UK Never Got Post-Empire

I watched the BBC documentary “Das Auto The Germans, Their Cars and Us“.  You can watch it complete on YouTube and I recommend you do even if you have no interest in cars or Germany.  It’s the “Us” – the United Kingdom – in the title that the programme is really about.

Volkswagen Beetle

What was very quickly apparent is that the UK never figured out how to make an honest living in this world.  To become great it had needed to exploit the weak at home and abroad.  Whether it was the colonies or the working class, there had to be someone getting short changed.  Post-war Germany had a strong sense of working hard and playing fair for the common good and the UK just never got this.  The concept that we can all benefit and live better lives never really clicked.  UK manufacturing was a case of us and them, the elite and the workers and both groups had attitudes that were doomed to failure.  Complacency and a sense of entitlement and superiority were the roots of doom for the management and business tycoons.  A sense – right or wrong – that they were being shafted and disrespected led the workers to place impossible demands on the employers.

Ultimately no aspect of the business was run correctly.  Germans had robots in their factories when the Brits thought robots only existed in science fiction.  Germans had works councils and stewards attended board meetings.  Germans fanatically sought to improve Robotsconstantly, to never stand still or believe they were God’s chosen people.  Possibly the loss of the war was so fresh that they understood that they needed to reinvent themselves and unlike the UK there were no past glories to relive.  We even saw the Germans managed the money side far better.  The great success of the Austin Mini was likely not so great in that it is now believed that about 10% was lost on every single one of the millions sold.

The documentary tried to zero in on the reasons, levelling blame at both workers and mini-coopermanagers.  However the conclusion is rather more transparent, in that by the end we see Minis still being made in the UK, but under German ownership.  Same workers, different managers.  The new BMW Mini Cooper has been a major success and the British factories are efficient and productive.  When the Japanese began making cars in the UK twenty years ago many laughed at the concept of the UK factories even getting in the same ballpark for efficiency or quality as their Japanese sister operations.  However as history showed, the UK factories managed to even outperform the Japanese factories.

Take what you like from this.  My conclusion is that with the right leadership – politically and in business – almost any people can rise to surprising levels.  Germany of a few hundred years ago was almost the polar opposite of the stereotypes we have now: lazy, careless, cheating people.  Japan had similar adjectives upon it in the past.  South Korea was in the poorest 10% of nations just 40 years ago.

It takes good leadership, a willingness to invest and a desire to benefit the maximum number of people to really make a country successful.  It does not need vast natural resources, exploitation of the poor or military might.

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French Economist Proves What Most Know True: Capitalism is a Rigged Game

Despite the rather feeble nit-picking effort of the Financial Times, French economist Thomas Piketty has done some tremendous work in proving what anyone with their eyes open and without hypocrisy or delusion already knows: capitalism in the form societies have been peddling it, is a rigged game.  Essentially he a demonstrates by painstakingly piketty-covertrawling through the record books that capitalism naturally veers towards high levels of inequality.  Real estate and stocks rise in value faster than the real world economy.  This results in wealth accumulating in the hands of a small group of people while great swathes of population are left destitute.

The shift of wealth is not only down to mathematical constructs, but factors such as the hand in hand relationship of wealth and power.  Wealth buys power in the form of friendly politicians and media.  Political forces are shaped to hand over massive public enterprises to the private sector, are prepared to permit limitless tax avoidance, implement laws to perpetuate the runaway transfer and bail the rich out when the shit hits the fan.  While the majority have seen welfare and security eroded, the wealthiest enjoy complete immunity to financial down turns and even criminal proceedings (e.g. HSBC handled billions for drug barons but no one went to jail).

Surprisingly for such a subject matter, Piketty’s book has been a big success, making it to the number one spot on many best-seller lists.  Not surprisingly his book has also resulted in very split reviews.  Amazon’s summary of reviews displays that familiar inverse bell piketty-reviewscurve distribution that most controversial subjects adhere to.

Ultimately such a division of opinions is also to be seen in many arenas and boils down to how we see the world and inequality.  Those disagreeing with Piketty likely subscribe to notions like everyone has an equal chance in life; in general the world is wealthier than ever before; even poor have gadgets; and trickle down.  This latter much maligned nonsense theory states that we need to keep enriching the rich in order for the rest of us to have access to the dribbles of fat dripping from the double chins of the masters of the universe.

