Thatcher’s economics has generated ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’

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By Prue Plumridge

Lord Wolfson, chief of the Next retail chain said recently that the national living wage could drive up inflation as the retailer would have to raise prices to offset the cost of the new minimum wage of £7.20.

The word ‘living wage’ (which £7.20 is not) clearly strikes fear into the hearts of rich businessmen.   The business mantra is that paying people a decent wage can only lead to the bogeyman of inflation or job losses and is the usual stick with which the workforce is beaten to keep it fearful and compliant.

Let’s first put a context onto this claim by Lord Wolfson.  According to Professor Bill Mitchell, Wolfson claimed that a living wage of £6.70 was ‘enough to live on’ and a ‘decent amount for a lot of his staff”.  He also said that it was not necessary for Next to raise wages because ‘the clothing chain had 30 applicants for every job advertised’.  Professor Mitchell went on to note the salary and benefit arrangements for Wolfson who had a base pay of £743,000 in 2014/15 along with a range of other benefits and bonuses which brought his salary to a total of £4,666,000.

A report published by Citizens UK recently noted that:

‘An estimated 5.24 million people in the UK are employed on less than the living wage. Many low-waged workers are in receipt of benefits and tax credits, policy tools used to top up their incomes [and are] criticised in popular media and policy circles.

The calculation of the public subsidy is a new way to think about low pay.  In effect it is low paying employers who are subsidised by state payments to their employees without which they would be unable to meet their basic needs and continue to work for low wages.’ 

In other words this is nothing more than corporate welfare on a grand scale which costs the tax payer a gigantic £11bn a year.  To put this into context benefit fraud is £1bn. Companies, in effect, have no incentive at all to pay decent wages when they know for certain that the State will (for now) pick up the tab through benefit payments.

To understand claims that increasing the minimum wage will lead to an inflationary loop or job losses we first have to understand from where this idea originated.  The post war period between 1948 and 1973 was known as the Golden Age.  Production had increased, there was full employment and living standards had risen.  In the words of Harold Macmillan in 1957 ‘most of our people have never had it so good.’  During this period before the attack on fiscal deficits occurred across the advanced world inequality was lower than it ever had been, workers were more upwardly mobile and GDP was averaging much higher growth.  The country was riding high on the post-war economic boom which had also seen the foundation of the National Health Service, a social security system and education for all and all despite the so called ‘National Debt’.

This was, in fact, the classic era of Keynesian economics which served as the standard economic model in the latter half of the 1930s and the post second-world war years.   Keynes’ theory was that problems such as unemployment were nothing to do with moral shortcomings but were more to do with imbalances in demand and the point at which a country was in its economic cycle – expanding or contracting.  As such he believed that at times of economic downturn when an economy could no longer sustain full employment government should step in to ensure that resources were fully utilised.  To this effect government spending, he believed, should be used to increase overall demand which, in turn, would increase economic activity and reduce unemployment.  It challenged the reigning laissez-faire model which had its roots in the Classical economic theories of 18th century thinkers like Adam Smith and David Ricardo who believed that markets worked better without government interference.

The 1973-74 recession changed all that.  The certainties of the golden age were to be challenged as unemployment rose and prices spiralled.  The trigger for this was the OPEC oil price crises in 1973 and 1979.   Inflation combined with recession was a new phenomenon and, as it turned out, proved to be the crucible for what is known today as neoliberalism.  The ideas of such economists and thinkers as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman came into their own and quickly began to take root.  By the end of the 1970s, it dominated economic thinking amongst the educated elite in universities and the political and business world.

The study of economics was elevated to that of a science in the belief that through the use of modelling and formulae the future could be predicted accurately and the full employment agenda of the post war years, government intervention and market regulation was abandoned in favour of the magic of market forces.  Such interventions, it was believed, would cause inflation or result in increased unemployment through destabilising the market process which, naturally, sought to find its equilibrium.

Karl Polanyi, who explained the deficiencies of a self-regulating market and the potential dire social consequences of unfettered market capitalism in his book ‘The Great Transformation’ predicted:

‘To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment…. would result in the demolition of society.’

From the 70’s onwards we start to see a shift in economic thinking which can be summed up in a speech by Prime Minster James Callaghan who told the Labour Party conference in 1976:

“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending.  I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.” 

Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 and she fully embraced the expansion of neoliberal ideas through government policies.  Her aim was to break with the post war political consensus and pursue policies which deregulated financial markets, rolled back the state through privatisation of publically owned assets and weakened welfare support, undermined union and employment protection and abandoned full employment goals.  The results were that the bargaining power of workers was seriously undermined.  By the mid-80s unemployment had trebled and there was widening income inequality.  Margaret Thatcher who said ‘It is our job to glory in inequality’ laid the foundations for the growing perception that the individual controlled his or her own fate.  On that basis, poverty was a result of one’s own shortcomings and not a failed social system.

Tony Blair’s Third Way attempted to humanise the market by reconciling traditional left of centre values with laissez-faire capitalism.  However, it still accepted the neoliberal doctrines linked to income distribution and the idea that there was a natural rate of employment which was determined by supply and demand.

As Professor Bill Mitchell commented recently:

“They preached equity yet watched income and wealth inequality rise under their stewardship.”

As part of this new Third Way approach, a minimum wage was introduced in 1999 by the Blair government.  However, whilst it was seen as one of the best achievements of New Labour and didn’t lead to the predicted job losses and increased costs the truth was that it was set at too low a level to have any real impact on people’s lives.   What is more, although unemployment fell during its first two terms in power overall, it did increase and the lowest unemployment rate it achieved was still more than 1% higher than in the early 1970s.  This combined with the fact that the low public investment as a share of GDP, which began under Thatcher, largely continued under New Labour and the effects of weakened bargaining power and wage stagnation further increased pressures on the working population.  Furthermore, Blair’s human face of neoliberalism was betrayed by a step change in attitudes to welfare when the Blair government moved to cut single-parent benefits in 1997 and tried to introduce cuts to disability benefits in 1999.  This culminated in 2008 with James Purnell’s Welfare Reform Paper under which everyone would have to do something in return for their welfare payments.  Tony Blair also boasted that the UK had ‘the most flexible labour market in Europe’ but we shall see shortly at whose expense.

When the Conservatives returned to power in 2010, the framework was virtually in place for a full scale assault on the public sector and workers’ rights.  Workfare forced claimants to work for nothing but their benefits under the guise of work experience and training and Tony Blair’s flexible labour market literally found themselves on an even faster race to the bottom.  Temporary contracts, zero hours and low paid work have all facilitated the normalisation of a flexible labour market which is a trademark of neoliberal economics.  In addition, as part of their goal to reduce public spending, the Conservatives also introduced high fees for employment tribunals which has led to a noticeable reduction in claims, clearly at the expense of working people’s rights.

In May 2015, the Tories were re-elected and in only a few months we have seen yet more attacks on Trade unions and working people’s rights and benefits.

Caroline Lucas summed up the last four decades in an article in the Independent:

‘The economic project that has dominated politics since the 1970s has had at its heart the strangulation of the Trade Unions. Why? Because it is the unions which stand as a last line of defence against repeated Government attempts to privatise, deregulate and cut back on the public services upon which we all rely.

The results of that economic project – skyrocketing inequality, the loss of thousands of public sector jobs and increasingly precarious work for many – are plain to see. For more than 30 years, successive Governments have sold off our national assets and deregulated our economy – but to continue the project the Conservatives know they need to remove a key barrier to change: the remaining power of the millions of members of Britain’s trade unions.’

One of the premises of neoliberal thought is that wealth trickles down as a result of markets having the freedom to act without government interference.  We have not found this promised market equilibrium.  What we have seen instead is wealth pouring into the hands of fewer and fewer people.  Unemployment, underemployment and low wages have become a scourge in our society as they disempower people and dispossess them of dignity and the means to ensure their well-being.  Market competition and globalisation have spurred a race to the bottom by allowing companies to suppress real wage growth and accept unemployment as part of the price we have to pay for reaching the promised-land.

So this bring us back to the start of the story.  We have nearly 2 million unemployed people but the real picture is of many more millions who are underemployed, on low incomes and temporary and zero hours contracts having no job security at all and facing the prospect of reduced income support from the State.  Ninety percent of the McDonald’s chain work on zero hours contracts – that’s 82,800 people, Sports Direct employ 20,000 and J D Weatherspoon 24,000 on such contracts.  The employers’ justification for such working arrangements is that it makes Britain more competitive in a harsh economic climate.  Compare that assertion to an increasingly unequal income distribution in which those at the top benefit at the expense of those at the bottom.  Remember Lord Wolfson’s salary last year.

With high unemployment, companies have no trouble finding people to work at the prevailing wage rates.  And yet, whilst profits and bonuses increase, the price for market competition and globalisation is being paid by those least able to ride the waves of economic uncertainty.

