Recently in Economics Observed Category

Water Tap What will be the fundamental 'currencies' of the future? What, if we are serious about global sustainability in all its forms, should these currencies comprise now? It's likely, if we collectively are ever going to achieve a level of long-term viability for the human race, that we will have to shift the emphasis from money (or the gold standard) to the really basic requirements for life on earth - carbon, water and nitrogen, plus knowledge of all sorts to keep the whole show on the road.

Knowledge Economy and Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Money is self-evidently important to individuals (how else do you secure the roof over your head and food on the table, in complex modern societies?); and it's one indicator of collective economic well-being.

But it's 'only' a measure or tool. It's not a fundamental requirement in its own right for living.

We can, at least hypothetically, survive without money, but we can't survive without water and - in its many forms - delicately balanced amounts of carbon, and of course nitrogen. In all three instances, it's a case of not too much, not too little.

Back to basics
Water, carbon and nitrogen are the fundamentals of life.

To my mind we shall all need to understand the significance of these fundamentals much better at every level from the local to the global; and when we've grasped this, the next step will be to trade in the universal units - not just as now for some specialist concerns, but as globally recognised everyday currencies.

Climate change and polar ice caps are critically important, but they don't easily interpret into something which the person on the street feels empowered to do much about.

Making it meaningful
The problems and the indicators have to be far closer to home to be meaningful in terms of action for most people. And ideally there needs to be a recognition in the discourse that we're all in this together.

Our neighbours are global as well as local when it comes to the future of the human race on the planet. (The planet itself will of course 'survive'. It's people and other currently living things which are imperilled by human activity in the twenty-first century.)

Convincing currencies
So let's see how we can reconfigure the notion of currency to have wider meaning for survival.

We all share the need for water, carbon and nitrogen, in suitably balanced and sustained ways.

The additional (secondary) critical currency is therefore knowledge; not least knowledge about how to maintain and sustain our planet. This cannot be just scientific and abstract knowledge, but needs to be shared by us all.

And that's before we even begin to consider knowledge and knowing of very many other sorts also as a basic currency of the twenty-first century.

Knowledge and knowing
Knowledge in its formal sense will, in time, become recognised as the major currency of formal activity; and 'knowing' will be the currency in everyday life which keeps us all going.

Knowing is the social glue which can keep communities sustainable and simultaneously open our eyes to new ideas and scenarios. It enables us all together to engage, empower and explore.

Cash won't be king
We can't eat cash. We can run out of formal finance and still somehow survive.

But we need the fundamentals of life, and we also desperately need ways to share our common humanity, and our connections too with other living things. This is where the eco-system meets the communalism which must bind us all together.

No return to mediaeval ways of thinking
The difference between this time around and previous eras where the good earth was the known fundamental, is this:

In the twenty-first century we can create new, non-static way of life which incorporate the very basics of life but also lets us explore the vibrant and exciting challenges of science, humanities (in every sense) and our actual selves.

A more holistic view
The time when carbon and water, if not as yet nitrogen, are recognised universal currencies, measured formally as commodities of exchange, may not be long in coming.

As we understand that knowledge and knowing are the fundamentals of our existence in communities, we will also want to emphasise the basic currencies of life.


Read more articles about the Knowledge Economy and Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Ha'penny coin The Economist magazine has had an online debate on the proposition that 'We're all Keynesians now'. The outcome was not encouraging. By two-to-one that proposition was rejected in favour of a free-market position. Perhaps some economists have yet to learn that the current day physical realities of the context itself keep shifting, and that the science of human behaviour is in the end an art, with outcomes that depend on how we handle the interaction between fact and feeling.

Economics Observed.

In 1936 the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) pointed out that in a downturn the economy is operating below its potential, so expanding demand can create supply, which will in turn give people jobs and more prosperity, thus creating (to quote the view in 2009 of the US economist James Furman) an economic 'virtuous circle'.

That, says Furman (along with many others) is 'the paradox of economics in a downturn. Normally, the only way to grow the economy is the old-fashioned way: delaying gratification through reduced deficits and increased savings to encourage more investment. But in a downturn, these steps would just compound the problem and worsen the vicious circle of rising unemployment, underutilized capacity and falling consumption.'

We can argue the toss about how much economic 'growth' we should pursue in a world which already uses far, far more than it should of environmental resources, but intentionally causing devastating poverty by restricting government and other large-scale spending - the preference of the free-marketeers and monetarists - won't help.

Socio-economic expectations and sustainability
Sustainable futures depend not only on what will in theory happen next, but what's happening now.

There is a cost attached to severe recession: the people whom it hurts on a daily living basis get very upset. And upset people become disenfrachised and disaffected - which is in no-one's interest.

Those of us engaged in regeneration and renewal know only too well, despite the apparent logic of the free market position, that this cannot be the way forward.

The Economist debate
The Economist debate on the theme that 'We're all Keynesians now' is therefore timely; but disappointingly it transpired to be very largely a discussion - or so it seemed - between a cohort of people who work in the financial sector, mostly in the USA.... and who also therefore have huge influence on the lives of us all.

Doing his best for the Keynesians we had Prof. Brad DeLong, professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and in the Clinton administration a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Those opposing the Keynesian position were led by Prof. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, co-author of Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, acclaimed as "one of the most powerful defenses of the free market ever written", and co-creator of the Financial Trust Index, an indicator of the level of trust Americans have in financial markets. Prof. Zingales' position was to defend the idea of the Free Market.

