Saturday, 19 August 2017

Standing on Zanzibar

In my lifetime the world population has doubled. Ironically it was the same year I was born that John Brunner released 'Stand On Zanzibar' his science fiction novel which has proven in part to be perfectly prophetic. In 1968 the world's people could shoulder to shoulder stand on the Isle of Wight, but he correctly predicted it would double from 3.5 billion then and we would be required to Stand on Zanzibar by 2010.

What are the likelidhoods then that we will see an equal rise to around eleven billion people within the latter part of my lifetime? What will this mean for food security, health and the environment? Can the world fundamentally feed itself and avoid catastrophic consequences caused by pressure on resources?

In biology and ecology they talk about set point for any population of organisms. This is a natural equilibrium point where resources are limiting and a population is sustainable or in other words, declines as it reaches diminishing resources. The typical example given, and much studied, is grass-rabbits-foxes. When the foxes get too proliferate, they eat up their own food resources. When the rabbits become too plentiful they too eat up their food resources. When the grass declines the whole ecosystem collapses. Each though has its own risk for population collapse because it reaches a point when suddenly the resources are for practical purposes of availability, used up.

Farmer propogandists who want more power, susbidy and freedom for agriculture and in particular GMO, state that we need food security and we all must match the demand from Stand on Next Island. However these are largely in the west. Europe the USA and to some extent Russia and the former USSR countries havce reached large scale over production. This is from the post war (and post US dust bowl) policies of rewarding new productivity in meeting regional demands for self sufficiency and also in having secure stores of preserved food in the event of a nuclear war. It is only in the last five years that the EU has turned away from this policy of rewarding glut, and is moving towards a free market for the commodities themselves, while rewarding farmers more for defending the natural and global environment.

Some authors and scientists point to the nonsense that we in the west need to feed the developing world or be caught in a global price and resources war. Firstly food security is still a regional area of policy, it is not purely a global free market for big capitalism to exploit and say 'tough luck' when an imagined future declining western economy can't afford the price of bread. Secondly because of this essentially socialist /social democratic reign of subsidy and over production, we already in the west produce enough calories and protein for the entire world population. We will come back to the trouble of inefficiencies and waste around this but first what happens to that overproduction at a higher level, as it aggregates to silos and national figures ?

Here we get into a rather insidious dark side of 'food aid' for the third world and 'affordable food' outside the west. The US is the largest single exporter of aid in commodities of food stuff to in particular, Africa. Within our lifetimes and post war era, the vast majority of Africa has in fact moved away from subsistance and barter to monetary linked economics.  Aid looks good on the headlines, but what it does apart from emptying the near-date reserves in the silos, is dump free food on the market not only the area affected by famine, but with direct and indirect ripple effects beyond. Firstly it displaces the monetary economy outside just the worst effected agricultural areas and refugee camps. It is not that well directed and it is plentiful. Secondly some inevitably ends up stolen and on the black market, sold cheap, because unfortunetly, Africa has many corrupt actors. A ring effect to this is that farmers in those regions of Africa who have a monetary supply chain to the affected areas and their surroundings who are 'flooded' with cheap grain, rise and maize. This all keeps US farmers in subsidy for commodities without there being sizeable destruction of food, which would be a scandal. Instead there is a well established 'do gooder' get out clause. The reality is that Africa can feed itself already it only requires sustainable prices such that farmers can expand those crops which are most needed in areas of famine or under production. Susbidy in the west could be used then as aid money directly to this supply chain, but of course we are back to interferences inthe market and corruption. However in rewarding countries who fight corruption and establish the rule of law and monetary economics, a great favour is done to Africa as a whole. It becomes regional cross border trade and the subsidy is used by buyers who are acting carefully so as not to distort the market price too much. In effect an area of famine represents a decline in demand for African produce in the monetary economy anyway so there is potential for some balancing.

We come back to over production of calories and how the west on a large scale, wastes this. Firstly the largest inefficiency is feeding beef in particular. Cattle used to be grass raised, which is fine in the alluvial and high pastures but these lands became expensive and meat prices went up. As cattle were then ranched and driven over huge areas of poorly vegetated land, this in turn became self limiting during drought or over grazing. So the US turned first to maize (part of the E.Coli 0151 scandal, another story) which is not a natural feedstuff for cows but they grow quickly on its high carbohydrate and reasonable protein content in semi arid areas, like much of Texas. Then the entire western worlds farrmers fell in love with the even higher yielding addition of high protein Soya to the diet of cattle. Soya now is as much as slash and burn catatstophe as Palm Oil but in a far wider scale - from the Rain Forrest of Brasil and other S. American countries, to the 'clearances' of small farmers in central Africa, we have created demand for a cash crop by our love of the burger, mince n' tatties and the satruday night fillet steak.

Secondly we in the west now throw away a huge amount of food at the consumer level, and a smaller amount (which oddly enough attracts all the scandal calling) in the value added supply chain. Some US and EU households are throwing away between a quarter and a third of food they buy or have cooked too much of. On average one estimate is an eight, 12% is simply thrown out after meals or straight from the fridge and larder. This is for two reasons. Our love affair with variety and that food is now a far lesser proportion of our expenditure, and seen as cheap. The USA has a particular issue with large pack sizing, and here we come to another form of deliterious 'waste' of calories. Obesity.
Now I am overweight, I have a reasonably sized beer gut despite being quite active. I represent a sub clinical mass of middle aged folk, while the biggest threat to morbidity and premature mortality in very many western countries is obesity and the related illnesses of heart disease and diabetes. Our excess calories, beyond c.2000 kcal per day for a man like me, go onto our bellies. 'Super sizing' and processed food prioduction are cited as major causes of this epidemic, a western lifestyle pandemic, but in fact we can all afford healthy food if we cut down on the calorie intake and avoid expensive meats if not just becoming vegan. Even two meals a week vegan would help.

In future then we actually have a plus side of obesity in a macabre fashion. Firstly we may as farmers warn, experience rapid price inflation on the basics of food, and in particular on beef as it wastes so many potential calories in the slow and 'farty' growth of cattle. So people will start looking at the food they eat and what it takes out their wallets, and western farmers will see less need for subsidy and in effect also price support if not price fixing. Secondly we see a sharp rise in mortality amongst fifty to seventy year olds over the next decade, coupled to the stagnant birth rate, leading to less domestic demand for foodstuffs as the population declines.

