Archive for March, 2013

Apparently I’m a Racist

March 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Apparently I’m a racist, at least according to some people. Why? Because I question the wisdom of giving some groups (let’s be specific: Maori, the original inhabitats of New Zealand) extra privileges based on their race, and because I dare to criticise some religions (again let’s be clear: I’m talking about Muslims) for their poor behaviour. By the way, I know race is a vague concept with little scientific validity, but we all know what these “racial” groups are – even if their origin is cultural more than biological – so the whole issue is still valid.

It seems strange to me that saying that certain racial (and cultural) groups shouldn’t be given special privileges is racist when the definition seems to suggest the exact opposite. Here’s the definition: “having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another”. I would have thought that if you think one group deserves extra privileges then you are strongly suggesting they are superior in some way, and of you suggest a group needs extra help you are suggesting they are inferior. Either way, those opinons (totally contrary to mine) seem racist.

Compare that with my view that every race should be treated the same and race based privileges and policies should be avoided. Surely it is my critics who are the racists, isn’t it?

A similar argument applies to my criticism of religion, because some religions are associated with certain racial groups. So my negative comments about religion are also sometimes criticised as being racist. But I criticise people based on many criteria: their politics, their philosophical perspectives, their moral standards, but never their race. And it seems fair to criticise them based on their damaging belief in superstition as well. If I don’t I’m effective giving that particular group (which might be associated with a racial group) a free pass. Isn’t that more racist than treating everyone equally?

I realise that the argument I am making is not a new one. I also realise that some people who actually are a bit racist use it, including some fairly extreme right wingers who are my usual opponents in political discussion. But in this blog I like to express my opinion clearly and directly, and if it fits with a particular ideology or not doesn’t really matter. It’s the logic and truth of the points which are important.

I think that is one of the reasons some people find my attitude in this area so disconcerting: I have traditional left wing views in other areas but this is seen as more reminiscent of the right. Generally the left are very politically correct around the subject so it seems more significant when I don’t follow the usual pattern. Of course, I have always said I reject these labels and if I did need to use a label I would see myself more as a rationalist rather than a leftist.

There is a current political event which has lead to this particular subject. It is the appointment of a new Race Relations Commissioner, Susan Devoy. Her opinions on the subject have caused a lot of consternation to many people and her apparent lack of relevant knowledge is also a concern.

Here’s what she said about Waitangi Day which is (in theory) our national day: “Waitangi has been hijacked and if it can never be really seen as a day of national celebration then perhaps the time has come to choose another true New Zealand day. … A recent poll showed more than 70 per cent of New Zealanders were in favour of a new holiday. This would leave Waitangi Day to be the day that recognises the importance of Maori, but the door open for a day that we don’t feel ashamed to be a New Zealander…”

I agree. I feel no connection with Waitangi Day at all and, according to many polls, neither do the majority of other New Zealanders. Waitangi Day has really turned into “Maori Day” which is fine for those who are interested in Maori culture and history (and a lot of that alleged history is very doubtful). But I have no interest in that area at all. Maori culture can be OK in small doses (some of the legends are quite cool) but in general I find it boring.

Many people would see that last statement as racist, but is it? Should I pretend to be interested in something just to be politically correct? I don’t think so. There are many other subjects and cultures I am also not that interested in but that doesn’t mean I think they are inferior, I’m simply just not interested!

Race relations in New Zealand is in a fairly healthy state but I think that is despite the modern trend of forcing people to participate in Maori culture rather than because of it. I have absolutely no problem with Maori culture being part of our society as long as people with no interest in it aren’t forced to participate. That really does create resentment.

The other thing that causes a lot of negativity is the seemingly constant hand-outs to Maori groups for some real and some imagined grievances. People quite rightly get annoyed when one group is given extra privileges (and money) for highly doubtful reasons. If you really want different groups to get on then treat them all fairly. That’s how to get real racial harmony.

So Susan Devoy might or might not be a wise choice for this role but in some ways it might be quite a good thing that we have someone who (at least in the past) has been prepared to stand up for the majority view. Maybe, just maybe, we might make some real progress towards equality and harmony now instead of the false situation we have now where resentment and indignation seem to be barely held in check.


