The Truth about the ‘Free-Market’

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Robert Reich, the American political economist, wrote this on his facebook page and it is too good not to share:

 

One of the most insidiously deceptive ideas is that the ‘free market’ is natural and inevitable, existing outside and beyond government — so whatever inequality or insecurity it generates is beyond our control.  By this view, if some people aren’t paid enough to live on, the market has determined they aren’t worth enough.  If others rake in billions, they must be worth it.  If millions of Americans remain unemployed or their paychecks are shrinking or they work two or three part-time jobs with no idea what they’ll earn next month or next week, that’s too bad; it’s just the outcome of the market.  According to this logic, government shouldn’t intrude on the free market — through minimum wages, high taxes on top earners, public spending to get people back to work, regulations on business, or anything else — because the “free market” knows best and government always messes things up.

In reality, the ‘free market’ is a bunch of rules about

(1) what can be owned and traded (the genome?  slaves?  nuclear materials?  babies?  votes?)

(2) on what terms (equal access to the internet?  the right to organize unions?  corporate monopolies?  the length of patent protection? )

(3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs?  unsafe foods?  deceptive Ponzi schemes?  uninsured derivatives?)

(4) what’s private and what’s public (police?  roads?  clean air and clean water?  healthcare?  good schools?  parks and playgrounds?)

and (5) how to pay for what (taxes,  user fees,  individual pricing?).

In other words, markets don’t exist in a state of nature; they’re human creations.  Governments don’t intrude on free markets; governments organize and maintain markets.  Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them.  The rules can be designed to maximize efficiency (given the current distribution of resources), or growth (depending on what we’re willing to sacrifice to obtain that growth), or fairness (depending on our ideas about a decent society).  They can even be designed to entrench and enhance the wealth of a few at the top, and keep almost everyone else comparatively poor and economically insecure.

If our democracy was working as it should, elected representatives, agency heads, and courts would be making the rules roughly according to what most of us want the rules to be.  Instead, the rules are being made mainly by those with the power and resources to buy the politicians, regulatory heads, and even the courts (and the lawyers who appear before them).  Not incidentally, these are the same people who want you and most others to believe in the fiction of an immutable “free market.”

Which is all to say:  If we want to reduce the savage inequalities and insecurities that are now undermining our economy and democracy, we have the right to do so.  But we must exert the power that is supposed to be ours.

Robert Reich is currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.  He is an American political economist, professor, author, and political commentator. He served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and was Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997.

I thought I was a shareholder in Britain but …

I thought I was a shareholder in Britain  

From Julijuxtaposed 

The funding, running and  maintaining of our essential services has become such a complete and utter farce that, like a growing number of people, I despair at and hold in contempt, those private companies and successive governments who are responsible. Energy, the Emergency Services, Health and Social Care, Education, Water, Transport, Law, Order and Justice – and now the Royal Mail: how dare they! How very, very dare they…

I would re-nationalise our essential services in a heartbeat. I don’t believe that the private sector should be offered public contracts which are of national common interest, import and necessity. And I’m tired of hearing that state ownership is bureaucratic and unwieldy. It doesn’t have to be and anyway, we, the people: we are the State! Or at least we’re bloody well supposed to be and it’s flamin’ well time we were. This point actually bothers me the most because I vote, pay taxes and pay the wages of politicians as my consent for them to act on my best behalf. We pay them to know – or find out – to negotiate, advocate and to oversee. We pay them to work for us and they increasingly don’t – or can’t. Which is worse?

Why can’t the taxpayers own the services? It’s much better than some detached profiteer owning us! Government just has to press the magic money button. Better to invest etheric capital on the preservation and renewal of national infrastructure than give it to the banks to squander. In fact, why can’t a public body borrow in its own right like the private sector? It’s being suggested that councils should be able to borrow for the purpose of investment in housing. Why should ‘speculate to accumulate’ belong only to the private sphere and so-called ‘capitalists’? What inhibits a public body from using the vehicles available to the private sector is government policy.

