Our economic selves; the real enemy?

A question for any reader: does the argument below [introductory paragraph] make sense to you – as proposition, obviously, not fully reasoned essay… 


Naomi Klein argues in her 2017 No is not enough—among other things— that the Trump presidency is ‘a naked corporate takeover’ of the democratic process; corporations are ‘doing what all top dogs do when they want something done right; they are doing it themselves.’ (And, we might add, doing unto others what they won’t do to themselves.) It follows then that if we are participants in said democratic process—and we are, even if we do not vote—then it is perhaps not a stretch to suggest that we are all complicit in the malaise of our times; the rise of the new neo-liberal populist democratic revival; a kind of folk fest for wanton exploitation of others on the altar of economic ascendancy. We have become Homo economicus [1] and this is our harvest. Our economic self has become our worst enemy.

[1] Homo economicus is the human reduced to an isolate, a competitive individual. This has occurred via a seduction regarding how we think about how to live.  In The Birth of Biopolitics, Foucault (2008, cited in Kagan, 2016) argues that our way of life has become something based on “the rules of competitive market capitalism; no longer rights, laws, ethical considerations, and kinship loyalties, but interest, investment, and competition”. In short, we have become a fundamentally economic entity; entrepreneurs of self.



Why a steady state economy might be a good thing

Economic growth – doesn’t it sound lovely? But is sustained, continual economic growth really possible?

Really, the whole to’ing and fro’ing over budgets needed for economic growth and austerity measures and just who is paying for it all has been about this fundamental question. It underpins all sorts of debates about not only Australia’s contentious 2014 budget but all those post global financial crisis budgets round the world. It’s a question that has spawned Wall Street protests and Hong Kong sit ins, devolution of power grids into small communal solar (or other renewable energy sources) generation of electricity in places such as  Wildpoldsried (pop. 2,600) in Germany and a Greek election of a left wing government. According to Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster,  2011, in What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism, the idea of continual economic growth teaches ‘that greed, exploitation of laborers, and competition (among people, businesses, countries) are not only acceptable but are actually good for society because they help to make our economy function “efficiently”’. What would happen if our economy stopped growing over a very long term – if our finances hit a particular level and then remained there; if there were no more line graphs shooting skywards? Would it be an end to efficient economic management? This is what is called a steady state economy, one where economic growth is no longer continual. Would this be the disaster many of the world’s treasurers predict? Would there be no more food, an end to development, terrible losses of jobs, stagnation and ruin, wars and famine? HavesHaveNots1 HavesHaveNots3 Probably not.  A steady state economy would (according to Investopedia, 2015) equal ‘an economy structured to balance growth with environmental integrity…’ [finding] ‘an equilibrium between production growth and population growth. The economy aims for the efficient use of natural resources, but also seeks fair distribution of the wealth generated from the development of those resources.’ Is economic growth in fact a myth? The reality is that most of us, over the past thirty or so years, have not actually experienced real economic growth – our finances haven’t actually improved. It’s a con. What’s actually happening is that a few peoples’ finances are improving (quite nicely, thank you very much) but many of the rest of us are actually getting relatively poorer. In fact, most of us are actually experiencing not only economic decline but we’re watching the world go to the crapper environmentally. The disparity between rich and poor has not merely grown internationally; it has also increased within nations.  Chrystia Freeland notes in her book, Plutocrats, The rise of the new global super rich (2012) that the average 1980 CEO in the US had a wage 42 times the average income in the country; by 2012, the multiple was 380. According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper there has been a 117% increase in wages for the wealthiest 1% of Brits (in real terms) since 1986, compared with an average wage increase of 47% for the rest of the population. The Poverty program estimated that, in 2011, 1 in 7 people in the European Union lived in poverty, while the ratio was 1 in 6 in the US. The problem with the steady state economy idea is that most people see that getting ‘the equilibrium between production growth and population growth’ would involve increased government interventions in the economy, and we have been trained not to like governments intervening. We have been tutored in accepting the hands-off, business-knows-best neo-liberalism most of us experience these days. I’ll leave a final observation on the big question to Greens Senator Adam Bandt (ABC, AM program, 2014). He says: ‘[Billionaires tell us] …the only way we can make ends meet in the country is if ordinary people pay more and people like Gina Rinehart herself pay less… The government’s revenue is decreasing and it’s threatening our ability to fund the services Australians expect. We’ve got two choices: we can either say people like Gina Rinehart ought to pay a fairer share, or we can start cutting back on health and on schools.’But it could work and at least one of the key ways of getting this equilibrium is likely to be popular with the hoi polloi: fairer tax rates… Do we want to cut back on health and education? Do we want to live on a permanently soiled planet? So, do we really need to keep growing financially – pursuing the false utopia of eternal economic growth? The answer is no.

