Left Outside

Thank god the police don’t shoot people more often

I’m with the rodent in thinking the Duggan Inquest verdict deserves a healthy dose of scepticism. I’m not saying it’s a stitch up, but giving the police 8 hours to confer in private before submitting their evidence doesn’t fill me with confidence. I don’t find it comforting either that a lawful killing can follow from an operation completely botched at every stage.

But the Duggan Inquest is above my paygrade, so I won’t pontificate. I haven’t followed the case too closely and I don’t have a legal background. That won’t stop lots of other people. But they’re twats who probably haven’t read the jury’s statement. The maximum I could offer is my opinion and you know what people say about opinions.

What I can offer though is surprising stats. Since 1990,  1,475 people have died in police custody or following contact with the police. However, in this country the police almost never shoot at people. Which is a blessed relief given how they’ve handled Duggan’s killing. I was surprised by how often the police shoot people, so I’ll reproduce the yearly tallies for you.

From April to April 2001-02 the police fired their guns eleven times.

In 2002-03 ten shots were fired.

In 2003-04 four shots were fired.

In 2004-05 five shots were fired.

In 2005-06 nine shots were fired.

In 2006-07 three shots were fired.

In 2007-08 seven shots were fired.

In 2008-09 five shots were fired.

In 2009-10 six shots were fired.

In 2010-11 four shots were fired.

In 2011-12 five shots were fired, one hit Mark Duggan’s arm then one hit him in the chest killing him and sparking a weekend of rioting. These 85 shots killed 44 people. My sympathy goes out to Mark Duggan’s family and the families of the other 43 dead people.

But over the last decade fewer than 0.1% of all incidents involving police guns see them fired. While the police are discharging tasers thousands of times a year, they almost never use guns. I am very glad they don’t know we know what happens when they do.

For grisly context,  in 2011 American police shot 1,146  people and killed 607. However, they don’t even collate stats on how often the police discharge their weapons, so we can’t make a like for like comparison.

As usual the conclusion is: our system is pretty fucked up, but at least we’re not American. 

UPDATE: The NYPD fired their guns 92 times in 2010, 13% less than the 106 shootings in 2009. It’s the lowest number in the 40 years that the NYPD has tracked such data. That’s about 20 times more than Bris did, for a population a third of the UK’s. Pretty scary stuff.

Filed under: Politics, Society, , , , ,

4 charts that prove you know nothing about the housing market

As we all know, Thatcher privatised our housing stock and pocketed the funds. She made billions from Right to Buy and we provided billions in subsidy to the already well-to-do, but she didn’t bother to build any more houses so we got screwed. That’s where our housing problem comes from. A picture tells a thousand words and a big white space probably tells even more:

Bc99isdIMAAB_w7

But not so fast! It might look like a lot of housing is getting built after the war, but that’s misleading. As not so many of us know, we didn’t just build lots of housing, we cleared slums on a vast scale. 15% of the UK’s population was affected and the overall building rate looks a lot less impressive. The blue line (via Neal Hudson) shows the net effect.

Bc-gTOCCIAAb2CU The post-war years still look good, but at a lot less stellar. Thatcherism doesn’t come out of this well, but New Labour? They look good. Which was news to me, as I’m sure it’s news to you. the housing stock expanding at its fastest rate for decades during the mid-2000s…despite us…not really building many houses. “Hang on, how does that work?” you’ll be asking. “Don’t worry.” I say, “this is 2014 and all explanations now come in chart format!”

Bc-igZLCEAA770k (1)

What this graph shows, again from Neal Hudson, is that houses were being built, but they were also being subdivided and other stock was being brought into use. Houses were cut in half (or more) and commercial properties were converted. The high prices that tight housing supply created actually caused the number of terraced houses in London to decrease from 2001-2011, such was the rate of flat conversions. So New Labour did have a solution and it was high prices. But it would be remiss to blame New Labour, when you can blame Old Labour. There’s bipartisan support for that.

Not so fast! As a different all of us know, it was the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 that caused the housing shortage. The 1930s saw a phenomenal rate of private home building, far in excess of anything achieved before or since, only brought to a standstill by Hitler and rearmament. Private builders can build lots of housing and the Planning Act is one reason they didn’t when the state stopped building. But there’s no wishing away the Planning Act for a magical return to the 1930s.

housing-supply-1923-2011

“Build more houses” is a good rally cry, but how? NIMBYs have rights. These rights are property rights. When they bought their houses they also bought the right to block other building nearby. This wasn’t a mistake, this is what they were told and what people consider normal. That’s a right in anyone’s book. If we want to build more housing we will have to expropriate them or buy them. And they ain’t selling cheap.

You know nothing about the housing crisis and that any easy solution you have is wrong (except maybe a simple plan). You should also realise there’s no libertarian solution to the housing crisis through deregulation. These rights are held inalienable. The same rights block a social democratic solution of more council housing. The only thing that remains is a Stalinist solution: the socialisation of property rights and the liquidation of NIMBYs as a class.

If you want to blame Attlee, Blair or Thatcher for the housing crisis you haven’t been paying attention. And you’re not nearly being ambitious enough with your cliches. The real villain behind the housing crisis, if there is one, is Hitler. And like Hitler the only solution will be Stalin.

UPDATE: Now with bonus chart!

A very good point, and one which partially vindicates the slowdown in homebuilding in the 1980s (although not its continual stagnation). The below chart shows the deceleration, stall and gradual increase in population growth from 1960-2010. Graph of United Kingdom: Population growth (annual %)

Filed under: Economics, Society, , , , , , ,

To the surprise of absolutely no one the British public have no fucking clue what the country is really like

IPSOS-MORI Year in Review

IPSOS-MORI Year in Review

The whole slideshow from IPSOS-MORI’s year in review is instructive, have a look. Long story short, the public systematically think things are worse than they are.

The reassuring takeaway is that if you think the public hold odious views its only because they have no idea what they’re talking about. This brings to mind the aphorism that people should get what they vote for, good and hard.

Pessimistically, the public are massively biased against benefits claimants, single mothers, immigrants and engage in “emotional innumeracy” and motivated reasoning to make themselves feel reasonable about their dickishness.

That this means the public would think they were being dicks if they knew the truth. However, campaigning on the “you’re really a dickhead, mate” platform is a one way ticket to lostdepositville.

Dissolving the people and educating another is also a terrible policy because it’s not going to work. Bad news sells and fact checking is a pretty loveless hobby.

All in all, this is pretty terrible news anyway you cut it, although it does make me like the public a little more and wonder at the human mind. Faced with dickhead beliefs your brain totally warps reality so that you become reasonable. It explains a lot actually.

Filed under: Politics, Society, , , , , ,

A #longread for your weekend: Karl Polanyi in Beijing

Thank you for reading last week. If you would like this week’s posts collated as an essay you can download a pdf of “Karl Polanyi in Beijing.” You can also download a pdf version of Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation itself here. I recommend you do both. The collated posts also follow below the fold. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, Society, , , , , , , , ,

Karl Polanyi in Beijing: why are China’s capitalists so successful?

The economic reforms introduced in the late 1970s were, argued the CCP, essential to combat economic stagnation and waste of the Mao years. So it was the Party that created the market in China. In Europe, Polanyi described an insurgent middle classes who “developed an all but sacramental belief in the beneficence of profits” and faith in the market. In China the market was introduced to break the bureaucratic control of the economy, but reform has ironically led to the enrichment of China’s bureaucrats. It has also left land and labour deeply unprotected. In contrast, China’s private and state-owned businesses are deeply embedded in social relationships. Its a deeply contradictory and complicated place as only a country of over a billion people can be.

In The Great Transformation (full pdf) Polanyi runs three chapters concurrently, Market and NatureMarket and Man and Market and Productive Organisation. These posts have followed a similar course and this penultimate post will look at China’s breakneck economic growth and discuss whether that invalidates Polanyi’s idea that “a embedded economy will be more efficient than a disembedded market.”

I started by saying that China’s party decided to create a market, that is how Polanyi and I talk about it, but it isn’t the normal parlance. The main school of thought on liberalisation emphasises the spontaneous creation of private enterprise wherever the state withdraws; this school draws on Adam Smith’s assertion about man’s “natural propensity to truck and barter.” I haven’t much truck with this. Capitalism got going in large part thanks to the fiscal strength of the British war state being able to enforce property rights and help capitalists accumulate capital through dispossession. Likewise in the US the government opened up the west with bloodshed and dispossession which helped America’s farmers accumulate land and helped prop up the wages of its working class. But I digress.

