Are the Koch’s and Bill Gates really that different? Oligopoly, the ultimate game of power and control.

I’m sure many people would contest that comparing the Koch brothers who deal in fossils fuels with Bill Gates who provides vaccines in Africa a bit of a stretch. However, I’m going to suggest that they have much more in common than we’d like to admit. If we observe their methods and ultimately what is achieved, there are some striking similarities. Sure, conservatives like the DeVos’s and the Koch’s morally conduct their affairs differently to Zuckerberg or Gates, but are they really so distinct? You could sensibly propose that Bill Gates’s life is more virtuous than the Koch’s. This indeed is a compelling argument. But is it true? When we consider the two groups; right wing neoliberal oligarchs and philanthrocapitalists (also oligarchs), apart from obscene amounts of money, both sects share their unquestionable desire for power and control.

I will offer that power and control are intrinsically linked. Some semblance of control over your own group, rival factions or even the general populace is required to gain power. That said, to control certainly on an external level, requires some exertion of power, either through elections, coercion or even physical force. The extent and methods required depends on your resources and who you intend to control to obtain power or conversely who you will overpower to wrestle control. At this stage it would be sensible to lay out what these seemingly opposing tribes, both morally and politically have in common and of course how they differ. To finish I will argue that the overall goals of oligarchs regardless of their flavour are strikingly similar.

By the very existence of their extreme wealth, I think it’s safe to assume that all oligarch’s share a strong, deep conviction towards the ‘free market’. Each side fully subscribes to the idea of utilising their wealth to shape the world, often at the expense of democratic processes. Unsurprisingly, many would argue that the Koch’s and Bill Gates share nothing in common, concluding that one wants to continue extracting fossil fuels at the expense of the planet, while the other tries to save lives.

But, if the outcome is all that matters rather than the process, surely we must ask ourselves hard questions regarding the importance of democracy. This dilemma arises due to billionaires not being democratically elected and yet able to use considerable influence to effect major changes, good, bad or indifferent. It has been offered by philosophers and social psychologists alike that huge wealth generates social distance or “ethical independence”. Put simply the rich have no need to cooperate or partake in democracy to get what they require.

Neoliberal leaders often fit into the more recognisable guise of bombastic, power hungry CEO’s, trampling on all that resembles competition. There’s no doubt that these individuals exist, see Jeff Bezos for details. Worse still, the system justifies their behaviour by spinning yarns of ‘homo economicus’, ‘trickle down’ economics and picturing them as ‘job creators’. However, in our midst are those who present as an arguably more agreeable face of power and control. They appear on Ted Talks, are promoted by the mainstream media and portrayed as modern day saviours. These are the neoliberal ‘left’ or philanthrocapitalists and their influence on society is as pervasive as the Koch brothers. Carefully crafted characters such as Gates and Zuckerberg are considered to be oracles of the 21st century. They mould our world from a position of exclusivity that is only experienced by a handful of people and yet we so easily defer to their perceived wisdom.

FAvH
Friedrich Hayek

Historically speaking, the stage that allowed these actors on both sides to perform so freely is neoliberalism. This was first conceived by among others, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises in the late 1930’s, but failed to gain much traction in the west. This all changed when Keynesian economics started to falter in the mid 1970’s. When the time arose, the objective for Thatcher (UK), Reagan (US) and Roger Douglas in New Zealand was to change the moral and political record. A collective society based on human capital, full employment and relative equality was abruptly abandoned, for competition, individualism and the idea that wealth is virtuous. Out of the rubble of a dismantled social democratic society, rose a small number of individuals who were uniquely positioned to capitalise on increased privatisation, laxed trade regulations and an ever financialised world.

This accumulation of capital is rarely reinvested in society and the people within it, but used to create a system that accrues ever more wealth, power and influence. The elite are in a position to apply pressure at the governmental level for maximum effect, with some tactics being cruder than others. Neoliberalism provides the means that ensures money is sucked out from underneath the mattresses of the poor to the heavily guarded vaults of the rich. These mechanisms are the ‘nucleotides’ of the neoliberal DNA; international trade agreements, decreased market regulations, low taxation, privatisation and reduced government spending are just a few examples.

For decades this ideology of neoliberalism has been supported by the likes of International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These institutions have been instrumental in forcing desperate sovereign nations to adopt strict austerity measures to reduce debt, by offering an all strings attached bailout package, as witnessed in Greece. In effect these loans had nothing to do with Greece’s economic problem. These were purely constructed to pay off their debts to French and German banks. It has since been recorded less than 10% of the cash borrowed was actually used to reform the economy and to help the Greek people.

As if the world’s oligarchs don’t have enough systemic advantages, many invest heavily in ‘think tanks’ and varying institutions solely to persuade government’s to tip the scales further in their favour. One such right wing funding source are the previously mentioned Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are co-owners of Koch Industries the largest privately owned energy company in the US. The Koch’s favourite past-time is trying to discredit climate change science and policy solutions. In this arena they have spent a massive $127 million funding 92 organisations between 1997 and 2017. The Koch’s claim to be Libertarians, supporting; drastically lower corporate and personal taxes, minimal public services and a massive reduction in regulations.

Koch brothers

Their undeniable self interest doesn’t stop at muddying the waters regarding climate change. The Koch’s fund a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), aimed at making it more difficult to prosecute corporations for violations of environmental and financial law. It’s important to realise that the Koch’s do not do all this in isolation, rallying 100’s of wealthy conservative families in an effort to preserve and promote their privileged way of life. Groups such as Americans for Prosperity are a huge and rich organisation, designed to battle against the Democrats, supporting ultra conservative Republicans, espousing ideological policies, while blocking anything in Congress that may oppose the Koch’s best interests.

They are the masters of organising ‘astroturf’ groups. These are alleged grassroot citizen organisations or coalitions. Groups such as ‘Americans for Prosperity’, the ‘Heartland Institute’ and the ’60 plus association’ support entities such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and their fight for free speech. Which of course is nothing of the sort, it is a mere cover up for anti-science rhetoric, supported by 47 groups all affiliated to the Koch’s. Further to this, the Koch’s spend millions each election cycle and helped fund the Tea Party, spending upwards of $45 million. The Koch’s also donate millions each year to candidates that suit their ideology, this includes past presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Interestingly, despite spending roughly $900 million during the 2016 election cycle, the Koch’s have already declared that they will not be funding Trump next time around.

In contrast to the Brothers Grim, power and control can also be acquired through more insidious mechanisms such as philanthrocapitalism. Many of these characters involved in this practice are labelled by the right wing media as lefties. This theory seriously suggests that these rich, well connected, privileged people who attended top universities, while using capitalism to rake in huge profits support politics of the left. Just to clarify the Democrats and the left are not synonymous with each other. Politics in the US like much of the west provides nothing more than varying shades of neoliberalism. For the CEO class such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Richard Branson, the question is, how can philanthropy be used to reinforce a flawed political and economic system such as capitalism.

