Posts Tagged ‘Korea’

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

William Blum’s List of American Foreign Interventions: Part 1

February 15, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece about American hypocrisy in the allegations that Putin was blackmailing Donald Trump, when the Americans themselves interfered in the Russian elections in 1996 in order to secure Boris Yeltsin’s election as Russian president. This was, however, hardly the first time America had intervened in the domestic politics of a foreign country. William Blum devotes two chapters to this in his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. In one he lists the various interventions America has made in other countries, including invasions and military coups, and in the other cases where America has interfered with the conduct of elections in order to secure a win for their favoured candidates.

Both of these are very long and ignominious lists. Here’s part 1 of a list of foreign interventions by the US.

American Interventions

China 1945-51
Aiding Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang against Mao’s Communists.

France 1947
Backing French Socialist party against the Communists, using Corsican mobsters to attack Communist party and Communist-aligned trade unionists.

Marshall Islands 1946-58
Indigenous people of Bikini Atoll removed from the island in order to make way for nuclear tests.

Italy 1947-1970s
Backing Conservative Christian Democrats to keep the Socialists and Communists out of power.

Greece 1947-9
Backing neo-Fascists and creating intelligence unit for them in the civil war against the Communists.

Philippines 1945-53
Military actions against the left-wing Huk forces.

Korea 1945-53
Korean War. However, afterwards US backed Conservatives, who had collaborated with the Japanese, and Fascist dictators, also committed atrocities against fleeing civilians.

Albania 1949-53
Backing anti-Communist guerillas, most of whom were collaborators with the Nazis and Italian Fascists.

Eastern Europe 1948-1956
Head of CIA Allen Dulles deliberately heightened paranoia in the eastern bloc, causing hundreds of thousands of imprisonments, purge trials and murders by the Communist regimes.

Germany 1950s
Lengthy campaign of terrorism, dirty tricks and sabotage against East Germany.

Iran 1953
Prime Minister Mossadegh overthrown by CIA and British led coup, as dared nationalise what is now British Petroleum oilfields.

Guatemala 1953-1990s
CIA backed Fascist coup against democratic socialist Jacobo Arbenz for nationalising plantations owned by American company, United Fruit. Result: forty years of terror, with 200,000 people murdered.

Costa Rica mid-1950s and 1970-1
Attempted assassination of liberal democratic president, Jose Figueres, because considered too soft on the left, and for making his nation the first in Central America to establish diplomatic links with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and questioning American foreign policy, like the invasion of Cuba.

Middle East 1956-58
Attempts to overthrow the Syrian government, shows of force in Mediterranean against opposition to US-backed governments in Jordan and Lebanon, landing of 14,000 troops in Lebanon, and attempts to overthrow and assassinate Egyptian president Gamal Nasser.

Indonesia 1957-8
Attempts to manipulate elections, assassinate, blackmail and start a civil war to overthrow President Sukarno. Sukarno neutral in Cold War, went on trips to China and USSR, nationalised private property of Dutch colonialists, and did not crack down on the Communist party, which was then engaged on electoral path to power.

Haiti 1959
Trained troops of notorious dicator Papa Doc Duvalier, and destroy attempted coup against him by Haitians, Cubans and other Latin Americans.

Western Europe 1950s-1960s
Granting of American money through charities and so on to various groups and organisations in pursuit of American anti-Communist, anti-Socialist policies.

British Guiana/Guyana 1953-64
Attempts to force out of office democratically elected socialist premier, Cheddi Jagan by America and Britain.

Iraq 1958-63

Long campaign against nationalist leader General Abdul Karim Kassem after he overthrew the monarchy and established a republic. USA and Turkey drew up plan to invade; this dropped in favour of arming Kurds, as well as assassination attempts. Kassem helped set up OPEC and created nationalised oil company. Kassem was finally overthrown in a Ba’ath coup, which also led to a clampdown on the Communist party, which was backed by both America and Britain.

Soviet Union 1940s-1960s
Cold War campaigns of espionage, propaganda and sabotage, backing of resistance movements against USSR.

Vietnam 1945-73
Vietnam War.

Cambodia 1945-73
Overthrow of Prince Sihanouk enabling Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge to gain power.

Laos 1957-73
Armed insurrection and bombing against reformist left, led by Pathet Lao party.

Thailand 1965-73
Armed forced against insurgents.

Ecuador 1960-63
Overthrow of president Jose Maria Velasco for not clamping down on left and not following US policy against Cuba.

Congo/Zaire, 1960-65, 1977-8
Overthrow of Patrice Lumumba in favour of dictator and mass-murderer Mobutu Sese Seko.

