We don’t need a perfect world; we need a fairer and more equitable one. Understanding how money works is the first step.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/11/2019 - 12:02am in

Person at the bottom of stairs climbing from darkness into the lightPhoto by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

As the election campaign rolls on and party leaders battle it out on our television screens, the Liberal Democrats commit themselves to more austerity and Paul Mason, left-wing journalist and former music teacher, indulges in some fantasy explanations of how money works. More on that later….

In yet another indication of how the austerity has not only done grave damage to those who least deserve it, but also to the economy, two more reports have been published to add to the already long list exposing the consequences of cuts to public spending.

The Scottish based Poverty Alliance organisation which published its report Righting the Wrongs: A manifesto to tackle poverty is urging the next Government to ‘put solving poverty at the heart of all that it does, including by creating a more compassionate social security system, [and] building a labour market that works for everyone….’

When confronted with the realities of people’s lives through their stories we can see the real tragedy behind the policy decisions and cuts to public spending of the current Conservative government.

Jamie from Glasgow struggling to raise a family on a low income described it as ‘like being stuck in the middle of a spider’s web with no escape route’ and Jackie, a community activist commenting for the Poverty Alliance report, said that ‘more and more people are being locked into poverty by jobs that are low paid and insecure. When people can barely afford to put food on the table and when parents working full-time are struggling to cope, there is something very wrong that we have to put right.

An analysis published by the TUC, also this week, has revealed that the number of children growing up in poverty in working households has risen by 38% over the last decade, bringing it to 800,000 since 2010.

The study also showed that government policies account for the majority of rises in child poverty, with more than 485,000 children (in working households) having been pushed below the breadline, not only as a direct result of the government’s in-work benefit cuts but also as a consequence of other major factors which include weak wage growth and insecure work. The report also noted that over the past decade workers have suffered the most severe wage squeeze in two centuries and although wages have just started to grow, weekly wages are still £14 below pre-crisis levels.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, commented about the report that no child in Britain should be growing up in poverty and cuts to in-work benefits have come at a terrible human cost.

Overall the poverty figures are shocking. As GIMMS reported earlier this year following a report by the Social Metrics Commission, there are now around 14.3 million people living in poverty, of which 8.3 million are working-age adults, 4.6 million children (of which around 2.9 million are in working households as identified in the later TUC report) and 1.3 million pension age adults.

Aside from these shocking statistics which represent avoidable and unnecessary human degradation, the combined effects of government policies and cuts to spending on public services have had a damaging effect not only on the lives of those caught in the austerity crossfire but also on the economy as a whole. A decaying public and social infrastructure and toxic welfare reforms have had a significant impact on poverty and inequality and show clearly in whose interests the government has been acting. The promotion of individualism and self-reliance, along with decreasing state intervention to replace our public infrastructure with private, profit-motivated services has been a long-standing agenda of successive neoliberally inspired governments.

Access to high-quality health and social care, education and training, well-paid secure work and good quality, affordable housing all play a vital role in the health of the nation and its economy. When people are denied those basic support systems it can only, in the end, lead to more deprivation, ill health, hunger, homelessness and increased crime, the consequences of which ripple into every part of society burdening it with both additional financial costs and societal breakdown.

As was reported by the BBC only this week more than 2 million adults are unable to see a dentist either because they can’t afford treatment, find an NHS dentist or get care where they live as a result of underfunding and recruitment problems. It is claimed that many people are being reduced to practising self-dentistry to alleviate the pain of rotten teeth which can cause all sorts of other problems like periodontal disease which can, in turn, lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

After nine years of cutting NHS spending in real terms, creating a pressured working environment for staff, capping their pay, stopping nursing bursaries and driving people away because of stress, senior NHS leaders are warning this week that hospitals are so understaffed lacking sufficient doctors, nurses and other health professionals to provide services that the ‘safety and quality of care are under threat.’ The latest figures show that the performance against key waiting times for A&E, cancer treatment and planned operations have fallen to their worst-ever level and that this could deteriorate even further as winter approaches.

NHS mental health services which have borne the brunt of cuts have become little more than a firefighting service to deal with the ever-growing numbers of people needing support.

Earlier this month the organisation State of Hunger published its report, drawn up in conjunction with Heriot-Watt University and the Trussell Trust. It revealed that more than half of households referred to foodbanks were affected by poor mental health, predominantly anxiety or depression, while 23% of people referred to foodbanks were homeless. The report gives a voice to those people who have paid the price for austerity and welfare reform – the worry about paying bills, keeping a roof over one’s head or having a job which pays enough.

“If I don’t pay my bills, then I’ll get the house taken off me. After paying arrears, I’ve got £8 a fortnight and that’s to pay for gas, electric, water. It’s just impossible, it really is. I go to bed at night wishing I won’t wake up in the morning.”

 

“I’ve used the food bank because I was on such a low income before I got my disability benefit… I had a mental breakdown because basically the amount they give me doesn’t cover the costs of my rent.”

 

Education joins health in forming the backbone of a functioning economy and societal well-being and yet, it too has suffered from crippling cuts to spending. Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the NEU said this week that ‘The future of education hangs in the balance’.  Despite government promises of more money, the School Cuts Coalition made it clear only last week that four in five state schools will be financially worse off next year than they were in 2015 and this will affect schools in areas where there are already high levels of deprivation.

Even with the additional funding promised by government, there will still be a shortfall of £2.5bn in the year ahead after years of already damaging cuts. The consequences for schools are grim. More pupils per class, fewer teachers and support staff and reduced curriculums with subjects like music, language, art and design being cut as a result of the pressure, not to mention the reduction in capital expenditure on schools’ estate which has left it in a bad state of repair and not fit for purpose.

Our children represent the future and yet they are the ones that will bear the brunt of lack of adequate government spending and planning for an education and training system to meet the challenges they will face in the future.

A healthy economy demands a healthy and educated nation as a prerequisite. It demands quality housing, good secure jobs and pay. The last nine years of austerity and forty years of the pursuit of neoliberal dogma have pulled that rug from under people’s feet, leaving them in a world of increasing uncertainty.

It is regrettable in this respect that the notion that the state has a responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of all its citizens through the provision of universal services and other state-provided interventions is being mistaken for a ‘nanny state’ rather than acknowledging the value of such investment in society and its economy.

Whilst government has pursued its handbag economic strategy and ignored monetary realities for the lie of balanced budgets, it has failed in its duty as an elected body to serve the interests of citizens and the economy as a whole.

Whilst pursuing austerity, it has ignored the fundamentals of macroeconomics which it won’t hurt to repeat. Spending, wherever it comes from, creates income for someone else, whether that’s government which starts the ball rolling by creating the money into existence to pay for its needs which flows in turn right down to businesses, working people or even those having the misfortune to be involuntarily unemployed or coping with a disability or illness which prevents them from working. Through its obsession with austerity and lowering deficits at a time when it should have been spending more, it has weakened the economy and wilfully left people without the means to provide themselves with sufficient income to meet their daily needs.

As data from last year shows, it has left British households collectively supporting their spending through reducing savings (if indeed they had any) and taking on more debt. Quite simply government austerity has transferred the burden onto households which as private debt levels rise will prove unsustainable.

The fragile house of cards which represents the economy after nine years of government folly will either stagger on or fall into another recession unless the next government deficit spends sufficiently to promote full employment and serve the public purpose.

In the light of this, it is all the more incredible to note that after Ed Davey, deputy leader of the Lib Dems said earlier this month that Labour and the Tories were ‘writing promises on cheques that will bounce’ they have decided to make austerity their USP (unique selling point) for their election campaign. Yes, you read that right!

In his recent speech he positioned the Liberal Democrats as the ‘party of fiscal rectitude’ and the Conservatives and Labour as the ‘parties of fiscal incontinence’. Davey is proposing to adopt a fiscal rule for day to day spending aiming for current account surpluses in every year of their five-year costings.

With yet more household budget accounting and to meet its objective will require tax rises and yet more spending cuts. Furthermore, on the basis that achieving a surplus is not a saving and removes money from the economy and if our trading partners don’t spend all they earn thus taking even more out of our economy the net result will be a severe recession (as if we weren’t already heading in that direction). A bit of an own goal and a very foolish one at that!

And yet depressingly it has to be said another own goal was scored this week by the journalist and self-styled economist Paul Mason who presented a short promotional video for Novara Media explaining the deficit and debt in the language narrative of overdrafts, loans and mortgages along with that old ‘canard’ about paying for public services by taxing the very rich.

This is indeed ‘fantasy economics’ of the most damaging kind.

In response, the economist Professor Bill Mitchell explains it very succinctly and it is worth printing it here in its entirety:

‘This is the classic ‘soft’ mainstream macroeconomics that assumes the government is financially constrained and is thus not dissimilar to a household.

It is ‘soft’ because, unlike the hard-mainstream positions, it allows for deficits (‘funded’ by debt) to occur in a non-government downturn but proposes them to be offset by surpluses in an upturn, irrespective of the overall saving position of the non-government sector.

None of this framing or language is what I would call ‘progressive’.

It has the hallmarks of the way neoliberals construct the concepts and the narrative.

The inferences are also plainly false when applied to the British government.

  1. It is not financially constrained in its spending.

The constraints relate to real resource availability.

In terms of restaffing the NHS, for example, are there qualified labour resources available? What training would be required? Would this mean that British Labour is also going to be advocating open borders to ensure the staffing is available? [….]

  1. There is no meaningful knowledge that be gained by comparing a household with a home mortgage and a currency-issuing government spending its own currency.

The household is the currency user and the government is the currency issuer.

Totally different constraints apply.

  1. It is false to claim that it is virtuous to ‘tax the rich’ in order to fund essential health and welfare services.

This is one of the worst frames that the progressives now deploy.

The British government might want to tax the rich to reduce their power and influence (exercised via their spending habits) but it never has to do that in order to fund essential services.

The only constraint that exercise involves is the availability of real resources.’

  1. The British government does not have to issue debt to ‘fund’ its deficits. The capacity of the non-government sector to purchase the debt derives from past deficits that have not been taxed away yet.

Even if the government issues debt to match its investment in essential infrastructure to deliver better housing, transport health care, and engage in climate action etc, this investment is not linked at all to the current interest rates in place.

 

There is no meaning to the term “cheap” finance, when the spending does not need to be financed (in the currency the government issues).

The issuing of risk-free debt from a currency-issuing government really amounts to the provision of corporate welfare and no progressive should advocate its continuance.

  1. There is no meaning in saying the recurrent deficit is like an overdraft or the capital deficit is like a mortgage. Those terms gain meaning when applied to units that are financially constrained.

While left-wing progressive parties continue to frame their election campaigns in neoliberal terms and thus erect unnecessary financial barriers to spending that will prevent them from achieving their goals, the public will also remain in the dark about a subject which is of vital importance; how to answer the question about how government really spends, how its policies can be paid for and what  the real constraints are.

That said and despite the deliberate misleading of the public by Paul Mason, the UK needs a progressive government prepared to act in the public interest through investment in our public and social infrastructure and ready to take action to tackle social injustice, ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth and address the biggest challenge we face – climate change.

 

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The post We don’t need a perfect world; we need a fairer and more equitable one. Understanding how money works is the first step. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.