The Real Luxury


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When Indie met the establishment (guest post by Laxmi Hariharan)


Cut to twelve months ago—as a just born Indie, I listened to Kate Mosse (author of Labyrinth) talk about how she was not on Facebook, Twitter or any of those necessary evils, which help Indie authors like myself build a platform. On a panel discussion she made it very clear that she preferred not to have her peace of mind destroyed by social media chatter, in order to really focus inwards and write. Then, a fellow author confessed how she was beyond the point of being a social media junkie—she stayed connected even when she took her dog for a walk.

It was clear to me that as a writer and a marketer I needed to find the sweet spot somewhere between the two. I needed to become a spider—a black widow?— an arachnid who sat square in the centre of a 720 degree social network web, and controlled everything that went around me, not the other way around. It was about choice. I absolutely had the right to decide when I wanted to dip into the social media world and went I wanted to unplug. After all, isn’t that what being an Indie author was all about? Exercising your right to be read, to be seen and heard unadulterated by veils.

Just one of the many insights I gained from attending the Writing in a Digital Age conference, held by TLC. I will be back at the 2013 installment of the same, as part of the storytime sessions, talking about where I am twelve months on—wiser, more confident, and in the throes of completing Return to 7 Islands (#2, Bombay Chronicles.)

If you are wondering whether to go Indie or if you are already Indie and pondering what next, then this is where you want to be. You will get the chance to meet fellow Indies as well as published authors, publishers, and agents too (some of them are really nice too – I promise.)

Writing in a Digital Age 2013, June 7-8, London. Tickets on sale till June 6th.  Laxmi Hariharan is a content branding strategist and award winning author of epic fantasy. Find her at LAXMIwrites.

A tale of two capitalisms


It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

I lived part of my life in a deeply communist country. I spent my youth in a country trying to raise itself from this darkness. So I know the dangers of socialism better than many people, certainly better than most people posting on the internet in English.

But over the recent years, since moving to UK, I have also seen some of the worst excesses of unbridled capitalism. It’s not quite Dickensian levels yet, thankfully, but we’re getting there. Things are not going in the right direction at all.

So you could say life put me in a good position to discuss the merits of the two. And, to be sure, I come out in favour of capitalism. But not the capitalism we know and loath today in the UK and the US.

Because there are two versions of this economic system, and I would like to believe one can exist without another.

First, a bit of a context:

This is the first kind of capitalism. The capitalism of corporations, of people treating life as a video game, and money as points confirming their personal value. The system made for, and by, people who have long ago lost the meaning of what life is all about; the only thing that matters are abstract numbers that would satisfy the shareholders. The system based on, and fueled by, nothing else but unadulterated greed.

Nobody needs that kind of capitalism. Neither we, the average Joes, neither them, the super-rich. They don’t need that kind of money for anything. We don’t need the income inequality it generates, ridding us of ability to live happy lives.

This is the other kind of capitalism:

The capitalism of a local market, of a small producer, of enthusiasm, of passion, of desire to do good things and serve your customers. This is where capitalism shines: it provides the means and the motivation to strive for the best. You couldn’t find this kind of thing in a socialist economy; not on a large scale. Sure, there were individuals who fought against the tide, but they were few and far between. Only under capitalism can such projects really grow.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say global economy is supposed to get by on local farmers markets alone. Big companies are necessary. Corporations are necessary. Hell, I work for one, rather than planting biodynamic veg with my own hands. I use products made by corporations. It would be the height of hypocrisy to rail against all corporations, everywhere.

What I mean to show with these examples are two mindsets; a mindset that should be rewarded, and a mindset which should be scorned and shunned. In the world today, these seem to be reversed. Can we afford to have one capitalism without the other? Are the two forever intertwined?

I have no easy answers. This is just whimsy, wishful-thinking. I haven’t studied economy, and I’m not a politician. But I’d like to think something can be done about it. Like many people with similar world view, I look with hope towards the Nordic countries, with their Scandinavian model. Would it work everywhere? How to deal with its inherent flaws (because every model has flaws)? I don’t know. But something needs to be done.

Soviet-style Socialism was based on (massive generalization alert) accumulation of power, but it had no in-built defenses against the power-hungry; and it was hunger for power that ultimately brought it down. Capitalism, based as it is on accumulation of capital, has no in-built defenses against the greed. For the sake of the masses of good, hard-working capitalists, I would hate to see it brought down by the greedy few.

Who loses on counterfeit?


Main shopping street in Shanghai. ‘Many, many watch.’

There seems to be a common consensus in the IP debate that while legality and morality of copying of intangibles is a matter of discussion, producing physical counterfeit goods is uniformly immoral, illegal and hurtful to the economy.
As with the digital content ‘piracy’, huge numbers are bandied about by corporations, billions of dollars of ‘loss’, not only to them, but to the society as a whole. It seems common sense that counterfeit is bad, and for example the parts of ACTA (Anti-Counterfeit-Trade Agreement) that deal with physical piracy are not really seen as the problematic ones at all. Economic experts in media claim without a blink that without such trade agreements no viable economy is possible. Counterfeit is a terrible crime, plain and simple.

