The Indian Verdict

I described India a couple of weeks ago as challenging. And suggested that such a description is polite. I don’t think many people who have been to India would consider such a description to be controversial. India is challenging, on so many levels. Your senses will be assaulted. Your ears through the constant, deafening noise. Your nose and lungs through the often Continue reading “The Indian Verdict”

British Socialism in the 21st Century

I must confess that when reading through Forbes list of the worlds richest people, you have to head quite a long way down the list before you find a Brit. There’s no need for a person to have tens of billions of pounds. Or dollars, for that matter. Here in the UK, we are strong believers of wealth distribution, and the idea of having a handful of mega billionaires is something we find rather distasteful. Instead, we have lots and lots of plain old fashioned normal billionaires.

Lots and lots of them. Over a hundred now, which is more billionaires per capita than any where else on the planet. London is home to the majority of them, unsurprisingly. A total of 72, more than any other city on the planet.  I’ve read repeatedly how London is reclaiming it’s title of Capital of the World. It sure does have the capital. And that loot is coming in from all four corners of the globe. You see, of the 25 richest people in Britain, only seven of them are actually British. And one of those has a bit of a question mark over his nationality. Just two of them are in the top ten.  Here’s a little chart I created, totalling up the cash per country. For convenience, I included the Ukrainian chap in the ‘Russia’ tab. He soon will be, anyway.

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To be clear, I’m not anti-rich people. I’m a fan of Bill Gates, and they don’t come any richer than him. But, am I really being controversial by stating the opinion that if the majority of the wealth that exists on this planet is concentrated in the possession of an incredibly tiny proportion of the population then something has gone wrong? Economics is a complicated subject, I know. But surely the status quo is not the perfecta ratio?

I imagine most people, of whatever political persuasion, do not wish to see fellow citizens who are prepared to do a fair days work but have no work to do, made homeless or starve. That is why we have a social safety net. But my little rant today are for those are actually do complete a fair days work. The Minimum Wage was one of the better policies introduced by Tony Blair’s government. The ratification of the European Working Time Directive in 1999 was also an important step forward.

If we’re not paying people a living wage, then they end up picking up benefits to keep their head above water. In other words, the tax payer is subsidising the employers, be they corporations or smaller enterprises. There are a few policies that I would like to see implemented by the next UK government. Assuming that the incumbent one is removed….crossed fingers.

I’d like to see the minimum wage increased to a living wage. I’d like to see the Tax Allowance increased to the amount set as the minimum wage. I’d like to see employers obliged to pay 1.5x the hourly rate for every hour that PAYE employees works over their contracted hours. I’ll wager that the Zero Hours contracts will disappear pretty quickly. I’d also like to see pay at 1.5x the hourly rate for all hours worked on Saturdays, and 2x the hourly rate for work done at night or on Sundays.

I’d like to see a couple of pieces of Mexican employment legislation introduced too. Particularly, a minimum of a three month pay off for all employees fired, let go or otherwise released from employment contracts, on top of any redundancy pay out that already exists in British law. Just to put a bit more onus on employers to choose their employees carefully, to ensure they give them a fair opportunity and to ease any period of unemployment for the employee. Lastly, a Christmas bonus. Two weeks salary, to be paid prior to Jesus’ big day in December.

Which of the main UK political parties will take these ideas up and run with them? I’d give them my vote. Alas, I’ll probably have to run for parliament myself…

 

 

Being Poor

I grew up with Thatcherism as the dominant political force. That meant regular booms and busts. But there were always jobs available, in London and the south at least. At the bottom of the ladder, admittedly. But there were jobs. Today? There are graduates unable to get jobs in Poundland. They’re over qualified. But they can’t get a job in the industry they are qualified for. They’ve no experience. That’s the problem when employment runs so high – employers have a large field to pick from, and there’s plenty of qualified, experienced candidates.

