“Neoliberals claim that we are best served by maximising market freedom and minimising the role of the state. The free market, left to its own devices, will deliver efficiency, choice and prosperity. The role of government should be confined to defence, protecting property, preventing monopolies and removing barriers to business. All other tasks would be better discharged by private enterprise. The quest for year zero market purity was dangerous enough in theory: distorted by the grubby realities of life on earth it is devastating to the welfare of both people and planet.”
… Above all, the neoliberal programme has closed down political choice. If the market, as the doctrine insists, is the only valid determinant of how societies evolve, and the market is dominated by giant corporations, then what big business wants is what society gets. You can see this squalid reality at work in Cameron’s speech last week. “We have listened to what business wants and we are delivering on it. Business said, ‘We want competitive tax rates,’ so we are creating the most competitive corporate tax regime in the G20 and the lowest rates of corporation tax in the G7 …”. What about the rest of us? Don’t we get a say?
The neoliberal hypothesis has been disproved spectacularly. Far from regulating themselves, untrammelled markets were saved from collapse only by government intervention and massive injections of public money. Far from delivering universal prosperity, government cuts have pushed us further into crisis. Yet this very crisis is now being used as an excuse to apply the doctrine more fiercely than before.
So where is the economic elite? Counting the money it has stashed in unregulated tax havens. Thirty years of neoliberalism have allowed the super-rich to detach themselves from the lives of others to such an extent that economic crises scarcely touch them. You could see this as yet another market failure. Even if they are affected, the rich are doubtless prepared to pay an economic price for the political benefits – freedom from democratic restraint – that the doctrine offers.
A programme that promised freedom and choice has instead produced something resembling a totalitarian capitalism, in which no one may dissent from the will of the market and in which the market has become a euphemism for big business. It offers freedom all right, but only to those at the top.