Friday, 30 March 2012

In Bradford Labour gets the kick in the pants it so richly deserves

I'm not exactly a fan of George Galloway, in fact I don't know anyone who is. Despite this, the man has a track record of causing upsets and getting himself elected. So, I wasn't wholly surprised when I woke up to find he had won the Bradford West byelection with a stunning victory. But I sure was pleased :D.

No wonder he's smiling
This result is exactly the kicking that the Labour Party richly deserves. At a time when we have a Coalition government which insists on implementing deeply unpopular policies such as the 'granny tax', cutting the top rate of tax, and has been caught out peddling influence for cash to the rich, Bradford West ought to have been a very easy win for Labour. So why didn't they win? The answer is simple - Labour has deserted its social democratic roots and people want a real alternative to austerity, not the Tory-lite version being offered by Ed Milliband and co.

So will Labour learn the real lessons of this humiliating defeat? I doubt it. The reality is that Labour is now a neoliberal party of the centre-right, populated by discredited Blairites who are itching to continue the process of privatising and destroying public services. A recent poll showed that the public think the Tories are the party of the rich, if they'd asked the same question about Labour, they might have got the same answer. After all, as Mandelson famously said Labour are intensely relaxed about people being filthy rich.

Like many people I'm angry about the fact that Labour abandoned being the party of social justice in the UK, for grovelling to big business and corporate capitalism. Although it is clear to many of us that Labour needs to discover its social democratic roots, Labour has bent over backwards since its election defeat to avoid doing just that, producing absurd alternative narratives such as Blue Labour. People want an alternative to neoliberalism business as usual, and at the moment to only mainstream party which offers that alternative is the Green Party.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Our government really is being run by idiots

Yesterday evening I went to our local garage to get some bread. I live in a village and we are lucky enough to have a garage and two good pubs. But, being a village, the main road is fairly narrow. I found I couldn't get near the garage for people queuing for petrol. Now I must admit that I'd taken my eye off the ball as far as the tanker driver's dispute is concerned but it was obvious what was happening - panic buying - when there is no reason to panic!

I now discover that the government has fueled this panic by telling people to stock up on petrol, and even store it at home - which is potentially a hazardous thing to do! I just can't believe the stupidity of this move. Obviously they are trying to undermine a strike which hasn't even been called yet, but causing panic buying is a wholly irresponsible thing to do, and may well backfire by annoying people and could even strengthen the position of the tanker drivers. Only idiots would provoke a panic and deliberately cause petrol shortages. This government has lost the plot - assuming it ever had it in the first place.

Unlike the government, the tanker drivers are involved in an industrial dispute with their employers for wholly responsible reasons. The big energy producers, Shell et al, used to employ tanker drivers but this work has now been outsourced and in the process pay and conditions are under attack, but so is safety. You get what you pay for, and if you try to do it on the cheap, corners get cut, and you end up with a worse service. This, of course, is all part of the race to the bottom globally in terms of pay and safety in order to increase profits for companies which already make billions, something this government heartily approves of. I wish the tanker drivers well and hope they win their dispute - for all our sakes. The tanker drivers can speak for themselves - watch this video and judge for yourself.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Lost cities of the moderns?

You are probably going to think that this is an odd post but bear with me. Last week I watched an episode of 'Lost Cities of the Ancients' on BBC Four. 500 years ago and more the people of the remote Lambayeque Valley in the Andes in Peru, built 250 Pyramids. The programme told the story of three periods of pyramid building, each of which lasted over 100 years, ending in the 1500s. Archeologists think that the people of the valley believed that  they could appease the gods by building pyramids, and by having a priesthood which engaged in rituals to keep the gods happy. Unfortunately the first stage of this civilisation was swept away by a flood, and the people set fire to the pyramids because they had failed to appease the gods. They then started again and built more pyramids but an another ecological disaster struck, and again the new pyramids were burned. In the final phase, at a place called Tucame, they built 26 pyramids, and it was invasion of Peru by the Spanish which struck terror into the people of the valley, even though the Spaniards never actually came to the valley. The priesthood embarked on a series of desperate rituals including human sacrifice but this failed to drive the invaders away, and finally, having failed, the people burned the pyramids. After that, the civilisation disappeared.

The Pyramids of Tucame

Watching that programme made me think of neoliberalism and the current crisis of capitalism. Capitalism has only been around 200 years or so, about half the time of the civilisation of the Lambayeque Valley. In that time there have been a number of major crises and each time the priests of the 'free' market have decreed that the only solution is 'more of the same', more and more 'free' market. That is where we are now. As we are threatened by the ecological crisis of climate change, our leaders are repeating the mistakes of the past just like the Lambayeque people did, and the faith of our economic and political 'priesthood' in the market is driving our civilisation towards an ecological catastrophe. In the current economic crisis of capitalism, it is the poor, disabled, sick and unemployed, and working and middle classes who are the sacrificial victims of the market.

I just wonder if, in a hundred years time, our descendants will gaze upon the ruins of New York, Moscow and London, and wonder at the stupidity of the leaders who repeated the same mistakes over and over again and drove our civilisation to destruction.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The government that nobody wanted is doing what nobody wants

We have just had two very grim days in succession. First, from this reactionary government, we get Black Tuesday, the dismantling of the NHS, something that the Tories have dreamed about for decades. Now, today, we have had yet another class war budget which benefits the rich and corporations at the expense of the rest of UK society. A budget which contains £20 billion of disguised cuts for corporations.

But this is a government that nobody voted for,and has no mandate to make these changes. Much has been said about the role of the Liberal Democrats in propping up a Tory government, and despite the fact that people should feel betrayed and angry about that, the real problem is Cameron and Osborne, they are the architects of destruction of the public sector, and the 'free' market fundamentalist approach which is damaging our economic, environmental and social fabric.

