Category Archives: culture

Doreen Massey: government policy has been to acquiesce in and feed London’s voracious growth. Is this what we want?

Looking back through a Facebook page I saw with great regret that Professor Doreen Massey had died in 2016. After hearing her speak on Radio 4, I read her book, World City, Polity, 2007, and we corresponded by email several times. I think this photograph shows her warm and lively personality.

Yesterday, following input about ‘shrinking cities’ on WMNEG’s website, and as a belated tribute, some points made in that book will now be shared, selected from five pages of notes made at the time. Several references are relevant to the Grenfell Tower disaster. 

Extracts

In the world as a whole big cities are increasingly dominant and central to globalisation: the shining spectacular projects and the juxtaposi­tion of greed and need reflect their market dynamics.

The World Bank, one of the institutions whose policies have contributed to this massive flow of people into cities, has argued that it is through competitive cities that nations as a whole can develop.

Global cities are defined by their elite – the rest are invisible.

London is a political, institu­tional, economic and cultural power. Its influences and its effects spread nationally and globally but it increasingly overshadows everywhere else. National government policy accepts and also feeds its voracious growth.

Forces in the financial City took the lead in advocating and developing the deregulation that lies at the heart of globalisation; it is a command centre, place of orchestration, and significant beneficiary of its continuing operation.

Despite talk of `national sovereignty’, the first thing Margaret Thatcher did on coming to power in 1979 was to lift restrictions on for­eign currency exchange, to be followed in the mid-1980s by the deregulation of the City (the so-called Big Bang). A whole gamut of deregulatory and commercialisation policies, in pensions, housing, health care and education consid­erably increased the market for City activities.

Thatcherite policies benefited the private sector, financial services, the middle classes, London and the South East at the expense of the public sector, manufacturing, the old industrial regions and the working classes.

The colonisation by private capital of industries and services formerly provided by government – the utilities under Thatcher and Major, signifi­cant parts of the welfare state, especially health and education, under Blair – led to London’s reinvention and resurgence.

Policies of competitive individualism and individual self-reliance have been promoted –  people have been encouraged/required to take much greater financial responsibility for their own housing, pen­sions, health care and education. Previous notions of mutuality have been abandoned and the idea of the public good has been system­atically undermined.

The world’s biggest interna­tional financial centre

From the mid-1960s the City took advantage of an offshore status manufactured by British taxation policy . . . and became an off­shore extension of New York, creating a major market in eurodollars which now makes it the world’s biggest interna­tional financial centre. It has been a lucrative subservience, for some: out of this that the new elite has been born.

The emergence of the new elite includes those involved in business services as well as finance: real estate, renting and business activities. Advertising, research and development, accounting, auditing and taxation, legal serv­ices, market research and consultancy, personnel recruit­ment, renting of machinery and technical consulting, investigation and security have grown rapidly as part of London-global-city.

For the ultra-rich few, this country is now a vir­tual tax haven and princes, tycoons and oligarchs are making it their home. Others are attracted by the lucrative opportunities in the City – more than one in 10 professional staff in the City of London come from coun­tries outside the EU and the US, including the plunderers of Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union. A report on French people working in the UK found 69% of them in London and half of those are working in finan­cial services in the City.

 The pattern of British chief executives’ pay is now openly modelled on the American lead

Directors paid 113 times more than the average UK worker in 2005 are awarding each other their increments. Over the last five years the average salary of a chief executive in Britain’s leading companies, including bonuses, has more than doubled, just as American remuneration has grown – bearing little relationship to company performance. This has resulted in levels of inequality far higher than in the major economies of continental Europe.

Such high salaries make London the most unequal city, and London and the South-East the most unequal region in the UK.This inequality of the extremes is character­istic of the `Anglo-Saxon’ version of neoliberalism and it is growing.

The exuberant, champagne-swilling claim of the success of London’s reinvention is, however, almost always hedged about with a regretful caveat – `but there is “still” poverty too’. The success and the poverty of London are the com­bined outcome of politico-economic strategies, establishing a two-tier society, corporate greed and the privatisation of need in the capital and at national level.

