Category Archives: Economy

Technological Progress and The Good Life


By Nikhil Datta

If you haven’t already seen it, Brent council have bought a hologram to replace a human receptionist as it is cheaper (Google it and you’ll find a ton of related news articles).

Observing reactions to this new phenomenon will be interesting. There will evidently be those with similar views on the issue of technological replacement to the Luddites during the industrial revolution: that ‘human labour’ will become redundant and we will see some form of technological unemployment – and they may be right. Especially during a time of mass unemployment, such fears are warranted – unemployment in the short term for individuals is likely. However, if we examine unemployment levels over the last century, technological growth has not resulted in increasing unemployment. (see fig 1) Thus, such fears are generally referred to in Economics as the ‘Luddite fallacy’ which assumes technology will result in structural unemployment issues. To quote Keynes, such unemployment ‘is only a temporary phase of maladjustment.’

What we have seen is the emergence of more and more useless ‘non-productive’ industries – zero sum game (where one participants’ gain is equivalent to another participants’ loss), if you will. Examples of these exist everywhere in the tertiary sector. Significant examples are advertising, insurance, and (you’ve guessed it) the trading/banking sector (see fig 2) – industries where nothing is actually produced (While I’m sure numerous traders would try to argue that investment in financial markets offer growth scope for an economy, I’d like to ask the aforementioned individuals how much of their trading is for long term investment, and how much of it is short term speculation – as there needs to be a clear distinction between the two). Here in this sector people simply fight over existent produce/market shares – nonsensical when you examine it for what it is. For our union murdering friends at Coca-Cola and our eating disorder-fuelling friends at Pepsi, when competing for market share, the best solution for both companies would be not to advertise. Individuals are fully aware of the existence of both companies and would pick to drink whichever is their usual; however, due to strategic decision making (see game theory 101 – ‘The prisoners dilemma’) both will end up spending on advertising, maintaining their market share and wasting resources – ultimately nothing is produced. Parallels can be drawn in other industries: think of two traders, one betting in favour of a bond, the other betting against it. In the end one shall win and one shall lose – there is no pareto improvement, and nothing is produced.

So, there are people working jobs where they are simply running on a treadmill as a result of inefficiencies inherent to the current system; if they were to all suddenly stop one day there would be no reduction in the wealth of the economy.

Robert & Edward Skidelsky cover this in a large amount of detail in their book ‘How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life’ – I highly recommend it. The Skidelskys highlight advertising in particular as being significantly damaging to society, increasing our wants for products that we don’t require and regularly don’t use. We must remember that for each of those products we buy and don’t really use someone has spent unnecessary time producing it – time which they could have enjoyed having a life. The environmental impact of this is also significant, (however this would be the subject of another article.)

If we had a system set up which adequately maximised on technology and was able to reduce the amount of conspicuous/unnecessary consumption we’d probably see people welcoming such things with open arms – with technological improvements we’d ultimately expect everyone’s work load to simply reduce, giving us more of an opportunity to actually enjoy our time. While we have seen this happening historically, (manufacturing hours dropped from 66 hours per week in 1850 to 38.5 hours p/w in 1955) the rate of reduction in our work hours has recently slowed to the point of almost stopping, and in certain industries we actually see it increasing. Reasons for this are most likely to point towards growth in consumerism and growth in zero sum industries such as advertising and banking.

Knock on effects of this technological growth consist of reductions in real wages and decreased living standards for unskilled workers and those farther down the ladder. Obviously for property owners (and by property I refer to the means of production) this is fantastic as it enables them to cut costs and increase profits, undoubtedly increasing  wage and wealthy inequality levels, which we know have been increasing at a rapid pace since the mid 70’s [see fig 3]. It should be noted that technological change in the 20th century has been generally biased towards skilled workers. Most research points to an increase in demand for skilled workers, thus negatively affecting unskilled workers. This is the reverse of what happened during the Luddite riots of the 19th century when the skilled artisans were being replaced by factory lines.

