Category Archives: democracy

Doreen Massey: government policy has been to acquiesce in and feed London’s voracious growth. Is this what we want?

Looking back through a Facebook page I saw with great regret that Professor Doreen Massey had died in 2016. After hearing her speak on Radio 4, I read her book, World City, Polity, 2007, and we corresponded by email several times. I think this photograph shows her warm and lively personality.

Yesterday, following input about ‘shrinking cities’ on WMNEG’s website, and as a belated tribute, some points made in that book will now be shared, selected from five pages of notes made at the time. Several references are relevant to the Grenfell Tower disaster. 

Extracts

In the world as a whole big cities are increasingly dominant and central to globalisation: the shining spectacular projects and the juxtaposi­tion of greed and need reflect their market dynamics.

The World Bank, one of the institutions whose policies have contributed to this massive flow of people into cities, has argued that it is through competitive cities that nations as a whole can develop.

Global cities are defined by their elite – the rest are invisible.

London is a political, institu­tional, economic and cultural power. Its influences and its effects spread nationally and globally but it increasingly overshadows everywhere else. National government policy accepts and also feeds its voracious growth.

Forces in the financial City took the lead in advocating and developing the deregulation that lies at the heart of globalisation; it is a command centre, place of orchestration, and significant beneficiary of its continuing operation.

Despite talk of `national sovereignty’, the first thing Margaret Thatcher did on coming to power in 1979 was to lift restrictions on for­eign currency exchange, to be followed in the mid-1980s by the deregulation of the City (the so-called Big Bang). A whole gamut of deregulatory and commercialisation policies, in pensions, housing, health care and education consid­erably increased the market for City activities.

Thatcherite policies benefited the private sector, financial services, the middle classes, London and the South East at the expense of the public sector, manufacturing, the old industrial regions and the working classes.

The colonisation by private capital of industries and services formerly provided by government – the utilities under Thatcher and Major, signifi­cant parts of the welfare state, especially health and education, under Blair – led to London’s reinvention and resurgence.

Policies of competitive individualism and individual self-reliance have been promoted –  people have been encouraged/required to take much greater financial responsibility for their own housing, pen­sions, health care and education. Previous notions of mutuality have been abandoned and the idea of the public good has been system­atically undermined.

The world’s biggest interna­tional financial centre

From the mid-1960s the City took advantage of an offshore status manufactured by British taxation policy . . . and became an off­shore extension of New York, creating a major market in eurodollars which now makes it the world’s biggest interna­tional financial centre. It has been a lucrative subservience, for some: out of this that the new elite has been born.

The emergence of the new elite includes those involved in business services as well as finance: real estate, renting and business activities. Advertising, research and development, accounting, auditing and taxation, legal serv­ices, market research and consultancy, personnel recruit­ment, renting of machinery and technical consulting, investigation and security have grown rapidly as part of London-global-city.

For the ultra-rich few, this country is now a vir­tual tax haven and princes, tycoons and oligarchs are making it their home. Others are attracted by the lucrative opportunities in the City – more than one in 10 professional staff in the City of London come from coun­tries outside the EU and the US, including the plunderers of Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union. A report on French people working in the UK found 69% of them in London and half of those are working in finan­cial services in the City.

 The pattern of British chief executives’ pay is now openly modelled on the American lead

Directors paid 113 times more than the average UK worker in 2005 are awarding each other their increments. Over the last five years the average salary of a chief executive in Britain’s leading companies, including bonuses, has more than doubled, just as American remuneration has grown – bearing little relationship to company performance. This has resulted in levels of inequality far higher than in the major economies of continental Europe.

Such high salaries make London the most unequal city, and London and the South-East the most unequal region in the UK.This inequality of the extremes is character­istic of the `Anglo-Saxon’ version of neoliberalism and it is growing.

