I have avoided discussing the British and French parliamentary elections to date, mostly because I couldn’t stomach the outcomes – May back and the neo-liberal Macron dominant. I also was tired of reading stupid columns from the likes of William Keegan and the rest of the Guardian neo-liberals raving on about Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn. Keegan is like an old record that lets the needle get stuck in a groove. He seems to have written the same column since June last year where the reader is told about the Brexit disaster and how Britain will be impoverished. But both elections, particularly the British outcome confirms what we have been noticing for a few years now – there is finally what we might call a true oppositional Left forming and gaining political traction in these nations. This is a Left platform that concedes little to the neo-liberals. It is vilified by the conservatives and the so-called progressive commentariat (such as the Guardian writers) and politicians (New Labour in Britain) as being in “cloud cuckoo land” and predictions from all of sundry of electoral wipeouts have been daily. But the results demonstrated that the message (such as in the Labour Manifesto) resonates with millions of people (40 per cent of those who voted in Britain). It is now a mainstream Left message that has taken over the British Labour Party and the Blairites are hiding under rocks. There is hope. People will only tolerate being bashed over the head for so long. There is now retaliation going on.
I have been keeping my eye on movements in the British data to see if there is any discernable effects yet of the June 2016 Brexit outcome. The latest investment data certainly doesn’t suggest anything is going on yet. The British Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported (May 25, 2017) – that total investment spending in real terms grew by 1.2 per cent in the March-quarter 2017 and over the 12 months by 2.2 per cent. Business investment was strong. This is investment in long-term productive infrastructure. It might be argued that this spending was already decided upon some time ago so the Brexit vote may not yet have impacted. We will see about that. The latest labour market data is also positive and that is what I have been looking at for a part of today.
On April 26, 2017, some smarta*!se journalists wrote a Bloomberg piece – The Brexit Banker Exodus Gains Momentum – with some not-so fancy graphics purporting to show where the “U.K. banking jobs might be headed” allegedly because Britain is to leave the European Union. On May 9, 2017, the increasingly terrible UK Guardian bought in on the frenzy with its article – City banks could move at least 9,000 jobs from UK due to Brexit . And so it goes. Apparently, Deutsche Bank is “leading the threatened exodus”, followed by JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. All exemplars of virtue, not! While the threat of the ‘City’ leaving London is now used to frighten British people about Brexit, the reality is, in my view, quite different. I would be celebrating the cleaning out this infestation of unproductive enterprises, which remain one of the destructive legacies of Margaret Thatcher and, later, New Labour and its so called ‘light touch regulation’.
I get a lot of E-mails that accuse me of being politically naive. The accusations were rekindled by yesterday’s blog – British labour lost in a neo-liberal haze. I imagine if I wrote a blog where I outlined support for Marine Le Pen in the context of a two-way fight against the worse-of-the-worst neo-liberals Emmanuel Macron the accusations would turn uglier even. My support for Brexit was met with similar hostility from a range of (self-styled) ‘progressives’ as being naive and offensive. Why, Brexit was a conservative plot wasn’t it? How could I have missed that? Progressives are now advocating votes for Macron even though they know he is an archetype neo-liberal – the anathema of what they believe. And they tell me every day in these E-mail tirades and other blogs that I should give people like Jeremy Corbyn some slack because he knows better than me that to advocate a major departure from the neo-liberal macroeconomic narrative would be political suicide. So why don’t I just shut up and recognise that politics is beyond my grasp and I should desist. Basically that is the message I get regularly. Well, I am sorry to say, such views completely misunderstand the role of an academic and the way in which resistance is constructed.
There was an exchange in the British House of Commons a few weeks ago (sitting on April 19, 2017), which really summarised why the Tories will win the British election and why Jeremy Corbyn has led the Labour Party there into an abyss of neo-liberal mumbo jumbo where there is no way out but loss. It was during the Parliamentary time when the Prime Minister lists her engagements for the day (a cute aspect of Westminster systems). You can follow the exchange in the Hansard entry – Volume 624. It will make your skin crawl. I guess that is what one gets from reading Parliamentary records. The upshot is that the British labour lost in a neo-liberal haze and marching forthrightly towards its Waterloo. The aftermath will not be pretty.
The other day I read a report in the UK Guardian (April 6, 2017) – Jeremy Corbyn: add VAT to private education fees to fund school meals – which appeared to signal that the world has gone mad. Today, I read a story in the Financial Times (April 11, 2017) – NHS looks to hedge funds to finance possible improvements. They both tell us how entrenched the erroneous neo-liberal ‘cost’ framing is. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) emphasises real resource availability as the demarcation of fiscal space and rejects the way in which ‘costs’ are framed in the mainstream debate. Statements such as the ‘nation cannot afford the cost of some program’ are never made when the military goes crazy and launches millions of dollars of missiles to be blasted off in the dark of the night. But when it comes to public health systems or the nutritional requirements of our children, the neo-liberals have their calculators out toting up the dollars. However, the actual cost of a government program is the change it causes in the usage of real resources. When we ask whether the nation can afford a policy initiative, we should ignore the $x and consider what real resources are available and the potential benefits. The available real resources constitute the fiscal space. The fiscal space should then always be related to the purposes to which we aspire, and the destination we wish to reach. British Labour needs to learn those basics fast and to break out of the neo-liberal ‘cost’ framing it is trapped within.
