Selina Todd (2015) The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class.

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I liked this book, it’s about us, the working class often portrayed standing outside history books adding a bit of colour to the stories of kings and governors, quietly happy to die for their country, or the working class portrayed as a Lemuel Gulliver lying down in the long grass and falling asleep and being tied down by Lilliputians who make theatrical speeches he doesn’t understand but he does what the little men, the 1% of the population want him to do, anyway. That’s not the case. If the working class were Gulliver he’s prone to poke himself in the eye. Tie down one foot and chop off a leg and dance the hornpipe. As Selina Todd makes clear the working class are not a uniform body. What they have in common, what we have in common is our relationship to the means of production. The working man needs to work to survive. Elite groups do not. Class is about who is holding the stick, how big is it and how hard are they going to hit us?

If you look at relationships this way things become a lot clearer. Take Teresa May, for example, a sluggish economy, just over 1% growth, because of the managed industrial decline of industry in the last fifty years we have non-jobs and the highest personal-debt ratio in Europe, common people are struggling,   Britain is dependent on selling its goods and services to the largest trading block in the world and if the EEC doesn’t want them, well, what stick is she going to hit them with? We import more than we export. We are a debtor nation.  Withdrawal, the longest suicide note in history springs to mind.

In the Afterword, Selina Todd quotes John Maynard Keynes, on the 2008 crisis applies equally here. Capitalism relies on ‘the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.’

She could equally well have quoted Owen the narrator of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist from almost 100 years ago:

The question is, what is the cause of the lifelong poverty of those who are not drunkards and who DO work? Why, if all the drunkards and wont-works and unskilled or inefficient workers who could be by some miracle transformed into sober, industrious and skilled workers tomorrow, it would, under the present conditions, be so much worse for us, because there isn’t enough work NOW, and those people by increasing the competition for what work there is, would inevitably cause a reduction in wages and greater scarcity of employment. The theories that drunkenness, laziness or inefficiency are the causes of poverty are so many devices invented and fostered by those who are selflessly interested in maintaining the present state of affairs, for the purposes of discovering the real causes of our present condition.

Todd charts the high points of the People, the working class after the Second World War up to around 1970 and the advent of neoliberal policies designed ostensibly to revive the economy but took money from the poor and gave it to the rich. Trickle-down-economics and the ideology or Thatcherism, everyman for themselves finds expression in quixotic Think tanks like The Centre for Social Justice which is the kind of sham that had Boris Johnson standing beside a bus and promising to spend £150 million a week on the NHS when we left the European Union. The sham of The Taxpayers Alliance, which demands value for money, which sounds laudable, but they don’t mean their money, they mean poor people’s money. The working class won the Second World War, but lost the ideological war and are now paying for that failure, but which is marketed as a success. We know, of course, right-wing neoliberals with double-barrel names don’t read books like this, but they do write government policy.

Here are some common myths Todd deals with.

Myth 1: The economic crisis was caused the welfare state.

What history reminds us is that targeting welfare at the poorest is not the answer. Instead we need wealth to be redistributed more equally.

Myth 2: We can only solve the economic crisis by all working very hard.

‘Hard work has never solved poverty. If it did, then no one would have been poor during the three decades after 1945, when work was more plentiful than before or since.’

‘Rather than dividing people between those who are and aren’t members of “hardworking families” we should ask why anyone should have to work at all.’

What Todd is saying here isn’t that much different from those on the far right, charting the rise of the robots and the mass unemployment which will ensure in the next ten years and whose talk once more turns to citizens being allocated an allowance.

Myth 3: Working-class people’s opportunities are blocked by women and immigrants.

‘By focusing on migrants, we move our gaze from the real culprits: employees and politicians, who turn migrant workers into cheap and exploitable wage slaves.’

‘If migrants are wrongly blamed for the economic crisis, so too are women…Far from “choosing” to go out and earn [pin] money rather than have babies, many women go out to work to support children, unemployed husbands or partners, and parents who, in old age, face poverty. In 1996, 67% of mothers with dependent children went out to work, by 2013, 72% of them were doing so.’

Myth 4: Social mobility, promoted by selective and private education, can solve inequlity.

‘It’s ironic that a political consensus exists that post-war Britain was a meritocratic society, given how clearly erroneous that claim is.’

‘A society as technologically advanced as ours, as rich in natural resources and wealth, could and should be committed to providing all children with the best possible start in life, not just a handpicked few.’

‘Since 2010 spending of education has fallen at the fastest rate since the 1950s.’

Myth 5: People’s greed and selfishness prevent us from creating a different sort of society.

‘What we have to do now is to start working out the first steps towards revealing an alternative way to live better than neoliberalism…class testifies to inequality and inequality has not worked or any of us.’

‘economic growth does not improve quality of life, but economic redistribution can and will. Britain was healthier and happier place in the post-war years because there was some re-distribution.’

We need to trust ourselves to find a more democratic and transparent way of creating an equal society.

We can do this because we’ve done it before.

We need to question why work is at the centre of our lives. There is no reason why so many of us should have to spend most of our lives working in jobs that achieve little or nothing…no reason why we should not be able to undertake meaningful work, organized for the benefit of society and not the 1 percent who live off profit.

Class, as a relationship of unequal power, shapes British society.’

The important thing is to recognise the shared experiences and build on it, not quibble over semantics.

If the past teaches us anything it is this: if the people want a better future, we can, and must, create it, ourselves.’

 

 

 

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Our future in her hands!

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Theresa May, or may not be, the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister. But I’m with Clement Attlee on this one. :  for the Tory party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation.

