Sunday, 29 April 2012

We need boldness to replace the weak timidity of the Coalition

When people are under pressure they often retreat into what they think they know, and what makes them feel safe. The global economic crisis, triggered by the banks and the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, threatened to bring down the whole global economy and capitalist order. The response, lead by politicians in the UK, including Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling, was to use the power of the state to preserve the status quo. Losses were nationalised and profits remained in Wall Street and the City as taxpayers were required to bail out the private sector banking system. The aim was to restore "business as usual", as if nothing had ever happened.

Since the 2010 general election in the UK, David Cameron and George Osborne, have continued to use the British state to maintain "business a usual", playing the class war card and ensuring that corporations and the rich continue to be shielded by making the rest of us pay to reduce the structural deficit and prop up the banks. As long as the 'markets' and bondholders are safe, the rest of us can go hang. The recent budget provided ample evidence of this with the top rate of tax being reduced to 45% and Osborne later claiming that, even though he is a millionaire, that he didn't know that wealthy people pay lower taxes overall than the rest of us.

But its not just the ongoing economic crisis that we should be concerned about, we are facing a crisis of resource depletion and climate change. Far from being a sign of strength as, Cameron, Osborne, Brown and Darling have claimed, in 'protecting' 'our' economy they have shown weakness. Brown and Darling could have taken the opportunity of the crash to bring the banks under control, Cameron and Osborne could have taken the opportunity of election victory to re-engineer our economy to deal with the very real challenges we face. They all failed. The same mistakes have been reproduced by Sarkozy and Merkel in the EU, making the Eurozone crisis even worse, something which the economist Joseph Stiglitz has recently described as a "suicide pact".

What we need now is politicians like Caroline Lucas who have the courage to cast aside the failed 'free' market neoliberal ideology of business as usual and build an economy which can deal with the very real challenges which we face. Sadly, there is no hope of this happening with this government, Cameron and Osborne will continue to protect the interests of their class, and fiddle while Rome burns, but lets be clear - what they offer us, apart from years of hardship is, for all the posturing, not strength, but weakness in the face of adversity.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Globalisation and austerity - so many rotten apples!

A few years ago, after more than a decade of battling with Windows, with viruses, system crashes, obscure drivers and innumerable updates I decided to buy a Mac. Now Macs are outrageously expensive compared to PCs but they do what they say on the tin, quickly, efficiently and simply, and, since then, I've had trouble free access to the web and have even been able to edit my own videos! So it was worth it. But, and the but is - that I've become increasingly disillusioned by what Apple does, and how it operates. Thanks to the iPhone and other products,  Apple has become the biggest company in the world, with billions of dollars, reputed to amount to $100 billion, sloshing around in its back pocket, so much in fact that it didn't seem to know what to do with all that dosh. Hmmm? ... after some thought Apple decided to hand over some cash to its shareholders.

No surprise there then, but what is wrong with Apple? For some time there has been growing concern about the treatment of workers who make Apple products at Foxconn in China. Workers at Foxconn, who make iPhones and iPads,  have protested about working conditions and Reuters reported today that:
"Workers at a Chinese factory owned by Foxconn, Apple Inc's main manufacturer, threatened to jump off the roof of a building in a protest over wages just a month after the two firms announced a landmark agreement on improving working conditions."
But what's more is that Apple has a huge profit margin, something that most corporations would die for. A recent article by Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian revealed that:
"Assembled in China, the total cost of putting together just one phone was $178.45. Compare that with a sale price (including downloads) of $630 and Apple makes $452 on each phone: a whacking gross margin of 72%."
This is mind boggling enough, but what the article also showed was that if Apple made the same product in the USA it could still make a whacking 45% profit! So why bother to outsource production to China?

