Expat@Large

Someone’s Been Reading E@L’s Blog

Posted in economics by expatatlarge on October 24, 2011

In a courageous attempt to support E@L’s thesis from the other day, The Age newspaper from Melbourne, Australia, has chipped in with this disheartening article:

Households struggling to pay bills
Adele Horin
October 24, 2011

“More than 10 per cent of Australian households – or 850,000 – spend so much on rent or mortgage payments they have little left over to cover other bills, a study shows.”
Sigh

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Mind you:

“Mr Millard called for the removal of tax concessions that encouraged property speculation, for increased supply of public and social housing, and for rental assistance to be indexed to the cost of living.”

E@L made an attempt to purchase two apartments in Queensland with the goal of “flipping” one of them. These were short-term serviced apartments, though, not family housing. Anyway thanks to the flat market in Queensland, they failed to materialise and E@L received his deposits back (plus interest).

E@L

The Financial Lives Of The #OccupyEverywhere Demonstrators

Posted in economics, poets, rants by expatatlarge on October 22, 2011

I am not a card carrying member of that dismal science, Economics, in fact I received a stunningly inflated mark of 49% for my Economics exam in HSC (Year 12). Inflation, I knew what it was, but I didn’t know what it was, as in the current rate (it was about 15%). I was more the poetic type economist than the strictly scientific one. As No1 son pointed out a few years ago, almost every Nobel Prize winner for Economics has had his theory debunked not long after, so not sticking to the alleged science was probably the correct option, however it made me a failure in the eyes of the scientific examiners – sob, sob. Not.

But after reading an article by a bona fide Economic Scientist – here – damning “post modern” [sic], which is to say Keynesian, thinking, that is, the method of stimulating the economy by giving people money to spend that allegedly saved us from the Great Depression, I got to – look out everybody – thinking.

Quote:
Perhaps it does take someone from outside the economics profession to state the obvious. The stimulus packages that were applied across the world, failures each and every one of them, were applied in the name of Keynes. Why, then, did these stimulus packages not work?
Endquote.

There is no-one further from the Economics profession than E@L, so here goes.

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Is it true that people are saving and not spending? Or is that people have no money to spend? Except on the evil iPhone! (Not me, I’m off to buy a new Samsung phone, this one is three months old.) Many people are just frackin’ poor. Money goes on food on rent and servicing their enormous personal debt (and staples like cigarettes and alcohol). It was the easy money offered by credit cards that fueled the personal crises of many and then up comes new, free, money for the banks from the exorbitant interest rates these people struggle to pay. This is where their money goes, not into saving. (I know people in this situation.) And they’re not even reducing any of this debt as the interest rates keep slugging them back to max-out each month.

And so many have no jobs. Some can’t work thanks to work-induced debilitation, or from psychological problems (I know people in these situations – we all can’t be high-flying execs like E@L). Some just don’t have the appropriate skill-set, inclination, intelligence (it’s true), ability and personalities to work in offices, to wait tables, to flip burgers even (how many new McD’s required to soak up the unemployed?) . Much of the physical work in factories and dark satanic mills have gone – well not gone, but moved overseas. Skilled labour is under threat too. In Geelong (my home town in Victoria) the other week, almost every one I saw on the street was wearing the fluoro-yellow vest of a tradie. A tradesman. Brickies, carpenters, electricians, roofies, etc.. They were the brash, loud (violent too) men of an economy that’s not doing too bad despite having good unions that protect worker’s rights and incomes.

But look here, in Singapore and throughout the Middle-East as well,: who are doing all these tradie jobs? The economies may be coming back after the hit of 2008/9, but It is South-Asians – Indians and Sri-Lankans – Cambodians, Vietnamese and Chinese mainlanders who are sitting on the backs of tray-trucks, or waiting for them, squatting by the road-sides next to sky-scrapers-in-progress. These exploited, these wretched-looking, desperate men who clamber up the concrete and steel without qualm, are paid much less than the previously doing-well thank you Singaporeans builders. And many of those Singaporeans, forced out by cheaper labour, are now driving taxis (which explains their skills and attitude!) And the price of the hundreds of these cheaply inexpensively built apartments hasn’t dropped, but sky-rocketed.

