Category Archives: economy

Nurture and rebuild local economies and international relations: Hines, Corbyn, McDonnell

Opposition to open borders and failed neo-liberal policies that transferred wealth to the private sector and cut funding public services, fuelled the Brexit result, Donald Trump’s election and the continued rise of Marine Le Pen in the French polls. Colin Hines, in a letter to the Financial Times, said that these trends all point to the conclusion that the future will be one of protectionism, asking “The question is, what kind?” His answer:

“President Trump is a 1930s-style one-sided protectionist. He wants to curb imports that cause domestic unemployment, but at the same time plans to use “all possible leverage” to open up foreign markets to US exports”.

To avoid a re-run of the 1930s, when the US and others took a similar approach, Hines advocates a very different kind of “progressive protectionism” – one that can benefit all countries by nurturing and rebuilding local economies, reducing the level of international movement of goods, money and services. Policies geared to achieving more job security, a decrease in inequality, and protection of the environment globally would be championed.

Shadow Chancellor: a focus on developing strong local economies 

Sienna Rodgers reports that the shadow chancellor is in Preston today, a city whose ‘co-operative council’ has taken an innovative approach to funding in the face of swingeing budget cuts (see Localise West Midlands). In his speech McDonnell will champion “creative solutions” for local authorities suffering under austerity, from bringing services back in house to setting up energy companies, with a focus on developing strong local economies.

Such economic action, many believe, must be accompanied by a profound change in our foreign/defence policy 

A serious commitment is required to averting armed conflict, wherever tensions rise, by diplomacy, mediation and negotiation, redirecting the wealth currently used to subsidise the arms industry and to prepare for aggressive military action. This has also long been advocated by John McDonnell   (see Ministry for Peace, archived).

These are the policies of Jeremy Corbyn, who has made peace and disarmament his major international priorities. He has already appointed MP Fabian Hamilton as shadow minister for ‘peace and disarmament’, with a brief to ‘reduce violence, war and conflict’, participating in multilateral disarmament meetings at the UN in New York.

Mr Hamilton, who will prioritise reducing supplies of guns and other weapons worldwide, said that Labour is strongly committed to helping to reduce the violence, war and conflict in the world which destroys so many innocent lives every day and – many would add – cripples the economies of many regions, forcing their citizens to emigrate to find peace and to make a living.

 

 

 

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Should Labour put an end to PFI schemes and outsourcing?

George Parker of the Financial Times reported on the content of a video by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, watched almost 300,000 times in 24 hours on Facebook.

Corbyn sees the collapse of Carillion, the company responsible for everything from building hospitals to providing school meals, as a “watershed” moment that proves that the private sector should not be running swathes of Britain’s public services. More here.

The revolution in outsourcing public services was started by Margaret Thatcher and continued by New Labour under Tony Blair. Since 1980 public services — from providing school meals to refuelling RAF aircraft — have been outsourced to the private sector. Questions have been about whether the taxpayer is getting best value for money from some contracts, listed here. There is more on unsafe PFI hospitals and collapsing PFI schools here.

Should PFI schemes and outsourcing be ended under Labour? There is a substantial body of opinion that, though much of the criticism of PFI is justified, and relevant to the debate on outsourcing, this would be a mistake.  

The FT points put that the big driver of PFI has long been the desire to keep debt off the government’s balance sheet. A correspondent agrees with this: “Certainly, otherwise Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would have been accused of profligacy, whereas using PFI allowed them to be popular in the short term whilst transferring the problem to future generations”.

The civil service, according to the FT, is often very bad at specifying what it wants and managing contracts – our correspondent adds: “Because they change their minds part way through!!” 

Both agree that the processes for assessing the value of PFI projects, monitoring projects and evaluating PFI’s overall performance must become more rigorous.

Reports from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Select Committee indicate that successive governments have indeed been accepting unrealistically low bids, leading to inadequate levels of staffing. The Times this week quoted from a report issued by Balfour Beatty that in future it needs to move away from the position where fixed-price contracts, risk transfer and lowest-cost tendering are the norm.

Should hospitals, schools, prisons etc be built with cheap and flexible funding from the Public Works Loan Board? This arm of the Treasury has been helping to finance capital spending by local government since 1793. Its interest rates, linked to those in the gilt-edged market, have been at exceptionally low levels since the financial crisis of 2007-08.

