The British Office for National Statistics, which although recently revamped continues to have the most user-unfriendly homepage and dissemination service of all the national statistical agencies, published the latest – Retail Sales in Great Britain: July 2016 – data last week (August 18, 2016). It looked good to me. In the past week or so there has been a stream of data coming out of Britain or about Britain, which also looks good to me. What the hell is going on? The skies over Britain were meant to have fallen in by now. Unemployment was meant to be going through the roof or was the roof meant to collapse first. All manner of despair was meant to be visiting the shores of Britain after the June 23 vote to get out of the dysfunctional European Union. The reality is that things are looking okay there. Skies are intact and quite blue I believe which has boosted the confidence of British consumers. Tourism is booming. Unemployment is falling or at least those claiming unemployment benefits. One investment bank put out a briefing last month with a Mayday! Mayday! warning that unemployment was about to rise dramatically. Who has been sacked for that piece of public misinformation. George Osborne, remember him, said in mid-June that British public finances were about to collapse and an immediate, emergency fiscal response would be needed. Days have passed – things are looking ok. Eurozone nations should take note! Ignore the neo-liberal scare mongering. Follow Britain’s lead in abandoning the ridiculous notion that there is something special about ‘Europe’. Eurozone nations should get out of the currency union as soon as possible.
There was an interesting article written in the London Review of Books (September 13, 2012) by regular contributor James Meek in – How We Happened to Sell Off Our Electricity (you need to subscribe to read it). It discussed how the obsession with privatisation in Britain, which was meant to reduce state control of this sector, has led to the state still being dominant in electricity production. The only problem for the British is that the French government now owns a large swathe of the ‘privatised’ British electricity industry. The outcome demonstrates the absurdity of the whole privatisation debate. This example is not unique. State-owned enterprises have eaten up inefficient privately owned firms all around the world as governments sell off public assets in the belief that prices will fall, services will improve and costs will be lower. The reality now some 35 years or so into the privatisation experiment is that none of these claims have been realised. In many cases, costs are higher and the privatised firms rely on higher public subsidies than was the case when the operations were completely in public hands. Prices are no uniformly lower after privatisation. Profit-seeking firms seek to gain by cutting costs and under investing in essential infrastructure, which leads to poor outcomes for Society (blackouts, poor repair times etc). And, millions of jobs have been lost in this cost-cutting mania. As a result, we argue that a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ must include the case for re-nationalisation of many sectors, which are intrinsic to advancing the well-being of Society. Progressive parties should start researching and demonstrating how this policy will take us into the next century where green, sustainable production is the norm and there are high levels of public service available from these key sectors, rather than allow critics to argue that the re-nationalisation agenda is just a return to the dark old days of inefficient state enterprises where cronyism, nepotism and corruption was rife.
With the new British Prime Minister now indicating that she will push ahead with Brexit and free the nation from the undemocratic imposts of the increasingly dysfunctional European Union, a view that is apparently ‘poisonous’ to some so-called progressive writers, several pro-Remain economists or economic commentators have realised that the game is up for neo-liberalism in Britain. There have been several articles recently arguing (after bitching about the loss of the Remain vote and repeating the catastrophe mantra) that a new economic paradigm is now called for in Britain, based on its new found sovereignty (after it finally exits). It could, by the way, exit through an Act of Parliament without all the Article 50 palaver if it wanted to. That is just a smokescreen. This idea of a new paradigm being required is exactly what Thomas Fazi and I are working on as part of our current book project which is nearing completion. Today, I consider briefly our view that nationalisation has to return as a key industry policy plank for any aspiring progressive political party.
Last week, I reported on some claims by Australian private sector economists that the Australian government was deplete of policy tools (“run out of ammunition” was the cute term used among these self-serving characters) and would not be able to handle the Brexit fallout – see When journalists allow dangerous economic myths to pervade. It was obvious that the statements were nonsensical and only reflected the dangerous neo-liberal ideology that discretionary fiscal policy should be constrained to the point of being not used! In the last week, some major central bankers around the world have given speeches which suggest they also understand that fiscal policy has come to the fore and provide some certainty to the world economy. The latest estimates from the ECB of the Eurozone output gap certainly provide the evidence base to justify a major expansion of fiscal deficits across the Eurozone. The research is suggesting that there is a significant output gap which is evidence of insufficient aggregate spending rather than any structural shifts in potential GDP. I guess they are warming the Member States for more expansionary action although the message is very clear – the European Commission has to abandon its austerity mindset and provide some old-fashioned deficit stimulus – quick smart!
