money does not smell. or does it?

in case you are among those, who wonder how the London’s properties have become so unaffordable to buy and if you wonder why in developing countries governments struggle to provide the basic public services to their citizens, here is one of the answers. Apparently, 2.25 sq miles of London property or in other words – 36,342 London properties – are held by hidden companies registered in offshore havens.

Find our more here. 

ti corruption

Benjamin Clementine: male ‘Nina Simone’ of 21st century

Benjamin ClementineHe comes on to the stage barefoot, somewhat shy and is almost whispering when he talks. But, when hitting the chords and starting to sing, with his authenticity, humbleness, massive voice, non-fictional and bold lyrics and life stories, – he grabs your soul, unlocks it, picks one piece after another and metaphorically strips it. Benjamin Clementine. Not for the fainthearted. Male ‘Nina Simone’. October 29, 2014 London

Festival for the mind

After hosting two TED events in 2011 and 2012 The Guardian/ Observer decided to organize this year their own (sort of) event inviting inspiring people to inspire other people to do too all sorts of amazing things. I have never attended a live TED event, but this day-long Guardian’s event of IDEAS totally exceeded my expectations and, i think, TED has a serious competitor. I did not feel bored for a minute. Such ‘world changers’ like – Chido Govera, who from an orphan girl in rural Zimbabwe has become a successful entrepreneur, activist and educator, Michael Twitty, who is questioning the conceptualization of ‘American food’ and campaigning for adequate representation of Afro-American culture in America’s food history, Jack Monroe, who is fighting against food poverty in Britain, and Emmanuel de Merode, who is working in the Eastern DRC preserving Virunga National Park from exploitation of natural resources through illegal activities – are a live evidence of what happens when a human being follows Giles Duleyhis/her passion and how changing the world starts from individuals. Individuals, who may have nothing except belief in themselves, determination and ability to dream.

Giles Duley’s story was incredible. He as a war journalist/ photographer lost his 3 limbs about 3.5 years ago and just recently has re-started working again. His greatest joy now is to be able to move from being a subject of a story (journalist who lost 3 limbs) to being again an author of stories from conflict zones.

Similarly, Edwyn Collins, a musician who has suffered several strokes and had temporarily lost memory, brought me to tears with his singing. That unimaginable desire of not giving up was very touching.

Thanks to technology (meaning, skype) audience could also have an indirect presence of Edward Snowden. When he was asked how he could leave behind all of that material wealth/ well-being and family/ girlfriend, which to so many would be a ‘paradise’, he said “it’s not about me. i’m just a mechanism of revelation.” His sense of responsibility to gain back rights of individuals supersedes his personal life interests. Courage to leave one’s comfort zone, risk his life, have no chance to return home and live in unknown – that’s truly extraordinary. Conchita Wurst

Last but not least, i was very pleased by the selection of amazing musicians – Benjamin Clementine, Conchita Wurst, Tinie Tempah, Rokia TraoreRokia Traore – who shared their own stories about dreams, challenges, fights, success, achievements. All of these talented people have gone through difficulties and challenges, each in their own way. But inner strength, hard work, patience and practice has made their dreams true. Benjamin Clementine I wish i could pack and hide somewhere half of the inspiration i gained today and could use on grey, gloom days to remind me of what’s possible and to send away doubts.

120 years of procrastination: what to do with climate change?

If we choose to do nothing and continue ‘business as usual’, disaster is inevitable, said Naomi Klein today at her new book (“This changes everything”) launch in London. It’s a collective failure and procrastination for at least last 120 years ignoring the human impact on nature and climate. And, the more we have been delaying our response, the more radical action will need to be taken to prevent catastrophic consequences. Though 97% scientists say that climate change is caused by humans and primarily through extensive use of fossil fuels, the mainstream, the so called establishment lives in denial. There are many right wing think tanks and advocacy groups which promote the anti-climate change agenda. Naomi said, “I hang out a lot with climate change deniers and they know that if science is right (that climate change is a fact), then capitalism is dead. They know, that if this is really happening, we need regulation, which will destroy current free market system benefiting the current elite. They dont want that to happen” Climate change does not fit in the agenda of the Right, therefore it is up to the people, up to the Left to act, build a pressure and lead the way. Fossil fuel industry (just like arms industry!) is not only one of the most profitable sectors, but it is also one of the most subsidized industries. Moreover, as a result of globalization and financial liberalization, this is also a very highly concentrated business sector with few but massively big, rich and influential players. In her talk Naomi could have focused more on the solutions, but overall I would identify the following 4 main areas to focus on:

  • consumption and lifestyle – we need to start with ourselves; why/ what/ where we buy for how much and for what; if everyone would do the right thing, it would mean voluntary global protectionism (imported products would need to be taxed to offset carbon-heavy transportation/ logistics costs), localism and re-localization of our diets (the most environmentally friendly way to feed ourselves is to eat what is seasonal and produced where we live), anti-growth strategy (replacing GDP with more environmentally friendly statistical tools to measure quality of wellness of societies);
  • rethinking the concept of taxing; by applying principle ‘tax what you burn not what you earn’ could potentially ensure fairer distribution of responsibility and make everyone aware of the real price of goods and services we use;
  • going totally renewable – Naomi confirmed in her talk that technologically and technically there are no problems whatsoever to replace fossil fuels with renewables. All we need is a political will.
  • socialization and decentralization of the energy production companies which would allow communities to keep the profits and invest in the new energy; apparently this is already happening in many smaller German cities where people have gained power over energy production;

