SARAWAK Report: Rosmah and Najib Razak apply pressure on Thai Government regarding Xavier Justo
Shock news from Bangkok has confirmed that the so-called ‘holiday’ taken by Najib Razak and wife Rosmah in Thailand this week was no coincidence.
In a dramatic reversal, the Thai authorities have made a U-turn over a promised prisoner transfer agreement for Xavier Justo with the Swiss Government.
Under normal rules for prisoner release the star witness and whistleblower in the 1MDB/PetroSaudi financial scandal had been due to be returned to Switzerland on September 1st.
Informal assurances had already been given to the Swiss and US authorities that this was indeed the case and that only a few formalities were needed and papers to be signed.
Then on August 31 there was a sudden delay. Diplomatic whispers explained that since Najib was due to visit in early September it would be polite not to dominate his visit with headlines concerning his global kleptocracy case.
However, Laura Justo told Sarawak Report that she feared the Malaysians were pressurising the Thais to keep this embarrassing witness in the 1MDB case from testifying to global regulators against Najib and his former colleagues at PetroSaudi.
Her fears now seem born out. The formal meeting to secure the transfer had been postponed till today (September 16), just after the Malaysian couple had left. However, Justo’s lawyers confirmed that the papers were now all ready to be signed for his immediate transfer, already delayed under the inter-country convention on prisoners.
There was never any doubt Rosmah would fight this release
The Justo family had made a decision to lower their profile during this sensitive period to allow formal procedures to take place. However, there was increasing concern that the desperate tactics they had already experienced at the hands of the Malaysians and PetroSaudi, now in centre frame for the world’s biggest ever kleptocracy case, would again come into play.
“They were there [in Thailand] to use every influence they had, power, money, sweetheart deals and cooperation, to get the Thais to hold on to Justo. They played the same game with Singapore. They are willing to sell out their country’s interests to save their skin” explained one observer, close to the family.
Laura Justo went public on the circumstances of her husband’s arrest and conviction in July. She explained how PetroSaudi operatives had blackmailed him into a forced confession and had boasted they had “paid everyone in Thailand” to get him arrested.
The British Director of the company, Patrick Mahony, has further admitted in a recorded conversation that behind him it was Najib who was directing the operation because:
“A Prime Minister of a country is in deep shit because of him [Justo]”
But Malaysia’s first couple and their entourage, who refuse to accept they are not all powerful and protected by impunity are still using every power they have to fight through and cement their grip on the situation.
Sure enough, today Thailand presented a U-turn to the Swiss authorities, whom they had earlier assured that all was proceeding with the transfer.
“Because of all the delays in releasing him and the recent amnesty the Thais are now saying that Xavier now has just less than a year left to serve, which means he apparently can’t be transferred! This is a complete turnaround on their previous commitments and they are playing games” wife Laura Justo has told Sarawak Report.
“My biggest fear is that the Malaysians will try and take this a step further and extradite him under some kind of legal pretence” Laura added.
Thai officials have now further warned Justo’s lawyers that despite there being ‘less than a year to serve’ there could be several months of delay after the end of the sentence before he can be released, because of ‘paperwork delays’!
Najib’s game plan to stay in power against growing coalition
Najib has changed his strategies by the day to keep power in the face of increasing exposure over 1MDB.
First, he lied and organised the jailing of Justo in Thailand. He then persuaded a Saudi Minister to appear to condone a story that Malaysia’s stolen billions had been ‘donated’ from an anonymous Royal donor.
Now that the US Department of Justice has exposed the whole scam Najib seems determined to just bludgeon control in Malaysia as a growing coalition of political forces are joining from all sides against him.
The couple are now preparing to fight early elections in March and Najib is trying to bulldoze through a last minute further gerrymandering of seats to disadvantage already disadvantaged opposition politicians – the size of many opposition seats is now well over ten times those of BN held constituencies, which are located mainly in rural areas where the party believes it can control the outcome through ‘money politics’.
With this ‘mandate’ the desperate ‘first couple’ believe they will be able to sweep aside all protests over their billion dollar heists.
