A Road Map to a Fairer Future.

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Politics is pretty depressing at the moment, as it becomes  clear, the degree to which the 99% have been stitched up by the plutocrats.  So in an effort to be more positive, we are reproducing a road map of how we might get to a fairer and more sustainable economic future – as proposed in the current issue of the ‘New Internationalist’.

The economy and markets are creations of human society.  They exist to serve people.  But deregulation and capitalist greed have allowed the banks and the finance sector to gamble with all our futures and profit from the crisis of their creation.

The past four years have shown us that governments, banks, their tame economists and unelected technocrats, cannot be trusted with our common future.  Its up to us to put people first and reclaim what is ours.  Its not only the economy that is at stake, but democracy itself.

Banks for People

Restrict the power of the finance sector and the size of banks so that none is ‘too big to fail’.

 Socialise banks to bring them under democratic control.  Make banks fully accountable public institutions that provide a public service, rather than big profit-seeking businesses.

Start a rapid and complete separation of ‘high’ street or retail banks from ‘casino’ investment banks to reduce the risk of contagion.

Force banks by law to lend to small and medium-sized businesses instead of amassing funds for non-productive speculation.

Support and encourage people’s banks, such as credit unions, mutual societies, green and ethical banks.   Better that public money go here than to banks fixated on choosing big profits for their shareholders.

Re-regulate financial markets.  Finance is a public asset, not just a plaything for the super-rich.

Ban dangerous financial instruments, such as credit default swaps (CDS) – think of them as economic weapons of mass destruction.

Approve no new financial products unless proved safe and socially useful.

 Make the big shift away from over-reliance on the finance sector towards more sustainable and equitable activities.

Ditch the myth of ‘the wisdom of markets’ that led to ‘light touch’ deregulation and chaos.

Austerity

The current crisis was not caused by overspending in the public spending but by reckless risk-taking by the private finance sector, encouraged and permitted by government and by the reduction in real wages by corporate globalization.

The purpose of government is to meet the needs of the people – not to cut their lifelines.  Austerity is a con trick, played by those with most against those with least.  In many countries, austerity policies are not only failing but are actually harming economic recovery.

The Losers:

Workers – wages frozen, jobs cut, especially women in the public sector (more than three-quarters of the 327000 people who lost public sector jobs in the US between 2009 and 2011 were women).

Jobless – 200 million people around the world are unemployed, 45 million of them in the rich nations.

Young people – almost half of Spanish youth are now jobless.

Pensioners – pension age has increased in many countries and in Greece, pensions are to be cut by 20-40%.

Everyone needing health, education, or other public services.

The Winners:

The number of people with more than $1 million in cash rose by 7.2% in 2010.

The five biggest banks in Europe made profits of $36 billion in 2010.

Corporate sector profits in the US were up 25-30% since before the recession.


Tax the Rich

Recover the billions lost to the public purse each year from tax havens and loopholes – close them down.

Impose a tax on the international financial transactions (the so-called Tobin or Robin Hood tax).  This could both slow down speculative activity and raise public revenue.

Increase taxes on the rich to at least pre-1980 levels.  Make the overall effect of tax regimes progressive not regressive (as it is now).

Establish a maximum pay ceiling and ban bonuses.  End subsidies for fossil-fuel producing industries.

Make corporations accountable to society – not just their shareholders – for actions that do harm.  End the ‘fiduciary’ rule that requires shareholder companies to maximize profits no matter what social and environmental harm they cause.

Enforce transparency rules for payment between governments and corporations, and ban corporation donations to parties.  Close the ‘revolving’ door and impose rules on politicians leaving office to work for corporations they used to regulate and monitor.

Expose and tackle the power of global corporations to lobby at the World Trade Organisation and skew trade rules in their favour, reinforcing trade imbalances and inequality between nations.  Extend the rules of ‘fair’ trade to cover all trade.

Scrap Debt

Cancel all illegitimate (or odious) debts.  Many loans were made irresponsibly: they are unsustainable, unrepayable and will have to be written off sooner or later.

Establish an independent debt workout mechanism that no longer puts creditors in charge.

Challenge the power of creditors to influence policy.  They are the ones who are engaged in (and profited from) the high risk-taking that created economic chaos and are unlikely to be able to lead us out of it.