The market increase in price of goods, in particular animal protein, which the rapid rise in population forward will probably entail, means also that farming becomes a more lucrative business in developing countries and standard crops suited to a climatic or soil area of a country, become cash crops on the world market. This means that people will eat less meat in the third world per head, and focus more on affordable plant protein and energy. We reach a chinese diet , where traditionally a small amount of pork of chicken (both more efficient per kilo input of plant stuff for making protein) coupled to nutritious vegetables in a larger amount, then with plain carbohydrate for energy in each evening meal. We then see more people having more vegetarian only days, purely by market mechanism, and 'mock meats' made from vegetable and myco proteins (fungus, Quorn for example).

(Fisheries are now very much in question in terms of sustainability, and the same for aquaculture which has been shown to be very 'dirty' in terms of its supply chain including unsustainable palm oil, third world soya, and fish protein like sand eels which threaten the north sea's econ system. Already in the last two decades we have seen that local substiance fishing and local market economy fishing is being globalised rapidly and then becomes almost immediately unsustainable as over fishing races to the bottom in each poor area, and destroys the fishery and sometimes entire eco systems. We also have the back drop of accelerated global warming which will threaten many fisheries, although may extend the population of some palgiant species greatly. )

We have a quaint view of the third world as being simple, local and subsistant in terms of small farms, fisherman and hunter gathering and this is completely out of date. It is perpetuated because those areas which still indulge in this are photogenic, pure and simple, colourful and quaint and no longer representative of the globalising and monterising factors of all natural and agricultural food supply chains. GMO was sold to us as curing the ills of the third world, while in fact it has created more overproduction and local environmental problems in the west, and locked many third world farmers out of international markets or some crop types because they are too expensive to buy seed for, and too expensive in particular to then manage with the high doses of herbicide and pesticide which the west affords itself. The largest selling GMO crops are engineered with resistance to herbicide so that higher levels can be used. We have a frankenstein monster which is more of economic nature than a biological threat.

We touched on self limitation of rabbits and foxes, and then also on what is happening to human health in the western world with for the first time since 1945, a declining life expetancy on average and a spike of premature death related to obesity, lack of exercise and smoking. In future if we start to see relative rises in food prices and even availability in more areas of the developing world, then this too leads to a self limiting growth in the population as children cannot be fed. We have the risk of famine, where infants are the victims and fertility is also reduced in malnourished women.  However it is not just plain biological limitations, there are economic limits in theory.

Doom sayers have long since told us that if the third world was to aspire and achieve the western material standard of living, then the physical world would have to be three times the size it is now. However there is a paradox here in terms of population. In the UK for example, birth rates fell from the cliche'ed 1970s 2.4 kids, to an average brood of 1.6, meaning in effect domestic population decline as we fail to even make up for our own prescence on earth. This is also true of the USA. Both nations have for many years been reliant on immigration to boost their populations and work forces, and both nations have a large proportion of the 'angry white worker' population who have become super sceptical to immigration, as their standard of living has ceased to better itself and declined in many urban areas. Fine when you are getting  a mexican gardener or polish builder to do a job at a fraction of the cost of an indigenous firm, on time too, but not when as a mass they supress wages and inflate the cost of housing Such is the rentier nature of economics these days.

Here comes the greatest irony. Immigrants have traditionally come from developing countries with eitther Catholicism or Islam as their religions with their anti contraception conditioning, or from other lands where a large family is the culture. However within two generations the descendents of those 'one of a family of twelve' have normalised to within the average of the national average. In part you can say that they have learned the value of contraception and family planning in a secular society, and turned their back on religious doctrine,. However that is really not the story. It is the emancipation of women and the cost of housing which drive the western birth rate down. The two exacerbate each other actually. Demand for a better material and experiential lifestyle and inflation in the 1960s and 70s lead to the widescale entry of women back into the workforce.This in turn lead to inflation in the property ladder as back then families competed for desirable 'two ups/two downs' in the metropolitan suburbs. Then as women became more emancipated in the 80s with their own independent careers two things happened. Firstly there was more demand for starter flats and single occupant rented accomodation. Secondly the average age of first birth in women jumped from mid twenties to late twenties, and among more educated and affluent middle class women, it went on into their mid thirties.

Also we have then that other great western social phenomena relating to the emancipation of women and the secularisation of society - divorce, and the lesser documented seperation from unofficial partnerships. Common reasons for divorce are conflicts of interest over career and work/family balance, relocation of one partner for work, fertility issues and the now old chestnut, men's poor willingness to do housework.  This is then as much a symptom then of economics as it is of any social or biological phenomenom. In turn this is a major effect on the rate of birth because the eventual biological limit is around 44 in women, and many couples experience poor fertility in their 30s on either or both gonadal sides. People are more aware of the price of housing per bedroom too. In effect due to pressure on income and stagnant wages for a large swaithe of salaried workers in administration, customer service and semi technical proffessions, there are less kids planned and more break ups due to poor economic prospects.

Housing is a key in this equation, meaning that western workers are locked into dependency on metropolitan jobs and a dependency on a very high proportion of income going on mortgages, and increasingly, just on renting and perhaps never affording property. Housing is the key thing in terms of the western aspirational model for bringing up a family. It becomes a limiting factor and owning or having access to suitable housing for raising families becomes a goal of both newly educated men and emancipated women in developing countries. Is this a real phenomenon? Well it is an exponential  phenomenom in China and some metropoles in Africa. We have an increasing rich poor divide in the west and a move to the rich owning and the average renting. This could see a sharper divide in developing countries in future as they fully moneterise and open their capital real estate markets to global investors.

The western lifestyle for the majority of workers in the US, the UK and Japan as the prime examples, actually means a contraction in average wealth and material possessions, excluding that must have status symbol the car. We also have technology which reduces our expanding consumption. The mobile smart phone for example, has eaten into sales of everything from PC's to watches, cameras and torches (flash lights). The internet means less use of public entertainment like cinemas or pubs - people can be sociable at home and not use petrol and consumer services elsewhere. Whole supply chains have moved on line, electronically. As the older. pre internet generation declines as a proportion of the population (death of a baby boomer) then on line shopping will come to predominate and supply chains of delivery will become far more efficient in matching the rising demand.

The doom sayers are though quite probably still right to some extent as to the rapid growth in the populations of India and Africa in particular, while command economy and party dictatorship China may enforce the one child policy yet again. With a challenge to immigration laid out in the oldest of capitalist economies, we will see inevitable trend of decline in population especially as the baby boomers shuffle off this mortal coil. There are ecological/biological limiting factors where famine is a result, and global warming is a clear threat to this. Some say that many colder areas of the world will become fertile, but the endless tundra is not going to be cultivated within the next generation or two during whose times, the main growth of population will happen. It is then perhaps the very act of economic development and the extention of the western lifestyle and western rentier economics to the developing world which will limit the growth in population as plain supply, demand, income and pricing limits the breeding potential of the human race.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Old Flames. Best Burnt Out?

Are our old flames best burnt out ? Or to be perhaps more accurate and grammatically correct, burned out of our emotional memories?

My brightest raging inferno like old flames are all from 20 to 30 years ago now, so they no longer are the scorching emotional ties they once were, more like they are charred earth patches where the rest of life has grown a green and moved on to new, wider pastures.

Being middle aged you do think about the what ifs? All from ex's you maybe could or should have stayed with, through one nighters you maybe could have made pregnant to all those possibilities or taking up that coffee, movie or drink with......or lustful kiss when the flirty friendship maybe should have gone forward.

I live  life now with few regrets about that sort of thing. If I ask why it didnt work before with some ex's then it is because either I or they, or both were non committal. It wasnt for a lack of soul mating, you can just make that up when you are newly in love and like to do stuff together and agree a lot. It is falling into this love deeper in a committal way which involves financial investments, moving for jobs, talking about kids and k0jmost of all, planning a wedding as a display to your social sets that this is serious. You mean all this love and together forever shite.

I was  non committal for the same reason I think that I am non committal with jobs, THey are never quite good enough for me, When I do get a job which is good enough, too good to be true, then I have found invariably that fate and conspiracy take them away from me! I have no faith in jobs, whiile once my portfolio career was a plus for me, now I am the aged slut at the bar wondering why I shagged and bragged and did not once really see myself anything else than trapped in a work relationship. THe same for women for me.

Old flames, yeah and avoidance at the time back then. I managed to finally track down one , Janice, after the odd perusal of the electric  internet and book of digital faces over the years. Her name is quite common especcially in the USA., which I thought were  bum steers., But once I connected her job and her love of running marathons, I came up trumps. She dies here hair red, lives in Dallas, and has a lovely daughter. It filled me with joy that she finally found love, and had a family and kept on being a successful long distance runner. Do I friend her?

Now we come to Fargo, where our anchor character, Margie the police officer, gets looked up by an old class mate, and they play out a little embarressing reunion which is inevitably a bad idea for Francis McDermott or her on screen character to get into. One side holds more than just a candle, they have a wax and string supply chain of unrequited love come their middle aged failure to stay in a relationship or even establish one in the first place.

So Janice and Irish Anita, I am very happy for the two of you. One a flirt which would have gone places had I been at all committal, the other a flash in the pan for a year which looked and felt often like it should have gone on forever, but now that I remember it, I too was often in two minds about her,. Both live far from the British Isles and both have kids and seem happily married so I am delighted., Phew also it was not me.

Janice was lovely, and still is. A pretty Scots Irish lass with freckles and a beautiful jaw line with twinkling dark eyes under a gushing mop of tightly curled dark hair. Slim and elegant. And a very, very nice and sincere person. There in lay the issue. I was 26 odd when I met her, and still in my phase of avoiding 'nice girls'. Nice meant settling down and not hurting their feelings with your own ego's desires for jobs, travel, and most of all variety in the pussy department. It would only be the mature and reflective 35 year old me that could have gone there, and it looks like she struck in lucky when she was in her mid thirties too. We had kind of sort of dated a bit, and she was making overtures but I did a stupid ignorant thing one night as a kind of avoidance and just shitting on my own doorstep, by visiting a female pal and turning up not only late for our wood be date, but also with girl in tow. My bad., But also it kind of put a full stop I thought which was beastly, but convenient. I got a post card from Janice on her tour of NZ so I should have maybe kept in touch, but I am also sure she is happier in Dallas.

It was another old flame who taught me I am more socially awkward than I had ever beleived. She just was wrong for me, I was kind of a catch for her, she was frumpy, and I got caught when in fact I maybe could have done with a nice girl to settle down with,. It was 1996 and I was having an inbetween year working part time and doing loads of sailing and stuff. I was going through a kind of isolation thing, where I had not quite fitted into a group of gen'Xers due to my being crap at sports, and I felt a kind of hang over of being an individualist, but feeling very lonely out of my now long behind me university days or constant social stimulation, and instant company on hand. The real world of suits and mortgages had bitten. I was working with older folk who resented my youth and eagerness, and I ended up dumped out at the end of it in 1996. She became a flame  I could not avoid, but the experience taught me two things. One I dont like groups and I am very intimidated. Two I am a little more socially inept or had become so by that time.

I blame a kind of passing dullness, a lingering depression and also perhaps cannabis which I was using a lot in 94 I think. It seemed there was a stress and anger which was in me, and a lack of being able to determine my own destiny. However 1997 sorted that all out, and i found myself a happy individual with the most beautriful girlfriend I have ever had. I got a very yuppie job and had a lot of fun not having to be anywhere near a 'crowd' or a 'scene' but rahter with some small circles of friends.

Still today I have a massive stress response to there being a crowd of cackling people who know or seem to know each other. just last week on the dockside, a pile of new people and me feeling left out and neurotic at the side lines. I should leanr from my flames there, back away from the crowd, keep it simple and small. Fuck the crowd.

My flames taught me then that you can make up and in fact there are in ways to going out again, somethign I should have known with my first love Sandra, who dumped me in mysterious circumstances possibly related to her social climbing into med student circles. We met up a month or two after we split up to exchange records *before CDs: and we ended up in a fond embrace kissing each other good bye with smiles and a laugh. She ended up going out with her ex who I met her through the next year. Not marrying material maybe, but I did love her to bits for a year,

Flames are perhaps just those patches of scorched earth today. They have flickered and smouldred and then there is now all that sex stiuff with women with two kids and so on, where all passions are spent.

