Monday, 4 March 2013

Why Do We Need Libraries?

No, its not a rhetorical question. Seriously, why do we need libraries?

About fifteen years ago, when I was a County Councillor, and sat on the Libraries Committee, we had a discussion about how to improve Library Services, to communities that did not have libraries, and were only served, for some of the time, by mobile libraries. At about the same time, the Council was adopting a policy of making schools more open to the communities in which they were based. They do, after all, represent an expensive, and valuable asset, whose use should be maximised, rather than just being used during school times. I suggested, in this vein, that we should beef up school libraries, and make them open to the public.

In fact, the suggestion opened up the question of why, even where there were libraries, such a facility should duplicate what exists in schools. Merging Local Libraries with School Libraries would mean that existing facilities could be more effectively used, professional library staff could be employed in schools, freeing up teachers for teaching, school libraries could be improved with a wider range of books and materials, and the kind of closer relation between the school and the local community, that the Council was purporting to support, would be encouraged.

Of course, the proposal got nowhere, like the idea that schools should be truly opened up as community facilities. Now as then, the main people who use school facilities, outside school hours, are the kids who decide to scale the walls, fences and gates, on their own initiative, in order to hopefully use the playground to play football, skateboard etc, and unfortunately also for less positive pursuits. One of the main reasons, given at the time, was concern about the risks of schools being open during the school day, with unknown adults wandering about!

Unknown? If the school was being used as a community facility, what does the idea, that the adults wandering about within it would be “unknown”, say about the communities we now live in? Surely, the whole point about using significant community assets, is that they should be a means of building communities in which people are not unknown! But, what also does it say about the kind of mentality that is generated about those communities? Are parents to take from this message that it is also unsafe for their kids to go out to play in these communities, because of all the “unknown” adults that may be wandering about in them? Perhaps, that is why you rarely see kids out playing these days, or why some of the young adults that do go out on the streets only feel safe to do so if they are part of a gang, and armed to the teeth!

That, of course, or something like it, is part of the argument sometimes given for Libraries, i.e. not that they provide a useful resource for books and reference material, but that they provide a useful community facility for people to meet etc. But, that is a pretty weak argument for Libraries. Its a good argument for having community meeting places, not for Libraries. The same is true of some of the other arguments, such as they are somewhere warm for people to go, who can't afford to heat their homes. We should instead be ensuring that people have sufficient incomes, to heat their homes adequately.

Some of those arguments about the need for such community facilities could as easily be met today by using school, college and university facilities as by using Libraries. But, one of the real reasons that such efficient use of community facilities does not happen is that it involves stepping on the toes of competing bureaucracies, and could only properly be resolved by transferring ownership and control of these community facilities to the communities in which they reside.  Those bureaucracies are more interested in the buildings and their Empires that go with them.

In fact, the best way to make schools safer would be, precisely, for them to be open, all day, to the local community. Moreover, a commitment to life long learning should also involve the freedom of everyone, of any age, to enrol to any class they choose, and efficient use of community facilities, under the control of local communities, would make that possible. And, of course, if local communities did have actual day to day control, over these facilities, they would have a direct interest in how their money was being used. In all of the discussions over the Cuts, it is important to remember that it is actually our money that is being spent by local councils, i.e. by the local representatives of the Capitalist State, and we do have an interest in ensuring that the money is spent efficiently! We have no interest in sacking Local Authority workers, or in reducing their wages and so on, but nor do we hand over our taxes just so that they have a job, or so that some of the top executives can earn huge sums! As workers we have a shared interest in ensuring that they are employed on decent wages, with decent pensions, and at the same time employed productively and efficiently. The more efficiently expensive things like public buildings are utilised, the easier it is to combine those objectives.  Unlike the top bureaucrats, we should have a shared interest in people and services not buildings and empires.

But, this then brings me back to the central point. Why do we need libraries? Its now possible to have every book, every paper, every bit of written material, in fact pretty much every bit of communication of any sort, provided digitally. It is simply ridiculous to have multiple copies of books available at multiple libraries across the country, when the same book in electronic form could be made available from a single Electronic National Library, and available for as many people who wanted to view it simultaneously. That is something which is not possible with a physical book. A deal could be done with publishers to pay for such electronic availability, and if publishers refused, then legislation could be introduced setting reasonable fees for the National Library to pay for having digitised such material.

