I haven’t had time to read George Monbiot’s book ‘Out of the Wreckage’. This excellent post by Zoe O’Kill gives a good summary – and an excellent overview of our predicament related to the insane neoliberalism that our politics seems to be increasingly in thrall to, both sides of the pond but especially the US.
Will things be better in 2021? Read on…
In this post, Matthew Wright gives a sober reality check on whether things are likely to get back to ‘normal’ anytime soon. The real problem is that the neoliberal so-called ‘normal’ was not working and needs a global ‘reset’ to address sustainability of our natural world and a just economic system for all people.
I write this in December 2020, as one of the most difficult years in living memory draws to a close. Globally. It’s rare that virtually the whole planet shares a crisis. Usually it’s due to war. This time, it’s a pandemic, and the whole has been buoyed on an unprecedented swirl of social media.
The result has been a sense that 2020 has been a disaster. What surprises me is the amount of material I’m seeing which suggests that, come 1 January 2021, all will come right – I mean, 2021 couldn’t possibly be a worse year than 2020 – er – could it?
Actually, history tells me that it ain’t over until it’s over. Crises of this nature don’t shut down because the calendar’s rolled into a new year. Nor do they come out of a vacuum. If we dig beneath the surface we find that ‘2020’, in all…
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We are tired of this blindness
Modern capitalism has ignored the lessons of history in the ignorant and short-sighted pursuit of individual wealth. See for example the article Economics for the People by economic historian Dirk Philipsen in Aeon magazine, from which I quote at length, due to its eloquence:
In preindustrial societies, cooperation represented naked necessity for survival. Yet the realisation that a healthy whole is larger than its parts never stopped informing cultures. It embodies the pillars of Christianity as much as the Islamic Golden Age, the Enlightenment or the New Deal. In the midst of a global depression, the US president Franklin D Roosevelt evoked an ‘industrial covenant’ – a commitment to living wages and a right to work for all. During the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr gave voice to the broader idea when he said that no one is free until we are all free. On Earth Day 1970, the US senator Edmund Muskie proclaimed that the only society to survive is one that ‘will not tolerate slums for some and decent houses for others, … clean air for some and filth for others’. We should call these ideas what they are – central civilisational insights. Social and economic prosperity depends on the wellbeing of all, not just the few.
Cultures that fundamentally departed from this awareness usually did not, in the long run, fare well, from the Roman Empire to Nazism or Stalinism. Will neoliberal capitalism be next? Rather than acknowledge the endless variety of things that had to be in place to make our individual accomplishments possible, it is grounded in the immature claim that our privileges are ‘earned’, made possible primarily by private initiative.
But what a claim it is: where would we be without the work and care of others? Without the food from the farmer? Without the electricity and housing and roads and healthcare and education and access to information and hundreds of other things provided to us, day in and day out, often for free, and routinely without us knowing what went into their existence? Seeing ourselves as seemingly free-floating individuals, it’s both easy and convenient to indulge in the delusion that ‘I built it. I worked for it. I earned it.’
The painful flipside are the billions of those who, through no fault of their own, drew the short end of the stick. Those who were born in the wrong country, to the wrong parents, in the wrong school district – ‘wrong’ for no other reason than that their skin colour or religion or talents didn’t happen to be favoured. The limited focus on the individual can here be seen as nakedly serving power: if those who have privilege and wealth presumably earned it, so must those who have pain and hardship deserve it.
Make no mistake, this is the mistaken direction that the US and UK have increasingly taken since the 1980s, the ideology that has driven tax cuts for the well off and austerity for the public good. This is the ideology driving the right wings of both the Republican Party in US, the Conservatives in UK and similar parties across the Western world.
It is time that the direction of travel changes. Covid-19 and climate change are making this crystal clear; the system has produced these, and they are the necessary corrective. We really are all in this together, and making a good life for everyone really is the answer, and should be the goal.
The pendulum needs to swing big-time. Some call it socialism, with a derogatory tone to their voice. It is basic human dignity and the basis of civilisation.
Featured image is from the article in Aeon magazine.
Private gain must no longer be allowed to elbow out the public good
This excellent post by Wayne Woodman is an essay by Dick Philipsen, who summarises quite succinctly why ‘the system’ has gone too far in privileging private gain over the public good. Covid-19 has brought this crazy situation into sharp relief, where we absolutely depend on those who have been least well regarded and rewarded over recent years.
Adam Smith had an elegant idea when addressing the notorious difficulty that humans face in trying to be smart, efficient and moral. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), he maintained that the baker bakes bread not out of benevolence, but out of self-interest. No doubt, public benefits can result when people pursue what comes easiest: self-interest.
And yet: the logic of private interest – the notion that we should just ‘let the market handle it’ – has serious limitations. Particularly in the United States, the lack of an effective health and social policy in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has brought the contradictions into high relief.
