RSA Animate I: David Harvey and a Plausible Theory of Capitalist Crises.

There is a wonderful series of “animated” lectures from the Royal society of Arts, where a skilled cartoonist, illustrates the guest speaker’s talk. It really is a fabulous collection where key speakers raise crucial issues of our times. In future postings, we want to discuss in more detail the issues they so eloquently raise. To introduce the series, we have posted the talk given by David Harvey, Marxist geographer, who touches on issues we have raised here concerning the nature of capitalist crises.

Where we would differ with Harvey, however, is the importance we attach to Marx’s concept of the rise in the organic composition of capital and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, so well defended here by Fred Moseley. It is not that we disagree with Harvey’s central thesis that each crisis is qualitatively different and that each solution plants the seeds of further crises, it is that we believe the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (TRPF) is the underlying motor of those crises. In short, the tendency of the rate of profit is brought about by capital’s need to continually lower the costs of production, primarily through technological innovation. Such innovation though, spread across the anarchic competing units of capital, will only lead to unemployment and overproduction and, most tellingly, a drop in the rate (not the volume) of profit. There are of course tendencies which run contrary to this like finding cheaper raw materials (exploitation of poor countries) pushing wages down,  the state “creaming off” profits to invest in public works (Keynesianism) or military expenditure (military Keynesianism) but the tendency of the rate of profit to fall eventually re-exerts itself. The concrete form it exerts itself in is shaped naturally by the combination of the TRPF and it is countervailing tendencies. We say this because Marxists (and we count ourselves amongst this “orthodoxy”) generally believe that crisis cannot be truly resolved (albeit temporarily in the history of capitalism) until over-accumulated capital is destroyed through war or deep recession, whereby surviving capital (more centralised and in the hands of fewer and fewer people) can restart the process of capital accumulation. We say all this because we believe the crises of the 1970’s (the end of the post-war boom- long wave capitalist expansion) was never resolved and the threat of a 1930’s style depression and world war (nuclear annihilation) is ever-present.

Nevertheless, all this said, our great admiration for Harvey continues regardless and we hope you enjoy the clip:



Filed under Uncategorized

EL Gazette, Another Brick in the Wall

El Gazette provides, without doubt, the widest and most up-to-date coverage of ELT issues from around the globe. For example this month’s edition reports on protests by teachers and parents against the planned extension, beyond the 3 hours currently in place, of English classes in state schools in Taiwan. Furthermore, El Gazette continues  its campaign against UK Borders’ preposterous ban on oversees student wishing to study English in the UK but, wait for it, with an unsatisfactory level of English. UK borders argue that it is these students with a low-level of English Skills who are most likely to abscond once inside the UK. El Gazette show two studies from Australia which explode that myth and suggest that factors such as poverty and political repression in the country of origin are much more likely to lead to students “absconding”. However, for all its good points, which are many, EL Gazette’s politics are those of a corrupt self-interested ELT industry. This is well-demonstrated by its throw-away piece on Dr Urbani, a German doctor responsible for the death of a British patient, David Gray, entitled “EU Docs must take English” (appearing in the July edition).

The Creation of the Urbani Myth.

El Gazette quotes the Commons Select Health Committee, which looked into this unfortunate death, and who concluded, “if the General Medical Council had been able to carry out language and competency checks……..lives might have been saved”. Nowhere, however, did anyone say EU doctors must take English. There were arguments about the language competence and, more importantly, general competence of non-UK EU doctors practising in the UK but this title is wholly misleading. This is not a business opportunity to train all EU doctors but a need to ensure that those wishing to practise in the UK have all the necessary skills. Indeed, EL Gazette, follow the UK Tory press, in demonising “foreign doctors” rather than looking at the shocking truth behind this death, namely privatisation of the National Health Service, incompetence and greed (the three being inextricably linked). Something the Select Health Committee were too cowardly themselves to acknowledge.

We should start therefore by giving more background to the case. Dr Urbani, was a specialist cosmetic surgery and anti-ageing medicine (yes, cosmetic surgery and anti-ageing medicine) who travelled by plane to the UK to undertake a 12 hour shift providing out of hours care in Cambridgeshire.  Dr Urbani was called out to a patient, 70 year-old David Gray, who was complaining of kidney pain, and duly administered 100mg of diamorphine (a drug of which he had no experience and ten times the recommended dose). Tragically, Mr Gray died as a result of Mr Urbani’s actions.

During the inquest there were questions concerning Dr Urbani’s level of English and it emerged that the EU had rules forbidding the General Medical Council from testing EU doctors for language or any other competency. Of course, the rightwing  press followed with inflammatory pieces against the European Union and foreign doctors. This was despite two important points of information which were either under-reported or not reported at all. Firstly, Urbani’s level of English was discussed primarily because he had previously been refused work by another Health Authority (again, for out of hours cover) because, among other things, they were not satisfied with his level of English. Headline sunk without a trace, or at least it should have been. Basically, and this is our second point, there is no EU directive that instructs any institution to employ persons not capable professionally or linguistically of carrying out the specific duties required of them.  Here is what an EU representative said of existing legislation, we quote at length from the Independent:

The Commission said foreign doctors working in the UK were covered by EU laws providing for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications across borders. That included doctors setting up permanently in the UK and those staying for a limited time to provide temporary shift cover.

“In both cases, linguistic requirements apply, so once a doctor is authorised to work in the UK they have to have the right knowledge of English to do their job properly,” said the spokesman.

The level of knowledge of English depended on the specific medical job – with more stringent requirements for doctors working directly with the public than for those based in a laboratory and not in professional contact with the public.

“The Professional Qualifications Directive says that language requirements can be imposed, but they need to be proportionate and on a case-by-case basis.

“The competent authority cannot impose a general test regardless of a doctor’s situation; they have to give the doctor an opportunity to demonstrate their level of English.”

That, explained the spokesman, could mean providing proof of language qualifications, or “coming in for a chat”.

But, ultimately, a visiting doctor could be subjected to a language test.

“If the competent authority is not convinced that the doctor has the right level of English they can then impose a language test.

“So the EU Directive does not forbid the competent authority from imposing tests in such circumstances.”

This would seem both fair and logical, unless of course one was jaundiced by xenophobia. The issue was whether Mr Urbani was indeed equipped to serve as an out of hours GP in the UK, and, if not, what was he doing there? Whilst the issue of language skills was raised at the inquest, there was no specific mention in the verdict that it was this that led to the patient’s death. The coroner ruled the death of David Gray amounted to gross negligence and manslaughter and that Mr Urbani was “incompetent and not of an acceptable standard”. Indeed, the employers of Mr Urbani, a private medical company employed by the NHS, argued at the inquest that Mr Urbani’s language skills were sufficient for the job; which all leaves us to ask why a GP with no knowledge of a particular medicine should prescribe it in such high dosage without first carrying out some rudimentary checks. It is here, that we should begin to understand the wider picture.

