Growth and Death

Ferguson

Harry Ferguson was born on this day in 1884.  He was born into a world of horse powered agriculture.  Two great leaps forward occurred in agricultural practices during WW1 and then again in WW2.

Ferguson began his career in engineering with aircraft.  He was the first Irish man to build a plane and the first to fly a plane.  He moved from aircraft to tractors just before the outbreak of the Great War.  All through the war he was developing ideas for ways to attach a plough to the tractor.

In the early 1920s he presented his ideas on the three point linkage to that other great Irish engineer, Henry Ford.  Together they created the Fordson.  Ferguson went on to build his own tractors and incorporated his designs into David Browns and Massey Fergusons.

When the second great agricultural leap forward came during WW2 it was powered by tractors designed by Harry Ferguson.  His work revolutionised agricultural production and allowed for the radical improvements in output per acre that originated during WW2.  By the end of the war Britain was able to feed itself.

After the war these innovations were rolled out to the world and sparked the prosperity of the “Swinging Sixties”.

Harry Ferguson never saw the 1960’s.  He died at the beginning of the decade after years of legal battles with Henry Ford II over the illegal use of his patents.  The legal battles cost him half his fortune and all his health and was unsuccessful in restricting Fords use of his work.

If Ferguson represents an era of Growth we can see in the poem below that Williams has experienced an era of Death, Murder, Famine and Dictatorship.  Born in 1936, on this day, Charles Kenneth Williams lived through those swinging sixties.  But he saw the rise of tin pot dictator after dictator pillage country after country in Asia, Africa, South & Central America.  Much of it carried out under the cloak of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Today on the news we see thousands of troops sent to the US Mexican Border.  Donald Trump is addressing voters for the upcoming mid term elections.  He uses the language of the demagogue.  He sounds like another tin pot dictator.  He says his troops will shoot at any migrants who throw stones.  He says that the Democrats want to invite “Caravan after Caravan” of migrants over the border.  When Republicans speak about Democrats they describe them as Communists or Socialists.  From here in Europe the Democrats come over as far right liberals.  We would see them as right wing extremists.  It is hilarious to describe a club of multi-millionaire politicians as socialists.  It is, frankly, an insult to socialism.

The future of the planet lies in sustainability.  Humans must live within our means or we will become extinct.  Politicians who, like Donald Trump, deny climate change are doing so because they are trading personal greed against public good.  They know the world is full of short term thinking greedy people.

The failure of democratic American style politics to plan beyond the next election is the major barrier to long term sustainable planning.  When Harry Ferguson was designing his first tractors during WW1 American saw itself, and was, the saviour of the Western World.  Roll the clock forward 100 years and today, 2018 the USA is the worlds greatest problem.

 

Zebra; by Charles Kenneth Williams

Kids once carried tin soldiers in their pockets as charms
against being afraid, but how trust soldiers these days
not to load up, aim, blast the pants off your legs?

I have a key-chain zebra I bought at the Thanksgiving fair.
How do I know she won’t kick, or bite at my crotch?
Because she’s been murdered, machine-gunned: she’s dead.

Also, she’s a she: even so crudely carved, you can tell
by the sway of her belly a foal’s inside her.
Even murdered mothers don’t hurt people, do they?

And how know she’s murdered? Isn’t everything murdered?
Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers;
some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Everything’s murdered, but still, not good, a dead thing
in with your ID and change. I fling her away, but the death
of her clings, the death of her death, her murder, her slaughter.

The best part of Thanksgiving Day, though—the parade!
Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, enormous as clouds!
And the marching bands, majorettes, anthems and drums!

When the great bass stomped its galloping boom out
to the crowd, my heart swelled with valor and pride.
I remembered when we saluted, when we took off our hat.

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The man who changed reading.

Michael-S.-Hart

Today is the birthday of Michael S. Hart, author, hugely influential in the development of the e-book and founder of Project Gutenberg.  He changed reading from print on paper to electronic media, and slashed the cost of access to literature in the process.  Hart is a hero of mine.

A long time ago book production was a very expensive undertaking.  Most books were copied laboriously by hand, usually by monks.

The invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid 15th Century revolutionized the distribution of information. But books were still very expensive luxuries.

In the 1930s Penguin Books were responsible for another revolution in distribution of literature with the introduction of the mass market paperback.  Penguin classics were the backbone of my university humanities library.  They made education affordable to the working classes.

July 4th 1971 Michael S. Hart typed and uploaded the US Declaration of Independence to his free account on the University of Illinois Mainframe.  Initially he planned to email it to a mailing list, but was advised that would crash the email system.  So he made the text available for download instead.  In this way he created Project Gutenberg.

