Work ’til you drop

In 1940, amidst the darkest hours of World War 2, the age for the state pension for women was reduced from 65 to 60. There things remained – pensions for men at 65 and for women at 60 – until New Labour, claiming to be concerned about ‘affordability’ but actually yielding to pressure from the financial services industry to privative pensions, legislated in 2007 to raise the state pension age to 68 by 2046. This had the effect unlocking the flood gates – just as it did when New Labour introduced other ‘modest’ measures such as PFI, student loans, and academies. Predictably, the Tories with LibDem support seized the opportunity and enacted a series of increases in state pension age. Women of the WASPI generation were especially badly hit, losing their earlier pension age with little time to prepare for the change. The Pensions Act 2007, which raised the state pension age for both men and women to 68 by April 2046, was supposedly the last such increase, but further ones are now threatened. An opaque, right wing “think tank”, the Centre for Social Justice (sic), recommended last week that the state pension age should rise to 75 by 2035. As the Morning Star aptly put it in a banner headline, this would mean “Work Til You Drop”.

Patrick Spencer, the Head of the Work and Welfare Unit at the Centre for Social Justice, defended the proposal in CityAM on 22 August. His argument was that in 1940 someone aged 65 could expect to live until 66 while today a 65 year old might expect to live into their 80s. The meagre state pension has thus become, in some unexplained way, “unaffordable” despite the fact that GNP per head has increased by some 300% in real terms since 1940.

The real issue here is not “unaffordability”, it is indeed “social justice” and it concerns who has a better claim on the fruits of  economic progress, the workers who generated the wealth or the capitalists who appropriate it. There are many ways in which the state pension could be improved, including: raising it to match levels paid elsewhere in Europe; providing credits for time out to care for children and dependents; and allowing those with physically demanding jobs to retire earlier. Further increasing the age at which it is paid to everyone is the precise opposite of what is needed.

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The Next Financial Crisis

It is now 11 years since the global financial system teetered on the brink of collapse and governments were forced to intervene to prop up it up. These interventions took the form of governments effectively guaranteeing all counterparty risk across the system. This secured the continuation of banks’ deposit taking and business and personal credit activities (i.e. their core banking business) but most of the risk guaranteed by governments arose from their speculative activity and this was also allowed to continue largely unchecked. Furthermore, the cost of this intervention by the subsequent Tory government in the UK, with the help of their supine Lib Dem collaborators, fell on the shoulders of UK workers and their families – the Tory strategy of ‘austerity’ that continues to this day. Meanwhile, following the feeble report by John Vickers in 2011 in which he ducked the opportunity to call for the complete separation of core banking from speculative trading, nothing has been done to reduce the risks being taken by banks “with other peoples’ money” as John Kay aptly described it [I] except for some further, over-complicated and ineffective regulation. Yet without fundamental changes to the ownership, conduct and activities of banks, and without bring the self-proclaimed ‘masters of the universe’ to account, another financial crisis is inescapable. The only question is when it will arrive.

The Croydon Branch of the Communist Party sponsors the Communist University in South London (CUiSL) and has good links with the Communist Party’s Economics Commission. We are currently exploring with both bodies the possibility of conducting a study of banking and banking crises and how the latter can be avoided in future. If you would like to be kept informed of progress and perhaps even participate in this work, please contact us at Croydon@communist-party.org.uk

[i] Other People’s Money – Masters of the Universe or Servants of the People?  John Kay, Profile Books, 2015

 

A Trade Deal with the USA?

The Department for International Trade is inviting comments on a possible trade deal with the USA following Brexit. They invite you to leave your comments here by 26 October.

Is it worth responding? It might be worth the effort for the record, but don’t expect anyone at DfIT to be paying much attention to what you have to say. How can they even be contemplating a trade deal with the USA until it

  • rescinds its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (COP 21)
  • lifts its blockade of Cuba
  • re-joins the deal with Iran on halting its nuclear programme
  • lifts trade sanctions on Venezuela and stops intervening in its internal politics?

Given these changes we could then contemplate a trade deal with the USA provided it protected our public services, especially the NHS, did not inhibit public ownership, outlawed trade with Israeli businesses operating from the occupied West Bank, protected collective bargaining and the right of employees to withdraw their labour and promoted common policies to protect the environment and discourage fossil fuel extraction.

