Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Britain - a failed state

A system that produces a government intent on forcing people to cut their own throats is a failed state and we ought to find a democratic replacement for it as soon as possible.

The Conservative-led coalition of public school-educated ministers wants to make the whole of the British electorate party to decisions that will “change our way of life” over the next few years.

Cameron and Clegg’s already damaged coalition – together with the entire media circus – are engaged on a campaign of attempted mass hypnosis. If they had their way, they’d draw the entire population into a self-inflicted tsunami of devastating cuts in wages, jobs, pensions and public services on a scale never seen before. This is change for the very worst.

As the government’s new “independent” Office for Budget Responsibility will reveal, the economy is on much shakier ground than previously thought. Treasury growth forecasts which, if true, would have cut the budget deficit, are pure invention by the outgoing New Labour government. The OBR, by the way, is headed by Sir Alan Budd, who, in 2005 became a director of IG Group, which trades in financial derivatives and spread betting. Very “independent” then!

Attempts to restart economic growth through the printing of money inevitably came to nothing, both in Britain and in the United States. The crisis of the capitalist system has not gone away. Far from it, as John Authers writes in his new book for the Financial Times, "The fearful rise of markets”:

“The financial disaster of 2007 to 2009 … has not cured any of the underlying factors that led markets to become intertwined and overinflated and to endanger the world economy. This does not mean that another synchronised bubble followed by a crash is inevitable, but it does mean that such an event remains a distinct possibility.”

The global capitalist system has failed – economically and politically. So what follows is a short list of the changes to the social relations that define “our way of life” we think are worth considering.

First to go should be the profit-based financial system and all the associated wasteful, absurd activities that turn reasonable, well-educated, clever, potentially socially-useful people into crazed traders and wild-eyed speculators. They have gambled with everyone else’s pensions, savings and futures, and now hold governments around the world to ransom. Sure we’ll need a system of credit and money, but why not run it as a not-for-profit community service?

Then there’s the system of land and property ownership. This has survived more or less intact in Britain since the Middle Ages. It ties millions of people into paying the major part of their income as rent or interest in exchange for temporary occupation and use or the mirage of security as a house owner. It’ll be better, much better when all property is held in common. Socially-owned land and housing for all!

And that also applies to the ownership of capital – factories, offices, machines, tools, knowledge – all the durable things we’ve created that help us to produce what we need to live. As Marx explained, capital is value accumulated from many workers’ labour. For little more than 350 years the ownership of capital has given employers control over their employees.

Life will be better when private ownership, production for profit and the wages-for-labour employment contract is ended, and capital is under the control of the people who do the work that produces it.

We’ll need a new democratic process to make this happen. When Cameron’s campaign of persuasion meets popular opposition, he’ll either resort to force or the coalition will be driven out of power. Let’s build a real, much more democratic system of Peoples Assemblies that can make this new “way of life” a reality.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

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