It seems that Virtue has, of late,
Not seven deadly sins but eight
To vanquish and eliminate
To drink of Heaven’s nectar;
The most pernicious on the list,
Our leaders fervently insist,
Is one most moralists had missed –
The evil Public Sector!
Yet none, more wickedly than this,
Drags Virtue to the great abyss,
And poisons with its Vampire kiss,
Our economic vitals;
Nor prompts the Righteous and the Wise
To exorcise the Evil Eyes,
With fervent cries of ‘Privatise’
To bolster their requitals.
Bertie Ramsbottom 1985
In ‘Markets and the Wrath of God‘ (Feb 2017) I made the cardinal error of wondering whether the West’s long series of money / market / economic disasters – such as the still-reverberating 2007/8 financial meltdown – might have their roots in what wiser commentators, like Michael Sandel and David Marquand, had noted as the inexorable erosion of our so-called ‘market economies’ into all-through ‘market societies’?
This is the point where ‘market values’ have crowded out most ‘non-market’ values (in health, education, shelter, opportunity, equality, et al) so that the relationships critical to a well-functioning society are allowed to wither; everything has a price tag, of course, by which it’s assumed ‘value’ is best determined.
So it would suggest a mind-boggling insensitivity to the realities of the Brexit, austerity, health-care, inequality, housing, homelessness and other horrors she and her government have visited on us in the UK, that she should have chosen this moment for a eulogistic paean of praise for her version of the FREE MARKET… “the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”! Public Service cuts, especially in schools and health service investments, were a festering presence in her recently botched election campaign; but it is undoubtedly the inescapable return to public ownership and control of pivotal, low-performing activities such as energy, rail, water and the disintegrating Royal Mail – for which voters now hope – which most spooks the devotees of Mrs May’s Theocracy of the Free-Market . For Public Ownership and Enterprise were, from the start, the carefully scripted Satans of the original Margaret Thatcher morality play-script to which she aspires.
Such fervent, self-fulfilling views,
Of heads they win and tails we lose,
Were calculated to confuse
The morally deficient;
Who, in their innocence, request
Why can’t we Public keep the best
And hand the Market all the rest,
To make them more efficient?
Yet gods, the Market Priesthood says,
Move thus in their mysterious ways,
And privatising that which pays
Is in the Holy Verses;
While that which must run at a loss
The Central Office omphalos
Decrees its devotees should toss
To the public purses.
The hyperbole of the May thesis of the Free Market “as the greatest agent of collective human progress ever invented” comes, of course, heavily circumscribed with the need for appropriate regulation…
“In essence, it is very simple” (the May sermon to the Bank of England continued)… “It consists of an open market place, in which everyone is free to participate, regulated under the rule of law, with personal freedoms, equality and human rights democratically guaranteed, and an accountable government, progressively taxing the economic activity which the market generates, to fund high-quality public services which are freely available to all citizens, according to need…”
Outside the cloistered calm of the Bank’s precincts is a preponderance of UK citizens who might find it difficult to recognise much of the facile May identikit of their current society, – perhaps including some puzzlement about participation, equality, guaranteed rights, progressive taxation, high quality freely available public services etc, etc…
In fact, of course, the false promise comes directly from the wider, pan-global bible of the neo-liberal fundamentalist creed which supposedly supplies the western, predominantly US, model by which ‘liberalising’ industrial capitalism was to evangelise its credo to the wider world.
In this context, the Mrs May ‘magic of the Free Market’ message seems sadly gauche and mis-timed. In their recent book ‘The Fourth Revolution’, two well-known editors of the free-market Economist magazine (John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge) joined wiser commentators agreeing “So far, the 21st Century has been a rotten one for the western model” – a significant volte-face for such long-term enthusiasts for the unfettered market.
The formidable commentator Pankaj Mishra suggests that the evidence now points to the century-old assumptions of the eventual world-wide adoption of the Western style free-market route to statehood are disintegrating.
Has the May market epiphany come sadly too late for her canonisation?
And so, to meet the Holy Writ,
We saw the branch on which we sit,
Or amputate the better bits
With sacrificial axes;
Fulfilling, as the priest intones,
The message written in the stones –
That all the public ever owns
Are burdens on the taxes.
From ‘Public Privateers’
Ralph Windle / Bertie Ramsbottom 1985