Supposedly charitable acts, as seen by Bill Gates are conceptualised using market based solutions, looking at costs and benefits. It’s fair to say that philanthrocapitalism is no more than the social justice arm of a destructive global free market. Gates has certainly taken advantage of his huge giving-power to influence global health policies, including the World Health Organisation, where he is their top donor. The Gates Foundation has spent over $1 billion on policy and advocacy, even investing in training programs for journalists at major media organisations. Further to this, the foundation has heavily funded research which has later gone on to be published in scientific journals. These types of activities must be seen as a threat to global democratic decision making. The Gates Foundation also sits on the board of H8, a self appointed group of 8 health related organisations, who have been instrumental in setting up the health agenda for the G8, a group of self important, self selected nations.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

Both the pretend left and right wing oligarchs, share another mission, that is to pay as little tax as humanly possible. The Koch’s do this rather bluntly by using ‘astroturf’ groups and lobbyists to coerce the government into lowering tax levels and provide tax breaks. The ‘smarmy’ army to ‘their’ left in contrast use charm offensives. In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, to much fanfare, proclaimed that they would donate 99% of their shares in Facebook (valued at the time at $45 billion) to the “mission” of “advancing human potential and promoting equality”. Which all sounds very nice, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here’s the catch, Zuckerberg did not set up a charitable foundation which would have automatically held a non-profit status. Instead of this Zuckerberg established limited liability company (LLC). The mainstream media unsurprisingly failed to mention this, instead they continued to gush over this blockbusting moment of perceived altruism.

Unlike a charitable foundation a LLC  allows someone to make investments in a for-profit company, while also permitting the owner to make political donations. Within this framework Zuckerberg is free to lobby for changes within the law and can do whatever he desires with his money. You may ask, “what’s the problem, it’s his money’? Indeed, but is this really the actions of a charity? Zuckerberg can also cunningly use this method to avoid tax. This can be achieved by donating the appreciated shares to charity, which would generate a deduction at fair market value of the stock without triggering any tax. Clever huh?

In a nutshell this means Zuckerberg has made a ridiculous amount of money, for which he is unlikely ever to pay tax on. As a society, do we really want people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates deciding the direction of our societal needs? All governments have flaws, but at least there are checks and balances deciding where the money is required, with more than one person making the call. These oligarchs could have quite easily aided society by paying tax just like everybody else, but of course this does not afford them the power or control that they feel they deserve.

So, what have we learnt apart from, don’t trust rich people? Well, we know billionaires span the entire (neoliberal) political spectrum from; George Soros to Sheldon Adelson, from the Koch’s to Michael Bloomberg and from Tom Steyer to Robert Mercer. Many of whom remain hidden like puppeteers, but some use public recognition to their advantage, such as Gates and Zuckerberg. We really shouldn’t be remotely surprised that billionaires manipulate governments and society to benefit themselves in some way. I am aware that much of this article is US centric, however, this is not something that is unique to the States. Similar patterns of oligarchic control can be witnessed all over the world, but particularly within the ‘anglosphere’.

All acceptable politics and political parties within the west are shoehorned into a narrow corridor of neoliberalism, with only minor differences separating them. Parties and the politicians from which they belong are criticised and held to intense scrutiny, but rarely is this kind of ferocious attention applied to the primary problem. This being a political/economic system that is thoroughly in chaos, held together by outdated concepts, some questionable politicians and billionaires who desperately fight to maintain the status quo. It’s the same system that assures the elite of ever increasing bank balances, thus securing more power and control over our ailing planet

Lets be honest, this is not a system for you, me or billions of others like us. In many ways capitalism is no different to feudalism, both possess hierarchies, each system serves the chosen few and neither has any interest in the rest of society. I suspect it’s about time we constructed something anew, outside of this tired and repetitive dynamic. How about we construct a society that works for everybody, oh and we need to do this quickly because the world’s a bit screwed up. No pressure!                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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Time to fight for the working class.

For a couple decades, issues of class have been low on the list of priorities. Many of the ‘faux left’ parties have looked down their snobby, privately educated, liberal noses at the working class. In stark contrast, they never fail to grasp any opportunity to virtue signal for an array of gender and race issues. It appears unfashionable to fight for people who have suffered the most from neoliberalism. As a result of this abandonment and derision over the years, many now vote for the right. Despite the fact it is those very same capitalist policies they tick the box for, that are destroying them. So, rather than callously stating “oh it’s just turkey’s voting for Christmas”, maybe we should investigate why this has occurred.

It could be hypothesised that the middling, moderate, smart arse, pompous, plastic left are pushing people to the right, towards the Conservatives, National (NZ), Liberals (Australia), Conservatives (Canada) and the Republican’s. In some cases even further along the left/right continuum, to parties such as UKIP. Who until their recent capitulation, became popular within the working class. Throughout Europe we have also seen a rise of harder line nationalist parties mainly over eastern and central parts. Meanwhile, some traditionally left leaning parties are trying hard to realign back to their working class ideals. Most notably Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in the UK and to some extent Jacinda Ardern in NZ. But mistrust still persists, partly because of a previous centrist hangover in the form of New Labour in the UK. While in New Zealand it was 33 years of neoliberalism first conceived by a Labour government in 1984, that didn’t help matters.

Across the pond despite a recent, small progressive revival, the corporate idiots in the Democrat party are still very much in control and have failed to learn anything from the Hillary Clinton disaster. What makes this a travesty, is the working class have been abandoned by the party that since Roosevelt was supposed to fight for them. This group have been the biggest losers regarding employment and have been told by their so called moral superiors that they voted Trump because they are uneducated, racist, sexist and ignorant. Well guess what, if you really want a truly left government, no matter where you may be from, these are the people we need to understand and reach, because supporting the working class is what the left is all about.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, you will have noticed we’ve had a couple of important events on both sides of the Atlantic. This should have initiated a huge alarm call for the liberal elite; one being the Brexit result to leave Europe and the other Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. What arrogantly transpired, was not a period of deep reflection within the liberal world, but an outright condemnation of people who had the audacity to vote against their wishes. In the US, while Hillary Clinton sulked, the “not my president” brigade were out in force, because to them democracy suddenly wasn’t fair anymore. Following the result, noticeably there were a few very rich, connected individuals (Clinton and co), telling middle class people that it was the fault of those stupid fools from the working class for voting Trump.

We can witness these similar precocious, middle class types at college campus protests. A speaker who may be challenging in some ideological way can be no platformed in a heart beat, as it may rock their precious sensibilities. A similar vibe is also evident at events such as the ‘women’s march’ whereby millions of relatively privileged, educated, pussy hat wearing liberals, gather to protest……..I guess about something (usually Trump). All the while, taking selfies and brandishing brightly coloured banners, to presumably post on Instagram and Facebook. These occasions have more the appearance of a middle class day out complete with picnic hamper and a bottle of Prosecco, rather than a serious protest about something tangible. One concern that never gathers much traction within these groups is economic inequality, primarily because the majority of these fair weather protesters are pretty economically privileged.

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I hope it was permanent marker?

In the UK, just like the US, there is a predominantly middle class core of people called ‘Remainers’ who think they know better and propose that people who voted to leave the EU must be racist, stupid and gullible. No internal system checks or reflection as to why this went so badly wrong for them, just instant projection. It would appear that the metropolitan elite apparently know what’s good for the proletariat. Indeed people did vote to leave on issues such as; sovereignty, xenophobia and racism, but millions cast their vote for a myriad of other reasons. For decades there has been an all out assault on the working class from the liberal left and the right, attacking their identities and their places of work. Many politicians see the working class as an embarrassing problem. In return a majority of this group have stopped listening to Westminster and have started trusting their own experiences.

