Tag: office for national statistics

Neoliberalism: Manipulation of The Many to Benefit The Few

By Daniel Margrain 

 

Theresa May recently described free-market capitalism as the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”. But progress is an ideology linked to advances in technology and science, that since the emergence of industrial capitalism in the mid-19th century, has infected much of intellectual life (see, for example, Chris Harman’s ‘A People’s History of the Worldpp. 384-86).

What the obsession with the prevailing neoliberal socioeconomic orthodoxy of successive governments over the last 40 years illustrates, is that right-wing politicians like May proselytize, not on behalf of genuine free-markets, but an extreme form of crony capitalism in which the publicly owned assets of the state are systematically asset- stripped and the spoils distributed to the elite economic and political class.

Farm subsidies, public sector retrenchment, quantitative easing, share giveaways and housing benefit subsidies, are some of the ways in which neoliberal corporate welfare continues to greatly enrich the wealthiest in society. Figures reported in the Guardian indicate that the richest one per cent in Britain have as much wealth as the poorest 57 per cent combined.

More evenly shared

The growth in inequality during the neoliberal era contrasts with the thirty year “post-war settlement” period in which the wealth created by workers was shared much more evenly. For example, data indicates that the share of income going to the top 10 per cent of the population fell over the 40 years to 1979, from 34.6 per cent in 1938 to 21 per cent in 1979, while the share going to the bottom 10 per cent rose slightly. Meanwhile, other figures indicate that economic growth in the UK, adjusted for inflation, has grown over the last 60 years from £432bn in 1955 to £1,864bn in 2016.

The Tory exchequer in 2017, therefore, has roughly four times as much money at its disposal in real terms compared to six decades ago. Moreover, the ratio of national debt to GDP was approximately three times higher in the post-war years compared to 2017. Nevertheless, the then Labour government built hundreds of thousands of “homes fit for heroes” and brought the National Health Service into being.

Many decades later, Theresa May who leads a immeasurably wealthier country than was the case during the post-war period, claimed “there is no magic money tree” to fund public services. Whereas neoliberal fundamentalists envisage the market as an ideological manifestation of a notion of scientific and technological progress, Corbyn’s vision is a return to a more equal society in which improvements to the quality of life for the majority through investing in public infrastructure and social capital play a crucial role.

The evidence Jeremy Corbyn intends to break the neoliberal consensus marking a return to the kind of equitable redistribution of the spoils of growth of the post-war years, is an economic strategy that is worrying a Tory government bereft of ideas. May and her Chancellor, Hammond, continue to advance the notion that the aspirations of those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are most effectively met as a result of economic trickle-down emanating from the top – a theory that has – given the subsequent growth in inequality – been comprehensively discredited. Under neoliberalism, wealth doesn’t trickle down. On the contrary, it gushes up.

Mixed economy in the right hands

Potentially, sustained economic growth that capitalism engenders can create the conditions for the mass of humanity to overcome poverty and pestilence and to meet its fundamental needs – but only in the right hands. Paradoxically, the neoliberal model is is likely to lead to the exact opposite: the extinction of our species and probably many others.

The poorest who can’t afford to enjoy the benefits of capitalism are, in the short-term, the most likely to be adversely affected by the climate chaos and wars it engenders. But the rich are not insulated from the process either since the affects of nuclear fallout and global warming are not undemocratic.

Theresa May’s notion that the ideology of progress, manifested in scientific and technological advancement, is indicative of the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, is negated by the chaos wrought by global warming, the spread of wars, the growth in relative poverty and the lack of disposable income for millions of people.

Under neoliberalism, the impoverished and war-torn are unable to engage in the kinds of commercial and cultural activities the rich disproportionately benefit from. It is therefore not “collective” human progress that May is referring to when she espoused the virtues of capitalism.

For neoliberal ideologues, progress is measured in terms of the extent to which people are able to consume what the advancements in technology the market is able to deliver. While it is true that more people than ever have access to “luxury” technologies like flat screen TVs, mobile phones and computers, it’s still the case that the majority of the worlds population don’t.

Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily follow that those who do have access to them are not struggling to feed their families. There is no correlation between poverty and the amount of consumer goods people have access to. Poor and hungry people without money who do have access to consumer goods like mobile phones are not able to console themselves by eating them.

Absolute v relative poverty

The Prime Minister is right to infer that the historical inward tidal flow of capitalist development over time has corresponded to an overall reduction in absolute poverty. But if it were only absolute poverty that resulted in social resistance there would never have been general strikes or revolutions after the first years of industrialization. As John Rees in Imperialism and Resistance (pp. 102-3) remarked:

“Few people in modern Britain wake up in the morning to face a new day and content themselves with the thought that at least they are not living like 19th century weavers. They ask themselves different questions. Is my child’s life going to be harder than mine? Are we, the people, who do the work, getting a fair share of all the wealth that we see around us in this society?”

It is therefore not capitalism’s ability to reduce the level of absolute poverty, but it’s socially relative poverty measured in terms of the level of income inequality that counts. 

At the turn of the century, the Office of National Statistics provided a snapshot of relative poverty in Britain. In interviews with panelists selected from the General Household Survey, it drew up a list of items regarded as “necessities”: a bed, heating, a damp-free house, the ability to visit family and friends in hospital, two meals a day and medical prescriptions.

The study found that four million people do not eat either two meals a day or fresh fruit and vegetables. Nearly 10 million cannot keep their homes warm, damp-free or in a decent state of decoration. Another 10 million cannot afford regular savings of £10 a month. Some 8 million cannot afford one or two essential household goods like a fridge or carpets for their main living area. And 6.5 million are so poor to afford essential clothing. Children are especially vulnerable – 17 percent go without two essential items and 34 percent go without at least one.

