Tag: economics

Health and Capitalism again.

Health and Capitalism.

 

Resistance is futile” and if you heard those words uttered by the Borg, it often was. However, that did not deter the crew of the starship ‘Enterprise’ from carrying on resisting. And so it is with our current predicament on his planet. The Borg, for the global population, is the capitalist class executive supported by their political power elite. We could just call them the capitalist class or what Graham Scambler refers to as the “Greedy Bastards”.

 

One issue is the globalised ‘capital surplus absorption problem’ (Harvey 2010) which drives capital across the globe looking for profit and cheap labour. If capital cannot make a decent return it moves on, as it did in Cornwall’s mining regions in the 20th century.

The resistance to the current global capitalist system is legion (Hawken 2009), but it is disorganised, fragmented, unfocused, without a clear plan and often unsure of who or what the real threat actually is. Some of the resistance movement of course would misguidedly seek to replace one form of exploitation and crisis generation with another, but with a kinder social democratic or green face. But, while capitalism exists it never resolves its crises, it merely moves then around the globe.

 

I seek in to cut through the mess of analysis as to why we are heading for continued economic disaster which is in tandem with the ecological one, a disaster in which we are lied to by a feral elite as being ‘all in it together’, while the distribution of wealth remains in very few hands and is then turned to exploiting the planet’s natural and social capital with often deadly results.

 

This analysis has emotional elements to it, given what the science is telling us about the crossing of planetary boundaries, how could it not? It is not however based on an emotional analysis but an attempt to understand how social worlds change and upon what basis current societies are organised. It is a complex interdependence of economy and ideology shaping social relationships, which in turn shape who we are. In the coming together as individuals to trade, work, exchange, distribute, sell, buy, advertise we bring our hopes, values and ideals to that process and in turn that process shapes our hopes, values and ideals.

 

This is an agenda that brings together  ‘inequalities in health’ (Marmot 2010), the social determinants of health, Ecological Public health (Lang and Rayner 2014) and critiques of political economy. It is a realisation that education has failed us on a grand scale. It is a realisation that a few powerful men, and it is usually men, have been bought by men of wealth and have commandeered the levers of power for their own benefit, arguing as they do that it is for our own good. It is a realisation that only when populations wake up to the fact of this old fashioned class war and demand a better way of social organization that we will we have a hope of bequeathing to our children a better world. It is a realisation that well meaning individual action that does not challenge the fundamental driver is at best useless and at worse a distraction from the real battle.

It is a realisation that the war is very possibly already lost and the best we can hope for is managed decline in human welfare before restructuring of the social economy is forced upon us. There remains optimism of the will but pessismism of the intellect.

Some are more optimistic about our ability to use technology and our transformation of economic models. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate suggest that economic growth and combating climate change can be done together. In their “Better Growth, Better Climate “ Report (2014), the starting point for this “New Climate Economy” has been to see the issue from the perspective of economic decision-makers. By this they mean government ministers, particularly ministers of finance, economy, energy and agriculture; business leaders and financial investors; state governors and city mayors. None of these decision makers will be anti capitalist and probably have been schooled in either neoclassical economics or economic orthodoxy. I suspect few have read deeply or understood Tim Jackson, David Harvey, Steve Keen or Thomas Picketty, let alone volume’s 1 and 2 of Capital. I suggest that capital accumulation and the contradictions within capitalism is the base issue upon which climate change rests. Naomi Klein has recently (2014) linked these two and brought them into the public sphere in her book “This Changes everything. Capitalism vs Climate”.

Health

Upon what is human health based? It is largely social in nature, determined by the social relationships in a material world. No one lives alone and so it is in the coming together in communities and societies that we fashion the determinants of health. There is a biological basis for some individuals, and this may account for 30% of premature deaths. However genetic determinants (e.g. in cystic fibrosis) operate at this individual level and are manifest in a relatively minor way. This is not to deny that for the individual the medical condition is anything but minor, but health on population levels are not determined thus. Even genetic manifestations are at times made worse or better by the social conditions in which the individual finds themselves. Poverty has a knack of making underlying biological problems much worse.

 

Social Conditions and Relations

Marx (1859) wrote “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness”.

 

In other words, capitalism as an economic system is formed by particular social relationships which give rise to our laws such as private property, our political system and our ideas about how society should be. The current ‘mode of production of material life’ is capitalism in its various forms and is the basis for our social life and our social relationships. Simplistically, this means economic factors – the way people produce the necessities of life (mode of production) – determine the kind of politics and ideology a society can have.

If health is socially determined by social relationships, what are the current forms of social relationships that give rise to certain patterns of health, illness and disease? We know from studying inequalities in health that socio-economic conditions and relative social status determine populations’ health status including measurable outcomes such as life expectancy and the under 5 mortality rate. Other social relationships such as gender and ethnicity also affect health status. However, these are subservient social conditions to the socio-economic in the last instance. Thus material conditions and poverty are prepotent conditions for health. That is not to deny that affluent women and affluent BME’s may also experience ill health disproportionately in certain medical categories. However, the major driver for global health are the socio-economic relationships which are based on a certain forms of capitalist political economy.

Graham Scambler argues that a way to understand health is to see ‘asset flows’ operating throughout the life course:

“The noun ‘flows’ is significant here. People do not either have or not have assets positive for health and longevity, rather the strength of flow of these assets varies through the life- course”. So it is not about the static acquisition of wealth or material deprivation that is at work. It is about what assets flow in and out of people’s lives over the course of their life, and this is particularly important in childhood and older age.

The ‘assets’ are:

biological: your ‘genetic inheritance’, sex, your disabilities, your long term conditions. A healthy child born in Redruth in 1960 starts with good biological assets.

psychological: e.g. your self-efficacy, locus of control, learned helplessness. This same child grows up in social world in which she learns that female roles are pretty much limited, her belief regarding her ability to achive anything she wants is limited by the role models and messages around her. Her ‘self efficacy’ is thus reduced to acting within strict and socially moulded goals. Her self belief does not stretch to being Prime Minister. Her psychological asset is not weak but it is certainly not as strong as a young boy at Eton.

social:  family network, community networks, friendships. All her friends do not pass the 11 plus and so her network ‘learns’ a factory fodder secondary school education hell bent on training the local girls for the local textiles factory. Father drives a bus, mother works part time at the local electronics factory. No one goes to university out of the county. This girls position on the social gradient is not the worse but it is not the best either. Her social asset is low to medium.

cultural, your lifestyle choices such as smoking. Cigarette smoking is very common, all the adults around smoke, it is a rite of passage at school and fags are relatively cheap. A 20 a day habit is soon formed. This is a very weak cultural asset.

spatial: where you live, leafy Surrey or inner city Glasgow? Thankfully Camborne is a rural small town lacking the street and environemental dangers of a Toxteth or Lewisham.

symbolic: status as a ‘chav’ or as member of the elite. Thankfully growing up in rural Cornwall in the 60’s, the word ‘chav’ is not known, the demonisation of the working class has not started and there is no talk of benefit cheats and scroungers as the girl grows, she is spared this symbolic humiliation, but the ‘gippoes’ at Carn Brea are not.

material: income and wealth. As an adult, the girl ‘marries well’, her husband has a decent job and they live in a nice part of town. The house is not damp, they can afford to heat it and provide adequate food for the children.

In addition, Scambler suggests that we need to understand that:

  1. The strength of flow of material assets (i.e. standard of living via personal and household income) is paramount. This links with the material deprivation thesis explaining the link between health inequalities and socioeconomic status.
  2. Flows of assets tend to vary together (i.e. mostly strong or weak ‘across the board’);
  3. Weak asset flows across the board tend at critical junctures of the life-course (e.g. during infancy and childhood) to have especially deleterious effects on life-time health and longevity: a child born with a chronic illness, into the lowest decile of income distribution, in an abusive psychological and social environment, living in damp squalid housing in which both parents smoke, in an area of high unemployment and poor access to health care and a proliferation of fast food outlets, in a culture that demonises ‘chavs and benefits cheats’…….
  4. Weak asset flows across the board, and I daresay strong asset flows across the board, tend to exercise a cumulative effect over the life-course (negatively and positively respectively);
  5. The ‘subjective’ evaluation of the strength of an asset flow can exert an effect over and above any ‘objective’ measure of that flow (e.g. a symbolic asset flow perceived as weak relative to that enjoyed by an individual’s reference group can be injurious in its own right). That is, how we perceive how good or poor our ‘asset’ is, affects us even if that asset is not in itself injurious. This is the social comparison thesis or psychosocial hypothesis.

Scambler regards the material asset flow as vital or ‘prepotent’. Of all assets it is the material conditions of life that underpin much of our health outcomes. In this, Scambler is adopting a Marxist take on health inequalities. To argue that material conditions underpin all other asset flows is not to diminish their importance for health inequalities. This is only highlighting the key point of Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level, in that that action on the reduction in income inequality is a precondition for tackling health inequalities.

Danny Dorling (2014) points to the rising levels of inequality and argues that being born outside the 1% has a dramatic effect on a person’s potential – their asset flows – reducing life expectancy, limiting educational and work prospects and adversely affecting mental health. The ‘greedy bastards’ are of course not the 1%, they are part of it, but their wealth puts them more into the 0.01% of income earners.

What are the current dominant socio economic conditions therefore that give rise to the health and illness patterns we note, are affect the asset flows in people’s lives?

 

Political Economy.

A feature of modern capitalism, which in its neoliberal form especially has now gone global, is that it determines in the last instance forms of social relationships that are exploitative and unequal. The material conditions of life are shaped by these unequal and damaging social relationships. Thus, how much land you have to feed your family and where that land is, is determined by systems of private property, commodity prices and the rules of the state. The same goes for water and shelter. The fundamental building blocks of life, including eco systems services, e.g. fresh water, waste recycling, are subsumed within capitalist social relationships. Nature, the air, water, livestock et, upon which we depend has been fashioned into a mere instrument for human survival and development. There is very little ‘nature’ left untouched by human hand. All of nature has been turned into natural capital and is being used up as if it is limitless.

Capitalism has to continue to do what it does because of the ‘surplus capital absorption problem’ (SCAP). As surplus value accrues to the ruling class, those who own and control the means of production, it has to be reinvested or it is lost. Thus capital continually seeks new markets and new profits. It cannot stand still and so it looks to exploit more and more natural capital in the process. The drive for capital accumulation is the engine of this whole process.

When capital comes up against a barrier to this process e.g. strong labour organisations who demand living wages and pensions, it either designs a solution, e.g. strict labour laws that outlaw strikes and unions, or finds other investment opportunities. It takes manufacturing to countries where there is weak, cheap or surplus labour. This is one of the foundational contradictions of capitalism – the capital and labour conflict. An economy that is not returning 3% growth is seen as sluggish and, as we are experiencing in the UK, recessions which result from lack of aggregate demand and lack of surplus capital investment result in unemployment and social unrest.

Capitalism has proved to be dynamic and inventive. It has taken on many forms – mercantile, industrial and recently financial and consumer based. Apologists for capital accumulation argue it is good for societies, pointing to the jobs and wealth created while ignoring the social misery that often follows in its wake and various waves of ‘creative destruction’ as it comes up against barriers to accumulation and then seeks new forms. In this manner whole cities, e.g. Detroit, are nearly laid to waste as old forms of capital accumulation, e.g. car manufacturing, becomes unprofitable and shifts across the globe. In Cornwall, capital fled following its inability to make a profit from mining and engineering leaving a service and tourism sector characterised by low wages and precarious seasonal contracts. Camborne and Redruth are hollowed out towns still trying to recover from the creative destruction unleashed by the forces of globalisation that resulted in tin being cheaper in South East Asia.

Meanwhile whole populations have been ‘bribed‘ by the baubles and cheap credit that capitalism produces which, as the recent credit and consumer led boom and bust has proved, are merely will o’ the wisps. The phrase ‘wage slave’ resonates with many in so called ‘advanced’ societies who are trapped in alienating forms of work ameliorated only by the lures of consumer products and services. The promises of ‘you’ve never had it so good’ turning sour on sovereign and private debt while the ruling class run away with the spoils in ‘Richistan’.

 Wealth

We have heard the mantra “we are all in this together” which is supposed to reassure us that everyone in society is shouldering some of the burden of the consequences of the financial crash of 2008. We also hear that the UK’s debt has to be reduced quickly and that means cuts in public spending. This is an international phenomenon affecting the United States as well as Europe. Many other countries are not quite so indebted. Global capitalism is still working very well in certain localities and everywhere for the capitalist class.

Forbes has been reporting global wealth for 25 years and states that 2011 was a year to remember. For positive reasons. The 2011 Billionaires List breaks two records: total number of listees (1,210) and combined wealth ($4.5 trillion). This amount of money is bigger than the gross domestic product of Germany, one of only six nations to have fewer billionaires that year. BRICs led the way: Brazil, Russia, India and China produced 108 of the 214 new names. These four nations are home to one-in-four members, up from one-in-ten in 2006. Before 2011, only the U.S. had ever produced more than 100 billionaires. China in 2011 has 115 and Russia 101. While nearly all emerging markets showed solid gains, wealth creation is moving at an especially breakneck speed in Asia-Pacific. The region now has a record 332 billionaires, up from 234 in 2010 and 130 at the depth of the financial crisis in 2009. High performing stock markets are behind the surge. Three-fourths of Asia’s 105 newcomers get the bulk of their fortunes from stakes in publicly traded companies, 25 of which have been public only since the start of 2010.

Forbes argues that the reason they track this wealth is because these billionaires have the power to change the world. For example, Telecom billionaire and prime minister Najib Mikati supports the Lebanese government. Ernesto Bertarelli, is now focusing on saving the oceans from eco disaster. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have already traveled to three continents working to change giving practices among the ultra-rich. This is feudal ‘noblesse oblige’, the power of the divine right of kings by dint of wealth with little democratic control. Meanhwile the UK’s Candy brothers like to boast of their wealth and how little tax they pay in the context where “only the little people pay taxes” and in which the rich are winning the class war.

Meanwhile nearly half of the world – 3 billion people – live on less than $2.50 a day and 80% of humanity live on less than $10 a day (2008 figures from the World Bank Development Indicators).

In the UK, the inequality briefings report that  the richest 1% of the population have as much wealth as the poorest 55% combined; Oxfam report the 5 richest families are wealthier that the poorest 20% combined.

“We are all in this together”. Right.

Green thinking

One way to confront this machine is to get off the consumerist treadmill and hope that through collective consumer choices, i.e. not to buy stuff, that the ruling class will mend their accumulative ways, invest in health, education, the conditions of social life and design products that are ‘green‘ and ‘environmentally friendly’. This is already occurring. The plethora of products from hybrid cars to organic and locally sourced food products indicate that some companies are basing their business models with sustainability in mind. What this does not do however is change the underlying dynamic of the surplus capital absorption problem which demands growth in the economy and the overuse of natural resources.

This means there is a race on between developing goods and services that are carbon neutral and environmentally friendly and the supply of goods that are killing ecosystem services and wreck social relationships through alienating labour and growing inequality. This race occurs within the context of the SCAP which will seek to overcome any barriers to the investment of that surplus value and will not wait until all goods and services become eco friendly. If investment in eco friendly products can be found, and is profitable, capitalism will do so, but it is not fussy in this regard. Canadian tar sands exploitation is an example in which demand for oil and the chance for investing surplus capital to turn a profit cannot be overlooked.

Thus, living the good life runs up against globalised capital accumulation, especially in the form of the subsidized Fossil Fuel industry.

Green thinking is also a minority sport as it is up against other forces as well. The idea of human progress and technological advances to solve our problems runs in tandem with those who have the capital to invest. This also includes some forms of religious ideology, which affirms man’s right to dominate nature and an anthropocentric and dualist world view.

Greens need a critique of political economy or risk being sidelined in the Shire as Mordor advances its deathly grip.

So what?

It is unlikely that human populations under globalised capitalism will stop the SCAP dynamic. They don’t understand it. What they do understand is that there are winners and losers in the current system. If you win, you win big. Many also feel impotent to prevent the investment decisions being made by suits in the financial districts of first world countries. Politicians have let their electorates down or more likely could not deliver as they are merely apologists for the ruling class. Democracy is under challenge, more than ironic given that many are currently dying for a democratic ideal.

Many shrug and say ‘nothing can be done’. They may be right. The ruling class may have too powerful a grip and ‘enjoy’ too much of the spoils to change. Meanwhile the political economy of SCAP produces social relationships that determine our current unequal patterns of health.

To date, not enough people are discussing the underlying dynamic of capitalism that produces periodic crises and which may eventually allow Gaia to take revenge. We are locked into a cluster of high carbon systems underpinned by this capitalist dynamic and we don’t have a key. There is an urgent need to design one but our so called elite Universities are currently so wrapped up in producing technologies for capitalist production and equipping people with skills fit for capitalist purpose that they are ill placed to produce radical thinking, challenges and alternative plans. Education is not the solution, it is the problem. Politics is not the solution it is the problem. Ecology is not the solution it is the problem.

And as for a voice? In the UK it takes a comedian to rattle cages in tandem with a few commentattors such as Owen Jones.

“Philosophers have hitherto interpreted the world in many ways, the point however is to change it”.

That means confronting Capital. Changing the light bulbs ain’t enough and may give a false sense of ‘doing something’.

The ruins of Cornwall’s mines stand in silent testament to the destructive forces of globalisation, mirroring the ruins of people’s lives in the sunken inland towns of Cornwall’s backbone, connected together by a road that fails to take them to the golden reaches of England’s South Eastern metropolis 300 miles way.

So:

  • Join/start an anti capitalist social movement.
  • Use social media to connect for example 38 degrees.
  • Confront your elected representatives in writing.
  • Identify and contact the ‘suits’.
  • Find someone who knows what campaigning is all about and share skills.
  • Focus on your core skills, attributes and role and fashion a response that suits them.
  • Identify a sphere of influence and work within that.
  • Consider direct civic action, e.g. ‘Occupy’.
  • Read and understand the issues.

…or realise that no one gives a toss about any of this, go home and get pissed or pregnant.

 

NHS Funding – Calls to introduce charges

The Kings Fund have been looking at the future of the NHS and how it will be funded. One of those invited to discuss the issue with Kings is the right wing think tank ‘Reform‘.
Roy Lilley stated that Professor Alan Maynard tweeted about Reform’s message to King’s:
Alan Maynard (@ProfAlanMaynard)   25/08/2014 04:35 pm
NHS funding: “can we ignore pricing any longer” in KF weekly bulletin. Answer: YES! Taxation is fairer, easier to collect & opposed by cretins!!
King’s concern is about the issue of  demand for health services outstripping the country’s ability to pay. The suggestion is that the  NHS is facing a funding crisis so big that that the only solution is co-payments, top ups and insurance. This challenges the NHS principle of ‘free at the point of delivery’. I have argued in a previous post that care costs and so we have to consider who pays, but my view is that we should socialise the risk and spread the cost across society.
Roy Lilley asks: “Are top-up or insurance based systems with their overheads, actuarial hocus-pocus, running costs, surpluses, cost of collections, regulations, appeals systems and palaver cheaper and more efficient than a tax based system?”
He goes onto make the point that insurers “have to lay-off risk, reduce exposure and break even on their book. And, ten pounds to see a GP is £10 that has to be collected, administered, audited and in extremis, debt-collected. Taxes must be cheaper to administer and easier to collect”.
Kings,  in listening to Reform , are lending credence to the neoliberal dogma that wishes to shrink the state, individualise costs and encouraging private sector involvement.
The Tories used to say that the NHS is safe in their hands. The Kings bulletin will be music to their ears. Don’t expect Miliband’s Labour to challenge this.

The NHS in ruins: Small state private medical care is the future?

You would have to have been living on a desert island, celebrity obsessed or just plain ‘not interested’ to know there is an issue with NHS funding. The issue at stake is not that there is a funding gap between demand and provision, although that is certainly the case. The issue is the dismantling of the NHS as a publically funded service based on core principles. These principles are based on progressive, socialist/collectivist values rooted in social democracy. In short, the larger political project currently underway is the shrinking of the state by transferring its core functions of empowerment and protection of the public, to private, often global, corporations. The ‘moral mission’ of government is being eroded in favour of profit and individualising risk and responsibility.

 

Before we briefly examine this claim, it might be a good idea to remind ourselves of the current basis for the NHS:

 

The NHS was a political project founded in 1948 on the following guiding principles to address inequalities in access to medical services. The 3 core principles were:

1. that it meets everyone’s needs.

2. free at the point of delivery.

3. based on clinical need, not the ability to pay.

Since then these 3 have been developed into 7 principles underpinning the NHS constitution.

1. The NHS provides a comprehensive service available to all.

2. Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay.

3. The NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism.

4. The NHS aspires to put patients at the heart of everything it does.

5. The NHS works across organisational boundaries and in partnership with other organisations in the interest of patients, local communities and the wider population.

6. The NHS is committed to providing best value for taxpayers’ money and the most effective, fair and sustainable use of finite resources.

7. The NHS is accountable to the public, communities and patients that it serves.

NHS Core principles

 

These principles derive from a social democratic root, instigated initially by the post war labour government under the guidance of Aneurin Bevan , Minister for Health in the Attlee government of 1945 to 1951 at a time when the UK owed far more as a % of GDP than it does now. Despite this national debt, the Attlee government still found the money to set up the NHS. So from the outset, this was a political project based on collectivist principles and for this reason is now seen by free market conservatives, neoliberals and small state conservatives, as undesirable. However, as the NHS has huge public support, these critics of collectivism use the language of ‘affordability in austere times’ to frame the debate rather than outright argue for the wholesale privateering of the NHS and a move to individual responsibility for health based on health insurance. As part of this process, there appears an almost deliberate softening up of the public for this privateering and abdication of government responsibility for the protection of the public’s health and medical services. As a result of government policy we are being exposed to stories about NHS funding such as:

The Royal College of General Practitioners asks patients to petition the government on the issue of funding cuts”. This was reported by Neil Roberts in May 2014, who writes that a poster showing queues outside a GP surgery, and a claim that up to 100 practices face closure, is being sent to GP practices. Roberts states:

“The poster and petition, which the college is asking patients to sign, are part of the Put Patients First: Back General Practice campaign, run with the National Association for Patient Participation. The campaign calls for an increase in general practice’s share of NHS funding to 11% by 2017”.

Is this a case of special pleading? I don’t think so, the health service is facing a funding issue, including the £20 billion Nicholson challenge. In the context of rising demand, and an increasing gap in the budget to meet that demand, the NHS requires some radical changes or faces a ‘productivity challenge too far’ (Appleby, J. (2013) A productivity challenge too far? BMJ 344 e2416). One report from the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, suggested that 1 in 5  NHS Trusts were in financial trouble and bankruptcy was a real option, this despite the NHS having an overall surplus of £2.1 billion in 2012-13. This surplus may not last, and the seemingly disorganised, costly management and inspection schemes alongside the disintegration of the providers into an ‘any willing provider’ mix of public and private do not bode well for the financial future of the service. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes have also locked some NHS organisations into costly long term contractual agreements.

So, yes the NHS is facing many challenging issues that some argue require a solution not yet fully implemented, although started, by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This solution is to reduce public provision and encourage private sector organizations to tender and compete for services, they would be known as ‘any willing provider’. In theory this means Tesco as well as small social enterprises.

To get to this position, the NHS has to be seen to be not working and the current pressure on reducing public spending assists this process. Lack of funding, allied to poor services, paves the way for further privateering. The argument is that the state cannot provide the funds and also should not provide the funds, but it is the former argument – ‘austerity’ that is being used as a shield for the latter.

David Cameron, in a speech at the Lord Mayor’s (of London) Banquet on November 11th 2013, outlined the strategic objective: ‘austerity is here to stay’, he said:

“The biggest threat to the cost of living in this country is if our budget deficit and debts get out of control again…we have a plan…it means building a leaner, more efficient state. We have to do more with less”.

Debt reduction as an imperative, masks the ideological position for a smaller state.

Let us not forget, for this government will have you do so, that the debt rose as a result of the bank bail out rather than out of control state spending. The successful narrative is that the debt is all Labour’s fault and that big state spending cannot go on. The global financial crash of 2007-8 is a very useful smokescreen hiding conservative wishes to reduce the state’s functions.

Health and medical services in this worldview is not a public good, it is a commodity to be bought and sold in the market. If the NHS can be seen to be failing, to be expensive, then you have a narrative which states that the answer is selling off the services to private companies and introducing competition. So, why not privatise the NHS?

We already have a model for this; it is childcare, the costs for which is seen primarily as the responsibility of the individual and the family, with just a little state support. The private sector is paying so little for so many families with children, and private sector landlords have private rents so high, that the state is subsidizing low pay with benefits. The idea that the whole of society benefits from well educated, healthy children, and thus has an interest in supporting their development, is sidelined when it comes to paying for that care. Childcare costs are largely picked up by individuals and families. The state supports families with tax credits, child allowance and is introducing some measure of support for childcare for parents who are working. This support derives from a collectivist, not an individualist, political philosophy, and as yet has not been fully withdrawn. This is partly meeting the government’s moral mission to empower and protect its citizens. Conservatives argue however that benefits should be cut, and wonder why those who choose to have children are not fully paying for them, after all it was their choice!

We do not know how far Cameron wants to push competition and more private provision for medical services, we don’t yet know how much of the more expensive US health insurance system he wants to copy. We do know that corporate lobbying for state contracts from companies such as Serco, Capita and GE occur for the more profitable services. See this short film on NHS lobbying .

The Free University argues:

The UK government is proposing to privatise yet more public services including Ministry of Defence procurement and the Fire Services. Other institutions such as the Met Office are also being considered for sale. Privatisation of NHS services has been underway for some time and will accelerate under the secret US/EU Free Trade Agreement currently in negotiation. These are all a manifestation of “Liberalisation“.

Linda Kaucher in 2013 stated:

“Liberalisation means offering investment opportunities transnationally and since the 1980’s, successive UK governments have prioritised liberalisation in both private and public sectors. Private sector liberalisation has resulted in overseas ownership of most UK enterprise. Privatisations in the public sector have been simultaneously liberalised, so overseas investors are involved in the public sector sell-offs (e.g. water, rail), private contracting (e.g. waste collection, hospital cleaning) and PFI schemes. Right now, it is the NHS that is at stake, as it is divided up, privatised and liberalised – potentially forever: once overseas companies are involved, it is very difficult to reverse liberalisations, and, inherently, also the privatisations underpinning them. This is even more the case as liberalisations are committed to international trade agreements –  which is precisely the purpose of trade agreements.”.

The drift is towards more privateering of medical services. Will we get a better health service with improved outcomes? Lets not confuse health with medical services; health is largely socially and politically determined, so even if the NHS is fully publically owned, health outcomes are determined elsewhere (socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender….). The NHS is providing medical services to treat illness and disease and to manage chronic long term conditions. So, will private provision improve medical outcomes, will it improve services for dementia, mental health, elderly care?

Nurses for Reform.

A free market nurse think tank:

“NFR has long argued that the NHS is an essentially Stalinist, nationalised abhorrence and that Britain can do much better without its so called ‘principles’ ”. (2008).

 

Health care is part of the ‘moral mission’ of government (Lakoff 2008 ‘The Political Mind p141) to empower and protect citizens. Lakoff argues that other forms of protection, such as the Police and the Fire services, don’t require insurance and health security likewise should be a function of government. Conservatives do not believe this, they feel that you should have health care only if you are willing and able to pay for it. If you are not making enough money then you probably do not deserve it. For conservatives, health is a commodity that should come with a price in the market. The post war consensus between conservatives and socialists in the UK held back this belief. This is now breaking down and conservatives are emboldened and empowered not only to make this argument, but to enact it.

 

Lakoff poses a simple question…will the privateering of the NHS serve the overall moral mission of protection and empowerment, will protection and empowerment be best served or undermined?

 

Those who argue it will not undermine this moral mission are also set to make a very large profit out of it.

 

 

 

Strict father or nurturing parent? Family metaphors and socio-political values

Ever wonder why Tories like Ian Duncan Smith are focusing on ‘welfare dependency‘ ? Smith argued:

We must be here to help people improve their lives, not just park them on long-term benefits. Aspiration, it seems, is in danger of becoming the preserve of the wealthy.

Do you wonder why politicians such as Congressman Paul Ryan talk about  “cultures of poverty” ? Ryan stated:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

Do you know why the ‘strivers v skivers‘ metaphor is being used?

David Cameron has said his party:

“…cares about the strivers, the battlers, the family-raisers, the community-builders”.

It might seem incomprehensible to those who are of the ‘progressive left’ who might feel that the the poor are being stigmatised while the 1% are wrongly lauded as ‘job and wealth’ creators?

An answer is that our much of this political positioning is down to our values rather than as a result of rational fact and argument. Tories state these things because they truly believe them and that they arise out of their values. This of course also applies to progressives. So where do these values come from and what are they?

George Lakoff in ‘Don’t think of an Elephant‘ and ‘The Political Mind’ attempts to describe the link between our values, what they are based in, and our political views.

To do that we have to go back to the beginning of our experiences as human beings and that means our experiences in a ‘Family’.

Every single one of us experienced early life in a family.  That family might be the ‘ideal type’ of the nuclear family beloved of advertisers,  or it might be a ‘reconstituted family’ including second wives/husbands. Sadly, a few grow up in social services care experiencing a ‘family’ of a very different type. The family is an ‘agent of primary socialisation’ in sociological terms – this means we learn social norms, values, behaviours and attitudes as well as a host of other things such as language and modes of dress. The family then is a foundational social experience and our experiences of families provide us with ways of thinking about how we should live together as couples, families and within wider society.

Some of us are for capital punishment, capping welfare and social security, a strong military and intervention,  using force if necessary, to secure the nation’s interests abroad. We might also consider that those who use the railways, or universities,  should be the ones to pay for them rather than taxpayers. The same goes for health in that we should learn to take responsibility and pay for services when we need them. The nanny state should be made redundant and that taxes should be ‘relieved’ or cut to the bone.

The link between our family experiences and our politics is not very clear. We may even think there is no link at all,  and that our social and political views are arrived at after some due consideration and the application of rational thought.

Lakoff however argues that the family provides us with at least two experiences which then act as unconscious metaphors for life:

1. The Strict Father.

2. The Nurturing Parent.

These two models of family life provide us with ‘frames’  – ‘mental structures that shape the way we see the world‘ (Lakoff 2004 p xv). Frames provide us with language and values, they shape our policies, the organisations we devise, what we consider is good bad, moral or immoral. Lakoff’s work follows on from Ervin Goffman who discussed our use of frames in ‘Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (1974)’.

To over simplify perhaps, this is to say that we all hold both frames, strict father – nurturing parent, in our heads but one may be more dominant than the other. We then approach political and social life and use these frames to explain and give meaning to what we are experiencing and to what we value.

Right wing conservatives tend to have a ‘strict father’ frame while those on the progressive left tend to have a ‘nurturing parent’ frame.  Thus, issues such as social security will be seen by referring back to those frames, and in so doing  we will use particular language  such as ‘striver v skiver’ and invoke values that accord with those frames to explain and gain meaning for issues such as  ‘social security’.

Lakoff’s point is that over the past three decades or so the conservative right have been able to get their frame accepted in the media, by political parties and even in the general population while those of the progressive left have been unable to articulate their frame – ‘the nurturing parent’.  The right has done so by spending billions of $ in think tanks, universities, books, articles, research grants, professorships…..

So what are the features of the ‘strict father’ ?

This frame is based on a set of assumptions:

1. The world is a dangerous place and always will be, because evil exists.

2. The world is hard and difficult because it is competitive.

3. There will always be winners and losers.

4. There are absolute right and wrongs.

5. Children are born bad, in that they only want to do that which feels good rather than that which is right.

6. Children therefore have to be made to do the right thing.

7. This world therefore needs a strong strict father who can: protect the family in a dangerous world; support the family in a dangerous world and teach children right from wrong.

These assumptions draw upon centuries of religious teaching from patriarchal Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – that puts ‘God the (strict) Father’ at the top of the social and universal hierarchy. Early capitalist development in Europe and in the United States was founded upon these principles and found expression in the laws enacted at the time, for example the poor law in England.

Children are required to be obedient, because the strict father has moral authority – originally derived from God – as the head of the house: patriarchy. The only way to teach obedience is through punishment for wrong doing until the child can internalise discipline to do what is right.  A striver has this internal discipline while a skiver does not. Without punishment, there would be no moral authority and the social order would collapse. Moral hazard is invoked as a justification for imposing strict social policies and for not introducing supportive systems. Moral hazard arises when individuals (skivers) or institutions (e.g. trade unions) do not take on the full consequences and responsibilities of their actions. In doing so they have a tendency to act less carefully than they otherwise would.  This might result in someone else bearing responsibility for the consequences of those actions.

This idea was invoked at the inception of the NHS. It was argued that if people no longer had to pay for health care then they might take less responsibility for their health. Free at the point of delivery means people will not then take responsibility, because they don’t pay,  and the NHS i.e. taxpayers, would have to pick up the bill.

The morality of internal discipline has another affect. Discipline is required to be successful in a competitive difficult world; discipline results in self reliance and prosperity. Wealth is a result. Therefore wealth is a marker of discipline and therefore wealth and morality become linked. Those who are wealthy  – the 1% – deserve to be because of their internal discipline and self reliance. Those who are on benefits deserve their poverty because of their lack of discipline and self reliance.

The strict father frame is often supported by referring to the economic theory of Adam Smith in the ‘Wealth of Nations’ and can be seen in its modern incarnation in such conservative think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs.

This frame is unconscious, part of our brain structure, and is not invoked explicity in political discussions. When using the language that arise from this frame,  the frame is invoked and reinforced. Conservatives know this,  and hence do not rely on reason or facts to make their case – they invoke the language of the frame and talk about their values. In so doing, they reinforce the strict father frame.

When Andrew Lansley talked about the ‘responsibility’ deal he was invoking the requirement for all of us to exercise internal discipline towards our health, reinforcing the idea that children should learn to act in ways that are healthy and should learn to avoid ‘feel good’ but unhealthy lifestyles. If they fail to do so they should be punished by experiencing the consequences of their actions. The father’s (State’s) job is not to pick up the pieces afterwards. Corporations should be encouraged to support us in our actions but not forced to do so because in the end it is in our own hands to choose the right path.

Let’s revisit those ‘strict father’ assumptions as they apply to health:

1. The world is a dangerous place and always will be, because evil exists. ‘Evil’ in this sense is the existence of dangerous substances such as alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs; or is sexual desire, lust and promiscuity resulting in STI’s; or high sugar, high calorie foodstuffs.  These things are ‘evil’ and pose a threat to our health.

2. The world is hard and difficult because it is competitive. Living healthily is tough, requires discipline and application above the norm of ‘soft’ living. If we don’t work hard we will not get the rewards of, for example, access to gyms, or good expensive healthy food.

3. There will always be winners and losers. In health terms, this may be that that we are born with good or bad genes that map out for us from birth our health pathways.

4. There are absolute right and wrongs. Smoking is wrong, drinking to excess is wrong, unprotected, teenage sex is wrong, illegal drug taking is wrong…we know all of this this. ‘Just say No’.

5. Children are born bad, in that they only want to do that which feels good rather than that which is right. Adults act like children when they overindulge on fatty sweet foods that they know are bad for them, when they smoke knowing it kills and when they get drunk.  they have not learned to discipline themselves and are acting out on ‘feel good’ emotions.

6. Children therefore have to be made to do the right thing. Adults however, who have not learned to do the right thing, have no internal discipline and should therefore bear the consequences of their actions. The Obese are lazy, morally weak who should just eat less and exercise more. They were not made to do the right thing and have learned unhealthy behaviours. Adults are not children, it is too late and if they are protected from the consequences of their own actions what sort of example is that to give to children? Smokers, drinkers and drug takers should just take responsbility for their actions. Ill health that arises not from behaviour but from “genes” or “chance” invokes  no moral approbrium or blame and therefore health services should be provided. Illness that arises from poor choices and behaviours should really be addressed and paid for by those who make those wrong choices. Why should society pay for bad choices? Alcoholism, drug addiction, STI’s and to a lesser extent diabetes as a result of obesity, or lung cancer and vascular disease from continued smoking,  attract moral judgment and justified stigma.

The strict father knows that adults must bear responsibility, and are no longer entitled to his protection as they should have learned right from wrong.

Reflect on your view of health…what values is it based on…to what extent do you agree with the strict father assumptions?

As for IDS and Congressman Ryan, consider that they are invoking the ‘Strict Father’ frame. In focusing on the ‘parking on benefits’ he is reinforcing the idea that the State should not bail out people through overly generous benefits, this invokes ‘moral hazard’, instead people should be experiencing the discipline of the ‘real world’ – the strict father would be considering that they are adults that need to learn inner discipline which benefits rob them of so doing. Benefits robs people of aspiration, of the inner discipline to do better for themselves because they can receive enough to get by without having to work hard for it. Similarly Ryan is saying that inner city men are learning that work is not for them, they have not learned the inner discipline  to achieve. Further their poverty is proof of their lack of moral worth, they have not learned self reliance. If they act like children by not working  – and by arguing that they have a culture of poverty he invokes a lack of moral will to work – then they need punishing, not a soft cushion.

Why social change for sustainability may be ‘difficult’. 2014

Why social change for sustainability may be ‘difficult’.

 

Many people accept that ‘we live in interesting times’, and for example that liberal democracy in the west is facing both internal and external threats.  An internal threat is the democratic deficit in which people are beginning to feel the pointlessness of voting in the face of growing disparities of income and wealth. China’s economic success challenges notions of free market, politically liberal capitalism while at the same time the so called Arab Spring shows signs of disintegration. The IPCC’s 2013 fifth report on ‘Climate change, the physical science basis’ has not yet radically altered our dependence on fossil fuels. In contrast, investment in fracking and Canadian tar sands continue unabated while carbon reaches towards 400 parts per million, a figure last noted over 415,000 years ago (planet for life). In the UK the debate over energy is characterised by its cost and fuel poverty rather than production, efficiency or reduction in use. Sustainability solutions are being developed, but social change lags behind the unceasing rise in carbon emissions, ocean acidification and deforestation. This paper addresses the questions about our social responses and suggests that our ‘lock in’ to high carbon economies are related to unreformed, and possibly unreformable, consumer and finance capitalism.

 

When considering social change we need to think about who are the ‘communities’ who will be involved. The Transition Towns ‘movement’ is an example of a community who are already committed to some differing vision of the future based on building resilience to issues around peak oil. Grid-group culture theory, and the locking in of communities to ‘high carbon systems’, both suggest that top down education and clearer explanations do not work. Another perspective is that of Baumann’s (2001) idea of ‘liquid modernity’ in which society is characterised by atomism, individualism, fragmented social bonds and consumerism. If Baumann is right about ‘liquid modern’ society, if the ‘lock in’ is correct, and if there are competing cultural world views as suggested by grid group theory, then the future is indeed bleak for humanity because each suggests change towards a sustainable future faces major challenges.

What follows is a brief discussion around consumer and neoliberal capitalism, high carbon systems and the social ‘lock in’ (Urry 2011), and grid-group culture theory. We need to understand that human behaviour change around sustainability means accepting that that this is a ‘wicked problem’ (Rittel and Webber 1973) requiring ‘fuzzy’ solutions. This is not therefore a positive narrative with easy solutions. Baumann’s liquid modern society needs to be discussed elsewhere.

 

The high carbon economy-society.

Sociologically, we can make the following observations about our current ‘high carbon economy-society’ (Urry 2011):

The starting point for an analysis of why a society, and hence communities within that society, engages in particular practices and habits is the observation that energy is the base commodity upon which all other commodities exist (Urry 2011). We need to consider ‘commodity’ as a starting point because it is the fundamental analytical unit for understanding capitalism and capitalism is the base process that drives social forms. Commodity production, distribution and exchange forms the basis for the current ‘economy-society’, it is the infrastructure upon which the socio-cultural superstructure is based. The economics of commodity production, distribution and exchange has been dominated in western countries by neo-liberal economic theory, and the process of globalization, since about the 1980’s. Social relationship within capitalism are played out within commodity production, distribution and exchange through markets. The kind of commodities societies develop, or have access to, underpin much of social life.

 

 

Consider a society that does not have or has never had access to coal, gas or oil. All they have is the wind and water for energy. You don’t have to imagine it, those societies have been well documented and some still exist. Their habits and social practices are then based on the energy form that water and wind gives them. This is not to say that the energy commodity determines the social forms they create otherwise they would all look the same.

At the risk of being too marxist-determinist about this, any understanding of why we do what we do has to take the mode of production, e.g. capitalism, and the energy forms that underpin it, into account. Since the discovery of steam power based on coal, and then power based on oil and gas, our western societies were able to develop in particular ways until we designed a society that needs this form of energy. Thus, our community behaviours are implicitly locked into various high carbon systems that are taken for granted: 1) Energy system: coal, gas, oil which support the 2) Transport system 3) the high carbon military-industrial complex 4) Urban housing and domestic technology system, 5) Tourism, e.g. airlines and 6) food, supermarkets, agribusiness system.

These are all high carbon systems with which we have become enchanted, entranced and encapsulated, made manifest in and by our everyday attitudes and behaviours. Some of these have become very fashionable and have become embedded into everyday practice. The material physical world, its energy source, and our relationship to it, is therefore the basis for analysis here.

However we have had a problem with economics as a discipline in telling this narrative. Orthodox economics has forgotten is ‘political economy’ roots – it is as if Marx, Smith, Ricardo, Keynes, Veblen, Galbraith, to name a few, have been forgotten. However, there are signs that there is a growing realisation that this is a deficit in mainstream economics courses. Economics undergraduates at the University of Manchester have formed the Post-Crash Economics Society in an attempt to critique the ‘free market ideology’ of neoliberal capitalism taught in many Universities.

‘Free market’ Economics tries to explain human behaviour using overly ‘instrumentally orientated, rational planning, utility maximizing’ model of human behaviour, populated by ‘homo economicus’. John Urry critiques this for failing to address the fundamental relationship between people and the material physical world:

most of the time people do not behave as individually rational separate economic consumers maximising their individual utility from the basket of goods and services they purchase and use given fixed unchanging preferences…(we are) creatures of social routine and habit…fashion and fad…(we are) locked into and reproduce different social practices and institutions, including families, households, social classes, genders, work groups, schools, ethnicities, generations, nations…. (Urry 2011 p4).

The material conditions of economic life that we are locked into and so dominate our thoughts and actions are carbon based. For example, how we move physically in our locality is now almost exclusively by the use of the motorcar. We simply do not walk, much. It is as if cars have taken on a quasi-spiritual ‘Top Gear’ meaning for us, moving beyond simply a means to a travelling end. Being asked to give up the car is like being asked to give up sex. Unthinkable. So the social practices of meeting up together, employment, going shopping, sport and entertainments, are very often mediated through the use of the motorcar.

 

 

To date we have to accept that much of social science has been ‘carbon blind’ and has analyzed social practices without regard to the resource base and energy production that we now know are crucial in forming particular social practices. We have to now realize that social practices are in a dialectal relationship with the high carbon economy-society and that individuals within it have internalized this economy-society so that it becomes who they are. This explains persistence of behaviours within certain economies.

 

Social and Individual behaviour change within high carbon economy-societies.

Social change results from myriad, often competing factors such as class struggles, for example between labour and capital;  from ideological struggles, for example over Austerity economics; the technological, for example the ‘washing machine (Chang 2010), and from the pragmatic availability of material resources at hand. The task facing us is assisting in some small way the unlocking of communities from some aspects of these high carbon systems and of ideological commitments to forms of economy that trash the planet and also encourages inequalities in income and wealth that are socio-politically damaging (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009).

So, we live in societies that are locked into high carbon systems. We are also being asked to change our behaviour to adopt low or zero carbon habits, fashions and social practices. “Deep greens” ask us to fundamentally change everything about how we live. This rejects all high carbon systems, and that means rejecting totally consumer capitalism. ‘Mainstream’ sustainability adopts a less radical approach including the idea that capitalism can be reformed. The focus in the latter is not on complete system overhaul but on incremental individual behaviour change while encouraging and being encouraged, or ‘nudged’ by governments and corporations to do the right thing.

A technology of behaviour change is the UK’s ‘Pro-environmental Behaviours Framework’. Social conduct can be divided up into segments, e.g. our travel behaviours, which are then amenable to intervention. We can re-engineer choices step by step. Behaviour forms under certain conditions which then can be manipulated using social marketing techniques. Concepts include: ‘Behavioural entry points’, ‘wedge behaviours’, ‘behavioural levers’, ‘choice editing’. There is a set of 12 headline behaviour goals categorised within 3 areas of consumption: 1) personal transport 2) homes and 3) Eco-products.  This is the ‘change the lighbulbs approach’ to climate change and sits within a taken for granted neoliberal paradigm which sees the citizen consumer exercising their freedoms within deregulated markets. This is a technical-rational approach that assumes that there is no contradiction between greening our lifestyles and the capitalist system’s need for growth and consumption to increase.  This focus on changing the individual’s behaviour also obscures questions of collective social responsibility and power. Thus we have the project of the ‘carbon calculating’ consumer who may be nudged to do the right thing, to exercise choice within frameworks of governance that does not challenge the fundamentals of consumer capitalism chasing GDP growth.

 

Neo-liberal consumer capitalism

The paradigm within which all of this sits is that of neoliberal consumer capitalism. This requires, or rather has to have, 3% growth on capital accumulation (Harvey 2010), deregulated markets and accelerating consumption. GDP growth is the central goal of economic policy. This form of capitalism also externalises costs, has cycles of crises due to the surplus capital accumulation problem (Harvey 2010) and relies on technological solutions (Ben-Ami 2010). It also wishes to rely on individual responsibility for health, welfare and social problems, e.g. Big Society solutions. Baumann calls it “a parasitic form of social arrangement which may stop its parasitic action only when the host organism is sucked dry of its life juices” (1993:215). The contradictions between consumer capitalism and sustainability are obscured, power and collective responsibility issues are marginalised. It produces two main approaches to carbon reduction:

1. Macro economics: e.g. cap and trade systems, e.g. the EU’s Emission Trading System.

2. Micro economic techniques designed to encourage pro environment consumer choice.

It does not however look to itself to change.

What this seems to imply is that consumer capitalist societies will not address carbon reduction other than within this paradigm. If we are locked into clusters of high carbon systems, and given the limits to growth (Meadows, Randers and Meadows 2004), the crossing of ‘planetary boundaries’ (Rockstrom et al 2009) and ecological devastation,  then we will need to focus more and more on disaster management. David Selby made this point in 2007 in ‘as the heating happens’.  Behaviour change technologies such as the pro-environment behaviours change framework cannot address the fundamental driver of carbon emissions in anything like the time frame required because neoliberal capitalism will always outrun sustainability due to its need for growth and consumption. Its very mechanism is antithetical to sustainable living.

 

Resistance to Change.

Webb (2012) suggests citizen consumer knowledge on climate change is patchy at best. Short term concerns over the practicalities, convenience and cost of domestic and social life unsurprisingly dominates longer term concerns. Surveys demonstrate that we on the one hand identify with the need to adopt a low carbon future but on the other hand adopt high carbon choices. This ‘value-action gap’ is seen by government as a non reflexive fact about self interest, we don’t think about the contradictions in our answers, which is then seen as a barrier to change. In other words, self interest is supposed to drive behaviour but from a governments point of view we are not seeing our self interest as lying towards a low carbon future. We are paradoxically acting against our self interest. We value a low carbon future but we act as if we don’t because we are not reflecting on the connections.

However, surveys do not pick up the ‘situatedness’ of our response and the meaning we give to questions about low carbon living; cultural perspectives, social institutions and political values mediate the responses to attitudinal surveys and interpretations of climate science (Leiserowitz et al 2010). Therefore survey responses cannot be taken to be any true account of our actual preferences because our actual social practices are bounded by the material life we live in, the sorts of houses we have, the cars we drive, the products we buy.

 

Despite ‘sustainability’ seeming to be mainstream, vis the Climate Change Act 2008 and various initiatives and policies such as those of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, the continuing existence of and adherence to the high carbon systems are implicated in the lack of progress towards a low carbon future. This will not change until enough individuals and organisations can free themselves. To do this we will need to encourage the development of perceptions that do not encourage social threat. For sustainability to become fashionable it has to be non-threatening or else change will be resisted.

Knowing the science, knowing the role of carbon in social practices is not enough. A personal commitment to a more sustainable lifestyle requires dealing with the direct threat this imposes to current values and behaviours that are experienced socially. If one’s family is not similarly committed, if one’s job or career is threatened by behaviour change such as reducing hours worked or changing to a more sustainable but lesser paid job, then the personal price may be too high to pay even for those who who ‘buy in’ to the sustainability agenda.

For those who do not yet accept or know that there is an issue, appealing to rationality, explaining the science, does not work because we are not rational and we have different ways of understanding the world. Individuals, with varying emotional drivers, vested interests and differing ways to rationalize behaviour, will collect together perhaps virtually as well as physically, and form groups that support their interests and knowledge. Social groups thus form around their various orientations to social cohesion and how they consider what are solutions to social problems. This brings forth various forms of resistance to change as outlined in ‘Grid-Group Theory’.

Grid-Group Culture Theory

‘Grid-Group’ Culture Theory (Douglas 1992) describes individual perceptions of societal dangers and then the response to them. Individuals tend to associate societal harms with conduct that transgresses societal norms. Sustainability practices may seem to many to be just such a transgression of norms. For example, the social norm of, say car ownership in a rural community, is transgressed by those advocating active transport, e.g. walking, cycling. Regardless of the actuality, public transport in rural areas is seen as non existent and current lifestyles demand a car – walking is just not an option. So, a social harm caused by giving up the car may be perceived to be the lack of communication with needed services in the countryside that is poorly served by public transport. This tendency to equate social harm, Douglas argued, plays an indispensable role in promoting certain social structures, both by imbuing a society’s members with aversions to subversive behavior such as ‘Transition Town Behaviour’ or selling the family car, and by focusing resentment and blame on those, e.g. sustainability advocates, who defy such institutions such as the petrol/steel/car  privatized Transport system.

The second important feature of Douglas’s work is a particular account of the forms that competing structures of social organization assume. Douglas maintained that cultural ways of life and affiliated outlooks can be characterized within and across all societies at all times along two dimensions, which she called “group” and “grid”. A “high group” way of life exhibits a high degree of collective control, whereas a “low group” one exhibits a much lower one and a resulting emphasis on individual self-sufficiency. A “high grid” way of life is characterized by conspicuous and durable forms of stratification in roles and authority, whereas a “low grid” one reflects a more egalitarian ordering.

 

 

It might then be suggested that Conservatives are low ‘group’ advocates putting faith in individual action and freedoms and would therefore seek sustainability solutions in free markets and freedom from government diktat. Socialists tend towards high ‘group’ orientations seeking solutions in such things as international binding treaties and government action on climate change. Indeed some claim that climate sceptics are more likely to be conspiracy theorists and free market advocates.

Douglas and Wildavsky (1982) previously had focused largely on political conflict over air pollution and nuclear power in the United States. They attributed political conflict over environmental and technological risks to a struggle between adherents of competing ways of life associated with the group-grid scheme: an egalitarian, collectivist (“low grid,” “high group”) one, which gravitates toward fear of environmental disaster as a justification for restricting commercial behavior productive of inequality; and individualistic (“low group”) and hierarchical (“high grid”) ones, which resist claims of environmental risk in order to shield private orderings from interference, and to defend established commercial and governmental elites from subversive rebuke.