Looking at the USA, it seems that low-skilled (nice pejorative term, I note – you know that show where supercilious managers struggle and fail to do the tasks of their “low-skilled” minions? Ha!) jobs went with the factories to Asia, South Asia, China and Africa. And those jobs that didn’t and can’t be automated go to low-paid immigrants, some illegal. And this is the corporations strategy to maximize their profits, it is not some scheme by Mexicans and others to overthrow that good ole white American frontier spirit.

Not to mention the chronic addiction to automation and robot-ization in many parts of what we used to call work. When flying QANTAS domestic, (when they are flying, and I won’t go into the domestic disputes caused by that Irish Ryan-Air twit who is trying to take apart and out-source our national airline) you do your own check-in, get your own boarding pass, put the tags on your own baggage and load it onto the conveyor belt. There is no-one there. The player pianos have taken over.

More about Player Piano

And with the unemployment benefits scheme cutting out after, what is it six months (Bill Clinton if I am not mistaken), people who remain unemployed just drop off the list and don’t get counted anymore.

Quote:
They’re shutting down the factory now,
Just when all the bills are due.
The fields are under lock and key
But the rain and sun shine through.”
Leonard Cohen: Coming Back To You
EndQuote.

Small farmers are forced off the land by mega-farms who undercut the prices so they can’t make a living. Monsanto makes the rest buy hybrid seeds that are sterile and seeds for next year must be purchased not taken form stored gain from last years crop.

To me it seems obvious. Corporations are squeezing for increased profit, as this means increased share prices and this is where the real money is to be had, in the financial world, in the stock exchanges. And as everyone in the #OccupyEverywhere campaigns is showing, the huge payouts to execs are just such a blatant rubbing of shit in of the faces the middle and lower classes, it is aggravating to the tipping point of the anger and frustration, such as they are now demonstrating. Demonstrations are not just for demonstrating against things, sometimes they are just demonstrating (showing) how people feel.

The way to may increase profits is to improve workers’ productivity, or to reduce the cost of labour. There is the Wal-Mart Way – just pay shit money. Of course the Waltons girls are now amongst the richest humans (if you can call them that) on earth. Productivity. Love it.

Another way to increase productivity is create ways for fewer workers do the same amount of production – shedding jobs. Automation etc.

Yet another way is make the employees work harder, duh, and increase their output, but after 30 years of this squeeze effort, can much more be done? Health issues, stress and injury, workers have to leave, can’t get new employment because of this history and because of my second comment and eventually slip off the employment radar… Pusjing the limits pushes people over the top.

Fourth way: go offshore, pay Asian workers a pittance – double the daily wages of the factory workers in Shenzen and your iPhones (and Samsungs) would cost $2 more (well, maybe $2 divided by the number of products they so productively produce per day). Plus there is the benefits of not paying corporate tax at home, not that the US corporate tax could go any lower (it is half what it was under Reagan, or close, I remember reading somewhere, The Economist?). And so now we hear stories of crippling injuries and horrendous hours of work and child labour coming out of Shenzen (not to mention that pollution that drifts over Hong Kong thanks to un-policed emission standards).