Michal Kalecki in his work ‘Political Aspects of Full Employment’ posits a number of reasons why industrial leaders are opposed to full employment.  Although it was written in 1943, his propositions seem as true today as when he wrote it.  Business leaders were, he said, averse to government interference in employment matters, feared losing control of government policy, loathed the idea of public investment and disliked the idea of publically funded welfare.

In 1943 the Times editorial explained why full employment was not a good idea. It said:

Unemployment is not a mere accidental blemish in a private enterprise economy. On the contrary it is a part of the essential mechanism of the system, and has a definite function to fulfil.  The first function of unemployment which has always existed in open or disguised form is to maintain the authority of master over man.  The master has normally been in a position to say if you do not want the job there are plenty of others who do.  When the man can say if you do not want to employ me there are plenty of others who will the situation is radically altered.’

As Kalecki describes it very succinctly:
“For here a moral principle of the highest importance is at stake.  The fundamentals of capitalist ethics require that ‘you shall earn your bread in sweat’ — unless you happen to have private means.”

The Golden Age, for a short period of time, challenged the status quo and the power of big business to dictate terms but since that time the ascendance of neoliberal thought has restored the balance in favour employers and has been supported by ever more government legislation to undermine working people’s rights.  As Lord Wolfson’s assertion indicates, they now have considerable control over the labour market and wages and people have become mere pawns in a global game to be exploited in the name of profit.  The cost to the economy and society of unemployment and underemployment is huge in terms of the outcomes on health and well-being and as a consequence on society as a whole.

So how can this imbalance be best addressed? Jeremy Corbyn stood on a platform of anti-austerity and has promised a radical programme. This will require first that he and his Chancellor wholly reject the neoliberal framework of deficit reduction and balanced budgets. These two positions are irreconcilable. Secondly we need to address urgently the issue of unemployment. In the words of Hyman Minsky in his book ‘Ending Poverty: Jobs, not welfare.

they involve a commitment to the maintenance of … full employment and the adjustment of institutions, so that the gains from full employment are not offset by undue inflation and the perpetuation of obsolete practices.’

So what would this mean in practice?

Philip Pilkington in an article published in the Guardian in 2013 summed it up very neatly with reference to the work of Hyman Minsky:

“Minsky’s theories of financial instability suggested that capitalist economies were prone to serious downturns in which huge amounts of the labour force would find themselves unemployed. What’s more, this would lead to large shortfalls in demand for goods and services which would further exacerbate such downturns. The result was a vicious circle that would become worse and worse as the financial system evolved into an increasingly fragile entity and households and businesses became increasingly mired in debt. The only way out of this was to build robust institutions that insulated working people from the excesses of the system. While progressive taxation and unemployment benefits went some way toward both protecting workers and propping up demand during downturns, it did not, according to Minsky and his followers, go nearly far enough. They believed that governments should offer a job to anyone willing and able to work and then pay for these jobs by engaging in increased deficit spending – as they currently do with unemployment benefits during downturns.

We have a capitalist system which, in fact, has generated ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’.   Poverty, rather than as suggested being the result of the shortcomings of the individual is, in reality, the consequence of unemployment, underemployment and low pay. The primary objectives of government, therefore, should be to ensure that working people are paid a wage which is sufficient and gives them dignity, and the provision of a job guarantee for all those who want to work.  This should be supported by an adequate welfare system to help those who are physically or mentally unable to work through illness or other misfortune.

Those who, like Mark Carney, decried Jeremy Corbyn’s economic plans for PQE by saying it would imperil the recovery, drive up inflation and hurt the poor and the elderly are in denial and should question the very basis upon which they construct their economic assumptions.   Firstly today’s global economy is suffering from deflationary pressures rather than inflationary and even a Governor of the Bank of England should know that some inflation is beneficial.  And secondly, the economic paradigm which advocates austerity, deficit reduction and balanced budgets is bogus and has been for over 40 years.  It has been used to justify the creation of a small state on the false basis that the private sector is more efficient.

We should understand as L Randall Wray said in his introduction to Hyman Minsky’s book that:

‘…. the primary barrier to attaining and sustaining tight full employment is political will’.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. 
The neoliberal paradigm is foundering but those supporting it will not give up without a struggle since so much is at stake. There is an alternative and with Jeremy Corbyn we now have a mandate to take the ‘road less travelled’ to secure the necessary changes which will rebalance the economy in favour of a fairer distribution of available resources and income.

Our next step must challenge the status quo by understanding how we can best implement that alternative and build the mass movement we need to make change happen.

References:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/business/next-boss-warns-living-wage-6421023

http://ineteconomics.org/ideas-papers/interviews-talks/demystifying-modern-monetary-theory

www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/07/labour-jobs-guarantee#sthash.ikqwo08O.dpuf

Ending Poverty: Jobs not welfare: Hyman Minsky

Political Aspects of Full Employment: Michal Kalecki

http://www.theweek.co.uk/business/54485/zero-hours-contracts-mcdonalds-flexible-or-exploitative

Rejecting the TINA Mantra and the second ‘gilded age’ http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=31888

Jeremy Corbyn’s new politics must not include not lying about fiscal deficits http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=31888

A short history of neoliberalism

http://www.globalexchange.org/resources/econ101/neoliberalismhist

From Keynsianism to Neoliberalism: Shifting paradigms in Economics

http://fpif.org/from_keynesianism_to_neoliberalism_shifting_paradigms_in_economics/

http://www.marxist.com/neoliberalism-dead-or-sleeping.htm

Politics in the Pub Your Rights 2 Work

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pS7AOaYY6Lo

Published on Sep 4, 2015

Dr Victor Quirk of CofFEE (Centre of Full Employment and Equity) outlines the history of employment policy in Australia, tracing it from the 1940’s policy of full employment and questions why it’s no longer Government policy.

How the The Reverse March of Labour Led to Defeat in May

The Reverse March of Labour. What went wrong in May

By Bryan Gloud and Carl Rowlands, Previously published here

With the Labour Party still reeling in the wake of May’s electoral disaster, New Left Project spoke to Gould about what went wrong. Bryan Gould answers Carl Rowlands.

Why did Labour lose in May? What aspects of the defeat were familiar from your own time in British politics?

I think Labour lost (setting aside technical issues like the restriction of the franchise) because they failed to offer an alternative view of how the economy should be run and in whose interests – which is the central question in current democratic politics. They had no chance of convincing people that they could produce different and better outcomes, if they failed to signal a departure from Tory priorities – as in the case of committing to eliminate the deficit, as though it makes sense to isolate this relatively minor aspect of the UK’s economic problems and treat it as the top priority.

Almost all candidates in the Labour leadership contest have talked of the need to appeal to ‘wealth creators’ whilst enabling ‘aspiration’. Back in 1992 you referred to those ‘involved in wealth creation’ rather than simply ‘wealth creators’ – quite an important, if subtle difference. Wouldn’t wealth creation include many who work in the public sector (for example, in universities) – in fact, anyone who creates anything? In relation to socialist objectives, how can we move on from this to define a common wealth in 2015?

The keenness to talk about ‘aspirations’ is often short-hand for, ‘we need to pay more attention to middle class interests and be more like the Tories’. I don’t say we shouldn’t try to appeal to a wider range of opinion and interests, but that should not mean abandoning others. The goal should be to show that a different approach would meet the interests of most people. The point you raise about ‘wealth creation’ illustrates this point. The current tendency is to accept that ‘wealth creators’ are the owners, employers and investors, while the contributions made by others are best regarded as production costs. I think that all those involved in the productive sector, in whatever capacity, are ‘wealth creators’ and that they should be distinguished from those in the speculative sector – the financiers and rentiers – who make their money not by creating new wealth but by gouging it out of the rest of us. The shame is that the unemployed are denied the chance to join the ranks of wealth creators.

In 1995 you described Labour’s progression as follows: ‘It’s been a painful process of withdrawal from hope and idealism…. I think we have simply given up. I think we will secure power, but I don’t think we’ll make much of it. As soon as the voters recover their confidence in the Tories we’ll be removed, in order to make room for the real thing’. Is this fairly accurate as an appraisal of the last Labour governments, and if so, what now?

I adhere to this view. If the best we can offer is that we will be ‘Tory-lite’, we can’t be surprised if the voters prefer the real thing. Even if they don’t like Tory policies much, they are attracted by those whose hearts are really in it. The left, for three or four decades, have too often believed in their heart of hearts that there is no alternative to neo-classical economics and they have therefore struggled to sound convincing when they say they can do better.

As the MP for Dagenham you were one of a handful of Labour MPs in southern seats in the 1980s. After thirty years, Labour’s situation in the south is in some respects worse, with heavy attrition of membership and the breakdown of multiple smaller branches into sparsely populated Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs). What can Labour do to win support from voters in the south in the future?

Labour too readily accepts that voters in the south are different, with the result that they either accept that those voters are beyond reach or believe that they have to be addressed differently. That is not how I see it. While voters in the south (which is just another way of describing the better-off middle class) are on average better off and have better jobs, services, etc., they have just as big a stake as anyone else in a successful economy that serves everybody’s interests and in a society that is not fragmented or divided against itself.

I think it is too easy to assume that particular approaches have to be made to particular groups, such as ‘white working class voters’, when Labour’s best approach is to assert that policies that will, in fact, benefit virtually everyone are the best way of looking after particular groups, including the disadvantaged. And in any case, not every voter in the south is well off – there are many who will be sensitive to poorer public services, widening inequality and worsening job security. The task for Labour, in other words, is not to develop many sets of policies that will meet as many specific interests as possible (thereby running the risk of confusing and embarrassingly inconsistent policy stances) but to provide an overall and persuasive analysis of what a successful economy and an integrated society would look like and of how to bring them about.

It’s a further illustration of Labour’s lack of confidence. The Tories are perfectly ready to proclaim that they are the party for the ‘working man’.

On the point about activism and membership, all parties face this problem. The Tories don’t worry about it, because they can use their advantages in financial resources and media support to communicate directly with the voters. We need to be much quicker on our feet – taking up individual, local and short-lived issues that command public interest and showing how the correct responses to those issues are best arrived at by applying our overall set of values and view of how society should work. People drawn in, even if only temporarily on a particular issue, will remember that experience on polling day.

You once described New Labour as a ‘souffle of good intentions’. Do you think this incoherence remains an issue with Labour in 2015? If so, what, if anything, can be done to provide a true, values-based ethos to Labour as a prospective party of government?

Yes, I still think this is true. Labour would like to do good things but is faced with the roadblock that they have no idea how to disengage from the current orthodoxy. They are unwilling or unable to do the hard work needed to identify a better alternative and can’t conceive that there could be new thinking that is not going to be condemned as ‘left-wing extremism’.

Moving on to economics, you were very critical of the decision to make the Bank of England independent, and have consistently argued for a different approach to monetary supply. To what extent do you think it is essential that the supply of credit is diversified?

This next question takes me to the heart of the problem. Without a new approach to major issues like monetary policy and an understanding of its true purposes we can’t develop an alternative economic strategy. We need to update Keynes (if that doesn’t sound too presumptuous) so as to fill a couple of lacunae in his analysis. We need to ensure, for example, that monetary policy is not the exclusive domain of the banks and is not used solely to boost their profits rather than serve the public interest – and that’s why allowing the central bank to run it is such a bad idea. If we want government to take responsibility for full employment, which should be the primary goal of economic policy, ministers should be accountable and not permitted to sub-contract their responsibility to the bank.

There’s been a bit of debate in some circles recently regarding the validity of full employment as a goal. This is not to say that consigning people to a life on poverty-level benefits is acceptable, more that the goal of full employment is both too unspecific regarding under-employment (for example, zero-hour contracts) and also neglects the danger that the state will use coercion upon the unemployed to force them into workfare and other deflationary schemes. As the founder of the Full Employment Forum, do you think that in the world of ‘Sports Direct’-type employment, full employment remains a valid goal? Implicit within a lot of current criticism of full employment is that the state should offer Unconditional Basic Income….

I’m suspicious of the argument that full employment, however defined, is for some reason now unattainable, since it is so convenient for employers and others to retain a pool of unemployed. Keynes and others had no difficulty in defining full employment as a condition where there are as many jobs as (or perhaps a few more than) there are people looking for work. I think we should be careful about what employment means for the purposes of this and any other definition. A zero-hours contract is not in my view the equivalent of a job and nor is part-time work a job for someone wishing to work full-time. In New Zealand at present, even a one-hour working day is treated as a job and therefore as reducing the unemployment total.

As to how full employment is to be achieved, Keynes was interested in direct job creation so that the government or public sector would be the employer of last resort. He saw this as the means of avoiding variable employment levels since even a high level of aggregate demand or GDP would not necessarily mean that effective demand (i.e. predictions as to future demand) would be high enough to persuade the private sector to employ everyone available for work. I think the theoretical argument is accurate enough but the proposition is politically difficult (particularly for a public conditioned to believe that unemployment is the result of fecklessness!) and may not be practicable, in its pure form at any rate. Similar doubts of course apply to the notion of a ‘refusal of work’. I do think, however, that something that would be recognised as full employment is attainable if we were to get the economy moving again by addressing our two main problems – a loss of competitiveness in the productive sector and the absence of proper financing for industry.

As a slightly separate point, I think there is considerable merit in a Universal Basic Income, both as an anti-poverty measure and a simplification of our complex benefits system and as a recognition that, as citizens, we are all entitled to share in at least the basic benefits of living in society.

I am quite clear that the rise and rise of house prices is huge driver of widening inequality.  A good illustration of the process is the recent announcement that a generous right-wing government in New Zealand will raise benefits for the poorest families by $25 per week, at a time when the owners of houses in Auckland have seen the value of their houses rise over the past year on average by $2000 dollars per week.  That rise in dollar value is entirely the result of irresponsible bank lending, and is not matched in any way by a rise in real output – it represents a transfer of resources from those who don’t own their own homes to those who do.

One of the more controversial stances you took in the 1980s concerned employee share ownership, and encouraging this as a form of common ownership. Would you revise this stance, based upon developments since then?

If the profit motive is so vital and beneficial, why not extend it to the whole work force? Employee share ownership, or something like it, would be a practical reflection of the fact that they are all wealth creators. Anything that would make private companies more responsive to the wider interest would be helpful.

Over the space of the last five years, Labour has moved from defending investment to subscribing to a reduced version of Conservative spending cuts. What are the political implications of this? Could it eventually lead to what is sometimes called the ‘Pasokification’ of Labour – its slow disappearance and fade to obscurity? Is there a way for Labour to move beyond what could be permanent austerity, in the face of fierce media attacks?

As I indicated earlier, the commitment to cut public spending was the major mistake made by Labour over the past five years. It seemed to validate the Tory attacks on Labour’s economic record and to demonstrate that there was no alternative to further cuts. It shows a serious lack of expertise and a complete unawareness of what is happening outside Westminster in respect of moving away from current orthodoxy. When the IMF and the OECD, every major central bank and many leading economists are in various ways denying the validity of austerity as a response to recession, seeing inequality as an obstacle to economic growth rather than as a necessary price and pre-condition of it, and recognising the possibilities of monetary policy (albeit through quantitative easing to shore up the banks) as a means of getting the productive economy moving, rather than just as a counter-inflationary instrument, why does Labour remain stuck in a time warp? If we don’t escape from this intellectual straitjacket, our days are numbered – Pasokification indeed!

During the late 1980s and early 1990s you were possibly the only consistent front-bench Opposition critic of the EU’s Maastricht Treaty, which set the conditions for monetary and fiscal convergence, and which institutionalised harsh monetary control into the European project. Whilst the UK has been spared the worst excesses of monetary restraint, it is a less-connected part of a European Union which has increasingly acted as an enforcer for economic liberalism and privatisation, and whose institutions remain remote from popular consent.

With the In/Out referendum approaching, is there a serious prospect that the EU – and the Eurozone – can be reformed to reflect a progressive economics that places social and environmental goals at its centre? If not, then what are the likely consequences of a vote to leave the EU?

The euro was always doomed and we did well to keep out of it. A single currency was a means of enforcing a single monetary policy for a highly diverse European economy (which was always going to be disastrous), and of setting in concrete a monetary policy that would be congenial to Germany but – reinforcing as it would neo-classical precepts – would do great damage to everyone else. I fear that the supporters of the euro will press on to the bitter end, whatever the consequences. A ‘grexit’ would help but would be no more than a warning which the Germans would no doubt ignore. The only solution, which a British withdrawal from the EU might help to achieve, would be to abandon the euro and re-configure a Europe that is built on functional cooperation and growing convergence, with each step going no further than would warrant political support from the people. The question for the UK is not, in other words, either wholly in or wholly out – it is inconceivable that trade barriers would be re-erected and we would retain, even outside the EU, a huge range of common interests with it – but how best to preserve a European future that has some chance of success, further development and longevity.

Bryan Gould was a front-bench MP for Labour from 1983 to 1994, before returning to his native New Zealand. He is the author of a number of books, including The Democracy Sham: How Globalisation Devalues Your Vote and Myths, Politicians and Money. He blogs at http://bryangould.com.

Article reproduced by Creative Commons Licence

The Mysterious Disappearance of Jobs and Skills

The Mysterious Disappearance of Jobs and Skills

When Norman Tebbit made a notorious comment that jobs could be easily found merely by hopping onto a bike, he made an assumption that it would solve unemployment because that’s father what his did, apparently. He repeated such advice this February by saying if Eastern Europeans migrate for work, why can’t the Brits?