Later works in Cultural Theory suggested that group-grid gives rise to either four or five discrete ways of life, or ways of thinking and rationalising about life, each of which is associated with a view of nature: as robust, as fragile, as capricious, that is congenial to its advancement in competition with the others:

 

  • The Collectivist.
  • The Individualist.
  • The Egalitarianist.
  • The Fatalist.

 

There may be a fifth: The Hermit – those who withdraw from social life as completely as possible.

The model is a two-by-two table, though it must be emphasized that the lines are arbitrary — the two dimensions are spectra, not binary divisions.

 

Let’s be realistic, in communities where cultural shifts are being forced through on the back of austerity programmes, many are locked into clusters of high carbon systems that will be almost impossible to break out of. This may lead to feelings of Fatalism. The fatalist culture considers there are many differences, and only limited bonding, between groups people within society. A result of this is that those ‘who have’ feel little obligation towards the ‘have nots’. Individuals are left to their own fates, which may be positive or negative for them. They thus may become apathetic, neither helping others nor themselves. Those that succeed, however, feel they have done so on their own merits and effectively need those who are less successful as a contrast that proves this point.

Neoliberalism encourages low group (individualised) low grid (no external constraints) cultural forms, manifest in the perversity of the unemployed blaming themselves for being out of work during a time of austerity and recession! In an individualistic culture, people are relatively similar yet have little obligation to one another. People enjoy their differences more than their similarities and seek to avoid central authority. Self-regulation is a critical principle here and in the arena of health, self control and personal responsibility are emphasized. If one person, or an ‘elite’ takes advantage of others then power differences arise and a fatalistic culture could develop. Individualistic cultures favour market solutions, accepting competition, laissez faire, pragmatic materialism as answers to social and economic issues.

We are at a point in history where the struggle between these cultural forms are being played out within a Neoliberal hegemony. Western media and politics are dominated by those who proffer free market solutions to social issues. They are distrusting and accusatory of international solutions, fearing they are on the ‘road to serfdom’. These voices are low group, low grid cultural forms. Countervailing voices are denounced as socialist and communist responsible for the economic woes of western democracies. This is despite the fact that the financial crash of 2008 was precipitated not by social democratic policies but by the deregulation of financial markets and the encouragement of personal and sovereign debt. The result is that many people are now concerned not about ocean acidification or other potentially devastating environmental issues but by the immediate problems of job losses, low incomes and high personal and public debt. This is only to be expected whereby the immediate economics underpinning social relations bring forth certain cultural forms, behaviours and attitudes. It still is “the economy, stupid”.

One light is Paul Hawken’s idea of the ‘Blessed Unrest’.  Hawken describes a worldwide movement for environmental and social change; a movement largely unrecognized by the mainstream media and politics, but nonetheless are countervailing voices. This movement has no leader, no overarching organisation, no one constitution but it is coming from ordinary citizens and groups who share a different vision for the world based on social and environmental justice. Hawken calls this movement ‘unstoppable’.

Conclusion.

The four rationalities expressed with grid-group culture theory explain why change is difficult. The issues are contested and even if agreed upon, the solutions will be very different. What will then be required is the development of cultural forms and politics that encourage all forms of rationality and solutions so as to harness the variances in people’s social orientations. However, a politics dominated by neoliberalism allows denial and individualism to trump necessary collectivist and egalitarian solutions to global problems. Ultimately though, grid group theory takes us only so far. It is an examination of political economy, such as that of neoliberalism and other variants of capitalism, that require analysis and social change. The challenge now is whether individuals and societies can adapt and develop fast enough to break out of high carbon systems before the full effects of climate change become potentially catastrophic.

 

Benny Goodman 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refs:

Baumann, Z. (2000) Liquid Modernity. Cambridge. Polity

Ben-Ami, D (2010) Ferrari’s for all. Polity Bristol

Chang. Ha-Joon. (2010) 23 Things they don’t tell you about capitalism. Bloosmbury New York.

Douglas, M., Wildavsky, A.B. (1982) Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technical and Environmental Dangers. Berkley, University of California Press.

Douglas, M. (1992). Risk and Blame: Essays in Cultural Theory. London: New York: Routledge

Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Smith, N. and Dawson, E. (2010) Climategate, public opinion and the loss of trust. Yale Project on Climate Communication. July. [online] http://environment.yale.edu/climate/publications/climategate-public-opinion-and-the-loss-of-trust/

Meadows, D., Randers, J., and Meadows, D. (2004). Limits to growth: the 30 year update. Earthscan. London.

Harvey, D. (2010) The Enigma of capital and the crises of capitalism. Polity. Cambridge

Urry, J. (2011) Climate Change and Society. Cambridge. Polity Press.

Rittel, H, and Webber, M. (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning  pp. 155–169, Policy Sciences, Vol. 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Inc., Amsterdam [Reprinted in N. Cross (ed.), Developments in Design Methodology, J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1984, pp. 135–144

Rockström, J. Steffen, W., Noone, K. et al (2009) A safe operating space for humanity. Nature. 461. Pp 472-475. 24th September.  http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v461/n7263/full/461472a.html accessed 8th January 2011

Selby, D. (2007) ‘As the heating happens: Education for sustainable development or education for sustainable contraction? Discourse, Power, Resistance Conference, Talking Truth to power’, http://www.esri.mmu.ac.uk/dpr_07/abstracts_07/index.php accessed 25th March 2009

Webb J (2012) Climate change and society: The chimera of behaviour change technologies. Sociology. 46(1): 109-125.

Wilkinson, R and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit level. Why equality is better for everyone. Penguin. London.

 

How to save the NHS?

How to save the NHS?

 

 

In the context of rising demand, and an increasing gap in the budget to meet that demand starting with the £20 billion Nicholson Challenge, the NHS requires some radical changes. One report from the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, suggested that 1 in 5  NHS Trusts were in financial trouble and bankruptcy was a real option, this despite the NHS having an overall surplus of £2.1 billion in 2012-13. This current surplus may not last, and the seemingly disorganised, costly management and inspection schemes alongside the disintegration of the providers into an ‘any willing provider’ mix of public and private do not bode well for the financial future of the service. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes have also locked some NHS organisations into costly long term contractual agreements.

 

So, what is the answer? Roy Lilley puts foward some radical solutions but it amounts to his oft quoted phrase “fund the front line, protect it fiercely, make it fun to work there”  and the problems go away.

 

Roy’s answer for Trust Boards:

 

  1. Cull the boards – too many people staffing Trust boards are locked into organisational thinking and theory that has got the NHS where it is. That is to say that although shared or distributed leadership is often discussed in the NHS Leadership Framework, it is often not practiced. Leadership should not be restricted to those who hold designated management roles – success comes from leadership based on shared responsibility recognising that anyone in an organisation can contribute. In Roy’s words, “staff always know best”.
  2. Get staff re positioned as co-owners and partners and have then on key committees and boards.
  3. Get as many women into management as possible.
  4. Change the organisational culture so that pointing out error is fine.

I would add:

  1. Focus on patient safety.
  2. Ensure minumum staffing levels.
  3. Ensure teams work in such a way that every voice matters.

For the NHS as a whole Roy suggests:

  1. Get rid of Monitor totally, it is expensive and has failed.
  2. Get rid of the CQC, it is expensive and it has failed.
  3. Stop financing any NHS initiative that is not front line, that includes things such as the NHS Leadership Academy, even if they are doing a good job.
  4. Scrap the market: health does not pay and the private sector knows it. This means repeal of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
  5. Consolidate PFI debt, spread it across the NHS.
  6. Insist on a year on year 5% cut in all supplies and pharmaceuticals.
  7. A blanket pay freeze for 12 months.
  8. Scrap the CCGs.
  9. Give capitated population based budgets to Foundation Trustss and vertically integrate primary, community and social care. Let FT’s configure boards of their own choosing.
  10. Invest in doubling the bandwidth and make everything you can web based.

 

Some of these are radical changes, some Trusts are making progress through focusing on staffing levels, listening to front line staff and relentlessly focusing on patient safety. Salford NHS trust engaged staff very early on in their ‘Safely Reducing Costs’ programme. As a result staff came up with the ‘Smart health = Smart savings’ scheme. This involved on a monthly basis ideas being considered, with the best selected for development. Salford also has a ‘Quality Improvement Strategy’ aimed at patient safety. Staff initiated tests of change and senior leaders engaged in weekly ‘safety walkarounds’ . Salford also addressed staffing levels with the BBC reporting the ‘one nurse to 8 patients’ ratio, a level that under no circumstances should staffing levels fall (Safe and Sound – the safe staffing alliance).

 

The question for others in the NHS, seems to be around a lack of leadership at the right levels and ossified organisational cultures and thinking based on ideological commitments to competitive markets in health care provision. Leadership and management too divorced from the real issues front line staff face and a political leadership hide bound to political dogma and the private sector lobby who will benefit from cherry picking health contracts.

 

How much is enough?

Robert and Edward Skidelsky, father and son, address the question ‘How much is enough’, in their recently published book (2012). Robert Skidelsky, professor of political economy, and Edward, lecturer in philosophy, wish to suggest what might the elements of a ‘good life’ accepting that this indeed can be known. Following on from this they suggest that the goals of economic policy should be directed to foster the good life, if we can know what that is, rather then directed towards encouraging mindless GDP growth for growth’s sake. They do this through briefly exploring the work of the renowned economist John Maynard Keynes and through examining the long traditions of philosophical thought. They critique current economic thinking, measurements of happiness and examine some weaknesses of environmentalism.

Underpinning their argument throughout is the notion that wealth is not the ends of a good life, it is merely a means, and not the only or exclusive means at that. In addition to this failure to identify what the ends of economic policy should be, current economics and culture conflates needs and wants thus failing to make the distinction between the two. Policies aimed at the relentless pursuit of money, are then counterproductive because they fail to direct us into asking when we have enough and what a good life is.

Wealth is not what they would classify as a ‘basic good, and is not automatically an element of ‘the good life’. This might seem counterintuitive and goes against the grain of a ‘euromillions lottery, celebrity-obsessed, consumerist culture’. However, many already know that the ‘love of money is the root of evil’ even if they often fall victim to its lures.

 

The argument is of course highly relevant in cultures which have elevated money making and economic growth as ends in themselves. The results of so doing are environmental damage, social division and a diminution of human flourishing, or as Skidelsky and Skidelsky say eudaimonia’.

