Tag Archives: finance

Not voting is neither stupid nor disrespectful – it’s a tactic

Danzig shot

Below is my answer Jon Danzig’s challenge to respond to his post suggesting Russell Brand’s electoral advice to not bother voting was dumb and disrespectful to those who fought for our right to the ballot. I’d have posted it in the comments thread of his piece but got chucked off for reasons I couldn’t fathom.

Hi Joe – so here’s an answer that’s slightly longer than Twitter’s 140 characters. I said that I get but reject your logic about voting or abstaining, suggesting that you’d missed Russell Brand’s points in the Paxman interview.

How do I get your logic?

– People all over the world have fought over the centuries for universal suffrage – the right of almost all qualifying adults to choose their leaders from a restricted list of candidates in periodic elections.

– Because those people fought, some died, for our right to vote, a person’s decision to vote disrespects their memory and sacrifice.

I don’t in any way disrespect these people’s efforts – in fact, I both venerate them and am hugely grateful for what they did and some still do. I don’t think that’s an argument for me voting or not voting in UK elections.

So how is it that I reject your logic suggesting that I should exercise my right to vote?

For the record, I happen to be resident in France so am ineligible to vote in UK general elections. I do get to vote in communal, regional and EU elections here but not national ones. That’s not my point though.

If I were a British resident – as I have been in the past – I would almost certainly not exercise my right to vote in UK national elections. For the vast majority of UK constituencies where one of the main parties is the likely winner – Conservative, Labour, LibDem – I don’t think there’s any point in voting. There are marginal differences between the three but when it comes for example to economic policy – the bedrock of all policies – they are all variously but solidly pro-austerity. Throw in the UKIP EU dissidents and there’s still no change on that question. So for the vast majority of UK voters, what’s on offer involves choosing between parties who collectively subscribe to pro-austerity thinking – regardless of the fact that these policies aren’t working, that they heap the costs of the financial crisis on ordinary, poorer people when it was speculative capital and over-extended banks that got us into that crisis (NB we bailed out the banks – the real benefits scroungers/cheats in this debate) and because the reality is that “austerity” is in any case a cover for dismantling the public sphere and the welfare state in favour of private interests. That’s to say nothing of these parties’ failure to question the notion of economic growth as a sensible way to run the planet – it’s a recipe for ruining it more like.

I might be persuaded to vote in constituencies where there was a chance for an upset to pro-austerity thinking – perhaps where there were strong Green candidates and chances of their election or SNP candidates in Scotland (though for the latter, it is highly questionable whether the SNP would veer much from the pro-austerity model).

Choosing not to vote for any of these candidates is a political choice or tactic. It is not at all a suggestion that people disengage politically but rather that they ignore or minimise their engagement with the hulabaloo of elections and concentrate their energies elsewhere. Occasionally it might be tactically astute to vote – I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

We need radical political reform in the UK, at the EU level and globally. Nation-state representative democracy has had its time – a few decades of glory for citizens in Western countries in the aftermath of WW2, I’d suggest, but not any more. Real power has long left national parliaments – witness Syriza’s mauling by the German finance minister in the latest round of debt restructuring talks.

This interview with the Spain’s podemos leader Pablo Iglesias is highly instructive on what the future might possibly look like – though no one can say for sure.
For a UK perspective – the 2004 Power Inquiry was an intelligent stab at the question of why people didn’t vote. Though the inquiry failed to get much traction, it left us with a useful account of the then state of alternative democratic experiments around the world.
The work-in-progress bringing up to date of that report is here.
If you speak French – I interviewed a man called Charlie Bauer a few years back. He makes the case for radical democratic reform very powerfully, as you can see at the bottom of this post.
As a fellow journalist – a huge barrier to radical reform are the conventional expressions of our chosen profession. I tackle this in detail in Fraudcast News, which you more about here.

That’s way more than 140 characters.

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Book reading benefits

Vienna's Shakespeare and Co bookshop

Shakespeare and Co

Fraudcast News has been out and about for three years now, making its way into the world without the benefits of a conventional publishing push behind.

Without me exactly knowing how – the free PDF has been downloaded more than 10,000 times now and I’ve managed to sell a few hundred paperback copies both online and face to face.

Promotional work has been somewhat haphazard – depending on my attention and energy levels. Probably the best means of all has been by doing book readings – organised on the hoof on my own or with fellow enthusiasts for improving journalism and governance practices.

Fraudcast News on tour - in Vienna

Fraudcast News on tour

Last Thursday, during a visit to meet Professor Clive Spash, Chair of Public Policy and Governance at WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, I had a chance to do a reading at the bookshop Shakespeare and Co in Vienna’s Sterngasse street.

It was one of the most stimulating and enjoyable I’ve done – a lively audience of 30 or so people slotted in among the books and tables of this great venue. It’s a reminder of what independent bookshops can be.

Writing a book is a solitary experience, meaning successful readings such as this one are a treat. There were some excellent questions from the floor and what seemed like some genuine engagement and exchange of ideas.

So – if you’re in Vienna and you fancy some English-language reading material then I would recommend Shakespeare and Co. Its eclectic mix of books had me hooked – I’d have been happy to spend the evening browsing if it hadn’t been for having to do the reading.

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Vienna meets Fraudcast News

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Fraudcast News reading in Vienna

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22 January at 19:30–21:00

Shakespeare and Co, Sterngasse 2, 1010, Vienna

Find all the details here

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Wrist slaps for rich, jail for the poor – suits you democracy

Five major banks have been fined £2bn for rigging foreign exchange markets. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. Thanks Reuters.

