Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Pathology of Marginalisation

What have the following got in common?

• Abused spouses refusing help from law enforcement agencies and staying with perpetrators of violence who, they insist, love them very much.
• Followers of cults rejecting advice that they should withdraw and continuing to give over their money and devotion despite being exploited.
• Young recruits of criminal gangs pledging their loyalty to their ruthless leaders and accepting that they, in their lowly position, will be treated with contempt.
• People consumed by anger joining extremist groups, parties, or campaigns dedicated to hounding scapegoats, and ignoring the fact that such activities will only lead to their own conditions worsening.
• Alienated loners embarking on destructive actions from property damage to mass killing, and telling themselves that it is for some great cause.

In all these cases, we have people who are opting for what will damage their own wellbeing, and give succour to those unconcerned with the harm they inflict on others. While the severity of the suffering caused varies, there is an underlying psychological pattern. Identity ideologues may want to explain these disturbing social phenomena in terms of gender, religious, age, or racial characteristics, but the relevant factors cut cross these demarcations. We can look at these more closely by distinguishing four inter-related components

First, marginalised individuals who feel unloved and discarded can reach a point where they feel so isolated that they are desperate to have a connection with someone who will pay them serious attention – even if it is attention that would be rejected by most other people.

Secondly, they encounter someone who wants to bring them into something ‘special’ – an unbreakable relationship, a closed group, a feared organisation – that will give them a sense of belonging they have for long craved.

Thirdly, their attachment becomes so precious that they are willing to endure considerable pain, and even humiliation, as the price to pay for remaining a partner/member alongside the one calling the shots.

Finally, they come to associate the pain they suffer as itself a manifestation of the closeness they have attained to the one who holds power over them. They will make whatever sacrifice is asked of them to secure what they view as love and validation.

Commentators and policy advisors often react to such self-destructive behaviour by calling for tougher intervention. They want people who have these behavioural tendencies to be told quite firmly that they should leave the unsavoury characters they defend before it’s too late. They want to put a stop to the brainwashing, initiation, radicalisation, or whatever it is called in each context, so those who are duped would open their eyes and walk away.

But the problem is that unless there is somewhere welcoming for them to go to, they cannot bear to move away from their ‘home’. They close their eyes to the suffering they cause themselves and possibly others, because the reality of their predicament is too painful to contemplate. The only true way out is to help them find an alternative where they will be unconditionally loved and appreciated for the kindness they can bring to others, and not used for the gratification of some manipulative controller.

In parallel with offering such sanctuaries to those who have endured too much marginalisation for too long, we must do more to prevent people from being marginalised at home, at school, in their neighbourhood, at the workplace, or in the twilight zone of extortionate loans and paltry benefits.

The contagion that feeds off marginalisation is not something new and unfathomable. It has been around for centuries, used by sweet-talking abusers, charismatic cult and gang leaders, racist demagogues, and fundamentalist agitators, to trick others into doing their dubious bidding unquestionably. To end the vicious cycle, tough action is needed, and it needs to be directed at these shameless manipulators.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

‘Gains’, ‘Losses’, & Real Value

Political analysts and media commentators have made it their business to assess every party manifesto commitment, policy proposal, and budget initiative by setting out who will gain/lose by how much financially. So we are told on some proposal, young couples with no children will ‘gain’ X £ or $, while those aged 70+ with nothing but a state pension will ‘lose’ Y, etc. On other proposals, there will be different ‘gains’ and ‘losses’ calculated for a variety of demographically defined groups.

But why should we accept this approach at all?

Imagine a woman went into a shop to return a product which did not work to her satisfaction and got a refund of £100, while a man paid £100 for a similar product that did the job he needed it to do. Do we say that the launch of that product has left the woman £100 better off, and the man £100 worse off? Of course not. We cannot ignore what is of real value here. The man has paid £100 for something which meets a need, and if pressed to quantify it in crude monetary terms, he might say that it was worth more than a £100. By contrast, the woman has had to waste her time with a product that didn’t do what she wanted it to do, and she has gained nothing at all.