I have one old flame, a flirt, who holds  a defiant FB candle for me and I suppose I for her. She dropped the lines on the plate a few times for me to have an affaire with her, which turned her on a lot while she had a steady man., Jo is a bit of an enigma, we think a like and recognise this in our conscious streams of chatter. She never produced kids and now never will I guess, being into her mid forties. So she is maybe an old flame worth a fling?

Some old flames do get back together and live happily ever after. Your youth remains hard burned into your memory and emotional record book more so than all those years of the humdrum or even of having kids, which is just a bit of a blur often. Your memory is overloaded and harks back to the deeper recollections and simpler emotional connections of youth, So high school sweethearts do often meet up, both divorced, or one the successful business bachelor*ette, and they have those rose tinted memories of youthful  unrequited love and liasions, and all the bubble they lived in then, to reflect back on and find some kind of new emotional rock to anchor up to.

Some folk say they have few memories again of childhood and youth, and they are mostly lieing, they have had negativity or were goody two shoes with a boring time back then. For me I remember and relish the recollections of days of school and especially university, more so than some of the awkwardness of young adulthood I went thorugh from which I still have a major hang over today. Folk who dont remember those formative years or even moments, are perhaps covering up for a Flame whicih burnt their fingers back then in the summer days of yore,


Friday, 19 May 2017

Alternative Careers? University is a Waste of Time for Maybe 50% of Graduates .....

The elephant in the living  room is why are so many western countries sending their offspring to university to do degrees for whcih there are either virtually no need for the skills and knowledge gleamed , or there is so much competition for jobs and the career ladder that hardly anyone gets to actually have a career where they earn more than they would as a school leaver with the same level of activity and effort.

Govbernments are convinced they need more graduates, while shcool leavers are convinced that studying something  they really like will get them good grades and a ticket to something, which they have in no proper, meaningful way have researched the current of potential future  job market.

In truth even if you ask many engineering graduates, they are not getting a red carpet and have to compete a lot for quite few opportunities. What there is a shortage of in engineering is a percieved shortage across the board, when in fact on the one hand it is often just very special skills and know how which are in short supply, and those often vary year to year. The reality is employers would like more graduate unemployment in engineering so they can keep wages down and get the most motivated, right fit personality types out of a pick of nerds and head strong youth.

In most all vocational degrees and a good few where there are jobs in academia because of retirals - that demographic time bomb is under way- or turn over as in teaching, then there are jobs for the top folk and also those 'hacks' who do well but also excel in the debating society or on the sportsfield. With so many Universities quite a few employers have actually become worse in choosing OxBridge graduates ahead  of the plethora of first class honours graduates from the redbrick and the breezeblock universities. Take many blue chip marketing departments, they dont employ marketing graduates from 'tech' or business schools, they go for english literature and psychology graduates from Oxbridge with debating laurels on their CV.

In my day university had just been extended to about double or triple the number  of undergraduates, and the drop out rate went up of course, as did the graduate unemployment rate, not to mention the longer term problem of underemployment and perceived over-qualifiction. I'd say in my day about a third of all students either ended up no better off than their  new, school leaver colleagues in the great masses of underemployment, on top of another 10 to 15% who never made it through their degrees. Compared to those who took a trade  via apprenticeships or the armed forces, many of my graduate and post graduate more have not faired all that well now I look through linked in.

The thing is that the conservatives either steered the country or aided and abetted the country on its way to becoming a tertiary service economy, with a fixation on owning property and rising house prices,.  So people in trades have fed off thirty years now of  new building and home improvements, extentsions, loft conversions, rewiring and replumbing.  In other technical fields, it is often the on the ground, time served service engineers who get to keep their jobs while all those project managers, team lead, techology managers get down sized because in fact, the company lives off service and not ground breaking infrastructure and innovation.

Graduates who go into business services and banking fair much the same, and many I know are in a kind of self rationalising their middle aged lack of really making it  by posting lots of photos of their kids and their reunions, while of course we all have smaller houses and less spending money in hand than our educated, unionised parents had. We are only dispossessed by our own belief that our lives  would mirror our parents lives and the post war journey the UK (and US and many other countries) took post war, when a degree was a ticket to a management salary and your head above water well and truly. We became the new working class, pushing around money and presenting ideas that pushed around money while in fact we werent creating a lot of new money what so ever. That is a bitter truth. We were the delayered white collar workers who took over from the blue collar and the lower middle class became the new factory floor workers being passed over for pay rises and upskilling. The working working class, those with skills and trades, and a few in manufacturing, they did rather well out of it all, having well paid careers for decades and keeping my generation out of many opportunities simply by being in their jobs with a decade under the belt and a union on call when the downsizing and mergers came.

Like any socio economic phenomenom, it is all easy to see in retrospect. So blatantly obvious that an over supply of graduates would help fuel business growth with all that data punching, powerpoint pushing, excel graph making energy that was by in large hot air in the 90s and 00s. A few economists 'predicted' the financial crisis of 2008, but they were given for doom sayers and some only had the end of national credit card ratings as a foot note in their futurologist scenario builds. My generation went blindly in and for very many it meant that they do not enjoy the material assets and quality of life work balance their nine to five middle class parents did.

A couple of aquaintances of mine either dropped out of uni, or later in life threw in the towel and became plumbers, which may seem a bit of a well trodden cliche bound not to be a golden goose anymore, but in fact of course you can make decent cash at it, at least 33 k  a year  in UK spondoolics. Of those who took practical, hands on experience or non university career paths, nearly all are doing better than me and a pile of other acedemics or graduates who have worked in office jobs. Those who made it in accountancy and medcine are of course doing quite nicely, but complain of the long hours expected and the stress of work not really making up for the high salary.

I do have a few pals who were from wellish to do families who had alternative lifestyles and what have you, and they are off the radar now, or when on a re vague about what they are into, and possibly lookign to borrow some cash for a new project.

Even those who were very, very good at their non vocational, academic careers have ended up in more mundane industries - oil if they were technical, and housing if they were in other areas.

