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COVID-19 and the Exposure of Neoliberalism

The acolytes of neoliberalism are likely to view this piece as politicising the current crisis. I care not. For decades we have been told that coddling big business and the rich will generate a prosperous society for all. This was always a lie, but until recently the oligarchs have been able to get away with it. The ever-increasing demands of the petulant child that is modern pseudo-capitalism have been tied successfully to the prosperity of the wider society. Any attempt at reform, to actually distribute some of the prosperity to the peasants was decried as socialism. This while these hypocrites gladly partook in consistent corporate socialism. As I stated in a previous post, socialism per se is not the problem; it just has to go to the right people.

The COVID 19 pandemic has exposed the utter failure of neoliberalism. Whether it is the utter obsession with getting the peasants back to work, up to and including sacrificing lives to the market gods, or the refusal to lock down countries because freedom, this philosophy is exposed. Even Morrison said that his measures to stimulate the economy, more than half of which were for the banks, should not go so far as to ‘bury the budget for a decade’. He is still obsessed with his blessed budget surplus. Neoliberalism is thus exposed as a fair-weather philosophy. When everything is fine and the economy (the stock market) is doing well, it and its advocates are fine. But when a crisis hits and the government is actually required to, you know, do something, they are utterly out of their depth.

The Failure of Neoliberalism, Part One: Government Fails because we Broke It

There is an old rightwing trope that says

The nine most dangerous words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’

Government is not the solution, so the logic went, it is the problem. What they did not tell the rubes to whom they sold that snake oil was that the reason government did not work is that they broke it. They defunded the various agencies (looking at you Trump for firing the pandemic experts at the CDC and cutting its funding among many others) which created the situation of their not working. This is the charge often levelled at the right of creating their own success. They break government, usually by defunding it, so it is ineffective and then say it does not work so this function of government must be privatised.

It is noteworthy that it is only ever those aspects of government that help the ordinary Joe and Jane that are undermined though. If an aspect of government can help the donors of the corporate cuckolds who currently occupy the majority in the representative body, that will be funded to the hilt (quite literally in the case of the armed forces). This is yet another version of socialism is not the problem, the wrong recipients are.

The Failure of Neoliberalism, Part Two: Profit Motives in Essential Services 

As I stated in a previous post, certain essential services such as health, the armed forces, prisons and so on have had a profit motive built into them. The private sector does everything better because competition, they whined. This turned out to be a lie, of course. The result was policy being guided towards increasing the profits of these industries. Famous examples include private prisons demanding that laws be changed to place more bodies in beds. In the context of the current crisis, the for-profit health industry in the United States is the most egregious example. One woman, for instance, received a bill for nearly $35k for her COVID 19 treatment. Yes she had an underlying condition, but still, it takes a particularly ghoulish governing philosophy to profit off people’s sickness, but this is what the American health system has done. Tieing private profit to public services is yet another of the major failings of neoliberalism.

Where to Now? The Next Order

When the world eventually recovers from COVID 19, serious structural questions will be asked, at least by those outside the corporate establishment. Clearly, neoliberalism was not equipped to handle the crisis that was COVID 19. Demands for structural reform will come thick and fast. Here is a list of suggestions for these reforms. A new Bill of Rights so to say

  1. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, at the local, state and federal level, shall be duly elected by the people. The electoral process shall also be funded by the people through tax revenue. Any and all donations from any third-party source for any reason, are hereby deemed unconstitutional and will be prosecuted. Elections shall be clean. Any previous rulings, legislation or executive orders/actions on this topic are hereby voided. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.
  2. There shall be no monopolies, whether of media or any other commodity. Pre-existing monopolies shall be broken up. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.
  3. The financial industry, including but not limited to, banking and investment firms, shall be limited in terms of their value. This will be known as the ‘too big to fail, too big to exist’ clause. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.
  4. A minimum hourly wage shall be set, and chained to inflation and productivity. In addition, a Universal Basic Income shall be instituted. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  5. The social contract shall be enforced; education to all levels, universal healthcare and generous pensions/social security shall be paid for out of tax revenue. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  6. Tax evasion by corporate entities shall be investigated and, if a violation is discovered, prosecuted and the revenue recovered three fold. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.
  7. Free-trade agreements from previous times are hereby declared null and void. No agreement of such a nature shall be entered into under any circumstances. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  8. The domestic rights of free speech, freedom of the press, assembly, protest and petition for redress of grievances shall be upheld.This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  9.  The use of military force, under the supreme command of the Executive, shall only be undertaken in response to an immediate and materialised threat; pre-emptive war shall not be undertaken under any circumstances. Such actions shall be grounds for impeachment of the Executive. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action
  10. The privacy of the people in their persons, papers, effects, residences, electronic devices shall not be violated without a warrant obtained from an impartial judge under strict scrutiny with probable cause. Extraordinary circumstances shall not serve to circumvent this provision, nor to lower the legal standard. This provision shall not be overruled by Executive, Legislative or Judicial action.

