Tag: neoliberalism

Will there be a Blairite coup to unseat citizen Corbyn?

By Daniel Margrain

Fantastic result. Now the hard work begins to purge the party hierarchy of the pro-war, pro-big business red Tory Blairites. The opinions of a reinvigorated party membership who propelled Corbyn into the spotlight will be respected so long as Corbyn remains leader. I heard Ken Livingston on LBC say that under Corbyn the party will unify and there will be little signs of any attempts to undermine him.

No sooner had Corbyn’s victory based on clear and unambiguous principles been announced, then a Shadow Frontbencher resigned in protest over those principles. This was shortly followed with threats to resign by other “modernising” Frontbencher’s who vowed to do so on the basis that Corbyn refuses to moderate his “extreme” policies.

Of course, not being a friend of Israel, supporting the nationalisation of the railways and utilities, opposing nuclear weapons and war, opposing the growing wealth gap and supporting the need for a massive affordable house building programme that benefits the mass of the population, are all extreme measures, but bailing out bankers that benefits nobody, is not.

How stupid can Corbyn supporters be?

According to the Daily Mail, among those refusing to serve in his team are current shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, shadow communities secretary Emma Reynolds and shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker. Others include shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Shabana Mahmood, shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh and shadow Cabinet Office minister Lucy Powell.

I’m sure the Tories will welcome these unscrupulous careerists with open arms. It will be interesting to see how the triangulated Tory-lite views of the vast majority of designer suited robots in the hall where the result was announced who follow to the letter the scripts of their paymasters and who believe nothing whatsoever in the views espoused by their leader, can be reconciled with Corbyn’s own long-standing principled outlook.

It’s precisely these kinds of principles that has resulted in the regurgitation of the official/media meme which criticises Corbyn for voting against his party 500 times. This is represented as disloyalty. The notion that he might have voted against the Tories, while most of his Blairite colleagues, many of whom are war criminals, voted with them, is quietly forgotten.

Never before have I witnessed such a disconnect between the beliefs of the labour hierarchy on the one hand and those of its leader who carries with him the aspirations and hopes of the people who voted for him on the other. This is not the kind of euphemistic and disingenuous understanding of “aspiration” trotted out by Blairites in which neoliberal economic policy allows the super rich to get even richer, but one in which the basis of policy can give rise to the potential for everybody to get where they want without demonizing those who for whatever reason, don’t.

My fear is that the gap between the ideology represented by the elite within the hierarchy of the party and the multitude of its members is so vast that the void is irreconcilable unless the party is purged of this clique. I suspect that something will have to give as the party moves forward but we will see.

As I type this, Corbyn is protesting on a rally about the terrible treatment of refugees created by Cameron and Blair’s wars. Could, you dear reader, have ever imagined any of his predecessors post-Michael Foot doing that?

The idea that a highly principled leader of a party who espouses peace and reconciliation at every given opportunity, can reconcile two diametrically opposing forces seems to me to be a bridge too far. I hope I’m proven wrong.

The Rich Need To Be Forced To Pay Their Way For The Benefit Of All

Leading American venture capitalist Nick Hanauer has argued that the actions of capitalists’ need to be reined in through a system of planned and coordinated regulation in order for the capitalist system to be sustainable. This is what he said in a BBC TV interview in front of a live audience:

Capitalists have the idea that THEIR things will be bought by everybody else as a result of higher wages paid by OTHER capitalists. But this logic of paying higher wages to staff to help improve business activity more generally, doesn’t seem to apply equally to them since they will insist on paying THEIR OWN workers next to nothing thereby not absorbing the costs themselves resulting in them gaining a competitive advantage over their rivals. The simple truth is, if a higher minimum wage was introduced universally, not only would it be affordable, but something like 40% of American’s would be able to buy more products from everybody thus benefiting all capitalists across the board. Business is challenged today because fewer and fewer people are able to buy things [1].

The implication, in other words, is that the capitalist system needs to be regulated by governments’ in order to save it from the rapacious actions of competing capitalists driven by their insatiable need for profit maximization. This rationale was long ago grasped by Karl Marx who understood that the essence of the capitalist system is, in his phrase, “accumulation for accumulations sake.”

So why don’t capitalists insist on using free labour and make their workers work all the hours under the sun? After all, wouldn’t that lead to higher profits? And one might also ask why their representatives within the elite political establishment would bother to spend any money at all on welfare? The simple but correct answer is that where they have a choice, they don’t. Where labour supply is low, the state is in effect forced to intervene on behalf of capitalists by introducing welfare as the means of preserving and reproducing labour.

