Category: neoliberalism

May’s ‘Free’ market blather is anti Corbyn rhetoric

Photo by Thomas Charters on Unsplash

Theresa May is ‘frit’.

Jeremy Corbyn argued (September 2017) that the neoliberal model of capitalism is broken.

In response, May argues:

“A free market economy, operating under the right rules and regulations, is the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created.  It was the new combination which led societies out of darkness and stagnation and into the light of the modern age. It is unquestionably the best, and indeed the only sustainable, means of increasing the living standards of everyone in a country. And we should never forget that raising the living standards, and protecting the jobs, of ordinary working people is the central aim of all economic policy. Helping each generation to live longer, fuller, more secure lives than the one which went before them. Not serving an abstract doctrine or an ideological concept – but serving the real interests of the British people”.

Theresa May is not original of course in her praise of capitalism and in praise of the activities of the bourgeoisie:

It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former migrations of nations and crusades”.

So wrote Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. Before anyone talked of ‘Globalisation’, and its discontents, Marx and Engels had this to say:

“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and selfsufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature”.

May is singing the praises of the ‘free market economy’ but with a very important caveat often missed in further elaboration and eulogising others. Look carefully, May is not talking about a free market at all, and as I have argued, this is rhetoric not reality for if we examine just how free market neoliberal capitalism actually is, we find it just is not.

May actually acknowledges this with the two words ‘rules and regulations’ which when actually examined sends shivers down the spines of free market ideologues. May’s government continues to spend 40% of GDP and subsidises industry. May even raises the spectre, if not of communism, but of industrial policy .  Perhaps she does so with an eye to China, a country whose interventions in key industries even the free market Economist appears to grudgingly accept has brought some successes. Marianna Mazzucato in ‘The Entrepreneurial State’ also clearly shows the role of the State in innovation as a rebuke to free market fundamentalism. I think May has also read this and understands the nature of the partnership between private and public sector.

As does Corbyn, difference between the two is neoliberalism. Both want State intervention, only one wants the interests of Labour to be taken into account. The other is in thrall to Capital. Neoliberalism in practice does not mean a free market (perish the thought!), it means State support for capital and withdrawl of state support for labour. Socialism for the rich, neoliberalism for the poor. May understands that many people are wise to this and thus fears their drift to Corbyn.

Hence this speech.

“Malefactors of Great Wealth” in the Oval office

I came across a quote in Oreskes and Conway’s (2014) ‘The Collapse of Western Civilization’ from a speech made by a national leader. At this point, I will not name or date the speechmaker. I thought it interesting as a view on the relationship between a nation state and its wealthy individuals and thus on the nature of democracy. What follows are parts of the speech with some commentary in bold. I think it speaks to us today.

 

“National sovereignty is to be upheld in so far as it means the sovereignty of the people used for the real and ultimate good of the people; and state’s rights are to be upheld in so far as they mean the people’s rights. Especially is this true in dealing with the relations of the people as a whole to the great corporations which are the distinguishing feature of modern business conditions.

 

The democratic deficit in both the USA and in Europe is that increasingly voters’ rights are being increasingly limited and bound by the rights of corporations and through the actions of corporate lobbying and political influence. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership  (TTIP) further threatened the nation state and citizen democracy by allowing corporations to sue governments if they implement social and environmental protection legislation that the corporation deems a barrier to trade. CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada) may well do the same. Thus, national sovereignty is being eroded by such new legislation that does not recognise the sovereignty of people. Globalised capital flows are also eroding national sovereignty through capital mobility and a lack of a globalised governance in such issues as tax evasion and climate protection.

 

“Experience has shown that it is necessary to exercise a far more efficient control than at present over the business use of those vast fortunes, chiefly corporate, which are used in interstate business”.

 

More efficient control is now seen as anti-business and anti-democratic by the corporate class executive and the political power elites within a neoliberal idiocy that wants smaller and smaller state interference.

“But there is a growing determination that no man shall amass a great fortune by special privilege, by chicanery and wrong doing, so far that it is in the power of legislation to prevent; and that a fortune, however amassed shall not have a business use that is antisocial”.

 

This determination has been somewhat been diluted as exemplified in Peter Mandelson’s famous quote that New Labour was “Intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” and Boris Johnson’s eulogy to the rich as an ‘oppressed minority’. In addition we have Tax laws favouring the 1% and their offshore havens and finance capital that rewards fancy financial products while being socially useless.

 

“Almost every big business is in engaged in interstate commerce and…must not be allowed…to escape thereby all responsibility either to state or to nation”.

 

Globalisation: this appears to mean that ‘If you don’t like our employment practices and wage structures then we will take our investments elsewhere; we will take advantage of the weakness of global labour and call it flexibility. You should be grateful you even have a job’.

 

“The…..people became firmly convinced of the need of control over these great aggregations of capital, especially where they had a monopolistic tendency…”

 

The people have become blind and disorganised, many have been persuaded to vote against their class interests. Many wish there was greater control, but are unsure of how to do it.

 

“There is unfortunately a certain number of our fellow countrymen who seem to accept the view that unless a man can be proved guilty of some particular crime he shall be counted a good citizen no matter how infamous a life he has led, no matter how pernicious his doctrines or his practices”.