Close credit-rating agencies like Standard and Poor, or Moody (which are private companies in the pay of corporations, including banks) and replace them with independent credit-rating agencies.

Instead of bailing out banks exposed to sovereign debt, make available an equivalent amount of money in the form of grants to the people of the indebted country to stimulate economic recovery.

Grow Green and Sustainable Alternatives

Create a political and economic strategy that supports public services and a green approach to public spending. Develop green government bonds.

Make a massive investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency to end fossil fuel dependence.  Help polluting industries to convert.

Embark on green ‘retrofitting’ of housing and green transport projects.

All of the above would create millions of jobs – one million in Britain alone.  Already Europe’s green energy and transport industry employs 3.4 million people compared with 2.8 million in traditional polluting industries like cement, mining, iron & steel, gas and electricity.

A top priority for banks should be to lend to businesses and individuals with green projects and social enterprises that contribute to a greener, more democratic future.

Kick the addiction to ‘economic growth’ (based on debt, over-consumption and a collective failure to recognise ecological limits) and adopt economic and environmental sustainability.

Save and create Democracy.

We can learn much from the movements that have arisen out of the crisis.  The Occupy, Indignants, Uncuts and trade union movements around the world are fighting for democracy as they resist austerity packages that are being pushed through without popular mandate in the interests of private capital.  The same can be said of the protesters of the Arab Spring, who were spurred into action by soaring food prices, unemployment and lack of democracy.

Many around the world are striving not just to protect conventional democratic rights but to create a broader and deeper democracy through the participatory ways in which they organise.   This new bottom-up and networked internationalism is offering energy, vision and alternatives to the current and ruinous system of global neoliberalism.

www.newint.org

NI 450 March 2012

Workfare = Workhouse?

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I’ve noticed some people have been comparing the coalition’s workfare ideas – where the unemployed have to work for free or have their benefits taken away from them – to the ideas behind the infamous Victorian workhouses.

I’m no historian, but I’ve been perusing some interesting articles about the origins of the workhouses and it may actually not be such an exaggeration after all.

The workhouses, made famous by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, were the result of an act of parliament in 1834 called the Poor Law Amendment Act.

And I’ve discovered something interesting. The reasons why Victorian politicians deemed it necessary to put the poor and the vulnerable in workhouses, are worryingly similar to the justification the government gives for modern workfare today.

These were the reasons given in 1834:

  1. the poor claim relief (help from the parish) regardless of their merits
  2. large families receive the most relief, therefore leading poor people to have more children
  3. women are able to claim for their illegitimate children, so the system encourages immorality
  4. labourers have no incentive to work hard and be thrifty, if they get relief without it being earned by honest hard work
  5. the poor have no respect for an employer when they know that their wages could be supplemented by the parish
  6. men are discouraged from providing for their families and aged parents because the old and the frail can get help from the parish

Sound familiar?

They should. Because these are exactly the same reasons the Daily Mail, the Sun etc have been giving us for the justification of the coalitions’ workfare policy in 2012:

  1. all the unemployed can claim benefits, regardless of whether they are willing to work or not
  2. large families receive the most benefits, therefore leading people to have more children so they can claim more benefits
  3. single parents are able to claim for children, so the system encourages the breakdown of the family unit
  4. workers have no incentive to work hard and save, if they can get benefits without it being earned by honest hard work
  5. people have no respect for employers if they know that their wages can be supplemented by the state with family credit etc
  6. because the old, the disabled, sick etc can get state help, people are discouraged from caring for their own family members and aged parents themselves

Here are the reasons again, in a table for easy comparison:

So the truth is – we’re not seeing a return to the bad old days of the 1980s under Thatcher as some people think.

What we’re really seeing, is a return to the bad old days of the 1830s under the Victorians.

Or to quote Scrooge when he refused to give some money to help the poor:

Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?

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This article was originally posted on Pride’s Purge.

Cameron’s Emergency NHS Bill Summit… Who got an invite?

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http://bengoldacre.posterous.com/who-is-and-is-not-invited-to-camerons-emergen 

Ben Goldacre would like suggestions as to how to analyse these results to see if there is any statistically significant relationship between an invite to Cameron’s Emergency NHS bill summit and attitude of the organisation to calling for the bill to be dropped.

