I’m in a right Huff

I got invited to write for the Huffington Post today.

I really did. A nice man from Huff had seen my tweets, read some of my blog, and wrote a very kind email to me suggesting that I’d make a good contributor.

Of course it appealed to my ego, which is as susceptible to flattery as yours is. About 2 years ago somebody in the USA read my early blogs about cancer, found them funny, and asked me if I’d be willing to give up my job and move to the USA to write for the little show she was involved in: the Daily Show. I almost did it, except I then researched how long people typically last writing for the Daily Show (about 6 weeks), and decided it was better for me if I locked my ego back in its box, and stayed here doing boring website work and earning a pittance.

But this would be different: I’d be able to work from my home, writing articles and expressing opinions. What a way to make a living.

And then I asked about the remuneration. None. Absolutely none. And so, instead of contributing an article, I decided to contribute a letter explaining why this business model is an utter disgrace. I suggested Huff could publish the letter. I doubt they will, but I’ll be delighted if they do: not because it appeals to my ego, but because it would give me hope that the class of people who own the world and control all the assets may finally begin to see the error of their ways.

Here’s the letter I wrote:

Hi Seamus,

Thanks for the offer.

I own a business, and although many people listening to my political opinions might describe me as a socialist, just as many who watch me chasing new work would describe me as a capitalist.

I suspect, like many realists, I’m a mixture of both; the key failing of current economic systems across the globe is the failure to recognise the benefits and failings of both systems. The purity of market capitalism is what has brought us to the current state, and only a re-balancing via a more social-democratic approach can ultimately resolve the crisis in capitalism. Everything else is a race to the bottom that, following the logic of neo-liberal capitalism, results in one person owning everything, and the rest of us fighting for scraps from the table. And losing.

The problems of capitalism are exacerbated by the current trend to run a rentier economy: the capture and control of assets, and imposition of rents to access those assets. The controllers of assets don’t need to develop them or invest in them: they simply need to possess them, and the money will come pouring in.

A prime example of this is the ownership of land. The wealthiest families in the UK are those of the Earl of Cadogan and the Duke of Westminster, both of which inherited ownership of prime London real estate. They have done nothing to develop that real estate, nothing to earn it, and their ownership benefits absolutely nobody except for themselves. In fact, their total control pushes housing costs so high that the entire nation has become indebted to pay excessive mortgage costs, simply to protect their ownership of land that is, in national and global terms, economically dormant.

They are a parasite, and their deep pockets and lavish support for political parties has ensured our socio-economic system has become warped to support their parasitic greed. No party will suggest the rational solutions: if hard work makes us rich, let’s tax inheritance at 85%, so the children of rich men have to work hard too. But no: that would never do. What we must do instead is ensure rich men hand down ever-more riches to their ever-lazier children, in a total inversion of the key argument of capitalism. In this regard, pure socialism produces better capitalism than Milton Friedman ever could.

The rentier outlook is reaching every corner of the economy. “Buy-to-let” is a prime example: the utterly destructive policy of attempting to make anybody with a retirement plan into a landowner. It inevitably robs banks of their assets, and renders them incapable of lending for innovation or growth. Instead, the wealth of pension plans turns into small-minded, economically null property ownership and rack-rents. It bleeds the economy, making those with few assets unable to make any investments in their (or the country’s) future: instead they pour their money into rents, purely to prop up those who control the assets. Many – perhaps even the majority – of the population now work for no personal benefit: they simply support those who own the assets.

In 2007 the sky darkened with the wings of chickens coming home to roost. The global economy had become an inverted pyramid, those with few assets working harder and harder to prop up those with huge assets. It was inevitable it would fall over, and only massive social lending – yes, more money being taken from the poor to prop up the rich – prevented total collapse… for a while.

