Tag Archives: fairness

A Compromise Solution?

I’ve been thinking about how human values of fairness lie behind political beliefs again:

‘The Left’ – Everyone is equal. Difference is due to upbringing. We must take money off the rich and give it to the poor until every one has the same. Capitalism is flawed but what else is there?

‘The Right’ – Some people are better than others and deserve to be rewarded. Competitive winners are born not made. Winning is generally handed down the bloodline, though exceptional individuals should be allowed to rise from the ranks. Capitalism is a natural mechanism: survival of the fittest. The poor should be encouraged to try harder. Charity should help the completely hopeless.

‘The Centre’ – A compromise between Left and Right, in my opinion between 2 wrongs.

I’d like to make a radical proposal that is not Left, Right or Centre. It cherry picks the bits of ‘fair’ I think are true:

‘A New Fair’ – People are all different but should have equal opportunities to succeed. Everyone has the right to an adequate life and to find where they can best add value to society. Our culture should adequately reward those who add most and we should encourage the most able (at anything we value, including compassion or athleticism) to be the ones who have most children. We must do that without punishing children. Inheritance rights need to be severely reduced.

If we want equal work opportunities for women then genders must share childcare i.e. it must be equally likely that a male parent will take a career break and ‘do the school run’.

I’d welcome feedback, preferably here – WordPress registration isn’t bothersome but Twitter: @wootube would be fine too.

The Simple Concepts of Democracy and Fairness

WikiP says: Democracy is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary.[1] Democracy is further defined as (a:) “government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b:) ” a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”[2] According to political scientist Larry Diamond, it consists of four key elements: “1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections. 2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life. 3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens. 4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens”.[3]

Our recent election looks a bit shaky at a number of the hurdles in that description. Government by the people? Majority? Active participation? Human rights and equality under the law. A way to get rid of the government if it turns out they misled the electorate?

Simple then, let’s start with voting reform to something “fairer”. Clearly we can’t trust politicians to do that because they will evaluate the effect of any proposed system on them, relative to the current system. That’s why the Greens, their idealism still unsaddled by any realistic chance of winning a significant number of seats, suggested an electoral commission. All the commission would need to do is to do is decide what is “fair”.
Members of all political parties fight for “fairness”, based on their own values. Political allegiance is almost entirely dependent on an individual’s concept of fairness. To have a definition of fairness is to take a political stance.

We may be caught in a loop. Democratic voting systems can only be changed by a decisive  minority winning the right to govern. I think that is called “a revolution”. Does anyone have any other ideas? Not that our elected ‘representatives’ seem to care much about what we think, now they have power, or that we believe anything they say. Democracy is broken and most of Them aren’t planning to fix it. Our only friends are the other losers.

“Losers Unite!”?

The values and beliefs hiding behind the concepts and ideas

For the last few years I had a verbal sparring partner at work. We had grown comfortable expressing strong opinions that we didn’t necessarily believe in, as an intellectual challenge and to mutually explore what we actually think about a subject. We sometimes gave the impression to casual observers that we hated one another; but it worked for us.

Nearly always, during these squabbles, we discovered that at a deeper level we agreed about fundamentals but had been coming at the subject from a different angle or using words that misled the other into shadow-boxing a spectre from our own imaginations. We would argue forcefully for an hour or two before finally identifying a point of agreement that had been crouching in the shadows. Very occasionally, we would not converge. Whenever this happened, it would eventually emerge that we were arguing from a point of view based on our core values, which are different in some areas.

Some months ago I started to consider why well-meaning people, with logical thought processes, when presented with the same data,  came to different, even opposite conclusions, based on their political beliefs. I decided to apply what I’d learned from my own ‘heated debates’ to political thinking. I started by trying to identify the value systems supporting Left and RIght Wing political thinking. That is still a work in progress but I’ve discovered that almost everyone involved in politics will cite their main motivation at the beginning to have been their desire to make the world a better and fairer place.

As there are concepts behind the content of our information resources, so there are deeply held values and beliefs forming the foundations of those concepts, yet we rarely bring our values out into the broad light of day. Are we ashamed?  Almost everything we do is informed by values that we keep hidden, perhaps from ourselves. Is that healthy?

The Scottish Referendum brought out questions about where Scottish, English and British values were different. We discovered that we didn’t know what that meant. People said that the British believe in “fairness” but we argued and we screamed “that’s not fair” at each other as we fought about ideas.

Before we start to write, should we make an honest private check-list of our personal values? As we approach the next general election, I’d like to see the values of parliamentary candidates made explicit. I guess I’d like some reassurance that they believe in something.

