A Reverse National Lottery?

The Croydon CP Collective has been converted into a full Communist Party branch. We will meet at 6.30 pm on the third Thursday of each month  at Party Centre, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. Meanwhile, here is a personal reflection on the National Lottery.

A Reverse National Lottery?

With the chance of being struck by lightning in the UK one in three million, the odds on winning the National Lottery jackpot prior to October of one in 14 million didn’t look too encouraging. Since October, however, the odds of winning the jackpot have fallen to one in 45 million. With such unfavorable odds, the justification for buying a lottery ticket might still be justified by the fact that 28% of what you paid for your ticket goes to “good causes”. But isn’t that what taxation is supposed to do? Thus in practice the National Lottery actually functions as a somewhat inefficient tax. But is it a tax on the gullible or the poor?

A study carried out in 2009 by Theo’s, a British think-tank, found, unsurprisingly, that the poor spent a greater part of their income on lottery tickets than rich ones. Expenditure by the mega-rich is, of course, insignificant – what’s another million pounds when one has billions? Other interesting findings come from US studies. In South Carolina, for example, households with incomes of less than $40,000 a year account for 28% of the state’s population but more than half of its frequent lottery players. According to a Tax Foundation study, more than one American in five thinks that buying lottery tickets constitutes a sound retirement plan.

Regardless, however, of the poor chance of any one individual winning the National Lottery jackpot, someone has to win. That, after all, is the pitch made by the National Lottery to punters. Over the last 20 years, the National Lottery has created five billionaires and 4,000 millionaires. The question must, however be asked: do we actually need five more billionaires and 4,000 more millionaires in the UK? As Thomas Piketty has demonstrated, we are now a more unequal society than at any time since the Edwardian era. Don’t we have enough billionaires and millionaires already?

Equality in the UK would be improved if the National Lottery were scrapped and the “good causes” were supported by progressive taxation. But could we go further than this? One idea to ponder is a Reverse National Lottery. There are thought to be more than 100 billionaires in the UK. Could we not require each one to take up a ticket every week with the ‘winner’ paying , say, £1 million to the Exchequer to fund “good causes”? Just like the current lottery it would generate lots of public interest, media attention and overall fun, while “good causes” would be provided for from the proceeds. The one difference would be that inequality in the UK would go down each week, not up. Now wouldn’t that be a good idea?

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

It was Oscar Wilde at the end of the nineteenth century who gave us the definition of a cynic as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. It’s also a good description of 21st Century capitalism. Under capitalism, human activity is increasingly commodified and traded in markets. The market is held out to be the supreme arbiter, providing the price of everything from a loaf of bread to knowledge. Markets are assumed to be ‘perfect’ in the sense that they don’t reflect the interests of individual buyers or sellers and both have perfect knowledge about the commodity being traded. Any exceptions to these conditions are considered to be infrequent, relatively trivial and capable of being remedied by regulation. To the extent to which ‘value’ has any meaning under capitalism, it is the price indicated by a ‘perfect’ market and corresponds to the sum of future benefits from owning the commodity discounted to a present value, the discount rate being the so-called cost of capital, i.e. the average return on capital.

Marxists have a different view. Under capitalism, value derives from the labour, past and present, used to create a commodity. The function of markets is simply to re-distribute this labour value according to the current demand for the commodity. Furthermore, we don’t share the idealised view of markets held by neo-classical economists, the priesthood and apologist for capitalism. Many markets are far from ‘perfect’ and one in particular, the labour market, does not begin the approach this idealised fiction. The tendency in labour markets is to drive prices down to the minimum required for labour to replicate itself. When capitalism, riven by its own contradictions, is eventually overturned and the work to build a communist society begins, the role of markets will be reduced and the economy will be run to meet the needs of those who work, including future generations, not the needs of the 1% who currently own capital.