Attlee was, of course, fighting his and Labour’s corner. Trying to kick-start the NHS and Welfare State and wrestle the money to pay for it away from the gentry, who didn’t require either. The fifth-richest nation in the world (so we keep getting told) didn’t even have Foodbanks then. As a plucky little island nation now decidedly drifting away from our neighbours, we are in the oxymoronic position of a political leader leading us out of the European Union she campaigned and voted to stay in.

This brings to mind a conversation I had yesterday with an old woman that said she had stolen two things in her life. One of them was a single grape and the other…well, I wasn’t even listening. I told the old woman straight, ‘I’ve never stolen a grape, in my life’.

Theresa May, as Home Secretary, despite her posturing, and the fading map of the British Empire tattooed under her hair in red, has allowed more refugees into Britain, net migration, than before she took her current cabinet position. That’s the facts. Look them up if you don’t believe me. She’s on par here with that other fabulist, George Osborne, holding up a black briefcase for the press and telling them  what  our public-debt ratio needs to be and how it  will be wiped out before the Conservative Government will spend a penny. That’s a bit like when I used to boast I’d hit 180 with three darts and pull the arrows out of the dartboard before anybody noticed I’d hit treble 1, 20 and 5. If you’re more interested in what John Maynard Keynes termed the ‘dismal science’, William Keegan’s (2014) Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment: Austerity 1945-51 and 2010— makes a comparison with the real constraints faced by Attlee and the Labour Party and propaganda war waged by the contemporary rich carpetbaggers against the poor of which ‘there’s no money’ was a key prop. Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has since Brexit conceded that he can no longer meet his self-imposed ratio. Instead, he targeted a three dart finish, with two darts, and a bit of quantitative easing, and he hoped with the markets crashing around his Noddy-like ears, nobody was watching.  There was plenty of money, then as now – for the rich. Ironically, the best definition of that mindset comes from David Wilson’s memoir, Left Field, written by the co-founder of War Child and educated at Canford, public school. ‘Language and behaviour were codified to distance the Upper Class and middle class…they were non-U to our U.’  Osborne and Cameron are the chalk dust of history.

A terrible stench still lingers. The poor, ‘non-U,’ more easily defined by a hybrid word. Benefit – add cheat. Fling in an Eton spoon, mix in healthy dose of hatred. Those that start the day in debt and end the day in debt. Those that continue, despite the largess of the state, to live and breed in public housing. This is Jeremy Kyle land. Shorthand, in the rich man’s propaganda, for scum.

We were never all in it together, as David Cameron famously lip-synced for the cameras. In the propaganda war refugees also have a shorthand ‘swarm’. David Cameron didn’t need a script writer to think that one up. It was on the tip of his tongue. We’ve had Poems for Refugees. Remember that one, issued by War Child to alleviate the suffering of Afghanistan refugees. The pages fall open, the war to end all wars,  Dulce et Decorum Est.  The trumpets call of a different kind, Berthold Brecht, Concerning The Label Emigrant.

I always found the name false which they gave us, Emigrants

That means those who leave their country. But we

Did not leave of our own free will

Choosing another land. Nor did we enter

Into another land, to stay there, if possible, for ever.

Merely, we fled. We are driven out, banned

Europe on the move. Seven million Syrians displaced. Pastor Martin Neimoller’s warning of a different genocide.

First they came for the Jew

and I did not speak out –

because I was not a Jew

Then they came for the communists

and I did not speak out-

because I was not a communist

Then they came for the Trade Unionist

and I did not speak out –

because I was not a trade Unionist

Then they came for me-

and there was no one left

to speak out for me.

Joan Smith, ‘To Avoid Worse,’ in an anthology of writing on asylum seekers, A Country of Refuge, makes the point that Anne Frank’s secret apartment in Amsterdam became a shrine and her diaries were a critical and international literary success which inspired a Hollywood movie, but if that teenage girl presented herself at our borders today, she’d be turned away. ‘By the beginning of 1939, there were 300 000 on the waiting list for American visas.’ And a headnote from history that mirrors headlines and promises from the likes of Theresa May today, ‘Tragically, the American government had recently followed the example of some European countries, instructing US consuls to delay visa approvals on the grounds of national security.’

Theresa May has already promised the party faithful that those children already here will be deported back to their homeland when they turn eighteen. Bravo, our brave Prime Minister in waiting. Joan Smith suggests that ‘Aylan Kurdi did not need to die any more than Anne Frank’. You’ve probably heard of Anne Frank and are wondering who the hell is Aylan Kurdi. But if I tell you his little body was washed up at the beach at Bodrum, red T-shirt, blue shorts, his face turned into the sand. His image flashed around the world. The Turkish policeman, Mehmet Cuplak, who gently lifted his body from the beach gaining, temporary, celebrity status.  Just think if Aylan had lived long enough we could have educated him in typical English language and values then deported him back to Kobani where a shell had blown up their house, or let him live his life in a refugee camp in Istanbul, without his drowned mother or brother, where his type belonged. Caring, compassionate, Conservatism.

As A.L.Kennedy, ‘The Migrants’ suggests, at that point the Paris bombings and shootings hadn’t happened. After Paris the face of the refugee was that of the Muslim bomber, a threat to our way of life. In fact, to our life.  Most decidedly, non-U, lower even than the working-class, non-U.  Kennedy calls the Home Secretary to account. In plain terms she calls the future Prime Minister a liar, but in mitigation, perhaps no more than say Boris Johnson or George Osborne or David Cameron. The best form of propaganda as Brexit demonstrates is fear and loathing. The Home Secretary received a standing ovation when she repeated those old favourites about immigrants stealing hard-won jobs, coming here to get treated for free by our splendid NHS and claim benefits. Theresa May has shown a clean pair of hands when dealing with the problem of immigration. I’m sure she’ll make a wonderful Prime Minister for the rich and privileged. No change there then.

