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The money prism and Jeremy Corbyn

Will Corbyn truly seize the ‘golden opportunity’ of adopting an anti-corporate political stance?

Divino
16 September 2015
on Corbyn and money prism.jpg

Flickr/ Jonas. Some rights reserved.

The prevailing view of politicians is that they are, at best incompetent and at worst, outright liars. It’s easy to see why. When looking at socio-political events and decisions they can often seem so head-spinningly contradictory that many of us have given up trying to understand their logic. Why do politicians find it so hard to be consistent? Why do they seem to take courses of action that often seem unfathomable? If we take their political motivations at face value why do politicians seem to make choices that fly in the face of them?

To take a recent example – why did Harriet Harman instruct Labour MPs not to vote against the Tories welfare reforms after pledging to fight the Tories? Why, after all agreeing what a mistake intervention in Iraq was, did the UK government repeat the mistake eight years later in Libya? Why is being part of the democratic process on the national level extolled by politicians, but democracy in the workplace must be crushed? Why do politicians complain about the lack of political engagement, then condemn half a million people joining the Labour Party?

These inconsistencies make absolutely no sense. Or do they?

Actually, as confusing as it all seems, if we adjust the lens through which we look at political issues, then much of the behaviour of politicians and world leaders becomes pin-point clear.

Imagine you wanted a steadfast rubric that could tell you with absolute certainty what the outcome of any political crossroads would be. Well, this may surprise you, but it exists. And to unlock it, one needs simply to ask the question: ‘What is going to allow the capitalist class to make the most money’?  

Over the past thirty years, since the whole-hearted adoption of neo-liberal economics, asking this question would have allowed us to predict the outcome of almost every election and referendum in the western world. Looking through the “money prism” can prove quite prophetic.

This may seem obvious. It might qualify as that most tedious of things: a cliché. But, observations make it very hard to draw any conclusion other than that politicians’ primary motivations come, not from concern for the electorate, but from their desire to appease corporate interests (use interchangeably with “big business” or “the capitalist class”). After this, the needs of the electorate come a distant second. If you think this is over-exaggeration all it takes is a little deeper analysis to realise the frightening truth of this statement. If you think that it’s obvious, then take a moment to consider its implications.

Elections

It’s no secret that Labour only started winning elections again once they began to appease the capitalist class. This shift in ideology in the mid-90s – typified by the removal of Clause 4 from the Labour Party Constitution and Peter Mandelson’s assertion that they didn’t mind people getting “filthy rich” – allowed Labour to assume the reins of power.

In fact it can be argued that the deciding factor in every UK general election since 1979 has been which party has offered most to big business. Interestingly, the opposition party during this time has consistently been a sickly pastiche of the party in power – attempting to mimic their opponents’ pro-corporate policies without compromising their traditional voter base (socialists and the working class for Labour, Little Englanders and the pastoral contingent for the Tories). The political figures who have managed to pull their parties out of their respective “wilderness years”, as the corporate press terms it, are the ones who have managed to achieve this fine balance.

Predicting outcomes of political decisions by looking at them through the prism of money-making is not restricted to elections. The Scottish independence referendum could have been similarly predicted by asking “Which outcome benefits the capitalist class the most?” and, unless we see a spectacular turn of events in the European referendum in 2016, we will see the same outcome there.

If our “money prism” is to remain consistent, however, the European referendum will play out slightly differently. Ostensibly, the referendum is a simple binary – “In or Out” - and if it were this simple in reality then “In” is the favourable option when viewed through the prism of money-making. A simple “In” is not the prime outcome for big business though. An ideal result would be an “In” vote, but on the basis of pro-corporate reforms, and already this is looking likely. Cameron has spoken of his ideal outcome being to remain in a reformed EU. If anyone thinks one of these reforms might be a restriction of free movement of labour (the major populist motivation for a referendum in the first place), then the money prism predicts they are going to be bitterly disappointed.

The EU does not have a policy of free movement for ideological reasons. The EU has a policy of free movement of people (read: labour) because it is best for big business. There may have been half-hearted attempts to conflate this policy with some kind of moralistic ideal on the part of the European Union, but make no mistake – it is purely money motivated.

Money and Morals

The attempt to align moral thought with corporate interests is a tactic employed by the capitalist class in order to shape the world in the most beneficial way for them.

If you hold a moral belief that does not interrupt the growth of capital, or actually enhances it, the chances are that your belief will be allowed to align with mainstream western thought. Equal marriage is a recent example of this. Its introduction under the Cameron-led government of 2010 – 2015 was hailed by the Tories as proof that they are now a party of compassion, having shed themselves of the “Nasty Party” label. However, if we once again apply the “money prism” to the question of marriage equality, the outcome is consistent. The legalisation of gay marriage has opened up a whole new market to be exploited. This is in no way an attempt to undermine the brave, tireless efforts of LGBTQ activists throughout history. Marriage equality is a huge success for the LGBTQ community and should be celebrated. It has taken sacrifice of an unprecedented level to achieve. If, somehow, marriage equality was bad for corporations and cost them money rather than opening up a new market, would those activists still be struggling for their right to marry rather than celebrating the fact that they can? We will never know for sure, but take a moment to reflect on whether the conditions for this victory have come about through purely altruistic factors. It is important we bare these questions in mind when considering the components that shape our society’s collective moral conscience.