New Rules to Make Free Markets Fairer

If you believe in free markets then as well as allowing people to work hard to become wealthy, you believe they are good for consumers, because competition encourages innovtation, increases quality, reduces price and ultimately improves value. This is particularly important to the poor.

People will choose a range of different ‘best-value points’ on the quality/price graph, usually according to their income. The wealthy get better quality. This incentivises the poor to strive to become rich. You see, I DO understand ‘the idea’ behind Capitalism.

The danger is a supplier that comes to dominate a market to such an extent that it can control that market and disrupt competition. It is a duty of government to prevent such monopolies, even if MPs are shareholders or provide consultancy services.

I want to outline some legislative changes that I think would make to free markets work better for consumers and the environment.

  • Bundling
    It should be illegal to offer discounts for buying more units than you want, unless there is a genuine cost saving to the supplier for supplying in bulk.
    Our planet is running out of resources. We don’t want to rush that.
    Buying food to throw away raises prices for people who can’t afford to eat enough to stay healthy. That is immoral.
    Buying 2 or more completely unrelated products together, at a discount, gives an unfair advantage to large companies.
  • Stop loyalty cards
    Yes, it’s just ‘virtual’ or ‘time-lapse’ bundling.
    People are ‘loyal’ to organisations that give them consistently good value
    A ‘bribe’ is a different thing
  • ‘Walled gardens’
    If 2 different products work together via an interface then that interface should be made public, so that competitors can compete fairly.
    When third-party products, parts or services are used, a supplier should not be able to withdraw warranty for unrelated parts.
    Purchase of Services e.g. an iPhone should be able to buy music easily from a site other than iPlayer and that option should be made as obvious by Apple as its own service. Microsoft were forced to make other browsers available to compete with Internet Explorer.
    A new phone manufacturer should be able to buy music from Google Play by developing its own software, making calls from their software via the same published interface libraries Google use, so it is not put at a competitive disadvantage by another product/service.
    If the original supplier claims that development costs were high and need to be recouped, then fair licensing costs should be charged, in exchange for full exposure of those costs.
    Such competition causes original manufacturers to provide the value their customers require.
    Manufacturers should not be allowed to keep purchase price low by subsidising from the sale of over-priced consumable items later, such as ink cartridges, vacuum cleaner bags or coffee machine capsules, or by suppying devices such as laser-printers with cartridges that are only half full with toner.
    Devices should not be sold at less than manufacturing cost.
    Total running costs should be made clear at point of purchase, in a standard format, to allow comparison with competitors.
    The ‘cost per standard unit’ of consumable items should be clearly marked. e.g. cost per cup of coffee.
    It is best for consumers if open interfaces are used, so offer tax breaks for companies on products that use industry-wide open standards for interfaces, developed in co-operation with all competitors, as that reduces overall costs to citizens.
  • Stop allowing patenting of non-innovative ideas
    Stop all software patents. They are destroying the software industry. Writing software is hard enough without having to constantly check if the idea you just thought of has ever been thought of before, via your legal department, if you have one.
    Small, innovative companies do not have legal departments, allowing large companies to put competitors out of business.
    Stop patents of any ideas, once the development costs + x% have been recouped. x might be different for industries with varying rates of R&D success. Being first to market already has a significant market advantage in fast-moving industries.

Free Anarchy

The following has been conceived and written in one day. Please consider it a first draft of the manifesto for the ‘share nicely’ revolution – the happy face of Anarchy in the UK.

As predicted, The Revolution will not be televised. It will however be streamed, live-Tweeted and blogged as the State has only just noticed that it has temporarily lost control.You’d think they’d be putting some sort of controls in place to limit our freedom of speech… They’ve what? Oh dear… Well that sucks!

This week, four ‘comfortably off men’, representatives of the UK’s State: Prince Charles, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband (in my unresearched order of richness) met to encourage young people who face a possible future of economic failure and joblessness to ‘get on their bikes’ and work for nothing for the good of The Big Society (them.)
Obviously only the richer kids will have a bike; just as only middle-class parents will afford to buy their kids a job by funding them during a couple of years of internship or an industrial apprenticeship. I imagine the ceremony to have been accompanied by a backgound chorus of press representatives singing “get a job, you scroungers” to the older siblings and parents of many of the assembled kids.

I fear I spot a discontinuity and I have to agree that Occupy, Anonymous and Russel Brand have a point. Something is seriously Wrong and I don’t know what to do about it either.

The problem for those calling for revolution is that we’re already having one and whilst I applaud our leaders for embracing the uprising of ‘Free culture’, I’m not sure that this is quite what most of us involved at the grass-roots level of the movement had in mind and we’re not ready to be ploughed-over just yet.