So much of contemporary assessment of public services makes exactly this mistake of ignoring real value. People pay their respective share into the public pot because it then provides the collective resources to fund services and secure outcomes that cannot otherwise be achieved. Isolated individuals with no taxes to pay would not be able to buy into a comprehensive health service, an impartial judicial system, policing and security at all levels, education for children and inspection of care quality for the elderly, and countless other benefits. Without the guaranteed organisation provided by the government, maximum profit will be squeezed out of those who can afford to pay the charges demanded for some of these provisions, while the rest will be left with no support at all.

Instead of quantifying the impact of public policies in warped monetary terms, commentators should learn to describe them in terms of lives saved, protected, improved, and enhanced. If they were incapable of doing that except where they could calculate some monetary equivalent, they could undertake projections of how much it would otherwise have cost to secure similar outcomes without public bodies delivering them. What profit-making doctors, commercial security firms, or private educational facilities would charge in the absence of public services would then provide a financial yardstick, albeit a crude one, of how much value we derive from our public providers.

Ironically, such value is not counted as part of the wealth of a nation unless the provider is in the private sector. For example, a public service doctor saves a life in a public hospital would be chalked up as a ‘loss’ of thousands of pounds. But a private sector doctor doing the same for a patient who covers part of the bill with commercial health insurance and part with dwindling family savings would be classified as a ‘gain’ for the economy.

If we are to value our public services, we must brush aside crass conceptions of ‘gains’ and ‘losses’, and start focusing on what is of real value in our lives.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Vote is Not Enough

Must we go along with every decision that is backed by the majority of votes cast because that is the democratic thing to do? But is it democratic if some who will be affected by that decision are denied a vote? And what if the vote is given to people who for whatever reason cannot comprehend what the vote is about and will use it arbitrarily? In any case, should the ballot be secret to prevent votes being cast under duress, or open to ensure transparency? What if only a small proportion of those eligible to vote have come forward to cast their vote? Which case should be decided on a simple majority, two/thirds majority, or unanimity? Would it make more sense in some cases to limit the vote to electing people who will then make the decisions? If so, should whoever gets the most votes in a single round wins, or would it be fairer if second/third etc. preferences be transferable in determining who would get the greatest support overall?

For anyone who thinks that ‘the majority are with me’ is a simple cast-iron licence to act, answering the above questions is just a start. There are numerous other factors that may affect the legitimacy of decision-by-voting under different conditions. For example, if a juror who refuses to pay any attention to or cannot follow the evidence presented in a trial may be disqualified, should there not be some form of independent overseeing to ensure the proceedings leading up to any vote are not derailed by ignorance, unreliable information or deception? To what extent should those with more money or other forms of power be allowed to use them to get what they want by coercing, bribing or deceiving others to vote accordingly? If formal education and the media generally are failing to help people understand how they are to vote responsibly on different occasions, should these be given a specific duty to raise citizens’ awareness about social and political issues? And where the vote is to elect a representative who will go on to take specific decisions, are we clear what the appropriate qualifications are for standing as a candidate; if there should be a limit to how many terms they can be elected for; and what arrangements should be in place for recalling them or revoking a decision they make?

To understand how these issues are to be addressed, we need to recognise there is no universal blueprint that can be applied to all individual cases. Instead, we have to comprehend what improvements democracy is meant to deliver, and hence consider in different circumstances what conditions have to be in place to maximise the likelihood for those improvements to be realised. There are three main improvements that a move towards democracy will render more likely to happen:

1. Curbing Oppression: to prevent some (a dictator, an elite group, or a large mob) from imposing their decisions on others and making them suffer without ever being held to account, democracy requires decisions to be authorised only when those affected by the decisions give their consent on an informed and un-coerced basis.
2. Correcting Errors: to stop any individual or group of individuals from claiming infallibility and making mistakes that can have undesirable consequences for themselves and others, democracy opens the way for everyone with any relevant idea or evidence to contribute to collective judgement.
3. Cooperating to Build Consensus: to resolve differences and facilitate give-and-take trade-offs without some being placed in a disadvantaged bargaining position, democracy provides a level playing field on which agreement can be reached between people through respectful deliberations.

