A few months ago the cold hard reality of our current situation hit me.
It’s something I’ve always kind of known, but never fully appreciated. Probably because the implications are very difficult to stomach.
It went like this: There’s a war going on. It’s a secret, silent, “soft” war. It’s being waged against us, without us realising.
And we’re losing.
This might sound a little OTT to many, a little fantastical. Hear me out. It’ll only take a few minutes. If you don’t agree, well fine. What have you lost? at the very least you’ll feel smug that you know better. Perhaps, if it’s not too bold, you might just start seeing your world a little differently. If you do there’s a chance you’ll start to see how you can make your world a little better.
These aren’t ground-breaking, never-before-espoused ideas. I don’t have top-secret leaked documents. I’ve just been watching what’s been happening to our society since the 2007/08 financial crash. The one you and me are paying for. The one we didn’t cause.
The first sign: Banks collapsed. They’d gambled, they’d lost. But we paid. And we’ll carry on paying for years, if not decades. And the worst part – we had to borrow money to bail them out, and we had to print more money meaning we have to deal with inflation on top of pay freezes and budget cuts. Then I realised they gambled with our money, not theirs. Debt is socialised, profit is privatised. And they did this not just in the UK, or US, but across the western world. It’s not a small scale local conflict we’re caught up in. This is global. It might well be Globalization, but I’m not sure about that yet.
The second sign: “Austerity” – Huge, swingeing cuts on public spending. Touted throughout Europe as the only solution to the financial crisis. The narrative quickly changed from “Failed banks going bust” to “Huge deficits caused by out of control spending”. I watched this open-jawed. Only months before this narrative change we were giving gigantic sums of money to keep failed banks afloat. £1.5 trillion as of 2009, probably over £2 trillion now. And the bankers kept their jobs, their salaries and their bonuses, while we lost our jobs, had our salaries cut or frozen, and our public services are starting to disappear. It wasn’t spending that bankrupted us, it was bailouts. A recent fine to the now publicly owned RBS highlighted this to me: When you rob a Bank, you go to jail. But when a Bank robs you, they get a golden handshake and a new job or even a seat in the House of Lords like the ex-Northern Rock banker Viscout Ridley. I’ll come back to the lie that the deficit is caused by out-of-control spending another time. They are deliberately overlooking the reasons spending rose, and the role of loss of tax receipts in creating deficit. The frontline in a “soft war” is the media.
The Third Sign: The staggering and increasing levels of inequality throughout the “free” world. It was the Occupy movement that opened my eyes to this. I almost wished they hadn’t because it sickens, depresses, angers and scares me all at once. But you need to know the reality of your situation if you are to have any chance of doing anything about it, right? A few interesting figures: In 2012 the income (just that year’s earnings) of the richest 100 people was enough to end extreme poverty across the globe 4 times over. To put that another way, a one-off 25% tax on the income of these 100 people would mean no more extreme poverty. For millions of people. I pay around 23% on my below-average wage. In the UK, the income of the top 0.1% rose 64% from 1996/7-2007/8, while the income of the bottom 50% rose only 7%. Inflation was averaging around 2% EACH YEAR. The wages they were paid probably just kept pace with price rises.
The fourth sign: It was all a con. They had the money all along. While we were bailing out banks who failed, and consigning ourselves to “austerity” and recession through reckless and unnecessary cutbacks, those very banks we bailed out were holding £13-21 Trillion in off-shore tax havens on behalf of their richest customers. So why did we all pay? How much did the banks themselves have stashed off-shore? This gigantic figure represents hundreds of billions of lost tax revenue each year.
The fith sign: The one that crystallised the suspicion into a chilling realisation this was probably all deliberate: big business has bought our politicians. Our own Prime Minister could be bought for £50,000 – £250,000 depending on what you wanted him to do. MPs and Lords who voted to privatise the NHS despite widespread public protest and no electoral mandate stand to benefit financially, and the companies that will benefit the most have been changing UK policy for years to one that will divert billions in taxpayers money into their tax-dodging profit-maximising companies. This is the tip of the iceberg. Right now our government is bragging about how much influence it wants businesses to have over UK policy, expanding the “Buddy Scheme” to 80 privaleged companies. I thought they represented us?
The sixth sign: The demonisation of the poorest, most vulnerable, least able to fight. And the use of racism. All designed to deflect attention from the people really taking your money and your rights. You’ve seen above some of the shocking inequalities in incomes. You’ve seen the scale of the debt we’ve taken on from bankers who are still earning millions while hiding unimaginable ammounts of money from our tax collectors, thereby increasing our deficits. the “tax gap” (ammount avoided and evaded) is estimated at £120 billion each year. EACH YEAR. But you’d be forgiven for thinking that the reason your wage has been frozen for 4 years and your hospital has been sold is because people pretend to be disabled, they refuse work, or they live in mansions and claim Housing Benefit. So here’s some figures: The UK spends £48.2 Billion on Debt Interest each year – remember the money we borrowed to give the bankers? yeah, that’s right. We pay interest on that. We pay £12.57 Billion on Disability Living Allowance, which has a fraud rate of 0.5% according to the government. That’s not even £1billion. We pay £4.91 billion on Jobseekers Allowance. Remember the tax gap? £120billion. Remember the bailouts for Bankers in Need? £1.5 trillion. So why the policies cutting public spending? cutting welfare payments? cutting services and facilities? Why do all 3 main political parties still talk about the need for “cuts”, “austerity” and “tough choices”? It’s a soft war remember, and the frontline is the media. That’s why you’ll see sensationalised stories about benefit fraud, but only a brief mention of the cost of banking fraud, tax fraud or even MP’s expense fraud. Who’s waging the war? probably those who are reaping the benefits, don’t you think? That’s right the richest 1%, and probably more accurately the richest 0.1%
What else can this be? A very small, very rich section of society is using its wealth and power to increase its own wealth and power, while the rest of us are being made poorer, having our rights removed, having less influence on our politicians or the policies they enact. Economic war is the only term I can think of to describe it. The Oxfam report I linked above about the richest 100 having an annual income four times the ammount needed to eradicate extreme poverty tells you everything about our world: Mass poverty is a deliberate policy, a deliberate choice, made by a tiny number of unimaginably wealthy people so they can hoard a few hundred billion more. JUST 25% OF THEIR INCOME FOR ONE YEAR ENDS EXTREME POVERTY FOR THE WHOLE WORLD. Think about that next time you see a campaign advert asking you to relieve poverty in a third-world country, or even child poverty here in the UK. By all means do everything you can to help – but until we fight for a more equal distribution of wealth and power, what real difference can you make?