Recently I have been reading Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine and the more I read the clearer it becomes to me that we are experiencing a period of shock therapy with Cameron and Osborne administering the treatment. The Shock doctrine we are being exposed to was developed by Milton Friedman a radical Chicago school economist responsible for devising a fundamentalist version of capitalism reliant on shocks, whether natural disasters, acts of terrorism or financial collapses in order to implement radical economic policy. Friedman’s teaching advocated pushing through radical reforms whilst the population is in a state of shock and unable protest.
Sadly Friedman has accumulated a batch of disciples since the late 70’s including Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Regan and George W Bush and as son’s of Thatcher it would appear the Cameroon’s.
According to Klein, Friedmanite’s stockpile free-market ideas and once a crisis strikes look to implement irreversible change on a crisis-racked society. Friedman estimated that a “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity.” Unfortunately these radical shocks are intended to transfer assets and wealth from the state into the hands of private organisations and individuals. Disciples of Friedman believe that business should be free to do as it wants and taxation should be low; and social state spending stopped. They passionately believe that free markets produce a perfect economy and perfect relationships.
Reflecting back on the first year of the Tory led coalition government it is clear we are currently in the process of being shocked as the government look to roll back the state and implement radical free market policies.
Writing in October George Monbiot warned us how ‘disaster capitalism’ is being used to reshape the British economy in the interest of businesses whilst trashing the public sector. Six months down the line and the government are furiously trying to shrink the state transfer wealth from the state to businesses.
I have plucked a couple of the recent coalition policies that have the fingerprints of Friedman all over them.
1) Forests – The proposed forest sale was intended transfer the ownership of the forests from the public into the hands of private business. This would have led to more Centre Park style organisations putting the potential of profit ahead of the interests of those who enjoy free open spaces. Luckily due to some fine campaigning by organisations such as 38 degrees and Climate Rush this disaster was avoided.
2) Expansion of academies programme– As a product of one of the 17 pilot academies rolled out under the Blair government In the 90’s, I know of both the benefits and negative sides of an “academy” education. But one thing they definitely do is shape young people for a career in business. Creativity and non conformity were not actively encouraged, obedience, conformity and success were the mantra of the school and the free market with little regulation was clearly expressed as a great thing to young students.
3) Student fees– It is startlingly clear as more and more universities reveal they plan to charge the full tuition fee that is isn’t a policy which will benefit the majority of the country. This is a clear shock policy pushed through in the wake of the financial crisis aimed benefiting the richest in society and standing firmly against social mobility.
4) Review of employment legislation– George Osborne is aiming to carry out a wholesale review of employment legislation. In typical Friedman style this review benefits business owners and not the rights of employees. Key points of the review include cutting redundancy notice period from 90 days to 30 days and tackle TUPE regulations, which safeguard employees’ pay and conditions.
5) NHS reform – “Sticking with the status quo and hoping we can get by with a bit more money is simply not an option”. Excerpt from David Cameron’s speech on the NHS on 16th May. Friedmanite’s push through radical reforms to avoid the status quo. In this case the “status quo” is our national health service which has put the needs of the patients first since it was founded in 1945. What Cameron and Lansley’s proposals advocate is open competition between private sector companies and charities and social enterprise to deliver services currently delivered by the NHS. By outsourcing routine treatments to third party organisations we will see large private sector contractors like Serco delivering treatments like hip replacements. Their main concerns will be on price, turnaround and efficiency instead of patient wellbeing and quality of service.
On the left we need to work together to put forward strong arguments against these radical policies which are serving the interests of private business and wealthy individuals. The biggest challenge we face is combating the elements of the media which support “disaster capitalism”. This is why it is important we blog, speak, tweet, march and confront these policies head on. If we fail to do in the coming months and years I predict we will continue to witness a dramatic shift in assets from the state into the hands of private business.
In Klein’s book she quotes a great extract from George Orwell’s classic 1984 “We shall squeeze you empty, then we shall fill you with ourselves”. Currently we are being shocked by the government into accepting their market obsessed ideologies, we must resist this shock treatment.