By assessing how well any given decision-making arrangements help or hinder the three democratic objectives outlined above, we can determine how authentic they are in embodying the spirit of democracy, and what needs to be reconsidered and further revised.

So instead of proclaiming every majority vote as inviolable, or rejecting all attempts at democracy as inherently flawed, we should examine the voting arrangements put forward for local and central political decisions, elections, referenda, etc., and identify the areas where changes need to be made if the core democratic objectives are to be attained. Where voting outcomes have been arrived at as a result of one or more critical distortions, far from invoking democracy in validating those outcomes, we should stay true to our democratic commitment and question their legitimacy.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Automation, Immigration, & Civic Remuneration

Jobs with decent pay are getting harder to come by. Some blame immigration [Note 1]. Others criticise employers for moving jobs abroad. But the underlying problem lies with the widely accepted profit-centric economic model, which considers the cutting of labour costs as inherently positive.

It follows that commercial intermediaries (they who make money as the conduit between workers and customers because they own the design, the production facilities, or the distribution outlets) will keep seeking out new ways to have fewer workers and pay less to those they have to retain. Unfortunately, as less is being paid to workers, fewer workers will have sufficient income to buy what is produced. The production surplus then threatens to drive down prices, pushes more cuts for workers, and demand falls even further. And the vicious spiral of recession is in motion.

And the most powerful factor in labour marginalisation is pervasive automation. Exponentially rising processing powers, self-improving programmes, computer-led engineering, and unprecedented access to solar energy, are combining to give us automated mechanisms for virtually every form of production and service delivery. These mechanisms are not just making things we want, they can deliver online or via drones, they take feedback and rectify problems, and they offer a calm interface in providing advice and carrying out orders.

As automated processes radically cut worker costs, it accelerates the decline of purchasing power, and brings us ever closer to a world of plenty that very few can enjoy – unless we change the economic model governing our lives. If instead of pegging pay to activities involving commercial transactions, we link remuneration to contributions valued by society, we can attain a win-win position. Once work in the outmoded sense is no longer needed to be carried out by people, we can focus on what we do value about our fellow citizens – the care, respect, responsibility, creativity, sociability, we cultivate and share with others. A guarantee for civic remuneration can be given to everyone, so people can use it to acquire products and services that can be made available with no labour costs. The more automated innovation happens, the greater the stock of utilisable value there is to be distributed through civic remuneration.

The innovators who design or organise the automation can have a larger share of civic remuneration, so long as they don’t take such a large share as to leave nothing for others. There will be some who feel that without the old profit system, they cannot be motivated to come up with any innovation. But we know that there are always people who invent things like penicillin treatment, higher yield crops, or the World Wide Web, for the common good without insisting on vast monetary rewards for themselves.

Economic systems must adapt to be of use. Before market transactions became dominant, people fed themselves on what they grew; and before that, people gathered fruit and hunted for meat to share amongst themselves. As production processes change, we should leave aside ideological dogmas, and explore how new levels of innovation can be harvested to benefit all, especially when the alternative will pit a profiteering few against the discarded majority with nothing left to live for.

Note 1: According to the Office of National Statistics, while the number of EU workers in Britain rose by 700,000 between 2013 and 2016, they were outnumbered by the extra one million Britons who went into employment in the same period. In 2016, the number of British citizens working in the UK labour force is at the near-record level of 28 million:; and Dean Hochlaf and Ben Franklin (authors of the Immigration: Encourage or Deter report) have used the Office for Budget Responsibility projections to calculate that by 2064-65, the UK’s GDP would be 11.4% (£625bn) larger with high migration than it would be with low migration:

Monday, 15 August 2016

Give Collaborative Leadership a Try

The iconic sheriff of classic Westerns walks towards the town’s folks with his spurs jangling. He tells them what has to be done, and he makes damn sure it’s done.

