#150 Live Q&A

There will be a Facebook and Instagram live Q&A on Saturday 6th November at 4pm in London, 12 noon in New York, 9am Los Angeles and 11pm in Melbourne, Australia. You can join the live Q&A here and send me any questions you would like me to answer simply by replying to this post.

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#149 Extract of Collapse

Part One – Lancashire

7 years and 5 months before the collapse

It had not been easy, but Annabel and Jim celebrated the fact that the local education authority was going to allow Olivia to take her General Certificate of Education, even though Jim and Annabel had homeschooled her for so long.

Jim mused that thousands of children with foreign heritage must have been in the same position and wondered why the central government had not passed a universal decree making education a priority for those who had been excluded.

Olivia herself was struggling with the transition to what Jim considered a ‘normal’ life, and the school referred her to a psychologist who asked Olivia to write down her dreams.

She was already scribbling in the notebook by her bed when Jim went to wake her.

“I don’t believe it,” Annabel suddenly exclaimed during breakfast. “They’ve taken our savings.”

“Who has?”

“The Government. I was just reading on the stretch that they’ve frozen bank accounts, then I checked our account and it’s true, the money is gone.”

“At least we didn’t have much saved.”

“That’s not the point. Some people have lost thousands.”

Annabel was in a foul mood until she returned from taking Olivia to the school bus.

“I have good news,” she said as she came through the door, waving her stretch at Jim

“So do I,” said Jim, waving his.

“The Old Hall has offered me a gig.” she smiled.

“That’s good. The bookshop has offered me a lecture.”

“Nice.”

“And more good news,” said Jim. “They are going to come and fetch all the shop fixtures. We’ll get rid of them at last.”

Jim walked down to village, to the bakers to see if they had any bread. When he got there, he found a queue of people trying to buy as much as their food cards would allow. Jim was about to join the queue when he realised that his food app wouldn’t recharge until the next day.

However, when he returned, Annabel saw he was wearing a big smile, carrying a full plastic bag.

“Did they have more than bread then?” asked Annabel.

“No, the food app isn’t charged yet.”

“What’s that then?”

“Mark was getting rid of all of his old DVDs, and he’s going to give me the machine. I’ll go back for it later.”

“I didn’t realise anyone still had DVDs.”

“What’s a DVD?” asked Olivia when she arrived home from school.

“It’s a disk,” said Jim, taking one out of the bag. “Each one has a film or some music.”

“What do you want those for? You can watch anything you want on the cloud.”

“And when you can no longer access the cloud, what will you do?”

“We’ll always be able to access the cloud.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

There was a knock at the door.

“And that’s my other surprise,” said Jim. “Come and have a look.”

Olivia and Annabel followed him to the front door, which he opened to reveal a farmer leading two goats on ropes.

“Oh, Jim, you haven’t finished the pen,” Annabel complained.

“I’ll finish it tonight.”

“They better not eat my flowers, and you’re milking them.”

“Do they have names?” asked Olivia.

“Mr Benn and Mary Poppins,” said the farmer.

“Mister Benn?” asked Jim. “You promised me two girls.”

“Nannys.”

“What?”

“They call female goats nannys.”

“Okay, well, you promised me two nannys and you’ve brought me a nanny and a…”

“Buck.”

“I thought they called male goats billys.”

“They can be unless they’re castrated, in which case they’re a wether.”

“So why do I have a nanny and a buck?”

“If you don’t, you can’t have any kids.”

“I see.”

“What are we going to do with the babies?” asked Annabel.

“Kids,” Jim corrected. “After the final collapse, you’ll be glad of goats.”

“What are you talking about? Collapse?”

“You watch, we are on a path that we cannot sustain.”

“You don’t think things will get better?”

“I don’t. We are running out of resources, raw materials.”

“They’ll come up with something, Jim. They always do.”

“There is no silver bullet for this, Annabel.”

Jim spent the evening finishing the pen for the goats.

7 years and 4 months before the collapse

Jim went back to the village with his recharged food app at the ready, only to discover that the shop had run out of bread. He returned to tell Annabel the news, and they both sat in silence wondering what they would do.

Lucas Davis had done some planting in the garden and there were still Brussels sprouts, kale, leeks, parsnips, broccoli, rhubarb, spring cabbage, spring cauliflower and winter salad. Jim was getting fed up with vegetable soup, roast vegetables, and stewed rhubarb.

While Annabel cooked, Jim chopped wood for the fire. After lunch, Jim caught a bus into Manchester to deliver his lecture about post-Unity Britain at the bookshop. Annabel stayed at home to rehearse for her upcoming concert.

Before he got up to speak, Jim asked the organisers to play No One is Free by Solomon Burke.

“What I am about to tell you is not new. It is not even my idea. The secretary-general of the European Realistic Disobedience Front proposed it decades ago.” Jim began. “Political and economic power were inseparable. The princes were rich and only the rich were princes. Political power delivered the ability to extract wealth from others through coercion or conquest. The power to coerce translated into titles and castles. Capitalism changed all this with merchants emerging as a new class with economic clout if little political or social power. Economic power was distinct from political authority. Merchants evolved into shareholders and financiers. The richer you were, the more shares you could buy and the more votes you had. The few with the most shares could vote for their own interests and accumulate more shares. They essentially got to tell everyone else what to do.”

Jim paused to see whether his words were sinking in. The blank faces of his audience gave him no idea.

“Imagine a system in which no-one tells anyone what to do and you could freely choose the people or teams you want to work with and how much time you want to devote to different projects,” he continued. “When hierarchies allocate resources, the results are clumsy, inefficient and oppressive. The desire to please superiors makes full transparency impossible. They keep people in the dark about the benefits or drawbacks of working with particular managers or colleagues, how happy or dysfunctional teams are, how rewarding or boring different projects are. Under a flat management model, there are frequent gaps, but the fact these gaps exist is positive. When people discover that someone has moved from one project to another, it says a lot about both the old and the new projects and teams. When people may vote with their feet, they make a collective assessment of each project’s relative value. Unpredictability is a small price to pay for quality and efficiency.”

A hand went up in the audience and Jim acknowledged he would take the question.

“Surely there are menial tasks that no one wants to do?”

“New staff would be taken on informally,” Jim answered. “There would be no need for a personnel department. Any team can start a search to fill a vacancy either internally or externally, even if it is just to clean the bathrooms on their floor. People recruited for these roles may branch out into other roles in a way that no hierarchy would allow.”

Another hand went up and Jim deferred.

“Who decides how many people get paid?”

“A company’s income would be divided into five pots, corporation tax, fixed costs, research and development, staff salaries and bonuses. Collectively, the company would decide the relative proportions of the latter four pots on a one person one vote basis. Anyone who wanted to change the proportion going to each pot would need to propose a new formula. Having decided the amount in each pot, they then divided equally the staff salaries pot among all staff.”

Several hands shot up. Jim selected one of them.

“What about the bonus pot?”

“Every year, each member of staff is given one hundred merit points which they may distribute to other members of staff in whatever proportion they wish, they can give all one hundred to one member of staff or one each to a hundred people, but they can’t allocate any to themselves. Whatever proportion of the total merit points you receive correlates with the proportion of the budget pot you receive.”

“But the system is open to abuse,” the questioner shouted out.