 

CEO’s of certain banks, some hedge fund managers, asset strippers, CEO’s in the fossil fuel lobby and industry, climate change deniers…..many who form part of the corporate class executive who view corporate social responsibility either as marketing ploy and as a face to mask their antisocial and anti-environmental business practices. Their rewards are knighthoods and bonuses, because their activities are legal and increase shareholder value.

 

“There is a world-wide financial disturbance, it is felt in Paris and Berlin…on the New York stock exchange the disturbance has been particularly severe…it may well be the determination of the government…to punish certain malefactors of great wealth…”

 

They are conspicuous by their absence in criminal courts and yet no common thief has ever cost the country so much.

“….who shall rule this country – the people through their governmental agents or a few ruthless and domineering men, whose wealth makes them particularly formidable, because they hide behind breastworks of corporate organisation”.

 

We know the answer now. Government agents are discredited, lobbied or have become representatives of capital, not the people.

 

“I…hope that the legislation that deals with the regulation of corporations engaged in interstate business will also deal with the rights and interest of the wageworkers…it will be highly disastrous if we permit ourselves to be misled by the pleas of those who see in an unrestricted individualism the all sufficient panacea for social evils…”

 

Hayek, Friedman, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush, Blair, Cameron, May, Obama and Trump. The high priests of neoliberal individualism who first philosophised and then preside and encourage low wage, part time, zero hours economies and call this ‘labour flexibility’.

“The rich man who with hard arrogance declines to consider the rights and the needs of those who are less well off, and the poor man who excites or indulges in envy and hatred of those who are better off, are alien to the spirit of our national life. There exists no more sordid and unlovely type of social development than a plutocracy for there is a peculiar unwholesomeness on a social and governmental idea where wealth by and of itself is held up as the greatest good. The materialism of such a view finds its expression in the life of a man who accumulates a vast fortune in ways that are repugnant to every instinct of generosity and fair dealing or whether it finds expression in the vapidly useless and self-indulgent life of the inheritor of that fortune…”

 

We now have demonization of the working class, poverty porn on our TVs and victim blaming focusing on immigrants, welfare claimants and benefit cheats as a way of deflecting public anger on the state of public finances and the accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The 1% now blame the poor for their fecklessness and lack of hard work resulting in the poor man increasingly turning to such ‘tools’ as jihadist ideology in reprisals. Meanwhile the middle classes in the UK bleat on about inheritance tax that is set at such a level that most of them will not pay it in any case.

 

Turkeys are voting for Christmas. Lemmings are searching for cliffs.  Donkeys are asking for whips.

 

This speech was given by President Roosevelt 1907  – the words in bold are mine. There is nothing new under the sun, the same issues regarding wealth and its influence and practices exercised Roosevelt over a hundred years ago. Between then and now various policies and legislation were put in place to deal with those worries. However, we have now reverted back to a time when we can again speak of the ‘Malefactors of Great Wealth’. This time around Obama is aware of inequality as a ‘defining challenge of our time’ but is wary of raising it for fear of being accused of class warfare.

 

Roosevelt had no qualms about calling these people out for what they are:  “malefactors of great wealth”. One of them is now President.

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).

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.

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.

Uncaring.

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!


 

Justifications

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.


 

Freedom!

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.

 

 

 

 

Discourse

 

 

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) (https://www.adamsmith.org) 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.

 

Conclusion

 

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’?

Appendix

 

  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

http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/past_spending

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:  https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/597467/spring_budget_2017_web.pdf accessed 22 march 2017

 

 

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Are we selfish b*stards driven by our own self interest?

Self interest as a human nature driver for happiness?

The drive of self-interest for material well-being has been seen to be a fundamental aspect of human nature, particularly since the Enlightenment (Persky 1995) as seen in the works of Adam Smith (1776) and John Stuart Mill (1836). Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan placed self interest on the throne of human motivation.

Yet, 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 Epicurus, Jeremy 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.

Miller (1999) argues that a different view of human agency acknowledges the power of other motives, such as public spiritedness ( Etzioni, 1988 ; Mansbridge, 1994 ), empathy (Batson, 1991 ; Kohn, 1990 ), commitment ( Sen, 1977 ), and justice ( Lerner, 1980 ; Tyler, Boeckmann, Smith, & Huo, 1997 ).

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’. This is a concept understood in classical economics as ‘homo economicus’ – the rational actor in a market weighing up costs and benefits of consuming decisions according to price signals.  Neoliberalism may draw upon neoclassical economic theory and may draw upon theories of human behavior which suggest we are more motivated by rational action for self interest. It has also been used to justify the current economic order and also as an explanation for inequalities. Self Interest as expressed through ‘free’ markets is therefore not only an explanation but also a guiding imperative for policy or ‘ideology’. Adam Smith has particularly been appropriated to the cause alongside the later economists, Hayek and Friedman.

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.

This is a point picked up by Becker (2007) who 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. Graham Scambler, following on from Margaret Archer’s theory of ‘modes of reflexivity’, argues that we have entered an era where plutocrats and oligarchs 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 every day 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).

