Reality is sooo 2009

UK Policy, World Policy Jun 19, 2012 Add a comment

The private sector can find no way to grow on its own and so now sees the public sector as a large asset to be stripped to keep it fat. Privatisation is the new quantitative easing and fantasy is the new reality.

Europe is being torn apart. Yes, this is the north and the south diverging, the Euro and the non-Euro countries different views of the world, the poor and the rich being treated as different species. But perhaps as much as any of these things what we are watching is the ongoing wrenching apart of reality and rhetoric. The European elite has for a long time been describing the world not as it is but as they’d like us to believe it is. But the divergence between these is becoming so great that what they are now describing is not a distorted version of the reality we have but  an imaginary world with no apparent link to anything that can be touched, seen or heard.

The Greeks voted to accept its ongoing suffering as a price it is willing to pay to stay in the Euro? Well, only 60 per cent of the population voted and of those that did only 40 per cent voted for pro-austerity candidates. And in any case, the idea that they ‘voted to stay in the Euro’ is also silly given that most of the pro- and anti-austerity parties also voted to stay in the Euro. And everyone in the European elite has been actively campaigning for a win from the pro-austerity parties which they claim is the only way forward for Europe. And yet they simultaneously claim that the people of Greece have no option but to accept the pain because of the previous gross corruption of governments. That would be the governments they just worked to get reelected.

Meanwhile the way to get out of our crisis is to trust the private sector. Even though the private sector caused and continues to cause the suffering. Everyone knows that the banks have sucked up all of the ‘quantitative easing’ money with little obvious outcome other than monetary outcomes. We’re told that it’s been a massive success purely on these monetary measures. And yet you’d think that the volume of money pumped into the UK economy would be producing economic benefits. No-one is claiming this is the case. So we spent billions and all we got was a devalued pound and higher inflation? This is what counts for success these days?

And the private-sector-to-the-rescue fantasy doesn’t stand up very well if you ask what is really happening. In fact, the private sector is sitting on massive stockpiles of cash it refuses to use constructively to help recovery. Big corporations have come to measure the impact of money against a sliding scale of speculative reward. A few years ago they could make their money multiply almost endlessly through gambling (even though it was all a con trick). And now they’re damned if they’re going to work for their money. No – they’re going to sit on it until they can start gambling again.

But there is a secret scheme for keeping the myth going – the rape of public Europe. There is a serious school of thought which suggests that the primary aim of EU policy towards Greece is to keep it on the leash just long enough to transfer as many public assets as possible to the European business and financial elite. In a few months’ time there will be no flesh left for these vultures to tear at and then Greece’s skeleton will be cast aside as the salivating monsters turn their eyes on Spain.

The same is happening here in spade loads. You may have noticed that privatisation is right back on the public agenda. Contracts and assets are changing hands at a greatly-renewed pace. All public money is now being tested not for how well it can serve the public but for what scope there is to convert it into private profit. The private sector is unable and unwilling to grow the economy so it seeks to grow its profits by other means – by converting public asset to private profit. This, virtually explicitly, is what David Watt tells us must happen in today’s Scotsman.

In this fantasy vision “unsustainable universal benefits” should be removed and instead transferred to “infrastructure”. This fantasy involves the idea that the ‘infrastructure’ is what will create economic growth. That isn’t the model at all. Effective investment in infrastructure can be one of two things. Either it is a single part of an economic development process that sees transformation and growth connected or it is a means of pumping money and jobs into a failing economy. Neither is offered here. Building a bridge won’t aid the transportation of goods and human capital because neither is moving. It’s like trying to get more water out of an empty bottle by drilling another hole in it. But at the same time, the infrastructure projects being favoured are not the ones likely to put most money in the pockets of most people (a Keynsian model). Rather it is models which put the most immediate profit into the pockets of the biggest corporations. If you want to create growth through infrastructure investment do it by investing in highly labour-intensive activity which invokes the least creaming-off of profit by the very big corporations which are already sitting on piles of money they refuse to use. Scotland could do with an army of people renovating our real infrastructure (filling in potholes, repairing run-down public assets, improving the built and natural environment for communities). We could have paid for this ten-times over with the quantitative easing cash. Instead we’ll probably get another 100 jobs building another ‘innovation park’ which will sit empty but with a contract price designed to get as much money into corporate pockets as possible.

The idea that in 2012 it is the public sector that is holding back the private sector is laughable. The private sector has offered no solution other than to seek perpetual state aid to prop it up. The reality is that the elite are robbing every remaining part of the public realm (that’s us folks) to keep it fat and it is doing it by pretending that it is the solution and that the public realm is the problem.

A group in society put us here. The same group is keeping us here. And it expects us to keep it healthy by us suffering more. This being totally nuts it needs to invent a fairy tale to convince us that it in fact makes sense. Reality is soooo 2009.

Robin McAlpine

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