“The voting system is transparent,” said Jim. “So if two people agree to allocate all one hundred merit points to each other, it will be obvious for all to see. This system eliminates one of the biggest injustices of capitalism, that the owners of a company control its profits while those who work within it receive only a wage.”

“That was Roberts’ idea,” someone shouted.

“You are proposing totalitarianism?” someone else shouted.

“In theory, Roberts’ idea was that employees should share the net revenues. However, the Unity hierarchies were just as ruthless in their imposition of power management. The formal ownership of a company is less important than how power is constructed within it.”

“Who owns the company capital?” was the next interjection

“If every citizen has a bank account at the central bank. I propose dividing this account into three funds, the first to accumulate money from salary and bonuses, the second would be a trust fund that is deposited in every citizens’ account at birth. When they come of age, they have some capital to deploy to join or start a business. Rules would protect the trust fund to stop it being used injudiciously. The third is a dividend fund into which the central bank deposits a certain amount depending on the citizen’s age and which is funded through a tax on company revenues. This fund would liberate everyone from both destitution and the cruel means testing of the welfare state. It would also allow some individuals to provide priceless contributions to society without having to run a business, for example caring, environmental conservation or non-commercial art.”

“And to be lazy,” someone shouted.

“It liberates the individual from the current safety net, which simply entangles them in poverty. Dividend gives the poor and unfortunate a platform. It allows young people to experiment with different careers and to study. There would be no income or sales taxes, only tax on company revenues and property. Anyone could lend to companies, they can loan to a company from their own trust fund or accumulation.”

“What happens when people fall out or want to leave?” Jim was asked.

“Then they just leave. They can dismiss underperforming or misbehaving employees with a board of inquiry. There is no golden handshake, although members can vote for a gift if they wish. With small partnerships of two members who wish to part company, each submits a sealed bid for what they feel the company is worth.”

“What about social responsibility?” came the next question.

“Their flat management structure will keep them relatively small, probably only a few hundred staff. A social responsibility act would ensure that we grade each company according to a social worthiness index by regional panels of randomly selected local citizens from a digital stakeholder community formed whenever a company is registered. These panels who grade the companies using a standard social ratings system monitor conduct, activities and effects on communities. We would publish these ratings online, available to anyone. If a rating falls below a certain threshold, we would order a public inquiry, which could cause the company’s deregistration, in which case we would shut it down or put it out to tender. This would curb exploitative practices.”

“How did it go?” Annabel asked when he returned.

“I think it went okay. Some of the audience came up to me at the end and criticised me for not talking about China, but I think they received it well.”

“Many people there?”

“Yes, it was packed, and look what they gave me,” he brandished a bag full of print books.

“What do you want those for?” asked Olivia, who had come downstairs when she heard her father arrive. “You can get all the books in the world on your stretch. They are all on the cloud.”

“And what will you do when you can no longer access the cloud?”

“Don’t be silly, we’ll always be able to access the cloud.”

“What did you get?” asked Annabel.

Jim pulled a book from the bag.

“The complete book of butchering, smoking, curing and sausage making.”

“What did you get that for?” Olivia squealed in horror. “You are vegetarian.”

“Practically vegan,” Annabel added.

7 years and 3 months before the collapse

Jim went back to the council offices, inquiring whether the university would re-open and if he could resume his old position. He was told that they were aiming to open the schools first and the university afterwards. The self-appointed regional assembly had assumed responsibility for education, and it was not yet clear how funding would be distributed, which complicated matters.

Jim left the council building and went straight to a jeweller and used whatever money he could spare to buy silver coins.

When he arrived home, Annabel was just heading out to go to a concert rehearsal.

“What’s that you’ve got?” She asked, seeing the small bag of coins.

“Silver.”

“Jim? What is going on? I don’t have time to talk about it now, but we need to talk. We don’t have money to buy silver.”

“But…”

“Wait until I get back. We’ll talk then.”

However, when Annabel returned, Olivia and Jim were already sleeping.

7 years and two months before the collapse

When Jim left, Annabel was still sleeping. The Assembly had invited him to an Antifa meeting..

The purpose appeared to be to discover the crimes of the Unity campaign by holding question-and-answer sessions with the victims.

They were particularly interested in those who had been interned in camps

“I was not in a camp,” Jim pointed out. “I wouldn’t want people to think I was boasting about my everyday problems.”

“Nonsense,” said the chair. “Your experiences are also very important.”

She gave them suggested dates for the sessions.

Jim went straight to the Old Hall, which was the venue for Annabel’s concert where she and Olivia were waiting for him.

There were about sixty or seventy in the audience, and Jim thought Annabel played very well.

“We have double cause for celebration,” Annabel told him after the concert.

“I’ve been dying to tell you all night,” Olivia squealed with joy. “But mummy made me promise to wait until now.”

“What is it?”

“You tell him, Olivia.”

“I got my GCE results.”

“And?”

“I passed all of them, and I have a place at sixth form college.”

“That’s fantastic, well done.”

“I saw you put the goats together,” said Annabel.

“Well, we need to if we are going to have kids.”

“Are we going to have baby goats?” asked Olivia.

“I hope so,” said Jim.

Annabel rolled her eyes.

7 years and 1 month before the collapse

“Look at this,” said Jim, showing the message he’d just received on his stretch. “They have offered me a course of five one-hour lectures to expound on the ideas I shared in my speech at the bookshop.”

“That’s good.”

“But that’s not all. The Northern Assembly is contemplating not re-opening the university in favour of more vocational higher education. Can you believe it?”

“Jim, after the last ten years I can believe anything.”

“And that’s not the last of it. There’s another proposal here, more lectures on the effect of the Unity campaign on scholarship. I had better go into the city today.”

When he arrived at the office building where he had been told to go, Jim found a crowd outside. Jim announced himself to the doorman, who was as coarse with Jim as he was being with the rest of the crowd.

“You’ll be in trouble if you don’t let me in,” Jim snapped.

“I was in a camp,” replied the doorman. “And now I take orders from no-one.”

“Me too,” Jim lied.

“Which camp?” asked the doorman.

Jim realised this was an argument he could not win and slipped away. He read that out of the 5 million immigrants that had been in the UK pre-unity, only 250,000 remained. Could they have replicated these statistics in other developed nations around the world? Could this have been another genocide? Another holocaust?

Will Atkinson saw Jim staring at his stretch and, wondering what he was doing, went over to him.

“Oh, don’t worry about him,” said Atkinson after Jim had explained the run in with the doorman. “We’re always having problems with him. He actually was in a camp but he’s completely unsuitable for his job, but they insist on keeping him, there’s nothing else for him to do. We have to do whatever the assembly tells us to.”

Jim wondered whether the country had just stumbled from one autocracy into another.

“I just came to confirm that you actually want me to lecture on Unity and scholarship,” he said.

“Yes, that’s right. One hour.”

Jim wondered how he would fill an hour on the subject because in his opinion you could address the whole subject in a sentence; either one is objective or one is fanatical.

On his way home, he saw that the cinema had reopened and asked Annabel and Olivia if they wanted to go. They did and invited Mark and Sofia so they could get a lift.

They watched a remake of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, which Jim thought was not as good as the original. He wondered why filmmakers seemed to have an obsession to ruin excellent films by making them again.

