John Penney form Crewe Left Unity explores the need to develop a coherent National Economic Development Plan.
Large scale national economic planning was a key feature of European social democratic party manifestos, and political practice when in office, for much of the post WWII period. The first Harold Wilson Labour government of 1964 to 1970 for instance , although profoundly wedded to the capitalist status quo, tried to pursue an ambitious national planning agenda. As the Wikipedia entry recalls : “ A main theme of Wilson’s economic approach was to place enhanced emphasis on “indicative economic planning“. He created a new Department of Economic Affairs to generate ambitious targets that were in themselves supposed to help stimulate investment and growth (the government also created a Ministry of Technology (shortened to Mintech) to support the modernisation of industry). The DEA itself was in part intended to serve as an expansionary counter-weight to what Labour saw as the conservative influence of the Treasury…………… In any case the government’s decision over its first three years to defend sterling’s parity with traditional deflationary measures ran counter to hopes for an expansionist push for growth. Though now out of fashion, the faith in indicative planning as a pathway to growth, embodied in the DEA and Mintech, was at the time by no means confined to the Labour Party – Wilson built on foundations that had been laid by his Conservative predecessors, in the shape, for example, of the National Economic Development Council (known as “Neddy”) and its regional counterparts (the “little Neddies”). Government intervention in industry was greatly enhanced, with the National Economic Development Office greatly strengthened, with the number of “little Neddies” was increased, from eight in 1964 to twenty-one in 1970. The government’s policy of selective economic intervention was later characterised by the establishment of a new super-ministry of technology, under Tony Benn.”
Good as these ideas were – regular economic crisis, and the fundamentally unwillingness of the Labourites to do more than simply try to “bring order to domestic capitalism” rather than any more radical agenda, meant that very little was actually achieved. By the second Wilson government of 1974, “stagflation” and the Labour Government’s main aim of demobilising the then radically rising tide of working class struggle built up during the battles against the Heath Government, meant that Labour were more interested in promoting class collaborationist ideological “we’re all in it together” con tricks like the bogus “Social Contract” , than trying to reshape the British economy to benefit the majority of citizens. And of course the neoliberal Blair/Brown governments were entirely “ideologically captured” by the toxic theory that all that capitalism needed was to be “freed from the shackles” of regulation and state direction, and it would (eventually) create prosperity for all – through the crumbs falling on most of us from the ever increasing riches on the superrich class’s table. Well , since the 2008 world economic Crash , and now the endless Great Recession, we can see the real outcome of the lack of regulation, the lack of planning for public benefit, on the UK and the world’s economy – a class of superrich gorged on a transfer of wealth and incomer unprecedented since Victorian times – and the rest of us increasingly impoverished.
From comments on our own LU website it is obvious that the 30 year neoliberal ideological offensive , in favour of unregulated (and of course untaxed,) free enterprise capitalism has bitten deeply into even the ideological “mindscape” of people who see themselves as “radicals” ! So much so that the term “National Planning”, is too often seen as suggesting the establishment of the structures and practices of Stalin era Soviet “Five Year Plans”, rather than as a normal part of radical social democratic practice and philosophy. That some of the most successful examples of large scale integrated economic planning actually derive from reforming administrations in capitalist states, eg, The Roosevelt New Deal Programme in the USA in the 1930’s , is not something the capitalist media wants us to remember. Even reformist programmes of large scale planning in capitalist states put far too much restriction on the greed-driven dynamics of capitalism for the capitalist class’s liking.
What should a radical Left Party’s Economic Development “proposal” to the electorate look like ? Simply assembling a bundle of disconnected “desirable economic aims” and outline policies is all very well, but credible Economic policy cannot just be a “car boot sale” of pick’n’mix ideas and policies which meet various criteria for being generally desirable from a “Leftish” perspective. . That’s the type of mish mash of economic policies piled up in the Green Party’s portfolio – something for everyone – but no coherent masterplan , and no credible deliverability (and no intention to do so in the case of all the “anti capitalist “rhetoric ) . If Left Unity is to have any credibility with its various “offers” to the target voters in the UK , ( mainly ex or existing Labour voters – and the large working class contingent who seldom vote – because no-one seems to be interested in providing them with a good quality JOB). We have to outline in a few sentences our overall objectives in the economic field, then identify some key problems with the UK economy,, and then outline the bones of a coherent set of solutions.
To give an introductory example of the direction think we should go:
Our overall economic objectives:
For Left Unity the entire purpose of our society ,and its economic activities, is to provide as prosperous, individually rewarding, healthy, and environmentally sustainable, a life for the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of this island as is possible. We do not see the purpose of society in general, or its economic activity in particular, as simply to provide a profitable” platform” for big corporations and a tiny class of superrich. We reject the idea of our society being comparable in any way to “UK Plc”, as the main three parties believe. For us all economic activity is there to serve the needs of people, not the blind pursuit of profit for a few.
Key current problems with the current UK economy:
1. Outside the monstrously oversized financial services sector dominated London- centred economic zone of the relatively prosperous but overcrowded South East , the lack of a serious UK regional development strategy for 30 years , and the unlimited growth of the parasitic, destructive, financial sector at the expense of manufacturing industry ,has led to most of the UK being an increasingly deindustrialised wasteland with few good quality job opportunities.
2. There is no joined up “national plan” to regenerate the failing regions, restructure the “economic sectoral mix” away from casino banking /financial speculation, to regionally spread, diversified ,manufacturing , particularly high tech manufacturing .
3. We are spending far too little on the education and appropriate skilling of our population, particularly our young people – to ensure opportunities and well paid, rewarding jobs for all, in a dynamic economy with a full range of job opportunities nationwide.
4.The government coffers are increasingly being drained by the ever decreasing tax revenue from the superrich and big corporations, as they take advantage of the tax loopholes deliberately created by compliant politicians and an Inland Revenue now run entirely by ex- tax avoidance experts, to reduce their tax payments to derisory levels.
5.We are squandering tax revenues needed to regenerate the UK and pay for our Welfare and Educational services, on a Cold War era nuclear weapons capability which has no credible enemy, and tying down a huge skilled workforce in arms production, better devoted to socially useful products.
I could go on – but the key problems facing the economy and the majority of its citizens need to be identified , and then a series of radical measures proposed to transform the UK economy from a low wage, high unemployment, one, skewed to the interests of the London-based financial sector, to a balanced economy with good jobs and good wages for the majority – not just a bunch of investment bankers.
Such Radical policies might include:
and so on…
Airy statements of principles and nice objectives are all very well – but the UK economy is in a mess, millions of people need good quality jobs (not zero hour contracts and workfare). Left Unity’s take on the economy has to be radical but believable and hard headed, and above all holistic..
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