What will we do with our world when this is over?

As my ageing mother said a couple of weeks ago, up until this you have not lived through any crisis. This is a woman who was not yet into double digits before the second world war ended.

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.

Rahm Emanuel

Having switched off a fair part of the economy, it’s a fair chance to ask the question “If we started with a blank sheet of paper, I don’t know, say about May 1979, would we design to get to where we are now?”

if it was meself that was going to Letterfrack, faith, I wouldn’t start from here

apocryphal Irish joke

Let’s take a look at what we have got in the UK compared to what we had. Way back when a young Ermine entered university around that time, inflation was way up in the sky. By the time I graduated,  the economy went titsup in a big way, and it took six months to find a job. I plied my trade in a small company making electronic gizmos. Britain was a different place then.

When we wanted castings for a piece of equipment, we were able to go a couple of miles down the road to meet up with the suppliers, they could point to the part of the design that would reduce the yield, tell us why and we got to change that. The people who wound the transformers for us were in walking distance.

In my next job, I travelled by train from SE London to Cannon Street Station. No city, other than perhaps Edinburgh presents a pretty face to the railway line, but I saw light engineering firms here and there from the railway line, amongst the council estates and blocks of flats. As the decades passed, billboards went up ‘you could be home by now’ as the factories were cleared to make way for estates of ‘executive’ homes. Funny how every bugger buying a new house wants to feel they are an executive, I’d imagine a real FTSE100 CEO wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those rabbit hutches.

I inherited this pump made in east London from my Dad, we still use it when making compost to get enough pressure from our water butts to run a sprayer.

They used to make pumps in London – yes, Romford is in London, not Essex

As the entertaining wingnut David Starkey related, today’s Britain is buggered if it can make shaped bits of plastic in any quantity, for that is largely what PPE is. Sic transit gloria for the erstwhile workshop of the world. I’m sure Mr Carter would have something to say about that, once he’s stopped spinning in his grave on his sintered bearings, still serviceable after six decades or more.

Starkey is surprisingly dirigiste for a wingnut. Perhaps he hates globalisation and its inhabitants of nowhere even more than furriners. Maybe here is a way to make a success of Brexit, with hyper-localisation, though I thought we had given industrial policy up with Thatcher in favour of Ricardian advantage and the invisible hand of market forces. Too much of a good thing can be wonderful and all that.

Maybe there is a turning point here. We could draw in our horns and make more stuff, indeed balance the economy, though I don’t think that we will have employment enough for the horny-handed New Tories of the North. But hopefully we could make shaped plastic quicker… We used to have big companies that made the raw materials, with grand sounding names like Imperial Chemical Industries.

Britain decided to maximize the amount of money we could make, by specialising in finance, and tossed an awful lot of the population’s dreams and expectations1 by the wayside. Now although I blame the borked state of the housing market squarely on Mrs T and her cursed Right to Buy sale of votes, clearly the world didn’t stay static over the intervening 40 years, so you can’t blame other pathologies of modern Britain on her. But it did set the direction of travel, a focus on the numbers and Ricardian advantage. Despite the bad rap she has for manufacturing, causal inspection of the share of GDP as manufacturing chart lower down shows that it was the Rt Hon Tony Blair who was in the wheelhouse when manufacturing got run out of town.

Our finest minds went into finance, and there’s some pretty damning critiques of the desperate lack of balance in the British economy from some of these. There’s the short form from ZXSpectrum on Monevator

The UK made a sort of Faustian bargain: low unemployment for high underemployment and low skill base. Taxpayers subsidize many corporates and SMEs, through low taxation and incentives, to provide rubbish jobs on low pay. These jobs should have been offshored to EM markets years ago. It’s unsustainable for UK workers to be paid 3-5x an EM worker for something where they offer no advantage. It’s also results in terrible productivity and low capex.

I’m clearly going to have to pay more tax after this crisis. I’d much prefer to pay people UBI so that they could stare at the ceiling, than see my tax used to subsidize Richard Branson, Mike Ashley or Phillip Green. Machine learning and AI is going to make many middle class people unemployed.

and the long form with knobs on from Tullet Prebon’s Tim Morgan

In the West, a small minority prospers, principally the CEOs of companies whose profits have surged, and bankers who gain from the expansion of the lending sector. On the other hand, the majority suffers, both because of declining wages and because of rising indebtedness.[…]

Our Tim ain’t feeling any more chipper about things now, here’s what he has to say about the much-vaunted V-shaped coronavirus recession that the markets are telling you do go buy into RIGHT NOW ‘cuz everything is up in the sky and going up. There’s an updated version of Tim’s growl H/T FI Warrior which makes the same sort of Limits To Growth angle. For the moment let’s set the LtG angle aside2. After all, I was still in short trousers when the Club of Rome said we were doomed in thirty years, and I am now within spitting distance of The Firm’s normal retirement age, after two decades of extra play.