 

 

 

Brexit and fuck-you politics.

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Ha-Joon Chang, The Little Blue Book:  ‘Economics is politics.’

Charles Darwin urged the ‘weak in mind and body’ to refrain from marriage. That’s why I never married. Contemporary disciples of Francis Galton’s scientific racism now favour that dismal science of pseudo-economics. Economic racism doesn’t discriminate against the rich. It is premised on it. The poor are feedstock for those that have accumulated land and wealth. A propaganda war, which we used to call ideology, or even Marxism, has been running against those without both for the last thirty years. It’s based on trickle-down economics. That means rich folk saying fuck you, I’m doing alright, whilst continuing to take an increasing share of the national income from the poor. Thomas Piketty, Capital shows with extensive research and an analysis of national figures the feebleness of this approach.  To paraphrase the US giant, General Motors.  What’s good for the economy is good for the rich, or so they keep telling us –ad nauseum.

The demonization of the poor is highly popular entertainment, cartoon demons that can be traced to the loss of the idea of social security. All being in it together. Remember that old David Cameron whopper, from our soon to be, Brexited, Prime Minister. Look at our glorious history. This was epitomised by the idea of homes fit for heroes after the First World War. After the Second World War, Britain led the way with the Beveridge Report and the welfare state and modern states followed our lead.  The American term welfare was exported back to us at great social cost, a  catch-all term and negative imagery carried by association. Prostitutes, junkies, alkies and council-house scum. (See for, example, ripostes from Owen Jones’ Chavs or Lynn Hanley, Estates.) Proof that welfare wasn’t working and dragging the nation down. Poor people,  whipping boys for the private sector and the top five-percent of  Eton educated and Oxbridge sponsored prevailing government ideology. Indeed, like Happy Gilmore with one golf club, they continued to beat all before them, slaughtering the poor, the public sector, and those on welfare while sweeping those before them in election after election with one idea. Rip up the social fabric. Trust us.  Give them less and us more. Nicholas Timmins, The Five Giants. A Biography of the Welfare State joked about the Tories mimicking the George Bush, Texas model, and meeting in a closed room and allocating public resources to their chums to run as part of their personal fiefdom. Who’s laughing now? Look no further than the recent debacle of those rich citizens paid rent to build and maintain local-authority schools, and even though bits were falling off, structural damage some cynics may call it, but moving sideways, with a neat trick economists call vertical integration and running the schools they build. This wasn’t called profit, but economic rent. Getting what they were due.  A quick fix was the idea of calling local-authority schools, Academies. In any language this is called monopoly. For all its faults the European Economic Union wasn’t that keen on these ideas, hence their challenge of Google’s monopoly powers to shape choices on the internet. The European Economic Unions determination that companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Facebook that have hundreds of billions in revenue pay some tax. But, of course, London is the greatest money laundering system in the world.   In comparison, try counting on one hand the number of media posts and television programmes depicting the lives of those on benefits, receiving government money. The latest ruse was to show that some of them had the gall to live in houses with more than one bedroom. Smokers. Drinkers. Obese. Round up the usual suspects. If there was such a thing as the Anglo-Saxon English race they were losing was the subtext and war cry.

Enoch Powell’s ‘river of blood’ speech in the late sixties tapped into popular zeitgeist. If they’re black send them back. A group of white working-class men were shown chanting, ‘niggers go home’ on a recent More4 programme, ‘Born on the Same Day,’ which showed the experience of a Jamaican immigrant, Ewart, growing up in multicultural Great Britain.

Remember the signs on private-let housing:

No blacks

No Irish

No dogs.

Add to that list: No DSS. NO WELFARE. NO REFUGEES HERE.

Brexit  tapped into a popular state-sponsored hate campaign.  Racism has long roots. Rudyard Kipling summed it up. ‘All the people like us are, We, and everyone else is They.’ It’s no coincidence that Robert A Douglas in That Line of Darkness, The Shadow of Dracula and the Great War has consecutive chapters on ‘Fear and Loathing of the Underclass’ (the working class) followed by ‘Xenophobia, Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism’ (replace with anti-Muslim rhetoric). It’s worth quoting Douglas below on those nineteenth-century patterns when Britain had an Empire to fleece, patterns which are recognisable today, with spokesmen such as Nigel Farage echoing the same sentiments, playing on xenophobic fears of the other, and being taken up by the Conservative Party and possibly the next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson:

Several commentators worried about Britain’s capacity for assimilating such large numbers and potential economic difficulties; however the more virulent spokespersons fed on the fears of crime, disease and tribalism to lobby for immigration restrictions…

A Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath took Great Britain into the EEC. Another, David Cameron, has taken us out. Britain no longer has an Empire. It no longer has the protection of a market to which we export most of our goods and services. We currently import around seven percent more than we export. That’s one deficit we really should worry about. When trading blocs such as the US and China, and now the EEC, play hard ball with small nations that have little or no leverage who can blame them? For we’ve voted to become a third-world nation. Fear of the other has made us a pariah nation. But the biggest fear is other nations will follow. Then with most countries resorting to protectionism there will be no common market. No market at all. What brought the world wide and general depression of the 1930s to an end was the Second World War. What brought the ideology of xenophobia and the pseudoscience of eugenics to an end was the Nazi death camps. Little England has never looked or felt so small. Fuck you, I’m alright Jack the triumphant calling card. For opportunist politicians such as Boris Johnson (and Donald Trump) that’s the only invitation they need. Fear of the other. I fear these ghoul-like creatures we have voted for most of all.

 

 

Matthew Desmond (2016) Evicted. Poverty and Profit in the American City.