 An example of an inverse moral decision, dictated by our “money-making” prism is benefit claimants. It is perfectly acceptable - encouraged even - to vilify these individuals, even those who are ill or disabled. If you think it is wrong to draw a comparison between gay people and benefit claimants because the latter are clearly immoral, and making a decision to be the way they are – just remember that the exact same things were said about the LGBTQ community for the majority of the 20th century. The plasticity of our collective morality should not be understated.

At this point it should be reiterated: the free movement of people throughout Europe and marriage equality are morally right, however, so is the ethical treatment of the unemployed, the disabled and asylum seekers. The latter three present an obstacle to capitalist expansion, whereas the former two present opportunity.

Another area where morals are aligned to money is foreign policy. Western governments often use concern for human well-being as the primary excuse for military intervention. If this is true, then the inconsistencies of this policy in practice are mind-boggling.

It is a huge inconsistency for western governments to sell weapons to countries on their human rights abusers lists. It is equally inconsistent for them to support regimes that have engaged in brazen examples of human rights abuses, be it America giving “humanitarian aid” to the right-wing, human-rights abusers, the Contras of Nicaragua in the 1980s; Thatcher’s support of the mass-murdering General Pinochet of Chile; or ongoing diplomatic ties with countries with questionable human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia. If we view western foreign policy through the prism of human rights then it is completely unpredictable, with no way of telling who is a legitimate target and who isn’t. If, however, we replace the human rights prism with our “money-making” lens then suddenly all the pieces fall neatly into place.

This idea has been covered extensively by Noam Chomsky, but just to illustrate its absolute certainty, let’s consider two separate “case studies”.Take the militant organisation ISIS. ISIS has waged a campaign of barbarity in the Middle East, engaging in murder, torture and rape on a horrific scale. It is believed that, to date, the organisation have killed some 170,000 people. They have been consistently condemned by Western media and governments with some degree of military intervention against them led by the US as well as numerous calls for this military intervention to be extended. ISIS are anti-western and want to see all forms of western interventionism, corporate and otherwise, eradicated from the Middle East.

Now consider the regime of General Suharto, who ruled Indonesia from 1967 until his death in 1998. During his consolidation of power and subsequent invasion of East Timor, Suharto sanctioned a campaign of barbarity, involving murder, torture and rape on a horrific scale. Conservative estimates position his regime as having killed some 600,000 people. Suharto enjoyed the unadulterated support of western governments and media, Thatcher calling him “one of our very best and most valuable friends”. He ruled, unmolested for 31 years. Suharto was open to western corporate expansionism and is the reason that everything you bought for 20 years had “Made in Indonesia” written on it.

When considered from this angle it is very difficult to view foreign policy in any other way.  The depressing conclusion has to be that, if ISIS were amenable to corporate expansionism, opening up investment in Syria, they would not be condemned by our governments but lauded.Iraq is another example. Corporate media has gone to great lengths to paint Iraq as a mistake made on false information (the truth: that is was a contrived deception, has slowly been white-washed), one that we need to learn from. Why, then, did we intervene in Libya in an almost identical play-out of events? The similarities are striking: an evil dictator, hasty intervention, lack of follow up and subsequent destabilisation. If Iraq was such a disastrous mistake, why do it again eight years later?

 Once again we apply the money-making prism and it becomes clear. After the invasion of Iraq, American diplomat Paul Bremer was made interim head of state. His term lasted little more than a year, but in this short amount of time he managed to sell off every single Iraqi asset to western corporations.

Once again our money-making prism provides a consistency and clarity that is simply not there otherwise. When viewed through it, Iraq becomes a great success; something to be emulated, not avoided.

Corbyn-mania

All of this helps us understand what happened in the recent Labour leadership election. The battleground of the contest has been rife with inconsistencies. Jeremy Corbyn appears to have prompted hundreds of thousands of people to join the Labour Party in a turn of events that should be a cause for celebration, but it has led to hand-wringing on the part of the higher ups in the party. Why is a political movement which has gained so much traction and inspired so much hope been met with horror by so many prominent figures in the party?

It is because they know about the prism. They know that no political decision can ever fall in their favour unless they are appeasing the corporate classes. And they know that Corbyn will not do this. The problem is, the other three candidates and those in the party crying out against Corbyn cannot admit this without damaging their political integrity beyond repair. So they have to twist the truth and misinterpret facts in order to make it seem like the course of corporate appeasement is actually the morally and pragmatically sound one to take.

