by Madawc Williams
The 1980s saw no net rise in living standards for ordinary Americans. The whole growth of prosperity in the economy went to the very rich, the million or so millionaires who have conned the rest of the society into letting them accumulate more and more. And a lot of it was based on borrowing, debt that keeps on and on accumulating. This is the problem that Clinton must overcome.
It seems he may do it, too. Even rich Americans are gradually realising what a stupid binge the 1980s were. The New Deal formula basically works, and the New Right modification basically does not. The more complex the society, the greater the amount needed in the common social fund to keep the society afloat. Reagan and Thatcher never actually managed either to reduce taxes or to cut overall state expenditure. They simply shifted it to less useful purposes, reducing social stability in the process.
The dispute over Boeing and Airbus highlights the role of the military-industrial complex in giving the economy a period of relatively fast stable growth. Growth of a sort that just didn’t happen when the country was closer to the minimum-government ideals of its founders. The military, and to a lesser extent NASA, have been reliable big-spending customers interested in novel inventions and high technology. Thus, supported by the state, American companies have been able to develop all sorts of interesting ideas and then apply them to civilian production. This was the source of the whole microchip revolution. And it has also helped Boeing to become the dominant force in building large passenger aircraft.
Airbus has been mildly subsidised so as to keep some sort of civil aviation industry going in Europe. Without that government intervention, everyone would have to buy their airliners from an American company. This, of course, is what the Yanks would regard as a ‘level playing field’.
[This turned out to be very optimistic. The rich carried on grabbing more wealth. Voters failed to catch on, in part because it was mostly not put clearly as a deviation from norms before the 1980s.]
A recent survey revealed that the armed forces are just about the only public service that Britons are still proud of. They and the police are the only public services that the Tories have shown any affection for, and the police have suffered from the general social breakdown that has occurred under Thatcher. Thatcher believed that society does not exist, and she went quite some way towards realising this notion.
It is not just cuts in funding. A public service is mostly as good as the idealism of its people. Constant sneers from the people in charge do nobody any good. Public services that were actually quite good were treated as if they were disaster areas. ‘Reforms’ were forced through on the assumption that things could not get any worse. So naturally things have got considerably worse. And the Tory response is to call for more of the same.
‘Radicalism’ was originally a creed that desired to rip up everything by the roots, in order to bring a new society into being. It did indeed destroy the orderly hierarchies of 18th century Britain, and produce a society utterly unlike anything that had ever been seen before. An inhabitant of an ancient Mesopotamian city like Ur or Babylon would have felt less out of place in 18th century London, than an 18th century Londoner would have felt in late 19th century London, let alone the London of today. Radicals had an aim, and it was achieved.
Thatcherism is a different sort of animal. It disrupts all existing institutions, in the hope of restoring old-fashioned values that were slowly fading in the pre-Thatcher era. Under Thatcher, and now under Major, those same values are fading even faster. What else would you expect, when everything is overturned by people who have no clear idea of what they are doing or why they are doing it?
The only Victorian values that Thatcher has restored are begging in the streets, hungry children, petty theft by the needy and people sleeping rough who are not chronic alcoholics. And perhaps also the traditional eleven-year cycle of boom and slump.
Having the armed forces as our only decent public service won’t do us any good at all. American businessmen were enterprising enough to apply new ideas from military uses to useful civilian products. British businessmen are less capable. Mostly they eat up huge chunks of public money, giving back nothing and providing nothing useful. And British foreign policy seems to be dictated by the need to find the army something useful to do. Never mind sorting out your own problems – there is a whole world to mess around with!
Remember the fears of a tidal wave of Russians and Ukrainians supposedly surging all over Western Europe? It seems it isn’t going to happen. Minorities have been pushed out, in particular Jews. Russia has been anti-Semitic for as long as Russians and Jews have been in contact. Communism was the only force that ever managed to check this feeling, even though it too was infected towards the end. When the Soviet Union fell apart, it was conclusively shown that popular democratic anti-semitism was even worse than the official sort. So the Jewish minority is being pushed out by those they would have wished to help, and might have helped a great deal. But the solidity of the basic Slavonic communities seems to be intact.
Attempts to make Russians into free traders are getting nowhere. Privatisation values have been issued, but it seems that a lot of people are trading them to prostitutes, the one group in Russia to have really keyed into the true spirit of the West.
Meanwhile ‘Mickey the Mouse’ Gorbachev has been put in charge of the Cancer and Leukaemia in Childhood Trust. Given the way that everything vanishes after he is put in charge of it, it may prove to be an inspired choice.
These Newsnotes appeared in March 1993, in Issue 34 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/ and https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/m-articles-by-topic/.