Over the last week, a Londoner and a Glaswegian have publicly embarrassed themselves with statements made about the current economic situation. One is an academic historian who hasn’t fully understood history. The other a politician who is seeking to deny the obvious and somehow blur his own culpability in driving the British economy back into a double-dip recession. I guess the smokescreen approach works if yesterday’s Greek vote is anything to go by. I saw a headline in Bloomberg this morning which said that “Greece avoids chaos …”, which prompted me to wonder what chaos might look like if it is not hospitals unable to get access to essential supplies, a government killing its private sector by cutting spending and not paying legitimate bills, and an unemployment rate creeping towards 25 per cent and 50 per cent for youth. The Greeks were bombarded it seems with wilful lies and even then the conservatives on just led the vote count from their main anti-austerity rival. In all the denials and bluster, what I know categorically is that in the real world where we all live – sustaining rates of youth unemployment above 50 per cent – is definitely not protecting the grandchildren.
The current British Government is refining the concept of work and Travel away from home allowances as it seeks to create dynamism and flexible and effective job creation programs. The answer appears to be that the workers don’t get paid, they are bussed to remote locations and are required to sleep under bridges prior to undertaking their unpaid work. As the the official Government statements tell us “The Work Programme also ensures value for money”. These developments are beyond even the dreams of the most entrenched neo-liberal.
In the New Scientist last year (June 13 , 2011) there was an interview – A field guide to bullshit – with London-based academic philosopher Stephen Law about his book – Believing Bullshit: How not to get sucked into an intellectual black hole. I thought about that when I was reading the documentation relating to the latest con by the British government – its StartUp Loan scheme which will give tiny loans to vulnerable youth to launch businesses into a recessed economy. In fair times, the failure rate of small business is very high. Put inexperienced youth in the frame and it gets higher. Overlay a double-dip recession that will get worse (with perhaps an Olympic blip delaying the decline) over the next 12 months and you have another policy that will do very little to bring the 1 million plus youth unemployed back into productive life. The neo-liberals in the UK are increasingly chanting slogans like “MAKE A JOB DON’T TAKE A JOB” to extol the virtues of people creating their own work as a way of covering up the fact that the Government is deliberately destroying employment prospects (especially for the young). Schemes like the StartUp Loans join a long history of proposals designed to deal with mass unemployment which fail to understand the cause of the problem. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) tells us that mass unemployment arises because the budget deficit is too small given the saving intentions of the non-government sector. Aggregate demand has to rise to reduce unemployment. Providing a pittance to small businesses will not relieve the demand constraint on the labour market. It might redistribute the unemployment but will not do anything to significantly reduce it.
I had a little reminisce today and took a mental journey back to the North of England where I studied for a time. Although this time (early 1980s) was just before the digital age, I have collected bits of information about the economic and social life of workers and capitalists in early industrial England. And, of-course, there are some wonderful accounts in the wider literature of what life was like in those days. These were times when there were no unions, no job security, no income support, no safety standards, and little or no sanitation of public health regulations in the urban areas where workers were sequestered by the ruling elites. While the rich industrialists erected open spaces and promenades to surround their luxury residential facilities, the workers mostly lived in filth and died dreadful deaths. There was a reason that this way of doing business was attacked by growing worker discontent throughout England and Europe in the late 1840s and beyond. There is a reason trade unions formed. There is a reason that governments were forced by popular pressure to introduce income support and labour market regulations. People can only be put down for so long and the capitalist system is built on a very small minority seeking to repress the rights and rewards of the vast majority. Once the greed pushes the balance too far to the minority – their hegemony is threatened. We might be in 2012 but the elites are once again driving us all back to 1844 or thereabouts. They will rue the day.
I am in Darwin today – right in the North of Australia. This is the frontier of Australia and merges our nation with Asia to the north. The dry season has just started and so the tropical weather today is glorious – warm and sunny and dry! It is a 6 hour flight from Newcastle and a remote part of our nation despite Darwin being one of our capital cities. But the world is not very far away from anywhere these days in terms of information access and so it is hard to avoid reading the latest data from around the world and analysing it. The news from Europe over the last 24 hours is shocking and the responses by leading politicians is worse. Just as the British Office of National Statistics was announcing that the UK has achieved a double-dip recession for the first time since the 1970s – an achievement that the Government will no doubt erroneously claim is the work of others – Bloomberg published a story (April 25, 2012) – Merkel Pushes Back Against Hollande Call to End Austerity Drive which tells you how far out of touch with reality the Euro leadership is. The UK government is working as hard as it can to undermine its own economy so it can catch up with the Eurozone economies in the race to the bottom of the slime. It beggars belief really. When will the citizens revolt?
It is a public holiday in Australia today remembering our First-World War soldiers who died during the ill-fated invasion of the Gallipoli peninsular in Turkey. Anzac Day is part of the Australian legend about heroism and the ideals of mateship that are (dubiously) prominent in our culture. However, this part of our history (and legend) is now being scrutinised by historians and more documentary evidence emerges and it is clear that the conventional history of the campaign that Australia was fighting a heroic struggle in service of the British Empire is not supportable (for example, see this Op Ed for one of the alternative viewpoints that make the Gallipoli story rather mirky). I also have a lot of travel coming up later today and so my blog will be relatively short. I have been rounding up the latest data – surveys, national statistical office releases, bank statistics – from Europe and the UK, to see how the fiscal austerity experiment is actually going. The neo-liberal proponents of austerity all promised us that the private sector was ready and willing to fill any spending gap left by government net spending cuts (and then some) so that the austerity would actually increase growth. Any reasonable person disputed that promise pointing out that spending equals income and private spending was going no-where fast. The evidence is increasingly supporting the latter view. The question is – given the massive damage the austerity policies are having is – when does the experiment end?