Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
2014 has seen a range of commentators proclaim that Britain is fully on the path to healthy growth. The OECD estimated that this year will see the UK economy outpace its European neighbours Germany, France and Italy. The IMF has made similarly positive predictions. With business investment and consequent growth taking place at the most sustained pace since 2007, it looks like we may finally be making our way back to pre-crisis levels of dynamism.
But just how dynamic was the economy before the financial crisis? Investment as a share of GDP had been tumbling downward since the early 1970s; GDP growth had fallen below zero in each major recession since 1970, which never happened in the preceding 20 years; and the mean unemployment rate was higher between 2000-2007 than in the ‘dark days’ of the 1970s. This picture is very similar across many of the world’s advanced economies. In other words, there was something very wrong with the underlying global economy in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crash.
Recently, this has been acknowledged by remarkably centrist economists. In November last year, former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers told the IMF that Western economies may have been suffering prolonged weak growth or ‘secular stagnation’ since the turn of the millennium. Such weak growth in real production has provoked governments to slash interest rates in an attempt to encourage growth – the unintended consequence of this being a great increase in debt and an influx of money into speculative financial markets. Such high-risk, high-reward bubbles have given advanced economies the illusion of health.
The Financial Times’ Martin Wolff, former US government economist Jared Bernstein and Nobel Prize winners Paul Krugman and Edmund Phelps have all lent support to this view. Krugman went further than Summers, suggesting that this thesis has “arguably been true, although perhaps with increasing severity, since the 1980s”. Phelps went further still: “It’s surprising when people suddenly are talking about stagnation when we’ve been in stagnation since 1972”.
Discussing the problems of our current financial system without talking about these troubles in the underlying economy can lead to very unsatisfactory explanations for the 2008 crisis. We should all be familiar with them by now: the bankers were too greedy; the financial culture too hedonistic; the regulations too lax. Of course we should not exclude these factors, but a comprehensive explanation for the bloated state of finance today must begin with an understanding of what drives capitalist economies in the first place.
An Angry Person’s Guide to Finance starts at exactly this point. The engine of capitalism is profit – it is the sole motive of investment and an absolute necessity for any business. However, there is no guarantee that profitability across the whole economy will rise or even remain stable over long periods. In fact, it has been stagnating and even falling on average since the middle of the 20th century (various economists’ data is presented here). It is for this reason that we have seen a slowdown in investment, growth and employment across the advanced capitalistworld in recent decades. This is also the key to understanding why money has been increasingly channeled into financial ventures.
This pamphlet traces, in layperson’s terms, exactly how weak profits in the production of goods and services has led to a transformation in the workings of global banking through the processes of disintermediation, securitisation and the expansion of derivatives trading. It then shows how headline-grabbing things like credit rating agencies and bank bailouts are linked to these important processes. Finally, this pamphlet discusses the meagre state of financial reforms and raises questions about the possibility of any real, lasting regulation of a capitalist financial system.
It is no longer sufficient to have a public discussion about the banking system that neglects the economy as a whole: finance and production. It is also no longer reconcilable with the principles of democracy to leave so many people in the dark about these issues by masking them in jargon. An Angry Person’s Guide to Finance endeavors to tackle both of these problems – something that must be done if we are to avoid bringing the same man-made disasters down upon our heads time and time again.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now argues that after years of colonial domination and dodgy trade deals, the UK must make amends and support Zimbabwe in this uncertain time.
Last month's mass far right demonstration can be linked to a toxic mix of government tolerance of fascism and neoliberalism on steroids. Ewa Jasiewicz investigates.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana