Categories
Power Dynamics

Having your cake and eating it

Imagine you had a choice of three political parties. The welfare party promised better public services, but admitted it may need to increase taxes. The small business party promised lower taxes, but admitted it will need to cut public services. However the magic bullet party promised to slash taxes and boost investment in healthcare, education and transport infrastructure as well as increasing pensions and disability benefits, a sure vote-winner for the economically illiterate. The extra funds would be raised by taxing billionaire bankers and printing money. Of course it wouldn't work, because the billionaire bankers would just hop aboard their yachts and sail to the nearest tax haven, while hyperinflation would devalue the national currency. This logic seems apparent to most reasonable people, but to many economists who believe it does not apply to economic growth. Somehow we can reap all the benefits of greater consumption without worrying about the long-term social and environmental consequences.

More disturbingly, many Greens buy into the growth mantra, especially in regard to welfare provision and open door immigration. Almost instinctively, many left-leaning greens, myself included until recently, tend to blame the grotesque waste of our times on the mega rich. If only a handful of billionaires would do without their private jets and yachts and let the unwashed masses occupy their secluded villas and concrete over their golf courses, we could easily solve all our environmental challenges. For such politically correct greens environmental disasters are not caused by over 1 billion vehicles worldwide that enable their owners to participate in a consumption frenzy or millions of Brits jetting off to Spain's beaches and buying imported goods with borrowed money.

Yet the disproportionate wealth of the banking and business classes depends on an economy hooked on consumptive growth. They thrive on more cars, fridges, cheap holidays in the Sun, booze, cosmetic surgery etc. sold to the masses. In the aftermath of 2001's 9/11 disaster, George W Bush famously urged his fellow Americans to show their patriotism through shopping. In the UK as manufacturing facilities moved abroad, new shopping malls, leisure centres and casinos sprung up everywhere. In the ensuing years both the US and UK governments continued to subsidise mass consumption, underwriting dodgy loans and letting a tarantula-like finance sector lend to low-wage workers and, especially in the UK, to welfare dependents. New Labour's much hailed flagship policy of working family tax credits (alongside others that went to those who didn't work) fuelled the country's biggest shopping spree. Back in my days, in the late 60s and early 70s, many children felt lucky if they received a lego set, an action man or a plastic helicopter. Now, they expact the very latest and greatest games console, a laptop and/or smartphone, yet their parents real earning power has actually declined. This is largely because houses used to be a lot cheaper, electronic gadgets were considered luxuries and most children still lived in traditional families.

Now imagine another choice between three hypothetical political parties. The first party wants more economic growth and an open door immigration policy, while admitting this may lead to greater dependence on imports, a larger population more roads and more building on arable land as well as a potential social conflicts. The second party wants a greener environment and greater social cohesion, while admitting the country's GDP may decline and its international competitivity may suffer. This may sound like a choice between accepting a high-stress job as a stock broker and running a small family farm with a few acres of land. While the stock broker employs a team of underlings to expand his empire, the smallholder painstakingly builds a farm that will feed not just his family, but provide gainful employment and a sense of true purpose for future generations, handing down skills from father to son and mother to daughter. In the short-term and given good economic fortune the stock broker role may well yield much more, but in long term the finance sector is just a giant ponzi scheme with a few lucky winners, but many more losers. The third option, one currently proposed by many on the mainstream left, is to have a greener, happier, more prosperous future with endless opportunities and fun for all simply by rebranding everything we do now as green.

Imagine somehow we can continue to grow both in numbers and in carbon footprint, while miraculously reducing our collective impact on the environment. In this fantasy world, bad diesel-fuelled 4x4s will be replaced not with fewer journeys, bicycle and trains, but with trendy more expensive electric cars. It matters little that such vehicles not only require more resources to manufacture, but rely on electricity generated elsewhere effectively merely displacing pollution. To many on the left, political correctness trumps environmental responsibility. Should all disabled Indians drive specially adapted cars? Maybe that's a big untapped growth market. Suggesting paraplegic Indians make do with mere wheelchairs could lead to accusations of racism and intolerance of the physically disabled. As it happens big business loves green solutions where it sells. Big business does not market gas-guzzlers because they pollute, but because they drive profitable consumption. If they could sell solar-powered helicopters made of recycled paper, they would, but such vehicles are pure fantasy. Likewise if the earth had bountiful supplies of abiotic oil below its crust or wind energy could power millions of irons, washing machines and fridges with minimal investment in wind farms, then why would they be pursuing environmentally risky and expensive strategies like hydraulic fracturing or deep-sea drilling ?

