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Image from PixabayGentle readers in the UK will doubtless already have seen this announcement. Today – January 4th – is ‘Fat Cat Day‘!

It is upon this day – at around lunch time – that the UK’s top ‘fat cats’ across the land can lounge back, replete with the knowledge that they have already been paid more than the median of their full-time employees… and that is on the assumption that they took January 1st off!

Less than three days!

Now – does that seem right to you?

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Uneven_scalesWhat started out as a single post has now miraculously morphed into a series of four!

This eclectic assemblage of ramblings has thus far encompassed cricket, the demise of socialism and sun-worship.

What can it all mean?

Time to wrap it up…

My theme is – of course – inequality. I have addressed the topic a number of times before (here, here, here and here) and the gentle reader will doubtless have deduced by now that it is a subject that exercises me greatly.

Simply put – excessive and increasing inequality in any society is a bad thing and can only – in the long run – lead to disaster.

The free market is a valuable tool. It generates wealth, encourages competition and promotes progress. It is also – however – a completely amoral device. It is not of itself a good – even though good can come from it. For the benefits that can accrue thereby to be put to good purpose – the advance of society as a whole and the elimination of those evils of deprivation – lack of education – poor living standards – low life expectancy and unfulfilled promise – it is essential that the tool be managed, purposed, regulated and generally focused on the overall good. The market cannot achieve these aims unassisted.

Those who insist on the market being given its head – on its being allowed to exercise untrammeled influence on all areas of society – are in effect proposing an order entirely free from moral compass. This way madness lies. Events demonstrate time and time again that venality and criminality are not confined to the ‘lower orders’. When the powerful succumb to corruption they frequently do so absolutely. Human nature being what it is, the mere accumulation of wealth is no guarantee of altruistic or even acceptable behaviour.

By way of justification of their imperfect belief system those on the right may point to the fact that – in a period in which the rich have become the mega-rich, then the hyper-rich and ultimately the ultra-rich – living standards of those at the bottom of the pile have also risen marginally. It matters not – they protest – that the 1% own an ever increasing percentage of global wealth – just as long as everybody else’s living standards have also crept up.

Well – they are wrong… and it is just not good enough!

History teaches us that the the ultimate outcome of ever increasing inequality is revolution. That the West has not in recent decades experienced a greater degree of rebellious unrest can be attributed to three facts:

  • living standards for even the poorest segment are higher than they once were
  • in a globalised economy it is considerably more difficult to identify and locate the guilty parties
  • many in the West subscribe to the lottery mentality, by which – however long the odds – they still believe that they can hit the ‘wealth’ jackpot and join the 1%

The bad news for the ultra-rich is that it is all just a matter of degree. We don’t yet know where the tipping point will be, but be it will.

And at that point things will turn nasty!


OK – enough of this now…

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Photo by Luc Viatour on Wikimedia.orgWith the despatch of Socialism to the sidelines of history (see my previous post) and the resultant almost inevitable hegemony of the market, one could be forgiven for thinking that – for those with a social conscience – the game was up. Rabid marketeers and their fellow travelers on the right did what all good ideologues do when in a similarly victorious position – they plunged the knife in and twisted the blade!

These people would have us believe that there is no power – no authority – but the market. They are not to be trusted. Any notion that the market represents the ultimate form of democracy just doesn’t stack up. True democracy requires universal suffrage – something that the market can never provide, the rich holding the equivalent of a block vote.

Time for an allegory!

Those who worship the sun (and I refer here not just to those with a vitamin D addiction!) do so because they see the incalescent orb as the source of all life on earth and the origin of all power – which must be honoured accordingly. The Aztecs for example – as is well known – believed that regular human sacrifices were necessary to ensure that the sun repeat its transit of the heavens each new day – turning its face the while beneficently upon the earth.

