London, UK – Since the coalition led by David Cameron and George Osborne took office in 2010, its progress have been marked by a deterioration in standards of living and an absence of achievements. There were warnings of the threat that ‘massive’ government debt could hold for Britain. There was the promise of “no more pointless top-down reorganisations” of the NHS. There was the emphatic need to cut the government’s debt. And there was a drive to overhaul welfare benefits.
None of these efforts was successful, but each individual policy did enormous damage to Britain’s social and economic infrastructure, harming ordinary people, weakening the economy and reducing its long-term prospects. In fact, coalition policy seemed designed to prevent the very goals it proposed.
Osborne’s desperation to cut the government’s budget deficit did not tally with Cameron’s offer of £7bn in tax cuts. Talk of rebalancing the economy did not match the minimal effort put into achieving that goal. Their most notable characteristic was the ability to do huge amounts of damage to one aspect or another of the country. But most worrying was the fact that by 2014 George Osborne had only carried out 40 per cent of the cuts that he had planned. If the Conservatives won the 2015 election, the cuts would be even more savage than those carried out during the coalition’s term of office.
In What’s The Worst That Could Happen?, author David Simmons argues that the politicians are worse than incompetent, and their policies worse than inappropriate, they are both downright destructive. Also, Cameron and Osborne are obviously determined to ignore all criticism, constructive or otherwise, and plough on regardless, as the economy, and all the targets they had set themselves collapse into dust. They cannot be unaware of the damage being done, they cannot refute all the criticism that has been made, yet they continue with the same policies. Osborne wants to return Britain’s welfare state to the levels it was at in the 1930s – or 1948 at best.
In looking at the problems of the European Union, we see an over-reaction to Greek debt, the failure of politicians to do the right thing, and the failure of European institutions to act wisely, quickly and appropriately. Once again there is the problem of a lack of competence, but the issue that stands out the most is a lack of any recognition that conventional wisdom is flawed, and the lack of any willingness to accept criticism. The most egregious failing of Europe’s politicians is their closed minds.
The book also looks at the way in which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has used economic meltdowns and crises as an opportunity to impose its free market, neo-liberal economics on countries which were fundamentally sound, but which faced temporary but not insurmountable difficulties. The IMF then used its massive lending capacity to force indebted nations to accept harmful conditions which, by coincidence, benefited other IMF member nations – usually the US.
And when we look at the competence of politicians, whether in Britain or the European Union, we find an ideological obstinacy, a refusal to recognise the flaws in policies which should never even have been considered for implementation. In the United States the Republicans have been able to take control of the agenda, and not therefore reject the stimulus, but discredit the role of government itself. To impose harsh austerity when major governments have only just imposed sufficient stimulus to avoid a recession, but not enough to bring full recovery was most unwise. And less employment by the state means less tax revenue, but more people claiming benefits. This means long-term funding problems, or a radical change in the nature of the state. It looks as if Britain, US Republicans and the EU bureaucrats all want to move in that direction, even though the interventionist state is clearly the most successful.
There is a move towards greater inequality, which has been exacerbated by the shrinkage exacerbated. Unfortunately, inequality carries its own burden of cause and effect, including such corollaries as crime, alcoholism, suicide and murder. Allowing wages to be frozen means more inequality, and therefore more social problems and more economic troubles. And if inequality becomes too extreme, a recession is almost inevitable. The result would be a society of deep-rooted social problems, barely functioning in the way that nations currently manage – inefficient, clumsy, but most things do get done. The way of life we are moving towards would be more typical of a 1970s Latin American banana republic; great poverty, extremist politics, and little respect for human rights.
The book is readable, with many examples of failed policies, questionable decisions and misguided ideologies. In many of these, some sort of business influence is visible. It may be the big banks, the big manufacturing corporations or Big Pharma, but one way of another, big business will probably have a hand in it.
And if the issues that concern us are caused by big business, whether it be interference in politics, their ability to set the incomes of both the haves and the have-nots, or the disruption caused by deregulation, neoliberal economics and austerity, the cure is to get rid of these things.
The book seeks to present an almost academic level of evidence, while remaining readable, and telling a story of how national economies reached the impasse they are now stuck in. Its many insights are a step towards understanding the global economy.
David Simmons, the owner of Third Avenue Press , is the author of several politics-related books. One of his most recent books is, What’s The Worst That Could Happen, available on Kindle
Third Avenue Press
T: 020 8248 8301