However, it is clear that since 1980 we in Britain have designed a world of work that is a seriously shit experience for a lot of people after 40 years of TINA. In particular we shifted the UK economy to services, and created an awful lot of crap low-paid bottom end jobs, and a lot of middle-class bullshit jobs. The poor on zero-hours contracts can point to what the problem is with their service jobs. They aren’t reliable, and they aren’t enough to pay the rent, never mind a good life.

Many in the middle-class find their bullshit jobs eat their souls, though they pay OK. One of the problems of bullshit jobs is that they are like Universal Credit for the middle class without the DWP torture, they still lower productivity. Bullshit jobs produce services/goods that nobody wants or needs.

We have maximised money, but not meaning, and muddle along with misery for the many

It’s all very well to clap for our carers, but we will learn what our values are if we collectively stick our hands in our pockets and pay the poor bastards a living wage, and perhaps bring back bursaries so they don’t carry student debt. In general this crisis is highlighting that an awful lot of people who keep the wheels running for us are paid the minimum wage if they are lucky, and don’t have a minimum guaranteed hours if they are unlucky.

And, when we get to stand back a little bit from it all, we discover that an awful lot of better paid middle-class jobs are a bizarre combination of make-work and perverse incentives. F’rinstance, several years ago, we took a look at how some funding organisation was setting up a community project. The first rule of funding is that you have to fund the consultants who happen to be funded by the funders somehow, that advise you on how to use the funding, then how to get next year’s funding, how to fill in the innumerable forms to get the right ticks in the boxes so the funders feel good about the funding.

Personally, I’d pull the plug on the lot, including the National Lottery and all its good causes. There’s a lot to be said for the Hippocratic oath when it comes to fiddling with the lives of the poor. First do no harm. Betting on the horses or greyhounds in the 1960s was more honest than ‘it could be you’ but pretty definitely won’t be. I have some recollection that there was regulation of that but it appeared that the Tote established by Churchill was sold off3 to Betfred in 2008. Ain’t privatisation such a great thing, eh? I’m sure Betfred maximises the amount of money not ripped off from the punters and feeds it back to the sports. Not.

On a more collective level we end up with the deeply borked twisted mess that the DWP has become. They start with a buggered up premise from the get go, which is that work is the way out of poverty. No. It used to be, when the economy had a wide range of jobs for a wide range of talents, and we needed hod-carriers as well doctors. That was forty years ago, guys.

That’s just not true any more, because: globalisation. There are many people in the UK whose skills aren’t up to adding enough value, because it is cheaper to go to somewhere where the cost of living is cheaper and hire that function there – or build a factory to make it there and import the product.

Now there are lovely jobs and lousy jobs, and whaddya know, there are a lot more lousy jobs than lovely jobs. This was spotted 17 years ago, it’s not new. You can’t make a lovely life out of lousy jobs.

That is why they don’t make pumps in London any more – they make money in London, and making pumps is just too low value-add compared with making money.

That isn’t to say we make nothing in Britain any more – the added value of manufacturing has been sort of retained, even as the share of GDP has dropped like a stone

Share of GDP added by the manufacturing sector as percent of GDP
Added value of manufacturing, bn USD, probably slightly declining over time given 30 years of inflation probably make 500bn 2020’s US$ worth less than 300bn US$ in 1990

So what, many might say. After all, my Dad was notably hard of hearing by my age due to working in a glass bottling plant, and he was stone deaf by the time he cashed in his chips.

People may wax lyrical about the mining community spirits but it was still a pretty ghastly tough job. There’s not that much great about a lot of manufacturing jobs, because wrangling Stuff tends to be physical, noisy and hard work. The younger ermine thought I would have to leave the electronics industry due to getting asthma. That first company was probably not COSHH-compliant. The problem turned out to be that we would wash circuit boards in boiling Arklone with the instruction never fall to the floor in that room, because the vapour is heavier than air. I never had trouble with asthma4 since leaving that first job after a year, though soldering was still part of the electronics industry, and fume extraction was not a thing until a few more years. As a design engineer and then research engineer I didn’t do enough soldering for that to be an issue.

Many manufacturing jobs were bad for you, but an awful lot of modern service jobs are shit in a different way. At least many of the problems in manufacturing were soluble with PPE and automation, whereas many service jobs seem to gravitate towards low-end minimum wage zero hour contracts that you can’t live or die on. The micromanagement and metrics of some middle-class jobs lead to chronic stress and the associated strokes/heart attacks.

In Britain Thatcher inaugurated the practice of buying votes by raising house prices. This was achieved by destroying social housing, giving bungs to people who were too poor to buy a house. Credit was expanded massively with banks going into the home lending market. In 1989 a young Ermine as a single man stupidly bought a house on 3.5 times earnings. Apparently you can still do that oop North, but according to the ONS your average English first time buyer earns5 52k, saves one year’s earnings and spunks 237k on the house.

