Debt

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

Why We Need to Forgive Pandemic Debt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 10:00pm in

COVID-19 has thrown the world’s economies and government coffers into turmoil. In many countries, unemployment has spiked and is expected...

Read More

Our choices today will define our humanity and our priorities.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 6:50am in

People packing plastic bags of food at a food bankImage by Joel Munz on Unsplash

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is manmade and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.

Nelson Mandela

The health and well-being of human beings and the planet is still being pitted against an out of control capitalism defined by excessive consumption and unbridled growth compounded by the lie of balanced budgets and future tax burdens.

In this week’s news, the plight of many poor families struggling to feed their children has yet again come into the spotlight, in what has hitherto been one of the richest countries in the world. The increase in poverty and hunger demonstrated over a decade with the growing number of food banks and other charities has been noted on many occasions in previous MMT Lens blogs.

Covid-19 has exacerbated what was already a rising concern and has left many families stressed and under pressure. Back in July whilst Boris Johnson invited people to spend and spend some more, and Rishi Sunak offered his ‘eat out to help out scheme’ financed from the public purse, those already on limited incomes made worse by the current crisis had no such opportunity.

In the same month, the footballer Marcus Rashford raised public awareness of the plight of families struggling to feed their children and ran a successful campaign to force the government to provide funding for school meals during the summer holidays.

Following the government’s rejection of Rashford’s proposal this week to extend free school meals to holiday breaks including Christmas and Easter, he has pledged to continue his campaign.

He tweeted on 15th October:

It’s … not for food banks to feed millions of British children but here we are. 250% increase in food poverty and rising. […] For too long this conversation has been delayed. Child food poverty in the UK is not a result of Covid-19. We must act with urgency to stabilise the households of our vulnerable children.

His stark comments clearly point to government policies which have directly impacted on the lives of some of the poorest people in our communities, prior to and post-Covid and which, in the future, will affect a broader section of the working population as jobs are lost and the economy destabilises.

It has been estimated by the Food Foundation think tank that as many as 900,000 more children have applied for free school meals, adding to 1.4 million who have already claimed. This will most certainly be the tip of the iceberg over the coming months.

The picture that is increasingly emerging as the economy slows and with the prospect of more business closures and redundancies, should be a serious cause for concern in relation to the consequences for families and their children.

Earlier this week Channel 4 News covered a disturbing report about the rise in child poverty in the Midlands and the North of England where it is, according to figures just published, rising the fastest. Magic Breakfast, a national charity which shockingly provides 48,000 breakfasts nationally, says that demand has increased as a result of the pandemic.

With a particular focus on a breakfast club in a Birmingham school which is handing out breakfast parcels to children to take home, the headteacher said some struggling families had been unable to claim free school meals because they were not eligible for social security benefits and that others who had suffered cuts to household income could still not meet the threshold for free school meals. Commenting that school meals cost £45 a month per child which for many was a great deal of money she said that she had had cases where parents had come to the school with their household bills and bank statements to show that they can’t pay.

As the Channel 4 news reporter commented ‘Child poverty shamed Britain even before the pandemic.’

To highlight growing concerns in political circles a former advisor to the government on homelessness warned that the UK faces a ‘period of destitution’ in which ‘families can’t put shoes on children’. Dame Louise Casey indicated that the proposed reduced level of support would compound the problems faced by growing numbers of families. She criticised the government’s claim that its priority was to protect jobs and incomes saying that many people still risked ‘falling into poverty’.

Along with the threat that the uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit would not be extended beyond April 2020, the prospects for many families is potentially dire as many more people not able to cover essential bills fall into debt, thus putting further strain on their finances.

The question we should be posing is how has this situation arisen and what can be done to alleviate it? The trail leads always back to government.

While the government propaganda machine promotes Rishi Sunak’s generosity from an ivory tower of ministerial plenty and lauds its additional spending, it is in reality, a fraction of what it needs to do to protect citizens. Not just in the coming months but in the coming years, as the fallout from Covid-19 continues to play out on the economy and the lives of those affected not just by the pandemic but by the compounded consequences of years of austerity and employment policies which have allowed incomes and living standards to fall.

Whilst the government is certainly right to suggest that it should not be for schools to provide pupils with food during the school holidays, it has nothing to do, as the government keeps claiming, with its monetary generosity during these last few months (which one can most certainly take issue with).

The policymakers in Westminster have chosen not to acknowledge the impact of the political decisions which have led to this situation in the first place and well before the pandemic hit and indeed have tried to dress them up as successful outcomes.

Yes, we certainly need a long-term plan to combat hunger, but one that does not involve charitable organisations to fill the gap left by a deliberately negligent government or making people feel as if somehow it is their fault for the situation they find themselves in.

We must firmly reject the implied judgement on people who have fallen on bad times, not of their own making. For too long the blame game has allowed the government to divide the nation when the truth of the matter is that it is government itself which has failed citizens through its policy actions and spending decisions.

The cuts to public spending, the devastating consequences of reforms to social security, government’s ideological adherence to employment policies which allow business to exploit working people through controlling wages and insecure working practices have all played a role.

The rise in charitable food banks, community meal provision, homelessness and increasing private indebtedness is symptomatic of a government which has allowed this unnecessary and damaging state of affairs to exist.

The government’s justification for this truly repugnant state of affairs which has led the government to rule out giving more support to workers and businesses hit by this week’s new lockdowns in the north is because it claims it would cost too much. So once again we are in a situation where government ministers cynically use false narratives to explain their decisions.

The Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said earlier this week that the nation is in a ‘deep recession’, that the ‘the national debt is rising’ and therefore the government is limited in what it can do to protect jobs.

Once again this is a clear demonstration of the abdication of government responsibility for employment, social cohesion and economic well-being. People have become a secondary consideration to the corporate interests, politicians serve and benefit from through the revolving door.

It is regrettable, but understandable, that over a decade and more the nation has accepted the presence of food banks and other charitable organisations as an unavoidable and normal feature of British life, as if somehow the government had no other choice but to cut its spending. The public has up until now accepted the narrative that difficult decisions must be made to get the public finances in order.

After the huge rounds of public spending which challenge the ingrained public preconceptions of how the government spends, the shine of these fairy tale narratives is hopefully beginning to wear off – even as Rishi Sunak promises at the Conservatives virtual conference that the government can always be relied upon the ‘balance the books.’

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the tragedy of hunger and poverty is one that is avoidable. The government could avert it with a simple instruction to the central bank to spend sufficient money into existence to alleviate that hunger and struggle at such a critical time. That it has been a choice not to, should be the point at which we stand up and argue for real change.

