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Showing posts from April, 2016

Rescuing child refugees is valuable work, but the system can't see it

Dutch children arriving at Tilbury in 1945. Today's refugees may be less well organised, but they are no less needy Which is more valuable? The rescuing of vulnerable refugee children, or the management of a retail chain in the years prior to its collapse? By "more valuable" I mean which of these two activities brings more benefit to society? This question may seem contrived, but in a week when the previous owners of BHS are reported to have received hundreds of millions of pounds from the now collapsed business, while the government declines to help child refugees adrift in Europe , it is, at least, topical and relevant. The activities of businessmen like Sir Philip Green are said to add value to the UK economy, whereas saving the lives of children is just a cost to be avoided if possible. Green received a knighthood for his pains ; the children are left to fend for themselves on the streets or in unofficial camps. It is natural to feel distressed at the mis

Junior doctors are the standard bearers for a new economy

Photo: Garry Knight, Flikr (licence  here ) This government's confrontation with junior doctors , which looked at one point like a traditional labour dispute about terms and conditions, has morphed into something much more important. What we are witnessing is an existential debate on the nature of value. How do we, as a society, value doctoring, or indeed teaching or any caring activity? With figures showing  that the fastest growing sector of the economy in the past 25 years is head office activity and management consultancy, the junior doctors' strike is a timely reminder that we can, as a society, choose what we value, and manage the economy accordingly. At present we are stuck in a Thatcher era mindset, a perverse world of market economics in which caring is a cost that has to be paid for by creating wealth in some other way. We are told that financial services, management consultancy, estate agency, etc., create  wealth, which we can then spend on the cost of kee

Productivity in crisis - armies of middlemen living on the backs of the productive few

More productive than it looks? Photo: © Jorge Royan /, via Wikimedia Commons To an otherwise comprehensive overview of the UK's productivity crisis by Duncan Weldon in The Guardian on Monday , one key factor could be added. Paid work is not necessarily productive, and not all productive work is paid. Productivity is the measure of GDP per hour worked. Traditionally, it grows by introducing new methods and technologies, so that a given quantity of goods or services can be provided by a smaller number of people. This frees up other people to create more new wealth. But the figures ignore all the work that people do freely for themselves, their families and communities - work that GDP does not measure . A paid child-minder is “productive”, but a parent minding their own child is not, according to official measures. This means that a lot of the most useful work is left out of the productivity data. And just as unpaid work should be treated as productive, muc

Decades of sell-offs leave Britain unable to pay its way in the world

Port Talbot Steelworks: p hoto by  Grubb at English Wikipedia  (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.)  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons The British government is chucking in some money to rescue UK steel production not as a coherent national investment but to avoid the embarrassment of losing the steel industry on its watch. The moment it gets the chance to sell its new shares it will do so. The labour movement is happy to see thousands of jobs saved by this part-nationalisation, so it won't rock the boat. The episode illustrates the lack of a political strategy for rebuilding Britain's productive capacity. George Osborne won't tell you this, but the deficit that really matters is not in the government's finances, but those of the nation itself. Last year's balance of payments reveals that Britain spent £100 billion more than it earned. Unless we find a way to pay our way in the world, we're headed into yet more serious trouble. Nearly fort

To provide affordable housing, we need to defy the conventions of the market

Quality council housing form the 1960s, when land was for use, not investment. Photo copyright  John M  and licensed for reuse  under this  Creative Commons Licence Housing campaigners in Bristol are angry that the city council has sold off 14 council houses , even though the proceeds are to be used to build new homes. In conventional market terms, the deal makes sense. The houses are old and in poor condition, but their location in expensive areas makes them valuable. So why not sell them and put the money into new, low maintenance replacements? But conventional does not mean right, and the the anger is justifiable for two reasons. First, if these houses are desirable to people who want to buy them and do them up, then why could they not be desirable to council tenants, too? The second reason is more fundamental. If you want to create affordable housing, the easiest way is to sell houses for less. But just as huge swathes of London's once-social housing have been sold i