Affluenza: A Disease for Christmas


I’m not in the habit of promoting other economists’ work, but Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss deserve a mention at Christmas time. Twelve years ago they wrote the seminal book ‘Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough’ which pilloried the scale and negative consequences of rampant consumerism. Richard has now published ‘Curing Affluenza’ and was interviewed about it on ABC Radio National two months ago. I was away and didn’t hear it, but luckily this is the holiday season so the ABC’s programming consists largely of repeats.

Richard talked about the idiocy of buying bottled water and throwing away the plastic bottle – an artefact that would have been considered wondrous and valuable throughout all but the last few years of human history – and the fact that the most widely cultivated crop in the USA is lawns.

But the thing that caught my attention was his response to Fran Kelly’s question about consumption being good for the economy – almost a civic duty. Richard pointed out that the nature of our consumption matters. At the moment, and especially at this time of year, people are exhorted to borrow money they haven’t got to buy imported stuff they can’t afford to give to people who don’t want it. In effect we dig up minerals, send them to China, and ship back container-loads of plastic stuff that we use once or twice and then bury in landfill.

In one way this may be seen as a neat circle: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But Richard Denniss sees it as an insane waste of resources that could be put to much better use – and I agree with him.

“What about job-creation?” you may ask. Well, if we think it a worthwhile use of intelligent manpower to have people standing around in shops waiting for customers to wander in, or selling overpriced coffee to those same customers when they grow weary and need reviving for another bout of fruitlessly seeking fulfilment be means of material acquisition, then that’s a perfectly valid question. But even if that were a worthwhile use of human resources, seismic changes are under way in the retail sector making human beings as obsolete as milkmen’s horses. One thinks of online shopping, with delivery by drone from warehouses staffed by robots; or do-it-yourself supermarket check-outs.

So what should we be spending money on, if not useless imported gewgaws? Richard suggested care of the elderly: keeping old gits such as myself alive and happy for as long as possible, in an industry that is (for now) very labour-intensive. I say “for now” because, as readers of The Eeks Trilogy know, I expect intelligent robots to take over that kind of work quite soon.

No, I would prefer the Government of over-affluent nations to tax the surplus demand out of their economies and spend the money on their armed forces, specifically to target and destroy the creeping evil of militant religious extremism. Our wealth gives us the power to confront the closest thing to pure evil that we have seen since Hitler. Why choose to spend it on transient toys and tee-shirts?


Sexual Harassment


A week ago I was in Kyiv watching CNN, and the big news story was Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misbehaviour. Now I’m in the UK, and the big news story is male parliamentarians’ sexual misbehaviour. Brexit gets a mention too, but as a news story it’s not as sexy as… well, sexual misbehaviour.

There are some kinds of misbehaviour that have always been unacceptable, but there is merit in the claim that the boundary between unacceptable and acceptable has shifted a long way in a short time. For example, when I was a lad:

  • Men were expected to be the active initiators of any romantic/sexual activity. Failure to live up to that expectation signalled either lack of interest or homosexual inclination.
  • A woman’s first “No” was generally taken to mean “Try harder.”
  • Stolen kisses were thought to be romantic.
  • A slapped face was the standard punishment for a man who went too far.


  • On the silver screen (chief source of moral guidance in those days) a woman’s initial resistance always gave way to eager melting into the aggressor’s arms.
  • Almost every American TV sitcom included the occasional episode where a wife was turned over her husband’s knee for a spanking – well-deserved and for her own good.
  • While not condoned, wife-beating (as domestic violence was called) was considered a fact of life that some women just had to live with. I’m not sure if it was technically a crime, but in the popular mind it wasn’t.

Against that backdrop it’s not surprising that many people – women as well as men – cannot take seriously the recent redefinition of ‘sexual harassment’ to include the accidental overhearing of off-colour jokes.

According to pollsters YouGov (as reported in The Week) there are big generational differences in how women perceive ‘sexual harassment’. When they polled women in the age groups 18-24 (A) and 55+ (B) they found:

  • 64% in group A and 15% in group B think wolf-whistling is sexual harassment.
  • 28% in group A and 11% in group B think commenting on a woman’s attractiveness is sexual harassment.

“But,” you may say, “what about a rich, powerful old man taking advantage of a powerless young woman who aspires to a career (such as politics or show business) to which she thinks the man can help her get access? Surely that’s sexual harassment pure and simple!”

I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but when a woman allows a man to have his way with her in the hope of pecuniary advantage it looks more like prostitution than victimhood. But I’m willing to hear contrary opinions.



Who is the most reviled man in the world at the moment? There are quite a few candidates, but I think a global vote would put Kim Jong Un at the top of the list: he of the unbecoming and widely derided hairstyle. (No, not that hairstyle, you’re thinking of Donald Trump.)

But what do I see as I walk the streets and the airport transit lounges, when I glance through the windows of barbers’ shops, when I see news clips on TV? Every male human under the age of 30 seems to want to emulate this hated man! Even little boys, for whom the choice of hairstyle is presumably made by their mothers, have shaved sides and bushy tops!