Cheap and Nasty

March 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Tax is a difficult and controversial subject. Most people don’t like paying it but everyone (whether they accept it or not) depends on services which tax pays for. Of course the best individual strategy would be to pay no tax yourself and yet make use of the benefits of the tax other people pay.

If you were the type of person or organisation who follows the simple commercial imperative of maximising profits (using whatever justification you favour: giving investors a fair return, making the economy in general more vigorous, providing employment, of whatever other half truth is currently in fashion) then paying as little tax as possible is not just a good idea, it should be your duty.

In fact Google recently described their avoidance of paying billions in tax as “just being good at capitalism”. Well yes, I guess it is. But is capitalism itself a good thing? Clearly if making use of your position of power to make minimal contribution to society while relying on those with almost no wealth to make up for your refusal to participate is seen as good then the process itself must be bad. Yes, pure capitalism is undoubtedly bad.

Leaders in large corporations almost have to be greedy and self-serving to even be in that position so we really can’t really act surprised when they engage in all of these dirty tricks to avoid their fair obligations to the society they exploit. But the rest of us who are paying for what is effectively corporate welfare don’t have to like it, and we should act accordingly. But apparently we generally don’t.

Governments are to blame in the end, of course. I know that whatever laws are put in place there is usually some smart corporate lawyer or accountant with no morals who will find a way around them, but that doesn’t mean the governments shouldn’t at least try.

Let me give some examples of the outrageous dishonesty big business gets away with around the world and here in New Zealand.

Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, pays an effective tax rate of 0.06% on his total income. He can do that because his accountants make it look like he earns a lot less than he really does and it is all (as far as I know) legal. Ironically he is the same person who says he isn’t taxed enough and thinks the rich should be taxed more. Well if he really thinks that why does he put so much effort into avoiding paying it?

My favourite company (based on their products, not their business practices), Apple, are well know for the dirty tricks they use. Some sources credit them with inventing the “Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich” which apparently describes the practice of routing profits through Irish subsidiaries, then to the Netherlands, and finally to a Caribbean tax haven. After selling over half a billion dollars worth of products in New Zealand last year they paid 0.4% tax. Yes I know that is sales, not profit, but we all know what large profit margins Apple works on. Maybe they should hire Buffett’s accountants, then they might get away with paying even less!

I’ve already mentioned the contempt Google displayed in their answer to the accusations of tax avoidance there. Clearly their motto of “don’t be evil” has well and truly been forgotten.

The examples above are just that: examples, because I’m sure that every successful company and every hugely wealthy individual pays very little tax – it’s just part of the way they operate. After all capitalism is driven by greed so there should be no surprise that those who rise to the top are generally greedy. OK, fair enough, but if that’s the case then we need strong government regulation to control these people and extract a fair contribution from them.

But that doesn’t seem to be what most governments are doing. Here in New Zealand we are short of funding for many worthwhile projects. What is a major reason for this? Well the tax cuts for the rich which have resulted in a loss of $2 billion per year might have been a contributing factor I would guess.

You might think that increasing taxes on those who can easily afford them might be a reasonable strategy but not for our government. No, they want to tax paper boys instead. My son delivers papers and has recently been taxed on his income which is probably about as much per year as many of the rich, who pay almost no tax, make in an hour. And my daughter does two part time jobs but is being charged secondary tax on one of them. And for that matter, why do I pay tax at a rate of 500 times more than Warren Buffett?

The whole thing is just cheap and nasty. What possible motivation can there be for such despicable policies apart from a dogmatic view that giving the rich more freedom helps the economy (if you believe that you really are out of touch with reality, all it does if give them the freedom to move their undeserved wealth out of the country). Or maybe it’s a bit more cynical than that. Big business funds right wing parties, so I guess there should be no surprise when they get the rewards they paid for.

It’s not just the current New Zealand government who are totally lacking in any moral character and are ethically bankrupt, it’s the western world in general. So I don’t what this rant to be construed as a criticism of the Nats in particular, although they are undoubtedly amongst the worst practitioners.