A pragmatist may seek a compromise between a maze of multilane highways and shopping malls and a Quixotic return to an idyllic agrarian age of green fields, windmills, hardworking peasants and horse-drawn carts. However, an unlikely coalition of corporate lobbyists and wishful thinking leftists would like to have their cake and eat it. They want to see our economic numbers continue to grow, but believe technological innovation can lessen our collective impact on our precious environment. So we can allow more people to drive more cars to bigger supermarkets making bigger profits and offering better products, but still have a greener environment. Indeed in such an optimistic scenario greenness just becomes another commodity one can purchase. A two-bedroom flat sandwiched between a motorway and a high-speed railway line is usually much cheaper than a similarly-sized apartment in a quiet suburb overlooking a park. Likewise a few million quid, bucks or Euros can buy you an exclusive villa in verdant surroundings complete with solar panels and its very own wind turbine. The rich love greenery and who can blame them ? As the world become more crowded and climate disruption makes many regions uninhabitable, we can expect unspoilt nature to be a luxury only the hyper-rich can enjoy.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Monbiot denies peak oil.

In reply to:‚ We were wrong on peak oil. There's enough to fry us all

Dear George,

Once again I feel constrained to write to you in defence of cool-headed rationalism rather than vapid emotionalism. I refer of course to your recent piece in the Guardian on peak oil. I would really welcome any hard‚ facts that led you to change your mind since the concept gained public awareness in the late 90s. Geologists have long known of huge reserves in Alaska, the South Atlantic and even deep under the Antarctic Ice. We have long‚ known of vast reserves of tar sands. Peak oil refers to the maximum commercially viable extraction rate of easy oil, as present in‚ the Middle East, Venezuela and formerly in Pennsylvania and Texas. Once we start drilling 3000 metres below the Mid Atlantic seabed, as Brazilian surveyors already are, the EROEI‚ a concept‚ with which‚ I hope you are familiar, will diminish very fast in any currency and oil will lose its relative advantage over alternatives, which unfortunately either yield much less (biomass), are unreliable (wind), require enormous infrastructure and maintenance (solar and tidal energy) or are downright dangerous (nuclear). However, don't take my word for it, Richard Heinberg has dealt with your assertions much more eloquently than I could:‚ Peak Oil Denial.

I had previously written about your refusal to attribute‚ our ruling elite's support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq to control of the oil supply. You seem to have a‚ wonderful knack for pandering to our establishment's self-righteousness (namely we did it for democracy‚ freedom and human rights). You also expended considerable literary resources on your condemnation of 9/11‚ truthers, likening them to climate change deniers,. To the best of my knowledge, nobody denies the destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 or the murder of around 3000 office workers, although many Americans and others fail to believe the official explanation for this terrorist act. So why would you join William Engdahl and others in denying the reality of finite resources on a finite planet? For the environmental movement the timing could not be worse, only two week's ago James Lovelock admitted overestimating the scale and consequences of man-made climate change. While our collective overconsumption has undoubtedly affected our planet's ecosystem, I remained somewhat sceptical of some of the more extreme predictions, mainly because the so-called scientific consensus has frequently been wrong on so many issues. Continued human hyperactivity is‚ very likely to disrupt natural climatic cycles, but maybe not before other technological constraints begin to thwart our suicidal drive for growth at all costs. Indeed the message climate change and peak oil deniers have been getting is quite simple: The enviro-fascists were wrong, the party can go on. We can keep expanding markets and place all our uncritical faith in the next generation of technofixes. Remember in geology a century is but a just a split second, yet in this period our‚ population has quadrupled and our per capita consumption sky-rocketed. We are indeed treading unchartered territory and may not be fully aware of the consequences for another 50 to 100 years.

I suspect it's because you fear the consequences. Indeed I also note your disagreement‚ with Jonathon Porrit on the population issue. You simply fail to recognise it and accuse, albeit diplomatically, true‚ environmentalists of wanting to depopulate the planet through Draconian measures such as sterilisation and‚ eugenics.Yet any rationalist would distinguish science from ethics. If we get the science right, we can then consider its ethical implications and act to avert suffering. If we get the science wrong, through misplaced faith in dangerous‚ technology or overreliance of finite resources, then the ethical consequences can be catastrophic. Yet since the mid‚ 1980s, and increasingly since the advent of New Labour, the trendy left has been enamoured with the neoliberal‚ Globalist project, its growth mantra and its imagery of multicoloured happy consumers sipping lattes and fondling their iPads. Humanitarian intervention, outsourcing and mass migration were key tools‚ of the new globalist world order. Yet the left seems to have confused the noble causes of International solidarity and‚ humanism for an economic system that thrives on hyper-competition and hyper-consumption addicted to growth at all costs. Its advocates in the British media stop at nothing to accuse its intellectual opponents of authoritarianism (green fascists), racism (anyone opposed to cheap labour and free trade) or conspiracy theoryism (anyone refusing to believe orthodox propaganda)‚

In short, I suspect you changed your mind on peak oil, not because of any new evidence, but because of peer pressure to embrace growth and remain politically correct on immigration and‚ population. Well done! So as 1.3 billion Chinese, 1.2 billion Indians and 700 million Africans strive to emulate Western European living standards, will they kill each other in the process? Will we ever learn from experience?

I'd prefer to see tens of billions more human beings over the coming millennia than destroying the ecosystem on which our civilisation depends just to squeeze in a few billion more here and now.

Categories
Power Dynamics War Crimes

Demagogue sweeps to victory

Many on the left in the UK and elsewhere are celebrating George Galloway's resounding victory in the last Thursday's Bradford West by-election. With a turnout of just over 50%, the former labour stronghold saw a massive swing away from New Labour and the other mainstream parties to the left-leaning Respect coalition. Just ten years ago I would have been over the moon about such a spectacular win for the superficially radical left. Yet beyond his firebrand rhetoric, can Gorgeous George really offer a viable alternative or would his populist policies, if ever implemented, dig our proverbial hole even deeper.In recent parliamentary elections Respect candidates seldom muster more than 2% of the popular vote. Considering the level of public disillusionment with the big three parties (Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives), their mendacity and their indistinguishable policies once in power, protest votes on a scale seen in Bradford should surprise nobody. Bradford has more than its fair share of social problems, high rates of welfare dependency and a very large Pakistani community with a very high birth rate. To Galloway, such constituents represent an opportunity to rant and rave about the evils of imperialism and proposed cutbacks in the Welfare state. Such demagoguery has its appeals. A leaflet exclaims Bring back our boys from Afghanistan, and urges us Bring back industry to Bradford, and Stop government cutbacks. Indeed Galloway would like to spend more on child benefit and healthcare, while letting more immigrants join the labour force and claim benefits. Galloway is a latter-day cornucopian. He genuinely believes that by redistributing wealth from the grotesquely rich there will be plenty to go around and we can continue to go forth and multiply without a worry in the world. Yet Bradford's social problems are caused largely by the side effects of unsustainable global corporatism that Galloway wants to milk even more.  The stark reality on the ground in Bradford is one of little hope for a large section of the city's youth population, divided into three main groups: Muslims (mainly of Pakistani descent), offspring of single parents wholly dependent on benefits and a shrinking traditional white working class. To these groups we can add a recent influx of Eastern Europeans who have miraculously taken many of the jobs shunned by the local population. While Mr Galloway may bemoan child labour, sweatshops, temporary contracts, payday loans and betting shops, his constituents depend on them for their shopping and lifestyle. In so many inner city streets across the UK we see betting shops next door to pawnbrokers, remarketed as Cash Converters. A quick perusal of available vacancies in the West Yorkshire reveals some unsettling truths. Most are in care. While superficially this may seem like progress, as all good societies care for their citizens, why is demand so high and why do so many young citizens suffer from mental health problems and learning disabilities ? Yet many refuse to admit the bleeding obvious, a mix of benefits dependency, alcoholism, fatherlessness, divided communities and inbreeding combined to produce a new generation that lacked a sense of purpose other than to enjoy themselves or breed the next generation of welfare dependents. Bradford's distinct communities suffer different sets of social problems. In the white section, the two biggest problems are clearly dysfunction families and lack of initiative, while in the Asian community a high birth rate, inbreeding and sectarianism place huge demands on the rest of the wider national community.  To the likes of Galloway such observations are both xenophobic or misanthropic, for he would like us to believe more public investment can bring back industry to the North of England. Such a shift would dramatically increase production costs and would, based on recent experience, merely provided more jobs for newcomers willing to get out of bed in the morning. Does Respect plan to quit the European Union and World Trade Organisation so it can impose tough import controls? Does it propose to limit per capita consumption through huge price hikes in consumer goods as we pay workers decent wages? How would Bradford's gadget-addicted youth survive without affordable mobile phones and game consoles? Of course, countries can be much more self-sufficient and guarantee their people food and job security at a price. Cuba miraculously coped in the 1990s, but its citizens have to make do with ageing infrastructure and its birth rate is stable. More important, Cuba can feed itself, even with horse-drawn ploughs, while the UK, with one of the world's most highly mechanised farming industries, only produces just over half of what it consumes and if Scotland were to declare independence England would rely even more on imports. True radicals would champion self-empowerment through hard work, community cohesion and economic policies fit for our grandchildren. Instead Mr Galloway offers only rhetoric, while expecting a morally corrupt system to continue to subsidise idleness and irresponsibility. 
Categories
Power Dynamics

Forerunners of Modern Globalisation

Our species, homo sapiens sapiens, is now thought to have evolved at least 120,000 years ago with some recent finds in the Middle East dated to as long ago as 200,000 years ago. On that time scale, the Neolithic agrarian revolution, occurring in most parts of the more densely populated world between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago and only reaching some locales such as Australia, in the era of European colonisation. Prior to the agrarian revolution, communities had a much more direct relationship with their natural surroundings, were largely nomadic hunter-gatherers and so intensely involved in precuring food for their extended families that they lacked the technological means for more advanced forms of political organisation that could subdue other populations.

