The Bankers are bankrupt and so are we

Saturday, 26th March 2011

Today over a hundred thousand demonstrators will descend on Central London to protest against cuts in public spending. I can sympathise for I've joined many similar protests defending the rights of ordinary working people and against wanton waste and wars. Why, they wonder, should ordinary people suffer because politicians and bankers have wasted billions on wars and billionaire bankers continue to reward themselves huge bonuses? Unfortunately many have misdiagnosed the problem. While undoubtedly many welfare dependents may suffer hardships as a result of cutbacks and some public sector workers will lose their jobs, we do not suffer from underspending on key public services such as health and education, but from huge waste on unsustainable bureaucracy financed mainly by a non-productive tertiary sector, offering services that nobody really needs. Demonstrators will be entertained by the spectre of a former New Labour cabinet minister and now their leader, Milliband, claiming we can keep spending as if there were no tomorrow. Few will dare challenge the previous administration on their grotesque overspending, fuelled by an economic boom based on property trading, banking, lobbying and media, and worse still their bail-out of the very bankers who caused the mess in the first place. In 2008 the country stood on the brink of financial collapse as banks could no longer sustain such a level of bad debt, i.e. debt on loans to people who could never repay. Throughout the late 1990s and early 20 zeroes manufacturing industries continued to close as retail outlets and other services expanded. New Labour oversaw more than a decade of private and public waste. Ordinary folk were urged to indulge in cheap holidays abroad, large plasma TV screens, more cars, electronic gadgets, boozing and gambling. While New Labour monitored and regulated the habits and behaviour of private citizens, it deregulated the hedononism business and let bankers offer loans to those who could never realistically repay. At the same time despite official declines in unemployment, millions remained dependent on a multitude of benefits.In 1997 John Reid responded to demands for the re-nationalisation of the railways by simply stating "We can't afford the projected cost of £20 billion". Since then the government has not only spent more on subsidising private rail companies, but has also squandered billions on PFIs (Private Finance Initiatives) to build new hospitals and schools, which the general public do not even own. Inflation-adjusted public health spending has doubled, but the quality of health care has seen no measurable improvement as the NHS is overburdened with the side-effects of the hedonism and, dare I mention, unsustainable levels of net immigration. Politicians on both sides of the House continue to talk about economic growth and none more so than Ed Milliband. Yet by growing demand for consumer products and promoting a non-productive service sector, we simply increase the country's reliance on global markets and imports. If the world economy as a whole proves unsustainable and, as recent events in Libya and Japan should surely remind us, energy becomes more expensive (i.e. a higher EROEI = Energy Returned On Energy Invested), we will find it much harder to readapt to the real world, where we need to be largely self-sufficient in food staples and material resources and can only provide for the weak and elderly through hard work. Our current model of development is entirely based on marketing and thus dependent on a plentiful supply of cheap human and material resources. However, as China and India grow and demand a larger share of the world's finite resources, their labour will become more expensive. Why should we rely on outsourcing menial office tasks to India and production to China, Vietnam or Indonesia? Why should their labour subsidise our consumption? 

Practical Solutions

  1. Phase in 30 hour working week and give people more flexibility. This may be bad for business and economic growth in the short terms as some of the best workers will be able to work less, but it will encourage a wider section of the population to aspire to high-skill jobs.
  2. Cut all child benefits after the second birth (i.e. allowing for twins, triplets etc.). If couples choose to have more children, they should subsidise it.
  3. Remove all NHS help for IVF and encourage adoption.
  4. Cut all forms of unemployment benefit after 1 year, unless a person has a genuine disability preventing work. After this period, the out-of-work will be employed on the minimum wage in a vast range of environmental and social projects for up 30 hours a week.
  5. Reward housewives or househusbands who choose to stay at home to look after their children until the age 14. There are also plenty of new remote working opportunities allowing parents to work part-time if they so choose. Couples could be granted 20 hours parental time a week deductible from their income tax. The tax system should clearly encourage small two-parent families, in which at least one parent works.
  6. Raise the minimum wage for antisocial working hours. We do not need to shop 24/7.
  7. Treat mental health as primarily a psycho-social issue rather than a medical issue. Cut NHS spending on the promotion of mental health issues and address the very real psychosocial causes. Reduce dependence on psycho-active medicines.
  8. Encourage school leavers, uninterested in academic subjects or hard sciences, to undertake vocational courses in practical trades such as plumbing, building, farming,  mechanics etc. There is no need for 40%+ of school leavers to go university. We should target further education spending on the 10 to 15% who can make a real difference.
  9. Provide special bursaries for degrees in hard sciences, medicine and engineering. 
  10. While immigration would naturally fall as a result of declining domestic demand for superfluous consumer goods and services, we should ensure migration is both manageable and socially responsible.
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