Renew intern Logie MacDonald-Winship takes a look at mental health in our schools and how a model used in secondary schools in Wales could seriously benefit children across the UK.
We often hear promises of more mental health funding on the campaign trail, with certain parties pledging billions in investment, claiming to have a solution to the ‘mental health crisis’. But what does this mean for education?
According to the Anna Freud Foundation, 1 in 8 school children suffer from a mental health problem and around half of adult mental health cases have their roots in childhood. Schools now have a huge responsibility to tackle the issue of mental health, meaning teachers are on the front line - but teachers lack the time (as well as training and resources) to attend to children’s mental health needs as their primary focus is education. This issue been neglected for too long, and the poor infrastructure for mental health help in schools means that, according to the Missed Opportunities Report, 2016, young people suffer from diagnosable conditions for an average of ten years before receiving any treatment.
The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, has targeted ‘healthy minds’ as a focus point for development in education in her latest manifesto. Over the last few decades, pressure on children has been increasing as a result of stricter targets set by Ofsted, the government and headteachers. The increased pressure is leading to more and more children developing mental health problems and the National Education Union reports that 8 out of 10 teachers say mental health among their students has deteriorated. Funding cuts mean that more vulnerable children are finding it harder to reach out to due to the high class sizes, with less than half of children having access to mental health services.
So what can be done to begin to reach children in need?
Longfield has suggested a simple step that could start to reshape the way we approach the education system. Having a counsellor present in every school is already mandatory in Welsh secondary schools, and this could hugely benefit the rest of the UK, as well as Welsh primary schools. This would give children a safe space in which to go and be properly listened to, as well as recognising the difficulties children can face. There are already a number of more fundamental aspects that affect children's mental health, ranging from socio-economic factors, to life at home, however, school is a centralised, compulsory environment and is therefore a good place to target efforts for counselling and early prevention methods seeking to tackle mental health problems. If children are not happy in their school environment it can become a huge obstacle to educational achievement. This must be a priority for the next government.
An increase to in-school services is only one step towards a healthier school environment, but could send the debate in a positive and constructive direction.
More funding for counselling in primary and secondary schools can lead to a better functioning society, as well as saving time and money later on.
In the second of a two-part series on modern capitalism, Gwen Jones proposes some major changes to help fix our broken economy.
Part one of this article described the ways in which capitalism tends to adapt and mutate in response to crisis. It then went on to argue that the current situation represents an end to the long-term pattern; in part, due to a failure of understanding, and in part, due to a failure within the system itself.
The solution lies, perhaps ironically, with the most disruptive force we’ve experienced as a species to date : information technology. With capitalism stalling, we should be looking forwards towards an entirely different model, built around this new and invaluable tool. Let’s call it the information economy.
1. Saving the planet
First, it’s worth outlining the things we actually want this new economy to do. Unlike the neoliberal model, any alternative must prioritise environmental sustainability; the rapid reduction of carbon emissions and the mitigation of the impacts of climate change after that. The key will be investment in technologies that respond to these challenges through sustainable growth - it is not the case that we have to go backwards in growth-time to protect the climate.
The state has a role to play here; one of the most common misconceptions with regards to neoliberalism is that the state is passive. In fact, the state is essential to the survival of neoliberalism via active intervention to support markets, privatisation and the interests of finance. Hence, shifting the actions of the state towards the creation of new markets that produce sustainable, collaborative and socially desirable outcomes - or away from market forces entirely - could put an end to growth at the expense of the planet.
For example, by subsidising solar panels, the state encourages people to install them in their homes. But without proper regulation, these panels will be produced in factories overseas where wages and low and working conditions are poor. So we can go further - by incentivising localised energy production schemes, communities are allowed to self-regulate their own energy supply and use, as well as to sell excess to local businesses, generating positive multiplier effects.
2. Reducing inequalities
The second goal must be to reduce catastrophic inequality by delivering high levels of prosperity to the majority of people. We should first put an end to the state-led deregulation of finance and support for growing privatisation. Shrunken state power and resources force governments to outsource vital services, and a race-to-the-bottom style competition between contractors leads to poor quality provision in areas like housing and health.
In many cases, the state is better placed than private agents to fill these roles - it is larger, better resourced, more able to take risks and less vulnerable to the short term interests of share-holders. Thus, the state has a unique ability to create and shape markets towards a socially productive end. By reframing our idea of the state as an investor and provider, we are able to socialise reward, as well as risk.
3. Harnessing the power of the network
The most important tool in the arsenal when beginning the transition towards an information economy is, of course, the information itself. We live in a world where many of the actions we take, online and in ‘real-life’, are recorded and fed back to a corporate owner. These huge pools of aggregate data are used to better understand consumer behaviour and improve the quality of service provision on this basis.
The real potential lies in what happens when this information is transferred from the private to the public sphere. Info-capitalism relies on knowledge asymmetry; corporations get rich because of what they know and what their customers and competitors do not. A guiding principle going forward should therefore be that the pursuit of knowledge asymmetry is wrong.
Harnessing the power of aggregate information has enormous power to eradicate social challenges, be they poor health, welfare dependency or air pollution. As an example, utilising aggregate patient data sets could have a huge impact on improving the quality and efficiency of NHS service provision.
The capacity of information-rich technologies for solving these sorts of problems will only grow as other structures, like food supply chains and transport and road networks, become ‘intelligent’.
4. A work-free world
Innovation is often kept from vital industries by the availability of cheap and unorganised labour. The need to invest in streamlining or automating production isn’t always viable under these circumstances. In reality, we are quickly moving towards a situation in which this will no longer be the case - this transition can either be managed or unmanaged.
A government serious about moving away from capitalism will gear the development and uptake of technology towards the reduction of necessary work. In an automated world, work is voluntary, many commodities are free and economic management becomes a question of energy and resources, rather than labour and capital.
To secure a smooth transition, we should begin by starting to reshape the tax system in favour of collaborative and not-for-profit industry. These kinds of actions allow market forces to disappear gradually, as a growing proportion of the economy is occupied by non-market actors.
Finally, issuing a universal basic income would make concrete the separation between wages and work. The benefits, in terms of productivity, of automation will be enormous, but it is vital that this growth is shared, and that the old patterns inequality - of widening disparity between wages and productive assets - are not repeated.
Trusting the truth
The sheer scale of these proposals can make them difficult to accept. It’s hard to believe that markets, businesses and government policy will ever be able to keep pace with the information-technology boom.
Yet in truth, huge developments like this have revolutionised our society for years; the mobile phone, the contraceptive pill, the internet, modern democracy. The economy should not be off-limits. We live at a point in history where traditions dating back 10,000s of years are being demolished at a rate of knots; it is ridiculous that some still see the end of a 200-year-old economic paradigm as utopian.
Real change is possible, if not essential. In order to secure a future that works, we must not be afraid to challenge our preconceptions and initiate change.
So, it’s decided. We’re having a December election. For the first time in almost a century.
Just another unprecedented development in the seemingly never-ending tumultuous political age of Brexit.
But, perhaps an end is in sight. There is more at stake in this election than ever before. If Johnson and his gaggle of hardline Conservatives are elected it not only legitimises his role as Prime Minister, but allows him to push through his damaging Brexit deal, which, it was announced yesterday, will cost the UK economy £70 billion per annum — roughly the size of the Welsh economy.
This is why forging and supporting a remain alliance is so important to Renew. We can oust Johnson et al and prevent a harmful Brexit majority being elected into Parliament. But we can only achieve this through tactical voting. Simply put: we are stronger together.
Renew continues to support a remain alliance — fighting alongside the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and other remain parties. We’ve done this before. We stood aside in Brecon, helping the Lib Dems win a Conservative seat, in the European elections we supported Change UK, and in Peterborough we worked with both the Lib Dems and the Greens to select a ‘unity remain’ candidate.
This is another election that will no doubt be dominated by Brexit, and we must utilise the same tactics in order to prevent a Johnson Brexit crisis, and to continue advocating for reform and renewal of our broken system.
But, what are the incentives to tactically vote, yet again, after two elections that didn’t achieve the desired results?
Best for Britain, yesterday, launched their tactical voting site — another tactical voting site amongst the many — and with it, they released their predictions of how tactical voting might alter the result in the up-coming general election.
They stated that if just 30% of pro-Remain voters use their vote tactically, it could prevent the Conservatives from winning a majority. In this scenario, a coalition of Labour and other remain parties could win a parliamentary majority of four seats. The majority increases to 36 if 40% of pro-remain voters voted tactically. Whereas, if voters did not tactically vote, the very same coalition could win as few as 268 seats, seeing the Conservatives win a majority in Parliament.
