Inequality

I had a bit of a thought about the problem of inequality. Maybe for some, it’s not a problem. Maybe for some, there’s no fair way to tackle it. Either way, even if inequality itself isn’t a problem, its effects very much are, and therefore it needs to be tackled, and there’s always a way.

So how would I tackle it? Firstly, I would want to recognise the value of the human being, rather than their socio-economic status. We all have inherent value, and our biological traits dictate that value, not our parents’ wallets.

A particular scheme I came up with requires a billionaire philanthropist or two. Or of course, a movement that those people want to get behind and put their well-known names to. Currently we have huge businesses and wealth being passed from family member to family member. This means that the recipient hasn’t really earned any of the wealth being granted by parents, and those recipients have not had to compete to earn their status.

What I would do, were I a successful billionaire with a massive business empire, is grab as many people as I can from the ‘lowest’ echelons of society. I would seek out the people who have little or nothing, and I would show them how I became insanely wealthy. I would teach every single one everything I know about getting rich, and about my own strategies and tactics. This may seem redundant, in today’s world, because they’d never have a shot at it, but that’s where my own wealth would come into it. I would provide generously for their own upstarts, guiding their development, and funding their own ideas. At the end of the scheme, I would ask them to come up with some form of innovation to tackle social issues, and every participant would win something big. However, the very best among them would become my own heir, gaining my business and wealth.

See, I don’t think inequality can be solved through a forceful approach by government, but simply by sharing. The scheme above would affect thousands more than just the folks I took under my corporate wing, because of the ideas that they themselves finally got the chance to put out there. However, it begins by not taking people as a ‘number’. It begins by seeing that everybody contributes in some way, and everybody has something to offer.

By casting aside the delusion of there being ‘worthy’ people and ‘little people’, as opposites, and instead embracing the reality that many of the poorest are in fact much harder workers than the CEOs of the world. Also, they’re often smarter. There are many examples of people from humble backgrounds breaking through… how many are there who never get the opportunity to do so? Michael Faraday, a bookshop assistant from a poor background became one of the best-known chemists in history. William Herschel, who had no education in astronomy, made his own telescopes and discovered Uranus.

The base of what I’m getting at is that everybody has worth, as a human being. Everybody has a role to play in society. it makes sense that from this basis of near-equality, we should find a way to directly translate that into opportunity for wealth and prosperity, rather than keeping people poor, just because they happen to already be poor. By putting opportunities for growth into the hands of those without, we can only go forwards and grow.

There’s also Universal Basic Income, which I covered in an earlier post. Seems like the benefit system perpetuates inequality, by breeding contempt for claimants, because they’re perceived as being a drain on resources. UBI would tackle that, because everyone would get the same ‘welfare’.

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What is poverty?

This is going to be the first of hopefully a long series looking at poverty and how to alleviate it. Also, I plan to add to it quite a lot, if I can.

As always, it’s a good idea to start by defining what it is you’re talking about. With such a wide-ranging and complex issue, it’s common for different people to have different basic definitions.

To me, poverty isn’t something as straightforward as not having money, or not having enough money. While that often (perhaps even usually) contributes, it’s not the single defining factor. For the sake of defining it in a single sentence, poverty is, to me, a lack of access to the services, social supports, and in some cases goods, that in any particular place would be identified as instrumental to sustaining a reasonable standard of living.

I generally disagree, due to this definition, with the compartmentalisation of ‘absolute poverty’ against ‘relative poverty’. Many people believe that poverty is a lack of money, which lends itself to saying people starving in far away countries are in poverty, while the lowest classes of society in rich countries are only in relative poverty, which, to many people, doesn’t count as poverty. My definition exposes that as flawed, because, while having little money is infinitely more wealthy than having no money, the definition of a reasonable standard of living is different for the two countries, putting both cases ‘in poverty’, regardless of how much money each has. The importance of this distinction is made clear when other factors are brought into account, as it is clear that people from either background can be facing the same struggles, despite differing situations with regard to money.

Media Bias?

