The Open Public Services White Paper, announced on 11th July, sneaked out under cover of the Murdoch mess, looks like being the next government created shambles. Like its approach to the NHS, it betrays a breath-taking lack of common-sense and understanding. The government claims its aim is to improve the quality and reduce the cost of all public services. This magical result is to be achieved by opening them up to provision by private and voluntary organisations, in competition with their existing public providers.
Mr Cameron has referred to five main aims in introducing his white paper: choice, diversity, accountability, decentralisation and fairness. The first three are standard shibboleths of the free-trade, open market ideology. They are quite irrelevant to the mass of people facing austerity. People don’t need choice so much as good quality, reliable provision where they can access it. The same applies to diversity. Choice and diversity may both be features of open competitive markets, but have little relevance to the provision of health and social services. Except on purely ideological grounds.
Continue reading Big Society Public Services – the Next Government Shambles
(Originally posted 10.6.2011)On 1st September, 1976, Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago University, economic theoretician and Nobel laureate, addressed the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. The title of his talk was “The Road to Economic Freedom: The Steps from Here to There”. Friedman, being the quintessential free market fundamentalist, took a dim view of the mixed British economy with around 60% of national income then being spent by government. He prescribed the ‘shock treatment’ of low flat rate taxes and wholesale privatisation which a few years later Margaret Thatcher implemented.
His justification for privatising provision of education and healthcare was simplistic in the extreme. ‘There is,’ he argued, ‘a sort of empirical generalisation that it costs the state twice as much to do anything as it costs private enterprise, whatever it is.’ Friedman didn’t actually have any data to support this contention, but added that ‘My son once called my attention to this generalisation, and it is amazing how accurate it is’ (See Friedman, M, 1977, From Galbraith to Economic Freedom, London: Institute of Economic Affairs, p57).
Continue reading The Lesson of Southern Cross
In the United States, Goldman Sachs, hugely profitable out of the financial crisis, still rules the roost. According to Senator Carl Levin, chair of the senate permanent sub-committee on investigations, in the report on Wall Street and the Financial Crisis, it’s a “sordid story” of a “financial snake-pit, rife with greed, conflicts of interest and wrongdoing.” Levin said he would be recommending Goldman executives be referred for criminal prosecution. But that’s barely news. Goldman have paid for their criminality before. In the UK this startling story is hidden away in a few short paragraphs on page 26 of today’s Guardian (15th April). It hardly qualifies as news. Because everybody knows.
Continue reading Why Don’t We Make the Bankers Pay?
The economic mainstream has flowed on its capital oriented way with relatively little deviation despite its manifest limitations, errors, omissions and downright falsehoods. And despite the occasional disasters to which it gives rise.
In the middle of last century, J M Keynes corrected some of the more apparent errors of the classical model, but his aim was improvement rather than revolution. He did argue powerfully that ‘the madmen in authority’ should accept the maintenance of full employment as their moral responsibility, but renegade he was not.
Continue reading In Praise of Renegades
Before the British coalition government’s proposed cuts were announced they were greeted by 39 top business people writing to the Daily Telegraph confirming that they would create the necessary jobs so as to make the public sector cuts work. That way tax rises might be avoided and long-term cuts in public sector activity achieved. For them, any reduction in tax and spend would be a Good Thing. Well, business people would say that, wouldn’t they! But were they expressing a seriously thought through strategy, or merely expressing the currently dominant free market fad?
Continue reading Cut or Spend? Fad or Strategy?
David Cameron’s special advisory committee of ten on economic strategy includes five business graduates, five knights of the realm, three retailers, three asset strippers, two accountants, a banker, a lord, an advertising exec, a publishing exec, and Sir James Dyson. Only the last named has a background in manufacturing and is likely to have got his hands dirty at work.
Continue reading Limits of Economic Advice to the Coalition
Keynes recognised that the legislation protecting worker’s rights might lead to powerful trades unions, motivated by political ideals rather than the long term interests of their members, being the cause of wages led inflation damaging economic activity. His mistake was to argue that it was a political problem for governments, rather than a problem for economics. So no action was taken till the advent of the Thatcher government.
Today the boot is on the other foot. Free market fundamentalism is no less political than the unions were 30 years ago. The fervent ideological belief in private industry being good, public bad, regulation bad, and above all, the primacy of shareholder property rights and the purpose of industry being to maximise their value … all that is equally damaging to industry, perhaps even more so, than was unbridled union power.
Continue reading The Politicisation of Industry