Better Way published

Finally published book 3, Better Way in the series Tales of a Brighter Future

https://leanpub.com/better-way

About to send it off to my friendly readers

The book was originally called B Train, and I wanted to change the name to Walk Away and I realised that Corey Doctrow recently published a series of novellas under that title. I haven’t read Corey’s book (yet), but didn’t want to confuse things.

It’s also a nod to the phrase I say often: a better world is possible.

Zerø Day – better late than never – a better world is possible

I spent a good chunk of 2018 being eaten alive by depression and despondency. I still did the things I enjoy and spent time with my family, but there was a definite sense that we are stuck at the end of the world, waiting for the systems we rely on to finally fail. Staring down a hole that was going to kill most of the human race and take a big chunk of the ecosphere with it.

Where I live in the UK we are governed by people who can only be described as a moral vacuum. They have absolutely nothing to offer us, the people who live here. There’s a circus going on around the membership of the EU. Many of them are probably making money from the uncertainty. Our supine media lie there pretending the antics of these clowns is worth reporting, when most of them should be in prison.

While the incoherent circus goes on, they’re taking our rights away, selling off publicly owned resources, and privatising our health systems – making them worse and ever more inaccessible. As of a couple of years ago it was estimated that their vicious austerity policies had contributed to the death of 120,000 people in the UK. For fuck’s sake, that’s 40 times what some arseholes killed in 9/11, and nothing has happened to the manslaughterers! This is only going to be worse when their new Universal Credit system is rolled out.

The Brexit circus has also stirred up the empire loyalist morons, who don’t understand what a filthy thing the British Empire was, or, more likely, don’t care. So we have this vile rise in racism and othering black and asian people by dickheads who should know better. Many of our European friends who live and love here are leaving, and who can blame them?

The British left have a long tradition of being blissfully unaware of what their betters are getting up to in other countries as long as they get fed a tiny portion of the sweet fruit that comes from imperial conquest. In fact, a big chunk of the investment in the postwar boom was built on ravaging what remained of the empire. A big chunk of the funds that helped found the NHS came from cutting the heads off people who didn’t want to be ruled by Britain any more. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but there it is, kids.

In the rest of the world we have the Cheatin’ Cheeto killing kids with impunity while he plays golf and tweets self-serving rubbish sat on the toilet. Satire is dead. In fact, the only place you can get accurate reporting of what’s going on in the world is satirical comment. The serious commentators can’t cope with how surreal the world has become. In many ways it’s a good thing that the murderous imperial machine is now visible even to the most deluded, no more excuses, dead brown people become money, look at how it all works!

And, of course, in other places, the fear that comes from all the uncertainty and threat of poverty is being whipped up into fascism by cynical politicans who want to keep things as they are. This is one of the fundamental contradictions of the conservative mind, it wants to preserve a world that never was, its main fear is change and loss. But change is the one thing you can’t stop, so go with it to a better future and find better things to love. At least that’s what I think.

So, why did I write Tales of a Brighter Future?

Praxis, a word from the Marxist canon. You learn by doing, you discover by struggling with your ignorance. You learn from failure. Marx took the Hegelian idea of the dialectic, where tension between opposing forces moves and transforms things. Praxis, for me, is letting this teach you. It also opens your mind to new ideas, and better ways of seeing the world. Our enemies, sat there raping the world, can’t behave in any other way. Where the relationship between the forces in society place them constrains what they can do, it makes them what they are, and blinds them to anything better. This is why there’s no point in appealing to them, or signing petitions (except as a way of demonstrating what ignorant, heartless bastards rule us). It’s also why hating them is a waste of energy. Fix the system, and all else follows.

It’s also quite terrifying. In the midst of all this pain, a few people are beginning to wake up. The much maligned millenials can see what a crock of shit they’re being sold, the destruction of collective ways of doing things is making it hard for them to see what the alternatives actually look like. In order for our society to wake from the postwar zombie dream that has been destroyed by neoliberalism there will have to be an incredible amount of suffering all across the world. And we are probably only at the beginning, even now. You might live in a country where you are insulated from some of it, but don’t be fooled they won’t throw you on the fire too when it gets cold.

So Tales talks about the better world that’s possible. It tries to tell some simple and fun (ish) stories set in that world, where we can vicariously live and see how things are done and how they got there. Where we can see how deliberately killing off any hierarchies is necessary, where we can see why that’s so important. Where we can see what a society looks like when everybody takes responsibility and the much prized individual is still there, but they have empathy and a collective sensibility, instead of the current me, me, me arseholery. Where we can see how crazy and loving people had to be to create that better world.