I don’t know how feasible it really is to re-nationalise in its previously understood sense; if it’s as possible as I would like it to be, given the tangled knot, but I do know it’s possible to redress the wrongs and reconfigure the balance of power in these relationships. And I sure as hell know that privatisation was never necessary in the first place and that to do it again to any other service would be grossly ignorant and negligent.

If we step away from the politicising and just focus on the why of our wanting public ownership, the how might stand an ethical and sustainable chance of becoming.

I want my country’s interests represented by and reflected through respect for the needs and wishes of the people who live in it. I want the taxable revenue to stay in the country; the profit to be reinvested in service and workers rather than boosting the CEO’s coffers. I want the State to work in my favour. I want the externalities such as the long-term costs of environmental and social impact to be properly factored into decisions. I want everyone to have the same high quality and ease of access to each service regardless of who they are or where they live. (Actually that’s a global aspiration, too…)

I want those services and resources upon which everyone depends for their common and basic needs to be in the control and interests of the people who use them. I don’t want some foreign-based and sometimes actual other sovereign interest owning such essential assets – owning us. I want the government to ensure, as far as is possible, that only those whose motives are the well-being, prosperity and sustainable sustenance of the land and people first should be allowed to invest in our country: to invest in us.

I don’t want some multi-national corporation owning and exploiting the heart out of our domestic and wider planetary resources. I don’t want profiteers exploiting the government – colluding with it even, to suck dry our country’s security, prosperity, or conscience. Selling us cheaply and selling us out: now that is cheap.

Slaughtering badgers in order to “offer the farmers a carrot”?

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On the day, that the Badger cull begins, Think Left re-posts ‘Tory Delusions and Badgers’ – first posted October 2012. 

Yet again, I find myself asking what on earth are the Tories playing at?

Of all the most misguided, counterproductive, self-destructive, repugnant and unnecessary decisions that this government could take, the badger cull has to be the most patently obvious.

However, the decision to allow a cull, with the prospect of destroying 30-50% of the nation’s badgers (130k), is typical of the policy decision-making of this government.

It flies in the face of copious peer-reviewed research; an EU report; Conservation and Wildlife groups; respected academics; overwhelming popular opinion; well-known personalities like David Attenborough, Chris Packham, Brian May; Animal right’s groups; hunt saboteurs; and opposition from the Labour Party and LD supporters.  This decision  successfully unites so many disparate groups in joint hostility to the government, at a point when the Tories are already trailing in the opinion polls.  

Furthermore, the evidence is irresistible. Vaccination of badgers, coupled with the sort of strict and effective controls on farming practice (which were in place 40 years ago) is the only feasible strategy to stopping the spread of Bovine TB (bTB), until an adequate cattle vaccination is developed.

Bovine TB is exactly what it says ‘on the tin’.  It is a cattle disease which unfortunately can also infect badgers, deer and other mammals … but for some reason, many farmers, landowners and the NFU, are irrationally convinced that a cattle disease will be magically controlled by simply shooting all the local badgers.

I could tell you all the badger statistics, such as the fact that 85% are not infected with bTB (and less than 2% are infectious) but these arguments are much better rehearsed in the video clip posted below.  And anyway, countering the bizarre claims of the ‘farming lobby’ about badgers, distracts from the more pertinent fact that:

“It is cattle, not badgers, that are the main transmitters of bovine TB so it is utterly outrageous for badgers to pay the price for farmers’ failure to abide by proper biosecurity measures”

Mark Jones, a vet and executive director of the Humane Society International UK (1)

No-one could deny that there is an imperative to stop the devastation and distress of bTB in a herd of cattle.  It is a truly horrible disease.  It is also financially significant for the UK Agri-Food Sector.  The trade of animals and products (dairy and meat) as a whole is annually worth around £1.06 billion to the economy.  However, it is clear that the rise in bTB is overwhelmingly accounted for by deficiencies in modern farming practice and animal husbandry (See addendum).

