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Our Brezhnev Moment

September 17, 2019 - 22:09 -- Admin

Neoliberalism
has stalled, so the fanatics in government are using Brexit to revive it.

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th Sepetmber 2019

At first
sight it’s incomprehensible. Why risk everything for a no-deal Brexit? Breaking
up their own party, losing their parliamentary majority, dismantling the United Kingdom, trashing the economy, triggering shortages of food and medicine: how could any objective, for the
Conservative and Unionist Party, be worth these costs? What good does it do
them?

Yes, some
people will benefit. To judge by recent donations to the Conservative party, some very rich people approve of Boris
Johnson’s policies. A no deal Brexit might favour hedge funds that thrive on uncertainty, financiers seeking to short the pound,
vulture capitalists hoping to mop up cheap property if markets collapse. But
the winners are likely to be greatly outnumbered by the losers, among whom are
many powerful commercial interests.

We make a
mistake when we assume that money is the main motivation. Our unreformed, corrupt and corrupting political funding
system
ensures
it is an important factor. But what counts above all else is ideology, as
ideology successfully pursued is the means to power. You cannot exercise true
power over other people unless you can shape the way they think, and shape
their behaviour on the basis of that thought. The long-term interests of
ideology differ from the short-term interests of politics.

This, I
believe, is the key to understanding what is happening today. The Brexit ultras
in government are not just Brexit ultras. They are neoliberal ultras, and Brexit
is a highly effective means of promoting this failed ideology. It’s the
ultimate shock doctrine, using a public emergency to push through
policies that wouldn’t be accepted in ordinary times. Whether they really want no deal or not, the
threat of it creates the political space in which they can apply their
ideas. 

Neoliberalism is the ideology developed by people such as
Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. It is not just a set of free market ideas,
but a focused discipline, deliberately applied around the world. It treats
competition as humanity’s defining characteristic, sees citizens as consumers
and “the market” as society’s organising principle. The market, it claims,
sorts us into a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Any attempt by
politics to intervene disrupts the discovery of this natural order.

It was
embraced by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and most subsequent governments.
They sought to implement the doctrine by cutting taxes, privatising and
outsourcing public services, slashing public protections, crushing trade unions
and creating markets where markets did not exist before. The doctrine was
imposed by central banks, the IMF, the Maastricht Treaty and the World Trade
Organisation. By shutting down political choice, governments and international
bodies created a kind of totalitarian capitalism.

It has
failed on its own terms, and in many other ways. Far from creating general
prosperity, as it promised, growth has been significantly slower in the
neoliberal era than it was in preceding decades, and most of its fruits have
been gathered by the rich. Far from stimulating an enterprise economy,
it has created a gilded age for rent-seekers. Far from eliminating bureaucracy, it has
created a Kafkaesque system of mad diktats and stifling control. It has
fomented ecological, social, political, economic and financial crises,
culminating in the 2008 crash. Yet, perhaps because its opponents have failed
to produce a new, compelling story of their own, it still dominates our lives.

Unsurprisingly,
people have reacted to the closure of political choice and the multiple
disasters it caused. But because neoliberalism, in broad terms, was adopted not
only by the right, but also by the Democrats, New Labour and similar parties,
there were few places to turn. Many people responded with nationalism and
nativism. The new politics, that Boris Johnson’s government represents,
incorporates both neoliberalism and the reaction to neoliberalism. The
glitter-eyed essentialists on the frontbenches – such as Dominic Raab, Liz
Truss and Sajid Javid – still seek to implement the ideology in its most
extreme forms. The opportunists, such as Johnson, Michael Gove and Priti Patel,
appeal to those who seek scapegoats for the disasters it has created.

Boris
Johnson uses neoliberal framing to justify his attacks on public safety. He
wants to pull down environmental standards, create free ports in which businesses can avoid tax
and regulation
, and
strike a rapid trade deal with the United States that is likely to rip down animal welfare rules and threaten the survival of the NHS.

He rages
against red tape, but the real red tape is created by the
international trade treaties he favours, that render democratic change almost
impossible, through rules that protect capital against popular challenge, and shift
decision making away from parliaments and into unaccountable offshore courts (“investor-state dispute settlement”). This explains the enthusiasm among some on
the left for Brexit: a belief that escaping from the EU means escaping from
coercive trade instruments. In reality, it exposes us to something even worse,
as the UK enters negotiations with the US, holding a begging bowl.

Now, as
the professor of political economy Abby Innes argues, neoliberalism has reached its Brezhnev
phase: “ossification,
self-dealing, and directionless political churn”. Like Leninism, neoliberalism
claims to be an infallible science. Its collision with the complexities of the
real world has caused political sclerosis of the kind that characterised the
decline of Soviet communism. As a result, “the only way to complete this
revolution today is under cover of other projects: Brexit is ideal.”

The
creation of emergency is the inevitable destination of an absolutist, failed
system. But emergency also provides the last means by which the failed system
can be defended and extended.

www.monbiot.com