10 Jul 2015

Why Do The Poor Not Revolt?



The question of why the poor don't do something about rising inequality in the UK came up on Twitter today. To my mind the comedian Simon Evans got to the heart of the matter when he responded to Russell Brand's call to revolution. So I've been posting this clip. Many a true word was said in jest.

8 Jul 2015

How Money is Created

One of the things that seems to be very difficult for people to grasp is the idea of how money is created. So I noted that we see a lot of German people complaining that their tax euros have been lent to Greece. But that money lent to Greece does not come from tax dollars, or savings, or Germany's wealth. The loans create entirely new money. And when the loan is repaid that money ceases to exist.

The Bank of England was one of the first central banks to create money in this way - from the time it was created in the 17th century. Staff from the  Bank’s Monetary Analysis Directorate have prepared a paper explaining this form of money creation. They note:
"Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money."
 It is vitally important that we understand this. Part of the problem in 2007 was that banks had made too many loans and created too much money. When the sub-prime mortgage scam erupted what happened was that many people defaulted on their loans at once. It was not capital that was wiped out in this situation, it was the revenue stream of the rent that people were paying for the loan. We call this "interest" but it is a form of rent, especially in relation to the other products of the factors of production: wages from labour; and profit from capital. Rent is what is paid for use of a resource. And banks certainly see the loans they make as assets. So some companies, such as Lehman's brothers found their revenue stream curtailed. This meant that although Lehman's had many assets (loans) they did not have enough money coming in (rent) in order to pay their own creditors. So they went bankrupt. But that meant that rent the bank was paying also suddenly stopped.

The other reason it's important to understand the creation of money is that it is the rationale behind the idea of the Debt Jubilee. If the money of a bank loan was simply created out of nothing, and will return to nothing when it's paid off, then forgiving such a debt costs nobody anything. Except that the revenue stream gets cut off or reduced. Since a default amounts to the same thing, but creates all kind of illwill and political tension it is better to get ahead of it and arrange debt relief. This has happened many times in Europe.

You would think that any creditor with half a brain would be happier with some repayment than none. So a deal to repay less or slower would be preferable to a default in which there is no repayment. But this is not what we are seeing happening in Greece. The ECB and EU are demanding all or nothing. And if nothing they plan to force Greece out of the Eurozone (which as far as I can tell is illegal, because there is no provision for it in the treaty establishing the EZ).

But this view of money creation helps to explain why Greece's creditors don't have much to lose any more. They have been using the last five years to ensure that their income stream from rents on imaginary money is securely coming from elsewhere. So that when Greece defaults it won't cause a contagion of the kind that happened in the USA in 2007. Had they been concerned about the loss of revenue from Greece any more they would be more willing to negotiate. They literally have nothing to lose. And they also know that if they renegotiate the repayment schedule with Greece other nations, where their revenue streams come from, might also want to renegotiate. And there are a lot of countries overburdened with debt and implementing austerity programs that were the condition for the loans.

Understanding how money is created is a basic piece of information for intelligent participation in civil life. Lack of understanding is currently being preyed upon by Neoliberal governments to create narratives that promote their interests over the interests of the citizenry. We're being lied to on a regular basis.


5 Jul 2015

OXI!

The Greek people voted resoundingly against the imposition of yet more austerity today. A great day for democracy.

Neoliberal governments are creating and exploiting systematic misrepresentations of the economics to gain leverage over citizens. For example. A lot of people keep talking about German tax payers bailing out Greece as though their taxes are being sent to Greece. They are not. The German taxpayers have not spent a single cent on Greece. Indeed they have profited from the crisis through interest payments on the outrageous loans foisted on Greece. The money going to keep Greece afloat has been printed by the ECB. It was created especially for this purpose. And in fact 90% of the money loaned to Greece so far has gone directly to French and German banks. So what is happening is that the ECB is using Greece as a proxy to bail out it's own banks. And blaming the Greeks for being lazy or recalcitrant. Not only a lie, but a mendacious conspiracy to deceive and defraud.

All of last week the ECB and the head of the IMF were illegally campaigning for the removal of the rebelling but honest government, in the hope that they could get the dishonest but compliant government back.

But Syriza have turned this around and the new IMF report backs them up. I am gladdened to see Neoliberalism lose a major battle (since they don't seem to acknowledge things like global economic meltdown as a problem). A victory for the people.

Now bring on debt relief for Greece. And for the poor everywhere!

Greece vs the Neoliberals.

The struggle over the economy of Greece, with the elected government on one hand, and the powerful unelected Neoliberal organisations, the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund on the other, along with the quasi democratic European Commission, is gripping stuff. I so want to see the Greeks take back control - even though this will not provide a miracle cure. I so want to see the tide of Neoliberalism turn!

