Think in Kingston is devoted this year to the subject of money, what it is, and how to spend it
Money is the theme of this year’s Think in Kingston. Kingston Peace Council members will be staging street theatre events with the aim of involving the public in decisions on how we should spend our money. The amount of budget money being reduced these days, the current focus is on cuts in spending. Where should the axe fall? In the process, you can be sure that the cost of maintaining modern militarised Britain will get a mention.
As a background, it is worth looking at some basic facts about this interesting subject. What, after all, is money? At school we learnt that money is ‘a means of exchange and a measure of value’. Before money, there was only barter, a clumsy method if you wanted an axe, and all you had to offer in exchange were eggs.
To fulfil its function as a means of exchange, money must be restricted in amount. Money is not wealth. If it were, generating wealth would be easy. All you would have to do is to set the money printing presses to work day and night. Street buskers would become millionaires, as passers-by dropped thousand-pound notes into their caps. Printing money on this scale was tried famously in Germany after the first world war. An ardent stamp collector as a child, I remember filling the German page with postage stamps with a face value of millions of marks. This basic constraint on the amount of money available if it is to serve as a measure of value means that budgets are limited, and if you spend money on one thing, the amount left in the purse is reduced.
It has to be said that money has another, rather mysterious quality that is not included in the schoolday definition. Money can generate wealth after all, but only indirectly. Money is a catalyst. A catalyst, as every chemist knows, is an agent that facilitates a reaction, without being itself used up in the process. Take the case of a small business in need of capital. Money is borrowed, equipment that doubles production is purchased, the firm flourishes and returns the borrowed money to the bank. Magic! The money is back in the bank; nothing has changed, except that the firm is now twice as productive as before.
Money acts as a catalyst at all levels. An individual borrows to pay university fees and becomes a doctor, say. On his doctor’s salary he then quickly pays back the loan, and presto! Money, used thus wisely, has increased wealth, unbound talent, increased happiness, at no cost at all.
Money can work its magic at national level in the same way. Government receives our taxes, and uses them to fund services essential to a civilised society. Money spent on needed infrastructure, on education, on health, increases the real wealth of the country. In turn, this increases the tax revenue, reducing, or even eliminating over time, the money originally spent. Borrowing money for wealth-creating projects is thus also fully justified.
There is a downside. Money wasted impoverishes and increases misery. At individual level, money wasted leads to debt if the remaining budget can no longer pay for essentials. Those who cannot have access to bank funding sometimes resort to private lenders, firms that profit from lending small amounts at high interest, the so-called payday lenders, when the borrower hopes to pay back the loan on the next payday. Such transactions may prove dangerous, if the borrower cannot pay off the loan on time, plus interest. A case shown recently on television concerned a man who had borrowed £250 for a holiday, failed to pay off the loan at the agreed time, and was today faced with the incredible debt of £23,000 as crippling rates of interest doubled and redoubled his loan. He looked desperate, suicidal, while admitting that ‘It’s my own fault’. Today’s crisis of the euro is the rash borrower’s predicament writ large.
At government level money misspent on grandiose or inappropriate projects wastes the money entrusted to government by the taxpayer, and reduces the amount left to spend on essentials. Such a profligate government is then forced to borrow. In the real world, money has always been borrowed for war. That is the history of the national debt – a long story, for another time. Suffice now to say that we taxpayers pay every year the interest on the money borrowed for wars long gone. Today this interest takes 7% of the budget, as much as the whole defence budget or more than half of the total education budget.
Money spent on the military needs close scrutiny, as this is an area with no prospect of economic gain, a point often enough elaborated in KPN. Budgets being limited, money spent on guns takes away money from more profitable wealth-generating areas. This is the logic behind President Eisenhower’s famous speech in 1953 when he said: ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children’.
So it appears that money is a wonderful, powerful, subtle instrument that can be used to increase the wealth and happiness of mankind, or it can be an agent of repression and despair, a vital tool in the pursuit of war, depending on how it is used.
