Monday, 22 July 2013

The Problem with Capitalism

Now folks, before we get started, I'm going to come right out and say it:  I am a capitalist.  I like capitalism.  Capitalism is a force for good in the world.

Of course, it doesn't currently have that reputation, and we'll come to that.  There are reasons - good reasons - for it.

See, now, a lot of people out there feel that capitalism is to blame for the world's woes.  They imagine that if the world were run on fairer principles - socialism being the main contender - then people would have a far better lot in life.

I disagree; socialism, by despising wealth, seeks not to create wealth but to destroy it.  Sure, it'd put everyone on an even footing - we'd all be in the most abject form of poverty.  Name a single Eastern Bloc country that fared well under socialism.  China has only started to thrive as its ruling elite embraced capitalism, albeit to a controlled extent.  And if Russia has suffered under capitalism (and nowhere near as much as it suffered under communism) then it is because they have the worst sort of nepotistic crony-capitalism.

But all of this is an argument for another day.  What I'd like to concentrate on here is why capitalism has such a bad rap here in the West, where we enjoy a far higher standard of living as a result of...well, it's not due to socialism.

Anyway - I read an article today that summed much of it up.  In brief, the article points out - quite rightly - that modern economics is based on the idea that the sole purpose of any business (and here they are referring to publicly floated companies, but the principles seem to be applied by most companies of every sort) is to maximise short-term profit.

Just that.  Short-term profit.  To take value from the customer and give it to the shareholder.  (I had a similar argument with one of my contemporaries during my university days, and it was like beating my head against the wall).  Nevermind that the customer might be so royally pissed off that he never buys from you again and tells everyone he knows to avoid you.  As long as you get that short-term profit, you're golden.  That these short-term profits are bad profits never once enters the equation.

This way of thinking is dinned into economics and business students all over the western world.  And the problem it creates is that that is how people see companies under capitalism - existing solely for short-term profit, with no morality or ethics applied.  It also means that, by focusing only on short-term profits, your long-term profitability is screwed.

Some people have realised this, and apply a more long-term view to their activities, with the result that, by creating a more touchy-feely aspect to their business, they (hope to, at least) increase their long-term profitability by not only winning new customers but also - and vitally - by retaining their old customers.  Sound business sense, of course - but clearly not practised anything like widely enough.

Steve Denning over at Forbes has expressed it far better than I can, so I shall wind up my spiel here.  I shall just leave you with a quote from Fred Reicheld, quoted in the linked article:

”Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored or coerced, then profits from that customer are bad. Bad profits come from unfair or misleading pricing. Bad profits arise when companies save money by delivering a lousy customer experience. Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value. When sales reps push overpriced or inappropriate products onto trusting customers, the reps are generating bad profits. When complex pricing schemes dupe customers into paying more than necessary to meet their needs, those pricing schemes are contributing to bad profits.”

Hurrah for common sense.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The NHS Organ Grab

What are the three largest employers in the world?

Well, there is the army of the People's Republic of China.  It serves a country that holds vast territory, has extensive borders and a population of a billion people.

Then there is the Indian National Railway.  Public transportation and infrastructure for a country that holds vast territory and has a population of a billion people.

Then in third place there is the NHS.  It looks after the health - supposedly - of a medium sized island nation with a population of around 62.7 million people at the time of writing.

There's something wrong with this picture, isn't there?

Don't get me wrong.  For all of my libertarian principles, I quite like the NHS.  Not for what it is, but for what it could be.

I have had to make use of their services on occasion.  I don't mind paying taxes for an efficient healthcare system that is free of charge at point of use.  The trouble is that the NHS is not efficient; if the money spent on management were instead to be spent on front line staff and material, then it could be much better than it is.

But what makes things worse is that politics has crept into our national healthcare provider, as well as complaisance.

Smokers face the greatest discrimination, followed by the obese.  If you are in either - or both - of these groups, then the NHS will look down its nose at you.  They may even refuse to treat you - and it won't be long before they refuse to treat any illness caused by smoking.  Smoker?  Need new lungs?  Forget it.

And this is part of what bothers me about the proposal to create a system whereby, upon your death, your organs will be harvested unless you have specifically opted-out of the scheme.

ya bastards
Keep the noise down, sir.  You're distracting the surgeon.
I appreciate that there is a shortage of donors.  I also appreciate that those who are vocal in their opposition will make sure that they opt-out.  I understand - I really do.

Things is, there are four very good reasons why I don't like this in the slightest.

Firstly, as I have said, if you are a smoker, there is a good chance that you will be turned down as an organ recipient.  As an organ donor, however, you will be acceptable;  Professor James Neuberger, associate medical director at NHS Blood and Organ Transplant has said on record that "...organs from people who smoked and drank regularly could also still be used despite their lifestyles."