One tactic they have used to achieve this is to conflate corporate interests with the desires of the general public. The mantra that Labour were “rejected outright” by the general public and now must listen to the general public in order to win back the trust of the general public has been repeated by Burnham, Cooper and Kendall so much that the phrase “general public” has almost lost all meaning. This contradicts polling that has found that most of the general public prefer Corbyn.

Whenever you hear a centrist Labour Party member use the phrase “general public” simply replace it with the phrase “corporate elite” and everything will suddenly make a lot more sense.

Another tactic is referring to the outcome of the general election. The very reductionist argument goes thus: the Conservatives won the election so Labour need to be more like them in order to win back swing voters who gave the Tories their majority. This is consistent with our money-making prism: Tory policies are corporate friendly.

Interestingly, this same argument applies to the 40 seats lost in Scotland to the SNP.  The SNP won the election in Scotland, so Labour need to be more like the SNP. This argument is never made by the centrists of the Labour Party, however, because being more like the SNP would involve an anti-corporate stance and, looking at the issue through our money-making prism, would cost them the next election. The fact is that the Labour Party need to win back those Scottish seats equally as much as the swing Tory seats but this is never brought up.

Labour centrists’ tactic for dealing with the “Scottish issue” has been to ignore it. Some have attempted to play down the problem by portraying the SNP as a single-issue, nationalist problem, rendering any question of appealing to those voters on a political or economic level irrelevant.

What’s interesting is that when it comes to talk of winning voters of UKIP – a single-issue, nationalist party – then they have to be appealed to on a political and economic level, on the assumption that UKIP voters are economically conservative, despite the fact that recent polling has suggested, on issues other than immigration, UKIP voters are far more socialist-leaning.

The money prism helps explain other inconsistencies and contradictions in the leadership election. Corbyn was the only leadership candidate to have secured backing from economists in the form of an open letter signed by 35 economists based in Britain. In addition to this, an open letter signed by more than 40 leading economists , claims that Corbyn’s policies are good economics. Corbyn’s policies have also been spoken of favourably by Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman and Nobel prize-winning, former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz.

In fairness, Osborne’s economic policy has also had its fair share of attention from world leading economists. Ha-Joon Chang, Cambridge economist, claims Osborne’s policies have “no basis in economics” – and he is not a lone voice. There are plenty of distinguished academics who are critical of austerity. Including the current rock star of world economics: Thomas Piketty.

Is this reality reflected in what we have seen from either the mainstream press or the other leadership candidates? No. Quite the opposite. “Corbynomics” has been portrayed as synonymous with lunacy. Yvette Cooper attacked his policies as not “credible” and this stance has been implicitly backed by both Burnham and Kendall. Corbyn’s policies have been attacked by the shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie as well as numerous polemicists in mainstream media outlets.  If you ask the question “Who do you trust more on the economy? A raft of distinguished economists, former World Bank and Bank of England advisers who count Nobel prize-winners amongst their number, or George Osborne: a man with a lower second class honours degree in History?” I think the answer would be pretty resounding.

The fact that Osborne’s policy is portrayed as balanced, sensible, and necessary is because – if we apply our prism once more – it is the one which benefits the capitalist class the most. And when this is the only real consideration in the debate, the opinions of world-leading economists don’t really matter.

More Money More Problems   

If we accept that history has proven time and again that, when it comes to decisions on how our society is run, it is the outcome that makes the rich richer that wins out, this leads us to some pretty depressing conclusions.if you are given the choice of a society full of happy, fulfilled individuals or a society of depressed, anxious individuals, then the latter group is by far the more preferable – you can sell a lot more stuff to unhappy people.

The same applies to issues such as unemployment: high unemployment is good for the capitalist class; illness can be a very profitable enterprise; the general health of the public is not as important as the profit margins of fast food restaurants and soft drink companies. The list is endless.

And of course – the biggest choice of all: whether the earth remains a place that is hospitable to human life in its current format or not.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Labour leadership election has shown this. If the prism was to remain consistent then, there was no way Corbyn could have seized the Labour leadership.  He won’t have any real power in opposition, but the re-legitimisation of socialist values that his leadership entails represents too great a risk to the interests of the capitalist class. Therefore, if nothing else, Corbyn’s presence in this leadership contest represented a golden opportunity to smash the money-making paradigm. A Corbyn victory is the first tiny hurdle, the 2020 general election will represent a much larger one, and the wholesale reformation of the global economic system to a fair, sustainable one is an endeavour so unwieldy it hardly bares thought. But the first step is to wrest back control of political decision-making to show that, when it comes to the big decisions, making the most amount of money is not the only consideration. And to do that we must smash the prism and back Corbyn.  

 

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