Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pay the People (2)

The Reverend Paul Nicolson, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, Professor Peter Townsend, London School of Economics, and Professor Guy Standing of Bath wrote to The Guradian in response to journalist Polly Toynbee’s proposed government guaranteed job scheme. All had better ideas for the economy than the government has so far conjured, especially the insanity of rewarding the original crooks—the bankers. A policy of special assistance for the unemployed is desirable for reasons of compassion and civil obedience. The Labour government’s policy has been to cut benefit costs by introducing coercive work conditions of entitlement, echoing the 1834 Poor Law Act. The unemployment benefit of the newly unemployed is a workhouse rate of £60.50 a week. Ministers told Julie Jones MP that increasing it in the welfare reform bill would undermine what the benefits system and the welfare state are there for. Blair and Brown, in their 12 years, have ignored the fact that millions in the population are unable to obtain a working wage or can only work part time—children, students, adults obliged to provide personal care, many disabled people, the elderly, mentally ill, and the many simple people (Labour ministers seem not to know that half the population have an IQ below 100!)—and so cannot match the earnings of the able bodied. All deserve a decent compensation income for their personal wellbeing—so they can enjoy family and social activities and a decent quality of life—but also because the economy requires everyone to have spending money. Spending is what keeps the economic wheels turning. Labour ministers, and maybe Labour activists, if there still are any, should re-read the 1942 Beveridge report, which recommended that the benefit scheme should unite administrative responsibility and adequacy—social security was meant to make want unnecessary under any circumstances. Sixty years on its administration is spallated among many agencies, the only possible reason being to make it more difficult to claim, especially for those who are less than 100% sound, physically and mentally. Professor Standing says only a minority of the unemployed now receive unemployment benefits so they do not act as the automatic economic stabiliser some economists still treat them as. The government should give every adult an unconditional grant—say £25 a week—adjusted according to the state of the economy. It would boost demand and therefore real jobs, would be transparent, fair, non-stigmatising and easy to implement. Moreover, it would provide assistance to everyone suffering from the crisis, not just the favoured interests who caused it! And for those who do not need it, the wealthy, and the bankers, it would be clawed back and subsidized through their tax. It would also supplement the income of those on involuntary part time working, enable more of the unemployed to take part-time jobs without suffering a totally inadequate income, and give the unemployed a top-up over the present starvation allowance. Being unconditional and not means tested, it would avoid this government’s obsession with coercing people.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Atlas Shrugged, so Blame the Poor!

