neoliberal

We don’t need a perfect world; we need a fairer and more equitable one. Understanding how money works is the first step.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/11/2019 - 12:02am in

Person at the bottom of stairs climbing from darkness into the lightPhoto by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

As the election campaign rolls on and party leaders battle it out on our television screens, the Liberal Democrats commit themselves to more austerity and Paul Mason, left-wing journalist and former music teacher, indulges in some fantasy explanations of how money works. More on that later….

In yet another indication of how the austerity has not only done grave damage to those who least deserve it, but also to the economy, two more reports have been published to add to the already long list exposing the consequences of cuts to public spending.

The Scottish based Poverty Alliance organisation which published its report Righting the Wrongs: A manifesto to tackle poverty is urging the next Government to ‘put solving poverty at the heart of all that it does, including by creating a more compassionate social security system, [and] building a labour market that works for everyone….’

When confronted with the realities of people’s lives through their stories we can see the real tragedy behind the policy decisions and cuts to public spending of the current Conservative government.

Jamie from Glasgow struggling to raise a family on a low income described it as ‘like being stuck in the middle of a spider’s web with no escape route’ and Jackie, a community activist commenting for the Poverty Alliance report, said that ‘more and more people are being locked into poverty by jobs that are low paid and insecure. When people can barely afford to put food on the table and when parents working full-time are struggling to cope, there is something very wrong that we have to put right.

An analysis published by the TUC, also this week, has revealed that the number of children growing up in poverty in working households has risen by 38% over the last decade, bringing it to 800,000 since 2010.

The study also showed that government policies account for the majority of rises in child poverty, with more than 485,000 children (in working households) having been pushed below the breadline, not only as a direct result of the government’s in-work benefit cuts but also as a consequence of other major factors which include weak wage growth and insecure work. The report also noted that over the past decade workers have suffered the most severe wage squeeze in two centuries and although wages have just started to grow, weekly wages are still £14 below pre-crisis levels.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, commented about the report that no child in Britain should be growing up in poverty and cuts to in-work benefits have come at a terrible human cost.

Overall the poverty figures are shocking. As GIMMS reported earlier this year following a report by the Social Metrics Commission, there are now around 14.3 million people living in poverty, of which 8.3 million are working-age adults, 4.6 million children (of which around 2.9 million are in working households as identified in the later TUC report) and 1.3 million pension age adults.

Aside from these shocking statistics which represent avoidable and unnecessary human degradation, the combined effects of government policies and cuts to spending on public services have had a damaging effect not only on the lives of those caught in the austerity crossfire but also on the economy as a whole. A decaying public and social infrastructure and toxic welfare reforms have had a significant impact on poverty and inequality and show clearly in whose interests the government has been acting. The promotion of individualism and self-reliance, along with decreasing state intervention to replace our public infrastructure with private, profit-motivated services has been a long-standing agenda of successive neoliberally inspired governments.

Access to high-quality health and social care, education and training, well-paid secure work and good quality, affordable housing all play a vital role in the health of the nation and its economy. When people are denied those basic support systems it can only, in the end, lead to more deprivation, ill health, hunger, homelessness and increased crime, the consequences of which ripple into every part of society burdening it with both additional financial costs and societal breakdown.

As was reported by the BBC only this week more than 2 million adults are unable to see a dentist either because they can’t afford treatment, find an NHS dentist or get care where they live as a result of underfunding and recruitment problems. It is claimed that many people are being reduced to practising self-dentistry to alleviate the pain of rotten teeth which can cause all sorts of other problems like periodontal disease which can, in turn, lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

After nine years of cutting NHS spending in real terms, creating a pressured working environment for staff, capping their pay, stopping nursing bursaries and driving people away because of stress, senior NHS leaders are warning this week that hospitals are so understaffed lacking sufficient doctors, nurses and other health professionals to provide services that the ‘safety and quality of care are under threat.’ The latest figures show that the performance against key waiting times for A&E, cancer treatment and planned operations have fallen to their worst-ever level and that this could deteriorate even further as winter approaches.

NHS mental health services which have borne the brunt of cuts have become little more than a firefighting service to deal with the ever-growing numbers of people needing support.

Earlier this month the organisation State of Hunger published its report, drawn up in conjunction with Heriot-Watt University and the Trussell Trust. It revealed that more than half of households referred to foodbanks were affected by poor mental health, predominantly anxiety or depression, while 23% of people referred to foodbanks were homeless. The report gives a voice to those people who have paid the price for austerity and welfare reform – the worry about paying bills, keeping a roof over one’s head or having a job which pays enough.

“If I don’t pay my bills, then I’ll get the house taken off me. After paying arrears, I’ve got £8 a fortnight and that’s to pay for gas, electric, water. It’s just impossible, it really is. I go to bed at night wishing I won’t wake up in the morning.”

 

“I’ve used the food bank because I was on such a low income before I got my disability benefit… I had a mental breakdown because basically the amount they give me doesn’t cover the costs of my rent.”

 

Education joins health in forming the backbone of a functioning economy and societal well-being and yet, it too has suffered from crippling cuts to spending. Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the NEU said this week that ‘The future of education hangs in the balance’.  Despite government promises of more money, the School Cuts Coalition made it clear only last week that four in five state schools will be financially worse off next year than they were in 2015 and this will affect schools in areas where there are already high levels of deprivation.

Even with the additional funding promised by government, there will still be a shortfall of £2.5bn in the year ahead after years of already damaging cuts. The consequences for schools are grim. More pupils per class, fewer teachers and support staff and reduced curriculums with subjects like music, language, art and design being cut as a result of the pressure, not to mention the reduction in capital expenditure on schools’ estate which has left it in a bad state of repair and not fit for purpose.

Our children represent the future and yet they are the ones that will bear the brunt of lack of adequate government spending and planning for an education and training system to meet the challenges they will face in the future.

A healthy economy demands a healthy and educated nation as a prerequisite. It demands quality housing, good secure jobs and pay. The last nine years of austerity and forty years of the pursuit of neoliberal dogma have pulled that rug from under people’s feet, leaving them in a world of increasing uncertainty.

It is regrettable in this respect that the notion that the state has a responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of all its citizens through the provision of universal services and other state-provided interventions is being mistaken for a ‘nanny state’ rather than acknowledging the value of such investment in society and its economy.

Whilst government has pursued its handbag economic strategy and ignored monetary realities for the lie of balanced budgets, it has failed in its duty as an elected body to serve the interests of citizens and the economy as a whole.

Whilst pursuing austerity, it has ignored the fundamentals of macroeconomics which it won’t hurt to repeat. Spending, wherever it comes from, creates income for someone else, whether that’s government which starts the ball rolling by creating the money into existence to pay for its needs which flows in turn right down to businesses, working people or even those having the misfortune to be involuntarily unemployed or coping with a disability or illness which prevents them from working. Through its obsession with austerity and lowering deficits at a time when it should have been spending more, it has weakened the economy and wilfully left people without the means to provide themselves with sufficient income to meet their daily needs.

As data from last year shows, it has left British households collectively supporting their spending through reducing savings (if indeed they had any) and taking on more debt. Quite simply government austerity has transferred the burden onto households which as private debt levels rise will prove unsustainable.

The fragile house of cards which represents the economy after nine years of government folly will either stagger on or fall into another recession unless the next government deficit spends sufficiently to promote full employment and serve the public purpose.

