Archive for March, 2016

Vox Political on the Tories and Tata’s Proposed Sale of British Steel

March 31, 2016

One of the big stories in industry this week is Tata’s proposed sell-off of what remains of the British steel industry. Mike makes the point that while David Cameron is spouting about how the government is doing everything it can, their actions speak much louder than words. And their actions say that they aren’t concerned at all.

Cameron himself is on holiday in Lanzarote. The Business Minister, Sajid Javid, who one of the wags in Private Eye’s ‘Lookalikes’ column suggested looks like the Claw from Thunderbirds, was thousands of miles away Downunder appearing at a business banquet. It was left to Anna Soubry, the Small Business minister, to make a plea for more time. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn was at one of the steelworks in Port Talbot, and issued a demand to Cameron to recall parliament and take steps to protect the British steel industry.

Mike also points out that other countries have taken steps to protect their iron and steel industries, and that during the financial crisis two banks were nationalised. This raises the question why the government isn’t doing the same for the steel industry.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/31/these-images-show-how-labour-is-standing-up-for-steel-while-the-tories-are-standing-idle/

Cameron did fly back from Lanzarote yesterday. However, while Soubry had made a vague suggestion that the steel industry would be renationalised, Javid ruled this out. Mike, however, makes the point that by ruling out nationalisation, Cameron is most definitely not doing everything he can. See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/31/if-cameron-has-ruled-out-nationalising-tata-steel-hes-not-doing-everything-he-can/

Mike has also posted a further article showing how even the usually solid Torygraph has turned against the Conservatives for this. Osborne’s refusal to rescue the British steel industry seems to be to avoid antagonising the Chinese. He has for years resisted the kind of legislation the Americans have passed to prevent the Chinese dumping cheap steel to the destruction of their own domestic industry. It looks very much Osbo is deliberately sacrificing our steel industry in order to stay in favour with the Chinese, and encourage them to keep investing in Britain.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/31/britain-sacrifices-steel-industry-to-curry-favour-with-china/

I’m not surprised by Cameron’s blanket refusal to nationalise the industry. The Tories have been consistently against its nationalisation after it was first done by Clement Atlee’s government. Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Supply, proposed its denationalisation in 1952, claiming that privatisation would restore to the industry ‘independence, initiative and enterprise’ which was not possible under nationalisation. He was opposed by Sir George Strauss in the Labour party, who said that it was ‘indefensible for the control of this industry-on which depends our economy- the fate of townships and the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of employees-to rest in the hands of people with no public responsibility’. It’s a statement that still applies today at Tata’s announcement they want to sell the plant. The iron and steel industry was renationalised by Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1966. The steel industry itself by that time had recognised the need for reorganisation. Moreover, Labour was in favour of nationalisation because iron and steel was one of the ‘commending heights’ of industry, and so should be occupied by Britain. The Tories started privatising the industry again in the 1980s under Ian MacGregor. Their aim was to cut the cost to the taxpayer, while at the same time they considered that the business of the steel industry should be to make steel, rather than create jobs. Clearly, that attitude has not changed.

The manufacturing industries also suffer from the perception, disseminated by neo-Liberal free-marketeers over the last thirty years, that Britain is now a post-industrial society. Deanne Julius, who was one of the chief wonks in the Bank of England under Blair, took this view, and stated that we should now concentrate on developing the service industries, and leave manufacturing to the rest of the world, and specifically America. This is another idea that Han-Joon Chang shoots down in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. He makes the point that manufacturing industry is still vitally important. It only looks less important than the service industries, because these have expanded far more and more rapidly than manufacturing. But that certainly does not mean that it’s unimportant.

Except to the Tories. Cameron is not going to renationalise the iron and steel industry, because as a neo-lib he’s devoted to the idea that government should not interfere – market forces and all that gibberish – and that if the industry goes under, well, that’s how it should be. Some how the market will magically correct the situation and another industry will somehow arise to replace it. This seems to me to be the fundamental attitude of the followers of von Hayek and the other Libertarians. He also won’t want to nationalise the industry, because it will mean not only a fundamental contradiction of Neo-Liberal economic doctrine, but also because it’ll mean more state expenditure. Which in turn will mean he won’t be able to give more tax cuts to his big business paymasters.

And lastly, he won’t want to nationalise the industry, because the last thing he wants is a rise in employment, and the revival of an organised and powerful working class, as it was when manufacturing was the dominant industry. Milton Friedman’s wretched Monetarism dictates that there should be a six per cent unemployment rate to keep wages low, and labour affordable.

And finally, there is the issue of class. Whatever Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith spout to the contrary, the Tories are not the policy of ‘working people’. They themselves admit as much. When the issue of the union’s funding of the Labour party came up again a few years ago, Labour made the point that the Tories were being funded by business. The Tories attempted to defend themselves by stating that this was perfectly acceptable, as they were the party of business. And in this case, business does not want state involvement in industry and the creation of nasty, old-style working class jobs that might actually empower the working class.

And also part of it is that the working class simply aren’t considered a concern, in the same way that the Tories are concerned about the upper and middle classes. Cameron’s a toff, as is Osbo and Ian Duncan Smith. The people, who matter to them are the same people as themselves – other toffs and members of the upper middle class. Those are the only people they see personally and interact with, except those they employ. And so ordinary people and their concerns simply don’t register with them in the same way as those of their own class.

And so, while Cameron has come back from Lanzarote, because this is a major issue, it’s not one that he really wants to solve by going back to nationalising the industry. Not when Maggie Thatcher and generations of Tories took so much trouble to privatise it.