What is in the news right now:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2411781/Would-let-little-girl-pole-dance-Astonishingly-new-child-fitness-craze-embraced-parents.html

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/football/5115816/Revealed-Wayne-Rooneys-horror-gash-Manchester-United.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/sep/04/rachel-manning-shahidul-ahmed-guilty

What is (rather conspicuously) not in ANY of the news right now:
http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/five-government-departments-mobbed-in-hugely-successful-day-of-action-by-and-for-disabled-people/

The protests were not a spur of the moment thing. I knew they were going to happen way back in June or July. There was also a little coverage at some point last week. However, not one single mainstream news source covered the actual protests. Personally, I would think that civil rights in the UK are far more important than one person’s head injury.

Architect of Society I

I’m going to start a series of posts to illustrate my ideas for a better future. I want people to comment on them. Basically what that means is that I don’t particularly want to stamp my opinion all over the place if my opinion is based in flawed reasoning and thus could be damaging. I’d rather publish what I think and then work with others to better calibrate my position and reach a point where I become reasonable.

Firstly, the housing crisis. Right now, there are a lot of people living in unaffordable accommodation, that the government is having to pay for, and there are also long waiting lists for homeless people to be placed in accommodation. The government is trying to manage the spend on rent by introducing benefit caps and trying to convince people to move. I would do things very differently. I would first introduce a rent cap. By doing this, I would mandate would-be landlords to get their homes valued and, depending on the value of the home, assign them a maximum rate at which they can charge rent on it. This would not take location into account. The cap would be just as high or low in Central London as it is in places further afield. Given how location affects property value anyway, there would be a variance due to location, but it would be solely based on property value, not ‘typical’ rent value of local areas. This measure would drastically reduce the amount of money the government would have to spend in housing benefit, as rent prices would be made more reasonable.

I would then recommend the government invest in social housing projects. As I previously stated in another post, I have a particular preference for energy efficient housing, and would definitely want to aim for something that is as closed a system as possible, with recycling and alternative energies being focal points of the estates, along with substantially improved building materials that reduce costs and improve durability as well as energy efficiency. With lower maintenance costs, these estates would be very likely to reduce the housing spends even more, even if they would cost more to plan and build.

The next thing I would like to focus on is the ongoing welfare situation. Again I’d like to spend a bit more, and expect much bigger economic returns. The current government wants to reduce the welfare budget by reassessing people for sicknesses that they are already well-documented as having, and subsequently shoo them off the welfare system if it is possible to understate their difficulties enough. This is not only costly in the short term, especially as the information required is readily available and unlikely to produce results (if used honestly), but it is also extremely inefficient, especially when counting in the fact that for many it only takes a long and gruelling (and above all, expensive) appeals process to reverse the decision. That, and it’s also inhumane, and has thus far cost tens of thousands of lives and an obscene amount of money.

What I would instead do is assess capability for work. This might sound exactly like what the government is doing, but it is in fact the opposite. I would allow people to remain on the benefits they are on, and my proposed work capability assessment would assess an individual’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of work. While sickness would usually preclude a person from having a typical job, which is a fact seemingly ignored by the current government, it would be possible to help people into employment that is perhaps not so typical, and better suited to them. This would be accomplished through careers advice and training where suitable. While receiving this help, their benefits are paid in full, until such point the claimant finds suitable employment. If indeed their sicknesses certainly preclude any employment whatsoever, then the assessment would determine how long this is expected to be the case, and arrangements made accordingly. Pre-assessments could be made without any direct interaction with the claimant, using evidence from doctors and other professionals.

The idea here is to recognize that the sick are on sickness benefit because they are sick, not because they’re somehow lazy. However, the idea is also to empower sick people and find ways in which they can escape from being forgotten at the bottom of the pack. Instead of shifting people around and trying to kick them into work, it is far better to come up with ways in which they can work without being stripped of dignity, and in full recognition of the challenges they face from sickness. Essentially changing the ethic from ‘you can work, therefore you can’t claim benefits’ to ‘you’re very ill, but not worthless. We have researched the job market, and wonder have you ever thought about doing <this job>? The employer has assured us that you won’t have to go to their premises to do the job, and we have allocated you an advocate who can make sure you’re treated fairly and not expected to do anything that you cannot. We feel that this career path will work for you, but you do have every right to say no, and your benefits will not be affected’