One of the suggested indicators regarding who voted for Brexit was education, areas of average education tended to vote leave, while areas with residents with college degrees were more compelled to vote to stay in the EU (71%). I’ll make it clear now, a university degree doesn’t automatically grant you the intellectual and moral high ground. Contrary to the current orthodoxy, education does not begin and end in the lecture hall either. But, there is a well established link that proposes inadequate education often leads to poor employment opportunities and decreased social engagement, therefore, providing a differing set of experiences from those of the middle class. Recently, as if people haven’t had enough of being told what to do, 670,000 people descended on London for the very Orwellian sounding ‘People’s Vote’ march. Just for the record, I will declare that I have no particular axe to grind regarding Brexit, as I think while there’s a neoliberal system on both sides, it’s a lose-lose. This is why Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to win with supporters from either side, I suspect he just doesn’t have enough of a stake in the outcome.

A large portion of ‘Team Remainer’ I would hazard a guess were created, when most of the ‘anglosphere’ adopted a similar mix of policies from the 90’s onwards, which you could loosely label ‘third way’. This comprised of more deregulation for the banking sector, such as Bill Clinton’s abolishment of Glass Steagall, while governments became increasing corporate centric. Another trait was the transformation of citizens to consumers. We suddenly had an abundance of choice, but this was only restricted to our spending habits, not our political parties. Most ‘supposedly’ left leaning parties, particularly Blair with New Labour abandoned the working class as his core voter base, in favour of the middle classes. This was highlighted by his repeal of ‘clause four‘ which effectively linked the Labour Party with socialism. This move was a definitive break from Labour’s past, socialism and the working class.

remainics

In turn, this new core of labour supporters were offered an enticing lifestyle, through neoliberal economics, punctuated by socially liberal policies. This on the whole, distracted, enriched and anaesthetised the middle classes. With less to worry about, they now could pursue other political issues such as identity politics. Which in turn could be used as moral currency in the sacred land of the pious. Yet, behind the cosy, socially caring rhetoric, economic inequality in the UK and other western nations began to widen. On the other side of the tracks, the working class regularly saw jobs vanish and whole industries dismantled under New Labour’s watch. Blair enthusiastically continued with Thatcherism on many fronts, in particular believing that the maintenance of free markets was the most efficient way to implement economic policy. New Labour also kept most of Thatcher’s sell-offs intact; BP, British Steel, British Airways among others. Additionally Blair continued with the anti-trade Union policies set in the 80’s and 90’s.

In defence of Tony Blair, he was responsible for bringing in the minimum wage, which did help the poorly paid and the exploited to some degree. At the risk of appearing cynical, I always felt this was no more than ‘lip service’ to the poor. Even so, New Labour could boast some impressive achievements; a dramatic cut in NHS waiting times, an 8 fold capital investment increase in education and growth in GDP per head by 20%. So with this in mind, why did Labour lose over 5 million voters from 1997 to 2010? While, at the same time membership fell from 407,000 in 1997 to 109,000 in 2004. Possibly, because New Labour was dedicated to a steady diet of centrist policies, which unsurprisingly did not meet the needs of diverse communities across the UK, many of whom were estranged by globalisation.

Blair doggedly adhered to the free market and services to advance economic growth. While manufacturing and wages declined outside of London, leaving a whole slew of folk left to fend for themselves. Secure trades were often replaced with insecure jobs, such as call centre work and warehouse employment. Blair’s centrist narrative was that of a rights-based individualism, while working class communities talked about the erosion of communal practices and institutions such as; pubs, neighbours and community centres. New Labour had no interest in values that were important to the working class such as; collective self-help, reciprocity and fraternity. Nor did Blair have any inclination to use New Labour as a vehicle for collective empowerment, in contrast he was more invested in managerialism, statism and centralisation. This working class rejection from Blair and by the Labour Party in general, I would wager, had a lot to do with the overwhelming eventual support for Brexit later on.

A similar outright rejection of globalism and corporate liberalism was equally evident in the US, which helped give rise to Trump. In an area known as the ‘Rust Belt’, states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana among others had been caught up in massive deindustrialisation, economic decline and urban decay. Workers had observed their manufacturing jobs shipped overseas, an increase in automation and a diminishing of the coal and steel industries. There have been suggestions that Trump turned these voters from Democrat to Republican, but the most accurate explanation could be that Democrats lost these voters. Obama who was once a big hope, offered nothing in real terms to the people of these regions. His centrist doctrine of ‘free market’ economics and social justice crumbs delivered poor returns in the region. Jobs continued to haemorrhage out the area, while real wages decreased.

nasty clinton

Trump during the campaign, in line with his modem operandi, offered nothing concrete. But he tapped into the desperation, emotion and nostalgia of working class people. He declared that he was going to restore manufacturing jobs to the area, while clamping down on immigration. Now, whether either of these things are possible or even true, is irrelevant, as the campaign had no relation to facts. This was about a narcissistic populist, telling an impoverished, dejected community precisely what they wanted to hear. What did the Democrats under Hillary Clinton do in response? In an act of extreme elitism, she brazenly stated that half of Trump supporters were a “basket of deplorables,” who were incidentally, racist, xenophobic or misogynistic. This comment was been vehemently rejected by Bernie Sanders, who rightly stated that the working class simply do not have a party to support them.

Countless middle class Hillary supporters and the liberal press suggested that Trump supporters were voting against their best interests. This conclusion is simplistic at best and views the problem entirely through a liberal lens. One aspect working class people voted for was dignity. As a group they have witnessed not only their jobs stripped away, but the heart of their community and their role within it. An ability to give, share and their capability as providers has been severely diminished. Although Trump’s campaign may have been disingenuous, it offered a possible return to dignity and when you have no hope, sometimes it’s worth taking a chance on the unknown.

So maybe we now have a bit of an idea why left leaning parties historically lost the working class. It could also be argued that many people don’t even identify as working class anymore. In the UK only 24% see themselves as working classed as opposed to 67% in the 1980’s. Many people who are struggling financially tend not to call themselves ‘working class’ as it is considered just another term for being poor. In contrast 71% state that they are middle class, which if you consider the UK has had 10 years of austerity with declining real wages, this is possibly not an accurate depiction of the truth. On the contrary, as a kid growing up in North Manchester, being working class was the norm and not something I or anybody else gave much thought to. I left school with 1 ‘O’ level in French and before I joined the navy I spent a year on a YTS (youth training scheme) fixing street lighting for the council. Going to the pub and playing footie on the weekend wasn’t just some romantic, wistful or even stereotypical reflection, it was part of life.

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East Lancashire Paper Mill, Radcliffe

Now, no longer is it the working class who feel integral to the spirit of the community. The old working class solidarity has been savaged by neoliberalism’s destruction of industry and the ties that held communities together. Many working class people now feel lonely, unhappy and pessimistic, while in contrast it’s the middle class who feel emboldened and a part of the community. Many factories, steel works, paper mills, collieries and shipyards had clubs, sports teams and some sense of belonging for people. No doubt that a large proportion of this started to decline long ago. Although, even in the 80’s and to a certain extent the 90’s in my hometown, which was primarily centred around paper production, all had popular clubs connected to the mills and some of the best sports facilities in the town. This is not a sentimental view of days gone by, but a reasoned look at what materialises when the ties that bind people together are broken. Thatcher never believed in society and was therefore, determined to destroy it. Blair continued with this philosophy by substituting the importance of the community and people, with consumerism.

Hordes of people from these now depleted communities regularly did dangerous, dirty, manually taxing jobs, that most of us wouldn’t wish to do. These workers often got by due to a semblance of solidarity, which existed throughout the industrial world to varying degrees. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that people who live in communities that didn’t gain from neoliberalism feel cut adrift, angry, lost, confused and are looking for something other than what currently exists. So why talk about the working class? Why are they important? Predominantly it is this group that keeps the place ticking over; refuse collectors, sewage workers and the many poorly treated warehouse workers all over the globe. This section of society have been taken advantage of more than any other, they’ve lost jobs, seen their pay decreased and witnessed government supports stripped away through austerity or pure vindictiveness. Even the phrase ‘working class’ is now, maybe by design, considered a derogatory phrase.

