Labour’s ‘Big Plan’?

Labour Party

I enjoyed Ed Miliband’s speech; putting the NHS at the heart of Labour policy was, I guess, some sort of an answer to our prayers. However, the immediate question being asked by Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics afterwards was “What is Labour’s macro economic plan?” – good question, I thought!

Neal asked Andy Burnham and Charles Falconer this question in quick succession, but they were clearly defeated by its simplicity; they riddled around for answers and had to try and change the subject. Now I am not an economist but these intriguing exchanges led me to ponder Andrew Neal’s question from a socialist and health perspective.

Miliband’s speech had delivered a clear message that the UK needs economic restructuring. My assumptions were that this is based on a popular but untried macro-economic philosophy that greater socio-economic equality and greater devolution of power will ‘naturally’ deliver more prosperity. I find this assumption unproblematic, as I think many of my colleagues in healthcare do, but an unproblematic assumption is a pretty rare thing.

As far as I am aware, in organisational terms, e.g. according to the meso-level economic data, my assumption is supported by a growing evidence base: greater income equality does indeed lead to increased productivity, through greater conscientiousness, greater organisational citizenship, greater employee participation, higher levels of worker satisfaction, lower levels of sickness absence and through the tangible as well as less obvious intangible rewards provided by employment.

However, I believe in terms of macro-economic policy Andrew Neal was right to ask Labour to go further to describe their plan for growth and prosperity to deliver a better/bigger NHS; I can hear it now “no growth – no taxes” will be the door-step repost.

From my perspective, the UK like all other living breathing organisms (including the human body) owes its existence to the same economic equation that sustains life everywhere: the productive capital of the organism (i.e. its reproductive potential) must outweigh the costs that the organism incurs as its consumes enough energy to survive.

Economic ill health occurs with the over-consumption of energy and under-production of capital or the alternative, under-consumption of energy and over-production of capital. In case you didn’t notice, these economic alternatives are the anti-theses at the extremes of UK social and economic inequality.

In terms of the micro-economics of the individual human body, the over-consumption/ under-production end leads to surplus energy being stored as fat and cholesterol, which eventually causes the body to malfunction and die, e.g. as in diabetes or cardiac disease. In terms of macro-economics, over-consumption leads to sub-prime mortgages and the credit crunch.

Whereas micro-economic under-consumption/ over-production is equivalent to physical exhaustion and starvation; in macro-economic terms this is like the syphoning off of surplus value from the proletariat by the bourgeoisie – what happens when market traders make billions buying and selling the products of third world sweat shops; or EU trade tariffs bleed Africans of their agricultural base.

Therefore, in order to answer Andrew Neal’s question, my suggestion is that Labour’s ‘big plan’ is to minimise the structural inequality that exists in the UK by optimising the balance between energy consumption and material production at every level of the economic system, in all markets – this, they hope, will return the body to health – at both macro and micro-economic levels.

What should make this theory really attractive to socialists is that it tends to suggest that the ‘real’ value of a product is equivalent to the amount of energy that has been expended on its production and maintenance; energy expended through mental, physical or emotional labour creates value regardless of its exchange value – or so you would think.

This is very different to the Tory belief that a commodity’s value is only what someone is willing to pay for it on the stock market. We know traders only trade in things that have no real value, or rather whose value is endlessly interpretable by the markets (including themselves); that’s what gives them their lucrative volatility and exploitable risks.

So it makes sense that the financial services industries do not add anything to a nation’s productivity – it simply syphons off productive capital in rent; only the investment of energy in material products, e.g. the manufacturing and health industries, can add something to a nation’s productivity and health.