Of course, these are turbulent times, and as we’ve seen before, polls and predictions can, and do, turn out to be wrong. But united we stand a far greater chance of stopping the Conservatives and their damaging Brexit than if we’re divided.
Henry Bettley imagines the process behind the government’s recent announcement of their green number plate scheme, and laments their lack of ambition.
There’s a scene in the first episode of The Thick of It where, in order to cover up their mistakes, Hugh Abbot’s ministerial team have 45 minutes to come up with a brand new policy that wouldn’t need approval from higher up in the party.
“What we need is something that the public want, is incredibly popular and is free,” remarks Glen sarcastically. “Capital punishment?” “National spare room database?” suggests Ollie.
I like to imagine that the recent government decision to give all electric cars green number plates came from a similar process:
The sun sets on the Conservative Party HQ. Dominic Cummings marches around angrily, wiping his glasses frantically on his gilet.
“I don’t get it. We feed the press with our soundbites, we bully and threaten the opposition and our own MPs, we break every parliamentary convention, but still nothing? What we need is a distraction. Something no one can have a go at us for.”
“What about selling off the NHS to Trump?”
“You idiot!” barks Cummings, “not so loud. You never know who might be listening.”
“Free toothpaste for nuns?”
“Free milk for children?”
“Make passports red, white and blue?”
“Green number plates for electric cars?”
The thing is, though, it’s one of my favourite Conservative policies in years, due to the potential that it holds for electric cars and urban design. The idea behind the number plates is two-fold. First, it is a purely cosmetic PR move, designed to get people thinking about electric cars and noticing that there are (slowly) increasing numbers on the roads. This may well have a positive effect on a few people, but surely no more than would be turned off electric cars by that shade of green.
But the real potential of the policy lies in the area where the government has been the least ambitious. They say that the policy would allow councils to provide cheaper parking to electric cars through allowing them to spot the cars at a glance. Also, they say it might allow the drivers to use bus lanes (the bus and coach lobby, CPT UK, are not happy about their lanes being encroached upon). But why stop here? A technology that allows different cars with different number plates into different areas already exists, and we’re using it to police car parks and the congestion charge zones to great effect. But the point is that, with this shift, we will very soon have the capacity to make certain areas and roads electric-only. In our urban pollution crisis, this may be what we need - not straight away, but sooner than you might think. The real problem with this policy is what it exists in place of - mass investment in the industry, infrastructure and consumer subsidy. Electric cars are the future, for now - until driverless cars are ready.
Renew’s Communications Officer Henry Bettley reflects on the People’s Vote march and its legacy.
According to popular wisdom, voter turnout is decreased when it rains. It seems that we can only moan about the weather so much before it starts affecting our politics. So thank the heavens, then, that Saturday morning was crisp and bright, the first morning that wasn’t overcast and grey in several weeks. Coincidence, metaphor or divine intervention - the ground was set for a good day out.
Renew were out in force alongside hundreds of thousands of people (up to a million, according to some sources). We came across people from all walks of life - young, old, European nationals, working class activists, even a group of (possibly lost) Young Conservatives; the makeup of the march reflected London’s place as a diverse, open city. Pitching up in Parliament Square, Renew garnered a lot of attention and interest from passers-by, but we were just one aspect of a larger cause. We were just one part of one of the largest single gatherings of people in British political history.
Flying the flag for Renew in Parliament Square
There was a slightly tense atmosphere at points, contrasted with the event in March which felt at times more like a carnival than a protest. There was a palpable feeling in the air that this might be the last chance people had to apply pressure on the government, and let opposition and rebel MPs know that there really is support for another referendum. The announcement of the Letwin Amendment’s passing alleviated this pressure somewhat, as it seems that the ‘do or die’ narrative of the government will be forced aside in favour of further delay.
Despite the pressure and anxiety of the current political crisis, especially considering how much so many present had at stake, the march maintained a strongly positive outlook, celebrating the politics of friendship and solidarity. That said, perhaps too much of the narrative of the speeches and placards focused on pro-European sentiment rather than looking to the wider principles. A People’s Vote isn’t just a device set up to overturn the result of the first referendum, but rather answers to principles of democracy, of giving people the choice over their future - which shouldn’t have to follow remain/leave allegiances.
