Research shows people in most countries are anti-capitalist

    I came across this via fellow Sunderland AFC supporter Andrew Curry’s Just Two Things newsletter. We also share similar political views, so I share his delight that this journal article from a right-wing thinktank does the opposite of what they were evidently setting out to achieve.

    The article presents findings from a global survey on attitudes towards capitalism, revealing that pro-capitalist views are rare and mostly found in six countries. Bizarrely, and seemingly clutching at straws, the research found anti-capitalist views often correlate with conspiracy thinking and negative attitudes towards the rich.

    You’re not paranoid if they’re out to get you, and it’s not a conspiracy if capitalism really does favour the 0.1%.

     

    Chart showing capitalist sentiment
    In only seven of 34 countries – Poland, the United States, the Czech Republic, Japan, Argentina, South Korea, and Sweden – does a positive attitude towards economic freedom clearly prevail. Including the word ‘capitalism’ reduces this to just six of 34 countries, namely Poland, the United States, the Czech Republic, Japan, Nigeria and South Korea. In most countries, anti-capitalist sentiment dominates.

    What is it exactly that bothers people about capitalism? If you look at the survey’s overall conclusions, it is – in this order – primarily the opinion that:

    • capitalism is dominated by the rich, who set the political agenda;
    • capitalism leads to growing inequality;
    • capitalism promotes selfishness and greed; and
    • capitalism leads to monopolies.

    Not surprisingly, anti-capitalism is most pronounced among those on the left of the political spectrum and the strongest pro-capitalists are to be found to the right of centre. But while in some countries the formula is ‘the more right-wing, the more supportive of capitalism’, there are more countries in which moderate right-wingers are somewhat more supportive of capitalism than those on the far right of the political spectrum.

    Source: Attitudes towards capitalism in 34 countries on five continents | Economic Affairs

    Eating the rich is optional, taxing them is mandatory

    The article in Insider discusses the findings of the 2022 World Inequality Report, which highlights extreme levels of wealth and income inequality globally. The report was coordinated by leading economists and debunks the trickle-down economic theory.

    They found that the bottom half of the global population owns just 2% of total wealth, while the top 10% holds 76%. It also notes that billionaires now hold a 3% share of global wealth, up from 1% in 1995. As everyone knows, inequality is a result of political choices and the only way to fix it is through progressive wealth taxes and perhaps even reparations.

    The data serves as a complete rebuke of the trickle-down economic theory, which posits that cutting taxes on the rich will "trickle down" to those below, with the cuts eventually benefiting everyone. In America, trickle-down was exemplified by President Ronald Reagan's tax slashes. It's a theory that persists today, even though most research has shown that 50 years of tax cuts benefits the wealthy and worsens inequality.

    The researchers are some of the leading minds on inequality in the entire field of economics. Chancel is the co-director of the World Inequality Lab, while Saez and Zucman have literally written a book on the rich dodging taxes and helped create wealth tax proposals for senators like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

    […]

    Billionaire gains are a well-documented trend: The left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness found that Americans added $2.1 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic, a 70% increase.

    Source: Huge 20-Year Study Shows Trickle-Down Is a Myth, Inequality Rampant | Insider

    Image: Mathieu Stern

    Negative UK growth

    Growth isn't everything. However, the fact that the word 'Brexit' does not appear anywhere in this article tells you all you need to know about (a) British politics, and (b) the relationship between the government and the BBC.

    IMF growth forecast showing UK and Germany in red (negative) and other countries (including Russia!) as positive

    The UK is set to be one of the worst performing major economies in the world this year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

    [...]

    IMF researchers have previously pointed to Britain's exposure to high gas prices, rising interest rates and a sluggish trade performance as reasons for its weak economic performance.

    [...]

    Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney said the forecast was "another damning indictment of this Conservative government's record on the economy".

    Source: UK to be one of worst performing economies this year, predicts IMF | BBC News

    Britain is screwed

    I followed a link from this article to some OECD data which, as shown in the chart below, the UK has even lower welfare payments that the US. The economy of our country is absolutely broken, mainly due to Brexit, but also due to the chasm between everyday people and the elites.

    OECD chart showing UK last in 'Benefits in unemployment, share of previous income'

    On most measures, the country has the most limited welfare state of any developed country, including the United States, with the result being that working households are shouldering more risk than their peers and—as the Resolution Foundation recently found—today’s young Britons face paying far more in tax than they will ever receive back in terms of pensions and other benefits. The reverse is true of older cohorts.

    There is also an unprecedented housing crisis, with young people increasingly excluded from home ownership if they cannot access family wealth. Public services are under unprecedented pressure, especially health care. Excess deaths have risen while Britain is the only country in Europe suffering from declining life expectancy.

    Source: Britain Is Much Worse Off Than It Understands | Foreign Policy

    No benefits to post-Brexit deregulation

    Coupled with the pandemic and the energy crisis, Brexit is absolutely destroying the UK at the moment. If you haven’t watched The Brexit Effect made by the Financial Times, then you really, really should.

    This article in the New Statesman argues that the deregulation touted as a huge benefit of Brexit isn’t wanted or needed by most UK businesses. It’s the red tape added by being outside the EU single market that’s the problem.

    Most businesses have no interest or understanding of the government’s plans for post-Brexit deregulation. And a majority of companies could not name a single EU law that they would change or remove to become more profitable, according to findings shared exclusively with the New Statesman by the British Chambers of Commerce.

    […]

    In a new survey of 938 businesses, made up largely of SMEs (and therefore representative of the UK economy), just 14 per cent specified an EU regulation they would remove; 58 per cent of firms had no preference over the amendment or removal of any EU regulation. Half said that deregulation is either a low priority or not a priority at all.

    Source: Exclusive: Most UK businesses see no benefit in post-Brexit deregulation | New Statesman

    Hyperfinancialisation has taken over UK politics

    I’m reading This Could Be Our Future by (Kickstarter co-founder) Yancey Strickler at the moment. It rails against hyperfinancialisation and then provides a way of thinking about the world differently.

    As this opinion piece in The Guardian points out, we need a way of thinking about politics and the market which isn’t driven (literally!) by investment bankers.

    City

    Rishi Sunak’s first job was at the US investment bank Goldman Sachs. He went on to spend 14 years in the sector before becoming an MP. In many ways, his unelected appointment marks the highpoint of big finance’s takeover of Britain’s political and economic system – a quiet infiltration of Westminster and Whitehall has been taking place over several decades and gone largely unremarked.

    […]

    Looking at the coalition government, every senior figure who managed Treasury economic policy – George Osborne, Danny Alexander, David Cameron, Rupert Harrison, John Kingman and Nick Macpherson – later gained well-paid positions in the financial sector. And three of the last five chancellors have come from the sector. Jeremy Hunt’s current advisers all come from investment banking.

    This matters because investment bankers have very little to do with the real economy that ordinary people inhabit. They don’t run businesses. They don’t deal with actual product and customer markets. Their work is confined to financial markets, aiding corporate financial manoeuvres, and trading and managing their own financial assets. Their primary aim is to make profits from such activities, regardless of how it affects the real economy, the national interest or employees. If that means shorting the pound or breaking up a successful company for quick profits, then so be it.

    […]

    And an overpowered financial sector has certainly not been conducive to good governance, either. There’s nothing democratic about extensive public service cuts being used to pay for saving the private banking sector, as in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, or the bond markets determining the credibility of governments, or the fact that the bankers and hedge funds are the biggest single source of Conservative party donations. Nor is trust in British democracy likely to be enhanced by a super-rich PM who has allegedly avoided taxes and made a fortune as a financier at the nation’s cost.

    Source: With Rishi Sunak, the City’s takeover of British politics is complete | Aeron Davis

    Why go back to normal when you weren't enjoying it in the first place?

    Shop shutters painted with sun mural

    Writing in Men's Health, and sadly not available anywhere I can link to, Will Self reflects on what we've collectively learned during the pandemic.

    In it, he uses a quotation from Nietzsche I can't seem to find elsewhere, "There are better things to be than the merely productive man". I definitely feel this.

    [T]he mood-music in recent months from government and media has all been about getting back to normal. So-called freedom. Trouble is... people from all walks of life and communities [have] expressed a reluctance to resume the lifestyle they were enjoying before March of last year. Quite possibly this is because they weren't really enjoying that much in the first place — and it's this that's been exposed by the pandemic and its associated measures.

    The difficulty, I think, is that lots of people (me included at times) had pre-pandemic lives that they would probably rate a 6/10. Not terrible enough for the situation by itself to be a stimulus for change. But not, after a break, the thought of returning to how things were sounds... unappetising.

    We all know the unpleasant spinning-in-the-hamster-wheel sensation that comes when we're working all hours with the sole objective of not having to work all hours — it traps us in a moment that's defined entirely by stress-repeating-anxiety, a feeling that mutates all too easily into full-blown depression. And we're not longer the sort of dualists who believe that psychological problems have no bodily correlate — on the contrary, we all understand that working too hard while feeling that work to be valueless can take us all the way from indigestion to an infarct.

