5 reasons for the great disconnect


No, I’m not talking about broadband vs. #fraudband policy making in Australia (as much as I theoretically appreciate the concept of fast internet).

But rather the disconnect between two parallel conversations – our political/business elites talking to each other and talking over the top of the rest of us, while the rest of us aren’t listening. What we have are two discourses – distinct and foreign to each other. In Australia, we have a solidly social democratic majority. It is a majority who believes most of the benefits of economic reforms from the 1980s and onwards have flowed to corporations. It is a majority who believe in substantial government economic intervention, and who still don’t support (nearly 20 years later) the privatisation of Qantas, Commonwealth Bank and Telstra. It is a majority who support increasing taxes for big corporations. Check out Pollytics for the polling data.

In contrast though, we have a political/economic elite who share a different consensus. That common sense rests on the view that the privatisation of government assets and services provides better outcomes for everyone, that the market should be the primary mechanism for the satisfaction of human welfare and the role of the government is to intervene on the relatively narrow terrain of ‘market failures’. The Australian people believe in an egalitarian and socially controlled economy – yet they feel they have no mainstream party to reflect these views. And this really isn’t just an Australian phenomenon either.  This recent US survey highlights how most American citizens would rather respond to their ‘budget crises’ in a progressive and egalitarian manner – a policy response which has been sidelined in the political/business elite discourse.

The great 1980s neoliberal revolution remains the unloved revolution. It’s hegemonic roots have never really taken hold in the public mind. At most we can say there was a grudging public acceptance of ’emergency’ policy measures to deal with the global economic crises of the early 1980s – but if anything it is a public acceptance that has diminished over time. What I want to examine are the structural factors driving this disconnect.

1. The tendency of the political class to recreate itself

Having just witnessed first-hand the Labor Gellibrand pre-selection process – what I found most interesting was the tendency for the political class to recreate itself. If you really want to get into federal parliament today you have to ‘pay your dues’ to the dominant groupings in one of the major parties. This means identifying with key political leaders, taking on their attitudes and supporting the ongoing maintenance of their power/influence in the relevant political party.  The message is if you fall outside this relationship/influence network don’t even bother trying.

2. The death of mass party memberships 

This tendency towards the maintenance of the elite view in mainstream politics discourages membership in political parties. I feel this is both cause and effect. It is a vicious feedback loop where the more removed elite opinion becomes the less likely anyone is inclined to join a political party. This hits social democratic parties particularly hard. The less regular people (those who aren’t personally tied to a dominant group or faction) join, the easier it is for the political class to maintain control within a party. Branch stacking is only a problem when you don’t have a mass political membership.

3. Nobody reads the paper anymore

The only people who read The Australian are the political/economic elites and a few assorted weirdos. They think this paper is influential – it is but only within this segment. No one else cares. It, therefore, becomes possible for political/business elites to think they are conducting a public conversation that influences everyone else. No one is listening. But they think they are on solid ground until they look down and see nothing.

4. The declining rate of profit in the private sector and capital’s falling hegemony

This would definitely need more than a few sentences to thresh out. However, what I would like to posit is that the State must intervene more and more on capital’s behalf to ensure it continues to expand at a healthy rate. Hence what we have are lower corporate tax rates, the increasing financialisation of the economy, globally shifting sites of production, the opening up of whole swathes of the public sector to profit-making, and creeping authoritarianism. It flips a buck in the short-term but in the long it hampers the ability of the system to successfully recreate itself and diminishes the number of people invested in maintaining existing relationships of hierarchy and control. Besides, it’s not like anyone is reading the paper anymore.

5. The rise of insecure work and the subsequent lack of #securejobs

The global rise of insecure work – whether you call it casual work “zero hours contracts” – has come about as a way for capital to minimise labour costs and maintain a healthy profit margin (see above). There is nothing natural about the so-called flexible labour market. But what it creates is a generation of workers who have not been offered any sort of social contract. Instead they have the ‘opportunity’ to not starve and stay in housing by accepting last minute shifts through a text message. There is no future in this mode of work. These is no past. There is just the present struggle to meet the everyday needs on a fluctuating income. Under such conditions, why would you even think the political/business elites even understand your situation or concerns – they spend each day celebrating the reforms that made your ever-lasting present possible.

These are just some reasons in a bit of the detail. If anyone else has any other reasons leave a comment.


4 thoughts on “5 reasons for the great disconnect

  1. When you consider that in the mid-Twentieth Century US presidents from both major parties (FDR and Eisenhower) would have largely characterized current political discourse among elites as evidence of a successful “rightist reaction”, you can only conclude that wealthy support for neoliberal policy research was a good investment.

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