Little has changed since then, and when – inevitably – the next crash happens, it will be even larger, even more destructive. And societies will not be able to afford to bail out banks and corporations for a second time. It will be the crash to end all crashes, and change will be forced upon us all in a uncontrollable, furious way. Leaders who argue for a bail-out will be defenestrated (certainly metaphorically, and probably literally) by a raging mass of people who finally recognise that they’ve been feeding a monster since the neo-con revolution of Thatcher and Reagan.

I’m sorry to say that the “unpaid contributor” model of the Huffington Post is part of the problem. While I admire Arianna Huffington, and recognise that old business models cannot last forever, I simply can’t allow myself to participate in actions which are identical to the dangerous rentier economy I criticise above. Arianna Huffington is reported to be worth over $50 million, yet refuses to pay for the content which makes her rich. She controls the asset. I work for no reason except to support her. And in doing so, I undermine legitimate newspapers who are foolish enough to pay their staff, therefore being uncompetitive, simply because they want to ensure people can eat.

Arianna Huffington may profess her liberal credentials, but the business she operates is undermining the social fabric by expecting people to work for nothing at all. You stroked my ego by inviting me to write for the Huff. Then you asked me to pitch a story, give my time, my effort, my skills and knowhow for free, simply so you can sell more ad revenue and enrich your owners. It’s the very apogee of rentier economics. I can’t be involved.

You stroked my ego. I won’t deny I briefly glowed. But although I was initially flattered to be asked to write a contribution, I refuse to do so. Unless, of course, you take the courageous step of publishing this email. It will be posted on my personal blog, but, as with your kind offer, I shall also offer you the right to reuse the post elsewhere. Bonne chance!

And now I will return to my job, where I pay my employees for the contribution they make, in the hope that they have enough money to participate in society. I may never be as rich as Arianna Huffington, but I sleep very soundly.

Best wishes


Horse sense

This week Channel 4 showed a terrific documentary about Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who hurled herself under the king’s horse 100 years ago.

Wilding was an educated woman, a teacher, but had been driven by the hopelessness of her situation to take terrible risks. She joined the suffrage movement, and used peaceful protest to gain a voice; but the power of the state pushed back hard against the suffrage movement with intimidation, propaganda, violence, and a tsunami of negative media coverage.

Peaceful protest achieved nothing, but the suffragettes knew they had right on their side, and raised the game: they chained themselves to railings in protest, but before being cut free the police beat and sexually assaulted the women. The suffragettes went on hunger strike, and were so brutally force-fed by security officials that many of them suffered digestive and psychological problems for their entire lives.

And eventually they reached the conclusion that you can’t make a moral appeal to those with power, because those with power don’t have morals. So they decided to hit the elite where it hurt: in their pockets. If material things were all that the elite cared for, the suffragettes would strike there. They started a campaign of destruction, and in one year committed arson to the value of £40 million.

Even then the elite gave no ground. In fact, the thing that actually got the vote for women was the First World War, when women had to work in factories and farms to replace the men who died. Women got the vote by gaining economic relevance. Moral pressure built before the war, and the war created an economic imperative. That’s what led us to today, when under the law there is equality for all citizens, regardless gender, race or sexuality.

Or is there?

On the face of it there’s no group we can point to and say “they’re oppressed” in quite the same way. It’s pretty easy to spot and define a woman, and easy to legislate against inequality for a race. But there remains a whole invisible swathe of society which is, every day, disenfranchised and robbed of hope by the engines of power, just as much as women were in 1913.

Emily Davison was driven to an extreme act by a number of things. She was educated, a teacher, but unable to earn a living. She had been arrested, and in that age it meant you could never get a job again. She was powerless in a society which was governed entirely by an elite gentry, with the worst social mobility in Europe. She could never afford a home. She could never afford to marry. She could never break free of the bonds holding her down. And there was a vast, glaringly obvious gulf between the tiny group with money and power, and people like her.

Without a job, without hope, without power, without any means to change her circumstances, she had nothing left to lose.

Honestly: doesn’t she sound like 20 million ordinary people in Britain today?