It’s politically ‘en vogue’ now to only care about issues pertaining to melanin levels and genitalia. However, class warfare is constantly being waged and shit rolls down hill. The ruling elite uses propaganda and distraction aimed at the middle class; such as the mainstream media and welcome theatre such as Brexit. The middle class primarily blame the working class, for example, voting Brexit, among these accusations are suggestions of a lack of intelligence, racism and xenophobia. In turn the working class take their frustrations out on the ‘unworking class’ and immigrants. This all plays into the hands of governments and corporations, who thrive when people are divided. Quite simply, if a left leaning party has any serious intentions of gaining power, with a strong desire to dismantle neoliberalism, it needs to engage with the working class and regain that once common ground.

Brexit and Remain; two sides of the same old grimy coin.

In 2016, Brexit fractured the nation, even more so than the Beatles/Rolling Stones debate in the 60’s. If you voted leave you are often considered a racist, while voting remain could result in an accusation of being a pawn of the elite. Although the powers of neoliberalism may not have cooked this up purposefully, I suspect they will not be too perturbed with the outcome. I’m not referring to the result, I’m eluding to the deep ruptures within UK society. There are sizeable divisions already carved across political party lines, economic disparities, geographical variations, racial differences, gender issues, religious affiliations and now Brexit. Each side of the Brexit fiasco attempts to grasp the moral high ground, while pretending they are the enlightened ones. I propose that neither side have got it right for this simple reason; neoliberals control the EU, whilst a neoliberal regime runs the UK under the Tories. Until the leading political orthodoxy is usurped nothing dramatic will ever occur.,

One of the first criticisms levelled at the EU is, it is undemocratic. It is indeed true that the Commission President and the individual commissioners are not directly elected by the people of Europe. It is equally accurate that under the provisions of the EU treaty, the commission can only propose laws in areas where the UK government has allowed it to do so. So maybe it is not as undemocratic as it first appears. What is worrying, however, is that the EU has a strong commitment to neoliberalism, on a systemic level. Meaning laws are designed to encourage private enterprise.

As a result of this, there has been a huge transfer of ownership of industry from governments to corporations and ultimately out of the UK. Neoliberal policies dominate the; European Commission, European Parliament, European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice. The EU constitution actually enshrines neoliberal economics into it, making it impossible to be socialist or democratic. The EU has always promoted ‘free trade’, ‘free’ movement of capital, business austerity, flexible labour markets, low pay, privatisation of public services and the eradication of welfare states.

One of the most glaring examples of the EU’s economic control is Greece. Greece’s issues were triggered by the global financial crisis of 2008. However, in 2009 the government confessed that they had been telling ‘porkies’ regarding their financial situation, this raised some ‘red flags’ in relation to Greece’s economic situation. By 2010 Greece was shut out of borrowing in the financial markets and was hurtling towards bankruptcy. To prevent this potential calamity the; International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission (later known as the Troika) issued two bailouts amounting to €240 billion.

This rescue package unsurprisingly came with strict conditions. Firstly the lenders enforced harsh austerity terms, comprising of deep budget cuts and large tax increases. These tax increases weren’t aimed at the rich particularly, in fact they primarily affected those in need. This type of ‘economic package’ from the likes of the IMF and the World Bank, was a classic ‘disaster capitalism’ tactic, as highlighted in Naomi Klein’s book ‘The Shock Doctrine’. Rather than the bailout money being utilised to stabilise the nations finances, it was actually used to pay off its international loans.

Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein

In a paper written in 2016, by the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, it was revealed that only 5% went to the Greek fiscal budget, while the other 95% was directed towards saving European banks and its creditors. Similar versions of this neoliberal charade have played out all other the world, from Chile to Russia. This one just so happened to use mechanisms of the EU as well as the IMF. In Greece’s case, there was an inept government, slow to respond to the crisis; private initiatives rushing in to fill the gaps; local officials seizing the chance to push forward pet schemes and a population too bewildered to do anything about it.

But austerity is not unique to the EU. As we know, this already exists and has been enforced in the UK by the Tory party for 8 years. It is probable that the Tories will use Brexit as another opportunity to push further legislative changes, particularly in the area of human rights. Although the UK are tied to the European Convention Human Rights until 2022. Obviously, Brexit will end free movement of labour and a seat at the EU negotiating table will also be conceded. I suggest the Tories, however, will see this as a way to construct a brave new world in their image. In particular, removing regulations that may be a burden on business, such as those relating to climate change directives.

So can I make a case for Europe as a Socialist? Lets give it a try, these suggestions to remain came from an Independent article.

  1. It gives citizens of the EU the freedom to live, work and retire anywhere in Europe. Which is great if you have the social and economic freedom to do this, which many ordinary folk do not.
  2. It sustains millions of jobs. In 2001 it was reported that 3.1 million jobs were linked to the UK’s exports to the EU. This is brilliant, but in my old stomping ground, in the north of England where 10 of the 12 most declining cities are, it’s unlikely to be much comfort for people in industrial areas such as the North East, Yorkshire, North West and the Midlands. The working class have witnessed industries such as; car manufacturing, coal mining, ship building and the steel industry disappear with nothing substantial to replace them. These skills are lost forever, often to cheaper oversees contractors.
  3. Your holiday is much easier and safer. Awesome, if indeed you have the cash to travel abroad on your zero hour contract ‘bullshit’ job.
  4. Your less likely to get ripped off. Being a member of the EU affords equal consumer rights while shopping abroad. Again I feel this only appeals to a certain section of the population who actually have the funds to travel abroad.
  5. It offers greater protection from terrorists, paedophiles, people traffickers and cyber crime. This is through the sharing of information. To be fair it’s difficult to find a fault with this one.
  6. Our businesses rely on the EU. The Confederation of British Influence estimates that the EU membership adds 4-5% of GDP to the UK. This is all fine and dandy, but there are some issues; this supposedly good news hasn’t really been witnessed in pay packets across the country, real wages are still less than they were 10 years ago.
  7. We have a greater influence. It’s considered that being apart of the EU would be the only way to be relevant on the international stage. But, for someone is who is flipping burgers in Wigan, with no further job prospects, I’m not sure the UK being important economically, militarily or diplomatically on the world stage would feel of much use to them.

So did I state a solid case for EU, probably not. It was admittedly hard to find much to be positive about. Now, I’ll try the same sort of thing with a few articles that are pro Brexit.

