employment

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Data on Philosophy PhDs in Non-Academic Positions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/10/2021 - 2:01am in

How many philosophy PhDs go on to pursue non-academic employment?

14%, according to surveying done by Academic Placement Data and Analysis (APDA).


[photo by J. Weinberg]

In a post over at The Philosophers’ Cocoon, Marcus Arvan (Tampa), who is on APDA’s board of advisors, shares a good amount of information that the project collected about non-academic careers for philosophers.

Here’s one tidbit:

  • Mean salaries reported 
    • Academic: $79,237 (n = 477)
    • Non-Academic: $179,833 (n = 42)
  • Median Salaries
    • Academic: $73,000 
    • Non-Academic: $100,000 

Head to the Cocoon for further details.

Related: Non-Academic HiresSupporting Non-Academic CareersProgram Funds Non-Academic Internships for Philosophy PhD StudentsDuties to Graduate Students Pursuing Non-Academic CareersAPA Issues New Guide For Philosophers Seeking Non-Academic JobsNew Site Interviews Philosophers With Non-Academic CareersProfiles of Non-Academics with Philosophy Degrees

A Nobel Prize leaves the minimum wage question open

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/10/2021 - 6:32pm in

David Card

David Card, 2021 Nobel winner and nice guy

One of economics’ most famous papers – the 1994 minimum wage study by David Card and Alan Krueger – has just won David Card (pictured) half of a Nobel Prize in Economics. The overall reasons for Card’s award are well explored here and here and here, and by Card himself here.

The Card & Krueger paper is widely admired. Even more remarkably, it is one of that rare breed of paper which has changed minds in economics. Before its publication, most economists tended to believe minimum wages cost jobs; after they had digested Card & Krueger, some began at least to doubt that was true.

Rather than just building a model, Card & Krueger started with a good natural experiment: the minimum wage went up in New Jersey but stayed the same in Pennsylvania, which acted as a control group. The difference in the difference between the two states before and after the law change should be the effect of the minimum wage. Hence the name of this technique – “difference in differences“.

Essentially, this year’s Economics Nobel celebrated natural experiments, and natural experiments are, in general, a lot better than the armchair theorising which has featured in some previous economics Nobels. They aren’t exactly a new idea; their use in social science goes back at least to the 185os. But Card & Krueger’s natural experiment was a notable and clever one, and it seems to have rekindled enthusiasm for them within economics.

If you think that economics should make falsifiable claims about how the world works, this seems like a good development. That makes the Card Nobel, as Club Troppo‘s Paul Frijters put it, one of the best picks of recent years.

But here’s the thing I keep coming back to: Card & Krueger’s findings are very often misrepresented as proving something they don’t prove. They’re terrific economics, but they are also part of what we might call the Feynman Social Science Problem.

The problems with Card & Krueger

Card & Krueger’s paper was interestingly counterintuitive in the sense that in the simplest model of the economy, high prices normally make people buy less of something. Just on that logic, you might wonder why a higher minimum wage would have no effect at all on low-paid jobs. Then again, hey, the world is full of research results that look odd at the start but become perfectly normal once we understand them better, because the world is often not quite like the simplified model.

But Card & Krueger really didn’t give us a solid conclusion about the general employment effects of the minimum wage. I see headlines like “The Nobel Prize winner in economics revolutionized thinking about the minimum wage” (Quartz), and I don’t think it really did. The Nobel Prize citation declares that Card proved that “increasing the minimum wage does not necessarily lead to fewer jobs”, and I don’t think that’s true either. Card & Krueger cleverly gave us evidence that raising the minimum wage might not always have the result many economists expected. That’s useful and sensible, not transformative.

And there are doubts about even that evidence.

Problem 1: Taken at face value, Card & Krueger’s paper says that higher wages push employment up. If people everyone took the work at face value, we’d be solving unemployment by lifting the minimum wage higher and higher. But no-one thinks that would work.

Problem 2, which is actually a bunch of problems: The Card & Krueger experiment has a number of possible holes. To take a sample:

  • Earlier changes in the minimum wage law are alleged to have caused a bigger drop in teenage employment in New Jersey than in Pennsylvania.
  • New Jersey employers reportedly had ample warning of the minimum wage hike, and might have chosen to lower their worker numbers before the wage rise took effect.
  • We saw almost inevitable criticisms of the quality of Card & Krueger’ data, some of it reasonably credible.

Problem 3, which is related to the previous two: Top professional economists don’t agree on what Card & Krueger shows either. One piece of evidence: in early 2021, the Chicago Booth School’s IGM panels of notable economists in the US and Europe looked at the minimum wage question in the US and could only get 15 per cent of their number to disagree with the idea that raising the US minimum wage to US$15 would lower employment among low-wage workers.

IGM US economists 2021


IGM US economists panel proposal: A US federal minimum wage of $15 per hour would lower employment for low-wage workers in many states. (Result: more economists agree than disagree, and many are unsure.)

IGM European economists 2021


IGM European economists panel proposal: A US federal minimum wage of $15 per hour would lower employment for low-wage workers in many states. (Result: more economists agree than disagree, and even more are unsure.)

(Be aware that the wage hike proposed here was not the same one that Card & Krueger looked at, which may be important.)

You of course might argue that the IGM panels are just a bunch of conservatives. But that seems unlikely to be the case. You can see who was on the panel by going to the US and European poll pages. Also, the same panel mechanism could not get one economist to disagree with the idea that carbon taxes are a better way to implement climate policy than cap-and-trade. And if you think many of the IGN’s economics panellist are behind the times, remember that Card & Krueger published a quarter-century ago.

These sorts of problems are not unusual in economics or in the social sciences more generally. Indeed, we see them everywhere. They don’t make Card & Krueger’s paper bad; rather, they underline that social science experiments are almost always open to question, precisely because they are embedded in complex and messy social systems.

The Feynman Social Science Problem

I can see why Card got the Nobel, and I think this Nobel will give a fillip to the very important principal of seeking out natural experiments wherever we can.

But at the same time, the Card Nobel underlines a huge weakness in today’s social sciences. Looking at the debate over Card & Krueger’s paper gave me a renewed appreciation for the difficulty of drawing conclusions from natural experiments in the social sciences. It’s this: in real-life situations, you often just have more going on than you know how to deal with.

Indeed, the Card & Krueger paper demonstrates what you might call the Feynman Social Science Problem: in most social science situations, it’s nearly impossible to isolate the relevant variables in an economic study with enough certainty to reach a conclusion. In physics, controlling for variables is often possible. In social science, it almost never is.

Most people don’t like to say this very loudly.

The famed physicist Richard Feynman was an exception: he called social science a pseudo-science:

“I might be quite wrong, maybe they do know all these things. But I have had the advantage of having found out how hard it is to get to really know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes … I see how they get their information and I can’t believe that they know it – they haven’t done the work necessary, the checks necessary and [taken] the care necessary.”