A brief review of my superficial knowledge of European history today has informed me that revolutions come in two flavours:

  • technological: (which travel in pairs, the second a direct consequence of the first) with ‘the management’ in charge but showing no real forethought, then
  • political: the violent response from an angry population that has somehow been displaced by the ruling class’s selfish exploitation of the change. This revolution results in major changes to political and economic systems.

The Industrial Revolution led to the start of modern Capitalism. The next one seems likely to end it.

Political revolutions are often inspired by intellectuals but implemented by people who enjoy the sound of boot on brain. Let’s hope we can avoid that outcome this time around, before Occupy take their Internet back. We’ve had the ‘Computer/Information Revolution’ and we’re in the ‘Information Sharing Revolution’ but They aren’t sharing nicely and I’m angry. A lot of people are. Science recently showed that 2-year old humans are pre-programmed to expect their fair share of the rewards from anything they worked for. Fairness is in our DNA. We’d like it now please.

Our economic revolution seems likely to remove capital as the primary constraint on human endeavour, as agricultural and industrial labour were devalued by earlier revolutions. The Information Sharing Revolution may make ownership of the means of production and mythical Intellectual Property rights and management of the state out of the hands of leaders. Hive society needs a shared purpose not management. ‘Leaders’, please collect your tools of control, today’s meetings are cancelled. We’ll govern ourselves thanks.

Freedom from The Press

Sorry, I need to take a slight diversion here to pick up some POLITICS.

I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘The P Word’ is about finding a balance between people’s sense of fairness for all and their sense of self-interest. In the West, we also seem to expect a fair-sized dollop of what we call “freedom” with that, and perhaps a government willing to insist that other countries try it too. “It’s humus. Try it. No, it smells of garlic but it doesn’t taste of it. Bloody try it, will you? No, not that one, we only eat the organic”

I don’t know much about politics but I know what I like. OK, not true but: I know what I DON’T LIKE!
“What?”
This, all of it, it’s rubbish. I hate it. Smash the SYSTEM!
“Some of it’s all right, can’t we keep those bits and vote to decide what to make better?”
Vote? Pah! No, it’s all got to go, so we can move forward to a bright new future, together, following me.
“What’s that going to be like?”
There are still a few niggling details like that to be worked out but, “SMASH THE SYSTEM!”

I paraphrase slightly but this seems to be the gist of Mr. Brand’s argument… What? Yes, Russel Brand – the rock star. I don’t know what band. Yes, the one with the trousers, and the hair and the Guy Fawkes beard. “I am Spartacus.”

The thing is, he seems to have captured the spirit of the moment. He feels our frustration. He was poor once. He knows the well deserved disrespect for our leaders who don’t seem to think we have the brains to see through all the spin; the anger at there not being enough difference between the lot of them to make it worth a walk down to the scout-hut. But ‘revolution’? Really, Russell?

I like Freedom. I like Free software and free Internet and free downloads and free speach and freedom of the press and free energy. What? No that would be silly. Stop being ridiculous, if you want people to take you seriously about politics. Freedom to protest though; that used to be a good one. As long as it was nice. A nice walk, some witty placards, a bit of a sing-song and none of that French malarkey – barricades and burning and being rude to policemen.

So when the Twitters lit up in a bonfire of energy bills, late last night and the tight-trousered-one appeared, surrounded by French mime artists, I didn’t know what to think. The Lefties were soon there to tell me, complaining there was a media black-out, claiming there were thousands of people but putting up photos of 50 of their mates. “Yes, here’s where they beat us senseless”. I exaggerate (slightly.)
“Yeah, sure”, I thought.
“You won’t see this on the BBC”, they said.
I searched the BBC for “million mask”. Up it came. “Hundreds of people” in “peaceful protest”. I went to bed. I’d had enough Revolution for one night.

Morning. The radio alarm wakes before me, tuned to BBC Radio 4. Nothing. An hour passes. Nothing. Pick up phone and search BBC for “million mask”. Same article. Wait, no! 11 arrests. fires. unrest, scuffles… What? Did the pubs shut? I widen the search… Guardian, yes then nothing. Back to Twitter “#MillionMaskMarch”. A few activists in the US. It was as if London hadn’t ever happened, according to the right-wing press and the BBC. Nothing on the Wireless or the front page of the news website.

This morning, I signed up to follow @RustyRockets on Twitter. I threw in @MillionMaskMarch for good measure and asked @BBCNickRobinson what the hell was going on at the BBC. He hasn’t told me. I don’t think he’s allowed to. That’s rather worrying in a democracy, or something that looks very like one.

By the way, it turns out my mate was there. He says there were thousands of others. When you hide the truth or lie to us now, we find out about it. You seem to have made me join the 99% who don’t trust you. No, I won’t wear a stupid mask. Politicians, you shouldn’t either and please take that gag off the BBC. They work for us, not you.