Council of War – Jho Low joined Najib/Rosmah in Thai retreat
The purpose of the extended visit in Bangkok was plain from the start, observers say. The Malaysian Prime Minister and his wife were there to offer whatever was wanted to the Thai leadership seeking cooperation on border controls.
Malaysia’s public money is also plainly on offer to smooth any consciences in a country which PetroSaudi Directors had bragged that ‘everyone’ can be bought.
Joining the couple in Thailand was none other than the fugitive 1MDB financier Jho Low, sources have told Sarawak Report.
Others linked to 1MDB, including Nik Faisal Arif Kamil, the executive still in charge of the former subsidiary SRC International, is also believed to have joined the council of war in Thailand. SRC borrowed RM4 billion from the pension fund KWAP in 2012 and has yet to produce a satisfactory account of where that money now is. However, several millions have been traced into Najib Razak’s private spending accounts from SRC.
Nik Kamil is known to have now returned to his home in KL, which is believed to now be the safest place for known 1MDB fugitives from the international manhunt for key players in the theft.
However, Low, who is instantly recognisable in Malaysia, has not dared to returned to the country since he was exposed last year for stealing billions of the country’s development money on behalf of Najib.
Sarawak Report has previously revealed that Taiwan and Bangkok have been his favourite haunts since then, although the financier also still retains his yacht, which recently returned to Hong Kong, where he is believed to be attempting to make a sale.
Only serious nerds like me eagerly await the annual Census Bureau reports on income, poverty and health insurance. But the just-released reports on 2015 justified the anticipation.
We expected good news; but last year, it turns out, the economy partied like it was 1999. And this tells us something very important — namely, that a government that wants to can make American society more equitable, improving the quality of life for ordinary families.
The reports showed strong progress on three fronts: rapid growth in the incomes of ordinary families — median income rose a remarkable 5.2 percent; a substantial decline in the poverty rate; and a significant further rise in health insurance coverage after 2014’s gains. It was a trifecta that we haven’t hit since, yes, 1999.
It’s true that the surge in median income comes after years of disappointment, and even now the typical family’s income, adjusted for inflation, is slightly lower than it was before the financial crisis. But the percentage of Americans without health insurance is now at a record low. And the overall performance of the Obama economy has given the lie to much of the criticism leveled at President Obama’s policies.
Think back to the 2012 election campaign. There were already signs of the conspiracy-theory, bigotry-driven politics of this year’s election; Donald Trump was loudly proclaiming that Mr. Obama’s birth certificate was fake, and Mitt Romney eagerly accepted Mr. Trump’s endorsement.
But there was also something of a policy debate. Republicans accused Mr. Obama of being a “redistributionist,” taking money away from “job creators” to give free stuff to the 47 percent. And they claimed that these socialistic policies were destroying incentives and blocking economic recovery.
There was, in fact, a grain of truth in the first part of this accusation. Mr. Obama is no socialist, but since his re-election he has presided over a significant rise in taxes on high incomes. In fact, the top one percent is now paying about the same share of its income in federal taxes as it did in 1979, before Ronald Reagan began the era of big tax cuts for the rich. And some of the increased tax take is being used to subsidize health insurance for middle- and lower-income families.
Conservatives predicted disaster from these initiatives. Tax hikes on the rich, they insisted, would stall the economy. Obamacare’s combination of regulation and subsidies, they declared, would kill millions of jobs without increasing the number of Americans with insurance.
What happened instead after Mr. Obama was re-elected was the best job growth since the 1990s. But family incomes, at least as estimated by the Census, continued to lag. So there was still some statistical basis for the right’s Obama-bashing. Now that statistical basis is gone.
You might ask whether these numbers reflect reality. It’s often claimed that Americans aren’t feeling any economic recovery — and if anyone were to ask Mr. Trump, he would no doubt claim that the Census numbers, like every number he doesn’t like, are cooked.
But be wary of polling on this issue. When Americans are asked how the economy is doing, many of them just repeat what they think they heard on Fox News: By large margins, Republicans say that unemployment is up and the stock market is down under Mr. Obama, the opposite of the truth. On the other hand, when you ask people how well they personally are doing, the Obama years have been marked by large improvements — a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who see themselves as thriving.
