environment & politics

Just Remember What Happened Last Time

Oh, United Kingdom electorate. By the title of this post, I mean things like this, and this, and this, and this. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

20 replies on “Just Remember What Happened Last Time”

Because of course Mark, all the above existed in a vacuum, and were created by a Tory Party that deliberately set out to destroy the Golden Utopia (TM) that had existed in Britain before 1979. Thirty years of misplaced socialist economics had weighed the British economy down and created an entire bloc of vested interests (who were, helpfully, aligned with one political party). Are you aware of the strikes and the three-day weeks and the substandard product quality and the unaccountable unionist puppetmasters that preceded the era you so neutrally describe? You think clearing that up is easy? You think no one gets hurt? You’re great at the fantasy Mark, but don’t let it slip into reality.

Thanks for stopping by, Dom.

What Mark says, in the first instance.

Secondly, of course I’m not blind to history. And you’re right, there were problems within the unions, their allegiances, and the power struggles within (precisely why I don’t really support centralised government systems either). But I’d probably choose sub-standard “quality” products over things like helping General Suharto in his genocide (half a million people), merely in the name of opening up ore markets to the West. (I think that’s called free market economics, but you can correct me on that.) Or even befriending General Pinochet as he trialled the Chicago School system (with a few thousand murders to boot).

The kind of rhetoric of better quality, and higher levels of wealth or whatever, is exactly the same kind of arguments used to justify the position of slaves in the 19th Century, wasn’t it? That they were better off than the century before. I take it you’re not also arguing in favour of slavery?

[Hopes we can keep this a clean debate!]

Firstly that is not true Mark (Mark C…Mark Chadbourn…this could get confusing!). A great many unionists supported trade union reform for example, opposed Scargill’s strikes, welcomed the chance to own their own property etc. And secondly, many of those people were paying extortionate tax rates to prop up these failing industries year on year without any improvement.

Mark CN, thanks for having me. The sub-standard products I was referring to were those produced by the domestic nationalised British industries, such as British Leyland, British Airways, etc. (Did you know that Thomas Cook was once owned by the government?) So I was supporting the *domestic* economic reforms, not foreign policy. Of course Suharto is a terrible man and such deals should not be made…though it is worth pointing out all our hypocrisy on this matter, as we drive around in our Saudi oil-fuelled cars and tap away on our Chinese produced computers!

The point is that capitalism is a far more productive (indeed, in the technological creativity it unleashes it is seemingly exponentially productive) system than slavery. Karl Marx of all people recognised this fact, but he lacked the imagination to see technology evolving beyond its Victorian limits. Under slavery and under feudalism, the standard of living was practically stagnant for centuries at a time. To my parents’ generation, the idea of an indoor toilet or a colour tv – a tv at all! – is novel. These changes have not randomly appeared out of nowhere; the Marxists are right to recognise the unprecedented positive potential of market economics (*not*, may I add, laissez-faire ones). Where I part with them – and where history in the West and now in the East counters their assertions – is on the front that communism is an even higher system.

Slavery was exploitative not just in the Marxist sense, but in the wider sense too. Like feudalism, it enriched the tiny few at the expense of the unchanging many. Capitalism DOES NOT DO THIS. The increased standard of living in Britain today relative to two or three centuries ago is a direct consequence of the liberalised economy and yes, the socially aware government that played some part in spreading the wealth that that economy produced. The similar success story in China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, India, and countless others – all of course at various stages along the same path that we took first – is testament to this too.

I’m no libertarian believe me, but before Thatcher, this country had swung far too far the other way. I would love for Thatcherism to have never been necessary, but the fact is it was, and this country is in a better state because of it, notwithstanding the pockets of alienation and poverty that remain from the broken communites of that era. I do not deny the immense pain that many, including some in my own family, felt, but the blame for that does not lie with Thatcher: the blame lies with thirty years of dogma that held that an entire community can depend on one source of employment forever, and that the government can and should step in to pump money into the economic corpse of that community long after it has died.

[And absolutely, I’m a great fan of Villjamur, just not the Soviet Union ;)]

Good lord, such an essay of a Friday night. So, in haste!

