Although LloydsTSB were mainly in the news yesterday for yet another of those glitches that seem so common these days, I was sampling some of their online ‘service’ while it was going on. There were glitches galore, but none of them were technical. The main problem was that the service was poor per se, and the people on the ‘Help’ lines were robotic to an almost worrying degree.
The automation of customer ‘service’ remains one of the great cons of the 21st century, but because the British people are so averse to activism in any shape or form, the risible level of online supplier responsibility continues…no doubt to the sound of raucous laughter in their boardrooms. Such behaviour also gets a big thumbs-up in the City, where knee-jerk neocons quote increases in productivity, falling costs, rising profits and happy shareholders as the reason why doing this makes sense.
It only makes any economic sense in a culture where most customers are so supine, some of these bandits could get away with anything; and the “whatever” culture we have right now in the UK is close to that level of indifference. But in a social sense, the cutting of jobs to make higher profits makes no sense at all. Today I want to try and explain why I think this – without leanings towards either Left or Right.
If you cut bureaucracy costs in the government/public sector of an economy, our experience to date shows that quite a large percentage of those laid off find work very quickly – and (if the economy is in reasonable health) they will almost all be absorbed into the private sector in due course. But we’re not talking about that – either in the UK or the US. Indeed, neither nation has done anywhere near enough to slim down some ridiculous levels of over-staffing in the public sector. What we are faced with today is neocon private sector economics using the spurious ‘efficiency’ argument to justify an approach likely to backfire on every level. To take the process stage by stage, using service automation as the example:
* Making service increasingly remote also increases the corporate temptation to display less customer responsibility, and has within it the potential to keep quietly and gradually over time making the service more and more skeletal in its nature.
* Automation of private sector service means jobs are lost that will never be replaced. They will never be replaced because the mercantile globalist model insists on non-stop cut-throat competition. These are lost jobs, period: and those laid off as a result of it will, in the end, lose hope – as Ben Bernanke has already articulated, despite President Obama’s disgraceful attempts to hide that reality.
* Lost hope has three results: increased welfare costs, increased policing costs, and community/familial breakdown. One can, in fact, interrelate all three factors by using the words dependency, alienation and innate criminality. Other unhappy byproducts include falling property values and rising extremism.
* As the cost of welfare and policing rises, so too do taxes. As taxpayers balk at this, police and welfare levels are cut. Not only does the social degeneration therefore increase, consumers paying higher taxes on less disposable income are less and less able to kick-start an economy in trouble. So QE is required to do that for them.
* It is at this point in the process that the Romneys of this world rail behind closed doors against the idle poor, while at the same time demanding more tax cuts to restart the economy. Convinced that they’re paying more and more for less and less, high earners turn to aggressive tax-avoidance schemes. Then when they run for President to keep this insane vortex turning, they try to hide how much they have stashed away, out of the reach of government.
* QE will, in the end, at first compromise and then destroy the currency’s value. Another vortex now swirls into view, in which rising raw material costs increase the price of added value exports, while increasing the cost of imported and home-made goods to the consumer, who therefore has less real disposable spending power, and thus is even less likely to restart growth. So we need more QE – and the killer-twister gets increasingly vicious until, in the end, it can’t be stopped at all….and hyperinflation ensues.
* More and more jobs are lost offshore, more and more draconian welfare and social order laws are created, more and more credit is taken on by the sovereign, producing higher and higher bond yields, and more and more unbelievable annual deficits. But squeezed-middle taxpayers become increasingly likely to vote for neocon snake-oil salesmen.
There is only one way that sort of blood, toil and sweat is going to end up: in tears.
I would be reassured if I felt the factory-standard Keynesians and Socialists in our varietal political elites had the answer, but they don’t: as blinkered in their own ways as the Friedmanite disciples, their ‘solutions’ are guided not by empirical analysis and the changed structure of our economies, but by polemics that should’ve been deemed archaic forty years ago.
I was asked by a long-standing American friend three months ago exactly who I would like to see running for President. Without much hesitation I answered “Elizabeth Warren and Ron Paul”. Not on the same ticket, but against each other. He laughed, obviously thinking the answer a confirmation of arch contrarianism. But to my mind, I’d be happy if either won, for these simple reasons: they are infinitely more concerned with the contentment of the populace, a life of personal responsibility, and the analysis of policy success than they are with the empty rhetoric that always accompanies ‘Party loyalty’.
Above all, they are both scrupulously honest and dedicated to the practical idea of a fair society.
