Australia is transitioning from our old colonial master to a self-selected new colonial master. We have those with power nostalgic for the glories of imperial Britain. Many more, however, are starry-eyed at the thought of the mastery of the USA. The America of which they wish to make us the 51st state existed largely in its marketing, and certainly does not exist any longer. Australia must cease following America’s lead into hell.
America sold itself as the shining light of democracy, freedom and reason in a troubled world. Disastrous economic and military imperialism abroad was in fact matched by subjugation of its masses at home. The American Dream was reserved for the white working class and a few outliers. Its systems ensured the vast majority was trapped in versions of slavery and its post-abolition variants. Developing anti-abortion policies will not least provide a larger desperate underclass able to provide wage-slave labour at costs competitive with Mexico or China.
These Australian leaders fixed on America’s self-depiction see Biden as a return to the rational America they admire, after the cringe-making chaos of the Trump years. In fact, this is likely to be a brief hiatus.
America will probably descend into a new stochastic civil war, opening salvos perhaps already fired. An aroused minority, funded by authoritarian-leaning plutocrats, is stripping both the freedom and reason from the American civic space. From school board to the Capitol, groups ignited by conspiracy and loathing are plunging America away from enlightenment. Democracy, as flawed as it has always been in America, is being further crippled to prevent the majority having its say. The radicalised Right is trying to legislate for election overthrow, as well as voter suppression. Fire-eyed theocrats and bigots are working to subjugate anyone whose identity, life or thought denies them full humanity. The forces of modernity are depicted not just as woke, but literally demonic. It will take exceptional effort from the majority to prevent this takeover by the fringe. It already controls the Supreme Court, the House in Congress, too many state Houses, money and considerable media sway.
When Australian leaders say we ally ourselves with the American project because of our shared values, the shared values they imagine are now beaten to a pulp as the forces of fundamentalist religion and bigotry destroy freedom and equality across swathes of the country.
When the theocratic bigots retake power in the US, with Donald Trump or a less chaotic authoritarian at the helm, the sovereignty Richard Marles has ceded to them will remain ceded. Their Spiritual Warfare–driven foreign policy will become even more our problem. Israel must be protected so that End Times can begin there: will that drive us to military action against Iran?
Australia was, at the outset of the 20th century, a proud model of strong labor rights, where visitors came from around the globe to see our social democrat experiment at work. We had nationalised services for those resources the community depended upon to function. Our unions protected workers from exploitation by capital. (We see in America and Britain today the chaos that results when unions are crippled or erased.)
The neoliberal era that made Milton Friedman its god has pushed us towards the extinction of our civilisation. His truism that the stock market was the ultimate measure of a good business has made care for the environment, the workforce, the populace barely relevant. Payouts to the families of the dead are a “cost of doing business” and if those harmed are the powerless, that’s profit maximised. The train disaster and chemical fire that threatens the lives of East Palestine, Ohio, was largely caused by corporate policy that bowed to stock market pressures: no investment in infrastructure, workforce or safety. Only profits count. Stock market metrics lead to money spent on lobbying politicians. President Trump repealed the half-hearted measures implemented by President Obama to limit such catastrophes.
Our Reserve Bank is a tawdry affair whose intellectual heft is embarrassingly meagre compared to the central banks of equivalent nations. Philip Lowe leads a board of business minds, not those keeping abreast of intellectual developments. They implement policy based on 1970s conditions to deal with our different world and different understanding of financial policy. Almost all the inflationary price surge we see in Australia is caused by price-gouging by power, supermarkets, banks and business more broadly. The residual rise lies within the Reserve Bank’s allowable band. At the same time, the workers’ buying power is savaged and their wages are declining in real terms.
Neoliberal ideologues do not allow any measures to cap or chasten price-gouging sectors. Windfall tax is anathema. The profits are celebrated by the stock market and by its ambient media spruikers. While the CEOs toast their victorious quarter, the populace is forced into painful decisions between fresh food and medications.
Milton Friedman’s acolytes turned the free market “think” tanks initiated by Brit Anthony Fisher into rampaging lobbyists for the wealthy. As a result of their dominance of political economy, the the plutocrats’ share of national wealth has rocketed into the stratosphere since the 70s, while the workers’ wages stagnated.
The result has been a bottomless well of fury and resentment that has been exploited by the media handmaids of the wealthy, misdirected against the alleged “undeserving” poor, against women taking jobs, against refugees, and now against the LGBTQI+ community. The Murdoch empire funnels American “idiot ball” culture war distractions to structure the jealous guarding of privilege by the wealthy and the resentment of the disenfranchised. These wars are in the process of breaking America and might well break Great Britain, but the true targeting of fury against the plutocrats banking our common-wealth offshore is undesirable.
The British NHS has been destroyed by neoliberal ideologues delighted at the chance to sell off its carcass to the largely American private health sector. Labor in Australia needs to shore up Medicare and chase off these predatory corporations that have begun buying up Australian medical businesses. In the American model we see the principal: outstanding care for those who can pay the extortionate prices. Bankruptcy and early deaths for those who can’t.
These American values are not our values. Business, with their politicians and media would love them to be, despite the ravages we see in America and the UK. A dragon’s hoard is in the offing.
Our defence department immersing itself in America’s militarised foreign policy can only bring us harm. We would become the cannon fodder, as colonial subjects always are. Our resources have far more important uses than astronomically-priced weaponry.
Australians must see the culture war distractions for what they are: a protection for a profoundly broken system. It is time we reclaimed our proud social democrat past. Those with the levers of power must look accurately at what neoliberal ideologues have done to the US and Britain, and reject both colonial masters for our own healthier path.
This was first published in Pearls and Irritations
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