Tuesday 14th February 2012
Did you see an NHS doctor recently? Did your child go to a state school? Are you receiving a state or public service pension? The UK government thinks that all these things need to be swapped for their corporate profit-making equivalent, and that's why they're taking an axe to the NHS, privatising schools and cutting pensions. It's called austerity, and it has nothing to do with repaying debts.
A lot of nonsense is talked about markets (which don't, of course, create efficient solutions — they create profitable solutions). One thing that markets do often drive, though, is competition. (Not all the time: when the banks cease to be competitive the state bails them out; when a powerful group of companies stiches up one sector then they'll inflate prices. But as a general rule, markets are competitive arenas.)
Competition in a capitalist economy means that companies have to grow (or else your competitor will get big enough to buy you or undercut you or otherwise get their hands on your share of the pie). Of course there are limits to growth: common sense can tell you all you need to know here, and if that doesn't work get a few of your friends or colleagues to rendezvous in the stationary cupboard and then just keep on packing them in. Economists will tell you that externalities mean that growth is unlimited, but your friends will tell you that things are getting pretty stuffy already and don't be such a dozy wazzock. As globalisation has spread corporate competition across the world, so growth gets less and less viable within existing markets. Therefore your school, your health service or your pension become increasingly attractive targets.
Competition for profit also means that if one corporation or country manages to drive down the wages and social services of their workforce then they automatically put pressure on their competitors to do the same. Otherwise the higher profits of the cheapskates will let them encroach on the markets of the higher paying. Over time this creates a race to the bottom — and the EU's health service, education system and pensions are much more expensive than their Chinese equivalents, for example. This race to the bottom is never-ending because it is built-in to the logic of capitalist competition.
The rating agencies, who are the current weapon of choice in the continual battle to keep this logic of the system from becoming obvious enough to provoke revolt, are downgrading government debt as a way of turning the screw on politicians who haven't yet signed up enough of their nation's public sector to corporate incursion.
It all makes perfect sense — unless you want a decent health service, or good schools, or a comfortable retirement. It is time to remember that our species can cooperate, not just compete.