    I've burned out a couple of times in my life, which is why these days I feel privileged to be able to work 25-hour weeks by choice. There's more to life than looking (and feeling!) "successful".

    It's funny, I have more agency and autonomy than most people I know, yet I increasingly resent the fact that this is dependent upon some of the very technologies I've come to realise are so problematic for society.

    [I]t might be nice in the way of 18 months of being told what to do, to feel one was telling one's self what to do. One way of conceptualising the renunciation necessary to cope with the transition from a lifestyle where everything can be bought to one in which both security and satisfaction depend on more abstract processes, is to critique not just the unhealthy economy but the pathological dependency on technology that is its sequel.

    Ultimately, I think Will Self does a good job of walking a tightrope in this article in not explicitly mentioning politics. The financial crash, followed by austerity, Brexit, and now the pandemic, have combined to hollow out the country in which I live.

    The metaphor of a pause button has been overused during the pandemic. That's for a reason: most of us have had an opportunity, some for the first time in their lives, to stop and think what we're doing — individually and collectively.

    What comes next is going to be interesting.


    Not a sponsored mention by any means, but just a heads-up that I read this article thanks to my wife's Readly subscription. It's a similar monthly price to Netflix, but for all-you-can-read magazines and newspapers!

    The certainties of one age are the problems of the next

    Black-and-white photo of a man with beard emerging from shed

    🏙️ How the spread of sheds threatens cities — "A white-collar worker who has tried to work from the kitchen table for the past nine months might be keen to return to the office. A worker who has an insulated garden shed with Wi-Fi will be less so. Joel Bird, who builds bespoke sheds, is certain that his clients envisage a long-term change in their working habits. “They don’t consider it to be temporary,” he says. “They’re spending too much money.”

    😬 Transactional Enchantment — "The greatest endemic risk to the psyche in 2021 is not that you’ll end up on the streets next week or fail to fund your retirement in 30 years. The greatest risk is that you’ll feel so relentlessly battered by the weirdness all around that you’ll go numb and simply disengage from the world entirely today."

    🕸️ The unreasonable effectiveness of simple HTML — "Are you developing public services? Or a system that people might access when they’re in desperate need of help? Plain HTML works. A small bit of simple CSS will make look decent. JavaScript is probably unnecessary – but can be used to progressively enhance stuff. Add alt text to images so people paying per MB can understand what the images are for (and, you know, accessibility)."

    💬 Convocational Development — "The fundamental difference between the convocation and traditional open source is that energy is put into facilitating discussions between users, coders, graphic designers etc. Documentation and instructions are often the weakest part of an open source project, and that excludes people who don’t have the time or ability to assemble a mental model of the open source software and its capabilities from just the code and the meagre promotional materials. The convocation starts as a basic web forum, but evolves tools and cultures that enable greater participation in the development process itself."

    📈 GameStop Is Rage Against the Financial Machine — "Instead of greed, this latest bout of speculation, and especially the extraordinary excitement at GameStop, has a different emotional driver: anger. The people investing today are driven by righteous anger, about generational injustice, about what they see as the corruption and unfairness of the way banks were bailed out in 2008 without having to pay legal penalties later, and about lacerating poverty and inequality. This makes it unlike any of the speculative rallies and crashes that have preceded it."


    Quotation-as-title by R.H. Tawney. Image from top-linked post.

    We are too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet

    Pandemics, remote work, and global phase shifts


    Last week, I tweeted this:

    I delete my tweets automatically every 30 days, hence the screenshot...

    I get the feeling that, between film and TV shows on Netflix, Amazon deliveries, and social interaction on Twitter and Mastodon, beyond close friends and family, no-one would even realise if I'd been quarantined.


    Writing in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost points out that Every Place Is the Same Now, because you go to every place with your personal screen, a digital portal to the wider world.

    Anywhere has become as good as anywhere else. The office is a suitable place for tapping out emails, but so is the bed, or the toilet. You can watch television in the den—but also in the car, or at the coffee shop, turning those spaces into impromptu theaters. Grocery shopping can be done via an app while waiting for the kids’ recital to start. Habits like these compress time, but they also transform space. Nowhere feels especially remarkable, and every place adopts the pleasures and burdens of every other. It’s possible to do so much from home, so why leave at all?

