Posts Tagged ‘Inflation’

Radical 80s Anti-War Pop: Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes

August 6, 2016

A week or so ago I put I blogged about Sting’s great anti-war song, Russians. Based on a tune by Prokofiev, and with the haunting refrain, ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’, this was Sting’s protest against the new Cold War between America and Russia in which both sides were condemned for their militarism. The video I used here was of a performance the great songster made a few years ago on Russian TV, which shows how far the world has come since I was a schoolboy in the 1980s. Then, Russia and the rest of the former eastern bloc were very much closed off to the West, although as the political climate thawed, the BBC did launch a fascinating series of films on the Soviet Union. This included an edition of antenna on Soviet TV. I was moved to put up the video as a reminder of great pop challenging the horrific spectre of nuclear war by the arms build up in the West and increasing tension between NATO and Russia. There’s been a series of manoeuvres in Estonia, Poland, Romania and the other Baltic states against the possibility of a Russian invasion, despite the fact that the Russians have said that they have no intention of doing any such thing. This follows a book by a NATO general predicting that by May next year, Russia will have invaded Latvia, and our nations will be at war. This should terrify everyone, who grew up in the 1980s and remembers the real threat of nuclear Armageddon then, along with the horrific spoutings of some generals about fighting a ‘limited nuclear war’ in Europe.

Unfortunately, that possibility has just come a step nearer after the statement on Morning Joe, an American news programme hosted by Joe Scarborough, that he had been told by a foreign policy expert that in discussing the subject with Donald Trump, the coiffured clown asked him three times why America hadn’t used nuclear weapons. As I said in my last post, this is a very good argument for keeping the pratt out of the White House, if not the society of decent humans. If you only needed one argument for not wanting to see Trump as president, regardless of the endorsement of violence, the misogyny, the racism and Islamophobia, this would be it. Trump shouldn’t be president, because he’s a threat to all life on Earth.

Sting wasn’t the only pop musician to release a piece in the 1980s against the militaristic posturing between East and West. So too did Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Frankie … were a band that managed to shock the British public with the release of their single, Relax, and the homoerotic imagery of both the song and the accompanying video. It was so shocking, that the Beeb was supposed to have banned. This, of course, had the usual effect of making it massively popular, and it shot to Number 1 in the charts. The band’s frontman, Holly Johnson was gay, as was I think, one of the other band members, but most of them were straight. Bands like Frankie…, and other gay pop stars like Marc Almond, Jimmy Summerville and Boy George helped to challenge the popular prejudice and real hatred there was for gays there still was then, over a decade after gay sex in private between consenting adults had been legalised.

Two Tribes continued their trend of edgy music by presenting the confrontation between East and West as a bare knuckle boxing match between someone, who looked very much like Ronald Reagan, and an opponent, who was clearly based on one of the Russian presidents of the time. I can’t work out quite who the Russia is based on, as he looks a bit like Brezhnev, but not quite, and I can’t remember who Andropov and Chernenko, the last two Soviet presidents before Mikhail Gorbachev, looked like. To my mind, he looks more like Boris Yeltsin, the former mayor of Moscow, who succeeded Gorby as president of Russia. Unlike Gorby, Yeltsin wasn’t a Communist, but a capitalist-in-waiting, who sold off just about everything that wasn’t nailed down. The result was that Russian economy went into meltdown, millions across the former USSR were thrown out of work without any of the welfare safety nets in place in Europe or America, while rampant inflation wiped out people’s savings. Despite his generally pro-Western, pro-capitalist stance, he could also be belligerent. Sometime in his presidency, a Norwegian sounding rocket went off course, and landed somewhere in Russia. Yeltsin appeared on TV pounding his desk and declaring that he had been quite prepared to respond with nukes, if such an event seemed to be an attack on Russia. He was also, like many of the Russia politicos, including Brezhnev, massively corrupt. A lot of the state enterprises he privatised mysteriously ended up in the hands of his cronies, and people, who were prepared to fork over a lot of roubles. He was also a figure of western media amusement, as he appeared to be permanently smashed, unlike his predecessor, who appeared far more temperate and had launched a strong anti-drink campaign. The mass privatisation of the Soviet Economy had a devastating effect on its citizens’ health, which Basu and Stuckler discuss in their book, the Body Economic, on how economic austerity harms people’s physical health. Putin, with his promise of economic stability and national pride, is very much a response to the chaos of the Yeltsin regime. I’ve got a feeling Yeltsin might be dead now, but if anyone needed a good drubbing, it was him, though by the Russian people, who had a better reason to hate him than Ronald Reagan.

Frankie’s Two Tribes shows the violence in the ring escalating, until the audience of other international dignitaries begin fighting amongst themselves, to the consternation of the ringside commentator. The video ends with the Earth itself being blown up, a graphic comment on the real danger of the conflict. The song’s title, Two Tribes, also gives a very cynical take on the conflict. This isn’t about politics, human rights or the effectiveness and justice of economic systems. This is just pure tribalism, the primitive, nationalistic aggression that has haunted humanity since the Stone Age. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and just about everyone I know is repulsed and disturbed by the Relax video. But Two Tribes is a classic piece of ’80s pop with a very relevant political message, and one that deserves to be given another hearing. Before Trump gets anywhere near the White house, and starts ranting and threatening like Reagan.

Corbyn Will Re-Introduce Collective Bargaining and End Zero-Hours Contracts

July 31, 2016

This looks like a piece of very good news. According to Mike, Jeremy Corbyn plans to repeal the laws passed by Blair’s government in 1999 limiting workers’ rights to have a recognised trade union, and end zero-hours contracts.

Corbyn wrote a piece in the Observer stating that he felt the changes were necessary due to the scandals over Sports Direct, Philip Green and BHS, and the Byron Hamburger chain to help immigration officials arrest 35 illegal immigrants, who were working for them.

At the moment, current legislation stipulates that a union wishing to be recognised at a workplace must show that 10 per cent of employees are members, and 50% want them to lead in pay bargaining. If that isn’t the case, then a secret ballot must be held, at which at least 40% of those able to vote do so, and the majority vote in favour of union recognition.

Corbyn, however, wants to introduce a French-style system, in which firms with over 250 members would have to recognise a specific trade union, and bargain with them over pay. He states

“Even Theresa May understands she has to pay lip service to change in the workplace and the boardroom …,” writes Corbyn.

“But the best way to guarantee fair pay is through strengthening unions’ ability to bargain collectively – giving employees the right to organise through a union and negotiate their pay, terms and conditions at work,” he writes.

“That’s why it should be mandatory for all large employers, with over 250 staff, to bargain collectively with recognised trade unions.”

Corbyn also states that he wants all workers to be given specified hours, that are written into their contracts. If an employer wants them to work beyond these hours, they are to specify the length of time and give them a reason. They will also have to give workers additional compensation, similar to an on-call payment, for being willing to work beyond their usual contracted hours, whether the workers in fact do so or not.

Mike is unsure about the wisdom of the reforms on union recognition, and would like comments on this matter from experts on trade union matters and employment law. However, he welcomes the proposal to end zero-hours contracts.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/31/corbyn-pledges-to-scrap-blair-union-laws-in-favour-of-collective-bargaining-and-an-end-to-zero-hours-contracts/

The decision to end zero-hours contracts is an excellent policy. Guy Standing devotes several pages in his book, A Precariat Charter, to attacking them. They are widely recognised as a highly exploitative and pernicious system of employment for those trapped in them.

Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack make clear that the assault on collective bargaining and the trade unions was a deliberate policy of Maggie Thatcher, and has resulted in the contraction of wages, high unemployment, and the impoverishment of the working class in their book, Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty(London: OneWorld 2015). They write

Deteriorating opportunities are also the direct product of an about-turn in the country’s political economy. At the end of the 1970s, fighting the rising rate of inflation became the number-one economic goal, displacing the former priority given to maintaining full employment. The instruments used – tight monetary and fiscal policies and a strong pound – accelerated long-term de-industrialisation, while triggering mass unemployment. The critical decision in the 1980s to adopt a more aggressive, market-oriented model of capitalism led to the sweeping away of regulations, the favouring of finance over manufacturing, the outsourcing of public sector jobs, relentless pressure on companies to cut labour costs and, critically, an assault on labour’s bargaining power.

Cabinet papers for 1983 reveal that Mrs Thatcher admonished Norman Tebbit for being too timid on trade union reform, telling him we ‘should neglect no opportunity to erode union membership’. In Britain the proportion of the workforce covered by collective bargaining has fallen from around eighty percent in 1979 to below twenty-five percent today (fifteen percent in the case of private sector workers). This is one of the lowest levels of coverage among rich nations, adding to the heavily skewed and economically unhealthy concentration of corporate power. The UK stands at twenty-first place out of twenty-seven countries in the European Union in terms of workplace representation, though parts of the European continent are also seeing more recent falls in the level of coverage, though from a much higher base.

