The C-Word

In last week’s discussion with the Renegade Economist, Fred Harrison made a somewhat bizarre comment regarding monetary reform advocates:

Renegade Economist: People who believe in the need for monetary reform really are fixated on it. And many of them think there is some kind of grand conspiracy that allows the bankers and those who have money to control our society.

Interviewer: Is there?

RE: There isn’t; no there isn’t – other than that , within the rules of the game, there is a bias that favours a certain categoey of people against the interests of the majority. Now, that’s not a conspiracy – that’s written into the laws! So when people make statements about how they’re going to exploit the current crisis to their own advantage – well they’re not making any secret of the fact that yes, they have a lot of money and they are going to get even richer.

I: Because it’s in the rules?

RE: Because it’s in the rules.

He reaffirms this perspective towards the end of the interview when he is asked:

I: So the system’s working as it should work?

RE: It’s exactly as we’ve had it programmed and we’ve inherited it.

So, of course, the obvious questions that should arise are from this are: Who determines the ‘rules of the game’? Who writes ‘the laws’? and, Who ‘programmed’ the system? The Renegade Economist doesn’t seem to see the merits of discussing these issues:

Interviewer: There are alot of monetary reformers out there and alot of them (as you say) subscribe to huge conspiracy theories and we should do our best to try and put this to rest…

RE: Well, nothing is going to convince that community of people…

The reason that Tiberius finds this so odd is the Renegade Economist himself does not mind dabbling in an analysis which comes close ‘conspiracy theory’:

A century ago a group of influential economists calluded to manipulate the building blocks of Classical Economics. They had an ideological  agenda. The future that they shaped is our reality. […] Their mission was clear: to protect the vital interests of the privileged few but to do so they had to conceal the unique qualities of one of the Classical factors of production – land.

He doesn’t however use the dreaded ‘c-word’ and instead what the Renegade Economist tends to describe is some kind of systemic bias at work. As  Tiberius recently tried to explain with the aid of a packet of cornflakes, many of the problems that we face today are systemic. However, as he also tried to make clear in a subsequent post, this does not mean that conspiracies do not exists – indeed they are one of the mean by which many of these systemic biases function:

the current box we all live in was actually designed by the bigger flakes themselves:  not necessarily consciously in a ‘lets think of the best design to ensure our dominance’ fashion, but rather slowly and incrementally in more of a ‘this seems to work best for us’ way – though less ‘Blind Watchmaker’, more ‘Short-sighted Bastard’.

The problem is that ‘conspiracy theories’ are given a bum rap because they are generally seen to be over-simplistic and all-encompassing – and, indeed, some of them are. However it doesn’t follow from this that there are no conspiracies, nor that a ‘conspiracy theory’ cannot be the best explanation for the facts in some cases. Despite this, the ‘c-word’ is generally used as a pejorative term used to silence dissent and it seems that it’s therefore considered to be more ‘intellectually acceptable’ to promote what may be called a ‘systemic bias theory’.

The unfortunate result is that people tend to adopt an analysis that is either/or and fail to recognise that there is a dynamic interplay between these factors at work: systemic biases create conspiracies of interest, which in turn also cause further system biases, and so on.

To try and explain this it is best to look at the favoured metaphor of the ‘systemic bias’ purveyor: evolution by natural selection.

No one makes the Lion kill the Wildebeest – it is simply part of its nature to do so. The Lion’s ‘nature’ is a the sum of a biologically determined set of predispositions to its behaviour – all of which (so the theory goes) have at their root a genetic underpinning. These genes are selected for (and against) by an incremental and directionless process of which the Lion has no awareness and no control. Lions may cooperate with one another in achieving their tasks (hanging out in prides, hunting in teams, etc) but they have no idea why they are doing so, and this behaviour is simply a more complex example of this self-gene system at work in social animals – they are not ‘conspiring’ in any sense.

But this metaphor only works  so long as none of the agents become aware of their own interest and how the rules affect them.

Let’s look again at our Savannah setting should the lions become self-aware:

If  the Lions become self-conscious, then, in time, their own ‘Darwin Lion’ will develop a theory of natural selection, and their ‘Dawkins Lion’ will explain that the driving force of this evolutionary process is the individual genes make every living thing : Lions and Wildebeests included. Some Lions will be impressed by these facts, and one particularly enterprising feline may suggests they utilize these new understandings to try and develop more successful hunting strategies. An idea may be proposed: instead of always targetting the weaker Wildebeest young, the Lions make a pact to only hunt the stronger calves. They agree that all the punier Wildebeast will be allowed to live until they have reproduced (after which lunch!). A few generations later, thanks to these artificial selection policies,  there are would be a greater proportion of weaker Wildebeast in the herd and hunting would become easier.

