‘Two and a half of you,’ George Monbiot concludes, counting the raised hands which affirm that their owners are indeed comfortable with the definition of “neo-liberalism”. Half an hour later every member of the audience is familiar with the political philosophy that frames all our lives.
Monbiot delivered his critique without notes and a comfortable style which, to me, was engagingly reminiscent of Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall. Different schools I discover on Wikipedia; Stowe for George and Eton for Hugh, though both were born in London and went up to Oxford before relocating to Wales and River Cottage respectively. Here’s a brief summary.
Most people don’t have the faintest idea what neo-liberalism is, yet this philosophy has created just about every crisis we face. Anonymity is the source of its power. It’s so pervasive we don’t see it as an ideology. Yet it was deliberately conceived and refined to change power relations and transform human life. It is a philosophy defined by competition. Through buying and selling we can decide who is deserving and who is underserving. Collective bargaining is a distortion. Minimise taxation, privatise state assets. Inequality is virtuous. It is a means of generating wealth to trickle down. That’s the theory. We all internalise and reproduce the creed.
The neoliberal project
Its architects were Hayek and Von Mises, two Austrian exiles who feared the manifestations of collectivism and social democracy would crush the individual and would lead to totalitarianism. In the 1970s Keynesian theory ran into a series of crises. It could not cope with globalisation of economies. Under Reagan and Thatcher the political project trialled in Pinochet’s Chile was implemented. There were massive tax cuts, war was declared on trades unions and the mass privatisation of state assets was instigated. The theory was adopted by the Democrats and the Labour Party.
It’s not political parties that change the world, its political philosophies that then change existing parties.
The doctrine of freedom and choice is used to beat down any opposition. “There is no alternative.”
Always ask; freedom for whom and against whom?
Freedom for the pike is not freedom for the minnows.
Freedom from regulation is freedom to poison lives.
Freedom from taxation is freedom to redistribute wealth to the rich from the poverty stricken.
Freedom from wage regulation is freedom to exploit.
Whenever you hear freedom expressed in vague general terms interrogate it. What enslavement might it cause?
The doctrine of change and freedom is always associated with measures to reduce choice and freedom.
There is a pseudo market economy where gatekeepers can charge rent for access. A new rentier economy has been developed. Assets are rented without genuine investment, and milked. There is booming inequality. The wealth of the poor is transferred to the economic elite. Wealth creation has now become wealth extraction. It is aimed to shrink the scope of the state, which is politically dangerous. As votes count for less and less the state can only assert control by the heel of its boot. The middle and lower classes are disenfranchised. Fascism feeds on the disengaged.
Neoliberalism is a coherent political project which collapsed in 2008 yet the Left has failed to develop a response, it has merely tried to disinter Keynes. The Keynesian response is to stimulate more demand but what are the environmental consequences of this? The Left needs a new general theory, a framework for the 21st century, which can be universally reproduced.
Cultural hegemony as Antonio Gramsci described it is where the views of the ruling class are replicated by others.
The Institute of Economic Affairs is a lobbying group with massive corporate funding promoting neoliberalism. The BBC can’t identify them for what they are and allow them to disguise themselves. The media is entirely captured by people like Murdoch, the Barclay Brothers, Desmond.
Millionaires have funded economics departments which practised neoliberalism and broke the Keynesian dominance.
We are exactly like the Russian oligarchies, grabbing assets when they come up for grabs, but we don’t see it in those terms but the theft is the same. People don’t get killed but it is a complete racket. The privatised public utilities are now debt-ridden private monopolies extorting their ill-gotten gains, not delivering public services.
On Devo Manc
It’s like George Osborne said, ‘Here’s a load of shit we generated in central government, now you can deal with it.’ A genuine devolution would be positive but this isn’t an effective devolution agenda.
Monbiot’s book available from the Guardian Bookshop now.