A very few people (outside China) – like Janusz Palikot in Poland – even dare to mention the need to discuss this status quo. But as usual, things are not as simple.

First, let’s set apart that which really is hurtful: the dishonest ones, or scams, where a buyer is not aware of the counterfeit, or the consequences of buying one. There is real harm in that, especially if it’s food or medicine. But we have laws against scams and dishonest trading which can be used in these circumstances, without even mentioning the terms Intellectual Property or infringing on personal freedoms. A cheater is a cheater, whether he sells you fake banknotes or fake Viagra(R).

Once we leave those out, we are left with counterfeits which are bought willingly. Because you like the design. Because you want to brag about the logo. Because you don’t really care about any of that, but your last sunglasses broke and the only ones the guy at the beach is selling are ones with a tacky ‘Emporio Armanix’ logo glued to the frame.

I don’t know the numbers, but I’d venture a guess that most counterfeit trade in the world is not a result of scams but this second type. If you buy a ‘Rolex’ watch off a guy in the street for $200, you are either fully aware it’s a fake, a stolen watch, or are too dumb to know any better. In any of these cases, you would never buy a real Rolex instead. Counting this purchase as a loss by Rolex is exactly the same fallacy the media concerns use to count all pirated mp3s as lost CD sales. It assumes people are less vain than they are greedy. It assumes people who buy counterfeits knowingly would otherwise spend their money on the real products if they had no choice – and, conversely, people who want to buy luxury goods don’t care about their provenience as long as the logo matches.

This is an obviously absurd assumption, easily debunked by real numbers. If economy worked like that, luxury companies would all be counterfeited out of the market and into bankruptcy. I don’t hear that happening. In fact, sale of luxury goods rose dramatically over the years, defying any economic indicators. People know what they’re buying. If somebody has $10,000 to spend on a watch, they will spend buy one $10,000 watch from a real dealer, not 50 $200 watches from a guy in a dark alley.

Just like the movie business is experiencing an unprecedented growth despite (some would say because of) ‘rampaging piracy’, the luxury and designer brand business thrives regardless of how many ‘Genuine Armani’ jeans are being sold on the bazaars of the world. All that counterfeiting really does is raising brand awareness among people who would otherwise sometimes never even know about a brand, breeding future customers who, when they are rich enough, will buy the genuine article.
How is that a bad thing?

A wikipedia article claims that Counterfeiting in China is so deep rooted that when shops selling counterfeit merchandise were shut down by authorities, the owners protested publicly against this action, holding weekly public protests, and mocking those attempting to prevent counterfeiting as ‘bourgeois puppets of foreigners.'”
Good for them, I say.






The Healthy Economy


I will start off the year like I’ve started this blog – by bashing the economists 🙂

So Forbes had just declared that the four healthiest economies in the last year were the BRIC countries: Brasil, Russia, India and China. Their reasoning? The four nations have best economical growth and no mounting foreign debt.

Even the Forbes’s Ken Rapoza admits the countries have a fair share of ‘some problems’ – rampant corruption, abject poverty for millions, income inequality, lack of democracy. But he shrugs it all off in a matter of a single sentence. All this must bow before the God of Growth. Nothing matters as long as the economy is ‘healthy’.

This is a very curious understanding of the term. These economies grow so fast because they have the room to grow, having started from, in most cases, rock bottom. If medicine worked that way, the ‘healthiest’ man in the hospital would be the one who’s recovering from the most debilitating illness, not the one who had just singed out, but caught a minor cold in the process. In relative terms, the latter’s health is decreasing, and the former’s is on the up, but which one of the two would we rather be? Which country would we rather live in – Norway or China?

Rapoza oozes loathing towards any sort of ideology mixing and even overruling pure economy. “The biggest political battles in the BRICs are over corruption charges, and where to invest oil wealth,’ he says, ‘meanwhile, in the U.S. and Europe, the biggest political battle is how to bailout southern Europe, or about cutting government programs for ideological rather than economic principles.” 
Bah, the ideological principles! Who needs them when you have the oil profits and an endless resource of slave-waged labour? 

I’m sure the inhabitants of Rio’s favelas and India’s rat-catchers agree whole-heartedly.


How glad they must be to live in the world’s healthiest economies!




Day 12 – Lashing out


The patience of the rich is running thin.

