Generic anti-austerity demo photo. I think I got this from the website of that scourge of the international bourgeoisie, Russia Today. They carry adverts now, the sell-outs.
It’s that time again folks. Another line by line condemnation of an article I recently read that didn’t exactly float my boat. An old dependable that I know you all love.
This time it’s one of the Mambo’s absolute fave columnists, Martin Kettle. He of the Tony Blair Fan Club. His latest is on austerity being a permanent state of affairs. Get in there Martin.
As workers across the European Union went on protest strike today, it was hard to disagree with the trade union leader who told the BBC that austerity economics isn’t working. “It’s increasing inequalities. It’s increasing the social instability in society. And it’s not resolving the economic crisis,” she said.
Martin, what is this? Have you come to your senses and re-joined the rest of us on the darkside? I’m really excited now, this article could be a thrilling mea culpa!
All of that is true and serious. Addressing those things is fundamental. But we are going to have to get used to austerity. Because relative scarcity, and the need to do more with less, are not going to go away in a hurry. Austerity is remaking our world. The point is to make the best of it. Welcome to 21st-century Europe.
That’ll be a no then.
Martin, you old tease.
So it’s happening, there is nothing we can do about it and we must simply embrace it. TINA, even though he has just admitted it isn’t working. Hmm. Maybe there is a sophisticated Third Way nuance that I’m just not getting at this point. Either that, or this paragraph is straight out of the Tory playbook. Right. Glad that one’s cleared up.
Today’s quarterly inflation review by the Bank of England is merely the latest in a series of indicators that remind governments and peoples across Europe and beyond that the old days are simply over, done, finished. Recovery would be sustained but slow, said the Bank. The economy was sluggish. The environment unfavourable. Things might be weaker for longer.
I’m reminded at this point of a certain tendency that political and meteorological commentators seem to be possessed of. A fatal flaw, I would suggest. They look at current circumstances and extrapolate long-term trends from them. So, for example, we had a couple of very dry summers and I then read lots of articles earlier this year saying that dry summers would be the norm and we would have to get used to it. It then proceeded to piss down every day for about three months. I literally cannot remember a wetter summer. Ditto with politics. Lots of people are saying that the Republican Party is finished after losing again this time around. It won’t be. It’ll come back. They’ll find a way. Lots of people said the same about the Tories after 1997. They assumed Labour government was permanent and a new ideological consensus had been established. We know how that turned out. Kettle is falling into exactly the same trap. It sounds smart now, but it will look profoundly naïve in a few years time. Things can change. The economic crash showed that. The terms of the debate changed utterly.
The message is hard to miss. Times have changed. The only thing that is certain is further uncertainty. We may have come out of recession again, but the idea that Britain, let alone the countries of the eurozone, can expect to see any resumption of the kind of growth rates to which we have all been accustomed since the second world war, is increasingly fanciful. We are living through not a downturn but an epochal change, and we need to make a more consistent effort to understand what this implies.
Uncertainty is certain and yet he is also telling us that austerity is permanent? Come again? I don’t know whether economic growth rates will ever return to their pre-crash levels, but to assert that they never will with such certainty seems a trifle fatalistic and actually quite a cheeky intellectual device on Kettle’s part. As I’ve just said, the world can change. Kettle wants to posit a way of doing things, a ‘cautious social democracy’, just without the social democratic bit, that is predicated on accepting certain ‘truths’ that revolve around the permanence of austerity.
The most interesting news story of the last week – which was nothing to do with the BBC and made few of the newspapers – illustrates what is at stake. During the next 50 years, according to a newly published OECD growth report, the world economy is expected to grow at about 3% a year. Most of that growth, however, will be in Asia and the developing nations. Growth in Europe, including the UK, will be much less robust – and will often actually decline.
You’ll have to excuse me if I take the predictions of bodies like the IMF and the OECD with a pinch of salt, Martin, and I would suggest that it is rather unwise to draw such wide-ranging conclusions from them. Kettle is a terrific bore if he thinks that was the most interesting story of that week, as well.
