You may find the headline a misnomer as the things Mr Little has to say are, in fact, extremely informative! Here’s a taste:
Here’s the first of three blogs on three arguments I often hear people on the left make and why I think they are unhelpful. An example of the first argument comes from today’s Guardian in a piece by a columnist whose work I like a lot.
1. Government has taken on some additional debt and this means we all owe an extra £x each. In this piece, Aditya Chakrabortty uses the argument as a way to draw the reader’s anger about the way the UK’s railways are run, and in particular Network Rail, whose £34bn debt was this week officially put on the Government;s balance sheet. Chakrabortty explains this means we now all owe an extra £539 each. This may be a successful way to provoke our outrage about rail privatisation, but is it a good way to frame the argument?
I’m not sure it is. For starters, it’s exactly the argument those on the right often use to scare us about government debt with the aim of getting us to accept austerity. Here’s an example of this. Repeating this line just reinforces people’s fear of government debt. In what sense does each UK citizen ‘owe’ a portion of the national debt? When people think about their own debt, they know that they need to keep up the repayments or they may have to forfeit goods (or even their home) to repay the debt. Failure to pay could even lead to bankruptcy. This is not true of government debt though. There is no burden on individual citizens to repay this debt. We pay taxes, but this is not linked to repayment of government debt, and if we lose our jobs, we don’t have to keep paying tax at the same level as before. Government debt is also a private asset. Holders of government debt tend to be pension funds. So anyone with a pension is also ‘owed’ government debt. So that £539 you owe for Network Rail is owed partly (or mostly or wholly depending on the size of your pension) to yourself. Doesn’t sound a lot like a debt in the commonly understood way.
You can – and should – read the rest of the article over on alittleecon.
Of course the argument does give rise to the question of how we should respond to the return of Network Rail into the public sector.
Vox Political would advocate the view that we should welcome the re-nationalisation of the railway network as it not only brings this valuable system back into public hands, where it belongs, but it also makes it possible to regulate the discounts given to private rail companies who are paying to use the track. In this way, it should be possible to control badly-performing companies – or indeed eliminate them from participation in providing the service. This will also help stop public money from draining into private, fat-cat bank accounts (that are probably offshore somewhere).
Not only that, but all this talk about nationalisation and stopping money from draining into private hands will really annoy our unelected Tory (and Tory ‘Democrat’) government.
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