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The Nazis and Industrial Autonomy

March 31, 2016

Nazi Germany was a centrally planned economy. This meant that, as in the Soviet Union, business served the state. There was a central planning bureaucracy, which organised and directed industrial production, right down to dictating to employers how many employees they should take from the labour exchanges. Unlike the Soviet Union, this was all done through private, not state-owned, industry. The Nazis furthermore claimed to value private enterprise and initiative amongst business leaders, and Nazi rhetoric attacked state bureaucracy in a manner very similar to the denunciation of state planning and bureaucracy by Thatcherite Neo-liberal free-marketeers.

Robert A. Brady also tackles this in his The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism. He writes

Similar to the ideas of Gerard Swope-one of the spiritual fathers of the N.R.A.- the United States Chamber of Commerce, and other similar spokesmen for “self-government in industry,” “the ideal held up to us by The Leader is a new system of self-administration with the emphasis laid on the responsibility of every individual.” In this theory, business men must be allowed so to organise themselves as to avoid the “bureaucracy” assumed to be inherent in state control and to give free play to “ethical” private initiative in business.

“We cannot dispense with the economic willing of individual business leaders and workers,” Schacht said. To do so, he held, would be to destroy the “creative power” of the people. The function of business enterprise is to release this creative power on behalf of the nation.” Under no circumstances,” he continued, “shall we destroy the multifarious individual character of our economic system. For all time to come we shall need the independent employer who for better or worse, is connected with his enterprise.” In other words, business men in the new Germany are to be given free reign to function as before, except now they must be “honest” in the sense that they must not resort to “unfair” tactics to achieve corporate ends. (pp. 265-6).

Likewise as with the N.R.A., the new German economic organisations are supposed not to engage themselves with “economic planning,” since, according to the Nazis, planning can only lead to “bureaucratisation.” “Free economy, private initiative, and personal responsibility are not demands of employers on us, but our demands on the employers,” as a Nazi party spokesman expressed it. But this is only to assert that the totalitarian powers of the new state can and will be used to see that no one escapes whatever the majority of the more powerful German businessmen decided to do. Membership is compulsory in the new “self-administered” organisations. Nobody is to be allowed to stay outside and spoil the game. All must follow where they are “led” by the state-recognised spokesmen for their respective groups. (pp. 266-7).

In fact, as I’ve blogged about before, German industry did form a kind of partnership with the Nazis, but it was always fragile and could be dissolved at any time, such as later in the 1930s when the party began a series of four-year plans. Nevertheless, in theory at least, the Nazis were not hostile to private industry, and claimed to protect personal responsibility and entrepreneurial initiative, which are still the cornerstones of the neo-liberal economic mindset.

The Tories’ ‘Nudge Unit’ and the Nazi Manipulation of Workers’ Psychology

March 31, 2016

Yesterday I posted a very well received article warning people about how the government is trying to deny automatic repeat prescriptions for people on medication for depression. Two of the commenters on the article, Shawn and Michelle, also added their observations on how the government was deliberately trying to manipulate the public’s psychology, especially that of the sick and disabled themselves, through the glib use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as the catch-all treatment for depression on the one hand, and the ‘Nudge Unit’ on the other. The Nudge Unit was the government’s attempts to set up a state department explicitly and blatantly devoted to manipulating popular psychology.

They weren’t the first regime to do this. Robert A. Brady in his book, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd 1937), noted how the Nazis also tried to manipulate the psychology of the German workers through their totalitarian organisation, the DAF, or Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front). The Nazis based the techniques they used on German workers on schemes and techniques that had already been tried by industrialists as part in experiments in ‘welfare capitalism’ elsewhere. It’s a long passage, covering several pages, but I think it’s worth quoting in full, just to show how totalitarian this is.

Exploitation of Non-Commercial Incentives

Social philosophers, anthropologists and reformers have long held that “man does not work for bread alone.” But only recently has industry learned that significant as hours, wages and other conditions of employment may be, they do not of themselves call out the highest levels of labour productivity. Given the minimum on these grounds, non-commercial are far more potent than commercial incentives. All those factors that combine to give the “sense of workmanship,” of group participation, of unfolding creative power, fall into the non-commercial class. Interest and emotional drives lead to higher and better sustained levels of output than can be provided by mere wage and hour considerations. With non-commercial incentives fatigue is lowered, improvements in processes and methods are more easily introduced, and friction between management and men is reduced to a minimum.

The Nazis were not the first to make this “discovery”-more accurately, “rediscovery.” Drawing realisation of the possibilities inherent in non-commercial incentives lies behind the elaborate and varied programmes of “welfare capitalism” found in all the western industrial countries. It provides the principal drive behind the rapidly proliferating psycho-technical research institutes, personnel selection and training systems, occupational conferences, bureaux and committees, industrial and public relations counsellors. Pioneering work in this field has been done by the world famous British Institute of Industrial Psychology, Moede’s laboratory at the Technische Hochschule at Charlottenburg, the German Institute for Technical Education and Training (D.I.N.T.A.) and many others. In America the Industrial Relations Counsellors, the National Occupational Conference, and the Personnel Research Federation are merely the leading organisations in this field.

Many of the largest corporations in the world have been applying these techniques on a large scale for many years. Outstanding examples are the National Railways and the Dye Trust in Germany, and the Western Electric and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in America. The “Hawthorne Experiments,” carried out in one of the largest plants of the Western Electric, for example, provide both the experimental results and the argument for a position with respect to organised labour identical with that held by the leader of the German Labour Front. Labour, if interested and made to feel important, would work harder without demanding more pay.

