Thursday, 21 June 2012

We must Occupy the economy

The roller coaster ride of the world economic crisis continues. Elections in Greece and France have shifted the political ground slightly to the left, with a Socialist majority in France, and the spectacular result obtained by SYRIZA in coming second in Greece with about 27% of the vote. But the Eurozone crisis stumbles on and the 'free' market fundamentalists, the architects of the broken economic system, are still in the driving seat. Banks are bust and, under the current system, there is nothing to look forward to apart from years of economic stagnation at best. Meanwhile in the UK, millions are being pushed below the breadline by the governments cuts in benefits, tax credits, and increases in rents.

In 1966, the Marxist economist Paul Sweezy wrote a book, with Paul Baran, called Monopoly Capital, in which he said that the natural tendency of monopoly capitalism was economic stagnation, as capitalists struggled to use the surpluses of capital accumulation, and that they could only achieve this by increases in spend on marketing and defence spending, and increasing debt. Was Sweezy right? Its certainly true that US defence spending in WWII ended the Great Depression, and that a mountain of debt has been used to keep capitalism going in the past 30 years or so.

So what do we do? The market fundamentalists have no answer. They are like the mad person who repeats the same actions over again in Einsteins famous quote:
"Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results"
Einstein: described the madness of market fundamentalists
So we need an economic alternative. But what is that alternative? Neoliberalism, over the past 30 years has put commercial interests above democratic sovereignty. This has happened globally through organisations like the WTO and the European Union. We need to reverse this process and re-assert democratic control of our economy. This economic change must put governments in charge, actively planning and managing economic development, allow local decision making and create a mixed economy based on  genuine sustainable development to deal with ecological crises and halt endless growth. In the longer term the only answer to the domination of private commercial interests is to put the economy in the hands of the 99%. How can we do all that?

Firstly, we need to nationalise the bust banks that are hoovering up resources which need to be spent on creating jobs. Its a scandal that the UK's bust banks have been bailed out but are still in private hands. This must end, some banks must fold, and we need banks to be broken up to provide finance to small businesses, and local and regional banks which can focus on reviving local economies;

Secondly, we need to take the creation of credit out of private hands and put it under democratic control. Debt creation is too great a power to be left in the hands of private enterprise - this is what caused the current crash;

Thirdly, we need to take control of the big utilities such the energy and water companies, and sectors which rely on massive public subsidy to continue such as the railways;

Fourth, we must institute a programme of investment in our economy to create jobs through green quantitative easing and a Green New Deal;

Finally, and most importantly, we must break the power of the corporations by mutualising the economy, providing the finance to set up co-operatives and giving employees the power to buy-out the companies they work for and control them. This latter measure is crucial in putting economic power into the hands of ordinary people. We need to create a new culture of doing business in which people work together to create successful mutuals which are focused on local communities. Co-operatives have a better success rate than companies and they don't outsource downsize, or export jobs overseas.

Its a little known fact but there was an expansion of mutuals in the USA during the last Great Depression and there are many successful co-operatives both in the USA and here. It is a sector that is already growing. 130 million (yes that is million) people in the USA are now involved in mutuals and if you want to find out more detail read this previous post. You should also take a look at Gar Alperovitz's excellent book 'America beyond Capitalism' which gives practical examples of how the 99% in America are taking control of their economy from the bottom up by creating co-operatives. This is economic democracy in action and something we should celebrate.

Think it can't happen? Well, we have to make it happen. Its likely that the failure of the global banking system is going to mean that states are going to have to take a much bigger role in managing the economy now that the failures of the market have been exposed, and that people are going to be much more willing to trust democratic control and planning after they have experienced the privations of neoliberal austerity. If we want to really cure the malaise of neoliberalism and avoid the stagnation of monopoly capitalism we need to participate in the most important occupation of all, we need to Occupy the economy.

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