By and large human communities kept their distance limiting population growth and conflicts, but traded tools, artefacts and bounties. The earliest human settlers of Europe were not imperialists intent on dominating other peoples or seeking greater wealth for their rulers, but adventurers seeking greener pastures and often responding to regional climatic and environmental changes. Some anthropologists now consider the first waves of Indoeuropeans who expanded from Anatolia or the Crimean region around 7000 years ago to be the first imperialists, who set out to spread their culture on horseback through their mastery of animal husbandry and ability to generate food surpluses and this sustain larger communities. Pre-Indoeuropeans correctly designate the peoples who had colonised the Indo-european linguistic and cultural area before Indo-European expansion as opposed to later waves of migrants such as the Ural-Altaic who rode in from the east. Recent genetic analysis of established communities across Europe has shown how significant proportion of the modern European genome can be traced to a handful of ice-age retreats. The modern linguistic landscape emerged from an interaction between these pioneer communities and subsequent colonisers, but as Stephen Oppenheimer’s research into origins of the British suggest, each new wave typically little more 5% to the existing ethnic mix. When pro-Globalists argue Britain has always been of nation of immigrants, they seem to overlook two critical factors, timescale, environmental sustainability and population density. Very early peoples could expand into new uninhabited regions without need for conflicts over economic resources with rival groups and even where other humans had settled in the vicinity, ample space allowed for some peaceful cohabitation and intermingling among groups with similar levels of technological advancement. Comparisons with the world's remaining pre-agrarian peoples may not prove very instructive as they tend to inhabit extreme environments as are usually surrounded by more technologically advanced communities eager to reassign their habitat to other more productive purposes.

Globalisation is simply imperialism on a planetary level, in which old nation states have become little more than regional councils implementing policies dictated by unaccountable supranational bodies. Imperialism means the subjugation of other communities to expand the military and commercial influence of a given ruling class. Historically speaking all nation states, which today form culturally distinct entities, grew out of generations of empire building.

Western European Timelines:
Approximate Years Before Present
20,000 to 11,500 Early Mesolithic with only a few communities in ice age retreats.
11,500 to 7,000 Post-glacial expansion to central and northern European mainly following coastal and river routes.
7,000 to 2000 Gradual expansion of agrarian civilisations and early empires.
2000 to 500 Imperial expansion, nation building, wars, spread of Christianity and Islam and introduction of the feudal system and mercantile networks.
500 to 250 European colonisation of the Americas with outposts in the Africa, Asia and Australasia
250 to 50 Industrial revolution and expansion of great European and North American empires. Consolidation of competing nation states with advanced social welfare structures.
50 to 20 Accelerated globalisation with domination of a US-centred business empire, supported by a huge military-industrial complex and limited national sovereignty, but kept in check by rival regional power centres and national welfare states.
20 to near future Rapid of growth of rival power blocks within the global system and huge expansion of consumption in the world's most populous countries, accelerated pace of migration, disappearance of national sovereignty, increased political instability, early signs of resource depletion.

In the beginning we had small communities around a limited number of extended families. It wasn't until the agrarian revolution that we could produce enough surplus food to enable the development of urban settlements and advanced political organisations. Some such civilisations may have existed as long as 15,000 years ago as evidenced by the archeological finds in South East Asian Malay archipelago, which during the last ice age formed a continuous landmass from modern Java to Cambodia, known as Sundaland. Archeologist Francis Pryor estimates Britain's neolithic population as little more than 100,000 in 4000 BC and Ireland's at around 40,000. In Roman times it barely rose to a staggering 3.5 million, out of an estimated 56 million in the whole Roman Empire, only to decline again to around 1.5 millions in the aftermath the pan-European Justinian Plague between 540 and 750 AD. For 700 years Britain's population fluctuated between around 2 and 8 million before the industrial revolution enabled a huge demographic boom and the excess population could easily emigrate to new colonies.

As recently as 1850 much of Africa's hinterland remained unchartered by European explorers, while to your European the world revolved around their region and nation state with merely tales of remote promised lands. To many French, German and Italian farmers English seemed about as relevant to their every day lives as Latin or Chinese. While the educated classes may have been aware of emerging empires abroad, most ordinary Europeans were only aware of foreign culture through tales from relatives who might have migrated. Indeed the great European exodus did not really get into full swing until the end of the 19th century. In 1850, shortly after the Mexican-American war with the acquisition of California and Texas, the US had just 23 million inhabitants. By 1900 this had soared to 76 million nearly doubling to 136 million in 1940 as Europe plunged into its second episode of mass slaughter of the last century, and most of the rise can be attributed to immigration. Now the US population stands at 320 million. The country may be large, but has ceased to be self-sufficient in non-renewable energy and a net exporter of food (see The Next Crisis Will Be Over Food). Worse still like the UK, the US outsources much of its heavy industry, so much pollution is generated elsewhere to satisfy consumer demand in the US.

My thesis is simple. Nation-state imperialism with rival French, Spanish and British empires has morphed into multipolar globalisation, where US and European multinationals collaborate with Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian or Russian corporations. While the system thrives on consumption generated in Europe and North America, growing demand in India and China means as per capita resources become scarcer capitalists are likely to switch from the current hyper-consumption model, where indulgence is practically subsidised to boost the retail sector, to a more traditional survival of the fittest.

