UK in turmoil: a Quaker speaks

5 Oct

Excellent post yesterday from Quaker, tax specialist and modern monetary theory advocate, Richard Murphy. Do read in the context of that other MMT sympathiser, a debt specialist with over half a century of academic, political and corporate experience. For all the differences of style and – on the face of it – political approach, and for all that Richard Murphy’s focus is on Britain while Michael Hudson’s is international, there’s a striking complementarity to their thinking.

(Not least because, though Professor Murphy has yet to see this – indeed, in my sole exchange with him he was gently dismissive – the social-economy closest to the one he so eloquently argues for is China rising; as Professor Hudson, with equal eloquence and passion, argues.)

Richard Murphy opens with the extraordinary chaos in which a UK government barely a month old is inextricably embroiled. From there he proceeds to dissect – in a way post Corbyn Labour should be doing but decidedly isn’t – neoliberalism. As one comment below the line tells him:

You’ve written the best speech a so-called political opposition leader of this blasted country will NEVER deliver.


The personal isolation of neoliberalism has to be consigned to history: we need to live in a participatory democracy again

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The Truss government is failing. Extraordinarily it has only been in office a month, with the shutdown resulting from the Queen’s death included in that period, and yet the evidence of failure is so compelling that it’s indisputable. But what are the consequences? A thread…

After the evidence that the Tories can now impose change on Truss became apparent yesterday, with more threatened for today as Kwarteng is forced to bring forward his budget, it is clear that the Tory coalition has failed. They are at war with each other.

The Tory infighting is now so clear and strong that three things are clear. The first is that Truss cannot govern. Second, nor could any other Tory. Third, that means we have, in effect, a hung parliament. A zombie Tory government might exist but not really govern.

The good news inherent in that might seem to be that the damage Truss and her crew might seek to deliver will be mitigated. As example, Rees-Mogg’s plans for employment law reform have been already been abandoned as they are too extreme to get parliamentary approval.

But even if the more extreme measures that members of this government might seek to introduce on behalf of Tufton Street 1 it might not happen, the danger will still be real. That there is a government in the UK so out of control will be damaging, in itself.

That the Tory party, which liked to claim it was the most successful political party in the world, has fallen so far is emblematic, in itself, of failure. The certainties that were once thought to exist have gone.

The revelation that this is the case is the most important aspect of the current chaos. It is pure coincidence that this is happening weeks after the Queen died. And yet, at the same time, the coincidence is symbolic. If she was continuity, we now don’t have it.

Critically, the erosion of the institutions on which society depended is now the most important issue that any new government will now face, because the UK’s national decline is directly related to the failure of those bodies, which can be closely associated to neoliberalism.

Where to start with the chronicling of this decline is hard to decide. It would be easy to begin with privatisation. That undermined the cohesion of the supply of essential public services, almost all of which are natural monopolies. The logic in the process was clear.

First, the aim was to split cohesion so that erosion of standards was less obvious. Second, the aim was to make profit a higher priority than service availability. Third, exploitation was permitted, of people, planet (especially) and communities. The aim was to undermine commonality.

How was this achieved? Largely by offering people a bung when privatisation took place. There was no ideological support for these plans: greed bought sufficient people into them.

In other areas, different mechanisms to undermine cohesion have been used. This is most especially true in the NHS in England (Wales and Scotland have different systems).

In the name of supposed efficiency, the NHS has been ‘marketised’, with vast amounts of resource wasted in admin to create the appearance of a market. The intention was always to privatise healthcare, and that is happening.

The introduction of academy trusts in education has always had the same goal.

So too has the outsourcing of vast ranges of services.

But the consequence is an economy that is obsessed by contracting, admin and the slicing of profit out of budgets that should be set to deliver social benefit. No wonder productivity has fallen. Effort has been diverted to admin by government choice.

But these obvious issues are just the tip of the problem that we face. The range of other institutions undermined by neoliberalism is staggering.

Parliament has been undermined. The franchise has been limited. Executive powers have been taken without opportunity for scrutiny. Ministers now show contempt for parliament when announcing policy. Prime Minister’s questions have become a farce.

The civil service had also been undermined. Permanent secretaries are sacked on political whims. Special advisers direct civil servants. Advice is obviously ignored.