The difference between these two world views has been brought into sharp focus this week by the reports that, according to Professor Vladimir Romanovsky of the University of Alaska, permafrost in parts of Alaska would start to thaw by 2070, resulting in the release of huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and its release could trigger a huge climatic and economic catastrophe 55 years from now. For Marxists, action must be taken now to avoid this catastrophe and protect future generations of workers. Our government should therefore be pressing at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in November for solid agreement on the policies needed to keep global warming under 2 degrees centigrade by 2050 and to make our contribution to achieving this. From the capitalist perspective, however, an event 55 years in the future has little impact on current market prices. Assuming a long run average annual return on capital of 6% real, the price of such a catastrophe, the price reflected in the market, is only 4% of its eventual cost. When we factor in the market ‘imperfection’ that the 1% who trade in capital markets expect to protect themselves and their families from the coming catastrophe which will disproportionately affect the poorest and we can begin to understand why our government, and other governments across the world, won’t be too concerned if they fail to reach the required agreement in Paris in November.

BYPASSING THE MASS MEDIA

An exception to the near total absence of comment in the mass media (Morning Star excepted) of the BBC’s “institutional bias” in its coverage of Jeremy Corbyn has been Paul Myerscough’s analysis in the current edition of the London Review of Books. The fact that LRB is a low volume, specialist literary monthly illustrates the extent to which the capitalist press, including the Guardian, is united in its hostility to Jeremy Corbyn and explains why Corbyn’s team must bypass them and the BBC if they are to reach out to voters.

Myerscough’s article cites a number of occasions when the BBC’s editorial independence and objectivity when dealing with Corbyn’s leadership has broken down. Readers of this blog could no doubt provide many more examples. Interestingly, Myerscough identifies the cause not as the imposition of a producer’s or presenter’s personal views but rather the dislocation between the new state of party politics following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Leader and the broadcaster’s entrenched conception of what constitutes ‘impartiality’. The BBC’s idea of impartiality remains centred on the fine gap between the Tory-big business nexus and the Blairite rump in the Parliamentary Labour Party. They have failed to take account of the fact that the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall option, more of the same from Labour, was totally rejected by Labour members and supporters.

An opportunity to assist Jeremy Corbyn in his strategy of bypassing the mass media will present itself on Saturday, 7 November when John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor and Jeremy Corbyn’s principal ally in parliament, will open the Croydon Assembly at Ruskin House, Croydon. Registration is from 10.00 am and the Assembly will close by 4.30 pm. Other speakers include Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, Andrew Fisher, economic adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, and Candy Udwin, the PCS shop steward the National Gallery sacked and were forced to re-instate. This is a stellar line up and, although you can turn up on the day unannounced, it would be appreciated if you could register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/croydon-assembly-fighting-the-tories-a-manifesto-for-action-tickets-18754943541. There is no entry fee.

The Croydon Assembly is an initiative by Croydon TUC to make contact, radicalise and organise the wider community. It has the enthusiastic support of the Communist Party members on Croydon TUC. A manifesto has been prepared over the last few months and will be debated and voted on at the meeting. This is definitely one meeting worth attending.

The Future of the NHS and the role of the Independent Left

The news, suppressed until the Tory Party Conference had ended, that NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts have gone nearly a billion pounds in the red in just three months did not come as a surprise to the Communist Party and others such as Keep Our NHS Public who have been waiting for the figures. Make no mistake, the Tories intend to destroy the NHS and replace it with a US style private insurance based scheme, not stop at merely tendering out services. The outsourcing of Croydon University Hospital’s A&E service, now shambolically and expensively run by Virgin, is just the start. As a step to achieving their aim, the Tories, naively supported by the Lib Dems for the first five years, engaged in a programme of inadequate funding and enforced ‘efficiency savings’. But these alone will not enable them to bring their plans to fruition. For all their bluster, they know they lack enough support across the country to enforce a complete privatisation of the NHS. Not even the backing of the capitalist press and sympathetic coverage by a BBC cowed by the prospect of charter renewal will be enough to force it through. They need a TINA argument – There is No Alternative. They are looking for continued membership of the European Union and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to provide this.