So the good news is real. And it should (but won’t) finally break the grip of trickle-down ideology on much of our political class.
You know how the argument goes: Any attempt to help working families directly, we’re told, will backfire by hurting the economy as a whole. So we must cut taxes on those “job creators” instead, counting on a rising tide to raise all boats.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the Obama administration has done the reverse, but there definitely was an element of trickle-up economics in its response to the Great Recession: Much of the stimulus involved expanding the social safety net, not just to protect the vulnerable, but to increase purchasing power and sustain demand. And in general Obama-era policies have tried to help families directly, rather than by showering benefits on the rich and hoping that the benefits trickle down.
Now the results of this policy experiment are in, and they’re not bad. They could have been better: The stimulus should have been bigger and more sustained, and Republican opposition hamstrung the administration’s economic policy after the first two years. Still, progressive policies have worked, and the critics of those policies have been proved wrong.
I’m on my way to interview Joseph Stiglitz, economic guru of the political left, about his latest book, The Euro and its Threat to The Future of Europe.
Waiting in the reception of Penguin Books, I notice on display an early, Penguin “classic” edition of George Orwell’s 1984. Orwell is one of those authors who is claimed as their own by both right and left – the left because of his writings on social deprivation, but the right too because of his deep aversion, depicted in Animal Farm and 1984, to totalitarian communism.
I’m not sure Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winning economist who has advised the Scottish government on independence, the Far Left Syriza government in Greece, and very briefly sat on Jeremy Corbyn’s now disbanded economic advisory panel, crosses the boundaries in quite the same way, but there is no doubt that as a critique of the euro, his new book will appeal as much to a right as to the left.
I put this point to Stiglitz at the start of our interview.
It is the absence of any proper economic adjustment mechanism which is the over-riding failure in Europe–Joseph Stiglitz.
“Yes, it’s a fair summary”, he says, “except for one thing. One of the arguments I make for the failure of the euro is that at the time it was being constructed there was a “neo-liberal” ideology which said that all we need to do to make this thing work is to get deficits low, keep inflation low and take down barriers and then everything would be fine.
“That was a very conservative ideology, that if you did those things the markets would on their own adjust and everything else would come right. Not all right wing conservatives thought that, but a lot of what I call ‘market fundamentalism’ did go into the thinking on the euro.”
But most of those in Britain who thought the euro a mad idea were on the political right, I point out.
Stiglitz says that he is not really talking about the issues of national sovereignty raised by the euro. “I was thinking more in terms of the macro-economic adjustment. It is the absence of any proper economic adjustment mechanism which is the over-riding failure in Europe. Where the left and right would agree – and this speaks to the whole Brexit debate – is that Europe needs economic arrangement that work well for a very diverse group of countries.
“This requires a balance between flexibility and harmonisation, and in opting for monetary union they didn’t get that balance right. We see the lack of it particularly in the rigidity that Germany imposes on the eurozone’s crisis hit countries”.
The theme of Stiglitz’s book is that monetary union was basically where it all went wrong for the European Union. A project that was meant to bring countries together has succeeded only in tearing them apart in a manner which now threatens wider European economic and social stability.
“There have been other things that Europe got wrong, but monetary union was the overarching macro economic mistake. We can see this most clearly in the fact that some countries not in the euro but with the same regulatory framework, such as the UK and Sweden, did much better.”
So what, fundamentally, is the problem with the euro?
“For the first nine years up until 2008 there were no symptoms, or no obvious ones, of how dysfunctional things really were. But actually the euro was already creating its own problems.
“When the financial crisis hit, it was roundly blamed on the US, but in fact a very large part of Europe’s crisis was created by the euro.
“The single currency gave markets this excessive confidence. They began to confuse the absence of exchange rate risk with the absence of risk per se. Monetary union had taken away the ability of individual governments to curb domestic inflationary pressures, which led to an increase in price levels relative to Germany. Real exchange rates became out of line.
“One of the key points of the book is that it is easy to create these imbalances, made possible by the easy flow of money between countries under the euro, but with a rigid exchange rate it is very hard to undo them.
