It is Wednesday, and only a short blog post beckons today. I have restrained myself from commenting on Theresa May’s unbelievable Brexit deal, which has the dirty paws of the European Commission all over it. Regular readers will know that if I had have been a voter in Britain in June 2016, I would have resolutely and happily voted in favour of Brexit. And if I was a British Parliamentarian now I would vote to reject the ‘deal’ and force the Brexit on British terms. I will write a little more about that in a further post. But today, I just want to pass comment on the extraordinary UK Guardian article from Phillip Inman – A leftwing UK post-Brexit is as likely as a socialist Rees-Mogg (November 24 2018) – which summarises the problem quite well. I say ‘well’ because it illustrates the progressive surrender that has allowed the neoliberal era and monstrosities like the European Union to persist. You can see it all over the place – surrender that is. The Democratic obsession with Paygo in the US. The British Labour fiscal rule in Britain. The ‘we will have a bigger surplus’ boast from the Australian Labor Party, when there is around 15 per cent underutilised productive labour. Inman’s article is encouraging the Left in Britain to lie down and surrender to the dictates of the neoliberal, corporatist machine that is the EU. It presents an impoverished vision of the future and a disgustingly vapid depiction of the possibilities that a truly progressive British Labor government could achieve once it jettisons the neoliberal frames.
Portugal has been held out by the Europhile Left as a demonstration of how progressive policies can manifest in the European Union, even with the Fiscal Compact and the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). In 2015, after the new Socialist government took over with supply guarantees from the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and The Greens (Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes”), it set about challenging the austerity mindset that has blanketed the European continent in stagnation. Things improved in 2016 with increased government spending. But by 2017, the European Commission had reasserted its austerity mindset and the supposed flexibility that the Left were hoping and which Portugal had briefly embraced in 2016 was gone. And we learned that the neoliberal bias of the Eurozone and its fiscal rules dominates any progressive ambitions that a nation state might entertain. Another blow for the Europhile Left. The lesson: start looking at and supporting exit if you are truly serious about restoring a progressive policy agenda in Europe.
I have been reading the new book by Costas Lapavitsas – ‘The Left Case Against the EU’ – which has been recently published. It is solid and clearly explains why the EU is not an institution or structure than anyone on the progressive Left should support or think is capable of reform any time soon. It has become a neoliberal, corporatist state and hierarchical in operation, with Germany at the apex bullying the weaker states into submission. Divergence in outcomes across the geographic spread is the norm. It is also the anathema of our concepts of democracy both in concept and operation. It is more like a cabal of elites who are unelected and, largely unaccountable. By giving their support to this monstrosity, the traditional Left political parties (social democrats, socialists etc) have been increasingly wiped out such is the anger of voters to what has become a massive coup by capital against labour. These are the themes that Thomas Fazi and I also explored in our recent book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). I also just finished reading an interesting report – Financial Regulation challenged by European Trade Policy – published by the Veblen Institute and Finance Watch (October 2, 2018), which examines “the impact of European trade policy on financial regulation”. It is essential reading for those progressives who still think that Britain should remain in the EU. If they understand the research findings they would change their minds.
This week’s theme seems to be the about how the so-called progressive side of the economic and political debate keeps kicking ‘own goals’ (given a lot of this is happening in Britain where they play soccer) or finding creative ways to ‘face plant’ (moving to Europe where there is more snow). Over the other side of the Atlantic, as America approaches its mid-term elections, so-called progressive forces who give solace to the New Democrats, aka Neoliberal Democrats are railing against fiscal deficits and demanding that the left-liberals in the Democratic Party be pushed out and that the voters be urged to elect candidates who will impose austerity by cutting welfare and health expenditure and more. And then we have progressive think tanks pumping out stuff about banking that you would only find in a mainstream macroeconomic textbook. This is the state of play on the progressive side of politics. The demise of social democratic political movements is continuing and it is because they have become corrupted from within by neoliberals. And then we had a little demonstration in London yesterday of the way in which the British Labour Fiscal Rule will bring the Party grief. The Tories are just warming up on that one.
One of the themes that has emerged in the discussions of the British Labour Party Fiscal Credibility Rule (which should be renamed the Fiscal Incredulous Rule) is when is the right time for a political party to show leadership and start educating the public on new ideas. The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) project has been, in part, about educating people even if our ideas have been strongly resisted by the mainstream. The mainstream (New Keynesian) paradigm in economics is degenerative (meaning it has little empirical validation) and eventually it will fade into historical obscurity. For many of us that cannot come quickly enough. The defenders of the Rule argue that progressive politicians have to tread carefully or else the amorphous financial markets will turn on them and destroy their initiatives. The problem is that by kowtowing to the City or Wall Street, the progressive political forces become captured and redundant. Witness the electoral demise of social democratic parties over the last several decades. The conditions are ripe (see below) for a courageous head-on attack on these financial market elites and educate the public so that they allow elected governments to legislate for all rather than serving the interests of the elites, which has become the norm over the last several decades. The problem is that progressive political forces are also taking advice from mainstream economists who use the tools of neoliberalism. The upshot is that progressive political leadership is absent but desperately required.
