Friday, 28 December 2012

People who want change must not allow themselves to be co-opted by the system

We live in a 'democracy'. A flawed democracy for sure, one with an anachronistic first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, and consequently a parliament which fails to reflect the will of the British people. And in the second decade of the 21st century we have an unelected 'second chamber', a thing that would be regarded as absurdly undemocratic in most other countries, and something which you won't find in nations which our politicians criticise - like Chavez's Venezuela. 

What's more, we don't have a written constitution which people can refer to, and rely upon. Our constitutional arrangements are shrouded in mystery, and the goalposts appear to be moved, almost at will, to suit the needs of those in power. There can be no doubt that this 'democratic' system continues to be maintained because it benefits the alliance of monarchy, politicians, media magnates, capitalists and other 'establishment' figures who make up the British 'ruling class'.

The electoral hurdles are there to make sure that radicals and small parties find it very hard to make a breakthrough and get a toe hold in local or national government, but the story doesn't end there, because once elected, councillors and MPs find there are 'rules' that they are supposed to follow, and naturally enough the 'rules' are intended to make sure that they conform. The idea is that if you manage to get yourself elected you must then be co-opted you must become part of the system.

But if Parties and individuals want to get elected and bring about radical change they must avoid being co-opted at all costs, and they must retain their radical edge. 'Rules' are there to be changed, and broken if necessary. Many of the 'rules' are about how people are expected to behave rather than actual written codes. Please note that I'm not suggesting that anyone should make a martyr of themselves and end up getting fined or thrown into gaol. What I mean is that the 'rules' should be actively resisted by any legal means possible, especially peaceful democratic protest and direct action involving party members, supporters and trade unionists. In other words 'kick up a stink' and ruthlessly expose the corruption and anti-democratic nature of the system and its supporters. Don't co-operate with it, challenge it!

For example, if you are elected on a platform to oppose the cuts - oppose them at every opportunity!  A cut is a cut is a cut. There are no 'good' cuts in the Coalition's austerity programme, so vote against them, and work with trade unions and local community groups to defend jobs and protect local services. Form alliances with your local community from which you will gain trust and future electoral support. Once you have been seen to conform with 'the system' you simply become 'like all the rest' and lose credibility, and support - you become just another politician closing libraries and hospitals. Here is a quote from Deborah Mattinson's illuminating New Statesman article, based on in-depth electoral research  - 'Tony, you're just like all the rest' - [link above and well worth reading]:
"A conventional wisdom has grown up around the electoral success of new Labour. It is that to win elections you have to stifle radicalism; that being in touch with those vital "Middle England" voters is at odds with the needs of the Labour core vote; and that anything that challenges top-down thinking is somehow old-fashioned, certainly old Labour. Yet floating voters, and women in particular, were voting for something radically different in 1997. They wanted to see real change - [my italics] "
Of course there are some that will argue that this isn't 'grown up politics', and that 'with power comes responsibility'. But that is just playing into the hands of the the very people whose interests are served by the system. The real responsibility of power is to be true to your ideals and the people who elected you. Change is possible, but only if you don't do as you are told. Change the system, don't let the system change you!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Fracking is a delusional scraping of the bottom of the fossil fuel energy barrel

The battle over fracking is the new front line in the battle against climate change and the madness of the 'free' market fundamentalists who are destroying our economy and wrecking our climate. The battle lines are clearly drawn, with 'free' market cheerleaders like Boris Johnson and George Osborne eulogising the 'benefits' of cheap energy from shale gas and the environmental movement warning about the potentially damaging consequences of the 'dash for gas' in the UK.

I've posted on here before about how 'free' market climate change deniers are determined to avoid the economic consequences of climate change - that we will have to move to a different kind of economy which is more local, greener and steady state - and want to protect their own selfish interests and preserve big 'business as usual' at all costs. That is because they recognise that the kind of green, 'low energy' economy that is essential to combat climate change will mean the end of capitalism as we know it

It has been claimed that fracking has produced a massive economic boost in the USA with cheap shale gas lowering energy prices and fueling growth in the economy. But the longer fracking continues in the USA, the more evidence accumulates that not only are there environmental risks with fracking, but also that it is uneconomic. Here is a quote from an article in Business Insider:
"The economics of fracking are horrid. All wells have decline rates where production drops over time. But instead of decades for traditional wells, decline rates in horizontal fracking are measured in weeks and months: production falls off a cliff from day one and continues for a year or so until it levels out at about 10% of initial production."
The Government's own advisers have shown that Osborne's dash for gas is likely to increase energy bills for UK consumers by £600 as opposed to £100 for renewable energy. As if all this wasn't bad enough there are serious concerns about the potential environmental impact of fracking including the pollution of groundwater by toxic chemicals. Like the exploitation of oil from tar sands, fracking is an act of desperation, a Canute like attempt to prevent the inevitable changes that will have to take place in the global economy if we are to survive the very real threat that climate change poses to the future of our species. Reject this neoliberal nonsense and join the Green Party's fight for a greener, cleaner and socially just economy. Our future depends upon it.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The European Union is becoming the enemy of the European people