The blurb on the cover by Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks reads: ‘A masterpiece. Beautiful, harrowing and deeply human’. You may remember that Rebecca Skloot immersed herself in the story of how a poor black woman, daughter of tobacco farmer, contracted a virulent cancer that killed her, but her cells were taken without her or her family’s knowledge and literally spawned a billion-dollar industry while those left behind, her ancestors, remained in poverty. Rebecca Skloot is therefore qualified to speak about injustice, poverty and how poor black women’s lives, and that of their children, are routinely ripped apart in the US housing debacle, another billion dollar industry. Rebecca Skloot could not, however, step inside the life of Henrietta Lacks and narrate in the first person.  Although certain situation are contrived as the author has reconstructed what happened, the prose are Sontag-like and the drama equal to Dominique Lapierre’s (1985) novel City of Joy. But fiction can never shock in the way that factual does. This is Milwaukee, a typical American city,  and Matthew Desmond follows the lives of the poor black community trying to make rent and live another day between May 2008 and December 2009. But let’s not kid ourselves things have got better since then.

Two registers in which public discussion of housing poverty take place i) indifference ii) fear  it will become contagious. This feeds into anger and the blame game orchestrated by conservative politicians. We see it this side of the Atlantic with every programme that shows how real people supposedly live and have in their title ‘Benefit’.  Who benefits is never asked.

Rent payments typically take up 60%-70% of Belinda client’s income. Belinda also take a cut, $37 a month for her services, and she has 230 clients, as she helps manage the poorest of the poor’s money. The majority of the poor spend over 50% of their income on rent. Millions are evicted every year. In Milwaukee, with just over 100 000 rental units, landlords annually evict 16 000 adults and children. Many of Belinda’s clients have little left over for utilities and food. ‘Rent eats first,’ is the way Desmond phrases it and the way those on streets live it. In 2010 The New York Times reported 1 in 50 Americans lived in a household whose income consisted only of Food Stamps.    Arleen is not on Belinda’s list. She can manage her own money, but she can’t manage rent. She has three children and her daughter has two children. Arleen is one of the lucky ones, because of her chronic depression she gets government help. $20.65 a day. $7536 a year. The welfare cheque is not enough to live own. The US government’s own statistics show that time and time again. Welfare payments, frozen since 1997. Rent and utilities soar.  The problem doesn’t lie with the system, the problem lies with the person. That’s what they’re told.  Arleen, her daughter and her grandchildren all choose to be poor, choose to live in poverty. They do stupid things, like buy face cream, instead of putting the money aside and saving for a new and better future.  Arleen has given up hope of applying for housing assistance. Landlords, like Shareen, love housing assistance, because it can be paid directly to them, and her clients would only have to pay around 30% of their income to her. And not the 60% -70% that most pay. Or in Arleen’s case she has promised the whole of her next cheque. $675 in the hope that Shareen will not evict her. Shareen is astute. She takes the cheque for back rent and still evicts Arleen. There’s millions of reasons of evicting a family. Toss a coin.  Heads, landlords like Shareen or Tobin, who runs a trailer park, win. Tails, tenants lose. That’s the way the system works. Seventy-five percent of families do not live in public housing and do not qualify for housing vouchers. In places like Washington DC the waiting list for public housing is closed and those on the list can expect to wait several decades to get a house.

There’s more money in misery that in affluence. Renters pay for the property. They act as caretakers and when a sink gets blocked or a bath blocked or report bugs running along the walls they can report it to their landlord, to be told it’s their fault and receive an eviction notice, or they can live with it. They might even, for example, get a plumber out and fix it, but that costs money and adds to the landlord’s assets. Even if they do nothing, property prices keep rising and they pay for the landlord’s future. For a price, Shareen, for example, offers to tutor her tenants in money matters and help them buy their rented units off her. The money she makes from the sale means she can afford two more units. It’s win-win for her. Even when she has to leave the casino where she’s gambling with $50 chips because one of her units is burning down, and one of her client’s children dies, the insurance payment allows her to buy more units. Make more money from another’s misery. Shareen and her partner Quentin are black, like their client pool. They know how the world works. When there is money in the house, their units, they are there with hand out, first in line to be paid. No second chances. That’s for mugs. Don’t let anyone screw you. Screw everyone for as much as you can get. That’s only fair. The comparison with drug dealers getting their money makes them smile. That’s the way the booming housing market works. Landlords lord it over everyone. There’s an eviction epidemic.  A lucrative business more likely to be passed from father to son than most.

Children don’t protect mothers from eviction. They are far more likely to lead to eviction. And having children makes it far more difficult to rent.  And if one of the unwritten rules of rent kingdom is you don’t call your landlord to complain about anything in your unit breaking down –such as a toilet- then the other is don’t call the police. Arleen was asked to leave a unit because her son had an asthma attack and she phoned for an ambulance, which came with the fire brigade. No police presence. That’s a big no-no. Police bring trouble to landlords. They can call in social services. They can and will call for units to be inspected for violations of the housing code.

In Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch 22, Yossarian tried to get himself grounded because only a crazy man would fly any more missions that would kill him, but only those sane enough to know that could not claim they were insane and had to continue flying sorties. Desmond cites a case of Catch 22, when poor black women living in rental units have the option of being murdered by their boyfriend or ex-boyfriend, or phoning the police and being evicted. Policing in Milwaukee also means policing landlords. Those that fail to comply with dealing with nuisance tenants that contact the police are likely to be fined or face criminal prosecution. Again and again Desmond shows the police bureaucracy default position is the tenant should be evicted. That is the only ‘approved’ option. So when the Milwaukee Chief of Police when trying to explain a spike in the number of young black females killed and says he can’t explain it as they’re only a phone call away, he’s playing the part of Doc Daneeka in Catch 22. Only this isn’t fiction. Real life kills you.  No one cares. It’s only poor black people that are dying.

