Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A Common Sense Ideology? How neoliberalism dominates discourse

Most of you will probably know, I gave a workshop on Saturday at the Exeter Anarchist Summer Conference. I thought I stick up the notes I took into the session. Below is sort of what I said for an introduction, and my ideas on the subject.

It was a very good hour and we covered a lot, with loads of audience participation.

  • Use the current political and economic situation to demonstrate how neoliberal ideology dominates opinion and discourse. Challenge common ideas of democracy and analyse the concept of the “big society”


Welcome and thanks for coming. For those who don’t know me I’m the secretary of the local branch of the communist party. This isn’t about the CP, or necessarily about Marxist ideology.

Just to say a few words about the hour or so we’ve got. I’m going to outline an introduction to the subject, and I’ve a fair idea of where I want the discussion to go, but this isn’t a lecture, or even a seminar, it is all about where you all want to take it.

What I do hope we achieve, in a good Leninist way, is to create a “concrete analysis of a concrete situation”.

When approaching today I first looked at the title of the conference “re-imagining society”. And I started to think, what is it about the society we want to re-imagine, what do we want to change, and what ideology is it that currently dominates society?

We’ve got friends from EACA here, and they’ve just been on a panel, but I want to look deeper than just the government’s cuts agenda.

The current political and economic situation provides the perfect prism to look at neoliberalsim.

When we look at reforms such as NHS, free schools, tuition fees, Royal Mail, these reforms are not about deficit reduction. Rather they are a systematic dismantling of public institutions and an opening up of the state to the free market and competition.

That takes us to what we mean by neoliberalism. In the context today I mean the work of people like Friedrich Hayek from the 1940s whose book “The Road to Serfdom” came to define democracy as simply about individual liberty.

From there Milton Friedman took up the baton declaring liberal capitalism (in the economic sense) to be the only system that allows people to interact without coercion, and the state should only regulate where free markets are not possible.

The reason these two in particular are important is that they laid the groundwork for the philosophy behind Thatcherism and “Reaganomics” that we are still living with today – despite 13 years of a Labour government.

We live in a society, and under this coalition it is being accelerated into all fields of life, where we are told that the only way to solve problems is to allow the free market, and big business to move in and sort thins out.

OK I’ve sort of said enough for a bit of an introduction. I’d like the workshop to fall into three broad areas.

  • How does this ideology permeate society and who are the elite
  • How does this system impact upon democracy and what do we make of the “big society”
  • How do we change society (if we want to)

1. Who are the “elite” who maintain this system?

  • Times Rich List
    • 1000 richest people worth £396bn (1/3 of total national debt)
    • In the last year billionaires up from 53 to 73
    • Total increase of wealth by 18%
    • Only based on “identifiable wealth” (land, property, shares) not what they’ve got in bank accounts (whether onshore or offshore!)
  • Hedge funds – to take advantage of these you need around £3m of investible capital, which is only around 0.1% of the adult population
  • International dimension – 40% of shares are owned externally and British elite own more foreign investments than any country apart from the USA (eg Nissan and BMW)

I’m not saying that these people are like James Bond villains, living in a volcano telling governments what to do. Rather, since the early part of the last century there has been a fusing of business and government (which our party defines as “state monopoly capitalism”) that protecting the interests of big business becomes the interest of governments. We only have to look at what happens when things go wrong.

The idea that Greece has been bailed out is ridiculous. The Greek people still owe the money, they are still having their state dismantled. The people who have been “bailed out” by the IMF and Eurozone are the people who lent Greece the money in the first place! The “markets” and “investors” have walked away while the Greek people pay the price. Even in this country, we are in the perverse situation where the system that caused the crisis now punishes the governments and people who bailed the system out.

“Who is in power is not important, as long as the structures remain the same”

Section One

How does this ideology dominate society? (write things up!)

  • Blame Labour
  • Media – “despite the London Underground strikes 30% ran as normal” vs “France’s train network was crippled as 50% cancelled due to strikes”
  • Ran out of money – when every bomb in Lybia costs £700,000
  • Simplistic arguments (housewife’s purse)
  • American dream (all you need is hard work)
  • Financialisation of pensions etc
  • Anti union
  • Home ownership (a home owning democracy. People who have MORTgages don’t go on strike)
  • False divisions in society (class)
  • Deserving and undeserving poor (Ian Duncan Smith)
  • Blaming “failed regulation” when all parties wanted less
  • Good State vs Bad Sate
  • Pretending society is now “classless”
  • Celebrity culture – now even common oiks can become “rich” as long as they make a fool of themselves in front of Simon Cowell
  • Consumerism – the more you own the more you are
  • Aspiration, opportunity, choice

Deficit before the crash 3%, after the crash 11%. Are we really meant to believe Labour caused the crash in USA, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Japan. . . ?

Section Two

The “big society” vs democracy

By introducing all of these elements into public discourse and policy, the coalition wants us to believe that free markets can operate in society, when we remove the state element and allow people to come together to “buy” services and interact as consumers of services.

We are living in a “choice democracy”. Schools, under the control of elected councils are undemocratic, whereas the choice between two private academies is democratic.

Friday’s welfare to work plan uses companies with a turnover of more than £20m. Cerco and G4S are the two main suppliers.

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