What we have witnessed is a crisis of capitalism, caused by the market, and now being used as a weapon to destroy all the democratic gains made by ordinary people in the past century. This is the 'shock doctrine' in action.These measures are taking us backwards in time to 19th Century capitalism, an age in which the most vulnerable people, the sick, the unemployed, the disabled, and the low paid, will, like then, be abandoned to the vagaries of the market. In the USA, there are  already shanty towns and tented villages, and make no mistake, that will happen here. We will see slums in the UK, where the poor and disadvantaged, live in abject Third World levels of poverty. Don't believe it? These things are already happening in Greece, which is the front line of  'free; market austerity. The British people need to wake up and smell the very bitter taste of Coalition coffee.

What's the solution? We have to make use of the democratic process and get out on the streets and protest peacefully to bring about change. The Egyptians have shown us the way. We need to turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square. We need to work and agitate in the trade unions to build this protest movement, and we need to make sure that the Liberal Democrats get wiped out in the next round of local government elections in May. There is hope, and protest groups like UK Uncut have shown the way forward. We need to work together use this pressure to crack open the Coalition, and force an election at which we can persuade people to vote for anti-austerity parties like the Green Party and TUSC. We are in the fight of our lives and we need to make this fight count. 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

'Free' market myths no.3: entrepreneurs create wealth

It seems that wherever you go these days you are subjected to neoliberal propaganda. The media is full of 'free' market pundits endlessly repeating the mantras of "red tape" and "privatisation", and no matter how bad things get, as a result of the economic crisis created by neoliberal 'free' market fundamentalists, we are told we need more and more of the same. As I've said before this is because the 'free' market fundamentalism of the neoliberalists is not just a mere ideology - its more a system of belief. The advocates of the market have more in common with the fanaticism of the Taliban than they do those who have historically been on the political and economic right.

Which brings me to the third post in my series about 'free' market mythology - entrepreneurship. In the mythology of the market, entrepreneurs, who start out with small businesses and end up with empires, have been elevated to the role of magicians, they are the Gandalfs and Harry Potters of capitalism, individuals possessed of exceptional powers, and without them, you would think that we would all still be living in caves. If you do an internet search on 'wealth creation' you will find many dozens of evangelical articles which extol the virtues of entrepreneurship, and the vital role of entrepreneurs as wealth creators.

The fact is that the magical powers of the entrepreneur have been greatly exaggerated because they are not responsible for wealth creation. But if not them, who is? Step forward the humble worker. All the wealth that has been created in the history of the world has been created by working people, and workers were creating wealth well before entrepreneurs were ever thought of. It is a fact that this iPad I am now using was made by workers not entrepreneurs. The iPad itself was made by Chinese workers in China and was designed by workers at Apple in the USA. No entrepreneurs were involved. The same is true not only of every other product you buy, but the house you live in and the food you put on your table each day. The problem with this reality is that it doesn't fit with the market belief system.

But is not just ecosocialists like me who think that very little if any real wealth is created by entrepreneurs. Even Scott Shane, Professor of Entrepreneurial studies at Case University in the USA, doesn't think entrepreneurs create wealth. He thinks that large established businesses can create more jobs in the USA than entrepreneurs. The fact is that the plucky entrepreneur who sets up a small business that becomes a successful corporation is actually the real myth. The chances of it happening are very small indeed. An article in the New York Times also debunks many of the myths about the small number of entrepreneurs who do make it. Far from being the plucky barrow boys of 'free' market mythology they are well educated individuals who come from middle-class or wealthy backgrounds. These people are usually older than the myth-makers would have you believe and have a track record which often includes business failure. In fact, co-operatives, which are run democratically by workers, have a far better track record of success than businesses set up by entrepreneurs.

'Free' market propaganda has penetrated so far into our media that statements such as "entrepreneurs create wealth" have become almost accepted as axiomatic. I was listening to Radio 4 recently and caught part of one of the business programs which are becoming all the more common these days. The format is that a presenter sycophantically 'interviews' 'successful' businessmen and women and gushes about how rich and talented they are. On this programme I heard one of the 'interviewees' say that poverty could be eliminated in India if there were more entrepreneurs. But this is arrant nonsense. There are already millions of people running their own small businesses in India and the Third World. They are all poor and will remain so. They run these businesses because they have no choice, because 'free' market capitalism has failed to find them a job or a decent living. If they could get a decent job as an employee, they would jump at the chance. This is explained by the economist Ha-joon Chang in this excellent post on poverty in the 'developing' world. And what's more as capitalism fails in the west, more and more people are having to create their own jobs. This isn't a success as some would have you believe, its a failure. A failure of capitalism create decent jobs that people want. In fact, as the 'free' market fundamentalists gain more influence, so the number of real, decent jobs that people would want to have, continues to decline.

The simple truth is the the myth of the entrepreneur is an important pillar of 'free' market fundamentalist belief and propaganda. It enables those who are successful capitalists, who bask in the glory of wealth, to promote an image of plucky success. Don't they richly deserve their vast riches? Didn't they do it on merit? Er....well actually no. Capitalists are overwhelmingly people who inherit wealth, they don't create it. Those that are successful like Gates and Murdoch usually rely on creating a monopoly for success, as Gates did with Windows, and Murdoch did with Sky, not brilliance and dynamism. But don't be fooled, capitalists get wealthy by exploiting the efforts of workers through the mechanism of 'surplus value' as Marx described in Capital. But for the purposes of the 'free' market fundamentalists it is essential that you think otherwise.