As a description of a political leadership in the 21st century, the above title could be applied to the leaders of any number of countries addicted to the capitalist mode of production. Trump, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Assad, bin Salmon, Putin or any number of other global southern leaders spring to mind. However, this week (3 March 2022) it was used by Martin Wolf to describe Liz Truss Kwasi Kwarteng and the latest gang of incompetent UK cabinet members. I have often heard the expression that ‘a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing’, particularly when it is in the minds of arrogant persons. This is because they often think their partial understanding gives them more wisdom than the average person. This danger has been evident for a long time within the British political class in general and among the last few Tory governments in particular,. However, this last week or so it has surfaced with a vengeance.
Nevertheless, although these particular elite representatives of humanity are certainly dangerous and perhaps bad, it is not actually madness that is being displayed by all the above named characters. It is the perceived class interests of the global rich which have clashed with the general interests of the rest of their populations. Historically all ruling elites have had to present their own particular interests as the same as the interests of the general population. In most cases they are definitely not. In the case of the UK this autumn, these interests have clashed sharply and crudely.
The new Tory gang of two were true to their class agenda in deciding to enrich the already super rich by cutting their tax burdens and letting them pay themselves as much as they see fit. However, being superficial dabblers the Liz/Kwasi crew did not foresee the repercussions of interest rate increases and the knock on effect of increased mortgage rates and payments. This decision then became a below-the-belt blow to the middle class mortgage holders in general and in particular those who are also Tory voters. In this case, the interests of the rich clashed too openly and savagely with the interests of the British middle class. Although, they have now done a mini ‘U’ turn on their supposedly mini budget, this will, not be enough to regain any misplaced trust they had within their own party, nor will it regain any misplaced trust the general public had in Tory governments. This particular conservative coterie from the UK ruling elite are dead politically even though like zombies they still haunt the corridors of UK power.
Their replacements whether from the left, right or centre, will fare no better for the little bits of socio-economic knowledge, spread – ever so thinly – across all the political spectrums of the capitalist mode of production globally, is insufficient for them to comprehend that the old/new game is up. The post Second World War political settlement of welfare capitalism in the west, has foundered on its own neo-liberal successes. In the UK Thatcher, with her privatise everything, delayed the inevitable by successfully representing the interests of the rich as being the same as the middle and working classes. British workers being allowed to buy their council houses and shares in privatised gas, electricity and water etc., made it appear that capitalism provided benefits for all. That short-lived mirage created by the pillaging of publicly created utilities, is now over. For decades, an inevitable rift has been growing between the interests of the rich and the increasingly impoverished majority made up of the working classes and the lower middle classes.
In addition, the new Liz/Kwasi gig (plus supporting tribute acts) think they are fooling the people with handing out cheques to help with fuel bills. In fact this money is going directly into the pockets of the beneficiaries of the private utility companies. All the help given to the poor and struggling (as with Covid payments) is actually on its way to help boost the incomes and profits of the already rich. In this way, working people, even when not working, are being cynically turned into rent collecting relay agents for passing on more public wealth to the already obscenely wealthy.
Meanwhile, the current global end-game – as long as it lasts – will be in the form of occasional sporadic growth in production and productivity where fewer and fewer workers will be capable of, but not able to produce more and more goods and services for which there will be fewer and fewer buyers. The super rich already have as many homes, planes, cars, and yachts as they need and are not going to buy more just to employ working people nor will they employ enough ‘domestics’ to compensate for all existing redundancies and those still to come. In many so-called ‘advanced’ countries the working poor and the non-working poor are already stood in long food bank queues and clutching hot water bottles at home to keep warm. Even those in low paid employment will not be eyeing up non essential goods of utility let alone those of relative luxury.
Although the rich and super rich stupidly think they are wonderfully successful when in fact – by their conspicuous consumption – they are actually more than just helping to ruin the planet, they are celebrating and encouraging it! Nevertheless, they are not so stupid as to invest in production ‘growth’, when there is no general economic basis for it. Even during capitalist determined slumps, there will always be a need for considerable economic activity to feed, house and clothe population majorities and this activity may fool those easily fooled (such as those in number ten) but not everyone. For a near subsistence level of economic activity is not the same as capitalist inspired ‘growth’, which requires substantial profits as its motive for production.
Furthermore, modern profit based production methods no longer need huge factories, massive office blocks, numerous docks and mines, thousands of small, farms – all staffed by hundreds and thousands of working people. So the employment numbers game has also changed in this regards also. There may be a few occasional hot spots of economic growth here and there in the future, but with the world in general facing air, land and water pollution, floods, fires, wars, terrorist attacks, extreme climate events, shortages in food, energy and redundant jobs, most people will be hunkering down and when not protesting will, where possible, do their best to just survive.
That most people are at least dimly aware that the post-war, welfare-state game of monopoly capital has changed was evidenced this week here in the UK. Some rich people publicly spoke out saying they did not need or want more tax breaks and that more should be spent on the poor. No doubt some of those along with their more astute political representatives are aware that close to starving people are capable of uprisings and rebellions when things get too bad. So the former may suggest accepting some reforms in order to avoid civil disorder and/or potential revolution.
But here again it is no longer about the banker dishing out more money and the rest of us throwing the dice in an attempt to buy houses and hotels to rent them out for a parasitic income. The monopoly board we are now being invited to play on has itself changed. The economic system is in existential crisis and the ecological imbalance and pollution of the planet means that more and more people are finding themselves stuck in places of deprivation and devastation not places of opportunity.
Roy Ratcliffe (October 2022)