France/Algeria 1960s
Backed French military coup in Algeria to stop country becoming independent. Also hoped repercussions would overthrow De Gaulle, who was blocking American attempts to dominate NATO.

Brazil, 1961-64
Backed military dictatorship which overthrew President Joao Goulart for being too independent and friendly towards Communists, despite the fact that Goulart millionaire devout Roman Catholic.

Peru 1965
Military action against leftist guerillas

Dominican Republic 1963-5
Overthrow of liberal president, Juan Bosch.

Cuba 1959-Present
Attempts to overthrow Communist regime.

Indonesia 1965
Overthrow of Sukarno and bloody suppression of Communists by successor, General Suharto.

Ghana 1966
Overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah

Uruguay 1969-72
Dirty War against Tupamaro leftists guerillas.

Chile 1964-73
Long campaign against democratic Communist, Salvador Allende, culminating in Fascist coup of General Pinochet.

Greece 1967-74
Intervention against liberal Greek president George Papandreou, as he wanted to take Greece out of NATO and declare Greek neutrality in Cold War. Overthrown in the Fascist coup that inaugurated the rule of the Colonels.

South Africa 1960s-1980s
Assistance to South African apartheid government against African Nationalist Congress, which, amongst other things, led to the arrest and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

Bolivia 1964-75
Military campaign against President Victor Paz for supporting Cuba.

Australia 1972-5
Operations to have Gough Whitlam, the leader of the Aussie Labor party, removed by America and British, ’cause he was opposed to Vietnam.

Iraq 1972-5
CIA backed Kurds, not for them to get autonomy, but to distract Iraqi army and make sure they didn’t overthrow the Shah of Iran.

Portugal 1974-76
comprehensive series of measures, including shows of force by NATO warships, against radical policies proposed by the army officers, who overthrew the previous Fascist dictatorship of General Salazar.

East Timor 1975-99
Backing of Indonesian invasion, which killed 1/3 of the island’s population.

Angola 1975-1980s
Angolan civil war, which was basically proxy war between US, China and South Africa on one hand and USSR and Cuba on the other.

Another Fascinating Video from Ha-Joon Chang

August 17, 2016

I put up a piece yesterday about an interview Owen Jones made with Ha-Joon Chang, a South Korean lecturer in economics at Cambridge. Mr Chang’s the author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. He makes it clear in his book that he is not opposed to capitalism, but is very definitely opposed to neoliberal economics, the free market rubbish that has dominated global economic policies at the expense of the poor since Thatcher and Reagan. The book’s well worth reading, if you can find a copy. It’s written for the general reader, and so is written in clear, simple language to make a devastating critique of current economic dogma. He shows how states can make good economic decisions, constructing and managing efficient industries and planning the general economy. The welfare state does not make people lazy, but actually makes them willing to accept change. And western, developed nations are hypocritical and destructive in demanding that the developing world should open their countries up to free trade. He shows very clearly on this point that both Britain, America and the other industrialised nations actually industrialised under a system of very strict protectionism to keep foreign competition out and protect their nascent industries. He also goes on to disprove some of the twaddle that’s been talked about the difficulties Africa faces in industrialisation, such as tribal conflict and the supposed racial or national character of its peoples. He points out that there were also vast ethnic or regional friction in the developed countries of Britain, France, and even Korea, for example, until very recently. As for the supposed laziness of Africans, this was also said in the 19th century of a people, who now have a colossal reputation for hard work: the Japanese. It was also said of the Germans even further back in the 16th century.

Michelle also commented on the piece, and enclosed a link to another of Mr Chang’s videos. She wrote

Several years back when I used to blog I had links to Ha-Joon Chang’s writings, he’s brill! This recent RSA animate video of his perspective is also very much worth a watch, ‘ ‘Economics is for everyone’ (or thinking outside the matrix part one, to go with Beastie’s post): https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=_a53Qt0ZpsUhttps://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=_a53Qt0ZpsU

When I posted both these links last week, a commentator rightly said “Neoliberalism is not a matrix it’s a crime against humanity.”

I haven’t seen the video, but anything by Chang is bound to be great. And I entirely agree with her last comment. Neoliberal has caused mass suffering across the globe. It is responsible not just for a growing number of impoverished people, both unemployed and in work, in this country, but also for wrecking the economies of whole nations in the Developing World. People are dying of starvation in this country. It’s contributed to mass starvation there. And this has also fuelled political and social unrest, from militant Islamism, to Marxist uprisings and piracy off Somalia and the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. In terms of the magnitude of the suffering it’s caused, it is indeed almost literally a crime against humanity.