In the light of this, it is all the more incredible to note that after Ed Davey, deputy leader of the Lib Dems said earlier this month that Labour and the Tories were ‘writing promises on cheques that will bounce’ they have decided to make austerity their USP (unique selling point) for their election campaign. Yes, you read that right!

In his recent speech he positioned the Liberal Democrats as the ‘party of fiscal rectitude’ and the Conservatives and Labour as the ‘parties of fiscal incontinence’. Davey is proposing to adopt a fiscal rule for day to day spending aiming for current account surpluses in every year of their five-year costings.

With yet more household budget accounting and to meet its objective will require tax rises and yet more spending cuts. Furthermore, on the basis that achieving a surplus is not a saving and removes money from the economy and if our trading partners don’t spend all they earn thus taking even more out of our economy the net result will be a severe recession (as if we weren’t already heading in that direction). A bit of an own goal and a very foolish one at that!

And yet depressingly it has to be said another own goal was scored this week by the journalist and self-styled economist Paul Mason who presented a short promotional video for Novara Media explaining the deficit and debt in the language narrative of overdrafts, loans and mortgages along with that old ‘canard’ about paying for public services by taxing the very rich.

This is indeed ‘fantasy economics’ of the most damaging kind.

In response, the economist Professor Bill Mitchell explains it very succinctly and it is worth printing it here in its entirety:

‘This is the classic ‘soft’ mainstream macroeconomics that assumes the government is financially constrained and is thus not dissimilar to a household.

It is ‘soft’ because, unlike the hard-mainstream positions, it allows for deficits (‘funded’ by debt) to occur in a non-government downturn but proposes them to be offset by surpluses in an upturn, irrespective of the overall saving position of the non-government sector.

None of this framing or language is what I would call ‘progressive’.

It has the hallmarks of the way neoliberals construct the concepts and the narrative.

The inferences are also plainly false when applied to the British government.

  1. It is not financially constrained in its spending.

The constraints relate to real resource availability.

In terms of restaffing the NHS, for example, are there qualified labour resources available? What training would be required? Would this mean that British Labour is also going to be advocating open borders to ensure the staffing is available? [….]

  1. There is no meaningful knowledge that be gained by comparing a household with a home mortgage and a currency-issuing government spending its own currency.

The household is the currency user and the government is the currency issuer.

Totally different constraints apply.

  1. It is false to claim that it is virtuous to ‘tax the rich’ in order to fund essential health and welfare services.

This is one of the worst frames that the progressives now deploy.

The British government might want to tax the rich to reduce their power and influence (exercised via their spending habits) but it never has to do that in order to fund essential services.

The only constraint that exercise involves is the availability of real resources.’

  1. The British government does not have to issue debt to ‘fund’ its deficits. The capacity of the non-government sector to purchase the debt derives from past deficits that have not been taxed away yet.

Even if the government issues debt to match its investment in essential infrastructure to deliver better housing, transport health care, and engage in climate action etc, this investment is not linked at all to the current interest rates in place.

 

There is no meaning to the term “cheap” finance, when the spending does not need to be financed (in the currency the government issues).

The issuing of risk-free debt from a currency-issuing government really amounts to the provision of corporate welfare and no progressive should advocate its continuance.

  1. There is no meaning in saying the recurrent deficit is like an overdraft or the capital deficit is like a mortgage. Those terms gain meaning when applied to units that are financially constrained.

While left-wing progressive parties continue to frame their election campaigns in neoliberal terms and thus erect unnecessary financial barriers to spending that will prevent them from achieving their goals, the public will also remain in the dark about a subject which is of vital importance; how to answer the question about how government really spends, how its policies can be paid for and what  the real constraints are.

That said and despite the deliberate misleading of the public by Paul Mason, the UK needs a progressive government prepared to act in the public interest through investment in our public and social infrastructure and ready to take action to tackle social injustice, ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth and address the biggest challenge we face – climate change.

 

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The post We don’t need a perfect world; we need a fairer and more equitable one. Understanding how money works is the first step. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

It’s not balanced budgets that will save us. It’s the power of the public purse and our human values.

Person at a demonstration holding a placard with slogan "What lessens one of us lessens all of us"Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

Charles Dickens began his novel ‘Hard Times’ thus:

“NOW, what I want is, Facts. […]. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. [….] Stick to Facts, sir!”

Whilst one might dispute Dicken’s character Gradgrind with his miserable vision of human existence, facts can be very useful. They can trace the human misery caused by 9 years of austerity and the last forty years of a pernicious market-oriented ideology which has led to vast disparities in wealth distribution and caused huge damage to society by encouraging the pursuit of self-interest.  And yet it has to be said as the election campaign gears up, that in terms of monetary reality, of facts there seem to be very few to be had.

As political and economic commentators, not to mention politicians on all sides, emphasise daily their claims that the government finances are like a household budget, the public has largely remained stuck in the quagmire which is presented as monetary reality and distrustful of a political system which has failed them.

Looking at newspaper front pages this week you could be forgiven for thinking that we are headed for bankruptcy if Labour were to win the election or that their spending plans would cost UK households £43,000 each. A ‘reckless spendathon’ is in the offing according to a government spokesperson in a recent BBC television interview.

Aside from such narratives being a fallacy, they are designed to put the frighteners on people who are already suffering financial hardship caused by years of austerity and ideologically driven government policies. Those with a political agenda shore up those false beliefs that borrowing too much will lead to government insolvency. They cynically and callously terrify people that they will be asked to pay for those spending programmes when they will not. This is an establishment that is running scared that their reign of power is coming to an end. The means justify the ends!

It cannot be denied that if we are to escape the worst effects of a coming global downturn, an incoming government of whatever variety will need to implement adequate spending programmes and increasingly fiscal policy is becoming the ‘mot du jour’. However, the message is reinforced daily by all sides of the political spectrum that there are still financial limits to that spending.

Last week Ed Davey, deputy leader of the LibDems said of Labour and the Tories spending plans that they are ‘writing promises on cheques that will bounce’. The very same party that joined in with Tory austerity during the Coalition and voted for public spending cuts and welfare reforms.

In the same week, the Greens promised welcome public investment of £1trillion over 10 years to fight climate change, the money for which it said would come from ‘borrowing’ and ‘tax’ changes.

Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a ‘give with one hand take back with another’ message promised to increase borrowing to fund billions of pounds to pay for new infrastructure but then announced three new fiscal rules to ‘control borrowing, to control debt and to control debt interest’.

Stuck in household budget la-la land he said without a hint of jest:

‘like anyone who budgets whether it’s a household, or small business or large business, I know that we must keep track of what we are spending and what we bring in…. We can’t run an overdraft forever on day to day spending, so I can confirm that our first rule will be to have a balanced current budget. What we spend cannot exceed what we bring in.

Never mind that you can build as many hospitals as you like as part of an infrastructure spending programme but if you make up foolish rules about day to day spending those hospitals will remain empty of nurses and doctors and other health professionals to staff them.  And let’s not forget the bailing out of the banks or successive wars funded without a taxpayer in sight.

The same tired old tropes abound about taking advantage of ‘historically low borrowing rates’ and ‘living within our means’ remain the context for Conservative spending plans and figure in one way or another in the language narrative of other parties too.

In a similar vein this week, the shadow chancellor reinforced that same story when he tweeted:

‘The Tories can’t invest in the public services we need because unlike Labour they won’t raise taxes on the super-rich and take on the international tax dodgers’.

The implication being here that he will bring back the magic money tree from the Cayman Islands to pay for our public and social infrastructure.

Even the Leader of the Opposition has suggested that if they don’t tax the very rich, then Labour won’t be able to pay for public services.

