In March, I drew attention to a new sub-site on Europe established by the Guardian newspaper – and reproduced my response to its invitation for comments and suggestions on possible people who might contribute to the site
Thereafter I forgot about it – but went into the site today and found a useful piece from the historian Mark Mazower about a possible Marshall to deal with the economies of the European periphery. It has set off an interesting discussion thread – with many useful points being made – eg
• The role of the rating agencies (ineffective (they didn’t pick up the practices which led to the global crisis) unaccountable; corrupt (their resorces come from the companies they are rating!)
• The different contexts of post-war Europe and now
• The incentive banks still have for buying dud Greek bonds (they make more than the minimal rates available elsewhere)
• The basic issue about Greece being not their life-style but 2 other things - its political system (its conflicts being so great that it was felt necessary as early as the 1930s to give civil servants constitutional protection for their jobs – with the result that the system has swollen to 800,000); and the immorality of its richer middle class (who simply don’t pay taxes)
One particular post caught my eye -
The private sector caused the crash. The private sector created the conditions for the crash by ceaselessly chest-thumping for ever-greater deregulation and lower taxes (with threats to depart the country if its wishes aren't granted, an undemocratic influence which often outweighed the voices of voters). The private sector also causes the deficit (both here and in Greece) due to its persistent failure to pay the correct amount of tax.Perhaps a bit over the top. But a lot of basic truths. The rich and powerful just don’t seem to get it – that most of them are useless parasites who live in a bubble world separated from reality. It’s all too easy, however, to vent one’s energies on such emotive outbursts – rather than patiently selling an alternative. And the alternatives do exist – as is shown in The Equality Trust’s second Digest which looks at inequality trends and reveals how Sweden’s policies cut inequality there between 1960 and 2005 by 12% - whereas it rose by 32% in the UK in the same period. One June 10, I referred to an article in Social Europe about the Nordic model.
And by relying on unreliable, undemocratic, random, greed-led and potentially catastrophic "market forces", they have created a national and international economy that makes no sense whatsoever - not for people, not for the environment, not for society.
It's time we stopped letting the private sector - in other words, the rich and powerful - hold us, our society and our children, as hostages to the fortunes of capitalism. Anything useful that the private sector makes or does, ought to be done in the public sector. It can be done there without the inefficiencies of competition or stuffing the pockets of the wealthy with profit margins and dividends. And anything useless that the private sector makes or does - and there's a lot of it, from advertising junk food to poodle-grooming parlours and conservatory-salesmen - would not be missed if it were shut down. That might reduce notional GDP, but if those figures place profit above people, then they were useless to start with. The opportunity cost of having a private sector are simply unsustainable in the 21st century: every pound or professional wasted in the private sector is one not being used to shore up the NHS, to build our green energy resources, rebuild our infrastructure, or research the cure for cancer. It's time to cut the parasitic private sector loose, and focus on our society's really valuable economy instead.
It was Thatcher who undermined our belief in political and collective action. Her mantra was TINA – There is no alternative. And the underlying agenda of the triviliality which overwhelms us in the press and television is the old “bread and circus” one. Powerful media barons want to keep the world the way it is – for their sort. They define what is feasible – and are drumming still the TINA agenda.
Finally, some useful clues on how to assess whether the money in your bank is safe.
Today I'm showing an Angela Minkova print I acquired recently. Astry Gallery had an exhibition of this talented artist's work. She also does quirky little scupltures (see May 5 for an example)