That means that the vast sums currently tied up in library's book collections could be released for other purposes. Some copies of those books etc. could be kept in archives, and museums for posterity. But, it would also mean that existing library buildings would no longer be needed. Library staff could be relocated into schools, where they could use their skills, to help students and adults, using those facilities, be better able to undertake research and utilise online resources. The computers, currently based in libraries, could be relocated to schools, as an additional community resource, for that purpose. But, the creation of such a National Electronic Library would also massively expand the resources available free to every school, college and university too. Imagine what Marx could have done with such a facility, rather than having to pour over books, papers and periodicals.

It also means that those resources would be available for everyone at all times, and, to facilitate that, some investment in the UK's Broadband would be required, but that is needed anyway. Instead of wasting a lot of money on HS2, which will suck in vast resources, for year after year, before any value is returned to the economy, a fraction of the amount could provide an ultra fast broadband network, for Britain, in a couple of years, if the will existed, and it would start returning far more value to the economy, straight away, than HS2 is ever likely to bring.

In other parts of the world, education has already largely gone on line. In Singapore, the country's ultra fast broadband allows students to receive their lessons in their own homes, and to benefit from the skills of the best teachers. Some of the top university courses are now available on-line, at a fraction of the cost of enrolling at the actual university. This is part of the revolution in service provision that Neo-Fordism is bringing about. It is a transformation in education that Gillian Tett, of the FT, describes here.

Some of the tremendous opportunities for learning, opened up by that, are described in her article. The downsides listed are not downsides for individuals, but for universities, whose economic models will be disrupted. These are, of course, the same universities who, in the US, currently charge astronomical student fees, and who, in the UK, have rushed to take the opportunity to raise student fees up to the £9,000 p.a. maximum allowed. In fact, its precisely those high fees that ensure that some more efficient, cheaper, and more effective delivery system will be offered now that technology makes it possible.

Scrapping existing analogue libraries, and using the freed up resources more efficiently, through the establishment of a National Electronic Library makes perfect sense. It both saves us, as workers, money in taxes, it makes valuable, and currently expensive, resources freely available for all on demand, and it means that the savings obtained can be used to utilise staff more productively. For all those reasons it should make library workers' jobs more rather than less secure. Of course, in the real world, the bosses of the Capitalist State would instead see it as an opportunity for reducing staff. That is not an argument against it. Instead its argument for removing the control over those issues from the Capitalist State, and instead placing these services under the ownership and control of local communities themselves.


David Timoney said...

The "Electronic National Library" that you envisage would be the optimal rent model: the greatest revenue from the smallest asset. Far from broadening access this could spell the end of free access to books.

As technology allows the unit cost to fall, it will become difficult to resist a nanopayment system, i.e. where you are charged a few pence to access a book or stream a song. Who could quibble with that? But if there is only a single copy, then those pennies quickly turn into a lot of pounds for the rights-holder.

Librarians spend most of their time managing books rather than assisting users. If the books are online, these tasks will be redundant, so I don't share your optimism that librarians will become more user-focused, even if merged into school libraries. They'll largely be let go and any that are retained will be moved to low-wage roles, similar to classroom assistants.

I'm also sceptical of the impact that the Internet is likely to have on further education. Massively open online courses (MOOCs) aren't going to supplant Oxbridge or other Russell League universtities that offer a positional good, they're going to erode the former poly sector.

The combination of broader access and the high cost of a bricks-n-mortar education will result in the uni experience reducing to a small social elite, while the majority make do with what are essentially correspondence courses. The future looks very much like a reversion to the late Victorian era model.

One consequence is that access to scientific and academic careers will increasingly be reserved to the well-off who can afford the higher up-front costs to get on the career ladder via post-grad work. Much like the way that careers in music and the arts have migrated up the class hierarchy: art schools open to all are as rare now as working class pop bands.

