2000s >> 2009 >> no-1254-february-2009

Cooking the Books 2: Have the Tories gone Marxist?

 Since the onset of the present crisis, as we have noted, Marx has been mentioned many times in the papers. One of the oddest must be a photo in the Times (8 January) of the Tory Leader, David Cameron, with the caption “David Cameron has lined up with Marx and the Church of England”.

 The photo was used to illustrate an article by the paper’s financial guru, Anatole Kaletsky, in which he argued that the way to stop the depression getting deeper was to follow Keynes’s advice and encourage people to spend more. But how can David Cameron, the Church of England and Marx be placed in the same boat? Because, says Kaletsky, all three don’t think much of the government’s policy of trying to spend its way out of the crisis.

 True, they don’t, but for quite different reasons.

 The Church doesn’t like people pursuing the acquisition of material things and so is opposed to the government encouraging people to spend more on this. In fact, they probably want us all to consume less.

 David Cameron claims to believe that the policy won’t work. He wants a different policy to be pursued, but only with him as Prime Minister.

 Marxists, like Marx, are not interested in proposing policies for governments to pursue. We say that, whatever the policy they pursue, they cannot make capitalism work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers. We add that, in any event, once a crisis develops, an increase in government and personal spending cannot make it any shorter than it is otherwise going to be.

 Crises only come to an end when stocks have been cleared, inefficient businesses eliminated, asset values have depreciated and real wages and interest rates fallen, so restoring the rate of profit, the incentive to produce (and the brake on producing) under capitalism.

 Printing more money (or, what amounts to the same thing, the government borrowing money from itself), as an inflation of the currency, is likely to lead simply to rising prices while production continues to stagnate. “Stagflation”, as it has been called.

 Cameron – of course – does not accept this. He has a different explanation for the crisis: that it was caused by the policies of the Labour government, and so can be ended by a new government pursuing a different policy. This is just the stuff of the game of parliamentary politics, based on the illusion that governments can, and do, control the way the economy works. But they don’t.

 If Brown is being blamed for causing the crisis it’s partly his own fault. When the economy was expanding he was keen to claim the credit. He even made the ridiculous boast that he had ended the boom-slump cycle. Now that things have gone wrong, he’s blaming the international economic situation. This is true, but he – and politicians generally – can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim credit for the good times and blame world events for the bad times. Actually, it’s the uncontrollable world economy that’s responsible for both.

 We hold no brief for Brown, but the Tories’s claim that the present crisis is made in Britain, that it’s “Gordon Brown’s crisis”, is not true. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s capitalism’s. It’s capitalism’s crisis, and the answer is not to change the government but to get rid of capitalism.

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