Political economy and rhetorical gestures…

The term ‘solidarity’ has been central to French welfare policies and social security for many years, with its origins in the French Revolution its original conception stressed the obligations of the wealthiest towards the poorest. However, commentators now argue such an emphasis has been replaced by a focus on the rights of the wealthiest. Solidarity now relates to security – security of one’s living standards – well if you have a decent set of living standards that is. ‘Solidarity’ has become a rhetorical gesture.

In a similar vein, the UK government preaches about the ‘inevitability’ and ‘naturalness’ of cuts, that they are making ‘difficult decisions’ in the ‘national interest’. These terms are again rhetorical facades. Difficult decisions would be to question the actual order of society, its foundation and structuring. Cath Elliot sums up the sheer excitement some are feeling as they cheer along the ideologically driven cuts with the news of a Rally Against Debt planned:

Meanwhile, back in the real world, those of us who have known all along that these cuts are purely ideological have finally had it confirmed by the sudden emergence of a group intent not only on cheerleading for the cuts, but on staging a march and rally for them as well, and by a Tory minister going decidedly off script.

Hurting the poor isn’t a ‘difficult decision’ nor is it in the ‘national interest’; they relish it. Making society fairer would be the really difficult decision as it would require a radical restructuring of society. But, in a classic case of discursive reversal, we are made to feel that we are all suffering for the ‘greater good’. That as the days go by, and as more people you know tell you they have lost their job, benefit or can no longer afford to fill their car up or buy the shopping we should accept this as a price to pay for being ‘in this together’.

Rhetoric and language is a key part of enclosure by global/national/local political structures. As discussed previously, neoliberal shaped ‘logic’ constructs people who dare to criticise the current sadistic plans as ‘perverse’, ‘pathological’ and plainly ‘thick’. How could we be so damn selfish? But then, whilst corporation tax is cut, we have our PM lecturing Pakistan about their tax system! More specifically, that the rich aren’t paying enough. Now, not only is this extremely ironic, it is unbelievable that Cameron feels comfortable with saying such a thing when he knows that many people back in the UK think rightly our tax system is unfair. But, the merging of NI and income tax is just an example of how this government feels that the rich pay too much on tax. Yes, too much.

As Andre Gorz (1997) says:

‎Globalization and the intensified competition in every market in every country are used as all-purpose justifications: for the fall in real wages, the dismantling of social welfare systems, spiralling unemployment, generalized job insecurity, deteriorating working conditions, and so on. We are told these things are inevitable and natural.

Iain Duncan Smith and his flawed logic of ‘causation’…

Iain Duncan Smith is busy championing another perverse ‘logic’ in an attempt to justify the occurrence of many people living below acceptable levels of subsistence. For Smith, providing extra money for those near such low levels of subsistence can sometimes make the situation worse:

So, this narrative goes, a family living in poverty one day would wake up free from it the next, simply by a money transfer. Yet any right minded person must know that it needs more than that to set someone free. Something else in their lives needs to change. Ask yourself this: what happens to the children of a drug addict if you increase their welfare payments? Is their family really pulled out of poverty? When you measure the effect on real life outcomes, the extra money may actually have made things worse. You have failed to tackle the root cause of the problem – the damaging addiction. Unless something changes in the adult’s life, nothing changes for the child.

It’s a clear, desperate attempt to sooth the conscience. Money isn’t the cure per se, but money is a central reason for why so much inequality and social, political and environmental problems occur. Or more specifically, the actual relations that frame money transactions and the way money is constructed is the problem. For instance, oil itself has become a currency – it governs the capitalist relations, when oil runs out say if Saudi faces democratic protests and the cost of oil goes up, or if Saudi’s projections of how much oil they have is, as it is said to be, exaggerated – then the neoliberal global system the elite rely on is set for a radical challenge.

Looking at Smith’s arguments closely, it’s clear he conflates cause and effect. In attempting to justify taking money away from drug users he argues that doing so will actually help them get out of their habits (essentially why the government plans to take benefits away from those who don’t stop taking drugs when the government says so), that the reason for why they have a drug habit is because we are giving them more money. His ‘root’ cause is the addiction itself.

When in fact, poverty itself is often the source of the addiction; and the current source of this is neoliberalism. Furthermore, taking away someone’s benefits can actually make the situation ten times worse. Instead of treating drug users as criminals, we should see it through a medical perspective. We should recognise the values that inform our drug system’s stratification, where harmful drugs such as alcohol and smoking are part of our culture even though they are often more dangerous. The “something else” that Smith is talking about is explicitly ignored. In this perverse logic, it is assumed that poverty itself will help remove the addiction. Smith talks about seeing the situation in a more complex way, but his reductive logic that providing people more money is the source of problems such as drugs, is illogical.