Feynman’s criticism has proved hard for me to shake. And the Reproducibility Crisis that has gripped the social sciences in recent years hasn’t reinforced anyone’s faith in social science methodologies, either. I have grown increasingly reluctant to trust social science findings in general.

Again, the point is not that Card & Krueger did anything wrong by the standards of the social sciences. Indeed, having found their experiment, they also worked harder than most to check their findings. And they seem to have been pretty modest about the epistemological value of their work. (Plus Card is widely described as a nice guy – and I always like to see nice guys finish first.)

The problem is that people take social science research findings and make more of them than they ought to do.

Economic truth, always out of reach

This is not just my contention. As I realised after first posting this piece, I am under the invisible sway of economics’ master epistemologist, Ed Leamer (of “Let’s Take The Con Out Of Econometrics” fame). He wrote magisterially about this issue, among others, in a Journal of Economic Perspectives article with the terrifying title of “Tantalus on the Road to Asymptopia” (see note 4). If you struggle with the Tantalus paper, try the underrated Arnold Kling’s salute, “Edward Leamer Deserves a Nobel Prize for Improving Argumentation That Uses Statistics“.

In a 2011 video clip, Leamer put it this way:

“The layman needs to view expert talking heads with a high degree of skepticism, particularly the economists who are claiming precise knowledge about this complex, economic system.

“My view is, in economics we need to create a culture that explicitly expresses our lack of knowledge and allows people to say ‘That’s an interesting question, but frankly it’s beyond the realm of economics in its current state to actually answer’.

“You never find that kind of statement being made.

“I think it would be better if we added humility to the enterprise and recognize that what we do is patterns and stories. We’re seeing patterns in the data sets that we’re examining and we’re telling stories about that. That’s how we’re creating knowledge.”

The continuing doubts on the minimum wage

Since Card & Krueger published their paper in 1994, we’ve seen plenty of support for the idea that minimum wages don’t depress low-wage employment. But other results and interpretations have also been dribbling in, some of them suggesting that higher minimum wages do cut jobs after all. One big study looked at the minimum wage in the US city of Seattle, which was being pushed up over several years. It estimated that an hourly minimum wage hike from US$11 to US$13 caused a huge cut in low-skilled workers’ hours – 9.4%. In case you’re wondering, Australia’s most recent minimum adult wage equated to around US$14.10 an hour.

We also have some Australian research, though not a lot. The best comes from widely admired economist Andrew Leigh, and it was done before he left the ANU for the national parliament. He is now a Labor federal MP, and doesn’t seem to be talking as much as he used to about the problems with the minimum wage. But some of Leigh’s work, based on Western Australian data, has suggested that a 1.0% increase in the minimum wage could be expected to cut employment by between 0.15% and 0.39%. A 3% minimum wage rise, then, would cut 60,000 jobs or more. This is not a jobs catastrophe, but it’s far from trivial – especially if your job is one of those that disappears.

My own guess is that minimum wage rises probably do cut some jobs, especially in Australia, where the minimum wage is high by world standards. But how sure am I? Not very. How many jobs might they cut? I’ve not much of an idea, and you shouldn’t care about my view much anyway.

My guess is that having read all this, you will probably still have a very strong opinion as to whether a minimum wage is good or bad. My argument here is that you should try to distrust your certainty a little. As Richard Feynman argued: even at their best, the social sciences are nothing like physics.

______________________________

Note 1: Yes, it’s actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Note 2: Alan Krueger, sadly, died in 2019; Josh Angrist and Guido Imbens, oddly, got a quarter of the Nobel prize-money each.

Note 3: As it happens, both David Card and Andrew Leigh have an extra point to make about the minimum wage: whatever it does to employment, it isn’t the best mechanism for reducing poverty. Many minimum wage earners are students living at home in middle-class suburbs with mum and dad. As Card himself puts it, many minimum wage earners are not in poverty, and many of those in poverty are not connected to the labor market.

Note 4: In Greek myth, Tantalus was punished for cannibalism, made to stand forever in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree, the fruit just out of reach and the water always receding before he could drink. Leamer is gloomy about our chances of ever reaching perfect economic insight through either econometrics or experimentation.

Note 5: This post repeats elements of a post I wrote for Troppo in 2017. It started as an edit, but after a certain point it made more sense to make it a new post.

The Job Market is Back, Baby! (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/10/2021 - 3:01pm in

Tags 

data, employment

Charles Lassiter, associate professor of philosophy at Gonzaga University, has once again taken a look at the advertisements for academic positions in philosophy, and reports what he has found in the following guest post*.

(A version of this post was originally published at Professor Lassiter’s blog.)

The Job Market is Back, Baby!
by Charles Lassiter

IT’S AS GOOD NOW AS IT WAS IN 2016!

In the words of my boy Kai Ryssdal, let’s do the numbers…*cue sad trumpets* (Kai, if you’re reading this, can we be friends? You can reach me at charles.lassiter@gmail.com.)

Quick word on reading the plots: the numbers on the x-axis are days since January 1 and plotting the numbers begins on July 1.

All junior job postings for this year are tracking what things have been looking like since 2015, with the exception of 2020. We’re not quite done with our peak season for job posting. That comes in December. (Then things are calmer from January to July, with a slight bump in April/May.) So if 2021 is trending like 2016, we can expect some more job postings before the holidays. But temper your expectations, job-seekers. The most popular deadline for getting apps in for TT jobs is November 1.

Now let’s break this out into postdoc and TT/Fixed positions.

The bright yellow line that is 2021 is keeping pace with recent years, again with the exception of 2020 (though notice that by December, 2020 wasn’t that far off from 2018 for postdoc positions). So that’s unsurprising but good news. (Though with job market data, “good news” is always relative.)

Again, it’s looking like TT jobs this year are keeping pace with previous years (except 2020). Fixed term gigs have greater degrees of dispersion but it’s looking like jobs this year are comparable to previous years.

Here’s a question: how many different institutions are hiring this year compared to previous years? Are there more places advertising for one or two jobs or fewer places advertising for 3 or 4?

For TT jobs, it’s looking like we’re currently more than below one standard deviation for the average. (Note that the average and SD do not include 2020.) For fixed term, we’re pretty darned close to average. (Solid lines are averages, black for TT, red for fixed term. Dashed lines are one SD away from the average.) So for TT jobs, the number of places that are hiring is lower than what we’d expect. Though nothing like 2020 *shudder​*.

Oh, also note that this is for July to September. I’m counting only complete months and not month parts.

Now, if we’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes together, you might know that I’m pretty consistent in looking for the dark clouds amidst the silver lining. “But how could things get worse?” you might ask. Take a look at the number of philosophy PhD’s granted in 2020: 

There wasn’t a significant dip in the number of PhDs granted in 2020. In fact, it was fairly average. But with fewer academic jobs available in 2020 this means that either:

  1. there’s going to be a glut of applicants this year and probably for the foreseeable future, or
  2. more philosophers are going to be motivated to pursue work outside of academia.