Private Ambitions

At the inception of the National Health Service it was deemed that each UK citizen would be entitled to free 24 hour health care from cradle to grave and, up until, 2004,  the job of out of hours belonged to local doctors. In 2003, however, the pro-market Labour Party, negotiated a whole new contract with GPs which increased their salaries significantly and exempted them from the out of hours service provided they welcome and administer new privatisation measures in the NHS. Whilst some honourable (and well-remunerated) GPS organised to ensure that out of hours remained “in house” and under local management (consistency of care from GP surgeries to out of hours) many health authorities contracted private medical companies.  Mr Urbani was paid 45 pounds an hour (less than his UK counterparts) for his services that night but had to pay for his own flights and the car rental.

Most disturbingly there is a significant drain of German Doctors into these private medical organisations in the UK given, on the one hand, the high reputation of the German Health Service in general and their medical training in particular and, on the other, the vast differences in pay between doctors in the UK (average 127.000 US dollars) and in Germany (average 56,000 US dollars). Moreover, whilst German doctors working in the UK are, of course, pleased with the increases in salary they are less enthusiastic about the lower standards of care they find in the UK.

An Accident Waiting to Happen.

And finally, we get to the real villains of the piece. The people who have benefitted most from the privatisation of the NHS and the people always keen to put profit before people’s safety.  Take Care Now, Dr Urbani’s employers had apparently failed to heed previous warnings on the use of diamorphine by German doctors (yes a particular problem had been identified with German doctors and their lack of knowledge about this drug). We quote the independent again at length:

An inquiry into Take Care Now which provided out of hours care for five Primary Care Trusts has revealed that the death of David Gray in February 2008 might have been avoided if the company had acted on previous incidents involving overdoses.

The report by the independent health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission is a devastating indictment of the provision of out of hours GP services in Britain and serves as a warning to ministers on the risks of privatisation. Out of hours services have increasingly been taken over by commercial organisations since family doctors were permitted to relinquish responsibility for them in 2004. This week Andrew Lansley announced a major shift of budgetary power in the NHS to GPs who are expected to be responsible for buying and monitoring out of hours services in future.  Mr Gray, 70, died after he was injected with 100mg of diamorphine – 10 times the recommended daily dose – at his home in Manea, Cambridgeshire. The fatal overdose was given by Nigerian born Daniel Ubani who had arrived from Germany the day before, spoke little English, was tired and had never used morphine before.

The CQC inquiry, published today, revealed that there were two previous incidents involving overdoses of diamorphine, prescribed by doctors from Germany working in Suffolk in April and August 2007, the year before Mr Gray’s death. In both cases the patients survived.

Diamophine is not routinely used in Germany and following the incidents a senior clinician warned Take Care Now that a patient would be killed if nothing was done. The company was advised that information and labelling of drugs in the pack given to locums should be improved but it failed to act on the advice.

The inquiry also found that “staffing levels were unsafe” and that the Primary Care Trust, (charged with contracting services) did not understand what they were buying” and failed to monitor the service.

The chairwoman of the inquiry concluded:

“Take Care Now failed on many fronts. Not only did it ignore explicit warnings about the use of diamorphine, it failed to address deep-rooted problems across its entire out-of-hours service. This had tragic consequences for Mr Gray.

So there we have it. It was greed and privatisation that killed Mr Gray not the European Union and the lack of language testing. El Gazette should be ashamed of itself for further propagating xenophobia and trying to turn this tragedy into a marketing exercise, EU doctors must learn English. We would argue that people must learn health and profit don’t mix, like teaching and profit don’t mix.

In Conclusion.

Some readers might think we are being hard on El Gazette for a throw-away titbit of no more than 60 words. Yet we would argue that it is the greed and dishonesty of the ELT industry that damages the reputation of English language teachers. As teachers we want to help students communicate in English but we don’t want to create false scenarios to compel students to do so. We don’t want to push methods simply because they are in the interests of the industry. And we don’t want to appeal to xenophobia simply because it can earn us a quick buck.

Despite all its excellent campaigning against UK Border’s visa restrictions on foreign students, not once has it taken English UK to task on its role in this fiasco. It was English UK who raised the whole issue of bogus colleges and tens of thousands of bogus students before a parliamentary committee. Where on earth did it get those figures from? Why did it see fit to raise a moral panic in return for increased profits? Of course, its racism rebounded in the form of visa restrictions.

This blind spot to everything concerning its industry leaders and this belief that xenophobia is okay if it’s in the interests of ELT is what weakens the campaign against UK Borders and what makes the paper a whole lot less interesting. Rather than worry about students absconding, EL Gazette should campaign for the right of students to study where they want, irrespective of their country of origin. If the UK is a useful place to study English, then people wishing to do so should be allowed to do so; without being treated like a potential criminal. In this brave neo-liberal world capital can flow unhindered from country to country but, in contrast, huge walls are being built everywhere to stop humanity from doing so. To quote Pink Floyd, the article entitled EU docs must learn English is just one more brick in the wall.


Filed under Uncategorized

Homeopathy, Medicine and ELT.

A recent article inThe Independent (UK) concerning homeopathy and state funding caught our attention. The UK Government has continued funding of homeopathic medicine on the National Health Service despite advice from its own medical committee not to do so. This link between “scientific proof”, common practice and government funding is of great interest to us ELT practitioners given the relative lack of “scientific consensus” over ELT methodology. Of course, the lack of “scientific consensus” in ELT has not prevented the expansion of ELT or the practice of various and conflicting methodologies within ELT. Similarly, ELT has been both directly and indirectly subsidised by nation states throughout the world. Maybe, therefore, there is something we can learn from this debate which we can apply to ELT.

Doctors in Revolt.

Whilst homeopathy has enjoyed considerable growth in Western Europe over the last 30 years, there has also been a movement to establish an evidence approach to medicine which subordinates individual medical judgement to larger statistical analysis of widespread trials. Given that there are few such trials on the efficacy of homeopathy and what has been done is subject to considerable dispute and controversy, it is little wonder that, by adopting this approach, the scientific body recommended the Health Service stops paying for homeopathic treatments. Already in 1997 the Lewisham and Southwark Health Authority in London, who had been referring over 500 patients a year to the Royal Homeopathic Hospital, decided there was insufficient medical evidence for doing so and ceased all referrals. The main charge of the medical committee against homeopathy is that there is little proof that these treatments have any effect other than as a placebo.   By placebo effect we mean an intervention which causes a person to believe/experience an improvement in their physical condition despite their being no practical basis for this other than deception/self-deception.