What MOOCs also do is provide capital with access to a larger pool of trained labour, specifically for online work where location is largely irrelevant. Some of the most popular classes are in vocational areas such as programming and marketing. British kids whose only qualification might be an online diploma will be in competition with similarly qualified kids from all over the world, which will drive wages down.

George Carty said...

Aren't libraries needed for the use of the computer-illiterate?

Boffy said...

David, as usual you make some very well thought out points. However, let me try to respond to each point.

1. The assumption is that there is already free access to books. There isn't. Libraries have to pay for all their multiple access to books, and workers via taxes pay for that. Moreover, its impossible for every Library to stock every book, so if you want a particular book, you have to ask for it to be obtained, wait for it to come in, and then only have access to it on limited time terms etc. One person's access to a book tends to be another person's denial of access to it. In fact, there was another Gillian Tett article on this which I hadn't actually seen - – referring to precisely this in relation to New York Libraries. In fact, it appears that they may make access available free to everyone globally. There is also the example of Wikipedia, and Google Books.

The comparison is with the NHS. We are told there is free access, and there isn't. One person's access is another's denial of service, and the state monopoly raises costs, and reduces efficiency, thereby making the latter problem worse. The current information about Health provision in the UK compared to elsewhere illustrates that point alongside what happened at Stafford which is far from an isolated example.

2. On nano-payments, this seems to contradict the first argument. If the reality was that top authors, musicians etc. currently only received a pittance for their works, I could see your argument. But, the reality is that some of these people get paid astronomical amounts, some of which is a monopoly rent. The other side of this is that those who access their work pay premium prices. I am not really bothered whether J.K. Rowling makes ten million from one of these methods rather than the other, but I do have a preference that anyone who wants to read her books, whenever they want to read them is able to do so for a penny rather than £10, or alternatively has to wait months until a copy is available to read from the Library.

But, also such a system means that the works of these highly paid writers etc. would also face more competition from the many unheard of writers, whose material would be available, and thereby undermine the current monopolies.


Boffy said...

3. I said in my post, that in reality, the State bosses would try to use such a situation to sack Library staff rather than transfer them to more productive activities. You agree that currently they are engaged in largely unproductive activity managing books, rather than assisting users. Its clear that the use of existing buildings is also unsupportable. So, why support continuing activities that are unsupportable, and which we are paying for? Its really just Luddism, not Socialism or even sensible Trades Unionism.

If Capital decided such a strategy was in its interests it would pursue it anyway, and we would be left trying to oppose it as a rearguard action. As a martial artist, and as a socialist, I prefer to fight where possible on ground of my own choosing, and from a position of attack rather than defence. The whole point of my proposal is that we should be thinking about taking control of these kinds of services out of the hands of the Capitalist State and placing them directly in the hands of workers in their communities. Then it is up to us not the state bosses to decide how our money is used to employ Library and other staff, and where to employ them, as well as whether to spend it on them rather than on buildings, and things.

4. It's true that part of the function of Oxbridge, and US Ivy League Universities again has to do with monopoly through limited access, just as happens with Public School Education. Short of Socialism, there is little that can be done about any more than can be done about limited access to Capital, creates the conditions under which the elite can limit access to top Executive jobs. But, its precisely for those reasons that, for Capital, Neo-Fordist solutions for service provision offer such a good route.

Again, its precisely because in your words, this expansion will provide Capital with an expanded pool of trained labour that they offer such a solution. For years, Alan Greenspan complained that the problem in the US was an inadequate supply of highly educated and skilled workers, which was pushing wages in that sector ever higher, whilst unskilled wages remained stagnant or fell. Given that economies like the UK and US will only be able to compete in the current global economy by migrating into those areas that require very highly skilled workers, you can see why he emphasised that this was such a problem.

That is why you are also wrong about the type of courses being made available. Some of the most expensive courses from Harvard Business School are now available on line, for a fraction of the cost of going to the University, and as Tett described in her article, MIT put its coursework online a decade ago, and that has attracted 100 million online learners! Meanwhile the girl from Pakistan had completed courses from Duke and Stanford on scientific subjects like AI.

