The Capitalist Pig-Dog Blog: Starting Points

| |

Beliefs and values

My last post talked a bit about beliefs and sticking to them, but it shied away from discussing them in any detail. Words like “leftwing”, and the Political Compass graph, might have given a few hints away. If I’m going to be analysing and changing my behaviour according to these things, it’s important to get a decent grasp on what they are.

Firstly, I don’t consider myself to be an ideologue. I’ve read Das Kapital and The Wealth of Nations, but I’m not about to pick one up and start brandishing it as the source of all answers to everything ever. Instead, I think of myself as a pragmatist - the economy (and human economic behaviour in general) is a means to an end, and should be arranged however best meets those ends, regardless of theoretical underpinnings.

What end(s) am I pursuing? I lack any great theoretical underpinnings for this either, but it’s very important to me, personally, that everyone has access to a basic, comfortable standard of living. It is also very important to me that the power people have over other people is minimised. These beliefs do have a degree of tension, of course - to ensure everyone is comfortable, you must necessarily impinge on the freedom of others, to an extent. I’ve mostly resolved this internally by emphasising the collectivist strand over the individualist one.

Is this all classic Third Wayism? Am I 20 years late to the party? Perhaps to an extent, but watching New Labour in action (or looking back at its goals and accomplishments) doesn’t leave me with the feeling that the strategies pursued actually worked - instead, I’m left with some degree of hostility to naive market solutions.

I think this mostly comes down to private property. Some people believe that property rights are sacrosanct, with their exercise being a vital part of being free from others, but I lean more towards viewing them as a device for exercise power over other people. Property rights are, of course, here to stay - and I take advantage of them extensively - but this viewpoint informs how I’m inclined to use property rights to solve problems. In particular, I’m liable to avoid usages of property rights that permit a relatively few people to direct or control the behaviour of many others, or their exploitation. Like the entire economic spectrum.

I consider rentiers to be rather bad; to me, this form of participation in a market necessarily maximises the amount of power over others that a group can have, while leaving significant numbers unable to participate (as artificially restricting supply to raise prices is the surest way of increasing profits). Austrian-style economics see rent-seeking and demand an end to all regulations; but in many cases, some regulation is actually quite handy. As an example, removing all planning restrictions would reduce the costs of property significantly, but it would also result in some very unpleasant - including fatal - dwellings being constructed. Honest regulations aiming to meet the basic human need of housing - why is that so difficult to achieve?

At some point I’ll be examining what I do for housing myself, and what other options there are. Perhaps I’ll be able to come to some conclusions at that point. For now, it’s easy to point at problems, but much harder to think up solutions.

Income and expenditure

I’ve spent a little while trying to work out whether I should publish actual numbers on here or not. We can be an odd bunch when it comes to how much we earn, what we spend it on, etc. In the end, I figured, what’s the harm?

I’ve been using Gnucash to track my finances since 2010, and while I could just open up read-only access to that database, even I’m not that open. So instead, I made some pretty pictures:

Net Worth Expenses

I am intending to dip into this historical data a fair bit in the future, so this isn’t the sum total of everything I’m releasing ever; there might even be some tables in the future. The next post will look at my income in more detail, before I go on to poke various aspects of expenditure (which is the really interesting bit).

For now, I’ll just note that my take-home pay (after taxes and pension contribution) is ~£3300/month (this is better than the median but my net worth (excluding said pension, as it happens) is still relatively low, although it’s on a fairly rapid upward trajectory. All this gives me significant leeway to change my behaviour that, I will try my best to remember, won’t necessarily be available to people earning the kind of sums I can remember from before I lucked out (this job started in 2008; things were a lot hairier before then, hence the current net worth game). The next post will look at my income & net worth in a bit more detail; it’s worth setting out how much I earn and why I earn it in the way that I do (along with considering alternatives, feasible or no) before going on to see how that money is spent, hoarded or invested in any detail.