- Bureaucracy will prevail, but we could change the way it works
- How we see the future depends on our vested interests
- THE GUIDE TO SURPLUS ENERGY ECONOMICS
- Good Idea, Bad Idea: The Merits of Renewables, the Folly of Electric Vehicles
- No matter where you live
- Left or right, up or down?
- Janet’s Story
- Seeing things from the bottom-up
- Top-down and bottom-up are already living together.
- Bigger but not Better
This is an attempt to devise a way of finding our way through the connectedness of how things are – that is if you want to do this. Most people don’t want to because they are perfectly content with where they are.
A good reason for wanting to find out about the connections is to enable better decisions to be taken about personal or institutional development. Things like buying a house, dealing with old age or developing incapacity, planning housing development, building or improving transport infrastructure (roads, railways, telecommunications), even thinking about possibilities for the future of a local authority or a country. Any kind of development where you want to fathom out the potential consequences of different actions.
This blog is not structured in the usual top-down way, with categories and tags. My current idea is to think in terms of topics. Each post will have one or more topics attributed to it. If you click on the title of the post you will then see, at the bottom, that you can receive future posts on these topics by signing up at the bottom.
The underlying aim is to explore the future, from the bottom up.
During the past 50 years or so, growth has been part of my mindset. I thought my prospects were good when the GNP was predicted to increase. Not so now, maybe?
In the past it was assumed that growth would underlie our thinking about the future. Even in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the UK was heavily in debt, growth was assumed to be on the horizon.
But what kind of growth? From the top down the talk was of growth of the national economy, the GNP. It was generally assumed that our prosperity would increase along with GNP. For some years it seemed to, but now we are not so sure.
People who understand how things really are, such as Tim Morgan, have pointed out that “the long years of growing prosperity are over”. I believe this to be so.
It is time to think about contingency planning for a different kind of future, in which – although the GNP may be positive – there will be a decline in prosperity, because income growth will not keep up with inflation.
Most people – politicians, bureaucrats, business people and Uncle Tom Cobley and all – are committed to achieving growth in their organisations and their lives. It is an invincible part of our mindsets. It would be considered perverse to think, or rather say, otherwise.
For the first thirty years of my life there was no growth in prosperity, as a result of the war and its aftermath. I don’t remember how I saw the future during the war because I was too young to understand what the endless hum of war-planes, the barrage balloons and the air-raid sirens meant. Silver paper from the sky was a pleasurable mystery. Recycling was part of childhood then. Clothes and toys were passed on within and between families as we grew up. It was the way things were.
Sweet rationing ended in 1953, the year I left school. Other rationing ended the following year. But disposable incomes didn’t seem to be growing. I didn’t feel better off, but that didn’t matter because I didn’t expect to. No-growth was an unconscious part of my mindset. My 10p (old pence) a week pocket money and then my income of less than £1,000 per annum, as a Chartered Engineer, dictated how much I had to spend. Spending kept down, because borrowing was not an option.
Then, in the late 1960s, local authorities were allowed to give 100 per cent mortgages to their employees, up to 2.5 times their income on new houses. About the same time credit cards appeared. From then on, inflation ruled our spending and my income kept up, because public sector salaries were linked to inflation. We were able to take equity out of our property by getting larger mortgages, some of which was spent on things other than property. Materialism had become an integral part of my mindset, and borrowing became OK. The UK had become gripped by materialism.
However, my thinking has changed. I have read so much about the end of growth that I now believe it is likely. No doubt those who believe in unending growth also believe they are right. So why not have two contingency plans, for both possibilities?
If I am right I believe that, sooner or later, there will be general acceptance, politically and in the media, that growth of prosperity is no longer possible. This will then lead to a national change of mindset from materialism to something else. Which will be difficult in all sorts of ways. Especially politically.
It seems to me that there is a general state of denial about the possibility that the years of increasing prosperity are over. This denial is understandable because people have a well-established vested interest in growth, for themselves and their children. The reason I believe in no-growth is because I have no interest in becoming better off. This is because I am in my 80s and I have no familial interest in growth.
It is only when you strip away your vested interests that you can begin to see things as they really are, and be able to make meaningful political judgements. Contingency planning for both growth and no growth in prosperity would be a good step to take, without revealing your bias.
