Thursday, 27 January 2022

Ultimately, it's our own fault


In a capitalist economy, ordinary citizens serve only two functions – they can be a source of labour or consumers of products and services. That doesn’t preclude them from being both, of course, but those who are neither are, essentially, surplus to requirements. That’s putting it bluntly – and most capitalist economies are overlaid with at least an element of social democracy which seeks to mitigate and/or gloss over the worst effects of capitalism. But the core ideological debate within UK politics is about the degree of mitigation and gloss; not about the fundamentals. Labour is as wedded to the underlying ideology as the Tories, they just argue about the extent of mitigation.

Understanding that raw fact about the nature of capitalism is core to understanding the Tory attitude towards the unemployed, or those dependant on the state pension. They are seen as burdens, rather than full members of society. Whilst actively culling them is a step too far, even for the more extreme members of the current cabinet (although if a pandemic does part of the job, that’s just serendipitous), keeping them as poor as possible comes a close second. The fact that we have one of the lowest state pensions in the developed world is one illustration of the attitude; yesterday’s announcement of new benefit sanctions on the unemployed is another. The government’s ‘solution’ to a situation in which there are 1.2 million vacancies and 500,000 unemployed is to force people into whatever jobs are available, regardless of preference or skills, by driving them deeper into poverty if they are unemployed for more than four weeks.

It’s an oversimplistic mathematical approach to filling vacancies – an unemployed sales person in Devon is hardly going to be able to fill a brain surgeon vacancy in Aberdeen (and there are an awful lot of unfilled vacancies in the NHS); but essentially it will drive many people, regardless of their skills or experience, into minimum wage jobs in sectors such as care regardless of their suitability for such a role. A means of fixing the social care crisis is something which this is not. It probably doesn’t matter to them though – low wage labour helps the profits of private care companies, and keeps down the cost of looking after the almost useless people (in capitalist terms) receiving the care.

It’s not the only way of organising a society or economy; we could instead start, as some of us do, from the basis that the purpose of an organised economy is to serve the members of society as a whole rather than assuming that those members exist only to serve the economy. It’s an idea which we’ve largely lost sight of, as we’ve swallowed the tenets of capitalist ideology. But we don’t even need to be as radical as that to see the essentially short-sighted nature of the Tory approach. Decent pensions and benefits – as well as paying a proper living wage – allow those currently regarded as useless to become useful even to capitalists, as consumers. It means spreading ‘consumption’ more evenly and fairly, but I’m sure some genius could come up with a good slogan to cover it – something like ‘levelling up’, maybe? Whereas failure to do so has the effect of concentrating wealth in ever-increasing quantities in ever fewer hands.

They get away with it though. They have managed to convince those in the middle that the problem is the poor, and convince the poor that the problem is the even poorer. And to convince both that immigrants are the problem. They get away with it, in short, because enough of us allow them to.

No comments: