Posts Tagged ‘Utility Industries’

No, Tweezer! It’s Not Labour that’s Attacking Investment, but Tory Privatisation

January 20, 2018

More lies from Theresa May, the lying head of a mendacious, corrupt, odious party. Mike put up another piece earlier this week commenting on a foam-flecked rant by Tweezer against the Labour party. She began this tirade by claiming that Labour had turned its back on investment. This was presumably out of fear of Labour’s very popular policies about renationalising the Health Service, the electricity industry and the railways.

But Labour hasn’t turned its back on investment. Far from it. Labour has proposed an investment bank for Britain – something that is recognised by many economists as being badly needed. It was one of Neil Kinnock’s policies in 1987, before he lost the election and decided that becoming ‘Tory lite’ was the winning electoral strategy.

The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches at Cambridge, has pointed out that privatisation doesn’t work. Most of the British privatised industries were snapped up by foreign companies. And these companies, as he points out, aren’t interested in investing. We are there competitors. They are interested in acquiring our industries purely to make a profit for their countries, not ours. Mike pointed this out in his blog piece on the matter, stating that 10 of the 25 railway companies were owned by foreign interests, many of them nationalised. So nationalised industry is all right, according to Tweezer, so long as we don’t have it.

The same point is made by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack in their book, Breadline Britain: the Rise of Mass Poverty (Oneworld 2015). They write

The privatisation, from the 1980s, of the former publicly owned utilities is another example of the extractive process at work, and one that hs brought a huge bonanza for corporate and financial executives at the expense of staff, taxpayers and consumers. Seventy-two state-own enterprises we4re sold between 1983 and 1991 alone, with the political promise that the public-to-private transfer would raise efficiency, productivity and investment in the to the benefit of all. Yet such gains have proved elusive. With most of those who landed shares on privatisation selling up swiftly, the promised shareholding democracy failed to materialise. In the most comprehensive study of the British privatisation process, the Italian academic Massimo Florio, in his book The Great Divistiture, has concluded that privatisation failed to boost efficiency and has led to a ‘substantial regressive effect on the distribution of incomes and wealth in the United Kingdom’. Despite delivering little in the way of unproved performance, privatisation has brought great hikes in managerial pay, profits and shareholder returns paid for by staff lay-offs, the erosion of pay and security, taxpayer losses and higher prices.
(P. 195).

They then go on to discuss how privatisation has led to rising prices, especially in the electricity and water industries.

In most instances, privatisation has led to steady rises in bills, such as for energy and water. Electricity prices are estimated to be between ten and twenty per cent higher than they would have been without privatisation, contributing to the rise in fuel poverty of several years. Between 2002 and 2011, energy and water bills rose forty-five and twenty-one percent respectively in real terms, while median incomes stagnated and those of the poorest tenth fell by eleven percent. The winners have been largely a mix of executives and wealth investors, whole most of the costs – in job security, pay among the least well-skilled, and rising utility bills – have been borne by the poorest half of the population. ‘In this sense, privatisation was an integral part of a series of policies that created a social rift unequalled anywhere else in Europe’, Florio concluded.
(pp. 156-7)

They then go on to discuss the particular instance of the water industry.

Ten of the twenty-three privatised local and region water companies are now foreign owned with a further eight bought by private equity groups. In 2007 Thames Water was taken over by a private consortium of investors, mostly from overseas. Since then, as revealed in a study by John Allen and Michael Pryke at the Open University, the consortium has engineered the company’s finances to ensure that dividends to investors have exceeded net profits paid for by borrowing, a practice now common across the industry. By offsetting interest charges on the loan, the company will pay no corporation tax for the next five to six years. As the academics concluded: ‘A mound of leveraged debt has been used to benefit investors at the expense of households and their rising water bills.’
(P. 157).

They also point out that Britain’s pro-privatisation policy is in market contrast to that of other nations in the EU and America.

