Up to the mid 80es strong unions, progressive taxation, managed trade and controls on capital and immigration produced higher living standards for the majority. As the authors note, "A fifth factor, immigration controls, also contributed to rising real incomes of blue-collar workers." Now the opposite policies are producing stagnant or falling incomes, massive debts, tepid growth, and soaring income inequality and economic insecurity. Workers are subjected to material losses and moral uplift. GB plc is not a decent industrial company but a dodgy hedge fund.
Elliott and Atkinson blame what they call the twelve gods of globalisation - communication, financialization, privatisation, liberalisation, competition, and their partners speculation, recklessness, greed, arrogance, oligarchy and excess. They show how the Labour party, the European Commission, the IMF, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the International Court of Justice have all embraced these gods. As the authors note, bodies like the EU "far from being essential in order to exercise some sort of control over large companies ... look rather more like being essential to the simplification of large companies' dealings with political authorities."
The present crisis arose because US companies promoted enormous `ninja' loans to those with No Income, No Job or Assets. So US household debt is now three times the economy's annual output, the highest proportion since 1929. Two million insolvent borrowers means insolvent lenders, builders and hedge funds. Every previous crash in the US housing market has led to a full-blown recession and this one will too, largely because the US economy has relied not on increased production but on growing debt. Its productivity has grown less since 1973 than it did in 1947-73 and it created no more jobs between 2000 and 2005 than anywhere else.
Elliott and Atkinson show how the Treasury, its Financial Services Authority, and the Bank of England all failed in the Northern Rock debacle which signalled the start of the crisis in Britain. Their answer was to nationalise the losses and privatise the profits. The authors sum up finance capitalists' plight, "They have to borrow money from the public purse because their system does not work."
Instead, Elliott and Atkinson urge a New Populism focusing on a real-world agenda of jobs, living standards and security in retirement. Its aims should be to subordinate finance to industry, establish personal and social security (mainly by providing high-quality pensions), enhance democracy, curb the semi-detached super-rich, strengthen the professions, value social stability above market efficiency or shareholder value, and reaffirm the liberty of the person.
They urge protection for our industries, tighter controls on lending and credit, splitting retail from investment banking, smaller banks, proper vetting of all financial products, higher taxes on hedge funds and private equity partners, and deregulation for smaller businesses and the self-employed.
This is a bold set of proposals, whose implementation would go a long way towards saving industry and rebuilding Britain. Those who worship the twelve gods would, of course, fiercely resist, and it would take the strength of the organised working class to make this New Populism work - but we could do it.