Job seekers, a different group, are not sick, but still face problems finding work. I feel that they too could benefit from a full assessment of strengths and weaknesses, as well as decentrelevant, and worthwhile training. The reason I emphasise those words is because I am aware that training has been available in the past. CV skills, first aid, and others. Most of which do not result in any meaningful qualification, leaving the jobseeker no more attractive to employers as before. Why not pay for jobseekers to attend universities and colleges and educate themselves towards careers that they actually want and can easily transfer between jobs in? In the short term, this would be very costly, but I’m not so sure. A typical jobseeker costs around £5,000 per annum, and that’s without any housing benefits or other costs. Sending them to full time education with their benefits would get them into work on a far more permanent basis and far sooner than the current system. I’m pretty sure the qualifications and subsequent jobs will pay for themselves after a couple of years. Not only would the government save that benefit money, but the newly employed claimant pays tax. Again, they’d be assessed as to what they can/can’t do, where their strengths and weaknesses are, and proper advice given to ensure a well-matched and rewarding career is paid for, rather than a course the claimant would not want to do, and drop out of rather quickly.

I mention potential jobs for everyone, but I have yet to make any mention of where these jobs will come from. For a start, there’s all the social housing being built, but I have other ideas. What I would do to create more jobs is make use of the Eurozone. UK citizens looking for work in the UK tend to only get employed in the UK. Yet we have the freedom to live and work anywhere in the EU. I would recommend programs be set up where someone could live and work in another EU country if the work is available there, without officially having to leave the UK. Essentially remaining a UK resident, paying tax to the UK, having gained employment in the UK, and having a home in the UK, but having an employment location elsewhere. There would be agreements between the governments ensuring that paid-for housing would be available in the area near the place of employment, so people would only have to pay rent for their UK home, not their EU home. This type of housing would be paid for by the whole EU, not just the UK. However, it needs to be stressed that nobody would be required to take a job in another country, especially if they’re sick.

Final thought for tonight: If the government pulls its finger out, it might be able to tweak the tax and enforcement system and recover the hundreds of billions of pounds dodged by big international corporations. Of course, it’s legal for the corporations to do that, thanks to loopholes, but it shouldn’t be. Why has the law not changed to make it impossible?

Crime and Punishment

I was recently in a debate about the role of detention in society. I started it by suggesting that prison is not enough. It rarely, if at all, changes the outlook for the person sent there. People do ‘clean up’, but I assume those who do are usually the ones who wanted to anyway. In countries such as ours (UK) and other places with similar approaches to imprisonment, I am curious as to what the re-offending rate is. I am willing to guess it’s pretty high.

But if prison is not enough, what options are there? I don’t see capital punishment as a viable option. If the point of punishment is to make someone see the error of their ways and change, capital punishment negates the entire point. Nobody can change if they’re dead. As for seeing the error of their ways… same deal. What about guilt? I would consider a guilty conscience a terrible thing to live with, and indeed seems to be the main reason why people actually end up reforming in the first place. Sitting in prison for years and feeling guilty about what they did is a pretty powerful way to make someone very sorry indeed. Capital punishment saves them from all of that.

So what’s wrong with what we have already? Prisons include having a little cell to yourself for your stay. You lose freedom. You get to mingle only with other ‘undesirables’ while there. It’s pretty much designed to be completely comfort-free, and a horrible place to be. Should be a good deterrent, no? The question of reasoning is something I’ve addressed in previous posts. I feel that the current system, albeit a good deterrent for crime, does very little to stop crime from happening. People who commit crime nearly always have some sort of reason, a root cause, for doing things that ultimately end with them going to prison. For some reason or other, the initial act is worth the high likelihood of going to such a terrible place.

During the debate I was in, someone raised the point of Norway having a very low rate of re-offenders. That person linked me to various sources about a Norwegian prison called Bastoy. I was very skeptical about it when I first read some of the sources. It seemed that Bastoy was a poor excuse for a prison, being pretty much a holiday camp. In their free time there, prisoners get to go horse riding, fishing, cross country skiing and can play tennis. Much of the rest of the time, they’re working on farms to feed themselves, and living conditions are pretty good. There’s even photos of inmates out sunbathing… in front of their own cottages. What’s the deal here? How can this be a prison? People will be committing crimes just to get in, surely. But no… this prison has the lowest re-offending rate in Europe.

I am willing to guess that the ‘secret’ is not about guilt, punishment, and people trying their darndest not to end up there. I think it’s likely that a stay at Bastoy involves integration. Things that motivate a person outside to commit crime, such as mental illness and poverty, are less of an issue if you know how to deal with them properly and legally. Instead of being caged up and given the very least respect, it seems inmates at Bastoy are given work, dignity and a chance to learn how to be a functioning part of a community, all while still sacrificing their freedom. Skills that they then take outside with them and apply in the real world. I can see how this works, and how it works so well.

Evil… what is it?

I’m considering the definition of evil. It’s rather shaky. Something I’ve pretty much settled on is that evil is any act that is intended to cause harm to others. It sort of encompasses mere bad too, though. It also leaves out a huge chunk of what evil is normally attributed to. After all, a person isn’t an act.

How can a person be evil? Is there a threshold amount of evil acts they have to commit in order to gain evilness? Like ‘dude, I crossed the evilness barrier! I’m now a level 1 trainee satan!’ Where is the threshold? Is one evil act enough to make us evil? If so, are we all evil, since we all have done at least one particularly nasty thing in our lives?

Ok, we didn’t kill people, but…. wait… maybe it’s not how many acts we did, but what level of offence they were. I can pretty much assume killing multiple people is top of the evil list.But even that is not straightforward. You see, there is such thing as good killing… maybe(?) I, for one, am not going to consider a soldier evil for fighting in war.  The war itself may be a big, unnecessary waste of lives, resources and time, and fundamentally wrong, and the soldiers have to kill loads of people because they’re told to, but they’ve gotta do what they’ve gotta do, really. I’d be first in the line to put a medal on a man who’s managed to survive that sort of thing with his body and sanity both intact. I disagree with war, but I do not disagree with soldiers being heroes. They are brave people who put their lives at risk to do their jobs. Note the fact I haven’t said they do it for their country or for <insert whatever cause here>. Governments dictate all that. Soldiers do what they’re ordered to, without question of why. Soldiers certainly are heroes, and I am proud to respect each and every one I see. Even if they are ‘technically’ serial killers along the way, and thus evil(?) Nope, I don’t think that sounds right.

So if killing people is the most evil thing a person can do, but isn’t actually evil, what the hell is evil? Maybe it’s based in reasons? Why people do things… Well, I’m not sure on that. There’s always multiple sides to everything. What I think is right, you might think is wrong. I like to think that most people who do notable things, that others disagree on, usually have some sort of benevolent goal. For example, I might want to flatten your house so I can build an awesome new airport on it. The airport would ultimately be a great addition to the area, making jobs, business, and transport links, and generally add to the area’s development. But from your perspective, I’m just some nutcase who wants to uproot your family’s entire history, move your neighbours away from you and flatten the home you’ve lived your whole life in. You’d think I’m evil.

Well… I haven’t managed to logically define what makes an evil person, and I’ve managed to blur even what constitutes an evil act to the point where I can’t tell what’s what. Perhaps we’re all just different shades of good, and the term ‘evil’ is a mere label attached to things we don’t like, or indeed don’t fully understand.

Welfare ‘reforms’

I quite enjoy reading all over the web about welfare reforms and the impact they cause. Of course, I’m lying.

What really shocks me is the positive reactions towards them from members of the general public. It can be quite astounding that people in this wonderful country of ours can be so outright heartless. Yes, fair enough, you’ll end up paying less tax if benefits are cut. Of course, that’s wonderful news for you, but really, have you thought long and hard about what that means for others who are actually in need of the benefits in question?

For your few pennies saved, a hundred lives are completely torn apart. It’s really quite tragic to see people being faced with the threat of homelessness, and to have to rely on food banks in order to stay alive and healthy. Those who do become homeless are then faced with the prospect of no longer having access to benefits, because the DWP do actually need an address to reach you at before they’ll pay a penny. Of course, people start dying, which triggers a chain reaction of even more savings for the taxpayer. Isn’t that awesome? I sincerely don’t think it is.

It fills me with warmth to hear about the council estate that was pulled down and the families that were broken up along with the rest of their community, because ultimately it meant I could finally afford my new BMW.

Yes I really am joking about that. I receive benefits myself. I receive the endless stigma and demonisation from the right wing press. I receive the disgusted glances from people who consider themselves a higher species than me. I receive the barrage of attacks from the very person who set up the centre for social justice. It would help him greatly if he had the slightest clue what social justice was.

Stay tuned for a more thoughtful and less ranty post about these very same issues. I do not wish to become incoherent and shouty, else I might find myself going bald and yelling at Owen Jones on Question Time. Although some might be pretty proud of that achievement……..