Pay – who pays?

“Taken together, a picture emerges of earnings stagnation or decline for most occupations since 2005. The big difference between Pay Review Body employees and those in non-Pay Review Body occupations in the private sector is that PRB employees are public servants. As such, the government can determine their annual pay settlement.”

These figures of course don’t say anything about absolute pay. I’d be rather less bothered if my pay was £500,000 in 2005 and stagnated to be the same in 2017. I might be forced to buy a little less champagne or not visit Tuscany quite so often. For those at the low end, however, stagnation or decline in pay really bites and have pushed some to use food banks (or borrow more). The counter is always: “yes well, but there is no money and we have to balance deficit reduction and pay increases to ensure a stronger economy and jobs growth”. I leave you to consider what those banal phrases actually mean.

In short, nurses, firefighters et al have been asked shoulder some of the burden for the Financial crash that put us into the mess in the first place, while at the same time asset values have increased along with the levels of wealth of the top 0.01%. Yes, I know its complex, its a dynamic complex system….but you ignore social consequences of technically/econometric based ‘solutions’ at your peril. By that that I mean using tools such as the Laffer curve (tax rate v tax take) might seem superficially a good idea, but it operates in a social and political world where perceptions matter and where experience hurts.

Joseph Schumpeter once described an aspect of capitalism as ‘creative destruction’ – the old and inefficient must make way for the new and better (e.g. canals v railways, landlines v mobiles, internal combustion v electric). All good stuff unless you are a canal owner/worker. The answer? Retrain, Education (Blair’s ‘third way)…it is also Macron’s approach: let the old die and be reformed (labour laws, certain industries) but don’t let the losers fester…invest in them. You decide if the current losers are able to adapt and adopt quickly enough.
This is of course another unresolvable ‘inner contradiction of capitalism’, unresolvable because that is what capitalism is. Governments that get too technocratic, relying on mathematical models, theoretical concepts (e.g. the Laffer curve and neoclassical economic modelling) and inductive logic derived from historical data, can get their fingers burned…or turn on their populations to control potential and actual simmering unrest through various processes of social control (Greece, China, India) or before they go and elect the ‘wrong person’ (Trump, Erdogan, Putin).

This is a warning to both Left and Right – each will try and solve the inner contradictions of global capitalism from their own perspectives (Chavez in Venezuela – Löfven of Sweden – Obama/Trump in the US) but will run into problems that just don’t go away.

Meanwhile, the Planet burns.

Have a nice day, at least there is Wimbledon and the Tour de France on the telly!

Atlas shrugged (because he couldn’t, objectively, give a sh*t).

Atlas shrugged (because he couldn’t, objectively, give a sh*t).


I am rarely so perturbed by a set of ideas that I find it hard to write. In Ayn Rand’s case, I am so. The full critique requires a book but it has been done. John Robbins in ‘Without a prayer’ argues Rand committed numerous fallacies: equivocation, question begging, argument from intimidation, appeal to emotion, ad hominin and false dichotomies.  Micheal Prescott writes clearly and perceptively in his rather damning critique. Normally I like to read first hand any book or author I critique.  I did read somewhere that if one can be spared wasting precious hours of one’s life by not reading Ayn Rand, then do so. Now, I accept that as, yes a cop out, that yes I should read from the primary source and that is precisely what I advise my students to do. However, this is a blog not a paper, and there are many sources online referencing the direct quotes of Ayn Rand and her puerile ‘philosophy’ of ‘Objectivism’.


Rand was broken by the Bolsheviks as a girl, and she never left their bootprint behind. She believed her philosophy was Bolshevism’s opposite, when in reality it was its twin. Both she and the Soviets insisted a small revolutionary elite in possession of absolute rationality must seize power and impose its vision on a malleable, imbecilic mass. The only difference was that Lenin thought the parasites to be stomped on were the rich, while Rand thought they were the poor.  (Johann Hari‘How Ayn Rand Became an American Icon’Slate 2009).


Her biographical details may provide clues to her overreaction to the perils of communism, which she experienced first hand before escaping to the USA, and to her eulogies to laissez faire capitalism thereafter. I suspect a modicum of PTSD, and a personality disorder coupled with projection as psychological explanations for her writing. The total logic and rationality of left brain thinking that permeates and dominates her work suggests a deficiency of something.


I’ll begin with a few probably well-known statements attributed to Rand.


My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”   Ayn Rand , Appendix to Atlas Shrugged.


Man—every man—is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life”.  The Ayn Rand Column ‘Introducing Objectivism’.


Nietzsche? Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with Nietzsche, unless you take his superman idea to its nazi conclusions. Rand’s work rests on her philosophy of (untenable) Objectivism:


Objectivism is the philosophy of rational individualism. Rand dramatized her ideal man, the producer who lives by his own effort and does not give or receive the undeserved, who honors achievement and rejects envy. Rand laid out the details of her world-view in nonfiction books such as The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.’


Objectivism holds that there is no greater moral goal than achieving happiness. But one cannot achieve happiness by wish or whim. Fundamentally, it requires rational respect for the facts of reality, including the facts about our human nature and needs. Happiness requires that one live by objective principles, including moral integrity and respect for the rights of others. Politically, Objectivists advocate laissez-faire capitalism. Under capitalism, a strictly limited government protects each person’s rights to life, liberty, and property and forbids that anyone initiate force against anyone else. The heroes of Objectivism are achievers who build businesses, invent technologies, and create art and ideas, depending on their own talents and on trade with other independent people to reach their goals’.   (The Atlas Society)


Objectivism’s central tenets are that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness (rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism.


Rand’s arguments over simplify, ignores facts of history, are anthropocentric, racist, rooted in a reaction to Bolshevism which provides the founding cognitive bias against any social or state interventions, ignores power relationships and is thus blind to privilege especially the privilege of capital, fails to account for the interplay of agency, structure and culture and ignores the constitution of subjectivities within normative and hegemonic discourses. It is reductionist and mechanistic redolent of 19th century Physics. Quantum physics, complexity theory, systems theory, cognitive psychology, psychodynamic theory, and just about the whole of sociology, undermines her thesis.


In short, her writings are articulate, and somewhat entertaining, overly rational bullshit. It is the output of a frightened and probably psychologically, emotionally stunted and scarred person: ‘Ayn Rand is the ultimate spokesperson for the left hemisphere of the brain’.


In ‘Alpha Males, Psychopaths and Greedy Bastards’ I allude to Randian selfishness as a guiding motivation for a group of (most often white) powerful men. Returning to some of her quotes rooted in ‘objectivism’, it is clear why this is an attractive philosophy to successful capitalists, and the ‘wannabe’ entreprenuers aspiring to be the next ‘apprentice’.


The most obvious, and to me the fatal flaw, among those listed above, is the complete lack of an analysis of power and of the social when she advocates laissez faire capitalism. There is of course acknowledgement of power and force in her writings, but she then somehow magics them away in her eulogies to small state laissez faire. This relegates her ideas to that of a self-serving (and racist) political ideology used to prop up systemic oppression, plutocracy, exploitation and patriarchy. It also swipes away critiques of colonialist interventions and the histories of genocides, as the ramblings of savages who should thank the white race for creating a prosperous civilisation. The New York skyline for Rand is the reward, or the necessary price, for genocide:


They (Native Americans) didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using. What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their ‘right’ to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent”.


(Q and A session following her address to the graduating class of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, March 6, 1974 – found in Endgame: Resistance, by Derrick Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2006, pg 220).


It is easy to see how this is a dangerous and self-serving ideology based on power and privilege if one simply turns the statement around:


“New Yorkers don’t have any rights to Manhattan, and there is no reason to grant them any rights. What is it that they send troops abroad for after 9/11? The US military is sent to fight for New Yorkers wish to continue an affluent existence, their ‘right’ to keep the WTC untouched as sources of power and wealth, and just to keep everybody else out of the US and in their own countries. Any Muslim who brings an element of Islamic civilisation based on Sharia, has the right to take over the State of New York”.



in 2010 when travelling across the deserts of Arizona, Utah and Nevada, I was confronted by Monument Valley and the glories that was Arches National Park. It was a reminder of what greeted the first white settlers and I could understand why they today stand proud on the land, especially when they look to Las Vegas. They, along with Rand, could say ‘we built this’ with blood sweat and tears while Native Americans had done nothing. I understand it, I don’t agree with it without acknowledging that it was not done without genocide and the application of raw technical power which not only crushed rocks but crushed long lasting civilisations.



Now, I don’t care to discuss the alleged complaints American Indians have against this country. I believe, with good reason, the most unsympathetic Hollywood portrayal of Indians and what they did to the white man. They had no right to a country merely because they were born here and then acted like savages. The white man did not conquer this country…”

Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, 1974


Alongside the dismissal of Native Americans there is again invocation of ‘savage v civilisation’ according to one’s membership of a ‘race’. It harks back to the White Man’s Burden justification of colonialist expansion.

The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures. They are typically nomads. Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it’s the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent. When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are.”  Ayn Rand Ford Hall Forum lecture, 1974, text published on the website of The Ayn Rand Institute.

Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.  It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry.  Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors”.

In degrading Native Americans and Arabs that is precisely what Rand is doing, She is ascribing moral, social and political significance to a group of people linked by their race (what she calls genetic lineage), Rand actually does judge groups of people not by their individual characters but by their links to their ancestors and peers.






Rand also has a dangerous disdain for the absolutely fundamental determinant of human health and well-being: the natural environment.


That particular sense of sacred rapture men say they experience in contemplating nature- I’ve never received it from nature, only from buildings, Skyscrapers. I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline. And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pest-hole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel”  The Fountainhead (1943).


When global mean temperatures rise above 2 degrees by the end of the century and Central Park becomes a swamp, when the great barrier reef is nothing but a bleached white sculpture devoid of life while Sydney floods, when the ocean becomes so acidic that fish stocks disappear….how will you eat a Manhattan skyline? Rand may not like nature all that much and as a subjective value her paucity of vision is harmless. On a Global scale it is leading to ecosystem collapse.


Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death


Rand may not know that indeed Smog is dangerous and kills. Also, In this sentence Rand echoes Bacon’s entreaty to tame nature, to overcome it, to control it for our purposes for us to have dominion over it. While it is true that life in the state of nature would be ‘nasty brutish and short’ and therefore human existence is predicated upon a degree of control and taming, nonetheless we live in a dialectic with nature, that there has to be a symbiosis, that nature is a complex adaptive system with feedback loops and emergent properties and which if unthinkingly exploited, will kill us. Further, it is dangerous to think we are ontologically separate from nature. This dualist ontology, i.e. a separate object-subject – is fatally undermined by advances in physics and our actual experience with nature. ‘If I shit in a river, I will drink my own shit. Thus I am the river and the river is me. The river and my shit are one, I am my own shit’.


Rand claims the smallest minority on earth is the individual. Not ontologically true, not scientifically true…this is a political statement. It is also not empirically true. Human beings are nothing if they are not embedded within and part of community, the social. No one can survive for very long if separated from everyone else and from the artefacts and infrastructure people co-create. To test that is simple. Put a new born baby in the middle of a field and then walk away. Put a 5 year old child in the middle of Manhattan and then simply walk away and ensure no other person interacts with that child. Put an Adult, naked and without money in Central Park and again ensure nil interaction. Do not even allow the adult to interact with any human artefact. Individuals cannot exist, they cannot ‘be’, without others.


Objectivism separates the I from the We, there is no social, just the individual whose moral purpose is to seek his own happiness. But strangely this is to be done while respecting the rights of other individuals and not by force. How the fuck does Rand think the New York skyline got built? Did she think that it resulted from a group of men on an equal footing, each in pursuit of their own happiness, cooperated in an egalitarian way without any force, coercion or power plays? How does she think the capital-labour dialectic actually works?

Prescott writes: ‘Ayn Rand starts with the assumption – or “metaphysical axiom,” as she would say – that reality consists exclusively of what is perceivable by the physical senses. This rules out God and any supernatural dimension. She goes on to argue that only reason can integrate sensory data and arrive at objectively valid conclusions. Thus all human action should be predicated on reason, including the class of human action that falls under the heading of ethics. An objective, rational ethics is therefore a necessity of human existence, and Rand proceeds to define one – an ethics of rational self-interest from which any altruistic motives or duties are excluded. There follows a defense of pure laissez-faire capitalism, the only socioeconomic system that gives free rein to profit-seeking selfishness. Reason, egoism, individualism, capitalism – Objectivism in a nutshell’.

Objectivism—a view that makes a religious fetish of selfishness and disposes of altruism and compassion as character flaws. If nothing else, this approach to ethics was a triumph of marketing, as Objectivism is basically autism rebranded. And Rand’s attempt to make literature out of this awful philosophy produced some commensurately terrible writing’. Sam HarrisHow to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying) (August 24, 2011).


Rand’s ‘Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966)’

Rand here airbrushes history and can only view social relationships from the lofty heights of the winners.

In a capitalist society, all human relationships are voluntary. Men are free to cooperate or not, to deal with one another or not, as their own individual judgments, convictions and interests dictate”.

All relationships are voluntary? Voluntary?  Lets go back into reality not ideological fantasy shall we? I am actually, unusually, lost for words here. At the level of banality, of course this is correct. Anyone can stand up and say “I am not going to do this”. Rupert Murdoch of course has a great deal more freedom and resources to say that, and to choose which relationships he voluntarily will engage in. Prince William similarly will have a degree of freedom to say the same. I really don’t have to spell this out do I? Really? We ‘make our own history’ but not in the circumstances of our own choosing. This is completely ignorant of the relationship between social structures, cultures and personal agency. It completely ignores the constitution of our subjectivities within normative and hegemonic discourses. It also completely ignores the material conditions of daily life for billions, it fails to concede that the objective material conditions of social life provide both enablements and contraints on action.

“America’s abundance was created not by public sacrifices to the common good, but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance- and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way”.

A bit of Adam Smith here but without the inconvenience of Smith’s ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’.

There is a bit missing here. American abundance was also built on genocide and the rapacious exploitation of natural resources, while ignoring externalities which most recently take the form of carbon dioxide. American abundance was also built on exploitation of human labour, notably slave labour, and the unpaid domestic labour undertaken by women and children.  The genius was of some free men, some very rich men, some men born into privilege, mostly white. All were able to do so because the collective good delivered education and infrastructure that each individual alone could never have built.  People did starve and die for industrialisation. Many people died early (and still do) and were severely injured for industrialisation. Not the ‘whole country’ benefited and the benefits were not and are not evenly distributed. Rand, and her modern followers, of course must ignore historical descriptions of the conditions of the working class (written by Engels et al) and she must ignore the current vast detailed literature on health and social inequalities. This clearly shows a ‘social gradient’ in health outcomes –  the lower down you are on the social scale the higher your chances of an early death and of experiencing more years in disability. Now, Rand lets her eulogies to the undoubted advances of capitalism gloss over the many, many past and current miseries experienced in that advance. Who is the ‘the country’ in any case? That is a convenient abstract concept often used to rally nationalists and racists while concealing the detail of the complexity of human experiences and a nations’ social structures.


Ayn Rand is very popular in the United States, and also among the young. The current POTUS says he is a fan. His withdrawal from the Paris accord indicates a disdain for the environment Rand would have recognised. His valorisation of competitive financial capitalism mirrors the valorisation of laissez faire. Trump however, is not a Randian laissez faire capitalist, none of them are as I argued in a previous blog on neoliberalism. Should I now buy a copy of Ayn Rand’s work…?

Life’s too short.

And in a Randian fashion, I don’t give a shit about her.




From Prescott’s critique:

Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (1961); an excerpt can be read online at Rand ‘s ethics, presented in a series of essays in her usual haranguing, polemical style.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957). Rand’s ambitious, thousand-page story of global collapse, which dramatizes all the key elements of her philosophy – and has convinced a couple of generations of fans that our mixed-economy social system will inevitably crash and burn.

John W. Robbins, Without A Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System (1997). A scathing dissection of logical fallacies in Rand’s writings. The author also promotes his own Calvinist agenda, but it is not necessary to buy into his religious views in order to profit from his critical analysis of Rand.

Jeff Walker, The Ayn Rand Cult (1998). A massive compilation of anti-Rand sentiments from a huge variety of sources. Walker’s scattershot approach is sometimes unfair but often enlightening – and frequently very funny. Whatever its weaknesses, this book is an absolute must-read for anyone who is now or ever has been associated with the Objectivist movement.

For more information:

Pro-Objectivist Web sites include …

The Objectivist at Very large collection of Rand-related links, including a link to this essay.

The Ayn Rand Institute at Official headquarters of the Objectivist movement, located in Irvine, California.

Leonard Peikoff’s site, Dr. Peikoff inherited Ayn Rand’s estate and has written books and taught courses on her philosophy.

The Objectivist Center at Run by David Kelley, this organization serves as an alternative to the more doctrinaire Ayn Rand Institute.

Criticisms of Objectivism can be found at many sites …

“Why I Am Not an Objectivist,” by Michael Huemer at Technical overview of errors in Rand’s philosophy. Also check out Huemer’s “Critique of ‘The Objectivist Ethics’” at

At, you can find a list of links to other essays critical of Ayn Rand.


Neoliberal rhetoric dies in May’s manifesto

In a previous post I argued that ‘neoliberalism’ was more rhetoric than reality. Now that the 2017 Tory manifesto has been published, even the rhetoric has been publically ditched. The ideology of the ‘libertarian right’ is overtly rejected (p7). The State now has a publically declared role. The ‘Government Spring’ has arrived!

In addition some of the insider cheerleaders now admit it has failed. Aditya Chakraborrty commenting on their turn around writes:

“…. it is the very technocrats in charge of the system who are slowly, reluctantly admitting that it is bust.

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF.

What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”.

However, the reality of the current economic structure and social relations of production remains the same, but the rhetoric is replaced by the rediscovery of ‘one nation’ paternalist Toryism designed to appeal to older Labour (and UKIP) voters.

I suspect however, that the foundations remain, and will remain untouched. The 1% need not worry.

There are 5 challenges laid out in the Tory Manifesto:


  1. The need for a strong Economy.
  2. Brexit.
  3. Enduring Social divisions.
  4. Ageing Society.
  5. Fast changing technology.


There is no mention of climate change, tax havens, health and social inequalities, housing and education as one of 5 challenges.


The manifesto states:


We believe in the good that government can do (p8)

(my emphasis in bold)

Just look at that statement again, this time from a neoliberal perspective that  abhors state intervention except to provide a framework to allow markets to work. Thatcher and Reagan ‘government is the problem‘ would have choked. Ayn Rand would be apoplectic. Hayek would blush, Friedman would pace palm, Ted Heath would smile wryly. Although Thatcher was not a laissez faire capitalist in practice, she espoused and enacted privatisation, marketisation, deregulation and tax cuts.

‘To do that, we will need a state that is strong and strategic, nimble and responsive to the needs of people. While it is never true that government has all the answers, government can and should be a force for good – and its power should be put squarely at the service of this country’s working people’.

 A force for good!  But good for whom Mrs May?

‘If we are going to keep our economy strong as the world changes, we will need government to play an active role, leading a modern industrial strategy to make the most of Britain’s strengths and take advantage of new opportunities – bringing secure, well-paid jobs to the whole of the country’.

An active role! What happened to ‘government cannot pick winners’? or ‘Let the market decide’ or no ‘Lame ducks’?

‘If we want to overcome Britain’s enduring social divisions, we will need to give people real opportunity and make Britain the world’s Great Meritocracy. That will require government to take on long-ignored problems like Britain’s lack of training and technical education, as well as long-lasting injustices, such as the lack of care for people with mental health problems, and the inequality of opportunity that endures on the basis of race, gender and class’.

Oh, you’ve noticed?

This next is a hammer blow to neoliberal conservatives:

‘Because Conservatism is not and never has been the philosophy described by caricaturists. We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but dangerous’.

‘…do not believe in untrammelled free markets..’  Say, what?

‘True Conservatism means a commitment to country and community; a belief not just in society but in the good that government can do; a respect for the local and national institutions that bind us together’.

 ‘We know that our responsibility to one another is greater than the rights we hold as individuals. We know that we all have obligations to one another, because that is what community and nation demands. We understand that nobody, however powerful, has succeeded alone and that we all therefore have a debt to others. We respect the fact that society is a contract between the generations: a partnership between those who are living, those who have lived before us, and those who are yet to be born’.


Free market ideologues and libertarians should shudder at such sentiments, for they value a small state that should get out of the way to allow free markets to do their magical thing.


Instead here we have interventionist principles that a socialist may well nod in agreement to. Yes, it is not clause 4 ‘securing for the workers the full fruits of their labour’ but it clearly puts the state back into society. The ‘rugged individualism’ of Ayn Rand is denied in favour here of responsibility and obligations to each other backed by acceptance that we don’t achieve by our own efforts alone. Hayekian economics is publically trashed. Thatcher allegedly held up a copy of Hayek’s ‘The Constitution of Liberty’, May appears to have rediscovered aspects of Keynes.


Manifestos are of course written for electioneering and to provide a unifying vision for the party faithful. This one nails neoliberalism as a dead ideology no longer welcome in the Tory Party.


One wonders what the neoliberals think of it…but more importantly whether these principles will be put into practice.

Conservative Home welcomes the manifesto but say “You may be apprehensive about the effects of the Prime Minister’s Christian Democrat-flavoured politics on the unity of a previously (my emphasis) free market-committed party, as we are”. Germany’s CDU is a centre right party believing in social markets and government intervention rather than laissez faire capitalism. I also think this a reference to all of that ‘Government is good’ stuff as they seem to be saying that they were a free market party but no longer?  They don’t otherwise make a big thing of it…perhaps knowing that state power will still favour their class or that manifesto is more rhetoric.

The Adam Smith Institute had not commented by 23rd May. Neither had the The Centre for Policy Studies or the Institute for Economic Affairs. Five days have passed with no commentary on May’s inclusion of the rejection of ‘untrammelled free markets’ .

What is going on?  Perhaps free marketeers also don’t believe in free markets?

The Economist are clearer. For them, May has ‘interventionist’ instincts, for example on energy prices, council housing, minimum wages and EU rights for workers. May has ‘several digs at business’ on executive pay and worker representation. May’s stance on Immigration is of course another big example of intervention shifting the cost of policing it onto employers. The Economist feels this is tactical  – winning back UKIP voters and stealing Labour ‘moderates’. They suggest this is not only tactical but reveals a new ‘Tory Paternalism’. They are not entirely happy with this arguing for reducing intervention, cutting ‘red tape‘ (that’s environmental protection and worker’s rights in other words) and lowering taxes. All three are standard neoliberal approaches.

The Economist has come out for the Lib Dems and not the Tories!!

Other nuggets:

Universities are spoken of in purely economic terms, so that they ‘enjoy the commercial fruits of their research’ (p20). This is more ‘cognitive capitalism’, more ‘knowledge economy’ more ‘corporate university’. It is a rather narrow vision of the goals of Higher Education. Fracking will be supported. Investing in transport is highlighted but without any mention of actual funding. Cycling is promised expanded cycle networks.

None of this is costed, most of it is vague.

So what it comes down to is credibility. Has the nasty party really changed?

Neoliberalism as rhetoric is dead….leaving what? We will discover what May means by ‘believing in the good government can do‘ when her policies bite even further and post Brexit (unless of course Corbyn, against the odds, wins).

Thus spoke Narcissus.

Thus spoke Narcissus.


On Radio 4’s ‘Start the week’ recently, we heard from 3 key thinkers on environmentalism.

Wendell Berry: Farmer, Poet, Novelist, Essayist. Paul Bridgenorth: writer and environmentalist and Kate Raworth: ‘economist’.

Wendell Berry discussed his relationship to the land and the fundamental importance of life sustaining top soil. He spoke of love for the hill he gazes upon from his farmhouse. He prefers localised, non-intensive farming methods and argues that intensive industrial agriculture is damaging not only ecology but even our culture. His vision is about the land under our feet and our need to connect locally within community. Bridgnorth argues that what is required is similarly a return to the connection with nature while accepting that owning and running a small plot is not practical for all. He emphasised individual action against systemic degradation and destruction, as does Berry. Both however seem to accept that we are locked into current systems. Raworth outlined her ‘doughnut economics’ based on the planetary boundaries concept and a realisation that mainstream economics takes no account of nature except as an externality. She provides literally a new picture of the economy to shift consciousness towards this new paradigm of understanding our relationship to nature.

The relevance for health is of course based on our understanding of the wider determinants of health and the emerging domain of ‘Planetary Health’. The starting point is of course that we cannot survive without clean water, air and food that is sourced sustainably. Climate Stability, Biodiversity and Global Ecosystems are the foundations for wellbeing and health – not wealth, land ownership and fame.

Although each of them discussed a more positive vision for the future, there was nothing in the discussion that gave one pause for hope. The individual action advocated by Berry and Bridegnorth are of course vital. But neither provided any evidence or suggested that the big players  – agribusiness, the fossil fuel, or the extractive industries are listening. There was nothing in the discussion that positioned their philosophies as centre stage, indeed they still sound very marginal. Raworth’s doughnut economics is an acknowledgement of its marginality, hence the need for a new economic paradigm. Look in vain during the current 2017 electioneering for mainstream radical thinking about how the UK economy should be re- orientated. Instead we are treated to new versions of neoliberalism from the Tory party, like promising a cure to a cancer patient by the simple expedient of adopting mindfulness.

A critique of neoliberalism, the context in which these visions operate in the US and the UK, is that it has its blind spot that Raworth points out. On the natural environment it is silent rooted as it is in a vacuous theory oversimplifying human behaviour and need. It says nothing about the wider determinants of health or indeed that it values planetary boundaries. However, it has power and influence. But it is the power and influence of small minds who have large wallets. These moronic men of wealth buy idiot men of power. Their wealth provides an outward patina of competence and wisdom, as if an Armani suit bestowed vision.

