Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Layer 241 . . . Stocktaking, Equality and the Spirit Level

The turn of the year seems an obvious time to do a stock check; the turn of a decade even more so.

So how did the Naughties finish up? What exactly happened in the Year of the Ox?

What's now the current state of the world? What do we have in abundance? What seems to be lacking?

2009 - the first year of Obama. The first year without Bush and Cheney. The last full year of Brown & New Labour.

A year of watching Obama behaving like his hero Lincoln, when he should have been behaving like Roosevelt. (see Layer 123 – exactly a year ago - Obama has picked the wrong hero for our times – Will Hutton. http://oxzen.blogspot.com/2009/02/layer-123-signs-of-times-in-praise-of.html)

A year of waiting in vain for a change of political consciousness to emerge and drive a socialist/social democratic/liberal version of the Shock Doctrine. Waiting in vain for decisive announcements and swift action to start the reversal of the devastation caused by 30 years of the New Conservatism and New Labour. 30 years of an accelerating capitalist expansion and world domination that was cheerfully known as globalisation. 30 years of growing inequality, with the rich becoming super-rich and the poor becoming unbelievably poor.

A column written by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in today's paper contained this brilliant paragraph -
We have had 13 years of a so-called Labour government which accepted the whole Thatcherite economic settlement, has seen an increase in social and economic inequality; worshipped wealth and fawned on high finance at home and abroad; passed a vast array of repressive laws; betrayed all its promises on the single currency – and in the end did more damage to the European Union than Thatcher did; allowed Rupert Murdoch to dictate its foreign policy; and took Britain – with flagrant dishonesty – into a needless, illegal and murderous war in order to support the most reactionary American president of modern times. After all that, you can understand why the Tories might feel short of breathing space.
This is in an article headed  “After 1929 a generation leapt leftward. Not today. Socialism has been buried."


You can ask yourself whether it's possible to become any poorer if you start a particular decade living on minimum wage rates and on State benefits, and if you then end it the same way. But in fact by the end of 2009 many more were pitched out of a job altogether, and millions of the poorest had been conned into taking on huge loans, huge debts, with huge numbers of them having had their homes repossessed by rapacious financiers. In other words, they were a LOT poorer.

So in absolute terms millions became poorer. But on top of that, to add insult to injury, they became a lot poorer in relative terms.

You feel a lot poorer when you see the better off and the already wealthy becoming even wealthier. You feel a lot more angry when you understand that the politicians whom you elected to make your family's life, and your country, significantly better, did no such thing.

There was a column in the Guardian recently by the authors of 'The Spirit Level'* reminding us what they'd said in their book last year, under the strapline

Cameron is right: society is broken. Labour have failed to fix it, but acute inequality is a Tory legacy

The title of the piece was

A broken society, yes. But broken by Thatcher

(Read it here - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/29/social-mobility-inequality-conservative-thatcher)

Last October Cameron rounded on Labour, saying: "Who made inequality greater? No, not the wicked Tories. You, Labour. You're the ones that did this to our society. So don't you dare lecture us about poverty. You have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative party, to fight for the poorest who you have let down."

But the truth is that we are suffering the impact of the massive increases in income inequality under Thatcher, which Blair and Brown have since failed to reverse. In the 1980s the gulf between the top and bottom 20% widened by a full 60% – much the most dramatic widening of income differences on record. Since then there have been only minor fluctuations under Major, Blair and Brown. The result is that the gap between the top and bottom 20% in Britain is twice as big as among our more equal European partners.

The remedy for “broken Britain” is to reduce income inequality. Prime ministers who proclaim, as John Major did, that they want to create a classless society, will inevitably fail unless they reduce material differences. Similarly for those who want to give all children an equal chance in life: if the social ladder is steeper it becomes harder to climb and social mobility slows.

Greater equality improves the quality of life for everyone – not just the poor. Whatever your income or education, living in a more equal society means you will be likely to live longer while being less likely to suffer violence or have a problem with obesity. In turn, your children have a better chance of doing well at school and are less likely to use drugs or to become teenage parents. This is about the quality of life for all of us.
[ * see also

The Spirit Level is now out in paperback -




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