Who Says We're All in This Together?
Columns from the Whitstable Gazette.
"The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power." — Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Do you ever get the feeling we are being conned?
The banks created an international financial crisis, but it is the population as a whole who will have to pay for it. We bailed them out, and then they paid themselves huge bonuses. Meanwhile the sick, the disabled, children, the unemployed, public service workers and the low-paid are expected to foot the bill.
Some of what the large banks in the United States did was tantamount to fraud. They took dodgy mortgages and repackaged them as Triple A-rated investments. They then sold them around the world, effectively undermining the whole world financial system.
Has anyone ever been gaoled for these fraudulent practices? Of course not. It’s their own corporate lawyers who are in government these days. So not only was no one punished, but the banks were rewarded by huge injections of public cash.
A similar thing is happening in the UK. There’s a clever narrative being constructed. Whenever a minister is questioned about the cuts he puts on a regretful face. It’s all down to the profligacy of the previous government, we are told. This may be true, but the degree and the severity of the cuts, and the sections of the population who are being attacked, is entirely down to this government.
No doubt George Osborne has his economic advisers. Unfortunately both he and they are wedded to a particular discredited economic theory. The idea is that if you unleash full-blooded, unreconstructed capitalism on the economy it will create wealth. Public sector bad, private sector good. Get rid of public sector jobs and replace them with private sector profits and we will all benefit, it says.
But economics is not science: it is propaganda for the corporate sector. The very opposite is true. What it really amounts to is a sort of garage sale of our public services. In the current economic climate our assets are being sold-off at rock-bottom prices. And guess who will be buying them up?
You got it: the banks. The banks will be profiting even as the rest of us are suffering.
Who says we're all in this together?
No more auction block
I’m just listening to No More Auction Block by Paul Robeson. It is a traditional Negro Spiritual and possibly one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard.
At first it’s difficult to make out what it is about. Why would anyone be so sad because of an auction? It’s not until it comes to the third verse that it becomes clear.
“No more driver’s lash for me, no more, no more,” he sings plaintively.
It’s a slave auction he’s singing about. The auction block is where the slaves were chained while being bought and sold like cattle.
The great puzzle of this song is not that someone should feel sadness at being treated in this inhumane and degrading way, it’s that the people who perpetrated the crime didn’t see it as a crime.
The song is an expression of human dignity in the face of terrible suffering, but the people who made them suffer did not consider them to be human. That’s the puzzle. How could one human look another in the eye while wielding a lash and not feel empathy?
The song is a warning from history. We have to remember that many of the people who profited from this trade were British. Go to Liverpool or Bristol and look at the great civic buildings there. Many of them were paid for with the profits of the slave trade.
It was considered normal. It was a business. The people who perpetuated it had families, friends. No doubt they loved their children. Such is the banality of evil.
And while slavery is now officially illegal, people still continue to profit from the exploitation of other human beings.
Slavery continues in different forms. Today we buy cheap clothes and electrical goods made in sweatshops by workers on below poverty wages in countries such as China and the Philippines, where human rights abuses are rife, and where workers are not allowed to organise.
We buy these goods from our supermarkets and often they bear famous brand name labels.
They may not use whips any more, but there are other means of enforcement.
The voice of honest indignation
William Blake said: “the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God”.
That is the voice we are hearing right now, from the students and other protesters, against public spending cuts being imposed by the millionaires of the Cabinet, on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society: on the sick, and the disabled, on the unemployed, on public sector workers, on Health and Education, on Social Services.
In the 20th century we created the welfare state. In the 21st century it is being systematically dismantled before our very eyes.
George Osborne famously said “we're all in this together” when he first outlined his plans.
But you wonder how this can be when, for example, Philip Green, chief executive of the Arcadia group, who owns Topshop, Bhs, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge amongst others – and the man the government chose as their advisor on public spending - avoids tax to the tune of several million pounds a year.
In 2005 Philip Green received the biggest pay cheque in corporate history - £1.2 billion - which he duly siphoned off to his wife, a tax-exile in Monaco, thus avoiding tax of nearly £300 million. This is in a single year!
Tax avoidance by large corporations is estimated to lose the country around £25bn a year. If only a quarter of this was recovered, this would be more than enough to avoid the need to make any public spending cuts whatsoever.
Currently the top 1% of the population owns 23% of the wealth, while the lowest 50% of the population share 7% of the wealth between them. This is a huge disparity in the distribution of wealth in this country and it shows how unjust our economic system really is.
If we were truly “all in this together” we would expect to see the gap between rich and poor closing. But of course we won’t.
There is a good argument to say that the real measure of a nation’s well-being is not its income, but how evenly distributed that income is. By this measure Britain is one of the sickest countries in the world.
More on economics
© 2010 Christopher James Stone