Thursday, June 17, 2010

The tyrants in pinstripe


This piece of mine appears in today's Morning Star.
(It's also posted over at the Campaign For Public Ownership).

Neil Clark on the biggest menace to threaten Europe since the nazis- international capital.

Seventy years ago, European countries faced a battle for their very existence as nazi forces swept across the continent.


Now those countries face another battle - against the forces of international capital.


The money men won't be happy until every last publicly owned asset is privatised and in their greedy hands.


Europe's debt crisis, caused in large part by the greed of international speculators, is being used as an excuse for something which the money men and their cheerleaders in the media have long desired - the wholesale sell-off of those assets which remain in public ownership.


As John Foster said in his Morning Star analysis recently, it's a confidence trick so gigantic that it would make even that Olympic champion fraudster Bernie Madoff blush.


Earlier this month, Greece's "Socialist" government announced a major programme of privatisation, including the sale of 49 per cent in the state-owned railway, the sell-off of regional airports, highways and harbours and stakes in the post office and water utilities. The French government has announced a fire-sale of over 1,700 state properties, including many historic castles.


Here in Britain, new Postal Affairs Minister Ed Davey, from the "progressive" Liberal Democrats, has said he is considering the full-scale 100 per cent privatisation of Royal Mail, which has been in the hands of the British state since its inception in 1516.


If the money men have their way then over the next few years, governments in Europe will sell off not only their railways and national infrastructure but hospitals, schools, universities and all other state-owned enterprises.


It's a prospect eagerly awaited by "free-market" fanatics in the media. In the Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer claims that deficit reduction requires "severe cuts" in the NHS and the privatisation of Britain's motorways. The former editor of The Economist Bill Emmott says that "if this debt crisis were to end up turning Europe Thatcherite, that would be something for us to celebrate."




While Janet Daley, an enthusiast for private provision of health care and pensions, says that the cuts should be seen "as part of an essentially positive, fundamental reconstruction of the way that public services are funded and delivered."


But in reality there will be nothing "positive" about these changes for ordinary people, who will be forced to pay much higher prices for basic services. For the financial elite however, there will be rich pickings.


It's a depressing scenario, but we mustn't lose heart. Things looked pretty bleak in 1940 in Europe, but nazism was eventually defeated.


By organising a mass pan-European movement to oppose privatisation and cutbacks in state provision of health, welfare and education, we can defeat today's anti-democratic, money-grabbing, pinstripe-suited tyrants.


• What a pity that the excellent John McDonnell was forced to drop out of the race for Labour leadership.


He is one of the few politicians in Westminster who understands the importance of public ownership and how, without halting and reversing privatisation, all the talk about building a better and more equal society is just hogwash.


Every major country that has followed the Thatcherite path, embarking on a major programme of sell-off of state-owned industries and enterprises has seen inequalities widen, as Britain has done since 1979. It's not hard to work out why.


Private ownership of capital is one of the four main ways that inequalities in wealth develop - the others being inheritance and income from rent and salaries. The post-war extension of public ownership in Britain not only led to the more efficient organisation of inefficient industries like coal and the railways, it was also a major factor in diminishing economic inequality over the next quarter-century.


But while McDonnell clearly "gets it" on public ownership, it's depressing to see how many on the left still don't see its crucial importance.


Last week The Guardian asked nine so-called "leading left-wing thinkers" to suggest policies and ideas that the Labour Party should embrace.


Among the ideas these leading left-wing thinkers came up with were "a job share in the shadow Cabinet," "directly elected education boards" "VAT on private school fees" and "tax relief of 20p in the pound for everyone who saves."


As the socialist blogger Chris Hall of Lansbury's Lido - named after the great 1930s Labour leader George Lansbury - commented, "none of the above is going to change things. All it will do is give the illusion of change but leaving the underlying malaise free to fester."