It is a similar story across other privatised sectors from the railways to care homes. The fixation with private ownership tis also now increasingly out of step with other countries, which have been unwinding their own privatisation programmes in response to the way the utilities have been exploited for private gain. Eighty-six cities – throughout the US and across Europe – have taken water back into a form of public ownership.
(Pp. 157-8)

Even in America, where foreign investors are not allowed to take over utility companies, privatisation has not brought greater investment into these companies, and particularly the electricity industry, as the American author of Zombie Economics points out.

Lansley and Mack then go on to discuss the noxious case of the Private Equity Firms, which bought up care homes as a nice little investment. Their debt manipulation shenanigans caused many of these to collapse.

So when Tweezer went off on her rant against Labour the other day, this is what she was really defending: the exploitation of British consumers and taxpayers by foreign investors; management and shareholders boosting their pay and dividends by raising prices, and squeezing their workers as much as possible, while dodging tax.

Privatisation isn’t working. Let’s go back to Atlee and nationalise the utilities. And kick out Theresa, the Tories and their lies.

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Cartoon – Thatcher and Von Hayek as Monstrous Idols

July 3, 2017

Welcome to the latest instalment in my series of cartoons attacking the Tories, the right-wing press, and the ideologues and economists responsible for today’s misery and exploitation.

Two of the cartoons I’ve previously posted up have shown Maggie Thatcher and various other Tories as malign pagan idols, and this is another portrayal of her in the same vein. The inspiration for it was a photograph of a place in Turkey where the statues of ancient gods from Greece, Rome and perhaps elsewhere from that country’s long history emerge from the hillside.

In this picture, the deities of the ancient Graeco-Roman world have been replaced by Maggie Thatcher on the left, and von Hayek on the right. Von Hayek was one of the founders of the Libertarian free market economics that Thatcher embraced as her official policy. He was another bitter opponent of Socialism, which he attacked in his book, The Road to Serfdom. He served the Austrian government in the 1920s formulating an anti-Socialist economic policy based on classical Liberalism. After embracing the free market economists of Von Mises and others in the 1920s, he fled to Britain in 1931, where he taught at the LSE. He wasn’t quite the worst of the leaders of the New Right free market economists, as he still believed in some minimal kind of welfare state. But he was highly influential in the Libertarian attacks on state intervention and the welfare state.

And Thatcher was a big fan. The Financial Times over a decade ago carried an article on him, which attempted to argue that some of his ideas can still be embraced by those on the Left. For example, he stressed the importance of central institutions for a country’s political and economic life. These were the fundamental parts of its political constitution. In Britain’s case, these would include the monarchy and parliament. That both of these are of major importance to the British constitution is unquestionable, but I don’t think you need to be any kind of Libertarian to recognise this. And of these two institutions, the monarchy isn’t indispensable to orderly government by any means. It’s extremely popular, and there is a very good argument for retaining a head of state, who is above politics. But at the same time, there’s also a sizable minority of people in Britain, who would prefer a republic as a far more democratic, and less expensive alternative.

As for parliament, constitutional theorists have also pointed out the importance of middle level associations, such as professional associations, trade unions, employers’ organisations and so on to act as checks on the centralisation of political power and defend the rights and liberties of the rest of the population.

Standing between them, if you can make it out, is a statue of a demon dating from Celtic Gaul, from a photograph of a sculpture in the Musee Nationale in Paris. The ancient Celts were head hunters, keeping and displaying the heads of their victims after death. This demon appeared to have been part of a temple or shrine displaying severed heads taken in battle. The monster has two human heads beneath its two front paws, and the space between the creature’s legs held circular depressions. These appear to have been the places were real human heads were placed for veneration or display.

Again, I thought this creature was a very fitting metaphor for Thatcher and von Hayek. Their economic policies have proven to be a dreadful failure. Rather than bringing prosperity and freedom, they have only brought poverty, misery and death. As I’ve mentioned over and again before, there are a hundred people forced to use food banks to keep themselves from starving. There are 7 million more people, living in ‘food insecure’ household. In 2015, 30,000 people were killed by austerity.

