On Sunday, May 12, 2019, I will be presenting a workshop in London on – Local Government Funding: Challenging the Status Quo. Basically, I will be speaking about the way in which flawed understandings of the capacities of currency-issuing governments, combined with a vicious, ideological attack on working people from a government fully invested in neoliberal transfers to the elites, have ravaged the capacity of local government in the UK to deliver essential public services. See the Events Page for more details. It is a public event and I hope people support it. To prepare for that workshop, I have been digging deeply into the data to fully acquaint myself with how the ideological austerity push has been distributed across central and local government service delivery. It is no easy task. The data is a ‘dog’s breakfast’ and coming to summary positions is quite time consuming. There are also nuances in the way local government is structured (particularly since the Thatcher years where devolution and cost-shifting was accelerated), which mean that care must be taken in making sensible comparisons. Here are some of the things I found. I have learned a lot in this process, which is a good thing. This is Part 1 of a two-part series.
In a few weeks I am off to Britain again to participate in a series of events. Two of these events will be in Scotland where we (Warren and I) will discuss, as outsiders, issues pertaining to the monetary arrangements that might accompany a move to Scottish independence. It is a controversial issue in itself, but, unfortunately, is also intertwined with the vexed issue of EU membership. And the complication then becomes that progressives, who might otherwise be attracted to the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) way of understanding the monetary system, also exhibit the standard misconstrued Europhile view that the EU, neoliberal though it is, can be reformed and that an independent Scotland should be part of that mess. And, in doing so, they then take problematic positions on the currency question. So a sort of ‘nest of vipers’ sort of situation, from the Aesop’s fable – The Farmer and the Viper. As in the Fable, the Europhiles embrace of the EU will always pay them back in grief. Anyway, while I am always cautious discussing the pro and con of situations where I have no direct material stake and a less than full understanding of specific cultural and historical influences that are at work, the Scottish question is interesting and demonstrates many of points that nations should be cogniscant of when discussing monetary sovereignty. And besides I have to get up in Edinburgh and Glasgow in a few weeks so as a researcher I am trained to be prepared and seek the best understanding that I can of the complexity of the situation. I will be writing a few posts on the Scottish issue as I prepare for that speaking tour.
It appears that the Brexit process in Britain will now stall. My understanding of the Referendum was the majority of British people who voted wanted to leave the EU and that the politicians from all sides of politics unambiguously stated they would honour the outcome, whichever way the vote fell. That is what democracies are about. A lot of people are disappointed by vote outcomes. They have to grin and bear it. But in the case of the Brexit vote, the Remainers have never accepted the outcome and have used various means – foul or otherwise – to undermine the choice of the majority. There have been regional strains involved and social class strains (cosmopolitans and the rest) involved. There have been nasty imputations that those who voted to Leave were ignorant, racist or otherwise not entitled to cast an opinion. The Europhile Left had conniptions because their dream looked like evaporating. I use the term ‘dream’ deliberately – as in, not ground in reality. As the incompetence of the Tory government in managing the exit process reaches new heights – embarrassing heights – the Europhile Left has become emboldened and are now reasserting their claims that the British Labour Party should articulate a clear Remain position and push to reform the prevailing European treaties, which embed neoliberalism in their core. Talk about dreaming.
Earlier this month (March 5, 2019), the Governor of the Bank of England fronted the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs for his annual grilling. The details of his evidence, covered in the transcript produced – Uncorrected oral evidence: Annual session with the Governor of the Bank of England – should have generated headlines in all the major British press outlets but the UK Guardian, noticeably, avoided reporting the details. The Guardian has jumped on every negative projection since before the 2016 Referendum and published volumes of Op Ed pieces from various correspondents amplifying the negativity. But it largely failed to report the Mark Carney’s backtracking. Turns out that the Bank of England thinks Brexit will be considerably less damaging than its headlined Project Fear estimates published last November, And that is without factoring in any fiscal response from government. It seems that the Bank now believes that a no-deal (disorderly) Brexit won’t be all that damaging at all and an orderly Brexit would be associated with an over-full employment boom over the next three years. Quite a different story to that offered in November 2018. The latest revelations will give Remainers some headaches – their collapse scenarios are evaporating.
I am travelling all day today and I will resurface, in blog terms, on Monday. A quiz will pop up tomorrow as usual. For now a brief excursion into the Dutch press, which has decided to join the wannabees attacking Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). The scenario outlined in the article I read earlier today takes the criticisms to a new level. We are no longer worried about hyperinflation, crowding out, sky high interest rates. No, things are likely to get much worse than that. If any government takes on MMT (noting it is not a regime that can be taken on) to operationalise a Green New Deal then tax rates will have to rise to around 100 per cent, households and firms will stop working and producing, and a massive famine in possible where millions die. Sort of Project Fear stuff that has marked the Remain position in the Brexit debate!