Tales has stolen ideas from Bookchin, Pearcy, Marx, Lenin, Kropotkin, Coffin, Mexie, Bad Mouse and many others (some of these are Youtube commentators – go look). I can’t claim them for myself and don’t want to. You aren’t meant to agree with me, praxis. Go look for yourself. Be angry, but be better.

Four months ago I had given up, and was hanging on by my fingernails. I couldn’t write any more. I have, all my life, always been writing something. Being unable to write is like part of me was missing. Then I watched this video by Mexie and got myself back. I managed to find some energy and reconnect with others and found the wherewithal to finish Zerø Day – we have to find our own way. As she says we are the adults now and we need to find the humility to say everyone can be my teacher. We can’t and we won’t be replicating the systems from the past.

I’m back. I will write more, I will do what I can to prove a better world is possible. I need your help – let’s dream it, let’s work on it.

A better world is possible.

December 2018

Shorting Britain

What is shorting?

First, let’s talk about what shorting is in this context.

  • In the financial world you can invest in shares and, all things being well, their value will go up.
  • If you want to, you can also bet against people buying the shares that their value will go down. The exact mechanism for this isn’t worth explaining here.

This also applies to currencies, which are far more volatile.

All the trading in the City is in essence gambling for rich people. It also suffers from them really hating to take any risks. This is where we get the ridiculous notion that failing banks should be bailed out using our taxes from. The people with the power take stupid risks, and then, if they don’t pay off, we bail them out.

All of the stuff you hear about how complex this all is is rubbish. It’s gambling, sometimes disguised by poorly-understood mathematical models, but it’s gambling.

The problem is the risk is all pushed out onto people who can least afford it. The people who make the markets can also set things up so they bet against people like us in the form of our pension funds. We are just money making cattle to them.

This nonsense also applies to the market for things like simple commodities, power and oil, but that’s a discussion for another day.

So how does this relate to the Brexit vote?

Before the narrow vote most people thought that the UK was going to vote to stay in the EU, and the valuation of the pound and British stocks and shares reflected that belief.

If you had known that the value of the pound was going to fall 20%, which would instantly mean that British companies’ stocks quoted in pounds were suddenly 20% cheaper if you were using dollars or euros to buy them, and also that you could take positions in the currency markets betting that it would fall, you would have then been able to make a very large amount of money.

This is why Nigel Farage was seen almost dancing after the vote results were announced and the pound fell dramatically, some say this is why he was talking down the chances of Leave winning right up until the last moment too. His friends all made a lot of cash. It also explains why Boris Johnson and a lot of other prominent Leave campaigners received nice fat donations. See here, also.

The way the gambling works is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a big drop like this that makes them the money. They can also take positions that take advantage of uncertainty, where prices move around a lot, are volatile. Despite all the delusional nonsense spouted about markets they are, in fact driven by what people think and feel. A stock may fall if the CEO of a company does or says something that worries shareholders. The actual value of the company in terms of what it does or owns won’t change, but the sentiments of the market can change the value of the stock. The stocks in the well-regarded companies across a whole country could fall if a politician were to make a decision that would damage that country’s economy.

Similarly, in the currency markets, imagine how much money you could make if you knew that a key politician was about to announce some new madness that would make the market rise or fall before they actually spoke. Of course, this would be corrupt, would be insider trading. It would also be extremely difficult to prove.

But still, when you see various MPs yelling and acting out. Don’t forget that they have friends who can make money out of the uncertainty, as long as they know in advance that there will be surprise resignations and speeches hinting at things that might affect how the UK economy is perceived.

Disaster capitalists

The capitalist class has always made money out of wars and misery, this is nothing new. Wars tend to help them make profits across the whole economy because there is little competition over prices or quality during wartime.

Instead, let us take the example of what happened in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina as described by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine. People were reeling and confused after the floods and the carpetbaggers ran in and changed how things like education were funded, giving parents vouchers that were worth less than their kids previously had allocated for their education and making previously publicly owned and controlled facilities private and unaccountable.

Prime bits of land that happened to have social housing on them suddenly had to be cleared and the housing wasn’t replaced leaving them free to be developed. Similar things happened after the 2004 tsunami in East Asia. Land that people had owned and fished from for generations was suddenly fenced off and hotels built.

