Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Separate and unequal...

Hatty Harman has managed to get a commission into inequality to report (summary here). Here's some of what they say:
Britain is an unequal country, more so than many other industrialised countries and more so than it was a generation ago. This is manifest in many ways – most obviously in the gaps between those who are well off and those who are less well off...
For some readers, the sheer scale of the inequalities in outcomes which we present will be shocking. Whether or not people’s positions reflect some form of ‘merit’ or ‘desert’, the sheer scale of differences in wealth, for instance, may imply that it is impossible to create a cohesive society. Wide inequalities erode the bonds of common citizenship and recognition of human dignity across economic divides. A number of analysts have pointed to the ways in which large inequalities in the kinds of economic outcome we look at are associated with societies having lower levels of happiness or well-being in other respects, and to the social problems and economic costs resulting from these...
Most people and all the main political parties in Britain subscribe to the ideal of ‘equality of opportunity’. The systematic nature of many of the differentials we present, and the ways in which advantages and disadvantages are reinforced across the life cycle (as we describe in Chapter 11 of the main report), make it hard, however, to sustain an argument that what we show is the result of personal choices against a background of equality of opportunity, however defined. Inequality in turn then acts as a barrier to social mobility...
Median income in 2007-08 was £393 per week (at 2008 prices) – in other words, half the population was in households where income adjusted for household size put them in a position that was less favourable than a couple without children with a net weekly income of £393 (£20,500 per year), and half was in a more favourable position. A tenth had incomes below £191 and a tenth had incomes of more than £806 per week (including more than 5 per cent above £1,000 per week). Thus the 10th percentile was just under half the median, and the 90th percentile was just over twice the median, and so the 90:10 ratio was more than four...The top 1 per cent has incomes more than five times the median...
Occupational social class is the only breakdown where within-group variation is generally substantially less than that within the population as a whole, although it remains large (Table S5). Growing inequality between broad occupational classes was one of the important contributors to the growth in earnings inequality over the 1980s....
The evidence we examine confirms that social background really matters. There are significant differences in ‘school readiness’ before and when children reach school by parental income and mother’s education (Figure S12). Children entering primary school in 2005-2006 whose mothers had degrees were assessed 6 months ahead of those who had no qualifications above Grade D at GCSE. In addition, every extra £100 per month in income when children were small was associated with a difference equivalent to a month’s development. Rather than being fixed at birth, these differences widen through childhood...
What could be clearer, inequality of outcome creates inequality of opportunity. Class is the big divider.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kautsky on revolution

Kautsky is best known negatively, the great betrayer, the renegade - people only read of him rather than read him.

Frankly, I rate Kautsky as a writer - and that rating is that he is worth reading, even where you disagree with him. He's not like David Icke who you can not bother with because the refutation isn't productive, refuting Kautsky bears fruit. I was scrolling through his book The Social Revolution and on the day After the Social Revolution.

It is an intriguing glimpse of Marxistant social democracy - and something the present day left so lost in the wilderness would do well to catch. here's his prescription for a victorious proletariat:
In the first place it is self-evident that it would recover what the bourgeoisie has lost. It would sweep all remnants of feudalism away and realize that democratic programme for which the bourgeoisie once stood. As the lowest of all classes it is also the most democratic of all classes. It would extend universal suffrage to every individual and establish complete freedom of press and assemblage. It would make the State completely independent of the church and abolish all rights of inheritance. It would establish complete autonomy in all individual communities and abolish militarism. This last could be brought about in two ways; through the introduction of universal armament and the dissolution of the army. Universal armament is a political measure and dissolution of the army a financial one. The former can under certain conditions cost as much as a standing army. But it is essential to the security of democracy, in order to take away from the government its most powerful means of opposing the people. Dissolution again aims mainly at a diminution of the military budget.
Undoubtedly the victorious proletariat would also make fundamental reforms in taxation. It would endeavor to abolish all the taxes that today rest upon the laboring population – first of all the indirect ones that increase the cost of living, and would draw the sums necessary to the covering of governmental expenses from the great properties by means of a progressive income tax supplemented by a property tax. I shall return to this point later. This must suffice for the present suggestion.