The Bank of England has been undermined for differing reasons. Its current obsequiousness to the Treasury is part of that. But the purpose of making it independent was to secure wider opinion on policy making, and instead we have pure neoliberalism, which fails us.

The supposedly independent Office for Budget Responsibility has never been any such thing, having always been too optimistic in the government’s favour.

Our tax authority has been fleeced of resources so that it hardly functions. Cheats prosper. Honest people suffer undue stress as management of tax takes far too long.

And the rot extends outwards. Charities that ask why the poor are poor are silenced. Those that ask whether it was reasonable to accumulate wealth on the back of slaves are vilified. The message is clear that charity must be neoliberal.

The BBC has largely followed the same line.

Big business has been allowed to fleece the productive capacity of the UK to boost the private wellbeing of directors, at cost to shareholders, those working for those companies, and investment in our national well-being.

During all this, private debt has risen, enslaving millions who face lifetimes where they might never achieve any reasonable degree of financial security as home ownership, decent pensions and being debt-free become near impossible goals for many.

So what is all this, which Truss is intent on exacerbating, all about? This is the politics of isolation. Neoliberalism is all about the destruction of community. It focuses on the individual alone, and their supposed success or failure.

The intention of neoliberalism is to make identification of failure possible. That is one of the most corrosive ways in which it seeks to divide the world. And by creating hierarchies of success or failure it deliberately fails to reward most so that their anxiety remains.

Instead of living in community, where strengths and weaknesses can be compensated for, neoliberalism demands division and attribution of blame. This prevents real risk-taking.

Again, the cost to society is apparent. It is not only evident in the lack of investment in real productivity. It is is also apparent in the shift in focus in the private sector.

This used to try to meet customer need, and so make a profit. The aim now is to exploit any contractual arrangement to skim profit out of it. So, we have eventually reached the point where we have companies specialising in shifting contracts between energy suppliers.

This might make a little sense if the energy suppliers themselves added value, but they only sell energy others produce. And those producers can’t sell without profit being skimmed by distributors and many many others.

The very concept of business has been hollowed out to the point where the actual business of meeting customer need is the preserve of a few, mainly lowly paid, people. Dar too many other people are employed to game the system.

And this gets worse when this process is imposed on the state sector via the casualisation of teaching, nursing and so much else.

Why make these points? My purpose is to suggest that whatever the next government faces, it will not just be a financial mess that it has to deal with. It will have to face one of them, for sure. But the real problem it has to address is the corrosion of our society.

Neoliberalism has set out to destroy the mechanisms that make society work. They have tried to destroy society, and what made it work. Participation has gone: isolation remains. We are a lonely, sad country as a result.

And we are nearly broken in so many ways. The fact that six million are waiting for NHS appointments is symbolic of that, but those in the NHS are not to blame. Their job has been made nigh on impossible, deliberately.

The NHS, like so much, has been set up to fail so that another state revenue source can be skimmed for private gain, and this is now how much of our supposed state and private sectors now interact.

If any government comes into office in the UK sometime soon failing to recognise this then it too will fail. A bit better management of the existing structures within society cannot save us now from the mess we are in. Restoring a participatory economy is necessary to do that.

The whole ethos of government has to be different in that case. People have to be persuaded that a fundamental change in direction is required, and is possible.

We have to move away from isolation and back to community.

We have to move from privatisation to sharing.

We need to focus on delivery of services, and not value extraction for private gain.

Business needs to invest in people, products and plant and equipment, not share buybacks and directors’ bonuses.

The construction of a common good in which we can all partake through our own participation in society is vital.

And communal funding for this has to be found.

Talk in that case of ‘making Brexit work’ and ‘managing better’ is of no benefit, because what we have does not work. Doing something well when it is wrong in itself does not make it right. It’s still wasted effort.

And all this will cost money, which it will be said we have not got. Except, that as the experience after 1945 showed, we can deliver when we do not apparently have money. We can do so again. But to make that spend worthwhile we need a big idea.

I believe that the time has come to reject the isolation of neoliberalism and to replace that with a participatory, supportive and inclusive society. That is the big idea that should underpin charge now.