Money or men and women?
There was little discussion in the Economist debate of people as people, and almost none about the extraordinarily complex issues we now face in our global physical environment.

Money and Monetarism or at least the Free Market (themes favoured by the Chicago School of economics) were the positions which, from my reading of the proceedings, ruled the day.

But when we start to disaggregate socio-economic outcomes and impacts in respect of the diverse downturn experiences of different people (gender, age, physical state, cultural background and other factors) it is very hard - in both the intellectual and the affective sense - not to go for Keynesianism.

Haves and Have Nots
Other, more austere, approaches may seem attractive in the long-run to people who won't in the interim really go without; but surely even they recognise that the legacy of a deeply disenfranchised social hinterland - under-educated and sick children, depressed and impoverished families without focus, and all the rest - will not be an advantage in times to come?

We have to keep people in work as far as possible (preferably eco- and socially sustainable schemes), or we risk more than we may gain. It's how the Keynesian approach is handled that really matters.

Sustainability is no longer a given
Yet most commentators continued to debate as though everything 'except' the economy will stay the same. It won't; and the versatility of neo-Keynesianism surely helps us here more than the strictures of the Chicago School .

Gas /oil, carbon, water... one or more of these will become the major financial 'currency/ies' of the future; and my guess is that the new gold-standard currency will soon be simply knowledge.

If economics can't take account of these factors in meaningful, rather than soul-less, ways, we're in for a rougher ride even than needs be already.

Keynes was creative
Nor did I see much about John Maynard Keynes the person in this debate.

Wasn't Keynes a man with a wide range of interests, a member of the Bloomsbury Group (that intellectual and progressive force in the London of the 1930s), married to the 'Bloomsbury Ballerina' Lydia Lopokova, a talented Russian ballet dancer?

Wouldn't Keynes have been worried to read about the sterile dehumanised theoretical models which continue to be proposed by the Monetarists and Free Marketeers? What if anything, he might have asked, has been learnt in the past eighty years?

Imagination in the face of multiple challenges
Only Keynesian-style approaches accommodate the changing realities of life across the globe for millions upon millions of different people (men and women in many diverse cultures, all cruelly hit by the credit crunch) who simply can't live without jobs of some sort, because they have no resource other than their daily labour.

Surely Keynes would have urged us to use imagination as well as mathematical models, to try to resolve the dilemmas we now face.

How can we cope, all at the same time, with economic crises, climate change, famine and much else, unless we seek the application of intentionally humane and decent economic frameworks?

Decision-makers and destinies
It's worrying that so few of the Economist's debaters looked outside their models to the contexts in which we actually live. They are after all also generally the people in the private sector (and in right wing governments) who decide what to do with 'their' economies.

The Free Market folk undoubtedly believe they have incorporated human motivation and behaviours into their models. The problem seems to be that - the behaviour perhaps of economists themselves apart? - rationality has little to do with behaviour in reality; and in any case the language of the Chicago School does belies an understanding of the human condition for 'ordinary' people.

Perhaps - could it have been said before? - such people simply don't count in the face of the Free Market?

Humanity and economics are inseparable
Recent experience in developing sustainable communities has seen those in regeneration forced to understand it's not just logic which influences how people behave; we ignore their humanity and need for stakeholding and inclusion at our peril.

The same applies in the face of terrifying outcomes if we get the economics wrong. A lot more insight into the day to day realities of the human condition is required.


Read more articles about Economics Observed.

Woman executive red briefcase, pink notebook + accessories The current financial chaos is producing a lot of debate about regulation. On one hand we're told that very tight scrutiny, emboldened by severe legislation, is a must; whilst others say more 'good, moral people' from the City are the answer. Both positions have merit. But urgent action to widen the pool from which Board Directors is drawn is one essential and immediate option, insisting that many more women become directors of the most influential companies.

Few would deny that, as Andrew Phillips said recently in The Guardian, a 'welter of regulation' cannot in and of itself avoid further catastrophe for the Threadneedle Street and City of London and Wall Street.

Of course 'good, moral' people are a pre-requisite of effective reformation of the financial system; and of course this must include people of 'all talents'.

Diversity improves scrutiny
What Lord Phillips might also propose, however, is that none of this is likely to deliver unless the talents involved are those of a truly diverse lot, in background, ethnicity, gender and otherwise.

The best way to secure proper scrutiny is to ensure, however well meaning they might be, that decision-making groups are not also a collection of people with much, beyond the necessary skills and expertise, in common.

Diversity improves business performance too
We already know that diversity at the top makes for successful business. Group members of different sorts, from a variety of backgrounds, aren't an optional extra when it comes to effective group working. They're essential.

And the UK workplace equality legislation to deliver this - applicable as much in the boardroom as on the shopfloor - is already in place.

Read more about Business & Enterprise and about Gender & Women.

08.09.27  NWDA AGM 2008 John Willman  Liverpool BT Conference Centre John Willman is UK Business Editor of the Financial Times, so his take on the UK economy was an important contribution to the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference in Liverpool. His message, whilst analytically cautious in the present market chaos, came over as generally upbeat. Would that Tim Leunig, the academic who advised the economic emphasis should Go South, had seen things in the same light. Better surely for the North and the South of England, if we face the UK's regional (and centralist) challenges, than if we run away?

The headline message from John Willman's talk came over to me as: Tim Leunig is mistaken. And the UK economy is fundamentally strong.

