Because of the coronavirus, the missus and me made an exception last night, by watching the 10 pm news. This is a long-discarded habit of pure masochism.
Even before COVID-19, the message was perpetually miserable: that things are out of control; politicians cannot agree; people are suffering; and the future is coloured in tinges of the deepest shite. Cheers for that.
It isn’t edifying to see and hear constant negativity. Or to watch journalists who show us their ‘emotion’ but don’t drill down into their subjects, don’t ask ‘why’, and don’t question certain official narratives.
Why put yourself through that before sleeping? Or at any time during the day? My quarantine from news extends to radio. Almost all stations spoil my enjoyment with news broadcasts, pumping out downbeat narratives, with regular dollops of propaganda.
To stay relatively informed, I look at the headlines in my dad’s copy of The Times every second day. Every other day, I look online at the Guardian headlines. That’s as much as I can stomach, as the journalism in both papers has slowly descended from a former semblance of objectivity, into partisanship and quite often the equivalent of sixth-form reasoning. Probably the most objective news coverage is in the Financial Times, but then I have to put up with its barbaric underlying notion: that our capitalist system is a marvellous thing, to be shoe-shined, arse-rimmed and revered. Fuck that.
Anyway, last night’s news featured forecasts by ‘experts’ that the UK economy might contract by 35% this spring. That this would leave many with nothing to live on. And that UK government ‘borrowing’ would inevitably soar, racking up more debt. It later showed a poor guy in India who had lost his ‘zero hours’ job, been evicted by his landlord and was sleeping on a bridge. Doubt if he’s buying the FT.
Maureen, who has a huge heart, suggested out of the blue that if we are all ‘in it together’, as our governments constantly intone, then they should make sure every person in the world has enough money.
It took five seconds to register. Bang! Why not? Bingo! Succintly elegant.
If Occam’s Razor says that the explanation for an occurrence is likely to be the simplest of all the many elucidations, can we then nail down a new principle? Maureen’s Elegance. That the best solution to a problem is probably the simplest.
Her idea dovetailed perfectly with the most central idea in my book, Out of Essex.
Beneath all the shenanigans – tsunamis, Southend-on-Sea, Satan and Jesus, the single malted discussions and the ten trillionaires, Buddha and Gandhi, Maggie Thatcher’s martial artistry, the Sex Magic of Isis and the City of Corruption – I’m banging away with the message that money creation and distribution is now almost entirely in private hands. And thus has to be paid for, through interest-bearing debt. That nearly all of our money is literally rented out to us and our governments by banks and other forms of private finance, such as bond markets. That this process isn’t an accident.
That governments have let themselves become as vulnerable as individuals.
And that most of our taxes pay back the interest on state borrowing, rather than support health services or rebuild welfare states. In summary, that the finance system sucks parasitically on most of the world’s 7 billion population.
I could have tried to write a dry academic book, but wanted something that stayed in the mind, that could be transferred to small or big screens, with engaging and picaresque characters and a memorable ending (not long now). With piss-ups galore, plus sex and humour to adorn, embellish and colour a totally deserved dissing of the finance industry, and its chiefs.
And packed with real information. Food for thought. Such as the demise of John F Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln after their administrations printed and distributed state money, quarantined from the miasma of interest-bearing commercial debt. Coincidence?
How Guernsey has prospered by issuing state money, staying under the radar by dint of its size. How Libya did the same, more aggressively, and has almost been wiped from the face of the map. How the UK, Canada and Australia have occasionally done the same, only to be pulled back into the old ways. The result of those old ways is that total global debt now exceeds $257 trillion, according to the Institute of International Finance.
When CV-19 is finally contained, that debt will remain. Here in the UK, the $350 billion CV-19 support package from government is essentially lending by banks propped up by government guarantees. For decades in tot he future, it will tug at government and local council budgets, constrain any pretence at welfare, bring bailiffs back to front doors. In India, it could trigger that guy on the bridge into a decision to go over the side.
Is that what we want? I don’t.
Having shown the collective will to social distance, live under virtual house arrest and eschew our closest relatives, in order to save lives and take the pressure off national health systems, is our fate and reward to return to this so-called ‘normality’, where, in Britain alone, 320,000 people are homeless, according to Shelter? In India, 1.77 million are on the streets.
Will you settle for that? The pink, fluffy heart of neoliberalism, where Brits have generously been given a 3-month eviction holiday. Is that worth going back to?
Will you sleep-walk back into the inexorably widening gap between rich and poor? My dad taught me to stick up for the underdogs, always. Certainly not to ever be on the side of, as OOE terms them, “human locusts, the insects that continue to reward themselves with outlandish bonuses, which result from a money system that has always taken the roof from over peoples’ heads.”
Slight digression there, from the key point that governments have the power to print as much money as they want. And to distribute it. It is documented historical reality. ‘Experts’ will say that Maureen’s Elegance will cause inflation, as currencies become worthless. No. If every government does it, then we are in an unchartered territory that no ‘expert’ can predict, whoever pays their wages. It would need politicians with vision, and the balls to go against financial cartels, but I live in hope that somewhere like Iceland or New Zealand will set an example. And the dominoes will begin to fall. And eliminate the notion that it is somehow OK for any human to go to sleep empty-bellied, wet or cold. Or that financial markets somehow matter more than people.
Some may slap the label of ‘communism’ on Maureen’s Elegance. I’m fairly sure that she is thinking more of the abundance that is available, and withheld, rather than levering the next Joe Stalin into power. She has no interest in taking money back from the richest, just bringing an all-encompassing safety net into existence.
Imagine if a huge, war-footing effort was eventually put into the target that every global citizen was fed and sheltered. Is that not better than today’s cruel dissonance? Why would anyone not want that?
I can see an effort (much more joyful than our ‘stay at home’ diktat) that might run parallel to the ‘race’ between powerful, privately-run pharma companies to bring us a COVID-19 vaccination. I know which of the two sets of goalposts I’d prefer, given that huge chunks of global employment have been lost to the virus, which will bring ruin, and attendant deaths, to far more families than the virus will, unless mitigated.
My favourite short story, by Ursula Le Guin, is ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’. It describes a Utopian city where everyone is satisfied and happy, at the price of a 10-year old child locked forever in a broom cupboard. The citizens have everything they need. Yet some still leave, unable to stomach the distorted social contract.
As my missus said, we’re either all in it together or we ain’t. Another reminder of why I married her.