Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Monday, February 10, 2003

Scattered shots

  • In general, I'm in favour of pirate radio. It's exactly the sort of antinomian behaviour I like; taking a damnably stupid and bureaucratic practice (the current cartel for allocation of the FM spectrum) and dealing with the problem simply by ignoring it and banking on the fact that the law enforcement authorities only have the funding necessary to do what they ought to be doing rather than what they think they ought to be doing. A few pirates get raided every year, which stops the problem from getting absolutely out of control, but most of them are able to continue more or less unmolested, meaning that musical innovation isn't stifled. On the other hand, some bunch of bastards have set up shop at or near 97.3FM in the North London area, and that means that I get cross-talk between their mega monsta jungle experience and Charlie Gibson's excellent early slot (LBC had the smart idea of realising that the only people who are up between 5-6am in London work in the financial markets, so we get an hour of trader talk interspersed with the traffic news and a few records). I am at this moment composing a strongly worded letter to the Ministry of Truth, or whoever it is responsible for shutting down dissidents in this country, instructing them to go round Tottenham or wherever and take a large fireaxe to this bugger's stereo.

  • Time to break a New Year's resolution ... earlier in the year, under the heading "Department of the Bleeding Obvious", I put up a list of things that I had decided were no longer up for argument in 2003 because I'd lost patience with everyone who disagreed with me. Most of them are still valid, but I've kind of reconsidered on one of the bullets, specifically "That it is the proper function of civil society to provide a decent standard of living for its members, and that the definition of "a decent standard of living" has nothing to do with caloric survival requirements"

    Don't get me wrong; I don't think that I'm no longer correct on this, I just think that the second clause bears a bit more argument and that there is still probably some useful conversation on the subject between me and those unfortunate enough to disagree with me. Somebody asked in comments "Does a 'decent living' include a cable modem?", and on reflection, I think it's a serious question which deserves an answer.

    My view on the subject of what constitutes a decent living goes right back to Adam Smith, whose views on the subject are not so well known, but exemplify the strand of humanity and sound common sense which has been so thoroughly ignored in his writing ever since he coined that phrase about the Invisible Hand. Smith asked the question in Wealth of Nations, in respect of the minimum standard of living, whether it was part of that standard for a man to own a clean linen shirt (at the time, linen and the laundry thereof were just making the transition from a luxury of the upper class to a mass market product). Smith's answer was that, although a linen shirt was clearly not a necessity for survival, and had not been part of the basic standard of living even ten years earlier, it was at the time of writing. His reason for so concluding was that things had advanced to the point at which any industrious tradesman could afford to wear linen and keep it laundered, so any tradesman not able to afford his linen shirt would be thought lazy or inferior; even if he had happened into that state of penury by bad luck, he would find it very difficult to get employed and get out of it once he was in it.

    That seems like, adjusted for technological advance, a good rule of thumb for today. Taking out clue from the fact that the senses of "decent" which refer to the display of taboo body parts, and the senses which refer to material standards of living, must have some common origin, I'd define "a decent standard of living" as "the lowest level of material possessions in a society which allows one to escape shame and prejudice". So for example, while the phrase "trailer trash" is in common usage, a decent standard of living implies not living in a trailer. If it is impossible to get a job without an email address, then maybe a modem of some sort (not necessarily ADSL) is a part of that standard. And so on.

  • The Benson & Hedges Masters finished last night, and I was watching it, naturally. It was a classic; Steven Hendry displayed all the characteristics of the sport which make it such a draw for me (ie: despite being probably a better player than his opponent, he suffered a few early losses and consequent gradual psychological collapse). But the thing that really interested me were the teary-eyed eulogies made by presenters and players alike; due to European Union legislation relating to tobacco sponsorship of "sports", this will be the last ever Benson & Hedges Masters. Everyone seemed genuinely affected by this milestone, which confused me somewhat; they were all saying that it was the greatest of all the snooker tournaments, which it transparently isn't; the World Championships at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre are much more prestigious.

    The penny dropped when I realised that it wasn't so much the demise of an individual snooker tournament that everyone was mourning, as the fact that, in the era post-tobacco sponsorship, prize money for all tournaments is likely to be much, much lower. Already, snooker professionals outside the top ten struggle to make a living at their sport; going forward, it is going to be next to impossible to scratch a living as a full-time player on prize money and appearance money alone. Most of the current pros are going to either need "regular" jobs, or to make their living hustling; playing exhibition matches in snooker clubs and playing the game for money in local halls, as they in general did before turning pro.

    I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me says that it's more in keeping with the spirit of the game for snooker players to be entrepreneurial hustlers, gambling for a living. There's something fundamentally aesthetically wrong about a disreputable pastime like billiards having a career structure and a tenure system. But on the other hand, a few of the more marginal pros seemed, underneath their platitudes about "the great players to have appeared at Wembley Conference Centre and how proud they were to have taken part", to be genuinely worried about their income going forward; after all, most of these guys have mortgages. The fact that people were reduced to waxing elegiac about the sponsorship of ciggie merchants, rather brought it home to me what a terrible thing it is to be insecure about one's income. Whenever we talk about "flexible labour markets" and the "efficiency" thereof, we ought to remember that we are talking about a subsidy to employment brought about by making the working class bear the risks of the business cycle, and that at times, this risk can be a cross that is rather difficult to bear.

1226 words, eat yer heart out den Beste!

0 comments this item posted by the management 2/10/2003 08:42:00 AM

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