Leunig’s recent staggering judgement (in the report Cities Unlimited, by the free market leaning independent think tank Policy Exchange) that in general developers should abandon the North of England for the delights of the Golden Triangle - he suggests more development around Oxbridge, which will supposedly realign the North-South markets - in my view takes some beating for silliness. John Willman appeared to be of a similar mind.

The great Victorian cities
Far from suggesting, as Leunig seems to, that Greater London should become even more overheated, Willman made the case that the ‘great Victorian cities’ are the best equipped for the new ‘global living’. There is, he said, a Kit: some combination of conference centres, art galleries, a four-star hotel, some culture and festivals, and maybe a port.

In these respects the major English cities of the North (of the Core Cities, only Bristol is South) have the edge on continental European cities such as Bordeaux and Porto. They’re also great and fascinating cities (as I too can attest), but they’re probably 15 years behind their parallels in Britain: Their docksides have yet to be developed for the new leisure economies, for instance.

North-South divide: London ‘vs’ the rest
The debate about the North-South divide, Willman told us, is sterile. It’s useless to ‘blame’ London. The UK capital is a truly global city; in this, the North can never expect or even hope to compete. It’s just not a realistic objective to close the gap.

And London, with the mayoral model which elected mayor Ken Livingstone provided, showed how a ‘get things done’ city can operate.

The national and global economy
Despite the panic, only 3% of UK mortgages are in default. Willman judged that Britain is still doing pretty well as the sixth largest manufacturer in the world, a supplier of very high quality products.

In these respects the UK economy is well placed for the globalised world; as is North West England, with its emphasis on the service economies, life sciences, media and creative products and the current / forthcoming energy industries (including nuclear energy) .

The Wimbledon effect
The UK is an open economy, which in some senses punches above its weight. Britain demonstrates the ‘Wimbledon effect': we don’t necessarily take the headlines, but we do host the event.

In fact, the consultants Saffron Brand recently reported that perhaps the UK sells its story ‘too well’ – some of our cities are actually more highly rated than cold analysis suggests they might be.

A strong basic economy
Willman’s overall judgement at the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference was that UK economy is ‘so much stronger than 30 years ago’.

Perhaps some of us continue to see the elephant in the room - climate change and environmental sustainability - as an critically important challenge, still to be adequately (and very urgently) addressed.

Whatever... Would that Tim Leunig and others like him were as willing as Willman, on the basis of the evidence over many decades, to recognise that people everywhere have to believe in themselves to make their economies work effectively at all.


Read more about Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions
and about Economics Observed.

British Sociological Association (BSA) logo The British Sociological Association, founded in 1951, promotes the work of sociologists and social scientists as practitioners and scholars, in the UK and, through links, much further afield. Sociology offers an analysis which helps surprisingly large numbers of us make sense of what happens in our ever-changing world.

I recently re-joined the British Sociological Association, of which I was an Executive Committee member when I worked in further and higher education, much earlier in my career.

It's fascinating to see how things have evolved since that time, back in the 1980s.

Battles now won
Then we were battling to 'save' the Personal, Social and Health curriculum, which Sir Keith Joseph, then Secretary of State for Education under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was keen to remove or at the very least side-line. History in schools was to stop at 1945, the end of the Second World War and before the arrival in 1948 of the National Health Service (NHS) and Welfare State; Section 11 legislation made it almost professional suicide to teach about HIV / AIDS; the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) had to be renamed the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) lest anyone should think that social research was scientific - in retrospect a far cry attitudinally from current demands for 'evidence-based' policy at the highest levels.

All this we addressed, through the Executives of the BSA and other professional associations, via FACTASS, The Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences, of which I was Convenor. Now there is no need for FACTASS. We managed to hang on in there, and it's unlikely that any mainstream politician in any modern democratic country would want to see it otherwise; the PSHE curriculum and entitlement of children to understand their world is, along with positive resolution of the GCSEs-for-all debate, now established.

Fundamentals
But the fundamental emphases of the BSA on social equity; on understanding the interactive social constructions which give meaning to our daily lives, continue, developed and debated by people who have now spent a lifetime exploring how human societies and communities work and are understood by the people in them.

The 'classics' - gender, 'race' and ethnicity, age and life transitions, and social class - remain (alongside matters such as health and medicine, work and employment, and so forth) the fundamental building blocks of sociological analysis, keeping us constantly aware that big and sometimes invisible forces shape our day-to-day experience, even to the extent that they often determine our actual life expectancy.

New social analysis too
And beyond that, there is a new and critical emphasis on our physical world, on sustainability and green issues and how societies and communities will find themselves responding to the challenges we all face.

It may be too soon to say that Human Geographers and Sociologists have found completely common ground, but it looks as though a convergence may slowly be developing, after a decade or more when the gathering of empirical data on population change and socio-economic impacts was sometimes perceived to be enough to take governmental programmes and political policy forward.

Contextualising for the future
There is now a recognition that 'social research' must inform, e.g., environmental as well as community, health and education policies. (I was recently a co-author of the Defra Science Advisory Council report on Social Research in Defra - a fascinating and I hope very fruitful experience.)

The BSA, I note, has a growing Section (interest) Group on Sociologists Outside Academia (SOAg). I intend to sign up for it.

See more articles on Social Science , and
History Lessons Need More Than 'Hitler And Henry'
Social Geographers Take The Lead In Social Policy

08.04.02 place laid for dinner 140x78 010a.jpg Food is rising rapidly up the agenda. Allotments, biofuels, calories, customs, eating disorders, famine, farming, fats, fibre, foodmiles, GM, health, organic, packaging, processing, salt, seasonal, security, sell-by, sustainability, vitamins, water.... Where do we begin with what to eat and drink?