It must be remembered though that not all that the the brightest star provides is propitious. The sun can burn and otherwise mutilate unprotected flesh – it can scorch the earth – it can bring the drought – can deliquesce the insubstantial. Nor are its favours bestowed equally upon all. This all-powerful sun-god must be appeased – apotheosized. Those who make the biggest sacrifice – or erect the most lavish temple – may expect to reap what they sew as the god smiles upon their endeavors. Those who do not – or cannot – must expect just to burn… burn… burn…

Adherents of Social Darwinism – and those who are in fact so even should they reject the term – have much in common with these heliolatrists. They might protest that their belief in the need for us to earn our rewards  – coupled with an avowed espousal of philanthropy – stands them firmly on the moral high ground. Unfortunately – as inequality continues its dizzying increase – the evidence suggests otherwise. Are these high achievers really working harder than ever before, whilst the remainder of us get lazier and lazier? And how much of that hard work actually just goes into the blackmailing of institutions such as the banks to hand over ever larger bonuses?

In fact the fine sentiments of those enthusiasts for market freedom ring as hollow as do those that they despise from the opposite end of the spectrum – from the social engineers. The truth is that human nature makes fools of us all just as soon as ever we try to codify our preferred social science.

There is an alternative…

Time for a different allegory!

Regarding fire-worship Wikipedia informs us thus:

Although the term “fire-worshippers” is primarily associated with Zoroastrians, the idea that Zoroastrians worship fire is originally from anti-Zoroastrian polemic. Instead, fire — even in a Fire temple (the Zoroastrian terms are more prosaic and simply mean “house of fire”) — is considered to be an agent of purity and as a symbol of righteousness and truth. In the present day this is explained to be because fire burns ever-upwards and cannot itself be polluted.

The Zoroastrians’ ‘agent of purity’ is indeed a powerful tool and bestows many benefits on humankind. The Promethean gift is also capable – of course – of bringing calamity but – unlike the sun – can and indeed must be controlled and contained.

Treated with respect fire is thus clearly in the service of man and not the other way around!

Here surely is a better model for the market – a tool for the benefit of all humanity rather than a Mammonian god that must be served.

This is where we now draw the battle lines…

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unequal-147925_640“No person, I think, ever saw a herd of buffalo, of which a few were fat and the great majority lean. No person ever saw a flock of birds, of which two or three were swimming in grease, and the others all skin and bone.”

Henry George

A few years back – in the days when I still regularly turned out for my local village cricket team – I underwent the following experience the which might just stand as an allegory – albeit not a particularly elegant one. I will endeavor not to blind too much with cricketing jargon – though I feel sure that the gentle reader will in any case get the point.

The village team – being composed chiefly of a blend of those of advancing years and those still wet behind the ears – plays only friendly fixtures, with the earnest intention of avoiding the over-competitiveness of league cricket. On occasion the opposition will drop out at a fairly late stage for the usual reasons – can’t raise a team… had a better offer… etc, etc – and the squad finds itself at a loose end on some sunny Sunday. There exists – fortunately – a sort of ‘fixture exchange’ mechanism by which teams that find themselves in such a position can pick up an alternative game at even quite a late stage – with some other club that has been similarly let down.

This had indeed occured on the occasion that is the subject of this parable. We thus found ourselves travelling a considerable distance to a ground with which we were not familiar, to take on a Sunday social side that we did not know.

Following our arrival it became rapidly apparent that the opposing side – although broadly akin to our own – had been augmented for our benefit by a couple of first-team players from the club’s Saturday league side – eager for a bit of practice. These guys were definitely a cut above.

We were put in to bat first and slowly and untidily attempted to accumulate a score. The problem was that we also lost wickets at regular intervals and by the time we were all out after around 30 overs we had amassed (something of an exaggeration in this case!) the pitiful total of 118 runs.

This was clearly not going to be enough, but we took to the field determined that our ragged bowling attack should give as good an account of itself as possible.

In such situations in village cricket the team batting second has a choice. The preferred option is to try to make a game of it – and to keep everybody happy in the process. This is done by promoting some of the lesser players up the batting order, secure in the knowledge that not only will more of those who have turned out get a crack with the bat, but that the match will doubtless still be won comfortably in any case.