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Power Dynamics

Corporate Mercenaries

The LM Gang are back, this time advocating, in a new C4 documentary Britain's Trillion pound Horror Story, the privatisation of healthcare and education and downsizing of the rest of the public sector to reduce taxes, the national debt and stimulate economic growth.

Back in 1998 a post-modern intellectual associated with the former Revolutionary Communist Party, which later became Living Marxism and then just the LM Group and more recently Spiked Online, produced a documentary for Britain's Channel 4, Against Nature, railing against misanthropic greens. They have taken some radical and provocatory stances aimed mainly at the thinking left, those of us who are not completely brainwashed by corporate conditioning and actually want to see a more caring, sharing and, dare I say, sustainable society. Since the fall of the former Soviet Union, they have argued that the socialist cause they once espoused is dead and instead they began a campaign against what they considered reactionary forces opposed to progress. To them progress was redefined as the globalisation of labour and consumer markets, rapid evolution of technology to enable constant material growth and the replacement of previous social structures such as families and close-knit communities with a shared cultural heritage with new structures based around life-style choices and special interests. The clique around Frank Füredi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent and author of Reviews of Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, have morphed from extreme proponents of a worldwide Bolshevik revolution in the dying days of the modern era, to extreme advocates of postmodern neoliberal globalisation. Back in the 1970s and 80s, most on the left opposed immigration controls and welcomed multiculturalism because of a basic sense of humanitarian solidarity with the downtrodden, the perceived victims of imperialism and irrational ethnic prejudice. That was my gut instinct until the early years of the new millennium.

Yet as I try to explain in another post, modern globalisation owes its roots in 18th and 19th century European colonisation and the expansion of the United States as a world power. The left also championed women's rights, another very noble cause, which has arguably been perverted to disempower families, as wel as gay rights, which while removing stigma against natural feelings of erotic attraction towards the members of the same gender, served similar purposes in weakening traditional family units and empowering big business and the state. Thus for many years the disciples of Frank Furedi could pose on the left. When other sections of the left opposed nuclear power and later genetically modified food, the descendants of the British RCP, championed these technologies as a means of feeding the poor.

As noted elsewhere, former RCPers have become very media-savvy, but we'd be very naive if we thought they had somehow successfully inflitrated corporate media organisations in order to promote a revolution that would see the overthrow of the today's ruling elites. Rather they serve as fifth-columnists embedded in media and organisations appealing to the wishful-thinking left on behalf of a corporate elite who owe no allegiance to the ordinary people of any country.

Smart propagandists like to build on concerns about a very real problem and then differentiate themselves from other more mainstream opinion leaders to appeal to a disgruntled section of the gullible electorate. If we sum the government debt accumulated thus far and the total commitments for debt repayments, planned public expenditure, the UK public debt is forecast to reach a staggering 4.8 trillion pounds, which as the documentary pointed out could not be repaid if every house in the country were sold at current market rates. This is obviously unsustainable, indeed so obvious that even advocates of unlimited growth admit it. The documentary rightly sheds light on the huge bureaucracy within the UK's public services. Of 9 million public sector workers, only 2 million are engaged in frontline jobs as teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers etc... Instead most sit in offices administering and monitoring others. Many dependent services become self-serving as they only exist to service the administration of the public sector. For instance, an equal opportunities commission does not provide the underprivileged with new opportunities, but merely liaises with other employers and service providers to ensure their client groups are well represented. However, as they're in the communication business, they inevitably require IT, multimedia, printing, catering and transport services and their infrastructure relies on hardware technicians, builders, plumbers, joiners, mechanics and electricians. However, this huge waste of resources is not confined to te public sector. We not only have a huge rise in the third sector of NGOs, charities and not-for-profit foundations promoting this or that agenda, but large corporations, even those with an industrial base, have morphed into miniature states. For all the talk of lean manufacturing and streamlined organisation, most large private sector companies are chock-a-block with non-productive penpushers and people-managers. hile the public sector is undoubtedly inefficient, it is at least in theory accountable to taxpayers. The documentary completely missed the point, why would the government and its corporate masters subsidise non-productive people management on such a large scale? The previous NewLabour government, which ran up the largest deficit in the UK's history, can hardly be accused of not acquiescing to the needs of large transnational corporations. More important before the government began its huge spending splurge following its 2001 re-election, banks had begun lending irresponsibly to millions without stable employment or even on benefits. The UK doesn't just have a public debt, but also a huge private debt to the tune of £1.4 trillion. Most owners of typical 3 or 4 bedroom houses do not really own their homes outright, their bank or building society does. They are in most cases 6 months to a year away from eviction should they fail to honour monthly mortgage repayments. Worst still as property prices skyrocketed in the South East of England, hundreds of thousands took out interest-only mortgages, i.e. for an initial period, usually 1 to 2 years, they pay only interest on their mortgage, but after this period of grace, their monthly repayments go through the roof. Many believed in a era of unprecedented finnacial growth that 2 years later they woud double or triple their earnings and once they were on the property ladder living the middle class dream, life would be sweet. In the end the government had to bail out the bankers, so a good deal of the huge £4.8 trillion debt is actually inherited from the private sector. I would suggest that both the state and corporate sectors wanted to stimulate consumer growth. Miraculously, as NewLabour launched Private Finance Initiatives and continued to transfer public services to private contractors, quangos continued to grow.