Post Script: there is a conundrum underlying this issue. In my experience, no-growth was not a negative experience. I was as happy then, as in later years, when I was doing my best to keep up. In today’s world, no-growth would have outcomes which are undeniably good. Re-cycling is an example, not just of our daily doings, but also as advocated by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation with its partners, including the likes of Google, Phillips, Renault and Unilever, whose mission is “To Accelerate the Transition to a Circular Economy”.
I regard this as one of the most important and useful explanations of surplus energy economics.
This is important!
The ‘rules’ which determine the modus operandi of local bureaucracies are set by laws made by the government at some time in the past, subsequently codified by the civil service as a basis for local implementation.
Much of how we are made to live now is a result of Acts of Parliament passed by the Attlee government in 1945/46 with subsequent minor changes which didn’t alter the fundamental Fabian inspired concepts of the initial enactment, such as in welfare and health. Political changes in government and locally, left to right and so on, don’t change how things are done locally. It is a flatland of sameness which does not alter with time. A national revolution in thinking and practice would be needed to alter how local services are planned and managed.
Over the year,s the day-to-day activities of the bureaucracies, within their established legal frameworks and practice codes, have become professionalised, leading to technocratic languages and processes which only those in the know can understand. In effect, the professions have become established as the foot-soldiers of bureaucracy, with aims and practices which enable them to do what they want, despite any political notions that there may be alternative ways.
The technocratic procedures officers follow are so embedded that they are taught in universities as the proper way to do things, leading to professional qualification.
Local politicians do not realise that they have so little power over what happens on the ground.
In looking generally for new ways of doing things, there seems to me to be an obsessive preoccupation with finding a centre ground, between left and right. If the ground level effect of changes between left and right have little effect, I suggest that a middle ground would be no different. They are all the same.
If it is the command and control nature of the established isms which now need to be questioned, we must begin to think in a different dimension. Up or down maybe? Upwards towards totalitarianism and downwards to local community control.
A symptom of decreasing community participation in public service planning and management is the increasing size of public service organisations. It has now reached a stage where there is no effective public participation, just consultation and not much of that.
This is not a new phenomenon; it has been going on in UK local government for over 40 years. In 1974 the small rural and urban district councils and the city councils were taken over by larger district councils and county councils, and the city councils such as Southampton became district councils. Further reorganisations in 1986, 1992 and 2000 followed the same path, albeit with a few contrary politically inspired hiccups. Unitary authorities now rule the roost, with some odd results such as Hereford City Council retaining its name and becoming a parish council.
The current situation is of all-powerful local authorities, whose bureaucratic culture and management is beyond the ken of their service users and barely understood by the local politicians confronted with endless bureaucratic tomes.
In the NHS it is going on, with NHS Trusts joining up with like-minded trusts and with local authority social services departments. Again there is little awareness or understanding amongst those being served. This time the process of increasing bigness seems to be faster than in the past and from below more difficult to understand, even if you are aware it is happening.
Don’t try and understand the following example of what is happening around here, because hardly any of us can and most are unaware of what seems like endless muddling. In 2011 the Wye Valley NHS Trust was established by merging Hereford Hospitals NHS Trust with Herefordshire Primary Care Community Trust and Herefordshire Council’s Adult Social Care Services. In November 2016 it was announced that the Wye Valley NHS Trust was to set up an “alliance” with South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust. Then in September 2017 it was announced that two NHS trusts which serve Gloucestershire and Herefordshire will merge, and the 2gether NHS Foundation Trust and Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust will join together. These are all clips from the local newspaper. I’m not sure if I have got it right, but that is how things are when you don’t understand!
Why would NHS Trusts in Herefordshire and Warwickshire have an “alliance” when they don’t even adjoin each other? At least one of the trusts provides services funded by both the NHS and the local authority. Lots of liaison meetings there methinks.
As these organisations become bigger they become increasingly remote from those they claim to serve. England is run by an all-powerful bureaucratic system. It is a system which is impossible to dismantle, because of the array of those with vested interests in keeping the current system. Vested interests not only within the public sector but also outside, as a result of outsourcing to private sector organisations, which are themselves getting bigger.
This is nothing to do with left, right or centre. It is how things become when political control is lost.
Can it ever end?
There is a tiny hint of things to come, maybe. Our red telephone box is now a library filled with books and run by local residents. Apparently there are more than 4000 phone boxes across the UK which have been taken over by local people running all kinds of enterprises wanted locally. Local participation free of all consultation from above. Bravo!