The village had no electricity when they pulled up at Mark and Sophia’s, and the house was cold when they had walked up the lane. The wood stove didn’t seem to be efficient enough to heat the house in the cold spell they were experiencing.

7 years before the collapse

There was a ceremony in the city for the victims of Unity in Piccadilly gardens. Hundreds of people had gathered

As victims of Unity, they are told that they may be eligible for compensation. They went to investigate but were turned away from the Unity victims’ office.

“Only those who were interred in the camps were victims,” said the snooty receptionist. “You need to go to the council and apply for benefits.”

Jim was on his way to the council when he learned, via his stretch, that Quinn, the man who was trustee for their house and had tried to help them, had died.

“He was in his forties,” Jim told Annabel. “Apparently he hadn’t seen his youngest child. The child was born after they had transferred Quinn to a camp. They moved him straight from the camp to the hospital where he died.”

“That’s so sad,” said Annabel.

At the council, Jim received the same treatment as at the victims’ office and was told to apply online. He went home and found Aiden Clark waiting for him.

“How are you Jim?” said Aiden. “Glad to see you are settling in. You don’t look happy though.”

“I’m sorry. I just learned today that someone who had tried to help us has died. There was a doctor as well, who was very kind to us. I recently heard he is very ill. Are you coming to Annabel’s concert?”

“Yes, I’ll drive us all there.”

“It’s the second gig she’s got.”

“So I heard.”

“Have you been to the Old Hall before?”

“No, I heard they did a fantastic job on the restoration.”

“At least one good thing came from Unity.”

Aiden drove them to the Old Hall, and the concert went well until there was a power cut. Annabel played the rest of her set acoustically to a room full of candles and then they went home.

*

Jim received a message from the university announcing that they hoped to restart at the beginning of November and they would like him to be a professor again.

“Annabel, listen to this,” he said, going into the bedroom to give her the good news. “What’s wrong with your face?”

“I don’t know. It’s itchy. What does it look like?”

“You have shiny red… or purple.. bumps.”

“Yes, I can feel them.”

“Let’s take you to the doctor.”

“You need to make sure Olivia gets the school bus.”

“Yes, yes, I will. Get yourself ready.”

“And Mr Benn smells.”

“Yes, I’ll move him further away, just get yourself ready.”

It was rainy as they got the bus into town. On the way, they realised a smaller amount had recharged onto their food app than they had expected and, on investigation, discovered that the reorganisation of the system had left them in a worse position than before.

On the way, they noticed that posters of the Assembly First Minister Alex, had appeared all over the place.

When they arrived, Dr Armstrong gave Jim and Annabel a warm welcome.

“How do you like my new surgery?” he asked. “I have a medical assistant and three receptionists.”

“Very nice,” said Annabel.

“Yes, I’m advising the Assembly, they’ll probably give me a position and a big title in the ministry.”

Jim thought about how pale and unwell Dr Armstrong looked, but he was obviously happy.

“Oh, by the way,” the doctor continued. “You remember that Unity police officer, the one who you told me, slapped Annabel? Committed suicide. Anyway, let’s have a look at you both.”

They followed him into the examination room.

“Well, I’m afraid you both have eczema. Probably gave it to each other. Better keep an eye on Olivia, too. I’ll give you a prescription for corticosteroid cream but good luck in finding some. If not, you could try green tea if you can get hold of any.”

At the chemist, there was a queue. The chemist did not have the cream Dr Armstrong had recommended, but could supply an alternative.

While they were in the city, Jim tried to settle matters with the university. They confirmed he would need to deliver a lecture on 18th November and approved an advance on his salary.

They returned home in a brighter mood than when they had left and Jim set to work moving Mr Benn’s pen.

6 years and 11 months before the collapse

“Up to the end of the 16th century, even global trading companies were guilds or partnerships, whose members pooled their resources to achieve that which none of them could achieve in isolation. Then, the East India Company became the first joint stock company. It created the possibility for companies with powers so immense that it would dwarf their countries of origin and could be deployed in faraway places to exploit people and resources. The East India Company grew more powerful than the British state, answerable only to its shareholders. In Britain it controlled the Government, abroad its private army oversaw the destruction of well-functioning economies in Asia and ensured the systematic exploitation of their peoples. It was the template for companies that were to follow, overthrowing governments. Freedom means as much under the thumb of global conglomerates as it does under totalitarian regimes like Unity – nothing. While we celebrated the local businesses, we turned a blind eye to the global behemoths that stop at nothing to destroy their competitors.”

Jim took a deep breath. He was delivering a similar lecture to the one he had at the bookshop and had barely paused for breath in his excitement..

“Even in this current climate of great hardship,” he continued. “There are millions working in the voluntary sector. They have managers who have no rights to fire them, force them to do things or even discipline them. The fire, lifeboat and ambulance services where these individuals work are incredibly efficient. Could the entire economy emulate the voluntary sector? I envisage an employment marketplace where individuals are free to move from organisation to organisation.”

“If this model was the most efficient, it would have happened already,” said a member of the audience when Jim took her question.

“When a system evolves, it just means it is the best to survive in that environment. It does not mean it is the best system in the long run,” said Jim. “Capitalism channels the efforts of all the greatest minds to the destruction of the planet, despite the warnings for more than half a century.”

“You are justifying a Unity policy. If I own a business and then employ someone, why should I give them an equal share in my business?” came the next question.

“The real question is, do we want the net revenues of an enterprise to be distributed by a workplace dictatorship? This is inevitable if shares are traded, or do we want the division of the company’s profits to be decided by a workplace democracy? This is only possible if there are equally distributable and non-tradable shares. It is the only system that does not make a mockery out of liberal democracy and a wasteland out of our planet. Next question?”

“I can’t imagine any greater tyranny than some random group passing judgment over us,” said the next member of the audience.

“I would rather a group of random citizens deciding whether my company is serving society than a totalitarian government like Unity,” said Jim. “I can think of no better check on power than someone who has been selected who probably doesn’t want the power. By the way, if you want to improve our public schools and hospitals? Pass a law which demands that all elected officials, whether international, regional or local government, must send their children to state schools and use public hospitals. I think you would find that the quality of our schools and hospitals would suddenly improve.”

The crowd cheered.

After the lecture, Jim received two offers to repeat it, one to the teachers’ union and the other to the members of the majority party in the assembly. The second invite came with a promise to email membership forms to the party.

*

Jim woke up with a terrible head cold. He made coffee and sat down to write, but the party membership forms were sitting there in his email inbox, looking back at him. He felt like he would be a coward if he joined, but also a coward if he didn’t. On the one hand, he worried that joining a party that was courting him was egotistical, but he considered the party the lesser of all evils. It was the only one pressing for the exclusion of the Unity extremists while on the negative side, replacing restrictions on freedoms with other restrictions on freedoms.

A confirmation message from the university, asking him to attend to finalise matters, distracted him. He resolved to fill in the form and join the party.

He told Annabel his intention.

“Good,” she said. “What made up your mind?”

“I think that not being in a party these days is a luxury which is tantamount to cowardice, or at least extreme apathy. It’s the only way to get us out of our current problems.”

“I agree.”

“I’ve had more invites to lecture as well.”

“Things are looking up.”

*

Jim went to the university to see what Unity had left of the place and to prepare his new post-Unity course.

He saw Henry Harris, they both ignored each other. Jim felt awkward because others were trying to introduce them. King saved Jim.

