Liz Truss Finally Made Neoliberalism Toxic

by Jack Carolan

Liz Truss spent her childhood accompanying her father, a leftist University professor, on marches against the Thatcher government. It might be reductionist to suspect that one woman’s daddy issues have turned Britain into Europe’s leading political basket case, but we do have to wonder where this mindless devotion to Thatcherite dogma came from, and why, given the freely available data on the effects of neoliberalism on the global economy over the past forty-something years, Truss has remained so blindly devoted to this pernicious ideology.

Margaret Thatcher pipped Ronald Reagan to the post by a year when she took power in Britain in 1979 and set about applying the theories of Friedmann, Hayek, Buchanan et al.  in instituting a radical reshaping of western economies, piloted in Chile by the Pinochet administration. Thomas Piketty’s extensive research has since shown, incontrovertibly, that the subsequent tearing up of the Keynesian consensus, replaced by a system which facilitated the upward flow of wealth from Labour to owners through attacks on unions, the privatization of the commons, and a financialized economic locus that led to the 2008 debacle, was a con-trick. 

Neoliberalism has been masking its true nature all along with spurious articles of faith: the invisible hand of the market (a notion originating in Smith’s Wealth of Nations, taken out of context); “greed is good” social Darwinism; trickle-down economics, and other fairy tales that made sense to a lot of people in the 80’s and 90’s, who deep down, rooted for Gordon Gecko in Wall Street.  It chimed with the times.

There is, therefore, a certain elliptical, tragic poetry in the British Parliament being the stage upon which the denouement of this disastrous experiment is currently playing out. When Liz Truss, Britain’s latest in a series of ghoulish Tory Prime Ministers, and an especially mindless disciple of the cult of Thatcher, announced that she was going to borrow £45B to give to the rich in the form of tax cuts, sterling fell off a cliff and the Bank of England had to step in to backstop bonds before the economy went into free-fall. 

There quickly followed a very unusual intervention from the IMF (hardly a hotbed of Marxist thinkers), when they said, and I’m paraphrasing, “what the fuck are you doing?!”  If you are trying to impose neoliberal policies in a very pure form, the game is up the instant the markets turn against you – markets don’t care about ideology, they are only interested in returns. When they know someone’s batshit ideological delusion is going to wreck the economy, they react. That was the message: any more tax cuts for the rich at this juncture will be damaging. Only the most dangerous of zealots are still hawking the notion that tax cuts for the rich lead to economic growth.  It’s not just your local Trotskyite reading group who thinks this, it’s the IMF.  

What’s frightening is that Truss didn’t seem to get it. Every time she opened her mouth, doubling down on her unreconstructed Thatcherite commitment to her proposals, she wiped points off the pound. The more she did it, the more resembled the delusional Nazi from The Producers, still fighting the war, pining for the Führer. The Conservative Party, known for their ruthlessly keen sense of self preservation, were faced with the very real possibility of wresting the flight stick from the monkey flying the plane. Truss, who crafted the notorious, cataclysm-sparking mini-budget behind closed doors with Kwasi Kwarteng, had been forced to sack him, making his tenure a mere eight days off the record for the shortest serving chancellor in history.  

Now the party has forced her to fall on her sword, smashing the record for the shortest serving Prime Minister in history – a paltry forty-four days in office.  Kwarteng’s replacement, Jeremy Hunt, whose name has become rhyming slang in Britain, spent the best part of a decade running the NHS into the ground as Secretary for Health. Presumably he’d been made chancellor to function as Truss’ brain. Hunt, a blow-dried technocrat in a Saville Row suit, is what Thatcher would have called “a wet” –  a centrist mediocrity – may have been maneuvered into place to keep the plane from crashing into the mountain. 

But the Tories are still in the ludicrous position of having to elect their fourth leader in less than six years. This poses the members with a real dilemma. Bookie’s favorite, Rishi Sunak, is the wrong color for most Tory members, which was probably a contributing factor in ensuring that Truss defeated him in the last leadership election. These are the same people who enthusiastically cheered Truss’ commitment to destroying all life on earth in that now notorious video: little Englanders who long for the days of Empire, who get a kick out of the idea off Britain acting tough on the world stage and have an old-fashioned view of those descended from the former colonies.  The same goes for the other outside contenders of color: Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman. Crypto-fascists they may be, but much too black and brown, respectively, for the Tory base. Ben Wallace, a “safe pair of hands” candidate, has the advantage of being white, and could be a dark horse. Then there’s the very real specter of the return of Johnson. Conspiracy theories abound in some quarters that Truss was voted in by Johnson loyalists to precipitate his return.

The Tories are in a total tailspin of acrimonious infighting and exhaustion. They are utterly bereft of both talent and ideas. It looks like the end of the line for the present version of the Conservatives, who will leave behind a nation of food banks and child poverty as a result of their reign of swingeing, cruel austerity. Even the dogs in the street (to borrow a phrase from Irish politics) know that come the next election – and there is a growing chorus baying for an immediate general election – the Conservatives are looking at a landslide defeat of 1997 proportions or worse.

The media are of course sanguine about all of this.  The establishment, and the media outlets whose interests they serve, already have their security-state affiliated pawn in place in the form of Keir Starmer. Having been instrumental (The Guardian included) in destroying the Corbyn project and electing Johnson, they have been cheerleaders of Corbyn’s successor, as he purges the Labour Party of the left on spurious charges of antisemitism (disproportionately targeting pro-Palestinian Jewish members), and goes about restructuring the party apparatus to limit democracy within it, to try to ensure that a grass-roots popular movement cannot find its expression through a figure like Corbyn again. He’s made all the right signals to the establishment that he is a figure in the mould of Blair and Obama. He’s a neoliberal technocrat, and whatever war Washington wants to get involved in, he’ll be a loyal lap dog. 

Removing the whip from Corbyn for so-called antisemitism and his embrace of the conflation of anti-Zionism with Jew hatred serves as a signifier for this. It’s a message to the powers that be: I’m your man. Capital would rather have someone who knows how to buy off revolution as its administer than a moron.  So the big neoliberal juggernaut will keep trundling along, except the ideology’s coming iteration will be more careful about flaunting its underpinning fallacies so brazenly, in an attempt to make the public believe that their interests are the same as their billionaire taskmasters. Gone will be the days that publicly expressing the idea that an atomized population acting in their own self-interest leads to virtuous outcomes makes you sound clever. “Greed is good” won’t land anymore.  

What is truly historically significant about the ignominious fall of Truss isn’t the fact that she has been by far the most catastrophic failure of a Prime Minister in British history. Truss is just the least intelligent to have held office; a patsy of the neoliberal project left holding the ball during the shifting of support away from a failed experiment, manifest in the swan song of the wrong woman in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong ideas, stupid enough to keep selling this nonsense to the public. Trickle-down might have made sense during the Thatcher years, but no one’s buying the lies anymore because they can’t afford them. The full focus of failure should be pulled away from this imbecile and placed sharply on the ideology for which she stands, which lay in tatters after 2008, and pending a reset, has become a liability to the very institutions that embody it. Those who have been paying attention knew that Neoliberalism died fifteen years ago. Poor Liz Truss never got the memo. The markets had to send it to her. And now what she represents is the toxicity of an ideology from which even the Tories are starting to slowly back away.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel and our audio podcast:

Photo: Public Domain

How Neoliberalism is Crippling Our Pandemic Response

In her December 6th press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki sarcastically mocked a reporter’s suggestion to make Covid tests free of charge to whoever needs them. Instead, she described a convoluted scheme in which qualifying individuals would be able to seek reimbursement from their insurance companies after being tested, and implied it would be too expensive to simply provide them outright (watch the exchange below):

This is the latest in a continuing series of examples which demonstrate the failure of neoliberalism to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The implosion of the Build Back Better negotiations is another. At this writing, the second-most costly provision in this supposed “human infrastructure” bill is a $280 billion tax cut for the rich, courtesy of the same party that won’t fund tuition free community college.

Perhaps most egregiously, the Biden administration continues to drag its feet on waiving vaccine patent protections, an essential step in making the vaccine available to everyone in the world. Weeks ago, Biden announced his support for taking such action, but as of yet it hasn’t happened. Every day it doesn’t is more money for the Pharma giants who developed the formula.

The federal government isn’t the only perpetrator. As journalist Walker Bragman lays out in his recent article, New York governor Kathy Hochul is pushing for workers to return to the office as soon as possible, despite her administration’s growing concerns about the omicron variant.

Hochul recently took emergency action to better prepare hospitals for the arrival of omicron, as Covid cases are spiking throughout her state. Why, then, out of the other side of her mouth, is she stressing the importance of ending the era of working from home, a safe and efficient alternative to commuting?

Bragman suggests that the answer lies with her tight connections to New York commercial real estate interests, who have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state Democratic Party in recent years, and supported Hochul herself when she was Andrew Cuomo’s lieutenant governor.

From real estate to Big Pharma to the various special interests who successfully gutted the Build Back Better plan, it’s clear that even in the most dire circumstances, our leadership is still committed to the neoliberal premise which works backwards from the premise that the solution to every problem is and must always be market-based.

Psaki’s knee-jerk dismissal of free Covid testing shows the lack of imagination and will power to provide a universal public service, no strings attached. Instead, we insist on devising overly complicated bureaucratic arrangements which attempt to reconcile the needs of the public with the profit motive of dominant market actors.

The result is a pandemic that’s poised to enter its third year on yet another upswing, with no real end in sight despite the development and distribution of the vaccine.

Walker Bragman joins us on our podcast to discuss his article and how neoliberalism is killing our pandemic response. Listen to our full conversation by clicking the player below, and subscribe to the Due Dissidence on Apple, StitcherSpotifyCastbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.

