The economy, baby boomers, and alternatives for young people

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The economic prospects for young people in the age of austerity cuts seem bleak indeed. Not only are many young people finding it difficult to find employment when they leave school, but the very high cost of property means that many young people will take a very long time to get onto the first rung of the property ladder, if ever.

When developing games like Monopoly or Risk, a process called game balancing happens, whereby the game is test played and the variables tweaked so the game is neither too easy, nor too difficult, and so the in-game toy economy is balanced so a game is not so easy that it does not offer an enjoyable level of challenge, whilst not becoming so taxing that feels like hard work. One gets the sense that Britain’s economy today has lost its game balancing: the challenges facing people trying to live everyday lives, and reconcile shrinking capital with the ever demanding costs of living, seems to point to a system no longer being run to give everyone a step up. It is as if our economy is being geared to work for something other than the citizens of the country, as if it is being geared to operate for larger entities than individuals – and inividuals are finding that they only get £20 for passing Go, in a world where the Angel Islington costs £40.

Some people blame baby boomers, and say that they were an extraordinarily selfish generation who skewed capitalism and political systems to serve their own interests. Baby boomers, it is argued, ‘own’ the post war period, and as they are all now retired they are no longer interested in the mental investment in future generations, only in marking time in their Indian summers of old age. Meanwhile, youth grow ever more disenchanted and disaffected by the experience of living in a country that doesn’t seem able or willing to change the formula to give them the breaks.

It is facile to say that the process must be reversed. It probably can’t. What we do need to do is change political and economic thinking so that people, especially young people, have the chance to acquire the same quality of life and opportunity that baby boomers at that age took for granted. We need innovative thinking that challenges the received wisdom that after education young people have to get jobs and homes, as those are the trappings of the very system that is failing them.

Here are two (albeit unlikely to be implemented) solutions.

1) One possibility is for all property on a large Western Isle of Scotland to be bought by the Government. An Act Of Parliament should be passed whereby the cash value of all the land on the island is 0.00001 pence per acre. The island would then effectively be decapitalised. People who live on the island should not have to pay tax. This would have the effect of demonetising the island too. People should be encouraged to move there if they would like to like a life outside the economic system that runs the country, a life where the grow their own food and make their own clothes. THis island would still be part of the UK and would need to be given basic state provisions such as military police, military fire engines and a military hospital. Other than that they would be free to live in a demodernised economy, based on subsistence farming and bartering. Such an island would be maintained at a cost to the UK taxpayer in terms of Army services such as hospitals and MP’s, and this cost could be reclaimed by getting them to work three months a year doing some form of public sector work such as refuse collecting or street cleaning. It would only work if there were enough young people who really had given up on ever owning property or making the economic life of this country work for them, and really wanted to explore a lifestyle completely outside societal expectations.

2) Another option is to have a civilian force organised much like the Armed Forces. An example I would give is hospital cleaners. Hospital cleaning is not an easy job and requires serious training. It is not as simple as running a cloth over a desk with a quick spray of polish, but rather hospital cleaners are trained to get surgical theatres and hospital wards germ free by understanding the biology of infection and knowing how to clean a surface, or a bodily fluid spillage, to a clinical standard of hygiene. People should be recruited into a force of hospital cleaners when they leave school, and should undergo sixth months training to get them up to the correct standard of clinical practice required. They could then travel the country cleaning hospitals wherever directed, staying six to eight weeks in one location before moving on. As such it would be a lifestyle choice as much as a career, like joining the Army. Travel is good for young people and is an education in itself. After three or fours years working as hospital cleaners up and down the country young people could either progress up the ladder of the NHS or find another job that their skills are suited to.

Both these ideas are entirely speculative, may not be viable, and may not be suitable for the current climate, but that should not negate the underlying point. New innovative initiatives are required to stop young people ever becoming so disenchanted that they throw their hand in altogether.

Thoughts on todays Budget Part 2 (21/3/12)

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37 pence on 20 cigarettes seems a little unfair. Smokers live less long and have very high tax burden. Most of them, except the very lucky ones, don’t live past 70 and so the Government does not have to worry about paying their pensions for 40 + years of economic inactivity, as it does with average non smokers. The question to ask is, would the Government be in financial difficulty if everyone gave up smoking tomorrow? It must by now be making billions a year from people’s smoking habits.