The next few days are crucial not just for the People’s Vote campaign itself, but for the future of the country and our relationship with the EU. It may be that there is no second referendum, but even Johnson’s deal (if it passes) is just a Withdrawal Agreement. It does not dictate the terms on which we interact with Europe and the world going forwards - that is another battle entirely. Saturday’s march showed that the appetite for pro-Europeanism and a return to inclusive, honest and progressive politics is alive and kicking. In the coming days, weeks, months and years, that appetite will be crucial to the progressive cause.
Further evidence of an GE2019 “remain alliance” emerged on Saturday as Renew activists, candidates and the leadership met in Uxbridge with Liberal Democrat candidate Dr Liz Evenden-Kenyon.
Despite miserable weather conditions, a large group turned out to man a dual-branded Renew/Lib Dem booth and conduct surveys of the local population. Uxbridge and South Ruislip is high profile constituency, being the PM Johnson's seat and - more famously - the home of the originator of the classic #FilthyPieceOfToeRag. Johnson's majority is slim at 5,034 and there have been suggestions that the Tories may move him to a safer seat, as he is a vulnerable, divisive figure facing an unprecedentedly volatile electorate.
Most recent polling has suggested that remain parties will need to band together, either formally in a remain alliance or informally, through non-aggression and electoral pacts in order to avoid splitting the vote. There have been positive signs, with the suggestion that deals have been agreed for a few seats with SNP and Plaid, as well as special cases like Dominic Grieve and Caroline Lucas.
Special times call for special measures and if there was ever a time for us to put tribal politics aside and work together in our common interests, now is that time. Renew has a very good record in this regard, working with Change UK in the EU elections, as well as our valiant but ill-fated attempts to put forward a unity remain candidate in the Peterborough by-election and our participation in the remain alliance in Brecon and Radnorshire.
We encourage all of our candidates and activists to reach out to the remain parties in your local area and make yourselves known, especially if you happen to live in or near a key marginal seat. Renew HQ is building a database of local contacts throughout the country, so please get in touch and we can help.
This is not an election that any of us can afford to sit out.
We at Renew have been asking the question of how to reform capitalism in the 21st century. In this opinion piece, writer and Renew supporter Jim Cowan describes how a change in consciousness might help heal a divided society.
Capitalism evolves over time. Personally, I find it helpful to see that evolution in terms of the power relationships between the state, trade, and civil society.
During the industrial revolution, trade and commerce were centre-stage, supported by the state and civil society. The dominating consciousness was the age of reason and free thought.
The end of the Second World War brought a seismic shift: welfare state Britain was born. The state became central, influencing both business and civil society. The dominating consciousness was of the power of administration and professionals to solve problems and get things done.
In the late 1970s, a whole network of free-market thinkers rebelled against this ‘slavery by the state’, leading to the country’s third evolution: market-thinking Britain. This is the Britain we are all living in. Here, markets are placed in the dominant position by government. In return, the government will be fully supported by markets to create a society in which private sector thinking rules.
Since the state championed this thinking, markets and businesses don’t have to; we could call this arrangement cosy. Civil society becomes a dumping ground for the failures and worst human indignities of a materialistic and market-oriented culture.
Does this fact warrant reform? Quite obviously, yes. And what this way of looking at power in Britain suggests is a fourth evolution: a people-centred form of capitalism in which business and the state support civil society.
History also shows us that the effort required for actual reform has to await bigger contributory factors that make the change possible. But are such factors in the offing?
The first thing needed is an evolution of human consciousness that spreads through the population, which no politician or institution can control. This might look like a Britain whose collective brains have not been taken over by market thinking. In this society, people would be freer to become the person they can be; an existential freedom given rein by companies and jobs that recognise it. This genie is already well and truly out of the bottle. For whole swathes of the population, we are no longer just products of a mass society, our inner lives matter.
The second factor is that while civil society may have become a dumping ground, it is at the same time unbelievably resilient, rich and deep. It defines Britain. It is also the very source of humanity and the repairing of the social fabric. My book, The Britain Potential, identifies 50 grassroots initiatives (and there are many, many more). Many are in civil society, but some are in business, and some even in state services. They seem to be enacting this next stage of human consciousness. They are reforming capitalism before our eyes.