Indeed, the principles of homeopathic medicine, namely

a form of alternative medicine first proposed by German physician Samual Hahnemann in 1796, in which practitioners use highly diluted preparations. Based on an ipse dixit axiom formulated by Hahnemann, which he called the law of similars, preparations which cause certain symptoms in healthy individuals are given in diluted form to patients exhibiting similar symptoms. Homeopathic remedies are prepared by serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking, which homeopaths term succussion, after each dilution under the assumption that this increases the effect. Homeopaths call this process potentization. Dilution often continues until none of the original substance remains.

go directly against doctor’s training and there is some considerable hostility within the profession towards homeopathy (as the video here demonstrates). Junior doctors were particularly angered by being asked to assimilate such unproven medicine within their training (never mind how small a part it might represent). The Lancet (UK medical journal), published a meta-analysis of homeopathy  trials in 2005  concluding there was nothing but a placebo effect with an editorial in the same edition calling for “the end of homeopathy”,

Homeopathic Resistance

Homeopathic practitioners, however, claim that that they are being discriminated by the dominant scientific paradigm. That the measurements used by allopathic medicine do not fit neatly with the holistic approach of homeopathy and when there is evidence in support of such treatments, this is minimised or rejected because it does not agree with the dominant paradigm.

Most tellingly, however, they draw on the experience of practitioners and patients to claim  that the large numbers of patients reporting improvements in their condition is evidence enough of its efficacy. As   Kate Chatfield argues:

In 2005 the results from a six-year outcome study at the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital were published (Spence et al 2005). This was an analysis of over 23,000 outpatient consultations from 1997 to 2003. Over 70% of follow-up patients reported clinical improvement following homeopathic treatment, clearly demonstrating the clinical effectiveness of the homeopathic intervention. Whilst this extensive study can tell us that homeopathy was largely effective for this particular group of people, what it cannot demonstrate is that this was not simply placebo effect.

However, if homeopaths can facilitate a placebo-induced healing response in over 70% of people who visit them, many of whom have previously not been helped by various types of allopathic intervention, then surely homeopaths should be highly revered and re-labelled ‘miracle workers’.

Government Subsidy

Were the Government to have followed its own medical committee’s proposals then it would have been denying choice to millions of people in the UK who feel homeopathy has something to offer the National Health Service. It would have been an unpopular decision indeed and it appears that objection to the use of homeopathy in the NHS (admittedly on a very small scale) is largely on the part of significant numbers of doctors rather than the general population (at the moment). We must also remember that the vast majority of patients referred for homeopathic treatment have not responded well, or at all, to “conventional” medical interventions.

Lessons for ELT

Not surprisingly, there are few large scale studies of various practices in ELT. The exception would appear to be around use of the mother tongue in ELT instruction. This is largely down to the states interest in various forms of education and the particular needs of the “immigrant population”. The debate about bilingual education is indeed hotly contested and there are considerable studies available from which conclusions can and are being drawn. This is not to say that other smaller studies are not carried out on other areas of ELT but that the studies have very small samples and it is difficult to generalise from one study, (say a group of male and female teenagers attending a private English academy in a wealthy suburb of Athens) to another (say a group of young girls aged between 9 and 15 studying English in an NGO run school).

Many ELT institutions have neither the will nor the resources to carry out large scale studies from which statistical meta-trends can be identified. Indeed, the popular concept of action research fits more neatly into the methodology applied by homeopathic practitioners (and indeed allopathic practitioners in the 17th and 18th centuries) than the “scientific rigours” of government funded science committees.

The proof of ELT it seems rests in the customer satisfaction of the learner or grades achieved in TOEFL, IELTS or First Certificate. However, both of these are problematic for a number of reasons but principally because we don’t know what variables were at play and whether the same could be achieved following a different set of variables. Indeed, students throughout ELT history, and with alarming regularity, have continued to attend classes, follow different and conflicting methodologies, pass exams and report high satisfaction levels. Exams have changed to reflect and consolidate new approaches and these changes, we would argue, have reflected wider changes in society. Indeed, we can easily cross-reference jargon used in post-war Human Resources with that used in ELT (indeed the rise of both, we would argue, is intimately related).

Towards a Science (or not) of ELT

We have not commented here on the relative merits of allopathic medicine versus homeopathic medicine. Instead, we have merely wanted to draw parallels between the popularity of a form of medical treatment lacking firm “scientific foundations” and English Language Teaching.  Both practices seem to be doing rather well without such “scientific underpinnings” and both practices anyway would generally challenge the method of collecting data used by the dominant scientific paradigm. We might say both are “holistic” as they seek to deal with the whole person, in a special practitioner/ patient or practitioner/student relation which can not be readily reduced to a form of disconnected data available for statistical analysis.

This does not mean, however, interest in homeopathy might not decline rapidly or students demand greater proof of the efficacy of certain types of methodologies in ELT. There is clearly, a remarkable decline in students enrolling in Japanese ELT academies (employing methodologies popular on many teacher training courses) and this would cast doubt on their popularity and effectiveness. Moreover, in what sense is it satisfactory to base decisions of treatment or teaching on popular conceptions/misconceptions? Surely, progress is achieved by challenging popular beliefs and putting them to some type of rigorous examination.

We have not provided any answers here simply because the topic is so big. We will, however, quote from the French philosopher, Michel Foucault, in The Archaeology of Knowledge whose quote on the sciences of Man may be equally applicable to ELT theory:

If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared, if some event of which we can at the moment do no more than sense the possibility – without knowing either what its form will be or what it promises – were to cause them to crumble, as the ground of classical thought did, at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea” (p. 387).

In short, ELT did not, like the resurgence of homeopathy, arise out of opposition to anything mainstream but the practical problems of integrating new communities and preparing people for greater spatial and temporal mobility. It is, like homeopathy, sunk within deep institutional roots which determine its scientific (non-scientific) rationale. Maybe, if medicine became more holistic ( and here we mean emotions, housing, work, family, and leisure rather than the trite holistic claims of homeopathy), homeopathy might too disappear. Similarly, maybe our need for scientific rationalisations of ELT might disappear if we lived in a truly international world where personal growth and social need triumphed over profit. Maybe.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The inevitable decline of the US and the role of monolingualism in that decline. Two Graddolisms considered.

There is no underestimating the effect of Graddol’s two books (The future of English, English Next) on the ELT community. This is largely because Graddol identified certain trends that others were becoming increasingly aware of but did so with the use of some limited data to back up his claims; something not so available to your average over-worked language teacher. It is no accident, therefore, that MTG often touch on issues raised by Graddol because Graddol’s work gives concrete expression to feelings and half-feelings shared by the language teacher community. Recently, Darren Elliot , author of the excellent teachers’ resource, Lives of Teachers raised two Graddolisms in relation to our article concerning the retreat or not of English language learning in Japan. Namely, the American economy is not a model to be copied (by Japan), presumably because of its decline as a world economic force rather than its inequalities,  and that monolingualism is both a symptom and driver of that decline:

First off, the American economy is hardly a model to be striving for..and secondly, the situation is totally different. In the past Americans could get away without foreign languages because the world bent to accommodate them in English. As it stands now, monolinguals in any language are going to be at a disadvantage.

