An interview with comedian Rob Newman

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An interview with comedian Rob Newman

Rob Newman is a comedian, author and activist. He talks to K Biswas about the welfare state for businesses, WH Auden and austerity cuts, and gives an interesting solution to Greece’s economic problems.

What’s your earliest memory?

I remember throwing my toy bear out of the bed. Its eye smashed on the floor. My daughter now sleeps with that one-eyed bear.

Who or what inspires you?

The work of Mary Midgley. She is our greatest living philosopher, Her work was the inspiration for my new show, Robert Newman’s New Theory of Evolution. She is a brilliant writer, especially her book The Solitary Self – Darwin and the Selfish Gene.

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You’ve been writing your latest novel – The Trade Secret – since 2006. How did you get the idea?

It was luck. I was in the British Library’s Rare Books & Music room and I found the true story of a group of Elizabethans who discovered oil, coffee and messenger pigeons in Persia. It was amazing to read original Elizabethan reports of things like an oil well in Fallujah called The Valley of Pitch! The novel is set in Isfahan, Venice and London between the years 1599 and 1606.

You were in Seattle for the anti-globalization demonstrations in 1999. Do you think that this event led directly to the protests in developed countries over the past few years, from the Indignados in Spain and Syntagma Square in Greece, to the Occupy movement?

I think the Indignados and Syntagma Square are more like the long-running Global South movements against the IMF/World Bank a decade or so ago. Those protests – from Malaysia to Costa Rica, the Philippines to Argentina – were against exactly the same aggressive changes that southern Europe have to accept now.

I’m hoping that the Greeks will discover a long-lost patent on the isosceles triangle. They could then demand so much money (from royalties) from all the northern countries that they would go bankrupt. Then they could cancel the debt if we agree to close down all the big businesses.

You’ve written that no country has enough money to run two welfare states – one for humans and one for corporations.

Governments on the left and the right always say they are right to cut welfare by comparing mobility scooters and needle exchanges, or the soft-play area in children’s playgrounds and an old people’s home. Who needs the help most, they say, students or cleaners? Old or young? But when we’re running two welfare states, that’s not the real choice. The real choice is between playgrounds or gas rigs, between Meals on Wheels or The City of London Currency Speculators’ Maintenance Allowance. There’s a connection – never mentioned in the news – between, for example, Britain’s eight new deep-water gas rigs and its 200 new food banks. The connection is that the $4.5 billion subsidy package given to transnational gas corporations is a very big proportion of welfare. If we keep supporting the gas transnationals, hungry humans have to queue for old tinned food given away by supermarkets. And many of these supermarkets receive a lot of corporate welfare too.

What hope is there for the welfare state in an age of austerity?

Well, firstly, it’s not an age of austerity. As [the BBC’s Business Editor] Robert Peston, said on a news programme a few months ago, the big problem for the markets now is too much “liquidity” (money). Too much money but not enough places to get a lot of interest. If we call it an age of austerity, it seems like a law of nature or a geological time period. But it’s much closer to what WH Auden describes in his poem ‘A Walk After Dark’:

And the truth can no longer be hid,

Somebody chose their pain,

What needn’t have happened, did.

The Trade Secret (ISBN 978-1190888517) was published in Britain in April.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/columns/finally/2013/05/01/rob-newman-interview/