Saturday, 4 April 2015

How the hell did they get away with it? Michael Rosen explains

I thought this Facebook post by Michael Rosen would be of interest to readers:

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.


Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group said...

Thanks for republishing this, Martin. Something I reckon is important to highlight backing up Rosen's argument about so much blame being landed upon one political party that had been in prime ministerial office from 1997, is that there is less highlighting of which corporations have been advising UK governments on key policies for even more years. Take the example of Amercian health insurance giant Unum. Unum has been found guilty of fraud in a number of countries since 2000, and yet they have still been 'advising' successive UK governments despite those court rulings.

Trevor said...

They got away with it cause they are clever.

Trevor said...

Labour were never going to save us Martin.
They "played us"
and we fell for it
only to end up regretting it 13 years later.
13 years later we now know that "new Labour" Didn't have our best interests at heart.
and all the Labour party is doing now is what they did in 1997,
"playing us once again"

Anonymous said...

Rosen does a good job of setting out the issues. My explanation for why it has been allowed to happen comes down to business interests.

Any party that attempts to blow the whistle will find themselves undermined in some way by big business. That is, if they get a hearing in the first place given that the media is also big business. Of course there is always the possibility that you will find yourself and your family completely trashed - and so on.

Would it be too cynical to suggest that if you get into power, you too will want some of the 'benefits' of power - the non-executive directorships and consultancies etc, so perhaps it's best not to upset those that have the power to dish out the sweeties? I think we refer to this as "corruption" if it happens in a third world country - clearly they lack our sophistication and finesse there.

For all the years I can recollect, the public sector has been hopeless at negotiating contracts when they outsource services to the private sector and we see the same mistakes made time after time, with the public purse losing out on each occasion - presumably we just believe that public sector staff are complete dimwits to keep doing this.

I also can't get to the bottom of whether politicians and commentators - those who tell us what to think - are congenitally lazy or whether deliberately so. Every time questions come up on controversial subjects, no one seems to have the figures although everyone is happy to take up a position.

On immigration, we have no idea what is the ratio of tax paid by foreign workers is, to that of any claims they make for benefits.

On the NHS we keep hearing that the number of managers has been cut and there are more doctors and nurses. No one asks how much money is instead being spent on consultants - the McKinsey, Pricewaterhouse Coopers people, not the medico types. As for more nurses and doctors, are these the people whose temp contracts have now been made permanent?

On zero hours contracts why does no one point out that if you are on zero hours there is no sum on which to base calculations of Statutory Sick Pay or maternity benefits. Another salient point would be - how many people on zero contracts regularly work over 16 hours per week. This is relevant because you can claim certain benefits if your contract is for less than 16 hours. The zero hours people I have come across never seem to get any holiday pay. Once again, it it up to the poorest to bail us out.

We the people, are generally a pretty fair-minded lot. We really don't mind business leaders being rewarded for their hard work and enterprise. Why would we begrudge them the fruits of their labours? What we object to (in our quiet, non-revolutionary way) is when business leaders themselves fail to recognise that the wealth they have created owes its birth and its continued existence to us plebs.

It always amuses me to hear that if we made big business and the banks pay their taxes they would simply take their toys and leave. Really? And go where?