Piketty has done incredible work and should rightly be commended.  He has academically make a valid attempt to quantify and prove what honest people with their feet planted on the ground knew all along.  We’re seeing a massive transfer of wealth from middle class to the richest 1%, while the poorest have the rug pulled out from underneath them altogether.  It took two world wars to rectify the inequality of previous ages.  We’ve now slid way back, undone the fantastic work of the post-war generation.  How will we rectify the situation this time?  Piketty_in_Cambridge_3_crop

Will we see civil unrest, the masses taking to the streets in western countries?  It is a miracle of subtle political balancing that this has not happened already in the wake of the financial crisis.  The vast majority are worse off.  If you think not, then have you really studied what your pension is now worth? If you have savings how much has been wiped out by low interest rates.  If you’ve been forced into the stock market, unless you’ve been lucky or brave, then you’ve probably taken a hit there, or will when the next bubble bursts unannounced.  But the hijacking by the rich of journalism, politics and law; coupled with 100s of mindless TV channels, social media and films of laughing babies keep people placated and off the streets.

scotland-flagAs I wrote in an earlier post, I believe within the microcosm of the United Kingdom,
independence for Scotland has the potential to shake up the established order enough to wake people throughout the UK from their slumber and to demand the redistribution of wealth and security.  Once people see that greater equality is not only possible but is a recipe for success, maybe the example of Scotland will trigger a domino effect.

 

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‘Your nationalism is terrifying’

formerdundeeman:

Better Together folk are a weird bunch. Engaging with them at times can invoke utterly surreal experiences. The vast majority of YES supporters are open to foreigners, are extremely positive over the benefits of an independent Scotland to people at home, rUK and Europe, and want a democratic choice of political parties. Better Together is based on vague notions like the Queen, the British Pound, the Empire, shared culture (TV?), plus European_flag_in_Karlskrona_2011groundless fear mongering. Which is why BTers can quickly resort to vicious outbursts. Once their minds get into a twist, they go on ego self-protect and either use real violence (how many BTers have been attacked by YES supporters?) or baseless insults. The best is calling a YES supporter a Nazi or ultra nationalist. Nope, it’s not YES supporters wanting to close the borders or exit the EU. The hypocrisy is beyond stating.
If you are a BTer and need insults try:
Fat, smelly, dorky, specky-four-eyes, democracy lover, tree hugger, foreigner fancier, egg-head, swot, thinker, etc.
But don’t pin nationalism on us as if it were some unique debilitating disease.

Originally posted on Scottish Pokemon - What do you believe in?:

I don’t often bite when the Bitter Together trolls engage in the twitterverse, life is just a little bit too short to keep metaphorically battering your head against a brick wall. Sadly the other night I did bite and was rewarded with some of the most dubious and ignorant arguments for voting NO. I don’t think it was the arguments themselves that left me angry, the usual ‘donning of a white sheet and hiding in an alley’ Project Fear gibberish, but that it was coming from a relatively young individual. This goes hand-in-hand with the Better Together cinema campaign I was discussing the other day, where young people are apparently looking at the referendum debate and saying to themselves : ‘Yes, those Westminster MPs know best. Let’s allow them to continue to make our decisions.’

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Leave EU to stop immigration but you also lose emigration

In all this debate about Britain staying in or leaving the EU, much focuses on preventing immigration.  You know all those eastern Europeans coming to take those jobs that the existing British population don’t want or are useless at, and trying to grab those mighty generous benefits we dole out.  And all those engineers, doctors, surgeons, scientists, academics, technicians – we can do without their sort in Blighty, too.

scientists

But what about emigration?  If we exit the EU completely and some how negotiate a free trade deal that puts us on a par with great trading nations such as Peru and Albania, then sure we will reduce immigration from within EU.  But we will also halt the freedom of UK citizens to move freely within the EU.

What does this mean?  It means that if you can’t stomach the UK any longer (and believe me it’s going to get worse), can’t find suitable work, then you are stuck with that unless you go through a complex visa process based on career points, age, parents, job offers, your industry (is it currently in demand?), criminal record, your health, your kids’ health (if you have a disabled kid forget emigrating to our Commonwealth friends New Zealand and Australia).  Right now there is nothing stopping you hopping over to almost any country in Europe including many countries far richer than the UK.  Or with better weather.  No visa, no job offer, nope you just get on a train, plane, bus, car, bike and go.

I did this 14 years ago and moved to Holland.  I just moved to a town and signed in with my British EU passport at the council.  Then went next door and opened a bank account.  I travel on business all over northern Europe.  In an hour I can be Germany or Belgium meeting clients.   If I blink I miss the border crossing. No need to chemigrationange cash or pack a passport. 320,000 people left the UK last year.  Of that number 180,000 were not British.  The whole UKIP / right-wing crap is based on the notion that Britain is somehow the be all and end all.  No it’s not.  Compared to many other countries it is a disgrace with its massive inequality, poverty, crime.

Removing the ability of UK citizens to move freely around Europe is a major reduction in their liberty.  But truth be told, your human rights, your liberty, your freedom is the last thing on the mind of any UKIP, Labour, Lib-Dem, Conservative politician.  Think about this before casting your vote this week.

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Does Zero Hours and No Minimum Wage Actually Make Business Sense?

I once worked in the now demolished Tayside House in Dundee.  This multi-storey block was situated at the end of the Tay Bridge and housed the HQ of Tayside Regional Council in those days.  My 9 to 5 used to drag on out a bit some days, so it would be around 6tayside-house or 6:30 before I’d head off.  What caught my attention was that the security guard at the main door would have been there the whole day.  I got to talking to him and he told me that he needed to do 70 hours or more a week, because at GBP2.50 an hour he needed that many hours to get by.  He saw that I looked alarmed when I heard his hourly rate.

“Dinnae worry, if some nutter wants to charge right in here, I’m no exactly gonna bother stoppin’ him.”

Just how loyal do you expect people to be for peanuts and no job security?  Is that really a valid business model?  We’re told that (failed) bankers still require their million pound incentives, but a nurse or care home worker should keep smiling and slog away for a pittance.

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The I Don’t Want High Taxes Idiocy

I’ve heard it far too often, the old, “Yeah Holland and Norway are all very well, but you pay such high taxes and I don’t want that.”  This argument is so dumb it hardly is worth countering.  But since it’s my blog I will do so anywnorwayay: First off the bat, it is amazing how few people understand what is meant by say a 52% income tax rate.  I know this because many people complaining are not even earning remotely enough to come close to paying higher levels of income tax (the old Neocon carrot of anyone can be a millionaire).  At the risk of offending more intelligent readers, income taxes are set at levels, so the higher rates only apply to the portion of income above a certain, relatively high level.  So in Holland you pay 52% on income above €56000.  If you are earning less than this, shut the hell up and engage your brain.  For the majority of people it’s far more important to check the lower income tax bands.

stock-footage-netherlands-close-up-waving-flag-hd-loop

Next up, what do you get for your taxes?  Actually in a country like Holland you get a lot.  You get a solid welfare state that ensures poverty is minimal.  I don’t like living in a country where some neighbourhoods resemble the third world.  I don’t like knowing that some old parts of town have lower literacy levels than whole states in India.  Or that the life expectancy is worse than many African countries.  I don’t like dealing with high crime levels or not being able to safely walk the streets at night.

Furthermore I hate roads full of pot holes.  I don’t like that the motorway network ends 150km from major cities and that by keeping unsuitable road links (e.g. A9 to Inverness) it has cost the lives of so many people and prevents proper development in the Highlands.

scotland-roads

I appreciate that my tax money does not fund nuclear weapons and is used to develop renewable energy sources.

And as a businessman I appreciate the subsidies that allow me to do research and development and to collaborate with other businesses.  I appreciate that education is of a good standard and higher education is reasonably priced and within the grasp of all; and that I therefore benefit from a skilled, educated workforce.  I appreciate that by eradicating poverty that the customer base and spending power is broader.

And any honest business owner will tell you that they benefit either directly or indirectly from government contracts.

Finally, in most high tax countries people also earn a hell of a lot more than in a so-called low tax land like the UK.  Who cares about 52% tax on income above €56K if you’re earning 50% more.

So next time you go complaining that you wouldn’t want to live in Norway or Holland because of its high taxes, have a think and ask yourself what their taxes buy them?  And do you really prefer the significantly lower living standards of the UK?

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Iron Man and the Myth of the Lone Entrepreneur

A popular misconception we’re often confronted with is the idea that successful business people somehow made it through their own hard work, graft and smarts.  While it can take immense perseverance, skill and acumen to build business empires, it is a fallacy to believe that ultimate success is down to the individual entrepreneur.  Yes they may be the important component, but a lone effort it certainly is not.  Maybe one can better think of them as the star strikers in football – great show and talent but completely useless without the backup of mid-fielders, defenders, trainers, coaches, managers, family, promoters, ad-men, agents, supporters and so on. ironman1

Popular films like the Iron Man series portray a fantasy world where a supremely gifted and arrogant engineer single-handedly builds a complete semi-autonomous robot exoskeleton with over-unity power source. Anyone with an actual real-world technical background (or half a brain) would tell you that in reality he’d have needed a team of ten to write and test the code for the control mechanism of the little finger on the left-hand glove.

So the team of scientists, engineers and project managers would need to be absolutely massive.  And who would have trained them?  Did Robert Downey Jr. recruit a bunch of Continue reading

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