Posts Tagged ‘Monopolies’

Tories’ Comments about Universal Credit and Self-Employed Show They Don’t Care About Small Businesses

March 2, 2018

Mike this evening put up a post about how the Tories are trying to justify the removal of benefits to the self-employed under Universal Credits by claiming that it ‘incentivises’ them. Mike makes the point that it clearly shows the cruelty behind the Tories’ policies. They’re all about cuts and making things harder, not about rewards. It’s always, but always the stick, not the carrot.

I’d have thought that to be self-employed, you have to be very well self-motivated anyway. I’ve heard from my father amongst others that to run your own business, you have to get up early and go to bed late. And about half of all small businesses fold within the first two years.

The self-employed and small businessman have it bad enough already, without the Tories making worse. And I think they should seriously consider voting Labour.

Oh, I’ve met enough small businesspeople, who say that they won’t vote Labour, because of the old canard that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’. That hasn’t been true since the rise of the Social Democratic consensus in the Labour party. As articulated by Anthony Crossland, this said that you didn’t need nationalisation or worker’s control, provided there was social mobility, a progressive income tax and strong trade unions. All of which have been destroyed under the onslaught of Thatcherism.

But even before then, socialist thinkers like G.D.H. Cole were arguing that Labour should also seek to protect small businesses as part of their campaign to defend and advance the cause of the working class. Cole was one of the most prolific of Socialist writers, and was one of the leaders of Guild Socialism, the British version of Anarcho-Syndicalism. Even after that collapsed, after the failure of the General Strike, he still beleived that workers’ should have a share in the management of the companies in which they worked. So definitely not a sell out to capital, then.

I am also well aware that many small businessmen are resentful of workers gaining wage rises and further employment rights. They argue that they can’t give themselves pay rises, because of the economics of their businesses, before complaining about how much it would all cost them. Well, perhaps. But they can decide how much they charge, and what they intend to pay themselves. And they control their business, not the people below them. I’m sure it’s true that some white collar workers are better paid than the self-employed, but that’s no excuse for not paying your employees better wages.

But a wider point needs to be made here: the Tories don’t support Britain’s Arkwrights, the s-s-small businessmen, who were personified by the heroes of Open All Hours, as portrayed by Ronnie Barker and David Jason.

And yes, I know about all the rubbish about how Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter, who slept above the shop when she was a child. But Thatcher, and her successors, was solidly for the rich against the poor, and big business against the small trader. That’s why they’ve given immense tax cuts to the very rich, and put the tax burden on the poorer layers of society. It’s why, despite repeated scandals, they will never willingly pass legislation to force big businessmen to pay their smaller suppliers promptly and on time.

And it’s why they will always back the big supermarkets, no matter how exploitative and destructive they are. George Monbiot in his Captive State has chapters attacking them. Not only are they parasitical, in that they pay their workers rubbish wages, so that they need to draw benefits, benefits that the Tories really don’t want to pay, they also destroy the small shops in the areas they move into. And they screw their suppliers with highly exploitative contracts.

In an ideal world, the big supermarket chains would be nationalised or broken up as monopolies.

The small businessperson needs to be protected. They, not the big supermarkets, create employment and healthy, living communities. They should be protected, just like the working and lower middle classes, which includes them, should.

And the only party I see willing to do that is the Labour party. Remember when Ed Balls said that Labour ‘wanted to grow your businesses’ to the small traders about this country? It was sincere. I think it was wrong on its own, as it shows how Labour under Blair had abandoned the working class, and was concentrating on hoovering up middle class votes. But ‘Red’ Ed did have a point. It should’t be a case of either the working class, or small businesses, but both the working class and small businesspeople.

Because the small businessman too deserves protection from exploitation. Which they will never get from the likes of Thatcher, Dave Cameron and May.

Reichwing Watch: Tom Hartmann Quotes Vice-President Wallace on Fascism in America

November 18, 2016

On Wednesday I put up a documentary by Reichwing Watch, which carefully showed the corporatist powers behind the rise of modern Libertarianism, and how it represents the interests of big business instead of ordinary people despite its claims to the contrary. The documentary quoted Henry Wallace, F.D.R.’s vice-president in 1944, who wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about the threat of Fascism in America, and how this would arise through the same powerful corporate interests, who would claim to be super-patriots, but would attempt to use their political and economic power to enslave ordinary Americans.