Got that? Growth in Britain will often decline over the coming half-century. It will not resume. We can talk all we like about stimulus and investment, as Labour did today in its latest denunciation of George Osborne, quite rightly in its way. But, during the next 50 years, growth is going to be halting and uneven and will sometimes be negative. Just like now, in fact.
Got what? That someone thinks something? Martin Kettle claims to know what economic performance is going to be like for the next 50 years. Christ alive, who does this guy think he is? Fucking Nostradamus? Seriously, how can we possibly know what will happen in the next 50 years of human history and what will get better, or worse?
The OECD said something else, too. As the world economy grows, it reported, our European share of it will decline. Economic power is shifting to China, whose economy will outstrip that of the eurozone next year and of the United States before Barack Obama leaves the White House in 2016, as well as to India. Without wishing to fall into mercantilist heresy, this means that while the world will have more, we will have less of it – and maybe less in real terms, too. We are confronting scarcity of a sort we have forgotten.
Yes Martin, we get it. Oh, and you are falling into mercantilist heresy son. The world isn’t some kind of Hobbesian war amongst nations. I don’t care what percentage of the world’s wealth resides in Europe, because the vast majority of wealth isn’t available to ordinary people in Europe anyway. I’m worried about living standards and how that wealth is distributed. Not where Britain is in a pissing league table.
It is tempting to read a report like the OECD’s and say, yeah yeah, we all know all that stuff about the rise of Asia and the decline of the west. And maybe we all do. But probably only at a rather theoretical level. For most of us, relative decline is something we read about but don’t think about until it hits us on the head. Most of us have barely started to grasp what it may mean for our living standards and our politics.
Terms like ‘relative decline’ are deliberately disingenuous. It doesn’t mean that living standards are fated to decline, unless we choose to do nothing about the way Britain’s/Europe’s wealth is distributed (which we may……) I really don’t mind if GDP growth is quicker in Asian and South American countries than in the UK. To repeat, it isn’t a competition and to suggest it is just provides a rationale for the Tories to turn Britain into a gargantuan sweatshop. I’d rather not go down that route, if that’s ok with you Martin. Mercantilism is the right term to describe what you advocating. And it’s utter pants.
And not just in 50 years’ time, either. These large shifts are already under way. Their impact is now, as well as later. Just look around the world this week.
In China, a nation where annual growth in the last 20 years has never been less than twice that of Europe, even when Europe was thriving, a new leadership is seamlessly introduced for another 10-year span.
Growth is slowing down in China now. The idea that things are all bright and rosy in China is facile in the extreme. And even if they were, things can change. China has one big thing in common with the West now. It is just as capitalist as we are. And therefore is subject to the same tendencies, patterns and flaws that European economies are. Eventually, these problems will start to manifest themselves. In fact they have arguably done so already. We just don’t hear much about it. It’s interesting that Kettle is arguing that China is the coming power, and yet what he says he sounds ignorantly Eurocentric.
In Europe, by contrast, a series of weak leaders, vulnerable to democratic rejection of a sort with which Xi Jinping will not need to concern himself, struggle to assert some degree of control over a floundering currency and unification project. Meanwhile in the US, a re-elected but domestically weak president faces a series of defining political battles over spending and taxes, with only limited chance of achieving radical outcomes, even if that is what he wants.
Not the old ‘democracy makes you weaker’ and ‘the CCP is all-powerful’ bullshit. Please God. There will be problems, battles and struggles in China over the coming period. Just as there will be everywhere else. If ‘scarcity’ is the problem that Kettle thinks it is, does he really suppose a country with a population of well over a billion people will be largely immune to any of the problems facing the West?
Smart leaders should recognise that austerity in some form is the context for most of the foreseeable political options in countries like Britain. As a timely American book on this theme this year by Thomas Byrne Edsall argues, scarcity will remake US politics as rising expectations meet diminishing resources on a global scale. The same is true in a different context in Europe. That does not mean there is no alternative to relentless fiscal consolidation, or that all austerity strategies are the same as all other austerity strategies. The opposite is true. But it does mean that political parties in economically developed countries no longer have the same breadth of spending options as they did.