Less than two weeks ago, Britain sent a bombshell into the conservative, neo-liberal policy agenda and the narrative that supports it. I have read a lot of comments that the Referendum result was a reflection of racist attitudes towards minority immigrants. While it is no doubt that the open borders policy that allows firms to batter down wages growth and keep a constant excess supply of labour as a threat was an important part of the debate and vote, that in itself, was a reflection of the underlying tension that people and their communities have with the neo-liberal policy agenda. There would be much less concern about migration if there was full employment. The same sort of tensions that pushed the majority of British voters to support the Leave campaign have been apparent in the Australian Federal election which was held on Saturday (July 2, 2016). Australian voters have rejected a first-term conservative government. It is a rare event for us to reject any first-term regime of either persuasion. The conservatives in Australia are now in tatters without credibility and the unstable situation that has arisen as a result of the political uncertainty provides a great opportunity for the Australian Labor Party, who did very well in the poll on Saturday, to refresh their outlook and reject their neo-liberal tendencies to reflect the big shift in sentiment in the Australian electorate. A similar opportunity exists in Britain and I hope Jeremy Corbyn takes it and expunges the Blairites from his own Party.
We left the trail last time with James Callaghan telling the British Labour Party Annual Conference on September 28, 1976 that governments can no longer spend their “way out of a recession” and that the Keynesian approach was an option that “no longer exists”. He even suggested that the Keynesian approach to stabilising economic cycles was never valid. Meanwhile, his Chancellor, Denis Healey, by then convinced that Monetarist had validity, was working behind the scenes at the Conference to duchess or beat his colleagues in submission and accept the TINA approach to bringing in the IMF. They worked hard to construct the situation as a crisis of massive proportions although much of the ‘crisis’ was the result of their extreme reluctance to allow the pound to depreciate, to impose capital controls to stop the non-productive speculative outflows that were causing the currency to drop in value, and to accept that in the Post Bretton Woods era they no longer had to match their fiscal deficits with private debt issuance. But in doing so, the British government effectively created their own ‘funding’ crisis. Things came to a head in November 1976 within the Labour Cabinet, which was still deeply divided over the IMF issue. We finish this analysis of Britain and the IMF today by tracing events at the end of 1976 before providing a general summation of what it was all about.
Journalists have a lot to answer for in this modern era of constant media reporting across multiple modes of communication. I have previously argued that the trend has become one where journalists are used as broadcasting tools for press releases – that is, stories that appear to be news commentary are really just precised versions of some corporate press release or a statement from some right wing think tank. The lack of critical scrutiny where one line statements that on the face of it are highly contentious are allowed to ‘go through to the keeper’ is now the model for modern mainstream journalism. An example of this was the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s PM current affairs radio program last night (June 27, 2016) – Investors brace for another wild ride on international markets post-Brexit. The PM program is the ABC’s premier evening news and current affairs program where issues are meant to be taken apart and some so-called experts (from all sides) are meant to be interviewed so as to enlighten the public, who otherwise might be uncertain about the meaning and/or impact of some event. At least that was the intent of the program when it started many years ago. Now, it has become, like most of the ABCs current affairs reporting, a rather pale imitation of its original brief.
The class struggle is back! Who would have thought. After years of being told by the likes of John Major and then Tony Blair that “the class war is over” (Blair) and the we now all live in “the classless society” (Major) the working class has fought back, albeit under the motivation of the looney, populist Right rather than a progressive left, who remain a voice for capital. Remember when we were told that the Left-Right continuum was irrelevant now in this global world where nation states had given way to grand communities (like the EU) and that, in this new post-modern world, we could all be entrepreneurs (meaning we sell our labour to a capitalist!). And now we know that class never went away. It might have been hi-jacked by the Right but it is there – and it is powerful. Planet Earth to British Labour – do something about it or wither away and make way for a progressive new organised working class movement.
Tomorrow, Britain gets to cast a vote on its continued membership in the European Union, although it is unclear how binding such a vote would be on the Government. Probably not binding at all. The latest opinion polls are giving it 51 per cent remain to 49 per cent leave. The bookie odds are in favour of the remain camp. I am guessing the remain vote will win. It shouldn’t. The debate has been asinine to say the least. The public deception has reached unbelievable heights. My own profession has been wheeled out or wheeled themselves out in grand statements about how catastrophic exit would be. I don’t believe much of it at all. I provided my opinion on the topic in this February 23, 2016 blog – If I was in Britain I would not want to be in the EU. I will not repeat the analysis here. But in the research I have been doing on how the Left has become neo-liberal, there was a lot of overlap in how the Left became, to their detriment, pro-Europe. Here is some points on that. I hope the Exit wins.
This is a further instalment in tracing through the British currency crisis in 1976 and its retreat to the IMF later in that year. Today we discuss the tensions within the British Labour Party at the time, the Callaghan Speech to the Blackpool Annual Labour Conference on September 28, 1976, the behind the scenes work by Denis Healey and some clandestine activity between the US and British bureaucracies which was aimed to bring Britain to heel, one way or another and to overcome its ‘immorality’ – yes, the US thought the fiscal deficits the Brits were running were immoral.