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:

5 thoughts on “The Certainty Myth

  1. Well said,

    The Bureaucracy can deliver certainty if that is what is required. The contention about business is that it is superior because it is more adaptive, more agile and more responsive to the changing world.

    Of course when the business in question is Australian business, which has carved a niche on the taxpayer teat, or the bureaucratic budget, or relies heavily on anti market laws/market distortions to survive, then the certainty they crave is largely the certainty that they wont have to ‘compete’ any time soon (with each other), that the taxpayer teats they rely on will not be curtailed by competing political priorities, or that the market distorting laws they benefit from wont be examined too closely by a parliament inclined to let the democratic process get out of hand.

    Of course thats before anyone starts contemplating the Banking Royal Commission we really must have.

  2. Political parties need to be weaned of the donations from vested interests. Seeing that campaigns are public funded they shouldn’t be allowed to take any donations (no double dipping). If they wish to go the corporate way then all donations no matter how small must be declared and published within 10 days. All meetings with lobbyist also need to be declared and published with a synopsis of the conversation. This would be a start at keeping them honest.

    • Why give them 10 days?
      A donation made before (say) 5pm should be declared by COB the next day.
      In fact, it could probably be done in near real time.

  3. Corporations are not people and our governments should not be corrupted by them.
    The current system is rigged. The fat cats are getting fatter while we are left fighting for the crumbs. Centrelink treats its clients like potential criminals and human parasites, one notch above asylum seekers. Our society has become an economy and our citizens have become customers waiting to be milked.
    If this is capitalist utopia, it doesn’t work for me…

    Lets start with a federal ICAC….and see who squeals the loudest ….

  4. Has anyone else noticed that since Thatcher/Reagan the budget deficits of nation states have increased in inverse proportion to the wealth of the 1% ?
    In Australia government departments have been corporatised, and outsource their work. The beneficiaries are paid by public money. Pharmaceuticals are subsidised by public money. The taxes are just flowing straight into the hands of the private sector. They are nothing more than a special favored category of welfare recipient.
    This needs to change. The change needs to start in parliament. Ultimately we (the people) need to get control of political donations. The government has to get unbought. Perhaps the independent Davids can chop off Goliath’s head this time?

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