Some facts are indisputable. Inequality between rich and poor, the glaring starkness of class difference, is more marked in London than anywhere else in the country

  • Unemployment in Inner London is higher than in any other subregion in England, while Outer London hovers around the national average; on almost any index there is an enormous geographical variation between boroughs.
  • London has the highest incidence of child poverty, after housing costs have been taken into account, of any region in Great Britain.
  • The gender pay gap is wider in London than in Great Britain. London has local authority areas with both the highest and the lowest rates of means-tested benefit receipt in the country.
  • Nearly a quarter of London’s children (24 %) are living in households dependent on Income Support’ whilst the rate for Great Britain as whole is 16 %, and London’s rate is the highest of any region.
  • Poverty is common among pensioners, too; in Inner London, a quarter of people aged sixty and over are on Income Support  – only 15 % in Outer London and in Great Britain.
  • Homelessness and overcrowding are higher in London than elsewhere. The differ­ence in life expectancy, is stark even between the boroughs of London.
  • On average, women in Kensington and Chelsea live nearly six years longer than women in Newham; and men in Kensington and Chelsea (again) live nearly six years longer than men in Southwark .

People are trapped in poverty because of the high cost of living, and the cost of getting to work Those currently dependent on benefit find that loss of entitlement to benefits, particu­larly housing benefits can com­pletely erode gains from entering employment.  The higher cost of housing, transport and childcare are important factors in explaining the pattern of disadvan­tage in the city.

Within the UK the old ‘North-South divide’ has widened and has increasingly taken the form of an ever-­expanding London versus the rest of the country

The New Labour government & London-centred private capital share an understanding of London/the South-East as the golden goose of the national economy – the `single driver’ of the national economy – which lays golden eggs for everyone.

There is an insistence that encouragement to `the regions’ must in no way be allowed to challenge, question, or in any way restrain the growth in London and the South ­East of England. Her Majesty’s Treasury, in a joint document with the Department of Trade and Industry, argued that `attempts to address regional differentials must be done by a process of levelling-up, not levelling down … whilst regional economic policy must aim to strengthen the indigenous growth potential of all regions, the focus should be on the weakest regions, without constraining growth in the strongest’ .

Brain drain

London’s growth over recent years and as planned for the future, requires labour with degree-level qualifications. It is demand for this kind of labour that dominates the net increase in employ­ment in the capital. London does not provide all of this and in consequence draws in professional people from abroad and from the rest of the country.

Many workers come from Eastern Europe and the global South. London is dependent, for instance, on nurses from Asia and Africa. These countries can ill-afford to lose such workers, and they have paid for their training. So India, Sri Lanka, Ghana, South Africa are subsidizing the reproduction of London. It is a perverse sub­sidy, flowing from poor to rich. It is, moreover, a flow that is both fuelled and more difficult to address as a result of the increasing commercialisation/privatisation of  health services.

It is a brain drain that has a double effect. In London the dominance of demand for this kind of labour makes it more difficult for Londoners without those qualifications to find work and, through the influx of higher ­paid workers, increases the pressure on prices and therefore inequality within the capital. From the regions and nations of the North and West it drains a stra­tum of the population that could be significant to their eco­nomic growth.

(Yet) Gordon Brown has told the regions that their regeneration should be led by the knowledge economy and Alan Johnson, when minister for manufacturing, repeated the refrain that low skills are part of the regions’ problems. In other words, the regions are blamed for the losses they incur through feeding London’s demand.

Arguments that London is a ‘successful’ region which must not in any way be chal­lenged rest on a crucial assumption. This is that London has achieved its present position through its own efforts. As the hegemonic terminology has it:  to do anything to disturb London’s trajectory would be to buck market forces.

