Saturday, 28 June 2014

We Don't Need A Revolution, We Just Need To Think For Ourselves

This Monty Python's Life of Brian scene is supposed to depict the folly of religious division. I disagree, it's a call to think for yourself in the face of peer pressure.

Think about it. The people are chasing Brian because he tells them things they already know but they're projecting their hopes and fears onto him to avoid personal responsibility. This kind of faith-based dogmatic approach is not restricted to religion by any means; it's the reason for the ongoing capitalist/socialist dichotomy we face today.

Neither side is right

What neither side will ever tell you is that they are both wrong, and by "wrong" I mean ineffective at ensuring the fair and equitable treatment of citizens who either run businesses or work for them. Nick Hanauer's excellent analysis in an article in Politico is right on the money in terms of what we should be doing now. Let's take a closer look at it.

You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

Why we believe them anyway

Our glorious leaders have been very clever in the way in which they've brought this about. They've convinced us that an all-pervasive surveillance state is necessary to protect us from terrorism. They've also convinced us that file-sharing and copyright or patent infringement is theft, thereby justifying the complete nullification of our privacy to protect outdated business models based on selling infinitely reproducible copies of items based on spurious notions of property rights on making a profit. The main winners are not creatives or inventors but the lawyers who argue the cases and the corporations who are able to have their market positions entrenched by laws favourable to themselves and their business models.

In America, the idea of taxing the obscenely rich is greeted with derision and accusations of punishing success. The very rich are a class apart with no responsibilities or obligations to those of us who helped to build their wealth and we peasants are told to remember that they are our betters. Cries of "Socialist!" and "Lib!" follow anyone who dares to challenge the status quo.

The real solution

Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas—by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines—and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. 

Now that I can agree with. It's a complete overhaul of economic principles that would empower the middle class and lift the working class up with us. The more money I, Wendy  Cockcroft, have to spend, the more likely we are to get the carpet man back in to finish off the spare room. I need new curtains for the living room and spare rooms. While cash is short, it'll have to wait. When I've got more dosh, I'll spend it. If my husband Richard continues to get good temp jobs, we should have enough money to go on holiday this year. If not, the best we can manage will be a weekend away or a series of day trips in which we seek out free and low-cost things to do. All this spending in an economy dominated by the service sector would give it a bigger lift than austerity ever would. It'd also get people out of the food banks and help them to save for their futures. You can't save for the future if you're worried about getting kicked out of your home today.

The most insidious thing about trickle-down economics isn’t believing that if the rich get richer, it’s good for the economy. It’s believing that if the poor get richer, it’s bad for the economy.

You don't say. Yet even now we have British business owners bleating that they wouldn't be able to afford an increase in the minimum wage. Well unprofitable businesses certainly couldn't, but wouldn't service-based businesses gain more profit if more people were buying from them? They need customers, not cheap labour.

If the consumer middle class is back, buying and shopping, then it stands to reason you won’t need as large a welfare state. And at the same time, revenues from payroll and sales taxes would rise, reducing the deficit.

Yet the Tories and their US counterparts seem to think that merely pushing people off the welfare rolls is the answer. The main reason so many people are dependent on welfare is that if they take a low-paid job that takes them above a certain threshold, they have to choose between paying prescription charges and getting to work. Between rent and food. Between turning on the heating and paying their bills. It's crazy. In a consumer economy, keeping wages down is insane.

What about the revolution?

Oh, that. We've already had it. Remember the Powell Memorandum? The corporations have been working behind the scenes to take over the levers of power, the result of which is the hollowing-out of the democratic process so that they own the media, they own the political narrative, and they pretty much own the government and make the laws by which we live. Disagree? Did you not see the Queen's speech in which she confirmed that your title deeds aren't worth the paper they're printed on? Yes indeed, Cuadrilla can frack beneath your house without your permission. That's okay, you can ask the local authority to say no, but if CETA, TTIP and TISA get through the EU Parliament, Cuadrilla can sue the UK government for lost profits. Isn't corporatism grand?

The public revolution has yet to come as a result. They've got us fighting with each other over terrorism, child porn, and imaginary property rights v. internet freedom, and energy security, jobs, and economic growth v. the environment. Clever move. Meanwhile, their consultation paper gives us only three questions to ask:

  1. Should the Government legislate to provide underground access to gas, oil and geothermal developers below 300 metres? 
  2. If you do not believe the Government should legislate for underground access, do you have a preferred alternative solution? 
  3. Should a payment and notification for access be administered through the voluntary scheme proposed by industry?
None of this allows you much room to say yes to geothermal energy and no to fracking, does it? I'm skeptical of any benefits of voluntary schemes proposed by industry on principle. Think "fox" and "henhouse." Mind you, I personally believe you should take part anyway, making it clear that conflating clean geothermal energy with dirty shale oil and gas will not be tolerated because you know better.

Capitalism and the common good

Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work. And tax breaks for rich people like us don’t. Balancing the power of workers and billionaires by raising the minimum wage isn’t bad for capitalism. It’s an indispensable tool smart capitalists use to make capitalism stable and sustainable.

The Pirate Party's role

That is my personal socio-political and economic stance, and it's where the Pirate Party is headed. Neither left-wing nor right wing, the Pirates are all about expanding the middle class to grow the economy by promoting entrepreneurship and removing barriers to innovation.

...middle-out economics is a truer form of capitalism: more competitive and dynamic by being fairer, and fairer by allowing more true competition. Trickle-down economics, properly understood, is socialism for a select group of capitalists. Middle-out economics isn't an attack on capitalism; it is simply a more effective form of capitalism than the faux free-market ideology we currently embrace.

If we leave things as they are and hope to muddle through as best we can we will be left with a situation in which capitalism is limited to the upper echelons of a society in which we no longer have a say except to reinforce the dogmas passed down to us by our corporate overlords. We need to push middle-out economics as the only valid economic system and mock trickle-down as the lie that it is.

If we can do that, we can make a change for the better. Pirates, you have till next election to get started.

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