5. British kids will be in competition with kids from all over the world. Firstly, as a socialist internationalist I have no problem with that any more than them being in competition with other British kids, but secondly, they are already in such competition. Making these courses from the world's top Universities available to as many kids, British or otherwise, to me as a development socialists should welcome, even if it is being done by Capital in its own interests, and even if it will not change the non-academic monopolies that places like Oxbridge have.

Boffy said...


Isn't the training and assistance of the computer illiterate, or any other kind of illiterate the job of a school or college, not a Library?

Can't access to books and other Library provision for the computer illiterate be provided at least equally well out of a school library rather than an expensive dedicated building?

David Timoney said...

Re libraries, my point is not that they are free in terms of the cost to society - the building, books and wages obviously need to be paid for - but that they are free at the point of use. Anyone can walk in and read a book, though no doubt the Tories are already planning to exclude Romanians.

Public libraries date from the arrival of mass literacy, and the need for a better educated workforce, at a time when books were expensive. They're essentially mutuals, in that we pool our money (via tax) to share the resource. They have always been heading for redundancy simply because the cost of books, as a share of income, has been steadily falling, leading to greater book sales and less need for borrowing (hence libraries diversification into other services). The paperback was the first nail in the coffin of public libraries, e-books will probably prove the last.

As you note, a system whereby books are accessible online is far better for the average user (assuming you can afford the up-front cost of Internet access, which again is falling over time). Just as technology has gradually reduced book and record shops to specialist outlets, so it will cause libraries to consolidate and become more curatorial - i.e. reference libraries for academics and bibliophiles. The public library will go the way of HMV, though some may cling on awhile if combined with other council services, much as some book chains held off the inevitable by becoming coffee shops.

Books online means a better service for users, but it also means huge savings for producers. It's no secret that e-books already enjoy much larger margins than p-books, despite a lower price. The current wailing about library closures is just a sentimental sideshow. The real conflict is between big capital and small capital. In this context, big capital is the likes of Google. Authors are small capitalists, and traditional publishing houses likewise (self-publishing is big capital squeezing out small capital). This tension is clear in the comments of Terry Deary, an author who's happy to see the end of libraries:

Deary will have received the maximum amount possible for a writer from the Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600. "If I sold the book I'd get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?" he asked.

Google want to make books free to everyone, hence their Google Books product has happily scanned millions of copyright works without prior permission. The tussle between authors/publishers and Google comes down to competing economic models. More (free) content means more opportunity for Google to monetise through search advertising. Authors want payment for each access (you don't buy an e-book, you buy a revocable licence to use). Once the high overheads of p-books and publishers are gone, authors will have to settle for nanopayments - popular authors will drive the unit price down as they'll earn through volume and by leveraging secondary advertising.

Contd ...

David Timoney said...

The point about this conflict is that neither side has an interest in preserving libraries, though Google are happy to present their initiative as an altruistic "world library" plan, a sort of modern Library of Alexandria online. Most authors (being small capitalists) are snobs, and have never liked the idea of their books being shared between grubby proles. They want their books bought and valued as objet d'arts, and to be applauded at Hay-on-Wye. It's interesting to note the way that e-readers have quickly become class identifiers, like i-Pods and i-Phones before them.

An Electronic National Library won't get off the ground because both big and small capital would be against it, and because neoliberal governments would run a mile rather than fund this through taxation. Local authorities will cut libraries ahead of social care and other services, hence my pessimism about the idea of redeploying librarians and buildings. The future is one in which we will be able to access many more books, and quite cheaply, but where we will not actually own them, either personally or as a local community.

David Timoney said...

Re online education, stories about this typically involve three features. The first is that it's US Ivy League institutions that are leading the way (a mark of quality). The second is that huge numbers are taking these courses (open to all). The third is the heartwarming tale of a disadvantaged kid studying AI or Physics (aspirational). This is basically an advertising pitch, which is why it pays to be sceptical. The technology is clearly disruptive, but the centrality of traditional ideas of elite value imply that it might be less than revolutionary. Clay Shirky has some interesting thoughts on this.

The wage polarisation noted by Greenspan (accelerating at the top, flat at the bottom) has been going on for 30 years, but this has occurred at the same time that higher education has expanded massively. The problem has not been the quantum of graduate supply, but the specific skills. The challenge of the new economy (since about 1990) is that many of the jobs created have a shelf-life of only a decade or so because of fast-changing technology. Computer Science will give you a good grounding, but you'll earn a decent wage in IT by picking up a new skill on the job, not by virtue of a degree. If you want to increase the number of workers with high-tech skills, you don't increase college places, you increase high-tech employers.

This is quite different to more traditional subjects, such as medicine or the law, so you can expect these professions to continue to bias towards bricks-n-mortar. You can do a correspondence course in law now, but this won't get you a job in the City or the Inns of Court. MOOCs won't change this.

What I think MOOCs presage is not a golden age of high-quality education for all but a reversion to a more hierarchical system (which will please the Daily Mail). Elite education will not just be exclusive by virtue of high academic entry requirements but by virtue of price. The UK will become more like the US, but with fewer bursaries and no college football scholarships.

I'm not against MOOCs, any more than I'm against public libraries, I'm just sceptical that they are a progressive development.

Boffy said...

Reply To David Timmoney On Libraries 6th March 2013


Reading your latest comments I think there is little difference between us. The essential difference, however, is on the role of the working-class. Like most of the Left, I think that your position essentially places the working-class in the role of victim, rather than the central agent of change. It basically says, this is what is in Capital's interests, so this is what Capital will do, and the workers will just have to sit back and watch it happen. At best it is a perspective in which the only response of workers is to act in the role of resistance to those measures that Capital seeks to adopt.

Ultimately, such a position must end up as reactionary, because although resistance to change can be undertaken on the usual reformist/economistic basis of bargaining within the system i.e. we will agree to these changes, if you pay us more money, the underlying principle is an opposition to change itself i.e. Luddism, because all change is necessarily seen as hostile to workers interests. The latter, of course is only ever relatively true.

Technological changes that result in workers losing jobs – and they wouldn't be of benefit for Capital if they didn't achieve that – are clearly not in the immediate interests of worker who lose their jobs as a result. However, as Marx describes in Capital where he discusses this, the consequence of increasing Relative Surplus Value, increases Capital Accumulation so that even in the original industry, more workers absolutely, even if less relatively may be employed. But, the effect on the economy as a whole means that tends to be the case. Moreover, the longer term benefit for workers is that a much wider range of commodities become available to them at prices they would not previously have been able to afford. None of the vast array of consumer goods, or services such as health and education workers enjoy today, would have been possible had it not been that millions of workers over the last 200 years have lost their original jobs, and been replaced by technology.

But, of course, the other cost for workers of that, as describe by Marx is that although their living standards rise substantially, their position of subjection to Capital increases as a consequence. My position is not based on trying to resist the advance of Capital either absolutely, or relatively in return for some reformist bargain with Capital. It is based on presenting workers with an alternative strategy in which they can utilise those technological advances themselves, and directly for their own advantage.

Now, I realise that from a practical point of view it may well be the case that given the weakness of the working-class such solutions may seem hard to accomplish. It may well be that in practice your view of Capital simply being able to impose its will with the workers sitting back and watching it unfold may be correct. But, the whole point of Marxism is to provide an alternative view to such pessimism, and to map out adequate solutions for workers that enable them to strengthen their position, and create the basis for greater optimism – dealing with the problems of today with an eye on the needs of tomorrow to paraphrase the Communist Manifesto.

I'll deal with your other points in separate comments.

David Timoney said...

Boffy, re your comment dated 6 March 2013 10:37.

I don't think I'm taking a generally pessimistic or defeatist attitude here. I wholly agree with you that the working class can and should seek to take advantage of technological change to further its interests, I just think that repurposing libraries is a tactical dead-end.

Online books are a progressive step, even if this is coming about because of the imperatives of capital. On balance I would support Google (i.e. big capital) because I think their approach will broaden access and lower unit costs. Authors will be bought off by nanopayments. The real victims of change will be publishers, who have traditionally acted as a choke-point/censor of knowledge. This would be a good thing.