This holographic case spells great news for the Tories who can cut public sector spending and employment levels – a solid solution to a demand-led recession (note the sarcasm).

While there exist some possible short term fixes to the issues outlined above (increased regulation/taxation on advertising and other zero-sum industries, legislation in favour of decreasing the working week etc), I suspect that ultimately we’d require some more solid long term solutions to tackle the root cause of some of the issues raised. I think these primarily need to start with an overhaul of our education system – an increase in time spent on the arts, on creation, on individual research and discovery is a must if we hope to move away from this ‘age of consumption..’ As educationalist Sir Ken Robinson says, what is necessary is ‘to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.’

Currently from a young age these interests are practically kicked out of us, and thanks to Michael Gove we are seeing syllabi concentrating a lot more on rote learning. An improvement to our education system combined with a reduction in exposure to advertising will hopefully aid in laying the grounds for future generations with interests that stretch beyond (to paraphrase David Ramsey) ‘buying things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like.’

Furthermore, in order for a system to support technological improvements and increase the standard of living for all, we’d need to envision industries run by syndicates – self managed groups of workers functioning purely democratically so as to ensure that all benefitted. While private property still exists such improvements are undoubtedly going to have a bias towards owners in contrast to wage workers. While this may sound like it’s a long way off, a key way of working towards this could be through the unions, similar to the traditions seen in the Anarcho-Syndicalist school of thought.

I suppose the most frightening part of this type of technological advance is the relentless reduction we’re seeing in human interaction. I write this piece from my room, on my laptop, I’ll email it to a friend, and it will be put up online. Tomorrow you’ll enter your local council building and talk to a holographic receptionist, next week you’ll order your (Zionist sponsored) coffee from Starbucks by talking to a robotic Barista, give it a couple of years and we’re basically going to be communicating solely via virtual Avatars, living in a screen-filled room somewhat resembling Charlie Brooker’s 2nd episode of Black Mirror ’15 Million Merits.’

Well not in my future. If anyone needs me you can contact me via carrier pigeon, on my anarcho commune on the northern tip of New Zealand.

Fig 1. ( –visit site for a description of the data used to create this graph)


Fig 2) Source: Phillipon, T: The Evolution of the US Financial Industry from 1860 to 2007: Theory and Evidence; NBER


Fig 3) For a definition and understanding of the gini coefficient check here.

Source: Olivier Berruyer adapted from figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies.



i John Maynard Keynes, ‘Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren’  (1930)
[Taken from: John Maynard Keynes, ‘Essays in Persuasion,’ (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1963) pp. 358-373]

ii Sibylla Brodzinsky, ‘Coca-Cola boycott launched after killings at Colombian plants,’ The Guardian, 24 July 2003.

iii Sarah Skidmore, ‘Diet Pepsi ‘skinny’ can stirs up big controversy,’ NBCNEWS, 11 February 2011

iv ‘an action done in an economy that harms no one and helps at least one person’ – Definition taken from

v  Robert Whaples, ‘Hours of Work in U.S. History’. (EH.Net Encylopedia 2001)

vi Daron Acemoglu, ‘Technology and Inequality’ National Bureau of Economic Research 2003

vii Ken Robinson, ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything’ (London: Penguin, 2010)

viii Peter Walker, ‘Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success, says Michael Gove,’ The Guardian, 14 November 2012

ix Dave Ramsey, ‘The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness’ (Nashville: Thomas Nelson; 3 edition: 2009)

x For anyone wanting to read more into this I advise starting with ‘Anarcho Syndicalism’ by Anarchist writer and activist Rudolph Rocker, you can download and view the pdf version of this for free here:



By Pete Hunt


The neoliberal project has suffered a serious blow in the form of the Great Recession. Birthed from the Chicago School of Economics with its trust in rational individual choice and the tendency of markets to self-regulate, led by Alan Greenspan and championed by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, free-market dogma has had a pretty good go at the wheel. Quite a lot of the passengers however, would now like to get off. The other side of the Atlantic, the Occupy movement, inspired by the Spanish Indignatos (1), mobilised huge amounts of public support against the excesses of free-market ideology. Across the Eurozone huge protest movements continue to articulate opposition to the privatisation forced upon their populations. Greece especially suffers, with reports of medical shortages, poverty (2), government corruption (3), and once again, a spectre is haunting Europe. But it is the spectre of fascism, from Athens (4) to London (5) to Budapest (6) that cries “Seig Heil” and calls for the expulsion of the Muslim immigrant folk devil.

