Saturday 23 January 2016

Bad things, good things, un-asked or un-answered questions

I'm beginning to feel like a crank.

For the last week or so I've been asking on Facebook and twitter if anyone  has the figures for losses sustained by the UK's banks and financial houses during and as a result of the crash of 2008. For the moment, I haven't got an answer, though Paul Mason very kindly says that he's looking it up. I will come back to you on this.

Why am I asking?

We are being given several explanations for why people are badly off or why they could be better off. The main ones are:

1. The EU is a bad thing.
2. The EU is a good thing but it could be better if we stop 'immigrants' getting benefits.
3. Immigration is a bad thing.
4. Capitalism is great and it'll get better if the government can stop spending so much money.

Most of these arguments are taking place in the shadow of what happened in 2008. But what did happen?

As I understand it, banks and financial houses mainly but not entirely in the UK and US lent money that they never got back. (I won't go into how they lent money and how they lent each other money.)

Some questions: whose money did they lend? These were 'funds' or 'investments' but did they 'belong' to anyone? I'm not absolutely sure that they did. They were funds at the disposal of these banks and financial houses but some of it (i'm not sure how much) was actually created by them.

So, perhaps when I ask the question, how much did those banks etc 'lose', technically, they weren't necessarily 'losing' anything. Perhaps I'll get clarification on that one from Paul Mason.

But, if nothing was lost, how come many parts of the world 'went into recession'? And how come as a consequence of the crash, many governments have said that they have had to make cuts in wages, cuts in welfare and cuts in social services?

Part of their answer is that it's because they (the governments - which is us) had to prop up these banks and financial houses because if they didn't, we would all be on the streets with no food and nowhere to live.

So, straight off, there was a price to pay by us. We paid for these 'losses'. That sum can be calculated. It's in the government statistics. What is harder to calculate is what kind of combined aggregated loss did working people suffer as a result. But it's a loss all the same.

Even so, back with the banks and finance houses - was there any kind of loss from their combined coffers? Some of them went bust. Some of them were propped up. Some of them lost money and have been trying to recoup it ever since through 'cutting costs' (lay offs, sloughing off unprofitable chunks of their business, bank charges, keeping their employees' wages down, trying to find profitable investments in other parts of the economies of the world...etc).

And, if there were true losses, whose money was lost? Investors' money?

If that's right, then one version says that 'investors' money' is theirs. Another version says that these great chunks of money come from 'exploitation' - that is through 'rent, profit, or interest': the exploitation of other people's work, exploitation of property (that's rent) or through investment in profitable enterprises which are themselves profitable because they successfully exploit people's work.

So if investors lost money, they in effect lost the outcome or fruits of other people's work.

Now, when we go back to the list of 4 competing claims for how we might be better off, I don't see on that list anything that says we might be better off if we could get hold of any of these great slabs of money and distribute them more fairly. Nor any way in which we could have a system of production and finance which didn't involve people competing with each other to find things to invest in, no matter how risky or useless.

That argument is not put or hardly put in the mainstream media.

If, tomorrow I decided that I would back any of those four 'solutions' in a slightly jokey, aggressive way, and that I repented my socialist views and withdrew any of the kinds of questions I'm asking here, that I recanted, then I'm pretty sure I'd get a good hearing in the mainstream media for the rest of my life. Especially if I could include something about Jeremy Corbyn being a danger to health.