In this piece, I want to look at two policies from the Morrison Government in response to COVID 19. The first concerns a plan for free childcare for the duration of the pandemic. The second concerns economic stimulus. Both of these policies are good ideas. However, we cannot ignore the context in which they are taking place. Specifically, these policies are in response to a global pandemic. It took a viral outbreak with almost a million cases and fifty-thousand deaths to bring about these incremental (and temporary) examples of social progress.
Both of these facts around this part of the government’s response expose the brazen hypocrisy at the core of Neoliberalism. The takeaway is this: these governments have the money for increased social safety net programmes and infrastructure, but they choose to not invest in these things. To put it crudely, the issue is not ‘we can’t afford these programmes’, you fuckers are just unwilling to pay for them! A blank cheque and the keys to the treasury for the political donor class with crumbs and scraps for the serfs! As the Irish poet W.B. Yeats said ‘the centre cannot hold’.
Neoliberal Hypocrisy, Part One: Scott Morrison’s Free Childcare
Per The Guardian, the Morrison government is introducing a payment that will effectively make childcare free. The payment, which the government will distribute to childcare centres, will represent 50% of regular fees. Centres receiving such a payment will be required to not charge parents any fees. Set aside for the moment the fact that Peter Dutton and his wife own a string of childcare centres. Even I am not cynical enough to suggest that this was the motivation behind the payment. However, it is interesting to note that the payment went to the businesses rather than the people. Neoliberals to the core.
The payment will last for the duration of the COVID 19 pandemic. Taking a broader perspective, childcare in Australia is notoriously expensive, costing anywhere up to $18,000 a year. The pandemic has motivated the Prime Minister, albeit in his usual business-friendly manner, to subsidise this crucial service. This raises the obvious question: if the government can do this now, the money clearly exists to implement it. Childcare is essential if households are to have two incomes, which is becoming increasingly necessary. Thus, it seems a good boost for the economy to have childcare be government-funded. Since the economy is all neoliberals care about, this just might be how we sell it to them.
Lest I be too critical, this is actually a good idea. However, we should not ignore the fact that it took a pandemic for Mr Morrison to do this. Note too that this will be temporary. Once the pandemic passes the pseudo-deity Surplusius Maximus will render its head. It will demand virgin sacrifices. Just you wait.
Neoliberal Hypocrisy, Part Two: Scott Morrison’s Economic Stimulus
The second act of government policy in response to COVID 19 that warrants attention is the economic stimulus package. Like the childcare policy, this includes many good ideas, including raising the rate of Newstart as well as direct cash payments to affected citizens. This, again, is a good idea, but the context is less positive for the government. Calls to increase the rate of Newstart have long fallen either on deaf ears or received cries of ‘we can’t afford that’. The current stimulus package appears to suggest otherwise. To paraphrase what I said above, you have had the money but not the will. Before anyone argues that these are extraordinary circumstances, stop and reflect. If it takes extraordinary circumstances for the government to increase what amounts in many cases to subsistence (and below) levels of social support, what does that say?
I want to be absolutely clear here: these policies are good ideas. As convoluted and at times contradictory as Morrison’s message has been on this virus, the economic measures are good ideas. So I am not critical of the policy per se. Rather, my focus is on the underlying ideology. Specifically, the fact that it took such a pandemic to force Neoliberals to act with basic compassion. This ideology is clearly incompatible with a functioning social democracy. So how does this metaphorical oil slick continue to survive in the beaker of water that is social democracy?
The Balancing Act: Neoliberals and Social Programmes
Any attempt to roll back popular, universal programmes will be wildly unpopular, and the neoliberals know this. The FDR Administration during the Depression introduced Social Security as well as the New Deal. These policies proved very popular (famously, term limits were introduced because of Roosevelt). Conservatives since have tried to privatise Social Security in various ways. Sneakily, such attempts at privatisation have taken place under the guise of ‘reform’ and ‘saving’ the programme. Cost is the chief gripe. Various lefties have taken to saying mockingly ‘How-yi-gon-pay-friiiiiiit’ (How are you going to pay for it) in reference to conservative opposition to popular social programmes such as M4A. You can see where this is going.
The sheer hypocrisy of neoliberal attitudes to social programmes comes out when you consider the gargantuan corporate bailouts, to say nothing of the ever-increasing military budgets. Evidently, when the priorities are those of the corporate elites, money is no option. Trillions upon trillions of dollars for the war machine and corporate welfare. But if someone has the gall to say ‘hey, there seems to be a lot of money available. Let’s do this policy to help the wider society’, the outrage that pours forward is palpable.
It is fitting to end where I began (albeit crudely): you fuckers have always had the money, but it took a fucken crisis for you to grow a conscience!
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