One half of Polanyi’s theory was that while laissez-faire was planned, the response was automatic and universal, even capitalists rebelled against the market. Good free marketeers like Tim and Chris see this as lamentable, they should see it as inevitable. Polanyi insisted that against the tide of market utopianism even capitalists will strive to protect themselves against the market. In China there has been no unconditional acceptance of the market, and its implementation has been limited, even if its effects have been broad. Contrary to the liberal belief that those engaged in private business will seek further economic and political freedom, it appears that those engaged in business in China prefer stability to economic liberalism. There’s more parallels to this: authoritarian capitalism can be pretty stable, Bismark’s Prussia, Meiji-era Japan and Pinochet’s Chile were all stable for extended periods of time. Just like in these countries, embedded markets can be remarkably effective at delivering growth.

China’s business operations rely more on connections than on private property, they are embedded networks of guanxi. I think you should conceptualise guanxi differently for migrant workers versus business men. For labour, it has arisen as a protective last resort, a countermovement which provides shelter in place of hollow labour laws. For businessmen it has become an integral part of “doing business.” Rather than decreasing as China’s economy develops, guanxi has increased its prevalence as businessmen develop new ties, and deepen old ones, in order to achieve their aims.On one level it functions, not as a system protecting against the market, but as a method for smoothing the transition between different state policies, in which extralegal activities are permitted in order to maintain smooth operation of business. There’s a parallel in the Soviet Union were boxes of cigarettes and bottles of vodka lubricate the workings of a badly drafted plan. In China gifts lubricate systems of insecure exchange.

At a macro level, the state also supports businesses and economic growth. The ideal developmental state, as described in Monday’s post by Evans possesses a “concrete set of social ties that binds the state to society and provides institutionalised channels for the continual negotiations of goals and practice.” Is is easy to dismiss guanxi as clientalism, or “crony capitalism” that distorts a natural market conditions. In reality China’s capitalists have the ear of the Chinese state and mutually assured destruction ensures they are focused on growth. Where Scott Sumner sees pragmatic policy making I see the fear in their eyes.

The state has laid the foundations for China’s economic growth and like other developmental states, it has sporadically suppressed market activity and supported strategic investment at the behest of its capitalists. China’s business situation is a system in which legal foundations of private property do not matter as much as ensuring that personal connections with local government and party are good. This can be a method by which private capitalists can extort money, power and influence from society at large. But it is also a method for ensuring capital investment is incentivised and profitable opportunities exploited. The institutionalisation of guanxi is a symptom of the decentralization of power which has occurred in China as both an impetus to, and consequence of, China’s economic rise.

To a degree the Chinese state has failed. For the majority of China’s development, while attempting to build global leaders the vast majority of the Chinese economy remained wedded to low-wage manufacturing. “Manufacturing” may prove to be  a superlative a word for what occurs in China. It can perhaps be better described as “assembling” imported inputs. High-value adding components are constructed outside and shipped to China for final manufacturing before being re-exported. The challenge for a developing country is to move up the value added chain. In the mid-2000s I was relatively sceptical of this happening, now I am more optimistic.

From The Independant, taken by Leonardo Finotti

From The Independant, taken by Leonardo Finotti

The tight state-industry link hasn’t been severed and remains very strong. In return for a huge degree of state control Chinese capitalists can help direct infrastructure spending. Britain has built one new runway since the Second World War. China has been building ten a year or more for over a decade. Britain was rather well endowed with runways following the war, but China’s achievement is colossal. China’s expanding its infrastructure at an astounding pace and it is a close coalition of capitalists and bureaucrats directing it. While some reports suggest lots of this investment is in empty ghost cities and roads to nowhere others are more optimistic:

In the case of Henan’s Zhengzhou—frequently dubbed China’s “largest ghost city”—Ms. Wong notes that a number of media portrayals of the city’s newer areas have used photographs taken between 2010-12, before the metro system connecting the district to the city’s more established neighborhoods was completed. On her most recent visit there in August, Ms. Wong said she saw many cars, “hordes of pedestrians” and considerable ground activity in addition to curtains and air-conditioners installed in numerous residential buildings.

“I asked local people about what they think…about Zhengzhou being a ghost city and the answer is, ‘What?’ They don’t actually have any idea they’re being labeled a ghost city,” Ms. Wong said.

Western reporters are the least likely to understand movement and patterns of production in China. Infrastructure investment is being directed by a coalition of capitalists and bureaucrats using local knowledge passed through to the might of the Chinese state.

From the BBC, taken by Pu Yongfang

From the BBC, taken by Pu Yongfang

Of course, the state can also be expected to expropriate the poor as necessary. As the poor and dispossessed become wealthier and therefore more powerful it seems that land grabs are becoming a little rarer than they used to be. This could also be because all the good land has already been grabbed. In any case, capitalist production is closely embedded in the state apparatus. Seizing land isn’t fair, but it is a pretty good way to accumulate capital. Capitalists are also more productive than poor people and development is all about putting things to their most productive use. This is the ugly side of development, and China is very good at it because its capitalists and government need to keep the economy growing.

The Chinese economy contains a business community embedded in close sets of social ties, this having given it the potential to direct its domestic industry in socially productive ways. To some degree it has certainly succeeded. In centres of development on the coast modern economies have grown up but it is unclear that this will spread to China’s interior. Firms are moving up the value added chain but China remains a very poor country. I’ve discussed in past posts that increasingly large tail risk is being built up in the poor treatment of China’s workers and its environment. China has managed to leverage some of the connections between business and state towards useful investment but at great cost to people and planet. Tomorrow’s post will tie together some of the ideas discussed over the last few days.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, Society, , , , , , , , ,

Good news, bad news for LGBT asylum seekers

Remember Irina Putilova? She was going to be deported to Russia, despite being a lesbian and likely to face severe persecution. Well, she’s not getting deported. At least not yet. So well done to any of you who actually did anything after reading last week’s post.

To maintain balance, of course, our dark lady Theresa May will be instead deporting Prossie N, a lesbian, to Uganda. There’s a petition here to sign, it seemed to do some good last time so please sign and write to your MP.

Click here for an article on “corrective rape” in Uganda. If you want something shorter and therefore slightly less harrowing  please read this account of Prossie N’s life up until now:

Prossie N has fought hard to escape a lifetime of abuse and persecution. An orphan from the age of 8 years old, the only family she had was an uncle who abused and raped her. At 15, she was outed as a lesbian and forced to live on the streets. It was only through a secret relationship with a well-connected married woman that she was finally able to escape to Britain in 2010.

Now, the Border Agency wants to send her back into danger. The department has already tried to force Prossie onto a flight with Ethiopian Airways, but she bravely protested at the gate, and the pilot refused to take her back. Her new deportation date is set for 12 December, back to a country with some of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world, where she has no family and no support network.

 

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Society

Karl Polanyi in Beijing: who are China’s workers?

The labour market in China is in its infancy. It is, in fact, incorrect to speak of a labour market in China at all; there are many disparate situations where we find working people. Although discussion will be on industrial workers it should not be forgotten that there are still more than 200 million peasants working the land in China, however for brevity these must be excluded from discussion. The state began allocating labour in the 1950s and continued until the 1980s when the attempt to commodify labour began. However, the creation of a labour market has not seen the state wither away; instead it has turned its already considerable repressive powers towards the task of creating a Labour market. Polanyi argued that the creation of markets involved a dramatic increase in the coercive power of the state; this is in marked difference to others who emphasise the natural germination of markets, which occur where the state withdraws from the economy as is typical with most economists.

In an examination of China, Polanyi’s account is by far the more convincing than that of conventional economists. Chinese workers have been reshaped into commodities. This has first been done by the central Chinese state through the smashing of the “iron rice bowl” and the stripping of state provided welfare from the employed, and the exclusion of China’s vast migrant workforce from what little support remains. Moreover, enforced redundancy and bankruptcy have created vast reserves of the unemployed, “freeing” them to find their wage on the market. These reforms were met by a series of Labour Laws, intended to mitigate their negative effects. However, the laws concerning minimum wages, factory conditions etc. go largely ignored due to a second movement towards commodification.

Local government has received much devolved power; for example, in fiscal terms, China has perhaps the most devolved government in the world. In return for this power, local government is charged with fostering economic growth, this usually entails the circumvention of these labour laws. Sole responsibility for the bypassing of these laws should not be levelled at the local state. For example, 78% of state-owned enterprise employees and 95 percent of state-owned enterprise retirees were to be covered by the state-run pension scheme. This reform replaced schemes run by individual enterprises but will not be honoured because of the fiscal limitations of the central state.

