What is the real burden that the government’s “hard choices” will pass on to future generations?

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Instead of more political rhetoric and more of the same orthodox solutions dressed up as change, we need radical progressive action to pave the way for a kinder, more equable and sustainable future.

 

Planet Earth in handsImage by Anja from Pixabay

After this crisis, if anybody dares mention a ‘need’ for austerity or tax cuts for ‘wealth creators’ aka useless parasites, or calls for pointless fiscal retrenchment, then ridicule their rank stupidity, economic illiteracy, immorality and their inability to learn simple lessons.’

Phil Armstrong, GIMMS Associate.

 

The debt warriors are continuing their rear-guard action. In the hope that all is not lost in the battle for minds as people get wiser; the battle to keep people believing that the vital extra spending, which has in effect kept the economy afloat, is going to have to be paid for. Sustaining the illusion is vital for their purpose and the people need reminders and nudges to keep them in the dark and demonstrate that the government is fiscally responsible. Where have we heard this before? And look how that ended up. Ten years of punishing austerity and the killing off of our public services in the name of balanced books.

This week, the Conservative MP Harriet Baldwin said on BBC Politics Live.

‘It’s the right time to talk about [balancing the books] because we have to maintain the confidence of the bond market.’ We have a plan to bring the public finances under control’

This little gem suggesting that government is beholden to the bond markets (when it is not) followed Rishi Sunak who said in his conference speech earlier in the week that he had ‘a sacred duty’ to ‘leave the public finances strong’ hinting that there might be tax rises ahead. He continued by saying that ‘If… we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us?’

Hard choices would have to be made as he pledged to ‘balance the books’. He posited that the public would accept that taxes would have to rise given the size of public spending during the crisis and suggested that the government might have to break some of its manifesto pledges. Wait for it…it’s coming.

The implication is that those billions of pounds borrowed to keep the economy afloat and functioning will have to be paid for and that the burden, if not addressed, will pass to future generations in the form of higher taxes. Keeping the illusion going was further emphasised at the weekend when the government rejected extra support for workers in lockdown areas because ‘the national debt is rising’ and it would cost too much.

So deeply is the ‘tax pays for spending’ narrative embedded in the public consciousness that research published this week by Ipsos Mori suggested that of those responding almost half favoured raising taxes to fund public services in the context of Covid-19 with the most favoured option being a wealth tax for people earning over £500,000.

Still resolutely stuck in the ‘taxes fund spending’ mode, people implicitly understand that somewhere along the line they have lost out, not just personally but in terms of a public infrastructure which Covid has demonstrated is no longer fit for purpose due to cuts. And, quite rightly they want redress, as long as perhaps it’s not them that have to pay. Whilst there is a big difference in approving a concept and actually accepting it as the reality for one’s own pocket, the government is relying on that false narrative for it to get away yet again with murder.

In the light of monetary realities, knowledge of which is increasingly coming into the spotlight and challenging the status quo orthodoxy, in searching for answers the better questions to ask the public might have been:

Do you want the government to spend more on improving our public services in the interests of the nation?  

Do you want to restore those public services to publicly paid, managed and delivered provision?

For the truth is, that these decisions are political ones, not linked to taxes or borrowing or the state of the public finances.

At the other end of the political spectrum, this week on Double Down News Grace Blakely exposed, quite rightly, the increasing horrendous gap in wealth distribution and its damaging effects on society. However, she then went on to suggest that the billionaires should pay the costs.

At a time when the Swiss Bank UBS reported this week that billionaires increased their wealth by more than a quarter at the peak of the crisis when at the same time millions of people were losing their jobs or struggling to get by on furlough schemes and Universal Credit it might seem a just call to ask the extremely wealthy not only to pay what they owe but pay more. After all, over decades, working people have seen their living standards fall, as their share of productivity has ended up in the hands of ever fewer people so it is infuriating to see that the gap between the haves and have nots which was already huge, growing even more rapidly as billionaire’s wealth hits new highs. An increase in the pay of politicians announced late this week (the Tories having already rejected a pay increase for nurses) shows little solidarity with people’s struggles and it must surely start crossing people’s minds that something is seriously awry not just in terms of wealth distribution but also in the way they understand how power works and who pulls the strings.