Now clearly as Marxists we are not cheerleaders for the American system and as language teachers (and internationalists) we are very much in favour of multilingualism. However, we do think it is necessary to look more critically at both these Graddolisms as we do not believe America will be so easily usurped as the most powerful country in the world nor do we believe it is so easily disadvantaged by its alleged monolingualism. Indeed, these Graddolisms not only oversimplify the real concrete situation,  they also cloud the bigger picture and the urgent need for social change.

The Problem of Measurement.

Before we begin, it would be useful to flag up the issue of measurement. For example, were a prospective student to suggest to an English teacher that 30 Euros an hour for private classes is “very expensive” , the English teacher might feel quite offended. The English teacher will consider their own (and their family’s) basic needs, the probable greater salary of the prospective student, the preparation/travel time required for the class, and, last but not least, the various qualifications, experience and linguistic skills they have painstakingly developed over a number of years. They might also think about the 65 Euros an hour the local academy might charge this same student. On the student’s part, they will consider their basic needs, housing, children, clothing, health care and leisure. They might well compare the cost ,say 70 Euros to go to the gym every day of the week (fully equipped, car parking, showers, qualified staff) with 120 Euros for four hours of English (in a cafe or at their own home) a month.  In reply, to the assertion that English is an investment and going to the gym is not (a contestable point) the student might also reply that a Masters could cost them 120 credit hours 2,000 euros but their English Classes, with no official title granted at the end, 3,600 Euros . Of course, there are many different perspectives on this and should a student and teacher delve too deeply into them (at least publicly) then it is highly unlikely the student will contract the teacher’s services anyway.  The point is, however, when discussing whether anything is “expensive” or not, if American capitalism is in decline or whether monoligualists (in any language) are at a disadvantage, we need to define our terms of reference much more tightly and make our criteria for measurement much clearer.

Is American capitalism in decline?

It is clear that America is not the richest country per capita in the world (according to the World Bank it is only the 6th) but it is also clear, given its size, that it is the most significant economy in the world. In 2009 the US had a higher GDP than the entire Euro Zone, nearly three times the size of Japan’s and nearly four times the size of China’s. Significantly, whilst China had the third highest GDP (now above Germany but below Japan), it ranked 87th in the world for GDP per capita (again according to the world bank 2009).

Now this only tells us that America is the number 1 economy in the world, it does not tell us the overall trajectory of the American economy, whether it is in decline or not. For example, in 1870, the biggest economy was the UK, now it lies in a modest 5th place for GDP and 18th for GDP per capita. The assumption (the Graddolism) appears to be, however, that America’s “decline” is as inevitable as the UK’s was in 1870.

Before proceeding though we need to put that decline in perspective as we suspect a great many people (we don’t count ourselves amongst them) would indeed have settled for a “decline” which represented (from 1870 to 1979)  a trebling of living standards, a tenfold increase in exports and a cutting in half in the number of hours actually worked each year.

Nevertheless, the UK was overtaken by the US and commentators have spent the last fifty years predicting who the new number 1 will be. Of course, during the 1970’s the candidates were Germany and Japan and now they are China and India. Here is what Graddol says:

Before the 19th century, India and China were the world’s economic superpowers. Thanks to their new economic rise, they will soon regain their former status.

He then produces the following chart (courtesy of Goldman Sachs)

Note that even with these projections the US still hasn’t degenerated to the middle ages nor have the other major economies.

History, however, particularly that of Japan and Germany, teaches us that there are limits to growth and such projections do not take into account simple economic and political forces which operate to ensure that dislodging the top dog is a difficult business indeed. The first is to confuse, rising material exports (one also has to consider services) , or rising levels of productivity with permanent tendencies. We have shown elsewhere that China and India have benefitted most not from taking jobs from America, the UK or Japan but from middle income countries like Mexico and Poland (demonstrated well by economist Ed Learner here). China and India have been able to substitute themselves for other producers by offering lower costs and somewhat better infrastructure. We cannot stress enough though that  China and India are not market leaders, they are not (generally) centres of innovation, and production (components, lower quality goods) is much lower down the quality chain. Both India and China face enormous problems in establishing themselves at the higher end of the production chain and to do so they will become increasingly dependent on technologies and expertise from abroad. Moreover, understandably, the highest skilled from the world gravitate towards the US and not to China or India. Similarly, as Chinese capital asks more from its workers in terms of skills and application, the workers will ask more in terms of wages, health care and democratic rights which will undermine its current competitive edge at the lower end of the said productivity chain (this process is well under way).

Of course, this is not to suggest that, given certain favourable conditions, China and India cannot complete this enormous task, but we would argue, it is greater than the task facing American Capitalism (and other major economies) in maintaining their position. The total structure of current research and development, education and laws over intellectual property (patents etc.) company takeovers, the world bank, etc. is designed to perpetuate that dominance. As America fought back against the twin threats of Germany and Japan to their economic dominance, we will see interesting developments with relationships between Japan, the EU, the US and their relationship to China and India (we should not forget the role of Russia either). For example, inward foreign direct investment to China is greater than Chinese investme but relatively low considering Chinese growth rates. This is the case with the US (22 billion invested in China 2006) and China (22 million invested in the US in 2006).This is largely due to restrictions on both sides concerning foreign investment. Compare this with the EU where there is relative free flow in investments between the EU and the US.  In both cases, the two countries fear the other country will use it for own greater economic advantage. The Chinese fear that the US will exploit real estate and destabilise the Chinese economy whilst the US fear China will use investment to close the technology gap and offer no advantage in return. The EU, on the contrary, currently play by American rules. The US will continue to ask for greater openness to Chinese markets and industry and if the US feel strongly enough that bilateral relations are not in their own interests, they will retaliate:

With regard to high profile investments and buyouts, China has so far had very little success in the U.S. In 2005, the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) attempted but ultimately failed to buy American oil company Unocal Corporation due to intense political pressure from Congress, which questioned the communist-owned CNOOC’s motives and argued that it did not represent a free-market transaction. A similar bid by Chinese appliance maker Hai’er to buy Maytag also failed in 2007 due to foreign ownership concerns, as did an attempt by Chinese firm Huawei’s attempt to partner with U.S. firm Bain Capital Partners in a $2.2 billion buyout of 16.5% of 3Com Corp, an American company that makes systems to protect against computer hackers. Although Huawei denied that the Chinese government owns or controls any part of the company, the lack of transparency as to who actually owns Huawei and research (by Rand Corp) that indicates Huawei has “deep ties” to the Chinese military made U.S. lawmakers nervous enough about the potential transfer of sensitive military technology to pressure Bain to scuttle the deal. The one exception is Chinese firm Lenovo’s (around 28% owned by the Chinese government) success in purchasing IBM’s PC division in 2005.

