The time has come to talk of many things; of taxing and spending and an economic system that needs mending. 

Protest placard with a picture of the Earth in space and the slogan "One World"Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

In the news, the Prime Minister tells millions of  WASPI women affected by the changes to the state pension age that he couldn’t promise to magic up the money for them despite having found lots in the magic money pot for Tory manifesto pledges; the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, whilst visiting a food bank, claims that the Tory government was not to blame for poverty in the UK and, shifting the blame onto local councils, forgets to mention that central government funding has been cut by nearly 50% since 2010/11.

After 9 years of austerity, the consequences couldn’t be starker for our public and local government services, however, it is UK citizens, families and their children who have borne the distressing costs of cuts to social security benefits, both on their health and financial well-being. It cannot be clearer that the steep cuts to tax credits, child and disability benefits, ESA and Incapacity benefit and housing along with the introduction of Universal Credit have been behind the increases in child malnutrition, food bank use, homelessness and suicide.

The IPPR this week published its report ‘Divided and Connected’ which reveals that the UK is more regionally divided than any comparable advanced economy.

In the same week, the Resolution Foundation published its report ‘The Shifting Shape of Social Security’ It notes in its analysis of the manifestos of the main parties that child poverty is set to continue rising under the Conservative Party’s social security plans, whilst Labour’s £9bn of extra spending would mean 550,000 fewer children in poverty, it would not reverse the effects of the £5bn benefits freeze and could still see more children living in poverty in 2023 than do today. It noted that major policy changes have reduced support for working-age households since 2010 resulting in overall spending in 2023-24 being around £34bn a year lower on current plans than if the 2010 benefit system had remained in place, and that the cuts in support had fallen almost entirely on low-to-middle income working age families. It also noted that the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto makes no changes to existing policy and as a result child poverty risks reaching a 60-year high of 34%.

Although the conservatives are promising more spending on health and education, it seems clear that they intend to carry along the same policy paths they have followed since they came to power in 2010 which have involved cuts to benefits, conditionality, sanctions and welfare to work. Clearly, they have no intention either of reversing the already implemented cuts or reforms which have done so much damage and left a trail of devastation in many people’s lives. Priti Patel’s remark about who is to blame for poverty is indicative of Tory neoliberal credentials of denying governmental responsibility and passing the buck along to others, whether local government who have been firefighting for lack of funds or indeed shifting the blame onto citizens themselves. Her position has not changed much since 2015 when she said, ‘There is no robust evidence that directly links sanctions and food bank use.”

In the light of the very real consequences on people’s lives of government spending decisions and policies, it is all the more depressing to read the two analyses of the party manifestos by the Resolution Foundation and the IFS which instead of looking at the real effects of government spending policies on the lives of real people, examine them in purely financial terms and arbitrary fiscal rules which as we may now be realising bear no relationship with how money really works.

Hunkered down in household budget explanations, the IFS, rather than considering the spending promises of all three parties from the perspective of potential outcomes for the economy and its citizens, examines them in relation to the prospect of raising taxes or borrowing and the likely impact on the deficit and national debt.  As usual, the question, if not asked directly, is how will the parties pay for their spending plans? When, instead, they should be acknowledging that the real question is how will a future government manage existing resources to meet government goals? This will be the real constraint that any future government will face, however progressive that government may be. The resource balancing act will be key to maintaining spending within the productive capacity of the nation to deliver public purpose.

The Resolution Foundation summed it up depressingly in its conclusion in saying that:

‘The priority that both main parties have placed on credible fiscal frameworks in this campaign is laudable. Such rules are hugely important for the government’s overall economic priorities. In setting out new fiscal rules, it is vital that they provide a clear framework for sustainable public finances, constraining the temptation for policy makers to promise unfunded giveaways.’

Such institutions unsurprisingly have focused on the notion that it is the role of government to balance its budget rather than serving citizens and improving their economic and social well-being. It is regrettable that a recent poll has suggested that many people doubt whether such spending plans are affordable and yet given the reality of the consequences of not spending adequately how could we possibly afford not to?

