national debt

If you clapped for the NHS and key workers, now it’s time to ACT.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 31/05/2020 - 3:43am in

Chalk board with Together written on it and stick figutes holding handsImage by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“Governments stand because people sit; if people stand, governments will sit!”
Mehmet Murat İldan (Turkish writer).

Did you clap for the NHS and key workers? Did you cheer on Captain Tom? Have you been angered by what has happened to some of the most vulnerable in our society both in care homes and in our communities?  If so, then it’s time to take it a step further. Not putting too fine a point on it, clapping and anger are empty gestures without real action and sadly also have acted as a distraction to what is happening under cover of COVID-19.

Before it is too late to reverse the on-going creation of an all-powerful corporatocracy serving the few through government diktat, it’s time to recognise some difficult truths about what has been happening. Not just to our NHS but also to vital national and local public services which have been starved of cash, forced to reduce services and staffing levels and compelled to outsource or privatise those very services upon which we depend for national economic well-being. We are living the destructive consequences of an ideology that claims that private is more efficient, that our public services are dependent the state of the economy for funding and by association the false public assumption that a healthy economy increases tax revenues and enables public services to be paid for.

We are seeing first-hand what happens when the public purpose is subverted to deliver public money into private profit.  As George Monbiot put it in an article this week in his blog: ‘There is a consistent reason for multiple systemic failures the pandemic exposed: the intrusion of corporate power into public policy. Privatisation, commercialisation, outsourcing and offshoring have severely compromised the UK’s ability to respond to a crisis’.

The campaigning organisation WeOwnIT in partnership with the University of Greenwich published a report just over a week ago Privatised and Unprepared: The NHS Supply Chain which suggested our government is ‘asleep at the wheel’ although one might challenge that description for a more accurate one being ‘wide awake’. These are not failures of misdirected policies, they are deliberately constructed market-oriented strategies to favour corporations and serve a revolving door.

In a clear indictment of government actions, it describes a system which has been privatised to supposedly deliver efficiency savings but which in reality has left the country totally unprepared to address the COVID-19 emergency as well as seriously undermining the operation to protect the NHS, care staff and patients. Just in time systems, a fragmented supply structure in the hands of private profit-oriented organisations left the NHS and indeed care homes unable to access sufficient supplies of PPE. Privatisation and outsourcing have proven in the most tragic way that they are not the magic cure-all that was promised.

Worryingly but predictably the government, instead of stopping, is still pressing on with its plans as more and more public contracts are handed out to private companies without any accountability; fragmenting the emergency response even further at a time when it is essential for the government to act in the public interest, not to the advantage of private profit.

However, a privatised supply chain is just one piece of this complicated jigsaw. For decades and almost imperceptibly at least to the public the NHS has been undergoing a radical transformation. Behind its well-recognised public logo now sits a structure which has been infiltrated by private healthcare companies which have been directing the orchestra all with the approval of successive governments towards the creation of a US-style two-tier healthcare service. As our sister organisation, Public Matters, wrote in an article in 2017 ‘the Americanisation of the NHS [is] happening right here, right now.’  It is not a dystopian vision of the future.  Furthermore, this vision goes well beyond the national borders of the UK as Professor Steward Player (co-author of ‘The Plot against the NHS) wrote in an article published in the Socialist Health Association in 2017 in which he indicates that the ‘basic strategy now adopted for the NHS in England has its origins in the business-dominated international circuit of which the WEF (World Economic Forum) is the apex…[and] what is planned for the NHS in England is not a home-grown response…but what the global policy-making elite at Davos sees as a way of avoiding further growth of spending on publicly-provided health care.’

He noted that in early 2012 the WEF had considered that ‘national healthcare systems were increasingly caught between a rock and a hard place as fiscal crises were creating pressures to curb expenditure’. Professor Player also noted that as a result, it had set about the task of helping ‘existing models become sustainable’. The first report, co-authored with McKinsey and Co, looked amongst other things at the financial sustainability of health systems in the context of the level of public debt and declining tax revenues and the second at offering solutions which included ‘rationing, shifting the cost burden onto individuals and raising healthcare ‘productivity’ through delivering more services with fewer resources.’

It is instructive that once again we see the use of a false narrative about public debt and unsustainable spending which has underpinned government policies aimed at delivering a corporate, profit-led world serviced by public spending taps which can be switched on and off at will depending on the political objectives. And again, with the caveat that we’ll need more austerity in the public sector to pay down the debt incurred which in turn will lead to services being sacrificed, yet again, on the altar of efficiency and profit.

And now following Brexit, as if that were not enough, the health service which is already minus the ‘N’ for national’ is also being threatened by a trade treaty with the US. Even if the government has promised that the NHS will not be on the table, given the government’s obfuscation and lies trust in that promise has to be questioned.

COVID-19 is providing the perfect #disastercapitalism opportunity to drive these policies as we remain locked down and fearful for the future and also the daily reminders of the dishonest claim by politicians and their pals in the media who labour the point that someone will have to pay up in the end. Even when that is not true!

The same situation also applies to the Care Sector where, as covered in previous blogs, for the last few decades services have increasingly relied on market provision with tragic consequences, historically and as a result of the current pandemic. David Rowland who is a Director of the Centre for Health and Public Interest noted in a recent article in LSE Blogs that ‘using the market to deliver social care on a low-cost basis had manifestly failed even before the current pandemic’ pointing out that ‘one in five care homes are rated as inadequate or needing improvement, personal care is provided to people in their own homes in 15-minute slots, with the sector as a whole suffering from a 30% turnover rate – a fact which might explain why there are currently over 120,000 vacancies.’  

Like healthcare, the social care system is dominated by private residential and home care all competing for a share of the market, thus creating pressures on wages and quality of care. The workforce has become casualised with increasing reliance on zero-hour contracts.  As David Rowland points out ‘because the state has driven the cost of delivering care down to a bare minimum and because off-shore investors have sought to extract the maximum short-term profit out of the residential care sector, many care providers were teetering on the brink of collapse even before COVID-19 hit. He notes that this has ‘left the financial structure of the industry in such a fragile state that it is not able to withstand even a minor downturn in income or increase in costs’.

Austerity driven from the top has percolated into every aspect of our lives, leaving our local governmental structures unable to provide the necessary expert and logistical support. Privatisation equally has proved to be a killer. In short, whether it’s the NHS or the care sector as TJ Coles notes in his book ‘The Privatised Planet’ ‘the less care you give the more money you make’. And that is the crux of the threat that faces not just us but our fellow planetary citizens

Never has there been a more important time to challenge this ideology that the needs of the ‘market’ should trump public purpose and the creation of a healthy, educated, purposeful nation.

One million people have signed a petition calling for the resignation of Dominic Cummings and tens of thousands have written to their MP. His actions have stirred a wave of disgust at a time of national emergency and solidarity in a way that the loss of our public services has not.  Campaigns and demonstrations organised by committed individuals over the last 10 years have done little to raise real awareness amongst the general public about what has been happening with little or no public accountability.  When you are struggling to pay your bills, rent or mortgage, working for poor wages and in insecure employment, living in bad housing or unable to access good healthcare and education there is little time left to be concerned about the future when the here and now is all-consuming. A rotting economic system has deprived many of the will and energy to stand up.

With a media that has also reinforced the perception that our public services are either unaffordable or reliant on a healthy economy and taxes being paid, the public has not stood a chance to make its voice known. Until now perhaps?

The public has had a full-on very personal encounter with the vital nature of our public and social infrastructure and if change is to happen then it now needs to stand up and demand that our vital public services are not only funded properly but also restored to public provision. As part of that demand and with the knowledge that a sovereign currency-issuing government is not short of cash but more accurately short on political will, it must also challenge politicians and media pundits who are already talking about how it will be paid for.

The message is simple.  The government has the power of the public purse and the power to serve the public purpose if it chooses to do so. As the currency issuer, it neither needs tax or to borrow before it can spend, and that spending will not be a financial burden on future generations. Britain’s national debt which is predicted to hit £2 trillion for the first time will not be ‘the grim milestone’ it is claimed to be by a media pundit yesterday.

The real burden will be a government that has failed to spend sufficiently on delivering public purpose aims for today in the light of the damaging effects of COVID-19 on the economy which will continue for some time to come, and for future generations who will benefit or not as the case may be from government spending policies.

The political institutions, corporations and wealthy elites have gamed the system for their own purpose through domestic legislative means, trade deals and by subverting public funds into private profit. They are still gaming the system.  As Arundhati Roy put it in the Progressive International Our Task is to Disable the Engine’.  

 

 

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The post If you clapped for the NHS and key workers, now it’s time to ACT. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’. The question is which one will we take?