With the massive increase in the use of food banks, the rise in zero hours contracts and in-work poverty; the adverse affects of the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax benefit for the poorest over the last decade, these figures almost certainly understate the extent of the current problem.

Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of The Equality Trust, said:

“The cavernous gap between the richest and the rest of us should be a real source of worry…Extreme inequality is ravaging society…While many people’s incomes have barely risen since the financial crash, a tiny elite has continued to pocket billions. If politicians are serious about building a genuinely shared society, then they urgently need to address this dangerous concentration of power and wealth and tackle our extreme inequality.”#

System of enslavement

A world in which the mass of humanity is getting increasingly poorer while the rich are getting richer, largely as a result of the latter’s collective theft of state assets, is indicative of a form of inherent systemic corruption on a huge scale. This is reflected by the extent to which public enterprises are privatized for profit and private capital debt is socialized through subsidy by the tax-payer. This is the kind of “free-market” capitalism espoused by May – a vision of a system built on the principle of socialism for the rich and enslavement for the rest. 

Although many commentators point out, correctly, that this neoliberal socioeconomic model is not working for the vast majority of people, the point is, it was never intended to be that way. The purpose of neoliberal socioeconomic policy is not to improve the living standards or protect the jobs for the many, but to defend the short-term economic interests of the few.

In Spain, the Rajoy governments use of brute force against the people of Catalonia is an illustration of the extent to which the one percent are prepared to go in order to protect their corrupt neoliberal system of wealth usurpation. In theory the EU, as an institution, can be the catalyst for raising the living standards of the poorest, but under neoliberalism, it too, has become a corrupt extension of the sovereign state.

What Theresa May really means, is not that capitalism is the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, but rather that neoliberalism is the best economic model through which her class is able to financially enrich themselves by manipulating the institutions of society.

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UK Government Assurances Increase The Risks To The Public

We can rely on the government to have our best interests at heart, right? Wrong. On July 20, I posted about the fact that the government is suppressing figures that highlight a link between benefit cuts for the most vulnerable and suicides (1). Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the ice berg. Political scandals and lies are an endemic feature of the UK establishment which stretch back decades (2). Here’s a couple of scandals that have recently come to light.

In his book, The Underground Serial Killer, former UK detective inspector for Scotland Yard, Geoff Platt, claims that the Home Office covered up a killer who pushed twelve people on to the tracks of the London Underground.

Northern Line

Mr Platt says police kept the claims quiet for fear of sparking a panic on the Underground (Getty)

Kiernan Kelly who is serving life in Wakefield prison, admitted to sixteen murders between 1953 and 1983, twelve of them on the underground. Platt said the records were not made public until last September. According to Platt, Kiernan targeted his victims on the Northern Line. In 1983, when in police custody, Kelly murdered his cell mate for snoring loudly. He then confessed to fifteen more killings.

He was charged with five counts, four underground killings and one for the murder in the cell. Platt said his research found an awful coincidence where people who had jumped on the Northern Line tracks had been standing near Kelly. Incredibly, Kelly gave witness statements to the police who failed to put two and two together.

In the early 1950s, Kelly spent time in Wandsworth prison. In the five days he was there, he had three days out. On each day, someone died on the tracks. “As soon as the story became clear, the Home Office made it perfectly clear they did not want the story to go any further”, said Platt. He added, “I can understand that the Home Office didn’t want people scared to travel”….Really?  Wouldn’t you, dear reader, want information that somebody was pushing people onto the tracks on the underground made publicly available, particularly if you were travelling from Clapham on the Northern Line? I know I would.

Platt said, “The government were afraid of mass hysteria, not earning money or going to work.”  So once again, it’s all about the money. Platt continued: “Now the case is in the public domain anybody who wants to can read about it.”  That’s comforting! The Home Office said, “any evidence to suggest that a crime has been committed is a matter for the police.” The implication seems to be of the “so don’t question us, peasants” variety.

The fact that the government hides stuff from us in this way, is of course, in our own best interests. But it doesn’t end there. The European Union is suing the UK government because the air in the country is not fit to breath (3). For many years the government has been pushing the alleged benefits to the public of diesel. But then it was discovered it was diesel fumes that were killing thousands of people prematurely in London alone (4).

Although this has just come to light within the public domain, successive governments’ have known about this for over two decades. Scientists warned British ministers twenty two years ago that their planned ‘dash for diesel’ could cause a public health disaster but were ignored (5).

Concerns about air quality were sidelined by civil servants in favour of climate changeConcerns about air quality were sidelined by civil servants in favour of climate change (Alamy)

Almost 30,000 UK deaths a year from air pollution do not factor in lethal nitrogen dioxide from diesel engines (6) which when taken into account, pushes the figure to 50,000 deaths (7). In Europe, an estimated 500,000 people die prematurely as a result of air pollution every year, a figure that would be significantly higher had NO2 been factored in (8). Globally, a staggering 3.4 million people died from air pollution in 2010 (9).

In the UK, many deaths from diesel could have been prevented had ministers heeded a 1993 report handed to them by the environment secretary, John Gummer (10).The report said the impact of diesel vehicles on urban air quality is a serious one. Any increase in the proportion of diesel vehicles in urban streets is to be viewed with concern – diplomatic language for “you now have a greater chance of dying”. The documents show that concerns about air quality were sidelined by civil servants.

The annual death rate in England and Wales from illegal drugs that the government claims to be at war with, as of 2013, stood at 1,557 (11).  And yet diesel omissions which contribute towards 50,000 deaths a year is somehow regarded as a low level risk.

In twenty years time will we be looking back in shock at the scandal of a government that is currently suppressing the link between benefit cuts for the most vulnerable and suicides in the same way as we are doing in relation to the two incidents described above that have come to light now? The only thing we learn from history, is the fact that we learn nothing from history.