Over a couple of generations, that means a higher level of housing precarity, though house owners feel good about higher nominal values, and they increase inequality by favouring their own children with the loot when they die. Those not so blessed with ancestral wealth also take a hit from BTL landlords hoovering up starter homes, because homeowners are of the view that bricks and mortar = money tree. Present company excepted, that is…

One thing I have always thought would be a good way to eliminate a lot of what’s gone wrong with employment practices is to terminate all agencies and middlemen. If somebody pays you to pay someone else to do something then you are skimming, and should be run out of town. We did it to wholesalers of Stuff, let’s repeat the exercise to wholesalers of people. The Firm used to employ its cleaners directly. They saved money by outsourcing that, goodbye paid holiday and sick pay. Agency is a fancy name for gangmaster. Oddly enough digitalisation has greatly disintermediated buying and selling stuff, but has greatly intermediated employment with agencies and job-search platforms.

What could we do better?

We will have less Stuff. Probably fewer Services. It’s not all bad – you might get to see your kids more. Here are some things I would like to happen. I’m sticking with the UK here, we seem to want the world to get a larger place what with Brexit etc and I am nowhere near clever enough to fix anything wider, but I could probably match the current shower in charge of the UK in basic competence. Ain’tcha glad I’m not in charge. huh?

1) Destroy the low-cost leisure airline industry. Burn it, and encase the memory that it ever happened in glass and concrete, and bury it so deep nobody will ever find it for five thousand years.

Easyjet will resume domestic flights in mid June. There is absolutely no need for domestic flights in the UK ever. Britain is not that big – we aren’t Australia or the United States. I want to see EasyJet, Ryanair, the lot of them destroyed and the ground that low-cost airlines grew in salted and burned. If you have grandchildren, you don’t need low-cost airlines. Because: their world when they are your age.  Let’s quietly ignore the possibility that air travel got Europe into serious shit in March according to the ECDC. The original mistake wasn’t malicious – people weren’t to know then. However, after what happened, if you postulate air bridges – well, it pretty much sums up air travel all round. No externality is important enough to constrain the God Given right to cheap air travel. This is not about people starving like the Berlin Airlift, it’s about the right to fight for towels on a packed beach.

Zooming out, you will never electrify air travel. Sure, you might be able to do it technically in a couple of decades, but you have to plug the entire output of Sizewell B power station into a future electric 747 for an hour to achieve one long-haul flight. Even if you don’t give a shit about climate change or know for a fact it’s all a Deep State cabal, just how much nuclear waste to you want those grandchildren to have to deal with to keep up your flying habit? People used to have one annual family holiday to foreign parts. If we could make work less hateful, perhaps we might not need to run away from it so often. As for commuting by air…

Right, capt'n, where do I plug this sucker in? Photo Dave Croker, Geograph
Right, capt’n, where do I plug this sucker in? Photo Dave Croker, Geograph

I really hate the low cost airline industry. It fucks up our skies which is patently obvious now, it generates needless unholy rumble through most of the day and encroaching onto the nights, it ruins your kids’ future worlds,  it facilitates stag party twattishness, it makes places like Barcelona nd Amsterdam crap. It’s just gone too far. If coronavirus can kill it that is all to the good IMO. Less is more. It’s a proxy for the pathologies inherent in late stage capitalism. It just doesn’t know when to bloody well stop. More is not always better.

2) A four day week isn’t a bad idea, along the lines of making work less hateful

3) Do something about crap jobs. Automate the ones that aren’t worth doing, pay the ones that are worth doing a living wage.

4) String up anybody who even thinks “work is the way out of poverty”  – it hasn’t been for 40 years and it never will be. Talent that matches well paid work opportunities and luck are the route out of poverty, and neither are something you have overwhelming influence over. You can play a good hand well, but you can’t do anything with a weak hand, the opportunities just aren’t there. We have specialised too much.

5) Fix Universal Credit. Turn it into a universal basic income, or for all I care universal basic services. Or at least be honest and say we believe some people’s lives are worthless, we aren’t going to get involved, we don’t give a shit, and basically, kill ’em all. If we can pay Endemol to round up Iain Duncan Smith and have him live a month on UC that should be good for a laugh, too.

6) Destroy bullshit jobs. A Universal Income/Services would save the waste of human potential. And the trees. And reduce the pressure on the transport system.

6) Think about how we feel about poverty. If we collectively are chilled about it, there are enough dystopian way pointers on how to deal with it. If we aren’t, then finding some way of learning to live within our means will mean rationing of some things. Probably including air travel,  and probably including other popular lifestyle choices.

7) Reinstate previous generations’ controls on ownership and share of media6. There was an awful lot wrong with the media in the UK before Mrs T gave it to Murdoch, but I would suggest that while the cure eliminated the disease, the pathology metastasized into something worse. There was at least plurality in the previous disease.

Ain’tcha really glad I’m not in charge? Before I take too much heat for the air travel, note many people would have more time in an Ermine world, you can get to your Alpine skiing second, third, fourth holiday by Eurostar. I’m only coming for your second and up air travel holidays. We’ve probably got enough world for the air travel of the 1990s. But not the amount in 2020 BCV.

How about that Limits to Growth stuff?

It is possible that this second global financial crisis of the new Millennium is the result of systemic overreach as described by the Club of Rome. Let’s not beat about the bush here- the prognosis for FIRE is dire in this case. If you aren’t there you’re not getting there, and if you are there you may not stay there, and yes, that’s me too. The problem is an overhang of debt accumulated, this covered up the fact that global production hasn’t kept up with global population, and some of the limiting inputs to production are becoming exhausted. These are claims on future resources that will not be honoured because they just aren’t possible.

