The British are not exactly famous for consensus.
But we might come close to agreement on the proposition that life as we currently find it does not match our reasonable expectations or our potential.
Nor is our present condition an appropriate reflection of our many and considerable historical achievements. Once Britain was a Great Nation, her greatness spanning the globe and several centuries.
Many see the Victorian era as the period of Britains real greatness. In those days every piece of worthwhile machinery was invented, designed and made with pride in Britain, good sturdy machines built to last. In 1851 Britons had an average income 65% higher than the average German, 30% higher than the average American. That was the time, too, when Britain boasted an empire on which the sun never set.
Indeed, Britains greatness and its contributions to civilization stretch back far beyond Victorian machinery and the Empire, beyond Shakespeare and the age of world exploration when Britain mapped a world of which the geographical centre was and still is Longitude Zero at Greenwich.
One of our most notable contributions was the Magna Carta of 1215, that famous document generally regarded as the worlds first and still most respected Constitution, which was itself only a confirmation of long-held rights and liberties.
But the past is past. Things have changed and though a few may prosper individually, our relative national prosperity declines. As we look at other countries we once considered our equals, we see them doing what we should be doing, overtaking us, finally leaving us far behind.
Of course our politicians do their best to create the illusion of prosperity, a popular and vote-catching aim indeed. But prosperity for whom? Politics is still a two-sided contest, each with its own supporters and its own beneficiaries. Neither side attempts to address the needs and concerns of all of us.
The Blues, the Conservatives, stand for big business and the already-rich. A degree of unemployment is discretely favoured because it keeps wages down and low wages increase profits.
The Reds, the Socialists, support the Workers against their Capitalist Bosses. Socialism stands for a Welfare State, lavish public spending if necessary with a growing public debt, and high taxes on the rich, though this penalizes the hard-workers as well as the un-earned incomes.
Old traditions die hard, or so they say. But they are dying now, as the Right-Left choice no longer satisfies a disillusioned public turning increasingly to the so-called fringe parties, some with regional or special interest ideas, some genuinely reformist, others simply cranky reflecting their supporters view of a cranky and dysfunctional world.
And there is a growing antagonism, not specifically towards the Incredibly Rich, but towards the system which allows this gross and growing inequity to come about.
In an ideal world, the fruits of prosperity would indeed be more equably shared. But but before we can share it, prosperity must be created.
This leads inevitably to money, its investment potential, and how this can be channeled so that its benefits are more widely enjoyed.
The basic principles of banking are both sound and simple.
Bankers take fixed assets (like the deeds of your house) as security and give you an equivalent in liquid assets (cash or credit, or purchasing power) in exchange for the duration of the loan. No new wealth is created. The bank simply exchanges one type of asset for another.
Banking was, and is subject to certain basic rules of conduct. The bank must at all times remain liquid, which means that it must always hold enough cash and near-cash to satisfy the normal demands of depositors for withdrawals. Second, the Bank must assure itself of the true value of assets taken from borrowers as security in exchange for credit.
A third, and significant discipline is applied by the Central Bank, which varies interest rates banks must charge so as to reflect the state of the economy. Low rates encourage economic growth. Higher rates are applied to slow down growth as the economy approaches capacity.
So far so good. However, many young entrepreneurs today have difficulty putting up security there is not the broadly based home ownership of yesteryear. It is possible, indeed highly likely, that good ideas with potential go undeveloped. The flourishing of enterprise during WW2 provided a clear indication of the wealth of talent and enterprise waiting to be developed with the right backing and support.
During the Great Depression years following 1929, Britains Lord Melchett, prominent industrialist and politician, stressed that banking should be at the service of industry, rather than industry at the mercy of the banking system.
His words are equally true today: While banks take a short-term view for reasons of security and liquidity, business is conducted on a long view. We must alter our banking and economic system to suit the necessities of industry.
More specifically, we must find ways to provide investment based on ideas and their potential, rather than pre-existing assets, then add such backup and support as may be required to maximize each projects potential.
Job-creation requires capital:in sufficient quantity and with the guaranteed longterm financial reliability to ensure a business is properly set up and able to maintain the highest international standards in design, production and marketing.
The UKs Office for Budget Responsibility cites low business investment as one of the main reasons for persistently low levels of productivity.
Traditional banking practice requires pre-existing assets as security, and loans carry no long-term commitment.
Development Banking avoids these two limitations by securing the loan on the industrial or commercial project itself, thoroughly researched and costed, and by making a long-term commitment based on an intimate involvement with the business or project in which it is invested. This facilitates the creation of new business and new jobs, as well as providing secure finance with which existing business can maximize quality and productivity.
A dedicated Development Banking sector based on Project-Security can spread growth across the nation, creating jobs and providing the wherewithal for existing companies to increase their competitiveness, as well as for infrastructural improvements. Investment targeted regionally can bring industry and growth to traditionally under-developed areas.
The two broad principles of Development Banking focus on analysis, and commitment.
The Development Bank begins by thoroughly researching each loan proposal from design to production, management and sales, calling on outside expert advice and assistance where necessary. A successful loan recipient will receive full back-up support in a close working and constructive partnership with the Development Bank, both on start-up, then continuously monitored with an ongoing flow of performance data. The Development Bank would levy a fixed charge covering its administrative costs, plus a small insurance premium.
This is not a new idea. Britains (long defunct) Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) were similar to Regional Development Banks in that they based their financial assistance on their own thorough research and analysis of project details, costs and anticipated returns. They were however handing out grants rather than repayable investments, thus the project was not sustainable. Other countries in which Development Banking is alive and well include France, Germany, Singapore, Basque Spain and Canada's Quebec Province, to mention but a few.
With investment risk minimized through proper, pre-investment research and positive on-going monitoring of physical production, sales, and accounting, the business itself becomes the security for its investment loan.
By setting up Development Banks to operate at regional level, focusing on regional and local needs, investment benefits can be spread widely and uniformly across the nation, avoiding the usual pockets of non- or under-development. Local infrastructure can also be financed.
A percentage of the investment charge should also be set aside to fund apprenticeships and on-location training. High youth unemployment is largely caused by the mismatch between the skills that young people offer and those prospective employers need. Indeed, countries with the lowest youth jobless rates have a close relationship between education and work.
Many of todays successful businesses grew over many years and a long hard climb, starting with minimal capital, operating on a shoestring, and reinvesting every penny of profit. Regional Development Banking can provide sufficient capital for a good business venture to start at full operation, properly equipped for maximum productivity.
Indeed, by conditionally requiring the highest standards of product and service quality, Development Banking can increase competitiveness, and the high level of productivity which creates real and lasting prosperity.
Most significantly, Regional Development Banks can create jobs and industries NOW, with the guaranteed longterm finance needed to maximize productivity and most importantly, maximize quality. And the availability of genuine, repayable investment loans avoids the need for deficit-increasing grants, now well beyond the means of debt-ridden governments.
Dedicated, Project-secured Development Banking can create wealth and prosperity across the nation.
How can we ensure that its fruits are widely shared?
Fair shares means:
fair remunerations, based on real work contributed at all levels;
fair prices, reflecting the work content of products and services with a limit on profits.
The Rich are getting richer, the Poor are getting poorer. Gross and growing inequality of income has become a major issue, and a major source of social discontent. And statistics support popular instincts: as of 2016 the richest 1% of the worlds population now owns 50% of its total wealth, according to a report by Credit Suisse.
Is inequality a problem? No, not if it is the result of hard work, of training and education, acceptance of responsibility and simple success at what you do. But inequality of remuneration and consequent living standards IS a problem when it is widely perceived that there is no just and fair relationship between work and reward.
A Fair Days Pay
What IS a Fair Days Pay? A difficult and contentious issue, one might think, fraught with disputes, frustration and strikes. Actually, no. In fact a solution already exists, and needs only to be applied on a standardized national scale in order to bring stability, and social justice, that essential pre-condition of stability, to the economy.
Formal job evaluation began in the United States with the Civil Service Commission in 1871. As organizations became larger and more bureaucratized the need for a rational system of pay differentials became evident.
It is now commonplace for government agencies, and corporations large and small, to use a system of Job Evaluation to evaluate the work contributed by each staff member. Each job is analyzed, and its essential characteristics and demands such as training, responsibility, working conditions and physical/mental effort involved, are measured on a series of common scales. The job value is then directly related to remuneration. In this way, remuneration is fair, both in relation to the work done, and to the remunerations and work of others.
Currently there are several such systems in use, well tried and working successfully. A single standard could easily be established, a national standard of value for measuring the work element contained in any job, so that remuneration becomes a true reflection of the work involved.
If it is to be fully inclusive, the evaluation process must be applied throughout the income range, from shopfloor to boardroom. A contentious issue no doubt, when it reaches the top. But Management which actually manages, keeps a longterm view of the business in perspective, reviews alternative options and products in short, actually manages, should indeed be rewarded according to the standard scale. But Top Managements and Honorary Board Members who are only there for the lunch... Reward must be related strictly to actual, measurable contribution.
Revolutionary in present terms, no doubt. But society already measures apples and milk; it could hardly get along otherwise. Yet of all the commodities traded every day, work is the most important, and work is the one commodity we dont measure. And it is the most significant, pervading and affecting the entire economic structure.
A Fair Days Pay and a Fair Price too?
Work evaluation can ensure fair remuneration. This process must be carried through to prices.
A factorys, or a businesss total costs consist of three elements. First, the cost of bought-in raw materials and components; second, the direct labour added in the factory; and third, the costs of capital write-off, overheads and finance. These are the costs of making a product, of supplying a service. From these costs a Unit Production Cost can be calculated for each product or service supplied. If this Unit Production Cost then becomes the Selling Price, there would be a direct and fair relationship between cost and price, and therefore between pay and purchasing power.
But the Unit Production Cost is not normally equated with the Selling Price. The difference between the two is commonly referred to as the net profit. How is the net profit currently disposed of?