The lone heroic leader commands dramatic attention, but history has long observed that the most effective leaders know two things – one, they can achieve the most when others are willing to help them to the best of their ability; and two, how willing others are to help them depends on the sense of togetherness they can engender.

Leaders who leave others feeling excluded will at best be tolerated like a minor princeling, or at worst, disposed of like Caesar. In the cabinet of government or the boardroom of corporations, the daggers may be metaphorical but they can just as swiftly put an end to any flawed ambition.

To steer clear of passive-aggressive mutiny in the office, and generate the kind of synergy where the sum is substantially greater than its parts, one should turn to the art of collaborative leadership. In essence, it calls for four simple things:
• Articulate shared objectives
• Promote open communications
• Engender a culture of mutual support
• Oversee joint reviews and adaptation

With collaborative leadership one can build a team that will enable its members to play to their individual strengths while covering each other’s weaknesses, and thus maximise their collective capacity to achieve what they all want to attain.

Contrary to any suggestion that this is only suitable for relaxed leaders working with a group of cooperative-minded people, it is in fact most called for in situations where collaboration seems to be completely out of sight.

Without the collaborative leadership of Dwight Eisenhower who firmly and respectfully made uncollaborative characters such as Field Marshal Montgomery and General Patton work together on a unified plan, D-Day might not have led to Allied Victory over Nazi Germany. If not for Mary Seacole’s charm and determination to get a disparate band of individuals to contribute to the realisation of her unconventional vision, there would never have been a care and catering service in the darkest hours of the Crimea War for the wounded and battle-weary alike.

And when José María Arizmendiarrieta trained and guided the first generation of managers to build in the 1950s what became the Mondragon Corporation, Spain was still under Franco’s authoritarian rule. It was Arizmendiarrieta’s unwavering commitment and promotion of the ethos of solidarity that paved the way for a federation of cooperative enterprises that by the 2010s are generating €11bn in revenue worldwide with over 74,000 workers (whose pay differentials average no more than 1:5).

We won’t go into the advice and training needed to develop such leadership, but we can use a model called the Synetopia Protocol to check the extent to which any aspiring collaborative leader has managed to put in place what is needed to nurture cooperation and multiply synergy. The nine elements to consider are:

S hared Mission
Y ou-and-I Mutuality
N imble Membership
E ducative Collaboration
T esting of Claims and Assumptions
O pen Access to Information
P articipatory Decision-Making
I mpartial Distribution of Power
A ccountability for Action
More details on these 9 elements are set out in: ‘The Synetopia Protocol’.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Politics of Deranged Generalisation

In an episode of the cop drama, ‘Criminal Minds’, a man lost his wife in a fatal accident which he blamed on someone driving a red sports car. A mixture of grief, anger and instability turned him into a psychopath who embarked on killing a succession of people because each of them drove a red sports car. None of the murder victims had anything to do with the original accident. They were just tragically unlucky to be targeted by a deranged mind who picked them out in connection with an incidental characteristic he had come to attach visceral blame to.

Any viewer can see that the killer was utterly irrational, and whatever sympathy one might feel about the loss of his wife, there could be no tolerance for the deadly danger he posed to other people. But in our society today when, instead of one individual behaving in this deranged manner, we have a large number of people blaming, hating and willing to hurt countless others based on some wholly irrelevant characteristics, we are told they should be respected (unless they claim allegiance to Islam, in which case they will be condemned).