Unless we start from that point of change, with a new direction that it gives then a replacement government for the one now have would still be doing the work of the far-right think tanks. That will not do.

A new economics for a good society needs a big idea. Sharing is that big idea. Working together is the solution it suggests. Breaking down isolation is the demand it imposes. Focus on delivery for the common good is what is required. This is what we need.

The question is, who will deliver it?

* * *

  1. Tufton Strret is to right wing think tanks as Harley Sreet to elite private healthcare.

14 Replies to “UK in turmoil: a Quaker speaks

  1. Whilst I agree entirely with this analysis I am sadly convinced we are beyond the point of no return. We are pitted against one another constantly by the MSM. We can talk about strikes – they imply that the rail strike is only about well paid drivers who earn more than you. We can talk about access to public services and the MSM will point out that if you need to rely on these you are failing, despite the fact that this is their purpose and also the majority situation. We can talk about sharing but the MSM has told us things are so terrifying we hoard what we have – yes I’ll share but I’ll just keep this extra £20/packet of teabags/yacht in case everything runs out.
    The most vulnerable in society have everything to lose by ‘putting into the pot’. The ones with something to contribute don’t have an incentive to add. We are held in our places by fear and hate whipped up every time we turn on a tv or read a newspaper. And this has been done very deliberately and effectively by those with the very resources we need sharing out.

  2. I have to concur in regards the observation we are past the point of no return.

    Murphy’s analysis is uncharacteristically coy in one respect. He alludes to, yet does not make explicit, the reality that the available option for when this Government falls – His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – will merely be “a bit better management’ of an existing failed system that has no prospect of changing or replacement via internal processes.

    As the four part Al Jazzera expose details, the LP is at present bending over backwards to demonstrate its commitment to ensuring the paradigm Murphy eviscerates continues uninterrupted under the Starmer stewardship.

    Rees-Moggs draconian employment law plans may well be shelved at present. Yet, just as the Clinton’s and Obama were able to get away with more than the Bush clan when it came to lethal force abroad Starmer may well be able to deliver on that and other fronts given his track record so far.

    Point being, when you encounter someone in the street abusing their dog the immediate reaction of most people (unless you are going to confront them) is to avoid them like the plague on the grounds that if they treat their dog in that way they will be the same with not only their family but with everyone else.

    In similar vein, thus it is with Starmer and what is still referred to as the LP. The way those who control the Party have acted towards anyone associated with the Party – its own members and supporters – who they consider a challenge to the UK Establishment Official Narratives and policy positions (economic neo-liberalism – which seems little different from Feudal Rentierism at home and neo-conservative – ie Imperialism – abroad) provides the template for how they would operate when in Government.

    On that record so far things could even get worse. When a Party not only manipulates but jettisons any normal due process, along with democratic process, within its own internal structures towards its own members in order to enforce the will of a minority at the top you can be sure, just like the man abusing his dog in the street, that the Party will operate in exactly the same way towards the King’s Subjects when in Government.

    And unfortunately, that seems to be the way we are headed. A Trilateral Commission placeman as PM (who will no doubt signal his intention from day one to stick to every Official Narrative by making Eddie Izzard Secretary of State for Women – you heard that prediction here first) in a seamless transfer of administration which signals a shit or bust commitment to what Murphy and anyone else with a functional brain cell knows is a failed and unworkable* paradigm.

    Many of us here have lived through getting on for five decades of waiting for the kind of necessary change which Murphy makes a plea for. Given the track record of and in the West there seems little prospect of that necessary change of course being generated internally.

    Which leaves the logical option of that necessary change occurring via external forces. Which is where Michael Hudson, as well as Pepe Escobar come in……..

    * That’s a whole other essay.

  3. “Many of us here have lived through getting on for five decades of waiting for the kind of necessary change which Murphy makes a plea for. Given the track record of and in the West there seems little prospect of that necessary change of course being generated internally.”
    I wonder what the mechanics of that are…..

    • Search me, Johnny, C. My one glimmer of hope – such as it is and in any case not for me personally, since I turned 70 last week – lies with the very different road for humanity being pursued by China.

    • “I wonder what the mechanics of that are…..”

      Ah!. A systems engineering question.

      Just as a starting point necessity would require identification of what the minimum requirements are, in practical terms, for success.