Evicted would be familiar to many living in London and the suburbs. To those living in Scotland, with one in four children living in poverty, poverty and profit, is something someone else worries about. Matthew Desmond complicates things too much when he’s looking for solutions. Simplify. Build more houses. Stop taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. Take money from the rich and give it to the poor. But we all know how difficult that is. No mainstream political party dares. The American tragedy has a face and it’s that of Donald Trump. And on this side of the Atlantic we have a Trumptian clone, Boris Johnson, and the Prime Minister in waiting, George Osborne. Their solutions are our problems. We have hawked all our public assets and our future to shysters and there seem nothing we can do about it.

 

 

Where does Donald Trump (or indeed Boris Johnson) fit into The Great Gatsby?

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I’ll give you a tick box and let you decide. ‘He was a sturdy straw haired man…with rather a hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face, and he gave the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward…it was a body capable of enormous leverage – a cruel body.’ Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

He ‘conveys’…’the impression of fractiousness.  There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even towards people he liked…’ Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

His family were enormously wealthy. His wedding gift to Daisy Fay is a $350 000 pearl necklace (multiply that by ten to get something of today’s prices, or compare it with the awe which Meyer Wolfshiem holds Gatsby for being able to eat a whole $4 worth of food when they first meet). Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

When Nick Carraway first has dinner with  his cousin Daisy and husband Tom, he is reading The Rise of the Coloured Empires. Tom is worried about that. ‘Civilisation is going to pieces.’ He classifies himself as a Nordic type. He questions Daisy’s birth right, but grudgingly admits her into the Nordic fold.  These coloureds just don’t know there place. What’s worse they are breeding too much and with the wrong type of people. The message is, if we don’t watch out they’ll be taking over and we’ll be ‘utterly submerged’. And he’s just the man to tell it how it is. Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom is highly moral. Daisy’s black and blue knuckles can be taken as a sign of chastisement. He’s worried about Daisy’s friend Miss Jordan Baker. She likes to drink. ‘By God, I may be old fashioned in my ideas, but woman run around too much these days to suit me. They meet all kinds of crazy fish.’ He believes her parents should do something about it. Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom is a misogynist, but he’s a mans man, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like women. He’d a fling with the serving girl from a hotel in New Hampshire when he first married Daisy. When she breaks her leg in a car he’s driving that’s hushed up. One of those things, men do. He buys his mistress Myrtle a dog for $10 and sets her up in a room. And he patronises his mistress’s husband, Wilson, by flinging some business his way. He breaks Myrtle’s nose, when she takes Daisy’s name in vain. When Myrtle dies, he weeps for her, or so he says.  Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

‘Sun’s getting hotter ever year.’ On global warming, Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom is contemptuous of the lower classes and of his wife presumptuous enough to have a love affair with Mr Gatsby. ‘Self control!’ ‘I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife.’ He’s glad when ‘her little flirtation is over’.  He particularly contemptuous of Gatsby’s relationship with Meyer Wolfshein, not because he fixed the World Series of 1919,  and is a ‘common swindler’ but because he’s Jewish.  Tom prefers the company of swindlers of his own class, where theft is just good business practice. Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom likes to gawp at a good wreck. When he finds out it may involve him, he’s worried. But when he finds out it’s the other guy, ‘the coward’ deserves everything he gets. Anyone that’s crazy enough to kill him he’ll tell them whatever they want to hear, especially if it’s the other guy that’s going to get it, especially if everybody knows they deserve it. He’s proud to offered his guidance and done the right thing. Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom (and Daisy) are ‘careless people’. In other words they don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves.  ‘They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up their mess they have made…’ Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Donald Trump wins the New Hampshire primary nomination for the Republic Party with more than double the vote of his nearest rival. Even if Donald Trump is fiction, history is going backwards.

George Osborne’s bumper Christmas Compendium

I wasn’t sure how to structure this. I’d a vague idea about explaining the significance of the tax-credit U-turn by George Osborne and the jibes about Mao’s Little Red Book, a joke that backfired and made the Shadow Chancellor seem the more foolish. I also thought about telling you about my visit to the dentist. We are an ageing nation of shrinking gums. So I guess I’ll start there.

I’m good on nostalgia. The dentist I go to is the same dentist I went to forty odd years ago. We used to scale the wall in the same way we got our teeth scaled and steal the needles from the dustbin. They smelled of different planets and we’d lunge at each other, wild with excitement. Boredom set in quicker than rain. We’d fling them away. Back then the dentist prodded and poked at your teeth with a hooked pick until he found a hole to fill, a tooth to take out, usually, both. It’s the same rooms, upstairs or along the extended hall, with faded white paint, but it’s a practice now, a business, the hook comes out before you’re allowed to see the leading practitioner, or business man, or woman.  Receptionists want to know who is going to pay for treatment. There’s different kinds of forms for different kinds of patients. You can get your teeth whitened for £250. An older woman, a pensioner, was told she had the wrong kind of mouth for a plate, and the practice couldn’t be expected to carry the cost.

As surely as my tongue runs over a newly-fitted filing this is the future of the NHS. People will be turning up with the wrong kind of body.  An estimated £20 billion is needed to keep our NHS treating patients until 2020. Osborne has fronted some of the money, which is a politically astute move, as it stops some NHS trusts threatening to shut at Christmas. Bah Humbug! But it’s never enough, because too many old people are living to long. Let’s call them bed blockers.

