I was working on a longer post about the nature of the economic trap we find ourselves in, but the rhetoric following the rioting in England has forced a response from me. Forgive me if what follows something of a rant, but it just has to be said.
Am I the only person who is thoroughly sick of the neoliberals and right-wingers carping on about the evils of the welfare state? It was, after all, they who invented it. As an unapologetic member of the “left”, I agree wholeheartedly with much of the standard populist critique of welfare. It is psychologically destructive to individuals, families and ultimately society as a whole. It’s effects are corrosive and often multi-generational. It is mostly counter-productive in terms of its stated goals. Far from eliminating need, it actually entrenches it. It represents a colossal waste of human potential. And it is increasingly becoming a form of institutionalised cruelty, as the “tough love” policies of both major political parties ramp up.
Which is why like any good socialist I advocate government wage subsidies and direct employment programs! People need blummin’ jobs, not welfare. Welfare as we currently know it is the direct result of neoliberal ideology. (Note: I am not talking about the old age pension and similar programs. Yes, those were created by left/liberal people. But those aren’t the kind of welfare the right is complaining about in any case. I’m talking about welfare that has its origins in trying to deal with entrenched unemployment.)
The neolibs mandated the deliberate creation and maintenance of a sizeable pool of unemployed in order to “control inflation” (by which they meant, control wage demands and increase their profit share). The success of this inhumane policy is reflected in the ever increasing percentage of the economy that is siphoned into profits. Since the neoliberal era began in the early 80’s, wages have all but stagnated in relative terms, while profits have sky-rocketed and the corrosive income gap has widened ever further.
The creation of this pool of unfortunates, whose role is to suffer and act as a warning to those who would challenge capital (and provide a scapegoat for those who need someone to feel superior to), was the deliberate and intended result of neoliberal policies. The modern welfare state proceeds directly and inevitably from this policy decision. “The left” had nothing to do with it; entombing people in entrenched welfare is a betrayal of everything the old left ever stood for.
The problem is that a generation of “lefties” have grown up defining themselves in the terms of the right. Few self-identified left wingers today have any knowledge of the economics that used to define their politics; in their minds, to be “left wing” is simply to have a humanitarian concern for the victims of neoliberal policies. Like the friend who tends the wounds of an abused spouse without ever intervening in the abuse, we have become enablers of those who stand against our beliefs. This will not change until we become aware of this dynamic, and take steps to end it.
Please bear this in mind the next time you are confronted with a right wing nutter spraying forth on the evils of the unemployed and benefit scroungers. Without neoliberalism, there wouldn’t’ be any. They own this mess.
Chris Dickinson is a member of the Greens (WA). The opinions expressed in these posts are entirely his own.