Local Government, National Labour Party, Political Education

Austerity Economics

Below is a report, given by Irene Leonard, Treasurer of Wavertree CLP, at Grassroots Politics and Alternatives, our Political Education Event from May 2018.
Lena Šimić, Walton’s Political Education Officer, chaired the event, and also speaking at were Ronnie Hughes and Tim Jeeves (click the links to read write-ups of their talks).

Introduction

  1. The rise and intended fall of neo-liberal, neoconservative, austerity economics
  2. Some current experiments in socialist, co-operative cures and antidotes, transformative political methodologies.
  3. Call to further co-ordinated actions. How can we combine together?

 

1949 – 201?
Neo-Liberal Economic Orthodoxy
The rise and intended fall of neo-liberal, neoconservative, austerity economics

Following the end of the 2nd WW and in the wake of the economic devastation across Europe, 733 delegates from 44 countries devised a set of rules and procedures intended to regulate and stabilise the international monetary system. (The Bretton Wood Agreement of 1944).

3 mechanisms were intended to stabilise the world economy:

  1. All currencies were linked to the dollar and gold standard
  2. A regulatory International Monetary Fund came into being
  3. International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now the World Bank Group) was established

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 3 years later, in 1947 in the Swiss village of Mont Pelerin, a group, of discontented but extremely influential men, gathered with the precise aim to stop the threatening spread of ideas that supported common purpose and to halt governments acting directly in the public interest.[1]

Their purpose was to rescue the reputation of market systems from the total failure of the financial crash of 1929 and to champion the concept of unbridled individualism, limited forms of state intervention and deregulated financial markets against all forms of collective organisation

As with any extreme ideological group, the neo-liberals were selective in the ideas and concepts adopted from other schools of thought, including the work of Adam Smith, actually a more complex thinker than neo- libs care to remember and, a classical economist, whose work also influenced Karl Marx.

Smith, despite espousing the economic benefits of specialism and the division of labour, that self interest and unfettered markets work best, warned that the resulting monotony of labour would be dehumanising. He also derided the consumerism that this market system would breed and was especially sceptical of corporate power believing that a combination of the (consumerism and corporate power) would lead to a: conspiracy against the public or some such contrivance to raise prices. For Smith the state should also erect and maintain those public institutions and those public works’ that, although of great value to society, are by nature not profitable and therefore should not be expected to be delivered by the private purse – a veritable anathema to free marketeers.

In further contrast, Smith argued strongly that the role of the State was vital to protect society from violence and to protect every member from the injustice or oppression of every other member. A notable attendee of the Mont-Pelerin conference, Karl Popper [2], foresaw, immediately, that such a combination of power, unregulated markets and unrestrained individual behaviour would be destructive and enslaving, rather than liberating, and quickly distanced himself from this school of thought.

The Mont-Pelerin society that was formed in 1947 remains active today, still true to its original tenets, that human dignity and freedom are set free through the working of the competitive market and the individual’s accumulation of private property and has been followed by a proliferation of many other, influential, neo-liberal, think tanks.

Today, one of the original Mont Pelerin group, Milton Friedman ( b 31/07/1912 d 16/11/2006) is hailed by many as the most influential economist of the past 50 years, counting among his disciples U.S. presidents, British prime ministers, Russian oligarchs, dictators, secretaries of the Chinese Communist Party, directors of the IMF and recent chiefs of the Federal Reserve. Over three decades they perfected a successful strategy of moving quickly to sell off pieces of the state at times of crisis when the public were still reeling from the shock. They were/are not averse to manufacturing crisis and Friedman acted as advisor to the Chilean dictator General Pinochet after his successful and extremely violent coup. In his later years Pinochet was given asylum in Britain by Margaret Thatcher.

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The 70’s ushered in a continuing period of unparalleled opportunities for free marketeers when, on 15 Aug 1971, in response to America’s internal economic situation, the Bretton Wood Agreement was abruptly ended (the Nixon Shock) and the US dollar became a fiat currency – Fiat money is an alternative to commodity (e.g backed by gold) and representative money.   The value of fiat money rests entirely upon the value that can be guaranteed by the government issuing it. Because of the dominance of its currency, with the end of the Bretton Wood agreement, the American dollar became reserve currency for many countries.

Historically although fiat money came to dominate the 20th   century it has never been successful over time and the floating currencies, including American dollar have, all have declining values in relation to the timeless stopgaps of gold and silver.

Timeline of neo-liberal and advancing austerity economics

1971 The end of the Bretton Woods arrangement and elimination of checks and balances gave red light to move money around the globe more freely, with less checks and greater volatility.

1973 Chilean coup d’etat on 11 September1973 followed an extended period of agitated opposition, and American economic warfare under, against the elected socialist president Salvador Allende. Shocked and unprepared, there was no effective resistance and a period of brutal military dictatorship. was maintained until the 1988 plebiscite restored an elected civilian government.

1973-1975 UK secondary banking crisis

1980’s Predatory lending by the international banking sector saddled Africa with debt, destroyed the economic , denuded countries of their natural wealth and trashed their health and education systems.

1982 Economic crises throughout Mexico and Latin America

1987 US savings and loans crisis and Black \Monday saw markets falling like dominoes across New York, London and Hong Kong. Each crisis led to greater resources being appropriated by the free marketeers.

1999 Bank deregulation
End of Glass-Steagall bank regulations (brought in to prevent any repeat of the 1929 Wall Street crash). Now bankers were allowed to get very, very rich by gambling with our money at no risk to themselves.

The economist JK Galbraith responded to this:
“The sense of responsibility in the financial community for the community as a whole is not small ….it is nearly nil”

2000-2002 Dot.com bubble and US energy crisis.
Financial implosion in Ireland

2007-2008 Great crash triggered by US sub- prime lending.

2009 On 26th April 2009 David Cameron in his key note speech to the Conservative Party forum in Cheltenham declaring that:
“The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity” and committed to end years of excessive government spending.

2010 Cons and Lib Dem Coalition government initiated the austerity programme and in his June 2010 budget speech Chancellor George Osborne committed to substantial reductions in public expenditure, achieved by public spending reductions and tax increases amounting to £110 billion.

2013 David Cameron indicated that his government had no intention of increasing public spending once the structural deficit had been eliminated and proposed that the public spending reduction by made permanent.

2016 Philip Hammond did not mention austerity in his first Autumn statement, however following the snap general election of 2017 Hammond confirmed that the austerity programme would be continued.
The Departments for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice will have undergone reductions of approximately 40% in real terms between 2010 and 2020.

2018 The Resolution Foundation calculated that the proposed reduction in spending on working- age benefits amounted to £2.5 billion in 2018-19 and £2.7 billion in 2019-20 with the poorest households most affected.
Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated that to meet the Office for Budget Responsibilities targets then spending on public services per person in real terms would continue to fall until 2023.

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Socialist, Transformative, Co-Operative Alternatives 

London
Poplarism of London Borough of Poplar led by George Lansbury in 1921.
Elected lab council in 1919 led a comprehensive programme of social reform including equal pay for women and minimum wage for council workers. Designed to relieve the problems of desperately poor borough in times of high unemployment.
Municipal led relief for the vulnerable and needy, investment in local services and wages.

Spain
In June 2015 in Barcelona and Madrid mayors were elected sweeping the indignados movement into parts of the gvt.
Start of Fearless Cities – experiments designed to empower citizens movements worldwide.
En Comu (B Comu) a citizen led platform of housing rights activists echoed across Madrid to A Coruna to Zaragoza.
B Comu also produced :

  • a code of ethics designed to guard against the institutionalisation of those preparing to run for public office.
  • An emergency action plan that embraced measures to halt evictions, fine banks leaving multiple properties empty, and subsidise energy and transport cost for the unemployed.
  • From the beginning this was not a simple return to electoral politics but an experiment in transforming local institutions and adopting an internationalist perspectiive.
  • Municipal institutions were not to lead but to support, expand and generalise the movement.

USA
Chokwe Antar Lumumba was elected as mayor of the state capital and largest city in Mississippi on the promise of making Jackson the most radical city on the planet.
Worker owned, democratically self managed enterprises. In an otherwise highly conservative Re[publican State Jackson is pioneering a strategy for the self-determination of black working class communities.

VALPARAISO CHILE

An autonomist movement candidate elected to combat corruption

IN NAPLES ITALY

Critical Mass has forced the mayor to concede legal protection for the commons.

In Beirut, Lebanon and from Zagreb, Croatia and New york the list of radical civic platforms standing up to entrenched political interests continue to grow.

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Call to further co-ordinated actions. How can we combine together?

Each story/community is unique. There is no single model of radical municipal organising but there are a number of principles and practices that the new movements must share.
Margaret Kohn political theorist defined municipalism as a “politics of everyday life concerned with the issues that immediately affect citizens, including education, policing, jobs, culture and services.
Municipalism is a political approach to community and was exemplified in late 19th century and early 20th century Italian municipal socialism which fostered a form of governing through participation, in associations that blurred the line between state and society.
Today women are at the forefront of many of these movements.

 

[1] This is in contrast to the Europe wide wave of civic innovations that were being introduced to repair the ravages of war. (e.g. in England preparations for the introduction of the NHS launched the 5th July 1948 were underway).
[2] Karl Popper “The Open Society and its Enemies”.

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