And yet, instead, the monetary reality of the government as the monopoly currency issuer is hidden behind a screen of smoke and mirrors which continued this week when the IFS (Institute of Fiscal Studies) suggested that taxes may have to rise at some point in the future given the huge spike in government ‘borrowing’ this year to deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic. Saying clearly and quite rightly that tax increases would be the wrong action at the moment, it then went on to reinforce the message that once the economy had been restored to health  the government would have to get the public finances back on track with a round of ‘fiscal tightening’.

And so, the active and deliberate reinforcement of a lie sets the scene at some time in the future for more unnecessary and damaging punishment which will not, in reality, be linked to whether it is monetarily affordable but the government’s political agenda in creating a flow of public money into private profit and the further destabilisation of public services.

After 10 years of fiscal tightening following the Global Financial Crash which has left our public infrastructure in tatters, have we learned nothing?

While the likes of the IFS and the IMF accept that we need to limit the economic damage caused by the virus and address poverty, unemployment and inequality through higher public spending, they always do so with false ‘borrowing cheaply’ narratives, pumping the belief that we are at the mercy of money lenders and the implication that with the exponential growth of public debt there will be a price to pay … but not quite yet.

Whilst there may be a sea change in economic thought occurring as governments spend to keep economies afloat, it is important that the work to raise public awareness of the real choices governments face continues. These are not linked to balance sheets they are ones related to real resources. In the words of the economist Ellis Winningham ‘, we will always have the ‘money’ to do whatever our real resources will allow us to do.’  That is the only constraint. And the challenge is both to match spending to available resources and determine how those resources will be distributed within the nation and for whose benefit.

Deborah Harrington, a member of GIMMS’ advisory board, also made it absolutely clear this week to those on the left who continue to tout the lie about taxpayers’ money on various social media sites that:

“Covid has demonstrated that the government does not need one penny of taxes to ‘pay for’ what it needs. It has neither raised taxes nor sold bonds to ‘finance’ its spending. The money has been created pure and simple. It wasn’t borrowed and it wasn’t collected in extra taxes – in fact, tax receipts have fallen, obviously, as incomes have dropped.

 

The whole story of tax and borrowing disguises this power at the heart of government. It makes people believe there’s a limited pot to dip into. That to pay Peter you have to rob Paul. It’s the driving argument behind austerity and if you continue to support it as an argument ‘we need tax rises/future generations will pay for it’ then you – yes, YOU, reading this – are giving your support to an agenda that destroys public services and leaves people in poverty and homelessness.

What we build society with and what we create goods and services with is our work. Government simply chooses how much money it will use in any given year to divert those resources, through its taxation and spending policies, to public purposes.”

 Whilst we seem a long way from it at the moment, creating a more equable, fair and environmentally sustainable world should be at the top of the political agenda. The only way of achieving those aims is a long-overdue public conversation about our political, economic and societal priorities, examined within the context of the constraints that exist to deliver them and how the share of finite resources should or could be redistributed to serve the public purpose.

The question always returns to what sort of society do we want to live in? One where excessive wealth in few hands dominates, where charity becomes the norm for delivery of services to a ‘deserving’ population and growth and consumption is the drug which drives the economy?

Or alternatively, a different but better world where people have the wherewithal to live comfortably and sustainably with hope for the future?

 

Join our mailing list

If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

Support us

The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here

 

Share

Tweet

Whatsapp

Messenger

Share

Email

reddit

Pinterest

tumblr

Viber icon
Viber

The post Our choices today will define our humanity and our priorities. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

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

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.

 

Join our mailing list

If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

Support us

The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here

 

Share

Tweet

Whatsapp

Messenger

Share

Email

reddit

Pinterest

tumblr

Viber icon
Viber

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.

Standing at a crossroads in time

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/10/2020 - 3:38am in
‘Democracy is not just a counting up of votes, it is a counting up of actions.’

Howard Zinn
Crossroads signpost with signs saying "possible" and "impossible"Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Do you remember when Andy Haldane, the Chief Economist at the Bank of England, insisted that Britain was enjoying a ‘V-shaped’ recovery way back in July? Since then much has happened but not a V-shaped recovery and the future is looking pretty bleak. Despite that, Haldane’s concern this week that ‘our pessimism is holding us back’ and that companies hiring and corporate investment were the ‘missing ingredient in the recovery’ leads one to wonder if the Chief Economist is living on a different planet.

The prospect of a rise in unemployment by the end of 2020, less generous government support than hitherto, people saving more than spending and a collapse in business investment would suggest that people are retrenching as a result of lack of confidence. Businesses will not invest while they are unsure whether that investment will repay itself in increased profits and people won’t spend whilst their lives are turned upside down and they have no idea whether they will have a job next week. It seems that Andy Haldane is stuck in some other world that does not exist for the majority of people.

A combination of government policy, cuts to public sector spending over the last 10 years which has left public infrastructure in tatters, combined with the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the final straw of Covid-19 has left the nation in a state of collective inertia wondering what will happen next. Tin hats are the order of the day, not party bunting and champagne. Glasses of confidence are in short supply!

We stand at a crossroads in time and Covid-19 has revealed in stark terms the putrid underbelly of an economic system which has predominated for decades. Rising poverty and inequality, huge social injustice, wealth distribution skewed in favour of those who already have more than sufficient and the ever-present elephant in the room, climate chaos, all the result of a toxic ideology and excessive consumption.

This week the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew published its fourth report in the ‘State of the World’ series. Professor Antonelli, the Director of Science wrote in its introduction:

Never before has the biosphere, the thin layer of life we call home, been under such intensive and urgent threat. Deforestation rates have soared as we have cleared land to feed ever-more people, global emissions are disrupting the climate system, new pathogens threaten our crops and our health, illegal trade has eradicated entire plant populations, and non-native species are out-competing local floras. Biodiversity is being lost – locally, regionally and globally [……]

We share this planet with millions of other species, many of which existed long before us. Despite the fact that an exploitative view of nature has deep roots in our society, most people today would agree that we have no moral right to obliterate a species – even if it has no immediate benefit to us. Ultimately, the protection of biodiversity needs to embrace our ethical duty of care for this planet as well as our own needs.

Whilst 40% of all the world’s plant species are at risk of extinction according to a report published last month by the UN the world has failed to achieve in full any of the biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010 and indeed this is the second consecutive decade that governments have not done so. The Global Biodiversity Outlook Report offered a convincing and authoritative overview of the state of nature indicating that the natural world is suffering badly.

According to Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, it underlined that ‘humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy we wish to leave future generations’ and that ‘earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised. And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being security and prosperity’. It outlined the need to shift away from ‘business as usual’ across a range of human activities.

