Editorial | Can’t think of an alternative to the cuts? Think harder

The government's ongoing attacks on the poor and the vulnerable are always presented as our necessary and unavoidable path to recovery. Far from it, says Hicham Yezza, plenty of alternatives exist but those in power prefer to look the other way.

Editor's Desk, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Monday, November 28, 2011 14:01 - 8 Comments

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So, you live in block of flats with nine other tenants. One afternoon, someone goes into their bathroom for a quick illicit smoke and sets off a fire that burns half the building down. Names are taken and a bill is presented to all of you for the damages: 200.000 pounds. The case lands in the local court, a judge has to decide how to sort this out. He grants you all an audience.

Now, about your neighbours: one is a high-flying banker, two are nurses, two are teachers, two are pensioners, two are students and you, dear reader, are unemployed. The banker smokes.

“Of course”, the judge begins, “there’s a few ways we could do this”. One option would be for everyone to stump up 20K each. This would wipe out the life savings of the poorest half of the group and saddle them with debt for years to come. Alternatively, the judge continues, maybe the nurses could take out a loan? Or maybe the teachers can both sell their flats and move into a trailer? Maybe the pensioners could sell their war medals? Maybe the students can sell a kidney each?

You’re confused, as is everyone in the group. You think there’s a fairly obvious solution and are not sure why it’s not being brought up. You assume there’s something complicated going on and you’re just a bit slow. Still, you gather within you the courage to speak up. You start by pointing out that, since the banker caused the fire, and since the fine would barely make a dent in his budget, then maybe he should be asked to take on most of the burden. Incidentally, he’s best mates with the local police chief, the local press baron, the judge’s brother and the owner of the building, all of whom are peering down from the gallery.

“What an absurdly insane idea” the judge splutters indignantly, he literally cannot believe anyone can be this stupid. “In any case”, he adds “there’s no point in discussing this option; the banker won’t accept it as he might have to give up one of his dozen cars.”

Before you have time to digest what you’ve just heard, the banker stands up: he has a brilliant solution! How about the retirees give up half their pension for five years, the nurses sell their cars, the teachers spend their weekends giving private tuition for a decade, and you could simply sell your second-hand bike? “After all”, he wags his finger at you accusingly, “can’t you continue looking for work on foot?”

The judge erupts in applause, the press baron hails the idea as the greatest since the wheel, and the police chief tells your grumbling mates, up on their feet with outrage, that they better keep it quiet or else. The owner of your building, by the way, got his money back through insurance days ago but has come to court for “a bit of a laugh”.

Is my parable ham-fisted enough for you yet? Splendid! Here’s the good news: this story is a crude simplification of what’s being done to this country by the people who run it. The bad news: it’s only about 2.7% cruder than the reality. As far as the big picture goes, this is pretty much spot on.

Of course, you wouldn’t know it from reading the papers, or watching the news, or talking to anyone who’s anyone in government. Austerity measures are “needed”, “necessary”, “unavoidable”. We can’t continue to “live beyond our means,” we can’t pass on “huge debts” to “future generations”. “Cuts are painful”, our millionaire ministers wail mournfully, but they are “better than the alternative”. “Do you want to end up like the Irish?” They stare sternly, “like the Greeks? Like the Italians? Do you? DO YOU?”

And so on and so forth. An exhausted population, stunted into bafflement by the ruthless tsunami of pro-cuts propaganda, starts to give up. Some people even end up buying the “necessary cuts” spiel just because they have no energy to resist the onslaught of figures and pie charts and alarmist headlines and round-the-clock eggheads warning us of the unspeakable, impending apocalypse round the corner. “Give up trying to understand the problem”, they scream at a bewildered populace from on high, “just take this damn pill! It’s good for you!”

“But is it true?” You ask naively “Is it inevitable that the poor must get poorer? The disabled less care provision? The asylum seeker no legal aid? The mother of two less child support? The student a bigger fee burden? The pensioners even less of what little they had? Is it simply the case that there is no money?”

Well, I could bore you for a few hours with a counter-hurricane of statistics and flowcharts. I could inflict a round of pithy quotes from Nobel Prize winning economists, pleas from heads of charities, statistical tables from governmental documents, or youtube videos of single mothers, ethnic minority kids and disabled students, all explaining what an unnecessary disaster this government’s actions are proving to be for them and others. Instead, I’ll leave you with just one tiny fact: if everyone in the top 10% gives up 4% of their wealth, the UK deficit would be paid off today. Not in ten years, ten months or ten days, but today, as soon as the cheques clear.

But to look in that direction would be “absurdly insane”, obviously. Instead, let us cut jobs, raise tuition fees, obliterate welfare provision, decimate pensions and ruin millions of lives for a generation or two. Because that is what sensible, responsible governments are for.

