Distributism: an alternative

It’s only natural as you get older to reflect, to look back on your past life. Not that I intend to beat myself up about all the mistakes I’ve made. It’s important to keep in mind that I’m alive now. The past has gone, and although it is useful to look back, it is equally relevant to realise that nothing can be changed. As for the future. Who knows? It would seem that I’m not far away from death. What happens after that is just speculation.

Looking back can be fun. In a minor way I’ve been rebellious. Deep inside me lurks an anarchist. I’m proud that my son appears to have taken up that mantle with much more enthusiasm than I mustered. True anarchy, for me, is a rejection of state government. Whatever politicians and their camp followers may say we don’t need most of the nationally-imposed rules and regulations. We certainly do not want half of the workers’ wages filched away in taxes and then largely misspent by inadequate people.

There are alternatives. At the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century Distributism gained adherents. A Catholic idea arising from the teachings of Pope Leo XIII. Property ownership was a fundamental right and the means of production should not be under State or laissez-faire capitalism. It advocated widespread property ownership that it is suggested could bring about a just social order.

Central to this approach was the belief that the self-employed were far more likely to cherish their work, and to look after land and property in which they had a direct interest.

It had much to commend it, which is probably why the ruling elite quashed it whenever it was suggested. It’s had, and still has many supporters.

The problem with our present capitalist system is that it encourages competition. That, of itself, is bad. Competition pits dog against dog – and when you do that one of the dog loses, sometimes it’s killed. So the winning dog gets stronger, partly because it has less competition. Eventually it has a monopoly or, at least, an arrangement with other big dogs in the neighbourhood. Big becomes powerful, and is rarely beautiful.

Our politicians still use competition as the excuse for selling off the state-owned utility companies. That’s a dangerous myth. The history of the privatisation of public utilities in Britain is one of dismal failure. There’s several reasons for this:

Poor Service
Private companies need to make a profit. They try to make as much money as they can whilst providing a minimum service. In public utilities they often, in effect, are the monopoly supplier. You only have one gas, water or electricity supply to your house. These companies must be used by you.

All privatised utilities have raised prices. More money for shareholders and the executives are able to pay themselves fortunes.

Try contacting one of these companies. That’s hard enough, listening to automatons, pushing buttons, trying to circumvent the system so you can speak to a real person, only to find they can only say what’s showing on the computer screen in front of them. It’s a fudge, a contempt. They are not accountable to you – just keep paying the bills, you have no alternative.

Working for these companies
Workers are paid less, some are even on zero hours contracts, allowing the employer to say they have a workforce but only paying workers when they wish, and at low rates of pay. Conditions for workers in privatised industries are now uncertain.

Getting these back
Now very difficult. The real expertise within these industries has been weakened. It means that UK Ltd is also weakened, we have lost the skills base and the years of experience and in return for short-term profits for a few people.
It never made sense to privatise everything. If it was decided that profit-making companies could operate more efficiently then why weren’t we allowed to share in this magic. Aty least retain a Golden Share and, importantly, overall control.

See: http://weownit.org.uk/privatisation

Let’s look at water
It is just one of the industries given away to private profiteers. In UK now of 23 water companies over half are foreign owned. We have sold off the family silver and gained little in return. In England and Wales every day 3.4 billion litres of water leaks from the system, almost a quarter of the entire supply. Yet shareholders were paid £1.5 billion in 2010-11 (Ofwat data obtained by the Guardian).

The effect of that is we now pay about £2 billion more a year – or around £80 per household – more than we should if the water and sewerage supply was publicly owned.

You could justify that if the money stayed here, and was invested in better services. It doesn’t. Too much goes abroad.

About a third of the money spent on water bills goes to banks and investors as interest and dividends.

Six companies are avoiding millions in tax by routing profits through tax havens, using a regulatory loophole the government has chosen to keep open.

The CEOs of the 19 water companies were paid almost £10 million in salaries and other bonuses in 2012.

Some of these companies (such as Thames Water) are facing financial difficulty, because they use debt  to finance themselves in a way that minimises corporation tax and maximises the return to shareholders. (‘Money down the drain: Getting a better deal for consumers from the water industry’, Centre Forum, July 2013.)  

Research shows that water privatisation is not more efficient than public provision, and it tends to mean higher prices for consumers and/or underinvestment. ‘The evidence from France and England further supports the presumption that private companies can and will find ways of driving up prices, and/or underinvesting, to obtain monopoly profits, including corruption.’ (‘Water Privatisation’, Public Services International Research Unit, April 2008.)

The Alternatives
Scottish Water is a publicly owned company providing water in Scotland. Since 2002, the company has invested £5.5 billion and improved nearly 5000 miles of water pipes. Over the last 9 years, leakage has been reduced by over 44%. This compares to a 5% reduction in leaks in England and Wales over the past 13 years. The average household charge was the lowest in the UK in 2012/13 at £324 or less than £1 a day. This is £52 less than the average in England and Wales and has remained the same for the fourth year running.

Privatisation does not help you or me.

Felixstowe Update

What can I say?

Our town seems to fall deeper into a mire. Not that it hasn’t encouraged visitors during the summer. There were any number of great events along the promenade, not least Art on the Prom, all of which attracted great numbers of people. Money came into the town. Visitors came because of the events, but saw little else.

The Felixstowe Gardens scheme has fallen foul wrapped up in contractual string. Presumably they will be unravelled but the plans show that no imagination has appeared. It looks like much more of the same, and the space next to the Town Hall seems to be reusing the tatty mock-rocks that were already in place, but they have not employed the skills of dry-stone wall builders. A good downpour and it may be well make its way towards the sea front.

At the same time the Fludyers Hotel reopened, and the Yeo empire opened a new facility at the port observation area. This is just a temporary portacabin style of building, there is promise of a bigger better building coming later. Whether that depends upon the extension of the port facilities, which are to be extended to take the largest vessels now being built or the continuance of Felixstowe as an international port will attract enough ships to justify this facility remains unknown. The new port serving London at Tilbury will open soon, and bring the first real competition to Felixstowe. We shall see.

It is ironic that Felixstowe is owned by Hutchison Whampoa, an Hong Kong company that owns 17 ports around the world and much more. Will they decide that Felixstowe is not worth the effort, and what happens then. We have made no real attempts to create alternative businesses in the area. Everything revolves around the port. No profit really remains in this country, and effectively nothing remains in Felixstowe. The port workers tend not to live in the town, but commute in daily, or have offices located elsewhere. Its competitor in London comes with money from the Middle East. The irony comes from foreign investors seeing that there are opportunities in England, that means our workers are slowly becoming wage slaves.

I can’t begin to talk about the Spa Pavilion – it is much too painful.

At the southern shore of Felixstowe the council owns 17 acres of land. Now described as a prime coastal position it was once known as a flood plain. That little obstacle was recognised by the Dept of Environment who insisted that the buildings were raised from the ground so that in the event of flooding everything would be protected. We shall see.

We also need to know how much money Bloor Homes are paying for dumping tacky little dwellings on our land. That is needed to offset the millions the Council has wasted over the past 25 years.

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