In conclusion, we would say that for China (and India) there is much to admire in the American economy; namely its position as the number one economy and its strengths at the high end of the production chain. The decline of America is not a given but then neither is its continued dominance (or for that matter the continued rise of China and India). What we are witnessing is a struggle on the part of America to maintain its position and a concerted effort by China and India to continue to expand. If that expansion is at the expense of Mexico and Poland then it will not worry the US, but if it is at its own expense then it will continue to develop strategies to combat this. Seeing America (or indeed the EU or Japan) as a weak and wounded creature with China and India ready to pounce, is a deeply misleading picture.


Again, we need to start with some sense of definition and measurement. Let’s take for instance “monolingualism”. For example, America, and the UK have poor records of formal language learning but both have large “immigrant” populations and, because of this and not formal language learning, a large percentage of the population speak more than one language. For example, the 2000 US census found over 47 million of those over five years of age (of its 309 million populace) spoke a language other than English at home. Nobody would argue that, with the continuing “Hispanicisation of the US“,  the figure isn’t now much higher. The contradiction, however, is that those speaking a language other than English at home and English outside it are likely to earn much less than those only Speaking English, or speaking English at home and another language outside it.  Earning power will depend primarily on the “quality of English spoken” and levels of Education in English.

Furthermore, for example, even if we found a correlation between monies spent on dental care during childhood and later earnings as an adult, we could not claim that those earnings were a consequence of dental care rather that dental care was a consequence of social class and not a determinant. Moreover, on interviewing an employer and discovering (of course no employer would be so candid) that an applicant for an office position  (not a super model) was turned down because they had “bad teeth” we cannot say this was the determinant, the ultimate determinant was the socio-economic position which made dental care less-likely and generated the social class assumptions on the part of the employer. Like dental care, English or foreign language learning, is often a representation of socio-economic realities rather than a determinant.  A lack of English, like bad-teeth, reveals something “unsavoury” (social class) about the applicant. Of course, were the applicant, by good fortune, to have excellent teeth, the “lower-class” status/lack of higher education would be suffice to dissuade the employer from recruiting them to a “professional” position.

Unfortunately, there is no possibility of criticising existing statistical studies on earnings and foreign language learning because they simply don’t exist. We have a plethora of studies on academic qualifications and earnings/unemployment etc. but not language capabilities. We even have studies on whether people choose their marriage partner for beauty or earnings but nothing on foreign language learning. This is of course despite the industry’s “common sense” claim that foreign language learning creates wealth and opportunity.  A shrewd investor might ask, however, more information on likely returns before making such an investment. Yet, if this information is not available, why does the assumption persist and people continue to invest large quantities of money in language learning?

This is not just an individual issue but an institutional and nation state issue. For example many employers put a great stress on language learning and the vast majority of countries encourage, to a greater or lesser extent, language learning. But why no statistics? An organisation is able to list all the academic qualifications and training course attended by its employees but it is unlikely to have a consistent record of the existing language capabilities of its staff. Moreover, a nation state may have information on illiteracy rates but very little information on the second language capabilities of its population.

The simple answer might be, therefore, that certain institutions and countries take a blanket approach to language learning. They are more interested in language learning prior to employment (capacity to learn languages) than after employment. Similarly, countries  put emphasis on schooling and, maybe, insist on some degree of foreign language learning as a prerequisite to entry at university level but tend to ignore development of linguistic skills therefater. The real emphasis is on “deviation” at certain entry points and not language development after such entry points. There is no guarantee, however, that language levels will be sufficient for a concrete person in a concrete situation to carry out future tasks demanded of them or that the person will have the appropriate language for the actual task. Of course, under this system, it is a given that a large percentage of the population are not actively developing a foreign language and that there is no actual record of financial losses accrued through lack of language ability.

Graddol, however, claims:

…….as English becomes more generally available, little or no competitive advantage is gained by adopting it. Rather, it has become a new baseline, without English you are not even in the race.

These are very strong claims and would be suggesting Japan, Italy, Brazil Russia, France, even China  (countries Graddol himself counts as some of the 10 economic Giants of 2050) are not in the race because the majority of the population do not speak/write above an A2 (CEF framework) English. It is an enormous contradiction. If English speaking was so key to success, then China would not have overtaken the German economy in terms of exports or GDP; China succeeded despite (relatively) low levels of education and second language skills not because of them. If China has invested heavily in both, it is because China wishes to transform itself into a producer of higher quality goods. Moreover, in the sphere of technological and scientific innovation, English is quite clearly essential but again we question how important it is to the general population. Japan has incredibly high tech companies and products produced by staff, often with a rudimentary or non-existent grasp of English.

We might recast Graddol’s claim, however, to suggest that in select occupations (usually “graduate” positions) those not speaking/writing a competent level of English will be severely disadvantaged and, if a country has not sufficient persons, it may too be disadvantaged. Moreover, that as the number of such people rises, there will be more need to demonstrate other foreign languages, and as a result, unsuccessful applicants might apply for “lower positions” which, with their English skills, might put pressures on other applicants to improve their English skills and this cascade effect might disadvantage the general population if they do not have sufficient English language skills. It is, however, a big “might” and there are other issues like “over-qualification” which might intervene to counter-act such a tendency.

Finally, we note Graddol’s other claim which relates neatly to Darren’s claim about “momlingualism” in America (beautifully summarised by the Right Horrible EU Parasite, Neil Kinnock);

David Graddol concludes that monoglot English graduates face a bleak economic future as qualified multilingual youngsters from other countries are proving to have a competitive advantage over their British counterparts in global companies and organisations. Alongside that, many countries are introducing English into the primary curriculum but – to say the least – British schoolchildren and students do not appear to be gaining greater encouragement to achieve fluency in other languages.

Now Kinnock rightly qualifies the situation as graduate, not talking in such sweeping terms as Graddol but we believe the proposition is still too broad. There is little or no evidence, for example that an American engineer, doctor, scientist, lawyer, etc. would benefit from learning a foreign language (at least not in economic terms). Indeed, there is every bit of evidence, namely the marked migration of highly skilled people from poorer countries to the US that the US benefits directly from graduates abroad learning English. The US, Australia and UK also benefit greatly from foreign students studying at their universities.

Again this is not to say that certain graduates are not increasingly developing their language skills  in order to be more competitive  in the job market (they are!), but it is to raise caution against dangerously misleading generalisations.

Graddolisms and the Bigger Picture

We believe that the error of all Graddolisims rest with a neo-liberal conception of the world which sees the market as sovereign, and all individuals equal before it. For Graddol, the nation state has disappeared and the world is post-political. By post-political we mean that problems of war, famine, poverty and crisis are aberrations of a smooth functioning system (i.e. an inability to structure the economy or our personal lives along the lines of the market). Problems are created because people cling to modernist conceptions of the nation or religion and not because the capitalist system itself generates vast inequalities and irreconcilable conflicts. According to Graddol, the UK, the US, and China are all “teams” playing the market and the “best team” will win. Similarly, the person who learns the most languages deserves the best job.