However, excessive money is a problem. But not for those at the bottom struggling to survive. It’s a problem when we have greed, profit and illogicality governing our political economic system; this belief that cutting bonuses, taxing the banks and radically reforming such institutions so that they are democratic is a ‘threat’ to our existence is also illogical. Well, it might be a threat to those who wish to prevail the status quo, but for the most, especially those that Smith is stigmatising, it can make all the difference. This society is polarised, and it is only getting worse. Smith and the government are focusing upon the wrong people. This perverse mentality that those at the bottom are to blame is infuriating.

Such ‘logic’ is the epitome of what is wrong with this government’s direction. Such conflation of cause and effect and simplistic acontextual arguments are damaging. The problems we have in society are a lot more complex than throwing money at people, yes. However, we can’t deny that many people live below acceptable levels of income whilst many at the top are living like aristocrats. This has to stop. Blaming the poor through some sort of discursive destruction has to stop.

Conscious raising, facts and direct action needed to challenge benefit stigmatising…

Before those cut supporters get too excited about the UK Polling Report’s analysis of a recent YouGov polling into benefit cuts, there are a number of considerations we have to factor in when assessing the findings. As a summary, the main findings are as followed:

  • “73% of respondents supported the idea of making the long-term unemployed do compulsory work placements or risk losing benefits
  • 66% supported withdrawing job seekers allowance from people who turn down job offers or interviews
  • 69% supported more stringent testing of people claiming disability living allowance
  • 68% supported capping housing benefit at £400 a week, “even if this means people are forced to move house if they live in an area where the rent is high”
  • 31% thought the government was cutting benefits too much, but 58% either thought the balance was right (34%) or would support even larger cuts to benefits (24%)”
  • Not part of this study, but still relevant is “YouGov found people already perceived the Labour party as being closest to the trade unions, benefit claimants and immigrants”

This last finding is interesting considering the measures that Labour have introduced over the last decade and a bit, especially since they initiated many of the polices for which the coalition are carrying on (with more vigour) – such as ESA. It is worrying, therefore, that Labour are seen in this way. Especially considering their relatively recent poor relationship and respect for trade unions, their rough rhetoric regarding immigration and their considerable support for many of the most threatening aspects of this government’s benefit proposals (the main difference between the Tories and Labour is that the latter wants to make everything occur at a later stage and/or at a slower rate – housing benefit is a case in point here).

This support for the benefit cuts, which are arguably one of the worst, if not the worst, things this government is doing, is worrying. It illustrates the limitations regarding mass support for opposition to the benefit cuts, which are set to be £28bn of the £81bn – hardly fair, given that we spent over a trillion on the bank bailouts and they are expected to only fork out £2.5bn on a bank levy (and they still spit out their dummy and threaten to go abroad). For me, there are a number of reasons for why these results are as they are:

  1. The media is a major player in scapegoating the atypical, playing on emotions and ignoring facts.
  2. The same can be said for the Tories, Labour and now, the LibDems. They all play on atypical examples to justify controversial policies.
  3. The Labour party, as the main opposition, are essential to the support – there is no alternative presented from the mainstream channels (obviously the Green Party, but we need for a mainstream party such as Labour to also take such a stand, especially within the existing FPTP system). Labour’s introduction of schemes such as ESA and its acceptance of work equating self-worth, illustrates the challenges we have when removing the misconceptions regarding benefits.
  4. There is a failure in communicating the facts when it comes to welfare. The widely £5bn benefit fraud, was actually £1.5bn, for example. There are claims that welfare has ballooned, and it needs to be cut. Again, there is no consideration of the facts, as welfare has remained stable, and actually requires more spending. This is especially true considering the job loses, forcing people to take up work, and arguably breaking the minimum wage requirements.

So what is required?

There is a need for conscious raising and information campaigns to promote the facts; influencing direct action and vocal mass demonstrations. There needs to be a change in people’s perception regarding the importance of work for self-definition and self-determination. As I said the other day, this view that work is you, is a product of capitalism. It is also a consequence of Marx and many Marxist conceptions of self-worth and alienation. Work is important, but it shouldn’t be seen as essential for freedom and self-liberation. Measures such as shorter hour weeks, a living wage, and spread out work so we no longer ‘need’ unemployment, are essential in order to move away from this view that those who don’t work are some how immoral and have no self-worth. Facts and changes in consciousness are needed. Of course, structural and economic changes are also important; a combintiaton will help combat these benefit cuts and will provide mass support for direct action.

Benefit proposals/discourses are wrong to equate work/labour as source of ‘self-worth’…

Surrounding the benefit changes, and the £28bn cuts to welfare, is this perception that one of the main, if not the only serious, sources of self-development is labour/work. Consider Ken Livingstone’s support for workfare:

It doesn’t do poor and unemployed people any favours to leave them out of work. If you get people into the habit of getting out of bed, doing something, having a sense of worth and if that involves getting people who are currently unemployed helping out with the elderly or clearing up an area or things like that, I think it’s worth doing.

Livingstone’s talk of “sense of worth” is equated to paid work. However, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this isn’t just a right-wing phenomena. Marx and many socialists/communists are guilty of the same thing. For Marx, labour was intrinsically related to alienation, production processes (mode of production) was the central route to reforming the self and allowing for creativity and freedom (again, to do with freedom from the necessity of labour.) Whilst relations and forces of production are in need of change, equating them as the main basis of self-development ignores the wide range of sources of identity. It ignores the fluidity of identity and people’s ability to change and construct their self.

Instead, there needs to be a broader consideration of theorists associated with traditions such as ecoanarchism, which refer to how a change in the structures of our society need to be ushered in by a revolutionary movement of self enlightened general will; through technological alterations and a realisation that not all ‘needs’ are actual needs, more just capitalist constructions in order to justify the system and attempts to steer away from the falling rate of profit.

The problem with the current system is that it promotes full employment as an endless goal, when the de-skilling and the desire for profit prevents such a occurence. Work shouldn’t be seen as the benchmark for self-worth, it might provide people with an aspect of their identity, but there are so many other activities and aspects that inform what and who they are – this deterministic moral crusade results in detrimental polices such as the potentially illegal workfare IDS proposals. This has to change.

Coalition’s economic policy: demand focused, non-green and regressive ’80s style…

We are retrenching back into the 1980s, especially when considering the current onslaught upon the welfare and benefit systems. The government’s economic policies are in a utter mess, with them focusing upon the demand side whilst ignoring the supply. There are a number of recent announcements that should send fear through any progressive. The belated LibDem amendment/rebellion is progress but can only do little to offset the tide. Consider for example, IDS’s argument for changes to the law so that those in council houses who fail to obtain work could move to another part of the country where there is work and still be guaranteed a council house.

This rather misses the point. The reason for why many people are on benefits without work is because there is a shortage in labour – and with the current attack on jobs, the job market will become even more static. Therefore, the government needs to stop trying to make out that the problem is with the demand and realise that there is a need for investment and restructuring of supply – there is the need for real investment in jobs, but as in the 1980s – this side of economic theory is rather conveniently missed by the Tories (and now the LibDems).

As well as a cut on jobs, the government is intent on cutting the welfare bill – no wonder a recent report has found that when accounting for public spending cuts the budget will result in the poorest being 20.5% worse off, whereas the richest will only be 1.6%! Osborne has now also admitted that incapacity benefits will be cut – arguing that it is a “very large benefit”. Again, there is a failure here to understand the supply side of the economic argument. There are many jobs that are frankly breaking the DDA – as they fail to provide services and accessibility for everyone. It is unacceptable that disabled people could be punished by a cut in their benefit or forced into work due to the government and employers being too weak to radically reform society so that we reduce and remove social barriers that prevent disabled people from accessing all areas of society.

No longer should we focus upon the demand side, arguing that it is disabled people themselves who are unable to work because of their impairment – we should instead recognise that it is often the inability of society to provide services that prevents many disabled people from working. However, frankly, this is one of the many bi products of the ineffective capitalist system we live in.

The current governmental strategy (economic specifically) also misses the chance to really reshape the economy so that there is greater investment and focus upon a green future. A Green Deal would have been economically valuable – it would have created thousands of jobs, helped our failing manufacturing industry and would help addressed some of these supply and demand issues that the government are getting rather confused.

Does a LibDem rebellion have a leg to stand on anyway?

Last night on Question Time, Vince Cable looked like a true Tory. As one audience member said, I never thought I’d see the day where Cable is more right-wing than the Mail columnist. And that he was, as he provided full support for the ‘free schools’ policy, something the LibDems used to criticise – but it is hardly suprising Cable has ‘changed’ his mind, once considering the hug ‘u-turn’ he did in regards to cutting. Vince Cable is even now joining in the defense of the VAT increase, saying it isn’t that regressive after all, and even purporting, as Osborne did, the increased cutting of welfare benefits. Many believed that Cable was once a social democrat on the left of the LibDems, I am as amazed as them to see how right-wing Cable is becoming. Once a very respected man, is turning into the Tories’ regressive shield – as shown by the fact that he was the one to go on QT in budget week.