So we could be faced with a system in which many of us could be considered fit to donate but not fit to receive.  Regardless of the fact that the annual tax revenue on tobacco is several times the annual NHS budget, your lifestyle choice makes you a second class citizen.

Secondly, as the linked article states in the headline, those who do not opt out will get preferential treatment. Quelle surprise, there, but it's the fundamental lack of respect for the wishes of those concerned that bothers me.

So, if your lifestyle is less than healthy, we'll take but we won't give.  And if you opt-out of giving, you are less likely to receive.

Thirdly, I have little confidence that those who opt-out will have their wishes respected.  Just what mechanism will be in place to ensure that, when a patient dies (especially if it's in A&E following an accident) that they won't automatically be turned into Soylent Green have their organs removed?  Wouldn't be the first time.

Finally, I really do not like the precedent it sets.  If your body is the property of the state when you die, then it doesn't take much for that to be extended to the state owning your body whilst you are alive.  And if that seems far-fetched, consider Stalinist Russia, modern day China, or even Britain at the beginning of the Twentieth Century; how many men were conscripted and sent to be shot, shelled and gassed in the trenches of the First World War?

It is hideously ironic that many people would embrace this sort of statist vassaldom as being progess.

Harvested from Anonymong.  Well, he didn't opt-out, did he?

Monday, 8 July 2013

'The Patriarchy' and Progressivist Ideology

Well, I heard something interesting the other day that got me thinking.  A rare event, admittedly, but it does happen.  These thoughts are not original, but they have, at least, occurred to me.

Now, the world is in many ways a sorry place, and people have been trying for millenia - with moderate success - to improve it.  In this day and age, people are determined to force change and improvement upon the world and its peoples, and drag it kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.

Trouble is, many of their well-intentioned efforts are either doomed to failure or are actively counter-productive.  This is nearly always due to an abject failure to analyse the root causes of a problem, instead focusing upon the superficial effects.  This in turn is frequently the result of adherence to a progressivist ideology that, by its very nature, cannot recognise those root causes as to do so would completely negate the fundamental beliefs of that ideology. Allow me to give an example, and a damnably poisonous one at that: Patriarchy Theory.

Patriarchy Theory insists that the world is ruled by men, and that women are forced to occupy a subordinate role in all matters.  And numerous examples can be cited for this - let us examine a couple of these:

Women Forbidden to Work

In a number of countries and cultures, women stay at home while the men go out to work and earn a living.  Times being what they are, many women also wish to go out to work, but in some countries - Afghanistan, for example - to do so is all but forbidden, and if a woman is married, her husband may refuse to permit it.

By what right does he permit or otherwise her going to work?  Patriarchy!  Men putting women down and holding them back, doubtless feeling threatened and afraid that they will be shown up as useless incompetent fools.  Bloody Patriarchy!

...except that might not be the story.  Or not the whole of it, certainly.

In many societies, Islamic ones in particular, a husband and father is the head of his household (outside of the home anyway - often once a couple walks into the house, his wife is in charge).  As such, there are obligations laid upon him which he must fulfill.  Foremost of these is that he must provide for his wife and children.

Now, let's say our husband and father is living in an Afghan town, and to house, feed and clothe himself, his wife and their - shall we say four? - children, he is working two jobs.  He has no choice in this - it is his duty as both a husband and father.

Of course, the obvious question is then 'why not allow his wife to go out to work, thus relieving him of the need for two jobs, so that he can work just one?'.

A good question.  A fine question.  The answer is so obvious - of course he should permit his wife to work. Duh!

Except, of course, that this isn't the West.  A man has a duty to support his family; to force his wife to work to provide for them as well is considered a sign that he is a failure as a husband, as a father and as a man.  It would be a badge of the deepest shame to him.

But this is a shallow reason.  There are others.

In most Islamic societies, if a woman is allowed by her husband to go out to work, it is not because he needs her to work, but because he doesn't need her to.  She may go and earn her own money - and it is just that.  Her money.  She is not required to share it with anyone and certainly not required to contribute to the family finances.  Indeed, to do so would be shameful.  Besides, it's her money.

Fine if you are clearly wealthy, if the kids have left home, all of that.  But in the situation of our chap working two jobs, he will be faced with the problem of the children - who will look after them when both parents are at work?  Friends, perhaps, or family - but the chances are it will cost money for them to be looked after.  And it won't be, cannot be, his wife who pays for it.  So he will have to work a third job simply to allow his wife to get a job of her own.

So clearly, the division of labour makes sense - one parent at work, the other taking care of the family at home.

Consider also, that when a country's economy is in poor shape, every job held by a woman for her own enrichment is taking a job from a man needing to provide for his family.

So we can begin to see why perhaps a husband might wish his wife to remain in the home, and why in some cultures the idea of women holding down jobs doesn't sit too well.

