Friday 20 September 2013

Michael Gove: Food poverty, propaganda narratives and ideological neoliberalism

In September 2013 the Tory education secretary Michael Gove hit the headlines with an absurd claim that "families turn to food banks because of poor financial planning".

This is a clear example of the age old Tory "blame the victim" fallacy, stated with the intention of deceiving people into believing that the reason for the exponential growth of people so desperate that they have to turn to food banks, is that they are simply too thick to manage their money properly.

This argument is a classic example of a justification narrative. It is a position that can be accepted at face value, and adopted as a belief by the kind of simple minded fool that can't even be bothered to subject what they are told to the slightest amount of scrutiny. You know, the kind of person that simply recycles diatribes from the right-wing press in lieu of actually having any political opinions of their own.

If we subject Gove's claim to the tiniest amount of scrutiny, it becomes clear that his assertion is just a piece of baseless right-wing propaganda.

Just think about it. The number of people in such desperate poverty that they rely on food banks has skyrocketed since the 2007-08 financial sector meltdown. If we accept Gove's assertion at face value, this means that the number of people so feckless that they can't manage their family budget properly has multiplied many times over in less than six years. What is the mechanism to explain this alarming public stupification? Where is the evidence base to prove the existence of such an unusual socio-economic trend? Gove doesn't offer a mechanism, or evidence to support it, because his claim was never intended to be subjected to scrutiny. It was only ever meant to be accepted and recycled by the cognitively illiterate masses, as an alternate narrative to the real causes of the "food poverty" crisis.

The real causes that Gove is trying to obscure with this idiotic statement are absolutely obvious. The fact that this exponential rise in food bank reliance has coincided with the worst economic recession in a Century should be enough to raise the suspicions of the thinking person. It's hardly a contentious stance to assert that high unemployment, savage welfare cuts, food price inflation and an unprecedented campaign of wage repression are the likely causal factors behind the rise in food poverty.

Still, the confirmation biases of the tribalist Tory allow them to completely disregard the mountain of evidence that, since the financial sector meltdown, the poor and ordinary are getting much poorer, whilst the wealthy establishment are enriching themselves at a faster rate than ever (see section 3 of this article for some links to supporting evidence) and accept such a ludicrous version of events. To Michael Gove and the kind of people that vote for him, his "blame the victim" story makes perfect sense, simply because they won't allow the actual evidence to figure in their simplistic narrative explanations.

Gove is utterly wrong to blame the victims of macroeconomic phenomena (the 2007-08 financial sector crash, George Osborne's ideological austerity experiment, wage repression ...) for their own situation, but there may be an element of truth to his assertion. It might be possible to claim that "poor financial planning" is responsible for the impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of British families. Not the "poor financial planning" of the families themselves, but the "poor financial planning" of the political establishment that allowed the financial sector meltdown to happen and then conceived the hopeless ideological austerity experiment as their "solution".

Ever since 1979 Westminster has been fixated upon neoliberal pseudo-economics. Thatcher introduced this barking, economically destructive ideology, but Tony Blair and Gordon Brown embraced it and further entrenched it, laying the groundwork for David Cameron to lead the most neoliberal government yet.

This embrace of neoliberal pseudo-economic theory was one of the main causal factors in the financial sector meltdown. Orthodox neoliberal governments across the world (often at the behest of the IMF) imposed all kinds of bonkers neoliberal reforms, badly damaging their economic potential in order to needlessly privatise public assets, to slash taxes on the wealthy, to undermine labour rights, to repress wages and most significantly, to recklessly deregulate their financial markets. These financial sector deregulations were the most significant causal factor in the 2007-08 global financial meltdown, and anyone that tells you otherwise (as seen in this grotesque piece of right-wing propaganda) is a blatant revisionist intent on misleading you into believing their distorted version of events. Wall Street and the City of London were particularly badly hit by the financial sector meltdown because successive orthodox neoliberal governments in the US and UK had enacted wave after wave after wave of reckless financial sector deregultions, allowing unaccountable bankers to gamble recklessly with other people's money, on complex financial derivatives that they clearly didn't even understand.

What is even worse than the political establishment embracing orthodox neoliberal pseudo-economics to such an extent that they allowed a tiny financial sector clique to gamble the entire financial system into insolvency, necessitating the biggest state sector interventions in history to prevent a systemic financial sector collapse, is the fact that their proposed solution to this crisis of ideological neoliberalism is clearly just even more ideological neoliberalism dressed up as "austerity".

Thus, out of the ruinous collapse of ideological neoliberal theory, the exact same shit that caused the crisis was repackaged as the necessary solution to the crisis, and ideological "austerity" was born.

A look under the bonnet reveals that "austerity" is exactly the same package of neoliberal dogma (massive privatisations, attacks on welfare spending, attacks on labour rights,wage repression, deregulations, tax cuts for the rich, regressive taxation for the rest) that led us to the financial sector meltdown. It is amazing that the establishment believe the public are thick enough to accept this rubbish, but what is more amazing still, is that (thanks to the overbearing influence of the right-wing press) great swathes of the public are intellectually lazy enough to have accepted the absurd propaganda narratives that "welfare spending caused the crisis" and that "neoliberalism dressed up as austerity is the necessary solution".

This political fixation with neoliberal pseudo-economics has damaged the UK on countless measures, one of the most significant being the rise in poverty. The Tory scam of presenting even more neoliberalism as their "solution" to the crisis of neoliberalism has accelerated this rise in extreme poverty. 

You could perhaps say that this obsession with a bankrupt economic ideology, even after the abject failure of the neoliberal ideology was demonstrated when the financial sector needed the biggest state bailouts in economic history, is a clear example of  "poor financial management". But in my view it is worse than that. The refusal to ditch neoliberal pseudo-economics, despite the appalling track record of failure rests on one consideration only: Neoliberalism benefits the super wealthy establishment minority. 

Since the 2007-08 economic crisis, corporations and the extremely wealthy have got richer at a faster rate than ever, whilst the rest of us have borne the burden of austerity.

That neoliberalisation process has been rapidly intensified even after the ideology bankrupted itself in 2007-08, is a demonstration that neoliberalism dressed up as "austerity" is not a mistake born of "poor financial planning" but that it is the continuation of a very deliberate strategy to enrich the super-wealthy minority at the expense of everybody else.

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More articles from
What is ... A Justification Narrative?
Who is to blame for the crisis?
Neoliberalism and Communism


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