This is not being created by elites. The energy driving these initiatives is coming from a recognition that market forces can sometimes lead to inhuman and dysfunctional outcomes. The downsides of the neoliberal version of capitalism seem to be stoking the fires of its self-organising reform.
After the Great Depression, national government had to take on unemployment as a key metric. In the 1970s, inflation became another.
The next key metric for the renewal of Britain and the evolution of capitalism is going to be repairing the social fabric. This is a key metric signalling a moving on from market thinking to a civil society-centred Britain. New start-up parties like Renew are best placed to lead this charge, since the old guard simply have too much baggage to provide the answers.
In this opinion piece, Renew candidate for Morecambe and Lunesdale, Emma Rome, tells us what she thinks about Labour’s Brexit policy.
Labour proposes that if you want either to leave or remain in the EU, you should vote for them, because they will offer you a referendum either way.
But Labour's position fails the credibility test. Anyone who sincerely wants to leave will prefer a party dedicated to that end. Similarly, anyone who sincerely wants to remain will vote for a party dedicated to that end.
Who is Labour's target voter?
It is clearly not anyone who strongly cares either way about whether the UK remains or leaves the EU. While there will always be a core who will vote for them regardless, those who have Brexit/remain as their main political issue have effectively been abandoned by them, as Labour has chosen not to take a stand on this position, not even to state clearly how they will campaign on such a second referendum. This makes them an unlikely candidate for election victory as they have effectively surrendered the contest on both wings of this issue which has absorbed our news for the past three years.
But suppose they were to win the much-anticipated early general election. They would then be in a position to negotiate with the EU. But the EU, knowing Labour will put any negotiated deal to a referendum, can play hardball, and it will be in their best interests to do so, as the EU wants the UK to remain a member of the EU.
Labour claims it can negotiate a deal in which the UK will leave the EU and be better off. This is a logical fallacy. There is no way that the EU would, or even could, create an option for a member state to leave and be better off. That's not how clubs that make the members better off through membership work. It has nothing to do with any supposed intent of the EU to 'punish' the UK for leaving. It's like voting to leave a cruise liner on a lifeboat, then complaining that you no longer have access to the cinema.
We're simply stronger together.
But let’s suppose the EU is willing to consider playing hardball. They have a vested interest in doing so, because the harder the form of Brexit offered up in Labour's referendum, the more likely it is that waverers will choose to remain rather than accept Corbyn's deal. They don't even need to shift much from their current position.
For all the musical chairs of UK politics, the EU position since May has remained the same: the Brexit options are the withdrawal deal negotiated by Theresa May (with purely cosmetic alterations) or a no deal, no plan Brexit. They simply aren't interested in renegotiating again after the UK spent over three years faffing around on the issue.
Finally, the idea that they would campaign against their own negotiated deal during a referendum campaign is also somewhat ridiculous. If they campaign against their Labour-negotiated Brexit (the so-called "Lexit") and for Remain, they would be in the position of discrediting their own negotiators, which at this level would necessarily include would-be Prime Minister Corbyn himself. The political cost of tearing down their own party leader for a policy that the party has been decidedly non-committal on seems improbable. Especially when considering that the alternative boost to his credibility would strengthen the party were they in such a position.
No, there is no referendum in this scenario in which Labour could campaign for Remain without discrediting themselves. The whole ‘fence-sitting’ or ‘broad church’ exercise of the past few years has been little more than an exercise in persuading Remain voters to support a party that hasn't left itself in a position where it can credibly campaign for Remain. If you want the UK to remain a member of the European Union, you should vote for a party that will unequivocally campaign for Remain.
That’s why I will be voting for Renew.
Renew Candidate for Lewes, Paul Gerken, invites us to play a game with him: the great Despot Bingo.
There is a classic set of requirements to be a certified despot in today’s modern world. Like many others, I thought our chances of being lucky enough to have our very own British tyrannical leader (a Brit-pot, if you will) were so remote as to be laughable. Yet here we are – achingly close! Here is what I have ticked off so far:
The despot loves a big and bold statement of engineering capacity, and horrendous waste of public resource, for the sake of their own ego being attached to it. Boris Johnson not only has a host of these in his back catalogue (I’m looking at you, that monstrous helter skelter thing next to the Olympic Stadium), but he is brimming with ideas for the future. Building a f**k-off bridge to Ireland from Scotland was one of Boris’ most recent mind farts to hit the news.
