Monday, 31 August 2009

That Wire Analogy (Yet Again)

So I get back from whatever it is I've been doing to find the long shadow of my favourite TV show still bugging the blogosphere - and indeed mainstream journalism. Chris Grayling's comparison of inner city Britain to the version of Baltimore peddled in the Wire is the gift which just keeps on giving.

He's been given such a hell of a kicking on all this that I thought it might be fun to try to sketch out some ways he might, inadvertently, have stumbled on something. Not, obviously, in terms of crime. The local Manc paper dealt with that :
"[Baltimore], home to about 600,000, was blighted by 234 murders last year. That compares to 35 in Greater Manchester, which has a population of around 2.5m."
No, the real comparison is about how our lives - like the lives of The Wire's drug dealers, police, dockers, politicians, schoolkids and journos - are haunted by an imbalance between agency and structure. Or just by structure, actually.

The whole series could have been written by Talcott Parsons or Louis Althusser: no one, or almost no one, escapes their circumstances for any length of time. Structures call forth successions of individuals - Avon, Stringer, Marlo - to fulfill essentially the same roles. People change in all-to-predictable ways: just as Daniels, who makes Commissioner, has a guilty secret from his time on Narcotics, so Carver, originally a kind of joke, puts his days of petty corruption behind him and rises up the ranks as a reliable officer. But you just know he won't leave his past behind, any more than Daniels manages too. Individual initiative is, ultimately, crushed, be it Bunny's Hamsterdam or Carcetti's new broom in City Hall. Even the great symbol of individualism - Omar - loses, and I reckon we see in Michael's trajectory a proto Omar in the making, so even the individualism at the heart of the American Dream is structurally produced.

Yeah, that strikes me as being quite like Britain today - even before one gets into in business of 'public service reform', performance targets and the near universal 'gaming' of these things. There is no real social mobility, no real opportunity for individualism. Chris Grayling is right, inadvertently.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Haiti of the North

Since we're being told on all sides that France, Germany and - a hard one to swallow this - Japan are motoring out of recession I thought I'd take a peek at the Icelandic situation once again. You remember Iceland, don't you? That country that Daniel Hannan wanted Britain to be more like.

There are another round of demos getting underway according to the Weather Report and the latest one featured a speech by
Einar Már Guðmundsson, an Icelandic writer(that's him in the picture).

"Self-made bondage is the strongest form of bondage. Thus wrote Sigfús Daðason, and thus is our situation today. The constitution was mortgaged without the nation being asked, and now we are to acknowledge the collateral and confess to the crime. We are confessing to a crime we did not commit. Let me quote Eva Joly: “This small country of 320,000 inhabitants is now reeling under the weight of billions of Euros of debt, which has absolutely nothing to do with the vast majority of its population and which Iceland cannot afford to pay.”

Yes, we are being enslaved. The Icesave agreement is stage one, the conditions of the International Monetary Fund stage two, and so it will continue until sometime in the future, when we receive an apology for the mistake that is being made … but by then it will be too late. They say we will become the Cuba of the North if we do not ratify this agreement. But shouldn’t we add: We will become the Haiti of the North if we do ratify it. They fulfilled all the IMF’s demands – and are now plagued by a famine. ... That is the reason we are here today – and we oppose this. All of us. We are being made to confess to a crime we did not commit. We are to shoulder the burdens of the global financial system, to become their underdogs.

In truth, this problem is not the nation’s problem, but that of the owners of the privatized banks who vacuumed up cash using the Icesave accounts. Our problem is that the government of this country and its politicians want to remove this problem from the bank’s owners and hand it to us and – not least – to our descendants. We cannot let this happen. We oppose this – all of us.

To you inside the parliament building I say: Stop your bullshit. Stop talking about “friendly nations”, “deposit insurance”, “global community”. The “global community” is a community of wealthy nations, “deposit insurance” is the socialization of losses, and “friendly nations” is wishful thinking and does not extend to authorities, or capital. The Swedes are not our enemies, yet the Swedish financial system financed the banking system of the Baltic States when it was placed on the market – and robbed. The Swedish financial sector looks at the similar collapse of our banks and understands Gordon Brown’s arguments as well as he, himself, does – no, do not confuse this with friendship. Gordon Brown is one of the main theorists behind the financial system in London City, and its regulations, or rather its absence of regulations, became the guiding principle behind the Icelandic financial system. In light of this, none of your legal opinions matter, nor do the names of people in the negotiating committees. A financial war is raging throughout the world in which a decrepit system tries to rev its engines, and in that workshop it is our authorities who are madly shoveling the coals. One of the world’s wisest economists states: “The International Monetary Fund is a sort of debt collector for global creditors and collects revenues … for them. Amazingly, nations the world over are losing their financial and economic freedom, without resistance.”"
Thanks to the Weather Report for the translation - you'll find the full speech there.


You might as well bookmark this link now. Because you're going to need it sooner or later. Just for this quote from Warren Buffett:

“There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Of Health and Social Care

The Observer leads to day with the – oh, so shocking – news that quite a few of the Tory front bench, including that nice Mr.Gove, have endorsed Daniel Hannan’s call for the NHS to be replaced by a new system of health provision in which people would pay money into personal health accounts, which they could then use to shop around for care from public and private providers. Those who could not afford to save enough would be funded by the state.

Which rather sets the stage for health being a central election issue, this time, no doubt, with Labour tying a big pink ribbon round the NHS and claiming to be the ‘patriotic’ party in defending it not like those horrible market obsessed US-wannabees in the Conservative Party. Oh no, no like them at all.

Except of course, in the small matter of social care, where Labour Ministers never miss an opportunity to big up their commitment to individual budgets and self directed care.It's basically the same idea, just transfered to a not-that-dissimilar sector.

Friday, 14 August 2009

.01 % of Yankees Are Doodle-Dandy

It's been fun, hasn't it ? This sense of national unity in outrage at the attack of the vile foreigner on our treasured NHS. Like 1940 all over again. Very 'cockney-sing-songs-in-the-tube-stations-we-can-take-it-Mr.Hitler-Blitz-spirit-ish' I'd say. We've even managed to get that nice Daniel Hannan to agree to play the part of Lord Haw-Haw. (B& T suggests his success in this role should be lauded to the skies by New Labour).

But as I've just come back from spending a holiday with a group including a - really very nice - American I thought I ought to put in a word for one thing they definitely do well: inequality. The Huffington Post is reporting a new paper which says inequality levels in the States have reached levels beyond those of the Great Depression. In 2007 the top .01 percent of American earners took home 6 percent of total U.S. wages, a figure that has nearly doubled since 2000.(see chart)
"...while the bottom 99 percent of incomes grew at a solid pace of 2.7 percent per year from 1993-2000, these incomes grew only 1.3 percent per year from 2002-2007. As a result, in the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the top 1 percent captured two thirds of income growth."
All joking aside, this is why Obama's otherwise pitifully limited health reforms matter so much and why they're arousing so much anger over there. Yup, it's class. One side has got so used to taking everything that they can't quite deal with the idea that they might have to share a little in order to keep most of what they've got, the way their own All-American predecessors used to.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Progressive Conservatism: Meet the New Boss Just Like the Old Boss

Back from my hols and I find Will on cracking form, not only on progressive conservatism but on its conjoined twin, Blairism:

I can well envisage a version of progressive conservatism that is too 'progressive' to ever conserve anything and too 'conservative' to ever achieve anything that might look like progress. That would be one harsh description of Blairism. If there is an alternative to this, it will be founded on that amorphous sense, felt by many, that calculation, competition, surveillance and comparison are scarcely achieving their stated goals, let alone supporting happiness and social stability.