Man standing in a wood at a fork where paths divergePhoto by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’ are the opening words of a poem by the celebrated poet Robert Frost. Whilst he was writing about his own personal life’s journey, they are words that could not be more appropriate to the situation that not just the UK, but the planet, finds itself in. The COVID-19 pandemic which has brought world economies to a standstill and threatens a deep recession is uppermost in our minds, particularly those people who have been directly affected by the disease or by loss of their employment. But those immediate threats, devastating enough as they are proving to be with no immediate solutions and a government anxious to get the economy going again regardless of the potential human consequences, are overshadowed by another peril. Climate change remains the biggest challenge of all, risking as it does the very survival of the planet’s ecosystems and by implication human existence.

Our daily routines have until now imposed a false sense of permanence. The illusion that despite the cyclical economic instability which capitalist societies are prone to, everything always, eventually, returns to ‘normal’. Even when normal has patently shifted. We have accepted this as part and parcel of how things are, even when it hurts people. But the severity of the pandemic is challenging that view. We are finding that in addition to the risky nature of life which COVID-19 has revealed, danger also comes from the fact that our economic system has been built on shaky ground indeed – one might say quicksand. The rolling death toll and the degradation of our public services is a daily reminder.

As the country moves towards a lifting of lockdown and a return to semi-normality, we are seeing more cars on the road, beaches crowded with day-trippers, people travelling hundreds of miles to visit beauty spots, the prospect of schools re-opening amidst huge controversy and airlines proposing to recommence flights, the question hangs in the air about what sort of future lies ahead. Whether we can indeed continue along the perilous path of growth we have been travelling along without some sort of future reckoning. And if not, what should our world look like?

COVID-19 and its associated threats have revealed in the starkest way possible that the economic system which prevailed for the last forty years and more has left the world unable to meet the challenges so cruelly posed by the pandemic. All as a result of a toxic neoliberal ideology which has left our public and social infrastructure in ruins, impoverished people as a direct consequence of a globalised world which has kept wages and living standards down and focused on the primacy of the individual over collective action. Politicians have listened to the so-called economic gurus and put their faith in a mystical market as if somehow it alone can direct the orchestra from the celestial podium. Letting it rip to find that non-existent perfect equilibrium by serving global corporations through legislative means, promoting the lie of trickle-down, and claiming that the public infrastructure depends on so-called ‘wealth creators’.

We have paid a heavy price and we are indeed at a fork in the road. Where we go from here is not clear. And yet the choices we make next will make all the difference.

Earlier this week, the President of the World Bank said that ‘the pandemic and shutdown of advanced economies could push as many as 60 million people into extreme poverty’. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the same week warned that Britain was facing a ‘severe recession the likes of which we haven’t seen’ which would cause severe damage to the UK’s economy. He also went back on earlier predictions of an ‘immediate bounce back’ as the lockdown was lifted and said that there would be more hardship to come.

This came as the Treasury confirmed that around eight million UK workers have now been furloughed and two million are expected to receive support from the government. The government’s spending has risen massively to support those affected and keep businesses ticking over until such time as a recovery is underway.

Although there has been some talk of more austerity to pay for this spending, even the most hawkish of commentators from neoliberal institutions like the Adam Smith Institute recognise that the last thing we need now is to worsen the prospect of a full-scale depression, even if those observations are still couched in household budget terms. Borrowing whilst interest rates are low or growing the economy to improve tax revenues are the oft-repeated caveats to that spending. Clearly, this is not closing the door to such false household budget narratives.

It is politically expedient to accept the need for spending to stop the economy from collapsing and causing infinite damage to the business infrastructure and profits much as the Labour government did in 2008 when it bailed out the banks. But in time, those narratives will likely be given a fresh breath of life at least in terms of continuing to deliver a political agenda.

It will likely bring the next instalment of austerity for public services and their employees’ wages and carrying on along the well-trodden path which favours corporations by delivering a legislative framework not just at national level but international level through the pursuit of free trade deals.

The state with its power of the public purse being used, not for the public purpose, but for quite a different estate – the corporations and a few wealthy elites. Indeed, this week the media, economists, politicians and political commentators have been priming the public for the acceptance of more austerity by reinforcing the message that governments have to borrow or that government has to collect money from tax revenue or other charges before it can spend.

Both the Huffington Post and the BBC ran articles this week discussing how governments pay for the government’s increase in spending through bond issuance. Peter Hitchens tweeted that Rishi Sunak’s furlough billions were just giant payday loan that the country will have to pay back with interest (at some future date). And Boris Johnson when challenged about the decision to continue charging health and care workers to use the NHS (before the decision to rescind the charge) suggested that the money was needed to run the NHS. Indeed, Captain Tom has been knighted for his work in raising money for the NHS as if the institution was a charity and not a publicly funded organisation which does not require tax or other contributions to fund it.

The narrative being reinforced in in the public’s mind is that at some time down the track it will all have to be paid for through more austerity or increased tax. It is worth repeating here that a sovereign currency-issuing government does not need to borrow in order to spend. Indeed, logically speaking how could it borrow money unless it had been spent by the government first? What looks like borrowing isn’t and bond issuance has quite another role. It is instead a smoke and mirrors exercise designed to give the appearance of borrowing and continue the narrative that governments are beholden to money lenders in private markets or that the markets call the tunes.

Dispelling the myths about how governments spend is a priority if we are to give ourselves half a chance to make a different and better world. As was indicated at the beginning of this blog COVID-19 and recession are just part of this picture. The talk about ‘getting back to normal’ overshadows the biggest threat that we still face – climate change and what our response should be. The false narrative of the burden of debt and paying it back will, if allowed to persist, persuade people that action to deal with any of those threats whether unemployment caused by a COVID-19 induced recession or climate change is unaffordable in the long term. That there is always a financial price to pay.

The reality is that the price will not be monetary, it will be in the lives of people who are unemployed, and a trashed planet not fit to live on. We will be rulers of a dead planet, poisoned by our own hand.

There is an alternative. It starts with knowing about how money works and being able to challenge the current narrative that success is to be judged by how well our politicians managed the public accounts.

Contrary to Mrs Thatcher’s oft-repeated slogan ‘there is no alternative’; there is one.

This is the moment to think about a permanent Job Guarantee to manage both the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 on people’s lives and the economy in terms of stabilising it through ending involuntary unemployment and facilitating the transition towards a green and sustainable world. So much potential but will our government act?

Maybe that time is coming; only time will tell. The political discourse has so far been dedicated to a return to normality, growth and rising GDP.

Fiona Harvey, the environment correspondent in the Guardian began an article this week with a stark warning:

‘Global leaders must heed the lessons of the financial crisis of 2008 when they look to repair the damage from the coronavirus pandemic, leading experts have warned, to avoid entrenching disastrous social, health and environmental inequalities and hastening climate breakdown.

The stakes are high.

Earlier this month the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment published its paper ‘Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?

In its introduction, it noted that the crisis had demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present. It went on to say that:

‘The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete’

Its recommendations for contributing to achieving economic and climate goals were:

  • clean physical infrastructure investment
  • building efficiency retrofits
  • investment in education and training to address immediate unemployment from COVID-19 and structural unemployment from decarbonisation, — natural capital investment for ecosystem resilience and regeneration
  • clean R&D investment.

A state-run Job Guarantee implemented to serve both national and local community objectives offers the perfect vehicle to deliver a green-led recovery and reduce the inequality of past decades. Retrofitting existing buildings, creating cities which are cyclist and pedestrian-friendly, digging trenches for broadband connections, planting trees or putting in networks for charging electric-powered vehicles are just a few examples of the work that Job Guarantee participants could accomplish. Our imagination can determine the rest. Serving the public purpose must be the quest.

A Job Guarantee provides an immediate solution to the problem of rising unemployment to stabilise the economy, an opportunity for training the workforce and, out of the catastrophe of pandemic, also provides the perfect opportunity to start along the path towards a more equitable, greener and sustainable world.

We as a nation may also want to consider what sort of future we want in terms of public infrastructure to serve the public purpose. Do we want more state provision – a publicly provided and paid for infrastructure and employment to ensure that we can meet whatever the future holds? If the current situation is anything to go by, there are lessons to be learnt. Or do we prefer to continue as we are and move into a Mad Max dystopian type world where corporate profit is the guiding light and government is its servant?

Brian O’Callaghan, a co-author of the paper said that it was ‘this is the single biggest opportunity for the government to shape the future decade…’ which indeed it is.

Robert Frost ended his poem:

‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.’

Therein lies the challenge. Not directly a personal one in this case but one which involves us all. Do we continue as we are or choose another path for the sake of the future and those that will inherit it?

 

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We don’t have to accept a corporate blueprint for a future world. The alternative is to forge a collective vision based on solid values and publicly provided foundations to enable human and planetary flourishing.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

‘We hope this pandemic will teach us that in normal times we must build up our supplies, our infrastructure, and our institutions to be able to deal with crises. We should not wait for the next national crisis to live up to our means’.

Yeva Nersisyan and L Randall Wray

Austerity and cuts to public spending have taken a wrecking ball to our public infrastructure, not least local government. As central government funding was cut as a deliberate austerity policy, councils have spent the last 10 years trying to balance their books by cutting services and increasing local taxes and other charges to make ends meet. In 2019 council leaders said that government funding cuts would leave a £25bn black hole – leaving some councils having to consider bankruptcy as an option. The COVID-19 crisis is revealing the scale of the damage which has been done to the vital public infrastructure, particularly that which serves our local communities.

