Thursday, 17 May 2012

That's the way the money goes. Pop goes the weasel

I am not an economist.  I do not really understand in what ways the financial system differs from a gigantic casino.  Hedge funds, credit swaps etc are all beyond my ability to comprehend.  I do, however, understand one thing.  It is that, although individual players can win fortunes, the casino itself exists for the profit of its owners.  As do banks and other financial institutions.

For a long time, banks have portrayed themselves as public services which exist in order to help individuals and companies to manage their resources.  This is how they advertise.  They project an image of probity, sobriety and social responsibility.  Pillars of the community, they are lampooned as such in popular culture.  Captain Mainwaring in "Dad's Army" springs immediately into mind.  They have been portrayed as similar to the clergy, often comic but always reliable and honest. In fact, many if not most of the staff seen by the general public are, if not comic, reliable and honest.  They honestly want to help.  They provide the banks with the mask of respectability

The events of 2008, however, destroyed such illusions and revealed these institutions as the self-serving predators they are.  The benevolent public mask slipped to reveal the face of naked greed.  For a brief historical moment the curtain was lifted and the illusion broken.  After aggressively extending credit to all and sundry, their chickens had come to roost when to their feigned surprise it turned out that many could not pay them back.  I say "feigned" because this fact was known to them as it had to be known to any intelligent human being.  In fact, they had calculated that it did not really matter as they knew that, in the main, they would be rescued.  Lehmann Brothers and others fell, it is true, but Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan Chase and others survived despite the blatant illegality of many of their practices.  They were all "too big to fail".

So they didn't.  Using taxpayers' money, governments bailed them out.  In order to recoup the funds lost from the public treasury, austerity measures were introduced with the intent of reducing the funds available to the general public.  Under the euphemisms of rationalisation and reform, public services are cut, many public sector workers dismissed and benefits to the vulnerable and needy cut.  With unemployment rising, those who were previously receiving those benefits are exhorted to go out and find jobs which do not exist.  For it is, we are told, our fault that this has happened.  Our Welfare State is unsustainable and must be trimmed.  All the main parties agree with this. This agreement is not, in fact, surprising since all the main parties are drawn, at the high levels, from the same socio-economic class.  Some may be more critical of the free market capitalist system than others but they are all wedded to it.  They all profit from it. They can all, on leaving office, expect to be looked after by it.

Meanwhile Goldman Sachs, Morgan Chase et al have moved in force into the global commodity market, buying up the basic stuff we need to survive.  Having done that, prices start to soar.  Thus, while incomes fall prices rise.  People go hungry.  In Greece this is most acute, but the crisis will spread.  It is difficult to see how it could not as long as the rules of the game, which are heavily rigged in the casino owners' favour, are obeyed.

So what has happened to all the money paid in taxes by working people?  Where has it gone?  I do not know exactly but the figures produced by the Sunday Times Rich List give a clue.  In 2008 the thousand richest people in the UK owned £412.85 billion.  In 2009 this fell drastically to £258.235 billion.  In 2010, however it rose to £335.5 billion, in 2011 to £395.8 billion and this year has reached £414.26 billion - higher than before the recession started.  In September 2011, according to the Guardian, the total cost of the bail-out had reached £123.93 billion.  If this figure is added to the 2009 Rich List figure we reach a total of £382.165 billion, not much short of the 2011 figure.  Thus, these 1000 people have got collectively richer by an amount very close to that by which the rest of the nation has got progressively poorer.

Here we can see who the casino owners are.  And I will predict that, as the cuts deepen, so will their wealth increase.  Pointing this out is not the politics of envy it is simply the politics of reality.  Without positing some sinister conspiracy, whether hatched by lizard people, Masons or the Illuminati, it is clear that the system is designed by the owners to profit the owners.  This is what the science of economics, if science it be, as practised on a global scale by the disciples of Hayek and Friedman has led us to.  An impoverishment of the many in order to enrich a very, very few.

This system has its roots deep in the past.  Exploitation is the essence of patriarchy.  Without succumbing to the ever-present temptation of a dream to the return to the Golden Age of pre-civilisation, it is essential to refigure the way society is run.  The change will need to be be radical.  An economic system must be built in which co-operation rather than competition is the guiding principle.

The word "economy" is itself derived from the Greek word meaning "household management".  For too long it has mirrored the hierarchical patriarchal vision of the home, with power residing in the paterfamilias.  His role is now taken by the likes of Goldman Sachs, who instructs that the mess they make is cleaned up by the rest of the household. A new vision is needed and this must begin with a new vision of the relationship between women and men. And it is here that a look at our prehistory, at anthropology and evolutionary biology can give us insight.  Human beings have not always arranged their lives according the dominant values of our time.  In fact, human beings are not built that way.  We are social animals who happen to predate, not predators who happen to be social.

I do not know the way forward beyond the need to change minds.  I believe that the change is already underway.  Hampered as we may be at times by the patriarchal thinking we inherited, there is within the Goddess movement a desire and a will to challenge that thinking and move beyond, above and below it.  I will not see this change manifest on a global scale.  But I believe it will.  And this, despite the despair I see around, gives me hope.

PS:  Since posting the above, I have seen that Cameron's outgoing strategic adviser is calling for another £25 billion to be cut from the welfare budget.  If this is added to the sum of 2009 wealth plus the bail-out money it reaches around £407 billion.  This is even closer to the total wealth on the Rich List.  Another yacht or three, anyone?

PPS: The title of this post refers to a popular song.  "Popping the weasel" was the practice of pawning the tools of one's trade on a regular basis.  Anyone who lives in one of our cities cannot help but notice the recent increase in pawn shops and short-term loan money shops which charge the poor extortionate rates of interest.  At least one sector of the economy, the most nakedly predatory at that, is experiencing growth!  As it says so eloquently, albeit in another context, in the Bible:   

Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath 
(Matthew 25, 29) 

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