And instead of peace and security, we live in an age of seemingly endless war, as our government joins the Americans in military campaigns in the Middle East. These are supposedly against Islamist terror and brutal despotisms, but the reality is that it’s just more western imperialism with a very thin humanitarian guise.

At home, the government and the press are whipping up hysteria and hatred against immigrants, including refugees fleeing from the very wars and dictators the West has begun and installed in power around the world. Muslims are particularly singled out because of atrocities committed by Salafist terrorists, despite the fact that time and again the majority of British Muslims have shown they don’t support such outrages. The real responsibility for these terror attack does not lie with ordinary British Muslims. It lies with our government, who used radical Islamist groups as soldiers in the proxy war against Communism, the Soviet Union and secular, Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East, and the Saudis, who are backing them to export their brutally intolerant brand of Islam. These Islamist groups have killed far more Muslims, as they attempt to carve out their wretched caliphate, in attacks and massacres across the Dar al-Islam than other religious groups.

And whatever the Libertarians have said about shrinking the state to expand the sphere of personal liberty, in practice nearly four decades of Thatcherite regimes, including Blair’s New Labour, have done the exact opposite. The power of the security services to intrude and monitor our private communications has been ruthlessly expanded under the pretext of keeping us safe from terror. There’s a real danger of Britain becoming a surveillance state, exactly like 1984. And Blair’s New Labour and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition under Cameron and Clegg passed legislation providing for secret courts. These are Kafkaesque courts, where a man or woman can be tried in secret, with critical evidence against him or her and his/her lawyer and even the identity of the person accusing them withheld, if it is considered necessary for reasons of national security. Which was exactly like the travesties of justice in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

But Thatcher and von Hayek still remain idols on the right. The Daily Mail, Scum and other right-wing rags fly into paroxysms of rage if anyone dares to insult her memory, or point out that the terrible state of the country today, with a deliberately failing health service, mass poverty, poor and exploitative public services and utility industries, and the erosion of civil liberties are ultimately all the products of her policies and ideas.

And so Thatcher and von Hayek stand, like Ozymandias, on a desolate hillside, surveying the ruins they have created. While their followers kill and maim, offering terrible human sacrifices to them and their failed doctrines.

It’s long past time they were swept away, and replaced by a decent government, that would renationalise the NHS, nationalise the railway and parts of the electricity infrastructure, prevent the privatisation of schools, and reverse the benefit cuts and sanctions that are killing tens of thousands and forcing millions into poverty.

It’s about time May was forced out, along with the rest of the Tories, and replaced with Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour administration.

Cartoons of Cameron, Osborne, Peter Lilley, Milton Friedman and Paul Dacre

July 2, 2017

Hi, and welcome to another cartoon I drew a few years ago of the Conservatives and their supporters in the press and leading ideologues.

These are more or less straight drawings of five of the men responsible for the present nightmare that is Theresa May’s Britain. A Britain where a hundred thousand people are using food banks to stop themselves from starving. A Britain where a further seven million people live in households where they’re eating today, but don’t know if they’ll eat tomorrow. This is the Britain where the NHS is being gradually privatised behind the public’s back, so that the Tories don’t lose the next election. A Britain where the majority of the public would like the railways and utility industries renationalised, but the Tories want to keep them in private hands so that they provide substandard services at high prices for the profits of their managers and shareholders.

This is a Britain where the press screams hatred at ‘foreigners’ – meaning not just recent immigrants and asylum-seekers, but also EU citizens, who came here to work, but also second- or third-generation Black and Asian British. A press that demonises and vilifies Muslims, no matter how often they march against terrorist monsters like those of ISIS and their ulema – the Islamic clergy – denounce hatred and mass murder.

Immigrants and foreign workers are net contributors to the British economy. They are less likely to be unemployed and rely on the welfare state, so that their taxes are supporting the rest of us. Many of them have come here to fill very specific jobs. But they are still reviled for taking jobs from Brits, and for being scrounging layabouts, preventing true, hardworking Brits from getting the benefits they need.

This is a press that also denigrates and vilifies the very poorest in society – the unemployed, the disabled, unmarried mothers and others on welfare, so that the Tories can have the support of the public when they cut benefits to these groups yet again.

This is a Britain were the majority of people in benefits are working, but they’re stuck in low-paid jobs, often part-time, or zero hours contracts. Many of them are on short-term contracts, which means that, while they have a job today, they may not in a few months time. Nevertheless, even though these people do still work hard, the Tories have decided that the jobcentres and outsourcing companies should also pester and harangue them to get off benefits, because it’s their fault they’ve got a low-paid job. And this is despite the fact that it has been nearly four decades of Thatcherite doctrines about maintaining a fluid labour market, and a ‘reserve army of the unemployed’ to keep wages down.

The Tories are a party that yell passionately and incessantly about how they are ‘patriotic’, while the others were the ‘coalition of chaos’, but who have done so much to break up the United Kingdom into its separate kingdoms and provinces. Cameron called the ‘Leave’ referendum, hoping it would draw the venom from the Tory right. England voted for Brexit, but the rest of the UK voted to Remain. With the result that there is a real constitutional crisis about whether the UK can leave the EU and still remain intact.

It also threatens to renew the Nationalist/Loyalist conflict in Northern Ireland. Part of the Ulster peace process was that there would be an open border with Eire. The majority of people in the Six Counties, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, wish to retain the open border. But if Britain does leave the EU, then there’s a possibility that border will have to be closed.

The Tories have also endangered the fragile peace in Ulster in other ways. Having lost their majority in parliament, they’ve gone into an alliance with the DUP, a group of highly sectarian Loyalists, who condemn evolution, abortion, homosexuality and bitterly hate Roman Catholics and Gaelic Irish. They’re the same people, who demand the right to march through Roman Catholic areas screaming hatred at the residents. A party, whose links with Loyalist terrorists are so strong they’ve been dubbed ‘the Loyalist Sinn Fein’.

This is the party, that tries to present itself as for ‘hard-working’ ordinary people, while its dominated by elite aristocratic, old Etonians toffs like David Cameron and George Osborne.

The Conservatives have also been trying to present themselves as female-friendly and pro-women, as shown by their selection of Theresa May to lead them. But the people worst hit by austerity have been women, who make up the majority of low-paid workers, particularly in the service industries, like care workers and nurses. Some of the latter are so poorly paid, they’ve had to use food banks. When asked about this, all that brilliant intellectual Theresa May could do was to mumble something about how there were ‘complex reasons’ for it. No, there’s a very simple reason: you’ve paid them starvation wages.

This is a Britain where, according to Oxford University, 30,000 people were killed by the Tories’ austerity policy – introduced by Dodgy Dave Cameron – in 2015 alone. A policy which has dictated that people on benefits should be thrown off them apparently at the whim of a jobcentre clerk, and that terminally ill or seriously injured citizens should have their benefits withdrawn, ’cause they’re ‘fit to work’. Such poor souls have included cancer patients in comas.

Here’s a selection of some of those responsible for this squalid carnage.

At the bottom left is David Cameron. Bottom centre is George Osborne, and on his right is Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail. This is the Tory rag that has done so much to spread hatred against immigrants, ethnic minorities, the EU, the working class, the trade unions and which has been consistently anti-feminist. This last has been quite bizarre, considering that it was a founded as the newspaper to be read by the wives of the city financiers, who read the Torygraph.

On the right, above Dacre and Osborne, is Peter Lilley, from a decades old issue of Private Eye.

Lilley’s there because of his role in destroying the welfare state and privatising the NHS. It was Lilley, who pranced across the stage at a Tory conference in the 1990s reciting a stupid song he’d written about having a little list, in imitation of The Mikado. This was a list of everyone he hated, including single mothers and other benefit scroungers.