I’m old, I know, and out-of-touch. I’ve given up hoping that I’ll ever really understand the human race. But can anyone explain this bizarre phenomenon to me?

National Poetry Day


“It’s National Poetry Day,”

I heard a lady say

     On Radio 4, so

     Instead of my torso

I’m putting this verse on display.


Seriously, why do we have so many ‘Days’? Some are National, some are International; some, perhaps, are Solar Systemic or Galactic and we haven’t heard about them yet.

I’m sorry this is such a short blog, without a lot of intellectual meat. But I’ve been taking photos around Kyiv, each of which tells a story or at least implies something about this ancient, modern, busy, beautiful city. I’ll share them with you very soon. No, really, I will. It’s in my diary.

Design Bloopers


A few months ago I had a go at bathroom designers. Now it’s the kitchen designers’ turn. Have a look at the three photographs below. They were taken in the kitchen of my otherwise elegant apartment in central Kyiv

The first time I opened the far-right cupboard and saw the band-aid solution (close-up in photo 3) I was reminded of a sketch on Spike Milligan’s TV show ‘Q8’ many years ago. Spike was playing the part of a do-it-yourself enthusiast painting vertical stripes on the wall in lieu of wallpaper. When he came to the light switch he painted the stripe around it.

I’m searching for words to compose a neat final paragraph but… well, words fail me.

Note: ‘Kyiv’ is the Latinised version of the Ukrainian spelling of what is more familiarly rendered as ‘Kiev’. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea and military support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, written Russian has almost disappeared from public places.

Hate Speech


Yesterday I was paddling a kayak on the Dnieper River. I was in the back seat, Tamara was in the front. Out of the blue she asked me about my religion. I replied that I was an atheist. After a moment’s thought she said, “So what do you love?” She gestured upward, as much as one can while paddling a kayak, so clearly “My wife” or “My family” would not do as an answer.

Not really us – our kayak was red.

“Truth and justice,” I said eventually. That seemed too short a list and I searched for more things that I could express in Russian. But even in English I decided those two were enough.

Ashore, I pondered my answer. Does loving truth and justice necessarily mean hating untruth and injustice? After all, untruth and injustice encompass ignorance, superstition, indoctrination, exploitation, tyranny, cruelty… all things to be hated, surely.

Then today I was listening to a podcast: Phillip Adams interviewing US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who when practising as a lawyer had defended extremists’ first amendment right to express views that most people found abhorrent.

“What about hate speech?” asked Phillip. I found myself agreeing with Glenn when he said that freedom of speech cannot be qualified. Who defines ‘hate speech’ – the Government? Facebook? Google? He cited German cases where criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has resulted in prosecution as anti-Semitic hate speech.

But is there a distinction to be drawn between hatred of abstract ideas and hatred of the people who subscribe to those ideas? We all (I hope) hate what is done in Daesh’s name: murder, kidnapping, rape, slavery and the rest. But is it alright to hate the perpetrators? And is it alright to express that hatred publicly?

From kayaking to cognition. From paddling to pontification. What do you think?


Are They Terrorists?


Communists are devoted to the ideology of Communism. Capitalists snuffle at the trough of Capitalism. Platonists follow the philosophical teachings of Plato.

But what about arsonists, cyclists and saxophonists? They are –ists without –isms. So it is with terrorists. ‘Terrorism’ is not an ideology or a philosophy. Terrorists are simply bad people employing a tactic of war, designed to demoralise an enemy and sap his will to fight. When good people employ this tactic they call it ‘shock and awe’.

So are the Muslims who drive vans at unsuspecting people or set off suicide vests in crowded places terrorists? I don’t think they are, not in the literal sense of the word. They do not seek to create terror, but hatred – hatred of Muslims.

This is not my own original thought. It is the published strategy of Daesh, which recognises three kinds of Muslim. There are the fanatical fundamentalists who support, fund and fight for Daesh’s cause. At the other end of the spectrum are the morally corrupt people who call themselves Muslims but are no better than Infidels: men who drink beer and women who wear makeup, and most of the royals who run the Middle East.

In the middle are the silent majority of Muslims who sort-of believe the dogma and sort-of observe the rituals, much as most people who were brought up Christian sing Christmas carols and eat hot cross buns, but are more interested in giving their children a good education, paying off the mortgage and going somewhere nice on holiday. This is the target. The silent majority. Daesh’s aim is to create hatred of them, causing them to feel alienated and eventually withdraw from the secular societies they have happily inhabited.

If all goes according to plan they will withdraw into the welcoming arms of the True Believers, who will take their children into their madrassas, veil their adolescent daughters, and teach their adolescent sons the take revenge on the societies that rejected them.

So the way to thwart them is to refuse to hate.

There is a terrible battle going on within Islam – or rather several terrible battles, very like the battles that raged in Christendom 500 years ago. They may take as long to be resolved. They may never be resolved. But if there is a way for the rest of us to hasten a happy outcome, it will involve engaging with and supporting the people whose values most closely resemble our own.