We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

No place to lay my head

“These anti-homeless spikes are brutal. We need to get rid of them”, writes Leah Borromeo in the Guardian.

So we decided to do something to neutralise it. A group of friends and I laid a mattress and a bookshelf stocked with tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty atop some particularly vicious spikes on London’s Curtain Road. In the 1990s, it was the epicentre of a burgeoning artistic community that would eventually emerge as tastemakers in the visual and performing arts. We’re all aware that an artistic scene that gains any sort of appeal or traction is eventually leeched on, Death-Eater-like, by “property developers”. We saw these spikes as a direct assault on everything that makes us human. Anyone, for any reason, could end up on the streets with no home, no friends, no support. Sometimes you feel so unsafe where you are that sleeping on a ledge in east London comes across as the better option.

If some developers had their way, they’d commodify oxygen. To stop us having a society where it is acceptable to do that, we’ve decided to help out the best way we know how. We’re a loose collective of artists, journalists, academics, graduates and performers. We’re cultural producers. And with that comes the responsibility that what we make and share with the world highlights injustice and offers alternatives.

Many comments ask whether Ms Borromeo, a journalist and filmmaker, has made her own doorstep – or her own bedroom – available to the homeless. It is an obvious question. This does not stop it being a good one. I would imagine her own bookshelves are well stocked with “tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty”, so she could offer the free use of these as an additional incentive to make her own property a “more inclusive space where misfortunes of circumstance such as homelessness aren’t banned.”

On the other hand the capitalist vipers who own the Curtain Road premises probably regard the reading material left on their doorstep by Ms Borromeo and her preening chums (“The only good thing about living in austerity Britain is that through pushing us into a corner, the government and the money that controls it is unwittingly training up a generation of fighters. Some of us will kick and scream. Others will be by the ringside healing the wounded”) as a more effective deterrent than the spikes.

OK, this woman is a poseur. She isn’t a healer of the wounded, she just plays one in her own mind. I would give her a little more respect if I learned that her good deeds to the homeless included volunteering at homeless shelters or accompanying those charity workers and street pastors who make the rounds of those places where rough sleepers go every night. Or if I thought that she had spent even a moment thinking about the plight of the shop owner who sees her sales plummet because customers don’t want to push past the dosser on the floor to enter, or the premises manager who has to clean up the urine and needles every morning.

Yet it is possible to acknowledge the right of those put up these spikes to do so, and also have sympathy with the homeless. Ms Borromeo’s statement that “anyone, for any reason, could end up on the streets with no home” is the usual hyperbole (she need not worry about the chances of it happening to her), but it is true that things can go wrong for a person with surprising speed. There is probably at least one of your classmates from primary school who has lost everything, usually via drugs or alcohol. There are ways to help, but all of them have downsides. Homeless shelters, whether run by true charities or government funded, must themselves exclude some people. I would not be surprised or angered to learn that they make use of “access control” spikes themselves. If the shelters don’t exclude anyone – if they allow people to sleep there who are violent or predatory – then they destroy their own function as a refuge. The one sentence in Ms Borromeo’s article that rang true was “Sometimes you feel so unsafe where you are that sleeping on a ledge in east London comes across as the better option.”

Why the minimum wage is seen as a success

Paul Johnson, writing in the Times about the minimum wage (“Why it’s a gamble to follow Ikea on higher pay”) talks some sense but puts the cart before the horse:

It is a bet that forcing companies to increase wages will force them to increase productivity. If you have to pay £9 an hour then you’ll be forced to invest in the training and the machinery to ensure you get your money’s worth. Indeed this could be one of the reasons why productivity in France is so much higher than in the UK. With high minimum wages and extensive labour market regulation French companies can only survive by being highly productive. On the other hand that same regulation probably partly explains higher French unemployment.

Of course French workers are productive. The people who would have been the least productive French workers aren’t workers at all. Thanks to the minimum wage they’re unemployed, except for a little light rioting.

However Mr Johnson’s penultimate sentence cannot be faulted:

The minimum wage as it stands is widely seen to have been a success.