Of course, both might be true. But given that most PhD programs haven’t prioritized non-academic careers, I’m guessing there will be a slight uptick in philosophers seeking jobs outside academia but a significant glut of philosophers looking for academic positions.

Good luck and Godspeed, friends. Speaking of, calm your nerves with some Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Maybe “The Dead Flag Blues” to chase away your blues?

Greene from UCL to UCSB

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/09/2021 - 9:18pm in

Tags 

employment

Amanda Greene, currently associate professor of philosophy at University College London, has accepted an offer of associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Professor Greene works in legal and political philosophy, with a focus on questions related to political legitimacy. You can learn more about her research here.

She takes up her new position in UCSB’s Department of Philosophy in the fall of 2022.

 

A broken system – where does the buck stop?

Boris Johnaon giving a thumbs up during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York 23/09/2021Picture by Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street on Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 licence

Being a planetary citizen does not need space travel. It means being conscious that we are part of the universe and of the earth. The most fundamental law is to recognise that we share the planet with other beings, and that we have a duty to care for our common home.

Vandana Shiva, Oneness vs the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom

 

If you can’t work out whether you are living through a tragedy or a farce, you are not alone. The daily images and stories of people’s lives in this time of Covid, with all that has meant in terms of economic uncertainty and personal losses for so many, is combined with the sham of government which has shown its contempt for citizens, disregarded the consequences of its policies and spending decisions, and overseen, as a result, an on-going decay of the country’s public and social infrastructure.

Public trust is at an all-time low for an institution that is rotten to the core. An institution that has demonstrated clearly in whose interests it operates, and accordingly has used both its spending and legislative powers to serve them through the power of the public purse, whilst at the same time, claiming state penury when it comes to public services and people’s lives.

When you think it can’t get any worse, it invariably does. This week, Boris Johnson, when speaking to the UN General Assembly in New York said that COP 26 must be a ‘turning point for humanity’, and that it was ‘time for us to listen to the warnings of the scientists.’ Johnson does a good line in dressed up rhetoric of any sort, but the government still has no real plans to address the climate crisis bearing down upon us, with only 40 days to go before the climate summit in Glasgow. The same government whose climate action never seems to go full circle, whether it’s the botched home insulation scheme which formed part of Johnson’s pledge to ‘build back greener’, which collapsed after six months, or his undertaking to ‘power past coal’, whilst at the same time, considering giving approval for a new coal mine in Cumbria, oil extraction off the coast of Shetland, and continuing to provide $15bn in funding for liquid gas drilling in Mozambique.

It makes the commitment to reaching net-zero by 2050 (even if as indicated in last week’s blog this is far too late) seem a joke in very poor taste. If your eyeballs are not yet standing out on stalks at the effrontery of Boris Johnson’s speech, they should be. But then, when you are the host of yet another climate talking shop, it is less about action and more about self-aggrandisement, at a time when we are becoming a laughingstock in the global arena of climate action.

While the climate continues to play second fiddle to economic recovery and growth at any cost, our public and social infrastructure is under increasing pressure, and every week the media brings further indication of the dire situation for many of our public services. According to an article in the Independent, staff shortages have forced one of England’s largest NHS trusts to start rationing chemotherapy to some of its cancer patients. Dr Lucy Gossage, an oncologist noted that ‘right now we don’t have the staffing capacity to deliver chemotherapy to all our patients and so, for the first time, the prioritisation list has come into force. That, means that, currently we are unable to offer chemotherapy that aims to prolong life, or palliate symptoms for many people with advanced cancer. We hope this is very temporary, but it’s indicative of a system on its last legs.’ One doctor described it as being a wider ‘broken system’ in the NHS.

So just where does the buck stop for this ‘broken system?’ Sick people are paying a heavy price for a government’s lack of strategic planning, along with the funding cuts which were affecting every aspect of healthcare provision, long before the pandemic arrived on our shores. Not enough nurses, doctors, other health professionals, treatment facilities, equipment, or beds. It starts and ends with the government and their spending and legislative choices. It starts and ends with a government that has failed to understand what the real constraints to its spending are. And to be clear, they are not financial.

Sick people who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect are dying for an ideology and a false narrative of how the government spends, meaning that these are the direct consequences of the emphasis by successive Chancellors on fiscal discipline, getting the public finances in order and back into balance. Clearly, even after a year of huge public spending to prop up the economy, people still matter less than the fiscal reputation of political parties and their Chancellors.

We are living in a time of great social and environmental upheaval, and the uncertainty that that brings with it. The post-Covid world has still to materialise, and the tentative opening up of the economy has brought with it labour shortages and rising prices of food and energy, which are starting to impact on people’s lives. The global rise in gas prices and its consequences on families, businesses and public service provision has featured heavily in the media this week. For those on low incomes, in insecure employment or unemployed, it will mean cruel choices as winter approaches and the Universal Credit uplift disappears, and families will be faced with the choice of eating or heating or joining the long queues of those visiting food banks, if they are not already doing so.

It will be a double whammy for private care homes already struggling to run their businesses, as a result of a shortage of care workers who are voting with their feet for better wages. And it will add to the burdens created by reduced central government funding, which has impacted on local government budgets, and in turn, care homes themselves. One small care homeowner said this week that unless public funding for care home beds was not increased, as a matter of urgency, care providers would have no choice but to ‘close their doors’. This is a vicious circle arising out of a toxic market-driven economic system predicated on the primacy of the market, and the lie of monetary scarcity. Our society is paying the price and teetering on the edge as a result of that lie. It has taken an unusual event like Covid to reveal the cracks in the system, and without action by the government, we will see further decay of public and social infrastructure.

A hands-off approach to government lies at the heart of these failures, and the Just-in-Time society is creaking at the seams. This week we learned that, despite knowing for several years, compared to other countries the UK had insufficient gas storage facilities, and the government had failed to act to ensure the security of supplies and the safety of the nation. This is not a new phenomenon. Government has a track record in such failure as we discovered last year when the shortage of PPE, ventilators and Intensive Care facilities put lives at risk, and indeed was responsible for many deaths. The Cygnus 2016 pandemic simulation revealed the lack of preparedness for such a crisis, and yet the government did nothing, with devastating consequences. And again, this week government failed to recognise the potential threat to vital CO2 supplies. In this case, a US fertiliser company that makes CO2 as a by-product of its production process, closed as a result of the increases in gas prices, and only last-minute talks with the government have put the threat on hold for the time being.

To put the icing on the cake, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has suggested that, as a result, taxpayers may have to foot the bill of ensuring the continuing production of those vital CO2 supplies which keep our food industry rolling, amongst other things. Yet again, we have a government minister spouting the usual Thatcherite nonsense that taxes fund spending. Once again, we can safely say that no taxpayer will be ‘paying for it’, they will suffer instead the practical and harmful consequences of the government’s hands-off approach to government, and its reliance on markets to deliver. What people should know is that politicians have chosen to put citizens at risk on the back of economic ideology, and the false household budget comparison, designed to keep them accepting the mantra of, ‘there is no alternative’.

