Last week, the US Republican Party held an extraordinary convention in Cleveland, an old rustbelt manufacturing town. I say extraordinary because I guess you have to be American to understand how grown adults can systematically humiliate themselves for several days with the rest of the world looking on wondering WTF was going on! Anyway, just down the road from Cleveland is Akron, Ohio, which is being held out as a model for the new era of prosperity in advanced nations. I caution against believing that hypothesis. It was proposed in a book I have just finished – The Smartest Places on Earth – written by two Dutch writers (published 2016). It carried the subtitle “Why Rustbelts are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation”. I do not recommend anyone purchase it even though it is getting rave reviews around the place. I see it as a sort of replay of the 1990s ‘New Regionalism’ mania that emerged as part of the Third Way movement, which the now discredited Tony Blair promoted as the entrepreneurial solution to turn regions into sub-national export centres to replace the ‘nation state’, that had been (according to the narrative) rendered powerless and irrelevant by globalisation. The book introduces the notion of the “Brainbelt”, which the authors claim are revitalising the “former rustbelt areas” and “bringing new competitiveness to the United States and Europe” – a sort of counter-strategy to foil the jobs lost to the low-cost nations such as China and the Asian economies in general. The problem is that the growth strategy seems to leave the worker behind!
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.
This is Part 2 of my discussion of how a progressive agenda can escape the straitjacket of neo-liberal thinking and broaden how it presents policy initiatives that have been declared taboo in the current conservative, free market Groupthink. Today, I compare and contrast the neo-liberal vision of efficiency, which is embedded in its view of the relationship between the people, the natural environment and the economy, with what I consider to be a progressive vision, which elevates our focus to Society and sees people embedded organically and necessarily within the living natural environment. It envisions an economy that is created by us, controlled by us and capable of delivering outcomes which advance the well-being of all citizens rather than being a vehicle to advance the prosperity of only a small proportion of citizens.
Before I present the second part of my discussion about the relevance of re-nationalisation to what I would call a truly progressive policy agenda, we have to take a step backward. I note after the first part – Brexit signals that a new policy paradigm is required including re-nationalisation – there were a few comments posted (and many more E-mails received – apparently readers are happier berating me personally rather than putting their ideas out in the public domain) that I was advocating a return to the ‘bad’ old days of nationalisation where cronyism, inefficiency and trade union bastardry were the norm. The obvious next point was – how can I claim that is progressive and part of the future. In this two part blog (the second part will come tomorrow), I offer a framework for assessing these claims. Today’s blog foscuses on the neo-liberal vision of efficiency and reveals how narrow and biased towards private profit it is. In Part 2 (tomorrow) I will present the progressive vision and how it conditions the way we think of efficiency. Once we break out of the neo-liberal constructs and refocus our attention on Society rather than the individual then the way we appraise policy options also changes – it becomes enriched with new possibilities and understandings. We enter the progressive world and leave behind the austerity nightmare that neo-liberalism has created. We are then able to see how our old conceptions of nationalised industries or public sector job creation are tainted with these neo-liberal biases. And we are then able to see how policy initiatives that invoke scorn from the conservatives and many so-called modern progressives (obsessed with post modern constructs) have a vital role to play in a truly progressive manifesto. I split the discussion into two parts because the blogs are too long as they are.
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.
I am in the final stages of completing the manuscript for my next book (this one with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and started to believe that the state had withered and was powerless in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. Accordingly, social democratic politicians frequently opine that national economic policy must be acceptable to the global financial markets and compromise the well-being of their citizens as a result. In Part 3 of the book, which we are now working on, we aim to present a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We also hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world, are available. Today, I discuss capital controls.
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.
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.
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 whether it was the IMF that forced the change of direction for British Labour or all their own dirty work with the IMF just being used to depoliticise what Callaghan and Healey wanted to do (and were doing) anyway. We trace through the way the leadership of the British Labour government were building the case for austerity and the path they followed leading up to the request to the IMF for a stand-by loan. Far from being the only alternative available, the course taken by the Government was a triumph of ideology and perception over evidence and reality.
This blog continues the discussion of the British currency crisis in 1976. Today we discuss the growing discontent within the British government over the need to negotiate the IMF loan in 1976. While it has been held out that Britain had no alternative but to impose austerity and allow the IMF to dictate policy, the fact is that an alternative was proposed which would have been a superior option.