“Jim! How are you? How are Annabel and Olivia?”

“Good thanks, and how are you?”

“Very good, thanks. You must have heard that I am to be the head of the section.”

“No, I hadn’t heard that.”

There was an awkward pause.

“I have joined the party,” Jim broke the silence.

“Really? Are you sure?”

“I have a confession to make,” said Jim. “I really fear the future of people of foreign heritage. Tens of thousands of immigrants used to arrive in Manchester every year. Now there must be less than ten thousand in total and yet, those with foreign heritage hold many of the top positions in local government.”

6 years and 10 months before the collapse

Jim arrived late to a meeting at the assembly building where he had been asked to give a lecture at a cross party meeting.

“I hear that they have elected you to the cabinet,” said Dr Armstrong, who was there trying to improve his chances of being asked to be health minister.

“What?”

“Yes, unanimously proposed by all four parties.”

After Jim had delivered his standard lecture, he added more about concepts for central banking, all taken from ideas over 25 years old.

“To get the public to stay with their central bank accounts, we will give them a 5% tax relief as long as they pay their tax in advance while giving them the right to change their minds and spend it in the meantime. Because private banks cannot offer this amount of interest, or offer tax relief, money will migrate from private banks back to the central bank. Every newborn will continue to receive a trust fund which cannot be used until the baby is an adult. Income and sales tax will be abolished and instead of 5% tax relief, the central bank will offer 5% interest on all balances. The amount in the central bank will be transparent so that no-one can create additional money without everyone knowing. The US, UK and Europe created trillions of dollars, pounds and euros for the ultra-rich 0.1% while the masses drove themselves into the ground, working for a pittance. We will encourage community cooperative money brokers to pool the savings of individuals to fund worthwhile enterprises. I’ll answer your question.”

Jim indicated a member of the audience.

“How do you intend to control the overall supply of money in the economy?”

Jim recognised the assembly’s finance minister.

“The central bank’s charter will be clear. They will adjust the quantity of money to regulate prices and enable the production of socially valued goods and services for society. When average prices rise above a threshold, the central bank would increase the interest it offers to savers, encouraging people to reduce spending, at other times, when economic activity is too sluggish, the interest rate would be reduced and/or the dividend increased.”

“But will the central bank become independent of the government?” asked the finance minister.

“The central bank will become independent of the government, but not of society. Monetary committees will decide the supply of money, comprising a rotating panel, chosen by lot, using an algorithm that ensures fair representation of all members of society. Multiple local currencies will run alongside that of the central bank’s. The point of these local currencies is to keep value produced locally in the local community. In this way, transfer of wealth from one region to another can be regulated by increasing or decreasing the amount charged for exchanging local for national currency in proportion to the imbalance in wealth and trade flow between the two regions.”

At the end of the lecture, a young woman approached Jim and introduced herself as Luna Adams from the Manchester Evening News. She asked whether she could have a transcript of the lecture.

“I’m afraid I don’t have one,” said Jim. “But I would be happy to discuss the ideas with you at another time if you like.”

Luna thanked him and took his number.

*

After an exchange of messages, Jim invited Luna to the house for an interview.

“You have been an outspoken critic of the IMP,” she began.

“The IMP still lends money to bankrupt countries on terms that are the equivalent of debt bondage,” said Jim. “When a developing country can no longer raise the money it owes to foreign bankers, the IMP steps in to lend the money on the condition that the country transfers public property to the international oligarchy. It is not different from the IMF and results in school and hospital closures, cuts in pensions and wages below the poverty line.”

“But what should it be doing?”

“Its role should stabilise the world economy and to invest directly in the regions of the world that need investment to develop, without putting them into debt.”

“Isn’t that just the old socialist dream of a magic money tree?”

“No, there are levies on net exporters of goods and money that would help to stabilise world trade and global money flow. They should channel the proceeds of these levies into free development funds for the world’s least developed regions. At the moment, the net exporters and importers still end up with trade surpluses or deficits.”

“Yes, Professor Smith, I know how the balance of trade works.”

“Then you know that we have had a trade deficit with Germany for the last century and deficit countries have to borrow more and more to afford to buy the goods from the surplus countries. This continued reliance on international bankers is very dangerous and the situation becomes worse when the country has to borrow in a currency other than its own, for example, having to borrow in euros to pay Germany, or in rubles to buy gas from Russia. As soon as banks stop lending the UK euros and rubles, it cannot finance its debt. Germany and Russia are happy to lend us euros and rubles as long as we keep buying their products and resources. As soon as they stop lending us the money, the complete house of cards collapses. The IMP agrees to lend the UK the missing euros or rubles as long as the UK agrees to impoverish their people and sell the family silver to the global oligarchs. Of course, when you get a populist government like Unity who were happy to blame the Chinese and Germans and Russians for their surpluses, then the people blamed these countries rather than their own government or the IMP for their own poverty. It poisons the deficit country’s democracy as it has done in the UK and the US. Trade imbalances never end well, which is why they must be managed.”

“How would you prevent this?”

“Joining the global digital currency and pressing for IMP reform so that it sticks to its founding principles. They should penalise countries for running a large surplus or deficit by charging a trade imbalance levy. This should fund sustainable investments in public health, education, renewable energy, transport and organic agriculture, mostly in the less developed regions in the world. It would also fund migration flows of a human movement project. These are not loans but transfers. To avoid the levy, a country should import roughly the same value of goods and services as it exports. We could fix the levy at 5% of deficits and surpluses and then rise to 10% later.”

“It won’t balance trade.”

“Even if it cannot balance trade, it will generate funds to be invested in underdeveloped regions. The point is to curtail global imbalances, especially the flow of money from one economic block to another. There should also be a surge funding levy to prevent investments in underdeveloped regions from causing a boom/bust.”

“What is a surge funding levy?”

“It’s a fee on international transactions that kicks in above a certain threshold and increases in proportion to the speed and volume of the transfers. They also use the fees for international development. These funds should also help developing countries adhere to the stricter emission limits required to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

“How are exchange rates determined?”

“There would be daily auctions to work out exchange rates. What I am talking about is an almost fully automated system of global discipline that balances out trade and money flows and funds the transition of developing regions to low carbon energy, sustainable transport, organic agriculture and decent public education and health systems. We just need international agreements to reform the IMP and conduct international trade in the global digital currency.”

“I am impressed,” said Luna. “Could that agreement be achieved?”

“It is the US, the UK and Brazil who don’t see the benefits, the rest of the world is already striving towards this system.”

“Thank you very much for your time, Professor Smith. I must go, I have to pick up my daughter, I left her in daycare.”

“How old is she?”

“Four.”

“Can’t her father collect her?”

“We are divorced.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“No need to be. It was an amicable split.”

“So have you always been a journalist?”

“I studied political economy, but I always wanted to be a journalist, but when Unity was in power, I was deemed ‘politically unreliable’. So I worked as a film extra for a while, got married, had my daughter, got divorced and now I’m here.”

“What do you think the future will bring?”

“I don’t know. I have no faith in the current coalition.”

*

Another lecture, building on the others, this time focusing on land.

“From the 13th century, common land has been enclosed. Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual enclosure acts were passed, affecting 6.8 million acres and kick-starting capitalism. We should transfer all land titles to regional authorities.”