 And, if our readers are still unclear about how the government really spends, it will quite simply authorise its central bank to make the transfer of ‘money’ to the US company in question, in this case, simple digits on a screen, created out of nothing at a keystroke, and taxpayers will not be needed to bear the cost. Phew, that should be a relief.

Perhaps the more pertinent question here is, when the government has no problem finding public money to bail out failing companies, or support those affected by extraordinary events, how will it justify any further cuts to spending on public services that might be in the offing at the next Spending Review, or indeed the cut to the Universal Credit uplift which comes into effect next week? The magic money tree is selective.

We have had a hard lesson in what happens when governments wash their hands of their responsibilities and shift them to businesses, whose objective is profit, not public safety or economic wellbeing. What happened to the strategic planning to identify threats to national security and public safety, such as we have seen in recent months, from the lack of HGV drivers to insufficient workers to harvest fruit and veg, or indeed pandemic planning and gas storage? We are experiencing the limitations of markets in the most destructive way. So, Mr Kwarteng, markets don’t do it better. Markets are the creation of government, not its master.

Yet again, this week, those words ‘levelling up’ featured in the media as Andy Haldane, former chief economist at the Bank of England was appointed as the head of the government’s Levelling Up Taskforce. Clearly, the imperative is to get Johnson’s flagship policy further than a vague idea in his head, and which he has dined off for too long without a clear idea of what is needed. But what should we expect? That is already shaping up in the words Haldane spoke on his appointment when he said he was ‘looking forward to working with the private and voluntary sectors to design and deliver an economy that works for every part of the UK’ to address ‘regional disparities.’

In those few words, he reveals the real plan. Let’s start by saying that these regional ‘disparities’ didn’t just happen, they are the creation of government policies and spending decisions, and it is not the role of the private or charitable voluntary sector to deliver an economy that works for everyone, that is the government’s job. When the government spends and legislates, assuming public purpose lie at their heart, the outcomes of those actions flow down through society and create the levelling up that Haldane seems so ‘passionate’ about. Furthermore, charities mitigate for the failure of the government to act in the interests of those in need, and ironically even that sector is struggling as both central government funding and donations have dried up. David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ dreams never got further than the drawing board.

Haldane has clearly failed to note that the levelling up would not be needed had the government not done its utmost to tear up our public and social infrastructure, including the welfare state, on the contrived basis of the lie that its affordability was in question, and that it relies on a healthy economy from which tax revenue derives to pay for it. He surely cannot have failed to note the existence of food banks or other voluntary organisations trying to stem the tide of poverty. The existence of the need for these is an indictment of government, not something to laud as commendable in the fashion of ‘the poor will always be with you’ and note our good works.

Furthermore, the role of the private or charitable sectors is not public provision. For the former, it is making money and profit, and if it does good works, it does so as a public relations exercise. In the event of an economic crisis, such expenditure is likely to be the first casualty.

 So, what do we have, yet again? A government that is shifting responsibility into the wider society, and Haldane is colluding in that objective. Certainly, it will fit in very nicely with his charity Pro Bono Economics for which he made a speech entitled, ‘The Power of Charity’, in which he praised the work of the voluntary sector and the contribution it makes to the economy.

The charitable and voluntary sector may have a role to play, but certainly not in picking up the pieces of the catastrophic consequences of government spending decisions and policymaking over the last 10 years and more. What we are seeing is a deliberately constructed lie that the government has no money of its own, promoting the objective of shifting State responsibility for the welfare of its citizens to the voluntary sector, while at the same time, pouring public money into the coffers of corporations.

Levelling up can only take place in the context of government spending and policy decisions. It starts with a Job Guarantee, a real living wage, employment legislation that protects working people from being exploited by the profit-hungry, and the provision of vital public and social infrastructure which supports the economy. But no, instead, we have a government appointing yet another ‘Czar’ and in doing so abdicating its responsibilities for the people’s economic well-being.

Wherever you care to look, the problems we face are always couched in the financial terms of affordability, or the risks that inflation might pose to the public finances at some time in the future. Rishi Sunak, like his predecessors, knows how to keep the public on-side with his household budget narratives of how the government spends, and the need for future ‘hard choices’ to keep the public finances on track, and to take steps to keep debt under control. However, Sunak’s debt burden is illusory, and fixing the debt is irrelevant to how the government spends, or the future economic health of the UK. His call for a balanced day-to-day budget on the false basis that it would give him fiscal space for infrastructure development is just part of the same fiscal illusion. If we are to worry about anything, it is how the government will source and manage the real resources to deliver a just green transition.

While the bean counters continue to count their beans, the planet is still on fire. While we face the biggest threat humanity has ever faced, Sunak remains exercised or feigning pretence for the need for fiscal discipline, and doubt is placed in people’s minds by politicians, journalists and economists by endless repetition of false household accounting narratives.

Whilst we have a Chancellor actively envisioning more austerity and more pain to keep the Tory reputation for fiscal credibility intact, we can make no progress. And with the opposition also glued to the fiscal headlights, as was made clear in Keir Starmer’s 11,500-word essay in which he suggested that ‘the government should treat taxpayer money as if it were its own’, the narrative is reinforced and will remain ingrained in the public consciousness.

Yes, we need government spending choices to be accountable to the people who elect them. However, couching these choices in terms of reliance on tax curtails a discussion about the real constraints to government spending, which are resource-based, and how people would like those real resources to be shared in society. Labour would do better to worry less about how it would fund its spending, and more about how it will fix the vast poverty and inequality that has arisen as a direct result of the dominant economic paradigm that it has been party to for decades, and also about addressing the climate emergency.

As the MMT activist Malcolm Reavell noted on social media this week, ‘Bogeyman terms and phrases are now used which we have been conditioned to instantly interpret as scary … these lies and myths and the carefully constructed web of deceit is hard to navigate’ and ‘prevents ordinary people from understanding the truth about economics.’ Mention of the deficit and debt, inflation, the evils of government spending too much, or the burden on future taxpayers, all serve to create compliance and acceptance of the market-driven status quo, which we have been led to believe is the wealth creator.

However, haven’t we had sufficient proof over the last few decades that markets and deregulation don’t do it better, and that wealth does not trickle down? It’s time for a challenge to the old economic order as it attempts to regroup, reinforce its power and morph into something more destructive. We are being groomed for a resurgence of a political discourse that puts global corporations above the state and is accountable to no one, except its growth and profit-hungry CEOs and their shareholders.

Over the last year, the power of the state to act has been recognised, however selective it was. That same power could now be used by a government so disposed to re-construct the public and social infrastructure that is withering away by government decree, act to address poverty and inequality and drive a just green transition. We had lost sight of that post-war power that built the welfare state, the NHS, and hundreds of thousands of council homes. We have now caught a glimpse of what the possibilities are for creating a better and fairer society. We have also witnessed the consequences of the State stepping back from its responsibilities and allowing a great free-for-all serving the interests of capital over labour. That it has become the bidding boy for big business. Perhaps we may even be seeing that democracy has become a sleight of hand dished up to create an illusion of people power.

In the light of that State power, we are now seeing calls, as an article in the Telegraph did last week, for the State to step back and give way to the restoration of the market-controlled status quo. It suggested that people did not want patronising support in the form of dependency or handouts: they wanted to make their own way either through new employment possibilities or the chance to start and grow their own businesses.’ The suggestion that government has no role to play in creating an environment that allows people to make their own way is to ignore the reality of the capacity of government to improve their lives and address climate change.

Don’t let us get taken in by that siren call of ‘let’s leave it to the market’. The last 50 years are proof of what happens when short-termism dictates the pace, and the driver remains profit.

We’ve witnessed the rise of poverty and inequality as a result, and the consequences for those caught up in its individualistic promises which lead nowhere. We’ve seen it with polluting industries like oil and gas where business interests continue to push the problem down the road, as if there were plenty of time yet for the market and technology to present us with solutions. Or even the false promises that greenwashing offers to ensure we can continue as we are. As the engineer and MMT activist Mike Hall made it clear, in reality what we are facing is not a little tinkering around the edges but ‘a massive technical engineering challenge, [that will] ‘need a ‘war production’ mobilisation approach in terms of applying real resources to the task’

It is, in fact, the government that provides the frameworks for markets to exist. It is only the government through its spending, taxation and legislative powers that can address the coming climate firestorm and put the frameworks in place for a just transition towards a sustainable world. It is only the government that has the monetary firepower to create an equitable and sustainable economy. Whether we choose that route is something still to be decided.

 

 

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Renzo to Head KCL’s Centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/09/2021 - 5:30pm in

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Massimo Renzo has been appointed as the new Yeoh Tiong Lay Chair and Director of the Yeoh Tiong Lay Centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law at King’s College London (KCL).

Professor Renzo, previously a professor of Politics, Law, and Philosophy at KCL and the acting director of the Yeoh Centre, was selected for the endowed chair and directorship following an open search to fill the position. He works in legal, moral and political philosophy, and has written on topics such as political authority, just war, humanitarian intervention, human rights, philosophy of criminal law, consent, and manipulation, among others. You can browse his writings here.

The Yeoh Centre was founded in 2014 with the aim of exploring “major issues in law and politics through the lens of philosophy.” Its previous director was John Tasioulas (Oxford). You can learn more about it here.

Notre Dame Hires Hamkins from Oxford and Montero from CUNY

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/09/2021 - 1:04am in

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The Department of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame has made two senior hires: Joel David Hamkins, currently professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford, and Barbara Gail Montero, currently professor of philosophy at City University of New York (CUNY).

Professor Hamkins will be taking up an endowed chair in the department. He is well-known for his work in logic and philosophy of math, especially set theory. You can learn more about his research here and here. His appointment at Notre Dame begins in Spring 2022.

Professor Montero is well known for her work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of dance, as well as for bring philosophy and dance together in various contexts (for example). You can learn more about here work here and here. She takes up her professorship at Notre Dame in Fall 2022.

Maclure from Laval to McGill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/09/2021 - 11:37pm in

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Jocelyn Maclure, previously a professor of philosophy at Laval University, has been hired by McGill University as the Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair on Human Nature and Technology.

The chair is the result of a C$2 million (approximately $1.5 million) donation from Canadian investor and philanthropist Stephen A. Jarislowsky, aimed at bringing together “a deep understanding of new technology along with a strong philosophical perspective on the many issues inherent in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies which are rapidly changing our world.”

Professor Maclure works in political philosophy, ethics, and on philosophical issues in artificial intelligence and medical ethics. You can learn more about his research and writing here, and some of his public facing work here.

If we can find money for corporations, we can find money for the people who need it.

Therese Coffey and Rishi Sunak wearing face coveringsPhoto by HM Treasury on Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 licence

‘What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.’

Dr Jane Goodall, Scientist & Activist

 

This week, Sajid Javid, the recently appointed Secretary for Health and Social Care, promised a health shake-up to fight the ‘disease of disparity.’ He noted that ‘the poorer you are, the greater the proportion of your life is spent in ill-health’. He said that plans to level up would start with ‘redressing the imbalance in healthcare services’. A laudable objective. However, predictably, Javid failed to mention the role of the Conservative government in creating those disparities over the last 10 years. And, after the events of the last few weeks, we can surely disregard the oft-mentioned objective of ‘levelling up’ as yet more rhetoric and fine words which have no basis in reality. You couldn’t make it up!

Apart from the decade-long Conservative assault on our public and social infrastructure, the destructive reforms to social security benefits, and politically created regional disparities which have led to growing poverty and inequality, the reality is that the vote by MPs this week to increase National Insurance, added to the coming cut next month to the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit, will further contribute to the ability of working people to provide for their families. The growth in food banks and homelessness, along with ill-health, both physical and mental, is a direct result of government neglect, borne of the toxic economic ideology which has driven policies and spending decisions, including those related to employment, which have kept wages low and jobs insecure. It is not a failure; it has been a deliberately pursued objective to withdraw from publicly funded and delivered provision, whilst at the same time pouring public money into private profit. A health shake-up cannot address those problems without dealing first with their roots, which lie directly at the door of the government. It’s putting the cart before the horse!

The level of disconnection between government ministers and those who will be affected by these decisions was demonstrated very clearly this week, when the Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey claimed that claimants would only need to work two extra hours to make up for the loss of the UC uplift. Her assertion was shown to be incorrect because the taper system which applies to Universal Credit would mean that claimants would actually have to work an extra six hours to earn £20. As the MSP Elena Whitham said, ‘the Tories are totally out of touch with the reality of being in work and still in poverty. It is not just a matter of working 2 extra hours or getting a better job. That is akin to the old pull yourself up by the bootstraps mantra’. What has changed since Norman Tebbit’s speech in 1981 when he exhorted people to get on their bikes and look for work? The reality is that the jobs have to be there in order for people to get on their bikes to look for one (even if they could afford a bike). Without government intervention, in the form of adequate spending and full employment policies underpinned by a Job Guarantee, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is a somewhat moot point.

It also came to light that the government had also failed to assess the impact of the £20 a week cut to the income of those affected, on the basis that it had only ever been a temporary measure during the pandemic. Never mind the fact that before the pandemic, people were struggling to get by on the punishing Universal Credit regime, whether in work or involuntarily out of work, and were relying on food bank charity to feed themselves and their families. It is, quite simply, just another example of the hands-off approach to government, passing responsibility onto those often least able to help themselves, not because they are to blame for their misfortune but because the government failed them.