  1. Top of the list is immigration. We could decide who comes into the country. In a study by the London School of Economics, it is surmised that immigration could rise in the short-term. This is thought to be due to migrants visiting before the rules change. The second reason is family reunification. Article 8 of ECHR provides the right of individual persons to have a family life. Remember the UK have committed to the ECHR until 2022. Another point of contention is, the porous Irish border may well be used as a back door. Finally a points based system doesn’t necessarily restrict entry, rather that it is a means of selection.
  2. We could make our own laws again. A Telegraph article proposed that 65% of laws are from the EU. There is no definitive consensus for this, but it is thought that 13% to 65% of laws are made by the EU, suggesting that somewhere in middle is more likely. So technically yes you could make your own laws, but it doesn’t stop them being crap laws.
  3. We could set our own tax rates. This is primarily referring to VAT and to lowering it. The EU does not permit lowering VAT on goods and services below 15%. Although, as VAT is currently 20%, the government could essentially lower VAT by 5% now. As a Tory government tends to push regressive taxes like VAT more than constructing and enforcing a progressive tax such as a well thought out income tax, this point is pretty much irrelevant.
  4. Next on the list, are what can only be described as, 1970’s inspired regressive actions as suggested by the authors of the article. Firstly you could dispose of your fridge, by throwing it in landfill. Awesome! The article suggests the UK could get rid of windfarms. Pump up the CO2! Also it’s proposes no more pesky recycling bins. I guess you could just throw all your rubbish into next doors garden, like the good old days. We could also return to blackout inducing, non energy conserving light bulbs. While we’re at it, how about if we went back in time, good old ‘jumpers for goalpost’, while sending your kids to work down the pit at the age of 7.
  5. Finally, it wouldn’t be Brexit without the mention of blue passports. I always thought they were black anyway. You could soon have your own UK passport lane. Queuing up with other pissed up Brits singing “here we go” on their way back from places like Megaruff (Magaluf). Oh the joy!
street-footy-1950s
Ahh, those were the days, running around to loosen up the coal dust in your lungs.

So there was a very brief summary of both sides. I hasten to add equally shit (in differing ways of course) and each one as capitalistic as the other. The conclusion is there is no real chance of any discernible changes, unless of course Jeremy Corbyn bulldozes his way through the doors of number 10 some time soon. Sadly, I suspect the ruling elite and the media will already be plotting to defend against this eventuality. So who are the folks who voted to leave and who makes up the group who are insisting (in vain) for a second referendum? Firstly geography, every area (or country) apart from Northern Ireland, Scotland and London voted to leave. One of the most dramatic splits, however, according to YouGov was seen along educational lines, 70% of voters who’s highest academic attainment was a GCSE (or equivalent) voted to leave. While 68% of voters with university degrees voted to remain in the EU.

This as far as I’m concerned, is the closest we get to a class split, purely because you have less chance of going to university, if you are from an economically depressed area and if you attended a crap school. Plus if your siblings, friends or parents didn’t attend university, again you are less likely to go. This group are also more than likely to be from areas that have seen higher than average unemployment and a mass depletion of once prominent industries. It isn’t surprising that many were inclined to vote leave, change can be exciting and offers hope when you have little to lose.

Does this lack of education give the Remain crew some sort of moral high-ground, because they are presumably more educated? Absolutely not, people have different needs, life experiences and priorities. Also education and intelligence manifests in a plethora of ways. It doesn’t miraculously materialise in the lecture halls of universities. People learn from countless different sources. For many decades only a lucky few ever attended university, but the voices of non-attendees were still considered valuable.

For the many Remainers with a university education, their degree will see on average a greater earnings potential than someone without, especially when this is projected out over a lifetime. Many will be more economically secure, therefore, voting for the EU status quo which supports social justice, while providing the freedom and ease at which to roam Europe would make total sense. The small matter of a neoliberal juggernaut in Brussels is unlikely to bother them, as this largely middle class section of society have generally done reasonably well from the EU. So long as they can get their cheap skiing holidays to Courchevel, I suspect everything will be rosy.

Another split during the 2016 vote was age, 71% of under 25’s voted remain, while 64% of over 65’s voted leave. The accusations from under 25’s has been that the ‘baby boomer’ generation stole their future. Sadly for them it’s called democracy and if only 36% of their age group could be bothered to turn up, they as a whole have only themselves to blame. To resolve this issue the Independent suggested that maybe 16-17 year olds should vote, curiously it was estimated that 82% would have voted remain. While a piece in Time magazine, postulated that older people should not vote, as they make poor choices. Fair enough, how about we keep changing the rules until your team wins, because that doesn’t sound at all entitled does it? This seems to be a common theme regarding ‘Remain Voters’, there is a distinct air of “I know best”, snobbery and entitlement.

Did all racists vote leave? I would imagine so. Are all leave voters racist? Absolutely not. An interesting point states, only 34% of leave voters, cited immigration as their main reason for voting leave. However, if you listen to remainers you would swear that there is a Tommy Robinson in every leave voter just waiting to burst out. But understandably, after 10 years of austerity and nearly 40 years of de-industrialisation people were losing hope that things would change for the better. These areas are now homes to warehouse and distribution work, payday loan companies and slum land-lording. They are ripe for exploitation, land is cheap and so is the labour.

The working class have had to worry about universal credit, a chaotic NHS, social cleansing and scarce housing. On the other hand the middle class have emerged from 2008/9 relatively unscathed and simply cannot grasp why people would want to leave the EU. Remainers have not relented; often suggesting that those who voted Brexit were too stupid, poorly informed or just plain gullible, thus falling for the leave narrative. While in contrast Remaniacs are the enlightened ones.

It needs to be made crystal clear that the Remain clan isn’t just made up of the middle classes. It also consists of large chunks of the establishment; many politicians, corporate CEO’s, economists, scientists and the media largely led by outlets such as the Guardian. Tony Blair has obviously poked his nose in, to be fair many of the people who are staunch Remain supporters are former Blairites. Blair is unsurprisingly calling for a second referendum, he’s also stated that people who voted leave are living in denial and don’t recognise what will happen.

In effect, what the liberal elite are saying is their political views are worth much more and therefore, should carry a greater weight than others. What Blair doesn’t understand and never has, is the working class people. For them, things haven’t gone so well for quite some time, partly due to his policies. So I get a sense that they really feel they have nothing to lose. It’s less of a case of not understanding the importance of the decision to leave and more, not giving a shit about what a load of rich Oxbridge graduates think anymore.

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On the 20th of October, the self proclaimed ‘peoples march’ took to the streets of London, which is about as Eurocentric a place as there is. To be fair 670,000 people turned up, but what astonishing arrogance to call a movement ‘peoples’ when the majority of the people didn’t vote for their side. Remainers when campaigning like this, often remind me of Richard Burton’s character in 1984, asking Winston how fingers is he holding up. This clan dressed in blue and yellow, taking part in placard competitions, displaying an array of witticisms couldn’t have been any more middle class if they tried. But I’m sure this approach won over the hearts and minds of working class people all over the UK.

You could read this drivel and decide due to my derision of Remainers that I’m pro-leave and you’d be wrong. Like I intimated at the start I think the whole sorry saga is a lose-lose. But, I do have much more empathy towards the majority of leave voters and no, not the leave voters who were voting for Brexit to apparently keep out ‘Muslims’. I’m referring to the people who were crapped on by Thatcher, gained little from Blair’s middle class crusade and then were further dumped on by 10 years of austerity.

This group, if they have jobs, often make up the working poor, slaving away for people like Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame. These workers have been penalised for massive crimes such as going to the loo, while the GMB Union confirms this, claiming staff are treated like robots. It’s also suggested that 600 ambulance’s have been called to Amazon warehouses in 3 years. But hey ho, who cares as long as a middle class Remainers gets their copy of ‘Jamie cooks Italy’ by Christmas.

Will Brexit help the people who voted for it? Probably not and certainly not while the Tories are in power. I expect more of the same pain. I’m afraid, post Brexit could be accompanied by an erosion of human rights over a period of time. I suspect trade will take a hit too, as most experts seem to predict. It’s clear to me that things will not change for the better until we move away from neoliberalism and hopefully Uncle Jeremy can be elected as Prime Minister. One word of warning though, unless we win back the working class and fight under one unified idea, which should be the reduction of obscene economic inequality, Corbyn and the left will not stand a chance. Until the middle classes the likes of whom we see in blue and yellow, start communicating properly with people outside of London, rather than condescendingly lecturing them with tweets and posted Guardian articles, discernible change will never materialise.

 

Utilitarian Socialism: a need for pragmatic politics.

Once upon a time the left was known for fighting for causes outside of their own self interest. It generally didn’t matter the location of the battle or who the injustice was enacted upon, the left always appeared keen to do their bit. This morality continued for decades and still continues amongst pockets of people. Enter 2018, where the ‘pretend left’ have expanded their politics no further than their melanin levels and genitals. In reality, the left is a confusing wide range of groups all claiming to having some theoretical link to an egalitarian ideology. These tribes span from the Democrats in the US, a distinctly corporate led party, tenuously claiming to be for the people. Through to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party who continues the fight to keep Labour for the people and away from Blairite neoliberals. Of course we also have specific Socialist, Communist and Marxist groups among others to round it off.

What is worrying is not the array of groups per se, although, some of them are about as left as Reagan or Thatcher, no the problem is; what are the foremost issues for the left today and why. For some, primarily on the right of the political aisle, identity politics is considered the issue and the hallmark of someone with left leaning views. This is also conveniently utilised by right wing media, such as Fox News to repeatedly discredit the left and it must be said, with good effect. Yet for many lefties, myself included, this political arena is deeply flawed, divisive and exclusionary. It is contradictory in as much as it argues vehemently against stereotyping certain groups, yet identarians will consider certain groups, for example ‘all white males’ to be privileged. Which in itself is a huge generalisation, completely disregarding; socioeconomic, educational and environmental factors while drawing these deeply suspect conclusions.

Many on the left still consider class and socioeconomic factors created by capitalism as their main focus. In effect, it is a structural problem, starting with governments and corporations who engage in some kind of reciprocal power sharing pact. Particularly following the crash of the Berlin Wall, capitalism has been sold to the masses as the only viable game in town. Further to this, anything outside of this narrative is considered not only to be crazy, but a danger to society. The current abuse and anti-Semitic allegations aimed at discrediting Jeremy Corbyn is a recent example of identity politics being used as a weapon to protect the corporatist status quo. We are now all systematically conditioned to be producers and consumers, with most people not even being able to envision a world outside of endless malls, Starbucks and Amazon.

The magicians wielding their power; Zuckerberg, Bezos, Gates, Musk, Buffett, Murdoch, the Koch’s and co work with the world’s most powerful politicians to ensure the earth runs exactly to their specifications. To highlight this, the US in 2015 spent $2 billion on lobbying the government. Many of the biggest corporations have upwards of 100 lobbyist working to secure their interests. What has been proven in varying studies is that any issues that poorer people care about, are less lightly to be reflected in positive policy change, whereas the opposite is true of rich people. To summarise we have government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.

Business Leaders Gather For B20 Summit In Sydney
Rupert Murdoch, propagandist in chief

It is indicated that although using money to influence policy is clearly helpful, one of the key factors is socialisation. People in government typically have much more in common with CEO’s, bankers, top lawyers rather than working class people. Consider the amount of MP’s who attended Eton, proportional to the general population. There have been 19 Prime Ministers who have darkened the doors of Eton including David Cameron, other recent notable MP’s being Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Zac Goldsmith. Further establishment luminaries from Eton include; Alex Wilmot-Sitwell former CEO of USB investment bank, Martin Taylor former CEO of Barclays Bank, Charles Moore former Editor with the Daily Telegraph and Nathanial Rothschild financier.

These people tend to operate in very similar circles, therefore, it’s not entirely surprising that they are more inclined to look after one another as opposed to someone from a council estate in Middlesbrough (UK). It’s worth noting that only 7% of children in the UK attend private schools and just a fraction of these are lucky or rich enough to go to Eton. Despite this, 71% of senior judges, 62% of armed forces officers, 44% of the Sunday Times ‘Rich List’, 43% of newspaper columnist and 33% of MP’s attended private schools.

A similar trend is apparent when investigating Oxbridge. Although only 1% of the population attend Oxbridge, former graduates make up 75% of Judges, 59% of the cabinet and 47% of newspaper columnists. The US has a similar theme; George W Bush, John Kerry, George H W Bush, Steve Mnuchin (US Treasury Secretary) and Robert Kagan (influential neoconservative writer) all attended the secret ‘Skull and Bones Society’ at Yale University. This concentration of wealth and power among a few very well connected people is of no surprise and has been continuing for decades.

So what’s my point? Put simply, unsurprisingly I propose our most pressing dilemma is a concentration of wealth. We have a class system that seeks to retain power by coercing government and manipulating people into thinking that this current system is the optimal way to run society. In contrast to this, there is a section of society who tenuously claim to be on the left, who are convinced that the biggest issues we face revolve around gender, sex and race, not economic inequality. These groups are at best fickle, they often fragment and are repeatedly ‘naval gazing’ while claiming to be oppressed or at least more oppressed than other competing groups. This search for victimhood is commonly performed in the name of self interest. Feminists may claim women are oppressed, but what if these weekend activists are white or straight, remember there is always someone out there more oppressed than you.

This approach helps nobody, certainly not the “greatest number” as required by utilitarian’s. For identarians, recipients of oppression are settled upon by gender and race, even if the perceived oppression is by group association only. Whilst the working class single parent, who is struggling to pay rent and feed the kids, doesn’t get a look in, as they fail to check the required boxes for any compassion. This divides society, by producing a group pecking order of victims and of therefore, perceived importance. This has the effect of dissuading people from fighting for these particular causes. For example, only 7% of Brits identify as feminists and yet two thirds agree with gender equality.

I suspect the initial goal of these activists was well intentioned, fighting to gain recognition for marginalised groups. In recent years, however, identity politics has shifted away from inclusion to exclusion. For example; you can’t talk about abortion because you’re a man, regardless of any possible expertise you may possess. Outgroups are voiceless, and if they still want to support an in-group, they are given the title of ally, but must remain mute. Luckily (cue sarcasm), identarians are concerned with hot topics such as; cultural appropriation, mansplaining and manspreading.

While identarians are in the midst of these deep deliberations, people all over the world are being severely oppressed and many killed. In Yale the identarian mafia in one of America’s most privileged universities were apoplectic with rage a couple of years back, over Halloween costumes and the advice of what one should wear. Resident Professor and acclaimed academic Nikolas Christakis among many communications suggested, “if you are offended by a costume look away or talk to them about it”. What ensued was nothing short of the actions of a cult.

Watching episodes such as this over something that is frankly trivial, it isn’t surprising that groups such as these do not gain much widespread support. It also serves to discourage people engaging with the left, as you hear simplistic comments such as ‘loony lefty’. What we should be striving for, are issues that binds us together not what blinds us from our biggest problems. This is why I suggest looking towards a utilitarian way of conducting our politics, more pragmatism and less emotion. This may well help us deal with our many issues.

Jeremy Bentham, the 18th century British philosopher offered the “greatest happiness” principle suggesting “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right or wrong”. So with this in mind, we could compare how many potential people identarians would help with their ideology, as a net value. Then one could compare this with how many people would benefit if we made a concerted, cohesive decision to tackle the system of neoliberalism (unbridled capitalism) and the people who gain mercilessly from the efforts of others. I’m relatively sure that under this ‘utilitarian type thought experiment’ the latter would win a unanimous decision.

