A something for nothing culture?

The other day I woke up to hear the news headlines on Radio 4 and it mentioned how David Cameron wanted to tackle Britain’s “something for nothing culture”. I presumed he was talking about fat cat bankers and traders taking huge bonuses and salaries when their company was loosing money, or tax dodgers like his many Etonian buddies….but predictably, no he was referring to those living on benefits. Or in other words, he was simply engaging in that favourite of Tory hobbies – kick the beggars and screw the poor.

Now while yes there are a small number of “shameless” types whose profession one could describe as “professional drinker” or “chav” or “Ned”. But it is my experience that the vast bulk of the unemployed are none of the above and certainly not in such a position by choice. They are there because a bunch of wankers in power (that would be Cameron and his buddies in Parliament) screwed over the economy and made it impossible for them to get a job, especially if you are a recent graduate.

I mean would anyone actually choose a career of being constantly skint, struggling to make ends meet every week, constantly having to beat a path to the door of the welfare office, take part in various pointless government vanity schemes (including the new “Welfare Chain Gangs”) and not being able to do anything special, such as take a long holiday abroad – versus working and earning.

I was unemployed for a while at the beginning of the recession and it was not fun and games. I was too busy trying to fill out lots of forms and getting a new job to “enjoy” not having to go to work. And every time I visited a welfare office, I found it full of people, actively using the job search stations, clearly intend on getting a job. I know people who’ve been unemployed for quite awhile who, while they have gone through periods of depression and stopped searching, they are still actively looking for work, even downgrading and being prepared to move long distances. So like I said, lets not punish the majority of those on welfare for the perceived failings of a small number.

Indeed, of those who are “permanently” unemployed, i.e. those living in those parts of the UK that are virtually “welfare colonies”….or “Thatchervilles” as I call them, I have some sympathy. Many of the areas we associate with these social problems, such as the Welsh Valleys, the East end of Glasgow, the former industrial suburbs of Coventry, Manchester and many other “industrial cities” of the UK, were once thriving industrial areas. At one time, near full employment was recorded in these areas.

However, successive Tory government, wedded to their neo-liberal economic theory and fearful of the power of labour unions, destroyed the industry of these areas, leaving many inhabitants stuck in a poverty trap. Consequently the Tory’s need to realise that there was an unexpected consequence of these Thatcher era policies – that of turning once thriving communities (where the bulk of people worked and paid their taxes) into virtual welfare colonies (where large number of people became welfare dependent) with huge social problems. And I mean some parts of the UK now boast statistics that would put the third world too shame (life expectancy in parts of Glasgow is around 50!). consequently its a bit rich them now complaining about people on welfare when they put’em there in the first place!

So before toff’s like David Cameron and his Tory friends start bashing those on welfare, they need to recognize why so many people are forced to live on it. While there are probably a small number who do so because their lazy good for nothing dossers (then again, anyone whose ever worked for a large company will know you get plenty of those types in employment, often it quite senior positions!). The bulk of those on benefits are not there by choice. They are there because of a failure of government economic policies. And it has to be said, it was largely Tory policies that were to blame. Its very easy to destroy an economy and create social problems, solving them is much harder.

And I’m labouring this point because there is a very serious risk apparent here, that of creating another generation of unemployed, another “lost” (or “Thatcherised” as I’d put it) generation.

The Economic Hitmen are circling Greece

Saw an interesting pair of Greek films recently about the awful situation their country is in, but more importantly, about the ridiculous “solution” proposed by the IMF.
At its core, the IMF demands of Greece two things – austerity (which generally benefits the rich who don’t depend on public services as the rest of us) and privatisation (putting the juiciest of state assets up for sale to the highest bidder). Much attention has been focused on austerity, and I think everyone in the world other than “no taxes” Lagarde , Merkel and Ron Paul accepts that austerity in a time of economic crisis just makes things worse.

But its the privatisation issue I’m more interested in discussing here, as it equally doesn’t work and will in the long run just hand a lot of money over to corporations while ultimately costing the Greek government lots of money in the long run (and thus ultimately making Greek’s debt problems much worse).