A Guardian Editorial this week was clear:

‘The Resolution Foundation says that the government is embarking on the biggest overnight benefit cut in modern history, comparing it to the disastrous shrinking of unemployment support during the Great Depression in 1931. Without the uplift, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation notes, UC will not provide a decent standard of life for those experiencing hard times. Poverty ruins lives. Those that it does not ruin, it makes hard to enjoy. It is extraordinary, and appalling, that there are 4.2 million children living in poverty in a country as rich as the UK.’

 

Not a week goes by when further evidence of the dire consequences of government policies and spending decisions doesn’t come to light. The National Youth Agency, in a joint report with the YMCA, said this week that 1 in 4 youth centres were under threat of closure, as emergency funding for youth services comes to an end. It also noted that since 2010, youth services had been cut by 73%, annual spending had dropped by almost £1bn, and that 4,500 qualified youth workers had been lost from the frontline.

This comes at a time when, according to labour market figures published this week by the ONS, unemployment amongst the UK’s 16-24-year-olds is 8% higher than for May to July 2019.

Denise Hatton, the YMCA’s CEO, said:

‘This dire situation is only set to get worse before it gets better, as a dramatically increased need for provision is met with further budget cuts locally. Every decision not to invest in youth services right now, forces more and more youth centres into perilous situations.

 

Young people must be a priority and it is imperative that the government acts to prevent these missed opportunities for young people to get the support they need, and from which we all benefit as a society.’

 

Further, this week, a Mumsnet poll of 2,000 parents revealed that those with a household income of less than £20,000 have had to resort to extreme measures to make ends meet, while paying for childcare. It showed that:

  • A total of 16 per cent have used a food bank, while 39 per cent have used credit cards or credit arrangements, rising to 48 per cent for parents receiving universal credit.
  • A third (34 per cent) said they have cut back on essential items such as heating, essential food or clothing and housing costs.

Mumsnet Founder, Justine Roberts said:

‘These parents are at the sharp end of the UK’s extortionate childcare costs. They’re falling into debt, they’re using credit cards for essential food bills, they’re cutting back on food or using food banks.

 

‘For those few years while their children are pre-schoolers, and especially during the years where they don’t receive any of the “free” nursery hours, many of them are running on empty, financially speaking, and childcare costs are a big part of the problem.’

With the continuing prospect that government will not back down on the cut to Universal Credit, it is likely to push more families into poverty and out of the workforce. Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group said:

‘Too many women with more than one child find that childcare costs more than they earn. These women, and their children, are already being pushed into poverty by the cost, including considerable amounts of paperwork, are high, often leading to burnout and an early exit. There are also significant regional differences in the data, suggesting some levelling up is needed across the country.’

The term ‘levelling up’, which implies increased spending to address the roots of poverty and inequality, has yet to match any sort of reality, despite the promises. The macroeconomic reality is that such a levelling up cannot be achieved whilst the Chancellor continues his addiction, for whatever reason, to the notion of fiscal discipline. The two positions are mutually exclusive. In the meantime, our public and social infrastructure continues to decay, and the government, through its policies and spending decisions, persists in showing scant regard for the lives of its citizens. The increase in NI and the cut to Universal Credit is the clear indication that it is not on the side of working people, and that it intends to make their lives even more difficult than hitherto, whilst also showing a level of macroeconomic ignorance that is lamentable (if that is what it is).

In work or involuntarily unemployed people should not have to live hand to mouth or exist in a permanent state of anxiety about how they will manage. As noted in a previous Lens blog, on the one hand, we have Rishi Sunak who leads a life of luxury and has never had to worry about whether he has enough to survive on, imposing a cruel and macroeconomically unsound cut to Universal Credit. And on the other, we have Boris Johnson’s preference for people to see their wages rise through their efforts, rather than through the ‘taxation of other people put into their pay packets’, thus seeking yet again to divide people with the lie of shirkers depending on tax fuelled benefits. He promotes a notion of self-reliance by suggesting that working people have control over their lives and earnings (as Therese Coffey did this week) when the reality is that the government has made a political choice to maintain an exploitative model, which keeps wages low and jobs insecure for the benefit of a profit-based, business model.

Johnson, and his colleagues, prefer the neoliberal blame and division game, which ignores the role of government with its currency-issuing powers to put in place the mechanisms to ensure full employment, a real living wage and good terms and conditions, as well as provide the vital public and social infrastructure which underpins a healthy economy.

Who could argue, either on the right or the left, that such a macroeconomically sound strategy would not serve the needs of both working people and businesses, unlike that of fiscal belt-tightening, the consequences of which even prior to the pandemic were clearly evident in the state of the economy? Instead, we have a situation where greed for profit trumps economic sense and leads into an ever downwards spiral of poverty and inequality, in the midst of the creation of excessive wealth and disproportionate access to real resources.

The reality is that, like nature, which is a complex network of inter-dependency, so is a properly functioning society which should be underpinned by a government that puts human and planetary health at the top of its agenda, not balanced budgets, or the endorsement of an economic ideology that promotes the individual over a sense of collective responsibility and enriches the few.

On a final news note, it was concerning to learn that US Congressional investigators have revealed that, ahead of a hearing next month to question heads of oil companies about their history of undermining the evidence that burning fossil fuels were driving global warming, they have uncovered ‘very concerning’ documents regarding Exxon Mobil’s disinformation campaign to discredit climate science. It could be said, that in terms of rising carbon emissions and their effects on the climate, the horse bolted from the stable decades ago, and it’s a bit late in the day for politicians to be waking up to the duplicity of those polluters. It is also surprising because it is not as if these issues had not come to light previously through the work of environmental campaigning organisations such as Greenpeace, which published a review of Exxon’s knowledge and subsequent denial of climate change.

However, late as whatever these revelations may be, what should come out of this hearing surely is that there is a need to question the power of the corporate body to lobby politicians and influence the public, which is continuing just the same today, only now it has another name, greenwashing. The fossil fuel industry is aiming with its usual propagandised deceit, to persuade the public that we still have plenty of time, and that technology will be our saviour. This is the status quo writ large for the benefit of the oil industry and other global corporations.

This should be of serious concern in the light of the work of researchers who revealed this week that despite being on ‘Code Red’, countries are making ‘sobering’ progress towards meeting climate targets. The organisation Climate Action Tracker reported that only one country, the Gambia, is currently doing enough to meet the targets agreed under the Paris Agreement and added that while the UK’s domestic target is 1.5°C compatible, it doesn’t yet have the policies and international support to make those targets a reality.

Well, is anyone surprised? We have the plans, but like the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, there is nothing behind them. Words need to be translated into action if we are to make any progress at all. With the COP 26 conference just around the corner, government promises, already on shaky ground, are likely to be further exposed as the hot air they are.

Whether we are talking about the vast inequalities that exist globally, as a result of the political obsession with neoliberal ideology, or the effects of that same ideology on the planet which is currently experiencing apocalyptic visions of fire and flood, and destruction of land and oceans, to keep endless growth on track, and more profits rolling in at whatever or whoever’s expense, the imperative for change is bearing down upon us with increasing urgency. As Peter Kalmus wrote in the Guardian this week, imploring political leaders to forget what he views as the deadly procrastination of plans to lower emissions by 2050, ‘It’s time to grow up and let go of the fantasy that we can get out of this without big changes that affect our lives.

While politicians, economists and think tanks continue to frame spending in household budget terms, or claim that over an economic cycle, balanced budgets are a vital component of economic health, we can make no progress towards addressing poverty and inequality or delivering the vital green agenda that will ensure a viable future for our young people.

Furthermore, while many on the left continue to accept and promote the tax pays for spending narrative, arguing for wealth taxes to raise money to deliver public programmes, they will reinforce in the public mind the idea that we are dependent on the wealthy, when we are not. The only constraints faced by the government are not financial. They relate to those of real resources and how they are shared equitably throughout the population.

In this respect, after a week and more of left-wing MPs promoting wealth taxes to pay for social care, it was refreshing to hear the Labour MP Clive Lewis comment the following on the Politics Live show:

‘If you can find £37bn for shareholders of Serco, you can find £66bn for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, it’s as simple as that, and our government is making a political, not an economic choice.

 

We owe that money to ourselves. We owe it to the Bank of England [who] have given an IOU to the Treasury. [We] are the sovereign owners of the Bank of England. You are taking money out of the economy at a time when it is getting back on its feet’.

This is a step forward, and not only challenges the notion that taxes fund spending, or that government needs to borrow from the private sector, but also makes clear the macroeconomic consequences of raising NI or removing the UC uplift. It is a political choice, as Lewis says!

As Stephanie Kelton noted in her recent TED talk, explaining the role of deficits, ‘Their red ink is our black ink’. Far from deficits being a burden on the nation, they represent the money circulating in the economy, and our savings. Their size is directly related to the prevailing economic conditions or challenges being faced, and the government’s response. Taking money out of the economy at such a time of economic uncertainty will hurt those that can least afford it, and in no way will it increase the government’s capacity to spend. Once the tax obligation is extinguished, contrary to common understanding, it plays no further role in government spending.

 

However, that said, at a time of climate breakdown we must also consider that it is now vital to re-evaluate our priorities and rethink the dominance of wealth and power in the political decision-making processes that will determine what happens next.

Can the planet afford to allow those with excessive wealth and privilege to continue to burn up the planet’s resources, whether it’s pleasure trips into space or sending a manned rocket to Mars, when we should be addressing the climate emergency here on Earth, and putting in place a global strategy for a Just Green transition? That is the real role of taxes. Not just to create equity, but also to release the real resources that will be needed to drive forward a truly green and equity-based agenda.

As the economic anthropologist Jason Hickel tweeted this week:

‘Societies that tolerate rich elites are forced to devote a tremendous quantity of resources and energy (and labour) to servicing elite consumption. In an era of ecological breakdown, we have to decide whether this is something we are willing to accept.’

 

 

 

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The National Insurance increase shows that levelling up has been consigned to the Conservative bonfire of easy promises

Boris Johnson playing Connect 4 with an elderly lady and a nurse whilst visit Westport Care Home in East London 7/9/21Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street. Creative Commons 2.0 license

A country ruled by criminals needs two revolutions, one small and one big: The small revolution is to overthrow the criminal government, the big revolution is to radically undo the damage these criminals have inflicted on the country!

Mehmet Murat Ildan, Contemporary Turkish playwright, novelist, and thinker

 

This week, Boris Johnson announced that his government would not ‘duck the tough decisions needed to get NHS patients the treatment they need’, or ‘to fix our broken social care system’. After all the fanfare and promises, from an already morally bankrupt government, the reality is somewhat different. The proposed solution to increase National Insurance will not only do nothing to resolve the growing crisis in social care, or create a fairer system for social care provision, it will also create further burdens on an economy already creaking at the seams.

When Johnson refers to a ‘broken’ health and social care system, he is ignoring the elephant in the room. Who broke it? The actions of successive Conservative governments are to blame, through a decade of cuts that have deliberately starved the public sector of adequate funding, along with decades of allowing a private profit-seeking sector to benefit from public money, at the expense of those needing health or social care services. It did so as a result of its fixation with fiscal discipline and market-driven economic dogma.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the folly of austerity, the toxic and harmful obsession with private sector involvement in the delivery of public services, and the consequences of the lack of strategic planning for such events, which have resulted in the NHS and social care struggling to function effectively during this crisis and led to unnecessary suffering and deaths.

Adding to the already existing shortage of nurses (over 40,000) and other health workers, insufficient ICU facilities, ventilators, beds and PPE, were the warning indicators that something was seriously wrong, as hospitals burst at the seams with very sick patients needing treatment. As a result, we are now facing a growing backlog of patients awaiting diagnosis or treatment (or who have even died waiting), with experts warning of the future consequences on staff already suffering from burnout, stress, and exhaustion. It is humanly unsustainable.

Social care services have not been immune from the same economic illiteracy. The warning signs preceded the pandemic. Social care is in meltdown now, and the proposal to increase National Insurance will not only fail to enable the fairer payment system for social care promised by the government, but it will also do little to alleviate the immediate problems caused by government policies.

Government officials have been clear that most of the money raised by the new tax will be spent on the NHS in the first three years, on the assumption that demand for state-funded care will increase from 2026, as people reach the spending cap. These proposals make no attempt to deal with an already failing underfunded system, and social care providers and charities have already indicated that the extra resources would not be sufficient to improve standards.

The problems faced by social care have been longstanding, exacerbated over decades by a mishmash of reforms by governments unwilling to grasp the nettle, as a likely result of the uncomfortable, but false, question of affordability and how it would be paid for. As a result, under an unfair means-tested social care system, which has for decades been served by private profit-seeking companies and charities relying on state funding to function, social care services have increasingly been impacted by years of funding cuts affecting local council budgets, putting increasing pressures on care standards, wages and employment terms and conditions, as private providers struggle to make their businesses profitable.

This is just pushing the problem yet again down the line, when social care can already no longer meet the needs of those requiring support. Recently published figures showed that nearly 300,000 people are on local authority waiting lists for adult social care, a situation which has arisen as a result of funding pressures and delayed assessments. Figures also reveal a chronic shortage of care workers which has meant that those requiring a home care package have had no option but to accept a ‘temporary’ placement in residential facilities.

The government’s decision to increase National Insurance, a regressive tax that will affect the poorest, not the richest, will lead to many of those already poorly paid workers losing substantial income, as figures now show. Coupled with the looming cuts to the universal credit uplift of £20 a week and rising energy and food prices, it will add more unnecessary pain and suffering to people’s lives. A study published this week by the Health Foundation has shown that the UC cut will hit areas with the worst health hardest and is likely to widen inequality in health and wellbeing, running counter to the government’s promised levelling-up commitment.