“There are only two ways of doing it. Have Germany inflate, or have the others deflate. Germany was unwilling to inflate. But deflation doesn’t work easily either because your debts are still owed, and that means that in forcing countries to deflate you make them even more fragile”.
We move onto the issue that most puzzles Anglo-Saxon commentators such as myself; if the euro is so bad, how come it has lasted so long?
“Well, you have to take account of the eight or nine years before the problem became apparent. Then there was ‘oh it has worked for nine years’ – even though it hadn’t – ‘so the crisis will be over quickly and we can make it work again’. When you have already invested heavily in something, it is very difficult to cut your losses. There is always a tendency to think that with just a little more investment, it can be made to work.
“So the politicians said, just accept a little bit of temporary pain and everything will be OK again. After two years that wasn’t true. And time and again it turns out not to be true. Good money is constantly thrown after bad.
“Imagine yourself in the position of a Greek politician, with 25pc unemployment and an escalating financial commitment as a result of the fight to stay in the euro. As things go more and more wrong, you become ever more committed to the policy that got you there because to admit you are wrong is to say we have suffered all this pain for nothing”.
Does this mean Europe is essentially damned, I ask?
“The most likely scenario is a continued muddling through, which is what they have been doing to date. But neither Frankfurt nor Brussels controls events, as the Brexit referendum vote shows, so what you see – and this is not for sure but almost predictable – is growing alienation.
“This is already apparent in electoral outcomes. More than 60pc of people in Spain, Greece and Portugal voted against austerity parties. The same thing with Brexit, which was also a rebellion against the political centre.
“The only thing that saves the centre ground is that the anti-establishment movement is divided between left and right. So you get a stalemate which is also not at all good for anyone, and out of that who knows what happens.
“Getting a political coalition in any country large enough to leave the euro is therefore difficult. What’s so troubling is that it is also proving impossible for Europe to agree on policies to fix the euro, so you have neither one thing or the other. Despite his apparent pessimism, Stiglitz is not short on suggested solutions.
“If you had a group of people sitting around a table rationally discussing the future of Europe, these are the sort of things they might come up with.
“One is to say let’s finish the job. The US shares a common currency among 50 diverse states, so what are the institutions and rules needed to make the single currency work.
“As a bare minimum, you need common deposit insurance, a banking union, Eurobonds, maybe industrial policies to allow those at the bottom to catch up, you need to move away from just inflation targeting, and you need some way of adjusting real exchange rate that doesn’t involve internal devaluation.
“Germany has to perform its role of allowing its economy to inflate relative to others. So those are the minimum to make a euro that works.
“But Germany takes the view that we are not a transfer union and we won’t even take the risk of a banking union or of common deposit insurance. This is like New York saying we don’t want to have federal deposit insurance because there is a bank in Alabama which might go bankrupt.”
If completing the job proves impossible, says Stiglitz, that leaves the alternative of an “amicable divorce”.
“In the book I use the example of marriage councillors. In the past, the job of the marriage councillor was to keep the marriage together, but modern ones sometimes say you should never have got married in the first place.
“Once you have accepted the marriage can’t be made to work, then the only issue is how to make splitting up go as smoothly as possible.
“In the book, I describe some novel ways of doing this. The core of the idea is that you are going to have to allow redenomination of debt, and allow some form of bankruptcy.
“A third way is the flexible euro where you say lets try and consolidate the institutional advances we have made but recognise that we are not anywhere near a single currency yet. And then I describe some mechanisms that would allow the exchange rate to be operated flexibly and allow economic adjustment”.
So what are the chances of any of these “solutions” being adopted, I ask.“I’m hopeful”, Stiglitz says with a grin, which somewhat suggests he’s not.
The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics
By Marton Jacques
In the early 1980s the author was one of the first to herald the emerging dominance of neoliberalism in the west. Here he argues that this doctrine is now faltering. But what happens next?
Donald Trump seeks a return to 1950s America, well before the age of neoliberalism. Photograph: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images
The western financial crisis of 2007-8 was the worst since 1931, yet its immediate repercussions were surprisingly modest. The crisis challenged the foundation stones of the long-dominant neoliberal ideology but it seemed to emerge largely unscathed. The banks were bailed out; hardly any bankers on either side of the Atlantic were prosecuted for their crimes; and the price of their behaviour was duly paid by the taxpayer. Subsequent economic policy, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, has relied overwhelmingly on monetary policy, especially quantitative easing. It has failed. The western economy has stagnated and is now approaching its lost decade, with no end in sight.
After almost nine years, we are finally beginning to reap the political whirlwind of the financial crisis. But how did neoliberalism manage to survive virtually unscathed for so long? Although it failed the test of the real world, bequeathing the worst economic disaster for seven decades, politically and intellectually it remained the only show in town. Parties of the right, centre and left had all bought into its philosophy, New Labour a classic in point. They knew no other way of thinking or doing: it had become the common sense. It was, as Antonio Gramsci put it, hegemonic. But that hegemony cannot and will not survive the test of the real world.
But the causes of this political crisis, glaringly evident on both sides of the Atlantic, are much deeper than simply the financial crisis and the virtually stillborn recovery of the last decade. They go to the heart of the neoliberal project that dates from the late 70s and the political rise of Reagan and Thatcher, and embraced at its core the idea of a global free market in goods, services and capital. The depression-era system of bank regulation was dismantled, in the US in the 1990s and in Britain in 1986, thereby creating the conditions for the 2008 crisis. Equality was scorned, the idea of trickle-down economics lauded, government condemned as a fetter on the market and duly downsized, immigration encouraged, regulation cut to a minimum, taxes reduced and a blind eye turned to corporate evasion.
The first inkling of the wider political consequences was evident in the turn in public opinion against the banks, bankers and business leaders. For decades, they could do no wrong: they were feted as the role models of our age, the default troubleshooters of choice in education, health and seemingly everything else. Now, though, their star was in steep descent, along with that of the political class. The effect of the financial crisis was to undermine faith and trust in the competence of the governing elites. It marked the beginnings of a wider political crisis.
It should be noted that, by historical standards, the neoliberal era has not had a particularly good track record. The most dynamic period of postwar western growth was that between the end of the war and the early 70s, the era of welfare capitalism and Keynesianism, when the growth rate was double that of the neoliberal period from 1980 to the present.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, pictured in 1984, ushered in the era of neoliberalism. Photograph: Bettmann Archive
But by far the most disastrous feature of the neoliberal period has been the huge growth in inequality. Until very recently, this had been virtually ignored. With extraordinary speed, however, it has emerged as one of, if not the most important political issue on both sides of the Atlantic, most dramatically in the US. It is, bar none, the issue that is driving the political discontent that is now engulfing the west. Given the statistical evidence, it is puzzling, shocking even, that it has been disregarded for so long; the explanation can only lie in the sheer extent of the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values.
But now reality has upset the doctrinal apple cart. In the period 1948-1972, every section of the American population experienced very similar and sizable increases in their standard of living; between 1972-2013, the bottom 10% experienced falling real income while the top 10% did far better than everyone else. In the US, the median real income for full-time male workers is now lower than it was four decades ago: the income of the bottom 90% of the population hasstagnated for over 30 years.
A not so dissimilar picture is true of the UK. And the problem has grown more serious since the financial crisis. On average, between 65-70% of households in 25 high-income economies experienced stagnant or falling real incomes between 2005 and 2014.
As Thomas Piketty has shown, in the absence of countervailing pressures, capitalism naturally gravitates towards increasing inequality. In the period between 1945 and the late 70s, Cold War competition was arguably the biggest such constraint. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been none. As the popular backlash grows increasingly irresistible, however, such a winner-takes-all regime becomes politically unsustainable.
Large sections of the population in both the US and the UK are now in revolt against their lot, as graphically illustrated by the support for Trump and Sanders in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK. This popular revolt is often described, in a somewhat denigratory and dismissive fashion, as populism. Or, as Francis Fukuyama writes in a recent excellent essay in Foreign Affairs: “‘Populism’ is the label that political elites attach to policies supported by ordinary citizens that they don’t like.” Populism is a movement against the status quo. It represents the beginnings of something new, though it is generally much clearer about what it is against than what it is for. It can be progressive or reactionary, but more usually both.
Brexit is a classic example of such populism. It has overturned a fundamental cornerstone of UK policy since the early 1970s. Though ostensibly about Europe, it was in fact about much more: a cri de coeur from those who feel they have lost out and been left behind, whose living standards have stagnated or worse since the 1980s, who feel dislocated by large-scale immigration over which they have no control and who face an increasingly insecure and casualised labour market. Their revolt has paralysed the governing elite, already claimed one prime minister (David Cameron), and left the latest one fumbling around in the dark looking for divine inspiration (Theresa May).
The wave of populism marks the return of class as a central agency in politics, both in the UK and the US. This is particularly remarkable in the US. For many decades, the idea of the “working class” was marginal to American political discourse. Most Americans described themselves as middle class, a reflection of the aspirational pulse at the heart of American society. According to a Gallup poll, in 2000 only 33% of Americans called themselves working class; by 2015 the figure was 48%, almost half the population.
Brexit, too, was primarily a working-class revolt. Hitherto, on both sides of the Atlantic, the agency of class has been in retreat in the face of the emergence of a new range of identities and issues from gender and race to sexual orientation and the environment. The return of class, because of its sheer reach, has the potential, like no other issue, to redefine the political landscape.
The re-emergence of class should not be confused with the labour movement. They are not synonymous: this is obvious in the US and increasingly the case in the UK. Indeed, over the last half-century, there has been a growing separation between the two in Britain. The re-emergence of the working class as a political voice in Britain, most notably in the Brexit vote, can best be described as an inchoate expression of resentment and protest, with only a very weak sense of belonging to the labour movement.
Indeed, Ukip has been as important – in the form of immigration and Europe – in shaping its current attitudes as the Labour party. In the United States, both Trump and Sanders have given expression to the working-class revolt, the latter almost as much as the former. The working class belongs to no one: its orientation, far from predetermined, as the left liked to think, is a function of politics.
The neoliberal era is being undermined from two directions. First, if its record of economic growth has never been particularly strong, it is now dismal. Europe is barely larger than it was on the eve of the financial crisis in 2007; the United States has done better but even its growth has been anaemic. Economists such as Larry Summers believe that the prospect for the future is most likely one of secular stagnation.
Worse, because the recovery has been so weak and fragile, there is a widespread belief that another financial crisis may well beckon. In other words, the neoliberal era has delivered the west back into the kind of crisis-ridden world that we last experienced in the 1930s. With this background, it is hardly surprising that a majority in the west now believe their children will be worse off than they were. Second, those who have lost out in the neoliberal era are no longer prepared to acquiesce in their fate – they are increasingly in open revolt. We are witnessing the end of the neoliberal era. It is not dead, but it is in its early death throes, just as the social-democratic era was during the 1970s.
The Earth Institute@Columbia University’s Jeffery Sachs
A sure sign of the declining influence of neoliberalism is the rising chorus of intellectual voices raised against it. From the mid-70s through the 80s, the economic debate was increasingly dominated by monetarists and free marketeers. But since the western financial crisis, the centre of gravity of the intellectual debate has shifted profoundly. This is most obvious in the United States, with economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Dani Rodrik and Jeffrey Sachs becoming increasingly influential. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been a massive seller. His work and that of Tony Atkinson and Angus Deaton have pushed the question of the inequality to the top of the political agenda. In the UK, Ha-Joon Chang, for long isolated within the economics profession, has gained a following far greater than those who think economics is a branch of mathematics.
Meanwhile, some of those who were previously strong advocates of a neoliberal approach, such as Larry Summers and the Financial Times’s Martin Wolf, have become extremely critical. The wind is in the sails of the critics of neoliberalism; the neoliberals and monetarists are in retreat. In the UK, the media and political worlds are well behind the curve. Few recognise that we are at the end of an era. Old attitudes and assumptions still predominate, whether on the BBC’s Today programme, in the rightwing press or the parliamentary Labour party.
