Mark Steel at the People’s Assembly

There is a new “organisation” called the People’s Assembly which is, essentially, a movement against austerity. I’ve been rather lax in my reading (at least semi-political reading) and blogging recently and so don’t really know much about it. I do, however, think that austerity has been a disaster, both socially and economically, and so – if I understand the motivation behind this movement correctly – I agree with it wholeheartedly.

What I thought I would do is include, below, the speech given by Mark Steel at the People’s Assembly meeting yesterday. It’s both quite amusing and quite fiery. Something that I won’t expand on much here (but is something I may try and write about at a later stage) is why it appears that the most effective rhetoric for those on the left appears to come from comedians, while the most effective rhetoric on the right appears to come from what, I’ll politely call, firebrands. I’m don’t really understand why there is such a difference in style between the right and the left, but it is something I find of great interest. Anyway, enjoy the video.

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Iceland’s president at Davos

Thanks to the Liberal Conspiracy I’ve come across the video that I’ve posted below of the Icelandic President (Olafur Ragnar Grimsson) being interviewed at Davos. He claims that Iceland’s recovery was largely due to their allowing banks to go bankrupt and by not following the standard orthodoxies of austerity, but instead providing support for the poor and unemployed. Their economy is now growing at about 3% and unemployment is low.

I’ve never heard of him before, but based on this video he seems to be a good example of what I think a politician should be. He seems to think in terms of what would be best for his country and its people, rather than simply thinking of how to protect big businesses and the wealthy. Admittedly, some of those who act to protect businesses and the wealthy believe that this will help everyone. The evidence for this is, however, slim. Anyway, I think the video is worth a watch and I wish more of our politicians were as sensible as he seems to be. Iceland is a small country with a small population, so maybe what worked for them wouldn’t work for us. However, our current policies don’t seem to be working either so trying something that has been proven to work makes more sense (to me at least) than sticking with something that is almost certainly not working.

The Moral Economy

I was wondering why we shouldn’t apply the free-market ideology to everything. The basic idea behind the free market is that the system will self-regulate and will automatically settle into some kind of state that is optimal. Why can’t we apply this to everything and simply have no laws whatsoever. Presumably everyone wouldn’t simply go out and commit all sorts of heinous crimes. The truth, however, is that some sadly would. One might expect people to drive carefully (because it’s sensible to do so) but most wouldn’t. I’m sure that a system without laws would settle into some kind of state, but possibly not the kind of state that most would be comfortable living in. Essentially, we are an intelligent species that has developed a set of morals that most would agree are reasonable and we impose laws so that our society is one that satisfies our sense of morality. Our morals wouldn’t disappear without laws, but what would you do with those who didn’t behave according to society’s norms and how would you define these norms? As soon as they’re defined, you essentially have the beginnings of regulation.

I don’t see why something similar should apply to our economies, especially as these are not technically independent of our societies. Economies don’t develop by themselves. They develop as a society tries to provide food, shelter, transport, entertainment, education, healthcare, etc. The goal of an economy is not to create a profit for investors. It’s to provide services. Investors should be rewarded for careful and useful investments, but not at the expense of the services being provided. Similarly, those who contribute most and are regarded as the more creative members of our economies should be rewarded more highly than others. However, they shouldn’t then be able to use this to then leverage extra rewards over and above what might be regarded as reasonable. I accept that it is difficult to define reasonable, but the top 25 investment bankers in the US earning 3 times more than all of the 80000 teachers in New York state seems immoral to me. Similarly, the richest 1000 people in the UK increasing their wealth by £155bn since 2008 also seems hard to justify. This would wipe out two years worth of deficit, something the government regards as so important that almost 1 million people have lost their jobs since 2008.

I accept that economies are very complicated and that some will (and should be) rewarded more than others. However, following a path of austerity in which the poorest will potentially lose all they have while the wealthiest continue getting richer seems immoral. To argue that this is the moral path (since future generations will have to pay for any extra borrowing today) seems entirely disingenuous.