money from ordinary workers
David Laws's life goal was to cast people out of work
I regret the manner of his fall, but he wasn't honest with public money, while his cuts agenda is terrifying to contemplate
Lift the Gaza blockade
The suffering is shocking. And nobody will benefit from the radicalism that confinement engenders
Gaza: From blockade to bloodshed
Nothing has done more to establish Israel's status as a pariah state among its neighbours than the actions of its armed forces
This state-hating free marketeer ignores his own failed experiment
Matt Ridley, the former head of Northern Rock, is peddling theories riddled with blame-shifting and excruciating errors
In a financial crisis, what counts is what works
Free-market capitalism has imploded, and Europe's moment has not come: big-picture explanations of the world rarely hold good for long
This is an excellent piece by Larry Elliott, the Guardian's economics editor. Heavy stuff, but worth persevering with for the quality of his analysis and his conclusion:
The postwar era of strong trade unions, full employment policies and capital controls produced stronger, more equitable growth than three decades of deregulation, liberalisation and flexible labour markets. The more integrated Europe has become, the worse it has performed..
China and India prove that it is possible to thrive without a meta-narrative. Both countries have systems of managed capitalism fully in the tradition of the mixed economies that prevailed in the west during the heyday of social democracy. What counts is what works. There is a lesson in that somewhere.