What a day for the news...

Published: 2008-10-02
Updated: 2008-10-02

Southampton airport, 7.30pm, September 30th. After purchasing a banana I decide to return to the shop to buy the last lonely copy of The Guardian sitting on the rack. What a great decision that was; for once I had boarded my plane and moved to a seat away from the melee (why do Flybe stuff everyone at the back of a half empty plane?) I was treated to a meal of news that had my head racing with ideas.

Of course, we are all aware of the problems in the markets and the front pages were dominated with the shock decision of the US congress to turn down Paulson’s rescue bid (go the American people!). There were also notes that HBOS was undervalued, which sadly was an opportunity missed as I went to the not too fantastic Supergen annual instead. Doh! Anyway, the lead story had pointers to the comments section and they took me to George Monbiots article on page 33.

Monbiot himself is about as lefty as they come. He advocates far stronger action against climate change than I could personally sanction and is formerly a member of Respect, George Galloway’s current soapbox. To be fair to Monbiot, however, most of this article refers to a report from the Cato Institute, a Washington DC based think tank working on the principle of liberal markets. The gist of the article is about the reaction in the US congress to the Paulson bailout. It has created the feeling in political circles that the US is swinging dangerously close to the old enemy, socialism. Monbiot uses the Cato report to prove that this type of ‘socialism’ is an old bedfellow of the American administration, the administration that has been bailing out or handing out to big business for years. Monbiot lists a host of instruments and development funds that get sponged off from big business (and bloated farmers) without an eyebrow being raised. Frankly, this arse-endedness seems to be what American politics is about. More for the rich and less for the poor and sadly Britain seems to be getting worse at redistribution too. God help us if the Tories return to power (probably won’t be any worse than Labour staying in power however).

Monbiot goes on to explain the mechanisms in US politics and it’s a simple system – money. When political campaigns cost you millions of dollars and party funding is so vital to survival, being in bed with big business is the only way to get along in US politics. Firms spend huge amounts of money lobbying against regulation and against the will of the people. Those lobbying the most money are likely to win and commonly this is big business:

“Campaign finance is the best investment a corporation can make. You give a million dollars to the right man and reap a billion dollars’ worth of state protection, tax breaks and subsidies. When the same thing happens in Africa we call it corruption.”

I personally believe that money should not directly influence political decision making, thus I want to make a few proposals about how to deal with this problem. With regards to campaign funds a simple cap on the level of funding available to a campaign should level the playing field. With regards to lobbying, there should be a rule where both sides of the floor are forced to spend the same or, alternatively, the government could be the sole benefactor of lobbying campaigns. These rules would ensure a fair representation of the arguments and then maybe people and politicians would get a fair choice based purely upon the political problem facing them.

Back to the paper and two pages further on and Ann Pettifor, Jubilee Debt campaigner, delivers a small comment on the economics that brought about the credit crunch. She advocates a return to Keynesian economic standards and although I don’t understand the mechanics of the argument, I do understand that an economy run on debt is no economy at all. The most frightening point comes late in the article where she points out that there exists an,

”… orthodoxy that unemployment helps keep wages low and is a good thing; and that wage rises are inflationary. It is this orthodoxy that had caused wages and other forms of compensation to fall as a share of GDP… …over the past three decades. This fall in compensation has forced people to supplement incomes by borrowing more.”.

This sends a shiver down my spine. Our own economy has been working to make us poorer in real terms for the past thirty years. Surely this has to stop now.

The fun continued on page 7 where it was pointed out that with Bradford and Bingley being nationalised people could now face the unenviable position of having their home repossessed by their own government. The government probably sees this a fantastic opportunity to solve the council housing shortage.

Page 8 steered away from the lack of capital to the lack of moral substance in schools. The chairperson of the headmasters and headmistresses conference has said that children in schools are filling the moral vacuum left by God with X-Factor. But what else are they going to fill it with? Greater freedom for head teachers, or creating religious schools, is not definitely going to replace the moral void, is it? It’s a complicated world we live in so why not start teaching some of the subjects that explain it? Kids are clever and many go on to do sociology and psycology in further education. Why not explain religion and morality in this context? Science cannot replace faith, but this may allow children to make concious decisions about how and why they should behave a certain way. Empathy was taught to me in a history class when I was 14. Ten years of religion had tried to do the same thing, but never managed to explain it quite as well. Anyway, turning to page 21 shows a real moral vacuum. I don’t know what the Austrian education system is like, but if it produces a country voting 30% fascist, then perhaps an X-factor based faith is not such a bad thing.