Posts Tagged ‘neoliberalism’

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No mass support for neoliberalism: the British Social Attitudes survey

January 27, 2010

Liam Mac Uaid has a downbeat post on the just-published 2009 British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey results. The BSA attempts, every year, to capture the British public’s feelings on a huge range of issues. Here’s Liam:

…neo-liberal values are gaining a real grip on mass consciousness. The authors say ”only two in five people (39%) now support increased taxes and spending on health and education,the lowest level since 1984 and down from 62% in 1997.” They add that “support for redistribution from the better off to those who are less well off has dropped markedly. Fewer than two in five (38%) now think the government should redistribute income from the better off to those who are less well off, down from half (51%) in 1994.” In a nasty Thatcherite echo[, a] minority of one in five (21%) think unemployment benefits are too low and cause hardship, compared with over half (53%) in 1994.

I think he’s got the wrong intepretation of the results. That shift on public spending has been taking place for nearly a decade, from a peak in 2002 when 63 per cent supported increased expendiute. But it’s not flipped over into support for axing public services. People want, instead, to maintain what they’ve got.

There is no mass support for Thatcherite spending cuts. Here’s what the report’s authors say:

Public support for increasing taxation and public spending is now at its lowest level since the early 1980s. 39% support this, down from 62% in 1997. Only 8% support cuts. The most popular view, held by 50%, is that spending and taxation levels should stay as they are.

Only 8 per cent of the population support cuts. That’s hardly compelling evidence of ‘neoliberal values’ gaining popular support. And it leaves 89 per cent wanting either the same spending levels, or an increase.

Set these broad-brush figures against more detailed work that finds over 70 per cent believing the gap between rich and poor is too large, or the 80 per cent wanting caps on corporate pay, and the situation is – at least – more complex than Liam suggests.

There’s no reason for complacency. Attitudes can shift. The Right is looking more organised. But the whiff of battles ahead should not mean conceding defeat now.

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Haiti: required reading

January 14, 2010

Peter Hallward, in the Guardian, if you haven’t seen it. Sample:

Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population “lives on less than $2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day”. Decades of neoliberal “adjustment” and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.

It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti’s agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more “natural” or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.

Hallward interviewed former president, the liberation theologian Jean-Bertrand Aristide, overthrown in a US-backed coup, for the London Review of Books back in 2007.

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They think it’s all over

August 25, 2009

Well, it isn’t.

First, the numbers don’t support it. Behind a certain amount of excitable flapping and squawking over a few decentish headline stock prices, much of the underlying data is grim: unemployment here continuing to rise, foreclosures in the US and late UK mortgage payments still rising, and wage settlements grinding to a halt.

All these matter hugely for both economies, since – with credit lines still jammed – they’ll directly affect consumption. And with consumption spending driving 80 per cent of US demand growth during the boom years[*], that’s a big blow to growth across the whole economy.

Coupled with the immense pressure now being exerted on government spending as a result of the bailouts, and it should be clear that future prospects for capitalism in its neoliberal heartlands remain somewhat shaky. The trillions now sloshing around the financial institutions may, eventually, trickle into the rest of the economy, stimulating a boom. But the underlying weaknesses remain.

That’s the real story here. The numbers are only part of it – and, really, only a fairly small part. The truth of the last 18 months or so is that the entire existing economic order, “neoliberalism”, the economic rules of the game we’ve lived under for twenty or more years now, suffered a massive seizure. But instead of changing that order, even in capital’s own terms, rejigging the institutions, rewriting the rules, doing everything just a little bit differently – we’ve placed the sickly patient on a drip.

That’s the meaning of the bank profits and the bonuses. Zombie neoliberalism is still with us, lumbering on as if nothing had happened. Yet it is far weaker than previously: without a purge of the banks and the financial institutions, killing off the insolvent and the incompetent, there is no reason whatsoever for any of them to reform. And without reforms, they will expose capitalism to the same illnesses it contracted last time: contagion, the spread of financial plague from economy to economy, and systemic risk.

But of course, the banks and the institutions couldn’t be allowed to collapse, whatever Mervyn King may have wished. They were peering into the abyss after Lehman Brothers collapsed. The grim prospect of an almighty domino effect loomed, with the ties between collapsing banks pulling more and more of the economy down behind them.

So the bailouts. The patient is hardly cured; more drugged to the eyeballs, and weakened.

[*] figure from Glynn (2004), Capitalism Unleashed, p.53

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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.