Britain’s much vaunted ‘flexible labour market’, engineered during the 1980s to give business greater freedom to hire and fire, was necessary, it was claimed, to enable domestic firms to compete in an increasingly globalised economy. Such freedom for employers has continued to be championed by subsequent governments. Yet, just as over-restrictive labour laws can be bad news for dynamism, so can under-restrictive laws.

Britain’s low-wage, high-unemployment economy is as much the product of these internal, political forces as of external, economic ones. Indeed, it was later admitted by one of Mrs Thatcher’s top economic advisers that one of the government’s central aims was the taming of labour. ‘The nightmare I sometimes have about this whole experience runs as follows … there may have been people making the actual policy decisions … who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation. They did, however, see that it would be a very, very good way to raise unemployment.’ This was how Sir Alan Budd, chief economic adviser at the Treasury in the 1980s, summed up – in 1992 – the multilayered assault on inflation and the unions. He continued: ‘And raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes…what was engineered there, in Marxist terms, was a crisis of capitalism which created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.’ (pp.101-3, emphasis mine).

They further write on page 242

Perhaps the most effective, and radical, measure for boosting the total wage pool at the bottom would be a rebalancing of bargaining power in favour of the workforce. Another would be a more concerted attempt to reduce the significant pay gap between men and women by raising women’s wages. Both measures would raise the share of national income going in pay and would be critical elements of an effective strategy for cutting poverty levels among the workforce.

Far from being a strength, the sustained decline in workforce bargaining power in the UK is an economic and democratic weakness. Because of the ‘wage premium’ associated with collective bargaining, this erosion of labour’s bargaining power has played a big role in wage contraction. Evidence across sixteen rich countries has shown that the higher the level of trade union membership, the lower the degree of inequality. Further, it is likely that the erosion may have encouraged British employers to move down a low-pay and productivity road. By being able to minimise pay and rely on casualised labour, British employers – unlike say their German counterparts – have had few incentives to improve skills and introduce more productive processes.

Phased in over time, such a policy mix – a boost to the minimum wage, a reduction
in the numbers on less than the living wage, wider collective bargaining coverage and lower unemployment – would put the thirty-year long trend of a shrinking wage share into reverse, and make an important contribution to reducing poverty among the low-paid, while taking some of the strain off the benefit system.

Corbyn’s decision to expand and strengthen collective bargaining therefore appears from this to be an excellent measure. It will also doubtless be attacked by the Confederation of British Industry and the right-wing press and Blairites with just about every ounce of abuse they can muster. We’ll hear once more about how this will threaten British businesses with bankruptcy, and how this will lead us all back to the strike-torn 1970s, the Winter of Discontent, and all the old Thatcherite rubbish. The reality is that Britain was no more strike-prone in the 1970s than many other countries, and much less so than America. And the Winter of Discontent was, in the views of at least one historian I’ve read, the response to the system of wage restraint buckling under the weight of political pressure it was not designed to deal with, and which the unions should not have been expected to shoulder.

Of course, the real reason for the rage at the reinstatement of collective bargaining and the ending of zero-hour contracts will be that it attacks the nearly forty years of exploitative Tory employment policies that Maggie introduced. These employment practices have caused real misery, just as Thatcher and the economists she followed, von Hayek and Milton Friedman, intended them to. They should end now.

Vox Political: Real Wages Fall by Ten Per Cent Under Tories

July 30, 2016

Mike also published a piece last week on a report published on Wednesday by the TUC, which found that while wages had grown in real terms across the EU between 2007 and 2015, they had fallen in Britain by 10.4%. The average rise in wages across the EU was 6.7 per cent. In Poland, wages had risen by 23 per cent. In Germany wages rose by nearly 14 per cent, and in France by 10.5 per cent. The only countries across the OECD which suffered a fall in wages were Portugal, Britain and Greece.

Mike’s article has two illustrations – one is a graph showing the rise in real wages in various countries, while another is a meme showing the massive pay rises enjoyed by other, very privileged groups, in Britain. Like Bankers, whose pay has risen by 35%, directors of FTSE 100 companies, 14%, and MPs, whose pay has gone up by 11%.

Mike makes the point that New Labour must share some of the blame for this, as not only was Peter Mandelson and his chums very relaxed about people making money, they were also extremely relaxed about wages stagnating. He makes the point that the crash his the poorest the hardest, and the austerity launched by the Tories has been punishing and impoverishing the poor to bail out the bankers and the rich. He also makes the point that Owen Smith’s solutions are just cosmetic, and won’t do anything without concrete proposals for the redistribution of the extra money gained through the ‘wealth tax’ he proposes.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/real-wages-in-the-uk-have-fallen-by-more-than-10-per-cent-under-tories/

Mike’s right about New Labour being very relaxed about wages stagnating. In fact, wage restraint has been a major part of the neoliberal consensus ever since Maggie Thatcher took power in 1979. Keynsianism tolerated high inflation – and in the 1970s at times the inflation rate in Britain was truly eye-watering – as it was coupled to an expanding economy. Both Labour and the Tories attempted to keep pay rises within certain boundaries nevertheless. Thatcher’s Monetarism was much harder towards inflation. It saw this it as the major obstacle to economic growth, and so demanded that it be ruthlessly cut, even if this meant shedding jobs on a truly massive scale, accompanied by a fall in real wages, and the dismantlement of various welfare programmes. It also meant abandoning the Keynsian commitment, pursued over 40 years, to full employment.

Robin Ramsay in a piece on his ‘News from the Bridge’ column in Lobster, made the point that when he was studying economics at Uni in the 1970s, Monetarism as an economic theory was so poorly regarded by his lecturers that they left it to the undergrads to work out what was wrong with it. Which shows you it was known even then to be totally rubbish and useless. He argues that it was adopted by the Tory party because it gave them a rationale for doing what they wanted to do on other grounds – destroy organised labour, dismantle the welfare state, including the Health Service, and grind the working class into poverty.

Now a number of economists are pointing out that, despite the emphasis by the Tories on wage restraint and very low inflation rates, the economy is not growing. I think Han Joon Chang is one of these in his 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

The comparison with Greece is particularly chilling. Greece has been ruthlessly punished by the Troika with very harsh austerity policies, partly because the Greeks dared to defy the Eurozone authorities and elected Syriza, a radical anti-austerity party. Counterpunch has attacked the economic despoliation of the country by mainly German banks as a form of economic warfare. Greece was one of the countries that suffered from the effective collapse of the Eurozone. The result has been grinding mass poverty for its people. One recent programme on the country’s plight showed children picking rubbish off dumps to sale, just as they do in Developing Nations. The presenter looked on, aghast, and made the point that he had never seen this before in what was supposed to be a developed, European country.

Is this what New Labour and the Tories have in store for us? One of the books I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday was about how Britain would have a ‘third world’ economy by 2014. Clearly the book was written a little while ago, and the timing’s out, but nevertheless, the appearance of third world conditions in Britain is a real possibility. There are already 3.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands facing off poverty only because of food banks. I also remember how this was predicted on a BBC Horizon programme, entitled, ‘Icon Earth’, twenty years ago. The programme was about how the image of the Earth in space, taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, had affected global religious, political and economic perspectives. That image had stimulated people around the world to realise that everyone on Earth shared a common home. One result of this, so the programme claimed, was globalisation. It discussed the growing campaigns against migration from the developing world with an Indian anti-racism activist. She predicted that as globalisation progressed, pockets of the third world would appear in the first.

She’s right. This has happened with Greece, and it is occurring in Britain, thanks to the Tories and New Labour. But unlike Greece, we cannot blame the EU. We never joined the Eurozone, and the deterioration in wages and conditions will occur because of Brexit. The cause of this stagnation ultimately is three and half decades and more of Thatcherism.

Vox Political: Senior MPs To Get Third Pay Rise of up to £15,000

February 15, 2016

This is just insulting. Mike also today posted this result from the Mirror Online. It seems that 80 senior MPs are in line to receive another pay hike of 1.3%, which in practical terms means they’ll get a pay rise of between £3,700 to £15,000. See
http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/15/senior-mps-in-line-for-a-third-pay-rise-of-up-to-15000-a-year/.

This is higher than the average pay rise, and at a time of massive pay restraint and growing debt, it’s an insult. Ordinary working people are in effect taking cuts in their salaries due to inflation, and as we’ve seen, increasing numbers of finding it very hard to make ends meet. The resentment felt ten years ago over the MPs’ expenses scandal was immense, and this will raise bitter memories for many members of the public. It’s also come at a time when MPs have banned the details of their own arrests from being disclosed.

This strongly presents the image that MPs are isolated, corrupt and extremely self-indulgent. I’ve blogged today about recent polls showing that Congress only has an approval rating of 15%. I wonder how high our parliament would rate if the same poll was conducted over here. I would imagine it would be much the same.

Vox Political: MPs Have Not Donated Pay Rise to Charity

November 1, 2015

Here’s another scandal Vox Political has covered, this time revealed by the Torygraph. According to Mike’s article MPs fail to give £7k pay rises to charity, the Torygraph has found that two thirds of the 69 MPs, who promised to donate their pay rise to charity, haven’t done so.

Quelle surprise!

You would have thought, however, that a few more might have been careful to make sure they made good on their promises. After all, the scandal over MP’s fraudulent expenses may have been about ten years ago, but it’s still very much in the public consciousness. This is exactly the kind of thing that gives politicians a bad name.

It’s also an insult to everyone else, who has been told that their wages are frozen, or that at the most they’ll get a 1 per cent pay rise this year, because of the need to curb inflation. Or some such drivel. One set of standards for you, another set for MPs.

I’ve no doubt that the Torygraph has published this, because they sense they can get another expenses-style scandal out of it. I hope they’re right. Just as I hope a similar scandal will descend on all the directors and CEOs, who have awarded themselves truly wallet-busting pay rises while their workers are lectured on wage restraint.

But that isn’t going to happen, because it’s far too close to home. The Torygraph hasn’t got its nickname for no reason.

In the meantime, the mendacity and greed of these MPs just makes those MPs, who have kept their promise, look even better. I still don’t think MPs should have received such an enormous pay rise while the rest of the country starves. I do, however, salute those MPs, who have given their raise to charity.

Vox Political: Liverpool Man Crushed to Death While Looking for Food in Bin

December 17, 2014

Mike over at Vox Political has the story, given by Vince Hessey, a member of the board of Birkenhead YMCA, of a man crushed to death by a refuse lorry. This poor soul was starving, having been sanctioned for 17 weeks. He was killed when the lorry picked him up when he was scavenging in a bin for food.

Mike’s article goes further to critique the latest suggestion for combating starvation, Feeding Britain. This is a national organisation of food banks. This seems similar to the suggestion made by the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, which was bitterly attacked by Johnny Void a few days ago. It has its own dangers, quite apart from the government’s own absolute indifference to the suffering of the unemployed and desperate.

The article’s entitled Benefit deaths: Man was crushed to death by refuse lorry while scavenging in bins, and is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2014/12/16/benefit-deaths-man-was-crushed-to-death-by-refuse-lorry-while-scavenging-in-bins/. Go and read it.

Mike illustrates the article with a photo of a man in Chelyabinsk, Russia, looking for food in a bin. Even before the collapse of Communism, Russia had a serious homelessness problem. The Soviet homeless were dubbed bomzhi, meaning ‘people without abode’. Many of the Moscow homeless lived rough in the town rubbish dump. The Soviet authorities were so concerned with the homelessness problem that, at least in some republics, the rigid clampdown on private initiative was waived to allow people to build their own homes.

The situation didn’t get any better with Yeltsin and the introduction of capitalism, either. Yeltsin mass privatisation of Soviet industry saw the economy go into meltdown and millions thrown out of work. Rampant inflation saw the value of Soviet citizens’ savings and pensions wiped out. As the Soviet system provided work for everyone, except those blacklisted as dissidents, there was no welfare safety net. As a result, thousands were faced starvation or were thrown onto the streets.

This was the new global economy created by the introduction of capitalism. And it’s not too different from here, where the Tories devastated British industry by selling it off en masse and destroying the welfare state for their own profit.

So we’re back once again to Marx: ‘Workingmen of all countries, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains’.

Karl Kautsky on Inflation, Unemployment and the Workers

March 19, 2014

Kautsky pic

This is the day when George Osborne will announce the budget. He has already declared that it will ‘business friendly’, which means that there will be more tax cuts for the rich, further attacks on inflation and cuts in welfare benefits. I was watching a piece on what they expect Osborne’s budget to cover on BBC 1’s breakfast show. At the same time I found this passage in the writings of the German Socialist leader, Karl Kautsky, from 1910.