Responses to http://bengoldacre.posterous.com/who-is-and-is-not-invited-to-camerons-emergen 

Off the top of my head, it looks like there might be a correlation.

Update:   Social Investigation Blogspot have published a compilation of the financial and vested interests of MPs and members of the House of Lords in private health care.  Be warned the list is long. 

 http://socialinvestigations.blogspot.com/2012/02/nhs-privatisation-compilation-of.html

The Keystone for Society is Democratic Ownership and Control of Energy Supply

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THE KEYSTONE FOR SOCIETY IS DEMOCRATIC OWNERSHIP OF…

PRIVATISATION – PROFITS PRIORITISED

It is no accident that the asset stripping of public services was initiated by immorally gaining control of the basic needs of life; that is our need for water, for energy, and the means for our communication. This has allowed and encouraged abuse of the majority of the world’s population and has resulted in corruption such that there is now such imbalance of access to all resources that we face ultimate extinction as a species sooner than many people realise or contemplate.

Consider that suppliers of our energy control everything we do. For energy it is the spark which ignites the bonfire, the energy bound within the glucose which allows our hearts to beat, and indeed energy is exchanged in some way in every chemical reaction.

So then, it is no surprise that is was the foresight of a research chemist, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher who realised that privatisation , and hence control the supply of energy would allow ultimate control of societies, and so it has been proven, and has ensured massive profits for the Energy Companies.

Those who held ownership of the energy companies profited increasingly more as vast quantities of energy were consumed exponentially, seemingly providing justification for wars to be fought in pursuit of yet more oil, more oil-thirsty products which were so very quickly discarded.

This very act not only facilitated the massive acquisition of wealth for the very few, but instilled them with influence and power beyond reason. Where profit is the stimulus beyond efficiency, where it is pursued without consideration of the issues of Peak Oil and Climate Change or without reference to sustainability, it is inevitable that chaos will result. Not only has this resulted in the greatest gap between rich and poor and widespread poverty, but it has added carbon dioxide to the atmosphere so resulting in Climate Change. We must reduce our carbon production, vastly reduce our energy consumption and use alternative energy sources which do not release carbon into the atmosphere. (Carbon Footprint)  This is a direct consequence of Margaret Thatcher’s policies of privatisation, the free market and neo-liberalism. We need to redress the balance so that the interests of people and the planet are again the priorities.

We need to reprogram our thinking. These energy companies have power only because we allow it. If we can produce our own energy, or a large proportion of it, we gain control of our destiny. If we can employ people locally, we not only provide them with jobs we re-instil  self respect.  How preferable is this than soaring unemployment? We waste our most precious resource – ourselves.  It is our labour, skills, and knowledge, which create the wealth, not mouse-clicks in some Tax Haven. That is what cannot be sustained. It is that which has no real meaning.

TIME TO PULL THE PLUG

The evidence is clear; the government’s policy of heavy dependence on nuclear energy is unaffordable, as Michael Meacher (MP) writes,

 “ On the cost of new nuclear plants, all the available evidence shows that it is realistically 2-3 times the Government’s forecast.”

Real danger is yet to be faced resulting  from entrusting basic human needs such as energy, water or indeed health (NHS) to privatised companies. If ever the companies feel there are no longer profits to be made, the companies can pull out, take their winnings to gamble elsewhere. We would then be left to provide those services having lost the assets we paid for.

“Now that the electricity sector is privatised and open to competition, any company whose power is too expensive will simply go out of business. This is precisely what happened in 2002 when the privatised nuclear generation company British Energy collapsed, and the Government had to rescue it at a cost to the taxpayers of more than £10bn. If that is the cost of nuclear energy, is it viable, and do we want it? ” Michael Meacher “The Government’s energy policy is in deep trouble.”

Despite, this the Big Six Energy Companies who sit on massive profits, increased tariffs further and pushed more and more people into fuel poverty,  leaving us to question morality. ndeed, evidence from Which (  as reported in the Independent ) has recently come to light  describing dubious sales techniques and mis-selling.

The Independent reports:

The Big Six energy firms are set to announce bumper profits of £15bn in the next few weeks.