Modern society has moved from food as nutrition and survival to food as an element of our leisure experience. Until recently it's been seen by many as an issue to be left to dieters or even ‘health freaks’.

But now people are beginning to ask what food's about. The immediate answer to this question could be, it’s all very confusing. There are 'facts' and there are, it seems, 'food factoids'; and there are some consequences for action, when we think things through....

Here are some general headings and questions about food which may help:


Nutrition (Should we eat it?)
Strange as it may seem, for most adults there is still more concern about calorific value and ‘losing weight’ than there is about the nutritional value of what we eat. Almost everyone wants to be slim; yet despite concerns in many parts of the world about obesity and health relatively few people actually eat their fruit and veg ‘Five A Day'.

We as consumers still don’t fully appreciate nutritional information or understand the significance for our health and well-being of salt and other minerals and vitamins, various sorts of fats, fibre, ‘additives’, sugar, glycaemic index, units of alcohol and so on; and in some respects nor, completely, do the experts.

The healthy eating message is beginning to sink in, but questions around nutritional labelling and how to project the public health message continue to loom large.


Children eat too (Is food for kids especially important?)
Even (especially) for children, the health impact of being overweight, along with issues around longer-term well-being and educational outcomes, are now major concerns, as Jamie Oliver and his School Dinners campaign keep reminding us.

It is not altogether clear however that poor children necessarily have ‘worse’ diets than better off ones – possibly because even wealthier children eat ‘the wrong things’, albeit from choice (kids of all sorts it seems won’t eat their greens). But perhaps some groups consume ‘nicer’ food than others, even though the direct nutritional value - or not - of food consumed by children may (sometimes) vary independently of income.

So what more if anything needs to be done about family eating patterns, or advertising food to children, on the television and elsewhere? How much value should we put on meals together as a way to promote family well-being and cohesion?

And how important, as a good start, is breast-feeding? Should we as a society do more to encourage it?

Or should we emphasise exercise more than nutrition, to protect children's physical and mental health?


Organic? GM? Nano? Sell-by date? (Is it wholesome?)
Confusion reigns when we look at the science behind modern food production.

Is organicWho says so, and why is it so pricey?) What about free-range? What's a superfood? And do superfoods really exist?

Has the product we're about to eat, or an antecedent of it, been genetically modified? Is that good or bad? – and for whom? consumers, farmers or other people in the developing world? Also, how has it changed the food?

What of new techniques? Are any food nanotechnologies involved? Whatever would they be for? Are they good or dangerous?

Who decides ‘sell-by’ dates? And by what criteria?

Can we trust the Food Standards Agency, the government and European legislation and everybody else involved in food regulation and statutory labelling? What about the consumer organisations and the supermarkets? Who knows best?


Presenting, preserving and not wasting our food (Is tinned OK and who needs packaging?)
How can we tell whether tinned food is as good as frozen or fresh? How much packaging is required for hygiene and how much is, for instance, simply there to make food look good?

What's the relative energy and resource cost of different ways of preserving food?

And, crucially, how can we ensure that food we buy is not wasted? At present one third of food purchased - in restaurants, shops or wherever - in the UK alone is simply thrown away: hence the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Perhaps even with today's relatively higher prices we are more careful about food if we're locavors, when we know locally who grew or prepared it, and where, than when we don't?


Food miles (Does it cost the earth?)
Food travels the world in strange ways. We (in the UK) get tomatoes and lamb from the other side of the globe, yet we also grow them ourselves.

How to tell people usefully about the food mile cost of what they eat may be a moot point. It’s not just how many miles, or even carbon footprint: it takes some eight units of grain to produce one unit of beef; but some people still reckon that good value - including, no doubt, growing numbers of consumers in China and India, who have a preference for an affluent Western diet.

So sometimes the real cost or value can only be calculated by comparing what would happen if foods of equivalent nutritional or other sort of value were produced in a different way. And how would you put that on a label?


Biofuels (Is growing 'food for cars' acceptable?)
We all know that we're using too much oil, charging around in cars and planes when often we don't need to.

Biofuels seemed for a while to be the perfect way out of this - grow crops to substitute for more usual oils. But now, as the UK's Chief Scientist has said, we know there are costs too; some biofuels are neither sustainable, nor ethical.

And on top of this we must acknowledge that biofuels, like food for people, takes up valuable land space. The question is, what's the 'right' balance - if there is such a thing?


Water used (Will it increase global tensions?)
There is an emerging awareness that food is mainly water, and that water is the also the most precious (and sometimes wasted) commodity in its production.

If the beef-to-grain carbon ratio is high, the equivalent water ratio is many times more so. (Let us pass on the comlex issues around food for domestic animals and pets - there is an important balance to acknowledge here between these animals' functions as sources of security and comfort for people, and their costs to the environment - but who has looked at this balance?)

There are those who believe that water, not oil, will trigger the next global disputes; but as yet few of us have thought how to approach the global issues of water scarcity and food.


Food prices (Can we afford it?)
The cost of food against income has fallen for most of us in the first world over recent years. Now it’s beginning to increase again to more traditional levels – though it will probably stabilise - as global issues such as draught, climate change and biofuels impact on the market.

Food habits have changed from agrarian times, but often seem nonetheless to lag behind the reality of what's available, and may say more about cultural expectations or how a person ate when they were young, than about what's now regarded as 'best' for them (or, indeed, with modern advertising the converse may also be true on occasion).

