Where have all the flowers gone?

Actually it's not the flowers that I'm interested in. It's the money. Where has all the money gone? A number of recent news items have brought this question to the forefront of my mind. One was the heavily contested decision of a regional authority in the north of Sweden to close the maternity wing of a hospital, with the result that expectant mothers must now travel some 100 to 150 kilometers to find a place to have their babies. The situation is so aggravated that local night-schools are now holding courses on how to deliver a baby in the back of a car.

Another related news item was part of the interview with Jack Ma, the owner of the Chinese company, Alibaba. You can hear the crucial part at this address. and if you are interested in the rest of his thoughts, you will find the full interview referenced on the same page. His theme in the snippet linked above was that the US had mis-spent $14 trillion over the past thirty years on overseas wars instead of, as he says, ”you're supposed to spend it on your own people”.

Jack Ma was talking about the US, but what he says can be applied to almost any country in the western world. How much have we read about cut-backs in Britain's National Health Service? How much do we hear of rising unemployment due to manufacturing jobs being transferred to low-wage countries, and when we hear of a reversal of this trend how often is it jobs pushing coffee at Starbucks or flipping burgers at McDonalds which account for the temporary upswing?

Within my lifetime schools were homes of learning and the schoolteacher was a pillar of the community. Some companies had an unwritten policy that employment was employment for life and only a disaster could alter that fact. Hospital patients stayed until they were well. Mothers spent a week around the birth of their baby. Now they are sent home on the same day or at the latest the day after. To be a doctor or nurse was also a respected profession but now doctors and nurses are as stressed as production-line employees, or would be if there were any production lines left, and whole wards are resigning because the workload is so great that patient safety is endangered. And all this notwithstanding that the services have been cut back till they bleed. Although it is the cutting back, of course, which results in the stress and the resignations. Where has the money gone which has changed this situation?

Jack Ma gives us at least part of the answer to this question. Think of the renewal of the UK's nuclear arsenal for a price tag of billions of pounds. For three submarines. Think of Sweden's order for I do not know how many replacement fighter planes, which will be draining the government coffers for ten or twenty years. And Sweden is supposed to be a neutral country!

There is not a country in the western world which has not seriously increased its military spending in recent years, often in response to a call from the policeman of the planet to come and help in the latest in a long line of wars, wars which without exception are totally unjustified.

What kind of danger was Saddam Hussein's Iraq to the west? Please don't mention his nuclear arsenal. How did Muhammar Ghaddafi threaten us? What has Bashar al Assad done to the west? Did you notice that all three of these countries are secular, by the way, by contrast with, say, Saudi Arabia or Qatar, which are unashamedly religious and arguably far more brutal towards their citizens than any of the three above?

Another contributory factor to the need for cutbacks is the growing unemployment, notwithstanding that the statistics are being fudged so much. We have allowed industry to export its production for short-sighted economic reasons, and not done anything to stem the tide by, for example, penal duties on imports of goods which once were manufactured locally. As a consequence salaries have fallen as skilled jobs have been replaced by unskilled service-sector jobs, and as the next step in the chain of consequence, tax income has fallen. There has been a smaller cake to divide and so services have suffered.

A third factor is the privatisation of functions which are public services. When the profit motive steps in, every expense is a reduction of profit, and to be avoided. So necessary maintenance is not carried out, as on the railways. ”Unnecessary” administrative jobs in schools can be added to the teachers' workload and the same thing applies to the health services – let the doctors and nurses do the administration.

How different would the situation be if our politicians had been more concerned with looking after the people who gave them their jobs and who pay their wages, and less concerned with turning large areas of the middle east and eastern Europe into piles of rubble? So to echo my previous post in this blog, let's start taking the popular course and see if we can't improve the welfare of our citizens.

After all, if a real threat to our security were to appear as opposed to the fictive threats painted by our politicians, the citizens would be only too quick to man the barricades. But if our politicians don't realise this obvious fact, it will be different barricades which the citizens man.

Populism and Popularity

I think we should be very suspicious of people who use the terms ”populism” and ”populistic” about people who promulgate ideas which do not fit in with the picture of our world presented by the ones who, for the moment at least, are in power. Another name for populism in politics would be the will of the people, a concept which many politicians today have forgotten.

Well, not forgotten. The will of the people is a concept of which today's politicians stand in fear, challenging as it does their sense of their own supremacy in determining the views we shall have and the decisions we shall appear to make. Politicians have for a long time relegated the will of the people to a back seat, so far back, in fact, that it is doubtful whether it has a place on the bandwagon at all.

There is this strange contradictory notion that populism in democracies is dangerous. If you want to have a true democracy then you have to let the people decide, even if the people decide to do stupid things. If you think that the politicians need to be able to think for the people and even go against their will then that means you do not want a democracy. Few people seem to see this contradiction.

”Popular” is an adjective with at first sight a positive connotation. It implies something which finds favour with a lot of people, perhaps even a majority. To counteract the tendency to assume that something which finds favour with a lot of people is to be striven for, the term ”populism” has been created with a decidedly negative connotation. Something which is populistic is intended to be seen as apparently favourable to a society, but actually harmful, if only its proponents were as wise and all-seeing as the users of the term populism.

As an exercise in the use of words to steer thinking, try substituting the word ”popular” for ”populistic”. Under this criterion Marine le Pen would be a popular French politician. Brexit would be a popular decision, as would the rise of Podemos in Spain and the election of Syriza in Greece. Although I have to admit that the popular election of Syriza was followed by the extremely unpopular reneging by the new government of everything they had offered the people of Greece, and which the people had voted not once, not twice but three times for.

Although he is called populistic I do not regard the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States as being along the same lines as the other examples I have given. Trump's pronouncements during the election process were so contradictory that it was not possible to determine in advance what his policies would be, with the exception of certain loud noises such as the wall along the Mexican border. I suspect rather that Trump was elected because he was seen to be not a part of the ruling minority.

Whatever the ruling minority might think, people are not stupid. Although we have forgotten that our elected representatives are placed where they are to server our interests, and we have come to see them as our rulers rather than our servants, they have made too many too stupid mistakes for their falsehood not to be apparent.

Take migration. Most people are in favour of helping their neighbours, without regard for the fact that their neighbours in this sense worship a different god and have different customs. But the people in the receiving countries see through the situation. They see for one thing that these migrants, just like themselves, would rather have stayed in their own homes, gone to their old jobs, sent their children to the same schools and received health care at the same hospitals. But the short-sightedness or greed or some combination of these has led to the destruction of their homes, their places of work, their children's schools and their hospitals. What option do they have but to leave? Stop the bombing and the migration will stop, for only a small minority of migrants are economic migrants. The majority are asylum migrants.

They see, too, that those in power in the receiving countries make a loud noise about welcoming migrants, for not to do so would be to be labelled as racist at the very least. But they make only a nominal effort to incorporate the newcomers into their new society. They see that the already strained resources in schools, hospitals, housing, which their leaders have made no attempt to build away, are strained even more. Here in Sweden we have welcomed enough people since the turn of the century to people a fourth major city, as large or larger than any of the other three.

They see that those with commercial power have shipped out their jobs to regions of the world where living and working conditions are on a lower level than here at home, exacerbating thereby the constraints on their welfare resulting from the strained resources mentioned above.

Which brings me to another point which will better be handled in a separate post.

© James Wilde 2015