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From Alpha To Omega: #046 Engines, Entropy, and Value

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This weeks our guest is Dr. William Paul Cockshott, a reader in the Computer Science Department of Glasgow University. Paul was trained as an economist, then as a computer scientist, and he has made contributions to the fields of image compression, 3D television, and parallel compilers. He is also known for his work in applying econophysics to classical economics, the field of economic computability, and as the co-author of the book ‘Towards a new Socialism’, advocating for the more efficient and democratic planning of a complex economy.

In this show we discuss the origins of classical political economy, and how it was influenced by the rapid advances in the world of physics. We talk of the importance of Watt and his steam engine, the development of the theories of thermodynamics and entropy, and their importance in economy. The work of Babbage and Alan Turing also get a mention, as well as the human as universal robot. We also discuss the overwhelming empirical evidence for Marx’s Labor Theory of Value, why it is that it works, and the importance of the work of previous guest Prof. Gregory Chaitin in the modern factory. Oh yes, and some roman pottery, Chinese crossbows from the Qin Dynasty, and how difficult it is to fold your clothes.

Enjoy!

You can find his books, talks, and research on his website here:

http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~wpc/reports/index.html

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Friday Stat Attack: A Simple Graph That Can be Used in the Tax Debate

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OK, this follows on from yesterday’s post but whenever I hear someone on the media claiming that Ireland is a high-tax economy, I’m going to @ the programme with this graph.

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The question is simple:  if Ireland is a high-taxed economy how come we have the lowest tax on labour in the EU except for Bulgaria and Malta?

Don’t underestimate the import of this battle.  Keeping taxes low (while at the same time fighting off wage increases) is just a continuation of the austerity battle.  People paid for the crisis; now  there will be an attempt to make people pay for the recovery. What little is given in tax cuts will be taken away from free health, free education, affordable childcare, public services and income supports; in other words, all the programmes and infrastructure that can raise living standards.  People will be required to subsidise their own tax cuts – and this after we’ve been forced to subsidise financial institutions and the economic collapse caused by speculative activity.

So please feel free to use this graph to get the word around.  We’re not a high-taxed economy – but we are a low waged economy with even lower levels of public services and income supports.  The only high this economy experiences is rising profits.

Oh, and deprivation and emigration, too.

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Low Tax Economy for Slow Learners

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No matter what the evidence, regardless of what the data tells us, there are some who are determined to assert the opposite.  Take taxation – the evidence is absolutely clear:  we are a low-tax economy.   Don’t forget what this debate is about:  we are a low-waged and low-taxed economy and there are vested interests, politicians and commentators who are determined to keep it that way.

So let’s go through this again (it’s been discussed here and here) but this time from a different angle, avoiding the difficult comparisons using GDP, GNP, hybrid GDP, etc.  Let’s look at taxation on labour (i.e. wages and salaries, excluding the self-employed).

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This represents the total amount of taxation on wages and salaries – income tax, employees’ social insurance and employers’ social insurance.  This is the total taxation on labour.

Look at where Ireland lies – 25th out of 27.  We’re above Bulgaria and Malta and that’s about it.  In Ireland, total taxation on labour is equal to 30.1 percent of total wages and salaries.  We are well below the average for the entire EU, 34.7 percent below average.

How can anyone claim that we are a high-taxed economy?

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Uterus Strike

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This is a translation of an article by Beatriz Preciado, originally published in Público on 29th January 2013, regarding the Partido Popular’s anti-abortion legislation.

Locked within individualistic neoliberal fiction, we live with the naive sensation that our body belongs to us, that it is our most intimate property. However, the management of the greater part of our organs is under the aegis of various governmental and economic entities. Of all the bodily organs, it has been undoubtedly the uterus that has been the object of the greatest political and economic expropriation. As a cavity that potentially allows for gestation,the uterus is not a private organ, but a biopolitical space of exception, to which the norms that regulate the rest of our anatomical cavities do not apply. As a space of exception, the uterus resembles the refugee camp or the prison more than it does the liver or the lung.

The body of women contains within it a public space, whose jurisdiction is fought over not only by religious and political powers, but also medical, pharmaceutical and agri-food industries.Hence, as historian Joan Scott points out, women have spent a long time in a situation of “paradoxical citizenship”: if as human bodies they belong to the democratic community of free citizens, as bodies with potentially gestating uteruses, they lose their autonomy and become objects of intense surveillance and political control. Every woman carries within her a laboratory of the Nation-State upon whose management depends the purity of the national ethnos. For the past forty years, feminism has carried out, in the West, a process of decolonisation of the uterus. But the contemporary situation in Spain shows us that not only is this process unfinished, but it is fragile and can be easily revoked.

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A Low-Wage Economy with Strong Productivity and Rising Profits – Why Not a Pay Rise?

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Unite has produced ‘Ireland Needs a Wage Increase’ – a comparative study of Irish and European employee compensation.  The bottom-line is that

  • Ireland is a low-waged economy when compared with other EU-15 countries
  • Productivity in Ireland is above the EU-15 average
  • Irish profits are higher and rising faster than in the EU-15

In addition, the document highlights the plight of workers in low-paid sectors (their compensation levels are even further behind EU-15 averages), labour costs as a proportion of total operating costs (lower in Ireland) and future wage growth projections which show us even further behind.

The document also provides comparisons on a sector basis (e.g. manufacturing, transportation, financial services, hospitality, etc.).

This should put paid to the argument that Irish wages are somehow out of kilter with the rest of our European peer group – but it probably won’t as the wage-deflationists will just ignore these facts.  That’s why it is even more important to get this information around.

The full document can be accessed here:  Ireland Needs a Wage Increase

The summary can be accessed here:  Ireland Needs a Wage Increase (Summary)

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Obamas America – Not just a Christian, Father Daniel Berrigan S.J. in Dialogue

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This an interview with peace activist Daniel Berrigan conducted by the German magazine schattenblick.de. Thanks to Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh, an editor at the magazine for translating it and sending it on.

Interview with Daniel Berrigan, August 26, 2013 in New York

Daniel Berrigan is a shining light of the American peace movement. For more than sixty years the Jesuit priest, theologian and poet, who was born in 1921, has spoken out loudly against poverty, oppression and war. Two incidents in 1968 made Berrigan famous. In January of that year he travelled in the company of the historian Howard Zinn to Hanoi for talks with the North Vietnamese leadership and to bring three U. S. air force prisoners-of-war home. In May he, his brother Philip, also a Catholic priest, and seven other peace activists entered the offices of the draft board in Catonville, Maryland, seized several hundred draft letters and set them on fire with home-made napalm on the parking lot in front of the building. This led to the sensational trial of the “Catonville Nine”. Upon being sentenced to three years in prison for trespassing and severe damage to property, Berrigan went into hiding. During his time on the run from the legal authorities, he was named as one the FBI’s “top ten most wanted” criminals. He was eventually arrested and later given early release, having served one and a half years of his sentence.

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Fight the Power & Parecomic: Two Graphic Political Books by Sean Michael Wilson

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Sean Michael Wilson is an Irish-Scot professional comic book/graphic novel writer, who often makes books on social issues, history, and politics and so his recent work might be of interest to readers. His most recent book, which came out last October, is Fight the Power, published by the New Internationalist and introduced by Tariq Ali. Fight the Power is described as ‘A Visual History of Protest Amongst the English Speaking Peoples’ and has a whole chapter on Ireland and Irish struggles.

Another one of interest is Parecomic, published by Seven Stories Press, which describes in graphic novel form the anarchist inspired participatory economics system of Michael Albert. The book includes an introduction by Noam Chomsky, who is also in the book several time – his first contribution to a book in graphic form.

Here are more detail on both books…

On  Fight the Power

In his famous history series A History of the English Speaking Peoples Winston Churchill seemed to think that history was about wars and made by great leaders.

Fight the Power! begs to differ and instead presents A Visual History of Protest Amongst the English Speaking Peoples.

Today’s occupy movements are part of a long history of struggle. This book visualises key moments in history where ordinary people have risen up and fought governments, corporations, even empires. When the 99% have stood up to combat exploitation and abuse or in pursuit of freedom of action and a better life.

This comic book covers 14 cases of such struggle over the last 200 years and in several English speaking countries including not just the US and UK but Australia, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, India and Jamaica.

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Friday Stat Attack: Severe Deprivation among Public Housing Tenants

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Eurostat has a particularly grim measurement – severe material deprivation.  They take nine deprivation indicators in which people cannot afford the following items:

  • to pay their rent, mortgage or utility bills
  • to keep their home adequately warm
  • to face unexpected expenses
  • to eat meat or proteins regularly
  • to go on holiday
  • a television set
  • a washing machine
  • a car
  • a telephone

If people cannot afford four of these nine deprivation experiences, they are categorised as suffering from severe material deprivation.  This is a harsher measurement employed by the CSO – which has a deprivation rate based on suffering from two of eleven deprivation experiences.

So what is the deprivation rate for tenants with a rent at reduced price or free – which is basically public housing tenants.  In Ireland this would largely mean local authority, or social, housing tenants.

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Ireland leads the EU-15 table – higher than even Greece and Portugal.  More than one-in-four public housing tenants suffer from severe material deprivation.  This shouldn’t be surprising – the CSO estimates that 52 percent of public housing tenants suffer deprivation using their measurement.

We are getting lots and lots of talk about tax cuts.  Where do people  who suffer from material deprivation fit into this agenda?  Nowhere, it seems.  They are being air-brushed out of the debate.

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Progressive Film Club, Saturday 22 February at the New Theatre

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Progressive Film Club 

Showing This

Saturday 22 February at the New Theatre ·

43 East Essex Street · Dublin 2

2:30 p.m. Dream Apocalypse (UK)
Dream Apocalypse tells the poignant tale of what it is like to be a student in England today. We follow Joel Muckett’s life experiences and his hopes of hanging on to his dream of going to university, in spite of his disillusionment with the commodification of higher education. The increasing cost may put this education beyond his means, and his dream may be a dying dream. This is Ismael’s first film. ¦ Directed by Ismael Ahmed (University of Bedfordshire). Running time: 10 minutes.

2:45 p.m. The Colour of the Soul (India)
A documentary that seeks to address the principles on which the caste system in India is based. The social system is not without controversy and paradoxes. In India, birth has a colour. ¦ Produced and directed by Alberto Martos (Spain). In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 47 minutes.

3:45 p.m. National Identity (France)
In France, for more than thirty years, foreign nationals have accounted for about 20 per cent of the prison population, even though they represent only between 6 and 8 per cent of the total population. This over-representation is explained by political choices since the end of the 1970s, particularly the repression of immigrants. National Identity spotlights the plight of former foreign-national prisoners who were sentenced to deportation after prison, which amounts to a double punishment. In the film there are interviews with victims of the system, justice professionals, and politicians, with analyses by research workers. A little-known side of the French state’s relationship with foreign nationals, many of whom hold French passports, is revealed. ¦ Produced and directed by Valérie Osouf (Granit Films / Divali Films). In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 80 minutes.

http://www.progressivefilmclub.ie/

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The Trojan Horse

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As if we didn’t know, we now know what the Government’s intentions are regarding tax cuts:

‘Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has pledged to widen income tax bands as soon as the State can afford it to take people out of the higher tax bracket.  Mr Noonan said the biggest problem facing the tax system was the low level of pay at which people entered the higher tax rate. He said in Ireland people started to pay the higher rate on incomes of just €32,800 and this was far lower than in other EU countries.  “If I have the money that is where I will go. I would like to reduce the threshold at which people hit the higher rate,” he [said].

The standard rate tax threshold is the Trojan horse for the tax-cuts lobby.  It is true that in the Irish system people enter the top rate of tax at a very low wage level.

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Here, we enter the top rate of tax at €32,800.  In all other countries, the threshold is higher; in Germany, you don’t enter the top rate of tax until €250,000.   So that picture looks pretty clear, doesn’t it?  Well, no because it is not the full picture. I will address the details of marginal tax rates on incomes in different countries in a subsequent post.

But to make a quick point – if Irish workers are ‘disadvantaged’ by entering into the top tax rate so early, why are taxes so low?  These are the headline tax rates (personal allowances only) from the OECD’s Benefit and Wages database.

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Drones Come From the Sky, But Leave the Heavy Footprint of War on the Communities that they Target

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Barack Obama was seen by many of the liberals of the world as the only hope for a just and ethical American government. He was seen as the archetypal liberal; educated, young, and more importantly, not a Republican. Not long after his election however, we quickly came to learn that it would be business as usual for the White House, and more. Under the Obama administration we have seen a disastrous foreign policy in which any person deemed a terrorist or a threat to the national security of the United States, or their interests, can be summarily and extrajudically assassinated. One of the predominant methods of carrying out these assassinations is via drone strike. With what has been essentially an onslaught of drone strikes, especially in Pakistan and Yemen, the UN has begun to investigate the legality of these strikes. This investigation has thus far been part of the basis of two reports which were issued in September of last year.

The first report, Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, dealt with the issue of drone strikes within the framework of international law. The Special Rapporteur noted that, “drones are here to stay”, and that they are not necessarily illegal weapons. However, the Rapporteur also took note of the fact that drones make it far easier to kill a suspect as opposed to trying to capture them. He also noted that the sheer proliferation of the use of armed drones “may lower social barriers in society against the deployment of lethal force and result in attempts to weaken the relevant legal standards”. Added to this is the lack of transparency regarding the legal framework being used by the White House to target suspects for assassination. When combined with the relative safety with which a drone can be operated, the report states that domestic or political constraints on their use can easily be “reduce[d] or eliminated”. This is precisely how the Obama administration has promoted the use of drones; that they are surgical in their precision, clean, and more importantly, keep American lives out of harm’s way. When we dig a little deeper, the truth is much more frightful and perilous.

The exact determination of the criteria needed to target someone for assassination is not shared with the public. Nonetheless, certain details are known. According to Jeremy Scahill, in the closing days of the Bush administration, the CIA began targeting suspects for assassination on the basis of “patterns of life rather than specific intelligence”. If a person adhered to a certain list of “signatures” that the agency had devised, this was enough to make them a target. One of these “signatures” could be as little as being a military aged male in a particular region of the globe. Being an imminent threat or being involved in plotting against the United States was also not a prerequisite for being targeted. The mere potential to commit acts of terrorism against the United States or its interests became enough to warrant death. The Obama administration embraced this method of warmongering with gusto. In the first 10 months of taking office, Obama launched more drone strikes than Bush Jr. had in the previous 8 years. Obama personally signs off on each assassination on what is called “Terror Tuesdays”, where he and his advisors go over a list of suspects and decide who is to live and who is to die.

In spite of what the White House and the Pentagon may think about the effectiveness of drone strikes, it is clear that they do two things: They violate international law and they encourage terrorism. That both of these statements are truisms is unimportant. It is important though to examine them in greater detail.  As to the latter, in an interview with the journal Foreign Affairs early last year, General Stanley McChrystal made the same point that is made above; that drones strikes seem to carry little risk with maximum benefits. But this does not give the wider view of the larger consequences of such actions, pointing out that, “at the receiving end, it feels like war”.  He further stated that if drones were “used carelessly”, which he believes isn’t the case, “then we should not be upset when someone responds with their equivalent, which is a suicide bomb in Central Park, because that’s what they can respond with”. Similarly, in an appearance in front of a United States Senate committee in April of last year, Yemeni native Farea Al-Muslimi related the story of how six days previous to his appearance in front of the committee, his village had been the victim of a drone strike. Ominously, but not unsurprisingly, he stated that, “What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America”. The UN report already mentioned also makes this point. The Special Rapporteur writes that, “drones come from the sky, but leave the heavy footprint of war on the communities that they target”.

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The February issue of Socialist Voice Out Now

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The February issue of Socialist Voice is now available online.

Contents

  1.     No recovery for working people [TMK]
  2.     Pete Seeger: His songs go marching on [TR]
  3.     A Greek Obama [NL]
  4.     It’s about more than losing that “Bonny Bunch of Roses” [TMK]
  5.     Lessons of history: The 1966 seamen’s strike [NOM]
  6.     The euro and the balance of payments [KC]
  7.     Whose revolution? [DOC]
  8.     A “must read” book with a disappointing conclusion [FK]
  9.     Opinion: Creating a shared future [RMC]
  10.     Union news
  11.     Who’s afraid of Liam O’Flaherty?
  12.     Films: 15th Latin American Film Festival
  13.     Is it just me, or has the world gone mad? [EON]

 

No recovery for working people

Has the time arrived for unrestrained rejoicing? Have those mighty men and women of the coalition rescued us from economic and social calamity? Can we trust indicators that are supposedly pointing to recovery?

The Taoiseach gravely tells us we have exited the bail-out; hip hip hooray! Michael Noonan welcomes a report that the Republic’s government is no longer suffering under the lash of the Moody Blues, as our bond status has been upgraded from junk to investment level by the influential credit rating agency; more hip hooraying.

Nor do the celebrations end there. Frank Daly, chairperson of NAMA, has boasted that the Irish property crash has ended; so hats in the air as well as hip hip hooraying.

However, before we decide to put gilded images of Enda and Eamon on top of the Dublin Spire, let us enter a few words of caution. Eye-catching headlines about recovery are often misleading. A slight decline in the total rate of unemployment is heralded as proof of upturn but overlooks the reduction in the real value of incomes. The finding of the Irish League of Credit Unions that monthly disposable income increased by €50 in December 2013 masks its other discovery, that 1.6 million people had €100 or less left at the end of the month once all bills were paid, while half a million have nothing at all left after meeting their commitments…………….

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Ukraine: The Next Domino to Fall to the West?

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The events currently taking place in Ukraine have an eerie feeling of familiarity about them – indeed, that feeling is becoming normalised in the western media. From Afghanistan in the late 1970s and 80s, to Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now Ukraine, the pattern of ‘humanitarian’ imperialism is becoming the standard blueprint for the western geo-political agenda.

On the face of it, the events in Ukraine are clear-cut: a corrupt and repressive government, the age-old spectre of the Russian bogey-man in the shadows, and of course, the innocent, peace-loving, flowers-in-gun-barrels forces of democracy and liberty. It really should sound familiar by now. The story was the same in Afghanistan, it was the same in Iraq, it was the same in Libya, it is the same in Syria. Inconveniently for those of the humanitarian-intervention brigade in such influential western liberal institutions (and, by miraculous coincidence, US government puppets) as Amnesty International, these stories were and are, for the most part, propaganda – that is to say, lies, designed to achieve the support of the general public for what would otherwise be barefaced military aggression. This wouldn’t fly – the west has to play the great saviour in order for its unparalleled savagery to be acceptable.

If we look closer at the protesters in Ukraine, closer at least than the western propaganda machine does, we can clearly see a motley crew of fascists, ultra-nationalists, and conservatives; chief among these are the balaclava-clad thugs of the ‘Svoboda’ party, which, for instance, glorifies the WWII-era Ukrainian fascists who collaborated with the Nazis in rounding up and executing Jews, communists, partisans and other undesirables. Photos and videos from the riots in Ukraine show what are essentially camouflage-clad, helmeted and masked urban guerrillas, assaulting and kidnapping police officers, humiliating and beating people on the streets, vandalising government buildings, and whatnot – all the while wearing EU-flag patches on their sleeves and waving the flags of the EU and various neo-fascist slogan side-by-side.

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