The bottom line is that our own well-being and survival are dependent on rethinking our relationship with nature and each other.

Amidst the disturbing backdrop of the threat to the planet caused by failure to address these serious biodiversity losses and the growing evidence of the consequences of climate change across the world from devastating droughts, fires, storms and flooding, the consequences of government political decisions and spending policies continue to play out daily in people’s lives.

Evidence of both ignorance and wilful conduct by our elected politicians is shocking. Whilst a household budget description of the public finances continues to dominate in political and establishment circles, the potential for addressing the consequences of spending cuts or indeed the serious challenges we face will always curtail any action.

The reverse of the toxic climate coin is the huge wealth inequality and poverty which has done so much damage to economies around the world.

In the UK, as many more people turn to the social security system for support as a result of the ending of the job retention scheme, many will find out first-hand how far from generous those benefits are and have been for those living on lower incomes. The ‘lazy scrounger’ narrative which has done so much harm will increasingly come into the spotlight as the middle-class professionals find themselves relying on state support. The real-life daily realities of many low-income families in precarious employment or subsisting on less than adequate social security payments will begin to emerge to a section of society which has hitherto thought itself immune.

The effects on the economy as incomes have plunged over the last few months, particularly for those in receipt of Universal Credit, will be further highlighted as the redundancies pile up and living standards begin to fall. It will bring into sharp focus the policies which over more than a decade have sought to divide people and create a two-tier society of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ on the basis of the lies trotted out regularly that such public and social infrastructure is dependent on a tax/contribution paying nation and that it is the private sector which creates the wealth to allow that to happen.

The argument that contributions paid in relate to a pot of money put aside by the state on our behalf must be knocked on the head and replaced with the real description of how the UK government actually spends. That what is paid out is a political choice determined by an agenda and is unrelated to how much revenue the government has collected. Household budget descriptions of how money works serve only to deliver that pernicious agenda and do not represent monetary reality.

It was depressing, therefore, to hear Labour’s Lucy Powell reinforcing the narrative of affordability when she was asked about Labour’s commitment to the pension triple lock earlier this week. She suggested that it would be dependent on knowing ‘what income you have got coming in and what outgoings you need to make’ and that ‘the single biggest determination of that is the level of employment, and level of growth in our economy’.

Once again, the suggestion is clear; that the government can’t afford to protect the incomes of retired people for whom the state pension is their only source. She, like so many others, makes a false connection between the health of the economy and tax revenue by suggesting that pensions, other benefits or indeed essential public and social infrastructure are dependent on a healthy economy and people paying their tax. It is disheartening that such economic ignorance lives on and the health of the economy is reduced to monetary affordability.

This was again brought sharply into focus this week by a report published by the Labour Women’s Budget Group which called for a universal care service. As has already been previously noted, Covid19 has highlighted the existing inequalities in society and the failure to invest in health and social care which has led to many preventable deaths both before and during the pandemic. In the midst of a climate emergency as the Women’s Budget Group points out, the pandemic has revealed huge cracks in our public and social infrastructure along with wealth disparities and social and racial injustice. The group underlined that business profit and greed has in recent times come before a caring more equal society. It called for reforms to create a caring economy ‘a blueprint for a world where work and care can be shared harmoniously, where the economy is measured in well-being and sustainability’.

These are laudable objectives, but yet again we hear the household budget tropes put forward to justify such action. That it would be a good time to consider a universal care service because interest rates are at historic lows and research has shown that taxpayers would be happy to pay extra. Once again, a constraint is immediately revealed by the suggestion that the limits to spending are monetary. Putting aside for a minute the fact that the constraints are not monetary but related to real resources, there is a better reason to consider such action:

Because a civilised society takes care of its young and elderly.

And far from being unaffordable in monetary terms, the government as the currency issuer can, assuming the real resources are available, make a political choice to invest in the lives of its citizens to improve their lives and ensure a vibrant, healthy sustainable economy.

And whilst tax plays an important role in achieving government policies, not only is tax not required to make such an investment, but also in these difficult days raising them would at this point depress the economy even further and may indeed turn taxpayers against such an expenditure.

Such a care service should not only be paid for from public funds, it should be managed and delivered as a public service and not be in private hands.

If we want a caring and environmentally sustainable economy instead of yet more exploitation no matter how eco-friendly it is presented as, fundamental to that change is a government which puts people’s interests over and above the interests of capital. We need politicians that recognise both the value of a well-educated and trained workforce to address those challenges and the role a Job Guarantee might play to ensure a just transition for those most likely to lose out.

This week, the government announced a package of measures that will allow people to study at college paid for by a national skills fund and a more flexible higher education loan scheme. Reminiscent of New Labour’s ‘Life-Long Learning’ programme, Boris Johnson announced a ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ promising that the government would help people to get the skills they need to navigate this quickly changing world. On the face of it, this is a good plan. However, training and skills in themselves good and positive as they are, are no substitute for actual jobs if, as Warren Mosler has pointed out, you’ve still only got ‘nine bones for 10 dogs’ people will still remain unemployed.

While the government continues to see job creation as a private sector exercise and absolves itself from the responsibility of governing in the interests of the nation as a whole, those jobs won’t be created by a private sector without confidence that their investment will pay a return. That confidence only derives from the actions of government through its policies and spending decisions.

For ideological reasons, the government never mentions job creation in the public sector which is where we sorely need investment. As has been pointed out many times in previous MMT Lens blogs, it could address unemployment through an expansion of the public sector (which has over 10 years been starved of funding and adequate staffing levels) to create a public and social infrastructure that meets the needs of the economy and is fit for purpose. That could be supplemented by a permanent Job Guarantee to manage the cyclical ups and downs of the economy by providing work, training and skills for those who will be most affected by this very different world that is heading our way. It is ironic that this government has cut funding to education and training over the last 10 years making it more difficult for people to gain the skills they and society needs.

Worse, over decades, starting with New Labour, it has also made education a cost to the individual instead of being funded by public money. As if somehow it is only the individual that benefits, when in fact society and the economy gain positively from a well-trained, educated workforce whether in public or private sector employment.

So where do we go from here? Are we asking ourselves the right questions? And are we prepared to make some difficult decisions?

We are at a pivotal moment in history and the future will depend not just on government action but the public willingness to engage in a serious adult conversation. Engaging requires the facts about what is possible and what is not and about the change that is needed to ensure a viable future for humankind. It requires understanding how we have been led down an alley without an exit by those politicians serving the interests of a tiny section of society. Those same politicians and institutions which daily use false narratives to suggest that there is no alternative to more pain in the future if we are to dig ourselves out of the financial hole all this spending is causing.

The only hole we have to dig ourselves out of is the hole that has been created by this false narrative that saving the planet is unaffordable, that the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 has made it even more unaffordable and making people’s quality of life better is far too expensive. Challenging such notions should be top priority. Whilst it remains to be seen whether such a government is on the horizon there is no excuse for inaction. For ourselves and for future generations.

 

 

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

Join our mailing list

If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

Support us

The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here

 

Share

Tweet

Whatsapp

Messenger

Share

Email

reddit

Pinterest

tumblr

Viber icon
Viber

The post Standing at a crossroads in time appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 2:37am in

Last night’s tax story earned Trump’s predictable angry tweets. But there was a thundering silence from Republicans about the tax story, while Democrats expressed alarm at the dangers of a president exposed to more than $300 million in debt. Continue reading

The post Sorry, Wrong Number appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Is the End of Debtfare Forced Labour?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 5:26am in

In his chapter ‘The Violence of the Debtfare State’ in Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, eds., The Violence of Austerity (London: Pluto Press 2017), David Ellis uses the term ‘debtfare’ to describe the dismantling of state welfare provision and its replacement by debt and credit. And I’m starting to wonder how far this can go before something like debt slavery arises. The Romans abolished debt slavery, but the punishment for debt was addictio, forced labour. People are being forced into mountains of debt through poverty created by austerity and the removal of living wages and proper unemployment and disability benefits. Students are also mired in it through tuition fees which now may amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

I am therefore left wondering at what point the various banks and other organisations offering credit will stop it and start demanding their money back or some other form of repayment. Clearly if people remain in debt, they can’t repay the money. The alternatives seem to be either that the banks keep on giving them credit in the hope that they’ll be able to repay something, or else write it off as a loss. But if the number of people in irrecoverable debt hits millions, what happens? If the levels of indebtedness actually starts to harm the banks and the other organisations, will they turn to the state to demand some kind of forced labour in order to make good their profits?

I’ve already pointed out the similarity of the workfare schemes to the forced labour systems of Stalin’s Russia. Stalin used slave labour from the gulags to industrialise the Soviet Union. Business managers would give the KGB lists of the kind of workers their enterprise needed, and the KGB would then have those with the appropriate skills and qualifications accused of anti-Soviet crimes and arrested. The workfare scheme now used to punish the unemployed doesn’t teach anybody any new skills, nor does it allow them to find employment. Indeed the stats a while ago showed that people on workfare were less likely to get a job than if they were left to their own initiative. But workfare does supply cheap, state-subsidised labour to the scheme’s backers and the parties’ business donors, like the supermarkets.

So if the number of people in grievous, irrecoverable debt, will the government simply write them off and let them starve to death, as so many disabled people have done already thanks to false assessments under the Work Capability Tests? Or will they decide they can still make some money for business by pressing them into compulsory labour in order to work their way out of it, as in the Roman system?

I’m not saying this will happen or even that it’s likely. But I do wonder if it’s a possibility.

Time to worry less (or better not at all) about the national debt and challenge the government’s economic record instead.

£1 coin and £10 Bank of England banknoteImage by bluebudgie from pixabay

The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.

Antonio Gramsci

In the week that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his latest Job Support Scheme, everywhere you look the TV journalists and other media pundits are bewailing the rising cost in terms of “borrowing” and government debt. TV presenters can’t help themselves. ‘We’ll be paying for it for years to come’, is the on-going mantra being drummed into the public consciousness, just in case we forget. It was even suggested on this week’s BBC’s Money Box programme that it would take 3000 years to repay the national debt! An astounding calculation made on the basis of current borrowing levels and the annual tax take. However, given that a sovereign currency-issuing government like the UK’s doesn’t even have to borrow to spend, it’s just another example of household budget accounting.

Whilst those of us with a better understanding of how money works shout at the TV with incredulity that the same falsities are being repeated endlessly, many of those same journalists and presenters fail to make the very real connections between government spending, the state of the economy and the lives of its citizens.

Whilst the implication of unaffordability and a future tax burden prevails as a reason to curtail spending eventually, the real price has been and remains a human one; economic instability and uncertainty for people and the prospect of more damage to the environment. We can’t afford to improve people’s lives or even save the planet! Apparently.

Whilst we read endless articles reporting on the declining state of our public services and local government, the injustice of a social security system which is failing too many people the elephant in the room largely goes unacknowledged; the role that government plays in the welfare of its citizens through its spending decisions. While we see huge sums of money being poured into private profit, our public and social infrastructure is in a state of decay. Their choice is clear.

At the same time, the left-wing social media pages continue to shoot themselves in the foot by posting articles and memes with language designed to increase the public’s fear of too much spending and its consequences on future generations; ‘UK national debt soars to record levels as Covid pushes up borrowing’ is one such posted this week.

Whilst such pages are clearly and quite rightly aimed at holding the government to account for their abysmal management of the economy and its consequences for some of the poorest people in our communities, they do so within the context of a household budget narrative. Such a narrative will, without doubt, constrain a future progressive government, not liberate it!

Instead of focusing on deficits as if they were a measure of good or bad stewardship of the public finances, we might better and more correctly point out the government’s economic record. How did it respond to the on-going crisis and the economic fallout? Had it, through its spending policies, ensured a well-functioning public infrastructure able to rise to the current challenges? Did it spend sufficiently to secure the financial stability of its citizens during this uncertain time? Or not?

In an unstable and uncertain environment, the job of the Chancellor is to mitigate those losses with sound policies and sufficient spending to keep the economic boat afloat as long as is necessary, whilst also ploughing additional investment into the public and social infrastructure to support the economy. Instead, government spending policies over the last 10 years have left the country’s infrastructure in a perilous state and unable to respond effectively. The price in human lives, poverty and rising wealth inequality is to be added to the devastating effects of the pandemic.

And yet, still in mainstream reporting, it’s as if people’s lives matter less than digits on a computer. And all this despite the growing understanding of the sovereign powers of a currency-issuing government. Whilst politicians, think tanks and journalists still have their heads firmly stuck in the sand like ostriches, people are led to believe that there will be no alternative to a future reckoning if the country is not to be bankrupted or future generations of taxpayers burdened with huge debt.

The role of the media and indeed the political opposition, if we did but know it, is to challenge government. Not to uphold and reinforce its power. Their role is to make the government accountable for its political and spending decisions and to bring to public notice when it abuses its sovereign powers in favour of other estates. Its job is to ask questions. Instead, whilst they approve of government intervention at this serious time they still prefer to talk about the state of the public accounts, rising public debt and the consequences for future generations. Thus, they continue to reinforce the myths about how sovereign governments really spend. The neoliberal economic orthodoxy rules.