The Lions would still be, in a sense, ‘trapped’ in the evolutionary system (they’d still have the desire to hunt/kill Wildebeast), but their awareness of it would  enabled them to agree (conspire) to forgoe the short-term advantages (which the selfish-genes thrives on), in favour of a greater long-term prospect. They would have therefore changed the mechanics of that system to their advantage.

In terms of our own ‘economic system’, Tiberius doesn’t think a group of people sat down and explicitly mapped out the best method possible to ensure the dominance of the few over the many. Instead, the system has developed incrementally (like natural selection) but deliberately (unlike natural selection), so what we have now is like an animal that has been selectively bred – sheep, cows, dogs, etc.

For example, noone set out to ‘make a Great Dane’ in the sense that they were working from a blueprint. Instead certain dogs were consciously chosen to breed in order to fix certain inheritable characteristics that were considered desirable – and this eventually led to a tall, funny-looking dog. Saying that our system is ‘inevitable’, or ‘conspiracy-neutral’, is a bit like arguing that the Great Dane is a ‘naturally-occuring’ animal.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendancy in modern humans to be very puritanical in their view of the world. In the case of the c-word, this means on the one hand, those that see a conspiracy in almost everything,  and those that failing to see even the most outrageous examples. This more complex reality needs to be as acknowledged as explicitly in the case of land reform as it does in monetary reform and, in his excellent book “Who Owns Britain“, Kevin Cahill spells this out clearly:

All these advantages were deliberately conferred on the already priviledged by a manipulation of the law which created the modern Land Registry…

Much more than a simple cover-up, it is an ongoing conspiracy even in an age when such a term is frequently and wilfully over-used.

This book is about that conspiracy and its consequences. [emphasis added]

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An Apple A Day: Fabian Takes A Byte Out Of Taxpayers

A quick totting up of Fabian Hamilton’s Additional Cost Allowance for the last four years reveals that it has cost the taxpayers of North East Leeds £14,000 to keep their MP well fed.

A number of months’ expenses forms are missing from today’s releases, so either Hamilton didn’t claim anything for May & June 2006 and between January-March 2007 (ha!) or we will have to wait to see if that tab goes up. However, of the forty-four expenses claims submitted, in only nine did he fail to claim the maximum food allowance of £400; even in May 2005, when he only claims from the 6th of the month (and therefore adjusts the claim for his mortgage, utility and rates claims accordingly) Fabian still managed to get his full portion of free grub.

Taxpayers may also be interested to know that they’ve paid over £3700 to keep Mr Hamilton clean for the last four years; over £1500 to paint and decorate his house; forked out £4400 on a new boiler and service heating system (presumably he’s not carrying enough taxpayer-subsidised calories to keep him warm) ; paid four grand for the installation of a new kitchen, £1250 on two new TVs plus £350 for two DVD players (Note to self: check Hamilton doesn’t have a conjoined twin – this may be real reason why he is eating for two); furnished his home with a £439 wardrobe, a £450 chest of draws, and an £800 bed; and upgraded his windows to the tune of two and a half grand.

Then there is June 2004 when Hamilton claimed £5363.87 for “renewal of bathroom & repair caused by leaks”, £681.50 for “replacement of rotten windows in bedroom”, and £159 for “new floor tiles” – but the form has been blacked out so it’s impossible to tell whether he has spent the last few years  living in a water-damaged hovel or not.

And this isn’t bringing up how anyone can possibly claim an ‘oversight’ when their mortage claims jump from £343 one month to £1062.53 the next.

So let’s swiftly move on to the “Communication Allowance”.

There are so many claims you’d be forgiven for thinking that Fab was running his own multimedia empire and Tiberius has not yet had the time to go through all of them. However, as pointed out  by recent commenter “Charcoal”, one thing that does stand out is the number of items and services being purchased from ‘Serif Systems’ and its related ‘Pi Internet’. These include an £810 “Canon HV 20 Video Camera”,  and a £468 “video podcast 1 year account”. There are two additional payments to PI for “Homebuild Starter Self-build Website” (£549.90) and “Website update of design” (£468.83).