In this instance however – and to the obvious displeasure of the remainder of their colleagues – the two league players decided instead that they would open proceedings themselves. In the ensuing carnage they knocked off the 119 runs required to win within 6 overs! This is a rate of nearly 20 runs an over – such as would be considered extraordinary even in the modern professional 20/20 game which trades on just this sort of outrageous pugilism. We spent a highly unpleasant 45 minutes clambering over barbed wire fences, struggling through bramble thickets and braving the nettle beds to retrieve the ball from the adjacent fields whence it had yet again been propelled. All the while our tormentors leant on their bats and engaged in smug conversation.

Consider this…

At the culmination of this abbreviated fixture we drove away sulkily, swearing by all the cricketing gods that we would never again play this bunch of lowlifes, and cursing that we had travelled all this way just to have our day ruined. Nine of the opposition players doubtless huddled irritably in their bar, ruminating on the fact that not only had their day’s enjoyment been hijacked by two of their own, but that there was also now no-one to stand them a round of drinks after the game – as is the custom.

And what of the terrible two? Well – any smug satisfaction that they might have gained from demonstrating their superiority must surely have been tempered by the knowledge that, a) given the difference in ability they had only done what was inevitable anyway, and b) we had not provided a sufficient test to have given them useful practice. Comes to mind the memory of the chess-swot at school who – because no-one else would play him – took to offering me a queen and two rooks start, and then still beating me in five moves!

There is – of course – a moral to this tale. That – however – can wait for another post…


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Envy_Plucking_the_Wings_of_FameRegarding which topic Wikipedia offers this:

Envy (from Latin invidia) is a resentment which “occurs when someone lacks another’s quality, achievement or possession and wishes that the other lacked it.”

On the same subject Bertrand Russell – in ‘The Conquest of Happiness’ – wrote:

Envy undermines happiness – it generates pain from what others possess, instead of pleasure from one’s own possessions, and might even motivate measures to deprive others of perceived advantages.

The key here for me is the manner in which this resentment manifests not just in desiring something that others have, but also in wishing to deprive them of it, or in some other way to punish them for possessing it. Envy is thus clearly a trait truly to be deprecated.

The subject has been on my mind of late for two reasons – both associated with the Tory party here in the UK. The first runs thus:

It is – nowadays – impossible to make public any observation regarding the increasing gap between the richest and the poorest in our society without provoking accusations of a resort to the ‘politics of envy’. This – naturally – pejorative, with the (frequently not so…)sub-text that this destructive emotion be of itself damaging to our economic and social well-being. Such vituperative judgement is – of course – designed to stifle rational debate by appealing to base instincts. The indictment scarcely stands up to scrutiny in any case – but as this is not its true purpose this hardly matters.

I was minded to track down the origins of the phrase but they turn out to be as nebulous as its meaning. Google offers many repetitions of the recent Mitt Romney quote, but its use clearly goes back considerably further. Reagan used the phrase in a number of speeches…

“Since when do we in America endorse the politics of envy and division?”Ronald Reagan, February 26, 1982.

…and indeed it does have a strong whiff of the 80s about it. I could – however – find no definitive source for the phrase, and if there are earlier instances of its use they were not immediately apparent. Whatever its origins the idiom has been certainly been widely adopted and its usage has increased markedly since that turning point in the 1970s when the long-standing historic trend was reversed and the gap between highest and lowest earners started once again to widen. This is – clearly – no co-incidence.

The second trigger for my reverie was the reportage of this year’s Margaret Thatcher Memorial Lecture, which was delivered in typically bombastic style by the Tory Mayor of London – Boris Johnson. His customarily confrontational address included this startling quote:

“Some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy. Keeping up with the Joneses is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”

Hang on a minute! Is that the same ‘envy‘ that is the subject of critique when it is directed by the ‘have nots‘ at the ‘have yachts‘? Surely some mistake?