The prior destination for profits has traditionally been the investors, or shareholders, who provide the necessary investment. The other major destination for the disposal of company profit is re-investment, either in research and equipment or increased working capital. The advantage is that in-house or self-generated investment comes without future servicing cost or commitment to repay.
Much as a national standard of work evaluation would provide a point of reference for remunerations, so the establishment of public policy for profit distribution would ensure both fair and stable prices. This could take the practical form, first, of an overall profit ceiling. Of the profit made, broad percentage bands could be established and gradually stabilized, distributing profit according to a pre-set formula as between investors, consumers, and the internal needs of capital for reserves and re-investment.
Note that price stabilization effected in this way, through annual account regulation, would permit the same degree of latitude in pricing deals and special offers. But the profit ceiling would ensure an ultimate price stability.
There is however, one more much-neglected claimant to a share in the profits, and that is the customer. Profits have to come from somewhere – or someone. In fact it is the customer who pays the price and generates the profit; thus a justified claim on profits would come from the consumer, demanding lower prices.
Pay, Profit and Price Evaluation: a fair wage, a fair price. Fair exchange between employer and employee, between producer and consumer without the need to argue or strike. A social achievement in itself.
But there are further implications, and gains to be made, in terms of financial stability and its effect on our monetary system.
What is money?
Theres probably a different answer each time the question is asked.
For a definitive answer, what better source than the IMF, the International Monetary Fund... you cant get nearer Heaven than that. And this is their response, clear and simple:
Money serves as
a unit of account,
a medium of exchange,
a store of value.
The document adds:
Without it, modern economies could not function.
Absolutely not, for sure. We must, and do have a monetary system of course. But it fails on one out of three essentials: clearly money as we know it, and as it is managed today, is not a store of value.
Its value deteriorates day-by-day, sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly, but inflation, the gradual reduction in the purchasing power of our currency, is ever-present. Dont put your money under the mattress, Nellie. By the time youre retired and want to spend it, itll be worthless. If the mice dont get it, inflation will.
So how do you save for your old age?
One answer is to rely on a company pension scheme. But these are often unreliable, as indeed are the companies themselves as technology makes traditional products and services outdated, together with the companies supplying them.
The fallback for many is the good old government pension scheme. But here again, the future looks cloudy, as a decreasing workforce is funding a retired population which grows with increased longevity.
So we must inevitably look elsewhere, and for millions of people who are not sophisticated investors, this means your house.
As a result there is considerable upward pressure on house prices, putting the dream of a home of your own beyond the reach of many young people today, which, incidentally, is probably why theyre not marrying and having children, so we have an ageing population.
Such is the social cost of inflation, the steady deterioration in the value of money.
Pay, Profit and Price Evaluation, by establishing fair remunerations and prices, would eliminate inflation. Prices would not increase. In fact, prices would steadily fall across the board.
We should be, and are increasing productivity year-on-year, producing more and better at less cost. And with a stable monetary unit, increased productivity involving less labour is reflected in lower prices.
This is negative inflation. Your money buys more each year, not less. As productivity increases, it becomes possible for goods and services to be produced and offered at lower prices, thus progressively lowering the cost of living, and raising the standard of living.
And with money steadily increasing in value, you can simply save a regular amount into the bank (or under the mattress if you prefer), then, when you retire its there ready for you, without need for investment plans (and paying people to administer them), or scrambling to fund a mortgage in a grossly over-inflated property market.
This in turn means that as we get older we can look forward to increased purchasing power for our savings.
A wild dream? No. This is as it should be, the normal course of events.
But the whole financial and business climate must be right.
The essential ingredients of maximum, nation-wide prosperity are simple and straightforward, devoid of any esoteric complexity or the obfuscation with which professional economics can so often cloud the issues.
One. Full employment is clearly a primary ingredient of prosperity. If 5% of the working population is unemployed, 5% of productive capacity is wasted.
Two. Maximum productivity: everybody working productively. Even if everybody is working, but working inefficiently using outdated equipment with poor organization, then again, output and potential prosperity, will be reduced.
Three. Maximizing productivity requires secure, longterm, committed investment, in education, training, research and development, in the tools and machinery of industry, and in the nations infrastructure.
Four. An accepted, top-to-bottom system of remuneration, price and profit evaluation creates a condition of social and monetary stability, a foundation on which economic expansion can be maximized without inflation.
Five. With remuneration, price and monetary stability, as productivity increases, so prices fall, and personal savings increase in value. Money at last becomes a true store of value.
A powerful combination which cannot fail to give us the widely shared prosperity of which we are surely capable and which would so enrich all our lives.
Ultimately the idea of living in a society where the cost of living goes down slowly, year by year instead of up, where your savings are not only safe but increase in value, where your domestically produced goods get progressively better and cheaper, where a fair days pay for a fair days work in decent conditions is an accepted norm rather than an on-going battle... it may all seem utopian.
But its possible. And its all do-able. Right now.