The European Union is becoming the enemy of the European people - it gives me no pleasure to post this, but it is essential that I do so because it is the truth. Like many people of my generation I had high hopes for the EU. I voted for the UK to join in a referendum in 1974. I didn't buy the 'common market' guff I was being sold at the time by the corporate propaganda machine of the Tory press. I was voting for the 'ideal' and by that I mean a peaceful, war-avoiding Europe, united in a common and progressive purpose. 

In those days a progressive purpose was a realistic project, that a social Europe would be a prosperous, sharing society in which everyone would benefit from the kind of economic and social progress that still seemed inevitable at the time. How things have turned sour since then! Although most Europeans have held fast to that concept of progress, the politicians and capitalists had other ideas. By the 1970's profits were falling and as the EU expanded, so did the influence of the 'free' market neoliberals who were determined to ensure that the EU became a neoliberal corporate club, dedicated to the interests of the rich, at the expense of the rest of us.

And so now we find ourselves at the end of the European dream, living in a union dedicated to destroying the living standards of workers down to third world levels. The exemplar for this is the treatment of the Greeks, by the so-called Troika, who have been beggared  because of a crisis not of their own making. That the hypocrites who lead the EU such as Merkel (and of late Sarkozy) have claimed that this is "solidarity" only serves to emphasise the hypocrisy and mendacity of the Eurocracy . The Greeks have been betrayed and crushed by their own ruling class, with the co-operation of the Eurocratic/capitalist alliance which is a the heart of darkness of the EU.The bailout was only ever intended to protect European banks at the expense of the Greek people.

Munch's The Scream sums up the fate of the Greeks at the hands of the EU

The primary instrument of our betrayal is the the Lisbon Treaty, a neoliberal charter, which enshrines the supremacy of the 'free' market above the needs and democratic rights of the European people. Until this charter is consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs, there can be no solidarity, freedom or progress within the EU. We need to fight to overcome not only the democratic deficit in the EU but to free Europeans from the economic slavery of neoliberalism. 

Having said all that, its essential that we reject the anti-EU rhetoric churned out by the likes of UKIP, and the right of the Tory party. The only reason for their euroscepticism is because they want to destroy what remains of EU environmental and employment legislation so that they can can screw UK workers even harder than they are being screwed at the moment. Of course, its ironic that this kind of euroscepticism is popular, and that people's discontent in the UK with the EU has been manipulated by the capitalist media to benefit  the likes of UKIP who think that the neoliberalism of the EU doesn't go far enough. Don't be fooled! We don't need to leave the EU but we do need to change it for the benefit of the European people.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Osborne's cuts have nothing to do with the deficit

In my last post I blogged about how the 'free' market was working - for the banks, corporations and the capitalist media (if that seems contradictory to the title of the that post - you 'll have to read the post).  Now I have to follow that up with the simple fact that austerity is working. Its working for the 1%, for the George Osbornes of this world, that is why it is being imposed on the people of Europe and the USA. The real aim of austerity is not to solve the 'problem' of the deficit, or to revive our economy. The real aim is to destroy the welfare state, and to reduce the unemployed, and the working poor to third world levels of destitution, and to destroy collective provision.

The poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, the disabled, the unemployed, and the working poor, are the first targets of austerity, The middle classes come next. The aim of austerity is to return the UK to the nineteenth century, and to roll back all the gains in pensions, conditions of employment, living standards, and healthcare, which we have obtained through the trade unions and our democratic process in the past 100 years.

George Osborne - destroying the welfare state in the UK

Osborne is a bare-faced liar. He knows very well that his description of the UK economy as some sort of household budget is a complete fiction. Either that or he is stupid. National economies are not like household economies. National economies can live with high levels of debt for long periods. Governments can borrow far more cheaply than companies or families. They can also create money. Not one penny of Osborne's original £81 billion of cuts was necessary. The structural deficit is convenient cover for an ideologically driven Tory class war on the British people. Its something that they have dreamed of for years - destroy the welfare state and privatise the NHS and the public sector. Now, under the cover of an economic crisis their friends in the banks created they have the opportunity to inflict their 'free' market ideology on the UK. Don't believe me? The read this quote from Michael Burke in the Guardian today:

