Economics for the Many

Issue section: 

This collection of essays begins with the undoubted instability and polarisation neoliberalism has caused. It ends with Guy Standing claiming vindication for his 2011 prediction that a political monster would emerge. In between there is much useful detail about the systemic theft at the heart of the current system and well-argued proposals for alternatives.

Antonia Jennings notices that “the economy” is a recent device designed to convince us we share interests with our exploiters. Her solution to “economic illiteracy” is citizen economists who ask awkward questions — for example about the tax avoidance industry, which is riddled with sharp practice, illegal schemes and blatant conflicts of interest.

It is explained how Labour’s fiscal credibility rule would have avoided austerity, how “financialisation” has decimated savings in favour of “asset based welfare,” made housing a highly leveraged asset and caused a reliance on debt for economic participation. There are calls for the establishment of public banks to definancialise the economy.

Shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner proposes “institutional internationalism” as a solution to the twin dangers of protectionism and unregulated trade. Grace Berkeley and Luke Railes argue that, as London is almost a separate economy, regional devolution is needed to aid regeneration.

Alongside a return to municipal ownership of services and renationalisation of key industries it is proposed that Labour encourages workers’ cooperatives through a revamp of its 1976 Common Ownership Act. The “Cleveland Model” which pioneered community wealth building, is used as an example, as is the radical approach being taken by the ruling Labour group in Preston.

Ozlem Onaron argues that “care” should be properly funded, not least because the positive effects of social infrastructure investment are greater than those in physical infrastructure.

Getting down to fundamentals J Christopher Proctor explains how “economics” is narrowed, limiting what students learn and progressives see as possible, arguing that we have to create our own think tanks where unorthodox economics can thrive.

Lastly Guy Standing makes the case for a “commons fund” and a universal basic income, “the only welfare policy that has an emancipatory value greater than its monetary value,” which he says would promote freedom, end exploitative relationships and remove the onus on the poor to endlessly prove they are deserving.

If the proposals in this book were implemented Britain would be a better place, but the fundamental question of how a future Labour government would implement them in the face of sustained establishment opposition is wilfully disregarded. Karl Marx expended much effort critiquing the ideas of “utopian” socialists like Robert Owen, not because they were undesirable, but because he believed they were impossible to achieve without the overthrow of capitalism. From Chile to Syriza elected leaders have been unable to fulfil their promises to the electorate. The shape of Guy Standing’s monster is now clearer. If it is to be slain it will take wholesale popular resistance and a fully risen working class. Sadly in Economics for the many neither of these get a single mention.