In this clip from Thom Hartmann’s internet show, Hartmann also discusses how Fascism is based on the power of big corporations, and further quotes Wallace’s New York Times article. Hartmann begins by defining Fascism as the merger of corporate and government interests, with a bit of nationalism and racism to keep the masses distracted by hating a terrible ‘other’. He notes that Mussolini dissolved the Italian parliament in favour of a chamber of Fasci and corporations, and that Giovanni Gentile, the Italian philosopher, stated that Fascism should more properly be described as corporatism.

He then goes to quote Henry Wallace’s article in the New York Times. Wallace wrote

Fascism is a worldwide disease. Its greatest threat to the US will come after the War in the US itself. Another Fascist danger is represented by those, who paying lip service to national service and the common welfare, in their insatiable greet for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws which protect the public from monopolistic extortion.

Hartmann goes on to explain that Wallace nevertheless believed that the American system was strong enough to avoid Fascism. At that time, it was rare for a C.E.O. to enter politics, and politicians knew that they had to represent ‘we, the people’. And so Wallace continues

Happily, it can be said that Fascism has not captured a place in mainstream America. It can be found in Wall Street, Main Street and Tobacco Road, and traces of it can be seen along the Potomac, but if we put our trust in the common sense of common men and with malice towards none and charity for all, and continue building political, economic and social democracy, we shall prevail.

American Fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the poisoners of public information and those who stand for the KKK-type of demagoguery.

Hartmann makes the point that this has happened today through the alliance of right-wing news channels, the corporatists, and the White House. Wallace goes on

They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty, they claim to support free enterprise, but the represent monopolies and vested interests. Their final objective, to which all their deceit is directed, it to capture political power so that using the power of the state and the market simultaneously they can keep the common man in eternal subjection.

The American Fascists are most easily recognised by their perversion of truth and Fact. Their propaganda cultivates every fissure in the common front, and they consistently criticise democracy.

Hartmann here discusses how this accurately describes the purveyors of hate in the corporatist media, like Fox News, and how they are composed of the Islamophobes, the anti-gay religious leaders, and the corporatists determined to put worker against worker, trade unionists against the non-unionised employees, men against women, in a strategy of divide and conquer. He goes on to say that we should all be concerned about the next few years, and states that it is the most high stakes struggle since the foundation of the Republic, though not the biggest – that was the Civil War. But, Harmann asks rhetorically, can anyone remember a time when Americans were so polarised? He concludes that the struggle against Fascism begins today – and you need to get involved. Movement politics are what is needed. It simply isn’t enough just to vote.

There are a couple of things wrong with Hartmann’s analysis of Fascism. The Fascist ‘corporations’ he mentions weren’t commercial companies, but industrial associations combining both the trade unions and the employers’ organisations. Furthermore, nationalism and racism was central to Fascism, not something merely added to their foul intellectual stew in order to keep the masses distracted. Hitler and his fellow mass murderers genuinely hated the Jews, and ant-Semitism and the doctrine of Aryan racial superiority was central to Nazi ideology from the very beginning. Similarly, Italian Fascism was originally a movement of ultra-patriots intensely dissatisfied with Italy’s failure to get what they believed was its rightful territorial gains after the First World War. Mussolini sincerely wanted the Italians to be a militaristic people and to create a new, Roman Empire.

But he’s write about the importance of corporate power. Both Mussolini and then Hitler got into power because they posed as the defenders of capitalism and business against the threat of organised labour, socialism, and the trade unions. Mussolini’s Fascist absorbed the Italian Nationalists, who were right-wing businessmen. Just as the Fascists attacked the trade unions in urban areas, in the countryside they represented the big landowners, and went around trying to smash the peasant organisations, cooperatives and collectives.

Wallace’s description of the threat of a home-grown Fascism in America really does describe the coalition of power that has brought Trump to the White House: the powerful, right-wing news organisations like Fox, Breitbart and scores of local and national talk radio stations. And Trump is a corporatist, representing elite big business. But this also applies to his predecessors, both Democrat and Republican, right back to Reagan. This includes the Clintons, both Bill and Hillary, and Barack Obama, as well as the Bush family.

And it also applies over here, to Maggie Thatcher, John Major, and then Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and New Labour, to David Cameron and now Theresa May. It was Maggie Thatcher, who began the process of permitting the concentration of the British media in a few, very limited hands, including that of Murdoch. And the Tories have always maintained that they are the party of business as a rhetorical defence, whenever the purging of corporate influence from parliament is mentioned. They argue that since Labour represents the trade unions, the Tories are right to represent business. They do not, by this admission, represent ‘hard-working people’, except in the sense that they are keen to stress how hard the millionaires they represent work. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, and the majority hold multiple directorships. And New Labour was, in Mandelson’s words, ‘intensely laid back about getting rich’, expanded Peter Lilley’s vile PFI initiative, and promoted business to parliament and parliamentary committees, initiatives and quangos.

Trump’s a Fascist, but the rot goes deep, all the way back to the foundations of the neoliberal world order in Reagan and Thatcher, who both supported real Fascists in the death squads of south American dictators like Samosa and Pinochet.

We need to fight back. And we need to do more than that – we need to purge parliament of the very corporate interests that have wormed their way into power, in order to make our countries true democracies again, and not merely elective oligarchies providing a veneer of popular approval for corrupt, corporate rule.

Shirley Williams on Economic Disruption by Trade Unions and Big Business

May 21, 2016

Shirley Williams, the former Labour MP, who then went off to form the SDP in the 1980s, also discusses the alleged damage for which the trade unions were allegedly responsible to the economy, in her 1981 book, Politics Is For People (Harmondsworth: Penguin). She concedes that some industrial problems were due to inflationary wage demands by the unions, but also believed that big business was also guilty of the same policies themselves. She also argued that the unions’ pay policy also had a beneficial effect, and that where strikes broke out, it was because the workers were poorly treated, and not given sufficient information on their predicament by the management. She wrote:

Trade unions are held responsible for many of Britain’s economic weaknesses, but criticism of unions is by no means restricted to Britain.

The power of unions and their irresponsibility, so one would have to conclude from the pronouncements of neoclassical economics, business representatives and conservative parties, is the one single factor (apart, perhaps, from the greed of the OPEC countries) which explains most of what is presently wrong with western economies. By raising the price of unskilled labour beyond its market value, union wages are said to be the major cause of unemployment, and by exploiting the scarcity value of skilled labour, they are said to be directly responsible for wage-push inflation.

Thus writes Fritz Scharpf, Direct of the Wissenschaftszentrum, Berlin, in a paper entitled Capitalism of Yesteryear – and of Tomorrow?

Apart from their effect on wages, trade unions are alleged to disrupt production schedules and delivery dates by strikes, both official and unofficial. The growth and prosperity of industry are damaged by restrictive practices such as overmanning, fragmentation of jobs by craft unions, limits on the output of individual workers or of equipment, and burdensome conditions before agreement can be reached on installing new machinery or introducing new processes. ‘Productivity is now importantly hampered by overmanning and restrictive practices which, if they could be reduced or removed, would allow rapid increases in productivity,’ concludes the OECD’s 1980 Economic Survey of the United Kingdom.

But restrictive practices are by no means limited to the labour market, as the last chapter demonstrates. Much more than the United States, Western Europe has relied on cartels, pricing agreements, market-sharing arrangements and monopolies to limit and restrict competition. what has been true of labour has also been true of business. The strength of organised labour grew relative to that of business in the decades of full employment after the war, so that some trade unions were able to insist upon conditions for recruitment and particular qualifications for skill. In Britain, the folk memory of mass unemployment between the wars has been very slow to fade, perhaps because of the persistence of the class system, perhaps because of relatively low geographic mobility. Restrictive practices have often been adopted as a means of protecting jobs, which in the short run they may do. In some firms the workload during normal working hours has been limited so that workpeople have been able to work long hours of overtime as well. Overtime has become endemic in some industries and is quite often guaranteed.

Wages and Inflation

But trade union’s resistance to wage cuts during recessions, far from damaging industrial economies, has been an important stabilising factor. Wages and salaries constitute a very large part, usually about three fifths, of the national income. They are therefore the main element in domestic demand. Wage cuts, complemented by cuts in unemployment pay (the ‘dole’), helped to precipate the slump of the 1920s and 1930s. To quote Fritz Scharpf again:

Perhaps the most important [of the stabilizing factors] is the ‘downward stickiness’ of wage which are determined by collective bargaining. They have stabilised the income, and thus the demand, of the great majority of wage earners even in recession periods, and they have so far helped to avoid the vicious cycle of downward spiralling demand that caused the great depression. (Pp. 128-9).

Discussing the differences between trade union structure and membership in Britain and Germany, Williams states

The job of German trade unions is also eased by the amount of information on the state of the economy and of each individual company available to their members through the system of works councils. German workers know the effect that inflationary settlements will have on employment prospects and on prices because the facts are available to them. They also know when they are getting paid too little. This basis of consultation underpins West Germany’s bargaining system. In Britain, a heavy price is paid in suspicion and antagonism because so little information is revealed and so few companies consult their workers. (p. 131).

In other words, if you involve the workers in the management of their industries and economies, they will defend their own interests, of course, but in an informed and responsible manner. This is pretty much the exact opposite of what the Neoliberals, the CBI and the Tories have been claiming.

The argument that wages should not be cut, nor should unemployment benefit, because these actually stimulate the economy, whereas the money raised through the tax cuts given to the super-rich does nothing but lie in their bank accounts, has been time and again by economists and bloggers like the Angry Yorkshireman and Mike at Vox Political. Ha-Joon Chang makes the point that the tax cuts don’t work in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, in an entire chapter devoted to destroying the trickled-down argument. But such policies are popular, because they satisfy the greed and venomous contempt and fear the middle classes have for the poor.

G.D.H. Cole on the Nationalisation of the Utility Industries

March 22, 2016

I found these arguments for the nationalisation of the utility industries in G.D.H. Cole’s 1942 book, Great Britain in the Post-War World (London: Victor Gollancz).

Road and Rail

But these two types by no means exhaust the list of industries and processes which call for early socialisation. The third group consists of industries which, though they include too many separate units to fall under the first group, have nevertheless been shown by practical experience to be incapable of serving the public interest under private enterprise. The outstanding member of this group is the coal industry, which, unable to create a monopoly by its own efforts, has been erected into a private monopoly by legislation, under conditions which have improved its own profits without providing any better for the public service. To this group belong also the public utility services – railways, electricity, gas and water-which are, like the coal industry, so essential to the satisfactory working of the other industries and services and to the health and comfort of the community that inefficiency in their conduct is intolerable and their exploitation for private profit plainly against the public interest. the industries and services in this group are already in various stages of transition from private to public control. The railways resemble the coal industry, in that they have been erected into a virtual monopoly by legislation, after having failed to achieve monopoly by their own efforts. they differ from coal in that no sooner had the State made them into a capitalist monopoly than this monopoly began to break down on account of the developing competition of road transport. But this, so far from improving the situation from the public standpoint, has led to chaotic competition between the rival means of carriage. The railways, tied down by rate-fixing regulations which were intended as safeguards against the abuse of their monopoly, have been unable to adapt their rate structure so as to achieve a sensible distribution of traffic between road and rail in accordance with relative costs; and the road transport agencies, having begun to threaten the railways with bankruptcy, have in their turn been hobbled by restrictive licensing regulations designed to prevent them from capturing from the railways the amount of traffic which would have gone by road under conditions of unrestricted competition.

There appears to be no way out of this impasse but by co-ordination between the two transport agencies, so as to provide a single carrying concern which will transport goods by road or rail according to its own judgement of expediency and cost. But it is clearly out of the question to place this power of judgement in the hands of a profit-seeking monopoly; and there is accordingly a clear case for the unification of both forms of transport under public ownership and control.

Water

Of the public utilities, usually so called, water supply is pre-eminently a public health service, though it is also of great importance to industry. It is already for the most part in public hands; and the problem which it presents is mainly that of extending adequate supplies of pure water to those areas of the country which are at present without them- mainly the rural areas. This clearly will not be done by private enterprise: nor is private enterprise a likely way of ensuring that proper use is made of local resources before water is brought from a distance, or of securing a right allocation of distant sources between rival claimants. It is, moreover, a clear point of principle that public health services ought to be publicly operated and not made the sport of private interests.

Electricity

Electricity supply is already partly socialised, under the Central Electricity Board, which controls main-line transmission; and a large part of the business both of generation and of retail distribution of current to consumers is already under municipal control. But there remain both a number of large private Power Companies, generating current which is sold both to big industrial consumers and to municipal and private distributors, and also a large number of interlocked private companies engaged in generation and distribution. In addition, a number of big concerns, including railways, own their own power-stations. It seems clear that the extremely complicated provisions under which the Central Electricity Board, instead of operating its own generating stations, has to buy current from Power Companies and from municipal and private stations and then re-sell it, often to the very concerns from which it has been bought, is uneconomic and foolish, and that it would be very much better for the Central Electricity Board to take over the whole business of generation, except perhaps where a private station exists solely for supplying the big industrial enterprise which owns it. Given this unification, it would be possible for the ‘Grid’ to institute a national system of charges throughout Great Britain; and the task of electrifying the countryside and the remoter areas generally would be immensely simplified. I do not suggest that the Central Electricity Board should take over the job of the retail distribution of current, which would probably be best organised on a regional basis, under public ownership by some sort of Joint Board or ad hoc authority for each region, subject to a general system of national co-ordinating control. What is clear is that there is no room in this industry for the continuance of private profit-making. The case is one for complete unification of the basic supplies, and for regional public control of the end nearest the consumers.

Gas

Gas supply, again, is already under municipal public ownership in a considerable number of areas. But there are both very big private concerns, such as the Gas Light and Coke Company, and many smaller private concerns, often controlled by the larger companies or holding companies which have bought out the original owners. There is, I think, no clear case for a national unification of the gas supply service, which is destined to remain mainly local. Only in a few areas is long-distance transmission of producer-gas from industry likely to be practicable. Indeed, it becomes less practicable as industries achieve greater efficiency in using up gases that formerly ran to waste. Nor is there any necessary economy in increasing the size of gas undertakings beyond a certain point, which is fairly soon reached. The economy that is important is that of unified technical administration and research; and this can probably best be achieved by regional rather than national consideration. The right solution seems to be the amalgamation of gas undertakings on a regional basis, under regionally unified technical direction. And this could best be achieved by regional public ownership, parallel to the ownership of the system of electricity distribution.

Bruce Page on Rupert Murdoch

January 27, 2016

I found an entire chapter devoted to Rupert Murdoch in the book, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Petrolia: CounterPunch 2007). The book is about the end of critical, investigative journalism, particularly in America, and the way the press now colludes with and promotes Conservative parties and policies. The chapter on the Dirty Digger, ‘Murdoch’s Game’, describes the Australian media magnate’s rise to global dominance, his role as a right-wing propagandist and his psychopathic psychology. Part of the chapter is an interview with Bruce Page, an Australian-born British journalist and former member of the Insight team at the Sunday Times, before that august journal was bought out, along with the Times proper, by the Chunder from Down Under. Page had written a critical study of Murdoch and his empire of yellow journalism and sleaze, The Murdoch Archipelago. Other books have been written about the media magnate since then, and particularly since the phone hacking scandal. This chapter is still very interesting, and it’s worth reading the whole. However, I was particularly struck by certain passages, which I’ll reproduce here.

Cockburn himself makes a good point about Murdoch as a propagandist for Right-wing regimes.

core thesis is that Murdoch offers his target governments a privatized version of a state propaganda service, manipulated without scruple and with no regard for truth. His price takes the form of vast government favors such as tax breaks, regulatory relief (as with the recent PCC ruling on the acquisition of DirecTV), monopoly markets and so forth. The propaganda is undertaken with the utmost cynicism, whether it’s the stentorian fake populism and soft porn in the UK’s Sun and News of the World, or the shameless bootlicking of the butchers of Tiananmen Square.