 

 

 

 

 

Becker, G. (2007) The Competitive edge of Moral leadership. International Management Review Vol 3 No. 1

Evans A (2017) The Myth Gap. What happens when evidence and reason aren’t enough. Eden Project Books.

Frankl V (2006) orig. 1946. Man’s search for meaning. Beacon Press. Boston.

Hall S (2011) THE NEO-LIBERAL REVOLUTION, Cultural Studies, 25:6, 705-728

Mill, J.S. (1836) On the Definition of Political Economy, and on the Method of Investigation Proper to It, London and Westminster Review, October.

Miller D (1999) The Norm of Self Interest. American Psychologist 54:12: 1053-1-6-

Layard, R (2009) Now is the time for a less selfish capitalism FT.com 11 March http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3f6e2d5c-0e76-11de-b099-0000779fd2ac.html#ixzz1AcXchHYm

Persky, J. (1995) Retrospectives: The Ethology of Homo Economicus. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 9, No. 2. pp. 221-231

Snyder C, Lopez S and Pedrotti J (2007) Positive Psychology: The scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths. Sage. London

Smith, A. (1759) Theory of Moral Sentiments. http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smMSCover.html  accessed 9th January 2011

Smith, A. (1776) On the Division of Labour. The Wealth of Nations, Books I-III. New York Penguin Classics, 1986, page 119.

Climate change is an unsolvable wicked social problem?

Climate change is an unsolvable wicked social problem?

 

 

The following outline of climate change as a wicked problem (Rittel and Weber 1973) is based on a reading of Reinar Grundmann’s (2016) ‘Focus on Climate change and the social sciences’. The work of Jurgen Habermas (1984, 1987) and Wolfgang Streeck (2016) contextualises the exposition of climate change as a wicked social problem and this paper agrees with Grundmann’s analysis that there are no easy answers for the short or medium term, here defined as within 50 years, and adds that perhaps there might not ever be. Thus we are adopting Gramscian ‘pessimism of the intellect’ which requires urgent work on adaptation for a very different and perhaps dystopian world by the end of the century.

 

Regardless of its genesis, whether that be human induced or natural cycles, climate change requires human responses. Mitigation is now probably too late, as we’ve in all likelihood passed 400 ppm of carbon dioxide permanently. This means we are locked into temperature rises above the 2 degree ‘safe’ level. This is taking us into a new era, the Anthropocene, beyond a ‘safe operating space for humanity (Rockstrom et al 2009). Therefore we will have to plan for, and more urgently talk about, adaptation, disaster management and conflict resolution. However and in what manner we come together, or not, to address the fact of climate change and all of the other ecological challenges, this a ‘wicked social problem’ exacerbated by contemporary changes in the geopolitical, social and technological order (Streeck 2016, Harari 2016). The Anthropocene may well be characterised as a period of insecurity, indeterminancy and dissipation of the social order into a miasma of dystopia. Human societies are experiencing the dialectic between risks arising from modernity and the solutions put forward to manage those risks (Beck 1986).

 

A wicked problem is the sort of problem that is inherently different from the sort of ‘tame’ problems that natural scientists and engineers grapple with.

 

First of all, ‘wicked social problems’ are never solved once and for all. They can only be better managed. Each ‘solution’ invokes another problem to address. Take, for example, crime. To achieve a society with a 0% crime rate involves either redefining what crime is, leaving unsolved the social problems certain activities previously defined as ‘crime’ invokes, or it requires an enormous and deep level of surveillance and loss of liberty that would have unintended consequences for human relationships and politics. Like a game of ‘whack a mole’ other social, political and philosophical problems would arise from such an answer.

 

A ‘tame’ problem would be an equation to solve, analysing a chemical compound, designing a bridge or checkmate in 5 moves (Grundmann 2016). Tame problems allow us to know what the measure of success is when they are solved, and success criteria are known beforehand. They have a ‘stopping rule’. The success criteria of wicked problems like crime are inherently political and often underpinned by cultural values within a power matrix of vested interests.

 

‘Wicked’ here means resistance to solution rather than evil. The problem is difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing elements to them that are also difficult to recognise. The elements making up a wicked problem may be interdependent within a complex system and thus solving one element may exacerbate another aspect of the system and/or reveal another problem.

 

For climate change what are the ‘success criteria’? What indicators, metrics, outcomes or empirical observations can we make that allows us to claim success? This may depend on how we define climate change. Do we use the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) definitions (Grundmann 2016)?

 

The UNFCCC define it as “a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity, that alters the composition of the global atmosphere, and that is in addition to natural climate variability over comparable time periods”.

 

The IPCC define it as “any change in climate over time whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity”.

 

The UNFCCC focuses on human activity driving climate change, while leaving to one side natural variability. The IPCC encompasses both. Therefore climate policy would address anthropogenesis (UNFCCC) or everything (IPCC). In each case we would still need to construct measures of ‘success’.