In a democracy, we the people are partly responsible for how our money is used, and misused.
Another attempt to get a treaty to be launched this month
The conference held in July in New York to obtain a legally binding international treaty to regulate the arms trade failed to reach agreement as the US negotiators did a last-minute U-turn, saying they ‘needed more time’. Disappointment and frustration for the great majority of delegates, including Britain’s Alistair Burt. who had been pressing hard for a successful outcome. The US position was widely seen as politically driven by the forthcoming presidential elections, president Obama not wanting to be seen as ‘weak on defence’. Perhaps a more likely explanation is that the US administration is in thrall to the ‘defence’ industry, the military-industrial complex, which sees a treaty seeking to limit arms as bad for business. If any industry in the world is in overproduction, it is the armament industry. Any rational reduction is a threat to profits. Besides its main purpose of regulating arms sales, an ATT treaty might be a first step in reducing the power of the US ‘defence’ lobby.
Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary-general, said the failure ‘despite years of effort by member states and civil society from many countries, is a setback’.
But all is not lost. In a joint initiative by UK, Australia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Japan and Finland, a statement of support for the ATT was issued, signed by 96 countries. The UN General Assembly meets this month, and countries will be urged to table the draft ATT text as a resolution. Single countries will not be able to block the resolution, which needs only a two-thirds majority.
British foreign secretary William Hague commented as the July negotiations failed, ‘An Arms Trade Treaty is coming. It will not be this week, but we will succeed.’
Letter to the editor from a Norwegian observer at the ATT negotiations
In July I was in New York observing the negotiations on an arms trade treaty which sadly ended with no treaty at all. This was very disappointing, though a weak and unbinding treaty would have been much worse than no treaty at all. It was very interesting to observe the game that is played between diplomats in the UN and how it all boils down to certain powerful countries' own interests. As you may have read, the US was one of (if not the) major blocking countries in the end. I don't think anyone had high belief in the negotiations ending in a robust and binding treaty. High hopes, but not belief. Yet, the day before the last day of negotiations, spirits were lifted when the new treaty-draft was handed out, a draft that wasn't perfect, but one that the NGOs could support. Therefore it was such an anti climax when the whole month of negotiations ended in nothing simply because of a few words by the US: "We need more time". More time to grow up, a colleague of mine said, who actually believed this was about state parties not being mature enough to compromise. "Another nail in the consensus coffin" said one of the Norwegian diplomats on twitter. When it comes to the United Nations, consensus based negotiations/voting is almost impossible because there are simply too many countries, each with its own opinion, involved.
Even though the negotiations came to an end with no result, there was a statement held on behalf of ninety of the countries present. I've attached this joint statement as it was a positive last message. From the NGOs and progressive state's side, the last message was said loud and clear: "We are disappointed, but we are not discouraged." Fine last words I thought.
Book review by Phil Cooper
The World of Yesterday is the memoir of Austrian author and playwright Stefan Zweig, little known in this day and age but feted as one of Europe ’s leading authors during the interwar period and an acquaintance of the likes of Freud, Dali, Gorky and HG Wells.
Zweig was a pacifist and, as such, a keen observer of the build up to both world wars from the viewpoint of a country that was instrumental, albeit unwillingly so, in the genesis of each conflict.
In this excellent translation by Anthea Bell Zweig expresses with great clarity the processes by which popular sentiment was whipped up against the perceived ‘enemy’ prior to the outbreak of World War One even though, he admits, most Austrians were completely unmoved, let alone outraged, by the assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to their throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a boorish man generally despised by the population.
But, says Zweig, soon all the nations were in an overheated frame of mind in 1914. Why? “It is not in human nature for strong emotion to be prolonged for ever … and the military organizations understand that. They therefore need artificial incitement, agitation administered like a constant drug, and it was supposed to be the intellectuals – the writers and authors, the journalists – who did their country the service of whipping up feeling in this way, with a good or a guilty conscience, either honestly or as a matter of professional routine.” Zweig was one of the few who refused to engage in what he describes as “the mass delusion and mob hatred.”
A keen and thoughtful observer, he also ruminates on how Hitler’s supporters, and indeed those of Franco in Spain were equipped in the early Thirties. “ Hitler was still delivering his speeches exclusively in Bavarian beer cellars at the time, and he alone could not have fitted out these thousands of young men with such expensive equipment. … for the uniforms were sparkling neat and clean, and in a time of poverty when genuine army veterans were still going around in their shabby old uniforms, the storm troops sent from town to town and city to city could draw on a remarkably large pool of brand new cars, motorbikes and trucks for transport.” Zweig, who was writing this in 1940, was in no doubt that the finance came from arms manufacturers.
But The World of Yesterday is much more than a description of the circumstances surrounding the two World Wars. It is a reminiscence of the gentler times and absolute certainties permeating Europe from the late 19th century that were cruelly swept away in 1914, started to make a modest comeback in the 1920s, and were then crushed forever in 1939.
A Jew, Zweig escaped from Austria prior to its annexation by Nazi Germany and lived as an exile in London until he died, by his own hand, in 1942.
The World of Yesterday is published in paperback by Pushkin Press. £10.49, or Kindle edition £5.39, at Amazon.
An article on the BBC News website on Trident’s future quotes from a Lib-Dem think tank Centreforum, saying that Britain is "sleepwalking" into replacing Trident at a cost of £25bn [an extremely low official estimate], while cutting the Navy, Army and RAF. It argues there is no current or medium-term threat to justify the cost. The MoD has said the government was committed to maintaining a continuous submarine-based nuclear deterrent. Indeed, prior to the debate on Trident replacement that is supposed to take place in 2016 after the next election, the government has committed billions towards building new submarines, and new equipment at Aldermaston. Nor is there at present much hope that the debate will result in a policy change. The present government frankly says it is committed to Trident renewal. The bulk of Labour MPs will also vote in favour. It seems that the only hope of cancellation is public pressure. Polls have consistently shown that a large majority (two out of three) of the public, when presented with a cost analysis, vote to cancel Trident.
Of interest were the comments on the article chosen for printing by the BBC editors from the public. From 670 comments received, five were chosen, three of which were in favour of keeping Trident, whatever the cost. The reasons given in favour were:
It seems that these people in favour of keeping Trident all feel sure that Britain would not use such a malignant weapon. There is also a perception that others would not have British scruples, and might obliterate Britain if we let down our nuclear guard. Further, there is the implied belief that Britain is a force for good in the world, and if we need the Bomb to get a seat on the Security Council, it’s worth it, benefiting not only Britain, but the entire world. The Bomb is thus a blessing in disguise.
These pro-nuclear people are patriots, and well-meaning, but lacking in empathy. It does not occur to them that others might feel the same way as they do about the Bomb, and want one of their own.
Immediately after Hiroshima, Einstein famously said that new thinking was now needed, if humanity was to survive. Since he said that about the relatively small atomic bomb, the H-bomb, immensely more powerful, has taken its place (each Trident missile has the power of six Hiroshima bombs). There is little evidence of any new thinking in the corridors of power, and it appears that many people see nuclear weapons as just another big stick to warn off playground bullies.
It seems that the best hope of getting rid of nuclear weapons lies with convincing the English (not British, see below) people. The strongest arguments in favour of a determined effort to achieve a nuclear-free world are more subtle than the mere cost of making and maintaining the weapons. How to persuade people of the value, of the necessity, of a cooperative approach to eliminate war, and the weapons of war?
If Scotland votes for devolution, it appears that Trident submarines will have to find another home.
The Scottish National Party rejects the nuclear weapon outright. Angus Robertson, the SNP's defence spokesman, said: ‘People in Scotland do not want Trident. Church leaders, the Scottish Trades Union Council, the Scottish government and Scotland's parliament are all against weapons of mass destruction being in our waters.’
Into this potential breach steps Carwyn Jones, First Minster for Wales. He said: ‘I did notice the Scottish government no longer wishes to have the nuclear submarine base at Faslane, it no longer wishes to house the UK naval nuclear fleet. There will be more than a welcome for that fleet and those jobs in Milford Haven.’
However Jones’ comments have raised a predictable storm of protest in anti-nuclear Wales. Despite his job-seeking offer, Trident nuclear-armed submarines will be as detested in Wales as they are in Scotland. After a passionate campaign, all Wales was declared a nuclear-free zone in 1982, when Clwyd County Council passed by 41 votes to 15 a resolution declaring Clwyd county the eighth and last county to make this declaration.
With both Wales and Scotland’s declared antipathy, the British nuclear weapon will have to be renamed as the English weapon, or, if you must, the English and Northern Ireland nuclear weapon.
(continued from last month)
The crisis in Syria
In the beginning, the uprising of the Syrian people demanding an Arab Spring democracy to replace their autocratic, repressive rule appeared to have a good chance of success. But unlike the protest in Egypt, where the army declared from the outset that it would not fire upon the people, the Syrian military remained under president Assad’s control, and the bloodshed began as tanks and snipers killed unarmed demonstrators.
On 12/11/11 the Arab League voted to suspend Syria from the League, and League Secretary-General Elaraby called for an end to the violence. On 21/12/11 the UN became involved when the Arab League applied to the UN Security Council. A joint UN/Arab league delegation headed by Kofi Annan, former UN Sec-General, was sent to Damascus with a 6-point plan designed to find a path to peace and a political transition for Syria. By this time the situation had changed, and the new-formed Free Syrian Army was engaged in armed clashes with government forces. Nevertheless president Assad announced a ceasefire, if the rebel forces cooperated.
But from the beginning the negotiations were sabotaged by calls from western leaders for regime change. Kofi Annan had talks with the Syrian president in March, and in April David Cameron was demanding that Assad be ‘called to account for his savagery’. President Obama called for Assad to ‘step aside’, and Secretary of State Clinton called for ‘the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end’. At the same time president Sarkozy added France’s demand for regime change.
Assad is doubtless a cruel dictator, but one whose cooperation was essential for a peaceful transition, and this shouting of threats from the sidelines whilst delicate negotiations were in progress seems so foolish as to make one suspect a hidden agenda, though perhaps leaders felt obliged to offer their opinions unasked simply from force of habit. The chance for a peaceful transition in Syria lay in the UN/Arab League envoy providing a safe exit for Assad and his family. The fate of Gaddafi in Libya, murdered by rebels, and Mubarak in Egypt, jailed for life for killing demonstrators, meant that Assad would require reassurances for his cooperation.
On 30th June in Geneva the UN Security Council united behind a communiqué calling for a peaceful transition to democracy that involved opposition leaders. The call for regime change was pointedly omitted. But after second thoughts, only a few days later Britain, US and France proposed another resolution threatening Assad with new sanctions if he did not comply. The fighting intensified, and in August Kofi Annan announced his resignation as special envoy. He cited as the major obstacle, ‘finger pointing and name calling in the Security Council’.
In an editorial on 3rd August, the Guardian announced ‘the end of diplomacy’, yet in fact diplomacy had not been given a real chance. The situation had been complex, and even given the best conditions, the UN/Arab League attempt to save the Syrian people from civil war would have been difficult, but the disruption of negotiations by calls for president Assad’s head made them much more so.
The international handling of the Syrian crisis perhaps showed that some progress had been made towards a world where UN diplomacy was the first choice to resolve a lethal situation, but old habits die hard, and leaders could not resist giving advice. Sooner or later more faith will have to be placed in UN missions for peace, if a more mature and stable world is ever to be achieved.
Kingston Peace Council’s contribution: The Kindest Cut
KPC will be inviting members of the public in Kingston to meet the ‘Chancellor of the Exchequer’ and tell him where the government’s cuts should be made. There will be three street theatre events, the first on Saturday 6th October, 11am to 1pm in the market place, the second on Thursday 11th October, 5.30 to 7 pm outside the Bentall Centre, and the third on Saturday 20th October, 11am to 1pm in the market place. If you could help (by taking part or giving out leaflets) please contact Noel or Gill (details on back page). Otherwise just come and place your votes on where the axe should fall, on health, education, defence, or local services.
Non-violent mass trespass planned for Monday 8th October
Clean, renewable energy is generally seen as the best hope of controlling climate change. Obtaining power directly from the sun by using solar panels has become an important part of the clean energy revolution, along with wind and wave power. In the last decade, China has invested billions in solar, sending panel prices plummeting, but the reaction of European governments has been to threaten to place heavy tariffs on Chinese solar panels. Meanwhile, in spite of Fukushima, the government here is committed to nuclear power.
Though a final go-ahead for building a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point has not yet been signed, it appears that the contract finalising is merely dependent on how much subsidy the government can be forced to pay, in the form of a guaranteed price for nuclear power. The decision has been taken, the contract simply awaits haggling by the builders EDF for the best possible price per unit of nuclear electricity.
The nuclear lobby insists that the major advantage of nuclear power is that it is carbon free, a claim easily exposed as false by the energy that is used in the construction and ultimate decommissioning of these vastly costly plants, and the need for government subsidy for its product. This, at a time when real, clean, renewable energy is being starved of funds and sabotaged by calls for imposition of tariffs, is commentary enough.
EDF has already spent £1 billion on preparations for the site of Hinkley C. But the giant French company is struggling financially, having had to spend 10 billion euros in extra safety measures required by the French government as a result of Fukushima.
An important anti-nuclear demonstration will be held this month at the proposed Hinkley Point construction site in Somerset. On Saturday 6th, London Region CND have organised a coach to take protesters for the day. It leaves at 8 a.m. from the Embankment, picks up additional passengers outside the Apollo Theatre, Hammersmith at 8.30. Return tickets are £23 waged, £11 unwaged, obtained from David Polden at London Region CND.
On Monday 8th October a day of non-violent direct action is planned, involving a mass trespass of the site. Both those willing to risk arrest, and protesters to observe and support, are invited to take part. Wildflowers and other species native to the area will be sown over the area that has been devastated by EDF’s preparations for the new nuclear power station. For full details, go to the website, http://stopnewnuclear.org.uk
As part of the campaign to free Bradley Manning, held in solitary confinement awaiting trial and charged with revealing documents published in Wikileaks, Veterans’ organisations coordinated demonstrations at Obama campaign offices in several US cities on 16th August. A letter was delivered at each protest, demanding the president apologise for declaring before any trial that Manning ‘broke the law’. In Oakland, Iraq veterans began a sit-in that was joined by 100 others who had been rallying for Manning nearby. Campaign staff eventually agreed to email the letter to national headquarters. No response was received, and six protesters were arrested after refusing to leave the premises. (Info from The Nuclear Resister)
Remembrance Day white poppies (70p each) are available from Rosemary or Hilary or from our stall in Kingston on the first and third Saturdays of the month.
In 1932 Albert Einstein was contacted by the League of Nations, and was asked to invite someone -- he could choose anyone -- to reflect with him in a series of public letters on a pressing problem or question. The question Einstein selected was: "Is there any way of delivering humankind from the menace of war?"
He invited Freud to discuss the question, and a famous discussion followed.
The Einstein-Freud exchange, published in three languages under the title "Why War?" can be downloaded at FreudEinstein.pdf
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Harry Davis
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND