Sunday, September 10, 2017

Terminal Decline

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.

Image: openDemocracy


Lorne said...

As your post clearly shows, Owen, political cowardice is no respecter of national boundaries. Political 'leaders'are all singing from the same songbook.

Owen Gray said...

That's what is so discouraging, Lorne. It's not a case of great minds thinking alike. It's a case of fools never differing.

Toby said...

Hutton's description of the problem well illustrates why change doesn't happen until a serious crunch forces people to do what they have long known they have to. The usual crunches involve mass misery of one sort or another, war, starvation, epidemics, floods, etc. The misery has to be deep enough and spread across enough people that the pitchforks come out and formerly privileged heads roll. Let me reiterate, those at the top, the rich and powerful have to lose their entitlement.

Owen Gray said...

It's happened many times before, Toby. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be an easier or less painful way to do it.

Trailblazer said...

I was in the UK (north) a few months ago.
I cannot describe the self imposed, political, ignorance of many of the people.
The Conservative media has certainly left it's mark.
The reasoning for Brexit is definitely brown people or those of Eastern European origin!
The country has become the apex of mediocrity.
The British have had their once successful NHS gutted by stealth and they are completely unaware of who or when it happened!
The bus schedules that I can remember setting my watch by (when I could afford one) are unreliable; the food mediocre at best.
It is a country of part time jobs that cater to service trades.
The odd manufacturing jobs are manned by those that will not create waves as their employment will be at risk.
These people tread upon egg shells daily; no wonder they binge drink after work!!


Owen Gray said...

A sad commentary, TB. Sometimes personal experience offers a much starker impression than economic statistics. Thanks for your observations.

Steve said...

City of London and wall street. Two pots of snake oil that have distorted GDP for decades. Productivity is skewwed by these financial gimmicks.

Owen Gray said...

That's because those economies have been financialized, Steve. They don't make things. They move money around.