Following Ed Miliband’s resignation as Labour leader, virtually no one foresaw the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in the subsequent leadership election. The assumption had been more of the same, a Blairite or a halfway house like Miliband, certainly not anyone like Corbyn. But the zeitgeist had changed. The membership, especially the young who had joined the party on an unprecedented scale, wanted a complete break with New Labour. One of the reasons why the left has failed to emerge as the leader of the new mood of working-class disillusionment is that most social democratic parties became, in varying degrees, disciples of neoliberalism and uber-globalisation. The most extreme forms of this phenomenon were New Labour and the Democrats, who in the late 90s and 00s became its advance guard, personified by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, triangulation and the third way.
But as David Marquand observed in a review for the New Statesman, what is the point of a social democratic party if it doesn’t represent the less fortunate, the underprivileged and the losers? New Labour deserted those who needed them, who historically they were supposed to represent. Is it surprising that large sections have now deserted the party who deserted them? Blair, in his reincarnation as a money-obsessed consultant to a shady bunch of presidents and dictators, is a fitting testament to the demise of New Labour.
‘Virtually no one foresaw the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn’, pictured at rally in north London last week. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
The rival contenders – Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – represented continuity. They were swept away by Corbyn (pic above), who won nearly 60% of the votes. New Labour was over, as dead as Monty Python’s parrot. Few grasped the meaning of what had happened. A Guardian leader welcomed the surge in membership and then, lo and behold, urged support for Yvette Cooper, the very antithesis of the reason for the enthusiasm. The PLP refused to accept the result and ever since has tried with might and main to remove Corbyn.
Just as the Labour party took far too long to come to terms with the rise of Thatcherism and the birth of a new era at the end of the 70s, now it could not grasp that the Thatcherite paradigm, which they eventually came to embrace in the form of New Labour, had finally run its course. Labour, like everyone else, is obliged to think anew. The membership in their antipathy to New Labour turned to someone who had never accepted the latter, who was the polar opposite in almost every respect of Blair, and embodying an authenticity and decency which Blair patently did not.
Labour may be in intensive care, but the condition of the Conservatives is not a great deal better.
Corbyn is not a product of the new times, he is a throwback to the late 70s and early 80s. That is both his strength and also his weakness. He is uncontaminated by the New Labour legacy because he has never accepted it. But nor, it would seem, does he understand the nature of the new era. The danger is that he is possessed of feet of clay in what is a highly fluid and unpredictable political environment, devoid of any certainties of almost any kind, in which Labour finds itself dangerously divided and weakened.
Labour may be in intensive care, but the condition of the Conservatives is not a great deal better. David Cameron was guilty of a huge and irresponsible miscalculation over Brexit. He was forced to resign in the most ignominious of circumstances. The party is hopelessly divided. It has no idea in which direction to move after Brexit. The Brexiters painted an optimistic picture of turning away from the declining European market and embracing the expanding markets of the world, albeit barely mentioning by name which countries it had in mind. It looks as if the new prime minister may have an anachronistic hostility towards China and a willingness to undo the good work of George Osborne. If the government turns its back on China, by far the fastest growing market in the world, where are they going to turn?
Brexit has left the country fragmented and deeply divided, with the very real prospect that Scotland might choose independence. Meanwhile, the Conservatives seem to have little understanding that the neoliberal era is in its death throes.
‘Put America first’: Donald Trump in Cleveland last month. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Dramatic as events have been in the UK, they cannot compare with those in the United States. Almost from nowhere, Donald Trump rose to capture the Republican nomination and confound virtually all the pundits and not least his own party. His message was straightforwardly anti-globalisation. He believes that the interests of the working class have been sacrificed in favour of the big corporations that have been encouraged to invest around the world and thereby deprive American workers of their jobs. Further, he argues that large-scale immigration has weakened the bargaining power of American workers and served to lower their wages.
He proposes that US corporations should be required to invest their cash reserves in the US. He believes that the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) has had the effect of exporting American jobs to Mexico. On similar grounds, he is opposed to the TPP and the TTIP. And he also accuses China of stealing American jobs, threatening to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports.
