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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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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