CHARITY: good, bad or just ugly

This is a graph for literacy rates in India, so what is the connection? Isn’t charity mostly about a ‘haves and have nots’ world

I have to confess to reaching for the wallet (at least metaphorically) when I heard how bad the devastation caused by cyclone Pam has been in Vanuatu. And then I paused (mid click on the donate now button), as I’ve done any number of times with other disasters and the cries for help from charity organisations, and asked myself — Is this the way to go?

Any number of attendant questions popped into my head. Will my money (at least the majority of it) get there, how effective will the aid be, am I just being paternalistic, am I being diddled by charity and aid organisations that increasingly seem to operate like slick corporations?

Criticisms of aid and charity abound, even from among the charity/aid organisations themselves. World Vision’s Vanuatu representative Chloe Morrison says, in response to criticisms of aid and charity organisations’ lack of cohesion and effectiveness in Vanuatu, that ‘Organisations… don’t have a footprint, don’t have a relationship with communities, don’t have those government relationships and just arrive in a country… we’ve seen that in Vanuatu.’

The criticisms are also made in general terms. Charity, aid in general, targets symptoms, not causes… Charity may simply become a substitute for real justice… Charity may not provide the best solution to a problem. Charity simply appeases the well off — give money but do nothing real to change things. Charity replaces government actions to address corruption and systemic problems. Charities are inefficient. This last criticism is one we often hear; the urban mythmakers speak of vast sums soaked up by running costs, high salaries for management, and shoddy or inefficient practices. Personal friends who have worked as volunteers for X (a well-known charity) speak of monumental organisational lapses during the recent Victorian floods and the more recent cyclone disaster response in Rockhampton (hiring more cars than you have drivers for, visiting areas that have already been visited because no-one keeps records, flying in volunteers from far off ports when volunteers are available locally, for example)…

Is charity about finding real solutions? Take world poverty — is charitable giving merely a distraction from finding answers to income inequities or distribution problems? People donate a million T shirts to a country in Africa and impoverish the local tailors and home grown textile industries, or they give genetically altered plants to farmers in a small island community in Indonesia and watch local food crops perish.

There is a far more insidious damnation of charity; the idea that it, with its ostensibly humanitarian goals, has become a ‘big business’. In an article, Charity on the Rampage: The Business of Foreign Aid (1997), the writer speaks of ‘relief circuses’ in places like Rwanda: ‘The grotesque display of humanitarian agencies’ flags flapping alongside each other in eastern Zaire like so many corporate flags in some business park in Purchase, New York, or San Jose, California, realized there was more going on than the simple desire to help. The struggle to stamp out cholera, get the shelters built, and dig the pit latrines was simultaneously a struggle for market share.’ Did you know that you can now investigate the charitable qualities of any number of charities? Organisations such as Give Well (http://www.givewell.org/charities) and Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/) rate charities based on organisational efficiencies, transparency of financial reporting and fund raising and other characteristics. For example, here is Charity Navigator’s 2015 rating of the World Wildlife Fund [WWF]:

Financial Performance Metrics

  • Program Expenses (Percent of the charity’s total expenses spent on the programs and services it delivers) 73.2%
  • Administrative Expenses 6.7%
  • Fundraising Expenses 20.0%
  • Fundraising Efficiency $0.18 ($US)
  • Primary Revenue Growth 9.3%
  • Program Expenses Growth 5.1%
  • Working Capital Ratio (years) 1.35

Concerns such as these indicate that I am not the only one who thinks about the efficacy of my donation dollar. So, when I pause at the donate now button, do I stop? Do I decide not to give?