I would love to have the statistics to prove it but I don’t.  With 56,000 publications Gutenberg must be one of the largest distributors of literature in history, and as it is FREE I would like to know if it is the largest distributor in history.  There were over 3 million downloads in only the last 30 days.

Michael Hart did not get rich.  Nor did he want to be.  He lived on the modest income of an adjunct lecturer and various gifts and donations.  He did not buy into the “money system” that is the root of American Capitalism.  He lived a simple and modest lifestyle.  He changed the world for millions of people.  That is a hero.

War on Poverty

Change.JPG

These days we are used to hearing the USA declare war on unbeatable opponents.  At this stage the USA has lost the War in Vietnam, lost the War on Drugs, lost the War on Terror etc etc etc.

There was a time, back in the 1960’s when the USA was motivated to declare a more positive kind of warfare.  In January 1964 President Lyndon. B. Johnson declared a war on poverty.

More properly it led to the passing of the Economic Opportunity Act.  This built on measures introduced in the “New Deal” by FDR and established many structures that remain in place even today.

Sadly the War on Poverty in the USA was lost.  The republicans got into power and steadily eroded the foundations of the US Welfare State.  Wealth has increasingly shifted into the hands of a smaller and smaller elite of the super-rich.

Happy societies are those that offer the greatest opportunities to the lowest of the low, to enable them and encourage them to rise and better themselves.  Capitalist societies are not designed to deliver widespread contentment.  They are focused on the exploitation of the masses for the gratification of the few.

Purely communist societies have largely failed because they are not able to compete economically with capitalist societies.

Managed economies, be they rooted in Fascism (eg Post War Spain), Socialism (eg Yugoslavia) or in tradition and religion (eg Saudi Arabia) are designed to protect a ruling elite at the expense of reform or progress.  While they can be initially decisive and dynamic they rapidly decline into stagnation.

The best societies are those with a centrist democratic political structure, representative government, rule of law and a market economy.  The very best societies are those with the most educated populations and the strongest female presence in senior industry and political roles.

 

To a Poor Old Woman; by William Carlos Williams

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

The Greek crisis exposes how the European Union has taken a wrong direction.

OXI

The European Union was founded on principles of social democracy.  Rooted in the Christian principles of “Rerum Novarum” the European experiment used to sit comfortably between the extreme worlds of US Capitalism and Russian Communism.  It offered a particular type of bargain, with protections for those at the bottom of society, and controls on rampant exploitation of people and workers.

In any politically led economic system we find politicians struggling to make sense of the complex interplay of economic factors.  A populist politician is unlikely to have a PhD in economics.  When politicians run into a capability gap they rely on specialist advisers.

Ideally these advisers should be free of vested interests, and should give dispassionate counsel.  At the most senior levels of the EU, and the respective national governments, we are seeing a different dynamic at play.

In the USA the nickname for the Treasury Dept in the Whitehouse is Government Sachs or the “Goldman Sachs” dept, referring to the large number of treasury secretaries from that investment house.  If you recruit stockbrokers to run government they create policies that favour the interests of big finance.  They push for lower corporate taxes, they cut welfare, government spending and reduce government regulation of industry.

These are exactly the forces we are seeing now in the European Union.  The post 2007 austerity programme was a philosophy designed by bankers for bankers.  For the average European the austerity programme has been a failure.   For bankers it has been an unqualified success.  The banking sector has recovered from near collapse, and the recovery has been paid for by ordinary citizens.

At last the Greeks have called time on the troika of the IMF, ECB and the European Commission.  Syriza was elected into power in Greece on an anti-austerity ticket.  That should have been a warning signal to the troika.  Instead of heeding the warning they blithely drove forward with their programme to steamroll the Greeks into paying banks back for bad loans.

The troika have tried and tried again to bully Tsipiras and his party into submission.  In response the Greek premier pulled out the most potent weapon in his arsenal “Democracy”.  He is resorting to the will of the people to gauge their support for his non-cooperation with the austerity agenda.

This does not sit at all well with the “Goldman Sachs” style banking & stockbroking mandarins who currently drive EU economic policy.  They are not accustomed to having their policies questioned even by politicians.  The concept of populist support is anathema to them.  They have no time for debt forgiveness or for wishy-washy neo-Keynesian economic policies.

The democratic prerogative should be no stranger to the politicians in the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. These are the people we have elected and appointed to guard the interests of the ordinary people of Europe.  These are the people who are failing.  They have given over too much power to the vested interests.

A thin understanding of economics is no excuse for the abrogation of responsibility that we see in the politicians in Europe.  The Greeks will speak on Sunday.  I expect them to come back with a resounding no, OXI!