The UK stands in real danger of falling into a hole because so much of the recent economic growth has been underpinned in fact by immigration - demand for housing in particular, and labour rates from Poles in particular which enable more projects to be viable in the pyramid of investment monies going into housing constuction and redevelopment. The great ' white' hope is that these folk will evapourate away and wages will go up by a market mechanism, but in the same way as we did not really see that property was a key driver in the economy, a key money rich area to be in, and fell for the allure of University education,. The drivers for that are a rising population and rising metropolitisation, and rising wealth among retirees going rural. The latter is likely to be the only growth area, as a new blue rinse blue voting mass of baby boomers getting ready to put their slippers on and live in a cottage in the sticks. Policy on immigration is going to change a lot of things, but some businesses will not survive the period of malaise and retraining and reattituding if you like- british youth rolling up their sleeves and coming off their YouTube channels to work the land, and on building sites. Wages are going to have to go up a lot to attract them  and where time served skills  are needed, it is going to be a difficult period. In the back  of this the Tories promise that the coutnry will still get all the talent it needs, but that stop gap policy could mean many employers dump apprenticeship schemes and opt for quota immigrant workers, or just flout the law,

Simply put, brexit is too simplistic in this 'immigrants out, jobs for our lads and lasses' and over night payrises which match the gap to property prices. High on the list of tory wishes was to remove the 48 hour working week and the employment agency directive, making working life more like insecure slavery for many hundreds of thousands of young workers in particular. However they have turned tail and offer to preserve workers rights that stand now. Right wing politicians are not to be trusted as we now know, and will have any sound bite they like if it wins today, it is forgotten tommorrow and is a necessity. They are looking at todays floating voter, who will be a different voter in six months time, so what if they are let down, we won!

Britain and to a large extent the USA are locked into another consumer and national credit mountain which may at any time, reveal itself to be weak to the core and implode as in 2008. The miracle of business confidence is being based on rolling back environmental leeshes on oil extraction and offrering more public contracts to the private sector, with a virtual blank cheque once public provision is removed from the equation. Tax cuts have worked in the past,  because the upper middle class get to invest in more property and stocks like apple, while everyone else can afford bigger mortgages and consumer credit, three to five times rise for each one point rise in wages remember because loans are on a multiplier in the economy. They end up of course, paying more for the same and the  next generation get less for more. The upper middle class and some of the middle middle established earners can then afford to release equity for rental property and  screw the younger generation even more out of the housing market. Oh how jolly, but it all goes bang at some stage when people are using credit to pay the rent and pay for food, or when the population stops rising,  stops metropolising. Then the whole house of cards can fall, and it can be small things like the subprime idiocy which bring it all down. What next, a credit upset due to brexit? Scottish Yes vote?

Self employed tradesmen seem to be always the ones who do alright, given their own health holds out or they are clever enough to hire people and become managers rather than inevitably wearing themselves out physically. There are stresses in being self employed, but as long as the money stream is there at the top, and you are getting great margins on working hours and materials, then you can do very, very well.

If you have family money to invest, then rather than a uni education why not look at buying a fishing boat after working in that ? Why not a saw mill and joinery shop? Very many graduates today are going to be leaving uni  with debts as high as 50k, and then having in many careers like law, an internship year which they have to fund somehow too, probably in a big city with craxy rental prices. Mummy and daddy you see, aha, they bail out their kids by remortgaging and  when they can, they leverage their business connections to get paid jobs for their over priviledged offsrping.

Hard work is a thing of the past if you just go off in any old direction via University. Take doctors, for the hours they work in their young career, the years they study, the hours they study to get a specialism or pass out as GPs then by age 35 they would be multi millionaires if they had worked in investment, real estate or as plumbers setting up a business. What do you need to succeed in business these days as an entrepreneur? A Theresa  May like self belief  and ability to twist and  turn to meet sound bite opportunities and keep most customers, investors and  idiotic employees on your journey happy most of the time, and fuck over the others.

Monday, 8 May 2017

What Is It With Beauty?

What is it for men that makes them find a woman to be beautiful?

Famously for those women who revell in obesity, some african and polynesian societies set a large price on rotund women, as being the beautiful ones, most attractive and sought after. However not all men in these societies agree. There is then a degree of cultural stereotyping and social norms to be conformed to. Is the reverse true, were western men brainwashed and normalised to prefer the 'anorexic' look?

Once again we fall into what societal impressions are made in the media and the 'tri-via' of every day banter. On the one hand there are 'leadership' messages trying to normalise that which is not actually normal or healthy. For the fashion industry, it was the unobtainable clothes rail figure which on the one hand makes the job of the designer's seamstresses easier, cylinders being catered for instead of horizontal curvature, and it helps the industry sell a concept that you are never good enough so buy more. On the other hand, the tribal elders know that a fatty will survive a famine better than a skinny-me-links.

The fashion industry could own the print media for decades and perpetuate the impression that these 'twiggy' like women's bodies were the height of beauty in society. Now of course there was another quite different print media than Vogue and that genre, there was the men's 'interest' magazines and later the Lads mags. Curves a plenty and no cup size smaller than C on view. And bottoms started to get bigger.

Social media burst on the scene which was a new platform to rebel against the old print media and give a voice to the hoi palloi, the feminist and the male. And bottoms got bigger. Much biggerr. We went from the kate moss waif look being in all images people consumer in paper days, to the Beyonce Jay-Lo big and beautiful. Waistlines are still a little too wasp like then for the fat-is-a-statement fringe in feminism, and there is a focus on good health and physical training. I noticed this on one of my intermittant returns to my homeland, where the shock of so many obese teenage girls in the late naughties turned within halkf a decade to the surprise of how many well trained young women there were around. Social media creates a new peeer pressure you could say, but also it inspires a viral type of discussion on good health and what is really normal for humanity - that we are physcial creatures forced into sedentary lifestyles by the economics of modern times.

Beauty though is not just a pretty bum. What is facial beauty ? Is there for us in the west a set of characteristics which we in the majority would recoginise or rank as beautiful? How does individual taste vary in this ? Do we maybe rate a pretty face but accept and love a different face as being beautiful to us every day when we live or work with someone?

Computing has brought us the average face algorythm. There is an averagely beautiful face you can find, and it isn't all that beautiful and obviously it depends on where the faces are from in the world and who did the initial choosing before the aggregate face merge was run in the programme. Average faces across nations of ethnicities are more interesting, and in fact you can always find beauty in them. However they too are taken from young adults it seems.

There are some features which many seem to agree on and are represented in the averagely beautiful cyborg face.   Relatively large eyes, full lips, a defined jaw line and defined cheek bones for us in the west at least. If we think of this statistically in terms of ranking or some way of saying is your partner or object of affection beautiful, we will probably find that there is a nice statisitical bell curve which may be quite  tight when being asked to rank faces or choose the single most beautiful of five images  say, or if being asked to rank many or consider their own experiences and actual feelings then we could expect a flatter bell curve. It is socially influenced, with people most likely ranking the feautres of the love of their life or forlorn object of girl next door desire higher.

For me the ultimate beauty is Jenna Coleman, who many might think is a bit cutsey or a soft little brunette. She has features which remind me most of my kind of most beautiful girlfriend in my life, who was also a very compatible type for me I can see in retrospect, us meeting though in a time of personal turmoil for us both. So do we then colour our choices by our own experiences ? Yes of course, a deep emotional trigger is in there, either to be adverse or attrtacted. There is the pretty girl in the night club syndrome. She attracts only the cockiest because the more modest personality types consider her out-of-their-league. Her personality is by in large going to be around the average yet she attracts domineering, daring and crass personality types most. After perhaps rejection or being dumped for another, we men quite likely find some features bite a little and rank them lower in a test, and in real life, avoid perhaps girls with those sets of features.

Perhaps we are conditioned and manipulated by society and the media, but most of all we are conditioned to behaviours by our own experience and some of our own innate senses for attraction to the opposite sex. I know that I had a good sense that I was heterosexual by age 5 and liked the prettier girls then in my class. These as I remember aged 5 to about 12 were blondes. Later into my teens I grew a strong preference for pretty brunettes, and this was later focused towards petite brunettes at Uni and throughout life, with only 2 or three blondes in my history of 25 dating girlfreinds. I have had interest from some blondes and sandy haired but  it is brunettes who catch my motivation to act. This is a learnt response. Petite brunettes like me, a tall auburn man quite well built, and it is a kind of mutual thing through life that I show a certain confidence and perhaps a blush too.

So love #3 in my life, is a story. We had that love-at-first sight PING of the pupil dilation and the kind of body language and her shyness was broken by a common friend in hand. It showed that our biological instincts and programming through life had made a match and the social context was conjusive to a potential partnership. I am glad in a way we didnt marry, she was 95% sweet and lovely but 5% vitriolic bitch. Maybe I would have tamed that last shrew percent into something better, but she wanted a rich boy in her cerebral choices which would have been troublesome.

It's no coincidence I write this as the 20th anniversary of meeting the greatest, brightest flash-in-the-pan I ever had back in june 1997. I am seperated and middle aged and find myself on the brink of being in the market again. I met up with my own Jenna Coleman a few times after,and we hit it off of course, I was a bit once bitten of course. On leaving she admitted it was just a bad time and perhaps later (when I had calmed down a bit from a stressful lifestyle) .I certainly don't have the same tastes as my friends, and don't want to go back to my twice bitten period after love #3 and love #4 in the late nineties, whereafter I became an opportunist happy to take what landed at my feet, being a young man in his prime. It wasnt a waste of time, although I think economics could have played a bigger roll now in retrospect either way of getting a professional partner or a good house wife so I could work more. 

Our programming by genes and by experience then I beleive counts for more of what we of both sexes find instantly attractive. We seek queues which are obvious and some more subtle in our peri-conscious judgements, but of course we are prejudiced by our social learning experiences and cerebral filters.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

David Cameron's Last Economic Wheeze....OPM Pension Fund Raid

What could have been a major discussion in parliament has been washed away in the mire of brexit and the Scottish indy 1, is the shift in private pension law. Previously pensions were managed via a very controlled move from pension fund over to a pay-out vehicle called an annuity. This suited the industry quite nicely because most of those reaching pension just carried on in ignorance to this and put it down to jargon and small print, allowing their private pension provider to continue control of their amassed small fortune.

However what Cameron, or rather his economic advisors desperate for growth drivers to inject fluidity in the economy,  noted was that this money is somewhat not the company's it is the pensioner's fund. There was a cash log-jam in the consumer economy to be unblocked just in time for the wave of baby boomers crashing onto the happy shore of retirement. 

 It suits Tory individual freedom of choice to move the law to making it very obvious that the pensioner has control of this in effect, lump sum. Now it has to be said that the pensions industry sell a premise which is building a million pound fund in order to give an annual dividend from interest of between two and five percent of the fund's top line value. Of course the pension's company and their fund managers hope to make a heck of a lot more over 10-20 years of payout of interest on that lump of cash, and over the 30 or so years of contributions have made a very tidy margin on everybody's payments collectively. At death the pension fund passes to spouse or next of kin, and is subject to death duties/ inheritance taxation . 

You could as a prospective pensioner, elect alternatively to balance annual income by drawing down from the pot as well as the interest, but that really would not suit the whole game the pension fund managers play - they need lareg sums to spread bet and expect above 5% ROI year on year as averaged over 10-20 years. Most people do unfortunetly die within 13 years of retiring, and that age is about to fall on average as the unhealthy baby boomers, who have enjoyed too much of fags, drink and nosh ups, hit the buffers earlier. So given you have a million pounds to offer say a £ 25,000 - 45,000 annual income from the old annuity route, you can see that taking 100,000 p.a. for ten years is attractive - in the context then if you do make it past average age of death at only about 77 y.o., and then letting your PAYE pension pick you up if and when you are in your dotage and need to sell your house anyway to fund nursing home

Now of course the government does nicely out of inheritance tax - eventually- but being able to inject a huge amount of cash which is sloshing around in pension company managed funds, internationally it must be said, then the country will gain by short term growth, as in the credit cycle before of the 80s and 1997-2008 periods, with the VAT reciepts and other tax revenues being high. Suddenly the finest crop of baby boomers born in 1950-1953 will discover that they can manage their own capital, and despite what ever smart alec IFAs say to them, they will want to spend, spend, spend and then rely on the state SERP PAYE pensions so many stayed in or had via state employment, for their really decrepit years, where capital penalises you by forcing up your charges in nursing homes.