Pipedreams? Perhaps, but it is wise to ask for much more than you hope to get.

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18 comments

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  1. ajogrady

    What is the point of voting in a government if they do not understand the fundentals of governing.

  2. Lawrence S. Roberts

    This could be the time for upheaval but we cannot riot on the streets only on the internet and for how long.
    Scomo’s pontifications are for his own flock, as Trump preaches to the converted and not to us. Both of them would be re-elected now. Our ideas on the net are shouting in an echo chamber. Go see Paulines followers and its all covert racism.

    I like your Agenda but there are many agendas floating around. The problem is one of implementation. We don’t have the process.
    The things which are obvious are that our parliamentarians have hijacked the system for their own use. And the media are complicit in the theft.

    Tele conferencing has been suggested but why don’t we do it as a people’s parliament. Indeed I would go further and offer the project to our Indigenous sisters and brothers. Some long term thinking is required now.

    A Bill of Rights would be nice.

  3. Harry Lime

    Wouldn’t disagree with any of your proposals Tim,most of us that follow publications like this understand,but to convince a majority there will have to first be an apocalypse of the kind we are now looking at.Morrison, being intellectually and spiritually and empathetically challenged,read:fucked in the head,is incapable of that sort of introspection.Doubt doesn’t appear in his lexicon,and therein lies his, and our problem.The “rapture ” that he apparently believes in is going to be a major disappointment,and far too late for many of us.

  4. Yes Minister

    The fuckwits in the legislature, bureaucracy and judiciary are our servants. It is high time they were taught to respect their employers.

  5. Neil

    Milton Fleeceman, Margaret Racheter, Tony Bliar and David Crumeron

  6. Neil

    And Ronald Raygun

  7. Phil

    The police commissioner has closed all the gun shops in Western Australia and the state has run out/sold out of ammunition. This tells me the establishment knows there a lot of unhappy plebs in the burbs.

    “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

    J.F. Kennedy.

  8. Ron P

    As I see it, we can take a very effective first step towards change for the better in the performance of our Federal Government by understanding how the electoral system works at Federal level.

    The current Full Compulsory Voting System serves to entrench the dominance of the Major Parties.
    How? Because (and I urge you to check this for yourself by searching on the Australian Electoral Commission website) we are compelled to number every square on our Ballot Paper for the House of Representatives (the Lower House).
    When the ballot papers are counted (I have been a scrutineer on numerous occasions) the end result is that in the vast majority of electorates (those that don’t have a high profile Independent standing) the Major Party candidate that finishes ahead of his Major Party rival becomes elected for that particular seat. Obvious, I hear you say…. Yes, but here is the problem, AND the solution-

    It doesn’t matter a damn how you number the squares on your Ballot Paper, even if you place the Major Party candidates last and second last in your voting order of preference, the Major Party Candidate that you have numbered ahead of his rival on your Ballot Paper receives your EFFECTIVE vote!

    A bloke named Albert Langer found a loophole in the act back in the 90’s (i.e. vote 1, 2, 3 etc. for the candidates you like, then fill in the rest of your Ballot Paper as 4, 4, 4, etc.). He was jailed for continuing to promote this system after being ordered not to by a Court, Google his name and you will learn more. That loophole in the regulations was soon closed.

    However, there is nothing to stop us from simply and legally placing our Sitting MP LAST in numbered order of preference on our Ballot Papers, (unless we deem him or her to be worthy of our support).
    This will do a number of things, including-
    a) It will result in “draining the swamp” of the multitude of party hacks and seat warmers.
    b) It will force Political Parties to think carefully about who they endorse and present for our support.

    It might take a couple of electoral cycles to work fully, but this threat to the tenure of their seats should encourage many MP’s to defy their Party Whip, and vote for legislation on its merits, regardless of whom it was presented to Parliament by. They will feel that their futures are more secure if they can gain respect from an increasing number of their constituents by behaving with integrity in this manner. The majority of their local party members will support them in this regard, and help counter the dominance of their party machine.
    The aim is to get rid of the non-performers and gain a Parliament of politicians with talent AND integrity. What have we got to lose?