Here’s a story that also exercises what passes for my mind when the question of charity and giving arises. A man on a beach observed a girl, who, as the tide ebbed, began to throw starfish and small, stranded fish back into the sea. The girl scampered across the sand and valiantly strove to rescue as many as she could. But the tide was falling fast and some were missed. Some died. ‘You’ll never save them all,’ the man said to the girl. ‘It’s just part of nature, some are meant to die… why save only a few’ The girl grimaced. She’d obviously heard such words before; she simply carried on. The man, irritated, shrugged and walked away. Just before he vanished into the dunes, though, he heard a faint voice calling out, as if to the wind, ‘A few is better than none at all.’

Extract from ‘The beguiling sins of industrial capitalism’

Ch 2:  A Haves and Have Nots World

A much greater hunger

In 1800 the world’s population was about 1.36 billion. If we are to believe statistical analysis, most people lived, in income terms, relatively similar lives.  According to Gapminder statistical analysis (admittedly conjectural, given that data before 1900 is ‘highly uncertain’) the world’s poorest countries in 1800 (most of them in Africa) had average incomes around $US 340 (Cape Verde) to $US 800 (Mauritius) a year, while the world’s two richest nations were the United Kingdom ($US 2,717 per capita) and the Netherlands ($US 2,412). Both of these are of course in Western Europe. The US (the world’s third richest country) had an average income of $US 1913. These statistics (all dollar figures are adjusted for inflation to 2005 purchasing power figures)  indicate that a person in the poorest country (Cape Verde) is 7.99 times poorer – on average – than a person in the richest, the United Kingdom. A gap exists but it is not that statistically significant. Most of the world’s wealthier countries are in Europe. Japan has an average income of $US 1055, China’s average income is $US 986, Australia’s is lower at $671, while India’s is $US 563…

In 2010 (population just under 7 billion), a person in the world’s richest country (Qatar – ah, the joys of oil wealth) had an average income of $US 93,818, while a citizen of the Democratic Republic of The Congo, the world’s poorest country, had an average income of $US 387. As such, a citizen in the Congo is 242.42 times poorer than a citizen of Qatar (and 80.95 times poorer than an average citizen in the UK, where the average income in 2010 was $US 31,330). The gap between rich and poor, between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has become statistically significant. (See Gapminder’s interactive graph Wealth and Health of nations at http://www.gapminder.org/world/ for a visualisation of the statistical development of this haves and have nots world.)


F. Scott Fitzgerald was fascinated by the rich. Below is a paragraph from his 1925 short story, The Rich Boy.‘…Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. The only way I can describe young Anson Hunter is to approach him as if he were a foreigner and cling stubbornly to my point of view. If I accept his for a moment I am lost — I have nothing to show but a preposterous movie.’

Fitzgerald, F. S., (1925), The Rich Boy, retrieved from http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/fitzgerald/f_scott/short/chapter9.html

Interestingly, studies done by sociologists (see New Internationalist 459) seem to  accord with Fitzgerald’s idea that they are ‘different from you and me’.


National gaps

This disparity between rich and poor has not merely grown internationally; it has also increased within nations. Chrystia Freeland notes in her book, Plutocrats, The rise of the new global super rich (cited in the New Internationalist # 459, January February 2013, p. 23) that the average 1980 CEO in the US had a wage 42 times the average income in the country; by 2012, the multiple was 380. According to the UK’s Guardian (cited in the New Internationalist # 459, January February 2013, p. 23), there has been a 117% increase in wages for the wealthiest 1% of Brits (in real terms) since 1986, compared with an average wage increase of 47% for the rest of the population. The Poverty program [http://www.povertyprogram.com/statistics.php] estimated that, in 2011, 1 in 7 people in the European Union lived in poverty, while the ratio was 1 in 6 in the US.

One of the measures that can be used to assess equality of income distribution is the GINI coefficient. Multiplied by 100 it yields a figure which allows a ranking: the GINI index. The GINI index measures the extent to which the distribution of income or consumption expenditure among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution; countries are given a rating from zero (perfect income equality) to 100 (perfect inequality) [World Bank; http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI]. The Central Intelligence Agency publishes a ranking list of the GINI index which may be accessed at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html. China has relatively high levels of income distribution inequality, with a GINI index figure of 42.48 (2005) or 48.00 in 2009. (Figures are from, for 2005, Global Finance (see Global Finance; Wealth Distribution and Income Inequality by Country [http://www.gfmag.com/tools/global-database/economic-data/11944-wealth-distribution-income-inequality.html#axzz2LtZpdJtl] and from the CIA’s world fact book, for 2009.) The US GINI index, by comparison, was 45.00 (2007 – CIA figure), the United Kingdom’s was 34.00 in 2005 and Australia’s was 30.5 in 2006 (CIA figures). The GINI index lists Namibia as the world’s most unequal income distributor (70.7 in 2003) and Sweden as its most equitable (23.0 in 2005). In general GINI coefficient is larger when calculated before tax than when calculated after tax, indicating that the government has a role in most nations in income redistribution away from the very wealthy.