We have a tax system that taxes rich more than poor (putatively). Should it also tax short lived less than long lived? There is an argument to be made that the concept of longevity poverty is just as economically relevant to the debate about medium and long term state spending as financial poverty.  People who live less long will not claim pensions after all. This argument need not only apply to smokers, but anyopne with a terminal condition or illness that means they will not be expected to hit the average lifespan expected in this country by some significant margin. Should these people have to shoudler an equal tax burden?

Thoughts on today’s Budget (21/03/12)

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It was interesting to hear in today’s budget that the Chancellor plans to trade Chinese currency in London. It is testament one supposes to the increased dominance of China on overseas markets that this move is necessary to keep London as a major nodal point in the global economy. I wonder if someday we will be keeping Chinese currency in our foreign reserves; it would be an atrractive investment which would undoubtedly offer a good return.

This leads me to prompt another suggestion – can the Internet be understood as an ‘economy’, capable of economic growth? This would be difficult to gague without using some metric or other. So perhaps economist should invent the Internet Dollar, a metric (not a real currency) that can be used concurrently with other metric to gauge the economic value of the internet and its economic growth.

One might say that we can easily measure the ecomomic value of the Internet in US dollars. But there is value in having a unique metric. If the internet dollar existed, at first it would be used by economists to define the Internet across national boundaries as a ‘space’ or ‘territory’ in its own right with its own economic value. It would be used as a metric of economic growth in this cyber territory. However in the medium term there is no reason why clever people in finance could not start talking about the Internet Dollar as a real currency, and start using it like a real currency in terms of placing their confidence in it as a abatract representation of the value of transnational information to us. Eventually it would be a real, if fudiciary, currency in its own right, a bit like similar non state currencies that have already been proposed.

It would be interesting indeed if the day came when Britain’s foreign reserves stated a confidence in the impermeability and economic growth of the Internet as opposed to traditional nation states.

Potential idea for Government saving

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I have had an idea that I believe could possibly save the Government many millions of pounds a year. Like many ideas, it is simple, so simple that people may wonder why nobody has considered the pros and cons of it before.

The idea is this – in any part of the public sector, whether that is local councils or the NHS or the police, the public sector authorities spending should be exempt from VAT. In other words the Government should introduce a card that can be swiped through chip n pin terminals everywhere in the country in order to exempt the purchase in question from VAT, for the use of public sector budget holders.

Exempting VAT for the public sector would automatically result in an efficiency saving for the public sector of 17.5%, which is huge. One could argue that if the public sector continued paying VAT this money goes back to the Government anyway, but then you have to take into account inflation, administration costs and the natural entropy of all systems. If the public paid 17.5% tax to the Government, it does not follow that they get that 17.5% tax back in next year’s budget.

I will try to publicise this idea in the coming weeks and start a debate to see what people think.

Decoding the Guardian’s open journalism advert

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Decoding the Guardian’s Open Journalism advert

By Majid Salim

In this reading I will attempt to decode the Guardian newspaper’s latest advert, on the subject of its latest marketing ploy, an open journalism platform. The Guardian’s argument is that open journalism is a platform for collaborative, consensual journalism with citizen journalists to create a journalism platform that is partly in the public domain, in much the same way that open source software is in the public domain. However this essay finds that the Guardian’s advert can be deconstructed to reveal an entirely different subtext. It is argued that the Guardian’s advert highlights the public as uninformed and reactionary, and incapable of journalism, and also that it highlights that the Guardian ultimately retain control over public debate, the media and public opinion.

The advert, first shown on television on 29th February 2012, takes the form of media coverage of the Three Little Pigs story. It begins with the Big Bad Wolf having been boiled alive by the Three Little Pigs, and footage is shown of a crack SWAT team closing in and arresting one of the Little Pigs at gunpoint. The media reportage of this event goes as follows: “The third little pig is taken into custody, so the spotlight is now shone on homeowners rights to protect their property.” The first half of this sentence is a statement of fact, but describing the spotlight as being shone on homeowners rights to protect their property is a highly biased, loaded analysis which frames the debate. It is interesting that the spotlight is not being shone on whether homeowners have the right to protect their property, which shows the way media bias in reporting the facts of the case colour all subsequent opinion and comment on the debate. Public contributors to the debate are shown as reacting in an entirely Pavlovian way to the debate, sounding back to the media the range of opinion the media have already programmed into them via the bias of their original reportage. Evidence for this is given in the kinds of comments people leave on the website, about how they would do the same under the same circumstances.