How starkly this contrasts with what we are hearing Tory back benchers cry in the wake recent success of UKIP! Are we seeing a sudden surge to the extreme political right and 1930s divisions in society as ordinary people blame one another for high rates of unemployment, increasing poverty and unaffordable housing?

Deborah Orr (Guardian) comments: People are told EU migrants steal jobs – in truth bosses want cheap labour . People are told that immigrants stole their jobs. In truth, it was employers who wanted a ready supply of workers unused to the living conditions that it took the second world war for the ordinary people of Britain to achieve. The goal of neoliberal globalisation is supposedly a redistribution of wealth around the planet. It also, as the EU itself is discovering, redistributes poverty.

History has led to migrations of the workforce. In Cornwall, tin and copper had been mined for 4,000 years. Closure of the majority of Cornish tin mines forced whole communities to migrate in the 19th Century, leaving behind empty villages, graveyards surrounding them (Gwennap) the evidence that communities were once busy with industry.

tin_minerabove150Cornish tin miners faced

increasing competition

from alluvial mines abroad

Families were forced to move – or else starve. The simple fact was that the mine owners closed the mines, not because there was no longer a need for copper or tin. It’s because there was more money to be made elsewhere. Cheaper labour makes those looking to line their own pockets to ignore the plight on those who have come to depend on them – because they had the power to do so.

tin_mine203

In the 20th century a few mines survived, but the shortage of work put pressure on the working people. A row of differential pay rates resulted in a strike which pitched miner against miner, family against family, and only ended with the onset of WW2 and the greater demand for tin. Cornwall has never really recovered from the decline of this millennia old industry, and poverty exists there today.

  • How and when did these mine owners come to own the land and mines?
  • Why did such a few people have power over the many?
  • Who benefited from metals extracted from mines?

Removal of workers’ autonomy, their rights to sell labour for a living wage leads not only to their downfall, but that of everyone. The very rich may have the power to determine who shall have work and who shall not, yet their own very existence requires the same basic needs, provided by those workers. The race to the bottom, the search for the cheapest, poorest labour is fundamentally flawed, only a fool will argue otherwise.

Mankind’s survival has always involved work or labour – growing food, making clothes, caring for the community. Much of this work did not involve payment. Because of a division of labour, we can trade our skills, each contributing and receiving. Having a tradeable skill empowers us. If we can no longer cook a meal without a ready meal or grow our own food, we become yet more dependent on the supermarkets and their global supplies and speculation.

If we can no longer make garments, we buy-in fashion produced cheaply and unethically, thousands of miles away. In Bangladesh, cheap clothes come at human cost as health and safety of workers has no importance resulting in a deadly fire where hundreds died.

Yet, even now, the ConDemNation Coalition government aim to return UK to Victorian conditions, and have already removed workers’ right to health safety in the UK workplaces, and abolished the agricultural workers wages board. (See 114 year workers’ rights scrapped by Coalition government) Then UKIP, clearly trading on fear of unemployment and poverty, do not speak for working people. They are no party, but a bundle of individuals with extreme, bizarre attitudes, for example, Geoffrey Bloom, who advocates that employers should not employ women of childbearing age.

Deskilling a population disempowers them, to say nothing of lack of self-respect, independence and the prospects of lives in poverty. Thatcherite policies of attacking trade unions, decimating British manufacturing, closure of coal mines, ship-building, car industries, clothing and so on, led to massive unemployment, and broken communities, just as in the Cornish tin mines. Even food is being imported unnecessarily, for cheapness, and recent the recent horse meat scandal exposed the dangers of lack on control and monitoring. Lack of investment in education and training will not create a skilled workforce.

The Labour Party are setting out plans for full employment

“For Labour, that goal of full employment has always been the foundation for getting our country back on its feet. It was for Atlee’s Labour. It was for New Labour. It will be once more for One Nation Labour. Today the goal of full employment is important for a very simple reason. The faster we return to full employment, the faster we can pay down our debt. And the faster we can put the “something for something” back in to social security.

The Tories’ problem isn’t just that they are failing, but that they lost a belief in full employment many years ago, and never rediscovered it. That means more money spent on unemployment, so there is less to go around for working people and less for care.

After three years of failure we’ve got to find new ways to break out of this viscous circle. Seventy years ago, we set out a new path to full employment. Just as the Beveridge Report is a still a good roadmap for today, so too is the 1944 White Paper on Full Employment. It teaches us to be radical reformers to bring down the costs of social security; building exports; supporting public investment; fanning consumer demand – and taking determined action on jobs. It is a long road, but tackling poor places would be a big first step to getting our country back to full employment.’

