Wednesday, February 04, 2015

What Neoliberalism Has in Store For You

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From Le Monde, a timely explanation of how disastrous neoliberalism continues to thrive despite an endless string of economic disasters and what it holds in store for you even as you continue to vote for those who inflict it.  Hint. Neoliberalism is class warfare and it's being waged in our own Parliament against us.

Even neoliberal proponents recognize that it is a crisis-ridden system. In his popular book Why Globalisation Works, Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf writes: “Between 1945 and 1971, in what might be called the “age of financial repression”, there had been only thirty-eight crises in all.... Then, between 1973 and 1997, there were 139 crises. The age of financial liberation has, in short, been an age of financial crisis” (3).

Neoliberal policies have been implemented from 1973 in Pinochet’s Chile, in the UK and US under Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s and then across increasing swathes of the world. These policies include, privatization, the de-regulation of the financial sector, increasing openness to foreign trade and investment, and cuts to public welfare spending. Supporters of neoliberal policies argue that these will increase economic efficiency as state regulation of the economy is replaced by more accurate ‘market signals’. These are held to be better at encouraging and allocating investment, which in turn leads to higher economic growth and greater benefits for the economy and population as a whole.

So why do so many Western governments, including your own, embrace neoliberal, market-fundamentalist policies?  That's because it's actually successful only not in promoting a healthy economy to benefit all.  Its success lies in the quiet transfer of economic and political power out of your pocket and into the pocket of those it's actually intended to benefit.

Can it be said that neoliberalism is a success? And why are crises and austerity policies part of this success? One clue was provided by Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, in a speech in early October 2014 where he noted how real wages in the UK are around 10% lower than in 2007.

In his film Inequality for All, Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s labour secretary between 1993 and 1997, documents the collapse of US wages over the last four decades. In the late 1970s the typical male US worker was earning $48,000 a year (inflation adjusted). By 2010, the average wage had fallen to $33,000 a year. Over the same period the average annual income of someone in the top 1% of US society rose from $390,000 to $1,100,000.

Neoliberal policies aim to reduce wages to the bare minimum and to maximize the returns to capital and management. They also aim to demobilise workers’ organisations and reduce workers to carriers of labour power — a commodity to be bought and sold on the market for its lowest price. Neoliberalism is about re-shaping society so that there is no input by workers’ organisations into democratic or economic decision-making. Crises and austerity may not be intentionally sought by most state leaders and central bank governors, but they do contribute significantly towards pursuing such ends. Consequently, these politicians and leaders of the economy do not strive to put in place new structures or policies that will reduce the recurrence of crisis.

...The rising levels of inequality associated with neoliberal policies are often decried by critics as weakening social ties and generating social conflict. But this is exactly what neoliberal policies are designed to do — to break apart social organisations such as trade unions, transform worker’s into individuals at the mercy of firms’ hiring and firing strategies, and transfer resources from workers to owners and managers of capital. In this regard neoliberalism uses crisis and austerity to great effect.

There is one downside for proponents of neoliberal policies however. Because they generate socio-economic crisis they erode public confidence in politics and economic policy. It is here that progressive political organisations can highlight the class basis of neoliberalism and propose a realistic alternative that favours the majority of the world’s population, not the minority.

It's hard to imagine that today's 'permanent warfare state' could ever have arisen absent neoliberalism and the commodification of state violence into for-profit warfare.  Likewise disaster capitalism is utterly dependent on the life support of neoliberalism.  What you need to understand is that, until we throw these people out of Parliament - the lot of them - this is only going to get worse, not just for you but even more so for your children and theirs.


Owen Gray said...

I concur wholeheartedly, Mound. The voting public doesn't understand how broadly and how deeply neo-liberalism has entrenched itself.

The Mound of Sound said...

In fairness, Owen, it took a while before I noticed its onset. I'm still dismayed at how the Liberals and New Democrats allowed themselves to get swept up in it. I remain convinced that no good will come to our Canada until the death grip of neoliberalism is broken.