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Neoliberalism, COVID 19 and Priorities: Hypocrisy Exposed

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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  1. Andrew Smith

    After WWII US conservative neo-liberal corporates made it their mission to roll back what they described as ‘Jew Deal’; radical right libertarianism joined at the hip with eugenics. Although many of the proponents of neo-liberalism were of Jewish heritage themselves…. not unlike those behind the anti-Semitic Soros conspiracy, with its roots in Hungary, were US campaign consultants Finkelstein and Birnebaum, both Jewish….. carzy world these guys live in.

  2. New England Cocky

    Ahhh ….. the on going gifts of the Reaganite neoliberal governments looking after the undeserving wealthy and corporates at all cost to the workers. Trickle down egalitarianism?? NEVER!!

    “[T]hese governments have the money for increased social safety net programmes and infrastructure, but they choose to not invest in these things.”

    CHILDCARE: “[C]hildcare in Australia is notoriously expensive, costing anywhere up to $18,000 a year.”

    “Childcare is essential if households are to have two incomes, which is becoming increasingly necessary.”

    Childcare has become a money-making goldmine for promoters and operators.

    My step daughter was asked to pay $100 PER DAY for childcare services for ONE CHILD and so she chose to become “a stay at home Mum” and saved money on transport costs!! Moreover, the contract conditions were terribulus for any of the ‘failure conditions by the parent’.

    About thirty years ago, the corporations advised the then government that the costs of mandatory corporate owned childcare facilities drained profits from the bottom line, and so the private childcare sector came into being on a previously unseen scale. It bloomed from a “leave your kids with the stay at home Mum at the corner” to a corporate gold mine. Low paid staff, cheap fit-out premises, little interest from any government about regulations; a capitalist bonanza. Still, it saved the governments from the expense of purpose built facilities, especially in metropolitan inner city locations where real estate was at a premium price.

    WHAT MORRISCUM STIMULUS PACKAGE?: IMHO propping up greedy corporations that frequently pay little or no taxation in Australia appears to have been the principle emphasis of the COVID-19 survival policies. As others have noted elsewhere, “Share the losses and keep the profits” appears to be the underlying philosophy, in keeping with the “greed is good” mentality. Never mind the free market that requires failed managers to sell off the corporate assets when management fails.

    NEOLIBERAL SOCIAL PROGRAMMES: These are really the state paying all the business expenses of the corporations and the corporate executives receiving all the profits as personal reward without payment of any taxation. The workers are naturally irrelevant and merely the corporate slaves creating the wealth for the executives. I am reminded of the pre-1917 Russian situation.

    An excellent article Tim, exposing many of the economic myths by which the Australian taxpayers are deprived of first world social services by a caring Australian government for the people.

  3. Lambchop Simnel

    I think the next round of “hypocrisy” and lies will come with the cruise ships- here and offshore- debacle.

  4. Jack sprat

    Free child care great social reform ,but would it have come about if Peter Dutton’s family trust was not heavily involved in the child care industry . In this new bizarro world it’s seems mr potato head is being rewarded for letting the boat in .

  5. Ill fares the land

    Unhappily for critics of the hitherto incompetent and corrupt LNP (including me), lead by the ultimate hollow salesman who floundered anytime he couldn’t stick to his simple folksy, “I’m a man of the people” branding schtick (a facade through and through), Scotty from Marketing’s stocks continue to rise without regard to the substance of his stimulus package in terms of how it is infected by his ideologies. His refusal to countenance any form of worker income support meant that he was at least two weeks late introducing JobKeeper – he was happy to let Australian workers “dangle” until there was really no option. Had he introduced JobKeeper two weeks earlier, he might have been able to broaden JobKeeper to include large numbers who have been excluded, instead of introducing the absurdly complicated cash boost payment system. It took many tax advisers several goes to figure out how the payments are meant to apply and many businesses were probably given incorrect advice initially until the accounting profession worked out how the scheme worked.

    Scotty from Marketing is driven by his brand and that means he is going hell-for-leather with a heaven sent crisis to improve the brand his petulance, immaturity, belligerence, secrecy and refusal to be challenged or criticised were all on full display – dare I say, the real Morrison in full reveal. Now we get a non-leader summoning all of his pretence to try and appear to be a statesman and the only person who can lead Australia through this crisis.

    His pretentious and orchestrated drivel about his grandmother during the Depression – all stage managed to make him appear a man with a personality and a depth of emotion. That didn’t come from deep within him – it was shallow and hollow – at least for me, but then I despise the guy. At least when Bill Shorten talked about his mother, he was talking about experiences HE actually lived through – not just stories that he had been told. Morrison saw an opportunity to build his brand with some fake emotion and Australia has fallen for his hollow marketing again “my grandmother made sacrifices, so can you”. Trust enough, but coming from a spin-doctor, it is pretentious prattle.

    The tragedy for Australia is his lies and his enslavement by his mad mix of neo-liberalistic and pentecostal ideology will reveal themselves after the crisis, but he will sell his neo-liberal ideologies by exhorting “Team Australia” to make sacrifices (to enable him to restore “his surplus”).

    But by that he will mean low-income Australians, not the rich and their tax-avoiding corporations. Corporate subsidies will remain; his ministers will continue to enrich themselves, but public services will continue to be cut or sold off to his corporate mates. But we will still see Labor, unions and Albanese as the evil enemy of the people. How stupid are we? Watch and learn.

  6. andy56

    I think yes mass hypocracy, but there is also another issue going at the same time. Its the ideology on the ropes.
    Its all about the market knows best. Its about choosing winners. (leaners and weaners) Its about minimal government to keep the system ticking over. In other words, its the system that is important. Only profits enable society to function.

    Its got nothing to do with us humans and a just society that works for us.
    These guys havent come out of the stone age yet. The economy is just a tool, not the end game.

    I want to see a practical consensus between government and capitalism. Minimum wage for everyone will get rid of so so much paper work. Imagine no need for super. No need for neg gearing, franking credits or any form of welfare for the rich. No centerlink, no jobs network. How much money and wasted energy to keep people in poverty. Its not a question of how do we pay for it, its a question of what are our priorities. Subs? Toilets for gun clubs?

    This idea frightens them because it challenges their ideology

  7. andy56

    The game they are playing is to maintain the ideology, at any cost. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, they still put up the facard. The economy has been tanking for years but their solution is more of the same. They are trapped in a mindset. This virus has blown it all apart, but they are still in the same space.

  8. Alasdair Macarthur Wardle

    Good, tough article. The bare-faced hypocrisy is unbelievable. For too long we have been fed the lies that the economy is just like a household budget. We have to live within our means. Most people buy that story, and yet money has never been a problem. Modern Monetary theory would say the only limit is the productive capacity of the country. Then the backstop argument is that ‘the bond markets would not like more spending ‘ or ‘the ratings agencies would not be happy’. Bugger them.

  9. totaram

    “Then the backstop argument is that ‘the bond markets would not like more spending ‘ or ‘the ratings agencies would not be happy’. Bugger them.”

    Absolutely right! Whatever they say makes no difference at all. The bond markets are kept in line by the RBA even as we speak. It now has a policy of buying as many bonds as required to keep the yield at the required level. No one mentions how they will buy these bonds, because it is done “by printing money”. How else can they buy as many bonds as it takes? Of course MMT will tell you that already, but the idea is to keep that part hidden, because the prevailing myth is that “printing money causes hyperinflation and debases the currency”.

    None of these myths will be put to rest, because our “free and fearless” media, with the help of ever-present commentators like Saul Eslake, will keep worrying about how we will “repay the government debt”. People like us can only hope that during this period of enforced lock-in, just a few people will spend enough time trying to understand what is going on. Good luck with that though – sadly.

  10. Arthur Tarry

    The bare faced hyprocrisy is certainly stark but what could they do ? Their privileged class constituency, so used to being pandered to by the conservatives, is being affected and they have demanded action. The conservatives can safely ignore the less privileged and the ‘lower classes’ but they can’t those used to middle class welfare, and the progeny and the parents of this pandered group. If they alienated this group they would lose big time at the next election and this prospect has created total panic. After all the only motivation of the conservative parties is to stay in govt. and they have always done whatever is required to do so, even if this requires ditching long held principles and policies.

  11. Matters Not

    As an aside of sorts but with reference to statements made in this article – in particular the language/words chosen (and not):

    these governments have the money … the money clearly exists to implement it … had the money

    Technically, the governments don’t have this money. The money doesn’t clearly exist in the sense it’s stored in a bank vault or on a balance sheet somewhere – even one hidden from public scrutiny.

    As West’s linked article explicitly states: this money is created out of thin air. A telling point made again and again – indeed ad nauseam – by MMTers. If there ever was an opportune time for the MMTs’ high priests and priestesses to bask in the political sunshine, this is it. Yet there’s a only a deafening silence. Where the effing hell are they? Please explain.

  12. andy56

    Matters not, the money being real or imaginary is irrelevant. We have negative inflation so it doesnt matter if more is floating around. And there is a lot out there that is stranded or superfluous, such as housing, government sovereign fund, super and subs ! I suggest that not enough has been floating around hence the slow economic decline.

  13. Matters Not

    andy56 re:

    the money being real or imaginary is irrelevant.

