Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A disturbing vision of our free market future

Let no one tell you that the Lib Dems are the cuddly part of the Coalition. Some would have you think they are the grizzled fur rather than the yellowed teeth of this rabid dog, but when it comes to the number one issue of the day, public services, the parties are of one mind.

Take a look at Vince Cable's recent Trade and Industry speech at Mansion House. Once he was the darling of the liberal establishment, what's he got to say about his achievements so far?

Well, he begins with the things he's really proud of " We have succeeded where our predecessors failed with a clear programme to stabilise and privatize the Royal Mail. We have put in place unprecedented higher education reforms. I could go on." But we hope you don't Vince.

He chillingly then outlines what his plans for government are; "We know business wants action, not words. That is why... we embarked on a Growth Review, an exercise every bit as rigorous and challenging as its spending equivalent. It has challenged every department to get behind the growth agenda, critically examining every policy that might get in the way or hold back our vision for private sector recovery."

So every government department has been challenged to harness itself to the needs of the private sector rather than, say, delivering a good service to disabled people or teaching kids to read and write. So the Department for Health has to get behind the 'growth agenda' ensuring it doesn't hold back 'our' vision for private sector recovery... glad no one is getting sick these days then.

He wants to "encourag[e] what Keynes called the “animal spirits” of entrepreneurs." That's quite interesting as I had a vague feeling I remember something about this, so I quickly dug up the Keynes quote...

"Even apart from the instability due to speculation, there is the instability due to the characteristic of human nature that a large proportion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations, whether moral or hedonistic or economic. Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits - a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities."
In other words Cable explicitly endorses something Keynes thought helped cause instability and was a product of 'optimism' rather than analysis. I wont dwell on this, he wont be the first, nor last politician to find a natty phrase regardless of its actual original meaning.

So let's move on to regulation. Most thinking people agree that the financial sector needs to have firmer regulation to prevent another financial sector crisis, or at least ameliorate it when it comes. They also happen to see that Barclays pay just 1% in Corporation Tax and think "Bloody hell, literally the richest are paying the least." So, what does this progressive have to say about regulating these loose dogs?

"Successive governments have made ritual commitments to reducing red tape but have added to it, inconveniencing businesses large and small." and then...

"Within my own department I have already taken action, to remove regulations which impede the ability of businesses to expand and take on people. This includes a review of labour market regulation specifically to stop cases reaching employment tribunals without a prior attempt at reconciliation and restricting access for unfair dismissal cases to the employed for two years rather than one."

So restricting workers access to employment tribunals and reducing their rights at work. How progressive of that cuddlesome Mr Cable! He goes on " Another useful step forward has been the steps we have taken to stop “gold plating” EU regulations and fight damaging regulatory impositions from the EU like the Working Time Directive."

He then talks about planning regulations being a barrier to growth, and how in the finance sector "My first priority was to ensure that the rapid deleveraging should not choke off, or make prohibitively expensive, the supply of credit to good British companies, especially SMEs."

This Growth Review he's outlining sounds more like the driver of a runaway train putting his foot on the gas. At the very time when the public have started to demand better regulation, and for business to pay its way Cable's emphasis is to advocate liassez faire capitalism without addressing why the crash happened in the first place. In fact he himself summarises his approach as "robust and unsentimental withdrawal of Government from unnecessary interference."


So Cameron must be saying something even worse. Nope. He's singing from exactly the same hymn sheet.

At the Conservative spring forum he launched an attack on public sector workers in Whitehall and town halls who were the "enemies of enterprise". He denounced the "the bureaucrats in government departments who concoct those ridiculous rules and regulations that make life impossible".

When it comes to commissioning goods and services Cameron says we'll be "throwing open the bidding process to every single business in our country – a massive boost for small businesses, because we want them to win at least a quarter of these deals".

Competition in the NHS is just the tip of the ice burg it seems.

Meanwhile the CBI and the City are lobbying to pull down regulation and end high taxes for the richest. the head of the CBI "urged Vince Cable's Department for Business and Skills to scrap unnecessary regulations and make good its plans to boost exports with the offer of credit guarantees and loans."

I'll end with the Cameron's speech on his arms sales to dictators trip;

"Here's another thing I've personally been doing. Selling Britain to the world.

"You know some people are disdainful about that. They see me loading up a plane with businesspeople and say - that's not statesmanship, that's salesmanship.

"I say: attack all you want. But do you think the Germans and the French and the Americans are all sitting at home waiting for business to fall into their lap? ...

"So let met tell you: while there are contracts to be won, jobs to be created, markets to be defended - I will be there ...

"I'll be there not just because it's my job, not just because it's my duty, more than that - because I passionately believe - no, I know that this country can out-compete, out-perform, out-hustle the best in the world."

He boasts about "loading up a plane with business people"? I thought he was spreading democracy, no? At the very least I assumed he'd say it was a coincidence but he's right out there implying they maybe didn't even want to come and he's there "loading" them onto the plane, he's forcing them to sell their guns and bombs to people who really, really may need them very soon.

He passionate believes that we can "out-hustle" the best in the world. I agree, but think we must be stopped. This vision for UK PLC where every public body is chained to the needs of business is utterly horrifying to me and frankly I think would be an historic crime if allowed to happen.


Dougie Kinnear said...

Tories in waiting Jim, an perfect example of power corrupts.

Strategist said...

Yeah, I thought old Vince would have been planning to call it a day when his party is annihilated at the next elections, not smoothing his own path into the Tory party.

"fight damaging regulatory impositions from the EU like the Working Time Directive"

Anybody who can say that is an irredeemable shithouse.

doctorcdf said...

From where I sit, absolutely everything is being geared up to the perceived needs to business as opposed to the needs of the country: the two are not the same. For example, the government is determined to shoot arts and humanities funding, yet it's the creative industries (witness things like Little Big Planet 2) in which we're truly world class. In short, this is just a bunch of toffs drawing policy out of bullshit sessions held at a gentleman's club, based upon ideas sucked out of a glass of sherry. We're in big trouble.

luckyluke said...

Yep - neo-Cons, neo-Libs. They're all the same. Don't let anyone try to convince you that the govt are just a load of bungling toffs and ineffective liberals. They know exactly what they are doing, dismantling the state, making way for big business.

luckyluke said...

Come to think of it, Neo-Lab were/are also corporatist neo-cons.

The Snarkery said...

Somewhat ironically, that quote from Keynes is based on his own somewhat selective reading of Vilfredo Pareto.

Jim Jepps said...

I've heard some interesting things about Pareto but not read him. How would you characterise him (in a nutshell)?