As Donald Trump would not be interested in a trade deal which incorporated these concerns, one might simply respond by asking DfIT if they have lost their senses

ANOTHER BOURNE CONSPIRACY?

City AM is a free newspaper, available outside many railway stations in the Greater London area, targeted at City workers. It’s always worth a quick read to see what is currently agitating finance capital. On Tuesday, 3 April, the lead article was written by Ryan Bourne who occupies the Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

The Cato Institute is an immensely rich, right wing think tank based in Washington DC. It has been deeply compromised by its involvement in the denial of global warming. Professor Bourne wisely chose to refrain from improving our understanding of that particular problem; instead, he sought to improve our understanding of growing inequality. This, according to the Professor, is a myth: inequality is at its lowest level since 1987 and is currently declining. Really?

To support his case, Professor Bourne refers to an IFS study which he fails to cite. My guess is that he is referring to Fifty Years of Income Inequality . This concludes that inequality peaked in the mid-1980s (i.e. High Thatcherdom) and has not recovered significantly since. The study recognises that interpreting how income inequality has changed in the last 20 years depends on which years you include and exactly what measure of income you use. It appears to assess the situation as flat.

It’s undeniable that the IFS study does not provide much evidence of recent growth in inequality as measured by such statistics as the Gini Income Coefficient. Why is this when most of us can observe it with our own eyes? All it takes is a walk along Croydon High Street any afternoon. The reason is that such coefficients do not relect that

  • the social wage has been shredded by the austerity cuts since 2007 to health, education, social services and child support and the people at the bottom are being asked to bear too high a burden. We have replaced social security with food banks.
  • social mobility has been undermined by cuts to education and student support and attacks on trade unions. Become poor, stay poor.
  • the elite are sufficiently small in number and sufficiently adept for their income and wealth not to show up in Gini Coefficients

Interestingly, Professor Bourne concludes his article by saying that history shows that inequality only ever improves under communism, violent revolution, war or bubonic plague.

As bubonic plague, war and even violent revolution are best avoided (we much prefer peaceful revolution), it appears, against all the odds, that the Professor must agree with us on the need for communism! Either that or he’s actually dismayed at the prospect of the declining inequality he claims to detect. He cannot have it both ways. That’s impossible, even for a professor of public understanding of economics.

Tesco and Equal Pay for Equal Work

Do markets have memory? No, according to a basic tenet of market fundamentalism, the philosophy of the rich and powerful which is endorsed by their high priests, the professors of neoclassical economics. Markets, they contend, are forward looking and respond only to changes in prospects, not past events. This is why they are beyond challenge. They reflect the future and condition what is possible in the present. Furthermore, in the case of financial markets, they respond instantaneously – the so called ‘efficient market hypothesis’. Thus news that Tesco was being pursued through the conciliation service ACAS by the law firm Leigh Day over an equal pay claim that could cost Tesco £4 billion may have dented Tesco’s share price to the extent that investors thought it likely to succeed, but there was no question of customers having to pay for the £4 billion settlement, should it succeed, with higher prices. Future prices would be affected, according to this theory, only to the extent that the average cost of employing staff in future increases.

For communists, two issues arise here.

  • While we agree that markets don’t have memory, the economy we actually experience is one of State Monopoly Capitalism in which institutional pressures are brought to bear to protect capital, including that invested in Tesco. To understand this economy, we need to begin our analysis not, where the neoclassical economists begin, with market prices, efficient or otherwise, and work backwards but with production, labour and the creation of value by workers and work forward, identifying with whom this created value ends up. It doesn’t end up with workers, whether shop floor or warehouse, male or female. After workers receive enough to survive and replicate (assuming their offspring are still needed), it ends up with those who own the capital – the 1% and the 0.1%.
  • While communists fully support equal pay for equal work claims such as that against Tesco, we recognise that capitalism is incapable of achieving this except in the very limited case of a single workplace – and even then it is hard enough to achieve and sustain. Equal pay for equal work across an entire economy is the defining condition of socialism, which Marx defined as from each according to their means to each according to their work. That is not something that social democracy can, or even wishes, to deliver as, it would rent asunder our existing institutions (on which they, themselves, depend) and replace them with the more democratic framework needed for building communism with its ultimate aim of from each according to their means to each according to their need.