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Austerity and the UK and elsewhere June 11, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics.
4 comments

Heather Stewart in the Observer at the weekend had some good analysis in a piece entitled ‘Austerity isn’t ‘good housekeeping’: it’s dogmatic, risky and unjust’.

She notes that:

It’s a measure of the triumph of the pro-austerity argument in Britain that George Osborne presented his latest round of cuts in the Commons last week – a down payment on the £25bn he plans to make over the next three years – as a “culture of good housekeeping” in government. Austerity as common sense.

And this has effects, which she points to:

…there are already warning signs that parts of the public services are creaking. He cited a sharp increase in waiting times at hospital accident and emergency departments, and rising violent assaults in prisons as staff numbers are cut, as examples.

Moreover:

..the belt-tightening is likely to be profoundly unfair. Osborne has repeatedly said his cuts plan will involve a £12bn reduction in the welfare bill. Since pensioners are protected, and out-of-work benefits are a relatively small part of the £250bn social security budget, much of the burden is likely to fall on low-wage workers and their children – through reductions in tax credits or housing benefit, for example

And there’s the problem that it doesn’t work:

…more austerity is risky at a time when recovery appears to be fragile against a background of the bubbling eurozone crisis.
The argument that sucking demand out of the economy through public spending cuts could jeopardise growth may have been trounced in pre-election debates – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

All this is true. It is causing problems – ones that are deep rooted and will persist across years and potentially decades. It is deeply unfair. It is in and of itself counterproductive and the Tory victory does nothing to alter that fact (and one can point to the fact that

And yet, and yet, part of me reads all this and goes… well of course it’s dogmatic! This is the Tories, after all. What did people expect? This isn’t a glitch as they see it, it’s a feature. Elsewhere in the Guardian there’s been some comment on the idea that the Tories aren’t the epitome of evil or are wrong all the time. Perhaps not. But it’s somewhat irrelevant and more to the point it betrays a misunderstanding as to the nature of their political project.

Often people, particularly liberal minded people, and some on the left, seem to think that all the political labels and categories are merely badges for what is essentially good intentions – that we’re all in this together, as it were, and everyone wants pretty much the same destination.

The reality is, of course, anything but that. One doesn’t have to see the Tories as the epitome of evil to see that the fundamental strands that infuse and inflect their philosophies as being wrong, reactionary and so forth. Just to be clear this doesn’t mean that on an individual basis all are like that, there are some counter-intuitive strands as well extant in that body of thought. But functionally it means that their approach to society is one which most progressives – one would hope – would realise as being entirely in opposition to our own project.

Perhaps David Cameron is a more liberal minded person than many/most in his party, perhaps the manifesto was a tilt to the right in order to consolidate party unity at a time when coalition with the LDs was still a feasible outcome, and in the knowledge that such a coalition would abrade some of the sharper edges. Perhaps so. And yet this is the party that in the actual coalition of the last five years implemented, by way of example, grievous measures in social welfare in relation to provision of benefit and so on, oversaw measures that explicitly supported those who were better off, I needn’t go on, surely?

An untrammelled Tory party is a genuinely disturbing entity. And it is untrammelled and governing on, as was made clear in a recent Guardian Politics podcast, the most right wing programme in two decades.

These things matter. These things are intrinsic to the Tory party.

Stewart is closer to the mark in the following:

So the cuts are larger than Osborne and his colleagues let on; they may threaten the quality of cherished public services, place an unfair burden on those who can least bear it, exacerbating inequality – and jeopardise the very economic growth which is ultimately the best way of tackling the deficit.
Labour’s proto-leaders are right to try to learn the lessons of the campaign and seize back the language of “aspiration”. But they must not abandon the central insight that austerity is not a necessity, but a political choice.

A pity the Labour Party was unable to make that case in the last five years. But as ever they cede ground to the right and then are amazed when the right captures yet more and runs with it.

More on Greece. June 9, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics.
6 comments

Just to add to what was posted yesterday on Greece, the Observer business editorial has some harsh words for Brussels and the IMF on what is taking place in relation to that state.

