We don’t think enough about local government, one of whose jobs it is to mend potholes. When in our own lives our nearside front tyre is shredded, the pothole, Parris believes, represents “a momentary twitching-back of one tiny corner of a great curtain, behind which lie, no, not potholes, but a million anxious human stories, caused in part by cuts in public spending”.
He adds that accidents due to potholes are usually relatively trivial compared with cuts which for others may have meant:
- the loss of social care in dementia,
- no Sure Start centre for a child,
- the closure of a small local hospital
- or the end of a vital local bus service.
Potholes are a parable for others that matter even more. Unfilled potholes put lives at risk and have become a symbol of the damage done to every walk of life by spending cuts.
All the pressures on those who run government, local and central, are to worry about the short-term. it is usually possible to leave issues like road maintenance, decaying school buildings, rotting prisons, social care for the elderly, Britain’s military preparedness or a cash-strapped health service, to tread water for years or even decades. “They’ll get by,” say fiscal hawks, and in the short-term they’re often right.
- Nobody’s likely to invade us;
- the NHS is used to squeezing slightly more out of not enough;
- cutting pre-school provision is hardly the Slaughter of the Innocents;
- the elderly won’t all get dementia at once;
- there’s little public sympathy for prisoners;
- teachers can place a bucket under the hole in the roof
- and road users can dodge potholes.
Parris continues: “But beneath the surface problems build up. The old get older, and more numerous. Potholes start breaking cyclists’ necks. Care homes start going under. The Crown Prosecution Service begins to flounder. We run out of social housing. Prisoners riot. And is there really no link between things like pre-schooling, sports and leisure centres and local outreach work, and the discouragement of knife crime?”
“When New Labour was elected in 1997 we Tories groaned as it tipper-trucked money into the NHS, school building and other public services. Thirteen years later when Labour left office the undersupply was monetary, the red ink all too visible”.
Parris asks: “Must we forever oscillate like this?
One answer: Green & Labour Party leaders would meet these needs and avoid red ink by redirecting the money raised by quantitative easing.
In the FT recently, ‘superstar’ economist Adam Posen, US co-chair of the High-Level Japan-US Working Group on Common Economic Challenges, considered that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s new fiscal stimulus package offers the prospect of a better way forward. Abe aims to increase public spending and lower taxation, giving a positive jolt to economic activity.
Figures presented by the Market Mogul suggest that quantitative easing has been successful in injecting liquidity into the financial sector via central banks, causing ‘an unreasonable euphoria in the financial markets’ but has had, in practice, little or no effect on the real economy due to a lack of buyers and borrowers – a lack of ‘of effective demand’.
Posen reminds us that the first rounds of Abenomics showed the power of spending to increase the availability of public childcare places and cuts to taxes that penalised families’ second earners. This contributed to a substantial rise in women joining the labour force and Posen notes that Mr Abe’s latest stimulus package promises further action on labour market reforms: “The lasting increase in labour supply has enhanced Japan’s long-term fiscal sustainability. We can expect that part of the new package that further promotes participation in the labour force and eases the burden on those caring for family members to have a similarly large pay-off”.
Posen sees another promising aspect of Mr Abe’s package: his proposal to raise the minimum wage and public sector wages for teachers and others. He says that encouraging an upward spiral of wages into prices and back is the best path to nominal GDP growth
Jeremy Corbyn addresses the UK’s ‘broken’ economic model at a leadership election campaign meeting in Dagenham, attended by members of the public, councillors, businesses and the mayor on the 4th of August
An informal shot taken at the meeting
The BBC quoted from his speech which may be heard here: “We need a Labour government that rebuilds and transforms Britain,” Mr Corbyn said, committing to the creation of one million new jobs through investing £500bn in infrastructure, manufacturing and new industries.
He detailed 10 areas which Labour would seek to reform, including promises to create full employment, at least half a million new council homes, a new “National Education Service”, providing universal public childcare, and ending private-sector involvement in the NHS. The money would be raised through an expanding economy and driving down tax evasion.
“A campaign for the entire public to be involved in”
And ended: “This is a preparation for a general election when we can win that general election and produce decency and real opportunity for everyone in our society”.
Monbiot points out that the Leave campaigners have scarcely mentioned the European Union’s great bonfire of banknotes – not expenditure on quangos or relocating and running the institution but on farm subsidies at €55 billion a year.
Why? The leading Brexiters . . . denounce the transfer of public money from the rich to the poor but are intensely relaxed about the transfer of public money from the poor to the rich
Continuing “The leaders of the Remain campaign are no better”, Mr Monbiot points out that the payments would more accurately be described as land subsidies, as they are paid by the hectare. The poorest farmers who own or lease less than five hectares are excluded: “The more land you own or lease, the more public money you are given, so the richest people in Europe clean up. Oh, not just in Europe. Russian oligarchs, Saudi princes and Wall Street bankers have bought up tracts of European farmland, thus qualifying for the vast sums we shovel into their pockets”
These payments are not related to food production and surprisingly, though they are supposed to act as an incentive for environmental conservation, Monbiot comments that, in Westminster’s version of the European rules, ponds, wide hedges, reed beds, regenerating woodland, thriving salt marsh and trees sufficient to form a canopy are listed as “ineligible features . . . which need to be destroyed if farmers are to claim subsidies for the land on which they grow”. He describes the Common Agricultural Policy as “a €55bn incentive to destroy wildlife habitats and cause floods downstream”, noting that across Romania, farmers are beginning to realise that they can make money simply by mass felling of trees and destruction of wildlife, not for any productive purpose, but just to meet the European rules.
Monbiot ends, “I will vote In on Thursday, as I don’t want to surrender this country to the unmolested control of people prepared to rip up every variety of public spending and public protection except those that serve their own class . . .