London’s transnational financing and service-providing roles have not, however, been the main driver underlying the city’s growth since the 1980s, nor do these functions represent the major ele­ment of London’s export base. London’s main export market is in fact the `rest of the UK’ (RUK) which takes 28.5 % of all London’s exports, compared with 12.33 % going abroad. For financial services, the comparable percentages are RUK 39.88 % and interna­tional 31.46 % and, for business services, RUK 32.89 % and international 12.08 %.

This data contradicts the notion that London, in eco­nomic terms, is floating free from the rest of the UK econ­omy into an international arena of its own. It directly contradicts the conclusion that in a globalised economy London does not need the markets of northern Britain. As a London School of Economics study puts it, `the London economy is still closely integrated with the overall UK econ­omy’.

Despite the facts, however  . . . there is also some resentment: an argument that London has been subsidising the rest of the country and can afford to do so to the same extent, voiced in a report for the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) entitled The London deficit – a business perspective provides an example:

The London economy is the largest and most successful regional economy in the UK. It has often been suggested that its success has been to the detriment of other UK regions, drawing highly skilled people away from other areas. The reality is more complex. As will be seen from this report, the UK’s progressive taxation structure ensures that London contributes a greater proportion of total income raised from taxation in the UK than any other region. In short, London subsidises the rest of the UK, enabling the nation as a whole to benefit from the capital’s success. 

The fig­ures for London, however, usually include expenditure on the bulk of the national Civil Service. But this service operates over the country as a whole and should not appear on London’s balance sheet. The presence of so many Civil Service jobs and functions within London also contributes significantly to London’s economic growth and helps to influence the drawing up of national economic policy.

From Doreen Massey’s conclusion: “In the United Kingdom, London increasingly overshadows everywhere else and government policy has been to acquiesce in and feed its voracious growth. Is this what we want? The question is rarely heard in democratic debate”.

This book followed her pamphlet advocating Decentering the Nation: a radical approach to regional inequality, written with Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift, Catalyst 2003, on which notes also were made.

 

 

 

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Moving towards a new, balanced, green economy

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In her recently published book, Dr Christine Parkinson sets out a series of measures which could move us towards a new, balanced, green economy:

 

  • introducing greater incentive schemes to encourage businesses to develop, use and market greener technologies and to penalise those who don’t. Examples of this could include: using and developing renewable forms of energy; phasing out motor vehicles which use petrol or diesel and introducing those that run on easily-accessible clean energy;
  • investing in research institutions which have the ability to develop innovative solutions to today’s climate-change problems;
  • introducing legislation to reduce the use of the motor car, such as restricting the number of cars owned by each household, unless they run on clean energy;
  • phasing out coal-fired power generation, ending fossil fuel subsidies;
  • introducing a carbon tax on those companies who continue to use fossil fuels;
  • rebalancing the economy, so that the rich are not rewarded for irresponsible behaviour that adds to the carbon load;
  • setting targets for meaningful reductions in carbon emissions by an early date, as suggested by Desmond Tutu in his petition (chapter 1) and ensuring that the calculations for this are correct;
  • phasing out nuclear power and nuclear weapons worldwide and re-channelling the money saved into the incentive-schemes and investments mentioned above;
  • proper funding of those institutions regulating the tax system, so that tax evasion and avoidance is properly penalised;
  • shifting the tax system to penalise those activities which need to be discouraged, such as greenhouse gas emissions and the accumulation of wealth;
  • banning certain household appliances and gadgets, which are not necessary and only add to the carbon load;
  • establishing a new institution, which will monitor the use of fossil fuels by companies and promote, and provide support for, the use of greener forms of energy;
  • encouraging less air travel, by raising awareness about the damage this is doing to the planet and encouraging airlines to invest instead in technologies that do not damage the planet;
  • working globally with other partners to reduce deforestation;
  • re-balancing international trading systems, so that goods and animals are not transported unnecessarily across continents and seas, adding to the carbon load;
  • encouraging countries worldwide to be self-sufficient in terms of goods and resources, so that goods are not imported which can be produced internally;
  • re-thinking and re-balancing entirely transnational trading systems;
  • working globally to find a better means of international co-operation in working jointly to reduce and reverse that damage that is currently being done to the planet;
  • encouraging partnerships between local government and local cooperatives and social enterprises;
  • encouraging the setting up of local groups (3G groups), where individuals can meet together to share what they are doing to reduce their carbon emissions and to encourage each other to keep going with it, even if the majority of others are still in denial (3G stands for three generations – the amount of time we have left).

