1990s >> 1994 >> no-1074-february-1994

Sting in the Tail: Fine in Theory

Fine in theory

What lay behind the desire of all those governments to bring about the recent GATT agreement? One of the main reasons was, we were told, “the need to stimulate competition”.

In Australia a new football boot, “Blades”, has been designed. It has diagonal rubber blades on the soles and heals instead of studs and the makers claim it will improve grip and reduce injuries. Eighty percent of Australian rugby league players now use it.

Glad cries all round then? No, in fact every obstacle is being put in the way of this competitor by the multinational football boot makers:

    “A club sponsored by one took out a Supreme Court injunction to try to stop the Nine Network’s “A Current Affair” programme showing its results of boot trials. It failed. In another incident subcontractors of a rival company stopped Blades’ production by removing equipment from the factory. Power struggle and patent intrigues lie ahead.” (Guardian, 11 December)

The fiercest opposition is what always faces those who try to put rhetoric about competition into practice.

Patching them up

An advert in the national press by the charity St. Christopher’s Fellowship (31 December) announced that: “Christmas is over! In a few hours she’ll be back on the streets.” It told of a young woman who “is counting the hours until her temporary Christmas-time refuge is closed down”.

She was not alone. Two thousand single homeless people in London hit the streets again after Christmas as temporary shelters closed. A week of being fed, given medical check-ups and even haircuts only highlighted for some the misery of the other 51 weeks and suicide attempts were reported.

And what did all this achieve? Crisis, one of the major charities, claimed:

    “most of the homeless people who passed through its temporary hostels this Christmas emerged refreshed and better able to cope with life on the streets.”

Could anything better demonstrate the utter futility of charity than this?

Segregated again

Remember the tremendous effort and sacrifice that went into the civil rights campaign to desegregate schools in the USA? Eventually schools were legally integrated.

But now a study by Harvard University reveals that 66 percent of black and 74 percent of Hispanic youngsters attend schools which have few white classmates. The prediction is that within 20 years half of US state schools will be predominantly black or Hispanic.

The Harvard report’s director concluded:

    “The civil rights impulse of the 1960s is dead in the water and the ship is floating back towards the shoals of racial segregation.” (Guardian, 15 December)

What has happened is that poverty-stricken blacks and Hispanics have moved to the towns and cities and become concentrated in areas where those whites who can afford to have moved out.

So population drift has replaced overt racism as the cause of segregated schools: that may have changed, but the poverty factor remains constant and that is something the reformists can do nothing about.

The truth hurts

What politicians will do just to “get in” is exceeded only by what they will do to stay in. An example of this is the suppression of information which will be politically embarrassing.

The Black Report was commissioned in 1977 to inquire into inequalities in people’s health. When it was ready in 1980 the Tory government did not publish it. Instead, 200 duplicated copies of the typescript were made available on August bank holiday in the hope that it would never be noticed.

The reason is clear:

    “The report laid out a mass of evidence pointing out that social class and economic deprivation had a profound effect on health, with the inequalities of childhood persisting so that ill-health was worse, and death rates higher, at every stage of life the poorer the person was.” (Guardian, 17 December)

London’s yo-yo

London share prices have reached record levels – the FTSE share index rose by 22 percent in 1993 and another big rise is forecast for 1994.

What is causing this? Current low interest and inflation rates will encourage business to think they can plan ahead with more certainty. This, plus a feeling that the recession is now over, has pushed shares up, but there are other less rational reasons for the rise.

For instance, London prices usually follow prices on Wall Street and Far East markets and these have been rising (Tokyo is the exception). Then there is the fact that many investors buy on a rising market simply because they are afraid of being left out of what they think must be a good thing.

Of course, the last budget’s tax rises may reduce consumer spending and the recession on the continent, which is British capitalism’s biggest customer, may slow down the recovery and send the FTSE tumbling again.

The last emperor

Mao’s centenary gave the media the chance to disclose some awful truths about the old tyrant. For example, on one TV programme his megalomania was on display. He saw himself as the greatest of China’s Emperors and boasted how he had more power and killed more “enemies” than any previous Emperor.

And he was completely ignorant of even basic economics. His “Great Leap Forward” in the 1950s had an officially estimated 100 million peasants taken out of the fields to produce steel, of which they knew nothing, and resulted in tens of millions dying in the inevitable famine. Incidentally, Mao the “Marxist” had read very little of Marx’s writings.

What, we wonder, were those British Maoists, past and present, thinking as they watched or read about the monstrous crimes committed by the man they so idolized?

That’s them that is

“In this edition of ‘History Today’ Professor Lewis and I will be discussing the question ‘Is there really a working class in contemporary capitalism?’ Professor Lewis, what is your view?”

“See a boring old fart who thinks history is all about kings, queens, military commanders, politicians and other useless parasites?”

“I suppose there may be such a person.”

“That’s you, that is.”

“Perhaps, Professor Lewis, but who are the working class today?”

“See those millions of people all over the world who must work for a wage or salary in order to live, who produce all of society’s wealth and fight and die in wars which have nothing to do with them?”

“I have heard that there are such persons.”

“Well that’s THEM, THAT IS!”

(Acknowledgements to Newman and Baddiel)

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