Category Archives: economic illiteracy

The Magic Money Tree And Other Fairy Stories

To hear the Tories, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they know what they’re talking about on all matters relating to the national finances. According to the media and the Tories themselves, they can be “trusted on the economy” (sic). After all, according to the political and economic pundits, they’re not the ones who “crashed the economy” or propose “tax and spend” policies are they?  In fact, to hear them talk you’d think they never taxed anyone nor spent any money. But it’s all just a fairy story,  just like the ‘magic money tree’ that only the Labour Party has access to.

The phrase ‘magic money tree’ seems to have made an appearance in the last 10 to 15 years, and it’s used by Tories and ‘researchers’ from right-wing think-tanks to denigrate the economic ideas and policies of opposition parties – especially the Labour Party.  Its use by these groups is meant to suggest economic recklessness on the part of opposition parties and, ultimately, to  perpetuate the myth that only the Tories are economically credible. This is, of course, laughable. Why? Because it tells us the Tories aren’t as economically credible as they or the media would have us believe and the reason for this is because the phrase ‘magic money tree’ obscures the fact that governments have the power to create money from nothing.

Last night on Question Time, Nick Clegg, the former Deputy PM in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, claimed that you can’t “create money out of thin air”. His government did just that for five years! It’s called ‘quantitative easing’ or QE, and it’s where the central bank creates money electronically and uses it to buy assets. This tells us that money isn’t tied to anything and quite literally doesn’t exist in a physical sense.

Here’s a Bank of England video that explains QE in detail.

If you prefer, here’s Paul Mason explaining QE in the back of a cab.

Two things: first, anyone who says money “doesn’t appear out of thin air” doesn’t know what they’re talking about and second, it reveals that Thatcher’s household finance fallacy, which has dominated the reductivist thinking of political pundits and vox pop interviewees for over 30 years, is just that: a fallacy. Domestic finances and national finances are worlds, no, galaxies apart, and any attempt to reduce national finances to a simplistic narrative of ‘maxing out the credit card’ makes the person uttering those words look like a bit of a fool. But this is what the likes of Dominic Raab and Kwasi Kwarteng do all the time.

Households, that is to say, you or I, cannot go to what is called ‘the lender of last resort’ or The Bank of England or whichever central bank is local to your country and borrow money, nor can any of us issue bonds or create money out of thin air as central banks and governments do. When governments have a cash flow problem, they can apply to the lender of last resort for a loan to tide them over. If  you’re a family of four and you have a poor credit rating and you’re struggling to make ends meet on an ever-diminishing income, the option of obtaining a bank loan isn’t open to you and you may be forced to approach a loan shark instead.

The reason these clichés and soundbites were created in the first place was to hoodwink us and therefore convince us of the necessity to make swingeing cuts to public services, because we simply can’t afford things like public libraries and care for the elderly. Right? Wrong.  Money always magically appears whenever there’s a war or when the government needs to wet the beaks of rentier capitalists.

In the last seven years, we’ve witnessed an explosion of foodbanks across the country, thanks mostly to the state of the economy.  Last week, Dominic Raab told viewers on Victoria Live that people who go to foodbanks have a “cash flow problem”.

Raab is an economic illiterate, who belongs to an economic cult that accepts trickle down as ‘God’s Will’, perhaps a punishment for making the ‘wrong’ life choices.

During Wednesday’s seven-way leaders’ debate, Amber Rudd, standing in for the Incredible Vanishing Woman, told Jeremy Corbyn that his party’s policies weren’t credible and there was “no magic money tree”. In response to this breathtaking ignorance, Joyce McMillan of The Scotsman writes:

The phrase in question is “there is no magic money tree”; and it is used with an almost clockwork regularity by those who oppose proposals like those contained in the current Labour manifesto. Free school lunches? No magic money tree. Free university tuition? No magic money tree. A properly funded NHS, or more generous disability benefits? No magic money tree. And so it goes on, in a litany of meanness and misery firmly based on the assumption that there is a finite amount of money in government coffers, and that to spend it in one place is automatically to take it from another.

Further down the article, she reminds us that:

…between 2009 and 2012, the Bank of England issued an eye-watering £375 billion of extra cash in what is politely known as “quantitative easing”. Even at the time, experts could be heard arguing that this newly-printed money would have a more helpful impact on the British economy if it was simply dropped from an aeroplane on to Britain’s poorer communities, helping the hard-pressed people there to exercise their pent-up demand for new shoes or washing machines or holiday breaks.

That’s a lot of money. Go on…

Yet instead, it seems it was mainly used to prop up the banking system, and help it rebuild its balances. While real wages fell into their longest decline in more than a century, £375 billion of new government money, over four years, was used not to change the system, or rebalance the British economy, or reinvest in our grassroots public services, but to keep things exactly as they were.

So rather than the people benefiting from the creation of new money, it’s used instead to prop up banks, who aren’t lending it to people anyway.  Small businesses are suffering because of this.

So if QE is used because there’s no money in the economy, then where has all that money gone? The Tories would have you believe that it’s gone on fripperies like social security and public sector pay. But that’s nonsense. Ha Joon Chang writing in The Guardian explains:

Despite these significant shifts, myths about the economy refuse to go away and hamper a more productive debate. They concern how the government manages public finances – “tax and spend”, if you will.

The first is that there is an inherent virtue in balancing the books. Conservatives still cling to the idea of eliminating the budget deficit, even if it is with a 10-year delay (2025, as opposed to George Osborne’s original goal of 2015). The budget-balancing myth is so powerful that Labour feels it has to cost its new spending pledges down to the last penny, lest it be accused of fiscal irresponsibility.

However, as Keynes and his followers told us, whether a balanced budget is a good or a bad thing depends on the circumstances. In an overheating economy, deficit spending would be a serious folly. However, in today’s UK economy, whose underlying stagnation has been masked only by the release of excess liquidity on an oceanic scale, some deficit spending may be good – necessary, even.

The second myth is that the UK welfare state is especially large. Conservativesbelieve that it is bloated out of all proportion and needs to be drastically cut. Even the Labour party partly buys into this idea. Its extra spending pledge on this front is presented as an attempt to reverse the worst of the Tory cuts, rather than as an attempt to expand provision to rebuild the foundation for a decent society.

