Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Layer 495 . . . Ethical Fluff, Destroyers of Wealth, Industrial Psychopaths, Common Treasury, Fighting the Consensus and a Serious Mass Movement

A somewhat disappointing polemic today from Simon Jenkins - usually one of our most astute commentators (see Oxzen comment on CiF under the article).

He's absolutely right to criticise liberals for not being specific in their demands for changes in policy and legislation, and by doing so, hopefully, needle such liberals into more thoughtful and radical demands. But it's a pity he seems to be mocking some basically decent people in a similar fashion to the mass of right-wing commentators.

Not that Simon's responsible for a pretty crass headline. At least I hope he's not.
The ethical fluff of St Paul's and Rowan Williams is a liberal cop-out
Pythonesque preaching from Church of England top brass is of no practical help in this economic mess


George Monbiot is another must-read commentator. Yesterday's column was a classic.
The 1% are the very best destroyers of wealth the world has ever seen
Our common treasury in the last 30 years has been captured by industrial psychopaths. That's why we're nearly bankrupt

If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren't responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.

The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. 

So much for the financial sector and its super-educated analysts. As for other kinds of business, you tell me. Is your boss possessed of judgment, vision and management skills superior to those of anyone else in the firm, or did he or she get there through bluff, bullshit and bullying?

On certain indicators of psychopathy, the bosses's scores either matched or exceeded those of [Broadmoor] patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders.

The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly, Board and Fritzon point out, closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for. Those who have these traits often possess great skill in flattering and manipulating powerful people. Egocentricity, a strong sense of entitlement, a readiness to exploit others and a lack of empathy and conscience are also unlikely to damage their prospects in many corporations.

The rest of us are invited, by governments and by fawning interviews in the press, to subscribe to their myth of election: the belief that they are possessed of superhuman talents. The very rich are often described as wealth creators. But they have preyed on the earth's natural wealth and their workers' labour and creativity, impoverishing both people and planet. Now they have almost bankrupted us. The wealth creators of neoliberal mythology are some of the most effective wealth destroyers the world has ever seen.

What has happened over the past 30 years is the capture of the world's common treasury by a handful of people, assisted by neoliberal policies which were first imposed on rich nations by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

I am now going to bombard you with figures. I'm sorry about that, but these numbers need to be tattooed on our minds . . . 

Until recently, we were mesmerised by the bosses' self-attribution. Their acolytes, in academia, the media, thinktanks and government, created an extensive infrastructure of junk economics and flattery to justify their seizure of other people's wealth. So immersed in this nonsense did we become that we seldom challenged its veracity.

This is now changing. On Sunday evening I witnessed a remarkable thing: a debate on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral between Stuart Fraser, chairman of the Corporation of the City of London, another official from the corporation, the turbulent priest Father William Taylor, John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network and the people of Occupy London. It had something of the flavour of the Putney debates of 1647. For the first time in decades – and all credit to the corporation officials for turning up – financial power was obliged to answer directly to the people.

It felt like history being made. The undeserving rich are now in the frame, and the rest of us want our money back.

A fully referenced version of this article can be found at


Here's a remarkable piece of writing by a 16 year old who's still at school -
Ed Miliband is right to be radical
The Labour leader must stick to his instincts to inspire a generation who are acutely aware of the injustices they face

by Rory Weal

When politicians stand up for what they believe in and make politics seem capable of changing the terms of play, people sit up and listen. Yet in the haze of cynicism and pessimism that so often shrouds the political establishment the public, and young people in particular, have become disillusioned. There's often no vision of a better state of affairs, no message of hope or optimism.

Writing on Sunday in the Observer, Ed rightly talked about how it would be reckless to ignore the St Paul's protests, going on to explain why Labour needs to be tackling the "take what you can" culture that has emerged over recent decades. It's exactly what Labour needs to be doing – finding answers to the big questions, tackling injustices, and taking on the status quo. He further identified the protests as "reflecting the feeling of millions of people that the economy and country are not working for them" and David Cameron as "looking after the wealthiest 1%".