"The stated aim of "austerity" is not growth but fiscal balance. According to its supporters it is self-evident that, like any household, if you cut your spending you will have more money left at the end of each month. For governments, this is reflected in current spending not capital spending – any fool can cut needed investment on school buildings, rail and roads and claim that things are improving. In official projections, the deficit on the current budget was expected to be falling to £80bn in the current financial year, down £34bn in two years. Is this current deficit falling? [no]. If not, austerity is failing in its stated objective, and persisting with it implies there is actually a different policy objective of lowering wages and benefits, which is what has happened.
Don't be fooled by this Coalition government. Austerity is working very well indeed because the Chancellor's cuts programme is a direct attack on the living standards of you and your family. It is designed to make the rich richer and the rest of us poorer. If it succeeds your children will be poorer than you are and your grandchildren will be poorer than your children. You only have one option and that is to join together with people who are fighting the cuts and stop the greatest heist in history in its tracks.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The 'free' market has failed, now for the alternative

Unfortunately the title of this post is not really true, the first part anyway. The 'free' market has succeeded. It has succeded in transferring huge amounts of wealth from ordinary working people to the very richest people on the planet. And it has done this by reducing wages and destroying pensions, social healthcare and social security. Because that transfer of wealth always was the aim of 'free' market neoliberalism - making the 99% (workers) poorer and 1% (capitalists) richer. 

Of course, most people don't like to think in terms of 'capitalist and worker', that, after all, is old hat isn't it? Well, no its not, its just that in the 30 year period after the Second World War, with strong trade unions, social security and decent pensions, the ongoing struggle between worker and capitalist was offset by rising prosperity. With hindsight we can now see that period for what it was - an anomaly. We are now back to capitalism as usual, capitalism as it has been for most of its 200 year history, with sluggish growth and poor welfare provision for the victims of capitalism - the poor and the unemployed. The fact that it took an economic crash to return us to 'normality' should really be no surprise to anyone (though when it happens it always is). The history of capitalism is a succession of economic crises, of which this one is only the latest and possibly the greatest. The capitalist media has worked hard to persuade us that the distinction between capitalist and worker no longer has any relevance, that we are all in it together, but that has been exposed as a fiction by recent events.

The lesson we should learn from the latest crisis is that only the nation state can prevent complete economic chaos and disaster. Without state intervention in the economies of Europe and the USA the crisis would have been very much worse. Neoliberals like to label the state as the enemy of freedom, enterprise and innovation, but without it we would all probably be living in shanty towns and could possibly have slid into barbarism. The reality is that the democratic nation state can be our friend and it is the only existing institution which can turn things around in times of crisis. That is why we must not turn our back on state intervention in the economy, and nationalisation of the railways and the utilities. People of my generation look back on the nationalised utilities with affection. They weren't perfect but they weren't the preserve of foreign corporations with footloose 'investors' who care nothing about energy and water provision in the UK.

It doesn't have to be like this. There is a sound economic alternative, but there is a problem because if we continue to elect political parties which follow neoliberal policies the misery will continue. For example, as Larry Elliot in the Guardian showed today new jobs have been created in the UK during the crisis but the bad news is that these are low-paid part time jobs, replacing the better jobs which have been lost. Here is a telling quote:
"The UK is turning into an old-style third world country with low pay growth for most workers below managerial level, widening pay differentials and poor levels of capital investment"
Of the mainstream political parties in the UK all but one adhere to the tenets of 'free' market neoliberalism, despite the fact that it is clearly unpopular with the electorate, as the by-elections last Thursday showed. The Coalition parties got hammered with the Liberal Democrats polling only 415 votes in Rotherham and coming eighth. UKIP did well, but they are a single-issue party trading on the unpopularity of the EU. If people understood better UKIP's other policies they would soon be exposed. Labour, who most voters are looking to as an alternative to the Coalition are neoliberal-lite at best and are unlikely to reverse many of the damaging changes made by the Coalition. The only party which has an alternative economic policy is the Green Party, as we showed in our manifesto, which is still as relevant now as it was in 2010 .

'Free' market neoliberalism has failed those who it was meant to fail, the ordinary people of  Europe and the USA, the 99%. The alternative is now needed more urgently than ever. But you can only get that alternative by voting for a political party which has an alternative. If you want to find out more take a look at our vision. Never has voting for an alternative been more important. Come and join us in turning things around.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

'Free' market myths no. 5: competition works

Competition is an essential part of  our economy. The fact that companies compete with each other to provide us with better goods and services means that the goods and services on offer constantly improve and we get better value for money. It means that companies that don't perform well go to the wall and the best run companies thrive, and it also means that individuals work harder to do better and achieve higher rewards right? Wrong!

