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Don't pay the price for their follies

As the minor surge of festive consumer hysteria peters out, analysts are preparing for an unprecedented perfect storm in 2009 with unpredictable economic and social consequences.

Market researchers warn that over 1,600 UK retailers will be driven out of business this year, triggering thousands of job losses and leaving more than one in ten shops empty.

Experian said trading conditions for survivors would be the worst for at least 30 years and there would be knock-on effects at suppliers, manufacturers and service providers. 

The economy is in such a precarious state that two of the UK’s largest mortgage lenders, Halifax and the Nationwide, have decided not to release house price forecasts for next year. Nationwide said it could be irresponsible to make a forecast, given the market's dependence on confidence. 

In attempting to reinvent himself as a critic of “unbridled free market dogma”, Gordon Brown is also trying to play the confidence trick. “To those who know that the only solution for our economy and environment is a global solution - expanding growth and tackling climate change together - let us say that we will work with Europe, America and others,” Brown said in his New Year message

Being tied hand, foot and brain to the capitalist system of production and exchange he can envisage nothing else but “growth” as the solution when in fact it is the heart of the problem. An economy that has to expand constantly in order to fatten shareholders is inherently unstable and liable to collapse (and has also precipitated climate change). This is the dreadful and unacceptable price ordinary people are facing as a result of the follies of global economic and political elites. 

Forecasters now have their hopes pinned to Barack Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package of infrastructure projects. But, as the New Year broke, hopes were already being dashed. It’s a small sum when measured against the problems in the global economy, including a financial system that has come close to collapse and remains seized up. 

Action by Russia’s energy company Gazprom to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in mid-winter highlights the sudden, sharp contraction in gross domestic production (GDP) and industrial production in the latter country. Both have dropped rapidly since August. By November, GDP was 14% down on a year earlier and industrial production was down by 28%. It’s no wonder that Ukraine can’t pay its gas bill. 

Japan's Economy Ministry reported a 16.2% year on year fall to November. Worse still, output is expected to decrease by a further 8.0% between November and December, taking the year on year decline in December over the 20% mark. Similar sharp reductions have been reported in Germany, and Spain as recession turns to slump. 

Instead of making predictions we must now turn to policies and actions – not to restore the system to profitability based on unsustainable growth, but to make the changes that can establish society on different foundations altogether.  

When a campaign of protest failed to stop the closure of the local post office and shop, a small rural community in West Wales took matters into their own hands. They have set up a not-for profit community enterprise to take over and ensure continuation of essential services. A small beginning, but one of myriad examples of collective responses, worker-managed, democratically-run organisations working out the social relations that will form the basis of sustainable production for need. 

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
2 January 2009

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