Page on Murdoch’s attitude to offshore ownership and democracy:

“On sovereignty: my belief is that Murdoch and his like deeply fear every kind of collaboration between effective democratic entities. They can exist only in an offshore domain from which they truck and barter with comprador elites. Sadly for them, there is an antagonistic tendency which every now and then makes crucial advances: if and when the OECD countries organise a viable tax system, Newscorp is toast. The US and the EC have made more progress in that direction than is generally realised. Only crooks really like offshore, and crooks have no guaranteed monopoly over the world.”

‘Comprador’ is a Marxist term for the elites in subaltern countries, who collaborate in the economic domination of their country by the capitalist West. General Pinochet and his cronies in Chile would constitute such a ‘comprador elite’ after the CIA sponsored coup, for example.

Page makes the case that Murdoch learned his authoritarianism and mendacity from his father, the journalist, media mogul and propagandist Sir Keith Murdoch. Murdoch claimed to be an independent journalist, but worked behind the scenes to impose conscription for Australians during the First World War. He was also involved in a plot against the Ossie general, John Monash, purely because that senior officer was Jewish. This was despite the fact that it was Monash’s volunteers broke the German line at one of the battles. Page goes on and says of the way Murdoch’s own authoritarianism and sheer credulity have allowed him to dominate the world’s media.

“Journalists are insecure, because they must trade in the unknown. Their profession, said the sociologist Max Weber, is uniquely ‘accident prone’. Good management may reduce this insecurity-but Newscorp style actually uses insecurity as a disciplinary tool. And the seeming assurance of the authoritarian has tactical benefits: Murdoch can swap one attitude for another with zero embarrassment, and it enables him to ‘deliver’ newspapers to any power he approves of. Readers naturally grow sceptical. But this does not yet harm Newscorp’s business model.

“It would have been remarkable for Rupert to develop in non-authoritarian fashion, given his inheritance. When his father died, he had neither graduate from university, nor gained any real newspaper tradecraft. In order to take control of what was then News Limited, under the trust Sir Keith established, Rupert had to accept his father as a paragon of journalistic integrity: to convince the trustees, believers in that myth, of his desire to emulate it. Exactly when independence is essential for personal and professional development, a spurious parental image descended on him. And he has emulated the political propagandist, not the mythological paragon.

“The outcome attracts today’s politicians because a sickness afflicts them. In all developed societies trust in politics has declined: while democracy advances in the developing world, it finds itself ailing in its homelands. Finding themselves distrusted, politicians turn for a cure to tabloid journalism-Murdoch’s especially-which they realise is distrusted still more than themselves. They do so just as victims of a slow, fatal disease use quack remedies if the real cure still seems too strenuous.

“The real problem of politics is the increasingly complex, and therefore occult nature of advanced society. We fancy it has become more open, and it somewhat has. But progress has fallen behind the needs of better-educated, less deferential citizens whose problems grow more daunting intellectually. The state for which politicians are responsible cannot explain itself to its citizens. It might change this by opening itself far more freely to scrutiny. But against this the bureaucrats-public and private-on whom politicians rely for administrative convenience conduct relentless guerrilla attack. Should politicians choose to fight back, they will not lack allies, for most Western societies still have some competent, independent news media and the demand exists among citizens. In Britain, real newspapers and broadcasters like the BBC continue to be trusted, as Murdoch’s tabloids will never be. But quack remedies still appeal to governments: and all Murdoch asks in return is a little help in extending his monopolies.

“Of course, if the process goes far enough, only the quack remedy will be available, and democracy’s ailment would then be terminal.”

In other words, modern society is too complex to be easily explained by politicians and civil servants. The complex nature of modern life has meant that the educated want more information, not less. The civil servants don’t want this. The politicians also find themselves distrusted. So to the boost politicos’ popularity and for the civil servants to fob people off with less information than they want or need, both groups of officialdom turn to Murdoch.

I’ve got a feeling that Adam Curtis said something extremely similar in one of his documentaries years ago. I’ve got a feeling it was in the one where he attacked game theory, and its view of people as fundamentally selfish. And since then, the elite’s desire for secrecy and disinformation has come back in spades, as shown in Cameron and co.’s attempts to muzzle the Freedom of information Act. And guess what? They were helped into power by none other than the Dirty Rupe, dubbed in his homeland, ‘the Minister for Public Enlightenment’. This was the title the Nazis gave Goebbels. And if the cap fits, wear it.