In the UK, the Government has responded to the financial crash with one of the most expansive and brutal attacks on public services that the country has ever witnessed. The NHS, the judicial system, the police, the welfare state and education are all under attack as never before. Understandably, some people are a little miffed at this. The UK Uncut movement has dragged the issue of tax avoidance kicking and screaming into the public discourse and Occupy have set up camps and occupations in cities across the country. The student movement burst back into life to oppose the selling off of our knowledge and trade unions have mobilised hundreds of thousands of members in opposition to public sector cuts. All of these movements include elements that are more or less radical. They articulate messages from the very conservative, such as calls to simply enforce tax law properly, to the very radical, that call for a complete overhaul of how we structure society and distribute wealth, goods and services. In all of this, the news media has a key role. In any properly functioning democracy, the media is responsible for the free-flow of ideas, so that citizens may make informed political choices and decide what sort of society they want to live in. The British news media in its current form has not only failed to do this, it is incapable of doing so.

Precisely why this is the case requires some background information concerning the formation of the current shape of the media. A long term trend, not only in news media but across global business is that of convergence. Simply speaking, companies become larger and larger, corporate buyouts, takeovers and mergers have served to reduce the total number of individual news media outlets, which in turn reduces the range of editorial opinion and political viewpoints within the media. This leads to a convergence of not only economic might and interest but editorial opinion (7). Now this might not be such a problem if these few editorial opinions were wide-ranging and challenged dominant ways of thinking. This however, is not the case. The internet has also gutted the revenue streams of many news media outlets. This not only encourages further convergence but also affects the working conditions of journalists. Proper investigative journalism is expensive, and less journalists are being asked to produce greater amounts of content, which leads to much cross-pollination of stories and little interrogation of the stories presented (8).

Given that there is now, and has been for some decades, consensus on the triumph of capitalism, a certain flavor of journalism has emerged which necessarily dominates the media landscape. As in all other areas of life that capitalism takes as its own, the media is, with very few exceptions, profit orientated. Those that aren’t profit orientated (The BBC for example) are still beholden to a commercial worldview as they must “compete” with commercial entities for viewing figures and other markers of market success.

What this leads to in the majority of media outlets, is editorial decision making limited by the interests of its corporate owners. Those corporate owners are likely very happy with the current paradigm of Neoliberalism and thus unlikely to sanction content that gives oxygen to a message contrary to its interests. So if one accepts that the vast majority of news media necessarily, due to the shape of the commercial interests they serve, and the commercial environment must reflect commercial interests. These interests that are one and the same as those being pursued by the architects of austerity that currently inhabit the executive and legislative arms of our government, which are the same aims of large capital interests. Controlling interests in major media corporations also tend to be from the upper classes and thus tied into the dominant hierarchies it is their job to take to task.

So what happens when commercial-orientated news media has to cover large scale protest events that articulate messages in opposition to the status quo? Well several quite interesting things. One is a tendency to conceptualise protest as being a public nuisance (9). Protests are framed not by the issue they are trying to raise, but by the disruption that is caused to business and everyday life (10) (11).  This serves to delegitmise the protest, as print space/pixels are given over to business profits lost and disruption caused, not WHY these people felt such disruption was necessary for their voice to be heard. It also illustrates rather well the commercial stance and acceptance of neoliberalism discussed earlier. Profit is more important than democratic rights.

