We must stop protecting the rich from market forces

(41 Posts)
breadandbutterfly Thu 25-Oct-12 10:10:31

The 'American' global economy punishes the poor while giving handouts to failing banks. It's time for some balance

www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/24/stop-protecting-rich-market-forces

Superb article - explains simply what we all know is true.

EdithWeston Thu 25-Oct-12 10:15:51

Hear hear!

The balance between nations, and the amount that US (and Europeans) consume per capital is an absolute disgrace in global terms.

We need significantly greater austerity in the developed word, as this wil, be the way to pay other nations a fair price for what they produce. There will be no answer to inequality within communities/nations before the huge, obvious global unfairnesses are tackled.

This of course means a big hit to US (and UK) economies and standards of living. It is rare to see people standing up and acknowledging they need to reduce their profligacy more.

Solopower1 Fri 26-Oct-12 12:42:13

Brilliant article. It's hard to choose, but here are some of the choicest bits.

Gore Vidal, the recently demised American writer, once famously quipped that the US economic system is "free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich".

Since the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008, not only has the US lived up to Vidal's caricature but the whole of the rich capitalist world has become more "American". The poor are increasingly exposed to market forces, with tougher conditions on the diminishing state protection they get, while the rich have unprecedented levels of protection from the state, with virtually no strings attached.

The poor are told that their states are bankrupt because their previous governments splashed out on welfare payments for them.

They – especially if they happen to be from the "lazy" eurozone periphery countries – are lectured that they have to pay for the "good times" they had with "other people's money" by working harder at lower wages and by accepting lower levels of welfare provision, with more stringent conditions.

Of course, this narrative is completely misleading. The current budget deficits are mainly the outcomes of the fall in tax revenues caused by the financial crisis, rather than excessive social spending.

In fact, in the runup to the crisis, countries like Spain and Ireland had run budget surpluses (for a decade, in the case of Ireland), while the deficit levels in other countries, except in Greece, were at manageable levels.

The "laziness" argument also does not wash, as most poor people work much harder than the rich in any given country, while the Greeks, the Spaniards and the Portuguese work much longer (by at least a few hundred hours per year) than the Germans or the Dutch. In contrast, the rich are enjoying unprecedented levels of protection from market forces.

Many financial and industrial companies have been bailed out with the public's money, but very few of those who had run those companies have been punished for their failures.

...

The British government has taken over (with shares with voting rights) two of the world's biggest banks – the RBS and HBOS – but refuses to order them to do its bidding, as any decent capitalist would have done to a company that he/she had taken over.

While being helped by government protection to make money, the rich have also been given special allowances to keep as much of it as possible.

And while they spend significant resources tracking down and punishing welfare cheats, the governments of the rich countries do nothing to close down tax havens, which have allowed many large companies and super-rich individuals to get away with paying less than their fair shares of tax.

The spread of Vidal's "American" system, fortunately, may be meeting resistance. The recent news about the French government's injection of public money into the struggling car maker Peugeot-Citroen in return for tough conditions on the company's dividend payouts and re-investment, is a case in point.

The very fact that the French government proposal is considered unusual eloquently speaks to the absurdity of the current situation in which the rich get more and more government protection with fewer conditions, while the poor get less and less protection with increasingly demanding conditions. It is time to redress the imbalance.'

And there's more ...

Xenia Fri 26-Oct-12 20:07:19

I don't disagree with the underlying points in the article despite being a free market libertarian flat taxer. I think the interference in the market in ways which benefit the rich is wrong too.

Banks should have been left to fail.

Interest rates should be allowed to soar to their natural level.

Friedrich Hayek's principles have never been allowed full rein (similarly in a sense to the fact that the opposite points that pure communism has never really been tried).

However i don't think the banks were saved to protect the rich. It was more to protect the poor. The real rich make money out of market plunges and rises if you get in at the right point, instability can be way to make money but it does not help most citizens so Governments seek to avoid it.

