Archives for posts with tag: austerity

I haven’t written in a while. There’s been a lot of reasons. But this article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24553611 has reignited my indignation. We all know it, because whether you’re in work or looking for work the wages the vast majority of us are being offered are worth less and less month-on-month, year-on-year. This has been going on for a decade, but the decline in the value of our wages has accelerated quite palpably since 2008 and the Great Bankster Robbery of bail-outs and forced austerity.

There are three key points that must remain in our minds, precisely because they are being glossed over and our attention diverted by the majority of mainstream media – that means awareness of them is a fundamental aspect of the Economic War waged against us. Remember soft war is one fought through control and corruption of information, aimed at transforming the fundamental cultural values and identities of a society. Two quotes from Thatcher sum this up to me : “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul” (see http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=104475), and the famous “There is no alternative”. The first quote chills me to the bone when I look at the world created by the adherents to anti-human Washington Consensus policies that she fought for. The second has been such a powerful psychological weapon against ideas of better socio-economic models. It is also plainly wrong – there are always a myriad of alternatives in any choice or system, even if you wanted to keep a capitalist model it doesn’t have to be the corrupt crony-capitalist (some say bordering on fascist according to Mussolini’s definition) system we have today.

Key point 1: The Bankers caused the crash, the economic crash caused the huge deficits that have been the excuse for needless and recession-prolonging “austerity” – but Bankers and CEOs haven’t suffered AT ALL.

Key Point 2: Inequality is rising rapidly – and it is very highly skewed to the benefit of the highest-earning and wealthiest 1% (and when you break their incomes down you see the same distribution pattern, with the richest 0.1% far out-earning the other top 0.9%). We are very close to Victorian levels. If you’ve read any Dickens (I did under sufferance at school) that should scare the bejesus out of you.

Key Point 3: There is more than enough money, resources, food for all of us – Sitting in the off-shore tax-haven accounts of the wealthiest US citizens is more than 7 times the amount needed to eradicate all poverty across the globe. Mass poverty is a deliberate policy of these ultra-rich. They could end it with a one-off 15% tax and allowing restructuring of economies and the laws which regulate them.

The cumulative effect of the policies driven by the ultra-rich through funding and influence of politicians has been a rapid degrading of the value of our work, a rapid degrading of the rights we have as employees, and a rapid solidification of class divides. Social mobility is lower in the UK than most other developed countries – documented by the OECD in 2012 and this year. What does this mean for you and me? NO WAY OUT. Whatever lies the three main political parties will tell you, working hard is no guarantee of success. The system is designed to prevent it, and the ultra-rich are fighting hard to keep you down.

It’s time for the alternative.

It’s time to fight back.

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I think there’s enough pro- and anti-Thatcher comment in the digital world already. But there’s another angle to her story and I haven’t heard anyone even alluding to it. So I will.

I was a primary school kid in her final years in office, the son of a teacher and a nurse, living in council housing. My views on her immediate and long-term effect on our country are pretty typical of someone born into this kind of demographic strata. Its an anger/sadness cocktail that has been both shaken and stirred in recent years. In all honesty I have far worse feelings for Blair. He betrayed me personally, several times, both ideologically and practically. Thatcher was (to me at the time) a spitting image caricature and the bullying schoolteacher of our country.

What I want to touch on are the unspoken and unreported forces that direct the policies and decisions of our governments. I can see 2 basic types of pressure that move our representatives: Ones from within the nation they represent, and ones from outside. We know quite a lot about the internal pressures acting on our MPs. We know about media coverage, about public opinion, we know about campaigns, protests, petitions, and we know a little about lobbying, party funding, and “think tanks”. We need to know a lot more about the last three. Some of them are international, some of them domestic.

What about the pressures that come from outside our representatives’ country? There’s a LOT of these, and we seem to have very little decent information about them. We get some misinformation, particularly in the tabloid press and the manifestos of protest political parties like UKIP and BNP, but that never seems to get anywhere near the heart of it. In the UK we hear a huge amount about the oppressive EU and the unelected bureaucrats that are working tirelessly to destroy our industry, our currency, our morals while stealing all our money and jobs. Which has always struck me as an odd position to hold – we had a referendum about joining the EU in 1975, and we elect all our euro MPs. What we don’t hear about are the pressures that are placed on our governments from international (supranational I guess) institutions. I think these are far more important than domestic pressures, precisely because they are hidden from us. Of course they are – that’s how a soft war is fought.

