All posts by Karin Jonsson

The moment Britain’s social housing went up in flames

A 24-storey tower block, a fire, and 80 people feared dead is apparently not enough to take a long hard look at the social housing system currently operating in the UK. No one to blame, not even the free market or (god forbid) capitalism to pick up the slack this time. A country where The Great British Bake Off is a favorite past time is so blinded by their own welfare system that even they are unable to see when the cookie starts to crumble.

 

The accountability issue is one of the reasons why publicly owned properties, or companies for that matter, will never be as good as privately owned. Because there is no accountability, people can hide behind the council or the government. Whereas privately owned companies will always have someone to blame and it will shatter the company’s reputation, leading to less incompetent players in market, because they cannot survive without a good reputation. Councils and governments on the other hand will always be there no matter how much they screw up their responsibilities.

 

What also differentiates a public vs. private company is the aftermath of a catastrophe like this. If a private company screws up people on the left will blame the capitalism and the free market, but if a publicly owned company screws up, and I think we can argue it was a really bad screw-up in this case, no one criticizes the state and whether publicly owned companies or housing is a good idea. In fact, the first criticism to come out of peoples’ mouths were that the cladding used on the Grenfell Tower was put there after tenants in surrounding privately owned buildings didn’t like the look of it, arguing it devalued the area. However, this has later turned out to be false, as the cladding was put in place after a request from the tenants inside the tower block in question.

 

Moreover, Tories are blamed for cutting welfare budgets, but no one seems to see the real issue. Since public housing cannot make profit they will never be improved upon. Since public housing depends on the amount of tax the public pays it will never increase unless taxes increase. And at the moment, publicly funded housing subsidizes privately owned housing making it possible for private landlords to charge a lot more than they otherwise would.

 

I think there is a serious reconsideration needed in Britain, whether public funded housing is worth the catastrophes we have seen in recent weeks. Because if it continues this way, there is only a matter of time before the next publicly funded idea goes up in flames.

The redundancy of government

It’s a tough time being a politician today. Especially if you are still holding on to political correctness. People today see right through you the moment you step out into the spotlight, mainly because politicians normally don’t show their true colors until they get their own interest through (also because we have all seen House of Cards and like to think that Kevin Spacey is revealing what actually goes on behind closed doors). With time, humans have become more skeptical and critical, perhaps due to education and the increased availability of information, and demand transparency. We see this trend not just regarding politics but also in media and advertising with fake news and YouTube’s brand safety issues.

 

Governments in both the East and the West are hardly functional today and the people working there have gained no respect from the public. We have seen this in the UK recently with Brexit and high-rise fires but also in Sweden, my home country, where people are pretty much governing themselves – no need for a strong leader to tell us how society should work when we can follow common sense and values. Especially as we have no recent evidence that governments make a big difference running a country.

 

The smaller the government the better. You can’t force half the population to follow the rules of and decisions made by the other half. It’s not going to end well. But what we can do is create more transparency around important issues & taxes by letting people in to the decision making process. It has taken a long time to move away from an old fashioned system where the state takes money from the people, feasting on nice wine and attending masquerades in great halls. Think about it, we still rely on the same system, albeit slightly less extravagantly, and the only way to truly change the way the world works is to get rid of this system completely and don’t think about government as separate to the people. Because this is what separates us – it’s what makes politicians untrustworthy and people rightly suspicious.

 

I am a true believer that people know what’s best for them and don’t need big brother to tell them how to best live their lives. We need a transparent system where every single issue is made public and everyone who feels strongly about that issue can vote whether they want their money to be spent on it. If there is a small group of people who want one thing, such as a public hospital, well then by all means get together and create it. Pay a doctor a regular fee (or tax if you want to call it that) and you can go to him as often as you want. But don’t make people take part in the same system if they don’t want to, especially if they rarely need to go to the doctor, rich as well as poor. At the moment we have no idea where our taxes actually go, nor how MUCH we are paying through other means such as goods and services.

 

Change is still a long way away but we are on the right track. And if politicians keep screwing up like they have done in an increasingly faster rate we will get there much sooner.

The end of advertising as we know it

I think it is safe to say we all have had a moment where we clicked on an ad by mistake and before we knew it we had fallen down some kind of rabbit hole with pop-ups about various topics from diet pills to hair loss treatment to so so SO much worse. You will be glad to know that the ad, or banner, you clicked on is slowly being killed by banner blindness and ad blockers. And an less gullible population.

Digital advertising has done quite the evolution these last 20 years moving from banners to bigger formats to native ads that melt into the page (by the way the best way yet for the advertising industry to say “we know you don’t like ads, and we don’t care because ads are meant to be horrible, but we will get you somehow. We will GET you by sneaking up on you… BUY THIS NOW!”), to content ads in the shape of articles or videos sponsored by a brand.

“Instead of sponsoring content, brands will BE the content.”

 

The quality of advertising has slowly been improved by people who see them. If we don’t like them, they don’t work, hence why brands have had to keep changing strategies in order to get attention from consumers. Ads are definitely getting a bit more interesting and with new technology like VR imagine the crazy things we will get to witness. Hopefully. Because the way the people in the industry think about ads are too old fashioned still, it’s like they cannot see outside their little mad man world.

Future advertising, if it’s good, won’t be advertising. It will be content, a product or an experience all on it’s own. Instead of sponsoring content, brands will BE the content. Editorial content and advertising will become so interlinked we will no longer think of it as separate entities. In some sense, advertising will cease to exist. At least as we know it today. Because advertising will have to provide something more than just a banner or sponsored content – it’s going to have to be a product in itself, whether it’s in the shape of an article, a VR game or a trip to Bali.

“…we will talk to them more frequently than we do our own family members.”

With the emergence of VR, IoT, AR, AI, and all other acronyms we see a shift towards experiences and a close integration between human beings and technology. The closeness between our products and us might be seen as slightly inappropriate today while, when we are immersed in it, we will stop thinking of our devices as inanimate objects. We don’t hesitate to welcome Siri, Alexa and other smart devices into our homes with open arms. Instead we will feel like they are part of our family and we will talk to them more frequently than we do our own family members. So the question is then, how will this affect us as human beings? How will we change the way we interact with the world. In the future, interactions will be between products and people or products and products, which ultimately will change the way we think and behave with other humans. Most of us will prefer to interact with a computer over other Sapiens. Who else can’t wait?

Maybe this title should have been “The end of humans as we know them”…?

The role of universities in a world with free access to information

The way a person in the West obtains an education has long been a static process of schools and universities. Humans have always been a curious kind seeking out knowledge to improve the way we do and see things. By spreading information and knowledge through books, newspapers, magazines and most lately the Internet, making sure everyone has the capabilities to seek facts out for themselves, has lead to an increasingly intelligent and prosperous society. However, even WITH the Internet, not much has changed in terms of the way the educational system works since schools were first made official roughly 200 years ago.

For example, there is still this very old fashioned way of viewing someone as an architect, that way being that the person has to be able to prove his job title with a piece of paper from an institution such as a university. He couldn’t just draw you a blueprint of a house to convince you. But why is this? Today, with the vast amount of information and knowledge we can gain, for free even, through book, videos, audio and the Internet why couldn’t someone be an architect without having had paid that tuition fee and obtained that rolled-up piece of paper?

If you want to become a web developer, paying for an expensive education that will take you a year or even three years to complete will be a waste of money and time. There are so many people that literally give away their knowledge for free and you can learn in your own phase and in your own time. It won’t take you one year to learn web development if you are determined enough.

This is the beauty of the future – anyone can become anything as long as they have the motivation and intellect to find and pick up the information themselves. You might say that you wouldn’t trust a self-educated doctor and that is a good point. However, there still has to be a trial process when applying for jobs. An employer is going to have to make sure that the candidate he choses does have the capabilities to carry out the job. Just like they do today.

And there have been cases where someone has been practicing as a doctor for years without the relevant qualifications. Of course, it sounds like playing with people’s lives but if this person managed to fool everyone else who DID have the relevant paperwork to match their title, and perhaps even better, why shouldn’t this person keep on working as a doctor? This person is a genius. Let’s see what else they can learn to do? What if that person has the cure for cancer and we’re not letting them prove it because they don’t follow the traditional and old fashioned principles and checklists we have set up?

We need to remember that many schools and universities have their own interest. They are businesses. Doesn’t matter if they are privately or publicly owned, the people in charge are doing everything in their power to keep the business running as usual. This is why the change needs to come from the workforce and the employers. Hiring someone who has a university degree might cost you more money but might not give you a more qualified employee. And an employee with a self-educated background have more negotiating power as they can take a lower wage but also show real grit and ability to learn by themselves. Which is something we all need to keep doing as long as we live. Learning does not stop after university. In most cases, the most useful learning will actually happen when you are working. And no college or university degree can prepare you for that.

In a world without taxes

Ever wondered why we pay taxes and what would happen if we didn’t? How would a tax-free society work? Can a society survive without taxing its citizens? To answer this we need to understand the origin of the tax. Why did we start paying tax in the first place?

Taxation can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt where so called “scribes” would collect tax and audit households for cooking oil. In Greece tax was introduced as a way to pay for expenses during wartime but the tax was then removed once the war was over and any resources gained were used to repay citizens. The Romans paid custom taxes for imports and exports. Caesar Augustus introduced an inheritance tax of 5% that was used for military retirement funds that was later adopted by the English and the Dutch. Julius Caesar later imposed a 1% sales tax. When Rome fell the Saxons Kings in England also introduced land and property tax.

A progressive tax reform where citizens were taxed based on wealth and status was introduced very early on. During the 14th century income tax was imposed on the wealthy while the poor paid very little tax. However, eventually, taxes on land and commodities hit hard on the poor as prices on food such as wheat increased and hunting grounds became off limits. These scarce conditions lead to starvation and riots.

In 1800s Britain the war against Napoleon required finances and what better way than to take it from the hard earned wages of the people? This is when the modern income tax as we know it took its first breath.

 

So how would it work?

There are a number of problems that come with taxes, one of which is tax fraud and corruption. However, if we didn’t pay tax these issues would not be issues. Some wars, such as the 100 years war between England and France, were extended due to rebellion against oppressive tax policies.

So, what’s the point of all this? Well, it’s important to understand that taxes didn’t always use to be part of the societal core. Taxes that were first introduced to fund wartimes spread to take a share of our lands, properties and income. And most of the time we let it happen because we didn’t have the means to prevent it. Of course, you might argue that taxes help pay for products and services a society needs in order to function properly, such as infrastructure, healthcare, and education. These are things we all have to use. Correct. But why do I have to pay for healthcare if I’m never ill? And why do I have to pay income tax when I also pay for sales tax, production tax, and property tax as well?

Some people never reflect over the amount of tax they actually pay. Consider buying a TV for example. You might take your car (that you pay taxes on), to the gas station to fill up on gas (that you pay taxes on) and take the road (that you pay taxes to build and maintain) leading towards the TV store (that someone pays property taxes on). You walk in the door (that someone paid taxes to create and sell) and look around at the TV selection (that all have been the victim of manufacturing tax – not just the TV as an entity, but also all the different parts that go into building the TV). You select a TV that you would like to purchase and one of the sales people (who pay income tax) take your payment (that is taxed at the point of purchase as well as by the TV store when they declare their revenue). You take the TV home (that you pay property tax on) and plug it in to power it up (that is electricity that you pay taxes to use) and on and on. You get it.

A tax-free society would be completely free from any kind of tax including income tax and sales tax and would instead be driven by capitalism, free trade, competition, and charities. This also means everything would be privatized and there would not be any government funded services meaning that if a group of people wanted to build a new road or run a hospital or a school they would have to raise the money themselves to fund the project and build it.

Governments would also be very small and limited to reduced area sizes. The role of government would be to make life of its citizens better but essentially the people would run it. The only existing tax would come from criminals as punishment for their crimes. Depending on the severity of the crime they would have to pay a certain amount of tax for a certain amount of time. This money can then help the victims and the society as a whole. Advertising and tolls could equally be used to pay for services, just like they do pay for a lot of today’s journalism.

A tax-free society means the people own the government, not the other way around.

 

 What are benefits?

Privatizing services that are currently under government control would mean higher competition which lead to lower prices and better services. This also means police, teachers and healthcare professionals would receive higher salaries, the services from police, schools and healthcare would be better as they need to compete with other organizations, and criminals who are not a danger to society can be used as labor force as punishment.

 

What are the downsides?

Not everyone might want to assume equal responsibility in monetary contributions, meaning everyone else has to pay more. However that could just mean people who don’t pay cannot use the service or they have to pay to use it, just like any other customer. For example people living in a high crime area might not want to pay for a better and bigger police force. A criminal tax could also lead to more and higher charges of innocent people just to get tax money.

 

Conclusion

A tax-free society would be beneficial to all people, poor and rich, as individuals would not have to pay for things they did not use. Hence, a poor person who is relatively healthy would not have to pay for a rich person to use the government funded health care system. Instead of being a burden and costing society money, prisoners would have to pay back with free labor and taxes to earn their way back.