While much of what the radical leftists want seems unreasonable – especially the slow pace of pension reform, which in effect would allow tens of thousands of people in their late 50s to grab early retirement – it is the demands being made by Brussels and the IMF that are unconvincing and, worse, untenable.

And:

Running a larger budget surplus is only going to destroy Greece, not build it up. As US economist Joseph Stiglitz and many others, including former IMF staffers, have pointed out, the troika of creditors badly misjudged the economic effects of the programme they imposed in 2010 and 2012.
They believed that by cutting wages and accepting other austerity measures, Greek exports would increase and the economy would quickly return to growth,” Stiglitz said last week. “They also believed that the first restructuring would lead to debt sustainability. The troika’s forecasts have been wrong.”

But as is the way with orthodoxies the error is repeated, even exacerbated.

The current proposals repeat the same mistake. Seven years after the crash, the Greek economy is still 25% smaller than it was at its previous peak, 10% of households have no electricity and youth unemployment is running at more than 50%. Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, may specialise in needling their creditors, but the troika also need to take into account the fact that Syriza has formed a legitimate, democratically elected government and cannot be told that its electoral programme is irrelevant.

It is beyond belief that these basic facts are not admitted and acknowledged in the current discussions between Jean-Claude ‘Alexis is my friend’ Juncker and the Greek government.

In any other context this would be regarded as a society and a state close to the edge. That it is a European economy, an integral part of both the EU and the eurozone, almost beggars belief. It raises fundamental questions as to the nature of what that EU and that eurozone are about if they are happy to acquiesce to the impoverishment of citizens of the area. Indeed not just acquiesce but to seek measures that will in every way make the situation worse.

And the Observer doesn’t pull its punches.

So Lagarde and European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker must be the ones to table further compromises. Neither was in charge when the first Greek bailout set all sides on the current disastrous path. They should explain to Ireland and Portugal, also suffering austerity, that Greece is too weak to survive more bloodletting.

But Ireland and Portugal are not going to rock this particular boat. It’s a sort of anti-solidarity – something by the way that the Labour party here should have its feet held to the fire about on a continual basis.

One further point. For those, and we see them in various places, who bemoan the Syriza government’s approach, it is at the least educative to see how they have managed to hold off the EU and IMF even partially across quite some months now. It would also be educative to compare and contrast with the previous Greek administration whose approach was one of acceptance of the demands of the EU and IMF.

Greece… and an insight into power relationships May 28, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics.
15 comments

Here’s an article that caught my eye in the Observer at the weekend. Heather Stewart suggests that given the continuing crisis in relation to Greece and a situation where:

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s combative prime minister, is facing yet another week of fraught negotiations as he and his team struggle to agree a shopping list of economic reforms stringent enough to appease the country’s creditors, but different enough from the grinding austerity of the past five years to satisfy the Greek electorate.

And:

And all the while, bank deposits will leach out of the country, investment plans will remain on hold and consumers hammered by years of austerity will continue living hand to mouth.

Not mad keen on the word ‘consumers’ there but… the broader sense of the article is I think correct.

She continues:

Change the actors – and the stakes – and it’s a tired plotline familiar to many governments across the world. According to Eurodad, the coalition of civil society groups that campaigns on debt, there have been 600 sovereign debt restructurings since the 1950s – with many governments, including Argentina for example, experiencing one wrenching write-off after another.
Many of these countries plunged deeper into recession as a result of the uncertainty and delay inherent in this bewildering process and the punishing austerity policies inflicted on them, with a resulting collapse in investor and consumer confidence.

And she points to a very very useful contradiction at the heart of the international order.

Yet while the world’s policymakers have expended countless hours since the crisis of 2008 rewriting regulations on bonuses, mortgage lending, derivatives and too-big-to-fail banks, little attention has been paid to what should happen when a government is on the brink of financial meltdown.
Sacha Llorenti, the Bolivian ambassador to the UN, is currently touring the world’s capitals trying to change that. “We’re not just talking about a financial issue; it’s an issue related to growth, to development, to social and economic rights,” he says.