The reality is the UK welfare state is not large at all. As of 2016, the British welfare state (measured by public social spending) was, at 21.5% of GDP, barely three-quarters of welfare spending in comparably rich countries in Europe – France’s is 31.5% and Denmark’s is 28.7%, for example. The UK welfare state is barely larger than the OECD average (21%), which includes a dozen or so countries such as Mexico, Chile, Turkey and Estonia, which are much poorer and/or have less need for public welfare provision. They have younger populations and stronger extended family networks.

he third myth is that welfare spending is consumption – that it is a drain on the nation’s productive resources and thus has to be minimised. This myth is what Conservative supporters subscribe to when they say that, despite their negative impact, we have to accept cuts in such things as disability benefit, unemployment benefit, child care and free school meals, because we “can’t afford them”. This myth even tints, although doesn’t define, Labour’s view on the welfare state. For example, Labour argues for an expansion of welfare spending, but promises to finance it with current revenue, thereby implicitly admitting that the money that goes into it is consumption that does not add to future output.

It would be reasonable to argue that consent has been manufactured by the Tories, their think-tanks and their allies in the media, for the purpose of fulfilling their long-held ambitions to dismantle the welfare state and sell off public services to their corporate friends. Phrases like “the magic money tree” and “we have to live within our means” have been produced to accomplish this.

Governments spend and borrow money all the time. The notion that national finances should be treated like household budgets is demonstrably fallacious. Yet, for over 30 years much of the public has been conditioned into thinking that all government spending and borrowing is fundamentally irresponsible but this thinking is dangerous. People are dying because of it. Next Thursday, you have the opportunity to put a stop to this destructiveness. Please use your vote wisely. Don’t vote Tory.

 

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Filed under economic illiteracy, Economics, General Election 2017, neoliberalism

How Much Will It Cost? (Revisited)

The questions of “how much will it cost?” or “How will you pay for it?” are always posed by the media’s journalists to the planned spending proposals of Labour and all the other parties, bar the Tories. That the Tories have dominated the economic discourse since the 1980s cannot be denied.  Indeed, political journalists have accepted the economic orthodoxy uncritically in the decades that have followed and there are, in my mind, two reasons why they do this. First, they’re not economists and second, they’re lazy. Even the economics editors of the major news organizations tend to be drawn from the Thatcherite School of Household Management Economics, and will base their analyses and their questions on its flawed logic.

Now, I’m not an economist but my instincts regarding national finances are correct: household analogies are nonsense and journalists who repeat them are foolish. The reductivist economic dogma of the Tories and UKIP has dragged this country into recessions (there were three during the Thatcher years) and have forced people into ever greater poverty, while the rich have seen a manifold increase in their incomes.

In an article by Richard Murphy of Tax Research (two days after my piece), he puts to bed the myths that have passed for economic competence and credibility for over 30 years.  He opens by saying:

The most dangerous question in political debate in the UK is the one always rolled out by every journalist, on air or in other media, which is to ask a politician ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ where ‘it’ is whatever the politicians has just proposed to do.

He then provides three reasons why this question is a dangerous one and provides handy replies to the clueless hacks who insist on asking the question.

You can read the rest here.

All governments borrow and spend money. That’s how national finances work. In seven years, the Tories have racked up more debt than the previous Labour government did in 13 years. Moreover, Labour has a better record of paying off debt. In 1976, the Wilson government was forced to take out a loan from the International Monetary Fund to pay for the Sterling Crisis, which was caused by the Heath government’s economic mismanagement. It was paid off by 1979. Thatcher’s Tories continued to use the IMF loan as a stick to beat the Labour Party even though the loan had been repaid. Yet Kinnock refused to counter these lies. Finally, the Corbyn-led party has awakened to the need to counter the Tories’ myths and lies about the national economy and borrowing/spending. And about time too.

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Filed under economic illiteracy, Economics, General Election 2017, neoliberalism

Let’s Talk About: Economic Growth

Images like this mean nothing to Dan Hannan. who prefers to deal with fictional characters than real people and their complicated lives.

Economic growth or just ‘growth’ is the holy grail of career politicians, neoliberal economists and their hangers on in the media. We’re often told how important it is to have ‘growth’ in our economy and it is only then that everyone will see the benefit. The trouble with this notion is that those who continually spout this rubbish aren’t the ones who need to worry. They’re already comfortable. The ones for whom these pronouncements mean little, if nothing at all, are the poor and the low waged. They continue to see their income squeezed, while the cost of living continues to rise. But the media and the government will have none of it.

A few weeks ago, the BBC’s economic editor, Robert Peston, was crowing over low oil prices. He told the nation’s viewers that “everyone” would now feel “richer” because of the continued fall in petrol prices. This is not only misleading; it’s also dishonest. The only people who can feel “richer”, by definition, are the rich themselves. If you are poor, you cannot be “rich”, it’s an absurdity. Yet this does not stop the likes of Daniel Hannan repeating this meaningless tosh. In Thursday’s blog for CapX, he repeated Peston’s bogus claim that “The rich are getting richer and the poor are… getting richer”. This is a measure of how out-of-touch our media and politicians are in relation to the people they purport to serve. We can also draw the conclusion that the mainstream media, the Westminster politicians and economic cults like the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs are in a cosy conspiratorial relationship with one another. The relationship between these institutions and ordinary people themselves is one of power. They consider themselves to be the voices of authority and we must listen and obey… or so they think. So when they tell us that “things are getting better” we are expected to believe them. But I no more believe them than I believe in the existence of God, the tooth fairy or Father Christmas. I see no improvement and neither do millions of other people.

The problem with those who constantly talk about ‘growth’ is that they can only speak the language of statistics and mathematics, and can only view the world through the lens of their social status. They are incapable of relating their nutty ideas about economics to the average person because what they’re saying bears no relation to everyday life. Trickle down, for example, is one economic fallacy that is repeated ad infinitum by economic cultists and held up as a model for ‘growth’ and economic well-being. But not even right-wingers like George HW Bush believed it and derided trickle down as “voodoo economics”. Yet the Hannans and Osbornes of this world cleave so tightly to it like men at sea clinging to any bit of flotsam that comes their way.