Apparently not! If one is an entrepreneur or a banker (or suchlike) or finds oneself by any other means towards the top of the food chain – then envy is good! Capitalism ‘red in tooth and claw’ encourages alpha-males (and females) to compete for ever greater rewards and this is – we are invited to believe – beneficial for the economy and thus for the country.

When – on the other hand – envy is directed by the 99% at the 1%… then it is to be derogated as mean-spirited, negative and destructive – and thus bad, bad, bad!

So – it’s one rule for the rich… etcetera, etcetera!

Well – who would have thought it?

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earth-upside-downYou must know that for those destined to dominate others the ordinary rules of life are turned upside down and duty acquires an entirely new meaning. Good and evil are carried off to a higher, different plane.

Pope Alexander VI to Lucrezia Borgia

I will be brief!

Chancellor Osbourne’s speech to the Tory party conference in the UK last week included one announcement that had not – contrary to what has somewhat sadly become widely accepted practice – been trailed to the media in advance. The gist of this statement was that – should the Tories be allowed another term in office – once the recovery had stabilised and the structural deficit been reduced the Tories would then focus on running a surplus on the nation’s budget.

This would appear at first glance to be a good thing. One should live within one’s means and it is – of course – good practice to put something aside during the ‘fat’ years to see us through the ‘lean’. What went unsaid was that this would of necessity be achieved by extending – apparently indefinitely – the current policy of austerity, with all that that implies as a brake on growth leading to the further erosion of living standards.

This bitter medicine – though difficult to swallow – might just be accepted as an essential part of the cure for our ills were it not for one glaring omission – one extremely large and utterly disregarded (by the Tories!) elephant in the room. This perpetual belt-tightening will clearly not apply to the Tories’ favoured sons – the one percent!

The bankers – the speculators – the masters of the universe… will all be free to carry on awarding themselves inflationary pay rises, exorbitant bonuses (apparently regardless of performance) and eye-watering severance packages. The stateless corporates will continue to play off nation against nation for their favours, effectively deciding for themselves what – if any – tax they will pay and to whom. Whilst the ‘ordinary’ man (and woman) must take in another notch in their belts and watch as their standard of living slowly dissolves – castles of sand washed away by the incoming tide – the rich aboard their hyper-yachts will simply sail off into the sunset, the income gap between us and them growing ever wider and wider as it has been doing since the 1970s.

I have never understood why it is that – whilst at one end of the spectrum workers are expected to ‘price’ themselves into a job – at the opposite extreme these ‘supermen’ – these Übermensch – are apparently incapable of carrying out the jobs (of which they have had their pick!) for which they are already extremely well paid unless they are further bribed so to do – for what are bonus and incentive schemes but bribery – plain and simple. I have nothing at all against those who enrich themselves through their honest toil and creativity – those who build something which is ultimately of the benefit to all. For far too many of the one percent – however – this is simply not the case.

These men must be truly exceptional to be rewarded as they are. They must indeed be exceptional to be feted so by those who represent us. They are also apparently exceptions to the rule by which the rest of us must live. I feel sure – however – that they will not give a fig that we take exception to them!

Which we do!

Flame off…

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World_upside_downThe modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Many of us in the UK breath a hearty sigh of relief at this point of the year – for the party conference season has finally shuddered to a close. Those of like vintage can probably just about recall when party conferences actually meant something – when policies were proposed, debated and then voted upon according to whichever greater or lesser degree of democratic process the party in question espoused. It wasn’t perfect. It was very rarely pretty – but at least there was a feeling that the entire farrago had some sort of purpose.

Nowadays these annual gatherings in corners of the kingdom seldom otherwise visited by many of those in or on the fringes of power, are merely tightly choreographed PR exercises, the prime function of which is to garner headlines in the media and to ‘get the message across’. It is a particular bugbear of mine (one of many, you may have noticed!) that ‘getting the message across’ is now considered to be of such import that it is apparently perfectly acceptable to patronise horribly those of us who make up the great unwashed – presumably on the basis that we possess between us no intelligence whatsoever!