But to return to the original point, this decision to allow a badger cull is not just epidemiologically insane, it is also political madness. 

Activists opposing the cull offer various explanations for the decision, which range from the influence wielded at no.10 ‘kitchen suppers’ by party donors, to the need to offer the shooting and hunting lobby, something to kill.  Alarmingly, Professor John Bourne, chair of the ISG, says that a senior politician told him ‘Fine John, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers’.(3)

However, there is another rather concerning thought.  The public outrage and likely direct action against the cull, may distract the media away from something that the government wants to slip through unnoticed. There is little doubt, that it was just this sort of distraction tactic, that lay behind the proposal to sell off the forest which was announced just as the Health and Social Care bill took its first steps through the Commons.

But there is another factor which is well illustrated by the decision to go ahead with the badger cull.  A bigger picture which may underpin much else of Tory thinking and policies.

“Have you considered how those on the political Right are so often the prisoners of their own emotions, particularly their own fears and negativities … or their own greed and desire to rule?”

Phil C

Think Left’s late friend, Phil C, consistently pointed out how the Tories had created policy to implement their emotional knee-jerk reactions, which they then justified retrospectively… hence the frequency of spurious explanations.

This is very reminiscent of a personality characteristic known as ‘intolerance of ambiguity’…. and of the research evidence that associates ‘intolerance of ambiguity’ with authoritarianism and with the politics of the right.

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1126252?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21101210105181

The avoidance of uncertainty, as well as the striving for certainty, has been shown to be associated with a key dimension of conservative thought.  That is a resistance to change or of a hanging on to the status quo.  Furthermore, another key dimension of conservatism, endorsement of inequality, is similarly linked to concerns with fear and threat. 

‘Conservatives don’t feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions…. “They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white in ways that would make liberals squirm” (2)

[Assistant Professor Jack Glaser of the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy] 

Perhaps, the most pointed example of this type of thinking was when President George W. Bush was asked to explain himself.   The Republican president told assembled world leaders, “I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right.”

And ‘I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right’ seems to just about sum up the farmers and tory government ministers’ rationale for this mass slaughter of overwhelmingly healthy badgers.

This is truly conviction politics .. an unshakeable faith despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Others would call it delusional.

A petition on the government’s website opposing the badger cull now has 146,000 signatures and several MPs have told the Guardian they are confident they will win a debate in parliament on the issue.

Stop The Cull

Hat-tip Richard Bowyer

Published on Sep 10, 2012 by 

Find out more at http://www.justdosomething.org.uk/

Addendum:

An official European Commission inspection uncovered a catalogue of failures in how England’s farmers prevent their cattle spreading TB between herds.  Not the least of which are failures associated with the profitable practice of moving cattle around the UK and abroad (which was the prime factor in the Foot and Mouth outbreak which also resulted in another unnecessary mass slaughter of millions of animals because of opposition to vaccination).

The EC report stated: “Local authority surveys provided evidence that some cattle farmers may have been illegally swapping cattle ear tags, ie retaining TB-positive animals in their herds and sending less productive animals to slaughter in their place.” There are 8.5 million cattle in Great Britain on 81,000 holdings, with 2.4m movements a year. In 2011, about 7% of herds were under restriction due to TB and 26,000 cattle were destroyed.” (1)

I was also interested to read that a concurrent infection with Sheep liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica) can yield a false bTB negative in cattle, which would mean that cattle-cattle transmission could be unknowingly masked.

But it is not just a question of some farmers failing to follow the biosecurity protocols.  There are also some very fundamental bigger questions about how we treat farm animals. For example, why are we permitting cattle, and other livestock, to be moved so frequently?  Additionally, the industrial scale proposals for high density mega-herds, such as are common in the US, automatically increase the risks not only of bTB transmission but also adds to the risk of novel viruses evolving capable of causing fatal pandemics in the human population.

