How to show hidden files on OS X Mavericks 10.9

OS X Disk RootIn my opinion, the Mac OS is astonishingly simple and easy to use and for most people the default file system setting is just fine, however there are files and folders that are hidden from view – and just as well for some users!

Personally, I like to see all the files and folders, including the hidden ones.  There are tools and apps that do this, but by far the simplest way is by typing in a command.

Here are the steps:

  1. Go to the ‘Terminal’ app. The quickest way is to click on the spotlight magnifying glass in the top right of the menu bar and type Terminal and then hit return/enter. Double click on the icon to open.
  2. Copy and past the following command as all one line:
    defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles 1 && killall Finder
    

    and hit return.

The Finder will restart immediately, and all the hidden files and folders will be visible.

To turn off hidden files, the command replaces 1 with 0:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles 0 && killall Finder

WARNING! Be careful, and don’t delete or alter anything that you don’t fully understand as you may cause issues with the way the operating system works. However, delving in, looking around, and so on will help you find out how the Mac OS works. If you are used to any flavour of Linux or Unix, you will immediately recognise the way the file system is laid out.

A different perspective on modern economics (revised)

Part of an ongoing “Economic Myths Debunked” series.

Economics is often portrayed as being independent, devoid of value judgements, and immune to ethical or ideological influence. Over the past thirty years our politicians and policymakers, many economists in the media, and most economics textbooks have encouraged us, in the words of Harvard professor Dani Rodrik (2009),  “to think of economics as a discipline that idolizes [sic.] markets and a narrow concept of (allocative) efficiency.”

The mainstream view

The general public, media and indeed economic students have all been subtly indoctrinated with an emphasis on demand and supply (also called the model of perfect competition) as the central theoretical structure of an immutable reality: “…a world of perfect markets in which given resources are allocated as if by an invisible hand in a way that maximizes[sic.] the value of total production. The belief that this model approximates how markets operate in the real world is often referred to as ‘market fundamentalism’.” (Hill and Myatt, 2010, p.4)

[It is essentially a laissez-faire view. The core belief is that markets are efficient and that governmental attempts to ‘interfere’ with markets necessarily create inefficiencies. (ibid, p.264) They give the impression that markets generally are sufficiently competitive that (for the most part) they lead to efficient outcomes; that minimum wages and unions are harmful to workers themselves; and that government regulation is either ineffective or harmful. (ibid, p.1)]

Further still, most are under the impression “that economics is a value-free science; that economists have an agreed-upon methodology; and they know which models are best to apply to any given problem.” (ibid, p.1)

Most of this is myth.

The reality

“Value judgements pervade economics and economic textbooks. These value judgements reflect a social and political philosophy and can be called an ideology or world-view. It is one that textbook writers are implicitly attempting to persuade the reader to accept.” (ibid, p.1)

The point is not so much to claim that this ideology is wrong, but simply to point out that it exists, and that there are always alternative views that one ought to consider. Hill and Myatt agree with Rodrik (as quote in the first paragraph) that the typical text offers a view that ‘idolizes markets’ – “usually not in a crude way, but in a subtle way through its choice of themes, and through its emphasis on demand and supply (also called the model of perfect competition) as the central theoretical structure.” (Hill, 2010, p.4)  Australian economists Prof. Steve Keen goes further, implying that because the values that pervade the textbooks are so subtly woven through they present themselves as  neutral, yet only by absence of alternative views. A whole generation now exists that thinks  “neoclassical economics [is] economics.” (Keen, 2011, p.9)

Neoclassical, mainstream, economics  presents hypotheses and policy prescriptions with surprisingly little or no supporting evidence, or (worse) it ignores inconvenient contrary evidence. Indeed, what neoclassical economists don’t admit is that even their fundamental “totem of supply and demand” (as Keen refers to it) is based on an initial assumption that would leave the most ardent supporter of “free-markets” with their jaw planted firmly on the ground.

“Scientists … check their theories and models against observations of the real world at every opportunity. The central theory of the currently dominant stream of economics has not been properly checked against real economies for over a century. If it had, it would long-since have been abandoned.” (Davies, 2012)

Particularly, many  supporters of market fundamentalism, the modern free-market theory (or academically, the neo­clas­si­cal theory), are actually ignorant (or misinformed) about the foundations this theory is built upon and the assumptions of its economic models. It comes as a shock for many when they find how little this widely revered theory has to do with science and reality in the real world. When people who seem to vehemently support ‘free-markets’ start stating how they think they work and the basis of their understanding, they don’t realise that they ironically showing how much they don’t support market fundamentalism!

In 2000, a group of economics students in France circulated an open letter to their professors declaring ‘We wish to escape from imaginary worlds!’ and deploring the ‘disregard for concrete realities’ in their teaching.  They asked for less dogmatism and more pluralism of approaches. Since then, petitions and open letters have appeared in the United Kingdom and in the United States. (For details, see www.paecon.net.)

Forthcoming blogs

My aim with the forthcoming blogs on economics topics is to open up your views on economics; to see things in broader terms; to understand the differences and similarities in the many schools of thought outside of the current neoclassical dominated world view and hopefully to think more critically when presented with economic ‘facts’ and ‘discussions’ by the media, economists,  and politicians.

Contradictory to what neoclassical economists insist, economics is not an immutable science or natural force with set physical laws; it is socially and philosophically driven, morally adaptable and is fundamentally controllable. The “free market” as is defined by the political ‘right’ and neoclassical economics is not natural or inevitable, and does not exist outside government. Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them.

I want you to imagine how you believe economics should look and behave; and then be an influence that can make that change. In the words of Akerlof and Shiller (2009, p.173):

‘There is then a fundamental reason why we differ from those who think that the economy should just be a free-for-all, that the least government is the best government, and that the government should play only the most minimal role in setting the rules. We differ because we have a different vision of the economy.’

Postlog: Myth of the ‘free-market’

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/free-market_b_3935173.html (extract)

Who should decide on the rules [of the ‘free-market’], and their major purpose? If our democracy was working as it should, presumably our elected representatives, agency heads, and courts would be making the rules roughly according to what most of us want the rules to be. The economy would be working for us; we wouldn’t be working for the economy.

Instead, the rules are being made mainly by those with the power and resources to buy the politicians, regulatory heads, and even the courts (and the lawyers who appear before them). As income and wealth have concentrated at the top, so has political clout. And the most important clout is determining the rules of the game.

Not incidentally, these are the same people who want you and most others to believe in the fiction of an immutable “free market.”

If we want to reduce the savage inequalities and insecurities that are now undermining our economy and democracy, we shouldn’t be deterred by the myth of the “free market.” We can make the economy work for us, rather than the other way around. But in order to change the rules, we must exert the power that is supposed to be ours.

Bibliography and Cited Works

  1. Akerlof, G. A. and R. J. Shiller (2009) Animal Spirits: How human psychology drives the economy and why it matters for global capitalism, Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
  2. Davies, G. (2012) The nature of the Beast – How economists mistook wild horses for a rocking chair, Ebook, Online: Geoff Davies.
  3. Hill, R. and Myatt, T. (2010)  The Economics Anti-textbook: A critical thinker’s guide to microeconomics, Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.
  4. Keen, S. (2011) Debunking Economics: The naked emperor dethroned?, London and New York: Zedbooks.
  5. Rodrik, D. (2009) ‘Blame the economists, not economics’, Guatemala Times, 11 March, available at www.hks.harvard.edu/news-events/news/commentary/blame-the-economists

If you have an area of economics, or political philosophy that you would like to see discussed in these blogs, or questions that you feel need to be addressed, please let me know via the comments below.

UN investigator slams ‘aggressive’ behaviour of UK Government towards her

“It was the first time a government has been so aggressive. When I was in the USA, I had a constructive conversation with them accepting some things and arguing with others. They did not react like this.”

