Whatever Happened to the Good Society?
PublishedSeptember 19, 2016 CategoryThe Hidden Dissuaders

Whatever Happened to the Good Society?

In a slightly overblown, technicolour, double-page-spread in the Observer (Comment 21.08.16) Martin Jacques confidently proclaimed “The Death of Neoliberalism”.

I wondered how I could possibly have missed the so-much-wished-for demise of the direst of our social and economic scourges since the unholy alliance of Reagan and Thatcher conceived it during their 1980s Chicago-School fling?

Yet sadly, as with so many of the multitudinous commentaries on the 2008 melt-down, Jacques’ presumption of its ‘Death’ seemed not to survive the very first paragraph of his own account…

“The crisis challenged the foundation stones of the long-dominant neoliberal ideology but it seemed to emerge largely unscathed. The banks were bailed out; hardly any Bankers on either side of the Atlantic were prosecuted for their crimes; and the price of their behaviour was duly paid by the taxpayer…”

Exactly! So what is the substance of the ‘death’ he perceives; and how are things now actionably different, for all the hype of “brexit-meaning-brexit” and the unlikely canonisation of the fascist Trump and far-right-ukipian Farage as the unlikely leaders of some latter-day peasants’ revolt?

It is certainly good that he has come to recognise the “huge growth in inequality” as the most disastrous feature of the neoliberal period (there are numerous others): yet, with neoliberal devotees long – and still – dominant in Republican, Democrat, Conservative, New Labour and other governing administrations in our close-knit capitalist worlds, they have cause to feel arrogantly secure so far from the puny flagellations of the democratic process.

Jacques seems either to have failed to recognise, or chosen to ignore, the well-oiled defence mechanisms which neoliberalism has tirelessly built around itself; often – sadly – with the passive connivance of many “at the centre of gravity of the intellectual debate” (to use his phrase): persistently wrong-footed by the richly endowed neoliberal omnipresence, wherever the revolving door spins or the next lobby of influence weaves its high-tensile web.

These well-oiled defence mechanisms, deeply implanted in the ideology’s workings, make talk of its demise wishful-thinking in the absence of much more incisive scrutiny than has yet occurred. For the most likely scenario suggested by the post-Brexit and other developing evidence is for yet another — and maybe deeper — repeat of the 2008 collapse within a very short span of future years.

So some more convincing penetration of neoliberal’s complicity in the 2008 disaster remains undone; within a laissez-faire establishment’s tacit connivance in its growing web of intrusive influences on a widening agenda of social, economic and political policies. This neglected analysis must, at last, include not only its too-easy success in marketising and monetising broad swathes of our health, social and educational approaches; but also its progressive, anti-democratic influences over the electoral and political processes themselves, through increasingly sophisticated lobbying, revolving door and media manipulation techniques.

David Marquand, in his “Mammon’s Kingdom(Penguin 2015) mapped the contours of the potential route of a more penetrating and comprehensive analysis:

“Like its predecessors in the 1920s and 1930s, the 2008 crisis showed that that markets cannot regulate themselves, and that only governments can pick up the pieces when self-regulation fails.”

Although long-subdued on neoliberal agendas, Piketty’s analyses have pin-pointed extremes of income inequality as the unsustainable, yet unavoidable, consequence of further extension of neoliberalism’s toxic imperatives.

Its promised burgeoning of a new race of ‘wealth-creators‘, dynamic ‘hedge fund operators’ and newly-motivated ‘economic actors‘ – degenerated (as George Soros has progressively catalogued) into the main drivers and instigators of the 2008 booms, busts and wild over-optimisms which eventually triggered catastrophic falls in employment and output.

The ecological, cultural and moral consequences of neoliberalism’s untamed capitalism have also proved devastating; and its ever-reluctant compliance with the demands of our degenerating eco-systems constitute a chilling and ever-present warning against any further trust in its corrosive morality.

These are some of the spreading cancerous growths that neoliberalism has already planted deeply in our societies since the complacency and connivance of mainstream political leaders (and often a too quiescent commentariat)
allowed it to happen. Rooting it out now requires much more intensive therapies and commitments than the superficial post-Brexit euphorias which seem to have infected Jaques and others and threaten this unique opportunity to put an end to neoliberalism’s dismal and inhuman approach to life.

In David Marquand’s words (op.cit):

“The neoliberal message is that altruism and public spirit are surplus to requirements: that to survive and prosper we must model ourselves on on the self-serving and self-interested individual of Chicago theory.”

How wrong they are proving to be! There is much more to be said on this.

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