Tag Archives: capitalism

Another Time, Another Place – Alleviating The Housing Crisis

Providing adequate housing for all – a human right – is a problem in all capitalist societies where sensible solutions based on the notions of the common good and simple decency are discarded in the interest of speculators and landlords. Private wealth triumphs over human rights and higher human instincts, but more than that private wealth shoots itself in the foot, repeatedly.

Just as maintaining a numerically significant cohort in society in a state of permanent educational disadvantage and consequent inhibited development makes no economic sense at all, maintaining a significant number of individuals and families in a constantly precarious position with regard to housing makes no economic sense either.

With an ever-aging society where lower birth-rates do not provide a hedge against future demands for health-care or pensions, the idea that it makes sense to discard perhaps 20% of the population – potential earners – based on social class is simply insane. Further, stealing the potential happiness of men, women and children is simply naked brutality at play.

Homelessness brought about by repetitive capital-driven boom-bust is equally insane. It is impossible for those who are homeless to harbour any realistic ambition to seek and find satisfying and productive work or further education or training. Where they are eligible, decent human beings are forced to rely on social security payments or on the charity of strangers to survive. They are not allowed to advance their position, to be productive, to be healthy, to be even moderately happy, to contribute to the exchequer or to have dignity.

In 1970, living in a Notting Hill bedsit in London and with a baby due, my wife and I needed more suitable but affordable housing. Fortunately we lived within the Kensington Burrough Council area, and that council had an enlightened, pragmatic solution that worked.

It was relatively simple. Where a house lay unused, or where a landlord failed to maintain a house in proper order for existing tenants, the council had a procedure for taking control of those houses, carrying out any necessary refurbishment or repairs, letting the units to those on its housing list or to existing tenants, and using the rents to pay for the cost of any works necessary to render the buildings habitable and to a good standard. When the costs of works had been recouped the properties would revert to the owners.

The policy worked on a number of fronts. It provided additional quality housing to the council, it pressured landlords to maintain their buildings to a good standard and to ensure occupancy as opposed to dereliction, it enhanced the appearance of the urban environment, and it made use of existing housing assets to alleviate homelessness.

According to An Spréach housing action collective “…there are over 270,000 vacant houses, flats and apartments scattered around the country, and over 30,000 in Dublin alone”, and “There are over 90,000 people waiting on the social housing list in Ireland”.

There is a short-term solution. It was tried at another time, in another place, and it worked. It was not a permanent fix. One downside was the gentrification of the Notting Hill area a few years later – a boon for landlords and speculators. But there were some housing protections for tenants that made it more difficult for landlords to clear tenants out so as to profit from the property boom.

Adopting that solution runs up against an ideological problem of our own construction – the constitutional right to property. In this non-republic property rights trump human rights. But a creative approach could get around that issue pending a change in our constitution, preferably by scrapping it completely and offering the citizens a new constitution fit for a 21st century republic in which human rights trump property rights.

And it runs up against the problem of an institutionalised belief in local and central government and among the political class that capitalism rules, that no interference can be countenanced in the supremacy of capital to earn unencumbered profit regardless of social or human costs.

So, the homeless crisis is ideologically driven. Worse than that, it is fueled by a brutal indifference on the part of each of the three counter-revolutionary parties – Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil – to the suffering of a significant part of our population and to their under-development or, worse still, un-development.

That is why it is so vital to build a progressive alternative to brutish government dedicated to helping the disadvantaged to move towards not just prosperity, but also happiness, and dignity. Stable decent housing is a component of that.

It’s about humanity. It’s about society. And it’s even about the economy.


Education – Our 21st Century Murder Machine

Yet again, this time in an RTE Prime Time discussion on third-level education, the question of catering for the needs of Foreign Direct Investment has arisen.

In 1968, armed with a Leaving Certificate, and not a great one at that, I was hired as a trainee field engineer by Burroughs Machines, a huge US multinational competitor with IBM in the budding area of computers, but mainly still marketing electro-mechanical accounting machines. Apart from some experience of working with cars in my father’s garage, and the mechanical knowledge learned from that, I knew nothing about that field.

