Yesterday we were treated to lectures from our trusted leaders on the proper management of our economy. This was their response to the sizeable protests in London against the government’s savage attack on public services. A government spokeswoman (I forget her name – it doesn’t matter, they’re all pretty much the same) appeared on TV to argue that those leading yesterday’s protest – the trade union movement – had not proposed any alternative to the government’s spending cuts. This was a modern re-working of Thatcher’s infamous There-Is-No-Alternative lecture from yesteryear. That illustrious tool of the British establishment, The Times newspaper, said more or less the same thing in one of their typically supercilious editorials:
“A credible alternative political prospectus is also absent from the Opposition’s critique,” the unnamed writer sneers.
The key word in that sentence is “credible”. Who gets to decide what is or is not “credible”? No doubt The Times and the government would each claim that only they have the necessary combination of wisdom and responsibility to make that judgement. They would be partially right: they do indeed have some wisdom – but only because they ensure the vast majority of the population are kept in such darkness and ignorance that true understanding of our situation is all but impossible for them; and The Times and the government both have the responsibility that comes with the power of their positions – but responsibility to who?
Very few ordinary people understand much about economics, which is exactly the way The Times and our government like it. People don’t understand it not because of any great complexity in the subject, but simply because the very few truths and very considerable lies of “credible” economic theory are never taught and explained at non-elite schools. If they were taught The Times would have a very much harder job of convincing us about the “credibility” of “Opposition critique”.
There are two very simple truths about the prevailing economic theory.
1. Prevailing economic theory – that which has been imposed on most of the planet – is designed and built by elites for elites. It isn’t so much that it’s designed to intentionally harm the vast majority of humanity, the environment and all other living creatures, it’s simply that those issues are irrelevant to it – unless they can be used in some way to profit elites. In other words, the ONLY interests served by prevailing economic theory are those of elites.
2. Prevailing economic theory is utterly devoid of humanity. The only thing that matters to it is having MORE. Its core ethic was perfectly encapsulated by Andy Grove, one time CEO of Intel and therefore one of its leading exponents. According to Mr Grove, the whole purpose of capitalism is “shooting the wounded”.
No doubt Mr Grove’s opinion would be deemed “credible” by The Times and government alike, as indeed it obviously is – given the economic condition of the planet. But is it right? I suggest it isn’t.
Without trying to present an exhaustive proof for why Mr Grove’s views are wrong, I shall quote Paul Bairoch who, as a professor of economic history, knows a thing or two about the subject. Prof. Bairoch wrote:
If I had to summarize the essence of what economic history can bring to economic science it would be that there is no “law” or rule in economics that is valid for every period of history or for every economic structure.
In other words, there simply is no absolute truth about whether or not a particular economic theory is ‘right’. There are only points of view; and one person’s point of view could be pretty much as “credible” as anyone else’s. So let’s try making a start with a view that’s the exact opposite of Mr Grove’s. Let’s say that ‘right’ economic theory is one that helps the wounded; then let’s go a stage further and say that such a theory should not be based on having MORE, but having ENOUGH; and that it should be founded on humanity and happiness, not inhumanity and misery.
The good people of The Times together with our trusted leaders would no doubt react with hysterical laughter or apoplectic outrage and shout that such an opinion has no “credibility”. They would be wrong. It is entirely credible, it’s simply the complete opposite of what they want.
But let’s consider a couple of basic economic principles.
Possibly the most important elements of economic theory are Demand and Supply. Economic harmony must surely prevail when supply equals demand. But this point of equilibrium is never fixed – for any individual or any society.
Next let’s concentrate on the word ‘Supply’. Supply of what?
I think Supply could be divided quite neatly into two components: necessities and desires; or needs and wants.
Then we should consider the role of government which, in my view, is obliged to ensure that needs or necessities are provided. Wants and desires should be provided by private enterprise. Once again there’s no clear division between wants and needs. Government is responsible for ensuring people’s needs are met, but can only supply the needs it’s capable of paying for: a rich government could provide a considerable variety of needs, but a poor one couldn’t and would have a far shorter list of needs for which it is responsible.
Now our existing inhuman economic theory claims to believe that government shouldn’t ‘interfere’ with the economy at all, that ‘market forces’ should run things. It’s an egregious lie because a) big corporations (which are the main players in our economy) wholly depend on governments they can manipulate to their ends, and b) ordinary people wholly depend on governments to protect them, which includes protection from corporations, which have a long-established history of psychotic brutality – such as “shooting the wounded.”
So in order to establish the proper roles of government and private enterprise let’s now return to the basic principle of demand and supply. Let’s say that government and private enterprise should take responsibility for two distinct areas of demand and supply; that government should ensure the demand and supply of needs and necessities are met, and that private enterprise is responsible for the demand and supply of wants and desires. This surely is a “credible” economic model?
The inevitable conflict this would provoke, of course, are agreeing definitions of wants and needs, but of these two it’s more important to obtain an understanding of what comprises government’s responsibility – that of supplying needs.
- For this we need to begin with an ethical position i.e. what rights could an individual properly expect her government to provide? The UN Declaration of Human Rights is a pretty good place to start. From this we could state that any individual has a natural right to the following:
b. Nutritious food
c. Potable water
d. Health care
These basic needs should be met by any government anywhere in the world for any individual, no questions asked: they are all basic human rights. The degree, amount or quality of those basic needs depend on what any particular government can afford, which brings us to the next issue: how could a government pay for the needs it is required to supply?
There are two obvious sources. The first is familiar to everyone: taxation. The second is not so familiar: organised labour.
Every individual should have the rights listed above. But… every individual of working age should also accept that those rights are conditional upon their acceptance of a duty to work. This arrangement is partially applied in any first world country with a welfare system. However, the work available for them to do is controlled by private enterprise and, when it’s available at all, is invariably onerous, or poorly rewarded, or dangerous, or degrading or soul-destroying. This is a natural feature of our existing economic model whose purpose is to instill fear into workers and to keep low-paid workers permanently low paid by maintaining a permanent pool of desperate unemployed people.
So, how should a government organise things differently?
If we return to my key concept of having government take responsibility for supplying the needs of individual people – rather than the corporations which have long been the main recipients of government largesse – we could also suggest that it’s government’s responsibility for providing the labour that supplies those needs – some of which need not be paid for in wages, but in kind. In other words, those who cannot pay for food, water and shelter, say, should be able to turn to the government for immediate help – in return for doing a few hours work for the government. This commitment should never be onerous or degrading – such as workhouses were. Any individual of working age should be guaranteed a week’s secure accommodation, good food etc in return for about twenty hours work – for the government, NEVER for private enterprise. And this is important. Private enterprise exists to make a profit – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but it must never be allowed to profit from government’s duty to provide essential needs to ordinary people. Private enterprise may make all the profits it likes from supplying wants and desires (for which there will always be demand), and good luck to it – but I repeat, it must NEVER be allowed to profit from supplying needs. People should be free to work for private enterprise if they choose to – but should never be totally dependent on it.
Here then is a credible economic theory that is diametrically opposed to our existing inhuman economic theory. It is founded on helping the wounded – as opposed to shooting them; it proposes supplying ENOUGH for needs whilst providing the means to have more – as opposed to ignoring needs altogether whilst supplying the wants of those who can afford them; it provides for all those who want to have meaningful work (helping their fellow citizen) to have it – as opposed to providing no work at all; it provides for people to be happy – as opposed to deliberately keeping them fearful and miserable.
Of course The Times and its many friends in government and the elite establishment that rules us would find nothing at all credible about this model. I suggest they would be wrong.