The second is demonization of protesters who take part in more radical political action and violence and the use of this to delegitimise the protest as a whole. One example is the coverage of the first student protest. Whilst the protest itself was described as having legitimate aims, and most media outlets gave quotes from their supporters, as well as space to explain the issues raised to readers, those present at the violence outside Millbank Towers are again and again described as being in the “minority”, or not part of the movement at all. The Daily Mail in particular describes those who took part in the occupation as “Anarchists” (12) and makes mention of various far left groups, such as Class War and animal liberation groups as being the driving force behind the violence. As someone who was present at this event, this does not tally with my own personal experience as the vast majority of those gathered outside Millbank Tower were without doubt students who had been involved in the march previously in the day and not members of anarchist collectives or violent animal rights groups. Pictures from the day also illustrate this point, as one is more likely to spot a protester clad head to toe in Jack Will’s attire than the monochrome uniform favoured by anarchists using black bloc tactics.

But does the use of such tactics delegitimise the message of the protestors? If their message was perfectly legitimate during the earlier stages of the day, then surely the facts of that argument and opposition do not change because a few windows get smashed? Looking at the coverage of 2011’s March for the Alternative this occurs again as the Independent (13) declared “Violence flared when a group of hundreds of activists, not connected with the union protest, clashed with police” and later quoting civil rights group Liberty “…however the demonstration appeared to have been infiltrated by violent element…”, whilst the Daily Mail quotes Jim Murphy, deputy major who describes the group as a “tiny minority of violent, parasitic, unrepresentative hooligans” followed by a quote from Scotland Yard’s Bob Broadhurst who says “I wouldn’t call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends.” (14) The ends however of all those attending on the day of the protest were the same, that of opposing austerity, specifically its manifestation in the education sector. The Daily Mail’s coverage of that day is especially significant as these quotes are used to characterise the actions of UK Uncut, who peacefully occupied the Fortnum & Mason store, doing no damage and with a fairly conservative political aim. They were deceived into leaving the store and arrested before having the vast majority of charges dropped some time later (15).

A separate key question emerges from this. What counts as legitimate political expression, and what as criminality? Surely the deciding factor is motive. If during a particularly heated protest, some property damage occurs, and in the excitement, someone throws a rock through a bank window. Now the key distinction is why a bank? If the protester was simply angry and wanted to break something, which itself should not delegitimise the issue they are protesting about, then this could be framed as an act of criminality. However if the protestor knows what the bank represents, and also what the act of destroying it represents, this “vandalism” is transformed into a highly political act. Should this still be viewed as legitimate political activity in what we still claim is a liberal democracy? The cost of the window is minimal, especially when compared to the global profit streams of international banks. If the brick had come through the window of a small local business owner, or residential property then obviously this is much harder to construe as an act of political rebellion or expression. One could argue that only that allowed within the law is acceptable protest action, but then what say they of historical social movements who very definitely broke the law, but are hailed as champions of progressiveness today? The civil rights movement, suffragettes etc would not have succeeded if all their members did was march peacefully about whilst hemmed in by thousands of police in militarised riot gear. The question of what constitutes legitimate protest however, is a whole separate kettle of fish perhaps better pondered elsewhere.

What is clear though, is that unless a protest conforms to very tight authoritarian definitions and practices, then its message is lost in sensational headlines and accusations of criminality. Even if a protest behaves, then it is likely to be sidelined and the disruption caused to the status quo emphasised over any message given. Whilst this does not just occur when looking at coverage of anti-austerity protest, it is necessary to point out that this process serves the interests of those who stand to gain from the continued imposition of market values and processes into public institutions.

So then, the news media in the United Kingdom, is unlikely to cover angles contrary to its commercial interest, which necessarily dovetail with the interests of the austerity fixated Government and big business. Anti-austerity protest does not dovetail with these interests. When it is covered, little to no coverage is given of radical alternatives to austerity, and only grudging acceptance of arguments for reforming the current system. The protesters themselves are framed at best as a nuisance, at worst as criminals. That no solutions are articulated beyond those available within the dominant paradigm of environmentally blind neoliberalism when the most highly visible opposition to this paradigm are covered by the mainstream news media outlets of the United Kingdom raises serious questions regarding the proper functioning of democratic society. A liberal democracy requires an informed and aware citizen able to make rational decisions in an open public domain and this relies upon a free flow of ideas and information. The news media of the United Kingdom demonstrably do not seem to be capable of fulfilling this function. If this is the case then we must ask ourselves if our liberal democracy still deserves that name.

References/Further Reading







(7)    Herman, S, McChesney, R, 1997. The Global Media: the new missionaries of corporate capitalism. London. Cassel and Continuum

(8)    Curran, J, 2012. Misunderstanding the Internet. Luntlidge. Chp. 1.

(9)    Di Cicco, D, T. (2010) The Public Nuisance Paradigm: Changes in Mass Media Coverage of Political Protest since the 1960s. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 2010 87: 135







Job Insecurity: In Defense of a Generation

By Laura Wade

young unemployed

Young people have received a pretty bad press recently. A bright eyed, youthful workforce, if you believe the papers, has turned out to be a mass of work shy, impudent layabouts with no prospects and no future. These accusations are brazen, and have been partly responsible for the hostility in both the work environment and the hiring processes that young(er) people have been lumbered with. With the current government pushing through legislation which will make it easier for the employer to “dismiss” an employee, a minimum wage which falls below inflation and the growth in zero hour contracts, it’s easy to understand how the volatile economic environment could cause a whole wave of problems for those who are entering the workplace for the first time.

With the majority of government schemes and workplace opportunities being targeted at inexperienced people who are forced to work for peanuts (or, in many instances, nothing at all) the youth and young adults of our nation are faced with a perilous situation which gives no sign of significantly improving in the short term. Internships, apprenticeship schemes and Voluntary Placement Schemes make it damn near impossible for even the most qualified among us to find a job which pays enough to ensure that we are all set on the road to a financially secure future.

These are just a few of the options available to the youth of today if they are to find “meaningful” work. Decades of emphasis on university education and academic qualifications have left us with an entire generation of people who are stuck in limbo. With little to no chance of getting on the property ladder, we find ourselves indebted to rip-off landlords who siphon away half our wages on rent – leaving us little opportunity to save for anything, whether that be travel, to buy a home, to start a business or to continue our education. Unless you have people to back you or are completely ruthless with concrete ideas, then it is almost impossible to land a job where you could comfortably live and enjoy your life. What the current government seem to forget in their unrelenting attacks on the poor is that not everybody wants to be rich. There are some (in fact, I would like to say the majority) who would just like to live a comfortable, contented life in which they don’t have to worry about paying their rent or putting food on the table. This new class, the supposed “emergent service workers” represent a growing divide in the country’s wealth as well as a somewhat flippant attitude towards poverty and of the future.

The arrogance of our leaders is quite often fairly astounding. There is an underlying assumption within each and every one of them that they can be the ones to solve our problems – instead of setting in motion the processes which will regenerate economic growth and come to strengthen the economy as well as the country’s position in the global market. The series of short, sharp shocks the government is inflicting upon society with its “austerity” measures have meant that a large proportion of the nation is feeling a series of significantly damaging afflictions from which it will find it difficult to recover. The poverty cycle, once in motion, is a difficult thing to prevent from spinning out of control: debt, breeds debt, breeds debt ad infinitum.

Rather than being competent workmen and fixing the foundations of the problem, we are continually left with a bunch of cowboys who are happy to plaster over the cracks so long as they rule before handing over the dilapidated shit pile to their successors. What’s left is a country in turmoil and millions of ordinary people scrambling at the imaginary ladder of success. The emphasis on cut throat ambition and cheating and fighting your way to the top is frightening. With imagined overnight success and with TV reality shows like The Apprentice feeding on this illusion, we can never escape the idea that to be truly successful we must have billions of pounds in an offshore bank account and we have to do it quickly if we are ever to amount to anything. Faced with this, and coupled with the insecurity of the job market, we are a nation who are overwrought with anxiety, uncertainty and a legion of potential employers who are reluctant to make positions available or who cynically use government and voluntary schemes to make use of free labour.