As Professor Bill Mitchell commented in a blog in response:

‘The British government does not need to tax the rich to pay for first-class public services. It can do that at any time it can muster the real resources to accomplish that aspiration. It issues its own currency.

It might want to tax the rich because they have too much power but that is quite separate from justifying such an action because the government needs their ‘money’.

Although without doubt the proposals on the progressive left to tackle social inequality, rebuild public infrastructure and address climate change are laudable and indeed vital, it is to be regretted that the arguments for public spending programmes are being reduced to household budget frameworks of monetary affordability, where the money will come from and economic credibility. We have become fixated by the single idea that the country’s economic ‘health’ hangs on whether or not we run a deficit.

GIMMS will say it again. In reality, the only analysis that really counts when deciding which way to vote in any election is not a judgement based on a government’s financial record or whether it balanced the public accounts but what its economic record was.

We as citizens should be examining where the money was spent and who benefited. Did that spending ensure that its citizens were in secure employment and fairly paid, had decent housing and sufficient food in their bellies? Did it create a healthy and more equitable economy in which wealth was more fairly distributed? Did it ensure that the vital public and social infrastructure such as the NHS, social care, education and local government were adequately funded to serve the public purpose and not fill the coffers of private profit? Or was that public money sucked up by the private sector in a big free for all in which the state serves the interests of the corporations rather than the interests of its citizens?

And what about government policies on health, education, welfare spending and the environment? Did they create stable lives by improving the material, financial, physical and mental health of citizens? Did they ensure adequate investment to ensure that the nation can be as productive as possible through good education and training both for present and future generations? And finally, the environment – what actions did they take to address the climate crisis?

In other words, we should be examining what the real economic outcomes were.

After nine years of telling the public that there was no alternative to austerity and cuts to public spending because the coffers were bare, it’s amazing what the prospect of an election can do to turn the spending taps on. And yet the smoke and mirrors, lies and deception about how government spends just carries on relentlessly.

But now it’s all OK (for the moment) the Conservatives have found the magic money tree, cutting the deficit has apparently given them some savings and the fiscal ‘headroom’ to spend. For those that know, this narrative is a fairy tale of epic proportions. For those that don’t, it should be enough to arouse a cynical response by a public which has been at the sharp end of those tax and spend myths which have formed the basis for its policies.

Indeed, only this week the following headlines should serve as the wakeup call for the public about Conservative economic credibility.

‘UK suffers biggest fall in jobs in four years’

‘UK avoids recession but annual growth slowest in almost a decade.’

‘Wage growth slows’

We can blame it in part on the uncertainty caused by Brexit, but the reality is that behind the faceless employment figures published by the Office of National Statistics are the lives of real people who have been affected by the government’s policies and spending decisions over the last 9 years.

To put it in basic economic terms, when a government spends it creates income for the private sector which is then spent into the economy. When it imposes spending cuts it is removing money from people’s pockets leaving them with only three options: Use their savings if they have any, take out credit or go without.

All spending, whether from government or the private sector, equals income for someone. What happens when you take that away? That’s people who lost their jobs in the public sector as local government, the NHS and schools were forced to pare down their budgets as a consequence of public spending cuts. That’s people constrained by public sector pay caps and pay cuts. That’s people who ended up working two or three jobs on low pay to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. That’s people working in precarious employment in the zero-hours or gig economy with no guaranteed decent income or sick or holiday pay. That’s people affected by the reforms to welfare and the introduction of Universal Credit, from those who are unemployed left with insufficient financial resources to make ends meet and those in work but not earning enough to keep their heads above the water to those left struggling to cope because of chronic sickness or terminal illness.

In seeking the nirvana of balanced budgets by cutting spending the Conservative government has not created a healthy economy it has done the very opposite. The statistics are the proof.  Without adequate spending, the economy suffers, and people pay the price.

And yet as political parties present their spending plans and worry about how they will demonstrate their economic credibility the elephant in the room is crashing about trying to make itself noticed. On one note it is pathetic to see the Conservative party take issue with the opposition’s spending plans calling them reckless and unaffordable whilst promoting its own as being fiscally responsible. On another, in their rush to spend, neither party seems to have considered the real resource factor and how that will be managed.

The IFS for all its neoliberal sins ‘gets’ the elephant in the room and recognises that whoever wins on December 12th their spending plans will be dependent on whether they have the right resources at their disposal to deliver.

After 9 years of insufficient spending into the economy to prepare for the future, will there be sufficient people with the right skills to meet the government’s needs? Whether that’s engineers and construction workers to design and build the proposed infrastructure or homegrown nurses and doctors already trained up to service the planned spending on the NHS? Or in these days of climate crisis we might also be talking about the resources needed to deliver the Green New Deal and ensure a just transition not just for those in the rich west but those in the global south whose countries have already been plundered of raw materials and impoverished so that we can maintain our standard of living.

For progressive parties like Labour and the Green Party who wish to deliver a left-wing agenda what they have to do is decide their key priorities, consider the availability of resources and how they could be freed up to deliver a future government’s objectives efficiently and effectively. A case in point this week is Labour’s plan for free broadband which has much to recommend it in terms of bringing communities together in an inclusive and connected society. Journalists and others predictably have asked the question where will the money come from? They have missed the point entirely and should be asking instead how many workers would we need to deliver it?

Ultimately, all sovereign currency-issuing governments don’t need to match their plans to tax revenue or determine whether the markets can lend them the money. The role of government in this respect is not to balance the budget but to balance the economy.

The public needs to understand that it isn’t the government’s ability to tax the rich but its power to run a deficit which determines the health of an economy. As the sovereign currency issuer, the UK government has the power of the public purse to fund the public works necessary to tackle social and wealth inequalities, deal with the current global economic uncertainty, and fund the Green New Deal, should it choose to do so.

However, at home, our public and social infrastructure is in a shocking state of decay caused by 9 years of cuts to public spending and lack of planning. Reversing that decline is not something that just promising to spend can solve in the short term.  There are important issues to consider for the long term which may not fit the short-termism of the political five-year framework and many politicians who have become used to serving other interests.  That is the scale of the challenges we face.

When all is said and done even though the Labour party persists with the household budget myths John McDonnell has it right in terms of what is required not just to reverse the social injustices heaped upon global populations because of pernicious ‘free’ market ideology or the threat to the human species at our own hand. As he said not only must the scale of investment match the scale of the crises we face both in ecological and social terms, but also if we don’t make these investments our future generations will never forgive us.

Let’s leave the final words to Professor Bill Mitchell who wrote a while back:

“My ideological disposition tells me that the pursuit of human values is the only sustainable way of organising and running a world. The neoliberal era has severely undermined that pursuit.

That’s what we must change and urgently if we want half a chance to save ourselves and our children’s children from disaster.

 

Note: GIMMS has a very good resource section on our website which takes you through how money works. From FAQS to resources sheets and external websites, videos and academic papers for those who want to take it further. For an introduction to how money really works follow the link here.

 

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The austerity prescription was not an experiment; it did not fail for the rich. Time for a rethink. Time for an economic revolution.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 03/11/2019 - 8:51am in

Poling station sign on a fencePhoto by Martin Bamford

“Ultimately austerity has failed because it is unsupported by sound logic or data. It is an economic ideology. It stems from the belief that small government and free markets are always better than state intervention. It is a socially constructed myth – a convenient belief among politicians taken advantage of by those who have a vested interest in shrinking the role of the state, in privatizing social welfare systems for personal gain. It does great harm – punishing the most vulnerable, rather than those who caused this recession.”

David Stuckler, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills

 

So here we are. After literally years of national uncertainty over Brexit, parliamentary wrangling and growing public discontent, a general election has been announced just before Christmas. Whilst at this early stage it is unclear what the outcome might be (we have a road to run yet) who we vote for should be determined not by listening to the promises that will be made in political manifestos but by examining closely the economic record of the current government over the last 9 years.

Who has gained and lost out through government’s and taxation and spending policies? Who has suffered at the sharp end of austerity politics and why? Every day the consequences are ever more visible. On our streets, in our hospitals and GP surgeries, in our schools and local communities, amongst our family and friends. Hunger and the normalisation of food banks, growing homelessness, cuts to child and adult social services, the collapse of social care, lonely deaths of vulnerable people behind closed doors, longer waits to see a doctor or hospital referrals, the humiliation and financial distress caused by welfare reforms. This is what austerity has achieved. GIMMS has covered these things week in and week out for the past year in some form and again we make no apology for doing so again. What happens next will be in our hands as will the future of our children and future generations.

Austerity has been built on a lie, and in fact, has allowed the incumbent government to pursue the neoliberal ideology of decades with impunity. It has shamelessly promoted the cult of the individual over collective action, demonised those who don’t fit the mould of hard-working people, left them at the mercy of the unemployment queue or working in the low paid, insecure gig economy, burdened them with high levels of private debt, increased poverty and inequality not to mention sold off public assets and privatised vital public services.

We were endlessly told that the previous Labour government had spent all the money and bankruptcy beckoned. We were told there was no alternative to cutting public spending to get our finances back in order. We were told that our public services were inefficient and no longer affordable. And we believed it all. Not because we were stupid but because it seemed a logical premise that the government’s finances were like our own. We were bound by Dickens’ character in David Copperfield, Micawber, whose dictum was that happiness arose from not spending beyond one’s means. However, those misunderstandings are now starting to shift and although many politicians and orthodox economists are trying to ignore the elephant in the room, modern monetary realities are moving into the mainstream arena to be discussed, criticised and picked over. We should feel more confident at this positive step forward.

In the meantime, though, we still have a big job in front of us to inform and challenge the status quo and economic orthodoxy of the last 40 and more years.

While we prepare for the coming election (and Christmas) the effects of government austerity roll on, affecting people’s lives remorselessly.

Published in July and updated just a few weeks ago, the Insolvency Service reported that levels of personal insolvency were approaching the highest in a decade. In the three months up to September, they rose from 25,169 in the same period last year to 30,879. The data also showed a dramatic increase in company insolvencies which had increased for the third consecutive quarter. Duncan Swift, president of insolvency and restructuring trade body R3 said ‘figures provide a worrying insight into the state of personal finances’ and are ‘further evidence that the economic and political turbulence of the last 12 months has taken its toll on businesses’. He also observed that ‘although real wages have hit a recent high, they are still lower than they were before the financial crisis. Unemployment may be low but it’s not necessarily secure for everyone’.

In a blog in 2017, Professor Bill Mitchell wrote:

‘One of the defining features of the neo-liberal era has been the build-up of private debt, particularly household debt. [……….]. Pursuing budget surpluses is necessarily equivalent to the pursuit of non-government sector deficits. They are the two sides of the same coin’.

In other words, when a government is in surplus i.e. it has taxed more than it has spent the non-government sector pays the price.

We should be wary however about blaming everything on Brexit, as many pundits do, and instead should be looking at other causes for the rise in private, household debt and growing financial instability.

Over the last nine years, the government has pursued an austerity policy of cuts to public spending on the false premise that it needed to cut its deficits and borrowing to get the public finances back into shape. It also provided a handy smokescreen for the Conservative government to reduce the level of state involvement in public service delivery by contracting out and privatising services, although it did not stop public money going into private profit.

Public services were cut, people lost their jobs and local government grants were slashed.  Poverty and inequality grew as employment became more precarious in a low wage economy along with the rise of zero and part-time hours, and the gig economy. The claim at the time was that if the public deficit was not reduced then the economy would suffer through a scarcity of money. The politicians advised by economic experts promised that lower deficits or fiscal surpluses would guarantee financial stability.

However, the reality was the reverse. Austerity policies, quite simply, removed money from the economy and reduced people’s spending power, leaving them with no other option but to increase their debt by taking out credit or spend their savings. As John Maynard Keynes so rightly noted ‘the boom, not the slump is the right time for austerity’.

When a government stops spending sufficiently to ensure full employment, someone else has to take up the slack i.e. the consumer has to spend instead to prop up the economy. However, unlike currency-issuing governments whose spending constraints are not financial, private households are limited in their capacity to spend by their income or their ability to borrow. Pursuing lower deficits or surpluses was, and still is perverse, not to mention damaging, given the economic context at the time. The nation is now paying a heavy price for austerity as the country faces the prospect of a future recession caused also by a global slowdown and the uncertainty of Brexit.

By way of example, we can show how the prevailing economic orthodoxy had serious consequences for the economy. In the early 2000s, Labour ran budget surpluses achieving the lowest deficits in UK history. Politicians of the time, in justification and using the classic household budget metaphor, said that there was nothing progressive about budget deficits and that every pound we spent on debt interest was one less we could spend on the NHS, on vital public services, on helping the poor and vulnerable. The UK was at the time on the crest of a wave of consumption built on household debt which subsequently and, as we know, ended in the Global Financial Crash caused by crooked financial institutions who’d got out of control, and governments who had not only encouraged a deregulated financial environment but also pushed debt into the private sector whilst claiming themselves to be financially prudent.  We don’t seem to have learned any valuable lessons from that experience.

In a co-authored paper with Luke Reedman, Professor Bill Mitchell wrote in 2002.

‘… a major shift in monetary and fiscal policy is required and must begin with an acceptance that public deficits are typically required to maintain stable growth rates in spending and sustainable levels of private sector debt. The government can clearly run surpluses for a time by exploiting the willingness of the private sector to increase its debt levels. But this strategy becomes highly deflationary once private agents seek to restore their balance sheets. The resulting output corrections force the public sector into deficit with accompanying private wealth losses and rising unemployment. In this context, the argument that budget surpluses are needed to ‘fire-proof’ the economy is nonsensical.’

To give these technical facts a human dimension we need to bring them down to real-life realities.

Aditya Chakrabortty commented in an article this week, that more than four million are children living in poverty in the UK and that the number of food banks has increased from 57 in 2010 to 428 last year, handing nearly 580,000 parcels to children. Such figures, in one of the richest societies in human history, should mortify us as a nation. Reviewing the recently published book ‘It’s a no money day’ Chakrabortty describes it as ‘a watershed moment when Britain’s food banks go from newspaper headlines to a subject that teachers cover in classrooms; the moment at which mass destitution is no longer a badge of political failure but is instead accepted as part of British life.’ The normalisation of food banks and the charitable collection of food in supermarkets should be THE moment when the alarm bells start to ring.

When the likes of Michael Gove sneer at people using food banks for not being able to ‘manage their finances,’ in so doing they not only perpetuate the lie that people are to blame for their own misfortune, but they also provoke hate and create societal division.  By propagating the lie of money scarcity and shifting of responsibility from government to individuals, politicians are failing in their duty as elected officials to serve citizens. The role of government needs to shift back from one which serves corporate interests to one which serves the public purpose.