The figures for 2011 will be £2bn higher than the previous year’s profits, according to forecasts from financial analysts. Meanwhile, with the Met Office predicting more freezing weather, Britain’s estimated 5.5 million households struggling in fuel poverty will be forced to decide whether they can afford to turn on their heating.

They may be unelected, but it seems The Big Six can influence policy nevertheless, ensuring that energy policy favours them, for example Michael Meacher expresses concern that the Big Six energy companies are free to influence the Department of Energy and Climate Change. (DECC)

 “In the 18 months since the election there have been no less than 195 meetings between DECC ministers and the energy industry.   Even more telling, over 50 personnel from oil, gas and nuclear companies such as EDF, npower and Centrica have been working on energy issues within government over the last 4 years.    Companies only second their senior staff to government if they are likely to get a good return in terms of insider knowledge, preferential treatment and the general benefits of influence.”

“It is highly disturbing that at a time of sharply rising energy prices, steadily falling real incomes, and risks to the elderly from a lengthy cold freeze and hypothermia, it is the energy companies regularly reporting quarterly profits in billions which now increasingly have their finger on the DECC windpipe.

Is DECC, is the government indeed, the regulator of the big corporations or their facilitator?”

Michael Meacher (MP) Is the DECC run by The Big Six Energy Companies?

Cameron’s “most green government ever” claim would be laughable, were it not so deadly not only for those elderly people unable to meet this winter’s fuel costs while their pensions shrink, but for the planet as a whole, and the prospect of meeting the government targets for Zero Carbon Britain 2030 is wildly off target.

It is ominous that manipulation of the media ensures that the reality about Climate Change is not universally understood. There is no doubt that there are even measures to control the curriculum in UK schools

We have witnessed stubborn refusal for reconsideration of an expensive nuclear policy.  Ed Miliband’s Feed–in-Tariffs was more far-sighted policy and should be extended. Green initiatives such as this provide employment, in addition to making some impact in carbon reduction. With unemployment figures rising yet again, we should be setting up more schemes such as this.  However, there is no long- sightedness from this Coalition government, no serious concern for the prospect of Climate Change, and a despicable lack of concern for the welfare of the vulnerable in fuel poverty.

Margaret Thatcher’s policies were flawed. Quite clearly there is a conflict of interests. Privatised companies  are motivated by profit; that is how markets work. It is a government’s responsibility to ensure their citizens are secure and that their basic needs are met, otherwise I can see no purpose having a government at all. It is not acceptable for the rich and powerful who have profited from neoliberism to hold governments and people to ransom, as they have, quite literally our life in their hands. Such inappropriate use of power leads to predatory governments  which simply facilitate the parasitic activities of the global markets.

Margaret Thatcher’s experiment is over. It has failed.

An incoming Labour Government’s priority must be to ensure our Energy supply is democratically owned and controlled once again. Labour must begin to build again, a caring, sharing and sustainable society, something such as Richard Murphy describes in “The Courageous State.”

BUILDING THE NEW SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY

A national, coherent energy policy, which a future Labour/Left government must pursue, is outlined here:

1. Energy Jobs will be created from government supported  green energy schemes  e.g. (Feed-in-Tariffs )

2. Policies, which rejuvenate local manufacturing industries and trade must be encouraged, so providing local employment.  ”Fair Trade” information should be displayed on every item – in addition to transparency providing information about the energy used to produce and  to transport a product, as well as consideration of ethics and “clean planet’ guarantees.

3. Investment in energy must be redirected from fossil fuels and towards the production of energy by sustainable means, including solar, geothermal, biofuel,  HEP, wind, wave and tidal power.  This can be achieved and it is affordable without use of damaging, polluting, expensive-to-maintain nuclear power,  or fossil fuels such as coal, which have a limited supply.

4. Public buildings should be energy-sustainable or near-sustainable, and solar and other renewable energy sources retrospectively installed into every public building.

5. Government policy should ensure that new homes are energy-efficient, purpose-built sustainable homes, using materials designed to capture energy, such as photovoltaic roof-tiles. They should be well insulated using high insulating materials and designed to consume as little energy as possible.

6. Products should display information not only about energy efficiency, but it is not acceptable that they are prematurely discarded. Users need information about how to repair them too. Companies should train technicians to repair items at affordable prices. It is unacceptable to be told that an item is cheaper to replace than repair. Companies must also take responsibility for recycling.

