Saturday, 29 September 2012



Is pre-distribution still an idea without a back-bone?

Pre-distribution is the catch-word of the week. But at this stage it is nothing more than an empty aspiration. It would indeed be nice if we could 'even out' the rewards of work before collecting income tax rather than after tax has been collected; then 'welfare' could be earned, rather than doled out as an act of charity. OK, nice idea; but how? Even if you accept the analysis [1] that what is needed is a strengthening of the bargaining power of labour, you have still not got us further forward than we were in 1979; for then, after a decade of strikes, the country voted in a Conservative government explicitly bent on breaking union power. O'Neill and Williamson are right to point [2] to the German concept of Mitbestimmung (i.e. Co-determination) as a possible way through that silly impasse, just as I was right to do so two years ago in this blog [3].
However, I went further than merely wondering why we in Britain did not force boards of moderate and large companies to accept a certain amount of labour representation, as was done in Germany and Sweden in the seventies. I showed how a very simple rationale could determine (with logic and justice) exactly how much voting power should belong to labour and how much to capital. In brief, if the annual wage bill of a company is x and the annual interest (or dividend) paid on its capital is y, then the ratio (labour:captial) of voting power on the board should be x:y.
There will be objections to allowing a just and logical amount of labour power to determine the fortunes of a company, just as there were objections to allowing a propertyless and uneducated electorate to vote in parliamentary elections. But, to our credit, we (as a country) got over that hurdle. And with patience I think we shall learn to accept Co-determination. Thus one objection to my formula will be that if mal-administration causes the business to go bankrupt, capital will lose all and labour will lose nothing, for labour has no stake in the company. To which one must answer that labour will lose its livelihood, which is worth (to it) exactly as much as capital is to the capitalist. If labour finds itself too ignorant or too foolish to interfere in the running of the company, it will surely have sufficient wit to find a proxy that is competent. If not, that business will founder and others will survive.


L. Cawstein

Friday, 28 September 2012

Stoicism and Epicureanism


"that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only.." [1]
At first glance the two great philosophical schools of Epicurus on the one hand and Zeno and the Stoics on the other seem rather similar. They both protect their acolytes from the pains of adversity, but they do this in different ways.
Can one fairly say that an Epicurean protects himself as a tortoise does, hunched within his protective shell, while a Stoic seeks protection by aligning himself with the Cosmos (φύσις, phusis, Nature); by being (as he would put it) virtuous. Though Bertrand Russell is massively informative in "A history of western philosophy", I like for its extra dimension the treatment of these two philosophies in Gilbert Murray's  "Five stages of Greek Religion". [2]
Gilbert Murray quipped: "Where the Stoic and Cynic proclaimed that in spite of all the pain and suffering of a wicked world, man can by the force of his own will be virtuous, Epicurus brought the more surprising good news that man can after all be happy."[2] 
The happiness of Epicurus was not based solely on simple bread, cheese and home-grown vegetables for it involved the crucial components of conviviality and human affection; yet it proved not enough. It is Stoicism that captured the moral high ground and won disciples among the highest ranks of Romans, early Christian and renaissance humanists.
[1]    Deuteronomy, 8:3
[2]   Murray, G. (1935)  "Five stages of Greek Religion", Watts, London. (Or free online at:

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Buying Euros on the high street

The Post Office says it is the most popular place at which to buy foreign currency for the holiday abroad. I cannot think why. I found the following rates at the beginning of September. (Remember, you want to get as many Euro per UK£ as possible when you buy them, which is the lower of the two rates quoted on the boards; that may be what eludes that strange majority that flocks to the Post Office.)
At the Post Office ---- 1.1527 Euro/UK£
At the Thomas Cook ---- 1.223 Euro/UK£
Correct rate ---- 1.26153 Euro/UK£

Why, even in the narrow alleyways of central Venice you will get
1.2195 Euro/UK£ !

L. Cawstein