I don’t believe Emily Davison meant to die. Evidence suggests she was trying to pin a “Votes for Women” banner to the king’s horse and badly misjudged it, killing herself and risking the life of the innocent jockey and horse. By the time she stepped onto the track at Epsom she was, by today’s standards, an extremist. She, along with hundreds of other suffragettes, had crossed the barrier from peaceful protest to something more direct so often that they no longer had any compunction about taking drastic, dangerous, destructive actions.

Don’t assume I’m comparing her to the brutal, horrific, utterly unconscionable murder of Lee Rigby, the soldier murdered on a London street by lunatics with cleavers. I’m not. What I am saying is this: after years of peaceful protest and petitions, suffragettes decided that asking, begging and demanding change wasn’t getting them anywhere. They decided to start striking at property. They committed millions of pounds worth of arson attacks, usually against targets they believed to be representative of (or owned by) the elite that was robbing them of hope.

In the Channel 4 film, Claire Balding suggested that once you’ve taken that step into direct action, it’s increasingly easy to do it. Once you’ve seen a factory burned down in the name of what’s morally just, it’s hard to forget it and return to normal. Emily Davison saw arson many times, and probably committed it too. Having crossed that line so often, she had no problem taking direct action.

I think Balding hit on something there. She’s right. I worry that it’s only a matter of time before somebody decides that The One Percent™ simply aren’t listening to 38 Degrees or Change.org or the Government’s own e-petitions website.

It’s only a matter of time before there is direct action by somebody the media can’t label as “them”. Somebody who isn’t “other”. Somebody who isn’t “radicalised” by an outside agent.

It will be somebody like the young white guy who lives next door to you; the guy with £20,000 of university debt, living in his parents’ spare room at the age of 30, with no job, driven into slave-labour by government ideology, ridiculed and reviled by the press, his health auctioned off, his future leased to Monsanto and his town centre hollowed out by Amazon. He protested peacefully against Iraq and was ignored. He’s petitioned against the NHS being sold off, and was ignored. He’s tried doing things the way government wants him to, and has been screwed over, fucked up, reviled and ignored. He’s online and he’s smart and he’s politically aware with a very small p indeed; and knows that corporations are part of the feral capitalism that’s evading tax and ruining his nation’s economy.

So one day he smashes a Starbuck’s window. A small act. But he’s crossed a line.

He knows that his elected representatives are too busy acting like Dave Hartnett, lining their pockets rather than taking care of the public. So the next week he goes out and vandalises a tax office.

Somebody else reads about it on Twitter, and decides that he too will take direct action. And another, and another. A thousand Starbucks windows are smashed. Somebody will go one further, and set fire to the Tesco that gutted his town, took his job, and has not a scintilla of social responsibility.

The media will react as the media does: there will be moral panic and, as a result, there will be mass publicity for direct action, and a week later somebody else will decide that they are also bone-tired of being treated like Untermenschen. They’ll realise Amazon’s HQ contains a hell of a lot of paper, and they’ll burn it to the ground.

And once this line is crossed, we’re in real trouble. Because there won’t be visible protestors chaining themselves to railings in Trafalgar Square, waiting for the riot squad. Instead there will be ten million invisible men and women sat at home making independent decisions to strike back. Yes, there will be arrests. But there were arrests in 1913 too, and it didn’t stop suffragettes from continuing: they had no other outlet, and the line had been crossed.

There will be no “leadership” telling people to destroy, to burn, to strike out at the forces that belittle and impoverish them. Instead there will be educated, debt-burdened, futureless individuals researching tax evasion and inequality and the evisceration of worker’s rights; and then making their own decisions about what to smash.

These people won’t be planning it online, they’ll just be reading the news. No amount of snooping will spot patterns or identify ringleaders, because there won’t be any ringleaders. There won’t be imams radicalising people. They won’t have different coloured skin. They won’t live on council estates. The people who take these actions will be anyone with too much education and too little hope. Completely independently, they’ll see that the world is fucked up, and that now there’s a way to lash out.

