Thursday, March 26, 2009

Then and now

I loved the seventies - but I was nine when they started and nineteen when they finished so I didn't worry too much about politics, economics or employment, but they were defining times for kids growing up back then.

I don't remember the fifties - being born in 1960 - but I do seem to recall that back then kids didn't have their own identity. They tended to have hair cuts like their mums and dads, dressed in mini versions of their parents clothes and listened to the sort of music their parents listened to - until rock'n'roll came along.

A generation later and things have swung the other way. Now we have parents who dress like their kids, wear their hair like fifteen year olds and listen to Girls Aloud. Things are not totally different, though - with eight year old girls encouraged to wear things designed for thirty year olds with no sense of shame.

But for me, the seventies were MY time. We had our own music - glam rock at first, then punk later. We had our own sartorial elegance - different from my parents, different from my older brothers and different again from the next bunch of teenagers with their New Romantic look. We even had our first experience of the freedom that your own form of motorised transport could bring with the rise of the sports moped. People forget that, before we got our hands on Yamaha FS1E's, Suzuki AP50's and frantic Fantics, the only form of transport available to 16 year olds were pushbikes, buses or the crappy mopeds with baskets on the front.

Even so, I was well aware of the problems of the time. The power cuts in the early seventies were actually quite exciting and fun for kids my age, but I was well aware of the problems they caused for my folks - as well as the high inflation, cost of food and industrial strife.

According to official figures, our public sector today isn't much larger (maybe even smaller?) than it was back then, but the big difference is that the majority of our public sector back then was producing something - something which they don't do any more.

The irony of all that is that if we had a public sector today like the public sector of the seventies - but without the union power and militancy - we'd be far better placed to come through this economic crisis than we actually are simply because we still produced things. Sure, the car industry would still be in dire straits as it is now, but our coal industry would have been flourishing (as, indeed, our current coal industry is - but it's too small to make much difference now).

I keep hearing so-called economic "experts" telling us that the government have to keep spending to "create" jobs - but jobs doing what? Spending more money on an unproductive public sector isn't going to achieve anything except even more massive levels of debt for our children and our children's children to deal with. It's a great way to bankrupt the nation, but other than that I can't see what it will achieve.

Our governments - both Tory and Labour - have hitched us to the services industry and, as I've said before, this is a mistake. Services do not lead an economy - they are supporting structures to a manufacturing industry. That is why they are called "services" - they service something.

The only way out of this crisis is to produce something which we can sell to the rest of the world - even if it costs you money to make it. At least you get some revenue back. If you spend £400 billion quid on a public sector and get nothing for it, that still costs you £400 billion. If you spend £400 billion and get £200 billion in return it is costing you half as much. A £200 billion loss isn't great, but it's still better than a £400 billion loss!

So I'm all for the government spending money IF they spend it on producing something. UK Coal are struggling to find investment to open up new pits - give them the money! GM are threatening to shut down Vauxhall Motors - buy it off them! Corus are closing down steel plants - take them over!

Nationalisation, in the short term, is the way to go. It shouldn't be reserved for banks - indeed, I'm not sure that it is even sensible to support banks that way - it can work for industry and it is only by producing something that we will get out of this mess.

The public sector is the key to our future. We have to cut out the unproductive chunks and divert the cash we spend into producing something. There is talk of cutting defence spending - how ridiculous is that? It is the right time to actually increase defence spending - but only if you spend the money buying things made in Britain. Get those aircraft carriers going - but not with French contractors. Get new trucks and patrol vehicles for our soldiers - but not German or South African ones. Get new aeroplanes (ones we actually need rather than expensive and largely useless Eurofighters) and transports for the RAF, but find a way to build them here.

The public sector has to move from being unproductive to productive. The government has to cut the current public sector by a half and divert the money - plus more - into nationalised industries with a longer term aim of selling those industries back to the private sector once we are through this mess (but with a provision that those industries remain British owned and located in Britain.

Production is and always has been key to economic survival. The USA will recover quicker than us because it makes things still. Germany, France and Italy will survive better because they make things still. A nation that makes nothing is worth nothing.

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