The Socialist 7 September 2011 |
Join the Socialist
Them and Us by Will Hutton
'Them and Us' by former Observer editor Will Hutton, originally published in 2010, is now available in paperback. Bob Severn reviews the book.
The title Them and Us suggests a combative book about the poor versus rich - unfortunately it is not. The book's focus is really its subtitle, Changing Britain - Why We Need a Fair Society, by which the author, Will Hutton, means a fair capitalist society.
'Them', according to Hutton, are "the financial plutocrats, incumbent corporate power and the networks of the super-rich". So the rest of 'us' includes the 'nicer' capitalists. While he condemns the 'unproductive' capitalists, and the greed of the bankers, with plenty of evidence, Hutton pins his hopes on 'productive capitalism'.
He wants another industrial revolution, and 'another Enlightenment', for the 'knowledge economy'. He wants more Alan Sugars, James Dysons and Richard Bransons. So more anti-union 'entrepreneurs', whose expertise includes driving down wages?
Big manufacturers are currently sitting on piles of cash. However, instead of investing in production, they are using that cash on the money markets due to "uncertainty over demand". Hutton disapproves but what alternative is he putting?
Hutton likes trade unions - except when they fight for their members! For example, he attacks print unions including journalists in the NUJ for practicing closed shops: "By the mid-1980s, the print unions were abusing their power with scandalous working practices, and obstructing the introduction of digital technology".
This repeats, like elsewhere in the book, the capitalist media's anti-union propaganda and mistruths.
Yet, in barely the next breath, Hutton quotes from Nick Davies, writer of Flat Earth News, [reviewed in the Socialist 679 - Eds] saying: "Twenty years later, Davies's researchers calculated that a falling payroll of national journalists was writing three times more copy every year to fill ever more sections and magazines as the great titles competed for market share."
The 'power abuse' Hutton speaks of was actually defending jobs and conditions - not holding back technology, but trying to stop Murdoch using technology to sack workers, cut pay and attack workers' organisation.
Hutton doesn't want fighting trade unions, he wants consultative professional associations.
Hutton also condemns the' third way' of Blair and New Labour, for giving too much power to the private sector. Yet, to me, the book puts forward a third way revisited, ie, a marriage of the public and private sector.
He says there's a need for Keynesian pump-priming to help the economy into recovery. He says all three main parties' cuts plans are based on contentious growth predictions.
Hutton thinks that Labour's capital spending cuts (school building, road building etc), which the Con-Dems are now implementing, will be disastrous. But he also says that cuts are needed, just not as fast or as brutal as the Con-Dem government's plans.
For example, Hutton thinks we should pay for all services in the NHS, apart from urgent treatment, unless we're very poor. University fees must rise, he says, but state school students should get a big discount.
But what about the £120 billion of tax unpaid by the rich, which equals the figure that Hutton gives for the needed deficit reduction? Of course, the rich would not hand over this money voluntarily, and any real threat to their wealth would be answered with a strike of capital.
This is why these parasitic tax dodgers' resources should be put under public ownership and democratic control with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need. Then this wealth could be used to benefit all of society, instead of benefitting a few while the rest of us pay the cost.
Hutton's book is full of the crimes of the financial sector, the last New Labour government and the Tories. However, do not pin your hopes on the 'nice' capitalists, you're better off fighting for jobs and services, as shown in the Socialist.