Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tory Debt Fearmongering

One of the most commonly heard justification narratives trotted out to defend Tory policies such as George Osborne's self-defeating ideological austerity experiment and Iain Duncan Smith's brutal attacks on the welfare system is the argument that "the country is broke". There are so many examples of this crude propaganda it would be impossible to list them all, but there are several common themes. The most regular of which are the ideas that the national debt is "too high" and that Labour "wasted too much money". I'm fairly confident that everyone has heard these kinds of argument on a regular basis and it is the objective here to demonstrate these debt fearmongering arguments are both completely false, and also nothing but a crude narrative to justify elements of Tory ideological policy.

To give a specific example of debt fearmongering: On the 8th of November the Tory Police and Criminal Justice minister Damian Green appeared on the BBC show Question Time, where he was confronted with the accusation that debt fearmongering has a harmful effect on the economy. The accusation was made by David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, a guy I disagree with when it comes to monetary policy, but who made a strong argument that debt fearmongering harms confidence ("animal spirits") within the economy. Green's response to the accusation that Tory debt fearmongering has been damaging the economy was absolutely stunning, he retorted with brazen display of  inaccurate Tory debt fearmongering! Here's what he said:
"The reason that the 'animal spirit' of the economy was destroyed was that we had the worst debt of any G20 country, because the previous government spent money like water and left us bankrupt"
The use of the word "bankrupt" to describe the state of the UK economy in early 2010 is clearly inaccurate fearmongering for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the Coalition government have continued deficit spending (adding to the national debt), meaning that if the UK was "bankrupt" in 2010, it would have been liquidated and sold off for pennies in the pound by now!

The next observation must be that his assertion that the UK economy had the worst national debt of any G20 country is an outright lie whichever way you look at it. checking the 2009 figures reveals that five of the G20 nations had significantly higher debts that the UK (68.5%) as a proportion of GDP behind Japan (192.1%), Italy (115.2%), France (79.7%), Germany (77.2%) and Canada (72.3%). In real terms the claim is just as false; the UK national debt ($2.183 trillion) was significantly smaller than the United States ($14.256 trillion), Japan ($5.068 trillion), China (4.909 trillion), Germany (3.352 trillion) and France (2.675 trillion).

If we examine the tribalistic dig at Labour for "spending money like water", it is also clear that this is a pretty spectacular misrepresentation. Until the global economic crisis hit, the national debt under Labour had never exceeded the 41.9% GDP debt they inherited from their Tory predecessors. Even after the spectacular financial sector meltdown in 2007-08, the debt under Labour rose to 52.1% which is significantly lower than the average debt in either the 19th or the 20th Centuries (the average debt throughout the 20th Century was 89.5% of GDP). In fact, even after two and a half years of catastrophically self-defeating ideological austerity and Tory economic stagnation, the UK national debt has still not even passed the 20th Century average, and is absolutely nowhere near the 1948 peak of 237% of GDP.

Given that the UK suffered the effects of the worst banking crisis in the modern capitalist era during the previous Labour administration, a resultant spike in government borrowing must be expected. Before the crisis hit Neo-Labour never exceeded 42% (lets call it 57% if we include all of Gordon Brown's dodgy PFI scams that were, and still are, misleadingly kept off the national balance sheet). This is quite high compared to the Thatcher years of industrial decline, social unrest and mass unemployment, but compared to virtually any other period in the last 200 years it is actually low.

Once the economic crisis hit, the economy contracted sharply, meaning that simply maintaining government spending plans that had been drawn up without foreknowledge of the impending crisis would mean adding to the debt. Although Labour can be blamed for intensifying the effect of the global economic crisis with their disastrous financial sector deregulations (which were supported by the Tories, but criticised for not going far enough!), their decision to abandon Gordon Brown's stupid and arbitrary 40% of GDP "golden rule", to stick to their government spending plans in order to avoid further "shocking" the economy and to attempt to stimulate the economy with policies such as the VAT cut were actually reasonably sensible. On the other hand, the decision to bail out the recklessly over-leveraged banks, (a plan which was enthusiastically supported by the Tories) was abject lunacy, but we'll gloss over that idiotic short-termist blunder for the sake of the argument.

Labour's decision to stimulate the economy by cutting VAT and not ruthlessly slashing spending, actually produced some half-decent results. After five consecutive quarters of economic contraction at the height of the global financial sector crisis, the UK returned to weak economic growth between Q3 2009 and the general election.

As you can see, this is far from a glowing review of Neo-Labour's economic record, but in comparison to the ideologically driven lunacy built upon a foundation of debt fearmongering lies and the consequent double-dip recession and vast trade deficits that have followed, it actually begins to look like reasonably competent stuff.

So to return to the subject of debt fearmongering, simply through the analysis of one specific example of Tory debt fearmongering, the premises that the debt is "too high" and that "Labour spent too much money" have been blasted to bits as the lies and misrepresentations they are.

Another factor that must be considered when we're talking about the national debt, is the fact that the Bank of England's manipulations of the government bond market with £375 billion in freshly invented money have resulted in the lowest cost of UK government borrowing since records began! If there is ever a time when more government borrowing could be justified, it is when the rate of interest on government borrowing is significantly lower than the rate of inflation. A situation where risk averse lenders are actually prepared to incur real terms losses in order to stash their money in the relative safety of the UK bond market. Obviously it would be important to spend the borrowed money wisely, on things that stimulate economic growth (fiscal multipliers such as infrastructure investment, education, science, R&D, social housing construction, welfare payments...) however, what the Tories are doing is cutting spending on all kinds of fiscal multipliers, whilst deficit spending in order to hand out ever greater sums to the wealthy (via tax cuts and the dreation of tax loopholes) and to a host of parasitic outsourcing companies and pseudo-charitable organisations that have built their business models on soaking up taxpayers' cash.

Not only are the Tories failing to cut the national debt they are fearmongering about, they are deficit spending on an absurd range of utterly wasteful corporate welfare scams and tax cuts for the wealthy instead of targeting the cheap money they have at their disposal at things that actually promote long-term economic growth (infrastructure projects, affordable housing construction, direct loans to small and medium enterprises, scientific research, education..). In fact they are not only failing to spend on proven fiscal multipliers that drive economic growth, they are actually deliberately targeting them with their ideological spending cuts.

Tory debt fearmongering is an obvious propaganda campaign aimed at duping the public into supporting their drastic ideological policies, whilst government largess continues apace when it comes to drawing up insane schemes aimed at directly distributing taxpayers cash to private sector interests to run all kinds of services including the NHS, frontline police, ridiculously inefficient welfare programmes, thousands of secondary schools, farcical Olympic security operations and even Britiain's arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The debt fearmongering narrative is built upon a foundation of transparent lies, and the policies it is intended to justify are actually adding to the nation's indebtedness by slashing investment in proven fiscal multipliers. What is even worse, is that the whole narrative of deficit reduction and spending cuts is completely thrown out of the window every time a Tory minister signs another absurdly one-sided contract to distribute ever greater cash mountains to unaccountable private sector interests.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Tim Minchin & atheist pseudo-philosophy



As the Another Angry Voice Facebook page has grown in popularity, more and more other pages have dropped by to promote their work by posting links and images on my wall. I don't mind this at all, it is one of the techniques I have used to promote my page, so it would be utterly hypocritical to block others from using my page to do the same now that it is becoming reasonably popular. in fact much of the things that are posted are brilliant and enlightening stuff.

One thing I do mind is when people post things that are completely at odds with the ethos of informed critical analysis I've tried to foster on the AAV page. One such item was this quotation by the Australian comedian Tim Minchin.





In a similar way to the fact that my political stance is nuanced and difficult to define, so too is my stance on God and religion. An awful lot of harms have been caused by organised religion, however it would take a huge amount of confirmation bias to maintain that an a lot of good hasn't come of it too. I am perfectly happy to see informed criticism of religious dogma, however I am fundamentally opposed to the modern trend of generalisation ridden militant atheist pseudo-philosophy, which to me is as intolerant as many of the faiths the atheist ranter brigade are attempting to criticise. This Facebook meme that was posted to my page seems to be a classic example of this kind of over-simplified anti-theist propaganda.

That there are so many very strong arguments to be made against the specific crimes and abuses of specific religions, makes this kind of pathetic anti-religious generalisation all the worse.

Instead of criticising the Catholi
c paedophilia cover-up, Islamist fanatics, religiously inspired child genital mutilation, the absurd melding of the CoE and the UK state, homophobia in Africa, Israeli Zionist apartheid, Hindu fascism, widespread religious indoctrination, the complicity of the Catholic church with Nazi Germany, countless examples of religious hypocrisy or any one of hundreds of other specific examples of religious crime and intolerance, this kind of lazy pseudo-philosophical generalisation simply lumps all religious moderates and all religious extremists together as the same.

If you agree with Minchin's glib pseudo-philosophical analysis, perhaps you could tell me:

Which aspects of reality are "denied" when a Quaker maintains faith that there is that of good within every person that should be sought out and nurtured?

What element of the Buddhist philosophy, that contemplation is the key to inner peace and enlightenment, relies on "the denial of observation"?

How about the deist position (that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a creator, accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge). How is that a denial of reality? It actually seems to be an ideology based on the empirical examination of reality in order to prove a hypothesis, which is pretty damn close to the "philosophy of science".
Yes blind adherence to many faiths has lead to many terrible consequences, but the tarring of all faiths as "irrational" in order to appeal to the reactionary atheist mob is just lazy divisive bigotry. Unless of course it is a joke (he is a stand-up comedian after all) in which case it is an excellent satire of the unthinking reactionary atheist position and I commend him for it.
 

See Also

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Iain Duncan Smith's callous contempt for the dead




I pretty much always attempt to write about politics in objective journalistic style. I feel that I engage more readers with this style of presenting facts, conducting rational analysis, and attempting to restrict my own personal opinion. However, in this case, I'm going to say what I really think without self-censoring the anger and bad language.

Just take a look at the embedded video below, which is a clip from Question Time on 22nd November 2012. In the clip, the panel are discussing the question of government welfare policy and the author Owen Jones (who wrote Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class) tried to confront Iain Duncan Smith with the names and circumstances of death of just two (of the thousands) of severely disabled/terminally ill people that have died having been declared "fit for work" by the Tory - DWP -Atos "disability denial factory".

Iain Duncan Smith's response to these details of people's deaths was a palpable demonstration of the man's utter lack of human decency.


 
Here's a transcript of the discussion:

Owen Jones: "There is a point that has to be made about the treatment of disabled people in this country. There's two names I want to give Iain ... Brian McArdle, 57 years old, paralyzed down one side, blind in one eye, he couldn't speak. He died one day after being found "fit for work" by Atos. Another example, Karen Sherlock..."

Iain Duncan Smith: [interrupts angrily] "Hang on a minute, we've heard a lot from you..."


So there you have it, Iain Duncan Smith cares so little about the suffering and death of actual, real, named people that he would disrespectfully interrupt the description of the circumstances of their death with an angry political tirade.

Viewers never even got to find out the circumstances of Karen Sherlock's death, thanks to Iain Duncan Smith's interruption and David Dimbleby's cowardly decision to shut down the debate (instead of chastising Iain Duncan Smith for interrupting so disrespectfully, or intervening to allow Owen to complete his point - as any decent moderator would surely have done).

For those of you that are interested in the circumstances of Karen's death, here are a couple of heartbreaking links detailing the appalling suffering of this poor woman, much of it directly attributable to Iain Duncan Smith's Welfare regime. (RIP Karen Sherlock, Karen's story - pieced together from her own words). Seriously, I challenge you to read either of these articles and remain completely unmoved by her suffering. If you do remain completely unmoved it must be that you, like Iain Duncan Smith, lack a single shred of empathy or basic human decency.


Anyone with a shred of decency would have waited for Owen to finish speaking of the dead, then offer condolences to the families of the dead before attempting a counter-argument, but not callous Iain. He clearly couldn't care less about the families of the deceased.

So there you have it; in video and in writing. Iain Duncan Smith has no respect for the dead, or for the families of the dead. In fact, hearing about the dead actually inspires him to launch into angry and defensive political tirades. One of the most shocking things for me, was the fact that Iain Duncan Smith's revolting display of disrespect for the dead actually elicited a round of applause from the crowd. I'm not normally one to blame the collective for the actions of individuals within the collective, however, as British people we should all hang our heads in shame that people amongst us would actually applaud such a revolting display of callous disrespect for the dead.

Lets try a simple thought experiment: Say a Question Time panellist is detailing the tragic circumstances of death of some British soldiers in Afghanistan, when he is angrily interrupted by another panelist who happens to be a Muslim. She points her finger and shouts "hang on a minute, we've heard a lot from you..." followed by a tirade against Britain's foreign policy. Even if the criticisms of British foreign policy made by our hypothetical Muslim panelist are entirely accurate, would you expect her to get a round of applause from the audience after disrespecting the dead? I hardly think so. In fact, I'm fairly sure that our hypothetical Muslim panelist would be booed by the audience and then be rapidly transformed into a national hate figure by the right-wing press for her display of contempt for the dead.

I really don't know what else to say. If you're a tribalist Tory voter, you'll continue to vote for grotesque people like Iain Duncan Smith, no matter what they say or do. If it is wearing a blue rosette, it doesn't matter whether it is a donkey or despot, you'll vote for it. No matter how demonstrably revolting the Tory regime becomes, and no matter how much evidence people like me will present to you, you'll still jump to Iain's defence because you're so mired in confirmation bias, that you will continue to swallow every feeble Tory justification narrative and remain steadfastly incapable of even acknowledging any alternative side to the debate.

You lot are such die-hard Tories that you'd even applaud Iain's callous disrespect for the dead! you sicken me almost as much as he does, but your saving grace is your ignorance.

Iain Duncan Smith is an cunning man that knows exactly how harmful his disability scapegoating campaign has been: You are perhaps too intellectually challenged to accept the reality that thousands of people are dying after being declared "fit for work", 100,000s more are suffering unimaginable stress, the Tories and the right-wing press are deliberately  orchestrating a disability witch-hunt and, there has been a massive rise in disability hate crime and unprovoked violent attacks against the disabled.

Even if all of that doesn't bother you, surely you can't approve of the vast waste of public money as 10,000s of absurd "fit for work" rulings are expensively overturned in court, at the expense of the taxpayer (at no cost to Atos, the company that made the often appallingly bad decisions to find so many terribly disabled and even terminally ill people "fit for work" in the first place). Perhaps, despite all this evidence you still side with Iain and prefer to continue blaming the victim.


I know I won't convince people like you with my usual strategy of explaining things clearly, presenting evidence and conducting rational analysis, so just this once I'll allow myself to express my feelings instead.

Iain Duncan Smith is a callous, disrespectful, self-serving monstrous shit of a man. It sickens me that a man with such a demonstrable lack of basic human decency could have risen so high in British politics. He is odious and obnoxious and vile. He is so malicious he sorely tests my pacifist stance. I sincerely believe that violence begets violence and almost always worsens any given circumstance. Despite this, I imagine that I'd find it extremely difficult to resist the urge to smack this guy hard in the mouth. If a nefarious cretin like Iain Duncan Smith can work himself into a rage when confronted with the names of dead people (real people with actual lives that have been lost, and actual families that mourn for them) then I think I can be excused for allowing myself, for a moment, to express my feelings of revulsion at this odious moral vacuum of a man in emotional (rather than objective) language:
Iain Duncan Smith is an odious shit.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Lord Freud: Risks, Corpses and Slums

In November 2012 the Tory Minister for Welfare Reform David Anthony Freud hit the headlines with a number of outrageous statements about welfare and welfare recipients. I'll go through some of the stuff that attracted criticism and then highlight some other equally bad comments that passed by without so much as a whisper of criticism in the mainstream media.

Firstly I'll give a brief biography of this "Lord Freud", or to give him his proper name, David Anthony Freud. David Anthony, the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud, was born in 1950, had an elite private school education. He then studied Politics Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Oxford (people with PPE qualifications at Oxford, Cambridge or LSE are the most spectacularly over-represented group amongst the political classes). After working as a journalist and as an investment banker he eventually found his way into the political classes at the invitation of Tony Blair, who charged him with reviewing the Welfare to Work scheme. The recommendations he came up with were a massive increase in private sector involvement in the welfare system and schemes to incentivise/force disabled people back into the workplace. The reforms were adopted, but when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, some of the reforms were dropped and others were deliberately slowed down.

In 2009 David Anthony Freud joined the Conservative party and was immediately handed a seat in the unelected House of Lords. After the Tories came to power (with the backing of the Lib-Dems) Freud was appointed as a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with the title of Minister for Welfare Reform. He has been the man responsible for pushing the Tory policy of combining numerous benefits payments into a single Universal Credit which is due to be rolled out in 2013. He describes this reform as "This is a huge, huge change. It’s the biggest change in our welfare system that it has ever seen. I’m not sure you could find very many other examples around the rest of the world".

Critics of the scheme, including a Parliamentary select committee have expressed grave concerns about "whether there will be sufficient time for the Government to learn from its pilots and whether it is desirable or necessary to implement so many changes at once" and stated that they also have "serious concerns about how more vulnerable people will cope with the changes". For more analysis on the specific findings of the Parliamentary Select Committee you can check out Mike Sivier's excellent blog post here.


Here are Freud's comments in House Magazine (like a Parliamentary "sixth form magazine") that attracted so much criticism across the social mediascape and from elements of the mainstream press too.
"It's a very basic statement around fairness, the welfare system is not there as a lifestyle choice" 
This kind of statement is absolutely indicative of the Tory mentality. That benefits claimants can be treated as a vast homogeneous cohort and demonised as scroungers. It is a great (if completely immoral) tactic because this kind of simplistic narrative plays into one of the strongest emotional responses, that of unfairness. The fact that this is the thinking behind Freud's claims about the benefits lifestyle is illustrated by the fact that he prefaced it with an invocation of "fairness".

The problem is that this kind of demonisation is completely inaccurate nonsense. The reason that there are so many long-term unemployed is not that the unemployed are determined to laze around enjoying "a lifestyle" at the taxpayers' expense, it is because there are significantly fewer jobs than available workers.

People are not unemployed because they love the unemployed lifestyle as Freud is implying, they are unemployed because there are simply not enough jobs to go around. This jobs shortfall isn't a sad incidental fact either, it is a fundamental element of neoliberal economic theory. Neoliberals believe that one of the most effective ways of driving down wages and labour rights is through maintaining a standing army of unemployed. The best way to confront unemployment is to confront the policy promoted by successive orthodox neoliberal governments that high unemployment is necessary, once the economy returns to near full employment, then by all means start whining about the small minority of unemployed that continue to refuse to work, but whilst there are not enough jobs to go around, this kind of whining is actually "scapegoating" and transferring the blame from the private sector and the political classes that deliberately maintain high unemployment in order to drive down wages, to the people that actually suffer the consequences of these policies; a perfect example of the "blame the victim" fallacy.


"People who are poorer should be prepared to take the biggest risks; they’ve got least to lose" 

This statement is a clear demonstration of the kind of economic illiteracy that can be expected from an investment banker turned Tory welfare reformer. The key word here is risk. Freud doesn't mean risk in the everyday sense, although one often gets the impression that Tories believe that the nation would be better off if the disabled and unemployed did take "the biggest risks", like perhaps, walking (or wheeling their wheelchairs) blindfolded across a busy motorway. What Freud actually means when he claims that the unemployed should take the biggest risks, is that they should gamble economically. There are two things that are fundamentally wrong with this idea.

Firstly, in order to take speculative economic risk, you must first have capital. Without capital to invest in speculative ventures, you have nothing to offer but your labour, thus you are ripe for exploitation. The idea that the poorest should take more risk because they have the least to lose is completely mitigated by the fact that in capital (and often in terms of labour skills) they have the least to stake too, meaning that therefore they have the least to gain.

Secondly, the idea that people should be encouraged/forced to take economic risk is barkingly insane given the causes of the global financial meltdown. Whichever way you look at it the global financial meltdown, it was caused by excessive risk taking. Foolish people that lied on their self-certification mortgages to buy houses they couldn't afford based on the fallacy that "house prices will always go up". Reckless mortgage lenders that handed out £billions worth of these self-certification (liar loan) and 125% (idiot loan) mortgages. Reckless financial sector organisations that bought up $billions worth of these loans after they had been packaged up as Collateralised Debt Obligations and stamped with AAA ratings by the Credit Ratings Oligopoly, without ever actually bothering to do the slightest investigation into the toxic assets they were splurging so much cash on. Reckless financial insurance giants like AIG that insured $ trillions worth of these toxic mortgage backed securities with Credit Default Swaps without even investigating what exactly they were insuring: And last but not least, reckless governments and financial sector regulators that allowed this massive risk riddled property Ponzi scheme to inflate out of control despite repeated risk warnings from people like Nouriel Roubini, Paul Krugman, Brooksley Born, Steve Keen, Karl Levin, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Moore, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Gnaizda...

The whole credit crunch scenario has been created by excessive risk being followed up by severe risk aversion as capital has flowed away from risky high yield investments into extremely low yield investments like government bonds that are considered low risk. The idea that in the wake of the largest economic crisis ever, which was caused by excessive risk taking, the poorest and most vulnerable should be incentivised/forced to take more risk is absurd. Additionally the idea that the poorest elements in society should be forced to take risks, whilst the super-rich and the comfortably-rich hoard their cash and avoid risk at all cost is frankly revolting.

The next comment is the one that attracted the bulk of the criticism. In response to the idea that welfare ministers like himself should perhaps spend a week living on benefits to get an idea what it is really like he had this to say:
 "I have thought of the issue, the trouble is, it’s a stunt when someone like me does it because you do it for a week. That’s not the point. I think you don’t have to be the corpse to go to a funeral"
 Making a corpse based analogy with welfare claimants would be bad enough, but coming from a guy that preceded it with a load of inaccurate nonsense about welfare being a "lifestyle choice" it's awful. Either welfare recipients are choosing to be unemployed for the "lifestyle" as Freud implied or they have no choice in the matter. One generally does not have a choice to stop being a corpse.

Another factor that makes this statement so damned offensive is that it has been calculated that an average of 73 people a week are becoming corpses after having been found "fit for work" by welfare Work Capacity Assessments. The fact that so many people are dying after being found "fit for work" is a grave indictment of Tory welfare reforms, and the fact that Freud would talk so glibly about corpses when the policies of his own department are causing a scandal so outrageous that even the Daily Mail and their online readership are criticising it, demonstrates how completely out of touch with reality this man actually is.

Seeing as Freud started this hyperbolic and offensive analogy game, I'd like to offer my own alternative offensive analogy relating to welfare reform - "Perhaps the concentration camp guard is not the best qualified person to judge the morality of the Holocaust".

In the same article he then went on to whine about his relationship with Gordon Brown:
"[Gordon Brown] thought he could soften me up and then dump me in with his officials and I would just capitulate, which I thought was a pretty demeaning thing for a chancellor and prime minister-to-be, to think that was his role."
 This statement shows a quite remarkable lack of self-awareness. The man complains that he felt demeaned after Gordon Brown tried to derail his welfare reforms, yet is prepared to demean millions of welfare recipients by publicly comparing them to corpses.

So there are the main points of criticism about this revolting article, however there are grounds for many more, such as Freud's statement that he'd "be enormously pleased and gratified if my reforms were thought of in the same way as the Beveridge Report" alongside an admission that he hadn't even bothered to read it ("I have to confess... I didn’t read it all, it’s so fat") and his absurd suggestion that "It’s quite nice in a way that [these reforms are being pushed through by a "Government, which has got a strong Liberal Democrat presence" despite the fact that a tearful Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather had only days earlier described the reforms as "immoral", "deeply socially divisive" "horrible", "devastating" and "traumatic" and slammed the ministers involved as engaging in "a deliberate attempt to denigrate those who cannot find work".

Before I conclude I'd like to draw your attention to some other comments by Freud that received almost no press coverage, but reveal much about the man's true motivations. These remarks were made by Freud as he addressed the National Landlords Association conference. The NLA are an organisation that work to "support and protect the private residential landlord" - basically a lobby group for parasitic buy-to-let slumlords and the like. The most striking thing that he actually opened his address by thanking the private rental sector for playing a "remarkable role", providing the many extra homes that the social-rented sector was not able to offer.

He actually thanked the private landlords for enriching themselves at the expense of people that have been locked out of social housing by devastating attacks on the social housing sector by successive orthodox neoliberal governments. After a deliberate three decade long run-down of the social housing sector the private rental sector are soaking up an enormous proportion of the £23 billion a year in housing benefits payments, and instead of this mountain of cash going back to government as it does when housing benefits are used to pay social housing rents, the cash is being soaked away in profits for the idle rentier class.

Another quote demonstrates Freud's true priorities in forcing through "Universal Credit". He reassured the crowd of rentiers that:


"I am not expecting landlords to suffer sudden loss of income as a result of Universal Credit"


This statement perfectly sums up his objectives. He has absolutely no intention of clawing back the £billions in taxpayers cash that is used to prop up the parasitic private rental sector. This kind of taxpayer funded welfare is something that he absolutely intends to protect.

The cuts are going to be made to the living standards of the most desperate and vulnerable in order to force them into work, whether there are jobs to be had or not. He intends to collectively punish the weak and vulnerable recipients of taxpayer funded welfare whilst striving to protect the interests of the wealthy  recipients of taxpayer funded welfare.


After his address, landlords were allowed to ask questions of Lord Freud, one landlord asked a very important question about tenant migration from London to cheaper communities, putting huge pressure on local landlords, schools and healthcare in these areas (the "send them to Coventry" scenario). Freud's response to this question was quite remarkable, he "recognised that this needs to be researched". Freud has implicitly admitted that vast socio-economic consequences such as mass migration out of London and other wealthy cities has not even been researched yet. A breathtaking demonstration of the Tory contempt for the concept of evidence based analysis. Freud has basically said that "we'll analyse the adverse socio-economic consequences of this scheme as we implement it at the national scale"!

Another landlord question related to Article 4 Directions which limit the amount of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in any given area. Basically the guy was asking whether limitations on the number of bedsits and massively overcrowded slum dwellings would be rescinded so that landlords could make more cash out of welfare recipients that are to be driven deep into poverty by the introduction of Universal Credit. Freud's response was even more mind-boggling than his promise to protect state subsidies for the private rental sector or his admission that the Universal Credit plans have been drawn up without conducting evidence based analysis; he said that he would look into rescinding Article 4 because:


"Article 4 seems to contradict the ethos of Universal Credit"

So there you have it, straight from the horse's mouth: The "ethos of Universal Credit" is to force desperate and vulnerable people into high occupancy dwellings like bedsits and overcrowded buy-to-let slums.

To conclude, Freud is a ruthless and insensitive individual, a man determined to have his own way no matter what the evidence or the opposition, a charlatan and a severe hypocrite. All the guff he talks about "looking after the most vulnerable" is a smokescreen. He perpetuates the myth that welfare is a lucrative "lifestyle choice" for the recipients, whilst promising to protect the vast taxpayer funded welfare payments that idle private landlords siphon out of the system: He whines pathetically about feeling demeaned when he came across someone that actually dared to stand up to him, yet makes corpse based analogies that demean millions of people that are, or have ever relied upon welfare: He demands that that economic risk should be forced upon the poorest in society "because they have the least to lose" and that the means to force them to take risk should be collective punishment: He openly admits that his department haven't even bothered to research negative socio-economic consequences that are so obvious that even private landlords that look set to gain from mass migration to their communities have raised concerns (not to mention dozens of politicians and journalists and hundreds of bloggers such as myself who have raised similar concerns): And he lets slip that the "ethos" of his reforms is to drive desperate people into the lowest possible quality of housing.

So look out for the lucrative private sector "Freud ethos slum" coming to an unemployment blackspot near you soon. I'm not so sure that the architect of the Welfare State, William Beveridge would be proud to have his name invoked as part of the justification narrative for this  ghettofication process under the guise of "welfare reform".

 
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

David Cameron's "economic war"

On 19th November 2012 the Prime Minister David Cameron gave a nauseating speech at the CBI annual conference.

For those that don't know, the CBI are a powerful right-wing business lobby group that claim to represent "British business" and boast about having 240,000 members. In essence they are a kind of trade union for business owners, corporate executives and the like.


Cameron started off his speech to the CBI with some ingratiating audience acknowledgements, singling out particular business folk in the crowd for attention and adding some tripe about what a great job he has been doing hawking military hardware to despotic regimes in the middle-east during Remembrance week.

Cameron began by talking up his business credentials and connections as if he were a cross between the compare at Live at the Apollo and a talentless graduate at a job interview shamelessly name-dropping people he's met because he's got nothing by the way of skills or experience to offer. After this he moved smoothy into inaccurate Tory bragging mode.

He claimed the the government have been "Reforming welfare so that it pays to work", which is a brazenly absurd claim, given that one of the Tory flagship policies is the Workfare mandatory unpaid labour scheme that ensures that it actually doesn't pay to work.

Even if the Tories hadn't pushed 100,000s of people into economically illiterate mandatory unpaid labour schemes, the idea that work can be made to pay through attacks on welfare entitlements alone is still transparently wrong. Surely the best way to ensure that it pays to work is to make sure that companies pay their staff a living wage, which would have the double benefit of increasing consumer demand and reducing the amount of tax that needs to be redistributed (via schemes like housing benefit and tax credits) to employees as a kind of taxpayer funded state subsidy to companies that refuse to pay reasonable wages to their employees. Cameron is hardly likely to tell assorted business people that they need to pull their weight and remove the burden on the taxpayer they are inflicting by paying poverty wages though is he?

The next claim that I've singled out for attention is nothing short of an egregious lie. Cameron claimed that the government have "protected the science budget". It doesn't matter how much Cameron lies about this one, the evidence is there that the Tory led government have been ruthlessly slashing investment in science. Even the extremely right-wing Daily Telegraph have noted that cuts to the science budget will have disastrous effects on the economy. Not only have the government overseen a huge cut to the science budget resulting in the abandonment of numerous cutting edge science programmes and provoking strong criticism from high profile science commentators such as Brian Cox (who said that the bankers' bailout was worth more money than the UK had spent on Science since Jesus), they have also been slashing funding to science charities and to university science departments across the country. That the Prime Minister is able to lie like this is a shocking indictement of accountability in British politics.

Next he wheeled out the timeworn "our fiscal polices are working because interest rates are at record lows" fallacy, which is an obvious conflation of fiscal policy with monetary outcomes. By which I mean, he is trying to claim that low interest rates and low bond yields have nothing to do with the Bank of England holding the base rate at an all time historic low since 2009 and "magicking up" £375 billion to manipulate the government bond market and everything to do with George Osborne's ideologically driven fiscal austerity agenda.

I've already torpedoed this lame fallacy in this article about Tory economic illiteracy. If this fallacy isn't considered a full on lie, it must at least be considered as either a demonstration of Cameron's economic illiteracy, or a demonstration of his assumption that everyone else, including his audience of successful business people, are so economically illiterate they wont even notice this conflation of fiscal policy and monetary outcomes.

Cameron's next boast was about exports being "up dramatically". Again, this is a stunning bit of revisionism that people at the CBI really should be capable of spotting. The trade deficit reached an all time record high in June 2012 of £4.4 billion and peaked again in August 2012 at £4.2 billion. Perhaps exports may have risen slightly, but they are still being monstrously dwarfed by imports. Even if the claim that exports are up were true, it would be yet another example of a Tory politician brazenly cherry-picking data, however the actual evidence is that exports are down. Here's a report (again from the right-wing Daily Telegraph) detailing "a worrying drop in export demand from Asia and the Eurozone" and providing evidence that manufacturing output fell for the sixth consecutive month in October 2012. Again Cameron is either outright lying about this rise in exports, or he's found some speck of data that he can cherry-pick and present in isolation to create the misleading narrative that British industry is thriving. The business leaders who have actually experienced these worrying declines in productivity should surely have reacted angrily to this attempt to mislead.

His next step was to begin bragging about Michael Gove's great school give-away, where taxpayer built and maintained schools are handed over for free to be run by private interests at the taxpayers' expense. The give-away of so many £billions worth of taxpayer funded property is concerning enough, but the abject lack of oversight and accountability is even worse. Cameron bragged that his party have forced 200 primary schools to privatise themselves this year and intends to force the same process upon 400 more next year. One could see how the privatisation of the education system might appeal to some business leaders, perhaps hopeful of getting in on the taxpayer funded schools free-for-all themselves, however one lesson that they must overlook entirely to approve of the education privatisation agenda is another Tory mandated school privatisation catastrophe. Cameron actually indirectly referred to this privatisation disaster in his speech by making reference to the oft heard business claim that school leavers are just not up to scratch.

This catastrophic privatisation can be traced back to the introduction of the national curriculum by the Tory education minister Norman Baker in 1988 which saw private companies "compete" to provide curricula and exam packages to schools. Obviously the only real element of competition was in which exam boards provided the easiest curricula. Schools have an obvious incentive to pick the curricula that give their kids the best chance of passing, thus the exam boards have an incentive to produce simpler curricula and easier exams, causing a race-to-the-bottom which resulted in 29 consecutive years of improved exam results at the national level. Yet each year's improved exam results met with a chorus of business leader complaining that school leavers are severely lacking in basic numeracy and literacy, devoid of critical thinking skills and unable to think for themselves. The Tories hasty efforts to further privatise the education system will certainly create yet more disastrous consequences, especially if they allow lunatic creationist groups to teach their anti-scientific mumbo-jumbo to generations of British school kids.

Next Cameron began to present his policy of "cutting red tape" to "speed up" the processes of implementing reforms and building infrastructure. In this section he made an absolutely shameless claim that it should be left to "smart people in Whitehall" to consider "equalities issues" and economic consequences whilst making policy. This is frankly absurd from a government of over-promoted millionaires that have shown absolute disregard for the adverse impact of their economic polices on the poorest and most vulnerable in society. It is also a ridiculous claim because of the catastrophic failure of their ideological austerity agenda.

Remember that George Osborne and his pet project at the OBR predicted 2.5% growth for 2012, well the actual rate of growth has been minus 0.117% over the course of the last year. The "smart people" in Whitehall have overseen a vast transference of wealth from poor and ordinary people to the super rich elite and tanked the UK economy in the process. What is needed is not less regulation and oversight to "hinder them" but more regulation and oversight to prevent them from implementing catastrophic ideologically driven nonsense. What British politics needs is more evidence based analysis, not less.

As supporting "evidence" for this agenda Cameron cited a pathetic anecdote and a rubbish analogy. The first being the facile claim that "if Cristopher Columbus had an advisory committee, he would probably still be in the dock" and then the even more feeble-minded analogy about roadbuilding. He said:
"In the 1950s it took 8 years to design and build the first 50 miles of the M1. Today it can take that long just to widen a stretch of motorway"
This statement tells us absolutely nothing about the burden of "red tape" and everything about Cameron's breathtaking ignorance of road engineering. It is obviously much easier to build a stretch of brand new motorway through the countryside than it is to upgrade a stretch of motorway that is in constant use by 100,000s of vehicles every day. The constant traffic flow presents a massive problem to engineers and construction workers, but so too does the pre-existing infrastructure. Anyone that travelled on the A1 during the lengthy upgrade process would have noticed the sheer number of bridges that needed to be widened, service stations that needed to be demolished and relocated, slip roads than needed to be completely redesigned, all without breaking the (economically vital) flow of 100,000s of vehicles a day. That the Prime Minister is prepared to make such an ignorat comparison is truly breathtaking demonstration that the man really doesn't have a clue about infrastructure development.

Cameron then invoked the "war spirit" by stating that:
"When Britain was at war in the 1940s Whitehall underwent a revolution, Normal rules were circumvented and convention was thrown out. Well this country is in the economic equivalent of war today - and we need the same spirit"
It is noticeable that Cameron didn't even bother to explain who the UK is supposed to be at "economic war" with. I'd like to make a suggestion that the UK economy is currently under economic attack from tax-dodging multinational corporations, that siphon £billions out of the UK economy without paying their fair share of tax, leaving ordinary people and small and medium sized British businesses (SMEs) to carry some of the extra burden whilst the government brutally slashes investment and services and engages in deficit spending to make up the rest of the shortfall.

The problem is of course, that Cameron and Osborne are blatantly serving the interests of these tax-dodging corporate parasites, have nothing but empty rhetoric about tax-dodging and hypocritical statements to offer and have even deliberately opened up more tax-loopholes to help multinational corporations avoid even more tax.

If Britain is at "economic war", Cameron and Osborne are traitors working for the other side.

In order to counter these economic attacks, Cameron proposes slashing consultations, rights to appeal and judicial reviews, while the real "red tape" that is actually inflicting severe damage on the UK economy is the convoluted 12,000 page UK tax code that allows large companies and rich individuals to dodge paying their fair share of tax. A simplification of the tax code to explicitly prevent tax avoidance schemes and a change of Whitehall policy to only allow companies that pay their fair share of tax to obtain government funds (subsidies, grants, loans, PFI deals, outsourcing contracts, supply contracts...) would be a great place to start on cutting harmful "red tape". However Cameron and the Tories have absolutely no intention of removing the kind of "red tape" that directly benefits giant multinational corporations at the expense of the wider UK economy. He is only interested in removing the kind of "red tape" that protects the wider UK economy from the interests of the multinationals.

Cameron's proposals are not a war on "red tape", they are a war on accountability. What he is actually proposing is that stakeholders in the UK economy (including small and medium enterprises) should be shut out from policy making by cutting back on consultations; that processes should be sped up by cutting impact assessments and evidence based analysis, which obviously increases the probability of making disastrous mistakes; and that accountability should be eliminated by stamping out appeals and stymieing judicial reviews.

Cameron's agenda is to increase the ability for the government to implement ideological policy, kneejerk reforms and to steamroller through developments that benefit multinational corporations at the expense of the local economy.

What is most astonishing about Cameron's agenda is that it runs counter to the principle of small-government the Tories claim they stand for. In essence Cameron is saying that government knows best, and that he plans to make it much easier for them to hammer through their favoured ideological policies regardless of the actual socio-economic impact and to reduce the ability for local people to appeal against barmy decisions or to seek redress when the whole thing turns out to be a poorly conceived catastrophic mistake.

This breakdown of Cameron's speech demonstrates that he is prepared to lie and mislead in order to make his case; he is all pally with the business leaders he addresses, but he assumes that they are idiots that can be taken in by his lies and misrepresentations; he relies on anecdotes and absurdly ill informed comparisons to build his case; he knows nothing about the practicalities of infrastructure development; he has absolute contempt for the concepts of evidence based policy and accountability; and that he is only interested in furthering the government's ability to inflict poorly devised ideologically driven policy on the UK economy.

The CBI represent thousands of small and medium businesses across the nation and they should have at least questioned Cameron's bizarrely misleading claims about the health of the economy and his brazen lie about protecting the science budget. After two and a half years of Tory ideologically driven policy driving the UK economy into recession and crushing the manufacturing and construction sectors, they should also have raised the question of why on earth would anyone want to see the Tories award themselves the ability to inflict even more poorly conceived, ideologically driven, top-down nonsense and to remove any vestiges of accountability? Another key question they failed to ask is what Cameron intends to do about the sheer scale of tax-dodging, that is leading to terrible tax asymmetry between Small and Medium enterprises and the global tax-dodging corporate kleptocracy.

The response of the CBI obviously contained no critical analysis at all. The Director General of the CBI, John Cridland stated that "Difficult times demand difficult approaches - we welcome government’s renewed push to get things done" as part of his glowing review of the speech. Given that the CBI boasts that it represents the interests of many of the FTSE100 companies (98% of which are tax dodgers) it is hardly surprising that the CBI didn't mention tax asymmetry between SMEs and the corporate tax-dodging giants. In fact, given Cridland's glowing review of the speech, you could say that, just like Cameron and Osborne, he too is playing the role of traitor in the economic war being fought between the multi-national tax-dodging corporate brigade and the real economy of the UK that are left carrying the burden of increased taxation, slashed services and investment, counter-productive attacks on the education system and a soaring national debt.

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