A parable for Privatisation

Let me use the following analogy to explain why privatisation is a bad idea

Suppose that I made and offer to anyone reading this that I would buy you’re car off you. I’ll only pay a fraction of its current market value, but in return for you selling it to me at a discount I will then provide you with (for a substantial annual fee of course) a “transportation solution” that will look suspiciously like you’re old car (I’ll have painted it a different colour and stuck my logo on it!). You will still be responsible for fuel costs, road tax, etc. While strictly speaking I’ll be responsible for maintenance and replacement of the car, there’s nothing legally you can do if I decide to take my time getting the thing fixed (forcing you to take a cab for sufficient long that you then realise it would be cheaper just to pay for the repairs yourself) and my ultimate plan is to never replace the car, I’ll either expect you to cough up for that also, or else I’ll just fold the company when the car finally gives up the ghost. So how many want to take me up on the offer?

As the privatisation of public services around the world has shown, most notably in the UK under Thatcher (aka the wicked witch of Finchley), privatised public services are rarely if ever run better in private hands than in public hands. It cost the UK around a billion to subsidise the railways in the last year before privatisation and it now costs 5 times more post privatisation. You have to go back to the 1970’s to recall a time when the UK water systems had to bring in drought measures . Yet they seem to happen every year or so now, since privatisation. Now while there are many causes for the UK’s present drought, ranging from climate change and increased urbanisation (higher water demand and more run off). But clearly the private water companies failure to maintain pipes and reservoirs is a big part of the problem. Indeed its has been pointed out that they have every financial incentive NOT to fix the problems in the system, as this creates an artificial shortage, leading to higher water rates (and more profit to them).

But then again, it should be obvious to anyone who knows the first thing about capitalism why this is the case. The critical ingredient in any capitalist system is “competition”. A private company in a monopoly situation is as just as likely to become as bloated and inefficient as a publicly owned company is. Indeed, the only real difference is that the private company creams off 25% for “profit” and has little if any incentive to make long term investments (such as building new railway lines, reservoirs, power stations, etc.) as the benefits of such infrastructure will appear many decades from now, while the cost will appear today (which for a typical corporate shark out to make a quick buck is unacceptable).

Economic Hitmen

So why are the IMF trying to impose such ridiculous measures onto the Greeks if they’ve been proven repeatedly not to work? In part its ideological. Much like the mediaeval doctors who believed that they had to bleed a patient (or drill holes in his head to let the evil spirits out) to cure him of his ills, but when he died rather than accepting the obvious fact that the bleeding killed him, they instead insist that he wasn’t bled enough. So they proceed to bleed the next patient even more (who also dies due to “a lack of bleeding”). For the neo-liberals to back down as regards these strategies would be the equivalent of them running up the white flag and declaring that their extreme brand of capitalism has failed, and there’s about as much chance of that happening as there is of the pope suddenly saying “sure’s its all a load of hokey poky mumbo jumbo!”

But its also part of a well established formula that the corporations have been applying for years , as detailed in the book “confessions of an economic hitman” by John Perkins .

Firstly, the corporations send in economic advisor’s to a developing country, who advise that they should take out large loans to build infrastructure. The corp’s then arrange for Western states to lend the developing nation lots of money (way more than they can reasonably be paid back). Of course most of this money finds its way back into the pockets of western businessmen in the form of generous construction contacts, or into Swiss bank accounts through corrupt practices. Inevitably, the developing country soon runs into debt problems, Western governments hold the indebted country’s feet to the flames and send in more economic advisor’s from the IMF. They, unsurprisingly advise that those same state assets the government was advised to build should now be sold to private business interests at a fraction of their value.

The only difference now is, they are applying the same script to western states rather than developing countries. Well I suppose what goes around comes around! But let us not pretend that the IMF or right-wingers such as those in charge in Germany, don’t have an agenda here, and rescuing Greece, the euro or dealing with the sovereign debt crisis is certainly not part of that agenda.

A comedian, a taxman and an Etonian toff go into a bar on Jersey….

One interesting story this week one couldn’t ignore was Jimmy Carr being caught out fiddling with his taxes. This brought about widespread condemnation, notably from the PM who called it “morally unacceptable”

If there’s one positive of this whole escapade it is to highlight the techniques, both legal and illegal, used by many of the country’s wealthy to outwit the tax man. They highlight why we need to crack down on these tax dodgers heavily. I find it deeply ironic that they’ll go to elaborate lengths to catch benefit fraudsters (as in hiring private detectives), even if it turns out its only someone claim a couple more quid a week than they’re entitled too. But they’ll then argue that its too costly and difficult to go after ultra rich tax dodgers, who often owe millions in back taxes, as highlighted by the grassroots movement UK Uncut.

