If you were told by someone, who appeared to be a healthcare professional, to hit your head against a wall to cure your headache, but it only got worse, would you carry on doing it?
So, when you think about the fact that economists, and those who appear to be economists, keep on telling us to de-regulate, privatise, de-certify unions and outsource blue-collar jobs, when this is what has been done systematically for more than 30 years, surely you have to begin to question whether or not it is the correct prescription for what ails the economy?
That’s a generation of systematic policies of privatisation, de-regulation, outsourcing and de-certification of unions and they say we need more of it. Now that workers in the private sector have been robbed of their pensions and livelihoods, public sector workers need ‘to feel the pain’.
If the neoliberal form of capitalism was working, then surely things wouldn’t be in such a mess. Surely, private sector workers would be earning a lot more than public sector workers. The advice given to young people preparing to go into the workforce back in the 1970s and 1980s, was that you went into the private sector for earning potential and not job security, and into the public sector for the reverse. For too long, working people have focused on their own, sectional interests.
If neoliberalism, as it is now known, worked in the way its ideologues claim, then all of us would be sharing in the wealth that we all help create.
But, instead, we have the greatest gaps (and still growing), not just between rich and poor, but between rich and the middle classes, the worst in some places since at least the 1920s, especially in the UK, Canada and the US.
Now, it may be that in fact, it is working as it should. It’s just that we’ve not been told that is the way neoliberalism is supposed to work because if we’ld been told that, then perhaps a greater number of swing voters and other groups may not have voted for Thatcher, Mulrooney and Reagan back in the late 1970s and 1980s and their policies, and they might not have been (re)elected.
So, the question really has to be: After a generation-and-a-half of the systematic implementation of neoliberal policies well beyond the Anglo-American, north Atlantic world, we are now reaping what has been sowed. The treatments that the IMF and others are trying to mete out to Greece and Portugal, for example, are a foretaste of what is to come for the rest of us – eventually.
Indeed, their prescriptions are the same as they ever were.
The one bright light is that perhaps people are beginning to realise that neoliberalism is no longer intellectually justifiable or defensible (‘the head is dead while the rest of it just keeps flailing’: zombie capitalism, as it has been named by some).
It’s just that there are lots of mainstream economists who know no other way of approaching the problem, having been schooled in the ‘free market’ fundamentalist theory (ideology), which has failed working people. For example, working a full-time job is no longer a way out of poverty for millions of people in the first world, so we have to begin to question the ability of so-called free markets to provide (good) jobs that offer a way out of poverty.
When you hear Cameron, Obama or Harper, for example, talk about different policies to get the economy moving again, it’s hard to believe that anyone can still subscribe to such outdated (late 18th, 19th century) views. It’s hard to believe that politicians can keep mouthing these phrases (of course, they probably know no others). The financial crisis of 2007-08 and the economic downturn forced western governments to implement policies different than those of the last 30 years, but now that the immediate crisis appears to have been averted, they’re reverting back to their old ways.
Of course, the purists, will claim that there is too much government or state intervention or regulation despite 30+ years of these policies. You start to feel as if you’re living in something like the old Albania of Enver Xosha, which was more Communist than the USSR, or North Korea where ideology triumphs over reality.
The question remains whether greater numbers of people will begin to question the illusions peddled by the political parties that do the bidding of the elites, as the middle classes are squeezed out of existence.