COVID-19 is our practice run. Our future survival may be at stake, but the solutions are within our grasp. NOW.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/04/2020 - 12:42am in

Planet Earch wearing a surgical maskImage by FunkyFocus from Pixabay

“How all this plays out ultimately depends on us. The emperor is now naked and the ground for a radical paradigm shift – one based on popular sovereignty, democratic control over the economy, full employment, social justice, redistribution from the rich to the poor, relocalisation of production and the socio-ecological transformation of production and society – is indeed more fertile than it has been in a long time. Yet change won’t come from above but only through mass mobilisation once the worst of the crisis is over.” – Thomas Fazi

 

 

The BBC reported this week that more than 150 top football players had launched an initiative to help generate funds for the National Health Service to ‘help those fighting for us on the front line’ during the Coronavirus Pandemic. It noted that whilst Premier League Clubs had previously said that they would ask players to take a 30% pay cut in order to protect jobs, the Professional Footballers Association had said that players were ‘mindful of their social responsibilities’. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, jumped on the solidarity bandwagon and according to the BBC ‘had warmly welcomed’ the ‘big-hearted decision’.

Of course, nobody would wish to deny public support for the NHS and its workers, or the growing solidarity with those who perhaps people are now just beginning to understand represent the backbone of our society without which nothing functions. As noted in an MMT Lens a few weeks ago, at this critical time people are beginning to realise the value of the public sector and other key strategic sectors of the economy. They are also beginning to question the long-promoted propaganda that society needs the rich to create wealth, which then trickles down from the top table like manna from heaven.

We cannot fail now to notice the huge wealth inequalities that have been created by the pernicious market-driven ideology, which have poisoned our human relationships with each other, sowed division and hatred, divided communities and working people and left our public infrastructure in a state of decay.

The upsetting and often poignant daily news reports which rend our emotions are making it ever clearer that something is very wrong, as the evidence piles up before our eyes as to the long-term consequences of austerity. Indeed, it was remarkable this week to hear a BBC journalist, Emily Maitlis, challenge the prevailing ideological dogma after having failed to do so for years when she said:

“They tell us Coronavirus is a great leveller. It’s not. It’s much harder when you are poor. How do we stop making social inequality even greater? You do not survive the illness through fortitude and strength of character, whatever the Prime Minister’s colleagues will tell us.”

A surprising but timely debunking of neoliberalism from an unlikely source. A challenge to the idea that individuals are alone responsible for their fate.  A first step? Let’s hope so.

It is also becoming clear that governments are much more powerful than they have been given credit for in a market-driven world. In fact, that the market is not an all-seeing god operating outside government control. That it is government alone, through political decisions, that provides the economic infrastructure for the market to exist. That only government can ensure that our public and social infrastructure is capable of operating in good times and bad and has the capacity to respond to emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic or the very pressing challenges facing us with respect to climate change.

However, for too long, government has tipped its hat to democracy, relinquished its sovereign powers to deliver public purpose and served other masters all aided by a media owned by those same masters who manage the narratives for their own ends.

In recent weeks, however, we have been given an inkling of that sovereign power as the Chancellor of the Exchequer opened the spending taps, thus challenging the decade-long narrative of austerity that has been justified by the lie that Labour had overspent and that the State must now pull in its horns and get the public finances back into order.

It might be getting clearer, a week or so on, that these promises are not all they are cracked up to be, but it proves without doubt, that the world is not flat and that government, not the market, holds all the cards in terms of response, particularly when one notes the corporate queue at the door of the Treasury for handouts.  The government decides its spending priorities and indeed who benefits.

To return to the footballer story, on social media many noted the huge wealth inequalities that exist and expressed the view that it is only right that the rich, including footballers, share some of their wealth.  That, of course, would be a view that many of us would share and buys into the belief that we should all contribute our fair share in taxation for the public infrastructure that we all benefit from.  Indeed, for many people paying their tax is seen as their contribution to that infrastructure.

However, we need to challenge the notion that the public infrastructure requires charitable donations from the rich or for them to pay their tax to fund it. Because it is not true. The idea appeals to our sense of fairness and equity, particularly in the light of growing public awareness of the huge inequity and injustice which exists occasioned by governments who still favour tax breaks for the rich. But it reinforces the belief that without the rich we will all be poorer. The mantra of trickledown is still entrenched and this gives the rich more power, rather than diminishing it. The last few weeks make a serious challenge to the false assumption that the rich are needed as we realise what really sustains society when the chips are down.

We need to challenge the mindset that the NHS is a charity requiring donations. It does not. Aside from the fact that what is on offer is a mere drop in the ocean in respect to the annual NHS spend and would be a salve of conscience rather than real assistance, it is yet another example of the shift in public understanding that has occurred in recent years.

This has suggested that since money is ‘in short supply’, the Big Society, instead of the State should play a bigger role in public service – from lotteries to fund vital work in the community to the growth of charitable organisations providing services to volunteering to support the NHS and other public institutions, not to mention vital medical and other research.

The implication has been that the State can no longer afford to fund the public infrastructure and people’s generosity and desire to help has been cynically utilised to fill the gaps that have arisen by political choice.

In the meantime, COVID-19 has exposed – in the grimmest way – the state of our NHS, social care, policing and other public sector bodies like the civil service and local government. The poor state of these services being the result of government economic and spending policies.

We are at a crossroads in human history and as never before we need competent government to serve the people. COVID-19 may indeed be a practice for the greater challenges we will face in connection to climate change and human survival. We must strive to make it clear what is and is not possible and the constraints which will in future determine what can and cannot be done.

Essentially, that the government as the sovereign currency issuer makes its economic and spending decisions based, not on whether it has the money, but on ideological premises. Over the last 10 years, the coalition and Tory governments made a political choice to cut funding for the NHS and other vital public services and carried on the decades-old programme of privatisation.

There was, however, no shortage of money just as there is no need for the UK government to collect tax or borrow to fund its spending choices (although that is not an argument for not paying one’s tax and that is another matter). To reiterate the oft-repeated mantra – the government finances are not like a household budget.

We need to challenge our perceptions that government has a limited pot of money to spend and realise that the real constraints are real resources, not £ sterling. Indeed, there cannot be a starker acknowledgement as we are so poignantly reminded every day with the lack of PPE, ventilators, nurses and doctors and other facilities in an NHS cut to the bone.

The scale of the challenge may seem like a mountain to climb. This is not a moment, therefore, to challenge the validity of Modern Monetary Theory with spurious arguments as so many do, holding onto false narratives which suggest that we can’t afford to save ourselves.

We have nothing to lose by informing ourselves and challenging the entrenched notions which lead us by the nose. Indeed, our future depends on our willingness to do so.

 

 

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The post COVID-19 is our practice run. Our future survival may be at stake, but the solutions are within our grasp. NOW. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.