Editorial from the Socialist, issue 791

Boris – it’s the system, stupid

London Mayor Boris Johnson

London Mayor Boris Johnson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

So Boris Johnson, the London Tory mayor, thinks working class people are poor because they are of low intelligence. His comment that “16% of our species have an IQ below 85” and that is “surely relevant” to “a conversation on inequality” has caused a furore.

But these kinds of views are common amongst Tories. After all they need to find justifications for the grotesque inequality that their system, capitalism, causes.

However Johnson, who is a possible future contender for the Tory Party leadership, does say that there are other factors “operating on human beings who are already far from equal in raw ability”. In fact he recognises that inequality has been intensified by “the harshness of competition” which acts like a “violent economic centrifuge”. At least in one respect he is more honest than other defenders of capitalism – he says inequality is a good thing! Inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and greed because these are a “valuable spur to economic activity”.

Thatcher and Reagan

‘Greed is good’ was the mantra of the Thatcher and Reagan years when the controls on the finance and banking industry were relaxed and taxes were cut on the basis that if the rich got richer some of that wealth would trickle down to the rest of us. The reality, however, is that the rich got richer at our expense – since 1979 the wealth of the richest one per cent in the UK has increased by 300% while that of the bottom 20% has increased by just 16%.

But there is an element of truth in some of what he says: Capitalism causes inequality. But more than that, inequality is built into its foundations. The bosses get rich because they are stealing the wealth created by workers. The more they exploit, the bigger the income gap. Whatever Ed Miliband may say about wanting a “responsible capitalism”, it cannot exist without that exploitation.

This wealth gap has increased vastly in recent years. In the US, tax returns show that the gap between the top 1% and the remaining 99% is at a record high. 1% of earners now have 19.3% of household income, breaking the previous record from 1927.

In the UK, a study from the ‘High Pay Centre’ says the share of the national income going to the top 1% has more than doubled since 1979, to 14.5%. 2,714 bankers in Britain now earn more than a million Euros a year. On the other hand average weekly wages are still declining in real terms according to the Office of National Statistics, despite the so called ‘recovery’.

Household debt in the UK is now at record levels, £1.43 trillion; it now exceeds the levels before the crisis of 2008. The real effect on the poorest in society is shown by the huge rise in the use of foodbanks and even the fact that the police report a rise in the numbers of people stealing food.

But if we are going to talk about who is stupid, what about the ‘clever’ top bankers and financial speculators who either believed that the bubble of sub-prime mortgages would go on forever or at least didn’t care that it wouldn’t? How clever were they when they triggered the economic collapse of 2008?

How stupid is a system that goes into meltdown every few years, destroying the means of producing wealth, throwing workers – and all the talents that they do have – onto the scrapheap? It is a system that cannot plan to use the huge wealth that does exist to benefit the world’s population or safeguard the environment of the planet we live on. These things exist because capitalism is based on the immediate and short term need for profit for those who own the big companies – who are the ruling class.

Wasteful system

It is an unplanned and wasteful system. The talents of billions of people are not utilised because of the lack of education and opportunity resulting from the way capitalism operates.

Just one example of this craziness is the fact that some housing associations are considering demolishing three bedroom homes, and even two bedroom flats because they can’t get people to move in due to the bedroom tax. Yet it was supposedly designed to deal with the shortage of housing! An ‘intelligent’ system would use the skills of building workers to create affordable good quality council housing and solve the housing crisis, whilst abolishing legislation designed to hit the poorest.

Of course the ruling class themselves aren’t really stupid, after all they are skilled in the task of holding on to their privileges. But a mass movement of working class people with a socialist alternative can remove them.

Ordinary working-class people aren’t stupid either. They don’t trust greedy bankers and greedy and corrupt capitalist politicians. Only 19% in the latest National Centre for Social Research survey think the banks are well run (down from 90% in 1983) and only 18% of people trust the government ‘most of the time’. That is why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition will be aiming to stand in as many seats as possible in the local elections next year, with a programme of using the wealth that is flowing to the top to restore public services and reverse the cuts.

The crux of the matter is that a system based on the motive of profit for Boris’ mates (in reality a handful of rich and greedy businessmen), cannot provide for the needs of everyone and will always result in the impoverishment of billions worldwide. But a system based on democratically planning the resources of society for human need not private greed, a socialist system, would be a far more intelligent choice.

The Socialist Party fights against inequality and injustice, we support every struggle of working class people to defend and improve their living standards. But inequality and injustice can never be fully abolished until we get rid of capitalism altogether and replace it with socialism.