Perhaps people need to know about less expensive and more nutritious alternative foods, if the ones they’re used to become more expensive, or may now be known to be less 'healthy'? But who can best tell them?


Commercial advantage and competition (Do supermarkets cause ‘food deserts?)
Allied to this is now a fear that supermarkets placed in disadvantaged or poor areas will result in so-called food deserts, where poor people can no longer afford to buy even the basics of a decent diet.

But some observers say that food deserts are really different types of access, or actually an urban myth or 'factoid'. Evidence for these food deserts is to date far inconclusive – indeed, some research indicates that when supermarkets come to poorer areas, both the economy and local people’s diets may improve.

So how can we indicate economic ‘value’ and nutritional benefit in the contexts of where people live, what they expect to eat and how they get access to their food?


Customs, symbols and traditions (What sort of foods for whom?)
Shared food has always been a way of bonding - we cut cakes and 'raise a glass', offer potlatch, drink tea and conduct many other ceremonies across the world to denote belief, position or togetherness.

Then there's the fascinating question of why different people in different places and at different times eat different sorts of food. Sometimes it's easy to explain - 'luxury' and difficult to obtain foods are reserved in almost all cultures and communities for conspicuous consumption on special occasions, for instance - but often there are other styles and patterns to eating too.

And what do we know about 'healthy' diets across the world? Why do people in some places live longer and fitter lives than others? What traditions and customs help us keep our communities intact? And is any of what we might learn about customs and habits of food consumption transposable from one community or culture to another?


Seasonal, allotments and home grown (Should we grow it ourselves?)
Locally produced foodin season' is the new mantra, but it can’t be the whole story. There are many localities which can’t provide the full spectrum of nutritional need. Varied diets often require varied sources.

Nonetheless, an appreciation of the cycles of nature helps us to understand how our food is produced and what makes it special. ‘Seasonal’ recipes draw attention to the possibility of ingredients with a low carbon footprint, just as allotments, smallholdings and local market gardens offer the possibility of learning about how what we eat grows.

Producing and sourcing food locally may not resolve all our problems, but they certainly have their place in the spectrum of things we as consumers can enjoy and need to know. How about allotments for everyone who wants one (there are long waiting lists in some places), and special efforts to grow – and eat - vegetables and fruit in schools and other community locations?


The food economy (How does all this fit into UK plc?)
There are many things to think about here; just ask the politicians, farmers and market gardeners. And that's before we get to talk about European subsidies and farming compensation packages...

That however is not the whole story. Slowly, we are grasping the interconnections between the economic impacts and needs of farmers and growers, and how official policies affect the welfare of the wider rural and urban economies. Never again, hopefully, will problems like foot and mouth be addressed without understanding the fragile complexities of the rural economy as such; and hopefully too in future the wider public will perceive the business and scientific complexities of matters such as animal vaccination.

But let’s understand that not all food needs to be produced in rural areas. There’s plenty of scope also for townspeople to develop opportunities and skills via commercial companies and social enterprises around food, as is evident from the popularity of city-based organic foodstores, local vegetable deliveries and farmers’ markets... not to mention the universal interest in restaurants and cafes in modern day society!


Food, farms and famine (What about the developing world?)
If opportunities for stabilising the food economy remain to be developed efficiently, effectively and well in Western economies, how much more so is this true for those parts of the globe where even the grain supply is critically under-resourced, and where water and food are in desperately short supply. These were the sorts of concerns of the Downing Street Food Summit in early 2008.

Many people would like reassurance that the food they purchase is ethically sourced and gives a fair return to the farmers who produced it. And we need to understand much more about the food supply chain, as Professor Tim Lang of the Centre for Food Policy has been saying for years.

Movements such as Fairtrade are gaining wider recognition – plus a greater share of commercial shelf-space - and are critical to our understanding of food as a global issue.


Sustainability and ‘food security’ (Will there be enough food for everyone?)
There are those who fear we are sleepwalking into a global food disaster. We need to find ways of adjusting our eating habits (and other consumption) without delay.

Currently it’s said that humankind acts a though we had three planets-worth of resources at our disposal, not just one. And that's before we start to look at how population is increasing (in the UK as well as almost everywhere else).

It is also suggested that, in contrast to the current situation, the UK (and doubtless numbers of other nations) could with ease be self-sufficient for food if everyone were vegetarian - even though our lifestyle in the Western world is many times as water and carbon intensive as that of people in developing countries. Veganism, of course, is even more effective as a way of feeding everyone. Becoming 'selfsufficient-ish' (and largely vegetarian-ish?) can be achieved in most, except perhaps the most extreme, locations.

These last few observations offer a rather pointed context for all the other matters discussed above.


Read more about Food
and about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

What questions and views do you have about food?

Music & bills 065a 99x138.jpg Professional orchestra musicians' employment and pay is a mystery to most people. Do players have 'real' jobs, too? is a common question. And is it all very glamorous? The latest survey of orchestral pay in the UK gives some answers - not much glamour, not too much pay, and little time for anything else. But for many players the commitment remains.

The Musicians' Union has recently published their second annual report on Orchestral Pay in the U.K. Leaving aside the self-governing London orchestras, the BBC Symphony and other BBC orchestras, English National Opera (ENO) orchestra and the Royal Opera House (ROH) orchestra (all of which, with London weightings, do somewhat - though only comparatively - better), the M.U. report, as we shall see from the details below, makes pretty dismal reading.

Who are the musicians?
Almost every established player in the major regional orchestras is a permanent staff member (London is different). These 'chairs' are coveted positions amongst performers, who are usually graduates from the most prestigious music colleges and / or the top music conservatoires.

Musicians supply their own instruments and equipment for work, the initial costs of which can amount to more than an annual salary.

The 'regional' orchestras
Orchestras outside London surveyed by the M.U. in August 2007 were: the regional BBC orchestras, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO), the City of Birmingham Orchestra (CBSO), Manchester's Halle Orchestra, the Opera North Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO), the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), Scottish Opera, the Ulster Orchestra and Welsh National Opera (WNO).

The fortunes of these orchestras fluctuate quite widely over the years, especially since the standardised regional orchestras contract for the BSO, CBSO, Halle, RLPO and RSNO was abandoned. All are dependent on civic support as well as national. [See The Association of British Orchestras for general information about these orchestras.]


Orchestral salary scales
Orchestras generally divide their players up into 'Section Principals' and 'Principals' (who sit at the front of their instrumental section) and 'Tutti' (formerly called 'Rank & File'!). The M.U. estimates there are approximately 600 fully professional string players employed by British orchestras - which means about one in every 100,000 of the UK population has this occupation.

With a few exceptions, string players (violins, violas, cellos, basses) are the only Tutti musicians, and they make up the larger part of most orchestras.

Who gets paid what?
Concentrating on the regional orchestras, we see a variation of minimum salary in August 2007 as follows:

Section Principals: BBC Regional ~ hourly playing rate of £24.22 (£32,118 p.a.) through to CBSO ~ £33.09 (£45,205 p.a.).

Principals: RLPO ~ £21.44 (£28,298 p.a.) through to CBSO ~ £28.49 (£33,159 p.a.).

Tutti: RLPO ~ £18.20 (£24,024 p.a.) through to CBSO ~ £22.43 (£27,348 p.a.).

In some cases there are increments and / or long service awards which take experienced players above these levels, but these additional sums, usually only a very few thousand per annum, rarely raise salaries significantly above the starting point. Likewise, some, but not all, orchestras pay musicians an additional fee for recordings, media relays etc. [Some details of comparable orchestral salaries in the USA are available here.]


Comparison with other UK salaries
To set these figures in context:
* The average wage in 2007 for all full-time workers across the UK is £29,999 p.a.; or £27,630 specifically for Liverpool.

* The average salary of professionals in IT, an occupation which perhaps begins to approach comparable levels of skill to orchestral musicians (though there are many fewer performers) is £37,000 p.a.

* For graduates overall, an average additional £10,000 p.a. has accrued to their income after ten years' service; this annual income will then continue to increase for another ten or twenty years.

Back of an envelope calculations using these comparative data perhaps suggest that over a lifetime orchestral musicians will receive approximately half the income of other professionals at comparative levels of skill.

Annual orchestral performing and other work arrangements
The regional orchestras vary in the number of annual playing 'on stage' hours they demand from their musicians. Of the orchestras above (not including the BBC orchestras, at 1,326 hours each, and ENO (874 hours) or ROH (860 hours)) the fewest performing hours are required of musicians in the opera orchestras (1,128 each) and the most by the RLPO (1,320).

How these hours are distributed is laid down in detailed contracts. For health reasons, such as risk of hearing loss and repetitive strain injury, players rarely play on the platform for over 6 hours per day. (They may well practise for more than that.) Scheduled 'unsocial 'hours - Sundays, Bank Holidays, and very early or late - and other erratic scheduling, with the attendant risks to wellbeing and mental health - are normally paid at the same rate as other hours.

Stress at work is seen as part of the job. There are also travelling hours etc which may add some 30-40% in time commitment - even though much time away from home is still 'free' in every sense of the word; neither paid nor, obviously, available for, say, teaching or other alternative opportunities for income.

Not a professional wage?
Most people who attend classical concerts see well-dressed and self-evidently skilled musicians and assume from this that orchestral incomes will be to some extent commensurate with appearances.

The truth is different. Many musicians, even at this level and with years of experience, barely scrape a living, often working almost every day for weeks to make ends meet. Relatively few within the profession achieve comfortable incomes and the view that orchestral playing is not a 'real' profession, with eventual progression and hope of greater reward, is widespread amongst foot soldiers at least - large numbers of whom, a previous M.U. survey has revealed, also incur occupationally induced ill-health or injury.

Artistic development
Sadly, players' negative perceptions are reinforced by an absence of continuing professional development in their core skill, i.e. instrumental performance.

Players can often work for decades without receiving support as artists, or to maintain and develop their instrumental technique, let alone the money to pay very costly professional coaching fees. Artistic human resource investment is not high on (or simply missing altogether from) the priority list for most orchestra budgets.

Skills and experience lost
U.K. orchestras are becoming younger in age profile. The salary figures above offer an insight into why experience is frequently lost, as players leave mid-career for other ways to support their families or preferred lifestyle.

Youth and vigour are wonderful to behold; but knowledge, insight and long-term commitment would in a more ideal world also be valued.

Music not money
Fortunately, for many musicians and their audiences the imperative towards the extraordinary inner world of classical music continues to bring them together even against the rationale of external economics.

But it would be risky to permit the future for UK orchestras to depend on this inner imperative.

Read more articles in Music, Musicians & Orchestras

Life In A Professional Orchestra: A Sustainable Career?

The Healthy Orchestra Challenge

Musicians in Many Guises

Where's The Classical Music In The Summer? An Idea...

British Orchestras On The Brink.....Again

'Gold' coins 4919 (99x134).jpg Here in Liverpool we are about to start our 2008 Year as European Capital of Culture. But apparently the connection between this year-long Capital of Culture event and hard European cash has yet to dawn on some local businesses. This is serious. Who's failed to get the message over? And will things improve?

A walk this morning took us through Liverpool's Sefton Park to Lark Lane, where the Boho action is, to find some brunch.

The brunch was fine; but the bill which followed it left us at best bewildered.

Sterling only
The card machine - as usual these days, the 'continental' 'take it to the table' type - came up with a sensible sum, requested in either Sterling or Euros. As it happened, we had some Euros on us, so when we'd paid (in Sterling) we asked lightheartedly if we could have paid cash Euros. (The literal conversion rate was 1.645 if anyone wants to know....)

The waitress was aghast. Oh no, she assured us, clearly thinking we'd sought such reassurance, they wouldn't even think of taking Euros. The cafe never dealt with Euros, the cost would be sky-high, it was quite out of the question...

Bafflement and business
We were unsure how to respond, having originally intended to congratulate the establishment on its forward-planing and preparations for Euro-billing.

Did our waitress know, we asked, what 2008 had in store for Liverpool? She confirmed that she knew 2008 is the Capital of Culture year.

But it's Liverpool's 'European' Capital of Culture Year, we protested......

The management decides
'I don't know about that', came the reply. 'Anyway, none of Liverpool's restaurants are doing Euros. You'll have to take that up with the management.'

On the contrary, we suggested, perhaps the management needs to take the Euro opportunity up with itself....

The 'Liverpool experience' missing link - Europe
So there we have it. At least some of our local businesses, just three months before 2008 begins, still fail utterly to understand that next year is an international, a European, event.

These local 'enterprises' haven't even begun to consider whether a billing system with the potential to offer payment in Euros as well as Sterling might in fact be a business advantage or selling point.... especially in the Boho part of town.

No leadership with the big picture
Could this failure to get the overarching picture be because the city's leadership has permitted developments (perhaps even decided?) not to move out of the Liverpool comfort zone?

Are city leaders neglecting to emphasise that next year's celebrations are not 'only' an excuse for some (what look to be very promising) major arts events, and for neighbourhood street parties and general local merriment, important though all these are?

2008 opportunities squandered?
If the whole rationale for Liverpool's European Capital of Culture 2008 Year is put aside, if the business opportunities are not seized, all that enormous amount of (our) money already spent will have been squandered.

I really hope someone will be getting things into gear pretty pronto.

City centre high rise building 6752 (110x99).jpg How many people reading this article actually live in a city centre? How many readers in live a high-rise apartment? And how many of these readers are aged 30-50? My guess is that fewer readers live in high-rise than have views on them; the evidence certainly shows that most people past a certain age choose to live in suburbia or out-of-town. So is the commercial emphasis on city centre 'executive' apartments sustainable?

One young woman I know, a lawyer, lives with her husband in an a sixth floor apartment in Manhattan, New York.

Another, a business consultant, until recently lived in a fourth floor apartment near the commercial centre of London, but has just moved to a town house there.

My husband and I live in suburban Liverpool, and have done for many years.

Economics and demography
Economics and demography are everything in housing. People choose where, ideally, they would like to live, by reference to their family requirements.

Many people, as we all know, are happy to live in high-rise city centre accommodation before they have children, but in the UK, and especially outside London, most would prefer to make their family home in suburbia – as indeed I did.

Other countries, other ways
In other countries the suburban option may be both less available and less often preferred.

Some young couples in the UK, like the ones I know in London, can resolve their requirements by choosing a town house near the city. Others elsewhere, like the couple in New York, don’t feel the necessity to abandon high-rise living as quickly.

Why the difference?
There is less of a tradition in the UK of high-rise living except perhaps, and tellingly, in tenements and council housing.

Other cities such as New York have pressures on land which mean that over time they have adjusted to high-rise.

Sim city for real
Have you ever played Sim-City? In New York space issues have resulted in the creation almost of Sim-City tower living.

Everything is there – the shops, the amenities – including clinics, nurseries and gyms, the work places, and then, above them, with different access, living accommodation, roof gardens etc.

And in the same block as the building will be the link to efficient public transport....

Sustainable living?
These sorts of arrangements make it possible for everyone to live In Town, and many people except those with growing children to prefer to.

It’s time and, importantly, energy efficient to live in, e.g., Manhattan, and the experience is generally holistic. The experience addresses what’s needed in a reasonably sustainable way.

London
Looked at like this, we can see that London is a half-way house between Manhatton and Liverpool.

The UK overall is a very densely populated island, but still only about 5-10% of it is city-space.

Nonetheless, land is very scarce in London, and London has some of the attributes required to make it a preferred city living option. And that city is working hard to improve its offer.

Liverpool
Liverpool, however, is still losing population, albeit at a reducing rate. And we have enough houses but not always ones people like.

Unless the ‘core offer’ on Liverpool city-centre living improves rapidly, I can see little prospect of sustainability in tower-block living here.

Live-ability
We haven’t, yet, factored in the amenities to make Liverpool city-centre ‘people friendly’, as is only too obvious on any Friday night.

For me therefore high-rise in Liverpool, in the brave new world of ‘executive' apartments, is not where I would currently put my money as a developer.

Quality of experience
Fashion quickly becomes fad and then old hat when the quality of the experience is lacking.

I’d advise investors to think about how NY or London do things – maybe even live there for a while – before they go any further with high-rise in Liverpool.