UN Housing investigator, Raquel Rolnik,  slams the ‘aggressive’ behaviour of  the UK Government towards her.

In memory of the humble audio cassette tape

TDK MA-X / Type IV / Metal audio cassette

Saturday 7th September was the first International Cassette Store Day. Its organisers described it as “a celebration of a physical product that is accessible, fun, cheap and still going strong in the turbulent current musical climate.” The day saw  a number of limited edition albums released on cassette, and modern classic albums re-released too.

My Tapes

I adored the TDK MA cassette tapes (pictured). I had  a fantastic SONY three head recorder with bias adjustment helper and Dolby-S bought circa 1994. (I still have it actually and it’s as good as new!)

With a fresh metal tape, bias adjusted, dolby S on and using the third head monitoring, you could push the signal really high achieving a wonderful audio signal saturation level that is hard to beat. They just played back with such life on any type of cassette player too, including car radio cassette players!

I used to record a lot of mates’ CDs on to tape for them because they loved the sound quality I could achieve. The tape saturation  brought a life and clarity to music that seems to be missing from a lot of digital music, and even pre-recorded analogue music as well.

Before the ease of hard-disk and digital recording, most of my compositions, MIDI sequences and keyboard improvisation moments were all recorded to the TDK type IV metal cassettes too. I’m slowly revisiting all these and archiving them digitally to share online (see the list under Music).

Sony three head cassette deck with Dobly S.

Tape Saturation in a Digital Age

Those familiar with digital recording of any kind will recognise the life-ending sound that is almost worse than fingers down a black-board: digital clipping. Once a digital signal has clipped, there is rarely anything known to man or gods that can be done to rectify that audio recording.

The analogue audio concept is based on physical electrical voltage current alternations which convey an electrical wave form analogous to the sound pressure wave form, hence being called analogue. In this domain, clipping becomes an electrically relative term that depends on the input and output capabilities of the components of the ‘chain’ or system. There comes a point of overloading, where the power of the electrical signal is too much to handle and the signal, and thus the quality of the audio it is analogous to alters.

The distortion associated with clipping is often unwanted, and is visible on an oscilloscope even if it is inaudible. However there are times when it is wanted for creative reasons, such as with the electric guitar or the distorted vocal effect etc. But there is also another reason, which I mentioned  earlier when talking about recording CDs to tapes.

As the signal level increases, tape approaches a saturation point where no further signal variations can be recorded. This is signal saturation, an inherent flaw in the accuracy of magnetic tape as a recording medium. However, unlike digital recording techniques, where analogue to digital converters in audio interfaces suddenly and aggressively ‘clip’ as the signal exceeds its maximum level, analogue tape breaks down in a less predictable manner. The result is distortion and compression which behaves in a unevenly with regard to signal level, frequency and dynamic range. (Or, in a non-linear way for the techno-bables.)

Ironically, the ‘break down’ and soft-clipping of tape saturation sounds pretty appealing to most people, and recording engineers realised that the pleasant distortion and compression characteristics of saturation could be used as a mix tool, making individual tracks sound more punchy, helping to ‘glue’ elements together and even making entire mixes sound bigger and richer.

Recreating the Warmth of Tape

Most people use Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software these days, such as Logic and Pro Tools. Many studios, and live engineers, are recording and mixing with digital audio consoles (a few studios have kept the analogue desks of old, but they generally are massive beasts and prone to breaking down with heavy usage.) Introducing”analogue warmth” to your digital sounding mix is the subject of hundreds of articles all over the net, but there are three basic solutions.

