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Tony von Hayek and Gordon Friedman

July 15, 2009

Potlatch on New Labour’s sterling defence of inequality:

It’s clear in the political writings of Hayek and Milton Friedman that economic inequality is the guarantor of social and political difference. Far from the state being tasked with reducing it, the state has an obligation to defend and construct the mechanisms which produce it.

It is without any sarcasm that New Labour ought to be recognised for its achievements in this regard. It has defended free markets, competition in education, the valorisation of sporting achievement, the optimisation of London relative to the rest of the UK, and so on. Forget the filthy rich or David Beckham for a moment. New Labour has done an excellent job in defending the legacy of Hayek and Friedman, who at least had the self-awareness and courage to say what they believed in. Either we live in a society where the wheat is distinct from the chaff, or we live in one of potential tyranny; that was the original neo-liberal claim.

It’s interesting to speculate that New Labour was a far more able defender of the neoliberal project than the Tories ever could be. They were able to do something that Thatcher and Major never did: persuade large numbers of people that, even if they did not like free markets, the worship of the rich, and inequality on a spectacular scale, there was little fundamental that could be done about it. This bitter pill could be sweetened a little by making some efforts at reducing poverty – hardly a radical anti-neoliberal claim, given (for example) Milton Friedman’s own support for a minimum income guarrantee.

And New Labour have (or perhaps had) their own little claque of cheerleaders and defenders who convinced themselves that the existence of free markets could be squared with the existence of social justice, conventionally defined.

New Labour’s crisis is so deep precisely because it has now dramatically and visibly failed on both halves of that equation: it can neither defend free markets effectively, nor can it deliver justice.

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2 comments

  1. Education is a good example: market values have become commonplace, so normalised that they’re no longer seen as contentious. At the same time, however, a majority of people still have quite different values – and they certainly haven’t bought into competition and the consumer model with any enthusiasm. The gap between New Labour’s embrace of neoliberalism in the public sector and the aspirations and ideas of millions of people has widened over the years.


  2. Not to mention means testing and the deconstruction of class. Suddenly individuals are the focus of all attention, and inequality between classes is justified on the basis of help being available to individuals. Wankers. They’ll deserve it when the Tories come and tear the country to shreds, but they’ll still blame us for not voting for them



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