Crime Benefits the Economy!

Including crime in national accounts expands the mirage of economic growth

The world’s unfettered free markets are hardly bastions of ethics. The dry-sounding ‘Changes stemming from improved comparability of Gross National Income measurement’, published by the UK’s Office for National Statistics on May 16th 2014, includes these startling, shocking sentences:

“…illegal activities (e.g. prostitution and production of drugs) fall within the production boundary of national accounts. The sources and methods used need to be reviewed in order to ensure that illegal activities are properly included in the national accounts. The UK already includes estimates in the national accounts for smuggling of alcohol and tobacco, so this reservation will be addressed by including prostitution and drugs within the national accounts framework.”

The announcement was one of a number from statistics offices in the European Union, as members moved to harmonise a way of inflating economic growth by estimating the amounts changing hands illegally! Criminal activities such as drug pushing are good for the numbers, because buyers who are addicted will pay the price asked, even if they have to turn to more crime to get the money. Governments evidently value crime as a pillar of economic output.

Is this the end of ethics in government? How can politicians expect people to behave ethically when criminal activities are valued for contributing to national income? The European Commission pushed member states down this road when in December 2013 it included the proposals in the ‘European System of National and Regional Accounts’. This shows the Commission’s priorities – economic growth above all other considerations. Maybe the European Union is not such a force for social good after all.

Complaints in the media were muted and, it seems, short-lived. For the mainstream media too, the imperative for economic growth is unquestioned. Nearly all activities, including childcare — parents paying other people to look after their children while they work to earn the money to pay the childminders – have already been monetised, prompting the powers-that-be, in a desperate gamble, to co-opt the underworld.

The UK’s boost to gross domestic product from the addition of illegal activities was thought to be £10 billion, about £155 per man, woman and child. The £10 billion figure is, of course, only a guess as no one really knows. The figure is probably inaccurate as well as reprehensible.

— extract from Solving the Grim Equation, published by Cambria Books this year, 2015



Brainwashed by Words

Who compared Jeremy Corbyn to Hitler?

Not directly, you understand, but by quasi-subliminal word association?

Christina Patterson, freelance journalist, ex-The Independent, on Sky News’ Press Preview last night (Friday), launched a diatribe against Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn. He might be sincere, she intimated, but Hitler was also sincere. Sincerity doesn’t stop people from being nutcases, we heard. For the ‘cognoscenti ‘ like Christina, from their lofty perches above the hoi polloi, Mr Corbyn’s popularity resembles an incipient car crash.

The association between ‘Corbyn’, Hitler’, ‘nutcase’ and ‘car crash’ took me to Norman Fairclough’s* book ‘Language and Power’. Published by Longman in 1989 – pre-Blair, early in the digital age – but so relevant.

“…the constant doses of ‘news’ which most people receive each day are a significant factor in social control, and they account for a not insignificant proportion of a person’s average daily involvement in discourse “, he wrote. (p.37 of the 1995 9th impression)

As he says, “control over orders of discourse by institutional and societal power-holders is one factor in the maintenance of their power”. (same page)  They try and persuade us that their particular ideology is ‘common sense’ and in modern Britain this brainwashing has achieved a high degree of success!

Norman again (p.107): “…when ideology becomes common sense, it apparently ceases to be ideology; this is itself an ideological effect, for ideology is truly effective only when it is disguised”.

Disguised as common sense, and pushed from the public arena by a cacophony of trivia.

* Norman Fairclough is Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at Lancaster University.

PDR, not a member of the Labour Party, but in Plaid Cymru and very concerned about the narrowing of debate in the modern world, where political philosophies outside the dominant discourse are rubbished and insulted by insidious, subliminal means as well as overtly.

Confined Debate Damages Prospects for Eco Options

Corralling debate into narrower and narrower channels is an apparently paradoxical consequence of the numerical explosion of media outlets. The real issue, of course, is a concentration of media ownership.