The trends of increasing inequality, concentration of wealth, increasing poverty, decreasing opportunities and I think of as an economic war are not just a UK or even European phenomena. They are global. From what I can tell, they are Globalisation. Or at least the version that is being pursued so far. When you look at the policies of governments in several countries you will see striking similarities. There are also uncanny similarities between different administrations of the same country, which has been clear since the transitions from Conservative to Labour and Labour to Coalition. Either the manifestos are almost identical, or when power is achieved the policies enacted are those of the previous administration. I’m still furious that a “Labour” government privatised NHS services, schools, prisons, reduced taxes for the wealthy, increased taxes for the poor, drastically reduced civil liberties. But now I can see they were part of something far bigger.

We know the Thatcher government put in place a programme of privatisation, deregulation, and dismantling of  the welfare state that had existed since the Attlee government of 1945. Her goal was as ambitious, and successful as the Attlee administration’s. Hers was also “divisive” (which seems to be the medias glib term to describe the devastation to lives and communities in some areas of the country and the selfish greed-driven wealth transfer to the financial sector that has resulted in the recent financial crash and global depression). But hers was not her own vision, not in the same way Labour was shaped by the Beveridge report and the resolve to abolish poverty and “want”. Thatchers agenda was the agenda of the IMF, quite probably the Bilderberg Group too, and I think we miss the most important lessons for our future if we fall into the trap of personalising the economic war as Maggie vs the Poor.

A quote from Tony Benn, ex Cabinet minister in the Labour government of ’74-’79, caught my eye recently and cemented my doubts about how much control our elected MPs really have over our nation:
As a minister, I experienced the power of industrialists and bankers to get their way by use of the crudest form of economic pressure, even blackmail, against a Labour Government. Compared to this, the pressure brought to bear in industrial disputes is minuscule. This power was revealed even more clearly in 1976 when the IMF secured cuts in our public expenditure. These lessons led me to the conclusion that the UK is only superficially governed by MPs and the voters who elect them. Parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact. If the British people were ever to ask themselves what power they truly enjoyed under our political system they would be amazed to discover how little it is, and some new Chartist agitation might be born and might quickly gather momentum.”  (from his diary published in 1988)

and here he is in 2002 giving an interview to the BBC:

“PETER SISSONS: But there are dangers here for the unions aren’t there because they did make Labour unelectable last time round?

“TONY BENN: Did they, let me just ask you that. You see I was in the Labour Cabinet in 1976 when the IMF told us we had to cut £4 billion off our public expenditure. Denis Healey was the Chancellor, very fair man, wrote afterwards it wasn’t necessary, it led to huge cuts in public expenditure which triggered the trouble over that winter. So I think the, what you might call the conventional view that it was the left or the trade unions that destroyed the Labour government, I think it was the IMF myself.”

I don’t know what the economic situation was in the mid-seventies, but I know that income inequality was at a historical low point. I’ll have to find out, because something clearly went wrong between the Socialist revolutionary gov in ’45 that created the NHS, welfare, lowered inequality and achieved full employment, and the economic problems that lead to an IMF bailout with strings, and the rapid escalation of inequality and the degradation of the public services and social safety nets that we have long cherished as the most civilised aspects of our society. It can’t be inherent to lefty policies, despite the baseless assertions of Thatcher’s fans. Our situation right now is awful, and is directly the result of the neoliberal dream. In the next two years the scale of cuts, austerity, unemployment and economic stagnation is something most of us can hardly imagine. We just need to look across the channel to Spain to have some idea of what might be to come.

Thatcher did implement policies with brutality, it’s true. And she appeared to relish conflict. The hatred many feel for her is entirely unterstandable and justified. But the policies themselves are exactly those the IMF has been advocating since its inception, and forcing on countries at their times of weakness as Benn describes. We’ve seen astounding power wielded by “The Troika” of the IMF, EU and ECB in recent years, from the pressure Ireland came under to accept loans and the conditional austerity measures despite the Irish protestations that they did not require any help, to the financial coup d’etat in Italy and Greece that saw governments replaced with bankers without any democratic process. These actions scared me. And the lack of coverage, analysis or comment in much of the mainstream media worried me even further. Combine these recent issues with Benn’s comments about IMF influence over governments in the 70’s, and the picture is really quite terrifying.

There are critics of IMF policies, and I’m going to spend some time studying these. From a cursory glance, it appears the effects of the privatisation, liberalisation and austerity that are the IMFs core ideologies are harmful wherever they are implemented. Here’s a report on their effects on developing countries: http://www.eldis.org/go/country-profiles&id=41966&type=Document#.UWajrZOceSo

I’m going to wrap up here, for now. I just wanted to get this other perspective on “Thatcherism” out there. I think its a misnomer. “IMFism” might be more accurate. Whatever you decide to call it, don’t be distracted from the real generals directing this economic war. It isn’t one politician, one party, or one country. And there’s a reason they don’t let you know that.