(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/04/farming-shortcomings-badger-cull-bovine-tb

(2)  http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/07/22_politics.shtml

(3)  http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/vital-cull-or-heartless-slaughter-the-great-badger-debate-8202970.html 

http://www.badgertrust.org.uk/_Attachments/Resources/534_S4.pdf

Moving On

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Moving On

Ideological labelling is a two-edged sword. It is both convenient shorthand, for the purpose of making a generalised point and a poisonous straitjacket, wielded as a weapon of insult. Well I’m tired of such labels being bandied about to no helpful effect. Far from facilitating progress, they just distract from the essential arguments and solutions which invariably require a balanced outcome. And anyway, that thing called ‘socialism’ that I would call ‘humanitarian’ doesn’t exclude me from appreciating the finer purposes of capitalism. But then, I’m a complex Human Being and I see and feel little in black and white.

Such polarised thinking is confining, isolating if you will and is better reserved for absolutes. As it ‘takes all sorts to make a world’ and, if we believe in freedom, individual empowerment, collective good, national interest, global solidarity – why then, policies need to embody these abstractions and make manifest their humanitarian meanings.

Our Dear Leaders, governmental, corporate and institutional, are tinkering around the edges of everything because they want to maintain control and to this end they practise more than enough chaos to ensure they do. We still have decent domestic and global frameworks but they are run by hyenas and amoebae. Conflicted between their own self-preservation and collusion with their domestic and global counterparts, they fight for their theoretical survival by toughening up the status quo. This is not progress. This is a frog-march towards entropy.

Where we are, where we have been and where we are currently going – this is not a viable construct. It never really was because – well, look at the state of things! It took lifetimes of ‘progress’ to get into this state and it will probably take one or two more to counter the damage inflicted. It surely won’t be fixed this decade. Nevertheless, this is a moment of huge opportunity which is being obscenely wasted while The Powers That Be take full advantage of theirs. Progress is always defined in terms of growth, expansion and profit: more, more, more. Of course these are not bad things in themselves but they are also not the be-all and end-all of a thriving Society. In fact they have got us all running to stand still. I look at my country and I look out at the world and I think: concentrate on achieving self-sufficiency and sustainability and build up from there – because, dear Reader, right now, I would call that ‘Progress’. I don’t much care for the ‘buts’ of old ideology or stale economic thinking. I care about principle-in-practice. If there’s a Will, there’s a Way, right? Well I believe the People have the will and that ways can be found. So this is also our opportunity.

Will it take a revolution? Probably, though it needs to be one of united consciousness to be successful. Will it happen? Not if the despots get their way and we have a big fat war, the after-effect of which would be seen as setting a restore time rather than rebooting.  Once the war was over, the world would just be reset by the same people in order to begin the whole cycle all over again. We’d be right back here within a decade. But ‘they’ lack imagination so desperately that they can’t see past their love for broken window economics, so the signs do rather point that way. [I half expect within the next twelve months to hear David Cameron declare a State of Emergency followed by an announcement that elections are postponed until further notice.] So, there’s that narrow window I mentioned in a previous post. Revolt now in united consciousness and seize control before we lose the opportunity, or trust that those who currently can will alter the flight path.

I believe in identifying the ideal and taking all practical and ethical steps towards achieving it. Yes, I’m an idealist at heart, but I’m also quite pragmatic. I’m not some naive romantic or impractical utopian. I figure that if I don’t get there, I am at least travelling in the right direction. To me, that’s what’s missing in national and global debate. Instead all we get is the feudal, has-been ideology from the usual withered ranks of political discourse. I don’t care so much what it’s called; I care about whether it actually works. We need to be looking at and talking about what it takes for a country to be self-sufficient and how we ensure that Life’s essentials are globally sustainable and accessible to ALL.