Analysis by Policy in Practice noted that by April 2022, the combination of the new Health and Social Care Levy and the removal of the uplift to Universal Credit would mean that carers would be £1035 per year worse off, despite the planned (but scarcely generous) increase to the National Living Wage. Its Director Deven Ghelani said: ‘The unfairness of paying for social care through a rise in national insurance, whilst cutting support for the lowest earners at the same time, means those that kept us going through the pandemic are the ones hardest hit.’

It isn’t any wonder that the media reported this week that many were already choosing to leave social care and find work elsewhere. When Amazon becomes a better alternative to working in social care and playing a vital role in society, then we should question our societal values. When we are told that affordability is key to public service provision, the cruel consequence must be that, down the line, people must suffer higher taxes to balance the budget. How can that even be a consideration for a government which is a currency issuer and has the power of the public purse?

Astonishingly, even the free-market Adam Smith Institute called these plans ‘morally bankrupt’, saying that the government was asking ‘poorer workers to bail out millionaire property owners.’ They also criticised the plan as a ‘kick in the teeth for all the young working people of this country who have already been hard done by the pandemic.’

Whilst the solution is simple, ditching the for-profit motive and replacing it with an adequately funded, publicly paid for, managed, and delivered social care system, getting politicians to agree is quite another matter. Obsessing over how it will be paid for, we have two extremes of economic nonsense being touted in the news and on social media. Both sides of the political spectrum are dedicated to raising taxes to pay for health and social care. The Tories, as these plans show, through punishing already poor people, and Labour by taxing the rich to raise revenue.

Quite rightly, one should tax the rich for reasons of equity and to strip away the power and influence their wealth brings them, but this week some left-wing progressive MPs have flogged the ‘taxing the rich’ to pay for social care narrative to death on social media. James Meadway, a former advisor to John McDonnell, also got in on the act saying that Labour should, ‘seize the opportunity to make the alternative funding case’. A wealth tax and other changes to tax arrangements would fit the bill, he suggested. At the same time, as his party came under pressure to set out a ‘costed plan’, the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, suggested that Labour would consider taxing wealth even more heavily to raise funds.

How depressingly predictable that the question of how you are going to pay for it is the standard response to funding public services, but the same question is never asked for bailing out banks or going to war.

Yes, of course, we want to see a more equitable society, but playing to Mrs Thatcher’s ‘There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money,’ assertion is a highly damaging tactic. When those supposedly on the progressive left associate themselves with an acolyte of the arch neoliberals Hayek and Friedman, it is scarcely an advert for confidence in them. Although the fact that such views are still underpinning policies and spending is not surprising, given the entrenchment of such narratives in political discourse. Playing to the understanding of one’s audience works every time.

What we need now, desperately, is an opposition which is prepared to put citizens before the profits of private companies and for politicians to reject the gibberish that the belief that taxes fund spending represents. It is hardly progressive to reinforce in the public mind the false household budget narratives of government spending; that tax rises will be necessary to fix what actually has been a deliberately broken health and social care system, or that they could be needed to keep the public accounts straight, as per Sunak’s coming ‘hard choices’ in the October Spending Review.

The insistence that there is no alternative to tax rises to pay for social care is both macroeconomically unsound and cruel to those who are already struggling to keep their heads above water. The consequences of higher taxes in these still uncertain times will be very hard on some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, and will do nothing to support the economy, businesses or the working population and their families, as the UC uplift is terminated, and energy and other costs rise. There still remains the looming potential crisis of rising unemployment as furlough ends, and even if there are sectors crying out for workers, there will likely be a mismatch in terms of skills requirements to fill new posts, and that will take time to correct.

In this respect, the government has put all its eggs into the free-market basket, expecting it to come up trumps, and it has failed, unsurprisingly. This government and decades of previous ones have trusted in the market to deliver. The invisible hand of the market, whatever that mythical beast is, has done no such thing. The private sector is a profit-seeking juggernaut which puts its own interests over public purpose. And therein lies the heart of the problem. Government has put fiscal discipline above people’s lives and allowed the private sector to run amok, in an unforgivable free-for-all bonanza of deregulation and profit-seeking.

The question is never, ‘is there enough money’ or ‘how will we pay for it?’ The question is do we have the real resources to deliver a better health and social care service, and if not, what are the solutions? That is the role of the government to plan and deliver through its spending and taxation policies. The government should be us, but now democracy is made a mockery, as government and corporations become one and the same thing, serving not the interests of the people or indeed the planet, but their own rapacious greed.

The price of a hands-off approach has been and will continue to be a heavy one. Government, as an elected body, should have a responsibility to serve its citizens to ensure fair and equitable wealth distribution, to create the vital public and social infrastructure upon which the economy depends, to plan for the future whether in a post Brexit era, for future pandemics, or indeed for a just green transition to deal with the climate emergency. Words and actions, however, like oil and water, don’t mix in Conservative terms. It has done none of those things, and now we have seen how easy it was for Conservative MPs in the Red Wall, who were originally objecting to the NI tax rise, to dutifully line up behind their macroeconomically challenged leaders to vote for more pain and suffering. Levelling up has been consigned to the Conservative bonfire of easy promises, and the people yet again duped into acceptance that there will be no alternative to tax rises, either to fund social care or balance the public accounts.

The failure of government hinges on a lie used to justify austerity. The lie of monetary scarcity. Over decades, despite the rhetoric and promises, the issue of social care has been swept under the carpet, and now the system is barely functioning. It will not be fixed by increasing taxes of any sort. It can only be fixed by a government with the political will to do so. Shamefully, successive governments have made a political choice not to fund it adequately. They invited the private sector in, as if social care or the NHS should be beholden to the god of business efficiency and profit, not public service for human well-being. The real cost has been lives, disaffected, poorly paid staff who are on the edge financially and physically.

We should be shouting it out loud. We have a government that chose this path. A government that chose to let social care collapse for the lie of fiscal discipline. What a terrible price we and our loved ones are paying. It didn’t and doesn’t have to be like this.

There are two potential outcomes: Either that we carry on with ‘business as usual’, as the work and pensions minister Baroness Stedman-Scott put it earlier this week to the House of Lords, referring to the removal of the UC uplift, or something else.

We could imagine a world where monetary reality informs government policies and spending decisions. Where government puts its citizens first. A world in which we could have a functioning public and social infrastructure, funded, managed and delivered publicly. An economy, underpinned by full employment and a Job Guarantee, that works for everyone, not just for an excessively wealthy elite that uses its power and influence to dominate public policy. A society where real resources and wealth are distributed more fairly, and a just transition to a green agenda to address the climate crisis looming close behind. Just imagine! The way may be rocky and uncertain, but if we don’t try, we will never know.

 

 

 

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The post The National Insurance increase shows that levelling up has been consigned to the Conservative bonfire of easy promises appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

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