The Chancellor’s plans sit very much within the neoliberal economic orthodoxy, despite the vast sums of essential government spending to prop up the economy and secure people’s financial security. He has already let it be known that he is considering a freeze of benefits and public sector pay and abandoning the pension ‘triple lock’. It will no doubt be presented as a necessity to get public spending under control and pay back the vast sums of money it has supposedly ‘borrowed’.

However, the truth is that it will be more to do with the government’s long term aim which had its origins in the actions of successive governments since Thatcher to transfer public provision to the private sector whilst ensuring the state’s role as a cash cow to the corporate sector.

Whilst Sunak’s increased spending was and remains vital, there has been valid criticism of his plans both early on and now with the proposed job support scheme which was referred to more correctly as an ‘unemployment creation scheme’ by the tax campaigner Richard Murphy. Sunak has failed on all levels and the promised V-shaped recovery is looking less and less likely.

Apart from being a short-term solution to a problem which is likely to persist for some time, it will require employers to share the cost of paying wages with damaging consequences. This will, without doubt, provide a significant motivation to make staff redundant, not preserve jobs. It fails to support those working in the hospitality industry whose businesses have been put on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions and furthermore the 3 million self-employed often working in creative industries have also once again lost out and will not benefit from these new measures. Far from being the party of the entrepreneur (unless of course, you happen to be rich one like Dyson and likely to contribute to your party funds), Sunak has shown complete disregard for the army of self-employed and small business entrepreneurs who make valuable contributions to the economy.

As the furlough scheme draws to a close, many thousands of people have already lost their employment and found themselves on Universal Credit. And yet many, despite the increased benefits now being paid, find themselves with insufficient income to manage their finances. Many hundreds of thousands will be added to that number over the next few months as the prospect of further restrictions resulting from the coming second wave of Coronavirus and the government’s inadequate plans.

The Resolution Foundation has suggested that it will be a significant mistake to end the £20 a week boost to tax credits and Universal Credit now being proposed by the Chancellor, the cut to come into effect next April. This the Resolution Foundation suggests rightly would clearly affect income and spending.

It has said that the rise in unemployment, combined with planned benefit cuts, means a ‘grim outlook for living-standards’. It has also noted that ‘The £20 a week boost can be seen as a reflection of the fact that out-of-work support was not adequate when we entered the crisis and – without the boost – certainly won’t be adequate in future. […] Ending the boost would mean withdrawing perhaps £8 billion from disposable incomes in 2021-22, precisely from those groups and places that need it most to support spending and the economic recovery in 2021-22.’ Removing that boost will have a huge negative impact on disposable incomes.

And here we come to the crux of the matter and one which the Chancellor cannot ignore. And that is, quite simply, that one person’s spending is another’s income. Rises in unemployment and proposals for public sector wage caps will drive the economy even further down the slippery slope.

On the one hand, Sunak says, ‘we must learn to live without fear’ and then counters that by saying ‘I cannot save every business. I cannot save every job’.

Whilst he implies he has no power to do otherwise and that people will have to bear the burden, he fails to mention that the government is in control. That it alone has the means, as a sovereign currency issuer, to mitigate the worst effects on the economy of the pandemic and indeed has the ability to use it to address the next great survival challenge bearing down on us like a tsunami – that of climate change (which seems strangely to have been put on the back burner).

The government, by dint of being the sovereign currency issuer, can spend what it needs to, within the limitations of real resources. It could rebuild a publicly-provided and paid-for infrastructure, both locally and nationally, thus providing more socially useful jobs paid at a living wage and could implement a permanent Job Guarantee to act as the economic stabilising mechanism to see us through this difficult time and most importantly to ensure a just transition towards an environmentally sustainable economy.

With such serious issues at stake, we must challenge the notion that the government cannot afford to deal with mass unemployment, poverty or climate change. We must challenge the notion that the government has to impose higher taxes or debt on the nation which limit what can be achieved to improve people’s lives.

Quite simply, the idea that there aren’t sufficient numeric digits available to make a better world is a fraud of the highest order. The future depends on our understanding it and challenging those that tout those lies either wilfully or unknowingly.

 

Further Reading:

National Debt https://gimms.org.uk/faq/what-is-the-national-debt/

Government Borrowing https://gimms.org.uk/faq/doesnt-the-government-have-to-borrow-when-it-spends-more-than-it-taxes/

The Job Guarantee https://gimms.org.uk/job-guarantee/

 

 

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 – Online

An audio recording of the event is now available via the MMT Podcast here

 

Join our mailing list

If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

Support us

The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here

 

Share

Tweet

Whatsapp

Messenger

Share

Email

reddit

Pinterest

tumblr

Viber icon
Viber

The post Time to worry less (or better not at all) about the national debt and challenge the government’s economic record instead. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Neoclassical economics II: pseudo-scholarship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 1:50pm in

[Published at Pearls & Irritations, 22 Sept.]

Neoclassical economics is without scholarly integrity. It does not belong in universities. It certainly should not be the dominant source of policy advice to governments.

Most scholarly disciplines, be they history, physics or ecology, have a conception of appropriate standards by which the evidential basis of an argument is presented and the reasoning leading to conclusions is explained. The goal is to shed light on the workings of the world, and a criterion for a successful study is that observations or records are consistent with the study’s conclusions.

Neoclassical economics, the strand of economics that has dominated world policies for several decades, fails these criteria. Its conclusions are regularly contradicted by developments in the real world. A dominant criterion for a successful study is that its logic is internally consistent; it thus confuses mathematics with the science it claims to be. It is variously claimed that assumptions on which a theory is based don’t matter, or that the better the theory the more unrealistic the assumptions, or that all theories are wrong. It imagines its theories are useful approximations to reality, and fails to appreciate that more reasonable assumptions can lead to radically different conclusions, so its theories may be deeply misleading.

Neoclassical economics originated late in the nineteenth century and claimed to build on the ‘classical’ economics of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and others. Whereas Smith thought markets could in some circumstances result in satisfactory outcomes for all participants, he also required that markets are embedded in and restrained by society and morality. He was really railing against the corrupt alliance of merchants and the government in setting up colonial trading monopolies. He warned that wherever merchants might congregate one should suspect a conspiracy to defraud customers.

Neoclassical economists created a mathematical theory that purported to show that ‘free’ markets will always bring an economy to a general equilibrium in which all supplies balance all demands. Furthermore, this general equilibrium was shown to be an optimum, in the sense that outputs would be maximised for given inputs of land, labour and capital.