  1. Use a DAW plug-in. They range widely in price and quality. Essentially, digital algorithms try to model the effect of signal saturation.
  2. Use a three-head cassette recorder. Just chain an output bus to the input of the tape deck (like the SONY model I have) and route the ‘monitor’ output back in to your DAW. Use a fresh tape, fast forward to about 2 mins in, follow the bias adjust setup, then record your mix via the tape (recording, set to monitor, and volume adjusted as high as sounds pleasing – you may have to manually adjust too) and record the result either live back in to DAW or replay the tape.
  3. Use a Gyraf Audio Gyratec Infundibululm. It will only set you back £3360 and is tested and reviewed in this months Sound on Sound magazine. It is a completely mains-free passive device, so no electrical interference from mains, and is actually rather brilliant. Admittedly, it’s top level pro kit at that price, but there really is nothing like it out there.

What’s it sound like?

Sound on Sound have provided some audio examples of their test with the Gyraterwatsityfidliumthingy, on their website: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep13/articles/gyrafg21-media.htm

Tory criticism of UN report on UK social housing policies

You would be hard pressed to have missed the controversy that Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, seems to have caused on her mission to examine the effects of the bedroom tax on the people of the UK.

Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party (or ‘Michael Green’, or whatever he is calling himself today) made assertions on the morning of 11th September that:

  • Raquel wasn’t invited by the government;
  • she didn’t visit government offices;
  • and she did not use the proper terms for government policies.

These points were proved wrong by the afternoon in Raquel Rolnik’s press statement.  In no uncertain terms.

I have been following the detail of the “tax” since the beginning; I have read her report (linked above); I have heard  the governments petulant response. Far be it from me to call Right Honourable Members of Parliament liars, or even to accuse them of untruths. But let’s look at the UN statement.

Uninvited?

At the top of her report, Raquel says, “From 29 August to 11 September 2013, I undertook an official visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the invitation of the Government.”

Round One: Raquel (of the UN).

Ignored Government?

Straight away the report say, “I wish to start this statement by expressing my gratitude to the various Government Departments, for the cooperation and hospitality extended to us during the organization and throughout the development of this fact-finding visit. ”

Pretty clear. But just incase you were still in any doubt:

“I have had the opportunity to meet with numerous Government officials, including some Ministers. In England I met with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Homes and Communities Agency, the Department for International Development and the Manchester City Council. I also met with officials from the Department of Housing and Regeneration from the Welsh Government.

“In Scotland, I met with the Scottish Government, including the Housing Services and Regeneration, the Housing Supply, the Homelessness and Equality Policy Departments; and with the Scottish National Housing authorities and Planning and Architecture Division. In Northern Ireland, I had the opportunity to meet with the Department for Social Development, and with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.”

Round Two: Raquel (of the UN). Not looking as if the government are being all that honest so far. So now on to:

Proper Terms?

Of all the criticism of their housing policy, this seems to be the one that riles them the most. It goes something along the lines of, “It’s not called the bedroom tax! It’s called the ‘Under occupancy penalty’ (sometimes they say it’s a charge or reduction.) We didn’t call it a tax, so it’s not a tax!” An so on, ad hominem.

Firstly, let’s look at the direct point: did she use the ‘correct terms’?

“Especially worrisome in this package is the so-called “bedroom tax”, or the spare bedroom under occupancy penalty.”

So, she did use the term ‘bedroom tax’! Hang on though, she prefaces it with “so-called” and then goes on to use its Government sanctioned name. (It get’s petty doesn’t it when the government dismiss your criticism because you use the wrong name, even if it is politically charged name.) Shapps’ complaint to the UN secretary general will come to nothing because he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Now for the detail of what this policy is regardless of its name.
The amounts of so-called “subsidy” removed from a persons benefit are not negligible to those on benefit, as it in many cases it amounts to a reduction of around 35% of what is a very small income.

Shockingly, the Government policy seems to be about efficient reallocation of housing resource on a national scale, moving people and families around like a theoretical big puzzle to be solved with zero regard for family, social or community ties, responsibilities, suitability, job availability, and children’s education, together with the upheaval caused and the Scarce provision of small properties at affordable rents.

The policy treats people inhumanly on every level possible. She is right to point out that the basic human right to affordable shelter “is not at any cost” – the cost being that which I outlined above – and the government has a duty under human rights laws not to retrograde its provisions in meeting the law, but to seek ways to always improve.

