Neo Liberal & Free Markets

Is Neo Liberal free market capitalism to blame for the shift from collectivism to individualism?

Neo Liberal Free Market Capitalism feels like it has been with us forever, but in real terms has only been around since the end of the 1970s.

It was seen as being the best conceivable solution to the failed Keynesian system of economics (which had led to much instability within society at that time).

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, advised by American economist Milton Friedman, looked to transform human life, through shifting the focus of power away from the state.

The crux of this neo-liberal ideology was to create a competitive way of life, in which people become consumers; rewarded for their merit and punished for their inefficiency.

Wealth under this new economic ideology, was supposed to trickle down. However in reality that just did not happen.

Any attempts to restrain this free-market ideology were positioned a being undemocratic, and a threat on human liberty. Such was the narrative that was sold to people, to bring them onboard with this major transformation to their lives.

The economic structure of this neo liberal free market capitalism, was based on minimal regulation of industries, low taxation, and privatisation of public services.

Whilst those working in business may have delighted at the lack of state regulation in their affairs, and people will have been happy at the thought of low taxes, the reality (and failings) of privatising state run public services, has taken many years to be fully realised.

Undoubtedly, the people of the Thatcher era were not aware that this amounted to a shrinking of the state, and that this was to prove to be the downside of this shift in power.

Hidden behind all of the economics of this system, is the human consequences of this shift in power. Society was morphed from Collectivism to Individualism, and by and large many people didn’t even notice the transformation.

Communities have been changed almost beyond recognition and families have been fractured by this neo liberal ideology.

Not only has the shift in power changed the economics, but it has also changed the way people think and the way that they act towards other people.

Neo Liberalism & the shrinking of the state

Over the last 40+ years, many of the once state run industries have been privatised.

Industries such as Gas, Electricity, Coal and the Railways, as well as the less obvious selling off and privatisation of the Education and Health sectors, were cut, slashed, closed down or sold off under the Thatcher Tory years.

Much of this has since been done by stealth, and this has meant that a good proportion of society are unaware that it has happened. Unfortunately, there is a simple reason that people have not noticed the change to how these services are managed and organised; it is the lack of political engagement people now have.

Political illiteracy is the by product of a society that is now more individualist in nature.

This has been achieved by flooding society with a lot of materialistic things, to distract people away from the stark realities of neo liberalism. Society thus became a mass consumer society, and inadvertently became more embroiled in a divide and conquer regime than ever before.

This was achieved through the expansion of industries, such as advertising, marketing, and media. Designed to distract people away from worrying about the macro aspects of society, and to make them focus their attentions on the micro aspects of their own lives.

This meant that people have focused on more of what affects their local communities and the funding of their local authority.

However, the shift of power has also majorly affected the way in which local authorities are now funded. Whereas they were once funded primarily direct from central government, less of people’s taxation money is now spent on local authorities.

In 2019/20 local authorities in England, received 23% of their funding from government grants, 50% from council tax revenue, and 27% from retained business rates (revenue from business rates that is not sent to the government treasury).

In the U.K, the 5th richest nation in the world, it is astonishing that UK local authorities, have the lowest revenue raising powers, compared to other G7 countries.

This is mainly due to a 37% (in real terms) central government grants cut, that local authorities faced between 2010 and 2020. This has inevitably meant that the local authorities have had to turn elsewhere to plug this gap in revenue, as they are unable to borrow to finance ever day spending, like central government does.

Many local councils have been forced to deplete their financial reserves, resulting in Local Government being forced to raise council tax levies.

Currently (2022), under the Boris Johnson administration, the threshold for raising council tax is fixed at 2%.

However, the amount of government grant afforded to local councils varies greatly, which has allowed for some local authorities to raise their council taxes above this 2% limit. Meaning that people in those areas are being made to cover the short fall from government.

Cuts to our local authorities have affected cities far worse. Many areas of council spending have felt the pinch, from road maintenance to Libraries (with many Libraries being forced to close).

Spending on social care, whilst given priority over other areas; has still seen short comings in its ability to meet the rising demand for adult and child social care services. Yet it is not those delivering these services that we should be holding to account; it is the system that has let them down.

Neo Liberalism Free Markets

Free Market Neo-liberal capitalism has also morphed our economy from one centred around industry, to a gig economy.

Whilst no doubt this was music to the ears of those who benefited from the stock market boom era; it has had murkier and more depressing consequence to human life, and has resulted in the fracturing of many of our communities.

The closing down of many of our industries (i.e coal, steel, ship building) in the Thatcher era, forced a mass movement of people. Many people were compelled to move away from their families, their communities, to seek employment in this gig economy. To ” get on yer’ bike”.

The competition that was encouraged through the neo liberal ideology, has seen people’s loyalties taken away from their families and placed firmly in the hands of supporting the system itself.

This lack of help & Government support, has led to there being more food banks now in Britain, than there are fast food restaurants.

This is certainly nothing to be proud of and suggests that inequality is now getting out of hand.

Just what is it that makes people so compelled to stay in low paid insecure jobs?

Media and the narratives that it plays out, and the attitudes it promotes, meaning that quite literally people are encouraged to turn on each other, where once they would have helped each other out.