A publication of the British Institute of Industrial Psychology, The Problem of Incentives in Industry, lists, among the exploitable non-commercial incentives, the following: Interest and Pride in the Work, the Incentive of Appreciation, the Incentive of Knowledge, the Incentive of Loyalty, the Incentive of Welfare Schemes, Interest in the Firm, Encouragement of Suggestions, Co-operation in Time Study, and the Incentive of Efficiency. Experimentation with and study of the working effects of such incentives has shown, step by step, the preponderating importance on the worker’s whole attitude towards life. It is an American, not a Nazi, author, who penned the following lines in one of the most significant books of the past decade dealing with social-economic problems: “To study a subject merely as the doer of a particular piece of work is of little value; the work to the worker is part of a whole, made up his numerous reactions to situations, real and ideal, over and above his work. Sometimes it is the phantasy life that is of more importance to the individual than the apparent real life. It is clearly impossible to obtain a thorough knowledge of anyone, but it has proved possible to get the point of view of a subject with sufficient clearness to yield an insight into the relation of the work he does to his general attitude to life.

The author of the above lines was thinking of the Hawthorne Experiments as he wrote. At Hawthorne and other places it has been demonstrated that cleverly introduced non-commercial incentive schemes will bring increases in labour productivity of 50 per cent and more per worker without appreciable increase in fatigue-and, of course, without corresponding increase in pay. Uniformly these schemes are tied p with the worker’s “attitude towards life,” his willingness and interest in work for larger ends, his social and cultural values. Intelligent investigators have come quickly to see that that these factors are interwoven with the whole economic and social systems of our times, and that, hence, capitalism, socialism, and communism are up for review not only in their larger bearing on problems of equality and human rights, but also with respect to their direct bearing on the homely problems of high man-hour productivity.

Here as elsewhere it is realised that productivity is connected by a thousand intimate bonds with the problem of the “attitude to life”, the Weltanschauung, the social philosophy of the individual workman. Doctrine, purpose, and policies are intertwined as the efficiency fundamentals of the human factor just as rigidly as power, connecting belts, and organisation are key to the efficient functioning of machines. As Mooney and Reiley have put it, where “spirit is co-ordinated … the man who is permeated with … doctrine invariably sees everything, the hard causes as well as the small matters, in their relation to the whole …” and, because he sees, agrees, and supports, he will work harder and produce more.

Control over the inner life of the worker leads by slow degrees to control over the entire culture: the worker’s entire intellectual and emotional environment, the science and the arts. Once begun there is no turning back. Since philosophy of life is at stake, the underlying tenets of the economic system are being weighed in the balance. The Communists teach that only those who produce should govern, and, since none except the weak and the disabled should live from the labour of others, the ideal is classless society of producer-users. The Nazis seek to prove that the existence of separate and distinct social classes is not only indispensable but the necessary law of life and social organisation. To prove their point they resort to arguments not unlike those advanced by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. And like Plato they propose a socially stratified society, governed from on top, in which each belongs to that class allotted to him by virtue of his “natural” gifts and capacities, and in which complete harmony obtains so long as the point of view of each and every man in each and every class is controlled through appropriate education and propaganda.

The Nazi position boils down to this: How far can the “co-ordination of spirit” be used for the fullest possible exploitation of the working capacities of the German population on behalf of the business enterprise-the “works community”? How far can this exploitation be carried without giving rise to revolt, without causing labour to resort to strikes and sabotage? How far can labour opposition, labour class interest-and of the existence of these interests there is not the slightest question in any of the literature-be “neutralised” on behalf of “service to the public” by “self-governed” business?

The Labour Front is the Nazi answer. (Pp.121-4).

Now I have absolutely no problem with the benign use of industrial psychology to make workers feel that they belong in a certain firm, and they personally and their labour are valued. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed working in companies where there was a great sense of comradeship, or team spirit, amongst the workers. However, the Tories aren’t interested in promoting that. They have no interest in fostering any of this. The only object of Tory propaganda and psychological manipulation is to make the worker feel powerless, to force them to work harder and longer for less, because they have no other choice, and to stigmatise those who can’t as malingerers. It’s a nasty, bleak, callous view of humanity, and show the cruelty and callous mentality of those who promote this world view. And it’s being deliberately spread through the medical profession and what remains of the welfare state, through ‘work coaches’ who do nothing but harangue the unemployed for being unemployed, and by Tory plans to insert special official in health centres and doctors surgeries to make sure the proles get back to work as quickly as possible. It hasn’t got to the point of compulsory mass membership in Tory labour organisations. For one thing, the Tories really don’t want to concede any kind of class organisation to the workers. But the totalitarian mindset is there, nonetheless.

Ha-Joon Chang on the Failings of Free Market Capitalism

March 30, 2016

Chang Capitalism Book pic

Ha-Joon Chang is a Korean-born Cambridge economist, who has popped up here and there because of his criticisms of Neo-Liberal free market economics. Mike over at Vox Political, for example, has reblogged a meme quoting him on how trickle down economics don’t work, and are merely there to transfer wealth upwards to the rich in the form of tax cuts. He’s also the author of a popular book on economics and the failings of the free market, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (London: Penguin 2010).

Chang makes it clear that his book is not an attack on capitalism per se. He states in the Introduction

This book is not an anti-capitalist manifesto. Being critical of free-market ideology is not the same as being against capitalism. Despite its problems and limitations, I believe that capitalism is still the best economic system that humanity has invented. My criticism is of a particular version of capitalism that has dominated the world in the last three decades, that is, free-market capitalism. This is not the only way to run capitalism, and certainly not the best, as the record of the last three decades shows. The book shows that there are ways in which capitalism should, and can, be made better.

He is, however, very clear on the devastation that has been wrought across the globe by the doctrine of the unrestrained free market.

The result of these policies has been the polar opposite of what was promised. Forget for a moment the financial meltdown, which will scar the world for decades to come. Prior to that, and unbeknown to most people, free-market ideologies had resulted in slower growth, rising inequality and heightened instability in most countries. In many rich countries, these problems were masked by huge credit expansion; thus the fact that US wages had remained stagnant and working hours increased since the 1970s was conveniently fogged over by the head brew of credit-fuelled consumer boom. the problems were bad enough in the rich countries, but they were even more serious for the developing world. Living standards in Sub-Saharan Africa have stagnated for the last three decades, while Latin America has seen its per capita growth rate fall by two-thirds during the period. There were some developing countries that grew fast (although with rapidly rising inequality) during this period, such as China and India, but these are precisely the countries that, while partially liberalizing, have refused to introduce full-blown free-market policies.

