13 August 2015

A brief letter to my cousin

Dear Ms. Yvette Cooper,

I do realise that you must be standing rather relieved and vindicated after your recent endorsement by the staff of the Guardian, and I do also realise that unsolicited advice is forthcoming from all quarters especially for politicians, but if you will pardon your distant American cousin to give you some following your recent speech in response to Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, that would be wonderful. Having read it, I did have a few comments to make.

It was a rather hit-and-miss speech, I felt: several misses and one good, solid, convincing hit.

First, the hit. I do indeed appreciate that, true to form, you emphasise the family as the radical and incommensurable basis for society. That is indeed actually far more Blue Labour than anything Ms. Kendall has yet come up with, and I approve of it. As you say quite aptly, any truly radical policy must ‘stop families being stretched and stained to fit round work, and change work to fit round family life’. SureStart is a wonderful idea, particularly if you build on it by letting parents have more control over it and more say in how it is set up and run.

But that only, I fear, is not an entire policy platform.

You are to be congratulated, dear cousin, for actually having bothered to read an economics text sometime during your college years. That isn’t sarcasm, by the way: in doing so you have done far more than most politicians on either side of the pond ordinarily do. Clearly you understand how basic Keynesian finical policy is supposed to work. But Keynesianism when applied with ideological exactness to the abstract principles still has major gaping flaws. For example, with regard to QE, it has to be said: not all spending is created equal. Every prospective homeowner knows this. Money that you pay for rent disappears in a way that does not happen when you make a down payment on a house. Likewise with government spending. You can spend on all sorts of money on military hardware, fancy weaponry and other such R & D that in the worst case actually gets used, and in the best case just stands around depreciating without producing value elsewhere - or perhaps, if you get lucky, it might contribute to a useful non-military technical application which has value to the everyday civilian. Or, alternatively, you can spend on rebuilding roads, levees, dams, bridges, power lines, schools, libraries - things that will ultimately contribute to social and human capital as they depreciate.

It may go against strict economic orthodoxy, but it's neither entirely mad nor ‘illiterate’ (as I believe Mr. Straw put it) for Mr. Corbyn to propose going into debt to rebuild the house when times are good. It’s ultimately better than going into debt just to pay the rent.

As for NATO and the EU. Dear cousin, if you really are yoking the cause of Labour ‘internationalism’ to these lumbering old dinosaurs, all this while tottering on the edge of disaster and all the more dangerous (to the South Slavs, to the Iraqis, to the Libyans, to the Syrians, to the Ukrainians and to the Greeks) for their desperation, then you really do not have that much room to criticise Mr. Corbyn about presenting ‘old solutions to old problems’. Mr. Corbyn is absolutely right, both about the need for Britain to rethink its rather out-of-date alliances and economic pacts, and about the need for renationalisation, and I am afraid you earn extra demerits in this lefty Yank’s book for citing Mrs. Hillary Clinton as an authority on anything.

Also, I’m afraid the ‘power versus principles’ argument is, at this point, something of a dead dog. As you yourself very rightly note, Ms. Cooper, in Europe and in other parts of the world, the parties that are gaining power fastest are the new parties - some of them quite radically left or right. The parties that have been losing power the fastest have been precisely those parties of triangulation and of the mushy neoliberal centre - simply because the policies they’ve been pushing on Europe simply haven’t worked for the vast majority of people. Britain isn’t yet (thank God!) in the same straits as Greece or Spain or Italy or Romania... but I do shudder to think what will happen if it does get to that point. The austerity logic of the EU under Merkel certainly won’t help matters. You are very right to oppose such measures, of course, but would your government in all honesty have any hope of reforming it if the Germans and the French never listen to you?

You haven’t lost me quite yet, Ms. Cooper. But I do confess that I am beginning to see the sound sense in supporting your rival, Mr. Corbyn. Please do take my advice and double down on the family initiatives, and, if you please, open yourself up to a little bit more humanistic pragmatism and commonsense on economic policy.

Yours sincerely,
Matthew Franklin Cooper

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