I have been amazed by some of the LibDem criticisms to the oppositional parties, not just Labour – who have rightful worries about the budget. Yes, Labour did contribute to the situation we are in. But with the need for investment after the Tory crusade on jobs and the public sector from the 80s-90s, and then the economic crisis needing the government to provide insulation for failing banks etc to protect the economy, there are some good reasons why they did so – something, I remember the LibDems once supported (this is not to deny that Labour did make some stupid decisions and have spent and introduced measures that have made things a lot worse than it could have been).

Mark Thompson argued for example, that Labour (and other oppositional parties such as The Greens) are not reflecting public opinion citing one poll that showed only a fraction more of the public approving the budget than those who disapprove. This discounts the fact that the LibDems have gone down the polls drastically, a clear reflection that their own supporters don’t like the measures so keenly as many LibDems like Clegg are making out. Furthermore, it doesn’t take into account the sound intellectual analyses by researching bodies, charities and so forth – who one by one are illustrating in various ways the damage that this budget will do. The most clearest example of this is the Institute of Fiscal Studies. But then Clegg tried to get around it by arguing that it doesn’t take into account the ‘progressive’ policies the government is going to implement in the future. For one, this then undermines their own attempts to provide such an analysis now, but two – ‘progressive’? Do you mean those future cuts, such as to the welfare budget, by any chance?

The potential amendment rebellion has been squashed, after Hughes has been forced to deny that he actually meant he would challenge the budget to make it more fair – when that was exactly what he was saying. However, have LibDems such as Hughes really got a leg to stand on? After all – they did vote for the deal. Are you seriously telling me that they thought the deal would amount to the progressive policies that they wanted? At least LibDems such as Mark Thompson are accepting the budget, as after all a deal with the Tories they knew would result in the type of polices we have seen. As I have said before, only Kennedy as a LibDem MP commands any respect as a rebel, as he was the only one who stuck his hand up and voted against the coalition as he knew exactly the type of policies and budget that would result from a Tory led coalition.

ConDem’s Budget, as expected, is no way near fair…

There has and is much talk about various tests that can be used to measure how fair the budget is. Every possible test that has been provided from a left/progressive focus (most right wingers define fair when the businesses and rich get more benefits – yes, the rich have many state benefits) when applied to the measures announced in today’s budget show how unfair the proposals are.

The whole “its Labour’s cuts” is getting rather tedious. The LibDems are even trying to scapegoat David Milliband’s ‘failure’ to voice his support for a LibLab coalition deal during the talks, despite the fact Milliband wasn’t involved in the talks and that Labour rightly couldn’t accept the LibDems changed position on the ‘need’ for deep and faster cuts.

Specifically considering the budget, the public sector has been scapegoated. Welfare budget will see 11bn cut from it, considering that there are to be about 60,000 jobs lost over the course of the parliament this will only further the inequality in society (I wrote about the need for an increase in benefits yesterday). Public sector pay has been frozen, which will equate to a cut when considering inflation will likely rise in the upcoming future . There will be 77% public spending cuts. There will also be a report into how to ‘improve’ the private sector in areas of country where it is not ‘strong enough’. Nothing about this is fair. It is a clear attack on the most vulnerable, with little consideration of  the need for taxes such as land tax, higher (than proposed) CGT and a Tobin tax that would have seen those most able paying the most.

There is a clear ideological desire to cut. The LibDems defense of the budget has been rather sickening to say the least. Vince Cable once seen as a social democrat, is becoming one of the most prolific Tory supporters in the LibDems. As Dianne Abbott expressed earlier:

“The Lib Dems… bottled it… The only thing they got out of it is cheaper cider.”

There is a clear attack on local government too – partly because of the price paid for the so called ‘Big Society’. The FT report on how the local government have been cutting (preparing) back non legal required services before the budget, but that with the future cuts to their budgets they will have to cut back legal requirement services too. This will not be helped by the proposed council tax freeze, something that has been said to be progressive. If you freeze, whilst also demanding the councils to cut their budgets, this is only going to lead to an even greater undermining of key public services. Another ‘progressive’ measure that has been slammed is the corporation tax – considering that there are estimates that the large companies already a lot of the time only pay around 20% tax – the reduction will see large companies (such as banks) paying less on tax than many people who simply can’t afford the rates (and increased rates – e.g. VAT).

Nothing about this budget is progressive. Their distributional analysis is screwed, and it is exactly like Thatcher’s budgets: attack on public sector, the vulnerable and an increase in inequality and unemployment – all risking a double dip recession.