7. More investment in recycling for products, which are beyond repair, and the inclusion of materials, which are recyclable, should always be the aim.

8. It is not acceptable that we have a North/South geographical divide and that we waste energy in transporting people and products unnecessarily. A policy which prioritises and puts people first dictates that there should be investment for jobs where they are needed, not where it is convenient for profits or targeting cheap labour at the cost of lives.

9. Transport policy should aim to minimise travel as a priority, because much travel is unnecessary and undesirable.  Furthermore, we should Invest in public transport and make it free at point of use. A transport policy must be introduced which addresses this, ensures energy efficiency, and use of non carbon producing sustainable fuels such as biofuels, and electricity. 

10. Research is essential for real progress. It is no accident that fewer new initiatives and inventions come from the UK than in the past – when it becomes so costly to study. Investment in Scientific research, and encouragement and financial support for students providing free education is essential. Learning, like Health and Utilities should not be for profit.

11. Multinationals’ ownership of energy supplies must end.  The owners’ true identity remains secretive, as does the whereabouts of this funds accrued without fair taxes having being paid. They profit from us but pay no tax to us. This is a one-way street. Transparency of world trade must be introduced internationally.  Rather than allowing the profits of our labour to be siphoned off to multi-national companies, democratic ownership and control must be restored. Workers co-operatives could be set up for industries following the government’s green policy. Workers and local communities should reap benefits not predatory financiers.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said, “There’s no such thing as society.” One wonders what a lonely sad existence anyone must have had to believe that – perhaps she did. Her legacy is the impersonal world we now have, the everyone-out–for themselves world which began in the 80s and carried on shamefully by New Labour.

Society needs to be rebuilt – not Cameron’s Big Society but a real society, one where the welfare and well-being of people are the priority and  not binary digits on some remote computer.

In the rebuilding of our new society, energy will be the keystone which will provide the foundation for further sustainable development. If we consider that the alternative is a society without hope, then we must recognise that the values of Mrs Thatcher and those who followed must be pushed aside, and rejected. For as neo-liberalism came, altruism left. Why do the young no longer aspire to teach, to learn Science, to nurse the sick or study medicine? Why are careers which  put something back into society no longer respected as they should be? What message do we teach our children by bringing them into a society where a footballer is rewarded above a surgeon, an X-Factor contestant’s skills admired over a teacher’s, and more pleasure is derived from a computer game rather than observing Science or “making a difference to people’s lives? Why should we be surprised and critical if the younger generation appear to be apathetic or disillusioned about politics as they are resigned to the inevitable lack of influence or power of the ballot box? I think they deserve better.

It is their future. But first we all need to start to build again, together.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

Michael Meacher: The Government’s Energy Policy is in Deep Trouble:

The Independent “Big Six accused in costly tariffs row. Which report 

Rebecca Willis What is energy for?

The Era of Oil Wars, Michael Meacher

Guardian: C-iF Michael  Clare  Energy The New Thirty years War

Michael Meacher  Is the DECC run By Energy Companies? 

The Privatisation Scam 21st Century Socialism 

The Privatisation of Electricity

Nicholas Shaxton: Treasure Islands Tax Havens The Men who stole the World

Tax Havens: How Globalization Really Works: Ronen Palan, Richard Murphy, Christian Chavagneaux

The Courageous State – Richard  Murphy

Thatcher and Energy Privatisation

Zero Carbon Britain 2030

Carbon Footprint

The New Economics Framework:  Global Transition Initiative 

Ed Miliband Speech on The Economy : February 2012

Ed Miliband Blasts Short-Sighted F-i-T review

New Statesman: Ed Miliband’s Energy Policy could be a Vote winner

 Think Left: Renationalise the Railways 

Think Left  Renationalisation of Utilities -Water 

Think Left: Some of the Evidence for Climate Change

Think Left: Energy for Somerset: Nuclear or Tidal? 

Think Left: Renewable Energy, Specifically HVDC Power Grids 

Think Left: Soaking up the Sun: Ed Miliband, the Coalition and Climate Change

Think Left: Clean Coal (Another Financial Device for the City?)

Think Left: Coal is our Heritage not our Future! 

Think Left: There is no superman to save us from Peak Oil

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