The idea that much vaunted 'free' market competition does all these things and is essential to the well-being of our economy just happens to be nonsense. Of course this is hard for many people to accept because we have been told this is the case all our lives, and most of us believe it. But the idea of competition that most of us have is based on real competition of the kind that you find in the Olympics where individuals and teams do battle to win prizes. This kind of striving for ever greater excellence is not the same thing as competition in a capitalist economy. In fact its possible to make a case that in some sectors there is little or no competition at all. Mature markets are where particular markets are dominated by a few major players, all the smaller operators having been squeezed out, usually by acquisition rather than competition. An obvious example of this which has been making the headlines recently is the energy sector, which has been accused of making excessive profits at the expense of hard pressed bill payers. And we have witnessed the neoliberal Coalition government's feeble attempts to 'regulate' energy prices for consumers. As the Guardian editorial said:
"But all Mr Davey is proposing is a change in billing, not pricing. And he is certainly not proposing to change the mechanics that place 85% of the retail market in the hands of the big six suppliers, and which mean that when one raises prices the rest follow soon afterwards. If it looks like an oligopoly, and acts like an oligopoly, then it probably is an oligopoly"

It was accepted, until fairly recently, by economists, that such 'mature markets' were examples of monopoly capitalism, until neoliberal 'free' market dogma came to dominate in the 1980's, and monopoly capitalism was conveniently 'forgotten'. Its well worth reading this article by Bellamy Foster, McChesney and Jamil Jonna, which describes how monopoly - not oligopoly by the way - is increasing and competition is decreasing, on a global scale. here is a telling quote:
"The desirability of monopoly, from the perspective of a capitalist, is self-evident: it lowers risk and increases profits. No sane owner or business wishes more competition; the rational move is always to seek as much monopoly power as possible and carefully avoid the nightmare world of the powerless competitive firm of economics textbooks. Once a firm achieves economic concentration and monopoly power, it is maintained through barriers to entry that make it prohibitively costly and risky for would-be competitors successfully to invade an oligopolistic or monopolistic industry—though such barriers to entry remain relative rather than absolute. Creating and maintaining barriers to entry is essential work for any corporation."
The reality is that competition in the capitalist global economy is just another 'free' market myth, slavishly maintained and adhered to by the capitalist media we all know and love so well.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Tax dodgers are poverty creators

Let me make clear from the start that by 'tax dodgers' I mean tax avoiders and well as tax evaders. The former is not unlawful and the latter is. But the former ought to be, and this post is about why it ought to be. Recently, companies such as Amazon, Starbucks and Google have been taken to task for tax avoidance. All three companies were hauled up before the Public Accounts Committee, and their responses to questions about tax avoidance were woefully inadequate - see this excellent account of the proceedings by Richard Murphy in which he said:
"For Amazon things were much worse. Its rep could not justify how an order made in the UK for a product in a UK warehouse, shipped by UK staff through the UK post and with a bill enclosed printed in this country could somehow have anything to do with Luxembourg. Despite this he had the gall to claim tax must be paid where the economic substance of the deal was – even though Amazon does nothing of the sort."
Tax avoidance means that this country loses money which we badly need to pay for infrastructure, education, health - and, as you know, the list goes on. But by dodging tax, these companies are not only shrinking the UK tax base, and therefore dumping more of the tax burden onto individual taxpayers, they are also killing off British retailers which are based here and pay their full  taxes. This isn't creating jobs, its costing jobs and the profits made in the UK are siphoned off abroad. Corporate tax avoidance is nothing more than a race to the bottom where corporations swan around the globe looking for the cheapest tax rates and playing one country off against another in the process. Its not much more than a form of robbery and we are the ones who are being robbed.

Stupidly, politicians in different countries are playing the corporations' game as they compete with each other to get these tax dodgers based in their country. What they should be doing is deals with other countries to set a standard corporate tax rate so that the corporations cannot gain advantage. It looks at that that British industry is beginning to wake up to this scam and beginning to fight back. Polly Toynbee reported in the Guardian:
"John Lewis's managing director is calling on the Treasury to demand tax is paid in the country where profits are made: Amazon made £3.3bn in sales but paid zero UK corporation tax on any of the profits of that income. "They will out-invest and ultimately out-trade us," tax-paying John Lewis protests, unable to compete fairly with tax-shirkers."
Th reality of 21st century capitalism is that it is no longer productive. It doesn't create as much real wealth any more. Profits from companies like Amazon aren't re-invested in useful economic activity. They are spent by investors on, yachts, financial schemes and property booms. So huge has non-productive financial capitalism become globally that it completely dwarfs the productive economy. Far from being wealth creators, these companies will increase poverty in the countries they are shafting, like the UK, and we will be the losers. Our spineless politicians need to get a grip, and fast. It ought not the be beyond the wit of the EU countries to agree a corporate tax rate of £25% and to clear out the tax havens which are causing so much damage to our economy. Do it, and do it soon! Meantime, if you want to get involved join the UK Uncut demo on 8th December!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The BBC debacle is just part of a much wider malaise

Another week passes by and another debacle for the BBC to deal with. Now, the BBC Director General, George Entwistle, has resigned after Newsnight alleged that a 'top Tory' was involved in child abuse in a children's home in North Wales. The allegation, made on Newsnight by Steve Messham, who was abused whilst in care, wasn't properly researched, and it turned out that Messham hadn't even been shown a photo of the man he thought was his abuser. He was wrong, and he apologised. So far so bad, a sloppy piece of journalism which should never have been aired, and coming on top of the Saville affair it has rocked the BBC from top to bottom.

The BBC has an enduring and important role in our society - Plaque at Alexandra Palace
No doubt the enemies of the BBC, including Rupert Murdoch. will be rubbing their hands at the pickle the BBC is in. There are plenty of people who would like to see the end of public broadcasting in the UK. These people are essentially asset-strippers, who seek the privatisation of public services such as the NHS, so that private sector vultures can grab hold of public sector infrastructure and assets, and make easy money from delivering services on long term contracts without any competition - see here. The end of the BBC would mean a bonanza for private sector broadcasters like Rupert Murdoch's Sky.

What has happened at the BBC looks like part of a much wider malaise which includes the Parliamentary expenses scandal, the Libor banking scandal, widespread tax avoidance and tax evasion, and the economic crisis we are in itself. In all these cases people in positions of power, either by virtue of high position or wealth have either failed to maintain expected standards or abused the system for their own benefit. What this indicates is a widespread failure in the system brought about by a toxic mixture of incompetence, corruption, and sheer criminality. What is the cause of this? Well, there will always be people who try to get their fingers in the till, but I believe the main cause is the corrosive and malign influence of neoliberal 'free' market capitalism. This is a get rich quick, devil take the hindmost, beggar my neighbour ideology, which puts profit before people and seeks to destroy collective provision for private gain. We had a wonderful example of this recently when it transpired that a group of GPs had made millions by hiving off NHS services to the private sector. 

If you are wondering what this ideology has to do with institutions that are still wholly in the public domain I can assure you that marketisation and 'free' market ideology is all pervasive in the public sector, thanks to the 'influence' of New Labour and the Coalition. But we need our BBC, and  for all its faults and failures, it still provides far better value for money than its private sector rivals, and acts as a bulwark against the rabid and poisonous propaganda pumped out by private 'news'  stations like Fox - its well worth watching this attack on Owen Jones What we need to to do is understand the dangers of this insidious 'free' market political project and work to protect our public services. We also need to re-discover that old fashioned and oft forgotten concept of public service, which some of us still remember, and value.

Footnote: the day after I posted this, an interesting article by Simon Caulkin appeared in the Observer. What Caulkin, who is an award winning commentator on management issues, is arguing is that management has been taken over by 'free' market ideology - worth a read.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The' living wage' is nowhere near enough

Its been an eventful weekend, with the final stages of the battle for the American Presidency, between Obama and Romney, and yet another child abuse scandal and 'cover-up' erupting in North Wales. What caught my interest though was Ed and Dave Milliband's plan to deliver the living wage in the UK. When you hear that the Labour Party plans to do something for working class these days you take it with a hefty dose of salt. In fact, its fair to say that Labour has been responsible, in recent times, for kicking the working class just as hard as the Tories, which is why, electorally, some of those people have defected to the BNP, as a protest vote. The infamous 'squeezed middle' may be a priority for Labour, but the working class, low paid, and unemployed have dropped completely off the radar, abandoned to the cheap labour market of neoliberal globalisation.

But if you read the Guardian article by Dave Milliband and Dave Prentis it gets much, much worse. Firstly, we get: 
"But progress depends on keeping up the pressure and keeping up the campaigning. And it means finding incentives to persuade reluctant employers that it's in their interests as well." its only a campaign you are talking about then? I thought for a second a you meant a Labour government was going to legislate. Next:
"Public tendering is one area where this could work, particularly with growing privatisation. For example, could government reward local authorities that get employers to sign up to the living wage, with some of the savings from tax credits to go into a local skills fund, controlled by those authorities?"
Right, so first, we fully accept the asset stripping of privatisation, then local authorities have to beg employers to sign up? Huh? So we ask the corporations nicely to cough up - please. Its enough to make any self respecting trade unionist choke on his/her beer - if they can still afford any these days.

