The best argument against democracy…

This is a comment from a thread on a Financial Times article about the decline in real wages. Unfortunately it’s pay-walled, but it made the observation: the fall in real wages for those aged 18 to 25 has been so extreme, they are now back to levels last seen in 1988. Ouch.

As I grow old, I will keep working in order to invest and provide for my daughters and their future families. My parents did this for me. Their parents did this for them. ….  Why should someone steal what I want to pass to my family to give to others? Wealth sharing is theft. What I earn, I want to retain for my family, to give them choices.

In a thread about wage suppression, he is against wealth redistribution because his parents were able to support him. The whole point here is that your earning potential is lower than that of your parents when they were your age, and therefore your ability to support your children is less than your parents’ ability to support you. You aren’t giving your family choices, you are sitting in a system which is gradually removing yours and their choices because you have a misguided (and very American) notion that if you work hard everything will be OK, despite all evidence to the contrary.

I consider the person above to be both selfish and immensely, dangerously stupid. I am no less selfish, but I have completely the opposite view. I want to see basic income introduced into the UK even though it would be funded from my taxes. I want to it to be technically unnecessary to work, because I do not want my salary to be suppressed by  people who are willing to work for peanuts. I want to see desperate, vulnerable people well supported by the state so they do not drive down working and living conditions.
Unfortunately it will never happen because too much of the electorate is composed of people who will so easily vote against their own interests, like the person above. Too many people will not consider the wider implications of such a policy and instead go straight into daily mail reader mode of “WHAT, YOU MEAN THEY’RE GETTING SOMETHING FOR FREE?!”. For a well educated country, most of us are not very smart.

The same user has also posted this:  “actually, the immigration result of today is more about the education system of 1990 to 2000. Any manager or employer will tell you that the reason the Polish (general term) are now INDISPENSABLE is because half the Brits you see turn up for interview/assessment are unemployable donuts.”

Whenever you see the statement “we can’t employ British people, they are useless, that’s why we hire foreigners”, you always must qualify it with “at the wages we are willing to pay”. This is exactly why we have wage suppression!  If your candidates are unemployable donuts [sic], that means you need to pay more money. This is what encourages a healthy economy. Since I can’t say “my wages are a bit rubbish, I’ll just import more employers from richer countries”, why can employers say “my candidates are a bit rubbish, I’ll just import more employees from poorer countries”?

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The ed problem

Towards the start of the second world war the allies wanted to assassinate Hitler because it seemed like it would strike an important blow against the nazis. Later on, they gave up that idea because he was making lots of mistakes and they realised that while he was doing everything wrong, it prevented someone else from coming in and doing everything right. Hiter became an asset to his foes and a liability to his allies because he was incompetent; a fact which was not lost on the nazis as they themselves attempted to assassinate him.

This unfortunate situation is no doubt one with which Ed Miliband will sympathise. Unfortunately, however, while Labour desperately needs to replace Ed, the right time to do it was 12 months ago, and it will involve a huge amount of risk in backing relative unknowns as none of the established figures are up to the job,

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Interesting article talking about the divide between older and younger employees, and the fact that younger and more motivated employees tend to move around a lot.

The basic message is that people with ambitions don’t stay in one place for long. That seems true, but I am surprised it omits what I would regard as the most obvious supplementary reasons:

1. Age affects your sense of time. Young people get bored of jobs faster partly because for them time passes slower. My first job lasted 7 months and it felt like an eternity. Now, only a few years later, 7 months seems like quite a while, but definitely a finite timespan (I dread to think how short it’ll feel when I’m 40).

2. Younger people usually accumulate market value faster than their employer gives them pay rises, and hopping jobs every few years is an easy way to gain a substantial jump in salary. Since older people often express bafflement towards the idea of switching jobs frequently I guess that in the past companies used to review salaries more effectively, but now it seems like you are doing yourself a disservice by staying in one place for a long time because your employer is likely screwing you out of money. I have now been at my job for a bit over two years and the gap between what I’m earning and what I’m seeing in all the recruitment spam I receive is growing and growing. I expect to get a 5% increase next year, or a 30% increase by switching jobs. Hmm, tough choice.

3. Younger people are typically the ones actually producing the tangible work and older people tend to be in management (some generalising there). Bad management is more common than good and comes in many, many forms ranging from direct aggression to obstruction (obstructive managers who don’t know when to get out of the way are very common, probably because they mistakenly believe that their job is to produce emails rather than to deliver a project). The nature of the manager will determine the exact effect it has on you, but the end result is that you are more motivated to leave.

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Greetings from the 21st century

This about a 6x improvement!

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If you own stocks you will no doubt be aware of the recent tumble in the stock market. Partially this has been attributed to the uncertainty presented by ebola. People are starting to wake up to the fact that ebola is seriously bad news.

In a slightly morbid way I’m quite interested in the destructive effects of ebola. As far as we know the infection rate is still rising exponentially which means that it’s likely to get much worse before it gets better, and it still has the potential to kill huge numbers of people in Africa. The numbers so far are relatively small, but if you can’t control it while the numbers are small you’re going to have a much worse time when they become large. However, the growth may now become limited as countries start to get scared and take it more seriously.

I am curious what percentage of a country it needs to affect before an unprepared country fails. I’m guessing the number is probably smaller than you’d expect. Most small companies do not operate with much or any spare capacity on a day to day level, so I would guess that incapacitating 5% of people would probably cause a lot of small companies to collapse or at least heavily struggle, and that has some pretty bad economic implications. The effect would snowball – once infrastructure starts failing, healthy people would find it more difficult to keep up their daily life and more and more companies and services would come to a stop.

If you look back to the second world war you notice that many countries somehow managed to continue operating in hostile circumstances, but I suspect there is an important difference in that women were typically not economically active and therefore the country had a lot of slack it was easily able to call upon, thereby suddenly expanding its capacity. In modern times there isn’t a large body of reserve workers who can step in.

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rant time

Work update:

The project I was on has been unofficially cancelled because my boss worked it into a dead end. It is frustrating because a few weeks ago another company launched a not dissimilar product which appears to look and work quite well (certainly better than ours) for about 50% of the use cases ours handled. Although 50% sounds like a small feature set, theirs embodies the unix philosophy of “do one thing and do it well” and is therefore a useful product, whereas ours embodies “do everything and do it badly”, and is therefore not. I find this frustrating because the reason ours ended up in such a mess was my boss’s insistence on piling on complexity. Not only is the product virtually undevelopable because it’s too fragile (by design), but it’s also far too confusing to have any market appeal. i.e. even if we hired Jesus and he cleared up all the bugs and altered the laws of physics to make CPUs fast enough to run it with good performance* and we launched it, still no users would understand how to use the thing. Imagine a cross between Excel and a cryptic crossword and you’ve got the right idea of the mindset required.

In some ways this is no skin off my nose because I get paid the same amount either way, but it is irritating that we could have done something productive and instead my boss decided otherwise. In the world of guitar playing if you spam out a lot of notes that sound generally a bit uninteresting but it’s kind of fun to play them anyway, we call that wanking – it’s done for the pleasure of the player, not for the listener. This project was a lot like the intellectual version of that. Lots of self indulgent wanking. My boss has owned companies much of his life and seems to subconsciously think he’s smarter than everyone else; he would deny it but he micromanages his project managers in such a way that says he doesn’t think they can be trusted to do good jobs on their own and need him to oversee everything. He assumed he would just make it all work by virtue of being smarter than everyone else, which of course failed miserably, whereas a bunch of 20-something year old Californian hipsters with silly beards managed to do better.

So now I am on new things which basically amounts to nondescript forms apps for nondescript customers. Pretty banal stuff. We are using an internally developed framework for this, except I am being a bit generous by calling it ‘developed’. It turns out this is the first project to use it, and it works about as well as you’d expect (naturally I was lead to believe that there were many existing projects already using this framework and that it was mature and suitable for quick development of routine forms apps, err, nope). Oh joy. It uses a client side MVC framework with lots of third party libraries that don’t cleanly integrate, and a server side ORM and MVC framework. We seem to have figured out a solution that uses as much third party code as possible while making it as slow as possible to link everything up because we need so much glue code to stick together the disparate bits. The current project was scheduled to be a few weeks. So far we’ve been on it for 3-4 weeks and have written lots and lots of code but have not made a big dent in the requirements.