This must put philosophical conversations about values and expectations above those of economics – at least temporarily – and dialogue must rise sufficiently high above the existing level of crap. Once we have established our collective priorities we will know what we want our revenue to be spent on and the politicians will be in no doubt as to their function: that of representative management rather than managing representation… unless of course, we decide to do away with politicians altogether. And along the way, here at home we could establish that so-longed-for written Constitution to enshrine our high but common values. This would, in turn inform the basis of our economy. Bottom-up reorganisation. Will and Way. Whose will and whose way will it be?

This will take deep thought, much heated debate, openness and a great deal of patience but we shouldn’t be afraid of stimulating, radical and creative ideas. Imagination is currently all geared towards paranoia, albeit largely justified. Our Dear Leaders can’t see further than their own professional mortality and they will not jeopardise this for the sake of our brighter future because it doesn’t countenance their traditional vehicles of power. Our ideal world isn’t run on the fuels of war, exploitation, profiteering or terrorism, is it? No, our ideal fuels for Life are our precious natural resources, naturally grown food, fresh water, shelter, peace of mind, a stimulating education, an empathic community and respect for all Life: human, animal, vegetable, mineral (and digital?!).

The Vested Interests should be investing in us, the planetary populace. They should be working to achieve lives worth living, not just for their own but for every being on the Earth. It takes courage to let go and raze the dross; it takes respect, integrity, vision, wisdom to build ethical structures. Isn’t that what we want? What is left to carry humanity through is Hope, Despair’s antidote: a grounded, tangible hope, which breeds optimism, aspiration, cooperation, endurance, focus, effort, strength. The Dear Ones can’t or won’t promote this chink of light but the energy of a Just revolution just might.

Tory Delusions and Badgers

Quote

Yet again, I find myself asking what on earth are the Tories playing at?

Of all the most misguided, counterproductive, self-destructive, repugnant and unnecessary decisions that this government could take, the badger cull has to be the most patently obvious.

However, the decision to allow a cull, with the prospect of destroying 30-50% of the nation’s badgers (130k), is typical of the policy decision-making of this government.

It flies in the face of copious peer-reviewed research; an EU report; Conservation and Wildlife groups; respected academics; overwhelming popular opinion; well-known personalities like David Attenborough, Chris Packham, Brian May; Animal right’s groups; hunt saboteurs; and opposition from the Labour Party and LD supporters.  This decision  successfully unites so many disparate groups in joint hostility to the government, at a point when the Tories are already trailing in the opinion polls.  

Furthermore, the evidence is irresistible. Vaccination of badgers, coupled with the sort of strict and effective controls on farming practice (which were in place 40 years ago) is the only feasible strategy to stopping the spread of Bovine TB (bTB), until an adequate cattle vaccination is developed.

Bovine TB is exactly what it says ‘on the tin’.  It is a cattle disease which unfortunately can also infect badgers, deer and other mammals … but for some reason, many farmers, landowners and the NFU, are irrationally convinced that a cattle disease will be magically controlled by simply shooting all the local badgers.

I could tell you all the badger statistics, such as the fact that 85% are not infected with bTB (and less than 2% are infectious) but these arguments are much better rehearsed in the video clip posted below.  And anyway, countering the bizarre claims of the ‘farming lobby’ about badgers, distracts from the more pertinent fact that:

“It is cattle, not badgers, that are the main transmitters of bovine TB so it is utterly outrageous for badgers to pay the price for farmers’ failure to abide by proper biosecurity measures”

Mark Jones, a vet and executive director of the Humane Society International UK (1)

No-one could deny that there is an imperative to stop the devastation and distress of bTB in a herd of cattle.  It is a truly horrible disease.  It is also financially significant for the UK Agri-Food Sector.  The trade of animals and products (dairy and meat) as a whole is annually worth around £1.06 billion to the economy.  However, it is clear that the rise in bTB is overwhelmingly accounted for by deficiencies in modern farming practice and animal husbandry (See addendum).

But to return to the original point, this decision to allow a badger cull is not just epidemiologically insane, it is also political madness. 