The exuberant, champagne-swilling claim of the success of London’s reinvention is, however, almost always hedged about with a regretful caveat – `but there is “still” poverty too’. The success and the poverty of London are the com­bined outcome of politico-economic strategies, establishing a two-tier society, corporate greed and the privatisation of need in the capital and at national level.

Some facts are indisputable. Inequality between rich and poor, the glaring starkness of class difference, is more marked in London than anywhere else in the country

  • Unemployment in Inner London is higher than in any other subregion in England, while Outer London hovers around the national average; on almost any index there is an enormous geographical variation between boroughs.
  • London has the highest incidence of child poverty, after housing costs have been taken into account, of any region in Great Britain.
  • The gender pay gap is wider in London than in Great Britain. London has local authority areas with both the highest and the lowest rates of means-tested benefit receipt in the country.
  • Nearly a quarter of London’s children (24 %) are living in households dependent on Income Support’ whilst the rate for Great Britain as whole is 16 %, and London’s rate is the highest of any region.
  • Poverty is common among pensioners, too; in Inner London, a quarter of people aged sixty and over are on Income Support  – only 15 % in Outer London and in Great Britain.
  • Homelessness and overcrowding are higher in London than elsewhere. The differ­ence in life expectancy, is stark even between the boroughs of London.
  • On average, women in Kensington and Chelsea live nearly six years longer than women in Newham; and men in Kensington and Chelsea (again) live nearly six years longer than men in Southwark .

People are trapped in poverty because of the high cost of living, and the cost of getting to work Those currently dependent on benefit find that loss of entitlement to benefits, particu­larly housing benefits can com­pletely erode gains from entering employment.  The higher cost of housing, transport and childcare are important factors in explaining the pattern of disadvan­tage in the city.

Within the UK the old ‘North-South divide’ has widened and has increasingly taken the form of an ever-­expanding London versus the rest of the country

The New Labour government & London-centred private capital share an understanding of London/the South-East as the golden goose of the national economy – the `single driver’ of the national economy – which lays golden eggs for everyone.

There is an insistence that encouragement to `the regions’ must in no way be allowed to challenge, question, or in any way restrain the growth in London and the South ­East of England. Her Majesty’s Treasury, in a joint document with the Department of Trade and Industry, argued that `attempts to address regional differentials must be done by a process of levelling-up, not levelling down … whilst regional economic policy must aim to strengthen the indigenous growth potential of all regions, the focus should be on the weakest regions, without constraining growth in the strongest’ .

Brain drain

London’s growth over recent years and as planned for the future, requires labour with degree-level qualifications. It is demand for this kind of labour that dominates the net increase in employ­ment in the capital. London does not provide all of this and in consequence draws in professional people from abroad and from the rest of the country.

Many workers come from Eastern Europe and the global South. London is dependent, for instance, on nurses from Asia and Africa. These countries can ill-afford to lose such workers, and they have paid for their training. So India, Sri Lanka, Ghana, South Africa are subsidizing the reproduction of London. It is a perverse sub­sidy, flowing from poor to rich. It is, moreover, a flow that is both fuelled and more difficult to address as a result of the increasing commercialisation/privatisation of  health services.

It is a brain drain that has a double effect. In London the dominance of demand for this kind of labour makes it more difficult for Londoners without those qualifications to find work and, through the influx of higher ­paid workers, increases the pressure on prices and therefore inequality within the capital. From the regions and nations of the North and West it drains a stra­tum of the population that could be significant to their eco­nomic growth.

(Yet) Gordon Brown has told the regions that their regeneration should be led by the knowledge economy and Alan Johnson, when minister for manufacturing, repeated the refrain that low skills are part of the regions’ problems. In other words, the regions are blamed for the losses they incur through feeding London’s demand.

Arguments that London is a ‘successful’ region which must not in any way be chal­lenged rest on a crucial assumption. This is that London has achieved its present position through its own efforts. As the hegemonic terminology has it:  to do anything to disturb London’s trajectory would be to buck market forces.