There are obvious benefits to China’s current configuration, Chinese workers no longer need to contend with the repression Maoist state, and there have been notable relaxations since the Tiananmen Square Massacre. However, this internal confrontation has been replaced by an external one; workers now have to combat the combined legal departments of several transnational corporations. For years they have been engaged in intensive lobbying against the extension of further labour rights in China, Arrogantly declaring that the labour laws in place, already largely unenforced, are enough for China’s workers.

The creation of a labour market has required de jure, and some de facto, ending of lifetime tenure. In 1983 state-owned enterprises were ordered to hire new employees on a contractual basis, this began the drive to convert labour into a commodity, to be bought and sold as a commodity, and abolished the socialist conunitment to full employment. This was consolidated in the mid-1990s with large scale redundancies at SOEs. However, those who still enjoy urban state sector employment remain very immobile; the real effects of market reforms have been felt by the vast and growing rural-urban migrants. The dissolution of the communes led to the creation of a vast migrant labour force, which numbered around 50 million in the late 1980s, and over 150 million now.

This process shares similarities with the making of the English working class: peasants, handicraft workers, artisans and small manufacturers all suffered displacement as their livelihoods were destroyed, whether, through land enclosure or market competition from more productive capitalist fawns and factories. However, in England as the attempt was made to commodify labour in Britain a countervailing measure arose to protect society: Polanyi interpreted legislation concerning public health, factory conditions, social insurance, public utilities, municipal services and trade union rights in Victorian England as countervailing measures to check the societal effects of the unfettered expansion of capital.

This countervailing measure is far from obvious in China. The expansion of the state required to commodify labour is described above. However, the application of the commodity fictions has only been partially implemented. The local state, at times, undermines the institutions designed to embed Labour within a social minimum. Deng aimed to refashion workers as commodities, to be bought and sold. However, the appeal of the Chinese economy was not just cheap labour; there is a wealth of the desperately poor in the world. China succeeded because its labourers were healthy, educated and disciplined. A population more literate, more educated, and with longer life-spans than any country with a comparable GDP, entered the world market in the 1980s. This was achieved with meal Communes and urban Danwei which operated as miniature welfare states, providing cradle to grave security.

The communes have long since been dissolved and so, as SOEs are transformed, most working people have lost access to their social safety net, including pensions, housing, health care and increasingly even primary and secondary education. To illustrate, after three decades of reform, healthcare is in freefall and the World Health Organisation ranks China last in terms of equal access to healthcare. Furthermore, China alone is helping to partially refute the idea that “wealthier is healthier.” The marketisation of its healthcare infrastructure has caused improvements in health to accrue more slowly, and less equitably, than in any comparable state in history — the poorest now go without healthcare altogether. As discussed in my last post, the countermovement against the commodification of land is notable for its weakness and for the damage which has been wrought in its absence; regrettably the same is true, to a lesser degree, of labour. Labour laws exist in China; there are a number of rights which have been introduced, from pension reform to minimum wages. However, the Double Movement is not a matter of formal labour rights. If rights such as those above go unenforced, as they do in China, they cannot be described as constituting a Double Movement.

After examining the conditions of workers in China; both their hardship and their lack of protection offers evidence that might be used to refute the existence of Polanyi’s Double Movement. However, informal institutions of embedding have arisen in order to overcome the abusive application of China’s labour laws. This essay will argue that, as with business in China, rural-urban migrants have developed a complex system of guanxi to insulate themselves from the market. The work of Granovetter describes the limits of spot markets between anonymous individuals to transfer information and build social trust. Moreover, it helps us to understand that legal protection and social security are not the only ways in which the economy can be embedded. Within China, informal systems of embeddedness have come to be incredibly important.

A brief description of the origins of China’s migrant labourers is necessary to place them in the correct context. Revolutionary China used a hukou, or household registration system, to all welfare provision to its population. It also constituted an intrusive method of social control, preventing all but a limited amount of internal migration. Initially registering the population was simply about finding out the numbers involved, but hukou soon became a tool to restrict mobility. The hukou system’s weakening has granted labour the freedom of movement around China, but it also prevents migrant workers from claiming the pensions, schooling, unemployment benefits, etc. enjoyed by those who have an urban hukou. In official Chinese parlance peasant workers in urban jobs are not migrants; as it would denotes a more settled status. They are a “floating population,” without the rights that those who possess urban hukou enjoy. It is this group who make the most extensive use of guanxi as it is they who lack the most basic of protections.

Guanxi is an informal set of ties and obligations whose origin can be traced back to Communist China. In contemporary business relations its importance is well documented (and I will discuss it more tomorrow). Granovetter’s study examined the behaviour of individuals within a developed market, and found that they often substituted embedded social relations for rational economic maximising behaviour. A similar and more intense version is employed to glean useful information from fellow migrants to find work, and protect themselves from unemployment. To illustrate, it is argued that because of the guanxi between current migrant workers and potential migrants as few as just five to ten percent of newcomers to Chinese cities could not find work within a week of arriving. The emphasis placed on guanxi  can help us to understand why it is that China’s rural migrants can survive and remain productive in such a hostile environment.

The demands made by the market can prove utterly disastrous for human beings if their basic needs are not protected. However, the Double Movement is more fundamental than this. Guanxi has helped to explain the survival of Chinese workers in a hostile environment, often devoid of the social protection Polanyi argued was essential; however, this only addresses one aspect of the Double Movement. It is also fundamental in embedding economic relations in a legal system that ensures that the commodity fictions are upheld in a market-society. As explained the Double Movement is not anathema to markets, it is a necessary condition.

Fred Block discusses the embedding of the economy in “law, politics and morality,” the economy insist be embedded within reasonable and lawful practices. Thus, even an approximation of a market system requires embedding within a social minimum. The evasion of Labour standards illustrates the weakness of the Double Movement in China. This view, though controversial in Polanyi’s time, is now firmly embedded in the new institutional economics of people like Douglass NorthDaron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

Non-payment of wages is a major problem in China, sometimes used to discipline workers, it is used to ensure workers do not quit, as if they do they risk losing all right to unpaid wages. It is incredibly widespread, in a survey it was reported to have had affected 72.5 percent of workers. It is cited as a major cause of protest in China; but by using it to discipline workers further protests are being prevented. The non-payment of wages is a method used in China by capitalists to enforce discipline and expropriate capital from their workers. This practice is credited with allowing such a large amount of wealth to be accumulated by such a small group, in such a short amount of time.

At times this is discussed as a shocking denial of human rights, the simple right to be paid what one has agreed as remuneration for one’s labour. It is presented as an example of how brutal capitalist development has been in China. But, the true interpretation of this practice is rather different. Capitalist exploitation under a market system involves the sale of labour as a commodity. The theft of labour is evidently not part of this. This practice illustrates again the weakness of the Double Movement in China; it has failed to provide an adequate legal framework to ensure wages are paid on time, or even at all. Without a Double Movement to embed market structures they don’t exist. You don’t get capitalism you get something even more brutal.

In law the situation concerning labour appears far better than that concerning land. However, in practice both appear to be subject to the damaging infliction of commodity fictions. Giovanni Arrighi suggests that the Chinese state has presided over gradual economic reform and met these with countervailing actions to promote a “synergy between an expanding national market and a new social division of labour.” However, this represents an astonishing, though predictable, misreading of what is occurring in China. With regard to labour the Chinese economy tacks not only the protection necessary to ensure wages are paid on time, but reform has also hollowed out the institutions that made the Chinese economy a success in the first place.

Since I wrote started researching China about half a decade ago a lot has changed. It’s a country that moves at an astonishing rate. Over the past decade, China has rapidly expanded the numbers going to university from from 2.2 million in 2000 to 6.6 million in 2010 students. Job creation hasn’t keep pace and there were 100 job applicants in mid-2013 for every 80 jobs which require a university education in China. The scenario was reversed for jobs which don’t require tertiary education, there were 100 applicants for every 125 slots in China. This has led to a narrowing in wages. Since 2009, professional wages have climbed 12 percent annually. In the same period, average wages in manufacturing, agriculture, and construction have risen 14 percent annually. I’ll chalk this one up as a success for Polanyi’s Double Movement and a sign I was probably too pessimistic 5 years ago.