Pensioners on average are of course not stupid and balancing capital extraction with interest payouts plus your true life expectancy, or qualiyears as some call it then fuck it, live for today..

..A year or two is positively geological time in politics these days , so a 'quick win' was to be had, injecting billions of otherwise locked up pounds into the consumer economy rather than the global investment banker network.

The essence of people's capitalism and self determinisation or just a credit bubble which will squeeze for example, buy to rent prices upwards? It certainly is a little cynical and possibly anarchic, especially if you are a Norwich Union fund manager (for example).

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Say Hello to Madame George

Trans identity and rights have been eclipsed by other madness in world events recently, but one old and very petty little debate won't go away. Say hello to Madame George.

Often held up as a trans song, there is in fact no reality in this, just the misinterpration of words. Van Morrisson wrote Madame George as the second part of a probably a highly autobiographical pair of songs , the other being Cypress Avenue , of course mentioned in the opening line again of the latter in the brace of ballads.

The myth of Madame George being an early pro trans song and alluding to a flirt with blurring the borders of sexuality and the artist's own experimention there in, are completely transparent. Firstly in the very name of the 'lady' being George. Secondly in the general poetic narrative suggesting a forbidden, underground flirtation which could never quite be requited. Thirdly the mention of what some claim is ' playing dominoes in drag' when the police raid the place.

Alas these are just misinterpretations. Firstly George is not referring to a first name, it is a well known second name in Ulster, and as both the well heeled middle class avenue and the 'soldier boy' husband suggests, a protestant one at that. Leading from this, the sexual tension and intrigue is more understandably heterosexual and extra marital, as the swingin late sixties afforded women a greater sexual freedom. Lastly ' in drag' is actually ' an' drag' , and not in, with the word meaning a card game played for petty bets at the time.

Van Morrison has spoken little of his specific inspirations for his modern folk master piece ' Astral Weeks' but he has mentioned that he had an affaire ( or several?) with an uptown lady which meant him walking up Cypress avenue in Belfast. ' Marching with the Soldier Boy Behind' seems to allude pretty strongly to a woman in control of her destiny with some contempt for her husband. This has also though, been 'decoded' to mean a gay lover in tow, walking two steps back to avoid attention.

The subject matter is though more clearly upon setting in context of the young openly heterosexual artist's formative years, centred around an affaire or unrequited relationship wirth a femme fatale. She may have been from the Republic due to the references to a police raid on their gambling den, and Van Morrisions seemingly obsessional need to get the train back to Belfast from Dublin. This seems also to refer to the innapropriateness of having a liason with perhaps a lady into her forties, and Van Morrison's dubiouty over the relationship

For me Madame George is then and Ulsterian Mrs. Robinson. She is a chance encounter for the artist. Out of boredom or awareness of her sexual needs, she leads the teenage protege into unchartered adult waters.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Trumpman's New, New Deal

Trumpanomics Round the Corner, or More of the Same-Old-Same-Old?

President Elect Trump's inauguration is just a couple of days away, and he has in his latest interview continued his hard line on ripping up a bad trade deal. The balance of trade with China in particular is staggering. He is really talking about protectionism.

For the last thirty years, protectionism and tightening national border customs control have been very untrendy. In fact they have been consigned to the extremes of politics, with entities like the Italian Communist Party and some of the Neo Fascist organisations being the only ones who support a retreat from internationalism in economic policy.

The thing is that the West can live with a bad trade balance as long as it has a positive investment balance ie companies are listing in the west. Reselling and design in the west, build in the east is highly profitable and efficient in the eyes of investors because it avoids all that nasty risk of having to manufacture yourself and face things like skills shortages, trade unions and wage pressure.

The Liberals Got Shafted By Accepting Neo Liberalism

When Bill Clinton signed the first major free trade deal with China it was in the 1990s when US manufacturing was doing rather well, having modernised and been able to get itself away from the bad days of excessive trade union power. The concept was then that rise paddy land would buy our higher value western consumer goods in return for commodities and the type of low tech, high labour intensive work the west had "grown out of". This has become a complete nightmare of a mirrored situation from anticipated, where China has eaten up all the manufacturing jobs and rendered much of that hidden under-belly of the US to what is called the 'rust belt'. All forms of jobs apart from retail and personal services, and of course public sector, have been going east.

It just doesn't matter to the major brands where their product is made or what politics it is made under. This extends also to the major web sites - the mega cyberbrands - and mobile app's too, which are increasingly being programmed in China and India. Worse that just losing jobs, the west are also losing brand dialogue and suppliers. The growth markets in the east have massive untapped potential- already the affluent middle class in China, India and the Island Belt (SingMalDesia as someone called it) is approaching half the entire population of the USA. Brands look to their tastes and needs first now.

Strategy for Balance of Trade based on Financial Markets, Premium Goods and Brands, Has Failed 

Selling our high value goods to this massive growth market has just not been a job creator. In fact the opposite, because some of these brands have been bought out by eastern investors, including those supported by good old Keynsian cash from national banks. Incredible that we allow a government and credit fuelled group of Tiger economies behave like this while the western worker has to accept that such spending is interference with natural market mechanisms. We forget all too quickly that there are other economic models than the neo liberal one, and that it has taken Trump of all people to drag off those ideological emperor's new clothes from the ruling elite in their Davos coseyness.

The biggest issue for the Democrats and left in the EU countries is that they swallowed the 'new consensus' on more free trade and less borders is always good. In effect there became no fundamental opposing economic policy, rather with the Clinton period and New Labour period, and the Social Democrat period in the EU and scandinavia of the 1990s, it was on who couls spend the tax best and offer the consumer a better deal on their visa card.

Real Living Cost Inflation and Erosion of Wages As Bad as The 1970s?

We are in fact also in a wharped mirror decade which is looking a lot like the 1970s to people who have to balance family budgets. Then we had an energy crisis, and overly powerful unions which lead to high inflation in retail prices and a devaluation of western currencies over the course of seven years or so. Now in fact we have of course real living cost inflation in that housing, commuting and utilities are all costing more, but none of these show on the consumer price index which is the great beaming siren of health in the economy. Only it of course is an outdated index in terms of erosion of spending power and standard of living.