Let’s be clear. A right under law isn’t self entitlement, it is a right. And all have a right to affordable shelter, something that doesnt exist in this country. Society through the structures of the rule of law and government must always make sure those less well off are looked after as right, and not as charity, for it we are all peers, and should be dignified with rights as opposed to begging or being left destitute.

However, one thing remains true, and no amount of government bluster and spite can alter basic logic.

A penalty that is unavoidable by most is a tax by any other name.

The Great GDP Fallacy

The economic figures for the UK released on 1st May caused economists and not least the government to exhale a sigh of relief. The UK had narrowly avoided a third technical recession because ‘Gross Domestic Product’ (GDP) had grown by 0.3%. Not quite trebles all round, but perhaps at least a thumbs up at any rate.

GDP is not an indicator of wealth, or consumption, or growth. It is a recording of transactions.

However, at the heart of mainstream neoclassical economics, and thus in our financial system, there lies some uncomfortable fallacies, or delusions, and they are very seductive. Like sirens they draw us into putting too much stall by metaphors used to explain the market; and the illusion that “the system” can be analysed as if it is like a physical system subject to scientific laws.

The Language Gap

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

All sciences develop their own language, just as Humpty Dumpty invented his own meanings for words. They take words in common usage, but endow them with quite different technical meanings. But no other science plays so fast and loose with the English language as economics. (Keen: p.271)

“Efficiency” is one such term. “When economists say that the stock market is efficient, they [actually] mean that they believe the stock markets accurately price stocks on the basis of their unknown future earnings. [It shifts the meaning] from something that is obvious to something which is debatable. But that is not the end of the story, because to ‘prove’ that markets are efficient in this sense, economists make three bizarre assumptions:

  • “that all investors have identical expectations about the future prospects of all companies;
  • “that these identical expectations are correct; and
  • “that all investors have equal access to unlimited credit.

“Clearly, the only way these assumptions could hold would be if each and every stock market investor were God… Yet economists atsset that stock markets are ‘efficient,’ and dismiss criticism of these assumptions [by saying] that you can’t judge a theory by its assumptions. …this defence is bunk.” (Ibid.)

Neoclassical Market Liberalism

In my recent post, a reblog under the title ‘What is Neoliberalism,’ I explained that the free market is not simply ‘exchange’ or ‘trade’. I will summarise some of the points made:

  • the market is the primary process, and market transactions are the interaction;
  • economic transactions should take place in a framework which maximises the effect of each transaction on every other transaction;
  • there is a desire to intensify and expand the market, by increasing the number, frequency, repeatability, and formalisation of transactions. The ultimate (unreachable) goal of neoliberalism is a universe where every action of every being is a market transaction, conducted in competition with every other being and influencing every other transaction, with transactions occurring in an infinitely short time, and repeated at an infinitely fast rate;
  • new transaction-intensive markets are created on the model of the stock exchanges – electricity exchanges, telephone-minute exchanges. Typically there is no relationship between the growth in the number of transactions, and the underlying production;
  • new forms of auction are another method of creating transaction-intensive markets;
  • artificial transactions are created, to increase the number and intensity of transactions. Large-scale derivative trading is a typically neoliberal phenomenon, although financial derivatives have existed for centuries. It is possible to trade options on shares: but it is also possible to create options on these options, an accumulation of transaction on transaction;
  • there is contract expansionism and therefire transaction costs play an increasing role in the economy. For example in the privitisation of British Rail, there were 30,000 contracts and these had to be drafted by lawyers, and all the assessments have to be done by assessors. There is always some cost of competition, which increases as the intensity of transactions increases.