From where will the opposition to the Tories’ plans come? Jeremy Corbyn deserves our support following his election as Labour Leader, especially in his struggle with a sullen Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) – many Labour MPs resent the power exercised by new members and supporters in electing him and will seek to oust him as soon as they can. The NHS cannot, however, be saved by parliamentary opposition alone; nor should everyone on the independent left, especially those in the Communist Party, tear up their membership cards and pile into the forthcoming internal struggle inside the Labour Party. It will take time to clear out the PLP (assuming it can be done) and, meanwhile, we need to organise independently in the trade unions and trade union councils, support what’s left of our free press (the Morning Star and the internet) and campaign on the streets and in our community groups. Even more important than the next meeting of Croydon Constituency Labour Parties is the next public meeting of the Croydon Assembly. This is a genuine, bottom-up democratic initiative by Croydon TUC and will take place on Saturday 7 November at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. Confirmed speakers include John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, and Christine Blower, the NUT General Secretary. Such grass roots initiatives, conducted independently of the current struggle within the Labour Party, are essential if continued membership of the European Union on unsatisfactory terms and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both essential steps in the destruction of the NHS, are to be opposed. We cannot rely on an internally divided Labour Party to do this for us. We must do it ourselves.

Jeremy Cobyn’s Patriotism

Patriotism, love for one’s country, is a virtue when uncontaminated by xenophobia, but when trumpeted by those whose personal contribution to the welfare of their countrymen and women is, at best, tenuous, it is, as Samuel Johnson wrote, the last refuge of scoundrels. It was the latter form that was employed last week in many of the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn in the capitalist press. This was perhaps inevitable given the foreign ownership and non-dom status of most of the owners, but we had a right to expect better of the BBC. They may be desperate to ingratiate themselves with the Tory government prior to their charter review, but surely they appreciate that a day of reckoning from a successor to this present, venal government awaits them.

Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘patriotism’ was questioned on three occasions: first by his questioning the need for obsequious flummery before he could be appointed to the Privy Council; second by his failing to sing aloud the National Anthem in the approved ‘patriotic’ manner ; and third for undermining Britain’s Independent Nuclear Deterrent by asserting that he would never, as Prime Minister, launch a nuclear attack. The first two questions arose from the continued conflation of the nation with the Crown. This may have been the formal position at the time of the Norman Conquest when England became William the Conqueror’s personal property and its people his ‘subjects’, but that this arrangement should linger on into the 21st Century is almost beyond belief. A heredity head of state may be defended by the establishment as both a symbol of the nation and a device to ensure continuity of government, but this does not mean that this symbol/device should substitute for the nation itself and her people treated as mere ‘subjects’, not citizens . As an intelligent individual, of course Jeremy Corbyn questions these absurd arrangements. We in the Communist Party share his views.

The attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, including those from his own front bench, for asserting that, as Prime Minister, he would never launch a nuclear attack are either disingenuous or condoning the crime of global genocide. The disingenuity arises because the British Independent Nuclear Deterrent is neither British nor Independent – does anyone seriously think anything would actually happen if a British Prime Minister pushed the red button without US approval? If Volkswagen can hide software in our cars to defeat US emission testing, the US can surely incorporate failsafe software in the missiles they sell us. Condoning the crime of global genocide arises either because a first strike by Britain is envisaged or because, without such a strategy, retaliation would be a genocidal war crime of monstrous proportions. By the time a future British Prime Minister has to consider whether or not to retaliate, most British ‘subjects’ (for once the term would be appropriate) would already be dead. In this situation, in a bunker under a mountain in Scotland, he or she must choose whether to extinguish Homo Sapiens completely or allow some of the descendants from a common ancestor to survive and possibly re-build civilisation. If the patriotic response would be to push the red button because these survivors would not be British, the capitalist press is right for once: Jeremy Corbyn is not a patriot. And, by this definition, neither are we in the Communist Party.