Where do all these bed blockers go when they come out of hospital? Most bed blockers become the responsibility of local authorities.  Local authorities have had between fifty and seventy five percent of their budgets cut over the last five years. The Monty Pythonesque leaked letter exchange between out glorious leader David Cameron (with less that twenty-five percent of the electorate voting for him, the ‘great ignored’ as Cameron termed them before the 2010 election, leaves me thinking what we’d call the other 75%) and The Conservative Prime Minister writes to a Conservative council leader Ian Huspeth in Oxford and asks him why he’d made such dreadful cuts to ‘front-line services’ such as care of the elderly. Couldn’t the councillor made savings by sacking people that weren’t needed and not hired people that were needed, and sold off some surplus land or council properties. But says Councillor Huspeth I’ve already cut off our arms and legs, fell on my sword, sacked 2 800 staff, sold off all our ‘surplus property’ to try and make up our £72 million deficit because we get 37% less from central government than we got last year. And this is one of the more affluent front-line areas.

Service cuts are uneven. Even the Conservative-controlled Local Government Association talks of a postcode lottery. Councils in poorer areas can no longer afford home care service for the elderly. Social care is in an inverse relationship to health care.

The Office for Budget Responsibility suggests that the Osborne has to find £22 billion of cuts from 15 departments with a total budget of £77 billion. Here’s the rub. Their budgets have already been cumulatively cut by 30% since 2010, spread unevenly with local authorities’ grants in particular hardest hit and with backtracking on tax credits and policing all signs point towards being cut even more.

This is politics at its basest level. It’s personal and it’s ideological. Beveridge described the five giants on the road to reconstruction. They were poverty, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. All are related and feed into the roots system of the other. Whatever way you measure them they are all on the increase. The idea of welfare has been a stick used to beat us.

I’m with William Keegan on this one: ‘Personally, I always preferred the older term ‘social security,’ which gives a better indication of what the social settlement during those early post-war years of austerity was all about.’

The terrorist attack in Paris dominates the headlines, as it should, when we really are all in it together. Kenan Malik idea of social and political hegemonic influence gets it about right: ‘Evil…is not simply about defining an act of being particularly wicked, it also about defining the space within which we can have a meaningful debate about good and bad, virtue and wickedness’.

France spends around 54% of its GDP on public services. The United Kingdom currently around 38%, spends less that all other G7 countries with the exception of the United States. Trying to balance the books is a good story and achieve a surplus like China is an even better story. It fits in with the Dickensian notion expounded by Mr Micawber’s famous, and oft-quoted, recipe for happiness:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

There is an element of truth in this, but only if Mr Micawber didn’t have his own printing press in his basement and wasn’t allowed to print money quicker than the Japanese. Added kudos, if like the most successful company in the world in terms of share value, Apple, they could choose to fund their growth by borrowing at in interest rate of almost 0%. Indeed buying and selling money is what the United Kingdom does best. Before the Crash of 2008 it accounted for almost a quarter of all UK tax receipts. It allowed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to build hospital and schools and invest in the infrastructure of the country, which was seen as the common good. This has been turned on its head.

We are not fighting a war against Isis, not yet anyway. Government debt has rarely been lower over the last 300 years, but with every bomb we drop over Syria (if or indeed when Cameron is given his mandate) can we expect to think there goes another public library in Islington. There goes a Sure start Programme in Drumchapel. There goes another mental health unit in Belfast. There goes free school meals. Some wars are more pointless than others. We have been lied to for too long. Shakespeare gets it about right with Shylock’s promise that he will outdo the evil that was done to him.

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.

William Keegan suggests in the aftermath of financial crisis and fiscal policies pursued since the summer of 2010. ‘If the historical pattern of growth had been allowed to continue, output in the UK would have been up to 20 per cent higher in 2013-14 than proved to be the case.

Martin Wolf of the Financial Times in the 2013 Wincott Lecture: Monetary Policy clearly and decisively failed to promote recovery. Animal spirits were completely destroyed. Demand fell. It was a machine designed to fail.’

Joe Stiglitz notes the same pattern over the other side of the Atlantic. Subsidies for the rich, mass poverty for the poor.  A race to the bottom. The Big Mac Index, for example, is an economists attempt to measure the relative expenses of living in different countries. Stiglitz describes working for McDonalds as the income of last resort, with more than a thousand applicants for every job. Martin Ford describes how a worker for McDonalds in October 2013 called his employer’s financial-help hotline, asking for help, and was advised to apply for Food Stamps and Medicaid. Yet, the fast food industry continues to grow, at around £6.9 billion in the UK in 2012.

We don’t –as yet- pay directly for our healthcare. But Nicholas Timmins, The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State, noted the paradox of we used to send experts to the United States to advise them how to run health care, but now that has been reversed. Advisers come from the States, with the most profligate health service in the world (see Pickwick) and advise us. It’s no great surprise that Jeremy Hunt, our Health Secretary, doesn’t believe in the NHS. He’s rich and will never need it. Neither will any of his colleagues or friends. Only poor people will (short-hand for scroungers).

A programme was recently shown on BBC 2. Unlike those Jeremy Kyle-type programmes on Channels 4 and 5, and the Hollywood movie Friends With Benefits, it was meant to show the diversity of Scotland and it’s working population. For example, bespoke food from land and sea for the tables of the rich in London. Compare this with the idea of bespoke care for the poor. The elderly poor. It would cost too much. The idea is ridiculous. The difference between a fish farm and a granny farm is one of them is under water. Southern Cross and other ‘caring’ companies threaten bankruptcy unless local authorities give them more money.

Assets such as the buildings in which old folk have been corralled have been separated on the balance sheet from the cost of caring (price) of caring for residents. The problem of liquidity fits into a larger narrative of Freidrich Hayek, the title whose book The Road to Serfdom could be rewritten and neatly quipped as the slippery slope towards totalitarianism any government intervention entails.  Milton Friedman and the problem of demand is one of supply. If money is cheap enough demand for it will grow and problems such as unemployment will disappear, but only if the government doesn’t interfere. Chile’s Pinochet was an admirer. After the fall of the Berlin Wall advisers from the Chicago School helped to create a new Russia from the old Soviet Union modelled on Friedman’s principles.

The new kids of the block of the early eighties Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had won the Cold War and already set out their stall to roll back the state. Simple equation government = bad (totalitarianism). Free market = good (liberalism). The hidden hand, I want for Christmas, had never had it so good.

Why fling good money after bad on a defective product?

But it doesn’t begin and end there. We’re all familiar with the idea of bureaucracy = power. And bureaucracies become bloated and create their own reason for being. Think local government. Think any government. Companies listed on the stock exchange. They are not off the raider. They too are bureaucracies

Predatory lending. Is there any other kind? What does non-predatory lending look like? It looks like James Stewart, a man you could trust. You may remember James Stewart playing someone that was not James Stewart, George Bailey, who looked confusingly, for us old timers, very much like a young Henry Fonda, in a feel-good film, shown every Christmas about the value of non-predatory lending. It wasn’t called The Value of Non-Predatory Lending, but the more striking It’s A Wonderful Life.

It’s a simple equation: Non-predatory lending = It’s A Wonderful Life. ‘Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings’. Clarence Oddbody, that’s a good name for an angel. The run on Bailey Building and Loan would be something familiar to those over thirty watching this film on telly every Christmas, those living in small-town America of the hungry thirties, or the citizens of modern-day Greece. ‘I’ll stroll, you fly,’ was George’s advice to Clarence, but Oddbody’s however quick he or they travel can’t save Bedford Falls. George appeals to reason, those paying in and having a stake in the Building and Loan were bankrupting themselves. They weren’t just borrowers but lenders. That Tom’s money was tied up in Ed’s house and Ed’s money tied up in Mrs Davis house and when they hadn’t worked for a while George didn’t chase them for repayment. He knew they’d come good. George was just asking for the same consideration for the Building and Loan. He wasn’t asking how much they wanted, but how much they needed to get by. They were shaking the same tree.

George, of course, has hard cash to back up his rhetoric, a thousand dollar bills set aside. He runs a thrift and he’s thrifty. ‘How much do you need Tom?’ George asks the first customer, pushing to the front of the line. ‘$242,’ Tom demands, ‘and that’ll close my account’.

‘Have you no romance in you?’ asks George. The thousand dollars is, of course, money he’s set aside to travel with and for his honeymoon.

‘Yes, I had some, but I soon got rid of it,’ answer Tom.

Tom has made a rational choice and not a romantic choice. Ed, next in line asks for $20. Mrs Davis asks if it’s ok if she gets $17.50. George kisses her on the cheek. State regulations means that the doors of the Building and Loan need to stay open until 6pm. George and Uncle Billy kick out and have a party as they carry two crumpled dollar bills and deposit them in the vault. They have made it through the day without Old Man Potter closing them down.

Henry F Potter is a twisted crocodile. In the opening scenes he rides in a carriage and one kid asks another ‘who’s that? Is he a king?’ He is of course. But a king without subjects. Peter Bailey (senior), at the dinner table, explains to his son George why they should feel sorry for Old Man Potter. Henry F Potter has no future. He is unmarried. No children. ‘What’s he going to do with all that money?’ The message is he’ll get his comeuppance.  Later in the film, when Clarence grants George’s wish not to be born Bedford Falls becomes Pottersville. There’s bars on every corner, where people go to get seriously drunk and half-dressed girls spilling out of every club. Full employment and housing to rent. Pottersville sounds like my kind of town.

Old Man Potter is sick and he wants to infect George and the town with his values. He’s tried everything and now he tries buying George. He offers him a salary of $20 000 a year to manage his affairs. George admits the offer is tempting. Cost-benefit analysis. Money’s tight. He’s got four kids now. Around $40 a month.  An old barn of a house.  Old Man Potter offers George a thick Cuban cigar, time to think about it, reminds him that’s starting salary and if he plays along he could make more. The answers, ‘No’. The answers always no. ‘You spin your little webs,’ George tells Potter.

The problem that Bailey Building and Loan faced was they had the wrong kind of money tied up in buildings and loans. Think of poor Southern Cross and other care companies with properties full of poor people, which they could monetise and sell separately from their services. They had no way of knowing who was going to pay, when they were going to pay and if the Bailey Building and Loan would be there for them to pay into. Modern economists make short shrift of that thrift. Thrift is shorthand for the thousands of Savings and Loan companies spread out throughout the United States and loosely bound by US government support for home ownership,  the biggest franchises being Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) owned and run by the US government; the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), around 1 in 10 US mortgages at a very conservative estimate of $100 million mortgages on its books and is backed by the US government; Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporations (Freddie Mac) was a corporation created by Savings and Loan companies were backed indirectly by the US government. These organisation had like the Bailey Building and Loan, which George bailed out with a handy $1000, a problem of liquidity.

Everything is a problem of liquidity if you look at it properly. Let’s get back to George Osborne’s speech to the Conservative Party conference, October 2013, and his claim to have a seven-year plan to achieve an absolute budget surplus before 2020.

How to define it as a problem of ‘idleness’.

