Posts Tagged 'neoliberalism'

3 critical steps we need to take to save democracy

henry-tam

Henry Tam

Henry Tam, author of Time to save democracy: How to govern ourselves in the age of anti-politics, discusses the decline of democracy and the three critical steps that must be taken in order to save it.

“In the 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ending of the apartheid regime in South Africa, there was a time when democracy seemed to be in the ascendant. But the new millennium has not brought good tidings, more the reverse.

George W. Bush played his part with his ill-conceived wars to make people recoil from any talk of ‘spreading democracy to the world’. On both sides of the Atlantic, ‘Third Way’ attempts to blur the left-right divide managed to consolidate one thing – the indifference of a third or more among those eligible to vote to stay away from the polling booth whenever there’s an election on. And then came Brexit and Trump in 2016 to demonstrate how ready millions of people were prepared to cast their vote irrespective of what the clearest evidence and expert analyses might say, so long as they could vent their frustration and anger at a few easy targets.

“We need democracy as a bulwark against the threat of arbitrary government.”

We need democracy as a bulwark against the threat of arbitrary government. But when the mere form of electoral selection is mistaken for the substance of an equitable system of control by the people, our political health is in trouble. Any superficial framework for vote-casting can all too easily be exploited by charlatans with wealthy backers. To save democracy from terminal decline, we must take action in three critical areas.

First, democracy has to take roots in a polity with a broad sense of togetherness. Neoliberal individualism and divisive tribalism in their respective ways attack civic solidarity, and blind people from recognising the need to prioritise their common good. But social polarisation is not inevitable. Governments around the world have used engagement techniques, familiarisation activities, and reconciliation processes to bring people with diverse backgrounds together to develop shared understanding and joint objectives. Rejecting both the ‘anti-political correctness’ brigades who celebrate discrimination as their heritage, and the ‘rights-override-all’ warriors who refuse to accept that rights can ever be diminished by wrong-doing[1], the state should stand firm on guaranteeing respect for all who respect their fellow citizens, and stamp out invidious attempts to stigmatise ‘others’. Furthermore, we should not weaken civic cohesion by giving public subsidies to schools that inculcate beliefs in the supremacy of their own faith, but instead strengthen it through teaching democratic consensus-building and the importance of pursuing the public interest.

Secondly, the rule of law must be backed by a collective system for distinguishing truth from falsehood. For too long, concessions have been made to the relativist notion that all claims are as valid as each other, thus giving succour to demagogues, extremists, and corporate propagandists to pretend what they say are inherently beyond criticism. And when their version of ‘reality’ is contradicted by objective evidence, they invoke the freedom of speech to keep spreading their lies in the hope that they can fool enough people enough of the time to win power. But no country refrains from setting and enforcing legal limits on irresponsible communication. Even those who declare there must never be any restriction step back when what is communicated involves, for example, words and images that encourage the targeted audience to commit atrocities in the name of some deity, consume what is above the accepted safety level, or promote paedophilia. In addition to applying the law against irresponsible communication consistently and rigorously, especially in relation to those are prone to lie to expand their economic and political influences, schools must be given the duty and corresponding resources to teach to a high standard the skills for objective reasoning, debunking misdirection, and evidential examination.

“…we must reverse the wealth inequalities that have since the 1980s increasingly corroded the civic parity needed for democratic decision-making.”

Last but not least, we must reverse the wealth inequalities that have since the 1980s increasingly corroded the civic parity needed for democratic decision-making. The unscrupulous among the rich and powerful use their resources to back candidates and policy proposals that favour them at the expense of everyone else. And money matters. For example, between 2004 and 2012, in each of the five bi-annual contests in the US House of Representatives, over 80% of the candidates who spent more than their rivals won[2]. Spending on federal campaigns in 2012 alone was over $6.2 billion, with 68% of that money coming from just 0.26% of the population[3]. For many people, there is no point getting involved when the rich will ultimately have the last say. In the 2016 US presidential elections, 48% of those who had registered to vote did not actually cast a vote – that’s 95 million people who simply abstained.

Beyond restrictions on campaign donations and spending, other ways should be considered for reining in plutocratic influences. Many more public decisions should be delegated to deliberative forums structured to curtail opinion manipulation. A decent level of public service and basic income should be provided to protect people from being politically marginalised by socio-economic vulnerabilities. There should be better resourced and more transparent investigative agencies to hold both those holding and seeking political office to account for their actions. And to give all those who work in any organisation a real say over their pay differentials, more support should be given to the development of multi-stakeholder cooperatives that are far less likely to tolerate inequitable income gaps.