Inflation and the burden of taxation and the Junkers’ [Prussian aristocracy] brutality are all based on conditions which will not change so easily: they will be just as important in 1911 as in 1910 – even more so; for the armaments race is continuing. The government will, of course, do everything possible to postpone all new demands until the period after the next elections – a reason for them to hasten these, but it will be unable to do so at will. In England the Conservatives are going strong. They have already forced the Liberal Cabinet to strengthen the Navy. If, as expected, they take the helm during the course of the year, then armaments will be increased at an even more rapid rate.

Inflation, however, will not lessen. Anyone who want to know what to expect on this score, would do well to observe American conditions, which are decisive for the international food market. We must be prepared for a further increase in prices.

Some may argue that unemployment has made a not insignificant contribution to the embitterment of the masses, and that in a year’s time it will have declined considerably because the crisis will have been overcome. This is true insofar as the next year does promise to be more favourable for business. But it is doubtful whether business will do brilliantly. And this time, even more than in the last period of prosperity, the employers’ organisations will cream off all benefits, and the workers’ only taste of prosperity will be higher prices; for prosperity means an increase in commodity prices.

Karl Kautsky, ‘The Mass Strike’, in Patrick Goode, ed. and trans., Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (London: Macmillan 1983) 67.

Of course, it’s very much of its time and place, written four years before the First World War, when Britain, Germany and the European powers were locked in an armaments race. The Tories have now savagely cut back on our armed forces, though military development is continuing. But apart from that, it all seems horribly familiar. The tax cuts for the rich will see the tax burden shifted to the poor, the world is still profoundly affected by changes to the American economy, the last paragraph will certainly be true next year, no matter who Osborne says to the contrary.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A Prayer against the Exploitation of the Poor from the 16th Century

July 17, 2013

The Sixteenth century was a period of considerable poverty and unrest. In addition to the social and religious disruption caused by the Reformation and Dissolution of the Monasteries, a rising population caused increased demand for land. Inflation increased, and a series of bad harvests led to famine. The late medieval contraction in trade resulted in wid3espread unemployment, with many towns declaring that they were unable to meet the taxes set by central government. The populated area of many towns contracted, leaving whole suburbs in rack and ruin. Henry VIII’s antiquarian, John Leland, declared that 200 houses – a considerable proportion of the town’s housing stock – in Bridgwater were in ruin. Instead, whole families poured into occupy the very poorest districts. These people were too poor to pay taxes, and so largely went undocumented. Worse were the enclosures. Improving landlords began to enclose their land, denying their tenants and peasants the right to graze their animals their ancestors had enjoyed during the Middle Ages.

The Rich only Stewards of Land and Property in Sixteenth Century Theology

The results were rioting, and a vast literature of protest, based in Christian theology and belief, in pamphlets and sermons from the 1540s and early 1550s. Much of this literature was based on the notion of the stewardship of the rich. Their land was given to them by God, not for them to use it as they pleased, but to use wisely and morally. This included taking proper care of their tenants and the poor. Robert Crowley in 1548 declared, ‘If there were no God then would I think it lawfull for men to use their possessions as they lyste (please) … But forasmuch as we have a God, and he hath declared unto us by the scripturs that he hath made the possessioners but Stuards of his ryches … I think no Christian ears can abyde to heare that nore than Turkysh opnion.’

Poverty was still largely seen as the fault of the individual, but there was sharp, bitter criticism of the aristocrats and gentry who raised rents, and exploited and evicted their tenants. They were ‘the caterpillars of the commonwealth’, ‘ungentle gentlemen’ who neglected the duties of stewardship to their tenants that the Lord had placed upon them.

The preacher Brinkelow declared that ‘the erth is the poor mannys as wel as the rych’, and stated that ‘the earth O Lord is thine’, emphasising that the world was not the preserve of the wealthy alone, who were responsible to no one but themselves. A contemporary prayer for landlords prayed that God’s grace would change their callous attitude to the poor

A Prayer for the Rich to Rediscover their Christian Duty to their Tenants and the Poor

‘We heartily pray thee to send thy Holy Spirit into the hearts of them that possess the grounds, pastures and dwelling places of the earth; that they, remembering themselves to be Thy tenants, may not rack and stretch out the rents of their houses and lands, nor yet take unreasonable fines and incomes after the manner of covetous worldlings; but so let them out to other that the inhabitants thereof may both be able to pay the rents and also honestly to live, to nourish their families and to relieve the poor’.

Regardless of whether one is a Christian or not, the central lesson – that rulers and the wealthy also have a duty to act morally and defend and provide for the poor and their families – still remains. It is to be hoped that it will be rediscovered in this new age of poverty and discontent.