China has been successful in destroying the old institutions, which allowed it to enter the world economy and out perform all previous expectations. However, they have not been replaced with new institutions to guarantee further success, although some elements are improving. On one level this is evident in the endemic non-payment of of wages, and the callous exploitation of the local state. You can also see the frictions in the mass gathering incidents documented by Jamie.

I would argue there are two seams to the protests now occurring in China. These can be used to locate where people feel threatened by China’s Great Transformation. Some occur because some workers have been left to the mercy of the market, protesting against enforced SOE dissolution, low wages, and a scandalous marketisation of basic services; such as healthcare and education. Others occur precisely because the same set of commodity fictions are not enforced, people are robbed of their labour and land because a market has not been instituted inside reasonable institutions. The same is true in the countryside where Chinese robber-barons have seized huge tracts of land. Both stem from the same source, the weak countermovement in China. If action is not taken to embed the market, then the ecological and human damage that will result will be matched by the collapse of China’s economy. We’ve heard lots about China’s capitalists in passing, but I’ll go into more detail tomorrow.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, Society, , , , , , , , ,

My plan to screw Noddy Holder and save the music industry

The purpose of copyright is to encourage people to make more of something. So…

Slade frontman Noddy Holder is set to earn £800,000 this year from his band’s festive 1973 hit, ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’.

The cash will come from PRS royalties, which stack up through radio, television, jukebox and shop plays as well as compilation album sales, reports Prezzybox.com

When it comes to music it seems we’ve got the balance incorrect. Nobody writes pop songs with the intention of earning £800,000 40 years hence so any system that encourages that is pretty messed up. At the same time new artists who need some extra money can’t get a start as the revenue from new recording music plummets.

Perhaps we should set up a fund, a Lady Sovereign Wealth Fund, to help new music acts. Older acts like Noddy Holder are expropriated and all their earnings go into a pot. If you’re a music act you can apply for some money and its allocated by lottery. The more you ask for the less likely you are to win like with Royal Mail shares and one act in hundred is audited to stop embezzlement. 

Anyone like/hate this idea?

Filed under: Society

Karl Polanyi in Beijing: why is there so much smog in Shanghai?

To explain why the smog is so bad in Shanghai you can point to air pressure, christmas, temperature etc. But to really understand, like most things, you have to go back at least half a century. You might think its odd that I begin the meat of these posts with land and nature and not people. But until very recently China was an agricultural country. It makes perfect sense to start with the environment.

So, to kick off, I won’t pretend environmental damage wasn’t widespread in Mao’s China. “Political repression, utopian urgency, dogmatic formalism, and state-sponsored relocations affected and distorted Chinese relationships with nature in the Mao years” as Shapiro wrote in her Mao’s War on Nature. Among the most bizarre attacks was an utterly mad attempt to eradicate sparrows, rats, mosquitoes and flies, from the Chinese countryside. Unfortunately, the environmental degradation produced in the Mao years pales in comparison to the damage which contemporary reforms have fathered.

Mao’s death in 1976 ended the lost decade of the Cultural Revolution, but also created a power vacuum and a period of instability in the Communist Party of China. The elevation of Deng Xiaoping to leader offered a welcome solution to the Chinese people, and he entered office with a mandate for change. The change he proposed was described as “market adjustment” and “adjustment by the plan” at the December 1978 Third Plenum. Reform began in urban areas with an attempt to create an urban labour market by allowing selected managers to hire on a contractual basis. The reforms also included provisions to allow state owned enterprises to raise prices and retain profits. In 1981, amid rising inflation and urban unrest, urban reforms were brought to a halt and focus was switched to rural areas.

Rural reforms began not long after their urban counterparts in September 1980. They initiated a major step in the rural reform process; the commune based agricultural system was to be replaced by the Household Responsibility System (HRS). You don’t understand anything about China unless you understand this. The commodification of land began in the countryside; the HRS divided commune land into individual family farming plots, and tied earnings to the yields produced by each family. They had to make compulsory deliveries to the state but anything above that was free to be sold on the market. Within three years 98 percent of peasant households had been incorporated into this new system. Eager to taste the new life offered to them the Chinese peasants were keen to undertake this transition.

Although the land remained communal property, which was leased out to individual tenant farmers, the HRS amounted to a de facto commodification of land in the countryside. As well as abolishing the old order and implementing the HRS, the Chinese state has also played, and continues to play, a vital role in forcibly commodifying land; dispossessing China’s peasants of their plots . Reflecting on the HRS, The Economist credits the spectacular growth in the Chinese countryside to the free play of market forces. However, what Meisner calls the most “economically successful period in the history of Chinese agriculture” can more accurately be described as the culmination of thirty years of successful state led investment. The rise in productivity being the results of a one-off price increase on compulsory grain deliveries that corrected, previously low, state prices.

Most economists would argue that China suffers because of its ambiguous property system — uncertainty prevents long term planning and investment. However, by equating commodification with free-hold, they ignore that the commodification of land can be done largely on a leasehold basis, as it was in London and New York. Within the Chinese context it is important not to equate the commodification of land merely with status as “private property.” Even as commentators denounce China as Communist in name only, domestically the term private property has still not lost its subversiveness. Therefore, in urban areas, land is often traded in “primary” and “secondary” land-markets, while also remaining state property. This essay will argue, for both land here, and labour in the next chapter, that although unconventional, the commodification which has occurred is subject to the same analysis Polanyi used in The Great Transformation.

The Double Movement does not occur in a vacuum, class interests play an active role in fermenting and directing the countermovement. By mediating the enclosure movement in early-modern England, the monarchy and the Church represented the interests of society and prevented it from massive social upheaval. The countermovement against commodifying land slowed the pace of change and allowed new measures to be developed to deal with the new problems which were part of this new social system. After the experiment of Communal life many peasants were keen to taste the new life offered to them by the HRS. Moreover, the CCP officials who oversaw the dissolution of the Communes, often themselves profited directly from this process. Both of these factors may help to explain the initial weakness of the Double Movement in China. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of the Chinese peasantry and the CCP for reform, has not prevented a catastrophic destruction of the Chinese environment.

The annihilation of the Chinese countryside is not a certainty; there are some embryonic examples of a countermovement. The Western Development Programme was an attempt to demonstrate the government’s commitment to national unity. It is not a simple or straightforward programme with a discernible single aim. Rather than just attempting to eliminate inequality, most of the programme aims at incorporating the underdeveloped Western China into an enlarged home market. However, this would ignore the element aimed at protecting the environment, the “Grain for Green” programme. In essence it asks farmers to refrain from using the land for profit, and instead to return it to natural forests and grasslands. This serves to protect the natural environment from over-exploitation and callous destruction.

However, projects such as the WDP do not alter the fact that the success of Chinese agriculture is threatened by the market. The institutions which had maintained the major works that allowed China to equitably feed the largest nation on Earth, have been dismantled in an effort to commoditise land. This has not been met by new coping mechanisms or new social projects. Polanyi argues that economies which are embedded will be more successful than those which are not. The HRS was the cause of a cumulatively huge one-off increase in the living standards of millions, but was followed by stagnation in living standard and declining grain yields. Grain yields declined because, precipitated by Deng’s call to diversify, many farmers turned to small-scale private business instead of farming. Moreover, most damaging for individual wealth of those Chinese tied to the land the HRS has put a halt to much mechanisation of Chinese agriculture – a centuries long Chinese ambition.

In 1997, it was suggested that China could take advantage of its backwardness, evade chemical pesticides and fertilisers, refuse to make extensive use of automobiles etc. and bypass the most destructive elements of development. One look at Shanghai shows you that this advice was not heeded and the Chinese people and natural environment have paid the price. The market as instituted in China is incapable of delivering the environmentally balanced development essential in China. Polanyi argued that only by mediating the change and embedding the economy, did the enclosure of England not result in social calamity.

The literature on the environmental damage of modern China abounds, but to be succinct we can restrict our discussion to idea of a “Green GDP” which has been considered by the CCP. A simple idea, the “Green GDP” subtracts the economic cost of environmental degradation, from the increase in a traditional calculation of GDP, more net domestic product than gross. Despite the fact that it “used low estimates of environmental damage to health and did not assess the impact on China’s ecology” the new growth calculations were so meagre that they were politically unusable. The CCP could not maintain its economic credibility with such poor growth figures. The commodification of land has caused huge damage; Vaclav Smil estimated that one seventh of China’s potential GDP in the late 90s was sucked up by environmental abuse. Despite, and perhaps because of, this widespread destruction, there have been some recent movements towards a rebalancing countermovement; such as the WDP described above.

I’ve tried to outline and analyse the problems that have confronted the commodification of the Chinese countryside. In light of; the “Green GDP,” the decline of public works, and the stagnation in peasant living standards since the mid 1980s, the foresight of Polanyi’s argument become clear. An embedded economy will be more efficient than a disembedded market. China is experiencing a continent-wide expropriation of social property, but without being coupled with a concerted effort to maintain the standard of the natural environment essential for the well-being of the Chinese people.

The market is systemically unable to deliver economic growth without doing environmental damage. It is possible to price these externalities, but just because it is possible does not mean it is happening. Pricing externalities requires complex institutional design and a class of people to make the case. The people most badly affected by the damage done to the environment are too weak politically to respond. That a pigou tax is possible but not in place strengthens Polanyi’s position that an economy works better when embedded. Wednesday’s post looks at labour and tells a similarly ugly story.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, Society, , , , , , , , ,

Karl Polanyi in Beijing: what the hell is an embedded economy?

The account of economics provided by Polanyi rests on two connected facts. Firstly, that people rely on their natural environment and each other for their satisfaction of needs. Secondly, that the economy requires institutions, that distribute skills and knowledge, and guarantee the worth of human beings as things other than commodities. Traditionally, the economy is discussed as an autonomous sphere of human activity, in which the social environment plays only a supporting role, and modelled at a high degree of abstraction such that a “pure market” becomes an unreachable platonic ideal. However, Polanyi believed that the economy can only be examined within social relations, and that markets are therefore only useful when embedded within those social relations; they are marvellous servants but terrible masters.

Within the Chinese context it is important to examine others who have expanded on Polanyi’s concept of an embedded economy, most notably Mark Granovetter, and Peter Evans. Granovetter’s work is instrumental in understanding the social ties which have been essential in insulating China’s business and migrant workers from the market. The role of the state in economic transformation is examined in Evans’ Industrial Transformation. As addressed Thursday’s post, while the Chinese state has been central in fostering economic growth, it has failed to create an economy which promotes equitable national development. Their contribution to understanding the thought of Karl Polanyi will be examined later in this chapter.

In an oft quoted introduction Polanyi stated that “the idea of a self-regulating market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society.” Utopian, because a self-regulating economy is an impossible fantasy which can never be realised. Annihilation, because Polanyi believed that equating the economy with the market represented a slight-of-hand which presents an impoverished conception of the economy. The economy is the setting for numerous social interactions, equating the economy with the market ignores its role in reproducing ethics and protecting society. If man’s economic role is reduced to an input in the market “human beings would die of the effects of social exposure.” Polanyi’s theory of history views the expansion of the state apparatus and the creation of markets as intimately entwined.

In all previous societies, Polanyi believed, the economic had been subsumed within the social. “Capitalism” was not a term Polanyi used frequently in any of his works; he preferred the term market society. I think Tim Worstall might approve of this split. Besides a desire to distance himself from Marx, he used the term to draw attention to the idiosyncratic nature of his theory. The term market society does not refer to private property, or the means of production. What was unique, and dangerous, about it, was that land, labour and money were treated as commodities. His definition of a commodity as “not merely as a good exchanged on markets but a good produced for sale on markets” is irreconcilable with land, labour, or money. Therefore, he describes labour, land and money as fictitious commodities, that is to say that “labour is only another name for a human activity that goes with life itself . land is only another name for nature, which is not produced by man, actual money, finally, is merely a token of purchasing power.”

Thus, the attempt to commodify these three fictitious commodities is doomed to failure. For Polanyi it would have meant the destruction of society, of man, and of the natural environment. ‘therefore, the tendency towards the creation of a self-regulating market is met by a protective countermovement. This is what Polanyi dubbed the Double Movement and cannot be examined as anathema to markets, instead being essential in mediating the rate of change and instituting the process in society. “If improvement demands too great a social dislocation, society disintegrates” as Lord Glasman has written. Polanyi examined the attempt to create a self-regulating market in nineteenth century society, and witnessed its collapse into the New Deal, Soviet Five-year plans and Fascism.

Class is also central to Polanyi’s analysis; each class participated in the self-protection of society and at some point stood for interests wider than its own. In Polanyi’s view of history laird was protected by the landed aristocracy and peasants. Labour, or man, and hence the whole of society, was protected by the working classes. Hence they worked to protect the whole of society. Although they were the originators of the market, the middle class itself even turned against the demands of the self-regulating market “in the final instance even capitalist business itself had to be sheltered from the unrestricted working of the market mechanism.” Traditionally capitalist development has been led by a middle class keen to win more freedoms, but in the 1980s that class was missing in China. Now, it appears that business, and businessmen, are content within the embedded business environment of contemporary China.

The countermovement, examined above as a protective movement, describes one way of interpreting the Double Movement. However, Fred Block offers another reading, and argues that Polanyi describes an “always embedded economy,” in which countervailing movements not only act as a protection against the commodity fictions, but also help shape the initial environment for the development of a market society. This creates an economy that is instituted by exchange but is also “embedded in law, politics and morality.” The creation of a labour market by the 1834 New Poor Law was met by Factory Acts, and an education system, to provide the needed skills; farmers were protected from rapid price fluctuations that might force them from the land; and to embed money there was the institution of central banking. The countermovement not only works to create an acceptable level of protection, but is also responsible for embedding the market institutions in practices acceptable to society. However, this does not represent an optimum level of protection, the natural environment may still be degraded, infants may go without secondary education and business, and the economy may perform less well than it could otherwise do.

However, workers in China, specifically those who make up the vast migrant workforce, lack even the level of protection described above. In the context of a reformed socialist economy, and one of such massive size and regional variation, some deviation from Polanyi’s original thought is essential. Mark Granovetter examines the importance of examining social ties when analysing economic relations. As a practice, guanxi (personal relationships or social connections) has spawned a mass of literature in China, and it would therefore be foolish to ignore the influence it has there, even if it falls outside the remit of what was described in The Great Transformation. Guanxi, as an idiom of social trust, appears to have grown out of Communist-era China, and is now essential for the conduct of business in China. This essay will argue that for both workers and businessmen, this represents, not a distortion of a natural market order, but an informal institution of embedding, and one that has arisen directly as a consequence of China’s growth.

Expanding upon Polanyi’s work Granovetter works to dispel the notion that economic activities occur within a vacuum. He attempts to overturn both the “undersocialised” and the “oversocialised” accounts of economic behaviour. He argues that people do not ignore the social relations they find themselves in. They can rarely be described as searching for the most efficient solution to the set of preferences, instead using previous formed social relations rather than form new efficiency maximising ones. However, neither do they find themselves so “overwhelmingly sensitive to the opinion of others… that obedience [to social norms] is not perceived as a burden”  in that, they do not rationally follow a predetermined set of preferences to achieve their aims. Rather, it is proposed, a constant toing and froing occurs, in which preferences are formed and changed. His “embeddedness hypothesis” bears heavily in this essay because of the odd nature of reform, and countermovement in China.

The Double Movement has been read as presenting a minimum level of protection. But, Polanyi’s work has also been drawn upon by other writers to explain and advise economic behaviour and policy. That is to say, the minimum level provided is not an optimum level for, individual welfare, environmental protection or economic development. Most useful for this is the work of Peter Evans on the state’s role in industrial transformation. The function of the state has traditionally involved making war and ensuring internal stability. Evans argues that modern states are also charged with guaranteeing minimum levels of welfare and fostering economic transformation. Evans uses Polanyi as a starting point in describing the role that states have played in shaping their economies, and creating markets.

Evans recommends an active role for the state in directing businesses towards sectors of the economy that produce “multi-dimensional conspiracies” in favour of development. In his study, by directing entrepreneurs towards the information technology industry, states, which in the 1950s had no prospect of developing in this lucrative field, achieved unforeseen successes. Imperative to these successes were the close ties between state and business communities, and the ability of states to remain autonomous; to not become rent seeking cartel builders. Evans reiterates Polanyi’s point that it is useless to talk of “how much” state intervention, it is more useful to discuss how, where, and why, a state intervenes.