I worry. I really do. Because global governments are playing a very dangerous game in their race to the bottom. They’re ignoring the plight of those at the sharp end of neocapitalism, just as the government of Henry Campbell-Bannerman ignored the plight of women. In 1913 the press was tightly controlled, there was no internet, and still there was £40 million of arson attacks. And in 1913 it was comparatively easy defuse the situation with a single law: give women the vote.

But today there is no single piece of legislation that could disarm the ticking time-bomb we’re all sat on. Nobody from the mainstream political establishment is even discussing the crisis growing right under their feet. They’re blind to it because it’s not sticking up and waving signs: it’s 99% of the world’s population quietly seething at home. Anybody with a brain and a laptop can quickly find out how badly they’re being screwed over, and how deaf the elites are to their cries.

It’s genuinely frightening. I worry. I really do.

It seems to me that governments are playing fast and loose with the fabric of society. By protecting the elite and the status quo, governments are endangering the elites and the status quo in ways that are hard to predict, hard to control, and hard to put back in the box.

Hard, that is, unless you know the story of Emily Davison.

Keep your eye on the ball

Britain’s, apparently, got talent.

It’s almost impossible to write that opening sentence, because every spell-checker worth its salt screams at me to fix the gruesome syntax, especially the advanced and pedantic spell-checker in my head. Has talent. Not got talent. Simon Cowell has a lot to answer for, and to start with he’s going to answer to the irritated English teacher that lives inside me.

My talent is pointless trivia, so I’m going to use some to brighten up your day.

Simon Cowell.
Before Britain Has Talent and the other shows he’s foisted upon us like a demented scientist with a dangerously addictive new drug, the most successful thing he’d ever done was…. Mr Blobby’s single. Yes, he did that. Shoot him in the face. He also turned down Take That, because he has such a great eye for a successful act. Simon Cowell is good at only two things: promoting Simon Cowell, and shoving men’s tumescent penises right into his flapping ringpiece.

Bearing in mind my opening salvo, you might assume I hate the programme and never watch it. But you’re only half right. I hate the programme and watch it fairly often. Actually, you’re only a quarter right: I don’t watch once the auditions are over, because let’s face it, nobody likes watching success. Would Fawlty Towers have been great if Basil had run a first-class establishment? No, it’s great because we love to watch deluded idiots fail dismally.

And Britain Has Talent is chock-a-block with dismal idiots. Yes, I said Britain Has Talent. I’m determined to use English as she is goodly spoken.

But I didn’t watch the series that just ended, which means I missed the whole thing with the dog. In case you’re also living in a cave, a dog won Britain Has Talent, and the nation appears to have gone slightly demented about it.

Living in caves
In the year 1900 in the town where I live (Stockport) there were still over 200 people living in caves.

I imagine the dog hasn’t gone demented about the win, because it was probably demented to start with.

Dogs have only one bark when they communicate with other dogs, but up to 6 different barks to communicate with humans – they speak to us in a different language than they speak to each other.

As much as I love dogs – and I really love them – they are spectacularly gormless. Did you know they’re less intelligent than pigs? Whoops, sorry…

Pigs are more intelligent than dogs. And tastier! Pigs are also the only land animals apart from humans that sunburn. (Manatees can sunburn, but they’re not land animals – even though they do looks surprisingly like Carol Yager. Who? We’ll get to that.)

So I doubt the dog in question was deliriously happy about winning. He was probably just deliriously happy to have some ham and drag his arse around the carpet until the klinkers fell off. That’s all it takes sometimes. They have very low expectations, and a ball can make them demented with glee.

We’re no better. My neighbours went demented with glee because one football team beat another football team at football, which is the thing they’re paid to do, and which they do every fucking week, and will do every fucking week for the rest of recorded time.

Football is a game that children play. So grow the fuck up.

Ancillary football fact
Football makes me say fuck a lot.