Media and the narratives that it tells, has had the biggest influence on shaping the attitudes of people and making sure that they are fully integrated into this neo liberalism capitalist society

Media is guilty of shaping attitudes and perceptions, and creating a fear driven society.

Whilst it is easy to see the perceived benefits of a proliferation of media, from 24-hour television to more streaming services than ever; consumers have never had more choice in entertainment to view.

However, the vast choice and types of programmes available, are guilty of blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

Also, there is a sense that all this entertainment, which is available on tap, creates a mere distraction away from the realities of life.

Allowing for people to absorb themselves in the lives of fictional characters, or to become obsessed by the lives of celebrities; instead of noticing or caring fully about the important issues that directly impact upon their lives.

Programme makers design shows such as the one above, to hook people into the lives of those who have more glitz and glamour than most people will likely ever experience.

This is pure escapism and is purposely designed, so that through keeping up with the Kardashians, we are not too focused on the state of our own existence.

Other media sources, such as News, social media and the small amount of print media that is still consumed, fills society with a biased and mostly negative account of what society is like. News reporting tells a mere fraction of all that goes on in society;and yet the narratives told, over sensationalise and create a fear factor around the events as they unfold.

This media fear factor has inadvertently made parents afraid to allow their children to play out in the street, or to have the freedom that they had, due to the narratives that suggest that paedophilia is rife.

The over sensationalism that surrounds the cases of child murder or abuse, blur the reality between fact and fiction to the extent, that it severely influences the trust people have in each other.

Sending out a narrative that nobody, especially children, should ever trust strangers. Therefore, Media is very guilty in shaping people’s perceptions about the society and world they live in.

The stereotypes that are played out in our media, all help to create the new neo liberalism people that will themselves keep neo liberalism free marker capitalism going.

However, this all creates a society in which families are driven apart, in their endless quest to compete which others; for a utopian dream that largely exists for the few and not the many.

The reality is, that whilst we are told that we can make it on our own, it is the help and support of others that helps us in life.

It takes a whole village to raise a child, is an African traditional saying

Neo liberalism ideology is also guilty of splitting up families, through making them up-root and live away from family support.

In the communities that I remember from my childhood, there were always a whole army of neighbours , friends or family members to help in the raising of children. Sadly this community network of help has largely disappeared.

This becomes a problem, because of societal and economics placed on the need for both parents to work. This has created a society where youth crime has increased and parental responsibility has increasingly taken a nose dive.

Something really has got to give, as these latch key kids are really the reality that our welfare state had set out to resolve.

The system of free market capitalism has also seen the cost of housing rise exponentially, and now rental rates have also risen beyond the affordability of most families and individuals.

The system has unfairly landed the responsibility for this onto the people themselves, but this only puts many in an impossible situation.

The home ownership dream that many were sold in the Thatcher era, is largely now an unobtainable one. Work insecurity and low waged employment have exasperated this situation even further.

The response by our government, to this housing crisis, merely proves how out of touch they are with real people and the problems that those real people face.

The majority of house building is aimed at those in society who are not the most in need, and really does not solve the real housing crisis at all. It just points to more capitalist greed and confirms that the focus of our government is on the top 1%, and not in helping the other 99% of society.

So what is the solution? What do we need as a nation to bring back some sense of collectivism to society?

Is it possible to reverse the tide of change? Can we hope to bring back some sense of collectivism?

As this wonderful poem suggests, it is impossible to go back in time.

Whilst Jeremy Corbyn may have offered real hope to some, that Britain could undo some of the damage to society that had been done, his ambition was quite possibly a step too far.

Whether we like it or not, neo liberalist free market capitalism is here to stay.

There really is no quick or simple way of erasing four decades of change. This may anger and frustrate many, but it is a reality none the less. However, there is another way, another solution that could possibly appease the capitalists and bring a sense of collectivism back again.

The solution, would be to have a happy medium between the industries that were ran privately, and those which would be in state control. This would have to involve a slow and steady take back of vital services into state control.

Without a doubt, public sector areas such as education, health, welfare, police, fire, utilities, and the railways should be back under the control of central government. Thus ensuring that people are guaranteed a basic minimum standard of life.

This should be the aim of any person who cares about people’s inalienable human rights.

Privatisation should only occur in sectors that are undeniable luxuries in life, for the thing on which life does not itself, depend on.

The covid-19 pandemic has had the effect of slowing down everybody’s lives, and for a short period of time we saw a glimpse of the spirit of collectivism & community return.

Through people’s willingness to volunteer their time to help vulnerable people, to those clapping on their doorsteps and showing their support and appreciation to those working in the vital sectors of our society.

This momentary flash of community spirit, although short lived; showed that a sense of collectivism could be resurrected. It is purely at the mercy of the people, to choose the path that they wish to follow.

As the poem alludes to, only fear is what holds people back.

Fear of change, fear of stigmatization for daring to divert from the transcribed neo liberal way; and fear of the unknown if they take that leap towards a better way.

Media has us all living in fear, and the simplest solution is to disengage with that which makes us afraid. The future could be different, the future could be better, if only people trusted their gut and not every media narrative that they hear or read.

What this country needs is a New Political Party. NOW!

With thanks to Karen Burns

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