Sunday 23rd July. A veranda. A jug of the finest fruity juice. A touch of sunshine. And an education session on the perils of Neoliberalism. This was the second of Dave Boyden’s Political Education sessions; the first outlining the History of the Labour Party which Dave has delivered to both Momentum Halton and Warrington South.
It began with an imperative: imagine if the people who lived in the Soviet Union had never heard of ‘Communism’. If an idea doesn’t have a name, how can it be discussed, improved, challenged or eradicated?
Political parties and economic forces have been living under the umbrella of Neoliberalism since Thatcher and Reagan came to power. Since then, any alternatives to this have been widely debunked, even following the 2007 financial crash, which essentially signalled the end of free-market economics.
But let’s take a step back. What is Neoliberalism? That the majority of students leave our schools at sixteen without a solid understanding of this force which will govern their lives is a tragic failing of the education system.
Neoliberalism is a system which promotes:
- Freedom to the ‘market’. That is, economic structures and corporate interests are left to operate with freedom.
- The idea is that by doing this, companies can compete free from government control, leading to better prices for consumers and a ‘trickle-down’ system: those free to make as much money as they please will enable their wealth to pass down to those below- their employees on minimum wage, for example.
- The systems therefore depends upon little government regulation. When we bailed out the banks following the financial crash, governments did not start to regulate bankers’ bonuses or profits. Instead, we allowed them to carry on as they did before: that’s the premise of Neoliberalism- that freedom is essential. We must ask ourselves, is that a system we’re happy to operate under? One where the very people who caused austerity and forced tax payers to bail them out are free to continue to make the very same mistakes? How does Neoliberalism protect the people the government are supposed to represent?
- It also promotes privatisation at the expense of nationally-owned services. The dangers of NHS privatisation are already apparent. Since the Tories gained power in 2010, our Green Energy has been sold off to external companies, including a Danish company, which is currently using our tides to raise money for its taxpayers. Energy companies compete to bring us the exact same product: you cannot get better gas or water than your neighbour, regardless of which company you choose. Some industries are better off being government-owned, allowing profits and returns to go back to the people who pay for the service in the first place.
The Labour party has made a strong stance on the nationalisation of the railways – and halting the privatisation of the NHS. Yet the word ‘nationalisation’ has dirty connotations for a society raised on the promise of Neoliberalism. Freedom, choice, competition, value: all concepts associated with free-market economics. These are the economics which allows three coffee shops to compete on the same corner: a win for modernity, we cry. Look how much choice we have!
Meanwhile, our planet is dying; wasted resources are piling up in seas, rivers and landfills and our future is in the hands of people primarily driven by short-term gains and long-term profits.
We live in a society which gives more rewards to companies and work which provide no real benefits to society (such as advertisers) than we do to those which provide immeasurable benefits to society: teachers, doctors and nurses. In his book ‘Utopia for Realists’, Rutger Bregman highlights, ‘you can net a fortune without ever producing a thing.’
We live in a society where Goldman Sachs’ bonuses were equal to the wages of the 224 million poorest people on the planet…in 2009. Just one year after they contributed to a worldwide crash.
If we take a step back and examine Neoliberalism, how many of us would choose it from a platter of economic options? From the dire position of a post-crash platform, where wages are stagnate and the future of UK industry looks bleak, we can no longer believe the mantra that wealth trickles downwards.
Already, economic experts and journalists have been making the case for alternative systems. Paul Mason’s ‘Post-Capitalism’ and Rutger Bregman’s ‘Utopia for Realists’ both argue the case for a universal basic income.
On our veranda, with our fruity drinks, the one thing we could all agree on is that the Left needs to be ready with an alternative: an alternative that puts people at the centre, not profits. An alternative that enables us to enact our greatest talents as human beings: we are planners, organisers, cautious, imaginative and curious. We are innovative and forward-thinking. These are the celebrated talents in any successful company, yet we fail to encourage them in our governments, where we are mindlessly managed and not led. Governments fall in line behind corporations who determine what’s best for profits, not people.
There has to be a better way.
The Oscar-nominated film staring Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell which aims to outline what happened during that very confusing 2007 financial crash.
Available on Netflix, economic genius Noam Chomsky outlines how economic policy increases inequality.