A couple of months ago, the Labour leadership claimed that if the Tories were re-elected, they would take public spending back to the levels of the 1930s. This was enough to get all manner of right-wing economic cultists into a lather. Hannan was one of those. In this blog, he does his best to claim how the 1930s was a “time of growth”. It’s a risible misrepresentation of a decade that’s become synonymous with economic hardship.

Well, here’s a fact that may surprise you. The 1930s saw more economic growth than any other decade in British history. It’s true that there were patches of deprivation. As in all times of economic transition, some industries declined while others rose. The poverty of the Jarrow Marchers was genuine: theirs had been a ship-building town, devastated by the collapse of international orders.

Sophistry, damned sophistry. For the millions of working class people who struggled to survive the decade, this is an insult to their memory. My mum’s family was Liverpool working class and I can remember her telling me what life was like in the Thirties: if you were poor or low-waged, you had no access to affordable or decent healthcare, because there was no National Health Service (the Tories will abolish it if they are re-elected). There was very little work on Merseyside in the 1930s, so people lived a hand-to-mouth existence.

Hannan continues his fantasy tour of his romanticized past:

Yet these were golden years for new industries such as electrical appliances and aviation and cars, the years when Morris, Humber and Austin became household names. The 1930s also saw an unprecedented boom in construction, as the comfortable suburbs of Betjeman’s Metroland spread across England. The Battersea Power Station raised its minarets over the capital, a symbol of self-confidence in architecture.

Here, Hannan waxes floridly about a world that only those with the economic means could take part. The appliances and cars that he talks about were beyond the means of my family and many others. No working class people owned cars, let alone possessed household appliances. My grandmother was still using a boiler and a mangle well into the 1970s. As for Metroland, the houses that were built there were for sale. Only those with nice, middle class incomes could afford a mortgage.

Here, Hannan slaps more gloss onto his fantasy.

 Britain responded to the 1929 crash by cutting spending drastically and, in consequence, soon saw a return to growth. The United States, by contrast, expanded government activity unprecedentedly under the New Deal, and so prolonged the recession by seven years. Yes, seven years. Here is the conclusion of a major study published in 2004 by two economists at the UCLA, Harold L Cole and Lee A Ohanian:

Cole and Ohanian are comprehensively defenestrated in this blog. Hannan isn’t interested in reality and like all right-wingers of his ilk, he exists in the hermetically-sealed space of privilege. The material of history is bent and twisted to shrink-fit a weak narrative. Like many of his fellow Tea Partiers, he makes the same feeble argument for cuts.

Contrasting the American and British experiences, we are left with an inescapable conclusion. Cuts work, and trying to spend your way out of recession doesn’t.

Let’s put it this way, if a company doesn’t borrow or spend money to invest when it is doing badly, it will go under. Cuts only work for the already wealthy. They are also a means by which the powerful punish the poor for being poor. Hannan makes clear his hatred of FDR and the New Deal. This is the same position held by the economic cultists at the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as his fellow Randists.

This is perhaps the greatest fallacy of all:

Still, if only for the record, let me set down the real lesson of the 1930. The best way to recover from a crash, not least for low earners, is to bring spending back under control. Growth follows, jobs are created, and the people taking those jobs thereby gain the most secure route out of poverty.

It’s easy for those who have never personally experienced poverty to claim that “the most secure route out of  poverty” is work. Low-paid and zero hours contract jobs actually lock people into poverty. Hannan is not only a fool, he’s a dangerous fool. Leaving people to fend for themselves without a safety net will lead to greater social problems. Hannan is unmoved by such concerns. Yet he would be the first to complain that shanty towns are an “eyesore”. This is the man who calls himself a “Whig”.

Talking about economic growth when people are struggling to survive is deeply offensive. Talking about GDP is meaningless because not only is it a poor way of measuring economic performance, it means nothing to ordinary people. For all his claims of how cutting public spending will improve economic performance, Hannan has never had to suffer the privations of working in a low-paid job. Like all of his pals in Westminster and beyond, he is a bully, who talks a good talk but when his words are unpacked, they reveal the true horrors of the current political system.

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Filed under 20th century, Conservative Party, Cultism, economic illiteracy, Economics, Government & politics, Growth, History, History & Memory, laissez faire capitalism, Let's Talk About, Media, Neoliberalism, propaganda, Spiv capitalism, Tory press

The A&E Crisis: A Letter From West London Save Our Hospitals Campaign

I received this email from Merril Hammer, the chair of the West London Save Our Hospital campaign. There is an A&E crisis that has been created by the socially dangerous policies of the current Tory-led coalition government, which is hell-bent on destroying the NHS. There is a familiar pattern to this: in the 1980s and 1990s, nationalized industries were run into the ground through a combination of chronic under-investment and incompetent management. British Rail, for example, was treated appallingly by the Thatcher government. The Tories, through their denial of investment to BR claimed that the private sector could run the railways more efficiently. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over 20 years later and we have the highest fares anywhere in Europe and possibly the world. Trains are over-crowded and the Train Operating Companies cream off the profits, while accepting state largesse. The same is happening to the National Health Service. I urge you to sign the petition.

Dear Friends,

The A&E crisis deteriorates week by week, yet health authorities and the Secretary of State seem to be in denial about the consequences of their policies and determined to press on with closures and reorganisations across the country.

Here, in NW London, the situation just seems to get worse. The two key hospital trusts which have each closed an A&E have dropped to the bottom of the national league table for A&E waiting times. The CQC inspection for Imperial has deemed St Mary’s A&E ‘inadequate’ (which follows the failure of Northwick Park), yet Imperial want to keep this A&E and close the one at Charing Cross which has been rated as ‘good’.

The reorganisation in NW London is the largest so far proposed and is undoubted a trial for wider closures across the country. We are to lose not just 4 of 9 A&Es but are also to see key acute hospitals turned into mini-hospitals with limited services – all at a time when hospitals across the country are under severe stress and out of hospital care just isn’t there.

Thank you for signing our petition. Could you help spread the word by forwarding the link below to your friends?

