25 years after the fal of the Berlin wall.

November 3, 2014

, economics editor of The Guardian writing in today’s edition of the paper, has a nice description of what happened in the West once the communist threat receded. 

 As it turned out, the end of the cold war was not unbridled good news for the citizens of the west. For a large part of the postwar era, the Soviet Union was seen as a real threat and even in the 1980s there was little inkling that it would disappear so quickly. A powerful country with a rival ideology and a strong military acted as a restraint on the west. The fear that workers could “go red” meant they had to be kept happy. The proceeds of growth were shared. Welfare benefits were generous. Investment in public infrastructure was high.

There was no need to be so generous once the Soviet Union was no more. What was known as neoliberal economics was born in the 1970s, but it was not until the 1990s that market forces reigned supreme. The free market spread to poorer parts of the world where it had previously been off limits, expanding the global workforce. That meant cheaper goods but it also put downward pressure on wages.

What’s more, there was no longer any need to be inhibited. Those running companies could take a bigger slice of profits because there was nowhere else for workers to go. If citizens did not like “reform” of welfare states, they just had to lump it.

 

According to Elliott after Soviet Union’s collapse;

What the world needed more was a vigorous opposition to neoliberalism and the misguided notion of the end of history. What it got was the collapse not just of communism but also of social democracy, which is why there has been so little fundamental change since the global financial crisis. An ideological vacuum was created when the Berlin Wall came down and it is slowly being filled. But it is being filled by nationalism, environmentalism and religion.

My only quibble with that is that I believe that the “ideological vaccum” was already there well before the Soviet Union fell. We must remember that the West welcomed the fall of the Soviet Union not because it thought its ideology was flawed because it thought all ideologies were flawed.  

Hazel O’Connor: Here She Comes Tour.

January 14, 2014

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Hazel O’Connor: Here She Comes Tour.

Weds 2 Apr

  • Presented at Belgrade Main stage
  • Tickets: From £16.50 – £23.25 Concessions £14.50 – £21.25

Ticket Information

Evening: 7.45pm

Tickets: £16.50, £20.25, £23.25
Concessions From: £14.50 – £21.25

Ticket Information

Save 20% off the price of your full priced tickets when you book equivalent amounts for this and at least one other participating show at the same time.

Please note: These are discounted online prices. Tickets will cost slightly more when booked via box office. Please see our brochure or contact box office for details.

Buy Tickets

Box Office:

Belgrade Theatre
Belgrade Square
Coventry
CV1 1GS

Email: boxoffice@belgrade.co.uk
Telephone: 024 7655 3055

 

 
 

 

Labour’s Social Policy Record

July 4, 2013

In her column on Tuesday just gone Polly Toynbee points her readers to a London School of Economics survey which suggests that, contrary to what the Tories would have us believe, Labour spent both wisely and well while in power.

Did Labour’s social policy work? The answer is a pretty resounding yes, according to the LSE’s definitive survey of the Blair-Brown years: “There is clear evidence that public spending worked, contrary to popular belief.” Nor did Labour overspend. It inherited “a large deficit and high public sector debt”, with spending “at a historic low” – 14th out of 15 in the EU. Labour spending increased considerably, but until the crash was still “unexceptional”, either by historic UK standards or international ones. Until 2007 “national debt levels were lower than when Labour took office”.

But the Tory myth has taken hold: Labour squandered vast sums on wasteful programmes that didn’t work. Benefits were “thrown at” the idle instead of changing lives. All this is refuted by a wealth of statistics from Professors John Hills and Ruth Lupton and others in their reports on health, education and inequality. Reading this monumental research – Labour’s Social Policy Record: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 1997-2010 – you can only wonder at how badly Labour has defended its record.

Toynbee suggests that Labour has not defended  its record – and indeed is still reluctant to draw attention to it – because it believes that in spending in the ways it did it was pursuing an agenda that the vast majority of voters do not really care for.

A deeper lesson goes to the heart of the Blair-Brown years. They did all this good mostly by stealth, unsure that social programmes aimed at the poor would win re-election. They walked the walk, but talked the talk only to the party faithful. This government gets away with demolishing what Labour did because the social democratic idea behind it was never embedded in the national psyche.

The social democratic idea, if it ever was embedded, probably died the death not long after the election of Margaret Thatcher came to power.

Statistics and Lies.

June 4, 2013

Returning to the topic of politicians lying, I have to say that I whole heartedly agree with the Guardian’s  Peter Wilby when he writes that ministers  who misuse statistics to mislead voters must pay the price,

Nearly all ministerial resignations are connected with not telling the truth: submitting false expenses, covering up a speeding points swap, receiving favours from lobbyists. But telling untruths about official figures is somehow regarded less seriously.

Andrew Dilnot who is now  head of the UK Statistics Authority, should, Wilby, says have

…the power, in the worst examples, to require a full Commons censure debate on a minister’s conduct – with an expectation that, if he or she failed to offer an adequate defence or show contrition, resignation would follow. That would guarantee press attention and ministerial trembling. Big lies about big numbers require big deterrents.