In even shorter bullet points, neoclassical free markets require and produce:

  • transaction maximalisation
  • maximalisation of volume of transactions (‘global flows’)
  • contract maximalisation
  • supplier/contractor maximalisation
  • conversion of most social acts into market transactions
  • artificial maximalisation of competition and stress
  • creation of quasi-markets
  • reduction of inter-transaction interval
  • maximalisation of parties to each transaction
  • maximalisation of reach and effect of each transaction
  • maximalisation of hire/fire transactions in the labour market (nominal turnover)
  • maximalisation of assessment factors, by which compliance with a contract is measured
  • reduction of the inter-assessment interval
  • creation of exaggerated or artificial assessment norms (‘audit society’)

I am hoping that you can already see where this is all going and its relationship to GDP.

What is it, what does it do?

  • Financial and economic markets are transactions. [If the references above to transactions didn’t pop-out at you, they sure should now!] GDP is not an indicator of wealth, or consumption, or growth. It is a recording of transactions. That is why, for instance, GDP in Japan rose after their tsunami. As people cleaned up the mess, they transacted more. (Sell)

So when we say that the UK’s GDP went up by 0.3%, we all perceive that the UK is growing, doing well. However, the metaphor and the system has deluded us. Of course, this sounds very different from “Britons transacted 0.3% more.” And free market economics artificially creates reason for there to be an increasing number transactions. Increased transactions are assumed to mean (and we already know that their meaning of assume is nothing like ours!) that output has increased, and thus the ‘product’ of the nation has increased.

Take the loyalty card of the global coffee chain Starbucks, for instance. It is a ‘pre-pay’ card system, but it can also be used on a mobile phone. I charge the card up in the app, and can pay for my coffee by scanning the bar code on the screen. A fantastically swift cashless interaction and far quicker than chip and pin. However, as was said previously, the amount of transactions has dramatically increased from the one transaction, handing over cash in exchange for the coffee,  to a complex chain:

  • I request that the loyalty card be charged with £10 on my phone app;
  • the app requests this amount from the issuer of my registered credit/debit card;
  • the card issuer charges a transaction fee for this process to Starbucks;
  • VISA charge a transaction fee to the issuer for using the VISA payment system and branding;
  • the £10 is then transferred from my bank account and there is yet another transaction fee applied (the banking system is a complex series of transaction in itself, most of them probably pointless in reality);
  • a Starbucks subsidiary company that runs the loyalty card scheme receive this money, and another transaction with its corresponding fee is registered;
  • when I scan the bar code, there is yet another flurry of transactions between subsidiaries and accounts, causing work for auditors and accountants, and transferring money via various other chains, through to their next temporary purgatory.

All of this ‘activity’ looks absolutely fantastic as far as economists and free marketeers are concerned, despite what looks like an utter waste to anyone on the outside looking in. In this surreal world of free market economics, if you were to pay for your shopping basket each individual item at a time, they would be in absolute glee and the GDP figures would look astounding if we all did that.

But it is and will always remain a fallacy.

Postscript

Sell:
The second of the twin delusions is to mathematicise the recording of the transactions. So, for instance, economic transactions such as GDP, which is a number, can be cross referenced with other numbers in the financial sphere, such as interest rates, or currency transactions.

“Interest rates fell and GDP went up so that must be an indication of XYZ ratio., especially when we look at the $A cross-rate ….”
[This] mathematicisation [of the system] creates the illusion that these correlations are necessary, like physical laws. That is far from inevitable. Except for the purely computer driven activity (admittedly becoming increasingly dominant) transactions are created by people. People have to decide that there is some shared value system and minimum level of trust to engage in a transact. I often think that the word is interesting: trans (across) act (an act). I wonder “across what?” The answer must be some shared belief about value. So when that belief starts to come apart, such as during the GFC, the artifice starts to fall to bits, the “system” starts to disintegrate.

The point about the twin delusions is that they take us a step away from the fact. The fact is that transactional systems are a human artifice conducted by humans. Humans are at its centre. And humans produce that wonderfully unpredictable thing: HUMAN BEHAVIOUR. They are self conscious, unpredictable, they feel more strongly about losing money than gaining it and so on.

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs described an environment of Wall Street buying off politicians with their huge campaign contributions. In the 2012 election cycle, political contributions by the securities and investment sector totalled some $271.5 million, compared with $176 million in 2008, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics.

“I meet a lot of these people on Wall Street on a regular basis right now,” Sachs told the conference, hosted earlier this month by the nonprofit Global Interdependence Center. “I am going to put it very bluntly: I regard the moral environment as pathological. And I am talking about the human interactions . . . I’ve not seen anything like this, not felt it so palpably.”

Greed and Wall Street have been bedfellows as long as Wall Street has existed.

What is new is the way the “pathology” is concealed. It is easy to cover up greed and its immorality by either deploying a metaphor – “these are the way the capital “flows” are going and we have to invest accordingly – or by creating a mathematical equation. In both cases the activity is pushed one step away from what it is – an activity between humans – and so decoupled from anything human such as morality, or ethics or what is good for society. By being denuded of its human element, scientised, as it were, the question of personal responsibility is removed. In other words, the greed is not new. It is the sophistication of the cover up that is new.

“Sachs said these same people on Wall Street are out to make billions of dollars, and believe nothing should stop them from doing that. “They have no responsibility to pay taxes; they have no responsibility to their clients; they have no responsibility to people, to counterparties in transactions,” he said. “They are tough, greedy, aggressive and feel absolutely out of control in a quite literal sense, and they have gamed the system to a remarkable extent.”

Sachs’ outburst stunned the crowd. “There was an initial shudder, is how I would describe it, because they could feel the passion that was in the discussion,” said attendee Dennis Peacocke, head of Strategic Christian Services, a religious group that advocates on topics of economic and social justice. “Jeffery Sachs’ comments were full of conviction. I was applauding him for bringing values and ethics into the discussion.”

 

Bibliography

Books:
Keen, S. Debunking Economics.London: Zed Books, 2011.

Web pages:
Sell. “The insufferable conceit.” Macro Business. Published: 5 May 2013. Accessed: 5 May 2013. <http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2013/05/the-insufferable-conceit>.

“Let them eat left-overs” – is UK Food Waste too high?

The government’s minister for Food has been urging us to eat our left-overs and pay more attention to how we store food to keep it longer. He says that during these times when most people’s budgets are squeezed, due to depressed wages and rising prices since the start of the financial crisis, we should adopt a more frugal approach to our food waste.

I don’t particularly like, or trust, when government ministers start micro-managing our lives, even if it is good advice. I find it all just a bit patronising really. I saw his comments as nannying and called it ‘humiliating.’ I may have over reacted, but my assertion was that families were already cutting costs by choosing cheaper foods and that people on tight budgets were not going to waste food. But I decided to look into this matter further.

As prime minister, around the start of the financial crisis in the summer of 2008, Gordon Brown also took on the cruse of urging us all to stop wasting food. Back then, The Guardian reported, “The Cabinet Office review of food policy states that the UK throws away an annual 4.1 million tonnes of edible goods, the equivalent of £420 for every home,” and quoted Brown as saying:

“If we are to get food prices down, we must also do more to deal with unnecessary demand – such as all of us doing more to cut food waste which is costing the average household in Britain around £8 per week.”

Brown’s implicit assertion that unnecessary food demand (ie: waste) was causing high food prices is really quite a peculiar in many ways. As this chart from BBC News shows, 2008 saw an unusually high peak in food prices which ‘corrected’ back to the average by around March 2009. That he attributed the high price to high demand fits within his economic paradigm as a ‘supply side’ economist, but that it was attributable to ‘waste’ is debatable seen as it would be hard to show that the price ‘correction’ was because of reduced demand due to tackling waste.

World Food Prices

Currently, according to The Telegraph the government is now saying “that discarding food costs the average household £480 a year, rising to £680 for a family with children, the equivalent of about £50 a month.” However, the total amount thrown away is now quoted at 7.2 million tons, or 6.5 metric tonnes. (The Telegraph likes using imperial measures; they are after all British, what.)