There are several ways to stop the dystopian vortex process I outlined a pew paras ago, but unfortunately they all sit in the ‘difficult to very difficult to do’ spectrum. And as we all know only too well, that place is a stranger to the current crop of pols beneath whom we toil pointlessly. But to Hell with that, because at the very least we need to have some reasonably clear idea of what we’re going to demand of them…as and when things get desperate enough to radicalise every type of responsible citizen.
So taking the most difficult bits first, the underlying reasons why the West can’t get out of its spiral at the moment are as follows:
1. Monetarist global mercantilism is seen as the only game in town, and there is no powerful (or socio-commercially relevant) opposing view being put.
2. The idea of diversifying the means of financing capitalism away from near-total bourse dependence isn’t on anyone’s radar screen, and is too complex an issue for most voters to understand.
3. Sovereign government is busy selling out to the banking/multinational maniacs, because it lacks both the balls and the money to rebuff them.
And most crucial of all:
4. Everything that used to happen is seen as incapable of adaptation. Yet everything going on now is presented as the only possible alternative. But nobody has any creative ideas at all about how we can take the best of the past, reject the worst of now, and adapt to a future where nothing will be as it was. (I’m not being patronising, but you may well need to examine this summary of the adaptation/rejection/invention construct carefully and slowly. It took me five years to get to it, so I don’t expect everyone else to catch on immediately).
Let me give you a simple example of the last points there at 4. above. Any ideas about self-sufficiency for a sovereign or local community will be ‘framed’ by neocons in boo-terms such as siege-economy, open-toed sandals, retards, radical Greenpeace, and Piscean-dreamer bollocks. Whereas in reality, the idea adapts the agrarian economy to reduce import costs, rejects the idea of production-volume global price competition, and thus invents a new construct in which trade is important, but not deadly – or indeed highly likely to start World War III. (It would also, I might add, get a shedload of otherwise idle labour back on the land and out of the urban sprawl).
In the more immediate term – and some of these may sound longer term blue-sky stuff, but they needn’t be if we start a serious debate rather than getting bogged down in the ‘news’ headlines – here are some practical suggestions for the UK:
5. Stop immigration dead, right now – today, without exceptions. Tough and unfair, but vitally important. Withdraw from the EU entirely.
6. Slash Whitehall and local government headcount by 50% at least. Put a time limit of three months on its achievement.
7. Devise a headcount-to-profit formula for all banks and multinational businesses based in the UK. Lay out a level of personal (remote) service for any large organisation dealing with the public. Make it illegal to offer any mainstream internet service without clearly giving the option of talking to a human voice by phone or skype.
8. Do a ‘Domesday Book’ on every available square metre of land in the UK viable for dairy, wheat or vegetable farming, and bar any access to it for property developers.
9. Mutualise the NHS, and remove its management entirely from central or local government.
10. Offer massive tax breaks to any company of any size that trains a formerly unemployed person and invests in new plant and/or new product development.
11. Exempt every SME from local taxes.
12. Cut off any and all contact between monied interests, the police, and politics. Fund all political Parties through the State: this last I know sticks in every craw, but if you don’t want more of the same vile corruption forever, it has to be faced.
13. Make obliteration of Britain’s trade gap the sole focus of economic policy until such time as the country is earning a net living in real time.
* * * * * * *
Three interrelated considerations apply to all of these thirteen changes in policy direction: self-sufficiency, cutting unproductive costs, and withdrawal from global volume trade. For an island of our size that has foolishly cut itself off from Commonwealth goodwill over the last 42 years, they all represent what The Slog continues to call Radical Realism – in the absence of a better encapsulation.
I spent 35 years advising and guiding on marketing and brand communications. For anyone with even a third of that experience, it is obvious what the product brand ‘Britain’ needs to do: create an export niche for itself, and employ its spare population capacity on doing things at the moment done by those not of these islands. The exact remedy for the US is different in scale, but the same in essence.
What both countries suffer from is a tendency in recent years to believe in the smoke and mirrors of accountancy and finance, and the impracticality of cutting government-sponsored employment.
My answer to neocon and socialist critics of radical reappraisal is this: never, ever let blind belief override the need for real relief. Don’t let the ramblings of Marx convince you that nationalisation is good; and don’t let the largely untried theories of Friedman persuade you that wealth will trickle down. Instead, go off somewhere quiet and the results of seventy years of social anthropological study.
Our goal should not be the love of a convenient human trading invention called money, nor indeed the chimera of equality. The name of the game for sane human beings has to be the contentment of our species – alongside the survival of those familial, social, and planetary dictates that can enable such contentment.