Today the UK government announced its budget, with great fanfare, scrutiny, and debate. But no-one else did.
I didn’t see any of the other major power-centres of the UK economy – big banks, corporations, rich individuals, etc. – announcing what they were doing to help get the British economy out of recession. I didn’t read any articles that took some massive company and laid out what they were spending on social support, what they were spending on green energy, what they were spending on protecting jobs – or rather, that exposed how much they were laying people off, investing in fossil fuel expansion, that they were reneging on contracts with their employees etc. etc.
Sometimes, of course, such entities do throw a few crumbs to social purposes, and then make adverts telling us about it without contexts, forcing a few hippies in an internet cafe to put in the effort to give that context. And the newspapers don’t seem to be very interested in pro-actively interrogating them. We’re certainly not told what contributions they are making towards reducing national debt.
Readers may be puzzled. ‘Of course they’re not. They’re private individuals (or organisations thereof), not governments. That’s not what they do.’ But they have taken hold of massive chunks of our social wealth; why should they not have to justify it?
At the level of income of the average worker, for example, owning property is principally a matter of owning and being able to buy the accoutements of one’s own life, things that that individual needs or wants.
But as we accumulate more, our personal needs are eclipsed by property in means of production, in whatever form, and at this point its character changes – it’s not a matter of me ‘having’ a lot of stuff, it’s a matter of me controlling part of the productive process – not the part in which I produce, or which produces what I consume, but just a random bit involving other people.
Now why on earth should we let people take over control of our economy like this? A government can at least give a false account of why we should let it take over both a chunk of the economy and a chunk of our personal freedom: it can say that it’s going to use that control for our benefit, to make us all better off.
But private companies seem to be exempt from that requirement. If we allow a little looseness in our definitions of ‘us’ and ‘them’, then most of ‘our’ economy is being directed and managed by a small minority of the population (in wealth-of-households terms, for example, about 25% of the population has about 75% of the wealth, but actual control is likely to be even more concentrated). Yet where’s the public scrutiny and accountability that we’re so used to thinking is necessary for governments?