She continues: “Some of the ideas above are already being worked on, and others are not about changing the economic system but about reducing carbon emissions, but I hope these are a starting point for others to add to, if we are really serious about taking meaningful anti-climate-change measures before it is too late”. 

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Christine will be speaking in Birmingham on April 22nd.

“Three generations Left” can be ordered direct from the publishers, using the following link: http://www.newgeneration-publishing.com/bookstore/reference/bookdetails/1778 or can be ordered from the Amazon website, print on demand, as follows: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Three-Generations-Left-Activity-Destruction/dp/1787190412/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483704765&sr=1-1&keywords=Christine+Parkinson

It is priced at £11.99 per copy in paperback or £4.99 for an ebook.

Whilst much of the book is viewable on this website, she would prefer you to buy a copy as any profits from the sale of this book will be used to fund her son’s work amongst slum children in Uganda.  Last year was a difficult one for this project (Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Network), as due to the devaluation of the pound post-Brexit, monies sent from the UK to Uganda had lost a fifth of their value.

Contact: christine@cyen.org.uk

 

 

 

Delhi’s Devinder Sharma calls for a GEP measurement to replace the current GDP yardstick

Edited extracts from the latest article in Ground Reality

Sensible voices, however few these may be, have now begun to be heard. The pressure to de-globalise is an outcome of the anger that built up slowly and steadily as inequalities worsen and the world goes deeper and deeper into an environmental crisis, fast heading towards a point of no-return.

iucn-header

The term ‘ecosystem’ was coined by Dr Roy Clapham, a botanist, in 1930. According to IUCN, the definition provided by Christopherson in 1997 is apt: “An ecosystem is a natural system consisting of all plants, animals and microorganisms (biotic factors) in an area functioning together with all the non-living (abiotic) factors of the environment.” The Convention on Biological Diversity (Earth Summit, Rio deJaneiro,1992) defines an ecosystem as: “A dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.”

Unfortunately, Adam Smith did not measure the wealth generated by these ecosystems and the generation of economists who followed the principles of market economy also failed to look beyond what was prescribed in the textbooks. Many of the severe problems the world faces today — greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change, the melting of ice caps and glaciers and the destruction of the environment (soil, water, oceans and air) — are due to economic thinking which created and thrust upon nations the GDP structure as a measure of wealth generated – based on a flawed assumption of what actually constitutes wealth. As Sharma has repeatedly said, if a tree is planted the GDP does not show it as growth, but if it is cut down the GDP grows.

But according to one study, the actual economic value of a fifty year old tree is as follows: 

  • Oxygen $ 7,700
  • Water recycling $ 10,000
  • Pollution control $ 17,700
  • Shelter for animals $ 8,300
  • Soil conservation $ 8,300

Yet if the tree is felled, the market price would be in the range of $ 1,100. See also the TOI report on Delhi Greens assessment.

Whether we like it or not, Sharma continues, neoliberal economics is bringing the world dangerously close to a tripping point.

A contract was signed in the early 1990s between the pharmaceutical giant Merck and a public-sector research institute in Costa Rica — InBio. Merck agreed to provide $1 million for two years to support ‘chemical prospecting’ which essentially means scouting the available biodiversity for commercial gain. It agreed to provide a 5% royalty arising from sales of any such products developed from samples of plants, animals and microorganism collected from with Costa Rica. Merck was then able to access huge resources for a meagre fee – 5% of the world’s biodiversity.