They leave it until chapter 6 to outline what they consider are the ‘elements of the good life’, which they say could apply across cultures and across time.

So what are these elements (the basic goods) and how do they go about deciding what they should be? Accepting that the choice of these goods could be arbitrary, they argue for inclusion criteria to prevent this. There are thus 4 inclusion criteria to use to choose the ‘basic goods’.

1.    Universality. Basic goods apply across time, cultures, and not just from a localised, time-bound definition of them.

2.    Finality. They are goods in themselves and not a means to an end. Keep asking the ‘what is it for’ question. Money, what is it for? To buy food. Food, what is it for? For life. Life, what is it for? Well, life is not ‘for’ anything, it is not a means to an end, it is an end.

3.    Sui Generis. That means it exists on its own and is not part of anything else. So, ‘freedom from cancer’ is part of larger whole, the good of ‘health’ generally.

4.    Indispensable. Anyone who lacks a basic good can be deemed to have suffered serious harm or loss. Another way is to think of basic goods as needs.

In establishing these criteria of sufficiency, the task is to treat a ‘good’ as basic only if its lack constitutes serious harm or loss, for it is “…only such goods whose possession could be thought to constitute ‘enough’ ” (p153).

In choosing these basic goods they acknowledge that there is fuzziness, room for argument and overlap, but in such matters as this they argue for “honest roughness is better than spurious precision”. (p 154).

The seven basic goods:

1.    Health.

2.    Security.

3.    Respect.

4.    Personality.

5.    Harmony with nature.

6.    Friendship.

7.    Leisure.

Of course each of these need defining and argument, but maybe that is the point. However tempting it may be to descend into a hermeneutic vortex of relativist definition seeking, and as much fun as that might be in academic discourse, this list could be used as a basis for some universal agreement about how much is enough for a ‘good life’. An interesting exercise would be to gather people of faith and those of no faith to discuss the criteria and the seven basic goods. This would highlight subjective definitions of what for example ‘respect’ means. The list itself is difficult to argue with, who does not want health and security?

Herein lies a problem and that is ‘Politics’. The political class, the capitalist class, have yet to show any signs of social solidarity and thus a desire for the development of these basic goods. The marketisation of society, the commodification of all things, continues apace while the main political parties bow down to the God of growth. The Skidelskys resurrect  Keynes who thought that capitalism was a necessary if nasty route to prosperity and well being. He thought increased GDP would provide ‘enough’ and would usher in a shorter 15 hour working week. Yet despite increased national wealth we are now working longer hours. It is however the spirit of Hayek and the triumph of neoliberal free market ideology which has been unleashed upon Western economies. Hayek would want governments to go even further in their attempts to wither away the State. However without a strong civil society and a strong state, the 7 basic goods have no chance of being realized. They are just too vague and do not serve the interests of capital which requires the increase of profit, driven by competitive advantage.

Skidelsky, R., and Skidelsky, E. (2012) How much is enough? The love of money, and the case for the good life. Allen Lane, London.

one reason why social change for sustainability may be difficult

Sustainability and Social change.

 

When considering social change we need to think about who are the ‘communities’ who will be involved. The Transition Towns ‘movement’ is an example of a community who are already committed to some differing vision of the future (based on building resilience to issues around peak oil). Whatever ‘community’ we work with, a principle has to be facilitating self-organising systems and not being proscriptive in offering sustainability solutions. Rather we could aim to facilitate social networking whereby the community helps to connect and offer their own solutions. Grid-group culture theory and the locking in of communities to high carbon systems both suggest that top down, education and clearer explanation do not work. Another perspective is that of Baumann’s (2001) idea of ‘liquid modernity’ in which society is characterised by atomism, individualism, fragmented social bonds and consumerism. Community movements such as ‘Transition towns’ are trying to work against this social tide. What follows is a brief discussion around high carbon systems and social lock in (Urry 2011) and grid-group culture theory. We need to understand that human behaviour change around sustainability means accepting that that this is a ‘wicked problem’ (Rittel and Webber 1973) requiring ‘fuzzy’ solutions.

 

Climate Change and Society and Social Change.

I found the following analysis helpful in getting my head around the issues of community behaviour and attitudinal change.

Sociologically, we can make the following observations about our current high carbon ‘economy-society’ (Urry 2011):

The starting point for an analysis of why a society (and hence communities within that society) engages in particular practices and habits is the observation that energy is the base commodity upon which all other commodities exist (Urry 2011). Why start with commodity? Commodity production, distribution and exchange forms the basis for the current ‘economy-society’ which has been dominated by neo-liberal economic theory since about the 1980’s and the processes of economic globalization. It is this economic infrastructure that determines in the last instance culture and behaviours.  I don’t mean to be too marxist-determinist about this but any understanding of why we do what we do has to take this into account. Thus, in the 21st century following on from the industrial revolution our community behaviours are implicitly locked into a series of interlocking clusters of high carbon systems that are taken for granted: 1) coal/gas/electric grid power 2) petrol, steel and cars 3) the carbon military-industrial complex 4) suburban housing and domestic technologies, 5) airlines/foreign tourism and 6) food/supermarkets/agribusiness. These are all high carbon systems with which we have become enchanted, entranced and encapsulated, made manifest in and by our everyday attitudes and behaviours. Some of these have become very fashionable and have become embedded into everyday practice.

 

To date we have to accept that much of social science has been ‘carbon blind’ and has analysed social practices without regard to the resource base and energy production that we now know are crucial in forming particular social practices.

 

Economics as a discipline tries to explain human behaviour, but has limits as it has an overly ‘instrumentally orientated, rational planning, utility maximizing’ model of human behaviour (‘homo economicus’). John Urry critiques modern economics for failing to address the fundamental relationship between people and the material physical world:

 

most of the time people do not behave as individually rational separate economic consumers maximising their individual utility from the basket of goods and services they purchase and use given fixed unchanging preferences…(we are) creatures of social routine and habit…fashion and fad…(we are) locked into and reproduce different social practices and institutions, including families, households, social classes, genders, work groups, schools, ethnicities, generations, nations…. (Urry 2011 p4).

 

This really muddies the waters, it requires understanding that behavior change results from myriad inputs raging from the ideological and analytical to the pragmatic availability of material resources at hand. Therefore any web 2.0 technologies will operate in this ‘economy-society’ space. 

 

So how do new habits form? What is fashion and what are the effects of this? Do we need ‘the fashionable imagination’ – is there a quality of mind that spots and encourages low carbon fashions which are supported by technologies and commodities that use less carbon based energy? The task facing us is assisting in some small way the unlocking of communities from some aspects of these high carbon systems. To do that, we also have to acknowledge, from cultural theory, the actualities of resistance and then plan accordingly. One positive about web 2.0 is that it may bypass the fatalists and allow engagement by those who seek resistance to current practices (Mason 2012).

 

 

Resistance to Change:

 

Despite ‘sustainability’ seeming to be main stream (vis the Climate Change Act 2008 and various initiatives and policies such as those of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit), the continuing existence of and adherence to the high carbon systems are implicated in the lack of progress towards a low carbon future. This will not change until enough individuals and organisations can free themselves. To do this we will need to encourage the development of perceptions that do not encourage social threat. For something (sustainability) to become fashionable is has to be non-threatening. Appealing to rationality, explaining the science, does not work because we are not rational and we have different ways of understanding the world. Social groups form around various orientations to social cohesion and the locations of solutions to social problems (Grid-Group or Cultural theory).

 

‘Grid-Group’ Culture Theory (Douglas 1992) describes individual perceptions of societal dangers and then the response to them. Individuals tend to associate societal harms with conduct that transgresses societal norms. Sustainability practices may seem to many to be just such a transgression of norms. For example, the social norm of, say car ownership, is transgressed by those advocating active transport (walking, cycling) in a rural community. A social harm may be perceived to be lack of communication with needed services in the countryside poorly served by public transport. This tendency to equate social harm, Douglas argued, plays an indispensable role in promoting certain social structures, both by imbuing a society’s members with aversions to subversive behavior (such as ‘Transition Behaviour’) and by focusing resentment and blame on those (e.g. sustainability advocates) who defy such institutions (such as the petrol/steel/car transport system).

The second important feature of Douglas’s work is a particular account of the forms that competing structures of social organization assume. Douglas maintained that cultural ways of life and affiliated outlooks can be characterized (within and across all societies at all times) along two dimensions, which she called “group” and “grid.” A “high group” way of life exhibits a high degree of collective control, whereas a “low group” one exhibits a much lower one and a resulting emphasis on individual self-sufficiency. A “high grid” way of life is characterized by conspicuous and durable forms of stratification in roles and authority, whereas a “low grid” one reflects a more egalitarian ordering.

Douglas and Wildavsky (1982) previously had focused largely on political conflict over air pollution and nuclear power in the United States. Theyattributed political conflict over environmental and technological risks to a struggle between adherents of competing ways of life associated with the group-grid scheme: an egalitarian, collectivist (“low grid,” “high group”) one, which gravitates toward fear of environmental disaster as a justification for restricting commercial behavior productive of inequality; and individualistic (“low group”) and hierarchical (“high grid”) ones, which resist claims of environmental risk in order to shield private orderings from interference, and to defend established commercial and governmental elites from subversive rebuke.

Later works in Cultural Theory systematized this argument (see below). In these accounts, group-grid gives rise to either four or five discrete ways of life, each of which is associated with a view of nature (as robust, as fragile, as capricious, and so forth) that is congenial to its advancement in competition with the others.

 

 

The Collectivist

The Individualist

The Egalitarianist

The Fatalist

 

The Hermit

 

 

The model is a two-by-two table, though it must be emphasized that the lines are arbitrary — the two dimensions are spectra, not binary divisions.

 

 

Grid-group cultural model

Group

Weak bonds between people

Strong bonds between people

Grid

Many and varied interpersonal differences

Significant similarity between people

 

Fatalism

 

Collectivism

 

Individualism

 

Egalitarianism

(source: http://changingminds.org/explanations/culture/grid-group_culture.htm)

 

Let’s be realistic, in communities such as North Prospect in Plymouth where cultural shifts are being forced through on the back of austerity programmes many are locked into clusters of systems that will be almost impossible to break out of. This may lead to feelings of Fatalism. The fatalist culture has differences between yet limited bonding between people. A result of this is that those ‘who have’ feel little obligation towards the ‘have nots’. Individuals are left to their own fates, which may be positive or negative for them. They thus may become apathetic, neither helping others nor themselves. Those that succeed, however, feel they have done so on their own merits and effectively need those who are less successful as a contrast that proves this point.  How many ‘fatalists’ are there in North Prospect?