The nation is now paying the price for politicians pedalling the lie of the last forty years that money is scarce, that there is no such thing as public money and that good government is about fiscal discipline. Even if changing that notion in the public consciousness will take time, in the light of the urgency of the challenges to address climate change and social inequality we need an urgent step change in economic thought on a planetary scale since it is our survival on this planet which is at stake.

This is not, however, a time to make compromises with an economic system which has already done such huge damage. The seeds of an alternative model are already being hijacked by companies cynically promoting their green credentials with one aim in mind: to create more growth to keep the profits rolling. Reducing our plastic use and buying electric cars will scarcely make a dent in the scale of the changes we need to implement. We may have a broad vision, but that now needs to be developed into concrete realities. It may be still a work in progress, but it is a vital one we must not ignore.

This is a time to reimagine the world. A fairer and more sustainable approach to replace the one of endless growth which currently defines our capitalist economic system and puts profit before people and the planet.

Progressives on the left are beginning to initiate a much-needed conversation about what we need to do to reverse the decades of social injustice and challenge the idea that we can maintain the engine of growth on a finite planet.

However, and most regrettably, politicians on the left are still trying to have that conversation stuck in old economic paradigms of how money works. When they are asked how they will pay for these vital programmes the response is always one of tax and spend or borrowing to invest. Raising corporation tax, bringing back the magic money tree from the Cayman Islands, taxing the rich until the pips squeak or borrowing on the markets because interest rates are low. Instead of talking about taxing the wealthy to redistribute wealth by removing their colossal purchasing power and ability to influence politicians, they talk about funding our public services with the proceeds.

Again, on the left some politicians are suggesting that the government is akin to a business and that renationalising transport, our utilities, mail and the NHS will allow the government to plough back the profits back into public services. Yes, we need to end the rip-off of privatisation which has not benefited citizens and has allowed public money to flow into private pockets for profit motives, but let’s not buy into the idea that the government resembles a large corporation with a profit and loss sheet. It doesn’t.

The government is the currency issuer and neither needs to tax nor borrow in order to spend and nor does it need the profits of renationalised industries for us to have public services.  It just needs the political will to deliver them.

The role of government is to create the framework for markets to exist and dictate through legislation how they will function and in whose benefit. It taxes the populace, not to fund its spending but to manage its economic policies, from the redistribution of wealth to expressing public policy and is one of the key tools it can use to manage inflationary or deflationary pressures.

Government not only has the power of the public purse to improve the lives of its citizens it also has the power to legislate to drive its political agenda. All a question of choices which are not dependent on the state of the public accounts. Indeed, not only does it have the power to spend for the public purpose, it has the power to change the rules of the game. For example, it might regulate the financial sector to ensure that when people’s savings of whatever kind are put to work it is done to shift our negative and damaging behaviours towards creating a positive impact on society and our environment instead.

Outcomes are the measure of any government’s success. With the political will it could:

  • create the framework for good quality universal public services provide a social security system which is both not punitive in its functioning but also ensures a decent standard of living for those unable to work through disability, sickness or old age,
  • pay for a just Green transition,
  • offer a Job Guarantee as standard to create price stability and act as an automatic stabiliser for the economy to give people the dignity of proper, well-paid employment when needed.

All of these things are fundamental to the good functioning of society.

What are we so afraid of? A better future for our children? A more sustainable and fairer economy for all? Indeed, a planet for us to live and breathe on? What is not to like? So, when you hear interviewers berating left-wing politicians (who have not quite made the leap into monetary realities) about how they will pay for their progressive agenda ignore those questions and remember instead that a government’s economic record will be defined by how it serves the nation’s economy as a whole, improves the lives of its citizens and how it uses the resources it has at its disposal to achieve its agenda – not whether it balanced the budget.

 

For more in-depth information about how money really works, you can find all you need on our GIMMS website.

https://gimms.org.uk/

 

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The post The time has come to talk of many things; of taxing and spending and an economic system that needs mending.  appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.