There was a murmur of disquiet among the gathering. Unity had already nationalised all freeholds, and some had only just got their deeds back, many others were still waiting.

“We need a great ground reform act to establish a grounds common authority for each county which will hold the freehold titles. We would grant existing landlords free lifetime leases. We would divide the land between social zones and commercial zones. Rent from commercial zones would fund social housing and other social projects in the social zones. I disagree with much that Unity put in place but the common ownership of property was a move in the right direction.”

A collective gasp showed how astonished the crowd was to hear anyone agree with a Unity policy. Polarisation in society still existed, just the balance of power had changed.

“We should not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Jim pleaded with the disgruntled crowd. “There would be two types of commercial zones, one for houses occupied by those willing and able to pay market rates and one for commercial businesses. A permanent subletting auctions scheme would manage the zones. At the beginning of each year, anyone who occupies a building in a commercial zone as a business or a resident will bid for how much rent they are willing to pay for the coming year. If they bid more than the current occupier, then they may take it over after a transition period. Set the value of the property you occupy too high and you pay too much rent, set it too low and you risk eviction. Questions?”

“How are land and houses distributed in the social zones?”

“A county wide people’s assembly will oversee the division of land between commercial and social zones, the division of commercial zones between business and residential use and the distribution of properties within social zones. We will randomly select its members using an algorithm that guarantees fair representation of various groups and communities living in the county.”

“Yes, but who qualifies for social housing and, out of those, who gets the more desirable properties?” the questioner interjected.

“Once we have allocated you a property within a social zone, we would guarantee tenure. When a property is vacated or we build a new property, we would allocate the property using a randomised digital raffle. Everyone seeking a property is included but we increase their odds of winning according to an assessment of their needs and decreased according to the value of their savings, in other words, their ability to bid for a commercial property.”

At the end of the lecture, the warm applause he received heartened Jim, but he suspected the gathering was being polite. He observed many sceptical faces.

*

“Alex is turning down all claims for compensation,” Jim complained to Annabel. “I’ve been told I would have to sue. The university said they can increase my salary, but only if I drop my claim for compensation.”

“You’re not going to?”

“Of course not. I’ve received a receipt for my application to register as a victim of Unity.”

“Have you read the article in the Evening News?”

“No, why?”

“I’ve just had a message from someone complaining about it. They think you wrote it.”

“Oh shit, let me have a look. Oh no, it looks like I am making myself out to be the victim. There is very little of the content of the lecture. It is as if I am trying to portray myself as a martyr.”

Jim began sending messages, telling people he was not responsible for the article. He even emailed the editor and copied the individuals he wanted to witness his protest. He didn’t want to be associated with the waves of arrests which were purging the country. He worried that the continued divisiveness would eventually lead to civil war. The regional assemblies were clamouring for power from Westminster and Westminster, seeking to quieten the unrest was conceding to regional demands, leaving itself impotent.

The Northern Assembly was riding on the back of the working class popularity of Jim’s suggestion for land reforms, but there was no sign they were attempting to implement the measures that he had cribbed from the economists of decades before. There was no sense of fairness, the Assembly was just confiscating land it wanted and this made Jim the villain, as the person who had the temerity to suggest keeping a Unity policy.

Not ready to leave Jim and Olivia?

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#148 Interviewing J J Toner

My fellow independent author, JJ Toner has recently released a new volume in the Android Wars series, Escape from Luciflex, for which I was fortunate to be a beta reader.

Carla Scott, an Android engineer, has been banished to the molten mines of Luciflex, a penal colony at the far end of the galaxy. She must escape, with the help of some pirates, in order to prevent a war.

The first in the series is called The Shape of Fear. Working in secret, Carla develops a software module to give her androids Pain – and Fear. What could possibly go wrong!

J J lives in Ireland, and works in a small study overlooking a magnificent copper beech tree, writing science and historical fiction, editing (including the work of other authors), and reading and is currently writing Bubble One, the third book in the series.

Égalité, the only goldilocks planet in the E-System, has an elliptical orbit, with a climate that ranges from blistering heat to extreme cold. The colonists live inside huge geodesic Bubbles. Tensions arise when the indigenous amphibious ‘animals’ go to war against the invaders. Book four is next on the writing list.

I enjoyed reading Escape from Luciflex, there was lots going on, story wise and J J has created a fascinating future in which humans have expanded to a number of other systems. The story keeps twisting right until the end and is well worth a read

You can get your copy of Escape from Luciflex here.

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#147 Reading The Angel by Mark Dawson

Thrillers are not my usual preferred genre, so I probably wouldn’t have picked up a Mark Dawson book were it not for the fact that Mark Dawson is not only one of the successful self-published authors but he is also part of the popular self-publishing podcast, The Self Publishing Formula.

I have listened to a couple of hundred episodes of the podcast and it taught me most of what I learned about self-publishing in my first few years. So, when a Mark Dawson novel popped up in a 2 for 1 deal in Audible, I decided I would give it a go.

Two other books I picked up in these deals were Casino Royal by Ian Fleming, the first Bond novel, and Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis, subtitled A James Bond novel, it was the first James Bond continuation novel, written in 1968, four years after Fleming’s death. I have to say that all three novels are very similar in style which is meant to be a complement to Mark Dawson. They all have the almost pedantic attention to detail and Dawson clearly did a reasonable amount of research for his novel.

The actions of some of the characters are clearly based on the movements of the July 7 bombers who targeted commuters travelling on London’s public transport system during the morning rush hour in 2005.

The protagonist, Isabella Rose, whom the series is named after, is the fifteen-year-old daughter of Beatrix Rose, the protagonist of another Mark Dawson series. There are many references to the Beatrix books which provide the backstory to this series and a common character, Pope, is a key character in The Angel.

Like I said, thrillers are not really my genre, despite having written two suspense books myself, but I endeavour to read in a range of genres and in this case I was pleased I did.

If you like thrillers then I would highly recommend trying The Angel.

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#146 Reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants as part of National Novel Writing month (Nanowrimo) and that is how I wrote my first novel, Living with Saci. The aim of Nanowrimo is to write 50,000 words in November. I think I managed around 14,000 by the end of the month I participated but I just kept writing into December and January and March all the way to June and then put it aside for two months before spending the best part of the next twelve months editing it.

Water for Elephants is her third book following Riding Lessons and Flying Changes. She has two more books Ape House and At the Waters Edge.

The story of Water for Elephants is told through a series of memories by Jacob Jankowski, a man who can’t remember if he’s 90 or 93-years-old and lives in a nursing home. The old Jacob sections of the book are just as powerful if not more powerful than the sections featuring his younger self working as a vet for a circus.

I don`t think I have seen the whole of the 2011 film adaptation starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz and Hal Holbrook but I hope it devoted enough time to the older Jacob and not just focus on the young Jacob which for me was not as moving even though it deals with serious and startling issues.

The book is billed as a historical romance but for me the book is much more than romance, the details of the tough lives of those who worked on a circus during the great recession. The poverty, the violence the suffering is all brought alive by the her imagery and characterisation.

Sara Gruen was born in Canada. She started to write fiction when she was made redundant from her technical writing job. Water For Elephants was turned down by the publisher of her first two novels but thankfully she managed to find another. It went on to become a New York Times bestseller and is now available in 45 languages. She now lives in North Carolina, with her husband, three sons, and seven animals.