Ha-Joon Chang on the Japanese Solution to Information-Sharing between Government and Business

May 19, 2016

Ha-Joon Chang Pic

Ha-Joon Chang also discusses in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, the Japanese solution about the tactics the Japanese have adopted to the problem of sharing information between the government and business. It’s in the chapter ‘Thing 12 Governments Can Pick Winners’. In this chapter, he explodes the myth that governments cannot run industries successfully by showing just how many extremely profitable and efficient industries have been set up by the state. Like the Korean steel mill. This was set up in the late 1950s and 1960s, when the only thing Korea exported was food, mainly fish, and cheap clothing, and when the country generally was one of the poorest in the world. Its first boss was an army general with extremely limited business experience. It looked to be such a risky venture, that the head of the IMF or World Bank refused to lend Korea money, and advised other potential investors not to do so. So no-one did. Korea now has the fourth largest steel industry in the world.

Chang states that the Neo-Libs could argue that Korea is somehow the exception to the rule, and that his countryfolk are somehow more intelligent than everyone else. He says while he finds this flattering as a Korean, it ain’t true, and lists the various other countries that have had similar successes with the state running of industry. He then goes on to tackle the underlying assumption behind the Neoliberal dismissal of governments’ ability to manage industry. They argue that government departments simply don’t have enough information to manage industry well. He argues that in fact, they do, and that quite often it is far better than those of the industrialists themselves. And he states that governments also draw on managers from industry for their information.

This is now part of the problem in Britain and America. It is now longer the case that industry supplies the government with information. In all too many cases, it guides government to its own advantage, and dominates government. The fact that the political parties’ conferences is sponsored by private industries, all seeking to get a cut of state action, is part of this. So the way the big accountancy firms sent their executives to assist the political parties in preparing their policies on taxation, which has led to the creation of the massive tax loopholes and offshore accounts, which have allowed people like Dodgy Dave Cameron to avoid paying his due whack of tax.

The way the Japanese have attempted to solve the problem is through ‘deliberative councils’. These are formal meetings between government officials and businessmen, which are covered by the media and have observers from academia.

I think this is an excellent idea. We desperately need to clear out the corporate corruption of parliament and the political system, so that government legislates for the people, and not to maximise the profits of the rich few at the expense of the rest of us. At the same time, information and experience from industry should be available to government. And that information, and the influence that it gives, should not be hidden, but be genuinely open and transparent.

At the moment, it certainly is not, despite Dave Cameron’s mendacious bill on lobbying. This is actually designed to do the opposite. His lobbying bill stops charities and trade unions from lobbying, while allowing the big corporate lobbyists to go on as normal. And as far as I’m aware, none of the newspapers regularly report on the influence of private enterprise on the parties. The only reports of it I can remember reading are those in Private Eye. This must change, and soon, in order to curtail the corporate corruption of British politics.

Vox Political: Corbyn Aid Says Companies Should Give Workers Shares

January 26, 2016

Last Thursday, Mike ran an article from that day’s Guardian, which reported that one of the Corbynistas in the Labour party, John McDonnell, had recommended that Labour should give employees the right to request their bosses to give them shares in their company. He also stated that employees should also have the right to buy out companies that are being dissolved, sold or floated on the stockmarket first before they are offered elsewhere.

This was after Corbyn had stated that companies should be prevented from paying their workers poverty wages while their bosses awarded themselves vast pay rises by limiting the amount management could pay themselves beyond those of their employees.

Mike stated of the proposal to extend workers’ ownership and co-operative control

These are plans that would succeed. Employment would stop being a trap, forcing people to slave for the enrichment of others while being forced to claim state benefits themselves; the government would pay out fewer in-work benefits as wages rise, meaning taxes could be diverted to other causes or cut altogether; and there would be much less of the old “us v them” enmity supported by our “divide and conquer” Conservatives.

The article’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/21/another-great-idea-a-labour-government-would-let-employees-own-shares-in-companies/ Go and read it.

Mike’s quite right. Germany and Austria have had workers in the boardroom and forms of workers’ control since the 1920s. They’ve been immensely successful, and have no doubt contributed to those countries’ stable, prosperous economies and the ‘social peace’ that has existed there. I’ve no doubt that when Corbyn and McDonnell made these speeches, there were splutterings of ‘Communism!’ and ‘Cultural Marxism!’ by right-wing blowhards, who know little of either. In point of fact, the German and Austrian Communist parties cordially hated workers being given power while the economy remained capitalist. This betrayed the working class, they claimed, by giving them a stake in the capitalist economy, thus preventing their radicalisation. It was part of the process by which Social Democratic leaders hoodwinked and betrayed the workers into supporting capitalism, rather than rising up and overthrowing it. Proper Communists, at least at that time, were much more in favour of letting capitalism become as predatory, rapacious and exploitative as possible in the hope that this would radicalise more members of the working class, who would then revolt and overthrow the capitalist system.