Its not just Apple, because Apple is doing what every other corporation is doing nowadays, screwing every last drop of profit out of consumers and workers for the benefit of a tiny minority - the 1%. This is what globalisation and neoliberal capitalism are all about, a global race to the bottom in environmental and labour standards which is threatening the prosperity of societies all over the world, and puts commercial interests above democratic sovereignty through organisations like the WTO. If you want to know more about how globalisation works I recommend you read the excellent essay by Michael Parenti called Globalisation and Democracy. As Parenti says:
"With international “free trade” agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, and FTAA, the giant transnationals have been elevated above the sovereign powers of nation states. These agreements endow anonymous international trade committees with the authority to prevent, overrule, or dilute any laws of any nation deemed to burden the investment and market prerogatives of transnational corporations."
Henry Ford - a capitalist who understood that workers have to be able to afford to consume

Now, the world economic barrel is full of capitalist rotten apples, corporations which are allowed to ride roughshod over social and environmental legislation whilst they devastate communities and economies. As I've pointed out in a previous post, neoliberalism is ultimately self-defeating because it is economically unsustainable, as well as being environmentally unsustainable. You can't have a consumer capitalist economic model if no one can afford to consume, and that is where we're headed -  Henry Ford realised that a hundred years ago. There is a big problem here because neoliberal globalisation and austerity are going to create a huge number of human casualties, and things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. We need an economic alternative now, with governments leading the way in Europe for investment and job creation, and providing social housing and healthcare, that is why we must hope that Hollande will become President of France and why you should vote for the Green Party in the forthcoming local elections.

Friday, 20 April 2012

A Green vote is a vote against austerity!

The savage cuts of £81 billion imposed by George Osborne in the Coalition's so-called emergency budget in 2010 were designed to make the ordinary people of the UK pay for the sovereign debt crisis which resulted from the financial crisis caused by banks. These are the very same banks that had already been bailed out to the extent of £1.2 trillion by the UK taxpayer. At the time, Osborne and David Cameron cynically claimed that "were all in it together" but they knew that the cuts would fall disproportionately on the low paid, unemployed and disabled, and would hit women particularly hard. The savage cuts imposed by the Coalition are unprecedented in the history of the UK and are driven by ideology, not by necessity, as has been claimed. The government cuts will lead to 700,000 job losses in the public sector, causing further hardship to those already bearing the brunt of the cuts and will probably lead to economic stagnation in the UK for at least a decade.

In our 2010 manifesto the Green Party provided the UK with a radical and positive economic alternative to this savage austerity programme. We planned to halve the deficit in five years without cutting public sector services or jobs and invest £44 billion in creating one million green jobs, and our programme, based on cutting unnecessary government projects like Trident, environmental taxes to cut pollution, and taxing the better off, was fully costed. This approach, if adopted, would have mitigated the worst effects of the financial crisis and created hope for millions in the UK.

The Coalition government have cynically left local councils to implement much of their cuts and councillors are left in a position where they will struggle to support vital local services and protect jobs. Despite this Green Party councillors and candidates in the forthcoming election are determined to do all they can to maintain the local services that people need. In Brighton and Hove, our first Green council is the the most democratic and open in the borough's history and has introduced the living wage for council staff, and is fighting to protect the victims of the cuts. If you want change there is a real alternative to the despair and destruction being wreaked on communities in the UK. On 3 May, vote Green!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Supermarket dinosaurs deserve to die

Tesco is in trouble. For the first time in many years sales at the supermarket behemoth are declining, and although I've been carrying out a one-man boycott of Tesco's for several years, unfortunately I can't claim the credit for this. When I say boycott, what I mean is that I never do my main weekly shop in Tesco. Sometimes I have had to buy something in a Tesco Express, partly because of expediency, but also because Tesco has now become so ubiquitous that it is hard to find an alternative store in many neighborhoods and city centres.

Why did I decide to boycott Tesco? There are two main reasons; Firstly, it is just way too big. Any company which takes £1 out of every £7 spent in the UK has to be a bad thing for the UK economy. This is monopoly capitalism at its worst, and much of the money made by Tesco is inevitably going to go out of the UK into the hands of foreign shareholders, but more of that later; The second reason is that I found Tesco poor value for money, and I didn't like the quality of the food much either.
Tesco, monopoly-capital Behemoth