We choke, they die, you have Siri.

~~~~~~~~

Of course all of this is off the top my head, which is why I failed my Economics exam. However, I was (am) passionate, if not poetic, about the people affected by the decisions made by governments under the advice of economists whose theories are about to be blown away. By economists who have a fundamentally flawed view of how the world works.

More about The Financial Lives of the Poets

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I always of think of Economics in the terms of people, not of markets, not of institutions.

People are not no spending because have no money. In debt, unemployed and with an about to be repossessed house, what money? It seems much simpler to me than stimulus packages that rescue those financial people and ensure their huge payouts continue by making more and more people un- and underemployed, un- and underpaid.

An nice semi-socialist proposal – put staff and workers on the other side of the economic equation:

Capital income + employee income = revenue – cost of materials

“We might note that while employees and the community are left to the protection of the invisible hand, wealth is protected by the visible hand of government and corporations.”
Marjorie Kelly – The Divine Right Of Capital

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Ah, it’s not what I know, it’s what I feel.

E@L

[Shit, I think my revisions here have made my arguments even weaker and more confused – as if that were possible.]

Hit Man

Posted in books, economics by expatatlarge on September 5, 2011

Confessions of an Economic Hit ManConfessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How the world works. You knew this, but now it is written down. Similar theme to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.

View all my reviews

(and when I say “now” I mean 5 years ago.)

E@L

Tax Free!

Posted in American politics, economics, GOP, taxes by expatatlarge on May 19, 2011

So good I had to share. I hope all American Republicans (and their international cohorts and supporters) read, consider and inwardly digest (as my year 10 teacher used to say) the following…

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102 Things NOT To Do If You Hate Taxes

O, you’re a Republican that hates taxes? Well, since you do not like taxes or government, please kindly do the following.

1. Do not use Medicare.
2. Do not use Social Security
3. Do not become a member of the US military, who are paid with tax dollars.
4. Do not ask the National Guard to help you after a disaster.
5. Do not call 911 when you get hurt.
6. Do not call the police to stop intruders in your home.
7. Do not summon the fire department to save your burning home.
8. Do not drive on any paved road, highway, and interstate or drive on any bridge.
9. Do not use public restrooms.
10. Do not send your kids to public schools.
11. Do not put your trash out for city garbage collectors.
12. Do not live in areas with clean air.
13. Do not drink clean water.
14. Do not visit National Parks.
15. Do not visit public museums, zoos, and monuments.
16. Do not eat or use FDA inspected food and medicines.
17. Do not bring your kids to public playgrounds.
18. Do not walk or run on sidewalks.
19. Do not use public recreational facilities such as basketball and tennis courts.
20. Do not seek shelter facilities or food in soup kitchens when you are homeless and hungry.
etc, etc, etc…

The fact is, we pay for the lifestyle we expect. Without taxes, our lifestyles would be totally different and much harder. America would be a third world country. The less we pay, the less we get in return. Americans pay less taxes today since 1958 and is ranked 32nd out of 34 of the top tax paying countries. Chile and Mexico are 33rd and 34th. The Republicans are lying when they say that we pay the highest taxes in the world and are only attacking taxes to reward corporations and the wealthy and to weaken our infrastructure and way of life. So next time you object to paying taxes or fight to abolish taxes for corporations and the wealthy, keep this quote in mind…

“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

BY STEPHEN D. FOSTER JR. – MAY 18, 2011

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

stolen by

E@L

with a hat tip to Sav via FB.

Freedom Come, Freedom Go…

Posted in about to be kicked out of Singapore, economics, freedom, maids, Singapore, torture by expatatlarge on January 20, 2011

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Several snippets that highlight the contradiction that is the beloved Little Red Dot, i.e. Singapore.

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1: Singapore once again rates highly in the 2011 Heritage Foundation (and WSJ) Index of Economic Freedom. A close second behind Hong Kong, and just ahead of Australia,

[ Aside: Australia comes in 3rd presumably because the Huge Mining Coroprations of Australia recently showed the ease with which they could a) rip the guts out of the country, b) sell it to China and c) change any government that has the temerity to say, “Whoa, enough already, you greedy arseholes, what about letting the small companies have a go? Here’s a tax on your obscene profits (that’s money left over after all that needed to be spent has been spent) that will provide funding for a scheme that will guarantee truly fair competition for small exploration companies as opposed to the monopolies and cartels that you behemoths call capitalism.”

But I came here not to praise Australia, but to bury Singapore.]

An article in Asia Times Online deconstructs the Heritage’s methodology, and makes not just a few points about this so-called freedom. For a start they are talking specifically of economic freedom here.