We are unfortunate in the UK currently to suffer what is fundamentally a Tory administration. From the Kickass Canada Girl’s pithy epithets on perusing the news from home I deduce that Canada finds itself in a similar position. Now – for the Tories the ‘message’ that must be ‘got across’ is that the entire global financial meltdown – as well as the subsequent and ongoing international credit crisis – was caused solely by the profligacy of the last Labour administration. (Strangely the inverse now applies – any current woes being the fault of those beyond these shores).

Whereas I can just about understand the Tories holding this view – and indeed trying to make political capital therefrom – it is abundantly clear that every single member of the administration that has been given permission to communicate through the media has been briefed to ram this point home at every conceivable opportunity. As a result there is no question to which the answer is free from this mantra – the recitation of the same hackneyed dogma – an endless repetition of the same trite phrases, presumably in the belief that if a thing is said frequently and loudly enough the rest of us will eventually accept it as the truth.

COME ON!! – for pity’s sake… This is the way that a child ‘communicates’ when it wants something that it can’t have. Show us at least some respect!

Lest anyone – at this point – accuse me of getting ‘party political’ I should make it clear that I consider all parties and pretty well all politicians to be equally guilty in this regard. It comes as little surprise to me that the electorate is increasingly and justifiably disenchanted with those who purport to represent us. The Tories – being currently in power – must inevitably, however, be the prime recipients of our disapprobation.

Oh dear! What was intended to be a brief but pithy commentary on the Chancellor – George Osbourne’s – conference speech, has morphed instead into two less than temperate virtual diatribes. I really shouldn’t let these things get to me, but I do find these preening popinjays so very irritating…

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Lies“In this treacherous world
Nothing is the truth nor a lie.
Everything depends on the color
Of the crystal through which one sees it”

Pedro Calderón de la Barca

As I write the streets are closed in the centre of London for the burial of the Baroness. Hectares of news print have already been expended on she-who-was-not-for-turning – seemingly as divisive in death as she was during her political career. I do not propose to add anything of my own in that regard.

I cannot – however – let the occasion pass without observing that the echoes of that time and of that particular administration still reverberate throughout modern Britain today and that – to my mind – much of our recent anguish has its origins in that period. One trait which first became apparent to me then and which I cannot abide – effectively that of kicking a man when he is down – seems again to have become accepted practice in recent times. This is – there can be little doubt – yet another side effect of the big lie that is at the heart of capitalism.

That lie – and it is a pernicious lie – holds that if the competitive free market were given its head and if we all take full responsibility for ourselves and strive with all our might, we can each attain the holy grail of success and fortune. The truth is that we can’t – any more than can each of the runners in the 100 metres final take home the gold medal. Any one of them might win – but not all of them can.

An alternative analogy. The lottery…

The focus of public interest in the lottery is, somewhat inevitably, the big winners. It should perhaps more pertinently be those who do not win. Were it not for the individual pounds or dollars that they contribute there would be no jackpot and thus no jackpot winner.  Again – though everyone that buys a ticket has a chance to win – not all of them can do so. Should – by some miracle – all those purchasing tickets just happen to chose the same numbers and should – by an even more miraculous occurrence – those numbers actually come up, then each contestant would simply win back their original stake… minus expenses! The lottery would stop working and no-one would ever play it again.

That this does not happen in practice is because the lottery is engineered not to work that way – in exactly the same manner that capitalism is engineered. Thatcher apparently held the view that those who were poor were responsible for their own condition and that to be poor was indicative of a flawed character. This is simply not the case. The poor are poor because – if this were not so – it would not be possible for the rich to be rich.

Capitalism relies on competition. Competition requires the incentive inherent in there being winners and losers. Though the prize money pot may grow bigger as the number of competitors increases, it does not do so because they compete harder! Capitalism – though probably the best we have – can never provide prosperity for all!

I have no issue with lionising those who win through their own hard work (though I do with those who cheat, lie or exploit the weaknesses of others) – what I can’t stomach is the demonisation of those who don’t.


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