London’s transnational financing and service-providing roles have not, however, been the main driver underlying the city’s growth since the 1980s, nor do these functions represent the major ele­ment of London’s export base. London’s main export market is in fact the `rest of the UK’ (RUK) which takes 28.5 % of all London’s exports, compared with 12.33 % going abroad. For financial services, the comparable percentages are RUK 39.88 % and interna­tional 31.46 % and, for business services, RUK 32.89 % and international 12.08 %.

This data contradicts the notion that London, in eco­nomic terms, is floating free from the rest of the UK econ­omy into an international arena of its own. It directly contradicts the conclusion that in a globalised economy London does not need the markets of northern Britain. As a London School of Economics study puts it, `the London economy is still closely integrated with the overall UK econ­omy’.

Despite the facts, however  . . . there is also some resentment: an argument that London has been subsidising the rest of the country and can afford to do so to the same extent, voiced in a report for the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) entitled The London deficit – a business perspective provides an example:

The London economy is the largest and most successful regional economy in the UK. It has often been suggested that its success has been to the detriment of other UK regions, drawing highly skilled people away from other areas. The reality is more complex. As will be seen from this report, the UK’s progressive taxation structure ensures that London contributes a greater proportion of total income raised from taxation in the UK than any other region. In short, London subsidises the rest of the UK, enabling the nation as a whole to benefit from the capital’s success. 

The fig­ures for London, however, usually include expenditure on the bulk of the national Civil Service. But this service operates over the country as a whole and should not appear on London’s balance sheet. The presence of so many Civil Service jobs and functions within London also contributes significantly to London’s economic growth and helps to influence the drawing up of national economic policy.

From Doreen Massey’s conclusion: “In the United Kingdom, London increasingly overshadows everywhere else and government policy has been to acquiesce in and feed its voracious growth. Is this what we want? The question is rarely heard in democratic debate”.

This book followed her pamphlet advocating Decentering the Nation: a radical approach to regional inequality, written with Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift, Catalyst 2003, on which notes also were made.

 

 

 

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Basic income

Readers who are unaware of the basic income concept can find an outline here.

As Ontario, Canada’s largest province, became the latest to announce a universal basic income three year trial (read on here), we read that a privately-funded, short-term pilot program is being run by this Silicon Valley accelerator, Y Combinator, in California.

The goal is to see how people react in the U.S., says Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator Group. The program gives “unconditional” payments to selected residents of Oakland. The administrators write, “we hope basic income promotes freedom, and we want to see how people experience that freedom.” If it is successful, the plan is to follow up the pilot with a larger, longer-term program”.

Altman says: “50 years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people.”

The Dutch universal basic income proposal is for UBI to replace other social security benefits. It would be paid for with revenue from a number of taxes, including a 30% tax on business profits, tax on air pollution, and a higher tax on “big fortunes,” according to Johan Luijendijk, co-founder of the Basisinkomen 2018 advocacy group, which argues that UBI would be affordable because it would replace other government support programmes.

Replacement or supplement?

Over the years in Britain the writer had always heard of UBI as a replacement proposal – but now she reads Professor Karl Widerquist, founder of Basic Income News, describing the Dutch proposal as unique.

The Basic Income European Network (BIEN) agreed at its general assembly in Seoul (in 2016) that universal basic income should not be a replacement of other social services or entitlements, but instead should work in combination with other services. Widerquist in an email with CNBC, is reported to have said universal basic income “is not ‘generally considered’ as a replacement for the rest of the social safety net. Some see it primarily as a replacement. Others see it as a supplement, filling in the cracks.”

The Swiss campaign for the basic income referendum

Earlier this year, a draft report, tabled by a Member of the European Parliament, Mady Delvaux-Stehres, warned that preparations must be made for what it describes as the “technological revolution” currently taking place, including provisions for the “possible effects on the labour market of robotics”. The report which urges member states to consider a general basic income in preparation for robots taking over people’s jobs passed by 17 votes to two.