On February 21, 2019, the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) released the latest fiscal data for the British government – Public sector finances, UK: January 2019. There was a lot of press reaction applauding the result and even progressive writers found it possible to misrepresent what the data actually is telling us has been happening. The fact that the British government recorded a fiscal surplus of £14.9 billion in January 2019 was touted in terms of creating a ‘war chest’ that the Government will be able to delve into when the next crisis arrives (which might be soon if the current Brexit mishaps continue). The reality, is, of course, totally different. There is no stored up spending capacity (stock) created when a government runs a surplus. What is actually happening is that the net flows out of the economy to the government squeeze an already over-indebted non-government sector for liquidity and destroy that much of its wealth portfolio. Moreover, while all and sundry, including the Euro-leaning Left are frothing at the mouth over Brexit, new data now allows us to compute the losses arising from the deliberate strategy of fiscal austerity that the Government has pursued. Guess what? They appear to dwarf all the Project Fear estimates of losses arising from Brexit (notwithstanding the flaky nature of those estimates). Where is the Guardian’s column Austerity Watch to match its hapless Brexit Watch column? Where is the relentless stream of articles from Guardian journalists and Op Writers about austerity? Sorry, that would take up space which is occupied by the relentless stream of articles about Brexit?
The aptly named – Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) – “is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making”. It is relentless in exposing the corporate scams that result in European Union laws being biased towards corporations at the expense of the well-being of the broader population. The research results they publish are diametrically opposed to the claims by the Europhile Left, especially those from Britain, that posit that the EU is the exemplar of global organisation, defending workers’ rights and all manner of good things, and with just a few reforms here and there is the hope for a progressive future. CEO’s most recent report (February 6, 2019) – Captured states: when EU governments are a channel for corporate interests – allow us to see how the EU machinery has turned the Member States into a “channel for corporate interests” – “middlemen for corporate interests”. My position is that CEO has it right and the Europhiles a dreaming.
In the blog post earlier this week – The conflicting concepts of cosmopolitan within Europe – Part 1 (January 29, 2019) – I juxtaposed two concepts of ‘cosmopolitanism’ which appeared to be part of the early moves to achieve European integration. On the one hand, there was a Kantian-style desire to create, through cooperation between previously warring states, a peaceful and prosperous future for a ‘one’ Europe. This construct would be welcoming to outsiders, progressive, and celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity. It was a rights-based conception of citizenship and democracy, which closely aligned with the growing popularity of the social democratic polity. On the other hand, the early moves to overcome the resistance to creating a supranational entity that would increasingly compromise national sovereignty – the so-called “functionalist” approach of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, created a pragmatic, free market-based cosmopolitanism, which set the Member States against each other as competitors. As I demonstrated, over time, the economic cosmopolitanism channeled the burgeoning neoliberalism of the 1980s and compromised the rights-based, political cosmopolitanism, to the end that we now talk about democratic deficits as the European Commission and its unelected allies such as the IMF trample over the rights of citizens across the geographic spread of Europe. Europhile progressives hanker for the first conception of European cosmopolitanism and proffer various reform proposals, which they claim will tame the economic dimensions and restore the ‘European Project’ as a progressive force in the world. In this second part of the series I will argue that from the outset the cosmopolitanism embedded in the ‘Project’ was deeply flawed and it is no surprise that democracy is now compromised in the European Union. I argue that reform is not possible such is the extent of the failures.
In the past week, the UK Guardian readers were confronted with the on-going scandal of wealthy British politicians and ‘peers’ receiving massive European Union subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The article (January 27, 2019) – Peers and MPs receiving millions in EU farm subsidies – recounted the familiar tale –
“Dozens of MPs and peers, including some with vast inherited wealth, own or manage farms that collectively have received millions of pounds in European Union subsidies”. The story is not new and this scandal is just a reflection of the way in which the development of the European Union has contradicted the idealism that the Europhile Left associate with ‘Europe’. As an aside, it would be telling, one imagines to map the EU payments (and well-paid job holdings) with Brexit support – one would conjecture a strong negative correlation. This is a two-or-three part mini-series on the evolution of concepts of ‘cosmopolitanism’ in the European context. It is part of work I am doing for the next book Thomas Fazi and I hope to publish by the end of the year. In this blog post, I introduce the conflict that is inherent in the European Union, and the way the Europhile Left has been seduced by a concept of cosmopolitanism that bears not relevance in the reality of modern Europe.
The British Office of National Statistics (ONS) published its latest labour market data last week (January 22, 2019) – UK labour market: January 2019. Employment continues to increase, unemployment is steady and inactivity is falling (participation is rising). Real wages are also finally starting to rise (average weekly earnings rose by 3.3 per cent over the last 12 months) after a decade of flat wages growth. The ONS say that the 4 per cent unemployment rate “has not been lower since December 1974 to February 1975”. But the labour market of 2019 is very different to that of late 1974. While the growth in real wages is a positive development, the large negative is that employment for employees fall in the three months to November 2018 and all the employment growth was taken by self-employed. The other disturbing statistic is that if we considered the involuntary part-time workers to be equivalent to the unemployed, then the adjusted unemployment rate would be around 6.6 per cent, a far cry from full employment.