Thus, what we were told by the free-marketeers – or, as they are often called, neo-liberal economists, are at best only partially true and at worst plain wrong. As I will show throughout this book, the ‘truths’ peddled by free-market ideologues are based on lazy assumptions and blinkered visions, if not necessarily self-serving notions. My aim in this book is to tell you some essential truths about capitalism that the free-marketeers won’t.

Which is more than enough to give the late Mrs Thatcher a fit of the vapours.

Ha-Joon Chang Pic

Chang states that his goal is to empower people to make decisions and have opinions on these issues, whereas they might otherwise leave them to the experts on the grounds that they don’t have enough technical expertise, and so become active citizens demanding the right course of action from decision-makers.

The book itself has a rather eccentric organisation. Instead of chapters, there are ‘Things’, meaning different topics, so the contents include the following

Thing 1 There is no such thing as the free market.

Thing 2 Companies should not be run in the interest of their owners.

Thing 3 Most people in rich countries are paid more than they should be.

Thing 4 The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has.

Thing 5 Assume the worst about people and you will get the worst.

Thing 6 Greater macroeconomic stability has not made the world any more stable.

Thing 7 Free-market policies rarely make poor countries rich.

Thing 8 Capital has a nationality.

Thing 9 We do not live in a post-industrial age.

Thing 10. the US does not have the highest living standard in the world.

Thing 11 Africa is not destined for underdevelopment.

Thing 12. Governments can pick winners.

Thing 13 Making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer.

Thing 14 Us managers are over-priced.

Thing 15 People in poor countries are more entrepreneurial than people in rich countries.

Thing 16 We are not smart enough to leave things to the market.

Thing 17 More education in itself is not going to make a country richer

Thing 18 What is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for the United States.

Thing 19 Despite the fall of Communism, we are still living in planned economies.

Thing 20 Equality of opportunity may not be fair.

Thing 21 Big government makes people more open to change.

Thing 22 Financial markets need to become less, not more, efficient.

Thing 23 Good economic policy does not require good economists.

Conclusion: How to rebuild the world economy.

He also makes seven suggestions how you can read the book, to answer certain queries, reading selected chapters to answer such questions as what capitalism is, or if you think politics is a waste of time or if you think the world is an unfair place, but there isn’t much you can do about it.

And while the book isn’t an attack on capitalism itself, some of the solutions to its problems do involve an element of Socialism or worker participation. For example, in the ‘Thing’ about why companies should not be run in the interests of the people who own them, Chang points out that the ownership of a country by shareholders means in practice that these have less interest than traditional owner managers in it being profitable or viable, as they can always take their shares out and put them somewhere else. As a result, the countries which have some of the most stable, and hence, most profitable companies, are those which have encouraged long-term investment or encouraged their workers to have a stake in them. Such as France, where several companies are part-owned by the state, or Germany and Austria, which have a degree of worker’s control through works’ councils.

It’s a fascinating and very necessary critique of the free-market capitalism beloved by the Blairites in Labour, and the Tories. Economics is notoriously the ‘dismal science’, but this is well and engagingly written for the ordinary reader, and I hope it encourages more people to criticise and bring down this deeply flawed and iniquitous system.

Vox Political: Zac Goldsmith Defends Benefit Cuts after Being Thrown Off Charity

March 30, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece reporting that Zac Goldsmith has appeared in the pages of the Richmond and Twickenham Times, defending his voting for the £30 cut in ESA. He was the patron of a local charity for the disabled, Richmond AID, which stands for Richmond Advice and Information on Disability. After he voted for the cuts, however, he resigned after he was criticised by the charity’s chief executive, Lucy Byrne, for the severe and detrimental effect the cuts would have on disabled people’s lives. Now he’s got into the pages of his local paper to try and justify himself.

He states that the government believes that people are best helped by being ‘enabled’ to get back into work. He states that it isn’t just a cut, and that there is a £100 million fund for disabled people. And then goes on to the make the populist argument that people are coming to him, concerned that people, who aren’t fit for work, are being seen as fit for work. It is his job as an MP to use his judgement to make sure this doesn’t happen.

It’s the usual rubbish, uttered by someone, who really hasn’t a clue how the other half live. His father was the millionaire James Goldsmith, or as Private Eye used to call him, Sir Jammy Fishpaste the Referendumfuhrer (he was head of the Referendum Party, UKIP’s rivals at the time for the Eurosceptic vote). He has no more idea of the lives of the poor than Matthew Freud did when he declared that poor people should be more flexible, as they have less to lose than the rich during economic depression.

Now let’s critique what he actually says. First of all, he states that he’s somehow against getting the genuinely ill thrown off benefits. But that is exactly what the benefit cut threatens to do. He’s right that there is subjective judgement involved, but his subjective judgement seems very firmly in the New Labour and Tory camp that essentially most of it is just malingering.

As for ‘enabling’ people to get back into work, this is pretty much a shorthand for ‘less eligibility’ – the idea that you make state support difficult and degrading to force people to get jobs. Which is all right, coming from an extremely rich ex-public schoolboy, who will probably never have to worry about joining the dole queue in the morning, thanks to the old school tie.

The statement about ‘enabling’ people back into work can be taken in a variety of ways. You could enable people back into work by offering a range of state benefits to help people with special needs get appropriate jobs or training. For example, paying for taxis or other transport if there are mobility issues. Or actually setting up workshops for the disabled where they can have genuine productive careers, like, oh, I don’t know, perhaps Remploy before they closed it down. Or even setting up schemes within firms to encourage them to take on disabled staff, perhaps helping with the costs through grants or tax cuts. I used to work in an office a long time ago with someone who had severe back problems. The firm had arranged for her to have an orthopaedic chair. Now that would also enable those with medical problems to get back into work. But all this has been cut, to save the government money and give lots of money back to people of Zac’s class in tax cuts.

