2007 - 2021

Face Palm Sunday

george-clooneyWith the sociopath and his mannequin daughter dictating Tomahawk diplomacy by whim, and the denials by Putin and his psycho-proxy being cheered-on by some confused souls, it’s difficult to get too excited about the imminent arrival of the Easter Bunny.  But some of the madness seems much closer to home.

The Observer published a gushing feature about Josh Littlejohn’s Granton village project today (‘Social entrepreneur Josh Littlejohn: ‘I want to build a utopia for the homeless’’) that just reeks of uncritical shallow self-congratulation.

It’s difficult to know where to begin.

We could start with the casual and relentless assumption that ‘entrepreneurs’ can and will deliver solutions to deep-seated social problems. This is rarely challenged, it’s just assumed to be some sort of instant panacea. The idea stems from giving the ‘social entrepreneur’ automatic status, as if you can ‘innovate’ your way out of power relations. It’s the tail-end of Apprentice culture. It’s the end result of the hegemony of business-class-culture and its the outcome of years of sloppy social enterprise boosterism.

We could also just say outright that ‘crowdfunding to solve homelessness’ is just offensive.

We could continue by saying that many people working with homelessness think the problem has some crucial flaws, none of which seem to be touched on (at all) by this extensive feature. The potential for ghettoisation, the inclusion – or exclusion – of people with drink and drugs issues – are both highly problematic.

The whole thing’s weirdly paternalistic and most of the coverage seems to centre around a hero-leadership model that seems crashingly inappropriate. Then you can add the celebrity culture that seems very excited about George Clooney coming to Social Bite but completely disinterested in the detail of the village proposal.

Meanwhile, while we focus on this and similar projects (aimed at giving housing to twenty people) – we just close our eyes to the structural problems of our massive homeless crisis, endemic inequality and a generational housing crisis.

I’m not deriding Littlejohn, or Social Bite or ‘innovation’, these are probably great things, and we need the ideas and energy of thousands of people to shift the institutional inertia that besets much of Scotland –  this just seems one-dimensional, and, well, awful.

This whole phenomenon maybe started with Jamie Oliver being given the job of solving our food system, and now somehow Leonardo DiCaprio eating a sandwich, or a ‘CEO Sleepout’ (god help us all) is somehow a great thing.  There is nothing systemic or transformative (or even scaleable) about any of this. It just stands out because nobody really knows what to do any more.




Comments (24)

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  1. john young says:

    I urge any/everyone the “unionists” in particular to go to the “veterans to-day” site a site that exposes the USA for what it really is and if you don,t/can,t already know it is a heinious country that will drag us to and over the edge,we just follow on regardless.

    1. What’s that got to do with this article?

  2. Wul says:

    I recently took part in a tour of an entrepreneurial “hatchery”. A place where people with business ideas are coached & supported into making more of a success of their “vision”.

    It was explained to us that a true “entrepreneur” has an idea or business model that disrupts the existing way of doing things in a radical way, is able to be replicated nationwide (preferably worldwide) and is easily scalable.

    None of the initiatives above will “disrupt” the structural problems which actually cause homelessness.

    Something like a land value tax, (Annual Ground Rent) would truly disrupt things and take home-building plots off of the house price escalator for good.

    Radical land reform would free up land, allowing ordinary people to build their own homes. (in Austria 80% of homes are self-built. Germany, France & Italy: 60%, UK: 10%)

    A strategic, planned & sane publicly-owned house rental scheme would disrupt our existing rentier/speculator private landlord “market”. (Local authorities used to be able to buy fields, for building public housing on, at “existing use” value. (about £5k/acre today). This right was removed.

    You won’t see many hipster entrepreneurs promoting these ideas though. Funny that.

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      Wul, some people find it possible to sing and dance at the same time. Isn’t it possible that people can campaign for structural change whilst taking immediate, small scale action?