Funnily enough I’m not a Marxist either – I’m very much speaking a libertarian stance, but a socialist one. 🙂 And the comment about Marx not being imaginative – well, I think we can disagree hugely there, and there were dozens of socialist thinkers who were. Even the likes of the very creative William Morris.

“capitalism is a far more productive” – but there is a cost, often forgotten. Plus, if you want to use that argument, even the USSR under Stalin was productive for large periods of time, and I doubt either of us are supporting that theory.

“it enriched the tiny few at the expense of the unchanging many. Capitalism DOES NOT DO THIS” – um, are we even living on the same planet? That’s precisely what the mechanisms of capitalism does – with heavy state intervention of course, since there’s no such thing as a functioning free market. The mechanisms of capitalism have consistently redistributed power and incomes to the richest percentiles of the population.

We (and by that I mean you believers of the free market) certainly don’t see these costs. It *is* hugely exploitative, and there is no such thing as a free market when governments exist to prop them up, through war or alliances, or whatever. Thatcherism (with Reagan’s guidance) was brutal in its methods of securing the success of our own industries, and where the barrel of our own gun no longer suffices, we helped another regime into power so that we benefit. That happened hugely across Latin America. It is remarkably easy to see our own benefits when we export the problems. I can point you to a few articles where (whilst Gov’t expenditure as a % of GDP remained even) Thatcher diverted public funds towards facilitating arms deals – I noticed that this went against her rhetoric of decreased public spending. That’s the free market once again – propped up by governments.

And the Suharto example is the classic one – and well worth looking up. I just don’t know how any person can honestly look at themselves in the mirror and say it is fine for the slaughter of half a million people in order to make our products shinier. You’ve been rather quiet on that issue.

Funnily enough, I kind of touch on this sort of thing in the next book, though not in this detail. 🙂

I actually agree with the spirit of what you are saying; I advocate a mixed economy, state regulation, economic competition, etc. I’m pretty satisifed (with some exceptions…banks anyone?) with where we are now. But where we are now is not where we were thirty, forty, fifty years ago. Then, we were riding high on the post-war socialist-cum-Keynesian experiment, in an explosion of activity that was colourful and exciting for a while, but soon gave way to disaster and decay. Thatcher rose to power at a time when the post war consensus had reached breaking point, when rubbish piled up in the streets, the dead went unburied, and striking ambulance drivers had to be replaced with the military. Thatcher the woman was one particularly staunch figure, but Thatcherism the idea was inevitable *because it was right*. The Thatcher era actually began before Thatcher herself, when James Callaghan admitted that Keynesian socialism was untenable (“We cannot go on…” etc) On the domestic front, the broad number of Thatcher reforms were utterly and unfortunately correct.

But on the international front I of course agree with you, I’d advocate a much tougher relationship with the autocracies we presently trade with. That said, I think you’re confusing two issues – Thatcher’s domestic reforms, privatisation, trade union legislation, etc on the one hand, and international trade on the other.

I look very much forward to it! Is that book two, or book three?

I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on the *because it was right*. And who knows what kind of clusterf*ck the unions were making at the time. Interestingly, there are a couple of books on British intelligence services playing a role in crippling the unions and organising brutal smear campaigns, particularly during the strikes. History is written by the victor, of course, so I don’t think we will ever have the full picture.

Not at all. Her policies were so painfully intwined with those of Reaganism (though we didn’t have that evil and very convenient McCarthyism to provide a handy history of crippling workers’ rights so she had to use other nefarious means). And many of these international policies propped up the domestic regime, so they are, ultimately, inseparable.

Book two! A kind of microcosm of some of these issues.

Why do you think it was wrong? Do you think there were serious economic problems facing the UK prior to Thatcher? And if so, what should have been done instead?

Of course there is a connection but it is quite possible to pursue economic liberalisation of the domestic economy without opening up to foreign monstrous regimes. I’m defending the former, but the latter.

Sounds intriguing!

While I can’t comment authoritatively on the Britain of the past, I can say that of the present, those parts which did survive the attacks of Thatcherism and far-right maxo-capitalism, are some of the best things about this country today, I feel.

Certainly in the areas of transport and energy, privatization in hindsight was a terrible step backwards. As an American, I can only say how grateful I am that social leftovers like the NHS have not disappeared entirely. It is, even in its wounded and harried state, worlds away and far better than anything we’ve had (or sadly are likely to have) in the States.

Productivity always comes at a cost: a high cost, for the world at large and for the poorer segments of it especially. The current financial waves of instability and economic polarization are but some of the most headlined symptoms of a much larger, global malaise whose name is capitalism. It might bring you colour flat screen tvs and in door toilets, but it asks a bloody high price for it.

The affects of Reaganomics and other such contemporary policies in my own country, have left deep and damaging scars. Scars which I understand, are not limited to the nation where many of these misjudged policies were engineered and dispersed.

Sadly, I must strongly refute Dom Sharp’s claim that capitalism does not enrich the tiny few at the expense of the unchanging many. This is indeed what it does, certainly in its hyper-idealized state. My country is living proof where the gap between rich and poor has rarely been greater and socialism let alone communism, has been viewed as an evil unmatched by any other. This inequality for (almost) all is funded by the powerful black ops business model of aggressive free market capitalism. No one can even say how large this gap has become due to the fact that the highest tiers of the mega rich in the US derive a large section of their income from corporate ways and means that are untraceable and unaccountable even to the federal government.

To keep from riding too far off on a Yankee tangent, the roots for much of this today, can be firmly linked to the seeds sowed and socialist landscapes which were cleared, in the days of Thatcher and Reagan.

I doubt though, that you’d ever see the images above in the UK of today. Time passes and men and women grow only weaker as political animals. Representative voices may seem to be made more powerful linked as they are by new technology but so too grow the opponents which they contest with for control. It’s an arms race in which the other side has billions to spend and billion upon billions to lose. Throw in the apathy of a well entertainment saturated apathetic public with a short attention span and little stomach for recalling past mistakes, and it’s amazing I suppose that any vestiges of more healthy economic and political systems survive at all.

Best wishes and hopes for the coming week,


oh dear, Mark – life in the 70’s (before you were born) under the left was so wonderful – the winter of discontent,the three day week, power cuts, bread strikes, sugar shortages, piles of rubbish uncollected for weeks, emergency freezer wagon to keep the bodies in as no one could be buried, miners strikes, a rampant IRA, the cold war at its hight and I am sure a highly ethical foreign policy. And of course the Bay City Rollers and the Austin Allegro. To quote a later slogan things could only get better. And the last decade of the left has left us the UK in such a strong position – a debt that you and your children will be paying for the rest of your life, a decade of war – Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan, a brutal attack on civil liberties, a widening gap between rich and poor than 13 years ago, a decline in manufacturing and agriculture. I am so pleased to have had 13 years of things only getting better. The right might not be perfect but lets not think live under the left has all been a bed of roses.

Of course, you’re not at all interested in the global markets which have lead to those declines in agriculture and manufacturing – remember that neoliberal stuff you’re so keen on? Nothing to do with Thatcher? Blair was little to the left of Thatcher, and the majority of the left wanted no part in the wars that followed (each and every one playing its role in the global neoliberal economics of which you’re so proud). But you know, what’s a few hundred thousand deaths when you can have your bread on time? Right? The cold war was to the benefits of the American governments and Russian (State capitalism, rather than true communist), and allowed to force through dozens of detrimental policies in the name of security on both sides of the propaganda divide. If you care to look at the rhetoric used at the time, it’s much the same excuse as today, all in the name of ‘security’ but this time against a different enemy. It’s a little more complex than you’re making out.

Things are always way way, way more complex – but putting up three or four images of events that happened over a decade is hardly a balanced and reasoned approach to the topic is it?

Hi Dom – yes, I’m afraid time has got the better of me with this. You’re asking me to put forward some loose economic theories of the 1970s, which requires – if treated properly – a little effort; and I’d rather not do the obvious thing of criticising the Chicago School economics that came afterwards especially to advocates of such systems – Google is our friend here; except to say that it’s all very real (one only has to look at the Chicago Boys’ clusterfuck in Chile for that matter, though few choose to).

And if I’m going to do all of this then that’s not something I can so quickly pop in a comments box! 🙂

Haha understandable! Though I think if you do find the time, it might change your perspective on things! Anyway I’ve enjoyed the discussion, and will be buying your dirty socialistic book regardless 😉 😀

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