      George Monbiot here:

      ….is not far from Richard Murphy in terms of the analytical evidence based argument that what we label neo-liberalism – a fringe cult which started out in the 1930’s – has atomised human society to the nth degree.

      This poses an important question in terms of the mechanics of generating the necessary level of internally generated change.

      What bevin, below, correctly identifies – a Welfare State, an NHS and an open Education SYSTEM etc are necessary but insufficient features of what success in these terms would look like. Whether its 1905 (was that a typo?) or 1945 those necessary institutions/features worked systemically in organisational terms not simply because there existed a collective will to create them but also there existed a sufficient critical mass of expertise and experience (in addition to the necessary, but insufficient, knowledge) to make them work organisationally and systemically.

      Lets first try to simplify matters.

      Most of what we learn at school in terms of science – physics, chemistry, biology – is based on an atomised approach which is commonly known as reductionism (Descarte has a lot to answer for in my book). This approach drills down ever deeper into identifying single particles at lower and lower physical levels. Its main analytical emphasis is on isolating individual constituent parts to learn how things work.

      In contrast, a systems approach focuses on how constituent parts interact systemically to produce emergent properties which give results greater than the sum of the parts.

      In the context of this discussion neo-liberalism would represent an extreme version of reductionism applied not just at the human level but also, and especially at, the organisational level.

      When Thatcher spoke about ‘no such thing as society, only the individual and the family’ its arguable as to whether anyone gave a thought as to how that atomised approach would apply in organisational terms.

      For the sake of space the most productive way to get that across is to refer anyone reading this to the following series of articles:

      Starting with this one on the list:

      Which details not just the pitfalls of atomising organisations – whether its health, education, military, government, etc – into smaller and smaller individual competing profit centers with the left hand not caring what the right hand is doing, but also the scale of the problem across the Western world under the neo-liberal paradigm.

      Anyone who has been employed in any organisational context over the past forty odd years cannot have escaped noticing, via their own working and lived experiences, the debilitating outcomes on organisational cohesion and effectiveness of this neo-liberal model.

      And at this point the question Jorge Vilches poses, in another context, on some his articles on the Saker blog applies.

      Jorge, writing about “the mechanics” of how Europe is going to convert its oil refining capacity to run on non-Ural’s oil blends (which the refineries are set up and configured to do – ie only on that blend because that’s how the physics and chemistry works) following the EU decision to stop importing Russian high grade Urals oil by the end of this year (86 days and counting) lists a whole series of practical problems.

      Not least of which – and this represents a key issue in the context of this discussion – is that of the availability of sufficient expertise and experience to achieve the desired aim. To be clear, what Vlches is saying here is that yes the knowledge exists, if only on paper/in a computer. However, what he is questioning is whether the necessary human expertise and experience exists to put such a decision into practical and workable effect?

      Lets try a thought experiment. If oil ran out tomorrow and we had to immediately revert back to horses for transporting people and goods to keep the economy going would there exist sufficient human expertise and experience resource just in terms of blacksmiths to shoe the horses?

      Andrei Martyanov, among others, being a former Soviet military graduate (now living in the US) is constantly and rightly banging on about this very same problem. The very obvious lack not just of knowledge but also experience and expertise across the entire Western world from the top echelons of the pyramid right to the bottom.

      Not just in terms of the calibre of the entire Western/NATO military cadre but also its diplomats, politicians, educational institutions, civil service, and technical/engineering cadre.

      The point being that even with the best will in the world and a fair wind, unlike the conditions which applied in 1945, I see no evidence whatsoever, at any level, that the West in general and the UK in particular possesses the necessary experience and expertise to successfully run and operate in practical systemic terms (where the outcomes are more rather than less than the sum of the parts as at present under atomised neo-liberalism) the organisational structures and processes to achieve success in the terms implied by bevin below.

      Whether its blacksmiths, the engineering skills/expertise and experiences highlighted by Jorge Vilches, or running an organisation as a system rather than an atomised profit center, the problem is that wherever you look over a period of time all that necessary expertise and experience – which existed in spades in 1945 – has been managed out of the entire system.

      Even the bloody Labour Party is dysfunctional for the same reasons. Those members chased out of the Party at every level were the ones with gumption, who knew their arse form a hole in the ground. The ones with experience and expertise. All you have left running the show is a bunch of gormless clones who don’t know any different.

      Point being that this represents a microcosm of the entire Country (not to mention the West in general).

      Until that expertise and experience exists – and for practical reasons, even if properly planned, it cannot occur overnight it would take a minimum of a generation, if not two or three, and would need to be kick started with the scaffold of massive numbers imported from outside the UK/West with the necessary skills, expertise and experience – I cannot envisage any scenario in which the necessary features for success in this context can now be generated internally.

      • No Dave I meant 1905 the year in which, for the first time there were a significant number of Labour MPs elected and the possibility of Labour displacing the Liberals (in the year when they slaughtered the Tories at the polls) became clear.

  4. The natural political division in the UK right now is between Blairism and Socialism. Truss is not the first Tory PM to dissolve on contact, she is the fourth in less than a decade. The Tory ‘brand’ is no longer fit for purpose- Blairism serves the ruling class far better. And when it is opposed by Toryism it is unbeatable because the only alternative is a clumsier version of itself.
    Does that mean ‘we are past the point of No Return’ ?
    Not at all. Nor does it mean that socialists should sit back and wait for Uncle China to rescue them .
    The people are in a much better position that they were in 1905. A lot has been learned in the past century: the limits of the Parliamentary tactic have been made absolutely clear. The pervasion of corruption-in a system which celebrates corruption in all its forms- leaves no doubt as to the importance of democratic and egalitarian politics, without exception.
    And all the illusions of post-1945 have been shattered: no a Welfare State, an NHS, an open education system, decent treatment of the vulnerable, fair working conditions and adequate pay are NOT possible in a capitalist state. They may be imposed, after generations of brutal struggle but they will be lost in a moment when the Tiger returns to its prey, as it will as long as it lives.
    As Tawney told the Fabians: You cannot tame a tiger claw by claw.
    What is needed is a new Chartism :a simple, clear and practical programme of reforms (Murphy has identified them almost in their entirety) and complete opposition to the rule of Washington, identifying the current political class as traitors to their country and agents of an imperialism under which the British people have always been victimised.

    The point about socialism is that there is no alternative to it when the people have come together to eradicate neo-liberalism. The defeat of neo-liberalism as an ideology and a system can only be achieved by mass action including strikes, brushing aside the law. And a demolition of the ruling class media and the simultaneous development of anti-liberal media.
    As to Eurasia, as it struggles to be born, it has every right, given the history of its exploitation by the Empire, to trust that its fight will be seconded by class war in the metropole weakening the Empire.
    Or do the people of Lancashire, the descendants of Dorset’s farm labourers, or any other sector of the population have any reason to rally to their rulers and the United States’ against the masses of the world?

    • Well I’m certainly not sitting back and waiting for any rescuing uncle, bevin. If I was, I’d hardly be bothering with steel city scribblings!

      I agree with you that Eurasia has every right to expect support from Western progressives. Making the case for this – as much to ultraleftists as those to my right – is now central to this site’s mission.

        • Absolutely no offence taken, bevin. The way I expressed myself did allow for the interpretation ÷ not by you, a contributor of several years standing, but by those less familiar with my views – that I advocate a “let’s just sit back and wait for good,ol’ China to dig us out” approach. My bad.

  5. Short term thinking.

    It seems to me that the psychopaths who are currently at the wheel will not, and in fact are psychologically unable, to do enough, (even if they were convinced that they should, which is by no means established), to stop global warming at any sustainable point. What this means is that we will have civilisational collapse on a very large scale. The problems of Neo-liberalism will be nullified by the problems of finding areas of the earth where survival is a possibility. China will fare no better than anyone else when global temperature rises by 5 or 6 degrees. If I was fifty years younger I would probably try to get a job in Antarctica, taking a large supply of seeds with me.

    Unless Russia can take them down without sparking off a nuclear exchange – another doubtful proposition. News just coming through of an attack on the bridge over the Kerch Straights – maybe this will make Putin take the gloves off. Despite all Martyanov says, I keep remembering another quote, I think from some Bismarkian general, to the effect that moderation in war is a huge error.

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