Lilley was also responsible for the PFI scheme, in which the government goes into partnership with private contractors to build and run public services, such as bridges and hospitals. These schemes are always more expensive, and deliver poorer service than if the bridge, hospital or whatever had been constructed using purely public funds. Hospitals built under PFI are smaller, and have to be financed partly through the closure of existing hospitals. See George Monbiot’s book, Captive State, about the way Britain has been sold off to the big corporations. But governments like it, because the technicalities of these contracts means that the costs are kept off the public balance sheet, even though the British taxpayer is still paying for them. And at a much higher rate, and for much longer, than if they had been built through conventional state funding.

Lilley’s PFI was the basis for New Labour’s ‘third way’ nonsense about running the economy. It has also been a major plank in the ongoing Thatcherite project of selling off the NHS. A few years ago, Private Eye published an article showing that Lilley developed the scheme, because he wanted to open the NHS up to private investment. And now, nearly two decades and more on, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries are being run by private healthcare companies, and the majority of NHS operations are actually being commissioned from private healthcare providers. The Tories hotly deny that they are privatising the NHS, but Jeremy Hunt has written a book in which he stated that he loathed state medicine, and Theresa May has kept him on Health Secretary, despite the bankruptcy of an increasing number of NHS Trusts, this shows that the reality is very much the complete opposite of their loud denials.

And the person on the left of Lilley is the American economist, Milton Friedman. Friedman was one of the great, free market advocates in the Chicago school of economists, demanding that the welfare state should be rolled back and everything privatised. He was the inventor of Monetarism, which was roundly embraced by Enoch Powell and then Maggie Thatcher. This was to replace the Keynsianism that had formed the cornerstone of the post-War consensus, and which stated that state expenditure would stimulate the economy and so prevent recessions. One of the other world leaders, who embraced Monetarism as his country’s official economics policy was the Chilean Fascist dictator and friend of Thatcher, Augusto Pinochet. Friedman regularly used to take jaunts down to Chile to see how the old thug was implementing his policies. When Pinochet was not imprisoning, torturing and raping people, that is.

One of Friedman’s other brilliant ideas was that education too should be privatised. Instead of the government directly funding education, parents should be given vouchers, which they could spend either on a state education, or to pay the fees for their children to be educated privately. This idea was also adopted by Pinochet, and there’s a very good article over at Guy Debord Cat’s on how it’s wrecked the Chilean educational system. Just as New Labour’s and the Tories privatisation of British universities and the establishment of privately run ‘academies’ are destroying education in Britain. It was also Maggie Thatcher, who began the trend towards removing the payment of tuition fees by the state, and replacing the student grant with student loans. The result has been that young people are now graduating owing tens of thousands in debt.

Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, said that when he was studying economics at Uni in the 1970s, Monetarism was considered so daft by his lecturers that no-one actually bothered to defend it. He suggested in an article that it was adopted by the Tories for other reasons – that it gave them an excuse to privatise the utility industries, destroy the welfare state and privatise the NHS. Even so, eventually it became too glaringly obvious to too many people that Monetarism was a massive failure. Not least because Friedman himself said so. This sent the Daily Heil into something of a tizzy. So they devoted a two-page spread to the issue. On one side was the argument that it was a failure, while on the other one of the hacks was arguing that it was all fine.

In fact, it’s become very, very obvious to many economists and particularly young people that the neoliberalism promoted by the Tories, New Labour, Friedman and the other free market ideologues is absolute rubbish, and is doing nothing but press more and more people into grinding poverty while denying them affordable housing, proper wages, welfare support and state medicine. But the elites are still promoting it, even though these ideas should have been put in the grave years ago. It’s the reason why one American economist called neoliberalism and similar free market theories ‘Zombie Economics’ in his book on them.

May’s government looks increasingly precarious, and it may be that before too long there’ll be another general election. In which case, I urge everyone to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, as he’s promised to revive the welfare state, renationalise the NHS and parts of the energy industry, and the rail network.

They’re policies Britain desperately needs. Unlike the poverty, misery and death created by the above politicos.