Despite the government’s COVID-19 crisis bailouts amounting to £3.2bn last month and additional money for social care, the writing is on the wall. Windsor and Maidenhead District Council said it was ready to file for bankruptcy as a result of its predicted £14m shortfall with only £6m in reserves. Many other councils face similar dilemmas. What options are left when they have already cut their spending to the bone to keep delivering their statutory duties which include social care? Already, there have been huge cuts to local services.

Hundreds of libraries closed, children’s and adult social services cut, a public health budget which has faced hundreds of millions of pounds in cuts since 2014/15, fewer waste collections, cuts to parks, sports, arts and leisure services not to mention increased outsourcing of public services including social care to private contractors to cut costs. While the focus has been rightly on how rundown the NHS has become as a result of a decade of austerity, council services which have also borne the brunt of cuts have left the UK totally unprepared with insufficient staffing and a degraded infrastructure to cope.

And now the situation has become so dire that even statutory duties are no longer sacred. Last month it was reported that a number of councils had taken advantage of the government’s COVID-19 emergency measures which allow them to suspend their duties to provide elements of adult social care so that resources can be redirected towards coronavirus support.

While government ministers claim, from their ivory towers, that they stand behind councils and that they are giving them the funding they need, the evidence is to the contrary. The horse has already bolted from the stable and did so the day George Osborne imposed austerity on the nation. Ten years of cuts cannot be remedied quickly and easily; you cannot rebuild overnight that infrastructure that has been lost. Without adequate central government funding now, local government will remain a shadow of its former self or indeed may not survive in its current form. With social care budgets making up over half of what councils spend then it is clear that something will have to give. It is likely that the axe will fall not just on remaining services but also on social care; the review of which has yet to take place having been kicked down the road endless times by successive governments.

We are facing the demise of local government and local democracy for more centralised decision making which can only be to the detriment of our local communities who are served best by those that know them best. Local government needs a massive injection of funds to allow it to implement both central and local initiatives, not just to manage this emergency but to ensure that the economy can rebuild itself and flourish in the future. It needs to rebuild the infrastructure that currently sits in tatters as a result of deliberate government policies to dismantle it. All it lacks is real political will.

Some deride local government, but without the services that it provides our lives have become poorer. We are beginning to recognise that, along with our NHS and other public services, they form the bedrock of our local communities. COVID-19 has revealed their vital nature in this time of national emergency. As the spotlight falls on our public infrastructure which has been so cruelly stripped down, it highlights the terrible cost of austerity. Not just in deaths from COVID-19, the scale of which was preventable had the government acted sooner, but also deaths caused by government policies and reforms to the social security system which have dehumanised people, left them impoverished, hungry, homeless and sometimes suicidal.

While we witness the very real consequences of the economic ideologies pursued by successive governments, which have denied the value of our public infrastructure except in profit terms for private corporations serviced with public money, we are now also witnessing another battle. The battle about the affordability of the current round of government spending and the perennial question about where the money will come from to pay for it.

This week, two articles appeared in the Telegraph which is not known for its progressive stance. The first suggested that according to a leaked Treasury document the country could face a ‘sovereign debt crisis’ and it set out a package of tax rises and spending cuts which would be aimed at ‘enhancing credibility and boosting investor confidence.’ It proposed an end to the triple lock on state pension increases and a two-year public sector pay freeze (so much for all that clapping on the steps of No.10). In effect, it suggested that higher debt now will have to be paid for in the future to stabilise the debt-to-GDP ratio and ‘prevent debt from growing on an unsustainable trajectory’.

Then, in the same week, another more surprising article entitled ‘The Treasury is wrong’: we don’t need hair-shirt austerity’ contradicted that proposition and said that ‘it was a sure-fire formula for structural damage and an economic depression.’ It also suggested that ‘we should be cutting taxes to support the economy’ and said that ‘the idea that we need significant spending cuts or tax rises is completely wrong.’ The author ended by commenting that it was ‘extraordinary that a sovereign country with all levers of economic policy under its own control should contemplate such self-harm’’. Whilst it is true that the article is still couched in the orthodox household budget narrative that austerity would lower future tax take and thus would be counterproductive for the public finances, it does nevertheless point out that such a course of action would be tantamount to a ‘scorched earth policy’.

However, confusion seems to reign in Tory-supporting circles as on Friday Boris Johnson, rejecting the Treasury floated proposal for more austerity to cover the cost of the coronavirus crisis, said that there was no question of freezing public sector workers’ pay and that the government were intending to spend heavily on infrastructure as the country exited lockdown. On the other hand, whether one can trust Johnson’s promises is another matter, given his track record on truth-telling both before the crisis and through it. Whilst he has a very short memory it is also possible that it will be a short career as Prime Minister. Clearly, it reveals potential tensions between No 10 and the current occupant of No 11, but it also demonstrates that the standard household budget orthodoxy still takes precedence even if it is purely a mechanism to deliver a political agenda rather than a recognition of how governments really spend.

We should remember whose pockets have benefited these last couple of months from public money. Only this week, it was revealed that the government had awarded £1bn worth of contracts to private companies bypassing the tendering process and thus any accountability. It had also failed to use NHS Laboratory capacity for testing, preferring to give the work to private companies. The lie of the land is easy to see. There is never a shortage of public money for corporations, but when it comes to public services the magic money tree goes into hibernation.

That we are seeing challenges to the economic orthodoxy of the past few decades is a positive step forward. Less positive is that it is still being seen in terms of productive economy meaning more taxes and less debt as if the national debt were the single most harmful issue that the nation faces. The suggestion that the government could face a sovereign debt crisis is the same as David Cameron deceitfully suggested in 2010; that we were like Greece and could go bankrupt if we didn’t get our public finances under control.

However, as many more people are beginning to realise, the UK government as the currency issuer can never run out of money and cannot become insolvent. When it issues bonds, which are portrayed erroneously as borrowing, it can always meet those liabilities upon maturity including any interest accrued. In fact, it doesn’t even have to issue debt to cover its deficit.

The bottom line is that the national debt represents our assets – our savings – not a burden on the nation, either now or for future generations. In 1945, when our debt to GDP ratio was around 240%, we built our NHS and put in place a social security system to protect people from cradle to grave. That spending represented a real investment in the future of the nation and the economy and in doing it we didn’t go bankrupt then, any more than we can now.

It is vital to turn this damaging narrative on its head. Deficits do matter, but not in the way we tend to think they do. They are normal and necessary, representing as they do our savings and the money circulating in the economy. Rather than focusing on the size of the national debt, it would be better to ask questions about what that debt represents. What was it spent on and why and who benefited or lost out? The answers to those questions will vary depending on the economic conditions of the day and the political agenda of the government in power.

The record of any government, which includes a range of factors from social to economic including full employment, is the real measure of success. Not whether it was fiscally disciplined and achieved a balanced budget. Damaging a nation’s health and prosperity cannot in any way be defined as success. The Conservatives spent ten years destroying it and regardless of how much money is promised now or in the future, it will take time to rebuild that lost public infrastructure if indeed they choose to do so.

In these difficult times, we are seeing the consequences of austerity on everything that we have hitherto valued but have maybe taken for granted. We have allowed successive governments to whittle away at those public structures upon which the foundations of a fairer society were built in the post-war period. We have accepted, not just the lie of unaffordability because we understandably compared the state finances to our own household budgets, but also that the market provided better outcomes for publicly paid-for services as if the government could be compared to a profit and loss business. This, in turn, has given corporations huge influence and power in Westminster and has lined their pockets, at the expense of good quality publicly funded and managed provision.

Those lies are now unravelling. Let’s make sure they unravel to a conclusion which invites a re-examination of our values and a commitment to creating a collective vision of the future which is both environmentally sustainable and fairer for all. Failure to challenge the rapid transformation of our society into a corporate free-for-all will leave us impoverished automatons in its service.

 

 

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The Country Is Gone but At Least We Don’t Have a National Debt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/05/2020 - 4:07pm in

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell insists that economic stimulus should either halt or slow down due to concerns about the deficit. What kind of world, he asks, will our children and grandchildren inherit? Not a good one if he gets his way.

The cost of government austerity has been a one of infrastructure decay and human suffering. Our nation has paid the price. Are we ready yet to re-imagine our world?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/04/2020 - 9:09pm in

Blackboard with the slogan "Upgrade thinking" written in white chalkImage by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

‘No society should need permission from wealthy people to operate in a high functioning way’

Nick Hanauer

 

A day of reckoning is coming. The exponential rise in deficit spending to manage the COVID-19 emergency is coming to crush future generations and will need action to address the prospect of a future burden of higher taxes to pay for it. Or so a briefing paper published by the Social Market Foundation claimed this week. The SMF (funded by Vodaphone, Barclays and KPMG amongst others) states in its report that public sector net borrowing could rise above £200bn per year which raises the prospect of an ‘Austerity Round Two’ leading to tax rises and spending cuts once the worst of the crisis is over. It calls for the economic costs of responding to the coronavirus pandemic to be shared fairly across the generations and says that ‘as we emerge from the crisis, older generations must uphold their part of the contract by bearing a fair proportion of future tax rises and welfare reforms.’

In short, it is suggesting that there will be a financial price to pay for the government’s increase in spending and recommending that the ‘triple lock’ which ensures substantial rises in the Basic State Pension should be replaced with a ‘double lock’ tying increases to earnings or inflation. This it says could contribute £20bn to deficit reduction over the next five years and reduce the fiscal burden on the working-age population.

Economic orthodoxy lives on. After the initial positive buzz which resulted from the government’s announcement of a huge spending programme to manage the economic and human fall out of the COVID-19 crisis (before we realised its shortcomings) the debt sirens are back beating the debt drum. Not surprisingly. The neoliberals have caught up with the challenge to their economic and monetary supremacy and are fighting back by posing the customary question about how it will be paid for. We can expect more as the weeks roll on. On this line of thinking someone, somewhere has to pay the financial cost sooner or later and the question will be who.

Of course, the usual response to the question is the taxpayer and that narrative is not just the line pursued by the right-wing. The household budget narrative dominates both on the right and the left. On the right, low taxes are the aim and have justified the slimming down of public services and infrastructure. Those who rightly wish to address economic inequality, do so by falsely suggesting that tax avoidance or evasion is a drain on the public purse, and we must ensure that the rich pay their fair share. The ‘solution’ on the left is to bring back that ‘ol magic money tree’ located in the Cayman Islands. Indeed, earlier this week, an editorial in the Morning Star suggested that the government should open up tax havens and tax the super-wealthy to raise the extra funds needed for welfare benefits, job support, training schemes and public services including the NHS.

The truth is that we are not dependent on the rich (or indeed anyone) paying their tax to fund public services and we don’t need to grovel or expect them to do the right thing as if somehow it is a charitable exercise in goodwill. We need instead to recognise the currency-issuing powers of government to pursue a public purpose agenda which serves the interests of the nation. Make the rich pay their tax for the right reasons, which are to do with redistribution of wealth through progressive taxation and not because it funds government spending. It doesn’t.

We need to recognise that the real costs of austerity are not financial but human ones. In fact, we are now paying the costs of that burden imposed in 2010 by the Conservatives when they cut public spending on our public and social infrastructure including our public services and welfare. The burden was never the financial one it was dishonestly described as; it has been the subsequent burden of infrastructure decay and human suffering as a result of austerity. We are now seeing its effects on the lives of our friends and families as we struggle to cope with the effects of lockdown; counting the harrowing cost on our financial, physical and mental health. It is a sad thing indeed that it had to be coronavirus that brought it to our attention as life as we know it stopped like a broken clock.

Past austerity has cut our productive capacity. That has built in the potential for inflationary pressures which could prove to be an issue with a critical global shortage of PPE and other vital equipment and import restrictions from affected nations.  While the government isn’t like a household in financial terms, it is clear that it has failed our nation on the very yardstick it chooses to measure itself by.  It has run down the essential supplies of critical equipment and materials to keep the public safe and compromised our national security by running the NHS at full capacity without the slack required to cope in a crisis. This will be the deficit that we inherit; not the spreadsheet balances. As Fadhel Kaboub noted in a recent podcast ‘It’s not about having the money it’s about having the real, physical productive resources’

And yet the economic orthodoxy that precipitated this destruction still looms like a bad penny on our horizon. Once again, the neoliberals are proposing to hit those who can least afford to pay with the very real costs of any future austerity. The SMF’s economic illiteracy, which suggests that today’s government spending will have to be paid back at some point in time and would thus be a burden on future generations, is a blatant misrepresentation of the truth.

The government does not need to find savings now and scrapping the triple lock on pensions in order to restore what is referred to as ‘intergenerational fairness’ will quite simply create more pensioner poverty than already exists, which in turn will have a detrimental effect on the economy. Quite simply, whether it is retired or working people, involuntarily unemployed or underemployed people, less money in their pockets translates into less money being spent into the economy which is what keeps it turning. Tightening the money tap will quite simply send the economy into a death spiral if it is not already there. And that cost will be even harder to bear, not just for the most vulnerable in society but also for the future of the planet.

As Prem Sikka suggests in an article this week in Left Foot Forward, the SMF has failed ‘to assess the impact of pension reduction on the life of retirees. With reduced income, retirees will spend less on good and services and thereby reduce the multiplier effect. The SMF proposals would ensure that retirees surviving the coronavirus pandemic will face a future of severe poverty’.

That is the real burden a human one. The role of government is not to balance its budget, but to serve the common interests of its citizens and in that its function is to ensure that its economic policy decisions result in a more productive nation. Future generations, or indeed retirees will pay the heavy price of both ineffective government inaction today and economic decisions to impose yet more austerity or increase taxes in the future.

In short, today’s government debt will not in itself be a burden on future generations. The real burden will be government’s failure to spend adequately today to ensure a better future tomorrow. Cutting spending once the crisis is over would be tantamount to ensuring economic collapse if indeed we haven’t already reached it before then.  Using ‘intergenerational fairness’ as an excuse to cut spending is designed to create smoke and mirrors and conflict between generations and is a sleight of hand to place blame anywhere but at the government’s feet.

In conclusion, we end this MMT Lens with a quote from a blog by Bill Mitchell.

“…the inclusion of public debt and unfunded pension liabilities for government workers in the index are based on a misunderstanding of what actually will burden the future generation.

The fact is that the current government has as much ‘money’ now as it had yesterday and the same amount it will have tomorrow. That is, it has whatever it wants to spend. It always has that. It has no more or less capacity to spend today because there were surpluses in the past than it would have if there had have been deficits in the past.

[…..]

Every generation chooses its own tax rates. That is, the mix of public and private sector involvement in the economy is a political choice. If the future generations want more private and less public they will choose lower tax rates etc.

Currency-issuing governments do not draw down on the savings provided by the previous government’s surpluses. It is a nonsensical notion thinking that a sovereign government would ‘save’ in its own currency.”

 “The idea that borrowing ‘takes money from the pockets of future taxpayers’ is nonsensical. The funds to pay for the bonds originate in the government net spending in the first place.

 Clearly, deficits now are in part helping the current generation with income transfers and the like. But they also facilitate public education, public health and other infrastructure which provide massive benefits into the future for the current generation and their children. 

Once you understand that then the idea that there is a future burden will make you laugh.

 

 

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The post The cost of government austerity has been a one of infrastructure decay and human suffering. Our nation has paid the price. Are we ready yet to re-imagine our world? appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Rishi Sunak is wrong. ‘Righting the ship’ won’t require any taxpayers to ‘chip in’ to cover the cost of his spending plans – not now, in the future, or ever. 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 29/03/2020 - 4:37am in

Scientists wearing masks holding sign with the slogan "Together we do it"Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman statesman, lawyer and academic sceptic philosopher. He wrote ‘The Safety of the People shall be the Highest Law.’

This week, it was reported that the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt was in charge when medical advice to stockpile protective equipment in event of a flu pandemic was rejected on the grounds that stockpiling would be too expensive. By this decision, it would seem that this government chose deliberately to put cost over the health of its citizens, thus perpetuating the myths about the unaffordability of public services. The health and safety of the nation has been in the hands of a government which thought saving money was more important than keeping people protected. Jeremy Hunt claimed a while back, that public services depended on a healthy economy. That falsity will come to haunt him as we find out the hard way that it is, in fact, the other way around. A healthy economy depends on a healthy nation.

The neoliberal order which has dominated the global corridors of power for more than 40 years, combined with monetarist policies and more recently austerity following the global financial crash, has led to the destruction of public and social infrastructure not just here but in many developed nations around the world including the EU trading bloc. It lies at the heart of this crisis.

The horrors we are seeing in Spain, France, Italy, the US and other countries as the COVID-19 coronavirus compromises the ability of health and other public services to cope underline painfully the consequences of government decisions. Governments which rejected the power of the state to serve its citizens, promoting the god of the markets – the invisible hand – instead, have appeased it at every turn to favour the global corporations which have dictated the rules.

In the UK, despite the early advice from other experts in countries where coronavirus had already struck, government prevarication and failure to act expeditiously has allowed the disease to spread through the nation affecting many, not just those who are elderly with underlying health conditions. All human life is precious and yet this government has treated some as expendable and put the lives of those in the front line in the health service at risk.

As GIMMS noted in a previous MMT Lens, we will pay a heavy price for the ‘just in time’ approach to our health and public services and the lie that they were only affordable if the economy was doing well.  The media, having done little to hold the government to account for decades and especially in the last 10 years, has left us without sufficient nurses, doctors and health workers, beds, ventilators, ICUs and other equipment. Our health professionals are still crying out for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and are selflessly putting their own health at risk for others.  They are crying out for ventilators to keep people alive. They are crying out to be tested to keep themselves and their patients safe.