Here at Marxist TEFL we recognise that on one level capitalism is indeed transnational. Capital is free to flow around the world but that it tends to flow, ultimately, to certain geographical areas and certain people in those areas. At the end of the day, capital needs a home, it needs a strategic relationship with a state, an army to uphold its interests when there is conflict. The state likewise, is keen to make capital feel at home and “safe”- to show it operates in its interests. The state will help it through crises and, in return, Capital will help ensure it is big enough and aggressive enough to defend its interests. The state and Capital will operate in tandem to ensure they have  advantage in the market place and they will assemble geo-political alliances to deal with military or economic threats. The general population represent the units of production or the “deployable forces” in a war situation which are mobilised to increase profits and/or to stabilise the system. Without nationalism and a national interest the general population cannot be mobilised so. For this reason, capitalism cannot for all the pressures to do so, rid itself of the baggage of the nation state through which it grew.

Of course capitalism is pushing at the limits of the nation state, but it also pushing at the limits of private market led production.  There is enough technology to feed, educate, clothe and entertain the entire world but it refuses to succumb to such a logic because it would have to liquidate itself, instead it must waste the planet’s resources, keep people unemployed, overwork others, all because it needs to produce a profit and the higher the profit levels the better. So yes, America is in decline because Capitalism is in decline. China offers no alternative to that model but a greater brutality to its own people.

Meanwhile, as capitalism accelerates the inter-relations of people around the world, so people become ever conscious of the role of languages and the opportunity to practise different languages increases. Unfortunately, workers are being asked to jump through hoops, learn languages they may never need nor want to learn, they are expected to go from job to job, country to country, as capital sees fit. They are supposed to be frictionless, ever at the command of capital. With unemployment and poverty a continuous threat, they must make themselves as available as possible and always with the appropriate skill set. In such a world education and language learning has spread quantitatively but not qualitatively. As  consumers we demand a reproducer of music holding a quantity of music we cannot possibly listen to (the majority of which is loaded “just in case” or “to fill” the necessary space). Similarly, the capitalist asks qualities and skills of us which are often unnecessary, just to distinguish between us and another applicant. The nation state requires an ever more skilled workforce whilst opportunities to use those skills declines or never arrives forcing us to acquire more.

When we hear, therefore, that monolingualism is a disadvantage (as is only speaking one other foreign language) we rather feel as if we are being criticised for having limited memory on our i-pod or failing to fill the space. We know that music can be a joy but wonder where the unexamined compulsion comes to” fill the empty spaces” of our lives with yet more music but less opportunity to listen to it with friends and family. Similarly, learning is a joy but wonder where the unexamined compulsion comes from to  ” fill the empty spaces” of our lives with yet more commitment to making ourselves marketable and less time spent with the people we care about. We wonder why we are asked to participate in a race, when we see all around us unsatisfied need and social injustice. Surely, we have more pressing needs. Is humanity really in competition with each other, or does such competition only serve the needs of the few?

Ultimately, Graddolisms are unhelpful over-generalisations that, whilst they are rooted in real tendencies in society, are an inaccurate picture which do not help us to critically evaluate those tendencies in order to take greater control over own lives. They are part of an ideological structure which keeps us misinformed and passive.


Filed under Uncategorized

Is English in retreat (at least in Japan)?

Two stories from Japan recently caught our eye. You might remember in May that  we reported on the crises facing the private English Language teaching academies in Japan, namely the collapse of GEOS and the following statistic:

The Ministry of Trade and Industry says enrolment at language schools has dropped from 826,858 students in February 2006 to 335,604 this year (2010).

Well firstly, Letsjapan report on action taken against the unfortunately named Fortress Japan School. According to Letsjapan, the Japanese Consumer Affairs Agency have closed Fortress Japan down for six months, owing to what was seen as coercive methods of enrolment.  Locked in a room, prospective students were shown newspaper clippings and explained the importance of being able to speak English and how it would benefit them in the severe job market. Now, there is an interesting idea.  Perhaps the next stage will be to criminalise all employers demanding language skills from job applicants where the existing post does not actually require them. This discrimination (without locked doors, of course) has proved highly profitable for the language teaching industry. Now, of course, employers might be anticipating future changes to the company but we rather think this is a way of consolidating inequalities in the job market and ensuring compliant workers who are prepared to surrender their private lives for the whims of employers.

This further decline in faith in the merits of English Language learning is furthered evidenced by a Government review of its JET scheme. You can read about this review both on Letsjapan and here on the ex-Jet participants’ blog, The Jet scheme was introduced 23 years ago to encourage graduates from outside Japan to live in Japan for a few years and to  experience Japanese culture in return for sharing their culture and skills, principally helping to teach English in the state education system. At its peak in 2003 there were 6,221 participants from 41 different countries. In 2009 there were already only 4,436 participants from a total of 36 countries (the vast majority of participants from the US).

It appears, however, that in a general climate of state expenditure cuts, the scheme has been earmarked for either a systemic overall in the manner in which it functions  or simply scrapping it all together. The scheme currently costs over 45 billion yen (US$ 400 million). Ex participants have organised a petition to save the scheme and there has been something of a backlash in Japan against the review panels, for the lack of thoroughness and expertise they have brought to these budget review meetings.  It is unclear, therefore, exactly what, if anything, will happen to the programme.

What is clear, however, is that in this economic climate voices which have questioned the relative importance of English Language learning and the efficacy of the native English Speaking Teacher model are beginning to grow louder. This is what one Japanese economist, CH Kwan, had to say way back in 2002:

One much discussed solution is to expand the period of English instruction by starting from elementary school instead of from junior high school. But I am against this idea, which I believe is tantamount to wasting more time on the top of six to eight years most Japanese have already spent in vain. The more time allocated to teach English, the less available for the instruction of other subjects. That is far too high a price to pay. In the United States, Japan’s principal competitor, students do not spend much time on foreign language studies, and instead allocate that time to learn mathematics or computer science, for example.

Rather than increasing the time allocated to teaching English, the priority should be on improving the quality of the teachers themselves. If they are unable to improve the quality of their instruction, then teachers from overseas should be brought in to do the job. While native speakers have already been employed to teach English at some schools, this system is clearly inadequate as the number of students simply overwhelms the number of available instructors. Furthermore, as long as English remains a curricular requirement and if the system should be expanded to include every school in Japan, then a veritable army of native English instructors would have to be hired. Yet a policy of limiting English instruction to those who really need it would keep the demand for qualified teachers to a more manageable level.

Fortunately, the average Japanese, aside from the time he or she sits in class, is hardly ever placed in a situation where English must be used. Rather than force the language upon students as a required subject, why not make it an elective? Schools would not have to scrap their English curriculum entirely. Rather, they should limit instruction to the alphabet instead, so children can learn to use an alphanumeric keyboard. Under this proposed system, a full year of English class would be more than enough for the task. In exchange, a quality program should be provided for those students who are serious about mastering the language.