We are a nation rich in real resources and have a currency-issuing government with the capacity to mobilise those resources for the public good. Nurturing our children should be always central to our nation’s investment, with their young minds nourished with hope and inspiration and not the needless misery of foodbanks and poverty. By extension, this applies to the population as a whole, many of whom have suffered needlessly from government austerity and ideologically driven policies.

Given the climate crisis and the challenges we face in righting the social injustices of the past few decades (caused by an ideology which has put the individual over the interests of the collective and profit over the health of the planet and its citizens increasing poverty and inequality and threatening the existence of our species), it is time to engage in a conversation about what we think should be our priorities in the future.  About what sort of country we want to be, what public and social infrastructure we need to create economic and social well-being and what sort of future we want for our children’s children. These are not left or right questions, they are, quite simply, questions about our human values.

In the words of the current Prime Minister, ‘Britain deserves better’. It certainly does. Better than the last 40 years of economic and ideological orthodoxy which successive neoliberal governments have pursued relentlessly. It’s time for a change.

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The post The austerity prescription was not an experiment; it did not fail for the rich. Time for a rethink. Time for an economic revolution. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

We need to relearn the art of adequate spending for public purpose

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/10/2019 - 9:30pm in

The GIMMS team have been away and had a very busy two weeks travelling between Brighton, London, Manchester, Leeds and Newport for a variety of events.  All in all, it has been very successful and well worth the effort. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting lots of enthusiastic and lovely people across the country and we hope that over time the interest can be carried forward into real action in local settings.

The recording of the Brighton Fringe Event at which Professor Bill Mitchell spoke is now available here and we are working on editing the training session in London and the recording of GIMMS event at the Green Party Conference.

So, from this week normal service is resumed for our MMT Lens with a round-up of the key events over the last two weeks.

 

Cardboard placard at a protest with the slogan "Fight today for a better tomorrow"Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Boris Johnson is spending. Well, not his own money, of course, but he has authorised a multibillion-pound government spending programme not to mention substantial tax cuts for the wealthiest. After nine years of unnecessary and harmful austerity politics a focus on fiscal rather than monetary policy, which is in a predictable dead end, is to be welcomed although strangely it seems to reflect many of Labour’s spending promises. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, don’t they?

As part of the spending review by Chancellor Sajid Javid some weeks back, Boris Johnson in his speech at Conference promised investment in the NHS and social care, education, transport and roads, local government, police and the environment. And again, strangely, all those things that it has been busily cutting over the last 9 years because it was claimed we couldn’t afford them are now back on the spending menu. It is tempting to ask the question but where will the money come from since it’s the one that the Conservatives have most often asked Labour when they have announced their policy and spending programmes.  It has also been tempting for some like Paul Johnson from the IFS to wonder whether Boris’s proposals for tax cuts were feasible given his public spending promises.  That is, of course, if like Paul Johnson you accept the too often trotted out household budget version of the state finances which says that government relies on tax and borrowing in order to spend which GIMMS readers surely must know by now they don’t in a country where the government is the sovereign currency issuer.

These spending promises and tax cuts drive a coach and horses through the notion that government spending is constrained by taxpayer revenue. It also tells us very clearly that some politicians know exactly how the money system works and let’s be honest it’s not been the first time that the Tories have opened the public purse to serve a specific political agenda! Those computer keys at the Bank of England will be red-hot if the promises are kept.

After having been told in no uncertain terms that there was no money and that we all had to pull in our horns to get the public accounts back into health suddenly there’s money but an equal question in people’s minds about how it will be paid for. And that cannot be surprising given that the household budget narrative reigns in the public consciousness.

As usual and in response to the government’s plans, some of which were announced prior to the Conservative conference, there have been alarm bells ringing in the usual quarters both political and institutional about the impact on the deficit and debt and borrowing levels.

The government’s spending plans sit contrary to the 2% of GDP limit which was set for the 2020-2021 fiscal year and suggests a rowing back from the traditional Tory mark of fiscal prudence. It remains to be seen how much of this is an electioneering ploy and whether it will translate into reality. However, interestingly, as government announced its spending plans there was trouble brewing in its own party as voices of dissent were being raised at a party fringe meeting where MPs, representatives from the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs indicated that although they recognised that people had suffered through austerity they believed that the government had not gone far enough in cutting public spending. John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TPA went as far as to reject the word austerity saying we should refer instead to ‘living within your means’.

It is shameful to note that there are people who, whilst acknowledging that austerity has caused suffering, want more of it. The household budget framework of taxing to spend and the resentment felt by some that ‘their tax’ is funding freebie public services for all lies at the heart of it and reflects the neoliberal ideology that the state should take a step back and abandon people as authors of their own fate. The idea that ‘living within one’s [financial] means’ is a better measure of economic success than pursuing public purpose to benefit people materially and in terms of well-being is an indication of how far we still have to go to challenge this narrative. Not only do we need to counter the notion of ‘taxing to spend’ with the correct description ‘spending to tax’ we need to correct the idea that living within one’s means relates to money. The only ‘living within our means’ we need to be doing relates to our resources whether that’s people or the materials used in the production of goods and services that we benefit from. The only balance we need to make is the one between spending and resources.

Predictably, news of the government’s spending and taxing plans brought out the debt sirens on the left who have been posting FB memes that the national debt has soared under the Tories to almost £1.8 trillion since 2010. It is disappointing to note in the face of the real consequences of austerity that the language narrative about how government spends is still dogged by household budget explanations, ‘rising deficits’, ‘increased borrowing’ and ‘mounting national debt’.

The Conservatives response has been that the government’s prudent management of the public accounts has given them the fiscal space to spend. In fact, the Prime Minister trotted out the usual nonsense that the Conservative Party had ‘tackled the debt and the deficit’ left by the last Labour government and suggested disingenuously that it has only been able to increase investment in schools and hospitals because it had ‘cleared up the wreckage they left’.

All these descriptions used by both the right and the left wing lie within a flawed mainstream paradigm. On the one hand, the Conservatives have used it to defend the need for austerity to deliver their own ideological agenda and claim fiscal superiority over their political rivals. On the other, Labour persists in the language of tax and spend and finding the magic money tree in the Cayman Islands to fund their laudable progressive programmes. Even John McDonnell could not resist saying that the proposed tax cuts would ‘rip out £10-£20bn a year from our already decimated public services’.  When clearly, they can’t and won’t!

It is regrettable that the public finds itself still caught in the headlights of a long deceased monetary narrative the consequences of which live with us now and will continue to do.

Instead of taking the debt sirens at face value in their criticism of the rising national debt under the Conservatives we should instead be evaluating their economic record. Who gained from their spending and taxing policies and who lost out?   Measuring success by the state of the public accounts from the size of the deficit/debt or whether the government has balanced the budget or achieved a surplus is quite simply incorrect and tells us nothing about the context of the state of the public accounts.

This can best be evaluated with a brief look at both the government’s spending plans, its policy agenda and the on-going consequences of cuts to public spending.

The government whilst it is planning to spend £25bn on improvements to the road network it has not been similarly generous to the bus network which amounts to only £220m. Combined with its already announced spending on the environment of around £432m which is a fraction of the amount needed to address the challenge of climate change demonstrates the Conservative’s complete disregard for the environmental challenges facing us. Apart from the fact that since 2010 government has cut spending on subsidies to bus companies which have forced the closure of 3000 bus routes (not to mention all the other consequences of cuts to public sector spending including the NHS, social care, education policing and local government) this would have been a good time for substantial investment in sustainable public transport instead of giving precedence to roads and cars.

Of course, as indicated earlier, it cannot be denied that a domestic spending programme is a good move at a time when the figures show that the world seems to be sinking towards recession. However, it should not be surprising, given who has authorised the spending, that it is still framed within a neoliberal framework of privatised public services and public money going into private profit whether that’s the NHS and social care or privatised transport networks. It does not suggest a reversal of neoliberally inspired agenda which the Conservatives have been pursuing under cover of austerity.

It also ignores the on-going consequences of public sector cuts, reforms to welfare and the introduction of Universal Credit on the well-being of citizens and indeed the economy.  The scandal of the huge rises in homelessness is bad enough (the Charity Crisis estimates some 24,000 people last year) but just last week figures published by the Office for National Statistics revealed that 726 homeless people died on our streets in 2018. The figures showed a 22% rise over 2017 which was the biggest increase since data was first collected in 2013

The Chief Executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes, responding to the figures and at the same time putting a human face on the statistics said:

“It is heart-breaking that hundreds of people were forced to spend the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure home. This is now the second year running where we have known the true scale of the human cost of homelessness, yet still the lessons from these tragic deaths go unlearnt.”

Add to this the record numbers of people, as reported by the Trussell Trust earlier this year, who are using foodbanks along with increasing food insecurity and the spectre of malnutrition, far from turning the page on austerity, the consequences of it remain with us and will do for some time to come unless we get a change in government.

Just a quick look at other news from the last couple of weeks emphasises that just the promise of spending is not going to fix the damage quickly. Behind just these few headlines lie the reality of the harm that has been caused by austerity and government policy choices.

“England sees ‘worst summer on record’ for A&E waits”,

“Alcohol tax cuts cause nearly 2000 extra deaths”,

“Severe obesity among children aged 10 to 11 at record high…. Figures highest among children from the most deprived communities”

 “Unprecedented’ rise in infant mortality linked to poverty”,

“Nursing vacancies hit record high leaving patient care at risk”

For the lie of balanced budgets our economy has slowed, people have got poorer and inequalities have risen, and our public and social infrastructure is cracking up. And all the while the rich have got richer and appropriated an immoral share of the country’s wealth – all with the helping hand of government.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is an alternative world and it is up to us to bring it about not just for our sakes but for our children who will bear the burden of our inaction if we turn away.

It starts by understanding these simple concepts:

“A sovereign government is never revenue constrained because it is the monopoly issuer of the currency. In other words, its public debt level is irrelevant in terms of its capacity to spend in the future, unless it deliberately constrains itself with voluntary fiscal rules.

Such a government is never financially constrained in its future choices by its past fiscal position. 

Fiscal Space is [not] about financial resources. It can only be about real resource availability in a modern monetary economy where the government issues its own currency.”

Bill Mitchell 2017

It is both encouraging and exciting that the orthodox narratives are being challenged now in the mainstream media as modern monetary realities get an airing even if sometimes critically. The debate is moving on. We just have to ensure it reaches a successful conclusion.

 

As we said in our introduction, the video of Professor Bill Mitchell’s talk on the Green New Deal has been published on our YouTube Channel.

 

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The post We need to relearn the art of adequate spending for public purpose appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Change is coming. Keep calm and keep on PUSHing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/08/2019 - 9:32pm in

Neon sign with the word "change"Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Each week, GIMMS aims to keep its readers abreast of the latest stories in the news and they form the basis of our weekly MMT Lens.  Each week we search for positive signs that things are changing, given that it always seems to be a catalogue of increasing doom and gloom which can be depressing at times. However, this week we’d like to begin the lens on a positive note with reference to Professor Bill Mitchell’s blog earlier this week We are approaching an era of fiscal dominance’.  We can surely be encouraged by his words which suggest that we are observing a paradigm shift as the neoliberal narrative is failing big-time and the dissonance in mainstream economics and political debate is getting more intense and more public. It shows promise that such questioning is beginning to take place in public arenas.  Recent articles from Reuters and Bloomberg, along with the growing understanding of monetary realities by more and more people across the globe, must give us hope that the challenge to the mainstream macroeconomic consensus which has dictated government policies for decades is beginning to bear fruit. All we need now is to get the politicians on board! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US and in the UK, MP Chris Williamson, are already shining a light on how money works and how such an understanding will allow us to respond to the challenges we face and deliver progressive agendas to meet them.  To use an analogy from nature, a seed planted and nurtured will grow.

However, whilst bearing that in mind, we cannot ignore the daily news which demonstrates how the flawed economic system which has dominated the last four decades, along with the last 9 years of government-imposed austerity, have created vast disparities in wealth and increased poverty and inequality. Whilst Brexit thunders on in the political arena and mainstream news reporting the very real consequences of public sector cuts and government spending policies are increasingly in evidence. People are suffering, people are dying, and our public and social infrastructure is crumbling and breaking down. All those things which form the foundations of a healthy society and allow it to function are failing (although the government propaganda might lead you to think otherwise). These are the very real consequences of government cuts and policies and should be the wake-up call that shocks the nation into active opposition.

The government is promising increased spending on policing and proposes extended stop and search powers in response to rising knife and other crime. However, it has failed to acknowledge the role of austerity in rising crime and the drug crisis which has been termed as a public health emergency and has resulted from the decay of our publicly paid-for institutions, local government and other supporting organisations along with rising poverty and inequality. Over 760 youth clubs have closed and 3500 youth workers have lost their jobs as a consequence.  Nearly 130 libraries, which provide many other important services including access to the internet, were scrapped in 2018 alone and those that remain do so on reduced hours or are serviced by volunteers instead of a paid workforce. Our public land assets are increasingly being sold off, from our parks to playgrounds, police stations and NHS estate.  Developers are doing very nicely from this sell off of previously owned public assets.

As our communities start to shrink and die, crime rises, the old and sick become isolated and distrust and fear grows as the social frameworks which knit people together as communities are dismantled and fall into decline. The last 40 years, which have given precedence to business and profit seeking, have diluted the importance of the public institutions which lie at the heart of a healthy economy and national well-being.  It is withering away and with it any semblance of a civilised society. The neoliberal narratives of self-help and a blame culture have poisoned the concept of human cooperation, and are leaving us confused and lacking in hope.

As noted in last week’s blog, far too often the loss of this public and social infrastructure is explained away in financial terms of unaffordability; that expenditure on such infrastructure is reliant on an economy that is growing and a fiscally prudent approach to the state finances.  Indeed, Sajid David the new Chancellor suggested only this week that it was down to the hard work of the public that investment in public services could be made, once again making an implied but incorrect connection between tax collection and paying for public services.

The public has been bamboozled for far too long by household budget descriptions of how money works. It seems only right and proper to us that like private individuals and households, governments should behave the same and spend in relation to income.  However, instead of looking at the deficit and debt arguments which proliferate and determine the public response to a government’s actions we should be examining its economic record and ask ourselves whether it has delivered a healthy and sustainable economy that serves the public purpose? It’s what you do with your spending that really counts. Who benefits and who doesn’t? Not whether you balanced a budget or achieved a surplus. Deficits certainly matter but not in the way that most of us think they do.

In the case of the UK, the ones who have benefited from Tory policies are corporations, big business and wealthy people, not just in money terms but also through the influence that such organisations and private individuals exert on politicians to favour them.

Just a quick flick through this week’s newspapers brings to the fore the consequences of ideology, austerity politics and government spending decisions on people’s lives.

