Thursday, November 3, 2011

Layer 490 . . . The Wire, Fair Societies, Healthy Lives, Greece Crisis and Yemen's Struggle

Returning to the previous Layer's comments on The Wire, Wikipedia says this -

The Wire

David Simon described the second season as

"A meditation on the death of work and the betrayal of the American working class ... it is a deliberate argument that unencumbered capitalism is not a substitute for social policy; that on its own, without a social compact, raw capitalism is destined to serve the few at the expense of the many."

He added that season 3 "reflects on the nature of reform and reformers, and whether there is any possibility that political processes, long calcified, can mitigate against the forces currently arrayed against individuals." 

The third season is also an allegory that draws explicit parallels between the Iraq War and drug prohibition, which in Simon's view has failed in its aims and has become a war against America's underclass. This is portrayed by Major Colvin, imparting to Carver his view that policing has been allowed to become a war and thus will never succeed in its aims.

Writer Ed Burns, who worked as a public school teacher after retiring from the Baltimore police force shortly before going to work with Simon, has called education the theme of the fourth season. Rather than focusing solely on the school system, the fourth season looks at schools as a porous part of the community that are affected by problems outside of their boundaries. Burns states that education comes from many sources other than schools and that children can be educated by other means, including contact with the drug dealers they work for. Burns and Simon see the theme as an opportunity to explore how individuals end up like the show's criminal characters, and to dramatize the notion that hard work is not always justly rewarded.


Fair Society, Healthy Lives - And The Life Scientific

This was an excellent programme on Radio 4 this week:
Jim Al-Khalili talks to Professor Sir Michael Marmot. As a junior doctor he decided that medicine was failed prevention and went on to discover what he calls Status Syndrome.

Sir Michael Gideon Marmot is professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London.

I didn't manage to catch the whole of the programme, but here are a selection of quotes:

"Social injustice is killing on a grand scale."

We should be making the world - all our societies - a healthier place.

We need to understand why people get ill in the first place. The relationships between society and health.

I decided we needed to study disease and the distribution of disease. Also the determinants of disease.

Lack of control over our lives is what makes us ill.

People have no control over the lack of jobs.

We're failing children on a grand scale.
We need a decent education system that gives kids the resources to take control of their lives.

What if somebody took this seriously, and we started to make the social gradient less steep?

We need to sharply reduce social inequalities

We need the freedom to live a life we value - - - - we need to empower people to have control over their lives

Other OECD countries are far more equal than the UK.

Apparently Sir Michael has become a champion of early childhood development.

There was a mention in the programme of Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize-winning economist who teaches philosophy and economics at Harvard.

Sen's ideas were outlined in Oxzen Layer 272:

Freedom, justice and powerlessness.


Simon Jenkins as ever writes brilliantly about economics and social policy in today's paper -

For Cameron big bridges are sexier than real jobs

Conservative economic policy is still spellbound by supply-side glamour, so the market has no part to play in creating growth

This article needs to be read in full.

The worst evil economics can inflict on humans is unemployment. Not lower pay, poor working conditions, costly housing or enforced migration; just the lack of a job. To be able-bodied and out of work is debilitating to an individual and a waste to society.

Figures today from the Office for National Statistics and earlier ones from the OECD and the International Labour Organisation all point in the same direction. The British and other European economies are running on empty. Only public sector borrowing seems to prevent renewed downturn. Today's unemployment rate of 8%, or 21% of under-24s, is a scandal. An unprecedented one million young Britons are jobless. This squandering of labour and loss of wealth is stupefying.

With luck, Greece's decision to hold a referendum on whether to endure further austerity is a blessing. It could jolt world leaders about to meet (yet again) in Cannes into much-needed panic. They have believed too long that bailing out banks is all recovery needs. They have ignored any stimulus to demand. Without demand, no one lends and no one borrows. Nothing moves and the money dies.

The credit crunch was the result of a massive policy failure for which the economics profession has yet to muster a "truth and reconciliation" commission. There is no point in merely abusing Americans for the housing bubble or Britons for the borrowing spree or Greeks or Italians for their self-indulgence. It is like abusing Germans in the 1920s for the first world war. Blame is one thing. We are where we are.

What matters is to learn lessons. The 1930s depression was in large part the result of a similar policy failure, of strangling money supply at the bottom of an economic cycle. Recovery then was heavily reliant on rearmament, from rising public expenditure on the guns, ships, planes, steel and coal of mighty armies. That spending was not productive, indeed it was appallingly destructive. But it did the trick. It fuelled demand and thus jobs. It conformed to Keynes's model of burying bags of silver and letting people dig it up.

There are some parallels today. American and British budgets are in thrall to the military-industrial complex. America's integrity as a nation is not under the slightest threat: yet this year it spent $500bn on defence and billions more on "wars of choice". Britain, while cutting back domestic spending, finds a billion pounds to fight wars in Afghanistan and Libya, countries which pose no conceivable threat. This particular stimulus to demand, through building aircraft carriers, nuclear missiles and fighter bombers, went through parliament on the nod.

The economist Paul Krugman writes in this week's New York Times on the phenomenon of "weaponised Keynesianism". He points to the eccentricity of large defence programmes being considered acceptable, not as value for money, but from some vague criterion of patriotism and national prestige. They are like Olympic Games. Other forms of civilian job creation are required to prove a "business case", which in recession they often fail to do.


Costas Lapavitsas is also spot-on with this -

Greece crisis: Papandreou's referendum is a gamble too far

In an open debate the Greek people are unlikely to chose to stay in the euro – something September's protests made clear


Tawakkol Karman, a co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel peace prize, chairs Women Journalists Without Chains. She is a human rights activist and leader of the popular revolution movement in Yemen

The world must not forsake Yemen's struggle for freedom

Yemenis are ready to pay the ultimate price to take on a brutal dictator. Yet the UN can't even bring itself to condemn him


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