Friday 3 April 2015

How the hell did they get away with it?

Call me naive or stupid but when the financial crash came I will admit here and now that I thought that because, for the first time in my lifetime, that 

a) the workings of capitalism had been laid bare in a way that they had never been before, 
b) as people found that their standard of living was being cut and c) as people found that their hard-won and precious public services and welfare was being cut too, 

people would be outraged in ways that we had never seen before.

I confess I imagined that people would perhaps occupy their places of work, or their public services institutions - hospitals, schools, social services offices in order to defend them. I imagined that people across public and private industries would find that they had common interests in defending their standard of living. After all, I reasoned, as never before, the nakedness of capital (finance) screwing up all on its own, with no excuses that they had been driven into a corner by 'high wage demands' or 'trade unions holding them to ransom' and the like, would make it clear to us all that there is a difference between money and wealth - money being the stuff that rich people play with in order to keep themselves rich and wealth being the stuff that we need and make to keep ourselves safe and warm and productive.  

But how wrong could I have been? And why or how has it turned out that I was so wrong? 

1. It has been possible for very powerful people - politicians and news media - to repeat over and over again that the 'mess' or the 'crisis' was caused by one political party which happened to be in power at the time of the most severe point in that crisis - namely the Labour Party of GB, even though the crash was (and still is) global and was caused by financiers taking risks that were…er…too risky. 

2. It has been possible to keep the illusion going that the 'remedies' put in place to put things back together, are fair and just - even though they are nothing but a simple system of redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. The richest 1000 people increased their wealth last year by over £40 billion while the poorest have seen their income (or standard of living) cut. The proportion of money earned by waged people in relation to money acquired by owners of capital has shifted and is shifting in favour of capital. 

3. Interventions like £350 billion of quantitative easing ('printing money') have enriched the rich with hardly a murmur from those with the megaphones whose social duty was to tell us about it. 

4. A constant burble over the last five years about the 'deficit' and 'balancing the books' and 'paying our way' has been like a mass education force telling us that 

a) the deficit must be reduced or we will all go to hell in a handcart 
b) the people in power are dramatically reducing it and this is improving our lives 
c) we must re-elect them so that they can go on doing what they've been doing to reduce it further.  

It has made very little difference that some people to repeat that a deficit can be productive in any economic system if it is used to invest in producing things we need, that demolishing public services has had a double effect of harming thousands of people's lives whilst handing over what remains of the services to subsidiaries of the super-rich. 

It has made very little difference that some people have pointed out that the deficit is at levels we were told at the outset were unsustainable or impossible. 

It has made very little difference that some people have pointed out that low income (engineered by the government) has two results:

 a) people don't earn enough to pay enough taxes to lower the deficit and 
b) people will borrow money to supplement their income…which is part of why the whole thing unravelled last time. 

5. The 'economy' will recover. 

The nineteenth century bearded chap pointed out that in a recession prices will eventually fall to a level at which the people who own and control capital will think once again that it's a good time to invest and produce and distribute. In the meantime, their cycle of boom and bust involves making the lives of the mass of people worse. This period of worsening standards of living can never be given back. They happen, they endure. The damage is done to people's minds and bodies and to the ways in which we hang together. Rich people - even the few who take a small hit in a recession - don't experience this. They have a bit less than a lot. The poor have less than very little. Even though people know this and feel this, it is possible to keep them from despair and anger by constantly suggesting that 

a) it would be even worse if you let back in those terrible people who 'caused it' last time, 
b) it's going to be better for you next year…er…when we cut £12 billion from services that you need and rely on…(not!)

6. Another useful way to distract people from the core fact that money is being transferred from the poor to the rich in the name of 'balancing the books' is to encourage or allow a story to be told over and over again about 'immigrants'. The truth of the matter is that the great cycles of boom and bust are not caused by a few hundred thousand people swapping countries. More often than not, it's a symptom and not a cause. If politicians were honest, helpful people they would spend a great deal of time explaining to us the benefits and drawbacks of the system they believe in - capitalism.

They love gassing on about all the benefits of innovation, competition and the like but hardly ever explain what 'bust' is all about. An honest advocate of capitalism might spend time explaining to us that, yes, it's a system that does demand that at times the poorest have to be poorer so that capitalists can go on making profits, because that's how the system works. Hello, they would say, we compete with each other, we try to cut costs, even as we have to invest loads of dosh in order to stay modern. 

But no, instead, they allow or encourage all sorts of half-truths and lies to circulate in order to 'explain' why times are tough for millions of people. So, in one bust you'll see the bust explained by the fact that the workers have all been greedy and lazy, their pay too high, their holidays too long, their pensions too big. Another time, this story will be modified by saying that the hospitals, schools, social services cost too much. And another time the story is that the problem is what's going on abroad somewhere so the only solution is to go and bomb and kill hundreds of thousands of 'foreigners'. And another time, it's because 'we' are being 'swamped' by 'foreigners'. 

These are all very potent lies to cover up for the fact that what makes people poor is employers paying working people less. And if they were honest, they would say that, yes, that IS what they do, and it's what they need to do in order for them to stay rich (i.e. make profits). But they don't. 

7. So, in some ways, a time of reflection. As I write this, I suppose there is every chance that the Tories will win a few more seats than Labour. This may well mean that there will be another coalition - though it might be one that does not have a full majority. This means that there are certain kinds of legislation that could be defeated by the rest - unless Labour do that classic thing of saying that they are being 'statesmanlike' and supporting legislation which they don't agree with and which damage the majority of the people's standards of living. This will happen if, in the case of a Labour defeat, Miliband is replaced by someone from the Blairite rump.