Incitement of Hatred
No point in uniting people when you’ll need one half to imprison the other half in detention centres, am I right? So the despot will naturally want to incite as much anger and hatred in people as possible. How about calling a piece of legislation a ‘surrender bill’ and inexcusably make people think that the Brexit negotiations are akin to losing a war? Circle your cards, we’re angry.
Chuck out Dissenters
Loyalty trumps all else when you’re running a dictatorship. For MPs, their opinion is a ‘thanks but no thanks’, and the information they will receive is strictly ‘need to know’ only. Heads up; you don’t need to know anything, guys. Be loyal, don’t question, fall into line. Bozza’s move to chuck out 21 MPs from the party within a heartbeat of starting his job proves his intention to literally take no shit from no-one. Which takes us to…
Complete Closure of the Legislature
If he can’t be arsed to listen to the crap from his own side, what makes you think he’ll take it from Labour and some bleeding heart liberals? This is one I thought I would have to wait a while to cross off my card, but old BoJo didn’t waste any time with his attempt at the complete removal of democratic scrutiny. If you’re a despot, the last thing you want is elected representatives drilling you over what it is you’re doing. Go rogue and prorogue! Tick!
Power comes from the masses, so it’s easy pickings to kick someone who is a little bit different. Piccninny-letterboxed, watermelon-smiling bum-boys take note; you’re in for a rough ride under the sweaty ham-fist of this soon-to-be despot.
Undermine the Judiciary
Judges can be a pain, can’t they? Especially when they are so detached from the ‘Will of the People’! It’s like they don’t even consider the People’s whims and fancies in their rulings at all. They just seem to rely on process, precedent and rationality. BoJo shares in the People’s frustration; he’s a man of the People. Best just to declare publicly when they get it wrong, for short-term gain, as nothing could ever go wrong from undermining confidence in our legal system.
Have an Evil Mastermind Sidekick
Less a requirement to be a despot, and more a villain for comedic relief in a Disney film, having an Evil Mastermind Sidekick is a fun one to mark off your Despot Bingo card. Whilst many a sidekick huddle in the shadows, Boris’ right hand man, the infamous DC, loves nothing than to be pap-snapped trundling into the Prime Minister's Jag, tote bag and air of arrogance in toe. Dominic Cummings adds a genuine touch of 'holy shit he’ll really let us all burn' air to proceedings.
More Police for a Police State
'20,000 more police! 20,000 more police!' says our Bo, ad nauseam, like it’s the solution to absolutely everything. The irony of being part of the government that removed the 20,000 police in the first place is, I fear, somewhat lost. However, you do need police numbers to effectively run a police state, so get the recruitment machine whirling early, I’d say. Circle circle!
Absolutely fundamental. Think of any man hell-bent on dictatorial lunacy and you’ll find hair that defies convention. From your Kim Jong Un wedge, to your Trump blow-out, and our own Johnson’s ‘Eton Mess’, you can’t expect to rule with an iron fist if you haven’t got the barnet to prove it. Luckily, with Johnson’s scrappy ‘Children of the Corn’ locks, we’re on track to call Bingo.
Have Favourites, Treat ‘em Nice
There’s no point being in power if you can’t dole out treats to whomever you want to bone. Now, I’m not saying that anyone in the current role of Prime Minister has done that, but if he were to be a Despot, that’s what he’d do. So, until any independent investigation, let’s say we leave this one under review. Close, highly-scrutinized, review.
People, we’re nearly there! Just a few quick skips into the breakdown of democratic institutions and we will have a fully-fledged despot at the helm of power. Strap on to your seats; I feel I am about to call ‘BINGO!’
In the first of a two-part series, Gwen Jones looks at the history of capitalism - and wonders how it might evolve in the future.
The year is 1938. Alone in a Soviet prison cell, one man is awaiting the end to his eight-year-long ordeal.
Nikolai Kondratieff had spent almost a decade as a political prisoner in Suzdal, just northeast of Moscow. On September 17th 1938 - the day his original sentence was completed - Kondratieff was tried again, this time found guilty of anti-Soviet activity and sentenced to death. He was executed in his cell, by firing squad.