The weekend before last I was in Germany (and Bavaria) at the same time as the – Bavarian state election. The results for the SPD (Social Democratic Party) were disastrous losing 20 seats (down from 42) and gaining only 9.7 per cent of the vote (down from 20.6 per cent). The Greens came second, winning 20 extra seats (to 38) and 17.5 per cent of the vote (8.6 per cent last election), while the neo-fascist AfD party, which did not contest the last election, came in fourth, gaining 22 seats (10.2 per cent of the vote). There is a growing fear that the AfD and its counterparts across Europe will grow further and push Europe back into its dark fascist days. One would not conclude that from the Bavarian voting patterns. Further, to construct what is going on in Europe as a right-wing counter to a ‘social democratised’ Europe, which is a common narrative among the Europhile Left is seriously missing the point. The social democratisation of Europe has been in retreat for decades under the onslaught of a very sophisticated campaign from the elites on the Right and often it has been the traditional Left political parties that have pushed the neoliberal agenda more vigorously than the conservatives. The AfD is a sideshow in this deeper take over of our democracies by capital. Root and branch change is needed not a few ‘reforms’ around the edges to make the Eurozone less of a disaster for workers than it currently is.
This is my short Wednesday offering, which will be quite short considering the last two days have been (necessary) epics. My three-part series created somewhat of a social media storm, which means people are interested in the topic and I think that is healthy. Democracy is strengthened if people educate themselves and contest propositions that are abroad in the debate. But, as I noted yesterday, social media storms have a way of getting out of control and out of the realm of being complementary to a more considered educative process and interaction. What the recent Twitter storm has demonstrated is that key people are just willing to make spurious accusations (aka lies) without having taken the time to consider the depth of the literature that is available on any topic. That is not helpful to democracy. It undermines it. Anyway, in this short blog post, I consider some of the responses to my three-part series. As a footnote, I have now retitled the three-part series “MMT is just plain good economics” rather than using the quotation from the British Shadow Chancellor’s advisor who said that “MMT is just plain bad old economics”. Framing. I took the points of several commentators on this blog seriously in this regard. Thanks.
This is the second and final part in my response to the Social Europe article by Stuart Holland (July 11, 2018) – Not An Abdication By The Left – where he attempts to eviscerate various writers who have dared to suggest that the “social democratic Left in Europe … has run out of ideas” or that “there has been an intellectual abdication by the Left”. He uses his experience as an advisor to Harold Wilson in the 1960s and to Jacques Delors in the early 1990s as an ‘authority’ for his rejection of the claims that the Left has abandoned its social democratic remit. He holds the likes of Delors and António Guterres has shining Left lights. In Part 1, I showed that the view that Delors and Guterres are beacons of Left history and that the social democratic Left has not sold out to the neoliberal orthodoxy (particularly at the political level) is unsustainable. Holland distorts history to suit his argument and is in denial of the facts. In Part 2, I trace the argument further by examining the 1993 Delors White Paper, which was meant to be the European Commission’s response to the mass unemployment that was bedevilling the Continent at the time (and remains, by the way) and later propositions that Holland was associated with in relation to Greece during the GFC. They further demonstrate that Stuart Holland is attempting to maintain an indefensible position.
Former Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky was quoted as saying during the 1979 Austrian election campaign that: “I am less worried about the budget deficits than by the need for the state to create jobs where private industry fails”. That is the statement of a social democrat. That is a progressive Left view. In June 1982, with French unemployment at 7.2 per cent (having risen from 2.4 per cent in 1974 after a near decade of austerity under the right-wing Prime Minister Raymond Barre), the French Minister of Economy and Finance cut 30 billion francs from government spending so that the fiscal deficit would remain below 3 per cent. In March 1983, the same Minister pressured his colleagues including President François Mitterrand, into imposing a further bout of austerity, cutting another 24 billion francs and increasing taxes by 40 billion francs. These were very deep cuts. The austerity under the so-called ‘Barre Plan’ had failed to reduce inflation. When the turn to austerity was repeated under Mitterand’s so-called Socialist government, France was already in a deep recession. Under the Socialist austerity period unemployment rose sharply to further to 9.3 per cent by 1987. By then the architect of that austerity, one Jacques Delors, was European Commission President and starting work on his next exercise in neoliberal carnage – the Eurozone. None of his behaviour during that period remotely signals a position we could call progressive or Left. Like his austerity turn (“tournant de la rigeur”), Delors had turned into just another neoliberal obsessed with fiscal surpluses, free markets (he oversaw the 1987 Single European Act), and privatisation (which he claimed was necessary to attract foreign direct investment) (Source). This is Part 1 of a two-part series on the abdication of the Left, which some still choose to deny.
Reuters reported (July 8, 2018) that the awful Madame Lagarde was in France last week lecturing people on how the “joint euro zone budget could be designed with conditions so that it does not become a no-strings transfer of rich countries’ cash to poorer members”. Meanwhile, Jürgen Habermas was lecturing all and sundry on how a “frightened retreat behind national borders cannot be the correct response to … the politically uncontrollable functional imperatives of a global capitalism that is being driven by unregulated financial markets” (Source). Meanwhile, in the UK, the ‘Remainers’ think staying in the corrupt EU is a good idea because the Tories are so incompetent and divided. The state of the world. Misperceptions, misinformation and just plain poor analysis. There are tremendous opportunities for the Left to make political gains. But if they don’t abandon the type of ideas and language that is exemplified by Habermas’s latest entreaty and if they don’t undermine the likes of Lagarde and the Remainers (the pan-Europe contingent) then they will, once again, miss the boat.