The world’s asset shares

The graph below indicates that the rich (liquid assets over $US 1 million) and super rich (assets over $US 50 million) possess about 83% of the world’s wealth. Those who are comfortably off have a little more than 14%, while the world’s poor get less than 3%. For an interesting alternative perspective on this wealth distribution, see  the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2011[https://infocus.credit-suisse.com/data/_product_documents/_shop/323525/2011_global_wealth_report.pdf] .


[Statistics supplied by New Internationalist 459, January – February 2013, p. 22. ]

Now let’s examine the population breakdown for these groups.


[Statistics supplied by New Internationalist 459, January – February 2013, p. 22. ]

SEE also Wealth Shares in 2011 by region, Credit Suisse Global wealth report, 2011, p. 9 and p. 14 {https://infocus.credit-suisse.com/data/_product_documents/_shop/323525/2011_global_wealth_report.pdf} ]

Less than 1 in a 100 people are super rich while only about 8 in 100 are rich. Nearly 70 in 100 people are less than comfortably off, according to these figures.

What are the consequences of these gaps, both internationally and nationally?

Here are some ‘facts and figures’; an examination of the consequences of a haves and have nots world.

Half the world’s population have total assets valued at less than $US 4,200. (Credit Suisse , Global Wealth Report, 2011, p. 9)

Half the world’s people own less than 1% of its wealth (op cit, p. 11)

At least 80% of the earth’s people live on less than $US 10 a day. (Global Issues, Poverty Facts and Stats, 2013 [http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats])

The World Hunger organisation estimates that around 925 million people went hungry in 2010. (World Hunger, 2012, 2012 World Hunger and Poverty facts and statistics  [http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm].)

A whole raft of ills

Apart from the obvious consequences…

Ch 5: Human nature — The hierarchy of needs

A bit from the chapter I’m writing:

Capitalism plays to what is most insidious in human ‘nature’: competitiveness, acquisitiveness, instant gratification, tribalism. It’s fundamental mandates, the profit motive; economies of scale; the price mechanism; inelasticity of demand… allow this game. The game derives from its character.

Capitalism is not programmed for altruism. It is, and this seems particularly true since about the early 1980s, programmed for individual growth as founded in the capitalist notions of industrial and national development. Why are industrial and national development not the same notion – but notions? Though once development was essentially focused on national industrial growth – a country’s or nation’s economic growth – that is no longer the case: industrial development is not the same as national development in a world of transnationals, global super rich elites, slippery or nebulous borders and deregulated markets.

Industrial capitalism promotes development of a type associated with the profit motive and economies of scale mantra. This mantra is now clearly divorced from the  idea that development is essentially national[istic]. Wolfgang Sachs (2013, cited in the New Internationalist, number 460, March 2013, pp. 22 and 23) notes that the desire  for development is accompanied (among other things) by what he labels ‘the time-honoured vices of greed and arrogance… hopes for the future are fixed on rich people’s patterns of production and consumption.’ This is why writers such as Chrystia Freeland (2012) speak of a class of internationally mobile plutocrats who see themselves as having more in common with other super rich people than their countrymen. Their country is that of their fellow rich, regardless of geography. They may have no immediate neighbours.

In 1928, Mohandas Gandhi had this to say of development: ‘God forbid that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom [the United Kingdom] is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.’ (Cited in a number of places, among them Why Gandhi Still Matters [http://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/gstillmatters.htm], How Much Should a Person Consume?: Environmentalism in India And the United States , both by Ramachandra Guha, and the New Internationalist #460.). Therein lies capitalism’s conundrum; that it gives so well to some, often quite a few, in the short and middle terms but seems only to take in the end.