To globalisation Trump counterposes economic nationalism: “Put America first”. His appeal, above all, is to the white working class who, until Trump’s (and Bernie Sander’s) arrival on the political scene, had been ignored and largely unrepresented since the 1980s. Given that their wages have been falling for most of the last 40 years, it is extraordinary how their interests have been neglected by the political class. Increasingly, they have voted Republican, but the Republicans have long been captured by the super-rich and Wall Street, whose interests, as hyper-globalisers, have run directly counter to those of the white working class. With the arrival of Trump they finally found a representative: they won Trump the Republican nomination.
The economic nationalist argument has also been vigorously pursued by Bernie Sanders, who ran Hillary Clinton extremely close for the Democratic nomination and would probably have won but for more than 700 so-called super-delegates, who were effectively chosen by the Democratic machine and overwhelmingly supported Clinton. As in the case of the Republicans, the Democrats have long supported a neoliberal, pro-globalisation strategy, notwithstanding the concerns of its trade union base. Both the Republicans and the Democrats now find themselves deeply polarised between the pro- and anti-globalisers, an entirely new development not witnessed since the shift towards neoliberalism under Reagan almost 40 years ago.
Another plank of Trump’s nationalist appeal – “Make America great again” – is his position on foreign policy. He believes that America’s pursuit of great power status has squandered the nation’s resources. He argues that the country’s alliance system is unfair, with America bearing most of the cost and its allies contributing far too little. He points to Japan and South Korea, and Nato’s European members as prime examples.He seeks to rebalance these relationships and, failing that, to exit from them.
As a country in decline, he argues that America can no longer afford to carry this kind of financial burden. Rather than putting the world to rights, he believes the money should be invested at home, pointing to the dilapidated state of America’s infrastructure. Trump’s position represents a major critique of America as the world’s hegemon. His arguments mark a radical break with the neoliberal, hyper-globalisation ideology that has reigned since the early 1980s and with the foreign policy orthodoxy of most of the postwar period. These arguments must be taken seriously. They should not be lightly dismissed just because of their authorship. But Trump is no man of the left. He is a populist of the right. He has launched a racist and xenophobic attack on Muslims and on Mexicans. Trump’s appeal is to a white working class that feels it has been cheated by the big corporations, undermined by Hispanic immigration, and often resentful towards African-Americans who for long too many have viewed as their inferior.
A Trump America would mark a descent into authoritarianism characterised by abuse, scapegoating, discrimination, racism, arbitrariness and violence; America would become a deeply polarised and divided society. His threat to impose 45% tariffs on China, if implemented, would certainly provoke retaliation by the Chinese and herald the beginnings of a new era of protectionism.
Trump may well lose the presidential election just as Sanders failed in his bid for the Democrat nomination. But this does not mean that the forces opposed to hyper-globalisation – unrestricted immigration, TPP and TTIP, the free movement of capital and much else – will have lost the argument and are set to decline. In little more than 12 months, Trump and Sanders have transformed the nature and terms of the argument. Far from being on the wane, the arguments of the critics of hyper-globalisation are steadily gaining ground. Roughly two-thirds of Americans agree that “we should not think so much in international terms but concentrate more on our own national problems”. And, above all else, what will continue to drive opposition to the hyper-globalisers is inequality.
Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert Skidelsky
by Economics Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman :The Finest of his Generation
The great economist’s theories have never been more relevant – and his biographer remains their most compelling advocate, says Paul Krugman
At research seminars, people don’t take Keynesian theorising seriously anymore; the audience starts to whisper and giggle to one another.” So declared Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, writing in 1980. At the time, Lucas was arguably the world’s most influential macro-economist; the influence of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist whose theory of recessions dominated economic policy for a generation after the Second World War, seemed to be virtually at an end.
But Keynes, it turns out, is having the last giggle. Lucas’s “rational expectations” theory of booms and slumps has shown itself to be completely useless in the current world crisis. Not only does it offer no guide for action, but it more or less asserts that market economies cannot possibly experience the kind of problems they are, in fact, experiencing. Keynesian economics, on the other hand, which was created precisely to make sense of times like these, looks better than ever.
The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.