That narrative makes a lot of sense, but there are other stories playing out. For starters old men have been saying the world is going titsup ever since Roman times and probably before.

an alternative – Spenglerian decline

Secondly there is a power shift in play – the ascendancy of China and the East in general, which is a longer example of the cycles of the Imperial decline of the West. These were the European empires of Victorian times, of which the best know example was of course the British Empire, but I would also say that the American Empire is also into decline, the Project for a New American Century looks like a Spenglerian dream gone wrong.

Old men dreaming of past Imperial glories, back in the last century. Diddums. Now where have we heard that recently?

Trump and Brexit both express nostalgia for past exceptionalism, but this is not just a pathology of the Anglosphere, it’s writ across the Western world IMO.

Spengler’s – The Decline of the West was written a hundred years ago, and the narrative runs true to form, and it predates the Club of Rome by fifty years. Like Asimov in Foundation, Spengler did not predict a catastrophic fall, but a protracted decline. That’s pretty much what this looks like to me. Maybe the Chinese will fix air travel with small fusion nuclear reactors that won’t spew foul shit everywhere in the event of a crash. Maybe we will have five thousand years of darkness until the new Imperium rises. Hopefully humanity will have learned a thing or two across the interregnum.

We could make a better world, and for all I know this may be the impulse that makes us ask some tough questions about would we want to end up here if we started along the track that got us here. We could start with the question anybody contemplating FIRE asks themselves.

Is our current level and form of consumption the optimal way to live, or is there a better way to optimise our experience?

But I fear we will let the crisis go to waste. The desperate urge to get air travel going again is symbolic of the driving impulse for a snap back to how things were before. There’s all sorts of special interest pleading to get back to the status quo.

A lot of that is understandable – this has been a sudden stop for an awful lot of economic activity. But it isn’t unheard of for us to say ‘we want to see less of this sort of economic activity in future’, usually because it has undesirable outcomes, usually externalities, costs paid for by other people who often don’t get a say or a share of the economic advantages.

It won’t happen. The drive towards a snap back is strong, and the countervailing forces are weak and disorganised. Macchiavelli was right

“there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”

  1. The dreams include raising children, having jobs that you could plan a life on, being able to buy a house. The reason their dreams were tossed by the wayside is because they don’t have the aptitudes for high finance. That’s the problem with doing one thing overwhelmingly well, you tend to suck at other things. Specialisation is for insects 
  2. If you want to see how Limits to Growth is going now, take a look at the thirty years on update. It ain’t looking good. 
  3. Blair’s government should be charged with the original idea and doing all the groundwork for this, even though the next government actually pulled the trigger. New Labour was no friend of the statistically illiterate working classes, since t’was they who inaugurated the National Lottery to happen. 
  4. Curiously enough the OSHA doesn’t cite getting asthma as a side effect of CFCs, they reckon it causes you heart problems. You can get away with anything in your 20’s, eh 😉 OTOH the datasheet seems to say respiratory problems were possible. 
  5. I can’t work out if earns means individually or collectively, best not have kids in that house if collectively given what young children do for the household income, eh? 
  6. Goldsmith’s College have a longer form report on UK media shares/ownership  

36 thoughts on “What will we do with our world when this is over?”

  1. Executive homes, yep I call them lower management serf homes. The kind of people owners of company incentivise with a company car and job title that gives them just enough authority to bully the underlings into productivity.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having now read all of your post, I agree with the Ermine ‘Manifesto’ whole heartedly. I would add a couple more.

    1. Nationalise water and energy. (maybe telecoms, not sure about that one but make it a condition of any companies licences that they must provide ultra fast broadband to everyone)

    2. Invest massively in green energy infrastructure. Fill the north sea with wind turbines, every house to have solar panels, that kind of thing. Harvest more energy than we know what to do with. Sell the excess to the EU to generate income for the NHS and education. Use cheaper energy to revitalise high energy industries (make our own steel for example)

    3. Fix agriculture. (Cheap energy will help). Big #uck off biosphere type green houses.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Totally, completely, absolutely agree with you on air travel.

    I desperately hope all low cost airlines go bust and that air travel becomes hideously expensive, and therefore rare, due to both reduced competition and heavy taxation.

    I’m far from optimistic though.

    I try to reduce my own impact on the planet, though I accept I could do a lot better, in part due to a feeling of guilt that I am part of the generation that have royally screwed up the planet for younger generations. I then hear about all the younger people flying overseas for stag and hen weekends (an evening in the pub was fine in my day) and wonder why I bother. Then I look at my grandchildren in the age range 4 to 16 and remember why.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree also on Air Travel being curtailed. One downside of course is that the UK will be even more overcrowded when the weather is nice. In recent years at least the beer swilling peasantry has #ucked off abroad quite a bit.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. > UK will be even more overcrowded when the weather is nice

        There’s enough of this septic isle to get away from them though, particularly if you aren’t after the beach. And you will have three days off a week, plus the sun will be brighter with less high cloud from aircraft contrails. Which will also help with agriculture – the UK is warm enough but light limited due to the latitudes, we need all the light we can get.