From the New Statesman

If the British electorate are concerned about unemployment, they also have a very clear sense of injustice. They see bankers’ bonuses, they see politicians benefit from lobbyists, seeking to line their own pockets rather than serving the people, as they were elected to do. This week Ed Miliband’s Labour Party has pledged to address the Tax Justice.

He’s specifically committed to:

■ Pursue a new global system where multinationals must publish their revenues, profits and other key corporate information useful to revenue authorities in each country in which they operate.

■ Force multinationals to publish such information in the UK even if international agreement cannot be found on the issue, as they do in Denmark.

■ Make it a legal requirement for multinationals operating in the UK to disclose details of any tax avoidance schemes they are using globally.

■ Seek reforms to “transfer pricing” rules to stop companies from shuffling money to other parts of their firm based in tax havens in return for spurious services.

■ Open up the ownership of companies sited in Britain’s tax havens to the UK revenue authorities, but also seek to allow developing countries access to such information.

Whether the popularity of UKIP is a blip, a protest, or anger, it certainly represents an alienated electorate. Those in work feel they are working for the benefit of the rich and powerful. Those without work have little hope of finding work which pays a living wage. Women are hit hard by childcare costs, and equality with men has taken a backward step. Cuts hitting the disabled will make it more difficult, if not impossible for them to work, and those who are old or ill live in fear. It is time to do things differently, let us hope for a socialist Labour government, with policies which will unite people once again.

References and Further reading

THE LABOUR PARTY: The Party of Full Employment …

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THE LABOUR PARTY

The Party of Full Employment….

By Darrell Goodliffe, Previously published here

In 1945, Labour’s election manifesto had this to say:

They say, “Full employment. Yes! If we can get it without interfering too much with private industry.” We say, “Full employment in any case, and if we need to keep a firm public hand on industry in order to get jobs for all, very well. No more dole queues, in order to let the Czars of Big Business remain kings in their own castles. The price of so-called ‘economic freedom’ for the few is too high if it is bought at the cost of idleness and misery for millions.

Fast-forward to 2012 and sadly, unemployment has become an accepted reality for far too many, those who are unemployed are dammed by politicians of all shades as being ‘feckless’ and ‘work-shy’. No regard is paid to the structural factors that cause unemployment in a social system that concentrates wealth and genuine opportunity in the hands of a staggeringly small amount of people. You may think this is a little bit too 20th Century but in 1993, Gordon Brown, hardly a left-winger by any standards said this:

Our aspiration now must be more than helping people to find work regardless of its quality or prospects, but ensuring full and fulfilling employment by expanding employment and training opportunities for all

In other words, a commitment to full employment is in Labour’s political DNA, left and right. Sadly, the kind of mechanisms he had in mind to ensure this were inherently unstable and unreliable. Even if the private sector were to grow exponentially, it would never guarantee full employment. Indeed, the quality of the jobs that are driving the slight fall in the current claimant count is poor.

If you take the current government’s approach then you will slightly increase those in work but because this is through a casualisation of the labour force this will be off-set by the churn, i.e., the number of people who are dropping back into unemployment will off-set the gains you make elsewhere. In terms of the gains made by the Treasury, by more people entering taxation, these are off-set by losses in terms of revenue lost by cutting corporation tax etc. So, the policy is a self-defeating one, this is why Labour’s policy-makers in 1945 saw that the goal of full employment had to go hand-in-hand with building a strong state sector. Labour must stop going along with the neo-liberal attacks on the state sector and start to remember that it can be your friend and its flaws can be off-set by promoting co-operative ownership models. Furthermore, it is a false economy to trade-off jobs against wages and conditions as Mr Balls has been known to do.

Similarly, Britain’s economy has stopped producing things. It has relied too heavily on a over-mighty financial sector and this is a fundamental structural failing. Britain’s productive economy has been decimated by decades of ideological battering, first by the Conservatives, then by a Labour government that did not enough by a long-shot to address this issue.

Promoting full employment is an antidote to this chronic imbalance. Valid comparisons do exist between the current state of the economy and the national omnishambles that faced Labour as it entered office in 1945. Obviously, we have not just been through a World War and this structural crisis is somewhat different to the Great Depression (though not in the degree of its severity). However, getting people back into sustainable, long-term work is one of the solutions. Once again, Labour should revive its historic commitment to full employment, a core Labour value that has served us and Britain well in the past and can again.