But it is equally disheartening to note that we have left-wing economists and commentators reinforcing the mantra of ‘tax pays for government spending’ in the daily smoke of mirrors that suggests that state spending is like a household budget and that the solution is to get the filthy rich to pay more.

While our public infrastructure continues to crumble before our eyes and people suffer it’s time for the left to stop talking about getting the rich to pay for it, however much that appeals to a sense of fairness. Only by recognising how government really spends and using that knowledge to propose an alternative vision for the future can we win that battle. If it does not, then any plans that future progressive governments propose will always be constrained by this false narrative.

In the words of Deborah Harrington, who sits on GIMMS advisory board:

‘Billionaires can’t ‘pay for’ the coronavirus crisis. Only governments can. The left should stop promoting the neoliberal theory that we are all dependent on and beholden to the rich for our public services. They are cheering their support for Thatcher, May and all the others who claim the government has ‘no money, only taxpayers’ money’. Tax the rich because they are too rich. Tax the rich because inequality is damaging to a healthy society. Tax the rich because they use their disproportionately accumulated wealth to buy government policy that makes them even richer. Have the courage to say that the extremely wealthy are a drain, not a gain, for society. Stop trying to push the idea that if you could only persuade them to pay their taxes willingly everything would be just fine. Even better, have pre-distribution mechanisms that stop them accumulating so much in the first place.’

The question some might ask is have politicians on any side learned anything? Forty years of economic orthodoxy have left many economies around the world in poor shape and unable to address the crisis. And yet whilst Rishi Sunak considers disingenuously and publicly how he is going to ‘pay for‘ his fiscal injection (to keep the right narrative alive in the public mind) it most certainly will not stop money pouring into the bank balances of private corporations.

And given the Chancellor’s Conference speech it will on the other hand most likely mean that the public sector will once again be squeezed. It is a guise for delivering what they have always intended – to destroy the public sector as publicly funded, managed and delivered infrastructure that serves the public good with no profit motive, through the toxic ideology that business is more efficient. The lie of a so-called small state is smashed by the realities that it increasingly exists to serve global corporate interests.

Whilst government ministers laud their actions and monetary largesse, anyone following media reporting or previous GIMMS blogs will know that the real beneficiaries of public money have been large corporations who have failed to deliver the promised efficiency and worse without public accountability. The prospect of Westminster Plc draws ever nearer.

And the promised levelling up? It will likely be just one more casualty of a wretched economic system, and just more of the typical political rhetoric which politicians are so good at – on both sides.

In the wake of the Chancellor’s speech, the Guardian in its unexpected and timely editorial this week noted ‘it makes no sense to compare personal experience with the economics of a nation’. Quoting the late Labour MP Roy Jenkins who observed correctly that a family budget was not the same as a national budget and said that Margaret Thatcher had traded in ‘lousy economics’, it noted how much of the political economy had been conceded to the right and that the present Labour shadow chancellor still in orthodox mode could not match his ‘unapologetic Keynesianism’.

Sunak’s speech seems indicative of what to expect in the future. Yet more penny-pinching when it comes to our public infrastructure. It suits a carefully crafted narrative to suggest that such spending would bankrupt the economy or burden future taxpayers. A narrative the public continues to buy for now, at least as a reflection of how it believes that government spends.

While our imaginations are still stuck in Mikawber mode, the real threats to the future are being cynically put on the back burner when those threats are the ones that we need to be addressing urgently. It seems that, in political terms, ultimately the quest to balance the books is being made to appear a far more important objective than addressing climate change and politically created and unnecessary inequality. Our planet is to be sacrificed on the pyre of balanced budgets and big business gets to create a greenwashed world in its image – that of profit and greed.