This is not First Amendment friendly stuff. They examine how easy, for example, it is to run roughshod over worker’s rights, and sometimes, when they fall out of the trailer trucks that carry them to the construction site, workers themselves. Sorry I meant to say the “flexibility” of the workforce – flexible enough to bend over backward in order to get any job and to be hired and fired on a whim. Slavery would rate highly on this sort of index – oops, did someone mention how some domestic workers are treated here in Whip-a-poor?

According to the Heritage website, “Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.”

That roughly translates as work, consume, die peoples. When I was growing up in Oz, this was not was meant by freedom.

The blinkered simplification of a word like “freedom” without qualification, almost reminds me of the times that George H Bush used to come to the Asian Tiger economies sprouting talk of how free markets and free societies run hand in hand, or was it run with wolves in sheep’s clothing?… *cough* *cough* “hhhuuuurrrrrkkkk* Oops, sorry, choking on a bit of vomit there…

John Raulston Saul tore that simplistic truism of Bush Snr’s a new arsehole as I remember, in The Collapse Of Globalisation, a few years back.

Then some genuine irony, I mean a conundrum – Hong Kong which ranks #1 in the Economic Freedom Index, also rates extremely highly in freedom of speech and freedom of association, to the point of near anarchy! The exact opposite of what Singapore maintains is the essential political stance for its own economic success! How come?

According to Joe Studwell’s Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, it is not because of their political systems at all, but because the families that run them are slightly less corrupt and self-serving than the families that run the countries around them. (About 20 families run Asia. One family runs Singapore and takes in about 60% of its GDP.) It’s a lay-down misère (in Australia that means a certain win, not a certain loss) for business where to invest in Southeast Asia or lower China. Fascism or anarchism, it doesn’t make a difference if the ports are free and pay-offs are minimal.

Anyway, point of story, don’t confuse your freedoms…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2. In completely unrelated news about freedom (of speech and association), the leader of the Singapore’s main opposition party, The Singapore Democrats, Dr Chee Soon Juan, appeal has failed and has been fined $20,000 and given a 20 week jail term (again).

His crime?

Speaking to people.

Talking to people.

Out loud.

In Singapore.

Where you need a licence to talk (or write on a blog, See point #5, below).

Dr Chee is the guy who, in a previous period of incarceration (he’s in jail more than he’s out of it) was sprayed with cold water and made to stand in front of an air-conditioner. It’s not water-boarding but it’s not 100% pleasant either, even in Singapore’s constantly hot, muggy weather.

Of course that fact that this blatantly political result has gone through in a period leading up to what the ruling family party, the PAP, laughingly call an election, does not reveal anything about the judiciary in Singapore. Not one bit.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

3: Singaporeans are disappearing race(s). In a town that complains of too many foreigners (like me), the locals are not doing enough fucking to breed more locals. The birth rate of 1.16 is way below what is required to replace the population let alone grow it. At this rate Singapore will invert into its own belly button in 20-25 minutes, which is about the time it takes for a Singaporean to find his dick and put on a condom. According to the authorities, it is the Singaporean’s fault for not having babies. Too lazy to fuck.

Izzy, who camped at E@LGHQ for fortnight over New Years, put me onto a great quote from blogger Menwongth.

One of my friends, a born-and-bred white-collar Singaporean in her early thirties, married with no children and no intention of having them, commented that some species just don’t breed in captivity.

That’s not a hundred miles from the truth Gerald Giam (linked above) of the Worker’s Party, says; the falling birth is due to “too busy at work, cost of living too high, education system too stressful for children (and their parents), cannot find a place of their own to stay.” (My emphasis.)

It’s not increased competition from “foreign talent” (like me) but from cheap, unskilled workers for the service industry out of mainland China or skilled(ish) builders from the sub-continent who can be hired for up to a 1/3 lower salaries. The Singaporeans have to work longer, faster, cheaper in order to compete.

Too busy. No place for privacy, no time for sex, lah.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4: Domestic workers are overpaid. When the wages of slavery rise to the point that Singaporeans rebel, does this mean they are threatening to match the conditions of Hong Kong, where maids can earn more than double, up to about $S1,000 per month and, horror of horrors, they get a day off each week!

Not quite, but an easy solution strikes me. Maybe those Singaporeans who have been squeezed out of work by the foreign talent can drop their extortionate domestic helpers, and utilize the free time given by their own unemployment to wash their own dishes, do their own ironing, fall out their own windows and wipe the arses of their own incontinent aged parents (who themselves lost their employment as Kopitiam cleaning aunties due to foreign talent).

And the ladies might also find the opportunity to squeeze out more babies and rescue the country from irrelevance.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

5. The website where I read most of these stories , The Online Citizen (via Facebook actually) has been gazetted, whatever the fuck that means, to register as a political association, despite being merely a conduit for political news from a variety of sources.

