Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Back to the workhouse

Well, it had to happen. New Labour's mission to take us back to the nineteenth century is nearing completion with the latest welfare reform package. The claim that the reforms are there to help people back to work rings very hollow indeed. Lavish handouts to bankers contrast with the battering that those who the bankers have made redundant can expect.

The whole package, modeled on the American workfare system, amounts to the privatisation of welfare in the UK. And guess who designed it? David Freud a banker and chum of Gordon Brown's who has since defected to the Tories. While bankers still get their taxpayer bail out bonuses the unemployed are expected to subsist on a humiliating £60.50 per week, and for this they will have to jump through a number of degrading hoops. Single parents, with children as young as one will be dragooned into seeking work. If we had a decent child care system like they have in Sweden it would be far easier for single parents to look for work with the confidence that their children were being properly cared for but no such luck in Gradgrind Britain.

When I was unemployed in the 1970's unemployment benefit, payable to people for twelve months, was an entitlement - not a hand-out. I'm sure that the million plus people who lose their jobs for no fault of their own in the next year will appreciate New Labour's 'generosity'. I suppose at least they are not being expected to sweep the streets wearing day-glo vests with 'unemployed' or 'welfare recipient' blazoned across them - not yet anyway.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

What is wrong with protectionism?

Have you noticed how Gordon Brown and other world leaders have been banging on recently about the dangers of protectionism? Apparently, protectionism is bad and if we became protectionist that would make our difficult economic position even worse. Before we look at protectionism its worth remembering that these are the same leaders who supported the neo-liberal economic policies which have caused so much damage to people's lives recently - so would you trust them to get this right?

For these are the very same people who support globalisation, and globalisation is a system of economic imperialism in which the giant capitalist corporations loot the riches of poorer nations - minerals, oil, coffee, rubber etc - whilst being able to freely exploit their people as cheap labour. Globalisation is presented to us as an inevitable development of international and national economies, but there is nothing inevitable about it. Globalisation is maintained by capitalist rules enforced through the WTO, IMF and World Bank. Globalisation increases world poverty by moving wealth from the poor to the rich.

So what about protectionism? Well protectionism - trade and tariff barriers - was what made us - Americans and Western Europeans - relatively wealthy. We practiced it a century or so ago and built up our economies in the process. Now we seek to deny that opportunity to developing nations by forcing them to open up their markets to the big corporations and by privatising their infrastructure. No wonder Gordon and Co. are so keen on knocking protectionism. Protectionism is bad for capitalists but good for the developing world.

In a recent excellent Guardian article, Larry Elliot slayed the myth of the evils of protectionism and showed that it is necessary for economic development:

"The historical evidence is conclusive: free trade is good, protectionism is bad. Except that isn't what the evidence actually shows. The Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang has demonstrated that no country since the dawning of the modern age has managed to industrialise successfully without protectionism."

The same article showed that the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff - oft quoted as worsening the Great Depression - did nothing of the kind.

The truth is that protectionism is bad for the economic exploitation inherent in the globalisation project. That is the real reason why Gordon and the G7 are against it. But countries have an absolute right to protect their economic infrastructure from the chill wind of capitalist exploitation and the race to the bottom in terms of labour and environmental standards. Cheap labour is simply unfair competition. We need fair trade, not free trade.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Paymasters of the Universe

Bankers certainly know how to pay themselves even if they don't know how to run banks. And once again we are being told to lay off the big bankers and their bonuses. Apparently, even though the men and women who bust the world's financial system, did it whilst receiving eye watering billions of dollars, we still need more of the same. You see if we don't pay these people vast amounts of money they may leave. Lets hope they do. Then we may end up with a system which works and protects pensions and savings.

The truth is that there has been a massive bean feast at our expense. Not only bankers and traders but company executives have had their noses in the trough, paying themselves ludicrous amounts of money. But I know that my old granny, bless her, could have run a bank better than that - its not rocket science - and she wouldn't have expected to be paid millions either. Recently on BBC 2 there was a programme where they took a group of people and gave them eight weeks to become city traders. Here is the blurb:

Eight ordinary people are given a million dollars and a fortnight of intensive training to run their own hedge fund. Hedge fund manager Lex van Dam wants to see if they can beat the professionals

It was naff TV, boring really - lots of nose picking and looking a flashing lights on screens, but guess what happened? At the end of the series at least half of them had done OK. From what I can remember only two were outright failures. You see being a trader isn't rocket science either.

What has been going on is a racket. One which those who benefited have ended up costing ordinary people millions in lost jobs, houses and pensions, not to mention the harm to future generations. We have been shafted. The perpetrators should be made to pay compensation by handing back most of the billions they pocketed. Those who committed fraud, and there must be some, should go to gaol. There is absolutely no way that we should stand for any return to business as usual. We must do all we can to prevent it. Support Put People First and join the demo on 28th of March if you can.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Ever heard of the World Social Forum?

If you hadn't I wouldn't be surprised. You see our great 'free' media has pretty much ignored it completely. There was an interesting post on CiF which I read today but that is all I have seen. Contrast this with the wall to wall coverage of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The reason why the World Social Forum, which was attended by 100,000 people, hasn't made the papers is because it presents an alternative to the world capitalist domination which is celebrated so avidly annually at Davos. Rupert Murdoch, owner of associated newspapers, is a regular attender so its no surprise that his papers aren't keen to lavish column inches on the World Social Forum.

This years World Social Forum was held in Belem, Brasil and hosted by President Lula. In all five South American leaders, including Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales attended the forum and criticised the failed neo-liberal economics of Rupert and his wealthy chums in Davos. There is an excellent quote from Lula in the posting I referred to above:

"The economic crisis affecting Latin America, cried Lula, was not caused by "the socialism of Chávez" or by "the struggles of Evo" [Morales, the president of Bolivia], but by the bankrupt policies and lack of financial control of wealthy states outside the continent. "And who is the god to whom they have appealed?" he asked rhetorically. "Why, the state!""

Nice to see gloomy faces at Davos and Lula sticking two fingers up to them. Maybe with our crumbling economy next year the capitalist press will have to start taking some more notice of the World Social Forum. Whether they like it or not.