Also more efforts could be made to close the loopholes used by companies such as those who Jimmy Carr was working. Indeed its worth remembering Jimm Carr was not alone here, a top tory donor has also been linked to a similar scheme, Gary Barlow has been similarly caught out. Some form of “repatriation charge” of say 25% on any financial transaction too or received from a known tax haven, or various forms of economic sanctions would wipe out many of these schemes.

And of course I find it deeply ironic, David Cameron lecturing us on the issue of tax avoidance. His family made quite bit of its cash in tax havens. And as I recall Lord Ashcroft and Phil “Greed” Green owner of (Top Dodgers) are still around the cabinet table. Now, okay Jimmy Carr should have been called out (and speaking of which what I want to know is when is he planning to pay all that tax back and will it be cash or cheque? |-|), but his tax avoidance pales in comparison to many Tory supporters. Its the equivalent of a mafia boss complaining to the cops because some yob pinched his handkerchief.

Ultimately the only solution to “aggressive tax avoidance” is “aggressive tax collection” from the rich. This obviously means higher rates of tax, or “Patriot Tax” as I call it
(stands for Providing Appropriate Tax Requirements In Our Time), But more important than that, making sure they pay what’s due under the current regime.

Euro championships

Well Ireland’s out and we’ve won something for a change!….the wooden spoon! It is funny being in England for the last few weeks during a major footballing championships. Typically up in Scotland you’ll walk into a pub where, see England’s playing Germany and find its full of Germans (or at the very least lots of people cheering on Germany). The following week, again when England’s playing, it suddenly seems to be full of French, or Algerians. Now as a neutral, you’d almost swear the Scots don’t want England to win or something…..

But that said, and I mean no offense here, but that national anthem they play before the England game “god save the queen” sort of does my head in, can’t ye change it to something else? After all its actually the British national anthem not the English one. Its this sort of blurring the lines between Britain and England that really winds up the Welsh and Scots, not to mention confusing our geographically challenged neighbours across the Atlantic.

Of course purists would say, then it needs to be “Jerusalem”, based on a William Blake poem. While I’d agree, let’s be practical, you can’t sing that drunk! and the thought of ten thousand English football fans murdering this song before each game fills me with dread. Furthermore, there’s a lot of religious references in there which will inevitably peeve somebody. Plus some of the lyrics will confuse the hell out of the Germans (Ze Englisher’s Vant to bring Jerusalem 2 ze English country zide? Vas is tis? Didn’t ve try zat in 1940? :no:) who may get the wrong idea. So maybe not.

Rule Britannia? Would probably wind people up the wrong way also (ruling waves? Belgrano? Argentina? on the cultural insensitivity meter that pretty much goes one notch below painting cartoons of Mohammed on the side of that black square thing in Mecca :no:) and I suspect FIFA will say no (unless ye bribe Blatter anyway), and of course its also a British song, so definitely out.

That really boils it down to the Vindaloo Song. It represents core British values (I had a cuppa a few minutes ago, thinking of having some cheddar cheese and reckon I’ll have a curry tomorrow night). While again it will confuse johnny foreigner, it will do so in a nice way (the German team will be still scratching their heads tens minutes later trying to figure out what all that was about, giving ye the chance to snatch an early goal). Tho again I suspect those blokes at FIFA and the FA will say its too silly a song for a national anthem (then again have you ever heard the lyrics to some of the other national anthems? they ain’t much better! indeed some should count as outright xenophobia).

I’m reminded on this point of Mark Thomas who once suggested using the Imperial March theme from Star Wars as it will “scare the shit out of people”. I’d tend to agree, but again this would offend certain religions (Jedi?) and again the suits would never agree to it. Anyone got any other suggestions?….other than the othergod save the queen” song :>>

Dive of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Now having witnessed Ireland playing both Spain and Italy (well the highlights of the Spain match, as I didn’t watch it live…thank feck!), we must address the issue of diving in football. Many fans will argue it ruins the game. And I agree, but that said it does take a fair bit of skill, both in agility, grace and acting to pull off an effective “swan lake” dive.

I therefore propose a solution, alongside the golden boot (top scorer), golden ball (best player) and glove (goalie) awards for tournaments we introduce the “sugar plum fairy award” for best diver. The unlucky player in question will get a pink ballerina dress, shoes and a fairy wand, which he will have be forced too the honour of wearing for every match in the proceeding football season.

My suspicion is that this would solve the problem, in a slightly more humane way than the bloke in the pub the other night suggested (that divers be sent off at once, kicked by all the other players, and then just after he’s disappeared out of sight down the tunnel a single shot rings out).