One glaring problem with identarians is that they are commonly unconcerned with economic difficulties, as many of them don’t have any to think about. Identity politics has fast become a middle class pursuit that allows participants to appear virtuous while not rocking the economic boat from which they have benefitted. Social justice activists often argue that a utilitarian philosophy neglects minority groups, but in this case economic inequality affects all groups, regardless of; religion, race and gender. Are some people worse off than others? Of course. But why make things better for a few, when we can challenge a system that currently causes misery for many? Further to this, we need to explore why neoliberalism and the economic inequality it causes is indeed our biggest problem.

Some background, in 2017 Oxfam stated that 8 men had more wealth than the poorest half of society, that’s 3.8 billion people. On top of this, more than 3 billion people currently live on less than $2.50 a day. All the while Jeff Bezos who pays wages too low to live on, makes (not earns) $230,000 (US) per minute. He has amassed a fortune worth approximately $150 billion. He’s achieved this by selling us shit we don’t need, while destroying many small businesses along the way. If at this point if you fail to see an issue with this, you are part of the problem and have succumbed to neoliberalism, hook, line and sinker.

I’m sure billionaires and their sycophants will vehemently counter that these people work exceptionally hard for their wealth. This may be true, but doesn’t a janitor (cleaner), a nurse or a builder not work hard? To put this in perspective, Jeff Bezos using $ per minute rate accrues $13,800,000 (US) per hour, whereby a janitor in the US earns on average $10 per hour. With this ‘proportional work’ theory in mind it would mean Jeff Bezos works 138,000 times harder than a janitor. Now, even taking into account that Bezos has arguably more responsibility, I would offer that it is not to the tune of 138,000 times more.

Admittedly this veers towards the extreme end of the scale regarding differences, but what is patently obvious is this is a ludicrous way to organise society. There have been a plethora of studies concluding that people at the top have often enjoyed excellent education, consistent support (parental or otherwise), are often middle to upper middle class and have a safe environment in which to live and learn in. However, one of the most important factors on top of all this is luck.

In several studies conducted in this area, they concluded that the most successful are also the luckiest. In an effort to tie this together, take Bill Gates; he came from a upper class background, had access to computers when only 0.01% of his generation had this privilege. Furthermore his mother had social connections with the Chairman of IBM. Is it just me or is that some sort of luck. The lesson is, don’t be fooled by people who tell you they attained their perceived success through their own hard work because nobody succeeds (whatever that means) entirely alone.

So, from a utilitarian perspective I think I should outline why economic inequality is one of our biggest issues. Sticking with our ‘greatest happiness’ principle, economic inequality has huge negative affects on the economic stability, social mobility, education, crime, health and social cohesion. It’s important to mention that it’s not just absolute poverty that causes these detrimental effects, but primarily economic inequality. So lets elaborate on this. Economically unequal countries have stronger links to economic instability, financial crisis, debt and inflation.

One such reasons for this is what’s called rent seeking. This is when people at the top of the income spectrum use their position to increase their personal gains beyond the amount needed to sustain their employment. Which as mentioned earlier is used to influence political debate. Secondly social mobility, it is well established that countries with high economic inequality have lower levels of social mobility. Furthermore, children of highly paid people are more likely to be highly paid themselves, while children of poorly paid people are likely to be lower earners. It is proposed that the principle mechanism regarding social mobility is education. Research has found a correlation between low maths and reading scores with the inequality between countries. In other words, countries who are more equal, attain better maths and reading scores than their unequal counterparts.

social mobility

There are well established links between economic inequality and both property and violent crime. Rates of crime are higher in countries that are more unequal, even when accounting for other determinants of crime, such as low employment and low income. It is suggested that economic inequality influences the way we think, act and relate to each other. Health also suffers in an unequal society; life expectancy, infant mortality, mental illness and obesity are all improved in more equal societies. The most plausible explanation for the disparity in outcome is ‘status anxiety’. It is thought that this occurs as inequality places society in a socio-economic hierarchy that fosters status competition, leading to stress, poor health and other negative outcomes. Rounding this off we have social cohesion.

Income inequality alters the way we interact and engage with society. This manifests in a decline in altruism, lower social and civic participation and reduced levels of voter turnout. One underpinning issue surrounding these problems is lower levels of trust in more unequal societies. It is thought that economic disparities increases the social distance between you and other members of the population, reinforcing the belief that they are different to you. This can lead to a lack of trust, reduced future relationships and a more fragile society.

A weakening of societal bonds and trust is fertile ground for violent crime. These mechanisms can also have an affect on how people view themselves and others. A study in the US found that people who lived in less equal states of the US were less likely to be compassionate, agreeable, cooperative, altruistic or trusting. This just about concludes my case as to why we need to reduce economic inequality. It’s my belief that this one aspect affects millions of people in a variety of ways, whilst reducing society’s potential, and therefore, the quality of life for most people.

So what’s the answer? That’s quite simple, power. Nothing can change without power, regardless where you may be in the world. To achieve power for the people you need a concern that appeals to the majority of people. For the left this will inevitably involve winning back the disenfranchised working class. The very same group who the majority of centre left parties around the world gave up on in exchange for middle class voters in the 90’s early 2000’s. Many of whom received an earful of liberal platitudes, from people such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, while losing their jobs and self-respect.

White men are now told by middle class academics and politicians that they are the gold medal winners of the title of “most privileged”. While many struggle to find work that pays enough to feed their family and pay the bills. At the same time the very same band of identarians now ponder on such important issues of the day such as bathrooms for our varying gendered or non-gendered citizens. When you place these types of issues side by side, it really isn’t surprising why the working class walked away from Labour and the Democrats.

Organising a political agenda by race, sex, gender and religion is not going to provide much work or bring people together, however hard you try. On the flip side, most people along the way suffer from the fallout of economic inequality. Not only this, but the people who perpetuate this system are often behind other large global threats, such as wars and climate change. I will conclude by stating utilitarian thinking is not easy and can be counterintuitive. Moral psychologist and philosopher Joshua Greene offers that utilitarian morality requires you to override your emotional instincts.

In essence, this may require “giving up on your convictions to do what’s best generally”. Greene states we can do this as we have 2 systems of thinking; one of automatic processes, intuitions and emotions, the other of deep thinking, logic and rationality. I could guess that most people would agree that where politics is concerned many people resort to an emotional inspired way of thinking, and often nothing gets resolved. I propose that we have to move away from our particular, safe, moral tribes and like Bentham, reason what is actually the best result for the most amount of people.

 

 

 

 

The meritocracy illusion.

Here in the west we are led to believe that if we work hard, obtain a good education and put our mind to it, we can achieve anything. This my friends is a blatant lie. It’s the kind of tale that encourages us to be introspective during moments of difficulty or even failure. We trawl through our lives looking for moments where we may have gone wrong; “possibly I should have worked harder at school. If only I’d have put more overtime in I might have got promoted” and so on. Today, however, I can reveal the secret to success, drum roll please…………………………the answer is, luck.

People who are unsuccessful tend to internalise their misfortune, rather than looking at other contributing factors such as; environmental issues, poor education, inadequate parenting or simply bad luck. On the other hand successful people commonly declare that they have single-handedly earned everything that has been bestowed upon them. I’m here to tell you that the idea of a “self made man”, for want of a better phrase is bogus. Nobody gains any kind of success, economic or otherwise completely on their own, ever.

Throughout much of the world it is frequently the case that a disadvantaged child will be a disadvantaged adult. Kids with wealthier parents tend to go to the best schools, chiefly because houses in better catchment areas are estimated to be 42% more expensive. Richer kids also have access to nutritious food, opportunities to engage in ‘high culture’ and generally have a suitably quiet place to study. All this leads to poor, bright students being overtaken by less intelligent, wealthy kids in the first few years of schooling. Only 10% of children from the lower end of society make it to university. In contrast, 80% of kids attend university who have parents from a professional or managerial background.

