Osborne, Budget ‘Responsibility’ and the Hall of Mirrors Society

Prime Minister David Cameron Visits Manchester

George Osborne has announced his intention to make budget deficits illegal. The government is going to ban itself from spending more than it receives in taxes. Its ultimate aim is a permanent budget surplus – government always spending less than it brings in each year, and therefore turning a profit.

If you’ve done A Level politics, you’ll appreciate how transparently meaningless and PR-motivated a measure that is. No parliament can pass a law that a future parliament can’t change or reverse. So, in essence, what the Tories are doing is making it a legal requirement to do something they’re ideologically committed to doing anyway – by passing a law that can be immediately repealed by the first government that wants to get rid of it.

And if, unlike George Osborne, you’ve studied A Level economics, you’ll appreciate how earth-shatteringly stupid the fixation with balancing budgets is in the first place.

Britain is in debt. Thus, to pay off that debt, the Tories say we need to radically reduce government expenditure. But actually, that just makes things worse. The state pays for services to make people’s lives easier. The sizeable wedge of your income you’d have to put towards health care in a benighted, NHS-less country, for example, can be spent on other goods and services. And in an economy so reliant on people buying things, that’s very important.

So what happens when you drastically cut government spending, like the Tories have been doing? People have to give over more of their income to just surviving, as public services, social security payments and other forms of state support are withdrawn. People therefore have far less spare cash to spend on non-essentials – which means the businesses selling those non-essentials lose money. And to compensate, they might close branches, lay off staff. Or they might close altogether.

Which means more unemployment – more people who once had an income and cash to spare who now have to stop spending. Which means more businesses shrink, or close, and even more people lose their jobs. It’s a downward spiral. And to top it all, it means the state actually has to spend more, borrow more, and increase both the dreaded deficit and the national debt. As businesses struggle and people lose their jobs, tax revenues fall. And the state has to plug the gap.

This is just basic economics. John Maynard Keynes had all this worked out by the 1930s. But basic politics, basic economics, basic anything, if anything involves people seeing the world around them in a cool, objective manner that might undermine a status quo now catastrophically skewed in the favour of the wealthiest, has been systematically scrubbed out of the popular consciousness. We’ve been made stupid, and the powerful are overwhelmingly the beneficiaries.

Between a dispiritingly huge bit of the population and objective truth stands a Berlin Wall of compacted lies, propaganda and general cod-common sensical balls. Thanks to a criminally impartial corporate press, itself just an arm of a ruthlessly self-serving corporate elite, the default mainstream understanding of the world is built out of crude ideological distortions.

Millions of people think the national finances are comparable to a household budget. They think Labour spent too much on benefits and public services, left a huge hole in the public finances, and the only way to plug that hole is with massive spending cuts.

In actual fact, as anyone even vaguely clued up has long since got fed up of saying, the UK’s deficit was small compared to that of many other countries before the banking crash in 2008, and only grew substantially when government had to step in to bail out the banks. Austerity is a grand act of social vandalism perpetrated by an upper crust of white-collar sociopaths. It aims to fundamentally and irreversibly shift the balance of wealth and power even further in favour of the already rich, at the expense of everyone else. It’s essentially socialism in reverse.

Certainly in terms of what our relatively sheltered little isle has experienced, it’s hard to think of a more straightforwardly evil period in modern British history than this one. We’re living through a time when almost everything is wrong.  In no particular order – cancer patients are told to work or lose their benefits. Boat-fulls of migrants sink in the Mediterranean and there’s genuine discussion about whether we should bother rescuing them. We send asylum-seeking students back to countries where they’ll probably be killed. Demeaning the poorest and most vulnerable has become so socially acceptable they’re making TV programmes about it. The most vital public services are purposely starved of investment, carved up and sold off for private profit. In one of the most fanatically pro-business countries in the history of the world, people seriously debate whether we’re pro-business enough. Within a few square miles of central London, the richest people live ten years longer than the poorest. Political dissent is being criminalised. Thousands, possibly millions are neurotically obsessed with scapegoating immigrants and benefit claimants.

And we’re ruled by the worst people imaginable. Our overlords are broken. As human beings, they don’t work properly. They’ve been mangled by their asocial, inhuman upbringings, and as a result, they’re dangerous. Not directly, physically dangerous – very few would have the courage to do anything that put them at risk of being hit back. But they’re willing to commit the most grievous acts of social violence to make themselves a bit richer and a bit more powerful.

All that has only been possible because we’ve allowed ourselves to be infantilised. We know next to nothing about how society works, how economics works, how the world works. For disastrously long, we’ve left all that big important stuff to the big important-looking people in suits. We were content to let other people do our thinking for us. And they dreamt us into a fantasyland that suited them very nicely.

Britain’s become a deranged Hall of Mirrors, where distortion piles on distortion piles on distortion. Socialism marred the 70s. Mrs Thatcher saved the universe. Enriching the richest benefits everyone. Economic growth is the national religion. Big business is a god that must be appeased. And that’s how, despite all the misery austerity has brought, eleven million people still voted Tory in May.

How do we get out of this mess? By re-educating ourselves, and others, about how the world really works. Shunning the mainstream news. Using the internet, social media, to provide people with alternative information. Organising on the ground, forming political communities that let people nurture dissenting worldviews. And eventually overthrowing capitalism, although that might have to wait for a week or two.