The founder of the Museum of Homelessness reports that one homeless person dies every 19 hours on average, while shamefully more than a quarter of a million homes lie empty. Matthew Downie, the director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, commented that was disgraceful that hundreds of vulnerable people across the country have died without the dignity of a secure home. He points out that many of these fatalities are occurring, not while people are sleeping on the streets but when they are in temporary accommodation that is not fit for purpose.  Most people don’t choose to live on the street or want to be shoved from pillar to post living in temporary accommodation or relying on the goodwill of friends, sofa surfing.  Families with children, young and older people have become victims of government spending choices, not because there was no money but because it suits an ideologically driven neoliberal agenda of a small state and self-reliance.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism researching effects of poverty in Oxford which is a city with one of the highest average salaries in the UK has found that in its poorest wards, men die on average fifteen years younger than their counterparts living in Oxford’s more prosperous areas. It noted that the gap that had been recorded between 2011 and 2015 had increased by four times more than it had been between 2003 and 2007. Over England and Wales, differences in life expectancy for those living in the most and least deprived areas was nine and a half years for men and seven and a half years for women (2015-17). The increasing divide between the rich and the poor is conveyed in their stories which are distressing to read (link here).  While the public applauds fiscal prudence, people’s physical and mental health is declining, and people are dying as local authorities and organisations struggle to keep up with the demand for support because of cuts to government funding leading to cuts in social programmes designed to assist vulnerable individuals, families and children.

Added to this situation are the cuts to spending on a welfare system which, following reform, is not fit for purpose and has left people struggling financially and in fear of getting into debt. The bottom line is that when people don’t have sufficient monetary resources to live a decent and dignified life, not only do they suffer unnecessarily but the economy also takes a hit. Money removed from people’s pockets through spending cuts is money removed from the economy.

While the Chancellor of the Exchequer applauds the Conservative record on employment this week and thanks the public for their hard work, unemployment rises by 31,000, which is the biggest rise since 2017, vacancies are down and although earnings did rise once adjusted for inflation, they are still below pre-crisis levels. As usual, the government fails to acknowledge the working realities of those figures. People doing three jobs just to keep themselves and their families afloat, the increase in zero-hour contracts to near record levels, up 15% from 791,000 a year ago to 896,000 in the last three months, bogus self-employment and the gig economy which is increasingly being used to supplement people’s wages are the realities of the statistics presented by the government.

It was also revealed this week that NHS spending on private mental healthcare had risen by almost 30% to £100m in just one year. Sick and vulnerable patients are being sent hundreds of miles away from home away from their families for lack of sufficient local NHS beds to accommodate sick individuals who need expert care. The government’s pledge to end out of area care by increasing the number of beds has yet to be honoured and the NHS is paying huge amounts of public money to private, profit motivated companies whose rationale is deriving profit, not delivering first class, expert care.

Figures from the Department of Health and Social Care show that last year it handed a record £9.2bn to private providers such as Virgin Care and the Priory mental health group. When Matt Hancock pledged ‘there is no privatisation on my watch’ clearly his statement fails to reflect the policies of successive governments, including the current one, which has until more recently been a slow burn towards privatisation and is now speeding towards a successful conclusion – the creation of a two-tier health services ‘alla’ accountable care in the United States.  The media and the politicians have done an exceedingly good job at concealment of the intentions.

The beneficiaries of money from the public purse are not confined to the NHS and nowhere more evident is the outsourcing of children’s services. In 2014, despite opposition, changes to regulations made it easier for commercial companies to bid for contracts and for-profit organisations are now involved in the provision of foster care, children’s homes and children’s social services.  Ray Jones, Emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University and author of ‘In Whose Interest? The Privatisation of Child Protection and Social Work’ (link here) noted in an article last week:

“For the past 40 years, successive governments have pushed crucial services out of public ownership and into the private market. Despite the dismal track record of big outsourcing companies failing to deliver on their public service contracts, and overcharging central and local government, opportunities continue for private companies to make money from the public purse”

While this government has pursued austerity on the basis of money scarcity, the idea that public services can only be paid for if we have a healthy economy and the belief that the private sector is more efficient, the facts tell a different story. As Ray Jones notes:

not only are local authorities spending large sums with private companies, they are purchasing poorer quality services at a higher cost.’

Public money is being siphoned off into the private sector for profit whilst at the same time, the government plays the ‘Mikawber’ card which suggests that there is no money for public services and deceives the public with its lie. As was pointed out earlier, we should be less concerned about the size of the deficit which should always be seen in context and more concerned about what the government is spending on.

As fares are set to rise on a privatised rail network, a private company wins a ‘lucrative’ contract to run the HS2 and graduates in England face increasing debt burdens as total interest on undergraduate student loans is set to double, it is clear that the effects of the last 40 years of entrenched neoliberal dogma, combined with a deliberate political intent to use false analogies about how money works are now coming home to roost as daily we see evidence of the consequences.

This is not a time to watch as bystanders; this is a moment for action.  Some will tell you that ‘we can’t do anything so why try?’ But let’s not be defeatist. We are already making a difference, as activists and campaigners from around the globe work together to challenge an idea that’s had its day. As one of GIMMS’ favourite economists reminds us from time to time, we need to keep on PUSHing until something happens.

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The barbarians may be inside the gates, but we can still defeat them

Hand reaching towards the sunrise over a lakePhoto by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

The French have a saying “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” With the events of the last few days, one might consider that nothing had changed; the Tories are still in the driving seat albeit with a new leader. However, with the election of Boris Johnson to the post of Prime Minister, followed by an ignominious line up of hard right, heavily male, privately-educated Cabinet appointments one can say, at least for those of us with a progressive disposition, that the country has reached a moment of even more uncertainty and fear for the future.

In his first speech as PM, Johnson promised a ‘new golden age’. Given previous history and his leadership campaign, one must ask the question “a golden age for whom?” Johnson and his friends are dyed-in-the-wool, free market fundamentalists who favour a deregulatory free-for-all. They individually, or collectively, support capital punishment, fracking, GM crops, a watering down of employment rights and privatisation of key public services such as the NHS (although the latter, of course, is vociferously denied) and worse still are climate change deniers.

Unless they have had a collective Damascene moment, which seems highly unlikely, the golden age will be about continuing to serve their corporate masters and the further weakening of democracy, not the public purpose. With little mention of our failing public services, a fiscal stimulus maybe but in whose interests? Twenty thousand new policeman sounds good but with so many police stations closed, the time it takes to train police officers along with the need for training facilities and trainers to train them, this will be a dead duck in the water. Furthermore, Johnson has failed to address the consequences of the Conservatives’ austerity policies on society as a whole which, without doubt, has increased the pressures on law and order. It’s all nothing but rainbow coloured whitewash or is that hogwash?

In all this, one might think that the appointment of Jo Swinson to the leadership of the Liberal Democrats is a side story which is unconnected. And yet it is. Whilst most would jump immediately to the Brexit connection, given the stands of both parties on this issue, the reality is that it is that something far more insidious links them – economic ideology and austerity.

Some have, of course, claimed that austerity created the conditions for the Brexit vote, but the working-class discontent related to reduced standards of living and increased poverty and inequality predates 2010, going back over 30 years. It is as much linked to the ideological agendas pursued by successive governments since Thatcher as it is to the last 9 years of austerity.

This has been a bubbling cauldron of long-term dissatisfaction which has driven people to want change. Brexit has been the expression of that desire – a rejection of the economic orthodoxy which has deprived them of good, well paid jobs and security and a rejection of the political and economic structures which have brought it about and led dangerously to the rise of the extreme right and nationalism in the UK (as well as in the US and Europe).