Right. Down to business. Kettle the Blairite in full flow. Only now, he’s a neo-Blairite and he’s here to save the left from itself. Yippee. As I recall, I remember the Blairites telling us during their heyday that social democratic parties were constrained in what they could do (i.e. spend money on) by the Thatcher settlement. And yet now Kettle is telling us that that period was actually one of generous spending. Hmm.
It’s interesting that Kettle observes that there are alternatives. But it doesn’t really sit well with the rest of his doom-laden piece.
The problem we have is not diminishing resources. It is how the planet’s vast resources are distributed.
This is not a defeatist but a realistic assessment. It is not necessarily all bad news for the centre left, either. Although the 20th-century social democratic project may have stalled amid economic decline, the financial crisis has undoubtedly opened up a fresh opportunity to redefine the terms on which the rich and poor can coexist without social unrest in times of greater scarcity.
Yes, we heard all this in the 80s and 90s Martin. It isn’t a new theme from you and your co-thinkers. And some of us don’t want ‘the rich and poor to co-exist without social unrest’. It is only ‘social unrest’ that offers us the opportunity to change things. If the ‘poor’ just be good little boys and girls and await deliverance from their political masters I can pretty much guarantee that the ‘poor’ will just end up being screwed over harder. Which is pretty much the negation of the social democratic project that Kettle still claims to be an adherent of.
Ed Miliband appears to believe this. So – in an interesting break with the past that illustrates the new options – does a new pamphlet this week from the Blairite group Policy Network. But the hope is likely to prove optimistic if the left simply shouts the old mantras.
One of Kettle’s favourite themes for years now is that the left must ‘ditch the old mantras’. No matter what the context, he always instructs the left to ‘ditch the old mantras’. So, will Martin Kettle be ditching the old Blairite mantras that help get us in this mess in the first place? Will he learn the lessons of the project he so smugly and self-righteously attached himself to? Will he fuck. He is making exactly the same argument he has been making for years and is then accusing those of us on the left of being the ones who aren’t moving on. Tosser.
Clearly, though, the right is more comfortable in such times. But there is a huge difference between the slash-and-burn right in America and the more collectivist right in Europe in the way they respond. It was significant that George Osborne was so quick this week to align himself with Barack Obama’s re-election victory. Obama’s win, said the chancellor, is proof that incumbent governments can win re-election in economically weak times.
Right, now I’m getting pissed off. This is just bollocks. If Romney had won Osborne would have aligned with him and pointed to the lessons the Tories and the rest of us can learn from the free-market, privatized healthcare entrepreneurs paradise that is the USA. That an aggressively economically ‘liberal’ strategy can triumph.
However Obama won so he just said it was incumbency triumphing in difficult times. Either way, Osborne would have drawn the positives and attached himself to the winner. It was not ‘significant’. It was blatantly obvious that he was going to do that.
To suggest that there is some kind of great philosophical context here, as Kettle appears to be suggesting, is just delusional and Kettle is either being childish or willfully dishonest.
Kettle may recall the minor controversy with Iain Duncan Smith tacitly endorsing Mitt Romney, and how that minor controversy blows Kettle’s thesis that the Tories were intellectually committed to an Obama victory completely out of the water at a stroke.
He is right about that. Osborne’s touch may have deserted him recently, but he has the huge advantage of being alive to the context and politics of these new times in ways that the left across Europe is still struggling to match.
Nope, sorry, Gideon’s a clown and always has been. You can’t lose something you’ve never had. His much-vaunted ‘tactical genius is’ the worst example of misplaced hype since James Milner made his debut for Leeds United. If he understands our times better than the left does then I’m Dick Turpin.
The only thing with Osborne’s political career that has changed is that he’s finally run out of luck and the scales have fallen from the eyes of people who should have known better all along. This is a statement of pure, self-serving, blustering, Tory apologia by Kettle.
Just like the rest of his article.