It’s All A Load Of Kabul Sh*t

The lyrics of Lily Allen’s song Kabul Shit speak for themselves. Climate change, corrupt politics and warmongering foreign policy are all astutely analysed in rhyming verses. So before you cast your vote this Thursday think on the words of that famous mockney singer:
 

There’s a hole in our logic,
There’s a hole in the sky
And one day just like magic
We’re all going to die,
‘Cause we didn’t turn the lights off
And we didn’t take the bus,
Even though we know we should have
Oh, silly old us.

 

These lines refer to the hole in the ozone caused by a range of chemicals including CFCs. Interestingly, in 1987 the Montreal Protocol was signed: an international treaty that phased out the production of numerous substances that contributed to ozone depletion. Unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol – designed to limit the amount of carbon emissions and hence curb global warming – has proven much less effective even though 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. As Allen points out we carry on ignoring the evidence and consuming resources at a planetary pace, “Oh, silly old us.”

 

Well we should have recycled
And saved our resources
While there’s still someone else’s
Someone call the armed forces,
And we’ll blame it on terror
Also known as religion
But we shouldn’t feel guilt
For protecting our children.

 

Here Allen references resource wars – wars fought to gain control of a specific resource, such as land or water. The song alludes to the Iraq War – waged by the US and UK to allegedly find weapons of mass destruction but subsequently revealed to have been about ensuring access to oil. The war has been deemed illegal and many want to see George Bush and Tony Blair put on trial as war criminals. The lyrics also refer to terrorism, often evoked by Western governments to further justify racist and belligerent policies. Of course, some terrorism does reside in extreme forms of religion and one could even argue that capitalism is its own extreme religion forcing us to kill others for continued growth and profit. “But we shouldn’t feel guilt for protecting our children” is a wonderful sign off as Allen notes people’s tendencies to justify all sorts of actions for the safety of their own family, even if other families are harmed in the process – many of us did support the Iraq War even though it proved devastating for Iraqi civilians.

 

I don’t have the answers
I don’t know where we start,
Start to pick up all the pieces
Of everything we’ve torn apart.
Now, you’d think that we’d be grateful
For the fact we’ve got a choice
Instead we throw it back at people
Who don’t even have a voice.

 

This verse refers to scapegoating – the act of blaming someone for another’s wrongdoing. Recently we have seen Ukip scapegoating immigrants for the UK’s economic woes. Yet inherent to capitalist economics are periods of boom and bust linked to speculation on commodities (e.g. the internet, housing, financial ‘innovations’). However, rather than try and understand the root causes of these problems racist right-wing groups like Ukip play on xenophobia to try to turn people against immigrants. In the early 1900s the Jews were scapegoats, in the 1960s Enoch Powell called for ‘rivers of blood’ and recently Nigel Farage has been blaming Romanians. This is an ignorant and pernicious trope that Allen rightly challenges.

 

And the teachers always told us
Told us we should love thy neighbour,
And my mother always told me
Told me I should vote new labour,
But I don’t know who to trust
And I just find it all confusing,
All as useless as each other
Past the point of being amusing.
 

Allen highlights the increasing adoption of neoliberal policies by the UK’s main political parties. A trend initiated by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party in the 1980s and adopted by Blair’s ‘New Labour’ party in the 90s and 00s. Now it seems that neoliberalism is a song all the parties sing too – one that promotes privatisation, austerity and deregulation. When all parties put profit over people it’s not surprising they all appear as “as useless as each other“.

Lily Allen’s is a political and pop tour de force. In a few verses she analyses the status quo with laser precision. So, before you put a cross in a box remember that this status quo does not have to go unchallenged – the power of elites and capital, the neoliberal consensus, the damage of climate change, the erosion of democracy and the waging of wars are all things that can change if we adopt policies that promote people and planet together. We do have agency and we can take action – it begins with a vote. The alternative is denial, the consequences of which are already proving dire:

 

Excuse me, sir,
But is this what they call denial,
Just to carry on regardless
We’ll only do it for a while.
We’ll carry on straight down the line,
Down the road to nowhere,
Do you know where it is leading us
And do we even wanna go there?

