Most of us do not see the brutal parallel universe at the heart of the mainstream economy. But in the Fens, it has been highly visible – along with the transnational organised crime running a part of it. This has made people very angry. Now they want out of Europe – more than two–thirds of voters in Wisbech’s parliamentary constituency said in a 2014 survey that they would favour the UK leaving the EU.
The scene that plays out at the BP garage each day is not simply about migration or the human cost of cheap goods or isolated rogue operators. It is the manifestation of a profound social and economic change that has been enacted in little more than two decades.
From the late 1980s on, new technology allowed employers to eliminate much of the financial risk from their end of the chain. Supermarkets, for example, only reorder stock when a customer buys an item and its barcode is scanned, generating an instruction to their suppliers to replace it by the next day. Orders can double or halve within 24 hours, so workers to process and pack the goods are called in at short notice. This reduces costs and increases profits, since businesses no longer have to keep inventory or pay for full employment. Instead they have outsourced labour provision to agents or gangmasters. Agriculture and food processing pioneered this lean approach to business, but its zero-hours practices have spread to other sectors – to care homes, catering and food service, hotel work, cleaning, construction, and personal services such as nail bars and car washes. …
Blaming immigration rather than the forces that drive it, local people have turned to politicians who promise to curb it. In 2013, Ukip won all four Wisbech seats in the county council elections. There have been tense anti-immigration protests in the town. Both communities felt under attack – eastern Europeans remember how a gang of local teenagers beat up two members of their community in 2006. English residents I met were quick to say that they no longer felt safe or at home in their own town. …
Liberalising trade rules and financial flows has enabled the free movement of goods and capital across Europe – and, with them, people. But while World Trade Organisation rules prescribe global hygiene standards in minute detail, they are largely silent on the social and labour conditions in which the goods are produced.
A complex web of small rules widely obeyed – from paying your tax to insuring your car, to giving workers proper breaks – are the threads that weave a democratic social contract and a protective state. Many people in Wisbech have become more rightwing, in protest at what they see. The collapse of totalitarian structures of state control in former-Soviet eastern Europe has combined with a shrinking of state in the west. This shrinking of the state has created the vacuum into which organised crime has rushed.
The gangsters on England’s doorstep
A very good profile on Bernie Sanders.
Sanders prefers hating the rich. When Hillary Clinton was asked in a debate if corporate America should love her, she responded, “Everyone should. I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving, and the successful.” Sanders does not. When asked before a speech in Keene, N.H., what he would say to reassure the Bloomberg Businessweekreaders who work on Wall Street, or have millions of dollars, or run a hedge fund, and might be afraid he wants to tax them back to the Carter Age, Sanders puts down the manila folder containing his talk, which he delivers without a TelePrompTer. “I’m not going to reassure them,” he says. “Their greed, their recklessness, their illegal behavior has destroyed the lives of millions of Americans. Frankly, if I were a hedge fund manager, I would not vote for Bernie Sanders. And I would contribute money to my opponents to try to defeat him.” Then the only socialist ever elected to the U.S. Senate goes back to working on his prepared remarks.
Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva, “A Tale of Two Britains: Inequality in the UK,” 17 March 2014, Oxfam GB
Today, the five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the bottom 20 per cent of the entire population. That’s just five households with more money than 12.6 million people – almost the same as the number of people living below the poverty line in the UK.
Tracy McVeigh, “Inequality ‘costs Britain £39bn a year’,” 16 March 2014, Guardian
The ever-increasing gulf between rich and poor in Britain is costing the economy more than £39bn a year, according to a report by the EqualityTrust thinktank. The effects of inequality can be measured in financial terms through its impact on health, wellbeing and crime rates, according to statisticians at the independent campaign group.
Researchers pointed to the fact that the 100 wealthiest people in the UK have as much money as the poorest 18 million – 30% of all people – and said that the consequences of such unusually high rates of inequality needed to be acknowledged by politicians.
Nafeez Ahmed, “Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?,” 14 March 2014, Guardian
A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.
Eduardo Porter, “A Relentless Widening of Disparity in Wealth,” 11 March 2014,
Source: “Capital in the 21st Century,” by Thomas Piketty.
27 February 2014, 京华时报
Jason Hickel, “Flipping the corruption myth,” Al Jazeera, 1 February 2014
Many international development organisations hold that persistent poverty in the Global South is caused largely by corruption among local public officials. In 2003 these concerns led to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which asserts that, while corruption exists in all countries, this “evil phenomenon” is “most destructive” in the global South, where it is a “key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development”.
There’s only one problem with this theory: It’s just not true.