Again I have to wonder how they ever win an election. I guess it must reflect rather badly on the Labour opposition who really do seem to be rather politically incompetent. That’s democracy for you: do you want incompetence or immorality? Tough choice!

Too Much Tolerance

March 22, 2013 2 comments

In general tolerance is a good thing. I know I have ranted on many occasions against various groups in society in this blog but in general I am not absolutist about it.

For example, I think that big business is extremely dangerous but I still want corporations to exist, just with tight controls on the excesses of their behaviour. Without big corporations we wouldn’t have many of the valuable products and services we depend on. However they do have too much freedom and influence in politics, none of them pay their fair share of tax, and they should be forced to follow environmental and social objectives as well as the financial ones.

And I find the ignorance and arrogance of many religious people almost unbelievable, but I don’t want to eradicate religion. That’s because it is socially valuable to some people, it has many interesting stories and customs, and it is an alternative world view from mine and I celebrate diversity rather than trying to eliminate it. I do however want religion controlled. Creationists have no right to have their beliefs taught in a science class for example, and I reserve the right to debate and ridicule anyone who believes in nonsense.

That’s my customary introduction, so what is the actual rant… I mean topic of discussion… going to be today? It’s about when there is too much tolerance.

In the past I have defended Islam against many of its attackers. A rather nutty right-wing friend of mine sends out a lot of anti-Islam material and I often reply pointing out that it is usually inaccurate and exaggerated. That is still true, but taking the opposite view – that Islam is basically reasonable and benign – is not correct either.

One of my many sources of news and information is the BBC world service. In a recent podcast they reported on several issues affecting the world and a pattern I immediately noticed was the negative effects of religion, and Islam in particular.

The first item was from Iraq. It reported that religiously motivated violence there in recent days resulted in the deaths of at least 50 innocent people after bomb attacks. While the death rate is well below its peak in the year 2006 it is still running at about 300 per month.

There is a political element to this clearly but fundamentally this is a religious problem, and it’s not even Islam against another religion, it is one sect of Islam against another! Shiite neighbourhoods of Baghdad, especially places where innocent people meet such as bus stations and restaurants, are being targeted by Sunni radicals. How can anyone really claim this is a religion of peace?

I do need to point out here that the most significant contributor to the current political instability in Iraq is the American invasion of 10 years ago and that was partly motivated by ridiculous Christian religious beliefs of the president at the time. I also have to point out that the Muslim versus Muslim violence in Iraq has parallels with the Christian versus Christian violence in Ireland not that long ago. So Christians shouldn’t feel to smug when they see Muslims acting this way.

The second story was about sectarian violence in Pakistan. In this case it was Muslims murdering members of a slightly different sect to their own again but here they have gone one step further and are terrorising Christians as well. A crowd of Muslims rioted and destroyed 100 homes in a Christian area because of some perceived insult to their beliefs.

But these devoutly religious people don’t stop there. They also do targeted killings of high profile people who belong to a different branch of Islam. A Shiite eye surgeon and his 11 year old son were shot and killed. I guess that’s just what the extremists’ faith told them they should do. Praise be to Allah!

This extreme behaviour in Pakistan is being more tolerated by moderate believers so in many ways it is them who are to blame. Anyone who is a Muslim and doesn’t accept part of the blame for the actions of the more extreme elements in their religion is just denying the facts. It’s the religion itself which is to blame. It is fundamentally intolerant. Anyone who denies this should be asked “what is the official Islamic punishment for apostasy?” (in case you don’t know, it’s death).

The saddest thing I heard was the tortured question of a relative of one of the victims when he asked “can God accept that?” Even after everything going so wrong and there being zero sign of help from his imagined deity he still believes. Well if faith is all about killing people who just happen to have a slightly different interpretation of an idiotic belief than you, and then wondering why your god didn’t help you, then you can keep it. Give me rationality over faith any day!

Corporate Newspeak

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Here’s some interesting material I want to share from the Talent2 web site…

Under the heading “Payroll – Client Successes” they claim “Our HR and Payroll case studies demonstrate our ability to provide end-to-end solutions that multiply the power and productivity of people.” and “Are you an organisation of a few employees or tens of thousands? Whatever your requirement, Talent2 has a payroll solution that suits.” and “A payroll provider you can trust.”