And so, Burroughs Machines booked me into their own training school in London, flew me there at an exorbitant price, paid for good digs with a local landlady for eight weeks and flew me home to start work. Six months later, they did the same, this time for the advanced course for a period of six weeks.

In other words, when Burroughs Machines wanted a new employee to be up to speed, Burroughs carried all of the cost. Every penny!

Now, the most profitable corporations in the world demand of governments such as ours that virtually all of the cost of training new staff will be borne by the State – in other words, by us. Not alone do they demand graduate level, but increasingly demand post-graduate degree level as a condition of employment. Not content with that, they now want these new workers to be ‘job-ready’, to have served an internship, at no cost to the corporation, so that the worker can sit at the desk or in the lab ‘ready-to-go’ on the first day of employment without any investment required by the corporation in any aspect of their training.

What a scam!

Worse still, programmes at third-level institutions are being changed, manipulated, distorted, prioritised, added-on, or else diminished or dropped to make space for specific corporate-friendly programmes with little apparent concern beyond the short-term requirements of transitory FDI corporations.

Third-level institutions have warped from being seats of higher learning into being ‘partners’ with FDI corporations, tailoring research programmes to suit the needs, not of the students or of the State, but of the corporations, usually here today and gone tomorrow and paying as little tax to the State as possible while here.

And even worse, at second level, students are now being shoe-horned into taking an ever diminishing range of subjects so as to provide raw material for third-level programmes that lead to those qualifications adjudged to be attractive to FDI corporations. Maths and science are the big buzz now, and the Humanities, for example, is the stuff of losers.

Never mind the different preferences, intelligences, interests, talents or capabilities of a broad range of students. Never mind the notion of the whole person, or the happy person, or the fulfilled person. Never mind the wider needs of a society of humans in all of its complexity.

Maths and science (and of course mandatory religion) are, it seems, far more important in Ireland today than history, or geography, or the various forms of art and design, or language(s), or the broader study of culture(s), or philosophy, or anthropology, or sociology, or the study of political ideologies, systems and practices. We are producing cogs for corporations at the expence of building a fully functional society fueled by knowledge, creativity and a little wisdom.

We are building our 21st century version of The Murder Machine, as Patrick Pearse described the British system of ‘education’ in Ireland, designed to build not a love of learning and the exploitation of each child’s particular intelligences and capabilities and interests for the benefit of the child and society at large, but to create functioning workers for the benefit of FDI corporations and local ‘entrepreneurs’ (another buzz-word) and obedient subjects for the State.

Nowhere in his seminal essay, The Murder Machine, published in 1912, did Patrick Pearse prioritise Logical-Mathematical intelligence over all others, nor did Howard Gardner in his theory of multiple intelligences (1983).

Gardner, like Pearse, was interested in the empowerment of the learner. His categorisations of intelligences were: musical–rhythmic, visual–spatial, verbal–linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic, and he later suggested that existential and moral intelligence could be added to that list. We don’t possess just one form of intelligence, but each has her/his own unique combination at various levels from that list, and nobody, therefore, is unintelligent.

But our posse of senior civil servants in the Department of Education behaves like idiots, as does our Minister for Education, and most of his predecessors in that job. For them, the exigencies of the moment as they relate to the ‘market-place’ matter far more than the creation and maintenance of a properly-functioning society of by-and-large happy and fulfilled citizens, or the promotion of a sustainable indigenous multi-faceted economy serving the needs of the people instead of a temporary FDI low-tax low-cost (to them) economy.

Bad enough to be ruled by self-serving idiots, but worse still to allow ourselves to be turned into willing idiots by accepting slogans, buzz-words and carefully-spun built-on-quicksand concepts that serve only the wealthy and exploitative foreign corporations and local capitalists, and to do that at great cost to our children and young adults.

It really is long past time to wise-up and to put in place systems of learning that prioritise the long-term enhancement of the lives of children as they grow to adulthood and full participation in a happy and prosperous society. We are well capable of achieving that.

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