This means, even though it is a loosely (dis)organized community blog, not an organisation, it has to conform to rules that apply to political parties, such a transparency in its leaders and funding and the banning of foreign sources.

The immensely wise and amusing Singapore blogger mr brown, himself once silenced by the Singapore media authorities, takes this latest news to ad ridiculum lengths by suggesting that even taxi-drivers should be gazetted.

[Singabloodypore, run by a former “foregn talent” from Scotland, is also on still top things in Singapore as well.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Enough for the moment. Bangkok work is quiet, hence the lengthy blogging. Time to go for a blowjob massage.

E@L

Bangkok – It’s Going To Hurt

Posted in Bangkok, economics, Thailand by expatatlarge on May 20, 2010

And while I rave on bout books and phones, Bangkok is burning. Bangkok, my home away from home away from home.

GoogleMaps

The Centralworld shopping mall that I used to visit every now and then has been torched and gutted and is danger of collapsing.

This is not good for Thailand’s Land Of Smiles image. The world is looking at Thailand as just another coup, reprisal, coup, reprisal third world country now. And ASEAN are sitting on their arse, too afraid to offer opinions.

E@L has an opinion, and while he always been a pacifist and a lover of law and order and the peaceful solutions, he is increasingly of the opinion that some jarhead should take the shot at Thaksin as soon as. Everyone knows that Thaksin is the puppet-master behind all this chaos.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And the trouble is spreading all across the country, even to Chang Mai where one of E@L’s colleagues lives.

E@L’s distributors in Bangkok say they are fine and continuing to work around those areas of town not affected, but according to the map above, that’s not the centre of town!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

E@L was supposed to be in Thailand at some stage in the last few weeks and of course, he has been postponing his trip, and then postponing again, and yet again, always thinking that things are about to be sorted. Well they’re not sorted. They’re a long way from being sorted.

Thailand and in particular Bangkok is in great danger of crashing as a tourist spot, not to mention a favored work destination for expats and it will put a halt to the 10 years of recovery that has been gaining momentum since the AEC of 1997/98. That’s going to hurt people, all the way along from hookers, market touts and tuk-tuk drivers to bankers, investors and businessmen.

E@L senses a tsunami of economic devastation on the way, and while he values people and their freedom above dollars or baht,… ooh dear, it’s going to hurt.

E@L

Smaller Is Beautifuller

Posted in beer, capitalism, economics, stuff I should shutup about, vegemite, work by expatatlarge on April 4, 2010

There was great show about the decline of British industry on BBC TV just a minute ago, but on their website they say something else was broadcast. Did I really see it? Did it makes a noise? It certainly did.

The final concept on the show, after all the gloom of walking through the empty shells of extinct (read gone overseas) industries, was ‘sustainable capitalism’, supposedly based on the lessons of nature!?

It ended with interviews with the managers of several small companies in West Wales (that hub of business innovation) which work towards the optimization of profit and the flexibility that offers, rather than trying to screw everybody tight in order to maximize profits, i.e. to become uber-rich through shares and fantastic bonuses while everyone else becomes unemployed. They say that this latter goal gives big companies no room to move and, it goes without saying (though I’ll say it), destroys familiar social standards.

How? One major culprit in this fragmentation, but by no means the only one, is the effects of the global labour pool, of which I too am a participant. Because of this traditional jobs and career paths fall away and the family unit is broken apart when the breadwinners have to move around continually to find work. Not to mention the boom in coolie Asian or East European labour (though I’ll mention it).

And then there is the destruction of the environment which is never factored in to these companies’ bottom-line equations, and the bringing on of the end of the world as we know it, resulting the bleak choking post-apocalyptic death of our grandchildren (if the No.1 son and GF ever get a move on).

No, it is not communism. It is common sense.

And it’s not new. Small IS beautiful.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It seems true to me anyway.

Until our uber-rich bonus-bloated aging CEO of the company that was my first expat posting stood to receive $35m in the deal, enough to fund his retirement home in the penthouse of the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, allowed it to be swallowed by the K-Mart of medical giants Philips, the first small(ish) company that I worked for was brilliant, apart from the traitorous CEO obviously. Everyone knew everybody (except the CEO); it was a casual Seattle-based environment; paperwork was minimal; unhelpful “management trainings” were eschewed; things got done through casual requests to the key people; employees stayed in their chosen roles for as long as they wished and therefore maintained a high level of expertise and then thy moved up if they wanted to, through their skill and experience and (for those who could find him) sucking up to the CEO.

Other companies called it “the farm” because of its laid-back attitude.

Everything in Philips was, by contrast, all glass and blue steel, formal and impersonal: they never knew what my skills actually were – REAL manager in an area I knew nothing about? no fucking way! – and the back-stabbing (including by the CEO) and politics was claustrophobic. The only benefit I gained from Philips was that I met some wonderful people, many of whom are still great friends, despite my move to Singapore.

