Tuesday 23 February 2016

Episode 41: A message from beyond the grave

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my term of office as mayor, it’s that I have no idea what I’m doing. Fortunately, I’ve also learned that I’m not the only one. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only ones who do are the ones who’ve never tried. As for running an entire nation? Just look at the people running yours.
I have, however, been trying to find out.
You pay your taxes and the collectors give your money to the suits and they build roads and schools and hospitals. It was a simple formula that had worked for centuries. But, there were so many varieties of this plan. You encouraged people to pay people to make stuff so they had money to buy stuff then you taxed everyone to make money to build the stuff that no one wanted to build, like schools and roads and hospitals. You could then lend people more money to buy more stuff so more people are needed to make stuff so they can buy much more stuff and they also have to pay people to keep check of the people who borrow the money. Then you can turn a blind eye to the taxes from the people who make it all happen and more will come and pay more people to make more stuff and sell it around the world. But, you still need to build schools and hospitals and roads. This was free market economics and many argued that it was a perfect meritocracy because only the best makers would sell stuff and only the best debt-collectors would have money to lend.
The trouble here was, that for ages now nobody was buying much of anything and so they didn’t need to pay anyone to make anything and the suits had nobody left to tax. But, they still had to pay back all the loans they’d taken to build the schools and roads and hospitals because they’d never quite got the hang of making people pay their taxes and when they did, they had shared it amongst themselves to buy shiny cars from the Germans. The answer was clear, they borrowed money to pay the loans and keep the suits in suits and shiny German engineering. I was sure it was much more complicated than that but I was fucked if I could see how.
Then there was another way. On top of all the stuff people didn’t want to make, you took over making the stuff they did, sold it and made all the profit. Then shared it with the people. This was called Marxism and a few places had tried it with varying levels of failure. But why? Surely if you can run an entire country, making some washing machines and self-assembly furniture would be a doddle, right?
Then I stumbled on this guy called Jacques Fresco who had a totally different angle on the whole game. He has a vision which had been his life’s work and now he was pretty old so he must have worked out many of the kinks. He called it “The Venus project” and I was sold. It was a no-brainer. Of course, he was having some trouble selling it to anyone with a country at their disposal but I couldn’t see the down-side.
Eventually I got hold of Karaletsos, he’s an arrogant prick but he lectures at LSE so he must know his beans if he’s teaching my people how to count them.
“Listen, if you called to explain your nurturing tax-man strategy, you are wasting your time— and mine. I’m a very busy man.” He may be but he was intrigued enough to answer my call.
“No, on the contrary, Mr. Karaletsos. I’m looking for counsel.” I knew that appealing to his vanity would pique his interest and It did. “Your New Democracy chap proposed a more-of-the-same strategy but what do you think is the way to turn this country round?”
“More austerity? Bullshit! There is not an economist who is not on the Eurozone payroll who subscribes to this. This will only serve to degrade economic sovereignty in the peripheral Eurozone economies, ultimately resulting in a federal Europe.” I wouldn’t tire you with the exact content of his diatribe, even if I could remember half of it but it sounded pretty grim.
“So what can we do?” I asked.
“Nothing!” He left a pause that I could only fill with oh dear! “The more-of-the-same policy, as you put it, is just kneeling to the inevitable!”
He launched into a history lesson. “Adam Smith thought of macro-economics as a machine. Each action having an equal yet opposite reaction. Marx was one of the first to understand the political aspect of the science. He just got the language wrong. You see, economics is a language with laws as the grammar and tax as the lexicon. Marx thought that people would appreciate the common purpose and work as a community.”
“But they didn’t?”
“They didn’t. You see, people don’t want equality, they want better, so the language gets lost. Communism has to shout, louder and louder to be heard. Capitalism whispers. It lets you keep your money and your freedom but you do as you are told.”
“So tax is the language?”
“If I want to reduce the healthcare budget, I can ask you to give up smoking, that it’s bad for you. You ignore me! I use the law to ban smoking in public places and increase tax on cigarettes, you listen. Those who don’t, bridge the gap in my budget. A dialogue.”
“So what happened in Greece?”
“Well, Greeks don’t listen to anyone, they are always looking for what they want to hear and so many different, private dialogues began which confused the communication.” He laughed. “Here in Britain, you listen, you comply. We do not!”
I tried to ask for a solution but he was already back on a roll.
“Free market economics, Milton Freidman. Let the market alone to find its equilibrium, unencumbered by governmental bureaucracy. Survival of the fittest.”
“And if we were to take money out of the equation?” I asked. “It strikes me that there are plenty of iPads and houses. There is no shortage of them. But money, that is a problem. What if we did away with money?”
He huffed, “Please don’t be so naive! You are talking about barter. Have you not listened to anything? A state would lose its lexicon, there would be no dialogue.”
“No.” I contested. “A resource-based economy.”
He groaned and hung up.
I was sure there was something I was missing but no one could tell me what it was. The idea kept me awake half the night and I promised myself to get to the bottom of it as soon as I got the the office in the morning.
I was first to arrive at the town hall with Roni in tow. There was no ambiguity in the lexicon of the note pinned to my door. Roni threw up on her shoe, still holding the camera up to the door. I slumped against the opposite wall and slid down it without taking my eyes off it. I said Roni’s name as a question, she answered to confirm that were both seeing it. The clock on the wall tocked then seized, a moment on the rack.
I pulled out my phone, scrolled down the contacts to the police, stopped and scrolled on to my secretary. I started down the hall then went back to pull Roni along with me. I tapped the contact. The police could wait.
My secretary answered, perky and willing.
“I want to fly— I want tickets for my family. Today for London. As soon as possible!”
“And you, Sir?”
I dropped the phone to my waist, gripping it in both hands. I turned my head to confirm the truth still nailed to my office door. Roni was pacing back and forth, her phone to her ear, her lips moving. All I heard was my pulse thumping at my eardrums.
“No— not me, I’m staying.”