 

If we could agree and state that the measure is ppm of C02 in the atmosphere then action would naturally be channelled towards addressing that figure. It is by no means clear that this would or could ‘solve’ the social problem of climate change such actions might entail. Climate change does not have a ‘stopping rule’ characteristic of tame problems. Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide might look like one but there are other measures such as carbon budgets, global average warming temperatures or heat content in the oceans. There is also fierce resistance to curbing carbon emissions and environmental regulation in some quarters based on free market and libertarian arguments (e.g. Cato Institute 2016), despite the agreement signed at COP21 in Paris in 2015.

 

 

The wider context in which climate change solutions operate.

 

The expression of climate change as a problem, and climate change solutions, interact with the social, cultural and political power context in which they operate. They are not ontologically separate from the social or the material and they operate within complex adaptive systems. Knowledge/power discourses frame their expression, their feasibility and their acceptability within often hegemonic, though not unchallenged, frames of reference.

 

That context is variously called late modernity, post modernity, post industrial, disorganised, financial, rentier, or neoliberal capitalism. Wolfgang Streeck (2016) pace Antonio Gramsci, suggests this context is actually a post-capitalist interregnum in which the old system is dying but a new social order cannot yet be born. Streeck calls the current order one of multi-morbidity, climate change being one of many frailties as we head towards social entropy, radical uncertainty and indeterminancy. Streeck argues that the current context is anchored in a variety of interconnected developments:

 

  1. Intensification of distributional (capital v labour) conflict due to declining growth
  2. Rising social inequality
  3. Vanishing macroeconomic manageability
  4. Steadily increasing indebtedness (private and sovereign)
  5. Pumped up money supply (from quantitative easing)
  6. Possibility of another financial crisis as per 2008
  7. The suspension of democracy
  8. Slowdown of social progress
  9. Rising Oligarchy and Plutocracy
  10. Governments’ inability to limit the commodification of labour, money or nature
  11. Omnipresence of corruption
  12. Intensified competition in winner takes all markets
  13. Unlimited opportunities for self enrichment (for the 1%)
  14. Erosion of public goods and infrastructure
  15. The failure of the US to establish a stable global order
  16. Public cynicism towards economics and politics.
  17. Rising populist nationalism and the spectre of fascism and isolationism in the US
  18. Fracturing political blocs and alliances
  19. Erosion of Democratic legitimacy ad thus a democratic deficit

 

 

To that:

 

  1. Health Inequalities.
  2. Potential Ecosystem collapse.
  3. Disruptive technologies: Automation, Artificial Intelligence and digitalisation.

 

 

There are countervailing voices. There are those who see a better future for humanity, placing belief in progress (Norberg 2016), reducing global violence (Pinker 2011), the ability of growth based capitalism to solve problems (Ben-Ami 2010, Goklany 2007, 2009) and the citing of improvements in key indicators such as reductions in infant mortality (see Hans Rosling’s ‘gapminder’ 2016). Added to this are of course the voices of politicians who promise to either “make America great again” , “A country that works for everyone” or “Russia as a Normal Great Power”. Extrapolating from the past into the future is of course inductive logic and is thus open to its critique. This also applies to the negative descriptions of the current state of affairs. The task remains to consider which view will prove correct? Not an easy question partly due to many issues being wicked problems.

 

These latter political narratives may be examples of ‘systematic distorted communication’, i.e. voices and discourses aimed at achieving very particular political ends inimicable to that aimed towards mutual understanding and social integration. This form of communication, according to Habermas (1984, 1987), involves one party being self deceived, it is a form of communication in which power differentials operate and are invisible.

 

For example, the Cato Institute argues on environmental regulation:

 

“Science can inform individual preferences but cannot resolve environmental conflicts. Environmental goods and services, to the greatest extent possible, should be treated like other goods and services in the marketplace. People should be free to secure their preferences about the consumption of environmental goods such as clean air or clean water regardless of whether some scientists think such preferences are legitimate or not. Likewise, people should be free, to the greatest extent possible, to make decisions consistent with their own risk tolerances regardless of scientific or even public opinion”.

 

On the face of it who would argue against freedom to decide one’s own risk tolerance? ‘Freedom’ is a public good is it not? What this statement ignores is the fact that some very powerful and well resourced ‘others’ are more ‘free’ to exercise risk tolerance, they are also more ‘free’ to engage in activities that involve ‘externalities’ – pushing the cost of one’s exercise of freedom onto others. How free were the victims of Union Carbide’s Bhopal ‘death by negligence’ of 1984 where at least 2000 died as a result of the plant’s gas leak? Union Carbide’s freedom to operate involved a power imbalance that denied the citizens from exercising their ‘risk tolerance’. How free are Londoners in exercising their ‘risk tolerance’ to nitrous oxide pollution from vehicle exhausts responsible for 9,500 deaths per year (Vaughan 2015)?

 

The Cato Institute argues it is a research organisation conducting independent non partisan research on a range of policy issues. It clearly states however that principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace underpin its work. Apart from the nebulous ‘peace’ (who is not for peace?), those principles are very clearly part of the neoliberal imaginary and are thus as ideological and partisan as many other organisations. On funding, Cato states on its home page that it receives ‘no government funding’. What it fails to clarify is who exactly funds it. On page 41 of its 2016 annual report there are only numbers of $ donated while preferring to refer to individuals, corporate and foundations as funding streams. However, Cato was founded by the Koch brothers, billionaire owners of Koch industries, who reportedly believe in lowering corporate and personal taxes, minimal social security and less oversight of industry (Mayer 2010). Hardly a non partisan viewpoint.

 

 

Habermas’ theory suggests that communicative action serves to transmit and renew cultural knowledge, in a process of achieving mutual understandings. It then coordinates action towards social integration and solidarity. Communicative action is also the process through which people form their identities. The current context suggests that communicative action, orientated towards the requirement for social integration for action on climate change, is extremely fragile.

 

Gross (2010) gave three examples of systematic distorted communication:

 

  1. The pervasive employment of Nazi language in Europe in the 1930’s in Europe.
  2. The everyday, routine use of sexist language.
  3. The prescription languages and practices of Physicians influenced by drug company promotions.

 

We may consider also:

 

  1. The narrative on individual responsibility for health
  2. The absolute requirement for deficit and debt reduction as a goal of policy
  3. Free market liberalism in the US and the UK
  4. An unaffordable NHS in the UK
  5. Immigration, asylum and refugee control
  6. Fossil fuel subsidies and continued extraction.
  7. The hegemonic Nuclear Deterrence Theory
  8. Koch brothers support for the Cato Institute on liberty, small government and free markets.

 

 

Climate change solutions arise and operate within this context. Today we have no easy solutions or even signposts that indicate success on progress to either mitigation or adaptation. It may even be the case that we are actually chasing rainbows. If we are entering a period where social institutions are breaking down, where system integration disappears leaving a mass of individuals to find individual solutions to the myriad problems they face, without grand integrative narratives to provide guidance, then social cohesion breaks down and Habermasian ‘communicative action’ dissipates in the face of the onslaught from the systematic distorted communication of power interests.

 

 

Beck U (1986) Risk Society. Towards a new Modernity. London Sage. (1992 edition)

 

Ben-Ami, D. (2010) Ferrari’s for All – In defence of economic progress. University of Bristol. Policy Press.

 

Cato Institute (2016) Environmental Regulation (online) http://www.cato.org/research/environmental-law-regulation accessed 13th October 2016

 

Goklany I (2007) The Improving State of the World: Why we are living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives on a cleaner Planet. Washington. Cato Institute

 

Goklany I. (2009) Is climate change the “defining challenge of our age”? Energy Environment, 20:279-302.

 

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Pinker S (2011) The better angels of our nature. A history of violence and humanity. London. Penguin.

 

Rittell,H. and Weber, M. (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, pp. 155–169, Policy Sciences, Vol. 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Amsterdam

 

Rockstrom, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, A., Chapin, F. S., III, Lambin, E. F., Lenton, T. M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H. J., Nykvist, B., de Wit, C. A., Hughes, T., van der Leeuw, S., Rodhe, H., Sorlin, S., Snyder, P. K., Costanza, R., Svedin, U., Falkenmark, M., Karlberg, L., Corell, R. W., Fabry, V. J., Hansen, J., Walker, B., Liverman, D., Richardson, K., Crutzen, P. & Foley, J. A. (2009) ‘A safe operating space for humanity’. Nature, 461 (7263). pp 472.

Rosling H (2016) MDG 4 Reducing Child Mortality available at https://www.gapminder.org/downloads/mdg-4-reducing-child-mortality/ accessed 13th October 2016

 

Streeck W (2016) The post-capitalist interregnum: the old system is dying, but a new social order cannot yet be born. Juncture 23 (2): 68-77

 

Vaughan A (2015) Nearly 9,500 people die each year in London because of air pollution. The Guardian (online) 15th July https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/15/nearly-9500-people-die-each-year-in-london-because-of-air-pollution-study accessed 13th october 2016

A Fistfull of Dollars

Sir Philip Green is pictured alongside Kendall Jenner, Cara Delevingne and Rita Ora at some fashion award bash. They are all very glamorous of course, Green aside who has his arms around the waists of Cara and Rita. This picture is all you need to know about the self appointed ‘elite’ who surf the world’s wealth creation, sucking it up for themselves while tossing aside the concerns and interests of those who actually do the work as just so much detritus upon a sewer soaked sea. MPs are wondering if ‘Sir’ Philip should lose his knighthood. That’s like considering if the mongrel dog, caught shafting the pedigree bitch, is able to exercise any judgment beyond the base instinct to fuck something animate or inanimate as long as it has a squeaky or moist hole and is thus fit to guard the door to the meat counter in Waitrose. I’d sooner accept Casanova’s claim to celibacy than accept Sir “let’s fuck the pensioners” Green’s claim to any title except “greedy bastard“. Meanwhile the tax payer may have to again fork out for boardroom fuckwittery to the tune of £36 million in lost VAT, corporation tax and employee claims. Green’s company Arcadia is also owed money but as a secured creditor will get it back.