As for the £100 million fund, I have no idea what he’s talking about here. PIP perhaps? Probably, not even that. It’s the usual Tory flannel of, yes, we’re cutting benefits, but look, we’re setting up this brave, new benefit system, which will target benefits to where it’s really need. The implication being that nobody will lose out, when the whole point of the system’s reform is to make sure that many more will do just that.

In short, it’s the usual specious Tory double-talk to hide the disgraceful actions of a spoilt, over-privileged public school brat, who clearly believes in punishing the disabled simply for being the disabled, and not rich like him or his dad.

Vox Political: Make Sure They Don’t Take Away Medicine if You’re On Benefits

March 30, 2016

I know this is rather incestuous – I’m effectively reblogging an article that is reblogging my piece advising people that they need to be careful to make sure they continue to get their medication if they’re being treated for depression. Mike over at Vox Political, however, makes a very good point that completely escaped me at the time. He states that the Tories are particularly keen to make sure people with depression do not automatically get their prescription renewed, because if you’re being treated for depression, you’re probably on one or two other benefits. And if they can stop you being treated for depression, it means that those benefits can also be stopped, or more easily stopped.

So be very careful. Don’t let them try to stop your medication or your benefits. And he also argues that people should unite, to tell the truth about the creeping privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state.

The reblogs at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/30/a-warning-for-people-on-medication-for-depression-beastrabbans-weblog/ Go and read Mike’s comments.

Nietzsche, Academy Schools, and Elitism in Education

March 30, 2016

Mike and a number of other bloggers have wondered recently if the Tories’ own enthusiasm for privatising education and turning all schools into Academies aren’t a deliberate attempt to ‘dumb down’ education. Despite all the hype, and mendacious graphs in the Torygraph to the contrary, privately run Academies actually perform worse than state schools managed by the local authorities. Mike speculated that the Tories wanted the children of the hoi polloi – the working and lower middle classes – have an inferior education as they were afraid that the masses were becoming too bright, too well-education, and they didn’t want the competition. After all, they could hardly retain their places as the leaders of society, thanks to their extremely moneyed parents sending them to Eton and the other public and fee-paying schools, if a bunch of comprehensive school oiks actually were demonstrably more intelligent and better educated than they were.

And there is certainly some evidence that the latter is true. A year ago, the Independent and the I ran a story that students from state schools actually did better at uni than those from the private schools. How ghastly! Especially as the introduction of tuition fees and their increase to truly extortionate levels really does seem to suggest that there is a section of right-wing opinion that believes higher education should be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy few.

The German philosopher Nietzsche also took this view. He was afraid that if the masses became too well-educated, it would lead to a decline in cultural standards. The historian Gordon A. Craig describes his elitist view of education, and that of his successors in Germany: 1866 – 1945 (Oxford: OUP 1978). He wrote

(A)nd some widely read publicists expressed the view that the emphasis placed on the education of the masses was dangerous because it could not avoid diluting the quality of German education in general. This was the view of Friedrich Nietzsche, who in a remarkable series of lectures, ‘On the Future of our Education Institutions’, delivered in Basle in 1872, stated that ‘not the education of the masses can be our goal but the education of individually selected people, armed for great and permanent achievements’ and went on to charge that those who argued for a further extension of Volksbildung were seeking to destroy ‘the natural order of rank in the kingdom of the intellect’. Nietzsche’s views were repeated with variations by Paul de Lagarde, an embittered eccentric who saw German culture imperilled by the advance of barbarism and blamed this on the educational system, and Julius Langbehn, the author of the extremely popular Rembrandt als Erzieher (1890), whose insistence upon the necessity of training a racially pure elite was later to take more extreme forms in the educational practices of Heinrich Himmler.

De Lagarde and Langbehn were two of the 19th century intellectual precursors of the Nazis. The German elementary schools were called Volksschulen – People’s Schools. The Germans had had an excellent school system of primary education from the 18th century onwards. If children couldn’t go to church schools, then they had to go to state schools. As a result, illiteracy in Germany by the end of the 19th century was very, very low – about 0.05%, compared with 3-4% in England and France.

Nietzsche’s ideas might have been a novelty for Germany, but until comparatively late in the 19th century they were common amongst the British ruling class. There was some education available for the working classes in the Sunday and Dame schools, but these were by no means widespread, and standards could be very poor. The dame schools have been criticised as essentially a place where parents could send their children while they were at work trying to make a living. As a whole, the education system was geared to training an aristocratic elite for careers in government. It looks very much like this is what the Tories intend now in their eagerness to privatise schools and so create an education system that will leave children worse educated, not better.

Cameron, Osbo, Thicky Nikki and the rest of the Tory party are either aristos, or very middle class. It really does look like they are trying to drag Britain back into the 19th century, where the workers were given just enough education to satisfy the requirements of industry, while a good education, and the career opportunities that went with it, were the exclusive prerogative of the middle and upper classes. This was challenged by the Labour party, who wanted the education reformed and expanded so that more people from the lower middle and working classes had the opportunity to acquire it and so enjoy the same career opportunities and social privileges as the wealthy. It can be seen in chapter IX of G.D.H. Cole’s book, Britain in the Post-War World – ‘Education for Democracy’, for example. It’s the reason Anthony Crossland set up and championed comprehensive schools, because the existing system of grammar and secondary modern schools were elitist, and kept the working class in their place in the manual trades.

And so far from striking a blow for meritocracy, it increasingly seems to me that the privatisation of the education system begun nearly thirty years ago by Thatcher really is indeed to keep the masses in their place, and make sure that only the elite can afford an educational standard that will guarantee them their place of leadership in society. All under the guise of delivering quality, which can only be provided by private industry, of course.

SPI Joe on Declining School Opportunities to Academy Privatisation

March 30, 2016

SPEye Joe, alias Welfarewrites, has written an extremely, and justifiably impassioned article condemning the Academy schools for denying children and their parents in Knowsley the opportunity to study for ‘A’ levels. All the schools in the area have, apparently, been taken out of the control of the local authority, and the private education corporations running these chains have decided it is not profitable or cost affective to offer ‘A’ level education in them. So, if you want to make sure your child has the opportunity to study for these qualifications, you’re either forced to find an FE college in the area, and I don’t know if there are any, or move. Naturally, SPEye Joe is absolutely furious. He writes

Education is the greatest thing we do. It is the greatest leveller. It is the largest component of our children and our children’s children getting on to have a better life that the one we had.

You can be as fit as a fiddle and lose you health. You can have millions in the bank and lose that in an instant. Yet whatever shit life throws at you, you can never lose your education is one of the old saws we all want to believe and do believe.

So when I read that Knowsley one of the 5 council areas in Merseyside now has no schools offering A level education due to education being taken out of all local authority control and passed to unaccountable businesses called Academies and is done so out directly out of Tory ideology and blind nonsensical fucking mind numbingly stupid ideology and that alone, it really is time to put the Tory Education Secretary to the firing squad in front of her entire family… or is it only acceptable for ranting wing buffoons such as Clarkson to say such things?

There are rumblings right across the media that teachers may strike and may join the junior doctors in that. If there is ever a reason for teachers to strike then surely denying children the right to education is the one issue that will engender the most public support.

The fact this is in Knowsley and close to home is not the issue. I would be in full blown rant mode if this was in Windsor or anywhere else in the UK when we have deliberate government policy of the abandonment of children’s educational life chances because of the market, which is what this is all about.

Profiteers out to make a quick buck have decided in running those excuses for educational establishments known as “Academies” that a whole generation of children living in Knowsley do not merit any chance of educational attainment.

That is a disgrace, an outrage of unbelievable proportion and quite simply fucking stinks.

He also takes good aim at the highly deceptive graphs the Torygraph has published to justify the Tory policy of privatising the education system. This, he concludes, is what Tory education policy amounts to. If the Academies believe that there is more profit to be made in writing off all the children in a particular area, and going somewhere more profitable, than that is what they will do. Leaving the children in the area to be written off as failure by prospective employers, as, through no fault of their own, they don’t have the required level education.

This is what happens when the provision of essential services are left to market forces. It’s why, before the establishment of the NHS, the poorer areas of Britain, especially the rural areas, were badly served for the provision of doctors. They preferred to go where it was more profitable, where there were large numbers of the wealthy, who could afford the costs of medical treatment. And we’re seeing very much the same situation developing now. A few years ago Private Eye reported how a set of GPs’ surgeries, which had been turned over to one of the private healthcare providers to run, had been closed down against the wishes of its patients, because the company considered them to be unprofitable.

Mike over at Vox Political and very many other bloggers have pointed out that the Academies actually perform poorly compared next to state schools. I wrote yesterday that my the logic of Adam Smith himself, the great, molten prophet of Free Market capitalism, worshipped by privatisers and profiteers, actually said that if industries, like those providing the public infrastructure, could not be run efficiently or effectively by private industry, they should be taken over by the state.

But obviously, Thicky Nikki and her masters in the Tory party and paymasters in big business, does not want that, or for anyone to believe it, as it contradicts the Thatcherite faith that private is always better, and prevents them getting hold of a potentially very lucrative service industry. And so our children are going to suffer a sub-standard schooling, which will leave thousands if not millions disadvantaged for life.

Germany, the Rise of the Nazis and the Commemoration of the

March 30, 2016

Terror Topography

I think yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, when the world, or at least, Europe gathers to remember Hitler’s extermination of the Jews in the hope that the commemoration of this most appalling of atrocities will never be repeated. There was a piece about on the radio today, in which one woman pointed out that Hitler felt he could go ahead with it with impunity because the Allies in the First World War had made no move to prevent or protest against the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks. Hitler himself asked, ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’ And so the world remembers the Holocaust in order to prevent it ever recurring.

I’ve blogged a lot about Nazi crimes and atrocities in eastern Europe in the past few days. As I said, I’m not trying to stir up resentment against the Germans, but to show how authoritarian Britain and the other countries are going as our constitutional freedoms are sacrificed in the interests of national security and the surveillance state. I’ve also blogged about the Nazi persecution and mass-murder of the Slav peoples of eastern Europe, particularly because Fascism and the Far Right is also growing over there. No-one with any self-respect should have anything to do with any Fascist or Nazi party, and especially not the Slav peoples, such as Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Belorussians, Ukrainians and Russians. After the Nazis had conquered their countries, the Nazis intended to deport them from an area extending from part of Poland into the Ukraine and Russia. 30 million Slavs were to be slaughtered, and the rest were to work as slave labourers cultivating agricultural produce for their German masters. About seven million people were rounded up to work as slave labourers in Germany, while another seven were forced to work for the occupying Nazis in their countries. Himmler compared the process to the Western European occupation and colonisation of Africa. He declared that eastern Europe ‘was our Africa, and the Slavs are our negroes’.

I don’t believe that the rise of the Nazis was inevitable, or that it was the natural culmination of German history. Indeed, in the 19th century there was less anti-Semitism in Germany than in France or England, and some of the pseudo-scientific elements of Nazism – the perverted racial theory and eugenics, were part of the general intellectual climate in the West at the time. The Nazis boasted that they had invented nothing. They based their own eugenics legislation on contemporary American laws intended to prevent the biologically unfit from breeding, while their 19th century predecessors in the various anti-Semitic organisations also based their demands for legislation separating Jews and gentiles on American laws governing Chinese immigrant workers.

