“The Frankenstein monster you created/Has turned against you, now you’re hated.”

by matttbastard


Mary Riddell:

London’s riots are not the Tupperware troubles of Greece or Spain, where the middle classes lash out against their day of reckoning. They are the proof that a section of young Britain – the stabbers, shooters, looters, chancers and their frightened acolytes – has fallen off the cliff-edge of a crumbling nation.

The failure of the markets goes hand in hand with human blight. Meanwhile, the view is gaining ground that social democracy, with its safety nets, its costly education and health care for all, is unsustainable in the bleak times ahead. The reality is that it is the only solution. After the Great Crash, Britain recalibrated, for a time. Income differentials fell, the welfare state was born and skills and growth increased.

That exact model is not replicable, but nor, as Adam Smith recognised, can a well-ordered society ever develop when a sizeable number of its members are miserable and, as a consequence, dangerous. This is not a gospel of determinism, for poverty does not ordain lawlessness. Nor, however, is it sufficient to heap contempt on the rioters as if they are a pariah caste.

Peter Oborne:

A great deal has been made over the past few days of the greed of the rioters for consumer goods, not least by Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who accurately remarked, “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.

Yesterday, the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman asked the Prime Minister to consider how these rioters can be “reclaimed” by society. Yes, this is indeed the same Gerald Kaufman who submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, which included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television.

Or take the Salford MP Hazel Blears, who has been loudly calling for draconian action against the looters. I find it very hard to make any kind of ethical distinction between Blears’s expense cheating and tax avoidance, and the straight robbery carried out by the looters.

The Prime Minister showed no sign that he understood that something stank about yesterday’s Commons debate. He spoke of morality, but only as something which applies to the very poor: “We will restore a stronger sense of morality and responsibility – in every town, in every street and in every estate.” He appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well.

Russell Brand:

Politicians don’t represent the interests of people who don’t vote. They barely care about the people who do vote. They look after the corporations who get them elected. Cameron only spoke out against News International when it became evident to us, US, the people, not to him (like Rose West, “He must’ve known”) that the newspapers Murdoch controlled were happy to desecrate the dead in the pursuit of another exploitative, distracting story.

Why am I surprised that these young people behave destructively, “mindlessly”, motivated only by self-interest? How should we describe the actions of the city bankers who brought our economy to its knees in 2010? Altruistic? Mindful? Kind? But then again, they do wear suits, so they deserve to be bailed out, perhaps that’s why not one of them has been imprisoned. And they got away with a lot more than a few fucking pairs of trainers.

These young people have no sense of community because they haven’t been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron’s mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there’s no such thing.

If we don’t want our young people to tear apart our communities then don’t let people in power tear apart the values that hold our communities together.

Matthias Matthijs:

The 1980s were marked by a more traditional struggle between the state and organized labor. The present moment, however, is defined by a more disorganized class politics of reaction, propelled by huge inequalities and a perceived injustice and indifference by the state to the fate of those involved. This time it is also not about race. The looting youngsters in London are a mixture of both immigrants and English natives, and they have quickly and deliberately made their way into the fancier neighborhoods of the city. An incident from the much-gentrified Notting Hill neighborhood in London is particularly telling. Hooded rioters armed with bats invaded the Ledbury, a two-star Michelin restaurant, demanding that diners hand over their wallets and wedding rings. As two female rioters told the BBC, “We’re just showing the rich people we can do what we want.”

[…]

So class politics are back in what many political scientists see as their most traditional home: the United Kingdom. Most of the country perceives Cameron’s policies as the poor paying for the mistakes of the rich. Thatcher’s neoliberal medicine was equally unpopular in 1981, but she was under no illusions as to what was required to enforce austerity and remains famous to this day for having argued in a 1987 interview that “there [was] no such thing as society.” Cameron’s assumptions have been challenged by these riots, and it is not at all clear that he has an alternative to offer. The rest of the world should take notice: After all, the perverse experiment of high inequality, low growth, and now fiscal austerity is hardly a uniquely British phenomenon.

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The Shock Doctrine 7: Sheep Farming in the Falklands (Or, The Revolution Will Not Be Monetized)

by matttbastard

Chapter 6: Saved by a War Thatcherism and its Useful Enemies

(Previous posts here, Sarah’s posts here.)

“Creating a useful crisis is part of what this will be about….[s]o the first bunch of communications that the public might hear might be more negative than I would be inclined to talk about (otherwise). Yeah, we need to invent a crisis and that’s not just an act of courage, there’s some skill involved”

Former Ontario Education Minister John Snobelen

Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady.

She’s presented by many as one of conservatism’s patron saints, a great leader who, through sheer force of will, pushed back against the excesses of the post-WWII British welfare state. Yet her sweeping program of Friedmanite deregulation and rollback of worker’s rights has also been dubbed by many commentators a ‘revolution’.  Though seemingly incongruous, the term is fitting; as the National Review famously declared in 1987, Thatcher’s ultimate goal was “nothing less than the reshaping of British political and economic life as that has been understood since 1945, by Labour and Tory alike. [emph. mine]”

Klein outlines in Chapter 6 how Thatcher used the political capital raised via the war in the Falklands to not only unite the nation, but to finance her radical neoliberal economic reform agenda, despite a previously skeptical public. Klein also notes that the controversial yet popular military endeavour coincided with the penning by Friedman of a passage that she says “best summarizes the Shock Doctrine: “Only a crisis–actual or perceived–produces real change.  When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.  That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.””

The so-called ‘crisis hypothesis’ was utilized to great effect, at least in a political context, by Thatcher, according to Klein:

“Between 1084 and 1988, the [British] government privatized, among others, British Telecom, British Gas, British Airways, British Airport Authority and British Steel, while it sold its shares in British Petroleum.

“Much as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, would take an unpopular president and hand him an opportunity to launch a massive privatization initiative (in Bush’s case, the privatization of security, warfare and reconstruction), Thatcher used her war to launch the first mass privatization auction in a Western democracy.”

As Sarah notes, despite their widely-accepted status as heroic conservative icons, pro-market radicals like Thatcher and US president Ronald Reagan enacted their policies in direct opposition to conservatism.  A so-called ‘conservative’ brazenly utilized a crisis to enact revolutionary change–coopting political theory traditionally the domain of the far left.   In a post highlighting the days events at the ongoing G20 summit, Sarah points out that it was conservative leaders Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy who were pushing for stricter regulations of global financial markets, rather than left-of-centre leaders like Barack Obama or Gordon Brown:

For Sarkozy to call for giving capitalism a conscience–well, it underlines the difference between French conservatism and American, but it also points out that state regulation and control over capital markets is not actually a shocking, strange idea, and that the rapid deregulation was actually the revolutionary idea.

Rather than promoting pragmatic, prudent conservative economic platforms, Thatcher (and Reagan) instead grabbed hold of the most extreme of Milton Friedman’s theories and ran with them Jamaican sprinter style.  The fact that ‘socialists’ like Tony Blair eagerly took  the baton passed to them by purported ideological opponents and carried it over the finish line only serves to further illustrate the fact that adherence to radical free market economic theory transcends the traditional left-right political axis–and, ultimately, that Thatcher’s revolution was indeed sucessful beyond her wildest expectations.

Next–Chapter 7: The New Doctor Shock Economic Warfare Replaces Dictatorship

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Chris Floyd: “[T]he money to maintain, secure and improve the lives of their families and communities was always there”

by matttbastard

Chris Floyd on the destructive legacy of doctrinaire market fundamentalism and neoliberal dogma as we enter the post-capitalist era:

Beginning with Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, government after government — and party after party — fell to the onslaught of an extremist faith: the narrow, blinkered fundamentalism of the “Chicago School.” Epitomized by its patron saint, Milton Friedman, the rigid doctrine held that an unregulated market would always “correct” itself, because its workings are based on entirely rational and quantifiable principles. (See John Cassidy in the NY Review of Books for more.) This was of course an absurdly reductive and savagely ignorant view of history, money and human nature; but because it flattered the rich and powerful, offering an “intellectual” justification for rapacious greed and ever-widening economic and social inequality, it was adopted as holy writ by the elite and promulgated as public policy.

This radical cult — a kind of Bolshevism from above — took its strongest hold in the United States and Britain, and was then imposed on many weaker nations through the IMF-led “Washington Consensus” (more aptly named by Naomi Klein as the “Shock Doctrine”), with devastating and deadly results. (As in Yeltsin’s Russia, for example, where life expectancy dropped precipitously and millions of people died premature deaths from poverty, illness, and despair.)

According to the cult, not only were markets to be freed from the constraints placed on them after the world-shattering effects of the Great Depression, but all public spending was to be slashed ruthlessly to the bone. (Although exceptions were always made for the Pentagon war machine.) After all, every dollar spent by a public entity on public services and amenities was a dollar taken away from the private wheeler-dealers who could more usefully employ it in increasing the wealth of the elite — who would then allow some of their vast profits to “trickle down” to the lower orders.

This was the cult that captured the governments of the United States and Britain (among others), as well as the Republican and Democratic parties, and the Conservative and Labour parties as well. And for almost thirty years, its ruthless doctrines have been put into practice. Regulation and oversight of financial markets were systematically stripped away or rendered toothless. Essential public services were sold off, for chump change, to corporate interests. Public spending on anything other than making war, threatening war and profiting from war was pared back or eliminated. Such public spending that did remain was forever under threat and derided, like the remnants of some pagan faith surviving in isolated backwaters.

Year after year, the ordinary citizens were told by their governments: we have no money to spend on your needs, on your communities, on your infrastructure, on your health, on your children, on your environment, on your quality of life. We can’t do those kinds of things any more.

Of course, when talking amongst themselves, or with the believers in the think tanks, boardrooms — and editorial offices — the cultists would speak more plainly: we don’t do those things anymore because we shouldn’t do them, we don’t want to do them, they are wrong, they are evil, they are outside the faith. But for the hoi polloi, the line was usually something like this: Budgets are tight, we must balance them (for a “balanced budget” is a core doctrine of the cult), we just can’t afford all these luxuries.

But now, as the emptiness and falsity of the Chicago cargo cult stands nakedly revealed, even to some of its most faithful and fanatical adherents, we can see that this 30-year mantra by our governments has been a deliberate and outright lie. The money was there — billions and billions and billions of dollars of it, trillions of dollars of it. We can see it before our very eyes today — being whisked away from our public treasuries and showered upon the banks and the brokerages.

As they say, read the whole damn thing

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