Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On the economy: looking backwards or forwards?

My sister drew attention to an article in Monday's Guardian, 'Austerity? Call it class war – and heed this 1944 warning from a Polish economist' via Facebook. It begins,
The single best guide to what happened in Britain last week was published in 1944. Naturally, its author was a Polish economist. Even economics students may not have heard of Michał Kalecki – but it's the discipline that got small, rather than his legacy. In his time, Kalecki was recognised as having anticipated some of Keynes's most important ideas, years before the Master published his General Theory, and he exerted a big influence on such legendary Cambridge thinkers as Joan Robinson and Nicky Kaldor.

His article, Political Aspects of Full Employment, explains with an almost eery [sic] prescience why the coalition is attacking our wages, our working terms and conditions and our welfare state.
I don't think that Kalecki's ideas are particularly relevant today. Why?

The circumstances are very different now and far more complicated. For one thing, the population has grown; it was 62.3m in June 2010. In 1944 (the year I was born) it was about 49m. At the same time, most people have come to expect far higher living standards and the job situation has changed - manufacturing industry has declined while service industries have increased. There's far too much emphasis on retailing in most economic forecasts, which isn't sustainable. Having more cash "to buy more things" isn't good in the long term. Where are these "more things" to come from? What about peak oil and other diminishing resources, and the waste that's generated? In 1944 the emphasis was on food security, because of the war. It's even more important now, with climate change and some countries reducing or banning exports. We're now reliant on imported food, with food inflation at 6% last year, while British farming is suffering.

No one is willing to face hard facts about any of this. To create jobs according to out of date economic theories, without an audit of their value in terms of sustainability, wouldn't help in the long term - it would just postpone the inevitable. What is inevitable is that, sooner rather than later, UK people must learn that increasingly higher living standards are a fantasy, if everyone expects the latest Sunday supplement must-haves, and that the population can't go on increasing. This could even affect the wealthiest who've been using to buying their way out of any difficulties, as money isn't much use when the there's nothing to spend it on - nothing useful, that is.

The only sort of economy worth bothering about is a sustainable one, and, so far, hardly anyone has addressed this issue, least of all politicians tied to short-termism.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

On the coalition: time to get real

Few things are as immutable as the addiction of political groups to the ideas by which they once won office.
John Kenneth Galbraith
I'm tired of reading vitriolic tweets sneering at the UK's coalition, which is by no means perfect, I know. The old two-party system, with swings from one extreme to the other, hasn't done us much good. Most people vote for the opposition to get the one in power out, because of unpopular policies, but popular policies wouldn't necessarily be good for us. Apathy, cynicism and disillusionment led to a general election result that no one liked and forced a compromise that even fewer wanted, especially Labour voters. Some of them have told me that the Lib Dems should have formed an alliance with Labour, not the Tories, but how could they? Imagine the hoo-ha if Labour had got back into government despite losing the election. Besides, Brown and Co didn't seem too keen. It's all water under the bridge now anyway; get used to it.

It was a mistake to have the voting reform referendum at the same time as council elections, and an even bigger mistake not to devote more time and money to a good pro-reform campaign, so we're still stuck with the old first past the post system.

If we end up with another coalition in 2015, I won't mind. In fact, I'd prefer it to either the Conservatives or Labour having a majority. Many local authorities function as coalitions of the three main parties plus independents and are forced to make compromises, which is what politics is all about. It prevents extremism of one sort or another and expensive, wasteful reversals of policy. European coalitions have worked, with the exception of Italy's, though as Paul Hoskins wrote in a Reuters article, "For Britain, the great unknown is the peculiarity of its famously confrontational political system which may not be best suited to a coalition style of government." Since one of the reasons that many voters have been turned off politics is the "famously confrontational" style of PMQs and other exchanges, maybe it's time that British MPs grew up and learned about the consensus approach. A lot less shouting, and a lot more co-operation.

The world is changing faster than the mind sets of most party loyalists.

Oh, and what have the Lib Dems done?

Illustration: Parliament in the early 19th century, source unknown.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Does being groped by a dirty old man make you a victim?

No, not if you don't want to be.

Today's news about the Savile report includes the information that "214 crimes were recorded across 28 police force areas, including 34 of rape or penetration". The latter were obviously the most serious offences, but many others went no further than groping or touching inappropriately. A large proportion of the UK population, mainly women, will have experienced that at some time in their lives. In early puberty, I was groped by a Sunday school teacher who'd given me a lift home. I made sure that I never accepted a lift from him again. With hindsight, I wonder if he abused his daughter, who was the same age as me. It didn't leave me feeling traumatised. I haven't suffered years of torment over it. I doubt very much that many of those who had the misfortune to come into contact with Jimmy Savile were permanently emotionally scarred by the experience, though they may still feel aggrieved that their complaints were ignored, if they did complain.

Since all this has come to light after Savile died and denied anyone the satisfaction of a prosecution, TV pundits have said that the only redress that most of Savile's victims have is a claim for compensation, if they can decide who to claim from - the estate, the BBC, or one of the other institutions involved? How much is a grope worth? The money might come in handy for some of the people involved. But are they all "victims"? If they are, so are the thousands of others who've been the object of unwelcome sexual attention, from other schoolchildren, work colleagues, drunks in pubs. The list is endless. It'll be interesting to see what happens next.

As the NSPCC has reported, children are more likely to be sexually abused by people of their own age than by adults. It would be unhealthy to regard themselves as victims because media stories encourage it. If they did, we'd have far too many of them.


After I'd written the above, I found a blog post via Twitter from Louise Jones. She was groped, touched up, fondled, by strange men several times, before she realised that it's OK to "Make him cry and call the police. Make the biggest fuss you possibly can." The important thing is not to just sit or stand (or lie) there, but make a big fuss. As Louise says, this sort of thing really is very common. Time to change that.