[ASIDE:  When did looking after your children become slavery?  When did going out to work for someone else become freedom?]

However, husbands forcing their wives to stay at home is far from the most egregious example of The Patriarchy (TM)...

Sex Selective Abortion

A nasty one, this.

There are a number of cultures around the world wherein it is considered far preferable to have a son than a daughter.  As a result, this has led to a situation in certain countries where many female foetuses are terminated, so that only sons shall be born.  This is widely known and rightly much deplored.

And why does this happen?  Patriarchy!  Who would want an inferior girl child when you could have a superior boy child?  It's The Patriarchy I tells ya!

...of course, there are underlying social and cultural causes for this.  One is the dowry system - once employed in Europe too - which involves the parents of the bride paying their prospective son-in-law a big lump of cash to take their daughter off their hands (this is not to be confused with Bride-Price, where the husband-to-be pays his prospective in-laws; which is applied varies between cultures).

Another cause is that, traditionally, a son will often remain in the parental home, and his wife will move in with him; between them, they will support his parents in their dotage.  A daughter, however, will leave the parental home to live with her husband and his parents, leaving her own folks all alone.  In more modern households, a son will move out, but will contribute a third of his income to his parents; a daughter is not so obliged.  Should she remain at home all her life, her parents will be culturally obliged to look after her.

So perhaps that dowry payment, hefty as it is, doesn't seem all that unreasonable - give the young man some money as he will henceforth have the obligation of her upkeep.

Of course, she could go out and work and send some of her earnings to her parents, if her husband is amenable, if cultural factors will allow it without apportioning shame - but when times are hard, she will again be taking a job that a man might need to support his family.

So - there are some reasons for sex-selective abortion.  They are not nice reasons, and I will not attempt to justify them - but they are the reasons, like it or not.

Alright Corvid - just what has this to do with Patriarchy Theory?

Patriarchy (TM) Theory

See, the problem with Patriarchy Theory and its ilk is that it is an ideology.  Almost a religion.  It has its own belief system, its own priestesses, its own canon, and it requires only absolute faith.  It cannot be disproved, but it can be asserted with impunity and with no evidence, because the only proof it requires is the belief in the mind of the adherent that it is so.  It is an article of faith.

It is also,quite simply, a conspiracy theory.  Tin-foil hat stuff. 

You see, those that believe in the Theory will cite it as both explanation and proof.  Why are women forced to stay at home in some cultures?  Because: Patriarchy.  Why are female foetuses aborted?  Because: Patriarchy.  Men hate women, and that's all there is to it.  Misogyny.  Patriarchy.  Phallocratic slavery.

Except, as we have - and only very briefly - discussed above, there are underlying reasons for these things.  And there are underlying reasons for those, in turn.

Appeals to Patriarchy Theory as an explanation willfully ignore the true facts of the matter; and if those facts, those underlying causes, are not addressed, then meaningful change cannot possibly be effected.  Why, then, does this theory ignore the true causes?

The answer is complex and very involved.  In part, it is because a neat, pat answer is so very attractive.  It is also because an examination of the true root causes is convoluted and difficult.  Another reason is that it becomes obvious that the blame cannot be laid solely at the feet of men.  Furthermore, because it claims that there is a conspiracy that is hidden, it cannot be disproved.

And, of course, ideologues are incapable of rational dissection of an issue.  That is why they are ideologues.

Were the actual explanation, the true reasons for the lack of change to be stated, the result, of course, would be a reduction in the emotional impact of how terrible these situations are.  A loss of enthusiasm amongst the faithful would invariably occur.  The shrill and strident cries for Equality (meaning equality of outcome, of course) would diminish, and the Cause would lose momentum.  And the ideologues would find themselves bereft of all meaning in their lives.

And the rabbit hole, as ever, goes deeper.

Cultural conditioning, combined with the prospect of additional duties and obligations, can make feminism an unappealing prospect for many women in some developing nations.  There is the danger that they would outright reject the feminist credo, thus rendering the movement irrelevant in those cultures.  Better, then, to avoid having the Cause explicitly rejected for specific reasons by failing to recognise or state those reasons.

And maybe, just maybe, the Cause doesn't want to hear the opposing view because the opposing view is right.

But wait - still deeper we go...

The ultimate truth as to why feminism - among many other progressivist causes and movements - frequently fail to truly examine the issues against which they campaign, why they fail to seek reasons as to why things have evolved the way they have, why they are doomed to failure - is because they want to fail.

Feminism, the Green movement, the Racial Equality movements - all employ a lot of people.  These are billion dollar industries.  A lot of people make a comfortable living, and a few get very rich indeed.  To achieve success would be to obviate the need for the organisations responsible.

A grievance industry without a grievance isn't an industry anymore.