A particularly important field for us is that of education. Popular schools have always occupied the attention of proletarian parties and they even played a great role in the old communistic sects of the Middle Ages. It must always be one of the aims of the thinking proletariat to deprive the possessing classes of the monopoly of culture.
There is one problem above all others with which the proletarian regime must primarily occupy itself. It will in all cases be compelled to solve the question of the relief of the unemployed. Enforced idleness is the greatest curse of the laborer. For him it signifies misery, humiliation, crime.
I'll leave the question of taxation to another post, since it is encompassed in my point of significant disagreement.

What is interesting is although he consciously commits to radical bourgeois measures, he tags on the significant radical measures of anti-militarism (a biggy in Germany) and also a clear class conscious necessity of dealing with unemployment, in effect (and this is made clear later in the passage) destroying the labour market, by removing the compulsion of poverty.
If the laborer can once be secure of existence even when he is not working, nothing would be easier than for him to overthrow capital. He no longer needs capitalists, while the latter cannot continue his business without him. Once things have gone thus far the employer would be beaten in every conflict with his employees and be quickly compelled to give in to them. The capitalists could then perhaps continue to be the directors of the factories, but they would cease to be their masters and exploiters. Once the capitalists recognized, however, that they had the right to bear only the risk and burdens of capitalist business, these men would be the very first ones to renounce the further extension of capitalist production and to demand that their undertakings be purchased because they could no longer carry them on with any advantage.
This would enable many differing forms of joint ownership by the workers - nationalisation, municipalisation and co-operativism.

The point being, contrary to the Labour movement, he didn't see state power and nationalisation as the means to socialism, but rather a clear class analysis led him to see resolving and abolishing the wages system as the means of dissolving the market system.

More another day.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One world

This is a fascinating little story - the Micronesian federation - lots of tiny pacific islands which will fall beneath the sea as global tides rise - have raised the issue of the Czech Republic boosting a coal power plant. I'll let someone else tell the story:
Micronesia noted CEZ's coal-fired plant at Prunerov in the north of the republic was the 18th biggest source of greenhouse gases in the European Union, emitting about 40 times more carbon dioxide than the entire Pacific island federation.
OK, to politics - the first is that the idea of countries a hemisphere apart being environmental neighbours is important - the air is global, the climate is global. We are all locked into one spaceship Earth, and we need the common means to control it.

Whilst the Tragedy of the Commons is seriously disputed nowadays, the atmosphere is an excellent example of a commons, and externality that can be ruined by untrammeled free action.

Sadly, in a world of nation states, the narrow interest of the Czech Republic in the short term will trump any longer term concern they may have about climate change - those Bohemian mountains aren't going to fall under the sea any time soon. Commonise costs, privatise profits. Common ownership, and democratic control of the worlds air is needed, and I think this story illustrates way.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The fruits of war

I heard this on the world service this morning (insomnia bites), regarding Afghanistan:
...officially, unemployment is about 40%, though it is probably far higher than that; of those who do have a job in Parwan, 45% earn less than one dollar a day; chronic malnutrition for children under five across Afghanistan is 54%.
Now, I tried to find out what the time series on malnutrition is in Afghanistan, but find there are no recent stats. Over half of children are severely malnourished. 1 in 5 will die before reaching five years.

Stats for the whole world can be found here (just found this Excel file which indicates Afghan child mortality is barely unchanged since 1990). The world stats are a tale of misery, with many of the neighbouring countries reaching rates of over 50% under nourishment.

The BBC though, presents us with this factoid:
And perhaps most surprising of all, on a UN scale of human development indicators, Afghanistan has slipped from 117th in the world, to 181st - second from the bottom - since the Taliban were ousted.

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