    Ian Bogost (The Atlantic)

    If you're a knowledge worker, someone who deals with ideas and virtual objects rather than things in 'meatspace', then there is nothing tying you to a particular geographical place. This may be liberating, but it's also quite... weird.

    It’s easy but disorienting, and it makes the home into a very strange space. Until the 20th century, one had to leave the house for almost anything: to work, to eat or shop, to entertain yourself, to see other people. For decades, a family might have a single radio, then a few radios and a single television set. The possibilities available outside the home were far greater than those within its walls. But now, it’s not merely possible to do almost anything from home—it’s also the easiest option. Our forebears’ problem has been inverted: Now home is a prison of convenience that we need special help to escape.

    Ian Bogost (The Atlantic)

    I've worked from home for the last eight years, and now can't imagine going back to working any other way. Granted, I get to travel pretty much every month, but that 95% being-at-home statistic still includes my multi-day international trips.


    I haven't watched it recently, but in 2009 a film called Surrogates starring Bruce Willis foreshadowed the kind of world we're creating. Here's the synopsis via IMDB:

    People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates — sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. It's an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don't exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.

    IMDB

    If we replace the word 'robotic' with 'virtual' in this plot summary, then it's a close approximation to the world in which some of us now live. Facetuned Instagram selfies project a perfect life. We construct our own narratives and then believe the story we have concocted. Everything is amazing but no-one's happy.


    Even Zoom, the videoconferencing software I use most days for work, has an option to smooth out wrinkles, change your background, and make everything look a bit more sparkly. Our offline lives can be gloriously mundane, but online, thanks to various digital effects, we can make them look glorious. And why wouldn't we?

    I think we'll see people and businesses optimising for how they look and sound online, including recruitment. The ability to communicate effectively at a distance with people who you may never meet in person is a skill that's going to be in high demand, if it isn't already.


    Remote working may be a trend, but one which is stubbornly resisted by some bosses who are convinced they have to keep a close eye on employees to get any work out of them.

    However, when those bosses are forced to implement remote working policies to keep their businesses afloat, and nothing bad happens as a result, this attitude can, and probably will, change. Remote working, when done properly, is not only more cost-effective for businesses, but often leads to higher productivity and self-reported worker happiness.

    Being 'good in the room' is fine, and I'm sure it will always be highly prized, but I also see confident, open working practices as something that's rising in perceived value. Chairing successful online meetings is at least as important as chairing ones offline, for example. We need to think of ways of being able recognise these remote working skills, as it's not something in which you can receive a diploma.


    For workers, of course, there are so many benefits of working from home that I'm not even sure where to start. Your health, relationships, and happiness are just three things that are likely to dramatically improve when you start working remotely.

    For example, let's just take the commute. This dominates the lives of non-remote workers, usually taking an hour or more out of a their day — every day. Commuting is tiring and inconvenient, but people are currently willing to put up with long commutes to afford a decently-sized house, or to live in a nicer area.

    So, let's imagine that because of the current pandemic (which some are calling the world's biggest remote-working experiment) businesses decide that having their workers being based from home has multi-faceted benefits. What happens next?

    Well, if a large percentage (say we got up to ~50%) of the working population started working remotely over the next few months and years, this would have a knock-on effect. We'd see changes in:

    • Schools
    • Volunteering
    • Offices
    • House prices
    • Community cohesion
    • High street
    • Home delivery

    ...to name but a few. I think it would be a huge net benefit for society, and hopefully allow for much greater civic engagement and democratic participation.


    I'll conclude with a quotation from Nafeez Ahmed's excellent (long!) post on what he's calling a global phase shift. Medium says it's a 30-minute read, but I reckon it's about half that.

    Ahmed points out in stark detail the crisis, potential future scenarios, and the opportunity we've got. I particularly appreciate his focus on the complete futility of what he calls "a raw, ‘fend for yourself’ approach". We must work together to solve the world's problems.

    The coronavirus outbreak is, ultimately, a lesson in not just the inherent systemic fragilities in industrial civilization, but also the limits of its underlying paradigm. This is a paradigm premised on a specific theory of human nature, the neoclassical view of Homo-Economicus, human beings as dislocated units which compete with each other to maximise their material self-gratification through endless consumption and production. That paradigm and its values have brought us so far in our journey as a species, but they have long outlasted their usefulness and now threaten to undermine our societies, and even our survival as a species.

    Getting through coronavirus will be an exercise not just in building societal resilience, but relearning the values of cooperation, compassion, generosity and kindness, and building systems which institutionalize these values. It is high time to recognize that such ethical values are not simply human constructs, products of socialization. They are cognitive categories which reflect patterns of behaviour in individuals and organizations that have an evolutionary, adaptive function. In the global phase shift, systems which fail to incorporate these values into their structures will eventually die.