But where labour is plentiful, the state rarely feels compelled to introduce health and safety, minimum wage laws and welfare.The rationale for this is that if a worker dies of malnutrition or has an accident at work, he or she can be easily replaced by another worker. Under such circumstances, the state regards these kinds of misfortunes as a price worth paying. Consider this account of the conditions of child labour in the lace industry in Nottingham in 1861 by a local magistrate:

Children of nine or ten years are dragged from their squalid beds at two, three, four o’clock in the morning and compelled to work for a bare subsistence until ten, eleven or twelve at night, their limbs wearing away, their frames dwindling, their faces whitening, and their humanity absolutely sinking into a stone-like torpor, utterly horrible to contemplate [2].

Compare and contrast that to a recent study of the conditions of life for rural migrants in contemporary China:

The trafficked children] came from faraway Liangshan in Sichuan and most of them are not yet 16. The overseers sought and recruited them from families mired in poverty, promising them high wages; some were even abducted and sent off in batches to Dongguan and from there distributed by the truckload to factories across the Pearl River Delta. On unfamiliar soil these children are often scolded and beaten and have only one proper meal every few days. Some little girls are even raped. Day after day they undertake arduous labour. Some children think about escape, but the road is blocked. The overseers threaten them and warn them that if they try to run away, there will be a price to pay [3].

What the above illustrates, is that the plentiful supply of labour power was as pertinent during the early days of the industrial revolution in Britain as it is to present day China. In both cases the introduction of welfare as the means of preserving and reproducing labour was not a concern for capitalists or the state. Consequently, welfare provision is as scant in China today as it was in 19th century Britain.

Similarly, while the deaths of more than 1,100 garment workers in a factory building collapse in Dhaka,Bangladesh, in April 2013 [4], most of them women on subsistence wages, is an unspeakable tragedy for their families and friends, it is of much less significance, other than concerns about negative publicity, for companies such as Primark for whom they were producing cheap clothes, simply because there are plenty more desperate workers who will take their place [5].

Where, however, the supply of labour is less plentiful or where labour becomes more skilled and consequently more expensive, losing workers through injury or disablement, or through working them to death doesn’t really make economic sense. But that doesn’t mean that capitalists in Britain or America wouldn’t insist that their workers work all the hours under the sun in the short term for peanuts if they thought they could get away with it.

One of the contradictions inherent to capitalism is that the system as a whole needs to spend money to make profits, yet every individual capitalist wants to spend as little as possible. The lengths to which giant companies like Amazon, Google and Starbucks will go in order to avoid paying tax shows how that dilemma is played out.

In the longer term, having workers working 14 or 16 hours a day for peanuts is very wasteful. It’s like over-exploiting the soil. However, given that individual capitalists themselves won’t do anything about it for fear of losing their competitive advantage over their rivals, the state as the representative of the capitalist class as a whole is forced to step in.

This brings me back to the wisdom implicit in the Nick Hanauer quote at the beginning of this article. Hanaeur’s argument about the necessity of the United States government to substantially increase the legal minimum wage across the board in order to save capitalism from itself, is in principle, no different from the minority of capitalists in 19th century Britain who argued in favour of the introduction of the Factory Acts of the 1830s and 1840s which set down a maximum length for the working day.

An advanced low wage and minimal welfare provision capitalist state like Britain is the modern equivalent of its counterpart during the industrial revolution prior to the introduction of the Factory Acts. What is required is a radical re-think with regards to our current direction of travel.away from the failed neoliberal economic model of austerity which economist Paul Krugman describes as:

A con that does nothing but harm to the wealth of this nation. It has been discredited everywhere else: only in Britain do we cling to the myth.[6].

It’s in Britain where the redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top continues at apace, much of it as a result of huge subsidies paid to the richest landowners [7]. As inequality continues to rise so does the potential for public disorder. At present, the richest tenth pay 35% of their income in tax, while the poorest tenth pay 43% [8]. Is it too much to ask that those with the deepest pockets pay their way, thus creating the potential for the kind of equitable society in which everybody wins?

This is not pie in the sky stuff but a pragmatic solution to the problems we face. Individuals as politically and ideologically as far apart like Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas, Nick Hanauer, Joseph Stiglitz, and other top economists and capitalists, understand what’s required to get us out of the mess we’re in. It’s a pity that people like Duncan Smith, Cameron and Osborne prefer to put ideology before pragmatism.

Why is Tory economic dogma seen as mainstream, but Corbynism extreme?