  9. RosemaryJ36

    I posted this elsewhere in response to a question asking how we could work to make government responsible:
    By sharing in the task of encouraging people to help others see how bad our government – and our political system – is!
    Clearly we cannnot currently be out on the streets protesting – more’s the pity – but we have a breathing space – and the Internet – to share ideas and plan.
    When all this is over, the world will be a different place.
    Masses of people will need help to get back on their feet, as will small businesses.
    But we need to be ready to demand that this be done humanely, not through relying on wealthy corporations to buy everyone out and create even bigger monopolies.
    We need a totally new Constitution – not one designed to sort out what are the responsibilities of the Commonwealth and the States/Territories respectively, but one which properly recognises the status of our First Nations, that puts religion back in its box but incorporates a Bill of Rights.
    Over-ambitious?
    Yes.
    Necessary?
    Most definitely.
    Look at how the country is being ‘governed’ at present, with elected government on leave and a politically appointed kitchen cabinet. And no proper controls on where or how our money is being spent in reactive decision-making.
    We have no means under the existing Constitution to prevent this.
    We need governments which are supported by experts in the Public Service not by political hacks as advisers.
    Take advantage of the current interregnum, invite the best and brightest to throw their ideas up for discussion and let us work to recreate an Australia we can be proud of.
    And, as a first step, let all the refugees become Australian! They are suffering more than most through all this!

  10. New England Cocky

    @Rob P: A (late) bloke called Peter Worthing found that same loop-hole in the 1991 Federal election for New England, much to the disgust of both major parties. Threats of jailing came to nought and the AEC amended the voting direction on ballot papers after the later Langer affair.

    Your “Sitting MP last” strategy while personally satisfying will likely result in an informal vote that usually counts in favour of that same sitting MP because it does not conform to the preferential voting requirements of the Electoral Act.

  11. Stuart Anderson

    Dont tie your proposals to tax revenue. Taxes are necessary to combat inequality, to ensure a fair and just society and to control inflation. If you tie your proposals to tax revenue you will be artificially constrained by deficit avoidance.
    The current COVID-19 crisis exposes the surplus and deficit myths as false.
    Government is spending without having collected taxes. Its happening all over the world. Surpluses are out the window, deficits are fine and government pays for things it needs to do right now by creating new money

    As Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) makes clear, a sovereign nation which can issue its own currency is not constrained in what money it can spend into existence. The constraints in creating money are inflation and the limited resources available to the economy.
    Inflation is low and not a problem. The economy has a lot of unused resources, unemployed, under employed labor and capital equipment so (after lockdown) can absorb stimulus and expand without inflation

  12. Ron P

    @New England Cocky: I was not advocating any form of informal voting at all. Perhaps I was not clear enough.
    As long as you number all the squares in whichever order of preference you choose, (perhaps I should have said, without repeating a number) your Ballot Paper fully complies with all the requirements of the Electoral Act.
    Your interest is much appreciated, thanks,

  13. New England Cocky

    @Ron P: I was part of Worthing’s team in 1991 and we devised this “1, 2, 4, 4” system with no objection from the Armidale Booth Officer. The two major parties were furious!!

    Strictly correct interpretation would be that the above ballot paper in a four (4) candidate election would be formal until after the second preference, then informal at the third preference. The fourth preference would be irrelevant.

    Similarly, a ballot paper marked “1, 2, 2, 4” becomes informal after the first preference, giving a “first past the post” vote as found in the English system.

    However, note that in the same four candidate election, a ballot paper clearly marked “1, 2, 3, blank” is a formal vote because the preferences are clearly that the fourth candidate should be the fourth preference.

    Any comments written upon ballot papers that could reasonably identify that ballot paper as coming from a particular person is automatically informal.

    An AEC Officer came around and threatened us with police action about 1:00PM, but we worked out that by the time they could get any judge in Tamworth (100km south) to authorise their actions the polling times would have expired.

    Later, Peter attended the election de-brief in Canberra and much annoyed the AEC people. Then in 1995 along came Langer with the same idea, and the rest is the present full numbering of candidates on ballot papers.

  14. Socrates.

    Amen to all of above.

  15. Ron P

    @New England Cocky: You and your fellow Worthing team members have my admiration. Congrats. You stand alongside Langer as pioneers in attempting to inform voters how to preserve whatever is left of their voting rights.
    I prefer the Optional Preferential system we now have in NSW as being the more democratic method. With it, as you probably already know, you are not forced to give a preference to a candidate you dislike.
    Qld had the Optional Preferential system in place until their Premier decided to change it back to Full Compulsory before their State elections a year or two ago, because she deemed it, as I recall, as better to thwart the ambitions of Minor Parties and Independents.
    But, Full Compulsory Preferential is the system we have for Federal Elections, and it is the system we must work within.
    I will have something to say about denying Major Parties their Electoral Funding cash grab while still giving ones effective vote to their candidate (if that is who one feels worth supporting) another time. It is around $3.00 per vote now, both House of Reps and Senate.
    My AEC Electoral Pocket Book from 2004 (the last one I possess, since I got disenchanted with it all) shows that the Major Parties and The Greens received a total of $40million from us for their coffers back then. It must be up around $60Million now.
    You, I suspect already know the simple strategy I am referring to in that regard.

  16. iggy648

    Are we now witnessing Modern Monetary Theory in action? Is this a legitimate test of MMT? Can someone who understands this stuff explain it to me?

  17. paul walter

    Sympathies for whatever.

    There have been some glaring inconsistencies right throughout this event.

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