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/moratorium-on-a-e-closures-and-hospital-reorganisations

Thanks

Merril Hammer

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Filed under Conservative Party, economic illiteracy, Government & politics, healthcare

The Bedroom Tax Is A Tax, No Matter What The Tories Say

Like many people, I’ve always thought the Tories were monumentally stupid. Many of them have the most expensive education money can buy and yet they trot out the most absurd and intellectually-enfeebled statements with nary a thought. A couple of years ago, David Cameron appeared on the David Letterman Show and couldn’t even tell his interlocutor what the Magna Carta was.

He went to Eton and Oxford, for chrissakes. But let’s be blunt: the offspring of this country’s wealthy and powerful don’t have to do well at school because they don’t need to. They know that they will land a plum job no matter how brain dead they are. Cameron is but one example. Osborne is another.

The Tories’ solution for dealing with the housing crisis was indicative of, not only their ignorance of the gravity of the situation, but also of their mindless cruelty towards those without the means to fight back. The so-called Spare Room Subsidy, which is more accurately termed “The Bedroom Tax”, is an example of this cruelty. However the term “Spare Room Subsidy” itself is indicative of their ignorance. Since when was a charge for something considered a ‘subsidy’?

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a subsidy as:

A sum of money granted by the state or a public body to help an industry or business keep the price of a commodity or service low.

An example of this would be

a farm subsidy

Does the Bedroom Tax sound like a “subsidy” to you? No, it doesn’t sound like one to me either.

I’ve had Tories seize on a Tweet that I wrote a few months ago in which I provided the dictionary definition of a subsidy. Yesterday, this numpty even linked to his blog in an attempt to prove me wrong. He even tried to support his claim by repeating the lie that council housing is “subsidized”. If they aren’t trotting out wilfully ignorant statements, then they’re peddling myths. Council housing is not “subsidized”. The majority of council housing stock was built decades ago and the rents paid to local authorities have paid for the building of these properties many times over. Council rents bring in millions of pounds for local authorities. This evidence is completely ignored by the Tories who whine and complain that people are paying below the inflated market rents charged by their rentier brethren. They won’t be happy till we’re all (apart from them) living in abject squalor in shanty towns, which they will bulldoze because they’re “an eyesore”.

The person who replied to my Tweet claims, according to his Twitter profile, that he’s socially liberal and economically conservative. Oh, how I laughed. His complaint against the phrase ‘Bedroom Tax’ rests entirely on this weak premise:

Amazingly the left call this system a “tax”, which it definitely isn’t. There can only be two possible reasons that they are doing this. The first is because, as they have proven repeatedly, they don’t understand economics. The second is because they could possibly be lying again and trying to mislead the British public for political reasons, which is strange when it is their idea.

This fool believes himself to be intellectually superior to everyone else, yet he displays a distinct lack of critical thinking and is quite keen to recirculate the Tories’ myths and lies. But he claims the left (whoever they are) “don’t understand economics”. It’s quite clear to me and many others, that the Tories are utterly clueless when it comes to economics. Have a look at Osborne’s Autumn Statement if you don’t believe me.

To top off his arrogance, the numpty tells us:

Abusers will be muted. Tedious fools also.

The word generally used on Twitter is “blocked” and I blocked this idiot.

The first Tory who took issue with my Tweet even quoted part of the definition for the word ‘tax’.

A compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’income and businessprofits, or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions:

But what about protection racketeers who refer to the charges they impose on people as a ‘tax’, are they going to tell them to stop using the word and use the word ‘subsidy’ instead? The word ‘tax’ is not limited to money paid to a state, it is used to describe any kind of deduction or a drain on one’s powers.

The Free Dictionary says:

Tax (tæks)

n

1. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) a compulsory financial contributionimposed by a government to raise revenue, levied on the income or property ofpersons or organizations, on the production costs or sales prices of goods andservices, etc
2. a heavy demand on something; strain: a tax on our resources.

vb (tr)

3. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) to levy a tax on (persons, companies,etc, or their incomes, etc)
4. to make heavy demands on; strain: to tax one’s intellect.
5. to accuse, charge, or blame: he was taxed with the crime.
6. (Law) to determine (the amount legally chargeable or allowable to a party to alegal action), as by examining the solicitor’s bill of costs: to tax costs.
7. to steal
You will notice that I have put point 7 in bold. Britain or, rather, HMP United Kingdom has some of the most regressive taxes in the world and these amount to little more than theft and/or the abuse of power. The Poll Tax or Community Charge was but one example of the kinds of regressive taxes imposed on people by the Tories because they’re seen as ‘fair’.
If Tories and right-wing numpties want to play games with semantics, then they will have to do much better than dispute definitions by using such narrow terms.
The Tories: ignorance is strength.

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Filed under ConDem Budget 2010, Conservative Party, economic illiteracy, Economics

Let’s call it what it is: a depression

Are we about to witness the revival of Hoovervilles?

Are we about to witness the revival of Hoovervilles?

So, place your bets, readers.  How long will it be before some economic guru has the guts to admit that we’re living in the midst of an economic depression? Or is it the case that we’re just hanging around waiting for the next recession to come along, like the London bus of legend: three arrive at the same time and then we can call it a “depression”. So we’ve had two recessions, when’s the next one due [looks at watch]? I’m freezing my arse off!

Recessions, depressions, panics, slumps, credit crunches, call them what you will but they all amount to a failure of the capitalist system. The problem is that no one in authority (and I use that word loosely) wants to stand up and say that “This is a depression”. An economic depression apparently is determined by a sequence and length of recessions but no one wants to agree on the number. That’s because there is no set figure but there was an alleged benchmark to which all future depressions are supposed to aim. We are also told that in order for a recession to be classified as a depression, there needs to be a contraction in economic activity. This is happening now with banks refusing to lend to small businesses.

We are told that the last depression, now referred to as the Great (apparently) Depression of 1929 to 1939 was the longest and deepest depression. But there’s nothing “great” about a depression. This depression was preceded by the Depression of 1920 – 21, which was later downgraded to the status of “recession”. There were also 2 recessions during the 1920s. In Britain, the previous Great Depression of 1873 to 1896 was later called the “Long Depression” and was preceded by the Panic of 1872.

The tale of that period has been told innumerable times: a panic on the stock market and a run on the banks that combined with poor harvests to spawn a series of recessions that resulted in extreme hardship for millions, if not, billions of people around the world.

It was a “contagion” that began in Wall Street and spread around the world like some kind of economic plague. Shirts, jobs and homes were lost in short order. It was a tough time but not for the ruling classes, whose social and economic capital exists in perpetuity… much like the inexhaustible body armour cheat in a console kill game (Medal of Hour, etc). They would survive. They would have to get used to having foie gras only twice a week instead of six until the good times returned (on its high horse).

But could there ever be another depression that matches or exceeds the Great One for sheer, uh, depression? Apparently not. We were supposedly inoculated against further outbreaks of widespread panic… until Callaghan discovered monetarism and the genie was released from his bottle, free to wreak havoc.

The Great Depression has been fixed in the public memory as  a sort of golden age of economic depressions. It has supposedly surpassed previous depressions and panics – each and every one of them devastating in their own right, but ignored for ideological reasons – for its near-total effect on all levels of society. The previous depression has become folklore; its mythology has become the model of perfection against which certain economists and their forecaster allies (sic) judge current and future economic catastrophes.  But why?

Is it because our political leaders (that’s another word I use with caution) lack the intellectual courage to admit the truth of the situation, or is it because they have reached their intellectual limits and lack the honesty to admit that they have no plan for the future of civilization? Could it be because they don’t want to “panic” the public with the admission that the current economic situation is, in truth, a depression?

The issue of mass panic has never stopped them before.

Governments have never been afraid to use fear to coerce the public into accepting their version of the truth in order to prosecute pointless wars, as this clip reminds us.

That’s “good” panic. It’s the kind of panic that protects “freedom” and defends “our way of life”. Today William Hague claimed to have seen “some evidence” that the Assad regime in Syria has chemical weapons. There is a school of thought that believes the only way out of an economic crisis is to start a war. But wars are costly.

Depressions and recessions only ever benefit one kind of person and I don’t need to tell you that person isn’t you or I, dear reader. This is a time when the capitalist sees the opportunity to pit worker against worker. We have already seen how this government uses divide and rule in the way tries to create a false conflict between public and private sector.

This is a depression.

The have been dark murmurings of another recession on the horizon and yet, Osborne continues on his reckless course like a blind ship’s captain, who’s full of Dutch courage after drinking his crew’s rum rations.  But he’s fine. He’s got a wallpaper fortune and an Irish baronetcy to look forward to… not that he isn’t loaded already.

Two and a half years of this government’s bungling has done nothing to give people hope. Instead, prices increase year on year and incomes stay the same for average workers. For many people, there is nothing to look forward to. There is no trust in this government or in Her Majesty’s feckless opposition to put things right either, with disciplinarian Liam Byrne claiming that his party didn’t do enough to clamp down on benefit “cheats”. Trust left town on the same train as hope and it isn’t coming back.

There is a solution to this. It’s just that the ruling class and their lackeys in the media and the think-tanks don’t want to hear it. They have much to gain from economic catastrophes but, potentially, so do we.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Cuts, economic illiteracy, Economics, Government & politics, laissez faire capitalism, neoliberalism

Weak ideas, weak voice, simply weak. George Osborne’s Autumn Statement

Osborne

Hands up, who thinks Osborne’s Autumn Statement was the best in living memory? No takers? That’s no surprise. The only people to get excited about Gid’s speech were the usual suspects: the hacks in the Tory press, industrialists, rentier capitalists, Cittie wizards and energy tycoons.

This morning I awoke to hear The Economist’s Ann McElvoy on the Today programme say how Gid had “come into his own” as a speaker. She must have been listening to a different speech, because I don’t think he’s a natural speaker and besides, he used his speech to further attack the poor, who are paying for this economic crisis by having their benefits cut and being saddled with more debt.

To cap it all, Gid announced that there would be investment in shale gas (fracking) and the Northern Line would be extended to Battersea Power Station and the Tory-controlled borough of Wandsworth. I bet Delingpole’s happy. He probably has shares in petrochemical companies, which would explain his enthusiasm for fracking.

Delingpole isn’t the only one who’s pleased by the announcement of an impending shale gas rush. The Lyin’ King used the occasion to have another bash at the European Union… you know, the body that pays his salary. He says,

One of the reasons that the language in which you’re reading these words is the most widespread on Earth is that Great Britain happened to be rich in coal deposits. There were plenty of other places that might have industrialised first, from the Netherlands to China. The good fortune of our eighteenth century ancestors was that, just when they needed it, they stumbled upon a cheap source of energy. Coal powered the new mills, releasing millions of employees to do different work and creating a massive consumer class. Britain became the greatest nation in the world.

Er, what? So fracking is going to make us “great”? That’s nuts.

Janet Daley praised Gid for cutting corporation tax. Hooray! The rich can continue to get rich at our expense, while the structural deficit remains unchanged.

Iain Martin laid into Ed Balls, whose own solution would be to mimic the Tories’ approach but with warmer words. Let’s not kid ourselves:  Labour would make cuts and impose burdens on the poor too. Millionaire, Liam Byrne, the shadow Works and Pensions secretary is well-known for his attacks on the poor and benefit claimants. He thinks unemployed people are simply idle and would rather live on £69 a week than do a day’s work.

The apparently left-leaning Guardian’s take was characteristically mixed. Martin Kettle only had nice things to say about Osborne’s speech.

In the end, Osborne wants to be able to go to the voters in 2015 and tell them four things: first, that Labour borrowed too much before 2010; second, that the coalition has cut the borrowing back to half of the 2010 figure; third, to claim that the borrowing cut has been achieved by targeting those on welfare and the very well off, rather than the not so squeezed middle, whom the government has tried to protect as far as possible; and, fourth, that Labour would increase borrowing again, spend more on welfare and restart the whole miserable cycle. If he can do this, Osborne seems to believe that he may have an election-winning narrative.

Remember, The Guardian supported the Liberal Democrats at the last election and has historically been a Liberal paper. Its left credentials are only relative to the rest of the press, which leans overwhelmingly to the right.

Perhaps the worst part of yesterday’s Autumn Statement was Balls’s reply or rather, the government’s mocking of his stutter.

