Monday, 25 January 2016

The poverty of wealth in Market-World

I need money. I like to have enough of it. I am lucky enough to have enough, though I am not rich. I can live a comfortable life, without excess. Lucky me, when many cannot be so fortunate. I also hate money, for what it can do to people, myself included. It can make you spend more than you want on crap you do not need. It can make one simply want more of it, which in turn makes one greedier, selfish, grasping. And greed is both unbecoming and leads to regrettable behaviours.

In our Market-World, you are supposed to want more of both money and possessions, as the manifestation of success. If you have lots, you may be placed on a pedestal, given honours, lauded, whether it was earned or unearned. Above a certain level of income, it becomes impossible to spend it all, but this does not seem to inhibit the desire for more, always at the expense of someone else. To make more, you may have to do down someone less grasping, less competitive, less entrepreneurial. If you run a small business, you are supposed to want to make it bigger, no matter that it may satisfy you need to feed and clothe yourself, your family and staff. Oh no, you must be entrepreneurial to be successful. It is not enough to be happy or content. Satisfaction is failure in Market-World. Poverty is unthinkable shame.

Irony is lost on politicians, it seems. For those propounding light-touch, low-interference government, business support is only on offer for those businesses aspiring to high growth, not to those who want a sustainable, long-term income. Greed and growth, consumption, conspicuous and vacuous wealth are today's gods, with churches called "Westfield" or "Dubai". Are these churches worth attending, when all you can do there is spend more or envy those who do? What do they offer in the way of comfort, culture or happiness?

I do not want to do without money, nor what it can do for me, my family and my interests but I see every reason to try to find ways of reducing society's emphasis on lucre as the main measure of success, for individuals or for governments. There are other values for humanity which should surely be given their chance as yard-sticks of success: peace; fairness; well-being; generosity.... How successful is this country in these?

Monday, 18 January 2016

Small State for a Small Future

Political parties are defined by their view of the role of the State. States' expenditure principally concerns the security and well-being of its citizens. How there are supported depends on the flavour of those in the ascendency at any time. Those governing parties accepting responsibility for the greater burden of the people's needs perforce raise the largest funds with which to pay for these, usually via taxes as the principal repeatable source. Governments deeming taxation to be theft of citizens' hard-earned income; and believing that individuals should shoulder the burden of their own well-being, regardless of circumstance, typically tax less - though frequently with little similar compunction when it comes to paying for those outgoings they favour. It seems that Small State believers will pare back ruthlessly services for well-being whilst lavishing tax receipts on arms used to assault citizens of other States.

Small Staters take a harsh view of needy citizens, so intent are they on allowing the economically successful to keep hold of their wealth. Healthcare, education, housing, and retirement are matters for personal decision, even for those who for any reason are unable to afford to pay. Impecuniousness is a sin in a market economy - or a disaster. It is clear that in a Big State citizens want for less, insofar as services are provided for them, paid for by tax receipts; but those earning most must share more of their income accordingly. In some States the payment of taxes for such common benefit is accepted as a right and proper part of citizenship.

How politicians explain their preferences for the type of State they would create is instrumental in how the public takes sides. Small Staters tend to demonise terms regarded as anodyne by others, like "tax", "borrowing", "poverty" and "entitlement", in attempts to persuade the general public that any party suggesting increases in tax or welfare is unpatriotic. Citizens undergoing temporary shortage of income, long-term disability or simply old age are contemptuously treated in media as second-class, while those riding high on commercial success are placed on a pedestal. But in such a climate, what do we, the people, lose? Once the State has shrunk such that only the rich can afford hospital care or education, how can Big State ever be restored, no matter how desirable to the majority; and how are the ordinary people to achieve well-being?

First, the country loses the capacity to provide universal education and care of a reasonable quality. Society then polarises into haves and have-nots, with a growing risk to cohesion. Second, the failure of the State to invest for the long-term in basis science, technology and infrastructure on which depend jobs, decent pay and commerce may deprive enterprise of the platform for their future success. Third, lack of capability in meeting the needs of ordinary people within the public sector may place the country at grave risk as under-paid private sector providers fall away, leaving the State in crisis with responsibility but no means to fulfil it. The Small State will lead to a small future.

Instead of shying away from those things demonised by the Right, believers in public services and State investment must reclaim or rewrite the lexicon and ruthlessly describe the benefits of the Big State, and publicise just how they spend money for the citizens.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Naked politics

Perhaps all politicians should study life drawing.

Drawing nude people may not seem the most obvious training for the cut and thrust of the world they aspire to - nor for any other job except artist. So what am I saying?  I am a long-time life artist. Every body, every pose is different, and complex. Merely outlining the shape with any realistic proportions is hard enough; but to portray the 3-dimensional object is more so. Then there is a person there too, alive and with a personality.

Artists like life drawing both because of the endless variety and challenge on which to apply their skill and creativity and because it demands a degree of concentration which is rarely possible in everyday life. This in itself is quite stimulating.

This is not to say that other interests are not equally absorbing, so why should I single out politicians for this particular hobby-horse of my own? What have I learned from it which makes it so relevant?

It is because to have the opportunity to draw a nude person is a privilege, demanding of respect. Models are people - extraordinary or ordinary, just like everybody. They may arrive in fine cars or on foot,  dressed up in finery or wearing jeans but when they remove their clothes, they are simply human beings. We ask no questions as to where they went to school, what their job is, how much they earn, where they live. We focus on just them. Stripped of all trappings by which assumptions can be made about them, we can only draw what we see. Every body is as interesting and as complex as every other one. We can only treat each model as an individual, unique and of equal value, with equal respect, doing our best to repay their generosity in exposing themselves for our scrutiny.

Now would it not be good for our leaders to see everyone as of equal worth, deserving of equal respect? It might even do them good to expose themselves to the scrutiny of others, without hiding behind the usual carapace of image and uniform.

Tom Serpell

Monday, 4 January 2016

Why bother? I think, therefore I write.

I suppose that the vast majority of people in any democracy give little attention to politics between one election and the next. Perhaps they express a view here, shout at the TV there, blame "them" for something or everything - but this does not make them political. Put it another way, as my wife does: "it must be great to be a Tory, not having sleepless nights worrying about other people's poverty or life chances, just thinking about their own interests."

A quiet life, unbothered by the stress of electoral failure, inequality, poverty etc sounds terrifically attractive, so lets not bother any more. No politics. No volunteering. No community work. Just stand back and wash one's hands of it all. It is someone else's fault or responsibility. Or is it?

If it seems wrong, perhaps it is. If it is wrong and you can see it, why is it up to someone else to do something or at least to draw attention to it? The trouble with being alive is that you do see things and what you see may demand a response. For some people, injustices identified cannot be ignored. For many, there may be few options available when facing the un-ignorable but even a voice raised above the silence of others may be of some use. Almost everybody has access to some means of communication, even if this is limited to one's own circle of acquaintances. Signing one of the endless petitions now available online may seem devalued by familiarity but, like electoral votes, it only takes enough people to ignore them for apathy to let those against whom the protest is aimed off the hook. Enough voices, letters, signatures, tweets, blog posts, marchers, and votes can make a difference.

If you are cursed with a social conscience, not bothering really is not an option. Doing something can get it off your chest and contribute to the noise others are like-mindedly making; and make a difference. So I have decided, after a pause for thought, to continue to use my advancing years to send my thoughts into cyberspace; as well as doing small things in the community which might otherwise not happen. Happy 2016.

Tom Serpell