    Nafeez Ahmed

    Just as crises can be manufactured by totalitarian regimes to seize power and control populations, perhaps natural crises can be used to make us collectively realise we need to pull together?


    Enjoy this? Sign up for the weekly roundup, become a supporter, or download Thought Shrapnel Vol.1: Personal Productivity!


    Header image by pan xiaozhen. Anonymous quotation-as-title taken from Scott Klososky's The Velocity Manifesto

    The robot economy and social-emotional skills

    Ben Williamson writes:

    The steady shift of the knowledge economy into a robot economy, characterized by machine learning, artificial intelligence, automation and data analytics, is now bringing about changes in the ways that many influential organizations conceptualize education moving towards the 2020s. Although this is not an epochal or decisive shift in economic conditions, but rather a slow metamorphosis involving machine intelligence in the production of capital, it is bringing about fresh concerns with rethinking the purposes and aims of education as global competition is increasingly linked to robot capital rather than human capital alone.
    A plethora of reports and pronouncements by 'thought-leaders' and think tanks warn us about a medium-term future where jobs are 'under threat'. This has a concomitant impact on education:
    The first is that education needs to de-emphasize rote skills of the kind that are easy for computers to replace and stress instead more digital upskilling, coding and computer science. The second is that humans must be educated to do things that computerization cannot replace, particularly by upgrading their ‘social-emotional skills’.
    A few years ago, I remember asking someone who ran different types of coding bootcamps which would be best approach for me. Somewhat conspiratorially, he told me that I didn't need to learn to code, I just needed to learn how to manage those who do the coding. As robots and AI become more sophisticated and can write their own programs, I suspect this 'management' will include non-human actors.

    Of all of the things I’ve had to learn for and during my (so-called) career, the hardest has been gaining the social-emotional skills to work remotely. This isn’t an easy thing to unpack, especially when we’re all encouraged to have a ‘mission’ in life and to be emotionally invested in our work.

    Williams notes:

    The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher is especially explicit about the perceived strategic importance of cultivating social-emotional skills to work with artificial intelligence, writing that ‘the kinds of things that are easy to teach have become easy to digitise and automate. The future is about pairing the artificial intelligence of computers with the cognitive, social and emotional skills, and values of human beings’.

    Moreover, he casts this in clearly economic terms, noting that ‘humans are in danger of losing their economic value, as biological and computer engineering make many forms of human activity redundant and decouple intelligence from consciousness’. As such, human emotional intelligence is seen as complementary to computerized artificial intelligence, as both possess complementary economic value. Indeed, by pairing human and machine intelligence, economic potential would be maximized.

    […]

    The keywords of the knowledge economy have been replaced by the keywords of the robot economy. Even if robotization does not pose an immediate threat to the future jobs and labour market prospects of students today, education systems are being pressured to change in anticipation of this economic transformation.

    I’m less bothered about Schleicher’s link between social-emotional skills and the robot economy. I reckon that, no matter what time period you live in, there are knowledge and skills you need to be successful when interacting with other human beings.

    That being said, there are ways of interacting with machines that are important to learn to get ahead. I stand by what I said in 2013 about the importance of including computational thinking in school curricula. To me, education is about producing healthy, engaged citizens. They need to understand the world around them, be (digitally) confident in it, and have the conceptual tools to be able to problem-solve.

    Source: Code Acts in Education

    Howard Rheingold on cooperation as a solution to our present woes

    Howard Rheingold is one of the smartest and most colourful people I’ve ever met. One of his books, Net Smart, was very useful to me while writing my thesis, and I’ve followed his work for a while now.

    That’s why I’m delighted that he’s commenting on our current predicament around the technology that connects our society. He’s suggesting some ways forward — including platform co-operatives.

    Questions about the threats of technology often come down to the nature of capitalism: The microtargetted advertising that makes Facebook a conduit for hyperpersonalized propaganda is precisely what makes Facebook such a valuable medium for paid advertising — which is what returns profit to Facebook’s stockholders. So what can be done about that? Some argue that because communism failed, there is no alternative remedy. Yet we are seeing potential alternatives beginning to emerge: while platform cooperativism and profit-from-purpose businesses are relatively new, successful cooperative corporations have existed for more than a century. What other models can be added to this list? Can any central principles or points of leverage be inductively derived by examining these alternatives.
    Source: Howard Rheingold