    2. This obsession with air travel in the UK is bizarre. Aviation accounts for about 2.5% of CO2 emissions. Yet it allows millions of people to travel around the world going on holiday, conducting business, visiting friends and family, studying and so on. Meanwhile China is still adding gigawatts. According to The Economist “in January [2020] China had 135GW of coal-power capacity either permitted or under construction……That is equal to about half the total coal-power capacity in America”.
      In light of that the panic over planes looks wholly irrational and misdirected.


      1. It’s the noise, for me. As a child in the 1970s I recorded the spadgers in the garden, and every 15 mins I heard jet noise. Then they built CTY in London, and I had to yell at my mother as I pulled her out of there in 2015
        Every 2 mins there was a blasted plane going over. I hate this industry, and I want to see it destroyed, because it makes profit from misery. In Ipswich I used to be able to sleep in to 6am. The Stanstead started flying earlier, and later to 2 am. This bunch of antisocial shits can’t be destroyed fast enough, IMO.


  4. Another awsm rant, you’re on fire recently. I agree with all of it. Funny how the detractors of UBI say it isn’t economically feasible, yet millions have been born, lived and died for a couple of generations now with the social safety net without having to work. The rich can inherit and not need to work or meaningfully pay taxes either, so both categories could effectively be described as already funded by the state via forms of UBI we supposedly can’t afford.

    As for you ruling the UK, it would be nice and I’d vote for you for sure, but you’d never win when your opponents can just promise to persecute the most recent immigrants and anyone who looks too different to them and easily win most votes. (courtesy of the same people clapping for NHS workers now, even after having just voted in the govt. that wants gastarbeiter ones pay a forriner tax for their own healthcare)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > govt. that wants gastarbeiter ones pay a forriner tax for their own healthcare

      I’m sure on t’telly last night they were going to roll back on that with care and NHS workers. Let’s face it these are the guys we are putting in harm’s way, it seems a desperate absence of values to stiff them for their higher risk fo taking a bullet for the rest of us. However, I do take the lady who was the head of the nursing union’s point that more widely if people are paying their taxes and NI here in the UK then why are we asking them to pay more for the NHS?


    2. People say that UBI is unaffordable but usually it’s more ideological. Many people hate the idea that work isn’t compulsory. UBI is radical and evidence for it’s efficacy is debatable in regional experiments. It would be a seismic shake up to the employment market and require huge changes in our tax system.

      Totally hypothetically, however, let’s pay everyone of working age in the UK, around 30 million people, £175/week or £9.1k/annum, the same as the new state pension. That’s £18k/annum for a couple. That costs £273bn/annum.

      Cut the following tax reliefs:
      Income tax: PA, PSA, PDA (£107bn)
      Income tax: VCTs, EIS, SEIS (£1bn)
      Income tax: Pensions Allowance (£18bn)
      NI: Primary/secondary thresholds & Lower Profits limit (£56bn)
      NI. Employer NI relief for pensions (£25bn)
      NI: Employment allowance (£2bn)
      CGT: Entrepreneurs Relief (£3bn)
      CGT: Principal Private Residence relief (£28bn)
      IHT: Nil rate band & Business, Agricultural and Charities Relief(£24bn)
      VAT: Domestic/International Air transport exemption (£6bn)

      That’s about £270bn of tax reliefs gone which funds the UBI. Of course, in many cases, this will be just taking with one hand and giving it back with another. But if you are paying people £9k/annum UBI, some items like a PA or NI reliefs become unnecessary. Others are forms of redistribution.

      This is not to imply I agree with the cuts above (plus it’s way too simplistic) or even that UBI is the right way to go. Nonetheless, UBI is not impossible. It’s just a question of priorities.


      1. It is not just about the costs and affordability. What about the political ramifications? What the government gives (UBI) the government can take away. What conditions might be attached to receiving UBI? The opportunities for abuse are endless. Welfare payments are already hedged around with all sorts of arbitrary and often unreasonable conditions. Why would UBI be any different?


      2. > Why would UBI be any different?

        the U stands for universal, so by definition not means tested. The heroin addict on the street gets it, and so does the Queen. There may be some of the other things you cite wrong with UBI, but pettifogging conditionality is not one of them, by design.