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#145 The First Chapter of Albert & Marie

My latest historical novel, Albert & Marie, is launched on Sunday. It is based on the true story of my Great Uncle Albert and his wives. Please enjoy this copy of the first chapter.

Chapter One – The Methodist Family

Albert stared up at the plain brown cross and he imagined the white figure of Jesus, nailed to the cross, attached to the wall. To one side, a wooden board displayed five sets of two or three-figure numbers sitting above each other in order from top to bottom.

‘Four down, one to go,’ Albert thought to himself.

He grabbed The Methodist Hymn Book from the narrow wooden ledge on the back of the pew in front and flipped through to hymn 784. It was the last number displayed on the wooden board, Abide With Me. At least it was a hymn he liked and had already learned to play on the cornet. Once they had finished the song, he could go to Boys Brigade and practise with the band.

While his mother chatted to her friends from the Mothers’ Bible Class and his younger brothers and sisters went to Sunday school, Albert would attend the St Andrews Lads Brigade where he was already a lance corporal and could practise the cornet.

“Can’t I have a cornet to practise at home?” he used to plead with his mother.

“We can’t afford one of those, they cost over a pound,” she would dismiss him. “There’s enough racket in our house without you playing a bugle at all hours.”

He glanced along the pew to his right. Next to him sat his sister, Elizabeth, only a year older than him. Next to her was his older brother, Thomas, already 18 and taller than Albert’s mother who sat in a sandwich between her eldest son and Albert’s father who was clutching his King James bible and hanging on every word the minister spoke, probably wishing he stood up there in his place, like he often did.

To Albert’s left, and much less interested in the proceedings, sat Florence, two years younger than Albert, Bert, four years younger, Bill, still only eight, and Elsie, a mere five. Albert knew it would be his duty to take his younger sisters and brothers to Sunday school, and then he would be free to practise.

The organist struck up the opening chords of Abide With Me, and Albert imagined he was playing it himself.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;

the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!

when other helpers fail, and comforts flee,

help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Albert sang along with his family and the rest of the congregation but, in his mind he was playing the cornet.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;

shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;

in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

The minister and choir processed down the aisle and out the back of the church. When the hymn ended, the congregation filed out.

“Come on, let’s go,” Albert said to Florence, Bert, Bill and Elsie, wondering why his older sister wasn’t moving.

“Stop pushing,” she complained.

“Stop it, you two,” Albert’s mum chastised them both.

Albert bit his lip and waited for the slow-moving congregation to make their way out of the church so he could drag Bert, Bill and Elsie to St Andrew’s church hall and leave them there while he practised with the band.

Although it was on the way home, it was over a mile from the Methodist church to the Church of England hall where the Boys Brigade and Sunday School met. When they arrived, the Anglican service had just finished and Albert could see his friends already congregating as he handed his siblings over to the Superintendent.

Half of his friends in the boys brigade had already left school and had jobs as apprentice joiners, cabinetmakers, clerks or fitters with local companies, at the colliery or with the coke works on the site of the old ironworks which still dominated the town, Albert could see the blast furnace chimney from where he stood in the grounds of St Andrew’s church.

Now that Albert had left school he too would have to get a job, and he was not looking forward to dinner because he was sure his father would want to talk about it.

He put that out of his mind and went to see his friends who were receiving their instruments from the bandleader, Mr Smith. Albert donned his pillbox hat, checked his belt, dusted down his uniform and straightened his bag so that Mr Smith would hand him the cornet without reprimand.

Albert enjoyed practising with the Boys Brigade but he never liked the marches which other boys in the town would accompany with ribald cheers, derisive songs and occasional stone throwing. He enjoyed when the group played football or went swimming, but it was the cornet he liked the most.

“Underneath the Banner,” Mr Smith announced, once the band had assembled and ready.

Albert knew he had to practise the music they played on the marches, but during breaks, when Mr Smith wasn’t paying attention, he would practise popular tunes like Hurrah, Hurrah for England, or Work Hard, Help Yourselves, but he preferred tunes like North Country Lass, Oak and the Ash and Wine and Love Songs.

Despite his dedication to the cornet, Albert could not seem to help but get in trouble with Mr Smith. However much he tried not to, Albert always got himself in trouble. If he was paying attention, then it was a slovenly posture. At the end of the practice, Albert handed back the cornet and, once Mr Smith had dismissed the brigade, he collected Bert, Bill and Elsie from the church hall and took them home via muddy St Andrew’s lane which ran behind the old iron works site and the colliery where his dad worked.

When they got home, their mother was preparing dinner.

“Take your shoes off, I don’t want you traipsing that mud through here. Go upstairs, get changed out of those clothes before you ruin them,” their mother greeted them. “Then come here and help me with the vegetables.”

They did as they were told and, once out of their Sunday best, they went back to the kitchen to help with the vegetables. She put Elsie and Bill to work shelling peas, allowed Bert to top and tail gooseberries and blueberries and Florence to chop the mint and green vegetables while Albert and Elizabeth had to peel the potatoes.

When they had finished their chores, Bill wanted to go into the street to play football but Bert wanted to paint so Albert agreed to play with Bill.

Their street was wide and muddy and it was also on a slope, so Albert made sure Bill stood uphill from him. He had made the mistake before of letting Bill stand downhill, but sometimes Bill could not kick the ball hard enough and it would roll back towards him. On other occasions, Bill would miss the ball and it would start rolling downhill, so Albert would have to charge after it.

With Bill placed decidedly uphill, they kicked the ball backwards and forwards. Albert liked his brother but there was a six-year difference so it wasn’t the same as playing with his own friends and he felt like a babysitter. He was a bit relieved when their mother called them in to wash their hands for dinner.

“Shoes!” their mum shouted before they could step over the threshold.

As soon as Albert entered the house, in his stocking feet, he could smell the roast beef and his mouth started salivating. His mum always did the family proud, with her Sunday roast, and it looked like she would do again. He hurried to wash himself and sat at the table, set by Elizabeth and Florence.

Albert and the others sat in silence while their mum brought plates loaded with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, peas, greens and gravy. Their dad said grace, and then they ate in silence. They knew better than to speak at the dinner table.

When they had finished the main course, their mother brought out the gooseberry and blueberry pie. They ate this too, in silence.

At the end of the meal, Albert’s father excused everyone, but he asked Albert to stay. It was the conversation he had been dreading.

“Let’s go for a walk,” his father said.

“Where are we going?” asked Albert.

“You’ll see.”

Albert’s father led him through the town and out the other side to a small lane which ended at a field in which a small brook began its journey to the River Wear.

“That lovely dinner your mum made for us, Albert. It costs money to put food on the table. Your generation is lucky, there are plenty of jobs for school leavers like you. I know you didn’t like school, Albert, but now you are going out into the big wide world…”

Albert’s dad stopped to look at the river.

“Your reputation precedes you, Albert. I spoke to Mr Brown at the pawnbrokers on the high street. Your mum has sorted out some of Thomas’s hand-me-downs you can use as work clothes. He’s expecting you there at 8 am tomorrow morning.”

Albert didn’t argue, he knew there was no point.

You can get a free sample of Albert & Marie here.