This confining of expression affects the proposed pre-election party leader debates in the UK, and will limit views which challenge the ‘common sense’ of free market economics: see this post which I have put on West Wales News Review.

David Cameron’s reasons for wanting the Green Party to be included in the debates before the General Election on May 7th may include a wish to limit time for head-on clashes between his Conservatives and Nigel Farage’s UKIP, but any debates featuring only the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and those media favourites, UKIP, would be light on crucial matters of climate change, finite resources, pollution and corporate power.










Giving up without a fight: perils of political apathy

UKIP has made itself the story of the moment, aided and abetted by the BBC’s coverage of the European election campaign, but there is a bigger story requiring much more than a few sound-bites:

UKIP and the Dangers of Closed Societies

The UKIP leaflet delivered by our postman this morning packs a powerful but false message.

It’s a dangerous message because, if not dissected, it appeals to many people.

The advance of UKIP has been accompanied by a surge in ultra-nationalism, by movements such as ‘Britain First’ which I stumbled upon on Facebook. ‘Britain First’ posts photos of members in what look like dark olive green shell suits and black flat caps, demonstrating against Islam. Scapegoating with a vengeance. When I checked it, 204,951 people had ‘liked’ Britain First on Facebook, and apparently almost 1.62 million people were ‘talking about this’. Those are huge numbers.

It all sounds so simple: send ‘home’ people who are not ‘British’ and all will be well, they suggest, implying jobs for all, adequate incomes for all, and people waving their Union flags with pride.

UKIP’s message is similar. ‘Only UKIP will take back control’, shouts the leaflet. ‘Help us to help you get your country back’.

But who really wants a closed country? North Korea is a closed country, and there are many more people desperate to escape than to enter. UKIP leader Nigel Farage talks about strengthening ties with the Commonwealth, but this strikes me as posturing more than anything else, because close links between Commonwealth countries have long existed. UKIP argues for free trade between Commonwealth nations, but the world already has a trade regulator, the World Trade Organisation, hardly an unmitigated blessing because it is not countries which benefit from free trade, but corporations. Is UKIP covertly on the side of corporations? Exiting the EU would deprive UK workers of European protections relating to discrimination, working hours, dismissal following the take-over of their employer, health and safety failings, and a lot more. UKIP would withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, thus removing another protection against injustice. Unemployed welfare claimants would have to work for their benefits, and the big answer to energy shortages would be fracking, with all its attendant (but unstated) problems of low or negative return on the energy consumed in the process, pollution of groundwater, profligate use of fresh water, land subsidence – and emissions of greenhouse gases.

UKIP reduces the economic problems of the UK to that fact that, in its words on the leaflet, ‘4,000 people a week come to live in Britain from the EU’. The message is not couched as blatantly as the black propaganda from Britain First, but just the same it is an exercise in blame shifting from us and our policy failures onto ‘them’, thereby creating divisions where none should exist. Deliberately creating divisions is a very dangerous undertaking, so I am not surprised that UKIP proposed a 40% increase in spending on ‘defence’. That is no longer a firm policy, but UKIP would still prioritise defence, and more money on armaments in a state with closely controlled borders could mean a lot less freedom for the resident population. Good news for arms manufacturers and the surveillance industry, if for no one else. Those corporations in the driving seat again.

What else would happen if, in my view by some misfortune, UKIP gained control of a still-united United Kingdom, abandoned the EU and closed the borders? Apart from the near certainty that Scotland, if not already independent, would prefer the EU to UKIP, the chances are that Wales would follow, leaving Northern Ireland torn between the options of joining the Republic of Ireland, forming the United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland, going it alone, or perhaps linking with somewhere else entirely.

Of course, if people were happy with the existing political parties, UKIP would be redundant. The UKIP vote is largely a protest vote, against politics which privileges the moneyed classes above all else, while pretending to do the opposite. There is little to choose, policy wise, between Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour. Despite some claims to the contrary, all accept the primacy of international capital and international corporate power. Labour does a little more income redistribution than the Tories, but major policy differences there are not.