Since Gandhi raised the subject, let’s consider India in terms of this conundrum. Let us put the British Raj (1857- 1948), that aspect of India most within Gandhi’s purview, on trial. Two key arguments can be made regarding the effects of the British Raj (arguably it came into being as an admission of guilt by the British government regarding the failure of the East India Company, which preceded the Raj):

1. That the British Raj, though not perfect, was a significant improvement after the British East India Company and that on balance India as a whole benefited from the Raj.

2. That the British Raj was essentially one of colonial exploitation, and was not, on balance, of benefit to the country.

Let’s weigh up the evidence:


The Indian Empire in 1909


Oxford University Press, 1909. Scanned and reduced from personal copy by Fowler&fowler  18:10, 5 August 2007 (UTC) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:British_Indian_Empire_1909_Imperial_Gazetteer_of_India.jpg

The White Man’s Burden

Take up the White Man’s burden
Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought…

Poem source: Modern History Sourcebook: http://www. fordham.edu/halsall/mod/kipling.asp

Historical note: Kipling wrote the poem  as a response to the United States takeover of the Philippines, following the Spanish-American war of 1898. The US paid Spain $20 million for the Philippine islands. Those figures being carried in the cartoon include the national characters of Uncle Sam (representing USA), John Bull (representing Britain), and Kaiser Wilhelm II (representing Germany).


Cartoon source: From William Henry Walker. Life magazine. USA. (1899, March 16). In http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_white_mans_burden.gif

John Stuart Mill on the difficulties of governing a foreign land

It is always under great difficulties, and very imperfectly, that a country can be governed by foreigners; even when there is no disparity, in habits and ideas, between the rulers and the ruled. Foreigners do not feel with the people. They cannot judge, by the light in which a thing appears to their own minds, or the manner in which it affects their feelings, how it will affect the feelings or appear to the minds of the subject population. What a native of the country, of average practical ability, knows as it were by instinct, they [foreigners] have to learn slowly, and after all imperfectly, by study and experience. The laws, the customs, the social relations, for which they have to legislate [make laws], instead of being familiar to them from childhood, are all strange to them. For most of their detailed knowledge they must depend on the information of natives; and it is difficult for them to know who to trust. They [foreigners] are feared, suspected, probably disliked by the population; seldom sought by them except for interested purposes; and they are prone to think the servilely submissive are the trustworthy. Their danger is of despising the natives; that of the natives is of disbelieving that anything the strangers do can be intended for their good.

Source: Considerations on Representative Government. 1861. In Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Education_Act_1835


Literacy rate in India, 1900 – 2010


Source: Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Literacy_India_1901_2011_Detail.png

Average Income in the United Kingdom and India; 1800 – 1920


Average income in United Kingdom $US

Average income in India









































 Source of statistics: Gapminder organisation (2010) http://www.gapminder.org/world/

The railways, 1870


Source: Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:India-rail-1870.png

Commentary on British rule in colonial India by Indian historian, Vinay Lal

For close to two hundred years, British rule in India was book-ended by famines1 –– ten million perished as hunger, anomie [instability in society caused by the erosion or abandonment of moral and social codes], loot, and confusion accompanied the British takeover of Bengal, and another three million were sacrificed to save the world from the peril of Nazism and Japanese militarism –– and in between epidemics, disease, war, and other famines took a massive toll of human life.  While life expectancy in Britain, most of Europe, and the United States increased significantly from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, in India it declined from 24.6 in 1871-81 to 20.1 in 1911-21, and on the eve of independence [in 1947] life expectancy was still less than 30.

Source: Lal V. (2011). Lal Salaam: A blog by Vinay Lal. Ours But To Do and Die: The Culture and Politics of Death in India http://vinaylal.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/ours-to-do-and-die-the-culture-and-politics-of-death-in-india/

(Vinay Lal is an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles).

1.  The book-end famines to which Lal refers are the 1769-71 Bengal famine and the great Bengal famine of 1943. The 1943 famine killed about 1.5 million from starvation and another 3.5 million through related illnesses and epidemics. This was made worse because of World War II, as the Japanese occupied nearby Burma and this put strain on resources.


    Whether all this is down to the sins of industrial capitalism is perhaps a long haul on a rope. But, given that capitalism was [in the 19th and early 20th centuries] and is [now] the dominant ideology at the heart of India’s experiences over this time period, it can be argued that the rope, however long, presents a connection.

