Archive for Economy

Pay Now, Earn Later

David Willets, the newly appointed Universities Minister, has had a remarkably unoriginal idea for a Tory official: raise tuition fees. If their wages depended on the originality of their proposals, they would all be pisspoor. The reason he gave for this move is the old, nasty and very familiar “there is no money”. As if we didn’t know; for the Tories, there is never any money. Despite this, it’s easy to see how Willets will never make a good Tory. When he broke the news to the public, he made the unallowable mistake of telling us exactly what he should be doing instead of what he wants to do. And that is dangerous. His words were,

students should consider university fees “more as an obligation to pay higher income tax” than a debt.

Fortunately for Willets I seem to have been the only one to notice. Also, we live in times of little revolutionary upheaval. You see, a good Tory would have never used the words “pay higher income tax”. And a good Tory would have never, ever, preceded that phrase with the words “an obligation”. Willets is a rubbish Tory.
If Willets’ intention were to make students pay higher income tax, then the surest way to achieve this would be to raise income tax. If he thoroughly believed in making those who earn more pay more, then he would be taxing those who earn more. But that presents a problem, you see, because then the ones being taxed wouldn’t be the fresh, young and hopeful students who may dream of earning enough money to make up for the exorbitant fees, but people like Willets who’s wealth is estimated at two million pounds.

And it’s so easy to tax students, isn’t it? After all, they will go on to earn more money than those who are not students. Or at least, that’s how it’s been up to now. Government officials keep peddling the lie, backed by decades of empirical evidence, and convince everyone and their dog that all is fair in making the would-be-wealthy pay today what they will make tomorrow. But the lie is beginning to wear thin. There are too many graduates in crap jobs and earning a pittance, and every year universities churn out more and more. Good jobs that pay well are dead or dying; there are now less of them than before and more graduates to do them. We can all be fairly certain that people graduating from higher education today are not going to be wealthy any time soon. And with more and more cuts in public sector jobs, that last bastion of employment with almost decent conditions, and little incentive from private companies to pay more for the jobs that a larger group of graduates can do, where exactly is that wealth going to come from? With which money are students going to pay the imaginary “income tax” or, rather, the very real debt?
To settle the matter, there’s going to be a review into fees being led by Browne, the former chief executive of BP. Yes, THAT BP. I’ll wait with baited breath for his startlingly fresh, innovative and original take on the matter.
I predict he’ll provide a similar approach to Willet’s: pay up, there’s no money.

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The Ones “The Lost Generation” Lost

Young people are in trouble. Here in Britain they are called “The Lost Generation”, those under 25 who are not in employment, education or training. My using of the third person plural merits some explanation. It’s due to the fact that the number “25” is pulled out of someone’s arse. Social commentators have been going on about “The Lost Generation” roughly since the economic recession hit; 3 years ago. Some of the people under 25 then are over 25 now. Does anything magical happen once they turn 26? Do they suddenly become “Found”? Or do they carry on having similar difficulties to the ones they had 3 years ago? Everyone is concerned about “The Lost Generation” because it’s well understood that once young people go through hardship when they should be studying or working, the years spent on unemployment are not gained back. They are, in economic terms, “wasted” years. So why do we stop taking young people into account when they cross that esoteric threshold? Those who have already turned 26, 27 or 28 are still part of “The Lost Generation”. That’s how one considers “generations”. Not as the people within a specific age range right now, but as people born between a specific range of years. Because people grow up. Or grow old. There isn’t such a thing as the “under 25s” generation just like there isn’t such a thing as the “those in their 60s” generation. We call them “baby boomers”, just like we did 20 years ago when they were in their 40s.
I pick on this for several reasons. First because this is more than sloppy analysis. The number of people affected by the crisis will obviously be larger if we include those who have already crossed the 25 years of existence. Furthermore, that number will get higher and higher the more people that cross it, or rather, the longer the recession carries on. If we present the problem in this way, that is, getting worse by the day, it suddenly becomes more pressing. And the last thing I want to see is those in power making a big problem appear smaller.
Second, because it acknowledges certain continuity in life that the other perspective doesn’t. Human life is more than statistics and bills made of paper. Politicians are trying to calm everyone’s anxiety by creating schemes addressed to those “under 25” which we know will take a couple of years to be implemented, and even then will only help a small portion of those affected. Even if they take two years to become effective, by then it will be five since the recession kicked in. The just about under 25 are now hovering the 30s. It’s too late for them to take apprenticeships, or volunteer, or do unpaid work. They want to live by themselves, maybe start a family… And they can’t do that without jobs that pay a decent wage. That’s the problem, you see. People’s lives aren’t put on hold when the economy slows down. Focusing on those affected by the crisis, and carrying on caring as they grow older, is more humane. It brings down the issues to actual people’s lives.
A third reason is simply that I don’t like sloppy analysis. For a long time now, social commentators have been trying and failing to find a way to define the baby boomer’s children. The problem is that there has been no major event, no big war that can clearly define them. We are all one big blob of people, everyone born between the mid 60s til today, all without a clear historical referent, an identity. And as if this wasn’t insulting enough, we are referred to as “under 25s” but stop being mentioned altogether once we turn 26? Pinfeathers!
Last, of course, is the very obvious reason why I don’t like the term “under 25s”. Because it alienates me. See, I was under 25 when the recession started, but, unable to put my life on hold until things got better, I was forced to keep on celebrating birthdays. And now I and those around my age don’t matter anymore because we eventually stopped belonging to this magical, mythical age group conceived by Jobcentre Plus? Hang it all!

To sum up. They are either those “under 25s” or they are “The Lost Generation”. But the two are not compatible. An age range refers to a particular portion of the population that changes over time, and a generation refers to the same group of people as they carry on over time.

Coarse language brought to you by The Sword In The Stone.

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Stuff We Forgot

Have you seen the BBC 4 three part documentary “Women”?
If you haven’t, you should. After all, it’s not everyday that we get to see feminism on the telly. And we should really make the most of it while it lasts.

The Guardian has published a critique of the programme’s third part, “Activists”, titled “Enough middle-class feminism” and written by a middle-class feminist. Her words seem to have struck a chord. Her intentions were probably good, as evidenced by this line:

“They have lots to say about the media objectification of women but, bizarrely, little to say about consumerism or capitalism.”

Unfortunately it goes downhill after that.

We’ve been here before, and I’m sure we will be here again. Every time feminists attack the sex industry somebody is compelled to butt in and tell us that “we are not dealing with what really matters”. My opinion on the subject hasn’t changed: the sex industry, especially in it’s everyday manifestation of pr0n, advertising, entertainment, media, et al, and it’s spilling over as the “beauty” industry, that’s fashion, dieting, looks, et al, is the only remaining ideological tool with which women are being oppressed in the realm of the superstructure. (And all this theory is way out of my league!). What on Earth am I trying to say? Simple. The message still is “women, stay in your place”, because women must, at all costs, stay in their place. But now they can’t come out and say it like that. The religious arguments don’t hold much water in rich, liberal democratic societies. The biological determinist idea that women are just not good at the “big stuff” has been reduced to shreds through decades of feminist theorizing, researching and probably Margaret Thatcher. The arrangement of woman as “mother and homemaker” can’t apply anymore, because now every adult human is needed in the labour market to keep productivity high and wages low. To recap. “Women are not as good as men because Christ wasn’t a woman”, crossed. “Women are just not as good as men, they are not rational, intelligent, whatever”, crossed. “A woman’s place is in the home”, crossed. What are we left with? “Women are just good for sh*gging”. Or pretty things to look at.

Back to the article, I have to say it does bring up something that crossed my mind when I was watching the documentary: sure, sure, the sex industry should be killed with fire, but… what about the other stuff? There’s not even a hint of a critique of capitalism. I can’t remember anyone acknowledging that not every human being, or every feminist for that matter, lives in London.

That said, I am getting increasingly tired of everyone and their dog using the “where are the working class women” card to attack feminism, of the second wave or the third one. Feminism doesn’t have monopoly rights over forgetting the working class. And it most certainly isn’t the only movement to forget working class women. To put it bluntly, feminism forgot about the working class just as the Left forgot about women. There’s enough guilt to spread around.
And if we’re going to be painfully honest, the Left has forgotten about the working class as well. Deprived of its core ideology, that is, the economy, it has been left rumbling about like an undead corpse, kept alive exclusively by debates over politically correct language and multiculturalism. Hardly conducive of revolutionary change. And if you ask uneducated, ignorant, old me, this is too similar to what feminism has been reduced to, that is, focus on the culture and the ideas, the “superstructure”, and leave the “base” intact.

What we have in our hands is the conflict of how to go about changing the root of the problem when all we can see is its effect on the surface. Feminists attack the discursive ideas of women as sex objects because that’s where we see misogyny and oppression taking place. In reality it stems from some place else, but what that is or where exactly it’s located, we have no clue.
The traditional Left, however, has known what it needs to do to revolutionize society for more than a century. What’s their (our) excuse?

I’m beginning to think that women’s oppression and worker’s oppression share a common root, and that both should be tackled at the same time. These ideas are too fresh in my mind, however, to write about them as of yet.

Before you go, take a look at this article on a seemingly entirely unrelated topic, “Yes, striking is a human right”. There’s this one word that got me thinking…

“The real question we should be asking is not why do people strike, but why they do not do so more often? To respond by saying that workers are all happy bunnies compared with their forebears would not be the right answer.”

Could the sex industry and capitalism have more in common than we previously thought?

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Jobs Not Fit For Adults

It’s just about late enough to comment on this article from last Sunday’s “The Observer Magazine”, titled “Lost Generation”. It’s quite long and rather mediocre. And the only thing that saves it is the fact that the issues the author raises are big and important. The whole article can be summarized thus:

“Our parents had free education, fat pensions, and second homes. We’ve got student debt and a property ladder with rotten rungs. Thanks very much, says Andrew Hankinson, BSc”.

Hankinson is pissed off because he’s 29, he’s unemployed, has no career and a soaring student debt. There are probably millions like him in this country.

I could probably write a book on the subject. In fact, I am considering doing just that. In the meantime, let’s look at what other people say. The comments online split equally between those who understand he’s onto something and sympathize with him and those who are basically telling him to “grow up”.

But those who are telling Hankinson to grow up are onto something as well. Yes, he could probably grow up a little. But if Hankinson is representative or a whole generation, as we have good reason to believe he is, it becomes rather pointless to ask everyone to “grow up”. The problem is precisely that this “Lost Generation” hasn’t been allowed to grow up.

But what do I know, right? Being a (kindof) Marxist, I always look at the economy for answers. Naomi Klein, in her book “No Logo”, has a section titled “Branded Word: Hobbies, Not Jobs”. She says:

“Most of the large employers in the service sector manage their workforce as if their clerks didn’t depend on their paychecks for anything essential, such as rent of child support. Instead, retail and service employers tend to view their employees as children: students looking for summer jobs, spending money or a quick stopover on the road to a more fulfilling and better-paying career.”

“(…) This internalized state of perpetual transience has been convenient for service-sector employers who have been free to let wages stagnate and to provide little room for upward mobility, since there is no urgent need to improve the conditions of jobs that everyone agrees are temporary.(…)”

“In general, the corporations in question have ensured that they do not have to confront the possibility that adults with families are depending on the wages that they pay (…). Just as factory jobs that once supported families have been reconfigured in the Third World as jobs for teenagers, so have the brand-name clothing companies and restaurant chains given legitimacy to the idea that fast-food and retail-sector jobs are disposable, and unfit for adults.”

“The fact is that the economy needs steady jobs that adults can live on.”

Now, people may say that wages have always been low, and that job security has never existed, and to some extent that may be right. Though I personally struggle with that last one. My grandfather spent 25 years in the same factory, and my mum and dad a good decade in their respective jobs, whereas we can be pretty certain no one from my generation will come anywhere near that record time.

But it’s pretty naive, not to mention entirely unproductive to claim that “things have always been the same”. The global economy has changed, and the labour market is different to what it was 50 years ago.

Hankinson may need to grow up. But so does this economic system, whose replacement is long long overdue.

PS: By the way, from now on, you can all start referring to me as “Mary Tracy, BSc”. HA!

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