Here’s a description of the group CEO: “JR is well known for his accessible style and genuine interest in his people – whenever he can afford the time he will open the door to listen. This drives one of his greatest assets – his ability to recognise and combine the strengths of people across all levels of the business. JR encourages resourcefulness, synergy and initiative to allow people to realise their own potential and that of the bigger team.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to work with such a great company based on those impressive claims? Yeah, if there was even a small element of connection between the fantasy and reality then maybe that would be true. But of course, the real world and that promised by corporate Newspeak are two entirely different things.

By the way, in case you don’t know, Newspeak is the language described in the dystopian science fiction novel 1984. Many people like to describe a future where government control has resulted in a repressive regime and where propaganda is a major tool of repression, but in reality I am more concerned with one where large corporations have the excessive levels of control. Even where governments are guilty of the same thing (and they often are) it is often as a result of the excessive influence of big business, so corporations are still the root cause of the problem.

Newspeak is defined as “propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meanings”. After examining the propaganda above and comparing it with reality you might see the relevance!

But back to Talent2. If you live in New Zealand you will probably be laughing after reading the quotes above because the promises and the reality are so different. The complete incompetence and moral corruption this corporation has exhibited in its handling of the new education payroll “Novopay” is so outrageous that laughter is the most appropriate response!

So what is the reality? Well here is a partial list of the ill-conceived decisions made in the design, implementation, and “fixing” of the Novopay payroll system…

First, instead of designing a system which fits the requirements or building on top of an existing system appropriate to the actual requirements, they have taken a generic payroll called “Alesco” which may be a perfectly adequate system in many cases (although I have heard it described as “antiquated”) and tried to add a huge number of new functions and modifications to it.

Anyone who does programming knows this is usually a bad approach. Unless the core functions of the system you are basing yours on are robust things will just go rapidly downhill from there. And if the base system is as old as I have heard mention then it is unlikely to be easily extendable because it is not likely to use modern mechanisms such as customisable and transportable code objects.

Second, patching the obvious errors as they appear instead of fixing the deeper issues is unlikely to result in long term stability. Fixing a superficial error which is really just disguising a problem at the core of the system often results in several new errors resulting as a side effect. This is incredibly frustrating and disconcerting to the programmers involved, especially when they are working with someone else’s code.

Experts say the review of Novopay shows signs of “panic and crazy practices” and “common database and coding practices not being followed” and “modifications to the core system making a mockery of the decision process” which are all often the result of not doing the basics right.

Third, when you have a large team working on a project there needs to be some strategy for coordinating their efforts, but having an ignorant manager who is interested in nothing except gaining maximum money for minimum effort is likely to be worse than having no management at all (I’m not saying I know this happens at Talent2 for sure but all the signs are there).

There seems to be a policy of minimising costs without any real concern for the final quality of the product (and that includes support, training, communications, and all of the peripheral issues related to a large technical project of this sort). The decision to hack together something out of an existing system which was itself substandard must have been made primarily to cut costs but this can only be the result of greed given the huge cost of the system.

Fourth, there seems to be no indication of individual ownership or pride in the system. When I write some elegant code, or build an incredibly flexible code library, or design a really friendly user interface I feel personal ownership of the result. The fact that the system is almost unusable by most people and has just been stitched together, Frankenstein-style from old parts, would suggest to me that no one really cares much about this project.

I am now going to make a crazy claim that no one should make without understanding the details of the project, but I will make it anyway to illustrate how an alternative approach might help…

If I was creating this system I would do it for about a quarter of what Talent2 have charged for a start because any more is tantamount to theft. Then I would hire about 10 or 20 (the exact number would depend on the details but too many is worse than not enough) really talented programmers and some people who have actually processed education payrolls. I would then design a system from scratch based on open (and cheaper) technologies which would provide great performance for minimum costs.

Because I would have less staff I would pay those I do hire more and I would give them plenty of personal freedom to create really outstanding code, while ensuring that the client (the payroll experts) were the final arbiters of functionality.

There would be no central management but there would be regular, short discussions on how the components would fit together and every module would have a precisely defined functionality which everyone understood. And there would be unlimited free coffee!

Maybe I’m being hopelessly naive but I believe this approach would provide a far better outcome than the traditional management based approaches where the strategies are devised buy a bunch of senior bureaucrats who are completely clueless about the real issues (and yes, again I am assuming a certain amount about how Talent2 operates).

I will say this though: whatever the outcome of my system, how could it possibly be worse than the total shambles the so-called professionals at Talent2 have created now?

You may think I am being unkind towards my fellow IT professionals. Actually I’m not. I blame the management for this mess. The CEO, John Rawlinson started his working life as a physical education teacher and has a bachelor of education from Victoria University and a Graduate Diploma in entrepreneurship and innovation from Swinburne University. Gee, I’m so impressed! No wonder he gets such good results! (that was sarcasm)

The system cost $182 million. For that price I have very high standards and I don’t expect a bunch or corporate thieves run by an ex physical education teacher who seems determined to create a totally half-assed piece of crap for the absolute minimum cost possible. Talent2 should refund all the money they have been paid and go home. And in future the government should be a lot more careful about who they hire!

Habemus Papam

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve made no secret in the past of my attitude to religion in general and to the Catholic Church in particular. I will just reiterate it here though. I think religion is primitive superstition and an embarrassment in the modern world, although I do admit it has some good points too, such as doing a certain amount of charity work and providing a community for many people. And, in the past, Catholicism has been the greatest evil the world has ever seen, although again I admit it is now relatively benign.

So what’s my actual point? Well I want to comment about the new Pope, of course. Whatever you think of religion and whatever you think of Catholicism there is no doubt that the Pope is an important leader. He is the leader of the second biggest group of people on the planet today (there are about 1.2 billion Catholics but almost 1.4 billion Chinese, so by this standard Xi Jinping is slightly more important) and that cannot be ignored.

I’m very much an individualist myself and I’m quite disinterested in leaders’ beliefs and opinions, but I do realise that the majority of people are (to put it rather unkindly) barely better than sheep and would prefer to assimilate their beliefs and moralities from an esteemed leader rather than think for themselves (well, I did say that would be unkind).

So given that many people will just incorporate the ideals of the church leadership it is important that the leader is a good person. It’s far too early to know the details of the attitudes of the new Pope but I think, despite the necessity for a predisposition towards superstition, he is a good person with an interesting and positive personality and certainly seems preferable to the previous holder of that office.

But why is the Pope always old, white, and male? I think it’s time the Catholic Church modernised a bit and had a young black woman as Pope. And just to make things even better, let’s make her a lesbian as well! Yeah, that should drag the antiquated, creaking structure which is the world’s biggest religion into the 21st century! Currently they haven’t even made it as far as the 20th, or 19th, or 18th, or… well, you get the idea.

I’m not totally serious about the suggestion above, after all these things probably need to happen one step at a time, but surely they could make a bigger effort to modernise the institution.

Everyone has positive and negative personality traits, so what are the good and bad points of Pope Francis? He does have some conservative political ideas, especially around issues of sexuality so I guess equal rights for gays and a more progressive attitude to contraception are probably too much to hope for.

Here’s a quote which shows this backward attitude: “Let’s not be naive, we’re talking about a simple political battle; marriage equality is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

That comment shouldn’t be a surprise of course, and to be fair I do have to concede that marriage equality is more a symbolic issue than a practical one, but I would have thought that the central message of Christianity, tolerance and forgiveness, would tend to fall on the side of allowing a couple to marry whatever their sexual preferences.

But he does seem to have some real socially progressive attitudes too. He genuinely seems to care about the plight of the poor and even the environment which is an issue Christianity doesn’t seem to have traditionally concerned itself with too much (after all, how much does Jesus have to say about environmentalism in the New Testament?)

I do have to say though that the thing I like the most is just that he seems like a nice person. He isn’t haughty and disconnected like previous Popes. I see him more like that other extremely likeable religious leader, the Dalai Lama, who is also a friendly, unpretentious person, and who it is almost impossible not to admire in some ways.

Pope Francis has showed that he really doesn’t want to be treated as something beyond any other human. He talked to school kids and commuters in a seemingly natural way. He returned to the hotel he was staying at to get his own luggage and to pay his bill. He looked uncomfortable when the cardinals knelt and kissed his hand (I could make a joke about that but let’s avoid nasty innuendo!) And he tours in a standard car instead of the armoured Pope-mobile.

Yes, I find myself liking him, although I totally disagree with his mindless acceptance of Catholic dogma. Still, he is the Pope, what else would I expect?


March 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Don’t be concerned, there hasn’t been another nuclear accident in Japan! Actually it’s much worse than that… not really. What has happened is that the hard drive in my Mac laptop has failed and it involves a major effort to get things working again. In fact, I am writing this blog entry on my iPad because my Mac is busy reloading files. When you have a million files totalling hundreds of Gigabytes of data, recovery from hardware failure is not going to be quick!

Before anyone thinks “oh those Macs are so unreliable” I should say that it is not the Apple supplied drive which has failed (although they do occasionally). It is a very expensive and very fast solid state drive which I fitted myself which is the problem. This has been working brilliantly for the last few months but has just suddenly died horribly.

Also don’t think “he’s an IT professional, why doesn’t he have a backup” because I do have several backups, but they only store my data files, so I still need to reconstruct the operating system and applications, although I also have most of those on an old disk.

The problem is my laptop is very complex. It has a massive collection of Mac and Unix programs installed which I update every day, plus virtual machines for Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8, Ubuntu Linux, Mac OS X Server, and Chrome OS. I challenge anyone to come up with a more complete and finely tuned collection of stuff! Oh, and I hardly ever use the Windows systems just in case you were wondering. They are mainly for testing web sites using IE, and other minor tasks like that.

Until recently I used Retrospect to backup my computers at home but I have recently switched to ChronoSync, so this will be a good test of how well that has worked. I find it interesting that many people run backup systems without ever testing a restore. This will be my first “real world” test of ChronoSync.

It has been a day and a half now that my laptop has been unavailable but I have managed to do a lot of what I would usually do on it using my iPhone and iPad. That is another interesting test of technology which I have now been forced into. Of course, I can’t practically do programming work on the iPad so that gives me an excuse to take a weekend off!

I am often asked if it’s practical to use an iPad as a substitute for a computer. I guess, depending on the specific requirements, in many cases it is. I really can type just as well (or just as badly because my typing has never been great) on the virtual keyboard of an iPad as I do on the real keyboard of the laptop. Plus the iPad is easier to use in different locations even though the 15 inch laptop is also fairly portable itself.

So whether this IT meltdown will take as long to recover from as Chernobyl of Fukushima I still don’t know. It is inconvenient, but it is also a learning opportunity. In the future I will run a disk clone overnight every day (or maybe once a week if it turns out to be inconvenient) as well as my existing daily backup.

I was hoping the solid state drive would be more reliable than a conventional hard disk as well as being faster. And I was hoping cloud storage would reduce the need for backups too. But maybe not. Backups are still as important as they ever were.

When the Revolution Comes

March 13, 2013 Leave a comment

A recent article circulating on the internet demonstrates how completely out of balance the global economic system has become. The specific case discussed is the US, but few people would deny that similar problems occur elsewhere, although maybe to a lesser extent. The article discussed wealth inequality in the US: what people’s idealised position would be, what their perception was, and what the reality is.

The article showed a series of graphs which plotted the actual wealth of various sectors of society compared with where they stood in various categories of income: bottom (the bottom 20%), second, middle, fourth, and top (the people with the top 20% incomes). If wealth was completely equitably split you would expect the graph to be a rectangle (in which case the 5 partitions would have no real meaning) but, of course, it wasn’t even close to that shape.

There were three graphs presented: what the people surveyed thought would be an ideal distribution, what they thought it really was, and what it actually was.

The distribution the vast majority (92%) chose as ideal was a split ranging from the bottom 20% getting about 10% of the income and ranging up to the top getting 30%. Presumably this is to recognise that certain people make a bigger contribution to society and so deserve greater rewards (even this idea has problems, but more of that later).