The New Statesman called Gid’s borrowing figures into question. It said,

So how did he do it? Well, turn to p. 12 of the Office for Budget Responsibility document and it becomes clear that Osborne has performed an accounting trick worthy of Enron. First, he added the expected £3.5bn receipts from the 4G mobile spectrum auction – even though it’s yet to take place. Second, he included the interest transferred to the Treasury from the Bank of England’s Quantitative Easing programme (worth £11.5bn), despite the Institute for Fiscal Studies warning him that it would call into doubt his credibility. Were it not for these two measures, borrowing would be £15bn higher than stated by Osborne. If we add that £15bn to the £108bn figure provided by Osborne, then total forecast borrowing for this year becomes £123bn, £1.4bn higher than last year. Little wonder that the Chancellor was so keen to bag the 4G receipts early.

Perhaps the worst of yesterday’s “mini-budget” was the announcement that austerity (that’s the same austerity that Dizzy Doug Carswell said “didn’t exist”) will continue for another 6 years.

All in all, the Autumn Statement was weak.  It offered nothing for the poor, the low-waged, the disabled or those on benefits. Instead, it redistributed wealth upwards to those who are already rich. 400,000 more people would pay the top rate of tax, while those who have made use of tax avoidance schemes will carry on as normal.  There was no plan for a sustainable economic recovery. If you’re not rich in today’s Britain, you will be used for target practice by the bullies who run the government or as a source of income by parasitical capitalists.

This economic crisis has been made worse by this Tory-led government, who have demonstrated over the past two and a half years, exactly how economically illiterate and incompetent they are. They’ve mismanaged the economy and pitted one group of people against another so that they can rule unchallenged. Do we really have to wait another two years  to vote this shower out of office?

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More on the Liberty League

No sooner than I’d published this blog than I found myself dealing with three trolls, all of whom claimed to be dedicated to the cause of freedom. I also had three of them respond to me on Twitter, two of whom abused me (typical) and the other, Anton Howes, the League’s head honcho tried to tell me that they “appealed to left-libertarians”, and asked me if

@buddy_hell spiked +IOI not count as “leftwing” anymore? Besides, orgs not same as ppl who attend our conferences. Many left-anarchists, etc

Spiked? IoI? Left-wing? Same sentence? “Good Lord, no”,  I said but just because they call themselves “left-wing”, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are. I have already written about the LM network, their origins and their constituent parts in a blog that was cited on Powerbase. Anyone who takes LM’s left-wing credentials at face value is in for a major disappointment.  In fact, the Revolutionary Communist Tendency (the forerunner of the RCP/LM) was expelled from the SWP for being too “right-wing” (sic).

But what is a “left-anarchist”? Is that an anarchist who is not an anarcho-capitalist? Anarcho-capitalism is an oxymoron. Anarchists despise the capitalist system and no anarchist in their right mind would knowingly associate themselves with a network that includes the likes of The Freedom Association or the Institute for Economic Affairs. I told Howes this but I have yet to receive a reply.

Howes also told me that he was a PhD student but it turns out, according to Spiked’s Patrick West (brother of Ed) that he is, in fact, an undergraduate student at Kings College, London. The article was written in March of this year, so it is entirely possible that Howes skipped the Masters degree and went straight for the doctorate. It has been known to happen. He told me,

@buddy_hell and yes, I’d noticed. Although I’m not ‘rightwing’ at all, it won’t stop me using the terms.

He works for the Adam Smith Institute, you can’t get more right-wing than that. But like so many right libertarians, he presumed me to be stupid. They’re an arrogant bunch.

While not being a fan of Spiked, I found some of West’s article interesting because it shed a little more light onto the Liberty League. West opens in strident fashion.

For decades, university students in Britain who wanted to change the world often had little more than a handful of left-wing groups to sign up to. And, as time has gone on, these radical groups have become more and more outdated and divorced from political reality. Left-wing student associations are now more likely to call for state intervention into people’s lives, embrace the welfare state and demand fewer cuts, rather than fundamentally challenging the state’s role.

Ah, yes, the “left” is “outdated”. So presumptuous and so wrong. if Spiked is left-wing, then this West article puts paid to that notion. The left is marginalized. Yes. The left is divided. That’s true. But these libertarians will not change the world in a way that benefits all of society, they want the same world but with bells, whistles and a fringe on the top. Let’s continue,

Howes recognises this phenomenon. ‘People are sick of seeing tonnes and tonnes of Socialist Workers Party or Marxist groups hounding them on tables outside campus all the time, posting fliers and posters everywhere. They think “well, I don’t agree with this”. Students want to see an alternative group on campus that has pro-liberty ideas.’

“People are sick”, he says, “of seeing tonnes and tonnes of Socialist Workers Party or Marxist groups hounding them on tables outside campus all the time”. Does he ever think students may be genuinely interested in left-wing groups? I mean, it isn’t as if the right doesn’t organize on campuses. It does. They just don’t happen to be popular with a good many students and for very good reasons.  The other thing that is evident in the passage is Howes’ insistence that only his network understands the true nature of “liberty”.

The demand for such a group is coming from a mix of students, says Howes, who place themselves all over the traditional political spectrum, from left-wing anarchists to young conservatives. Liberty League now has 30 active student societies on campuses across the UK and it is rising all the time.

I would be interested in seeing exactly how much “demand” there is for “libertarianism” at, say, a post-1992 university like London South Bank for example. These libertarians are top-down, hierarchical types and if you scratch the surface you’ll find an authoritarian underneath. “Left-wing anarchists” that is to say, real anarchists  would have no truck with this kind of “libertarianism”. Further down the article, I found this,

One enthusiastic Liberty League supporter is Gabrielle Shiner, a young American studying at Queen Mary, University of London. Shiner recounts: ‘When I got to the UK I couldn’t really find any student group to join. It was really disheartening for libertarian students. And then Anton, who I’d never heard of, started tweeting asking me if I was looking to get involved in something and I was really excited about that.’

Later we learn that Shiner is involved in Students for Freedom, a US  student libertarian organization that is part of Cato’s “limited government movement”.  We all know what The Cato Institute does but it seems Howes and his buddies don’t or are lying. I think it’s the latter.