Our correspondent responds: “Very good idea – but still needs a proper project managing organisation”.

 

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Time for change: junk the Anglo-Saxon model* in 2018

The FT reports that senior executives at several of the largest US banks have privately told the Trump administration they feared the prospect of a Labour victory if Britain were forced into new elections.

It then referred to a report by analysts at Morgan Stanley arguing that a Corbyn government would mark the “most significant political shift in the UK” since Margaret Thatcher’s election and may represent a “bigger risk than Brexit” to the British economy. It predicted snap elections next year, arguing that the prospect of a return to the polls “is much more scary from an equity perspective than Brexit”.

Jeremy Corbyn gave ‘a clear response’ to Morgan Stanley in a video (left) published on social media reflecting anti-Wall Street rhetoric from some mainstream politicians in the US and Europe, saying: “These are the same speculators and gamblers who crashed our economy in 2008 . . . could anyone refute the headline claim that bankers are indeed glorified gamblers playing with the fate of our nation?”

He warned global banks that operate out of the City of London that he would indeed be a “threat” to their business if he became prime minister.

He singled out Morgan Stanley, the US investment bank, for particular criticism, arguing that James Gorman, its chief executive, was paying himself a salary of millions of pounds as ordinary British workers are “finding it harder to get by”.

Corbyn blamed the “greed” of the big banks and said the financial crisis they caused had led to a “crisis” in the public services: “because the Tories used the aftermath of the financial crisis to push through unnecessary and deeply damaging austerity”.

The FT points out that donors linked to Morgan Stanley had given £350,000 to the Tory party since 2006 and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, had met the bank four times, most recently in April 2017. The bank also had strong ties to New Labour: “Alistair Darling, a Labour chancellor until 2010, has served on the bank’s board since 2015. Jeremy Heywood, head of Britain’s civil service, was a managing director at Morgan Stanley, including as co-head of UK investment banking, before returning to public service in 2007”.

A step forward?

In a December article the FT pointed out that the UK lacks the kind of community banks or Sparkassen that are the bedrock of small business lending in many other countries adding: “When Labour’s John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, calls for a network of regional banks, he is calling attention to a real issue”. And an FT reader commented, “The single most important ethos change required is this: publish everyone’s tax returns”:

  • In Norway, you can walk into your local library or central council office and see how much tax your boss paid, how much tax your councillor paid, how much tax your politician paid.
  • This means major tax avoidance, complex schemes, major offshoring, etc, is almost impossible, because it combines morality and social morals with ethics and taxation.
  • We need to minimise this offshoring and tax avoidance; but the people in control of the information media flow, plus the politicians, rely on exactly these methods to increase their cash reserves.

But first give hope to many by electing a truly social democratic party.

Is the rainbow suggesting a new party logo?

*the Anglo-Saxon model

 

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Rebuild the local economy: prioritise labour-intensive sectors, difficult to automate, impossible to relocate abroad

Colin Hines, convenor of the UK Green New Deal Group, comments on the Guardian’s recent editorial on productivity and robots which ‘repeated the cliché that automation does cost jobs, but more are created’.

He says that the problem with this is that the new jobs are frequently in different places from where they are lost and require very different skills, hence exacerbating the problems for the “left behind”.

Also unmentioned was that just as automation is starting to really bite, the world faces a strong possibility of another serious credit-induced economic downturn, from China to the UK and a perfect storm of domestic unemployment soaring and export markets falling, as happened after the 2008 economic slump.

The answer to these problems has to be a shift of emphasis to rebuilding the local economy by prioritising labour-intensive sectors that are difficult to automate and impossible to relocate abroad.

Two sectors are key:

  • face-to-face caring from medicine, education and elderly care
  • carbon-reducing national infrastructural renewal.

This should range from making the UK’s 30m buildings energy efficient, constructing new low-carbon dwellings and rebuilding local public transport links.

Funding could come from fairer taxes, local authority bonds in which all could invest, green ISAs and a massive new green infrastructure QE programme.

This approach should become central to all political parties, set out in their next election manifestos because “jobs in absolutely every constituency” is the crucial vote-winning mantra.

 

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Rupert Read reviewed Colin Hines’ ebook, Progressive Protectionism in RESURGENCE AND ECOLOGIST May/June 2017

Rupert Read, Chair of the Green House thinktank, described Colin Hines’ new book as a ‘feisty clarion call’ to greens and ‘the Left’ – and, we add, small ‘c’ conservatives.

It calls for a change of direction: away from acquiescence in the trade treaties which shaped the deregulated world that spawned the financial crisis — and toward protection of nature, workers, localities and national sovereignty, as the key locale where democracy might resist rootless international capital.

Progressive protectionism’ is completely unlike the ‘protectionism’ of the 1930s, that sought to protect one’s own economy while undermining others; this by contrast is an internationalist protectionism, aimed, “at reducing permanently the amount of international trade”, and making countries around the world more self-reliant/resilient. ‘

Read believes that too many ‘progressives’ have sleepwalked into tacitly pro-globalisation positions incompatible with protecting what we most care about.

And partly because of this, a new political power is rising that threatens to trash the future: The Brexit vote and (in particular) the election of Donald Trump have restored the word ‘protectionism’ to the popular political vocabulary.

Hines argues that we need to take back protectionism from the Right. He means that only policies of progressive protectionism can make real the idea of “taking back control”. Read thinks that’s right. If we embrace progressive protectionism, we’ve something better to offer the voting public than they have.

The chapter on ‘free movement’ will be the most controversial of all. Hines (Ed: rightly) points out that countries such as Romania and the Philippines are being stripped bare of their medical personnel, and argues that no decent internationalist can support this sucking out of ‘the brightest and the best’ from their home countries.

We can take control of the agenda, rationally and seek to minimise such movement; for example by helping to make conditions better in home countries, tackling dangerous climate change, stopping foreign wars of aggression, encouraging ‘Site Here to Sell Here’ policies everywhere, and bringing back capital controls which helped the world prosper safely from 1947 till 1971 (and which certain countries, such as Iceland, have already brought back).

Capital controls are crucial, because they stop the threat of relocation which multinationals have used to ‘discipline’ democracies for too many years now (Ed: and capital can then be reinvested in the communities from which that capital was accrued).

Hines argues that the Treaty of Rome needs transforming into a ‘Treaty of Home’ that will allow peoples to protect what they hold dear – and Read thinks politicians on the Continent need to read his book if they are to prevent further exits, starting possibly with France. Read ends:

“This book is a necessary read. Perfect it ain’t; it’s slightly repetitive, and there are problems of substance too: most Resurgence readers will (rightly) dislike how soft Hines is on economic-growthism, and will wish that he were readier to embrace the post-growth future that is demanded by the acceptance that we are already breaching the limits to growth.

“But if there is to be a future, then progressive protectionism will surely be part of it. This book is crucial thought-leadership for us, away from the political dead-end of globalisationist fantasy, and toward a localisation that can transform the debate – and then the world”.

Progressive Protectionism Park House Press, 2017; ISBN 978-0-9544751-2-3

Read’s review may be read here: https://britain2020.wordpress.com/papers-reviews-reports-well-worth-reading/rupert-reads-review-of-colin-hiness-ebook-progressive-protectionism/

Money Week editor: ‘horrible’ side effects of quantitative easing and record-low interest rates

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Merryn Somerset Webb, editor-in-chief of MoneyWeek, is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK recently wrote in the Financial Times:

It has been a good week for billionaires.

The UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017 claimed the combined wealth of the world’s 1,542 billionaires rose by almost a fifth last year to $6tn: more than double the UK’s gross domestic product.

It has not been a particularly good week for governments.

They have to deal with the fallout from rising wealth inequality, and that fallout is getting increasingly nasty.

This kind of report does not do much for central bankers, either.

The rise of the billionaires is as much about financial globalisation as it is easy money, but every time a report lands on their desks, central bankers must stop to think about the economic, social and political havoc their policies have caused over the past 10 years.

The desperate attempt to avoid deflation via quantitative easing and record-low interest rates has had horrible side effects . . .

  • The rich have become much richer;
  • corporate wealth has become more concentrated;
  • soaring house prices have created intergenerational strife;
  • low yields have made all but the super-rich paranoid that they will be entirely unable to finance their futures.
  • Most markets have ended up overvalued (overvalued stock has a price not justified by its earningsoutlook or price/earnings ratio) – later, this will really matter.

This, while pension fund deficits and a constant sense of crisis have discouraged capital investment — and have possibly held down wages in the UK.

 

 

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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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