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