What capital has been able to pull off is a health chart for the patient which shows there is no disease in the west, that we only need to all work harder to get on. Their capital assets and income increase in value based on this rentier economic investment in housing, privatised utilities, transport, health and retail. There is no consumer price increases which worry the currency markets, who are myopic to the balance of trade. IN fact you could say that the anarchic currency trading system is exacerbatic to real inflation for ordinary employees because it values also a high total stock value and private equity flow into the country's housing market. That keeps demand for dollars up.

Neo Liberalism is the Run Away Goods Train of Ideology Which Has Delivered Social Unrest

What the left really did not realise is that Neo Liberal globalisation is a hurtling goods train for the delivery of poorer living standards for a very large proportion of the workforce. It not only exposes workers in manufacturing to the global pressure to compete with the lowest common denominator, or the highest secretly subsidised state. The management philosophy sweeps sideways into the domestic service economy and over into those middle class, high value added jobs which now have wages which are stagnant, and thus become eroded Unemployment and oversupply of graduates is good for the bad bosses out there, because it means they can offer take it or leave it initial conditions, and even reduce wages or increase working hours on an unpaid basis. In several professions in the US now, it is necessary for ordinary workers to do an extended period of wages free internship. This is all just the market, the facts of life, the value you have as a person versus the next man or woman in line.

We used to call this DOLE RULE and we used to something about it via organising our labour. Post war we, the western middle class, strung out our time of imperialism, and protected our imperial markets to a large extent allowing slow growth in bilateral international trade. We rebuilt europe on keynsian principles, and the US white worker at least, never had it so good under the 'virtuous cycle' of the 50s and 60s. Keynsianism. Protectionism. Collective Bargaining via Unions. Free Education. All these bads. Yet our economies grew faster in that peiod than the subsequent three decades, there was a higher spending power and lower basic costs of living relative to wages. In fact inflation during this period is lower than it was in the last three decades.

It all went wrong in the 70s with several key factors, one of which was unrelated: the arabian oil crisis. The other one which was political and local was on the one hand powerful unions and on the other management struggling to raise investment for new technology and plant to increase productivity. We entered a kind of perfect storm of inflationary pressure and decline in those companies which did not modernise production or methods. We saw rising automation too, but it was general difficulties in teh economy coupled to the baby boomers being too proliferate which lead to job losses. In fact unemployment and in particular under employment became a lot worse in the 1980s, but this is a little facile because women entered the work force as full timers en masse and this was also a disruption. A lot of things caused the malaise of the 1970s and set the route to slavery the Neo Liberals pushed us out upon in the 80s.

The net result is the US Rust Belt and growing social unrest in the old west. Scapegoats are easy to find, and the free movement of Labour and blind eye to Mexican labour the Neo Liberal epoch permitted is coming to an abrupt end with Trump's wall and Brexit. We want your markets, but we don't want your people and we won't buy our brands made in your country any more.

 In the UK, there is a surprise low productivity to economists, but if they bothered to look away from the Financial "City" and the North Sea, they would see everyone selling insurance and cappucinos to each other, or offering nail manicures, or being marginalised in privatised services into low wages and temporary contracts. We are in a malaise, and the lower third of society are paying highest for it, yet often lack the articulation or understanding for how they were put in this situation of stagnant wages and a hard labour market yet with rising living costs.

Trump knows that the balance of trade is paid for somewhere. It is paid for by the personal credit mountain and government spending. In part of course, the government had to prop up and subisdise the failing financial credit industry, in a similar way to the sick car industry of the 1970s. In other ways, a large part of the economy is driven by imports being sold to people on the public pay roll, and an increasing proportion of American internal industry is paid for by government spending such as Medicare and defence. Because the market for labour is so saturated, employers can get away with marginalising retail and service workers into precarious low hours , taking top up benefits from the state.

The trouble is of course that Trump does not just oppose an Ideological Economic Epoch, he also opposes huge vested interests in the USA and lobbying power in Senate and Congress on both sides of the house. China is a major investor in both the stock exchange and private equity (mostly real estate). The big brands don't want to have to manufacture in the US when they can do it easier and cheaper in China, and get loans there from the state's back door. Retailers are a powerful lobby who dont want inflationary pressures or a threat to their supply of cheap labour. Health companies and defence manufacturers dont want the US public purse to get a 'better deal' as Trump wants. He faces entrenched political channels for all these interest groups, and a stock exchange and currency market which may punish him.

Further to all this picture of Trump being perhaps the Left's new surprise hero or stalking horse to more equitable national economic policy, he has reiterated this week his committment to building infrastructure in the US. This is a keynsian and Federal approach to fixing problems, both of which are abhorrent to Neo Liberalists. It starts to look more like Truman's New Deal than Reaganomics take II.

These ertswhile socialist policies though are not going to be brought in with a punative taxation plan for the upper third and top 2% of society, quite the contrary. Trump looks to balance the books over 5 years via productive activity in the economy dragging the labour maket up, and a better more symmetric trade deal with China. He will cut defence if he can get away with it, and ease the sense of  New Cold War growing with Putin. He will cut propping up Israel. Trump's economics seem to be from the radical left mixed with Thatcherism of the purse strings in the handbag. Trump has been a supporter of the democrats before. Who is this man really? A lot of republicans asked the same question during the primaries, but now he has his uber right power base established they do not dare dissent before they see weakness down the line. A republican " house and hill " is quite a rare combination taken in the context of the last half century. It is seen as political opportunity for other reforms and regressions of laws and systems. Also they know now that people do not beleive in the revamped Bushanomics offered by their other presidential candidates.

The Neo Liberal, globalised model is broken for the US working class and has also eroded the standard of living for the middle class. Like Lenninist Marxism in the USSR, the public finally find a mouth piece in the corridors of otherwise entrenched doctrine and ideological worship. Trump is that Gorbachev for Globalist Neo Liberalism.

Simplistic solutions for limiting immigration and negotiating better trade deals behind closed doors seem to favour the worker in the street, but the structure of the national economies are not there to actually make the change. They are still oriented around globalisation and Neo Liberal anti organised labour policy. It will take brute force to shift this old epoch out of the way and it is Trump and Brexit which are either those forces or the stalking horses to a new era. It is going to be different.

If you say that Brexit and Trump have pushed through a log-jam of political correctness, in fact it is far more true in motivation to vote, that they are a move away from Economic Correctness in the Neo Liberal epoch.