As we watch the fires in South America continue to burn as a result of deforestation to make way for cattle pasture and soy plantations, and the tropical wetlands continue to burn in the Pantanal, a combination of a man-made arson and drought caused by the climate crisis, we need urgently to shift the narrative to one of sustainability and human and planetary health.

This year of environmental disasters – fires, drought, floods and Covid-19 – is a reflection of our failure to act and should be the wakeup call we need. Our leaders, for all their fine words, are complicit in this destruction. Some wilfully and openly ignore the threats, others indulge in ‘environmentally friendly’, rhetoric whilst doing very little, and at the same time global corporations some of the biggest polluters sell us their greenwashing propaganda.

Along with climate change, poverty and inequality continue to rise. It was reported this week by the charity Save the Children that living standards for the UK’s poorest had plunged during the pandemic. It noted that over a third of families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits have had to rely on help from charities for food or children’s clothes over the past two months and two-thirds had incurred debt to get by. Half of those surveyed said that they were in rent arrears or behind on household bills. Earlier research carried out by Save the Children and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in June revealed that 70% of people had cut back on food and other essentials when the pandemic began and the charity warned that the winter will be more difficult for many families as heating and other household costs rise and the prospect of further job losses increase the pressure on overstretched household budgets. With the threat of a cut in Universal Credit next April, the future is looking even more uncertain for some of the poorest people in our communities.

And we cannot ignore the global situation. Save the Children also noted last month in a jointly authored report with UNICEF that the number of children living in multidimensional poverty (access education, healthcare, housing, nutrition, sanitation and water) across the world had soared to around 1.2 billion due to Covid. To put it starkly, an additional 150 million since the pandemic began in early 2020. It also noted that around 45% of children were severely deprived of one of the critical needs mentioned above before the pandemic and that the picture is likely to worsen in the months to come.

While the arguments rage about the size of government, its colossal spending and future tax burdens, the cost of such arguments on human lives and the planet seem of secondary concern as the government continues to pursue its market-driven dogma which is neither free nor fair.

The promised V-shape recovery has not materialised and left prospects bleak for the Covid generation whose employment prospects are quickly vanishing into the mist and threatening their future health, security and livelihoods.

Instead of real jobs with good pay and conditions, Rishi Sunak is offering people ‘job coaches’ to beef up their CVs or training to improve their future job prospects. Never mind that without government intervention in the form of adequate spending and other targeted measures to improve the economic outlook, those jobs will never materialise. Relying on business to find solutions will lead us to a dead end.

Or as earlier this week the Conservative MP Robert Jenrick called for ‘grassroots volunteering and ‘togetherness’. Where was the government when it was telling us austerity was necessary to get the public finances straight as it dismantled our infrastructure and other vital public services? A government that also promoted individualism, greed and selfishness, has overseen huge wealth inequalities and divided our communities. The word ‘togetherness’ doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

Instead of real solutions, the government is offering the usual toxic rhetoric painted as positive proposals for a so-called new normal which aims to consolidate the toxicity, not address it.

At a time when jobs are being lost, GIMMS repeats its question. Why not rebuild our public sector offering good wages and secure employment? Why not introduce a Job Guarantee that provides a living wage, training and good employment conditions to bridge the gap when times get tough and provide a transitional staging post into private sector employment when the economy improves?

Rethinking the sort of society, we would like to live in will be of paramount importance in the coming months. The old model is not fit for purpose and we and the planet deserve something better.

 

 

Upcoming Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Warren Mosler – Online

October 17 @ 17:00 pm – 18:30 pm

GIMMS is delighted to present its second ‘in conversation’ event.

GIMMS’ Associate Member Phil Armstrong whose new book will be published in November (details below) will be talking to Warren Mosler. Warren, who is one of the founding proponents of MMT, has dedicated the last 25 years to bringing that knowledge to a wider audience across the world and authored ‘The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy, published in 2010. He also sits on GIMMS advisory board.

Register via Eventbrite

Event recording

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Bill Mitchell

Bill Mitchell spoke to Bill Mitchell for GIMMS on 27th September 2020.

 

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The post What is the real burden that the government’s “hard choices” will pass on to future generations? appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.