What I would expect any self-respecting politician who believes in social justice to do is to make employers pay a living wage through legislation. For years now the capitalists and corporations have had an orgy of excess, grabbing an ever greater slice of the economic cake at the direct expense of the rest of us. They have brought about the biggest economic crash in world history, causing economic chaos and misery to millions. Does it matter to them? -  no, not a bit. They have been completley insuated from the crisis they created. Now it is time for democratic governments to make them pay for their excesses and bring them to account. We need to reverse the neoliberal 'heist' that has been going on for the last 30 years. 

The best way to revive the global economy is to put money into pockets of the workers and the poor, and that means more than the 'living wage', because its not just enough.They will spend that money and they will create new jobs. They are the real wealth creators and job creators. For far too long we have put up with self-serving 'free' market bullshit about tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, and labour market flexibility. What we need is democratic control of the economy and asset redistribution to build a fairer, more equal, and more effective economy which can fight climate change and provide prosperity for all.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Building the post-capitalist economy

Post-capitalist economy? - that old chestnut, a socialist arguing for the end of capitalism? But in recent times capitalism has shown that it is perfectly capable of bringing about its own demise. This isn't just about the collapse of banks, the current 'debt crisis' obscures and compounds the real problem which is the collapse of ecosystems on which we depend for our survival. Capitalism is not just the driver of climate change, but also of massive environmental degradation, and loss in biodiversity - see this recent example. It is capital accumulation that is devouring our planet and you cannot use the same mechanisms which are destroying the Earth to save it. What we need to do is bring about economic change before the consequences of climate change become unimaginably destructive to our global society. A post-capitalist economy is inevitable, but we can do it the hard way or the better way, and what we need to do is think about how that economy ought to work.

This is a slight detour, but I wonder how many people know that Karl Marx, was an admirer of capitalism, in the sense that he admired the huge productive capacity of capitalism, which far exceeded any previous economic system. Marx recognised that if the productive capacity of capitalism was harnessed for the good of society, it could provide people with a much better material standard of living than they had ever had before. But he also recognised that, through the mechanism of surplus value, capitalists were able to deprive workers of the wealth that they created, and that there would always be a conflict between capitalists and workers, between the productive forces - workers - and the non-productive forces - capitalists. Marx was the first political economist to understand the massive forces that capitalism could unleash, and Marx and Engels were also much more aware of environmental degradation than they have been given credit for. Engels said:    
Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first.
As far as climate catastrophe is concerned, the left may have led the way in our understanding of the unfolding crisis but the 'free' market right have since caught up, and are now pouring their millions into persuading people that climate change is not an issue, through climate change denial, because they are concerned about their profits and the end of domination of democracies by the market. As I have pointed out before, in this post, the 'free' market fundamentalists are fighting to deny climate change precisely because they recognise that a genuine and meaningful response the climate change will mean the end of capitalism as we know it. This state of affairs was beautifully summed up in an article by Naomi Klein called 'Capitalism vs the Climate'.

So what would a post-capitalist economy look like? It would not mean the end of the private sector, because, as I've argued before, the private sector is not the same thing as capitalism, but initially it would inevitably mean a much bigger role for the state because a collapsing capitalist economy would have to be replaced by extensive nationalisation of banks, transport and utilities to save them from going under. Energy and food production would have to be regulated as would imports and exports. We would need planning in a democratically controlled economy.This would not simply be an ideological choice but a necessary response to crisis. We would have to grow as much as our own food as possible and economies would become much more localised. It would be an economy much more like the one that we had in the UK during the Second World War.

Caroline Lucas in her report 'New Home Front' has gathered together ideas on what we can do in response to climate change
We are already beginning to experience problems with climate change in terms of freak weather events, and disruption to agriculture, and we will inevitably soon experience difficulties with energy supply. We have a choice, we can begin to adjust our economy now, to deal with these problems, or we can carry on with 'business as usual' and inevitably face much worse conditions later. What we need to do is forget about the 'free' market neoliberal nonsense about competing with China, and work together to create a new kind of economy to deal with possibly the greatest challenge that human beings have ever faced.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The dregs of democracy

Its conference season. Its also election time in the USA. Last Wednesday there was a Presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, and earlier in the week Ed Milliband's conference speech.  What did we learn from these two events? The main outcome for me was that we learned how impoverished our democracy is in the west, how hollowed out it has become. We used to have a choice. In the UK it was a clear-cut choice between Labour and Conservative. Not any more. Politics has become homogenous. The very people who claim that they want us to have more choice, by which they really mean more privatisation, want us to have less and less choice when it comes to politics, and who we can vote for.

