The ravages of Neo-liberalism are everywhere. Will Hutton writes that neo-liberal prescriptions have left Britain in permanent decline. A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy suggests that recent history is a tale of underachievement:
a woeful track record on R&D; overemphasis on high, short-term profits; an incredibly poor record on productivity and stagnating real wages. On almost every international comparison, Britain fares badly, with a desperately weak export sector overfocused on financial services and a few manufacturing industries.
Many aspects – the structure of our companies, the priorities of finance, the skills of our workforce, the creaking infrastructure, the weakness of the tax base – need to be addressed because the failures are interlinked. We have an economic muddle rather than an economic model, declares the IPPR commission.
Yet, despite clear evidence of failure, there appears to be little political will to change things:
There hasn’t been a reframing of the way capitalist institutions work since the 1930s and 40s. The change in the 1970s was a shift to the right, still firmly in control of the national narrative, and now running the rightwing coup that is Brexit.
We are tempted by the easy option of understanding failure and decline on this scale in terms of individual moral failings for which we are being punished. The benefit cheats in the flats opposite or the migrants allowed to crowd in a safe house, snapping up jobs on zero-hour contracts. Then there’s soft liberalism with its pernicious indulgent views.
Powerful rightwing newspapers that foreground the same stories about welfare cheats and immigration while relentlessly attacking liberal institutions – the BBC, the NHS, the EU – reinforce these reflex reactions. They would never endorse or champion the IPPR’s powerful analysis. And the written word, even from a tawdry biased media, retains disproportionate cultural force.
Too few figures at the top of our society speak out either in defence of Enlightenment values or at the evident crisis before their eyes. They fear being struck off the lists for non-executive directorships and public appointments by making criticisms that could help the dread forces of Labourism. Not to mention lost invitations to the ritziest of parties.
It's a familiar story. What has happened in Britain has happened in Canada and the United States. Hutton suggests that things will only change if they get catastrophic. And Britain is flirting with catastrophe:
The right is managing a cockup of such epic proportions that some in the Tory elite are beginning to dissociate themselves from a brand that is becoming as toxic and emblematic of failure as the Romanovs and Hapsburgs. Tory newspapers are so biased that their influence is slipping.
The United States is in the same disarray. In Canada, things are not quite so desperate. But the direction is the same.