Ayn Rand emigrated from the Soviet Union to the US, then wrote her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, in 1957. It is a paeon of praise to libertarian individualism, rational self-interest, and laissez-faire capitalism. She considered her 1200 pretentious pages to be the core of her “philosophy” of “objectivism”. The novel is set in a dystopian USA. Furious at being exploited by a society depicted as bleeding them dry with taxes and regulations on behalf of the masses (“parasites” and “moochers”), industrialists and corporate bosses “stop the motor of the world” by going on strike. To let the weak see they can never cope when the elite withdraw their labour, the striking “men of the mind” (inventors, entrepreneurs, and industrialists, so read capitalists) retreat to a camp in the mountains of Colorado protected by a special shield. In the freedom of their mountain hideaway, unregulated and untaxed by government, they build an independent economy free from the imperatives of human society like compassion, justice and mercy! Starved of their genius, society collapses, wars break out and eventually the bureaucrats beg the rebel leader, John Galt, to take over. So Rand believed the whole world would collapse unless the “best people” are allowed to be as selfish as they like. Curiously, she writes:
It only stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.
It sounds almost communistic. If there are no masters, then there are no slaves, but the message of her writing is that the masters must be allowed to remain masters, and untrammelled by any concern for the wretched. Slaves must be slaves forever! It is all they are good for. Rand believed that altruism was evil. So any redistribution of wealth, even voluntarily, is weakening to society. How can such a vision be anything other than Nazi? Rand’s vision of the world in Atlas Shrugged inspires either slavering devotion or disbelieving ribaldry. Leading philosophers ignore it as puerile. Noam Chomsky even called her “one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history”. But Rand’s adherents see parallels in today’s economic events. Faced with Obama's Keynsianism, the thought of a right wing strike has its sympathisers among the caste of Republican politicoes on Capitol Hill. Some foresee a Rand revolution, in which those unwilling to pay their taxes decide to “do a Galt”, arrange a strike of the wealthy. Obama’s policy of creating work by injecting cash into the economy, they argue, smacks of socialism, forcing the strong and successful to prop up the weak, feckless and incompetent. Business commentator, Stephen Moore, wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
The current economic strategy is right out of Atlas Shrugged. The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you.
The Republican congressman, John Campbell, told The Washington Independent:
People are starting to feel like we’re living through the scenario that happened in Atlas Shrugged. The achievers are going on strike. I’m seeing, at a small level, a kind of protest from the people who create jobs… who are pulling back from their ambitions because they see how they’ll be punished for them.
They cannot mean the bankers! Among the bankers, brokers and industrialists, whose greed brought on this recession, were adherents of Rand’s ideas, like Alan Greenspan, for long boss of the Federal Reserve. They just love Ayn Rand. Ideas like hers justify their “rational self-interest” in packaging up debts as leveraged private equity buyouts, but theirs turns out to be an “irrational self-interest”. The system was an elaborate pyramid selling scheme that some didn’t catch on to and others ignored to get the most out of it while they could—not via the phony bonds themselves, but the bonuses for selling them! We need to force more of them to give up their ill-gotten gains, then send them on a permanent enforced strike in some suitable penitentiary. Just to prove how out of touch with reality modern Republicans are, Campbell gives Rand’s book as gifts to his interns. The conservative right wing ignore history in favour of these infantile fantasies like Rand's. Penelope Newsome, writing in The Guardian, brought all this to mind. She talks about J M Keynes, 70 years ago, revealing the two great mistakes in economic policy capitalist governments make in a recession. Keynesianism was taught as received wisdom in university economics courses until about 35 years ago, when Milton Friedman's monetarism became fashionable, and set us on the road to our present state. Ayn Rand was obviously not a Keynsian.
  • First Mistake—Governments should reduce interest rates and increase the money supply then businesses will borrow and invest and create a recovery in output and employment. Not so! Businesses will not borrow, even at zero interest rates, when there is no demand for their output. And why would banks lend money at zero interest rates, especially to businesses with no demand even for their existing output.
  • Second Mistake—Governments should cut wages and allow costs to fall then prices will fall and demand will increase, lifting output and employment. Not so, again! Output and employment will not rise even if prices do fall, because the fall in incomes imposed first must mean that workers do not have the cash to spend, especially when they are scared of becoming unemployed.
Sound economics, for the rich as well as the poor, is to ensure everyone has an income, and therefore has money to spend. Those inclined to right wing politics prefer strong men to sound economics. The yearning for strong men, for strong leaders is immature and elitist, and elitism is at the core of fascism. Elitism is right wing, and egalitarianism is left wing—the two are not the same. As someone said online, the fetishization of Nazi chic is nearly always the mark of an infantilized society and a childish mind. Children want simple answers because they have not yet reached the level of thinking required for subtlety, but the world is not simple. It is subtle. Society does not exist just for some supposedly superior types. It exists for all its members, and unless it does, it will certainly fall apart. Then everyone suffers, until a new society is built. Fairness to all is more important in society than favoring elites, and empathy more important than disregard for others. Denmark is the least corrupt country in the world and Danes are egalitarian and happy. For them, being kind to each other is more important than being rich at someone else’s expense. Yet Rand envisions the successful society as being one entirely of chiefs with no indians. A reviewer wrote quite rightly that bad artists are rarely good guides to economics, politics, or anything else. Rand fled from communism. Plainly she hated it, and the Russian peasant, the working people. For her, they were shirkers but she seemed quite unable or unwilling to see that workers actually work, and often in hard or soul destroying jobs. But many sons of the wealthy are just idle playboys, true parasites and shirkers, or those like our modern bankers giving themselves undeserved bonuses. It usually works out well when you decide on your own remuneration! And that is just what executives of our corporations do! A capitalism with no regulation will always raise up people to take advantage of others. And they will always find some way to justify it. Obama, the leader of the Western world, worked his way up, but he is an excellent writer. Anyone tempted to read Ayn Rand should read him instead. The only country still able to buy any goods is China, and China is dealing with the recession by following Keynesian economics. The Chinese government is putting money directly into the economy—into construction and health—not into banks to stash away for executive bonus payments. It is putting it directly in the pockets of the common people who will spend it in the economy. Ordinary “moochers”, if that is what they are in the Rand world, need to be able to spend if anyone is to make money. Capitalists make money by providing goods and services for ordinary people to use. That simple fact is what so many right wing fantasists cannot comprehend.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gaza and Warsaw—A Tale of Two Ghettoes

