The crazy idea of a fairer society
September 13, 2015
I don’t really know where to start to reorient you. I suspect you don’t wish to see another side to your argument, whatever the other side is. I don’t know how to engage with this reduction of entire decades to cheap Murdoch headlines. All I can say is “the data simply does not support your position” and hope that facts can make a difference.
Poverty in Britain rose under Thatcher to levels not seen since the aftermath of World War II. Unemployment reached percentages not experienced since the great depression. The gini coefficient — economists’ accepted method for measuring inequality — grew by 40%. The welfare culture that you so despise, is entirely her baby. It was simply cheaper to park people on benefits, in the mining and industrial towns that she decimated, than retrain them to a diversified industry. We are living the legacy of that. These are the facts of conservatism.
According to the economist Bernard Lietaer, author of The Future of Money, as recently as 1975 roughly 80% of foreign exchange transactions involved the real trading of a product or a service. The rest were mostly speculative; bets made on the value of currencies going up or down. By 1997 the percentage of foreign exchange which involved transactions in the real economy was only 2.5%. Today, according to the Global Policy Forum, only 0.6% of foreign exchange could be traced to genuine international trade in goods and services. More than a third of those happens daily in the City. Money has ceased to be the tool of trade and has become its object.
Thatcher simply wanted to make way for Britain becoming “financiers of the world”, in her own words. Others, like Germany, chose a diversified production base. We became the world centre of usury. Britain’s over-reliance on its finance industry is the reason we were particularly vulnerable to the global financial crisis. It is also the reason we have lived in perpetual boom and bust since her time. Because boom and bust is good for the finance industry.
Booms are when imaginary value is created and busts are when it is converted to real wealth, by buying assets (often, state assets for which generations have paid) on the cheap. Without the jagged peaks and troughs of the ups and downs, the finance industry simply makes less money. The trouble is, the booms are getting narrower and narrower in terms of whom they benefit and the busts deeper and deeper about whom they harm and how much.
The latest one in 2008, in which private, liberalised banks – the absolute symbol of free market capitalism – collapsed spectacularly and had to be bailed out with taxpayers’ money, represents the absolute failure of capitalism, even by its own standards. It has created a mutated hybrid, a Frankenstein system, in which the very top now benefit directly from the state-collected proceeds of the many. A system under which not only do they avoid tax, but they get it pumped into them when in trouble. A system which has mutualised their losses, while protecting their privatised profits. It has rewarded market failure. Meanwhile, people like you bitch about the comparative drop in the budget ocean that is a mobility payment for someone disabled or a dialysis machine for someone ill or social care for someone old and alone.
An even bigger crisis is coming. The first shockwaves of it are being artificially kept at bay from China to the U.S. A system under which the richest 1% will control as much wealth as the remaining 99% by 2018 (according to Oxfam’s global poverty report) is a creaking, unstable House of Cards. Even neoliberal voices are beginning to recognise this fact and express it explicitly (see the paper which resulted from the IMF’s conference on inequality this year).
What pains me is to see people like you, who do not belong to that elite and never will, defend it. You are the middle class defence they have built around their wealth. You are the talking-out-of-your-arse, relatively well-to-do 5% moat which protects their enormous castle.
That 1% relies on you believing the nonsense you spout – and using your megaphone to spread it – in order to keep their ever-growing wealth safe, by irrationally hoping that this sort of megawealth is somehow possible for you too, somehow available. That, someday, you too might be invited to the enormous castle for dinner. You never will. You provide their dinner. You are the staff. You are the mug that keeps buying scratch cards from which nobody, ever, won a penny.
But that irrational hope makes your tongue unkind and your elbows sharp. In truth, you have much more in common with the people you do down, than with those you defend. I hope you never get to find out how close to penury you – and all the salariat – are. We are constantly encouraged to spend anticipated income. Mortgages, credit cards, speculative portfolios. If the income stops, for whatever reason, most of us are instantly bankrupt. I hope you never get to find out what real, state-sanctioned, Daily-Mail-sponsored unkindness feels like. I like you and would not wish it on you.
In your heart, you know all of this. You have chosen to silence at a societal level everything that you consider good on a personal level. You have chosen to fling mud at any attempt to discuss a fairer system that is based around people, rather than money. You know this is wrong, but you still do it, because you are self-interested. You mock those who are less so. You’re doing all right at the moment – you’re healthy, employed, secure – so you don’t give a toss about those who are not. You simply want to pay less tax. That is what it boils down to. “Me” is the most important word in your Lexicon, the only word even, and you think that’s dandy.
Well, it isn’t. There are those who disagree with your bitter, jaded version of society. And you should thank heaven for us, because if yours became the only view, if the cruelty you long for became reality, the result would not be a society which you would enjoy. You demand respect and solidarity for your rights, but offer none in return.
I have resented typing every word of this, because your premise is absolutely disingenuous. You think people who fail are lazy or stupid and have said so on many occasions. You would never be tempted to vote for radical, progressive politics. You would find a way to intellectualise your rejection of them and stick to your voting habits. So your protestation of “oh, if only you were more sensible, Labour, I might vote for you” is bunkum.
I have typed it anyway, however. Just so you can tut and roll your eyes at my leftie nonsense and think of some irrelevant “but what about” sophistry to wheel out in reply. Knowing that I chip away at you on a deeper level than the shallow push and pull of soundbites. Because I’m right. Because my way is better and you know it. Because there must be a terrified part of your brain that gets what utter foolishness it is supporting a system and a world view, which daily makes us all less kind, less open, less caring, less civilised, less evolved and, ultimately, less human.
But you don’t have to be that person. You have a choice. We all do. You can soothe those around you with word and action, rather than cut them with criticism. You can help those who are in a worse position, not step on their throat. I wish you would choose that.
I love you.