ONE blogs – JOHN CALDER – Man for Monday: POVERTY AND WEALTH

The new century is nearing the end of its first decade, but everyone looks back with nostalgia to the last one, forgetting the terrible wars, the holocaust, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, the suffering that went with the end of colonialism, the tyranny of Hitler, Stalin and many lesser dictators, remembering only the rising affluence that built up a culture of debt, mortgages and spent spend spend. So few now know their history that they have become accustomed to following the unreliable promises of politicians and the blandishments of commercial advertisers…that is until recently when the credit crunch brought back a sense of reality.

What a price we are now going to have to pay! Every country is in trouble and we are not going to come out of this depression for decades, perhaps never. It is however possible to limit the worst damage, providing we stop telling ourselves palpable lies and face up to a new world that will upset many, especially the big commercial interests. Globalisation has got to stop and go into reverse. There should be laws to stop companies taking over others that are healthy enough to remain independent. In other words, stop the greed and the power drives that are the main cause of the rising unemployment and the fall into poverty that follows it. If we must have machinery to do work that humans used to do, that is no reason to put the resulting wealth into profit: it should go to those who were previously employed, who, if they are unable to get new satisfactory employment, should continue to be paid and to put their time into new educational or cultural pursuits. In other words, if society is to be run by robots that need no culture, let them subsidise a new leisure class. Everyone should be paid to live and that is the only place that profit should go, to pay the unemployed and to re-invent in the future.

But of course there will always be a need for people to do social work, to educate and entertain, to built good community relationships, to find solutions to conflicts, above all for people to think and realise where their true interests lie, not in self-aggrandisement, but in cooperation in building a civilised society with a place for everyone and a limit to how high you can rise. Promotion should be for talent and effort, and never out of reach.

One reads that in the United States, supposedly the richest country in the world, more than a million go hungry every day. In Los Angeles a hundred thousand are living in tent cities, having lost their homes because of their inability to pay mortgage interest. The era of home ownership should come to an end. We should rent, and as far as possible from state-built housing, never paying more than five percent of earned or state provided income which is what it was in pre-1989 Russian. Communism was not all bad; it was just inefficient and run by corrupt privileged party system.

The of amount of fraud in our society is daily coming to light, and we must expect much more. More globalized complexes will turn out to have lost most of their value because of corrupt accounting that has covered up the losses created by incompetent or criminal middle-management, because those at the top of the pyramid can have little idea of what was really going on in the middle or at the bottom. The big companies must be either broken up into smaller independent ones or be nationalised. As events unfold and more discrepancies come to light the latter may be the only option.

A year from now it is probable that the jobless total in Britain will be over five million. It is already over ten percent in the U.S and rising rapidly. Obama will almost certainly want to follow Roosevelt’s example by initiating large new public works, but Congress will probably deny him the funds to do so and refuse to raise taxes. Bookmakers are taking bets on how many days will pass before his is assassinated, but whatever happens he is in for some uncomfortable years before the next election.

Poverty can only go so far before either a revolution or a coup d’etat or some kind of civil war takes place. Either would lead to an ultimate dictatorship of either the left or right, perhaps first one, then the other. But there are also other catastrophes on the horizon. One is more terrorist attacks in reply to our own terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and threats of it elsewhere. Another is the ever present danger of war breaking out, probably a holy war in the middle-east, developing into a world one with atomic weapons used, as they surely would be. Everywhere the indecision of politicians, many of whom know they will be out of politics in a year’s time, is evident and dangerously so. There is a tendency either to do nothing and let things slide, or to do something highly dangerous, knowing that others will have to with the decision later.

I have not even mentioned the poorest countries where things are already so far out of control that any improvement is probably impossible. The nearly seven Billion population of the planet is going to see itself reduced by at least half in a short time by the cruellest imaginable measures, some natural, some man-made. All thoughts of returning to a growth economy are ridiculous. We must prepare for sacrifice and a rapidly declining standard of living. I have indicated above some of the things that have to be done. The will not be liked, but they cannot be avoided. Face a bad future! It is better than none.

John Calder 16/11/09