Stewart makes an excellent point as to why the UN, unlikely as it may seem, may be precisely the venue for some movement. She notes that as against the IMF the UN general assembly ‘isn’t dominated by the world’s major powers’. And this translates into interesting political dynamics.

When Argentina tabled a motion calling for the UN to examine the issue of sovereign debt restructuring last autumn, 124 countries voted for it; 11, including the UK and the US, with their powerful financial lobbies, voted against; and there were 41 abstentions.
Llorenti, who is chairing the UN “ad hoc committee” set up as a result of that vote, says the 11 countries that objected hold 45% of the voting power at the IMF. He believes they would prefer the matter to be tackled there, where they can shape the arguments: “It’s a matter of control, really.”

Is this a surprise? No, of course not. But it is a rare insight into just how nakedly the interests of the ‘major powers’ are pursued when it comes down to it.

Moreover what Llorenti and others want isn’t the last word in radicalism, an important aspect in itself in pointing to just how loaded the game is against most of those involved and particularly those who seek alternatives whether within or outside the orthodoxy. The example of Greece itself demonstrates how difficult it is, indeed how close to impossible, to push even mildly back against the dispensation. How one fashions genuinely radical counter-measures is difficult to determine, not – of course, that the effort shouldn’t be made.

The proposals he is pushing – drawn up by the UN’s trade and development arm, Unctad – would create something like a bankruptcy procedure for countries. As a starting point, troubled governments would be given a standstill on repayments – something Tsipras is having to fight tooth and nail for – while talks with creditors take place.

And it’s not as if there’s no recognition that this is necessary – even from some of those who cleave to a non-left position:

At a lively seminar to discuss the proposals in the European parliament earlier this month, Unctad’s Richard Kozul-Wright said: “Bankruptcy rules are a key part of any healthy, democratic, free-market economy.” One MEP after another expressed anger and frustration about the damage inflicted on the Greek people by the eurozone’s botched bailouts.

And meanwhile, as Stewart notes, for Greece there’s no respite, and the hypocrisy and sheer futility of the current process imposed by the EU, ECB and IMF continues apace:

As Syriza MEP Stelios Kouloglou put it in Brussels: “We are pretending this is a sustainable solution, which it is not: it’s getting worse and worse.” Instead of the hated troika of the IMF, European Central Bank and Brussels, he said, “we’re facing another troika, made up of blackmailing, threatening and ultimatums”.

Even by its words shall we know it April 20, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in Africa, European Union, Human Rights.
1 comment so far

Most of the attention has rightly been on the presence or absence of meaningful action, as against words, to prevent further drownings in the Mediterranean Sea. But the words of some of the institutions do reveal.

Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, had this to say on twitter:

Deeply saddened by death of hundreds on Europe-bound refugee boat. Pay tribute to Italy’s coast guard for doing their best to save lives.

Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, issued a press statement that was given a headline that expressed the horror of what happened:

“Gates of Europe” bloodied again as 700 migrants feared dead in “awful” Mediterranean boat tragedy

At a global level, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the following:

New Mediterranean boat tragedy may be biggest ever, urgent action is needed now

Whatever power they have to force Europe’s institutions to act (damn all, in truth), those leaders recognised the awfulness of what has happened.

The EU has stronger powers to act. The words its leaders have used reveal that we need to be alarmed.

Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, gave the first sign that the human response was second to a careful policy position. The headline on his statement said:

Schulz for renewal of refugee and migration policies

At least the first sentence of his statement recognised the nature of what happened:

“The renewed tragedy off the Libyan coast, in which possibly up to 700 people have lost their lives, leaves me speechless

But the European Commission’s statement is shocking for the way it hedged the central, awful fact of what had happened. Here is its headline

European Commission Statement on developments in the Mediterranean

And even when it does get around to mentioning human lives, in the third sentence of the statement, it avoids the awfulness of what happened:

These are human lives at stake, and the European Union as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act.

By the time that statement was issued, 700 lives were no longer “at stake”: they had been lost.

Podemos April 10, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, The Left.
11 comments

Meant to post this up before Easter, but better late than never. Interesting profile here, albeit one that leans particularly upon one individual rather than the overall phenomenon. Still, this made me smile, just a little:

As a professor, Pablo Inglesias was smart, hyperactive and – as a founder of a university organisation called Counter-Power – quick to back student protest. He did not fit the classic profile of a doctrinaire intellectual from Spain’s communist-led left.