Just the other day i came across this story about Aral sea which used to be the world’s 4th largest lake and literally has now disappeared. It’s a typical example of how nature literally is changed as a result of human action. The question therefore is: have we lost our ability to distinguish between progress and degradation? Naomi’s new book might be as shocking as her ‘Shock doctrine’, so i guess, if anything, everyone should feel obliged to read it and get shocked if he/ she does not feel shocked enough already.

price of attitude

Recently i was talking to someone from HR industry in London, a middle-age British man who is very sympathetic towards the small Baltic countries which he sees as younger Scandinavian sisters. He said, “you know, we recently interviewed someone from Lithuania! But,… she did not get a job”. I frowned and asked “why? Wasn’t she good enough?”

He said, “well, we asked her where is she from and she said she is from Lithuania. We asked if she is Lithuanian then. She replied that she is Lithuanian Russian putting special emphasis on ‘Russian’. Then i asked if she knows then Lithuanian language too to which she replied “yes, i was forced to learn it”.

“wow”, was my reaction.

He said, “i am well aware that it may sound like a prejudice, but that was it; i genuinely believe this is a wrong attitude.”

The morale of the story: one’s attitude has price.

London’s ghost towns. Money does not smell

“We in London dont really ask many questions about where the money is coming from.”

Patrick Bullick, managing director of high-end estate agents Stanley Chelsea, London chairman of the National Association of Estate Agents, commenting on the ‘ghost-towns’ of the super rich in South Kensington and Chelsea.

The Evening Standard, March 21, 2014

How to solve London’s immigration problem?

This week the Evening Standard organized a public debate on immigration in London where the speakers’ panel represented a wide variety of opinions which have been expressed in the public in the context of EU enlargement, upcoming General elections in 2015, London’s public services, multiculturalism, unemployment etc.

On the ‘no to immigration’ side the argument is that immigration hurts people at the bottom of the society – those local low-skilled British people with low-income, therefore London should be controlling immigration in terms of quantity and quality (they do not mind though having highly-skilled immigrants who make high added value to the economy and boost UK economy’s competitiveness globally). They say that in the last 10 years about 1 million people have come to London which creates a massive pressure on the public/ social services here – health care, schools, transport system, housing and employment opportunities. Those who oppose immigration argue that whilst London celebrates its multiculturalism, there are also lots of segregation, safety problems due to immigration; it makes downward pressure on wages and increases competition for public services.

Those who support immigration argue that immigrants make greater net contribution to the economy than local people. They also challenge the very concept of who the pure British person is as almost every Londoner can name their own ancestors coming from another country and culture. They say that British people are just lazy, spoiled, with different work ethics and salary expectations than the immigrants. Local people lack technical skills and therefore building and construction sector, which is one of the drivers of economic growth, is attracting lots of immigrants who can easily out-compete and outperform the local people. Is this the fault of UK education system or the people itself? I guess, that’s one of the ‘1 million dollar’ questions.

But, what i really missed in this discussion and all the other public debates on immigration generally, is a perspective of an immigrant. And, not only that but an ability to see this ‘problem’ or ‘phenomenon’ (whichever word you use; depends on how optimistic or pessimistic one is) in a much wider, global context. Human workforce rotates around capital, therefore – the higher the concentration and centralization of capital (London – the centre of global capital market!), the higher attraction of people to the place where this capital is. It’s a common sense. And it is fair. One country cant support and gain from freedom of movement of capital on the basis of the competitiveness of the business without supporting and accepting also the freedom of movement of labour/ human capital. If that’s not the case, then it’s a robbery on a global scale.

If UK and London really thinks that it cant have endless streams of people coming over to live on this island (there have been worries of overcrowding), then it should be ready to promote more equal distribution of the capital (de-liberalization of the financial markets, closing tax havens to prevent multinational companies from avoiding tax in countries where they work, stopping race-to-the bottom etc), let other countries to grow (prefer fair over free trade and not promote brain-drain) and therefore prevent people from moving (they will have good enough jobs back home). London should admit that there is a direct correlation between it’s concentration of global wealth and concentration of global population. If London thinks there are limits as to how big it can grow in terms of its population, then probably the sad truth is that there are also limits as to how big financial/ capital centre London can become.

From immigrant’s perspective, London or UK is definitely not the place where one would move because of the weather or nice climate; also, London is very fast-pace, competitive, stressful, expensive. So many people (just imagine all the Caribbeans, Italians and Spanish! they suffer here) would simply prefer to stay where they are but due to the economic situation in their home countries, they are coming over to London for jobs.

If UK really wants to limit immigration, it should think of ways then how it can help improve employment opportunities in the countries from where the most immigrants come. That will not only improve UK’s image, but also support growth of other economies, let people make enough money to prevent them coming over to UK and give then more jobs to the local people in UK. Everyone will be happier!

Another solution i would offer is increasing the minimum salary to a level when even doing the simplest job – cleaning, shop assistant, picking and packaging berries etc – will let someone to earn decent salary to live a decent life without relying on social services (check out Norway as a case study). It will increase the costs for businesses, but it will also then maybe solve the problem of dependency of British economy on immigrants who are not work-shy and are ready to work for 5-6GBP/ hour. For candidates in the next General elections it is now a political choice: to stay on the side of British people (getting votes) or British/international businesses (getting financial support).