Like any young, and less face it, less well read student types I went into the University with a set idea to where I stood on the political spectrum. Having read History at A-Level and in particular the British history module at A2 level, I had discovered Thatcherite mantras, reflecting the neoliberal paradigm, which set me to declare myself as a Thatcherite.
Two years into University I have realised that liberalism (or neoliberalism, but I’ll call it liberalism for clarities sake from now on) is nothing but a set of unachievable and frankly contradicting ideas, in the same breath as socialism or specifically communism (i.e. socialism in practice). In my poem ‘Don’t Forget’, I say how ‘liberalism is like a religion’, like religion it consists of a set of guidelines that orate how individuals (please pardon the pun), should live their lives. Yet often these guidelines are unachievable as it ignores the complexity of the human psyche and stage of human evolution. For example the notion of ‘no sex before marriage’ may have been helpful in preventing unwanted pregnancies, and dare I say it, a mechanism to oppress women (as they would have been shunned in society). However with modern technology i.e. the pregnancy test and frankly more open and healthy discussions of sex and relationships (although there is still progress to be made), these guidelines do not have to exist. In the same way, liberalism offers guidelines set by a deity – Adam Smith’s invisible hand, which guides individuals to make a choice based on self-interest. Yet these are fundamentally flawed normative assumptions since it promotes thrift, while at the same time relies on a consumerism and a consumer society. Moreover, economic choices are not fixed by an individual but the collective. A firm is not looking for an individual’s custom or demand, but the collective demand (i.e. in numbers) of customer as a collective, an individual is therefore only a number to a firm, and this is the reality of ‘the market’. Hayek and Freidman amongst many other liberal/libertarian thinkers describe planning to lead to totalitarian; however the ‘individual’ in this context is a free floating fallacy because they don’t exist. Planning therefore will not and does not impede on an individual’s freedom, it only impedes on the profits of the capitalist, when the state decided to choose where to intervene. The Soviet Union is a poor example to critique socialism or communism, whoever mentions the Soviet Union loses the argument. Why? Because the success and failure of the soviet system is often based ironically on capitalist and liberal lines, measurement of success is demonstrated by the level of GDP growth, production, the levels of free press, elections etc during the communist rule. If we were to use these comparisons consistently to our in system, then we will find that we also live in an imperfect democracy that resembles exactly what we criticise in the USSR. Look at the monopoly of the press, how is this different to ‘the monopoly of the mind’ argued by J.S. Mill, when writing in opposition to state run schools. In terms of free elections and parties, we can easily criticise the ‘undemocratic nature of say Singapore’s elections, and the lack of any elections in the USSR, yet we have little choice between parties in our own country! We have the choice between the neoliberal Labour Party or the neoliberal Conservative party, while the LibDems, the Greens and others- don’t stand a chance in ever running the country. We are already living in an essentially totalitarian system, the only difference is, we decide what is totalitarian and what is not. The free market allows maintains this status quo because it has no incentive not to.
The free market has become fundamentalist; it has penetrated our everyday lives and has come to lead our lives also. Massive austerity measures are only in place because it is what ‘the market wants’, when in fact ‘the market’ is just a term used by the state to slash any form of legitimacy and relationship left between society (or the demos if you want to call it) and the state. Ironically individual freedoms have been restricted because the free market doesn’t allow for it. If the free market was left to rule state affairs, then children would still be employed since the market only wants to pay low wages. In addition, the neoliberal paradigm doesn’t even recognise society because ‘it is a collective’. Margaret Thatcher who’s often misquoted saying that I will quote at length here, shows that liberalism doesn’t recognise society.
‘They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours’
Do we want to be living in a society that doesn’t recognise society!?
Thatcher’s religious conviction (and moral if you like) tells us to ‘help thy neighbour’, however it is simply a myth that the people of Britain don’t ‘try hard’ enough. What consists of ‘trying hard’, talk to an IT technician who is paid more than a liberal salary (pardan the pun again), that he/she works harder than a McDonalds employee who earns a fraction of his/her wage. The ‘scroungers’ often plastered across newspapers often easily ignore and hide how much tax is dodged by wealthy businessmen, £3.4 billion or 2.5% of benefit expenditure was overpaid due to error (fraud) in the 2010/2011 financial year, yet £70 billion of tax evasion, £25 billion tax avoidance, £25 billion of unpaid tax is lost by the UK government. I seems the rich are only working harder to avoid paying their fair share of tax.
Hayek and other liberal thinkers will often reply with that common dogmatic response of ‘what is fair’ and ‘who is society to decide’, but I think in context of relativity, we can decipher and make a rational decision to when an action is right or wrong. Liberalism as Carl Schmitt says, is a free floating fallacy, it needs an authoritarian sovereign, which is often demonstrated by the mass violence inflicted upon protestors at G8 summits, anti-cuts marches etc, which only goes to prove that liberalism can only be maintained if it is applied with violence. Additionally the western media is quick to report the violence in ‘some middle eastern country’ or some poor Latin American state ‘with their populist elected leaders’, yet overlooks what is happening closer to home. How different is the battle of Orgreaves (under Thatcher – no surprises there), to the violence inflicted upon the protestors in Turkey? I would have used Syria, but I don’t feel that is an appropriate comparison because of the complexities surrounding the situation there, but I hope the message is understood.
Also liberalism promises unconstrained growth, providing the state ‘stays out’; this is fundamentally flawed, especially when the state is constantly required to save it. If the free market was so perfect, it wouldn’t be subject to boom and busts. The problem is that the market as Joseph Schumpeter argues requires boom and bust. I am not an economist or mathematician, but there are no surprises, business cycles cannot circulate forever and in an equal manner. The equilibrium in the market is a myth with state or without. Supply and demand requires one firm to lose out and another to gain, and so if the market was left on its own, the market would be riddled with monopolies. It promises that everyone in the world can be and will be middleclass; this is unsustainable and unattainable, especially since we, as the middle class produce so much pollution from our demand, if it was applied globally we would mostly likely lead to self-destruction instantaneously. Also we are only ‘middle class’ because we rely on the low wage and exploitation of (mostly) women and children across the ‘developing world’. Liberals want to have their cake and eat it too; they want the free market and competition, when these are incompatible.
These are just the few fundamental flaws of the liberal paradigm which shows that Karl Marx was right. Read David Harvey’s Crisis of capitalism for an excellent take on capitalism, and of course Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.
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