Saturday, August 29, 2015

Crow shares

This afternoon while Crow and I were chatting about this and that the subject of the sharing economy popped up as it often will. It does, doesn't it? Don't we tell our children to share their toys; don't we share a plate of cookies with a friend; don't we share space when we chat with an old friend? Sharing happens all the time  as a natural part of life. You can imagine my surprise when Crow informed me that all the above is not what is meant by the words 'the sharing economy'.

Crow: The problem with these 'sharing economy' companies is that although they hold themselves up to be champions of the people they are actually exploiters. Renting isn’t the same as sharing. When someone pays someone else to sit on the back seat of their car they've rented it out. They've rented the person who drives the car. They rent a couch for the night or a spare bedroom or an apartment when the owner or official renter is away. There is no sharing in the 'sharing economy'. In actuality, what they've undertaken is to participate in a black market economy.

me: Aren't these companies better, cheaper, more convenient?

Crow: Why are they cheaper and more convenient? It's because they bypass normal regulatory frameworks. The laws of a country. Where do laws come from and why do they arise? Well, the law follows and reacts to circumstance. The laws on installation of heated water systems for example arose after several disasters with boilers during the Victorian era. The laws on regular maintainence of fire safety equipment have arisen similarly. Hotels and other public places comply with those laws in order to protect people. Air BnB is cheaper because those who host on it do not have to comply as they are private residences, therefore they avoid legitimate overhead costs. 

me: But people who provide these services need the extra money.

Crow: These businesses can only succeed if the people undertaking the work break the law and/or have no employment rights or protection. For example - Uber only works because the company doesn't care about disability legislation or taxi licensing laws. Air BnB only works because people renting their houses out ignore the raft of legislation that hotels and B&Bs have to comply with.

If the regulators get involved because these microbusinesses are breaking the law, the sharing economy company either stands back and says 'we are only an internet platform' or campaigns that the 'old economy' is trying to stifle personal freedom while conveniently forgetting the fact that much of the legislation is in place to protect the customer.

While putting across the view that they are small, hip, entrepreneurial companies, they are in fact bankrolled by companies like Google and Goldman Sachs and are simply a computer platform with a very good legal department and extremely well-funded Government lobbyists. Posing as martyrs of progress and bastions of the free world, all they are is a company trying to create a global monopoly with little regard to any of the social effects their technology entails. The Ubers of this world are just strip-miners. Posing as some kind of 'champion of the people' they use the fruits of the public realm, ie. the internet,  public education, roads, etc, to diminish the wealth of that same public realm by killing jobs and thus eroding the tax-base.

me: I guess I won't be putting that 'Couch to Share - One Night Only' sign in the window. Goodness knows what laws I'd be breaking with that one.

With thanks to Olivier Blanchard.

note: Hope you won't mind seeing a reprise of Crow's Sanctum picture from a few years ago. It's still one of our favorites.

Monday, August 24, 2015

dragon days of summer

As you can see, I did come up with one picture in recent days but the heat and humidity of August has made it uncomfortable enough that I can't stay at my table very long. So - a simple picture of two friends meeting after a little absence is something of a character study rather than an illustration for anything in particular. One of these days I'll get that story done..

Now that I've mentioned a story but don't have one of my own, here's an old favorite you might like:

When Grandma Goes To Court

Lawyers should never ask a Mississippi grandma a question if they aren't prepared for the answer.

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked "Mrs. Jones, do you know me?" She responded, "Why yes I do know you since you were a little boy, and frankly you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you'll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes I know you.

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?

She replied, "Why yes I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster too. He's lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can't build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him."

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice said:

"If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I'll send you both to the electric chair."

Meanwhile, I hope you've been enjoying the great outdoors as much as we have. Til next time.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

on the wagon with Crow

Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Most jobs in today's world depend on not understanding nature.

The lack of discussion of how to adapt to climate change is the great blank spot in current debate because most of the people having the discussions are still trying to use the threat of an ugly future to bully people into joining a movement. You have to love the simplicity of climate change movement when the rhetoric revolves around the measurement of the amount of CO2 ppm like a speed cop on the side of the road believing that all the ills/accidents are the result of 'speeding'. Just because it can be given a number of measure does not make it more important. Our destruction of the environment is far more critical to our long-term survival as we wipe out forests, over-fish, pollute drinking water, turn soil into a lifeless conglomeration, etc. The earth will go through ups and downs in term of temperature with or without us. She is not the one at risk, we are.

If there is one thing I've come to see, it's that environmentalism was a failed movement, and precisely because a truly serious environmentalism asks too much of a rethink of industrial civilization. I can only hope that natural systems are more resilient than we realize. Of course, in enough time it will all wash out anyway, as life adapts... but I hate to admit that everything will only get worse for a long time.

There is a trajectory to every type of technology and it will find its mark with certainty. We and future generations might as well blame that first human ancestor who left the trees. Or maybe it's these damned opposable thumbs that Crow talks about.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

my own social media

Sir: I haven't got a computer, but I was told about Facebook and Twitter and am trying to make friends outside Facebook and Twitter while applying the same principles.

Every day, I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before and what I will do for the rest of the day. I give them pictures of my wife, my daughter, my dog and me gardening and on holiday, spending time by the pool. I also listen to their conversations, tell them I 'like' them and give them my opinion on every subject that interests me.. whether it interests them or not.

And it works. I already have four people following me: two police officers, a social worker and a psychiatrist.

~ Peter White, Holbrook, Derbyshire