Expropriation

Most transfers of ownership from private to public and the from public back to private hands disempower locals and empower transnational corporations. In its early stages in a favourable resource-rich environment , a market economy can theoretically reward hard work and let entrepreneurs build communities around the provision of useful products and services. This certainly appeared to be the case in 19th century North America and even in prosperous enclaves of Western Europe. However, such a system relied on a working class willing to let their bosses profit from their labour in exchange for job security. As small companies grew larger to take advantage of economies of scale and drive industrial development, the proletariat became a distinct class whose interests clashed with those of their bosses. Before the emergence of capitalism, most workers were mere peasants tilling a small plot of land and handing a large proportion of their produce to their landlord as rent. Much of the British economy came under government ownership in the aftermath of the Second World War as much of the country's industrial infrastructure such the still important railways, coal mining, steelworks, health system could not operate effectively at a profit. The State left the profitable sections of the economy to the private sector. Indeed much had controlled by huge state interventions, not least through massive armaments contracts. Nonetheless after the austere 1940s, the 50s and 60s saw the longest period of economic and social betterment, as measured by rapidly decreasing infant mortality, the reduced incidence of poverty-related diseases (such as rickets) and full employment. Although the tertiary sector continued to grow, Britain still had a manufacturing base. Most cars, lorries and trains were still made in the UK as was most industrial machinery, coal and steel. While more and more women chose to pursue careers, most mothers of young children were happy to work as housewives. In many ways the 50s and 60s were the hey day of the modern nuclear family with its typical 2.3 children. Social services still played a relatively marginal role and Health and Safety inspectors were few and far between, hence despite apparent technological limitations before the advent of microprocessor-enabled information technology, public sector bureaucracy was a lot smaller.
Proponents of nationalisation or privatisation often use the democracy argument. Thus nationalisation makes an organisation democratically accountable, while privatisation frees an enterprise of the constraints and inefficiencies of state control and places it in the hands of private shareholders. In reality nationalisation merely transfers ownership to the state, which in turn serves the interests of its corporate backers and usually rewards former owners handsomely, while privatisation leads to a temporary injection of capital into the public coffers, but has always transferred ownership to monopolistic capitalists, thus failing to provide any real competition. We could even argue that nationalising loss-making industries did an enormous favour to venture capitalists as they could invest their compensation oversees, allowing other entrepreneurs to acquire the more profitable remnants when the government privatises again.
The post-war boom would simply not have happened without an advanced welfare state, a healthy and largely contented work force and the survival of strategic energy, transportation and manufacturing industries. Hence even capitalists, claiming to favour a free market, supported nationalisation in the mid 20th century. The Thatcherite revolution practically outsourced most major manufacturing and refocussed on non-productive media and banking, a trend that continued unabated under New Labour. The only segments of Britain's industrial base that remained almost unscathed were the multi-billion pound government-subsidised armaments industry (so-called defence), the pharmaceutical and biotech industries with some niche luxury and entertainment gadget producers. Manufacturing saw a brief comeback in the late 1980s and early 1990s with an influx of American, Japanese and German inward investors. However, by the early twenty-noughties factories resumed closing, replaced only by supermarkets, call centres, entertainment complexes. In 2006 Tessa Jowell promoted regional casinos as a means of job creation and urban renewal in Britain's depressed former industrial heartlands.
In 1997 I suggested to an acquaintance who worked as an advisor for the Labour Party that he'd better save up for his daughter's university education. "Nonsense", he said, "New Labour would always ensure higher education remain accessible to all". A few months later, New Labour announced the introduction of tuition fees, initially just £1000 a year, soon rising to £3000 and now, under the Con-Dem government to £9000. As a result millions of young workers will either have to accept low-paid jobs to escape repaying their loans, thus defeating the purpose of higher education, or forever be in debt. However, the true cost of higher education actually exceeds £9000 a year, but that misses the point, the whole sector is slowly but surely being primed for privatisation, relying on wealthy foreign students and failing to train the country's future generation of engineers, doctors and scientific researchers, while the relative academic value of degrees has been significantly debased. In the 1970s only 15% of school leavers went to uni, by 2010 that number is nearly 50%. Despite the Blairite mantra of education, education, education!!, class sizes have grown and student behaviour worsened leading hundreds of thousands of middle class parents, including Labour cabinet ministers, to send their offspring to private schools. When they consider the costs of a UK university degree, they might as well use their academic loan to send their offspring abroad. I suspect Indian universities will soon start offering cut-price degrees to the same disgruntled moneyed middle classes who travelled to Eastern Europe for cosmetic surgery.
The previous government pumped billions into the national health service, insisting all new hospitals be built via PFI (Private Finance Initiatives). Despite the rhetoric the NHS bureaucracy has mushroomed with billions squandered on management consultants (not doctors) and centralised IT projects, as detailed brilliantly by David Craig in his 2008 book Squandered. More disturbingly, vast sums of public money have been spent not on essential frontline healthcare, but on promoting awareness of new mental illnesses and lifestyle-related ailments ( diabetes, obesity, angina, high blood pressure etc..) hugely boosting demand for pharmaceutical products. Amazingly, the new Con-Dem government, depsite a massive debt, has committed itself to maintaining the previous administration's spending plans. In real terms public health spending has doubled since 1997, yet the nation's health patently hasn't as any gains in prosperity have been offset by culture of hedonism and a growing rich-poor gap. Any recent gains in life expectancy have more to do with improvements that occurred 30-40 years ago (i.e. your life expectancy is largely determined by your health in your 30s and 40s) than multi-million pound anti-smoking campaigns. The US probably has the world's most wasteful healthcare system with 16% of GDP devoted to public and private healthcare. This compares with 10 to 11% in France, Canada and Germany and 8.9% in Italy, 8.7% in Australia, 8.4% in the UK and just 8.1% in Japan, while life expectancy is highest in Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Iceland, probably more down to diet and lifestyle than provision of drugs. The US Model is to boost public demand for healthcare services persuading more people that they need long-term medication and cosmetic surgery (not included in the above figures), creating a huge comsumer market. In my humble analysis the UK health system is being primed for privatisation in all but name. It has become such a monster as to be completely unsustainable and the corporate elite will rely on a knee-jerk reaction to reports of waste and inefficiencies to soften public opposition to the removal of universal provision of healtcare free at the point of delivery. Nadeem Waylayat of Market Oracle has detailed the almost inevitability of the failure of the NHS project ( see http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article23744.html ), however, he seems to welcome its downfall. I hasten to add, when the NHS collapses, millions will suffer the consequences.
Martin Durkin's documentary is just the latest salvo in a war against common sense, i.e. a rational world in which education and healthcare serve the needs of taxpayers rather than those of multinational corporations and are not allowed to become unsustainable. Apparently he has the government on his side as they have now allowed the cloning of animals for human consumption and given the green light to transgenic farming and quiely announced the privatisation of the Royal Mail.
Categories
Power Dynamics

