Which way from here? That depends on where we want to go. Our choices now will determine our future.

Sign on a fence with and arrow logo and the word votePhoto via PxHere

We are in the last few days of the election campaign. An election which, without doubt, will be a defining one for the future of this country and possibly even the planet. It will determine whether we carry on with the economic and political status quo or whether we choose a different path towards a socially just and fairer economic system which also addresses as a matter of priority the challenges posed to the future survival of our species.  Growing political unrest caused by the last forty years of market-driven dogma has created huge wealth inequalities and is driving dangerous right-wing populism worldwide.

This might be just a national election, but the world is watching. Where we put our X in the voting booth this time around will be crucial. It matters as never before.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote:

“For the duty of the truly democratic politician is just to see that people are not destitute; for destitution is the cause of deterioration of democracy’

Of course, he lived in a time very different to our own, but he believed that the best form of democracy was one with a more equal income distribution and that greater economic equality would increase the stability of the state and thus that of citizens.

The State has a crucial role to play in serving the public purpose or in other words creating the fundamental frameworks for a healthy society and economy which benefits everyone.  However, for the last forty and more years, economic power has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people. This has been facilitated by successive governments whose policies have been informed by an ideologically based dogma of privatisation, deregulation and an emphasis on ‘sound finance’ which, over the last nine years, has been at the heart of Conservative austerity.

It has also been enabled by politicians who have acted less in the service of the nation and more in the interests of corporations and excessively wealthy people who have influenced government policies in their favour through a network of lobbying and special advisors. Democracy has been undermined by those with the power and wealth to influence politicians and a media which continues to play a huge role in that subversion.

The ideological premise of trickle-down has been that the rich are the wealth creators, that tax cuts encourage investment in the economy and jobs which benefit working people and then, in their turn, brings in taxes to pay for our public services. We have been deceived with the lie trotted out over the years and even during this election campaign by Conservative ministers and even some on the progressive left that our public services are dependent on bringing in tax revenue. When in fact it is quite the reverse.

A healthy economy and all that means, from citizens having access to good education, quality healthcare and a protective welfare system, (not to mention other vital public services or businesses which rely on access to an educated and healthy workforce and the physical infrastructure for their businesses to flourish) depends on a government which has made a political decision to invest sufficiently in that public and social infrastructure to benefit both today’s and tomorrow’s citizens. It does not depend on a government checking on whether there is enough in the public purse to do so.

For well over a year now, GIMMS has charted the consequences of austerity in its MMT blogs. Yet, now we are now witnessing on a daily basis, like never before, its damaging effects on the very foundations of economic and social life.

Economic data published last month showed that the services sector slowed in the last quarter and the manufacturing and construction sectors contracted in November. The economy just avoided recession, with the weakest growth in a decade.  Whilst clearly the uncertainty over Brexit will have played a part, cuts in government spending over the last 9 years will have also played a significant role as businesses lose investment confidence and households tighten their belts due to rising household debt.

A study published by the Office for National Statistics on 5th December 2019 found that whilst Britain’s total wealth grew by 13% between 2016 and 2018, the wealth of the richest 10% increased four times faster than those of the poorest 10%. It also found that the poorest 10% of households had debts three times larger than their assets, compared with the richest 10% who have accumulated a stash of wealth which was 35 times larger than their total debts. The Wealth and Assets Survey carried out by the ONS also showed that in 2018 the top 10% finished up with 45% of national wealth while the poorest 10% held just 2%.

The shocking data underlines the growing wealth divide. A divide between those at the top who barely noticed the 2008 Global Financial Crash (or indeed profited from it) and those on low incomes whose real earnings have barely risen since the crash and who have seen their economic share of productivity decrease over decades. The very people who have paid the real price for austerity have, in fact, suffered a double whammy.  They not only are facing an enormous and increasing burden of household debt (putting huge stress on their finances exacerbated for those on low incomes and in precarious employment), but they are also reaping the consequences of brutal cuts to the public service sector.

