‘Soylent Green’, the B movie of 38 y ago, was a potentially prescient science fiction set in 2022, New York. The climate was stiflingly hot. Housing was dilapidated and overcrowded. There were people everywhere … sleeping rough, on the streets, on fire escapes and in stairwells. There was no fresh food for most people, only the soya biscuits, Soylent Red, Yellow, and then, the Green of the title. There were food riots where the bulldozers were sent in to scoop the ‘common’ people out of the way. There appeared to be little infrastructure and certainly no social services other than the overloaded charity of the church. There was also, perhaps unsurprisingly, voluntary euthanasia.
Charlton Heston was the cop. Edward G Robinson, was his elderly researcher … old enough to remember what a banana and countryside looked like before over-population, the acidification of the oceans and climate warming,
But not everyone lived like that. Charlton Heston was sent to investigate a murder in the heavily fortified citadel where the rich lived in wonderful luxury. Inevitably, Charlton got useful information from the beautiful young woman who had been brought in from the slums to be the sexual plaything or ‘furniture’ of the wealthy white man, super-rich from his involvement with the Soylent factory.
My question is about the degree of similarity between this dystopia and the course that George Osborne and the ‘modernizing Tories’ seem to be plotting?
By 2014/15 projected spending on UK public services will be less than that in the US (1). Our health provision has been put firmly on route to ‘americanisation’ and private health insurance for those who can afford it. Even with Obamacare, 15m Americans will be without access to healthcare. Homelessness will be increasingly common given the lack of social housing, rising unemployment, repossessions through mortgage defaults, reduction in housing benefit, collapse of the economy and construction, lack of rent controls. Privatisation is unlikely to lead to better public services (2) (3). We have also been seeing food prices rise, in part at least, because of speculation.
The new planning legislation will put the needs of any ‘sustainable’ development above the need to protect the environment and, most tragically, will not protect the irreplaceable ecology of ‘ancient’ woodlands. Furthermore only ‘…27 per cent of Tory MPs said they supported greater use of renewable and clean energies even if they added costs to businesses and households, while 72 per cent said they were opposed.’ (4)
In February 2010, Tim Montgomerie, founder and editor of the ConservativeHome website, estimated that 80% or 90% of the Conservative party, including senior cabinet members, did not believe the evidence for man-made climate change (5). It is, therefore, unsurprising that The Sustainable Development Commission, (abolished by the Coalition government in March 2011) reported that:
In keeping with this finding, Jonathan Porritt of Friends of the Earth described the likelihood of the Coalition living up their green promises as “vanishingly remote”. We are also told by former scientific director at Greenpeace, Jeremy Leggett (31.05.11) that ‘the dangers of peak oil are actually much worse than the credit crunch’ even if one ignores the question of emissions and climate warming … and that we will reach peak oil production by 2015 (7). However, he had experienced all levels of government as being essentially complacent.
So global warming, acidification of the oceans, environmental crisis, homelessness, poverty, hikes in food prices, an energy crisis, a lack of public services, and a reliance on charity are clearly likely to increase.
On top of all this we have an economy currently in crisis. Richard Murphy quotes Martin Wolf from the FT (8):
What is to be done? To find an answer, listen to the markets. They are saying: borrow and spend, please. Yet those who profess faith in the magic of the markets are most determined to ignore the cry.
Richard Murphy concludes:
… it is now obvious that the time for this action has come. Wouldn’t any sane person do that? Of course they would. But George Osborne is refusing to do so.
Which does support the theory that he’s actually trying to wreck the economy – and that the recession is all part of his plan to do so.
Which brings me to my second question is George Osborne a Plutonomist?
The term ‘Plutonomy’ was coined in two astonishing reports produced in 2005 and 2006 by the global financial conglomerate Citigroup. Josh Ryan-Collins, a senior researcher at Monetary Reform writes (9):
Citigroup believed that we had moved in to a new kind of macro-economy, where growth was primarily driven by the rich and enjoyed by the rich. Everyone else was fairly irrelevant, as was the global imbalance in trade between the US and everyone else and the strength of the dollar. The fact that inequality was massively widening was not seen as a big issue – the important thing was to keep the rich and their stocks, getting richer.
Josh Ryan-Collins also refers to Charles Ferguson’s documentary ‘The Inside Job’, the essence of which was that much of the blame for the current global problems could be assigned to a small number of very wealthy white men in powerful positions.
Do these powerful men correspond to the inhabitants of the fortified citadel of Soylent Green? Will we also see them in need of protection against the rage of the ‘fairly-irrelevant-everyone-else’ that the Citigroup report dismisses?
There is indeed a precedent for a deliberate wrecking of the economy in order to produce such a restructure, as Ivan Horrocks identifies in a response on Tax Research (10):
I do wonder if part of the issue you and many other commentators have with Osborne and co is that you/we are ascribing to them a primary economic policy aim which is in fact not their primary aim. We assume that Osborne and co’s primary concern (aim) is to get the economy growing again. And to be fair, this is the impression that Osborne and co promote.
But what if their primary aim is in fact to (try to) fundamentally restructure economic (and social) relations in this country (and beyond if they can) and that their belief is that to do that “austerity” is an essential tool. It can be argued that this is similar to the approach Thatcher employed between 1979-83. For example, under the cover of “austerity” we are witnessing a massive fire sale of public assets, planning laws are being relaxed, the NHS is being “restructured”, and so on and on, all to the considerable benefit not to the “big society” but to big business and big finance.
My conclusion would be that the “austerity” approach – and the narrative that’s been developed to support it – will not be dropped, regardless of any arguments put by the IMF, UN, you, Martin Wolf or anyone else – or the production of data that shows how dire the economic situation of this country is – until Osborne and his supporters are confident that their primary policy aim is sufficiently entrenched to withstand efforts to stop or undo it. Again, we see this approach reflected in the behaviour of Thatcher’s first government. And, furthermore, it resonates with the reported view of senior/influential Tory thinkers, that the first Blair government wasted their first two years in power. In summary then, we could argue that Osborne and co have simply been very good at learning from history.
Further clarification as to why George Osborne would be wrecking the economy comes from Linda Kaucher, a researcher on international trade, on the same comment thread:
… a lot of people, perhaps the majority, do find it hard to believe that government may not be acting in their interests.
… there is an underlying issue, even deeper than how to get out of economic crisis – about who is doing what for what ends….
It is clear that one major aim of those making policy is to rebalance the power of capital and labour in favour of capital and to bring workers to their knees even in Western countries, and this is now coming to effect …..
….. When this divergence of aims is recognised, then its obvious that this is war, in fact a class war…..
Whatever else, it is certain that the film Soylent Green embodies the very concept of a class war that had been won by the plutonomists. We must retain our anger and fight to ensure that we do not let the plutonomists win their class war. As The Inside Job concludes, panning across the Statue of Liberty: “The men and institutions that caused this crisis remain in power; and that needs to change… It won’t be easy. But some things are worth fighting for.” (9). In furtherance of that end, Linda Kaucher has provided a very helpful glossary of terms to help in the fight against the cuts. http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2011/09/08/comment-arming-yourself-with-economics