Economic debate in Britain in the last year or so has been dominated by the Brexit issue. Both sides of the debate have swamped the public with claims and counterclaims that mostly just seek to confuse. My position was clear – if I was a British voter I would have been voted to Leave. Some 9 months or more later my opinion has not changed. The EU is a right-wing corporatist failure which deliberately impoverishes its citizens and should be dismantled as soon as possible. The Brexit debate, whatever your view, has, however, clouded other trends in Britain that are clearly, and immediately, more damaging that anything that might happen when Britain finally regains its independence from the thugs in Brussels. The latest data relating to household debt in Britain confirms what we have known all along and first raised in 2011. British growth is reliant on the private domestic growth in credit and indebtedness, which was the growth drivers that were present before the GFC. Which means one thing: the current growth will not be sustainable unless there are significant changes in the composition of final expenditure in the UK. With private income growth lagging well behind consumption growth and the external sector draining growth, the solution is for the government to abandon its austerity obsession and increase the fiscal deficit. That would support private income growth and provide space for some private balance sheet restructuring which is so sorely needed. Lessons do not seem to have been learned.
When you have a madman sounding, well “presidential” (according to the obsequious US press) what would you expect a Democrat politician to say in response? Yes I am talking about the Democratic response to the speech given by the US President on February 28, 2017 to the joint session of the United States Congress. The last thing I would want is for the response to begin with a report card on how the responder was fiscally responsible because he had achieved fiscal surpluses during the GFC. But then this is the Democratic Party circa 2016 we are talking about. The Party that lost an unlosable election to a showman who is sparing of the truth. This is the Democratic Party that having just lost an election because its candidate was seen as part of the neo-liberal establishment that has brought grief on millions of Americans, decides to replace its administrative head with another neo-liberal corporatist. But this problem is not uniquely American, although Americans do like to think they are unique. All around the world, political parties who should be defending workers and the poor have morphed into right-wing look-a-likes preaching fiscal rectitude (they would do it fairer) and cuts to public services and all the rest of it. They have so let down their natural constituents that real right-wingers preaching hate against immigrants and refugees and the like have seized the political initiative and taking votes from them. Trump is a sort of hybrid of that. Until the Left abandons its notions that fiscal responsibility does not mean running fiscal surpluses as a matter of course, it will continue to lose ground. And, we will all be worse off as a consequence.
Another lesson from history coming up. People of my generation studied the great books by Charles Dickens, which apart from their literary form, left an indelible impression of life in England during the period covered by the 1834 Poor Law. We also read George Orwell’s account of working class life in Northern England in the pre-World War 2 period. These impressions meant that we heralded in the creation of comprehensive welfare states in the Post World War 2 period as evolutionary innovations made possible by increasing national prosperity. We formed a common belief that this prosperity allowed us to escape the sort of conditions that Dickens was describing in early industrial England. And if prosperity fell, we would have to rein in some of the generosity that the welfare state systems provide. How many times have you read or heard some politician or corporate lobbyist claim that advanced nations, with fiat currencies, can no longer ‘afford’ to fund comprehensive welfare states that protect the poorest citizens in their societies. Many of these speeches are made at glittering functions where business types enjoy sumptuous lunches with plenty of wine and fine food and listen to politicians talk about running out of money and the need to pull our belts in. The arguments are used to attack the comprehensive welfare systems that emerged in the post World War 2 period as governments took responsibility for improving the plight of the poor. But, an understanding of history allows us to appreciate that the modern welfare state was nothing particularly new. There had been a comprehensive welfare support system in place in Britain for 300 years before the 1834 Poor Laws ended that system. This should give us hope – 1601 Poor Law (comprehensive welfare system) -> 1834 Poor Law Amendment (demolished it and blamed the poor for their plight) -> Modern Post World War 2 welfare states (comprehensive welfare system recognising systemic failure rather than individual blame) -> neo-liberalism (back to the 1834 mentality) -> ???? – hopefully another progressive reaction to the greed driving the current system.
“Fresh thinking delivered to your inbox – Subscribe”. That is the message on the homepage of Third Way an American think tank (aka conservative propaganda machine) masquerading in the public space as a “centrist think tank”. The problem is that this particular ‘think tank’ does not seem to do much fresh thinking, if thinking at all. According to the Politico article (January 17, 2017) – Democratic Party rethink gets $20 million injection – largely aimed to reestablish the narrative that allowed Bill Clinton and then Barack Obama to be elected as President. In part, this initiative is to head off the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (neither who are mounting what I call a fully progressive agenda anyway) and claw back the voters who abandoned the unelectable (my judgement) Hillary Clinton in favour of the (shouldn’t have ever been elected) Donald Trump. The narrative that the Third Way organisation has been engaged in for years is hardly fresh. They attack fiscal deficits and call for retrenchments of pension entitlements and public health care funding, they oppose single payer health care and, thus, favour pumping billions of public funds into private insurance companies who offer inferior services, and are strong advocates of the deeply flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership. There is nothing progressive about this group nor fresh. They are mainstream central and the fact they are spearheading a Democratic Party initiative to win back political support tells me that the Party has learned next to nothing from last November’s Presidential election.