MiniTheMinx Fri 26-Oct-12 20:32:07

Brilliantly written piece, I like Ha-Joon Chang, I watched the RSA lecture a few months ago where he dispels the myths of capitalism. www.youtube.com/watch?v=whVf5tuVbus
it is very interesting and he speaks about how american style free market economics doesn't work, how investment stalls because share holders have no loyalty to businesses and failing to invest in your business can show up as short term as profits, which is all share holders are interested in.

MiniTheMinx Fri 26-Oct-12 20:50:20

Didn't Maggie like Hayek? That's not a good recommendation grin

Xenia Fri 26-Oct-12 20:53:52

Lady Thatcher is one of the women many mumsetters most admire. Let not a word be said against her but it is the economic theory I hope mumsnetters read, not who is connected to whom.

MiniTheMinx Fri 26-Oct-12 20:57:56

grin

claig Fri 26-Oct-12 21:27:20

Mini, you should also watch the Max Keiser Report. It is excellent, very funny and informative. He discusses all the scams and swindles and conspiracies of the markets. You haven't got a TV, but you can see the programmes on youtube.

MsAverage Sat 27-Oct-12 00:34:41
Xenia Sat 27-Oct-12 10:46:20

There always seems to be a nastiness about the left you never see with the right and yet they think they have some kind of moral high ground. In fact the right consider and look after the poor best who are safest in their hands.

MiniTheMinx Sat 27-Oct-12 11:16:40

Xenia, would you like to qualify that statement in any way?

Why do you think statement of opinion is statement of fact? Or is it?

A) you are goading because it's fun
B) you are playing devils advocate so that people on the left can give full voice to their opinions without any real cognisant argument in opposition, which actually gives ground to left wing theory
C) you met a few lefties on MN who make you work harder to put your point across and therefore they are mean towards you
D) You lack any evidence for what you say but think hell if I keep blasting them with polemic they will give in.
or
E) you lack the evidence & the language to fully express yourself?

smile

claig Sat 27-Oct-12 11:41:34

I think Xenia does have a point and many people have recognised it for years. You never hear any right wingers discussing Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Tony Blair or any other Labour leader with the same nastiness as some of the left apply to Margaret Thatcher. And yet some have the outright audacity to refer to the Tories as the "nasty party". The only possible explanation can be the psychoanalytic theory of 'projection'.

Interesting that the BBC had Max Keiser on the Politics Show.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=UufmDw1Bqvs&feature=related

MiniTheMinx Sat 27-Oct-12 12:14:56

Hi Claig smile interesting idea, I can only speak for myself......find a post where i call Torries nasty????? or attack Thatcher personally. I don't, I am not even motivated by personality or partisan politics. I don't have an opinion on IDS as a person that effects my reasoning, his politics is grounded in the liberal 18th century tradition, do I agree with it, well no. I think the man is misguided at worst not nasty. Actually I think he has a great deal of integrity. I like him, I don't agree with his politics. Thatcher......well she has a lot to answer for in terms of how her half witted confidence in the free market has effected millions both here and abroad, do I want to jump on her grave when the old bird passes, no. Some do but maybe that is because they are third generation unemployed under economic conditions that fail to deliver. There is a lot of anger, I don't think that makes people nasty, it just means people are beginning to realise and have conscious of their class position. This is a necessary development if ever we are to overcome the obstacles to a fair and just system where people are more than just the sum total of their wealth.

Food security is the big thing, if you consider that all of mans development has been about the acquisition of food, from fashioning tools in the iron age to earning a subsistence in the 19th century to flooding farm land in petro chemicals in the 20th, freedom from hunger is what motivates us all. How we go about ensuring that this need is met, is the only thing that motivates the left. Meeting human need, real freedom is freedom from hunger. The free market and capitalism fails to deliver, unless you think freedom for the rich to line their walls with art at the expense of their workers hunger, is delivering equality, when even working people are begging at foodbanks, lining up to see if Mr Benefits thinks he is worthy or unworthy. It's all pure liberal right/Christian 18th century morality over the poor that is guiding the cons, do I hate them, no, the sooner they make life very difficult for the majority and not just a huge minority, the better. Change will happen then not because the right are evil but because they fail to deliver the groceries.

Xenia Sat 27-Oct-12 12:15:01

I think it is class and IQ actually. If you have a limited vocabulary and cannot argue points you refer to "Tory scum" or if you are working class policeman you pretend minster said pleb when he didn't.

Of course some on the left are polite but they do seem often to suggest only the left cares about people, whereas plenty of those on both sides in politics are doing it to help others rather than the "huge" MP salary.

CogitoEerilySpooky Sat 27-Oct-12 12:17:41

I agree with Xenia that bailing out the banks may have protected the rich from market forces but it more importantly rescued the poor. Before Northern Rock was privatised it wasn't the wealthy queuing up outside worried about their life savings, it was pensioners. If all the banks affected by the 2008 crash had been allowed to fail it would have created hardship in the general population on a grand scale. 'The rich' also goes way beyond bankers & I don't see any government subsidising the motor, construction, retail or other industries. The lesson, I would have thought, is not about protecting the rich from market forces but the dangers of being overly-reliant on one business sector for revenue.

Xenia Sat 27-Oct-12 12:21:34

I think we may have bailed out a few car plants over the years, interference in the market with local grants. If I ever do advice to people in Cornwall or Wales 90% of the time there is some massive state subsidy involved otherwise the useless project would never have happened. Whole industries of people have evolved to do with markets generated by grant funding.

Well now the banks know they will not be allowed to fail which of course is not the message you want in a free economy.

In the 1930s the US let banks fail www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30s/money_08.html and much earlier in the UK we had the South Sea Bubble and we let failures then occur.

This is where left and right might meet around the back. The left might say nationalise all banks and the right might say let banks fail so customers instead pick banks who carry the risk profile they choose.

ttosca Sat 27-Oct-12 12:22:45

claig-

a) Michael Foot and Tony Benn haven't destroyed entire communities and wrecked the lives of hundreds of thousands the way Thatcher has.

b) The equally left hated Tony Blair for the illegal and invasion of Iraq, which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

c) It is right and proper to have hatred and contempt for mass murderers and people who destroy lives.

d) You read the Daily Heil, therefore your opinion is invalid.

Xenia Sat 27-Oct-12 12:25:11

I am from a mining family. It was no way to live. Industry has always changed over time over the world.

I agree there was some dislike of Tony Blair over Iraq.

I certainly agree we should stop protecting anyone against market forces. We would do a lot better if we did not interfere in free markets quite so much.

ttosca Sat 27-Oct-12 12:28:36

Xenia and Cogito, unsurprisingly, try to frame the bailing out of the banks as 'rescuing the poor'. As if the global ruling class finally developed a conscience after hundreds of years of waging class warfare to feed their greed.

The reality is that the banks were bailed out because, had they not, the entire Capitalist economic system would have been at risk of collapsing. It was naked self-interest, and nothing more. Had they been concerned about people's bank accounts, governments could have directly given money to savers to make up for any losses, bypassing the banks. Instead, they choose to throw a historically unparalleled amount of money at banks because they knew they weren't just saving 'banks' - they were saving Capitalism itself.

So when Xenia, with her immature 'free-market' ideology says that the banks should have been left to fail, she fails to see beyond the end of her nose. Doing so would have destroyed the very thing she is trying to promote.

MiniTheMinx Sat 27-Oct-12 12:33:14

I agree Xenia, some use terms such as Tory Scum , it's just a short hand. It is about talking to the right and having to engage with them, when most of us know that many on the right lack the intellect to understand anything more than just rhetoric and soundbites.

MiniTheMinx Sat 27-Oct-12 12:35:06

Should the banks have been left to fail? Yes for the reason Ttosca states.

Xenia Sat 27-Oct-12 12:40:08

There we are - right and left meeting round the back as it were. Banks have often failed in capitalism and capitalism itself doesn't fail. Nothing works as well at all. We lucky to have the system that we have. Those who do not like it are free to vote in a party who is against it or form their own state elsehwere on the planet and good luck to them. It is always interesting to read about other systems. I am reading a very long book abotu North Korea at the moment. I rather like their National Anthem www.korea-dpr.com/anthem.html

MoreBeta Sat 27-Oct-12 12:50:44

I agree with the article.

Cogito makes a good point that the bailout of the banks like Northern Rock did also bailout the poor and ordinary customer but that is a good thing that deposits were protected because retail investors do not have the means or the information to assess the risk of individual banks. A functioning economy has to protect the basic banking and payment system as a 'common good'.

Where I an outraged is the bailout of sophisticated investors who knowingly took huge risks and gamed the regulatory system to the hilt to their own massive personal financial benefit. Most especially the management of banks that have gone on to collect further huge bonuses. That is utterly wrong. Capitalism has to be allowed to work and losses should fall on those that take the risk.

Furthermore by bailing out banks and allowing them to carry on not recognising their losses means they have become zombies living on Govt largesse and not lending money out they have bene given. Look at Japan to see how that can drag on for decades.

CogitoEerilySpooky Sun 28-Oct-12 07:53:54

"Had they been concerned about people's bank accounts, governments could have directly given money to savers to make up for any losses, bypassing the banks."

When one small bank - Iceland Bank - was allowed to fail the repercussions spread very widely. Savers were only compensated up to the maximum the FSA scheme allowed which I think was about £30,000 at the time which meant that councils, charities and other organisations that had millions saved were in serious trouble. The Equitable Life crash in 2000 meant thousands of ordinary policyholders lost their pension, were not compensated at the time and are, 12 years down the track, only likely to get 25% of it back in compensation. If those same experiences had been replicated wholesale in 2008 it would have involved many billions in deposits, pensions, investments and the eventual cost to the taxpayer would probably be a lot higher than it actually was. Some banks would have disappeared completely meaning thousands of job losses. Administering millions of claims would have been a massive extra cost on top. Not to mention the subsequent impact on the welfare bill as all these self-sufficient people suddenly became dependent on the state. The knock-on of the crash has been bad enough as it is.

I don't agree with the way Brown handled the 2008 situation as I think he missed a big opportunity to control banking practices in exchange for help. But I don't think he had much choice other than to save capitalism. The alternative would have been disastrous.

Xenia Sun 28-Oct-12 08:04:39

You are right we did not save the Icelandic banks and I think the UK still has a claim against them or may be they just agreed to repay what people have lost.
Lehmann brothers was also allowed to fail.

The problem with bailing out NatWest etc is that now the banks think they will never be allowed to fail so in theory they could become riskier so the counter act that the state is interfering even more into how they are run.
One issue is to what extent do we treat investors as adults who can assess risk - I remember the high interest rates on Icelandic bank accounts and I avoided them. I did think there was some risk there.

CogitoEerilySpooky Sun 28-Oct-12 08:45:26

I was an Iceland investor.. smile Very small scale Cash ISA in my case. The rates were 6% when others were 5.75% or 5.5%. Higher but not exactly silly money. Then again, post Northern Rock, I was aware that deposits were only protected up to a certain amount and stayed well under the threshold ... adult assessment of risk duly noted.

I don't think the 'never be allowed to fail' part is the biggest risk with banks today. It think it was that they were supported almost unconditionally and, once the opportunity to set conditions was squandered, we've never recaputred that moment. Despite fingers being burned all round we need them to keep lending.

claig Sun 28-Oct-12 08:51:03

'But I don't think he had much choice other than to save capitalism. The alternative would have been disastrous.'

This is the scare tactic line that is pushed by the elite in order to protect them from losses of billions. They male teh people take teh losses through austerity and their bonuses remain untouched.

A nobel-prize winning economist shows that the line that there was no alternative but to save the banks and impose austerity on the public is not true.

www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/4424418/Let-banks-fail-says-Nobel-economist-Joseph-Stiglitz.html#

Very few people have savings of £30,000 and the puittamce that most pebsioners receive is nothing compared to the hundreds of billions that have been pumped into teh system to rescue the banks and the rich investors.

claig Sun 28-Oct-12 08:56:36

And they pay think tanks to spin us tales of the 'intergenerational' divide and how our pensioners have had it too good compared to the young and they say nothing of teh 'interstellar' divide of the plutocrats and banking moguls from the ordinary people. They say that there is no alternative to austerity and that the people must pay to "save the system", "save the planet" and "save the banks".

claig Sun 28-Oct-12 09:01:37

And they say the system is not rigged, they say it's regulated. They say it is our system and that we are all in it together and that there is no alternative to austerity for us and we should do nothing that risks alienating the moguls in case they consider leaving our shores.

claig Sun 28-Oct-12 09:21:54

And Channel 4 News reported on a woman in America living with 5 young children in one room in a hotel and the global elite tell us that there is no alternative. But there are probably empty homes, boarded up, just down the street on which the banks have foreclosed. Of course there is an alternative to this misery and waste, but they won't take it because the elite are not all in it together with the rest of the people.

Xenia Sun 28-Oct-12 10:56:15

I don't agree there is an elite in cahoots with each other. I do agree that most UK pensioners live in poverty and the suggestion they live the life of riley in unmortgaged homes on big private sector pensions is just wrong.

I don't agree with the solution and I do think freer markets could ensure people do better.

MiniTheMinx Sun 28-Oct-12 11:40:56

Free markets only ensure those most savvy or those most advantaged through birth or education do better.

I agree with Xenia tough, the elite are not in cahoots, they are in competition to each other, the net result though is the same.

Xenia Sun 28-Oct-12 12:00:24

Yes but you can become elite, can't you? There is nothing special about me. My great grandfather was a miner and his wife couldn't write. I just happen to work 50 weeks a year and have for nearly 30 years without a break.

We are made to compete and in fact for our species the fittest surviving which is in effect market forces works fine. We were like this for 2 millino years. We lived along side the Neanderthals - apparently those of us from the West have 2 - 3% Neanderthal genes in us but not Africans - the Neanderthals weren't there to mix with.

MiniTheMinx Sun 28-Oct-12 12:21:41

NO , we can not all become elite under a system that actively exploits others in pursuit of profit. You know that Xenia, you have often said that the underclass is there to do the dirty work.

What is more the competition particularly under the free market neo-liberal model ensures that more and more people from the middle class are being made unemployed, bankrupt and destitute.....joining the sludge at the bottom of the jar.

I watched this yesterday evening
www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A

A talk by Elizabeth Warren who teaches contract law, bankruptcy, and commercial law at Harvard Law School.

She sets out to explain what has happened to the labour market over the last 30 years and how the changes have had a massive impact upon the middle class. She also tackles the difficult and contentious issue about women entering the work force and the net effect this has had, she also shows how capitalists have forced families to provide two wage earners in order to survive whilst also at the same time, not investing in labour productivity through training and throwing millions more out of the workforce.

Do I think we can all make it if we just try harder.....no because income inequality will still persist, which leads to a situation where poorer workers can not afford the best ski resort... but also can not afford the best bread or any bread at all.

Xenia Sun 28-Oct-12 12:33:36

You cannot have social mobility without also people going downwards. It's a two way street.

I never said everyone can do well. However in the UK more than most countries as we provide free education etc if you are good and work hard you can do well.

I think it is great more women work. If that means wages are less or housing costs higher that is the price we pay for equality.

I don't agree the middle class are in a difficult period. My parents were first married under rationing after WWII. Today is a picnic compared to those days. The 70s were dire in the UK, not fun at all, inflation 6-0% over 3 years, 3 day week. Mass unemployed. I don't think there has been some halycon days for the middle class at all. It is rose tinted spectacles.

I certainly believe in the alleviation of absolute poverty and ensuring the poor are fed in this country.

China has an emerging middle class - see yesterdays' Weekend FT magazine which started a 3 part series which was interesting. They will of course have many many more people who aren't part of that economic miracle and more diffderences between rich and poor yet in a land where communism supposedly rules and now we find out all the top brass have biolionaire relatives. Plus ca change.

claig Sun 28-Oct-12 14:25:21

'income inequality will still persist'

Income inequality is not a bad thing. If someone studies hard and qualifies as a doctor, they should earn more than someone who works in an unskilled trade and who has fewer qualifications. If someone qualifies to be a teacher, they should earn more than a teaching assistant.

We need a free market for enterprise and opportunity, and we need a socially provided safety net. We need a meritocratic society where people are rewarded for contribution and effort.

But we also need a rule of law and regulations which prevent rich and powerful elites rigging markets or rigging interest rates that affect every other citizen.

We need free market policies that reward success and penalise failure i.e. we should not create a moral hazard where we are prepared to limitlessly bail out financial firms who have gambled recklessly with savers' money.

MiniTheMinx Sun 28-Oct-12 21:53:54

I thought the bank of England "rigged" interest rates! One of the reasons we are in this mess is because interests rates were kept artificially low so the debt party could carry on.

claig Sun 28-Oct-12 22:04:36

Someone rigged them. I don't think we have been told the full story and probably never will be. We are the "plebs", we only get to know what they tell us.

Xenia Mon 29-Oct-12 09:15:45

I think from 2001 interest rates have been kept very low (to keep inflation low and indeed in some ways we are lucky inflation has been low if you compare with UK 1970s 60% inflation over 3 years or Iran and Zimbabwe today). In theory it helps business as borrowing is low and helps new borrowers - I used to pay 12% when I was the age of my daughters. Basic rate tax was 35% I think.

However it is n interference in the market. if we let banks free to lend at whatever rates they chose then we presumably would not have had the property price increases we have had. If you look at the "free market" of pay day loans you see what levels some rates can reach.

MiniTheMinx Mon 29-Oct-12 09:40:04

Thing is though with stagnating wages the only way in which demand can be stimulated is through lending. So what has happened is that interests rates were kept low to stimulate both business borrowing and household borrowing. This of course doesn't work, not least because workers have never had the means to purchase what they produce. The difference between what a worker earns and what a workers can afford to purchase remains absolute under a capitalist economy because of the "profit" realised when the commodity sells. The only way in which to prop up the system at nation state level is through exports but this is longer possible here because of globalisation, massive corporates with tentacles in everywhere, manufacture where labour is cheap and sell to the "service" sector reliant west.

Of course there has been rising productivity (manufacturing/service sector) but these profits are realised by corporates that do not have loyalty to UK. Do not pay their taxes here and yet take massive subsidies in terms of infrastructure, access to markets and increasingly public sector contracts which are in the long run going to cost us more. Can you imagine paying for 5 bin collectors at £20 to find £10 went into management pay , £5 went to share holders not all of who reside in the UK for tax purposes, £3 went into investment but that investment wasn't into the uk, only £1 went to your bin men and they were not only liable for tax, but on such low pay that they received tax credits and HB, free school meal........ Which meant the government paid there wages twice!

Now Xenia do you get where the money goes grin neoliberalisation of markets and globalisation will be the death of the UK, it's already in decline and i don't think we have seen anything yet. On the other hand the booming economies are almost all state capitalist. Proving that capitalism whilst not ideal can at least function under certain circumstances but again that relies upon export.

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