  3. Joe Crawford says:

    Following on from this excellent article (and on the issue of homelessness) I’d like to report back from last week’s Housing Studies Association conference in York. The consensus which emerged from the group of left leaning, critically engaged academics (as opposed to the right leaning cohort of housing economists) was that we need to be a little more careful with our terminology. Using terms like homelessness ‘crisis’ and housing ‘crisis’ suggest an economic system within which, one or more aspects is broken and needs fixed. The term crisis, for example, masks the truth about the current system which is this – homelessness, poverty and inequality, hunger, low educational attainment, high levels of incarceration, insecure employment, precarity and welfare conditionality etc., are all evidence of the current system WORKING EXACTLY AS IT SHOULD WORK.

    These ‘issues’ result from the policies which are made by a political class acting in the interests of economic elites. We have homelessness and affordable housing precisely because we have governments who actually promote massive levels of tax avoidance and evasion. Governments who have overseen the deliberate separation of use value and exchange value in ways that now encourage the building of massive tower blocks in London which are sold off for investment (no one lives in these tiny one bedroom – million pound flats, which mostly lie empty) create homelessness. It’s not an aberration of the system IT IS THE SYSTEM. For those in whose interests the housing system works (billionaire investors, high net-worth individuals, and the global banking and hedge fund sector) the housing system isn’t in ‘crisis’, rather, it has never been in better health.

    So, you are absolutely right Mike. We need to disentangle the right wing market-rhetoric from ‘imaginary’ worlds were business people can turn their attention from making large sums of money for themselves to suddenly helping the homeless and the poor, and focus on the reality. If we want to change the system, then we need acknowledge the fact that it is the system (and not just a few dysfunctional aspects of the system) than needs to be changed.

    1. Elaine Fraser says:

      I couldn’t agree more . I am convinced that the Indy2 campaign message should be about homes and housing. Give folk a home and hope. Massive building project of council houses to rent. Speaking as a property owner, what use it is to me if my kids can’t afford similar in future and face nothing but huge debt and insecurity.Parents and grandparents surely having many a sleepless night worrying for their kids. Luckily still some folk around like me who remember being brought up in a decent council house as did all my friends. A secure home base is basic human right.

    2. Craig P says:

      An entrepreneur is someone who solves other people’s problems. Other people *with money*. A community group with money could transform a neighbourhood. Yet who owns money? How many community groups can issue bonds? It is the ownership of money which is the the key factor.

    3. Doghouse Reilly says:

      You can add my thanks to those of the Bella editor. The article was clearly about homelessness and yet most of the respondents seem to want to ignore the issue altogether.

      It is an issue that has been neglected over the past three or four years and Shelter should be congratulated for the work they have done through the “not yet fixed” campaign to put it back on the political agenda.

      I think we can also take comfort from the fact that its not just “left leaning academics” that have started to argue that homelessness is a product of our housing system. Some in Local Government have also been making this case as evidenced by submissions to the Local Government and Communities Committee evidence sessions on homelessness last month (http://www.parliament.scot/S5_Local_Gov/Meeting%20Papers/20170308_MeetingPapers.pdf)

    4. Piper says:

      Homelessness and affordable housing could also be put up their with climate change, as another impending social disaster on a global scale,however flash your countries economy is.The market philosophy, the market shall regulate and provide is the Keynes dogma that modern capitalism like its pre modern predecessor clung to as a capitalist panacea,that has past and present proven false for all excepting the profit exploiting minority.Even with Government, intervention,the geni has escaped the bottle,homes that 20 years ago in a bustling city,that where affordable at say $45 thousand to purchase,with a 10% deposit of $4 thousand,are now the astounding price of $340 thousand with a twenty percent deposit that for most working class is out of their wage bounds even if job security is guaranteed, servicing the mortgage crippling interest payments the average home would suffer financial deprivation.Then on the other side the impossible rent afford.So outside of a massive world social change what has to be done.Government intervention 1.crack down on investor land speculators on and off shore.2.Property speculation tax.3.Capital gains tax.4.Limiting of shore property and land sales to off shore speculators.5.Introduce a living wage,realistic to todays affordable living.