So as we can see, part of the League’s job is to undermine what’s left of the rather ineffective Student Unions. There are some universities that have strong SU’s – University of London Union, for example – the rest are little more than providers of student freebies. The process of destroying the SU’s began under Thatcher, who was concerned that the NUS was a hotbed of student radicalism. Instead, we now have a situation where the Right, led by the Liberty League, are attempting to dominate political discourse on campuses around the country.

The Right – the Conservative Party, especially – is against political activity on campus unless it is either right-wing or “libertarian”. This is the reason why the Thatcher government wanted SU’s to disaffiliate; it hated the very idea that students chose left-wing politics over the right. It felt that by eliminating left-wing political discourse on most campuses and confining it only to Oxbridge and other Russell Group universities, it would destroy left-wing politics in Britain for good. It nearly worked.

Pretty disgraceful that @libleague society being discriminated against by Manchester SU in terms of funding, for not backing Demo12

This is pretty typical of the Right. I know how hard it is to set up and run a society but in terms of funding, the SU will only match the membership money and any other monies that the society has raised in its coffers. I get the feeling that the League wanted more than its fair share. But this tells us something else about the Lib League: they support cuts to higher education and regarded Demo12 as something that  only “lefties do”. They are above protest unless it’s to demand more cuts to public services. I wonder how many of them attended the disastrous Rally Against Debt last year?

The one thing that I left out of the original article about the Liberty League was its campus network. If you look at the list, you’ll see one called the LSE Hayek Network. There’s nothing “non-partisan” about Hayek, the great guru of neoliberalism, he is most certainly right-wing and was a supporter of Pinochet’s economic liberalization. You see, economic liberalization can only be forced onto people. If given the choice people would reject it without a second thought.

Right libertarians seek to perpetuate the notion of the importance of the sovereign self over society. Please the self, pamper the self, flatter the self, the self is king. This is the atomized society that Thatcher spoke of; one that is bereft of communities. Our society is in tatters, wrenched apart by the spoilt brat of the sovereign self.

If you inculcate the notion that the individual is more important that the rest of society, before you know it, people will begin to see themselves less members of society but more as consumers at the end of a long supply chain. Individualist anarchists fit in well with Objectivists or Randists, because they place the self at the centre of the universe.

Right libertarians speak movingly about freedom but, as history has shown us, they are more than happy to collaborate with fascists or military strongmen (the  Italian Futurists, for example, described themselves as “anarchists” and joined Mussolini’s fascist government). Anarchists, on the other hand, fight fascism and all forms of authoritarianism. The right libertarian would happily watch as the cops beat the shit out of you for protesting against an authoritarian state.

Cato supported the Pinochet dictatorship. Jose Piñera, the architect of Chile’s private pension system and former Chicago Boy is a “senior fellow” at the Cato Institute. That’s right libertarianism for you.

POSTSCRIPT

Not “right-wing”? The Tories don’t think so.  Last year, Conservative Home heaped praise on the Liberty League.

Here’s a revealing paragraph (I’ve bolded a bit for emphasis),

This work was started by Simon Richards, Director of The Freedom Association, with his vision for ‘Freedom Socs’. There are now five such societies, the first of which launched at York three years ago. In addition to this, there are a large number of libertarian societies, which spontaneously popped up around the country. The Liberty League enables these individual groups to be part of a cohesive network and acts as a gateway for young freedom lovers in the UK.

Bingo!

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Mediating freedom: the role of the libertarian think-tanks

Madsen Pirie: the architect  of Thatcher's privatization programme

Madsen Pirie: the architect of Thatcher’s privatization programme

How does one define the word “freedom”? There is a group of people who believe they know exactly what the word “freedom” means. “Freedom” and its cousin “liberty” are abstract nouns, there is no hard and fast definition for either of them and any attempt to give them some kind of single meaning or, indeed, a list of meanings is utterly futile and is most likely going to be dishonest. Moreover, it could take you a very long time to compile such a list.You can no more easily define “freedom” than you can words like “happiness” or “love”, because these words mean different things to different people at different times.

There are people who believe that they have knowledge of the true nature of freedom. They form themselves into ‘non-partisan’ think-tanks’ and discussion groups and refer to themselves collectively as “libertarians”. It’s as if as libertarians, they and only they have found the true meaning of freedom. It is as though they had heard the word of G*d Himself who spoke unto them and revealed the secret of liberty.  He said unto them, “It is not Communism”.

And lo, it became the everlasting Truth… until the collapse of the Wall of Berlin, when the disciples of The Truth believed unto themselves that freedom had triumphed over the tyranny of Communism, which they declared to be “unfreedom”.

After some soul-searching and not an inconsiderable amount of hand-wringing, they decided among themselves that unfreedom was to be represented by so-called radical Islam. They had found their antithesis! Lazy thinkers are attracted to binaries because they can only define themselves against their opposite. They are not Communists/Socialists/Lefties/Islamists, therefore they love freedom!

Those who call themselves “libertarians” deny that they are of a right-wing disposition and will gather at the feet of some economic guru or high priest, where they receive The Word directly from the master’s mouth. They may also deny that they are ideological and claim that they are “non-partisan” or “neither right nor left” but this is dishonest for when you press them on certain matters, they will produce a reply that contains the usual messages of “responsibility” and a “small state”. They speak in maths. Society is merely an afterthought.

Classical liberalism, as a term, has become both a touchstone for nostalgists and means by which to reorder language. Even neologisms are subjected to this transformation. The term “neoliberalism” is resented by the Right because they did not coin it. In its stead came “classical liberalism”, a term made seemingly older by the prefix “classical”. It is still neoliberalism in form and in substance. We cannot return to the past, no matter how hard the Tories try to recreate the past in the present. Therefore they revive old terminologies and long for the days before they were born.

The economic theories embraced by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), for example, are most definitely on political right and are therefore ideological. There’s no escaping it. In the 1980s, the ASI was very close to the Thatcher government. To whit, ASI’s president/high priest, Dr Madsen Pirie was  the architect of privatization. His freedom is that which steals food from the mouths of babes and condemns the poor to lives of never-ending serfdom.

Right libertarians believe themselves to be the arbiters of the freedom ideal. Their idea of freedom is a mediated one. That is to say, it comes from someone else or is produced by a body of people like ASI who make a deterministic argument of freedom, based more or less on the notion of economic liberty, which they assert is the fount of all freedoms. Such thinking is absurd when one considers the tyranny exerted on the poor and working poor by states that have operated this model.

