Cooking the Books 1: Was there an alternative?
Mrs Thatcher always maintained there was no alternative to the policy her government was pursuing in the 1980s of putting promotion of profits before meeting people’s needs. When challenged about cutting benefits and social services, she replied: There Is No Alternative. When confronted with protests about closing factories and coalmines, her reply was the same: TINA.
Socialists were inclined to agree. We knew that capitalism – the profit system -runs on profits and that all governments, taking on as they do the management of capitalism, sooner or later have to apply its priority of profits before people. The Thatcher government was merely doing this sooner rather than later and with undisguised glee. Not that capitalism can never offer reforms but, since the post-war boom came to an end in the early 70s, previousreforms had become too expensive and had to be cut back to ease the burden of taxation on profit-seeking business.
Proof that there is no alternative under capitalism to putting profits first has been provided by the Blair government which took over in 1997. They have continued the same policy, even if they have been more mealy-mouthed about it, calling it “modernisation” and even “reform”.
Now, in a bid to out-Blair Blair, the new Tory leader wants to kill off Tina. The Times (22 May) reported that “David Cameron will tell business leaders today that there is ‘more to life than money’ as he attempts to make a clean break with Thatcherism”.
The pre-released text of his speech explained: “Wealth is about so much more than pounds or euros or dollars can ever measure. It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB – general wellbeing. Wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It can’t be required by law or delivered by government.It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and above all the strength of our relationships.”
Most people probably feel like this, but capitalism as an economic system cannot take into account “general wellbeing” precisely because this can’t be quantified in money terms. Capitalism is all about making and accumulating monetary profits and, in pursuit of this, not only ignores but actually degrades “the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and the strength of our relationships”.
Cameron, naturally, disagrees. The next Tory government, he said, will embrace “capitalism with commitment” (Times, 23 May), presumably to make it promote people’s general wellbeing. The trouble is that Cameron himself is a product of the degradation of “the quality of our culture”. He’s just an image designed and packaged by the same people who try to (mis)sell us washing powder, deodorants and private pensions, only with the aim changed to attracting votes rather than sales. To expect such a product to change capitalism’s priorities is just absurd.
The next Tory government will be no different from the present Labour one. It will continue to promote the general commercialisation of life and the reduction of human values to monetary ones. People will continue to be reduced towards becoming isolated atoms competing against each otheron the market place, with the consequent weakening of “our relationships”.That’s the tendency under capitalism, which no government can reverse. There is no alternative. Or rather, there is, but not within the profit system.