As regards online courses, my key point is that the emerging model is reactionary insofar as it seeks to preserve the status of elite educational establishments. This is a defensive posture. While it has only surfaced as a media trope in recent years, as the medium has encroached onto college courses, e-learning for vocational training is over a decade old.

The real revolution today is the way that Internet penetration and video-streaming has allowed course delivery to become "massive", which allows unit costs to fall. Self-study has already eroded apprenticeships, and is widely used by contractors to keep their skills up-to-date.

Businesses have long since woken up to the potential of MOOCs as cheaper and more efficient than class-based training.

The media reporting of MOOCs is a "morbid symptom". Under cover of stories about Harvard courses for all, bog-standard further education colleges face a crisis due to the perfect storm of technology providing a viable alternative and government retreating from full funding.

Boffy said...

My point is that books are not free either to society or to individuals/workers. Workers pay for Libraries via taxes. But, also many places do not even have Libraries, to use one you have to drive, take a bus etc., which itself imposes a cost. Then the book you want may not be available. Its the same thing as someone who needs an operation. It is neither free nor necessarily available immediately or when you need it. Anything, that reduces the cost, improves the quality and availability, in either case is an advantage for workers.

That is why I would suggest that set aside the question of a National Electronic Library, there is a considerable advantage in scrapping existing, dedicated Libraries, and moving that function into schools. There are schools in most areas, so that means people in most areas would then have access to Library facilities. It means Librarian can undertake Library functions, freeing up teachers to teach.

But, also it deals with the issue of the set up cost for people to access e-books etc. Because schools already have computer facilities, which could be enhanced from the resources freed up from closing down expensive Library buildings, and transferring their computers etc. there essentially are no initial set up costs.

I also agree with you that there are conflicting interests between Big Capital and Small Capital here. I'm not sure that I agree with the idea that authors are small capitalists. The more successful, certainly obtain incomes even higher than those of small capitalists, but ultimately that income derives from their labour rather than ownership of capital, as does that of say David Beckham. These high incomes are in my opinion a combination of two things, firstly the fact that this labour is highly complex – there are not many people who have the skill of a Beckham – and, the fact that this also means the price includes an element of monopoly pricing.

Relating this to my other passion – Northern Soul – in the 1970's there was a debate about the rights and wrongs of bootleg records. Because many records were extremely rare, they fetched ridiculously high prices. Only a few people could then own them. So some people began to produce bootleg copies that circulated for a small fraction of the price. They got rich from doing so, but the fact remained that thousands of people were enabled to own the records who previously would not have been able to do so.

One of my sons friends is a musician, and in fact, he is now able to produce material and distribute it, or promote it over the Internet. That means increasingly, the monopoly pricing of musicians will begin to break down undermining the ability of a tiny few to make huge amounts. That has happened already in the Porn industry as I set out - here.

Ten years ago, I completed my first novel, but suffering with depression at the time lacked the determination to persist in finding a publisher. I'm now working on refurbishing it before publishing it online via Amazon.

Its not clear to me that Big or Small Capital would oppose the establishment of a National Electronic Library. Such a resource, including all of the reference material available in assorted Libraries would be an important asset for Capital, to be used to reduce the costs of research etc. Opposition could come from existing owners especially those attached to Oxbridge, who would see their own monopolies undermined. To the extent it meant savings could be made by closing other Libraries, it would also be a benefit to Capital.

Either way, this comes back to my previous point that whatever the position, this does not prevent workers advancing a programme based on what is in their interests, and a National Electronic Library would be, just as transferring Library functions to schools would be, as part of the transfer of community services to workers ownership and control.

Boffy said...

Once again I agree with many of the points you make, but differ in the conclusions. It is clearly the case that rich people want their kids to go to Eton and Harrow, because it is the fact of going there, and the social connections it involves that is at least as important as the quality of education provided. Yet, part of the argument of the Left has always been that these institutions are able to pay higher salaries to teachers, and thereby obtain people with higher skills. The same applies to Oxbridge. Clearly, obtaining the same education online from such teachers is not going to get you a top job in the Civil Service in the way the social connections etc. obtained from going to a top Public School and Oxbridge will, but if it means that ordinary working class kids can obtain the same kind of teaching that people going to these schools and colleges obtain, that to me is a step forward that itself should be welcome.

