A second note for the Commission on the Future of Work | Brussels Blog

A second note for the Commission on the Future of Work

posted by on 18th Apr 2017

Every tool in the box – even Realpolitik

Special Interest Propaganda

This second note has a slightly a perspective than my first note. It has been prompted by the sugar conspiracy as reported in the Guardian, the Telegraph, BBC Radio 4 or the New York Times. The NYT said

The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.

The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

Special interests hide truth with well funded propaganda campaigns. The most documented is the way the tobacco industry hid the link between smoking and cancer. The US National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of Health in The history of the discovery of the cigarette-lung cancer link: evidentiary traditions, corporate denial, global toll. The NIH reported

Cigarettes were recognised as the cause of the [lung cancer] epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s, with the confluence of studies from epidemiology, animal experiments, cellular pathology and chemical analytics. Cigarette manufacturers disputed this evidence, as part of an orchestrated conspiracy to salvage cigarette sales…

As late as 1960 only one-third of all US doctors believed that the case against cigarettes had been established.

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Plotlands and prefabs on ProgressOnline

posted by on 16th Mar 2017

ProgressOnline were kind enough to publish my The return of plotlands and prefabs?

There wasn’t enough room for more than one image of a prefab so I reproduce some more here by permission of The Prefab Museum and Wolverhampton History & Heritage Website.

Unflattering visual images of prefabs too often fuel misleading prejudices. The prejudice against prefabs may have blinded planners and academics to their success. As PrefabsAreForPeople put it more crudely:

  • People liked prefabs
  • Multistorey mass housing failed
  • The planners didn’t notice
  • They will get it wrong again

Three images from the Prefab Museum

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Prefabs are for People (2004)

posted by on 16th Mar 2017

This is the contents of an old website www.prefabsareforpeople.org.uk.

Welcome to www.prefabsareforpeople.org, started 21st March 2004.

Prefabs are for People.

Here is an initial statement of the objectives of www.prefabsareforpeople.org.uk.


  • People liked prefabs
  • Multistorey mass housing failed
  • The planners didn’t notice
  • They will get it wrong again

PrefabsAreForPeople – planners ignore happy residents

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Robot revolution, growth, and global warming

posted by on 10th Mar 2017

This is a minor rewording of a submission to Tom Watson’s Commission
on the future of work. It introduces an extra element to discussions

about the robot revolution: Climate change.

The original can be down loaded as a PDF here.

Robot revolution, growth, and global warming

Note for the Commission on the Future of Work

A robot revolution?

Scene from Karel Čapek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots

In Robot wars – Automation and the Labour Market, Adam Corlett asks, ‘Should we be concerned that robots will ‘take all the jobs’?’ He contrdicts Frey and Osborne who, in The Future of Employment, claim that, ‘as many as 47 per cent of jobs in the US are susceptible to automation over the next two decades’. Corlett points to OECD research, which suggests, ‘in the US only 9 per cent of jobs are threatened over the next 20 years’.

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The BBC is a trusted source, says Tony Hall

posted by on 3rd Jan 2017

Oh no it isn’t says George Monbiot.

Prospect Magazine

I don’t always read my copy of Prospect Magazine – the writing in it is top quality but it seems firmly inside one of those bubbles my social betters inhabit – but, on New Year’s Eve, I had an hour to kill in the pub and I had just collected the January edition with my post from my previous address.


It was good to see Tom Watson’s piece Robotisation: time to face the future because we are at a time when labour-saving technologies must cause a fall in the value of labour that cannot be counteracted by economic growth. Now we must decrease consumption to cut carbon emissions. This means we have less production at a time when the labour content of production is reducing. (See Jobs, the AI revolution and climate change and Labour’s Industrial Strategy. A wrong place to start.)

Our profitable universities

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Plotlands again?

posted by on 18th Oct 2016

There are signs that the Government’s White Paper on
Housing will bring in a form of plotland development.
Will it deliver affordability and sustainability?

Can we avoid the motorists?

One of the last plotlands houses to be built

I grew up in Kent in a house built by my father on a plot of land bought as a wedding present. My parents were married just before the World War II so building did not start until 1946.

Under construction in 1946

Its construction was not what you would see today. The “bricks” were very heavy concrete and cinder blocks. They were in a figure of eight. They had two vertical holes. I remember my father showing me the machine that made the blocks. It was rather like the Wizard Block Making Unit described by Preservation in Action. It had other odd features like very hard floors containing sawdust. It was a Magnesium Oxychloride Composition Floor. My father altered the internal walls from time to time. I particularly remember that he mended a bathroom tap through a hole he made in my bedroom wall. He filled the hole in a year later – after moving a wardrobe to hide it – temporally.

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Feeding the geese and robbing the rich

posted by on 15th Sep 2016

Why can’t we just rob the rich?

Moral Sentiments

Back in the 1950s I watched the series “The Adventures of Robin Hood” on TV written by lefty blacklisted Hollywood writers. I liked the fact that TV Robin took from the rich to give to the poor – without too much real-life brutality.

Trying to throw to the newcomer at the top right

I still have a moral sentiment which could be called Robin Hood redistribution – redistribution from haves to have-nots. It guides me when I am feeding the geese: That goose over there has more than enough food so I try and toss other the scraps to the “poorer” ones.

Perhaps this is related to a moral sentiment that wants all geese to be as satisfied as possible – and I guess the food-rich geese don’t need the crusts of old sandwiches as much as the food-poor geese.

Such moral sentiments come naturally to us and can drive us into action. For example, if one day I pass by with no crusts to give the geese, I might follow my moral sentiment for Robin Hood redistribution and jump into the river to take food from the food-rich geese to give to the food-poor geese. (Note to the family, especially to those of you that have tried something similar: This is only a “thought experiment”.)

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Will the new government department sideline climate warnings?

posted by on 5th Aug 2016

A warning about our carbon budget

The RealClimate website (“Climate science from climate scientists”) has a moderated discussion at the end of each article so that readers can ask questions and make comments. These are sometimes answered by the climate scientists that run the site. In the July Unforced variations, which allows any relevant topic to be broached,  I responded to a comment by Bill Henderson, who said

Recent advances in the carbon budget science over the past year have now shrunk this budget to now much less than 1000 Gt, to somewhere closer to 600-800Gt.

The Rogelj et el paper is the main paper quantifying this lower carbon budget but the budget is shrinking because the climate science is also getting much more dire.

It may be even worse

My reply may be of interest, as it contains an interesting quote from a leading climate scientist:

In Climate Change Network Dr Rogelj is quoted as saying

This study shows that, in some cases, we have been overestimating the budget by 50 to more than 200%. At the high end, this is a difference of more than 1,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

Differences between carbon budget estimates unravelled by Rogelj et al. in Nature Climate Change considers the effect of other green house gasses (e.g. Methane) as well as CO2. The abstract says

Including all greenhouse gases and using methods based on scenarios that avoid instead of exceed a given temperature limit results in lower carbon budgets.

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Long term labour subsidies. Letter to FT (1991)

posted by on 3rd Aug 2016

Give the unemployed long-term subsidies


Richard Layard and John Philpott repeat the conventional wisdom that “unemployment is the price we pay a for controlling inflation” (“A 12-month turnaround for the unemployed”, September 1.1).

More accurately, it is the price the poor (now renamed the underclasses) pay.

Layard and Philpott’s answer relies heavily on “high-quality training leading to recognised qualifications”.

Before we all jump on the training bandwagon, perhaps we should ask to what extent training independent of the workplace actually increases an individual’s ability to do a job. I remain highly sceptical of the trainers’ claims.

Their suggestion for a subsidy to employers for taking on an unemployed person has some merit: it does oil the friction in the labour market. But some employers are already using similar schemes as long-term labour subsidies by sacking employees after the subsidised period has ceased and taking ‘on new employees and new subsidies,

Why not confront the problem head on? At a given time, there will be people who cannot legally earn enough to have a civilised life. Instead of giving them life skills classes or paying them not to work, subsidise them into a job and, if subsidies need to be long-term, let them be long-term.

Geoff Beacon, 13th September 1991

Greening the greenbelt (February 2003)

posted by on 16th Jul 2016

This is a reposting of

www.greeningthegreenbelt.org (2003)


Welcome to www.greeningthegreenbelt.org, started 01 February 2003. This is a protest against the unfairness and environmental damage caused by green belt policy.

The problem

Green belts are mechanisms for restricting the supply of planning permission. Green belt policy is usually regarded as the one strong weapon planners have against developers who would destroy our environment; our environment which is free for us all, rich and poor, to enjoy. But, in reality, it

— Increases in the value of land with planning permission

— Gives massive rewards to the affluent (owners of property and land)

— Penalises the poor and the young

— Rewards those that pollute the most – the affluent

— Protects green fields of monoculture with little biodiversity

Our suggestion

Open up the greenbelt to settlements that will

— Have dwellings and shops and public transport

— Use local horticulture – growing more food than conventional agriculture

— Cut food miles to 10% of the National average.

— Create more biodiversity than the farmer

— Have greenfootprints that are a quarter of the National average

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