Greece's finance minister at  London Conference of 1953
signing a treaty agreeing to cancel 50% of Germany's debt 

There have been some excellent articles on Greece and Europe recently. Amongst my favs are
  • Frances Coppola. (3.7.2015) The Road To Grexit. Forbes.
  • Frances Coppola. (29.6.2015) The Day The Euro Died. Forbes.
  • Alex Andreou JUNE 30, 2015. Where is My European Union? Sturdy Blog
  • Alex Andreou. (03 July 2015) How Europe Played Greece. Byline

3 Jul 2015

The Alternative To Neoliberalism


Steve Keen on the problems of Neoliberalism and some ideas that the political left need to adopt to counteract the standard Neoliberal economic narratives. 


2 Jul 2015

The Ten Commandments of Neoliberalism


  1. liberalize trade; 
  2. privatize public services; 
  3. deregulate business and finance; 
  4. shrink big government; 
  5. reduce taxes on business; 
  6. encourage foreign investment; 
  7. constrain unions; 
  8. expand exports; 
  9. minimize inflation; 
  10. enforce property rights. 

It replaces "love they neighbour" as the Golden Rule, with "See yourself as an enterprise and your neighbour as the competition."

Derived from What is Neoliberalism?

21 Apr 2015

More Lies...

Tory HQ are tweeting like mad in the run up to the election. I don't subscribe, but the economists I do read often retweet with succinct rebuttals. The main theme of the tweets seems to be that Labour mismanaged the economy. I've never really understood why Labour were unable to counter this with the obvious truth that the Tories are in denial about: that in 2008 the world underwent a Global Financial Crisis that saw banks going bust and many institutions, like my local city council, losing their savings. Labour seem incapable of using their handling of the GFC as a contextualising event for their economic decisions.

By most accounts Brown managed the crisis well. Of course had the UK had proper regulation and oversight of the financial sector this crisis might not have affected us so badly - since other countries were doing much the same I doubt we could have avoided it completely.

Today the Tories tweeted that we should remember that unemployment was rising when they took office. The simple answer to this is to show the ONS figures on unemployment.


And this gives the lie to the Tory claim. Under Labour unemployment rose because of the GDC and then stabilised as recovery began. It rose after the coalition govt came into power and began to cut spending and stalled the recovery. It began to fall only after they eased up on austerity and much of the change is a result of zero-hours contracts and other measures that have seen the working poor reliant on food banks in many places (they were already dependent on Housing Benefit to pay rent in a grossly over-inflated housing market after successive governments have refused to build affordable housing). Another example of how austerity negatively impacted the economy and slowed recovery. There are plenty of examples of this happening.

Why are Labour unable to capitalise on simple lies like this? Why do they continue to allow the Tories to keep them on the economic ropes? Why do they feel compelled to opt for Neoliberal-lite instead of a proper alternative? Why is it only the SNP that are actively against this ideologically drive austerity?

At the moment we can only hope that the SNP do indeed end up holding the balance of power in the UK. They are the only party within reach of power that is offering a credible alternative.

13 Apr 2015

It's a lie...

The Times published/tweeted this today - as a teaser to entice new people to buy a subscription to their website


The comments on the Tweet prove that most people have an extremely skewed view of the recent history of the economy. Most seem to have bought the Tory propaganda and parrot it.

And this is perhaps why the Labour party economic policy has been dictated by the Tories rather than by Labour voters.

The Tories as New Puritans

I dipped into Michel Foucault's essay, The Political Technology of Individuals again recently. In this essay reinforces the idea that moderns have indirectly defined themselves in terms of exclusion of some other, particular criminals and the mad.

Tories have emphasised another defining/dividing line in their current term in office: work. Cameron and his cronies have repeated "hard working families" time and again. They identify with those who "work hard". Never mind that those who work for a living have seen a steady decline in their wages over the course of the Tory-coalition parliament. Never mind that at the same time capitalists have continued to become more wealthy, and their captains--the CEOs--have seen massive pay rises and record bonuses.

Taxes are the way that the people pay for things collectively. We use taxes to see to the defence of the nation; to the education of our young people; to the care of the sick and elderly; and to the provision of national infrastructure which benefits everyone, such as roads, railways, utilities. Neoliberalism has seen these tax-payer funded resources privatised and sold off to the highest bidder. In some cases this has been very successful, for example the phone system has improved greatly, and in other cases less so, the rail system is beset with problems of capacity and high fares.

Still the government have proposed to build new rail infrastructure with tax money because it has another purpose - money that the government spends on large projects is an investment. The money that it spends comes back as taxes and non tax income such as rail fares. Neoliberalism has tended to try to drastically limit how much non-tax income the government can make, because it believes on ideological terms that government is always inefficient at managing wealth and resources on behalf of the people.

Tax avoidance means that there is less money available to spend on the public good. It is effectively stealing from the pot that pays for education, health, retirement, defence, and infrastructure.


Work/Non-Work.

One of the distinctions we see is that if a non-working person defrauds the government of tens of thousands of pounds (which happens a few times a year) that is seen as a heinous crime. They are pilloried in the media, often their name and photograph (if not their address) is published. They are usually fined heavily and often sent to prison. And yet when a business-man defrauds the government of millions of pounds of taxes this is viewed with tolerance and even complacency. A bank that manipulates world interest rates is given a fine, but no actual people are held to be responsible for what we know was a premeditated and calculated scheme to rob the whole world.