    Perhaps. But I disagree. In the political sense – in this era of political ‘sound bites’ – it’s essential that governments in the future (regardless of political persuasion) cannot say with credibility – for example:

    Where is the money coming from? You can’t create money out of thin air! That would be ‘funny money’. You would send the country broke. Think of the childr… . We can’t afford it. .

    And so on.

    Further, it’s an unrivalled, unprecedent, once-in-a-lifetime, political opportunity to break the existing (supposedly) common sense nexus between household budgets and national government budgets. But it’s ONLY an opportunity. Not a given. This possible, new discourse, a different construction of reality has to be worked on.

    It matters! It must be made to matter!

  14. Andy56

    Matters not, i can see how in a political sense its important to break the “spell”. It was only ever a wedge mantra that clearly worked on the mass of dumb voters. Your right it needs work to break but i fear that the arseholes will find another excuse. They are very inventive at maintaining their positions, lol.

  15. Andrew Smith

    What we have seen in Australia over recent decades is neither original nor organic (let alone conservative) but an imported radical right libertarian strategy from generations ago.

    Historian Nancy MacLean stumbled across it when researching Virginia public education, a good interview here titled ‘Misinforming the Majority: A Deliberate Strategy of Right Wing Libertarians’:

    ’Charles Koch supplied the money, but it was James Buchanan who supplied the ideas that made the money effective. An MIT-trained engineer, Koch in the 1960s began to read political-economic theory based on the notion that free-reign capitalism (what others might call Dickensian capitalism) would justly reward the smart and hardworking and rightly punish those who failed to take responsibility for themselves or had lesser ability. He believed then and believes now that the market is the wisest and fairest form of governance, and one that, after a bitter era of adjustment, will produce untold prosperity, even peace. But after several failures, Koch came to realize that if the majority of Americans ever truly understood the full implications of his vision of the good society and were let in on what was in store for them, they would never support it. Indeed, they would actively oppose it.’

  16. Matters Not

    Andrew Smith, that’s a great link. What I found of particular interest was the motivation provided to Buchanan by Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka (Overturning Plessey versus Ferguson). While for many it was a beacon of hope for social justice (broadly defined), it was given a totally different meaning by the man under discussion. Who would have thought?

    But his life’s work was forever shaped by the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. He arrived in Virginia in 1956, just as the state’s leaders were goading the white South to fight the court’s ruling, a ruling he saw not through the lens of equal protection of the law for all citizens but rather as another wave in a rising tide of unwarranted and illegitimate federal interference in the affairs of the states that began with the New Deal. For him what was at stake was the sanctity of private property rights, with northern liberals telling southern owners how to spend their money and behave correctly

    These days I don’t read too many books from cover to cover but this publication might prove to be an exception. Thanks for that.

  17. Andrew Smith

    MacLean’s research and book is complemented by Jane Mayer’s ‘Dark Money’ (just re-read), many links and cross overs.

    You can also find both doing informative presentations and Q&A via YouTube; for those staying at home….

  18. Harry

    Matters not: MMT people ARE trying to challenge the dominant paradigm but their reach is limited as the mainstream media constantly reinforce it. The go to bank and business economists and economics journalists, shock jocks etc have a huge megaphone and they mostly sing from the same songsheet.

    MMT proponents such as professor bill Mitchell and Dr Steven Hail are one of the few voices who do so but they Cannot get on to commercial TV which is Murdoch dominated. Many aussies only watch or read this media.

    Professor Mitchell regularly hosts MMT sessions in Europe as I think he gets more traction there.

  19. Matters Not

    Harry re:

    Professor Mitchell regularly hosts MMT sessions in Europe as I think he gets more traction there

    Yes he hosts MMT sessions in Europe but keep him well away from the media here in Australia. He is boring as batshit. Simply – not a media talent. Stephanie Kelton (Advisor to Sanders) would be ideal but that’s beyond reach at the moment. Hall is okay but not a media star.

    Sure they won’t get a run with Murdoch but perhaps they could jag an opening on the ABC. The Drum for example. Peter Martin is a regular guest and he’s made sympathetic noises at times. Surely contact could be made with Fanning and/or Baird and make a case for a bit of MMT rationale – balance and all that (multiple phone calls from many and varied advocates to break the ice.)

    What Morrison is doing is not necessarily at odds with MMT (no claims personally to know that much about it – relatively speaking) but Morrison is not coming as a believer. He’s just an atheoretical opportunist. One would think that Newcastle University would also be keen to promote their professional personnel. Point of difference and all that. But it has to me marketed. It’s always a contest of ideas. So compete!

  20. Harry

    Mitchell a brilliant academic but I agree he is not a great speaker and yes Stephanie Kelton is a much more incisive and engaging communicator.

    MMT is starting to gain traction as a lens or a perspective but it has a way to go yet.


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