Now admittedly, Hamilton does have quite a decent website, but nowhere does it offer a Ricky Gervais-esque ‘podcast’. Presumably the camera is used as part of the IContactFabian service, where constituents get to see Fabian online as he solves their problems, however this can easily be done for free using services such as Skype or MSN messenger. Are there really people in Leeds so desperate to see Fabian in super high-definition they’d be willing to fork out over a grand for the privilege!?

Anyway, a quick Google search of “Serif Systems” and”Fabian Hamilton” turns up this interesting piece of information from a 1997 article in The Lawyer:

However, Hamilton, in an argument which is likely to be mirrored when the prosecution comes to court, claimed in his High Court bid before Lord Justice Brooke and Justice Gage that the allegations against him are pure technicalities.

They include complaints over alleged failure to display the company name outside Serif Systems, a computer company of which Hamilton is joint owner,and failure to disclose his previous surname, Uziel-Hamilton, to company registration authorities. [Emphasis added]

Also worthy of note are Lord Justice Brooke’s comments at that time:

In dismissing Hamilton’s High Court bid to end the prosecution moves, Lord Justice Brooke said that Hamilton had already been the subject of adverse publicity over his business affairs, including the collapse of previous companies in which he was involved. One had gone into liquidation owing £106,000 and another was wound up with debts of £60,000. [Emphasis added]

“I guess it must be tough to keep a business going when you’re not getting taxpayer funded contracts through..”, Tiberius muses, apropos of nothing.

Onto the Incidental Expenses Provision/Staff Allowance, this is a 225 page beast and Tiberius doesn’t claim to have comprehensively covered it. However,  the first page indicates another payment to PI Internet – £1715.50 for various ADSL charges; p.32 shows some invoices from Serif for PC repairs; p.63: more payments to PI amounting to £500 plus for various internet services, and another £200+ on p.84; p.116: £141, this time to Serif for fixing some ‘syncing’ problems; p.120: £116.33 to PI for more online mailboxes (must be a popular guy); £88  to Serif to repair a ‘noisy fan’ on his iMac (p.156), and £52.88 for Anti-Virus software (p.161); and finally, a whopping £761.99 to Serif for two scanners plus warranties (p.204), and £1298.39 to PI for various broadband/ADSL services (p.208). There are another three years of IEP claims to go through, but Tiberius currently lacks the stomach for it.

Now, Tiberius isn’t saying that Mr Hamilton is still involved in any way with Serif Systems (the company of which he was formerly Managing Director) or with its affiliated Pi internet (and there is no mention of either of them on the Register of Interests on TWFY.com), he’s simply pointing out how sweet it is that Fabian keeps throwing so much business their way. 

 Finally, for those worrying that their MP isn’t hip enough, it may reassure you to know that your taxes have paid for his Macbook (£799) , Iphone (£283.99), an 8GB Ipod Nano (£135.13) – and there was Tiberius thinking that Fabian would hate apples.

See also: Fabian Vs Satire; Feed Your MP; From Gravy-Train To Bread-Line

Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 11:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Alive And Blogging

Well Tiberius has finally recovered from whatever it was that’s kept him virtually bedridden for the last week, and, for-better-or-worse, he is going to share some of the products of his high-temperature, ibuprofen-addled mind over the last few weeks.

Thursday -after reading Inflation, Deflation and Money on Cynicus Economicus.

“Isn’t part of the confusion many people have over money (at least in English-speaking world) due to the word itself? Not only is it is an abstraction (Money is not a thing – rather it is a relationship between things) it’s also an imprecise one.

In English, “Money” is a “noncount noun”  (like ‘bread’, or ‘water’) as opposed to a “count noun” (like ‘apples’). Because with a count noun the word itself specifies it’s own quantity, you can say “I’d like one apple…two apples…three apples…etc”, but with bread (and money) you have to be a little more precise . In the case of bread, we get around this by separating bread into a count noun “loaves” – but what do we do with ‘money’?

I think part of the problem is that our word is a singular when it should be a plural. Just as Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths, and Fuji are all examples of ‘apples’; shells, gold coins, and bank notes, are all examples of ‘monies’. In a fiat-economy, it is decreed that only one of these monies shall be deemed legitimate, but – like a country who makes a law saying “Only Granny Smiths are allowed- we then pluralise the one form of money that we use (like the inhabitants of that singularly-appled country saying then saying “I want apple” to mean “I want a Granny Smith”). The more you think about it, the less sense it makes.