The dog won for the same reason the fat girl wins: there are many, many people who are incredibly cynical about Cowell, and who want nothing more than to piss on his chips. He wants the thin, pretty girl to win. So people who hate Cowell vote for the fat frumpy girl, and Cowell wins either way.

Fat girls
The world’s fattest woman was Carol Yager. She looked like a Manatee. See, told you we’d get to that! At her heaviest she weighed over 114 stone, but nobody knows for sure because they couldn’t find scales big enough to put her on. She went on a diet and lost 36 stones in 3 months – which is also the fastest weight-loss in history – but she died anyway, and they had to knock the wall of her house down to get her body out. She was buried in a piano crate.

This year I decided I hated Cowell too much to let myself get drawn in. I think I may only watch again if somebody arrives saying that their talent is hurling javelins into greedy, closeted, self-regarding fuckwads. I’d watch that. I’d do that. Not a jury in the world would convict me once I played them Mr Blobby.

Cowell’s awfulness is so refined that I’m convinced he’s been prepared by Heston Blumenthal, who took offcuts of Pol Pot and Margaret Thatcher, seasoned them with shavings of Tom Cruise’s ego, and reduced them on a low heat until they caramelized into the quintessence of cunt that we see today. For a while he was equally repulsive and fascinating, but now repulsive has won the day, and the only thing that would make me watch him is if he was being slowly pushed into a bacon slicer.

So I can quite understand why people don’t want to know about politics – it’s the politicians. They’re awful. There are 650 MPs, and every one of them makes Cowell seem as likeable as the love-child of Stephen Fry and Miranda Hart.

But unlike Cowell, MPs are never going to get cancelled. They’ll always be with us, and voting for the novelty dog act isn’t going to change a damn thing. I know for sure, because we tried it at the last election, and now we have Nick Clegg being led around on a leash by the Tories, who’s only excuse for not addressing deep-rooted problems is that Labour didn’t fix them either. I’m not making a party political point – vote for who you want – I’m just encouraging you to take an interest, or there will be more of the terrible socio-economic injustices that are happening right now in your ignorant name.

Please read the next bit. It’s got numbers in it, but read anyway.

Terrible socio-economic injustices:
Since 2010 the UK’s richest 2000 people have seen their income increase by a total of £155billion, or 3 times the total UK deficit. Of those 2000 people, over 1700 are owners or managers of companies which got the bailout in 2010, and they are therefore responsible for 67% of our entire national debt. Which you and me are repaying. And them? They pay an average of 7% personal taxation, because they use offshore accounts to avoid proper tax.

Debt crisis? Or a massive redistribution of national income from poor to rich? Because the simple maths says that you, me, and every other person in the country have had to cough up £6,300 each to pay for their fuck-up, and rather than repaying their own debt they’ve trousered the cash. We rescued their business, and now we repay the debt incurred by rescuing their business. We’ve lost jobs, homes, education, health provision, pensions and futures because not enough people are complaining about the bare-faced theft that’s going on. We’ve got used to it, and aren’t even questioning that we have a massive debt that needs to be repayed.

Massive debt
As a percentage of our national income, our debt is currently lower than it was for 208 of the last 250 years. By any historical measure, we don’t have a debt problem. And while we’re on the subject of history, today’s wealth-gap between the richest 2000 people and the average UK citizen is the same as it was the year of the French Revolution.

You stop paying any attention to how your country is run for just 20 or 30 years, and look what happens. That’ll teach you to take your eye off the ball.

Sorry. I lulled you in with a rant about novelty dogs and Simon Cowell’s flapping ringpiece, and then sucker-punched you by pointing out a damn good reason to stop being distracted by football and the fucking Olympics, and start engaging in politics. I know, it’s a terribly sneaky way to make you see some pretty horrific facts about what’s being done in your name. And I know I just called you ignorant, but you probably are ignorant. You probably don’t know this stuff, because it’s not being reported. Well now you know. That’s a start.