Neoliberalism encourages low group-high grid cultural forms manifest in the perversity of the unemployed blaming themselves for being out of work during a time of austerity and recession! In an individualistic culture, people are relatively similar yet have little obligation to one another. People enjoy their differences more than their similarities and seek to avoid central authority.Self-regulation is a critical principle here, as if one person takes advantage of others then power differences arise and a fatalistic culture would develop. Individualistic cultures favour market solutions, who accept competition, laissez faire, pragmatic materialism as answers to social and economic issues

 

In developing technologies for cultural change we will have to acknowledge the possibility of individualistic and fatalist culture which will sabotage or fear the changes. What this means for this project is the obvious point that we will not reach everybody, that social networking to address community problems will appeal to ‘high group, low grid individuals’ and that we may need to identify and target this group in the first instance to identify a quick win? Maybe this is a ‘statement of the obvious?’

 

However, as part of argument to explain global political unrest and cultural change, Mason (2011) suggests it is the coming together of ‘the graduate with no future’ and technology, e.g. web 2.0. Guy Standing’s ‘precariat’ are another group, fearful of change and riddled with insecurities (Standing 2011). These are the social realities we have to deal with. I think we just have to be realistic about who we are dealing with when designing interventions for social change.

The attraction of web 2.0 is that it gets ‘out there’, bypassing those who are just not interested and is readily available for those who wish to use it. However we may need social marketing techniques and skills in getting the message out and engagement up.

 

 

 

Refs:

Bauman, Z. (2000) Liquid Modernity. Cambridge. Polity

Douglas, M., Wildavsky, A.B. (1982) Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technical and Environmental Dangers. Berkley, University of California Press.

Douglas, M. (1992). Risk and Blame: Essays in Cultural Theory. London: New York: Routledge

Mason, P. (2012) Why its kicking off everywhere. The New Global Revolutions. London. Verso.

Urry, J. (2011) Climate Change and Society. Cambridge. Polity Press.

Rittel, H, and Webber, M. (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning  pp. 155–169, Policy Sciences, Vol. 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Inc., Amsterdam [Reprinted in N. Cross (ed.), Developments in Design Methodology, J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1984, pp. 135–144

Standing, G. (2012). The Precariat: The new dangerous class. Bloomsbury. London.

Why we must be anti-capital. 1.

Some within the environmental movement accept that capitalism is inimical to ‘saving the planet’. I tend to agree. To try and understand why this is, we first have to really understand how capitalism actually works. Understanding the process is a cool objective non-political analytical approach. One does not need to be political to understand how a bond market works, one may become political afterwards. Similarly, grasping the basic drive of capitalism does not require adherence to Marxist or neoliberal politics. What follows here is the analysis by David Harvey which can be found in his book: ‘The enigma of capital and the crises of capitalism’ (2010).

The first point to note is that capital is a process whereby ‘money is sent in search of more money’. It is not an evitable process, humans have used other economic processes (such as barter, subsistence) and could choose other economic systems. Capitalism (the economic system in which this process occurs) just happens to be dominant at this point in our history.

There are various ways in which the process of money searching for more money occurs:

 

1. Finance capital. I have lots of money and I will lend you some of it for a rate of interest. Banks in our current system have taken this to extremes. The money they have does not actually exist except as numbers on a computer screen. They then lend out to many others by making numbers appear on other computer screens. Doing this is easy because there is nothing actually to give, there is no concrete ‘thing’. So, ‘fractional reserve banking’ means I can take my £xbn and turn that into a bigger number on my screen and then ‘lend’ £100xbn to others and as long as this stays on computer screens we are ok. In addition, it does not rely on whomsoever gave the first £xbn not wanting their money back all at once. Governments and Banks (most is bank created) can just ‘create ’ money and lend (quantitative easing), they just almost literally press keys on a keyboard and hey presto another £75bn appears as if by magic! This form of capital flow has dominated the UK economy.

2. Industrial capital (or production capital). This is how the UK created an empire, we made things. we actually dug coal, built factories and manufactured stuff.

3. These others: Mercantile capital, Landlord and Rentier capital and Asset capital (selling titles to stocks for example) are not quite so dominant as finance capital in the UK. Although, Thomas Piketty has outlined the increasing role of rentier capitalism.

4. State capital. The government taxes then uses the taxes for things such as infrastructure to make more money.

 

So, capital takes various forms,  money needs to keep circulating in search of more money.  Capital has to flow or suffer losses, those who can speed up the flow will receive higher profits that those who cannot, innovation thus is very important. This flow also involves spatial movement, e.g. production processes have to be brought together with labour in particular spaces.

Once a capitalist has made a profit what stops them from just spending it all? Why do they keep the flow going?  The “coercive laws of competition” and the “social power” of capital acts to ensure capitalists move beyond consuming their profits and towards reinvesting. If I sit on my profit and just consume rather than reinvest then others who are in competition with me will innovate and steal my market and my profits will disappear. In addition, having even more profit buys me social power, I  can begin to ensure that I have a say in society in how this capital flows.

This reinvesting in the absence of barriers will produce compound growth of a certain %, depending on the circumstances and what is being invested in. For example, I invest £100 in a company and expect a return of  3% at least also depending on the rate of inflation. Any less than that then it may not be worth investing. If the return is 0% after a year and so I  get my £100 back, I will not be happy, especially if inflation means that £100 is now only worth £98.

Economists tend to agree that a healthy capitalist economy produces an average compound rate of growth of return of  3%, below this and we start to consider stagnant growth and recession. If that happens then capital lies idle and loses value. However, when we get returns of say at least 3% or more, this reinvesting leads to the “capital surplus absorption” problem. I keep making money but I need to reinvest it. Where are the new investments to come from? Where are the limits?

A crisis in capitalism occurs when ‘surplus production and reinvestment is blocked’. The barriers to investment have to be overcome.

There are 6 potential barriers to the flow of capital through production. Blockages at any one of these will disrupt the flow of capital and lead to a crisis of devaluation:

  1. Insufficient initial money capital in the first place. “I ain’t got no money”.
  2. Scarcities of, or political problems with, labour supply. “I got the money but I can’t find any workers”.
  3. Inadequate means of production – includes ‘natural limits’. “I got the money and a workforce but the tin has run out, the mine is barren”.
  4. Inappropriate technologies and organizational forms. “I got the money, the workers, the tin is there but I only have shovels and the market for tin only deals in gold bars, not money”.
  5. Resistance or inefficiencies in the labour process. “bugger, the workers want more pay”.
  6. Lack of demand backed by money to pay in the market. “I got the money, the mine, the men, the market but no one can afford to buy my tin”.

So the capital I owe lies idle and begins to lose value. I suffer a mini-crisis of my capitalism. if many sectors experience this, it becomes a major crisis.

The central dynamic of capital is thus the ‘capital surplus absorption problem’. What do we do with the surplus capital we have accumulated after bringing together the means of production and labour (in industrial capitalism) or after lending out money and earning interest (finance capital)? The coercive law of competition and social power means we will reinvest and keep the flow going. Crises are thus endemic because this dynamic will keep coming up against barriers and will need to transcend them through innovation, or ‘creative destruction’.

Setting private sector workers against the public sector lets the elite off the hook.

First the strike: it may be premature and it risks public reaction against it, and also playing into Daily Mail type rants. However, negotiations have not been handled well and of course this expresses depth of feeling. At least the issues are being discussed. We had one day off for the Royal wedding and no one complained. 

The government has described  strikes over pension changes as “regrettable, unnecessary and premature”, based on and following Lord Hutton’s report, it argues that the current system is not affordable (http://tinyurl.com/6xt4ska).

However, Carl Emmerson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies argues  “affordability is not a very good argument for making these schemes [public sector pensions] less generous” : http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/today

Anything is affordable if you wish it…this is about values and fairness.

Comparing the private sector and public sector is a nonsense, many jobs do not equate and in any case this should not be a race to the bottom. Private sector workers have had to face pay cuts and higher pension contributions and reductions in benefits, so (the argument runs) the public sector should do the same. This is a turkeys voting for christmas argument. This also lets the wealthy power elite off the hook.

If you wish to compare (and you really shouldn’t) the median pension for private and public sector are broadly the same. According to Lord Hutton’s report: http://cdn.hm-treasury.gov.uk/hutton_final_100311.pdf, the median pension for the public sector is £5600 (don’t bother with average figure is this is skewed by higher earners, but for your interest it is £7800). Private sector workers in defined benefit schemes median pension is £5860, but these schemes are fading fast and those in defined contribution schemes will not get anywhere near this (Peter Worrall 2011http://tinyurl.com/6xt4ska).

Private sector workers are to be encouraged and supported in their fight to get increased benefits. Their pension contributions from employers are nowhere near as good as in the public sector but that is not an argument for pulling the public sector down.

However, and sadly, many workers who voted for ‘Blatcherism’ are gettiing the pensions they voted for, they swallowed whole the neoliberal agenda that over three decades attacked the position of workers in the attempt to bring flexibility and restructuring to the job market.

We are in danger of divide and rule here, the private/public divide is a chimera, all working people deserve a better slice of the pie. Actually (and excuse the analogy) the way the pie is baked needs restructuring as well as how it is sliced. Huge slices have unfortunataly been taken more and more by the already rich. Taking inflation into account wages have flatlined while wealth increased. The % of the increase in wealth taken by the top has increased. Ordinary people are paying the price for the continuing crisis of capitalism (Harvey 2010), a crisis they are not responsbile for, except in the sense of not understanding that the political class in the US and UK were sleepwalking us into a nightmare.

The cost of the ‘subsidy’ by the public is according to Paul Lewis of moneybox (BBC) on the TV this am is £4bn pa. It is legitimate to ask whether this is this good use of public money but this is a political question based on values, not a simple “we can’t afford it” question. In addition, a financial levy of 0.01% would raise £20bn per year (http://robinhoodtax.org/)


How much does the two aircraft carrier project cost for example…do you know? According to the BBC: £5bn, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11274060) of course that is a one off figure to build them, but before we get into affordability questions we need to know the structure of budgets and understand what it is we are signing up for as a country. 

See David Harvey’s ‘The enigma of capital and the crises of capitalism (2010) for why it is the system itself that is crisis prone that needs fixing.

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