Metamorphosis of the Labour Party

How the Party of workers came to represent a bunch of non-productive consumers

Little divided the main political parties in the run-up to the 2010 UK General Election. They all support the supremacy of transnational corporations, the banking cartel and the Euro-American military-industrial complex. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives may voice their theoretical opposition to some of the grandiose projects championed by New Labour such as the multi-billion pound ID card system, but they remain firmly wedded to the cause of global corporatism and, more important, relentless economic growth. Since the demise of large-scale British manufacturing, economic growth has largely been consumption-led, meaning to thrive big business needed a huge of army of happy consumers supported by a sophisticated welfare system. To generate revenue to fund imports of material goods and resources, we presumably offer services, related to banking, people management, surveillance, marketing, education and health. Every real worker with hard skills,driving the country`s high-tech sector, requiring the application of brainpower, is supplemented by a plethora of project managers, coordinators, pen-pushers and assistants. Yet even skilled service sector jobs attract a steady influx of workers trained abroad.

If anything the May 2010 general election revealed a growing geographic chasm. On the one hand New Labour receives most of its votes from inner cities with large migrant populations, and former industrial areas with large sections of the population dependent on welfare or public sector jobs. On the other the Conservatives and Liberals dominate middle England. One can travel from Penrith in the North of England to Devon without ever encroaching on Labour-held territory. Yet Labour still holds a majority of Scottish seats and Gordon Brown received 64% of the vote in his home constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, despite betraying his roots and future generations by bailing out bankers to the tune of £600 billion and supporting an oil-soaked war in Iraq. In Fife over 1 in 5 workers are employed by the council, 1 in 8 adults are on incapacity benefits, school kids are more likely than anywhere else in the UK to be diagnosed with ADHD and thousands of jobs dependent on defence contracts. As they say, â€Ã…“better the devil you knowâ€Ã‚ÂÂ. In the recent Glenrothes by-election New Labour saw off a challenge from the Scottish National Party by denouncing the SNP-led council`s move to reduce subsidies on home-helps, and presumably divert such handouts to the provision of other services. New Labour thrives where people feel helpless without the guiding hand of the state or the omnipresence of friendly corporations. A loyal New Labourite shops at Tesco, buys National Lottery tickets, subscribes to Sky TV, only uses genuine Microsoft software and supports our troops fighting for freedom and democracy abroad. If state largesse faded away, people would have to get real jobs.