The other curious thing is that in languages such as Italian their word for ‘money’ ( is plural and, hence, the word retains its count noun status. Could it be that the disaster of Anglo-Saxon banking comes from an overstretched abstraction and poor grammar?

Friday – After reading that Bill for Leeds councillors expenses tops the £2m mark in the YEP:

“While it’s good that Leeds City Council is trying to be more transparent, unless someone actually does something with the data they release what is the point? You can’t just drop a mess of councillor’s expenses figures on a newspaper that shuns analysis like  What we need is some number-crunching uber geek to actually relate these numbers to something – and this geek is currently ill!”

Saturday, after posting on a discussion on Charlotte Gore’s blog:

“What is it about the word ‘Libertarian’ that people think gives them carte-blanche to make up their own definitions for it. I’m happy to concede that the word ‘anarchy’ has managed to be degraded from meaning ‘a complex political system of independent yet co-operative parties’ to, well, ‘chaos’ – but at least people acknowledge that the word used to mean something else. With ‘libertarian’ you’d think Ron Paul himself coined the term.

Sunday – after watching a presentation by Joshue Klein on The Intelligence of Crows, on TED.com:

“Couldn’t we use this same principle here in Leeds to stop pigeons despoiling all our old buildings? Why doesn’t someone invent a Pigeon Toilet that rewards the little buggers for being a little more hygienic? Surely, if we can teach them to navigate bombs and play table-tennis (seriously), we can get them to crap in a more appropriate place?”

Note: Tiberius fever had yet to break at this point. He also came up with an idea of a ‘Rat Bath’ – about which no more shall be said.

Monday – after reading The American Empire Is Bankrupton Truthdig.com:

“I wonder how far those twenty four tins of chopped tomatoes from Lidl I’ve got stashed in the basement will get me if this country goes back to a barter economy…?”

Tuesday, after reading Five arrested over counterfeit £20 notes in Leeds in the YEP:

“Isn’t it funny how much of a fuss is made when some scally-wags from South-West Leeds make five thousand pounds worth of twenties, yet when the government start ‘legitimately’ printing money to the tune of , what? millions? Barely an eyebrow is raised in the mainstream press.  I wonder which, in the long run, will have a more devastating effect on this country’s economy?”

Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 1:29 am  Comments (2)  
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Councillors-In-Shock Shock

Astonishment at bus cutbacks plan:

Leeds City Council’s deputy leader today added his voice to criticism of proposed bus service cuts by transport giant First.

Coun Andrew Carter says he is “astonished” by First’s plan to axe nearly four per cent of the services it operates in West Yorkshire from the middle of next month.

“I told you this was going to happen over a month ago!” says Tiberius – wondering how much notice our councillors require to prevent them going into shock.

Still, to Carter’s credit, he does offer the following dazzling insights into Leeds’ transport problems:

Coun Carter (Con, Calverley and Farsley) said: “These changes are a major obstacle to any strategic attempt to get more people to use public transport.

“First are rapidly becoming part of the problem and not part of the solution.”

No kidding.

But, not to be outdone on stating the bleeding obvious, Coun Chris Greaves, chairman of Metro, says:

the company “seems fixated on increasing profit levels”, rather than helping the people who rely on its services.

“My God, it’s almost as though these companies have a legal compulsion to put their shareholders’ interests ahead of the general public’s!” screams Tiberius – worrying whether the next shocking revelation from LCC might be that Ronald McDonald isn’t concerned about the health of this city’s children.

Gloom-iere

Calls to tidy up mothballed Leeds Lumiere site:

The team behind mothballed skyscraper Lumiere have been issued with a deadline to tidy up the abandoned site or they could face enforcement action.

Work halted on the £220m scheme to build twin glass towers on Wellington Street around a year ago, then developer KW Linfoot Plc went into administration in February, sparking concerns it might be scrapped completely.

Co-developer Frasers Property took over responsibility for the scheme, but while other abandoned sites in the city have been temporarily transformed into green spaces, Lumiere – in a key city-centre location – has remained a blot on the urban landscape.

See Also: Dig For Community!; Denial – Not A River Through Leeds; The Maddening Truth – Pt II