Brexit and neoliberalism.


The Brexit talk will continue, but there are a few personal points I’d like to make.

First and foremost, while the referendum may represent a push-back against neoliberalism, it’s going to take more than just this.

You say you want a revolution?

It’s the wrong classic rock song. Try this one instead: Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

That’s because whether Leave or Remain, Trump or Clinton — and any or even all of these “choices” — outside, it’s still neoliberal globalism, and still predictable alliances of purported political opposites combining to defend the monopolistic interests of a tiny minority of economic elites.

It’s deceptively simple to blame Brexit on racism. Surely racism is involved, but it’s an opportunistic infection, one clearly diagnosed by the largely ignored progressive argument for the UK leaving the EU.

There is, however, an obvious reason why immigration has proved an effective weapon for the leave side. Life is tougher for millions of Britons on modest incomes than it was a decade ago.

Further corroboration can be found here: Political Elites’ Program of Austerity Set the Stage for Brexit (Foster; The Nation).

… Outside of London, jobs have been lost, wages depressed and public services cut massively. Since 2010, the Conservatives’ austerity measures have slashed funding for the NHS, welfare spending and budgets for social and public services: the keener the deprivation in an area, the higher the cuts, proportionally. So the poorest have borne the brunt of austerity, and had little left to lose.

At a forum in May, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek described the unfortunate binary “choice” for Europeans (underlining is mine).

 … But Europe’s current predicament, Žižek argued, is that its most potent political forces – the technocratic power base in Brussels on one hand and rightwing nationalist parties such as Pegida and Front National on the other – represent the greatest danger to the universalist values on which the European Union, or any form of transnational government, ought to be predicated.

In this formulation, the European central government is reduced, perhaps not unfairly, to little more than an instrument of global capital; in touch only with the managerial class and unable to provide a unified response to any of the manifold problems assailing Europe in 2016. The deadening effect on public and political life of a Brussels beholden to its banks thus finds its perverse echo in the considerable number of voters now throwing their weight behind Europe’s new far-right. The task of the left, according to Žižek, is nothing less than to save Europe from itself.

In America, we have Clinton versus Trump. Encouraging, eh? I posted the following a few months ago, and am repeating it by virtue of relevance.

Must read: “Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems.”

Think of it as a concise explanation of how both “major” American political parties are playing the very same hand, operating from the very same fundamental economic assumptions.

Yes, in a few quantifiable ways, Democrats and Republicans differ on social issues, which have been elevated into culture wars, which in turn keep the 99% at each other’s throats while the fundamental assumptions remain unchanged.

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems, by George Monbiot (The Guardian)

Financial meltdown, environmental disaster and even the rise of Donald Trump – neoliberalism has played its part in them all. Why has the left failed to come up with an alternative?

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.

Never mind structural unemployment: if you don’t have a job it’s because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you’re feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it’s your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.