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Friday 19 February 2016

Would you like people to be nice to you?

So, it’s about 7.30 in the morning and I’m heading down the mountain for an 8am appointment. The twisty-turnys are a little petulant this morning due to a generous frosting of dew so I gingerly pilot the Vespa, making full use of my lane to soften the bends. Then in my mirror I spot a shiny white X5 BMW. Any closer and he’d need lube! Now, I’ve been on two wheels since I’ve been on two legs and I’m not about to be intimidated by four wheel drive. I keep my mind on the task of keeping both wheels pointing down. He’s itching to get past but the blind turns keep sending oncoming traffic that could easily give him reason to abort any overtaking manoeuvre right onto my day, my medical insurance and my Vespa’s pristine curves. I hold my ground. Then after the thirteenth bend (yes, I’ve counted them) he floors his Bavarian tractor, nearly clipping me with his fully-automated door mirror. He honks and gives me a mountza (an open hand thrust in the direction of the insultee, rather like the middle finger you may be more familiar with) through the back window. I sent it right back. About a kilo later I catch up with him at the lights where his tractor is stuck in a queue of traffic along with the proletariat. I slip in next to him and tap on the window. And this is where my morning lesson really begins. He’s a mousy looking guy, completely at odds with the brawn of his wheels, no bigger than my eldest pre-teen son. His son was in the back seat. I asked him what his problem was, I was pissed off and probably showing it. He lisps in riposte that I had the problem and I should have pulled over for him to pass. So this weaselly arse in designer gym clothes is telling me that his right of way is way more right than mine and I’ve got my toe on the centre stand ready to dismount and charge. The child in the back seat keeps me from venting profanity but I’m getting ugly. The lights go green and he makes off, still adamant in his righteous behaviour and I start doing the maths of ramming his SUV with my Vespa and fortunately make the right decision.

I relayed the story to a friend and he began to tell me about his Dad. Before his death he insisted on driving but did so at his own pace. He regularly acquired a tail of disgruntled motorists all in a hurry to be nowhere in particular. He told me that he kept this in mind when stuck in irritating road situations. Yeah! So the dick up my arse on the slippery winding road should have been more charitable to me! “No,” he said. I should have been more charitable to him.
Ok, So how many of you are buying this? I wasn’t.
He told me that if I had said sorry, but the road was pretty slippery and I was just trying to stay alive a little longer (without the irony that I’m projecting through the keyboard right now) he might just have seen me from behind the mist of all the problems of his morning. The anger would have been defused, the defences would have dropped and maybe an understanding achieved. Not to mention a valuable lesson for the son in the back seat (did I mention that I’m a teacher? No maybe not the best of times to bring that up). My mind went back to nearly ten years ago when I was involved in a near-miss on a cross junction. We rolled down our windows and I gave him a piece of my mind. He left and the car behind stopped in my path and the driver asked, “Would it have hurt so much to say sorry?” I still remember how humbled I felt.
We all want to live in a more understanding world where people consider others. We all want to feel that others see us yet we continue to vent our frustrations on those who have little to do with its cause. If we are going to turn these situations around, we need to disarm our opponents and open a window into the life which is so similar to theirs. Turn opponents into momentary friends. It’s easy to stay angry when you are met with anger and bile but difficult when met with understanding and charity. The guy in the Bavarian tractor would have passed this anger off onto someone else but he could just as easily have been given a pleasant surprise and the beginning of a whole new day.

I won’t be pulling aside to let an impatient schmuck pass, I will expect him to do what I always do on the twisty-turnys, hang back and wait for the straight. I won’t resist the urge to tap on the window of someone who has put me in danger. I will not desist from giving them a piece of my mind but I will invest in my environment by making sure that it is a better, more constructive mind that I share.

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY