Switch off, log on

So, the Guardian reports today that the Daily Mail website is ‘most popular newspaper website in the UK, with nearly 18 million readers a month, and is second only to the New York Times worldwide’. This is not really a surprise, just more evidence that a huge amount of people enjoy mindless rubbish. Whenever I see the unique visitor count of the Daily Mail website I am saddened that Bill Hicks is no longer around to spell out just why such banal tripe is evil. His comments on the apathetic, mindless mass of Americans who could be sleepwalked into submission by 24-hour cable TV showing American Gladiators have never been more timely.

At the time when the Coalition government dismantles the welfare state because of a recession caused by stupendously irresponsible and wealthy banks; the majority of people in Britain are more concerned with logging into the Mail website to check out the latest celebrity to gain or lose weight whilst angrily reading about the ‘workshy’. I mean, sure, the banks may have lost hundreds of billions of pounds and inflated house prices so that most people have either been priced out of the market or now own a property worth far less than their mortgage, but the real problem is that couple down the road who don’t work and have too many children. Sure, stopping their benefits will hurt children who have played no part in their circumstance, but hey, I’m an angry Daily Mail reader so it’s fine to punish children so long as I feel that my taxes aren’t being wasted on things outside of my immediate circle.

The point that Bill Hicks wanted to drive home is that the majority of human beings are so easily distracted by moving images and flashing lights that they spend their lives politically nullified, the American elite don’t need guns or violence to maintain their hegemony, just the ownership of 24-hour cable TV.

It depresses me that the Mail website has so many readers. I know a lot of them are not Mail readers, but people with hearts, brains and souls who stare despairingly into the intellectual and moral abyss, just to remind themselves that we live in a society that has some serious issues. What concerned Hicks’ most was that people were so badly informed about how the rich were screwing them over everyday, and how easily such people could be nullified by a puerile, unthinking TV schedule. As long as people want to buy celebrity magazines or read the Mail website to be titillated and enraged in equal measure the world will never improve. The Mail isn’t entirely to blame, it is serving an audience, an audience that does want to know all about celebrities. An audience that wants to hate immigrants, single mothers and other easy targets because it satisfies a simplistic need to be angry and to know who is to blame. This audience learns its behaviours, and behaviours can be changed. There is hope, but only a thin slither.

Meanwhile, David Cameron can visit China to discuss international ‘trade imbalances’ without anyone asking about whether there are any other forms of trade inbalance that are far more pressing. Cameron argued – along with the US – that an unfair trade balance currently exists. Essentially, people in Britain and the US spend too much money consuming products that are made in China. People in China don’t spend as much, as they generally save a proportion of their income in case of illness because they have to foot the bill for medical care. This means that we buy more stuff from China than we sell to them, they have a big trade surplus, we have a big trade deficit. David Camerson says that this is bad because too much money is flowing from Britain and the US to China, which means less money is available to the UK economy and we become poorer.

This is all well and good, but what about the trade deficit that the population of planet earth has with global corporations? Why not mention this if he really is concerned with the flow of money from one group to another. Is is useful for the UK economy to have several large corporations taking billions of pounds out of circulation? Where did  the billions of pounds of record profits that the banks sucked out of the UK economy from the average earner go? None of this money was left when the crash hit, by then we all realised that the banks had given it all away to already wealthy share holders or wealthy employees who took so much in bonuses that the banks had to be bailed out by governments.

When China generates a trade surplus the British government gets concerned that too much money is taken out of the economy, yet when Tesco announce that they have made many more billions in profit than they managed last year it celebrates because businesses are supposed to grow. Why do they not question where this money is going, or realise that very little is going back into the economy. Capitalism generates wealth, the trouble is that wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a few who have soo much money they cannot possibly spend it, and if they do spend it, they aren’t interested in the sort of products or services offered by the average guy. This means that the average person has to survive on less, or loses their job because there just isn’t enough money left in the system.

Billionaires have massive trade surpluses. The average person is likely to have a trade deficit. The two are linked, you just never seem to hear about it.

Anyway, forget about the millionaires and billionaires, switch off your brain, log on to the Mail website and look at all the juicy celebrity gossip. Look at this immigrant with a council house and flat screen TV, they are to blame you know, they are taking your money, not us. Have you seen how many workshy scroungers there are? Loads, we tried to give them jobs, but they said no, they’d rather sit at home and let you pay for them. Remember, the poor are at fault, the rich are your superiors. Have you seen Simon Cowell’s house? He’s a fantastic success story don’t you know. Rich people are good. We can all be rich you know. Keep working, keep trying.You can always buy a lottery ticket. Here, have a picture of a horse in the back of a car.

8 thoughts on “Switch off, log on”

  1. Fantastic! An incisive deconstruction of the real reason people, many of whom are not evil sods, may be tempted to read and believe the paranoid rantings of the Faily Mail.

  2. I’m sympathetic to some of your points but the size of bankers bonuses were not a contributing factor to the banks needing bailout money. When it comes to the scale of the losses/holes that caused the crisis, the largest bonus was a drop in the ocean. Maybe the culture and reward-structures encouraged by the bonus systems contributed to the causes and bad behaviour in a more indirect manner, but its wrong to link to the size of the bonuses with the size of the losses that prompted the bailout.