Everyone loves a feelgood story, and to increase the minimum wage feels so good. How vividly one imagines the joy of the hardworking night cleaner as he counts the extra in his meagre pay packet! In contrast, how dim and watery is the mental picture of the, um, potentially-but-not-actually hardworking unemployed person who might theoretically have benefited from a job at the till at a supermarket but now there’s an automated checkout machine instead. She’ll never know. The supermarket chain are not such fools as to announce that the reason for them scaling back their hiring plans is that they would rather not pay their employees any more. They will present automation purely as a benefit to the customer. The customers will continue to curse at the words “unexpected item in the bagging area” and moan about what a pity it is that they don’t have real human beings at the till like they used to, especially since that nice Mr Osborne put up their wages.

An afterthought: Oh, and about that hardworking night cleaner… six months after he was interviewed by the BBC saying what a wonderful difference the extra pay would make to his life, he was let go. Nothing personal, but what with the rising wage bill, the only way for his employers to keep within budget was to cut the frequency of cleaning. The BBC were long gone. Warmhearted people continued to feel good about how companies were finally being made to pay a “decent living wage”.

The perfect day for this Boris headline

I recently had a clean-out of my home, and one of the things I chucked out was a small stack of recent and not-so-recent newspapers.

Before binning them I took photos of their front pages, because front page photos, I find, can often make very evocative souvenirs. Plus, unlike the actual newspapers, they don’t clutter up my home. (Just my hard disc.) I also often take photos of front pages when I am out and about in London. Maybe (although I promise nothing) I’ll do one of those “a year in newspaper headlines” postings, come the end of the year.

I haven’t gone through this latest clutch of front page photos properly yet. My camera always sees more than I do, until I really look at what I’ve got. But, I have already been smiling at this front page headline:

BorisMoralPolitics

Someone’s having a laugh, right? I don’t think it’s just me.

And the date above the newspaper headline …:

BorisMoralPoliticsApril1st

… tells me that one of the someones having a laugh is the Evening Standard. Nice one, gentlemen.

Here, for those who care, is the story.

An infirm hand on the tiller has its advantages

I have been reading Derek Wilson’s book about The Plantagenets, which is a succinct, blow-by-blow history of England’s monarchs from the beginning of the reign of Henry II in 1154 to the death of Richard III at Bosworth in 1485 at the hands of Henry Tudor. It’s good. All the various blows are briskly and engagingly described. If that’s the sort of book you are looking for, look no further.

In 1471, it seemed at the time as if the fighting had ended. The chapter covering 1471-1485 begins thus (on page 259 of my paperback edition):

After half a century of governmental breakdown, baronial strife and dynastic uncertainty the country needed internal and external peace and a firm hand on the tiller, and Edward IV certainly settled things down for a dozen years. …

But as anyone familiar with Medieval English history knows, and as Wilson then of course immediately relates, the fighting wasn’t quite done. This same paragraph then continues:

… However, following his death at the age of 41 his family managed to tear itself apart, provoke fresh conflicts and pave the way for a challenge from a minor branch of the Lancastrian dynasty, something which had up to that moment seemed inconceivable.

But then, Wilson switches in his immediately following paragraph to a different story:

Beyond central politics profound changes were taking place in these years. Commerce – especially the trade in woollen cloth – flourished, and a wealthy capitalist, mercantile class emerged. Renaissance influences from the continent began to affect cultural life and provoke new patterns of thought. But most revolutionary of all was the appearance of cheap books from the new print shops, which brought the world of ideas within the reach of many more people.

Now I want to make it clear that I have no major complaint to make about Derek Wilson, or his book. His aim with it was to tell the story of the Plantagenet kings, and he succeeds very satisfactorily. What I am here regretting is the absence of a point which he might have made here, maybe in a mere couple of phrases. I am not accusing Wilson of failing to understand the point I am about to make. I am merely noting that, for whatever reason, this is a point that he does not, at this highly relevant moment in his story, make himself.

Wilson could have connected the two paragraphs above, with half a sentence which added something along the lines of: “Perhaps partly because the aristocracy were consuming their energies fighting each other rather by meddling with commerce …”, and then noted that commerce at this time flourished.

For my point is that this royal “hand on the tiller” that Wilson says the country so much needed can sometimes be rather too firm.

→ Continue reading: An infirm hand on the tiller has its advantages

A “popular capitalism” blog defends state regulation of pay – eh?

“A good economist is one who can understand both the “seen” and the “unseen” consequences of policy. It is the proponents of this policy who are ignoring the complexities of the issue. `Britain deserves a pay rise, let’s give it one’ is hardly the height of sophistication when it comes to economic and political analysis.”

Philip Booth, who was unimpressed by how Iain Martin, of the “popular capitalist” blog CapX, wrote in defence of George Osborne’s atrociously-conceived “living wage” idea.

When you have a writer of an allegedly pro-free market blog such as Martin arguing for state fiat control of wage levels, and who belittles those who argue against such things as ideological nit-pickers, there is a problem. What also gets me is that this foolish idea was introduced by a government that does not need to pander to leftist economic illiteracy. The Tories don’t even have the feeble excuse of having to placate coalition partners after having won power outright in May.

There may be some good features of Osborne’s recent Budget (the upward rise in inheritance tax thresholds was welcome, although the system remains unnecessarily complicated) but there is far too much political gamesmanship from Osborne for anyone who supports free markets to take him all that seriously as a friend of capitalism and freedom. If or when the costs of a far higher statutory minimum wage start to really hit small and medium-sized firms – as they will – will he have the balls to admit this has been a foolish mistake? I am not betting on it – he’ll probably have moved on by then.

 

The best way to reform the BBC should be obvious…

… burn this statist anachronism down and salt the earth upon which it stood.

At least the Stupid Party currently governing the UK seems willing to clip the BBC’s wings, but that really is not even nearly enough. In this age of the internet, the whole notion of a state owned media enterprise is redundant. Moreover it is absurd for the nominally conservative Tory party to sustain a tax funded media organisation that is run overwhelmingly by partisan Labour and Green party supporters.

London Tube drivers should not have to work unsocial hours at all…

… because they should be replaced by driverless trains sooner rather than later.

Boris Johnson wants UK businesses to outsource and automate away low paid jobs

Boris Johnson is of the view the government should strongly encourage UK companies to eliminate low paid jobs, be it via automation or off-shore outsourcing. You can tell he thinks that because he supports the notion of a state imposed ‘living wage‘, by which low productivity employees are priced out of a job entirely, thereby ending up welfare dependent wards of the state. I really do look forward to his attempt to become the leader of the Tory Party :|

Apparently ‘inclusive capitalism’ is the current euphemism for ‘fascistic statism’

Bill Clinton continues to push for an end to capitalism, such as it is, and the fuller implementation of a system in which only nominal ownership of the means of production is permitted, and company ‘owners’ are free do do what they want, just as long as it is in accordance with the state’s political objectives.

For some reason the twits who run the City of London gave this philandering scumbag a venue in which to speak.

Boris Johnson supports cartels and high prices

Boris Johnson wants people to pay more for transport in London because breaking up a taxi cartel is bad apparently. And people paying less to move around the city is bad for the economy apparently. And in an age of ubiquitous GPS, ‘The Knowledge‘ should be used to limit the numbers of people driving cabs in order to keep prices up.

Bear in mind this fuckwit may well try to be Prime Minister one day.

What could possibly go wrong?

Nice to see the ‘conservative’ government’s attempts to drive the financial industry out of UK is continuing apace.

Bonuses could be clawed back for as long as a decade under new rules published by City regulators today. The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) confirmed they were pushing ahead with rules for a wider seven-year claw-back period but that an added three years is being considered for senior managers.

if HSBC and others do not make good on their threat to leave the UK then they must be out of their bloody minds. Just move to Hong Kong or Zurich. And if you get a bonus in the UK, plan on leaving the UK and working somewhere else at the first sign of trouble in your company, taking your dosh out of the country with you of course, because otherwise some regulator looking to justify their existence might want to take a bite out of your account.

Samizdata quote of the day

It’s almost as if the NSPCC wants there to be an epidemic of child abuse. Which, in a way, it does. Not because it’s peopled by sadists, but because, as a semi-state-backed organisation established to protect children, its very raison d’être demands that it has some threat to protect children from. It has a vested interested in establishing child abuse as a clear and present danger; it is institutionally determined to ramp up fears of child abuse.

Tim Black