But my current role in this small(er than Philips) Japanese company is much like I had in the farm. Apart from the games I play on my business card (I managed [ho! I must be a manager after all] to get away with claiming a bullshit “manager” role last time), nothing much happens formally except as one would expect within the structural anachronism of the Japanese company; paperwork is non-existent to minimal; they respect my actual skills and try to leverage them and I hope to have this low-stress job for as long as I want it (and the Yen eventually comes down). If my company goes under, it will be because it over-reaches itself in tough markets like Australia and the US, where Philips reigns due to its median-level pricing and the good technologies (all from one great [French Canadian] engineer, actually] that were inherited from my previous company.

It is in the lunge to get bigger that most smaller business fail.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Or maybe, in the interest of destroying the global labour market from within, I should go back home now, give up my low-stress job and my *immense* salary (no shares, no bonuses) and tax benefits so I can be marginally employed, watch the five channels of Australian free-to-air television, wash down my vegemite sandwiches with VB, pick fights in pubs and argue with the neighbours, in the great Aussie social tradition?

At least they speak English there (depending upon my choice of suburb).

E@L

India – Reality Check

Posted in books, economics, India, politics by expatatlarge on December 16, 2009

If you want to find out about the shaky lower storeys upon which India’s skyscraping supposed economic boom is built —

More about Listening to Grasshoppers.
Listening to Grasshoppers

Even if you don’t, it’s still a sobering (shocking even) look at how that sacred cow (ha ha) of Globalisation, the word ‘Democracy’, can hide a multitude of sins… and crimes.

The discussion in these essays, while specifically about how India’s various warring religions, sects and tribal/racial groups are able to commit atrocities and gloss them over afterwards with ‘an election’, thus soothing international concerns, speaks of lessons not learned that could be applicable pretty much everywhere in the developing world; don’t be corrupt, don’t hate those you falsely see as Others, don’t rape (gang-rape), pillage (historical sites) and burn (people), even if you can easily get away with these crimes against humanity, don’t think elections are the panacea they are promoted to be by the globalisation buffos.

Democracy = two lions and a lamb deciding what’s for dinner.

The lions have to be caged.

For example, despite (or because of) the alleged boom, the disparity of incomes in India has actually increased in recent years, and that is not only because of the obscenity of two of the world’s 10 richest men being Indian, are shooting the top level so high, but also because the poor really are getting poorer and less well fed.

They have less access to grains and cereals available than they had in the Second World War. As those lions of industry Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal dine on fine lamb cutlets in their private jets, “Forty seven per cent of India’s children below three suffer from malnutrition… an average family eats about one hundred kilograms less food in a year than it did in the early 1990s.” (Roy, p31.)

I’ve spoken about the Indian famine in Goa before, when million of tonnes of grain were in trains passing by the starving farmers who had grown it all, bound for the profitable markets of Europe and England. In the current situation, that grain is actually destined to feed livestock, which are more important than humans it seems.

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However, what are you going to replace democracy with? A benign dictatorship?

NNNNOOOOoooooooo…! Scary!

E@L

Accounting, For Tastes

Posted in economics, politics, stuff I should shutup about by expatatlarge on October 13, 2009

“I reclined on a sofa reading TGWKTHN for the last three hours, I am placing the piece in a place of honour (for pot-boilers)…” James Joyce. Well he said it about “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, so there’s obviously no accounting for taste, what?

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I just had to get up and come here to write this as a) I am sick of sitting on the sofa (recliner chair actually) and b) I had to pass on a bit from the book. This will not involve any spoilers (we all know Salander survived obviously or there wouldn’t be a third book!) but this is about a relatively minor sub-plot (or so it seems at the moment, who can tell?).

There’s this great little snippet about Erika Berger, who has left Millennium, and is now at the helm of some staid daily paper in Stockholm (known as S.M.P.) that need rejuvenation due to drastically falling revenues and circulation. It has been propped up and has maintained something like profitability by a continued and drawn out series of staff and wage cuts that have sapped the vitality of the paper and turned the journalists sour*, while the board members continue to reap their dividends and the shareholders hold their cyber fortunes. Sound familiar? She is being told by members of the board that more staff cuts are required… Instead of acquiescing, she rips them a new social democratic asshole!

“The board approved your measures [at cost-cutting], of course they did, because you guaranteed them a dividend each year. That’s what has to stop, and now.”

“So you’re suggesting in all seriousness that the board should decide to abolish dividends and bonuses. What makes you think the shareholders will agree to that?”