    It’s somewhat ironic given that ‘bankers bonuses’ is a media creation of precisely the sort you are criticising in this post. ‘Bankers bonuses’ is a media red herring just like ‘the workshy’ or ‘benefit scroungers’ or ‘asulym seekers’…except targeted at a different audience. It’s a simplistic idea that assigns easy blame to a certain stereotype or section of society that most importantly is NOT ME and is seen as ‘other’ or ‘alien’, conspiring against the mainstream aims of society from within. And it works just as well as ‘workshy’ etc. at masking the real causes of the crisis and distracting attention from wider issues about the economic/social system we all participate in.

    1. @ James

      I understand that bankers bonuses might be something of a media creation, but what I was trying to say is that it was systematic of a capitalist system that redistributes wealth to a few. Top bankers earn millions for taking short term risks and the bonus culture encouraged this, rewards were paid based on initial profit, irrespective of whether in the long-term such actions would destroy the banks. I.e. lending to people who could never realistically repay mortgage loans was encouraged because the bonus was paid on completion of the loan being issued, rather than on its repayment.

      Also, I was grouping excessive bonuses with the money paid out in dividends to share holders. Obviously, given the failure of banks to have even a fraction of the money to cover their lending losses or responsibility to give ordinary people / businesses the money they needed when they needed it demonstrates that the banks paid out too much and reinvested too little into their balance sheets.

      Sure, I could have been clearer in the way I wrote about bonuses and the part they played in the downfall of the banking system, but I stand by my point that rewarding people excessively for failure is part of the way in which wealth is being redistributed unfairly at great cost to society. Let’s face it, why would some bankers be worried about destroying banks and losing their jobs when they could earn huge amounts taking short-term gambles – enough to retire comfortably and so forth?

      I realise that there are far bigger problems in terms of the global economy, but I also feel unsure of the solutions being put forward. The obsession with growth being the only way out, the only saviour for our current problems seems to me to be the kind of idea that got us into this mess in the first place. The housing bubble was inflated to keep growth going in the UK for example, even though it was always going to burst and the bigger it got the worse it would be for everyone.

      I recently read Philippe Legrain’s ‘Aftershock: Reshaping the World Economy After the Crisis’ and was left thinking that his kind of market fundamentalism just was not the answer. As a world we cannot afford to simply manufacturer and consume more and more in order to grow our way out of trouble.

      My main issue with bankers’ bonuses is that often they are awarded for a service that benefits no-one. When someone in finance sits at a computer screen and ‘buys’ wood or oil or any other raw material before selling it seconds or minutes later at a profit without ever really owning or having any use for that raw material but adding a cost to it, who benefits, apart from the bank and the man at the screen? We need to separate financial institutions and trade to allow simple supply and demand to determine price, rather than the false supply and demand generated by financial markets buying and selling raw goods even though they never have any intention to use them.

      It may be somewhat a media red herring, but bankers’ bonuses do fit into a range of narratives. The argument that they need to be given to maintain or attract the best talent, and thus give UK banks the best chance and sorting out their balance sheets is also the narrative used to justify low corporate taxation or the tax avoidance of billionaires. If we crack down, then we risk losing the business or billionaire to a country that does let them pay no tax etc.

      So perhaps the bankers’ bonuses is a scapegoat story that allows the media to make the basic arguments for other, more serious issues. I.e. the media can make it clear that they are on the side of the ordinary guy, they hate the bonus culture just as much as you do and so forth. This makes it very powerful when they then have to report that, as much as they hate it, bonuses and bankers are a necessary evil because we would be worse off without them etc. This makes it far easier for media outlets to also turn a blind eye to tax evasion and so forth – the arguments are all the same: we can’t afford to lose these people, so we have to bend over for them…

  3. I’m with you upon nothing and I understood what you where trying to say.

    Expect now a queue of people arguing the toss about percentages and deciles, so long as the masses are kept down with carrots wrapped in Daily Mail pages and wages in the form of spare change.

    The size of the bonuses was directly what encouraged the most irresponsible financial behaviour in history.

    Much more could also be said about a country where consumer goods became the be all and end all of life (that big fuck off flat screen is what makes you a man, you know). A country where work became increasingly more casual and temporary, with most real wages starting to lag behind so much that credit cards and loans dished out like sweets started to be perceived as some sort of “wage supplement”.

    Holy crap, I’m starting to think too much. I’m off to grab a copy of the Sun and one of the Daily Mail. Ciao.

  4. Everyone thinks they know the cause of the recession, particularly if it fits in with their world view.

    Given that boom and bust is the natural cycle of things both in finance and the world, we should accept it. The biggest problem was that central banks reduced interest rates to avoid a recession, which meant that they were only putting off the inevitable. This led to price rises and market bubbles across the spectrum including house prices, electronic goods and indeed credit (the interest rate on debt). So lots of people took on debt (mortgages being the most obvious) and governments increased their deficits thinking the party wouldn’t end. And then something snaps – sub prime – and we all have to pick up the pieces.

    The banks should have gone to the wall. The fact that they haven’t means our debt has increased. We will probably get it back in the case of RBS etc. over 20 years or so.

    But two things are certain. We need a recession to deleverage the debt. And you can’t control an economy no matter how hard you try. Look at Mao, Pol Pot, the USSR. Central controls don’t work. So annoying as it is that bankers have big bonuses, it’s just jealousy at the end of the day.

  5. To be fair though, how many of those ‘unique users’ come from sites such as this, who point out stupidity, hypocrisy, and then urge people to click through to witness said idiocy in its all-consuming glory.

    We’re all to blame. I won’t be clicking the links any more.

  6. I must admit I registered with the mails website. But only to comment on Hitchins’ jingoistic article on “Berlin time”. Still, I suppose we all count as far as the Mail are concerned.

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