It is a desperate situation, one which is being continually overlooked by the majority of the media and the powers that be. To experience a smooth and relatively problem-free economy which continues to perform cohesively for decades – and generations – to come, an adaptive outlook has to be reached. A willingness to accept the global market as a transient and ever evolving mechanism, a machine which consistently and regularly updates itself and which we must all adapt to by learning its new systems and adjusting to it with constant training. The system should focus on the development of the workforce – and for the workforce to develop, it must be properly understood and nurtured. This means more appropriately focused entry jobs with a realistic and progressive structure, and far better wages, combined with a more accommodating attitude towards our younger generations.

A solution to the housing crisis is also needed. The development of social housing is entirely necessary if we are to ensure that we continue to fight our way out of a recession, and to never return to such lows again. To build houses at a competitive rate, to allow our young people to live debt free for their formative working years, we would allow them to save and to move onto the property ladder, to start their own business, etc. This in turn would ensure that the economy is in a continuous state of stimulation as well as being in a better position to support the most vulnerable members of our society.

The present situation is out of control. By forcing our young people into debt we create a kind of monetary vacuum which has never really been seen before. Theoretically, if the nation was in a more comfortable state financially and the job market was not so hard to navigate, there would be no reason why people should not pay for their own education and training. However, with graduate jobs at an all time low, and with an increasing number of graduates never making it to a position where they can afford to pay back their debts, we leave ourselves in a situation of perpetual decline. Through the creation of such a situation we have developed a currency which is almost entirely worthless and seeks only to bring the country down further.

I do not wish to blame anyone. I believe that the only way we will crawl out of this mess is through solutions, not excuses. I am tired of the blame culture and what I really want  – what we all really want – is to be in a position where we can live a comfortable existence without the worry of social and job insecurity. What is needed is a move away from party politics and into a new, negotiated and fully democratic process which ensures that the country is dealt with in the most effective manner, regardless of traditional party lines and vote mongering.

A difficult move, I admit, but in times of real chaos what we really need are representatives who will pull up their sleeves and work together in order to solve problems. This involves taking views from all sides and incorporating them into a comprehensive strategy without causing any pain and suffering to those who are most in need. Too often it is the suffering who must pay in periods of national economic turmoil, but this ‘kill off the weak’ strategy is damaging all round. A move away from benevolence and towards condemnation turns communities away from each other, breeds envy and creates a widening gap between the rich and poor – and not only on a financial level. This demonisation perpetuates problems in the workplace, throughout the benefits system and in society at large, and all this in turn is damaging to the economy, whether through the creation of “ghetto” areas in which property prices are significantly reduced, or through a lost generation who can’t find a place for themselves within the workplace.

No human being deserves to be treated like an animal, no matter what your circumstances may be. in the UK – still one of the world’s richest countries – everybody should have the right to a comfortable existence without fear of poverty or alienation. Make no mistake, this poverty is relative, and for all intents and purposes we have a much better quality of life than our global counterparts do, but the current climate is unsustainable. With a lost generation on one side and an ageing population on the other, it becomes increasingly likely that the debt situation will only get worse with the use of the same old party lines, as well as the excuses and weakness of a bipartisan system which will not cooperate.

Our society has seen such rapid advances in the last few decades that it is not only unreasonable to assume that our outdated and outmoded processes will suffice in times of crisis, it is downright obtuse. We need to learn to adapt as quickly as progress is made, and by pandering to economic principles which are hundreds of years old we are denying ourselves the real possibilities and opportunities which such advances could yield.

This is not a quick fix solution, nor is it about making the present comfortable – it is about making the future viable. It will be a lengthy, difficult process. But instead of lying and cheating our way to the forefront, instead of blaming each other and throwing around empty promises and accusations, we need to be honest with ourselves and understand that this is not a problem which can be brushed under the carpet or fixed overnight. Once we eradicate a misplaced sense of pride and a deep-seated denial, we can get on with the task of making this nation a place in which every citizen is safe and secure; a nation worthy of our pride and affection.