What was scary about to Obama-Romney debate wasn't the fact that , by all accounts, Romney won. It was the lack if difference between the two candidates. So dominant has the neoliberal consensus become amongst the political class that the debate is nuanced between minor differences in policy, whether to cut taxes a bit more or a bit less, whether to have a bit more private sector. Politics is now about personality. Is Ed a strong leader? Is he a geek? Who do you prefer Cameron or Milliband, Romney or Obama? Politicians have to market themselves to the electorate as Ed Milliband did on Tuesday. This is pure and utter bullshit, and a complete distraction from the things that matter - like policies for instance. But its a distraction which suits the neoliberal right. Let people argue about whether Cameron is better than Milliband, while we get on with asset stripping the NHS and the Public sector. Glenn Greenwald, writing in the Guardian, hit the nail on the head:
"Wednesday night's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney underscored a core truth about America's presidential election season: the vast majority of the most consequential policy questions are completely excluded from the process. This fact is squarely at odds with a primary claim made about the two parties – that they represent radically different political philosophies – and illustrates how narrow the range of acceptable mainstream political debate is in the country."

The first Kennedy and Nixon debate in 1960

Out in the real world however, as we have seen all over the world, in Mexico, Spain, and the USA, millions of people want real choice and real change. Here in the UK our politicians have the democratic system with a Parliament and first-past-the-post voting system that is more fitted to the 17th century than the 21st century. That is why people are increasingly disillusioned with the democratic process. But that, in itself, suits politicians. However few people vote, they still get to be in power. What we have now, is a sham democracy instead of a proper democracy.  This is a sort of corporate-neoliberal totalitarianism maintained and stitched-up between corporations, politicians and the media, and before things can be changed for the better they look set to get much worse.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Apparently 'economics' means screwing the workers

Last week we heard that Vince Cable had decided to kowtow to his Tory masters and introduce a range of 'reforms' which are intended to make it easier to sack workers and 'create more jobs'. This is an ideological class-war driven attack on workers rights which follows hot on the heels of the recent lengthening of the period of no fault dismissal for workers from one year to two years, and apparently implements some parts of the discredited Beecroft Report, described as 'crap' by Coalition government insiders. It's important to point out that there is no evidence that these measures will create any more jobs - just evidence that the 1% are using the economic crisis that they caused as an opportunity to bash the workers. This is part and parcel of the well known 'Shock Doctrine' described by Naomi Klein, you create a crisis, then use it as cover to attack the living standards of the 99%.
Cable - screwing the workers
Now, these attacks are being followed by renewed calls for an end to national pay bargaining in the public sector. According to the Guardian '25 senior academic' economists have called for individually negotiated public sector contracts.  This is a blatant attack not only on employee rights but the trade union movement itself, and has been a Tory dream for decades. All the usual bogus arguments about 'labour market flexibility' and 'job creation' are predictably trotted out. What's crucial here is to understand that this is really 'free' market fundamentalist ideology dressed up as 'economics'. This is not about the economy it's about politics. The so-called economists who have dreamt up this stuff are capitalist economists  - the same blinkered individuals who promoted the ideas that caused the economic crisis in the first place and who see the solutions as more of the same or 'business as usual'. This is about screwing workers -  allegedly to make markets work better. It is not a science or an academic discipline but a belief system, and these economists are the high priests of the system, worshipping at the altar of the market.

These are the very same neoliberal 'free' market fanatics who believe in 'externalities' which is capitalist economic speak for explaining away the right of corporations to dump their costs free of charge onto communities and the environment, in the form of pollution and unemployment, causing health problems, hardship for millions, and massive environmental destruction. These are the same sort of people who believe that basics such as food can be traded as commodities - in short they are people without human values who should not be taken seriously and represent a danger to the well-being of millions. Their type of economic 'solutions' are responsible for death and destruction on a global scale, and, of course, they won't be the ones to suffer pays cuts and unemployment as a result of these proposals. They will remain safe in their cosy academic bubble while the rest of us get our standard of living cut still further.  