  4. Dom says:

    Good piece. I’ve had misgivings of the celeb/ entrepreneur social model for sometime. Littlejohn does some very good things but the observer piece and others like it are hagiography.

    I thought the part about wage ratio in social bite intriguing. They started off with a wish to have 7x between the top and bottom. Littlejohn says they haven’t got close to this (he says income for him is much less than this). So how does he live then? does he have to worry about making his mortgage payment due to this or are other factors at play ( like your dad being a multimillionaire?)

  5. SleepingDog says:

    It seems a little harsh coverage for an article which is keeping the issue of homelessness in the news, attempting to add a fresh angle, proposing a small-scale experimental solution, and reflects on the difficulties of keeping the issue live in the public eye. Sure, the Observer article has a publicity strand, but it seems pitched at promoting more discussion and trying to break down the statistics into more meaningful social causes and effects.

    I am also sceptical of the entrepreneurial model, but the success of innovators has (in my view) been more closely related to technologically-originated development models based on ideas like rapid prototyping and tight test/redesign cycles than investment capital. This applies to non-profit work too. The feedback from the first (representative homeless) people to live in such a model village would likely to be very valuable in indicating future directions. The key would be that any intellectual property (patents, design copyright, research data and findings) should be released free of charge under open licences in accessible format on the web.

  6. J Galt says:

    Isn’t it great that the fiendish twirly moustached Assad comes up wae “chemical attacks” exactly when required?

    You’d almost think he was working for the other side!

    Mind you if you’re gullible enough to believe what the BBC tells you……

    1. Yes I’m sure its all a plot by the BBC

      1. J Galt says:

        So basically what you’re saying is that any scepticism regarding the US/UK version of events in Syria is equal to unqualified and absolute support of Assad and Putin?

        Tell me if the BBC is to be utterly trusted without question over it’s coverage of Syria why should we not trust it’s coverage of the Independence debate?

        1. 3Rensho says:

          Basically that’s a strawman argument J Galt. No-one really knows who committed the attacks, and no-one really knows who ultimately benefits. But “the BBC said it so it must be false” is shoddy reasoning.

          1. J Galt says:

            ‘”the BBC says it so it must be false” is shoddy reasoning’

            Aye maybe – but it’s a good starting point.

  7. john young says:

    Isn,t there a tract about a dummy and his tomahawk diplomacy? that is what it,s about and whether you know of what,s going on or know nothing,then it is for me very relevant we follow the USA blindly in almost everything,do you think this has no relevance and doesn,t impact on us?

  8. 3Rensho says:

    Very astute to devote a column under the rubric of all the world’s international chaos to the micro-scale but hugely important daily iniquities that rumble on in the background. When we read the words “entrepreneur” and “homelessness” in the same sentence and don’t scratch our heads about the absence of the phrase “local authorities”, that’s the cancer that’s wrecking our society. The cancer that’s metastasized in the UK and the rest of the Ayn-Rand-worshipping idiot-dominated Anglo Saxon world.

  9. Mac says:

    Stopped reading after you called the US President(voted for by over 60 million Americans) a sociopath and then referred to his daughter(who, from what I’ve seen in a number of interviews, is an extremely articulate young woman) a mannequin. This is the sort of thing a teenager would write, it’s completely juvenile and sneeringly smug, it just makes you look amateurish.

    1. She’s completely unqualified. What’s amateurish is having your children in office. He’s a sociopath.

      1. Piper says:

        The Donald,full blown capitalist exploiter,that has the grasp of the weapons and the ultra right that is all the bad in America.Have to give him his due though,he has cherry picked his working class hero!s,and with considerable cunning,Miners and oil and pipe line workers along with a minimum car producers.He knows these contractors who supply to off shore pay their workers well above the average American minimum casual zero hour contracted work force.Building the wall also.Cleaver all those wet backs who service our holiday mansions sending them back,so Americans can clean our pools,at a zero hour contract minimum wage.

  10. MBC says:

    You know, this adulation of entrepreneurs as panacea smacks of desperation. It’s on par with believing in fairies.

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