Spent a few days up in London. A slight chill in the air, autumn leaves to kick as I walk, tastefully decorated tube stations, proper boozers, people giving out flowers to celebrate a Muslim festival and a brief glimpse of the new open backed Bus for London based on the old Routemaster.
Posts Tagged ‘london
The woman on the BBC2 program Newsnight yesterday said that visitors to the London Olympics wont be able to buy pints of British bitter because some bloody lager company has obtained “sole pouring rights” at all Olympic venues.
What utter BOLLOCKS! When did the concept of “sole pouring rights” appear in British law?
This evening’s BBC Radio 4 PM program reported that to buy Olympics tickets one must have a Visa card and that this will be the only card accepted in the Olympics area! Credit/Charge cards now form an intrinsic and necessary part of the money system in Western countries and to allow a monopoly in this area is atrocious. The board of the Olympics Organising Committee (IOC) have obviously confused sponsorship with bribery. The Deputy Chair of the IOC is Sir Keith Mills who has worked extensively in the the loyalty card industry. It will be interesting to keep an eye on his future career choices.
It’s not just beer and cards of course, Powerade is the “official Sports Drink” of the London Olympics. Leaving aside the ludicrous claims that a fizzy drink has anything to do with sport, what does it mean to be an “official” sports drink? Are the Olympics athletes obliged to consume this stuff? Are the officials obliged to consume it?
In fact, what does it mean to be a sponsor? In the case of the Olympics the word “sponsor” has two meanings. First it means that Coca-Cola, the owner of Powerade, have paid the Olympics organisers to use the Olympic branding material. The word sponsor is used here incorrectly as this is merely a commercial transaction.
When some bloke asks me to give £10 to a cancer charity providing that he runs a marathon, that is sponsorship. If I demand that he only wear clothes made by my company then it is no longer sponsorship, it is a commercial transaction. He is earning money by selling me advertising space and the fact that he donates part of his money to charity reflects well on him but, as the advertiser, my motives are commercial not charitable. I am not a sponsor, he is.
The second meaning of “sponsor” is worse. In the UK we have various laws ensuring competition and a level playing field for wholesalers to get their products to consumers. But, as with many supposed sponsorship deals, the organisers of The London Olympics have somehow insisted that normal free market competition rules are waived and that corporations are granted monopolies. One has to ask: Who gave the IOC the right to suspend British and European trade rules?
Corporate sponsorship is a questionable activity as any contribution made by corporations is met by shareholders or customers who may be oblivious to the costs incurred. A quick perusal of the web reveals that the legal authorities are becoming aware of the slippery slope from sponsorship into bribery. In October 2011 the Stuttgart Public Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against Volkswagen employees in connection with T-Systems’ sponsorship of the VfL Wolfsburg football club and specialist marketing companies are monitoring the effect of UK 2010 Bribery law on the sponsorship industry.
The absence of British beer brands at a major international event hosted by the UK in London is yet another example of how the corrupt and greedy British elite have sold out our culture for cash. It’s notable that the London Olympics web site does not refer to firms donating money as sponsors but as “partners”, a term usually reserved for the owners of giant business consultancies such as Deloitte who, incidentally, are another Olympic partner.
Last Thursday evening I was in Tooting and ate in the Mirch Masala which had been recommended to me by a friend. The interior is basic but the food is simple and good with fast and polite service. The only thing I’d criticise is the modern obsession with noise but this is not unique to the Mirch. Modern bars and restaurants seem to deliberately omit noise damping furnishings and consequently one is forced to endure a cacophony of other people’s conversation rebounding off the walls and ceiling. Mirch Masala was by no means the worst, that award might easily go to somewhere like All-Bar-1. Friday I spent in Balham which seems more trendy and the area around the corner of Balham High Road and Bedford Hill seem, to me, to be another restaurant ghetto like many that have sprung up all over London. I browsed around the repetitious identi-kit restaurants and finally opted for the Seascape Fish Bar which is a traditional Fish and Chip shop where I was served immediately and was sitting down and eating within minutes.
I spent Friday night in the Balham Lodge, a beautiful old London house on the corner of Bedford Hill and Hillbury Road, within easy walking distance of both Tooting Bec Common and Balham Underground station. Both the exterior and interior of this hotel are very well maintained and beautifully decorated. My room was a little small and oddly shaped but very clean and functional with TV and wifi.