Indeed, a whole industry has sprung up to protect people from “politically correct” criticisms, defend them as upholders of “traditional values”, and encourage them to act without reservation on their prejudices. These people may, as a result of some incident in their past or an unfortunate upbringing, have acquired a deep resentment against an individual or a group of them (e.g., the person(s) may be of a different gender, a particular ethnic group, a certain sexual orientation; have a disability, a low income that has to be supplemented by social security, a need to seek refuge abroad; hold another religious or secular outlook; or speak up for disadvantaged groups). And not only are those harbouring such bitter resentment oblivious as to whether their attitude is remotely justified, they mindlessly project that negative feeling to all individuals who happen to have the characteristics they have come to demonise.

When they speak or write viciously against their imagined enemies, spread lies about those people’s beliefs and behaviour, instil in their own children suspicion and hatred for the ‘inferior’ or ‘deviant’, political or religious leaders who spot them as useful fodder come forward to declare them, not as certifiable, but as deserving of respect for their tradition/custom/religion or whatever handy label that is around.

So just when therapy is most urgently needed to save these infected minds from falling over the edge into permanently deranged generalisations and all-consuming hatred, our modern day Dr. Frankensteins harvest them to feed their extremist movements. The monsters thus created stare with enmity at any kind of support given to their ‘foes’, acting alone or as a group they fuel antagonism against innocent and vulnerable people, and they channel their energy into intimidating, even harming, those who have not done a thing to deserve their disdain.

We should all take a closer look at how common it is now for euphemistically termed ‘politically incorrect’ (i.e., morally repulsive) dispositions to be exploited by unscrupulous leaders to build armies of supporters in the service of hate. That is why extremism is on the rise.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Keeping the Con in ‘e-CON-omics’

Brexit, as predicted by all experts that ‘Leave’ campaigners urged us to ignore, is pushing the UK into another recession and intensifying financial uncertainty all round.

What was not predicted, but should not come as too much of a surprise, is that the establishment has come out to ensure that in or out of the EU, it is the wealthy elite who will be protected, and everyone else (having been told we would “get our country back”) will bear the consequence.

The priority as ever is to help the banks make money, and promises for more deregulation have quickly been made to enable them to lend more money profitably – allegedly to revive the economy. But in the same speech in which he announced this move, the Governor of the Bank of England remarked that there was already too much debt around. It’s inescapable that when people have borrowed too much money and cannot pay it back, it will lead to a major banking crisis – as happened in 2008, and before that in the 1930s. In fact, it was because of the irresponsibility of the banking sector that was exposed in the 1930s that prompted subsequent banking regulation to stop banks over-lending to borrowers who could not pay the money back. In the 1980s, the banking sector, with the help of free market ideologues, rolled back these regulatory constraints and was able once again to use savers’ money as leverage in lending out to unreliable borrowers. When bad debts piled up, the banks asked governments to bail them out. And now we’re in for more deregulation, more bad debts, and before long, another banking fiasco.

The real reason the economy is stalling has little to do with lending. A mass production-consumption process can only be sustained if there are lots of people producing goods and services, and getting paid enough to purchase those goods and services. When more and more people are not getting paid work, only getting it at below-subsistence rates, or are ‘in work’ in name only because they are made redundant and told to register as ‘self-employed’, then there is a growing surplus of goods and services without the funded demand to match them. Recession thus ensues.

If only the people running corporations will pay their workers better, and support public investment that creates jobs and improves society’s infrastructure, then there will be more commercial transactions and prosperity will be generally enhanced. Unfortunately, most firms think they can leave others to pay workers enough to maintain the demand side. The end result is that the ‘efficiency’ drive of each comes together as the impoverishment of all.

Governments need to step in when individuals pursue options that undermine society. And the new UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has spoken about her intention to pursue an inclusive approach reminiscent of that of the former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, namely, to run the country “not for the privileged few, but for every one of us”. But we’re all familiar with how politicians on the right use progressive language to mask their divisive policies. It would be a belated, but nonetheless welcome, change if May should prove genuine in seeking to curb corporate powers and put workers on the boards of businesses.

In the meantime, amidst the economic chaos that has been unleashed, we can only assume that when the goings get tough, the con will just keep going.