High rise and high income?
Even a decade or two ago in the UK high-rise still often (except in, say, parts of Edinburgh and London) went with low-income.

Now, conversely, high-rise and high-income seem to go together; which is fine in London; but not elsewhere.

Real executives for 'executive' apartments?
Liverpool should put a hold on more high-rise executive apartments until it has a more high-income, young, executives in genuinely sustainable jobs to live in them.

I’d say, let put some functional flesh, some real amenity, on the skeleton of Liverpool’s developing infrastructure
before we go for fashion in housing.

Moving forward sustainably
* Let’s first make Liverpool city centre safe and people-friendly.

* Let’s use professionals to develop the city who have experience of family life and of city centre living, to help us see what more needs to be done.

* Let’s explore what we can do to integrate services, amenities and enterprise with ‘livable’ space.

* Let’s make Liverpool’s city centre sustainable and let’s reverse our population decline before we go big-time in Liverpool for high-rise.... especially if it has more style than substance.

This is an edited version of a talk given by Hilary Burrage as part of a debate in Liverpool during Urban Design Week, hosted by Taylor Young, on 18 September 2007. The event was entitled 'High rise living getting you down!?' Almost all speakers in the debate agreed with the position taken here.

Hope St & Mt Pleasant-  Science Centre  06.7.15 011 (81x87).jpg Who owns Big Science in the UK? Does government science policy sit within wider public policy, or is it stand alone? The Cooksey Review has stirred strong feelings amongst medical scientists, and also further afield. Few science policy questions can be determined without understanding the wider public policy context.

Who pays for what in the constant race to stay at the global cutting edge in science and technology is a hot debate. Often neglected is an acknowledgement of the multiplicity of stakeholders, but this is an area which the scientists themselves sometimes ignore.

Getting to the bottom of who can / should pay for science and innovation in the UK is a difficult task. When all relevant interests - science and technology, policy makers, the economy / electorate - are perceived there is more clarity, but only rarely does this happen. The issue is however making headway as a result of changes resulting from the 2007 Budget, which promises an increase in investment in public science of 2.5 per cent from 2008-09 to 2010-11..

Both the Cooksey Review on funding for health research, and the (connected) introduction of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills focus on ensuring that progress in scientific research and wider value for money go hand in hand.

Value for whom?
The really big question here is, who benefits from investment in what sort of science? This is surely the nub of the issue, but it needs a wide perspective to answer the question properly.

The emphasis seems so far to be on the 'translation' of blue sky research findings into marketable commodities - an entirely sensible idea in general., but not a complete one. The core issue of how much benefit accrues to whom when commodities become marketable is not easily resolved.

Whether the product eventually taken to market is a medical drug, a form of renewable energy or a development in nanotechnology, there are likely to be direct and indirect benefits and costs.

Medical priorities in research
One person's or sector's gain may be another's loss - an obvious but frequently forgotten matter from the perspective of practising scientists.

This may be particularly true in the case of medical scientists, who are currently it seems most agitated, and who often have a specific, and possibly tragic, individual human condition in mind as they undertake their work. Nonetheless, this human priority cannot stand alone.

Medical scientists have not always covered themselves in glory when it comes to collaborating within the Big Science framework - the Daresbury crisis of a few years ago comes to mind - and for some of medical researchers the universe probably finishes at the point where abstract research translates (to use the new term) into pharmaceuticals. This is why, when public money is involved, others must take a wider view.

Science policy and public policy
Policy in government-sponsored science is not, contrary to much of the discussion, a singular issue. For a start, there is policy about science; and then there is policy relating science and the general public interest. These two are inter-connected, but not always the same.

Science policy variously (as examples, and in no order of priority) might be about:
* 'translating' or bringing blue sky research to the market;
* meeting a specific human or technical need;
* continuing promising lines of investigation which may or may not eventually go anywhere;
* establishing or maintaining national reputation, or that of an institution and / or individual/s.

Public policy relating to science might, e.g., concern:
* developing local science-based businesses;
* linking scientific and technical / medical research outcomes to the wider economy;
* developing programmes or projects in geographical or otherwise specifically identified areas, to progress regeneration or other ambitions for general benefit;
* seeking answers to particular policy conundrums or challenges, by way of developing the evidence-base available to decision-makers.

Contextual perspectives on science
To make sense of these difficult and often conflicting priorities between science and public policy requires seeing the wider contexts in which science and technology operate.

Social, economic and political backdrops are not secondary matters when government is paying directly for science to be done. They are central and critical, right from the beginning.

'Translating' science is ultimately about taking blue sky research to market, but it is also in another sense about making sure that stakeholders - the general public - know and are comfortable with what, through their taxes, they are paying for.

Consensus on taking science forward
From this point of view scientists need to accept that, if government pays directly, it wants to know how the research will take public policy forward.

Politicians are not usually keen to write open cheques for unknown outcomes, nor should they be.

Scientists paid by government are usually there to do their part within a policy framework geared to fairly tight timescales, to make the evidence-base available or to develop a required product. As such they rarely have the luxury of following their noses in research, just because it looks interesting.

Government funding
Sometimes there is a case for blue sky research directly funded by government, but probably, given budgetary constraints and the constant need to be immediately answerable to the electorate, not often.

The right way to support (most) blue-sky research is through the universities' wider funding and large science-led corporations.

Such investment will, if directed wisely, bring reward in the longer term, when investors can as a result make the evidence-based case for government to invest in developing the applications of their new-found knowledge.

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