When are these c*nts going to stop taking the free market piss? I await the acolytes of the Adam Smith Institute to cry foul and actually quote their hero’s ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments‘. I suspect that the enlightened Scot would take a dim view of spivs, suggesting that not only should they not run a market stall but also that they take their not so ‘invisible hands’ out of the pockets of the populace and instead grip their own balls till their own eyes bleed.

Glamour and wealth are of course often seen together, Kendall, Cara and Rita being more known for the curves of their arses than their philanthropic acumen. This might be unfair, they might have invisible charitable foundations that support dolphin insemination, kitten cuddling and providing Jimmy Choos for cancer ridden orphans. Green provides the wealth in this picture and in comparison, the three clothes hangers are paupers notwithstanding the implied pot of gold hidden between their legs. Glamour provides the facility to make more money than the Royal Mint simply by flashing itself, and then adorning itself with the vacuous products of the glitterati of the fashion ‘industry’ while attracting billionaire parasites with the ethics and sensitivity to other’s feelings of a berserker Viking at a village gang rape.

There’s nothing quite so attractive as a pile of banknotes. Although Green’s face resembles a crinkly fiver whose history includes being crunched in the pocket of a pock marked pimp, exchanged by a sailor for a heroin riddled blow job in the back of a cab and used in lieu of a twenty for some surreptitious snorting off a crack whore’s tits, it also references the wad he has stashed in his wife’s name in tax haven Monaco. A wife by the way who has recently benefited to the tune of £53 million by selling BHS’s HQ’s London property to…her husband’s company Arcadia. Lady Green controlled the sale through an offshore company: Wilton Equity in the British Virgin Islands. Money loves money.

The three models, rictus grinning as he no doubt groped their arses while the camera clicks, know this. The crinkles are reinterpreted as noughts on a bank account. They’ve already sold their bodies once in their professional lives in exchange for the dubious status of ‘pretty young thing’, so standing next to a pile of cash is second nature. Who cares that this cash is as clean as a dung beetle’s food choice. Where’s there’s muck….

While Green is washing his hands, Chapell, who bought BHS for a quid, is accused by his own managers of “having his fingers in the till”. Mike Ashley at Sports Direct and the ex CEO of Boots have followed VWs disregard for the public and their workers. Millionaire playboys play politics arguing over the pork barrel and look the other way while Green’s company, Arcadia who owns Topshop, Wallis and Dorothy Perkins, mismanage their finances. Their pension funds also have a shortfall of £151 million. Maxwell threw himself overboard but it was the Mirror pensioners who really drowned that day.

Meanwhile successive governments could not give any less of a shit. It’s called neoliberalism. Neo as in ‘new’ and liberalism as in ‘freedom’, meaning allowing economic freedom for the strong to do as they please and the weak to suffer what they must.

By all means fuck us over, but don’t try and pretend that this is glamorous. There aren’t enough tinsel town tits in heaven to detract from the fact that your grubby little paws have been fisting us. The tears in our eyes cannot blind us to where the pain is really coming from. One day when your fist is forcefully removed, you might find that the shit on your hands will not wash off.

Hunt’s agenda

The ideology of health care provision.

 

 

Amid the junior doctors strike of 2016, the health secretary Jeremy Hunt was embroiled in a conflict with the BMA over doctors’ contracts designed to address a 7day NHS. This is the surface issue but sits upon a deeper ideological conflict, one that many of the doctors will be unaware of but will suspect, especially if they have read Alysson Pollock’s works on the privatisation and corporatisation of the NHS. Hunt argued he has a ‘mandate’ to introduce a 7 day NHS and perhaps realises that if this policy cannot be introduced, the balance of power over the future of the NHS will swing back towards the BMA and other health professional groups. The irony is that the BMA opposed the introduction of the NHS back in 1948 but now is one of the strongest supporters. Since 2012 however, the NHS has been dismantled and been replaced with privatised and corporatized service provision, with ‘patient choice’ and ‘patient safety’ being used as the ideological veil which masks the corporate face. People have not noticed this detail because so far ‘free at the point of delivery’ is still in place, but this principle, along with universal and comprehensive cover, is under threat. The government remain the almost monopoly purchaser of health services on our behalf but for how long? The care home crisis points in the direction of travel. This will be withdrawal of state funding and reliance on private provision which will not be ‘free at the point of delivery’.

 

 

 

In 2005 ‘Direct Democracy – an agenda for a new model party’ was published, the authors include the current health secretary Jeremy Hunt. It is not government policy and does not represent the full range of conservative views. The Tory party itself is home to those of a ‘one nation’ persuasion who mix ideas of ‘noblesse oblige’ with a modicum of a social welfare, safety net, public service ethos. It is also home to ‘neoliberalism’ rooted in anti State sentiment based on freedom of the individual and free market economics. This ideology can be clearly seen in the 2012 book ‘Britannia Unchained – Global lessons for growth and prosperity’ which argues for further free market economics based on a bonfire of employment laws. The book suggests:

 

“The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”

 

This one quote conveys the disdain neoliberals have in general for those less well paid, less “successful” and less powerful than themselves. Boris Johnson’s speech in 2013 on the impossibility of equality being based on differences in IQ, implied some people are too stupid to get ahead. This individualises issues, while ignoring structures of class, gender, ethnicity and privilege. He said:

 

And for one reason or another – boardroom greed or, as I am assured, the natural and god-given talent of boardroom inhabitants – the income gap between the top cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever. I stress: I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”

 

Two ideas are core here: that the working class and the poor are so because they are more lazy and stupid than the ruling class, and that the answer to this is to increase competition and to use inequality as incentives for personal improvement. Of course said like that to the electorate, it would seriously threaten voter support. Instead the discourse of market efficiency, effectiveness and choice is used to justify privatization and corporatization of public services. The message to the public is clear: take responsibility for education, health, social care and housing. It is down to individuals and families to provide by working hard and being prudent.