A healthy economy relies on public infrastructure, which is in short supply as a result of government choice. Ramping up the much-needed supplies is proving slow and difficult, not to mention demonstrating government incompetence. A good government delivering public purpose would have meant that we would have been better able to deal with this emergency and we might not be witnessing its current trajectory.

Our public infrastructure has been the victim of government cuts and we are now paying the price for the breakdown which is occurring as a result of limited or non-existent emergency planning, deregulation to suit market demands and privatisation – which have all been justified by the lie that the state had no money of its own and public services were a luxury determined by the health of the economy.

When the Chancellor got up to announce his spending plans and the measures to help those now unable to work, people cheered. If nothing else, this should have demonstrated quite clearly that the government was not constrained by tax or borrowing in order to spend, despite the charade that successive governments have played out about how its spending is paid for.

With big business queuing up for handouts (reminiscent of those banks that were too big to fail who were bailed out with public money) for others, it has been like squeezing blood from a stone. The very people who form the backbone of society, who keep it functioning and contribute to the economy through their work – the self-employed in particular – are being asked to jump through hoops to get any money at all, leaving them struggling and worrying about the future. People who for a decade have been living hand to mouth with scarce or no savings, working in zero-hours employment, the gig economy or in part-time work, will have to wait months for the government to pay up. Those in desperate need without employment are being asked to apply for Universal Credit for a measly £94.50 a week hanging on in telephone queues which can be as long as 90,000. It will not be long before those who congratulated the Chancellor for his largesse will have to think again, as bills go unpaid and people go hungry. People need support now, not later. The breakdown of society is in the offing if the government fails to act as it could now simply by authorising the central bank to make payments through HMRC who hold our data.

Alongside the tragedy which is playing out, the household budget narrative is never far behind, even in the words of Rishi Sunak who during his announcement of measures for the self-employed claimed that when this emergency was over we’d have ‘to chip in to right the ship’ promoting yet again that at some time in the future there will be a cost to taxpayers. Which in short there will not, since the government does not need to collect tax before it can spend!

Next, an ITV newsreader asked, ‘can the public finances take the strain?’ And this was followed by Robert Peston telling the TV audience that we’ll be ‘paying off the national debt for years’. To be clear – for the UK government, which is the currency issuer, there is no strain on the public finances and there will be no future burden on the taxpayer.

The Tax-Payers Alliance then announced that in future there would have to be ‘growth-enhancing’ measures and spending restraint’ both mutually exclusive positions which hark back to a false claim that cutting public spending could lift growth. The evidence is before us right now that this is not true.

Finally, the journalist Philip Inman suggested that Sunak’s budget spending spree could come at a high price, ‘fighting a war with borrowed money.’ Except that the government, as the currency issuer, does not need to borrow to cover its deficits; nor does it need to issue bonds in order to spend.

Our public and social infrastructure is under severe pressure and cracking under the strain, and people are suffering and dying. And yet they are still arguing about the financial cost of the Chancellor’s spending as if deficits and borrowing were the devil, balanced budgets the epitome of a government’s economic success or that there will be a price to pay if fiscal prudence is abandoned.

The ONLY cost in the future is the human cost we will face if the government fails to act in a manner that secures the lives of citizens, ensures they can pay their bills and eat during this emergency.  Fiscal prudence is the least of our worries!

We must today, tomorrow and in the future, keep holding to account government, politicians and all those who peddle the economic orthodoxy that there is no money. The Chancellor has shown that there is the possibility to spend without checking the public purse first. It is a political choice. So much is now at stake and we need as nations to keep pushing with more persistence until change happens. The battle lines are being drawn as we speak. The coronavirus, hard as it is, may be our societal wake-up call. Let’s hope so.

 

 

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The post Rishi Sunak is wrong. ‘Righting the ship’ won’t require any taxpayers to ‘chip in’ to cover the cost of his spending plans – not now, in the future, or ever.  appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

A Short Comment on the UK Government’s Fiscal Policy in the Current Crisis

By Phil Armstrong, University of Southampton Solent and York College.

Man putting on protective mask and wearing latex glovesImage by Terri Sharp from Pixabay

The UK government’s significant fiscal expansion – in line with its ‘do whatever is required’[1] mantra – is, of course, welcome. However, I would argue that it is still far too small to deal with the massive demand shock associated with the coronavirus pandemic (Mitchell 2020a, 2020b) and also that it is incorrectly targeted. It pays insufficient attention to the poorest groups in society; the government has failed to take the necessary steps required to ensure the income of those most in need is adequately supported during the crisis. Clearly, the situation is evolving on a daily basis and, looking forward, it is highly likely that there will be continual calls for the government to increase its fiscal intervention from many sectors in society – not least business leaders who fear the effects of rapidly declining demand.

However, I would stress that the intervention is being enacted against an inapplicable theoretical and ideological backdrop, specifically the mistaken neoliberal framing of the so-called ‘government budget constraint’ (GBC). The logic of the GBC conceptualises the government as a currency-user, which might finance its spending by taxation, by borrowing (debt issuance) or ‘printing money’ (Mitchell 2011). According to mainstream thinking, each of these methods carries problems; increased taxation reduces non-government sector spending power and allegedly generates disincentive effects, ‘excessive’ borrowing leads to higher long term interest rates, in turn, causing ‘crowding out’[2] and ‘money printing’ inevitably results in inflation.   There is also an underlying ideology implicit in neoliberalism; that state expansion soaks up real resources which would be better (or ‘more efficiently’) used by the private sector.

In extremis, it appears that the Conservatives (who have shown a marked distaste for expansionist state intervention in the recent past) and even business leaders who would normally be opposed to increased government spending and enlarged deficits are now prepared to put their weight behind the fiscal expansion[3]. However, the underlying framing based upon the GBC is likely to come back to bite us all – hard – in the future. In line with the erroneous conceptualisation of the state as a currency-user, the government is presenting its current additional spending as being ‘financed’ by borrowing. The story is founded upon the idea that the government needs to spend significant extra sums now – owing to the severity of the crisis – and heavy borrowing is, therefore, essential (reinforced with the contention that it is cheaper for the state to borrow now than in the past as long term interest rates are very low) in the manner of household who accepts a very large credit card bill because there is no other way it can survive[4].

However, following this line of thinking will lead to a damaging and erroneous conclusion. It is highly likely that in the future – when the crisis has passed – mainstream economists will argue that there is a financial ‘mess’ to fix; ‘unacceptably’ large public sector deficits may well persist beyond the crisis alongside an ‘excessive’ national debt as a proportion of GDP. The narrative will then, no doubt, suggest that they need to be ‘dealt with’– possibly with another, even harsher, round of austerity than last time – and it will those least able to cope who are most likely to be the ones asked to bear the greatest share of the burden (as was the case the last time austerity was imposed).

This conceptualisation of the government as a currency-user suggests that money printing and bond issuance are alternative ways of financing a deficit, however, advocates of MMT conceptualise the state as a currency-issuer. From this viewpoint, in reality, they are not alternatives.  The government always spends by the creation of new money – both taxes and borrowing logically and historically follow spending (or lending). Only money that has already been issued by the state can be collected in taxes or used to buy state debt. When the government spends, it does so by crediting the bank accounts of its target recipients, simultaneously increasing the target’s bank’s reserve account by the same amount. When taxes are paid by a private sector agent, her deposit balance falls and her bank’s reserve account balance at the central bank (CB) is correspondingly marked down[5].  The purchase of government debt is best conceptualised as a reserve drain (Mosler 2012) which changes the composition of non-government sector holding of risk-free state debt but not its size.

I would argue that having this correct conceptualisation is the key to avoiding the return of austerity. In reality, the government sets its aims, determines its budget and spends by the ex nihilo creation of new money. When the operational reality of the financial system is correctly understood, then the expectation of a post-crisis ‘mess’ to fix disappears. Once the economy has recovered, that does not necessarily mean a need for austerity or even fiscal retrenchment – only the post-crisis economic outcomes such as growth, employment and price stability matter. If unemployment persists after the crisis has passed, then government net spending should still be regarded as being too low, irrespective of the size of the government deficit both in absolute terms and as a proportion of national income. Only in an economy suffering from inflation from excess demand would fiscal contraction be required.

These are challenging times for us all, but in the current crisis we have the opportunity to push forward the insights of MMT and to challenge established thought – particularly with respect to the inapplicable government budget constraint. If our understanding of the operational reality of the monetary system can be characterised by the insights of MMT, the full scope of existing fiscal space can be understood and importantly, the likely post-crisis push for fiscal retrenchment can be effectively countered.

 

[1] See Islam (2020).

[2] The crowding hypothesis is based on the contention that higher interest rates will lead to lower private sector investment, meaning that large government deficits effectively ‘crowd out’ private investment. Little, if any, empirical support for this hypothesis exists (Armstrong 2015).