As interesting and grounded in the Earth as the discussion was, the conclusion is that we are running headlong into a Nietzschian abyss. The ‘last men’ run the world, staring into an abyss but the abyss stares back. We look, but see ourselves reflected. We see into our own dark lifeless eyes leading down into vacuity. These eyes look good to us because we have seen no other.

We no longer look to the bright stars, instead we develop an endless stream of shiny bright things to dazzle us in our mediocrity. We mistake digitalisation for vision, financialisation for creativity and automation for transcendence. We travel faster, communicate faster, produce faster but we are in the slow lane leading into shit creek cul de sac. Art is a path to transcendence but our art is x factored commodified comfort. God is indeed dead but instead of striving for beauty and all that we could be, we fill the void with banality. We are content with ‘is’ and are blind to what ‘could be’. We consider that ‘what is’ should be the same as what ‘ought to be’. We are thus prey to demagogues and the mad because we have no thoughts of our own. Our thoughts have been bought, stripped of meaning and sold back to us wrapped in a superficial glittering package which is signifying nothing. They who sell, wander off into the abyss themselves, laughing as they go.

The world is black, because we have given up the light.

The richest 1,000 people have more wealth than the poorest 40% of households (UK)

The richest 1,000 people in the UK have more wealth than the poorest 40% of UK households. The 1,000 richest saw their wealth increase by a staggering £82.5 billion last year, the equivalent of £226 million a day, or £2,615 a second.

The Equality Trust has found that this increase in wealth of £82.5 billion could:

Pay the energy bills of all 25.6 million UK households for two and a half years. Cost = £79.15 billion OR

Provide 5,143,819 million Living Wage jobs , or 2,923,333 million jobs paid at an average salary for a year. Cost = £82.476 billion OR

Pay the grocery bill for all of the UK’s users of food banks for 56 years . Cost = £81.5 billion OR

Pay two years’ rent for 4.5 million households (4,528,000 households) . Cost = £72.1 billion OR

Pay for 68% of the budget for the NHS in England Cost = £81.6 billion
Pay for 4 years of adult social care in England . Cost = £78.8 billion.

This totally unearned bonanza needs justifying somehow. It arises merely from the structure of wealth ownership, tax laws, and property holdings. The beneficiaries had to do little beyond what they currently own or do to enjoy this largesse.

One justification for the support of the current social structure of wealth ownership and control is that these people pay in absolute terms a good deal of tax. If you are destitute at least you don’t pay tax. Consider however that if one paid tax on income on say, £1,000,000, under current tax rates you would still get £540,676 per year. You pay nearly 44% of your income.

The median in the U.K. in 2017 is £27,000. Thus you take home £21, 641. You pay 20% of your income. You take home 4% of what the high earner does.

The millionaire pays as much tax in one year (£458,000) as a the median earner would (£5,200 pa) in 88 years. This is of course ‘inequality’.

So for every 1 person receiving £1,000,000, you’d need 88 on the median. Impossible of course due to what median means. The top 1000 get, receive, not ‘earn’, considerably more than what to them what would be a miserable £1,000,000 pa.

Those who earn up to the £150,000 threshold of 40% take home £90,176. Each extra pound they then get is taxed at 45%. What if that tax rate was 90%? This would mean someone getting £200,000 would receive £90,176 up to the £150,000 threshold and then another £5,000 taking it to £95,176. Someone getting £1,000,000 would after tax get £90,176 + £98,500 = £188,676.

The price of a loaf of bread would be the same.

So even at 90% marginal tax rates over the threshold, a millionaire would not have to worry about paying utility bills. Yes they pay more tax, but what’s left for them is hardly destitution. I digress. Millionaires to the 0.01% are paupers. Billionaires can avoid paying any taxes at all.

A second justification is that they are the ‘wealth creators’ and so deserve it all. I will not unpick this here because the rebuff is as obvious as the claim is spurious.

A third justification is that changing this structure would lead to economic chaos and left wing totalitarianism. This sets up a false dichotomy of either keeping hold of wealth or descent into tyranny.

A fourth justification is that the wealthy need to get ‘rewarded’ as they operate in a competing market, and that pay rates merely reflects market forces at work? Well, indeed but should that really be a plea to hold on to vast amounts of wealth? Are you really saying that you are miffed because someone else gets £5,000,000 pa while you get a ‘paltry’ £2,000,000 ?

There is a fifth technical justification – the Laffer Curve:

“In economics, the Laffer curve is a representation of the relationship between rates of taxation and the resulting levels of government revenue. Proponents of the Laffer curve claim that it illustrates the concept of taxable income elasticity—i.e., taxable income will change in response to changes in the rate of taxation.

The Laffer curve postulates that no tax revenue will be raised at the extreme tax rates of 0% and 100% and that there must be at least one rate which maximizes government taxation revenue. The Laffer curve is typically represented as a graph which starts at 0% tax with zero revenue, rises to a maximum rate of revenue at an intermediate rate of taxation, and then falls again to zero revenue at a 100% tax rate. The shape of the curve is uncertain and disputed.

One implication of the Laffer curve is that increasing tax rates beyond a certain point will be counter-productive for raising further tax revenue. A hypothetical Laffer curve for any given economy can only be estimated and such estimates are controversial. The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics reports that estimates of revenue-maximizing tax rates have varied widely, with a mid-range of around 70%. Generally, economists have found little support for the claim that tax cuts from current rates increase tax revenues or that most taxes are on the side of the Laffer curve where additional cuts could increase government revenue.

Although economist Arthur Laffer does not claim to have invented the Laffer curve concept, it was popularized in the United States with policymakers following an afternoon meeting with Ford Administration officials Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in 1974 in which he reportedly sketched the curve on a napkin to illustrate his argument.”

See: Laffer Curve

If all else fails, fall back on classic economic models which are of course nothing more than mathematical representations of actual human behaviour in particular social and political contexts. They do not operate like the laws of physics. Hence they can easily change given different contexts.

With these vacuous and self serving justifications, the 1% keep the status quo going. Every society needs a unifying myth, and the powerful 1% need one even more so. Monarchy, Nation State, and ‘Free Market’ Capitalism (note: not financial/rentier/crony capitalism) are used as unifying myths to merely cover wealth and privilege. It is why right wing politics intuitively support monarchy, church and the flag because if those are dismissed by critics then that only leaves the theory of free market neoliberal capitalism as a defence against ‘the underclass’.

You decide if this level of wealth appropriation is good for social cohesion and health inequalities.

this be another verse

“They f*ck you up, your mum and dad,
Your gran and grandpa, aunty too,
Pensions, housing, jobs: no fees;
And then vote Tory just for you.
But they were f*cked up in their turn,
By Hitler, War and Empire views,
They had Attlee, Bevan’s NHS,
Before Thatcher turned the welfare screws.
Man hands on misery to man,
They do it through the ballot box,
F*ck you children, it’s your fault,
Unless you’re willing to place a cross.
(Apologies to Philip Larkin).
“Around 75% of people aged 65 and over will vote in this election; unless something thunderously radical happens in the next six weeks, only around 42% of 18- to 24-year-olds will do the same. The over-65s coming out to vote and the under-24s staying in has been the norm for the past few decades. This is why we’re now all hearing so much about the pros and cons of the triple lock on pensions, but absolutely nothing about student fees and housing benefit”. (Armando Ianucci).


The best argument for voting is Bevan’s NHS. Kids are seeing the hard won victories of proper Labour being killed off.

Oh, king, eh, very nice. And ‘ow’d you get that, eh?

Arthur: “Well I am king…
Man: “Oh, king, eh, very nice. And ‘ow’d you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers! By ‘angin’ on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society. If there’s ever going to be any progress...”
Arthur: “I am Arthur, king of the Britons“.
Woman: “I didn’t know we ‘ad a king! I thought we were autonomous collective.”
Man: “You’re fooling yourself! We’re living in a dictatorship! A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes…”
Woman: “There you go, bringing class into it again…
Woman: “Well I didn’t vote for you!”
Arthur: “You don’t vote for kings!”
Woman: “Well ‘ow’d you become king then?”
Arthur: “The Lady of the Lake– her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king!”
Man: “Listen: Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords
is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power
derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some… farcical
aquatic ceremony!”

(Monty Python and The Holy Grail).

I was reminded of this discussion after seeing a Facebook post about Prince Harry and his girlfriend, Meghan Markle. The Daily Mail ran with this story: Harry was out shooting anything that moved in Bavaria, while Meghan was in Toronto. The ‘story’ was that Meghan is a vegetarian while her ‘prince charming’ is out and about putting a bullet between the eyes of unsuspecting fauna that unhappily strayed into his crosshairs. Earlier in the week we were fed stories about ‘Wills’ and ‘Harry’ and their emotional struggles to come to terms with their mother’s death. I should not have to say, that of course this is a personal tragedy for them both, and they deserve the same respect as anyone who has lost a parent in such circumstances.

Perhaps that is my point here. That as ordinary human beings, if ‘pricked, do they not bleed?’ It is not their very human being that I find nauseatingly obnoxious. It is their status as ‘Royals’ – an anachronism which the peasants in the Holy Grail upon meeting Arthur recognised. Of course the film is fiction, and it is unlikely that ‘the peasant’ in the 12th century had such a discourse to  challenge the ‘Divine Right of Kings’.

The ‘Divine Right’ was of course complete bollocks. The Church was and still is complicit in this fiction and fairy tale.

It was merely a justification for rich and powerful families to keep the populace in line and to keep their Royal and unearned standard of living based on the sweating backs of labouring classes. Of course it is about class, it still is. How do powerful people justify their wealth and privilege? They need a unifying myth. God is a great ‘go to’ myth. How does a Pope get to live in a palace while never getting any shit in his fingernails? How do the Cardinals and Bishops live in well fed and isolated splendour while also ignoring the founder’s injunctions on wealth? Keep the populace ignorant and claim the status of God’s emissary on earth. Challenge the Pope and you challenge God himself.

Today, we have added ‘The American Dream’, ‘Free Market Capitalism’ and especially in the UK a renaissance of Imperial Glory as we wallow in post colonial melancholia.

I’m also pissed off with the seemingly never ending chorus of sycophantic media arse licking of anything that smells of money, privilege and royal heritage. The UK press are sickeningly uncritical of anything the saints of Windsor are up to. I swear I’ll have to move to an island in the middle of the pacific when the Queen dies. I’ll have to do so to avoid the swamp of cherry picked nostalgia. They will all be at it. We will be told ad nauseam how the present incumbent of the ‘Divine Right’ has served the country; how she showed forbearance when her castle (her castle FFS!) burned down; how she managed the Royal PR to become immensely popular even after the Diana fiasco; how the ‘fuzzy wuzzies’ all over the world call her queen and how much they love her; how she carried out her ‘duty’ as if she had no choice but to accept a life of wealth and privilege; how her ‘annus horibilis’ nonetheless turned into a triumph.

Why all of this fawning? Why do the ruling class and the establishment especially, whip out the flag at the drop of a royal wave? Why do we buy into it?

Royalty is symbolic. It has no legal powers (much) but its symbolic power is immense and the ruling class know it. Royals sit at the symbolic head of a ‘natural hierarchy’ of ‘God – Queen – Ruling class – oiks’.

Most of us know God is a myth, a fairy tale. So the top of the hierarchy has been removed, but not for everyone. If the Queen is also seen as privileged mythology and has no right to be second in the hierarchy then we, domino like, come to the ruling class. If we get that far having dismissed the justifications for God and Queen…might we examine the founding myths the ruling class use?

Our current inability to echo the question from the Holy Grail about the divine right stems from uncritical, unthinking acceptance of this hierarchy. The Queen’s position is a lynch pin holding the whole mythology together. Remove the lynch pin and the whole edifice could fall apart. If the Queen is not God appointed, if  “some watery tart waving about a scimitar” is not the basis for executive power, then what is?  Remove the Queen, remove the myth and what have you left? The Hierarchy then needs another justification. In the US, the ‘Dream’ is a founding myth, alongside ‘rugged individualism’. In the UK, we would have to find faith in something. We are losing faith with free market capitalism, but we do have the military and mythical ‘British Values’, values which of course airbrush out of history privateering, colonial conquest, genocide, concentration camps and class exploitation. All justified with a sense of racial superiority as expressed in the ‘civilising process’ of the White Man’s burden.

If the peasants ask ‘why are you king then’….they might ask other awkward questions such as ‘who has power, how did they get it, in whose interest do they use it and how do we get rid of them?’  The Queen acts as bulwark against such awkward questions, because if we can accept Royalty as myth we can accept any number of myths.

It works by evoking ‘magic’ and ‘awe’ – raw emotions and vicarious experiences. Young women may not be able to look and dress like Kate, but they can aspire to. Calling the Princes ‘Wills and Harry’ and of course ‘Kate’, provides a patina of unearned ordinariness which allows us to think they are like us, and if they are like us then we too can aspire. Evoking the Princes’ pain over their mother’s death serves various purposes, one of which is the myth “they are just like us”. Such thinking serves to deflect awkward questions. “Us” do not have a divine right to be anything.


Alpha Males, Psychopaths and Greedy Bastards,

Alpha Males, Psychopaths, Greedy Bastards.