Now naturally we have specific issues ourselves with the writer (principally nationalism and elitism) but the text serves to show that in terms of the capitalist world order itself, there are questions to both the “enormous” need for and the actual efficacy of English Language Training. Indeed, we have long since argued that English, like education generally, has been expanded as a result of financial speculation which is heavily debt funded and incapable of offering the returns it promises. The crises in English Language Learning in Japan does not mean the end of ELT as we know it, but it does show contradictions; contradictions which have existed under the surface for so long and are now coming very much to the surface. English, like any language, should be taught for the pleasure and necessities of being human and not the anarchic needs of a market inacable of meeting basic human needs.


Filed under Uncategorized

One more reason to dislike the world cup.

Today finally brings the curtain down on sport’s most lucrative financial spectacle, the world cup. Organisers will pride themselves on the success of the tournament and how important that success will be to South Africa, the first African nation to host the tournament. We will also be shown the final spectacle of masses of people in Holland and Spain huddled together in the streets watching giant screens, some with tears of disappointment and others with tears of joy, young and old, male and female, draped in respective flags and face painted in respective colours.  What could be more thrilling and wonderful, a sport which “unites” the passions of all peoples from all around the world? We will certainly not be shown the billions of people getting on with their lives regardless, or see a breakdown on the quantities of money generated by this tournament.

To take such a position might see like some miserable set of wretches unable to share the passions of the human race but, maybe, just maybe, it is not passion and excitement per se that we despise but the brutal commercial exploitation of humanity’s propensity for collective delusion and amnesia. We refer here to that unthinking urge to lose oneself in rituals and dreams which transport us from the everyday and place us amongst the gods, whilst, naturally, the high priests busy themselves by looting our belongings. Of course, there is ecstasy in the birth of a child, the triumph of a close one in the face of adversity but these are our experiences- we are not unreflectively living our lives through the actions of others. There really is no we, the people before us are multi-millionaires far removed from our daily experiences. They are extraordinarily over-paid athletes who have, in most cases, sacrificed their childhoods and any semblance of normality in the pursuit of wealth and celebrity (in some cases to quite tragic degrees).

Giving them a good beating, a sound thrashing

This fact is particularly brought home by the link between the rise of domestic violence and the world cup. It has long been established that there is a link (as there is with national festivals like New Years’ Eve or Thanksgiving) between sporting events and increases in domestic violence. Aware of this, police forces in England prepared special campaigns to dissuade perpetrators from attacking their partners during the tournament. Unfortunately, this appeared to have limited effect and there was a 15.7% increase (353 reported incidents), after Germany’s defeat of England, of reported domestic violence (compared with the previous non-world cup year).

Now there are two important qualifications to be made here. Firstly, the world cup does not make men beat their partners, rather that such men are more likely to do so during the world cup. Secondly, the number of reported assaults is a miniscule fraction of the numbers of men (and women) who watch the tournament. Rather what we want to do is to highlight the toxic qualities of investing hope and belief in an irrelevant spectacle of which you are a mere passive spectator; a toxic quality which combines with the fragile and violent nature of certain men’s self-image.

The British Council and Football

In 2007 the British Council teamed up with the English Premier League and ESPN (the broadcaster with rights over television emissions of live games) to “deliver community sports development around the world.” The first initiative was in India. The then chairman, Lord Kinnock, said of the initiative:

“This is a truly exciting, creative initiative. Football transcends race and language among people everywhere. By putting the British Council’s experience and global network together with the Premier League’s great know-how, we can reach countless young people and help to enhance their skills on the pitch, their self-development, and their understanding of other cultures.”

The director of ESPN, was far more honest in his assessment:

We are proud to partner with the Premier League in this unique initiative. Our strong relationship with them has been built on our commitment to grow the Premier League brand in India and across the region and we continue to build this through broadcast of over 250 live and same day telecast matches, production of over 350 hours of original football programming annually and through our unique grass roots programme targeting school children in India.

We are committed to raise the awareness of this community project and create a positive impact amongst Indian youths. With the strong equity that our brands enjoy and the extensive reach of our network in India, we are confident of building this initiative, thus garnering maximum participation and exposure for the programme.”

In short, the British Council rather than promoting something which transcends race and language were promoting the British lanaguage industry (Cambridge exams and overseas study) and the English Premier League (another key UK export).  The British Council maintains an extremely vibrant and well-resourced on-line resource (Premier Skills) for this very purpose.

Their claim that both Football and English are somehow global and neutral is quite patronising and dishonest. The situating of the world cup in South Africa by FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations) is also borne of this same ideological nonsense. The talent of world football, resources and income continues to be monopolized by Europe. The situating of football outside of Europe is carefully calculated to increase its market share rather than share the huge wealth that football generates.

This is not to say that one day China or the USA might not have a league which competes with Europe’s Champions’ League or Spain’s La Liga or England’s Premier League but to suggest that the work to esnure that such a thing does not happen is being busily conducted by marketting organisations like ESPN and the British Council.

They think it’s all over

It was no accident that the so-called soviet bloc invested huge resources in sport and citizens were treated to enormous television coverage which showed these sportsmen and sportswomen achieving impossible feats (often by the use of performance enhancing drugs). In America too, as part of its cold war drive, the Americans also indulged in this same activity. China, the recent hosts of the Olympic games managed to increase its number gold medals from 15 in 1984 to 28 in 2000 to 32 in 2004 and to 51 in 2008. This was of course achieved by huge investment in infrastructure and some incredible extra prize money. In short, these “great sporting events” are reflections of money and power struggles (both between nations and inside nations) . Ironically, it’s possible that the enormous wealth of the EPL and its ability to attract the best players from around the world rather than invest in grassroots football could be the one of the major reasons behind England’s recent failures in international competition.

Universal themes.

For us we will remember the world cup, and in particular the England versus Germany game, as the pretext for vicious attacks against women. We will remember the tournament as an exhibition of greed, hypocrisy and manipulation (think of the world leaders being filmed watching football during the G20, where they plotted further attacks on the living standards of their own citizens, especially the most vulnerable). This spectacle and the manner in which it was presented had a toxic effect on those men already unable to sustain a viable sense of masculinity. The victims were thousands, if not millions, of women around the world.

We would hope that in the coming year the British Council channels its apparently limitless energy and resources into tackling more pressing universal themes which “transcend race and language” and set up an on-line learning resource about the universal phenomenon of violence against women and how it can be stopped. Maybe even set up community programmes. We really have had enough of football and collective delusion, its time to make a difference.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Elephant in the Classroom.