In fact, its a bit like the establishment of Public Libraries that made books available to workers rather than just those that could afford to buy them, or to the Open University, that made University courses available to workers who could not go to University full-time. Its not a revolution, but often as Lenin pointed out, a revolution is made up of a series of reforms. Like Marx, I see the real social revolution being about a myriad of minor social and economic changes that go on behind men's backs driven by changes in the forces of production, rather than the big political event that actually is only a superficial reflection of it.

Boffy said...

You are undoubtedly correct that, at least in the short to medium term, tens of thousands of people doing law degrees on line is not going to lead to an equal number of people becoming top class barristers. The same is true about Accountancy courses etc. That is because of the monopoly and closed shop that exists in respect of these jobs, as with jobs for CEO's etc. so that salaries can be kept high. But, there are far more jobs for lawyers, accountants etc. than just those elite jobs. I prefer that workers can qualify in these professions and at least be able to get a job on a reasonable wage doing so, than that they are left trying to compete with low wage workers elsewhere in the world for very low paid, low skilled work. However, as I've said before the window for that is limited. It should have been happening over the last 30 years, because young workers in India, China etc. are already moving into these higher skilled areas themselves.

But, I'd make a further point here, which is that even in relation to the elite jobs, Capital is conflicted. On the one hand, it prefers to keep the incomes of CEO's very high, because it distinguishes them from other workers. It ties them to Capital, but Capital always also seeks to reduce its overhead costs. Does it really require that a CEO be paid a thousand times that of the average worker in the same enterprise, in order to ensure that the CEO knows there place? I doubt it. In fact, part of the experience of the Banking Crisis, and previous scandals such as Enron, suggest that these high salaries, and the rent seeking behaviour they encourage, might separate the interests of Executives not just from workers, but also from those of Capital too! A greater degree of competition for their jobs, might give Capital precisely the kiond of whip it needs to keep those bureaucracies in check.

Remember that prior to the Big Bang, financial traders were all toffs too. Then Big Bang meant they were overwhelmed by former barrow boys.

I agree that in order to develop more high-tech workers you also need more high-tech employers, but its a chicken and egg. Moreover, many of the high-tech jobs and industries, for example in biotech, are coming pretty much directly from University Departments and Science Parks, so expanding that higher level education is important. The point is, which the issue of Tuition Fees really amounts to, is how that expansion is financed. To, which I rest my case. Capital needs to expand that level of education, but needs to finance it. One way is to look to reduce the delivery costs substantially.

Boffy said...


Thanks for your latest comment. As I said I think we generally agree on this. The question is about how workers take advantage of these changes. I'm not arguing for repurposing Libraries, but repurposing the services that workers require so as to meet their needs not those of Capital.

The only way that can be done is by workers themselves taking ownership and control of those services be they Libraries, Education, health, Social Services, Housing or whatever.

Given the current weakness of the working class, and the fact that the existing leadership of the Labour Movement, and its supposed revolutionary alternative are in love with the Capitalist State, and cannot see any alternative to its provision other than of private Capital, I accept that arguing for a revolutionary socialist alternative is not easy. Unfortunately, from the time of Marx, Marxists have faced that problem.

My point is that technological developments are making it both possible and necessary. Current developments confirm the analysis of Aglietta from 30 years ago. Technology is making Neo-Fordist solutions possible. Those solutions mean that the old Fordist, State solutions are no longer efficient. Its that not some ideological brainstorm that is leading to privatisation policies.

Unless the left recognises that, and stops just trying to act like Canute holding back the sea, they will make themselves irrelevant. In my posts - Why The NHS Cannot protect Our health, I described that. The left thinks the working class has an attachment to the NHS which is greater than it is.

The same happened with Council Housing. Thatcher succeeded because the Left offered workers with no credible alternative to the poor quality, expensive housing of local councils, and the bureaucratic and oppressive means by which it was delivered.

Socialists need to argue for what they are for, not continually what they are against.