The Certainty Myth

 

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“The uncertain election result is the worst possible outcome and the major parties and crossbenchers must act quickly to form a government, business leaders say.”

– AAP, July 3, 2016

Since when did the primary role of government become providing “certainty” to the business community? In fact, it’s hard to read a newspaper or turn on the TV these days without some rent-seeking plutocrat whining about the democratic process getting in the way of the grubby business of making money.

Of course, business leaders have a legitimate stake in the political debate and have a right to express an opinion. But their current tendency to drag out the “we’ll be rooned” rhetoric at the first sign that policy might diverge from their desired “reform” agenda speaks volumes for the degree the state has been captured by powerful lobbies.

We saw it six years ago when multi-national miners, fearful of an international precedent being set, ran a deceitful advertising campaign against the then Labor government’s attempt to earn a fairer share for the common wealth from our publicly owned resources. Labor, under a new PM, rolled over and neutered the tax.

We saw it again a year later in the almost effortless whiteanting by licensed clubs of the government’s modest proposal to limit the life-destroying excesses of poker machines.

One of the Abbott government’s first initiatives in 2013 was to sneak through new measures just before Christmas to water down hard-fought protections for consumers against salesmen masquerading as financial advisers. The attempt was later defeated in the Senate by a vigilant opposition working with crossbenchers.

And, of course, there was the utterly dishonest campaign against carbon pricing, fuelled by claims of $100 lamb roasts and entire towns being wiped off the map.

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In every case, rent-seeking industries attempted to mask their own grubby interests as the public interest. In every case, they pleaded that was is all about jobs and investment and the need for “certainty”. In every case, they were aided by the wilful distortions of the Murdoch media which seeks to persuade its readers to vote against their own interests.

The democratic process, in the eyes of some in the business community, has become bothersome sand in the wheels of commerce, Governments’ role, in this view of the world, should be to underwrite business profits and socialise losses.  Worker protections must be sacrificed to the great god productivity and safety nets must be minimalised. Making a profit must be separated from taking a risk.

In short, “certainty” must be denied everyone but the wealthiest and most powerful members of the community. The rest of us, through three decades of neoliberalism, have gradually been stripped of our life protectors and told to sink or swim. Our work is insecure, our healthcare can no longer be guaranteed, our kids’ education is increasingly determined by the size of our bank accounts and our retirement is at the mercy of the roulette wheel of the equity markets.

We are told that we are our on our own, that government guarantees are gone, that “the economy” trumps society. If you want to get ahead, gear yourself into half a dozen investment properties and claim the losses against your income. Honest work is not enough anymore. It’s death or the spiv economy.

Now, with another indecisive election outcome, the business cassandras are out in force again, blitzing the media with doom-laden press releases – each of them faithfully recycled by a media that has come to accept uncritically the message that business interest and the public interest are one and the same.

The rebellion against elites that is so remarked on in the media right now is in fact a fight to reclaim society from “the economy”. It is a delayed response to the financial crisis of 2008 which challenged the underpinnings of neoliberalism and the notion of “the market” as the arbiter of every aspect of our lives. People are waking up to the hegemony of a business class whose voice is automatically accorded primacy in any clash with the public interest.

According to the US economic philosopher Philip Mirowski, in his magisterial book ‘Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Crisis’  the long-term project of the neoliberals is not to depower the state but to capture it and own it.

“One way to exert power in restraint of democracy is to bend the state to a market logic, pretending one can replace ‘citizens’ with ‘customers’ ,” Mirowski writes. “Consequently, the neoliberals seek to restructure the state with numerous audit devices (under the sign of ‘accountability’ or the ‘audit society’) or impose rationalization through introduction of the ‘new public management’; or, better yet, convert state services to private provision on a contractual basis.”

The business call for “certainty”, if it continues to hold sway, will mark democracy’s final capitulation to a form of capitalism that destroys any remaining social fabric, that wipes out any possibility of solidarity, and that cripples the possibility of a human community governed by any other value than money.

Further Reading, Viewing and Listening:

Lego Journalism

Lego

It’s not widely understood by the reading and viewing public, but a big chunk of what are purported to be ‘news events’ really are stage-managed set-pieces, minutely choreographed by the public relations industry.

The supinely lame local coverage of the recent triumphant “free trade” deal announcement between the Australian and Japanese governments provides a perfect case study in how “news” is engineered, with national leaders positioned as virtual lego figurines in a carefully constructed tableaux. Continue reading

Storm Damage

Who does the financial media represent? You, the investing public. Right?

Wrong. The financial media tends to serve the interests of the banks, brokers and intermediaries whose job it is to stick you into investments where neither the risks nor extortionate fees are ever explained in plain language. Continue reading

Doing a Number

Journalists, as a rule, don’t do numbers. They’re words people – topped the class in creative writing; struggled in maths. And in most areas of reporting, that’s not a huge disadvantage. But when it comes to economics, it can leave them open to being conned.

Take the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. That News Corp would run this set-piece through its lazy and deliberately misleading partisan filter (‘Labor’s Debt Bomb!’) was not surprising. But when the ABC recycles the official spin you have to wonder at journalists’ competence: Continue reading

Analysts Say

‘Analysts say’: It’s the no-more-gaps of journalese. The dignifying of rent-a-quotes with the title of ‘analyst’ is all-purpose cover-up for the passing off of idle conjecture and sheer guesswork as the carefully though out prognostications of the prescient.

Financial media is full of it. Up against deadline and desperate to find facts to fit the premise snatched from the ether by an editor in search of an easy splash, journalists will find “analysts” who will say anything to fit the purposes of the story. Continue reading

Media Stockholm Syndrome

‘Twenty Ways to Bulk Up Your Cash’. That was the breathless headline in The Australian Financial Review on September, 27, 2005

“It’s shop till you drop for ordinary people with money to park,” the article gushed. “And the range of investment options is so vast, it’s very nearly an embarrassment of riches.” Continue reading

Live From Canberragrad

Comrades, we are under siege. Counter-revolutionaries are depicting Wayne Swanevski’s budget, as a calculated attack on the ruling class. Of course it is! Class enemies would rob the proletariat of their birthright. We aim to take it back.
Continue reading

A Day in the Life

I read the news today. Oh boy. Apparently, Australia is now a socialist dictatorship run by red rag shop stewards stealing the legitimate rewards of those with enterprise and throwing it away on the undeserving poor.

“Once again, nothing in it for me,” said  ‘Single Dad’ in the comments section of a Sydney Morning Herald analysis from Adele Ferguson describing Wayne Swan’s fifth budget as ‘Class Warfare’. Over at ‘The Heart of the Nation’, meanwhile, the splash was ‘Smash the Rich, Save the Base’, with Swan and Gillard seen leading an angry mob against a hammer and sickle backdrop. Continue reading

The Mega Perspective

Good journalists still exist. It’s just that these days,with few exceptions, they tend to exist despite, rather than because of, the media organisations that employ them.

One is Laura Tingle, who continues to write penetrating and original analysis of politics. Another is George Megalogenis, whose sober, measured style and grasp of historical detail make him one of the few remaining reliable chroniclers of Australian political economy (and one of the few reasons, if any, to read The Australian).
Continue reading

The ‘Certainty’ Myth

A sub-narrative amid the media thumbsucking about the future of the Australian Labor Party after the leadership spill has been the ritual calls from business leaders for the removal of “uncertainty” – the idea being that the economy has ground to a standstill as the egos exchange handbags in Canberra. Continue reading