Here it is wrapped in the Stars and Stripes with mum’s apple pie: ‘We had the oldest secret in the world, “hard work”’. This from a man endorsed by fellow Texans George W Bush, his father George H W Bush and further afield Bill Clinton. These Presidents of the United States whom Lance Armstrong on speed-dial helped quash an FBI investigation into the activities of the seven times Tour de France winner. Let’s put a figure on Lance Armstrong, career earnings of somewhere between $70 and $100 million. That sounds a lot to me and you (who can forget Margaret Thatcher going to the European Union and crowing that she’d saved Britain a million pounds a year) but Armstrong’s career earnings were the kind of loose change ‘geek’ bond traders such as Michael Lewis of Salomon Brothers could lose without burning anybody important. Perhaps I should put in here that David Cameron was a stockbroker as was his father before him… Lewis tells us that Salomon Brothers the directors boasted that they had the equivalent of $80 billion worth of securities in portfolios every night. Multiply that by 365 and you’ll get an estimate of their annual income. Bigger than the combined profits of all other Wall Street operations. Bigger than the Netherlands GDP. Salomon Brothers, of course, later went to the wall. Financial institutions are the auteurs rewriting the economic script of what is meant be profit and loss, success and failure as they went along. In the years 1977-1986 when Salomon Brothers had almost a monopoly on new bonds they had helped create in regard to housing the trading floor jumped from millions to billions to $2.7 trillion, with ‘mortgages so cheap your teeth hurt’. That was the ‘gospel’ of the rich. What Lance Armstrong was selling was a message rich people wanted others to hear. Compare Armstrong’s message with, for example, the message Aaron Schwartz was selling, and the outcome of the subsequent FBI Investigation into Schwartz’s activities.

Mao’s Little Red Book? Simple. A problem of liquidity. We’ve been giving rich folk billions of pounds every day to help poor folk. We can’t keep doing that (see Pickwick).  We’ve being building nuclear reactors since the end of the 1950s, but we’ve asked the Chinese Government to send experts to build one at Hinkley Point. This creates in the region of 25 000 jobs. With or without the Chinese, or any other nationality this creates around the same number of jobs. Crucially, though, the Chinese have agreed to finance it. In the short-term they transfer a few digits from their machine’s finance model, we add it to ours. We agree to the costs of any mishaps and the hundreds of thousands of years it takes to get rid of spent fuel rods. We subsidise the Chinese economy by moving money from the poor in this country to the rich in the Chinese economy. I suppose it makes a little change from subsidising the rich in this country. Win-win. Apart from the far more worrying Balance of Trade deficit. But that’s another story. I’m sure when that nice Mr Osborne will deal with it when he’s Prime Minster in five years’ time. Merry Christmas, Boris Johnson. Now there’s an angel for you. He doesn’t look like Clarence Oddbody for nothing. He winging it for now, but we’ll see how he turns out.

Coalition Channel 4, 9pm.

meredith

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/coalition/on-demand/57947-001

Timing is everything in politics. Growth in the economy. A few weeks from another Tory triumph, or another patchy coalition? Scriptwriter James Graham looks backwards to what happened five-years ago, when the Conservatives formed a coalition government with the Liberals. For me it’s a case of who do I hate the most.

In Ten Days that Shook the World, American socialist and journalist John Reed chronicled the rise of the Bolsheviks to power in Russia.  Here we have five days of farce and melodrama in which public school boys David Cameron (Mark Dexter) makes googly eyes at Nick Clegg (Bertie [Wooster] Carvel) and woos him with talk of a partnership of equals, with a similar background and views. He bathes in a steam of money, rips his shirt off for the viewers and says ‘Damn it Nick, look at my portfolio. We could be so happy together.’

Standing outside this duo is two people. The bearish Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve) waiting for a chance, waiting for a dance. It’s an arranged marriage. Gordon even has the audacity to return to number 10 Downing Street, even though his Labour Party polled less seats than the Tories. In a phone call Gordon pleads with Nick that the Tory’s polled less the 30% of the popular vote. 70% didn’t want them in power. They didn’t have a popular mandate, but really Nick, it’s up to you to do the right thing. He also has to remind the supercilious civil servant who runs the place that he is still –technically- Prime minister. Inside a briefing room his team find they have already been erased from history, their computer files deleted and their encrypted codes no longer work.

Looking over their shoulders is the patron saint of politicians Winston Churchill, who manages to be both a Liberal and Conservative politician that led a coalition government to Great Britain’s greatest victory, (prior to the 1966 World Cup win). Churchill featured in the last 1926 government of Ramsay McDonald between Labour and Liberal. David is shown on a stair vacillating (a politician’s equivalent of masturbation) about going all the way with young Nicky, below a giant portrait of Winston. And fresh-faced Nick is initially shown after the debates shown on live council telly, and cited publicly, as the most popular politician since Churchill. Adoring crowds gather to cheer his every pronouncement. (Boris Johnson, the future Tory leader, has of course written a biography of the great man).

Poor old Gordon, jilted and pushed around, has to watch on live TV David and Nicky dancing. Peter Mandelson (Mark Gatiss) is the most sympathetic of a cast of unsympathetic characters. He has to rein the old bear in and remind him that in real politics there’s still a chance. Prod him not to say too much in impassioned and earnest late-night phone calls.

Nicky squirms in the old bear’s presence. When Gordon in an act of daring and self-sacrifice steps aside and promises Nicky he can choose a new Labour beau from the catalogue, there is a moment when it might all happen. History might have been changed. Mark Gatiss might have been the new Churchill and the bubble economics of inflated house prices and helping rich people get richer at the expense of everyone else might not have been quite so dramatic. Nicky isn’t sure. He can’t make his mind up. Will her? Or won’t he?

Step in Paddy Ashdown with a Churchillian speech, most often seen coming out of the side of the mouth of Burgess Meredith in Rocky movies. Cue music.  If you want it now Nicky. You worked for it. You worked damned hard for it. You got to go out and get it. I will Paddy. I’ll do it for you. Freeze-frame: Nicky Deputy Prime Minister on the podium with a cheering crowd below him.

http://www.abctales.com/story/celticman/king-dole