At the time, Kondratieff ranked among the great giants of 20th Century economic thought. His crimes were non-existent. All Kondratieff was really guilty of, in the eyes of his Stalin and his secret police, was to think the unimaginable about capitalism: that instead of crumbling under crisis, capitalism generally adapts, morphs and mutates.
In two major feats of analysis, Kondratieff was able to notice a distinct pattern within modern, industrial capitalism. Beyond short-term business cycles, Kondratieff found evidence of longer, fifty-year cycles of growth and decline consistent throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The major turning points of each cycle coincided with key structural changes within capitalism itself – thus, moments of crisis were indicative not of turmoil, but of order.
According to Kondratieff’s work, which later became popularised as ‘wave theory’, each long cycle begins with an upswing, fuelled by the roll out of new technologies and high levels of capital investment. As the rate of investment slows and saving by banks, corporations and individuals increases, the rate of growth slows up. The trajectory is still upward, though – recessions are short and shallow, and overall growth is strong.
Next, a downswing starts. The supply of accumulated capital is too great to be invested in productive industry, so more of it gets trapped within the finance system. Interest rates fall, as the abundance of cheap capital suppresses the price of borrowing. Wages and commodities prices follow, ending eventually in a depression.
The past two centuries exemplify Kondratieff’s waves almost perfectly – the first cycle began around 1790, prompted by the emergence of factories, and ended in around 1848. The second, this time fuelled by the roll out of railways, factory-produced machinery and stable global currencies, came to an end with financial crises in the UK and USA, which triggered the long depression of the 1870s-90s. Heavy industry and mass production drove the wave of the 1890s to 1945, eventually brought to its knees by the Second World War.
In the fourth (and final) wave, automated factory work, mass consumer goods and nuclear technology combined to produce the longest period of sustained economic growth in history. Decades of rising wages, the expansion of welfare, and access to integrated global markets led to a middle class explosion across Europe, the US and emerging economies. This was the era of ‘never had it so good’ - an expression which rings hollow now.
The punctuation point for this cycle is obvious. In 2008, global capitalism imploded. A poorly regulated and overinflated finance system eventually succumbed to a crisis of liquidity that almost brought the world to a standstill.
Rampant financialization had effectively, by this point, allowed many in the West to live for years off bad debt, their entire lifestyles funded by the availability of cheap credit. Wages weren’t growing, but we were still borrowing – hence the emergence of the subprime mortgage, non-existent until investment banking made it so. In the run up to the crash, banks across Europe had outstanding loans tens or hundreds of times larger than their respective national GDPs. In Iceland, the ratio of private bank assets to GDP was 1000:1.
The seeds of the next wave had been planted with the rise of information technology and the dot-com revolution of the 1990s. But while both have grown exponentially, the cycle has stalled. The West is still reeling from 2008, now over a decade ago, and recovery has been painfully slow.
Government balance sheets are overstretched, deficits still running high after billions were issued in bank bailouts. The public sector has been squeezed to crisis point by austerity, and wages in real terms have remained stagnant for years. Interest rates across most of the developed world are near zero, or below zero in some cases.
In short, the rapid take-off of a new capitalist growth cycle seems very far away indeed.
If Kondratieff was right, we should be expecting a new upswing any day now. In fact, it’s already long overdue. As mentioned, the seeds for this new paradigm have been planted; information and communications technologies have revolutionised the way in which we operate – at the individual and global levels.
So why no boom? Why no sunny uplands?
The problem lies with the way the world dealt with 2008, as well as with neoliberalism itself. The neoliberal model, which we have now come to recognise as ‘capitalism’, crumbled under the weight of its own contradictions. And yet, 10 years later, few have been resolved. The risk pooled within this instability has also been magnified - many of the techniques governments used to deal with the crash have already been expended. Interest rates have almost nowhere to go, and national deficits are already too large to take on another major bailout. There are no more bullets left in the gun.
In order to protect the world against crisis, and to secure a more prosperous future, the life support that has been used to sustain the existing system for years must finally be switched off.
Instead, we must pursue a revolutionary new approach to capitalism; one that prioritises wages over assets, equality over monopoly, and innovation over financialisation. The old ways of both the right, and the left, must be shrugged off - the 21st century will surely offer more than can ever be lived up to by business as usual.