Monday, November 02, 2009
How neo-liberalism destroys trust
Mixed-economy Britain of the 1950s:
.....this was for the most part an era of trust.
Ken Blackmore, who grew up in a Cheshire village, remembers not only the front door of his home being left unlocked, but bikes generally being left untouched or unchained at the bus stop or the railway station.
It was not until about 1957 that British motorcycles were even fitted with locks or keys. John Humbach parked his 500cc Triumph outside his London house. 'I never had a chain and padlock and never knew anyone who had. The bike was never stolen and I was never worried it might be.'
That these were more lawabiding times than now is not a nostalgic fantasy. The fundamental fact was that, following a sharp upward spike in the post-war years, crime declined markedly during the first half of the Fifties. The numbers started to move up from 1955, but were strikingly low.
Notifiable offences recorded by the police were a little over half a million in 1957. Forty years later, they were almost 4.5 million. Violent crimes against the person numbered under 11,000 in 1957, and 250,000 in 1997.
It was, in short, a different world - whose trusting best was evoked by a premium-collecting Prudential insurance agent in Lincolnshire during the Fifties.
There were homes he went to in his bright yellow Austin Seven where the occupants were out at work and the key was under a brick or on a nail in the shed. 'I would let myself in and find the books and the payment which had been left out for me.
'Many times I would find also a hastily scribbled note: "Please take an extra sixpence and post these letters" and "Tell the doctor Johnnie is not so well".
The neo-liberal Britain of 2009:
‘Don’t trust anybody’
The words of Andrea Hall, mother of 17-year old Ashleigh Hall, victim of a Facebook killer.
In their brilliant book Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture- Crime, exclusion and the new culture of narcissism, (a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how things have gone so badly wrong), Steve Hall, Simon Winlow and Craig Ancrum describe how neoliberalism has destroyed Britain’s social fabric.
Hall et al talk of the ‘crime explosion that characterised Britain and the USA from the late 1960s to the late 1990s as a reality inextricably linked to the increasing dominance of neo-liberal political economy'.
Whenever a society changes from one where money power is contained, to an ultra-competitive, capitalistic one, trust between human beings is destroyed.
In the Morning Star a couple of years back I wrote about an experience I had in Hungary in 1995.
I was in a bank in Budapest waiting to withdraw money to buy a flight ticket back to England for Easter. Unfortunately I was unable to withdraw any money as I had bought the wrong card- and as my flight needed to be paid for that afternoon, I was at my wit’s end. Behind me in the queue was a middle-aged lady. On hearing of my predicament she offered to lend me the amount (over £130). She wrote down her address and said I could pay the money back when I returned to Hungary after the holiday. I was taken aback by the trust the lady had placed in a total stranger.
We can measure the impact of the changes from socialism to capitalism in many ways. But the kindness of the lady, brought up in a society where solidarity and helping others mattered more than personal gain, brought the difference home to me more than any GDP statistics or real income figures.
Would such an incident occur in Hungary today? Sadly, I very much doubt it.
Would such a incident occur in London in 2009? Of course not.
Because we live in a society where profits come before people.