“The cost of living crisis is political and the response to it is going to be influenced just as much by the balance of power between workers and bosses as it is by economists in central banks”Grace Blakeley
By Sam Browse, Labour Outlook
This week, hundreds joined the economist, Grace Blakeley, and John McDonnell, to discuss ‘the cost of greed crisis – causes and escape routes’ – an online event organised by Arise Festival.
Hosting the discussion, the former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer began by highlighting the scale of the crises we face, arguing that this was critical to setting out the left’s response, and asked Blakely to set out how she saw the economic crisis.
“We’re talking about the cost of living crisis now”, she said, “but we’re in the midst of what no less a capitalist institution than the World Economic Forum has called a poly-crisis – the idea that there are as series of overlapping crises that have been brewing for quite some time – the inflationary crisis, cost of living crisis, the climate crisis and a whole host of ecological crises.”
“We also have a number of different crises – linked to that inflationary crisis and that ecological crisis – to do with production.”
“There are also significant problems around inequality, whether that’s income or wealth inequality, or racial, gender, etc inequalities. And also the massive inequalities between countries.”
“Overlayed on top of all of that is this deep economic and financial fragility that exists at the level of the world economy and really stems from the way that we’ve tried to tackle all of these problems together.”
“There’s an astonishingly unequal response to these challenges. What that shows us is the cost of living crisis is political and the response to it is going to be influenced just as much by the balance of power between workers and bosses – between labour and capital, with state as an important player in that as well – as it is by economists in central banks making technocratic choices about interest rates.”
McDonnell asked what this meant for how we understand politics.
“We have this idea that capitalism and free markets are the same and if you want more capitalism you should have less state, and if you want more socialism, you need more state”, said Blakely.
“Actually we have to look at all the institutions that exist within capitalist societies as reflecting the dominance of capital. Capitalism isn’t just an economic system – it’s a political system, based on the dominance of capitalists.”
“Any of these questions that we’re asking about the role of the state versus the markets – all of these questions hinge not on “are we doing things according to free markets or are we getting the state to decide?”, it’s about the balance of power; it’s about whose interests are being represented where decisions are being made; whether that’s in shareholder meetings in a big corporation or cabinet meetings in the British state.”
Responding, McDonnell highlighted the importance of this for socialists and argued that “the state is a relationship not just a set of institutions – it’s about being in and against the state.”
“When I was Shadow Chancellor, and surrounded by lots of terrific people, they did a piece of work on alternative forms of ownership because we saw that as one of the steps of addressing this permeation of society by financialisation. Of course it was all about public ownership, the developing of co-ops, etc. but the idea was to give a number of examples about how people can regain control as a collective and at the same time realise there’s value beyond just being a commodity.”
In closing he said, “this next couple of years are absolutely key. There’s a potential for a Labour government, which I think we’ll get. That key period after the election is when the debate will really be on. Issues around the cost of living, people’s wages, public services – none of those will have gone away by then.”
“Retrieving our situation in terms of retrieving forms of democracy will take place in so many multiple areas, whether it’s the trade union, the street, the local authority, or whatever – and within the company as well. Actually, change can be brought about. We need to have confidence in that.”
- You can watch the full discussion: ‘The Cost of Greed Crisis: Causes and Escape Routes – Grace Blakeley and John McDonnell in Conversation‘ here; and listen on the Arise Festival podcast here.
- You can follow Arise Festival on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; and view all Arise Festival events here.
- You can follow the Labour Assembly Against Austerity on Facebook and Twitter.