Around the world, the free market rewards competing, positioning and elbowing, so these have become the most desirable qualifications people can have. Empathy, solidarity or concern for the public good are relegated to the family, houses of worship or activism. Meanwhile, the market and private gain don’t account for social stability, health or happiness. As a result, from Cape Town to Washington, the market system has depleted and ravaged the public sphere – public health, public education, public access to a healthy environment – in favour of private gain.
COVID-19 reveals a further irrational component: the people who do essential work – taking care of the sick; picking up our garbage; bringing us food; guaranteeing that we have access to water, electricity and WiFi – are often the very people who earn the least, without benefits or secure contracts. On the other hand, those who often have few identifiably useful skills – the pontificators and chief elbowing officers – continue to be the winners. Think about it: what’s the harm if the executive suites of private equity, corporate law and marketing firms closed down during quarantine? Unless your stock portfolio directly profits from their activities, the answer is likely: none. But it is those people who make millions – sometimes as much in an hour as healthcare workers or delivery personnel make in an entire year.
Simply put, a market system driven by private interests never has protected and never will protect public health, essential kinds of freedom and communal wellbeing.
See the full post here.
Featured image: Adam Smith.
Has neo-liberalism reached use-by date? Ayn Rand and the failure of philosophy
It has long been evident that the extreme neo-liberalism that followed Ayn Rand’s views has had a malign influence on the world economy leading to massive inequality. And the system is now like an unstable house of cards. Matthew Wright explains in this super post.
A good deal of what I’ve been seeing of late on social media – but also in mainstream journalism – revolves around the notion that the Covid-19 pandemic will be the trigger for a shift away from the neo-liberalism that has characterised leading western economic policies since the early 1980s.
That might be right. Back then this ideology was trumpeted as a ‘more sophisticated’ approach than the liberal democratic western policy mixes of the mid-twentieth century. When the eastern bloc fell over in the early 1990s its triumph seemed complete. History, Francis Fukuyama declared, had ended as a result. From then on, The Future would consist of a changeless neo-liberal nirvana.
Well, quite. It was an absurd statement, curiously built on the same faulty assumption that Karl Marx had applied to his thinking in the 1840s: that societies, by nature, move towards an ideal end-point – a meaning summed up…
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Hair of the Dog
Or should it be ‘Out of the Frying Pan…’.
Forty years of the great neoliberal globalisation project has taken its toll in terms of destroying jobs and communities across the West. Of course there have been winners and losers, and as ever the super winners are the rich and super rich.
As many commentators have observed, the resulting discontent has been a major cause of the phenomena of ‘Brexit’ in the UK and ‘Trump’ in the US.
Europe has been protected from some of the extremes of neoliberalism by its tradition of social democracy and looking after the people. The European Commission, for all its faults, has been a bulwark against some of the forces of free trade, not afraid to take on the biggest corporations.
What a paradox then, that Brexit appears to be leading the UK into the hands of a free market right wing. The UK parliament, lacking even any safeguarding constitution, will be the only defence against global forces driven by the rich and powerful. Trade will appear to be all that matters in the global race to the bottom – surely creating more of the problems that are so concerning to people who wish to rip up the European project.
More paradox in the US, where electors appear to have chosen a leader from that very super rich class that has caused the problems they are concerned about – moved jobs to China, kept their money out of the country rather than invest, fought against social and environmental changes, demanded tax reduction or simply avoided paying taxes… Of course, his chosen team is mostly also from that class.
Paradoxically, it is just possible that reality and the occasional influx of common sense will ensure that it turns out all right. Let’s hope so.
Featured image ‘Killer chihuahua’ by David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons
One of the frustrations that led me to start this blog was that there are problems quite apparent with current Western countries and the world ‘system’ that were essentially being ignored or sidelined by current generations of politicians – climate change, inequality, financial crash inadequately addressed, over-influence of corporations, uncontrolled movement of people, and so on…
Of course, these frustrations are shared by many, each with their own different emphasis. This is what has led to the rise of, to name a few: UKIP, Brexit, Corbyn, Saunders, Trump,…
It was refreshing to read Martin Jacques’ article in The Guardian, The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics, which succinctly identifies what is going on. We are actually seeing a crisis in the globalising neoliberal order that has dominated for 30-40 years, since ushered in by the rise of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Every system/paradigm has built-in limitations and contradictions that eventually clarify the need for its own transformation, so it comes as no surprise.
A system founded on self interest and without fundamental moral foundations is not likely to last beyond a generation or so.
Martin Jacques is well known for his book and TED talk on China. It was in 1966 that Robert Kennedy popularised the supposed Chinese curse ‘May he live in interesting times’. Kennedy went on to say:
“They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”
Featured image of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan at Camp David 1984,
courtesy of White House Photographic Office, via Wikimedia Commons