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#144 Reading Pinball 1973 Haruki Murakami

Whenever I’m not reading books to help me with research for a novel I like to get stuck into a nice piece of literary fiction, preferably involving a degree of weirdness.

On this occasion it was Haruki Murakami’s second novel and the second book in the Trilogy of the Rat series, Pinball, 1973.

When it was translated into English, Murikami wrote in the foreword that Hear the Wind Sing (1979) and Pinball, 1973 (1980) were his practice novels, his apprenticeship, the groundwork that had to be laid before he could make a true beginning. He has also said that if he had continued writing novels like these, “I would have soon hit a dead end.” Murakami is alleged to have said that he did not intend these novels to be published outside Japan.

In theory, I understand how he feels, they say you need to write a million words before you publish your first novel and I’m sure most authors would admit their writing evolves over time but I liked Pinball, 73 very much and am now tempted to read the other books in the trilogy.

The plot centers on the narrator’s brief but intense obsession with pinball, his life as a freelance translator, and his later efforts to reunite with the old pinball machine that he used to play. He describes living with a pair of identical unnamed female twins, who mysteriously appear in his apartment one morning, and disappear at the end of the book.

The first Murakami novel I read was After Dark, having already devoured four David
Mitchell
novels before then it was easy to see how Murukami had been an influence on his work.

My next Murukami novel was What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which many rightly say is a book about running but is also a book about writing and has been as inspirational for me as On Writing by Stephen King.

Apparently, this means I haven’t yet read any of his notable works like A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), Norwegian Wood (1987), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994–95), Kafka on the Shore (2002), and 1Q84 (2009–10). He was tipped to win last years Nobel prize for literature but in the end it went to Louise Glück. When asked about the possibility of being awarded the Nobel Prize, Murakami responded with a laugh saying “No, I don’t want prizes. That means you’re finished.”

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#143 Reading Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

I have always liked anyone called David Mitchell, whether they are a popular TV comedian or an award winning author.

Today I’m talking about the latter, whose eighth novel tells the story of the fictional 1960s British rock band Utopia Avenue.

Unlike many of his readers, it wasn’t Cloud Atlas that first attracted me to David Mitchell. I started with his first novel, Ghostwritten which set the scene for the books which were to follow which all have a similar theme of intersecting lives. Another influential aspect of Ghostwritten for me was the plethora of references to good music, especially the Jazz and it inspired me to include plenty of musical references in my own books and one day I hope to set up a Spotify playlist for each one, as soon as I get round to it.

His work has inspired me to make connections between my own novels even if my connections might be a bit more conventional than his. In Utopia Avenue, The band’s first single “Darkroom” is played on the radio by Bat Segundo, a DJ who appears in Ghostwritten. Jasper mentions a disembodied entity called ‘the Mongolian’ in his list of people he’s met who understand and accept him, presumably the spirit from the Mongolia section of Ghostwritten. Jasper’s friend from school, Heinz Formaggio, goes on to become the physicist mentioned in Ghostwritten

His second novel, Number9dream, has a similar feel and was shortlisted for a Booker. It still has music running through its core and is even named after a sing by John Lennon. One thing I didn’t realise was that a section of the book was adapted into an Oscar nominated short film called The Voorman Problem starring Martin Freeman

Next came Cloud Atlas which was also short listed for a Booker and was, of course, made into a feature film starring Tom Hanks. In a way, I think the book was less confusing than the film because of the way it was structured. In Utopia Avenue, one of the main characters, Jasper de Zoet, listens to a recording of The Cloud Atlas Sextet composed by Robert Frobisher, a character and work described in Cloud Atlas. Also another band member, Elf Holloway, has a relationship with Luisa Rey, who appears in Cloud Atlas.

His next novel, Black Swan Green was semi-autobiographical, I guess in a similar way to my own The Astonishing Anniversaries of James and David: Part One which has many events inspired by my own experiences. It was longlisted for the Booker and, perhaps more importantly, it was nominated for a bad sex award, an accolade the I myself am striving for with Living with Saci and Living with the Headless Mule.

Next came The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which has close links to Utopia Avenue in that Jasper is a descendent of Jacob. It is a historical novel set during the Dutch trading concession with Japan in the late 18th century, during the period of Japanese history known as Sakoku. The Japanese theme which runs through many of Mitchell’s novels is not surprising given that he lived in Hiroshima for eight years teaching English to technical students.

The Bone Clocks was also longlisted for a Booker and was described as one of the year’s best novels by Stephen King. In Utopia Avenue, the band play at the pub in Gravesend owned by the Sykes family who appear in The Bone Clocks, Levon Frankland, the band’s manager, appears in The Bone Clocks at a literary event in the year 2015, at a party in London the band meet Crispin Hershey, the author from The Bone Clocks, as a child and Horologist Esther Little also appears in both novels.

The character of Marinus and the group known as Horologists are present in Utopia Avenue and in several of Mitchell’s novels.

He has also written From Me Flows What You Call Time is a 90-page novella completed in 2016 which will not be published until 2114. It is part of a series by artist Katie Paterson called Future Library project calling for contributions from popular writers for novels to be published in 2114.

Other writing projects of his have included screenwriting for Sense8 and Matrix 4.

One of my favourite parts of Utopia Avenue for me is that the drummer, Peter ‘Griff’ Griffin, is, like me, from Hull in East Yorkshire. Apart from that, I liked his description of a world which surrounded Denmark Street, a part of London that has changed dramatically and irrevocably.

If you like music of the late sixties then I would highly recommend the book which name drops all the famous artists and personalities of the time and if you are like me, someone who reads every novel Mitchell publishes, then you won’t be disappointed.

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#142 Arguments against black lives matter

Last week I had a big argument with my Father-in-law about the incident at the Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League group game with Istanbul Basaksehir which was abandoned following an alleged racist incident.

His argument, which I believe is a commonly held view, is that why shouldn’t the fourth official refer to a big black man, surrounded by whites, as a big black man, after all, isn’t it just a form of identification? My argument was that the protest was illustrating the fact that we identify black people via their race in situations where we wouldn’t necessary identify white people in the same way, for example, that big white guy and that the very fact that the protest resulted in us having a conversation about these issues (in fact it was a heated argument) can only be a good thing..

In Brazil, it is common to identify individuals by race, a Brazilian with pale skin would be called Alemão (German), an asian looking Brazilian will be called Japones (Japonese) despite the fact they are Brazilian and even if their ancestry is not Japonese. Any American or European born foreigner, like myself, will be called Gringo lumping all immigrants in a general group. Do I like being called a Gringo? No, I do not. It is a pejorative term that lumps me in a group of people with whom I probably have very little in common but it plays to the stereotypical prejudices held by the Brazilian general public.

The basic problem with these monikers is that they satisfy a need of the individual to pidgeon-hole other people into groups to which they can then safely apply their prejudices. It removes the need to find out about the individual personally, including their name, origin, family background, situation. It de-personalises society and means that we can deal with people as objects that are part of a group rather than individuals who have the same complex needs and experiences as we do.

The same argument is used by Brazilians to complain about why they shouldn’t be allowed to use the pejorative term viado (fag) for gay people.

My Father-in-law did not accept that blacks had a justifiable argument to be treated more fairly than they have been for the last 500 years, since their ancestors were traded as slaves, a travesty from which their communities have still to recover. He described them as being mimado (which translates as spoiled), a common view amongst right-wing Brazilians, and the right wing world wide, I would suspect.

