Itiddly summarises the awful progress of the British Coalition government thus. It makes for depressing reading because it concentrates it all in one place. But I urge you to read it, even so.
In truth, the Thatcherite household economists are righter than they think. You know the ones I mean: the ones who proclaim that violent austerity is needed to violently balance the books. Only for the savagely falling tax receipts to blow any such intentions out of the murky water of government obfuscation.
No. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean as economists; I don’t mean as applied to the science of economics.
“Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.” It’s an easy phrase to understand because we generally try – we should try – and apply it to ourselves. Which is why these stupid stupid Thatcherites find it such an easy and convincing narrative in order to pull the blue wool over their voters’ eyes.
And they’re so clearly wrong: they’ve even had the practical opportunity to prove it. They’re so bloody minded that they even say – in the face of horribly manifest evidence – that the real reason it hasn’t worked is because we haven’t had the guts to cut deeply enough. As the Telegraph article linked to above underlines (the bold is mine):
Like Greece before it, Portugal is chasing its tail in a downward spiral. Economic contraction of 3pc a year is eroding the tax base, causing Lisbon to miss deficit targets. A new working paper by the Bank of Portugal explains why it has gone wrong. The fiscal multiplier is “twice as large as normal”, or 2.0, in small open economies during crisis times.
What is new is that Vitor Gaspar, the high priest of Portugal’s shock therapy, has thrown in the towel. He blames the fainthearted for refusing to slash with greater vigour. Needless to say, he still refuses to accept that a strategy of wage cuts and deflation in a country with total debt of 370pc of GDP was always likely to fail.
Meanwhile, in our own blessed land, the same paper, just today, reports as follows:
Mr Osborne, the Chancellor, has declared that taxes will not need to rise after 2015 to fill a £25 billion black hole in the public finances.
He dismissed concerns that the Tories are planning further tax rises and said that his plans instead would involve further spending and welfare cuts.
“Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.” Rings a little hollow, right? Seems quite the wrong approach. And from the point of view of the economy, it is. But not from the point of view of our people.
It has often been observed that we judge a society – we should judge a society – on the basis of how it treats its weakest and most defenceless. And when the Thatcherite household economists argue that the important things in life will look after themselves if we look after the small things, they misdirect their attention. Instead of focussing on sustaining the defenceless, the weak, the sick, poor and disabled (in no way insignificant members of our nation – even as they are definitely quite the easiest to neglect), in the belief that if we can treat them with grace and love, then grace and love will be the lot of everyone else, they choose to rubbish, terrify, cause untold distress to and, finally, drive to death the very people whose treatment should be a litmus test for our civilisation.
We should rewrite this clearly favoured proverbial chant of neoliberals everywhere. No longer shall we apply it to economics but to how we perceive and deal with flesh-and-blood human beings. Let it, from now on, run thus: “Look after the defenceless and the powerful will look after themselves!”
That, in essence, should be the prime objective of any society which cares to see itself as civilised. The powerful never need our help – never! Neither our often stealthy and shameful acquiescence – nor their brazen redrawing of the battlefield.
Any civilisation which refuses to devote the majority of its resources to defending the defenceless becomes a pig trough of socioeconomics – a pig trough which should shake and shame us to our core.
Oh yes. We do need to balance the books. It is true. The books that explain to us how to believe in much better: much better than any of this.
But the books we must deny any responsibility for – any desire to acknowledge or factor in to our political equations – are those which the powerful use to maintain their power.
Let’s get it clear, once and for all: this is a full-throated conflict where the pounds are taking care of themselves – and the pennies can just bugger off. We mustn’t allow it to continue. We must find a way to interrupt it. We must prevent the needless suffering of any more of our citizens.
Repeat after me: “Look after the defenceless and the powerful will look after themselves!” “Look after the defenceless and the powerful will look after themselves!” “Look after the defenceless and the powerful will look after themselves!”
And maybe in this mantra we shall find another way.