If politics doesn't have the answers, where do young people turn? The St Paul's protests are a cry of injustice from Britain's youth, as were the tuition fee protests of last year. Seeing financial speculators reap the rewards of their own failures while tuition fees soar to £9,000 a year is a pretty bitter pill to swallow. Party politics needs to empower people, and at the moment, it doesn't. If Labour is to win the support of my peers it must be optimistic and it must be radical. There is to be no room for half measures. Getting into a bidding war over who'll tackle the deficit in a slightly better way will not excite anyone, and young people, more than most, will see straight through it. Ed Miliband needs to stick to his instincts.

I fear the influence of voices in the Labour party who urge Ed to refrain; voices who say don't take on the Murdoch press, don't hold energy companies to account, don't tackle injustices in the financial sector. I urge Ed: don't listen to the doubters. Young people want to be inspired and they want to see our politics, and their country, change for the better.

Ed Miliband has shown he can take on those vested interests, but we shouldn't be afraid to fight the consensus and reshape the centre ground . . .

Young people and the public at large deserve a party that takes on established thinking and uses politics as a means to radically change Britain for the better. Ed has made a great start in laying out the rights and wrongs in society, but we must not lose momentum.

When I look around my classroom at school, I see young people caring passionately about the injustices around them, but not seeing politics as a means to address those injustices. That needs to change.

My generation want to see that optimistic vision. I know Ed does too. And if he remembers his clear message on his election as Labour leader, he has the potential to inspire a generation of young people.


Yet another excellent piece by a young man in the Guardian yesterday, about something that's happening today:
Students are fighting not just for education, but the welfare state
Our protest on Wednesday could mark the start of the resistance that breaks the coalition's cuts and privatising agenda

by Michael Chessum

Monday's announcement that the Metropolitan police may use baton rounds – similar to rubber bullets – on student demonstrators has reinforced the disenfranchisement of those planning to march: not only is our future being dismantled, but we will be violently repressed when we attempt to defend it. In using a press conference to ramp up the threat of violence, the police are precriminalising protest, making unrest more likely in the process.

The fundamentalism of the policies being pushed by the Tories, and echoed in police tactics, is rooted in desperation of the material collapse of global capitalism – and the scope of reform runs much further than the darkest years of Thatcherism. The coalition's marketisation of education and health; its criminalisation of squatting; its dismantling of youth work – all can be viewed as a completion of the Thatcher-Blair years

It has become clear to ordinary people that the political elite has run out of ideas and its agenda is born of desperation. It is in this context that movements of resistance, including the students', are appearing so dramatically and with such public support.

There are still those who view national mobilisation and local direct action as ineffective or taboo, rejecting it in favour of operational collaboration with institutions and their internal structural reviews. This model of activism looks more and more out of step with the realities of the situation that we face.

Unlike New Labour, which combined betrayal with negotiation, those now in power are wholly committed to the full privatisation of education. It is inconceivable that localised access schemes and outreach programmes, however good and well negotiated, will compensate for the vast structural inequalities of a new marketised system.

Students face an all-out battle in Wednesday's demonstration and its aftermath to derail the higher education white paper. They will have the support of academics, trade unions and, secretly, many vice-chancellors, who understand the folly of market chaos. This will mean confrontations with local university managements, as students take direct action to demand that university heads refuse to implement the white paper.

Nothing could be clearer from the past year of struggle than the ability of clear political demands to mobilise numbers in the streets. If the student movement can spell out and fight for a genuine ideological alternative to fees, debt and marketisation in education, it may well be closer to winning than many presume. In Chile and Germany long-term mass mobilisations have forced the reintroduction of free education; and the Occupy movements around the globe are shifting the discourse of dissent from market economics, a shift they have taken further into the mainstream than ever.

The government's assault on the welfare state, although rooted in class rather than age, constitutes the biggest peacetime generational betrayal in modern British history. 

All that is left to students and young people is to fight against this government – and to link our actions to the struggles of ordinary working people everywhere. The period from 9 November to the TUC day of action on 30 November may yet be remembered as the phase of resistance that began to break the government's agenda. In the process, students must prove that we are a serious mass movement, and not a one-off parade.


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