Zionist Jews commonly use the accusation of “antiSemitism” to try to stifle any criticism of Israel. Howard Jacobson, the professional Jew retained by the UK Independent, is often commended by his fellow Zionists for attacking those knaves who would scurrilously attack poor Israel for killing innocent Arab kids in Gaza, a pastime they are fond of. Jacobson pleads that Jews cannot label any critics of Israel as anti-Semitic, though they never cease doing so.

For Jacobson and his cohorts, I am anti-Semitic. I am confusing racial prejudice with a moral stance to condemn Israel for its bombing of Palestinian civilians. Like most good people, I was horrified by the extent of the slaughter of the Arabs trapped in Gaza. My moral stance is not a prejudice against Jews, but is a prejudice against evil. It is formed from the widespread evidence that the conflict was not fair, and that Israeli soldiers were just butchering the helpless. Or is the death of 400 children not a massacre, but merely inevitable damage caused by the “fighting”? I object to being called anti-Semitic from a man who is little more than a verbal pimp, for reading widely about the Israeli army, which has no compunction about shooting unarmed volunteers or young children going home from school, using the weapons the US has paid for as if it were a joke, and concluding that they are wrong.

Such propaganda pimps complain about anti-Semitism whenever the Nazis who now run Israel are ever actually correctly identified. In this instant who could fail to compare the herding of defenceless Arabs into Gaza to be murdered with shells and phosphorus bombs with the Warsaw Ghetto when Nazis perpetrated a similar crime on Jews. So, Caryl Churchill’s powerful play, Seven Jewish Children, shows Jews as supporting everything Israel has done to the Palestinians in parallel with Jewish treatment by Nazis. Though the Palestinians did not initiate the Holocaust, they are paying the price. Gaza was the latest extension of the war of invasion and conquest waged since WWII against the indigenous Palestinians, who remain oppressed and humiliated, their homes demolished, their livelihoods destroyed, their crops uprooted.

Inevitably, the leagues of professional Zionist letter writers ply their media targets with grapeshot. They, and others like them, relentlessly tell the world that Israel is in the right, whatever it does, regardless of the self-evident selfishness of its occupation and settlement of Palestinian land and the barbarity of its suppression of Palestinian resistance. If increasing numbers today are thinking most Jews are Zionists, then the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbi, and people like Howard Jacobson can take some of the responsibility. Yet, for the first time ever, major sections of the Jewish community, even in the United States, dissociated themselves from what Israel was doing in Gaza, and in Israel at least a substantial minority of Jews freely opposed the invasion, or expressed grave doubts about the atrocity. The UK Zionist rally supporting Israel attracted less than a fifth of the numbers of previous rallies.