In October 2016, during the United States presidential campaign, the Washington Post released a recording of Donald Trump made in 2005. Trump was heard to be making comments about women:

“I moved on her and I failed, I admit it. I did try and f*ck her, she was married…I moved on her like a bitch…you know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them…its like a magnet…grab them by the pussy. You can do anything” (BBC 2016).

Nigel Farage told Fox news that the remarks were ‘ugly’ but something “if we are honest that men do… this is alpha male boasting”. (BBC 2016).

The alpha male trope, its behaviours and traits, might be widespread (Ludeman and Erlandson 2006) especially among ‘alpha males’, those in the 1% and the plutocracy. Teller (2017) critiqued a Fox news article which argued that women’s success in the Boardroom are dooming their marriages, because they are “groomed to be leaders rather than wives…they become too much like men…too competitive…too masculine…too alpha”. Teller criticised the piece for its uncritical acceptance of an American trope – the leader as alpha male, which has ‘wormed its way’ deeply into the American subconscious. It is part of the American mythos in which great men accomplish great deeds with little help from anyone else and draws from a rich vein of rugged individualism as expressed by such as Ayn Rand (1957, 1964). It is in line with the ‘Great Man’ theory of leadership in which leaders are born not made, and great leaders will arise when there is great need, “Cometh the Hour, cometh the man”. Thomas Carlyle (1840) was an early exponent of ‘Great Man Theory’ in the 1840s stating: “The history of the world is but the biography of great men”.

In 2004, Ludeman and Erlandson painted a positive picture of Alpha males, arguing that the modern corporation is characterised by their presence, that indeed it would be difficult to think of the corporation without them. They also devised an instrument to develop ‘alpha profiles’, based on 1,507 individuals all of whom worked full time in the business world, 64% were male with an average age of 41 in 106 countries and in various industries. A significant finding was that alpha risks are closely related to alpha strengths, in general the greater the strengths, the greater the risks, see table below (Ludeman and Erlandson 2006).

The stereotype, or trope, exists probably not as result of biologically determined characteristics or superior innate traits. Rather it is probably the case that the ‘innate traits’ of ‘Great Man Theory’ are used as justification for aggressive, competitive, loud, selfish and often sexually dominant male behaviour. This justification harks back to Thomas Carlyle’s description; draws upon quasi pseudo-scientific principles of evolutionary biology’s ‘survival of the fittest’, and the individualistic rhetoric of neoliberal political economy (Goodman 2017) which is based on an erroneous utility maximising rational actor theory, i.e. ‘homo economicus’ (Persky 1995). It also has roots in the ‘objectivist epistemology’ of Ayn Rand (2007a, 2007b) whose 1947 and 1954 novels have gained current popularity among some of the most powerful people in the United States, and those who aspire to be the most powerful in the United Kingdom (Freedland 2017). Rand’s emphasis on, and the neoliberal rhetoric of, ‘freedom’ is a rallying cry used to mask the reality of exploitation (Monbiot 2017).

Not only is it a myth used by the erstwhile ‘masters of the universe’ in the City of London to justify their dominance, it is sexist and misogynist as it is ignorant of socially constructed gender roles; it is unscientific without any grounding in the natural sciences, it is anthropomorphic of animal behaviour, and it is simplistically individualistic as it shifts the explanations for status and power differentials away from issues of social structure onto biological inevitability and individual psychological characteristics. It is uncritically reflexive in its adoption of the ‘liberal human self’ ontology. It does so to avoid discussing, acknowledging and unmasking unequal social relationships based on class, gender or ethnicity.

Alpha male behaviour is a choice exercised by ‘those who can’ based on their privileged backgrounds and attributes, which are often white, male, heteronormative, educated and so called ‘elite’, over ‘those who have not been able to’. The latter have to overcome class, ethnic and gender barriers not faced by their privately educated competitors. The alpha male also ignores or dismisses our capacity for empathy, without which it truly is an alpha dog eat beta dog world. This alpha male ideology and actual behaviour assumes selfishness and self-interest are main driving forces for successful capitalist societies. The inequality it helps to sustain are, in this world view, necessary for success. Alpha males may also share some characteristics attributed to psychopaths.

What are ‘Alpha Males’?

The term comes from studies of animal behaviour (ethology), e.g. in chimps (de Waal 1982) and wolves (Mech 1999). It denotes the animal of the highest rank who achieves this status often through physical prowess. They often get to eat first and mate first, and in some species they are the only one allowed to mate. Sexual conquest is thus an important aspect of alpha behaviour. Animal behaviour, for some, provides models and explanations for human behaviour on the basis that we are evolved animals only differing from, say, primates because of our higher cognitive functions. It is thus tempting to extrapolate from primate behaviour to human behaviour on the basis that behaviour in human social groups are affected by evolutionary, and genetic, processes. We watch animal behaviour and are tempted to anthropomorphise and apply to humans. E.O Wilson’s ‘Sociobiology’ was term akin to ethology in that it was an attempt to explain social behaviour in humans such as altruism, nurturance, aggression,  by appealing to underlying evolutionary mechanisms and thus the theory has more than a whiff of biological determinism about it.

In humans, we label alpha behaviour often as that which is about ‘getting the girl’ due to confidence, charisma and competitiveness. Women are supposed to like this display and ‘swoon’ in the presence of an alpha. Whether this is true in sexual politics I leave to women to decide. However alpha characteristics, if seen as the basis for sexual success, can also be seen to be the basis of success in business and politics.

Ludeman and Erlandson (2004) describe the Alpha as ‘highly intelligent, confident, and successful (who) represent about 70% of all senior executives in the United States’. They are not happy unless they are the ‘top dogs’ – they are supposedly natural leaders, they get stressed when tough decisions don’t rest in their hands; they get a thrill when in charge. Ludeman and Erlandson also identify four breeds of Alpha: commanders, executors, strategists and visionaries. Alphas have ‘unique strengths as well as destructive ‘flip sides’.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Alpha leadership style.

It might be an interesting exercise to compare the traits with descriptions of psychopathy/sociopathy which according to Hirstein (2013) are:

  • Uncaring, Shallow Emotions, Overconfidence, Narrowing of Attention.
  • Irresponsibility, Insincere speech, Selfishness, Inability to plan for the future and Violence.
Alpha Attribute Value to Organisation Risk to Organisation
Self-Confident and Opinionated. Overconfident Acts decisively has good intuition Is closed minded, domineering and intimidating.
Highly Intelligent Sees beyond the obvious, takes creative leaps Dismisses or demeans colleagues who disagree with him. Uncaring
Action orientated Produces results Is impatient, resists process changes that might improve results. Narrowing of attention.
High performance expectations for himself and others. Uncaring Sets and achieves high goals Is constantly dissatisfied, fails to appreciate and motivate others. Uncaring
Direct communication Style.


Moves people to action Generates fear and gossip filled culture of compliance. Uncaring
Highly disciplined. Is extraordinarily productive, finds time and energy for a high level of work and fitness Has unreasonable expectations of self and others, misses signs of burnout
Unemotional. Shallow emotions. Is laser focused and objective. Narrowing of attention Is difficult to connect with, doesn’t inspire teams..

(Ludeman and Erlandson 2004).  Words in italics are from Hirstein’s description of psychopathy.

Juni (2010) suggests 3 major types of psychopathy: Superego deficit, aggression driven and sadism while also acknowledging controversy over definition (Scott 2014). He does suggest that people with psychopathy have ‘pro social’ values who often pragmatically get by through complying with social rules and norms. They are able to manage relationships at an adequate, though superficial level. Interestingly they are able to advance in their careers through their interpersonal skills. In discussing ‘superego deficit’ Juni suggests that due to extreme emotional hurt or deprivation in childhood, ‘superego internalization’ is lacking. This means children fail to develop their own checks on what is acceptable and how they should treat others, and then rely on external repercussions to govern behaviour. They have a basic learned incapacity for interpersonal trust, meaning they never really learn to appreciate others and will essentially be ‘users’ as they exploit relationships for their own good. Others are expendable and exchangeable. Another aspect of this is ‘blunted affect’ in which the child has learned to distance itself from all forms of emotion. Past experiences of emotion were painful they learn to choke off feelings. There is a superficial veneer of emotion but internally they have renounced affect. These might be useful traits to have in leading certain corporations.

What would a Venn diagram look like?

Silvio Berlusconi displayed, or thought he did, alpha traits bringing Italian politics into the bordello by treating Italian voters like paying customers being screwed by the puttana of politics. Trump’s ‘pussy grabbing’ comments similarly betray a sense of unearned entitlement, objectifying women merely as playthings for his own narcissistic amusement. His dismissal of this as ‘locker room banter’ was an insult to many ‘locker rooms’ and in doing so he tried to use a veil of ‘irony’ to cover actual misogyny.

Those that consider themselves as alphas may earn more, compete more or attain higher social status than their beta brothers; they think of themselves perhaps as ‘Heroes, Rogues and Lovers’ (Dabbs 2000). Dabbs used this as a book title and discussed the role of testosterone, a hormone linked with alpha theory, further giving justification within our biology. He also linked it with violent crime and sexual assaults!



Alpha males may conceive of their actions as originating in and being determined by and thus excused by evolution, often implicitly invoking the reptilian brain and the force of genes upon behaviour and traits. Many alphas from the world of politics, business and economics are not steeped in ethology or would be aware of its origins. However an appeal to evolution is nonetheless often present. Thus they have an essentialist understanding of the human. What is missed is that evolution has further acted upon the human brain and we now have the limbic brain and the neocortex which together, it is argued, constructs the ‘Triune Brain’ (MacLean 1990). In other words the reptilian territorial selfish brain has the empathic, communitarian brain and higher cognitive functioning brain to balance any primordial tendencies. Alpha also misses what epigenetics tells us, i.e. that it is the interplay between environment and genes and cultural life that influence behaviour. We are not as genetically predisposed to do anything, as much as we like to think we do. Appeals to some form of biological determinism for behaviour, is just stupid.

A modern exponent of essentialist determinist nonsense in the field of psychology is John Grey. His book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ exaggerates the differences and lends credence to theories based solely on biology. He recently explained the behaviour of ‘alpha males’ as resulting from testosterone. Men, he suggests, are hard wired for violence and polygamy. This relates to the workings of the reptilian brain. However, as already noted we also have the capacity to be ‘soft wired’ to be empathic and communitarian. Susan Gerhardt (2011) argues it is culture and child rearing practices that results on changes in brain function towards or away from empathy, violence and selfishness. This is based on neuro-scientific research, such as that carried out by Baron Cohen (2011). Hard wiring is a misleading term as it suggests a form of determinacy, reducing the possibilities for change.

Research now suggests that we are soft wired with ‘mirror neurons’, which results in our ability to experience another’s plight as if we were experiencing it ourselves (Rifkin 2009), we can then empathise with others. We are not hard wired for aggression, violence, utility maximisation and self-interest but soft wired for sociability, acceptance, affection and companionship. However, we have built up social institutions and economic structures as if the former were true. These selfish structures are going global. These structures are also designed and run by alpha males for alpha males and justified by appeals to human nature and the inevitability of violence, aggression, utility maximisation and self-interest as the engines for creative social development that capitalism has wrought.

Self Interest?


Alpha’s justifications imply an ‘essential’, often selfish human nature.  The idea of an essential human nature has a long track record. However, an essentialist view of human nature, if human nature indeed exists, does not necessarily mean that it includes a drive for naked self-interest and aggressive competition.  The modern confusion can be traced to some Enlightenment philosophers (e.g.  John Stuart Mill 1836,  Adam Smith 1776) and their modern interpreters, overplaying the selfishness and utility maximising aspect of behaviour. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan placed self-interest on the throne of human motivation. Adam Smith’s utility maximising rational actor merely reflected what was emerging under industrial capitalism rather than what could be in other more empathic civilizations (Rifkin 2009).

Human nature to Alphas, is ‘naturally selfish’. We were naturally rational actors seeking our own self-interest to maximise our utility in the market. This we now know to be nonsense. Economics cannot be seen to work in isolation from society, culture, politics and power. Its mathematical models have proved to be false by the Great Financial crash of 2008 and by everyday experience.

Self-interest has not been seen as the only drive for humanity. Alongside this drive is the ‘Will to Power’ associated with Friedrich Nietzsche, the ‘Pleasure Principle’ associated with EpicurusJeremy Bentham and with Sigmund Freud (Snyder, Lopez and Pedrotti 2007) and the ‘Will to Meaning’ associated with Frankl (1946/2006). Thus the quests for Power, Pleasure and Meaning are alternatives to economic self-interest as drivers for human action. Erich Fromm and Manfred Max Neef have also discussed fundamental human needs which could be thought of as drivers for human action. Self-interest for material gain does not feature anywhere near as prominent in their theories.


Miller (1999) argues that a different view of human agency acknowledges the power of other motives, such as public spiritedness, empathy, commitment, and justice.