[1] Otherwise the ‘right to freedom’ would shield every criminal from punishment.

[2] Prokop, A. (2014) ’40 charts that explain money in politics’, Vox: http://www.vox.com/2014/7/30/5949581/money-in-politics-charts-explain (Chart 11)

[3] Prokop, A. (2014) ’40 charts that explain money in politics’, Vox: http://www.vox.com/2014/7/30/5949581/money-in-politics-charts-explain (Chart 2)

TTS_DEMOCRACY_FCTime to save democracy, by Henry Tam is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £15.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

10 ways we can reverse inequality in Britain

Professor Roger Brown Book launch Liverpool Hope 16.4.13

Roger Brown

Roger Brown, author of The inequality crisis, explains how economic inequality in Britain and other advanced Western countries has got so bad, and highlights the measures we need to undertake that will start to reverse this devastating trend.

“Almost every day now the media carries stories about inequality and its effects.

In the past few weeks, the Department for Health has confirmed that the health gap between rich and poor in England is growing.

Reports by Lloyds Bank and the Social Market Foundation have drawn attention to our disparities in wealth, with a tenth of adults owning half of the country’s wealth while 15% own nothing or have negative wealth.

Respected independent ‘thinktanks’ like the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation have repeated their warnings that, at a time when wages generally are only growing slowly, the combination of tax cuts and cuts in welfare benefits means that income inequality will increase further over the next few years.

“Economic inequality has increased in nearly every advanced Western country…”

This is not just an English or British issue. In March, International Monetary Fund (IMF) researchers estimated that the US economy had lost a year of consumption growth because of increased income polarisation. And of course inequality was a major factor in the Brexit vote and in the election of President Trump.

My interest in the subject was first aroused by my work on the introduction of markets into higher education. I found that the associated increase in competition through mechanisms like tuition fees had exacerbated the inequalities between universities and the constituencies they serve, without any significant compensating benefits. This led me to wonder if there might be parallels in the economy and society more generally.

What I established was that economic inequality has increased in nearly every advanced Western country over the past thirty or so years, and that this has led to a huge range of costs and detriments. Moreover, these costs and detriments are not only social. As the IMF research confirms, increased economic inequality has an economic cost as well. Above all, growing inequality is disabling democratic politics as the concentration of economic power is increasingly reflected in a concentration of political power (as can be seen most clearly in the US).

“Growing inequality is disabling democratic politics…”

But whilst nearly everyone agrees that – to paraphrase Dunning’s famous 1780 Parliamentary motion, economic inequality has increased, is increasing, and ought to be reduced – there is no agreement on how this should be done.

Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought:

One – the ‘market’ view – is that increased inequality is the inevitable outcome of underlying structural developments such as globalisation, skill-biased technological change, and financialisation (the growing economic role of such processes as banking and securities trading) over which individual countries and governments have little control. These changes are leading to what have been termed ‘winner-take-all’ markets where those at the top gain rewards out of all proportion to their contribution to society.

The alternative, ‘institutional’, theory is that it is due to the political choices made in individual countries, and especially the neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, tax reductions, welfare cutbacks and deflation pursued in most Western countries since the mid- to late-70s, but particularly associated with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

I believe that it is the combination of these underlying structural developments with those neoliberal policies that has driven the post-80s rise in inequality, with the US and Britain well above the other wealthy Western countries in the extent to which inequality has grown there over that period.

So the key to reversing, halting or slowing inequality lies in the first place in reversing these neoliberal policies, but without losing the benefits of properly regulated market competition in sectors where it is appropriate.

The following is a short list of measures that would start to reverse inequality in Britain:

  1. Require the potential impact on inequality to be a major test of every other policy or programme introduced by the Government.
  2. Show that we are serious about tax avoidance by reversing the long-term decline in the number of professional HMRC officials.
  3. Progressively adjust the balance between direct and indirect taxation (VAT), increasing the former and reducing the latter.
  4. Increase the income tax rates for higher earners (say, above £60,000).
  5. Introduce some form of wealth tax.
  6. Begin the rehabilitation of the trade unions by repealing most of the 2016 Trade Union Act.
  7. Reverse the cuts in welfare benefits made by the Coalition and Cameron Governments.
  8. Introduce measures that really will force companies to take account of interests wider than those of top management.
  9. Begin to end segregation in education by removing the charitable status of the private schools.
  10. Focus macroeconomic policy on demand and wage growth rather than inflation and corporate profits.