 

The arguments over the NHS have to be seen within this wider context. At heart, many in the current Tory party viewed the state run NHS as anathema. As such they have succeeded in dismantling the post war structure of the NHS following the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This allowed for private providers to bid for the provision of health services but keeps in place, for now, principles such as ‘free at the point of delivery’.

 

According to Alysson Pollock, the Health and Social Care Act 2012:

 

  1. Removed the duty of the Secretary of State for health to secure and provide health care for all.
  2. Introduced US style insurance schemes.
  3. Gives the secretary of state legal powers to create a market, allows providers to pick and choose which patients will get care, services to be provided and what will be charged for.

 

A market has been introduced into health service delivery, and markets operate through risk selection and appraisal resulting in fragmentation of provision. That is to say a market provider needs to pick and choose which patients are profitable in competition with other providers. We now have clinical commissioning groups modelled on insurance based lines. Those with high risk or multiple needs will be expensive to provide care for.

 

The ‘NHS’ is now fragmented in which:

 

  1. Services are broken up and put out to tender to commercial companies.
  2. Commercial shareholders have new legal powers to decide who gets care, what the get and what they pay for.

 

This current state of affairs is not enough for neoliberal thought. So what is the vision of this group of neoliberal Tories? How did this happen?

 

Direct Democracy argues:

 

“Several other countries operate political systems based on localism and direct democracy. Two outstanding examples – one much smaller than the United Kingdom and one many times larger – are Switzerland and the United States. In their different ways, both states respect the principles of the dispersal of power, the direct election of public officials and the use of the referendum as a legislative tool. Our proposals for the devolution of power directly to the citizen – notably in the fields of education and health care – have also been successfully trialled abroad, often in unlikely places. No less corporatist a state than Sweden has introduced a form of school voucher, while almost every state in Europe, at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall, now provides for an element of health insurance”.

 

This goes to the heart of the matter, note how the US and the Swiss are held up as models. The principles of localism and direct democracy are invoked as justifications hiding their argument and belief about market mechanisms. The United States is a beacon for the dispersal of power? One cannot expect anything other than this nonsense from neoliberals, wilfully ignorant as they surely must be of the work of C Wright Mills, Herbert Marcuse, Jurgen Habermas, David Harvey, Thomas Picketty, Graham Scambler, and Yanis Varoufakis? This also ignores the literature on social inequalities and inequalities in health and the social and political determinants of health. At this point we must also point to the wealth of feminist and post-colonial literature on ‘power’. In short it is an invocation of bourgeois patriarchal perspective on the exercise of power which blinds them to actuality.

 

As for Switzerland, the OECD reports that compared to the UK’s 9.3 % of GDP, the Swiss pay 11.4%. The UK used to pay under 6% but has seen a rise, not totally due to actual health spending but to cater for administration and profit for private companies. The US spends 16.9% (OECD 2014) and has introduced ‘Obama care’ to address the plight of uninsured americans. Obama care is an outcome of class struggle which has been hotly contested in the ‘land of the free’.

 

 

 

‘Direct Democracy’ claims to hold to three principles:

 

  1. Decisions should be taken as closely to the people they affect.
  2. Law makers should be directly accountable.
  3. The citizen should enjoy maximum freedom from state control.

 

 

On the face of it who would argue with that? Certainly not anarchists, socialists or libertarians. The problem is that these principles exist within a social and historical context, one characterised by imbalances of power along class, gender and ethnic lines and this cannot deal with the reality on the ground. Hunt et al are blind to the context in which ‘men of wealth buy men of power’, a world in which the capitalist class executive and the political power elite exercise a new class/command dynamic which neoliberal ‘reforms’ ushered in since about the 1980’s especially in the US and UK.

 

Yanis Varoufakis (2016) clearly discusses the effects of such things as the “Nixon Shock’ on the post war global financial settlement, the outcome being that the ‘strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’. Global health corporations need new markets and looked to the UK’s NHS as a source of rich pickings. This is the context in which Hunt’s bourgeois democracy operates.

 

  • Decisions about who provides health care, what health care looks like and where it is provided are taken by unelected clinical commissioning groups operating within a profit driven market context.
  • Patients do not have an electable secretary of state who has a statutory obligation to provide health care services.
  • Freedom from state control for health service provision has morphed into control via corporate decision making.

 

 

Direct Democracy (2005) argues:

 

‘The problem with the NHS is not one of resources. Rather it is the system remains centrally run, state monopoly designed over half a century ago’ (p74).