It seems that I'm not the only one. Lots of other people have similar problems with Tesco. In fact, I'm sure that Tesco could learn a lot about why people don't like it by reading this article. Here is just one comment:
"The brand has been tainted by greed and cynical and exploitative practices. That means that no one has any feeling of affection or loyalty that could see it through a sticky patch. I actively avoid Tesco's and, like many others, would be pleased to see them cut down to size. So, I'm really not sure where they go from here as I can't imagine anything that they could do which would make me love them".
..... which I like because it took the words right out of my mouth. The problem with Tesco is that they epitomise all that is wrong with the over-mighty corporations which have arisen as a result of monopoly capitalism. We are told that these corporations are good for the economy because they are 'efficient' but this  so-called 'efficiency' means market domination (30% for Tesco), squeezing that market at both ends by shafting the supplier and customer, exploiting low paid workers to maximise profits, damaging the environment with megastores, and contributing to the devastation of local high streets by reducing diversity and putting small stores out of business.

This is what happens with monopoly capitalism, across the board not just in the food retail sector. When a few corporations dominate a mature market they don't compete on price anymore - though that's what they want you to believe - they focus on slashing costs and using advertising to maximise their profits, and this is at the expense of employees, customers and the environment. Corporations want you to believe the customer is king but to quote Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster:
"Under a mature monopoly-capitalist system, people serve the economy and not vice versa. The much ballyhooed "consumer sovereignty" is transformed, as John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out, into "producer sovereignty".
This is from their excellent book - 'What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know about Capitalism' - which explains how monopoly capitalism works, and a book I would recommend everyone to read.

Of course its not just Tesco which is the problem, its all of the giant monopoly capitalist corporations which are devouring our planet in their insatiable drive for capital accumulation. But in the UK Tesco embodies this destructive monopoly more than any other corporation, and many people are conscious of this, despite all the advertising and hype. Maybe Tesco will be able to turn it around. But that would be a pity because what we need is thriving local businesses selling locally grown good quality food, not corporate giants devouring the environment and our high streets. I won't be shopping there ever again, if I can help it. The best thing for Tesco would be for it to be broken up into local co-operatives that really served the communities they are based in.

Twenty first century corporate capitalism is about creating monopoly, about endless growth and capital accumulation, not efficiency or building a socially useful economy, and it lies at the heart of the sociopathic disease of neoliberalism which is damaging our economy and destroying our planet, and we would all be better off without it.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Is there a cure for homophobic Christians?

The recent furore about anti-gay ads on buses in London, has shone the spotlight on the shadowy activities of evangelical 'Christian' groups who claim to be able to 'cure' homosexuality. It all began when the gay group Stonewall paid for an advertising campaign on London buses with the slogan - " Some people are gay. Get over it!". So far so good, nothing wrong with challenging homophobia, but predictably, an evangelical Christian group - The Core Issues Trust ("God's heart in sexual and relational brokenness") - retaliated with a bus ad which read - "Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it!". The ad was immediately banned by Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, who is obviously sensitive about such issues in an election period and doesn't want to alienate the gay vote in London. Predictably, The Core Issues Trust are now considering legal action.

What really matters about this story is the fact that ultra-conservative Christian groups have been peddling 'cures' for homosexuality for some time now. These bigots, who are clearly unable to cope with the reality that God created homosexuals, if you believe in God that is, are tormenting gay Christian men and women with the 'hope' that they can be heterosexual. This is not just extremely offensive, it is psychologically damaging to those who are subjected to this cure and and encourages prejudice against gay people. The American Psychological Association (APA), the world's largest association of psychologists has stated that:
“Homosexuality is not a mental disorder and the APA opposes all portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as mentally ill and in need of treatment due to their sexual orientation".
What should really concern us is whether there is a cure for so-called Christians who are prejudiced against gay people. I believe there is - they just need to follow the teachings of Jesus and start behaving like real Christians, leaving their bigotry behind them. In the meantime if you want to help diminish the malign influence of these 'Christian' groups please sign this petition which calls upon MPs to refuse to use the services of interns provided by the 'Christian' group CARE which sponsors 'gay cure' events.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Why capitalism won't exist in 50 years time

I've been reflecting on the Coalition government's claim that the market will make up for the 750,000 public sector jobs that are going to be lost under the austerity measures imposed by Chancellor George Osborne. In his first emergency budget, which introduced £81 billion of cuts, Osborne claimed that the private sector would take up the slack by creating 2.5 million jobs. Clearly that hasn't happened, but what if it never does? Why should the private sector create that number of jobs in the UK anyway? In a golbalised economy it may be that the market will provide jobs elsewhere instead, or maybe the jobs will just never materialise.