For neoliberalism or classical liberalism to work, it must be imposed on the citizenry. These economic ideologies can only benefit the rich and any claim that they will “liberate” the poor is patently absurd and is not supported by the evidence. “Trickle-down” is a lie.

The ASI, like so many other libertarian think-tanks have convinced themselves that they know the True meaning of the words “liberty” and “freedom” but it doesn’t and to claim that it has a form of superior knowledge that leads them to a position where they can provide a definitive meaning for these words is arrogant, mendacious and self-delusional. Have a look at this pamphlet from the ASI, from which I shall quote a portion,

Liberty can be defined as not being interfered with, or not being
imposed on, by others (non-invasive liberty). Not being attacked
or robbed is part of liberty; attacking or robbing people is not part of liberty.

It follows that liberty means being able to do what you like with
your own body (the principle of self-ownership) and your own
property, as long as you are not thereby imposing on the body or
property of others. You are free to harm yourself, for example by
taking dangerous drugs, but if you harm someone else or damage
their property without their consent, you are violating their liberty.

This sense of liberty is what libertarians, or classical liberals,
mean when they advocate liberty. It is also the dominant idea of
liberty within Western history and it applies to any society that is
described as generally ‘liberal’.

This is a mainly Hobbesian formulation of liberty that has been infused with neoliberal discourse (Hobbes was a supporter of absolute monarchy). But to characterize liberty in purely Western terms is misleading and rather vague since it presumes that freedom does not exists outside Western ‘liberal’ discourse. It also suggests that “liberty” was conceived by Westerners, ergo they are the arbiters and owners of the “freedom” concept. Furthermore the essentialistic arguments on the nature of freedom put forward by the ASI is only one set of definitions and can never represent a totality of freedom, because there will always be limits or disagreements.

The Freedom Association (TFA) is a right-wing pressure group, whose idea of freedom is narrow. Indeed, its name is Orwellian. I can think of no group that calls itself The Love Association or UK Happiness League.  No one can tell you what constitutes  love or happiness. If I were to ask you to sum up what the word “love”  in a few words, you would tell me one thing. If I were  to come back to you in a couple of months and asked the same question, you may have a different answer for me. No one can tell you or I what love is; it is dependent upon one’s individual perception of that word at a particular moment in time.  You could say that love is not hate. But then, what is hate?

The idea of freedom put forward by ASI or TFA is a spectacular one, precisely because it has been mediated. These groups have set themselves up not only as arbiters of liberty but have hijacked the discourse on the subject. It stands to reason that those who accept the ASI’s and TFA’s definition of freedom as Truth, do so because it emphasizes their relationship to capital. If you do not accept their kind of freedom, then you are a supporter of unfreedom; a totalitarian. It’s as simple as that.

When the government announced it was going to “measure” the nation’s “happiness”, I was suspicious and rightly so, you cannot measure, let alone define, happiness. It was a government attempt to manipulate people’s emotions. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In George Orwell’s satire, 1984, he created a dystopian world in which ignorance was a virtue and in which the state created ministries with names like the Ministries of Truth and Love. He was onto something.

There was some  Situationist graffiti that once said, “Don’t liberate me, I’ll take care of that”. That is my motto.

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Ethics, morality and the right’s economic arguments

Gordon Gekko: patron saint of greedy bastards everywhere

“Greed is good” was the quote attributed to the character Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street. But he never said those words, this is what he said,

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A

As you can see, the sentiment that “greed is good” is contained within the speech. Perhaps the most revealing part of that speech is the phrase “evolutionary spirit”. In other words, the form of capitalism that is currently  being practised is a form of social Darwinism.

Greed is a highly-regarded character flaw among the neoliberals who currently dominate economic discourses. They will tell us that those who salt their vast sums of money away into off-shore accounts are “wealth-creators”, not tax-dodgers who pay their employees peanuts and who continue to rake in vast profits while paying no corporation tax.  As we know already, this newly-coined phrase “wealth-creator” is indicative of an ongoing effort on the part of a group of pathological liars to convince us that it is in our best interests to cut our throats for the benefit of these parasites and, indeed, the nation. These wealth-creators create wealth but only for themselves. You and I will see not a penny of it.

It says a great deal about the morality of the right when they tell us that greed is “natural” and that it should be encouraged. Hayek, whose word is holy writ among neoliberals and the mendacious, self-delusional ‘classical liberals’, rationalized greed as something inherent in our make-up, which therefore meant that the small state should do all it can to facilitate it. No planning. No regulations. Just pure unabashed greed would benefit us all, he alluded.

We don’t praise or celebrate murder nor do we sanction murder as a good thing unless it has been given license, as in the case of war for example, where murder is regarded as a good thing, because it is in the “national interest”. People get medals for murder.  The greedy are rewarded with bigger tax cuts and knighthoods for their ‘risk taking’. The aftermath of the Iraq invasion showed us how both murder and the clever justification for greed could be used as a means of social control and a means to cart loot out of the country under the effective guise of the “free market”. “It isn’t greed” they’d tell us. “This is freedom”!

But why should we praise anyone who is permitted to give full expression to their greed? We don’t praise murderers unless, of course, they wear medals. Should we also allow those who burgle their neighbours to carry on because they’re showing ‘entrepreneurial spirit’? That’s another slippery concept: entrepreneurialism.  What is it? Is Grant Shapps an entrepreneur? Some, his fellow Tories, would think so. I say that he’s a crook and a parasite.

The trickle down theory has been thoroughly discredited. Even George Bush Sr had his doubts when he called it “voodoo economics”. Yet this government and its Lib Dem human shield persist with this notion that only greed can save us from our economic woes. Instead of clamping down on the cheats, they are given ever greater license to rip us off.

I find it bizarre that some of these greedy people would describe themselves as Christians but doesn’t the Tenth Commandment advise against greed? I do believe it does.

What Hayek and his acolytes propose is nothing less than a form of economic natural selection. Those that have money will survive and carry on exploiting others, while those without will either die or will otherwise be enslaved by the greedy.

Greed is no more natural to us than spree-killing. We don’t tolerate spree-killers, why should we tolerate greedy capitalists?

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