  5. Agree wholeheartedly with you on the air travel. My house in Columbus, Ohio is right on the takeoff path from the airport and I’ve seriously enjoyed the clear skies overhead and reduced noise pollution. Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith that my fellow countrymen have learned anything positive from this experience. I expect we’ll be right back to where we were with flights soon enough 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well we were scheduled to cruise to Spain and Italy in April but that obviously didn’t happen. Planned to trundle through Heathrow on the way back but instead we contributed to the clear skies over Somerset. We only do one vacation a year so I am not that guilt-tripped about it. We know many cruise junkies who spend months at sea.
    Life has always been about vocational change. My maternal grandfather was a horse carter; my paternal one a stationary steam operator in a water pumping plant. My dad owned a small grocery store. Even my STEM career has to all intents and purposes been outsourced to the USA. Hard to say what my grandson will do, but I expect he’ll be repaying a lot of fiscal stimulus debt in his taxes.
    Life at home the past few months has shown us that a lot of stuff and experience we bought or did in the good old days of 2019 are really non-essential. We don’t need to eat in restaurants, shop in local brick and mortar stores, buy a lot of clothing or go to sporting events or live concerts. I wonder if the “new normal” will eschew all that.
    Add to that the fact that any sort of shopping requires a cloth mask and queueing up in front of the store, and I doubt many retail places will survive. I can’t wear the dam’ masks anyway; my glasses fog up and my hearing aids fall out.
    Many economists in Canada at least foresee a radical drop in all sorts of real estate pricing so leveraging yourself up the wazoo to buy a condo may not be the “money tree” it used to be. I guess we’ll see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > Life has always been about vocational change.

      There’s truth there – after all – the jobs I did
      kitchen porter – still need those
      test engineer for small electronics firm, I don’t think that happens at that level in the UK anymore
      BBC TV Special Facilities – probably gone
      BBC studio engineer – TV isn’t analogue any more and NLE editing has radically changed it. Probably exists but in some greatly different form and much less in-house
      BBC Designs Engineer – gone, department canned in 1993
      Research engineer – exists elsewhere but The Firm got out of that in the late 1990s
      IT, CATV etc – all changed or obsolete

      However, the problem we have in Britain is we specialised in finance. We make and allocate money, and manage risk. You need to be particularly clever and particularly clever in a specific and narrow way to add value there, and the pool of the population that is bright that way is an ever-decreasing proportion. We hide that in under-employing many people, and paying for make-work. Sure, we doe some other things, but our economy is much, much narrower now, as Starkey pointed out, we can’t even shape plastic at scale quickly.

      > Life at home the past few months has shown us that a lot of stuff and experience we bought or did in the good old days of 2019 are really non-essential

      Now ain’t that the way – but the proviso is you are in a paid-off home. Many aren’t, in which case life is getting dearer and they have less coming in. Life for me is getting cheaper, like it is for you, largely because many elective spends are not possible (that annual holiday 😉 ) or not overly attractive. Sure, I’m prepared to go shopping with face masks if that’s the rules, but I sure as hell don’t want to see them in anything recreational, I’d rather stay inside or do something solitary/close family. Imagine going to the theatre or being in a concert and everyone is in face masks, it’s not that great for the ambience. I can’t imagine how that works in a restaurant or a pub.

      That is going to reduce spend going forwards, and reduce the velocity of money more widely.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Agree with most of this.

    As a ~30 y.o. things feel subjectively about the same in terms of financial tightness as they were for me growing up – also raising 2 kids like my parents did. The thing that makes this somewhat troubling is that whilst my parents had a household income consistently well under £20k (into the mid-late 2000s), I earn over £60k. Even after inflation, that’s a pretty big difference.

    I can’t really complain – I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones that can still afford life choices that used to be taken for granted (multiple kids). But it’s a strange world where luxuries like flying got cheap but the relative basics (shelter especially) got so expensive. Seems like successive govts only remembered the second half of ‘panem et circenses’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > But it’s a strange world where luxuries like flying got cheap but the relative basics (shelter especially) got so expensive.

      This is the bit that does my nut in, how did we get this so wrong? And continue to make it worse. Some of the increased concentration of what we do and where we do it seems to be part of it, which is why so many have to live in London. But somewhere we seem to have prioritised to have over to be and the countable over the valuable.


      1. If air travel disappears then one of the reasons to live near London goes with it (it’s OK for northern monkies to travel hours for a flight but never acceptable for southern smoothies to do the same. So most flights are from London airports).

        Don’t get rid of the make work jobs as you can “pretend” to work from anywhere by t’internet.

        Perhaps eventually we can get back to a country that is more balanced.


  8. I haven’t traveled by air since 2015, for various reasons. Like reducing meat consumption it seems unthinkable but is not in fact all that dreadful. Great post ermine.


  9. I’d vote for you, Ermine!

    And when this is all over, I do hope people remember “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” and “now wash your hands (properly) please”. I’ve had the longest spell without a cold or “bug” during isolation. At the start of last winter I watched in despair people coughing and sneezing their way around all shops. Washing hands in public toilets appeared to be a quick trickle of water over the fingers, a wave under the hand dryer and a wet sticky exit door handle waiting for the next person!


  10. You keep talking about how “we” did this and did that as if somehow “we” had a completely free hand.

    But the decisions – made by hundreds, thousands, millions of different people – are all constrained by reality. One key bit of reality is that the end of the Cold War, the Chinese rejection of socialism, the Indian retreat from socialism, suddenly released billions of people to compete in labour markets.

    A second reality is that government planning of economies on the socialist model is, in all but short term emergencies, going to stink. (Hence the Chinese and Indian decisions.)