Disaster capitalists take natural disaster, states of confusion or crisis and use them to sneak in broad changes that the people hit by the crisis wouldn’t want while their minds are on other things like simple survivial. These opportunists, or their friends, will make money from these changes and leave everybody else with services that are usually more expensive, much harder to access and poorer quality. Or in the case of people in Indonesia, leave them with nothing.

If you look at things like the NHS in Britain, where there has been a deliberate running down of funding to create an artificial crisis you can see that there are many ways to create them. It doesn’t have to be some kind of natural disaster, it can be anything they dream up.

There’s also a false story told. We must privatise because privately owned companies are so much more efficient, they can make profits and provide better services. This has been proved time and again to be a lie. Demonisng the publicly controlled for laziness may have been true once, but it hasn’t been so for thirty years. Usually the funding is cut and the private companies come in. In fact it’s a very clever way of hiding the cuts behind some kind of restructuring so nobody realises there’s far less money in the system than there was. There is no chance for this story to be true. Even if the private companies were capable of doing better the resources won’t be there anyway. The ability of companies that have never run serious health services to do a better job as if by magic is beyond doubtful, anyway.

Selling the commons

The commons is a catch-all word used to signify things that are publicly owned or controlled, for the general good. It originally meant pieces of land that everyone could use to feed their livestock on, but nobody in a particular locale owned it. In more modern times this also applies to things we all need. Like education, housing, health care, power and telecommunications.

The neoliberal project since Thatcher has been to sell all of these assets, paid for and built up by and on behalf of the public, and put them in private hands. Most times this is done at a discount of pennies on the pound. For example, this has meant there is less and less space for affordable housing and what gets built is far too little. This is why rents are so high. We pay exorbitant amounts of money to water and power companies that then pay dividends to directors and shareholders but don’t fix the leaks or upgrade the network. The water companies are willing to give millions of litres of water to the fracking industry. A publicly accountable organisation, controlled by the people who live there, would probably not do so, particularly during a drought.

While the Brexit circus has been going on for the last couple of years, the government have been busy quietly selling off our health service and any other assets it could get its hands on. For example the bailed out banks were sold at a loss, instead of holding on to them until the dividends paid us back.

The Hard Brexit fire sale

Fire sale

You’ve read the apocalyptic stories that say we’re going to find the borders closed with food and medicine shortages if one day the UK is no longer in the EU without having put any firm agreements in place, after having been in there the day before. Any UK companies that export will suddenly be worth far less, the pound will crash and all kinds of difficulties will happen until we’re able to restore some kind of stability.

This means that the UK’s assets will be available at a massive discount while the mess is sorted out by the grown ups. What little that’s still publicly owned and hasn’t been sold by the current conservative government will be auctioned off just to keep the lights on. The wealthy will, of course, weather the storm and come out of it even wealthier, just like they did in 2008. They will probably end up owning even more of our country than they do now.

So what do we do?

All of this is will mean that a few very wealthy people and their stooges not having to face any consequences for their actions. They can be as greedy as they like, they can frack the countryside, they can withdraw from green energy programmes and there are no consequences. Thatcher would have sold everything off but at the time she couldn’t. Even riding high from the Falklands War she couldn’t have swung the wholesale reconstruction of the NHS in private hands, she’d never have been able to sell pieces of it to Tricky Dicky Branson and a host of other dubious companies.

We need to make them afraid again, just like Thatcher was, for all her bluster and fakery.

They need to realise that their venality and corruption will be held to account. They need to think that any gains they make will be short term and temporary, because we will take what’s ours back.

They need to realise that taking a high paid job in a company you were supposed to be regulating is a quick route to prison and ignominy.

We need to take control of our commons, and do it in a way that means they can’t be sold off at some future time.

The current zero integrity, selfish culture, that doesn’t work collectively, that doesn’t hold its servants to account, needs to change.

Fundamentally, we need a vision of society that is fair, where people can control what happens to them and their communities. We need to make sure that a few can’t hurt the many and steal or destroy the commons.

It’s estimated that current benefits changes have contributed to the deaths of over 150,000 people – also see here. Yet the people who did this have faced no consequences. In fact Esther McVey sat smiling in the House of Commons when challenged on this.

We need to make the few realise their actions have consequences they may not like. We need to remind them that they govern us with our consent, not the other way round.