The Tories are lying quite openly – now there is a surprise. Part 2.

May 12, 2013

The Tories are lying quite openly – now there is a surprise.

 
For yet anotherexample their blatantly mendacious ways, see Nick Cohen’s piece Lies, damned lies and Iain Duncan Smith, in today’s edition of The Observer

Duncan Smith’s belief that the welfare state holds down the very people it is meant to serve is pleasing to Conservative ears. To maintain his supporters’ illusions, he has to lie. Last week, the UK Statistics Authority gave him a reprimand that broke from the genteel language of the civil service. The work and pensions secretary had claimed that his department’s cap on benefits was turning scroungers into strivers – even before it had come into force. “Already we have seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs.” How sweet those words must have sounded to Conservative ears. The government was forcing the feckless to stop sponging off hard-working taxpayers. (Taxpayers are always “hard working” in British politics, in case you haven’t noticed. We never try to get by doing the bare minimum.)

It seems that the Statistics Authority disagreed.

The figures did not show that, the statistics authority said. More to the point, they could not possibly have shown that. Duncan Smith’s claims were “unsupported” by the very statistics his department had collected.

It appears that  Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the statistics authority, is so concerned Duncan Smith’s habit of manipulating statistics to suit his own purposes that he thinking about sending his inspectors into the Department for Work and Pensions.

As journalists know, Duncan Smith’s modus operandi is well established. His “people” – all of them scroungers, not strivers, who sponge off the taxpayer from their Whitehall offices – brief reporters with unpublished figures. The Tory press uses them, and, as the Financial Times explained, when his spin doctors meet an honest journalist, who asks hard questions, they end the call and never ring back. By the time the true figures appear on the DWP website , and informed commentators can see the falsity, the spin, the old saying applies: “A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.

I’d like to think that there will come day when Duncan Smith – and his kind – will be exposed for what they are, but, as they say, I’m not holding my breath.

Out with Ofsted inspections.

May 8, 2013

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  Ofsted  inspections should be abandoned in favour of a broader approach that takes into account the views of teachers, pupils and parents, the Demos think-tank has argued.

The report, Detoxifying School Accountability , says that  the current system is forcing heads and teachers to prioritise achieving targets above students’ education.

An annual ‘multi-perspective’ inspection, informed by data collected from those who work at and use a school, would be a more rigorous and effective means of assessing its performance than a short visit from an external inspection team.

The author of the report  James Park said: ‘For too long, teachers and school leaders have been labouring in a toxic system, striving to meet targets at the expense of a good quality education for their students. International evidence shows that an education system which trusts professionals is more likely to succeed, yet policy over the past 20 years has systematically undermined trust.

 ‘A system where all interested parties – leaders, teachers, students, parents and inspectors – have a say would be a step in the right direction. It would represent a crucial move away from a target-obsessed culture to a more balanced, trusting and effective education system.’ 

Anything that gets us away from the target-obsessions we are lumbered with at the moment has should be given serious consideration, say I.

The Tories are lying quite openly – now there is a surprise.

April 25, 2013

Commenting on the underhanded way in which the Department of Work and Pensions has gone about scrapping to the £320 million a year funding it made available to so that 20,000 severely disabled could live as independently as possible, Zoe iliiiam notes notes that  the DWP lied about the purpose of closing the independent living fund. It didn’t admit that the money wouldn’t be there after 2015 until it was legally required to.

  Whenever this government comes out with an idea that sounds, for British politics, unusually unjust or barbaric or ill-conceived, it usually has its roots in the US (free schools, food stamps, dash for gas, shares for rights, privatisation of health services). What I mind the most is the readiness with which the government will now lie: the prime minister will lie about the national debt; the secretary of state will lie about immigration, the chancellor will lie about benefit claimants, they’ll be rapped over the knuckles by the Office for National Statistics or Office for Budgetary Responsibility, take their punishment and go straight out and lie again. So, in the words of Nicholas Tomalin, talking about politicians in a (real) war: “Never forget that they lie, they lie, they lie.”

Here are some examples of the lies that are cirdulated without apology.

Ask people where that  money that the governmet spends on welfare  goes and you’ll find  the assumptions is that it’s on unemployment or incapacity benefit. Apparently 41% of people think that the entire welfare budget goes to unemployed people paying out unemployment benefits.

In fact, half of UK benefit spending actually goes on state pensions. Jobseeker’s allowance is £4.91bn in 2011-12. That is a mere  3% of the  benefits bill that the government has to foot .

A vast of the  British public reckon benefit cheats are a massive problem.  A recent opinion poll showed Brits typically believed 27% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud.