Biological resources have been conserved and protected by communities/tribes which have lived in these areas over the centuries

Mineral wealth exists in areas where abundant forests and tribes exist and communities living in hilly terrains and mountains have traditionally protected ecosystems. People living downstream in the river basins and plains have enjoyed the benefits of the untiring efforts of these custodians of immense biological wealth, who have been deprived of all the economic benefits – a one way transfer of wealth which has taken place over the centuries.

tribes-2-farms_and_forest_martali_village_eastern_india_2012

Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1981) coined the term ‘ecosystem services’ and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005) provided the first international effort to quantify ecosystem services, followed by ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), based at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which created an Ecosystem Service Value Database based on 1500 global peer reviewed publications.

The destruction caused by development is generally considered as inevitable, based on economics that does not make any attempt to integrate the real cost-benefit ratio. However, though a number of studies are currently underway in numerous institutes/universities, the discipline of ecosystem services has still to be recognised. Sharma believes that efforts to calculate the monetary value of ecosystem services will be increasingly valuable in development planning, because the value has hitherto been taken as nil or free of cost. He hopes that once economic values are established, planners will make decisions which will not be based solely on economic gain.

devinder-edited-utube-7Sharma (right) advocates the computation of a Gross Environment Product based on the valuation of ecosystem services, ensuring that ecosystems are no longer associated with poverty. This will require the discarding of the economic assumption that growth automatically trickles down. It doesn’t. The amount of real wealth nations has created should be indicated by the measure of sustainable growth achieved. Becoming carbon neutral is one such indicator.

Primarily with this underlying objective, the Chandigarh-based trust Dialogue Highway, in collaboration with the Department of Environment Studies, Panjab University, organised the 2nd International Dialogue on Himalayan Ecology (Jan 28-29, 2017) on the theme: “The Economics of Himalayan Ecosystems”. (The youtube link leads to the programme in detail, but only a few screen shots). Experts from across the country made presentations based on the outcome of research undertaken to ascribe economic values to the ecosystem services provided by the Himalayas.

Sharma is sure that this dialogue will go a long way towards mainstreaming the subject of ecosystem services in policy planning and intends to undertake a similar exercise for the Western Ghats in the months to come.

 

 

 

Will constructive journalism empower and engage people?

pos-news-headerIllustration by Spencer Wilson: the fact that some conflicts have ended has helped reduce world hunger

Lucy Purdy of Positive News writes: “It was a tough year by many measures but 2016 also saw some reasons for celebration. We look behind the headlines for signs of progress”:

  1. World hunger is at its lowest point for 25 years
  2. The Rio Olympics featured more female athletes than ever before
  3. The Paris Climate Change Agreement came into force
  4. For the 24th year in a row, teenage pregnancy rates declined in the UK and US
  5. Wild tiger numbers increased for the first time in 100 years
  6. The number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes has almost halved since 1990
  7. Evidence suggests that major diseases, from colon cancer to heart disease, are now starting to wane in wealthy countries
  8. India turned on the world’s largest solar power plant – spanning 10 sq km – in the state of Tamil Nadu
  9. Public smoking bans appear to have improved health in 21 nations
  10. Black incarceration rates fell in the US
  11. Measles has been eradicated in the Americas – the first time the disease has been eliminated from an entire world region
  12. An HIV cure may be a step closer after a trial cleared the virus in a British man
  13. Italy became the last large Western country to recognise same-sex unions
  14. China installed 20 gigawatts of solar in the first half of 2016
  15. Volunteers in India planted 50m trees in 24 hours
  16. Life expectancy in Africa has increased by 9.4 years since 2000, it was announced this year
  17. The amount of money it would take to eliminate extreme poverty is now lower than the annual foreign aid spend
  18. Giant pandas are no longer endangered
  19. The number of deaths from malaria is at a global record low
  20. The World Bank says we are now one generation away from achieving universal literacy

positive-news-header

Researcher Jodie Jackson explains that by studying the impact of Positive News upon its readers, she found that constructive journalism can empower people and engage them more in society

The news tells us a story about the world in which we live. But we all know that it is not the whole picture. We are only ever presented with a small fraction of our world, but it is so enlarged it can appear to be the whole picture – and herein lies the problem. The stories that are amplified are the ones that are most extreme, most conflict-driven and most unusual, fitting our modern news mantra of “if it bleeds it leads”.