“I’m proposing a zero-profit operating budget this year… If the newspaper were stable and bringing in a tremendous profit, then pay out as much as you want in bonuses. But this is no time for you to be increasing your own bonus. I propose cutting all management salaries by half.”

“What you don’t understand is that our shareholders bought stock in the paper because they want to make money. That’s called capitalism. If you arrange that they’re going to lose money, then they won’t want to be shareholders any longer.” [Well duh, then they could sell their shares to some other sucker. Sorry. E@L]

“I’m not suggesting that they [the shareholders] should loose money, though it may come to that. Ownership implies responsibility. As you yourself have pointed out, capitalism is what matters here. S.M.P.‘s owner want to make a profit. But it is the market that decides whether you make a profit or take a loss. By your reasoning, you want the rules of capitalism to apply solely to the employees of S.M.P., while you and the shareholder will be exempt.” pg272.

All I could think about was the book, The Divine Right of Capital which, I believe – so therefore am probably wrong – argues for what they call “Economic Democracy”. Who said that the shareholder is the most important person in the company? Where did that come from? How has that become the last unassailable right in the world? Why did we allow The Shareholder to replace The King in such an all-powerful, all-hallowed role?

How do they suggest fixing this? Speaking of accounting (for tastes, remember?) – by placing the employees and the shareholders on the same side of the accounting equation. Just another little flip in the spreadsheet in order to a) give EQUALITY to workers and shareholders and b) to give them the FREEDOM OF SPEECH to have their say in running of the company that after all means much more to them, being often their sole source of income, than it does to those profit-hunting day-trading shareholders who’ll flip their “ownership” to someone else at the beep of margin-call. Hardly any loyalty or commitment there. The idea too, is to prevent the widespread and enormous corporate corruption that has been exposed recently – SHOCK HORROR – but which of course is part of the unspoken mainstay of the capitalist system, at least once the company gets to a certain level of capitalization, and usually shrugged over as just another way to make money.

It’s the “capitalism with responsibility” theme that is so important in the above quote. Corporatism and monopolisation and the inevitable exploitation that such one-sided power ushers in crush the meaning out of that phrase. No wonder people like me (and frequent commenter Mark), who have seen something of the world, balk at the damage done by the lack of freedom in the core of all unregulated free markets.

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* Which reminds me of what I was reading about in The Economist about the horrendous plague of suicides affecting French Telecom and about the tug between the demand for that overwhelming loyalty (something I never bought into at that crap-hole Philips where I worked for several years) modern companies seem to expect, and the worker’s awareness the company doesn’t give a flying fuck about the welfare of its employees when it comes to maxing up the Profit/Headcount Ratio (a genuine metric in Philips, I swear to Darwin) come dividend time. No wonder I was so cynical there. I spent half my time filling in forms about what I was doing, but nowhere on the forms was there a place where I could say that I had spent half my time filling in forms.

A more subtle problem lies in the mixed messages that companies send about loyalty and commitment. Many firms—particularly successful ones—demand extraordinary dedication from their employees. (Microsoft, according to an old joke, offers flexitime: “You can work any 18-hour shift that you want.”) Some provide perks that are intended to make the office feel like a second home. But companies also reserve the right to trim their workforce at the first sign of trouble. Most employees understand that their firms do not feel much responsibility to protect jobs. But they nevertheless find it wrenching to leave a post that has consumed so much of their lives

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Yes, indeed. And at the moment my previously wonderfully paperwork-free-zone company is going through a certification process due some clause about us importing medical products, even if only for demonstration, and so I spent most of today writing up my own job description, rather than doing anything that is actually ON that job description.

I was about to leap from the window with the panoramic view of the east end of Sentosa myself until I received a hint from boss-san: only put down stuff that you can actually prove with documentation… Well, that’s a lot easier! Nothing!

Plus it sounds a lot like a book I am currently reading…

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Speaking of Brand Loyalty, I will give this to Philips, they make crap TVs…

But if you used to work there, or if know someone who still works there, or even someone else who USED to work there, you can get cheap deals on the ex-display stock from their Tao Payao showroom. I’m picking up a 42″ LCD for SGD$600 to replace the old 42″ plasma (SGD$1300 three – or was it four? – years ago), which is starting to go on the blink again – only got a pure red colour first thing this morning. Not only is old one about to kark it, it doesn’t take digital signal. Might need that one day if I get a Blu-ray player. Or a game-console. When my shares dividends come in.

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Speaking of shares,etc – just want to let you know that the Hong Kong restaurant I invested in hasn’t returned a cracker in the last 18 months. I’m in it for the long haul. At least that what my investment advisor keeps telling me.

OK, enough rambling, time to get back to The Book.

E@L