That criticism of Israel’s murderous attack on the Semitic population of Gaza as anti-Semitic is bizarre, but is meant, of course, to be a “big lie”, the method used by Göring. And does anyone seriously think Israel is poor, these days? That is another lie—the David and Goliath lie. Israel is wealthy. It is not militarily weak, but is the strongest power in the region, with a nuclear bomb, and a well equipped army and air force. The Palestinians have none of this, and have no prospects of getting any sort of military equality while the US plays superpower politics in the region. As the greater power, Israel can make choices the Palestinians cannot. They can choose to be merciful and enable everyone to live peacefully and with dignity.

It is a dastardly slur to suggest that there is something racist about the expression “the Chosen People of God”, an honour that has given Israelis the right to do just as they like in someone else’s land. And, if Israelis seem not to care about dead children, as long as they are not Jewish, when they are mercilessly killing Arab children and innocent passers by, how can anyone avoid coming to that conclusion. The suggestion is “outrageous” to the Zionist scribblers. What is outrageous is that the Israelis continue to get away with it. There are Israelis now who openly want to force a loyalty test on Palestinians without which they would be “transferred”! Whatever next will the Israeli fascists and their comforters think of?

A Sane Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Jewish actress, Miriam Margolyes’s family from Belarus were wiped out by the Nazis at the Treblinka extermination camp. “I honor their memory, but I can’t think about the bad things done in Israel. It’s a slur on the memory of the Holocaust.”

Margolyes thinks Israel’s inhumane treatment of Palestinians is a form of betrayal. “One of Judaism’s ideals is to do as you would be done by. We are betraying it. I’m Jewish. I feel I have a responsibility to say:

“Look at what’s happening. Look at these people with their lives in ruins. We’ve done this. How do you expect people to stop bombing you when you are bombing them? But Israelis feel that they are the victim. They haven’t been to Gaza. When you see little boys being shot at, you know it’s wrong. We’re so used to being the victim, we’re not realizing that now we are the oppressor.” It is a matter of right and wrong. “I have a fierce sense of justice. I’m 67. If I don’t tell the truth now, when am I going to start?”

The injustice must eventually end in reconciliation, as in South Africa. But “the fact is that Israel was founded by taking land from people. They pretend it wasn’t and gloss over it, but it was. We have a responsibility to those people to repair their lives. That land has to be shared out. I don’t have all the answers, but one has to be to stop the killing, and take the wall down.”

Do US Conservatives Understand What Empathy Is?

George Lakoff has explained that for forty years, from the late 1960s, conservatives managed, through their extensive message machine, to fit much of our political discourse to their worldview. The conservative message machine is still huge and ongoing. About 80% of the talking heads on TV are conservatives. Yet Obama based his inaugural address on his view of fundamental American values—empathy, social and personal responsibility, self-improvement, and improving the USA itself—as progressive values. Laissez-faire free markets assume that greed is good, and that seeking self-interest will magically maximize everyone’s interests, but empathy-based values opposed pure self-interest. Empathy-based moral values are opposed to the traditional conservative focus on individual responsibility without social responsibility. An economic program should be a moral program. Progressive taxation is a matter of moral accounting. Budgets are moral statements. So, four economic issues—education, energy, health, and banking—are at the heart of government’s moral mission of protection and empowerment. They are what is needed to promote empathy, social responsibility, personal responsibility, and a better future for us all in the USA. Empathy is why we have the values of freedom, fairness, and equality—for everyone, not just for some special people. Empathy leads us to democracy. To stop us being subject indefinitely to the whims of an oppressive and unfair ruler, we need to be able to choose who governs us and we need a government of laws. Empathy with everyone leads to equality. No one caring treats some people worse than others. Caring is Christian. God in the person of Christ taught it. How can any Christian reject empathy while pretending to be a Christian?

Morality rests, first, on empathy—putting oneself in other people’s shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and caring about them—and, second, acting on that care—taking responsibility for oneself and others, accepting one’s social and personal duty.

Summarized from G Lakoff