Ms Delvaux-Stehres said: “We ask the commission to look at what kind of jobs — or more precisely what kind of tasks — will be taken over by robots. There needs to be a discussion about whether we need to change our social security systems. And even whether we have to think about universal revenue, because if there are so many unemployed people, we need nevertheless to insure that they can have a decent life”. 

However the recommendation to “seriously consider” basic income was rejected for inclusion in the final report, with 328 MEPs voting against the recommendation, 286 MEPs voting in favour, and eight abstaining from the vote.

A study by Oxford University’s Carl Frey and Michael Osborne estimates that 47% of U.S. jobs will potentially be replaced by robots and automated technology in the next 10 to 20 years. Those individuals working in transportation, logistics, office management and production are likely to be the first to lose their jobs to robots; according to the report universal basic income may be necessary.

 

 

 

MEP: Broken Britain needs Great Reform bill with three simple provisions:

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broken-britain-3-mps-bankers

Responding to critics of Jeremy Corbyn, Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP, writing from the European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium, gets to the heart of the matter:

In a political system based on government and opposition, how can Labour fulfil its constitutional duty to strenuously oppose the government’s Brexit plans when voters in the constituencies its MPs represent have “instructed” them not to?

With no written constitution, there was nothing to prevent David Cameron from unleashing the destructive EU referendum with no proper safeguards.

If we had a proportional electoral system, the sound opposition being provided by Green MP Caroline Lucas and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron would be greatly reinforced.

And if we had a democratic and effective second chamber, something my colleague Baroness Jenny Jones has been working for through her House of Lords Reform bill, we might expect its members to restrain the worst excesses of post-referendum foolishness.

Currently they dare not for fear of incurring their own abolition.

Rather than the Great Repeal bill we need a new Great Reform bill with three simple provisions:

  • a written constitution,
  • a proportional voting system
  • and a fully democratic second chamber.

Source: Financial Times

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Land: Scots legislate for the common good

scotland

In marked contrast to the Highland clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, which followed enclosure of agricultural land in England, last March the Scottish parliament passed sweeping land reform legislation intended to increase transparency, boost community ownership, end a twenty-year-old exemption from business rates granted to shooting and deerstalking estates and strengthen the rights of tenant farmers. The bill was passed by a majority of 102 to 14.

Regulation and implementation guidelines will be decided after parliamentary elections in May. Lawyers warn that more clarity is needed on provisions that give community groups the right to purchase privately held land if the government agrees that doing so will promote “sustainable development”.

A strengthening of the rights of tenant farmers, including the creation of a new form of limited duration lease, has been one of the law’s contested elements. Tenants will be able to assign or bequeath their leases to a wider range of people, a change that will encourage transfers to a new generation of farmers.

Some hope for further advances, addressing the over-concentrated pattern of ownership, where it is estimated that 432 owners account for 50% of the nation’s privately held land. A list of the top 20 Scots and foreign landowners was placed on the Highland Clearances website – now shut down. Another list has been found in the Sunday Post. 

However, landowners have warned that the changes could be subject to expensive legal challenge, citing the experience of a previous round of Scottish land reform pushed by Scottish Labour. In 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that the 2003 law strengthening the position of tenant farmers violated a landowner’s right to protection of his property under the European Convention on Human Rights.

comm-land-scotOn 16 March 2016, following a final debate, the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed but will not become an Act of the Scottish Parliament until it can be submitted for Royal Assent by the Presiding Officer. This means that the bill could receive the Royal Assent in mid-April, at the earliest. 

The law aims to increase transparency of land ownership and control through a public register and was described as a major step towards a fairer and more open model of land ownership by Megan MacInnes – Community Land Scotland.

 

 

 

Mary Robinson’s call for citizens across the globe to trust their best instincts and work together for justice

Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a member of The Elders, writes:

mary-robinsonMillions across the world feel that the current globalised system is not working in their best interests. From unemployed former steel workers in the US rust belt, to the small island states in the South Pacific where livelihoods are threatened by climate change, people are angry that decisions taken by governments and in corporate boardrooms appear blithely indifferent to their daily struggles.