But I’m stunned at the lack of jobs even in the supermarkets. I haven’t seen a vacancy at the local Waitrose for a year. A nearby Sainsburys hasn’t had many openings to offer. Life is tough. It’s probably going to get tougher. A couple of years ago I discussed the European economy with one of my students. I was of the opinion that Greece would leave the Euro, sooner or later. I still think so. It will be later, rather than sooner, as it happens. But that possibly now means soon. What will happen then is anyone’s guess. I’m sure the world will continue to turn. Just with fewer jobs.

There are similar issues in Mexico. Although like all things Mexican, there are differences. For a start, Mexican employers are more likely to shut out candidates over a certain age, particularly females. Which means if you can’t get a job in your career when you’re young, you’re in trouble.  It’s a sad situation. Unlike healthcare, housing, food and water, I don’t believe everyone has an automatic right to a job. I believe in a mixed economy which provides a basic safety net, not an outright socialist economy.

The problem for governments is that it’s difficult to provide those basic safety nets without having a healthy proportion of the population in work. And for the long term success of the economy, it’s important to get young, qualified people into the work they are trained to do. What solutions can be found? The Spanish have managed to reduce the proportion of unemployed youth. Now everyone is unemployed. The former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad (a living example of how genius and madness are so closely related, perhaps) recently suggested that the people of Europe simply have to adjust to being poor. Because they are poor. He probably has a point. The people of Greece disagree with this assessment. So will the peoples of all the other Euro nations. But reality and dreams have never been happy bed fellows.

Mexico has a key advantage to the UK here. Mexicans are used to being poor*. There’s much less of an adjustment to be made. And the Mexican economy is at least growing. There are, in the UK, vast areas of the UK, particularly up north, which are economic wastelands. Borderline Third World. And I use the word Third World rather than the more popular ‘Developing World’ tag, because there is nothing about some of these places that is developing. Mexico is developing. Parts of northern England are declining, stagnating, neglected. It’s all very sad.

* it’s a sweeping generalisation, I know.

Living in a box

My first visit to Mexico City, way back in 2003, was an eye opener. The poverty really struck me. Sure, there is plenty of wealth too, but coming from the UK that didn’t ‘stand out’. Seeing beggars with mutilated limbs and open sores lying on the pavement, and kids begging for pesos in bare feet – that does stand out to a foreigner stepping off the plane. I’d seen worse poverty before, it has to be said. But it still hits you.

It can be a hard life for those born nearer the bottom of the ladder in DF, and I’m convinced that it’s only the traditional, strong family unit that prevents there being more unfortunate citizens begging on street corners for a few pesos. That, and the admirable work ethic of most Chilangos. I read a report not so long ago which claimed Mexicans are the hardest workers in the world. Which makes a bit of a mockery of their ‘lazy and feckless‘ reputation on this side of the Atlantic.

So what was I struck by upon my return to the *UK? Sure, there is poverty. Of sorts. Not the Mexican sort though. Plenty of people live from pay check to pay check. There are lots of people who are skint. But what struck me was how many people manage to waddle around Bournemouth  slurping from a can of Special Brew before it’s even noon, later retreating to their taxpayer funded flats, safe in the knowledge that a fortnightly state hand out will keep them going and that the NHS will provide for their health care. Life in Mexico is too hard. In the UK it can most definitely be too easy.

Where’s the fine line between too hard and too easy? That’s Mission Impossible for any government I suspect. But both Mexico and the UK are currently moving towards it, albeit from different directions. It’ll probably still be a while before they meet. But I can’t help but feel Mexicans are the more admirable bunch. Along with their long hours, the Mexican has an astonishing ability to improvise, mend and make do, recycle and repair. Second hand goods keep their value much more as well.

There’s a lot to see on the streets of DF today that might well be a lot more common in the UK and US of tomorrow. That may not be such a bad thing. The video below is one of a series produced (I assume) by Creative Blends, who have a number of interesting videos offering a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Mexicans in the less glamourous parts of the city. You might need to click the Annotations button for English subtitles.

* My comparisons are from personal experience in DF and London/Bournemouth, and my personal experience doesn’t include living in the poorest areas of either country.