1990s >> 1998 >> no-1123-march-1998

Voice From the Back

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“The best advice I was ever given was on my twenty-first birthday when my father said ‘Son, here’s a million dollars. Don’t lose it.'” Larry Niven.

In God they trust

The world’s second largest chemical, pharmaceutical and genetic engineering conglomerate, with a turnover of more than £60 billion a year, has turned to revivalist religion to rally senior management under pressure from consumers to be socially responsible. Novartis, a recent merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz, which owns, among other things, Ovaltine, has commissioned a corporate hymn called the Science of Life. It includes refrains, hip-hop and rap. Guardian, 13 November.

“Prison works”

One in five prisoners tested positively for drugs during random tests, according to government figures. A total of 13,797 inmates in England and Wales were found to have taken drugs following random tests during 1996-97, junior Home Office minister, George Howarth said in a written Commons reply. Evening Mail, 10 December.

Tell it like it is

Some capitalists understand their system better than others or are more honest about it. George Soros, who made fortunes speculating in currency markets, does not regard capitalism as a stable or self-regulating system. In an interview last year, which has become particularly relevant now, he said: “Markets can move in unexpected ways and become chaotic. I’m afraid that the prevailing view, which is one of extending the market mechanism to all domains, has the potential of destroying society. Unless we review our concept of markets, our understanding of markets, they will collapse, because we are creating global markets, global financial markets, without understanding their true nature. We have this false theory that markets, left to their own devices, tend towards equilibrium.” Speaking of market fluctuations, he said that if they become too large, “you can have breakdown. It will come through political and eventually military events, rather than events merely in the financial markets”.

Owners of property

There are already plans to sell of £1.2 billion of NHS land and buildings in the next five years. Trust currently own £3 billion of land assets and £15 billion of buildings and fittings. Mail on Sunday, 7 December.

The other coffee story

The maker of Nescafé has taken to installing cubicles inside Russian churches from which to deliver congratulatory coffee sets to newlyweds as soon as they walk back down the aisle. Nestlé employees have already presented 17,000 couples with a large jar of instant coffee and two red mugs wishing them “health, happiness and hot love”.

Class conflict direct

Associated British Ports yesterday attempted to deflect shareholder hostility by announcing 150 job cuts designed to reduce costs by £5 million a year. Guardian, 11 December.

Class conflict obscured

Employee share-ownership schemes are taking off again for the first time since the late Eighties. Last week British Airways announced it will extend the scheme it offers UK workers to staff around the world . . . (Financial Mail on Sunday, 18 January). Stuart Bailey, corporate business consultant with Abbey National says . . . “People now see that the aims of workers and shareholders are increasingly similar.”

Honours amongst thieves

For an outspoken republican and a non-Catholic, a papal knighthood must come as a surprise. But media baron Rupert Murdoch is to receive just such an honour from the Pope. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced that the Australian-born mogul will be entitled to style himself a Knight of the Order of St Gregory . . . [A] spokesman for the Archdiocese said Pope John Paul II bestows the title on people of “unblemished character” and those who have “promoted the interests of society, the Church and the Holy See” [including those who have] made large donations to Catholic institutions, according to the announcement in the Los Angeles Times.

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“Confidence is the bedrock of all capitalism.” Peter Morgan, commenting on the South Korean economic crisis on BBC Television News, 23 December.

Radical treatment necessary

In 1872 Engels demonstrated in three articles gathered together under the title The Housing Question that homelessness was an inescapable feature of capitalism. Everywhere in the world, ever since, wherever capitalism has spread, this has proved to be the case. Now, after years of campaigning and collecting, Shelter has announced in recent newspaper advertisements: “The number of homeless families has almost doubled in the last fifteen years . . .” Surely, this is tantamount to saying that the campaign wages by Shelter has been a failure? If a doctor prescribed a treatment for an ailment which, after fifteen years, was twice as bad, most of us would conclude that the treatment was the wrong one.

Too much food

cross Europe last year, fruit growers were paid £132m–£1.1m in Britain—for crops designated as surplus. A 25-year-old regulation specifies that the surplus has to be disposed of through “approved outlets”. Although these can include disposal for animal feed, the EU favours distribution to charities, old people’s homes and schools. It even offers grants to offset any expense incurred in giving the fruit away. Yet when British fruit growers, largely concentrated in the south of England, applied to the government’s Intervention Board to dispose of 2.3 million kg of apples, two million pears and 13.6 million cauliflowers after last year’s bumper harvest, all went into pig’s swill or were spread on farmland as fertiliser. Scotland on Sunday, 16 November.

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