Furthermore, Maggie Thatcher attempted to make capitalism popular by spreading share ownership. She did so by making a percentage of the shares in the firms she privatised available to small investors, including their workers. Ten or twenty years after she did so, these shares had, of course, nearly all been gobbled up by the big capitalists. Nevertheless, this raises the questions: if it’s fine for Maggie Thatcher to offer shares in private industry to the workers, who were employed in them, then why, under the same logic, is it wrong for Corbyn and Labour to do so? After all, if the objective is to make employees work harder and be more loyal because they actually have a stake in those companies, then this should be a worthy goal no matter which government is in power. Correct?

As for workers having first refusal to buy out firms when they’re being sold off, this has been done in Argentina. There workers were given the option to buy and turn into co-operatives companies that were going to be shut down. I’ve put up here documentaries on them, one of which included Naomi Wolf as one of the talking heads. Although the vast majority have since been returned to capitalist ownership, it did save many firms. The proposal is essentially a sound one. If it’s turned down or sneered at, then this shows that the Tories and the capitalist class have absolutely no interest in creating a prosperous economy or jobs, but simply lining their own pockets at the expense of their employees.

And laws preventing company bosses from paying themselves excessively high wages beyond the rest of their employees have been in place in Japan since forever and a day. They were introduced by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as part of their programme to create a harmonious, middle class society governed by the social consensus and which avoided creating social stress through excessively polarised incomes. Nobody was to be too rich, or too poor.

Japan is a very authoritarian society, with a lot wrong with it. It is extremely sexist and women are very definitely seen as belonging in the home. There is little welfare provision, which has become a major issue as increasing numbers of Japanese have been thrown out of work by the long-running economic crisis. There is also an element of racism in Japanese political culture. Only full-blooded Japanese have full civil rights. This means that the descendants of Korean immigrants or prisoners of war, that have been there for three generations, are effectively excluded from mainstream Japanese society. But their concern to ensure social harmony through limiting excessive management pay and fostering solidarity between management and workers is a good one, and doubtless has also contributed to Japan becoming one of the world’s strongest economies, apart from their reputation for quality products and hard work.

Corbyn and McDonnell have thus recommended policies that should lead to the revival of British industry, and which also have their echoes schemes put into practice by the political Right. There is thus little good reason to reject them.

Scriptonite: Inequality of Wealth in UK Same as Nigeria

August 6, 2013

Yesterday Scriptonite published a post reporting UN statistics that the inequality in wealth between the rich and poor is now the same as Nigeria. It is the most extreme in the developed world, with the poorest in Britain living on the same incomes as those in Hungary and Korea. The piece is entitled Wealth Inequality in UK now Equal to Nigeria, UN Report. It begins

The UK has been sliding down the UN Human Development Report since 1991, and by 1996 became the most unequal nation in the developed world . The gap between rich and poor in UK society has risen sharply during the leadership of the Coalition government, yet long before these people got power, the gap between rich and poor in UK society was equal to Nigeria, with the poorest here living on roughly the same as their counterparts in Hungary and Korea.

Inequality, Inequality, Inequality

The 1996 and 2013 reports makes truly depressing reading, but should come as no surprise to those warning of exactly these results from ideological austerity policies.

Scriptonite links it to the implementation of the Tories’ Neo-Liberal policies, and suggests radical alternative systems, which people can join as a way of personally counteract government policy. Concerns about the growing gap between rich and poor in comparison with the Developing World goes back as far as Blair and Thatcher. I can remember a Fabian pamphlet during Thatcher’s administration noting that the inequality of wealth was the same as India. Since that time it’s become more extreme. Adam Curtis, the documentary film-maker, who directed the excellent The Century of the Self, discussed the increasing loss of social mobility in his The Trap: How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom. He argued there that the growing division between rich and poor, and the lost of social mobility was due to Libertarian ideologies in which human behaviour was modelled on that of machines and applied to wider society in order to control the administration of goods and services after Thatcher’s privatisation. It is very well worth watching.

Scriptonite’s article is at http://scriptonitedaily.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/wealth-inequality-in-uk-now-equal-to-nigeria-un-report/.

Adam Curtis’ The Trap: How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom is shown here