Yet given this, somewhat admittedly white, colonialist and patriarchal divergence of views on what motivates us in contemporary societies, it could be argued that hegemonic neoliberal imaginary (Hall 2011) especially in the United States and the United kingdom since the 1970’s, rests on the idea of the rational actor, the ‘free, possessive, individual’, using his economic self-interest for ‘life liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.


One aspect of rational self-interest is that of “principal-agent” theory: agents will perform best under high-powered financial incentives to align their interests with those of the principal (a business school thesis – Layard 2009). For example employees and managers (agents) will work for the same goals of employers and shareholders (principals) and not in their own self interest, if the goals are aligned, e.g. profits are shared. However, Daniel Pink argues that above a certain level of material reward, what motivates us is Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. Financial rewards start to become hindrances rather than benefits. Not that this insight affects the level of, and justification for, the ‘High Pay’ of many ‘fat cat’ CEOs.


John Stuart Mill (1836) argued:

[Political economy] does not treat the whole of man’s nature as modified by the social state, nor of the whole conduct of man in society. It is concerned with him solely as a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end.


Similarly, Adam Smith (1776) wrote:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.


Smith (1759) however does express in ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ that self interest alone is not the sole motivator, men can act out of regard for others:

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it” .


This exposition of rational self-interest demonstrates that Smith accepted that what makes us human is not only based on unrestrained self-interest.


Ayn Rand (1943, 1957) in her novels and lectures taught ‘objectivism’ based on a belief that:


man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself”.


Rand insisted on the ‘virtue of selfishness’ and the ‘morality of rational self-interest’ which is congruent with the neoliberal creed of individual responsibility. This sounds close to Adam Smith’s rational self-interest of the market, whereas Smith described the invisible hand, Rand moralises it.


Yet Becker (2007) argues that moral leadership is exercised not solely based on rational self-interest, that business decisions are not made only on the economic conditions of the market. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is also an example of business principles being enunciated which go beyond the simple search for maximum profit.


However, the theory of self-interest allied to material reward remains strong as a description of ‘natural’ human behaviour. If it is ‘natural’ then human happiness is gained if self-interest is given its head. Self interest as ‘human nature’ can be seen therefore as the major drive which should be harnessed both for prosperity and happiness.



Alphas as Self-Interested Greedy Bastards


Graham Scambler, following on from Margaret Archer’s theory of ‘modes of reflexivity’, argues that we have entered an era where plutocrats and oligarchs (Alphas) have captured the levers of the State to rule as ‘Greedy Bastards’.


He constructed an ideal-typical sub-type of Archer’s ‘autonomous reflexive’ called the focused autonomous reflexive. Those who make up the ruling oligarchy, or the ‘greedy bastards’, are also ‘focused autonomous reflexives’. Scambler argues they have the following characteristics:


“Total commitment:  The focused autonomous reflexive exhibits an overriding engagement with accumulating capital and personal wealth/income. Nothing less will suffice: that is, any deficit in commitment will result in absolute or relative failure.


NIETZSCHIAN Instinct: Born of a Hobbesian notion of the natural human state, they betray a ruthless determination to cut whatever corners are necessary to gain an advantage over rivals. they are the ‘blond beasts’ of ‘noble morality’ whose values are constructed by themselves to serve their own interests.


Fundamentalist ideology: Commitment is not only total and Nietzschian but fundamentalist: it does not admit of compromise. It is an ideology – that is, a standpoint emerging from a coherent set of vested interests – that brooks no alternative.


Cognitive Insurance: While cognitive dissonance is a state to which none of us is immune, they are  able to take out sufficient insurance to draw its sting. Thus accusations of greed and responsibility for others’ suffering are rarely internalized. Such epistemological and ontological security is the exception rather than the rule in this era of financial capitalism.


Tunnel Vision: A concomitant of a total, Nietzschian and fundamentalist commitment is the sidelining of other matters and a reflex and frequently gendered delegation of these to others.


Lifeworld Detachment There is simply no time for the ordinary business of day-to-day decision-making. In this way focused autonomous reflexives rely on and reproduce structures not only of gender but of class, ethnicity, ageing and so on. Their Lifeworld detachment presupposes others’ non-detachment, i.e. other people service the everyday requirements of life”.

Graham Scambler’s typology requires empirical verification and is not meant to describe any one person in totality. Without studying the lives of the 0.01% and their ‘players’ (often to be found in the 1%), this cannot be verified. However, may we see indicators of their world views in their speeches and writings?


Societies have ‘myths’ – stories to explain phenomena and to bind the people together. Self Interest in free markets is an old story, an ‘anti-myth’, as it divides peoples based on negativity, rather than binds. It sorts a people into ‘winners and losers’, ‘top cornflakes‘, ‘skivers or strivers‘ and the ‘left behind‘. It is not based in the actuality of human experience or within philosophy over history, but has been imposed in the West as a guiding ideology especially since the Reagan-Thatcher Duopoly. The Autonomous Reflexives both in the political class and the corporate class of the 0.01%, have imposed: “there is no alternative” and ridden roughshod over other values and stories. Facts, evidence and reason have not worked against their neoliberalism to date. However we may be witnessing the challenge of Authoritarian Populism, which will either destroy or appropriate neoliberalism, as a new ‘anti-myth’. What we need now is a new story, to bridge this ‘myth gap’ (Evans 2017).


A poor ‘quality of mind’ 

Alpha males lack a sociological imagination, a quality of mind that links biography and history and the relationship between the two in society. They are unable to link their personal stories to the structures of society at the time they live in. For them, continuing unemployment is simply a personal failure not a result of changing labour market structures; obesity is a personal and moral weakness unrelated to increasing fossil fuel dependence (car use) and the availability of cheap calorie rich foods and our ‘lock in’ to high carbon systems; the lack of female representation at the top is down to female unsuitability to leadership in market employment conditions rather than market conditions being designed by alpha males for alpha males; black people are poor because they lack a work ethic not because of institutional and cultural racism; countries are underdeveloped because they lack a capitalist ethic rather than as a result of past and current imperialism.

They seek always to blame the individual, emphasise personal responsibility and ignore power relationships and structures, which are rigged in one’s favour. Once one accepts the notion that success may be down to a combination of luck, individual effort and abilities, privileges and certain socio-economic conditions, then it becomes untenable to justify huge disparities in reward as being solely based on one’s work ethic and abilities. Empathy is a luxury for the weak in this context, for to empathise would mean examining the real reasons for success and failure in one’s ‘peers’ and the need to gain an understanding of the hopes and ambitions and the barriers to fulfilling such in an unjust world.



Alpha males behave in that way because we let them do so and because they have the power to do so. It is often a self-justificatory myth for boorishness and exploitation of the weak members of society. It has no scientific basis. It is theoretically vacuous, empirically wrong and philosophically infantile. We are not ruled by our hormones, our genes or our reptilian brains. However, alpha males have big sticks and they make the rules, but they can be forced to put the sticks down.  We can refashion society in a way that reflects more communitarian ethics and behaviour when we first counter their propaganda based on a singular value ‘freedom’. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought (Monbiot 2017). What they mean of course is freedom to do what they please, what they count , free from red tape, regulations of market stultifying laws.

Freedom from: Trade Unions; paying Tax; environmental protection legislation.

Freedom to: design sophisticated financial products that crashed the system in 2008; to buy and develop property that only plutocrats can own; lobby and receive from the state for a hand out on land they own; to ignore and bypass democracy….

Do Alphas exist?

Now it may be that the alpha male is a straw man, that in reality powerful men do not exhibit traits of dog eat dog über competitive, devil take the hindmost, who dares wins mentality. Step forward Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson, Alan Greenspan, Senator Rand Paul, Uber’s Travis Kalenick, Facebook’s Peter Thiel, Boris ‘Top Cornflake’ Johnson, Sajid Javid MP,  Alan Sugar… Kim Jong Un, Putin, Assad, Modi, Orban, Erdogan, Duterte….

Do alphas exist in real life? If an alpha is a highly rewarded individual, at the top of the social stratum and who justifies that position by reference to their own individual endeavour then we may suggest that the erstwhile masters of the universe may qualify as alphas.  Toynbee and Walker (2008) interviewed City ‘High Fliers’ in an attempt to understand their justifications for their salaries and bonuses. Their responses certainly indicate their attitudes as alphas, they objectively are high status and they control the reward structure. No doubt their access to females is unlimited. Competition and charisma would be prized characteristics among this group. It was clear from their responses that they saw that their success was down to them and their individual effort. Initially the reasons given for success was globalisation (a structural reason) but as Toynbee and Walker continued it became clear that personal moral reasons were the basis for success. They thought of themselves as ‘better’: “we work harder and aspire the most”, fairness is not a valid question, “it’s a fact of modern life that there is a disparity…people say its unfair when they don’t do anything to change their circumstances”, “people don’t want to achieve”, “you won’t find a teacher who works as hard as we do” (p27).

Empathy at the socio-political or corporate level is hard to find. Aspects of neoliberal capitalism and globalisation is pitting all against all as nations try to out compete each other in a race to the bottom in terms of wage reductions, pension reductions, flexible working (i.e. rotational unemployment) and extensions of working lives. Somehow we have accepted that working longer for less in a less certain world is a good thing because not to do so risks losing jobs to India and China (Jones 2011). The structures of globalisation are such that competition not cooperation rules social lives. We are now working for the economy rather than for the community. It is not the alpha males in Greece who have to bend the knee to austerity, they still have their yachts and villas. The existence of the odd rich alpha victim to globalised capitalism only serves to show that the system they operate takes no prisoners. Many of those who go down keep the riches they earned when in power.

The lack of an empathic civilisation and the rule by global elites is not natural or inevitable but we somehow believe it to be so. Meanwhile the alpha looks on, secure on his yacht or in his gated community in ‘Richistan’ (Frank 2007), laughing at the poor people while justifying his ‘right’ by ‘might’.

Because he can.     Because he’s ‘worth it’.



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Neoliberalism: Rhetoric and Reality.

This paper was prepared as background to the 4th edition of ‘Communication and Interpersonal skills in nursing (Grant, A. and Goodman, B. forthcoming). In that book discourses of neoliberalism and their effects on health and health service delivery as well as the interpersonal communications nurses have with people will be explored and critiqued. An example is the discourse on ‘individual responsibility for health’ and ‘lifestyle drift’ responses to public health which draw upon the concept of ‘sovereign individual’ of neoliberal philosophy. This paper explores what neoliberalism might be to argue that it is more a discursive practice than a political action.


Neoliberalism is at once everywhere and nowhere. There is ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’, there is reification and fetishisation. Its name is spoken in certain circles and vilified (Springer 2016), it is an ‘imprecise exhortation’ (Thorsen and Lie 2007, Thorsen 2009), in others there is denial that it even exists (Talbot 2016). It might be best to understand neoliberalism as a ‘discourse’ (Foucault 1969) rather than an actuality of political practice, as a “rather radical set of ideas which nevertheless have had a certain influence on society and politics in recent times” (Thorsen 2009 p20).  It is a word used by the progressive and critical left, e.g. Saad-Filho and Johnson (2005), to counter what the right call the ‘free market’ in the context of the breakdown of the post war consensus around the social welfare democratic state.


I suggest that the discourse of the ‘Free Market’ was, and is, used to reshape the State, and civil relationships, away from ownership and control of the means of production, away from Keynesian state intervention in the economy and away from providing all social security (including housing, health, education, and transport). Free market rhetoric is used to mask the reshaping of State apparatus towards State intervention for wealthy landowners and corporates (financial and industrial). This is a bid by a capitalist class to (re)capture the State’s support for capital and property accumulation in their favour. This ‘support’ is referred to as a ‘framework’ in which ‘free’ markets are to operate. I also argue that there is nothing ‘neo’ or ‘new’ about the practical reality of this form of liberalism, tied as it is to the capitalist State.


The term ‘Free market’ is often preferred to ‘neoliberal’ by its supporters according to Talbot (2016) and Thorsen (2009) who argues that the term neoliberal is now most often used in a pejorative way by the left. We say ‘Neoliberal’ you say ‘Free Market’. ‘Free market’ or ‘neoliberal discourse’ is used as part of the Ideological State apparatus backed up by the Repressive State apparatus of the judicial system, police and ultimately, if needs be, the military.


An important idea of ‘Free Market/Neoliberalism’ is the espoused theory of a minimalist State. The theory in action is a State becoming minimal for social security but otherwise continuing the facilitation of capital accumulation and the ownership of wealth especially by the 0.01%. The ‘Nightwatchman’ minimal state of the 19th century is a goal of free market (or liberal) ideology, but this has not been achieved for all of the talk of the Reagan/Thatcher years of the 1980’s. This is possibly because the reduction of State spending down to 10% of GDP from the current 40% of GDP (per year, see figure 1 in the appendix) would be as disruptive for the capitalist class and the political power elites as it would for everyone else. This is also because key sectors of the economy such as agriculture, the military-industrial complex, and the nuclear power and fossil fuel industries, rely on government funds and subsidies without which their business models would have to be radically altered. Capitalism’s ‘creative destruction’ is a lauded dynamic feature, as long as its not your industry or business model that goes bust or, in the jargon; is ‘disrupted’.  It is also because in theory, liberalism is not a monolithic philosophy, ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ Liberalism (Ryan 1993) have different views of the State’s role.