I argued that the darker your skin in Brazil, the fewer opportunities you are likely to receive. As evidence for my argument I used the international, fee paying, school in which I work where the majority of students, teaching staff and leadership are white while the majority of maintenance, cleaning, kitchen staff and security are black or darker skinned.

More evidence for this is the demographic of the favelas (Brazilian slums), if black people receive the same opportunities in Brazil then why isn’t the ethnic make up of these communities the same as the ethnic make up of the nation overall? After tabulating 2010 census data from Brazil’s federal statistics agency, the most recent available, Hugo Nicolau Barbosa de Gusmão created a series of maps of Rio using free open-source software.

“The Zona Sul [South Zone] of Rio is about 80 percent white — 80 percent!” Barbosa said. “I knew it would be high, but I didn’t think it would be that stark.”

According to Barbosa’s research, one neighborhood, Lagoas, was almost 90 percent white. Nationwide, the share of Brazilians who identified as white in the census was only 48 percent. The figure of whites in the Brazilian population is probably, in reality, less because people used to identify as white, even though they weren’t and the black lives matter campaign is reversing this trend.

“I wanted these maps to be available because here in Brazil there’s a lot of talk about how there isn’t any racism,” Barbosa said. “That’s wrong, and I think these maps are a good visualization of that.”

According to DataFavela, a study conducted by the Data Popular institute in partnership with Celso Athayde, former head of the Central Única de Favelas (CUFA), and based on a projection that crossed IBGE and national census (PNAD) data, The self-reported ethnicity remains predominantly black, but showing an increase from 61% to 67% of the total favela population. The percentage of blacks in communities on the urban periphery is higher than in the general population: 67% versus the 52% national average.

Citizens born in these poor communities tend to be darker skinned, they go to schools that tend to be a poorer standard, they tend not to be able to get jobs that provide sufficient disposable income to attend university or better their living standards enough to move to a more affluent area where the educational opportunities and therefore the job opportunities are better and, as a result, the cycle is perpetuated.

Then comes the argument that there are white people living in these poor communities, doesn’t that prove that it is not an issue of race, as if for racism to exist 100% of the slums would need to occupied by blacks and 100% of the affluent areas occupied by whites. It is this black and white thinking that individuals fall back on to justify the status quo, they worry that, in order to right the injustices, their world will have to be turned upside down. The fact is that the world does have to be turned upside down but that doesn’t mean that the political correctness police are going to come and steal the contents of their fridge. It doesn’t even mean that they have to stop being racist, it just means that the state should ensure that all citizens should receive the same opportunities in life, regardless of their ethnicity and regardless of the views of the racist citizens in the community.

This fear of left-wing liberals bursting into homes to steal their property was highlighted in the recent mayoral elections in Sao Paulo between Bruno Covas of the central Social Democratic party (PSDB) and Guilherme Boulos of the left wing Socialist and Liberty party (PSOL). Boulos is a member of the National Coordination of Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) which struggles to reduce Brazil’s housing deficit by staging squatters’ occupations in abandoned government buildings in Brazilian cities.

In an interview in 2015 with The Nation Boulos said: “Quotas that gave blacks and the poor access to college were a shock to the privileged too. Even these small changes were enough to generate discontent for a very conservative urban upper middle class.”

“It’s a bad thing” “Either he will lock you in your house” “Or he will invade your house”

On social media, the right-wing portrayed the mayoral choice as being between a centre candidate who wanted to lock you in your house because of a pandemic that many believed was a fiction created by the Chinese for economic reasons or a left-wing candidate who would invade your home to give it to homeless people.

Incidentally, there are many who want to refuse to take the vaccine here in Brazil because it is made in China. Even the president, Jair Bolsonaro, said it would turn you into a crocodile.

In November, João Alberto Silveira Freitas, a 40-year-old black man, was beaten to death by security guards at a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre in the South of Brazil on the day before Brazil’s black consciousness day. Violence erupted and the Brazilian Vice President, Hamilton Mourao, said: “Racism doesn’t exist in Brazil. That is something they want to import here. I lived in the United States. There is racism there.”

Black and mixed-race people account for about 57% of Brazil’s population but are 74% of victims of lethal violence, and 79% of those killed by police, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, a nongovernmental organization.

In response to the death of João Alberto, the President’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro tweeted: “They managed to get their George Floyd, under the pretext of fighting racism, in an organized way [they will] destroy everything until maybe they [manage to] get a new constituent”.

He went on to tweet: “Those who believe that anything goes for power will adhere to acts of vandalism conveniently calling their actors “demonstrators”” and then posted two quotes in Portuguese, attributed to Edmund Burke which translate as: “For evil to triumph it is enough for the good to sit idly by” and “people who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it.”

This seems strange in a country that, having only escaped from military dictatorship 35 years ago, seems so keen to return to it.

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#141 The Top Ten Posts of 2020

I know it is still only the middle of December but I thought it was a good time to share with you the top posts on the blog this year.

10. Reading Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Faulks novel made excellent background reading for my forthcoming novel Albert & Maria with the protagonists of both our novels finding themselves in tunnels during the First World War. Read more…

9 Living with Lockdown

When I wrote this post at the end of March, I don’t think any of us realised quite how long our isolation was going to last. While matters returned almost to normal for a brief period in Europe, here in Brazil, the first wave merged almost straight into the current wave. Read more…

8. Watching Sao Paulo flood

While Covid was beginning to spread from Asia, Sao Paulo had already experienced a bad start to 2020, with flooding and, of course, the wild fires in the Amazon and then later the Pantanal. Read more…

7. Reading The Man in the High Castle

A friend of mine told me he had started watch the Amazon Prime series The Man in the High Castle, so I thought I would give it a go. I was already a couple of episodes in before I realised I had picked up a copy of the Philip K Dick novel from a backpackers hostel while on a stag weekend in Rio de Janeiro. This was my review. Read more…

6. Worrying about the Coronavirus

This was posted at the end of February when the face case was identified in Brazil. At that time there had been less than 3,000 deaths and the European Football Championships were still going ahead. Read more…

5. What if the UK monarchy was abolished?

Scandals involving Prince Andrew and Prince Harry had put the future of the monarchy in the spotlight again. In my current work in progress, a prequel to my dystopian novel, WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY, an increasingly authoritarian government takes the death of the King as an opportunity to transfer the monarch’s powers to the Prime Minister who becomes defacto president. The move follows a decades long political slide to right but is not unimaginable. Read more…

4. The Economic impacts of Covid-19 in Brazil

Written in May, only 55 days into the pandemic, the situation in Brazil has not really changed with the exception that cases are now on the rise again and the right wing are trying to debunk the vaccine. Read more…

3. Interview with Sam Fires, author of Dog Meat

My interview in June with dystopian fiction author, Sam Fires proved very popular. Read more…

2. Reading Space Team by Barry Hutchison

The second most popular post this year has been another review, this time of Barry Hutchison’s hilarious Space Team. Read more…

  1. Trying to get a Brazilian Driving license

The most popular post of the year so far, by a long way, has been how to get a Brazilian driving license. I posted some images of the tests on Pinterest and it seems to have become a source of reference. Read more…

If you have any suggestions for topics I should cover in 2021 then please let me know

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