Nor did all Germans quietly acquiesce as the Nazis seized power. In the last democratic elections held before the Nazi seizure of power, the Nazis themselves only won 44% of the vote. They only gained a bare majority through their alliance with the Nationalists, who only polled 8%. And this was after a campaign of intimidation throughout Germany and the banning of the German Communist Party, the KPD. The mainstream German Socialist party, the SPD, continued to resist the Nazis until the very end. They only lost a single seat, and ended up with 120 in the German parliament. The Catholic Centre Party, another of the major pillars of the Weimar coalition governments, actually increased the number of seats they held by three to 73. In the end, however, it was only the SPD, which voted against the Enabling Act. Otto Wels read out the SPD’s gave the party’s farewells to the previous era of Human Rights and humanity and gave its good wishes to political prisoners and the enemies of the regime, who even then were being rounded up and put in the camps. The address’ conclusion ran:

At this historic hour, we German Social Democrats pledge ourselves to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and Socialism. No Enabling Law can give you the power to destroy ideas which are eternal and indestructible. You yourself have declared your commitment to Socialism. The Socialist Law [of 1878] did not succeed in destroying Social Democracy. From this new persecution too German Social Democracy can draw new strength. We send greetings to the persecuted and oppressed. We greet our friends in the Reich. their steadfastness and loyalty deserve admiration. The courage with which they maintain their convictions and their unbroken confidence guarantee a brighter future.

There have been problems after the War with the persistence of Neo-Nazi groups, like the National Democratic Party and the German Republican Party. There has also been the injustice that many Nazis did escape and were not prosecuted for their crimes against humanity. And one of the complaints by some foreign writers was that the collective guilt about the Nazi past made many Germans unwilling to discuss it with their children, leaving some unprepared when they encountered it and its legacy.

On the other hand, the Germans have enacted legislation to protect democracy against the rise of totalitarianism. Under the terms of the Basic Law, the Grundgesetz, the only parties and political movements which are permitted are those which recognise the basic principles of democracy. And it has been invoked to ban neo-Nazi movements, most notably in the 1970s when it was used to outlaw the National Democrats. And there have been exhibitions and books discussing the Third Reich, its rule through fear and intimidation, and commemorating its victims.

One such is the book at the top of the page, Topographie des Terrors: Gestapo, SS und Reichssicherheitshauptamt auf dem >>Prinz-Albrecht-Gelaende<< Eine Dokumentation, ‘Topography of Terror: Gestapo, SS and Reich Security Main Office at the >>Prinz-Albrech-Site<< A Documentation (Berlin: Verlag Wilmuth Arenhoevel 1988)'. This was published as part of an exhibition following negotiations about the redevelopment of the site and the commemoration of its past as the headquarters of the Nazi security organisations in 1979/80. Mike brought my copy of the book back with him when he went there with his old college.

The book has the following chapters:

Introduction.
1. Headquarters of the SS State: Addresses and Institutions.
2. History of that party of the City and the Building.
2.1 A quite district on the City’s Edge (1732-1880)
2.2 The Quarter’s Career.
2.3 Departure and Crisis

3. Institutions of Terror
3.1. The Reichsfuhrer of the SS and his Reich
3.2. Seizure of Power and Early Terror
3.3 The Secret State Police
3.4 The Reichfuhrer-SS’ Security Service
3.5 Reich Security’s Main Office
3.6 ‘House Prison’ and Political Prisoners (1933-39)
3.7 ‘Protection’.
3.8. Concentration Camps.

4. Persecution, Annihilation, Resistance
4.1 The Fate of the German Jews 1933-38.
4.2 The Fate of the German Jews 1939-45
4.3 The Fate of the Gypsies.
4.4. Nazi Rule in Europe – Poland
4.5 Nazi Rule in Europe – the Soviet Union
4.6 Nazi Rule in Europe – Other Countries
4.7 Political Resistance and ‘House Prison’ (193945)

5. From Destruction to Rediscovery
5.1 Bombs and Rubble
5.2 The First Year after the War.
5.3 History Made Invisible.
5.4 The Return of the Repressed.

6. Appendix
6.1 Bibliography
6.2. Abbreviations
6.3 Lists of Texts
6.4 Lists of Illustrations
6.5 Register of Names.

Among the illustrations are the following pictures of the Reich’s atrocities.

Concentration Camp Labour

Forced labour at Neugamme Concentration Camp

Roll Call Sachsenhausen

Roll-call at Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Deportation of Gypsies

Gypsies being deported.

Kaunas Pogrom

Pogrom initiated by members of Einsatzgruppe A in Kaunas/ Kowno.

In addition to the well-known opponents of the regime, many ordinary Germans also risked their lives to rescue the Jews. Some 5,000 Jews survived in Berlin after being hidden by gentile friends and neighbours. One Jewish woman left this memoir of how she was hidden by a Germany lawyer.

I was constantly sent for by the Gestapo. In 1942 these interrogation sessions became even more threatening and therefore went underground. In the middle of May 1942 I went to Silesia and stayed in several places without officially registering myself. I lived in Breslau, Gleiwitz, Hindenburg, in the countryside and Spahlitz (in the district of Oels). It was here that I remained hidden for months at the house of a German lawyer … (Later after I was arrested this brave amn had another Jewish woman hidden in his house)…

(Wiener Library, Eye Witness Accounts, PIIc, no. 153. In D.G. Williamson, The Third Reich (Harlow: Longman 1982) p. 95.

The horrors of the Third Reich need to be remembered, but so too does the heroism of the people, who did their level best to stop, and at least save those they could from its barbarism.