Activists opposing the cull offer various explanations for the decision, which range from the influence wielded at no.10 ‘kitchen suppers’ by party donors, to the need to offer the shooting and hunting lobby, something to kill.  Alarmingly, Professor John Bourne, chair of the ISG, says that a senior politician told him ‘Fine John, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers’.(3)

However, there is another rather concerning thought.  The public outrage and likely direct action against the cull, may distract the media away from something that the government wants to slip through unnoticed. There is little doubt, that it was just this sort of distraction tactic, that lay behind the proposal to sell off the forest which was announced just as the Health and Social Care bill took its first steps through the Commons.

But there is another factor which is well illustrated by the decision to go ahead with the badger cull.  A bigger picture which may underpin much else of Tory thinking and policies.

“Have you considered how those on the political Right are so often the prisoners of their own emotions, particularly their own fears and negativities … or their own greed and desire to rule?”

Phil C

Think Left’s late friend, Phil C, consistently pointed out how the Tories had created policy to implement their emotional knee-jerk reactions, which they then justified retrospectively… hence the frequency of spurious explanations.

This is very reminiscent of a personality characteristic known as ‘intolerance of ambiguity’…. and of the research evidence that associates ‘intolerance of ambiguity’ with authoritarianism and with the politics of the right.

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1126252?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21101210105181

The avoidance of uncertainty, as well as the striving for certainty, has been shown to be associated with a key dimension of conservative thought.  That is a resistance to change or of a hanging on to the status quo.  Furthermore, another key dimension of conservatism, endorsement of inequality, is similarly linked to concerns with fear and threat.

‘Conservatives don’t feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions…. “They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white in ways that would make liberals squirm” (2)

[Assistant Professor Jack Glaser of the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy]

Perhaps, the most pointed example of this type of thinking was when President George W. Bush was asked to explain himself.   The Republican president told assembled world leaders, “I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right.”

And ‘I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right’ seems to just about sum up the farmers and tory government ministers’ rationale for this mass slaughter of overwhelmingly healthy badgers.

This is truly conviction politics .. an unshakeable faith despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Others would call it delusional.

A petition on the government’s website opposing the badger cull now has 146,000 signatures and several MPs have told the Guardian they are confident they will win a debate in parliament on the issue.

Stop The Cull

Hat-tip Richard Bowyer

Published on Sep 10, 2012 by 

Find out more at http://www.justdosomething.org.uk/

Addendum:

An official European Commission inspection uncovered a catalogue of failures in how England’s farmers prevent their cattle spreading TB between herds.  Not the least of which are failures associated with the profitable practice of moving cattle around the UK and abroad (which was the prime factor in the Foot and Mouth outbreak which also resulted in another unnecessary mass slaughter of millions of animals because of opposition to vaccination).

The EC report stated: “Local authority surveys provided evidence that some cattle farmers may have been illegally swapping cattle ear tags, ie retaining TB-positive animals in their herds and sending less productive animals to slaughter in their place.” There are 8.5 million cattle in Great Britain on 81,000 holdings, with 2.4m movements a year. In 2011, about 7% of herds were under restriction due to TB and 26,000 cattle were destroyed.” (1)

I was also interested to read that a concurrent infection with Sheep liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica) can yield a false bTB negative in cattle, which would mean that cattle-cattle transmission could be unknowingly masked.

But it is not just a question of some farmers failing to follow the biosecurity protocols.  There are also some very fundamental bigger questions about how we treat farm animals. For example, why are we permitting cattle, and other livestock, to be moved so frequently?  Additionally, the industrial scale proposals for high density mega-herds, such as are common in the US, automatically increase the risks not only of bTB transmission but also adds to the risk of novel viruses evolving capable of causing fatal pandemics in the human population.

(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/04/farming-shortcomings-badger-cull-bovine-tb

(2)  http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/07/22_politics.shtml

(3)  http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/vital-cull-or-heartless-slaughter-the-great-badger-debate-8202970.html 

http://www.badgertrust.org.uk/_Attachments/Resources/534_S4.pdf