The distinction here is between non-productive and productive members of society. The Tories have made it clear that they consider non-working members of society to be morally evil. Those claiming support on the basis of an inability to work have been subjected to mental torture through a system of interrogation that defies many human rights: one is compelled to undergo physical examination by strangers and a level of intrusive scrutiny that well people find shocking. It all done with the threat that failure to comply for any reason will result in the withdrawal of support. The purpose of scrutiny is to trick the sick person into revealing a hidden capacity for work. The assumption is that even severe and crippling illness ought not keep a person from working. Many people have died soon after being assessed fit for work. The propaganda that accompanied the introduction of this draconian system trumpeted that two-thirds of people on benefits were fit for work. In reality the figure was more like 20% of people signed off were found fit. And the stories of the unfairness of the system even made it into the mainstream media despite their broad support for the system. Whether those 20% ever got jobs is not recorded, but they are paid a lot less and are under much greater threat of sanction than they were.

All this has been implemented during the worst recession in modern times, comparable only to the Great Depression which was characterised not by harassing the unemployed, but by job creation schemes. Something has fundamentally shifted in the intervening years.


Merchantilism.

However some of the themes have not changed. The attitude to poor people is centuries old. Feudal Lords who wanted to make peasants work hard, made it much harder for them to make a living than it needed to be. It was thought undesirable for peasants to have leisure time. So wages were held at subsistence level and peasants had to work all the hours of the day to make ends meet. This attitude carried over into the Merchantilism, the philosophical background to the British Empire. It was partly informed by Protestantism which saw idleness as a sin and hard work as a virtue. Puritans sought to embody these Protestant virtues, and when they tried to impose their views on others we called them puritanical.

Formalised in philosophy the values of the merchant class in Britain became Utilitarianism - the idea that anything only has value to the extent that we can derive utility from it, i.e. we can use it to our benefit. This applies as much to people as to things. So the value of a member of the public to the nation is only to the extent that the person provides utility through their labour. From this it is easy to rationalise, for example, the withdrawal of labour as evil and put measures in place to prevent it from happening by breaking up the power of labour unions and dividing workers through contracts that disempower them. The present government frequently sought to argue that votes were not representative because not enough of the potential voters to make a quorum. Meanwhile local government election participation fell to record lows with turnouts as small as 15% and no one challenged these results.

If the value of a member of society is limited to the work they do then by not working they show themselves to be worthless. Retirement is only justified on the basis of a lifetime of work. Meanwhile people who get rich by exploiting inequalities in Britain continue to retire earlier and earlier.


New Puritans

The Tories, with their emphasis on commerce, on hard work, and the punitive attitudes to the poor and the unproductive are very much like the Puritans. Cameron has sought to portray himself as a moral leader on a number of occasions. He is a evangelical Puritan in a mercantile habit. And the Tory government has been puritanical in it's approach to work and welfare. On the other hand they have a Laissez-faire attitude to business people and their criminal activities. Tax dodging is not something the government has put much effort or resources into. The amount of tax money the government has allowed itself to be robbed of is staggering: hundreds of millions of pounds every year. But the people with wealth are by definition good in this newly Puritanical milieu, so why would we punish the good. It is far more important to punish the unproductive than the productive, even if the impact of the former is many orders of magnitude less than the latter. The logic is deeply flawed, because the actions are based on the Neoliberal version of the Merchantilist ideology.

The modern worldview is often called Neoliberalism. It is based on the idea that absolute liberalism ought to be extended to the abstract market - the freer the market the fairer the society. Liberalism aimed at freeing human beings from unnecessary intervention in their lives by the powerful. It enacted laws giving basic rights and protections to all people. It aimed to give every child a basic education and so on. The new liberalism is in fact socially conservative. It has coincided with erosion of personal liberty, and an increase in invasive surveillance by the state - all electronic communications are routinely intercepted as we know because a few brave whistle blowers spoke out. At the same time education beyond secondary level has become a commodity. We are now seeing the universities being commodified at a much deeper level, with casualised teaching staff employed by a third party organisation (at Warwick University).

Alongside this anti-liberal tendency in Neoliberalism at a social level we have to put the fact that every experiment in freeing up markets has been an abject failure. If the global financial collapse has taught us nothing else, it is that unregulated finance is a disaster. Businesses without rules and effective oversight will work to the detriment of society and the enrichment of a very few businessmen who make comparatively little contribution to society since their wealth is held in tax havens. Centuries of general philanthropy amongst the wealthy seem to be at a end as a new spirit of greed comes over them. But where the World Bank and IMF have had a free reign they have impoverished and virtually enslaved nations through imposing massive government debts on them. Often the oversight is so minimal that government officials steal the loan money leaving peasants to pay back loans, facing generations of poverty as a result.