“The news is not, in fact, a reflection of everything that goes on in the world, it is a reflection of everything that goes wrong in the world”, wrote US academic John Sommerville in 1999.

Even though we may know it to be the case, we are not fully conscious of this distortion of reality the news creates. Instead, our minds are working away to respond to the information around us in ways that keep us safe and protected.

As my research points out, the psychological consequence of the skewed truth created by the negativity bias in the news can lead to a misperception of risk, in which people think that world is more dangerous than it is.

Continuously confronting an unresolved threat can lead to anxiety and a feeling of helplessness. It makes us more likely to become a passive observer of the world rather than a participant in it, leading to lower mood levels, contempt and hostility towards others, desensitisation to the issues being presented and potentially total disengagement . . .

Now, more than ever, is a good time to put the brakes on unbalanced, inflamed news narratives.

positive-news                                                 Another sign of progress.

It appears we may have found a way to do this, which could not only halt the current media trajectory but launch a new one altogether. It is known as constructive journalism and solutions-focused news. . .

My research has found that people who read Positive News magazine were lifted by reading about possibility and progress. Secondly, they showed reduced levels of anxiety and helplessness, and thirdly they also showed increased levels of hope, optimism and self-efficacy – the belief that their actions were capable of making a difference.

Media has a powerful influence on our world. We believe excessive negativity in the press is destructive for society, so instead we are working to create a more constructive and compassionate media.

 

Read the whole article here: https://www.positive.news/2017/society/24721/solution-focused-news-can-empower-people/?mc_cid=c294f1d511&mc_eid=99a7ecd039

 

 

 

A realistic, grounded alternative politico-economic vision – 2

shaun-5Shaun Chamberlin, of the Fleming Policy Centre, Chelsea Green’s UK/Europe commissioning editor, responds to Hines: ‘Amen’. He continued: ‘This very much echoes my response to the interview question: What would David Fleming’s reaction to Brexit have been?” ‘

“I think David’s work articulates the far more positive, reasonable motives that many will have had for their vote—a desire for more accountable control, closer to home; recognition of the economic truth that unlimited movement of both people and capital does indeed drive down wages for the working class; and above all a desire to reclaim a clear identity—something that David describes as “the root condition for rational judgement”. If you don’t know who you are then how can you know what to do?

“A nation, after all, is a powerful root for identity, built through long association with a particular place and culture, which many generations have shaped and defended”.

As David writes, “if defeated, the nation often manages, eventually, to come back into being, with a sense of renewal and justice. It exists in the mind of its people.” And it gives an identifiable meaning to the sense of “we”, to a “national interest”. This, perhaps, is what the European Union was seen to be threatening—our sense of who we are—and why so many rejected it.

“But more than a route to understanding Brexit’s causes, I see Fleming’s work as a progressive, practical vision of what it could look like. If Brexit is the path we are taking, then we need to reclaim it from the xenophobes and racists who see the “Leave” vote as a vindication.

“Globalisation and neoliberalism are destroying our collective future, but they have also all-but-destroyed the present for many, as the neofeudalism termed ‘austerity’ continues to bite. The one common factor behind unexpected election results like Brexit, Trump and Corbyn may be desperate rejection of the establishment and the status quo—all the major parties supported “Remain” after all.

“It is important to remember that fascists like Mussolini and Hitler didn’t only consolidate power on the basis of lies and fear—they also raised wages, addressed unemployment and greatly improved working conditions. So if we are to avoid the slow drift into real fascism, we need to present an alternative politico-economic vision that can restore identity, pride and economic well-being. We need to tell a beautiful story of how we will make the future better for the desperate, rather than a fearful one. This is the story that Fleming’s books tell, and what inspired me to devote my past few years to bringing them to publication.

His seven-point protocol for an economics based in trust, loyalty and local diversity is, quite simply, the only realistic, grounded alternative I have seen to a future I have no desire to live through”.