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Posts Tagged: Rant

Ranting about occupations

Tuesday 25th October 2011

If you’ve seen the news recently, no doubt you’ve heard about the various “occupations” which are occurring in various places. It’s all spread from “Occupy Wall Street” in the States, and in the UK we have our own version in “Occupy LSX”, who are currently occupying that well-known fortress of capitalism, er, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Hmm, oh well.

As far as I’m aware, one of the main messages that they’re trying to get across is the idea of the “99 percent”; or the idea that 99% of people are struggling in the current economic climate whilst 1% are prospering, and that the 99% are angry. It’s a simple idea. Okay, for all sorts of reasons it’s also a little bit inaccurate, but the general thrust is good enough. Because fundamentally, the protesters are probably right to say that most people should be pretty pissed off at the state of our economy. But the protesters are angry at banks and stock markets (wtf?) and capitalism in general. This seems to me to be a little bit confused. Do they really want to dismantle capitalism?


A protest, last week.

Capitalism is generally taken to mean things like the right to private property and to free trade. And are the Occupiers honestly against those things? Well, if I went down to the  occupation camp and tried to pinch their big anti-capitalism sign, one of their tents, or the iPhones they use to post updates to Twitter (yes, the poor 99% who can afford some of the most expensive consumer electronics in the world), I think they’d be rather keen to uphold their right to private property. And are they against free trade? Well, by choosing how to use their labour, arguably they are exercising precisely that right. Because a part of free trade is the right to freely trade your own labour; and in this case, the occupiers have exercised that right by choosing to use their labour to protest the state of the economy (and so one can argue that implicit in their protest is the idea that they’re protesting against their right to hold that protest. Consistency FTW!). If the government (or anyone else) tried to remove that right – by arresting the occupiers, for instance – then I’m confident that they’d be pretty upset.

So to be angry at capitalism is, I think, a mistake. At least, it’s a mistake to be angry at properly-implemented capitalism. OccupyLSX shouldn’t necessarily direct their anger at the banks or stockbrokers (unless they own shares in a bank which has lost value, in which case, feel free). They should be angry at governments, for oh so many things. For allowing themselves to be open to lobbying, and bowing to the influence of vested interests. For meddling too much in the economy, trying to maintain the housing bubble which lead to this crisis. For the arrogance of the Euro project and repeating the mistakes of the past. For spending too much in the boom years, ramping up debts which we now need to repay. For breaking one of the golden rules of capitalism – that bad businesses must fail – by bailing out the banks which behaved so irresponsibly prior to the downturn.

The problem isn’t capitalism; at least, not capitalism in it’s proper form. The crisis is not the failure of economic liberalism, and the answer is not something like a laughably-impractical “Resource-Based Economy“. Actually, we want our government to be more liberal; to spend less, to leave more money in the pockets of the populace, and to not interfere in matters best left to the market. Because when you trace it back, a good chunk of our problems stem from bad government interventions, or the “crony capitalism” we see at present.

Of course, this would involve politicians deciding to make themselves less powerful. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the type of person most likely to want to be a politician, is not the type who is likely to take power away from themselves once they’ve gained it. So we’re probably screwed.

Photo by flickr user wheelzwheeler, licensed under Creative Commons.

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The iron must have been hot yesterday…

Friday 1st July 2011

…because there was a lot of striking going on. That, or people are massively, horrendously selfish and blinkered.

I wanted to post this yesterday, but I’ve been working away oop north where my only connection to the internet has been flaky 3G reception on my iPhone. Which basically meant that I couldn’t be bothered to write a blog post.

Anyway, read this post from another blog, which gives a taste of what public and private sector pensions are like. An idea of the massive difference between the two.

The crux of the matter is that public sector pensions are massively generous compared to those offered to the private sector. It’s worth remembering that private sector employees contribute more in tax revenue than public sector ones (there’s more of ’em), and that tax subsidises the public sector pensions.

So what the strikers want is for private sector employees (who have worse pensions) to pay more in tax during their working lifetime, so that public sector employees can continue to enjoy more money in retirement than those in the private sector can expect to get. The strikers want other people to pay for them to have a cushy retirement.

It’s not as if the government’s proposals are stingy; as I understand it they’re still way better than what the the majority of people in the private sector receive. So those striking would still get a comparatively brilliant pension, just not as amazingly good as before.  They’re already in a position of privilege, but they still want more.

If anyone wishes to try to justify this, good luck. Personally, I cannot see how there can be any possible justification, because it’s just naked, unadulterated self-interest, with scant regard for equity. I think it’s disgusting and contemptible.

If you need a measure of how unjustified the strikes were, look how eager the Labour leader has been to distance himself from them. He essentially won the position because of the support of the big unions, and here he is condemning their actions. That tells you something (and as a sidenote it’s disappointing that the broken record act overshadowed what he said, because for once he is right. The first glimpse of the opposition doing its job half decently; we should celebrate!)

What amuses me is that most of the people who support this, are also likely to be those who denounce the activities of greedy bankers. But it’s hugely contradictory to support this behaviour from the public sector whilst ragging on bankers. Hell, at least bankers try to make it look like they deserve it, and don’t (usually) force it from other people.

Apologies if this post isn’t as eloquent as it perhaps could be. To be honest this sort of thing makes me properly angry, so it’s all I can do not to fill the screen with a string of expletives.

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China and Stuff

Monday 31st January 2011

I watched this TED talk the other day (which is always a great way of killing some time), and thought it was really quite fascinating:

I don’t think it’s a completely bad thing that things like this are happening. China was poor, it’s getting richer. This is good. If that happens, it’s also sort of predictable that China will grow big, considering the population.

The thing is, we need to be aware this is happening. I think there’s a sort of implicit complacency in the Western world. We assume we’ll be at the cutting edge, that we’ll always hold all the power; we’re the most advanced now, so we must always be the most advanced nations in the world. But that’s not true. In many ways, it sort of feels to me that we’re already starting to almost stagnate in many ways. Things like the green movement are really dangerous for this. Because that movement is all about trying to reverse development, to eschew technology to take us back to a supposedly “sustainable” way of living – these are the real conservatives. Except the only way to truly be sustainable is to embrace that technology.

Look at where most of the big engineering projects happen now: the middle and far east. They seem to have the same zeal for those projects as we had back in the Victorian era. It’s great. And where are we now? Protesting against High-Speed Rail, because it’ll go through a field a mile away from my house and it’ll spoil my enjoyment of the 6 o’clock news. We’re campaigning* against things like the Severn Barrage – successfully, as it turns out – because yes we need the electricity and of course it’d be great for flood control, but it might endanger the habitat of this group of birds which don’t actually live anywhere near the proposed site. And on the subject of protests; in Egypt, they’re protesting to overthrow the government, for free elections. This weekend in the UK, (mostly stupid) people were protesting to get companies like Vodafone to volunteer to pay more tax – and I do wonder how many of the protesters do likewise. It’s mad!

Anyway. I sort of got off-topic and started ranting. Do watch the video, it’s interesting.

* From the site – “The expert charged with silt modelling and tidal impacts, has his post sponsored by Halcrow. How could his evidence ever be independent?” – that expert taught me fluid mechanics, and was my undergraduate personal tutor. I find it stupid that whoever wrote the site accuses him of bias.

Posted In: EngineeringPoliticsRant Tagged: | 10 Comments