Help us create more independent media by becoming a member at Patreon or Substack, or by making a secure donation via PayPal.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel and our audio podcast:

Photo: White House (Public Domain)

Netflix’s ‘Maid’ is a Smart and Subtle Indictment of Neoliberalism

by Keaton Weiss

“We need somewhere to live,” says Alex to her social worker in episode 6 of Netflix’s Maid, “I’m on seven different types of government assistance right now, and I’m working the maximum amount of hours I can work without getting my benefits cut. But after food and gas and daycare co-pay, we have a total of nine dollars extra every week. . .How am I supposed to afford rent, even subsidized rent. . .How is this assistance assisting me?”

Based on a memoir by Stephanie Land, Maid is a drama series about a young housecleaner named Alex who escapes an abusive relationship with her alcoholic partner and struggles to create a better life for herself and her toddler daughter. Keeping afloat means carefully navigating an increasingly labyrinthine network of social and professional relationships while extracting as much assistance as she can from an impossibly complicated and bureaucratic “social safety net.”

Since the wait list for Section 8 is too long, Alex is offered TBRA vouchers, which are practically unusable as virtually no landlords are willing to accept them, given all of the red tape they would need to cut through in order to do so. Because of this, she’s forced to rent an apartment off the books and supplement her cheap rent by doing free yard work for the homeowner.

This scenario is one of many in the series that illustrates in precise detail the seemingly inescapable trap of poverty in America. A running tally of Alex’s bank balance appears on screen at various moments, including one when she goes into the red after being distracted for a brief moment at the gas station and unwittingly putting an extra gallon in the tank. She then has to ask another customer for the three dollars she over-pumped so she’s able to pay her bill and go home.

Throughout the show, people try and help her as best they can. Her friend Nate convinces an expensive daycare center to accept her daughter, and one of her wealthy clients hooks her up with a powerhouse family lawyer who tries to win her sole custody so she can move them both to Missoula, Montana, where she’s been accepted into a prestigious university’s writing program. But even these efforts are challenged in unpredictable ways. Residency requirements complicate her ability to receive tuition assistance at the daycare center. Washington State’s unfair laws regarding domestic abuse make Alex’s custody battle much more difficult than it ought to be. And because her college’s family housing program is only available under very specific and time-sensitive circumstances, Alex is under immense pressure to make the various moving parts of her life quickly come together, lest she forfeit her spot.

So despite the best intentions of many of Alex’s friends and acquaintances, their good will is hardly a match for the neoliberal system in which they live. Meager public assistance is doled out only to those who can prove their “eligibility” after completing mountains of paperwork and enduring demeaning scrutiny, and at the end of the day, everything is for sale. In perhaps the cringiest example, Alex is forced to pay six of her remaining nine dollars to the private daycare center to reimburse them for the pricey ice cream they bought her daughter earlier that day.

Towards the end of the series, when Alex is readmitted into her domestic violence shelter, she visits the facility’s “boutique,” a room full of donated clothes available free of charge. Alex, who has had to both toil at her low wage job and jump through endless hoops to receive welfare benefits in order to survive, is shocked by the existence of such a place where something is simply provided to those who need it, no strings attached.

It seems too good to be true, which is why, even in this space, blank price tags are placed on each article of clothing just for show, and the counter boasts a dummy cash register to make the space feel more “normal.” Nothing better illustrates the pervasiveness of capitalist hegemony and market-oriented “charity” than that the shelter feels a need to disguise this clothing bank as a commercial store in order to make its patrons feel comfortable. Because to be a recipient of such voluntary giving doesn’t seem “normal” to people in Alex’s shoes. Feeling “normal” means feeling like a consumer, a customer, a shopper.

Being that Maid is based on the autobiography of a now successful writer, it ought not be too much of a spoiler to say that things generally work out in the end for Alex. But instead of reveling in the peace of what is a relatively happy ending, the audience is baffled by just how incredibly and unnecessarily difficult her journey was. We also ponder how much harder it likely would have been were Alex not a white English-speaking woman; or were she not such a talented writer who got accepted to a Fine Arts school based on merit; or were she not mentally and physically capable of juggling her college applications, her work schedule, her government assistance paperwork, and her responsibilities as a parent.

Maid doesn’t wear its politics on its sleeve. In fact, on a textual level, it’s decidedly apolitical. But after a fruitless months-long struggle to pass a robust “human infrastructure” package through Congress, it’s impossible to watch the show and not view it as an indictment of our neoliberal order in which a person’s worth is defined by their running bank balance, and even the smallest crumbs of assistance are so begrudgingly spared that they’re barely worth the time and effort it takes to beg for them.

An increasingly rare example of a work of art that’s as subtle as it is incisive, Maid is well worth watching and discussing.

Help us create more independent media by becoming a member at Patreon or Substack, or by making a secure donation via PayPal.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel and our audio podcast:

Photo: Maid, Netflix