Sixty-six years after the foundation of the welfare state, under the current Conservative government, every aspect of it is under attack. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act, for example, will remove the duty on the Secretary of State for Health to provide a comprehensive health service, while the requirement in the act that up to 49 percent of services can be tendered out to “any qualified provider” will rapidly lead to the privatisation of the NHS in England and Wales. Already between a quarter and a half of all community services are now run by Virgin Care [1].

In social care, a combination of cuts of around 30 percent to local authority budgets since 2010, increasingly restrictive eligibility criteria for services, and inadequate personal budgets will leave millions without the support they need and increasingly dependent on the family, and in particular women family members [2].

And in place of what was once called social security, unprecedented cuts across all areas of benefits, especially disability benefits, the introduction of sanctions regimes which have contributed to 500,000 people being forced to use food banks, and a bedroom tax affecting around 600,000 people will increase the number of children living in poverty by 200,000 [3].

All of this has been underpinned by a brutal ideological offensive against people on benefits which explains the reason for the growing rates of sickness benefit claims are for those who suffer from depression and anxiety [4], as well as the increase in the rate of suicide among those on benefits [5].

The ideological attack on the poor is predicated on the governments’ insistence that those able to defend themselves least, pay the costs for a global economic crisis which began in 2008 but was not of their making [6].

Over the last forty years, successive Labour and Tory governments’ have been committed to rolling back the post-war welfare settlement under the guise of debt reduction premised on neoliberalism which involves a change to the function of the state as less ‘welfare provider’ to more ‘pro-business facilitator’.

Many people believe that the neoliberal assault that embody these changes began with the 1979 Thatcher governments’ limited (by today’s standards) publicly-owned asset stripping. But this is a myth. It was actually under the Callaghan administration that preceded Thatcher that the initial structural changes happened  As Colin Leys (p.41) notes:

From 1976 onwards Labour…. became “monetarist”. It’s leaders accepted that full employment could no longer be achieved by government spending but must be sought through private sector growth. For the necessary private investment to take place, prices must reflect real values, and this in turn required “squeezing” inflation out of the system and permitting the free movement of capital. In 1978 Treasury officials began preparing to abolish capital controls

But it is the assault by the trio of Cameron, Duncan Smith and Osborne on, not just the welfare state, but the entire ethos of the public sector in general, that has taken things to a new level. This is demonstrated, in part, by Osborne’s intention to sell off £31bn of public assets in 2015-16. It is clear that the Tories are using austerity and the neoliberal ideology that underpins it, as an excuse to expand the pro-business facilitator model to areas within the public sector that Thatcher could only in her wildest of dreams imagined.

That said, this approach has limits in terms of maximizing utility to capitalists within a modern state. It is precisely this kind of rationale that explains why the former governor of the Bank of England announced that the current situation is “the worst crisis at least since the 1930s” [7].   

As this writer has pointed out previously, even venture capitalists realize that proper welfare provision for those not working as well as a substantial increase in the the minimum wage for those in work, is necessary to prevent the capitalist system that they benefit from collapsing in on itself [8].

In 1943, the Tory MP Quintin Hogg warned that “If you don’t give the people social reform, they will give you social revolution” [9]. This is as relevant today as it was then.

It’s therefore in nobody’s interest that wages are kept depressed and the unemployed and sick are continually made to suffer. The fact they continue to suffer unnecessarily is the reason why a political space has opened up for the likes of Jeremy Corbyn to move into.

Although much of the mainstream media are characterizing Corbyn’s policies as unworkable, misguided and extreme – and seemingly doing everything in their power to undermine and discredit him -, these are nevertheless policies that are, in truth, mainstream and pragmatic. This explains why an increasing number of economists have publicly come out in support of the kinds of economic policies Corbyn articulates [10].

These policies are economically credible, popular with the public and, for most of the world, regarded as mainstream:

In 2009, most of the world was following mainstream economics of the kind that Corbyn is proposing today in undertaking a fiscal stimulus to combat the impact of the financial crisis. But in the UK a certain politician decided to ignore ‘economic credibility’, and instead proposed doing the opposite: what has subsequently become known as austerity [11].

The imposition of 40 years of neoliberal economic dogma pursued by successive Labour and Tory governments’ has failed the people of Britain who rightly, in my view, see Corbyn as the catalyst for change. As time goes on there will be increasing pressure not just from below, but from the top, for the Tories to change course.

As the open letter to the Guardian by over 40 leading economists illustrates, this is already starting to happen. If the government refuse to acknowledge that austerity and neoliberalism have failed, and thus continue to stick rigidly to their failed ideology of cuts and austerity, the British people will eventually elect a figure like Corbyn into power on a mandate to do something about it. That time is coming closer with every passing day.