We apologise for our prolonged absence but the last month has required a substantial reflection on exactly what is happening to the world in general and English as a Foreign Language teaching in particular. We have been struck by the bloody barbarity in which the poor and disadvantaged of Thailand were driven from the streets, the savagery of Israeli soldiers attacking a peaceful aid convoy in international waters, and the speed and severity in which European nation states have increasingly turned on public sector workers and services. This is not to say we are innocent to the brutality, selfishness and irrationality of ruling elites, but surprised at the degree of their boldness, given that their ideology of international peace, progress and prosperity (through neo-liberalism), has been lying in a quagmire of economic collapse, growing inequality and unwinnable imperialist wars. In short, we were conscious of the attacks that were coming (indeed we warned of the very same) but, even we, were taken by surprise at the speed and scale at which the ruling class has moved. Even Thatcher and Regan were not so bold. Moves too, which are largely irrational because they bring the elites nearer to their own dissolution.  The murder of red-shirt activists in Thailand does not lay the basis for stability, the illegal seizure of a boat in international waters and the murder of nationals from a country which was, until the attack, a close political ally does not make the Israeli state more secure, and the cuts in public services and public sector does nothing to stimulate the economy but threatens to strangle the fragile shoots of economic recovery.

Luke Cooper wrote this only six months ago:

The productive forces have grown over the heads of the ruling class and to a greater extent than ever before in history. That is also what constitutes the historic scale of the current crisis. The world economy faces a situation that demands global, rational and conscious planning in order to secure further development, the development of the productive forces and the creation of truly human living conditions. The ruling classes are, of course, incapable of this.

What indeed the ruling class are capable of is desperate acts. Without any solutions to the problems affecting the world in terms of environmental degradation, depleting natural resources, rising unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, and war, they believe that by simply continuing to feed their own troughs and follow their failed ideologies they can secure their futures. Of course, capitalism and the global hierarchy of power and alliances can (theoretically) re-organise and save itself from this malaise but show no sign of doing so. They believe that by driving down wages and public services they can create stability and growth. This is a far cry from the noises about speculation and greed that were made when the financial system went into free fall and governments agreed to socialise the banks losses in order to prevent an economic collapse on the scale of the 1930’s. Now all the talk of is of workers’ responsibility, about balancing the books, about common sacrifices to allow for a slimmer more profitable economy. Of course there are some critics of this return to supply side economics, they warn that by sabotaging demand, the economy will fall into a double dip recession. They are most probably right, but are wrong to believe Keynesianism can save the system. The problem is neither demand nor supply, although at times it might take on this particular manifestation. The real problem is an economic system that is doomed to perpetual crises (with every crises solved the conditions of the next crises are created. In the 1970’s, strong workers organisation, full employment and the welfare provision had exacerbated declining levels of profit and capitalism sought to drive down wages and welfare provision. They achieved this and restored profit levels. The problem is, however, demand has been suppressed by low wages. This would not have mattered if capitalism had embarked on an ambitious cycle of investment, but returns on investment in production are not as high as in speculative activities. Quite simply, capitalism has not been able to do anything with its surpluses other than offer credit to those who can’t afford to pay. Eventually the underlying reality of the economy would assert itself and it did. This is what happens when a society is built around the anarchic pursuit of profit rather than the satisfaction of human need.

Here is a graph produced by the US state department showing wages and productivity (see below).  We can see that wages have stagnated while productivity has boomed.

It is no good saying, therefore, that we have to engineer greater conditions for wealth creation by greater worker flexibility, less public services and lower wages. We have spent forty years doing this and it has brought us to the abyss. Nor can we pretend Keynesianism can solve our problems. It failed in the 1970’s and will fail again. Quite simply Capitalism is a dead system that refuses to accept its fate. It has long since outlived any usefulness it might once have had

The average worker is working longer hours, now the average household requires two regular full-time incomes, most households are immersed in debt, workers are seeing real wages fall not increase, workers are being asked to postpone retirement and all this was during the “boom” and not as a result of the crises. The golden age of capitalism is finished. There are those with time on their hands with no money and little future and there are others forever working to keep up with the demands of their job, sacrificing their personal lives in order to keep their house and not drop into the unproductive sector.  But surely, wealth should be measured in how much free time and security we have not the facilities for credit which the banks “so kindly” offer  (provided, of course, we maintain our current employment). If a slave is beaten by a whip for not working hard we call this barbaric, if, in a society of plenty, a worker is denied a job because they had seven days sickness in their previous job, they are over 50 or have childcare commitments then this , we are told, is rewarding the hardworking. Moreover, as Joseph Choonara points out:

It is estimated that lost output, the goods and services that went unproduced during the crisis (2008), amounts to $4 trillion – enough dollar bills to stretch to the sun and back twice over. That sum would also be sufficient to provide basic education, healthcare, sanitation and nutrition to all those on the planet currently denied them, and to do so for 30 years.

The point is, however, that such wealth will never be used for such purposes because it is antithtical to profitmaking. Even when it is functioning capitalism cannot satisfy the needs of human beings. It is no use rescuing the system, it needs to be buried and a new rational system devised which is about the development of  human beings not profit.

English Teaching

We have seen English as Foreign language expand massively since the 1970’s, it has been a flagship for neo-liberalism. It too has promised peace, prosperity and progress and it too is in a quagmire of its own contradictions. In Thaliand the British Council continued to recruit teachers for its EFL programmes despite the growing unrest on the streets and the British Foreign Office advice not to travel to the cities where it has its offices. It spent tax payers’ money promoting English universities and English exams which act, like the International Schools there, as a gatekeeper for privilege The poor from outside Bangkok came to the city to demand a share in the wealth that had been created. They only had education until 12, they were not going to a British University. They were not going to see greater social welfare because the well-paid in Bangkok cannot afford high taxes and an English education for their children. The New Zealand, Australian and British Governments have been fighting over this market (promoting the necessity of English) when what Thailand needed was Social Justice. When protesters were about to be gunned down on the streets, The British Council explained that the Cambridge exams were postponed because of transport problems. The British Council, The New Zealand and Australian governments have blood on their hands. They have poured petrol on the flames of inequality and turned their heads away at the inevitable result.

Our commitment

We apologise for our absence but we promise to return fresher, sharper and more eager than ever to place EFL teaching in a proper historical, political and economic context. Our aim is to raise awareness, not to tell you what to think. The start of any resolution,however, is a basic recognition of the problem. Of course there is debate concerning the nature and scale of the problem, together with its possible solutions, but first we must recognise that a problem exists. And it does. There is an elephant in the classroom; this elephant is the collapsed ideology of neo-liberalism. Until we recognise this huge creature pushing us against the walls, crushing us in its desperate attempts to overcome the constraints of these walls, we can do nothing. Until we recognise that this elephant was there from the beginning and that we have been consciously or consciously feeding it, we can do nothing to save ourselves, nothing to free ourselves from being slaves of this enormous creature with its sick insatiable appetite.


Filed under Uncategorized