The reality is less dramatic. The DWP publishes official estimates of fraud in the welfare system. The most recent publication estimated overall fraud at 0.7% (yes,0.7% ) of the benefits bill. Mind you, if you say £1.2bn,is lost on fraud, then you haved to allow that people are going to feel understandiblyunhappy. But then we should remember benefits can be underpaid as well as overpaid,  and that last year it is  estimared underpayments (arising from errors by either officials or claimants) added up to £1.3bn.  

 

Michael, let’s talk about Singapore.

April 23, 2013

The Education Secretary Mr Gove has  said recently that research in Hong Kong, Singapore and other East Asian nations showed that expectations of mathematical knowledge and scientific knowledge were “at every stage” more demanding than in Britain.

“In order to reach those levels of achievement a higher level of effort is expected on behalf of students, parents and teachers,” he said.

“School days are longer, school holidays are shorter. The expectation is that to succeed, hard work is at the heart of everything.”

Polly Toynbee in a piece for today’ edition of The Guardian reminds Mr. Gove that he  that it’s not just expectations that are different.

Gove, calling for payment by results, cited Singapore’s high-achieving school system, “where expectations are higher”. What he didn’t say is that Singapore, like top performer Finland, is one of the most equal of developed nations. As his government drives up inequality, his schools face an ever tougher task compensating for the society they inhabit.

Debt and what should be done about it.

April 23, 2013

For what i consider to be a few no very preposterous suggestions, read  Robert Kuttner‘s The Debt We Shouldn’t Pay which appears in the current issue of the New York Review of Books.

Public debt was not implicated in the collapse of 2008, nor is it retarding the recovery today. Enlarged government deficits were the consequence of the financial crash, not the cause.1 Indeed, there’s a strong case that government deficits are keeping a weak economy out of deeper recession. When Congress raised taxes in January at an annual rate of over $180 billion to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, and then accepted a “sequester” of $85 billion in spending cuts in March, the combined fiscal contraction cut economic growth for 2013 about in half, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Moreover, some of the causes of public deficits, such as Medicare, reflect to a large extent inefficiency and inflation in health care rather than profligacy in public budgeting.

Here comes a point that’s now been lost sight of both in most countries tha are now been fed the austerity cure: 

It was private speculative debts—exotic mortgage bonds financed by short-term borrowing at very high costs—that produced the crisis of 2008. The burden of private debts continues to hobble the economy’s potential. In the decade prior to the collapse of 2008, private debts grew at more than triple the rate of increase of the public debt. In 22 percent of America’s homes with mortgages, the debt exceeds the value of the house. Young adults begin economic life saddled with student debt that recently reached a trillion dollars, limiting their purchasing power. Middle-class families use debt as a substitute for wages and salaries that have lagged behind the cost of living. This private debt overhang, far more than the obsessively debated question of public debt, retards the recovery.

We may think that debt – however incurred – has to be repaid: it a moral duty on us as individuals and as a society. Then again maybe there is a time when we have to think again.

In the case of a broad downturn,2 debt ceases to be purely a moral question, and becomes a pragmatic one: Will it help the overall economy for the law to demand that debts always be paid in full? Was it economically sensible to throw debtors into jail? Is it sensible now to force troubled corporations or banks to liquidate? To compel sales of millions of homes in a depressed market? To destroy the economic potential of entire nations so that they can service old debts that were incurred corruptly by previous governments or banks? Society properly discourages borrowers from taking on imprudent burdens, and the prospective loss of property or even liberty functions as a deterrent. But in a general collapse, debt forgiveness may become necessary if the economy is not to sink further.

He reminds the reader that debt relief and forgiveness has not been unknown, even in recent history. During the Great Depression and Roosevelt era

… the US government became serious about debt relief, with a series of policies that refinanced distressed home mortgages, reformed and recapitalized banks, extended relief to bankrupt consumers, financed a huge war debt at below-market interest rates, and wrote off some of the international debts of allies and enemies alike. (Britain, America’s closest ally, received near-total forgiveness of wartime Lend-Lease debt.)

Germany, today’s enforcer of Euro-austerity, was the beneficiary of one of history’s most magnanimous acts of debt amnesty in 1948. The Allies in the 1920s made the catastrophic error of helping to destroy Germany’s economy with reparations and debt collection policies. In the 1940s, after a brief flirtation with World War I–style reparations, the occupying powers agreed to behave differently: they wrote off 93 percent of the Nazi-era debt and postponed collection of other debts for nearly half a century. So Germany, whose debt-to-GDP ratio in 1939 was 675 percent, had a debt load of about 12 percent in the early 1950s—far less than that of the victorious Allies—helping to produce postwar Germany’s economic miracle. Almost every German can cite the Marshall Plan, but this larger act of macroeconomic mercy has disappeared from the political consciousness of Germany’s current austerity police.

Kuttner is wise enough to know the chances of countries such as Ireland having their debts relieved are remote.

The question of who gets debt relief reflects the distribution of political power—and power normally lies with large creditors such as banks.

 Just so.

Ken Loach on plans for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

April 10, 2013

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