Reshaping the economy a decade after the crash | Letters | Politics

The IPPR report contains many intriguing ideas (Tom Kibasi: We can and must rebalance the economy. Here’s how, 5 September). By 2022, when we could have an effective reforming government, the systemic inequalities the report identifies will have increased considerably, local authorities will be in their death throes, and a Brexit recession may be under way. The problems will be immense. But the solutions proposed by Kibasi, Welby et al amount to feng shui realignments of the devastation wrought by Osborne’s wrecking balls.

“Workers on boards”, to take one example, will require legislation, regulation, oversight, education, time and funding. The system works well where there is an extensive Mittelstand, but may not suit our complex outsourced structures, which were developed precisely to circumvent the type of demands workers would make (decent conditions, good wages and secure pensions).

An incoming government will be stretched by crisis management, and so the solutions must be at hand and easy to implement. These could include: reinstatement of the local government revenue support grant, curbing all tax relief, including gift aid to fully fund education, and an internet transaction tax to support local business initiatives. We need an emergency brake on austerity before we can attempt to steer in a new direction.
Dr Mark Ellis
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Owen Jones (The mood has shifted – now the left can be truly radical, 6 September) highlights the weakness of the left’s conceptual and practical response to the financial crisis of 10 years ago. He is right to say that the IPPR report and recommendations on economic justice, though helpful and progressive, hardly represent exciting and engaging radicalism. In fact its report echoes the main weakness of its 1994 report on social justice, in that the focus is still on securing the benefits from economic growth and skilled work rather than redistributing wealth and power in a future where there is loads more wealth for some and no paid work at all for others.

We are still living in a world where the philosophy of Milton Friedman holds us in a vice-like grip. Work, money and individualism constrain our thoughts about the economic and the social, and it is here that neoliberalism has been most successful. The right have been far more astute in creating a world of ideas that seems normal and uncontestable and have been much sharper at pushing forward the ideological carriers that infect our thinking.

In the world of competing ideas I will know that the left and progressive movements have made significant headway in turning the tide when we no longer consider “taxpayers” as an actual category of human being, we no longer talk about the high street as if it were a valuable contributor to health and happiness, and we don’t have to listen to constant reports about share prices and the value of the pound as if it was important news.
Brian Cox
Framsden, Suffolk

Nick Mayer, a director of Lehman Brothers at the time of its collapse, asks us to believe that banking has learned its lesson and is now a “tamed industry. Profit margins are wafer thin, [and] incentives are rightly contained” (Capitalists’ magical thinking, Letters, 6 September). Well, they can’t be all that contained if TSB can afford to “compensate” its failed chief executive Paul Pester with a golden farewell of at least £1.68m (Report, 5 September).. Bankers do indeed live in a “magical” parallel universe to me and, I suspect, most Guardian readers.
Peter Wrigley
Birstall, Yorkshire

The article on the NAO’s report on personal debt (Personal debt problems cost economy £900m, say NAO, 6 September) focuses on the symptoms rather than the disease. The Treasury (currently responsible for policy in this area) has encouraged the expansion of personal debt in order to shore up economic activity, to counter the damage wrought by austerity policies since 2010.

The report highlights a further cause: “Financial capability – the ability of people to manage their money and handle periods of financial difficulty – in the UK is low. MAS [the Money Advice Service] estimates that 4 in 10 people in the UK cannot manage their money well day to day, while the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has found the UK to score below average in financial capability compared with other OECD countries.” Part of the proposed solution is to improve teaching of financial literacy in schools. No doubt the recent DfE announcement demanding teachers’ refrain from expressing political views in schools is unconnected.

Having the created the problem, the government now proposes to join its policy dots by transferring responsibility for personal debt to the DWP, where it can sit next to bedroom taxes, child caps, benefit sanctions etc, allowing the government to further micromanage the lives of those for whom the UK’s economic system is broken.
Richard Parkinson
London

It is not the case, as Owen Jones suggests, that “the left’s intellectual cupboard was bare” in the face of the 2008 financial crisis. There were many voices denouncing the debt-centred model of capitalism, from liberal critics like Joseph Stiglitz and Will Hutton through to Marxists such as David Harvey and Yanis Varoufakis. What had been lost was an organic link between the left and the working class, such that any critique was simply free-floating.

In this regard, has anything really changed? We keep being told that Momentum is a social movement, not simply a group of chair-stackers for Corbyn, but I’ve yet to see Momentum stop an eviction or organise an anti-deportation campaign. A working-class left that placed all its hopes on a Corbyn-led Labour party would simply be repeating the mistakes of socialist history.
Nick Moss
London

I’m pleased to see a Guardian editorial (6 September) refer to the “crisis in capitalism”. The next step is to grasp that the crisis is not an accident but central to how the system works, or perhaps doesn’t.
Keith Flett
London

“Capitalism’s near-death experience with the banking crisis was a golden opportunity for progressives. But they blew it”, says the subheading on Larry Elliott’s article (Ten years after the financial crisis, the timid left should be full of regrets, 30 August). No they didn’t, at least not in China. Between 2009 and 2017, China’s economy increased from $4,600bn to over $12,000bn, and per capita income rose from $3,500 in 2009 to $8,800. Some 8-10 million jobs have been created annually. Public investment extended high-speed rail to 22,000 km, two-thirds of the world’s network, and increased electricity generation over 10% annually.

Labour productivity has risen 9.6% annually since 2003. From 30 companies in the top 500 in 2008, China now has 109, many approaching the technological frontiers; $100bn goes yearly into renewable energy, creating over a third of the world’s wind power and a quarter of its solar power capacities. Between 2007 and 2012, public social spending rose from 6% to 9% of GDP; healthcare spend is up $480bn since 2009, and all but 5% of the population gained basic health insurance. Pension enrolments almost doubled between 2009 and 2012 to around 60% of those aged 60-plus. Life expectancy rose from below 75 years in 2010 to 76.7 years in 2017. Since 2012, the number of people in extreme poverty has fallen from 100 million to 30 million.

While the West pumped “printed” money round virtual financial markets, China has become a different country. The world is becoming a different place. When taking stock, rather than just dismissing China as a human rights abuser, progressive thinkers should think on.
Jenny Clegg
Manchester

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