The minimalist state (‘Nightwatchman’) ‘classic liberal’ solution to questions of political economy might still be the goal of some current thinking. This may include the Tea Party in the US, kicked into life by Rick Santelli’s comments on President Obama’s mortgage bail out plan (Pallasch 2010),  and perhaps in the UK by the Adam Smith Institute. Yet in current practice many of the Conservative capitalist class, and their political voices in the Tory party, seem as wedded to state intervention as they claim socialists to be.


Neoliberalism as a discursive practice, embedded and supported by an ideologically driven, highly funded ‘intellectual’ infrastructure, can also be linked to around 1,000 self conscious neoliberal intellectuals organised in the Mont Pelerin Society (Plewhe et al 2007). Its proponents fight for hegemony in research and development, and engage in political and communication efforts with well funded, well coordinated and highly effective new types of knowledge organisations: partisan think tanks such as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation in the US, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) in the UK and the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia (IPA) (Beder 2001).


A Discursive Project.


This is an ongoing rhetorical project in the UK because as Desai (2007) argues, the values and principles of Thatcherism, which did not call itself neoliberal but did emphasis similar ‘free market, small state’ principles mixed with ‘Victorian values’,  were not wholly accepted by the British public. This is evidenced in surveys of public opinion in the 1980’s and 90’s and arguably even today if support for the socialist inspired NHS is an indicator.


Support in elections since 1979 have not won over majorities of the electorate, and it is only thanks to first past the post that Tories and clause 4 ditching ‘Tory lite’ New Labour, were able to win. See figure 1 (appendix) which shows what % of the electorate actually voted for the government of the day.


These figures show that at its peak only 33% of voters could be bothered to put an x next to free market rhetoric. This was down to 24% by 2015. Neoliberals/Thatcherites/ Conservatives have not won the hearts and minds of the British Electorate and neither has the goal of a small state in terms of GDP spend been achieved. Their success in the US and the UK, is to be measured not by the popular vote, but by their assaults on Trade Unions, by Privatisations, Tax breaks and Labour market and Financial deregulations.  And by the increasing share of wealth and high pay going to the 1% and 0.01% (Saez and Zucman 2014, Dorling 2014, Moshinsky 2016).


I argue here in accordance with Desai (2007) that:


“Market dogma may well be entrenched in capitals around the world, but its intellectual vacuity and practical failures have been documented in a vast literature. It would be truer to say that neoliberalism’s intellectual pretensions are designed to provide a fig leaf of intellectual respectability to the most naked pursuit of the interests of capital and property (my emphasis) than that neoliberalism has motivated this pursuit by intellectual force and political influence” (Desai 2007 p220).


In other words, powerful and rich individuals have used talk of free markets (and neoliberalism) to justify their ongoing grab of global wealth through using the levers of State power, rather than it being the case that the intellectual case motivates their actions.


Graham Scambler (2012) also points in this direction in his exposition of the ‘Greedy Bastards Hypothesis’ which is underpinned by the strategic actions of ‘focused autonomous reflexives’ in the capitalist class executive and the political power elite.








In common understanding a ‘discourse’ is an exchange, perhaps of ideas, between two people involving language as the medium of transmission. This can be seen as a neutral exercise between two people of equal power and status using certain phrases, words, jargon and syntax to share understanding or to question the other’s statements. Consider the situation when two Tory MPs are talking to each other about a ‘flexible labour market’  or the need for people to be ‘taking responsibility for one’s health’. The first is an example of the neoliberal/free market discourse that favours weak labour regulations to make it easy to hire and fire staff making them ‘flexible’. The second brings in and joins the ‘Moral Underclass discourse’ (Carlisle 2001) to the free market’s central idea of ‘free sovereign individuals’ in charge of their own destiny in order to shift responsibility fully onto the shoulders of individuals. This discourse can then blame individuals for being obese, for smoking or for any other ‘moral failing’ such as catching an STI or binge drinking.


Discourse as a critical concept is associated with Michel Foucault. For Foucault (1969) discourses are institutionalised patterns of speech and knowledge seen and felt in ‘disciplinary’ structures, e.g. in the medical clinic or in the prison (Foucault 1963, 1975). Discourses connect knowledge to power. Knowledge is power. To oversimplify, the concept refers to the idea that a discourse shapes, or constructs what we know, what we can say and also reflects differences in power between people. Becoming a Tory MP introduces one to the institutionalised patterns of speech which might be very familiar to that experienced in public schools (e.g. Eton) and certain Oxbridge clubs (e.g. Bullingdon).





Discourses are more than mere words.  A discourse, Foucault (1969) suggested, actually brings into being that of which they speak.


“…discourses…are nota mere intersection of things and words….


The task of analysing discourses is to show that they are not just:


groups of signsbut as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.discourses are composed of signs; but what they do is more than use signs to designate things. It is this more that renders them irreducible to language and to speech. It is this morethat we must reveal and describe (1969 p 54)” (my emphasis).


By continually repeating the discourse, and getting it accepted by enough people, that “There is no money” or “There is no Alternative” or “Labour caused the public debt” or “Banks are too big to fail” or “Top cornflakes rise to the top” or “high pay rewards hard work and intelligence” or “Inequality is good for competition” or “Skivers v Strivers” or “In this together” or “we must balance the books and bring down the deficit” these things are brought into being. They are part of a larger, taken for granted, understanding of the ‘proper’ role of the state, the individual and the corporation.



What then is ‘Neoliberalism’ and what is formed by that of which it speaks?



Traditional Enlightenment ‘classical liberalism’ (Ryan 1993) emphasises:


  1. Individual Freedom (liberty) through limiting government and maximising capitalist market forces.
  2. Civil liberties under the rule of law and laissez faire economics.
  3. Free markets, utilitarianism, natural law (inherent rights which are universal, uncovered by reason) and progress.


Key thinkers: Adam Smith, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, David Ricardo. Alexis de Tocqueville


Modern liberalism accepts a greater role for the State in the economy, manifested in regulation and the State supplying of goods and services (Ryan 1993). Laissez faire economics cannot in this interpretation meet the goals and purposes of liberalism. Thorsen (2009) argues that liberalism has many facets and has become in effect a contested concept particularly over the role of the State.



Neoliberalism is associated with ‘Austrian’ economists Ludwig Von Mises (1881-1973), Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) and the American economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006). Around 1950, the classic liberal state had grown into, for some, a social democratic monster driven by Keynesian economic theory and the growth of Welfare States. In both the US and the UK, governments were beginning to spend more and more of GDP and intervening in many areas of the economy including social security programmes. Von Mises, Hayek and Friedman would have noted that the share of GDP spent by the State on welfare and public services had grown from about 10% in the middle of the 19th Century (figure 2 in the appendix) to around 40% by the 1970’s.  Today the share of GDP spent by the government in the UK is about 41% (figure 3 in the appendix).


In the context of the centrally planned Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany, Hayek (1944) argued that any government control of economic decision making through central planning leads to tyranny and that civilisation requires liberty as a prerequisite for wealth and growth (1960). Hayek and Freidman (in the 1950’s) referred back to classical liberalism rather than ‘neoliberalism’ in their reaction to the amount of state intervention in the economy.  Yet, they accepted some aspects of welfare provision by the State although this provision in their view should be greatly reduced. Their status as fringe economists  in the 50’s was altered when their economic theory and political philosophy was then taken up by Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK around the late 1970’s. At this point there had been a sort of post WW2 consensus between Conservatives and Labour regarding the level of state intervention in the economy.




Margaret Thatcher was to change that cosy relationship.


At a Conservative Party policy meeting in the late 1970’s, Thatcher made it clear upon what her approach to the economy was based:


Another colleague had also prepared a paper arguing that the middle way was the pragmatic path for the Conservative party to take…the new Party Leader [Margaret Thatcher] reached into her briefcase and took out a book.  It was Friedrich von Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty…..she held the book up for all of us to see.  ‘This’, she said sternly, ‘is what we believe’, and banged Hayek down on the table.” (Ranelagh 1991).


Neo simply means ‘new’ and refers us back to the earlier liberal small state. The ‘Nightwatchman’ state in the 19th century provided for property rights, contracts, markets and personal/national security. That was about it. No provision for schools, health, transport or subsidies for industries. Hence the relatively small % of GDP being spent by the government. Talbot (2016) argues that the 1950’s Neoliberalism was new in that it also embraced social as well as economic and political rights. Social protection, workers rights and public health would actually help the capitalist society, however following the Chilean coup of 1972 a theoretical inversion took place in which it now meant a reversion to 19th century free market liberalism.


Four Definitions


Stuart Hall (2011) argued that:


The term ‘neo-liberalism’ is not a satisfactory one. Intellectual critics say the term lumps together too many things to merit a single identity; it is reductive, sacrificing attention to internal complexities and geo-historical specificity. However, I think there are enough common features to warrant giving it a provisional conceptual identity, provided this is understood as a first approximation…..What, then, are the leading ideas of the neo-liberal model? ….neo-liberalism is grounded in the idea of the free, possessive individual. It sees the state as tyrannical and oppressive. The state must never govern society, dictate to free individuals how to dispose of their property, regulate a free-market economy or interfere with the God-given right to make profits and amass personal wealth”.


A ‘tyrannical and oppressive’ State was of course Hayek’s view.


George Monbiot (2016) outlined its main principles in this way:


“Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that the marketdelivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions, that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counter-productive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve”.


David Harvey (2005) defines it thus:


Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices. The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defence, police, and legal structures and function required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state should not venture. State interventions in markets (once created) must be kept to a bare minimum because, according to the theory, the state cannot possibly possess enough information to second-guess market signals (prices) and because powerful interest groups will inevitably distort and bias state interventions (particularly in democracies) for their own benefit.



Thorsen (2009) after an examination of literature on liberalism including the critical literature argues:


“Neoliberalism is…a loosely demarcated set of political beliefs which most prominently and prototypically include the conviction that the only legitimate purpose of the state is to safeguard individual liberty, understood as a sort of mercantile liberty for individuals and corporations. This conviction usually issues, in turn, in a belief that the state ought to be minimal or at least drastically reduced in strength and size, and that any transgression by the state beyond its sole legitimate raison d’etre is unacceptable (cf, especially Mises 1962; Nozick 1974; Hayek 1979).


This latter two descriptions  are that of the ‘Nightwatchman State’. Remember at this time in the 19th century less than 10% of GDP was spent by the government on public activities. Is this the goal of current Conservatives? Or is neoliberal/free market discourse an ideological mask for something else?


A minimal state safeguarding individual mercantile liberty and that is it?


We have to question whether in action Tory ministers believe this and wish to cut public spending from around 40% to 10%. To see what that would mean, we would need to look at the current 2017 budget (approximately £800 billion which is 40% of GDP) and note that to get down to 10% of GDP the budget would have to be £200 billion. See the appendix figure 4 for the 2017 budget. This is not 10% of GDP. Social Protection (pensions in the main) is over 10% on its own.


This is not a ‘Nightwatchman’. Is it a socialist utopia? The State is spending a lot of money still. However, what is actually happening is that in each sector, privatisation means that more and more government money (taxpayer’s money) is subsiding private provision. This is an explicit aim of the Adam Smith Institute who explicitly call for private provision but public funding for health. In Rail the government is subsiding private train operating companies and in housing the government is subsidising landlords through housing benefit.  In employment the government is subsidising employers through tax credits.  Figure 5 in the appendix shows where the revenue comes from.


The UK government spending accounts for about 40% of GDP, leaving 60% going elsewhere. Spending on health, social care and social protection (pensions) accounts for £426 billion, that is over 50% of the total spend. Add £102 billion for education (total now is £528 Billion).


Who pays for that? Well, whoever pays Income Tax, National Insurance, VAT, Council Tax and excise duties. All of this accounts for £628 billion.


What we have is redistribution from the 99.9% to the 99%.


‘Neoliberalism’ as rhetoric actually works for 0.01% – the plutocrats, the global capitalist executive. Henry (2012) argues that anything between $21 to £31 trillion as of 2010, has been invested tax free in about 80 ‘offshore’ secrecy jurisdictions. That is trillion not billion.


What we don’t have is a minimal state focused solely on safeguarding liberties for markets.


This idea of a small state free market economy is of course patent nonsense as it has just not happened. The reduction of public spending and deficit reduction are two current policy goals (i.e. Austerity) but this is hardly neoliberalism.  Neoliberal purists have failed to get the Tory party to reduce spending to these ‘classic liberal state’ levels. So what was all that Thatcherite talk for?


The reduction of state spending down to 10%, I suggest is either a complete failure of the neoliberal project or it is deliberate policy failure in that this is not the neoliberal goal at all.


It could be the case that the free market discursive practice is a cover for capital and property accumulation through curbing what is seen as labour power but more importantly by capturing the levers of the State. Cutting state spending to 10% would be seen by the capitalist executive and the political power elite to be socially and politically dangerous to capital accumulation.


Marx once remarked in the Communist Manifesto:


the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”.