Of course economics doesn't have to be like this. There are economists who recognise that economics has a social dimension, and at its heart should be the well-being of people and communities, not abstract notions about money which favour corporations and the rich. For an excellent analysis of the ongoing destruction of the social contract in Europe by neoliberal economists, and its consequences, read this excellent article by the economist Ha-Joon Chang. At its root this debate is not about economics at all - it is really about values. The values of humanity, decency and pay equality for hardworking people doing the same job versus the anti-human, 'abstract', and immoral values of the 'free' market, and screwing the workers.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Cameron's Paralympic hypocrisy covers a vicious Coalition attack on the disabled

Have you been watching the Paralympics? If so you will have been impressed by the endeavour of the Paralympians in striving for medal success. But what will happen to Paralympians after the games are over? How many will be adversely affected by the government's attempts to remove Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from 500,000 disabled people in the UK? Predictably, Prime Minister David Cameron plumbed new depths of hypocrisy recently when he spoke about the Paralympics. According to the BBC :
Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he believes Paralympics will "inspire a lot of people and change people's views on disability".
But Cameron has done more than any other Prime Minister change people's views on disability, causing harm to disabled people in the UK in the process. The Coalition's attempts to deny benefits to disabled people through removal of the DLA and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) have lead to great hardship for many people who relied on the allowances to lead a decent life. And their attack on the disabled has lead some people to believe that they are "benefit scroungers". Disabled people have been subject to abuse and physical attacks as a direct result of  the government's policy. Its important to point out that these benefits for disabled people are there to help them live independent lives, and in many cases enable them to go out to work.

The government have paid 'healthcare' firm Atos £400 million to carry out 'disability assessments' designed to get disabled and chronically sick people off benefits. In a cruelly ironic twist it turns out that Atos is a sponsor of the Paralympic Games! Now Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) are fighting back and recently staged a protest at Atos's offices in London. DPAC have also collected stories about the hardship caused to sick and disabled people by the Coalition. DPAC's Linda Burnip, quoted in the Independent, said:
"The stories are disgusting, really harrowing, they are people who are really, really seriously ill who couldn't possibly be expected to work – and yet they're being found capable. Disabled people are being driven to suicide and death"
Cameron has filled his role as Tory Party frontman really well. Despite the Tories still being the nasty party, and despite the vicious class-war attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, Cameron somehow remains popular, almost as if the worst excesses of an extremist Coalition government had nothing to do with him. This latest outburst of shameless hypocrisy is typical of Cameron, but how long can this continue before people see him for what he really is, a class-war reactionary politician protecting the interests of corporations and the rich at the expense of the rest of us? Lest hope this Paralympic hypocrisy will soon backfire and help to hasten the end of this rotten government.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Bringing back Laws shows the desperation of a failing Coalition

Austerity isn't working. George Osborne's economic policy is in ruins, and he is now a lame-duck Chancellor. Last month the government had to borrow £600 million more, so much for debt reduction. Panic is beginning to grip a failing and fractured government. So it has now been signalled, that David Cameron will re-arrange the deckchairs on the titanic - better known as a cabinet re-shuffle. One of the highlights, we are told, is the expected return to government of the darling of the neoliberal right, David Laws. Laws, who is a millionaire, managed only 17 days in the original Coalition cabinet before having to resign due to a dodgy expenses claim of £40,000, more than many people earn in a two year period.

David Laws
As you might expect, the 'free' market fundamentalists in the Coalition will be delighted by the return of Laws who is a fervent tax-cutter and privatiser. Laws recently called for deeper tax cuts, and the shrinking of the state, in a continuation of the failed neoliberal market 'economic' policies which caused the so-called deficit crisis (the deficit is not really a crisis and is being used as an excuse to destroy welfare) in the first place. All this shows the desperation of a Coalition government which has nowhere to go, the moral bankruptcy of allowing Laws to return, and the growing realisation for Cameron that he will be a one term premier unless he can salvage his sinking ship.

The problem for the market fundamentalists dominating the Coalition is that because they don't believe the state should plan or intervene, by creating jobs for example, they have no levers to pull to revive the economy. Interest rates cannot be reduced, quantitative easing has failed, there is no room for tax cuts, and the economy is still, at best, stagnating. That is why we have suddenly begun to hear calls for big infrastructure projects such as a third runway at Heathrow and a projected £30 billion Severn barrage. Predictably, these are the wrong projects, and even if adopted now, they will come too late to have any effect before the next election. It would have been better for Cameron and Osborne  to begin those projects soon after the 2010 election.

Of course, there are some very real options to get people working and rebuild our economy and you can find them in the Green Party manifesto. But those green solutions are beyond the blinkered ideology of the government. One of the government's key priorities ought to be the building of hundreds of thousands of social homes to boost the economy, create thousands of jobs, and help alleviate our appalling housing crisis, the origins of which lie in the Thatcher government's infamous 'right to buy' policy of 1979. But there is no chance of the government adopting such a common-sense solution. Trapped by their own fundamentalist belief system, government ministers are like the lunatics doomed to repeat the same failed policies over and over again, and each time expecting a different result.