Important is the ability to cultivate close ties between both; bureaucracy and domestic business, and between those same individual businesses. Evans examines the most successful “developmental” states — Japan, Taiwan and Korea — and discusses their bureaucracies and industrial policies. He also contrasts them with both Zaire, the archetypal “predatory state,” and with the “intermediate states” of India and Brazil. Zaire, rather than having too many bureaucrats, had too few; everything was for sale, even justice and influence. Rather than being embedded in law, politics and morality Zaire’s officialdom were free to maximise their individual gain through corruption and exploitation. Evans asserts that not only were the benefits of a “coherent meritocratic bureaucracy” confirmed, but links between state and society were shown to be essential as well. Both, with some qualifications, are present in China, but whether or not they can be effective in fostering further economic transformation, remains to be seen.

If we examine China’s history the tradition of bureaucratic examination extends back to the Song dynasty in the seventh century CE. This bureaucratic tradition is supplemented by the close state-society ties created by the system of guanxi described above. Contemporary trends may however, see the domestic economy increasingly dominated by foreign firms, with little domestic integration. The history of China’s development has cast a shadow over what is now occurring. Therefore, Thursday’s post will discuss the dual nature of China’s economy. Dual, because it is embedded within close ties of social relationships, while also displaying systemic weaknesses that stand in the way of domestic upgrading.

There are, of course, difficulties in using Polanyi’s work. It was developed within a specific historical situation, and it reflects its immediate surroundings; Bolshevism, Fascism, the New Deal and Total War. Polanyi presented class as the mechanism for social change; peasants and landed gentry sought to protect land, while the working class ultimately sought to protect the whole of society from the commodification of man. Thirty years of Marxist-Leninist party rule, state ownership of the means of production, and relentless Maoist mass movements, have weakened class relations in China, and this will inevitably alter how they react to the massive upheaval it is currently experiencing.

Sixty years of economic discussion on the limits of markets has passed since the publication of The Great Transformation. However, Polanyi’s work remains important his lessons have not been learnt. The pope would agree. I’ll leave you with that thought. tomorrow we’ll pick this up with a post on the natural environment of China since Deng’s reforms were introduced. For now I’ll leave you with a photo of Shanghai at the moment and a link to the official safety advice.

From Instagram user euro_spring

Smog in Shanghai from Instagram user euro_spring

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, Society, , , , , , , , ,

Karl Polanyi in Beijing: what is happening in China?

Mao’s China has been transformed – a market society has been created. This week I will be writing about the political and economic consequences of this event. Karl Polanyi dubbed a similar occurrence, that began in England over two centuries ago, The Great Transformation, and I will argue that no less a great transformation is taking place in China. The similarities between the two events are striking. Firstly, the processes of commodifying land and labour, which began two centuries ago in England are underway in China today. So too is the endemic environmental and personal degradation which occured throughout the first industrial revolution. Indeed the similarities continue, both China and nineteenth century earth have populations approaching one and a half billion.

Just thirty years on from the beginning of reform, an economy largely built on society principles has seen such a transformation that it now unarguably operates according to a capitalistic logic. However, this is not an occasion to celebrate. Polanyi argues that the attempt to commodify land, labour and money will only lead to social calamity. As will be be explain in tomorrow’s post, Polanyi insists that the trio of land, labour and money represent only fictitious commodities, because they are not created for sale. Representing the loci of weakness in a market economy they provided the structure for these posts.Tomorrow’s post will concentrate on land and environment the degradation which has resulted in its commodification. Wednesday we will talk about labour and the colossal upheavals as a market was forced upon China’s labour force. On Thursday we will discuss the productive organisation of China. It will examine the close ties between state and society. Friday I’ll try to tie it all together.

Contrary to the liberal fallacy that markets form naturally when humans interact Polanyi insists that “the road to the free market was opened and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous, centrally organised and controlled interventionism.” This is evident in China where state involvement has been central to the creation of markets in both labour and land. Polanyi argues that economic action is at all times embedded in social relations, thus to disembed it – to commodify land, labour and money – is tantamount to “annihilating the human and natural substance of society”. Therefore, to protect society the initial tendency towards the creation of the market is met by a countermovement; this countermovement is not antagonistic to the creation of markets, it is a necessary corollary. Polanyi not only argues that a countermovement is inevitable, but also that, when embedded, an economy will perform more efficiently. To illustrate this point we can examine the manner in which China entered the world economy at the beginnings of the 1980s. It did so not just with a cheap workforce, but with the best educated and healthiest workers in the world for any country of comparable GDP per capita. However, the imposition of the market has destroyed some of the institutions which created this competitive advantage.

As will be discussed, land and labour in China possess very little in the way of social protections, but constitute vital elements in one of the world’s most dynamic economies. This seemingly contradicts Polani’s assertion that embedded economies are more efficient, and will thus need to be addressed. The next post will unpick the theory of Karl Polanyi which will be applied throughout. Stay tuned, next post up at 10.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, Society, , , , , , , , ,

It is worth pouring an hour of your life into this Adam Curtis piece

While the old institutions that grew up over the past hundred years to protect us now find themselves unable to comprehend or cope with the new systems of power. Politicians, regulatory institutions, intelligence agencies, the mainstream press, the police, the BBC, the colleges of academia- all of them, as McClure said in 1903:

They do not understand

And cut off from the real power struggles – these old institutions are starting to prey on each other. Leaving us both confused and undefended.

One newspaper editor writing about the loss of the independence of the farmers a hundred years ago summed up the new system: 

“The farmers farm the land, and the businessmen farm the farmers.”

Maybe today we are being farmed by the new system of power. But we can’t see quite how it is happening – and we need a new journalism to explain what is really going on.

 

Filed under: Blogging, History, Politics, Society

Did a woman really have a cesarean forced on her by social services?

pregnant-woman-001-e1348432975957On Saturday Christopher Brooker published an article entitled ‘Operate on this mother so that we can take her baby’ in The Telegraph in which he describes how a woman was taken into care after a panic attack, had a cesarean forced on her and then had her child taken into care because she suffered from bipolar disorder. A number of people (Evan Harris, Unity, Adam Wagner, David Allen Green) have raised concern about how this has been reported and have cast doubt on the series of events described.

Earlier today the judgement issued on the case in question was made public. Below I’ll give as honest and brief a summary of the events described in the judgement as possible, although I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to read the whole thing (pdf) which is only about 3,500 words, but I’ll keep this under 1,000 so as many people read the basics as possible. The story that emerges is equally as heartbreaking but not quite as kafkaesque or squalid.

The ruling was issued in February this year but I understand it hasn’t been public until now because procedures were still underway and the family courts are notoriously secretive. At the time of the ruling the child, referred to as P, was under an interim care order and had been since birth. The court was concerned with working out what was best for the child. Under most circumstances that involves being with the parents, but, as we all know that was not the case here.

The mother, referred to as A, is an Italian national, her father, referred to as B who is a Senegalese national. It is unclear whether or not he has the documents necessary to live and work in Italy and because of this he is unable to take part in proceedings. He was given permission to intervene but seems unable to, probably because of his immigration status. The Local Authority brought this case to court because the child needs a steady home and it was judged this needed to be settled before the child was nine months old.

At the time of the cesarean no order to take the child into care had been ordered. The relevant health authority authorised delivering by cesarean because A was “profoundly unwell” and was suffering from “very intrusive paranoid delusions.” It is under these circumstances that the pregnancy was brought to term by cesarean. The story being discussed by the public that the cesarean was performed in order to put the child into care seems incorrect.

At the time of the hearing in February the mother was well, and the judge remarked upon how articulate and collected she seems, especially for someone for who English is not their first language. In the past, the judgement reports, she had not had always taken her medication and this has been responsible for her lapses. She received treatment in 2008 but has not been consistently well since then. She has two other children C and D who live with their grandmother. The judgement reports that they have probably done so since 2011 and that C in particular has been “upset”, “traumatised” and “terrorised” by her mother’s sad illness.

The mother returned to Italy in October 2012 but did not seem well. Indeed, the judge had hoped she would take a part in proceedings in the UK. She subsequently returned in a significantly improved state, had been taking her medication and seemed, by the description given to be a totally different person. On the 28th of February she had contact with her child A for the perhaps first time and it went very well. The mother claims that in a perverse way her child saved her. It is a really heartbreaking judgement throughout.

As the judgement lays out: “The central issue which I have to decide is self-evidently whether P can in a foreseeable and planned way be placed with her family or whether according to the Local Authority’s care plan the only realistic route, safe route, is that she can be placed for adoption.” The mother proposed that a year or so of foster care for P could allow her to prove she was really well and take the child back. But, it is standard practice that delay would be damaging to the welfare of the child. The damage to the parents’ welfare is justified because the child needs to be placed with a stable home soon and there is no-one within the wider family who today can look after the child.

