It was Bertolt Brecht who reminded us that it’s a far greater crime to own a bank than to rob one.
Events over the past week of the breaking Barclays scandal with regard to fixing the bank to bank lending rate (Libor), compounded by the nature and depth of corruption within the banking industry overall, have emphasised how right he was. They also illustrate that we don’t need a war on poverty in this country. Instead, we need a war on the rich.
When a small coterie of obscenely rich bankers can plunge the economy into crisis with its greed and lack of social responsibility then subsequently be handed billions in taxpayers’ money and still refuse to accede to the needs of the real economy, surely it is time to take those banks into public ownership, exactly where they belong.
The bankers as a group have shown very little if any remorse for their culpability in creating the economic crisis which millions are currently bear the brunt of; the likes of Fred Goodwin, formerly CEO of RBS and now of whichever expensive golf club he spends his days at, and Bob Diamond of Barclays, were and are unapologetic. Goodwin was intent on hanging on to his job when the RBS scandal broke during his tenure, and he was equally determined to hang on to his exorbitant and publicly funded pension when he finally did depart, while Bob Diamond tried digging his heels in and remained defiant before only resigning due to the mounting external and public pressure rendering his stance untenable. In other words he was forced to resign rather than do so as an act of contrition or accountability. The handsome pay off he likely will trouser will of course help to palliate any lingering grief he may be experiencing over his departure.
Seriously, the sheer arrogance of these individuals is simply astounding. Perhaps it is because they know the extent of their relationships with the Tories that leaves them feeling bullet-proof. Indeed, the Tories could reasonably be renamed the Bankers Party when we consider the millions they’ve received from the City over the years.
It is a truism that where extreme wealth exists so does extreme poverty. Neither is a natural phenomenon. Neither falls from the sky like the rain. Both arise and exist as a direct consequence of the actions of the few at the expense of the many under an economic system predicated on profit, regardless of the human, social or environmental cost.
Over the past 30 years working people have been under a sustained attack from the champions of neoliberalism at home and abroad in response to the falling rate of profit, an endemic feature of capitalism.
So brutal has this assault been that it has brought us to the point where you would think that the very ideas of a living wage, decent and affordable housing, trade union rights, a 40-hour week, a decent pension, full employment and a welfare state belong to the pages of science fiction.
Yet, at one time, we had those things. We had them and lost them and now find ourselves plunged into the night of pensioner poverty, child poverty, homelessness, and various other symptoms of the social and economic injustice which has blighted our communities. Rising drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, rising crime – all are the direct result of a system which the tiny elite who currently occupy the commanding heights are willing to accept as the natural order of things.
The policies of the Tory led coalition government reveal that not only does it govern in the interests of this tiny elite but are part of it. Twenty three members out of a cabinet of twenty nine are millionaires, both Tory and Lib Dem. This is unprecedented in modern times, redolent of the 19th century rather than the 21st.
There is no other way to put it other than we are in the midst of class war. Denying people the means of existence via pension, wage, jobs and benefit cuts are acts of war. Making the many pay for the greed and corruption of the few is an act of war. It is the reason why the Tories and their backers in the media exert themselves in dividing people between private and public sector, the employed and unemployed, disabled and able bodied, immigrants and indigenous. The Romans called it divide et impera – divide and conquer. The Tories regard it as a legitimate approach to governance, the better to shaft us all.
The important thing amid the smokescreen of rhetoric and dissembling that is being used to confuse and distract people from this reality is to understand at bottom what the guiding purpose of conservatism is. In this regard, the words of the great economist John Kenneth Galbraith should be engraved on the consciousness of everyone with an interest in a society founded on the principles of social and economic justice. To wit:
“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”