[3] For example, Richard Branson expressed his support for fiscal retrenchment in 2010 (Stratton 2010) but changed his mind in 2020 when arguing in favour of a £7.5 billion government support package for the airline industry (Hockaday 2020).

[4]  ‘We are in an entirely new world. A wartime effort, with wartime deficits to cover it’, Rishi Sunak, quoted in Islam, F., BBC News online, 17 March 2020.

[5] It is important to stress that private sector debt or bank money cannot provide the final means of settling a tax bill which occurs when a taxpayer’s bank’s reserve account at the central bank is debited in favour of the Treasury account (Armstrong 2019).

 

References

 

Armstrong, P. (2015), ‘Heterodox Views of Money and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)’

https://moslereconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/Money-and-MMT.pdf

 

Armstrong, P. (2019), ‘A simple MMT advocate’s response to the Gavyn Davies article ‘What you need to know about modern monetary theory’, Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies,

https://gimms.org.uk/2019/05/27/phil-armstrong-gavyn-davies-response

 

Hockaday, J. (2020), ‘Airline bosses to ask for £7,500,000,000 bailout to survive coronavirus.

The Metro online, https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/14/airline-bosses-ask-7500000000-bailout-survive-coronavirus-12399300/

 

Islam, F (2020), ‘Coronavirus: Chancellor unveils £350bn lifeline for economy’, BBC News online, 17 March, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51935467

 

Mitchell, W. (2011), ‘Budget Deficit Basics’ 4 April

http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=14044

 

Mitchell, W. (2020a), ‘The coronavirus crisis – a particular type of shock – Part 1’, March 10,

http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=44484

 

Mitchell, W. (2020b), ‘The coronavirus crisis – a particular type of shock – Part 2’, March 11,

http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=44488

 

Mosler, W. (2012), Soft Currency Economics II, US Virgin Islands: Valance

 

Stratton, A (2010), ‘Richard Branson backs Tory plans to cut spending sooner rather than later’, The Guardian, 16 February,

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/feb/16/branson-back-tory-deficit-cuts

 

 

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The post A Short Comment on the UK Government’s Fiscal Policy in the Current Crisis appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

The government’s spending promises have shown the need for austerity is a lie and a sham. It’s time to hold the government to account for its political decisions, not its fiscal prudence or otherwise.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/03/2020 - 10:21pm in

Man teaching girl to wash her hands properlyImage by CDC on Unsplash

In 2010 the newly elected Conservative government, using smoke and mirrors, turned what was a private debt crisis caused by global reckless greed and speculation by financial markets into a sovereign debt crisis. Liam Byrne’s stupid joke note left in the Treasury, suggesting that there was no money left, gave them the perfect opportunity to cash in by claiming that was no alternative to austerity and cuts to public spending. The then Prime Minister David Cameron and his Treasury sidekick George Osborne declared that ‘maxing out the credit card’ and putting off dealing with the problem would make it worse and suggested that without spending cuts we could end up like Greece. The Chancellor declared in his Spending Review – ‘we have taken our country back from the brink of bankruptcy.’

Believing that their own household budgets were like the state’s public accounts (a constantly reiterated message) it’s no wonder that the nation gave a huge sigh of relief. People were mistaking the prospect of “healthy” public accounts for a healthy economy. The nation, which accepted the false premise that there wasn’t any money left in the treasury coffers, subsequently paid a heavy price for this misunderstanding; a misunderstanding that was endlessly promoted by successive Chancellors.

What followed allowed the government to deliver a political agenda which had nothing to do with balancing the budget, even if presented as such. It was quite simply the mechanism to further hollow out our public services, reform the welfare system and sell-off and privatise public assets. It brought to its conclusion a decades-old plan which began as early as the 1970s and was pursued by Margaret Thatcher, as a result of her love affair with the ideas of the economist Friedrich Hayek and the Chicago School of economics; continued by Tony Blair and New Labour.

This Wednesday the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, stood at the despatch box to give his first Budget. The public, from being told over 10 years ago that Labour had spent beyond its means and as a result, the nation would have to cut its cloth and make a sacrifice to restore the public accounts to order, suddenly discovers that the money we were told we didn’t have for public services which were previously “unaffordable”, can inexplicably appear, as if by magic. From apparent scarcity to abundance. Along with the Bank of England cutting its base rate in an effort to fight the impact of Covid-19 on the economy, the money taps have also been miraculously switched on.

As an aside, when public and business confidence is at rock bottom and fear is rampant, it beggars belief that the central bank believes that cutting rates will stimulate people to consume (unless it’s toilet roll, pasta or hand sanitiser) or businesses to invest. Ten years of reliance on central bank monetary policy to stimulate the economy has proved ineffective. The fiscal approach, i.e. government spending to support the economy and its public infrastructure, is the only route left to any government, left or right, if they are to address the prospect of recession as a result of 10 years of austerity or indeed economic collapse because of the coronavirus outbreak.

More importantly, the fiscal approach is also the only route available to fight the immediate consequences of the virus in terms of containing it; the government must use the power of the public purse, alongside its legislative powers, to ensure that resources are freed up to get help to where it is needed. Whether that’s financial support for individuals or businesses caught up in the coming economic slowdown or bringing private sector health companies into public use – meaning hospitals and trained staff – to meet increased demand.

That said, we cannot avoid the stark fact that after ten years of austerity, which have gouged out our public services and left them pared down and in an appalling state of decay with those working in them struggling to pay their way using food banks or in deep debt, it remains to be seen what can be achieved immediately. Austerity reduces our domestic productive capacity, laying the foundation for inflationary pressure when the economy needs to grow or when the nation has to respond to a crisis. The corona crisis will create inflationary pressures which will result in rationing access to real resources and public services. This and many other governments have for decades put bankers and the financial sector before the health of their nations and their citizens.

Just to be clear, in case there is some confusion, turning on the taps has nothing to do with printing money in the Treasury basement, collecting tax or borrowing from the market to fund its spending programme. It is doing what all sovereign currency-issuing governments like the UK’s can do and have been able to do since 1971 – spend the money into existence via a computer keyboard at the central bank, where an employee authorised by the Treasury enters numbers onto a screen and transfers to the appropriate accounts whatever sum of funding it requires to deliver its capital programmes or fund its day to day spending. The fact that government spending is still couched in household budget terms of collecting tax or borrowing serves an agenda and nothing else. It is worth repeating here that there was no such scarcity of money when it was a question of spending it to feather the nests of corporations, reduce taxes for the same or serve a specific government agenda, from bailing out the “too big to fail” banks after the 2008 financial crash to buying votes in the House to keep the government in power.

So, having presided over 10 years of the destruction of our public and social infrastructure, the ravaging of our public services and social security system and all that that has meant for the economy and some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, now suddenly it appears the government’s austerity breaks have been taken off and the gears crunched into fourth! If you are wondering how this has this happened, when up until quite recently being fiscally prudent has been all the rage, according to a government minister the sacrifice of the great British public has now paid off, enabling the government to spend. Dear Rishi and any others promoting this nonsense, please pull the other one, it has bells on! The veil pulled over the eyes of the British public who are now suffering the very real physical and economic consequences of government policies is now being torn away in the most brutal way.

The harsh reality is that the sacrifice was unnecessary and indeed damaging. It was justified on the back of a monstrous lie about how the state finances actually work. We heard them say that the nation had been living beyond its means and this required drastic remedial action to avoid bankruptcy. The myths about how money works have left our public and social infrastructure in such a state of decay that the last 10 years of austerity combined with the risks that the spread of coronavirus pose and its effects on the world economy are increasingly becoming self-evident. Government’s ideological choices, with their focus on keeping markets and corporations sweet, have been responsible, not lack of public funds. To put it bluntly, political choices are killing us.

However, before we get too excited about a change of direction (and how the government will explain it) whilst one can obviously support a fiscal programme of government spending as the right approach, one has to question who it will benefit. Whilst, of course, there is a role for the private sector in delivering big infrastructure projects they will continue to feather the bank accounts of big business. This means public money pouring into private profit whilst top management continues to pay itself big salaries, pensions and other bonuses. Whilst investment in our privatised railways has been promised, top management will continue to benefit from public money and pay itself handsomely whilst at the same time failing to provide good, reliable services as many travellers will attest. Government pours money in, but fails to dictate the terms in the public interest.

Sunak neither mentioned the perilous state of social care nor the appalling consequences of the introduction of Universal Credit on the lives of many involuntarily unemployed people and those with disabilities. And whilst he has announced a spending review, which will include local government, the combined effects of 10 years of cuts to funding will take more than a future spending review to improve the dire financial situation of local councils and the current parlous state of local infrastructure and services.

The economy is not some nebulous presence overseeing things from the heavens; it is us. From nurses, doctors and other health professionals, those that teach our children or lecture in other institutions of learning to ensure a healthy and educated society for today and tomorrow to those who sweep the streets and remove the rubbish along with the army of social carers looking after our loved ones in their own homes or in residential care. The government has failed the economy. It has failed us. It has, in fact, decided that some of us are expendable; surplus to requirements.