The national strike on Wednesday is necessary, timely and could prove crucial in a fight that represents our best chance in a generation to fix this lopsided system where money always speaks loudest. The government’s attack on the poor and the vulnerable should be opposed by all those who believe in fairness, decency, and solidarity.

The strike is an integral part of this fight, and the government knows it. To take one example, according to media reports “former Border Agency staff are being offered up to £450 to work a single shift if they are willing to walk across picket lines and check passengers’ passports – more than four times the daily rate earned by most passport officials.” Let’s get this straight: this government is using taxpayers’ money to bribe former public sector workers to sabotage current public sector workers’ strike against this government’s attack on the public sector. How’s that for Chutzpah?

Cameron & co tell us the strike is a racket orchestrated by evil, greedy, power-hungry individuals with no mandate, who would inflict serious, irreversible real harm to the country unless stopped – Unintentionally reminding us of somebody.

There is another way of dealing with the deficit than forcing the poorer half of the country into indenture for decades to come. Those in government, and their mouthpieces, who claim they’re the ones being “realistic”, or bravely facing up to “hard truths” are either lying to themselves, or to everyone else.

For surely they know what a real act of bravery would be. Put simply, the Westminster crowd knows where the money is but, alas, hasn’t got the cojones to go after it, because it involves knocking on the heavy, gilded doors of their patrons and chums.

This system is broken. Those running things will only begin to fix it if and when we make the alternative to not fixing it costlier: just ask Charles I.

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Hicham Yezza

Hicham Yezza is editor-in-chief of Ceasefire. He can be contacted at: editor[at]ceasefiremagazine[dot]co[dot]uk

8 Comments

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Malte
Nov 28, 2011 15:03

Absolutely excellent article, Hich. ‘Well-written, funny and spot on. The mystification about capital flight is really extraordinary. The wealthy are actually far less international than we tend to believe and are tied into states, so taxing them would *not* cause them to flee abroad and take everything with them (and if they tried, it wouldn’t be hard to stop them).

Murray
Nov 28, 2011 15:19

Seconded, great piece Hich. Following up on last comment, the other gaping hole in the fleeing rich argument is that a great deal of their wealth is tied up in British property. Good luck getting that on the private jet.

Typo first line paragraph 6 btw

ace
Nov 28, 2011 21:58

Your making this country seem like a charity case leaving the rich to pay off our mess. That will never teach the country to learn the error of our ways and encrouage more rash behaviour of borrowing and bad habits. Give to Africa.

Hicham Yezza
Nov 28, 2011 22:19

@ace: “pay off our mess” , “the error of our ways”

Millions of people are being asked to pay with their jobs, pensions and futures for “errors” they had no hand in causing. If you’re so keen on people learning “the error of [their] ways”, then you support making those responsible for the economic mess pay their fair share of the cost. In other words, you agree with me.

@Murray @Malte – Cheers! Capital flight blackmail is one of the biggest confidence tricks of human history. Except that this is not entirely true: most politicians, I suspect, know full well the threat is an empty one but are happy to peddle it on behalf of capital because it keeps the angry masses quiet.

Anthony
Nov 30, 2011 20:00

I think your article works on the premise that the “banker’s” did something wrong. You may well think they did, I do too, but you cannot apply socialist ideals retorspectivly. Under our current system they didn’t do anything wrong, campaign against the system don’t hate the players of said system, you come across as a crank, which I dont think you are.

Hicham Yezza
Nov 30, 2011 20:09

@Anthony – Thanks for commenting.

Two things: one, the bankers DID do something wrong by their own standards, we don’t need to go into the technicalities to know the subprime bubble was, at best, cynical carelessness and, at worst, cynical callousness. Of course, a much more pertinent criticism of my position would be to say that not all bankers, or all types of bankers, are to blame, which is certainly true. Second, I am not applying “socialist ideals”, whatever that means, but simply principles of consistency. If the government says it wants to achieve X, then I’m pointing out it is strange that it is taking the most arduous, the most painful, and least likely to succeed route, rather than the obvious, quicker option. And my conclusion, hardly an original one, is that it cannot take the easy and obvious option because it lacks the political will, ie the political courage and motivation, ie the moral sense and character, to do the right thing.

Rizwaan Sabir
Dec 4, 2011 13:04

An absolutely great article!!

Alternative to cuts? - freeradicals | freeradicals
Feb 16, 2012 22:12

[…] Can’t think of an altern­at­ive to the cuts? Think harder! A par­able From ceasefire’s editor: Hicham Yezza Make the Guilty Pay! […]

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