Friday, 26 June 2009

What's My Line?

A comment in the post below has just reminded me that the single most convincing outline of an alternative 'what-to-do-about-the-banks' policy was provided by Richard Murphy, back in October but no one, absolutely no one as far as I can see, ever took up the idea and ran with it. &, on the net, last October might as well be neolithic times, as we've all got the attention span of goldfish. So go read it now and see what you think.

It's not a strategy for socialism tomorrow. But it is a strategy for structural reform, for breaking the hold of Big Finance on our economy. It is, to use that well worn phrase, a 'modernization' strategy of the Left. (Remember when the Left used to think it knew how to surf the wave of the future? Ah, such memories....)

Now, think about it, what is the Left without a vision of a future? It is a group of people who fight, and quite often lose, defensive battles. Battles to stop things changing for the worse rather than battles to make things change for the better. & I've had a lifetime of it and I'm feeling really, really sick at the prospect of doing it over again when the cuts come after the election.

So let's have Richard's network banking; let's have Boffy's and Chris' self managed organisations (which are more productive anyway); let's have an industrial programme of arms conversion; let's have a Greening of the economy; let's have a different way of looking at public service value In short: let's have some reason to live through the economic pain. Let's have a future.

It is true that the Tories and their allies are trying to log roll the country into the default assumption that cuts must come, and must come quickly and severely after the election whoever wins it. No doubt all those Keynesians are right to say we should wait till the upswing to cut, but the gilt markets might turn at any point and give us very little choice. & whilst I agree with Duncan's newly discovered Texan Post Keynesian that it's about income and wealth equality in the long run, I detect no enthusiasm for an equality of national decline.

It ain't enough for the Left to say 'it-was-the-rich-wot-broke-it-so-they-should-fix-it'. We need a programme. A new AES.


  1. Thanks for this Charlie. I like this proposal, to the extent that I understand it. I would like any proposal that makes finance the servant of the productive economy not the master. But there are no chances until the stranglehold of the establishment Tory/NuLabour duopoly is broken.

    Richard Murphy's latest links to Vince Cable's alarm call that the City is getting away scot free with a taxpayer-funded return to business as usual as soon as possible, and the British Govt is the culprit in undermining world efforts to re-regulate the monster.

    We wring our hands and wonder why Brown & his clique close their eyes to all the evidence and their ears to the good advice of people like Cable and Murphy.

    It seems inexplicable. But if we hypothesise corruption, then we suddenly generate a lot of explanatory power. Brown is out on his ear in 11 months time, a widely reviled and disrespected figure. This seems unjust to him. Who out there will give Brown the safe haven, respect, and comfortable living he considers his fair due for his years of public service? Only the big banks, on condition that they remain unmolested by him in his last 12 months. Particularly RBS, that pillar of the Scottish establishment, who will be Brown's only friends in the world after he loses office.

    These explanations may be banal, but Brown is a banal guy - he's had too much benefit of the doubt as to what kind of man he is. What he does is perfectly clear, and on that he must be judged.

    I predict a comfy seat on the board of the re-privatised RBS within 2 years of his exit from No.10.

  2. Charlie,

    We already have a version of network banking - Credit Unions. What we need is not just Networked Banking, but the networking of all such Co-operative type institutions as the starting point to a more general Co-operative, and Co-ordinated strategy.

    I went to a meeting of my local Trades Council last week, which was an open meeting to discuss Post Office privatisation. There were posties, and Trade Union organisers there to speak, from the CPS, as well as Dave Nellist. But, the strategy remains disappointingly samey. The speaker from the CPS said that "The only way to stop the privatisation was for all the unions to fight together."

    As part of my contribution, I said I disagreed with that. He should have said "The only way to stop the privatisation for now was for all the unions to fight together."

    Experience shows that even if the unions were to join together and fight, and win, the bosses would be back at some point to try again unitl they won. The other point I wanted to make was that if we want people to join us in opposing privatisation we have to give them a decent reason to do so. Simply defending the old style Public Services and nationalised industries won't hack it.

    One of the people there talked about their workplace in the DWP. But, the thing is have you actually been to a Benefits Office recently that has lots of claimants? They hardly present a picture of a service geared to meet the needs of workers. And the fact is that is true of most things owned and run by the Capitalist State. I used to work for a local Council, and it was horrendously inefficent. Not the fault of its workers, but the fault of the top bureaucrats who treated it as their private fiefdom.

    Charlie is right we need a decent viosion to give to workers, and it involves workers themselves taking ownership and control. That won't be easy in a society that has encouraged everyone to leave it to someone else, and to always blame someone else.

  3. Boffy,
    I'm a great admirer of the work of Credit Unions. But they're not in a position, yet, to take on the much wider functions of retail banking. Perhaps we should build them up so they might be but it would be the work of many years.

  4. Charlie,

    They don't have to we have the Co-op Bank?Britannia and Unity Trust, as well as the Nationwide, and a few other Mutuals. For the life of me I don't see the point of Unity Trust as separate from the Co-op, the unions should just get off their arse and merge with then organise a campaign for the real democratisation of the Co-op. Similarly, they could organise a drive to merge the Nationwide into it, creating a huge Co-op Banking and Financial sector.

    And, as I said at the local TUC meeting last week - actually one of the proposlas there was about setting up a Post Bank, why when we have the Co-op? - we also have that £500 billion in our pension funds that we ought to have control of, or why not for a start demand it be under the control of professional managers employed by this Co-op Bank and Finance Company, and in turn udner our demcoratic control? See the AVPS Blog for a discussion and report on the TUC meeting.

    If the Credit Unions werre keyed into that sttructure we would have all the fianncial network you would need to begin some serious action; development of a single workers strike fund and so on, as well as the potential for serious ficnnacing of local Co--op projects in housing, construction, light industry and so on.

    There are more people employed in Co-ops around the world than in multinational companies. In some countries Co-ops already control the majority of production in some products. Its time the British labour Movement woke up to the possibilities and stopped living in the top down statist past.

  5. Boffy,
    The thing about the network banking idea is that it addresses a nunmber of problems, including the so called 'too-big-to-fail' issue. We may want a 'huge Co-op banking and Financial sector', as you put it, but we don't want it all under the control of one organisation. Otherwise that organisation would always have the potential to hold the rest of us to ransome if it got into difficulties.

    On the issue of pension fund activism I don't think you could put a cigarette paper between your sentimnets and my own. But I take my lead on these matters from Tom P who, in his quiet but admirably relentless way, systematically looks at what actually happens on the ground. See his latest posting for example:

    In practice, as opposed to theory, his general conclusion is that it looks like ownership and control may be operating as two different constraints on/ pressures within the system. But you and I have discussed such matters before.....