Sadly, they also realised that the ideal situation was far from the truth. The graph which the same majority thought reflected the reality had the bottom 20% on about 5% of the wealth and the top 20% on almost 60%. Many people would find this situation quite abhorrent but it doesn’t even begin to cover the actual reality.

In the real graph the bottom 20% have a section on the graph so small that it’s invisible. In fact the bottom 40% section is barely visible. And it’s much worse than that because even adding in the “middle class” middle section only brings the total up to around 5%. So the bottom 60%, including most of the middle class, get 5% of the wealth.

But even that’s just the beginning. The “upper middle class” only get 10% of the wealth leaving the rich 20% with well over 80% of the wealth.

But where the whole thing moves from abhorrence to obscenity is when you consider the top 1%. Draw a graph with a typical middle class person’s bar one centimeter high and guess how high the bar for the 1% is? Is it 10 cm, or 50, or 100 centimeters high? No, it’s almost 10 meters high. The top 1% have more wealth than all of the poor, and all of the lower middle, and all of the middle, and all of the upper middle, and a good part of the rich all put together!

The true situation is as far beyond the perceived reality as the perceived reality is beyond the ideal situation. So not only is wealth distribution a total disgrace but people are barely aware of how bad it really is.

So no one can doubt that the situation is extreme. We must now move on to whether it is justified. As I said above, some people do make a greater contribution to society so it seems fair to reward them with a higher income. Few people would debate this idea and that is represented by the ideal graph being weighted towards the top 20%.

But there are two issues here: first, how much extra income do these people deserve, and second how should the determination of their contribution to society be made.

Many people will say let the market decide. There are huge problems with this though…

First, the market only exists through a series of essentially arbitrary laws and regulations enforced by governments. Change the rules and the market delivers a totally different result. Therefore the market is essentially arbitrary and often shaped by laws designed to benefit the richest sections of society.

Second, the market (as it is under current rules) tends to reward people who are good at making investments which might result in high returns without achieving anything beyond that. For example, a currency trader (who really does absolutely nothing of any value at all) can get a huge income where someone researching a cure for cancer gets nothing. So the market can easily reward exactly the wrong people.

Third, even if there was a single free market what guarantee is there that it will achieve a good result? After all, we have many laws to stop people murdering their enemies, stealing from others, and acting dangerously on the road. Why shouldn’t we have rules to control dangerous activity in the economy as well?

I think I know exactly where this attitude that the market can solve all our problems came from. It came from the top 1% obviously! But it’s not that simple because I know many people on much more modest incomes who also support the “market”. Why? Because of that seemingly reasonable appeal to freedom, progress, and entrepreneurship. But not only is that idealised outcome not real, but even if it was real it isn’t the answer we should aim for anyway.

So the propaganda machine being run by the rich has persuaded enough people to act against their own best interests and that is how the system has both maintained itself and gone on to even greater extremes. But it can’t last. All despotic regimes eventually come to an end and I think we are beginning to see the end of the current one.

It’s time we made the economy work for the majority of people, not the other way around. And it is happening in some areas, with Europe now making (some rather feeble) attempts to moderate the pay of perhaps the most corrupt section of society of all: the banks.

Even in the US there is the beginning of a swing back to more moderate policies. Because of changing demographics there it is unlikely that the Republicans can ever regain power unless they moderate their policies significantly. And a swing back towards the center there (even Obama is far right by most standards, despite the silly claims of him being a socialist) should trigger a global trend towards the same thing.

But looking at those graphs I do wonder how much longer the poor, and even a lot of the middle class, will have to suffer just so that the (in most cases) greedy, corrupt, and self centered can get even richer. How much is enough for these people?

One final thing: I do realise that there are a few rich people who do make a significant contribution to society, and there are a few who contribute to worthwhile causes (Bill Gates being the most famous example). This is OK but it doesn’t really affect the big picture. The system is rotten to the core and any small examples of good outcomes like that are swamped by the vast majority of bad.

The rich aren’t the solution, they’re the problem. As the classic line in HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy goes: they’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. Bring on the revolution!