Corporate control of the media means that, especially in the City of London’s orbit in South East England, smaller parties are largely ignored. The Greens are treated as single-issue, rather than as expressing a philosophy of peaceful co-existence through co-operation and collaboration. In Wales, Plaid Cymru has to counter the oft-expressed view that it is a single-issue party, seeking independence, when it could much more accurately be described as green with a focus on cultural and political self-government within the EU. In Scotland, the SNP was also tagged with the single-issue label — until it became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

The EU as an institution is far from perfect, but much more, so much more, preferable to a closed, suspicious country bristling with arms, where EU social, legal and economic protections no longer apply.

Pat Dodd Racher

Britain’s dangerous social divide

Culture secretary Maria Miller’s over-claimed mortgage interest says a great deal about the social divide in Britain – a divide that is accentuated by the power which wealth gives to buy the services of solicitors, accountants and other expensive professionals.

Despite all the negative publicity about MPs’ expenses since journalist Heather Brooke, writing in the Daily Telegraph, revealed multiple abuses in 2009, the dominance of legalism over an accepted ethical code seems to send highly paid people on a quest for loopholes.

People struggling from day to day on small, inadequate incomes are corralled outside loophole land, which is home to “The New Few”, as Ferdinand Mount terms Britain’s oligarchy in his 2012 book Power and Inequality in Britain Now: The New Few or a Very British Oligarchy. Ferdinand, more formally William Robert Ferdinand Mount, 3rd Baronet, is cousin to David Cameron’s mother Mary, and thus at the heart of Establishment Britain. He knows the world of privilege.

He writes: “It is only in our own time, though, that a sharpening inequality of income has been accompanied by a pervading contempt for those who are at the bottom of the ladder and may have less chance of climbing a few rungs than their parents had – and less inclination to try, too. The problem is not just that social mobility has slowed down in recent years. Even if equality of opportunity were more fluid and effective than it is today, it would not be enough. A reasonably contented society must have a sense of relationship between all its citizens”. [1]

The loophole-lookers often, too often, give the impression that they don’t care what those outside the charmed circle think of their income-maximising activities. They have lost a sense of fellow feeling with those who are less fortunate financially.

This rupture may be increasing the pressures which are cracking the United Kingdom apart, a possibility to which the oligarchs may not devote much attention. Not that Maria Miller MP is anything like an oligarch, of course. Her mortgage interest claims would have seemed pretty routine in the days before Heather Brooke’s investigations, and according to the parliamentary Committee on Standards, there are only minor errors with them when examined under current rules.

It is not so much the minister’s claims under the Additional Costs Allowance scheme that reflects Mr Mount’s two nations (of very unequal size), but the well-documented efforts made by her representatives to stonewall the investigation, and to attempt to warn off, ever so politely but very firmly, the journalist Holly Watt, who was working on a report for the Daily Telegraph.

Mrs Miller agreed to repay £5,800 (although the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner had recommended £45,000, which was deemed too harsh by the Committee on Standards, composed of five Conservative MPs, four Labour and one LibDem, plus three lay members), but there is no fine, no form of censure other than a short apology in the House of Commons. Contrast that with the official attitude to “benefit cheats”: fines of £350 to £2,000 plus paying the money back, loss of benefits for up to three years, and in some cases prison. But then most “benefit cheats” can’t afford a personal solicitor, and are certainly not allocated a “special adviser” paid from public funds.

The chasm between the charmed circle and everyone else is growing so vast that notions of equity and justice are rocking on their insecure foundations.


[1] Pps 257-8 in the 2013 edition, published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.

Sustainability steps cautiously across political quagmire

Wales is diverging from England by taking sustainability seriously: see the latest post on West Wales News Review, about the Future Generations Bill. There are signs that, after five years in the doldrums, the repackaged, updated Sustainable Development Bill has greater willpower behind it.