Though…

As a teenager, Iglesias was a member of the Communist Youth in Vallecas, one of Madrid’s poorest and proudest barrios.

And:

It was at Complutense, where he began to lecture after receiving his doctorate, that Iglesias met the key figures who would help him found Podemos. Deeply influenced by Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist thinker who argued that a key battle was over the machinery that shaped public opinion, this group also found inspiration at the University of Essex.

Is that that unlike the ‘communist-led left’ in Spain – a CP which apparently some other CP’s regard as so revisionist as hardly a CP at all. Speaking of which:

For years he and Monedero had been telling Spain’s communist-led leftwing coalition Izquierda Unida (IU) that it should learn from the Latin Americans and widen its appeal. Now they proposed a broad leftwing movement, with open primaries at which outside candidates such as Iglesias could stand. They received a firm no from IU leader Cayo Lara, who later declared that Iglesias had “the principles of Groucho Marx”. So they created it themselves.

And even this…

Socialism, Laclau and Mouffe argued, should no longer focus on class warfare. Instead, socialists should seek to unite discontented groups – such as feminists, gay people, environmentalists, the unemployed – against a clearly defined enemy, usually the establishment.

…isn’t exactly unknown to approaches taken by a variety of further left forces over the last forty years.

There’s lots of interesting and useful resonances, not least this:

“Those with the power still governed, but they no longer convinced people,” Errejón told me recently.

Paying the price for centuries of contempt March 27, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, European Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Scottish Politics, The Left, Wales.
9 comments

It’s not necessarily coming, as they say, from a place of love. More like a place of snark, but this is a great line from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian when discussing the shape of the next British Parliament.

British politics is paying the price for centuries of English contempt for the political aspirations of the Irish, Scots and Welsh.

Ain’t that the truth.

Throughout the 19th century Tory (and some Liberal) opposition to even moderate home rule for the “other British empire” ensured a more drastic separatism would eventually triumph.

Actually his line is intriguing because he argues that with SNP support a Labour government is more or less inevitable. Well, we’ll see.

He makes another point, one which given the way in which unionism looms large in the political consciousness is perhaps sometimes forgotten on this part of the island

The lesson of separatism across Europe is the same. For restless Ukrainians, Slovenians, Kosovans, Slovakians, Basques and Catalans, regional autonomy is not a passing fad, to be bought off with a few powers and subsidies. It is a visceral response to the arrogance of centralised power. It is the response that many Britons profess towards the overbearing power of Brussels; yet few in Westminster see themselves as the EU of Great Britain.

Isn’t he forgetting some one or two or three… March 18, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics.
4 comments

Mario Draghi had words for the protestors outside the new ECB headquarters this evening:

“European unity is being strained,” he said.

“People are going through very difficult times. There are some, like many of the protesters outside today, who believe the problem is that Europe is doing too little.

“But the euro area is not a political union of the sort where some countries permanently pay for others,” he said.

“It has always been understood that countries have to be able to stand on their own two feet – that each is responsible for its own policies. The fact that some had to go through a difficult period of adjustment was therefore not a choice that was imposed on them. It was a consequence of their past decisions.”

Past decisions? Really? Would these be decisions (and by the by who made them?) as regards deregulation, the financial sector, low taxes? And would these decisions have been of a nature that the…er… ECB, and IMF and OECD cheerled them? Sure looks like it, for as noted on this site in 2011, the unlikely figure of John Bruton noted:

in a speech to the LSE last month that the ECB didn’t attempt to utilize powers it has under article 14 of its statue to instruct our Central Bank to engage with the ‘fiscal and macroeconomic risks related to the property boom in Ireland’.

There’s more evidence of such lack of intervention, but why would I want to spoil the ECB’s special day? Any further.

And Ireland and Greece February 27, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, Irish Politics.
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A telling criticism from the SBP editorial on the government approach in relation to Greece.