We know from history that crude populism offers no real solutions, creating only false hope and scapegoats. Yet it is also clear that there are many politicians who will cynically exploit genuine grievances for their own ends. All of this means that the new year is beginning with uncertainty and trepidation at every level of society.

Potentially seismic changes in political leadership in 2017, not only in the US but also across Europe, Iran, India and parts of Africa, could disrupt established institutions and multilateral processes.

At the same time, across the world we see rising levels of xenophobia and intolerance, a narrowing of political vision and a focus on parochial introspection. It feels as if a lid has been taken off a simmering pot of tensions and discontent. Views on race, gender and religion that only a few years ago were deemed unacceptable are now commonplace. Over the past year we have seen how public discourse can be tarnished by harsh and ugly rhetoric. This is most evident online, where women and minority groups are targets of cowardly abuse and intimidation.

Some politicians claim this is a populist revolt against global elites and that the whole system of international governance established since the end of the second world war, including the UN, needs to be comprehensively overhauled. I would argue that the values that form the foundation of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were in the 1940s and that our challenge is to uphold them.

Politicians and business leaders must reassert our values of dignity for all At the same time, we need to make changes to the international governance system so that it is more resilient, robust, representative and equipped to adapt to new geopolitical realities and complex long-term challenges, including climate change, mass migration and growing inequality. If we are to have any hope of making constructive progress in 2017, and stopping this rising tide of anger turning into destructive nihilism, all responsible politicians, civil society and business leaders must stand firm and reassert our basic, common values of dignity for all. I am encouraged by the fact that there are many leaders, organisations and citizens who are still determined to act together to secure a sustainable future for our people and our planet.

I saw this for myself at the COP 22 climate negotiations that took place in November 2016 in Marrakesh. Leaders from countries at all levels of development — as well as business, cities, regions, civil society and indigenous communities — renewed their commitment to the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The focus now is on implementation, so that any rise in global temperatures can be limited to 1.5C or below, an absolute prerequisite for climate justice.

Fortunately, leadership exists. In Marrakesh, I was very impressed by the Climate Vulnerable Forum: a group of 48 countries that are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and most committed to leading a rapid transformation in their own countries to carbon-neutral, climate resilient economies. I was inspired by their call for “a new era of the pursuit of development, ending poverty, leaving no person behind and protecting the environment” and for an international co-operative system that is fully equipped to address climate change. This is precisely the right vision and attitude — and a powerful antidote to today’s pervasive gloom. Only by embracing such a holistic approach can we successfully implement not only the Paris Agreement but also the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Taken together — which is absolutely essential, because without action on climate change the rest of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will be unachievable — they have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people across the planet.

It must be a bottom-up approach, in which leaders and policymakers show humility and listen to the experiences and voices of people at the sharp end of climate change, poverty, violence and injustice. This is no time for naive optimism; the challenges ahead are stark and the voices of hostility are strident. But I remain inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela, who said in 2003 that: “Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty.”

As a member of The Elders, the group of independent former leaders founded by Mr Mandela to work for peace and human rights, I will hold his words close in the coming year and hope they will continue to inspire citizens across the globe to trust their best instincts and work together for justice.

Rethinking: tomorrow’s economists, who will be running our government, banks, multilateral institutions and think tanks

Echoes of France’s Post-Autistic Economics movement are resounding. In the New Economics Foundation newsletter: Sept/Oct 2001 we read that 27 Cambridge economics PhD students issued a letter calling for a debate about the way economics is carried out – and an end to the mathematical abstractions that bear no relation to the real world. It was said that most of them were so afraid of the reaction of economics departments that they ‘stayed anonymous’. The website set up then is still active – see www.paecon.net – under the name ‘Real World Economics Review’.  Twelve years later, in Manchester, students had no such fears.

pc-economics-society-manchesterLeft to right, Ethan Davies, Fráncéscá Rhŷś-Williams, Joe Earle, Milana Yandieva, Cahal Moran and Jack Hughes

In September’s FT, David Pilling describes a gathering of seven undergraduates in the university’s student union who listened to a brief PowerPoint presentation explaining what was wrong with the economics curriculum.  The Post-Crash Economics Society was founded.

Pilling continues, “The students had gathered in response to an email which read ‘In the middle of the biggest global recession for 80 years, students across the world are questioning the very foundations of our discipline’. It asked whether the economics they were learning, dominated by mathematical formula and abstract models, was relevant to the real world. “How far can economics be called a real science?” it prodded, an allusion to academic economists’ tendency to present their equations and mathematical identities as iron laws rather than imperfect attempts to model unpredictable human interactions. Isn’t economics, they suggested, really more like politics than physics?”

He comments that it is hardly surprising that after the sharpest economic crisis since the Wall Street crash and an even more prolonged sense of malaise, which has provoked political upheavals across Europe and the US, the economics profession is under profound pressure:

The most glaring failure of mainstream economics, the students argue, is its failure to explain, much less foresee, the financial crash of 2008. Joe Earle, a founder of Post-Crash Economics says this was not mentioned once during his entire first year at Manchester in 2011. Rather, his lecturers appeared to believe in a rational economic system that was largely self-correcting, one that would return naturally to a state of equilibrium.

pc-economics-global

Pilling mentions similar developments at Cambridge, Goldsmiths College, the University of Greenwich and University College London. He adds that Post-Crash Economics itself has folded into Rethinking Economics, a registered charity that links more than 40 student groups pressing for curriculum changes in campuses from Italy to Canada and from China to Brazil (above and map).

pc-economics-map

Pilling: “The revolt over the curriculum has implications far beyond academia. Today’s students are, after all, tomorrow’s trained economists, who will be running our economies from their desks in government, banks, multilateral institutions and think tanks. What students learn about how economies work and how governments can influence outcomes will have a profound impact on future policies covering everything from tax and spending to interest rates, minimum wages, greenhouse gas emissions and trade”.

 

 

 

Elect a public-spirited prime minister with the nerve to take on corporate ‘titans’

edward luceEdward Luce, an English journalist and the Financial Times’ chief US commentator and columnist based in Washington, DC, comments:

”The last people to grasp that things have gone wrong are the wealthy, the well-connected and the cognitive elites” . . .

“The wealthy’s share of the economy has risen sharply since the start of the century. The share of corporate profits in the economy has also soared. If you are rich you can afford what used to be normal for everyone — the privilege of interacting with human beings (in the service sector)”.

Thus:

  • high net worth individuals receive personalised banking, where their bank manager knows their name and needs.
  • The wealthy also benefit from so-called concierge health services, which come with a human face.
  • Many oligopolistic service providers keep clandestine lists of VIP customers who need not wade through robotic software before reaching a customer service agent. When they pick up the phone, a human answers.

Ordinary consumers, much like most voters, know there are different rules for them. They also sense that the big service providers pay more attention to regulators than to their disaffected customers. It is a perfectly rational thing to do.

The top companies have markedly increased their market share in the past decade and this has led to a lack of real competition — giving them licence to treat consumers with impunity in the telecoms, information technology, transport, retail services and banking sectors.

Politicians rank their priorities in much the same order. Voters come low on their list.

Lawmakers devote time to raising money from donors. In most areas, the voter barely matters since gerrymandering or the party elite will have has rigged the election. Politicians with large war chests are far less likely to be challenged for their party’s nomination. The same logic leads companies to keep a strong lobbying presence in government circles.

Luce asks “So what can people do? As consumers very little”.

But to elect a public-spirited prime minister with the nerve to take on corporate ‘titans’ would be great populism and smart policy.