One does not have to be a communist to begin to see how executive power is being used to the advantage of Capital (deregulations, subsidies and offshore tax breaks) while at the same time weakening labour through strict union laws, wage freezes and labour market ‘flexibility’.


Prior to 1900, no state spent more than 3% of GDP on ‘social programmes’. Around 1870 the average public spending level of ‘advanced economies’ was 10% (Talbot 2016). The 1914-1918 war saw an increase to 20%, followed by a steady growth to the 40% of today. This leads Talbot to argue that the neoliberal state of the 1970’s with 40% spending is actually little different from liberal market/social democratic states. Therefore it is all talk and no action since that level of spending has not been reigned back to 19th century levels.


Does this mean that Thatcherism was not neoliberal in action? Yes, if by that we define a neoliberal state as that in which only 10% of GDP is spent. Was Thatcherism even ‘free market’ in action given the continuing level of state intervention in many sectors of society and economy? Both Thatcher and Reagan promised to ‘roll back the frontiers of the state’ or that ‘government was not the answer, it was the problem’. This was ‘New Right’ talk to distinguish it from post WW2 Conservatives who accepted the post war social democratic consensus based on around 40% GDP spending and intervention.


Talbot (2016) argues that neoliberalism exists only as a ‘bogeyman’ created on the left to oppose various conservative attempts to ‘rebalance’ government-market relations. Bruff (2017) however argues that ‘neoliberalism’ is not about a return to free markets and 10% spending levels but is an ideology to mask a coercive, non-democratic and unequal reorganisation of society. There is seeming agreement that this is not about cutting government spending per se down to 10% but about reshaping democratic social and political relationships in favour of Capital. To repeat Desai (2007):


neoliberalism’s intellectual pretensions are designed to provide a fig leaf of intellectual respectability to the most naked pursuit of the interests of capital and property”.


Bruff (2017) points out that many current governments are not neoliberal in that they actually oppose free markets in practice and instead are engaged in protectionist rhetoric and practice. A 40% GDP spend does not indicate much in the way of ‘cutting back the state’ except for the working classes as a result of austerity politics and social security spending decisions.


This results in socialism for the rich (state spending) and neoliberalism for the poor (welfare cuts).


If neoliberalism is narrowly defined as a political programme valorising free markets then indeed leaders such as Trump, Modi, Erdogan and Abi are not neoliberal. Instead ‘free market’ rhetoric is just that: rhetoric. Bruff goes on to suggest that actually Hayek et al constantly invoke ‘free markets’ as an abstract principle but then they have a preference for certain types of markets to prevail in actuality. Neoliberalism in this definition is the use of the State in a central role to maintain a certain kind of market:


“neoliberalism has nothing to do with markets as commonly conceived, and everything to do with the orchestration of social relations in the name of markets…it is about the coercive, non democratic and unequal reorganisation of society along particular lines…intensification and extensification of the differences, inequalities, hierarchies and divisions that pervade capitalist society as delivered by authoritarian states and global corporations…neoliberalism is a way of seeing the world that is carved from the empty words ‘free’ and ‘markets’ ”. Bruff calls this ‘Authoritarian Neoliberalism’



Some Free Market advocates get this too.


Jamie Whyte is a free market advocate and in the BBC radio programme Analysis ‘Keeping the Free Market faith’ (8th October 2012) thinks Conservatives are now losing that faith in the free market, implying neoliberalism has lost its grip. Of course, as figure 1 to 5 show, it never had one.


Three Conservatives said this about the state of politics in 2012:


An Unholy alliance between a free market ideology which took over a government and a process of social change in which fair dealing and trust were ditched in favour of get rich quick economic libertarianism”


“We have to challenge the assumptions of laissez faire economics…”


“…the left wing account (of a conspiracy of the rich against poor people) is much more believable (since the credit crunch) than in 1990, although I don’t believe it”.


(Jessie Norman, Matthew Hancock (Tory MPs) and journalist Charles Moore).


In the ‘Free Enterprise Group’ in the Tory party, Andrea Leadsom argued deregulation in the banking sector had caused major problems. Ferdinand Mount also queried deregulation and the big bang which ‘had its downside’. Matthew Hancock (Tory Minister for Skills) also of the Free Enterprise Group, argued free markets need strong frameworks. He argued we should not muddle up laissez faire economics with free markets, and that the banking sector is special, it is an exception where free market principles should not hold! The State also should have a view of what are sustainable business models for many industries.


Jamie Whyte interviewed Ferdinand Mount, who helped write Thatcher’s manifesto in 1983, argued in the radio programme that ‘bankers are the worse kind of oligarchs, immune to old standards of corporate governance, paying themselves whatever they like. Shareholders are sleeping and are not taking them to account’. Qualms about high pay, argued Mount, is about social justice and economic efficiency (rewards gained despite performance). He argues against total deregulation and against withdrawal of state support for the ‘too big to fail’ banks.


Whyte interviewed Lord Griffiths (advisor to Thatcher in 1986) who dents Thatcher’s image as a neoliberal or free market ideologue. He argues that Thatcher believed in a ‘moral market’ and the value of enterprise but was never a total free marketeer. Free markets yes, but within a boundary of social justice, including consumer protection. Thatcher he suggests was not a purist Hayekian. Despite the earlier Hayekian gesture in the 197o’s, Griffiths argued that Thatcher believed that the market economy had a moral basis in a Judeo-Christian ethic; a ‘moral market’ and this was the underpinning of the economy. Thatcher was free market enough to let the UK coal mines close and railed against support for ‘lame duck’ industries. She also began the wave of privatisation of nationalised industries.


What then now of Theresa May’s reintroduction of industrial policy, of explicit talk of government involvement in various sectors of the economy? Since 2010, there has been the  setting up of a British Business bank and the rebalancing of the economy as policy goals. Government should now have a view over the structure of the economy (Matthew Hancock MP), and support for successful business is a legitimate role. ‘Active and thoughtful’ government should support successful companies, and not be neutral between sectors. Hancock argued that there needs to be a strong framework around a market supporting successful industries, i.e. those that work well. An industry strategy must allow new challengers, but there must not be a planned economy. This must be done through looking at regulation and providing industry with the skills it needs.


Pro-Business rather than Free markets?


However, businesses are good at lobbying government (Zingales 2012), they ask for and get support rather than just asking for arm’s length regulation.  Zingales (2012) also argues that the US risks deteriorating into a pro-business rather than pro-market system. Jamie Whyte calls the relationship between business and government  ‘cosy and corrupt’.


Trump’s election and his appointees and advisors might indicate or vindicate Zingales’ point. His first big meeting in January 2017 (Feloni 2017) was with 12 CEO’s of the United States’ largest companies and he told them that he would ‘prioritize corporate tax cuts and decrease regulation’ (free market talk) and impose a ‘border tax’ on companies that move production outside the US (state interventionist).


Key appointments include:


Rex Tillerson (ex CEO of ExxonMobil), Steven Mnuchin (Goldman Sachs, Hedge Funder), Robert Lighthizer (Corporate and Trade Lawyer), Andrew Puzder (CEO of restaurant chains) and Wilbur Ross (Billionaire Investor). Well, who else would you want to run the capitalist executive but capitalist executives?  Smith (2016) suggests that ‘Trump’s billionaire cabinet could be the wealthiest administration ever’:


Todd Ricketts ($5.3 bn), Betsy DeVos ($5.1 bn), Wilbur Ross ($2.9 bn), and Steve Mnuchin ($46 m).


In the UK, May’s cabinet are pretty rich but look like paupers compared to Trump’s (Saner 2017).


As for business connections, in the UK, there are 50 official ministerial ‘business buddies’ for large firms in the Business Council. Glaxo Smith Kline had David Willetts while Vince Cable worked with Oil and Gas. Hancock in the Whyte radio programme argued they ‘listen’ to their companies and the government then does what they would like. This is not only a UK phenomenon. Angresano (2016) argues there is a ‘Corporate Welfare Economy’ in which the US government has increasingly been influenced by corporate lobbyists with regulation skewed in order to suit the interests of the privileged.


Other examples include the United States Department of Agriculture’s plan to buy 11 million pounds of cheese worth $20 million (USDA 2016) to support US dairy farmers. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Oil Change International found that as a whole, G20 nations are responsible for $452bn (£297bn) a year in subsidies for fossil fuel production. Bergin (2016) reported that compensating carmakers in Britain for any post-Brexit tariffs on exports to Europe could see the government hand the companies more money than they need to pay the salaries of all their British workers. For decades British farmers have received subsidies under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Full Fact (2016) report that the average farmer made £28,300 in subsidies in 2015 and £2,100 from agriculture. Wealthy land owners, such as the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, the Queen, a Saudi Prince, the Dukes of Westminster and Northumberland, the Earl of Moray also received subsidies from the CAP (Press Association 2016). Hinkley nuclear power station will have a subsidy worth £30 billion (Ward 2016). George Monbiot (2011) wrote:


the Guardian revealed that the government’s subsidy system for gas-burning power stations is being designed by an executive from the Dublin-based company ESB International, who has been seconded into the Department of Energy. What does ESB do? Oh, it builds gas-burning power stations. On the same day we learned that a government minister, Nick Boles, has privately assured the gambling company Ladbrokes that it needn’t worry about attempts by local authorities to stop the spread of betting shops. His new law will prevent councils from taking action”.


The Economist (2012), a free market paper, also reports on the US Chamber of Commerce and its lobbying and influence in US politics:


“Small firms can get a lot out of the Chamber—its annual small-business summit is well-regarded, for instance. But some feel under-represented: most of the firms represented on the board are large. Others worry that they are being used as pawns. In a letter to a Philip Morris executive just after he took over, Mr Donohue said that small firms provide the foot soldiers, and often the political cover, for issues big companies want pursued, because Congress listens more to them than to big business”.


Traynor et al (2014) similarly reported on corporate lobbying in the EU, claiming that there are over 30,000 lobbyists operating in Brussels while Drutman (2015) argues US lobbying is ‘America’s Business’ leading to ‘politics becoming more corporate’.


Jamie Whyte argues for a genuine free market, unregulated and free from government, even in the banking sector whereas Ferdinand Mount argued that it would be a ‘brave thing to do’, and it is  “rather terrifying”. Whyte argues however that the market is a mechanism for experiment and trial and thus there is no place for state regulation and subsidy. Banks should be allowed to fail. However, not bailing out the banks in 2008 would have been a brave thing to do, argued Mount, but he thinks ‘free market’ ideology will return.  Luigi Zingales (2012) supports Whyte in arguing that too much intervention creates perverse incentives. The State’s involvement in protecting money lent by the banks, means we have socialised the losses and privatised the gains. Free markets should apply to banks, they should not be bailed out, and government protection of their lending, subsidises the bank’s risks.


Neoliberalism, if defined as ‘small state’ and free markets, does not exist. If however ‘neoliberalism’ is understood as a discourse including ideas around individual liberty within free markets with minimal state intervention including cutting welfare programmes  aimed at the ordinary people, then it does. Its function is to reshape society by using the rhetoric of free markets while at the same time controlling certain markets though state intervention. Neoliberalism for the poor, socialism for the rich.


We have the data on wealth and income distribution, land ownership, offshore tax wealth, derivative values, corporate subsidies and the connections between the capitalist class executive and the political power elites which includes the military-industrial complex.  We know what money is, that it is not a physical commodity or has material existence in any form whatsoever (Harvey 2008, Pettifor 2017) and is therefore not in short supply. We know that it is now nothing more than a set of social relationships, ‘promises’, and thus is in infinite supply, but it is backed by judicial and ultimately military power. One reason we perhaps do not join the dots is too many of us have swallowed neoliberal ideology that argues ‘free markets and individual effort brings success’ while ignorant of its real effect to cover the actions of Capital which operate in rigged markets.



What should current neoliberalism look like?


The Adam Smith Institute (ASI) ( is a free market think tank. It calls itself, “independent, non-profit and non-partisan…(to) promote neoliberal and free market ideas through research, publishing, media commentary and educational programmes”. Their priorities:


…are driven by a desire to rid the system of rent-seeking and inefficiencies that destroy wealth, and to create public services that are both innovative and in the hands of the people who use them, not the people who run them”.


The use of the word ‘neoliberal’ is interesting because it is not easily clear at first from the website that the ASI wants actually to be as neoliberal as Talbot’s ‘Nightwatchman’ state. It is not immediately obvious at first glance that they would wish to reduce public spending from 40% to 10% of GDP. However, the ASI published a blog on the level of public spending (as a % of GDP) that states that we are stuck with current levels “much as we ourselves would prefer the Hong Kong option”. Hong Kong’s spending ranges from 5.7% in 1960 to 10.9% and in 2015 was 9.15%. Therefore, buried in a blog an aim would be levels of spending equal to the ‘Nightwatchman’. The ASI believes in ‘market efficiency’:


  1. Low, simple, flat taxes that encourage investment and innovation, and hence economic growth (OK, need to read upon on that).


  1. A voucher-based education system that gives parents and schools complete freedom over how and where children are educated. (Hang on, vouchers, who is paying for that?)