As late as the 1970s skilled workers, whether miners or automotive engineers, could bring the country to its knees, for within weeks it would be without power or a viable manufacturing base. Fast-forward to the early 21st century and any group attempting to exploit their collective professional bargaining power, are readily dismissed as overpaid troublemakers who can be replaced at a drop of hat, largely thanks to the atomisation of skilled professionals and the globalisation of labour markets. Instead a small elite of highly specialised and generally well-remunerated technicians are shunted around the globe, often as temporary contractors, owing little allegiance to their fellow workers or geographic community, and focussed entirely on advancing their career for personal gain. It might seem rather ironic, but the remnants of the trade union movement have steadfastly opposed all restrictions on immigration, presumably to show their solidarity with workers abroad, yet rendering settled workers powerless to take any action against their bosses. Few workers today see the fruits of their labour with their role reduced to that of teamworkers, dependent on other professionals to produce any good or service of worth. Life skills, which every family needs, have been transformed into professional specialisations. Everything from childcare to nutrition, emotional wellbeing to safety precautions or learning to entertainment has been professionalised, while such services were all once provided by one`s extended family and local community. Instead of childminders, child psychiatrists, nutritionists, health and safety inspectors, learning assistants, television sets and game consoles, we had mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins and other members of our local community. If all childminders went on strike, an unlikely scenario because they are one of the least well organised professional categories, parents would have to give up their jobs and become full-time parents. However, as so many are single-parents this would often mean no income or dependence on yet more state handouts. In the real world, it often makes little for single parents to take up an offer of employment unless they stand to earn much more than the combined cost of childcare and transport. In this context working family tax credits encourage couples on low to middle incomes to substitute parents for childminders. Yet such while incentives have benefited the middle classes, they habe been relatively unsuccessful in attracting a huge reserve of home-grown dropouts, by which I mean not just neets (not in employment, education or training), but a wider group of average intelligence who simply lack a combination of specialised skills, experience and motivation to compete in the labour market, especially when confronted with a deluge of eager newcomers, often recruited proactively because of their alleged work ethic. Modern British culture, as promoted by TV, seems to encourage wanton consumption, brand awareness and dependence more than creativity and hard work

Hence we witness the spectre of benefits claimants watching Top Gear on their 60' plasma TV screens, while their offspring indulge in virtual first-person shooting or online dating in their bedrooms, all subsidised by the country`s still buoyant private service sector who in turn depend on the marketing and consumption of goods produced somewhere else. Even the most deprived neighbourhoods are replete with mobile phone and video game shops, often flanked by betting shops and pawn brokers. In a consumption-driven economy it matters little whether consumers are paid to perform a niche task in the ballooning people-management bureaucracy, or are simply paid to stay at home and raise the next generation of benefits claimants, either way they are slaves to debt and consumption, whether they owe that debt to banks or the state

New Labour`s spin doctors love to emphasise their achievements such as the national minimum wage, working family tax credits and huge injection of funds into the national health service as well as the extra 3 million jobs their policies allegedly helped create. On closer analysis the number of jobless adults of working age has actually increased from 7 to 8 million, while the official unemployment count is just 2.5 million. According to some estimates as many as five million adults of working age are perfectly capable of performing the huge range of uninspiring and menial, but very necessary jobs, now dominated by an army of recent immigrants. Yet despite millions poured into bogus employability and disability awareness training schemes, Britain`s employers still seem to prefer to well-motivated, presentable and amenable newcomers to emotionally insecure, relatively workshy and often rude homebred Brits. Of the 5.5 million jobless citizens, not officially unemployed, only a fraction have debilitating conditions that would prevent them from performing a whole range of practical and useful jobs. It may seem paradoxical, but the recent rise in the diagnosis of personality disorders, has been exploited to justify some people`s inability to compete in a labour market that relies increasingly on soft rather than hard skills. We keep hearing about alleged skills shortages in key sectors, such as health care, engineering and IT, yet such shortages are not unique to the UK. From personal experience I know talented software developers are actively headhunted. It seems ironic to work on a contract basis in London alongside developers from other European countries, only to receive a call about a contract in Germany or France because one has some magic skill unavailable locally. Recruiters will often suggest relocating for as little as 3 months. Britain`s best and brightest are often found not in old Blighty, but abroad enjoying the sun in Dubai, Australia or the US, heading up international teams in Spain, teaching English in Eastern Europe, or working remotely from their Bulgarian mountainside chalets. Sociologists explain this heightened labour mobility as a positive sign of a new era of globalisation and cultural exchange, yet cultural trends everywhere show a narrowing diversity between countries, but growing gap between the internationalised professional classes and the lumpen proletariat, the huge underclass of unskilled or in some cases de-skilled consumers

Endless economic growth is an illusion, destined to end in failure. Rather than harness technological innovation to let people work less, reduce stress and strengthen families and communities, consumption-led growth has produced an army of support workers attempting to alleviate the side effects of our over-indulgence. The Keynsian Dream is well and truly over and the next generation will have to readjust to a lower material standard of living. True progressives, those of us who want to reduce social tension and promote social harmony, should support the relocalisation of our economy. Nobody should pretend such a transition will be easy. The cuts introduced by an incoming Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition may be a bitter pill to swallow, but they will in a way soften the blow. If you rely on state handouts, you have in effect relinquished your personal freedoms. Let us return to our previous role as a proud working class, struggling to gain a fair share of the fruits of our labour.