Furthermore a child from private school is 55 times more likely to attend Oxbridge than a pupil in a state school receiving free school meals. Social mobility is indeed rare in the west, however, there is a marked increase in opportunity with more equal societies such as Scandinavia. Sadly in terms of income distribution the US and the UK are two of the most unequal nations on earth, which is reflected by the woeful social mobility observed in both countries. I must firstly qualify the graph below; this was originally taken from the Equality Trust website and has been doctored to highlight the differences between the UK/US and the Scandinavian countries in terms of social mobility. The original graph displayed other countries to the right, indicating even less social mobility namely; Peru, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

soc mob

At this point, I’m hoping you are starting to conclude that social mobility for the more disadvantaged portion of society is generally unattainable. Success for the rich, however, is much more likely, due to a myriad of factors as previously outlined. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the dice are severely loaded in favour of the people who already hold a significant advantage. So, what about luck you may ask. Well in 2015 the Harvard Business Review investigated the traits required to be a successful CEO. Firstly the studies suggested that the positive effect of a CEO aptly named the ‘CEO effect’ varied from 2% to 22% depending on the industry. To arrive at this notion a 26 year study in Sweden measured inductive reasoning, verbal comprehension, spatial ability, and technical comprehension to measure key qualities required for a CEO position. Unsurprisingly CEO’s scored highly, but no more so than doctors, lawyers or engineers. These findings indicated that their innate skills in no way justifies the extraordinary pay these people often command. As an example a Swedish CEO receives a 1200% pay premium over an average worker.

Another reason that success of an actual CEO is thought to be based on luck, is a suggestion that CEO’s on obtaining the position quite often will have to gamble picking long term strategies which may or may not work. These actions undoubtedly will have a profound effect on a CEO’s longevity and perceived success. This guesswork is the product of not possessing a crystal ball and with no means of looking into the future any more than us mere mortals. If however, their guesswork pays off this is then calculated as part of the ‘CEO effect’ and is obviously claimed by the CEO as a completely calculated manoeuvre. A study by Markus Fitza from Texas A & M university in contrast to the Swedish study, concluded that the ‘CEO effect’ that is described as outcomes related to skill is likely to be around 4-5%, the rest is pure chance. This of course is despite what your boss may have you believe through company correspondence.

To push my ‘luck hypothesis’ further, in a recent study from the University of Catania, Sicily, scientists created a computer model of a 1000 people. Some were given more intelligence, talent and money, than the average worker, while others less. During a 40 year period a few of these people experienced “lucky events”, opportunities to boost their career in a way that could be exploited with their natural talent or intelligence. After a 40 year simulation the characteristics of the richest people were analysed. Although it was agreed that successful people did indeed possess some level of talent or intelligence, those who achieved the greatest success were invariably the luckiest. It was concluded by the authors that “maximum success never coincides with maximum talent and vice-versa”.

One of many attributes that is considered when examining success and how this is acquired is overconfidence. Results from one study indicated that overconfidence was often interpreted by many as competence. This in turn results in these self-assured bosses getting paid much more than they are actually worth. Not only that, but these types of people are generally more likely to be promoted, exacerbating their overconfidence, leading to a positive feedback cycle. In other words higher status people will often display these types of characteristics. As most bosses tend to employ like minded individuals, it is not inconceivable to suggest a whole layer of management at the same firm could indeed possess similar traits.

John Thain
Former CEO of Merrill Lynch investment bank and chief narcissist, John Thain.

This behaviour is reinforced by the “just world” bias, which convinces us to believe that the rich and powerful deserve their attained positions in the world. This idea was confirmed in a study which noted that when a student heard that a fellow student had won a random prize, positive characteristics were linked to the winning student. Conversely people are equally misguided the other way and attach negative characteristics to victims. Additionally a paper from UC Berkley concluded that narcissistic CEO’s are paid more than non-narcissistic CEO’s. Following on from UC Berkley’s study, further enquiries could well invite you to consider what are the general personality types of people who obtain vast monetary riches.

This is hard to measure, but what we do know from studies by Paul Piff is the rich are generally meaner. Piff found that lower class individuals are more “generous, charitable, trusting and helpful”. The rich donate less to charity as a share of their income than the middle class, furthermore their decisions are predominantly based on the economic climate and self interest unlike the middle class. During laboratory experiments Piff discovered the wealthy are more likely to take valued goods, lie, cheat and generally behave badly, which is incidentally widely more tolerated if you are rich. This type of conduct is all relatively easy to explain with a help of a friend, who states, “in a society that values wealth, those with wealth are worshipped as well”, Karl Marx, 1844. 

With this in mind let us highlight someone who fully embodies capitalism; lets look at Bill Gates. To begin with, Bill Gates had an upper class background, allowing him to attend a school giving him access to computers. In this day and age this may sound absurd, but at this time only 0.01% of his generation had this kind of computer availability. With these facilities Gates could obtain extra programming practice, which according to Matthew Sayed who advocates in his book ‘Bounce’ that 10,000 hours of practice is essential for mastery, was a huge advantage for Gates. It didn’t harm matters either that Bill Gates’s mother had social connections with the Chairman of IBM, this networking enabled him to gain a contract from what was at the time the largest PC company in the world.

Luck was a consistent factor for Gates during the process of obtaining the contract from IBM. Initially Gates was approached by IBM regarding the development of an operating system, but as he had never built an OS he referred the request on to a programmer called Gary Kildall. However, Kildall’s talks with IBM broke down and IBM returned to Gates. At which point Gates bought another OS cheaply from Seattle Computer Products with the secret backing of IBM. It is certain that if SCP had known about IBM’s backing of Gates the price for the QDOS operating system would have soared. Gates with Microsoft proceeded to tweak the system and re-named it DOS (disc operating system). He was also successful in negotiating a licensing agreement that allowed him to keep the DOS program, this eventually became the cornerstone of the Microsoft business. Now, nobody is suggesting Bill Gates isn’t intelligent or talented but without a substantial amount of luck Gates would never have had this amount of success or wealth and maybe we would never have heard of him.

So next time you hear the rich or their apologists suggesting that the elite do it all by themselves and are worth every penny they earn, maybe you could do some critical thinking and decide whether those remarks hold any water. It is undeniably true the rich require a whole gamut of skills and characteristics to be monetarily successful; self absorption, narcissism, overconfidence, intelligence, selfishness, some talent and of course lots of luck. But the story of meritocracy that needs to be perpetuated primarily by the ruling elite to maintain the status quo is a very tall one. Although, as right wing voters show there are plenty of useful idiots who will lap this misinformation up and will dutifully do the bidding for their rich masters when required.

The age old story that suggests the best people available will naturally rise to the top and that their ascent is driven purely by merit would be laughable if it wasn’t so derisory. An example of this fallacy is displayed on a daily basis in the form of Boris Johnson. A man who displays such a paucity of interpersonal skills, he should never be allowed within 1000 miles of public office, but still he lingers. This meritocracy fable is espoused by politicians and repeated endlessly by the media who are essentially from the same societal tribe. Gloomily this narrative has one purpose, which is to keep the proletariat in their place, while trying to tap in to our subservient nature and lack of self belief. So while we collectively fail to muster the confidence to challenge the myth of class, capitalism and societal standing, the establishment will continue to talentlessly rule as they see fit.