Then we need to understand how we can help the economy at the bottom of our EU society.  This is Europe, not the USA.  This is about unification and inclusion, not about punishment and exclusion.

It is time to fix the EU model.

If you fancy an addition good read on this subject check out this link:  The Austerity Delusion

Downside risk

Irish politicians, and Irish business leaders, appear to have coasted through recession almost unscathed by the downturn. In contrast the “little people” have borne the downside of risks that they never took. The people who take the risks should suffer the losses. In a society where this is not happening something is fundamentally wrong.

Industrial and Military success have this in common. They both rely upon motivating large masses of front line troops to achieve goals which are mostly relevant only to a small clique at the top.

I am not talking here about Greek style citizen armies, where individuals volunteered to fight for the glory or defence of their Polis. I am talking about peasants fighting for Kings, poorly educated inner-city cannon fodder fighting to keep a politician in office for four more years. I recall when Somalia fell apart and a news crew interviewed a US soldier to ask if he was fighting to defend democracy. The news crew managed to find one of the few thinking grunts in the field. He snarled at the news crew that this war had nothing to do with democracy or freedom. “We are here to protect US commercial interests”. You could sense his frustration. His life was thrown on the line to protect the lifestyle of a few fat-cat tycoons safely curled up on loungers in their summer houses in the Hamptons.

But what has this to do with Industrial success? Richard Cantillon, the Franco-Irish economist coined the term Entrepreneur. He described it as someone who invests their working time and resources against an uncertain outcome. This is in contrast to a worker or employee who sells their labour for a fixed and certain outcome – a pay cheque.

An entrepreneur is risking a lot, and wants to see a healthy return. If all they can expect is to earn the same as a worker, why would they become an entrepreneur, and carry a downside risk? The upside for an entrepreneur MUST be greater than the upside for a worker. That is the basis of capitalism. It is also the reason why communism failed. Not enough risk takers could be bothered to take the risks in the communist system.

But here is where it all falls apart. If the King, or the General, wastefully throws troops into battle with no concern for their safety, they eventually turn their weapons in the other direction. If you want your soldiers to put their lives on the line for you, then you have to demonstrate that you are sharing their losses and their successes. You have to show that you have some skin in the game. Roman Senatorial candidates used to do this by showing off their battle scars on election day, demonstrating that they were prepared to put their own bodies on the line for the defense of the state. The Shakespeare play Coriolanus tells the story well!

In our modern industrial/commercial society, when do we see the battle scars of the CEOs? Do we see them suffer when things go wrong? Any good capitalist would say yes, of course, they are voted out of their jobs by shareholders, they go bankrupt! But do they really? How many times have you seen a CEO or Bank Chairman go to court on fraud charges, serve a token week in jail, and return five years later to a plumb job? How many former CEOs have you seen begging for change in the street?

OK, the skills that got them to the top are still there. They risk big, sometimes lose big, and rise again from the ashes and win big. And all the time the grunts are labouring away, many on minimum wage, under pressure to work longer and longer hours, to give up their personal time, for the good of the “company”.

The greatest success of the capitalist world in the last 50 years has been the near destruction of the trade union movement. As jobs have migrated from heavy industrial to white collar services in developed countries, the union structures have dematerialised. In many work places it is now frowned upon to be a union member. The US employers have used a carrot and stick approach to bring this culture in. The carrot is to offer most of the add on benefits that unions want as standard. Health insurance, reasonable basic pay, holidays etc etc. The stick is to demonise unions, identify them with the Mafia, label them as corrupt structures, refuse to recognise them, refuse to employ unionised staff.  50 years ago it was mandatory for entry level employees to join the union in many Irish companies.  Can you imagine going to a job interview today and asking the HR manager “which unions do you recognise”?

In the good times the carrot outweighs the stick. In recession the reverse is true. The fat cats at the top protect their positions, and the cannon fodder are slashed and burned out of the organisation, to populate welfare queues.

I am a capitalist. But there are levels of capitalism. I am not a fan of the US model. Ireland is slavishly following the US model, and we need to stop and think hard about this. The government spout out a lot about the need for the 12% corporate tax rate to attract multinationals, and having a job creation environment. But if that becomes a job exploitation environment, then we are fools. When the top 2% of earners take more and more of the earnings out of the economy, it is time to re-assess the direction of economic policy.

Equal societies are happy societies.  Capitalist models based on simple human respect are better than those founded on raw greed.  Maybe it is time to root out the Rerum Novarum papal encyclical which is a fundamental pillar that underpins economic structures in Germanic countries.  Maybe the Catholic church was good for something after all 🙂

LESSONS OF THE WAR; by Henry Reed

I. NAMING OF PARTS

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.