I strongly suspect that my boss made all these technology decisions without really understanding the technology. When I started here he was excited by Node.js and wanted to replace all our .NET systems with it because it was the future! He eventually came around to the possibility that this was a not a wise idea (but not before a brief foray into Go and VertX, which might be nearing maturity now but at the time was really scraping the barrel of stupid choices), but he’s still replaced most of the development of what are basically static forms with JavaScript because JavaScript is the future!, which rather seems like he’s missed the point (and I say this as a JS developer). I won’t complain too much here because as a software developer my main aim in life is to pad my CV with fashionable keywords and my boss’s possibly misguided pursuit of the future! is entirely compatible with this. But it’s hardly inspiring.

When I was at university, in the fluffy business class that I was for some reason required to take, they used to tell us repeatedly that software projects failed more often than not. As a slightly naive but competent programmer I used to regard this with scepticism because software is not really that hard, is it? Now I find it much easier to believe. Software is not hard after all, but the world is full of people who get passionate about things and make bad decisions.

The latest irritation is that I need to be at home one day next week so I emailed my boss (who was working from home) to let him know I would be working from home, and I got back a stroppy email telling me I should ask permission. It used to be the case that I was treated as a responsible adult with a small amount of freedom in this respect, so it’s both surprising and annoying that this appears to have changed. In fact, the reason I have thus far accepted a fairly unimpressive salary is because I perceived this freedom to have a value of its own, but I suppose like all things that aren’t contractually guaranteed, it does not have a stable existence. I did not ask permission because he is not so important that he can decide the scheduling of my life. Lesson learnt: next time I need to be at home for one of those rare events that occur because I occasionally have an existence outside of my job, I’ll just phone in sick instead. My boss has lost out twice here because, as I just said, being honest in future carries a risk of being inconvenienced, and secondly, I need to set up a new dev environment on my home PC which I was going to do over the weekend but now I’m more of the opinion I’ll keep work activities strictly within the hours I’m paid for them, so in all likelihood I won’t actually get any work done after all. Congratulations boss, you handled that one really well.

Anyway, the triviality of this is not lost on me. I have noticed that the salary figures in all the recruitment spam I get have been gradually increasing over the last few months. In 12 months, probably much less, I fully expect to be working somewhere else and my current boss will go from being a prominent figure to a historical irrelevance.


* Yes really, sometimes you can blame bad code for performance but when your spec says you need to be able to handle hundreds of thousands of pieces of information in an HTML document all at the same time, you’re kind of onto a loser from the start.

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I think UKIP is entertaining for the sheer amount of frustration they cause from well meaning but slightly naive people.

UKIP is just a reflection of an overall attitude from the general populace. People are fed up with gradually worsening conditions which the current main parties don’t care about fixing, so it is only natural that UKIP will accumulate votes. Their existence is a good thing. They are not in danger of gaining any real power because for better or worse our first-past-the-post voting system punishes small parties, but they have value in that their growing support will put pressure on the main parties to smarten up their act. If the choice for a disgruntled voter is between not voting and voting for UKIP, it is better that they vote for UKIP because this directly pressures the main parties by strengthening their rivals.

It’s perhaps slightly unexpected that Labour appears to be bleeding votes to UKIP, but it’s not a bad thing. Ed Miliband is unelectable and the fact that Labour hasn’t got rid of him well before now is indicative of just how complacent they are. I think the problem is much deeper than Ed: there is nobody in the cabinet who makes a convincing leadership candidate; all of the top spots in labour belong to people who are lacklustre (with the possible exception of Alan Johnson, but he still isn’t a leader). The more that Nigel Farage eats away at Labour’s support, the more likely they are to get the message that they need to kick out most of their top spots.

I don’t think that UKIP really holds a serious chance of gaining any power. Most of their candidates are mentally challenged and Farage is a right wing libertarian type who certainly does not have anyone’s interests but his own at heart. He is not the friend of most of his voters. Should UKIP begin gaining real power this will become very obvious and start working against them. I think they will be a self limiting problem.

British politcs at the moment suffers from a lack of competition which has lead to to complacency and stagnation. Nigel Farage is the most convincing option for changing things around; don’t drive him away just yet.

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