 

Clearly this is a statement that ‘the system’ needs to go. The resource issue in the context of increasing demands and costs is brushed aside. This remark now looks questionable at best in 2016.

 

“We should fund patients either through the tax system or by way of universal insurance, to purchase health care from the provider of their choice. Those without means would have their contributions supplemented or paid for by the State.” (p74).

 

Holding on to a notion of ‘free at the point of delivery’ implied here, it is clear that private provision is to be introduced. The language is anodyne, context free, taking no notice of what private provision might look like, who would provide it and what the consequences of the inevitability of a market might be. The State at least has a role in providing for the poor. The writers of this document are part of the political power elite, or may wish to be, and the coherence of interests with the corporate/capitalist class executive are hidden. Those who sell insurance have not been lobbying for this change then? A bit of research into who benefits from this change might prove insightful. Are there links between corporate interest and the politicians who are driving the changes?

 

Hunt et al feared the NHS would only be second to the US in terms of % of GDP spent. This has not occurred. They report a study ranking the UK 18 of 19 countries. This is selective in the extreme, and is now way out of date.

 

Many of the critiques they evoke of the NHS are a result of the rise of new public management, or ‘managerialism, introduced into the system by previous governments both New Labour and Tory. For about three decades managerial control, targets and distrust of professionals have eroded the ability of the NHS to be the best in the world.  The judgment about the efficiency and effectiveness of health services partly depends on what criteria are being used to judge them. The % spend of GDP is a crude figure as it hides a plethora of costs and profits.

 

Other measures of success could include universality of access, comprehensiveness of cover, mortality and morbidity outcomes, and the publics’ safety and satisfaction.

 

Mark Britnall has written ‘In search of the Perfect Health System’ (2015) of the complexity of comparing health systems. Britnall is no Tory ideologue and describes his approach as more brown mud than blue sky thinking:

 

He also wrote in 2011 before the 2012 Act:

 

“[o]f course, the vast majority of care – quite rightly in the UK context – will always be provided by public sector organisations (currently, about 95% of it) and will be paid out of taxation” and “[t]he issue of competition, which now seems to be conflated with privatisation, is unhelpful and misleading and, at best, only a small part of reform. Competition can exist without privatisation and the NHS can maintain its historic role in funding care while dealing with a richer variety of providers – public sector, social enterprise and private organisations”.

 

This 2011 comment predated the 2012 Act and can be seen as a statement of intent than actuality on his part. In 2010 there was some controversy over his statements in the US about private provision.

 

One area in which private provision is facing severe challenges is the care home sector.

 

Roy Lilley, writes a daily blog, and has considerable experience in the health service and with private sector organisations. He is no left wing radical. He writes in ‘They don’t matter’ (3rd May 2016) that success in private provision in the community has been ‘patchy’, citing Circle’s loss of £5 million and the paying of another £2 million to get out of the Hinchinbrooke contract, while SERCO and Bupa ‘bailed out’ of provision leaving Virgin clinging on. He argues that the private sector can be nimble and quick to adapt, but of course needs to make a profit.

 

However, the largest care home provider, Four Seasons, is in talks to ‘restructure its debt’ as they face a 39% drop in profits. Most of their ‘customers’ have their fees paid by social services. This amounts to some local authorities paying £385 per week which is just not enough. The living wage is also an issue for them, they have over 30,000 staff but with no way of adjusting prices to pay for the increase and with no operating surplus. It has a debt of £510 million. If Four Seasons go broke they have 450 care homes at risk.

 

The bottom line is that health and social care costs money. There is not enough money in the system to pay for the care required. Some private families are paying £1,250 per week. Company Watch data which covers 20,000 homes, indicates that there is a funding black hole of half a billion pounds. This is market failure due to inadequate funding by design. It is almost as if the government is deliberately forcing people to find the money themselves either through savings, insurance or property while state funding through local authorities is slowly wound down.

 

Mark Britnall’s approach is scholarly, based in experience managing health care organisations and a deep knowledge and overview of many health systems. However, is Britnall sufficiently aware of the political economy of neoliberalism and its agenda for health?  Roy Lilley’s highlighting of the care home crisis clearly shows the political, austerity driven nature of the issue.

 

‘Direct Democracy’ and ‘Britannia Unchained’ are ideological approaches to health and social care. Whether Hunt has the temper for addressing Britnall’s insights or whether he still stands by the document he co-wrote is anyone’s guess. However, I know where the smart money would go. His face down of the doctors is more to do with power and who exercises it rather than the future of the health service as we knew it. If the neoliberals can get away with it, then free at the point of delivery will be severely challenged perhaps using spurious arguments stigmatising drug users, alcoholics, smokers, the obese, self harmers, self inflicted sports injuries, prostitutes, the promiscuous and Johnson’s ‘stupid’ as a wedge driven between the deserving and the undeserving ill. The care home crisis indicates that older people are ignored and the costs increasingly privatised as the state withdraws, or should we say abdicates, support. The NHS was to socialise risk, to spread its cost across the whole population. Instead we are rapidly moving towards individualising risk and private insurance based provision as the state withers away.

 

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