The ‘spend, spend, spend,’ message has however not gone down well in some circles and whilst we may think that household budget narratives have been swept away in favour of fiscal spending, the question of how it will be paid for still hasn’t gone away. A quick perusal of the government’s own Executive Summary for this week’s budget in which it talks about ‘creating a fair and sustainable tax system to fund first-class public services’, mentions that ‘over the past decade it has taken action to restore the public finances and reduced the deficit by four-fifths’ and suggested that the ‘historically low cost of borrowing means that it can support the economy and provide significant investment in public services and infrastructure’ is still nodding its cap to household budget narratives of how governments spend.

The reaction of the Adam Smith Institute which suggested that ‘spending like a drunken sailor…wasn’t the way to create a thriving entrepreneurial economy’ or the IFS which remarked that ‘The Chancellor seems to think the only best way to boost growth is through public spending’ shows that we still have a way to go in changing the institutional and press narrative.

With the mantra of low interest rates and borrowing to spend still prevailing even amongst what one might call ‘progressive’ left-wing economists and journalists, we seem to still be stuck in the household budget box of taxing and borrowing. Indeed, one economist and commentator claimed that ‘spending on growth-promoting investments would ensure that government wouldn’t have any trouble repaying its debts over the long term’. It is now the job of the left-wing not to question the fiscal prudence of government as in the usual ping pong of debate about the state finances – that train has now left the station – but to hold it to account for its political choices.

The house is still on fire, the emergency suddenly grew into one of huge proportions with increasing climate uncertainty, environmental catastrophes, the prospect of an economic collapse which will affect vast swathes of the world population and we still have people talking about being fiscally prudent in one way or another. It is time to wake up to the reality that it is not a balanced budget that will save us, it is a government which puts human beings at the top of its priorities instead of polluting, exploitative corporations and is willing to make the policies and spend within its resource capability to address the challenges we face for the future.

 

Events

Challenging the narrative about how governments pay for public services – Northampton

March 28 @ 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm

 

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The post The government’s spending promises have shown the need for austerity is a lie and a sham. It’s time to hold the government to account for its political decisions, not its fiscal prudence or otherwise. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

#RethinkMoney – The Greatest Lie Ever Told (Probably)…#TaxAndSpend

GIMMS is delighted to have permission from blogger Duncan Poundcake to reblog his article which was originally posted here

 

So what have we learned from the General Election of 2019?

Mainly the familiar cry of:

”How will you pay for it?”

”Labour ‘broke the bank”…

”Labour left a note saying  – We have spent all the money”…

Nothing very new in that. We have heard it on a loop for nearly 10 years from many Politicians. Policy Makers, Think Tanks, Economists, The Press and RW influencers, that:

  • For Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) to spend is a very bad thing to do.
  • HMG is at the largesse of the Tax Payer and is unable to spend for public purpose. HMG must either – a: Tax and/or b: Borrow before it spends.

Why?

  • There is an undefined and finite amount of Sterling that can ever be available in the economy.
  • Once this Sterling threshold has been reached, HMG must borrow back this Sterling from the private sector, to fund its spending.

Even Labour, with its £400bn spending bill, tells us; Tax, Borrow and Spend is the order of the day.

Unfortunately, yet again, Labour miss an opportunity and tell us the polar opposite of the reality…

1. The UK has ALWAYS been a Sovereign Fiat Currency Issuer

HMG has ALWAYS been able to create £s at will but there have been numerous times where, by circumstance, or design, it has been limited as to how many Fiat £s it can create.

Since 1971, the UK has been a Sovereign Fiat Currency Issuer, without restriction – In laymans language, HMG:

  • Has the legal monopoly on the creation (Issue) of its OWN currency.
  • Can create (Issue) Sterling at will, from thin air, with zero impedance.
  • Everyone else is a Currency User.

So why does everyone tell you otherwise?

Time to travel in the Monetary TARDIS…

2. A little bit of History repeating – The Gold Standard (Again):

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

 

Over much of the 20th Century, the UK, US and other developed nations have been on and off variations of the ‘Gold Standard’.
In stark comparison to the economics of the last 40 years, when the Americans and British created ‘The Gold Exchange Standard in 1944’, their focus was:

  • To avoid trade deals which impoverished lesser trade partners.
  • An attempt to control flows of speculative financial capital.

The latter, in particular, had wrecked the global economy prior to the Great Depression, the outcome of which was seared into their collective memories:

  • A global depression,
  • Mass unemployment.
  • The rise of Fascism in Europe and Communism as a response.
  • Global War.
  • Millions Dead.

Post-War planners aimed to prevent the repetition of previous competitive currency devaluations but engineered not to force debtor nations to reduce their industrial bases to attract financial speculators and keep interest rates high.

British economic sage, John Maynard Keynes…

John Maynard Keynes portrait© National Portrait Gallery, London
Image cropped from John Maynard Keynes, 1st Baron Keynes of Tilton; Lydia Lopokova by Walter Benington, for Elliott & Fry bromide print, 1920s Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974 Photographs Collection NPG x90117

again fearful of repeating the mistakes that led to Great Depression and carnage that followed, was the primary mover behind Britain’s proposal that Trade Surplus nations should be forced to use their trade surplus for good, or lose it for good:

  • Either import from debtor nations
  • Build factories in debtor nations
  • Donate to debtor nations.

The U.S. opposed Keynes’ plan and proposed creating the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with enough financial clout to counteract destabilising flows of speculative finance. However, in contrast to the modern IMF, the fund would counteract these speculative flows automatically, no political strings or agendas. An honest broker.

History demonstrates that on almost every point where the USA objected, Keynes was to be proved right.

3. Bretton Woods… 

The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., addresses the delegates to the Bretton Woods Monetary Conference, July 8, 1944The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., addresses the delegates to the Bretton Woods Monetary Conference, July 8, 1944 (Credit: U.S. Office of War Information in the National Archives).

 

In 1944, at Bretton Woods, the Allies met to plan a Post-War world and as a result of the collective conventional wisdom of the time, the Allied nations preferred to do this by regulating a system of fixed exchange rates, indirectly disciplined, by binding the USD to Gold at a fixed price per ounce.
This  system relied on a regulated market economy with:

  • Strict controls on the values of currencies.
  • Flows of speculative international finance would be stopped by channelling them through Central Banks. #Capital Controls
  • The intention being to direct international flows of investment.
  • The focus on using capital to building useful things that created jobs or benefited the public purpose, rather than financial speculation on the markets.

Interestingly, it was US planners who coined the phrase ‘Economic Security’, surmising that a liberal international economic system would enhance post-war peace and keep Communism at bay. This came from a belief, that causes of both World Wars, was ‘Economic Discrimination’ and trade wars. The main culprits being trade and exchange controls of Nazi Germany and the ‘Imperial Preference System’, where members, or former, of the British Empire were given special trade status, resulting in a German, French, and American protectionist policies.

*US Planners were shrewd enough to recognise that to keep Capitalism popular, taxpayers and workers, needed to see a benefit from it and to feel their lives being improved, rather than risk the alternative, Communism. To ensure this, regulated Capitalism was the solution and the irony is, we have the Cold War to thank for this Golden Age.*

In stark contrast to today, Bretton Woods participants agreed that a liberal international economic system ALSO required governmental intervention.

Following the economic turmoil of the 1930s, the management of economies had become the main activity of governments, taking on increasing responsibility for the economic well-being of its citizens. This had proved to be largely successful and popular. Employment, stability, and growth were the order of the day. In turn, the role of government in the national economy would continue. The Welfare State, which grew out of the Great Depression, had created a popular appetite for governmental intervention in the economy, and it was Keynes who made it clear that Government intervention was required to counter market failures.

Enter the era of State Capitalism…

Members of the Gold Standard agreed to closely regulate the production of their currencies to maintain fixed exchange rates, with a bit of wiggle room either side. The express aim being to make international trade easier. This was the foundation of the U.S. vision of a post-war world, Free Trade:

  • Lowering tariffs
  • Maintaining a balance of trade via fixed exchange rates that assists Capitalism.
  • Reduce trade and capital flows.
  • Revive the Gold Standard (Again) using USD as the world’s reserve currency.
  • Prevent Governments messing around with their currency supply, as they had between the wars.
  • Governments would be required to monitor the production of their currency and would refrain from manipulating its price.

4. Tax & Spend & Borrowing…

It is important at this point, to remind ourselves, HMG was still a Fiat Currency issuer but, up until 1971, had voluntarily limited its ability to created its own currency.

So following Bretton Woods, from 1944 until 1971, Gold was ‘Convertible On Demand’ into Sterling. This required HMG to have lots of Gold stashed away at the Bank of England (BoE) just in case anyone wanted to convert their pot of Gold into Sterling. Indeed, once upon a time, you could walk into the Bank of England with Gold and they were obliged to accept it and pay you cash.

Like all liabilities, it was worked out on risk. HMG surmised that only a small percentage of the public would ever demand their gold to be converted into Sterling, at any given time, so it only had to have a limited amount of Gold in reserve, just-in-case. Fractional Gold Reserve Central Banking, if you will.

However, because of the rules of the Gold Standard, HMG Currency Issuing (Spending) would be constrained by the amount of gold in the BoE vault.

The other issue HMG was acutely aware of, was spending Sterling for Public Purpose was in reality, spending the Gold it had in the BoE. The Gold never left the BoE but with a promise of convertibility into £s:

  • Limited how many £s could be spent at any one time
  • How many £s cash could be spent at any one time was…dictated by how much Gold it had in reserve.

So if HMG wanted spend more, it had to:

  • Find more Gold to allow it to create more Fiat £s to
  • Or, recoup Fiat £s from the private sector i.e: TAXPAYERS – BEFORE it could spend more. Welcome to…‘Tax and to Spend’.

Now to protect all that Gold in the BoE from a profligate Government, just creating Fiat £s to spend, they had a few tricks up their sleeve…

How could a Sovereign Currency Issuing Government, such as HMG with a self-imposed brake (The Gold Standard) on how many £s it can create and issue, spend more £s than it was allowed to create?

The Solution?

BORROWING BACK Fiat £s from the taxpayers’ savings – to spend again – rather than creating and issuing additional new Fiat £s, which might exceed the back-up supply of Gold. The plan being:

  • Why not get taxpayers to exchange their £s savings, for Sovereign Gilts, Treasury Bonds OR similar, that pay interest.
  • Taxpayers still get to benefit from the HMGs spending MORE £s each year than it intends to collect back in tax. Thus allowing taxpayers to continue to build their wealth of £s.

ERNIE

*One ingenious demonstration of this, was the infamous ‘ERNIE’, invented by a Bletchley Park codebreaker in 1956 and Premium Bonds, offering taxpayers another way to save outside of banks or building societies. Which of course, was not its main purpose. Premium Bonds were just another way to recoup £ from taxpayers, without actually Taxing. Recycled Money.*

 

And this is exactly how HMG ran Government spending up until the point Richard Nixon suspended US involvement in the Gold Standard in 1971 – due to the spiraling cost of the Vietnam War. US Government spending was outstripping its Gold Supply – and became a Sovereign Fiat Currency Issuer, without restriction.

*As Keynes had predicted in 1944, eventually the USA found itself in the inherent paradox of the Gold Standard:

1. It was required to be the Worlds Reserve Currency and as per the Bretton Woods agreement, keep USD flowing outwards to keep global trade moving.

2. However, this put a restraint on its ability to spend inwards, domestically.

A large percentage of its Gold Reserves had to be set aside to cover outward flows of USDs, restricting  USDs available to be created for domestic Public Purpose – which at the time of Nixon was Johnson’s: ‘The Great Society’ project.

Between 1944 – 1971, the US saw its stash of total world Gold Reserves shrink from 65% to 22%. The market speculated that the US has so many USD out in circulation, it was unable to convert USD to Gold, due to these dwindling Gold Reserves. The dollar depreciated. Inflation went up, employment followed suite and due to the spending spiraling requirements of the Vietnam War, Nixon saw the solution as suspending convertibility to Gold and to go 100% Fiat. No restrictions to USD creation.*   

The Gold Standard was effectively dead. The US now no longer converted USD into Gold and other nations bailed out in 1973. The Gold Standard was officially buried in 1976. The UK followed suit. However, the system for creating and issuing HMG money, DID NOT CHANGE and as I write, in 2019 nearly 50 years later, the Government still operates its finances as if it were on the Gold Standard:

  • So the HMG continues to sell Gilts, Treasury Bonds, Premium Bonds
  • So it can ‘borrow back’ £s from taxpayers
  • To spend MORE than it collected in taxation.

The one upside of this was/is a form of Corporate Welfare exchanging £s for Government IOUs, with the interest received, adding to private savings and wealth.

So we have ended up where the reality of Money Creation since 1971, is that HMG is not revenue constrained when it comes to spending for Public Purpose but continues to use a Monetary system that claims to be still on the Gold Standard.

To reiterate, for clarity, Her Majesty’s Government:

1. Is No Longer on the Gold Standard.

2. Is Not required to convert £s into any commodity to spend.

3. Is Not required to use taxpayers £s to spend.

4. Does not need to borrow or recoup Taxpayers £s savings to spend.

Yet, NO Government since 1971, has changed the from Gold Standard System to reflect the powers of a Fiat Currency Issuer. So HMG continues to tell us that it needs to:

  • Sell Gilts, Treasury Bonds. Premium Bonds, The Lottery etc.
  • Use the proceeds – Taxpayers’ Private Savings & Wealth to allow it to spend more than it collects in Taxes.

Now the rub with this is the interest, or payouts HMG needs to make to holders of these, all of which is added to the National Debt. So to pay for this, the Government needs to issue even MORE Gilts & Treasury Bonds etc. to cover the interest payments. Ad Infinitum…

HOWEVER…

A quick reality check via Quantitative Easing (QE) has shown us, if you are lucky enough to have owned £454bn of Gilts and Corporate Bonds, HMG bought from you, then you have become very rich indeed…unlike HMG which is falling ever deeper into debt.

Which is a complete MYTH and has created 50 years of confusion and a convenient smokescreen for those who see Government as a problem.

Even the BoE concurs: “Read my lips. No new taxes”…Does the Bank of England print money? – YouTube

5. Enter, Stage Right…AUSTERITY:

Now if you believe all this unwittingly, or otherwise, there is a logic in thinking that an ever-increasing National Debt is unsustainable and the ONLY solution is to REDUCE, substantially Government spending and to pay down the debt.

However, knowing that Gold Standard limitations no longer apply, the HMG has created a solution, to a problem that does not exist and ironically, created a further problem to the original one, which never existed in the first place. Think IMF Crisis, 1976.

The National Debt and the convoluted machinations of issuing ‘debt’ and accounting for it, as a brake to stop HMG from issuing more Fiat £s than it could guarantee with Gold, is a relic of history. Some would consider this insistence on clinging onto an economic fossil, to be stupidity, or perhaps a sign of something far more deliberate…

It is of course a legal requirement and not unreasonable, to expect HMG to keep a track of its spending. The much-vaunted DEFICIT:

1. The gap between £s out and £s in.

2. A balance sheet of the Fiat £s HMG has decided to spend into the economy but not redeemed in taxation.

When the HMG spends, this allows taxpayers to keep £s. When the Government reduces spending, this forces taxpayers to use their savings to spend and REDUCES private wealth. The less the Government pays for, the more you have to use your savings and income.

Repeat after me…AUSTERITY REDUCES PRIVATE WEALTH…

Questions to be answered…

1. If HMG fell out of the Gold Standard in 1971…

2. Which resulted in the £ no longer being required to be convertible to Gold…

3. Why do we still account for fiat government spending for public purpose as if we were on the Gold Standard?

4. Is it just welfare for taxpayers to exchange their fiat £s into Government Savings Instruments, that pay interest?

As QE has shown us, HMG Debt Instruments are not distributed equally across all taxpayers but are bought by a wealthy private and corporate elite.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing for taxpayers to get their head around is the ability for HMG to PAY OFF – at ANY TIME – the National Debt by purchasing all Debt Instruments in exchange for Fiat £s. Hello Japan…

So far from being ‘Fiscally Prudent’ by reducing the Deficit and running Government Finances like a household, only spending what is received in Taxation – the real-world outcome is to impoverish taxpayers and their well-being.

6. The solution?

A fundamental shift and an education of all taxpayers and the political establishment, to understand that:

As long as labour and sustainable resources are available, Government Spending is not only a good and positive but absolutely essential for the economy and the democratisation of wealth.

The ONLY limitations HMG has to spending for Public Purpose are:

1. The physical resources available.

2. The labour available.

3. Its own aspirations.

4. The taxpayers’ willingness to learn, deconstruct and the 1% and their cheerleaders across politics, the media and society who have used the confusion around Government Money Creation spending and taxing for the purpose of wealth extraction and power.

History demonstrates that the Tax and Spend myth, has resulted in dire and far-reaching consequences.

Roberts

In 1976, when HMG went to the IMF claiming to have ‘run out of money’ and in return for $2bn, Healey was required to introduce Austerity measures – which were a precursor to the economics of Margaret Thatcher – latterly Neo-Liberalism.

There was an alternative proposed some 3 years before, yet thanks to Wilson, Healy & Callaghan’s refusal to listen to Tony Benn, history unfolded the way it did and Healy capitulated to Hayek and his Neo-Liberals, who have spent the following 42 years capturing the state, media and democracy in the UK – and beyond – for their own benefit.

Oh and by the way, Britain never did go ‘Bust’, no matter what Mr Roberts writes…

 

 

 

 

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The post #RethinkMoney – The Greatest Lie Ever Told (Probably)…#TaxAndSpend appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

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

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

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

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

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are we so afraid of? A better future for our children? A more sustainable and fairer economy for all? Indeed, a planet for us to live and breathe on? What is not to like?

 

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