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Rudd, neoliberalism, and the poverty of thought
Rudd, neoliberalism, and the poverty of thought
Kevin Rudd has certainly nailed his colours to the masthead with his article The Global Financial Crisis published in the February 2009 edition of The Monthly.
As a plain language account of the dominance of neo-liberalism in Western political economy over the last thirty or so years it is exemplary. Indeed, in the following edition of The Monthly Robert Manne's adjunct piece makes the comment that:
Manne's article, to which we return later, provides significant amplification of Rudd's argument as well as important analysis of critical comment in response to Rudd:
Rudd's argument is concise and readable and there is therefore no need to recap what he says. There are some highlights, however, that draw attention to particular issues at stake in what is clearly a struggle for informed public opinion not only about political economy but around the nature of Australian democracy and what might be reasonably be called at this stage our political ecology.
Addressing the tendency of neo-liberals to simply ignore evidence that fails to fit their understanding Rudd claims that:
Precisely. The hallmark of the true ideologue is a refusal to acknowledge facts that are contrary to his or her intellectual framework. Facts that don't fit with the material interests of particular classes of academics, journalists and economic theorists also rarely get an airing.
This would simply be a type of muted old fashioned class struggle between capital and labour were it not for an alignment of class interests in ongoing hyper-exploitation of natural resources that threatens the very foundations not merely of capitalism but human social life on the planet. Rudd nods in the direction of the ecological crisis without further development when he writes:
He is, of course, referring to global warming and the intensification of the erosion of the conditions of planetary habitability. That is a market failure, right?
To the astonishment of the right wing commentariat who thought that the ALP had been totally captured by neo-liberalism during the Hawke/Keating ascendancy, Rudd drives right to the heart of the neo-liberal agenda by identifying its strategies and refuting, with factually based argument, its fundamental premises. He identifies a successful attack of the legitimacy of the state as the key neo-liberal strategy:
Happily, on the basis of the evidence of the failure of this theory that now dominates every news broadcast, newsheet and even intimate conversation Rudd says it is time to bury it:
Robert Manne's adjunct article extends Rudd's argument. Manne, however, also provides a précis of commentary and response that is eye-popping. The responses cited by Manne are tragically intellectually crude. Indeed, so crude are they that I found myself wondering whether the authors were actually members of an intellectual and political cabal on the payroll of a foreign power or whether they simply lacked the intellectual training and historical knowledge to follow the line of Rudd's argument. Most alarmingly, I have concluded that the latter is correct.
Two samples from Manne will suffice to illustrate the seriousness of the problem:
In a final comment, Manne, one-time editor of Quadrant and possibly the most significant public intellectual in Australia presenting reasoned argument writes that:
Intrigued by his analysis I read yesterday's Australian virtually cover to cover and discovered that Manne is quite correct. The neo-liberal commentariat appears to be totally incapable of genuine intellectual engagement with social democrats, and this despite the fact that a very large number of articles are focussed on Rudd's critique.
The top end of the Oz editorial goes so far as to quote Rudd's Monthly essay but fails entirely to address any specifics, opting instead for a long whinge about how winding back WorkChoices is going to cost jobs. Apparently the editorialist failed to note the front page article about Sue Morphett which portrayed her as a Howardite battler on $1.8M a year who has also just cost Australians 1800 jobs. The ed piece then goes on to hail Ralph Willis and Bill Kelty, architects of some versions of the Accord, as models of social responsibility. Who would have imagined? The editorial neglects to mention the failed deal of the Accord, which was wage restraint in exchange for capital investment. The second phase, the bit where Australian business put its money back into the Australian economy never really happened but never mind.
The real payoff, however, is the bottom of the editorial which has the header "Capitalism No Crime". Imagine that? It gets better, of course, as the argument is put that:
Only capitalism creates wealth? Oh please, pass the port and the reefer my way will you? This is so puerile it is making my molars ache.
My thirteen year old has a better level of political analysis than that. His reply is that capitalism creates wealth, alright, but that it is controlled by particular classes who then pay wages to employees. The employees don't get to share in that wealth. They work for their share of common earnings.
Moreover, he goes on, the wealth that is controlled by a tiny proportion of the world's population comes at the expense of the common stock of natural resources like breathable air, seas fit to breed fish stocks, forests, rivers, lakes and so on, and that the accrual of private wealth at the rate and in the manner pursued for the last two hundred and fifty years or so is no longer sustainable. In other words, between mouthfuls of his breakfast, he explains to me that, if things go on this way, it may well be that capitalism will become a crime as it robs everybody of the means of subsistence.
The alternative, in Rudd's words, is social capitalism or old fashioned social democracy. But don't tell the Melbourne Club as they are as yet psychologically unready for that possibility.
Best for last. Stephen Matchett's rear end piece in the Review section manages to suggest that current fiction unjustly attacks economists and does not understand how only economists have a realistic grasp of social life. He defends economists from the Stalinist-like attack of novelists of whom I've never heard and does so, oddly enough, without once mentioning that Hayek was an economist.
We are up against it all right.