Nick Gibb Spouts Nonsense on Schools: Thatcherite Choice and Bureaucracy

March 29, 2016

This is a bit more to the piece I’ve already put up this evening from UKGovernmentWatch taking apart the specious nonsense spouted on Radio 4 on Friday by the government’s spokesman, Nick Gibb about the plans to turn all schools into academies. Gibb made several assertions, including some autobiographical comments, which indicated that he thought he didn’t have a privileged education, ’cause he only went to a grammar school. This is indeed privileged compared to the rest of us hoi polloi, who went to comprehensives, or to an even older generation, many of whom went to secondary moderns and technical schools during the bad old days of the 11 Plus. But because it wasn’t Eton, or a comparable public school, like those attended by Cameron, Osbo or even ‘Oiky’ Gove, Gibb apparently thinks he’s been educationally short-changed, and is one of us commoners, so to speak. Or at least, that’s how he comes across from the above article.

Gibb’s weird psychology aside, I want here to add a few more points on two specific issues. These are Gibb’s assertion that you couldn’t have two different school systems in the same country, and his assertion that this would cut bureaucracy. Neither of these stand up. The UKGovernmentWatch article as done an excellent job demolishing both of them. However, you can take their attack much further.

Regarding his bizarre claim that you can’t have two different school systems at the same time, this contradicts one of the assertions Maggie made when she started the whole process of school privatisation rolling in the 1980s. Remember when the Blessed Saint of Grantham was telling all and sundry that Conservatism stood for ‘choice’? This was her constant mantra. Unlike the state system, where you had no choice but to use the existing state institution, the Tories stood for private industry, which would give you ‘choice’. It even affected her views on theology. She was a Methodist, and someone once made the mistake of asker her what she thought the essence of Christianity was. Now there are number of ways this could be answered. For Christians, one good one would be ‘God’s redemptive love for humanity, shown by His sacrifice of His son on the Cross’. You could also make a case for ‘forgiveness’ as the highest virtue, coming from God Himself. Others might be ‘God as moral lawgiver’, a definition which would also apply to the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam. And there are many others, depending on your view of the religion. Not so Thatcher. She said simply, ‘Choice’. It’s a bizarre statement. Theologically, it’s part of the ‘free will’ argument, which runs that humans aren’t pre-programmed automatons, and are free to chose good or evil. But I don’t think Thatcher meant that. She’d just got so used to answering automatically any question about Tory policy with ‘choice’, that she just used the same answer even in cases where it didn’t really apply.

Now when Thatcher launched the ‘opt-out’ schools, as they were then, this was heralded as yet another piece of Tory choice. Instead of going to a school controlled by the Local Education Authority, you now had a choice of sending your son or daughter to an independently run school. And the supporters of the new schools saw them exactly as providing the public with a great variety of schooling. The new schools were intended to be a different type, which would partly take the place of the old grammar schools.

Now, apparently, thirty years or so later, all that Thatcherite talk about ‘choice’ has been discarded. The aim is exactly the same as it was under Thatcher: the privatisation of the education system. They just don’t want to pretend that there’s any choice about it any more. In their minds, you shouldn’t be able to choose to send your child to a state school. Education must be private, because private enterprise is always better. Even when it isn’t.

Which brings me onto the issue of what happens, when privately-run schools underperform compared to their state equivalents. When that happens, their supporters then whine and moan about how unfair state competition is. This happened thirty years ago when I was at school. The new opt-out schools were supposed to be free to offer teachers new terms and conditions. In fact, they then had a problem attracting staff, for the obvious reason that pay and conditions in the local authority schools were better. And so one of the headmasters, whose school had opted out, or a spokesman for the opt-out schools as a whole, got into the paper moaning about how unfair it was that the state should be able to provide better opportunities to teaching staff, thus penalising the poor independently-run schools. Never mind that, according to that great ideologue of free trade, Adam Smith, that competition was supposed to produce the best quality automatically, and if you couldn’t compete, this was the proper result of market forces. Smith thought that schooling was better when it was provided by private enterprise, as teachers would be keener to get good results. This is undoubtedly where Thatcher and New Labour ultimately got their idea for privatising schools, via Milton Friedman, von Hayek and the rest of the free marketeers. Smith also conceded that where private enterprise was unable to provide a service, such as on the construction of public works, like roads and canals, it should be left to the state. Which means, if you take that part of Smith seriously, that opt-out schools and the Academies have to be abolished, as they can’t compete with state education provided by the local authority.

But the last thing Cameron, Osbo, or New Labour before them want to do, is concede that academies and the privatisation of the school system is a failure. It contradicts everything they’ve been brought up to believe about the superiority of free market capitalism. And worst of all, it won’t give a lucrative industry to their paymasters in big business. Like one Rupert Murdoch.

As for bureaucracy, the academy chains and the firms that run them do, of course, have their own bureaucracies. And one of the problems of taking schools away from local authority control has been the growth of bureaucracy within the schools themselves. As schools were made more responsible for ordering teaching materials and running their own affairs, so the paperwork consequently grew. One complaint I’ve heard from teachers is that they spend too long now on administration, instead of what they joined the profession for: to stand in front of a class and teach. It seems to me that’s why the work of actually teaching a class has been increasingly taken over by teaching assistants, under the supervision of a superior teacher.

So Gibb’s argument defending the government’s policy of privatising education is demonstrably false. It contradicts Thatcher’s policy, as articulated by its supporters in the education system, that it was providing further choice with the addition of a new type of school. And the schools, according to Smith, should be closed down if they can’t compete with state provision. And rather than cutting bureaucracy, they’ve only increased it.

But Gibb, Thicky Nicky, Osbo and Cameron won’t admit that. Not as it means having to admit that private industry isn’t the automatic best solution for everything, ever. And certainly not if it means denying their corporate paymasters a nice slice of state business.