The beguiling sins of Industrial Capitalism

Will it? Image is courtesy of Brandon Heath: http://www.flickr.com/photos/heathbrandon/with/2675489407/

It seems to me that Industrial Capitalism deserves a tome (popular in style and tone) cataloguing its beguiling sins. By Industrial Capitalism I mean that invidious, factory-based, technologically-innovative, profit-driven, labour-exploiting form which grew up in Europe (first in the United Kingdom) and later the USA, out of  various Industrial Revolutions.

And this catalogue of sins?

  •       The historical creation, or at least exacerbation, of a ‘Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’ world… (see www.gapminder.org/world on the Wealth and Health of nations) and of course the raft of ills – such as wholesale poverty, civil wars, famine, environmental degradation -that that division has helped spawn. The conditions that led to this revolution arising in Europe [Britain] first, rather than say China or perhaps India or the Middle East are historically interesting and contested in themselves. Is that part of the sinning?
  •       One of the leading ideas of Industrial Capitalism is Economies of scale (see almost any economics textbook). Consider the ramifications of the almost wholesale adoption of this principle [big is beautifully profitable]. In agriculture it has fermented the agribusinesses of the 20th century and all the attendant issues with diet (think of sugar for instance, grown here in Australia on large cane farms), or habitat destruction (think palm oil production in S.E. Asia), in business we have witnessed the multinationals that flaunt the rules of many a nation (paying less tax than any individual and often unleashing environmental mayhem [think Bhopal and Union Carbide and any number of other environmental fouls]), in politics we see the corporate lobbyists of big oil and energy companies pushing to utilise tar sands in environmentally sensitive areas… And so it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut would have it.
  •       The shifting of its habit of exploitation (wealth being amassed by the few) in space and time. Thus we note the misery of Europe’s and later the US’s industrial masses in the nineteenth century and then, with imperialism, the movement out into the New World, to Asia (note the demolition of India’s artisan class by trade with industrialising Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries) , to Africa, & to the Pacific Islands. Where are the world’s poorest and sickest now? In Africa, which was rushed for over the last part of the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries.

And why are Industrial Capitalism’s sins so beguiling? So enthralling?

  •       Because they play to what is most insidious in human ‘nature’: competitiveness, acquisitiveness, instant gratification, tribalism.
  •       The consumption model of 21st century, which sees hordes of lemming-like shoppers plunging into malls and ‘I want Meccas’ to buy the must-have talking duck wall plaque, or solar panel egg warmers, or a car that contains an extra shoe compartment – what does this speak of? Surely it must mutter of some kind of trance or spell. How else explain the handing over of hard-earned money for things we forget we bought the next day? We even forget the forgetting. Who needs these things in the face of mass starvation? Who wants to contribute to environmental decline?

It is true that Industrial Capitalism cannot be said to be the biological father of this entire catalogue of sins but I’d argue it’s closely related. Yes, we need a weighty, well-researched, contestability-aware, holistic text. A Das Kapital’s sins.  But it must be light, aware of its own flaws and potential for pomposity, proselytising and/or didacticism… and above all easy to read. Any takers?

Gapminder – what a great resource


Many an IDEAS FESTIVAL wants people to think about ‘the way we think, eat, move, build, care, communicate and share information’. Gapminder.org is a phenomenally useful site and resource, particularly for Years 9- 12, though with opportunities to be employed even in the upper primary Years.

Gapminder’s primary focus is on using statistics to explore developmental issues (and to perhaps debunk myths). This VERY USEFUL site contains interactive graphs related to development issues (via the Gapminder World tab), videos, downloads, notes and other resources for teachers. The interactive graphs [press PLAY] are particularly appealing and offer potential lessons in a number of subjects; they initially load a modern set of data but can be played (and paused) to run from 1809 to the present (or, in some cases, to some projected year in the near future). Statistics used to create graphs can also be reconsituted to display against a global map. The videos are also informative, with great potential to engender discussion. The site would perhaps work best with Year 9s and above but, with teacher assitance and judicous selection of what is used, the site offers pedagogical potential from Year 6 onwards. One glitch was found: tutorial videos such as ‘Learn to select indicators…’ would not load for the evaluator. The issue may be bandwidth or speed of connection.