Revealingly, not one of the leading left-wing thinkers suggested that the Labour Party should embrace public ownership. The fact that they didn't shows how even those who consider themselves opponents of Thatcherism have still been influenced by the incessant neoliberal brainwashing about private ownership being better than public ownership.


• There are lots of reasons for criticising US President Barack Obama. His continuation of the war in Afghanistan. His refusal to condemn Israel over their murderous act of piracy on the high seas. His support for new sanctions on Iran on account of its non-existent nuclear weapons programme.


But I can't join in the hysterical attacks on him for criticising the multinational company which is responsible for one of the biggest environmental disasters of all time.


For me, BP doesn't stand for "British Petroleum," but "Bloody Profiteers."


Since the company was privatised, it's behaved like any other privatised company - appallingly.


Now, the very same people who want Britain to be joined up at the hip with the US in foreign policy are attacking the US President for criticising BP.


These people are quite happy for British soldiers to die in US-sponsored illegal wars of aggression, but don't want the US to say nasty things about a polluting oil company and its extremely wealthy - and extremely arrogant - CEO.


Talk about a warped sense of priorities.

9 comments:

Gregor said...

Well said Neil, but:

'By organising a mass pan-European movement to oppose privatisation and cutbacks in state provision of health, welfare and education, we can defeat today's anti-democratic, money-grabbing, pinstripe-suited tyrants. '

How to form this coalition? Whether by accident or design the left has very little voice now; it basically offers consumerism with childish rants against the monarchy and Christianity.

Whilst this could be due to the neoliberal right worming their way into The Guardian and Independent, I think it reflects the way that the left has been taken over by smug middle class yuppies: I think Nick Clegg's recent comment that opposing the emergency budget would be a betrayal of 'progressive' principles was in its own way one of the most notable comments of recent times.

Pavel said...

And that's wrong...how?
When some private person owns something, he has a reason to take care of it and improve it.When "everyone" owns something (meaning, few government bureocrats), there is no reason to improve it or make it more efficient, because it has guaranteed income.

I am not wealthy money bagman, I am middleclass IT guy, but even I can see how everything that is stateowned is infinitely inferior to privately owned. Personally I would privatise everything.

Chris H said...

An excellent if depressing post Neil!

It seems as though any party that comes close to power across Europe finds it's leadership coming to embrace the neoliberal model, regardless of the rank and file. So frustrating.

As to a united left front across Europe, let alone across the UK? I have a feeling that capitalism will reach a much bigger crisis of its own making long before the left can get itself in order.

Mr. Piccolo said...

@Gregor,

Good points about what passes for the Left nowadays. But I hold out some hope for a new "Left" that is perhaps more friendly to religion and some kinds of traditionalism. The progressive Jewish magazine "Tikkun" ran a good article earlier this year about Christian Socialism. I think it is worth a look. If anybody is interested, here is a link:

http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/jan10_socialism

@Pavel,

You make some important points. Personally, I think the Left does need to rediscover less State-oriented traditions, such as guild socialism, that put a greater emphasis on things like cooperatives, as opposed to State or private corporate ownership.

But I don't agree with the statement:"...I can see how everything that is stateowned is infinitely inferior to privately owned. Personally I would privatise everything." I am not sure if you are using hyperbole or not, but the "private good, public bad" argument is too simplistic.

For example, many of the arguments used against state-owned enterprises (for example, the free-rider problem and the principal-agent problem) also affect many large, private firms.

But beyond that, there are several good arguments for having state-owned enterprises. For one, state-owned enterprises may be ideal where there is a “natural monopoly.” So, in many cases, it might actually be more efficient to have things like water, gas, railways, etc. in public hands instead of private.

Furthermore, state-owned enterprises may be necessary to promote equity among citizens. For example, people living in remote areas may be denied access to things like postal services or healthy water because profit-oriented enterprises may drastically raise prices due to the higher cost of servicing remote areas. The companies might even discontinue service altogether if it is not profitable enough. Thus, in many countries rural areas were not given many vital services until the State stepped in, in some form or another.

Finally, the actual track record of privatization has not always been a positive one, from a number of standpoints. For example, there is the risk of increased corruption when contracts are given to private firms for government work (see America’s disastrous privatization of certain military functions) and, to be blunt, private companies will likely try to rip-off the public when they can.

Look at what happened in Bolivia when the Cochabamba water system was privatized in 1999. Bechtel, the firm that purchased the water system, tripled water rates, leading to rioting by the people and the eventual renationalization of the water system.

Stories like Cochabamba are not uncommon in the history of privatization. My hometown recently privatized the municipal parking meters, and lo and behold, rates skyrocketed. While I do not believe that the State should run everything, or even most things, I think it is wrong to assume that everything that is in private hands is run well, while everything that is run by the State is run poorly.

Johnm said...

And that is wrong...how?
If we call the current system Democracy, which may be called Monopoly, is only one of an infinite number of ways that any system could work. According to the Bible the Babylonian has been the best system ever, in our time the best system with out any doubt was the Commonwealth system. Today all systems, American way, Communism, the various Arab/Muslim systems, etc., are being systematically destroyed. The biggest problem the Commonwealth System had was trade Unions but without them there would have been bigger problems which we are seeing today. The truth is any system can be made work or made fail, depending on the agenda, motives and whim of the ruling elite.
State owned is not a description of Commonwealth, it is a description of Communism or when the State of the Union is Corporations, privatisation means State Owned. It is only a matter of time until middle class IT guys are queuing for potatoes.

Johnm said...

And that is wrong...how?
If we call the current system Democracy, which may be called Monopoly, is only one of an infinite number of ways that any system could work. According to the Bible the Babylonian has been the best system ever, in our time the best system with out any doubt was the Commonwealth system. Today all systems, American way, Communism, the various Arab/Muslim systems, etc., are being systematically destroyed. The biggest problem the Commonwealth System had was trade Unions but without them there would have been bigger problems which we are seeing today. The truth is any system can be made work or made fail, depending on the agenda, motives and whim of the ruling elite.
State owned is not a description of Commonwealth, it is a description of Communism or when the State of the Union is Corporations, privatisation means State Owned. It is only a matter of time until middle class IT guys are queuing for potatoes.

DBC Reed said...

There's a Labour Party leadership election going on for God's sake.You'd think one of them would start a demo outside a swimming-pool that children are shortly to be shut out of.Should n't lorry drivers and their employers be demonstrating against cuts to A14 improvements ? And likewise engineers in Sheffield?

Gregor said...

@ Mr Picollo

Thank you for the link. Re the different types of socialism, I think I feel annoyed with how they destroyed post-war British socialism not because I think it was perfect, but because it worked and had been implemented. Other more redistributionist/ socialism from beneath systems often sound good in theory, but are never implimented. Good luck on them though.

Mr. Piccolo said...

@Gregor,

No problem, I am happy to post it! I partially agree with you on the bottom-up forms of socialism, although there are some working models in the world right now, for example the Mondragon Corporation and the many cooperatives (both Catholic and socialist) in Emilia-Romagna in Italy. But you are correct; the bottom up approach is harder.

On the other hand, I feel that the state-led, post-war system has some serious flaws that might render it unworkable in the long term. While it is true that the post-war system was a proven success, it started to breakdown in the ‘70s, and as soon as the post-war consensus started showing some weakness, the Right was able to swoop in and start deregulating, privatizing, etc.

Perhaps this is my own American perspective talking, but I feel that as long as corporations can use their profits to influence politicians, buy lobbyists, fund think tanks, etc., they will eventually be able to get rid of regulations, break unions, push privatization, and even use the State to make them richer in a kind of “reverse Robin Hood” effect.

All that being said, I would still take a revival of the post-war consensus over neoliberalism any day, even if it is not my ideal.