Battle of Gdansk

Couldn’t help but notice Greece and Germany were drawn together….how many yellow and red cards is that one going to generate? We maybe about to witness a rerun of “the battle of Berne”.

The fifth wheel

Also, what exactly are those guys behind the goal (dressed in Yellow, I assume ref’s of some kind) supposed to be doing? Given that goal that wasn’t for Ukraine v’s England I assume their job doesn’t involved telling if the ball actually crossed the line or not, I mean what was the guy doing? Checking his text messages? On a tea break? And while Brit’s might be smug about dodging a bullet this time, remember what goes around comes around. Sooner or later he’ll miss a goal ye score, of course it already happened as I recall last world cup.

Greek Elections

Many eurocrats drew a sigh of relief at the outcome of the Greek election, which saw more moderate “pro-bailout” parties from both sides of the political divide elected to power by a wafer thin majority. Indeed, its worth remembering that the government forming up in Athens right now amounts to the UK equivalent of the Labour Party and the Tory’s going into power together (or Democrats and Republicans for Americans).

But as always in the ongoing EU crisis the real truth behind this was missed. The Greek election amounted to an attempt to bully and scare the Greeks into voting a certain way to placate the Germans, even though the election was never about Greece leaving the euro or the EU (as the mainstream parties tried to portray it). This mirrors the situation in Ireland as regards our bailout referendum. I opposed this measure, not because I’m anti-EU or I want us to leave the euro, but largely because it does nothing to solve the current crisis, will need to re-drafted soon (as the incoming French government aren’t keen on it) and was little more than a dangerous distraction. As I mentioned before, the Germans are playing a dangerous game here, sooner or later a government or electorate will call their bluff, and that might happen sooner than anyone thinks!

If there’s one thing everybody will agree upon as regards Greece, its that the status quo is out of the question. The economy has collapsed, with a 16.7% drop in GDP recorded since 2007. And that figure does not factor in this summer and the large drop in tourist numbers (officially numbers are down about 15%, but some say its more like 50%).

While Greek government revenue has increased slightly (again see stats here) by about 2.5% since 2007, unfortunately that drop in GDP (-16.7%) means that in real terms the flow of money into Greek government coffers is down about 15% AND expenditure has risen due to so many people out of work and claiming benefits. Those with money aren’t spending it, they are hoarding it, usually abroad. An entire generation of young people and entrepreneur’s has left the country to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Of course the eurocrats and challenged on the above will always say, oh! But the Greek economy will turn a corner in a few months time (hint, they’ve been saying that for the last 3 years!) and start growing again….where have I heard that before…oh ya! from Nick Leeson and Kenneth Lay of ENRON! Why is it that economists always seem convinced that any downward trend will magically change into an upward trend?

The bottom line is, the austerity measures have crippled Greece. Indeed I feel the term “austerity” is no longer really applicable “national asset stripping” seems more appropriate!

And the problem here is that we are only about halfway through the package of cuts that the Greek government is supposedly committed too. In the next month they need to find another 10 billion euros worth of cuts to remain on course. Now I don’t think you need to be an economist to work out that that is utterly impossible. Any government, especially a coalition one with a thin majority and a strong opposition (who could easily tempt wavering MP’s into crossing the floor), and an angry populace out on the street will find it impossible to implement such cuts without risking revolution.

So I suspect sometime in the next few weeks, we’ll see some subtle (or maybe not so subtle) feelers put out to the Germans and the IMF (Lagarde being caught out recently, she said Greeks needed to learn how to pay more tax…it was then pointed out to her that she pays no tax herself!) about changing the terms of the bailout…..hang on! Wasn’t that Syriza’s plan?

Granted, there will probably be less insults and swearing from the mainstream parties, but ultimately the message is the same – the current “solution” isn’t working and the terms of the bailout need to be changed. Currently, an orderly default of Greek debt or more radical changes to the EU seems like the only solutions that are workable.

And the bad news for the IMF/Germans is that the new Greek government (who given a few weeks post honeymoon period will be at each others throats) will have have both the example set by Spain (which did not have any harsh austerity measures imposed on it) to call on, plus the nuclear option to blackmail (or Drac-mail to quote the tabloids) the Germans and IMF with. That of simply resigning, letting Syriza take over, and they will begin a not-so-ordely default of Greece’s debts, and let Merkel and Largarde explain to their now angry tax payers that all there savings have just vanished.