Category Archives: The economy

There’s nothing wrong with People’s Quantitative Easing

It’s fashionable among the economic scribes to deride Corbyn’s advocacy of what he calls People’s Quantitative Easing (PQE) as though it were somehow illiterate.   In fact it is an entirely sensible policy.   Conventional QE operates via the central bank buying bonds in the financial markets, thus transferring newly-created money to banks, hedge funds and other investors.    The effect is therefore to boost the prices of bonds, shares and other assets, making the rich richer.   The theory then is that this wealth effect should stimulate the economy as the investors who have been enriched by selling assets at high prices to the Bank of England spend some of their profits on the high streets or employing servants or investing in new businesses.   It is clearly a very indirect and extremely inefficient way of  stimulating an economy.   Both Tory and Labour governments have spent £375 bn in using this device with very little to show for it since we still have the slowest recovery for over a century.

A better alternative – though not the best – would be ‘helicopter money’.   Or slightly more realistically, send cheques of £20 a week to every man, woman and child as a sort of reverse poll tax.   Technically, if £375 bn were spent this way, these cheques could continue to be sent out every week for nearly 6 years since £375bn is roughly £6,000 per head when equally divided among the 64 million people of Britain.   That would indeed be a far, far quicker way of stimulating economic activity.   Since neither dropping money from helicopters or sending cheques every week to every household in Britain is very practical, a third alternative is to bypass the banks and, after full and detailed consultation with the CBI ansd TUC, invest directly in key industrial or manufacturing projects.

Corbyn forces the Tories to take him seriously

After all the slurs about unelectability, the Tories have very quickly changed their tune and acknowledged that they are now facing a very real threat that they’ve not encountered for the last 30 years.   At a meeting of the political cabinet last Tuesday they decided to focus on the idea that they offer a better future through lower taxes, a higher minimum wage, more jobs, and better public services, while a left-wing agenda would deliver insecurity through higher spending, higher taxes and more borrowing.   If that is their plan, they have a real fight on their hands since almost all of their claims are downright wrong.

Taxes have been lowered for the top decile and for multi-national corporations, but the severe cutback in tax credits in this next Tuesday’s Finance bill will increase taxes for the bottom third of the population, even after the increase in the personal allowance is taken into account.   The £9 an hour minimum wage, which will not be reached till 2020, is actually unlikely to exceed by much, if at all, the uprating that the minimum will have reached by then.

As to more jobs, there are still 1.8 million people unemployed and the jobless figures are already starting to rise again.   Moreover, the quality of jobs created over the last 2 years has been poor: 40% self-employed on a pittance wage and most of the rest insecure, low-paid, and on zero hours contracts, and even then 11 out of 12 jobs created have been in London or the South-East.   As to better public services, are they serious?   The NHS is being outsourced and privatised strongly against the wishes of the public, education is being made to fit Tory ideology, and legal aid is being drastically pared back.

A left-wing agenda that produced growth and better-paid and more sustainable jobs could be generated at minimal higher spending while interest rates remain at 0.5% which will be for some long time yet.   But it would produce the opposite of what the Tories claim – higher income and greater security than the Tory option of prolonged austerity.   Again a left-wing agenda would certainly increase taxes on the very rich who are holding the country to ransom by their industrial scale tax avoidance, but it would lower taxes on the poorer half of the population.   As to more borrowing, the Tories have a cheek at throwing that at Labour when they themselves are forcing the 13 million households in poverty in the UK, half of them in work, to borrow more because of the £12bn welfare cuts about to be imposed.

 

 

251,417 votes. Wow!

With 4 contestants in the running, to achieve 60% of the leadership vote in the first round is an outright landslide.   Jeremy Corbyn has secured a higher percentage than Blair got in 1994.   Even more significant, Corbyn’s electorate at 554,272 was more than double Blair’s, and no less than 76% of them actually voted, a higher percentage turnout than Blair got.   And another pointer to the overwhelming inspiration that Corbynmania achieved – no less than 160,000 volunteers were recruited to the Corbyn campaign – far, far bigger than in any similar campaign in the past.   This is a seminal day in British politics, marking the coming together of the two great conditions needed for transformational change – radical new ideas and a burgeoning social movement on the scale required to push through major change.

Why did it happen?   The defining moment for today’s denouement was the catastrophic crash of 2008-9, from which 7 years on there is still no sustainable recovery in sight.   It represented the unambiguous bust of the free-wheeling unfettered capitalist business model which had prevailed in the Western economies over the last 3 decades since Thatcher and Reagan.   The essence of this dominant ideology was: leave it all to the markets and let government get out of the way.   It was supposed to be self-regulating and efficient; it was neither.    Worst of all, when it did crash, the Tories imposed all of the pain in remedying it on to the squeezed middle and the battered poorest while letting the bankers, the real perpetrators, off scot-free.   The roiling resentment of the public at this monumental injustice has finally burst out, and Jeremy Corbyn was the right man to articulate this at this moment.

The central demand is for an end to austerity.   Quite apart from the immiseration it has caused, it is the wrong policy for reducing the budget deficit and is being pursued for the wrong reasons (to shrink the State, as Osborne himself has told us).   The right way to cut the deficit is by expanding the economy, creating sustainable well-paid jobs and real sustainable growth, not by contracting the economy, and that steady expansion towards full employment is what Corbyn has made clear he stands for.   Alongside this major revival of British manufacturing industry, which is the only means to pay our way in the world and preserve our living standards, there needs to be tighter regulation of the banks to prevent another crash, a halt to privatisation of our public services, and an end to suppression of the trade unions.   All of those are very powerful reasons why an unprecedented number of people voted for Jeremy Corbyn – ane they were absolutely right!

It’s about the fundamentals, silly

The basic reason that the leadership election has been so disappointing, until Jeremy Corbyn came on the scene, was that it was stuck on issues (insofar as it was stuck on any issues at all) that, while certainly important, did not have the makings of a vision.   Even when Corbyn prompted the others to produce some actual policies, they were not the real thing.   Andy Burnham was right to praise land value tax and above all the need to integrate social care within the NHS, and Yvette Cooper was absolutely right to demand that Britain takes its proper share of Syrian refugees where the government response has been callously dehumanised.   Bully for her.   But these are not the fundamentals, and only Jeremy Corbyn seems to have grasped what this election is really all about.

it is about how the world (because it concerns far, far more than just Britain) should respond to the most momentous event since 1945.   That is the biggest financial/economic crash for nearly a century, the slowest recovery since the Great Depression, and the longest run of prolonged austerity (and far from over) since the 1870s.     The City, the corporate business elite and the Tories (and to a lesser degree the Blairites from Blair downwards) regarded this as a glitch from which business-as-usual should return as soon as possible.   They believed the underlying structure was sound, the ideology was right (i.e. de-regulation of finance, unfettered capitalism, glorification of the market, privatisation of all industries and services wherever possible, and suppression of any counter-force and in particular the trade unions), and removal of governments from the action was the best way to promote efficiency and growth.   But not only did they believe it then, they still believe it when the evidence against it is now overwhelming.

The ultra-liberal business model has manifestly failed.   It has led to an intensely fragile global economy, indeed to secular stagnation as Lawrence Summers has rightly termed it, and over six years of grinding austerity have produced neither sustainable growth nor much deficit reduction.  We need some new ideas about the fundamentals, and only Corbyn seems to be offering them.   He opposes further austerity on the grounds that continually contracting the economy is incompatible with lasting growth.   He wants to rebalance the economy by large-scale public investment in industry and services, with the serious goal of full employment, paid for either by mandating the publicly-owned banks to prioritise investment in British manufacturing or by a direct injection of QE funding into industrial investment rather than via the banks or by requiring a fair contribution of the costs from the extremely rich, none of which would require any increase in public borrowing.   Instead of pursuing privatisation and outsourcing which has turned out wildly expensive and wasteful, he would seek to create a new settlement between State and markets where private markets have clearly failed, particularly in sectors like energy, housing, rail, water, pensions and banking, in a manner that optimised the public interest rather than just maximised money-making.   And much more.

Carney’s rose-spectacled survey of the economy as Parliament returns does not convince

The UK economy’s ticking over fine: that’s the view of Carney, Osborne’s man.   So that’s alright then.   Or is it?   With time-honoured spin we were treated to the most optimistic scenario on every count, with the flip-side downturn kept carefully out of sight.   His central message was that “there is no clear evidence of deflationary mindset among UK households”, bankers’ jargon for households continue to borrow to buy what they can’t afford.    That matters because the government’s entire economic strategy now hangs on consumer borrowing.   That is very worrying if interest rates rise, which the City is constantly lobbying for, because the hundreds of thousands of households mortgaged to the hilt will be forced to cut their spending and the government’s reliance on consumer borrowing as the main driver of demand will collapse.   That could be the start of the next crash.

The other driver of demand is supposed to be investment, but that is mostly in property, especially expensive prime property in west London.   Then there’s manufacturing (remember Osborne’s ‘march of the makers’ which never materialised like his Northern powerhouse).   It’s now caught in a pincer between uncertainties of demand and a higher exchange which illogically makes exports harder to sell.   He’s also assuming that the UK economy is now insulated from the impact of global economic pressures for him to be able to set our own monetary policies, but that’s a wry assumption which is simply too good to be true.    Another bland assumption is that real wages are now rising, but that neglects the fact that they’ve only been rising for a period of 6 months after a decade of flat or falling wages, and even now have only reached the levels of 2004.

One crucial item of the UK economic outlook which Carney did not even mention – hardly surprisingly given the facts – was the balance of payments.   This has gone from very bad to awful.   At the latest count Britain’s trade balance in manufactured goods – the index of how far we are paying our way in the world – is nearly £110bn in deficit.   This is the worst recorded figure since 1830!   The simple fact here is that this appears on the government’s accounts as a huge debit and consequently a significant increase in the government’s deficit.  Until that trade deficit is reduced by a very large amount, it is difficult to see how the budget deficit, now standing at just under £90bn (it was predicted by Osborne to be zero in his 2010 budget), can be cut by any large margin.

 

Why Blairites are going hysterical

In 1994 Blair took over the Labour party and made it safe for British capitalism.   Which is why so many top companies and banks were content to contribute large sums to the party in order to hedge their bets – they gained whichever party won the elections.   Up till now they have dominated the Labour party for the last 20 years.   Blair’s abiding legacy, apart from the Iraq war, was to abandon the fundamental principles of the party and to assimilate it instead to the Thatcherite ideology of ‘let the markets rule and the State get out of the way’.    When Mrs. Thatcher was later asked what was her greatest achievement, she replied without hesitation: ‘New Labour’.   And the Daily Telegraph 6 months into Blair’s premiership published a half-page photo of Blair standing in front of a large picture of Thatcher in No.10 with the inscription underneath: ‘To Thatcher, a son’.   By accommodating the ruling corporate class the Blairites used the Labour party as their avenue to power, and it’s hardly surprising now that they are in such a state of denial and disbelief at their abrupt fall from power over the last month.

Of course the Blairite faction is sincere in believing that they alone know how things should best be run and that, as Blair himself has constantly reminded us, any millimetre departure from his prescribed course will bring chaos and disaster.   Not only does that show their unwillingness to listen (the party was virtually disbanded under Blair into a press release and door-knocking organisation), but it also exposes a deep arrogance about their own invincibility and their contempt for any radicalism from the Left.   The writing was already on the wall in Greece, Spain, and Scotland, but still they thought they could muffle dissent and ignore it.   It is a lesson in political nemesis.

Of course the Blairites will protest that they, and they alone, won three elections in a row.   The truth however is that the Tories threw away the 1997 election rather than that Labour distinctively won it, the second election was marked by stasis after an undistinguished 4 years, and the third saw the loss of 4 million votes after Iraq.   They will also appeal to the huge investment in health and education.   But a large part of the former was spent on building (fine for the construction industry rather than the essentials of health) and on outsourcing and privatisation (again good for the corporates rather than patients), whilst in the case of the latter there were huge building programmes inaugurating academies and free schools which have never proved their worth and have never been popular.

 

Blairites still don’t get it over public ownership

So the latest Blairite plan to derail the Jeremy Corbyn steamroller is to try to label him as rewriting clause 4 when it is perfectly clear that what he is really trying to do, rightly, is to re-start the debate about public ownership which is now so badly needed.   Thatcher’s dominant ideology was ‘let the markets run the whole show and the State get out of the way’ .   That was the route to the efficient allocation of capital underpinning a strong economy, offering big rewards for innovators and entrepreneurs and a trickle-down of prosperity for all.   Blair if anything took it even further with privatisation of public services and regulation-lite hands-off the City of London.   So was it a phenomenal success?   Unrestrained free-market capitalism led directly to the biggest financial crash for a century, the banks massively abused the power of de-regulation as we keep seeing day after day in the papers, and the privatisation of energy, water, rail and the Royal Mail have even Tories demanding the restoration of public ownership.   And even that’s without the scandals of behemoths like G4S, Serco, A4E, Atos, and Capita.

With the dominance of corporate power has come unrestrained market greed and a collapse of accountability.   Private markets have proved a bonanza for shareholder dividends and executive bonuses, but a millstone round the neck of (to use the uncomfortable cliche’) ‘hard-working families’.   The housing market has reduced owner occupation by 12% over the last decade and has made home ownership a no-go area for millions of young couples.   The energy cartel has exploited its pricing power ruthlessly till Ed Miliband threatened to impose a price freeze and to restructure the industry.    The pensions market abounds in steep hidden charges which enrich the City of London and impoverish millions of public sector workers who are reduced in retirement to penury.   The fragmentation of rail in the precipitate and ill-thought-through privatisation of 1996 has been seen as a costly mistake even by most Tories.  And part-privatisation of both health and education is rejected by a majority of the electorate.

Corbyn’s opponents bluster against public ownership as a ‘throwback to the past’.   But in truth what they’re advocating is a throwback to the private market heyday economics of the 1920-30s – and where did that lead to?   The real point has nothing to do with purity or ideological dogma: it’s about what works best, and the record of private markets in the last 30 years of the Thatcher-Blair imperium has not exactly excelled itself.   Moreover the record does not, or at least should not, turn on money-making and profit, but rather on quality of output, service to the customer, and benefit to the wider community.   We badly need a public debate on how public and private markets perform under those criteria as well as efficiency, and how sometimes co-operation serves the public better than mutually destructive competitiveness.

5 good reasons why Osborne’s selling off RBS and Lloyds is wrong

Osborne as usual is taking advantage of Labour’s distraction at this time to sell off RBS and Lloyds to the private sector at a huge losses to the taxpayer, to accountability of the banks, and to the future of the British economy.   This is motivated by his ambition eclipse even the Thatcherite privatisation boom of the 1980s and to oversee the biggest ever sale of publicly owned corporate and financial assets in one year, as well as of course elevating his prospects for the coming Tory leadership race and premiership.  But what may be good for his party and for him will certainly not be good for the country.

First, it is a thoroughly bad deal for the taxpayer.   Osborne has agreed to cut the public shareholding in RBS from 79% to 73%, but at a loss to taxpayers of £1bn.   The scandal of this unnecessary sale is one main reason why it was announced in the summer recess when Parliament wasn’t sitting so that he could avoid hard questioning about its implications.   The £2.1bn of RBS shares were sold at 330p per share, far below the average of 502p per share that the helpless taxpayer was forced to purchase them.

But that is not the real reason why Osborne’s policy is downright misguided.   The banks’ overmighty arrogance, recklessness, and incompetence were the prime reason behind the worst global financial crash for a century, and there not a jot of evidence that they have accepted their responsibility, shown any remorse, or are committed to any serious reform. Indeed they have fought tooth and nail against reform, have extracted major concessions from a weak Osborne like his caving in by reducing the bank levy in response to their lobbying, have pushed back the time limit for any statutory changed to 2019, and are demanding a very early return to pre-crash business as usual.

Moreover there are 5 specific reasons why the banks should NOT be returned to the private sector.   Their deregulated lending – for overseas speculation, for deployment of artificial tax avoidance devices on an industrial scale, for exotic derivative financial constructs which were highly lucrative but were at the heart of the crash, and for for prime property sites in central London – do not benefit British industry, but only their own selfish interests for profit maximization.   Only 8% of their lending last year went towards productive investment in Britain.

There has been far too little reform to prevent another massive crash, mainly confined to increasing the capital reserve ratio and setting up ‘Chinese walls’ between the retail and investment arms of banks.   They are still ‘too big to fail’, so that the implicit taxpayer guarantee is still in place.   There is no structural reform: Britain needs smaller, regional, specialist banks that helps Britain in the same way as the German Mittelstand.   And the dark forces of the next crash – the rise of shadow banking and a re-run of the most dangerous derivatives  – are not being countered.

 

The Blairites are beginning to panic about Jeremy Corbyn

Having at the outset of the leadership contest been contemptuously written off as ‘unelectable’, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be surprising everyone that he is now rapidly emerging as a serious contender.   But they shouldn’t be surprised.   He represents what the majority of the Labour Party have been crying out for for years – a leader who does not think that we should all behave like mini-Tories, who is not an insider member of the enclosed Westminster bubble, and who genuinely engages with grassroots activists campaigning across the country and indeed internationally.

The Blairites don’t get it because they believe that their ideology of light-touch financial deregulation, market fundamentalism, privatisation of public services, relaxed attitude to people becoming filthy rich, keeping the unions on a very short leash, and hob-nobbing with the corporate elite is the natural order of modern politics.   But those are Tory themes and they are not shared by the vast majority of Labour members.  They are in fact the reasons why throughout the noughties the leadership became so estranged from the grassroots base of the party.   To return to these basically Tory themes now would risk not only alienating further a disconsolate party, but actually splitting it altogether.
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