When rich people heard about this theory they started paying neoclassical economists lots of money to keep saying that free markets are best. It means rich people should keep making money as fast as they can. It means government is bad, because it gets in the way of rich people. Adam rolled over.

However certain assumptions were required to get the mathematics to yield this brave new world vision. There can be no economies of scale (beyond a point of diminishing returns), there should be no social interactions, and everyone should be rational calculators. People are reduced to transacting atoms, to rational economic man, to what I call calculating reptiles.

The flow of time has to be suspended. It was regarded as a triumph when it was shown that if we can all assign probabilities to all future contingencies then the general equilibrium is still possible. So it is assumed we each have this power, and a computer the size of the universe to implement it. Physicists and applied mathematicians might recognise that this amounts to telescoping the unknown future into the known present; it is analogous to transforming your system of equations from hyperbolic to elliptic. It gets rid of the path-dependence of solutions. History doesn’t matter and the future is assured.

If any of these stringent assumptions is changed to something more reasonable, equilibrium is no longer possible. Not just hard to find, impossible. For example, Henry Ford and Jeff Bezos have understood that economies of scale can allow you to undercut your rivals, gain more market share, increase your economies of scale and further undercut your rivals in a runaway, unstable process until you gain near-monopoly in your market segment. The technological homogeneity of the internet puts this tendency on steroids. If a potent new software or strategy comes along, you empire is at risk of being overthrown. There is no equilibrium.

If there is no general equilibrium, then nothing can be said about optimality, because optimality emerges from the general equilibrium. It means there is no basis for claiming free markets are efficient.

The accumulation of absurd assumptions in neoclassical economics can be recognised as a desperate attempt to exclude instability and thus to preserve the old conclusion. Neoclassical economists became infatuated with equilibrium, contorted their theories to maintain it, and lost all connection with reality.

A regular defence, offered for example by another faux-Nobelist, Paul Krugman, is that their theories are helpful to maintaining systematic thinking. That requires the theory to bear some useful approximation to reality. In a widely-cited paper, Milton Friedman in 1953 apparently tried to argue that no theory can fully represent reality (correct), so all theories are approximate (correct) and that the biggest pay-offs of insight come from rough, general approximations (sometimes correct). His statements are so garbled and contradictory, however, it is hard to tell if that is really what he was trying to say. So some people take him to have said assumptions don’t matter, etc. Unfortunately, as their own theories demonstrate, hopelessly unrealistic assumptions will get you a hopelessly unrealistic theory.

Why were neoclassical economists taken by surprise by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008? They said it was a black swan event, something no-one could have anticipated. Except that some well-known people did anticipate it, on the basis that there was far more debt than people were likely to be able to repay. People did fail to repay, there was a cascade of defaults and the global financial system seized up.

The problem, you see, is that neoclassical economists exclude money and debt from their theories. Why? Well, aside from the ill-informed excuses they advance, if you allow for debt then the present becomes linked to the future (when the debt is supposed to be repaid), and the future involves risk, such as the possibility of cascading defaults. Our modern token money is itself a form of debt. So arguably the most potent forces in a modern economy, money and debt, are left out of their theories. So they did not see the GFC coming, and their predictions of prosperity just around the corner regularly fail.

Another bit of inconvenient reality: cascading defaults can trigger a financial market crash, and a market crash is an obvious manifestation of instability. There was no equilibrium. There are many sources of instability in an economy when you look: technological innovation, economies of scale, money and debt, social interactions, ‘irrational’ herd behaviour among others. Economies are always far from equilibrium, which makes them complex self-organising systems, like organic systems, with radically different behaviours: as different as wild horses from a rocking horse.

As I noted in Part I, the illusion of an agile, self-correcting economy, and society, allows economists to expect, and then to conclude, that the gross global disruption of serious global warming will merely shave a few percent off the global GDP.

There is a fringe of dissenting economists, and the odd scientist like me, who have been pointing out for many years that neoclassical economics is misleading nonsense. The dissident economists are excluded from the best jobs, the best journals and positions of influence by what James Galbraith calls a ‘Politburo for correct economic thinking’.

Scholars in other disciplines need to be alerted to the presence of this imposter in their midst. Neoclassical economics is pseudo-science, assertions dressed up in mathematics to look like science. It fails basic scholarly criteria, like changing your theory when it completely fails to accord with reality. It is profoundly confused about what good scholarship and good science involve. Its professional criterion for a successful career is conformity to its groupthink.

A Tribute to David Graeber

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/09/2020 - 7:00pm in

As many of you know, the anthropologist David Graeber died recently at the age of 59. Many of us are still coming to grips with this loss. Graeber was a rare individual — both a tireless activist and a superb scholar.

In this guest post, teacher and a financial analyst Christophe Petit pays tribute to Graeber, his friend and mentor. Petit works for labour unions in France and is currently doing a PhD in economics that was co-supervised by Graeber. Petit researches how monetary policy could be used to finance a universal basic income. You can find his work in the Revue du MAUSS.

A Tribute to David Graeber

Christophe Petit

For the past ten years, I had the good fortune to know David Graeber as both a friend and mentor. He was (and will remain) an inexhaustible source of inspiration. So I owe it to David to pay him tribute.

When someone dies, we often exaggerate their character. We find qualities that were perhaps not there. But with David, we needn’t do this. He possessed so many redeeming qualities. He was kind, benevolent, humorous, erudite, imaginative, intelligent, energetic, and curious. He was (no exaggeration) the sunniest person I’ve ever known.

David was exceptionally talented. But he possessed something rarer: extraordinary genius. It’s worth reflecting on the difference. Talent is a matter of analytic skill. Genius is a matter of imagination. Talent combines what already exists. Genius creates something new. David moved so many people because he was a genius in this sense. Reading his work made your imagination explode. Every page opened new possibilities. There was something Nietzschean about David’s work. Since his first book, Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value, David encouraged us to think and criticize the values that we take for granted.

David was committed to helping people, something that is evident in his writing. Take, as an example, his book Bullshit Jobs. It spoke to people who were crushed by the modern religion of work — people who were tired of being cogs in a corporate machine. David demolished the idea that work was sacred. Instead, he defended human dignity and the right to creativity. He advocated for a universal basic income, which he argued would vaccinate against the suffocating effects of corporate bureaucracy.

David’s book Debt: The First 5000 Years helped people in a different way. It made plain the nature of money, and how it justifies power. The capture of money by private interests, David argued, is the essence of feudalism. To have democracy, we need democratic money. Sadly, history has tended to move in the opposite direction. We began long ago with the democratic ethos of debt forgiveness, proclaimed by people like Jesus (the Redeemer) and Solon (the creator of democracy). Today, the prevailing ethos has regressed. We herald not debt redemption, but debt repayment.