Huge inequalities that have arisen as a result of the pursuit of this pernicious market-focused ideology along with a deceitful balanced public accounts narrative have not only driven a steam roller through our public services and vital welfare systems but have also impoverished millions leaving them floundering in insecure and low paid employment.

In the week that the Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson apologised for backing the Coalition’s austerity policies during the Coalition years and whose economic spokesman claimed in a speech very recently that they are the only party of ‘sound finance’ (which sounds very much like more of the same), the news has been ever more damning about its consequences for the lives of working people, families, children and the elderly and our public infrastructure.

Shelter’s ‘Generational Homeless’ report found that a child becomes homeless every eight minutes; that’s 183 children losing their homes every day. It found that at least 135,000 children will be living in temporary accommodation on Christmas day.

‘Life in a B&B is horrible. There’s no room to do anything. I’ve been told off … for running in the small corridor. You can’t do much, you can’t play much. I don’t get to play that much. Sometimes me and my little brother Harry fight for the one chair because we both want to sit at the table. I find it really hard to do my homework’ says Will whose family was made homeless and now lives in a single room in a bed and breakfast in Ilford.

A leading charity Action for Children warned this week that some of the youngest children are facing a childhood crisis as almost one million under 10s from low-income families face a bleak Christmas lacking basics such as a heated home, warm winter coat or fresh food.

Research from the charity shows that after a decade of austerity and ongoing problems with universal credit, parents below the breadline are able to spend just £2 a day per child on food and struggle to afford nutritious food which is vital for their health and development.

The Dispatches programme ‘Growing up Poor; Britain’s breadline kids’ which aired on Channel 4 earlier this week exemplified the shocking poverty that exists in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Children sleeping in their coats in the middle of winter because they can’t afford heating; parents counting the pennies to see if there is enough money to feed the meter; a family living in Cambridge surviving on £5 a day in a wealthy city that houses eight of the 2000 food banks that have been set up across the UK in the last decade to alleviate hunger; and a teenager Danielle who is studying for her GCEs and self-harming housed with her family in a bedsit, with no savings and relying on a local soup kitchen and food bank to survive.

This is happening in 21st century Britain and yet it feels like we are being transported in Dr Who’s Tardis back to the streets of Dickensian times.  Our children are being denied a future by a government which has put balancing the public accounts above the health of the nation, its children who represent the future and the environment upon which they will depend for their survival.

At a hustings last week, the Conservative MP John Whittingdale was applauded by the audience when he claimed that Labour had left the economy in a perilous state and close to bankruptcy. Perpetuating the lie that austerity had been necessary to get the public finances in order, he said that careful economic management by the Conservatives meant that they could now spend on the NHS, policing and education. No acknowledgement was made about the damage that austerity had caused to our public services; those on low incomes and in insecure working; the huge rise in homelessness or the 73% increase in supplies being distributed in the 2000 food banks across the UK; the increasing numbers of hospital admissions for scurvy, vitamin D deficiency and other maladies associated with economy inequality and child food poverty; and no mention of the systemic problems with welfare reforms and the introduction of Universal Credit, along with a punitive assessment system which have led to many deaths.

We must continue to challenge the false assumptions about how modern monetary systems operate and demonstrate to the public that contrary to common belief government spending is not constrained by monetary resources.

Tackling existing and future inequality and saving the planet will not be constrained by the state of the public accounts or the national debt or whether government can raise sufficient tax or borrow on the markets but rather how it will manage the finite resources it has at its disposal to create the public frameworks and infrastructure to sustain a healthy economy and environment.

It is both a moral question about how a civilised nation should behave towards its neighbours near or far and how we organise our societies to create the optimum environment for all to live with dignity and without fear.

It is regrettable that creating fear and hate has been the modus operandi of governments, extreme political movements and the press. Without a fundamental shift in our attitudes we cannot hope to make the radical changes we need to create a fairer society and more importantly to survive.  A challenge to the political and economic status quo is vital if we care about our children’s future and that of many others around the world.

To reiterate the final paragraph in last week’s MMT Lens:

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?

 

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The post Which way from here? That depends on where we want to go. Our choices now will determine our future. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.