Just to confuse matters, the “Love Food, Hate Waste” website states that household food waste is around 7.2 million tonnes. (I presume that the Telegraph is just incompetent.) More shocking still, household food and drink waste is reported as being only 49% of the total that is wasted in the UK. The website says that 3.2 million tonnes is wasted just in the manufacturing and processing of food!

I was struck by the close similarity in the 2008 and current stated values of the discarded food, having risen by about 14%, and yet the quantity had risen by nearly 60%.

So, using an inflation calculator, I worked out that the current discarded food value figure was probably achieved by taking a crude rounding of the 2008 value after adjusting for inflation. (According to This is Money, inflation from 2008 to 2012 is probably somewhere between 12.6% and 16%.) As we can see from the volatility in the world food prices between the summer of 2008 and now, employing such a straight calculation of 2008’s discarded food values in to today’s values would not be realistic at all.

As for the increase in the quantity of food discarded by households, this could be accounted for by either an increase in purchases or an increase in household, by 60%. That’s a lot. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2012 there were 26.4 million households in the UK. [http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_284823.pdf]  up from 25.0 million households in 2008, a rise of only around 3%. [www.ons.gov.uk/…/social-trends-41—household-and-families.pdf] So, the rise in waste isn’t due to an increase in the number of households. Figures were not so easy to find on food demand over the last 5 years, but it is probably safe to say that the quantities in weight have not gone up by 60%.

How have these figures been calculated and what are their source?

A 2011 study by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK) attempted to quantify food losses and wastes. They modeled the quantification based on “available data and [there own] assumptions,” providing the model equations in the annex of that document (if you want to check their working out.) SIK calculated the per capita food wasted by consumers was around 95-115kg per year by Europeans. Taking the upper bound of that figure and multiplying by the estimated population of the UK you get – did you guess? – around 7.2 million tonnes.

A DEFRA press release in 2008 stated, “WRAP studies issued in 2007 found that UK households create 6.7 million tonnes of food waste each year, some 19 per cent of municipal waste.  This figure means that we are throwing away one third of the food we buy (16.5 kg\hh\wk bought – 5.2 kg\hh\wk thrown away.” This appears to be at variance with the amount of waste reported by the Guardian and others in 2008, but compares better with the SIK study from 2011.

These are still astonishing numbers. The SIK study works out at around between 260g and 315g waste per day per person. That seems a lot. The DEFRA study seems to suggest around 290g per person per day.

So, despite my annoyance at this issue being pointed out by the government, when I’d much prefer they did something about jobs, growth and the crisis in capitalism, I have to swallow my pride and admit (damn it) – there does seem to be an issue in the UK with households wasting food.

So, get along to www.lovefoodhatewaste.com and find out how you can reduce the amount of food you waste. And if it’s not you wasting it, then let’s do what what we’ve been trained to do by this government, and point the finger at the neighbour with the most bin bags outside on collection day…

Updates

Since writing this blog entry, the other newspapers have picked up on the story with negative and bemused responses from all outlets. The prime minister has said that the information has been taken out of context, and that it doesn’t look good.

It gets worse though. Many people in the media and on Twitter have pointed out that the Tory MP, who has accused the very poorest families of “wasting” to much food, has a personal fortune of £110 million!

I’ve thought more about this too. Have the researchers from DEFRA taken in to account standard food wastage from the parts that either can’t or don’t normally get eaten? For potatoes peelings, carrots peeling and topping, oranges peel, apple cores, the odd rotten whatever, because no matter how hard you try to look after fruit, veg, bread, it happens. How about tea bags? And of course, the parts of food you can’t eat when preping, such as the eye of the lettuce, the base of cauliflower, fat off the chop, and bones of the turkey?

Whilst we all need to be less wasteful, in all areas of our consumption and not just food, I generally believe that most people really do try their best not to waste food. I know I’m just going to keep an eye on it myself.