In The Utopia of Rules, David looked at the stultifying effects of bureaucracy. He showed us that we (in capitalist societies) live in a world even more bureaucratic than the Soviet Union — a regime of ‘managerial feudalism’. It’s a world of rentier bureaucracy that oppresses the majority of humanity.

For the past ten years, David had been writing (together with David Wengrow) a book about human history. He finished it three weeks before his death. Called The Dawn of Everything, it was to be part of a trilogy. Sadly, this masterpiece will go unfinished. Still, we have this single book as a parting gift.

David had many plans for the future. He hoped to integrate the works of Thorstein Veblen, John Commons, Jonathan Nitzan, Shimshon Bichler, Fabian Muniesa and Blair Fix (among others). David and I were planning a book devoted to the philosophy of Roy Bhaskar, which he was to preface. David, like Bhaskar in philosophy or Einstein in physics, insisted on the primary role of imagination in the scientific process. Similar to Einstein’s physical thought experiments, David conducted social thought experiments. The truth, for David, was a mobile army of imaginary metaphors signing a symbolic armistice — both literary and mathematical – with a fixed army of empirical facts. David was also going to write a preface for a forthcoming French anthology of Michael Hudson’s work.1

Together with Véronique Dutraive, David was the co-directer of my PhD thesis. My research focused on the financing of a monthly universal basic income through money creation. It’s a subject that obsessed us (David and I), fuelling many discussions over the past few years. We schemed about how to radically transform money — from an institution that serves financial capitalism to an institution that protects democracy.

The key ideas is a ‘debt jubilee’ like the one proposed by Steve Keen (who builds on the work of Michael Hudson). Rather than cancel debts, Keen proposes that we allow people to pay off debts by giving everyone a payout. David and I thought of this payout as a kind of anarchist currency — money based not debt, but on Marcel Mauss’ concept of The Gift. I will continue to develop these ideas, but David’s death leaves a great hole. He had the ability to make radical ideas (like the debt jubilee) appear obvious.

For those of us who want a better society, David’s death is an immense loss. Although he was the opposite of a guru (he had no use for authority), David was for me (and many others) a kind of North Star. He helped us orient in the constellation of ideas.

Since David’s death, myself and others (I’m thinking of David’s close friends in SPECTRE2) have been waking each morning with a broken heart. To us, Alphonse de Lamartine’s famous phrase suddenly has knew meaning:

Sometimes, when one person is missing, the whole world seems empty.

For David, we are the stuff of human relationships. We are people made of people. With David’s death, a part of me has died. But his memory lives on. David always seemed like a child playing with ideas. Perhaps it is the privilege of geniuses to remain joyous children playing on the beach — the frontier between the land of the known and the ocean of the unknown.

David’s wife Nika is creating a foundation that will work to preserve his inimitable spirit. It’s our duty to keep the light of his genius alive.

Notes

  1. My friend Thibault Mirabel and I are the translators.↩
  2. If you’re interested, SPECTRE stands for Secret Political Economic Consortium for the Total Redistribution of Everything.↩

Support this blog

Economics from the Top Down is where I share my ideas for how to create a better economics. If you liked this post, consider becoming a patron. You’ll help me continue my research, and continue to share it with readers like you.

patron_button

Stay updated

Sign up to get email updates from this blog.

Email Address:

Keep me up to date

What’s the choice?

Do we accept there is no alternative to our rotten economic system or demand something different? Let’s re-examine our values and use our imaginations to redefine how we work and live.

Sign that says "imagine" fixed to a stone wallImage by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

“We shall deal first with the reluctance of the ‘captains of industry’ to accept government intervention in the matter of employment. Every widening of state activity is looked upon by business with suspicion, but the creation of employment by government spending has a special aspect which makes the opposition particularly intense. Under a laissez-faire system, the level of employment depends to a great extent on the so-called state of confidence. If this deteriorates, private investment declines, which results in a fall of output and employment (both directly and through the secondary effect of the fall in incomes upon consumption and investment).
This gives the capitalists a powerful indirect control over government policy: everything which may shake the state of confidence must be carefully avoided because it would cause an economic crisis. But once the government learns the trick of increasing employment by its own purchases, this powerful controlling device loses its effectiveness. Hence budget deficits necessary to carry out government intervention must be regarded as perilous. The social function of the doctrine of ‘sound finance’ is to make the level of employment dependent on the state of confidence”.

(Michał Kalecki, 1943)

In 2010 Professor Michael Marmot published his independent review (commissioned in 2008 by the then Labour government) ‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives’ in which it was concluded that reducing health inequalities was a ‘matter of fairness and social justice’ and that ‘tackling social inequalities and tackling climate change must go together’. It recommended that reducing them would require action on six policy objectives:

  1. Give every child the best start in life
  2. Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives
  3. Create fair employment and good work for all
  4. Ensure healthy standard of living for all
  5. Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities
  6. Strengthen the role and impact of ill-health prevention.

The general election which the Conservatives won was premised on the illusion that Labour had spent too much and that it was necessary to restore the public finances to health. This, we were told, would necessitate a programme of austerity to cut public spending and balance the books. The government spent the next decade doing just that but at huge social cost as, a decade later, the evidence shows.

In February, just before Covid-19 began to take its toll both in lives and on the economy, The Institute of Health Equity published an update to mark 10 years from the 2010 report in which it highlighted the following:

  • People can expect to spend more of their lives in poor health
  • Improvements to life expectancy have stalled and declined for the poorest 10% of women
  • The health gap has grown between wealthy and deprived areas
  • Place matters – living in a deprived area of the North East is worse for your health than living in a similarly deprived area in London, to the extent that life expectancy is nearly five years less.

The comparison between the objectives in the original report and the current situation is stark. As Professor Marmot who is a director of the UCL Institute of Health noted:

‘This damage to the nation’s health need not, have happened … Austerity has taken a significant toll on equity and health, and it is likely to continue to do so. If you ask me if that is the reason for the worsening health picture, I’d say it is highly likely that is responsible for life expectancy flat-lining, people’s health deteriorating and the widening of health inequalities. Poverty has a grip on our nation’s health – it limits the options families have available to live a healthy life. Government health policies that focus on individual behaviours are not effective. Something has gone badly wrong.’

Addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and its on-going consequences has been made much more difficult as a result of the pursuit of unnecessary austerity driven by political aims and not financial necessity. Not only has our public and social infrastructure been devastated, but government policies have wrecked people’s lives – either through punishing social security reforms or wage policies designed to favour the interests of employers over employees. All being enabled by the lie that there was no money

Instead of prioritising the existing health inequalities that the original report revealed, the newly elected government chose, through its spending and employment policies, to purposefully ignore them. It pursued quite a different agenda which has proved to be more about reducing state intervention (with the incorrect narrative of unaffordability) whilst at the same time endlessly promoting the idea of personal responsibility and self-reliance.

Responsibility for the social determinants of health which should lie within the purview of government through its policies to ensure a healthy nation and economy, has thus been shifted downwards to citizens. The social and economic conditions in which people live determine both individual and national health and we have lost sight of the fact that the health of the nation is one of its most important assets. Poverty, poor wages and working conditions, the scourge of unemployment, a social security system unfit for purpose, poor housing, poor food, and a deficient education system are disturbing indicators that something is very wrong and demonstrate very clearly the toxic nature of market-driven policies deriving from neoliberal ideology.

At the same time, as a report published in February for the ONS (Office for National Statistics) ‘Social Capital 2020’ revealed, we are becoming an increasingly fragmented and divided society as trust in government has fallen and our sense of isolation and lack of community belonging has increased having a significantly deleterious effect on social cohesion.

So, when Boris Johnson and his cohorts began talking about levelling up, people began to feel hopeful that the government was beginning to take responsibility as a potential architect for restoring social cohesion through its spending and policy decisions to improve the lives of its citizens and create a society which understands collective obligation.

And yet to date, there has been little sign of government intervention on that score. In fact, the words ‘levelling up’ have yet to go beyond mere words. And indeed, as the debate about how the government’s vast fiscal injection will be paid for only this week, a Conservative MP suggested that the pandemic will make levelling up even harder, once again implying that scarcity of money will, in the end, put the brakes on further government action. It plays to our false understanding of how governments spend and allows the narrative of more taxes or perhaps another round of austerity to be justified.

The plain truth is that as we are increasingly learning government has become the agent of big business rather than the driver of social cohesion and well-being whilst at the same time acting as a cash cow for businesses, all without public accountability. Contracts being dished out left right and centre!

As has been noted in previous blogs the price we are paying is a heavy one. As voluntary organisations step in to bridge the gap whether it is university law students providing legal advice to plug the gap in access to justice, volunteers in the health service to support an overstretched NHS, or indeed those involved in food banks to keep hunger from the door of its many recipients we are being primed by an appeal to our goodwill to accept the idea that there is no alternative since public funds are we are told unavailable.

We are moving towards such goodwill actions becoming indispensable and the societal norm. Only last year the co-founder of Probonoeconomics Andy Haldane suggested that volunteering could help society and provide the NHS with skills which would otherwise cost ‘hundreds of pounds per hour’. At the same time, we have private residential care providers suggesting that robots could take the place of human contact in reducing loneliness amongst residents. When cutting costs and profit becomes the sole driver for human activity it is time to challenge such notions before it is too late.

Volunteering cannot become the default to plug those deliberately created gaps in health and social provision to serve a toxic market-driven ideology. Indeed, it could not fill those gaps adequately in the long term.

The implication that the government is financially embarrassed must be challenged. At every turn, we are treated to household budget narratives to defend government spending policy. And yet whilst the government can find billions for a test and trace service for Covid-19 (outsourced to private companies – Deloitte, Serco and G4S) it cannot find the money for publicly funded and delivered public service provision both at national and local level, a state-backed job guarantee or a basic living wage income to ensure that those who cannot work for any reason can live decently and without fear.

One of the key objectives of the 2010 report from the Institute of Health Equity mentioned at the beginning of this blog was to create fair employment and good work for all.

Good, well-paid employment either in the private or public sector is one of the vital ingredients for overall economic stability and a healthy society. The role of government therefore should be to ensure full employment as a policy objective to create stability both in normal and abnormal economic times such as these.

And yet whilst government continues to grapple with the economic fallout from Covid-19, which is not over by any means, its Chancellor seems to be sticking to his guns on closing the furlough scheme regardless of its implications and is supported by the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane who has warned against its extension on the basis that such a move would prevent a ‘necessary process of adjustment’ taking place.

On that basis, it would seem that rising unemployment will be in their eyes an acceptable price to pay for this shakeout whilst ignoring its damaging consequences on the economy and the knock-on effects on people’s financial stability and their health. Can we also suppose that it will likely be used to drive a further extension of a low wage, insecure employment economy?

The former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown at the same time has attacked the Bank of England for failing to place sufficient emphasis on job creation. As the architect of the supposed central bank independence he claimed would give it the freedom to control monetary policy. But this was, in reality, a convenient sham – a mechanism to sidestep government’s responsibility as an elected body to deliver economic stability. As Professor Bill Mitchell wrote in 2017 ‘The point is that central banks can never be independent of treasury departments and claims to the contrary were just part of the depoliticization of policy that accompanied neoliberalism’. The central bank is the servant, not the master.

Economic stability is in the hands of government through the policy choices it makes and its spending decisions. It alone has the power, through its currency sovereignty, to ensure full employment. Given the dire predictions for the economy in this obvious time of great change related to the pandemic and also the need to address climate change, we need a government committed to price stability through the implementation of a centrally funded and locally organised job guarantee to guide us through these difficult times. Whilst magic bullets don’t exist, it will be important to avoid a 1930s scenario of mass unemployment and ensure a just transition whilst the great climate change shakeout progresses. We need radical solutions, not next week, next month or next year we need them now.

And yet while Rishi Sunak talks about tax increases to pay for the coronavirus bailouts and the Treasury Committee suggests laying out a road map for the autumn budget for repairing the ‘hole in the public finances’ with a proposal for a temporary abandonment of the triple lock on pensions, the public are once again being primed for bad news. Whilst tax reform should be on the agenda, raising taxes at this juncture would be a foolish path to take which would do nothing to support the economy. And instead of repairing the ‘hole in the public finances’ a monetarily savvy government would be looking to repair the very real holes in the public and social infrastructure it alone has been responsible for over the last 10 years.

With the government we currently have in place, we might be whistling in the wind as it clearly has other objectives and other estates to serve. However, that does not mean that we, as an increasingly informed public through the power of civil movements, cannot force the sort of reset that would benefit ordinary people by redefining the role of government as a servant of the people rather than the rich and powerful global interests which currently influence policy and economic direction.

 

 

Join our mailing list

If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

Support us

The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here

 

Share

Tweet

Whatsapp

Messenger

Share

Email

reddit

Pinterest

tumblr

Viber icon
Viber

The post What’s the choice? appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Pages