It is regrettable, however, that in the political maelstrom which is dividing the country the subject of austerity and the reasons for people’s discontent have taken a back seat as Remainers and Brexiters fight it out in an increasingly vicious war of words which often fail to promote cogent reasons for either.

Boris Johnson and Jo Swinson have one thing in common – they voted for austerity. Their voting records and actions whilst in coalition government attest to that fact and we must not forget it. The Liberal Democrats enthusiastically supported the false belief engendered by George Osborne in the Treasury and David Cameron that the financial crisis had been caused by too much government spending by Labour, rather than being one created by bankers and speculators. Public sector workers as a consequence bore the brunt of cuts to public spending.

The party gave the Conservatives every helping hand they could, including supporting the government’s Health and Social Care Act which was yet one more step in the creation of a two tier American style healthcare model, went back on their promise to oppose increasing student tuition fees and put disabled people in the firing line of austerity cuts as the campaigner Frances Ryan notes in her new book ‘Crippled’ mentioned in last week’s MMT Lens. And these are just a few examples of the way in which the Liberal Democrats shamefully enabled the Tory political agenda. The words ‘thirty pieces of silver’ come to mind.

When asked during her leadership campaign, Swinson said that she had no regrets about her party’s role in austerity, claiming that there had been no alternative in order to get the country back on its feet. Never mind the realities of an economy which has shrunk by £100bn since 2010 or the pain, suffering and financial hardship that has been caused by those in acting in Coalition on the false notion that the public finances had to be put back in order and that the cuts were necessary.

And yet puzzlingly, in a tweet in May, she praised Jacinda Ardern’s well-being ‘budget’ saying:

“Economic transformation is about putting people and planet at the heart of our economy. We should be building on our existing work on wellbeing & making it central here too.”

A change of heart? One must question that in a world where politics is less about serving the people and more about gaining the power to pursue one’s own interests and serving global corporations through revolving doors. It is instructive that she accepted cash from a fracking businessman after having campaigned to save the environment. Her campaign tagline ‘Build an economy that puts people and the planet first’ seems a little less shiny with that knowledge in mind. She also failed to support proposals in Westminster aimed at fighting climate change and voted in favour of cutting the subsidy for electricity generated via renewable or low carbon schemes.

It is as if Swinson cannot or chooses not to make the connection between government deficit spending and delivering public purpose by putting the planet and people at the centre of economic, environmental and social policy. As Frances Ryan notes “austerity has harmed millions of people in Britain and continues to wreck lives.” Not to mention the economy!

Not only did she show herself to be impervious to the suffering caused by her party’s support for Tory policies, she also demonstrated the usual political ignorance about how the government’s finances work.

As the economist, Ellis Winningham said in a recent podcast (here)

“The only fiscal rule that should exist is one that targets prosperity. What I mean by that is plain and simple. Deficits should be targeted at full employment and public purpose. The people’s well-being should be looked after 100% at all times.”

Swinson’s words and actions have been in complete denial of this rule.

In these uncertain times, serving public purpose has been replaced with serving self-interest and in doing so well-being has been replaced by suffering and hardship. There cannot be many whose lives have not been touched in some way whether personally or via friends or family by government- imposed austerity. The collapse in social care and mental health services are just two examples. The lie of “care in the community” from support for elderly sick people being discharged from hospital to those suffering from mental health difficulties is being exposed on a daily basis and it is shameful. All of us hope that the services will be there in case of need, but increasingly they are not.

The social and economic impact of cuts to spending, both at national and local level, are leaving the most vulnerable without the care they need and leaving already financially hard-pressed families to take up the strain of looking after their loved ones. Those working in social care, which is often provided by private, profit seeking companies, are equally stressed with increasing workloads and poor pay and many are choosing to quit their jobs. In turn, local government with cuts to its budgets struggle to meet the costs of privately provided care and those care companies are increasingly thinking about exiting the sector as the public funding stream dries up along with their profits.

In mental health both for adults and children, the situation is equally grim. Premature discharge, either from community care or hospital, often leaves the vulnerable and marginalised to cope without adequate support or even any support at all. Sick people seen as troublemakers or attention seekers are abandoned to their own devices if they ‘fail’ to comply, or those with complex issues are off-loaded into private profit-driven facilities miles away from family and friends. In many cases families are left to take the strain.

In a target driven world where figures and balance sheets are more important than people’s lives, all serve to hide the actual scale of the problems being faced by people behind closed doors or on the street as a result of political and economic ideology. The health of the public finances has been used cruelly to justify austerity.

As noted in last week’s MMT Lens, we still have politicians, journalists and institutions who are living in fantasy land about public debt and deficit and woe betide any government that spends beyond its financial means. Fiscal Credibility Rules rule!

One such article appeared this week in the Guardian written by the economics editor Phillip Inman entitled “Labour and Tories both plan to borrow and spend. Is that wise?” Inman compares the British to the Italians who are proposing a fiscal stimulus on borrowed money, where of course no comparison can be made since Italy is the user of the euro as a foreign currency and has to issue debt in that currency to fund its spending, unlike the UK which has to do neither in order to spend.

Inman then proceeds to claim that whoever is making spending promises or tax cuts, Conservatives or Labour, it will require a huge increase in government borrowing. He claims that higher borrowing will put the public finances at risk and that in the light of worsening public finances and the coming ‘economic chill’ it would be better to ‘hunker down’.

With the nation mired in excessive household debt and the consequences of 9 years of austerity which has decimated public and social infrastructure, surely Phillip Inman might by now have come to the conclusion that hunkering down has not revitalised the economy. Instead, it has demolished it and worse harmed the lives of those who have had to live through it; from those who have the misfortune to be involuntarily unemployed to those with disabilities, the chronically or terminally ill, those without a roof over their heads and parents who struggle to feed their children. (For an excellent critique of Philip Inman’s article follow the link here.)

The public doesn’t need to take a degree course in economics to grasp the simple realities of how a government spends, or that it neither needs to get tax or to borrow before it can do so. These are elemental ideas. What the public does need to know is that government has deliberately made political decisions to cut investment in public infrastructure and spending on the services on which we all depend as well as deny those in need adequate financial support to live without fear.

The public needs to ask serious questions about why there is no money for the public purpose but plenty for buying arms, pursuing wars and bailing out banks, not to mention the many billions which find their way into private profit for delivering public services like the NHS. These are surely the clues that the public has been hoodwinked by a lie about balanced budgets being more important than the state of the economy and people’s lives. The answer to the question ‘where will the money come from’ is simple. The government spends it into existence. No tax or borrowing required.

Just imagine the revolution there would be if the public knew the truth. Just imagine how that knowledge could make the difference between saving or destroying the planet and creating a healthier, more well-balanced world for its citizens, where resources are more equally shared and political and economic solutions to poverty and inequality can be sought.

Modern Monetary Theory is but a description of how money works and of course, in itself, is not a magic bullet. There are no certainties. The rise of right-wing extremism in the US, the UK and Europe is worrying indeed, but that is no reason not to hope for something different. We have to start somewhere. Certainly, we can only work with what knowledge we have already, but that shouldn’t stop us using the full force of our human imaginations to create a better world for us all.

Note: If you want to learn more, GIMMS has a simple to read introduction to Modern Monetary Theory, along with plenty of other resources to inform and challenge the prevalent narratives of how money works. (link here)

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The post The barbarians may be inside the gates, but we can still defeat them appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.