The Irish government is a bit-player in all of this drama, but has a seat at the table. Its approach so far has been to follow the rhetorical line set by the creditor countries. Taoiseach Enda Kenny and finance minister Michael Noonan have urged Greece to follow Ireland’s example of negotiating incremental concessions to the bailout agreement over time in the hope of reducing the pain of the implementing austerity.

The SBP disagrees:

This is a mistake. To show solidarity to weaker countries is the essence of the European ideal. Many countries seem to have forgotten that. As a former bailout economy and the fastest growing in the eurozone this year, Ireland should offer support and encouragement.

And it makes a broader point, which is also often forgotten.

Instead the line from Dublin has been that Athens must honour its debts fully as Ireland has done. Athens’ interests are Dublin’s, in the long run. The Greek crisis has the potential to endanger the European project. Anything Dublin can do to help solve this will only be to the common good.

Things are stableish across Europe at the moment, but that’s not guaranteed, and more importantly this crisis is going to be followed by future crises. Dublin’s reticence, no – actually what is an aversion – to engaging positively and supportively in relation to Greece, may well come back to haunt it.

Not so fast! That emerging Fine Gael ‘narrative’ over austerity February 23, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics.
21 comments

According to Henry McGee Fine Gael have a pre-packaged explanation for why their approach to ‘austerity’ has been correct…

For several years now, critics of the compliance path pursued by the Coalition, and Fianna Fáil before it, have railed that it lacked the bottle to face up to Frankfurt or Brussels. In recent months, Sinn Féin has ramped up this argument. Gerry Adams claimed his party would have put in the hard yards – and all-night negotiations – to come back with a better deal.
Until now, such theories were not tested because they lacked laboratory conditions.

But…

Until now, such theories were not tested because they lacked laboratory conditions.

And then:

But then Greece happened. Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis found to their cost last week their force was not so irresistible after all. Syriza’s gambit has backfired on them and, by corollary, has backfooted anti-austerity parties here.

Except there’s one small fly in the ointment…

Still, [Michael Noonan] did concede the Government never directly asked for debt write-down – the circumstances surrounding this admission are sure to be tested.

Ooops.

Statement from the CPI. February 22, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.
2 comments

21st February

The crowing from the establishment and its tame media about forcing a climb-down by SYRIZA over the Greek debt and the continuing austerity programme barely disguises the complete contempt that they have for the people.

It matters little whether one thought that SYRIZA would inevitability have surrendered to the demands of the European Union or had hoped they would stand up and challenge it and defend the Greek people and blaze an alternative direction from within the European Union and oppose the IMF. Those who are anxious to advance the people’s interests need to reflect more seriously about what these past few weeks have demonstrated.

One of the lessons must be that the treaties governing European Union have in effect outlawed not only a radical people-centred solution but have effectually outlawed even tame Keynesian policies, and that the controlling forces are determined to solve the crisis of capitalism at the expense of the working people.

A second thing is clear: that people can vote at the national level for whoever they like, but this is not decisive, as the European Union will impose TINA (“There is no alternative”) and the economic and political straitjacket of what is in the interests of capitalism.

The debt is still the weapon of choice to be used against the people; democracy has been trumped by the overriding needs of European monopolies and the big finance houses and banks.

Those in Ireland who still labour under the illusion that the European Union can be transformed into something that it is not, need to look long and hard at the events of the last few weeks. The blocking minority that is built in to the EU decision-making process means that the big powers—those with real economic power and therefore real political power—can block anything that is not in the interests of the monopolies and finance houses.

The Irish government, once again demonstrating its abject servility towards imperialist powers, did nothing to support the Greek people apart from expressing a vacuous sympathy, and voted to defend the interests of the ruling class.

Those who continue to peddle the illusion, whether here in Ireland, in Greece or in Spain, that they can solve the people’s problems within the confines of the European Union and controlling mechanisms such as the euro are only leading our people down a blind alley. There are simply no solutions to be found to debt or austerity within the European Union.

The struggles of the Greek people have exposed the true class nature of the EU and its institutions. They have shown that it can be resisted – a lesson that needs to be learnt by working people throughout Europe.

From the Communist Party of Ireland.

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