Although original reporting suggested that the mother has been barred completely from seeing her child, the judge specifically says “I very much hope that the mother on whom I concentrate will be able to have an opportunity of meeting the adopters. It is important for P to know that her birth family, as I know they do, will continue to take a continuing interest in her.” I do not know what has happened since February to keep them apart.

This is, as far as I am able, true summary of the details of the case according to the judgement linked to above. The final paragraph of the judgement is, again,  heartbreaking and worth quoting in full:

If in later life P reads this judgment, as she may well do, I hope that she will appreciate that her mother in particular loved her and wished for her to return to live with her and to bring her up. It is not her fault, nor P’s that that was not possible and that a predictable home could only be secured by way of adoption. P should know that the mother very much wished to parent her and bring her up and I hope that that is some small comfort both to the mother and also to P.

Filed under: Politics, Society, , , , ,

Resisting quick fixes: banning HGVs won’t make cyclists safer

Former Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman has called on Boris Johnson to consider banning lorries from some of London’s roads during peak times.

Following the death of six cyclists on London’s roads in two weeks, Mr Boardman asked the mayor to honour a “promise” he made by looking at similar schemes in operation abroad.

He said: “The longer we delay, the more lives will be lost.”

Mr Johnson told BBC London 94.9 he was not convinced by the argument.

Nine of this year’s 14 cyclist fatalities and five of last year’s 14 deaths involved a heavy goods vehicle.

In Paris, where there are restrictions on lorries, there were no cyclist fatalities last year.

It’s the reference to Paris that gives it away. I know a lot of people might not realise this, but people cycle outside London. Indeed, there are people living full, fulfilled happy lives outside London (I’m told). Banning HGVs from London’s rush hour will prevent some deaths in London but it is a quick fix that would have only a small effect over the long run. I think Boris’s objections are entirely cynical but he might be on to something.

The whole country’s road infrastructure is inappropriate for cyclists. Junctions are designed to force cyclists into the most dangerous position possible, squeezed in next to the traffic waiting at the lights. Bike lanes double as parking spaces. A “solution” to bike deaths that only deals with deaths that occur at a small but significant number of junctions is one part of the country is no solution at all.

Having HGVs enter London after 10 involves them being on other streets during rush hour. Rush hour immediately follows prime delivery slots for HGVs. If the lorries aren’t in London they’ll be elsewhere. These lorries won’t sit idle, they’ll just bother cyclists elsewhere who are less used to HGVs and who lack the safety in numbers London’s cyclists enjoy. Banning HGVs in London might sound like a sensible policy but its a sticking plaster on a huge wound.

Banning HGVs  will give the illusion of safety and, probably, fewer people in London will die. But more people outside London will die and cyclists across the country will have to put up with worse infrastructure because the problem of (high visibility, cosmopolitan) cyclists being killed will have been fixed. It’s an excuse that will delay upgrades to infrastructure and will only move around the carnage like the squeezing of a balloon.

Filed under: Society, ,

How do you remember the 231 million people who died during the 20th century?

As the annual arguing over poppies season draws to a close I thought I’d discuss memory and remembering. Specifically, how do we remember the 231 million people who died throughout the 20th century?

Why call it remembering at all? None of the couple of generations of my family I’m aware of have died in wars. I’ve met people who have fought in wars and whose friends have died in wars. I can think about war, but Remembrance Sunday calls on us to remember the fallen.

On Remembrance Sunday I think about the Menin Gate and the trenches I visited as a teenager, I think about the limbless veterans I see on the television (and at who I glance fleeting if I see in real life), I try to picture the people who have died and why they died…and I fail utterly.

What does remembering mean? Memory is a funny thing. None more funny than when we’re trying to remember things that didn’t happen to us. Each time you remember something you’re really recalling the last time you remembered. The degradation of memories with repeated recall is inevitable.

The poppies In Flanders Fields were aide memoire to more mass murder when John McCrae remembered them. They’ve changed now so that for many their blood red colour recalls wasted blood. They’ll change again too. This is why remembrance isn’t really about remembering at all, it’s about creating new memories and new meanings. The old ones are gone and they must be replaced with something new. This is the real reason we argue so much over poppies. What remembrance means is up for grabs each year.

However, everyone is wrong when they think they can pin a memory down adequate for the enormity of the 20th century.

Because of this remembrance can coincide with trying to go to war with Syria and selling arms to Middle Eastern dictatorships. It’s the conceit of remembering and of comprehensive that I find most off putting about remembrance ceremonies. A few million people can remember and understand in very personal ways the people and the causes that took them away. But even they are unable to see the enormity of what humans did to one another through the 20th century.

Within that slaughter, the holocaust is the most awful of the awful things humanity did to itself in the 20th century. I visited the holocaust museum last week and I prefered the way they did things. They didn’t pretend that we could comprehend of adequately commemorate the holocaust. The industrial scale of the holocaust means that even remembering it you are alienated from its workings. 

The museum wants you to remember the Jews who died. It wants you to try to understand the holocaust. Just like remembrance services every November. The difference comes because the holocaust museum knows you will fail. There is no way one mind can take it all in and process the reality of industrialised mass murder and the scratching of nails on gas chamber walls. Small items were on display at the holocaust museum:

A small brush made by a jewish workshop, it’s owners transported to Treblinka and murdered.

A letter smuggled out of a camp, it’s writer having been transported to Auschwitz and murdered.

A locket of two lovers, its owner (and his lover) having been transported to Dachau and murdered.

A photo of a family at dinner who were transported to Sobibor and murdered. 

I’m not being asked to remember anything just being shown this grain and shown this other grain and then, like some horrible sorites paradox, being told to look up and seeing a mountain of suffering and murder and exile rising up and knowing I’ll never understand.

That’s what remembrance should be about. You should be humbled by the suffering you can contemplate and then look up and be humbled further by that which you cannot. 

Filed under: Society,

Free schools: the market as a discovery mechanism

 

Some things don’t need discovering:

  • This is a school which has been set up and run by representatives of the community with limited knowledge and experience. Leadership and management, including governance, are inadequate and have been unable to improve the school.
  • The school has not been adequately monitored or supported. Pupils’ achievement is inadequate because the staff’s expectations are too low and pupils do not make enough progress.
  • Teaching is inadequate. Many teachers are inexperienced and have not received the training and support they need.
  • etc.

So sayeth Ofsted about the Al-Madinah school. Unfortunately, because Gove was keen to have Free Schools up and running as soon as possible he’s let some rather unsavoury characters run full steam ahead.

Some of a libertarian bent have greeted this failure with fanfare. The market winnows out losers. No central planner can succeed. This is all part of the process of discovery.

Between me and you, I think this might be bullshit.

I’m all for discovery and failure. The Use of Knowledge in Society makes a lot of good points theoretically. Disney, Haskel and Heden make a solid empirical case for the importance of failure. But plur-leease. They don’t give you carte blanche to celebrate failure.

At Al-Madinah and Pimlico, obviously stupid ideas have failed and everyone involved is the worse for it. Having incompetent teachers is bad for pupils. Hiring a 27-year-old to be headteachers is a bad idea. These are not the market discovering something useful. This is idiots rediscovering things people of normal intelligence already knew.

Actually, blaming idiots is unfair. [1] Ideology blinded these people in utterly predictable ways. These are not evidence of the strengths of the Free School programme’s tolerance of experimentation. Nobody has done a double blind randomised trial to prove parachutes are effective. You’re a clever bunch, I’ll let you join the dots yourself.

Celebrating bad ideas failing is a bad idea. Celebrating good idea failing is great, we can chalk them off and move on. But generally, I wouldn’t recommend celebrating a bad idea succeeding either. Look at finance.

Investing in hedge funds, dot-coms and bank stocks has made a lot of fund managers very well off, but for the investors? Not so much. There’s an old joke about someone going to a marina and being shown all the hedge fund managers’ yachts and asking “where are the clients yachts?” Haha. How droll.

Anyway. If you were paying attention, the Nobel prize in economics was awarded a few days ago. It went to the guys who made the best empirical case that “you personally won’t beat the market, so don’t try any funny stuff.” It’s a pity it ended up being called the “efficient market hypothesis” because there’s a lot in the idea for the left. Those masters of the universe who justify their paycheques through their unique foresight and vision? Bullshitters.

Rather than all the financial jiggery-pokery, a diversified portfolio of stocks, fixed income and cash (regularly rebalanced) is a much better investment than almost anything else. [2] But the terrible idea that super-duper financial wizardry can make people loads of money persists. Bad ideas have legs. Don’t celebrate that.

So what do we see with free schools? Lots doing well and a few fucking up in entirely predictable ways. The market discovers, but there is some stuff we already know. Don’t segregate children, don’t hire people born in the 1980s to run schools, don’t trust hedge fund managers. A little oversight goes a long way. The market will discover your terrible idea is terrible over and over again, but we don’t need to. We’ve written some good ideas down.

_______

[1] Some of my best friends are idiots.

[2] Okay. Dan is probably right, I defer to his superior knowledge. There are some ways to beat the market. If you’ve the diligence, calmness and discipline and can follow some simple rules then you can succeed. But most won’t and therefore don’t and in that sense Matt is more correct and I can continue with the same beliefs I always had.

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Society

Mental Health is even more ridiculously important than you thought, explained in one sentence.

Even unemployment, poverty or the death of your spouse have smaller effects on life-satisfaction than mental health, despite this, even in rich countries under a third of people with diagnosable mental illness are in treatment. That comes from this paper, linked to by Chris on twitter.

This paper is a contribution to the second World Happiness Report. It makes five main points:

1. Mental health is the biggest single predictor of life-satisfaction. This is so in the UK, Germany and Australia even if mental health is included with a six-year lag. It explains more of the variance of life-satisfaction in the population of a country than physical health does, and much more than unemployment and income do. Income explains 1% of the variance of life-satisfaction or less.

2. Much the most common forms of mental illness are depression and anxiety disorders. Rigorously defined, these affect about 10% of all the world’s population – and prevalence is similar in rich and poor countries.

3. Depression and anxiety are more common during working age than in later life. They account for a high proportion of disability and impose major economic costs and financial losses to governments worldwide.

4. Yet even in rich countries, under a third of people with diagnosable mental illness are in treatment.

5. Cost-effective treatments exist, with recovery rates of 50% or more. In rich countries treatment is likely to have no net cost to the Exchequer due to savings on welfare benefits and lost taxes. But even in poor countries a reasonable level of coverage could be obtained at a cost of under $2 per head of population per year.

I’ve had to revise my priors because of this. I already thought mental health was big deal, having suffered with anxiety when I was younger, and various family members and friends and partners suffering, but I had no idea of the scale of it. Which sounds sadly naive written down like that.

There should be a lot more investment in mental health as it would be self financing. Instead people are finding it ever harder to pass the assessment process for the usual ATOS, DWP and Treasury related reasons. I’m going to have to look into this in more detail before I can write anything that’s interesting, useful and not derivative. (Yes, I do actually at least try to do all those things here).

So in addition to supporting Give Directly with a £30 monthly donation, I’ll be donating £10 to Mind, who are generally well regarded. You should support both these charities too.

Filed under: Blogging, Society, , ,

The horror of Help to Buy: Construction jobs down 277,000, Estate Agents up 77,000

Change in Employment since 2008 Construction and Estate Agents
As I said yesterday: yelp. Today, more subtly. This is bad news, and I think it shows how dangerous Osborne’s Buy Help to Buy scheme will be.

Here is the long term performance of Construction employment versus Real Estate Services employment in toto and relative to 2008 for ease of comparison.

Total employment in construction and estate agents

Difference in employment since relative to 2008 Construction Estate Agents

Builders per estate agent

Maybe, then, we should all calm down and have a nice cup of tea. Three things suggest we shouldn’t be worried.

1. We can see a relatively steady total number of those in construction with large cyclical swings and steady, relatively cyclically resilient growth in estate agents. In this sense yesterday’s revelation that construction has lost 277,000 jobs since 2008 while estate agents have gained 77,000 is unremarkable.

2. What can’t go on forever won’t. At this rate, by the end of the decade there will be as many people involved in selling and managing property as building them. This is not sustainable, so whatever you think of this trend, it will stop and probably soon.

3. We aren’t seeing a damaging sectoral shift. This isn’t just Baumol’s cost disease in action. Productivity in both sectors has been a bit meh. About 15% up since 1990, according to ONS figures (GVA/Jobs ConstructionReal Estate Services). So we aren’t moving from high productivity industries to low. The effect on headline growth should be minimal.

But you’re not here for the reasonable commentary are you? No, four things suggest we should panic be more concerned.

1. There’s no sign of the housing crisis abating. We can’t build enough houses with that many people. And in the past it has taken many years to reattain peak employment in construction. From the mid-90s to mid-00s this process took almost a decade.

2. There’s no sign of the employment crisis abating. Construction could absorb a third of the extra unemployed and still leave room for more to deal with the UK’s infrastructure and housing gap.

3. This isn’t Baumol’s cost disease, it’s worse. Construction creates structures we all use. estate agents, at least those involved in renting properties provide relatively more services and generate income to the wealthy. An increase in estate agents relative to Builders suggests a shift in economic activity away from serving the majority and towards the elite. And finally:

4. Employment predicts economic activity. Osborne’s Help to Buy is likely to goose the housing market in a way that damages the economy, but helps Tory voters. The stagnation of construction but the growth in estate agents signals that Help to Buy won’t get many homes built, but it will increase housing transactions, prices and the Buy to Let market.

 

Filed under: Blogging, Economics, Society

Full employment and power in the workplace

A university graduate says he was left humiliated after being asked to dance to a Daft Punk song during a job interview at an electronics superstore.

Alan Bacon, 21, thought working at Currys in Cardiff would be ideal given his love of cameras, and he spent a week preparing for the interview.

But instead of showcasing his skills, he ended up doing robotic-style dancing “like a scene out of [BBC TV comedy] The Office”.

Currys has since apologised.

You wouldn’t get this sort of shit with full employment.

Filed under: Society

If you don’t know much about war or international relations, how about some quiet time?

If Assad has killed hundreds in a chemical weapon attack and the world takes no action then we are truly f*****d. #Syria

— David Aaronovitch (@DAaronovitch) August 22, 2013

Aaro is clear that mass murder must prompt the west into something wholly counter productive.

We here at Wonket are not military strategists, but when a leader uses chemical weapons on his own people, maybe we can all put aside bullshit partisan differences and agree that we should use some of the elevently gazillion dollars we spend on our military to SHUT THAT SHIT THE FUCK DOWN. Probably in coalition with other countries, and in a responsible way, but maybe sooner rather than later. Perhaps a No Fly Zone to protect people from future chemical weapons attacks?

Likewise, the normally excellent Wonkette is talking absolute shit.

There is no line between ongoing mass murder and a new, special mass murder. A military intervention in Syria remains as awful idea this week as it did last week. The stakes are still really high. Drawing lines in the sand around means rather than ends is a terrible idea.

You can call me heartless because I support an unrealistic policy of peacefully evacuating people from Syria to here instead of a realistic policy of exporting bombs from here to Syria via B-52s, but I’m not sure I’ll care.

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Society

When NGDP is Depressed, Employment is Depressed

Subscribe to Left Outside

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 8,367 other followers

RSS Fistful of Euros

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS D Squared Digest

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Stumbling and Mumbling

RSS Blood and Treasure

RSS Britmouse

RSS IOZ

RSS Phil Dickens

RSS Paul Sagar

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Owen

RSS Norm Geras

RSS Steven Baxter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Jack of Kent

RSS Suggy’s Blog

RSS Adam Smith Institute

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Alex Massie

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS A Very British Dude

RSS Thomas Byrne

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Heresiarch’s Dungeon

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Paul Krugman

RSS David Beckworth

RSS Kantoos Economics

RSS Duncan Black

RSS Noahpinion

RSS Knowing and Making

RSS Ta-Nehisi Coates

RSS Will Wilkinson

  • Free Will Is Back
  • Are Conditional Transfers Paternalistic?

RSS Warren Mosler

RSS Acemoglu and Robinson

RSS Overcoming Bias

RSS Econbrowser

RSS Macroeconomic Advisors

Increase NGDP, Put These People Back to Work

Follow me on twitter

July 2014
M T W T F S S
« Mar    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Archives

Politics Blogs

Testimonials

Paul Sagar

Left Outside is always worth a read for passionate, and frequently irreverent, analysis and comment.

Sunny Hundal

Oi! Enough of the cheek!

Chris Dillow

Left Outside is, I think, entirely wrong

John Band

This might be the least well informed piece I’ve read on LC, which is quite an accolade.

DEC Appeal

License

Creative Commons License
Left Outside by Left Outside is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at leftoutside.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://wp.me/PvyGQ-gt.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,367 other followers