On Saturday morning I walked a while on the common, the benches sparkling in crystal frost and a mist rising from the playing field. With the sun in my eyes I watched the people walking their dogs and a hoard of people playing football. And the joggers, Ah the joggers. Physical exercise for it’s own sake. Sedentary office workers unwilling to walk to work lest they rumple their suits forced to run around in their underclothes to get their pulses racing. In previous centuries one strolled around parks and along river banks. But now, now one doges the fucking joggers. If they want to run why don’t they fuck off and live in the country?
Obsession with sport has two advantages as far as society is concerned. First it keeps us fit so we can become more productive workers and second the endless discussion of the inanity of the scoring and point systems ensures that our brains are kept in an infinite loop of trivia and subsequently we are rendered too stupid to question anything.
“Play football on Sunday?” – “NO! FUCK OFF! I was too busy laying in bed thinking of ways to undermine the foundations of the corporate-military complex…..or something.”
Tags: balance sheet, Business, Capitalism, cheap labour, competitiveness, corporate profits, economists, EU, Financial Times, forests, Foundation, George Osbourne, house prices, housing, immigration, immigration. economic migrants, Isaac Asimov, Lack London, london, new labour, overcrowding, overpopulated, overpopulation, People Of The Abyss, Trantor, Unaffordable housing
A front page article in the Financial Times (FT) on the 21st November reported that a bunch of “leading economists” had written a letter to the British Chancellor, George Osbourne, urging him to rethink his plans to curb immigration. Mr. Osbourne is planning to limit economic migrants entering the UK from outside the EU and the economists believe that this would be “deeply damaging to the competitiveness of our science and research sectors and the wider economy”.
The UK had 13 years of New Labour during which immigration was used to provide cheap skilled workers to business mitigating the need to properly educate the indigenous workforce. This is obviously not a sustainable policy and will merely store up trouble for the future as British people sit on their arses and let Johnny Foreigner do all the work.
The restrictions to be brought in are for non-EU citizens so British business would still have the entire population of the EU from which to draw its workers. That means the economists believe that the educated percentage of a total population of around 500 million people is not sufficient for the British economy!
What utter tosh!
If 500 million are not enough then why should we believe that a world of 7 billion people is? Perhaps, if we looked hard, we could find an even dafter set of economists who believe that UK business needs the educated population of 10 Earth size planets.
The truth is that large corporations are driven by the need for profit and this means limiting costs. Land and labour are major costs and so it is most efficient for corporations to build mega office complexes and have the entire planet as a pool of potential employees. It’s even more profitable if the workforce are educated at someone else’s expense.
I’m sure the economists are all clever gentlemen but my experience is that bean counters only count beans. By this I mean they only count that which can be counted. However, some resources cannot be quantified and the top of my list is housing. House prices in London have more than tripled in 14 years and are still way over priced as discussed in an article in The Economist in 26th November.
Since a basic tenet of capitalism is that increased demand and fixed supply drives up the price of an asset. The deliberate importing of people into the UK may support corporate profits but it will also provide upward pressure on housing.
Corporations push the idea that capitalism creates wealth for the population and this can sometimes be true. At the moment, in China, capitalism is helping raise many people out of poverty. But read a book like The People Of The Abyss by Jack London and you realise that, at the height of the British Empire, which was powered by capitalism, the lives of the people living in the east end of London were worse than Australian aboriginals on the other side of the world living as hunter-gatherers.
The People Of The Abys shows capitalism at its rawest, un-tempered by socialism or the fears of socialism. It shows that the welfare of a population is not directly related to the profits of business.
Over the past decade or so, while businesses earned fat profits, ordinary people had to endure costs which did not appear on the balance sheets of any businessmen or politician. Unaffordable housing is just one example but the ordinary worker must also endure standing like tinned sardines on Bakerloo Line trains from London Bridge on a Saturday evening. We must sit in traffic jams. We must stand in rush hour queues, not to get on the train, not to get on the platform, not to get on to the escalator but to get into the bloody station!
All this boils down to supply of land and it is possible to argue that the UK should release more land for building to ease congestion and prices. This would be fine were the UK the size of the United States. It isn’t. Open up Google Earth and have a fly over the UK. Most of the land is either farm land or already built upon. There are very few patches of wilderness. Scotland is more thinly populated and we could just shrug and decide that we will give over the entire UK to human needs. The UK could become the first concrete country.
In 1951 Isaac Asimov published the first of his Foundation series of Science Fiction novels which portrayed a world known as Trantor which was completely covered in metal. The whole planet had been taken up by humans for homes or factories or offices. Food and raw materials were shipped in from other worlds.
I don’t want to live in a country without wilderness. I do not want to live on Trantor!
The pro-immigration lobby scoff and say that it will be centuries before we even approach a situation resembling the planet Trantor. True but then can they give us an indication of when we are going to stop building?
A couple of hundred years ago England was covered in forest and someone argued that we should chop down just this little bit more wilderness and give it over to some landowner to farm. They probably said “…but England is covered in forest, it will be centuries before it is all chopped down….”. They were right; it did take centuries.
But HELLO! here we are centuries later and the forests are gone.
On the 24 November 2011 the BBC reported that annual net migration to the UK hit a record high in 2010 at 252,000 though the figure may have now fallen to something more like 245,000. Growth is often expressed as a percentage but a more enlightening indicator of growth is “doubling period”. i.e. The time it takes for a population to double in size? The UK’s current population stands at about 62 million. If the current population carried on at replacement level and if the population only grew by the current immigration rate then the population would double in about 255 years.
That’s about nine generations if we take a generation as 28 years. By 2265 the UK would have a population of 124,500,000 and our descendants (that’s the grandchildren of our grandchildren’s grandchildren) will look back and wonder what the hell we thought we were doing.
One by one the trees are cut down. Little by little our forests were destroyed. Little by little forest becomes farm. Little by little farms become houses and offices. Little by little we accept smaller seats on buses and no leg room on trains. Little by little we trade space for gadgets. Little by little we are squeezed into chickens runs and little by little the UK becomes grossly overpopulated.
I’m sure that it’s true that adding 10% more workers to London and letting them live like factory hens would make London’s corporations more profitable. Londoners may even acquire more tablet computers and smart phones. Yet our lives would be worse! Already the definition of a kitchen in a flat in Hackney is a line of cupboards down the side of the living room. Just how many times can they divide up these beautiful old houses into smaller and smaller boxes?
The mistake that these economists make is to become totally business centric. Their analysis stops at the profits of business and they fail to follow the process through to ensure that it benefits the population as a whole.
It is notable that the venerable economists who wrote the letter to Mr. Osbourne uttered not a squeak about the corporate profits which are being filched away overseas to avoid paying tax as was reported in the same edition of the FT. Surely that too is “deeply damaging to the competitiveness of our science and research sectors and the wider economy”.
Saw a fantastic old Ford Cortina up by the IMAX on the South Bank on Saturday night.
In 1983, at the age of 24, I started working for an investment bank in The City of London. In those days I thought I disagreed with capitalism. Even as the banking industry swirled around me I thought that for every winner there was a loser. I now have more time for capitalism. I no longer believe that investment of spare funds by people trying to save for retirement is wrong or likely to deprive someone else of value. Indeed I can see now how capitalism is merely the free allocation of funds in a free society and that it is a more efficient way of allocating funds than some bureaucrat in Whitehall.
If I have a few thousand pounds saved which I want to invest for retirement it is acceptable to lend that money to an entrepreneur who has a plan to form a company to provide goods or a service which will make a profit. If, after a few years, I consider that my investment has grown sufficiently and I can’t see the guy making much more money or if I see that another guy has a better chance of making money then it is legitimate for me to sell my stake in the first company and buy into the second.
These are fairly standard arguments and, if one believes in freedom of the individual and of individuals to act together as groups, then they are difficult to disagree with. A whole industry has grown up to facilitate these transactions along with information services to allow me to analyse various economic and financial information.
Yes, much of the money washing around the system does belong to pension funds holding capital on behalf of rich and poor alike. From rich bankers to grieving widows.
But not all who take part in the market are equal. The people who run the companies providing the financial transactions and related services realised that they were making a lot of money and that they could make even more money by ploughing their profits back into the system and trading on their own account.
Further, an article in the Financial Times on June 7th reported that big institutional traders “are winning preferential access to deals because computers used by exchanges are programmed to accept bigger orders first when matching prices”.
So we have a market where the small invester in my initial example is at a considerable disdavantage to large pension funds and banks and as the large organisations may jump in and out of a stock several times within a day we have to ask: Is this investment or gambling?
