It’s a sad reflection of the time we live in that people instantly assume that the government doesn’t have your best interests at heart. In fact, the government is seen as a malicious force that’s out to get you. It’s little wonder this view has become commonplace because it is part of the agenda of a wealthy elite and powerful corporations who desire free unregulated markets. They spread misinformation about the government to make you believe it has no idea what it’s doing because it’s in their benefit to do so.
The myth government is evil has a powerful influence in that people no longer trust the government. What makes this belief a little odd is that the economy influences your day to day life far more than political decisions or government policy.
The fact we live in a free-market capitalist system means the economy is, in theory, detached from the government.
Neoliberals dream of a world where there is zero influence by the government on the market. Hence why they are so determined to convince everyone of how terrible government is at doing anything. They argue that the freer the market, the more efficient it will be in helping to solve social problems.
Regulation or intervention imposed on the market by governments creates inefficiencies. For neoliberals the only function government should have in society is to protect private property and to maintain the peace. Governments should be nothing more than night watchmen. An institution lurking in the background working studiously, but oh so quietly to maintain order.
Life dictated by markets, not governments
Ever since neoliberalism started to dominate economic thinking in the 1980’s inequality within OECD countries is at its highest point for 50 years. The world’s billionaires (which number just over 2000 people) have as much wealth as 4.6 billion people.
This is no accident, it is a result of a concerted effort by neoliberals to deregulate markets, and decrease taxes on the rich. The idea is that the more freedom individuals and companies have the more growth that will be stimulated. The benefits of this economic growth will filter down to the rest of society.
Obviously, the exact opposite has happened. Economies may have continued to grow but the wealth is being sucked up by a tiny proportion of society.
What proponents of the free market do extremely well is to reinterpret the truth to suit their agenda. They place all blame on any kind of economic failures on the government who are allowing the market to control the economy. This is not how people view it though.
They see government as a powerful meddling influence over their lives. But it is remarkable how uninfluential government is. So many economic decisions are driven by markets, not by governments because governments have been corrupted by enormously wealthy individuals and corporations who seek to create policies in their own interests.
Government for the one per cent
In countries controlled by authoritarian despots, human rights violations are rife, and governments control citizens through fear. To be critical of the regime could lead to torture. In these regimes, people have every right to distrust the government, because they are the enemy of the people.
In the West, individual freedoms are the bedrock of politics. Each person has freedom of speech, freedom of expression and we are governed by democracies that are of the people, for the people, by the people. You can be critical of the government and not fear imprisonment or torture for doing so.
The problem with governments in the West is that while these individual freedoms are defended rigorously, governments no longer have your interest at heart. But that’s got nothing to do with them. The reason this has happened is due to the neoliberals who have corrupted the government and manipulate policies for their own self-interest.
It’s all about the profits
They have created a system that is set up in their favour, to the detriment of society.
But private companies don’t have society’s interests at heart. Their aim is to profit from society, rather than create social wellbeing. The function of a company is to maximise profits. The way to do this is to minimise wages, minimise the number of people they employ and maximise the prices they sell products for. In short, try and minimise costs, and maximise revenues.
None of these decisions are taken with the social impacts in mind. A well-meaning government, on the other hand, which seeks to serve the people it governs is mandated to meet the needs of the people. Rather than profit from society, the function of government is to serve it. And so motivations between a private company and a government are polar opposites.
Decision making in private companies is based on cold hard numbers. The impacts on society are not part of any decision because the company exists outside of society. In fact, many supporters of neoliberalism would argue there is no such thing as society, there is only the market, and everyone is in service of the market.
From the perspective of neoliberals, a trade union fighting for higher wages is a bad thing. Because the trade union is distorting wages which decrease profits, and impacts prices. Everyone should do is just accept the wage they are given, it seems. Of course, if they did that there would never be any incentive for the employer to increase wages. Forget about the fact that a wage may not be able to allow you to exist in society — because society doesn’t exist, remember?
It is only by the government protecting people through legislation that there is a minimum wage and employee rights exist. Without governments protecting people we would all be at the mercy of the greedy elite who only seek to serve their own self-interests, not those of society.
Perhaps the strangest thing of all about the amount of trust people place in companies who don’t care about them is the idea of a ‘free’ press. Newspapers and news channels are now owned by private, wealthy individuals. For example, fifteen billionaires own Americas News media agencies.
The underlying assumption is that these billionaires couldn’t possibly be spreading propaganda. They merely seek to present balanced news stories. It should make you go, hmmm. The fact billionaires, who have done so well out of neoliberalism own the news in America is deeply worrying because they essentially own the information people consume.
As it is in their interests to reinforce the idea that governments are bad, and free markets are great, it’s a little wonder everyone now believes it, because that is the underlying agenda.
Clearly, there is a danger if the government is the only source of news, but we have flipped to the other extreme, where the government is not allowed to get involved in any kind of news coverage, and it is left to the ‘free’ press.
A brilliant strategy
The brilliance of the strategy of the neoliberals is that more government is the exact thing that is needed to reverse social failings. But so many people believe it is government and not free markets that created these social failings. And so unbelievably, they argue for less government, the exact opposite of what is needed.
It is through regulation and intervention that governments can protect society against the aggressive nature of companies (and individuals) that are only driven by profit and self-interest.
Yet, that’s the last thing the elite who benefit so much from free markets want. And so they have spread a myth that the government is incompetent, distrustful, and not on society’s side.
What we need is more balance. Stronger welfare and protection for those who are most vulnerable in society.
We need more government, not less. But these dangerous forces have infiltrated so many powerful institutions. Everyone seems to have caught a contagion that seems to be getting worse and worse.
The tragedy is that it is not the government we should be worried about, it is a lack of government that is terrifying. In a neoliberal dream world, all you are is a price, that can be used within the labour market.
Any type of extremism always leads to bad outcomes. Too much government control will lead to corruption and undesired social outcomes. Too much freedom for markets has the same results, what differs is who seeks to benefit. In one, it is politicians, in the other, it is individuals in the private sector.
The wealth that is being siphoned to the rich elite at present could be used to fund services, to protect those in most need, to redistribute wealth and create a fairer society. The truth has been twisted upside down by those who seek to benefit from the myth that free markets benefit everyone. My only hope is that people wake up to the myth before a neoliberal dystopia becomes reality.