The Establishment’s Deckchairs

The Establishment is Owen Jones’ latest book. It is a brilliant critique of the UK’s elite and how they rig politics, economics, business, law and media in their favour. He highlights the hypocrisy of the neoliberals who decry state intervention but then rely on the state for the  implementation of their wishes. His critique is brutally well researched and his findings are damning, yet I do not think his examination of the establishment is sufficiently rigorous. In this brief post I shall add one further criticism to Jones’ multitude.

The Establishment

In essence, The Establishment charts the rise of neoliberalism in the UK. After the second world war and with the rise of the welfare state it was looking as if neoclassical capitalism was here to stay – an active and paternalistic state working with strong unions to foster economic growth. A few lone voices bemoaned these turns of event and think tanks were established to promote neoliberalism – the rolling back of and privatisation of the state with an emphasis on supporting those at the top of the ladder rather than the bottom. Margaret Thatcher and Richard Nixon are familiar figureheads for this movement and between them they ensured neoliberalism became the status quo. The bailing out of the banks after the late noughties recession and the current government’s commitment to austerity all form part of the neoliberal narrative. It explains why inequality is growing, the rich are getting richer and more people are being pushed below the poverty line.

At the end of the book Jones offers some “pretty timid” solutions to the current problem that sees a greedy fraction of the population twist the system to fill their coffers. He calls for the state to once again play a more active role in society with regards wealth distribution, taxation and public service provision. He wants a clamp down on the banking system and tax avoidance. He calls for a “democratic revolution” without offering much of a guide as to how the public could actually play a greater role in a highly corporatised and economically beleaguered country.

A distinct lack of viable solutions aside my main concern with The Establishment is its failure to articulate the deeper political and economic impetus that has guided our country for decades and served the establishment very well. It is called capitalism – “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.” Capitalism takes capital and adds an -ism to it, in other words, it turns money making into a religion. Capitalism measures everything with money. For something to make sense in a capitalist system it must be price tagged. At a national scale a country’s overall material throughput – namely how much stuff and how many services are bought and sold – is measured in GDP, gross domestic product. Jessie J got it wrong, it turns out it is all about the money, money, money.

With this backdrop in mind it becomes clear that whether or not capitalism is guided by a neoclassical or neoliberal inclination it is still capitalism. Increasing profits and GDP will always be the priority, whatever the cost. We are relentlessly having to churn up finite resources, abuse human labour and innovate more soon-to-be-obsolete products so our economies can ‘grow’. So, whether the state is guided by an establishment willing to make concessions to the working class or by one that is cut throat in its pursuit of the bottom line we are still just rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic as we remain committed to a political and economic (il)logic that prioritises profit over people and planet.

The lack of a coherent analysis of capitalism may explain why The Establishment is so heavy on criticism, around 300 pages of it, but so very light on solutions, we only get 20 pages of “pretty timid” suggestions. The irony is that Jones has lain waste to the crooks that rig the system in their favour yet fails to hammer home a criticism of the very system that assures their power – capitalist economics. Until we understand the perils of a commitment to contemporary capitalism we remain seated on the deck of a swiftly sinking ship frantically rearranging the deckchairs. Tbc…

50 Shades of Neoliberalism

The Green Party’s 2015 Election Broadcast is spot on – David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband all singing to the same tune. And that tune is neoliberalism. Whilst having many definitions neoliberalism is a form of capitalism typified by a laissez faire approach to economics that prioritises privatisation, free trade and austerity. Neoliberalism is also underpinned by an adversity to state intervention, unless that state intervention is designed to facilitate privatisation, free trade and austerity.

The Green Party’s music video shows Ed Miliband being tempted to join the other ‘old boys’ reminding us that once upon a time Labour stood for a neoclassical  approach to capitalism – one that encouraged state intervention in economics and championed workers rather than bosses. Unfortunately for neoclassicalism New Labour happened and as Margaret Thatcher – arch neoliberal – once said, her greatest achievement was Tony Blair. He set the ball rolling for Labour’s adoption of neoliberalism.

So it seems that when we’re asked to vote on politics come May what we are inevitably voting on is economics. Be it Tory, Lib Dem, Ukip or Labour, all are just different shades of neoliberalism, with some making tokenistic gestures towards alleviating poverty whilst others roll back the state faster and harder. But the Greens aren’t grey and are questioning these economic paradigms. Paradigms that have been so embedded in our culture over the past few decades that they seem like immutable truths.

But just as one globally popular boyband will inevitably be  replaced by another so too can the economic status quo shift. It’s just that we’re the ones that are going to have to vote on it.