Having framed the debate, the Guardian in this advert beg the question with the straw poll about whether it is right to kill to defend you property, which gets a resounding Yes vote. The advert ends this section by highlighting a comment from a member of the public saying that he would do the same as the Little Pigs if his property was under threat. The public can be seen to have agreed on a consensus opinion which they had little control over arriving at, as their conceptual understanding of the facts of the case was kinked and loaded by the media to start with through their use of bias in the reporting and (doubtless) leading the public by the nose through arcs of cognition.

In the next part of the advert it transpires that the Big Bad Wolf had asthma, and so would have been incapable of blowing down the Little Pigs houses. This leads to the revelation that the Little Pigs were insurance fraudsters who were trying to get money because they were behind on mortgage repayments. They are taken into custody.

This sparks another bubble of comment from citizen journalists, all of whom completely sympathise with the Little Pigs position, as they themselves have problems meeting ends meet. The consensus opinion of the public is that the Little Pigs are to be sympathised with as many people have financial problems and are in the same boat as them. But this misses an important point – the Little Pigs are criminals, and they murdered the Wolf by boiling him alive. So why are the public showing sympathy for the plight of convicted murdering criminals? This point gets to the nub of the way the public and by extension citizen journalists are portrayed in this advert. The public are portrayed as unintelligent, reactionary, capricious, arbitrary, and uninformed. Journalism cannot be trusted to them. The next sequence confirms this beyond question, as public ire over the issue of mortgage arrears boiled over into riotous civil disobedience. The public, as portrayed in this advert, are completely incapable of anything resembling journalism and are portrayed as a reactionary, uninformed mob who will riot at the drop of a hat.

The next headline shown in the Guardian is “Riots spark reform debate”. The concept of “sparking a debate” is a lot like the concept of “shining a spotlight” on something, a device the media use to control how we read reality, framing the debate that both the public and the Government will have about these riots a certain way. If this advert is an advert for open journalism, it fails to sell the concept on at least two points. The public are seen as incapable of the vocation of journalism, and the media are seen as unwilling to share journalism with them, preferring as they do to frame the debate in its entirety and retain all control for themselves.

The advert ends with the words “the whole picture” against the backdrop of people reading the Guardian across several different formats – print, web, iPad, etc. The whole picture in question does not appear to be the benefit of some perceived form of collaborative citizen journalism, but rather the whole picture appears to be the practice of swallowing Guardian editorial lines and accept Guardian shaping of your opinion across as many different media formats as are available to you.
 
On 29th February 2012 the Guardian website carried an exposition of what open journalism is by Alan Rusbridger. This article was a remarkable woolly, vague article with nothing resembling a real intellectual presentation of a business or journalism concept being present. Also, on 1st March 2012, Comment Is Free editor Becky Gardiner explained how the Guardian’s readers are at the heart of a vibrant culture of debate and discussion. This article was met with derision by its own commenters, who uniformly argue the Guardian controls debate on its website and only allows online posts that fit into its editorial lines. We have to look at the evidence from the advert to see there is nothing really resembling a vibrant culture of debate and discussion involved in the Guardian’s open news platform. If we read the TV advert again we can surmise that the public’s comments tend towards the uninformed and reactionary, and entirely without merit. As the Guardian says itself, comment is free.

By presenting the appearance of an open news platform that doesn’t exist beyond its status as a marketing ploy, under the guise of giving consumers the ‘whole picture better’, the Guardian can be seen to be attempting to offer its consumers better access to objective reality when in fact all they are doing is subliminally cementing the authority of Guardian editorial opinion, however arbitrary, in the minds of people as being in fact inescapable reality itself.

Perhaps the Guardian realise that in human psychology, news is now a constant like gravity or an oxygen rich atmosphere, something normal people no longer have the apparatus to have meta-thoughts about and so are completely incapable of forming a critique. Perhaps the Guardian are now simply in the business of marketing an aesthetic for news consumption. There is a known demographic group, the “Guardianista”, people who are sold on the brand’s power and who view reading the Guardian as a lifestyle choice. It takes quite a lot of intellectual effort to read brand Guardian, but if you have to buy a newspaper every day to convince yourself you are the kind of person you want to like you only have a passing relationship with strength of character anyway, and the likelihood is that you are one of the many that make up the reactionary mob of media consumers.

In conclusion, the concept of the open journalism platform can be seen as truly lacking. More attention can and should be given to it, if an open source form of journalism is what the Guardian actually want at all.