The editor of City AM rants today against the Archbishop of Canterbury. The clergy should stick to talking about God, he says, not some bolshevik-marxist bull about greed and poverty. Why the rant today? Because the AoC backed the proposition of Tobin tax – the only way the nations can make money from what became the fastest growing branch of Western economy. Imagine if the government couldn’t tax industrial production because industrial barons refused to agree to it. That’s the kind of situation we’re in.
The AoC also encourages to consider some of the things the Occupy protesters say. That’s pretty much the extent of his fault. Reading the rant, one would think the Archbishop demands a tear-down of the City skyscrapers, hanging the bankers, and giving all their money away to the poor. The CofE obviously stepped on one toe too many. Why can’t they understand Greed Is Good? A little bit of deadly sin once in a while never hurt anybody. It’s that stupid, stubborn sticking to some random ‘rules’ that makes the church ‘haemorrhaging members’!

The rich are losing their patience. “Poverty is idolized, material gain demonised,” claims Mr Heath – without providing any quotes to that effect. Yesterday representatives of several UK banks were trying to convince the public they’re not as bad as everyone thinks. The right-wing pundits in US have switched into full-on ‘victimization’ mode – as shown and brilliantly mocked on yesterday’s Daily Show. The 1% are the persecuted minority.

We’ve heard it before, of course. Back in 2008 it was the media’s and government’s fault that the public perception of the financial sector was so bad. They’re just doing their job. Nobody seems willing to step up and take the blame for anything that’s been happening. In the middle of the one of the greatest economic crises in living memory, ‘sorry’ seems, indeed, to be the hardest word.

#OccupyLSX Tent City


I made some photos of OccupyLSX tent city yesterday. I have no idea how anyone with clear conscience can be disturbed by this group. People are going in and out of St Paul’s unhindered, the place is clean, very well organized and fun. 

The recycling facilities and access to public library made it a better place to live than some parts of London!

There was a multi-faith ceremony taking place on the steps of the cathedral at the time.

The tent city accepts donations and is in need of some supplies – here’s their wishlist.

 

Day 11 – Business as usual


The unparalleled City AM has today an editorial piece about the 7bln child. They are happy. They say we should all be happy. More people is better for the economy, always. More consumers, more producers, more everything. The infinite hamster can be fed infinitely.

Let’s play a game. Let’s imagine what future awaits the 7bln kid from the perspective of an average City AM reader. What can it bring to the economy?

If it even survives long enough, not dying from a random disease, famine or war, it has some great prospects. It could work at a uranium mine. Or steal oil from refinery pipes. Or stitch cheap t-shirts or jeans. Its entire contribution to the world’s economy will most likely be – at best – to provide cheap labour for some multi-national or other.

But maybe it won’t be that bad. The sixth billion kid has it pretty good compared to most of his peers: he lives with his parents in a ‘decrepit block of flats’ in Bosnia, but at least he’s white, European, has access to food, water and free school. One day he may become a skilled worker, trying to find some low-paid (or un-paid, even) employment. If Bosnia joins EU by the time he finishes school, he may even end up quite well off – relatively speaking.

So cheer up, emo seventh billion kid. The good people at City AM will take care of you.

*

They certainly can afford it. It’s not often that you can read the words ‘elite greedy pigs‘ in a broadsheet newspaper, but it seems even the Independent’s patience has its limits – even if it is just a quote.
According to the findings of Income Data Servings, the average pay in the corporate boardroom rose by 50% – for the SECOND YEAR IN A ROW.

Crisis? What crisis?

There are only two explanations for this: either the fat cats realize their time is up and they’re just trying to hoard up as much cash as possible, or they really are so out of touch with reality as most people suspect them to and they aren’t aware they’re doing something wrong.

Day 8 – Bailing bailers


So, three years after the first crisis, the only knee-jerk solution the governments can come up with is to pour more money down the drain that is the world of high finance.

There are now banks falling and requesting bailing out all over the place – Greece, Denmark, Belgium. Franco-Belgian Dexia is a particularly appalling example: Belgium doesn’t even have a government, for longer than any nation in history, and yet its rulers have managed to suppress their endless arguments enough to agree on nationalizing a fallen bank. Nobody knows who will pick up the tab if Belgium falls apart under the financial strain of this endeavour, but nobody seems to care anyway. Dexia is ‘too big too fall’ – even though it already received substantial funding last time it flopped and had three years to prepare for another wave of the crisis.

Even City AM started to publish reports and first-hand accounts of how useless the banks have become when it comes to doing anything of even the remotest public interest. They are not lending money anymore – governments and business incubators had to take over that part of their business. They are obviously not providing a valid customer service. They are not even able to make money for themselves – otherwise there would be no need for a bailout.

In a completely unrelated report, bankers bonuses are set to reach new record highs next quarter. Obviously everyone’s doing a great job out there.

Day 7 – Occupy Wall Street Manifesto


As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbours; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known. They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage. They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses. They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the colour of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization. They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices. They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions. They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right. They have consistently outsourced labour and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay. They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility. They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance. They have sold our privacy as a commodity. They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit. They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce. They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them. They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil. They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit. They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit. They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media. They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt. They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas. They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.

To the people of the world, We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone. To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal. Join us and make your voices heard!