The Labour election manifesto has some proposals on these lines, but no political party has yet really got its mind round the full range of measures that are needed to combat inequality.

Until they do, inequality will continue to increase.

 

The inequality crisis by Roger Brown is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £10.39.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A General Election to challenge – or intensify – neoliberalism?

Bryn Jones and Michael O’Donnell, authors of Alternatives to neoliberalism, argue that a ‘hard Brexit’ under a Tory government would strengthen, not challenge, the neoliberal agenda.

Mike O’Donnell

Bryn Jones

Public sector retrenchment, deregulated markets and corporate takeovers of public and civil society spheres are contested topics in this election. Yet the protagonists do not directly acknowledge that these arise from the disruptive effects of the generation-long, neoliberal system.

Neoliberalism still underlies the current social unrest and political crisis; but its ideological hegemony is under threat. Trump, neo-nationalist populism across Europe and Brexit, all express popular angst caused by neoliberal processes: de-industrialisation, public sector austerity, worsened living standards, insecure and/or poorly paid employment.

“Trump, neo-nationalist populism across Europe and Brexit, all express popular angst caused by neoliberal processes.”

Continue reading ‘A General Election to challenge – or intensify – neoliberalism?’

Election focus: how can the Left re-engage the people?

simon-winlow

Simon Winlow

In the second of our blog pieces focusing on the fast-approaching General Election, Simon Winlow, co-author of The rise of the right asks how it can be that, against a background of social, financial and environmental catastrophe, a political party dedicated to the neoliberalism seem set to secure a large majority. How can the Left get the people on side again?

There’s a terrible air of nihilism, cynicism and acceptance about the upcoming election. The Conservatives have made huge gains in the local council elections, and UKIP and Labour have lost quite badly. Of course, the general election could be very different. More people will vote, and the local issues that can sway council elections tend to be forgotten as the big issues of the day take precedence.

Theresa May has clearly timed the election to take advantage of disarray in the Labour Party, and in the hope carrying a large mandate into the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Pollsters are predicting a landslide for the Tory party, with UKIP disappearing as an electoral force and Labour continuing its slide toward oblivion.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: how can the Left re-engage the people?’

Understanding the Trump Moment: Reality TV, Birtherism, the Alt Right and the White Women’s Vote

Jessie Daniels

Jessie Daniels

Policy Press author Jessie Daniels on understanding the Trump moment, and what led to it. Originally posted on Racism Review.

Many of us woke up to a November 9 that we never could have imagined. Donald J. Trump, real estate developer and reality TV celebrity, is president-elect of the United States.

Over the last 18 months of his campaign, he has engaged in explicitly racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim language that has both shocked and frightened people. The implications of what a Trump presidency could mean for ginning up racial and ethnic hatred are chilling.

trump-1

But first, it’s important to understand the Trump moment, and what led to it. This is an election that will spawn a thousand hot-takes and reams of academic papers, but here’s a first draft on making sense of this victory. Continue reading ‘Understanding the Trump Moment: Reality TV, Birtherism, the Alt Right and the White Women’s Vote’

Trump, Brexit and the EDL: the left’s failure to capture the electorate’s trust

The US election results have brought out aggression and hostility from supporters of both the right and the left. In particular, the left seems to be contentiously repeating one question: 

“Why did so many people feel safer putting their trust in Trump rather than in Clinton? “

Many people are quick to blame racism and bigotry, but there are deeper reasons. Simon Winlow, Steve Hall and James Treadwell, authors of The rise of the right, discuss the ways in which the left has failed to capture the trust of much of the electorate. 

 

simon-winlow

Simon Winlow

The mainstream liberal media outlets are outraged. For the liberal commentariat, Trump is the embodiment of all that ails the world. A racist, homophobic and misogynistic billionaire, a climate change denier, a man who apparently inspires loathing throughout the free world, a cocky and self-confident, tax-avoiding bigot whose election suggests the end of progressive liberal multiculturalism and dawning of a new Dark Age.

How could a man such as this win a clear mandate to govern the world’s most powerful nation?

Already our mainstream liberal media elites are asking what it all means. Political activists on the left look crestfallen as they call for a new solidarity in the face of adversity.

Now we need to ask why

Initial analyses tend to suggest that Trump has been voted into office by tens of millions of racist, homophobic and misogynistic white men who are angry about the erasure of their traditional power. Such analyses, fuelled by justifiable ire and shock, offer us only simplistic and predictable cultural reductionism.

What we need are careful empirical and theoretical analyses of the forces that appear set to carry us all into a new era of right-wing nationalism. Why are so many people angry at our established political elites? Why has fear come to play such an important role in the new politics? Why is there such a popular desire to move beyond the established parameters of marketised liberal democracy? What is it that inspires such open hostility towards minorities? These are important questions that demand a clear and objective response shorn of sentimentality and free from the usual academic constraints and injunctions.

 

“What we see at EDL protests, and what we see with Brexit and the election of Trump, is an inverted and distorted mirror-image of our own ideological failure.”

Continue reading ‘Trump, Brexit and the EDL: the left’s failure to capture the electorate’s trust’

The darker side of volunteering

Volunteering is a good thing, yes? Perhaps for the organization being helped, but for the volunteers it’s not so simple. In this blog post, Adam Talbot from the University of Brighton, UK shares his latest work on burnout and stress amongst volunteers. This blog post is based on a article which recently appeared in Voluntary Sector Review.

Volunteering is often seen as a panacea for the various problems faced by society. Volunteers are thought to simultaneously contribute to the greater good of a society and gain personal benefits, including social capital and practical experience.

However, this perspective ignores various issues with volunteering, including the treatment of volunteers as free labour and the stresses placed on volunteers. In this blog post, I provide an overview of this darker side of volunteering, drawing on research conducted with a Scout group in northern England.

“many volunteers find themselves stressed and burnt out”

Leaders in the Scout association give their time freely, motivated by various factors, including enjoying scouting, giving something back (both to the local community and to a system volunteers have been part of as youths) and ensuring the “service” is available for their children. However, despite these laudable motivations, many volunteers find themselves stressed and burnt out by the demands placed on their time.

Once they are involved with the organisation, they know how much needs to be done and therefore end up putting in more work than is necessarily healthy in the long-term. They become entwined in a system that drains their free time, a problem exasperated by a neoliberal political system which leaves individuals scant leisure time in which to volunteer and treats volunteers as free labour, in this case as free childcare at evenings and occasional weekends.

Personal experiences

For some, such as Dean, a Group Scout Leader, this can be managed as his role involves the organisation of large events, requiring significant investment of time and energy, but also allowing him to take time away from Scouting when needed. For example, after a recent camp which he organised, he commented that he wouldn’t be doing anything to do with scouting for at least a couple of weeks.

For others though, such as Phil, an Assistant Scout Leader, the role they are in does not allow these periods to de-stress. He is required to run meetings every week (as well as occasional weekend camps), which is not only an inflexible time commitment but can also be a monotonous routine. This leads volunteers like Phil to feel burnt out, devoid of the energy, ideas and enthusiasm which characterises Scout leaders at their best. Hence, Phil is considering leaving the organisation, commenting that he feels “the system’s crap” due to the lack of support he has received.

This is symptomatic of a system straining under a lack of available volunteers, as more immediate concerns with other sections (e.g. Cub Scouts) whose leaders either had already left or were leaving without any replacement. Phil feels under these circumstances that despite the stress Scouts causes him, he is unable to leave as that would put much more pressure on others: “I feel like, not pressured, but I feel like I’ve got to do it”.

“the role they are in does not allow periods to de-stress”

During the research, a small number of interviews were conducted with volunteers. At almost all of these interviews, participants commented that while we all share these stressful experiences, we never really discuss them with each other.

While there is more to do to solve the problem, including challenging neoliberal policies which have a detrimental impact on volunteering, more collaborative reflection on practice would assist volunteers in managing their own time to avoid burnout. It is important to note though, in conclusion, that while darker elements of volunteering exist and certainly deserve greater attention from volunteers, policymakers and academics, volunteering in scouting was and is incredibly enjoyable and meaningful for participants (including myself), and the focus on negatives in this post does not fully reflect the experience of volunteering.

Read Adam’s VSR article in full here.

VSR 2015 [FC]For more information about the Voluntary Sector Review as well as link to free institutional trials please click here

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.


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