Five major banks have been fined £2bn for rigging foreign exchange markets. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. Thanks Reuters.

This is not a complicated post to write, nor need it be very long.

The basic premise is how the UK legal system treats criminal behaviour differently depending on who’s behaviour it is – somewhat at odds with Magna Carta notions of due process – an idea that dates from, err, just a tadge under 800 years ago – not to mention Ancient Greek principles of equality before the law – from 2,500 years ago.

Exhibit A – a powerfully argued Guardian Comment is Free post by columnist Aditya Chakrabortty. The author describes today’s Britain as a place where the poor are forced to steal or beg from food banks while MPs, some of whom fiddled thousands of pounds in expenses at little expense to themselves, create a system where the hungry go to jail.

I can’t disagree with his arguments.

Exhibits B and C – respectively referring to some piffling fines levied against HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, JP Morgan and Citigroup for cheating their customers and rigging foreign exchange markets, and the serial fraudlence-without-jail of too-big-to-jail poster child J P Morgan.

For all the breathless “record fines headlines” – the penalties levied are so much pocket change for these banks, expunged in a moment’s trading of their shares. And, more important still, no one goes to jail, I mean, how could they?

I will host a local screening of The Corporation this Friday – a film that describes the psychopathic behaviour of companies operating to the inexorable growth demands required under capitalism. Fuelling this machine necessitates the subordination of our systems of mock democracy – the latest US mid-term elections being the latest perfect storm. This promises to be an ongoing story as things stand.

The ancient Greeks nailed this problem too, describing it as oligarchy not democracy. The UK’s Russell Brand has a far keener grasp on this than do his detractors, even if he hasn’t yet identified much in the way of possible solutions. This site – participedia – seems closer to the mark with its listing of experiments in new forms of participatory politics and governance around the world.

And my, don’t we need those?

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Popular savvy about finance – more than just money

Screenshot from 2014-02-25 11:28:49

 

Geoffrey Ingham, a Life Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge has weighed into openDemocracy’s Just Money debate with a worthwhile article called: “Whose money is it?” He talks about how money is created and the way that relates to power.

The piece is part of a wider series run by OurKingdom to mark the publication of Ann Pettifor’s e-book, Just Money: How Society Can Break the Despotic Power of Finance. I’ll certainly check that out.

The series explores the nature of money and the politics of the financial system.

I tried to post a comment before getting tied up in knots with the site password system.

Rather than abandoning it, I’m putting it here instead.

Good piece – I totally agree that, like it or not, we have as individuals to wrestle with ideas of how money is created and this article helps in that process. It is essential for people to get to grips with this in order to give needed context to wider societal questions of both poverty and environmental despoilation. I would also recommend the work of Positive Money UK (http://www.positivemoney.org/)

The author did not touch on the aspect of our money-creation system that is even more problematic for all living beings – which is how it acts as a motor for wrecking the planet for all its inhabitants. Debt-based money demands interest repayments alongside the principal, which means we must all perpetually consume or face economic collapse.

Yet if the economic system doesn’t collapse, or we don’t manage to transform it – along with the existing money-creation system at its core – we will face a far more problematic collapse of the eco-system itself. Nature doesn’t do compound growth except as cancer, epidemic or plague. We need a money system with that reality embedded inside it.

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News to make the rich richer

I wrote this comment in response to the following article by the World Association of Newspapers and Newspaper Publishers.

Thomson Reuters can hire all the new journalists it wants but won’t change anything fundamental about its daily news file. Sorry about that.

The agency deserves its reputation as providing a service that helps rich people get richer – that’s exactly what it does. Whatever its editorial cheerleaders might say about speed, accuracy and freedom from bias, they can’t escape the reality that the vast bulk of their clients, by value, work in finance.

The rarely spoken truth about journalism is that the news you get from any media outlet turns on a handful of factors.

They include income sources (banks/finance for Reuters), ownership (Reuters is controlled by a few very rich individuals), reporters’ choice of news sources (overwhelmingly traders, banks, economists, governments and other institutions), editorial ideology (profoundly one of dergulated banks, markets, trade, status-quo institutions and free-market capitalism) and, finally, the organisation’s response to real or feared “flak” or hostile elite criticism of its output (generally supine).

Despite serial financial crises around the world, various environmental ones looming, growing inequality across many countries and plummeting faith in conventional politics and politicians we get what from Reuters in response? Nothing sustained, nothing coherent and nothing journalistically credible – despite its mammoth editorial operation.

The only comfort for Reuters is that it’s in good company with all the other major globe-spanning and national news organisations you might care to name. None serves ordinary people’s interests or highlights the farce that representative democracy has become in the face of modern markets, finance and corporations.

It took me 11 years as a Reuters reporter (1994-2005) to realise the lock down on editorial thinking created by these different factors combined together. I was lucky to be able to grab a voluntary redundancy cheque and get out in search of alternatives.

So what did I find? The good news is that there are alternatives, the bad that they take time to build. They include doing journalism focused on governance and accountability to citizens as its core role, illustrating the global and national from local perspectives. It means training others to do the same and to share the content for free to help improve our political and media literacy.

In essence, it’s the sort of thing I dreamed Reuters could do before I got tired of banging my head against the wall trying to persuade my editors that that was what “freedom from bias” really meant.

I get into the whys and hows in far greater detail in my book Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies. It’s free to download as a PDF via the link or to buy as an eBook or paperback.

And no, I’m not expecting a Pulitzer.

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