  1. A privately-provided, publicly-funded healthcare system where patient outcomes, not NHS wages, are the focus. (what, publicly funded?)


  1. Freedom of trade with the world, and a liberal immigration system that is designed to work for migrants and natives alike.(open borders and requires ‘flexible’ labour markets?)


  1. A liberalised planning system that lets many more houses be built, so everyone can afford to own their own home. (so, environmental protection to go?)


  1. A simple welfare system based around a Negative Income Tax or Basic Income that tops up the wages of the poor and guarantees that work always pays. (basic Income…that’s more like it…something Marx would approve of)


  1. Free market money and an end to bailouts of private banks, in all their forms (Yes, nothing for a Marxist to disagree with).





The need to ‘rid the system of rent seeking’ echoes Thomas Picketty’s (2014) analysis of current capitalism and Marxist critiques of rentier forms of capitalism. The importance of wealth in attracting rent, is once again asserting itself as wealth grows faster than economic output. The ASI is sounding a bit marxist here.




If it is serious about a minimalist state and protection only for market transactions then free market/neoliberal ideology ought to be seeking to get private corporate and wealthy landowning snouts out of the State trough. In that, Marxists would agree. A free market should be just that. No bank bail outs, no subsidies for private schools in the form of charitable status; Oil, Gas and Nuclear power to stand on their own two feet; Farmers to earn from agriculture not government handouts; Aristocratic grouse moor owners likewise; Employers should pay what the market bears and not rely on working tax credits; Private health care companies should rely on what private individuals are willing to pay; Train operating companies should pay the full price of running the network and keep all of the profits from passengers while receiving no state funding; social care to be provided by charity, families or private individuals buying from care companies; private citizens should insure themselves for ill health and old age; Schools and Universities should compete in a market for students paid for by their parents or themselves with no state funding or through loans at market rates of interest; the road network sold off and motorists to pay to access; no housing benefit, no unemployment benefit, no sickness benefit, no pension unless paid for by private schemes, no business rates, no corporation tax; Free trade across borders with no tariffs, free movement of people, capital and services.  With the state off your back: “no income tax, no VAT, no money back, no guarantee…Good Bless Hooky Street” in a ‘Del Boy’ economy.  Libertarianism for all. Freedom from the State! Let the market decide!


A bit much?


The problem with neoliberalism and free market ideology is indeed a Hobbesian one: life could be ‘nasty, brutish and short’ as we compete one with another in a dog eat dog ‘ubermensch take the hindmost’ world.  And there’s the rub. Do they really mean it, or have they not only accepted a role for the state but embraced it for their own ends under the guise of ‘market efficiency’?



  winning % Turn Out Total who did not vote

at all

Total Electorate

Who voted for

Thatcher 1979 44% 76% 24% 33%
1983 42% 72% 28% 30%
1987 42% 75% 25% 31%
Major 1992 42% 77% 23% 32%
Blair 1997 43% 71% 29% 30%
2001 41% 60% 40% 25%
2005 35% 61% 39% 21%
Cameron 2010 36% 65% 35% 23%
2015 37% 66% 34% 24%


Figure 1. Voter support for free market discourse. Increasingly it is the case that nearly a third (range 23% to 40%) or more of voters were either apathetic, disillusioned, disengaged or too distracted to bother to give their support for any political party.



Figure 2.     1900-2010 spending  as % of GDP

























Figure 3. 1996-2017 spending as % of GDP.



The following two figures illustrates the degree of State involvement in the economy. The spending accounts for about 40% of GDP, leaving 60% going elsewhere. Spending on health, social care and social protection (pensions) accounts for £426 billion, that is over 50% of the total spend. Add £102 billion for education (total now is £528 Billion).


Who pays for that? Well, whoever pays Income tax, National Insurance, VAT, Council Tax and excise duties, accounts for £628 billion. What we have is redistribution from the 99.9% to the 99%.


‘Neoliberalism’ as rhetoric actually works for 0.01% – the plutocrats, the global capitalist executive, as Henry (2012) argues that anything between $21 to £31 trillion as of 2010 has been invested tax free in about 80 ‘offshore’ secrecy jurisdictions.





Figure 4. 2017 UK budget. Spending £802 billion




Figure 5 Revenues. £744 billion.


UK Budget: accessed 22 march 2017






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Bruff, I, (2017) Authoritarian Neoliberalism and the Myth of Free Markets. accessed 20 march 2017


Carlisle, S. (2001) ‘Inequalities in health: Contested explanations, shifting discourses and ambiguous policies’, Critical Public Health, 11: 3, 267 — 281



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Hall, S. (2011) The Neoliberal Revolution. Cultural Studies. 25:6, 705-728


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Office for National Statistics (2015) The Effects of taxes and benefits on household income : financial year ending 2015. accessed 20 march 2017


Pallasch, A. (2010) ‘Best 5 Minutes of my life; His ’09 CNBC rant against mortgage bail outs for ‘losers’ ignited the Tea Party movement’ Chicago Sun-Times.


Pettifor, A. (2017) The Production of Money; how to break the power of the banks. Verso. London


Picketty, T. (2014) Capital in the Twenty-First century. Harvard. United States


Press Association (2016) The Queen, aristocrats, and Saudi prince among recipients of EU farm subsidies. accessed 20 march 2017


Ranelagh, R. (1991) Thatcher’s People:  An Insider’s Account of the Politics, the Power, and the Personalities.  London:  HarperCollins.


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There is a critical need for Socio-Political awareness among undergraduate student nurses.

There is a need for Critical Socio-Political awareness among undergraduate student nurses.

“For the remainder of this century, the most worthy goal that nurses can select is that of arousing their passion for a kind of political activism that will make a difference in their own lives and in the life of our society.” (Peggy Chinn).

When I read this I almost literally fist pumped (I’m British, so we don’t actually do that – a bit too flamboyant!). I’m a lecturer in the UK teaching mainly from a public health/sociological perspective. I’ve noted that various writers have suggested or implied that politics and political awareness and knowledge is, or ought to be, a component of nursing knowledge and advocacy, if a rather neglected one. Nancy Roper referred to it as one of the 5 factors influencing the Activities of Living, while also lamenting its lack of application. Jill White developed Barbara Carper’s patterns of knowing to include it, Jane Salvage argued that it needs to be understood and acted upon. Celia Davies had written about the gendered nature of nursing and its ‘professional predicament’ and Micheal Traynor has written a whole book on politics and the profession.

Other writers include Adeline Falk Rafael, and Kath Melia long ago illustrated the contextualised pressures on student nurses while more recently Alexandra Hillman and colleagues have described how patient care can be compromised by the systems nurses work within. Alec Grant suggests politics is implicit in some qualitative research methods such as autoethnography. I have argued it is explicitly part of the sustainability agenda for nursing, while the social determinants/political determinants of health approach are predicated upon it. Other health concepts such as Barton and Grant’s health map, Lang and Rayner’s ecological public health domain and Ottersen et al’s focus on ‘global governance for health’ centre it for health care delivery and outcomes. The inequalities in health literature, for example “Fair society Healthy Lives” refer to health being a matter for social justice and fairness. Some authors have highlighted the health policy role for nurses, although advocating for nurse involvement in public policy making does so probably within accepted frames of reference devoid of critical concepts such as Foucault’s ‘governmentality’ or deeper analyses of, for example, managerialism, neoliberalism and the ‘capitalist class-command dynamic’.

In the education and curriculum development literature writers such as Stephen Sterling and David Orr suggest that teaching and learning should go beyond skills teaching in an instrumental fashion to address personal growth and social transformation. Others discuss ‘emancipatory pedagogy’ in nurse education which accords with aspects of ‘provocative pedagogy’ as advocated by Peter Morrall. The sociological literature, for example critical social theory, marxism and feminism of course, are wholly socio-political in nature. For nursing, each has also something to say about the interplay between health, illness, society and gender.

It is my contention that undergraduate nursing education is one in which politics is largely absent in nursing curricula and fails to equip student nurses with tools of analysis that renders them blind to social and political systems that are often unfair, unjust and oppressive. It also fails to politically socialise them. It is a self marginalised education denuded of any critical importance and largely ignores the vast sociological literature on health and illness. Nurse educators themselves, beyond a few ‘individual enthusiasts’ lack the requisite skills or concepts to engage, resulting in the lack of politics or health policy in nurse education. This is not to say nursing education, as it currently is, lacks importance as the requirement for clean, kind and compassionate care will be emphasised daily in seminars, lectures and tutorials.

This assertion might be supported if it can be shown that student nurses lack a critical understanding of the socio-political context in which they work. This is not to say however that student nurses are not political or are not interested in politics. Rather that their interest and understanding especially in relation to health (power, social justice, indigenous rights, post-colonialism, funding, inequalities, access, outcomes and determinants) may be lacking and only slightly better than their peer groups. Further, that any student nurse who is active, interested and knowledgeable is so despite not because of nursing education. I take it as self evident that this matters and not merely for the reason that it suits the capitalist executive and political power elites to have a huge number of health workers (600,000 registrants in the UK alone) ignorant, confused, uninterested and inactive in regards to the eco, social and political determinants of health. We have nurses schooled in the biomedical aspects of health delivery (or rather disease treatment), but rather less in the EcoPoliticoPsychoSocial (EPPS) approach to health. Student nurses are introduced to a BioPsychoSocial (BPS) model to health however, the curriculum process and learning experiences may often dilute this, emphasizing the Bio at the expense of the Psycho-Social while ignoring the Ecological. BPS becomes Bps.

Politics can be defined simply as ‘the process of influencing the scarce allocation of resources’. The Royal College of Nursing’s ‘Frontline First‘, while laudable, is also a very narrowly focused campaign which is about resource (staff) allocation. However, this does not go far enough as it fails to engage with more critical analyses of power and the legitimacy of the exercise of power, concerning itself with more ‘mundane’ issues of resource allocation within uncritically accepted frames of reference.

Politics is much more than knowing the manifestos of political parties or the internal machinations at Westminster/Washington. Political action is much more than the 5 year placing of crosses on ballot papers. Engaging in politics requires at least a critical understanding of power. Tony Benn, a UK Labour party stalwart now no longer with us, outlined questions to ask the powerful: We should know who has power, what power they have, where did they get it from, in whose interest do they wield it, to whom are they accountable and how do we get rid of them? This does not apply only to Westminster and the Whitehouse, but in every organisation including a hospital.

To test the hypothesis that student nurses lack a critical understanding of an EPPS approach to health, a survey of student nurses in two or three HEIs in the UK could be undertaken. There is a handy online tool called ‘political compass’ ( which is a self test indicating where one sits across two axes: Authoritarian left/right and Libertarian left/right.

Siobhan Mccullough undertook a survey in Northern Ireland in which 81% of nursing students claimed ‘not much knowledge’ of politics and 60% claimed either never or less than once week to follow politics in the media. Of course a caveat in this must be that politics in this context may mean ‘party/Westminster/Stormont politics rather than political issues. Bear in mind that Northern Ireland had been a highly politicised society suffering the ‘troubles’ since the 1960’s in which the Irish Republican Army fought a guerrilla/terrorist/resistance war against the British.

If Russell Brand’s  website, The Trews, is any guide, many people are very interested in politics, just not the dominant media fed variety of political talking heads, and the representatives of mainstream political parties. If we widen the definition of politics to include social movements around health, climate change and human rights, then according to Paul Hawken there is a global ‘Blessed Unrest’ involving millions of people, a global ‘environmental and social justice movement’ that does not appear in the mainstream media.

This will be a disparate group politically, nurses are not to be treated as an homogenous group for political purposes. For example, the free market nurse think tank Nurses for Reform (NFR):

“….long argued that the NHS is an essentially Stalinist, nationalised abhorrence and that Britain can do much better without its so called principles“.

Whether this group actually has a huge number of nurses supporting it, has been questioned. Nonetheless the point remains that nurses probably voted for all parties, and none, at the last 2015 election in the UK. I was recently informed by a colleague that while in the United States he visited a Nursing Faculty and discovered that many nurses in the Faculty voted for Donald Trump. If my memory is correct the figure was over 50%. He put it down to ‘localism’ and ‘regionalism’ – a distaste for the remote Washington elite. That, I can understand.

The close vote for Brexit in the UK is a paradox, given the reliance by the NHS on EU citizens for the day to day delivery of health care. We have no idea how many nurses voted leave, all we do know is that the leave voter is more likely to be older (55+), living in rural environments and in the smaller towns and cities outside the major metropolitan cities such as London, and white. The leave vote crossed party lines. They were affluent Eurosceptics, the older working class and a smaller group of disadvantaged anti-immigration voters.

The current context of rising ethno-nationalism, if not fascism, isolationism, nativism and tribalism within a world threatened by climate change requires an urgent response by everyone. We cannot be anything other than political. Stating ‘neutrality’ is still a political position. Disinterest, disengagement and disillusionment are political positions by default. However they are not viable positions for student nurses to take given the social, ecological and commercial determinants of health.

To what degree nurses are part of the Paul Hawken’s ‘blessed unrest’ is unknown, Siobhan Mcculloghs small survey does not answer that question. Perhaps we should start asking?