Another fault that I see in the system is the frenzied nature of professional dealers. In 1986 a wave of deregulation swept through The City in a process known as “Big Bang”. Prior to this trading took place using a process known as open-outcry where traders use hand signals to transfer information. There was a lot of shouting and yelling and things were pretty frenetic. The process is still used by the London Metal Exchange but, after Big Bang, the London Stock Exchange replaced open-outcry by rows of traders sitting at computer screens. Technology went berserk and computers now regularly buy and sell automatically. Volumes have increased and the pace is now extraordinary. A trader will have numerous computer screens displaying graphs and figures and they will need to assimilate this information quickly and then make decisions involving huge amounts of money.
Walking around The City one has to be impressed by the fantastic granite and glass buildings with vast marble entrance halls. One has to be impressed by the frenetic pace of trading activity and by the vigour and determination of the traders but one also has to ask:
Is this any way to invest the funds you are saving for retirement?
Should the various banks be spending your pension money on the most expensive real estate in England? Should they be using your money to build luxurious head offices? Should they be rigging the pay scales of their traders to encourage them to engage in undue risk? Should they be trading in an atmosphere of hysteria?
So what’s to be done? Ban something? Many would argue that you cannot restrict such activity without restricting our fundamental freedoms. They argue that, yes, there are outrageous abuses and failings of the system but that, overall, the system functions better than any other system yet devised. As with the saying about democracy, that it is “the least worst” of all the systems of government.
I read an article recently on the risk assessment process undertaken for nuclear power stations and I recall discussing risk management with an ex-colleague who now works in the oil industry managing the movement of supertankers around the world. In both nuclear power and oil transportation the impact of a failure can be catastrophic and risk management is tasked with analysing and controlling these risks.
It seems to me that the risk management strategies in use by banks and financial institutions are mere fig leaves when compared with the very real risk management which takes place in other industries.
The British government are now making plans to require banks to ring fence their retail banking divisions keeping them at arms length from more risky investment banking. The United States had a similar law known as Glass Steagall requiring separation of high street banking and investment banking. The law was enacted to control speculation following the 1929 Wall Street Crash. However, as the American economy recovered various parts of the law were repealed until the whole thing was dismantled in 1999.
Let’s hope that the British have leaned from the American experience and that the ring fencing legislation currently being discussed will remain in force in bad times and in good.
Tags: Berlin, buses, commercialisation, Garry Kilworth Let’s Go to Golgotha, globalisation, Help the Tourists are Coming, land, london, London Development Agency, market forces, private property, property is theft, protest, public space, the commons, Tourism, tourists, Tragedy Of The Commons, Travel, urban environment
The people of Berlin are protesting about the large number of tourists who visit their city and I have every sympathy.
Mass tourism is a scourge on society. The enormous buses clog our streets obscuring the very views that the tourists have come to see and eventually the local culture is displaced by an international tourist culture of burgers, beer and bullshit. Local charm is replaced by shops selling plastic beefeaters and pictures of how things used to be before mass tourism.
We all love to travel and from the tourists point of view mass tourism is a boon enabling us to see the world. Without mass tourism many of us would have no experience of anything outside our immediate vicinity.
But mass tourism destroys the thing it loves. A herd of tourists cannot visit a city without damaging it like some socio-economic version of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.
When a person reads of the Left Bank in Paris he learns of Picasso, Matisse and Hemingway. He thinks that he too must experience this seminal environment and he buys his ticket. But the locals have seen him coming. They know that the age of art has passed and the age of commerce is upon us. So they open themed cafés, bars and restaurants with names like Bar Les Artistes or Le Lucernaire.
When our gallant traveller arrives he finds that he is not rubbing shoulders with writers or poets but engaged in a drinking competitions with a IT Administrator from Milton Keynes. Our intellectual explorer is now in the minority. The majority of the clientele are not interested in culture but feel they should “take a look while we’re here”. They have been sold culture in the same way that they are sold breakfast cereal and aftershave.
Our cities become caricatures of themselves, Ko Samui becomes Blackpool and an Indian tourists sits and enjoys the ambiance of Paris while eating a Big Mac.
The tourist industry markets travel as a liberating experience but mass tourism is not so much a manifestation of freedom as of greed, globalisation and hyper-commercialisation.
The population of Greater London is estimated at approximately 7.7 Million people. Wikipedia considers that London receives 15 million tourists each year and it is a safe bet that the vast majority of these concentrate their activity in central London. At the moment, the tourist industry sees no limits on how many people it can push down the subway at Oxford Circus. This has been detrimental to the quality of life of Londoners and no doubt Berliners suffer similarly and so are right to object.
Industry and commerce have long involved the appropriation of commonly held land for exploitation by self appointed “owners”. Communism recognises this when it declares that “property is theft”. We generally consider this property to be land used for homes, farms or factories and we assume that this confiscation means exclusion of the public but we neglect the public space in between private property. We neglect the commons.
This common space is owned, used and valued by all of us yet government and commerce now seem hell bent on exploiting it to herd around disinterested tourists in such wretched conditions that their goal, once they emerge from their air-conditioned packaging, is to take a piss, grab a burger and get back on the bus.
The scourge of mass tourism is as an example of The Tragedy Of The Commons (TTOTC).
The Tragedy Of The Commons may sound like a Thomas Hardy novel but is, in fact, a concept used by economists. To quote Wikipedia: “The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.”
The scenario usually given is where common land is used by multiple individuals to graze their cattle. It is in the interest of each individual to graze as many cows as possible yet this will eventually ruin the grazing land to the detriment of all.
One solution often proposed is that the commons should be privatised and access restricted to those with the ability to pay. The owner would then work in his own self interest to ensure that the asset was maintained in good condition. This could mean that the owner would limit access but this is, by no means, certain.
Intuitively I am against the continued expansion of the private sphere and I find modern shopping malls a poor replacement for a thriving high street.
Another way of addressing TTOTC is intervention by local government. Legislation could be implemented to limit use and protect the asset. In the case of mass tourism this might mean metropolitan rules restricting the number of Bulk Tourist Deliveries (BTDs) in a given period.
However, local government derives a lot of revenue from allowing companies to graze their tourists in city streets and officials often see their role as maximising revenue. According to Wikipedia “The Government Office for London states that tourism revenues constitute 10 per cent of London’s gross value added and contributes to the employment of up to 13 per cent of London’s workforce. According to the London Development Agency, visitors to London spend around £15bn each year.”
Obviously cities will not wish to give up this revenue but at the moment we are sacrificing our environment for short term profit. Reversing this trend and protecting our cities will make them better places to live and ensure that they continue to attract tourists well into the future.
Many years ago, over too many pints, I recall discussing the idea of creating a tour operator which would specialise in giving tourists an authentic night out in London. We would offer a standard service tailored to the Japanese businessman and start with a few pints in a local boozer followed by a trip on a big red double decker bus down to Fitzrovia. More pints would be consumed and a Japanese man would be cajoled into thinking that his beer was off and pushed into taking it back to the bar. The barman would be bribed to take a sip, pause, frown and then apologise profusely before telling the Japanese businessman that he had a “very discerning pallet sir”. More beer would be consumed and the Japanese businessman encouraged to approach a specific young woman who would be bribed to slap him soundly around the face.
The frivolities would continue in an Indian Restaurant where large portions of Vindaloo would be consumed and the waiter paid to talk some bollocks about how this was the hottest curry ever consumed. Eventually the tourists would be emptied into taxis and left to find their own way home when hopefully a minority would vomit in the back of the cab and end the night sleeping in a railway station.
The company was to be called Here We Go Tours and we considered that visiting Australians would make the best tour guides.
The 20th century was the age of standardisation, the production line and economies of scale. The 21st century looks set to change all that. From Internet shopping to 3D printing, globalisation and technology are enabling consumers to customise their purchases to suit their tastes. House swaps and couch surfing are two examples of how independent travellers are using The Internet to bypass the mass tourism industry.
Why not go further, why not reject the standardised tours set by self appointed experts and design your own itinerary? In the past this may have been difficult but in the 21st century the tools are readily available. The Internet allows us to research an area, Google Street View lets us wander the streets before we get there and our GPS equipped smartphones allow us to navigate once we get there.
Why not create an itinerary and share it with your friends on Facebook?
The concept of tourists destroying what they visit is not new and was deftly described in a 1975 Science Fiction story by Garry Kilworth named “Let’s Go to Golgotha”. To quote Wikipedia: “In the future period where the story takes place, time travel has been invented and made commercially available. Among other historical events, tourists can book a time-travelling “Crucifixion Tour.” Before setting out, the tourists are strictly warned that they must not do anything to disrupt history. Specifically, when the crowd is asked whether Jesus or Barabbas should be spared, they must all join the call “Give us Barabbas!”. (A priest absolves them from any guilt for so doing). However, when the moment comes, the protagonist suddenly realizes that the crowd condemning Jesus to the cross is composed entirely of tourists from the future, and that no actual Jewish Jerusalemites of 33 AD are present at all.”