Thursday, October 09, 2008

Extended gloat about bank nationalisation

Shorter version: Sit on the bank of a river and wait: Your enemy's corpse will soon float by.

This post includes a good deal of cut-and-paste from stuff I've put in Pete's comments box a while ago (and I've had a few posts of my own that have touched on this) on Labour's need to understand that the public sector need to be treated differently to the private sector.

Just to restate, the last thirty years have been a massive failed experiment (for which I'm waiting for the first admission of folly or apology from ex-Thatcherites). At the bottom of the whole privatisation / next-steps / PPP / blablabla experiment has been an assumption: That the public and private sectors are porous and that people can switch between one and the other and cross-fertilisation can add value.

This assumption has now been proved to be wrong. People pick one or the other by their mid-20s and stick with it, for the most part. Sometimes, public sector people get private sector employers and work in some half-arsed impersonation of the private sector (will this still happen?), getting the worst of both worlds. But broadly, they stay in a 'public sector job' being passed around by NGOs, 'social enterprises' charities, management consultants and their original public sector bosses.

There is an unspoken grievance between people that work in the private sector and the public sector. We (I worked in the private sector until recently) think:
  • they get job security
  • they get good holidays
  • they get bosses that are accountable in some way
  • they get health and safety officers and equality schemes and equal ops
  • they have unions that can sometimes get their way
  • they have a career path - a well-trodden structure
  • they moan about their pay, but actually, they often get more than we do
  • they fuck off early on a Friday and no-one notices
  • they don't give a toss whether they do their job properly or not
  • they just blame politicians when one of their schemes go wrong
  • they don't work weekends and they only work their paid hours
....and so on. I'm exaggerating these grievances for illustrative purposes. And public sector workers - when thinking about private sector workers (I'm told) think that...
  • they can move jobs easily without huge bureaucratic recruitment processes that have nothing to do with merit
  • they get a lot more flexibility about when they work
  • they get mangers who are creative and humane sometimes - they don't have to do loads of ludicrous box-ticking
  • they don't have ridiculous office politics and 'dead-man-shoes' career paths
  • they get paid a fortune, they get bonuses, they go on jollies when they hit targets
  • they go on nice business trips and find lots of ways to dress up not-working as work (golf?)
  • they never do a job properly - they just win contracts and then try to wriggle out of the obligations while still sending the bills
  • they just find someone else to fob the risk of when something goes wrong
... and so on. The thing is, now (*pause for a spot of gloating*) if you work in a bank - and most enjoyably - if you are near the top of the hierarchy in a bank, and have ever expressed views on how much better the public sector is at doing things because of it's ability to be flexible, leveraged, risk-taking, entrepreneurial, thinking-outside-the-box, then you really REALLY should sign this or resign.

Now, I read that Gordon Brown wants senior bank employees to agree to a curb on their bonuses as part of this whole package. He wants the public sector ethos to apply to the public sector.

This is what Labour should be about. In the way that business and the private sector has spent years developing a complex (and, it turns out, criminally fraudulent) ideology of how it should structure and reward itself based upon the healing balm of individual greed rather than the need for collective action, Labour needs to put thought and government resources into helping to generate an ideology about how public service and collective action can be incentivised rather than succumbing to the misdirection of business lobbyists who say that they do it better.

Chris is sort-of doing this by talking about co-ops, but I think that fetishising these at the expense of state-owned and managed structures (like banks, for instance, heh heh) is a bit of a mistake.

We have now established - beyond any doubt - that the kind of unregulated markets that government has tended towards over the past thirty years - is completely incompatible with representative democracy. If you arguing that 'the markets have failed, we need more markets' then you have to argue for the abolition of representative democracy and the kind of crashes that governments are now struggling to prevent.

Either that, or you have to admit that you're a lying stupid tosser. One or the other. Because representative democracies will always bail out organisations that pose a systemic risk. Always.

So here it is. Bottom line. In the same way that centralised state socialism was finally demonstrably discredited in 1989, the notion that there isn't a role for a strong regulatory state has been entirely discredited in 2008. The idea that a satisfactory, socially-just version of collective action can happen without other forms of collective action than those proposed by capitalists (and note, I'm not saying that this is the same as free-market solutions that involve mutuals, co-ops and so on).

I do wonder, though, if Labour still understands the importance of collective action and representative democracy? It used to be in favour of the former, and it has never really formally endorsed the latter.....


Matthew Sinclair said...

What on Earth would give you the idea that we've been tending towards unregulated banks?

In recent years we've had new capital adequacy rules, mark to market, the new tripartite arrangements, etc. etc.

Notice how there is no big bail out planned for hedge funds, the least regulated part of financial markets.

The Plump said...

I think we need vouchers :-)

cian said...

Matthew - do you realise how clueless that last paragraph makes you look?

mutleythedog said...

I am wondering who has all the money now and where did it all go? I mean £500 billion is quite a lot of cash to dissappear in one go...

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