    It’s a common déformation professionnelle among scientists and engineers to think you can run a society as if you were designing a lab experiment or a new gizmo. Ho, you think, steel or electrons will do just what I want, why won’t people? Because they are people, of course. They and their interactions are infinitely more complicated and subtle than anything you or I ever worked on professionally.

    That’s why so much political talk is just wind and piss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > government planning of economies on the socialist model is, in all but short term emergencies, going to stink.

      True, but another reality is that capitalism has never learned what Enough looks like. This is how my mother’s south London house got to be overflown every two minutes, Ipswich was troubled by aircraft after midnight and before 6am once the military airfields had been cleared, rampant house price inflation and and pretty much most of the wider problems we have with the environment. Capitalism brooks no limits to growth unless forced upon it by regulation. Neither extreme pole can stand on their own


  11. Great, great post! As a manifesto I’m with you.

    > In particular we shifted the UK economy to services, and created an awful lot of crap low-paid bottom end jobs, and a lot of middle-class bullshit jobs. […] Bullshit jobs produce services/goods that nobody wants or needs.

    Whilst reading I was really missing examples of what you consider to be bullshit jobs. We got grant consultants a bit later on – what else?

    I’d put large parts of my profession into this category – we create software to replace people’s work, forcing them to take lower-paid bottom end jobs, or develop software to “help” people consume more through targeting.

    Yet perhaps I’m too harsh and they are improving productivity and (in the former case) getting rid of demeaning jobs nobody should still have to do?

    I don’t know which side you’d put them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Graeber’s polemic was the original definition of bullshit jobs, and he is more articulate. I’m not as hard line as him, I’ve mainly got it in for categories 4 and 5 –

      4 – box tickers, who use paperwork or gestures as a proxy for action, e.g., performance managers, in-house magazine journalists, leisure coordinators

      I’d put a lot of third sector jobs here – middle class jobs pretending to make the world a better place. The best thing that the National Lottery could do for the poor is to close down, though regulation to stop it’s demon clone spawn would also be needed. It sells empty dreams to people who can’t afford it – the Good Causes are sticking plaster, and have you noticed that a lot of Lottery Funding goes to middle-class interests. I ran a sharpened Ermine claw down the good causes website and Arts and Heritage sections are stuff that the poor aren’t always so passionate about, though at least £40bn has been loosened from their pockets presumably more than double that went to running the show and Camelot’s shareholders 😉

      5 – taskmasters, who manage—or create extra work for—those who don’t need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals

      I’d put in 5 both the rah-rah teambuilding cobblers and also the management consultancies that weak-willed ‘leaders’ hire to tell them what they are doing wrong. If someone in a company needs a management consultancy then their boss needs to sack them. However, I have been away from the workplace for 8 years, so I have been free of the ministrations of this sort of thing for a long time. In general though, people that claim to help other people think are on the wrong track and BS jobs.

      In your case the software replacing people is probably improving productivity, but targeting consumption is always extractive IMO.

      The Times critique “Graeber’s other types of bullshit jobs owe their existence to competition, government regulation, long supply chains, and the withering of inefficient companies—the same ingredients responsible for luxuries of advanced capitalism such as smartphones and year-round produce”

      exemplifies the problem. I do not think year round produce is A Good Thing at all – it is good for humans to live in sync with the natural cycles of the world around them and eat of the locality, freshly harvested – the McChance and Widdowson analysis that the mineral content of our food has been dropping ever since the Second World War is the other side of that coin. I am not sure that smartphones have improved the human lot either – it facilitates vile and abusive employment practices, noth in manufacturing, but also for the users. It is only the rich that can afford a digital detox – the smartphone is closer to Orwell’s boot stamping on a human face forever as far as control and surveillance go. Which isn’t to deny that many people find useful features in them, just that the shadow is long IMO


  12. I’m not even sure I should be commenting here – being about as far away from the UK as it’s possible to be without being in geostationary orbit but anyone who can relate to Heinlein and Asimov and critique LtG in the same post deserves a little encouragement…

    Personally, I’d hate not to be able to fly – it’s not like I can get a rowboat across to Australia and it saves a hell of a lot of time getting between Islands – no bridges and few motorways. Plus visiting rellies/friends in the UK (and vice versa) becomes very problematic. However the major competition for Air New Zealand for internal flights (JetStar – very similar to EasyJet and RyanAir)) has pulled out of the smaller regional airports so it may pull out of NZ entirely due to Covid-19 so you may be on the right track even down under.

    But yes, it’s a necessary evil and long haul is never a pleasant experience to boot!

    You have an interesting manifesto. But vote for you or Jacinda………..I wouldn’t rate your chances!

    BTW the whole LtG idea has been challenged very effectively over decades – and not just by Julian Simon and his wager with Ehrlich (https://www.wired.com/1997/02/the-doomslayer-2/) – or Lomborg and many others. Maybe the human race just keeps being lucky. Or maybe the optimists are right and the world is getting better…slowly and imperfectly.

    Anyone an ancestor of Teela Brown?


