Burgers from the Super Rich

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Kids clothing range, Tesco Wishaw, Britain 2013


What do laser firing robots, George Osborne and Lab Burgers have in common?

All operate in a world of make believe, whether it’s the notion that in vitro meat will ‘feed the world’ (let’s all hold hands), the idea that looking after your children is a ‘lifestyle choice’, like eating muesli or wearing crocs, or the idea that gasbots will fix climate change.

None of these ideas operate in the real world where global hunger is caused by extreme inequality, not a lack of burgers, where women struggle to look after their children whilst being blamed for all the worlds ills and where runaway climate change threatens the nature of existence. As Paul Kingsnorth of the Dark Mountain project has asked: “What’s the social and cultural ‘impact’ of removing farms from society and replacing them with labs? This is about owning the food chain.”

Remember this was the week when Sergey Brin, one of Google’s billionaire founders coughed up an easy $330,00 for their Mutant Whopper, and at the same time Amazon boss, Jeff Bezos, purchased the Washington Post newspaper for $250m (£163m). The cost was reputed to be 1% of Bezos’s ‘worth’ (sic). So here we have billionaires making utterly casual but potentially significant interventions into our food system and our media democracy with what amounts to loose change in their pockets in an era of fast descending austerity.

The debate about where we go in Scotland the years ahead needs to be situated in this context. The reality is that this (Westminster) government is inflicting the longest and deepest economic slump since the 1870s; more than £50bn has been cut from workers’ wages every year since the start of the recession in 2008; and almost £30bn is being slashed from social security for the poorest and most vulnerable; and that half a million people are having to rely on food banks to get by.

Playwright Mark Ravenhill (Shopping and F***ing, 1996)

Let’s say it again – because still it somehow doesn’t seem quite real in our bubble of existence – capitalism has experienced its biggest economic crisis since the 1930s depression, a depression which brought us genocidal dictatorships and world war. Our world, in ways that we can’t yet understand, is totally different from the one we were living in six or seven years ago. The paradigm has shifted and new ways of living and behaving are going to be needed if we’re going to make our way forward. There’s no possibility of pressing a restart button and going back to – when exactly? What about 2005? When it was all really lovely and that nice New Labour were in power and the economy seemed to doing splendidly and the arts were really, you know, valued. That’s a false memory, of course, and we’re not going back there. Any party that gets in to power in Westminster at the next election will be committed to the ideology (and plain wrong mathematics) of austerity.

These are techno fixes and policy measures we have no control over, we didn’t vote for and for which a pliant and dumb media slavishly reports as if the ‘silly season’ was an excuse for a disavowal of any sense of moral value.

Sergey Brin, from Google to Grill

Sergey Brin, from Google to Grill

But if Brin and Bezos are given an easy ride in the media – they are after all celebrities, millionaires and associated with the internet so ergo are a) geniuses and b) not to be questioned – as are the super rich in general. The myth of meritocracy and the dazzling belief in ‘technology at all costs’ is a heady mix for a population stupefied by our post-ideological world of clicktivism.

These developments combine an expertocracy with a demeaning deference to the rich that characterises much modern culture, think Dragon’s Den writ large, magnified and hyped by Sleb Culture and boosted again by a collapsing belief in public service doomed by intransigent problems and internal sleaze. For leadership model who are you going to choose Rich Smart Guy from the Interweb or Eric Joyce?

In a world where 90% of McDonald’s workers are on zero hours contracts and gangster businessmen circle floundering institutions like Rangers and Hearts former boss is wanted for ’embezzling £12 million’ – the economic-reality-gulf is visibly widening as is any credible notion of accountability or transparency.

Throw into the mix the crass spectacle of British entitlement in action with the annual dolling out of baubles for favours in the House of Lords and the collapse of meaningful opposition in England and the four letter sobriquet ‘UK:OK’ seems less of a political slogan for the terminally hopeful and more an agit-prop stunt by republican dissidents working deep undercover within Better Together.

When did this world come from?

Reading Tony Wood in the New Left Review we can note that the mirroring we’ve seen by Johann Lamont and Ed Miliband this last year is nothing new:

Even before entering office, Brown had pledged to stick to Tory spending levels for three years, as proof of Labour’s economic discipline. The pursuit of ‘credibility’ in the eyes of the markets was the guiding principle, to be achieved through three key policies: first, fiscal prudence; second, retaining the Tories’ inflation-targeting regime, but removing it from government control. The Bank of England was given charge of monetary policy, to act as a ‘bulwark against short-termism’, as embodied by elected politicians.The third move was to institute what Brown and his advisors triumphantly called ‘light-touch regulation’—effectively allowing banks to regulate themselves. This brought a phenomenal expansion in the role of finance, as funds poured through the City in search of super-profits. Ramped-up flows of capital meant that Balls could boast in 2006 that London had ‘70 per cent of the secondary bond market, over 40 per cent of the derivatives market, over 30 per cent of foreign-exchange business, over 40 per cent of cross-border equities trading and 20 per cent of cross-border bank lending’.

A magnet for shadow banking and opaque financial engineering, the City became ‘Wall Street’s Guantánamo’—a place where us operators could do abroad what was not allowed at home.

The rest we know. After (Labour) Government measures to sustain the illusion of normality, including £950bn worth of bank bail-outs, asset guarantees and ‘quantitative easing’, had blown a gaping hole in public finances, and Gordon Brown was blown out of office by a hostile English media and a disastrous gift for self-immolation, in came the Tory government nobody elected.

These are all ‘measures to sustain the illusion of normality’ from laser-firing robots to the notion that we will solve things by making meat in petri dishes or by growing up to be Princesses.

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  1. They can have all the test tube burgers they want. The Africans will still be starving if they dont GIVE them food.

  2. Albalha says:

    And in a country where one of the largest growing franchises is the FoodBank pioneer, the Trussell Trust …..£1500 is all you need to ‘donate’ for all their PR skills and bonny aprons.

    I wonder where the royal tat above is made ..

    Sadly not enough give a flyer, the more I speak to people the more I fear we won’t make it over the YES line, I can only hope I’m wrong.

  3. J. R. Tomlin says:

    I’m sorry but anyone who considers the Washington Post a part of the “media democracy” (whatever the Hell that is) is deluded. Speaking as an American let me list a few things you can attribute to the (already owned by millionaires) Washington Post: The Washington Post was one of the most rabid supporters of the ongoing US fiasco in Iraq and Afghanistan and every other US misadventure in the Middle East. It has been more than complicit either through its silence and even at times in vocal support in the ever expanding scandals involving the NSA, CIA, FBI and spying on American citizens and allies.

    A change in the management of the Washington Post may, one hopes, bring it back to the days when it actually did journalism instead of acting as a PR wing of the government in power. I don’t know Bezos’ intent. I do know that he has been an active supporter of equal marriage rights in the US although he does not have a sterling record on unions. We’ll have to see, but I find it hard to believe that the management of the Washington Post could be WORSE than it now is.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      It was meant as a comment on the fact that someone can just buy a newspaper with a fraction of their wealth, rather than any defence of the Post as a bastion of great journalism.

  4. Adam Shriver says:

    Well, some people care about the horrible conditions for animals in modern factory farms and about the terrible environmental damage produced from that same industrial farming system. So, for them (and for me, since I care about these things), in vitro meat would solve problems “in the real world.” I’m not sure why you think that’s in any way in conflict with wanting to reduce massive inequality.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      How would rearing ‘meat’ in laboratories reduce inequality? It’s not a lack of Big macs that is causing world hunger.

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