An Antidote to the Sunday Papers March 15, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Class, Class/Class politics, Economics.
As an antidote to the Sunday papers, I thought I would offer two items that I have read recently that might be of interest to CLR followers.
In some ways, the concept of inequality is unhelpful here. There has rarely been a political or business leader who has stood up and publicly said, “society needs more inequality”. And yet, most of the policies and regulations which have driven inequality since the 1970s have been publicly known. Although it is tempting to look back and feel duped by the pre-2008 era, it was relatively clear what was going on, and how it was being justified. But rather than speak in terms of generating more inequality, policy-makers have always favoured another term, which effectively comes to the same thing: competitiveness.
My new book, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Sovereignty, Authority & The Logic of Competition, is an attempt to understand the ways in which political authority has been reconfigured in terms of the promotion of competitiveness. Competitiveness is an interesting concept, and an interesting principle on which to base social and economic institutions. When we view situations as ‘competitions’, we are assuming that participants have some vaguely equal opportunity at the outset. But we are also assuming that they are striving for maximum inequality at the conclusion. To demand ‘competitiveness’ is to demand that people prove themselves relative to one other.
From How ‘competitiveness’ became one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture by William Davies (a 1,522-word blog post) http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/the-cult-of-competitiveness/
Right-wing commentators are largely in agreement with the dominant neoclassical conception of a subject whose ‘bad choices’ and ‘anti-social values and norms’ ensure continued poverty and marginality. The liberal-left, often drawing upon symbolic interactionism and post-structuralism, counter this by claiming that the powerful demonise and stigmatise the economically excluded and label them with a broad range of negative characteristics. At its most extreme this becomes a process of ‘othering’, where the forbidding image of an uncivilised, feckless, dangerous and criminal other is projected upon the excluded subject, making its inclusion appear impossible. Whilst avoiding the right’s dogmatic voluntarism and moralism, however, we are also keen to move beyond the liberal-left’s equally doctrinaire notion that this symbolic ‘othering’ is the primary cause of social exclusion or indeed the issue that demands political attention.
At the risk of antagonising some of our peers, we should perhaps also consider the possibility that many in the social democratic mainstream who issue their call for ‘real jobs’ and the return of a comprehensive welfare system are secretly aware that their demands can no longer be met. Perhaps the most striking gap in social democratic thinking about social exclusion is that, in seeking to reintroduce the ‘excluded’ back into the civic mainstream, they are arguing for the reintroduction of resource-poor workers back into the very system of relentless socio-symbolic competition that expelled them in the first place. Social democratic discourses of inclusion are always shot through with the idea that expanding opportunities is the way back to an inclusive society. Are they not essentially arguing that the poor be given another shot at ‘making it’ within the system as it currently exists, rather than arguing for a fundamental reappraisal of the conditions under which social and economic justice can actually take place? Our goal here is to side-step this debate about the reintroduction of ‘real jobs’ and the intellectual injunction that we up-skill the poor and equip them with the drive to compete. Instead, we want to ask searching questions about the drivers that lead to the expulsion or marginalisation of the poor, and, more fundamentally, whether inclusion is possible at all in a capitalist economy currently experiencing a permanent reduction in its growth-rate and a seismic shift in the balance of global economic power.
In terms of actual policy, there is very little difference between mainstream politicians; in essence, the cynic’s cliché that ‘they’re all the bloody same’ has become a reality. The general electorate must choose a candidate on the basis of some vague sense of who will benefit them personally. Political opposition to neoliberal excess and the brutal reallocation of money and assets from working populations to the super-rich – upwards of £13 trillion currently hidden away in global tax havens (Stewart, 2012b; see also Shaxson, 2012) – is expressed in the most attenuated and apologetic manner only by the political opponents that liberal capitalism itself appoints. Because there is no longer an organised political opposition, because the left has abandoned any conception of class struggle or an egalitarian future – or even a social democracy in which the huge gap in wealth and power can be seriously truncated – to focus exclusively on defending the human rights and arranging the piecemeal ‘social inclusion’ of marginalised identity groups, capitalism itself exists for ordinary voters as pure doxa, the common belief of what is and always will be. Indeed, such is the certainty of its permanent reign, even the word ‘capitalism’ had largely fallen out of use in political and academic circles. For the liberal-postmodern subject, existing in the absence of a politics that seeks to offer an account of subjective hardships, injustices, anxieties and rage, the social field of ceaseless struggle for symbolic and cultural capital becomes naturalised and the subject accepts – and then embraces and clings to – the myth of meritocracy. Their own inner torment, their enduring sense of lack and their fear of economic and cultural irrelevance compels them to throw themselves anew into capitalism’s competitive struggle for social distinction. Until real politics returns, the very idea of transforming the other into a true neighbour, cleansing the realm of politics of its corruption or creating a new reality built upon social justice seems impossible, even ridiculous. The compensation, the safety barrier that prevents the plunge over the edge into total nihilism and despair, is the hope that the self might one day make the journey from exploited to exploiter. Such hope is presented daily by the mass media as liberal capitalism’s great attraction, and today’s subjects plot their journeys to ‘inclusion’ and eventual safety up the league table of contemporary consumer culture.
From ‘Introduction: Post-crash Social Exclusion’, chapter in of Rethinking Social Exclusion — The End of the Social? by Simon Winlow and Steve Hall (20-page PDF) http://www.uk.sagepub.com/upm-data/57537_Winlow__Rethinking_Social_exclusion.pdf