    1. I’ve got in in for low-cost airlines. I’ve not after strangling the Wright brothers at birth 😉 IMO up to the 1990s air travel was probably a net good. The capitalism can’t recognise the power of ‘enough’ issue is more salient with air travel because of the externalities.

      Jacinda’s not a bad option – I’d vote for her! I pinched the 4-day week from her 😉


    2. Don’t forget Machiavelli! and Tim Morgon….I would take issue with LtG analysis as the world just decided to hide the increasing costs of energy through financial gimmicks. Dr. Morgon lays out the case very well as it appears we as a species have much more faith in money than is warranted. We are currently awash in oil that costs 30.00 (US) a barrel , from an industry that needs 60.00 to produce it but is worth 120,000 in terms of energy value. Prosperity has been declining and will continue to do so, which is why Ermine can put these pieces of the puzzle together.

      It’s obvious we have enough energy to make changes to our lifestyle that can benefit the most people which includes UBI, but we also have mechanize farming so food production can be produced at the highest levels with the least labor. We also have to go nuclear so we can electrify our transport (rails not tesla) systems to benefit the most in society.

      Ole Ronnie and Margaret sold our governments to corporate interests, which still owns our governments as is obvious when the US bailed out the airlines, but not its citizens or the cities they live in….

      PS I was born in Kettering, Ohio a white flight suburb of Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright Brothers. I would not strangle them for the invention of flight, but I would for helping them found Oakwood, Ohio in 1913. Oakwood was founded so the Industrialists that owned all the factories in Dayton would not have to send their children to the schools inhabited by their factory workers*. This same model was used to form other suburb cities around Dayton so white children would not have to go to school with black ones.

      * The industrialists argued it was the Dayton flood of 1913 that drove the founding of Oakwood, but while Rahm Emanuel gets smeared with the disaster quote, the impulse has been around since time began.


  13. “This obsession with air travel in the UK is bizarre. Aviation accounts for about 2.5% of CO2 emissions. ”

    This BBC News article from last year goes into a bit more depth on the subject.


    It’s not just about CO2. Even if it was, the article demonstrates that the air travel percentage will get worse when/if predicted growth happens and as other factors reduce CO2 emissions elsewhere. Also, shorter journeys have a disproportionate impact so reducing (arguably unnecessary) intra-country air travel and relatively short-haul budget airline flights would be particularly beneficial.

    The cruise industry has a similar impact so I would shed no years over a big reduction there either.

    One of the defences of many environmentally unfriendly activities is that ” only accounts for x% of CO2″. The trouble is that you can apply that argument to many things and nothing gets better. The reality is we need to be looking for big reductions everywhere to make a contribution, especially in areas of “conspicuous consumption”. Examples include overseas stag/hen weekends, OTT weddings, multiple overseas holidays per year, big gas-guzzling cars, excessive food waste, very high levels of meat consumption, fast fashion, overheating houses whilst wearing light clothing and so on and so on.


  14. I do wonder if this will be a service sector version of 1980s de-industrialisation. A lot of these employers are not coming back any quicker than British Leyland or the NCB.

    Can we add a couple more to the manifesto?

    Clarify devolution: the UK parliament can pass a law making it clear that responding to international events (e.g., global pandemics) is NOT devolved from now on. Plus anything restricting our basic civil liberties – we’re close to having Police (or even Army?) roadblocks at the Scottish and Welsh borders and there seems nothing our Westminster representatives can do about it.

    Oh and taxing to the hilt the internet giants, plus Mastercard/Visa, if this is how pretty much everything will be bought from now on.


    1. “Clarify devolution: the UK parliament can pass a law making it clear that responding to international events (e.g., global pandemics) is NOT devolved from now on” Less devolution? Er…no thanks! What an alarming thought!


  15. UK plc is in terminal decline. British Steel, Jaguar Land Rover, and Rolls Royce will require government bail-outs. The knock on for their UK suppliers will be devastating. Even for the likes of the current golden boy, Renishaw plc, is not immune. That lot alone represents around 3% of GDP!

    As for restaurants, hotels and pubs, less said the better.


  16. My O level Physics (1963) informed me that very few people in the West were doing any work at all, almost all of it was being done by fossil fuels. Personally I know I’ve never done a stroke of work ever, and yet my income has often been in the £100,000+ p.a. bracket.

    All anyone needs in order to see just where this “thing” is going is to develop a quality very few seem to possess and that is self awareness, awareness of the self. Am I really the only person in the whole wide world not to be fooled by the nonsense that anyone, anywhere does any work when they go to work?

    As a schoolboy I made the observation that as the clockwork motor of my Meccano model ran down so the model went slower and slower until the model stopped. I used the observation to create an economic model. I call it my Meccano Economic Model. Back in the late 60’s my model pointed to total economic collapse in around 40 years i.e. the late 00’s. The point I’d like to make is that none of this stuff is at all difficult and that Economics is in fact literally child’s play. The only real problem is that most folk give up there being to a very powerful narrative which tells them that economics is very,very difficult and that when they go to work they really are working.

    Ermine. Do you rant for England or just at a Regional level down in the SW? Anyway a very enjoyable read.


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