Of course, Osborne never mentioned what kind of jobs would be created, but its a fair bet that the jobs, if created won't be as good as the public sector jobs that have been culled by the government. Not all public sector jobs are well paid by any means but many are highly skilled, and nearly all offer better benefits than private sector equivalents. Its likely that many 'replacement' private sector jobs will be low skilled 'McJobs'. To add to the existing problems in the job market, Osborne is now trying to implement a long held dream of the Tories to 'regionalise' public sector pay in order to drive down wages still further, on the excuse that the private sector will be able to compete in the jobs market with their McJobs. This is likely to backfire on the government because public sector workers will seek to keep pace with those in similar jobs around the UK, leading to more disputes and industrial action.

There is still the question of whether any jobs will be created. The record is not good. Its worth reading this article by Larry Elliot which shows that in the past 100 years the private sector has failed to replace jobs in the North of England lost when heavy industries such as shipbuilding, cotton manufacture, steel-making, and coal mining went into terminal decline.The reality is that Osborne's approach is going to hit the North, which is already suffering, very hard. That is part of the reason for George Galloway's recent victory in Bradford West - people are fed up with a lack of jobs and opportunity and the fact that none of the three main parties are offering an alternative to austerity.

My view is that the oft promised jobs will never be created. For sure, as long as we follow the discredited 'free' market neoliberal ideology beloved of Mr Osborne. Why? -  because we have entered a different, and, I believe, final, phase of capitalism. There are a number of different factors working here to bring about the demise of capitalism as we know it;

Firstly, the rise of financial capitalism, fuelled by deregulation of the banking and finance sectors. If you want to get the best return and make money you invest in financial instruments, and property, that is the quickest and easiest way to make a buck. There are currently trillions of dollars flooding this financial system, and none of it is being invested in job creating industries. The problem for capitalists is that the 'real' economy is suffering from falling profitability;

Secondly, the model of consumer capitalism on which we currently rely for our prosperity is slowly breaking down. Consumer capitalism really started in the 1920s with Edward Bernays, and only really took off in the period of prosperity following WWII. Bernays, who is often called the father of Public Relations is credited with creating consumer 'wants' rather than the 'needs' that existed previously. Neoliberalism is undermining that consumer-lead model though globalisation by making people, particularly in the affluent west, poorer. You have to earn a decent amount of money to support the consumption that consumer capitalism needs. In the USA consumer spending is 70% of the economy. That is why neoliberal capitalism is relying increasingly on, the creation of debt to sustain consumerism, the cannibalising of the public sector, and corporate welfarism, to maintain its failing profitability;

Edward Bernays - the man who invented consumer capitalism

Thirdly, and most importantly, we are reaching the limits to growth. Resources, and oil in particular, are becoming depleted, which means that capitalist expansion is becoming impossible. capitalism relies upon compound growth, and you don't need to be a Nobel prize winning economist to understand that this kind of growth is unsustainable.

The fourth factor may prove to be the most important - climate change -  which is likely to damage the global economy further by extreme weather events like the recent tsunami in Japan, and damaging agriculture, thus limiting food production. That is an issue which I have covered extensively on this blog. Attempts to postpone the inevitable end of 'business as usual', such as the exploitation of shale gas and tar sands, are likely to be self-defeating.

If you want to know more about monopoly capitalism and how this crisis is being driven by factors one and two then you should read the excellent book 'The Great Financial Crisis' by Magdoff and Foster, which explains how capitalism has increasingly invested in finance, at the expense of the real economy.

I just want to finish this post with a prediction. Capitalism as we now know it won't exist in 50 years time. I won't be around to see it but I have no doubt that capitalism will reach its limits, economically and environmentally in the next 50 years or so. What we ought to be doing now is planning for the future. That future will inevitably mean more state intervention, not because of ideology, but because of necessity. In 2008, when the global economy was crashing, the state came to the rescue. There is no doubt that it will have to come to the rescue again because, by then, 'free' market fundamentalism will have brought the whole house of cards crashing down.