28 December 2012

A Miserable End To A Miserable Year.

Zoe Williams suggests Guardian readers should not be too down in the dumps about politics as this plays into the right-wing agenda - austerity that makes people feel powerless and apathetic.

Zoe argues that the NHS is being ripped apart, social security fast disappearing & wages falling well below decent standards but at least things aren't as bad as America with inefficient health insurance, gun dead piled high & 2.5m jailbirds.

David Cameron suggests the growth of British soup kitchens is a sign his volunteering 'big society' is doing well. In this vein I suppose anything has a silver lining - perhaps Dave thinks those boarded up shops provide useful extra shop doorways for the homeless to sleep in, which is just as well as their numbers have doubled since he became PM.

Well, I disagree with Zoe & Dave, I'm miserable about our politics precisely because our politics is miserable and I don't intend to pretend things are great just because its better than some prehistoric decade or better than some fruitcake right-wing dystopias across the Atlantic. Being miserable can be a prelude to anger and a spur to action rather than impotent subservience.

The truth is things have been heading in the wrong direction since at least the 1970's and are going badly wrong because our politics is the worst it has been for decades, maybe centuries.

Yes, some things have improved, but generally this has happened despite the media & political goings on and progress has been slight in comparison to the masses of new wealth created by science and technology and this new wealth has been distributed more unequally than the worst Edwardian days.

Nor is this new technology down to the neo-liberal idea of 'wealth creators' - accountants, lawyers, and many other qualified professionals infamously reduce GDP & wealth managers just move wealth around, they don't create it. Worse than that, they speculate with people's lives with their hedge fund bets on future prices of essential basics of food & housing etc. and asset strip socially useful or other innovative producers.

The real wealth creators are usually modestly paid in state funded R&D. Taxpayers funded the internet & other technological advances while the sweat of low paid workers powers the production of goods and services.

New technologies and the reality of unavoidable interaction between diverse groups in individual's lives have enabled some access to improved living standards or better understanding of other cultures, races, lifestyles. Politics could have helped speed this process up and secure it, instead it mainly hindered it or paid lip service to it. Why?

Sometimes our politicians or the press ask the right questions or use the right language but they always shy away from the elephant in the room - why austerity? Is it really better to have less public services and welfare? To whom is this debt repayment going to? Why is the EU or immigrant not to the establishment's liking?

A lot of people have been persuaded that we cannot afford the current level of public services & welfare. That government spending not irresponsible bank lending caused the financial crisis. That the housing crisis etc is down to immigration. The link between record inequality & financial crises is hidden by our mendacious plutocrat owned media.

The premise of austerity is that we can continue to squeeze those with little money so as to fuel the growth in wealth of those at the top. And that this is supposedly a good thing.

When benefits are cut this hits anyone in insecure, especially low waged jobs. The difference between hard working poor and homeless & workshy poor can be wafer thin. They are generally one and the same people alternating between thankless poorly paid graft and periods of worn out depressed worklessness.

The capitalists use high unemployment as a tool to depress wages. The vast majority of people want to work. And even most of those who currently make the understandable & rational decision that low paid work is not worth it, would like to be in employment rather than on benefits.

The problem is obvious, there is a financial penalty to taking a low paid job because the loss of benefits can be more than the take home pay. And even where tax credits & housing benefit counteract this, the extra income difference is miniscule. By cutting in work benefits, the Tories are making this problem worse. And what makes me really miserable is that they must know it.

Means testing not only costs in administration, it does the opposite of what its advocates hope. It provides a barrier to work that is greater than the deterrent to be on benefit.

It is this vindictive stigmatizing means testing and low take home pay that is creating dependency. Benefits are actually set very low. Cutting them when housing costs are so high will only drive people into homelessness and/or criminal activity to survive. And taxes on the lowest incomes are too high. In short our tax and benefits system is a joke. We have a tax system that deters productive work and a benefits system that encourages idleness.

The solutions however are politically difficult and therefore depressingly unlikely to happen. We need a much higher basic income tax threshold and an un-means tested basic income provided to all. We need to move taxation towards the idle rich & their anti-social rent seeking activities and reduce tax on productive work. The idle rich are the real problem scroungers. They need to pay for the damage they do to society and our environment.

The principle is clear- if you accept that an acceptable income in a rich developed country means being able to afford food, healthcare, energy and housing fairly comfortably regardless of your productive abilities, then means-testing is just punitive & counter productive.

Universal benefits reward those who choose to work by creating a stable environment to pursue what they find most enjoyable and are best at. Quality of life for all must be the key driver for developed economies. The social benefits come hand in hand with economic benefits.

The alternative is where the Republicans and unreconstructed Thatcherite Tories want to take us, where Mitt Romney suggests it is unacceptable for 47% of Americans to deem food, housing etc as a basic for all.

Lets spell that out - Mitt Romney thinks it acceptable to allow some Americans to starve to death and/or have healthcare withheld that would save their lives. Already millions are homeless. Does that make you feel proud of America?

Thatcherism et al creates the freedom to fail, the freedom to starve & be homeless. The freedom for those doing well to consider those doing less well as worthless and beyond help. And yes, some, a small number, did well on merit but far more did well because their parents did well.

Thatcher made it hard not to fail for those at the bottom and easy to succeed for those at the top. And she widened the gap between success and failure. And this has serious consequences, creating cultures of despair or privileged arrogance.

This is why I am miserable & justifiably so don't you think? This mean ideology is not only vindictive it is wrongheaded.

Every institution in Britain has been exposed as corrupt. The media bribe the police and blackmail politicians, who in turn do favours for the filthy rich in return for cash. An incestuous political and media aristocracy rule western nations. They are tiny in number - a few thousand. They own the land and corporations and defend the 1% wealthiest. And worst of all, things are going to get worse; much worse.

Fight, all you can because although battles are lost and we despair at how the ferocity of past battles still ended up in defeat, these battles drew a line and perhaps prevented further advances or even caused unknown retreats. When we organise, the few that rule us are scared. So join Occupy, 38 Degrees, Uncut and Labour Left in fighting inequality and fighting NHS salami slicing. They have taken the chains from our ankles and placed them on our pockets. Watch real freedoms evaporate as the masses speak out; only the brave will continue the fight. But the fight will continue. We have to hope. Happy new year!

No comments:

Post a Comment